Our favorite plays of the year

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
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It was another season of record-setting performances, unbelievable finishes and very large men scoring very big touchdowns. And, yes, the Fainting Goat.

Here are our favorite plays of the year:

Hail Marys

Bahamas Bowl miracle

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Central Michigan trailed by 35 points entering the fourth quarter. It trailed by seven when it pulled off a 75-yard, three-lateral Hail Mary as the clock struck :00. The Chippewas failed on the two-point conversion, but their comeback and miracle finish was the craziest play of bowl season.

Central Florida wins a share of the AAC

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After blowing a 26-9 fourth-quarter lead, it looked as if Central Florida was done. But East Carolina mismanaged the clock -- taking three knees and a sack -- before giving the ball back to the Knights with 10 seconds left. One 51-yard score later, George O'Leary's crew was celebrating a share of a conference championship.

Solomon stuns Cal

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Arizona scored an absurd 36 points in the fourth quarter, capped by Anu Solomon hitting Austin Hill in the end zone on a 47-yard touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 49-45 win.

Big-guy touchdowns

Come to Arkansas, where linemen throw TDs

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Who said Bret Bielema offenses were old school? Arkansas' coach loves his linemen, and here he lets 350-pound guard Sebastian Tretola throw for a score in a 45-17 win over UAB.

The biggest of big-guy touchdowns

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Tretola's pass was nice, but how about seeing a 400-pounder go up the seam for an 18-yard score in a New Year's Six bowl game? That's what Art Briles and Baylor dreamed up, as Laquon McGowan scored to give Baylor a 20-point lead before Michigan State stormed back to win 42-41.

Boise goes back to the future


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Everyone remembers Boise State's introduction to a national college football audience, upsetting Oklahoma with the Statue of Liberty in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Well, the Broncos brought it back for this year's game, as Jay Ajayi scored from 16 yards out in a 38-30 Boise win.

Fainting Goat gets its own category


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Arkansas State can lay claim to the best worst fake punt ever. In theory, one player falls down, draws the attention of the defense and the Red Wolves get a first down. In reality, he got clobbered and Arkansas State's pass was intercepted. But that only made us love it more.

So does this Nebraska false start


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Poor Jake Cotton. The Nebraska lineman was just trying to hold his stance, but once all 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds of him starting going backward, there was no turning back.

Year of the freshman RB

Leonard Fournette runs over Texas A&M

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It was an up-and-down year for the heavily hyped Fournette, but he certainly showed signs of why such big things were expected out of him. Just ask Howard Matthews, who got bowled over on Fournette's way to the end zone in LSU's 23-17 win.

Dalvin Cook runs past Miami

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Florida State had fallen behind again. This time, it was 23-10 to rival Miami. But Cook saved the day, with 44- and 26-yard scores to guide the Seminoles to a 30-26 victory.

Royce Freeman can do it all

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Freeman could be a game-changer for the Ducks, the kind of every-down power back the team hasn't had in the past. And he can throw it too, as he proved with this touchdown toss to Marcus Mariota against Arizona.

Samaje Perine an Oklahoma bright spot

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Oklahoma's year certainly ended poorly, but the Sooners have hope for the future following the emergence of Perine. He set the single-game rushing record with 427 yards (and five scores) in a win over Kansas. This 64-yard TD scamper jump-started a comeback win for Oklahoma.

Nick Chubb shatters records in Belk Bowl

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No Todd Gurley? No problem for the Bulldogs, who saw Nick Chubb announce himself as perhaps the best of all the freshman runners with a dominant 266-yard performance against a tough Louisville run defense. It was the most rushing yards by a Georgia back in a bowl and also a Belk Bowl mark.

More top plays

Nebraska's behind-the-back catch

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It was all the way back in August, but this held up as one of the best plays of the year. Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp went behind the back to grab a pass during a 55-7 Cornhuskers win over Florida Atlantic.

Ohio State DE ends game like a Bosa

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A running back on Joey Bosa? Yeah, that's not going to end well. As dominant as Ohio State was down the stretch, it wouldn't have happened had the Buckeyes not taken care of Penn State. Bosa made sure they finally did, with a 31-24 double-overtime win.

Mariota strikes a pose

Marcus MariotaBrian Davies/The Register-Guard Marcus Mariota looked the part of a Heisman Trophy winner in Oregon's win over Oregon State.

Ohio State reverse touchdown pass

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Of all the plays on this list, this is the most important. Trailing Alabama 21-13 in the final seconds of the first half, Evan Spencer took a handoff on a reverse and somehow found Michael Thomas in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The lesson? Even Ohio State's receivers are great quarterbacks.

Gordon leaps into record books (briefly)

video Melvin Gordon's stay atop the record book for single-game rushing yards may have lasted only a week, but that does nothing to diminish his magical performance against Nebraska, when he ran for 408 yards and four touchdowns in a 59-24 rout of the Cornhuskers.

Air Maxx

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Minnesota may have lost its bowl game, but the Golden Gophers still had the highlight of the game, as tight end Maxx Williams hurdled two defenders en route to a 54-yard touchdown. So it's probably no surprise that Williams declared for the NFL draft after this game.

Shaq brings it baq

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You can't do much more than a 99-yard touchdown return, and that's exactly what Shaq Thompson did for Washington to kick off the scoring in a 31-7 win over Cal.
Oklahoma’s football roster has too much talent to finish 8-5.

From the coaching staff to the players, the Sooners underachieved in 2014. And it’s hard to lay the sole blame on one position as OU quarterbacks and receivers struggled while several other positions were inconsistent. But the secondary proved to be a clear weak link on a defense that finished No. 8 nationally against the run.

Position to improve: Defensive backs

Why it was a problem: It would have been easy to single out the cornerbacks, but that would have let the safeties off the hook. And vice versa. Thus the entire defensive backfield shoulders the blame as OU simply couldn’t trust its defensive backs to win their one-on-one battles in 2014. Cornerback Zack Sanchez won his share of individual battles on his way to six interceptions and All-Big 12 honors while safeties Ahmad Thomas and Quentin Hayes were among OU’s top five tacklers. Yet, OU’s defensive backs as a whole struggled throughout the season as the Sooners allowed 276.23 passing yards per game, ninth in the Big 12 and No. 117 among FBS teams. The Sooners' blowout home loss to Baylor spotlighted the lack of answers in the secondary.

How it can be fixed: Cornerbacks coach Bobby Jack Wright has retired so OU is likely to add another coach to help Mike Stoops coach the secondary, meaning new ideas and a change in approach could be step one. ESPN300 cornerback and current OU commit P.J. Mbanasor should help while upping the competition at cornerback. Sophomore cornerback Jordan Thomas, who flashed his talent at times as a freshman, should be improved and sophomore safety Steven Parker could help answer some questions at safety. Add ESPNJC50 cornerback William Johnson and the Sooners should have the depth to match up with spread offenses much better in 2015. The key for the Sooners is having at least eight defensive backs ready to play at a starting level next fall instead of having five clear starters then watching the secondary fall apart when the injury bug hits and an untested player gets thrown into the fire.

Early 2015 outlook: Recruiting misses and slow development played a major role in OU’s terrible pass defense in 2014. Added depth, competition and a new coaching style should combine to make this an improved unit. After all, it’s hard to go anywhere but up for OU's secondary.

Big 12 morning links

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
9:00
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Prepared a successful salmon dish last night. Tweet me if you want the recipe.
  • The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal got a copy of the contract of David Gibbs, Texas Tech's new defensive coordinator. Not surprisingly, Tech had to pony up to snag Gibbs, who was coveted by other schools. Gibbs has a two-year contract that will pay him $550,000 a year. Mike Stoops (Oklahoma), Josh Heupel (Oklahoma), Tom Bradley (West Virginia), Vance Bedford (Texas), Shawn Watson (Texas), Joe Wickline (Texas) and Phil Bennett (Baylor) were the only Big 12 assistants that made more than $550,000 last year, according to USA TODAY. After years of instability at defensive coordinator and seasons of mediocre defense, as well, this was a hire the Red Raiders needed to make. Even with the cost.
  • Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman delves into the nation's hottest recruiting battle this year, which happens to be between Texas and Texas A&M. The Longhorns and Aggies are duking it out for the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB in Kyler Murray (more on Murray here from The Sporting News). Murray has been committed to A&M for awhile, but is considering a flip to the Longhorns. "It feels like Murray or Bust for UT," Feldman writes, "especially perception-wise as Strong tries to get some momentum in-state" I can't disagree. We don't know yet what kind of QB Murray will develop into. But we do know what kind of message it would send if Charlie Strong grabbed a prospect of Murray's talent from A&M.
  • Kansas State has enjoyed plenty of success with players from the Sooner State, notably from the Lockett family. Tuesday, the Wildcats picked up another Oklahoman in three-star defensive back Darreyl Patterson, who committed to K-State over the Sooners and Louisville. Patterson visited Manhattan this past weekend.
  • The Charleston Daily Mail's Mike Casazza crunched the numbers on West Virginia's current scholarship situation. According to Casazza, the Mountaineers have 90 scholarship promised out at the moment, including the incoming recruiting class (the NCAA limit is 85). Even though it sounds bad, this is actually not a bad place to be. Defection strikes every program during the offseason. There's always the chance some recruit flips his commitment elsewhere before signing day. Better to be where West Virginia is then well under the 85-man limit and scrambling to add players in the week leading up to signing day.
  • Oklahoma safety Hatari Byrd was cited on complaints of possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of alcohol by a minor early Saturday morning, the Tulsa World's Guerin Emig reported. Byrd will be spending a lot of time with Sooner strength coach Jerry Schmidt in the coming weeks.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
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Could Baylor end up with a quarterback problem? How high could Texas' recruiting class rise? Those answers and more in Tuesday's mailbag. As always, thanks for your questions (way to step up after letting Longhorn nation take over for a week). To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Chris J. in Houston, Texas, writes: If the playoffs expand to include automatic bids for conference champions, does this affect end of season out of conference rivalries? Do you think coaches might rest or limit players knowing they essentially have a play-in game the following week?

Brandon Chatmon: Man, you leapfrogged a couple of steps here Chris. But if it ever gets to that, I definitely could see coaches making decisions like that because as important as rivalries are in college football, I think winning a national title would rise above them. I really don't see this becoming a major problem anytime soon, though.

James in Wheeling, West Virginia, writes: Can you see the Big 12 being West Virginia's permanent home? If not, where do you think we fit in best?

BC: Ready to jump ship already James? It's only been three years.

Wallace in Cincinnati writes: I hate that football has ended, and I'm not an NFL fan so my season ended January 12th, but I digress. So what needs to occur for the Big 12 to expand from 10 teams to 12? They were already left at the alter by the College Playoff Committee for not having a "true champion." Is it going to take another year of missing out on the playoff? Or having a team like Texas or Oklahoma miss out before Bob Bowlsby realizes he needs to expand the conference to have a conference championship game?

BC: A conference full of athletic directors who want to expand would be a good start. It would probably take a consistent, multi-year trend of missing out on the playoffs before expansion becomes a real consideration. As much as some people want it to happen, expansion is not a priority right now.

Rob in Denver writes: Any idea why TCU isn't in the running to get Devonte Fields back? From his stats in JUCO I'm not sure the Frogs would want him back, but I was curious. At this point, chances of the Frogs landing Daylon Mack?

BC: Why would TCU want Fields back? He had plenty of chances in Gary Patterson's program and the Horned Frogs just won 12 games without him. As far as Mack, it feels like TCU has a decent shot, the Horned Frogs would be making a terrific statement if they landed the No. 6 player in the ESPN 300.

Josh writes: Who do you think will take over the quarterback duties in Norman? Who fits the Lincoln Riley offense better?

BC: Baker Mayfield would be my favorite but it could be anybody's job. I'm not ready to give up on Trevor Knight and we never know how Cody Thomas or Justice Hansen will fit in Riley's offense. It should be a fun spring to watch in Norman.

Stanley Wren in Houston writes: Could you see a scenario whereas a Big 12 team went undefeated in '15 and was not included in the top 4 of the College Football Playoff?

BC: No.

Justin in the UK writes: How do you think all the crazy recruiting possibilities at Texas are going to pan out?

BC: I have a feeling UT will end up with a top-5 class. Charlie Strong is after a bunch of elite recruits during the home stretch and the Longhorns already have a strong class. If they're able to flip Kyler Murray or Kai Locksley and land Daylon Mack or Chris Warren as they close with a bang, UT could become the talk of signing day.

Robert in Tulsa, Oklahoma, writes: Am I the only Baylor fan concerned the Bears have a logjam under center and could end up having all the young ones transfer away? I think people jump to Seth Russell being the answer too quickly and forget that Chris Johnson was the #5 Dual Threat QB when he came out of high school. With Chad President already gone, I'm concerned Jarrett Stidham and Johnson will get antsy and leave? Am I overreacting?

BC: I think so. First, Art Briles is in charge. Enough said. Second, it's never bad to have several quality options at quarterback, most of the Big 12 would love to be in the same position. Third, Baylor isn't going to have a problem attracting talented quarterbacks if someone does leave. Who wouldn't want to trigger that offense?
In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we examine the major storylines leading into signing day, including the most compelling uncommitted recruit still out there, and the team to watch in the final week before recruits can sign their letters of intent:

Which Big 12-targeted uncommitted recruit is most intriguing?

[+] EnlargeDaylon Mack
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTexas and TCU are among the competitors for 6-foot-1, 330-pound defensive lineman Daylon Mack, ranked No. 6 in the ESPN300.
Chatmon: It has to be Daylon Mack. It’s hard to find game-changing defensive linemen, and Mack fits the mold at 6-foot-1, 330 pounds. Texas and TCU are among the competitors for the No. 6 player in the ESPN300, who has the talent to make an impact during his first season, not matter where he decides to call home for the next few years. Mack moves with the quickness and explosion of a player who weighs in at 230 pounds, not 330, making it easy to see why he would be the gem of any recruiting class.

Olson: I think Chris Warren III is going to make one Big 12 team very happy on national signing day. He's one of the best running back recruits in the country, and he can make an immediate impact at Texas, Oklahoma State, or Texas Tech. All three earned official visits, and Washington gets his final one this weekend. Don't sleep on that visit -- his father Chris Warren was an All-Pro running back for the Seattle Seahawks, so the distance isn't a prohibiting factor -- but it's a safe bet Warren ends up in Big 12 country, and ends up getting a lot of snaps as a true freshman.

Trotter: Mack would be a tremendous capper for TCU's class at a position of need; he would also seal what already is a fabulous class for Charlie Strong at Texas. Without a high school running back committed, Oklahoma State would love to sign Warren III, though he would boost the classes in Austin and Lubbock, too. But to me, the Kyler Murray saga is the most fascinating storyline in Big 12 country. Forget the schools, the contentions chase for the nation’s No. 13 overall player and top dual-threat quarterback has even triggered a feud between recruiting writers in Austin and College Station. If the Longhorns can pluck Murray away, what a message it would send to Texas A&M.

Who is the Big 12 team to pay attention to leading up to signing day?

Chatmon: I’ll be among many keeping an eye on the Longhorns as Texas looks to make a statement with the first full recruiting class under Strong. It’s already a strong class, but it feels like the Longhorns are poised to finish with a couple of surprises. Will they be good surprises, or bad surprises? Well, that’s why Texas is the team to watch as it looks to flip quarterbacks Murray and Kai Locksley, close on Mack and Soso Jamabo, and lock down the rest of its class.

Olson: Texas could be the talk of the country on signing day and finish with a top-three caliber class. Or the Longhorns could strike out. It's a high-risk, insane-reward gamble. If the Longhorns somehow persuade Murray to flip from A&M, I really wouldn't be surprised if Mack, Jamabo, and Damarkus Lodge follow him. Throw in Warren and cornerback Holton Hill, too, and you're talking about a group of potential Day One starters all teaming up in Austin after a 6-7 season. If that pans out, it would be one of the most improbable signing day sweeps we've ever seen.

Trotter: It's definitely the Longhorns, in my opinion. With quarterback issues that date to 2009, Texas is gambling it can flip a quarterback in the final week. But what if Murray sticks with A&M, and Locksley stays true to Florida State? Texas will be in a major hole at the most critical of positions, which could set Strong's rebuilding back for years. The Longhorns also remain in the mix for several high-profile prospects. It will be compelling to see how Texas finishes.

Who is your underrated (non-4 or 5-star) Big 12 commit to watch?

Chatmon: It will be interesting to see what Tony Brown can do in Texas Tech’s offense. The three-star receiver from California decided to play for Kliff Kingsbury despite offers from UCLA, Nebraska, Arizona State, and others. He would bring terrific size (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) to the Red Raiders' receiving corps. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but would bring quickness and good ball skills to Lubbock.

Olson: There are way too many three-stars in the Baylor and TCU classes. And by that, I mean you just know a bunch of these guys are going to outperform those above-average expectations over the next few years. I particularly like several of the Frogs' receiver commits, led by Dallas-area playmakers Jaelan Austin and Jarrison Stewart, and I think Baylor linebacker commit Clay Johnston will be sneaky good.

Trotter: At Kansas State, it will be interesting to see whether quarterback Alex Delton or running back Alex Barnes can become the rare players to see the field for Bill Snyder as true freshmen. The Wildcats have a void at quarterback, though sophomore Joe Hubener will be the massive favorite to succeed Jake Waters. Still, Delton has a skill set in the mold of past K-State signal callers. Though the passing attack with Waters was tremendous, the Wildcats had a mediocre running game last season. At 212 pounds, Barnes brings much needed size to the position. He has a chance to be an immediate factor.

Big 12 morning links

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
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As Ron Burgundy would say, that escalated quickly...
  • Remember Devonte Fields, who was the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year before getting booted from TCU in late July? Well, Fields, who spent last year at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, is taking a visit to Louisville this weekend. Our man Max Olson, by the way, broke the story. Hopefully Fields has his life in order, and is able to put his football career back on track. No doubt, Fields is an immense talent with loads of potential. Which, considering they did it without Fields, makes the Horned Frogs' remarkable 2014 turnaround all the more remarkable.
  • Speaking of the Horned Frogs, ex-TCU cornerback Kevin White was one of the "winners" from the Senior Bowl over the weekend, according to NFL.com's Chase Goodbread. "White showed the skills needed to play either cornerback or nickelback," Goodbread wrote, "and such versatility could help his draft status significantly." Goodbread wasn't so high on former Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, though the writer noted Petty had the quickest release of any Senior Bowl QB.
  • Texas' recruiting class got more good news when ESPN 300 wideout John Burt committed back to the Longhorns after reopening his recruitment earlier this month and giving Auburn a hard look. The Longhorns now have 10 ESPN 300 commitments Insider and counting. New wide receivers coach Jay Norvell, who had previously been an assistant at Oklahoma since 2008, has already begun to make an impact in Austin; he appeared to have a hand in Burt's reaffirmation.
  • New Kansas coach David Beaty continued his delve into the Lone Star State, landing a pair of Texas prospects in College Station receiver Jeremiah Booker and Dorance Armstrong, a three-star defensive end from Houston. The Jayhawks did lose DeSoto, Texas, receiver Kevin Thomas to SMU over the weekend. But Beaty now has 16 commitments on board from the state of Texas. That is a development that should excite the Kansas fan base.
  • Former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has landed on his feet as the playcaller at Utah State, noted The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel. Heupel had some great seasons as a QB coach at OU, then some good ones as the offensive coordinator. After the Sooners struggled to an 8-5 finish with a pistol zone-read that Heupel never seemed comfortable calling, he ultimately became the fall guy. But Heupel should look no further than Manny Diaz for inspiration of how to bounce back. After flaming out at Texas, Diaz went to Louisiana Tech and coordinated a top-40 defense. Now, he's back in the Power 5 as the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. Likewise, Heupel could make a quick bounce back.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
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It's the most wonderful time of the year! Signing day is less than 10 days away. The second-to-last official visit weekend is in the books. Here's where the Big 12 recruiting classes stand entering the final stretch:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 18
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 27th
The latest: The Bears added a fourth offensive lineman to their class on Sunday in the form of Ringling, Oklahoma, guard Riley Daniel. He chose Baylor after an official visit this weekend and a trip to Texas Tech last weekend. Baylor is also battling the Red Raiders for three-star Louisiana cornerback Henry Black, who visited Waco over the weekend.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 18
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Iowa State is searching for a running back to replace Devine Ozigbo, who flipped to Nebraska earlier this month. Might the answer be Joshua Thomas? The three-star back from Buford, Georgia, appears to be down to Iowa State and Wisconsin. A decision is expected soon. Thomas visited the Badgers this weekend. Another recruit to keep an eye on: Julian Good-Jones, the Cyclones' tackle commit who visited Louisville this weekend.

KANSAS
Total commits: 24
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Kansas picked up five intriguing pledges from the state of Texas in the last week -- DE Dorance Armstrong, WR Jeremiah Booker, WR Steven Sims, LB Osaze Ogbebor and former Tulsa CB commit Shola Ayinde -- but also lost two significant commits over the weekend. On Sunday, three-star receiver Kevin Thomas flipped to SMU and three-star athlete Arico Evans made his flip to TCU.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Kansas State will be a finalist for one Georgia prospect on signing day and will have to do some work to ensure another stays in the fold. Three-star defensive end G.G. Robinson, a Louisville commit, visited K-State over the weekend and hails from Lilburn, Georgia. Meanwhile, three-star OLB commit Mohamed Barry took an official visit to Nebraska and will make his final decision between KSU, Nebraska and Miami on Thursday.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 20
ESPN 300 commits: 8
ESPN JC50 commits: 3
Class rank: 17th
The latest: The Sooners are likely going to part ways with ESPN 300 defensive tackle Marquise Overton, whose ACT score has the OU staff concerned he won't qualify. A key target to take his place in the OU class is four-star Darrion Daniels. The Dallas defensive tackle visited Iowa this weekend and is expected to decide this week, though Texas Tech might be the favorite at the moment.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 18
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 35th
The latest: The Cowboys moved quickly to land ESPN 300 athlete Louis Brown after he parted ways with Texas last weekend. Brown took an official visit to OSU and made his commitment on Saturday night. The Burton, Texas, native will likely play defensive end. OSU also held its first junior day for the 2016 class this weekend.

TCU
Total commits: 24
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: 37th
The latest: The Horned Frogs loaded up on speed this weekend. First they secured a commitment from Kavontae Turpin, an electric receiver and returner from Monroe, Louisiana. Then came the commitment from Arico Evans, who'd pledged to Kansas earlier this month. He accounted for 34 total touchdowns as a quarterback at Dallas Hillcrest this season.

TEXAS
Total commits: 23
ESPN 300 commits: 9
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 9th
The latest: Texas had a big-time weekend with five-star DT Daylon Mack, ESPN 300 running back Soso Jamabo and ESPN 300 athlete Kai Locksley in town for official visits. Mack and Jamabo will announce their decisions on signing day. Locksley, an important QB target for Texas after losing Zach Gentry to Michigan, will go home and mull over whether he should flip from Florida State. The Horns also brought in Georgia DB commit Deandre Baker and Dominique Reed, the nation's No. 4 juco receiver. Texas also picked up a re-commitment on Monday from ESPN 300 wide receiver John Burt, who'd backed out earlier this month to reconsider Auburn.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: 33rd
The latest: The Red Raiders picked up a commitment last week from three-star offensive lineman Cody Wheeler of powerhouse Allen High School in Texas. He was one of the many official visitors in Lubbock over the weekend, a list headlined by ESPN 300 running back Chris Warren III. Three-star defensive end pledge Lonzell Gilmore visited Baylor over the weekend.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 24
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 25th
The latest: In addition to landing a commitment from three-star lineman Rob Dowdy, West Virginia had a big-time weekend with three Florida studs visiting Morgantown: four-star Miami pledge RB Mark Walton, four-star Georgia commit WR Shaquery Wilson and ESPN 300 receiver Antonio Callaway. Another Florida native, four-star athlete Jordan Cronkrite, will decide between WVU and Florida on signing day.

More breakout players to watch in 2015 

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
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On Friday, we rolled out the top 10 breakout players to watch in 2015. But we have 15 more, including two more Big 12 quarterbacks (for a total of four), the next great defender at Michigan State and, like our No. 1 breakout choice, USC’s Adoree Jackson, a return game ace.

Check out the first 10 players, then read about the next 15:

11. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB
Trevor Knight was a buzzy Heisman candidate last spring, yet rival coaches were talking about whether Mayfield, if he were eligible in 2014, would overtake him. It was made moot because the Texas Tech transfer didn’t get his waiver to play, but Knight’s up-and-down season has certainly opened the door for competition.

With an Air Raid-based offensive coordinator in Lincoln Riley coming in, Mayfield is perfectly suited to take over -- and flourish -- as QB1 in Norman.

Big 12 morning links

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
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It was good to see some Big 12 standouts making plays in the Senior Bowl.
  • Landing local recruits has played a key role in Baylor's rise, writes John Werner of the Waco Tribune. From safety Ahmad Dixon to defensive tackle Andrew Billings, Art Briles' program is starting to keep the bulk of the best players in the Waco area at BU. Briles makes an important point in the story, noting that Baylor recruits those local stars because they can help compete for championships, not because they are local stars.
  • Texas lost a commitment from ESPN300 quarterback Zach Gentry so landing a quarterback commitment in the final days of recruiting is important for Charlie Strong's program, writes Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News. It was interesting to see the reaction to Gentry's flip to Michigan over the weekend. It was as if Gentry was a lock to step in and answer the questions at the quarterback position in Austin. But, realistically, the chances of Gentry, Kyler Murray or Kai Locksley stepping in as true freshman and leading UT into Big 12 title contention aren't particularly high. It's much more likely the immediate answer is already on campus or could arrive via transfer during this offseason. The odds aren't in the favor of any true freshman quarterback -- no matter how elite-- transforming UT's outlook in Year 1.
  • A solid look at Texas Tech commitment D'Vonta Hinton from Jason McDaniel of the Houston Chronicle includes how questions about his height have placed a chip on Hinton's shoulder. "If size matters why isn't the elephant king of the jungle?" Hinton ponders in the piece. I like this guy already.
  • Could Samaje Perine be even better in Year 2? The Oklahoma running back earned All-Big 12 honors while rushing for 1,713 yards during his first semester on campus. Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World looks at ways Perine could be even more productive as a sophomore, from increased touches to improved measurables after a offseason in OU's strength and conditioning program. I could see Perine being better but less productive as a sophomore with other talented running backs on the roster and the Sooners unlikely to lean on Perine and the running game for most of its offensive success. It will be interesting to see how he grows as a player and how the offense evolves around him under new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
  • Several Big 12 players made an impression with their play in the Senior Bowl but a TCU Horned Frog was one of Todd McShay's top 10 performers Insider at the event in Mobile, Alabama. One year after Jason Verrett went from standout on TCU's defense to NFL first-round pick, Kevin White has his stock on the rise after a strong showing. He may not go as high as Verrett but he's on the road to landing on an NFL roster if he continues to perform like he did during the past week.
Art Briles' brash statements can ruffle some feathers, but tend to come with a dose of truth. The Baylor coach’s declaration that the Bears are one of the best programs in college football is backed by his program’s back-to-back Big 12 titles.

"We feel like we've established ourselves as somebody," Briles said shortly before the Cotton Bowl. "When you're looking at one of the better teams in the southwest part of the United States of America, Baylor is one of them."

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong, Malcom Brown
AP Photo/Eric GayCoach Charlie Strong says finding players with strong character is the key to getting Texas back among the Big 12's elite teams.
That's right, parity has hit the Big 12. And it’s been around for a while.

Although it earned a Big 12 co-championship in 2012, Oklahoma hasn’t won an outright Big 12 title since 2010. Texas hasn’t won a conference title outright since 2009. Those two programs combined to win every Big 12 title from 2004 through 2010.

A conference that could point to Oklahoma and Texas as its standard bearers for the majority of the 2000s has seen five different teams win a share of the Big 12 title since 2010.

The immediate assumption is the problem can be found on the recruiting trail. As the Big 12’s most dominant performers slid down the standings, surely they slid down the recruiting rankings. After all, talent wins games.

The reality is different.

Oklahoma and Texas have finished 1-2 in the Big 12 in recruiting rankings every season since 2010. And each program finished among the top 20 nationally each season, including three top-five finishes by the Longhorns. According to ESPN recruiting analysts, here is a closer look at the top recruiting classes in the conference each year since 2010:

Class of 2014

  • Oklahoma No. 13 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Texas No. 16 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Baylor No. 22 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
  • Oklahoma State No. 28 in nation, 4th in Big 12
Class of 2013

  • Texas No. 16 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 17 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Oklahoma State No. 27 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
  • Baylor No. 28 in nation, 4th in Big 12
Class of 2012

  • Texas No. 3 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 11 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Texas Tech No. 20 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
Class of 2011

  • Texas No. 5 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 11 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Oklahoma State No. 23 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
Class of 2010

  • Texas No. 2 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 5 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • No other Big 12 team in top 25

Those recruiting rankings haven’t transferred to the field. Oklahoma has the best winning percentage during that span, with Oklahoma State and Baylor -- two programs lauded for their ability to develop and evaluate -- joining the Sooners in the top three. Texas is just eight games above .500 and in the bottom half of the conference.

Winning percentage since 2010

  1. Oklahoma 77.3 percent (51-15 overall)
  2. Oklahoma State 73.8 percent (48-17)
  3. Baylor 72.3 percent (47-18)
  4. Kansas State 69.2 percent (45-20)
  5. TCU 60.5 percent (23-15 in 38 games as Big 12 member)
  6. Texas 56.3 percent (36-28)
  7. Texas Tech 52.4 percent (33-30)
  8. West Virginia 47.4 percent (18-20 in 38 games)
  9. Iowa State 35.5 percent (22-40)
  10. Kansas 20 percent (12-40)
Development has been key as Oklahoma has been the Big 12’s best at developing its recruits into NFL draftees, followed by Baylor and Texas. The Sooners have the ability to attract elite talent and turn them into NFL players, and the Bears have excelled at evaluation and development, gradually rising up the recruiting rankings. Texas' individual talent has been evident on the field, but it hasn’t turned into great teams on the field.

NFL Draftees since 2010

  1. Oklahoma 28
  2. Baylor 17
  3. Texas 16
  4. TCU 13
  5. West Virginia 13
  6. Oklahoma State 10
  7. Kansas State 7
  8. Iowa State 5
  9. Kansas 4
  10. Texas Tech 4

What does it all mean?

Texas, under Mack Brown, was struggling to transform its talented signees into wins as a combination of poor evaluation and development hampered the Longhorns. First-year coach Charlie Strong has an eye on changing that trend.

"It's all about character, young men who want to change their lives," Strong said during his debut season. "The thing about it, I'm not looking for players who want to be mediocre. We don't need to be mediocre. That's not who we are. We need to recruit players who love football and want to do something special."

The Longhorns have made terrific inroads with their first full class under Strong, sitting atop the Big 12 and ranking No. 9 nationally in the Class of 2015.

The Sooners’ recruiting problems and lack of talent are grossly overstated. Bob Stoops' program is looking down at everyone in the Big 12 with the highest number of NFL draftees and best winning percentage since 2010, with only Texas consistently landing higher-ranked recruiting classes. Oklahoma isn’t as dominant as it was during the 2000s, but that has everything to do with the improved overall depth of the Big 12 more than the Sooners’ struggles. And Oklahoma looks poised to land another quality class, ranking second in the Big 12 and 17th nationally.

The foundation of Baylor’s rise is found in that program’s ability to turn overlooked recruits into stars. Turning two-star receiver Tevin Reese into an NFL draft pick is just one example of how Briles' program has risen to national prominence.

"You want to find the lifeline of our business, it's all about recruiting and getting the players that you need on campus and giving you a chance to sustain," Briles said. "We’ve proved we have substance as a football program. We have other things we need to prove at a very high level, and that to me is what it's all about. You know, that night will pass, there will be another night. We're not a one-night wonder."

Big 12 morning links

January, 23, 2015
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And we're off...
  • Kansas quarterback commit Carter Stanley has completely shut down recruiting, reports Tom Keegan of the Lawrence Journal-World. The Jayhawks pledge told the new coaching staff he would shut things down if they stopped recruiting other signal-callers. It's a clear sign the Jayhawks think pretty highly of Stanley if they are willing to stop recruiting other quarterbacks. That's not to say that he is going to step into the starting lineup from Day 1 but new head coach David Beaty and offensive coordinator Rob Likens obviously think they may have a hidden gem in Stanley, who added an offer from Connecticut in recent weeks.
  • Who is going to be Texas' starting quarterback? Tyrone Swoopes? Jerrod Heard? Kyler Murray? Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News takes a stab at predicting the starter, with percentages for each potential option. Finger tabs Heard as the favorite to start and I'd have to agree. Murray set social media on fire with his tweet of a Longhorns jersey earlier this week and UT might be the Texas A&M commitment's best option if he hopes to play immediately. But it seems like Charlie Strong and the Longhorns are playing with fire a little it with long-time commitment Zach Gentry flirting with Michigan while UT flirts with Murray. I guess we will see if Charlie has any game.
  • Former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel appears to have landed on his feet as the new offensive coordinator at Utah State. OU fired Heupel earlier this month after the Sooners' offense struggled to find balance and explosive plays for the second-straight season. Yet it seems like a good fit for Heupel, as he gets the opportunity to blaze his own trail, and a good hire for Utah State.
  • Baylor coach Art Briles discusses several things including freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham and his coaching hires in this story from John Werner of the Waco Tribune. One interesting tidbit is Baylor holding its spring game at McLane Stadium for the first time. It will be a drastic change for the Bears, which held the spring game on their practice field in the past. Baylor's spring game should be a much better recruiting tool this year with recruits getting a much more game-like feel for the program.
  • Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett is making himself some money in Mobile, Alabama. Lockett has shined during Senior Bowl practices, showing scouts the quickness and shifty moves that made him one of the Big 12's most explosive playmakers for the past four years. He had 28 plays of 30 yards or more during his Wildcats' career and could be a terrific value pick for an NFL team with his route running, return prowess and willingness to play special teams.

Daily Social Roundup: CeCe Jefferson stays busy 

January, 23, 2015
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Thursday saw activity on social media throughout the country, with coaches on the road, schools collecting commitments and No. 9 overall prospect CeCe Jefferson receiving a visit from one of his finalists.


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The shockwaves from Texas A&M quarterback commitment Kyler Murray’s unofficial visit to Texas on Wednesday were still being felt Thursday because he's such an important target for both schools.


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After an eventful 2014 football season, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby recently conducted a lengthy phone interview with ESPN.com to discuss the state of the Big 12, the controversial co-champions rule and the possibility of expansion.

Part I of the interview ran Wednesday. Part II is below:

What are the pros and cons of having a conference championship game?

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong, Malcom Brown
AP Photo/Eric GayBig 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby expects traditional league powers such as Oklahoma and Charlie Strong's Texas to rebound from down years.
Bowlsby: The pros are you have the same number of data points as everyone else, that is to say 13 games instead of 12 games. I suppose there is some revenue to be garnered from playing the 13th game. And I think it makes us look like everyone else. So I would say all those things would be favorable. On the unfavorable side, we play everybody already and the rule doesn't permit us to play a championship game under its current structure. The other thing is with a full round robin of the league, it's always going to be a regular-season rematch. So you could obviously ask the question, is it fair for the winning team to play the losing team again, and maybe lose out as a result of it. There are legitimate pros and cons on either side. Some years we'll be very glad we're not playing a playoff game, when we'll have to risk having our best team lose to another team. And other years, we'll wish we could play one more game in order to demonstrate that we belong there.

What about the pros and cons of expansion?

Bowlsby: No, I'm not going into that at this point. Those are things that we evaluate, but I don't need to have that out there for public consumption.

You indicated during a radio interview last month that the league would be more apt to expand east than west. Why is that?

Bowlsby: What I said was there are more likely candidates east than west. We don't have any candidate list. We have zero candidate list. We're at 10 now. We expect to be at 10 going forward. There are more people looking for a home, if you aggregate the list nationally of those that might be tempted to either change leagues or join a league, there are more of them in the eastern half of the United States than there are in the western half. Just like there are more institutions, more people, more everything in the eastern half.

Have the struggles of Texas and Oklahoma, especially in their bowl games, damaged the overall perception of the league?

Bowlsby: OU and Texas both have storied football traditions. OU was picked in the top four in the country at the beginning of the year, so I'm sure they're disappointed. On the other hand, Texas has a new coach (Charlie Strong) who has done a great job and I think they made progress throughout the year. So they're on an upward trend. Those programs aspire to win national championships. So anytime they don't win national championships they want to get better.

With Oliver Luck leaving West Virginia, you guys have to submit a new representative to the playoff selection committee. How will that work?

Bowlsby: It's my appointment. I appointed Oliver, and I'll appoint the next person. It will come from within our athletic directors and the meeting that is going to be held in early February is our board of directors meeting. And I notified Bill Hancock that I wanted to socialize my decision with them before I announced it publicly.

What traits will you be looking for?

Bowlsby: Their ability to serve, their integrity, their football knowledge, their past participation perhaps, the esteem they're held in among their athletic director colleagues. What they have on their plate and their general willingness and ability to serve because it's a very time-consuming undertaking. All of those things.
This week, we've been counting down the Big 12's top 25 players of 2014. Friday, we'll unveil our top five players.

But before then, we want to mention the players who narrowly missed the cut.

The unfortunate part of our top 25 ranking is that only 25 players can make the cut. But we considered at least a dozen other standouts who were also worthy of inclusion.

SportsNation

Who has the biggest gripe being left off the Big 12 top 25 player ranking?

  •  
    13%
  •  
    27%
  •  
    45%
  •  
    7%
  •  
    8%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,747)

Standouts like Baylor's KD Cannon, who totaled more than 1,000 receiving yards as a true freshman; Texas' Jordan Hicks, who led a stout Longhorns defense in tackles; West Virginia's Mario Alford, who was a big-play threat on offense and special teams; Kansas State's Curry Sexton, who was third in the league in receptions despite playing alongside Tyler Lockett; Baylor's Shock Linwood, who finished second in the Big 12 in rushing; and Texas' John Harris, who finished fifth in the league in receiving.

But there were five other players who proved most difficult to leave out.

Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard most definitely would have made the top 25 had he not suffered a groin injury that severely limited him late in the season. Still, with more than 900 receiving yards before November, Shepard almost made the cut anyway.

So did his teammate, offensive right tackle Daryl Williams. The first-team All-Big 12 selection helped pave the way for the Sooners' powerful running game. His tackle cohort Tyrus Thompson, however, did crack the top 25 at No. 20.

Like Shepard, Baylor wideout Antwan Goodley would have been a lock had it not been for an early-season injury. After totaling more than 1,300 yards receiving last year, Goodley finished with just more than 800 this season. Still, Goodley re-emerged as one of the most dominant pass-catchers during Big 12 play, placing seventh in the league in receiving during conference games. He had 158 yards receiving and two touchdowns in Baylor's critical 61-58 victory over TCU.

The final two players who nearly made the list didn't play for prolific teams, but they stood out nonetheless. Iowa State tight end E.J. Bibbs tied for seventh in the Big 12 with eight touchdown receptions. Kansas' JaCorey Shepherd, meanwhile, surfaced as one of the top cover corners in the conference for an underrated Jayhawks defense. Shepherd was fourth in the country with 18 pass breakups.

So we put the question to you in our weekly Big 12 poll.

Of Shepard, Williams, Goodley, Bibbs and Shepherd, who has the biggest gripe about being left out of our Big 12 top 25 player ranking?

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