Big 12: Tevin Reese

Last weekend, the Big 12 had 17 players get taken in the NFL draft. Wonder how they got there? Well, we went back and pulled the ESPN scouting reports on those players while they were still just in high school. Some were highly touted, and lived up to their potential. Some defied the odds.

CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: Cleveland Browns (No. 8 overall)
Ranking: No. 39 ATH
What our scouts said then: “Gilbert is a dual-threat quarterback. ... is a player that will likely be moved to wide receiver or safety. He is a gifted athlete with good football awareness and an athlete that has his best football ahead of him. ... once he commits to the position full time at the next level.”
What happened: Gilbert quickly found a new position at cornerback, and was one of the best at that position in the country last year.

[+] EnlargeJason Verrett
AP Photo/Craig RuttleTCU CB Jason Verrett had no offers coming out of high school but developed into the Chargers' first-round pick
CB Jason Verrett, TCU: San Diego Chargers (No. 25)
Ranking: Unranked
What our scouts said then: No report
What happened: Verrett graduated high school as a running back with no stars and no offers. At juco, the coaching staff moved him to the secondary, setting the stage for him to become one of the best cornerbacks in college football.

TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech: New York Jets (No. 49)
Ranking: No. 28 TE
What our scouts said then: “Amaro is a productive receiving tight end. He has good size and appears on film to have the frame to be able to add more good bulk with time in a college weight program. He will play and block from an in-line position, but at this point it seems the strength of his game is a receiver. Can be a productive receiver.”
What happened: Well, Amaro added 30 pounds of bulk and became one of the most productive receiving tight ends in college football history.

RB Charles Sims, West Virginia: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 69)
Ranking: No. 114 RB
What our scouts said then: “If a college program is patient with Sims' development, they are going to get a future workhorse in the backfield. Hands are soft adding to his upside as a future featured back. Potential sleeper on the national scene as well and could blow up with a big senior season and added size prior to next fall.”
What happened: At Houston, Sims was named the Conference USA Freshman of the Year after rushing for nine touchdowns. His final year, he transferred to West Virginia to raise his pro profile. Displaying those “soft hands” out of the backfield, Sims led all Big 12 running backs in receiving.

DE Will Clarke, West Virginia: Cincinnati Bengals (No. 88)
Ranking: Unranked
What our scouts said then: No report
What happened: Clarke committed to rival Pitt, but never signed there. Instead, in late March, he faxed his letter-of-intent to West Virginia. Clarke became a three-year starter at defensive end, and the first and only Big 12 defensive lineman to get taken in the draft.

WR Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma: New York Jets (No. 104)
Ranking: Unranked
What our scouts said then: No report
What happened: After two banner seasons at Fresno State, Saunders transferred to OU and became one of the Sooners’ top playmakers. He had 1,136 all-purpose yards as a senior, and helped fuel OU’s late surge to the 2013 season.

CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma: Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 114)
Ranking: No. 40 S
What our scouts said then: “Colvin should be a very solid safety at the next level especially from the strong position and be a very solid zone pass defender.”
What happened: Colvin played a key part in the OU secondary for four seasons. He would have been a higher pick had it not been for a knee injury he suffered in the Senior Bowl.

OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor: Buffalo Bills (No. 153)
Ranking: No. 64 OT
What our scouts said then: “Great size and a large wing span which can be beneficial especially in pass protection. Wins most battles at the line of scrimmage when base and drive blocking. Richardson should develop into a very good tackle at the next level.”
What happened: Richardson actually settled in as one of the elite power-blocking guards in college football, and became an Outland finalist as a senior. Richardson didn’t have the best pre-draft workouts, but he’ll have a chance to play in Buffalo.

ILB Jeremiah George, Iowa State: New York Jets (No. 154)
Ranking: No. 55 OLB
What our scouts said then: “George plays inside linebacker but is a little undersized for the position at the major level of competition. However this is a very active, hard-hitting player with the athleticism we like to see in second level defenders.”
What happened: George never let his size be a hindrance, and had a spectacular senior season, leading the Big 12 in tackles and earning all-conference honors.

[+] EnlargeLache Seastrunk
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsLache Seastrunk was considered one of the nation's best RBs out of high school and lived up to that billing at Baylor.
RB Lache Seastrunk, Baylor: Washington Redskins (No. 186)
Ranking: No. 6 RB (ESPN 150)
What our scouts said then: “Fast, explosive, electric, either way you slice it, Seastrunk is arguably one of this class' biggest game-breakers at the running back position.”
What happened: Seastrunk signed with Oregon, but took off after transferring to Baylor. Despite missing two games to injury, Seastrunk led the Big 12 with 1,117 rushing yards last year.

CB Demetri Goodson, Baylor: Green Bay Packers (No. 197)
Ranking: No. 11 point guard (ESPN 100)
What our scouts said then: “Demetri is a true leader, and has the proper mentality to play the point and run a team. He can really push the ball down the court and he gets wherever he wants with it.”
What happened: After starting two seasons of hoops at Gonzaga, Goodson transferred to Baylor, and found his new calling on the gridiron. He finally broke out as a senior last season, earning the starting nod at cornerback, where he improved with every appearance.

OL Tavon Rooks, Kansas State: New Orleans Saints (No. 202)
Ranking: Unranked
What our scouts said then: No report
What happened: After transferring in from Navarro Junior College, Rooks instantly became a two-year starter at right tackle for K-State.

OLB Will Smith, Texas Tech: Dallas Cowboys (No. 238)
Ranking: Unranked
What our scouts said then: “Smith has large frame and shows promise on film. His taller frame and lack of ideal top-end speed and elusiveness may see him get recruited more at outside linebacker; his measurables could eventually be better suited on defense if his body continues to physically develop. Could be a late bloomer on the recruiting trail.”
What happened: Smith went to Riverside (Calif.) Community College, and indeed became a late bloomer. This past season, he finished second in the league behind George with 120 tackles, and was one of Texas Tech’s most consistent defensive performers all year.

WR Tevin Reese, Baylor: San Diego Chargers (No. 240)
Ranking: Unranked
What our scouts said then: No report
What happened: Reese played for plenty of scouts at Temple (Texas) High School, but only because they came to see his teammate, Seastrunk. Even though Reese was incredibly slight at less than 160 pounds, the Baylor coaching staff loved his explosiveness. He started four games as a true freshman, and eventually became a star in the league.

OLB Corey Nelson, Oklahoma: Denver Broncos (No. 242)
Ranking: No. 3 OLB (ESPN 150)
What our scouts said then: “Nelson may be a bit raw and inexperienced in linebacker play but after watching film on this guy it's hard not to see a special linebacker prospect. A defensive playmaker with the quick-twitched burst and striking short-area power you just can't coach.”
What happened: Nelson played a true freshman, but never really became a full-time starter until his senior year. He had a great first month, then suffered a season-ending pectoral injury.

FB Trey Millard, Oklahoma: San Francisco 49ers (No. 245)
Ranking: No. 59 ATH
What our scouts said then: “Overall, Millard brings a lot to the table physically for a program to mold and develop. Not going to wow you on film ... but grows on you the more you watch and just does a lot of the little things right.”
What happened: On his way to earning all-conference honors three times, Millard did many little things right at OU, whether it was blocking, catching passes or even carrying the ball himself. A senior injury hurt his draft stock, but he’ll have a chance to stick in San Fran.

SS Ahmad Dixon, Baylor: Dallas Cowboys (No. 248)
Ranking: No. 3S (ESPN 150)
What our scouts said then: “Dixon is an exceptional defensive back that really is a prototype free safety. A real hitter that is a true leader by the effort he gives every play.”
What happened: After flirting with Tennessee, Dixon became one of the most high-profile recruits ever to sign with Baylor during the Art Briles era. He became a three-year starter, and last season as an All-American was a key piece on Baylor’s first Big 12 title team.

Big 12 draft recap

May, 10, 2014
May 10
8:30
PM ET
video
Below is a recap of how the Big 12 fared this weekend in the NFL draft. Baylor led the league with five picks, and Texas failed to have a selection for the first time since 1937.

Round 1

[+] EnlargeJustin Gilbert
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesFormer Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert was the top Big 12 player drafted, going at No. 8 to the Cleveland Browns.
CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: Cleveland Browns (8th overall)
Should start immediately opposite Pro Bowl CB Joe Haden.

CB Jason Verrett, TCU: San Diego Chargers (25th)
His aggressive cover corner skills will instantly boost an ailing San Diego secondary.

Round 2

TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech: New York Jets (49th)
The Jets needed weapons for their passing game, and they got a big one here.

Round 3

RB Charles Sims, West Virginia: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (69th)
Pass-catching skills makes him the likely third-down back in Tampa.

DE Will Clarke, West Virginia: Cincinnati Bengals (88th)
If he can develop his frame, he could be a factor down the line.

Round 4

WR Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma: New York Jets (104th)
Brings major playmaking to the slot and the return teams.

CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma: Jacksonville Jaguars (114th)
Would have been a second-round pick if not for the Senior Bowl injury.

Round 5

OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor: Buffalo Bills (153rd)
A mauler who will probably need to trim down to succeed at the next level.

ILB Jeremiah George, Iowa State: New York Jets (154th)
Tackling skills could make him a force on special teams.

Round 6

RB Lache Seastrunk, Baylor: Washington Redskins (186th)
Had to wait a while, but gets to join former Bear RG III in the backfield.

CB Demetri Goodson, Baylor: Green Bay Packers (197th)
The former basketball player has upside that intrigued the Packers.

OL Tavon Rooks, Kansas State: New Orleans Saints (202nd)
It's a mild surprise that he was the first and only K-State alum drafted.

Round 7

OLB Will Smith, Texas Tech: Dallas Cowboys (238th)
Big-time college tackler who will contribute on coverage teams.

WR Tevin Reese, Baylor: San Diego Chargers (240th)
Will be interesting to see if San Diego can take advantage of Reese’s top-end speed.

OLB Corey Nelson, Oklahoma: Denver Broncos (242nd)
Has a nose for the ball and probably would’ve gone higher had it not been for the pectoral injury.

FB Trey Millard, Oklahoma: San Francisco 49ers (245th)
A typical talented 49ers draft pick coming off an injury.

SS Ahmad Dixon, Baylor: Dallas Cowboys (248th)
Brings a physical presence, but improvement in coverage will determine whether he sticks on the defense.
The NFL draft is here.

It all begins tonight at 8 p.m. (ET) and the draft will continue through Saturday. Several Big 12 players should be selected in the next three days, so here is a team-by-team NFL draft primer, which includes each school’s top prospect, one sleeper/value pick and a list of each potential draftee. All projections are courtesy of ESPN Insider's draft board , and the potential draftees listed are players with an ESPN.com Scouts Inc. ranking of 31 or above. All draft projections are listed by day, i.e. Day 1 (Round 1), Day 2 (Rounds 2 and 3) and Day 3 (Rounds 4, 5, 6 and 7).

Baylor

Top prospect: G Cyril Richardson. The Bears’ All-American guard is projected to be an early Day 3 selection and could provide quality depth (or even start) during his first NFL season.

Sleeper pick: WR Tevin Reese. Slated as a late Day 3 selection, Reese could surprise with his speed and take the top off NFL defenses, particularly on a team with a strong running game.

Other potential draftees (projected selection): RB Lache Seastrunk (Day 3), S Ahmad Dixon (Day 3), CB Demetri Goodson (Day 3).

Iowa State

Top prospect: LB Jeremiah George. The Cyclones’ undersized but athletic linebacker didn’t wow scouts with his measurables but it would be unwise to brush him off as a player unable to make an impact on Sundays. He’s projected to go late on Day 3 and could, at the very least, carve out a special teams role.

Sleeper pick: None.

Other potential draftees: None.

Kansas

No Jayhawk is projected to be drafted or has a ESPN.com Scout’s Inc. rating of 31 or above.

Kansas State

Top prospect: S Ty Zimmerman. He was extremely productive during his time at KSU and is projected to go late on Day 3.

Sleeper pick: OT Cornelius Lucas. Projected to be a late Day 3 selection, Lucas would be worth taking a flyer on for most NFL teams due to his mammoth size (6-foot-8, 316 pounds).

Other potential draftees: None.

Oklahoma

Top prospect: CB Aaron Colvin. Projected to come off the board early on Day 3, Colvin would be drafted much higher if he hadn’t torn his ACL during Senior Bowl practices. It’s quite possible some team will eventually get Day 1 or Day 2 production from Colvin if they’re patient with his recovery.

Sleeper pick: FB Trey Millard. Another Sooner coming off an ACL injury, Millard is the type of guy who won’t get any headlines this weekend but will end up playing 10 years in the league as a key contributor on offense and special teams. He projected to be drafted on Day 3.

Other potential draftees: WR Jalen Saunders (Day 3), RB Damien Williams (Day 3), C Gabe Ikard (Day 3).

Oklahoma State

Top prospect: CB Justin Gilbert. Gilbert is projected to go in the first round and is considered one of the top cornerback prospects in the draft. He’s likely to be the first Big 12 player selected.

Sleeper pick: WR Josh Stewart. His physical attributes aren’t going to make NFL scouts drool, but Stewart seems to consistently find ways to make plays and could initially make an impact as a returner. He’s projected to be a late Day 3 selection.

Other potential draftees: None.

TCU

Top prospect: CB Jason Verrett. The elite cover cornerback sits right alongside Gilbert among the draft’s top cornerbacks. He’s projected to join Gilbert as a first-round selection.

Sleeper pick: None.

Other potential draftees: None.

Texas

Top prospect: DE Jackson Jeffcoat. He finished his Texas career with an extremely productive senior season. He’s projected to be an early Day 3 selection.

Sleeper pick: WR Mike Davis. He has a bunch of talent and upside but never really became a difference maker in the Big 12. Davis is projected to be selected on Day 3 and could be a steal if his NFL team can push him to maximize his potential.

Other potential draftees: OG Trey Hopkins (Day 3), DT Chris Whaley (Day 3).

Texas Tech

Top prospect: TE Jace Amaro. The Big 12’s biggest mismatch creator could transition into an individual matchup nightmare in the NFL as well. He’s projected to go early on Day 2 and will give some NFL team a unique weapon.

Sleeper pick: DT Kerry Hyder. The former foundation of the Red Raiders’ defensive line is expected to be drafted late on Day 3. He’s the type of player NFL teams can draft and hope for the best because he does have some NFL traits that could earn him a spot on a roster.

Other potential draftees: None.

West Virginia

Top prospect: HB Charles Sims. It’s quite possible Sims would be projected to go higher if the overall value of running backs as a whole was not trending down. One of the most versatile running back prospects, Sims is projected to be selected on Day 2.

Sleeper pick: DE William Clarke. The lanky defensive end prospect is projected to be drafted early on Day 3. His athleticism and instincts could make in him Saturday steal.

Other potential draftees: None.
K.D. Cannon has Baylor speed. That much is certain.

The nation’s fourth-ranked wide receiver out of Mount Pleasant, Texas, ran the 100-yard dash in 10.37 seconds last weekend, making him one of the fastest seniors in Texas. By the end of May, he’ll be in Waco to begin his career as a Bear and start fighting his way toward a starting job.

This summer, we’re running a series of weekly Q&As with incoming freshmen for every Big 12 school. We'll discuss their recruitment, their game and their goals for 2014. First up is Cannon, the No. 30 recruit in the 2014 ESPN 300.

Are you ready to make the big move away from your small town of Mount Pleasant?

Cannon: I’m really excited to start a new chapter of my life. I think my family is ready to let me go, but then again, I don’t think they are. I mean, they watched me grow so fast.

[+] EnlargeKD Cannon
Tom Hauck for Student SportsSpeedster K.D. Cannon is looking to make an instant impact at Baylor.
Where do you see yourself fitting in with Baylor’s loaded group of receivers?

Cannon: Right now they’ve got me in the slot, so it’s just me and Corey Coleman. We’re in line for that position right now. Levi Norwood is the guy on the other slot, on the same side as Antwan Goodley. I’m expecting to gain some weight and prove to the coaches, show them my talent. I’m just trying to get to that starting position.

Do you see yourself taking over that deep threat role that Tevin Reese had?

Cannon: Definitely. Right now they don’t really have that guy that can go do what T-Reese did. I think I can be that guy coming in, basically be another T-Reese. That’s what I want.

How excited are you to get to work with Bryce Petty?

Cannon: Ah, you know, he’s a future Heisman. He might win the Heisman this year. It’s real exciting. I just thought it was incredible that he thought I was real good, just coming from him, a real good quarterback that throws to a lot of good receivers like T-Reese and Antwuan.

What was it about Kendal Briles, your lead recruiter, that sold you on playing for him?

Cannon: He really treats everybody like you his son. I like that a lot. It’s like a father. He’s a real cool coach who understands what you’re going through and he’s trying to teach you to be a man, too, not just a receiver.

Art Briles liked to give nicknames to all his players. Do you already have one?

Cannon: He calls me "Lucky Man." He’s been calling me that since my sophomore year. "Lucky Man." I don’t know why, but he’s been calling me it out of nowhere. When I went to state track, me and Coach Briles had a bet: If Robbie Rhodes beat me in the 200, I’d commit one day. He beat me. So he’s just called me "Lucky Man" ever since then. I don’t know why.

After you committed, you still took official visits elsewhere. What did you learn?

Cannon: Really just to make sure I made the right decision. I went to Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and I went to Baylor. I just left my last one open, didn’t go anywhere. At those other schools, the coaching staffs really didn’t connect with their players like I thought they would, like Baylor does. Most of those coaching staffs probably know half their players’ names. I really didn’t like that.

Back when your recruiting process started, your favorites were Oklahoma and Texas. In hindsight, are you surprised you ended up with Baylor?

Cannon: Yeah, it kind of is funny. You know Oklahoma was my first offer; I was really stuck on them. Baylor really changed the perception a lot. I really wasn’t feeling Baylor at first because they weren’t all that good, they were just OK. All the sudden they came out of nowhere to be one of the best teams in the country. It changed a lot and I just fell in love with the place.

Back in December, there was a lot of speculation that you and Davion Hall would flip to Texas A&M. Did that come close to happening? Are you excited to play with him?

Cannon: It’s real good playing with Davion, because you know all my high school career I’ve been playing against him, so it’s good to be with him now. And yeah, we talked about (A&M) for a second. If Briles were to leave, we were going to A&M. I’m glad it didn’t happen.

You get to be part of the group that opens up McLane Stadium. What does that mean to you?

Cannon: Oh it’s going to be crazy, that first game of the year. I’m really excited for that. Looking at it, it’s going to be a nice stadium. I’m excited about playing there. (Floyd Casey Stadium) wasn’t a nice stadium, but you know, the crowd kept it going. The crowd made the stadium.

Any predictions for 2014? What do you think this Baylor team can achieve?

Cannon: There’s no telling what we can do. It’s going to be something. It’s going to be something nice. I think right now our goal should be the playoff and showing people we’re here to play.
WACO, Texas – As the story goes, and Phil Bennett likes telling this one, Baylor’s coaching staff held a meeting in the fall of 2011 to discuss bringing in a junior college linebacker.

They pulled up the film from Riverside City College in California. This juco squad had three studs at linebacker.

[+] EnlargePhil Bennett
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBaylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett and the Bears staff take pride in finding under-the-radar gems.
The heavily recruited member of the unit, Zaire Anderson, would sign with Nebraska. Will Smith landed at Texas Tech, where he’d start 24 games and win Holiday Bowl defensive MVP.

But Bennett, Baylor's defensive coordinator, had his eyes on the other guy. When he asked the staff to raise their hands for which one they’d take, the vote was unanimous. They wanted No. 10.

That was Eddie Lackey, a former Division II player whose only offers were Hawaii and New Mexico State. So, naturally, he’d verbally committed to Hawaii. Bennett made him a Bear that December.

“I told him, ‘You better be 6-foot or we’re gonna send your ass home,’” Bennett joked last week. “And how good a player was Eddie Lackey?”

A first-team All-Big 12 player, in fact. Nine other Baylor players earned that honor in 2013, including a former Hurricane Katrina refugee whose only offer was BU (Cyril Richardson), a receiver who weighed 138 pounds in high school (Tevin Reese) and a quarterback who’d been dumped by Tennessee (Bryce Petty).

If that’s not enough proof of Baylor’s impressive knack for evaluating talent, Bennett can tell plenty more stories. Like the time his brother tipped him off to go after running back Shock Linwood, the No. 176-rated athlete from a Class 2A school in Linden, Texas, who eventually flipped from TCU and will likely start for Baylor this fall.

Coach Art Briles says he isn’t one for telling these recruiting tales, but he’s proud of plenty of these finds. When he arrived in Waco in 2008, there was no doubt the job of building the doormat Bears back up would require taking chances on kids in recruiting.

“Those guys are out there,” Briles said last week. “This is a big state with a lot of great football players.”

In those early years of rebuilding, Briles leaned on the relationships built from 20-plus years of coaching Texas high school ball. He has now been a college coach in this state for 15 years. Those bonds can pay off big when he and his coaches go hunting for undiscovered talent.

“We know the state of Texas and the state of Texas knows us,” he said. “They know we’re not going anywhere. I’m not trying to cross the border and not come back. I’m home.”

And while Texas, Texas A&M and the state’s recruiting powers cherry-picked from the best of the best, scooping up the big-name kids on the top-100 lists before the summer had even begun, Baylor was forced to take a different approach. You’ve got to be willing to turn over a lot of rocks, in locales near and far, if the blue-chippers aren’t returning your calls.

In seeking kids who fit their high-speed scheme, Briles and his assistants did lots of projecting. They found the quarterbacks (example: Kendall Wright) who could move to receiver or defensive back, the linebackers who could grow into defensive end, the linemen with developing bodies. They had to take gambles.

“The farther you get away from the center and nose tackle, the harder the prediction gets,” Briles said. “Once you get to the skill people on both sides, it’s tough. We just try to find the guys that fit what we’re looking for. If they have an interest in us and vice versa, we’re all in.”

[+] EnlargeEddie Lackey
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Eddie Lackey, who committed to Hawaii before signing with Baylor, was a key member of the Bears' defense in 2013.
But that’s not enough. Briles says he focuses closely on a kid’s commitment and passion, on the kind of stuff that makes good teammates. And he loves the chip on the shoulder.

“I like a guy that, when you look in his eyes, you can see the steely determination to him,” Briles said. “A guy who really wants to do something.”

They’ve found those kinds of kids from Amarillo to Refugio, from Midland to Texarkana. This spring, nearly 30 percent of Baylor’s players came from the always-fertile Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. A fifth of the spring roster hailed from the Central Texas territory that includes Waco and Austin. Greater Houston-area kids made up a little more than 10 percent.

As for the other 40 percent of the squad? There are more than a dozen transfers, five players from out-of-state schools and, of course, a melting pot of guys from all over Texas. A couple were four-star recruits, but more of them are the sleepers and projects that have fueled Baylor’s rise.

The game changed in 2011 thanks to Robert Griffin III. McLane Stadium and a Big 12 title have made Briles’ pitch even easier today. Petty signed in 2009 and can’t help but marvel at how the roster has transformed since then.

“I’m pretty sure I was the last class that had that problem of saying, ‘Baylor was my only offer. I had to go here,’” he joked. “It’s not that way anymore.”

Now that the big-name recruits are visiting Waco, the staff’s approach will have to change.

“It’s a whole different deal,” Briles said. “Our calls are getting answered, and we’ve got to be careful who we ask now -- 'cause there’s a good chance they might say yes. Got to make sure we’re asking the right ones.”

Still, three of Baylor’s six verbal commitments for 2015 are true athletes who could play a variety of positions next season. It’ll be a smaller-than-usual class, but one that will still feature a few three-star recruits few schools wanted. Those kind of kids made Baylor what it is today.

“Has the door opened for us, and are we getting more of the quote-unquote four- and five-stars? Absolutely,” Bennett said. “We’ll look at them. But the thing I’m proud of is, you’ve got to be a player here.

“If you come here, you’ve got to be a player.”
Twenty-five Big 12 players have been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis Feb. 19-24. The NFL released the invite list Thursday afternoon. The Big 12 players are below:

Quarterbacks
  • None
Running backs
Fullbacks
Tight ends
Wide receivers
Offensive linemen
Defensive linemen
Linebackers
Defensive backs
Long snapper
Kicker
Punter
  • None
Notable omissions:
Our series on the 25 best players in the Big 12 comes to an end today when we reveal the conference's three best players.

We hope this list hasn't been too terribly controversial, but yes, there have certainly been some quality players who did not make the cut. Several can make a solid case for why they should've made our Top 25, including Texas defensive end Cedric Reed, Texas Tech defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney and Kansas State running back John Hubert.

We did not forget about you, guys. We tip our caps to your strong showings in 2013.

And let's not forget the many Big 12 players who would've been among the conference's 25 best had they stayed healthy. Here's a closer look at five big-time players who missed out due to injuries.

Devonte Fields, DE, TCU: The No. 3 player in the blog's preseason Top 25 did not have a sophomore season to remember. TCU shut him down for the season on Oct. 9 due to a foot injury that required surgery. He ended up appearing in just three games due to suspension and injury. The Horned Frogs were wise to end his season early and seek a medical redshirt, and let's hope Fields is back to his dominant self when he returns in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray was well on his way to an all-Big 12-caliber season before succumbing to injury in early November.
Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas: A torn right Achilles suffered in a road win at West Virginia ended a sophomore season that could've ended with Gray earning All-Big 12 honors. He emerged as the workhorse of Texas' offense after David Ash was lost for the season and, at 780 yards and four touchdowns, was one pace to become the Longhorns' first 1,000-yard rusher since 2007. If he can get healthy in time for the start of the 2014 season, he'll be on the league's best rushers again.

Trey Millard, FB/RB/TE, Oklahoma: Millard, who ranked No. 11 in our preseason Top 25, brought so many things to the Sooners' offense both in production and intangibles. He was pretty much guaranteed a spot in our postseason list until Oct. 26, when a torn ACL suffered against Texas Tech ended his season and his OU career five games too early. It's a shame we only got to see him touch the ball 28 times is his final season, but Millard and his many niche contributions won't soon be forgotten by Sooners fans.

Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma: Sure, you can argue that OU linebacker Corey Nelson deserves this spot as the Sooners' captain and possible defensive MVP prior to his injury. But losing Phillips to a season-ending back injury in the middle of October was just as damaging, not only to the middle of the Sooners line but also because he seemed on pace to developing into an All-Big 12 caliber talent. He played in four games, missed two, and then was done. Let's hope he can get healthy and back in track as a junior.

Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor: Reese came very close to making our Top 25 despite missing five games this season with a broken wrist. He was one of several Baylor players who went down during the stretch run, and arguably the most critical one. He finished the year with 867 receiving yards and eight touchdowns and only needed 38 receptions to get there. His 22.8 yards per catch average ranked No. 2 nationally, and three of his scores came from 60-plus yards.

Season report card: Baylor

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
3:00
PM ET
Baylor had one of the best seasons in school history, winning 11 games for the first time, making its first BCS bowl and winning the Big 12 for the first time. Those accomplishments easily could have been forgotten with the Bears' horrible showing in their 52-42 loss to UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, but this season will be remembered fondly in Waco, Texas.

Offense: A+

[+] EnlargePetty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBryce Petty led Baylor to a nation's-best 52.4 points per game.
Is there anything higher than an A-plus? What more could Bryce Petty & Co. do? The Bears averaged 52.4 points per game, 618.8 yards per game and 7.49 yards per play as their offense led the Big 12 in nearly every offensive category. During his first season as the starting quarterback for Baylor, Petty earned Big 12 offensive player of the year honors and was the driving force behind the Bears' title run.

The running backs were superb, with Lache Seastrunk, Shock Linwood and Glasco Martin each finishing with at least 500 rushing yards, helping Baylor lead the conference in rushing. The receivers were just as good, with Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese ranking among the Big 12’s top receivers and Levi Norwood, Corey Coleman and Clay Fuller providing quality depth.

The foundation was the offensive line, led by Lombardi Award finalist Cyril Richardson. Their offensive front allowed Petty’s accuracy to draw praise, Seastrunk’s shiftiness to frustrate defenders and Reese’s deep speed to scare Big 12 secondaries.

Defense: A-

The defense was the biggest reason the Bears won their first Big 12 title. In recent history, the Baylor offense has been good consistently, always explosive. This season, the defense held up its end of the bargain, finishing among the top 10 nationally in yards per play at 4.75, ranking ninth among FBS teams.

Safety Ahmad Dixon was the emotional leader of the defense and set a tone for its aggressive approach with his physical presence in the secondary. Cornerback K.J. Morton was a playmaker on the outside and linebackers Eddie Lackey and Bryce Hager were versatile tackling machines in the middle of the field.

The defensive line did its part as well, leading the Big 12 with 99 tackles for loss and recording 31 sacks. Defensive ends Shawn Oakman and Chris McAllister were active throughout the season and defensive tackle Beau Blackshear was an underrated presence in the middle.

The lone reason the Bears don’t get an A-plus was their performance in Baylor’s two losses. They allowed 594 yards to Oklahoma State and 556 yards to UCF. As good as Baylor's defense was in 2013, it took a step backward on the big stage against the Cowboys and Knights.

Special teams: C

Baylor’s special teams weren’t special; they were average. The Bears finished ninth in the Big 12 in field goal percentage, seventh in kickoff returns and eighth in punt returns. Baylor did have two punt returns and one kickoff return for touchdowns this season, but its special teams units didn’t win games. But the Bears didn’t need their special teams do to anything but operate efficiently and allow their offense and defense to perform.

Overall: A+

The Bears will receive rings that say "Big 12 champions" on them. What more could you ask for from a team that opened the season picked to finish fifth in the conference?


It should be a duel in the desert.

Two of the nation’s top quarterbacks could trigger a shootout in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (8:30 pm ET, ESPN). Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Baylor’s Bryce Petty won their conference player of the year honors while exposing defenses with their dynamic skills this season. Baylor has an eye on its first-ever 12-1 season with the hope of setting themselves up to enter 2014 with plenty of preseason buzz as a BCS title contender. Here are three keys for Baylor when it takes on UCF in Glendale, Ariz., tonight:

Step on the field with the right mindset. The Bears are expected to win and rumors are swirling about Art Briles’ future so it’s important for Baylor to take the field with a laser-focus on the task at hand. UCF earned its place in the Fiesta Bowl and will take advantage of any lack of focus from BU. Fortunately the Bears have a senior-laden squad that has worked for four seasons to put themselves in this position, so they’ll want to put a stamp on their record-setting season in their final game in a Bears uniform.

A sight unseen. The Bears haven’t faced a quarterback like Bortles. A possible first round NFL draft pick when he decides to go pro, the junior was 239-of-351 for 3,280 yards, 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions while earning American Athletic Conference offensive player of the year honors. With the Big 12 void of elite quarterbacks outside of Petty, Baylor’s pass defense is likely to be tested in ways they haven’t experienced all season.

The return of Reese. Baylor’s offense lost explosiveness when Tevin Reese broke his wrist against Oklahoma in early November. Petty’s completion percentage dropped from 66.8 to 55.2 and his yards per attempt dropped from 13.15 to 7.71 in the four games without Reese. Before Reese was injured, Kansas State was the lone team to hold Petty under a 60 percent completion rate. He was under 60 percent in every game without the blazing fast senior, who stretches defenses with his speed and quickness. No wonder Petty said getting Reese back was like “Christmas all over again.” Don’t be surprised if Petty tries to wear out his new “gift” against UCF.

Ten reasons Baylor wins Fiesta Bowl

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
10:00
AM ET
A near-perfect 2013 season can get even better for No. 6 Baylor with a victory over No. 15 UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Here are 10 reasons why the champions of the Big 12 will pick up their first-ever BCS bowl victory on Jan. 1.

[+] EnlargePetty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWhen Bryce Petty gets in a rhythm, Baylor can put up points faster than anyone in the nation.
1. Bryce Petty in rhythm: The Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year is as efficient a passer as you’ll find nationally. He averaged 10.8 yards per attempt and an FBS-best 17.4 yards per completion, and he’s capable of spreading it around to an awful lot of options. He’s had some struggles when pressure throws off his timing, but good luck keeping up with this offense when Petty gets rolling.

2. They’ll strike first: Baylor’s strongest quarter this season has consistently been its first. The Bears put up 201 points in the first quarter in 2013, including 21-plus in half of their ballgames. UCF, to its credit, has allowed just 30 total first-quarter points. But will the Knights be ready for an offense this loaded?

3. Lache Seastrunk is back: Few things get Petty more comfortable and in the zone than when defenses can’t keep up with Baylor’s run-pass versatility. Seastrunk surpassed 100 yards in six of his first seven games before being slowed by a groin injury. He’s healthy and should get plenty of totes to get the Bears attack started.

4. They’ll stop the run: It’s a big night for the Baylor linebackers, who are already missing one of their leaders in the injured Bryce Hager. The only team that knocked off the Knights, South Carolina, held Storm Johnson to 64 rushing yards on 16 carries. Baylor has a top-25 run defense nationally and has given up 200-plus yards on the ground just once.

5. Turnover margin: Petty won’t make many mistakes, and because of that the Bears had a plus-11 turnover margin in 2013. In his first season as the starter, Petty finished with a TD-to-INT ratio of 30-to-2. On defense, 11 different Bears defenders nabbed interceptions on the year. Blake Bortles better be careful, because those takeaways can come from anyone.

6. Defending the big play: You know defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has preached one obvious fix in the past few weeks: Baylor can not give up big plays. Oklahoma State knocked off the Bears thanks to 10 pass plays of 20-plus yards, and the talented Bortles will test this secondary plenty. Given how much time they’ve had to clean up those mistakes and communication errors, expect fewer busts and one-on-one beats.

7. Gone in 60 seconds: This one probably shouldn’t be as low as No. 7, because it can’t be ignored. Baylor has scored 26 touchdowns on drives of one minute or less and has found the end zone 57 times in under 2:00. A strong start from UCF can unravel very quickly if Petty and Co. can hit those big plays.

8. Reese going deep: And here’s where Petty is going with those bombs. Can the Knights’ defensive backs keep up with Tevin Reese? Art Briles says Reese is looking fresh, fast and ready to go after a broken wrist sidelined him for Baylor’s final five games. He has 25 receptions of 40-plus yards in his career and is ready to nab a few more in his final game.

9. Don’t sleep on this D-line: When Briles says Baylor finally has Big 12 depth, he especially means it along this defensive line. Ends Chris McAllister, Terrance Lloyd, Jamal Palmer and Shawn Oakman combined for 37 tackles for loss, and the Bears like to rotate in several defensive tackles. They’ll stay fresh and cause some trouble.

10. What this game means: Throw out all the matchup talk and how this game looks on paper and appreciate for a moment what this game means for Baylor. It’s the cherry on top of a dream season, a chance for a 12th victory for a program that had never won 11 in its history. An opportunity for a BCS bowl victory, a top-five finish and incalculable momentum to kickstart a 2014 year that could be very good to the Bears. It’s not the national title game, but this Fiesta Bowl means an awful lot to Baylor no matter the foe.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl roundtable

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
9:00
AM ET
David Hale, who is in Arizona covering the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter break down the storylines in Wednesday night's matchup featuring Baylor and Central Florida:

Who is the one Baylor offensive player Central Florida must stop first?

[+] EnlargeLache Seastrunk
Manny Flores/Icon SMIIf Lache Seastrunk gets going for Baylor, it could be curtains early for UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.
David Hale: Just one? It seems like the list could actually be pretty long. Bryce Petty obviously sets the tone, and UCF can’t let Baylor’s quick-strike, big-play passing game get going early if it wants to stay competitive. The Knights would love to take away Antwan Goodley, but of course, Petty has other weapons in the passing game, too. And then you get to the ground attack, which should feature a healthy Lache Seastrunk, looking for his first 100-yard game since October. Really, Seastrunk might be the key because a one-dimensional Baylor offense is at least manageable. If the Bears are moving the ball through the air and on the ground -- look out.

Jake Trotter: People outside Big 12 country often incorrectly peg Baylor as a finesse, passing team. Sure, Baylor can pass. But Art Briles’ offense is predicated on establishing the run first. After all, the Bears lead the Big 12 with 265 rushing yards per game. So for Central Florida to have any shot, the Knights have to corral Seastrunk early. If Baylor sets a quick tone on the ground with Seastrunk, UCF is probably toast.

Central Florida has scored more than 40 points just twice all season. Do the Knights stand any chance if this game becomes a shootout?

Hale: Well, the numbers certainly don’t seem encouraging for UCF. Baylor is averaging 53.3 points per game this year. UCF topped that total just once -- against lowly UConn. Still, Blake Bortles is no small-school phenomenon, and he’s more than capable of chucking the ball downfield for some big plays. While Petty leads all AQ-conference QBs in completions and TDs on throws of 25 yards or more (courtesy ESPN Stats & Info), Bortles actually completes a far higher percentage of his deep balls (53.3 percent on throws of 25 yards or more, third-best among AQ QBs). Plus, UCF has a flair for the dramatic, with six second-half comebacks this season. Still, keeping pace in a shootout is hardly the Knights’ preference, and I’d wager they’d prefer to keep this game from turning into a track meet.

Trotter: Baylor would love nothing more than for this game to become a track meet. UCF, while possessing a good offense with a great QB in Bortles, lacks the requisite offensive firepower to outscore the Bears. The Knights would be wise to follow a similar game plan that TCU executed against Baylor. Limit the Bears' big passing plays downfield, buck up on third down defensively and get the chains moving offensively to keep the Baylor offense out of sync and off the field. If the Knights can do that, they can give Bortles a fighting chance to win the game for them in the fourth quarter.

Who is the player to watch in this game?

Hale: The quarterbacks obviously take center stage, and for good reason. Bortles and Petty have been exceptional all season. But if this game is going to be competitive, the key player might be UCF running back Storm Johnson. He’s a serious talent -- a top recruit out of high school who began his career at Miami before transferring to UCF -- and has 100-yard games against Penn State and Louisville this season. If Johnson can run the ball effectively for the Knights, milking the clock and keeping Baylor’s offense off the field in the process, the game could be closer than most predict. If he struggles and it turns into a shootout between the two QBs, Baylor certainly appears to be in the driver’s seat.

Trotter: After wideout Tevin Reese suffered a dislocated wrist in early November, the Baylor offense definitely lost some pop. The Bears, who averaged more than 60 points per game for most of the season, scored just 17, 41 (thanks to two defensive touchdowns) and 30 in their final three games. Reese’s downfield speed is what stretched defenses vertically to open up the running game. It also left Goodley in single coverage on the opposite side of the field. Reese has been cleared for this game. And if he’s close enough to 100 percent, the Baylor attack could return to its early season form. That would not be good for UCF.

Baylor becoming new Wide Receiver U

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
10:00
AM ET
A few years ago, Kendal Briles sent Facebook friend requests to prospective recruits knowing that expressing Baylor’s interest might be a futile practice.

Plenty of those requests were denied. No, thank you. Not playing at Baylor.

“Now,” Briles says proudly, “we’re making some moves.”

The Baylor receivers coach has a much easier time selling what the Bears have to offer these days. Kids want to play in this high-tempo offense. They’re the ones befriending him now. The reason why is obvious.

[+] EnlargeAntwan Goodley
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAntwan Goodley and his Baylor teammates are picking up where their wide receiver predecessors left off.
Baylor is becoming the new Wide Receiver U.

Sorry, Tennessee. No offense, USC. But since arriving in Waco, Texas, in 2008, Art Briles has quickly built arguably the premier receiver factory in college football. The proof is all over, from his former players to current Bears to the next ones up.

What Briles’ son is selling now is tangible proof that Baylor can turn receivers into stars. Just look at Kendall Wright, the Tennessee Titans slot man who surpassed 1,000 yards in his second season. Former Baylor teammate Terrance Williams finished third among rookies in receiving for the Dallas Cowboys.

And how about Josh Gordon? The former Bear led the NFL in receiving with 1,646 yards this season. You bet Briles and his son are throwing their names around these days when recruiting.

Baylor replaced those three with one of the top receiving duos in the country in All-Big 12 wideouts Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese and one of the conference’s best slot receivers in Levi Norwood. They have underclassmen Corey Coleman, Robbie Rhodes and Jay Lee on the way.

And coming soon, Baylor has three of the best wide receiver prospects in Texas in ESPN 300 verbal commits K.D. Cannon, Davion Hall and Ishmael Zamora. The surprisingly rich are about to get richer.

“There’s no doubt you’ve got guys who are proven in the system and now proven on the next level,” Kendal Briles said. “If you’re a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kid in high school and you’re looking at where to play in college and you’re looking at the things we’re doing with throwing the football, it’s a pretty good deal. You’ve got to take a pretty heavy look at us.”

Art Briles’ first receivers coach at Baylor, Dino Babers, just landed the Bowling Green head-coaching job this month. Briles' son has been on the staff from the start and now coordinates Baylor’s passing game. He’s had plenty of talent to work with in this gig.

This season, Goodley became the third consecutive Bear to lead the Big 12 in receiving. He insists his 1,319-yard, 13-touchdown breakout season wouldn’t have been possible without his predecessors.

“I just knew you better show up to work every day, because those guys work hard every day,” Goodley said. “They play with a passion and love being out there. They taught me a lot and built me into the receiver I am today.”

In Wright, Williams and Reese, Baylor has three of the six most prolific receivers in the Big 12 since 2008. They all still send text messages to each other on a daily basis. Their position group is becoming a fraternity.

Gordon had the best hands of the bunch. Reese indisputably was the fastest. Williams was the superior route-runner. Goodley, at 222 pounds, might be the strongest. And Baylor cornerbacks say Wright was the most impossible to cover.

One thing nearly all of them had in common: They were not coveted recruits.

Goodley was a three-star prospect. Reese was a two-star recruit who weighed 138 pounds in high school. Gordon was ranked No. 128 among receiver prospects by ESPN. Only Wright was a member of the ESPN 150, but as a quarterback who’d never played receiver.

“We’ve been overlooked a little bit, but we like that,” Goodley said. “We show guys what we can do. You don’t have to be a five-star athlete to be a great receiver.”

Baylor’s approach to evaluating and recruiting receivers is no different than anyone else’s: Get them in camp and see what they can do. Hitting on the trio of Wright, Williams and Lanear Sampson in the 2008 class gave Briles precisely the kind of weapons Robert Griffin III needed. Baylor loaded up on speed and more speed.

“Track speed, football speed, it’s just speed, period,” said Wright, who finished with 4,004 receiving yards at Baylor. “They just want somebody with speed. Everything else will come.”

Kendal Briles would argue that Baylor’s scheme is as easy as it gets for a receiver. Often times, Reese said he’ll have three options on a route. A defender can’t answer for all of them. With how wide the Bears split out their receivers, there’s plenty of opportunity to get the ball in the open field.

What’s remarkable is the fact that Baylor has built a top-five passing offense nationally while still running the ball on 55 percent of its snaps. Since Art Briles arrived, Baylor ranks No. 5 in the FBS in yards per catch at 13.7. Its best big-play threats, Williams and Reese, averaged a stunning 11.2 yards per target.

No wonder the big-name recruits are interested. Landing Rhodes, the No. 3 receiver in the class of 2013, was a coup. Getting Cannon and Hall on board was even better, and Zamora might have the most upside of the incoming three.

“Now you get some top-notch players in here,” Kendal Briles said, “and it could be crazy what happens.”

Only Reese is graduating, setting up Baylor to have a loaded group of wideouts in 2014. That will mean plenty of competition, and Reese frequently talks with Goodley and Norwood about becoming the vocal leaders when he’s gone.

The way Reese sees it, there’s a certain pay-it-forward mentality within the group. Wright took him under his wing and believed in him from the start.

He cares about maintaining what’s quickly becoming a proud tradition.

“When we have wide receivers coming in, we’re going to put it in their head: This is Wide Receiver University,” he said. “You’ve got to play like it. Baylor produces the best wide receivers and the No. 1 offense in the nation.”

And a few good pros, too. Wright is looking forward to seeing his successors join him at the next level soon. Together, they’re planning to take over the NFL.

“That’s what we plan to do, man,” Goodley said. “They don’t call us Wide Receiver U for nothing.”
Going back to the advent of the BCS, 18 teams have been to just one BCS bowl without returning for a second.

This week, Baylor and Tostitos Fiesta Bowl opponent UCF will make their BCS debuts.

[+] EnlargeBaylor Bears
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWith a financial commitment, recruiting success and head coach Art Briles leading the way, Big 12 title celebrations could become a frequent occurrence at Baylor.
And the biggest question for the upstart Bears is whether this will be a one-time BCS trip or one of many BCS-level bowls to come.

“We want to build a dynasty,” said Baylor junior quarterback Bryce Petty. “We didn’t come into this for just one season.”

Before head coach Art Briles arrived in 2007, Baylor making a BCS bowl seemed about as likely as zombies taking over the Earth.

But after 14 consecutive losing seasons, the Bears finally broke through in 2010 with Robert Griffin III as quarterback. And in the three seasons since, Baylor has gone a combined 29-9, culminating with this year’s Big 12 championship and BCS bowl berth.

Can the Bears keep it going or will this one year, like it has been for so many other programs, be a flash in the pan?

There are reasons to believe it might be the former.

“I think there are two things that will keep us out of the category of being just a one-time BCS team,” said defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who has remarkably transformed Baylor’s defense into one of the best in the Big 12. “A lot of people use the word commitment, but you’re not committed if you’re not spending money and building the program.

“There’s a commitment here.”

Indeed, Baylor is putting its money where its mouth is.

Next season, the Bears will play in a new $260 million on-campus stadium, erected on the banks of the Brazos River.

Two weeks ago, Baylor announced plans to build a 14,000-square-foot nutrition center for its athletes that will be adjacent to the athletic academic building and indoor practice facility, which have both been constructed in the last several years. Once the nutrition center is completed later next year, Baylor’s football players will be able to meet with tutors, grab lunch and go to practice in one central vicinity.

“That’s millions and millions of dollars,” Bennett said. “And when you make that kind of commitment, it turns into recruiting assets.”

Which leads to the second reason why Bennett believes Baylor is built to last.

The last five years, the Bears have done a phenomenal job of unearthing hidden gems in recruiting and developing them into quality players. Unanimous All-America guard Cyril Richardson garnered little recruiting interest after relocating to Texas from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey's only other offers out of junior college were from Hawaii and New Mexico State. And standout wide receiver Tevin Reese was just a two-star recruit in high school because he weighed less than 140 pounds.

“Coach Briles does a great job knowing what he wants in recruiting,” said Baylor All-Big 12 wideout Antwan Goodley, who was also lightly recruited. “And getting his guys.”

The Bears are still targeting those guys.

But thanks to its success on the field and commitment off it, Baylor is also now gaining access to the blue-chip prospects. As a result, the Bears currently have RecruitingNation's No. 16-ranked recruiting class in the country, nine spots ahead of Oklahoma and only three behind Texas.

“We all know it’s a players’ game,” Bennett said. “And our days of not competing for the upper echelon guys are over.”

But as critical as the facility investments are to Baylor’s future success, no investment has been more critical than the one Baylor has made in Briles, who has guided the Bears to the first 11-win season in school history.

Last month, Briles agreed to a 10-year contract extension that will pay him more than $4 million annually. The Bears hope the deal will keep him at Baylor through at least the 2023 season.

Of course, that could be put to the test in the coming weeks.

Both the Austin American-Statesman and Dallas Morning News reported over the weekend that Texas has vetted Briles for its head coaching vacancy and has him on a short list of candidates.

But when asked about Texas before, Briles has said that “the grass is green” at Baylor. And thanks to the massive facility overhaul and uptick in recruiting, it definitely is more so now than ever.

With Petty, the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback, and other key players like Goodley and possibly running back Lache Seastrunk back, Baylor could be loaded for bear again in 2014.

If Briles returns as well, this BCS appearance just might be the first of many big-time bowls for Baylor. Where the grass continues to get greener.

“This is a team that wants more,” Petty said. "We're still hungry."

UCF defense relishes underdog role

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
6:15
PM ET

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The film can be a bit intimidating, UCF safety Brandon Alexander said.

Baylor’s quarterback, Bryce Petty, is fast. He makes quick decisions, has a quick release and he can run.

The receivers are fast, too. They stretch the field, and the Bears' big-play potential is immense.

The running backs are quick, juking through traffic and breaking tackles for huge chunks of yards.

"Their offensive linemen are even fast,” Alexander joked.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Alexander
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsDefensive back Brandon Alexander says the Knights are ready for Baylor's high-powered offense.
This is the challenge for UCF’s defense, perhaps the most overlooked unit playing in a BCS bowl game this year.

Baylor’s offense is a whirlwind of precise execution, breathtaking tempo and dizzying speed. Central Florida’s defense is young, unheralded and, after Jim Fleming left to take over at Rhode Island, without its coordinator.

It’s no surprise then that the Knights’ defense isn’t getting much pre-game love or that they’re feeding off the litany of doubters.

“It’s an opportunity,” cornerback Clayton Geathers said. “We come with a chip on our shoulder, and we’re out to prove a lot of people wrong.”

They may be largely anonymous on a national stage, but the Knights have been solid defensively all season. UCF ranks 12th nationally in scoring defense, allowing less than 20 points per game, despite having just two seniors on its two-deep. It’s an athletic group that plays sound fundamentally, and if the rest of the world is overlooking the unit, Baylor isn’t.

“They’re very disciplined and have a lot of guys that can run sideline to sideline,” Petty said. “Just because we haven’t heard too much about them doesn’t mean they don’t have talent. It pops out on tape. They’re tough.”

Still, there’s no question the test UCF faces in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is unlike anything it has seen before. Coach George O'Leary said Baylor’s tempo is something the Knights are used to from their days in Conference USA, but the skill with which the Bears execute is at another level.

“We ran a play every 18 seconds in practice the last two weeks, but it’s the quality of play you can’t simulate,” O’Leary said. “It’s quantity, but the quality isn’t there that Baylor is going to have.”

Baylor leads the country in scoring offense (53 points per game) and averages 50 yards more per game than any other team in the nation, while running nearly 83 plays per game -- a frenetic pace that will test the young UCF defense.

From a conditioning standpoint, Alexander said he’s confident the Knights are ready. The extra time to prep for Baylor has helped with the film study, too. Both will be key to slowing down the big-play Baylor offense, but the secret weapon, defensive lineman Thomas Niles said, will be UCF’s physicality, which he hopes will offset the Bears’ up-tempo style.

"You've got to disrupt their rhythm," Niles said. "You can't let [Petty] stay in one spot and be comfortable. If you let him sit there, he'll pick you apart."

Baylor gets healthy: As if UCF’s defense didn’t have enough to worry about, Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk said the offense is about as healthy as it has been all season.

Seastrunk said the extended downtime between the regular season and the bowl gave him a chance to get heal a groin injury that cost him nearly three full games late in the year.

“I needed the break to make sure my groin was all together and sealed up tight,” Seastrunk said, adding that he’s now 100 percent healthy.

Meanwhile, senior receiver Tevin Reese is set to return to the lineup, too. A wrist injury cost him the final four games of the regular season, but he’ll add another dynamic downfield threat, along with Antwan Goodley, for the Bears in the Fiesta Bowl.

“When you have two guys that can vertically stretch you, it’s tough [for the defense] and makes our job easier,” Petty said. “It adds another dynamic to an offense that’s already pretty explosive. For us, it’s like having a new toy.”

Easy intro for Ferraro: UCF’s new defensive coordinator is taking a hands-off approach to his first few days on the job.

Paul Ferraro was hired earlier this week to replace the departed Fleming, and while he’s in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl, he’s working from a distance during practice.

“I’m really just observing, letting them do their thing and getting to know them a little bit,” Ferraro said. “It gives me a little bit of a jump [on 2014].”

Big 12 lunchtime links

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
12:00
PM ET
How long did it take you to realize this was just a model?

SPONSORED HEADLINES