Big 12: Jay Lee

Last week, we completed a series ranking the individual position groups in the Big 12 heading into spring ball. We also weighed in with who we thought the best position units in the Big 12 are.

Now, we put to the question to you.

Who has the best individual position group (not including quarterback) in the league?

SportsNation

Who has the Big 12s best individual position group?

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    26%
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    2%
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    38%
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    10%
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    24%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,171)

Despite losing Antwan Goodley off last year's team, the Baylor wide receivers are certainly in the conversation. All-Big 12 selection Corey Coleman and freshman All-American K.D. Cannon both return coming off 1,000-yard receiving seasons and form one the most prolific one-two punches at wideout in college football. The group has depth, too, with veteran Jay Lee, sophomore Davion Hall and a host of up-and-coming prospects including Ishmael Zamora, Chris Platt, Devontre Stricklin and Blake Lynch.

Receiver isn't Baylor's only stocked position, either. The Bears also bring back a devastating defensive line, headlined by a pair of first-team All-Big 12 performers in defensive end Shawn Oakman and defensive tackle Andrew Billings. Together, the two combined for 30 tackles for loss last season -- the highest total among defensive line teammates in the Big 12. Tackle Beau Blackshear is also entering his third season as a starter for the Bears.

Baylor, however, isn't the only Big 12 team with a loaded position.

Samaje Perine is back to lead an Oklahoma running back stable loaded with talent. As a true freshman, Perine led the Big 12 with more than 1,700 yards on the ground and 21 touchdowns. He also broke the FBS single-game record with 427 rushing yards against Kansas. Perine is flanked with plenty of talent in the Sooners backfield. Alex Ross led the Big 12 in kick returns last season and averaged 6.8 yards per carry as a change of pace to Perine's barreling style. Keith Ford has 94 career carries. And the Sooners will finally debut Joe Mixon, who was the gem of the 2014 signing class before being suspended for the season.

While Oklahoma will lean on the firepower of its backfield, West Virginia will be relying on a secondary overflowing with talent. Strong safety Karl Joseph, who has forged a reputation as the league's hardest hitter, will be entering his fourth year as a starter. He could emerge as a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Dravon Henry is coming off a freshman All-American campaign after starting every game at free safety during his season in Morgantown. Daryl Worley is one of the top returning cornerbacks in the league. And West Virginia signed two more would-be contributors in ESPN 300 defensive back Tyrek Cole and ESPN 50 JC corner Rasul Douglas.

Lastly, we'd be remiss if we didn't include a position group from early Big 12 2015 favorite TCU. The Horned Frogs are obviously strong at several positions. But for the purpose of this exercise, we'll actually feature their special teams units. All-Big 12 kicker Jaden Oberkrom will be a four-year starter. Punter Ethan Perry will be a four-year starter, as well. Cameron Echols-Luper is back after ranking 16th in the country in punt returns. The Horned Frogs have several players with kickoff return experience. And, not only did they lead the country in punt return coverage last year, they became the first team to allow negative punt return yards in the 14 seasons the statistic has been tracked. The TCU special teams have no weaknesses.

Now, it's your to weigh in.

Tell us who you think the best individual position group in the Big 12 is by voting in our weekly Big 12 poll.
WACO, Texas -- The next man up at Baylor is a 5-foot-11, 165-pound redshirt freshman. Or maybe it's the one who’s 6-4 and 220 pounds. At “Wide Receiver U,” speed is stockpiled in all shapes and sizes.

It’s time once again for the Bears’ track-speed studs to pass the baton. Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams needed Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley to keep “WRU” rolling once they left. Now it’s on Corey Coleman and KD Cannon, but they’re going to have a lot of help in 2015.

Can a group replacing Goodley and fellow seniors Levi Norwood and Clay Fuller get even better in 2015?

[+] EnlargeBaylor Bears
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsCorey Coleman and KD Cannon lead a deep Baylor receiving corps that's expecting big things in 2015.
“If I’m leading it, it has to,” Coleman says bluntly.

Heck, Cannon says this group is already superior after five weeks of working out together. Coleman (1,119 yards) and Cannon (1,030) are the Big 12’s top two returning receivers, yet it’s the guys Baylor didn’t use in 2014 who excite them most.

That bring us back to the diminutive freshman: Chris Platt. Baylor players and even Art Briles himself are already raving about the second-year wideout as they kick off spring practice this week.

Cannon’s best way of summing up Platt’s talent: “Chris has a different type of speed, something you don’t see every day.” Which is saying something at Baylor. Briles calls it speed that sustains, speed that made him a three-time state track champ in the quarter mile.

“The thing I respect about him is he’s low maintenance and he’s a tough, tough competitor,” Briles said. “He’s a guy that is very sure-handed and physical with the football for his size. He’s got a chance to make a spark this spring and hopefully next fall.”

And then there’s Ishmael Zamora, the prototypical skyscraper. You’re not supposed to run a 40 in 4.44 seconds at 6-4 and 220. He did so this winter. Again, the Bears couldn’t find playing time for him last fall and he redshirted.

“Once he gets stuff down, he’s going to be a freak,” Coleman said. “Hard to stop.”

Don’t forget senior Jay Lee, who caught 41 passes in 2014. Or Davion Hall, a coveted recruit who came in with Cannon and played sparingly. Or Lynx Hawthorne and Quan Jones.

Four-star freshman Blake Lynch enrolled early. ESPN 300 signee Devontre Stricklin is on the way. At other programs, they might be a big deal. At Baylor, you might not hear their names for a while. They can sit and learn for now, then compete like crazy just to see the field.

“It’s my job to lead and show the younger guys,” Coleman said, “just like how Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams and Antwan showed me the ropes.”

Coleman says he’s running his 40 in the 4.3s with a 45-inch vertical. Set records in three-cone and pro agility drills this offseason. He torched Oklahoma, TCU and Michigan State in 2014 and did more in 10 games than nearly anyone did with 13. He expects so much more and welcomes the competition.

“I have somebody trying to take my spot, even though I’m one of the leading receivers coming back,” Coleman said. “It excites me. It reminds me I can’t get lazy.”

Same goes for Cannon. The sophomore’s production dropped off considerably in Big 12 play -- 36 catches, 362 yards, one TD -- once Coleman and Goodley got healthy. This spring, he’s trying to sharpen his attention to detail and understanding of the playbook.

He knows if he doesn’t, one of Cannon’s buddies can easily take his job and his targets. Nothing’s guaranteed, though the speedster is already promising this wideout group is as good as the 2014 edition. Actually, he’ll go a step further.

“I feel like, right now, we’re a lot better than last year’s,” Cannon said.
The last two weeks we've been analyzing and ranking individual position units in the Big 12. In our weekly Big 12 roundtable, we discuss the league's strongest overall position group, the strongest individual position group and the position group to watch this spring:

What is the strongest overall position group in the league heading into spring ball?

Olson: I'm leaning toward running backs right now, though I do think this is shaping up to be a deep year in the secondary. The Big 12 has, in my opinion, at least six premier backs returning in 2015: Samaje Perine, Aaron Green, Shock Linwood, DeAndre Washington, Johnathan Gray and Rushel Shell. A few others could rise to their level this season, and the freshman class of backs in this league is awfully exciting.

Trotter: I'm going with wide receivers. I'd like to see a better one-two punch heading into next season than Baylor's Corey Coleman and KD Cannon. The Horned Frogs might not have a superstar receiver, but they have three darn good ones who know how to play. Oklahoma State's group of receivers is going to excellent and also deep. And when healthy, Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard is All-American caliber.

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsSamaje Perine heads a deep group of running backs at Oklahoma.
Chatmon: I’d have to agree with Max. The running back position is loaded with stars from OU’s Perine to Texas Tech’s Washington. The interesting aspect of the Big 12’s plethora of ball carriers is the star power is supported by quality depth at most Big 12 schools. The conference is full of running backs in a backup role who would start at the majority of FBS schools, including Oklahoma's Keith Ford, West Virginia’s Wendell Smallwood and others.

What about strongest individual position unit?

Olson: If Ohio State's quarterbacks could team up with Oklahoma's running backs and Baylor's receivers, there would be no need for a College Football Playoff. I'll go with the Bears' wideouts as the strongest group because Coleman and Cannon are going to be prolific no matter who's playing quarterback. I'm excited to see what guys such as Davion Hall, Jay Lee and Ishmael Zamora can do with more reps. Oklahoma will face some challenges in divvying up its carries, whereas in Baylor's offense, it really doesn't matter who gets the ball.

Trotter: Assuming we're not counting quarterbacks (in which case the answer would be TCU), I'm going with the Oklahoma running backs, slightly over the Baylor wide receivers and Baylor defensive line. Perine has the capability and durability to rush for 2,000 yards. Alex Ross was an All-Big 12 kick returner and could start for almost half the teams in the league. Joe Mixon is the "X" factor. He was more ballyhooed coming out of high school than Perine. If he lives up anywhere close to the hype, this could become the best running back group in the country.

Chatmon: It has to be Baylor’s defensive line. I love what defensive tackle Andrew Billings brings to the table and defensive end Shawn Oakman is extremely productive and can get even better. Add defensive tackle Beau Blackshear and defensive end K.J. Smith into the mix and Baylor has four quality defensive linemen along with good depth. The healthy return of defensive end Jamal Palmer would take this unit to an even higher level.

What is the position unit to watch this spring?

Olson: Texas' concerning quarterback situation might not get resolved until fall camp, but the Longhorns need to find some answers along the offensive line this spring. Joe Wickline needs a lot more competition and depth, and I wouldn't be surprised if junior college transfers Brandon Hodges and Tristan Nickelson work with the No. 1 line right away. That group is in for a shakeup, and certainly a necessary one for the growth of Texas' offense.

Trotter: Again, taking out quarterbacks -- Texas, Oklahoma, K-State and West Virginia each have intriguing QB derbies -- some of the units I'll be watching this spring include the Oklahoma and Texas receivers, the K-State running backs, the Oklahoma State offensive line and the Texas Tech linebackers. Outside of Shepard, no returning receiver in Norman or Austin has yet to stand out. With its entire passing attack graduated, K-State desperately needs a featured running back to emerge (Dalvin Warmack?). Improved offensive line play could be the biggest key to Oklahoma State challenging TCU and Baylor. And I'm curious to see how Ohio State transfer Mike Mitchell makes an impact with the Red Raiders, who need another defensive difference-maker to pair with Pete Robertson.

Chatmon: I’m looking forward to seeing how the battle to become Mason Rudolph’s top target at Oklahoma State turns out. My favorite to win the battle is sophomore James Washington, but the Pokes have a meeting room full of potential playmakers. Brandon Sheperd really came on at the end of the year, Jhajuan Seales has made plenty of plays during his career and Marcell Ateman could be the most talented receiver on the roster. I can’t wait to see who steps up.
With spring ball a month away, we're ranking position groups in the Big 12. These evaluations are based on past performance, future potential and quality depth. Our outlooks will likely look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now. We continue this series with wide receivers (and tight ends):

1. Baylor: The Bears just keep reloading at wide receiver. All-Big 12 selection Corey Coleman and freshman All-American KD Cannon return from 1,000-yard seasons to give Baylor one of the most electrifying one-two punches in the country. Jay Lee and Davion Hall headline the rest of the group, which is loaded with up-and-coming prospects such as Ishmael Zamora, Chris Platt, Devontre Stricklin and Blake Lynch.

2. TCU: The Horned Frogs return their top three pass catchers in Josh Doctson, Kolby Listenbee and Deante' Gray, who all delivered big performances for the nation’s second-highest scoring offense in combining for 23 touchdown catches. Desmon White and Emanuel Porter also flashed potential as freshmen, and should offer even more help as sophomores.

3. Oklahoma State: Every single receiver that caught a pass for the Cowboys last season is back, including starters Brandon Sheperd, David Glidden and James Washington. Sheperd exploded once Mason Rudolph took over at quarterback; Glidden is one of the most experienced receivers in the league out of the slot; Washington was among the top true freshman receivers in the country. Jhajuan Seales, Marcell Ateman, Chris Lacy and Austin Hays, who all have starting experience, round out the deepest receiving corps in the league.

4. Oklahoma: The Sooners receiving unit fell apart last season after Sterling Shepard suffered a groin injury. The good news is that Shepard will be back -- and hopefully healthy -- for his senior year. He alone elevates this group into one of the better ones in the Big 12 when he’s on the field. Shepard should have more help next season, as Dede Westbrook was arguably the top junior-college receiver in the country and figures to be an instant starter in Norman.

5. Texas Tech: This group had a lackluster 2014 season, but the talent is still there. Jakeem Grant is an All-Big 12-caliber talent and should put up bigger numbers with more consistent quarterback play. After a slow start, Devin Lauderdale came on strong during the second half of the season on the outside. Ian Sadler, Reginald Davis and Dylan Cantrell all finished with at least 20 catches last season. The Red Raiders also signed a pair of four-star wideouts in Keke Coutee and J.F. Thomas, who was a late flip from TCU. There are concerns about Thomas qualifying, but if he makes it to campus, he could give the Red Raiders another playmaker on the perimeter.

6. Iowa State: The Cyclones have major concerns at running back and on defense, but one place they are not weak is at wide receiver. Like Cannon and Washington, Allen Lazard was terrific as a true freshman and should become an even bigger focal point of the offense next season. The Cyclones also will welcome back 2013 leading receiver Quenton Bundrage, who missed all of 2014 with a knee injury. D'Vario Montgomery gives the Cyclones a very capable trio at the position.

7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers face the unenviable task of replacing All-American receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford. Jordan Thompson and Daikiel Shorts will have to play bigger roles. They were able to capitalize off all the attention defenses devoted to stopping White. Shelton Gibson has the talent to be a difference maker, but he finished with just four catches last season. Incoming freshmen Jovon Durante, who was the top signee in West Virginia’s class, and Gary Jennings could be immediate factors in the rotation, as could junior-college transfer Ka'Raun White, Kevin White's younger brother.

8. Texas: John Harris and Jaxon Shipley were responsible for more than 50 percent of Texas' receptions last season, and both are gone. The Longhorns will have to unearth a new No. 1 target for whoever emerges out of the QB derby. Armanti Foreman has a chance to be that receiver after playing some as a true freshman. Marcus Johnson is the lone veteran of the group, but is mostly just a burner. Texas desperately needs someone such as Daje Johnson or Gilbert Johnson, or one of its highly touted signees such as Ryan Newsome, John Burt, or DeAndre McNeal -- or even tight end Devonaire Clarington -- to emerge.

9. Kansas State: The Wildcats graduated the most prolific receiver in school history in Tyler Lockett, and the best wingman in the Big 12 in Curry Sexton. Those two combined for 185 catches and 2,574 receiving yards last season. That level of production won’t easily be replaced. Deante Burton probably takes over as the leading receiver, but he had only 17 catches last year. Kody Cook, Judah Jones and Andre Davis have some experience in minor roles. This could be a transition year.

10. Kansas: After years of mediocrity, the Jayhawks were better at receiver last season. But with their top five pass-catchers gone, they could be taking a step back again. Nigel King would have been the top returning receiver, but he curiously declared for the draft. Former Florida tight end Kent Taylor, who was an ESPN 300 recruit in 2012, transferred to Kansas last year and should help. The staff has high hopes for early enrollee Chase Harrell as well, but this group overall is completely unproven.
No. 8 Michigan State stole a page from Baylor's book on Thursday: a furious 20-point, fourth-quarter comeback for a stunning 42-41 victory in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas. Three things that stood out about the No. 5 Bears and their last-minute loss:

1. That was crazy. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Baylor's odds of winning right before Chris Callahan lined up for his soon-to-be-blocked field goal attempt were 99 percent. This one was in the bag, even after a bunch of fourth-quarter craziness. The events that came next -- Connor Cook driving and scoring in the final 20 seconds, Bryce Petty's sacks and interception to seal the deal -- were a series of intense, high-pressure moments that few could've expected. The Bears were cruising to victory ... until they weren't. There are a bunch of reasons Baylor fell apart, but stop for a moment and appreciate this was truly a fun and wild game with one of the most memorable finishes of this bowl season.

2. Penalties the problem once again. Andrew Billings' block in the back on the Taylor Young pick-six might've been the turning point on Thursday. Corey Coleman's offensive facemask penalty as he closed in on the goal line was costly, too, as was the false start right after it. This Baylor team led the nation in penalties at nearly 10 per game and paid dearly for that flaw. Since the start of the 2012 season no program has been penalized more than BU, and don't forget the 17 flags in the Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF. Baylor has won a ton of games despite the longstanding issue, but it'll be interesting to see how Art Briles elects to address that weakness in the offseason.

3. Kendal Briles impresses in debut. The heartbreaking finish will stick with Baylor fans for a while, but so should the first impression their newly promoted offensive coordinator made. Under his guidance, Petty threw for a career-best 550 yards and three scores in his final game as a Bear. The way Briles mixed in deep shots and trickery -- Jay Lee's double pass for a TD, big man LaQuan McGowan's big score -- with confidence deserves praise. The fact Baylor's backs gained just 22 yards on 14 carries is a testament to how stacked Michigan State's front was, but the head coach's son responded well with his plan and managed to give outgoing Michigan State DC Pat Narduzzi fits at times. The passing of the baton to Briles was a smooth transition with some exciting results.
Over the weekend, colleeague Max Olson released his helmet stickers for the top performers of the weekend. But I also wanted to highlight some other players who really impressed me in Week 1:

Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State: Running back Tyreek Hill drew the “oohs” and “aahs” with his speed, but Ogbah had just as big an impact for the Cowboys defensively. Facing off against an offensive line starting five seniors, Ogbah was dominant in his first career start, finishing with six tackles, two sacks and two pass breakups. The Big 12 is loaded at defensive end with Cedric Reed, Ryan Mueller, Charles Tapper and Shawn Oakman. Ogbah, just a sophomore, showed Saturday night that he might be in that class, too.

[+] EnlargeKevin White, Bradley Sylve
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsKevin White's 100-yard game against Alabama could mean he's the go-to receiver West Virginia needs.
Jay Lee, WR, Baylor: With Baylor ailing at wide receiver, Lee displayed that he’s also capable of taking on a primary role. With Corey Coleman and Antwan Goodley dealing with nagging injuries and Clay Fuller out with a broken collarbone, Lee hauled in eight passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. The Bears are overflowing with talent at receiver, especially with the additions of freshmen K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall. But Lee is another reason why.

Kolby Listenbee, WR, TCU: The Horned Frogs have desperately been in need of playmaking at the wide receiver spot. They might have uncovered the answer in Listenbee. The burner hauled in 38- and 36-yard bombs from Trevone Boykin, and added a touchdown grab on a fade late in the game from Matt Joeckel. Listenbee was beating his man all game. The Horned Frogs might finally have a weapon at receiver who can cause concern for the opponent.

Demarco Cobbs, LB, Texas: Cobbs missed the entire 2013 season and was such a non-factor before that anyway that some speculated his college career might be over. But Cobbs appears to have something left in the tank and displayed that with a pick-six in the opener. If the Longhorns suffer any injuries at linebacker, Cobbs could prove to be a key backup.

Kevin White, WR, West Virginia: Other than quarterback Clint Trickett, there wasn’t a more impressive performer against Alabama than White. The senior wideout had nine grabs for 143 yards and a touchdown. The Mountaineers had a solid wide receiving corps last year, but they never had a go-to target emerge. White clearly established himself as the target for Trickett and could be in for a monster season.

Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech: In an otherwise dismal performance, Texas Tech’s running back trio of DeAndre Washington, Quinton White and Stockton looked solid against Central Arkansas. And with Stockton, a true freshman, contributing, the Red Raiders should be fine at the position even with Kenny Williams at linebacker. Stockton had a couple of nice runs while finishing with 38 yards rushing and a nifty 6-yard touchdown.

Tyler Evans, OG, Oklahoma: Evans is in his sixth year with the Sooners, but he hadn’t played since the 2011 season Insight Bowl due to knee injuries. Saturday, Evans got the start at right guard in place of an injured Nila Kasitati, and the offensive line didn’t miss a beat as the Sooners racked up 436 yards of offense. Evans at one point quit football because of the injuries. Instead, he’ll be a valuable cog for the Sooners up front.

Baylor spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
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A recap of what we learned about Baylor this spring as the program prepares to defend its Big 12 conference title.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. The nation’s No. 1 offense is ready to reload. There’s no replacing guys such Lache Seastrunk and Tevin Reese, but Bryce Petty is fired up about the new weapons he gets to work with. RB Johnny Jefferson, TE Tre'Von Armstead and WRs Corey Coleman, Robbie Rhodes and Jay Lee were a few of the many who stepped up this spring.

2. Art Briles loves this defensive line. The Baylor coach says he’ll put his D-line up against any in the nation, and with good reason. Even after losing some key seniors, a unit that features ends Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer, tackles Andrew Billings, Beau Blackshear, Byron Bonds and the versatile Javonte Magee should frustrate opposing offenses.

3. A historic season ending in heartbreak left the Bears with plenty of motivation this spring. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF left a sting that troubled Baylor’s players and coaches in the winter, and there's a stronger sense that there’s unfinished business entering 2014.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Can Baylor’s defense play up to the level of its stellar 2013 unit? DC Phil Bennett is optimistic about the caliber of his new starters, and the depth that BU’s strength program is fortifying. But you can’t just assume the new guys will immediately match the quality play of Ahmad Dixon, Eddie Lackey, Sam Holl and so many other departed starters.

2. How will the Bears’ offensive line hold up? Losing left tackle Spencer Drango midseason was a major blow to this group last season, and while he’s back, All-America guard Cyril Richardson was one of three senior starters who graduated. Baylor needs LaQuan McGowan, Kyle Fuller and several others to step up.

3. What can the newcomers bring to the table? Briles brags that he signed the best wide receiver class in the country, but it’s not as if Baylor needed much help at that position. You know the junior college additions will play early on, but what can the rest of the Bears’ incoming class contribute?

One way-too-early prediction:

Calling Baylor a lock for a top-10 spot in the polls requires a lot of confidence in a defense that must replace 10 seniors on the two-deep, but the staff believes its talent evaluation and development will pay off big in 2014. But the Petty-led offense is absolutely loaded, and the Bears’ sights should be squarely set on fighting for a playoff bid.

Big 12 post-spring breakdown: WRs

April, 30, 2014
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With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Wednesday with receivers (and tight ends). These outlooks could look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Baylor (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Bears maintained their commanding advantage over any other receiving corps in the league. Antwan Goodley remains an All-American candidate, and Corey Coleman looks primed to become Baylor’s next great wideout following a spectacular spring. Levi Norwood, Jay Lee and Clay Fuller are proven performers. And more talent is about to arrive, including blue-chip freshman K.D. Cannon. The Baylor receivers are as formidable as any position grouping in the league.

2. Texas Tech (3): The Red Raiders lost their two best pass-catchers from last year in tight end Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, but this group is overflowing with dynamic young talent. After reeling in two touchdowns in the bowl and dominating Texas Tech’s spring game, Jakeem Grant looks like he’s on the verge of becoming a star in the league. Bradley Marquez should be even sharper after giving up baseball to focus on football this offseason. And the speedy Reginald Davis is a potential big-play threat on the perimeter. All three players can fly, and they have a quarterback in Davis Webb who can deliver the ball to them down field. The unit goes deep in the rotation, too, with D.J. Polite-Bray, Devin Lauderdale, Jordan Davis and Derreck Edwards all poised to be factors.

3. Oklahoma State (4): The Cowboys don’t have a Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant. But they have a deep rotation and a budding All-Big 12 candidate in Jhajuan Seales, who is ready to take over as the offense’s go-to receiver. Marcell Ateman, David Glidden and Brandon Sheperd were all significant parts of the corps last year, as well, and Blake Webb and Austin Hays, who both made starts two years ago as true freshmen, bounced back from injury-plagued 2013 seasons to impress in the spring. Track star/running back Tyreek Hill also will line up in the slot at times and will be a home-run threat any time he touches the ball. Considering none of the projected eight in the two-deep will be a senior, this group should only continue to get better, too.

4. Texas (5): Don’t fault the Texas receivers for not making a bigger impact in the spring game. For three quarters, reserve quarterback Tyrone Swoopes struggled to get them the ball. While the Longhorns probably lack an All-Big 12-caliber performer, they boast an experienced, reliable trio in three-year starter Jaxon Shipley and juniors Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson. Daje Johnson, who caught a Hail Mary from Swoopes in the spring game, brings even more playmaking to the group as a full-time receiver. Texas obviously has QB issues. But if the Horns can find the right player there, that QB will have reliable weapons to operate within the passing game.

5. Kansas State (2): K-State still has one of the best receivers in the country in Tyler Lockett, who is deserving of preseason All-American consideration. But the rest of the unit didn’t round out during the spring as well as the Wildcats would have hoped. Curry Sexton (eight catches for 88 yards) and Deante Burton (six catches for 48 yards) were both solid in the spring game. So was freshman Judah Jones, who hauled in a 51-yard scoring grab. But converted QB Daniel Sams still has a ways to go before making a huge impact, and highly touted juco transfer Andre Davis failed to make a big spring splash. Any receiving corps featuring Lockett is going to be a handful. But the supporting cast still needs work.

6. Iowa State (7): The Cyclones have the top returning pass-catching tight end in the league in E.J. Bibbs, who coach Paul Rhoads believes could vie for All-American honors. Quenton Bundrage has all-league potential, though he disappeared too many times last season, and did so again in the spring game. Jarvis West has proven he can make plays out of the slot, and the Cyclones have depth on the perimeter in P.J. Harris, Brett Medders and D'Vario Montgomery, who all developed rapidly during the spring. With highly touted signee Allen Lazard set to join the rotation, the Cyclones could boast their best receiving corps in several years.

7. Oklahoma (6): The Sooners feature a bona-fide No. 1 receiver in Sterling Shepard, who has 96 career catches his first two seasons. But the position is the Sooners' biggest question mark. With 12 catches last year, Durron Neal is the team's second-leading returning receiver. Austin Bennett, Jordan Smallwood and Derrick Woods all had moments in the spring game, but the competition for snaps will carry over into the fall. Talented four-star incoming freshman Michiah Quick could be a factor in the slot once he gets to Norman.

8. West Virginia (8): Starters Mario Alford, Kevin White and Daikiel Shorts are all back, but, collectively, must produce more consistently than they did last season. Alford seems to be the key. He had 215 receiving yards in West Virginia’s final game of 2013, and he has the talent and speed to give the Mountaineers a dangerous No. 1 wideout. Cody Clay is a valuable tight end, though does most of his damage with his blocking. Shelton Gibson, who was ineligible last year and this spring as a partial qualifier, is a former four-star recruit and could give West Virginia a boost.

9. TCU (9): The Horned Frogs actually had two positive developments at this position during the spring. Jordan Moore made a seamless transition from running back to receiver and is in line to give TCU a physical and fast presence on the outside. Then, former Texas A&M QB Matt Joeckel transferred in, potentially clearing the way for Trevone Boykin to swing back to receiver. This group has depth, with Ty Slanina, Josh Doctson, David Porter and Cameron Echols-Luper returning. But the future of the most talented receiver on the roster -- Brandon Carter -- remains in doubt after he was recently arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession, after sitting out spring ball to focus on academics.

10: Kansas (10): The Jayhawks might be at the bottom here, but they seem primed to field their best one-two punch at receiver since Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe roamed Lawrence five years ago. Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell has taken on a much-needed vocal leadership role among this group and brings a track record of production, having finished second nationally in receiving in 2011. Flanking Harwell will be former running back Tony Pierson, who made the full-time move to receiver this offseason. While he’s raw as a receiver, Pierson is capable of the big play. Rodriguez Coleman also emerged this spring as potential viable third option. The dark days of the Jayhawk receivers posing no threat in the passing game appear to be over.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. We start with Baylor, which released an official two-deep shortly after concluding spring ball in early April.

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCan Bryce Petty be even better this season?
QB: Bryce Petty (Sr.), Seth Russell (So.)

The Bears have one of the top returning quarterbacks in college football in Petty, who was phenomenal last year in his first season as a starter. With a year of experience under his belt, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be better in 2014. Russell performed well in limited duty last year, suggesting the Bears could survive at least a minor injury to Petty.

RB: Shock Linwood (So.) or Devin Chafin (So.), Johnny Jefferson (RFr.), Terence Williams (Fr.)

The Bears boast four potentially outstanding runners who all have at least three seasons of eligibility remaining. Linwood finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing last season, despite backing up Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin. Jefferson, however, was the back who created the most buzz during the spring. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder looks poised to give the Bears a dynamic home-run threat to complement the rest of the backfield. It’s not often a program can lose two talents like Seastrunk and Martin and remain loaded.

WR: Antwan Goodley (Sr.), Davion Hall (Fr.)

WR: Jay Lee (Jr.) or Robbie Rhodes (So.), Quan Jones (RFr.)

IR: Corey Coleman (So.) or Clay Fuller (Sr.), Cal Spangler (Jr.)

IR: Levi Norwood (Sr.), Lynx Hawthorne (So.)

TE: Tre’von Armstead (So.) or Gus Penning (Jr.), Jordan Feuerbacher (Fr.)

Despite graduating all-conference performer Tevin Reese, the Bears should easily have the deepest collection of pass-catchers in the Big 12. Coleman was tremendous all spring, capped by a 47-yard receiving effort in the spring game. He and Rhodes could have breakout campaigns in their second years in the rotation. Goodley is one of the two best wideouts in the league along with Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, and Lee, Fuller and Norwood are all proven commodities. More firepower is on the way this summer, including hotshot freshman K.D. Cannon, who looks like a virtual lock to crack the rotation somewhere.

LT: Spencer Drango (Jr.), Pat Colbert (Jr.)

LG: LaQuan McGowan (Jr.) or Blake Muir (Jr.)

C: Kyle Fuller (So.), Tyler Edwards (Sr.)

RG: Desmine Hilliard (Jr.), Jarell Broxton (Jr.)

RT: Troy Baker (Sr.), Tyler Edwards (Sr.)

The Bears lose unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson, but will get a huge boost if Drango makes a full recovery from a back injury he suffered late last season. With Drango out, Baylor’s blindside pass protection also suffered the final month of the season. When healthy, Drango is one of the best pass-protecting left tackles in the country. Baker, who started as a sophomore, returned late last season after tearing his ACL last spring to reclaim his starting job, which he held through the spring. With Hilliard returning at guard, Fuller locking down the starting job at center and other quality depth inside, the Bears should be very solid on the offensive line -- provided Drango can get healthy and Baker can stay healthy at the bookends.

DEFENSE

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsShawn Oakman has elevated his game.
RE: Shawn Oakman (Jr.), K.J. Smith (RFr.)

NT: Andrew Billings (So.), Suleiman Masumbuko (Jr.)

DT: Beau Blackshear (Jr.) or Javonte Magee (So.), Byron Bonds (So.)

LE: Jamal Palmer (Jr.), Sam Ukwuachu (Jr.)

Last week, Baylor coach Art Briles said he’d put his top-seven defensive linemen against any other top seven in college football. The unit still has a lot to prove to reach that level, but there’s no denying the potential. Oakman elevated his game to another level this spring, and was basically unblockable. He’s a candidate to be an All-Big 12 performer even in a league that’s stocked at defensive end. The fact that Magee is listed as a co-starter with Blackshear -- a starter last season -- underscores what the coaching staff thinks of Magee, who before taking last year off due to personal matters was among the most highly touted recruits Briles had ever signed. This group is high on ability, and has the capability to prove their coach right in the fall.

WLB: Aiavion Edwards (So.), Taylor Young (RFr.) or Raaquan Davis(RFr.)

MLB: Bryce Hager (Sr.), Grant Campbell (Jr.) or Kendall Ehrlich (So.)

Hager missed the final four games of last season due to a groin injury, which also kept him out this spring. But Hager is about as reliable as it gets in the Big 12, having earned second-team all-conference honors the last two years. Edwards is the one to watch. He was given the first nod on the weak side, after playing in the middle last season and in the spring in place of Hager. But he’ll have to perform to fend off the competition, including Young, who impressed defensive coordinator Phil Bennett during the spring with his nose for the ball.

NB: Collin Brence (Sr.), Pat Levels (So.)

CB: Terrence Singleton (So.), Ryan Reid (So.)

CB: Xavien Howard (So.) or Chris Sanders (Jr.)

DS: Orion Stewart (So.), Alfred Pullom (RFr.)

CS: Terrell Burt (Jr.), Taion Sells (So.)

This unit comprises by far the biggest question mark on the team. The Bears should be in good shape at safety. Burt, the only returning starter in the group, will be back shortly from offseason shoulder surgery that kept him out of a spring ball. Briles also singled out Stewart for having a very promising spring as the replacement for All-American Ahmad Dixon. After a series of injury setbacks early in his career, Singleton returned to win a starting job at corner, at least for now. Howard also showed a ton of promise during the spring, but he’ll have competition from Sanders, one of the top juco corners in the country, who had a shoulder injury this spring. Brence, a walk-on, was the biggest surprise in the secondary, and is listed as the starter at nickelback. How this untested unit comes together could ultimately determine whether the Bears repeat as Big 12 champs.

Spring game review: Baylor

April, 7, 2014
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In front of more than 3,000 fans, Baylor held its final spring practice on Saturday and wrapped up with a 51-play scrimmage at the on-campus Highers Athletics Complex practice field. Here’s a recap of what happened:

Best offensive performance: The Big 12’s best quarterback went out and did what he usually does. Bryce Petty spread the ball around to his many, many weapons -- including a few new ones -- and finished the day with a fine stat line: 10-of-15 passing for 135 yards and two touchdowns. One TD was to Jay Lee, on a short sideline route that he broke for a 40-yard score. The second was a 38-yard laser to Robbie Rhodes. Petty hit the practice field this month with the mentality that he must prove he deserves his job, even if nobody was taking it from him, and will get even better.

Best defensive performance: No surprise here. Shawn Oakman gave a sample of what he could achieve as a full-time starter in 2014 with two of the Bears’ five sacks. The 6-foot-9, 275-pound defensive end racked up 12.5 tackles for loss in a part-time role last season and is poised to take his game to the next level as a junior, on a defensive line that coach Art Briles believes can be good as any in the country. “We can’t block him,” Briles said, “and I don’t think anyone else will, either.”

Best debut: Baylor stashed some solid rookie talent on the bench last season, and spring ball brought a chance for those redshirt freshmen to break out. The best of the bunch might be Johnny Jefferson, a 5-11, 200-pound running back from nearby Killeen, Texas. With Shock Linwood out for the scrimmage and Devin Chafin getting just one carry, Jefferson had an opportunity to show what he can do. He rushed for 30 yards on five carries. Jefferson doesn’t have the experience of Linwood and Chafin, but Baylor coaches say he can be their next great home-run threat out of the backfield.

Notable play: Corey Coleman could be the next big name to come out of “WRU.” He hauled in five catches for a game-high 47 yards, the best of a bunch a 20-yard reception from Petty that he hauled in with one arm along the sideline against tight coverage from Terrence Singleton.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
AP Photo/LM OteroBaylor coach Art Briles was excited to see about 3,750 fans show up for the Bears' final practice of the spring.
Developing storyline: After the scrimmage, Briles expressed concern about the state of his running backs heading into the summer. Baylor will likely go with a committee approach to replacing Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, and the head coach isn’t ready to heap praise on that situation just yet. Jefferson and early enrollee freshman Terence Williams got the bulk of the work Saturday and will have to chip in to make this group succeed. “That's not a situation we're proud of; it's just the reality of where we're at,” Briles said. “And one of them is a true freshman. It's a concern right now, without question. But they can play. That's a good thing. Every one of them can play and help us win."

Biggest question answered: Briles wanted to know how his fan base would show up for a scrimmage on a Saturday morning, at a practice field that didn’t offer too much seating, and he was wowed by the answer. An estimated 3,750 fans showed up. “I’m just tickled to death with the crowd, because we didn’t really promote it,” Briles said. “And all of a sudden, you look up, there are people everywhere. It’s certainly evidence of how they respect what our players have done and how they feel about the direction of Baylor football.” That turnout has to be encouraging as the Bears prepare to open McLane Stadium in less than 150 days.

Quotable: "I have to be honest with you. It was OK ... just OK. It wasn't as good as I wanted it. But the whole thing about spring is staying healthy and getting guys looks that haven't had looks, and we've done that. Overall, I thought spring was really productive, maybe not today. We missed some throws here and there, but it's kind of hard when you're going against the same people every day. You try not to game plan too much, but you kind of have to. Guys got looks, and that's what we wanted." -- Petty on the Bears' final spring practice.
It sure seemed like they came out of nowhere.

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and wide receiver Antwan Goodley patiently waited for their time until they were ready to burst onto the college landscape. At this time a year ago both players knew it was finally their time to shine even though few people knew who they were. Petty learned while sitting behind fellow signal-callers Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence, while Goodley watched from the sidelines as big-play pass catchers Terrance Williams and Kendall Wright made names for themselves.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty and Antwan Goodley
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty and Antwan Goodley took the Big 12 by storm in 2013, but they know they have to work harder this season.
Now, after leading the Bears to their first Big 12 title in 2013, the duo opened spring football as the Big 12’s best quarterback-receiver combination after putting fear in the hearts of defensive backs across the conference.

“We were sitting for a long time,” Goodley said. “We got out there and we had a lot to prove, show what we can do.”

The pair connected 71 times for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 18.86 yards per completion, with 71.8 percent of their connections resulting in a first down or touchdown during a breakout junior season for both players.

“We’ve grown up in the system together,” Petty said. “We had to wait and we had to be patient, we grew hungry together and it exploded this year for us.”

What could they possibly do for an encore?

“We have to prove last year wasn’t a fluke,” Petty said. “For us it’s ‘Ok, we were the best in the Big 12, why not the best in the nation?’ The encore is to be the best quarterback-receiver duo in the nation and lead Baylor to a Big 12 championship for a second time and get into the playoff and win a national championship.”

All three goals are setting up to be tough tasks. Kansas State’s Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett could insert themselves into the conversation as one of the Big 12’s (and nation’s) top quarterback-receiver duos, Oklahoma will be looking for revenge as a roadblock Baylor defending its conference title, and winning a national championship is never easy for any program, no matter how high it's ascended.

But Goodley and Petty each entered spring drills with an eye on ways to improve. Petty wants to increase his pocket awareness, while Goodley wants to become a more consistent pass catcher. Most importantly, both players mentioned the lack of a national title as confirmation their breakout seasons weren't good enough.

“There are always things we can do to get better,” Goodley said. “We didn’t get where we wanted to, we didn’t get that national championship.”

Petty and Goodley went from unknowns to household names in the span of a year, so they understand that defensive coordinators around the league are preparing to slow them down in 2014 now that they know some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Bears’ big-play duo. Thus, they know they’ll have to be even better if they hope to match their production from 2013.

I feel like next year is going to bring a lot more chemistry between us. We're going to try to put up better numbers than we did this year.

Baylor wideout Antwan Goodley on his 2014 season with quarterback Bryce Petty.
“It’s all about taking it to the next level, it’s not a learning year anymore,” Petty said. “It’s all about what I can do to improve. I need to make sure I prepare, I work and I progress in such a way that next year they’re going to have to prepare for a different Bryce Petty than they saw before.”

Expect Goodley to remain a big part of Petty’s plans one way or another. The Bears quarterback targeted Goodley 108 times last season, an average of 8.31 times per game and 50 more times than any other receiver. His description of Goodley’s talent gives a glimpse at the reason why No. 5 seemed like his best option more often than not.

“He is not your normal receiver,” Petty said. “He’s about as strong and stout as you can possibly be with the ability to run and play fast. When you couple those things together it is hard to stop a guy that is that strong, that powerful but can still blow by you. For me it’s about getting the ball out there and letting him make a play.”

Consistency and less drops could be Goodley’s road to another stellar season. While Petty targeted Goodley more than any other receiver, Levi Norwood (77.6 percent) and Jay Lee (72.7 percent) had better reception percentages when Petty looked their way.

“I’m working on being more consistent with my hands,” Goodley said. “I know I’m going to have to up my game a bit because teams will be gunning for us, not just me. The guys around me, I’m hoping they’ll produce and make plays, which opens up things for me.”

With both players focusing on a clear area of their game they’d like to improve during the offseason, the Big 12 could be looking a different versions of Goodley and Petty in 2014.

“I feel like next year is going to bring a lot more chemistry between us,” Goodley said. “We’re going to try to put up better numbers than we did this year.”

That's a scary thought for any Big 12 defender.

Spring primer: Baylor Bears

March, 3, 2014
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Baylor is already on the practice field, set to begin its Big 12 title defense. Below is a preview of what to look for from the Bears during their spring practices:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Playing time was hard to come by last season for freshman wideout Robbie Rhodes. On top of competing in a loaded rotation, Rhodes injured his knee early in the season and gradually drifted out of the rotation. But Rhodes, the nation’s No. 3 WR in the Class of 2013, has the talent to be an elite pass-catcher in the Big 12, and he should have opportunities in his second season.

[+] EnlargeRobbie Rhodes
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsA healthy Robbie Rhodes should be able to play a significant role in Baylor's passing attack.
Defensive returner ready to take the next step: DT Andrew Billings. Last season, Billings signed with the Bears despite a strong recruitment by Texas, and immediately contributed as a freshman. With the bulk of Baylor’s defense gone, the time has come for him to elevate his game. And all signs point to Billings, who has the talent to be the best defensive tackle in the entire league, being ready for the challenge.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Even though the Bears lost their top two running backs in Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, they bring back a clear-cut starter in Shock Linwood. The coaching staff, however, has been waiting in delighted anticipation to see what Johnny Jefferson can do on the field after redshirting last season. Jefferson had offers from the likes of Ohio State, Notre Dame and UCLA coming out of high school, and he has the blend of speed and power to command a role in the offense.

Most significant position battle: With four of five starters gone from its secondary -- and that one starter back (Terrell Burt) out for the spring with shoulder surgery -- the battle for time in the defensive backfield is wide open. The spotlight will be on cornerbacks Tyler Stephenson, Xavien Howard, Ryan Reid and Tion Wright, as well as Orion Stewart, Taion Sells, Terrence Singleton, Alfred Pullom and Patrick Levels at safety.

Key midterm enrollee: The Bears face the task of replacing All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey, but they’re hoping Bakersfield College transfer Grant Campbell can step in and take his place. Other than Bryce Hager, who is out this spring with a groin injury, the Bears have little experience at linebacker. Campbell filling a major hole will be a huge step forward in coordinator Phil Bennett retooling his defense.

Question that could be answered: The Bears should have a feel after this spring about who will be their primary playmakers. Even with Seastrunk and receiver Tevin Reese gone, the Bears should boast plenty of offensive firepower next season to surround All-Big 12 quarterback Bryce Petty with. Rhodes, Jay Lee and Corey Coleman should be able to fill out Reese’s production, while Linwood, Jefferson and Devin Chafin could give the Bears another prolific combination at running back.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: The Bears had one of the best defenses in the Big 12 last season, but it could be a while before Baylor discovers what it has defensively in 2014. Billings, Beau Blackshear and Shawn Oakman have the talent to field the best defensive line Baylor has had in years. But the back seven is a major question mark, with Hager and Burt being the only incumbents.

Q&A: Baylor WR coach Kendal Briles

February, 27, 2014
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There are few assistants in college football who pulled in a better recruiting haul this year than Kendal Briles.

Earlier this month, the Baylor wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator inked four receivers ranked in the ESPN 300, padding what was already a loaded position in Waco.

As the defending Big 12 champs get ready to open spring practice Friday, Briles took time to talk to ESPN.com about his signing class, the new expectations at Baylor and what he’s learned coaching under his dad -- Bears head coach Art Briles.

Let’s first go through the four receivers you signed, and what each brings to the table. Start with K.D. Cannon, who was recruited by virtually everyone in the country.

[+] EnlargeK.D. Cannon
Tom Hauck/ESPN.comK.D. Cannon is one of four ESPN 300 wide receivers that Baylor signed in the 2014 class, making an already-rich position that much more stacked.
Briles: Well, we feel like we know a lot about K.D. already. He possesses a lot of things you look for in a wide receiver. His body control, how he catches the ball, his shiftiness, competitiveness -- all those things. He’s got a great family and all the intangibles to become a great wide receiver. We’re real excited to get him here in June. From a talent standpoint, he’s off the charts.

What about Davion Hall?

Briles: Davion is already here and is doing a really good job. His body weight has already come up. He looks real good. He’s a powerful, powerful athlete. He’s got really good ball skills. He’s not going to be as fluid as a K.D.-type player, but he’s a really powerful kid who runs well. He’s a great, great person, and wants to be extremely successful. That’s the thing we really love about him; that he's a really good person. We’ll see what he can do here in a few days. He’s going to get a chance to put the pads on and see where he’s at. He’s a little bit nervous, as he should be. But he’s been great since he’s been here working with the strength and conditioning program, and he’s going to compete in spring ball.

Ishmael Zamora?

Briles: Ishmael is a guy who might have the greatest upside of all of them. He was up to 210 pounds when I talked to him the other day. I expect him to win the state title in the 110-meter hurdles again in [Texas Class] 5A. He’s a great athlete whose talents didn’t flourish in high school because of the offense he played in. I think he had like five catches as a junior. But his upside is incredible. We’re very, very excited about him.

Last, but not least, what about Chris Platt?

Briles: Chris Platt is a sleeker guy, 168 pounds probably right now. He’s going to win the state track meet and become the first four-time state champ in the 400 meters in Texas state high school history. He’s a guy who can play -- good ball skills. We had him in camp, and you might think he’s just a straight-line guy, but he’s got some good hip flexion. He catches the ball, is competitive. He’s got tremendous upside as well.

OK, let’s get to the guys you have coming back, starting with Antwan Goodley. I remember talking to a Big 12 coach last October, and he was like, ‘Where did Antwan Goodley come from?’ How did Goodley make so much improvement, and where can he go after a monster junior season?

Briles: Antwan was a really good high school football player. I saw him, and the kid could run. He wasn’t real tall. He committed to us on a junior day in February and held strong the whole time. He was 192 pounds, and he’s been as high as 222 -- he’s gained 30 pounds of pure muscle. He’s one of the strongest kids we have on the team without a doubt. My expectation for him now is to be the best wide receiver in the United States of America. He’s proven what he can do on the football field, now we have to make sure he keeps getting better. The spring is big for him. We won’t let him go as much -- we have other guys we want to get reps, and we know what he can do. But there are things for him to work on, and he’s very excited to get back out there and get back to work.

You’ve got two highly-touted young guys in Corey Coleman and Robbie Rhodes who haven’t made that big splash yet. What is your expectation for them as sophomores?

Briles: With Corey, you don’t think he had a splash as a freshman, but if you look at it, he was second all-time among Baylor freshmen in receiving yards next to Kendall Wright. That’s pretty good company. He has a chance to have a tremendous career. He’s a little bit raw, but has tremendous speed, tremendous hands and catches the ball very well. He wants to be great. And he’s a tough guy. He’s not a big guy (5-foot-10) but at 190 pounds, he’s very stout. He can play inside and outside because he can handle the blocking stuff well with how strong he is. We’re going to have him plugged in all over the field, and he gives us a really dynamic factor.

As for Robbie, it’s hard to come in and play as a true freshman. I probably should have redshirted Robbie because he didn’t get the experience that he probably needed. He got to play in some big games, but he hurt his ankle early against West Virginia, then again against Kansas, and was out the latter part of the year. He gained 10 pounds in the fall, changed his body in the last two months and looks tremendous. He’s going to have an unbelievable spring, and I can’t wait for the fall for him. He’s about as natural as it gets.

[+] EnlargeLevi Norwood
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLevi Norwood's size and ability to get open makes him a lethal weapon in Baylor's high-powered offense.
How would you characterize Clay Fuller's role on this team? Seems like he’s a reliable target for you.

Briles: That’s Clay. That’s what we call him. If it’s third down or we’re in the red zone, you throw it up to him, and he’ll make the catch for you. He runs really well, and he’s reliable. Add in Levi Norwood, who’s in the same mold, and you’re playing two big guys inside who are long, rangy, block well, catch the football well, run well. They do a tremendous job for us. Both do a great job on special teams for us, too.

With so many options at receiver, seems like you’ve got a good problem to have, right?

Briles: Yeah it is. One guy we haven’t talked about, Jonathon Lee, came on at the end of the year. I expect him to have a good year, too. We’ve done a good job recruiting as a staff. And playing wide receiver at Baylor is a pretty good deal. Wide receivers in this league have had success. We’ve led the country in total offense, we chuck the ball around, play in space. We have great uniforms, we’re going to be playing in a great stadium. It’s a pretty good gig playing wide receiver for us.

This season is going to have a different feel for you guys. As the defending Big 12 champs, you’re going to have a target on your backs. How will you guys adjust?

Briles: There’s no doubt there’s going to be a target on our backs, but we’ve always had a chip on our shoulder the way we play. We’re not going to change our mindset. Our guys play fearless, physical and fast. People will be gunning for us, but we’ll be ready for the task. We have a great team, and we’re looking forward to defending our Big 12 championship.

What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned about being a coach from your dad?

Briles: Treating people right. The way he treats people on a daily basis is one reason why he’s been so successful. The humility, the way he cares for people, he truly wants people to be successful. He makes people around him feel good, and he gets the best out of people. That’s a great trait that he has.

There was a lot of talk leading up to the bowl game about him possibly taking a job elsewhere. How did you guys handle that behind the scenes, and what was it like with all that around you?

Briles: To be honest with you, it never came up inside this office or practice field with our players. People say stuff, put stuff out there. But if other people are coming after your head coach, then you’re doing something right. But I think Baylor University understands the coach we have here, and weren’t going to let him go anywhere. And Art Briles understands how much he loves Baylor, and doesn’t want to go anywhere. It’s a great marriage, and we’re looking forward to being here a long time.

What’s the one thing about your dad that people don’t know about him?

Briles: Everyone knows he’s competitive. But if he sends you a text message to play golf at 11:30 in the morning, you better understand you’re getting into a war. He’s not going out there to enjoy the scenery or to a swing a club. He’s going out there to kick someone’s [butt]. Most people don’t know that. But it better be understood by the people getting into that situation.

Baylor becoming new Wide Receiver U

December, 31, 2013
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A few years ago, Kendal Briles sent Facebook friend requests to prospective recruits knowing that expressing Baylor’s interest might be a futile practice.

Plenty of those requests were denied. No, thank you. Not playing at Baylor.

“Now,” Briles says proudly, “we’re making some moves.”

The Baylor receivers coach has a much easier time selling what the Bears have to offer these days. Kids want to play in this high-tempo offense. They’re the ones befriending him now. The reason why is obvious.

[+] EnlargeAntwan Goodley
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAntwan Goodley and his Baylor teammates are picking up where their wide receiver predecessors left off.
Baylor is becoming the new Wide Receiver U.

Sorry, Tennessee. No offense, USC. But since arriving in Waco, Texas, in 2008, Art Briles has quickly built arguably the premier receiver factory in college football. The proof is all over, from his former players to current Bears to the next ones up.

What Briles’ son is selling now is tangible proof that Baylor can turn receivers into stars. Just look at Kendall Wright, the Tennessee Titans slot man who surpassed 1,000 yards in his second season. Former Baylor teammate Terrance Williams finished third among rookies in receiving for the Dallas Cowboys.

And how about Josh Gordon? The former Bear led the NFL in receiving with 1,646 yards this season. You bet Briles and his son are throwing their names around these days when recruiting.

Baylor replaced those three with one of the top receiving duos in the country in All-Big 12 wideouts Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese and one of the conference’s best slot receivers in Levi Norwood. They have underclassmen Corey Coleman, Robbie Rhodes and Jay Lee on the way.

And coming soon, Baylor has three of the best wide receiver prospects in Texas in ESPN 300 verbal commits K.D. Cannon, Davion Hall and Ishmael Zamora. The surprisingly rich are about to get richer.

“There’s no doubt you’ve got guys who are proven in the system and now proven on the next level,” Kendal Briles said. “If you’re a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kid in high school and you’re looking at where to play in college and you’re looking at the things we’re doing with throwing the football, it’s a pretty good deal. You’ve got to take a pretty heavy look at us.”

Art Briles’ first receivers coach at Baylor, Dino Babers, just landed the Bowling Green head-coaching job this month. Briles' son has been on the staff from the start and now coordinates Baylor’s passing game. He’s had plenty of talent to work with in this gig.

This season, Goodley became the third consecutive Bear to lead the Big 12 in receiving. He insists his 1,319-yard, 13-touchdown breakout season wouldn’t have been possible without his predecessors.

“I just knew you better show up to work every day, because those guys work hard every day,” Goodley said. “They play with a passion and love being out there. They taught me a lot and built me into the receiver I am today.”

In Wright, Williams and Reese, Baylor has three of the six most prolific receivers in the Big 12 since 2008. They all still send text messages to each other on a daily basis. Their position group is becoming a fraternity.

Gordon had the best hands of the bunch. Reese indisputably was the fastest. Williams was the superior route-runner. Goodley, at 222 pounds, might be the strongest. And Baylor cornerbacks say Wright was the most impossible to cover.

One thing nearly all of them had in common: They were not coveted recruits.

Goodley was a three-star prospect. Reese was a two-star recruit who weighed 138 pounds in high school. Gordon was ranked No. 128 among receiver prospects by ESPN. Only Wright was a member of the ESPN 150, but as a quarterback who’d never played receiver.

“We’ve been overlooked a little bit, but we like that,” Goodley said. “We show guys what we can do. You don’t have to be a five-star athlete to be a great receiver.”

Baylor’s approach to evaluating and recruiting receivers is no different than anyone else’s: Get them in camp and see what they can do. Hitting on the trio of Wright, Williams and Lanear Sampson in the 2008 class gave Briles precisely the kind of weapons Robert Griffin III needed. Baylor loaded up on speed and more speed.

“Track speed, football speed, it’s just speed, period,” said Wright, who finished with 4,004 receiving yards at Baylor. “They just want somebody with speed. Everything else will come.”

Kendal Briles would argue that Baylor’s scheme is as easy as it gets for a receiver. Often times, Reese said he’ll have three options on a route. A defender can’t answer for all of them. With how wide the Bears split out their receivers, there’s plenty of opportunity to get the ball in the open field.

What’s remarkable is the fact that Baylor has built a top-five passing offense nationally while still running the ball on 55 percent of its snaps. Since Art Briles arrived, Baylor ranks No. 5 in the FBS in yards per catch at 13.7. Its best big-play threats, Williams and Reese, averaged a stunning 11.2 yards per target.

No wonder the big-name recruits are interested. Landing Rhodes, the No. 3 receiver in the class of 2013, was a coup. Getting Cannon and Hall on board was even better, and Zamora might have the most upside of the incoming three.

“Now you get some top-notch players in here,” Kendal Briles said, “and it could be crazy what happens.”

Only Reese is graduating, setting up Baylor to have a loaded group of wideouts in 2014. That will mean plenty of competition, and Reese frequently talks with Goodley and Norwood about becoming the vocal leaders when he’s gone.

The way Reese sees it, there’s a certain pay-it-forward mentality within the group. Wright took him under his wing and believed in him from the start.

He cares about maintaining what’s quickly becoming a proud tradition.

“When we have wide receivers coming in, we’re going to put it in their head: This is Wide Receiver University,” he said. “You’ve got to play like it. Baylor produces the best wide receivers and the No. 1 offense in the nation.”

And a few good pros, too. Wright is looking forward to seeing his successors join him at the next level soon. Together, they’re planning to take over the NFL.

“That’s what we plan to do, man,” Goodley said. “They don’t call us Wide Receiver U for nothing.”
The Big 12's receiver tradition has been unbelievable over the course of the past few years. The NFL draft drained much of it last season, and the result is one of the least heralded corps we've seen conference-wide in a while.

Still, this is the Big 12, and just like the quarterbacks, receivers will emerge. Six players in the Big 12 topped 1,000 yards last season, including two teams (West Virginia, Texas Tech) who had two each. Back in 2011, just four players did it.

Here's who I'm picking to do it in 2013:

1. Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State: Stewart is the Big 12's leading returning receiver with 1,210 yards last season, and he did that with three different quarterbacks throwing him the ball. Barring injury, it's likely to just be Clint Chelf this season. Stewart still has a ways to prove himself as a truly elite receiver on par with some of the greats we've seen in the Big 12, but he's got a great shot to lead the Big 12 in 2013.

2. Eric Ward, WR, Texas Tech: Ward joined Stewart as the only other returning 1,000-yard receiver, and in a fast-paced offense under Kliff Kingsbury and a promising young quarterback in Michael Brewer, he's in position to to do it again. Ward's been really consistent throughout his career, and uses his body well with decent speed and good hands.

3. Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor: Reese has a case as the Big 12's fastest player, and has a lot of experience as a complementary piece of a high-powered offense. He's going to need to be a more integral piece of the Bears' offense this year, which should again be racking up points and yards by the bunches. His experience pushes him over the 1,000-yard mark.

4. Brandon Carter, WR, TCU: TCU didn't have a 1,000-yard receiver last year, but much of that was because of Trevone Boykin's struggles with accuracy. Casey Pachall is back, and he's likely to regain his status as the Frogs' starter. He makes prudent decisions, has a big arm and puts the ball where it needs to go. With no Josh Boyce or Skye Dawson on the roster, Carter's ready to be the featured receiver in the offense.

5. Mike Davis, WR, Texas: I went back and forth here. It seems like Jaxon Shipley was at his most productive when Case McCoy was under center, and David Ash's confidence and competence throwing the ball downfield was huge for Davis' numbers. Both players should be even better this year. Davis should lead the Horns in receiving as a senior with a big finish to a somewhat up-and-down career.

6. Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma: Saunders is reliable and is a dark horse to lead the Big 12 in receiving. After becoming eligible in the middle of 2012, he was uncoverable at times for the Sooners. The Fresno State transfer had five games with at least seven catches last season, including 15 for 181 yards in a loss to Notre Dame. He finished the regular season with three consecutive 100-yard games.

Just missed: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech; Jay Lee, WR, Baylor; Jaxon Shipley, WR, Texas

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