In today's mailbag, we discuss what team should be on upset alert Week 1, Baylor's front seven, Oklahoma's linebackers, Kansas' running backs and "College GameDay" possibilities this year for the Big 12.

As an aside, the season starts next week, which means we'll be looking to select our first guest picker of 2014. Click here and sell us on why you should be the Week 1 guest picker. And, as always, creativity counts.

Now, to the 'Bag:

Trotter: Iowa State. The Cyclones face the three-time defending FCS champs in North Dakota State, which toppled Kansas State in Manhattan last year. The Bison lost their coach, Craig Bohl, to Colorado State. Several key starters from last year are gone, too. But North Dakota State opened No. 2 in the FCS polls for a reason. Don't forget, Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa last season, as well. This is not a game the Cyclones can afford to play poorly in. Trotter: Eventually, yes. When, who knows? But it will happen. Trotter: Yes. Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox reportedly performed well this preseason, but so have De'Andre Mann and Corey Avery. I think the Jayhawks will be fine at running back -- provided nobody else there gets injured. Trotter: This has more to do with Trevone Boykin -- and the work he's put in this offseason -- than it does anyone else. Obviously Boykin has responded well to having Sonny Cumbie as his position coach. But Boykin has gotten into phenomenal shape and really focused on becoming a better quarterback. As result, it appears that he has. Trotter: Oklahoma is going to be fine at linebacker. Obviously the depth took a hit. But Jordan Evans showed as a true freshman last year that he can play at a high level. The Sooners would be better with Shannon on the field. But they're not going to be that much worse off without him, either. Trotter: I'm not sure Baylor is going to have the best front in the country, as Art Briles suggested in the spring. But it has a chance to be one of the three-best in the Big 12. Andrew Billings is one of the best young tackles in the league. Shawn Oakman has the ability to become a star. And Bryce Hager is one of the most proven linebackers in the conference. This has the potential to be a special group. Trotter: That would be tough. The Baylor loss would happen late in the season. It would rob Oklahoma of its best chance for landing a marquee win. And Baylor, by defeating the Sooners, would theoretically surge ahead in the Big 12 playoff pecking order. So I don't see Oklahoma making the playoff without a win over the Bears. Trotter: I can't see it, not this year at least. This isn't the Big 12 of 2008. Let's assume that the playoff would at the least include Florida State and the SEC champ. The Big 12 then getting two teams in would entail the playoff committee leaving out the champs from the Pac-12 and Big Ten, plus a potential second team from the SEC. There are a couple scenarios, however, where it might be feasible. Say Kansas State beats Auburn, loses at Oklahoma, but beats Baylor in the season finale. An 11-1 K-State would be an attractive second Big 12 playoff possibility (along with, say, an undefeated Oklahoma) because of the marquee non-conference victory over Auburn and the marquee win at the end of the season in Waco. So it's not impossible. Then again, it's probably more likely that the Big 12 gets left out completely than it gets two teams in. Trotter: Deante Burton is the player to watch. He had a big spring, and has the size and strength to go up and get the ball downfield. With every defense focused on containing Lockett, Burton should get plenty of one-to-one opportunities. Trotter: Some possibilities include: Baylor-Oklahoma on Nov. 8; the Red River Showdown on Oct. 11; Kansas State-Oklahoma on Oct. 18; Baylor-Texas on Oct. 4; and Oklahoma-Texas Tech on Nov. 15. Trotter: The fact that neither DeMarcus Robinson nor Charles Jones nor Jarvis Leverett seized the job in the spring gives Dalvin Warmack the chance. It's been radio silence in Manhattan the last week or so. But if Bill Snyder (who likes redshirting his freshmen) announces before the opener he's not going to redshirt Warmack, that will be the sign that Warmack is going to play a lot. Trotter: If West Virginia gets back to a bowl game facing such a difficult schedule, I would consider it to be a successful season. Especially with what the Mountaineers would have coming back for 2015. Trotter: Texas has one of the most iconic looks in all of college football. Many schools need alternate uniforms to grab the attention of recruits and generate energy in their programs. Texas is not one of them.
This week we've highlighted the key position battles for every program in the Big 12. We conclude the series with Oklahoma’s safety battle.

Here's where the battle stands:

Contenders: sophomore Ahmad Thomas, sophomore Hatari Byrd, freshman Steven Parker.

What happened last season: Returning starter Quentin Hayes and departed starter Gabe Lynn were a solid safety duo for the Sooners in 2013. They combined for 133 tackles and six interceptions. Hayes' versatility was an asset during his first season as a starter, and Lynn provided a veteran presence during his first and only season at safety.

Byrd saw limited duty as a true freshman but was solid in his lone extended action against Tulsa after an injury forced Lynn out of that early-season contest.

Thomas got better and better as the season went along. He was a core member of OU’s special teams and worked himself into the defensive rotation late in the season.

Parker arrived on campus this summer as the No. 139 player in the ESPN 300 for the Class of 2014.

Replacing Lynn has been a focus for the Sooners this offseason. Lynn and cornerback Aaron Colvin are the lone starters OU’s defense must replace heading into this season.

What they offer: It’s quite possible the Sooners’ safeties will be even better this fall, as all three contenders for playing time at the position appear to be securing themselves roles in the defense.

Thomas and Byrd have been so good that Hayes has migrated into the nickelback slot vacated by Julian Wilson, who has moved to cornerback to replace Colvin. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Thomas and Byrd alongside each other at safety this season, with Parker battling to earn time with the first team while providing a quality backup option.

Byrd is a fierce hitter with leadership traits that should allow him to develop into an important voice in the secondary. He’s made a clear jump from his freshman to sophomore season.

Thomas appears to be on the road to stardom. He can do it all in the secondary with good range, instincts and playmaking ability from his safety spot.

OU coaches have praised Parker as one of the most prepared freshmen they’ve seen, and he could force his way onto the field with his versatility and coverage skills.

Prediction: The Sooners will not only replace Lynn, they will use three safeties on the field at the same time quite a bit this fall. The emergence of the young safeties have made it easier to replace Colvin with Wilson’s move from nickelback to cornerback and Hayes' move from safety to nickelback. It’s all been done with an effort to get the Sooners' best 11 players on the field. OU’s safeties could be both younger and better in 2014 than they were in 2013.

Big 12 preseason recruiting report card 

August, 22, 2014
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Currently, 119 athletes in the 2015 class have announced their verbal commitments to play college football in the Big 12. Of those players, 23 are ESPN 300 athletes -- and there’s still plenty of time for the conference to land more of the nation’s best.

Look for an uptick in conference recruiting as the fall approaches, but here’s an analysis on how Big 12 teams are looking as of now for the Class of 2015.

Joshua McMillon announcement

August, 22, 2014
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Four-star linebacker Joshua McMillon, ranked No. 163 in the ESPN 300, is set to make his college decision. The 6-foot-3, 249-pound linebacker has big names Alabama, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in the mix. Tune in at 11 a.m. ET for the announcement.

 
He has to deal with them every Saturday, so TCU safety Sam Carter would know better than most.

"The Big 12 is a quarterback league," the Horned Frogs senior said. "When the game is on the line, the ball will be in the air."

Yet the Big 12 seemed to lose its way a year ago.

Outside of the exploits of Baylor’s Bryce Petty or Texas Tech’s true freshman duo of Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield, quarterbacking in the conference took a clear step backward.

The Bears and Red Raiders were the only Big 12 teams that finished in the top 25 in the FBS in passing yards or averaged more than 300 passing yards per game. Two seasons ago, in 2012, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia joined Baylor and Tech in the top 10 in that category and averaged at least 330 passing yards per contest.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight is one of several unproven Big 12 quarterbacks who have flashed plenty of potential.
But conference coaches don’t expect the downward trend to continue indefinitely.

"I think time will take care of that," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "There were so many years with top-notch guys that got drafted. It’s the same schools, recruiting the same kids, being coached by the same guys and playing the same type of ball in the Big 12 for the last decade and a half. Time will tell."

Petty is the unquestioned face of Big 12 quarterbacks heading into 2014, the guy every team in the conference would love to call its own. He’s an ultraproductive, experienced leader who still has room to grow as a senior. Alongside Petty, the league features young talents led by Tech’s Webb and OU’s Trevor Knight. Kansas State’s Jake Waters, Kansas’ Montell Cozart and West Virginia’s Clint Trickett are other Big 12 quarterbacks who entered preseason camp as clear starters at their respective schools and still have room to grow as quarterbacks.

"I just think they have to get older," Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said of the Big 12’s return to prominence at quarterback. "I don’t think it’s anything other than that. You have some stars that are younger guys getting broken in in this league. They’re a year older, year wiser. You had such a good run of three or four years, now it’s these guys’ chance."

That run is well-documented. No league supplied the NFL with more first- or second-round picks in the past five NFL drafts then the Big 12. Six quarterbacks who played in the conference have been drafted in the first two rounds since 2010, including a No. 1 overall pick in Oklahoma's Sam Bradford. The SEC and Pac-12 are tied for second with three apiece during that span.

The trend slowed a bit in recent years, as former West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is the lone quarterback who played in the Big 12 to be drafted in the first two rounds in the past two drafts. But Petty, who enters the season as Mel Kiper's top-ranked senior quarterback, could hear his name called in Round 1 or 2 of the 2015 NFL draft, while Knight or Webb could find themselves in a similar position if their development continues during the rest of their careers.

Petty's proactive nature has helped cement his reputation as the Big 12's top quarterback, as he has refused to be satisfied with the accolades he earned a year ago. The Midlothian, Texas, native spent some of his offseason with quarterback guru George Whitfield, who has played a key role in Petty’s development. Petty says he would recommend time with Whitfield to any young quarterback looking to excel in the Big 12.

"When we have breaks, I want to work," Petty said. "A lot of times, because of NCAA regulations, I can’t do that with my coach [at Baylor], so Coach Whitfield is kind of my outlet to keep working."

It’s an approach Kansas coach Charlie Weis understands. The veteran coach believes the quarterback position has been in need of better coaching, be it individual quarterbacks coaches or more detailed coaching at their school, for years.

"I think the quarterback position used to be the most undercoached position, of all positions, even though it's the most important," Weis said. "Usually it’s because the title of quarterbacks coach almost always went to the offensive coordinator who has to worry about every single position. I think having a quarterbacks coach helps every offensive coordinator invaluably. It’s easily the most important position on your team."

Improved coaching is just one aspect. Simple game experience is another. The value of playing games in the conference is just as invaluable. At this time a year ago, none of Big 12’s top quarterbacks in 2013 were proven commodities.

"Each and every year, there have been guys emerge that were ‘no name’ guys because of youth or inexperience. Or they just hadn’t matured or developed yet," Holgorsen said. "We have some young guys that will make a name for themselves, probably starting this year."

Petty went from unproven to Heisman Trophy candidate and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. Webb was a true freshman fighting for a job, and Knight was about to be named OU’s starting signal-caller. Twelve months later, that trio represents the Big 12’s biggest hope for a return to the forefront of the elite quarterback landscape in college football.

"I think our league has a reputation and commitment to throw the football," OU co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "And because of that, we develop quarterbacks in our league, and I think we’ll see a strong group this year."
Pick a word, any word.

That’s what I asked the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame to do. Describe their team in one word.

Some coaches were one-word wonders, but a few insisted they needed two words. That’s fine because the descriptions shed some insight into how coaches view their team and/or what they want the public perception of their team to be.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesBaylor coach Art Briles describes his team as 'mad.'
Of the 65 coaches, “hungry” was the most common description. Nine coaches went with it, making a “hungry” team the modern-day equivalent of the “taking it one game at a time” cliché. Four coaches used “unproven,” another four “experienced” and three said “young.” Two coaches each used “redemption,” “committed,” “improved” or “youthful."

In all, the 65 coaches used 44 different descriptions.

Well, here’s to taking it one “word” at a time. My word: Enjoy.

Big 12

Baylor’s Art Briles: Mad
Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads: Hungry
Kansas’ Charlie Weis: Quiet confidence
Kansas State’s Bill Snyder: Valued
Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops: Hard working
Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy: Youthful
TCU’s Gary Patterson: Unknown
Texas’ Charlie Strong: Hard work
Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury: Improved
West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen: Experienced
Iman Marshall hasn't said much when it comes to recruiting, constantly maintaining that he is wide open to the process and without any favorites. On Thursday, the No. 8 overall prospect and No.1 player in the West region took a significant step toward shedding some light on his recruiting situation, tweeting out the schools he will officially visit before making his decision. Of course, as always with recruiting, Marshall still provided for some grey area.

After announcing that he'd be listing his five official visits, Marshall tweeted six schools, as Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Texas all made the list. The five-star prospect offered a little clarity, saying he is town between Oklahoma and Texas, then asked the fan bases of those two schools to help him decide which to see for his fifth visit.

Preseason All-Big 12 team

August, 21, 2014
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Today, ESPN.com released its preseason All-American team. Before Big 12 media days, we released our individual preseason All-Big 12 ballots. But to pair with the All-American team, we debated, argued and eventually settled on one Big 12 blog, consensus preseason All-Big 12 team.

Here we go:

Offense

QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
Easy choice. Petty is the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after he threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns with just three picks. He should be even better in Year 2 as a starter.

RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas
Malcolm Brown finished strong in place of Gray the past season, but there’s a reason Gray was Texas’ No. 1 back before he suffered an Achilles injury. Gray is healthy again, which gives Texas the best one-two punch at running back in the league.

RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor
Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back the past season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing. He’s the featured back now and could wind up the league’s top rusher.

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Lockett was literally uncoverable at times last year. Just ask Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan, which surrendered a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns to Lockett. With Jake Waters settled in at quarterback, Lockett could put up even bigger numbers in 2014.

WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
Goodley might have been the most improved player in the league the past season. He was also one of the most dominant, with 1,339 receiving yards and a national-best five catches of 60 yards or more.

TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
With Jace Amaro gone, Bibbs takes over as the top receiving tight end threat in the league. Only Amaro had more catches and yards than Bibbs among Big 12 tight ends the past season.

OT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
With Drango in the lineup, Petty was sacked only eight times through the Bears’ first nine games last year. After Drango was sidelined with a back injury, Petty was sacked nine times in Baylor’s last four games. Suffice it to say, Petty is glad to have Drango back protecting his blindside.

OG: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders previously had plans to move Clark inside to guard, but they still have him manning left tackle this season. Whether he stays at the bookend or slides to guard, Clark is one of the most dominating offensive linemen in the league.

C: BJ Finney, Kansas State
Finney owns a Big 12-best 39 starts over the past three years. The former walk-on is also a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection and will be the favorite to garner such recognition again as the linchpin of the K-State offensive line.

OG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
Whitehair is capable of manning either guard or tackle, but the Wildcats will be showing their trust in him by asking him to protect Waters’ blindside this season.

OT: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
Williams is the best piece on the league’s best offensive line, which returns four starters and plenty of capable backups.

AP: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
Grant finished sixth in the league in receiving yards per game, despite being the third option in Tech’s passing attack the past season. Grant is now the first option in the passing game, as well as an electric playmaker on special teams.

K: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
The Sooners have never had an All-American kicker before, but they have a strong candidate in Hunnicutt, who converted 24 of 27 field goals the past season.

Defense

DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
In 2013, Mueller finished with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, which were second in the league only to Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat. Mueller, who also forced four fumbles, has one of the conference’s best noses for finding the ball.

DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU
The Horned Frogs still had a formidable front the past season, even without Devonte Fields, due in large part to Hunter. TCU won’t have Fields again. But Hunter is back to anchor a defensive line loaded with quality players.

DT: Malcom Brown, Texas
This former blue-chipper broke out the past season with 68 tackles, including 12 for loss. He and Cedric Reed team up to form the best inside-outside defensive line combination in the league.

DE: Cedric Reed, Texas
Reed was third in the Big 12 in 2013 with 10 sacks, fourth with 19 tackles for loss and tied for first with five forced fumbles. He gives the Longhorns a chance to feature the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
When it comes to rushing the passer, there’s no one better in the league. Striker has spent this offseason refining other parts of his game to become a more complete player. But his pass rushing alone makes him one of the top players in the league.

LB: Ben Heeney, Kansas
Heeney was a tackling machine last year for a defense that performed valiantly despite getting little help from its offense. Heeney will get plenty of help from his defense, though, which returns eight other starters.

LB: Bryce Hager, Baylor
Hager has notched 195 tackles over the past two seasons, while twice earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. With Ahmad Dixon and Eddie Lackey gone, he takes over as the leader of a defense angling to prove it can be as good as the past year’s.

CB: Quandre Diggs, Texas
Diggs, who has never been afraid to speak his mind, is the heart and soul of the Longhorns. If the rest of the team takes on his mentality, Texas could have one feisty team in Charlie Strong’s first season.

CB: Daryl Worley, West Virginia
Despite being just a second-year player, Worley has already taken over as one of the vocal leaders of the West Virginia defense. He’s also already one of the best cover corners in the league.

SS: Sam Carter, TCU
Carter has nine interceptions the past two years, the most of any returning Big 12 player. He leads arguably the best secondary in the league, too.

FS: Karl Joseph, West Virginia
Joseph has started all 25 games for the Mountaineers since he stepped foot in Morgantown. No other returning Big 12 defensive back has more career tackles than Joseph’s 170.

P: Nick O'Toole, West Virginia
The “Boomstache” ranked 15th nationally last year, with an average of 44.1 yards per punt. He also has the best mustache in the league, which has to count for something.
The Wall Street Journal took an interesting look at how college football’s coaches have fared against AP Top 25 teams during their careers. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops has the best overall record at 50-23, a clear sign of the program’s consistency and success in big games under the veteran coach. He’s earned the nickname “Big Game Bob.”

Here’s a look at how each Big 12 coach has fared against the AP Top 25 at their current school. For a look at their career record, you can go to the original piece on The Wall Street Journal’s website.

Art Briles at Baylor: 7-19

Paul Rhoads at Iowa State: 4-19

Charlie Weis at Kansas: 0-8

Bill Snyder at Kansas State: 23-43

Bob Stoops at Oklahoma: 50-23

Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State: 15-20

Gary Patterson at TCU: 14-14

Charlie Strong at Texas: 0-0 (2-2 at Louisville)

Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech: 2-3

Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia: 5-6

A few quick thoughts:
  • These numbers just reinforce Stoops' ability to win games against top competition. People like to point at OU’s Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama as the return of “Big Game Bob” but that conveniently overlooks road wins at Florida State and Notre Dame in games that garnered plenty of national attention in the past three years.
  • It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Gary Patterson join Stoops as the lone current Big 12 coaches with a record of .500 or better against AP Top 25 teams. A couple of substandard seasons in the Big 12 shouldn’t completely erase years of dominating performances from the Horned Frogs under Patterson.
  • It’s quite revealing to see Kingsbury has faced more AP Top 25 teams than Strong. In one season at Tech, Kingsbury saw a Top 25 squad five different times yet Strong coached four games against AP Top 25 teams in four seasons at Louisville. It will be interesting to see how Strong handles the clear step up in competition, week in and week out.
  • Four wins against AP Top 25 teams shows the ability of Paul Rhoads to get the best out of his Iowa State teams. His 4-19 record isn’t great but it could be a lot worse.
  • Bill Snyder and Mike Gundy rank second and third in total wins against AP Top 25 teams which is to be expected as Snyder at KSU and Gundy at OSU have taken their programs to previously unseen levels during their time as head coach at their respective schools.
  • Holgorsen's 5-6 record is solid, particularly for a coach on the hot seat heading into the season. His five wins against AP Top 25 teams in three seasons at WVU could be one reason not to overlook the Mountaineers' chances to surprise in 2014.
With the opening weekend of college football just a little more than a week away, we make some calls on who some of the top passers, rushers and receivers might be:

After Bryce Petty, Davis Webb, Trevor Knight and Jake Waters, who will lead the Big 12 in passing?

Chatmon: This is a tough one, but I’m going to go with West Virginia’s Clint Trickett. The Mountaineers have the skill-position talent to support Trickett, and the senior has a year of experience in Dana Holgorsen’s offense under his belt. I fully expect to see an improved Mountaineers’ offense and Trickett should play a key role in that improvement.

Olson: Gee, we’ve really narrowed that down, haven’t we? The best way I can put my answer is this: Oklahoma State will finish with more passing yards as a team than Texas, so I guess I have to go with J.W. Walsh. While I can envision Daxx Garman earning a couple starts at some point, I still think Walsh will put up good numbers. David Ash might be a smarter choice here, but his injury history makes it a tough call.

Trotter: I can’t pick any of the quarterbacks from Oklahoma State or TCU, since it’s still unclear how much any of them will play. And I can’t go with Montell Cozart, given that his best asset right now is his wheels. That leaves Ash, Trickett and Sam B. Richardson. Ash has an injury history. Then again, so do Trickett and Richardson.And while West Virginia and Iowa State have other intriguing quarterback options, Texas really does not.This is Ash’s show. And he has shown at times in the past he has the ability to put up big passing numbers.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray is a consensus pick to lead the Big 12 in rushing this season.
Who will lead the league in rushing?

Chatmon: Johnathan Gray is a easy choice for me. A healthy Gray is easily the best running back in the Big 12, and Texas’ offense will be built around its running game. Gray, who has a 4.8 yards-per-carry average in his career, will get plenty of opportunities, and he will take advantage of them.

Olson: Gray. It’s a really difficult prediction because I do think Shock Linwood will surpass 1,000 yards. I also think Baylor loves Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson enough that there’s going to be a equitable sharing of carries in Waco. Texas, meanwhile, won’t have Baylor’s passing game and should go all-in on a run-first mentality. Gray was on pace for more than 1,100 yards last year before his Achilles tear. He’s healthy again, and I think he can have a huge year.

Trotter: I have to agree with Brandon and Max. When healthy, Gray has proven to be the best all-around back in the league, and he is the best bet here. But keep an eye on Oklahoma State running back Tyreek Hill. If the Cowboys make him their offensive workhorse, he has the big-play ability to have a monster season. Sure, durability would be a question. But speed would not.

After Tyler Lockett and Antwan Goodley, who will lead the Big 12 in receiving?

Chatmon: Jakeem Grant immediately comes to mind here, but I’m going to go with Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard. The Sooners’ passing game should be improved with an improved Knight, and Shepard has the skills to make defenses play for leaving him in one-on-one situations. Grant will garner increased attention from secondaries while Shepard, helped by OU’s running game, should have more chances to make game-changing plays.

Olson: Did you know: In 2013, six of the Big 12’s top eight receivers in yardage played for either Baylor or Texas Tech. So I would be pretty stupid not to go with Grant here. Not only was he one of those six and very productive as a No. 3 option, but he’s also going to get a nice chunk of the 106 receptions (!) and 152 targets (!!!) that went to Jace Amaro last year. Tech’s No. 2 option, Eric Ward, had more catches (83) and targets (122) than Goodley. That’s insane. Grant is going to feast on their leftovers.

Trotter: Grant missed two games and was the third banana in Tech’s passing offense last year. And he still finished sixth in the league in receiving. With Ward and Amaro gone, Grant will take over as the Red Raiders’ primary receiving threat. And with quarterback Webb budding with confidence and the Red Raiders primed to air it out, Grant is easily the best bet here.
This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall, and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series followed the roster numerically and concludes today with No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 98 Chuka Ndulue, defensive tackle, 6-foot-3, 289 pounds, senior

Impact thus far: Arguably the most overshadowed contributor on the roster. He’s displayed terrific versatility and production during his time as a Sooner. He’s started 19 of 32 career games with 91 tackles including 12 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. In 2013, he brought a veteran presence to the defensive line with nine starts in 12 games played and 42 total tackles.

Impact in 2014: Ndulue should be a core contributor for the Sooners’ defensive line for the third straight season. His versatility and experience are key assets on a defensive front that could become the Big 12’s best unit.

Long-term upside: Much like 2013, he’s likely to be outshined by Eric Striker, Geneo Grissom, Charles Tapper and the rest of OU’s attacking pass rush, thus missing out on postseason honors, but he’s a key part of the Sooners' defense.

Evaluation grade for Ndulue: A. Anytime a signee becomes a three-year starter, he’s a pretty good evaluation. Brought in as a defensive end, Ndulue should the willingness and ability to move around the defensive line to help OU get its top performers on the field.

Development grade for Ndulue: A. Thanks to a redshirt season in 2010, Ndulue is around to provide a productive, experienced player in the middle of OU’s defensive interior.
Bob Stoops chuckled before answering the question.

"I thought they were kind of small," Oklahoma's veteran coach said during Big 12 media days last month after being asked about trying to replace the Sooners "big" trio of running backs.

Big, small or otherwise, there's no doubting the production of three departed running backs leaves a major hole in the Sooners backfield.

Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch combined for 1,857 of OU's 2,911 rushing yards in 2013. The Sooners return 153 rushing yards from running backs currently on the roster in Keith Ford's 134 and Alex Ross' 19.

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiKeith Ford is Oklahoma's top returning running back, having rushed for 134 yards last season as a freshman.
The running back position is arguably the biggest concern on the Sooners' offense heading into this season. Ford looked poised to have a bigger impact as a true freshman last season, but fumble troubles landed him in the doghouse. Ross never quite forced his way into the lineup as a redshirt freshman. Freshman Samaje Perine stepped on campus as a ESPN300 running back and has the talent to join Ford and Ross as key members of OU's running game, but OU's depth at the position took a hit when fellow freshman Joe Mixon was suspended earlier this week.

Clay, Williams and Finch combined for 348 total carries last season, so plenty of opportunities remain for what could be the Sooners' new trio of Ford, Ross and Perine.

But nobody has separated as at the No. 1 guy during preseason camp. And the Sooners don't expect that to change before they kick off the season against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30.

"They're all getting snaps now and we'll see how they do early," Stoops said. "A lot will be determined in what they do in their initial opportunities."

Ford is a physical, tough runner, who forced his way onto the field despite having three seniors in Clay, Williams and Finch standing between himself and playing time as a true freshman. He entered the offseason as the favorite to slide into the starting lineup and remains in line to be play a significant role.

Ross brings a terrific size/speed combination to the offensive backfield and was one of the Sooners' stars of the spring.

Perine is the wild card, bringing a big back option to the table at 5-foot-11 and 243 pounds. The No. 220 player in the ESPN300, he appears ready to make an immediate impact as a true freshman.

"He's one of the freshman that has an opportunity to contribute," co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "He's a big physical kid, he's taking care of the football and we're gaining confidence in him every day. He runs with his pads very well and he's learned quickly. Kids that play as freshman carry themselves with maturity. And he's done that."

Ford and Ross are likely to sit first in the queue on game day. But, after that, all bets are off.

"You'll find out, sometimes with a running back, when the lights come on, in the [middle] of action how they'll respond," offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "Ultimately on game day we're going to find out who the guy is."

Big 12 morning links

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
8:00
AM ET
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A breakfast with morning links? One thousand percent better. In fact, 9 of 10 nutritionists recommend morning links as a healthy companion to your breakfast.
  • The future of Kansas' offense took a downward turn when the Jayhawks announced the loss of Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox to season-ending injuries on Tuesday, writes Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. It's a painful loss for a KU offense that is going to need a strong running game to help take the burden off sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart. Neither Cox or Bourbon come to mind as the top playmakers in KU's offense before injuries took them out of the equation -- Tony Pierson and Nick Harwell top the list -- but it's hard to overlook the impact on KU's offense. The good news is Corey Avery stepped on campus ready to play as a freshman and De'Andre Mann is another option at running back for the Jayhawks.
  • Iowa State safety Kamara Cotton-Moya was shot, yet he insists losing last season to an Achilles injury was worse, writes Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register. The redshirt freshman was says he learned to "try not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time" from the incident, which occurred before he headed to Ames, Iowa, last summer. Cotton-Moya's story is an interesting one but his impact on the field is just as intriguing. He would have likely joined Nigel Tribune as a true freshman to see time in ISU's secondary in 2013 if he hadn't hurt his Achilles, so it should be fun to monitor his impact on a defense that needs to replace its top two tacklers (Jacques Washington, Jeremiah George) from 2013.
  • Who is the active leader in career tackles on Kansas State's roster? Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star has the surprising answer: Randall Evans sits atop the list with 146 career tackles. Evans isn't a guy who comes to mind when you think of the most productive defenders on Bill Snyder's team but Robinett's story reminds us just how important the versatile Evans is to K-State's defense, particularly considering the fact he goes head to head with some of the Big 12's best receivers at his slot cornerback position.
  • The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel believes Oklahoma State is a Big 12 heavyweight. Why? The Cowboys' defensive line tells the tale as that group is the best unit on OSU's defense heading into 2014 which is sign things have changed in Stillwater, Oklahoma. It's hard to disagree as quality defensive linemen often help separate teams and are easily the hardest jewel to find on the recruiting trail. Is OSU's defensive line good enough to overcome concerns at linebacker and safety? That's the bigger, unanswered question.
  • Finally, in case you missed it, take a look at Grantland's Big 12 preview by Holly Anderson. It's a fun look at the conference including a outlandish prediction that someone in the conference will score 100 points in a game this season. Yes, you read that right, 100 points. Could it happen? I don't think so, but that's why they call it an outlandish prediction.
video

Kirk Herbstreit and David Pollack give their most overvalued and undervalued teams and which unknown player will become a household name.

Big 12 mailbag

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
2:30
PM ET
First of all, thanks for all of your questions. In today’s mailbag we talk Oklahoma’s suspension of Joe Mixon, K-State’s chances against Auburn and some Big 12 quarterbacks.

Let’s jump right in:

David B from Dallas writes: Did David Boren and Oklahoma step way over the line by suspending Joe Mixon from all team activities for the entire year? And do you think this affects recruiting for Oklahoma going forward?

Brandon Chatmon: I don’t think so. The Sooners made the right move with their decision on Mixon. OU clearly wanted to send a message here and they did. I don’t think it will have a major impact on the Sooners' recruiting. Will it be a conversation piece and a question that will be asked? Yes. But once OU explains its reasoning to recruits and parents, it should be fine. I have a hard time believing recruits will leave OU off their list based on Mixon’s suspension.


Cole from Oklahoma City writes: With the Mixon thing finally finished for now, how much more of an impact can Perine have now? I feel like he'll be a 3rd and 1 guy and goal line guy just because he can truck anything in front of him. How many carries and yards do you think he'll have?

Chatmon: Samaje Perine’s chances to make a bigger impact definitely increased with Mixon’s suspension. That’s not to say he wasn’t going to have an impact before but Mixon’s absence means one less competitor for carries and Perine is a guy who looks like he will get some opportunities this fall. I could definitely see him becoming a key asset in short-yardage situations. I think he will finish with between 50-100 carries and 350-450 yards this season.


Mark from Snyderville USA writes: What percentage would you put on K-State's chances to upset Auburn in Snyderville? I give em a 83% chance based on a few stats. 1) KR yards. Auburn gave up an average of 25 YPKR (The only teams in the B12 to allow that many YPKR was TCU and Texas). K-State averages 24 YPKR. 2.) Rushing yards per attempt. Auburn gave up nearly 4.6 yards per Rush attempt. K-state averaged 4.5 yards per rush attempt. What does it all mean, you ask? It means Auburn allows teams to do the things that make K-State successful. Good starting field position and extending drives, eating up the time of possession.

Chatmon: I think 83 percent is pretty high but I’d put it at around 50-60 percent based off the fact it is a night game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium and the Wildcats’ duo of Tyler Lockett and Jake Waters is tough for anyone to handle. I could see KSU’s kick-return prowess coming into play but their yards per rush attempt advantage assumes the Wildcats find a playmaker at running back during the first two games. I’m not so sure the running game will be clicking enough to put that in the “pro” column quite yet. Nonetheless, I’m going with K-State in a close home win.


Joshua Parsons from Lubbock writes: What are the expectations for Texas Tech's Davis Webb in his sophomore season?

Chatmon: They should be high. He’s the second-best returning quarterback in the league behind Baylor's Bryce Petty. Webb was good as a freshman so I’m expecting him to be very good to great as a sophomore with a year under his belt. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Webb alongside Petty at the top of most passing categories in 2014.


Steve from Fresno writes: Who do you think Oklahoma State's starting QB should be?

Chatmon: J.W. Walsh should start against Florida State but I think Daxx Garman will get a shot at some point this season.


Winn Walker from Fort Worth writes: Do you consider TCU as a dark horse team to contend for the Big 12 championship this year? Or are they one year away from really competing for a conference title?

Chatmon: I do, mainly because the Horned Frogs play good defense which always gives you a chance. However, if they don’t get good, efficient quarterback play, their dark-horse status goes out the window for me. I can’t wait to see how TCU’s offense looks in the first couple of games.


Scott from Royce City writes: What is your feeling on OU/Mayfield appealing Tech's block of the transfer? Would it set a troubling precedence if they allow him to transfer (in conference) and not have to sit?

Chatmon: As a walk-on at Texas Tech, Baker Mayfield’s situation is a little different for me. I can see Tech’s side of the argument and I can see Mayfield’s side of things. I’d probably lean toward allowing Mayfield to play, only because he was a walk on at Tech, but I have my doubts it will happen and I don’t view it as a major injustice if he has to sit out this season.

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Kirk Herbstreit and David Pollack give their most overvalued and undervalued teams and which unknown player will become a household name.
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