Big 12: Michiah Quick

This week, we’ve been examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts; so no need to worry about a jinx.

We continue with the Oklahoma Sooners.

Most indispensable player: Receiver Sterling Shepard

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard and Jackson Jeffcoat
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard's production will be vital to Oklahoma's success in the passing game in 2014.
2013 stats: Caught 51 passes for 603 yards and seven touchdowns.

Why Oklahoma can’t afford to lose him: A strong case could be made for sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight here. He was spectacular in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and has the skill set to be a star in college football. But it’s difficult to slap the “indispensable” label on a player who has only started and finished three games in his college career.

Last season, Oklahoma’s most indispensable player was do-everything receiver Jalen Saunders. This season, the Sooners’ most indispensable player figures to be another do-everything pass-catcher.

Shepard has been a key part of the Oklahoma offense from the moment he stepped on campus. Through two seasons in Norman, Shepard already has 96 receptions for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns.

With Saunders now a member of the New York Jets, Shepard will take over as the Sooners’ go-to playmaker at receiver. But unlike Saunders, who had Shepard and Lacoltan Bester alongside him, Shepard won’t have an experienced receiver flanking him. That makes Shepard all-the-more indispensable.

After Shepard, Durron Neal is Oklahoma’s second-leading receiver from last season, and he finished with only 13 receptions. Neal also missed spring practice with knee and ankle injuries.

Elsewhere, the Sooners are loaded with inexperience at receiver. Jordan Smallwood, Dannon Cavil and K.J. Young redshirted last season. Austin Bennett and Derrick Woods have been used sparingly. Mark Andrews, Jeff Mead, Michiah Quick and Dallis Todd are incoming true freshmen.

In fact, outside Shepard, the only two returning Sooners who had touchdown catches last year are fullback Aaron Ripkowski and place-kicker Michael Hunnicutt.

That’s why Shepard is so valuable.

He gives the Sooners an unequivocal tone-setter and leader for its extremely young group of receivers. And he gives Knight that one dependable target every budding quarterback requires.
Since last week we’ve been examining at the strongest and weakest position groups for each Big 12 team going into the fall.

We continue with the Oklahoma Sooners:

Strongest position: Defensive line

Pretty obvious choice here for Oklahoma, considering how this unit played in its greatest test yet against Alabama.

Eric Striker gives the Sooners an All-Big 12 defensive end who still has two years left to get even better. He's a playmaker, and senior Geneo Grissom proved against the Tide, with his two sacks and two fumble recoveries, that he can be, too.

We got to see Jordan Phillips in only four games last fall before he was shut down for the season, but the defensive tackle was one of OU's most promising defenders when he was on the field. The trio of Phillips, Chuka Ndulue and Jordan Wade is potent. Keep them healthy, and they can develop into a fearsome group.

What makes this group really stand out, and what probably gets overlooked, is the depth you don't see. While these starters form one of the conference's best defensive lines, the guys behind them will continue to develop in the background.

Some will be called upon when injuries hit, but having young linemen such as Matt Dimon, D.J. Ward, Dwayne Orso Jr. and Courtney Garnett waiting in the wings will mean an exciting future for this line.

Weakest position: Wide receivers

You can't lose a great talent like Jalen Saunders and key seniors Lacoltan Bester and Jaz Reynolds and not be a little concerned with this group.

The Sooners are essentially working with four experienced receivers going into 2014, led by Sterling Shepard. He can't do it all by himself. Among Durron Neal, Derrick Woods and Austin Bennett, quarterback Trevor Knight is going to need to find a couple guys he can trust. There are some redshirt freshmen waiting for their turn, too.

The good news is help is on the way, and it might be elite help. The Sooners signed three skyscrapers in Mark Andrews (6-foot-6), Jeffery Mead (6-6) and Dallis Todd (6-5) and then inked a four-star speedster in Michiah Quick on signing day. Three of those incoming freshmen are ESPN 300 recruits with big expectations.

If a couple are ready when they show up in Norman, this group will instantly get a lot better.

2014 Big 12 recruiting draft: Round 1

May, 8, 2014
May 8
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The NFL draft gets underway in a matter of hours so we decided to have a little fun on the Big 12 blog today.

The premise: What could things be like if college football, and the Big 12 in particular, acquired players via a draft instead of recruiting?

Therefore, this afternoon we’ll be posting a three-round Big 12 draft. Any recruit who signed with a Big 12 school is eligible to be drafted and the draft order reflects the 2013 final standings. Jake Trotter will draft for Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Max Olson will draft for Baylor, TCU and Texas. Brandon Chatmon will draft for Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kansas State.

Without further ado, let’s kick the draft off with Round 1:

1. Kansas: QB Jerrod Heard
Signed with: Texas
Brandon Chatmon: The Jayhawks need a playmaker at the quarterback position, and Heard is the best quarterback who will enter the Big 12 this season, in my opinion. He’s a dual-threat quarterback and the perfect guy to rebuild the Jayhawks offense around.

2. Iowa State: S Steven Parker II
Signed with: Oklahoma
Jake Trotter: With Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield both gone off last season's team, the Cyclones need a new anchor at the back end of their defense they can rebuild around. Cornerback Nigel Tribune (who started in 2013 as a freshman) and Parker would give Iowa State one of the best young defensive back combinations in the league.

3. West Virginia: QB William Crest
Signed with: West Virginia
Chatmon: Ironically, I think Crest is the ideal fit for West Virginia and coach Dana Holgorsen. Crest could have the highest upside of any Big 12 quarterback signee, and his athleticism could take Holgorsen’s offense to another level. Oklahoma signee Justice Hansen was strongly considered, but Crest gets the nod due to his upside.

4. TCU: ATH Davion Hall
Signed with: Baylor
Max Olson: The Horned Frogs get the second-highest rated Big 12 signee and a player who has the potential to not only contribute immediately, but he also addresses a need no matter what position he plays. At TCU, Hall would get a chance to become the playmaker the Frogs' new offense needs if Brandon Carter can't play, and he'd even be able to help a secondary missing Jason Verrett from the safety spot. Considering Gary Patterson's reputation for maximizing the potential of versatile athletes, it's a good fit.

5. Texas Tech: RB Tyreek Hill
Signed with: Oklahoma State
Trotter: With Kenny Williams now plying his craft at linebacker, the Red Raiders need help at running back. With his hands and unmatched speed, Hill would be the perfect fit in the backfield alongside DeAndre Washington. Because of his ability to slide over to the slot, Tech could line up in five wide sets, too, without having to substitute with Hill on the field. Hill would also alleviate Tech's problems returning punts, and with Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis manning kicks, the Red Raiders would be a constant threat for a big play on special teams.

6. Kansas State: RB Joe Mixon
Signed with: Oklahoma
Chatmon: The Wildcats need a running back to ensure balance in an offense that features quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett. Mixon would bring balance with his running ability and versatility with his receiving skills, thus allowing him to be a three-down threat for the Wildcats offense.

7. Texas: QB Mason Rudolph
Signed with: Oklahoma State
Olson: It's tempting to go with the Longhorns' top-rated signee, DE Derick Roberson, at this spot. But with Heard already off the board, the safe move here is probably Rudolph. The 6-foot-4 pocket passer might be a really good fit for what Shawn Watson wants in his future QBs, and Rudolph did receive an offer from Louisville during his recruiting process. Charlie Strong is a defensive-minded coach, no doubt, but hard to think he'd pass up a chance to address Texas' obvious issues at quarterback with this very talented one.

8. Oklahoma State: WR K.D. Cannon
Signed with: Baylor
Trotter: Cannon doesn't fill a position of need for the Cowboys, but as the top-rated Big 12 signee of this class, he's too talented of a player to pass up. The Oklahoma State offense has a strong track of producing first-round wideouts (Rashaun Woods, Dez Bryant, Justin Blackmon). Cannon would have the skill set to become the next star.

9. Oklahoma: CB Nigel Bethel II
Signed with: Texas Tech
Chatmon: Speed. Speed. And more speed. Bethel would bring much-needed speed to the Sooners secondary that needs someone to fill the void left by two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin. Bethel recently won a few Florida state titles in track and would step right into the competition for playing time in the secondary.

10. Baylor: ATH Michiah Quick
Signed with: Oklahoma
Olson: Tough call with this pick. You can talk yourself into a few other touted wideouts. You can go in several different directions if you want to address needs. But we'll settle for speed and upside, two traits the Bears obviously covet. ESPN scouts loved Quick for his versatility as a WR and CB. They called him "an explosive jet of a weapon." Sounds like the kind of kid Baylor would have some fun with, right?

Oklahoma spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
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A recap of what we learned about Oklahoma this spring as the program prepares to build upon its 11-2 season a year ago.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. OU’s defensive front should be dominant. The Sooners return all of their contributing defensive linemen and are likely to add a healthy Jordan Phillips. OU will go six or seven deep along its defensive line and at least half of those defenders could end up playing on Sundays.

2. The Sooners want to be as versatile as possible on defense. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops shuffled around his best players, putting defensive end Geneo Grissom in a stand-up linebacker role and linebacker Eric Striker in the nickelback role at various times. The goal is to get the team's top 11 players on the field in every situation.

3. The offense remains a work in progress. OU’s offense wasn’t particularly balanced in 2013, finishing 90th among FBS teams in passing yards (199.1 per game). It didn’t look like much had changed during the spring game. OU needs a strong, consistent passing game to emerge, like it did in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, if it hopes to win a Big 12 or even national title this fall.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Will Trevor Knight become a consistent passer? The sophomore quarterback passed for 348 yards in the Sugar Bowl but averaged 67.3 passing yards per game in the other seven games he attempted a pass. Knight looked like a star against Alabama and gets the chance to show he can be a consistent star this fall.

2. Who will make game-changing plays on offense? As a proven playmaker, junior receiver Sterling Shepard is a given. After him things get unclear. Talent is not an issue but proven production, or lack thereof, is a problem. The defense will be able to carry the Sooners through some games but if championship aspirations are real, OU needs game-changers to emerge at running back and receiver.

3. Can any true freshmen make an impact? A roster full of talented returnees could make it tough on true freshmen to make an impact but receiver Michiah Quick, running back Joe Mixon, running back Samaje Perine and safety Steven Parker II could prove good enough to play right away at positions of need.

One way-too-early prediction:

Oklahoma’s three-game stretch to begin October will define its season as it travels to TCU, battles Texas in Dallas, then hosts Kansas State. The stretch is sandwiched between a pair of bye weeks which should make things easier on Bob Stoops’ coaching staff, but none of those games will be easy. How the Sooners handle them will show if they have what it takes to jump into national title contention.
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.
We've done something different with Friday's Big 12 mailbag. From now on, we'll be including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To send a mailbag question via Twitter going forward, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You can also still send in questions and comments to the mailbag here, too.

To the 'bag...
Trotter: Right away? Very little chance. The TCU coaching staff seems to be relatively content with the way Trevone Boykin has performed in the new offense this spring. Down the line, Foster Sawyer or Grayson Muehlstein could get a shot, especially if Boykin struggles or the offense bogs down like it did last year. But I feel fairly confident Boykin will open as TCU's starter.
Trotter: I don't think there's any doubt that running back Alex Ross has created the most buzz this spring among the young offensive players not named Trevor Knight. The assumption around Norman was Keith Ford would swiftly win the starting job after contributing to the running back rotation ahead of Ross last season despite being a year younger. But Ross has turned heads in the Sooners' closed scrimmages, and is carving out a role in the OU backfield, whether he starts or not.
Trotter: I got out of the business of predicting verbal commitments a long time ago. But I will say this: having Jarrett Stidham, the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB, already on board is going to make a huge difference for the Red Raiders in a bunch of these battles. He will prove to be an invaluable recruiter, and should sway several high-profile prospects out there to give Texas Tech a second and third look it might not get otherwise.
Trotter: Odds are the Cowboys lose to the defending national champs no matter who they start at quarterback. I doubt J.W. Walsh would lose the job (assuming he starts) based on that one game alone. Daxx Garman has been impressive this spring, and I love the potential of Mason Rudolph. But it could take a while for either to unseat Walsh, whose experience trumps all right now.
Trotter: The three guys I'd be watching for would be safety Steven Parker II, slot receiver Michiah Quick and running back Joe Mixon. The Sooners are in good shape at safety, but blue-chip true freshmen like Parker II have a history of playing immediately in the secondary in the Bob Stoops era. Sterling Shepard is going to need help at receiver, and Quick has the explosiveness to break into the rotation right away. Mixon was one of the best running back recruits in the country, and is probably too talented to redshirt.

YK Lee in Fort Wort, Texas, writes: On College Football Live, comments were made that the Big 12 champ (if OU or Baylor) would be in trouble for the playoffs due to non-conference schedules. But no mention was made of Alabama's non-conference schedule, which includes an FCS team. Why does ESPN seem to have a bone to pick against the Big 12?

Trotter: Are we seriously going to do this every week? To recap from last Friday, here's who else Alabama has scheduled out-of-conference the last five years: West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Penn State and Clemson. Alabama also plays in the toughest conference in college football. There's just no comparison between Alabama's schedule and Baylor's. And while I didn't see it, I'm sure the gist of the College Football Live segment was to point out that a one-loss Baylor has virtually no shot of advancing to the College Football Playoff against, say, a second SEC team with the same record, due to the Bears' lackluster non-conference scheduling, which includes just one opponent (Duke) from the Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten or ACC up to 2019.

ImFasterThanYa writes: Will a Big 12 ref throw a flag when I run through the end zone after scoring a touchdown because it takes several steps for me to turn off the engines?

Trotter: Tyreek Hill could score as many touchdowns as Forest Gump did that one year for Alabama. As you imply, the Oklahoma State transfer can flat out fly.

Katie in Sugar Land, Texas, writes: I love the new Big 12, but I feel we need more rivalries. Texas-Oklahoma is a staple of the conference. But what else is there? After all, great rivalries are the major mark of a great conference.

Trotter: Bedlam has become a great rivalry. But you're right, conference realignment has pretty much destroyed all the other notable ones in the league (Texas-Texas A&M, Oklahoma-Nebraska, Kansas-Missouri, Texas Tech-Texas A&M, Kansas State-Nebraska). This has really hurt the league, but what can be done? College football rivalries aren't forged overnight.
A glimpse at the future is no longer enough.

Oklahoma receivers coach Jay Norvell has several pass catchers in his meeting room who have made occasional plays for the Sooners, showing glimpses of their playmaking ability. This season OU is counting on those players to transform into consistent playmakers. If they don’t, OU could find itself with a passing offense that is shooting blanks.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard is a proven commodity at WR for Oklahoma, but there are plenty of question marks behind him.
“We don’t have as many guys with game time, but I think that’s a good thing,” Norvell said. “We’re going to have to find about five guys out of this group and they’re going to have to grow up in a hurry. It’s about being consistent and being competitive now. The really good players, they do it every day.”

Sterling Shepard qualifies as "really good".

The Sooners’ leading returning receiver will take over for Jalen Saunders as OU’s go-to receiver after two seasons as a complementary piece in OU’s offense. Outside of Shepard, the Sooners' returning receivers combined for 17 receptions and 228 receiving yards in 2013.

Durron Neal's 22-yard catch against Kansas State and Derrick Woods' 20-yard reception against Alabama provided glimpses of their potential. The duo joined Shepard in the same recruiting class but have been looking up at him on the depth chart for their first two years on campus. Neal was one of the nation’s top receiver recruits out of high school, and the Sooners held off a late charge from USC to secure Woods.

Making the occasional play is no longer acceptable for Neal or Woods; it’s either step up or lose their spot. Sophomore Austin Bennett joins redshirt freshmen Dannon Cavil, Jordan Smallwood and K.J. Young as highly regarded receivers nipping at their heels this spring. And four freshmen signees, including ESPN 300 receiver Michiah Quick, will arrive this summer with the goal of forcing themselves into the competition.

The overall depth of talent at the position is one reason the Sooners aren’t overly concerned about finding pass catchers for starting quarterback Trevor Knight.

“It’s a good group, they just haven’t had a ton of time on the field,” said Sooners coach Bob Stoops, who likened the receiver position to OU’s defensive line group, which was a major question mark last spring before blossoming into a major asset in the fall.

“These guys have been developing, training [and are] ready to take over. Those guys are just going to have to be more consistent [to] stay on the field.”

Shepard is the lone known commodity, with all-conference honors in his sights after 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. He’s tough as nails, competitive and rises to the occasion in big games, with four of his seven scores coming in wins over Notre Dame, Kansas State and Alabama.

The Sooners' search for consistent receivers is reminiscent of two springs ago in Norman, Okla., when OU had just lost NCAA all-time receptions leader Ryan Broyles and returned Kenny Stills, who had been a key player during his first two seasons but was being counted on to anchor the receiver spot for the first time in his career. Norvell turned to Stills to raise his overall game and leadership that spring, much like he’s asking from Shepard over the next 12 practices.

“When you become a leader, you gotta make everybody else better,” Norvell said of his only veteran receiver. “He’s not competing against guys here, he’s competing against guys around our league, around the country. He’s got to raise the standard in his game.”

OU hopes the similarities between 2012 and 2014 stop at the concerns about the receiver spot during spring football. In 2012, the Sooners added transfers Justin Brown (Penn State) and Saunders (Fresno State) in the summer after post-spring suspensions took Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks out of the equation. OU hopes its young receivers improve enough this spring to remove all doubt about the position heading into the summer while creating depth that can withstand any unexpected hits before August.

“It’s a competitive group,” Norvell said. “We’re extremely competitive in the spring, the whole group gets graded every single day on every snap, so it's really easy to know who the best players are. We have a bunch of young guys who have shown flashes but now it’s about being able to go out every day compete and make plays. So, we’ll see who rises to the top.”

Signing day was kind to the Oklahoma Sooners.

A strong finish to its 2014 recruiting class has helped OU land at No. 5 in the ESPN.com Post-Signing Day Way-Too-Early Top 25. The Sooners are the Big 12’s top team, with Baylor and Texas joining them on the list. The Bears are ranked No. 10 and the Longhorns No. 22.

Florida State, Alabama, Oregon and Michigan State are the top four teams, in that order.

OU skyrocketing to the top five shows just how quickly things can change. In mid-November the Sooners were reeling after a 41-12 thrashing at the hands of the eventual Big 12 champion Bears. Almost three months later, the Sooners find themselves projected to be among the nation’s top five teams after four straight wins to end the season, including a 45-31 Allstate Sugar Bowl triumph over Alabama led by sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight. The Sooners used that momentum to land several top recruits, including running back Joe Mixon, athlete Michiah Quick and safety Steven Parker II.

Baylor will have to overcome the loss of running back Lache Seastrunk and defensive leader Ahmad Dixon, but running back Shock Linwood and safety Orion Stewart both made game-changing plays as backups. Linwood finished with 881 rushing yards and Stewart had a critical interception return for touchdown against TCU. Art Briles' team appears ready to handle those departures -- and the loss of All-American guard Cyril Richardson -- while adding a recruiting class full of talented athletes, including elite receiver K.D. Cannon, to its roster to earn a preseason top-10 ranking.

Texas is the wildcard team with a new coach in Charlie Strong but uncertainty at the quarterback position due to David Ash’s health concerns. But a solid finish to its recruiting class, including the late addition of ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford, combined with an exceptional coaching staff landed Texas in the Top 25. The Longhorns have the talent to rise into the top 10 or, if their struggles at the quarterback position continue, could tumble out of the rankings completely.

Oklahoma State could have a strong case for inclusion in the Way-Too-Early Top 25, but Kansas State has the strongest case of the Big 12 squads that find themselves left outside. The Wildcats have quarterback Jake Waters returning to man the offense, and receiver Tyler Lockett could be the Big 12’s top returning offensive playmaker. Add in several impact junior college signees and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Wildcats consistently ranked among the top 25 teams in college football this fall.

Signing day: Big 12 wrapup

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
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video
As hectic of a day as it was, national signing day was a success for all Big 12 programs. Coaches were up early manning their fax machines and showing excitement with every national letter of intent submitted via fax.

Nearly 250 football players signed letters of intent to play Big 12 football on Wednesday. Here are five of the biggest storylines -- and a bonus storyline that could have an ending Thursday -- from the conference.

Oklahoma takes over top spot in Big 12

In the past 48 hours, everything seemed to go Oklahoma’s way.

[+] EnlargeMichiah Quick
Courtesy of Nike ESPN 300 ATH Michiah Quick was a big part of Oklahoma's final rush, a rush that gave the Sooners the top class in the Big 12.
After getting a Tuesday commitment from ESPN 300 safety Steven Parker II (Jenks, Okla./Jenks), the Sooners got Wednesday pledges from ESPN 300 athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East) and high three-star offensive tackles Kenyon Frison (West Valley City, Utah/Granger) and Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge).

All four players were a part of Oklahoma’s signing class of 26 on Wednesday -- helping the Sooners take over the top spot in the Big 12 class rankings. Oklahoma’s class is No. 13 nationally, three spots better than previous top dog Texas.

Oklahoma in previous years has been very good at finishing strong in recruiting. It managed to sign Frison, who committed to Utah last February before decommitting last month, as well as Brown, who had been committed to Tennessee since May before making an 11th-hour change.

Strong, Longhorns get their DTs

New Texas coach Charlie Strong wanted two players he recruited to play at Louisville, and by Wednesday afternoon, he had them.

ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford (Hilton Head, S.C./Hilton Head) and three-star defensive tackle Chris Nelson (Lakeland, Fla./Victory Christian Academy) signed with the Longhorns and were two of 23 to submit national letters of intent. They also helped erase the sting of the Longhorns losing three four-star defensive tackle commitments in LSU signee Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren), Oklahoma signee Courtney Garnett (New Orleans/St. Augustine) and Texas A&M signee Zaycoven Henderson (Longview, Texas/Longview) last month.

Collectively, Ford and Nelson recorded 235 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 35 quarterback pressures and four forced fumbles. The duo also had 37.5 tackles for loss.

Receivers ‘No. 1’ to Baylor coach

Baylor coach Art Briles made a bold statement about his new wide receivers -- one that might be challenged by some but co-signed by others.

“The thing that we feel really good about,” Briles said, “is that we've signed the No. 1 receiving class in America -- I don't think that's up for debate.”

Briles has an argument with four ESPN 300 receivers in K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant), Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau), Ishmael Zamora (Houston/Alief Elsik) and Chris Platt (Willis, Texas/Willis). The quartet helped to give Baylor a top-25 national recruiting class.

Rhoads fired up about lone in-state signee

To say Paul Rhoads is excited about his top-ranked signee, ESPN 300 wide receiver Allen Lazard (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale) is an understatement.

While Rhoads is pumped about the entire class, there’s something special about Lazard, as he is this year’s only in-state signee. Lazard, No. 148 in the ESPN 300, had opportunities to sign with other programs, but he chose to honor his original commitment and also follow the footsteps of his father Kevin Lazard, who played in the secondary for the Cyclones in the early 1990s.

“This is a young man who has gotten phenomenal national attention and was recruited by the traditional historical programs in college football and kept on turning them away to stay true to his word to be an Iowa State Cyclone,” Rhoads said in a statement of Lazard, the No. 2 prospect out of the state of Iowa behind Alabama offensive lineman signee Ross Pierschbacher (Cedar Falls, Iowa/Cedar Falls).

West Virginia adds depth in class

Adding depth was the objective for West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, as he signed 22 players on Wednesday. Holgorsen was fortunate to add depth from coast to coast.

Of the 22 commits, only one -- three-star offensive tackle Amanii Brown (Morgantown, W.Va./Morgantown) -- is an in-state signee. The Mountaineers hit points all over the Lower 48, from California to Texas to Florida, to get players who can be contributors early and help the program return to star status.

West Virginia’s class is led by five ESPN 300 players. Running back Donte Thomas-Williams (Durham, N.C./Hillside), the class’ top-ranked player, was the last to commit early Wednesday afternoon. He joins defensive back Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), linebacker Davonte James (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield) and receivers Lamar Parker (Miami/Booker T. Washington) and Jake McCrary (Miami/Coral Reef) in the class.

Bonus: Could the Sooners add one more?

LSU signed 22 players on Wednesday. The Tigers were hoping to sign 23.

Deondre Clark (Oklahoma City/Douglass) has been verbally committed to LSU since July, but the ESPN 300 defensive end also has high interest in Oklahoma. There were conflicting reports on Wednesday regarding whether Clark actually signed and submitted his letter of intent to LSU.

ESPN’s David Ching said an LSU spokesperson confirmed the letter of intent was at LSU and cleared compliance. Outside reports, however, say Clark did not submit the letter of intent, and a tweet from Clark's Twitter account said that “nothing is final.” His mother Dorshell also told The Oklahoman that her son “has not signed with LSU.”

Oklahoma City schools were closed on Wednesday because of bad weather, so Clark didn’t fax anything by way of Douglass High School. He is expected to announce his final decision on Thursday.

If it's true that Clark has not signed with LSU, look for Oklahoma to be a key player in his final decision. Ranked No. 273 in the ESPN 300, Clark has built a great relationship with the Sooners' coaching staff, particularly defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery.
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Oklahoma recently took over the top spot in the Big 12 class rankings, and it padded its lead Wednesday when ESPN 300 athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East) gave his verbal pledge to the Sooners. He confirmed his choice on Twitter.

The No. 6 player in the state of California and the No. 9 athlete in the country, Quick chose Oklahoma over Notre Dame, Alabama, USC and several other programs. He is No. 75 in the ESPN 300.

Bold predictions: Big 12 

February, 4, 2014
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One of the best things about national signing day is that, every year, it provides a last-minute surprise. Whether it involves a solid commit with an 11th-hour flip or an uncommitted player choosing a school to shock the masses, the day is good for full-fledged entertainment.

As we prepare for Wednesday, here are five bold predictions that we might see happen within the Big 12:


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Big 12 recruiting roundtable 

February, 4, 2014
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National signing day is now just 24 hours away. To get you ready, we checked in with our ESPN.com recruiting experts for their takes on the major storylines in the Big 12.

Senior national recruiting writer Jeremy Crabtree and Big 12 recruiting reporter Damon Sayles took time from their extremely busy schedules this week to address a few questions:

Oklahoma is closing strong here. With a few blue-chip players still in play, could the Sooners end up with the top class in the Big 12


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Most important targets: Big 12 

January, 8, 2014
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With less than 30 days till national signing day, Big 12 programs are finalizing their recruiting classes. Some are looking to build to their classes at the 11th hour while others are trying to hold on to the commits they have.

Feb. 5 will be a huge day for all the programs in the conference, but with the help of verbal pledges from some of the following targets, a good class could turn into a great class. Here is a look at the most important remaining 2014 target for each Big 12 school.

Baylor
ATH Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau)
6-foot-2, 194 pounds
ESPN 300 rank: No. 45
It’s been a good year for Baylor, so all that’s needed right now is for the Bears to keep their future stars in green and gold. Hall has been a Baylor commit since last February but has been a major target of the SEC, particularly Alabama and Texas A&M. Hall has said that his love for Baylor and Texas A&M is split down the middle, which means the Bears must work on keeping an important player who can play on both sides of the ball. Expected to play wide receiver in college, Hall lined up as a defensive back at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

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Recruiting season is about to kick into high gear. As soon as Bedlam is over on Dec. 7, Oklahoma will hit the recruiting trails hard looking to secure the future.

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIOU didn't offer Dominique Alexander a scholarship until last October. Now he's a starting linebacker.
OU has been superb at finding late hidden gems in recent seasons, with cornerback Zack Sanchez, a redshirt freshman from the Class of 2012, and linebacker Dominique Alexander, a true freshman from the Class of 2013, already making an impact on the program after getting relatively late offers from the Sooners.

Here are some priority spots for the Sooners to address in their 2014 class during the final two months of this recruiting cycle. Keep in mind, this list has everything to do with the young players on campus at each position, not necessarily the guys who are playing at that position each Saturday in 2013.

Offensive tackle: Derek Farniok and Christian Daimler are the lone underclassmen at offensive tackle. OU badly needs depth at the position and should be aiming to land at least two offensive tackle prospects in this class. If redshirt freshman tight end Sam Grant ends up at tackle, that would help the cause and lessen the urgency, but its a high priority position in this year's class. Worse yet, there doesn't seem to be a lot of hope at the position with top prospects mentioning OU on their lists. Finding a hidden gem in December could be the top priority for offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh.

Defensive tackle: This position looks a lot better right now than it did a year ago with the early play of Jordan Phillips, a sophomore, and the emergence of Jordan Wade, a redshirt freshman. Nevertheless, there is no such thing as too many quality defensive tackles. The Sooners have one commit in Irving (Texas) Ranchview's Brandon Glenn, but that's not enough. OU needs to secure at least one more defensive tackle prospect to join Glenn and redshirting freshmen Matthew Romar and Charles Walker as the future at the position.

Linebacker: OU rallied to bring in two quality linebackers late in last year’s recruiting cycle with Alexander and Jordan Evans. Each committed to OU late in the process and became impact freshmen this fall. The Sooners need to supplement that duo with a least one more playmaker to join Allen (Texas) linebacker Tay Evans and Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta linebacker Curtis Bolton on their commit list. Several linebackers could be in play and keep in mind the Sooners did secure Alexander and Evans late in the process.

Running back: You can never have too many running backs. And OU loses three quality ball carriers in Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and the recently dismissed Damien Williams. Redshirt freshman Alex Ross has a good size/speed ratio, true freshman Keith Ford has terrific upside, and commitment Samaje Perine (Pflugerville, Texas/Hendrickson) is a member of the ESPN 300. But the Sooners need to add another quality runner into the mix. Oakley (Calif.) Freedom running back Joe Mixon, No. 72 in the ESPN300, would be an outstanding addition to this class.

Receiver: Even though the Sooners seem to have some solid youngsters already on campus, they don't have a proven game-breaking receiver outside of Sterling Shepard returning in 2014. But, and this is critical, they can't just use a scholarship to bring in another guy. With Tulsa (Okla.) Union receiver Jeffery Mead and La Mirada (Calif.) receiver Dallis Todd already committed, receivers coach Jay Norvell should think elite receiver or bust. Norvell should join Mike Stoops in doing whatever it takes to land Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif/Central East), then fight for him to end up on the offensive side of the ball.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

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Last week wasn’t full of commitments for Big 12 programs, but it did yield an important verbal pledge for one team in Oklahoma. Speaking of Texas’ neighbor to the north, the Sooners suffered their first loss to the Longhorns in four years on Saturday. A look at why that victory was so important for UT and who exactly that commitment was is in this week’s Big 12 weekend wrap.

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