Big 12: Ty Darlington

A glance at the names looking up at Samaje Perine in Oklahoma’s record book reveals just how special the performance was:

Billy Sims. Joe Washington. Marcus DuPree. Greg Pruitt. Adrian Peterson.

OU has produced a laundry list of elite running backs, but none of them have been able to match the 427 rushing yards Perine produced in the Sooners 44-7 win against Kansas on Saturday. In fact, nobody has.

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesSamaje Perine's were ecstatic when he broke the NCAA single-game rushing record with 427 yards against Kansas.
Perine broke the week-old FBS single-game rushing record of Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon with his career-high rushing performance. The Sooners running back finished with 34 carries for 427 yards and five touchdowns and added one reception for 19 yards as Oklahoma rolled to victory.

"It’s a very unique moment," running backs coach Cale Gundy said. "As (OU athletic director) Joe Castiglione said earlier, think about all the great running backs that have played this game. We jumped on his back and let him do his thing."

The true freshman got the headlines, even if he didn’t want them, but his teammates wanted the record as much, if not more, than he did.

And they showed it. On and off the field.

On the field, Oklahoma's offensive line, along with fullbacks Aaron Ripkowski and Dimitri Flowers, were happy to pave the way for Perine’s big day. The Sooners imposed their will in the trenches with 341 of Perine’s 427 rushing yards coming between the tackles, according to ESPN Stats and Information. He averaged 12.1 yards per carry and scored four of his five touchdowns on rushes between the tackles.

Off the field, the Sooners blockers were tracking Perine’s progress, with an eye on creating history. Perine was fine with leaving the game to let other Sooners’ running backs shine. Oklahoma's offensive line was not.

"We were just counting down, we were definitely completely aware of what was going on," center Ty Darlington said. "We said 'he’s staying in.' We wanted that thing about as much as he did. We wanted it for him."

Since Day 1 on campus, people have gravitated to the humble Perine. His drive to be great is only topped by his desire to share the spotlight.

"I think it’s a reflection of how much they respect him, of the person that he is," Gundy said. "The day after he rushed for 242 yards at West Virginia, he was in here buying pizzas for the offensive linemen. I’ve never had anyone do that around here."

Perine’s traits have combined to create games like Saturday, which was the third game of at least 200 rushing yards in Perine’s young career, joining his 242 yards against West Virginia and 213 yards against Texas Tech. His teammates love to see him do well, and he loves to do well for them.

"I think it’s a reflection of how close we are as a team," Ripkowski said. "Everyone wants to see everyone do well. Nobody on the team is about (themselves). Everybody pushes for everyone to do their job. Everyone just gets excited when someone excels in their job."

When Perine looks at his 1,428 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns during his first collegiate season, he just shrugs it off as simply doing his job. When Ripkowski and the offensive line look at the same numbers, they are beaming with pride.

"We all feed off it, and that’s what we work for during the week," Ripkowski said. "The offensive line and all these blockers have a sense of pride when we put those numbers up."

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 10

November, 3, 2014
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Taking stock of Week 10 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: The TCU Horned Frogs found a way to win, rallying to defeat West Virginia 31-30 on a field goal as time expired. Quarterback Trevone Boykin was off his game, but his teammates picked up the slack, notably running back B.J. Catalon, who sparked the TCU offense in the fourth quarter. As Baylor can attest, winning in Morgantown isn’t easy. But behind a salty defensive effort and a gutty offensive finish, the Horned Frogs escaped with their playoff and Big 12 title aspirations intact.

Disappointment of the week: The Mountaineers took a 30-21 lead over TCU in the fourth quarter and had complete control of the game. What ensued was this: three straight three-and-outs and only one pass attempt. The conservative approach blew up in Dana Holgorsen’s face, allowing TCU to scrap its way back to a victory. The Mountaineers could have seized the day and the Big 12 race. Instead, they will be left pondering what could have been.

Big (offensive) men on campus: The big uglies on the Oklahoma offensive line paved the way for the Sooners’ biggest rushing effort in 25 years. Behind Ty Darlington, Tyrus Thompson, Daryl Williams, Dionte Savage, Adam Shead and Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma finished with 510 yards on the ground while averaging 8.6 yards per carry in a 59-14 pulverization of Iowa State. The Sooners also became just the second offense this year to produce three 100-yard rushers in the same game, as quarterback Trevor Knight, Samaje Perine and Alex Ross all passed the century mark. The Sooners never actually lined up in the wishbone. But this was an effort that had to make Barry Switzer giddy.

Big (defensive) men on campus: TCU defensive backs Kevin White, Derrick Kindred and Chris Hackett were tremendous in the win in West Virginia. White shut down the Mountaineer receiver with the same name, holding West Virginia’s Kevin White to 28 yards receiving. It was only the second game this year West Virginia's White had failed to reach 100 yards receiving. Kindred came up big, too, with 11 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Hackett also forced a fumble and had a 29-yard interception return. The headlines have rightfully been about the TCU offense this season. But the Horned Frogs also boast the best secondary in the Big 12.

Special-teams player of the week: TCU’s season was on the line, and Jaden Oberkrom delivered with a 37-yard game-winner as time expired. We’ve seen many college kickers fall apart on short kicks in critical moments this season. Oberkrom was not one of them.

Play of the week: After a rough afternoon with his arm, Boykin found Kolby Listenbee behind the West Virginia coverage for a 40-yard gain with a minute-and-a-half remaining. The completion -- only Boykin’s 12th of the game -- set up Oberkrom’s game-winning kick.

video Stat of the week: Oklahoma State, which gained 84 yards on an opening touchdown drive at Kansas State, gained just 48 yards the entire second half in a 48-14 loss to the Wildcats. The Cowboys have now scored just two offensive touchdowns since the second quarter against Kansas on Oct. 11.

Quote of the week: “Ready for OU.” -- Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, who answered every question that way in his postgame press conference following a 60-14 win over Kansas. Saturday, the Bears travel to Oklahoma, where they have never won in 11 tries.
video
While Billy Sims took in an Oklahoma practice this preseason, another Red River legend came to his mind whenever he watched freshman Samaje Perine.

“The strength, the power, the way he ran over people, it kept reminding me of Earl Campbell back in the day,” said Sims, who the Heisman Trophy for the Sooners in 1978, a year after Campbell won it at Texas in 1977.

Perine is no Earl Campbell yet.

But he’s off to an Earl Campbell-like start to his career.

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Tyler Evert/Associated PressOklahoma freshman Samaje Perine is leading the Big 12 in rushing with 419 yards and five touchdowns this season.
The 5-foot-11, 243-pound “Tank” -- though “Optimus Perine” is his preferred nickname -- came a yard away from rushing for his weight, finishing with 242 yards and four touchdowns in Oklahoma’s 45-33 victory at West Virginia over the weekend.

Perhaps just as impressive, Perine carried the ball 34 times and afterward looked like as if he had done nothing more than taken a light morning jog.

“He works so hard with his conditioning and training,” coach Bob Stoops said. “He’s a guy that can handle all those carries. At the end of the game he wasn’t all that taxed. I saw him get on the bus and he looked great. He’s exceptional in his conditioning and his strength. He’s physically gifted that way.”

Like Campbell used to do to opposing defenses in the 1970s, Perine wore the West Virginia defenders down as they bounced off him like pingpong balls. While the Mountaineers' resolve to tackle him began to wane in the second half, Perine seemed to get stronger, as he finished with 84 of his rushing yards in the fourth quarter.

“He was able to sustain it for four quarters,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “That tells you what kind of shape he’s in.”

The emergence of Perine, who now leads the Big 12 with 419 rushing yards and five touchdowns, has left the Oklahoma offense in great shape, too, heading into the heart of the schedule. After the open week this weekend, the Sooners face three of the toughest front sevens in the league in TCU, Texas and Kansas State. But this Oklahoma rushing offense is beginning to smack of the Barry Switzer days when the Sooners could run right through opponents when they wanted to.

“I was glad to see the ground-and-pound game,” Sims said. “Let the big guys up front eat and the backs do their thing.”

The big guys up front ate well again after the game, too, courtesy of Perine. Showing he doesn’t just have physical maturity, Perine ordered pizzas for the entire offensive line Sunday.

“We were watching film, and he just walked right in and set the boxes of pizza down and walked out,” center Ty Darlington said. “That’s who he is.”

Though Perine was one of the major storylines in college football over the weekend, he wasn’t even the most highly touted running back in Oklahoma’s signing class. Joe Mixon, suspended for the year for an altercation before the season, was viewed as the gem of the recruiting class, with offers from every major program in the country. Perine, who hailed from the Austin, Texas, suburb of Pflugerville, didn’t even receive an offer from Campbell's Longhorns as he recovered from a knee injury his junior year and barely averaged double-digit carries his senior season for Hendrickson High School.

The Sooners, however, always felt Perine was a unique talent.

“He’s a very special player,” Stoops said. “We felt that all along in the recruiting process. We loved him. Physically, he’s so powerful and strong. He’s also got great vision, great speed. He’s got hands."

While Sims invoked Campbell to describe Perine, Stoops didn’t hesitate to compare Perine's immediate impact to other great runners to pass through Norman in recent years like Quentin Griffin and Adrian Peterson.

“Samaje, his performance the other night, was as good as any of those in one game,” Stoops said. “I believe he’ll continue to add on to it. He’s a similar player like that. He’s unusual in that his size and power are different than maybe anyone else we’ve had.

“We’ll see if he can continue to build on it.”

Sims, however, is a believer that will happen.

“After watching him in practice, what he’s doing now, it doesn’t surprise me,” Sims said. “Oklahoma is known for great running backs. He has the potential to be the next."
Watch list week continued Tuesday with the release of the Mackey Award and Rimington Trophy. The Mackey goes to the most outstanding tight end, while the Rimington is for college football's top center.

Here are the Big 12 players that made each list:

Mackey
Rimington

Monday, the Maxwell (player of the year), Bednarik (defensive player of the year) and Hornung (most versatile player) watch lists were released.

Below is the rest of the preseason watch list schedule:

Wednesday
- Lou Groza Award, best place-kicker
- Ray Guy Award, best punter

Thursday
- Bronko Nagurski Trophy, best defensive player
- Outland Trophy, best interior lineman

Friday
- Jim Thorpe Award, best defensive back

Monday, July 14
- Butkus Award, best linebacker
- Lombardi Award, best lineman

Tuesday, July 15
- Biletnikoff Award, best receiver

Wednesday, July 16
- Davey O’Brien Award, best quarterback.

Thursday, July 17
- Doak Walker Award, best running back

Friday, July 18
- Walter Camp Award, best player
Half of the centers in the Big 12 were named to the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which is given to the top center in college football annually:
  • Ty Darlington (Oklahoma): Darlington appears to be the heir-apparent to All-American Gabe Ikard at center; Darlington has appeared in 12 games along the Oklahoma offensive line in his career.
  • Dominic Espinosa (Texas): Espinosa will be a four-year starter for the Longhorns and is tied with Kansas State's B.J. Finney for the most career Big 12 offensive line starts with 39.
  • Tom Farniok (Iowa State): Farniok will be entering his fourth year as Iowa State's starting center; he's been an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection the past two seasons.
  • B.J. Finney (Kansas State): Finney will also be a four-year starter and is a reigning first-team All-Big 12 center.
  • Joey Hunt (TCU): Hunt started all 12 games for the Horned Frogs last season as a true sophomore.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. On Tuesday, we continue the series with Oklahoma:

Offense (projected starters in bold)

QB: Trevor Knight (So.), Cody Thomas (RFr.), Justice Hansen (Fr.)

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAfter receiving only 23 carries last season as a freshman, OU's Keith Ford will likely be the starting tailback in 2014.
The Sooners feel great about putting the offense in the hands of Knight after his Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP performance against Alabama. The sophomore looked like a future star against the Crimson Tide while leading the Sooners to a 45-31 upset win. OU is inexperienced behind Knight with a pair of freshman in Thomas and Hansen. Former Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield, who transferred to OU in January, would be the perfect fit behind Knight but won’t be eligible to play until 2015. If he plays consistent and remains healthy, Knight could lead his team to a College Football Playoff berth. If not, OU could flounder below expectations and look back upon the 2014 season as a missed opportunity.

RB: Keith Ford (So.), Alex Ross (So.), Daniel Brooks (So.)

Ford exits spring as the favorite to start in the backfield, but he didn’t take the job and hide during 15 spring practices. Ross was one of the stars of the spring as he continually made plays during scrimmages, and Brooks was one of the standouts during the spring game. OU has several talented options at running back and is poised to add two top freshman runners in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.

FB/TE: Aaron Ripkowski (Sr.), Dimitri Flowers (Fr.), Blake Bell (Sr.)

OU uses fullbacks and tight ends in similar ways as both positions spend their meeting time with tight ends coach Jay Boulware. Ripkowski is one of the unsung heroes on the entire roster. He played a critical role during the team's strong finish to the 2013 season. Flowers has stepped on campus ready to make an impact with his versatility and football IQ after enrolling in school early. Bell has moved over from quarterback and looks poised to make an impact as a pass catcher with his size and athleticism. It’s a talented and versatile group that is likely to get overlooked this fall but could be the foundation of any success the team has on offense.

WR: Sterling Shepard (Jr.), Derrick Woods (So.), Durron Neal (Jr.), K.J. Young (RFr.), Jordan Smallwood (RFr.), Austin Bennett (So.)

Shepard should be one of the Big 12’s top receivers if Knight continues to develop as a passer. OU badly needs someone to emerge alongside Shepard if it hopes to have a strong passing game to help make the 2014 version of the offense more balanced than the 2013 version. There’s talent on campus but nobody separated themselves during the spring, opening the door for a freshman like Michiah Quick to step on campus and into the lineup this fall.

C: Ty Darlington (Jr.)

G: Dionte Savage (Sr.), Nila Kasitati (Jr.), Tony Feo (Sr.), Adam Shead (Sr.), Tyler Evans (Sr.)

T: Tyrus Thompson (Sr.), Daryl Williams (Sr.), Josiah St. John (Sr.)

Darlington has been groomed to replace All-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard and could slide into the starting lineup with ease. Nonetheless, adding competition at this position would help the Sooners. OU is fairly deep at guard and tackle which should allow competition for playing time to help everyone improve. Williams is the anchor of the entire offensive line and should be one of the Big 12’s top tackles this fall. The Sooners should have one of the better offensive lines in the Big 12.

DEFENSE

DE: Charles Tapper (Jr.), Geneo Grissom (Sr.), Matt Dimon (So.)

DT: Jordan Phillips (Jr.) or Chuka Ndulue (Sr.), Jordan Wade (So.)

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSooners linebacker Dominique Alexander emerged as a playmaker as a freshman.
OU’s defensive line could be one of the most disruptive and deepest in the nation. The Sooners should easily go six or seven deep along the defensive line, particularly if Phillips returns to his early 2013 form after suffering a back injury last season. Tapper and Grissom have the ability to be disruptive against anyone, and the overall depth on the roster should allow OU to come at offenses in waves with fresh bodies rotating throughout games. If OU makes a national title run, the defensive line will likely be the driving force.

LB: Dominique Alexander (So.), Frank Shannon (Jr.), Eric Striker (Jr.), Jordan Evans (So.), Devante Bond (Jr.)

Striker could be the Big 12’s best pass rusher, Alexander has the potential to be one of the Big 12’s best before his career is over, Evans could take a major step forward as a sophomore and Bond impressed as a junior college transfer this spring. If Shannon returns to good standing after missing part of spring due to personal issues, this is a good, experienced group. OU’s linebackers are one of the main reasons its defense could be the most athletic and versatile in the conference this fall.

CB: Zack Sanchez (So.), Julian Wilson (Sr.), Dakota Austin (So.), Stanvon Taylor (So.), Cortez Johnson (Jr.)

Here’s where things get interesting for the defense. Wilson returns as the starting nickelback and a productive veteran in the secondary. Sanchez is solid and took his game to another level this spring as he strives to be the type of coverage cornerback that teams don’t want to test. But the Sooners need someone to step up on the opposite side of the field with Austin ending the spring as a starter but remaining untested. No matter who wins the job, they will be picked on repeatedly until they prove they aren’t the weak link of the secondary. Defensive back is one of the few unsettled and unproven spots on the entire roster.

S: Quentin Hayes (Sr.), Hatari Byrd (So.), Ahmad Thomas (So.)

Hayes was quietly one of the better safeties in the Big 12 in 2013. He was productive with 75 tackles and solid in coverage. Byrd and Thomas have matured and started to develop as sophomores and should be key contributors this fall. Nonetheless, freshman Steven Parker has the talent to step in an earn a role this summer. If Parker is as good as advertised, OU will go two deep with talented options.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: OL

February, 21, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Friday with offensive line. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the offensive lines at the moment:

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose their captain in All-American Gabe Ikard, who kept the line together through several moving pieces. Those pieces, however, are almost all back. Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams are steady veterans at tackle. Inside, guards Dionte Savage and Nila Kasitati both started the Sugar Bowl, and former starter Tyler Evans returns after sitting out the last two years with injury. The Sooners also have been grooming Ikard’s replacement at center in Ty Darlington, who has played well in a reserve role the last two years. Even without Ikard, this is a seasoned unit.

[+] EnlargeJoe Wickline
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJoe Wickline's move from the OSU staff to Texas is an important storyline in the Big 12.
2. Kansas State: The Wildcats will be stout inside. Guard Cody Whitehair and center BJ Finney are All-Big 12 caliber. Veteran starters Cornelius Lucas and Tavon Rooks are gone at tackle, but Bill Snyder signed two of the top 15 juco tackles in the country in A.J. Allen and Luke Hayes. If Allen and Hayes can solidify the bookends, K-State could be stout up front.

3. Texas: The Longhorns return veteran center Dominic Espinosa, who has 39 career starts. But with three starters gone, the Longhorns really need the light to come up for Desmond Harrison. The talent is there, and if Harrison can put it all together, he’ll give Texas a much-needed bookend on the left side. There’s potential elsewhere in freshman guard Rami Hammad and sophomore tackle Kent Perkins, who could both earn starting roles this spring. The biggest addition to this group will be new assistant Joe Wickline, who worked magic with the offensive lines in Stillwater.

4. Baylor: The Bears need left tackle Spencer Drango to make a healthy recovery from his back injury. After Drango was injured in November, Baylor struggled at times to keep quarterback Bryce Petty upright. Departing unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson is irreplaceable, though Desmine Hilliard had a solid sophomore season at right guard. Sophomore Kyle Fuller looks ready to take over at center, but the Bears will need another piece or two to emerge. The skill talent is in place for the Baylor offense to keep humming. How the players up front perform will determine whether it will.

5. Oklahoma State: The key for the Cowboys here will be a healthy return of left tackle Devin Davis. Davis might have been Oklahoma State’s best lineman last season, but suffered a torn ACL during a preseason that knocked him out for the year. Davis has NFL ability, and if he resumes his role, that will allow Daniel Koenig to move back to right tackle. The O-line in Stillwater was something never to worry about because of Wickline’s masterful track record of mixing and matching to get a right fit. It will be interesting to see how the line performs next season with Wickline now at Texas.

[+] EnlargeLe'Raven Clark
John Albright/Icon SMITexas Tech's Le'Raven Clark is one of the best offensive tackles in the Big 12.
6. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have an NFL talent in left tackle Le'Raven Clark, who earned All-Big 12 honors as a sophomore. Despite Clark, the Red Raiders line struggled last year, giving up 33 sacks (second-worst in the Big 12). But it should be improved in 2014. Juco tackles Dominique Robertson (ESPN JC 50) and Shaq Davis are on the way, and 2013 RT starter Rashad Fortenberry could be back, too, if the NCAA grants him a medical hardship waiver. Losing guard Beau Carpenter to dismissal hurts, but Baylen Brown has starting experience. Brown, Alfredo Morales, James Polk and center Jared Kaster all return after combining for 31 starts along the interior last season.

7. West Virginia: The good news is that the Mountaineers should be superb inside. Quinton Spain is one of the best returning guards in the league, and Mark Glowinski had a solid season at the other guard spot. Tackle, however, is the biggest question on the entire squad going into the spring, outside QB. Coach Dana Holgorsen said Friday that guard Marquis Lucas would be swinging to the outside to compete with Adam Pankey, Marcell Lazard and Sylvester Townes.

8. Iowa State: A healthy Tom Farniok at center would go a long way in stabilizing an inconsistent offensive line that gave up a Big 12-high 38 sacks last season. Farniok was never healthy last year, and it showed. The Cyclones are excited about the potential of Brock Dagel as a cornerstone at left tackle. Jacob Gannon will battle Jake Campos for the other tackle spot, while Jamison Lalk, Oni Omoile and juco transfer Wendell Taiese will compete for the guard spot opposite Daniel Burton. Under the new offensive regime, this line could enjoy huge improvement from 2013.

9. TCU: The line was one of many reasons why the TCU offense struggled so much in 2013. Getting Matt Pryor on the field would be a big help. Pryor is massive at 6-foot-7, 350 pounds, and could fill a need a tackle. Getting Tayo Fabuluje back after a year away from football could help, too, assuming he’s not too rusty. Juco guard Frank Kee, who chose the Horned Frogs over Oklahoma, could fill a spot inside immediately. True freshman Ty Barrett, the prize in a hotly contested recruiting battle, could challenge for time quickly, too.

10. Kansas: John Reagan takes over at offensive coordinator and line coach, and he’ll have some talented newcomers to weave into the rotation. Devon Williams and Keyon Haughton both arrived as three-star guards from Georgia Military College. Haughton is already on campus and could start right away. Freshman Jacob Bragg, the No. 3 center recruit in the country, could vie for time immediately, too, at the vacancy at center (2013 backup center Dylan Admire has moved to fullback/tight end).

Big 12's lunchtime links

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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He's not heading to the Big 12, but any football fan would love this run... stop it, Jabrill, just stop it.
NORMAN, Okla. -- It’s rare to hear teammates rave about a player who has done so little on Saturdays. Offensive linemen who have to deal with him during practice at Oklahoma describe him with statements that include "future All-American," "the next Gerald McCoy" and "a handful."

Yet all that praise means nothing unless Jordan Phillips becomes a difference-maker at defensive tackle for the Sooners.

[+] EnlargeJordan Phillips
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesSophomore Jordan Phillips is the lone defensive tackle on the Sooners with game experience.
The past 12 months have seen progress from Phillips as he worked his way into the defensive tackle rotation in the season’s final few weeks in 2012. This spring, as all eyes turned his way as the lone defensive tackle on the roster with any experience, he continued to improve.

Sophomore center Ty Darlington, who spent a large portion of the spring battling Phillips, called him the toughest one-on-one matchup on the squad.

“He’s made me look like a child a couple of times,” Darlington said with a chuckle. “He’s athletic for his size, he moves so well and he has long arms.”

The sophomore followed up a strong spring with a strong Red-White spring game, as Phillips showed his continued improvement by spending a good portion of the game in the offense's backfield, finishing with three tackles and a sack. When he keeps his 6-foot-6, 318-pound frame low along the line of scrimmage, he can be a powerful force in the middle that is difficult for one offensive lineman to contain.

“He’s a monster on the inside,” defensive end Geneo Grissom said after Phillips’ inside pressure helped free Grissom up to record four tackles and one sack in the spring game.

Phillips, who can do a back flip and dunk a basketball with ease, has amazing athleticism. Those physical traits should provide a foundation that could make him a terror in the future for Big 12 offenses.

But the next three months could be the most critical time for the sophomore. And it could be even more important to the Sooners’ defense.

“He has to be a player for us,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Getting Jordan to where he can play 50 snaps a game is going to be a necessity for us to be successful and play effectively for 50 snaps. And that is where he has to have to have a great summer, with conditioning, for us to be able to rely on him for 50 snaps.”

In other words the Sooners are counting on him to approach this summer as if the success of the entire defense is resting upon his broad shoulders. And, in some ways, it is.

“Jordan is real good, he just needs someone to push him,” linebacker Corey Nelson said. “Going against the offense he’ll get a little gassed and I’ll have to say ‘Jordan, pick it up.’ He’ll pick it up and get to the next gear. His potential is far beyond any potential I can think of as far as our defensive line goes. he has the potential to be one of the greatest to come out of here.”

Phillips knows he still has a long way to go. And Nelson -- who has expressed a desire to be one of the senior leaders on this year’s squad -- believes he knows how Phillips can change his potential into production.

“Play fast, play with a motor and be physical, even when he’s tired,” Nelson said. “Being physical, being able to play fast and play smart, that will make him the player he needs to be.”

Checking in on the ESPN 150 in 2012

January, 1, 2013
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The ESPN 150 are the best of the best when it comes to recruits, but how do they really stack up on the field? We check in each season with the freshmen who made an impact and those who didn't in Year 1.

You can look back on the ESPN 150 in 2012 right here, but how did the guys who landed in the Big 12 do? So glad you asked.

Also, here's how the last few years of Big 12 ESPN 150 recruits shaped up: No. 2: Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas: Took over in midseason as the team's featured running back and led the team with 701 yards and three touchdowns. Had 22 more carries than any other Texas back.

No. 12: Malcom Brown, DT, Texas: Contributed as a reserve on Texas' strong defensive line. Made 19 tackles and two tackles for loss.

No. 54: Dominique Wheeler, WR, Texas Tech: Redshirted his first season for Texas Tech's deep receiving corps.

No. 57: Peter Jinkens, OLB, Texas: Started two games and played in every game this season. Made 27 tackles and three tackles for loss with a sack and an interception.

No. 58: Kennedy Estelle, OL, Texas: Missed five games with a shoulder injury but contributed as a reserve offensive lineman in three games.

No. 60: Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma: Was one of the league's most promising freshmen in Year 1. Emerged with a breakout game against Kansas State with seven catches for 108 yards and a score. He finished with 41 catches for 578 yards and three touchdowns.

No. 64: Durron Neal, WR, Oklahoma: Played sparingly and contributed in nine games. Caught four passes for 62 yards.

No. 70: Alex Ross, RB, Oklahoma: Redshirted in 2012.

No. 77: Torshiro Davis, LB, Texas: Goes by "Shiro" now and moved to defensive end. Played in the final six games of Texas' season and made three tackles, one tackle for loss and broke up a pass.

No. 78: Curtis Riser, OG, Texas: Redshirted in 2012.

No. 79: Bryson Echols, CB, Texas: Redshirted in 2012.

No. 87: Reginald Davis, WR, Texas Tech: Redshirted in 2012.

No. 92: Dalton Santos, LB, Texas: Played in 12 games and made 24 tackles, mostly contributing on special teams. Added 2.5 tackles for loss.

No. 97: Alex Norman, DT, Texas: Redshirted in 2012.

No. 120: Michael Starts, OT, Texas Tech: Moved to defensive tackle but played in just three games. Made three tackles with a sack against New Mexico. Missed time because of a blood pressure issue.

No. 126: Dominic Ramacher, LB, Oklahoma State: Moved to fullback and redshirted in 2012.

No. 130: Connor Brewer, QB, Texas: Redshirted in 2012.

No. 137: Derrick Woods, WR, Oklahoma: Redshirted in 2012.

No. 141: Daje Johnson, ATH, Texas: Speedster made an impact as a big-play threat at running back for Texas. Carried the ball 27 times for 203 yards and a touchdown and caught 19 passes for 287 yards and a score.

No. 147: Cayleb Jones, WR, Texas: Played in 12 games but caught two passes for 35 yards and carried the ball once for 10 yards.

No. 148: Ty Darlington, OL, Oklahoma: Earned starts late in the season at center and proved to be a valuable piece of the Sooners' offensive line that provided an opportunity for versatility and ability to move Gabe Ikard to guard.

ESPN.com's All-Big 12 Freshman Team

December, 11, 2012
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We ran down our All-Big 12 team yesterday, but here's my best of the bunch among freshmen.

Learn these names. You'll need to in the future.

Let's take a look:

OFFENSE

QB: J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State
RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas
RB: B.J. Catalon, TCU
WR: Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
WR: LaDarius Brown, TCU
WR: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
OL: Spencer Drango, Baylor
OL: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
OL: Ty Darlington, Oklahoma
OL: Aviante Collins, TCU
OL: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

DEFENSE

DL: Devonte Fields, TCU
DL: Malcom Brown, Texas
DL: Davion Pierson, TCU
DL: Branden Jackson, Texas Tech
LB: Dalton Santos, Texas
LB: Isaiah Bruce, West Virginia
LB: Jake Love, Kansas
CB: Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
CB: Dante Barnett, Kansas State
S: Chris Hackett, TCU
S: Karl Joseph, West Virginia

SPECIALISTS:

PK: Jaden Oberkrom, TCU
P: Ethan Perry, TCU
KR: Tre Parmalee, Kansas
PR: Deante Gray, TCU
NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma kept its BCS hopes alive with a 42-34 win over Baylor at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Here's a look at how the Sooners improved to 7-2 overall, 5-1 in the Big 12.

How the game was won: OU’s defense buckled down after allowing nine points early in the third quarter. The Sooners forced a punt and turnover on downs after Baylor cut OU’s lead to 28-26 with 7:42 to play in the third. The Bears didn't score another point until less than two minutes remaining in the game, though, and OU’s offense scored back-to-back touchdowns in the same span.

Turning point: BU appeared to have all of the momentum after pulling within two, but the Sooners responded with touchdowns on back-to-back drives, capped by Blake Bell’s 55-yard touchdown run. The play showed the versatility of OU’s offense, which can make the Sooners a nightmare for most opponents.

Stat of the game: 9 of 12. The Sooners converted 9 of 12 third downs to keep drives alive and eventually turn them into points. OU punted just three times in the game.

Player of the game: Damien Williams. Rushing for 99 yards and a touchdown, the junior looked like he was recovered form an ankle injury that hampered him against Iowa State. His quick feet and explosiveness returned on Saturday.

Unsung hero of the game: Ty Darlington. The true-freshman center started the first game of his career after Gabe Ikard couldn’t play due to a head injury. Although Darlington was called for two penalties, he held up well after being thrown into the fire, helping OU finish with 467 total yards, including 190 rushing.

What it means: The Sooners' hopes of a BCS berth remain intact despite some uncertain moments after halftime. OU looks to be in the driver’s seat if it can win its final three games against West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU. Baylor's bowl hopes are quickly diminishing. The Bears fell to 4-5 overall, 1-5 in the Big 12. It's not all bad for BU however, thanks to a three-touchdown performance by dynamic sophomore running back Lache Seastrunk, who appears to have a bright future in green and gold.

Really sad, surprising news out of Oklahoma today. Here's our news story:
Oklahoma senior Ben Habern's career is over.

The Sooner center won't return to the team after offseason neck surgery that fused together two vertebrae, despite expectations that he would return at full strength this fall.

...

"Our coaching staff knows this was a difficult decision for Ben," [coach Bob] Stoops said in a statement. "Ben has been a consummate leader for our team, both on and off the field. We appreciate the toughness that Ben has displayed, and we wish him the very best as he completes his education at OU."

First things first: Absolutely hate to see this for Habern. I covered the Sooners for The Oklahoman during Habern's freshman year, and he's consistently been a great guy to cover from that point through just last week, when he was chosen as a representative for Oklahoma at Big 12 Media Days.

Here's the video he took time to shoot for us. (Stick around until the end).

It's truly shocking news. Habern must have been thinking about quitting, but didn't know until just recently. If Oklahoma knew Habern's status was in doubt, it's highly unlikely he would have represented the Sooners at media days.

Habern's dealt with neck and back issues throughout his career, which also featured a broken ankle in 2009 and a broken right arm last season that forced him out of five games.

His experience and leadership simply can't be replaced this season. Oklahoma's fantastic offensive line takes a huge hit with his loss.

As for his spot on the depth chart? Look for guard Gabe Ikard (one of the league's best overall linemen) to slide over to play center, and junior Adam Shead to move up and replace Ikard at guard. The Sooners can handle that. Don't be surprised if freshman Ty Darlington gets some time at center, too.

Still, Habern has been around for everything coming into this year, and been a stalwart at center for the past three seasons. He saw the 2009 collapse up close. He was integral in the rebound for a Big 12 title in 2010. He learned from the pressure of 2011.

He talked about his neck surgery at Big 12 media days last week, but gave zero indication he was even thinking about quitting.

Now, he has.

It's a sad story, no doubt, but Oklahoma has no choice but to move on.

As Habern moves on, here's hoping for the best for him. I'm confident he'll excel in his future endeavors.

Suspended players reinstated

In Wednesday's statement, Stoops also said that receiver Trey Franks, defensive back Quentin Hayes and receiver Jaz Reynolds were each reinstated from offseason suspensions, but only for preseason practice. Their availability for Oklahoma's season opener at UTEP on Sept. 1 was still undecided. Receiver Kameel Jackson was not reinstated, and his suspension will be re-evaluated "at the conclusion the current academic session."

Stoops also confirmed previous reports that wide receiver Courtney Gardner and offensive lineman Will Latu would not be available this season.
The big day is so, so close. National signing day will get started bright and early Wednesday morning, but it's time to take a look at where the Big 12 teams sit with one day left before players can officially sign.

This will change quickly in the next couple days, but here's how they look before things get real crazy. Here's how the rankings looked two weeks ago, when we last updated the Big 12 scorecard.

This scorecard is written in pencil. Tomorrow, players will sign in ink.

1. Texas Longhorns

National ranking: No. 3
Total commits: 27
ESPNU 150 commits: 11
Key commits: RB Johnathan Gray, DT Malcom Brown, WR Cayleb Jones, QB Connor Brewer
Latest news: Texas recently added the nation's No. 1 inside linebacker, former Tennessee commit Dalton Santos. That may help its national ranking, which fell from No. 2 to No. 3 since our last update. The Longhorns also added No. 14 ATH Daje Johnson, a former TCU commit. Both were ESPNU 150 prospects. Texas also added defensive end Bryce Cottrell, who had previously been committed to Oregon.

2. Oklahoma Sooners

National ranking: No. 10
Total commits: 20
ESPNU 150 commits: 5
Key commits: RB Alex Ross, WR Sterling Shepard, WR Durron Neal, OL Ty Darlington, WR Trey Metoyer
Latest news: Oklahoma surpassed Texas A&M since our last update, and added Sam Grant, the nation's No. 18 TE. David Smith, the nation's No. 124 ATH, also joined the fold for the Sooners. One of the nation's top juco offensive tackles, Will Latu also pledged to Oklahoma and could make an immediate impact. Oklahoma swiped Zack Sanchez on Monday, a cornerback who had been committed to Baylor since July.

3. Texas A&M Aggies

National ranking: No. 12
Total commits: 22
ESPNU 150 commits: 5
Key commits: OLB Jordan Richmond, RB Trey Williams, ATH Bralon Addison, QB Matt Davis
Latest news: The nation's No. 33 defensive end, Polo Manukainiu, became a late addition to the Aggies' class, and the nation's No. 30 safety, Edward Pope, also gave new coach Kevin Sumlin a commitment.

4. Texas Tech Red Raiders

National ranking: No. 17
Total commits: 26
ESPNU 150 commits: 3
Key commits: WR Reginald Davis, WR Dominique Wheeler, OT Michael Starts, QB Clayton Nicholas
Latest news: The Red Raiders added juco cornerback Ola Falemi to their class, but look out for Tuberville on signing day. Switches on the big day are no surprises with him at Tech.

5. Baylor Bears

Total commits: 22
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: ATH Corey Coleman, OT Kyle Fuller, DT Javonte Magee, OLB Brian Nance
Latest news: Baylor swiped Kansas QB commit Seth Russell, No. 47 nationally at the position, to make a big wave across the Big 12. It also grabbed cornerback Patrick Levels out of Dallas. Nance and Magee both pledged to Baylor after the new year.

6. Missouri Tigers

Total commits: 18
ESPNU 150 commits: 1
Key commits: OG Evan Boehm, QB Maty Mauk, ILB Donavin Newsom, OLB Torey Boozer
Latest news: Missouri may be in the lead in the DGB sweepstakes after hosting the nation's No. 1 receiver on a visit on the final weekend of the recruiting season. The nation's No. 105 ATH John Gibson and No. 151 DT, Harold Brantley, are the latest additions to Mizzou's class.

7. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Total commits: 21
ESPNU 150 commits: 1
Key commits: TE Dominic Ramacher, OLB Jeremiah Tshimanga, OT Michael Wilson, QB Wes Lunt
Latest news: OSU has added five commits since our last update, including Wilson, the nation's No. 22 offensive tackle. Receiver Chance Allen (No. 141) joins the squad as well. CB Kevin Peterson came to OSU after originally committing to Oklahoma. OSU also added receiver Jhajuan Seales. Juco offensive tackle Chris Grishby committed on Jan. 22.

8. Iowa State Cyclones

Total commits: 21
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: OT Daniel Burton, WR P.J. Harris, WR Quan West, ATH Damien Lawry
Latest news: The Cyclones have two fewer commits than the last time we checked in, but added Devlyn Cousin, the nation's No. 154 defensive tackle.

9. Kansas State Wildcats

Total commits: 18
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: WR Vernon Vaughn, DT Travis Britz, RB Jarvis Leverett, QB Tavarius Bender
Latest news: Kansas State added five commitments in the last two weeks, highlighted by Demonte Hood, the nation's No. 111 DT. RB Charles Jones is headed to Manhattan via Louisiana, too. S Donovan Starks is coming from Crosby, Texas, and receiver Judah Jones is a Wildcat after wrapping his high school career at power Evangel Christian in Louisiana. OT Ellwood Clement gave K-State five juco players in this class, low by Bill Snyder's standards.

10. Kansas Jayhawks

Total commits: 18
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: TE Jordan Smith, OG Brian Beckmann, S Gregg Allen, DT Tyler Holmes
Latest news: New coach Charlie Weis has added four commits since our last update. QB Seth Russell, the team's top commit, is gone, but the Jayhawks have the QB spot settled for the next three years with transfers Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps. Greg Allen (No. 89 safety) is the top new addition, and Charles Brooks gives the class a second tight end. The Jayhawks also added a pair of juco defensive tackles that figure to have immediate impacts, Chaquil Reed and Jordan Tavai.

High school All-Americans headed to Big 12

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
2:30
PM ET
We've unveiled our high school All-America team this week, and it's time to take a look at the guys who will be headed to Big 12 schools (or at least schools currently in the Big 12).

FIRST TEAM

Johnathan Gray, RB, Aledo (Texas) -- Texas commit
  • The nation's top running back set the national record for career touchdowns (205) in his final high school game, a win over Manvel (Texas) in the Class 4A, Division II state championship. Gray, who scored 70 touchdowns this season and led Aledo to its third straight state title, finished second all time in points scored (1,232) and third in rushing yards (10,908).
Trey Williams, RB, Dekaney (Houston) -- Texas A&M commit
  • Williams was pivotal in Dekaney's run to the Class 5A, Division II state title in the fourth-year school's first playoff appearance. He ran for 3,884 yards and 48 touchdowns on 427 carries, caught two touchdown passes and returned a kickoff for a score.
Evan Boehm, OL, Lee's Summit West (Missouri) -- Missouri commit
  • The nation's top guard earned All-State first team honors and guided Lee's Summit West to the Class 5 state semifinals.
SECOND TEAM
THIRD TEAM

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