This season's bowl games provide another opportunity for young players on Big 12 teams to show they're ready for a bigger roles in the future. Here are some Big 12 names to keep an eye on this bowl season:
Baylor DE K.J. Smith: The redshirt freshman stepped in and stepped up after Jamal Palmer was lost for the season with his ACL injury midway through the year. Smith finished with 39 tackles including 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. His 3.5 tackles per game are a sign he can impact the running game as well as the passing game in the Bears GoodYear Cotton Bowl matchup with Michigan State. And he could see his role in Baylor’s defense expand even further in 2015 if Shawn Oakman elects to head to the NFL.
Kansas State LB Elijah Lee: The true freshman forced himself into the Wildcats plans early during his freshman season and saw his role continue to expand as the season progressed. Lee finished the regular season with 16 tackles and 4.5 sacks while playing various roles on Bill Snyder’s defense. His athleticism could be an asset against Brett Hundley and UCLA with a big game setting him up as one of the Big 12’s potential breakout players in 2015.
Oklahoma WR Michiah Quick: The true freshman showed flashes of playmaking ability after he became a bigger part of the offense following Shepard’s injury in early November. His 16 receptions for 164 yards and one touchdown during Shepard’s absence led the Sooners. Quick’s speed and open field ability could make him a threat for Clemson’s defense particularly with Trevor Knight’s return. A big Russell Athletic Bowl performance could cement Quick’s role in OU’s offense in 2015, even with the Dorial Green-Beckham, if he returns to school, and highly touted junior college signee DeDe Westbrook amping up the competition at receiver.
Oklahoma State LB Justin Phillips: The Cowboys' crazy overtime win in Bedlam overshadowed a stellar performance from Phillips. The true freshman played the majority of the game, finishing with 10 tackles including seven solo stops in the most significant action of his debut season. Phillips saw spot duty through much of the season but if he builds on his Bedlam performance with solid Ticket City Cactus Bowl, he could be a name to keep an eye on in 2015.
Texas WR Armanti Foreman: The Longhorns will be searching for playmakers in the passing game next season with John Harris and Jaxon Shipley moving on. The freshman scored touchdowns in each of UT’s final two games including a 73-yard catch-and-run against TCU on Thanksgiving. Foreman’s quickness and speed makes him an asset to the Longhorns' offense and a solid AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl showing would re-affirm his long term potential and place him high on the list of Longhorns to get the ball in 2015.
TCU CB Ranthony Texada: The redshirt freshman locked down the starting cornerback spot opposite Kevin White as Jason Verrett’s replacement, making him a guy to keep on eye on during the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Texada started every game of his freshman season and will be the most experienced member of TCU’s cornerback group in 2015. Texada has been solid all season long but will need to take his game to another level to be the No. 1 cover man in Gary Patterson’s defense.
West Virginia WR Daikiel Shorts: Dana Holgorsen will be looking for someone to fill the playmaking void left by White and Mario Alford after the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Shorts seems a prime candidate and could use the bowl game to send the message that he plans to make a jump from complementary receiver to go-to target as a junior. With eight of his 24 receptions in WVU’s final two games of the regular season, Shorts could be starting to come into his own.
The Tigers knocked off South Carolina in their final game, snapping a five-game losing streak to their in-state rival in the process. Meanwhile, a devastating home loss to in-state rival Oklahoma State on the final day of the regular season sent Oklahoma tumbling into the Dec. 29 matchup in Orlando, Florida.
Clemson can grab victory No. 10 with a victory; Oklahoma can grab much-needed momentum heading into the offseason after a disappointing final six games. ACC reporter David Hale and Big 12 reporter Brandon Chatmon break down the matchup:
How Oklahoma can move the ball on offense: If the Sooners can run the ball, they can control the game. Oklahoma averaged 299.8 rushing yards per game in its eight victories and 206.3 rushing yards per game in its four losses and if All-Big 12 receiver Sterling Shepard plays, should be closer to full strength on offense in the bowl game than at any point since a 48-14 blowout loss to Baylor on Nov. 8. Bob Stoops' team will need all of its weapons against arguably the best defense it has faced all season led by former OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables. The return of Shepard and quarterback Trevor Knight would bring the balance the Sooners need if they hope to avoid being one-dimensional as they strive for success against Clemson’s defense.
Clemson’s X-factor: The secondary. Clemson has a formidable defensive front, and that reputation is well deserved. The Tigers have recorded 245 tackles for loss in the past two years — 29 more than any other program in the country — and since a season-opening loss to Georgia, no team has allowed fewer yards on the ground than Clemson. But while the pass rush and run defense get a lot of credit, the secondary has been widely overlooked. Still, Clemson finished third in the nation in pass defense, allowing just 162 yards per game through the air and just 5.5 yards per attempt. Freshman MacKensie Alexander is a star in the making, and veterans Garry Peters and Robert Smith are among the ACC’s best. With the pass rush challenging Knight up front, the back end of Clemson’s defense is more than capable of cashing in on mistakes, and Clemson is 35-4 under Dabo Swinney when it wins the turnover battle.
Oklahoma’s X-factor: As the season approached the winter months, Big 12 teams learned it was ill-advised to kickoff to Alex Ross. The Tigers would be wise to mimic that special-teams game plan because Ross has the ability to change games with his kick-return skills. The redshirt sophomore returned 40 percent of his kick returns at least 30 yards, averaged 32 yards per return and changed the game with kickoff returns for touchdowns in Oklahoma's victories over West Virginia and Texas. A game-breaking special-teams play could be the difference in a game that looks headed toward a defensive battle, and Ross looks like the perfect guy to provide it.
What a win would do for Clemson: The obvious impact here is that it would give the Tigers their fourth straight 10-win season for just the second time in school history. It would also give Clemson a bowl victory for the third straight season, something that hasn’t happened since the Tigers won five in a row from 1986 through 1990. But perhaps as much as anything, this would be a nice reminder of Dabo Swinney’s success as a head coach. Much of that has been pinned on Chad Morris’ offense, but with Morris gone to SMU and Watson on the sideline, a Clemson victory would belong as much to Swinney as anyone.
What a win would do for Oklahoma: It would be a breath of fresh air after a suffocating second half of the season, when the Sooners played .500 football (3-3). Oklahoma hasn’t beaten a winning team since Oct. 11 (Texas) and enters the bowl game off the heels of that devastating Bedlam loss that left players, coaches and fans alike bewildered in early December. A win would help bandage that wound and send out the Sooners’ redshirt seniors, such as tackle Daryl Williams and tight end Blake Bell, with a 52-14 record during their five seasons at Oklahoma despite a disappointing final season.
The 2014 season started with the Sooners looking down at everyone in the Big 12 in preseason predictions, picked to be the conference's best team, with a segment of prognosticators picking them to secure a spot in the first College Football Playoff.
Disappointment reins during the holiday season with motivation for a meaningless bowl game among one of the many questions for Bob Stoops' team. Yet coaches and players alike insist motivation won't be a question, particularly against a Clemson squad ranked No. 17 with a 9-3 record.
"It's pretty simple: It's a great opportunity to play a great opponent like Clemson, they're really good," co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "Whenever you walk on that field with Oklahoma on your chest and you're playing a team like Clemson, that's all the motivation you need. I don't buy into any other scenario to be honest with you."
Winning should be enough. Yet, that's the simplistic version of the Sooners' motivation. Everyone in the program, from top to bottom, wants to win the game. Past that, motivations vary.
The last time we saw the Sooners, they were hobbling off the Oklahoma Memorial Stadium turf with their tails between their legs following a 38-35 overtime loss to Bedlam rival Oklahoma State on the season's final day.
None of the Sooners' seniors wants that to be the lasting image of their final moments in crimson and cream. It wouldn't seem to represent a group of redshirt seniors that went 51-14 during five years in Norman, even though their senior seasons didn't play out like they would have hoped.
"One last win," senior guard Adam Shead said. "One more time to play together, this is the last time you will see this group of people on the same field together, the last time a lot of seniors will be strapping it up here, we want to go out with a bang."
The Sooners' veterans would much rather create one final memory-book moment with an upset of the 17th-ranked Tigers and fill their final moments with joy instead of despair.
"[I want to] send us out the right way, to see smiles after the game, after a win against Clemson," senior tackle Daryl Williams said. "Going against [former OU defensive coordinator] Coach [Brent] Venables' defense, it's the best we're going to face this year, it will be a great challenge and even better if we win."
It's the final opportunity for other seniors, like Williams and fellow tackle Tyrus Thompson, to showcase their talent with the hope of an NFL payday on the near horizon. Williams is the No. 39-ranked prospect and Thompson is the No. 45-ranked prospect for the 2015 NFL draft according to Scouts, Inc. While both players reiterated their focus on winning, first and foremost, both know a strong performance against projected first-round pick Vic Beasley would help their future.
"Dude's a really good player," Thompson said. "I know I'll be at my best, I know he's going to do the same because I might be a target for him too. We'll both do our best and see who comes away with the win."
The Tigers' elite defensive end, the No. 18-ranked prospect overall, will line up across from Williams and Thompson after recording 29 tackles including 18.5 for loss and 11 sacks to earn All-American honors for the second straight season. Safe to say, there's money to be made in the head-to-head battles between the Sooners' All-Big 12 bookend tackles and the Tigers' star.
"He has it all, he's fast, he's physical," Williams said. "A great challenge for me and Tyrus."
But bowl games aren't all about upperclassmen making final memories or securing future paychecks. Postseason contests are about opportunity as well.
"It's important to play well," Norvell said. "The last game is always kind of a transition game, you're finishing the careers of some players but you're also springboarding other guys."
They can help shape the offseason, create excitement around the program and shape the future of a program, much like Trevor Knight's Sugar Bowl MVP performance made him the unquestioned starter heading into this season. Young players like true freshman receiver Michiah Quick get the chance to show they should be a bigger part of the overall plan for 2015.
"It's an important game for a lot of reasons," Norvell said. "There are guys that are going to be back next year and it's important that they play well. I think that's important for everybody in the program.
"It's an opportunity for guys to play, play well and springboard into 2015."
On a day already anticipated as one to watch with the morning announcements of ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson and four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal, the Big 12 got its own version of a Christmas bonus with five major commitments by the end of the afternoon.
Jefferson and McNeal committed to Texas. ESPN 300 quarterback Jarrett Stidham committed to Baylor after recently decommitting from Texas Tech. ESPN 300 defensive end Ricky DeBerry and four-star safety Kahlil Haughton chose Oklahoma.
And better believe, it’s not over for the conference.
There are several players who could be additions to the growing number of Big 12 commitments. Here are five names to watch from now until national signing day in early February.
On to the 'bag:
@Jake_Trotter who would be your Top 5 in Big12 football going into next year?— Chuck (@cbilly126) December 19, 2014
@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.
@Jake_Trotter are we any closer to adding 2 more teams and a championship game?— Dwayne Chamberlain (@dtchamberlain) December 19, 2014
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.
@Jake_Trotter when will BYU will be invited possibly?— Martin borg (@Martyaborg) December 19, 2014
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.
@Jake_Trotter will DGB come back to OU or leave for the NFL?— Jon Greene (@JonGreene9) December 19, 2014
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.
@Jake_Trotter for 2015, best guess starting QB at WVU next year and Rushell Shell, plus or minus 1,000 yards rushing?— Bryan Shaw (@BGoGolf) December 19, 2014
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.
@Jake_Trotter which bowl wins would do the most to amp up the Big12's national perception? Top-tier, middle-tier, or low-tier?— Diego De Valdenebro (@Diegobear) December 19, 2014
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.
@Jake_Trotter what does Stidham committing to Baylor mean for Chad President? Does he open his commitment back up?— Jim Bell (@Bell4Jim) December 19, 2014
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."
@Jake_Trotter who is starting at quarterback for Baylor next year?— Nate Earl (@nate_earl) December 19, 2014
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.
@Jake_Trotter do you think K-State will have to fight those Oklahoma schools for Lockett's younger brothers?— Matt 'Emaw' Stafford (@mstaffrd) December 19, 2014
Trotter: No. Kansas State has first dibs on any Lockett from now until the end of time.
@jake_trotter Who is taller: Art Briles or Paul Rhoads?— Drew (@Dlew56) December 19, 2014
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..
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.
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.”
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 30 — Chatmon
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.
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.
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.
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):
- OT Dominic Desouza (No. 17 OT)
- OL D’Andre Banks (No. 8 OG)
- CB Bazie Bates IV (No. 11 CB)
- DL Jacky Dezir (No. 11 DT)
- RB Ke’aun Kinner (No. 8 RB)
- DB Michael Mathis (No. 3 ATH)
- OL Jayson Rhodes (No. 5 OG)
- OG Will Smith (No. 3 OG)
- CB Brandon Stewart (not ranked)
- OG Jamal Danley (No. 1 OG, ESPN JC 50)
- CB William Johnson (No. 2 CB, ESPN JC 50)
- WR DeDe Westbrook (No. 3 WR, ESPN JC 50)
- S Jordan Burton (No. 8 S)
- OT Matt Kellerman (No. 14 OT)
- DT Motekiai Maile (No. 8 DT, ESPN JC 50)
- RB Todd Mays (No. 7 RB)
- OT Brandon Pertile (No. 18 OT)
- OT Victor Salako (UAB transfer)
- OT Brandon Hodges (No. 8 OT)
- OT Tristan Nickelson (No. 16 OT)
- DE Quincy Vasser (No. 3 DE, ESPN JC 50)
- DE Larry Jefferson (No. 8 DE)
- 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.
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BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State