Big 12: Steven Parker

This week we've highlighted the key position battles for every program in the Big 12. We conclude the series with Oklahoma’s safety battle.

Here's where the battle stands:

Contenders: sophomore Ahmad Thomas, sophomore Hatari Byrd, freshman Steven Parker.

What happened last season: Returning starter Quentin Hayes and departed starter Gabe Lynn were a solid safety duo for the Sooners in 2013. They combined for 133 tackles and six interceptions. Hayes' versatility was an asset during his first season as a starter, and Lynn provided a veteran presence during his first and only season at safety.

Byrd saw limited duty as a true freshman but was solid in his lone extended action against Tulsa after an injury forced Lynn out of that early-season contest.

Thomas got better and better as the season went along. He was a core member of OU’s special teams and worked himself into the defensive rotation late in the season.

Parker arrived on campus this summer as the No. 139 player in the ESPN 300 for the Class of 2014.

Replacing Lynn has been a focus for the Sooners this offseason. Lynn and cornerback Aaron Colvin are the lone starters OU’s defense must replace heading into this season.

What they offer: It’s quite possible the Sooners’ safeties will be even better this fall, as all three contenders for playing time at the position appear to be securing themselves roles in the defense.

Thomas and Byrd have been so good that Hayes has migrated into the nickelback slot vacated by Julian Wilson, who has moved to cornerback to replace Colvin. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Thomas and Byrd alongside each other at safety this season, with Parker battling to earn time with the first team while providing a quality backup option.

Byrd is a fierce hitter with leadership traits that should allow him to develop into an important voice in the secondary. He’s made a clear jump from his freshman to sophomore season.

Thomas appears to be on the road to stardom. He can do it all in the secondary with good range, instincts and playmaking ability from his safety spot.

OU coaches have praised Parker as one of the most prepared freshmen they’ve seen, and he could force his way onto the field with his versatility and coverage skills.

Prediction: The Sooners will not only replace Lynn, they will use three safeties on the field at the same time quite a bit this fall. The emergence of the young safeties have made it easier to replace Colvin with Wilson’s move from nickelback to cornerback and Hayes' move from safety to nickelback. It’s all been done with an effort to get the Sooners' best 11 players on the field. OU’s safeties could be both younger and better in 2014 than they were in 2013.

2014 Big 12 recruiting draft: Round 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oklahoma spring wrap

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

Three things we learned in the spring:

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

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

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

Three questions for the fall:

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

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

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

One way-too-early prediction:

Oklahoma’s three-game stretch to begin October will define its season as it travels to TCU, battles Texas in Dallas, then hosts Kansas State. The stretch is sandwiched between a pair of bye weeks which should make things easier on Bob Stoops’ coaching staff, but none of those games will be easy. How the Sooners handle them will show if they have what it takes to jump into national title contention.

Big 12's impact freshmen

February, 13, 2014
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The Big 12 added several talented recruits on signing day with at least one member of the ESPN 300 inking with every Big 12 school except Kansas State. Several of those talented freshmen will get the opportunity to make an immediate impact this fall. Here are the top five impact freshman in the Big 12 in 2014:

[+] EnlargeK.D. Cannon
Max Olson/ESPNK.D. Cannon has the skills to force his way into Baylor's receiver rotation as a freshman.
1. Allen Lazard, Iowa State receiver: The Cyclones are looking for playmakers on offense, and the No. 148 player in the ESPN 300 appears ready to fill that need. Lazard brings terrific size (6-foot-5, 208 pounds), strength and good hands to ISU’s offense. Quenton Bundrage needs help in the passing game and Lazard has the skills to join E.J. Bibbs in providing help in 2014.

“Allen is a guy who could come and make an impact,” Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads said. “We’re going to give him every opportunity to come in and play his way onto the field as a true freshman. This is a guy who is going to continue to challenge himself, day in and day out, for the rest of his career.”

2. Nigel Bethel, Texas Tech cornerback: The Red Raiders are losing several senior defensive backs including cornerbacks Bruce Jones, Derrick Mays and Olaoluwa Falemi. Yet Bethel could combine with 2013 signee Justis Nelson to give the Red Raiders one of the best cornerback duos in the Big 12 over the next few seasons. As one of the best cover cornerbacks in the Class of 2014, Bethel should see the field early. Bethel, the No. 226 player in the ESPN 300, has the speed, ball skills and natural instincts to make a smooth transition to college football.

3. K.D. Cannon, Baylor receiver: The Bears don’t have a major need at receiver but Cannon is an exceptional talent. Cannon, ranked No. 30 overall in the ESPN 300, needs to put on additional weight but he should be able to overcome his slight build thanks to his excellent feet and quickness.

“K.D.'s the smoothest and purest receiver at the high school level I've ever seen,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “When the ball's in his hands, he is as instinctive as anybody I've ever been around.”

4. Steven Parker II, Oklahoma safety: The Sooners were the first team to offer the Jenks (Okla.) standout and remained in hot pursuit until he signed. Their pursuit could pay off as early as this fall. The No. 139 player in the ESPN300, Parker will bring athleticism and versatility to the Sooners secondary.

“He’s a guy we desperately needed at safety,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Because he’s a guy that brings a different element to the safety position that a lot of players just can’t just by his mobility, his skill level, his cover ability. We ask our safeties to do a lot of that and he fits perfectly in to our system.”

5. Dalvin Warmack, Kansas State running back: Warmack should get plenty of opportunities to make an impact for the Wildcats. KSU is looking to replace John Hubert, who carried the load in the backfield for the past three seasons, rushing for 2,965 yards and 28 touchdowns.

With Jake Waters under center and Tyler Lockett making plays on the outside, KSU will need someone to help ensure offensive balance. Warmack can help keep defenses honest with his vision, versatility and open-field running. He might not be ready to step in and replace Hubert on an every-down basis but Warmack has the talent to make an immediate impact.

First five out: Jacob Bragg, Kansas center; Dravon Henry, West Virginia defensive back; Joe Mixon, Oklahoma running back; Kyron Watson, Kansas linebacker; Derick Roberson, Texas defensive end

Signing day was kind to the Oklahoma Sooners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

CautiousCowboy (Arkansas): Two questions: What are the chances Kenny Young signs with the Cowboys? Do you think Mason Rudolph can win the starting QB job away from JW?

Max Olson: I'd predict Kenny Young ends up choosing LSU, that's just my honest opinion, and I think the writing has been on the wall there for a little while. As for Rudolph, I definitely think he can challenge. We didn't see it coming with Wes Lunt and he got on the field right away, and I think Rudolph will come in with similar expectations as a guy who can play from day one if he puts in the work.

Shane (Texas): Will there be any surprising commitments for the Longhorns?

Max Olson: Never say never, since it's not like anybody saw the Shiro Davis flip coming two years ago. But I think Texas has a relatively calm signing day with commitments from DTs Poona Ford and Chris Nelson.

Bo (Missouri): What are OU's chances of flipping in-state DE Deondre Clark to OU from LSU?

Max Olson: That might be the biggest question of signing day in the Big 12. Clark is a stud, and the Oklahoma coaching staff did a great job of getting back in the mix after falling behind early. I think he'll end up at OU, but that's still an unpredictable situation.

Matt (Boston): Where do you think John Bonney will end up?

Max Olson: I do think he'll end up signing with Texas on Wednesday, especially after he showed up in Austin for an unofficial visit this weekend. I think that trip sealed the deal. I like Baylor's chances better than Auburn's if Bonney does change his mind, but it seems like the Longhorns will hold on here.

Jake (Texas): Do you think the recent news about the Teuhema brothers decommitting from Texas and looking heavy at LSU has anything to do with Clark making his mind up on OU so LSU went after the brothers instead?

Max Olson: That's certainly a theory that a lot of folks are curious about. LSU was in the mix for the Teuhemas throughout this year and was the runner-up when they decided last May. Some will say Clark motivated the move, but they're different players --- Sione is a hybrid LB/DE -- and obviously anyone going after Sione is trying to get Maea too, as he's the best lineman in the state of Texas for the 2015 class.

Dustin (Tulsa): Which OU '14 recruit has the best career at OU besides Joe Mixon?

Max Olson: I can't help but think that in Dallis Todd, Mark Andrews and Jeffery Mead, at least one of those guys ends up being an All-Big 12 receiver before it's all said and done. Love their size. I know Andrews could end up at TE, obviously, but with the wealth of talent OU is set to have at QB those freshman receivers are in great shape.

Kris (Des Moines): What's up with Joe Mixon going UCLA last weekend?
Max Olson: I know Mixon has downplayed that since then. But who knows. He's a Cali kid going to Oklahoma. I'm sure he has family members who want him closer to home. Doesn't mean that'll change his mind.

Chad (I-State): Allen Lazard and Michael Warren seem to get the most buzz from ISU's class. Who are a couple other guys Iowa State fans should be excited about?

Max Olson: I like what Iowa State did with its junior college recruiting in this class. The Cyclones have always done a nice job in that category under Paul Rhoads. The defense is getting help from the juco ranks with three defensive ends, two safeties and an inside linebacker, and I'm sure several could see the field next year.

Big 12 recruiting storylines: Nov. 21 

November, 21, 2013
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The beginning of the month didn't start out so hot for Oklahoma, who was routed in a highly-anticipated game at Baylor on Nov. 7. But the Sooners have rebounded well on the recruiting trail with a handful of commitments since the calendar turned.

We'll take a look at who exactly those recruits are as well as talk about the big weekend ahead in Stillwater in this week's edition of Big 12 recruiting storylines.

OU on a roll

Big 12 ESPN 300 analysis 

October, 29, 2013
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With the release of the latest ESPN 300, some players saw jumps while others took slight falls. And then there were some, such as one particular Houston wide receiver still looking to make a name for himself as a varsity football player, who saw their rankings skyrocket.

Here’s an update on some of the highs and lows of players either committed to, targeted by or living near Big 12 programs:

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Most important targets: Big 12 

October, 22, 2013
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Not surprisingly, Big 12 programs have filled their rosters with ESPN 300 recruits. But, as we’ve come to learn, success on the field doesn’t always come down to how many stars you acquire each recruiting cycle. It’s about filling needs with the types of players coveted by that particular program.

Here is a look at the most important target for each Big 12 school, which features some highly ranked recruits and other recruits with no ranking at all.


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Best Big 12 recruiters 

October, 15, 2013
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Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.

The best college football coaches will tell you that when it comes to recruiting, their business is an art. It’s a craft you must perfect if you want to have the best players commit and ultimately sign. Recruiting isn’t for everybody, but those who are good at it -- particularly for building the 2014 class -- should be recognized, as the business is extremely competitive.

Here are 10 of the top recruiters from the Big 12.


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Big 12 recruiting storylines: Oct. 10 

October, 10, 2013
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The Big 12 has a big weekend ahead in Dallas and Texas Tech is surging. Here’s a look at some of the Big 12’s top recruiting storylines.

Big names set to attend Red River Rivalry
There is never a season, regardless of what type of shape either program is in, that the Cotton Bowl won’t be filled with some of the most desirable recruits in the country.

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Big 12 class rankings analysis 

October, 9, 2013
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Each Wednesday, ESPN RecruitingNation updates its national class rankings. For an in-depth look at the Big 12 conference, check out our conference rankings:

1. Texas, 24 commits: The Longhorns check in at No. 7 in the RecruitingNation class rankings with the headliners being No. 79 overall Derick Roberson (San Antonio, Texas/Williams J. Brennan High), No. 119 Armanti Foreman (Texas City, Texas/Texas City High) and No. 138 Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/John H. Guyer High). Texas, which currently has seven ESPN300 commits, has its sights set on No. 31 overall Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell High), No. 13 Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen High) and No. 25 Jamal Adams (Lewiville, Texas/Hebron High).

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Big 12 2014 recruiting scenarios 

October, 8, 2013
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Even for schools like Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas, who all have recruiting classes ranked in the top 40, there is still a lot of work to be done for the Class of 2014. Here is a look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for every school in the Big 12.

Baylor
Best-case scenario: The Bears continue to put up gaudy numbers on offense, which allows them to round out one of their best-ever classes with a few more gems. One recruit they would love to add is Randall Cunningham II (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman). On defense, one of Baylor’s top targets is ESPN 300 cornerback Nick Watkins (Dallas/Bishop Dunne). Texas struggling this season sure does help BU's recruiting.


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Top Big 12 recruiting rivalries 

October, 1, 2013
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Recruiting rivalries. No matter if two teams are pushing for a national title or in a rebuilding stage, recruiting gets the people going. Nothing ruffles the feathers of recruiting fans more than monitoring the process of a player considering one school and its big rival.

Here are five of the better recruiting rivalries going right now in the Big 12.


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Most important Big 12 recruiting targets 

September, 17, 2013
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As recruiting dips its toe into the fall season, many uncommitted players are beginning to shorten their lists in preparation for upcoming big college announcements. All of the Big 12 schools could use help -- or add depth -- at multiple positions, but there are a few players who are considered primary targets for the 2014 class.

Here is a look at some of the most important targets for each Big 12 program.


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