Yes, it’s still a couple of years away and we’re supposed to be focusing on what’s right in front of us. But, geez, that Saturday to open the 2016 season could very well provide the most attractive lineup of nonconference games on one day that we’ve ever seen.
For that, at least in large part, we all have the College Football Playoff to thank.
Some of the matchups were already set or in the process of being set. But the real impetus in beefing up all these nonconference schedules was that a playoff was coming.
And, now, with a selection committee holding the keys to those coveted four playoff spots, we’re going to be in store for some terrific nonconference showdowns in the regular season for years to come. Simply, teams that don’t play and win those types of games are going to be on the outside looking in, which makes the regular season as important as ever.
My only knock on that weekend to kick off the 2016 season is that there are too many good games. I want to watch them all.
We’ve all been clamoring for an Alabama-USC matchup. Well, we’re finally going to get it in Arlington, Texas to open that season.
And if you like your football Southern style, Clemson at Auburn has a nice ring to it. Lewis Grizzard, the late Southern humorist, once said that Clemson was Auburn with a lake. In a lot of ways, they’re virtual clones of each other right down to their break-neck style of offense. Even more enticing, this is a home-and-home series with Auburn traveling to Clemson the next year.
There won’t be a more unique game that weekend than LSU facing Wisconsin in historic Lambeau Field. Perhaps we’ll get to see Les Miles perform the “Lambeau Leap” if the Tigers win.
Have the remote control ready because we also get UCLA at Texas A&M, Notre Dame at Texas and BYU Cougars at Arizona (in Glendale, Ariz.).
That’s just the first weekend, too.
A week later, Tennessee and Virginia Tech will “trade paint” at Bristol Motor Speedway. And two weeks later, Ohio State travels to Oklahoma and Oregon visits Nebraska.
So much for opening the college football season with a tune-up … or two.
The first 40 players have already been released. Today, the unveiling continued with Nos. 60-41.
Here are the Big 12 players that made the third installment:
No. 42: TCU DE Devonte Fields
No. 49: Kansas State WR Tyler Lockett
No. 52: Oklahoma LB Eric Striker
Striker and Lockett are two of the most explosive players in the Big 12.
Lockett was virtually unstoppable at times last season, hauling in 237 receiving yards against Texas and 278 against Oklahoma. He also capped off a tremendous season with three touchdown receptions in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Michigan. With Jake Waters settled in at quarterback, Lockett could put up even bigger numbers in 2014, which is a scary thought for Big 12 defenses.
Speaking of scary, Striker figures to be one of the most feared pass rushers in the country after a breakout sophomore campaign. He sacked Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron three times in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and forced the game-clinching fumble late in the game.
It would have been a crime had Lockett or Striker been left off the top 100.
It will be interesting to see if Fields sees the field at all this season. The voting for the top 100 players was done before Fields was arrested on allegations of assaulting his ex-girlfriend. TCU has since “separated” from Fields, pending the outcome of the case. For that reason, we actually didn’t include Fields in our top 25 ranking of Big 12 players.
By the way, this national list, which was compiled by the entire ESPN.com college football team, won’t necessarily line up with our top 25 ranking of Big 12 players, which was compiled exclusively by Brandon Chatmon, Max Olson, and myself.
Make sure to track the top 100 rankings the remainder of the week, as there will be Big 12 players in the final two parts, as well.
Coming Thursday: Nos. 40-21.
No 77 Dionte Savage, guard, 6-foot-4, 343 pounds, senior
Impact thus far: After a relatively slow start to his first season in crimson and cream, Savage really came on down the stretch and forced his way into the lineup, starting the Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. He played in 12 of 13 games as a junior college transfer.
Impact in 2014: Savage will compete to start and it would be a major surprise if he is not a key contributor. He’s one of the reasons the Sooners should feel really good about the overall talent and depth along the offensive line despite the loss of two starters off last year’s offensive front.
Long-term upside: If he continues the progress, he showed as a junior it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Savage fight his way into the conversation for all-conference honors.
Evaluation grade for Savage: B. Savage appears to be a solid evaluation heading into his junior year. The depth at the guard position kept him off the field initially, not an inability to contribute.
Development grade for Savage: A. Not more could be expected from the Sooners development plan for Savage. They had veterans at the position with Bronson Irwin, Adam Shead and Nila Kasitati at the start of 2013. As injuries hit and Savage got more comfortable, they found a way to get him on the field against Alabama, shifting Irwin to tackle in a effort to get their top five available linemen on the field.
With the Big 12 football season kicking off in a few weeks, college recruits will be focused on setting up official visits and also narrowing their college lists in preparation for a commitment. As important as this time will be for recruits, it’ll be equally important for schools, as they prepare for a season that, with solid performances in home-game environments, can assist in landing some of the best uncommitted prospects around.
Here are some names that the Big 12 schools will be pursuing throughout the fall.
This is a ranking of who we're projecting the best 25 players will be in 2014.
Today, we continue with Nos. 15-11, which include a pair of budding quarterbacks:
15. Malcom Brown, DT, Texas: The Longhorns' 6-foot-4, 305-pound run-stuffer might have as much NFL upside as any player in the league. The former blue-chip recruit had a breakout season as a sophomore in 2013 with 68 tackles, including 12 for loss. If Brown continues to develop he could become one of the most menacing defensive players in the league.
14. Sam Carter, SS, TCU: Jason Verrett and Devonte Fields have overshadowed Carter the past two years. But with Verrett gone and Fields' TCU future in limbo, Carter will be the cornerstone of one of the best defenses in the conference. Carter has nine interceptions the past two years, the most of any returning Big 12 player.
13. B.J. Finney, C, Kansas State: Nobody in the Big 12 has more offensive line starts than Finney, who has 39 in three years. Not only has Finney been a starter for seemingly forever, he's been a stalwart for Bill Snyder in the trenches. Finney is a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection, and was voted on the preseason all-conference squad for 2014. With Finney manning center, the Wildcats have compiled a sparkling three-year record of 29-10.
12. Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma: This might be our most controversial selection so far. But we're believers in Knight, who was nothing short of spectacular quarterbacking the Sooners to the 45-31 win over Alabama in January. Knight struggled with his passing accuracy and his health early on as a redshirt freshman. And sure, he's started and finished only three games in his career. But Knight was also terrific in a late-season win at Kansas State. We don't think the Alabama performance was a one-hit wonder. We think it was a sign of more to come.
11. Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech: Webb gets the slight nod over Knight, due to a more impressive spring. As good as Knight was in the Sugar Bowl, Webb was just as impressive leading Texas Tech to the upset win over Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Including that bowl game and Tech's three open spring scrimmages, the rising sophomore tossed 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. He also showed more zip on his throws in the spring after adding 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason. Tech's defense remains a question. But Kliff Kingsbury's passing offense should be prolific thanks to Webb's rapid development.
Coming Thursday: Nos. 10-6 ...
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, receiver Antwan Goodley, linebacker Bryce Hager and defensive end Shawn Oakman weren’t exactly thrilled to see Oklahoma atop the Big 12 preseason poll with the Bears sitting at No. 2.
Oakman: “Same ol, same ol.”
Goodley: “I couldn’t believe it.”
Petty: “Let’s go, that’s all I can say.”
Hager: “Just another thing to motivate us.”
These are the same players that handed the Sooners a 41-12 defeat in Waco, Texas a year ago, making their displeasure very easy to understand.
“We beat them last season and won the Big 12,” Hager said. “So that is just another motivation heading into this season.”
All four players took it as a sign they still have work to do, both on the field and off the field.
“That’s not up to us to vote, it’s up to us to play,” Petty said. “That tells us that we’re not there yet, and that’s fine with me. I don’t think you’re ever there. Once you think you’ve arrived, that’s when you're in trouble.”
The Sooners, with their Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, carried more momentum into the offseason while the Bears stumbled into the offseason after a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl loss to Central Florida. OU’s win helped cement Bob Stoops program in the national spotlight during the offseason while Baylor got overshadowed.
“They deserve it, they beat a good football team on a big stage,” Goodley said. “We have no control over that. I guess we still have a lot to prove, we still don’t get the respect we deserve, but we haven’t been at the top that long. I feel like we’re going to get there though.”
Even with the feeling of disrespect helping the spur them into the preseason, the Bears understand their 2013 accomplishments mean nothing. Art Briles squad outscored opponents by 375 total points a year ago but those points don’t carry over into 2014, so this season’s team will still has plenty to prove. It’s part of the reason the Bears still consider themselves the hunter instead of the hunted despite entering the fall as the defending Big 12 champions.
“At Baylor we’ve been fighting for respect,” Oakman said. “One day we’re going to get it, but not today.”
- Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon met with police investigators on Monday, The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey reports. His attorney claims Mixon did nothing wrong regarding assault allegations of a female student from last week.
- Texas Tech added a transfer QB from Iowa to shore up its depth.
- Seafood po’boys, barbecue sandwiches and various deep-fried and bacon-wrapped concoctions are among the concession items that will be available at Baylor's McLane Stadium.
- Athlon released its Big 12 breakout players for 2014.
- Defensive tackle Du'Vonta Lampkin, a former Sooners pledge, committed to Texas, which has been picking up its recruiting momentum in July.
- The Jayhawks are shrugging off negativity, writes KUSports.com's Benton Smith.
- The little brother of West Virginia running backs coach running backs coach JaJuan Seider will be joining him in Morgantown.
- Iowa State picked up a commitment from a Kansas linebacker.
- There are plenty of questions about the Cyclones defensive line, writes the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse.
- The Oklahoman's Kyle Fredrickson did a Q&A with Oklahoma State receivers coach Jason Ray.
No. 76 Sam Grant, tackle, 6-foot-7, 281 pounds, sophomore
Impact thus far: None. Grant shifted to tackle during the spring of 2014 after lining up at tight end during his first two years on campus. He redshirted in 2012 and didn’t play in 2013.
Impact in 2014: Grant’s best case scenario is to provide depth behind starters Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams this fall. The Sooners could have an deep group at tackle with Josiah St. John, Christian Daimler and the freshman also in the mix at the position.
Long-term upside: Even when he was lining up at tight end, blocking has always been Grant’s strength. His length and physical mindset could make him an asset at the position but he will have plenty of competition at the spot and will kind of be behind the eight ball as a guy at a new position.
Evaluation grade for Grant: C. Even though he has never played in a game despite being on campus for two years, Grant could end up being a terrific evaluation as he looked like a tight end who projected to tackle when the Sooners signed him. They gave him the chance to play tight end initially then he made the move to tackle after the 2013 season and his potential at tackle is much higher than at tight end.
Development grade for Grant: B. Outside of just throwing Grant onto the field in short yardage or special teams to get his feet wet in 2013, there’s not much else to ask from the Sooners.
Mixon has not been charged with any crimes. But an Oklahoma female student claims Mixon punched her, breaking four bones in her face.
Kevin Finlay, an attorney representing Mixon, has maintained his did nothing wrong in the incident and released the following statement Monday.
"This past Friday morning Joe Mixon found himself in a situation where he was subjected to both verbal and physical attacks from a very intoxicated and troubled young woman. As a result of these physical attacks, Joe instinctually defended himself against further harm.
"As promised, Joe met with investigators from the Norman Police Department this afternoon. Throughout the meeting, Joe continued to be forthcoming and cooperative with their investigation.
"We are looking forward to a thorough investigation and are very much looking forward to the truth coming out. As we have always maintained, Joe has done nothing wrong."
The new ESPN 300 features 22 players currently committed to Big 12 programs. Texas leads the conference race with seven commits, while Oklahoma is next with five. Texas Tech has the conference’s highest-ranked ESPN 300 player in quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who is ranked No. 38 and is the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the country.
Here are five things to know in the Big 12:
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Defensive end Keisean Lucier-South planned to trim his considerable list of scholarship offers to a final five schools in early August, but just like he is on the field, the nation's No. 28 prospect was quick off the line, announcing his top five on Monday.
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No. 75 Tyler Evans, guard, 6-foot-5, 339 pounds, senior
Impact thus far: Even if Evans never plays another down in crimson and cream, he’s had a solid career for the Sooners. He’s started 29 games during his career and has been a solid performer when healthy. He never reached all-conference status but he’s been a productive contributor.
Impact in 2014: Evans’ potential impact is a definite wait-and-see scenario. He hasn’t played a full season since 2011, suffering an ACL injury in 2012 and a setback with his knee in 2013. If healthy, he will bring added depth and a boatload of experience to an already-experienced offensive line.
Long term upside: Even if healthy, he will have to fight to earn a role along the offensive line. His experience should help.
Evaluation grade for Evans: A. He’s a guy who started four games as a true freshman and locked down a starting spot as a sophomore and junior. Only injury kept him from becoming a four-year starter. A superb evaluation by the Sooners.
Development grade for Evans: A. The Sooners recognized his ability to contribute as a true freshman immediately and didn’t hesitate to throw him into the mix as he played in 11 games as a true freshman. It's rare that offensive linemen play early but Evans forced himself into the lineup and the Sooners gave him the opportunity to earn a spot.
One Thing To Know: Big 12 Recruiting
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET North Dakota State Iowa State 3:30 PM ET West Virginia Alabama 7:00 PM ET Louisiana Tech Oklahoma 7:00 PM ET Samford TCU 7:00 PM ET Central Arkansas Texas Tech 7:10 PM ET Stephen F. Austin Kansas State 8:00 PM ET Florida State Oklahoma State 8:00 PM ET North Texas Texas