Big 12: Jay Finley

Baylor spring wrap

May, 9, 2012

2011 overall record: 10-3
2011 conference record: 6-3
Returning starters: Offense (6), Defense (8), P/K (2)

Top returners: WR Terrance Williams, WR Tevin Reese, S Ahmad Dixon, S Sam Holl, CB K.J. Morton, S Mike Hicks, OL Cyril Richardson, OL Ivory Wade

Key losses: QB Robert Griffin III, WR Kendall Wright, RB Terrance Ganaway, OL Philip Blake, LB Elliot Coffey, DT Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, DL Tracy Robertson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Terrance Ganaway (1,547 yards)
Passing: Robert Griffin III (4,293 yards)
Receiving: Kendall Wright (1,663 yards)
Tackles: Elliot Coffey (114)
Sacks: Tracy Robertson (4.5)
Interceptions: K.J. Morton* (4)

Spring answers

1. Don't sweat the quarterbacks: Anybody who thinks Baylor's destined to go back to 3-4 win seasons in the post-RG3 era isn't paying much attention. Nick Florence had a rough time as a true freshman filling in for RG3 in 2009, but he's grown up a whole lot since then, and he'll get a chance to show it this fall. Behind him, Bryce Petty is itching for a chance, too, but Florence's leadership and decision-making assured him the job in the spring.

2. The receivers are ready to roll: And what about Kendall Wright's absence? He led Baylor in receiving for each of the past four seasons, but Baylor's going to be just fine in his wake, too. Terrance Williams is a future NFL draft pick, and Tevin Reese is ready to see an increased role in the offense, too. Lanear Sampson offers more depth and playmaking ability at the position.

3. Lache Seastrunk is a lot more than just hype: The Temple, Texas, native couldn't quite catch on at Oregon, but he's proving he'll be a factor at Baylor at some point, if not immediately. The backfield is still crowded, but he exploded for 138 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. He's the fastest of the Baylor backs, but he's got to prove he can be the most productive too.

Fall questions

1. How much better can the defense get? Baylor doesn't have the RG3 Express to fall back on anymore. He helped make the Bears the first team to ever win four consecutive games in a single season while also giving up at least 30 points. BU won games in 2011 while giving up 56, 48 and 42 points, too. Phil Bennett's defense has the athletes, but it's got to force more turnovers like it did the second half of the season and get those point totals down. Florence is good, but he's no RG3. If the defense doesn't improve, making a bowl will prove difficult.

2. Can Baylor truly carry on without Robert Griffin III? Baylor has all the pieces in place to get back to a bowl game, but RG3 had plenty of truly intangible attributes that are hard to duplicate. He was a compelling leader who always seemed to make everyone around him better. Florence sounds like he has many of those same things, but will they translate into wins? You never quite know for sure. RG3 was a truly transcendent player unlike anything Waco had ever seen.

3. Will the Bears have a featured running back? Seastrunk made lots of noise in the spring game, but Jarred Salubi and Glasco Martin have a lot more experience, and that could pay off in playing time when it comes to things like pass blocking and doing the little things right. Jay Finley and Terrance Ganaway grabbed starring roles the past two seasons, but will coach Art Briles use a committee come fall? Or will he find a back to lean on?

Big 12 spring game recap: Baylor Bears

April, 16, 2012
Miss Baylor's spring game on Saturday? We've got you covered.

What happened:
  • Nick Florence ruined the defense's day, completing 14-of-18 passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns. Bryce Petty completed 18-of-27 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown.
  • Lache Seastrunk stole the show with 135 yards on just seven carries, including a 75-yard touchdown.
  • Lanear Sampson caught five passes for 65 yards and a touchdown. Tevin Reese had four catches for 89 yards.
  • Josh Wilson led all tacklers with 10 stops.
  • The Bears ran 112 plays in the 75-minute scrimmage.
  • About 2,750 fans showed up.
What we learned:
  • When I visited Baylor this spring, Seastrunk was the third man in what looked like a pretty balanced backfield by committee. Now, though? If he's that productive for the rest of fall camp, he may be validating that recruiting hype and hoopla that followed his transfer from Oregon. His competition, Jarred Salubi (88 yards, seven carries) and Glasco Martin (58 yards, TD eight carries) were productive, but Seastrunk has that home-run capability. Salubi does, too, but the senior hasn't shown it on the field. Fall camp should be an interesting race. All three could be productive, but Briles prefers to have a featured back in the offense. Jay Finley and Terrance Ganaway were outstanding the past two years, and I like Baylor's chances to have a third 1,000-yard rusher.
  • Color me unsurprised at Florence and Petty's big day. Baylor, Oklahoma and West Virginia all have a case as the league's deepest roster of QBs.
  • The easy rebuttal from those numbers is Baylor's defense is terrible. Well, it was last year. It won't be great this year, and it might not be a ton better. That said, putting up those kinds of numbers is difficult, and my point is this: Baylor's still going to have one of the league's most productive offenses. RG3 had lots of help around him and lots of potential behind him. We'll get a chance to see it this year. The spring game didn't change my mind about Baylor as a 6-8-win team, but this is not a program that's going to flatline without RG3 at quarterback. The receivers are really talented, really deep and really smart. The offensive line should be really good and the running backs will be productive.
They said it:
"I'm learning. I know my teammates are going to keep helping me. As long as I keep my head in the books and keep understanding all the checks and calls, I'll be fine." - RB Lache Seastrunk, on his day

Offseason to-do list: Baylor

February, 17, 2012
We're taking a look at what each program in the Big 12 needs to deal with during the offseason, whether it be in the spring, summer or fall preseason camp. Maybe all three! Who knows?

Next up: The Baylor Bears.

1. Invest in Nick Florence as RG3's replacement. Don't look for a quarterback competition in Waco this spring. Bryce Petty could maybe steal this job, but every indication is Florence is the assumed starter heading into spring, and it'll take a meltdown for him to lose the job and cede it to the younger player. Florence already started nine games in 2009 with mixed results, but looked a lot better in a win over Texas Tech this year when Robert Griffin III suffered concussion-like symptoms. Florence is no RG3, but he's probably a well-above average QB for next year, and he'll have one of the league's best receiving corps returning, even without Kendall Wright.

2. Study, study, study and keep learning Phil Bennett's system. The defense has to get better at everything. Baylor's invested in its veteran defensive coordinator, and the program believes in him. The team has the athletes -- these Bears are big enough and fast enough - -to see success, but last year was a mess. Keep at it, and it may turn around. Only two of the team's top 13 tacklers are gone. Cornerback K.J. Morton showed some promise late in the year and Ahmad Dixon is solid at nickel back.

3. Sort out the running backs. Is next year the Lache Seastrunk show in the Baylor backfield? Jay Finley and Terrance Ganaway both cleared 1,200 yards rushing the past two seasons. But the Bears need a new feature back, and the Oregon transfer will vie for the job. Glasco Martin has been in the program longer, but Seastrunk's got the higher upside. And what about senior Jarred Salubi? It's a bit jumbled back there, but there's lots of talent and the spring should provide some clarity.

More offseason to-do lists.

Ganaway taking, delivering many punches

November, 29, 2011
Before Baylor took the field for the second half against Texas Tech on Saturday without its Heisman candidate at quarterback, there was no grandiose speech. There wasn't a frenzied huddle to go over altered strategy.

The Bears' offense simply looked around the post-kickoff, pre-drive huddle and didn't see the familiar No. 10 staring back at them.

Instead, Nick Florence quietly slid into Robert Griffin III's spot at starting quarterback for the second half and connected on a pair of touchdown passes longer than 40 yards.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Ganaway
Sarah Glenn/Getty ImagesTerrance Ganaway racked up 246 yards on 42 touches against Texas Tech -- the most he's ever had in his collegiate career.
"We trust in what Nick does, and what he brings to the table. He’s a great quarterback and he has a ton of experience in this offense," said running back Terrance Ganaway. "We’ve practiced with Nick and Nick practices at a high level, and we don’t expect him to play at anything but a high level. We all had confidence in him."

They had reason to be. Florence started nine games when Griffin tore his ACL in the 2009 season, setting the school record for passing that Griffin broke this season.

In the second half, though, one player took over: Ganaway. We should have known, really. Ganaway's flourished under waves of media attention heaped on his quarterback, the second running back in two seasons to do so.

He carried the ball 25 times in the second half for 139 yards and a touchdown. That gave him 42 carries -- more than any Big 12 back in a game this year -- for 246 yards.

"We’d run it pretty effectively the first half, also, so that gave us a little confidence going into the second half," said coach Art Briles, "and it just worked out to where that was something that was being beneficial for us, so we just kept doing it."

Said Ganaway: "We knew it was working, so we weren’t going to get away from it. We were going to keep running until they decided to make us do otherwise."

Ganaway made sure Baylor didn't need much creativity. The rest of Baylor's backfield minus Griffin carried the ball 23 times, but Baylor's 240-pound back carried the load.

With the effort, Ganaway took over the Big 12 rushing lead from injured Missouri back Henry Josey. A year ago, Baylor wondered who would replace Jay Finley's 1,218 yards.

Next year, the Bears will have to wonder who'll replace Ganaway, who now has 1,195 with two games left to play.

"He’s a very mature person. The thing that makes him unique is his agility to go with his size," Briles said. "He’s also got the mentality enough to where he’s very, very focused and very driven."

Briles would know. Ganaway was with Briles at Houston in 2007 before transferring to junior college. Once Briles left for Baylor, Ganaway followed.

Quietly, as Griffin's racked up passing yards and accolades, he's had two great backs playing alongside him that too often get overshadowed.

"Terrance isn’t concerned about any of that. He’s a great team player," Briles said. "He brings a level of mature confidence to our football team because of his focus and energy lies, and that’s within everybody, not himself."

If Ganaway's needed again this week against Texas, he'll be available.

"It was a whole lot [of carries], but I didn’t really even notice. My body felt good the next day and I’m feeling really good right now. You’re just trying to win. You’re in the zone. The adrenaline’s pumping. Your heart’s pounding, you just want to go out there and get the win," Ganaway said. "You really don’t worry about being tired or fatigued. I know I felt tired, and I got some shots, but everybody was fighting. It’s a fight, and you don’t quit until the round’s over. Then you ask, how many punches were there?"

The Revolving Door: Baylor

June, 20, 2011
I've done it. You've done it.

"Hey, is that guy still around?"

Even with two fewer teams, it's hard to keep track. Our next series, which we did last year, too, takes a look at two key players for every team in the league who are taking their talents elsewhere, returning to campus, or arriving to try to write a legacy of their own.

So really, this series isn't so much for the fans of the teams in the posts, but more for everyone else. It wouldn't be a bad idea to bookmark these.

Today, we wrap up the series with the Bears of Waco.


Jay Finley, RB

Finley emerged as a huge threat for the Bears running game, ending the season as one of the Big 12's most underrated talents. He rushed for 1,218 yards -- fourth in the Big 12 -- and 12 touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Corsicana, Texas, native battled back from an injury-plagued 2009 season to stake a claim as one of the Big 12's best, leaving Baylor with a big hole to fill after being drafted in the seventh round by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Danny Watkins, LT

Watkins was a constant for two seasons at left tackle for the Bears, and had one of the most interesting stories of any player in the Big 12. A former fireman from British Columbia, Canada, Watkins first took up football at junior college in California, and after just a few years playing the game, became a first-round pick for the Philadelphia Eagles. He's the third first-round pick in three years for Baylor and coach Art Briles. Jason Smith went No. 2 overall in 2010 and teammate Phil Taylor was drafted in the first round in 2011.


Robert Griffin III, QB

Griffin answered any questions about lingering effects from his 2009 knee injury, returning as a better quarterback than ever and leading Baylor to its first bowl game since 1994, ending a maddening streak. He threw for 3,501 yards, 22 touchdowns and just eight interceptions while running for 635 yards and eight scores. The Bears have bigger things in mind for 2011 than last year's 7-6 finish, and if they're going to get there, Griffin will be the guy to take them.

Kendall Wright, WR

Wright returns as Griffin's top target after catching 78 balls for 952 yards and seven scores in 2010. He's been the Bears' top receiver during all three of his seasons on the field, and don't look for that to change in 2011, even with the likely rise of Josh Gordon, a bigger target. Wright is just 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, but though he's unlikely to jump over many defenders, he'll run past most. The speedy big-play receiver is apt to beat defenses deep for the big play.


Spencer Drango, OT

Drango was the nation's No. 14 offensive tackle and the Bears' top prospect in the 2011 class. The offensive line looks fairly set for this year, so don't look for the 6-foot-6, 264-pounder to contribute right away, but he'll add good depth and learn behind a good line in 2011.

Phil Bennett, defensive coordinator

Baylor's freshman class didn't have a lot of headline makers, but Bennett made a few by coming to Waco after engineering a top 10 defense at Pittsburgh last season. The coaching veteran has been the head man at SMU and made stops at Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and LSU before landing on Art Briles' staff. Briles made a big effort to bring Bennett in, and we'll see how fast he can shape up a defense that needed a lot of help in 2010.

Click here for more from The Revolving Door.

Baylor spring wrap

May, 6, 2011

2010 overall record: 7-6

2010 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (5) P/K (1)

Top returners: QB Robert Griffin III, WR Kendall Wright, WR Josh Gordon, DE Tevin Elliott, LB Elliot Coffey, WR Terrance Williams

Key losses: S Byron Landor, DT Phil Taylor, OL Danny Watkins, LB Antonio Johnson, RB Jay Finley, DB Mikhail Baker, DB Tim Atchison, LB Chris Francis

2010 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Jay Finley (1,218 yards)

Passing: Robert Griffin III* (3,501 yards)

Receiving: Kendall Wright* (952 yards)

Tackles: Byron Landor (127)

Sacks: Tevin Elliott* (5)

Interceptions: Prince Kent* (2)

Three spring answers

1. Doing business at running back. Finley took his 1,200 yards rushing to the NFL, and the Bears need a replacement. The combination of Terrance Ganaway and Jarred Salubi looks more than capable, and the Bears may mix in a bit of Glasco Martin, too.

2. Blue-chip recruit turned contributor. Ahmad Dixon sat behind two solid safeties a year ago, but the Bears lost both, and the former five-star signee looks likely to make a big impact at nickel back. Dixon gives them a high-level athlete that could be one of the league’s budding stars.

3. Big plays are possible. The Bears' defense got gashed plenty this spring, but it can take away some good things from a scrimmage that featured three defensive scores and eight touchdowns. Plays like that were missing last year. It’s small, yes, but plenty of big things start that way.

Three fall questions

1. Who’s going where? Baylor still has no depth chart on defense after the spring. Some things are easy to figure out, and new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett likely has a good idea of who his playmakers are, but piecing together the guys he’s going to ride with all fall will be a big task.

2. Big-game Bears? Baylor won most of the games it was supposed to last season but didn’t come close against the league’s top teams. Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State beat it soundly. If the Bears are going to be any kind of threat, they’ll have to show up in the big games. There’s no way to answer that in the spring.

3. Where’s the D? There are so few questions on offense, outside of maybe whether Gordon can become a truly big-time receiver. So, we’ll focus on the D. Once it figures out who’s playing, can it make a jump? That’s the biggest question facing a team that didn’t have much trouble getting into the end zone last year but a lot of trouble keeping everybody else in the league out. Baylor isn’t winning more than 7 or 8 games if the defense doesn’t get better.

Wrapping up the Big 12's draft

May, 2, 2011
The NFL draft has come and gone, and I hope you're all prepared for no more NFL anything for awhile. I know I'm not.

Anyway, here's how the Big 12 shook out over the weekend, with a few thoughts to follow.

First round (8)

Second round (2)
Third round (2)
Fourth round (6)
Fifth round (3)
Sixth round (1)
Seventh round (8)

Here's how the Big 12 teams ranked in terms of total draftees:

1. Nebraska - 7
2. Baylor - 4
2. Colorado - 4
2. Oklahoma - 4
2. Texas - 4
6. Missouri - 3
7. Kansas State -1
7. Oklahoma State - 1
7. Texas A&M - 1
7. Texas Tech - 1
11. Iowa State - 0
11. Kansas - 0

And the major conferences (counting where players actually played):

SEC - 38
Pac-12 - 33
Big 12 - 30
Big Ten - 29
ACC - 35
Big East - 22

  • Texas A&M had just one player drafted, but the Aggies will have plenty next year, including a handful of possible first-rounders. Cyrus Gray, Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller could all go very early in 2012, depending on what happens between now and then.
  • [+] EnlargeJeremy Beal
    Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal was drafted in the seventh round by Denver.

  • Interesting that Miller went 245 selections before the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year, according to the media, Jeremy Beal. Also an interesting coincidence? The same team drafted both. I do think Beal will have a productive NFL career, and there's no denying what he did at Oklahoma, but the measurables were never quite there for Beal. What's not measurable? How difficult he is to block. That said, Miller was my vote for the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Good to see some hard-working, perhaps under-respected guys get drafted. This was an important year for that, considering those left over won't be able to get into NFL minicamps until the lockout ends and won't be able to do anything to further their NFL careers besides work out on their own. I'll have a post later today on some of those snubs. There's no guarantee that late-drafted guys like Baron Batch, Scotty McKnight, Jay Finley or Eric Hagg will catch on in the the pros, but I'd be willing to guarantee they'll do everything in their power to maximize what opportunities they get.
  • One of the most interesting selections? Mikail Baker. He wasn't invited to the combine, and played just one full season on defense at Baylor after working as a kick returner and a cornerback in 2009 before a season-ending knee injury. You don't see that kind of impressive athleticism at Baylor traditionally.
  • Let the debate continue: Kendall Hunter vs. DeMarco Murray. Murray getting drafted 40-some spots earlier only intensified that discussion, if you ask me.
  • Also, what's more impressive from Art Briles? That Baylor had four picks, the most in school history since 1996? Or that despite those four picks, Baylor's returning an even better team than last season, when it ended a 16-year bowl drought?
  • Colorado's draft, meanwhile? Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Dan Hawkins' coaching job in Boulder.
  • Alex Henery didn't win the Lou Groza Award, but his fourth-round selection makes him the earliest kicker draft pick since 2006. Will that end the state of Nebraska's blood feud against respectable OSU kicker Dan Bailey, who did win the Lou Groza Award? I doubt it. (Save your emails. For the 100th time, I agree, Nebraska fans. Henery > Bailey.)
  • A few guys who went way lower than I thought they would. In order of my surprise level: Beal, Gabbert, Amukamara, Hagg, Hunter.
  • A few guys who went way higher than I thought, in the same order: Aldon Smith, Batch, Gachkar, Baker.

Lunch links: Longhorns grab top recruit

April, 4, 2011
Saw plenty of the Texas countryside this weekend. Time for a change of pace this week.

Big 12 spring game recap: Baylor

April, 4, 2011
What happened:

  • Junior quarterback Robert Griffin III completed 21-of-26 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. The first touchdown was a short pass that Tevin Reese turned into a 45-yard score and the second was a 50-yard strike to Kendall Wright.
  • Running back Jarred Salubi led all rushers with 40 yards on six carries and a touchdown.
  • Terrance Williams led all receivers with nine catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Eight receivers caught at least four passes, and 17 players caught passes.
  • An estimated crowd of 3,500 came to the game at Baylor's Highers Athletic Complex.
  • The game was televised locally.
What we learned:
  • If it wasn't already clear, Saturday's spring game further illustrated it: Baylor is way, way deep at receiver. They've got a lot of guys who can make plays for Griffin, and a quarterback in RG3 who can utilize them well. Last season, the Bears had five players with at least 40 receptions. "All those guys could be a star somewhere else, but we're lucky to have them on our campus," Griffin said. "I'll spread the ball around like I did last year. When they get their chance to make plays, they'll make them, and that will make us that much better." I liked how Darius Jones looked during my visit to campus, and he's been making plays in scrimmages as well. He had just two catches last season, but had five on Saturday. I'd expect him to be a nice addition to Griffin's targets this year as a sophomore.
  • Griffin: He's still pretty good.
  • The talk of the spring has been the defense, and though it had a nice day in the previous scrimmage, it's tough to be too encouraged by letting three quarterbacks combine for 587 yards and four touchdowns on 56-of-72 passing. Baylor has an efficient offense that looks for easy completions, but that completion percentage is way, way too high for the defense. Baylor can keep winning 6-7 games if the defense keeps playing like that and the offense remains constant. But to make any real noise in the Big 12, defenses have to be able to stop the pass. The Bears' passing offense will be one of the toughest they see all next season, so that's something to consider. But if you're letting opponents complete 77 percent of their passes, that offense is going to be sitting on the sideline much more often than coach Art Briles would like to see.It's a work in progress, yes. There's still time to get better. To be fair, the defense did get five sacks and made six tackles for loss, keeping the offense off the board for six consecutive possessions at one point in the first half. But if the season started today, their bad days would outnumber the good. The good news is the season doesn't start today. Summer workouts and fall preseason camp will be huge for Phil Bennett's defense, which will be the biggest factor in determining whether Baylor builds off its seven-win campaign from last season.
  • I don't see the running back rotation shifting much. If I was guessing, I'd expect Salubi and Terrance Ganaway to share the carries pretty evenly with a little dash of Glasco Martin for 3-4 touches a game.
They said it:

"We're looking for a guy that's never been 'it' in the game of tag."

-- Briles earlier in the week, on trying to replace running back Jay Finley. No doubt a strong candidate for the quote of the spring, perhaps in all of college football.

More Big 12 spring game recaps:

Mailbag: Defending my top 25 players

March, 22, 2011
I asked. You delivered. Here's where you thought I got it wrong with my top 25 players of the 2010 season. I'm on the road again today, so no chat, but here's your chance to be heard on the blog.

Before we get to the questions, here's a disclaimer: First, you can take a look at the criteria I used to make the list.

Secondly, making any list like this is extremely difficult. I feel 100 percent confident in my ranking of the players in order of their positions, but when it comes to importance relative to another position? Well, that's certainly up for debate. It's tough to say with any certainty that X safety is more valuable than Y offensive lineman, but I felt pretty good about the list. In hindsight, I'd maybe make a few revisions, but the only big change I would have made is maybe bumping DeMarco Murray up a few spots. His rushing and receiving totals aren't eye-popping on their own, but combined, I think I underestimated how his total yardage from scrimmage stacked up against the rest of the league's backs. I'd probably put him somewhere around 14 or 15.

Finally, here's my list of players who deserved honorable mention.

So, here we go:

Will in College Station asks: How is Ryan Tannehill not on the list? If Robert Griffin can make it on a 7-6 Baylor squad, how is Tannehill, who went 6-1 as a starter, not near, or ahead of Griffin, on this list? Tannehill was also a solid receiver for the Aggies at the start of the season. If you're talking total utility players, Tannehill has to be up there.

Mark in College Station asks: You crazy, son. What was A&M's record before Tannehill? What was their record after?... and his stats weren't half bad either.Point made. No one from Tech should have made this list -- Tannehill should at LEAST be number 25.

David Ubben: These are all oversimplifications. For one, Griffin is markedly more important to his team than Tannehill. Teams have seen him play. They game plan for him, and he beats them. The big fish got by Baylor last year, but they won a lot of games they should have won last year. That's new for Baylor. Both in a) winning games they're supposed to win and b) having so many games they're supposed to win.

The record is a ridiculous measure of Tannehill's play. He was a big part of A&M's rise. There's no disputing that. But there were a ton of other factors, too. Cyrus Gray was perhaps the biggest, along with the offensive line maturing with two freshman starters on the front line. Additionally, a defense that played pretty well early in the season played inspired against Oklahoma and Nebraska, giving the Aggies their two biggest games of the year. He played OK in all three games, and was a big reason why, but the Aggies didn't beat the Sooners, Huskers and Longhorns only because of Tannehill.

Citing his record doesn't work as the sole reason to put him on the list. There's too many other factors. And look at his numbers over that seven game stretch. He's not even close to Griffin, Weeden or Jones. They're close to Gabbert, but I made it clear in his post that the numbers don't tell the whole story with him.

I'm not wholly discounting what Tannehill did. I still think he's the fourth best quarterback coming back for the 2011 season, but in 2010, he wasn't on the level of the four quarterbacks on the list. And that's without even mentioning that he only played seven games.

Von Miller in Right Behind You asked: Why wasn't I #1? I will sack you.

DU: Let me step up into the pocket on this one.

It breaks down to this: Miller had a great year, one of the best in the nation. Blackmon had a historic year, one of the best of any player to ever play the game. As well as Miller played in conference play, Blackmon did that -- and maybe more -- for the entire season. Giving him the No. 1 spot over Miller wasn't a difficult decision. His production throughout the year was staggering, and as shown in the Kansas State game, it paced the Cowboys offense. Early in the year, their offense devolved into a "drop back and chuck it" at times. Guess why they felt comfortable doing that?

Aaron in Edwardsville, Ill., asked: I think you got Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden's rankings wrong, they should have been flip flopped. You aren't the only one who doesn't see this though, as every major publication had Weeden over Jones which makes zero sense. Jones had more yards, more touchdowns, less interceptions, played a much tougher schedule, beat Weeden's team on his homefield and won a BCS bowl game. There is no way Weeden should be above Jones in any ranking. That is all, rest of the list looks solid.

DU: Nope. It's close, but you can't simplify it to numbers for Jones. He threw the ball 106 more times than Weeden, but a lot of those were swing passes to Ryan Broyles and DeMarco Murray, which definitely inflated his yardage total without requiring a massive amount of skill. Considering that, their interception numbers (13 for Weeden, 12 for Jones) are pretty much a wash. But like I wrote before, Jones is much, much more apt for the big mistakes (INTs against Missouri in the red zone and fourth quarter, pick sixes against Oklahoma State and Connecticut) and for that reason, I give Weeden a slight edge.

Dalton Gibson in Norman, Okla., asked: I didn't see my name anywhere on the list. What gives? I thought I cheered pretty hard this year.

DU: Maybe next year, Dalton. Maybe next year. Keep the dream alive.

Jason in Dallas asked: Are you kidding me? Where is Cyrus Gray? He was the best running back in the Big 12 in the second half of the season!

DU: If he wasn't the best, he was close. You could make that argument for sure. But how do you explain his numbers early in the year? The win over Florida International aside, he averaged less than four yards a carry while getting double-digit touches against Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana Tech. But what about when the Aggies hit their three-game winning streak?

Gray accounted for a whopping 7 yards on 11 carries without a touchdown.

Here's the bottom line: There's no question that Gray was one of the league's best the second half of the year, but there's a reason he wasn't getting the touches early in the season: Christine Michael was better. Over that first six-game stretch, Michael had 558 yards to Gray's 195. When Michael went down with the broken leg, and Gray's workload increased significantly, he exceeded everyone's expectations.

However, you can't ignore half the season. That's entirely unfair to everyone else in the league. He still finished just seventh in the Big 12 in rushing yards. The whole first half of the year, he wasn't a big factor. Accounting for the full picture of the season, that's about right. He was close to being in my top 25 again, but re-read my criteria.

"If I'm drafting players from the Big 12 to replay the 2010 season and I'm guaranteed that each player duplicates his 2010 performance, this is the order I would take them."

To just gloss over those first six games isn't fair. That said, Gray reached another level late in the year, and Aggies have a lot of reasons to get excited with him and Michael back on the field next year.

Andrew in St. Louis asked: On your Big 12 top 25 players list, you didn't even include linebacker Andrew Gachkar of Missouri on your honorable mention list. He finished the year with 84 tackles, 8.5 TFL, a sack, a couple picks, 2 forced fumbles, and 5 pass breakups. He was a senior leader and arguably the most important force on the conference's top defense. I think he makes a strong case for the top 25 over linebacker Travis Lewis.

DU: Yeah, that was my mistake. I think he was a bit of an oversight on my part. That's partially because he a) came out of nowhere and b) played so well late in the year. I started with a big list of guys, but Gachkar wasn't on it to start. He should have been, and he'd probably have been pretty close to cracking the top 25. He wouldn't have been on it, but he wouldn't have been far off.

Rob in Stillwater, Okla., asked: So... Why wasn't Justin Blackmon higher on your list? I feel like he exceed expectations and performed far better than anyone on the list. You could have at least left #2 empty in his honor.

DU: In my defense, I did exactly that on my list of the Big 12's most improved players in 2010.

Derek in St. Louis, Mo., asked: Where was Aldon Smith? The guy is gonna be a first-round pick, but he's not one of the top 25 players in the Big 12? Come on, Ubbs!

DU: It was in my criteria: Each player's draft stock wasn't considered at all. Smith's talent is through the roof, but his production wasn't there this year. The broken leg he suffered against San Diego State was a big part of that, and when he returned, he wasn't quite the same, but look at his numbers:
  • 4.5 sacks -- third on his own team, down from 11 as a freshman. Those also ranked 18th in the Big 12. (Note: I ranked him No. 18 on the preseason list)
  • 48 tackles
  • 10 tackles for loss (11th in the Big 12)
  • one forced fumble

I think Smith will have a good pro career, or he probably would have come back to the Big 12 and had a great junior year in 2011. But last year, perhaps through little to no fault of his own, the production didn't warrant inclusion on the list.

Brennan Huff asked: Dave, i'm a little concerned about your rankings of running backs, or rather, the lack thereof. Seems to me like you just dont give much love to the running backs across the conference on what has become a fairly consistent basis.

DU: I'd disagree with that. On my preseason list, I had five running backs, the most of any position. This year, there weren't very many guys in the league that defenses had to truly fear. Guys like Rodney Stewart, Roy Helu Jr. Cyrus Gray, Jay Finley and Rex Burkhead weren't far off the list, but they weren't quite good enough to deserve inclusion.

Breaking down spring practice: Baylor

March, 10, 2011
Schedule: Practice began on February 28, and continues through the spring game on April 2. Selected portions of select practices are open.

What’s new: Baylor ranked 10th in the Big 12 last season in total defense and ninth in scoring defense, which necessitated a change at defensive coordinator. The Bears brought in Phil Bennett, whose defense at Pitt last year ranked eighth nationally. Bennett also won the Panthers' bowl game as an interim coach. He'll be charged with helping shore up the Bears' defense to match their high-powered offense.

Breaking out: Receiver Josh Gordon became a big contributor as a sophomore in 2010, ranking second on the team with 42 catches for 714 yards and seven touchdowns after catching just one pass as a freshman. He could be a candidate for an all-conference nod next season, but the beginnings of a big season could happen this spring.

Question marks: Jay Finley had a huge year, rushing for 1,216 yards and 12 scores for the Bears. He's gone now, but Baylor's offense needs someone to fill his role or it'll take a step back in 2011. Baylor has a thunder and lightning-type duo with Terrance Ganaway and Jarred Salubi, who may share the duty, but those rushing yards have to come from somewhere in 2011.

Big shoes to fill: Phil Taylor is taking his 330-pound talents to the NFL, and for as much trouble as Baylor had stopping the run in its bowl game and throughout the season (79th nationally), someone has to step in and plug the middle with a smaller frame. Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, a 310-pounder, should fill the role after making 31 tackles a season ago. The Bears also have to replace starting left tackle Danny Watkins.

All eyes on: The defense. The Bears got over the hump and made it to a bowl game last year, but the defense kept them from winning more than seven games, especially in losses to Texas Tech and Texas A&M. Baylor is set for another bowl game, and being in the Big 12 title picture next year isn't out of the question, but to get close or be a factor, the defense has to improve. For established stars in quarterback Robert Griffin III and his top target, receiver Kendall Wright, the spring should be business as usual. Sharpening their timing and other minute details while preparing for a third big year in 2011.

What to watch in the Big 12 this spring

February, 16, 2011
Springtime is almost here. And here's a look at what to expect across the Big 12 when it gets into full swing here in the next couple weeks.


Spring practice starts: February 28

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • Big changes on defense. Baylor brought in Phil Bennett as its new defensive coordinator, and he says his scheme will be multiple, built to fit the Bears' personnel. Considering the Bears' recent recruiting successes in the secondary, look for a 4-2-5 type of look.
  • Recruiting stars: time to shine. Both safeties, Tim Atchison and Byron Landor, are gone. Baylor, though, has two former ESPNU 150 recruits at safety who would be well served to start filling their potential. Prince Kent was a reserve last season and at one time, the nation's No. 51 overall recruit who originally signed with Miami. Ahmad Dixon, meanwhile, was the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2010 class. The opportunity is there. Baylor needs big talent at the position. Briles has recruited it. Can they develop into players who make Baylor a contender?
  • Running back competition. Jay Finley topped 1,200 yards in 2010, but he's gone. Who steps into his void? Terrance Ganaway is a bowling ball at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, but the shifty Jarred Salubi could get a good amount of carries, too. They could begin to share carries this spring.

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Quarterback competition. It should be a good one in Ames this spring. Jerome Tiller is the name most recognize after getting lots of meaningful time and starts because of injuries to Austen Arnaud over the past two seasons. But juco transfer Steele Jantz sounds confident he can win the job. Rising sophomore James Capello and redshirt freshman Jared Barnett will compete, too.
  • Paging Cyclone receivers. Iowa State had one of the most underwhelming receiving corps in the league during the past season, and three of its top five pass-catchers won't return in 2011. Of those three, however, one is a tight end (Collin Franklin) and another is a running back (Alexander Robinson). The new quarterback will need some help, and Darius Darks and Darius Reynolds will need to provide it as seniors.
  • Shontrelle's time or not? Freshman Shontrelle Johnson looked like the running back with the most pop behind Robinson for most of 2010, but two other freshmen running backs jockeyed for carries, too. Paul Rhoads is hardly handing the job over to Johnson, but spring could be the time when he really separates himself from the pack.

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • What are they doing behind center? Kansas never got much consistent play out of the quarterback position last year, but freshman Brock Berglund is one of the 2011 class' top recruits, and enrolled early to compete in the spring with Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham. With a building program like Kansas, there's perhaps some value in handing the program to a younger player like Webb or Berglund, but they'll have to earn it. Doing so will start in the spring, but don't expect the Jayhawks to have a set-in-stone starter by spring's end.
  • Top linebacker back on the field. Huldon Tharp missed all of 2010 with a foot injury, but he says he's 100 percent and ready to get back on the field. As a freshman in 2009, he was fifth on the team in tackles, with 59, and looked like one of the league's possible budding stars. Now, he'll get his chance to join fellow linebacker Steven Johnson as one of the team's top tacklers, and he'll do it as a sophomore after redshirting in 2010.
  • Toben rising? Turner Gill raised plenty of eyebrows when he moved his team's leading rusher in 2009, Toben Opurum, to linebacker in fall camp, and eventually slid him up to defensive end. But toward the end of 2010, Opurum started showing some major signs of growth at the position. We'll get a better idea this spring if he's one of the league's most unlikely new stars at defensive end.

Spring practice starts: April 6

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • Prodigal Kansan sons come home. There's no doubt that the Wichita native Brown brothers are the main attraction at Kansas State this spring, a season after transferring back home. Bryce Brown, the running back, was the nation's No. 8 prospect in the 2009 class. Arthur Brown, the linebacker, was the nation's No. 6 prospect in the 2008 class. Bryce transferred from Tennessee and Arthur from Miami. The Wildcats are pinning much of their hopes on the duo, and we'll get a good sense of what they can provide soon.
  • Quarterback competition. Carson Coffman is gone, and two new faces will challenge for the job: juco transfer Justin Tuggle and Daniel Sams. Sammuel Lamur is also up for the gig. Collin Klein may or may not be; Bill Snyder hasn't explicitly confirmed a past comment from Sams saying Klein had moved to receiver. Don't expect a starter to be named by spring's end, but a general order could start to form.
  • Can the defense show improvement? Kansas State had the Big 12's worst overall defense last year, and the worst rushing defense in college football, giving up 3,008 yards on the ground. Coordinator Chris Cosh looks like he'll still be around in 2011, and defensive backs David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman are solid pieces to try and build around. But this young maturing defense must get better to make a bowl game again with so many questions on offense. That starts in the spring.

Spring practice starts: March 8

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Franklin comes alive! Blaine Gabbert bolted to the NFL early, and Missouri has a gaping hole a quarterback. The position, however, is surrounded by a lot of quality talent that likely makes the Tigers a Top 25 team. There's no understating the importance of the position for the Tigers, and that will begin to be decided in the spring. James Franklin, a rising sophomore, saw spot duty in 2010 as more of a runner, and may have the inside track on the job, but Tyler Gabbert, Blaine's younger brother, and Ashton Glaser should make it an interesting competition in the spring. If neither of them impress early, don't count out incoming freshman Corbin Berkstresser.
  • Here is the new secondary. Same as the old secondary? After years of pass defense being one of the Tigers' biggest weaknesses, it became a strength in 2010 behind the leadership of senior corners Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis. But the Tigers lose them and safety Jarrell Harrison. Rutland emerged as one of the team's most impressive players last spring, but was Missouri's success in the secondary a one-time thing or the beginning of a welcome trend?
  • Time to dominate the trenches? Missouri played without likely first-round pick Aldon Smith for much of the previous season, but the defensive and offensive lines for the Tigers were as good as ever in 2010. How will they look in 2011? Impact juco transfer Sheldon Richardson won't be enrolled by the spring, but the four returning starters on the offensive line should get some solid work against Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith and Terrell Resonno.

Spring practice starts: March 21

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Freshmen on display. Coach Bob Stoops hasn't been shy about saying his 2010 recruiting class was his best ever, but it could look even better after this spring. Two of his best emerging recruits, Justin McCay and Geneo Grissom, didn't even play in 2010, and could start to make an impact. The same goes for Corey Nelson, who will try to earn some more time somewhere backing up star Travis Lewis.
  • Is there a golden boot in Norman? Jimmy Stevens was much more accurate in 2010, finishing 19-for-23, but his attempts outside 45 yards were sparse. The good news is he missed none of his 53 extra points. Field goals have been a bit of an adventure for the past couple years, but continuing in the spring what he started last year would be a good sign for Oklahoma. The Sooners are strong everywhere and need good special teams play to reach their lofty title goals.
  • Are the Sooners' backs back? Roy Finch missed the Fiesta Bowl with a stress fracture, and his durability is certainly questionable entering 2011. When he's healthy, he looks like the next star in the Sooners' backfield, but they'll need some depth behind the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder. Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and Brennan Clay have all looked good at times, but there should be some good competition from newcomers Brandon Wegher, an Iowa transfer who'll be in camp this spring and eligible next season, and blue-chip recruit Brandon Williams, who enrolled early.

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Every piece of the offense. The spring in Stillwater is all about keeping or improving upon the status quo. Had it kept Dana Holgorsen, there'd be little doubt that would happen, but Oklahoma State must make the most of its five returning offensive linemen, quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. The opportunity for a historic season is there, but they'll have to pick up the nuances of the new offense quickly in the spring like they did last year.
  • What about the kicker? Dan Bailey won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2010, but he's gone. Oklahoma State needs to fill that role quickly, and we'll likely know who will get the nod after the spring.
  • Who steps up on the defensive line? The Cowboys lose three starters up front on defense, including All-Big 12 performer Ugo Chinasa and tackles Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka. Can senior Richetti Jones become a star in the Big 12? We'll have a good idea if he, or any of the Cowboys' other defensive linemen, can by the end of April.

Spring practice starts: February 24

Spring game: April 3

What to watch:
  • New coaches and their students/players. Texas has five new coaches. Although it's hard to get a good read early on, how they relate with the players on the field, in the film room and around the facilities will have a big impact on how the 2011 season plays out in Austin. The young-blooded coordinators could serve themselves well by relating to players and the players will need to spend plenty of extra time learning new schemes and plays.
  • Quarterback competition ... or not? Mack Brown says the gig is open and it is, for now. Garrett Gilbert can close it with a strong spring. If Garrett struggles on the field or has difficulty grasping the new system, the door will be wide open for Connor Wood or Case McCoy to step in and close it. Gilbert didn't get much help, but he did very little in 2010 to inspire a lot of breathing room with McCoy and Wood clamoring for playing time.
  • And you've got to defend the pass, too. Texas loses its top three cornerbacks to the NFL, and only Carrington Byndom and A.J. White got much meaningful playing time last season. Younger players can earn some rare early playing time with a strong spring. Will anyone step up?

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • New linebackers in the running. Spring isn't so scary when you bring back nine defensive starters, but the two Texas A&M lost were the heart of its defense. Linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller are gone. Kyle Mangan didn't look fantastic when forced into action during the Cotton Bowl, but the time is now for Damontre Moore and Dominique Patterson, a pair of sophomores, to make their impact.
  • Tannehill's tuning things up. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill played about as well as anyone could have hoped late last season, but he'll need it to continue his performance with a solid spring nailing down the timing with his receivers, who all return. He's already got a leg up on last year's quarterback, Jerrod Johnson, who was held out of team drills last spring after shoulder surgery that eventually derailed his senior season.
  • Christine's back. Christine Michael missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, giving way to Cyrus Gray's rise among Big 12 backs. It should make Texas A&M's depth at the position even more impressive, but we'll see how Michael looks coming back from the injury.

Spring practice starts: February 19

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Past defending that pass defense. Texas Tech had the Big 12's worst pass defense last season, but has a pair of big potential players at cornerback in rising sophomores Tre Porter and Jarvis Phillips. Starters LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, but if returning starters Cody Davis and Will Ford can continue to mature, the defense should improve in the area most important for success in the Big 12.
  • And they're off! There's a four-man quarterback derby set in Lubbock this spring between Seth Doege, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer and Scotty Young. I don't expect it to be settled until midway through fall camp, similar to last season, but there should be a solid front-runner and more clarity after spring. Coach Tommy Tuberville was extremely impressed with Doege and Karam last spring after Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield went down with injuries.
  • Time to find new stars. Most of the big names on Texas Tech's defense are gone. Colby Whitlock, Bront Bird, Brian Duncan will all continue their careers elsewhere. The leaders on the defense will have to begin to emerge in the spring. Is it Scott Smith? Cody Davis? A younger, unexpected player? We'll find out. Sometimes these types of situations aren't as easy to predict as they might seem, like Missouri's strength in 2010 emerging in the secondary.

Baylor Bears, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Longhorns, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Colby Whitlock, Corey Nelson, Ahmad Dixon, Brennan Clay, Jacob Karam, Darius Reynolds, Christine Michael, Von Miller, Alexander Robinson, Kyle Mangan, Chris Cosh, Steven Sheffield, Turner Gill, Tysyn Hartman, Bill Snyder, Bront Bird, Case McCoy, Brandon Williams, Dan Bailey, Justin Blackmon, Franklin Mitchem, Richetti Jones, James Capello, Connor Wood, Shane Jarka, Ryan Tannehill, Terrance Ganaway, Byron Landor, Cody Davis, Travis Lewis, Cyrus Gray, Scotty Young, Chris Donaldson, Bryce Brown, Jerome Tiller, Brian Duncan, LaRon Moore, Toben Opurum, Darius Darks, Paul Rhoads, Brad Madison, Art Briles, Kevin Rutland, Carrington Byndom, Sheldon Richardson, Bob Stoops, Jerrod Johnson, Blaine Gabbert, Jay Finley, Jared Barnett, Taylor Potts, Huldon Tharp, Jimmy Stevens, Arthur Brown, Mack Brown, Jarvis Phillips, Garrett Gilbert, Tyler Gabbert, Jordan Webb, Jermie Calhoun, Collin Franklin, Phil Bennett, Jacquies Smith, Jarred Salubi, Collin Klein, Tim Atchison, Carl Gettis, Seth Doege, Ugo Chinasa, Terrell Resonno, Carson Coffman, Aldon Smith, Brandon Weeden, David Garrett, Justin McCay, James Franklin, Corbin Berkstresser, Geneo Grissom, Quinn Mecham, Scott Smith, Tre Porter, Shontrelle Johnson, Prince Kent, Damontre Moore, Michael Brewer, A.J. White, Brock Berglund, Ashton Glaser, Michael Hodges, Brandon Wegher, Steele Jantz, Jonathan Miller, Justin Tuggle, Daniel Sams, Dominique Patterson

The Big 12's top 10 one-man shows

February, 15, 2011
Each offense across the Big 12 starts 11 players on Saturday and plays 12-14 games. That's a whole lot of performances. Some are better than others.

These are the 10 best individual performances from the entire 2010 season.

If a player's team didn't win the game, he was ineligible, and this list omitted defensive performances. To add a little homogeny to this business, nonconference games were omitted as well.

1. Taylor Martinez vs. Oklahoma State. Nebraska's freshman quarterback went on the road and was unstoppable, bouncing back from one of his worst games of the year against Texas with his best. He threw for 323 yards and five touchdowns on 23-of-35 passing and ran for 112 yards on 19 carries. It earned the Huskers a much-needed 51-41 win in Stillwater.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Taylor Martinez
Mark D Smith/USPRESSWIRETaylor Martinez threw for 323 yards and five touchdowns to go along with his 112 rushing yards against Oklahoma State.
2. Landry Jones vs. Nebraska. Unimpressed by his numbers? (23-of-41, 342 yards, TD, INT). Consider this: They came in the Big 12 Championship against the No. 3 passing defense in the country, and the Sooners trailed 17-0 early, so the defense knew what was coming. Considering the graveyard of quarterbacks that Nebraska left in its wake, there's no question this was among the best performances of the year.

3. Justin Blackmon vs. Baylor. He just makes it look easy. Blackmon torched the Bears for 173 yards on 13 catches and a touchdown in the Cowboys' 55-28 win. And he dropped another easy score! He touched the ball once in the running game, too. Of course, he ran it in for a 69-yard touchdown.

4. Taylor Martinez vs. K-State. If anyone didn't know who Martinez was before this game, they did after. On a nationally televised Thursday night game, he injected himself into the Heisman race, albeit briefly, with 241 yards rushing and four touchdowns on just 15 carries. He also threw a 79-yard touchdown pass and finished with 128 yards on 5-of-7 passing to help the Huskers roll easily, 48-13.

5. Jay Finley vs. Kansas State. Finley was a workhorse, logging 26 carries for 250 yards, including an 82-yard score in the Bears' 47-42 win. He had a pair of rushing touchdowns, and any day that features nearly 10 yards a carry is impressive.

6. Roy Helu Jr. vs. Missouri. Helu wasn't exactly breaking loads of tackles, but no one else in the Big 12 came within 40 yards of his 307-yard, three-touchdown day that effectively won the Big 12 North for the Huskers. The holes were there, Helu hit them hard, and the Tigers couldn't get back in the game. In the fourth quarter, Helu clinched the game with plenty of tough yards.

7. Ryan Broyles vs. Iowa State. What made this most impressive is Broyles basically put his game together in just over a half of play. The Sooners beat the Cyclones 52-0, but Broyles caught 15 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown.

8. Robert Griffin III vs. Kansas. Griffin got help with a 94-yard catch and run by Josh Gordon, but the Bears gave a good indication of how good they could be in their conference opener by routing Kansas, 55-7. Considering the Bears won just one conference game a year ago, it was certainly a big deal. Griffin threw for 380 yards on 26-of-36 passing, three touchdowns and ran for 64 more yards and another score on eight carries.

9. Cyrus Gray vs. Texas. Gray notched his sixth consecutive game of at least 100 yards rushing in the 24-17 win, and pushed the Aggies over the edge with with a 48-yard score in the third quarter to put them up 24-14. He also opened the scoring for the Aggies with an 84-yard touchdown and finished with 223 yards, the most ever by an Aggie against hated rival, Texas.

10. Ryan Tannehill vs. Texas Tech. Only four players had higher totals in a single game than Tannehill's school-record 449 yards passing against the Red Raiders. He had four touchdowns on 36-of-50 passing, and most impressive? He did it in his first career start.

A sincere apology to a few Big 12 players

February, 14, 2011
We kicked off our top 25 list today, but unfortunately, it's only a top 25 list.

Narrowing it down was incredibly difficult, and there were a ton of talents that didn't quite make the cut.

For that, I'm sorry. I legitimately feel awful about all of them.

Every guy on this list is a top-25 caliber player who just couldn't get inside my list. If somebody else made one, I'd be fine with them being on it. But this time, they didn't make mine. There are a lot of great players in this league, and I could only recognize 25.

But here are the rest who came so, so close, in no particular order.

Rodney Stewart, RB, Colorado: Rushed for 1,316 yards to rank third in the Big 12. My biggest reason for leaving him off? His 4.54 yards per carry ranks 17th in the Big 12. He got it done this year, but he got 290 carries to do it. Other backs were more deserving.

Ricky Henry, OG, Nebraska: Nebraska's running offense was fearsome early this year, and despite some late struggles, still finished No. 1 in the Big 12. Henry was a big reason why, but other linemen slid on the list before him.

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: His 68 tackles were second on the team, and he broke up four passes, but it was hard to put Smith on the list over the cornerbacks who made it, even though the position is extremely important in the Big 12.

Roy Helu Jr., RB, Nebraska : Helu finished with another 1,000-yard season, but I didn't have very many running backs on the list. Helu had a great year, and I don't mean this as a knock on him, but I was more impressed with his 1,145 yards last year without much help. Defenses spent so much time defending Taylor Martinez, holes for Helu formed that weren't there in 2009.

T.J. Moe, WR, Missouri: Moe has my title as the toughest cover in the Big 12, and his time in the top 25 is coming. Just not yet.

Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: Wright's production might have been higher had Baylor not found other receivers to give Robert Griffin III some help, but other emerging receivers pushed Wright off the list after he made our preseason list.

Colby Whitlock, DT, Texas Tech: Whitlock had a nice year with 57 stops and two tackles for loss, but it wasn't a great year for defensive tackles in the Big 12.

Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M and Jay Finley, RB, Baylor: Great years, obviously, but like I said, I just didn't put a lot of running backs on the list.

Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska: Never would have believed in October that he wouldn't make this list, but he wasn't a top 25 player in conference play. He works well for Nebraska in its offense, but plenty of other quarterbacks are above the freshman.

Andrew McGee, CB, Oklahoma State: Led the Big 12 in interceptions, with five, but defending the pass is about blanketing receivers, not picking off passes. That's not to say picking them off is a bad thing, but other corners were better at shutting down opposing receivers.

Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State: Racked up plenty of tackles, third in the Big 12 with 130, and he's a great player, but the book on how to beat Iowa State was out early. Running the ball against the Cyclones weak front four was effective, and opponents did it 512 times this year. Only 22 teams in college football faced more rushing attempts, and no Iowa State lineman made more than 40 tackles this year.

Michael Hodges, LB, Texas A&M: Hodges was the heart of Texas A&M's defense, and racked up 115 tackles, but other linebackers slid above him on the list.

Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma: Fleming was all over the place after some early season struggles, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the list next year.

So, that's my list of close calls. Again, I felt terrible about not including every single one of those players, and if you want to make your own top 25 list and put them on it, they all definitely deserve it. But I can only fit 25 guys on my list, and putting one of these players on it would only mean another got snubbed.

Baylor recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011

The class

Signees: 19 (five enrolled early, four junior college)

Top prospects: The Bears got a big-time offensive tackle in Spencer Drango, the nation's No. 14 prospect at the position. Trevor Clemons-Valdez (No. 32 defensive tackle) and Johnathan Lee (No. 48 receiver) are two other highly-rated prospects in the class. Suleiman Masumbuko and Beau Blackshear add more talent on the front line of the defense.

Needs met: Baylor is set for 2011 at the skill positions; they have elite Big 12 talent at quarterback and receiver, and some talent with potential at running back. Where they needed help is on the offensive line and everywhere on defense, excluding the secondary, where they stocked up on talent in their 2010 class. The Bears got exactly what they needed. It's not a balanced class, but that's not what Art Briles wanted. He wanted big bodies up front, and nine of his 19 signees are offensive or defensive linemen. Defensive tackle Phil Taylor and offensive tackle Danny Watkins will be making big money in the NFL next year, and they need to be replaced. The Bears have done that. Jay Finley is gone, and Baylor signed three running backs in this class with a chance to replace him in 2011.

Analysis: Baylor's location in central Texas helps so, so much in recruiting. The Bears can get in on a lot of talent that's overlooked by other programs, they don't have to worry about distance (18 of the 19 commits are from Texas) and have been able to grab an elite, top-tier recruit in recent years. Last year, it was Ahmad Dixon, a safety who was the nation's No. 15 overall prospect. Darius Jones, an ESPNU 150 prospect, signed in 2009. Kendall Wright has become one of the league's best receivers as the No. 112 overall prospect in 2008. This year, they don't have an elite prospect, but they've got a lot of quality talents to help fill what Baylor needs. They lost offensive tackle Nila Kneubuhl on signing day after the offensive tackle had been committed to the Bears for nearly a year, which has to be frustrating for Briles, but it's not a huge blow. New defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has been on the job less than a month. He'll have 11 new players with two possible ones at athlete, compared to just six offensive prospects. The class ranks eighth in the Big 12, but it's an acceptable group for the Bears, who have a lot of established talent already on campus.

ESPN recruiting grade: C-plus