Big 12: James White

You can argue over who's the best running back in college football, but there's little doubt who the two most efficient runners are.

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Baylor's Lache Seastrunk are essentially picking up a first down on every rush attempt. Gordon is averaging 9.46 yards per carry, while Seastrunk is at 9.16. Those are the top two yards per carry averages by running backs in the FBS and trail only Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota among all players. Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett and Big 12 blogger Jake Trotter discuss what makes both runners so dynamic and try to figure out whether they should be touching the ball even more.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon, Wisconsin Badgers
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon has rushed for more than 100 yards in six of the Badgers' seven games this season.
Brian Bennett: Jake, let's start with Seastrunk. We all know Baylor's offense is an astronomical phenomenon. How big a part of that is Seastrunk, and what makes him special in that offense?

Jake Trotter: He's a huge part. There's a reason why receivers Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley have combined for 10 touchdowns of 40 yards or more. Sure, those guys are blazing fast. But defenses are so concerned about Seastrunk running wild on them, that Reese and Goodley end up in one-on-one situations downfield.

What about Gordon, Brian?

BB: Gordon is incredibly talented, so much so that Montee Ball said before Gordon ever took the field that he might be the most talented Wisconsin back ever. That's saying something. At 6-foot-1, Gordon gobbles up the field with his long-striding form and is almost impossible to catch once he finds a seam. He has touchdown runs of 70, 71 and 80 yards this season. The Badgers also know just how to use him right. He not only lines up in conventional positions, but he is often employed on jet sweeps where he can get a full head of steam as he heads out to the perimeter.

Of course, we'd be remiss not to mention Wisconsin's offensive line, which is once again stacked with massive human beings who create gaping holes for their backs. That's a major reason for the program's tradition of star tailbacks, and it undoubtedly contributes to Gordon's success, though I think he'd be wildly effective in any system. Which leads me to my question for you: how much of Seastrunk's stats stem from Baylor's system, and how much is just on his own talent? In other words, do you think he'd have the same type of numbers if he and Gordon switched places tomorrow?

JT: The system is a big part of it. Coach Art Briles' track record dating back to the Robert Griffin III years speaks for itself. But the supporting cast is a big part, too. Guard Cyril Richardson leads an offensive line that excels at paving running lanes. The threat of Bryce Petty throwing the ball downfield to Reese and Goodley means defenses can't even think about loading the box. Seastrunk also has a capable wingman in Glasco Martin, who takes some of the rushing load off Seastrunk's shoulders. This Baylor offense is awesome, and Seastrunk is just one part of it. That is a big reason why he's such an efficient runner. He plays on a great offense.

[+] EnlargeOregon Ducks' Lache Seastrunk
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesBaylor running back Lache Seastrunk, who transferred from Oregon, already has three more rushing touchdowns (10) than he had all of last season.
That takes away from his carries. But he doesn't need a lot of carries to be effective. What about Gordon?

BB: Yeah, Seastrunk is averaging a little under 14 carries per game, while Gordon is getting just a little more than 15 rushing attempts per game. In Gordon's case, Wisconsin has another stud running back in senior James White, who ranks No. 29 in the FBS in rushing yards and who has over 3,200 career rushing yards. Four times already this season, Gordon and White have gone over 100 yards in the same game, and White came within two yards last week at Illinois of making it five times. Coach Gary Andersen has basically split the carries between the two, which keeps them both fresh, and I think he feels a little more comfortable with the veteran White in there for pass protection purposes.

But it makes you wonder what kind of numbers Gordon could put up if he got a steady 20-to-25 carries per game. What do you think Seastrunk could do with a heavier workload, and do you think the lack of carries will hurt either back when it comes to major awards like the Doak Walker or All-America honors?

JT: I don't think it will hurt Seastrunk in either category as long as Baylor keeps winning. The key stat with Seastrunk is yards per carry. He is averaging a whopping 9.16 per rush. As long as he keeps that up, Baylor keeps pouring on points and the Bears keep winning, he'll remain at the forefront of the Doak Walker and All-American candidacies. Seastrunk, however, probably has almost no shot at the Heisman. Petty has divided the Baylor vote, and in many ways overshadowed the running back by leading the nation in Total QBR through the midway point of the season. If Petty keeps putting up monster numbers, he -- not Seastrunk -- will likely emerge as the Baylor candidate for the Heisman.

Iowa State season preview

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
12:35
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Today our Big 12 season previews continue with a look at Iowa State, which may be ready to take the next step as a program.

IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Coach: Paul Rhoads (24-27, 4 seasons; 24-27, 4 seasons at ISU)

2012 record: 6-7 (3-6 Big 12)

Key losses: LB Jake Knott, LB A.J. Klein, WR Josh Lenz, DT Jake McDonough, OT Carter Bykowski

Key returnees: P Kirby Van Der Kamp, LB Jeremiah George, S Jacques Washington, RB James White, RB Shontrelle Johnson, QB Sam Richardson, S Deon Broomfield, C Tom Farniok, DE Willie Scott

[+] EnlargeSam B. Richardson
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerSam Richardson will lead what is expected to be a more up-tempo Iowa State offense in 2013.
Newcomer to watch: Junior college transfer TE E.J. Bibbs has earned praise from Rhoads this fall for his ability to make people miss when he gets the ball in his hands. Considering ISU’s inexperience at receiver, he could emerge as a key target.

Biggest games in 2013: Who’s going to be the upset special this season? Last year it was No. 15 TCU on the road, the year before No. 2 Oklahoma State at home. Texas (Oct. 3) and Oklahoma State (Oct. 26) both travel to Ames this fall. The rivalry game vs. Iowa on Sept. 14 is always a big one, too.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Iowa State has made bowl game appearances in three of Rhoads’ first four seasons. What’s the next step? ISU has won three Big 12 games in each of those four years, but it’s time for a new benchmark.

Forecast: Rhoads has a good thing going in Ames right now. He wins six games a year, pulls off one big upset in conference play, goes to a bowl and remains beloved by the Cyclones fan base. It’s a credit to the hard work he’s put in to steady a program that his predecessor, Gene Chizik, sent downhill in only two seasons at the helm.

If this Iowa State team is going to climb higher than No. 8 or No. 9 in the final Big 12 standings this fall, it’s going to take another strong coaching job. This Cyclones bring back only nine starters. There’s good talent in the secondary, and Van Der Kamp is one of the nation’s best punters, but there’s also inexperience throughout the defense. The Cyclones will rely on seniors Washington and George to raise the rest of the defense’s game, and they’ll be seriously tested by the league’s high-powered offenses.

The wild card for ISU just might be the addition of new offensive line coach Chris Klenakis and the intricate knowledge of the pistol offense he possesses as a disciple of legendary Nevada coach Chris Ault. Richardson, a sophomore, will be entrusted to run the show and operate a more fast-tempo attack, and he proved last year he isn’t afraid to tuck it and run. He’ll have lots of intriguing options at running back to work with, and if a few wide receivers emerge ISU might just have a pretty competitive offense and a fighting chance in most games.
Nine Big 12 players are on the list for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to college football's top running back.

Very nice haul from the Big 12. Running back is probably the Big 12's strongest position of any to start the season, and you can see that on this list. Two teams (Baylor, TCU) have multiple backs on the watch list, and there's no question about any of those guys. I'm very surprised Texas didn't get a name on the list. In theory, Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron all had a case to be on here. Texas Tech's Kenny Williams probably could have been added to this list, too, and perhaps Oklahoma's Brennan Clay.

Seastrunk has a great chance to win this award, but guys like Williams, Sims, James and Hubert could all make the list of finalists.

Texas' Cedric Benson (2004) was the last player from the Big 12 to win the award. The Longhorns are the only school in college football with three winners all-time. Texas Tech (Byron Hanspard, Bam Morris) is one of just three schools in college football with multiple winners since the award began in 1990.

Iowa State Cyclones spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
5/01/13
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2012 record: 6-7
2012 Big 12 record: 3-6
Returning starters: offense: 5; defense: 4; special teams: 2.


Top returners: C Tom Farniok, RB James White, LB Jeremiah George, RB Shontrelle Johnson, S Jacques Washington, DE Willie Scott, P Kirby Van Der Kamp, QB Sam Richardson

Key losses: LB Jake Knott, LB A.J. Klein, DL Jake McDonough, QB Steele Jantz, WR Josh Lenz, S Durrell Givens, WR Aaron Horne, CB Jeremy Reeves, DL Cleyon Laing

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Passing: Steele Jantz (1,603 yards)
Rushing: James White* (505 yards)
Receiving: Josh Lenz (459 yards)
Tackles: A.J. Klein (117)
Sacks: Cleyon Laing (3)
Interceptions: Durrell Givens, Jacques Washington* (3)

Spring answers

1. Leaders emerging. Jake Knott and A.J. Klein led vocally and by example for the past few years in Ames, and without that duo, somebody had to fill the void. Jeremiah George did some of that this spring, and Jacques Washington might be counted on for leadership from some of his experience, too. George is a heck of player who's got a good amount of playing time, too.

2. The offensive line is jelling. Four starters who closed the season for Iowa State return, and this should be the strongest position for the Cyclones, who need to find some big-play ability on offense. Center Tom Farniok headlines this unit, but Ethan Tuftee is an experienced senior and ISU should have some good depth there, too.

3. Iowa State's going to focus on the running game. Sam Richardson is still a green sophomore, but the running backs are deep and have tons of ability. James White and Shontrelle Johnson are shifty and productive, though Johnson is coming off an injury, and Jeff Woody is a solid power guy. Reserve Devondrick Nealy broke out in the spring game and juco transfer Aaron Wimberly provides even more depth. ISU will never be short for solid, fresh legs at running back.

Fall questions

1. Can the receivers step up? The Cyclones lost all three of their top receivers from last year's team, and three new starters have to step into bigger roles for a team that's struggled with inconsistency at quarterback. Tad Ecby, Quenton Bundrage and Jarvis West have to help Iowa State's passing game become a bigger threat that defenses must respect. Albert Gary has experience and should contribute, but ISU needs more than 459 yards from its top receiver. Coach Paul Rhoads called this the thinnest position on the Cyclones' team.

2. Is Sam Richardson really the long-term answer? After Jared Barnett's postseason transfer, it looked like the Richardson Era began, but when two of his three career starts ended with completion percentages below 50 percent, it's hard to have a ton of faith in him coming into fall. He' has promise and more accuracy than Steele Jantz and Barnett, but he's not far from being replaced by Grant Rohach if he struggles at some point in 2013.

3. Can Iowa State find a kicker? Three missed extra points is three too many, and Edwin Arceo's senior camp will be spent competing with freshman Cole Netten. Both missed a pair of kicks on a big stage in the spring game, but ISU has a penchant for getting locked into close games. It needs consistency from this spot.
Iowa State is the ninth Big 12 team to begin spring practice, with only Kansas State left to get started. Let's take a closer look at the Cyclones.

Schedule: Today is the first of Iowa State's 15 NCAA-allowed spring practices. They'll be capped by a spring game on April 20.

What's new: Nothing on the coaching staff, but Iowa State will definitely feel the loss of two of the league's best players and best leaders, linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. They led vocally and by example and helped Iowa State consistently field a solid defense in a brutal Big 12. Jeremiah George and Jevohn Miller will try to fill their voids with some experience.

On the mend: Running back Shontrelle Johnson fought back from a serious neck injury in 2011 to rush for 504 yards, two scores and start half the year, leading the Cyclones in rushing in the regular season. It seems all too unfair for him to find himself rehabbing a knee injury this spring that he suffered during a bowl practice in December. Here's hoping he's back healthy this fall, but this spring, the running back responsibilities fall on power back Jeff Woody and the shifty James White, who finished with 505 rushing yards last season.

New faces: Four of Iowa State's 25 signees in the 2013 recruiting class enrolled early and will be suiting up for spring practice. They're headlined by juco transfers RB Aaron Wimberly and TE Emmanuel Bibbs. Wimberly was a juco teammate of All-American Jake Waters, who signed with Kansas State. High school talents Shawn Curtis, an offensive lineman, and Alton Meeks, a linebacker, will also be on the field this spring, getting a jump on their careers.

All eyes on: Quarterback Sam Richardson. Iowa State's made the postseason in three of the last four years without any true consistency at quarterback, but Richardson looks the part of a pure passer and showed some promise, though he struggled in his final two starts to close his redshirt freshman season in 2012. Jared Barnett transferred, so barring major Richardson struggles or a spring charge from Grant Rohach, this is Richardson's job. He needs to take some major steps this spring and show he can be the guy for Iowa State. The program can't take the next step and consistently win seven or eight games a year without great quarterback play.

Breaking out: Wide receiver Jarvis West. Somebody's got to step up on Iowa State's offense, and West, a dangerous return man already, is the most likely candidate. He's shown a few sparks, but needs to show a whole lot more. He caught 31 balls for 290 yards and three scores but Iowa State's three top receivers are all gone. West had just two catches in the last four games of 2012, but he's got to do more next year. That starts this spring.

Don't forget about: Safety Jacques Washington. Washington was second on the team last season with 91 tackles, and he made a bunch of plays in the secondary with four pass breakups, three interceptions and a forced fumble. He also added two tackles for loss, and it was his second consecutive season with at least 90 tackles. He's a playmaker for a Cyclones secondary that needs one to stomach the losses of Durrell Givens and Jeremy Reeves.
Each season, there's lots of turnover and change for every college program. What do the Big 12 teams need to do before next fall? Let's continue our look with the Cyclones in Ames.

1. Figure out if Sam Richardson is the future of the program. Steele Jantz graduated and Jared Barnett transfered, which means the Richardson Era at Iowa State is officially underway. Will this spring be the beginning of three fruitful years with the Florida native calling the shots? The last couple post-Austen Arnaud years have been very shaky at quarterback for the Cyclones. Richardson is likely more accurate than Jantz or Barnett, but he ended the season with a thud in the Liberty Bowl and looked lost against an average Tulsa defense. Grant Rohach will be around in camp and looking to fight for time himself, but can Richardson separate himself this spring and prove he's truly a quarterback Iowa State can build its program around?

2. Find some new leadership on defense. Jake Knott and A.J. Klein are gone, and it's been a long time since ISU has had to replace a hole that big. Jeremiah George is a promising player, but Knott and Klein were everything right about Iowa State and college football as a whole. Could Jevohn Miller fill that role, too? Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield might be those guys, too. Iowa State has to replace Knott, Klein and three starters along the defensive line. That's a tough assignment this spring.

3. Develop some offensive playmakers. We can talk about Richardson all day and the failings at quarterback over the past couple years, but the truth is they haven't had a ton of help and consistency in the passing game. Shontrelle Johnson and James White are OK at running back, but there hasn't been a game-breaking receiver or really even an impact player at the position for a long time. The bar is very, very high for receivers in the Big 12, and Iowa State has a long way to go to reach it. The Cyclones are losing their top three receivers from last year's team, so Richardson will have to find some new targets. Jarvis West is elusive, but ISU needs its young talent to step up this spring.

More offseason to-do lists:

Pregame: AutoZone Liberty Bowl

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
11:00
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Iowa State (6-6, 3-6 Big 12) vs. Tulsa (10-3, 7-1 Conference USA)

WHO TO WATCH: Iowa State linebacker A.J. Klein vs. Tulsa's three-headed monster at running back. The Golden Hurricane won their conference on the backs of Trey Watts, Ja'Terian Douglas and Alex Singleton, who all topped at least 765 yards this season. Watts broke a 77-yard run and finished with 125 yards the first time these two played, but the other two were largely quiet. The problem for Iowa State? Klein's partner in crime, Jake Knott, won't be on the field after suffering a shoulder injury and undergoing surgery earlier this season.

WHAT TO WATCH: If either team can get its passing game rolling, it might win this one easily. There's been inconsistency on both parts, but Nebraska transfer Cody Green is the headline for the Golden Hurricane. Iowa State has started three different quarterbacks this season but landed on freshman Sam Richardson late in the season. He's showed promise, and Tulsa hasn't seen him, but senior Steele Jantz threw for 281 yards in the first matchup.

WHY TO WATCH: Is the second verse the same as the first or not? Tulsa dominated the first quarter of the season opener, racing to a 16-7 lead and looking like the clearly better team. Iowa State handled its business from that point forward. The Cyclones outscored the Golden Hurricane 24-0 over the next two quarters and earned a solid win over an eventual 10-win team to kick off the season. This is the Big 12's only bowl matchup against a non-AQ team, but Tulsa's a squad that knows a lot about winning games.

PREDICTION: Iowa State 27, Tulsa 21. Shontrelle Johnson rushed for 120 yards in the first game, but he's out with a knee injury this time. Still, we'll see James White and Jeff Woody perform admirably in support of Richardson. Josh Lenz hauls in a touchdown grab and tops 100 yards receiving, while the Cyclones prevent the Golden Hurricane from having a 100-yard rusher. Only four teams topped 24 points this season against Iowa State, and Tulsa will go 0-2 on trying to reach that mark.

Cyclones' leading rusher out for bowl

December, 17, 2012
12/17/12
9:45
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Iowa State will be without its leading rusher when it faces Tulsa in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Running back Shontrelle Johnson, who rushed for 504 yards and two touchdowns this season, suffered a knee injury in Saturday's practice and won't be available for the matchup against the Golden Hurricane.

From The Associated Press:
Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads says Johnson injured his right knee making a cut during practice on Saturday. Rhoads says Johnson likely will have surgery in January. ...

Iowa State likely will start James White against Tulsa (10-3). White rushed for 469 yards on 5.3 yards per carry this season.

You absolutely hate to see this. Johnson fought back so hard to return from a career-threatening neck injury suffered early in the 2011 season. Having to go head-to-head with another round of trying rehab just doesn't seem fair.

"You get a big wave of emotions," Rhoads told reporters of Johnson’s reaction. "(He) was crushed, (Saturday). Upbeat, if you want to call it that, (Sunday). ... I think what he’s gone through already with the neck has helped his mindset. He knows what he’s got in front of him as far as rehab, and he’ll do a great job with it."

Midseason report: Iowa State

October, 16, 2012
10/16/12
10:30
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IOWA STATE

Record: 4-2, 1-2

The Cyclones are overachieving yet again, but Paul Rhoads isn't kidding around when he says this team is capable of winning five league games, which would put them at 8-4. It'll be difficult, but the Cyclones have showed they're capable of doing it.

The defense is among the Big 12's best, led by linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, two of the league's best at the position. The Cyclones won in Iowa City over rival Iowa for the first time since 2003 in a 9-6 "Game of the Century," and nobody but Iowa State has beaten Tulsa yet.

TCU was playing shorthanded and on short notice, but Iowa State dominated a 37-23 win in Fort Worth before nearly knocking off Kansas State in Ames last week.

Three ranked teams remain on the schedule, but there's not a game left that the Cyclones can't win. Finding some clarity and consistency at quarterback would help make any of those wins happen. ISU showed up at No. 24 in the BCS rankings and Jared Barnett is likely the man to try and keep the Cyclones among the nation's top 25 teams. If he can't keep it going, though, Steele Jantz will be ready to go off the bench if he's needed. Jantz started the first three games of the year, but four turnovers in a loss to Texas Tech forced Rhoads to make a switch.

Offensive MVP: Josh Lenz, WR. You could give this to Shontrelle Johnson, James White, Aaron Horne or any of Iowa State's quarterbacks in a win, but Lenz has been the biggest threat on this offense and the most consistent throughout the season. Kansas State somehow held him without a catch last week, but he's caught 18 passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown on a trick play in the win over TCU.

Defensive MVP: Jake Knott, LB. Knott has a team-high 57 tackles and his 41 solo tackles are 16 more than any player on the team. It's amazing how much better he can look when he's back at full strength. He's already got a pair of interceptions and five tackles for loss. He's also forced a fumble and broken up three passes with half a sack, too. Klein's not far off, but Knott's been better over the first half of the season.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 2

September, 4, 2012
9/04/12
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Fun weekend of games across the league. This is heavily influenced by how each team plays the previous week, so when there's a logjam of teams, you'll see a ton of movement. Teams 1-2 are super close, and teams 3-6 are nearly interchangeable. Don't get too bent out of shape this early. The body of work is tiny, and can look markedly different this time next week.

Here's how I sort out the league after Week 1:

1. West Virginia (1-0, last week: 2) The Mountaineers were the league's most impressive team in Week 1, and grab the No. 1 spot ahead of Oklahoma after the Sooners' near disaster in Week 1. You heard plenty about West Virginia's offense Saturday. Everybody on that unit, from the QBs to receivers, backs and O-line, validated it. Just have to do it every week. If that happens, this squad's winning the Big 12 title -- and maybe more.

2. Oklahoma (1-0, last week: 1) Be very concerned, Sooners fans, but don't come anywhere close to writing this team off. The offense was awful, but the defense was strong. For now, chemistry on offense can be a legitimate excuse, with room to grow. Landry Jones entered the night with one receiver who had ever caught a ball from him in a game, and the offensive line was still trying to replace a pair of three-year starters.

3. Kansas State (1-0, last week: 3) The Wildcats started slow, but where the heck did that 35-point fourth quarter come from? A pretty good performance from Collin Klein, but it seems clear that Bill Snyder is trying to limit the punishment Optimus Klein takes when he doesn't need to take it. He had 12 carries Saturday night. He got 25 carries in the opener last year, and 13 in a rout over Kansas. Twelve was a new low for him as a starting QB.

4. Oklahoma State (1-0, last week: 6) Don't overreact to this one, folks. The one encouraging thing you can take from Saturday? Even though his receivers were constantly wide open, Wes Lunt looked really good, connecting with Isaiah Anderson on a deep ball downfield for his biggest highlight of the night. Who figured OSU would win a game by 84 points and its starting QB wouldn't throw a TD, though?

5. Texas (1-0, last week: 4) The Longhorns started slow, and were one of just three teams to trail on Saturday, along with Iowa State and Oklahoma. Still, this won't be the first time Texas grinds out a win, or the last time it notches two 100-yard rushers.

6. Baylor (1-0, last week: 7) The Bears didn't look much different with Nick Florence at the helm, but the Big 12's no joke. The defense looks much improved, but tougher tests await than a Garrett Gilbert still trying to get his sea legs in a new offense. I was impressed, and the upside with this group is high, but the battle among this league's top eight teams is going to be brutal. Somebody's got to be really disappointed eventually. The Bears know how to win tight games, though. That helps.

7. TCU (0-0, last week: 5) The Frogs held a fan appreciation day on Saturday, but get to christen the sparkling new Amon G. Carter Stadium, fresh off a $164 million upgrade, against Grambling State next week. The place looks nothing like the old stadium. No shame in dropping two spots. Baylor and Oklahoma State played well enough to hop over the Frogs.

8. Texas Tech (1-0, last week: 8) Good day from Tech with the 44-6 win over FCS Northwestern State. It needed to experience a win pretty badly. The Red Raiders ended their five-game losing streak, but this set of backs is sneaky underrated. Eric Stephens, SaDale Foster and Kenny Williams will be fun to watch. Is there a budding star in Lubbock in TE Jace Amaro, too?

9. Iowa State (1-0, last week: 9) The Cyclones' flaws were on display early with some offensive troubles and a defense getting picked apart by a passer not as skilled as what ISU will normally see in Big 12 play. Its strengths were on display late, though. This team is underrated along the offensive line, and Shontrelle Johnson teams up with James White to make a really good backfield. Good win. Not enough to leapfrog Texas Tech.

10. Kansas (1-0, last week 10) KU looked a little shaky at times, and Dayne Crist's stat line (17-36, 169 yards, TD, INT) won't wow anybody. Still, his level of skill at the position is obvious, and an upgrade over what KU's used to seeing these past few years. Still some work to do defensively, though. Can't get away with giving up 99-yard rushing touchdowns in the Big 12.
We're moving on with our rankings of the top 10 players at each position in the Big 12. Today, we tackle the running backs, a position with a lot of potential but not very much returning talent. My only rule for this list: No freshmen or newcomers. You don't know until you know.

Let's get started.

1. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State: Randle is the Big 12's only returning 1,000-yard running back, and even the league's best back has something to prove in 2012. Quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon took a ton of pressure off him and opened up a lot of space. Can he help carry the offense early this season with a true freshman at quarterback and unproven receivers in the passing game?

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Brown
Ray Carlin/Icon SMIMalcolm Brown has the talent to emerge as the top rusher in a crowded Texas backfield.
2. Malcolm Brown, Texas: Brown's nose for tiny creases in the line is unparalleled in this league, even though he doesn't have breakaway speed. He's tough to bring down and loves to fall forward. In short, he's a perfect fit for Texas' offense, and the likeliest member of Texas' talented backfield trio to top 1,000 yards in 2012.

3. John Hubert, Kansas State: Life is good for Hubert when defenses focus heavily on quarterback Collin Klein, but you can't argue with his production. He averaged nearly five yards a carry and racked up 970 rushing yards last season.

4. Waymon James, TCU: James averaged a silly 7.23 yards per carry last season, leading TCU's trio of backs in rushing, though all three had between 120 and 123 carries (seriously). Ed Wesley is gone, and James' yards per carry average will drop as he faces tougher defenses this season, but he's still a big talent.

5. Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State: Smith is the forgotten man in Oklahoma State's backfield until he keeps his legs churning and converts third downs, and chips a blitzing nickel back in the backfield to give Wes Lunt a couple more seconds to get rid of the ball. He's faster than he gets credit for, and averaged better than seven yards a carry in the Big 12 last season, the league's second-highest average.

6. Eric Stephens, Texas Tech: Stephens' season was cut way short last year by an awful knee injury. There's no telling how he'll look when the season starts back up, but not many guys were better than him over the first half of last season.

7. Dominique Whaley, Oklahoma: Whaley's season was cut short, too. He suffered a broken ankle, but the former walk-on is back and will try and make a run at a 1,000-yard season for the Sooners' pass-heavy offense. If he plays like he did last season before the injury, expect it to happen, and expect him to hog the carries in a crowded backfield.

8. Matthew Tucker, TCU: Tucker joins James in TCU's backfield. He scored 12 touchdowns last season, which ranks second among returning Big 12 running backs. Without Wesley, Tucker is due for more touches. The trio combined for more than 2,300 yards on the ground last season. Watching Tucker and James race for 1,000-yard seasons will be fun.

9. Roy Finch, Oklahoma: Finch loves to put defenders in the spin cycle, but could hardly get on the field last season until Whaley was injured. Once he did, though, he made a big impact. He topped 83 yards four times in five weeks late last season, but he has to be more consistent. He also had four yards on six carries against Iowa. We'll see if he showcases his explosiveness as a junior in 2012.

10. James White, Iowa State: Iowa State badly needed White to step up when Shontrelle Johnson went down with a neck injury, and White did. He topped 135 yards twice after Johnson's injury and scored eight times, including two in a triple-overtime win against Iowa early in the season.

Honorable mention: Dustin Garrison, West Virginia; Joe Bergeron, Texas; James Sims, Kansas; Shontrelle Johnson, Iowa State; Tony Pierson, Kansas

Predicting the 2012 season: Week 12

August, 13, 2012
8/13/12
4:00
PM ET
Today is the next step in a new series on the Big 12 blog that we've never done before. I love predicting the standings from top to bottom, but we're going to do it week by week leading up to the season. The goal is to offer my official prediction for each Big 12 team's record heading into the bowl games.

Remember, these are preseason predictions. We'll obviously still do week-to-week picks once the season arrives, and they might change between now and then. There are a lot of preseason practices, and a lot of games between now and the end of the season.

There are always teams that disappoint and teams that surprise. But here's how I see the Big 12 shaking out in Week 12.


PREVIOUS PREDICTIONS

My predictions for Week 12 in the Big 12:

Oklahoma 41, West Virginia 38: Just one more stop was all Oklahoma needed. It got it. The Big 12 Game of the Year lives up to the hype, and it's decided by two of the league's best talents. Tony Jefferson makes an acrobatic interception on a Geno Smith ball intended for Stedman Bailey in the final minute to seal the game. Landry Jones tosses four touchdowns and has all day to throw. He's not sacked once, and hardly ever knocked down to dirty his jersey. Those big-game jitters on the road? Jones did a heck of a job silencing them on this night ... but one more dangerous road game awaits.

Oklahoma State 44, Texas Tech 31: Wes Lunt keeps getting better, and slings three touchdown passes, including two in the red zone to Blake Jackson. The Cowboys don't run all over a handcuffed Texas Tech squad as they did in 2011's 60-point victory in Lubbock, but OSU wins this one convincingly to put Texas Tech's bowl hopes on thin ice.

Kansas State 24, Baylor 20: Just like last year's game, this one comes down to the wire, but Bill Snyder goes with the gutsy play in the final seconds, giving the ball to his Honey Badger on a run-pass option in the red zone on third down, instead of kicking the game-tying field goal. Quarterback Collin Klein drags two Baylor defenders into the end zone and proves the Big 12's silver fox still has plenty of magic left. K-State's ball-control offense hogties its powerful Baylor counterpart into one of its lowest outputs of the season.

Iowa State 17, Kansas 13: Kansas keeps threatening, but the Cyclones duo of Shontrelle Johnson and James White overcomes a pair of fumbles to win this one, icing it late with a six-yard run from Johnson to seal the game with a first down near midfield. Kansas' offense looks out of sorts in its final home game of the year, and even though the Jayhawks keep looking competitive, they can't get over the hump.

BIG 12 STANDINGS (after Week 12)
1. Oklahoma: 10-0 (7-0)
2. West Virginia: 9-2 (6-2)
2. Kansas State: 9-2 (6-2)
4. Texas: 8-2 (5-2)
5. TCU: 7-3 (4-3)
5. Oklahoma State: 7-3 (4-3)
7. Baylor: 5-5 (2-5)
8. Texas Tech: 5-6 (2-6)
9. Iowa State: 4-7 (2-6)
10. Kansas: 3-8 (0-8)
Not everybody gets their just deserts in college football, but it's time to do my part to change that. Sometimes, it's the team they play for. Sometimes, it's an underappreciated position. Other times, it's a combination of several things. Either way, here are the Big 12's most underrated players heading into 2012.

Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor: Reese is undersized at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, sure. Who cares? He's productive, and should only be more so without Kendall Wright in Waco this season. Reese will likely be the second option behind Terrance Williams, but the speedster at inside receiver managed to rack up 877 receiving yards, eighth-most in school history, as the third option for RG3 last season.

[+] EnlargeTrey Millard
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireKeep an eye out for Sooners fullback Trey Millard this season.
Toben Opurum, DE/LB, Kansas: Opurum used to be a running back, but he's learned his new position well, playing the "Buck" spot last year for the Jayhawks. Opurum's a high-motor type of player, and ranked 10th in the Big 12 last season with 10.5 tackles for loss and made four sacks.

Trey Millard, FB/TE, Oklahoma: Millard is a jack of all trades for the Sooners, and played three positions last year. He's invaluable for the Sooners, and may be even more so this season. Look for him to grab some touches at tailback this season, probably in short yardage situations that require a power back.

Alex Elkins, LB, Oklahoma State: Elkins was second on the team with 90 stops, including five tackles for loss. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder is a solid tackler, but too often, the former walk-on who didn't play football until junior college gets written off as one of the league's top linebackers.

James White, RB, Iowa State: White looked like a non-factor last season, but after Shontrelle Johnson went down with a neck injury, White ascended to starter status. He finished with 743 yards and eight scores, including the game-winner against Iowa in triple overtime.

Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech: Doege's offense put up big numbers last year, but he didn't have much of a chance to win big last season. Doege's name never comes up among the league's best passers, but despite having no running game and tons of injuries on the offensive line, Doege topped 4,000 yards and threw for 28 touchdowns with just 10 picks. If Tech starts winning (which wasn't much of Doege's fault in 2011), his name might come up in the debate for the Big 12's best passer.

Jaxon Shipley, WR, Texas: Shipley's instincts and great hands are two things you simply can't coach. Now, he'll only get better as a sophomore, and his numbers will balloon if his quarterback improves and Shipley can stay healthy. Even with the revolving door at QB last year and an injury that caused him to miss three games, he finished with 607 yards and three scores on 44 catches.

K.J. Morton, CB, Baylor: Baylor's defense caught big criticism last year, but Morton was a big bright spot late in the season. The Bears were +10 in turnover margin over the last six games, and Morton was a big reason why. All four of his interceptions came in the final three games of the regular season. Now, he's got to improve his coverage skills.

Tanner Hawkinson, OT, Kansas: Hawkinson's been a constant in a turbulent period for Kansas football, starting 36 consecutive games in Lawrence under two different coaches. Expect the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder to make it 48 starts for three coaches after this year. Hawkinson was a Freshman All-American, but Kansas' struggles have kept him from getting his proper due in the years since. That's a shame. He's a big talent with a bright future.

John Hubert, RB, Kansas State: You know about Collin Klein, but it seems like nobody's paying attention to Hubert, who just so happens to be the Big 12's No. 3 returning rusher with 970 yards on just 200 carries.

Eric Ward, WR, Texas Tech: Texas Tech's 2011 season was rough, but Ward emerged as the most consistent target for a receiving corps racked by injuries. It wasn't fun last year, but now, the Red Raiders have some serious depth, and Ward gets no attention, despite catching 84 balls for 800 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Cyclones' top back ready to return

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
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DALLAS -- Shontrelle Johnson was the most dangerous man in Iowa State's backfield, but he couldn't do much from the sidelines after suffering a neck injury against Texas last season.

After a recovery full of question marks, though, Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads opened his time at Big 12 Media Days by announcing with a smile that Johnson would be back for fall camp when the Cyclones begin on August 3. He finished last season with 247 yards on 51 carries.

"There were doubts until he went through a set of x-rays this summer that had to be looked at by his surgeon, and the fusion that took place that was fully healed, fully fused," Rhoads said, "and that he gave his blessing that he could play."

The injury was serious enough, however, that Johnson had to talk it over with his family whether or not he even planned to return. Within the past week, he gave Rhoads the official nod.

"Now we'll plug him back in," Rhoads said. "Certainly, he'll have to work his way back up the depth chart. He's been out for a while. But we look forward to him doing that. Now, my biggest concern, as he begins that process, is he does it with his head up and fundamentally does all the things to protect himself as he moves forward."

Player rosters set for Big 12 Media Days

July, 10, 2012
7/10/12
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Big 12 Media Days are set for the Westin Galleria on July 23-24, but we now know who'll be attending from each Big 12 team.

Here's the list:

BAYLOR
IOWA STATE
KANSAS
KANSAS STATE
OKLAHOMA
OKLAHOMA STATE
TCU
TEXAS
TEXAS TECH
WEST VIRGINIA

Should be fun. I'll have some more thoughts on this on Wednesday.

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