Big 12 recruiting scorecard

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
1:00
PM ET
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
11:12
AM ET
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
9:00
AM ET
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
Jan 23
9:00
AM ET
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
Jan 23
9:00
AM ET
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.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

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.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

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%
  •  
    6%
  •  
    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,636)

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?

Next wave of dual-sport QBs

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
10:54
AM ET
[+] EnlargeWinston
AP Photo/Phil SearsIn addition to being a Heisman winner and national champion quarterback, Jameis Winston excelled at baseball for the Seminoles.

While the Super Bowl pits two quarterbacks who were both MLB draft picks, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady aren't the only signal callers who thrived in multiple sports . The potential No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft, Jameis Winston, was also a baseball star for the Seminoles. And in the high school ranks, the nation's top-rated quarterback, Texas A&M commit Kyler Murray, could be an early-round MLB draft pick even though most expect him to play football in college. 

Here's a look at six high school and college quarterbacks who have also excelled on the diamond:


(Read full post)


This week, we’re counting down the Big 12’s top 25 players of 2014.

Remember, criteria for these rankings were based solely on performances from 2014, not a culmination of previous seasons. Pro potential was not a factor. Neither was preseason hype. Number of games played was taken into account.

Without further delay, our countdown goes on to Nos. 6-10:

6. Kevin White, WR, West Virginia (preseason rank: not ranked): The light came on for White as a senior, as the Mountaineer receiver committed himself to taking more of a businesslike approach to his preparation. The result was 109 receptions for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns during a season that made him an Biletnikoff Award finalist. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, White’s long frame and terrific ball skills make him a prime red zone candidate and deep-ball threat. Yet he’s terrific after the catch, as well, leading the Big 12 with 650 yards after catch.

7. Spencer Drango. T, Baylor (9): Drango’s importance to the Baylor offense rose to the forefront after his injury late in the 2013 season. He returned to his dominant, pre-injury form in 2014, earning All-Big 12 and All-American honors while anchoring the offensive line that helped the Bears lead the nation in points per game (48.2), yards per game (581.5) and first downs (30.1). Drango led all BU offensive linemen with an 88.8 coaches grade.

8. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma (NR): The hard-running true freshman burst upon the scene with a 242-yard, four-touchdown performance in an early road win at West Virginia. Yet few remember that performance, thanks to his FBS-record 427 rushing yards against Kansas in November. Perine is a handful for defenders, finishing with 263 carries for 1,713 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns. His 636 yards after contact and 1,148 yards between the tackles led the Big 12.

9. Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas (16): Few players can match the productivity of Captain Heeney in 2014. The Jayhawks senior left his best for last, leading the Big 12 with 10.58 tackles per game and 88 solo tackles. Heeney could make plays from sideline to sideline and finished his final season with double-digit tackles in seven games, including a 21-tackle game against Texas Tech. KU didn’t have the team success he was striving for, but Heeney did everything he could for the Jayhawks.

10. Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor (NR): The strongest man in the Big 12 is also one of the most disruptive. While teammate Shawn Oakman got most of the attention, Billings was anchoring the middle of a Bears defense that allowed 3.15 yards per carry, ranking seventh among FBS teams. The sophomore had a breakout season, finishing with 37 tackles including 11.5 tackles for loss, nine hurries, two sacks and one forced fumble. Billings is a critical building block for Art Briles' team in 2015.

Coaches pick out young players to watch 

January, 21, 2015
Jan 21
11:21
AM ET
A quarterback has won the Heisman Trophy each of the past five years and 13 of the past 14 seasons. However, judging by feedback from coaches during and after the 2014 season, 2015 could very well be the "Year of the Running Back."

Seven Power 5 freshmen running backs surpassed 1,000 yards in '14 -- Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine (1,713 yards), Georgia’s Nick Chubb (1,547), Arizona’s Nick Wilson (1,375), Oregon’s Royce Freeman (1,365), Northwestern’s Justin Jackson (1,187), LSU’s Leonard Fournette (1,034) and FSU’s Dalvin Cook (1,008).

Any one of those players could certainly find another gear and make a run at the 2015 Heisman. But the belief among coaches I’ve spoken with the past few weeks is that the best running back -- and player -- in 2015 will be Ohio State rising junior Ezekiel Elliott (1,878 yards this season).

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesOhio State running back Ezekiel Elliott racked up nearly 700 yards in three postseason games.
Coaches were raving about him at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Convention, and that was before he bulldozed Oregon for 246 yards and four touchdowns in the College Football Playoff National Championship.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ESPN 300 receiver Van Jefferson is no longer committed to Georgia and the news was definitely disappointing for the Dawgs. So who’s in the driver’s seat now for the one of the best receivers in the country?


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
3:00
PM ET
Questions from Austin, Texas, dominate Tuesday's mailbag (come on Big 12, are you really going to let Longhorn nation run this thing?) as inquires about replacing Malcom Brown and finding a quarterback remain hot topics. As always, thanks for your questions. To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Lillian Sims in Austin, Texas, writes: With Malcom Brown entering the NFL Draft early, and huge talent on the defense graduating, who do you think will make a big difference on defense next year for the Longhorns?

Brandon Chatmon: As crazy as it sounds I think Hassan Ridgeway (six sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss in 2014) can step right into the void left by Brown. Longhorns fans should be more concerned about who steps into Ridgeway’s complementary role in 2015. There are good options like Poona Ford and Paul Boyette Jr. who could fit the bill in the defensive interior. As far as general playmakers for Charlie Strong’s defense, safety Jason Hall stands out as someone who could become a star on the Longhorns' defense in 2015.


Scott in Lafayette writes: I will immediately admit that I am biased; but is Marcus Mariota really that much better than Bryce Petty? Do you think Petty warrants a first round pick or is Mariota overrated? Or is the talent gap really that much between the two?

BC: Let me preface this by saying I’m not an NFL draft expert but I don’t think Mariota is overrated at all. I also don’t think Bryce Petty is that far behind. Petty may not end up being a first-round pick but I think he will have a successful NFL career and become a starter at the next level. His accuracy and leadership should help him have success on Sundays, in a league in need of quality quarterbacks. He may not be a first-round pick and, while that hurts his pocketbook, I don’t think it will keep him from developing into a NFL quarterback.


Tommy in Austin, Texas, writes: I know there is a lot of talk about the Big 12 having "One True Champion" and Baylor fans bring up the head-to-head win and TCU fans bring up the better non-conference schedule and not losing to West Virginia. So, if the point is to get our Big 12 champion into the playoff then don't we want that team held in the highest regard by the committee? So why not use the last ranking by the committee as the tie breaker if 2-3 teams end with the same conference record?

BC: If three teams end up tied, that is the tiebreaker. With two teams it should be the head-to-head winner. Co-champions should be a thing of the past. I understand why the Big 12 commish played his hand like he did in December, and it could have turned out to be a genius move, but the head-to-head winner should always win a tiebreaker in that scenario. I’m uncertain about the committee doing it all based off the drastic difference in the second-to-last poll and the final poll this time around. I’m not sure a clear and defined champion between Baylor and TCU would have changed the final result this year. The message Big 12 teams received is don’t leave your destiny in the hands of others (Florida State didn't, got rewarded, then got run off the field in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual).


Raymond in Dallas writes: With all the recent success with Redshirt Freshman QB's, why don't people give Jerrod Heard a chance on the field before talking about UT still not having an elite QB?

BC: I think the short answer is this: Tyrone Swoopes started 11 games with Heard on campus. I don’t really agree with that line of thinking but it explains why some people might be quick to write off Heard. I’ve always said I felt like Heard was the answer and nothing has made me stray from that thinking. I’m willing to sit back and see what he brings to the table but I think we all know Texas won’t reach new levels under Strong without finding an answer at quarterback.


Tom in Austin, Texas, writes: I think Ohio State's victory with a third-string QB was an excellent case study in how useful a good offensive line can be (without minimizing Cardale Jones' accomplishments, of course). How long before Joe Wickline can fix Texas's O-line?

BC: It needs to happen this year and I think it can happen this year. Part of the problem along the UT offensive line in 2014 was limited numbers and lack of competition. The Longhorns currently have six offensive linemen on the commit list, meaning Wickline is starting to get his guys in his meeting room. The more that happens, the more successful that unit will be under Wickline. I’d be surprised if it's not a much improved group in 2015.


Mark in Georgetown, Texas writes: Has Bob Stoops won his last Big 12 title?

BC: No. It is time to stop questioning Bob Stoops and start recognizing that the Big 12 is much improved. Many have questioned Stoops' desire with OU’s recent stumbles but I think he sent a message with his decision to part ways with former offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, which could not have been an easy one. You can question certain ways Stoops runs the program and how he goes about trying to win a Big 12 title and get in the national title conversation but I don’t think you can question Stoops' will to win.

Underclassmen to watch in the Big 12

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
11:00
AM ET
You already know all about young bucks like Samaje Perine, Mason Rudolph, Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield, so we will spare you the more obvious rising stars of the Big 12. Instead, here’s a closer look at 10 underclassmen worth watching in 2015.

Baylor WR Davion Hall: When you are as stacked at receiver as Baylor was last season, somebody is bound to be the odd man out. Once Big 12 play got going, that was Hall. The true freshman put up 13 catches for 192 yards and a touchdown in non-conference play, but caught two balls the rest of the season. Departing seniors Antwan Goodley, Levi Norwood and Clay Fuller accounted for one-third of all Baylor completions. Hall’s share should be going up soon.

Iowa State OT Jake Campos: We haven’t forgotten about Allen Lazard, Kamari Cotton-Moya or the rest of the young Cyclones. But Campos deserves credit. He was thrown into a tough spot, forced to fill in as a starter for 11 games this season because of injuries. Asking a redshirt freshman to handle right tackle and then moving him to left tackle is quite a challenge, and Campos handled it as best he could. The experience will help in 2015.

Kansas LB Kyron Watson: It’s easy to trust the guy Ben Heeney has selected as his successor. The top backup at middle linebacker this season, Watson played in 11 games as a reserve and on special teams. Heeney took the former top-150 recruit under his wing last season and taught him plenty. You can’t teach Watson’s athleticism. Watch out for him.

Kansas State LB Elijah Lee: He wowed right away for K-State as a true freshman, racking up a KSU freshman record 4.5 sacks. Along the way, he steadily worked to prove he’s ready to be an every-down player. Lee’s athleticism and maturity make him a major asset, and one of the league’s better young defenders.

Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon: No Big 12 underclassman will face more attention and scrutiny in 2015, right? Mixon is on track to be reinstated after his season-long suspension. He has maintained good behavior and is out to prove he deserved his second chance. He’s also a terrific fit for Lincoln Riley’s offensive scheme. Mixon’s return could give Oklahoma one of the best running back groups in the nation.

Oklahoma State WR James Washington: A great off-the-radar discovery for Mike Gundy’s staff, Washington was an unknown true freshman from a tiny Texas town who just so happened to lead the Pokes with six touchdown receptions. The small speedster recorded eight catches of 20-plus yards and will keep growing into a big-play threat.

TCU CB Ranthony Texada: Starting a redshirt freshman at cornerback in this conference? Good luck with that. Texada acquitted himself well in his debut season, breaking up seven passes and picking one off as defenses attacked him to avoid Kevin White. There will be some fresh faces in this TCU secondary, making his play in 2015 even more important.

Texas WR Armanti Foreman: It only took a few catches to prove he’s one of Texas’ most explosive playmakers. As a true freshman, Foreman hauled in a 45-yard score at Oklahoma State and took a screen pass to the house for a 73-yard touchdown against TCU. His role the rest of the season was inconsistent, but perhaps playing for new receivers coach Jay Norvell -- who heavily recruited Foreman while at Oklahoma -- will solve that problem.

Texas Tech LB Mike Mitchell: Now this guy is exciting. The Ohio State transfer sat out the 2014 season after redshirting at OSU in 2013. Mitchell, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound sophomore, has worked at inside and outside linebacker in Tech practices and promises to be a game-changer no matter where he lines up. In fact, he’ll be one of the Red Raiders’ best defensive players in 2015.

West Virginia QB William Crest Jr.: There is reason Crest has been getting admiringly called "Little Geno" for a while now. He has a big arm and big potential, which we didn’t see much of in 2014. A shoulder injury suffered in his debut against Towson led to a medical redshirt. Crest should be OK for spring ball and might be the Mountaineers’ quarterback of the future.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Assistant Hires Sway Recruiting Momentum
National recruiting analysts Gerry Hamilton, Craig Haubert and Tom Luginbill analyze which recent assistant coach hires will have the biggest impact on signing day.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video