Big 12: Zeke Riser

The Big 12's earned a status as college football's home of great quarterback play, churning out big-time passers like Sam Bradford, Robert Griffin III, Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden just in the past few seasons.

Phil Steele released his recent rankings of the nation's top 15 quarterback units, and the Big 12 didn't make a single appearance. (Even the WAC had a team in the rankings, with San Jose State.)

It has to be the first time in a long while the Big 12 hasn't made an appearance on the list, but one, it makes sense from Steele's perspective. The amount of returning talent in the Big 12 is pretty dire. TCU's Casey Pachall missed the last nine games of last season and didn't throw a ball or work out from October to January and Texas' David Ash is an above average passer but not a top 15 guy nationally.

Ultimately, I wouldn't fret too much about the Big 12's absence. It's about returning talent, but this time next year, the Big 12's likely to have plenty of solid, productive passers. We've written about that a lot this offseason, and Baylor's Bryce Petty was Steele's pick for the Big 12's first-team QB. I'd probably agree, but you can't put a guy with 14 career passes on your top 15 national rankings in the preseason.

The lack of experience across the league is the only reason you're seeing names like Petty's and Michael Brewer on Big 12 top five lists.

Steele also released his list of the top 15 defensive line units, where the Big 12 fared much better. With Jackson Jeffcoat and Malcom Brown, as well as the addition of Houston transfer Zeke Riser, it's no surprise to see the Longhorns at No. 5.

TCU is the only other Big 12 team on the list, checking in at No. 10. Devonte Fields is the obvious headliner there, but Steele makes a nice catch in giving a shoutout to two very underrated tackles in Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson. Those two guys will make Fields' job a whole lot easier this season, and helped land TCU on the list, proving the Frogs are more than a one-man show up front on defense.
Zeke Riser couldn’t pass up an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream and play for Texas, even if that means paying his own way.

The former Houston starting defensive end will join the Longhorns program this summer as a walk-on with one season of eligibility.

[+] EnlargeZeke Riser
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesZeke Riser, who graduated from Houston in December, started 27 games for the Cougars.
Riser started 27 career games at Houston, including nine in 2013. He recorded 38 tackles, three sacks and eight tackles for loss as a junior for the Cougars and received his release from the school in February.

A Texas spokesperson could not confirm that Riser is joining the program because he has yet to enroll in classes, but the lineman said his plans to transfer are “a done deal.”

“I’m definitely pumped up about it,” Riser said. “If nothing else, I have a lot of experience to offer, especially with those younger guys. These guys are super talented -- otherwise, they wouldn’t be at Texas -- so me having already played three years, I can bring a lot of experience to the table.”

Riser attended his first Longhorns spring practice on Saturday and plans to move to Austin, Texas, in May. He graduated from Houston in December and is taking graduate courses at UH this spring.

The 6-foot-4, 255-pound defensive end is making the move because he wants to play his final season of college football closer to his family. Riser grew up in La Vernia, Texas, a town located 75 miles south of UT’s campus.

“That’s really the driving force,” Riser said. “I think I would’ve regretted it if I hadn’t at least taken the chance. It’s really going to work out best for me as a player and then after college family-wise.”

The Longhorns lose starting defensive end Alex Okafor, a potential first-round NFL draft pick, but bring back veteran starter Jackson Jeffcoat in 2013. Riser said he hasn’t been guaranteed any playing time, but he’s serious about competing for a starting job when he joins the team.

“I wouldn’t go to any place that I wasn’t expecting to compete for a starting spot,” Riser said. “I’ve never sat on the bench in my life and I don’t plan to at Texas. I’m definitely going to be fighting for a starting spot and at the very least in the playing rotation. I’m not coming to Texas just because it’s a big name. I’m coming to Texas to play.”

Riser’s head coach at La Vernia, Bo Robinson, lettered at UT from 1989 to 1992 and is friends with former teammate and current Longhorns defensive ends coach Oscar Giles. That connection helped get the ball rolling for Riser, who’d originally looked into transferring to UTSA.

“Coach Giles is awesome,” Riser said. “Seeing the way he coaches and what he expects out of his players, I can really relate to his coaching style. We’re on the same page. I think it’s going to work out real well. I’m excited to get to work.”

Connections with Jeffcoat -- whose father, Jim, coached Riser and UH defensive linemen through 2010 -- and Texas defensive end Logan Mills, a fellow La Vernia native, made the final decision even easier for Riser.

He said he’s been told a scholarship is still a possibility if the Longhorns have any roster attrition this summer, but if that doesn’t work out Riser is fine with paying to be a Longhorn for one year.

After talking with Giles and Mack Brown on Saturday, Riser knows he’ll have plenty of catching up to do when he gets on campus. He’s confident his decision will end up being worth the risk.

“They’re expecting me to come in and play,” he said. “They told me I need to be ready as soon as I get here because I don’t have time to slow down and pick up the scheme. That’s OK with me, I know how things work. Again, I’m not going there to sit on the bench, and they’re not expecting me to.”

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