Big 12: Terrell Clinkscales


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Previewing the 2014 season for the Kansas State Wildcats:

Key returners: QB Jake Waters, WR Tyler Lockett, C BJ Finney, DE Ryan Mueller

Key losses: RB John Hubert, WR Tramaine Thompson, OT Cornelius Lucas, SS Ty Zimmerman

Most important 2014 games: Sept. 18 versus Auburn; Oct. 18 at Oklahoma; Oct. 25 versus Texas; Dec. 6 at Baylor

Projected win percentage: 50.7 percent.

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsJake Waters is looking forward to playing for the first time at the Division I level in his home state.
Over/under Vegas odds: 7.5 wins.

Instant impact newcomers: DT Terrell Clinkscales, LB D'Vonta Derricott, CB Danzel McDaniel. All three players were part of Bill Snyder’s prized junior college signing class. McDaniel will have the best chance to start because he was with the team in the spring. But all three newcomers have a chance to impact the K-State defense.

High point from 2013: The Wildcats capped off their hot finish by blasting Michigan 31-14 in the Buffalo Wild Wings. Lockett caught three first-half touchdown passes and the K-State defense held the Wolverines touchdown-less until the final 2 minutes of the game.

Low point from 2013: The season ended well. But it did not start that way. FCS opponent North Dakota State went on an 18-play, 80-yard drive that chewed up 8½ minutes and ended with a touchdown plunge that gave the Bison a stunning 24-21 win in Manhattan.

Best-case scenario for 2014: The Waters-Lockett passing connection becomes one of the best in the country, and the juco additions pan out. The Wildcats ride the momentum from last year and topple Auburn in a home nonconference tilt to set the tone for the rest of the season. K-State goes on to knock off both Oklahoma and Baylor on the road to win the Big 12 title and force the College Football Playoff selection committee to think hard and long about including the Wildcats.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The jucos don’t live up to their billing, leaving K-State with several holes on either side of the ball. Without a good option at running back, the Wildcats are forced to air it out, which gives Snyder indigestion all season. Auburn proves K-State isn’t equipped to hang with the big boys, smashing the Wildcats in Manhattan. K-State struggles along the rest of the season and has to slug out a 6-6 season just to become bowl eligible.

They said it: “My degree of optimism is negotiated daily, I think, and the mantra of our program has always been centered around that daily improvement. And when we make daily improvement, then I become a little more optimistic.” – K-State coach Bill Snyder
This week, we’ve been running dream and nightmare scenarios for teams in the Big 12. In other words, what a season would look like if every single imaginable domino fell into place. And conversely, if everything that could go wrong, well, did.

Next up in the best- and worst-case scenario series: the Kansas State Wildcats:

BEST CASE

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesIf he gets some help, Tyler Lockett could be primed for a remarkable season.
From Michael Bishop to Darren Sproles, there have been some phenomenal playmakers in the Bill Snyder era. But Tyler Lockett becomes the greatest of them all, stringing together a series of games for the ages. Lockett warms up with two touchdown catches in an easy win in Farmageddon. Then, with a Thursday night national ESPN audience tuning in, Lockett crushes Auburn with more than 300 yards receiving, three touchdown catches and a kickoff return touchdown as K-State takes down the defending SEC champs to land the Big 12 its fist marquee victory of the playoff era.

The rest of the offense rounds into form, too. Jake Waters builds off his strong close to last season and comes out even sharper in 2014. He throws just five interceptions all season and fulfills his No. 1 obligation, which is putting the ball on the money to Lockett. True freshman Dalvin Warmack continues the K-State tradition of prolific diminutive rushers, and he quickly takes over as the Wildcats’ featured running back. BJ Finney and Cody Whitehair produce first-team All-Big 12 seasons up front, and juco transfer Andre Davis finally emerges in October as a competent complement at receiver opposite Lockett.

Defensively, Dante Barnett picks up where Ty Zimmerman left off. Ryan Mueller leads the nation with 18 sacks. Travis Britz plugs the middle. And coveted juco transfers D’Vonta Derricott and Terrell Clinkscales lived up to the hype and solidify the rest of the front seven.

On Oct. 18, the 5-0 Powercats head south and knock off Oklahoma in Norman for the second straight time to jump into the top 10 of the polls. The Lockett-train keeps rolling the following week, as he hauls in another three touchdowns in K-State’s 28-point plastering of Texas.

The Powercats take an 11-0 record into the regular-season finale. And this time they don’t falter in Waco, as K-State avenges the loss two years ago with a 44-41 victory over Baylor in a showdown that decides the Big 12 championship.

Still, all good things must come to an end, and the magic runs out in the first round of the inaugural playoff, as K-State can’t pull off the Yellowhammer sweep with a heartbreaking defeat to Alabama.

With 19 touchdowns, Lockett places third in the Heisman voting. Snyder signs the nation’s five-best juco recruits. Daniel Sams quarterbacks McNeese State to an upset of Nebraska in the opener. Kansas basketball gets bounced from the first round of the NCAA tournament.

WORST CASE

K-State can’t harness the momentum that it finished with last fall and opens the season sloppy again. Waters starts throwing interceptions, and with no Sams to turn to for a spark, the Wildcats lose in Farmageddon for just the first time since 2007. The Thursday night clash with Auburn offers an opportunity to get the season back on the track. But K-State is never in the game, and with no other receiver commanding attention, the Tigers limit Lockett to just two catches.

As a freshman, Warmack isn’t ready yet, and the rushing attack turns out to be a disaster. After Finney and Whitehair, the offensive line has three gaping holes. Derricott and Clinkscales fail to break into the starting lineup, and the Wildcats desperately miss Zimmerman’s calming presence at the back end.

After falling to Texas Tech and Oklahoma back-to-back, the Wildcats get off to another 2-4 start. But this time, they can’t rally the rest of the way. Texas overpowers the Wildcats with 300 yards on the ground, and two weeks later, TCU’s powerful defense shuts them out in Fort Worth.

The Wildcats hobble into Waco needing a win to become bowl-eligible. Instead, they end the season with a 40-point humiliation.

Snyder decides he’s done with coaching and retires. The Wildcats don’t sign a single top 50-juco player. Nebraska makes the playoffs. Kansas basketball goes back to the Final Four.

Previous posts

June 16: Baylor
June 17: Iowa State
June 18: Kansas
Days after last season ended, we released a Way-Too-Early 2014 Big 12 power poll. Following the many developments of signing day and spring practice, we’ve updated the poll:

1. Oklahoma Sooners (previous rank – 1): With the bulk of its defense coming back and the league’s most experienced offensive line, Oklahoma gets the top spot. Yet despite the preseason hype coming off the trouncing of Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, this is not a team without questions. No returning running back had more than 23 carries last year. No returning receiver (outside Sterling Shepard) had more than 13 catches. And though he torched the Crimson Tide, quarterback Trevor Knight has only five career starts and has been prone to getting nicked. That said, there’s plenty of young talent at the skill positions. If a few of those players emerge, and Knight builds off his Sugar Bowl performance, this could be a team that contends for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

2. Baylor Bears (2): Baylor won the 2013 Big 12 title without a player selected in the first four rounds of the NFL draft over the weekend. That speaks to the talent the Bears have back in quarterback Bryce Petty, wideout Antwan Goodley and left tackle Spencer Drango. It’s also not unthinkable that Baylor could lead the nation in scoring again. Petty should be even sharper in his second season as the starter. And running back Johnny Jefferson and receiver Corey Coleman seem primed to make an impact as the next wave of prolific Baylor playmakers. The defense will ultimately determine whether the Bears can defend their crown. The back seven is a work in progress. But Art Briles believes he will have a dominating defensive line. If so, Baylor could become the league’s first repeat champ since 2008.

3. Kansas State Wildcats (3): After rebounding to win six of its final seven games to end last season -- including destroying Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, K-State carried plenty of momentum into the offseason. With only 10 returning starters, there are some holes that need to be filled. But the Wildcats feature some of the best returning standouts in the league in quarterback Jake Waters, wideout Tyler Lockett and defensive end Ryan Mueller. If highly touted juco transfers Terrell Clinkscales, D'Vonta Derricott and Danzel McDaniel successfully step into some of those voids defensively, and an adequate successor to outgoing running back John Hubert surfaces, the Wildcats will have a say in the conference race.

4. Texas Longhorns (4): Discerning what team to rank fourth was the most difficult part of putting this list together. A case could be made here for Texas Tech, Oklahoma State or even TCU with its returning defense. But I couldn’t shake the memory of Texas obliterating both the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs last year while starting Case McCoy at quarterback. Given all the turnover Oklahoma State has, the Longhorns ultimately got the slight nod at fourth. With veterans littering the roster, Texas is solid pretty much everywhere -- well, everywhere except quarterback. But if the Longhorns can get anything out of the position -- David Ash? Max Wittek? Jerrod Heard? -- they could be a load in Charlie Strong’s debut season.

5. Texas Tech Red Raiders (6): The Red Raiders climbed a spot thanks to the rapid development of sophomore quarterback Davis Webb. Including the National University Holiday Bowl and Tech’s three open spring scrimmages, Webb tossed 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. With added weight and swelling confidence, Webb has been performing like an all-conference-caliber quarterback since the bowl game. Webb will have plenty of big-play weapons to operate with and his protection should be better, as well, with 75 career starts returning along the offensive line. Whether Tech truly emerges as a dark-horse contender, though, hinges on whether its four juco defensive linemen can remedy an ailing run defense that ranked ninth in the league last year.

6. Oklahoma State Cowboys (5): After getting picked in 2010 by some to finish last in the Big 12 South, Oklahoma State reeled off 11 wins. Two years ago, the Cowboys got no love in the preseason again, and won eight games with three different quarterbacks. The recent track record in Stillwater suggests this is not a team to overlook in 2014. But if the Cowboys are going to surprise again, they’ll have to do so with a host of new faces. One reason for optimism is junior quarterback J.W. Walsh, who this spring rekindled his freshman form, when he led the entire Big 12 in Adjusted QBR. The Cowboys love Walsh’s toughness and leadership. If he can recapture the throwing accuracy that escaped him last season, Oklahoma State could be a factor.

7. TCU Horned Frogs (7): The biggest development for the Horned Frogs this offseason occurred after the spring when they added Matt Joeckel. The Texas A&M quarterback transfer, who will be eligible this season, is familiar with the offense new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie installed this spring, and could give TCU just the jolt it needs at quarterback. The other big development this spring was the reemergence of 2012 AP Big 12 Defensive Player of Year Devonte Fields, who had a nightmare 2013 season. If Fields returns to wreaking havoc off the edge defensively, and Joeckel gives the offense above average quarterback play, TCU could finally be a force in its third year in the Big 12.

8. West Virginia Mountaineers (9): Dana Holgorsen is not lacking offensive firepower, with the league’s deepest running back stable and the entire receiving corps returning. With seven starters back on the other side, the defense has a chance to be much improved in the new Tony Gibson/Tom Bradley regime, too. West Virginia, however, gained little clarity about the quarterback position this spring, with Clint Trickett recovering from shoulder surgery and the other contenders failing to make a move up the depth chart. To challenge to finish in the top half of the Big 12, the Mountaineers will have to get more out of their quarterback than they did last year -- regardless of the other pieces.

9. Iowa State Cyclones (8): Buoyed by a new play-caller and 10 returning starters, Iowa State could boast its best offense since Seneca Wallace was behind center over a decade ago. Mark Mangino has a proven track record as a coordinator, and plenty of weapons to utilize in running back Aaron Wimberly, wideout Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs. The offensive line is seasoned, and sophomore Grant Rohach might finally be Iowa State’s long-term answer at quarterback following a strong spring. The defense, however, is an even bigger question mark coming out of the spring. Projected starting linemen Rodney Coe and David Irving were dismissed and safety Devron Moore left after getting homesick. The Cyclones had been stout defensively under Paul Rhoads and coordinator Wally Burnham up until last season, when they ranked last in the league.

10. Kansas Jayhawks (10): Coming out of the spring, the Jayhawks have some definite strengths they can point to, notably linebacker Ben Heeney and cornerback Dexter McDonald. Elsewhere, Kansas still has catching up to do before breaking out of the cellar. At least now the Jayhawks have a long-term quarterback to build around in sophomore Montell Cozart, who was named the starter after shining in the spring game.

2014 Big 12 recruiting draft: Round 2

May, 8, 2014
5/08/14
3:30
PM ET
Earlier this afternoon, we began the 2014 Big 12 recruiting draft with Round 1. We continue the draft with Round 2:

1. Kansas -- DE Derick Roberson
Signed with: Texas
Brandon Chatmon: With Jerrod Heard secured as the face of the offense, let’s get someone to be the face of the defense. The lanky, athletic defensive end could develop into a terror for opposing defenses, and his natural pass rush skills would help him make an immediate impact on the Jayhawks’ defensive front.

2. Iowa State -- DT Terrell Clinkscales
Signed with: Kansas State
Jake Trotter: I actually thought about taking Clinkscales with Iowa State's first pick, so I'm thrilled I was able to still grab him here with the Cyclones' second selection. After booting two DTs during the spring, Iowa State is in major need of immediate impact in the position. As one of the top juco DTs in the country, Clinkscales is just what the doctor would have ordered in Ames.

3. West Virginia -- CB Dravon Henry
Signed with: West Virginia
Chatmon: Obviously, I think coach Dana Holgorsen and Co. did a great job on the recruiting trail with my selection of back-to-back WVU signees in the first two rounds. With Daryl Worley on one side and Henry on the other, the Mountaineers could have the Big 12’s top cornerback duo in the near future. In a league that likes to spread you out and expose weak links in the secondary, great cornerback play can be the difference.

4. TCU -- OLB Edwin Freeman
Signed with: Texas
Max Olson: This selection makes a lot of sense when you remember that Freeman's former high school coach, Kenny Perry, is now the cornerbacks coach for the Horned Frogs. TCU made a run at Freeman, who ended up choosing Texas over Texas A&M, and he fits in well with this defense. He likes playing safety, but Freeman's future is probably at linebacker and he could've been a darn good for TCU.

5. Texas Tech -- DT Poona Ford
Signed with: Texas
Trotter: After ranking ninth in the Big 12 in rushing defense, and after graduating its top two D-linemen from last season in Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech needs some beef. As the only ESPN 300 DT to sign in the Big 12, Ford would bring the beef. He would also eventually give Tech the inside presence it so desperately needs defensively.

6. Kansas State -- LB Kyron Watson
Signed with: Kansas
Chatmon: The Wildcats' defense was missing an impact linebacker in the mold of Arthur Brown a season ago. Watson can fill that void. He’s versatile enough to play inside or outside and has the speed and instincts to make plays from sideline to sideline. And he’d be a special teams demon for Bill Snyder’s squad. Watson is a no-brainer for the Wildcats’ pick.

7. Texas -- WR Armanti Foreman
Signed with: Texas
Olson: Heartbroken over losing out on Ford at this spot, and with few elite defenders left on the board, the Longhorns reluctantly go the receiver route and take the highest-rated one on the board. Foreman is the choice over Allen Lazard simply because he's capable of starring as either a wideout or as a cornerback, the spot where he earned all-state honors in 2013.

8. Oklahoma State -- QB Justice Hansen
Signed with: Oklahoma
Trotter: With Mason Rudolph, Jerrod Heard and William Crest gone, the Cowboys grab the final ESPN 300 QB on the board in Hansen, whose size and mobility makes for a good fit in Stillwater. I foresee many Hansen-to-K.D. Cannon TDs coming to Boone Pickens Stadium.

9. Oklahoma -- WR Lamar Parker
Signed with: West Virginia
Chatmon: The undersized Parker (5-8, 155 pounds) reminds me of Jalen Saunders. Much like the former OU receiver, Parker would bring speed, competitiveness and return ability to the Sooners. With OU's increased focus on the running game, Parker would provide a big-play threat to keep defenses honest.

10. Baylor -- RB Samaje Perine
Signed with: Oklahoma
Olson: Baylor thinks very highly of the running back it did sign, Terence Williams, and he'd be a fine pick here. But it's too tempting to go with Perine, a bruising power back who would bring a lot of muscle to the run game that loses Lache Seastrunk. Though he didn't hold an offer from BU in real life, Perine would be the thunder to the Bears' lighting pass game, a great short-yardage option early on. He's absolutely ripped now, but imagine what strength coach Kaz Kazadi could do with him.
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Monday with defensive line. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWith a healthy and productive Devonte Fields this fall, TCU's defensive line could be an elite unit.
1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 2): Devonte Fields appears to be back, which is a scary proposition for the rest of the Big 12. The 2012 Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year basically had a fruitless sophomore campaign, which ended with season-ending foot surgery. But this spring, defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas noted that Fields was making the plays he did as a freshman All-American. Even without Fields, this would be a good D-line, headlined by veteran tackles Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson. But with Fields playing up to his potential, this line could be elite.

2. Oklahoma (1): Not only did the Sooners return the entire line that destroyed Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, they’ve added three redshirt freshmen who are clamoring for playing time. Charles Walker is the most athletic tackle on the roster, and he ran the fastest tackle 40 time (4.67 seconds) of the Bob Stoops era. Tackle Matt Romar quietly emerged this spring and could be on the verge of taking away snaps from some of the veterans inside. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo showed this spring he's yet another Sooner capable of getting to the quarterback off the edge. There's a debate on the best D-line in the league. There’s no debate on the deepest, with Oklahoma capable of going three-deep across the board.

3. Baylor (6): Coach Art Briles believes he has one of the best defensive lines in the country, and there's reason to believe he might be right. The Bears made the biggest jump on this list, thanks to the development of end Shawn Oakman and emergence of tackle Javonte Magee. Briles called the 6-foot-9 Oakman “unblockable” during the spring. Oakman already flashed plenty of potential last season as a sophomore, finishing sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss. Magee, who might be the most highly-touted high school defender Briles has ever signed, sat out his freshman season while dealing with a personal issue. But he established himself this spring and could beat out returning starter Beau Blackshear. With former four-star signee Andrew Billings (who played as a true freshman) also poised for a big year at the other tackle spot, Briles could indeed be proven correct in the fall.

4. Texas (3): The Longhorns boast two of the league’s blue-chip defensive linemen in end Cedric Reed and tackle Malcom Brown. But whether this unit rises to the top of the league will hinge on the supporting cast. If athletic end Shiro Davis and run-stuffing tackle Desmond Jackson play up to their potential, and the Longhorns can get a boost from incoming freshmen Derick Roberson and Poona Ford, this could be a foundational positional unit in Charlie Strong’s first season.

5. Kansas State (4): Like Texas, the Wildcats have two blue-chip pieces returning up front in All-Big 12 end Ryan Mueller and tackle Travis Britz. They’re banking they’ll soon be adding a third in Terrell Clinkscales, who will be arriving to Manhattan shortly. Clinkscales, whom the Wildcats snatched away from Nebraska, was the nation’s No. 4-rated juco DT, and at 315 pounds, could be the run-stuffer K-State currently lacks.

6. Oklahoma State (5): With so much turnover elsewhere, the Cowboys will be counting on their line to be their anchor defensively. There’s reason to believe it could be that and more. Sam Wren received votes for Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year last season, while Emmanuel Ogbah garnered consideration for Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Throw in promising redshirt freshmen Vili Leveni, Ben Hughes and Vincent Taylor, who all showed signs this spring they might be ready to contribute, along with veterans James Castleman, Ofa Hautau and Jimmy Bean, and Oklahoma State could have the anchor up front it needs while the rest of the defense retools.

7. West Virginia (7): This will probably be the weakest area of West Virginia defense, but with their talent at linebacker, the Mountaineers don’t have to be great up front. Dontrill Hyman, Christian Brown and Kyle Rose are currently the starters coming out of the spring. But the player to watch up front is sophomore Darrien Howard, who rapidly progressed since having his redshirt pulled late in 2013. If Howard develops into an impact player, he could give the Mountaineers a huge jolt up front.

8. Texas Tech (9): The Red Raiders tried to get by this spring while awaiting the horde of defensive line help set to arrive this summer. All told, the Red Raiders signed four juco D-linemen, only one of which – Keland McElrath -- enrolled early (McElrath was hobbled by a stress fracture all spring to boot). To be better up front, Tech, which ranked ninth in run defense last fall, will need at least a couple of its juco transfers to hit.

9. Kansas (10): Keon Stowers quietly has become as one of the better tackles in the league. He was the defensive MVP of Kansas' spring game after collecting eight tackles from his defensive tackle spot, and he was voted captain for a second straight year. Stowers and linebacker Ben Heeney will lead a defense that returns nine starters and could surprise after gaining confidence from playing Oklahoma and Texas tough last season.

10: Iowa State (8): The Cyclones took it on the chin this spring, with projected D-line starters Rodney Coe and David Irving both getting kicked off the team. Iowa State got a boost shortly after spring ball ended when 2013 starting tackle Brandon Jensen changed his mind about leaving the team. The Cyclones should be solid at end with Cory Morrissey and Mitchell Meyers, but even with Jensen’s return, interior line depth is a major concern.

Kansas State spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
5/01/14
9:30
AM ET
Three things we learned in the spring about the Kansas State Wildcats

1. The defense will be better: On its way to claiming the 2012 Big 12 title, K-State boasted the top defense in the league. After some shaky moments last season, the Wildcats should be stout again defensively, led by all-conference defensive end Ryan Mueller.

2. Jake Waters is a confident QB: Waters’ first start at K-State ended in a loss to FCS opponent North Dakota State. Waters, however, improved rapidly throughout the season, leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games. Waters looked even more confident this spring, capped with a crisp spring game outing in which he didn’t even have favorite target Tyler Lockett.

3. The offensive line should be solid: K-State graduated both offensive tackles from last year’s line, but quickly solidified those holes this spring. All-Big 12 guard Cody Whitehair swung to left tackle, while juco transfer Luke Hayes immediately stepped in and took over right tackle. With B.J. Finney manning center for a fourth year in a row, the Wildcats could field one of the league’s top lines.

Three questions for the fall

1. Can Daniel Sams help as a WR? After watching the last few games last season from the sideline, the former QB requested a position change in the offseason. Sams had only 9 yards receiving in the spring game and remains a work in progress as a receiver. But if he settles into his new role, he could be a factor again offensively.

2. Who will be the featured running back? The Wildcats went into the spring hoping to uncover a replacement for three-year starter John Hubert. But Jarvis Leverett, Charles Jones and DeMarcus Robinson couldn't separate, leaving the competition cloudy heading into the fall – and the door open for highly touted incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack to make a run at the job.

3. Will the jucos produce? Bill Snyder has a track record of relying on juco signees, and this year is no different. Hayes and cornerback Danzel McDaniel both made an impression in the spring, and coveted defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales and linebacker D'Vonta Derricott will be arriving in the summer. To contend for the Big 12 title, K-State needs the bulk of its juco class to produce.

One way-too-early prediction

Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns and averaged 9 yards per carry his final two seasons at Blue Springs (Mo.) High School, will take over as K-State’s primary running back before October.

Spring game preview: Kansas State

April, 25, 2014
4/25/14
2:00
PM ET
Kansas State will conclude spring ball in the Big 12 with its spring game Saturday.

Here’s a closer look:

When: 1:10 p.m. CT Saturday

Where: Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kan.

What to watch for:
  • QB Jake Waters: Waters finished out 2013 on fire after struggling in his first few career FBS starts. Now, Waters – and his teammates – say his confidence level is night and day from where it was last season. Saturday will provide a glimpse of just how far he’s come along.
  • Daniel Sams’ new spot: The former dual-threat quarterback requested and was granted the opportunity to try out at receiver this spring. So far the results have been positive, according to coach Bill Snyder. Sams can be dynamic with the ball in his hands and could give the K-State attack a major boost by finding a way back onto the field.
  • The running backs: This position group is biggest question on the roster, and it could gain a little clarity with a big performance. So far, neither Jarvis Leverett, Charles Jones nor DeMarcus Robinson has separated in the competition to replace three-year starter John Hubert. With blue-chip freshman Dalvin Warmack set to join the fray in the summer, the spring game will be a big chance for one of the backs to make his mark.
  • Juco impact: Once again, Snyder dipped heavily into the juco ranks to replenish his roster. Three of those players – receiver Andre Davis, offensive tackle Luke Hayes and cornerback Danzel McDaniel – signed early and will be on full display Saturday. Hayes has been particularly impressive and could be on the verge of locking down a starting role. Davis and McDaniel could eventually become starters, too.
  • Defensive newcomers: The Wildcats return four key players defensively in All-Big 12 end Ryan Mueller, second-team all-conference tackle Travis Britz, linebacker Jonathan Truman and safety and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl defensive MVP Dante Barnett. But that leaves seven other spots for the taking. The Wildcats have some highly touted jucos joining the team in the summer, notably tackle Terrell Clinkscales and outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott. But the spring game will provide up-and-coming defenders such as cornerback Morgan Burns and linebacker Charmeachealle Moore to build confidence and show what they can do.
It’s Take Two Tuesday again, when we give our takes on a burning question in the league.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of jumping up and challenging Big 12 favorites Baylor and Oklahoma for the conference crown?

Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas

Oklahoma and Baylor should both be considered top-10 squads in 2014, there’s no dispute about that. They’re in terrific shape going forward. But the way this league is set up, it’s hard to see either emerging undefeated by December.

The team best built to challenge them is Texas, at least on paper. Remember, for all its flaws in 2013, the Longhorns were two quarters away from winning the Big 12 despite major injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. They lose key pieces, but could come back better than expected.

That’s because there’s a new sheriff in town. Charlie Strong is dedicated to changing the mentality of this program and bringing back the toughness and accountability that went missing in recent years. He put together an impressive staff and brought in a revered strength coach. This program is undergoing big changes.

And there’s enough talent on board to sustain another run at a conference title. Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson will build an offense around the run game trio of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron, and there’s good depth at receiver and on the line. What Texas needs most is a full year from David Ash, but Max Wittek seems likely to become the insurance option there.

If Texas is going to challenge the league favorites, it’ll be with a defense that brings back leaders at all three levels (Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, Quandre Diggs) and is full of experienced talent. This is a unit that will line up a bunch of different ways and cause a lot of problems.

Revamping this Texas program will take time, but the Longhorns could have enough to make another run in 2014.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters was one of the nation's most effective quarterbacks during the second half of last season.
The Longhorns certainly have the talent and supporting cast to seriously compete for a Big 12 title. But until they find the answer at quarterback -- and I’m dubious they will in Strong’s first season – it’s hard to see them doing so.

The Kansas State Wildcats have no such issues. And they too have the surrounding cast to make a run at the Bears and Sooners for the league championship.

After struggling early, Jake Waters settled in at quarterback the last half of the season and cut talented playmaker Daniel Sams out of the rotation. From Oct. 26 on, Waters produced the 13th-best Adjusted QBR in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Info, while leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games (he threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns in the lone loss, too).

Besides Waters, K-State also boasts one of the top wide receivers in the nation in the uncoverable Tyler Lockett, who had the third-most receiving yards in college football during the same Oct. 26-on stretch.

On the other side, Bill Snyder replenished his defense with a trio of ESPN JC 50 signees in defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott and cornerback Danzel McDaniel, who should fill the slots in the lineup where the Wildcats have holes.

K-State will have to earn its way into the conference title chase, with road trips to both Baylor and Oklahoma. But K-State gets the Longhorns in the Little Apple, where it hasn’t lost to Texas since 2002.

The Wildcats also get defending national runner-up Auburn in Manhattan, Kan., earlier in September. If they topple the Tigers in that Thursday night clash, the rest of the Big 12 will quickly realize that K-State is a legitimate contender.
Kansas State will be the last Big 12 team to open spring drills, with its first practice not coming until April 2. We cap our Big 12 spring primers by previewing what to look for from the Wildcats when they kick off spring ball:

[+] EnlargeDante Barnett
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsDante Barnett had four interceptions as a sophomore.
Offensive returner ready to take next step: Quarterback Jake Waters’ career at Kansas State got off to a rough start. The K-State offense sputtered in the junior college transfer’s first start, as FCS power North Dakota State toppled the Wildcats in Manhattan. By late October, however, Waters was a completely different player. He forced Bill Snyder to abandon the two-QB system with Daniel Sams, and led the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games. During that stretch, Waters threw 14 touchdown passes to just four interceptions. With a year of experience, he should only be better in 2014.

Defensive returner ready to take the next step: The Wildcats lose one of the best safeties in the country in All-Big 12 performer Ty Zimmerman. But they also have been grooming his heir, Dante Barnett, who broke into the starting lineup at safety as a sophomore last season. Barnett was third on the team with 75 tackles (one more than Zimmerman) and led the Wildcats with four interceptions. He has the talent to become K-State’s next cornerstone in the defensive backfield.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Nick Ramirez was the top signee from the 2013 recruiting class, but redshirted with seniors Tre Walker and Blake Slaughter manning two of the spots at linebacker. With Walker and Slaughter now gone, Ramirez will have a chance to jump into the rotation -- if not earn a starting spot.

Most significant position battle: The biggest unknown on the offense is who will replace three-year starter John Hubert at running back. No returning running back had more than five carries last season, leaving this battle wide open. DeMarcus Robinson and Jarvis Leverett will likely split carries this spring, but they’ll have to produce to avoid being mere placeholders for highly touted incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, who will join the team in the summer.

Key midterm enrollee: With Tramaine Thompson gone, the Wildcats need a new wideout complement to All-American candidate Tyler Lockett. K-State might have found just that player in junior college transfer Andre Davis, who is already on campus. He was ranked the No. 36 overall juco recruit in the country. Davis has the kind of burst that allows him to blow by defenders downfield. With defenses sure to be keyed on Lockett next season, Davis could have plenty of opportunities against single coverage.

Question that could be answered: Spring ball will give the Wildcats the opportunity to experiment with Sams, who essentially fell out of the rotation at quarterback the last month of the season. Still, Sams has tremendous playmaking potential, underscored by his 199-rushing-yard, three-touchdown performance against Baylor. Sams could still be useful as a situational quarterback. But he is also too talented to spend the rest of games watching Waters on the sidelines. Sams could boost the K-State receiving corps. He could also command a few carries a game at running back. Whatever the case, the Wildcats should exit the spring knowing how they’ll be able to unleash Sams in 2014.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: Even though Davis, offensive tackle Luke Hayes and cornerback Danzel McDaniel will be with the team this spring, the Wildcats won’t know until the fall just how big the juco impact will be in 2014. It could be significant. Davis, Hayes and McDaniel could all turn into starters. But more starters from his juco class could be on the way. Defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales was a four-star recruit who flipped from Nebraska late in the recruiting process. Outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott was also one of top 50 juco recruits in the country. Both players could nail down starting spots and become impact performers. There are others who could help the team in 2014, too. This could prove to be one of the best juco classes Bill Snyder has ever signed. But that won’t be clear until after the entire class gets to campus.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: DL

February, 24, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Monday with defensive line. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the defensive lines at the moment:

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesOklahoma end Charles Tapper will lead the Big 12's best defensive line in 2014.
1. Oklahoma: D-line began as a weakness but quickly turned into a strength under first-year position coach Jerry Montgomery. End Charles Tapper was an All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore, and tackle Jordan Phillips was on his way to earning similar honors before a back injury ended his season prematurely. Both players are back. So is Geneo Grissom, who had three sacks in the bowl win over Alabama. Nose guard Jordan Wade earned a starting role late in 2013, and Chuka Ndulue will be a starter for a third season. Basically, the entire rotation returns. If Phillips rebounds from the injury, this could prove to be Oklahoma’s finest D-line since 2009, when NFL All-Pro Gerald McCoy roamed the middle.

2. TCU: DE Devonte Fields, the Associated Press’ Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman in 2012, had an empty season in 2013 thanks to a suspension, then a season-ending foot injury. If Fields can return to the player he was, TCU will be formidable up front. Chucky Hunter was a second-team All-Big 12 pick inside last season, and he’ll be flanked by an array of experienced tackles in Davion Pierson and Tevin Lawson, who were all part of the rotation last season. Ends Terrell Lathan, James McFarland and Mike Tuaua, who combined for 11 sacks in 2013, all return as well. Even with DT Jon Lewis giving up football, TCU's D-line figures to be as deep as any in the league.

3. Texas: Cedric Reed, one of the best sack men in the Big 12 last season, returns after giving the NFL a cursory thought. The Longhorns have to replace Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat on the other side, but ESPN 300 recruit Derick Roberson, the No. 8 DE in the Class of 2014, could help right away. The Longhorns should also be stout inside, with run-stuffing tackles Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson back to clog the middle.

4. Kansas State: Ryan Mueller, who was eighth nationally with 11.5 sacks last season, comes back after a breakout All-Big 12 season. Travis Britz is an all-conference-caliber tackle and gives K-State one of the better one-two punches on the D-line in the league. Joining them will be Terrell Clinkscales, who was the No. 4 junior college DT in the 2014 class. The Wildcats pried Clinkscales away from Nebraska, and at 315 pounds he could be the perfect complement to Britz, who relies more on quickness.

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
John Rivera/Icon SMIBaylor defensive end Shawn Oakman will play a bigger role next season.
5. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose two-time All-Big 12 tackle Calvin Barnett. James Castleman, however, will be a three-year starter, and end Jimmy Bean had a career night in the Cotton Bowl with three tackles for loss. The key to the Cowboys fielding one of the better lines in the league again will be whether Ben Hughes, Vincent Taylor and/or Vili Leveni can emerge inside after redshirting in 2013. All three are promising prospects, especially Taylor, who was an ESPN 300 recruit in the 2013 class.

6. Baylor: The Bears feature two of the more intriguing defensive linemen in the league. DE Shawn Oakman, a former Penn State transfer with tremendous length at 6-foot-9, finished sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss last season, but he tailed off in Big 12 play. Baylor will ask him to play a much bigger role along the line, and he has the potential to give the Bears a unique playmaker there. On the inside, Baylor will lean more on Andrew Billings, who was part of the DT rotation as a freshman. If both Billings and Oakman play up to their vast potential, Baylor could be a handful up front.

7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose two of three starters along the D-line, including second-team All-Big 12 end Will Clarke. West Virginia is hoping for big things from DE Kyle Rose, who played a lot as a sophomore. Dontrill Hyman will likely fill a starting role on the other side, though he could get pushed for time by Eric Kinsey and Noble Nwachukwu, who both will be in their third year in the program. The Mountaineers will lean on Christian Brown and Darrien Howard at nose guard. Howard was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and played as a freshman. There’s some talent and potential here.

8. Iowa State: Like Texas Tech, Iowa State loaded up on immediate defensive line help, signing three juco defensive ends in Dalyou Pierson, Terry Ayeni and Gabe Luna, who is enrolled already for spring ball. Those three together with All-Big 12 honorable-mention selection Cory Morrissey and sophomore Mitchell Meyers should give Iowa State a solid rotation at end. Rodney Coe, who started the last four games, will anchor the Cyclones inside.

9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose their two best defensive linemen in Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush, and Tech got pushed around up front anyway last season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury recognized this deficiency and signed four juco defensive linemen, all of whom have a chance to play immediately. Of the returning linemen, Branden Jackson was by far the most productive, totaling nine tackles for loss and four sacks as a starter.

10. Kansas: Despite also losing two starters, the Jayhawks have experience up front. Defensive captain Keon Stowers is back after manning the middle in 2013. Ben Goodman returns as well in Kansas’ “buck” role, and he is coming off a very solid sophomore season. Goodman’s backup, Michael Reynolds, and rotation players Tedarian Johnson and Ty McKinney give the Jayhawks depth.
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.

Big 12 recruiting roundtable 

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

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

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

Biggest flips: Big 12 

February, 3, 2014
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On Wednesday, many of the top stars of the 2014 recruiting class will transition from being college commits to college signees. Don’t be surprised if a last-minute flip or two occurs, as committed athletes will use these final hours to re-examine their choices and weigh them against new possibilities one last time.

Flipping is common in recruiting, and the Big 12 this year has had its share of players leaving for other conferences, as well as players choosing to play in the Big 12 after originally picking another conference. Here are five players who flipped to Big 12 programs and could have an impact on the college level sooner than later.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

January, 20, 2014
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The first weekend after the dead period was expected to be a wild one. It didn’t disappoint.

The Big 12 saw multiple players take official visits, and several players either announced their verbal commitments or flipped their pledges to different schools. The first of what is anticipated to be three busy weekends came to a conclusion late Sunday night.

Here are some of this past week’s highlights:


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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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