Big 12: Marcell Ateman
We pick up the series with the Oklahoma State Cowboys:
Strongest position: Wide receiver
Oklahoma State brings back six different receivers who have caught at least 14 passes in a season, headlined by Jhajuan Seales. As a freshman starter, Seales hauled in 39 receptions for 571 yards and three touchdowns. With Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore both gone, Seales will likely take over as the go-to target for quarterback J.W. Walsh.
The Cowboys, however, have several other up-and-coming receivers to complement Seales.
Marcell Ateman, who caught 22 passes as a true freshman last season, is the favorite to start on the outside opposite Seales. Brandon Sheperd (223 receiving yards) and David Glidden (15 catches) were also key parts of the rotation as redshirt freshman last season.
Oklahoma State will also be welcoming a pair of key parts from the 2012 receiving corps back to the lineup. Blake Webb and Austin Hays made starts as true freshmen two years ago, but they were sidelined by injuries for almost the entire 2013 season.
Hays, who was the favorite target of Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight at San Antonio Reagan High, has the versatility to play on the outside or in the slot. Webb, who also runs track, was the star of Oklahoma State’s “Orange Blitz” spring scrimmage, reeling in two bombs downfield.
On top of Webb and Hays, the Cowboys will be adding two more intriguing weapons to the fray.
Tyreek Hill, who was the No. 4 juco prospect in the country, stole the show in Stillwater this spring with his tantalizing speed. Hill will play running back, but the plan is to use him in the slot at times next season, as well.
Ra’Shaad Samples, another blazer, could be a factor in the slot as well. The top recruit from Oklahoma State’s 2013 signing class, Samples redshirted last season to get stronger.
Samples and sophomore C.J. Curry round out a nine-man rotation that won’t include a single senior in 2014, which is a scary future proposition for the defensive backfields of the conference.
Weakest position: Linebacker
The backbone of Oklahoma State’s stellar 2013 defense was the linebacker corps. Both Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey were three-year starters, and both earned first-team All-Big 12 recognition (Lewis from the coaches, Lavey from the media).
But Lewis and Lavey have both graduated, leaving a massive void in the middle of coordinator Glenn Spencer’s defense.
Spencer will be counting on junior Ryan Simmons to fill some of that void. Simmons, who was the third starting linebacker last season, has moved back inside to fill Lavey’s role. Simmons has All-Big 12 potential and will bring plenty of athleticism to middle linebacker.
Elsewhere, the Cowboys will be leaning heavily on transfers.
Juco transfer Devante Averette enrolled early, had a solid spring and should help solidify the weak side in place of Simmons along with Seth Jacobs and Kris Catlin.
Juco transfer D'Nerius Antoine and Michigan transfer Josh Furman will team up to man the “star” linebacker. Furman brings much needed experience to the group, having appeared in 32 games over his career with the Wolverines.
This is a unit that has the potential to rapidly improve in 2014. But it’s also one with many unknowns going into the season.
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.
OFFENSE (projected starters in bold)
QB: J.W. Walsh (Jr.), Daxx Garman (Jr.) OR Mason Rudolph (Fr.)
Walsh lost the job to Clint Chelf last season, but he all but reclaimed it with a steady spring. Coach Mike Gundy said the competition would continue into the fall, but barring injury, it’s only a matter of time before Walsh is named the starter for the opener against Florida State.
FB: Jeremy Seaton (Jr.), Teddy Johnson (Sr.)
The Cowboys added what figures to be the favorite to be named preseason Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year in Hill, who was dynamic in the spring despite splitting duties with the track team. With Roland back to grind out yards between the tackles and Hill a threat to go the distance whenever he touches the ball, the Cowboys have the opportunity to create problems for opposing defenses when they play on the field at the same time, which should happen a lot next year. Childs, who rushed for 189 yards as a freshman, adds depth to the position, while Seaton is a solid lead-blocking fullback who can also catch passes out of the backfield.
WR: Jhajuan Seales (So.), C.J. Curry (So.)
WR: Marcell Ateman (So.), Brandon Sheperd (Jr.)
IR: Austin Hays (So.), Ra’Shaad Samples (RFr.)
IR: Blake Webb (So.), David Glidden (Jr.)
TE/FB: Blake Jarwin (So.), Jordan Frazier (Fr.)
From Rashaun Woods to Justin Blackmon, the Cowboys have often had the luxury of a superstar wideout to throw the ball up to. The strength of his group, however, will be in its number. Seales, who had 39 catches as a freshman last season, headlines this unit, but Ateman, Hays, Webb, Glidden and Sheperd have all played in big games before. Hill will also boost this group whenever he moves from running back to the slot. Samples was banged up most of the spring, but he’ll also eventually bring speed to the rotation.
LT: Devin Davis (So.), Brandon Garrett (Sr.), Michael Wilson (So.)
LG: Chris Grisbhy (Sr.), Zachary Hargrove (Jr.)
C: Paul Lewis (So.), Jaxson Salinas (RFr.)
RG: Zac Veatch (So.), Colby Hegwood (Jr.)
RT: Daniel Koenig (Sr.), Zachary Crabtree (RFr.)
The Cowboys have some major questions up front that won’t be answered until the fall. Davis missed all of last year after tearing his ACL in the preseason, and still wasn’t cleared in the spring. Garrett’s leg was broken in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and he too is still working his way back. On top of that, longtime position coach Joe Wickline is now at Texas. If Davis and Garrett return to 100 percent, Lewis is able to successfully man his new position at center and new offensive line coach Bob Connelly builds on Wickline’s success, the Cowboys could field yet another banner offensive line. Of course, that is a lot of "ifs."
DE: Jimmy Bean (Jr.), Trace Clark (Jr.)
DT: James Castleman (Sr.), Vincent Taylor (RFr.) OR Vili Leveni (RFr.)
DT: Ofa Hautau (Sr.), Ben Hughes (RFr.) OR Eric Davis (So.)
DE: Sam Wren (Sr.), Emmanuel Ogbah (So.)
Even though the Cowboys graduated all-conference tackle Calvin Barnett, this should be the strength of the defense. Castleman is capable of performing at an All-Big 12 level, and Wren, Bean and Ogbah can get to the quarterback. Oklahoma State will be even stronger along the defensive line if former four-star signees Hughes and Taylor emerge in their second years on campus.
MLB: Ryan Simmons (Jr.), Dominic Ramacher (So.) OR Demarcus Sherod (So.)
WLB: Devante Averette (Jr.) OR Kris Catlin (Jr.) OR Seth Jacobs (So.)
Simmons moved inside this spring after flanking All-Big 12 veterans Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis last season. Simmons will be the new leader of this unit. The Cowboys also seemed pleased with the development of Averette and Catlin during the spring. Oklahoma State signed a very highly touted linebacking class in February, but chances are, those freshmen won’t be ready to contribute until at least 2015.
NB: D’Nerius Antoine (Jr.) OR Josh Furman (Sr.)
CB: Kevin Peterson (Jr.), Darius Curry (RFr.) OR Taylor Lewis (RFr.)
CB: Ashton Lampkin (Jr.), Miketavius Jones (Jr.)
FS: Jordan Sterns (So.), Larry Stephens (Sr.) OR Jerel Morrow (RFr.)
SS: Deric Robertson (So.), Tre Flowers (RFr.)
Like with so many other teams in the Big 12, Oklahoma State’s secondary is an uncertainty. Peterson, who is one of the top budding cover men in the league, will anchor the group as its lone returning starter. The Cowboys should be in good hands at the other corner with Lampkin, who has appeared in every game his first two years and had a pick-six in Oklahoma State’s “Orange Blitz” scrimmage. Safety is a complete unknown as Robertson and Sterns have little experience. The Cowboys could get some much-needed help from Furman, who transferred in from Michigan during the offseason and will be eligible immediately.
1. Daxx Garman is inserting himself into the quarterback competition: QB J.W. Walsh looked like the leader of the offense and has the command of a veteran behind center, making some big plays of his own in the scrimmage. Yet Garman, a walk-on who transferred from Arizona, was the best thrower of the bunch while sharing some snaps with the starters in the scrimmage. He’s proving he can be a solid No. 2 option and make the quarterback competition with Walsh last deep into August no matter how quickly highly regarded freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph, who saw limited action in the scrimmage, develops. Garman has received praise throughout the spring for his ability to throw the ball.
“He can really rotate the ball, really spin it, when it comes out of his hands, it’s different,” offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said of Garman. “It’s not just one throw where he’s able to reach out and do it, he does it when he wants to. Even my wife would look and say, ‘Wow, that dude is really good throwing the football.'"
2. Tyreek Hill is going to create problems for Big 12 defenses: The junior college transfer has made headlines with his track exploits this spring but proved he’s not just a “track guy” during the scrimmage. He took several snaps at running back, showing quickness and big-play ability, including a long touchdown scamper. He should emerge as a playmaker in OSU’s offense as the coaching staff searches for the best ways to utilize him.
“We looked at him some at receiver, and we’ve played him some at tailback," Gundy said. "Hopefully we can fit him into our offense enough to get him the football. He seems to be holding up. If he can figure out what we’re doing based off of the positions we’re playing him at, he should be able to help us because he is really fast.”
4. None of it will matter if the offensive line doesn’t come around: New offensive line coach Bob Connelly has a tough task ahead putting together a quality offensive line that will allow those playmakers can make big plays. Injuries and attrition made it impossible to evaluate the offensive line during Tuesday’s scrimmage because OSU is down in numbers and without projected starter Devin Davis. Yet the offensive line did win enough battles on Tuesday for Hill and Webb to star, so all is not lost up front for the Cowboys.
5. The defensive line will be the foundation of any success: The Cowboys defensive line is the deepest unit on that side of the ball. The Cowboys should have depth and a solid foundation with their defensive front. Defensive tackle James Castleman will be a solid anchor in the middle and defensive ends Jimmy Bean and Emmanuel Ogbah are talented. OSU is young and inexperienced at linebacker and safety so expect it to lean on an active defensive line to help mask some of the inexperience in the defensive backfield and linebacking corps.
- Kansas State is preparing to announce the plans for the overhaul of Bill Snyder Stadium, reports Kellis Robinett of The Kansas City Star.
- Head coach Paul Rhoads answers five questions about Iowa State football.
- Texas Tech's defensive line could be developing some depth.
- Here's a recap of Texas' pro day.
- Receiver Rodriguez Coleman is having a strong spring at Kansas.
- Oklahoma State receiver Marcell Ateman has terrific talent but we might not see his talent on the field if he doesn't work harder.
- Baylor and Stanford have reached rare heights in football and basketball this season.
- Former Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon is in the spotlight in this NFL draft focus.
- Here's a ranking of the top 10 players on Oklahoma's current roster from the Oklahoman's Jason Kersey.
These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus. Rather, they will include only the players currently on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now. Next up, Oklahoma State:
1. DT James Castleman: Castleman is the Cowboys’ most experienced player after starting the last two seasons alongside All-Big 12 performer Calvin Barnett. With Barnett gone, Castleman will command more attention. He, too, has the ability to be an All-Big 12 player.
2. OT Daniel Koenig: In recent years, the Cowboys have developed a penchant for taking lightly recruited offensive linemen and turning them into All-Big 12 players, notably Levy Adcock, Lane Taylor and Parker Graham. Koenig appears to be the next in that growing line. He can play anywhere along the line but will likely settle in at right tackle, barring injuries elsewhere.
4. CB Kevin Peterson: Future NFL first-round draft pick Justin Gilbert was the ace of the Cowboys secondary in 2013. Now that responsibility falls to Peterson, who has been a key part of the secondary since he arrived in Stillwater. Peterson might not have Gilbert’s elite athleticism, but he has the talent to be an elite cover corner.
5. RB Desmond Roland: Roland isn’t the flashiest or fastest running back. But when the Cowboys needed two yards last season, there was no better back in the Big 12 at getting it. After leading the conference with 13 rushing touchdowns despite starting only half the season, Roland is back to anchor the Oklahoma State backfield.
6. ILB Ryan Simmons: Simmons played on the outside last season but will slide to the middle with Caleb Lavey gone. Simmons was overshadowed by Lavey and Shaun Lewis, who were both All-Big 12 linebackers. But he still finished fourth on the team with 67 tackles, including nine for loss. With Lavey and Lewis gone, Simmons will take over as the undeniable leader of the Oklahoma State linebackers.
7. WR Marcell Ateman: Ateman played a major role at wideout as a freshman, even though the Cowboys were loaded at the position. Ateman finished fifth on the offense in receiving with 276 receiving yards. At 6-foot-4 and almost 200 pounds, Ateman has the stature to demolish smaller corners. If he builds off his first season, he could be in for a super sophomore campaign opposite Seales.
8. WR/RB Tyreek Hill: Hill is the only newcomer on this list and has never played a down on the FBS level. But it’s difficult to envision the No. 4 juco prospect in the country not making a major impact in his first season. Hill, who placed fifth in the 200 in the NCAA Indoor Championships, might be the fastest player in college football. This spring, the Cowboys have been devising ways to get Hill the ball in space. If they’re successful, look out.
9. QB J.W. Walsh: This is a big spring for Walsh. He flashed much potential as a redshirt freshman before taking a step back as a sophomore, losing the starting job to Clint Chelf. Walsh is the only quarterback on the roster with any experience, but he’ll have to perform to fend off hot shot true freshman Mason Rudolph, who is already enrolled and participating in spring ball. Walsh struggled last year, but he was also fifth in the country in the Adjusted QBR metric just two seasons ago.
10. DE Jimmy Bean: He started every game for the Cowboys last season as a sophomore and got better as the season progressed. In the AT&T Cotton Bowl, Bean finished with a career-high seven tackles, including three for loss. He also had a sack against Missouri. Together with Emmanuel Ogbah, Sam Wren and Trace Clark, Bean will lead what should be a solid rotation off the edge defensively.
At least without missing a major beat.
Starters Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore, who combined for 146 catches and almost 2,000 receiving yards, are gone, leaving rising sophomore Jhajuan Seales as the only returning starter.
But the Cowboys also welcome back a host of budding young receivers, who seem poised to keep the Oklahoma State passing attack humming.
“I think the receiving corps is going to be good,” Seales said. “I think our offense will be the same. People have to step up and fill in for Tracy and Charlie and those guys. But I think we have the guys who can do that.”
The Cowboys have Seales, which is a nice start.
As a redshirt freshman last season playing alongside Stewart and the Moores, Seales hauled in 39 catches for 571 yards. Two of Seales’ three touchdowns came in two of Oklahoma State’s final three games. Though he still has much to prove, Seales has the same combination of physicality and speed reminiscent of another Cowboy receiver who donned the jersey No. 81 -- Justin Blackmon.
“I feel I can be a go-to guy,” Seales said. “But there are other guys out there who can be that go-to guy, as well.”
Such as Marcell Ateman, who like Seales, carved out a role at outside receiver as a freshman, and caught 22 passes.
“Ateman, when he decides to play hard, he’s a big, physical body,” coach Mike Gundy said.
Sophomores Brandon Sheperd (223 receiving yards) and David Glidden (15 catches) received plenty of time in the rotation last season.
The Cowboys also bring back Blake Webb and Austin Hays, who both started in 2012 as freshmen before injuries sidelined them for virtually the entire 2013 season.
Hays, who played with Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight in high school in San Antonio, started nine games two seasons ago and finished with 394 receiving yards. But he was unable to play most of last season because of a nagging hamstring injury.
“It was so frustrating,” he said. “I kept thinking I was going to come back and never did. Not getting to get on the plane with the team, that very frustrating.”
Hays is close to 100 percent again this spring, and he has shown the versatility to play on the outside or in the slot. But he might have more competition for playing time now than he did two years ago.
The Cowboys signed junior-college speed demon Tyreek Hill, who has already broken numerous sprint records on the track team. Ra'Shaad Samples, who redshirted as a freshman last season, can also fly and reportedly has run the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds. Both players could bring major speed to the inside receiver positions.
“Some of those young receivers are starting to make a few plays,” Gundy said. “So it’s exciting that we have talent on our team that can make plays in the future.”
No doubt, Oklahoma State will miss Stewart, Charlie Moore and Tracy Moore at receiver. But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys will miss a beat there, too.
Said Seales: "Now we get to follow in their footsteps.”
Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:
Spring start: Feb. 28
Spring game: April 5
What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.
Spring start: March 10
Spring game: April 12
What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.
Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 12
What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.
Spring start: April 2
Spring game: April 26
What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.
Spring start: March 8
Spring game: April 12
What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.
Spring start: March 10
Final spring practice: April 5
What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.
Spring start: March 1
Final spring practice: April 5
What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 19
What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.
Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12
What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.
Spring start: March 2
Spring game: April 12
What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.
2. Kansas State: The Wildcats have the Big 12’s finest receiver in Tyler Lockett, which warrants them a high ranking even if the supporting cast isn’t tantalizing. Lockett was basically uncoverable downfield last season, and exploded once QB Jake Waters got more comfortable. Curry Sexton has turned into a reliable possession target. The Wildcats also welcome one of the best juco receivers in the country in Andre Davis. If Davis pans out, this has a chance to be among the best receiving corps Bill Snyder has ever had.
3. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose an ultra-productive player in Eric Ward and a superstar in tight end Jace Amaro, but this position remains stocked with talent. Jitterbug slot man Jakeem Grant was sixth in the league last year in receiving, and showed in the Holiday Bowl how dangerous he can be when 100 percent focused. Bradley Marquez and Jordan Davis are reliable pass-catchers, but the player to watch here is Reginald Davis. A former high school quarterback, Davis has gradually picked up the nuances of playing receiver. But as he flashed in a kickoff return touchdown against Arizona State, Davis is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and could be a major factor.
4. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose their top three receivers, but outside Baylor, no team in the Big 12 has more WRs ready to contribute in 2014 than Oklahoma State. Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman combined for 61 receptions as freshmen, and will give the Cowboys a physical presence on the perimeter. Brandon Sheperd and David Glidden were also part of the regular rotation, and Austin Hays, who started nine games in 2012, would have been had he not missed virtually the entire season with injury. The two to watch here, though, have yet to play a down, but will bring major speed. Former ESPN 300 recruit Ra’Shaad Samples redshirted last year, but reportedly ran a 4.3-second 40 last summer. That might seem slow compared to Tyreek Hill, the nation’s No. 4 juco recruit, who doubles as a track phenom.
5. Texas: Jaxon Shipley isn’t his brother Jordan, but he’s still a quality college receiver. Even with all of Texas’ QB issues, Shipley already has 159 career receptions. The Longhorns have speed and playmaking elsewhere in downfield burner Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and the versatile Daje Johnson. The Longhorns also signed one of three best incoming WRs in the Big 12 in Armanti Foreman. This group could really thrive with an uptick in QB play.
7. Iowa State: Quenton Bundrage is one of the more underrated receivers in the league despite ranking third in the Big 12 in touchdowns. With Amaro gone, E.J. Bibbs becomes the best receiving tight end in the league after hauling in 39 passes last year. Iowa State’s standing here, though, is contingent on incoming freshman Allen Lazard, one the most highly touted WRs Iowa State has ever signed. If Lazard can make an immediate impact, like the Iowa State coaching staff is banking on, this could become one of the better units in the league.
8. West Virginia: There’s no corps in the Big 12 that could move up more spots than West Virginia’s. The Mountaineers didn’t have a receiver rank in the top 15 in the Big 12 in receiving last year, but Kevin White, Mario Alford and Daikiel Shorts all ranked in the top 20. All three are back, too, as is the diminutive Jordan Thompson, who finally came alive the second half of the season. Former ESPN 300 recruit Shelton Gibson, who redshirted, will also join the rotation. The Mountaineers rank eighth for now, but they are closer to Kansas State than to Kansas.
9. TCU: This week, TCU kicked receiver LaDarius Brown off the team. Considering Brown tied for the team lead in receptions last year, it’s a tough loss. This unit is obviously better with Trevone Boykin, but he might have to play QB, at least until someone else emerges there. The Horned Frogs desperately need Brandon Carter to become a No. 1 receiver. After a promising sophomore year, Carter was basically a non-factor, before showing signs of bouncing back the last month of the season. TCU needs him in a big way in 2014.
10. Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have a receiver with more than 11 catches last year. Some of that was the quarterbacks. Some of it was, well, the receivers. The group had little overall impact, which put tremendous pressure on James Sims and the running game. With Sims gone, the receivers have to elevate their game significantly for Kansas to have a chance of taking a step forward. The Jayhawks do have a solid tight end in Jimmay Mundine, who had five TD catches. And Tony Pierson could play more receiver this year. But somebody else needs to emerge.
While some OSU fans yearn for Clint Chelf, a closer look at the offensive numbers reveal quarterback J.W. Walsh might be playing the role of scapegoat for his team’s offensive difficulties. Several of OSU’s passing numbers are quite similar to last season and it’s been the running game that has let the Cowboys down. Here’s a closer look at some statistics, thanks to ESPN Stats and Information, that represent the offensive struggles in Stillwater and some ways to improve the Cowboys offense in the second half of the season.
Yards per play: The Cowboys averaged 7.01 yards per play in 2012, leading the Big 12. This season OSU is averaging 5.95 yards per play. It’s a clear sign the Cowboys aren’t as consistently explosive this season as they were last season.
The fix: OSU has to start having more success on the ground. Most people think of OSU’s offense as a high-flying attack, but its running success was the foundation. If the Cowboys can force teams to respect their running game more, play-action passing will open up and the big plays will follow. If not, teams will stack the box and force Walsh to beat them deep with his arm.
Yards per carry: Last season the Cowboys easily led the Big 12 in yards per carry at 5.41 yards per carry. This season they rank in the bottom half of the conference at 4.14 yards per carry. Running back Joseph Randle has been sorely missed and the Cowboys’ offensive line hasn’t created the running lanes current starter Jeremy Smith was accustomed to in 2012, when he averaged 5.3 yards per carry. He’s averaging 3.7 yards per carry this season.
The fix: Better offensive line play. The loss of left tackle Devin Davis in the preseason has been devastating. Parker Graham was forced to move to left tackle from right guard and Chris Grisbhy was thrust into a starting role. But the offensive line is a unit, so one player isn't to blame for the entire line’s struggles. The starting five simply needs to play better and execute more efficiently.
Carries of more than 10 yards: OSU led the Big 12 with 88 rushes for 10 or more yards in 2012, an average of 6.76 per game. In 2013, it ranks No. 8 in the conference with 22 rushes for 10 or more yards in five games, an average of 4.4 per game. Randle had 40 carries of 10 yards or more last season.
The fix: This is where the offensive line and Walsh could help make life easier on Smith and the rest of the Cowboys running backs. Smith been forced to make defenders miss in the backfield too often and rarely has had one-on-one opportunities in the open field. The senior needs to be decisive with the ball in his hands, the offensive front needs to limit missed assignments, and Walsh needs to make teams pay for overloading the box.
Yards after contact: The Cowboys finished with 1,227 yards after contact in 2012, an average of 94.38 per game. This season, they sit at the bottom of the Big 12 in that category with 282 in five games, an average of 56.4 per game. It’s an area where the Cowboys clearly miss Randle, who gained 713 of his 1,417 rushing yards after contact in 2012.
The fix: Randle was a special player; he’s playing in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys for a reason. Nonetheless, Smith needs to attack defenses like he did in 2012 and OSU needs to give No. 2 running back Desmond Roland more opportunities to make plays. Using the duo together in their Diamond formation more often would be a good place to start.
Yards after catch: One of the few passing categories with a significant difference between last season and this one. OSU gained 2,252 of its 4,312 passing yards after the catch in 2012 (52.2 percent). This season, the Cowboys have gained 679 of their 1,502 passing yards after the catch (45.2 percent). Josh Stewart is the lone Cowboy who has gained more than 75 yards after the catch this season, with 196 of his 332 receiving yards coming after the catch.
The fix: Walsh could be more accurate with his passes, allowing receivers to catch the ball on the run more often. OSU tends to only try to get Stewart the ball on the move, but they have their deepest group of receivers in recent memory. Therefore, they need to spread the ball more and give young receivers with upside, such as Brandon Sheperd and Marcell Ateman, more chances to make teams pay for leaving them in one-on-one situations and give Walsh more playmaking options.
Having a highly ranked recruiting class and a bunch of four-star signees sounds good in the spring and summer, but it's a different story when the season begins. The freshmen who are game-ready are the ones who get the playing time, no matter their star rating. Here's a look at the five Big 12 schools getting the most from their true freshmen:
Tech has played eight other true freshmen in 2013, and a few are making solid contributions. Receiver Dylan Cantrell has six catches for 56 yards, linebacker Malik Jenkins has recorded five tackles and a pass breakup and receiver Carlos Thompson already has a 73-yard kick return and 35-yard punt return.
2. Oklahoma: Is it possible Oklahoma’s best running back is its fourth-string freshman? Keith Ford, the gem of the Sooners’ class, has rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and wowed in OU’s last game against Tulsa.
Fellow freshman Stanvon Taylor earned his first career start against Tulsa, and he’s one of several newcomers contributing in the secondary along with Hatari Byrd, Ahmad Thomas, L.J. Moore and Dakota Austin. Linebacker Dominique Alexander has also chipped in six tackles through three games.
3. West Virginia: Of all the new skill players who joined West Virginia’s offense this year, who would’ve expected Daikiel Shorts would be the Mountaineers’ leading receiver and Wendell Smallwood would be their No. 2 back? Shorts has 12 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns, and Smallwood has 139 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries thus far.
A total of seven true freshmen have played for WVU this season, and four of them are defensive backs. Corner Daryl Worley is off to a nice start with six tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.
4. Oklahoma State: Many expected Ra’Shaad Samples to be OSU’s breakout true freshman receiver, but so far that distinction belongs to Marcell Ateman. He has hauled in eight passes for 92 yards, good for fourth-best on the team.
Freshman kicker Ben Grogan has hit all 19 of his extra-point attempts and is 1-for-2 on field goals, and defensive backs Jordan Sterns and Deric Robertson have combined for eight tackles this season.
5. Baylor: Baylor might have two of the conference’s most talented true freshmen in receiver Robbie Rhodes and defensive tackle Andrew Billings, but they haven’t had to do much so far. Rhodes has 65 receiving yards and Billings has recorded three tackles, including one tackle for loss. Kiante’ Griffin is also contributing at linebacker with three tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
TCU can also make a case for the No. 5 spot. The Frogs don’t have a Devonte Fields-caliber breakout star yet, but receiver Ty Slanina has two reception and is currently listed as a starter, and former ESPN 300 prospect Tevin Lawson is breaking into the rotation at defensive tackle with two stops already.
Jake Trotter guaranteed he had the best team in our Big 12 fantasy football league. For week 1, he was indeed correct.
Finishing in second was Brandon Chatmon with 85 points thanks to Lache Seastrunk's 22 points and strong showing from all three of his starting receivers. And yours truly finished last. Thanks a lot, John Hubert. (To be fair, our fantasy scores are the least of K-State’s concerns after this weekend.)
The top scorer in fantasy this week? Texas quarterback David Ash, who put up 44 points. He was sitting on Trotter’s fantasy bench behind Petty during that big-time performance.
But this is a marathon, not a sprint. Several big-name Big 12 players had modest fantasy showings in their first games of the new season. Plus, there’s always the option to change up our lineups.
We’re permitted two moves on the waiver wire each week, and we went freshman-heavy this time around. I picked up Texas Tech QB Baker Mayfield and the Baylor defense, Brandon added Oklahoma State receiver Marcell Ateman and Jake signed West Virginia receiver Daikiel Shorts.
Here were the results for week 1:
Jake Trotter’s Team
QB Bryce Petty, BAY 20
RB Jeremy Smith, OSU 22
RB Damien Williams, OU 6
FLEX Charles Sims, WVU 19
WR Eric Ward, TTU 15
WR Tracy Moore, OSU 3
TE Jace Amaro, TTU 4
D TCU Defense 0
K Aaron Jones, BAY 12
Brandon Chatmon’s Team
QB Casey Pachall, TCU 4
RB Lache Seastrunk, BAY 23
RB Johnathan Gray, TEX 2
FLEX Tyler Lockett, KSU 17
WR Jalen Saunders, OU 15
WR Mike Davis, TEX 12
TE Cody Clay, WVU 0
D Texas Tech Defense 4
K Michael Hunnicutt, OU 11
Max Olson’s Team
QB Trevor Knight, OU 25
RB Glasco Martin, BAY 9
RB John Hubert, KSU 2
FLEX Brandon Carter, TCU 4
WR Josh Stewart, OSU 4
WR Tevin Reese, BAY 15
TE Blake Jackson, OSU 0
D Texas Defense 11
K Jaden Oberkrom, TCU 9
Their recruiting hype doesn’t matter anymore. Some will play right away, and many others won’t. We’ll soon know which ones are difference-makers, and which ones are better off spending a year on the sidelines.
Several rookies are already establishing themselves as the cream of the crop through nearly three weeks of fall practices, but there are a lot of good ones ready to crack this list after they make their debuts. Here’s a look at five true freshman who are earning buzz coming out of fall camp, plus several more who could garner attention soon.
WR Robbie Rhodes, Baylor
The hype just keeps building. Rhodes enjoyed another breakout performance in Baylor’s second scrimmage, going for 112 yards on four catches. He was the No. 4 ranked receiver in the country coming out of Fort Worth (Texas) Southwest and brings elite speed and size to the position. He chose Baylor because he knew he could play any receiver spot for the Bears and get on the field right away. He was right. “He’s just a talented guy. He’s good, and that’s why he’s here,” Baylor coach Art Briles said after his second scrimmage. “We’re a good place for receivers to go, without any question.”
S Hatari Byrd, Oklahoma
The strong majority of Oklahoma’s 2013 signees have a chance to play in their first year, and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has acknowledged Byrd is the one “we’ll probably lean on the heaviest.” He’s worked out at multiple positions in the secondary during camp and has a legitimate chance to establish himself in the lineup early in his Sooner career. A 6-foot-1, 198-pound ESPN 300 signee from Fresno, Calif., Byrd was told throughout his recruitment he’d start right away in Norman.
QB Davis Webb, Texas Tech
The prosper Prosper (Texas) arrived early in the spring and is now in position to start the season opener vs. SMU with Michael Brewer sidelined. A 6-foot-4, 195-pound gunslinger, he threw for 224 yards in the Tech spring game and seriously pushed Brewer, the projected starter. Now he’s competing with walk-on Baker Mayfield, and having that extra semester under his belt could make the difference.
WR Marcell Ateman, Oklahoma State
There’s no Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant on this Oklahoma State team, just a handful of potentially really good ones. Ateman has flown under the radar a bit compared to the more touted Ra'Shaad Samples, but he’s got a big frame at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds and has impressed the OSU staff in fall camp. Don’t be surprised if he contributes early.
DT Andrew Billings, Baylor
Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has already come right out and said it: Billings is competing for a starting job right now. He’s 6-foot and 305 pounds, and you won’t find a more powerful freshman in the country. The Waco native broke Texas state powerlifting records last year and can squad 805 pounds and bench press 500. Billings matches that strength with surprising quickness and could become a menace up the middle right away for the Bears. “We knew he was strong and we knew he was passionate,” Briles told the Waco Tribune last week. “I just didn’t know he was that agile and dedicated. He’s a guy that wants to be great.”
Keep an eye on: CB Ranthony Texada, TCU; S Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma; QB Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech; WR Daikiel Shorts, West Virginia; WR D.J. Polite-Bray, Texas Tech; WR Tre' Parmalee, Kansas; DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma; RB Keith Ford, Oklahoma; DE Jordan Willis, Kansas State; LB Alton Meeks, Iowa State; WR Jacorey Warrick, Texas; LB Al-Rasheed Benton, West Virginia; OL Patrick Morris, TCU; RB Rennie Childs, Oklahoma State; QB Tyrone Swoopes, Texas
Yet top to bottom, coach Mike Gundy agrees his Cowboys have never featured a deeper, more talented overall receiving corps than the one he’ll take into this season.
“But from top to bottom ... we have 10 or 12 guys that I think in three weeks could play in a game and go out there with the ones and have success. So we may be as good at that position as we’ve ever been -- without having maybe a potential first-round guy.”
The Cowboys might not have that potential first-round pick, but thanks to the fortuitous timing of an injury, they do have two go-to guys.
Oklahoma State went into 2012 counting on senior Tracy Moore to take over for Blackmon as the No. 1 receiver. Moore proved up to the challenge, hauling in four touchdown passes in a shootout loss at Arizona early in the season. But a month later, Moore’s season was derailed when he suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for the year.
“Other than (running back) Joseph Randle, before Tracy got hurt, he was our best player on offense,” Gundy said.
Moore getting hurt, however, provided a silver lining that should benefit the Cowboys this season: it cleared the way for Josh Stewart to shine out of the slot. After taking over as Oklahoma State’s primary pass-catcher, Stewart rapidly developed into one of the most dangerous receivers in college football and finished with 101 receptions, third-most in the Big 12.
And because Moore played less than 30 percent of the 2012 season, he was given a medical redshirt to come back, providing Oklahoma State with two playmakers who have shouldered the No. 1 receiver role.
“Not a lot of teams have that,” Stewart said.
Moore and Stewart will have plenty of help, too.
The Cowboys return two other starters at receiver in Charlie Moore and Blake Jackson, who combined for more than 65 receptions and 1,000 yards last season. Oklahoma State also brings back Austin Hays, who filled in admiringly after Tracy Moore got hurt with 29 catches, and Blake Webb, who got the start against Oklahoma.
“It’s crazy because last year I thought that we had great depth at the position,” said Jackson, who plays on the inside opposite Stewart. “Now getting Tracy back for another year, it’s crazy how many good receivers we have. We have 12 guys that could start right now and we’d be productive and keep moving.”
Among those 12 are underclassmen David Glidden, Brandon Sheperd and Jhajuan Seales, who all are vying for time. Seales has been especially turning heads. Gundy singled him out as someone who developed physically during the offseason as much as anyone on the squad.
“Anyone in the starting lineup go down, we’ve got someone that could fill them up at every spot and do good, and I’m not just saying that,” Stewart said. “We’ve had pretty good depth the last three years -- but nothing like this.”
The Cowboys are also about to reap the benefits of more fruitful recruiting efforts. In its most recent signing class, Oklahoma State landed four-star receivers Ra'Shaad Samples and Marcell Ateman, incoming freshmen who appear talented enough to contribute right away.
“The success we’re having has a lot to do with this, the previous success,” Tracy Moore said. “People see what Blackmon did, people see what Dez Bryant did. They want to come here and we’re getting top guys now."
The Cowboys don’t have a Blackmon or a Bryant. But the position in Stillwater has never been better.
“We are so stacked on receivers,” Moore said. “We’re definitely pretty stacked.”
Next up: Oklahoma State.
Strongest position: Pass-catchers
I'll have to apologize to Oklahoma State's trio of safeties in Daytawion Lowe, Shamiel Gary and Zack Craig here, but I'm going with the guys hauling in balls in OSU's pass-first offense as the strongest position. I don't care to debate whether Blake Jackson is a receiver or a tight end (he's the former), but I'm obviously including him in this group. He'll be an interesting guy to watch this year after struggling with drops but clearly possessing loads of potential and averaging better than 20 yards a catch on his 29 grabs.
Oklahoma State had nine players with at least 12 catches and 150 receiving yards last season and returns six of those players, including Tracy Moore, who was given an extra year of eligibility. He won't be joined by Michael Harrison, who sat out 2012 and was expected to return, but won't be doing so after a strong 2011 season under Justin Blackmon.
Somehow, we've gotten this far without mentioning the unit's headliner, breakout star Josh Stewart. He was overshadowed by a trio of superstars in Baylor's Terrance Williams and West Virginia's Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but all three are gone and Stewart is easily the Big 12's best returning receiver. He caught 101 balls for 1,210 yards and seven scores last season, which is more than 150 yards more than any other returning receiver in the league. Stewart's underrated for now, but that could change soon, even though Oklahoma State has a ton of depth at the position with guys like Austin Hays and Charlie Moore filling out the position and Blake Webb emerging late in the season. Will incoming freshmen like Ra'Shaad Samples and Marcell Ateman find space to make an impact right away? It won't be easy, because this is Oklahoma State's biggest strength.
Weakest position: Defensive end
I've got nothing against juco transfers, who can walk on campus and be game-changers immediately, but if you're bringing in guys to do that, it shows a weakness at the position. Oklahoma State is doing that with Sam Wren, the nation's No. 16 overall juco prospect, after the Pokes lost three defensive ends from last season's team in Nigel Nicholas, Ryan Robinson and Cooper Bassett. Tyler Johnson is a solid player who made six tackles for loss a year ago, but OSU needs to find him help on the other side or opponents will be able to shut him down with double teams. Kansas State's Joe Bob Clements is a new addition to the staff who'll coach the position and try to sort it out this spring, but look for guys like Trace Clark, Jimmy Bean and early enrollee Naim Mustafaa to try to earn a starting spot, too.
More Weak and Strong.