Big 12: Shaun Nixon

TCU kicked off its spring drills over the weekend. Below is a preview of what to look for from the Horned Frogs during the rest of spring practice:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Despite backing up B.J. Catalon for half the season, Aaron Green finished fourth in the Big 12 with 922 rushing yards. In five games as a starter following Catalon's season-ending head injury, Green spark the Horned Frogs with his big-play ability, averaging 6.48 yards per carry with six touchdowns. With Catalon leaving early for the draft, Green takes over as TCU's full-time featured back. And playing alongside quarterback Trevone Boykin in TCU's wide-open attack, the former Nebraska transfer could be in for a monster senior season.

Defensive returner ready to take the next step: After playing in the shadows of Devonte Fields and Chucky Hunter the previous three years, defensive tackle Davion Pierson is primed to take command as main man of the TCU defense. Pierson is entering his fourth season as a starter along the Horned Frogs defensive line, and with Hunter graduated, TCU will be leaning on him to supply the leadership and production. If Pierson can fill that role, the Horned Frogs could be stout yet again up front.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Shaun Nixon was the gem of TCU's 2014 signing class, and was set to contend for time in the Horned Frogs' running back rotation until a preseason ACL knee injury forced a redshirt. Nixon has rehabbed his way back and has been participating in TCU's offseason workout program. The Horned Frogs have other backs to flank Green in experienced sophomores Kyle Hicks and Trevorris Johnson. But if he can get -- and stay -- healthy, Nixon has the talent to emerge as Green's primary wingman in the TCU backfield.

Most significant position battle: Graduation completely decimated the Horned Frogs at linebacker. All-American Paul Dawson, starter Marcus Mallet and key reserve Jonathan Anderson, who combined for 266 tackles last season, are all gone. That has basically left the Horned Frogs with a blank slate at the position. The good news is that Gary Patterson has multiple possibilities for replacements. Sammy Douglas, Paul Whitmill and Ty Summers, a converted high school quarterback, will get the first cracks this spring to prove they can man the position. But three-star early enrollees Mike Freeze and Alec Dunham could push them.

Key midterm enrollee: The Horned Frogs need a successor to Kevin White at cornerback opposite Ranthony Texada, with several returning options in Nick Orr, Corry O'Meally, Torrance Mosley and track star/punt return specialist Cameron Echols-Luper, who is moving from receiver to cornerback. But the Horned Frogs are also pumped about the potential of early enrollee DeShawn Raymond, the top signing in TCU's 2015 recruiting class. The Metairie, Louisiana, native had offers from several high-profile programs, including Nebraska, Florida State, Georgia, Arkansas and LSU. And at 6-foot, 185 pounds, he has size to be a factor early in his career.

Question that could be answered: Though they'll have several new faces in the rotation, the Horned Frogs should exit spring drills with a good feel for what the composition of their secondary will be. The cornerback battle opposite Texada could linger into the fall. But Texada and Kindred give TCU a pair of cogs to retool around. And though they'll have to earn their starting spots, Kenny Iloka and Denzel Johnson should be ready for bigger roles after backing up Hackett and Carter last season.

Question that won't be answered until fall: TCU's two-deep could be mostly solidified coming out of the spring. But the Horned Frogs won't know how well its new parts will mesh together until it begins facing potent Big 12 offenses in the fall. Six of the top seven tacklers from last year's defense are gone, including longtime mainstays like Carter and Hunter. TCU has the potential to be formidable again defensively. But with so many new pieces, there could be some growing pains, too.
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.

Big 12 morning links

August, 12, 2014
8/12/14
8:00
AM ET
This week we're rolling out a new version of your beloved lunchtime links, now served up in a healthy breakfast portion with a little extra meat on the bone. Or something like that. Here's what's cooking in the Big 12 this morning:
  • There are several good reads out today on Kansas starting quarterback Montell Cozart. Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star had a sweet anecdote about Cozart, Nick Harwell and Tony Pierson teaming up to beat a squad of KU basketball players (including Joel Embiid) in pickup basketball. The kid sounds more confident in his second year, and after striking out on free-agent pickups Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps, Charlie Weis is putting his trust in the dual-threat to lead. Cozart was shaky after his redshirt was pulled in 2013, and didn't surpass 70 passing yards in any game. KU going all-in on him this spring is encouraging for his development. Hard to peg what Cozart's ceiling is, but expect to start seeing flashes of his potential in nonconference play.
  • DeAndre Washington has to be the man at running back for Texas Tech, writes Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. The 450-yard rusher last year got a big vote of confidence when Kenny Williams moved to linebacker, and his backups are young and unproven. Washington averaged nine carries a game last year, so I'm intrigued to see how he can handle a heavier workload. If Washington isn't the solution, you're asking a back with 13 career carries (Quinton White) and two true freshmen to revive a run game that ranked No. 111 nationally last year.
  • Guess who ranked No. 110? That would be TCU, who lost an intriguing piece to their rushing puzzle Monday when freshman Shaun Nixon suffered a season-ending knee injury. It's a rough break for Nixon, on a freak non-contact accident, but Gary Patterson is optimistic he'll be back for spring ball. Nixon was an ESPN 300 recruit that TCU deftly swiped from Texas A&M, but he likely would've backed up B.J. Catalon, Aaron Green and maybe Kyle Hicks and Trevorris Johnson. Patterson is serious about his new Air Raid offense running the ball the way TCU used to in its mid-major heyday, and Nixon could've helped.
  • Dana Holgorsen drew some heat on Monday for saying lying is a part of recruiting. If you missed that, well, it shouldn't be too hard to find a recap. (And if you want the actual context, and you should, here's the much-less-scandalous transcript of his comments.) Holgorsen isn't wrong at all to acknowledge recruiters across the country stretch the truth when talking up their school and program. What he's actually getting at here, and it's true everywhere, is how valuable it is to get a recruit to Morgantown and show them what his program really has to offer. Nothing controversial about that.
  • Oklahoma and Oklahoma State both received critical offensive line pledges Monday. The Sooners flipped Louisiana three-star guard Cody Ford from his six-month commitment to TCU, which is much-needed good news after missing on ESPN 300 tackle Madison Akamnonu. OSU beat out TCU and Tech for Joshua Jones, a three-star tackle who hails from the same Houston high school that produced Russell Okung. Mike Gundy's staff is quietly doing a great job in Texas this year.

Big 12 post-spring breakdown: RBs

April, 29, 2014
4/29/14
3:00
PM ET
With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and reranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with running backs. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:


1. West Virginia (pre-spring ranking: 4): West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider has one of the best and most difficult jobs in the Big 12. Seider has an embarrassment of riches at his position in Dreamius Smith (the No. 1 juco back in 2013), Wendell Smallwood (who played last year as a true freshman), Rushel Shell (who before transferring from Pitt set the Pennsylvania state high school rushing record), Andrew Buie (the team’s leading rusher in 2012) and Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s leading rusher from 2011, who, finally healthy again, enjoyed a resurgent spring. The Mountaineers also will add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. The difficult part for Seider will be divvying up carries to so many capable backs. But if the Mountaineers can keep everyone happy and find the right combination, this could become a devastating and versatile running back stable.

2. Texas (1): Coach Charlie Strong delivered promising news on Monday in San Antonio, suggesting Johnathan Gray could be cleared from his Achilles injury by mid-June. Strong also said that Joe Bergeron will be rejoining the team shortly, too, after sitting out the spring to focus on academics. When healthy and eligible, the trio of Malcolm Brown, Gray and Bergeron is a formidable bunch and the backbone of the Texas offense.

3. Baylor (3): Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin exited spring as the co-starters, but Johnny Jefferson left the biggest impression in the spring game. The Bears have a track record of spreading carries around, which means Big 12 fans will become very acquainted with the talented redshirt freshman next season.

4. Oklahoma State (5): One of the biggest surprises of the spring was how much the Cowboys used Tyreek Hill at running back. Oklahoma State is planning to utilize the nation’s top juco playmaker the way West Virginia did Tavon Austin two years ago. In other words, Hill could line up in the backfield one play then slot receiver the next. Either way, arguably the fastest player in college football gives the Cowboys a dynamic lightning component to complement the thunderous running of senior Desmond Roland, who led all Big 12 backs in touchdowns last season.

5. Oklahoma (3): There might not be a Big 12 backfield with more upside than Oklahoma’s. Of course, with that upside comes little experience. Sophomore Keith Ford has the potential to be a punishing inside runner, but he had fumbling issues last season as a freshman that re-emerged during the spring. If he can’t hang onto the ball, he won’t play, no matter how tough he runs between the tackles. After getting passed by Ford on the depth chart last year, Alex Ross bounced back with an impressive spring. Early enrollee Dimitri Flowers was a revelation this spring as a powerful run-blocking fullback in the mold of Trey Millard. If fellow incoming freshman Joe Mixon lives up to his recruiting hype, the Sooners could feature their most potent rushing attack in years.

6. Iowa State (8): The most underrated one-two punch at running back in the league resides in Ames. According to first-year offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy were sharp all spring and will spearhead an offense that could surprise in 2014. The key will be keeping the slight but explosive Wimberly relatively healthy, which he never really was before and after rushing for 137 and 117 yards back to back against Tulsa and Texas. Wimberly, however, was 100 percent all spring, and it showed, as he racked up 68 yards on just nine touches in the spring game.

7. TCU (7): TCU had to make do without its three top backs in the spring due to injuries. Aaron Green suffered a broken collarbone, Kyle Hicks had a shoulder bruise, and returning leading rusher B.J. Catalon dealt with a nagging hamstring injury. All three, however, should be fine for the fall, and could form a reliable rotation at running back. Four-star recruit Shaun Nixon could help out, too, once he arrives on campus.

8. Texas Tech (6): The Red Raiders dropped two spots, largely because returning starter Kenny Williams played outside linebacker all spring and could remain there for good. But even if Williams becomes a full-time linebacker, Tech still could be solid at running back with veteran DeAndre Washington, sophomore Quinton White and incoming four-star freshman Justin Stockton, whom the Texas Tech coaching staff is very high on. Head coach and offensive play-caller Kliff Kingsbury wouldn’t have given Williams the go-ahead to move to defense if he didn’t feel optimistic about what remained in the backfield.

9. Kansas (9): Though they come in ninth here, running back could be a position of strength for the Jayhawks next season. Brandon Bourbon, the favorite to start, rushed for 96 yards on 12 carries in the spring game, but Taylor Cox (63 yards on 15 carries) and Darrian Miller (50 yards on seven carries) had nice outings, as well. The Jayhawks also will welcome De’Andre Mann, the nation’s fifth-best juco running back, in the summer, as well as four-star freshmen Traevohn Wrench and Corey Avery. Until they start winning more games, it’s difficult to give the Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt in these position rankings. But with this collection of runners, they might not miss All-Big 12 performer James Sims as much as first thought.

10. Kansas State (10): The spring brought little clarity about who John Hubert’s primary replacement will be. Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones both ran hard in K-State’s spring game, though neither broke a run for longer than 11 yards. Meanwhile, DeMarcus Robinson, who has the most experience of the three, sat out the scrimmage with an injury. As a result, incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns while averaging almost 9 yards per carry his final two years in high school, will have an opportunity to be a factor once he joins the team this summer.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- For years, TCU stuck to an offensive philosophy built around trying to out-physical foes and trick them with play action. That style won the Horned Frogs five conference titles while in the Mountain West and Conference USA. They have not won many Big 12 games.

After two years in his new league and a 6-12 record in Big 12 play, TCU coach Gary Patterson knew it was time for a new approach.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTCU coach Gary Patterson brought in new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to change the team's offense.
“We’re going to a style of offense that I thought evened the playing field,” Patterson said.

He went out and landed a pair of offensive coordinators who know Big 12 ball to design a hybrid Oklahoma State-Texas Tech scheme that Patterson says will still have “some of the old TCU” in the run game.

But this is the new TCU. No playbook, no huddle, no looking back.

The struggles of 2013 weren’t the lone motivator for Patterson’s change of plans, but the evidence was hard to ignore. Last season, TCU’s offense hit 10-year lows in points per game (25.1) and yards per play (5.03) and 10-year highs in turnovers (30) and three-and-outs (49).

The Horned Frogs had an offense that averaged 8.8 points in the first half of games, behind an offensive line that Patterson admits got “pushed around” at times due to injuries and departures. You can’t keep up with high-speed Big 12 offenses that way.

Another motivator? Patterson’s belief that a seemingly unexciting Horned Frogs offense wasn’t helping his cause in recruiting.

“I had watched too many skill players leave the city. Right now, they don’t know what this offense is about,” Patterson said. “Right now, they think TCU has a defensive coach. But to be honest with you, I have no problem winning 45-31.”

He’s putting his full trust in Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to build up the new-look offense, so much so that Patterson says he’s taken a hands-off approach to the transition. He just tried to defend it in spring practice, and that wasn’t fun.

Meacham spent eight years learning and teaching one of the nation’s finest spread offenses at Oklahoma State, then left to run his own at Houston in 2013. TCU’s new playcaller has already served as an OC at five other schools in his career.

He’ll collaborate with Cumbie, a Mike Leach disciple who coached the past four years at Texas Tech and will oversee the TCU quarterbacks.

As Tech’s quarterback in 2004, Cumbie put up 70 points on the Frogs -- two touchdowns more than a Patterson-led TCU team has ever given up. And yes, that came up in the job interview.

Both are respected offensive minds and recruiters in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and previous coordinators Rusty Burns and Jarrett Anderson are still on staff and have a say in game plans.

“Their relationship is awesome,” Patterson said. “I think the whole group has meshed real well. They’ve brought a lot of energy and new ideas.”

[+] EnlargeTy Slanina
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsHorned Frogs receiver Ty Slanina caught 19 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown as a freshman last season.
Installing the new attack meant coming up with new terminology, since at least three other Big 12 programs run similar sets, and new answers to how to outsmart opponents.

“It’s not so much you don’t know what’s coming, but can you out-execute it?” Patterson said. “It’ll be very important for us to be able to run the football, because I think going in that’s where our strengths are -- our offensive line and our running backs and our quarterback can run, especially Trevone [Boykin].”

The offensive line should be better and much, much bigger. Six of TCU’s best exiting spring ball -- Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Tayo Fabuluje, Frank Kee, Matt Pryor, Joseph Noteboom and Aviante Collins -- average 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds.

TCU’s top running backs all got hurt in spring ball -- literally -- but there are options there with B.J. Catalon, Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks, incoming freshman Shaun Nixon and a few others.

At receiver, Patterson says TCU has the guys needed to stretch a defense. Whether or not Brandon Carter returns, the staff is excited about speedsters like Deante' Gray and Kolby Listenbee and incoming freshmen Emanuel Porter and Corey McBride to go along with David Porter, Josh Doctson, Cameron Echols-Luper, Ty Slanina and Jordan Moore.

“I think we’ll have enough weapons to be able to move the football,” Patterson said.

Quarterback is still the question mark, especially if the versatile Boykin isn’t the choice. No matter who runs the show, the initial goal will be simple: first downs, points and a tempo that causes trouble.

“They’ve been awfully fast this spring,” Patterson said. “The biggest thing is to go fast enough to make people uncomfortable.”

That, after all, is the goal here: An offense that can prove as challenging as Patterson’s stingy defenses. The Horned Frogs’ mission for transformation isn’t guided by some sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” sentiment.

No, this is adaptation, and it’s necessary. After its first two Big 12 seasons ended in frustration, TCU is working on a new way to beat ‘em.
Even though TCU’s new offense is sure to put the football in the air, the Horned Frogs will undoubtedly try to run the football and establish balance this fall. Several talented running backs should battle to emerge as the main ball carrier for the Horned Frogs this season, and that battle for carries begins this spring.

Departed: Senior Waymon James.

Spring contenders: Junior B.J. Catalon, junior Aaron Green, redshirt freshman Kyle Hicks, redshirt freshman Trevorris Johnson.

Summer contenders: True freshman Shaun Nixon.

[+] EnlargeCatalon
Jim Cowsert/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty ImagesB.J. Catalon looks like the favorite to emerge as TCU's lead RB, but that doesn't mean other backs won't find their way on the field too.
The skinny: Finding the strengths of each running back could be as important as developing overall depth or finding a clear starter at the position for TCU this spring. Once the Horned Frogs identify the strengths and weaknesses of each guy they can start to prepare them for different roles during August practices with a goal of having fresh (and capable) legs in the offensive backfield at all times.

Catalon has game-changing quickness and playmaking ability so he could be considered the favorite to earn the bulk of the carries after leading the squad with 569 rushing yards as a sophomore. He averaged 5.32 yards per carry in 2013, so the fact he didn’t surpass the 1,000-yard mark lands more on the shoulders of the coaching staff than Catalon.

Green brings terrific talent in his own right but wasn’t the playmaker that Catalon was a year ago. This spring is his chance to show he deserves more opportunities this fall.

Hicks was a highly regarded signee in the Class of 2013 as the No. 220 player in the ESPN 300. He has the ability to be an every-down back but would really help his cause if he shows he can excel as a receiver and pass blocker during spring drills.

Johnson is easily the most overlooked competitor in this battle but could bring a physical running style to the table that earns him a short yardage or goal line role. He probably has a ways to go before he’s considered a threat to rise atop the depth chart but should not be dismissed as a non-contributor despite the overall talent at the position.

Nixon fits in perfectly with this group as another talented option. But his overall versatility and big-play ability could help him rise up the depth chart and make an immediate impact as a true freshman.

Prediction: Catalon separates himself from the rest of the pack during the spring. His athleticism, desire and versatility will cement himself a spot in the lineup. Yet don’t be surprised if other running backs also cement places in TCU’s offensive attack. The Horned Frogs offense wasn’t exactly overflowing with playmakers in 2013, so if any of the remaining backs prove they can make big plays if given the opportunity, new offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie will probably find ways to use them, even if that means playing alongside Catalon at times.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: RBs

February, 19, 2014
2/19/14
3:45
PM ET
As we wait for the start of spring ball, we're examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Wednesday with running backs. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how they compare at the moment:

1. Texas: The three-headed monster of Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron gives Texas the best 1-2-3 punch in the league. Whether this group goes from good to great hinges on a healthy return for Gray, who is coming back from an Achilles injury and will sit out spring drills. Either way, this will be the backbone of Charlie Strong’s first offense.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsShock Linwood showed breakaway ability as a Baylor reserve in 2013.
2. Baylor: Shock Linwood takes over in the backfield after a dynamic freshman season in which he finished seventh in the league in rushing despite being a third-team running back. The competition for carries after Linwood will be interesting. Devin Chafin is the favorite to be Linwood’s wing man, but he could be pressed by Johnny Jefferson and/or incoming four-star freshman Terence Williams, who is already on campus.

3. Oklahoma: The potential of this running back crop has no bounds. But it will be young and inexperienced after seniors Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and Damien Williams (until he was kicked off the team) hoarded the carries last season. Keith Ford, who was the nation’s No. 3 running back recruit in the 2013 class, will take over the starting role. Joe Mixon, this year’s No. 6 RB recruit, won’t get to Norman until the summer, but he should supply the lightning to Ford’s thunder. Alex Ross, who was the nation’s No. 7 RB recruit in the 2012 class, rounds out a fearsome threesome with tremendous pedigree.

4. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose All-Big 12 performer Charles Sims, but still claim a glut of capable rushers. Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood thrived playing behind Sims last year. West Virginia also has Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie, its leading rushers from 2011 and 2012, respectively. (Buie is back after leaving school for a semester.) On top of all that, Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell figures to be in the mix. Shell was the No. 26 overall recruit in the country coming out of high school after becoming the all-time leading rusher in Pennsylvania high school history. If that weren’t enough, the gem of the incoming recruiting class, Donte Thomas-Williams, is also a running back. Suffice to say, the competition for carries will be fierce in the league’s deepest backfield.

5. Oklahoma State: Desmond Roland helped fuel Oklahoma State’s midseason turnaround after seizing a starting role. Roland was great in short yardage and led the Big 12 with 13 touchdowns, but he wasn’t a big-play runner, with an average of only 4.6 yards per carry (14th in the league). The Cowboys are banking that Rennie Childs can complement Roland as the breakaway back. Childs showed flashes as a true freshman. Roland and Childs can form a solid combo, but four-star freshman Devon Thomas, who is enrolled for the spring, should not be discounted, nor should Sione Palelei, who has the good hands that past Oklahoma State running backs also possessed.

6. Texas Tech: The returning duo of Kenny Williams and DeAndre Washington won’t do much damage between the tackles. Both, however, are excellent pass-catchers, making them supreme fits for Kliff Kingsbury’s spread attack. Together they combined for 64 receptions, and that number should go up in 2014 as quarterback Davis Webb settles in as a sophomore.

7. TCU: The Horned Frogs were a disaster offensively last year, but the potential at running back is a reason why TCU could be equipped for a bounce-back season. Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks and incoming freshman Shaun Nixon were all ESPN 300 recruits. That doesn’t include B.J. Catalon, either, who led the Frogs with 569 yards and six touchdowns last season. With a new regime making the play calls, there’s reason to believe this could become one of the better units in the league.

[+] EnlargeDalton Santos
David Purdy/Getty ImagesIf Aaron Wimberly can stay healthy, Iowa State has a potentially dynamic returning running back.
8. Iowa State: When healthy, Aaron Wimberly can be a game-breaker. He torched Texas for 137 yards as the Cyclones nearly pulled off a Thursday night upset. Wimberly, however, was never really healthy the rest of the season, and never had the same impact. After Wimberly, though, the Cyclones don’t have much returning firepower. Firepower, however, could be on the way. Oklahoma native Michael Warren went overlooked in recruiting, but he can fly; he rushed for more than 2,500 yards as a high school senior.

9. Kansas: The Jayhawks gradated their heart and soul in James Sims, who was an all-conference selection even though Kansas won only one Big 12 game. Tony Pierson returns as an electric playmaker, but he has never been a full-time running back, often flexing out as a receiver. It will be interesting to see who emerges in Sims’ shoes. Brandon Bourbon (191 yards) will have the first crack in the spring, but newcomers De'Andre Mann and Traevohn Wrench could vie for time once they arrive in the summer.

10. Kansas State: It’s difficult to believe K-State will be at the bottom here once the season starts, but running back is a major hole for the Wildcats going into the spring. That’s because longtime starter John Hubert is gone. Hubert, senior backup Robert Rose and QBs Jake Waters and Daniel Sams combined for 492 carries last season. Nobody else had more than five. Rising senior DeMarcus Robinson, who has only 11 career carries, will probably be atop the depth chart going into the spring. It’s also possible that Sams will get a look at running back with Waters having nailed down the full-time QB job. But the player to watch here is freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns his final two seasons in Blue Springs, Mo. Warmack isn’t big at 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds. But his size fits the mold of past K-State running backs Hubert and Darren Sproles.
Today will be the busiest of the year for fax machines. That’s because it’s national signing day, and recruits across the country will be faxing in their letters of intent.

It’s always an exciting day for college football fans. And there’s plenty to be excited about in the Big 12.

Below is a breakdown of the most exciting element from each of the 10 Big 12 recruiting classes:

Baylor

What to get excited about: The wide receivers

The players: K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant), Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau), Ishmael Zamora (Houston/Alief Elsik), Chris Platt (Willis, Texas/Willis)

The skinny: The Bears have one of the best WR classes in the country, with four players ranked in the ESPN 300. With Antwan Goodley also back in Waco, QB Bryce Petty should have a big, signing day smile on his face.

Iowa State

What to get excited about: A blue-chip wideout

The player: Allen Lazard (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale)

The skinny: Elite skill talent has come at premium in Ames the last few years. But that’s exactly what Iowa State is getting in Lazard, an ESPN 300 prospect who had offers from Notre Dame, Nebraska and Stanford. If Lazard comes ready to play, new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino will have a dynamic complement to pair with No. 1 wideout Quenton Bundrage.

Kansas

What to get excited about: The replacements for RB James Sims

The players: Traevohn Wrench (Gardner, Kan./Gardner Edgerton), Corey Avery (Dallas/Carter)

The skinny: The Jayhawks graduated their only All-Big 12 performer this past season in Sims. But they prevailed in a pair of hard-fought recruiting battles to land four-star running backs Wrench and Avery. Wrench was the first commit in the class, and gave coach Charlie Weis a player to build the rest of the class around. Then this week, Weis beat out Nebraska, Ohio State and LSU, among others, to reel in Avery. The one-two combination of Wrench and Avery is reason to be optimistic about the future of the KU offense, even without Sims.

Kansas State

What to get excited about: Junior-college impact

The players: Terrell Clinkscales (Dodge City, Kansas), Andre Davis (Santa Rosa, Calif./Santa Rosa), D’Vonta Derricott (Garden City, Kan./Garden City), Danzel McDaniel (Dodge City, Kan.)

The skinny: The Wildcats have a returning core capable of contending for the Big 12 title. In this recruiting class, they’ll be adding four players in the ESPN Junior College 50 to aid that cause. K-State swiped Clinkscales from Nebraska, and he could team with Travis Britz to form a stout one-two punch at DT. Davis could be the perfect complement opposite wideout Tyler Lockett. Derricott (OLB) and McDaniel (CB) should help the defense.

Oklahoma

What to get excited about: Backfield firepower

The player: Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom)

The skinny: The Sooners closed as strong as any program in the country, and that included plucking the No. 53 overall recruit away from the West Coast powers. Mixon, together with last year’s No. 3 RB Keith Ford and budding dual-threat QB Trevor Knight, could be a devastating rushing force in the Big 12 for years to come.

Oklahoma State

What to get excited about: The linebackers

The players: Gyasi Akem (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow), Josh Mabin (Spring, Texas/Klein Oak), Kirk Tucker (Tucker, Ga./Tucker), Devante Averette (Melvindale, Mich./Ellsworth Community College), Justin Phillips (Pearland, Texas/Pearland)

The skinny: The Cowboys graduated a pair of all-conference linebackers in Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, who played big parts in Oklahoma State’s defensive turnaround. But impressive help is on the way. Akem is a ESPN 300 prospect, and Tucker, the other outside linebacker in the class, ended up at Oklahoma State after failing to gain admission to Stanford. Averette should provide instant impact on the inside, and Mabin is a four-star recruit.

TCU

What to get excited about: The offensive skill talent

The players: Foster Sawyer (Fort Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal), Grayson Muehlstein (Decatur, Texas/Decatur), Shaun Nixon (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis), Corey McBride (Geismar, La.,/Dutchtown), Emanuel Porter (Dallas/Lincoln)

The skinny: The top five players in TCU’s class are offensive skill players, providing help where the Horned Frogs really need it. Sawyer and Muehlstein could battle for the starting QB job right away. The opportunity for playing time is there for receivers McBridge and Porter, too. TCU also pulled off a coup Tuesday by flipping Nixon, a four-star RB, from Texas A&M.

Texas

What to get excited about: Possible QB of the future

The player: Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/Guyer)

The skinny: Charlie Strong’s quickest path to putting Texas back on top is finding a solution at QB that eluded Mack Brown the last four years. Heard, an ESPN 300 quarterback who won two state titles in high school, could very well emerge as the answer.

Texas Tech

What to get excited about: A shutdown corner

The player: Nigel Bethel II (Miami, Fla./Booker T. Washington)

The skinny: The Red Raiders lose three starters from their secondary, but they have a player who can come in and help right away in Bethel. The ESPN 300 prospect is one of the better pure coverage corners in the country. To win in the Big 12, you have to defend the pass. And Bethel can defend the pass.

West Virginia

What to get excited about: The quarterbacks

The players: Skyler Howard (White Settlement, Texas/Riverside Community College), William Crest (Baltimore/Dunbar)

The skinny: Coach Dana Holgorsen struggled to replace Geno Smith last year, using three quarterbacks to limited success. But Holgorsen is bringing in a pair of talented players at the position who could be immediate factors. Howard was the No. 3 dual-threat juco QB in the country and is already enrolled for spring ball. Crest is the No. 11 high school dual-threat QB nationally.

Bold predictions: Big 12 

February, 4, 2014
2/04/14
10:30
AM ET

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:

SPONSORED HEADLINES