Big 12: Troy Baker
Last August, Bryce Petty took the gang to Olive Garden. This time he brought six linemen. They capitalized on his kindness.
“They had appetizers and salads and two entrees -- one to take home, which was ridiculous,” Petty said. “I didn’t think they needed that, but I couldn’t really tell them no.”
Tackle Troy Baker got the Olive Garden invite despite being out with a torn ACL, so he was especially appreciative. The love Petty has always shown his linemen, even before he was a starter or Big 12 Player of the Year, isn’t lost on them.
“He’s going to take care of his big guys. He knows we’ll get beat up and we’ll work for him,” Baker said. “He knows what we mean to him. We know how important he is to us.”
But Petty still has to tread lightly among his linemen in the locker room. Baylor’s offensive line room is full of athletic freaks, blue-collar grinders and loudmouths, plus a Brit and two Aussies. And they can be merciless, even to QB1.
“Sometimes he’ll come in wearing his decked-out Nike stuff, looking like Tiger, or he’ll be wearing neon yellow Nike stuff head to toe,” Baker said. “We’ll give him some crap about that.”
Petty doesn’t get it as bad as Jason Osei, the 27-year-old sophomore from London with a martial arts and rugby background. He gets called “Pickle” on the days he’s wearing his green skull cap, shirt, shorts and shoes.
“He’s a character, man,” tackle Spencer Drango said. “All the girls love him for his accent. It’s pretty thick. We have a joke about who won the Revolutionary War. He says it was a tie.”
Then you have brothers Blake Muir and Sean Muir, who arrived in Waco last year. Blake started 12 games at Hawaii in 2012 before transferring. Sean had never played football before joining the Bears. Their accents are just as beloved.
Blake is competing for the left guard job with LaQuan McGowan, a young man who might be from the future.
“LaQuan is legitimately 6-foot-8, 400 pounds,” Baker said. “He’s strong as can be. Coach [Art] Briles always says he’s 20 years out of his time. It’s unbelievable physically what he can do.
“You can’t do anything to him. You literally can’t. He can cut you in line and, even as another offensive lineman, you’re like, ‘Go ahead, buddy. It’s yours. All you.’”
Drango jokes that the first time he shook hands with McGowan, his freshman-year roommate, he almost lost his.
“I have big hands,” Drango said. “He completely dwarfed my hand and almost crushed it.”
McGowan or Muir will line up to the right of Drango, an All-Big 12 tackle and NFL prospect who’s fully recovered from the back injury that ended his 2013 season early. His backup, Pat Colbert, is known as “Sinbad” in the locker room. Look up his mug shot and it’s easy to see why.
At center, there’s Kyle Fuller, a redshirt sophomore who’s described as no-nonsense and “very blue-collar” by teammates. Desmine Hilliard is the starting right guard and also an All-American at throwing the discus; he set school records at the NCAA track and field championships last year.
The backup at right tackle, Tyler Edwards, gets called “The Undertaker” for his hair. And then you have Baker, who’s back from the torn ACL and can’t wait to see what this group does at full strength.
“To be honest, I don’t think I would,” the former three-star recruit said. “They don’t have to. They can recruit the studs, and the studs come after them now.”
Randy Clements, Baylor’s line coach, has been working alongside Briles since 1989. He oversaw linemen and power lifting back in their Stephenville High days. His linemen say he’s brilliant, a coach capable of developing anybody. At Baylor, he’s produced an NFL draft pick in six straight years.
The line began breaking through, in Baker's estimation, late in the 2012 season. Injuries hit the group hard last year during the stretch run, but they plugged in new starters and survived. Having All-American left guard Cyril Richardson to learn from no doubt helped.
“We had a perfect example,” Baker said. “His technique was flawless and that’s why he was so successful. He was able to do everything Coach Clem asked.”
As Clements’ linemen describe it, fall camp can be brutal. This 19-man line group averages 6-5 and 305 pounds. In practice, they run just as hard as everyone else to prep for hustling to the line of scrimmage. You can’t sustain a four-plays-per-minute tempo without practicing faster than you play.
And while Petty, his trio of running backs and his endless supply of receivers get all the attention, his offensive linemen will be busy doing the dirty work.
Drango and Baker, the leaders of the gang, were stuck on the sidelines when Baylor’s undefeated season fell apart at Oklahoma State. They know the run game faltered late, averaging 168 yards per game and 3.7 per carry in the final four games after putting up 300 a game and 6.0 per carry in the first nine. The seniors vow it can’t happen again.
“We go as they go. I’ve always said that,” Petty said. “I’m just praying those guys stay healthy.”
His linemen are practicing and conditioning this month with December on their minds. Sure, they love to mess with each other and tease their quarterback in their spare time. But when it comes to title talk, they’re not joking around.
“As we get closer to November,” Baker said, “we plan on being in contention for the playoff."
Another one of my favorites is Pat Forde’s dream and nightmare scenario for every team going into college basketball’s NCAA tournament.
With that in mind, we’ve come up with the best- and worst-case scenarios for every Big 12 team going into the 2014 season. Of course, the reality will fall somewhere in between. But this will forecast what a season would look like if every single imaginable domino fell into place. And likewise, if everything that could go wrong, well, did.
We begin this series with the defending Big 12 champs -- the Baylor Bears:
Of course, Petty can’t win a Heisman without his supporting cast showing up, and they do just that and more. Antwan Goodley matches his 2013 totals and earns first-team All-American honors. Corey Coleman has a breakout campaign, setting the stage to become the next in the ever-growing line of big-time Baylor wide receivers. Redshirt freshman running back Johnny Jefferson lives up to the spring hype, leading Baylor’s running back stable with 1,100 yards on the ground. Left tackle Spencer Drango doesn’t surrender a sack all season to win the Outland Trophy. And led by mammoth defensive end Shawn Oakman, the defensive line makes good on Art Briles’ spring proclamation, and leads the nation in tackles for loss.
With the team firing on more cylinders than ever, Baylor empties Darrell K. Royal Stadium by the third quarter then obliterates TCU, leaving Gary Patterson speechless in his postgame news conference.
The undefeated Bears march into Norman on Nov. 8 and edge the Sooners in one of the all-time great games in Big 12 history, catapulting Baylor to No. 1 in the polls, and to No. 1 in the minds of the playoff committee.
The Bears coast through the rest of the Big 12 season unscathed, securing them a spot in the inaugural four-team playoff. They squeak through in the first game, setting up a clash with the SEC champ in AT&T Stadium, just a hundred miles from Waco’s campus. With plenty of green on hand, the Bears capture their first national championship on a fourth-quarter bomb from Petty to Goodley, reminiscent of James Street’s heave to Cotton Speyrer that handed Texas the national championship in the Cotton Bowl Classic 34 years before.
In his postgame news conference, Briles tells the nation he plans to retire in Waco, and days later signs another extension to keep him there for life.
Fresh off the national title, Baylor lands a top 10 recruiting class, and with confidence swelling about the state of the program, athletic director Ian McCaw beefs up the nonconference schedule by ringing up Alabama and immediately agreeing to fill the Crimson Tide’s vacant slot in 2015.
Without Johnny Football, the Aggies finish with a losing record, and the Longhorns get drilled in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. In the NFL draft, the Dallas Cowboys trade up to get Petty in the first round to be their heir apparent to Tony Romo.
In his second year as the starter, Petty succumbs to the dreaded sophomore slump. He throws three picks in the opener, as Baylor just barely survives SMU in a sluggish unveiling of McLane Stadium.
The defensive line falls way below Briles’ expectation, the new secondary turns out to be a disaster, and the Bears wind up ranking in the bottom 10 nationally in pass defense.
Baylor also desperately misses the consistency of Lache Seastrunk and Tevin Reese, as the offense becomes too dependent on Petty and Goodley to make plays. Drango’s back issues flare up and, and right tackle Troy Baker never really returns to form from last year’s knee injury. In turn, Petty is under duress all season, and the Baylor offense doubles last season's turnover total.
The Bears survive the Ponies. But they can’t escape Ames, as the giant killers of the Big 12 upset Baylor after Petty fumbles on the first play of double overtime.
The stunning defeat sends the Bears into a mini-tailspin. They get battered by the Longhorns the following week in the game of Texas linebacker Steve Edmond’s career. TCU’s defense smothers Baylor the following week, handing the Bears a third straight loss. At 4-3, the Bears hobble into Norman and put up a gutty performance but can’t stop Trevor Knight, who all but locks up All-Big 12 quarterback honors.
Baylor rebounds to take down Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl, which gets other schools interested in Briles to be their coach again.
Edmond is named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Petty slips to the second round. McCaw adds Old Dominion to the schedule.
- West Virginia president E. Gordon Gee believes "everyone won" in Ohio State's Tattoogate.
- Texas Tech QB signee Patrick Mahomes is a name to watch in the MLB draft.
- Ranking the Big 12's top 10 quarterbacks entering the fall.
- Baylor's Troy Baker was named one of the smartest players in college football.
- Texas is in the hunt for 2017 LSU commit Dylan Moses after summer camp.
- New linebacker commit Clay Johnston explains why he chose Baylor.
- Iowa State RB DeVondrick Nealy's excessive noise violation was downgraded.
- Former Kansas CB Aqib Talib is impressed by his new quarterback.
- Some notable names up for the Texas and Kansas Sports Hall of Fames.
Last week, we kicked off our Big 12's Ultimate Road Trip series. This week we continue with the bulk of the 2014 schedule.
To those unfamiliar with this series, we both pick a game featuring a Big 12 team in every week of the season that we’d cover if the travel budget were unlimited and there were no editors telling us where to go.
We’ll be basing our choices on several factors, including the quality of the matchup and the stakes that could be involved. The only restriction is that each of us can pick only one game per week.
Let's continue with Week 6.
Baylor at Texas
Kansas at West Virginia
Iowa State at Oklahoma State
Texas Tech at Kansas State
Oklahoma at TCU
Jake Trotter’s pick: Baylor at Texas
This renewed rivalry got another boost in the spring when Texas linebacker Steve Edmond, unprompted, called Baylor “trash.” Bears offensive tackle Troy Baker responded by posting a picture of the Big 12 championship trophy on Twitter and writing, “I love this trash too.”
After conference realignment destroyed several of the Big 12’s rivalries (Texas-Texas A&M, Oklahoma-Nebraska, Kansas-Missouri, Kansas State-Nebraska, Texas Tech-Texas A&M) the league needs some of its games to generate more heat. The Baylor-Texas game should bring plenty of that this season.
By knocking off the Bears, the Longhorns could recover some of their lost standing in the Big 12 the last five years. By taking down Texas for the fourth time in five years, Baylor could keep its thumb on its neighbors to the south, while remaining on the collision course showdown against Oklahoma on Nov. 8 to determine the Big 12 crown.
There will be plenty of heat in Austin for this game. And for me, plenty of barbeque, too.
Brandon Chatmon’s pick: Baylor at Texas
This clash between Baylor and Texas is too good to pass up.
Charlie Strong gets the chance to send a clear message against a Bears squad that is used to sending the Longhorns home with an L.
Edmond’s words made it clear that Baylor, despite its recent winning ways against the Longhorns, still has a ways to go before it has the respect it must think it’s already earned. Expect the Bears to arrive in Austin, Texas with a huge chip on their shoulder and feeling disrespected.
Meanwhile, Strong can start showing the Big 12 his plan to return UT to national title contention is progressing quicker than most expect with a win over the defending champions.
Intense rivalry. NFL talent. Great coaching.
There are plenty of good reasons to spend Week 6 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium, so I can’t wait to head to Austin.
Week 1: Trotter -- SMU at Baylor; Chatmon -- West Virginia vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)
Week 2: Trotter -- Kansas State at Iowa State; Chatmon -- Kansas State at Iowa State
Week 3: Trotter -- Texas vs UCLA (in Arlington); Chatmon -- Tennessee at Oklahoma
Week 4: Trotter -- Auburn at Kansas State; Chatmon -- Auburn at Kansas State
Week 5: Trotter -- Texas Tech at Oklahoma State; Chatmon -- Baylor at Iowa State
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
- QB: Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
- RB: Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
- WR: Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
- WR: Tony Pierson, Kansas
- WR: Daje Johnson, Texas
- WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
- LT: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
- LG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
- C: Tom Farniok, Iowa State
- RG: Dominic Espinosa, Texas
- RT: Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma
- DE: Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
- DT: Malcom Brown, Texas
- DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU
- DE: Cedric Reed, Texas
- WLB: Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
- SLB: Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
- NB: JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas
- CB: Daryl Worley, West Virginia
- FS: Dante Barnett, Kansas State
- SS: Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
- CB: Kevin White, TCU
MAX OLSON'S TEAM
- QB: Davis Webb, Texas Tech
- RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor
- RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas
- WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
- WR: Jaxon Shipley, Texas
- IR: Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
- LT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
- LG: Quinton Spain, West Virginia
- C: B.J. Finney, Kansas State
- RG: Daniel Koenig, Oklahoma State
- RT: Troy Baker, Baylor
- DE: Devonte Fields, TCU
- DT: Andrew Billings, Baylor
- DE: Shawn Oakman, Baylor
- DE: Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma
- OLB: Frank Shannon, Oklahoma
- ILB: Bryce Hager, Baylor
- OLB: Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
- CB: Quandre Diggs, Texas
- SS: Sam Carter, TCU
- FS: Terrell Burt, Baylor
- CB: Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
JAKE TROTTER’S TEAM
- QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
- RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas
- WR: Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
- WR: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
- WR: Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
- TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
- LT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
- LG: Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
- C: Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
- RG: Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
- RT: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
- DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
- Nose: James Castleman, Oklahoma State
- Tackle: Travis Britz, Kansas State
- OLB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
- ILB: Ben Heeney, Kansas
- ILB: Paul Dawson, TCU
- OLB: Brandon Golson, West Virginia
- CB: Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
- SS: Karl Joseph, West Virginia
- FS: Chris Hackett, TCU
- CB: Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
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.
- 1. QB Bryce Petty, Baylor
- 2. OT Spencer Drango, Baylor
- 3. OLB Eric Striker, Oklahoma
- 4. DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
- 5. OT Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
- 6. WR Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
- 7. WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
- 8. TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
- 9. RB Malcolm Brown, Texas
- 10. DT Travis Britz, Kansas State
- 11. DT James Castleman, Oklahoma State
- 12. CB Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
- 13. SS Karl Joseph, West Virginia
- 14. FS Chris Hackett, TCU
- 15. LB Ben Heeney, Kansas
- 1. WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
- 2. DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
- 3. DE Cedric Reed, Texas
- 4. OT Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
- 5. DT Malcom Brown, Texas
- 6. DT Chucky Hunter, TCU
- 7. CB Daryl Worley, West Virginia
- 8. CB Kevin White, TCU
- 9. OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
- 10. SS Dante Barnett, Kansas State
- 11. C Tom Farniok, Iowa State
- 12. LB Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
- 13. CB JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas
- 14. OT Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma
- 15. WR Daje Johnson, Texas
- 1. DE Devonte Fields, TCU
- 2. WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor
- 3. DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor
- 4. QB Davis Webb, Texas Tech
- 5. LB Frank Shannon, Oklahoma
- 6. CB Quandre Diggs, Texas
- 7. SS Sam Carter, TCU
- 8. LB Bryce Hager, Baylor
- 9. DT Andrew Billings, Baylor
- 10. OT Daniel Koenig, Oklahoma State
- 11. CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
- 12. RB Shock Linwood, Baylor
- 13. C BJ Finney, Kansas State
- 14. OG Quinton Spain, West Virginia
- 15. OLB Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Sporting News has listed the Sooners as its preseason No. 1 team in the country, due in large part to Oklahoma’s offensive line. That might be going overboard, but the Sooners have a wealth of experience and depth returning up front, which includes four starters. They’ll get even deeper once guard Tyler Evans is cleared this summer, as expected (he was running this spring). Evans has missed the past two seasons with knee injuries but was a three-year starter before getting hurt.
3. Texas (3): The Longhorns will feature one of the eldest lines in the Big 12, with its projected starting front comprising two seniors and three juniors. Right guard Taylor Doyle emerged this spring at the biggest question spot, but Texas has other options inside with Rami Hammad, Curtis Riser and the versatile Kent Perkins. Center Dominic Espinosa is the anchor of this group, which will be asked to establish itself with the running game in Charlie Strong’s first season.
4. Baylor (4): The Bears are still waiting for left tackle Spencer Drango to return from last season’s back injury, but right tackle Troy Baker showed no lingering effects of the knee injury he suffered last spring. With the depth inside and with Kyle Fuller locking up the center job, there are no weaknesses with this cast -- provided Drango gets healthy and gets back to the field.
5. Oklahoma State (5): The Cowboys are also waiting for their left tackle to return from an injury he suffered last season. Devin Davis has NFL potential but has been slow to recover from an ACL tear last preseason. The Cowboys seemed to also be in a fix at center with their top-two players at the position from last fall moving on from the program with eligibility still remaining. But Paul Lewis slid over from guard this spring and stabilized that spot. Daniel Koenig is an All-Big 12 caliber player and capable of playing tackle or guard. He’ll continue to man left tackle, at least until Davis returns.
6. Texas Tech (6): Tech received some welcome news during spring ball with starting right tackle Rashad Fortenberry being granted an extra year of eligibility. The Red Raiders have one of the best returning tackles in the league on the left side in Le’Raven Clark, and two juco tackles they’re high on in Shaq Davis and Dominique Robertson. With Jared Kaster and Alfredo Morales also returning as starters inside, Tech’s offensive line should be much better than last season's.
7. West Virginia (7): The Mountaineers have the league’s most reliable one-two punch at guard in Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski, who have 38 career starts together. The rest of the line, however, is a question. Left tackle Adam Pankey impressed coach Dana Holgorsen early in the spring and won a starting job before the Gold-Blue Game. If Pankey pans out, the Mountaineers could be a load up front.
8. Iowa State (8): The Cyclones had disastrous luck with the health of their offensive line last season, but that should pay off in 2014 with so many different players having gotten experience. Left tackle Brock Dagel has immense upside, and center Tom Farniok is an All-Big-type player. But the Cyclones were especially pumped with the development of sophomore right guard Daniel Burton, who is physical and one of the smartest players on the team. If they get better luck with good health, this could wind up being a very a tough and balanced unit.
9. TCU (9): The Horned Frogs welcomed the return of tackle Tayo Fabuluje, who left the team before the start of the season last fall. Fabuluje, however, missed several practices with an ankle injury, allowing redshirt freshman Joseph Noteboom to move ahead of him on the depth chart. Fabuluje will have a chance to earn his spot back in the spring opposite Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who replaced Fabuluje last season. But the way the 2013 season went, the Horned Frogs can’t have too many reliable offensive tackles. Juco transfer Frank Kee impressed during the spring and should lock down a starting spot at guard next to center Joey Hunt, who did a nice job of adapting to the new offense during the spring. With 6-foot-7, 350-pound Matt Pryor also likely to fit in somewhere in the rotation, the Frogs will definitely be bigger up front than they were in 2013 -- and probably better, too.
10: Kansas (10): Because he can get in and out of the pocket, Montell Cozart winning the starting job should help the offensive line. The fact that new offensive coordinator John Reagan is also an offensive line coach should be a boost, as well. The Jayhawks have several battles up front that will continue into the fall, including center, where walk-on Joe Gibson made a huge impression during the spring.
The Bears have one of the top returning quarterbacks in college football in Petty, who was phenomenal last year in his first season as a starter. With a year of experience under his belt, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be better in 2014. Russell performed well in limited duty last year, suggesting the Bears could survive at least a minor injury to Petty.
RB: Shock Linwood (So.) or Devin Chafin (So.), Johnny Jefferson (RFr.), Terence Williams (Fr.)
The Bears boast four potentially outstanding runners who all have at least three seasons of eligibility remaining. Linwood finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing last season, despite backing up Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin. Jefferson, however, was the back who created the most buzz during the spring. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder looks poised to give the Bears a dynamic home-run threat to complement the rest of the backfield. It’s not often a program can lose two talents like Seastrunk and Martin and remain loaded.
WR: Antwan Goodley (Sr.), Davion Hall (Fr.)
WR: Jay Lee (Jr.) or Robbie Rhodes (So.), Quan Jones (RFr.)
IR: Corey Coleman (So.) or Clay Fuller (Sr.), Cal Spangler (Jr.)
IR: Levi Norwood (Sr.), Lynx Hawthorne (So.)
TE: Tre’von Armstead (So.) or Gus Penning (Jr.), Jordan Feuerbacher (Fr.)
Despite graduating all-conference performer Tevin Reese, the Bears should easily have the deepest collection of pass-catchers in the Big 12. Coleman was tremendous all spring, capped by a 47-yard receiving effort in the spring game. He and Rhodes could have breakout campaigns in their second years in the rotation. Goodley is one of the two best wideouts in the league along with Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, and Lee, Fuller and Norwood are all proven commodities. More firepower is on the way this summer, including hotshot freshman K.D. Cannon, who looks like a virtual lock to crack the rotation somewhere.
LT: Spencer Drango (Jr.), Pat Colbert (Jr.)
LG: LaQuan McGowan (Jr.) or Blake Muir (Jr.)
C: Kyle Fuller (So.), Tyler Edwards (Sr.)
RG: Desmine Hilliard (Jr.), Jarell Broxton (Jr.)
RT: Troy Baker (Sr.), Tyler Edwards (Sr.)
The Bears lose unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson, but will get a huge boost if Drango makes a full recovery from a back injury he suffered late last season. With Drango out, Baylor’s blindside pass protection also suffered the final month of the season. When healthy, Drango is one of the best pass-protecting left tackles in the country. Baker, who started as a sophomore, returned late last season after tearing his ACL last spring to reclaim his starting job, which he held through the spring. With Hilliard returning at guard, Fuller locking down the starting job at center and other quality depth inside, the Bears should be very solid on the offensive line -- provided Drango can get healthy and Baker can stay healthy at the bookends.
NT: Andrew Billings (So.), Suleiman Masumbuko (Jr.)
DT: Beau Blackshear (Jr.) or Javonte Magee (So.), Byron Bonds (So.)
LE: Jamal Palmer (Jr.), Sam Ukwuachu (Jr.)
Last week, Baylor coach Art Briles said he’d put his top-seven defensive linemen against any other top seven in college football. The unit still has a lot to prove to reach that level, but there’s no denying the potential. Oakman elevated his game to another level this spring, and was basically unblockable. He’s a candidate to be an All-Big 12 performer even in a league that’s stocked at defensive end. The fact that Magee is listed as a co-starter with Blackshear -- a starter last season -- underscores what the coaching staff thinks of Magee, who before taking last year off due to personal matters was among the most highly touted recruits Briles had ever signed. This group is high on ability, and has the capability to prove their coach right in the fall.
WLB: Aiavion Edwards (So.), Taylor Young (RFr.) or Raaquan Davis(RFr.)
MLB: Bryce Hager (Sr.), Grant Campbell (Jr.) or Kendall Ehrlich (So.)
Hager missed the final four games of last season due to a groin injury, which also kept him out this spring. But Hager is about as reliable as it gets in the Big 12, having earned second-team all-conference honors the last two years. Edwards is the one to watch. He was given the first nod on the weak side, after playing in the middle last season and in the spring in place of Hager. But he’ll have to perform to fend off the competition, including Young, who impressed defensive coordinator Phil Bennett during the spring with his nose for the ball.
NB: Collin Brence (Sr.), Pat Levels (So.)
CB: Terrence Singleton (So.), Ryan Reid (So.)
CB: Xavien Howard (So.) or Chris Sanders (Jr.)
DS: Orion Stewart (So.), Alfred Pullom (RFr.)
CS: Terrell Burt (Jr.), Taion Sells (So.)
This unit comprises by far the biggest question mark on the team. The Bears should be in good shape at safety. Burt, the only returning starter in the group, will be back shortly from offseason shoulder surgery that kept him out of a spring ball. Briles also singled out Stewart for having a very promising spring as the replacement for All-American Ahmad Dixon. After a series of injury setbacks early in his career, Singleton returned to win a starting job at corner, at least for now. Howard also showed a ton of promise during the spring, but he’ll have competition from Sanders, one of the top juco corners in the country, who had a shoulder injury this spring. Brence, a walk-on, was the biggest surprise in the secondary, and is listed as the starter at nickelback. How this untested unit comes together could ultimately determine whether the Bears repeat as Big 12 champs.
That's not hard to believe when he's dropping insight like this:
Ahmad Dixon: John, I'm going to have to say Shawn Oakman. He's helped us out a lot. He slows down the perimeter run a lot. A lot of those bubble passes and short throws, he's able to knock those down because of his length. He can get off the ball and get a lot of sacks. He gives us a speed rush and his speed gets in the backfield and length to cut off the outside. He's been the most impressive of anybody I've watched. (For receivers) I would have to say Levi Norwood. His ability to come out of his breaks are tremendous. He has great hips. He's not the fastest guy, but he has great stop/start speed .That makes you have to work on coming with balance and not coming downhill and just biting on his first move. When you guard Levi, it makes you learn how to be patient.
Great stuff from Ahmad. Here's a few more thoughts from my day with the Bears:
- The one thing that jumped out to me in seeing them and being around the Bears all day was the confidence of everybody. I think last year really did show a lot of people around the league that Baylor's program was more than just RG III, and if there were any folks inside the program who doubted that, there aren't any more. There's just sort of a different feel around practice than there was last spring, and even back when Griffin was in the mix. I've gone to spring and fall practices probably five or six times at Baylor, but this one felt a lot different. You build toward titles in small steps in college football. One or two players won't do it. Baylor's talent level is steadily rising. I don't know if I see transcendent talents like RG III or Kendall Wright on this team, but on the whole, there's a lot more talent in a lot more spots than there has been for a long time at Baylor. That's the biggest thing that jumped off the page at me in spending two hours watching them work out. Offensively, I didn't see a huge difference from Baylor in the past, but on defense, there is clearly more speed. There is more instinct and football IQ, and there is not much griping from coaches about guys being out of position or being lost on plays. I saw very, very little of that. Who knows how much of that will carry over, but the defensive resurgence we saw late in 2012 was far above the moderate resurgence we saw at the end of 2011.
- Art Briles' biggest concern about his team is definitely his offensive line. Losing Troy Baker to an ACL injury last week only made that worse, and necessitated adjustments. "We were a little light in the O-line to start with. We only had 10 scholarship O-linemen," Briles said. "That's kind of made us readjust some positions, but the defense has really done well. We've got eight of those guys back."
- You'll be able to read a whole lot more about quarterback Bryce Petty in the future on the blog from my extensive sit-down with him and Briles, but Petty divulged that his source of transportation around campus these days is a moped. That was news to Briles, but it doesn't sound like he's too nervous about his starting quarterback zipping around Waco on two wheels, though I might be if I were Briles. "I'm glad it's not a Harley," Briles said.
- As for practice, I saw a more mature version of the physically gifted Petty I watched in practices on previous visits to Waco. I thought he was ready to be a Big 12 starter last year, and maybe could have even started for a few teams back in 2011. Now that he's nearing the end of his fourth spring on campus, he definitely looks far more polished than any of the other quarterbacks on Baylor's roster. I mentioned this in the live blog on Tuesday, but I asked Briles what Petty would have to do to lose this job. He thought about it awhile and said it would take a long string of mistakes and not taking care of the ball. "I don't anticipate that happening," Briles said. Me either.
- Plenty more Baylor coverage to come soon, so sit tight. Hope you guys enjoyed the live blog, though. If you want more in-depth coverage of my practice observations, you can find it there.
- Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com tells you what Vince Young's recent return to Austin has meant to Texas' current team and Young's career.
- Cedric Golden of the Austin American-Statesman has more on Young's hopeful comeback attempt.
- It doesn't sound like there's any debate thus far on Kansas' starting quarterback. It's Jake Heaps, writes Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star.
- What's wrong with Texas? One former player weighs in with Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
- Hate to see this: Baylor lost starting offensive lineman Troy Baker with a torn ACL. They're hoping he can come back by October. Cornerback Tuswani Copeland is expected to miss the season after suffering an Achilles tendon injury.
- Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register has a report from Day 1 at Iowa State's spring practice, where it has a quarterback but is replacing two linebackers.
- New O-line coach Ron Crook is bringing a taste of Stanford's power running game to Morgantown, writes John Harris of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- Oklahoma running backs coach Cale Gundy is mic'd up for practice.
- K-State picked up a commitment from a defensive end in Missouri.
- Oklahoma State's running backs are focusing on pass-catching this spring, writes Gina Mizell of The Oklahoman.
- What do we think about this bold proclamation from one Dez Bryant?
- Here's some video from Iowa State's pro day.
- Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World tells you about KU's wake-up call at spring practice following spring break, and the Jayhawks technological advancements.
- Tavon Austin talks about his NFL draft prep.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Don't talk to Oklahoma State walk-on strong safety Jason Evans about having too active of a social life.
Jimmie Tramel of the Tulsa World tells the interesting story of Evans, a former Marine who served in Iraq before coming back to college. He's also recently auditioned for the MTV reality show "The Real World" after earlier appearing on the MTV dating show "Next."
Such notoriety apparently has helped make Evans one of Stillwater's most eligible bachelors, as well as a part of the Cowboy team that will be challenging for its first Big 12 South title later this season.
His introduction to the team, as are those for many walk-ons, came with some bumps and bruises when he was lined up on the same play and challenged to stop a hulking fullback on a power sweep.
"I guess they were just trying to feel me out to see if I was just some punk and I didn't back down one inch," Evans told the World.
"We just blasted each other. I didn't knock him over, but he didn't knock me over. Ever since then, ever since the first 30 minutes of the first practice, everybody has been real cool to me. They found out real quick that I wasn't just some kid out there for a name tag and a jersey. I was actually out there to play."
Even though it's the middle of May, these lunchtime links have come to play, too.
- Big East officials aren't happy with the shared arrangement they currently have with the Big 12 for Gator Bowl appearances, Charleston Daily Mail reporter Mike Casazza writes.
- Clay Travis of fanhouse.com writes that Mike Leach's 64-team NCAA playoff proposal would transform college football.
- Wide receiver Keeston Terry of Blue Springs, Mo., has commited to Nebraska, Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World-Herald reports. Terry is the fourth commit of the 2010 recruiting class.
- Offensive tackle Troy Baker of Connally, Texas, has switched his commitment from Texas Tech to Baylor. John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald writes that Baker changed his mind because of his respect for Baylor coach Art Briles.
- The Detroit News' Angelique Chengelis has four Big 12 teams ranked in her preseason top 25 -- all from the South Division.
- Hulking Texas offensive tackle Adam Ulatoski plays a mean euphonium. The Austin American-Statesman's Kirk Bohls relates this story and others, including the results of Ulatoski's independent study of the Longhorn brand.
- KXAN-TV in Austin has the story and some video about the new Field Turf playing surface at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The Longhorns will become the fifth Big 12 school with Field Turf playing surface at their stadium.
- The Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter has his post-spring predictions with Kansas and Texas favored to win the North and South. Most interestingly, Matter picks Missouri to finish second in the North and Baylor to finish fourth in the South.
- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is particularly proud of how former Sooners Dan Cody and Jammal Brown have finished their college degrees despite flourishing NFL careers, Tulsa World columnist Dave Sittler reports.