This spring, the Big 12 is loaded with quarterback competitions. But the three most hotly contested quarterback battles figure to reside in Norman, Morgantown and Austin. We predict the winners of these three competitions in our weekly Big 12 roundtable:

Who will win Oklahoma's QB derby?

Max Olson: I feel like I'd be a fool to bet against Baker Mayfield in this race. I know we've seen glimpses of Trevor Knight's ceiling before, and no question he's exciting on his best days. But if you saw what Mayfield did in the OU spring game last year, you knew this day was coming, right? Sure, the best foe he ever beat at Tech was probably that 4-8 TCU team. But Mayfield is a third-year guy now who's had plenty of time to mature and learn, and I can't discount the fact he's the Oklahoma QB most accustomed to playing in the offense Lincoln Riley will run. I think Mayfield will win the job in August.

Brandon Chatmon: I expect the OU spring competition to end much like TCU’s did 12 months ago, with the overriding summer question being whether the Sooners have anyone who can do the job. The spring will be filled with plenty of ups and downs from all three competitors. I think they do have a guy who can get the job done but, like Max, I think it won’t be decided until just before the season begins. Mayfield is the favorite because people tend to like shiny new toys, but I’m going to go with Knight to hold off Mayfield and keep his job. I like what Mayfield brings to the table, but people are choosing to overlook Knight's positives and focus instead on the mental lapses that plagued him in 2014. I’m betting on Riley to bring consistency and good decision-making to Knight’s game.

Jake Trotter: I don't think Bob Stoops will name a starter until August. But when he's ready to name one, I think it will be Mayfield. I'm not ready to give up on Knight. And Cody Thomas has the tools to be a quality Big 12 quarterback. But given the offense Riley wants to run, Mayfield makes the most sense. He has experience operating the air raid from his time at Tech. And, he's not a retread from last year's disastrous season. Mayfield brings a little bit of savvy and a lot of confidence to the position, too, which is something the Sooners could really use.

What about West Virginia's QB battle?

Olson: The William Crest bandwagon was filling up quickly last year in Morgantown even when he didn't play, and it's easy to see why. Is he better than Geno Smith and Pat White combined, as some WVU fans seem to believe? Not yet. We got such a limited opportunity to see him play in 2014 (four pass attempts and five rushes vs. Towson), but as long as his shoulder holds up, I think he's the long-term solution for this program.

Chatmon: Skyler Howard made great strides toward securing the starting job after Clint Trickett’s head injuries forced him to retire. Howard was solid in three starts to end the season, particularly with his eight touchdowns without an interception. But with five quarterbacks in the battle to permanently replace Trickett, this competition looks poised to extend into the preseason. Among those candidates, I have no doubt Crest is the future at the position with his unique skill set and mature approach, but I think Howard will start when the Mountaineers kick off the season Sept. 5 against Georgia Southern. Whether he keeps that starting spot throughout 2015 is the overriding question.

Trotter: Howard did some nice things filling in for Trickett late last season. But there's a reason why Crest beat him out for the No. 2 quarterback job coming out of the preseason. Howard can make plays outside the pocket, both with his arm and feet. But I'm skeptical his accuracy will be sharp enough to hold off Crest this spring. Crest is loaded with potential, and I see him ultimately beating out Howard again.

Who will emerge from Texas' QB competition?

Olson: Of these three, the Texas battle is the one I feel least confident about. I say that because I'm just not sure where Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard stand in the eyes of their coaches. Shawn Watson repeatedly said during the season that Heard was nowhere near ready. And it's hard to predict which Swoopes we're going to see this spring. A long competition will benefit both guys. I'd give a tiny edge to Heard ultimately being the choice, but I don't assume he's in the lead at this moment.

Chatmon: At Texas, Heard gets the nod over Swoopes despite Swoopes having the edge in experience. Heard seems like the right choice and the Longhorns' best hope of finding an answer at the quarterback position this spring, and I expect him to emerge atop the depth chart after shining in spring practices on the 40 acres. The question remains why Heard didn’t get a chance with the UT offense experiencing plenty of bumps in 2014, but I’m betting he shows he should have gotten that chance by separating himself this spring.

Trotter: Considering Heard is a complete unknown, I'll go with Swoopes here. But I don't feel great about it. Swoopes had his moments last season but struggled down the stretch, leading Texas to finish its season with a thud. Yet despite Swoopes' struggles, Heard never got a shot. Apparently, he wasn't ready. Will he be ready this spring? That's anyone's guess.
Under Bob Stoops, Oklahoma has never had a quarterback competition so wide open.

Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas all own Big 12 starting experience. Redshirt freshman Justice Hansen is a former ESPN 300 signee. And all four will be operating with some degree of a clean slate due to the arrival of new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lincoln Riley, who has been tasked with reviving the air raid in Norman.

SportsNation

Who will win Oklahomas QB battle?

  •  
    5%
  •  
    22%
  •  
    69%
  •  
    4%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,773)

So, who will emerge from this competition?

We’re putting that question to you in our weekly Big 12 poll.

In one tumultuous season, Knight went from being Oklahoma’s long-term answer at quarterback to one with a murky future, at best. He led the Big 12 with three pick-six interceptions, and tossed another pick that was returned to the 1-yard line, igniting Baylor’s 48-14 rout of the Sooners in Norman. In that game, Knight also suffered a transient quadriplegia injury, which leads to pain and numbness. After sitting out Oklahoma’s final three regular-season games, Knight returned for the Russell Athletic Bowl. But he looked completely out of sorts, and in the worst performance of his career, threw three picks, as Clemson destroyed the Sooners, 40-6. A winter to recover from the injury scare and a change of position coach from Josh Heupel to Riley could revive Knight’s career this spring. But to have any chance of remaining a starter, Knight will have to display the confidence and poise he showed late in the 2013 season.

Riley, however, is sure to give a strong look to Thomas and Mayfield, as well.

Underscoring his belief that he can win the job, Thomas gave up baseball -- he would have been a starting outfielder for the Sooners -- this spring to focus solely on football. While Knight was injured, Thomas filled in as the starter to mixed results. Thomas was a natural operating the zone-read, which sparked Oklahoma’s ground game. But he also struggled throwing the ball, and finished the season with a completion rate of just 45.5 percent, which ranked lasted among Big 12 quarterbacks that made at least one start. Thomas will have to be much more accurate to have any chance of winning a job in Riley’s system -- though it’s also possible that Riley’s system might boost Thomas’ completion percentage.

Yet while Knight and Thomas started last year, the quarterback that watched from the sidelines could actually be the favorite in the competition.

Mayfield won Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors in 2013 before transferring in from Texas Tech. While Knight struggled in Oklahoma’s spring game last year, Mayfield shined, completing all 10 of his pass attempts. Still, Mayfield has much to prove. Though he won the Red Raiders’ starting job as a walk-on true freshman, he was also up-and-down at times. That said, coming from Tech -- the same place Riley developed his offensive chops -- Mayfield has the most experience in the system Riley wants to install.

Though Mayfield, Thomas and Knight could quickly turn this into a three-way competition because of their experience, Hansen shouldn’t be completely discounted. He was, after all, the No. 9 QB recruit in the country in 2014, and given Oklahoma’s struggles at the position last season, Riley would be prudent to cast a wide net in his evaluation. With a blistering start to the spring, perhaps Hansen can wedge his way into the discussion.

Either way, this will be fascinating quarterback derby to follow.

Let us who you think will win it by casting a vote in the poll.
Shortly after taking over as coach at Oklahoma in 1999, Bob Stoops inspected the practice fields. There, he was mortified to find chicken bones littering the grounds, remnants of a lax policy that had permitted fans to tailgate on Saturdays where the Sooners practiced during the week. Stoops quickly realized he had much work ahead that spring to overhaul a football culture gone haywire.

In the 16 years since, never has Stoops faced a more critical spring than the one he will embark on this weekend.

After five years of trending in the wrong direction, Oklahoma has arrived at another crossroads. The Sooners are coming off an 8-5 season in which they suffered two of the most embarrassing defeats -- 48-14 to Baylor and 40-6 to Clemson -- of the Stoops era.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesGetting Oklahoma back atop the Big 12 standings will be a difficult task for coach Bob Stoops.
Oklahoma’s top recruiter, Jerry Montgomery, has bolted town. The rest of the coaching staff has been completely revamped, leaving offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh as the only assistant holding the same duties he did last year.

The funding for an ambitious $400 million stadium renovation has come to a crawl, raising concerns as to whether it will ever be completed.

Quarterback is a total unknown. The pass defense has been in a perpetual spiral.

Baylor and TCU have surpassed the Sooners as the current class of the Big 12. Texas is back to dominating the recruiting trail.

And, for the first time since that chicken bone-clearing offseason, Oklahoma could open unranked in the preseason polls.

The pressure will be on Stoops and his Sooners this spring. To begin reversing this tide of recent decline.

"I’m more determined than ever to get Oklahoma back in the position to competing for national championships like we have so many other times," Stoops said this offseason.

Whether that will happen will hinge heavily on 31-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who has been charged with bringing the Mike Leach air raid attack back to Norman this spring.

To clear a spot for Riley, Stoops fired Josh Heupel, who, from being Stoops’ first quarterback recruit in 1999 to Sam Bradford’s position coach, had been an integral piece of Oklahoma’s resurgence in Stoops’ early days. Yet as the Sooners struggled to regain their footing over the past five years, they lost their offensive identity under Heupel along the way, prompting Stoops the make the most drastic coaching change of his tenure.

Save for one bowl game, Riley has never called plays for a Power 5 conference offense. And he’s young enough to be Stoops’ son. But Stoops’ future and Oklahoma’s fortunes are now on Riley’s shoulders. All eyes will be on him this spring as he attempts to rehabilitate an offense that desperately needs to uncover an immediate and long-term answer at quarterback.

Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield, and Cody Thomas will all be vying to be that answer in what figures to be Oklahoma’s most wide open -- and intriguing -- quarterback competition of this millennium.

Knight was supposed to be the Sooners’ quarterback of the future. But after a disastrous 2014 season in which he led the Big 12 in pick-six interceptions and suffered a scary transient quadriplegia injury, he could be Oklahoma’s quarterback of the past.

In three games relieving Knight, Thomas failed to gain a stranglehold on the job, as he finished last in the Big 12 in completion percentage.

That leaves Mayfield, who walked-on at Texas Tech before transferring to Oklahoma, where he sat out last season. Given his Tech ties, Mayfield has experience operating the system Riley will be installing. And he was the 2013 Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. But after cruising through the non-conference, Mayfield also struggled against Big 12 competition that season. And he has not played in game in two years.

Quarterback, however, isn’t the Sooners’ only pressing concern.

When defensive coordinator Mike Stoops came back to Norman two years ago, he was supposed to bring the ferocious Oklahoma defenses of the early 2000s with him. Instead, the Sooners have been a sieve on that side of ball since his return, ranking ninth in the league in pass defense last season. It got so bad that Sooner fans booed through an embarrassing sequence against Baylor, in which quarterback Bryce Petty completed all nine pass attempts on a cinch of a scoring drive with Oklahoma’s overmatched defensive backs playing 10 yards off the ball.

Bob Stoops has taken his brother off manning defensive backs, and brought in Kerry Cooks from Notre Dame. But Cooks’ task of whipping a secondary into shape this spring is daunting, because the unit features only one proven difference-maker -- cornerback Zack Sanchez.

Oklahoma’s task of challenging for a Big 12 title next season is even more daunting.

TCU and Baylor are top 10 teams. Oklahoma State toppled the Sooners in Norman last season. And a Week 2 trip to Tennessee could thwart the Sooners before they even get going.

Oklahoma won’t have chicken bones on its practice field. But once again, Bob Stoops has plenty of work ahead.

Oklahoma will open its spring drills this weekend. Below is a preview of what to look for from the Sooners this spring:


Offensive returner ready to take next step: From Vince Carter to Jon Cooper to Gabe Ikard, the Sooners have enjoyed a strong run of All-American-caliber centers. Ty Darlington could be in the next in that line after shining in his first season as a starter. The Sooners had some struggles last year, but offensive line was not one of them. Neither was center. With Oklahoma breaking in three new starters up front and transitioning to a different offense, Darlington will be integral to the Sooners having any chance at a bounce-back season. He appears ready for that challenge.

Defensive returner ready to take next step: Strong safety Steven Parker was thrown into the fire as a true freshman last year and had his share of struggles along with the rest of an Oklahoma secondary that finished ninth in the league in defending the pass. Still, as a former ESPN 300 recruit, Parker has the pedigree to develop into an elite safety. With a year of experience under his belt, he should be much steadier in his second season on campus.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Joe Mixon was the gem of the 2014 signing class and was expected to give the Sooners a huge lift in the backfield. Instead, he was suspended all of last season after he punched a female student in the face, and fellow freshman Samaje Perine gave the Sooners the backfield boost. Mixon has since returned to the team. And though Perine is the established starter after rushing for more than 1,700 yards last season, Mixon is a big talent whose versatile skill set warrants a role in the offense. It will be interesting to see how new coordinator Lincoln Riley uses him this spring out of the air raid.

Most significant position battle: Never before in the Bob Stoops era have the Sooners featured a quarterback derby this wide open. Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas all bring Big 12 starting experience to the table, giving Riley several options. Even though he sat out last season after transferring in from Texas Tech, Mayfield could have the inside track to the starting job. The former Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year operated a version of the offense in Lubbock that Riley will be installing.

Key midterm enrollee: After Sterling Shepard suffered a groin strain in early November, the Oklahoma receiving corps was exposed and the passing attack fell apart. Shepard is back from the injury, but the Sooners desperately need another pass-catching target to take the pressure off Shepard. Enter Dede Westbrook, who was one of the top junior-college recruits in the country. Whether in the slot or on the outside, Westbrook could provide the Sooners with a much-needed No. 2 receiver alongside Shepard.

Question that could be answered: Other than picking a quarterback, the biggest challenge Riley faces this spring is figuring out how to utilize Perine, a bruising runner between the tackles, out of the air raid system. Easing the degree of difficulty, Riley has a track record of running the ball more than some of his air raid play-calling counterparts. The Sooners should exit spring ball with a good feel about how they'll be able to still feature Perine despite the new offense.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: In 2007, there was little doubt that Sam Bradford would win the three-way quarterback battle with Keith Nichol and Joey Halzle. And still, Bob Stoops waited until two weeks before the season opener to name Bradford the starter. This quarterback competition is far more muddled than that one was. It would be a surprise if Stoops didn't let this quarterback derby play out into the preseason, as well.

Big 12 morning links

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
9:00
AM ET
This should be an interesting 30 for 30. I'm looking forward to it.
  • Sam Richardson has grown into a strong leader for Iowa State, writes Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune. Richardson's leadership can be seen on and off the practice field for the Cyclones heading into his fifth season. Richardson is easily the Big 12's most overlooked returning quarterback. Richardson's 56.2 career completion percentage must improve, but if it does, he could help the Cyclones return to a bowl game.
  • Those who have worked with Marcus Arroyo have plenty of praise for Oklahoma State's new assistant coach, reports Kyle Frederickson of The Oklahoman. Change has come to the Cowboys coaching staff and Arroyo is an intriguing hire as a guy who was calling plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season and has experience as a offensive coordinator. Mike Gundy clearly wanted to supplement the offensive coaching staff by adding creative, experienced minds and looks like Arroyo fits the bill.
  • Baylor offensive tackle Spencer Drango decided to return to Waco to get better. Becoming a unanimous All-American, winning the Outland Trophy and allowing zero sacks are among the goals for Drango, who could have left early for the NFL. Drango is one of the reasons I consider the Bears alongside TCU as a favorite in the conference. His return along with the rest of BU's offensive line will make life easier for whoever wins the starting job for Art Briles' team.
  • This look back at TCU's Class of 2012 is a reminder of how well Gary Patterson's program evaluates on the recruiting trail. Derrick Kindred, Joey Hunt and James McFarland are among the three-star recruits who have developed into key pieces of the Horned Frogs team. That should make TCU fans rest easy despite the fact the Horned Frogs did not sign a player in the ESPN 300 in the Class of 2015.
  • On the other side of the equation this look at Oklahoma's Class of 2012 isn't pretty for Sooners fans. Sure the class included standouts Sterling Shepard, Eric Striker and Charles Tapper but it also featured names like Gary Simon, John Michael McGee and Taylor McNamara who never became impact players for the Sooners. OU's recruiting is moving in a much better direction in recent years but it's a revealing glimpse at OU's struggles to evaluate a few years ago.
A closer look at a few important position battles in the Big 12 entering spring practice:

Baylor: Middle linebacker
Aiavion Edwards vs. Grant Campbell

Replacing Bryce Hager, one of the Big 12’s most underappreciated stars, won’t be easy. He was the quarterback of Baylor’s defense, and his successor inherits a lot of responsibility. Edwards started five games last season while Campbell, a junior college transfer, served as Hager’s top backup. They’ll be aided by the return of exciting sophomore Taylor Young, who took Edwards’ job at weakside linebacker last year. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is going to let Edwards and Campbell keep competing until the right fit is found, and it’s been a good battle so far.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight will need to find consistency this offseason to earn the nod as Oklahoma's starting QB.
Oklahoma: Quarterback
Trevor Knight vs. Baker Mayfield vs. Cody Thomas

The great variable here is new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and the Sooners’ transition to Air Raid-style football. All three of his QB candidates have starting experience in the Big 12. Knight needs to stay healthy and get much more consistent. Mayfield has experience in this scheme and needs to show the spark he provided Texas Tech as a freshman in 2012. And Thomas, who dropped baseball to focus on winning this job, just needs to keep pushing them. All three are in for a rigorous offseason of learning under Riley’s watch.

Oklahoma State: Running back
Rennie Childs vs. Sione Palelei

Chris Carson, the touted juco signee who flipped from Georgia, doesn’t arrive in Stillwater until the summer. Neither does freshman Jeff Carr. That means Childs, Palelei and the rest of the Cowboys' backs have the spring to prove they deserve carries this fall. Childs has rushed for 483 yards and five scores as a reserve over the past two years, while the speedy Palelei redshirted last year. Carson seems like the safe bet to be this group’s workhorse when he arrives, but somebody has to tote the rock this spring.

TCU: Cornerback
Corry O’Meally vs. DeShawn Raymond vs. Nick Orr vs. Cameron Echols-Luper

The Horned Frogs are expected to have a wide-open battle for the spot Kevin White held down for three years, and all four of these guys bring different traits to the table. O’Meally and Orr played as reserves in their first year as Frogs. Raymond, a four-star early enrollee, would be TCU’s biggest option here at 6-foot-1. And Echols-Luper, a prolific returner, just switched from receiver to corner this offseason. There’s not a lot of experience among this group, but there is a lot of potential.

Texas: Quarterback
Tyrone Swoopes vs. Jerrod Heard

Swoopes started 12 games last season and at times showed flashes of an exciting future. He also struggled mightily against TCU and Arkansas to end the year. How much better can he get as a junior? Heard, a redshirt freshman, was nowhere near ready to play last year in the eyes of co-offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. We’ll see how both respond to playing in a higher-tempo offense this spring, and whether ESPN 300 signee Kai Locksley tests them in the summer. Texas badly needs stability and leadership at this spot as well as a much-improved line.

Texas Tech: Defensive tackle
Rika Levi vs. Keland McElrath vs. Demetrius Alston vs. Breiden Fehoko

What’ll makes this group fun to watch is the influence of their new position coach, fiery co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith. He’ll push Tech’s big men like never before. Levi didn’t play up to the hype last year, but he’s looking much better this spring now that he’s dropped 20 pounds. Tech fans will be clamoring to see Fehoko, Tech’s top-rated signee, on the field as soon as possible. Anthony Smith, Marcus Smith and the injured Donte Phillips are also in the mix. Considering Tech’s inability to stop the run last year, finding the right combo here is important.

West Virginia: Quarterback
Skyler Howard vs. William Crest vs. Paul Millard

Howard showed dramatic improvement leading up to his three-game audition to end 2014. He lost two of those three, but threw eight TDs and played with confidence when he got his shot. West Virginia fans are rightfully excited about Crest, a dual-threat redshirt freshman whose first year was cut short by a shoulder issue. Millard and true freshmen Chris Chugunov and David Sills are also battling for this job, giving Dana Holgorsen better QB depth than he’s had in a while. If Crest proves he’s ready to lead now, he might run away with this race.

Big 12 morning links

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
9:00
AM ET
Congrats to the Jayhawks. Eleven straight Big 12 titles ain't easy.
  • Chuck McGill of the Charleston Daily Mail shares the story of West Virginia assistant JaJuan Seider, whose 14-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer and had two tumors removed in January. Jaden Seider is currently in chemotherapy -- fortunately, his cancer was 100-percent treatable -- and fans from both West Virginia and Marshall have rallied to show their support with a #SeiderStrong hashtag. Jade sure sounds like one tough kid. Be sure to give this one a read.
  • Baker Mayfield has beaten the odds before, so why can't he win the job at Oklahoma? Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman does a nice job of tracing Mayfield's competitive streak and perseverance back to his days at Lake Travis High in Austin, where he earned the starting job after an injury and never gave it up. Those who know him best are confident Mayfield will find a way to become QB No. 1 at OU. He's the guy I'd bet on right now, too, based on that mean streak and his now-convenient knowledge of Air Raid concepts.
  • Art Briles shared some wonderful news on Tuesday: the great 400-pound behemoth LaQuan McGowan is getting work at tight end and H-back this spring. Briles says the Bears will try to experiment with him in non-conference play if possible. The staff is hesitant to let him loose this spring in case he injures someone, which is a reasonable fear. Though McGowan's TD against Michigan State got all the glory, I liked how Baylor found ways late in the season to use McGowan as a bonus blocker in goal-line power sets. Why not see what else he can do?
  • As expected, a lot of eyes at Iowa State are on junior college transfer Desmond Tucker right now. The Cyclones expect the defensive tackle to take a starting job, but he'll have to earn it first. Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune offers a good breakdown of where Tucker stands and what he's working on (hands first) as he tries to prove himself. ESPN's No. 3 rated juco DT prospect is already displaying impressive athleticism and could make a big impact once he gets all caught up.
  • Best of luck to former West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett, who's reportedly set to become the new quarterbacks coach at Eastern Mississippi Community College. Trickett is following in his father's and brother's footsteps and diving right into the coaching world after concussions ended his playing days at WVU. Trickett consistently earned praise during his stint at WVU for his knowledge of the game, and this is no small-time gig. EMCC has won three NJCAA titles in the last four years and its last QB, Chad Kelly, signed with Ole Miss.

A telltale sign of spring practice is a depth chart filled with ORs.

Coaches preach year-round competition, but it's a theme that resonates strongest during the 15 practices each spring. It's the first chapter of a team's story, and position battles often form subplots for the coming season.

Not every position will be settled by the end of the spring. Some of the nation's most intriguing spots, like the quarterback positions for national champion Ohio State and runner-up Oregon, likely won't be decided until preseason camp because of lingering injuries (Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett) or impending arrivals (Vernon Adams). But the spring provides clues about which players can take the OR away and cement themselves into key roles.

As teams continue to begin spring ball, here are 12 position competitions to track around the country (in alphabetical order). Not surprisingly, the list is quarterback heavy but features a few other spots of intrigue.


(Read full post)


Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
4:00
PM ET
In Tuesday's mailbag, Tom Bradley's departure, a May signing day and Kansas State's record are among the topics. As always, thanks for your questions (and thanks for not asking about expansion this time around). To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Scott in Edgewater, Maryland, writes: Tom Bradley left for UCLA, is this going to negatively effect West Virginia, and why did he leave after just one year?

Brandon Chatmon: I think it hurts the Mountaineers, no question about it. Bradley brought tons of experience and a veteran presence to the WVU coaching staff while helping solidify the defense. It’s a big loss for Dana Holgorsen’s program but not one that is impossible to overcome. As far as why, who wouldn’t want to go to UCLA? Sign me up.


Aaron Terhume in Lenexa, Kansas, writes: With K-State's hardest games at home next year (TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor & West Virginia) what are the odds of an 8+ win season for the CATS?

BC: It feels like you’re overrating the home-field advantage a tad here, Aaron. The Wildcats still have to replace Jake Waters, Tyler Lockett, Ryan Mueller and B.J. Finney, who were among the best in the Big 12 at their positions. I think the home field will help but 7-8 wins sounds about right before spring football kicks off and we start finding out some answers about the 2015 version of Bill Snyder’s team. Anything above eight could be asking a lot from Snyder and company.


J.J. in Tumalo, Oregon, writes: With its continuing squishy soft out of conference schedule do you agree that Baylor leaves itself no margin of error? A weak SOS will always justify the College Football Playoff Committee kicking Baylor to the curb and 0-2 in its last bowl games does not help the cause.

BC: I agree on both counts. The Bears have decided to minimize their margin of error with their stance on nonconference scheduling and bowl losses to Central Florida and Michigan State, with the nation watching, doesn’t help matters. None of this is something Art Briles' program can’t overcome, however. I don’t think many people would be shocked to see the Bears in the College Football Playoff in 2015 even though they aren’t maximizing their potential routes to the playoff.


Jamie in Austin, Texas, writes: Haven't we heard this song before? Texas Tech quarterback looks great early in his career, gets loads of hype, the fanbase gets super pumped for his prospects, and then… Kliff Kingsbury shuffles the deck and that QB doesn't even finish the season as the starter. Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb, now possibly Patrick Mahomes. Is it time that we pause before we start hyping Tech QBs up?

BC: Well, Jamie, I haven’t seen too many posters touting Mahomes as the Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year. He was extremely impressive to end his freshman season but I’d agree some folks on the fringe who need to take a step back before anointing him as the Big 12’s next elite passer. And when it comes to Kingsbury, I can’t blame him for tinkering with his quarterbacks -- neither Mayfield or Webb were taking care of the ball. Mahomes, in his short time, did a better job protecting the ball (16 TDs, 4 INTs) than either of those other two quarterbacks.


rtXC in Denison, Texas, writes: Are you guys as tired of the coaching carousel extending past signing day as the fans are? Here's my suggestion: move signing day to the first Wednesday of May. By that time, all NFL and NCAA staffs should be complete, with the players getting to see exactly what the new staff members bring to the table throughout spring practice and in the spring games. Gives players more time to sort things out, while giving new staffs more time to get things together. The first season of this change would provide an extra long recruiting cycle, but after that things would feel normal again, while protecting both parties, coaches and players alike. Thoughts?

BC: It’s an interesting idea but I don’t know that moving signing day to May really addresses the problem, which is the natural desire of coaches (or anyone for that matter) to progress in their careers. Coaches are going to leave during players/recruits careers, which is why prospects are repeatedly told to pick the school not the coach. Just because the coach would be there on a May signing day doesn’t mean they would be there five years down the road or even one year down the road. The only answer is players picking the best place/environment to excel, regardless of the coaches.


Cole in Oklahoma City writes: With Riley coming to OU and establishing a new offense, would you take the bet Joe Mixon has more total offense than Samaje Perine since Samaje is more of bruiser type back? And also given OU comes back to what they're known for, who wins the Big XII? My prediction is TCU, OU, Texas, Baylor, Ok St and so on. TCU and OU will probably be the Big XII title game.

BC: I’d bet on Mixon because he’s more versatile, allowing Riley to use him in so many different ways. I’d imagine we will see that duo on the field together plenty of times in 2015 -- both are too talented to waste on the sidelines. TCU and Baylor remain the clear favorites for me with Oklahoma State as the next candidate after that top two. OU has to prove themselves title ready before I'm willing to put them up there with TCU or Baylor.
video

While a good portion of the country is buried in snow, spring football is underway. Adam Rittenberg looks at some of the top position battles heading in to spring practice.
How is Samaje Perine going to get enough touches?

That was the immediate question when Bob Stoops picked Lincoln Riley to run Oklahoma’s offense. Riley’s philosophy didn’t seem to be the ideal fit for an offense that looked poised to be built around the sophomore running back.

A closer look at Riley’s time at East Carolina shows that his best offenses had balance. Here’s a year-by-year look at Riley’s five seasons with the help of ESPN Stats & Information:

[+] EnlargeLincoln Riley
Greg Thompson/Icon SportswireWhile at ECU, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley didn't just rely on high-powered passing attacks.
2010: 2.65 points per drive, 5.74 yards per play, 43.1 third-down conversion rate, 65.4 pass percentage (percent of total plays which are passes), 15 turnover percentage (percent of drives ending with a turnover).
Summary: In his first season as an offensive coordinator, Riley entered the year with junior college transfer Dominique Davis at quarterback and a returning all-conference receiver in Dwayne Harris. Riley built the offense around Davis -- who finished with 3,967 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and 16 interceptions -- and Harris, who eclipsed the 100-catch mark with 101 receptions for 1,123 yards and 10 touchdowns. Lance Lewis (89 receptions, 1,116 yards, 14 TDs) joined Harris to give ECU one of the best receiving combos in the nation. Running back Jonathan Williams led the Pirates with 154 carries for 847 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 52 receptions for 431 yards and another score. ECU rushed for 1,542 yards and passed for 4,143 yards in Riley’s first season.
What it could mean for OU: Much like OU, Riley didn’t have an unquestioned, established quarterback to run his offense when he arrived but he did have an returning all-conference receiver. Sterling Shepard could easily see his 2014 receptions (51) double while becoming the top target. And Williams' numbers are a clear sign that Riley aimed to get the ball in the hands of his running back, through the air or on the ground. Perine will be asked to get more involved as a receiver while running back Joe Mixon and Keith Ford could have Riley really exploit their versatility as runners and receivers.

2011: 2.06 points per drive, 5.15 yards per play, 46.1 third-down conversion rate, 60.2 pass percentage, 20.9 turnover percentage.
Summary: Easily Riley’s worst season as turnovers became a problem for ECU’s offense. Davis returned but his touchdowns went down (25) while his interceptions went up (19). And when Riley turned to the running game it struggled to get going, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry while finishing with 1,309 rushing yards on 397 total attempts. No ECU running back averaged more than 4.51 yards per carry or gained more than 500 rushing yards. Riley’s offense finished with 35 turnovers in 12 games. ECU rushed for 1,309 yards and passed for 3,433 yards in Riley’s second season.
What it could mean for OU: Anything similar to this production would be a nightmare for Bob Stoops' new hire. The turnovers in particular would have the potential to cripple any hopes for title contention as Riley would have to rein in the offense, thus limiting its explosive nature. The most important thing for Riley’s offense in 2015 will be to protect the ball, which did wonders for TCU’s offensive rebirth in 2014.

2012: 2.24 points per drive, 5.61 yards per play, 42.9 third-down conversion rate, 54.6 pass percentage, 12.2 turnover percentage.
Summary: The Pirates went out an added junior college running back Vintavious Cooper to bring balance to the offense and he responded with 1,049 rushing yards on 5.2 yards per carry. He had 226 touches in 13 games, an average of 17.4 touches per game. At quarterback Shane Carden took over after a couple of years as Davis’ understudy and immediately took better care of the football (10 interceptions) while completing 66.1 percent of his throws for 3,116 yards. Justin Hardy emerged as a legit No. 1 target with 86 receptions for 1,105 yards and 11 receptions as a sophomore.
What it could mean for OU: Balance returned to ECU’s offense when Riley had a running back he could count on. The balance, combined with Carden’s ball protection and efficiency, made this one of Riley’s top offenses.

2013: 2.94 points per drive, 5.92 yards per play, 51 third-down conversion rate, 57.9 pass percentage, 9 turnover percentage.
Summary: ECU entered the season with one of the nation’s top quarterback-running back-receiver combos in Carden-Cooper-Hardy. Carden passed for 4,139 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions; Cooper rushed for 1,193 yards (5.2 ypc); and Hardy had 114 receptions for 1,294 yards. ECU passed for 4,265 yards and rushed for 1,821 yards.
What it could mean for OU: When Riley had the tools to create a balanced, efficient offense, he built the best offense of his tenure at ECU. He had a quality, experienced quarterback and receiver combo yet made sure to get his talented running back involved, even making him a key part of the passing game (Cooper had 44 receptions for 412 yards as ECU’s third-leading receiver). OU is an experienced and consistent quarterback away from this scenario heading into the spring.

2014: 2.57 points per drive, 6.48 yards per play, 47.4 third-down conversion rate, 62.5 pass percentage, 11.9 turnover percentage.
Summary: With Cooper moving on, Riley really leaned on Carden and Hardy. Carden passed for 4,736 yards while Hardy had 121 receptions for 1,494 yards. The argument could definitely be made that running back Breon Allen, who had 134 carries for 869 yards (6.5) and eight touchdowns, should have gotten the ball more but that would require taking the ball out of the hands of Carden and Hardy, particularly since Carden never had more than 10 interceptions during his three years as the starter.
What it could mean for OU: Quite frankly it underscores the importance of finding a quarterback who makes good decisions to trigger Riley’s offense. Baker Mayfield seems the like the favorite with his experience in similar offenses but Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas have won Big 12 games and possess the talent to excel in the system.

Big 12 morning links

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
9:00
AM ET
Hilton Magic...
  • Iowa State is kicking off its spring drills this morning. Monday, coach Paul Rhoads met with the media to discuss his team. Among the topics was an update on defensive end Mitchell Meyer, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in February. Rhoads said Meyer has had two chemotherapy treatments, and his spirits are high.
  • The Cyclones also released a depth chart Monday, with few surprises. Perhaps the most intriguing position battle this spring will be at running back, where Iowa State is replacing Aaron Wimberly, who graduated, and DeVondrick Nealy, who left the team. Upperclassman Tyler Brown is atop the two-deep at running back, but the back creating the most buzz is redshirt freshman Mike Warren. "Mike is a guy we believe is going to be a 200-pound-plus back, which is where we want to be with our backs -- and where we haven't been in the past," Rhoads said. The Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch has more notes from Rhoads' news conference, including the plan for wideout Quenton Bundrage, who is coming back from a season-ending knee injury.
  • The Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner has a feature on Baylor quarterback Seth Russell, who is the favorite to succeed Bryce Petty. Assuming Russell does win the job, it will be interesting to see how Art and Kendal Briles tailor the offense to fit Russell's skill set. Russell isn't a track star the way Robert Griffin III was. But he's more athletic than Petty, with a 40-yard dash time of 4.48 seconds. The Bears could be running the quarterback more next season than they have in recent years. In other news, the Bears had an interesting visitor to their practice Monday.
  • TCU coach Gary Patterson discussed his philosophy for hiring assistants with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez. "So many people are so easy to let people go, to lose knowledge of your program, how you recruit," Patterson said. "I've never been someone to believe you do that." It's little wonder that Patterson promoted four of his coaches last week, including Chad Glasgow and DeMontie Cross to co-defensive coordinators. Patterson hasn't been afraid to go out and hire assistants from the outside when the occasion has called for it (see: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie). But his philosophy of promoting from within has fostered TCU's coveted continuity.
  • The Tulsa World's Bill Haisten acknowledged the rumor that Oklahoma State quarterback Daxx Garman is exploring a transfer. Haisten noted there will be no official update on Garman from Oklahoma State until the start of its spring practice next week. But a source told me over the weekend that at this point it's a "strong possibility" Garman transfers. Though he has already transferred before (from Arizona to Oklahoma State), it's hard to fault Garman for at least considering this option. Though Garman started eight games last season, Mason Rudolph has established himself as the quarterback of the future in Stillwater. The Cowboys also have J.W. Walsh coming back, which has Garman staring at the prospect of falling to third string on the depth chart.

Big 12 coaching carousel recap

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
4:00
PM ET
The coaching carousel has finally slowed to a stop (well, almost), so let’s take a look back at who has gone and who is new in the Big 12 heading into spring practice. Iowa State and Kansas State made no changes, but every other program in the conference is breaking in at least two new assistants this fall. A rundown of all the changes:

Baylor

Out: Philip Montgomery (Tulsa), Brian Norwood (Tulsa)
In: Promoted Kendal Briles (OC) and Tate Wallis (WRs), hired Cris Dishman (DBs)

Art Briles is handing the reins of Baylor's offense to his son, Kendal Briles, who had previously coached the Bears’ prolific receivers. He earned the promotion after Montgomery landed the head coaching job at Tulsa and brought Norwood along as his co-defensive coordinator. The younger Briles will now oversee quarterbacks and provide his own innovative touches to playcalling. Dishman, a former Pro Bowler, will also bring fresh ideas to the mix as the safeties coach.

Kansas

In: Hired David Beaty (HC), Rob Likens (OC), Reggie Mitchell (RBs), Klint Kubiak (WRs), Zach Yenser (OL), Gary Hyman (ST/TEs), Kenny Perry (co-DC), Calvin Thibodeaux (DL), Kevin Kane (LBs)

Beaty has been well-received by Kansas fans so far and assembled a staff that will compete on the recruiting trail. Retaining Clint Bowen as co-DC and assistant head coach was his first move and certainly a popular one. Likens and Yenser come from Cal and will help install Beaty’s Air Raid-style vision for the offense. Perry, a high school coach just three years ago, was plucked from TCU’s staff. Bringing back strength coach Je'Ney Jackson, a former Mark Mangino assistant, was another savvy move.

Oklahoma

Out: Josh Heupel (Utah State), Jay Norvell (Texas), Jerry Montgomery (Green Bay Packers), Bobby Jack Wright (retired)
In: Hired Lincoln Riley (OC), Dennis Simmons (WRs), Diron Reynolds (DL), Kerry Cooks (DBs)

Bob Stoops hated having to part ways with Heupel and Norvell, but a change of direction for the offense was necessary. Riley, a Mike Leach disciple who got the Air Raid rolling at East Carolina, seems like a great fit and the perfect guy to deliver on Stoops’ new plan. Simmons, another former Leach assistant, should help with the transition. Cooks was Notre Dame’s ace recruiter in Texas, and Reynolds has more than a decade of NFL coaching experience.

Oklahoma State

Out: Bob Connelly (USC), Jemal Singleton (Arkansas), Van Malone (SMU), Eric Wolford (San Francisco 49ers), Jason Ray
In: Hired Dan Hammerschmidt, Marcus Arroyo, Greg Adkins, Jason McEndoo

Gundy completed his staff last week after enduring a lot of change, including one coach (Wolford) taking an NFL job a week after being hired. The specific roles for OSU’s four new hires have yet to be announced. Hammerschmidt is taking a job on the defense, and the other three will work with the offense. Arroyo was the Tampa Bay Bucs’ interim offensive coordinator last season. Adkins also comes from the pros. McEndoo was a longtime assistant at FCS Montana State.

TCU

Out: Dick Bumpas (retired), Kenny Perry (Kansas)
In: Promoted DeMontie Cross (co-DC), Chad Glasgow (co-DC), Paul Gonzales (CBs), Dan Sharp (DL)

Gary Patterson stuck to promoting from within this offseason, rewarding Cross and Glasgow when Bumpas stepped aside after 11 years as a Frog. Gonzales was promoted after three years as a grad assistant. Sharp, a member of the staff since 2001, was a director of player personnel last season, but has long overseen TCU’s special teams. Patterson says every member of his staff was offered jobs this offseason, and all but one stay put. This much continuity after a big season is critical.

Texas

Out: Chris Rumph (Florida), Les Koenning, Bruce Chambers
In: Hired Brick Haley (DL), Jay Norvell (WRs), Jeff Traylor (ST/TEs)

The abrupt departure of the well-liked Rumph was a surprise, but Charlie Strong found a respected replacement in LSU’s Haley. Bringing in Norvell from the Sooners was a surprise, too, and adds a little extra juice to the rivalry. We’ll see what influence, if any, the former OC has on Texas’ plans to go up-tempo offensively. Traylor, a successful Texas high school coach, gives the Longhorns a better presence in recruiting the valuable East Texas area.

Texas Tech

Out: John Scott Jr. (New York Jets)
In: Hired David Gibbs (DC), Zac Spavital (LBs)

Nobody forced more turnovers over the past two seasons (73) than Houston. That is one of the many reasons why Gibbs was a smart hire to overhaul the Red Raiders' defense. The eighth Texas Tech DC since 2007 should bring a bit more stability, and he also brought along Spavital from Houston. Mike Smith, the interim DC last year, was retained and will now coach the defensive line in addition to keeping his co-DC title.

West Virginia

Out: Tom Bradley (UCLA), Shannon Dawson (Kentucky)
In: Hired Bruce Tall (DL)

Dawson and Bradley left for good promotions, yet it’s hard to say West Virginia took a big hit as a staff this offseason. Dawson’s departure won’t change much, as Dana Holgorsen is still overseeing the offense as its playcaller. New GA hire Michael Burchett will help Holgorsen coach the QBs. Tall returns after a four-year stint as DC at FCS Charlotte. Holgorsen still has one more hire to make: special teams coach. Once they are on board, the Big 12 coaching carousel will officially (probably) come to a stop for 2015.
We're in the middle of junior day season with multiple schools hosting prospects last weekend and others set to host elite talent this weekend. Here's the latest on the recruiting trail:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 5
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: Baylor hosted several elite prospects over the weekend including Plano (Texas) East prospect Anthony Hines III, an elite Class of 2017 prospect who boasts offers from most of the Big 12 as well as LSU, Ohio State and others. Fellow Class of 2017 prospects Hezekiah Jones and Jeff Okudah, who was offered over the weekend, were also in Waco for BU’s junior day as Art Briles' program focuses on this recruiting cycle and beyond.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 0
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: It’s a big week for the Cyclones with spring football set to kick off and junior day this weekend. ISU also sent out some offers last week including an offer to Allen (Texas) defensive end Levi Onwuzurike. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound prospect also boasts offers from Boston College and Illinois.

KANSAS
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: KU held a junior day over the weekend with Wildwood (Missouri) Lafayette offensive lineman Chase Behrndt among the visitors. The Jayhawks also offered Sachse (Texas) athlete Donovan Duvernay last week. His twin brother, Devin Duvernay, is the No. 12 player in the ESPN Junior 300 and already boasted a KU offer. The Jayhawks joined Boise State as teams who have offered Donovan.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Edmond (Oklahoma) Santa Fe linebacker Calvin Bundage has emerged as one of the rising stars in the Big 12 region as he added an offer from the Wildcats. Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech and Michigan are among the schools who have offered the Class of 2016 safety/linebacker hybrid.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 1
The latest: The Sooners could have a big weekend ahead with another junior day set for March 7. New Orleans (Louisiana) Easton linebacker Pernell Jefferson is among the recruits who are set to head to Norman, Oklahoma, this weekend. TCU and Texas Tech are among the other Big 12 teams who have offered Jefferson.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Oklahoma State didn’t see any reason to wait any longer before offering Class of 2018 offensive tackle Brey Walker. The Moore (Oklahoma) Southmoore prospect is 6-foot-6, 285 pounds and excelled on the gridiron and wrestling mat during his freshman season. He’s going to be a name to watch over the next few years.

TCU
Total commits: 8
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: TCU hopes to go into Arkansas to grab Little Rock (Arkansas) Robinson athlete T.J. Hammonds away from the Razorbacks. The Horned Frogs offered the 5-foot-11, 186-pound prospect this week and he could be a good fit on either side of the ball for Gary Patterson’s program.

TEXAS
Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: Texas held a junior day over the weekend with several top prospects visiting Austin, Texas, despite the weather playing havoc with the travel plans of many prospects. The Longhorns offered multiple prospects last week including OU offensive line commitment Jean Delance along with running back Darius Anderson and cornerback Eric Cuffee.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Red Raiders looked to the East Coast for one of its latest offers with Washington (D.C.) Woodrow Wilson running back Abdul Adams boasting an offer from Kliff Kingsbury’s program. The No. 277 player in the ESPN Junior 300, Adams has a large offer list which includes OU and West Virginia.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: West Virginia sent out multiple offers last week with its March 15 junior day on the horizon. Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) Imhotep running back Tylick Raynor and Southfield (Michigan) running back Matthew Falcon are among the recruits who boasted offers from the Mountaineers.

Big 12 morning links

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
9:00
AM ET
Haven't been watching "House of Cards." How's Season 3? Lemme know in the comments. If you need a quick break between episodes, some Monday morning links:
  • TCU got started on spring ball Sunday afternoon, which capped off a pretty good weekend for Cameron Echols-Luper. The speedy returner won gold in the long jump at the Big 12 indoor track and field championships this weekend, then made it back in time for his first practice. Echols-Luper is moving from receiver to cornerback this spring and I really wouldn't be surprised if he provides a spark there once he gets comfortable.
  • Texas Tech also opened spring practice on Sunday, and a defender to keep an eye on under new DC David Gibbs is Justis Nelson. According to Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Nelson will work at corner and safety this spring and Gibbs has high hopes for him. In fact, he thinks Nelson could've nabbed as many as eight interceptions last season. Tech has established its pre-spring depth chart, but it sounds like Gibbs will have his defensive backs cross-train at multiple spots for versatility and to present different looks. Good idea.
  • Iowa State has all sorts of question marks on defense this spring, and Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune does a nice job here of breaking down the biggest concerns. First and foremost, the Cyclones' staff has to figure out how to get better up the middle. I'm not surprised there's optimism about juco import Desmond Tucker at defensive tackle -- they'll need him to be good right away. There are way too many unknowns when it comes to those linebackers, too.
  • Athlon has attempted to rank the rosters of the Big 12 based on recruiting data, with Texas coming in first place (and No. 9 in the nation) ahead of Oklahoma. They're the only two Big 12 programs that cracked Athlon's top 25. Baylor is 32nd in FBS, TCU is 35th and Kansas State is 56th. Clearly they're bad at recruiting, right? I'm reluctant to share this one because, frankly, I think using recruiting rankings to evaluate a team's roster years later is an exercise that promises to produce bogus results. But, hey, people like lists.
  • Lastly, I know this isn't a football link but it's still definitely worth a share. In this SC Featured piece, Texas women's basketball player Imani McGee-Stafford opens up about how slam poetry helped her overcome her past. It's a poignant piece about an athlete who has braved a lot and found an outlet to express her pain and inspire others. Give this video a watch today.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Top Position Battles Heading In To Spring
While a good portion of the country is buried in snow, spring football is underway. Adam Rittenberg looks at some of the top position battles heading in to spring practice.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video