In today's Big 12 Twitter mailbag, we talk plenty about 2015, including changes to the conference format and quarterback battles.

On to the 'bag:

@Jake_Trotter: My top five, as of December 19, would be 1) TCU, 2) Baylor, 3) Oklahoma, 4) Texas, 5) Oklahoma State. But a lot can and will change between now and the preseason that could shake up this top five.

Trotter: Closer? Maybe. Close? No. The only change I see happening is the league clarifying its goofy One True Champion rule, and actually declaring a single champion for playoff purposes. There is a chance the conference could apply for a waiver to hold a championship game with 10 teams. But in talking to people around the league, I don't envision the Big 12 adding such a game, at least for next season.

Trotter: No time soon. The Big 12 still has no plans to expand. If it did, BYU would obviously be in the picture. But again, the Big 12 is not adding teams right now.

Trotter: The decision remains up in the air, but if I had to bet, I would put my money on Dorial Green-Beckham going to the NFL. The decision to transfer to Oklahoma was always about playing this season, not sitting out and playing in 2015. That could still happen. But as a likely Day 1 or Day 2 pick, I see him declaring for the draft.

Trotter: I could see Rushel Shell breaking the 1,000-yard barrier. With a new quarterback, the Mountaineers could pound the ball a little more next season. As for who the quarterback will be, Skyler Howard has generated momentum with the way he performed the last two games, but I still favor William Crest. There was a reason Crest was the No. 2 quarterback as a true freshman coming out of fall camp. Assuming he is healthy and can go through spring ball, Crest would still be my pick to win the job for 2015.

Trotter: The Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Baylor beating Michigan State and TCU handling Ole Miss would do the most for the Big 12's national perception. It certainly wouldn't hurt if the other Big 12 teams win, too. But a sweep in the two New Year's Six bowls is what will count most toward 2015 perception of the conference.

Trotter: Chad President has indicated that he's sticking with Baylor. President also has the ability to play other positions, too, if he gets beat out by Jarrett Stidham. So I would guess he stays pledged to Baylor. By the way, not many better surnames out there than "President."

Trotter: I think it's Seth Russell, at least to start out. Russell has the experience edge both on the field and with reps operating the Baylor offense. Russell struggled a bit in the Texas Tech game, which gives me pause. But he has also had a bunch of good moments as Bryce Petty's backup the past two years.

Trotter: No. Kansas State has first dibs on any Lockett from now until the end of time.

Trotter: This is probably the most random question in this mailbag's history. But I believe the answer is Paul Rhoads. Someone also provided photographic evidence:

Trotter: Thanks for all the questions, guys. Sorry I couldn't include all of them. I hope everyone has a great weekend..

With the 2014 regular season over, we’ve come up with our final Big 12 true freshman power rankings.

This list includes three ESPN freshman All-Americans, and a collection of other players who appear to be budding stars in the league.

So, without further ado, the final top 10 true freshmen of 2104:

1. Samaje Perine, running back, Oklahoma: Perine finishes atop the Big 12 true freshman power rankings as the clear No. 1. The 243-pound, All-Big 12 performer led the conference with 1,579 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 6.6 yards per carry. He also set an FBS single-game record with 427 rushing yards against Kansas. Perine will be the focal point of the Oklahoma offense in 2015, and should open the season on everyone’s list of possible Heisman contenders.

2. KD Cannon, wide receiver, Baylor: Though his production dipped over the final month of the season, Cannon still finished with 50 receptions, 833 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He also had a monster game with six catches and 124 yards receiving in Baylor’s big win over TCU. The Bears will lose Antwan Goodley to graduation, but with Cannon and Corey Coleman leading the way, Baylor will still have a dynamic collection of receivers in 2015.

3. Dravon Henry, safety, West Virginia: Henry won a starting job in the West Virginia secondary in the preseason, and was an integral defender for the Mountaineers all season. His ability to cover the pass allowed hard-hitting strong safety Karl Joseph to help more against the run. And with the Henry-Joseph safety combo leading the way, the Mountaineers finished with the second-best pass defense in the Big 12. Assuming Joseph returns for his senior year, the Mountaineers could boast one of the top safety duos in the country next season.

4 (tie). Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Texas Tech and Mason Rudolph, quarterback, Oklahoma State: After standing on the sidelines most of the season, Mahomes and Rudolph stole the show in the Big 12 late in the year. Mahomes threw for 598 yards in Tech’s season finale while almost leading the Red Raiders to an upset over Baylor. In his final three games, Mahomes tossed a head-turning 14 touchdown passes to just two interceptions. Rudolph was equally as impressive for Cowboys. After playing well in his first career start at Baylor, Rudolph rallied Oklahoma State to an overtime win over Bedlam rival Oklahoma in Norman while also catapulting the Cowboys to bowl eligibility. Thanks to Mahomes and Rudolph, Tech and Oklahoma State appear to be in great shape at quarterback for 2015 and beyond.

6. Allen Lazard, wide receiver, Iowa State: It wasn’t a good year for the Cyclones, but at least they have a burgeoning All-Big 12-caliber wideout in Lazard, who delivered a series of acrobatic receptions in his first year. Though he never had a 100-yard receiving game, he was a consistent option for quarterback Sam B. Richardson with 45 catches and 593 receiving yards.

7. Jason Hall, safety, Texas: Wondering who will eventually take over for Karl Joseph as the hardest hitter in the Big 12? It might be Hall, who dropped the hammer multiple times in his first season in Austin. He also finished with 47 tackles, and should serve as a cornerstone in Charlie Strong’s defense for years to come.

8. Corey Avery, running back, Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have many positive developments this season, but one of the bright spots was Avery, who finished 12th in the league with 631 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Avery and De’Andre Mann should give new coach David Beaty a solid one-two punch at running back to operate with in 2015.

9. Elijah Lee, linebacker, Kansas State: Bill Snyder rarely plays true freshmen, but Lee earned Snyder’s trust as a pass-rushing specialist early on in the season. He placed second only to Ryan Mueller on the team with 4.5 sacks.

10. James Washington, wide receiver, Oklahoma State : Washington ended the season as a starter, and led the Cowboys with five touchdown catches. He also finished with 26 receptions and 423 yards receiving, and figures to be a piece of the foundation in the Oklahoma State receiving corps moving forward.
Daryl Williams insists Tyrus Thompson put on his recruiting hat to get him to the University of Oklahoma.

Thompson doesn’t quite agree, insisting that the program speaks for itself.

It doesn’t really matter how it happened, Sooners fans are happy that it did.

Five years later Williams and Thompson formed the Big 12’s best offensive tackle duo, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors while anchoring the Big 12’s top offensive line in 2014.

“It’s always exciting to accolades, especially with my brother,” said Thompson, who has seen his relationship with Williams develop to the point he asked him to become the godfather of his two kids.

Add Adam Shead, who was named second-team All-Big 12, and the foundation of the offensive line that paved the way for a record-setting year for freshman running back Samaje Perine can be found in the group of offensive linemen that signed with Oklahoma in February 2010. The trio has started 107 combined games for the Sooners (Shead 37, Thompson 36, Williams 36).

Oklahoma's season has been a disappointment but its offensive line has not. Williams in particular emerged as a leader before his senior season, even sitting down his offensive line mates to set goals before the season began.

“We talked about it a lot,” Williams said. “We wrote our personal goals as an O-Line and we made most of them.”

There wasn’t much more the Sooners offensive line could have done in 2014. There is plenty of blame to go around after a 8-4 season from a team with preseason aspirations of title contention but none of that blame lands on the offensive front. The Sooners led the Big 12 with 3,223 rushing yards, 268.58 rushing yards per game and 6.13 yards per carry and will go down in history as the unit that created the holes for Perine’s FBS-record 427 rushing yards against Kansas.

“We definitely thought about that, talked about that and it was something we wanted to do,” Shead said of leading the conference in rushing. “We knew we had the potential to be the best offensive line and that’s how we characterized that.”

After meeting during the recruiting process, Thompson and Williams stepped on campus as a pair of signees that could become the bookend tackles of the team's offensive line before eventually becoming roommates and friends.

“You really get to know someone really well when you live with them,” Thompson said. “He’s like my brother.”

As the only other redshirting offensive lineman in the class, Shead saw the duo’s growth, on-and-off the field, first hand.

“It's like night and day, literally,” Shead said. “They were always hard workers who wanted to do the right thing and great guys to be around. You add the maturity, strength and ability to do the things they wanted to do, you can’t say enough about them.”

The bond that has been formed during the trio's five-year span as teammates is impossible to mimic. They’ve been roommates, teammates, competitors and friends who have seen the ups and downs of a program that has gone 51-14 during their time on campus.

“There’s like a bond I’ve created with these guys that was awesome,” Shead said.

Said Thompson: “There are things we went through here that nobody else really knows. These are my brothers.”

Now the trio face arguably the best defense they will see all season when they take on Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 29 with Williams and Thompson facing the tall task of dealing with Tigers standout defensive end Vic Beasley. No matter the final outcome, the trio will leave a solid legacy in Norman.

“I guess we left a good legacy here,” Williams said. “I wanted the team to do better than we did. [But] I think we played well here for five years.”

Their senior season is their first without double digits wins but the trio does take some solace in earning All-Big 12 honors, leading the Big 12 in rushing, paving the way for Perine’s record and accomplishing most of its preseason goals as an offensive line.

“It’s an awesome feeling to know that we actually got to do something, we accomplished something at least,” Shead said. “We’re all proud of what we did here.”

Big 12 bowl predictions

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AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Why West Virginia will win: Quarterback Clint Trickett has been cleared for the bowl. Trickett struggled a bit late in the season but was a still a major factor in the Mountaineers' midseason run. He and Kevin White should have their way against an Aggies defense that got lit multiple times this season. West Virginia 38, Texas A&M 29 -- Trotter

Why Texas A&M will win: The Aggies will get their house in order after shaking up their coaching staff and give West Virginia all it can handle. Clint Trickett's status can swing this game, of course, but doesn't a showdown between Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen have to be decided by who scores last? Texas A&M 35, West Virginia 28 Olson

Russell Athletic Bowl

Why Oklahoma will win: While Clemson will be without dynamic freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson for the game, OU welcomes Trevor Knight back under center. Combined with Samaje Perine in the backfield, that should be enough for OU to eke out a win. Oklahoma 28, Clemson 21 -- Chatmon

Why Clemson will win: The Oklahoma passing game was a mess the last month of the season. Trevor Knight returning will help, but even when Knight was healthy, the passing attack was uneven. Former Sooners coordinator Brent Venables directs Clemson's pass defense, which is No. 3 nationally. That means the pressure will be on Samaje Perine (coming off an ankle injury) to shoulder the offensive load. Clemson is not great offensively, but I'm not confident the Sooners will be able to score enough in this one. Clemson 21, Oklahoma 17 -- Trotter

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl

Why Texas will win: The Longhorns' defensive line is full of talent and will be ready and well-equipped to handle the physical nature of the Razorbacks' offense. Texas 27, Arkansas 17 -- Chatmon

Why Arkansas will win: Strength on strength will be on display in this matchup, with the big boys on the Arkansas offensive line squaring off against Malcom Brown and Texas' menacing front. But I have a little more confidence in the Hogs to score points than the Longhorns, who were wildly inconsistent at times with young Tyrone Swoopes at QB. Arkansas 20, Texas 14 -- Trotter

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Why TCU will win: You don't get the sense there will be a letdown factor with this team after it missed the College Football Playoff. Gary Patterson has worked too hard on building TCU's mentality to allow a slipup now. The Horned Frogs swing this with a fourth-quarter turnover from Bo Wallace. TCU 35, Ole Miss 31 -- Olson

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

Why Baylor will win: The Bears are bummed they didn't make the playoff, but they also realize this is an opportunity to atone for last season's Fiesta Bowl fiasco. Michigan State has a great defense with a good quarterback. But the Spartans couldn't hang against all of Oregon's offensive firepower early in the season and will succumb to Bryce Petty & Co., too. Baylor 42, Michigan State 34 -- Trotter

Valero Alamo Bowl

Why Kansas State will win: This is a sneaky great matchup, though I still can't figure out why Stanford made it look so easy against the Bruins in the regular-season finale. The last hurrah for Jake Waters, and Tyler Lockett will be as deadly efficient and effective as usual. Kansas State 31, UCLA 27 -- Olson

Why UCLA will win: Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley entered the season as a Heisman candidate but stumbled in UCLA’s final game. He should rebound and cause all kinds of problems for K-State’s defense with his feet and his arm. UCLA 31, Kansas State 27 -- Chatmon

TicketCity Cactus Bowl

Why Oklahoma State will win: There was no reason to believe the Cowboys could win Bedlam, yet they did and became bowl eligible. Mason Rudolph looks like the real deal, and this young Cowboys team has plenty of momentum. Oklahoma State 31, Washington 30Chatmon

Why Washington will win: The Huskies lost to every ranked team they faced in Pac-12 play. Until Bedlam, the same was true of OSU in the Big 12. I'm a Mason Rudolph believer, but I like the UW defense a bit more. Washington 28, Oklahoma State 17 -- Olson

Season records: Trotter 67-8, Chatmon 66-9, Olson 64-11.

Big 12 unsung heroes

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From record-setting freshman to Heisman contenders, the Big 12 had plenty of star power in 2014.

Yet each team had players who made a significant impact on their teams that went largely unnoticed as teammates grabbed the headlines. With the help of SIDs around the conference, here's a closer look at the Big 12's unsung heroes during the 2014 season:

Baylor LB/S Collin Brence: A former walk-on, Brence started every game for Baylor, finishing with 49 tackles and adding seven hurries, 3.5 tackles for loss and one interception. On a defense with stars like Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart, Brence was quietly a key contributor as the Bears won a second-straight Big 12 title.

Iowa State WR D’Vario Montgomery: The sophomore transfer from South Florida emerged as the Cyclones’ best receiving threat during the home stretch of the season. Montgomery had 41 receptions for 564 yards and two touchdowns in ISU’s final seven games. His 605 receiving yards led the team and his 13.75 yards per catch average was tops among Cyclones with at least 10 receptions.

Kansas C Joe Gibson: The redshirt freshman took over starting center duties midway through the season and brought solidarity to the Jayhawks' interior line. Making QB Michael Cummings the starter and Eric Kiesau the playcaller were among the noted changes that paid off during Clint Bowen’s time as interim coach but Gibson’s role was just as important.

Kansas State DT Travis Britz: A valuable part of K-State’s defense, Britz was a key member of one of the Big 12’s top defenses before missing the final two games with an injury. The junior provided an anchor for Bill Snyder’s squad with 27 tackles including five tackles for loss and three sacks.

Oklahoma FB Aaron Ripkowski: Samaje Perine doesn’t become the Big 12’s best freshman without the help of the former walk-on fullback. Ripkowski was a driving force behind the Sooners’ running success as teams set out to stop the run yet still failed against the crimson and cream. Ripkowski’s aggressive nature, durability and stellar blocking helped OU rank No. 1 in the Big 12 in nearly every rushing category.

Oklahoma State DT Ofa Hautau: Emmanuel Ogbah grabbed Big 12 defensive lineman of the year honors but Hautau played a key role in OSU’s defensive line. His 28 tackles including 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks don’t speak to the value he brought to the table in the interior of the Pokes' defense.

Texas TE Geoff Swaim: The senior brought a consistent physical presence to the Longhorns' running game while the offensive line went through injuries, changes and uncertainty for much of the year. He also played a critical role on the Longhorns’ special-teams units.

TCU DT Davion Pierson: While Chucky Hunter got the headlines, Pierson was just as good along the Horned Frogs' defensive interior. The junior was disruptive with 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks for TCU while giving the Horned Frogs arguably the Big 12’s top defensive tackle duo.

Texas Tech HB DeAndre Washington: It’s unusual to consider Washington unsung but he was that good for the Red Raiders in 2014. There was a direct correlation between Washington’s production and Tech’s win total. He rushed for 100 yards in three of Tech’s four wins and he joined Perine and BU’s Shock Linwood as the only Big 12 running backs to surpass 1,000 rushing yards this season.

West Virginia LB Wes Tonkery: The senior brought stability to the Mountaineers defense, finishing with 62 tackles as WVU’s improved defense helped Dana Holgorsen’s squad return to a bowl game after a one-year hiatus. Tonkery also added eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Art Briles, Gary PattersonUSA TODAY SportsBaylor's Art Briles, left, and TCU's Gary Patterson can give the Big 12 a lift this bowl season.
When the inaugural College Football Playoff begins on New Year’s Day, the Big 12 will be the only Power 5 conference watching from home.

Though the Big 12 fell short in this season’s battle for the playoff, there will be another one to wage in 2015. The conference can take steps to ensure it doesn’t get left out again next season, notably by crafting a way to finally crown only One True Champion. But the Big 12 can also send a 2015 message to the playoff selection committee through a triumphant 2014 bowl season.

Though out of the playoff, the Big 12 is hardly devoid of high-profile matchups against name teams this bowl season. And a successful bowl record would cement national perception of the strength and depth of the Big 12 while setting the conference up for a run at the playoff next season.

"It won’t help us this year," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. "But it would help for next year."

That starts with conference co-champs Baylor and TCU, which play in the prestigious New Year’s Six bowls against opponents that were ranked in the top 10 for most of the season.

The Bears will face Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. The defensive-minded Spartans went 10-2, with their only two losses coming against playoff teams Oregon and Ohio State. Michigan State won the Big Ten last season, and boasts the nation’s seventh-ranked defense.

"There's a statement to be made just for us nationwide," said Baylor safety Orion Stewart. "To show (the nation) that we really have one of the best programs in the country."

The same way the Bears’ loss to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl last season hurt Baylor’s standing, a win against Michigan State would solidify the Bears as a title contender again in 2015, even without quarterback Bryce Petty. Especially if the Bears can light up the scoreboard against Michigan State, which surrendered more than 31 points just twice all season (to the Ducks and Buckeyes).

"We're playing one of the greatest teams in America, Michigan State," said Baylor coach Art Briles. "There have been four football programs that have played in back-to-back BCS (level) games; you're talking to one of them (Baylor) and Michigan State is one of them, (along with) Florida State and Alabama. That's pretty good company in my book."

TCU will also be in good company in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. The playoff committee had Ole Miss in the top four in its first two playoff rankings before the Rebels stumbled against LSU and Auburn in back-to-back weeks. Still, Ole Miss bounced back to hammer fourth-ranked Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to claim a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. Like Michigan State, Ole Miss features one of the best defenses in the country, with a unit that leads the nation in scoring defense with an average allowance of just 13.8 points per game. The Rebels flashed how dynamic they can be when they downed Alabama early in the season.

"(Our team) wanted to play somebody that was a caliber of a top-five team," said TCU coach Patterson, "and we feel like Ole Miss is that team."

In 2015, TCU will bring back quarterback Trevone Boykin and nine other offensive starters, meaning the Horned Frogs could be primed for another run at the playoff next season. A victory against a quality SEC West opponent would position TCU well for the start of 2015. And a Big 12 sweep in the Cotton and Peach bowls against top-10 competition would reaffirm that the best of the Big 12 can play with anyone in the country.

"Ole Miss is a team that was as high as third in the nation, that played at a very high level, that could have been in the playoffs, lost a couple heartbreakers," Patterson said. "We feel like this is a playoff game."

The two New Year's Six bowls, however, aren’t the only opportunities for the Big 12 to deliver statements.

In the Valero Alamo Bowl, Kansas State meets UCLA, a team that was in playoff contention until late in the season. Oklahoma takes on ACC power Clemson and college football's No. 1-ranked total defense in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

In the Autozone Liberty Bowl and Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, West Virginia and Texas have a chance to land wins against SEC West opponents Texas A&M and Arkansas, respectively.

Even Oklahoma State takes on a talented Washington team in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.

Sure, there are no easy bowl games for the Big 12. But every win will count toward forging the league’s reputation for 2015.

"I was shocked (the Big 12 was left out of the playoff) based on the strength of this league from top to bottom," Gundy said. "We can’t have this many good football teams in this league and not get one in the top four. We can’t allow that to happen again."

The Big 12 can take steps off the field to ensure it doesn’t happen.

But in the meantime, the Big 12 can take some big steps on the field this bowl season, too.

Big 12 teams sign junior college help

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Wednesday, several teams in the Big 12 added immediate help in the form of junior college signings. Kansas and new coach David Beaty led the way with eight such signings.

All told, six players from the ESPN JC 50 signed with Big 12 schools, including a conference-high three to Oklahoma.

Not everyone in the league, however, signed juco help this week. Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas State did not sign any juco players Wednesday.

Below is a roundup of this week's Big 12 juco signees (remember, this list does not include juco players who will sign in February):

Baylor
Iowa State
Kansas
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
Texas
West Virginia

Big 12 morning links

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There were some fireworks out of Nebraska on Wednesday, and they didn't even involve @FauxPelini.
  • West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who also serves on the College Football Playoff selection committee, is leaving his post with the Mountaineers and joining the NCAA. Luck will move into a position that will basically make him the No. 2 in command behind NCAA president Mark Emmert. The move makes sense for the NCAA. Luck's background as an athletic director and father of a former star college player will help the NCAA repair some of the disconnect with its member schools. The move also makes sense for Luck, who will be in Indianapolis, the same city where his son Andrew quarterbacks the Colts. This leaves West Virginia in search of an athletic director, and the Big 12 looking for a replacement to represent the conference on the playoff committee. More on that on the blog later this morning.
  • The bond between TCU and football coach Gary Patterson is as peachy as ever, writes Gil LeBreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Patterson, who was virtually everyone's national coach of the year this season, agreed to an extension this week with TCU through the end of the decade. LeBreton poses the question whether Patterson would ever leave TCU? There's no doubt Patterson would and will have options. But as LeBreton notes, Patterson and TCU have forged a special bond that will be hard to break. And with QB Trevone Boykin and nine other offensive starters back, TCU is going to be in the playoff picture again in 2015. The reasons are many for Patterson to stay.
  • The Lawrence Journal-World's Tom Keegan thinks new Kansas coach David Beaty should target Sonny Cumbie as his offensive coordinator. I couldn't agree more. Cumbie would be a tremendous hire for Beaty. Thanks in part to Cumbie's tutelage, Trevone Boykin went from part-time receiver to Heisman contending quarterback. The question is, would Cumbie take the job? Doug Meacham is the primary play-caller at TCU. But as an assistant on a team that is going to be loaded again next year, Cumbie can afford to be patient. One thing is certain: the Jayhawks will have to fork over the dough to get Cumbie to think about leaving Fort Worth.
  • There were several interesting tidbits to come out of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' pre-bowl news conference Wednesday. Trevor Knight will definitely be the starter at quarterback, and it's still up in the air whether wideout Dorial Green-Beckham will be with the team in 2015 or declare for the NFL draft. Stoops added that he expects linebacker Frank Shannon to rejoin the team in 2015, but he wasn't as committal on whether running back Joe Mixon will be. Shannon and Mixon were both suspended for the 2014 season for alleged misconduct against women.
  • Wide receiver Tyler Lockett has become the first four-time All-American in Kansas State history. Lockett was a Football Writers and Coaches first-teamer and an AP and Walter Camp second-teamer, making him a consensus All-American. Lockett was also a first-team ESPN All-American. Not sure there's anything more we can write about Lockett here. He'll go down as one of the finest and most respected players in Big 12 history. Too bad we all only get more one opportunity to watch him in a K-State uniform.
Midterm junior college signing day winners are headlined by Ole Miss and Oklahoma, but they weren’t the only programs that improved Wednesday.

JUCO signing day winners 

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The ceremonies have concluded, the ink has dried and the fax machines are quiet. And just like that, a number of teams filled needs with impact players from the ESPN Junior College 50. Here are five teams that stood out on Wednesday:

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The Football Writers Association of America released its 71st All-America team Wednesday evening, and multiple Big 12 players were recognized:

First team

OT: Spencer Drango, Baylor

DT: Malcom Brown, Texas

PR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

KR: Mario Alford, West VIrginia

Second team

QB: Trevone Boykin, TCU

RB: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma

WR: Kevin White, West Virginia

LB: Jordan Hicks, Texas
The last time we saw Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight in action during the holiday bowl season, he was making Alabama’s defense look like the Philadelphia 76ers.

This time around, Oklahoma is hoping Knight will provide a much-needed boost and balance to the Sooners' attack.

The sophomore quarterback was cleared to return to practice last Saturday and has been practicing with the team as the Sooners prepare to face Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 29. Knight missed Oklahoma's final three games after suffering a neck injury against Baylor on Nov. 8.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight, Oklahoma
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight became a breakout star in last season's Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama.
“He’s doing everything right now as he always did,” coach Bob Stoops said. “The key part is after practice he’s feeling good, it isn’t taking a toll on him.”

Redshirt freshman Cody Thomas started during Knight’s absence but struggled to keep defenses honest with his passing. Thomas passed for 292 combined yards in those three games as the Sooners leaned on the excellence of freshman running back Samaje Perine, who rushed for at least 150 yards in each of those games. Oklahoma went 2-1 with Thomas starting, with victories over Texas Tech and Kansas before its Bedlam loss to Oklahoma State as the Sooners rushed for 1,198 yards during that three-game span.

Knight’s return should bring confidence to the passing game, even though the sophomore has had plenty of ups and downs of his own during his first season as the unquestioned starter in Norman. The San Antonio native has been brilliant at times, highlighted by his 376 total yards and six touchdowns in a 59-14 win over Iowa State on Nov. 1. When Knight returned to practice this week, he hasn’t looked like a guy who has been out of action for more than a month.

“Trevor actually looks like himself; he looks great,” tackle Daryl Williams said. “It looked like he never left.”

Knight averaged 244.1 passing yards per game in nine starts this season and led the Big 12 with an Adjusted QBR of 80. He finished 162-of-279 for 2,197 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions in nine games. While Knight clearly has improved in his second season, his overall performance has been overshadowed by three critical interceptions that helped lead to losses to TCU, Kansas State and Baylor.

With Knight at quarterback, the Sooners passed for less than 200 yards twice in nine games and were unable to eclipse that mark in all three games with Thomas as quarterback. Knight’s sophomore campaign has showed he is still a young quarterback prone to game-changing mistakes, yet he remains the Sooners’ best hope for balance on offense against Clemson.

“Trevor has looked good,” linebacker Eric Striker said. “When we’ve gone against him [in practice], he’s looked the same. He’s ready, he’s back and he’s looking good, real good.”
Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson (9-3) vs. Oklahoma (8-4)

Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m., Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (ESPN)

Key matchup: Wayne Gallman vs. Sooners’ D

Why it matters: There were two different Clemson offenses this year -- the one with Deshaun Watson and the one without him. In the Tigers’ bowl game, they’ll be without the freshman sensation, and that’s bad news for the offense. Cole Stoudt struggled badly down the stretch, and as good as Clemson’s D has been all year, it’ll be tough to beat Oklahoma without finding the end zone on offense. That means the onus is likely going to be on Gallman and the Tigers’ running game to keep some balance, take the pressure off Stoudt, convert short-yardage plays and chew up some clock. That hadn’t been an overly successful game plan for much of the season, but Gallman finished the year strong, topping 100 yards in three of his final five games, including a 27-carry, 191-yard performance in the regular-season finale against South Carolina.

Who wins: While Oklahoma is getting healthy on offense, Clemson will finish up the year with Stoudt at quarterback, and that’s a major concern. Against Power 5 opponents this season, Stoudt had just four touchdowns with nine interceptions and averaged a woeful 5.5 yards per attempt. Given his shaky finish to the season and the coaching turnover with Chad Morris leaving, it’s hard to envision Clemson staking the game on Stoudt, so Oklahoma figures to be keyed in on Gallman and the ground game. Linebacker Eric Striker leads a Sooners D that ranked eighth nationally, allowing just 110 yards per game against FBS foes this year, so they’re more than capable of slowing Clemson’s ground attack, and while Gallman finished strong, the Tigers’ running backs averaged just 4.26 yards per rush against Power 5 foes this year -- 52nd out of 65 Power 5 teams. Perhaps Vic Beasley & Co. can create a couple turnovers on defense to swing the game, but if it comes down to Clemson’s O carrying the day, the formula is a little tough to envision.

Prediction: Oklahoma 21, Clemson 17.
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The College Football Playoff will replace former West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck on its selection committee, as Luck has taken a job with the NCAA. The Big 12 will nominate a replacement, and the playoff’s management committee will review the nomination and make the final decision by this spring.

Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, said he thinks the candidate will be another sitting athletic director, “But we won’t know for sure until the spring.”

Knowing the candidate will have Big 12 roots, will likely be a sitting athletic director, and possibly have a football background as either a coach or a player, here’s an educated guess as to who might be considered:

Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt: From Texas? Check. Played football? Check. Big 12 grad? Double check (K-State and Oklahoma). Hocutt has his bachelor’s degree from K-State, where he was a four-year letterman at linebacker and led the conference in tackles as a junior. He also received his master’s degree from Oklahoma. Hocutt is the Big 12’s representative on the NCAA Division I Leadership Council and is also the chairman of the NCAA Division I Football Recruiting Subcommittee. The only knock on Hocutt is that he’s relatively young in comparison to some of the veterans currently on the committee. Still, he’s established throughout the Big 12. When Hocutt was previously hired as Miami’s athletic director, he got a glowing review from Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione. Speaking of the ideal candidate ...

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione: He’s highly regarded nationally. There’s just one problem: Castiglione was recently reappointed to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee for a three-year term, ending after the 2015-16 season. It’s difficult enough serving on one selection committee, but the two biggest in college sports? Doubtful.

Former Texas coach Mack Brown: If the playoff is looking for a household name from the Big 12, Brown is one of the biggest names out there right now, and he’d fit in well with current committee members and former coaches Tom Osborne, Barry Alvarez and Tyrone Willingham. After 16 seasons at Texas, where he led the Longhorns to the 2005 BCS National Championship, an appearance in the 2009 BCS National Championship and two other BCS bowl wins, Brown joined ESPN as a college football analyst. He’s probably paying more attention now to the national picture than he ever did before.

Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger: After playing football at Fort Hays State and MidAmerica Nazarene University, Zenger finished his undergraduate degree at Kansas State. His first college football coaching job came at Drake University right after graduation. He’s a coach at heart, and K-State coach Bill Snyder can vouch for it. In 1989, at age 23, Zenger joined Snyder's staff as one of the nation's youngest full-time football staff members. He was an assistant recruiting coordinator and director of football operations.

TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte: He might win the people’s choice award for his sense of humor and candor, but he was also blunt about his disappointment in TCU dropping from No. 3 to No. 6 in the CFP committee’s final ranking. ESPN’s Travis Haney wrote last week that Del Conte vented to Hancock about it because he felt the program had been given false hope. Del Conte has put his stamp on TCU's program by ushering it into the Big 12, but like his program, Del Conte’s ties to the Big 12 are still in their infancy. He has spent some significant time in Texas, though, as Del Conte was also athletic director at Rice for 3 ½ years.

Big 12 top running games: Part I

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
12:00
PM ET
It's the perfect time to look back on the regular season before the bowl season is upon us.

The Big 12 used to be a quarterback's league. Now most teams lean on their running games to carry them to success. With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, let's take a closer look at the Big 12's best running games in several unique categories.

Rushing yards before contact

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesOklahoma running back Samaje Perine excelled at gaining yards after contact this season.
1. Oklahoma, 1,993: It’s easy to see why the Sooners had three different offensive linemen on the Big 12 coaches first or second team (Daryl Williams, Adam Shead, Tyrus Thompson). OU rushed for nearly 2,000 yards before contact thanks to a veteran offensive line along with fullback Aaron Ripkowski, another All-Big 12 honoree.

2. TCU, 1,808: The offensive line was easily the most overlooked contributors to the Horned Frogs' 11-1 season. Trevone Boykin, Aaron Green and B.J. Catalon proved to be among the Big 12’s top playmakers but they wouldn’t have had that space to show their talents without the offensive line. For example, 720 of Green’s 854 rushing yards came before contact.

3. Baylor, 1,751: Much like TCU, the threat of a deep passing game helped create holes for Bears running backs along with their offensive line. Tackle Spencer Drango was exceptional and BU was able to overcome injuries to its offensive front to secure a place among the Big 12’s best in yards before contact.

Rushing yards after contact

1. Oklahoma, 1,236: Thank you, Samaje Perine. OU’s freshman running back played a significant role in the Sooners landing atop the list in this category with a Big 12-best 636 rushing yards after contact.

2. Baylor, 1,071: Shock Linwood isn’t thought of as a physical runner in the mold of Perine, yet Linwood was the only other Big 12 running back with more than 400 rushing yards after contact. Linwood’s 446 RYAC are a clear sign the sophomore has the ability to shrug off defenders and brings a tough running style at 5-foot-8, 200 pounds.

3. West Virginia, 961: Dana Holgorsen’s teams aren’t renowned for their run-game excellence, but his best offenses have usually had the ability to punish defenses on the ground if needed. Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood had solid years in the backfield with Smallwood finishing fifth in the Big 12 with 296 rushing yards after contact.

Between the tackles

1. Oklahoma, 276 carries for 1,908 yards, 20 touchdowns: OU didn’t think twice about running the ball right at you behind its veteran offensive line. Perine led the Big 12 with 1,148 rushing yards between the tackles as the only Big 12 running back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.

2. Baylor, 355 carries for 1,773 yards, 23 touchdowns: The Bears' philosophy of making defenders account for the entire field includes the area between the tackles. While their speed and receivers force defenses to account for the perimeter, they won’t hesitate to run the ball right at the defense.

3. West Virginia, 342 carries for 1,637 yards, 12 touchdowns: We knew the Mountaineers had a strong interior offensive line and a bevy of running backs before the season began. Shell proved to be a physical runner with 505 of his 766 rushing yards between the tackles.

Outside the tackles

1. Oklahoma, 242 carries for 1,362 yards, 19 touchdowns: The Sooners had success outside of tackles as well, with Perine ranking as the Big 12’s best in this category. The true freshman had 431 rushing yards outside of the tackles, joining four Big 12 players with at least 300 rushing yards outside of the tackles this season.

2. Baylor, 213 carries for 1,154 yards, 18 touchdowns: Linwood was second in the Big 12 in this category as well but much closer to Perine in the other categories with 401 rushing yards outside of the tackles in 2014.

3. TCU, 192 carries for 1,048 yards, 16 touchdowns: The Horned Frogs tested defenses with their speed and open-field playmaking ability in a bunch of different ways from Boykin’s ability to scramble to Green’s exceptional quickness.

Zone-read plays

1. Oklahoma, 160 carries for 963 yards, nine touchdowns: Quarterbacks Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas used the zone-read to keep defenses honest with Perine in the backfield.

2. Baylor, 141 carries for 700 yards, nine touchdowns: Bryce Petty and Seth Russell combined for 102 carries this season as the Bears used the zone-read as another way to challenge defensive coordinators.

3. Kansas, 134 carries for 630 yards, six touchdowns: The Jayhawks had a pair of quarterbacks in Michael Cummings and Montell Cozart with the ability to keep defenses honest but neither guy changed games with their legs.

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BIG 12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
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Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12