Big 12: Tony Pierson

Big 12 morning links

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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Let him who has not made a late-night Whataburger stop after a rough day cast the first stone, right? On to the links...
  • Gary Patterson didn't think his offense would evolve this quickly. How could he? TCU's head coach has concerns about where this offense was heading after spring ball was up, which makes these impeccable six-game results even more surprising and gratifying. The rise of Trevone Boykin under Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie stands out, of course, but Patterson deserves just as much credit for finding not only the right two guys to install and instill what he wanted, but to also do so while working together seemingly seamlessly.
  • Best of luck to Baylor offensive lineman Troy Baker, whose college playing days are over after an MRI revealed the senior suffered a torn ACL against West Virginia. He started in seven games at right tackle and had already gone through this process before after a torn ACL in the spring in 2013. Pat Colbert filled in on Saturday and gets the first shot at keeping that job, but this means Baylor is working with its backup plan at right guard and tackle for the rest of the season.
  • You're not going to sucker Bill Snyder into devoting any attention to the College Football Playoff race. Now that his Wildcats are in the national discussion following their upset of Oklahoma, their head coach couldn't care less. Texas is the only thing on his mind, and anything else is a waste of his time. That's the only approach he can take, and to his credit Snyder is going to say that with complete honesty. If K-State does make a run here, though, no doubt he'll have to do some campaigning if they Big 12 ends up with co-champs or tiebreaker drama.
  • West Virginia didn't let Baylor turn their Saturday meeting into a track meet. That was essential. How'd they do it? The Mountaineers are dispelling the myth that they prefer finesse over physical, writes Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail. Be sure to read what WVU's coaches said about last year's Baylor game. You can tell how seriously they and their players took being the more aggressive team and how much pride played a role in that upset. WVU showed in its blocking and hitting a lot of things to be encouraged about going forward.
  • No word yet on the severity, but Kansas receiver Tony Pierson is being evaluated for an injury in his neck area during KU's bye week. Let's hope it's not serious. Pierson is too fun to watch when he's at his best. If he has to miss time, at least the Jayhawks have the promising connection of Michael Cummings to Nigel King. He's a wideout Cummings definitely seems to trust, even if the numbers last week didn't make that obvious.

Big 12 stat check: Week 5

September, 24, 2014
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A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 5:

Baylor: Don't forget about Antwan Goodley. The potential All-America receiver went down with an injury in the season opener and enters Big 12 play with zero receptions. While KD Cannon and the rest of Baylor's wideouts feasted in his absence, Goodley is back this week, and he and Bryce Petty have some catching up to do. No Big 12 player matched his 598 yards after the catch last season.

Iowa State: Well, the Cyclones are 2-0 in home games against Baylor under coach Paul Rhoads. During the Art Briles era, Baylor has averaged 33.2 points per game on the road against the rest of the Big 12. In their losses in Ames in 2009 and 2012, Baylor's offense put up a combined 31 points. But ever since that 35-21 loss at ISU in 2012, the Bears are 19-3.

Kansas: Tony Pierson has recorded 280 touches on offense in his career at Kansas. He's gained 10 or more yards on 25 percent of his touches and picked up 20-plus yards on 26 of those 70 plays. The majority of his big plays have come on rushes, but Pierson is also averaging 12.7 yards per reception in his four seasons. He's instant offense, plain and simple.

Kansas State: ESPN Stats & Info analyzed the Auburn-Kansas State game tape and determined Jake Waters was pressured on nine plays. He completed three passes, threw two incompletions and an interception and took three sacks. K-State's net yardage when the Tigers got pressure on Waters? Just 15 yards. Waters and his linemen will have to handle the heat a bit better in Big 12 play.

Oklahoma: How will freshman Samaje Perine follow up his 242-yard night at West Virginia? In the past decade, 19 FBS running backs have surpassed 240 rushing yards multiple times in a season. If Perine does it again this year, he'll join some elite company that includes Reggie Bush, Matt Forte, Le'Veon Bell, Ray Rice, Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, Andre Williams and, yes, Adrian Peterson.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys rank No. 2 nationally in a statistic that's pretty darn important: red zone efficiency defense. OSU's defense has entered the red zone 10 times this season and permitted just two touchdowns. Opposing offenses have had to settle for field goals seven times (one was blocked) and Jameis Winston threw a red zone interception. Getting stingy under pressure like that will pay off big in Big 12 play.

TCU: The Horned Frogs are one of only two teams in FBS that have played just two games entering Week 5. (Cincinnati started the season bizarrely with back-to-back byes.) This isn't just some silly observation. The fact is, starting this week against SMU, Gary Patterson's team must play eight games in eight consecutive weeks before getting a pre-Thanksgiving reprieve. They face a brutal run in October (OU, at Baylor, OSU, Texas Tech) and need some gas in the tank if they hope to make a run in November.

Texas: It's hard to believe that, with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray both healthy and splitting time, Texas ranks No. 9 in the Big 12 in rushing right now at 123.7 yards per game. That's 99 fewer yards per game than Oklahoma is averaging and almost 115 fewer than Baylor. The culprit here is a shoddy offensive line, but the downhill run game was supposed to be the strength of the Longhorns' offense and they've struggled without one.

Texas Tech: One not-unreasonable excuse for Texas Tech's problems on defense: According to its sports information office, 17 of 27 Red Raiders who've recorded tackles this season are freshmen, sophomores or newcomers. That number does include Kenny Williams, who moved from running back to linebacker this spring. The rest are young guys who better catch up quickly.

West Virginia: Clint Trickett ranks No. 3 nationally now with 1600 passing yards, a feat through four games that most WVU fans probably wouldn't have predicted back in the spring. He leads all Big 12 passers with 20 completions of 20-plus yards (nine to Kevin White), but then again, Trickett also has 43 more completions than any other quarterback in the conference. Let's wait a few more weeks before assessing where he fits in the Big 12 QB hierarchy, but this is a heck of a start.
The 2014 season could be a critical one for several Big 12 seniors.

It’s their final chance to maximize their potential, show off for NFL scouts and push their teams to higher heights. In other words, it’s now or never for several Big 12 players who are poised to play the final 12 games of their college careers. Here’s a look at five seniors on the offensive side of the ball who could have a major impact on their team's success or hamper those chances for success if they struggle as individuals.

Receiver/running back Tony Pierson, Kansas

[+] EnlargeTony Pierson
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsTony Pierson has the potential to stretch a defense, but has only received limited opportunities to do so thus far in his career.
Why he may excel: When he’s healthy, Pierson is a big play waiting to happen. In limited action in 2013, Pierson averaged 10.33 yards per play from scrimmage. He’s had the potential to be one of the Big 12’s top players since his sophomore season but this year is his last chance to cement his name alongside the conference’s top offensive threats. If he’s healthy, KU’s offense will be able to stretch defenses with his speed and quickness.

Why he may struggle: He struggled to stay healthy as a junior and, worse yet, it was a head injury that hampered him. Charlie Weis and the rest of the coaching staff will undoubtedly try to make sure to limit the hits Pierson takes this fall, but the ball will be in his hands so much he will be open to punishment. Having a healthy Pierson is critical for a Jayhawk offense searching for playmakers.

Quarterback Clint Trickett, West Virginia

Why he may excel: Trickett has another year in Dana Holgorsen’s offense and a much better feel for how the Mountaineers’ head coach wants things to run. The senior showed toughness even though he struggled in 2013, but he could put up solid numbers this fall if he makes better decisions and focuses on letting his playmakers do the hard work.

Why he may struggle: Trickett never looked comfortable or confident in Holgorsen’s offense in 2013 and then a shoulder injury forced him to miss the spring. He might not have enough tangible experience to make the offense hum this fall.

Receiver Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech

Why he may excel: Marquez finally gets the opportunity to see a bigger role in the Red Raiders’ offense after playing a supplementary role as a junior. And he’s focusing on football instead of spending the summer playing professional baseball. He’s flashed terrific ability, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him emerge as one of the Big 12’s most productive receivers.

Why he may struggle: Marquez saw a lot of one-on-one situations with Jace Amaro and Eric Ward making plays and forcing defenses to account for them last year. If he does start to emerge as a playmaker and garner extra attention, will his production remain steady?

Receiver Curry Sexton, Kansas State

Why he may excel: Teams will be focused on Tyler Lockett, the Big 12’s potential offensive player of the year, anytime Jake Waters drops back to pass. Sexton can make them pay if he matches his consistency in 2013, when he caught 39 of the 55 passes thrown his way. He’s not a game breaking threat like Lockett but he could be a valuable asset for the Wildcat offense.

Why he may struggle: He’s not the type of receiver who will overwhelm defenders with his physicality or speed. If defenses get physical with him, Sexton will have to make them pay for challenging him. If he doesn’t, KSU’s offense will have to look to other, less experienced receivers to fill to void.

Tackle Desmond Harrison, Texas

Why he may excel: Harrison has physical gifts and Joe Wickline has arrived to push him to that potential. If he responds, the Longhorns could have a quality left tackle to build around.

Why he may struggle: If he doesn’t respond to Wickline, he could find himself on the bench. The Longhorns’ new offensive line coach will push him to improve or Wickline will look elsewhere.
Earlier Thursday, we concluded our 22-round draft of current Big 12 players. Below are the three lineup outcomes of that draft, and as you can see, each of us went in different directions.

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Like the St. Louis Rams, Max and Brandon built up their defensive lines before worrying about the rest of their rosters. While I grabbed the best quarterback in the league and surrounded him with protection and weapons.

After each lineup, read our final takes on our teams. Then, decide who drafted best in the weekly Big 12 poll.

BRANDON CHATMON’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Brandon says about his team: “Offensively, as soon as Petty was gone with the first pick I knew I wouldn’t take a quarterback until my final pick. Knight could be the steal of the draft. Versatility is the name of the game with the rest of the offense. We can put Pierson and Smallwood in the backfield and go read option or really ruin your Saturday and throw Daje back there in the Diamond. When you bring more guys in the box, you leave Seales and Lockett one-on-one. Or we can just go five wide and you can try to cover running backs who run routes like receivers with your linebackers. And an experienced offensive line will be the foundation of it all. Defensively, it would be wise for opposing quarterbacks to tell their families to stay home when facing this group. We’re going to man up and have our mail forwarded to the opposing backfield and make you want to take your ball and go home. And with a secondary full of coverage guys, I’m not concerned about the back end of the defense holding up. We’ll win more battles than we lose. By the final whistle, my team will have earned the moniker 'Chatmon’s chaos creators' with Tapper, Reed, Brown, Hunter, Alexander and Robertson living in your backfield.”

MAX OLSON'S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Max says about his team: “You do not want to play against my team. That was my goal going in, and I constructed exactly the team I wanted. I have a great QB in Webb who gets to throw to Goodley, one of the nation's best receivers, and he'd help Jaxon Shipley put up Jordan Shipley numbers. I have the two-back punch of Linwood and Gray. I have Hill, who can do everything, and a good line. We're going to spread the ball around like crazy. Good luck stopping that. On defense, you have Fields, Oakman and Grissom all rushing the passer. That's deadly. We can go three-man fronts or even put Oakman in the middle, letting the 6-foot-8 stud swat your passes down. And while you're worrying about him and Grissom, you have the Big 12's best defensive player [Fields] coming after you. Hager and Shannon will hold it down at the second level, and the secondary is full of playmakers. This is a fun team, plain and simple, and one that can frustrate the heck out of anybody.”

JAKE TROTTER’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Jake says about his team: “Max and Brandon are good at talking smack. I’ll give them that. But my players do their talking on the field. Once I was fortunate to land reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Bryce Petty as my quarterback, my goal was two-fold: to keep him upright from pressure off the edge; and, to surround him with firepower. I accomplished both ends, and then some. I wasn’t able to get either of the two elite receivers in the league in Goodley or Lockett. But I put together the best overall receiving corps in Grant, Shepard and Bundrage, who could all deliver 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2014. On top of that, I snagged the best pass-catching tight end on the board in Bibbs, as well as Brown, so that we can pound the ball between the tackles when we need. Speaking of tackles, aware that Brandon and Max were focused almost solely on their pass rush in the early rounds, I also added two of the most reliable pass-protecting bookends in the league in Drango and Williams. Defensively, I can bring pressure, too, with Mueller and Striker, who last season respectively placed second and fourth in the Big 12 in sacks. Castleman and Britz are roadblocks, Heeney and Dawson are tackle machines and my entire secondary has All-Big 12 potential. We don’t talk. We just dominate.”
Following up on NFL draft weekend, we’ve been conducting our own draft, picking from current Big 12 players to fill out three 22-man lineups.

Below is a recap of the first 15 rounds of the draft from the past two days, followed by rounds 16-22.

As another reminder, this is NOT a Top 25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league lies, and the different strategies to putting a team together from the league’s present talent pool.

Jake Trotter:
Brandon Chatmon:
Max Olson:
Round 16

  • Olson: WR/RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
  • Chatmon: OLB Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
  • Trotter: OLB Brandon Golson, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "To combat the offensive attacks I would face in the Big 12, I'm going with a 3-4 on defense. Golson, who led the Big 12 in forced fumbles last season, is another playmaking outside linebacker who would fit in nicely in this scheme opposite Striker." -- Trotter
[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray, Tanner Jacobson
AP Photo/Eric GayGetting potential Big 12 rushing leader Johnathan Gray in the 17th round could be a big steal for Max Olson.
Round 17

  • Trotter: LB Paul Dawson, TCU
  • Chatmon: C Dominic Espinosa, Texas
  • Olson: RB Johnathan Gray, Texas
  • Analysis: “I ended up getting a potential All-Big 12 running back in the 17th round. So I feel pretty good about that. Gray should be healthy for the opener, and he leads all returning Big 12 rushers with 86 rushing yards per game last season." -- Olson
Round 18

  • Olson: OT Troy Baker, Baylor
  • Chatmon: SS Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: OG Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "I wanted a safety who is comfortable in holding his own in coverage, while also having the ability to make plays all over the field. Hayes is the guy. With Worley, Shepherd, White, Barnett and Hayes in the secondary, I can unleash the rest of my defense on the quarterback and feel comfortable about my secondary holding its own against anyone." -- Chatmon
Round 19

  • Trotter: OG Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
  • Chatmon: WR Tony Pierson, Kansas
  • Olson: SS Terrell Burt, Baylor
  • Analysis: "With Max and Brandon hoarding centers, I needed to attack the interior of my offensive line. Kasitati can excel manning either guard or center, and Glowinski is one of the league’s top returning guards." -- Trotter
Round 20

  • Olson: OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
  • Chatmon: WR Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
  • Trotter: WR Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
  • Analysis: "The guys I wanted for my second guard spot weren't available at this round, so I'm going with the mammoth "Big V" Vaitai (6-foot-6, 308 pounds) and moving one of my other tackle selections inside. I ended up with a fairly good offensive line, which was pretty much my plan going in." -- Olson
Round 21

  • Trotter: CB Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
  • Chatmon: WR Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
  • Olson: LB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: “I picked up Bundrage in the previous round to seal up what I feel is the best all-around receiving corps, even if I didn’t get Goodley or Lockett. Tribune, the only true freshman to play for Iowa State in the past two seasons, is a corner with a ton of upside and, paired with Kevin Peterson, should provide me plenty of tenaciousness against the pass.” -- Trotter
Round 22

  • Olson: WR Jaxon Shipley, Texas
  • Chatmon: QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: C Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
  • Analysis: “I just got the steal of the draft, and I knew I would wait until the final round to do so. As soon as Jake snapped up Petty, I knew I would be content with Davis Webb or Trevor Knight and wouldn’t draft a quarterback until the final round. The fact that Max opted for Webb made things even better for me as Knight has the versatility to run a run-heavy offense or spread things out and use his arm. He fits perfectly with the versatility I was striving for with each pick.” -- Chatmon
Since last week, we've been analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. We conclude the series with Kansas' projected post-spring depth chart.

OFFENSE

QB: Montell Cozart (So.), Jake Heaps (Sr.), Michael Cummings (So.), T.J. Millweard (So.)

[+] EnlargeMontell Cozart
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerMontell Cozart was the clear choice at quarterback for the Jayhawks this spring.
Cozart was clearly the Jayhawks’ best quarterback during the spring game, so it made perfect sense when Kansas coach Charlie Weis named him the starter shortly after spring practice. If the sophomore continues to develop as a passer, he could help KU’s offense take a clear step forward. Heaps' status is unclear but, with Weis making it clear Cozart is the man, there’s no reason for him to stick around. Millweard and Cummings should be solid behind Cozart. It’s not the best group of quarterbacks in the league, but it’s not the worst, either.

RB: Brandon Bourbon (Sr.), Darrian Miller (Jr.), Taylor Cox (Sr.)

Bourbon had a solid spring and Miller returns after finishing second on the squad with 322 rushing yards in 2013. Yet it won’t be easy to replace James Sims, who was a mainstay in KU’s backfield for four seasons. Freshmen Corey Avery and Traevohn Wrench join De'Andre Mann as newcomers in the summer. KU should be able to replace Sims with a combination of these six running backs and its running game should be solid, particularly with Cozart providing a running threat at quarterback as well.

WR: Nick Harwell (Sr.), Tony Pierson (Sr.), Rodriguez Coleman (Jr.), Justin McCay (Sr.), Andrew Turzilli (Sr.)
TE: Jimmay Mundine (Sr.), Ben Johnson (RFr.)

With Harwell and Pierson, the Jayhawks could have two of the Big 12’s top big-play creators this fall. Both guys can be a handful in the open field and can turn a short gain into a long touchdown. Coleman came on in the spring and could provide another target for Cozart. The Jayhawks receivers looked solid in the spring. Now they just need to carry that momentum into actual production in the fall or end up being considered one of the conference’s worst groups of receivers again.

C: Keyon Haughton (Jr.), Joe Gibson (RFr.)
G: Ngalu Fusimalohi (Sr.), Joey Bloomfield (RFr.)
G: Mike Smithburg (Sr.), Bryan Peters (Jr.)
T: Damon Martin (So.), Zach Fondal (Sr.)
T: Pat Lewandowski (Sr.) Brian Beckmann (So.)

The Jayhawks' offensive line situation seems fairly fluid, so expect KU to continue to search for its five best offensive linemen during preseason camp. Fusimalohi is the best of the bunch and anchors the offensive front. This group had its moments last season, but needs to play better for KU’s offense to really take off.

DEFENSE

DL: Ben Goodman (So.), Tyler Holmes (So.)
DL: Andrew Bolton (Jr.), T.J. Semke (Jr.)
DL: Keon Stowers (Sr.), Tedarian Johnson (Sr.)

Goodman and Stowers are returning starters for the Jayhawks defense. Stowers is solid in the middle and Goodman has the talent to break out in 2014. The unit has a solid group of starters, but needs additional depth.

BUCK: Michael Reynolds (Sr.), Marcus Jenkins-Moore (Jr.) Victor Simmons (Sr.)
LB: Ben Heeney (Sr.), Courtney Arnick (So.)
LB: Jake Love (Jr.), Schyler Miles (Jr.)

This is a solid and deep group of linebackers, with several players competing for a job. Outside of Heeney and Love, nobody’s job could be safe, with players such as Miles and Arnick looking like contributors.

CB: Dexter McDonald (Sr.), Ronnie Davis (Jr.)
CB: JaCorey Shepherd (Sr.), Michael Mesh (Jr.)
NB: Kevin Short (Jr.), Greg Allen (So.)
S: Cassius Sendish (Sr.), Tevin Shaw (So.)
S: Isaiah Johnson (Jr.), Anthony Smithson (So.)

The Jayhawks have a solid secondary full of playmakers. McDonald and Shepherd can hold their own at cornerback, and Sendish and Johnson are a pair of active safeties. Short was one of the stars of KU’s spring practice. This starting unit could rank among the Big 12’s best if it continues to improve heading into the fall.
With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Wednesday with receivers (and tight ends). These outlooks could look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Baylor (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Bears maintained their commanding advantage over any other receiving corps in the league. Antwan Goodley remains an All-American candidate, and Corey Coleman looks primed to become Baylor’s next great wideout following a spectacular spring. Levi Norwood, Jay Lee and Clay Fuller are proven performers. And more talent is about to arrive, including blue-chip freshman K.D. Cannon. The Baylor receivers are as formidable as any position grouping in the league.

2. Texas Tech (3): The Red Raiders lost their two best pass-catchers from last year in tight end Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, but this group is overflowing with dynamic young talent. After reeling in two touchdowns in the bowl and dominating Texas Tech’s spring game, Jakeem Grant looks like he’s on the verge of becoming a star in the league. Bradley Marquez should be even sharper after giving up baseball to focus on football this offseason. And the speedy Reginald Davis is a potential big-play threat on the perimeter. All three players can fly, and they have a quarterback in Davis Webb who can deliver the ball to them down field. The unit goes deep in the rotation, too, with D.J. Polite-Bray, Devin Lauderdale, Jordan Davis and Derreck Edwards all poised to be factors.

3. Oklahoma State (4): The Cowboys don’t have a Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant. But they have a deep rotation and a budding All-Big 12 candidate in Jhajuan Seales, who is ready to take over as the offense’s go-to receiver. Marcell Ateman, David Glidden and Brandon Sheperd were all significant parts of the corps last year, as well, and Blake Webb and Austin Hays, who both made starts two years ago as true freshmen, bounced back from injury-plagued 2013 seasons to impress in the spring. Track star/running back Tyreek Hill also will line up in the slot at times and will be a home-run threat any time he touches the ball. Considering none of the projected eight in the two-deep will be a senior, this group should only continue to get better, too.

4. Texas (5): Don’t fault the Texas receivers for not making a bigger impact in the spring game. For three quarters, reserve quarterback Tyrone Swoopes struggled to get them the ball. While the Longhorns probably lack an All-Big 12-caliber performer, they boast an experienced, reliable trio in three-year starter Jaxon Shipley and juniors Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson. Daje Johnson, who caught a Hail Mary from Swoopes in the spring game, brings even more playmaking to the group as a full-time receiver. Texas obviously has QB issues. But if the Horns can find the right player there, that QB will have reliable weapons to operate within the passing game.

5. Kansas State (2): K-State still has one of the best receivers in the country in Tyler Lockett, who is deserving of preseason All-American consideration. But the rest of the unit didn’t round out during the spring as well as the Wildcats would have hoped. Curry Sexton (eight catches for 88 yards) and Deante Burton (six catches for 48 yards) were both solid in the spring game. So was freshman Judah Jones, who hauled in a 51-yard scoring grab. But converted QB Daniel Sams still has a ways to go before making a huge impact, and highly touted juco transfer Andre Davis failed to make a big spring splash. Any receiving corps featuring Lockett is going to be a handful. But the supporting cast still needs work.

6. Iowa State (7): The Cyclones have the top returning pass-catching tight end in the league in E.J. Bibbs, who coach Paul Rhoads believes could vie for All-American honors. Quenton Bundrage has all-league potential, though he disappeared too many times last season, and did so again in the spring game. Jarvis West has proven he can make plays out of the slot, and the Cyclones have depth on the perimeter in P.J. Harris, Brett Medders and D'Vario Montgomery, who all developed rapidly during the spring. With highly touted signee Allen Lazard set to join the rotation, the Cyclones could boast their best receiving corps in several years.

7. Oklahoma (6): The Sooners feature a bona-fide No. 1 receiver in Sterling Shepard, who has 96 career catches his first two seasons. But the position is the Sooners' biggest question mark. With 12 catches last year, Durron Neal is the team's second-leading returning receiver. Austin Bennett, Jordan Smallwood and Derrick Woods all had moments in the spring game, but the competition for snaps will carry over into the fall. Talented four-star incoming freshman Michiah Quick could be a factor in the slot once he gets to Norman.

8. West Virginia (8): Starters Mario Alford, Kevin White and Daikiel Shorts are all back, but, collectively, must produce more consistently than they did last season. Alford seems to be the key. He had 215 receiving yards in West Virginia’s final game of 2013, and he has the talent and speed to give the Mountaineers a dangerous No. 1 wideout. Cody Clay is a valuable tight end, though does most of his damage with his blocking. Shelton Gibson, who was ineligible last year and this spring as a partial qualifier, is a former four-star recruit and could give West Virginia a boost.

9. TCU (9): The Horned Frogs actually had two positive developments at this position during the spring. Jordan Moore made a seamless transition from running back to receiver and is in line to give TCU a physical and fast presence on the outside. Then, former Texas A&M QB Matt Joeckel transferred in, potentially clearing the way for Trevone Boykin to swing back to receiver. This group has depth, with Ty Slanina, Josh Doctson, David Porter and Cameron Echols-Luper returning. But the future of the most talented receiver on the roster -- Brandon Carter -- remains in doubt after he was recently arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession, after sitting out spring ball to focus on academics.

10: Kansas (10): The Jayhawks might be at the bottom here, but they seem primed to field their best one-two punch at receiver since Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe roamed Lawrence five years ago. Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell has taken on a much-needed vocal leadership role among this group and brings a track record of production, having finished second nationally in receiving in 2011. Flanking Harwell will be former running back Tony Pierson, who made the full-time move to receiver this offseason. While he’s raw as a receiver, Pierson is capable of the big play. Rodriguez Coleman also emerged this spring as potential viable third option. The dark days of the Jayhawk receivers posing no threat in the passing game appear to be over.

Big 12 spring stars, Part 1

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
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Spring football is coming to a close in the Big 12, with several players making a move in their respective programs and securing or bettering their role on the team. During the next two days, we’ll review the Big 12’s stars of the spring by taking a closer look at their pre-spring roles, spring performance and potential roles this fall.

Defensive end Shawn Oakman, Baylor

Pre-spring role: Oakman looked like he could be a breakout star on Baylor’s defense after recording 12.5 tackles for loss in a backup role.

What he did this spring: Oakman cemented his spot in the starting lineup and boosted the belief that he could be one of the Big 12’s top defensive linemen this fall.

What his role could be this fall: A freakish athlete at 6-foot-9 and 270 pounds, Oakman has NFL ability and could show it as the key piece in Baylor’s stellar defensive line.

Quotable: “We can't block him. And I don't think anybody else will, either. It's what I've been saying all along: Our defensive line is as good as anyone's in America. He's just one of them out of six or seven that is going to be a dynamic player for us in the fall.” - Baylor coach Art Briles.

Receiver Brett Medders, Iowa State

Pre-spring role: The redshirt junior hadn’t really made an impact during his first three seasons, so not much was expected from him.

What he did this spring: Medders emerged as a legitimate option at receiver for a Cyclones offense searching for additional playmakers this spring. He had six receptions for 48 yards in the spring game. Coach Paul Rhoads praised Medders' performance during ISU’s spring practices.

What his role could be this fall: Even though ISU has several potential options at receiver, including true freshman Allen Lazard, Medders could have carved himself a role in Mark Mangino’s offense. He’s not a game-changing target, but could help force defenses to account for receiving threats other than Quenton Bundrage.

Receiver Nick Harwell, Kansas

Pre-spring role: The Jayhawks knew they had someone who could help them in Harwell, who was forced to sit out the 2013 season after transferring from Miami (Ohio).

What he did this spring: Harwell emerged as arguably the Jayhawks’ go-to playmaker. He’s a shifty receiver who can excel in the open field. KU repeatedly tried to put the ball in his hands during its spring game, so expect that to continue this fall. The Jayhawks wanted to identify playmakers during the spring and Harwell stepped up to fill that void.

What his role could be this fall: Harwell will be Montell Cozart’s main target and should join running back Tony Pierson as KU’s top playmakers in John Reagan’s new offense.

Quotable: “You try not to get too excited because he is so competitive and he runs good routes and he catches the ball. He doesn't like getting beat in drills. He wants to go against the best guy every single time. He is the type of competitor I am used to playing with. If he comes even close to the expectation I have for him, then I think we will be pretty happy.” - KU coach Charlie Weis

Cornerback Morgan Burns, Kansas State

Pre-spring role: Burns was poised to battle for a spot in the secondary after two seasons in a backup role.

What he did this spring: While the Wildcats' spring is not over yet, Burns has worked himself into a key role while separating himself among the Wildcats’ cornerbacks, who are competing for two starting positions.

What his role could be this fall: He appears poised to be KSU’s No. 1 option at cornerback unless he takes a step backward during the four months before the season kicks off.

Safety Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma

Pre-spring role: He was very solid as a freshman, playing a role on special teams while getting spot duty on defense. Thomas was expected to battle fellow sophomore Hatari Byrd to replace Gabe Lynn at safety.

What he did this spring: Thomas showed he’s going to be on the field one way or the other with a strong spring, which he capped with several plays in the spring game. He showed the ability to line up at multiple positions in the Sooners defense, allowing OU to use him in several roles.

What his role could be this fall: Byrd had a solid spring as well, so Thomas didn’t run away with the job at safety. But it would be a surprise if Thomas is not a key contributor on OU’s defense in 2014.

Spring game review: Kansas

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
4:30
PM ET
The time is now for the Kansas program under Charlie Weis. The Jayhawks head coach made several changes to his coaching staff this offseason, including the addition of new offensive coordinator John Reagan. Saturday’s spring game was unique, with the Blue team featuring KU’s first and second-teamers and the White squad featuring the third and fourth-teamers. In addition, all quarterbacks were live, meaning they could be hit, as KU tries to find its starting quarterback. Here’s what happened:

Best offensive performance: After entering the game alongside Jake Heaps as dual front-runners to start at quarterback, Montell Cozart was the best signal-caller on the field. The sophomore finished with 70 rushing yards and two touchdowns along with a game-high 58 passing yards, completing 6 of 10 passes. Cozart didn’t lock himself in as the Jayhawks starter, but Weis was pleased with what he saw.

[+] EnlargeMontell Cozart
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerMontell Cozart made several plays with his legs and showed poise in the pocket in Kansas' spring game.
"I was pleased to see him sit in the pocket,” Weis said. “We know he can bootleg and run on the edge, but it was good to see him show some poise in the pocket."

Best defensive performance: Linebacker Jake Love is a quiet playmaker alongside fellow linebacker Ben Heeney, who garners most of the headlines. Love finished with a game-high 10 tackles, including six solo stops. Love, who averaged 4.8 tackles per game in 2013, picked right up where he left off during the spring game. He could join Heeney to give KU one of the better linebacker duos in the conference.

Best debut: Receiver Nick Harwell’s final numbers were uninspiring. Four receptions for 31 yards won’t send fear into the hearts of Big 12 defensive coordinators. Those same coordinators would be wise to learn the name of the Miami (Ohio) transfer. His playmaking ability was evident and, if the spring game is any indication, Reagan’s offense is likely to try to put the ball in his hands often this fall.

Notable play: Cozart’s 60-yard run in the fourth quarter was the longest run of the game and was a glimpse at the reason why he could have the edge in the quarterback race if he continues to develop as a passer. He’s far from a finished product, but the sophomore could be a playmaker for Reagan’s offense.

Developing storyline: Michael Cummings has been the forgotten name in KU’s quarterback battle, yet he looked like the second-best quarterback on the field, outperforming Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Cummings, playing on the White team, which featured third and fourth-teamers, led his squad on a 12-play, 74-yard drive against the No. 1 defense that resulted in the only points of the first half, a 26-yard receiver pass from Tre’ Parmalee to Andrew Turzilli. Cummings didn't finish with great numbers (3-of-10, 42 yards, INT) but looked like his name should be alongside Heaps and Millweard behind Cozart.

Biggest question answered: The Jayhawks have some playmakers emerging on offense to help offset the loss of running back James Sims. Harwell will be a threat at receiver, Tony Pierson is one of the Big 12’s most explosive threats when healthy and running back Brandon Bourbon more than held his own at Sims’ former spot in the backfield with 12 carries for 96 yards. KU’s offensive line and quarterback play will decide how explosive this offense can be, with multiple playmaking options starting to emerge at running back and receiver.

Quotable: “We still have questions, but we also have a lot more answers now than we did in the beginning of the spring. We've implemented a new offense and we still have a ways to go, but I think it's positive at this stage. We've got to continue raising the bar around here." -- Weis
Our breakdown of the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12 wraps up on Friday.

These lists don’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus yet. Rather, they include only the players currently on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now.

Last but not least, the Kansas Jayhawks:

1. LB Ben Heeney: The best Big 12 defender who is not a household name. Heeney finished with 87 tackles as a junior, recording double-digit stops in six of the 10 games in which he played in 2013. He has been a bright light on the Jayhawks' defense for the past two seasons.

[+] EnlargeTony Pierson
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsTony Pierson missed five games last season, but has more than 1,000 rushing yards in his career at Kansas.
2. RB/WR Tony Pierson: The senior is one of the Big 12’s most explosive playmakers when healthy. Concerns about a head injury limited his big-play production as a junior, but if he returns to full health in 2014, he’s sure to strike fear in the hearts of Big 12 defensive coordinators.

3. S Isaiah Johnson: He was easily the most active newcomer to KU’s defense in 2013. He earned Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year honors while starting all 12 games at safety. Johnson finished with 73 tackles and five interceptions to help an improved Jayhawks defense.

4. G Ngalu Fusimalohi: The lone consistent anchor in KU’s offensive line a year ago, Fusimalohi played a key role in James Sims’ second consecutive 1,000-yard season. The strong yet fluid guard will provide a solid starting point for John Reagan in his first season as KU’s offensive coordinator.

5. CB JaCorey Shepherd: The former receiver was a playmaker in the Jayhawks secondary and also provided a threat as a returner. Strong performances against TCU and Oklahoma were a glimpse at the type of player he can be. If he continues to improve, he could rank among the Big 12’s top cornerbacks in 2014.

6. LB Michael Reynolds: The Jayhawks' most productive pass rusher, Reynolds led KU with 6.5 sacks and added 10 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. One of the most consistently productive KU defenders, Reynolds had at least one tackle for loss in six of 12 games in 2013.

7. TE Jimmay Mundine: Mundine could be one of the Big 12’s best pass-catching threats if he becomes more consistent. His 20 receptions for 229 yards and five touchdowns made him KU’s best receiving threat in the middle of the field a year ago. With better quarterback play and more consistent hands, Mundine could double that receptions total this fall.

8. S Cassius Sendish: The senior slid right into the starting safety spot, starting 12 games in his debut season with KU. He immediately emerged as one of the most active defenders on the roster, finishing with 68 tackles, which ranked third on the team.

9. CB Dexter McDonald: He joins with Shepherd to give KU a solid cornerback duo. His 12 pass breakups placed him eighth in the Big 12 and he added two interceptions during his first season at Kansas.

10. P Trevor Pardula: He finished second in the Big 12 in net punting and also led the conference in punts inside the 10-yard line (14). Pardula got plenty of work, with 84 punts, and he did his job well while also handling the Jayhawks kickoff duties.

Recapping the series:

April 3: Iowa State
April 2: West Virginia
April 1: TCU
March 31: Texas Tech
March 28: Kansas State
March 27: Texas
March 26: Oklahoma State
March 25: Oklahoma
March 24: Baylor
A year after winning the Orange Bowl, the Kansas Jayhawks featured one of the best wide receiver tandems in the country in 2008.

Dezmon Briscoe ranked third in college football in receiving yards. Wingman Kerry Meier tied Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree for seventh nationally in receptions.

[+] EnlargeTony Pierson
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsTony Pierson has had to learn how to beat coverage and run routes after switching from running back to receiver.
Yet in the four seasons since Briscoe and Meier departed, the position of wide receiver has been an utter disaster in Lawrence, Kan. The Jayhawks haven’t featured a top-20 receiver in the Big 12, much less the country.

But thanks to a key transfer and a key position change, Kansas could be on its way back to returning respectability to the position.

And maybe more.

This spring, the Jayhawks’ previously beleaguered receiving corps has gotten two major boosts. One from ex-Miami (Ohio) standout Nick Harwell; the other out of former Kansas running back Tony Pierson, who switched positions during the offseason.

“With both guys, you can see the rest of the group gravitating toward them,” said new Kansas wide receiver coach Eric Kiesau, who was hired to revive a position group that has come up with just three touchdowns catches combined since Oct. 22, 2011.

With such paltry production out of its receiving corps, the Jayhawks have struggled mightily on offense in recent years. Even though it featured All-Big 12 running back James Sims, Kansas still ranked last in the league in scoring by almost 10 points last season.

But even with Sims gone, the Jayhawks could be improved next season. Harwell and Pierson lined up at receiver is a big reason why.

Harwell arrived at Kansas last summer, after being dismissed from Miami earlier that spring.

In 2011, while the Jayhawk receivers were struggling just to haul in a touchdown pass, Harwell was the nation’s second-leading receiver, averaging almost 130 receiving yards per game for the RedHawks. He also caught 97 receptions and nine touchdowns that season.

Despite missing three games the following year as a junior, Harwell still finished with 68 catches and 870 receiving yards.

“He has something very valuable, and that’s experience at the college level,” Kiesau said. “He’s learning a new system, a new coaching style, and things are different for him. But he’ll progress fine. I’m not worried about him at all. He has all the intangibles you look for. He’s a great person, he has great work ethic, the other guys want to follow him. He has a lot of upside, and should really help us next year for sure.”

Harwell admits he’s had to shake off some rust this spring after sitting out last season due to transfer rules. But he says sitting out made him that much hungrier to make a difference.

“It was tough watching us go 3-9 last year, and be unable to make an impact. The most I could bring to the team was positive energy, and work hard on the scout team,” Harwell said. “This spring, I’m trying to bring leadership with the way I play. I’m trying to do everything right, and not give the coaches anything negative to say about me. I want to catch every ball thrown my way.”

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsCharlie Weis is looking for ways to generate more production from his wide receivers.
Harwell, however, isn’t the only Jayhawk receiver out there with a track record of producing big plays. That’s because Pierson has joined the receiving unit full time after spending the last three seasons at Kansas primarily as a halfback, where he had a 6.2 yards per carry career average.

This spring, while Harwell has been refining his receiving skills, Pierson has been focused on developing his.

“He is very raw,” Kiesau said of Pierson, who has little experience running routes downfield or fighting off press coverage despite being a reliable receiver out of the backfield. “It’s not his fault, he just hasn’t had a lot of time practicing the position.

“But he’s a guy I’m really fired up about. He's such a bright-eyed kid who wants to learn, wants direction. Already, he’s gotten a lot better.”

Pierson and Harwell have challenged each other to be better.

“We compete against each other every practice,” Harwell said. “He pushes me, and I push him.”

The two have also been pushing the rest of their position group. Harwell vocally; Pierson quietly.

So far, the results have been conspicuous.

And with Harwell and Pierson commanding so much of the defensive attention, that has eased the pressure off the other receivers like Rodriguez Coleman, who has been finding himself open this spring like never before.

“When you line up in formation, most attention -- even our defense -- goes to Harwell first and Tony second,” coach Charlie Weis said.

“It's really not that complicated.”

Squeezing production out of its receiving corps has felt complicated for Kansas since Briscoe and Meier roamed the field. But with the new duo of Harwell and Pierson, those days could finally be at an end.

“Having two reliable guys that can get open and make explosive plays,” Harwell said, “that’s going to be a big positive for our offense this season.”
The last time Kansas’ offense really soared, John Reagan was a driving force behind it all as the Jayhawks' offensive line coach and run-game coordinator.

During 2007 and 2008, the Jayhawks recorded their highest winning percentages, best points-per-game averages, yards-per-play averages and highest yards-per-game totals since 2004. In 2007, KU went 12-1 while averaging 42.8 points per game, 6.3 yards per play and 479.8 yards per game. In 2008, KU went 8-5 while averaging 33.4 points per game 5.95 yards per play and 432.4 yards per game.

[+] EnlargeJake Heaps
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsNew OC John Reagan expects his up-tempo offense to benefit Jake Heaps and all the Kansas QBs.
Reagan was a key member of the coaching staff during that span, spending five years (2004-2009) on the offensive staff during his first stint at KU. With Todd Reesing triggering the offense, KU committed to an up-tempo offense and strong running game to become a winner in the Big 12.

This spring, Reagan returned to Lawrence, Kan., as offensive coordinator and with a hope of using that blueprint to re-ignite the offense.

Ripples of the offensive changes have been on display during the early portion of KU’s spring football practices, in which returning offensive players are noticing the change in style and tempo. Quarterbacks Montell Cozart, Jake Heaps and T.J. Millweard have spent minimal time under center in Reagan’s up-tempo, no-huddle attack, but the Jayhawks are also focusing on being efficient while going fast.

“Like Coach Reagan said, we can go 100 miles per hour, but we have to perfect going 100 miles per hour before we can speed it up,” Cozart told The Topeka Capital-Journal. “So the offense is doing pretty well, and we’ll be able to put a lot more pressure on defenses this year.”

Reagan’s plan to amp up the offense shouldn’t be a surprise. KU’s most productive offensive seasons since 2004 were also its fastest during that span. Kansas ran 987 offensive plays in 2007 and 945 offensive plays in 2008 with those seasons ranking as the times it surpassed 900 during that span.

An up-tempo attack, commitment to the running game and taking advantage of the running ability of KU’s quarterbacks could make the offense more explosive in 2014, particularly if playmakers emerge alongside running back/receiver Tony Pierson.

“There definitely are a lot of new things we’re doing in this offense that keep me excited,” Cozart told The Topeka Capital-Journal.

At KU, a return to the past could greatly improve its future.

Big 12's lunch links

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
12:00
PM ET
This was hilarious!

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: WRs

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
4:30
PM ET
As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’ll be examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Thursday with receivers (and tight ends). Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see them at the moment:

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Lockett had seven games with more than 100 yards receiving and two games with more than 200.
1. Baylor: Antwan Goodley hauled in 1,339 receiving yards last year and is back for his senior campaign. Levi Norwood filled in well as a second option after Tevin Reese’s injury, and, like Goodley, can also fly. The Bears are also about to enjoy the fruits of back-to-back monster recruiting classes in the position, including five ESPN 300 players in the last two years. The best of those, incoming freshman K.D. Cannon, has the talent to be Baylor’s next great receiver.

2. Kansas State: The Wildcats have the Big 12’s finest receiver in Tyler Lockett, which warrants them a high ranking even if the supporting cast isn’t tantalizing. Lockett was basically uncoverable downfield last season, and exploded once QB Jake Waters got more comfortable. Curry Sexton has turned into a reliable possession target. The Wildcats also welcome one of the best juco receivers in the country in Andre Davis. If Davis pans out, this has a chance to be among the best receiving corps Bill Snyder has ever had.

3. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose an ultra-productive player in Eric Ward and a superstar in tight end Jace Amaro, but this position remains stocked with talent. Jitterbug slot man Jakeem Grant was sixth in the league last year in receiving, and showed in the Holiday Bowl how dangerous he can be when 100 percent focused. Bradley Marquez and Jordan Davis are reliable pass-catchers, but the player to watch here is Reginald Davis. A former high school quarterback, Davis has gradually picked up the nuances of playing receiver. But as he flashed in a kickoff return touchdown against Arizona State, Davis is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and could be a major factor.

4. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose their top three receivers, but outside Baylor, no team in the Big 12 has more WRs ready to contribute in 2014 than Oklahoma State. Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman combined for 61 receptions as freshmen, and will give the Cowboys a physical presence on the perimeter. Brandon Sheperd and David Glidden were also part of the regular rotation, and Austin Hays, who started nine games in 2012, would have been had he not missed virtually the entire season with injury. The two to watch here, though, have yet to play a down, but will bring major speed. Former ESPN 300 recruit Ra’Shaad Samples redshirted last year, but reportedly ran a 4.3-second 40 last summer. That might seem slow compared to Tyreek Hill, the nation’s No. 4 juco recruit, who doubles as a track phenom.

5. Texas: Jaxon Shipley isn’t his brother Jordan, but he’s still a quality college receiver. Even with all of Texas’ QB issues, Shipley already has 159 career receptions. The Longhorns have speed and playmaking elsewhere in downfield burner Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and the versatile Daje Johnson. The Longhorns also signed one of three best incoming WRs in the Big 12 in Armanti Foreman. This group could really thrive with an uptick in QB play.

[+] EnlargeJordan Thompson
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiJordan Thompson showed near the end of the season the type of weapon he can be in West Virginia's offense.
6. Oklahoma: The Sooners graduate Jalen Saunders, who was “Mr. Everything” for the OU offense. But Sterling Shepard seems primed to take over the No. 1 role after hauling in 51 passes and seven touchdowns. Who will surround him? Durron Neal is the only other player on the roster with much experience. But the good news for the Sooners is they’ve recruited superbly at the position. Among many options, the player to keep an eye on is freshman Jordan Smallwood, who was turning heads last summer, until a foot fracture forced him to redshirt.

7. Iowa State: Quenton Bundrage is one of the more underrated receivers in the league despite ranking third in the Big 12 in touchdowns. With Amaro gone, E.J. Bibbs becomes the best receiving tight end in the league after hauling in 39 passes last year. Iowa State’s standing here, though, is contingent on incoming freshman Allen Lazard, one the most highly touted WRs Iowa State has ever signed. If Lazard can make an immediate impact, like the Iowa State coaching staff is banking on, this could become one of the better units in the league.

8. West Virginia: There’s no corps in the Big 12 that could move up more spots than West Virginia’s. The Mountaineers didn’t have a receiver rank in the top 15 in the Big 12 in receiving last year, but Kevin White, Mario Alford and Daikiel Shorts all ranked in the top 20. All three are back, too, as is the diminutive Jordan Thompson, who finally came alive the second half of the season. Former ESPN 300 recruit Shelton Gibson, who redshirted, will also join the rotation. The Mountaineers rank eighth for now, but they are closer to Kansas State than to Kansas.

9. TCU: This week, TCU kicked receiver LaDarius Brown off the team. Considering Brown tied for the team lead in receptions last year, it’s a tough loss. This unit is obviously better with Trevone Boykin, but he might have to play QB, at least until someone else emerges there. The Horned Frogs desperately need Brandon Carter to become a No. 1 receiver. After a promising sophomore year, Carter was basically a non-factor, before showing signs of bouncing back the last month of the season. TCU needs him in a big way in 2014.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have a receiver with more than 11 catches last year. Some of that was the quarterbacks. Some of it was, well, the receivers. The group had little overall impact, which put tremendous pressure on James Sims and the running game. With Sims gone, the receivers have to elevate their game significantly for Kansas to have a chance of taking a step forward. The Jayhawks do have a solid tight end in Jimmay Mundine, who had five TD catches. And Tony Pierson could play more receiver this year. But somebody else needs to emerge.

Season report card: Kansas

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
3:00
PM ET
It was an odd season in Lawrence, Kan.

The Jayhawks defense performed better than expected but Kansas’ offense stumbled around and was the main culprit behind KU’s 3-9 record. That said, Charlie Weis’ bunch won more games in 2013 than they did in 2012 including their first Big 12 win since 2010.

Offense: F

James Sims was the only positive in an otherwise ugly KU offense. Sims rushed for 1,110 yards and seven touchdowns in his final season but the rest of the offense stumbled throughout the 12-game season. Tony Pierson, one of the Big 12’s most explosive players, struggled to stay healthy and quarterback Jake Heaps disappointed as a starter.

KU finished No. 118 in points scored per game (15.3), No. 117 in yards per game (294.5), No. 120 in yards per play (4.28) and No. 121 in third down conversion rate (27.9 percent). The Jayhawks' offense never found any rhythm or any confidence throughout the season. It was a odd turn of events for a team that was expected to lean in its offense for any success it had in 2013.

Defense: D

The defense wasn’t great but it played better than expected at times and often found itself paying for the offense’s struggles. The Jayhawks allowed 31.8 points per game and 5.82 yards per play, finishing in the bottom three in the Big 12.

[+] EnlargeJames Sims
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesJames Sims, who ran for 1,110 yards and 7 TDs, was about the only bright spot on a dismal KU offense.
Safety Isaiah Johnson was one of the surprises of the Big 12 with his active play and competitive nature. He finished tied for second in the Big 12 with five interceptions as he earned Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year honors. Linebacker Ben Heeney was another key contributor with his team-high 87 tackles and 8.7 tackle per game average which ranked fourth in the conference.

Even with some stellar individual performances, KU’s defense couldn’t really keep the Jayhawks in games and didn’t make the key plays needed to spark more victories.

Special teams: C

The Jayhawks' special teams were fairly solid. Trevor Pardula was one of the Big 12’s top punters, finishing second in net punting (40.12) and first in punts inside the 10-yard line (14). He had 51.2 percent of his kickoffs result in touchbacks. But KU’s placekicking and return game was below average as the Jayhawks’ third unit never really changed the momentum of games and sparked a win.

Overall: D

Weis’ team improved over last season's group but remains at the bottom of the conference. The offense was the Big 12’s worst unit and the defense, while improved, still wasn’t good enough to keep it in every game. The only reason the Jayhawks escaped a lower grade was their 31-19 win over West Virginia which snapped a 27-game conference losing streak.

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