Big 12: Samaje Perine

As a true freshman, Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine exploded for more than 1,700 yards last season to capture the Big 12 rushing title.

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Who has the best chance to dethrone Samaje Perine as Big 12 rushing champ?

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But with the Sooners transitioning to an air raid offense, could Perine be dethroned as Big 12 rushing champ in 2015? And if so, who has the best shot of dethroning him?

We put the latter question to you in our weekly Big 12 poll.

Baylor running back Shock Linwood is firmly on the list of contenders. Last season in his first as the Bears’ featured back, Linwood finished second only to Perine in the Big 12 with 1,252 rushing yards. Though Linwood got 251 carries last year, the Bears could lean on him and the ground game even more next season with quarterback Bryce Petty gone.

TCU’s Aaron Green could also have a chance playing on the Big 12’s other premier offense. Among backs with at least 50 carries, Green led the conference with an average of 7.15 yards per carry. After stepping into the starting lineup for an injured B.J. Catalon, Green shined with 544 yards over the Horned Frogs’ final five games. With opposing defenses having to game plan against stopping quarterback Trevone Boykin first, Green should have plenty of open running lanes again in 2015.

Texas Tech has never been known for its running backs. But the Red Raiders currently have a good one in DeAndre Washington, who became the first Texas Tech back in 16 years to top the 1,000-yard rushing threshold. Some of Washington’s touches will come via the pass on screens and swing throws. But with Washington in the backfield, the Red Raiders are sure to run the ball often again.

West Virginia could be running the ball often, as well. Quarterback Clint Trickett and wide receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford are gone. But Rushel Shell returns in the backfield. The former Pitt transfer finished fifth in the Big 12 in rushing last year despite missing two games with an ankle injury. With the Mountaineers retooling the passing attack, Shell could emerge as the focal point of Dana Holgorsen’s offense.

Linwood, Green, Washington and Shell aren’t the only backs who could factor into the rushing title.

Texas’ Johnathan Gray won’t be splitting carries with Malcolm Brown anymore. Gray wasn’t quite the same runner after suffering an Achilles tear in 2013. But perhaps another year away from the injury will be rejuvenating for him.

Oklahoma State has boasted several 1,000-yard rushers under Mike Gundy, and four-star junior-college transfer Chris Carson has the potential to be the next to do so.

Kansas’ Corey Avery was one of the league’s top true freshman last year.

Now, it's your turn to tell us what you think. Let us know by casting your vote in the poll.
Samaje Perine runs over defenders, Aaron Green shakes them out of their cleats, and Shock Linwood slithers through defenses like a snake.

It’s not a good time to be a linebacker in the Big 12.

The conference that was once known for producing NFL first-round draft picks at quarterback could be known for the guys who carry the rock in 2015. Only Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Iowa State enter the spring with real questions at the running back spot, while the rest of the conference has proven playmakers.

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiAfter rushing for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2014, Oklahoma's Samaje Perine could be even better in 2015.
 Oklahoma’s Perine could fight for All-American honors after a true freshman season that featured 1,713 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns along with first-team All-Big 12 honors. He was a handful for defenders with 636 of his rushing yards coming after contact.

Perine could be even better as a sophomore. It’s easy to overlook his journey to those incredible freshman numbers. The Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year was the foundation of the OU offense with minimal help in 2014, particularly after receiver Sterling Shepard was injured midway through conference play. Opponents knew he was the lone legit threat in the offense, yet he still rushed for 1,056 yards in the Sooners' final six games, including a single-game FBS-record 427 rushing yards against Kansas.

This season, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will bring his version of the Air Raid to Norman, Oklahoma, with the potential to create additional rushing lanes for Perine while also creating additional playmaking threats that defenses could be forced to account for. Even though Perine will be running behind a revamped offensive line, his open field and one-on-one opportunities could skyrocket in Riley’s system.

Baylor’s Linwood could be the most overlooked 1,200-yard rusher in Big 12 history. While Bryce Petty and the Bears’ high-powered passing game was showered with praise, Linwood was the platform that allowed the passing game to soar. Only Perine rushed for more yards after contact than Linwood’s 446. He finished with 1,252 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.

There’s no reason to think he will take a step back in 2015, particularly with Petty no longer with him in the BU backfield. As the Bears' new starter at quarterback gains experience, Art Briles' team could turn to Linwood to shoulder the burden as one of the Big 12’s top playmakers.

Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington was the only other Big 12 running back to surpass 1,000 yards in 2015, even though the Red Raiders' 4-8 record cast an impenetrable cloud over his individual brilliance. Washington contributed as a rusher (1,103 rushing yards, 2 TDs) and receiver (30 receptions, 328 yards) and was Tech’s most consistent offensive threat. He could be the most versatile running back in the entire conference while combining cat-like quickness with a willingness to run between the tackles.

TCU’s Green could be the biggest nightmare for Big 12 defenders this fall. The senior will line up alongside Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Trevone Boykin and has the ability to leave any defender grasping for air when they meet in the open field. His 7.1 yards-per-carry was the Big 12’s best, and he should enter the season atop the Horned Frogs' depth chart after starting 2014 as B.J. Catalon’s backup. A 1,200-yard season is well within his sights.

Perine, Linwood, Washington and Green finished 1-2-3-4 in the Big 12 rushing standings a year ago and could be even better in 2015. Add West Virginia’s duo of Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood along with Texas’ Johnathan Gray and Kansas’ Corey Avery and the conference has plenty of proven runners who could take it to another level this fall. And several newcomers, including OU’s Joe Mixon and Kansas State's Dalvin Warmack, could make an immediate impact during their first seasons on the field.

The Big 12 has earned a reputation as a quarterback league during the past decade, but a bevy of talented running backs appear poised to steal the spotlight in 2015.
Below are 10 bold predictions for the Big 12 this spring:

1. QB battles linger into the fall: Tight quarterback competitions in Austin, Manhattan, Morgantown, Norman, Waco and even Lubbock and Lawrence emerge as dominant storylines. Baylor's Seth Russell, Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes and Kansas State's Joe Hubener eventually are named starters before the summer. But the spring fails to bring resolution to the other battles, which all carry over into the fall.

[+] EnlargePatrick Mahomes
John Weast/Getty ImagesPatrick Mahomes will most likely have to compete for his role as the Red Raiders' starting quarterback.
2. TCU's defense struggles for a change: Coach Gary Patterson's defenses perennially have been stout dating to his days as a coordinator in Fort Worth. But this spring, with several new starters in the secondary and at linebacker, a pair of new coordinators and facing off against one of the nation's most explosive passing offenses, the TCU defense takes its lumps. Ultimately, this makes the unit better prepared for the fall. But at times this spring, it's not pretty.

3. Joe Mixon steals the show in Norman: Coach Bob Stoops has already said Mixon won't play in the Sooners' spring game -- the final punishment in his season-long suspension for punching a female student last year. But behind the scenes leading up to the open scrimmage, Mixon flashes the game-breaking ability that made him one of the top running back recruits in the country in 2014. After rushing for more than 1,700 yards as a true freshman last season, Samaje Perine remains the featured running back. But Mixon's talent prompts new coordinator Lincoln Riley to get creative about how to get Mixon on the field, including using him extensively in the slot.

4. Texas seeks grad transfer QB: The spring delivers no great revelation to the quarterback position in Austin, prompting the Longhorns to heavily pursue a graduate transfer quarterback, la Everett Golson or Braxton Miller. Tyrone Swoopes had his moments last season and redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard was highly recruited. But the Texas brass exits spring wondering if the long-term answer at quarterback has yet to step on campus. In the meantime, landing a difference-maker there in the short term becomes priority No. 1.

5. Baylor's LaQuan McGowan keeps scoring TDs: In light of his nifty touchdown grab against Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Baylor is experimenting with using the 6-foot-7, 410-pound McGowan at tight end and H-back this spring. The experiment turns into a permanent position for McGowan, who caps the spring with another head-turning touchdown reception in Baylor's Friday Night Lights scrimmage.

6. Oklahoma State newcomer Todd Mays steps into the Tyreek Hill role: Mays doesn't possess Hill's world-class speed. But having excelled playing running back, receiver and even quarterback last year for East Mississippi Community College, Mays' versatility proves to be a natural fit in the role Hill manned for the Cowboys in 2014 as a change-of-pace back, dangerous slot receiver and big-play returner.

7. Texas Tech's QB race is tighter than predicted: Mahomes was spectacular for the Red Raiders down the stretch last season, intimating a two-man QB derby with Davis Webb would be a mere formality before Mahomes would be named the starter by spring's end. It's easy to forget, though, that Webb was terrific himself in Tech's 2013 bowl game before a turnover- and injury-plagued season sullied a potential encore campaign. Still, the Red Raiders were pumped about Webb this time last spring for a reason. And with Mahomes splitting time playing baseball -- he's missing Saturday's football workout to travel with the baseball team for a series at Cal State Fullerton -- Webb makes coach Kliff Kingsbury's decision much tougher than anyone anticipated.

8. Iowa State finds its featured back in Mike Warren: Rising senior DeVondrick Nealy was set to become the Cyclones' starting running back in 2015, until he and coach Paul Rhoads stunningly parted ways in early February. After the spring, no one will be left lamenting Nealy's departure. Warren, who redshirted last season in Ames after rushing for more than 2,500 yards and averaging better than 9 yards per carry during his senior season at Lawton (Oklahoma) High School, emerges as the Cyclones' every-down back by the end of the spring, answering the biggest question for an offense that quietly has a chance to be very dangerous this season.

9. Kansas State, West Virginia exit spring with WR concerns: No teams in college football were more decimated by graduation at receiver than K-State and West Virginia. The Wildcats and the Mountaineers between them graduated 359 receptions and 4,966 receiving yards in the forms of Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton, Kevin White and Mario Alford. With quarterbacks Jake Waters and Clint Trickett gone, too, and without established go-to receivers, the passing games at both schools suffer this spring, leaving the receiver spot a huge question mark.

10. Baylor, TCU come out still on top: Going into the offseason, TCU and Baylor looked like the clear-cut, top-two teams in the Big 12. Even with both teams carrying uncertainties -- Baylor at quarterback, TCU on defense -- the defending conference co-champs exit spring looking like the class of the league and are voted overwhelmingly to finish first and second in the Big 12 preseason polls in the summer.

Oklahoma will open its spring drills this weekend. Below is a preview of what to look for from the Sooners this spring:


Offensive returner ready to take next step: From Vince Carter to Jon Cooper to Gabe Ikard, the Sooners have enjoyed a strong run of All-American-caliber centers. Ty Darlington could be in the next in that line after shining in his first season as a starter. The Sooners had some struggles last year, but offensive line was not one of them. Neither was center. With Oklahoma breaking in three new starters up front and transitioning to a different offense, Darlington will be integral to the Sooners having any chance at a bounce-back season. He appears ready for that challenge.

Defensive returner ready to take next step: Strong safety Steven Parker was thrown into the fire as a true freshman last year and had his share of struggles along with the rest of an Oklahoma secondary that finished ninth in the league in defending the pass. Still, as a former ESPN 300 recruit, Parker has the pedigree to develop into an elite safety. With a year of experience under his belt, he should be much steadier in his second season on campus.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Joe Mixon was the gem of the 2014 signing class and was expected to give the Sooners a huge lift in the backfield. Instead, he was suspended all of last season after he punched a female student in the face, and fellow freshman Samaje Perine gave the Sooners the backfield boost. Mixon has since returned to the team. And though Perine is the established starter after rushing for more than 1,700 yards last season, Mixon is a big talent whose versatile skill set warrants a role in the offense. It will be interesting to see how new coordinator Lincoln Riley uses him this spring out of the air raid.

Most significant position battle: Never before in the Bob Stoops era have the Sooners featured a quarterback derby this wide open. Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas all bring Big 12 starting experience to the table, giving Riley several options. Even though he sat out last season after transferring in from Texas Tech, Mayfield could have the inside track to the starting job. The former Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year operated a version of the offense in Lubbock that Riley will be installing.

Key midterm enrollee: After Sterling Shepard suffered a groin strain in early November, the Oklahoma receiving corps was exposed and the passing attack fell apart. Shepard is back from the injury, but the Sooners desperately need another pass-catching target to take the pressure off Shepard. Enter Dede Westbrook, who was one of the top junior-college recruits in the country. Whether in the slot or on the outside, Westbrook could provide the Sooners with a much-needed No. 2 receiver alongside Shepard.

Question that could be answered: Other than picking a quarterback, the biggest challenge Riley faces this spring is figuring out how to utilize Perine, a bruising runner between the tackles, out of the air raid system. Easing the degree of difficulty, Riley has a track record of running the ball more than some of his air raid play-calling counterparts. The Sooners should exit spring ball with a good feel about how they'll be able to still feature Perine despite the new offense.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: In 2007, there was little doubt that Sam Bradford would win the three-way quarterback battle with Keith Nichol and Joey Halzle. And still, Bob Stoops waited until two weeks before the season opener to name Bradford the starter. This quarterback competition is far more muddled than that one was. It would be a surprise if Stoops didn't let this quarterback derby play out into the preseason, as well.

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

Now, we put to the question to you.

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

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Who has the Big 12s best individual position group?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, it's your to weigh in.

Tell us who you think the best individual position group in the Big 12 is by voting in our weekly Big 12 poll.
Spring ball kicks off in Big 12 country today with Baylor slated to hold its first practice. Later this week, TCU and Texas Tech will get started, too.

Plenty of questions surround the league. Many won’t be answered until the the fall. But a few could gain clarity over the next two months.

Here are some of the biggest Big 12 questions to follow this spring:

Can freshmen factor into Baylor, Kansas State quarterback derbies?

[+] EnlargeRussell
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAfter being the backup at Baylor, Seth Russell is now the favorite to lead the Bears.
With all-conference performers Bryce Petty and Jake Waters gone, the Bears and Wildcats will have new quarterbacks behind center. After backing up Petty the past two years, Seth Russell is the favorite to take over as the starter. In Manhattan, former walk-on Joe Hubener will be entering his fourth year on campus and holds the edge to succeed Waters. Both, however, will have to hold off a pair of talented freshmen in Jarrett Stidham and Alex Delton, who have enrolled early with sights on winning starting jobs. Stidham was the No. 3 quarterback signee in the country; Delton’s skill set fits the mold of quarterbacks who have thrived for Bill Snyder in the past. The learning curve for first-year quarterbacks is always steep. But both Snyder and Art Briles have indicated Delton and Stidham will have the chance to prove they deserve to start.

What will the new Oklahoma offense look like?

After a recent trend in the wrong direction, Bob Stoops brought in play-calling prodigy Lincoln Riley to inject life in the Sooners program. Riley is a product of the Mike Leach air raid. So how will he balance that background while also utilizing Oklahoma’s dynamic backfield trio of Samaje Perine, Alex Ross and Joe Mixon? And who will Riley turn to at quarterback among Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas to lead the offense? Those reasons alone makes this the most fascinating spring of the Stoops era.

Who will play linebacker for TCU?

The Horned Frogs return 10 offensive starters, experience along the defensive line and a couple of key cogs in the secondary. But with All-American Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson gone, the slate has been wiped clean at linebacker. Sammy Douglas and Paul Whitmill will get the first cracks to show they can fill the void. But early enrollees Alec Dunham and Mike Freeze could push them.

Can Mason Rudolph, Patrick Mahomes take next step?

Rudolph and Mahomes were fabulous after taking over starting quarterback jobs as true freshmen late last season. Rudolph ignited Oklahoma State to wins over Oklahoma and Washington, elevating expectations in Stillwater for 2015. Mahomes threw 14 touchdowns with just two interceptions in Texas Tech’s final three games, and passed for 598 yards in the season finale against Baylor. The fortunes of both the Cowboys and Red Raiders will hinge on whether their young quarterbacks can build on such promising performances.

Is Jerrod Heard ready?

Though he had moments, the prospects of Tyrone Swoopes becoming Texas' long-lost, long-term answer at quarterback diminished toward the end of last season as the Longhorns flat-lined offensively. That has opened the door for Heard to make a run at the job this spring. Heard has the pedigree. He won two state championships in high school and was an ESPN 300 recruit. But by all accounts, he wasn't ready to step in last season. Will that change this spring?

Who will catch passes at Kansas State and West Virginia?

The Wildcats and the Mountaineers between them graduated 359 receptions and 4,966 receiving yards after Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton, Kevin White and Mario Alford left. That is an unenviable -- and unbelievable -- amount of production to replace. This spring, both schools will begin to sift through who they can lean on at receiver in 2015.

Can Skyler Howard hold off William Crest?

After taking over for injured quarterback Clint Trickett late last season, Howard brought another dimension to the West Virginia offense with his wheels. At the same time, he struggled with his accuracy. As a result, Howard didn’t quite lock up the job for 2015. Now, he’ll have to fend off Crest, who actually beat out Howard for the No. 2 job coming out of August before a shoulder injury forced a redshirt. Crest, a four-star signee last year, is a talented prospect. Howard will have to be more precise with his arm to remain behind center.

Can David Gibbs turn around the Tech defense?

Last season the Red Raiders fielded one of the most futile defenses in Big 12 history. Tech will now hope its new coordinator can cure those ills on that side of the ball. Getting the Red Raiders to play more opportunistic will be one key. Under Gibbs, Houston forced 73 turnovers the past two seasons. Over the same span, the Red Raiders forced just 34.

Can a new staff give Kansas hope?

In five years under Turner Gill and Charlie Weis, the Jayhawks failed to total more than three victories in a season. Kansas brought in David Beaty to set the Jayhawks back on a course to respectability. How will he begin to set that plan into motion? This spring will give us a glimpse.

How will Iowa State replace its dismissed players?

Since the end of the season, Iowa State lost running back DeVondrick Nealy, safety T.J. Mutcherson and wide receivers P.J. Harris and Tad Ecby. All four were supposed to play big roles for the Cyclones in 2015. With Quenton Bundrage's return from a knee injury, Iowa State should be fine at receiver. But finding a starting running back to replace Nealy and safety to step in for Mutcherson will be paramount this spring.
The last two weeks we've been analyzing and ranking individual position units in the Big 12. In our weekly Big 12 roundtable, we discuss the league's strongest overall position group, the strongest individual position group and the position group to watch this spring:

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

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

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

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

What about strongest individual position unit?

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

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

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

What is the position unit to watch this spring?

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

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

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

1. Oklahoma: Samaje Perine led the Big 12 in rushing and touchdowns as a true freshman, and heads into 2015 as the league's best Heisman chance after TCU QB Trevone Boykin. Perine, however, isn't a one-man show in the Sooner backfield. Alex Ross averaged 6.8 yards per carry, and while Keith Ford endured fumbling issues, he has shown he can be effective. The wildcard is Joe Mixon, who was the gem of OU's 2014 signing class before getting suspended for the season. He's back with the team, and possesses enough talent to give the Sooners one of the nation's premier one-two punches at running back.

2. Baylor: Shock Linwood quietly rushed for 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first season as the full-time starter. With a new QB, the Bears could lean on him even more, but he won't have to shoulder the load alone. Johnny Jefferson is back after totaling 524 yards and six touchdowns, and power back Devin Chafin rounds out a versatile three-man rotation, which could easily extend to five in a pinch with Terence Williams and ESPN 300 signee Ja'Mycal Hasty.

3. TCU: The Horned Frogs boast a deep running back corps, even with B.J. Catalon bolting early for the draft. Aaron Green wound up fourth in the league in rushing despite backing up Catalon for half the year. The former Nebraska transfer averaged a whopping 7.1 yards per carry, including 6.5 as a starter. Kyle Hicks and Trevorris Johnson, who contributed 99 carries last year, and freshman Shaun Nixon, who is expected back after missing last season with a knee injury, give the Horned Frogs plenty of options after Green.

4. West Virginia: After Perine, Rushel Shell was as good as any Big 12 runner between the tackles last season. When healthy, he's a load. Wendell Smallwood also returns as the change of pace back. Together, they formed the only running back tandem to both finish in the top 10 in rushing in the conference last year. Dontae Thomas-Williams, a former ESPN 300 signee, should add to the rotation after redshirting last year.

5. Texas Tech: DeAndre Washington was a revelation last season, becoming the first Tech rusher to break the 1,000-yard barrier in 16 years. He'll be flanked again by Justin Stockton, who showed flashes as a true freshman. The Red Raiders added more talent to the position by inking ESPN 300 runner Corey Dauphine, who operated out of a similar offense in high school.

6. Texas: Coming off the Achilles tear, Johnathan Gray wasn't the same explosive runner he was as a sophomore. Maybe another year away from the injury will help. Running back was a huge need in Charlie Strong's first full recruiting class, and he delivered in signing three backs last week, including ESPN 300 runners Chris Warren III and Tristian Houston. The Longhorns will need at least one to contribute to a backfield that also includes Donald Catalon and D'Onta Foreman, who are both still green.

7. Kansas: Corey Avery was one of the top true freshmen in the conference last year, rushing for 631 yards and five touchdowns. Newcomer De'Andre Mann was effective, as well, with an average of 4.7 yards per carry. Juco addition Ke'aun Kinner should give the Jayhawks more depth than they had in 2014.

8. Oklahoma State: After losing Desmond Roland to graduation and Tyreek Hill to an off-the-field incident, the Cowboys were desperate to sign a running back ready to contribute. The weekend leading into signing day, Oklahoma State landed that back, getting juco four-star Chris Carson to flip from Georgia. Carson could be the starter from Day 1, and should stabilize the biggest question mark of the offense. Besides Carson, the Cowboys still have Rennie Childs, who has been a solid, albeit-injury prone backup the last two years.

9. Kansas State: The running game was the Wildcats' weakness last year. With Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett gone, it will have to be much better for K-State to have any chance of sticking in the upper half of the Big 12. Charles Jones scored 14 touchdowns and will inherit a larger role in the offense, but the Wildcats need one of their younger backs to emerge. Dalvin Warmack, who redshirted last season, is an intriguing possibility. He rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 77 touchdowns his final two seasons of high school. Alex Barnes, who was one of the top additions in the 2015 recruiting class, has the physical maturity to bring help, too.

10. Iowa State: The Cyclones are hurting here with projected starter DeVondrick Nealy no longer with the team. Without Nealy, the Cyclones have little experience returning. Tyler Brown, Martinez Syria and incoming freshmen Joshua Thomas and Sheldon Croney will be vying for the job.
The first Wednesday of February brings hope to every college football fan as the stars of the future sign on the dotted line, changing the destiny of their programs.

It’s easy to look at a recruiting class on paper and slot newcomers into need positions. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Now is a good team to revisit the Class of 2014 and see what “can’t miss” prospects fulfilled those expectations and which ones are still striving to meet those lofty projections.

Here’s a look at some of the Big 12’s most talked about signees a year ago and their impact, or lack thereof, on the Big 12 as true freshmen.

Baylor receiver KD Cannon: Cannon lived up to the hype. The No. 30 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 was the Big 12’s top-ranked recruit and one of the nation’s top freshmen. He looked every bit the five-star recruit he was laveled as, finishing with 50 receptions for 1,030 yards and eight touchdowns. He will enter his sophomore season as one of the Big 12’s most feared playmakers thanks to his blazing speed and sticky hands.

Iowa State receiver Allen Lazard: Another ESPN 300 receiver who lived up to the hype, Lazard was asked to help fill the void when the Cyclones lost Quenton Bundrage in their season opener. The No. 148 player in the 2014 class responded with 45 receptions for 593 yards and three touchdowns.

Kansas center Jacob Bragg: It wasn’t over the top to think that Bragg could slide right into Kansas' offensive line as one of two ESPN 300 signees for the Jayhawks. Yet three-star signee Junior Visalia was KU’s impact true freshman offensive lineman, starting the Jayhawks' final three games after Ngalu Fusimalohi was injured. Bragg redshirted but did impress during his redshirt season and could be poised to force his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman.

Kansas State defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales: The lone Big 12 team without an ESPN 300 signee, the Wildcats did land four players on the ESPN JC 50, including Clinkscales. The junior college transfer was Bill Snyder’s only four-star signee but didn’t make much of an impact for the Wildcats. He finished with two tackles in eight games in 2014.

Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine: As crazy as it sounds, Perine wasn’t even the highest-ranked running back on the Sooners' signee list. Joe Mixon had that honor and looked ready to make an impact before an off-the-field incident took him out of the equation. Perine, who was creating a similar summer buzz, stepped right in to become the Big 12’s top freshman, set the FBS record for single-game rushing yards (427 against Kansas) and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors. The No. 220 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 finished with 1,713 rushing yards, 6.5 yards per carry and 21 touchdowns as a true freshman.

Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph: His unique freshman season has been well-documented, as the Cowboys’ top-ranked signee went from redshirting to beating Oklahoma in Bedlam in a matter of weeks. Rudolph enters the spring as the Cowboys starting quarterback.

TCU running back Shaun Nixon: A preseason knee injury kept the No. 221 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 from having an impact as a true freshman.

Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard: It sure seemed like Heard was supposed to cure all ills at the quarterback position in Austin at this time a year ago. Now many people have already written him off after a redshirt season during his first fall on campus. The No. 149 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 still has the potential to be the answer behind center for UT, but the time is now for Heard to seize the opportunity to be a difference maker for the Longhorns.

Texas Tech cornerback Nigel Bethel II: The Red Raiders lone ESPN 300 signee, Bethel made an impact as a true freshman after missing the first three games due to suspension. The Florida native started seven games during his debut season, finishing with 41 tackles and six pass breakups in nine games. Bethel should be even better as a sophomore.

West Virginia safety Dravon Henry: The ESPN 300 safety was a starter from day one for the Mountaineers. Henry had 45 tackles and two interceptions in 13 games for WVU as a true freshman and should be a key contributor in the secondary in 2015 and beyond. The No. 140 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 has the versatility to expand his role in the defense as a sophomore.
This week, we’re counting down the Big 12’s top 25 players of 2014.

Remember, criteria for these rankings were based solely on performances from 2014, not a culmination of previous seasons. Pro potential was not a factor. Neither was preseason hype. Number of games played was taken into account.

Without further delay, our countdown goes on to Nos. 6-10:

6. Kevin White, WR, West Virginia (preseason rank: not ranked): The light came on for White as a senior, as the Mountaineer receiver committed himself to taking more of a businesslike approach to his preparation. The result was 109 receptions for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns during a season that made him an Biletnikoff Award finalist. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, White’s long frame and terrific ball skills make him a prime red zone candidate and deep-ball threat. Yet he’s terrific after the catch, as well, leading the Big 12 with 650 yards after catch.

7. Spencer Drango. T, Baylor (9): Drango’s importance to the Baylor offense rose to the forefront after his injury late in the 2013 season. He returned to his dominant, pre-injury form in 2014, earning All-Big 12 and All-American honors while anchoring the offensive line that helped the Bears lead the nation in points per game (48.2), yards per game (581.5) and first downs (30.1). Drango led all BU offensive linemen with an 88.8 coaches grade.

8. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma (NR): The hard-running true freshman burst upon the scene with a 242-yard, four-touchdown performance in an early road win at West Virginia. Yet few remember that performance, thanks to his FBS-record 427 rushing yards against Kansas in November. Perine is a handful for defenders, finishing with 263 carries for 1,713 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns. His 636 yards after contact and 1,148 yards between the tackles led the Big 12.

9. Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas (16): Few players can match the productivity of Captain Heeney in 2014. The Jayhawks senior left his best for last, leading the Big 12 with 10.58 tackles per game and 88 solo tackles. Heeney could make plays from sideline to sideline and finished his final season with double-digit tackles in seven games, including a 21-tackle game against Texas Tech. KU didn’t have the team success he was striving for, but Heeney did everything he could for the Jayhawks.

10. Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor (NR): The strongest man in the Big 12 is also one of the most disruptive. While teammate Shawn Oakman got most of the attention, Billings was anchoring the middle of a Bears defense that allowed 3.15 yards per carry, ranking seventh among FBS teams. The sophomore had a breakout season, finishing with 37 tackles including 11.5 tackles for loss, nine hurries, two sacks and one forced fumble. Billings is a critical building block for Art Briles' team in 2015.

Big 12 all-bowl team

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
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Below, we recognize the best individual performances of the 2014-15 bowl season with our Big 12 all-bowl team:

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
AP Photo/LM OteroBryce Petty had a huge game in his college finale.
QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor. Petty didn’t go out with a win, but he did go out with a monster performance, as he threw for a Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic-record 550 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for another score.

RB: Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State. Roland ran for more than 100 yards for the first time all season and finished with 123 yards on 32 carries in Oklahoma State’s TicketCity Cactus Bowl win.

RB: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma. Perine was about the Sooners’ only positive in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Playing on a bum ankle, he ran for 134 yards to finish his true freshman season with a Big 12-best 1,713 rushing yards.

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State. Lockett fueled a furious second-half comeback in the Valero Alamo Bowl with 164 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The rally came up short, but Lockett was fabulous in his final game at K-State.

WR: Kevin White, West Virginia. White was unstoppable yet again in his last college game. He finished with 129 yards receiving and a touchdown in West Virginia’s loss to Texas A&M in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

WR: K.D. Cannon, Baylor. By hauling in eight caches for 197 yards and two touchdowns, Cannon became just the seventh receiver and first underclassman in Baylor history to finish with more than 1,000 yards receiving.

AP: Aaron Green, TCU. Green ignited a 42-3 onslaught of Ole Miss in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl by hauling in a 31-yard pass on a trick play for TCU's first touchdown. He scored the Horned Frogs’ second touchdown too and finished with 114 yards rushing and receiving.

OT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU: With “Big V” locking up one of the edges, the Horned Frogs dominated the line of scrimmage and finished with 177 yards on the ground.

OG: LaQuan McGowan, Baylor. The 400-pound backup guard delivered one of the most unforgettable plays of the bowl season, when he lined up as an eligible receiver then snagged an 18-yard touchdown pass to give Baylor a 20-point lead.

C: B.J. Finney, Kansas State. With K-State struggling to protect quarterback Jake Waters through the first half, Finney swung from center to right tackle after halftime. The Wildcats had no trouble moving the ball the rest of the way.

OG: Brady Foltz, TCU: Foltz had one of the best games of his TCU career as the Horned Frogs rolled up 423 total yards against Ole Miss’ talented defense.

OT: Zach Crabtree, Oklahoma State. Crabtree’s return to the lineup late in the year helped stabilize the line. With Crabtree, the Cowboys controlled a Washington front seven that featured three All-Americans.

DEFENSE

DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State. Mueller finished with seven tackles and produced a huge forced fumble of the Bruins in the third quarter that sparked K-State’s rally.

DT: James Castleman, Oklahoma State. Castleman’s biggest contributions actually came on offense. In Oklahoma State’s heavy set, Castleman rushed for a 1-yard touchdown, then late in the game hauled in a 48-yard yard reception off play-action that helped propel the Cowboys to victory.

DT: Malcom Brown, Texas. Brown did what he could in a 31-7 loss to Arkansas in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl by leading Texas with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a pair of QB hurries.

DE: James McFarland, TCU. McFarland essentially ended the game when he came up with an acrobatic, diving interception of Bo Wallace in the Ole Miss end zone that put the Frogs ahead 28-0 just before halftime.

LB: K.J. Dillon, West Virginia. Dillon had a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave West Virginia a 10-point lead over the Aggies and early command of the game. Neither the lead nor the command lasted, however.

LB: Marcus Mallet, TCU. The Horned Frogs brutalized Ole Miss’ offense, and Mallet was a big reason for that. He put up a game-high 10 tackles and forced and recovered a fumble, as the Rebels finished with just 9 yards rushing.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State, Deric Robertson, Kevin Peterson
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriKevin Peterson (1) and the Oklahoma State defense made plenty of stops against Washington.
LB: Taylor Young, Baylor. Young had a game-high 15 tackles and very nearly produced the game-clinching play. His 84-yard fourth-quarter interception return, however, was called back by a penalty.

CB: Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State. In addition to providing solid coverage all night, Peterson came up with the game-clinching interception of Washington in the final seconds.

CB: Ramon Richards, Oklahoma State. The sure-tackling true freshman had perhaps the best performance in his young career and finished with six tackles, a tackle for loss and two pass breakups.

S: Karl Joseph, West Virginia. Joseph led the Mountaineers with 10 tackles and delivered yet another devastating hit that resulted in a forced fumble.

S: Derrick Kindred, TCU. Kindred picked off the Rebels in the first quarter and finished with five tackles and a tackle for loss as the TCU secondary swarmed Ole Miss' receivers all game.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Matthew McCrane, Kansas State. McCrane nailed 47-yard and 29-yard field goals and nearly pulled off a remarkable onside kick using the “Rabona” soccer technique. Honorable mention honors here go to West Virginia’s Josh Lambert, who broke the FBS season record with 39 made field goals.

P: Kip Smith, Oklahoma State. Smith placed all four of his punts inside the Washington 20 to help the Cowboys control the field-position battle.

Returner: Mario Alford, West Virginia: The electric Alford had two big kick returns, as well as a 45-yard touchdown reception off a quick pass in his final game as a Mountaineer.

2015 Too-Early Big 12 Power Rankings

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
10:00
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» More 2015 Too-Early Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

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No Deshaun Watson? No problem for Clemson. The Tigers, playing without their star quarterback, had no trouble demolishing Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl, scoring early on a long touchdown and utterly frustrating the Sooners' offense behind a smothering defensive effort to secure a 40-6 win, Clemson's third straight bowl victory.

How the game was won: Clemson's defense entered the game as the No. 1 unit in the nation, and Oklahoma quickly found out why. Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett & Co. were dominant, utterly baffling Trevor Knight throughout and largely stifling freshman tailback Samaje Perine until the game was out of hand. But credit the Tigers' undervalued secondary, which helped create five turnovers in the game. Oklahoma racked up some yards as Clemson waited for the clock to run out, but the Tigers' 40-0 lead through the first three quarters was built on the back of a stellar defensive effort.

Game ball goes to: Cole Stoudt. It's hard not to feel good for a guy who had as tough a season as perhaps any quarterback in the country. Stoudt won the starting job at the end of the spring, but after a 1-2 start to the year, he was supplanted by Watson. When Watson went down with an injury, Stoudt was forced back into action and struggled badly while dealing with both a shoulder injury and confidence issues. His past two performances against Power 5 foes were dreadful, but he stepped up against Oklahoma, tossing a 65-yard touchdown on his first throw and never letting off the gas. Stoudt finished the game 26-of-36 for 319 yards with four total touchdowns and no turnovers. The future remains Watson's, which offers ample optimism for Clemson fans, but Stoudt's bowl win was an appropriate sendoff for a quarterback that had given his career to the Tigers.

What it means: It's another nice feather in the cap of the ACC, which has picked up a number of marquee wins this season. It's also a big win for Dabo Swinney, who has often taken a backseat to his high profile offensive coordinator in recent years. Chad Morris left earlier in the month for SMU, but Clemson's offense didn't miss a beat. It's also the 10th win of the season for Clemson, which marks the fourth straight year the Tigers have reached double digits. Only Alabama and Oregon have longer active streaks among Power 5 programs. It's also Clemson's third straight bowl win, all against teams that opened the season in the top 5.

Best play: The tone for the game was set early, when Stoudt hit Artavis Scott for a 65-yard touchdown on Clemson's first offensive play of the game. The Tigers never looked back, and Stoudt turned in the best game of his career in his final game.

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Viewer's Guide: Russell Athletic Bowl

December, 28, 2014
12/28/14
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Clemson is on the brink of a fourth straight 10-win season, but it will go to battle with a backup quarterback and big questions on offense. Oklahoma fell far short of expectations this year, but with its stars on offense getting healthier, the Sooners are still extremely dangerous.

Will Clemson send out its dominant senior class of defenders on a high note, or will Oklahoma turn in another breakthrough performance in a bowl game? Here are the storylines to watch in the Russell Athletic Bowl:

Stoudt back at the helm: Cole Stoudt steps in once again as the Tigers quarterback after Deshaun Watson elected to have surgery on his injured knee. Given that Stoudt’s last two games against Power 5 competition included four picks and zero touchdowns, that opens some significant questions about whether Clemson can put up points. Adding more intrigue is the coaching situation for the Tigers. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris departed for the head-coaching job at SMU, which means Tony Elliott will get his first crack at calling plays.

Healthy Oklahoma: When the Sooners fell to Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale, they were without starting QB Trevor Knight and lost star tailback Samaje Perine in the third quarter to a sprained ankle. Both players have had time to heal and should be on the field against Clemson, which certainly makes Oklahoma’s offense far more dangerous.

Perine vs. Clemson rush D: Despite sitting out the final quarter of the Oklahoma State game, Perine racked up 791 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in his final three games of the season, making Oklahoma’s ground game one of the most explosive in the nation. On the flip side, Clemson’s D surrendered just 2.8 yards per carry this season -- the best in the nation -- and allowed just 10 touchdowns all year. While it does seem like a strength-on-strength matchup, it’s worth mentioning that when the Tigers played Georgia’s prolific running game in the opener, they allowed 328 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

Getting to Knight: Clemson’s pass rush has been among the best in the nation the past two years. The Tigers had 44 sacks this season, which ranked fifth nationally, and Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett & Co. tormented opposing quarterbacks all season. To have that same success against Oklahoma won’t be easy, though. The Sooners surrendered just eight sacks all year, the second fewest in the country.

Gallman on the ground: He didn’t exactly finish the year with as much of a bang as Perine did at Oklahoma, but Wayne Gallman helped transform the Clemson offense down the stretch by finally giving the Tigers a consistent threat on the ground. Gallman had 516 yards rushing in Clemson’s last five games, and the Tigers’ ground game, which had averaged just 3.8 yards per rush in the first seven games of the season, upped that average to 4.8 over the final five. A strong game by Gallman and the rushing attack could take a lot of pressure off Stoudt.
With the 2014 regular season over, we’ve come up with our final Big 12 true freshman power rankings.

This list includes three ESPN freshman All-Americans, and a collection of other players who appear to be budding stars in the league.

So, without further ado, the final top 10 true freshmen of 2104:

1. Samaje Perine, running back, Oklahoma: Perine finishes atop the Big 12 true freshman power rankings as the clear No. 1. The 243-pound, All-Big 12 performer led the conference with 1,579 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 6.6 yards per carry. He also set an FBS single-game record with 427 rushing yards against Kansas. Perine will be the focal point of the Oklahoma offense in 2015, and should open the season on everyone’s list of possible Heisman contenders.

2. KD Cannon, wide receiver, Baylor: Though his production dipped over the final month of the season, Cannon still finished with 50 receptions, 833 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He also had a monster game with six catches and 124 yards receiving in Baylor’s big win over TCU. The Bears will lose Antwan Goodley to graduation, but with Cannon and Corey Coleman leading the way, Baylor will still have a dynamic collection of receivers in 2015.

3. Dravon Henry, safety, West Virginia: Henry won a starting job in the West Virginia secondary in the preseason, and was an integral defender for the Mountaineers all season. His ability to cover the pass allowed hard-hitting strong safety Karl Joseph to help more against the run. And with the Henry-Joseph safety combo leading the way, the Mountaineers finished with the second-best pass defense in the Big 12. Assuming Joseph returns for his senior year, the Mountaineers could boast one of the top safety duos in the country next season.

4 (tie). Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Texas Tech and Mason Rudolph, quarterback, Oklahoma State: After standing on the sidelines most of the season, Mahomes and Rudolph stole the show in the Big 12 late in the year. Mahomes threw for 598 yards in Tech’s season finale while almost leading the Red Raiders to an upset over Baylor. In his final three games, Mahomes tossed a head-turning 14 touchdown passes to just two interceptions. Rudolph was equally as impressive for Cowboys. After playing well in his first career start at Baylor, Rudolph rallied Oklahoma State to an overtime win over Bedlam rival Oklahoma in Norman while also catapulting the Cowboys to bowl eligibility. Thanks to Mahomes and Rudolph, Tech and Oklahoma State appear to be in great shape at quarterback for 2015 and beyond.

6. Allen Lazard, wide receiver, Iowa State: It wasn’t a good year for the Cyclones, but at least they have a burgeoning All-Big 12-caliber wideout in Lazard, who delivered a series of acrobatic receptions in his first year. Though he never had a 100-yard receiving game, he was a consistent option for quarterback Sam B. Richardson with 45 catches and 593 receiving yards.

7. Jason Hall, safety, Texas: Wondering who will eventually take over for Karl Joseph as the hardest hitter in the Big 12? It might be Hall, who dropped the hammer multiple times in his first season in Austin. He also finished with 47 tackles, and should serve as a cornerstone in Charlie Strong’s defense for years to come.

8. Corey Avery, running back, Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have many positive developments this season, but one of the bright spots was Avery, who finished 12th in the league with 631 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Avery and De’Andre Mann should give new coach David Beaty a solid one-two punch at running back to operate with in 2015.

9. Elijah Lee, linebacker, Kansas State: Bill Snyder rarely plays true freshmen, but Lee earned Snyder’s trust as a pass-rushing specialist early on in the season. He placed second only to Ryan Mueller on the team with 4.5 sacks.

10. James Washington, wide receiver, Oklahoma State : Washington ended the season as a starter, and led the Cowboys with five touchdown catches. He also finished with 26 receptions and 423 yards receiving, and figures to be a piece of the foundation in the Oklahoma State receiving corps moving forward.

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