Here’s a look at how each Big 12 coach has fared against the AP Top 25 at their current school. For a look at their career record, you can go to the original piece on The Wall Street Journal’s website.
Art Briles at Baylor: 7-19
Paul Rhoads at Iowa State: 4-19
Charlie Weis at Kansas: 0-8
Bill Snyder at Kansas State: 23-43
Bob Stoops at Oklahoma: 50-23
Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State: 15-20
Gary Patterson at TCU: 14-14
Charlie Strong at Texas: 0-0 (2-2 at Louisville)
Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech: 2-3
Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia: 5-6
A few quick thoughts:
- These numbers just reinforce Stoops' ability to win games against top competition. People like to point at OU’s Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama as the return of “Big Game Bob” but that conveniently overlooks road wins at Florida State and Notre Dame in games that garnered plenty of national attention in the past three years.
- It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Gary Patterson join Stoops as the lone current Big 12 coaches with a record of .500 or better against AP Top 25 teams. A couple of substandard seasons in the Big 12 shouldn’t completely erase years of dominating performances from the Horned Frogs under Patterson.
- It’s quite revealing to see Kingsbury has faced more AP Top 25 teams than Strong. In one season at Tech, Kingsbury saw a Top 25 squad five different times yet Strong coached four games against AP Top 25 teams in four seasons at Louisville. It will be interesting to see how Strong handles the clear step up in competition, week in and week out.
- Four wins against AP Top 25 teams shows the ability of Paul Rhoads to get the best out of his Iowa State teams. His 4-19 record isn’t great but it could be a lot worse.
- Bill Snyder and Mike Gundy rank second and third in total wins against AP Top 25 teams which is to be expected as Snyder at KSU and Gundy at OSU have taken their programs to previously unseen levels during their time as head coach at their respective schools.
- Holgorsen's 5-6 record is solid, particularly for a coach on the hot seat heading into the season. His five wins against AP Top 25 teams in three seasons at WVU could be one reason not to overlook the Mountaineers' chances to surprise in 2014.
After Bryce Petty, Davis Webb, Trevor Knight and Jake Waters, who will lead the Big 12 in passing?
Chatmon: This is a tough one, but I’m going to go with West Virginia’s Clint Trickett. The Mountaineers have the skill-position talent to support Trickett, and the senior has a year of experience in Dana Holgorsen’s offense under his belt. I fully expect to see an improved Mountaineers’ offense and Trickett should play a key role in that improvement.
Olson: Gee, we’ve really narrowed that down, haven’t we? The best way I can put my answer is this: Oklahoma State will finish with more passing yards as a team than Texas, so I guess I have to go with J.W. Walsh. While I can envision Daxx Garman earning a couple starts at some point, I still think Walsh will put up good numbers. David Ash might be a smarter choice here, but his injury history makes it a tough call.
Trotter: I can’t pick any of the quarterbacks from Oklahoma State or TCU, since it’s still unclear how much any of them will play. And I can’t go with Montell Cozart, given that his best asset right now is his wheels. That leaves Ash, Trickett and Sam B. Richardson. Ash has an injury history. Then again, so do Trickett and Richardson.And while West Virginia and Iowa State have other intriguing quarterback options, Texas really does not.This is Ash’s show. And he has shown at times in the past he has the ability to put up big passing numbers.
Chatmon: Johnathan Gray is a easy choice for me. A healthy Gray is easily the best running back in the Big 12, and Texas’ offense will be built around its running game. Gray, who has a 4.8 yards-per-carry average in his career, will get plenty of opportunities, and he will take advantage of them.
Olson: Gray. It’s a really difficult prediction because I do think Shock Linwood will surpass 1,000 yards. I also think Baylor loves Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson enough that there’s going to be a equitable sharing of carries in Waco. Texas, meanwhile, won’t have Baylor’s passing game and should go all-in on a run-first mentality. Gray was on pace for more than 1,100 yards last year before his Achilles tear. He’s healthy again, and I think he can have a huge year.
Trotter: I have to agree with Brandon and Max. When healthy, Gray has proven to be the best all-around back in the league, and he is the best bet here. But keep an eye on Oklahoma State running back Tyreek Hill. If the Cowboys make him their offensive workhorse, he has the big-play ability to have a monster season. Sure, durability would be a question. But speed would not.
After Tyler Lockett and Antwan Goodley, who will lead the Big 12 in receiving?
Chatmon: Jakeem Grant immediately comes to mind here, but I’m going to go with Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard. The Sooners’ passing game should be improved with an improved Knight, and Shepard has the skills to make defenses play for leaving him in one-on-one situations. Grant will garner increased attention from secondaries while Shepard, helped by OU’s running game, should have more chances to make game-changing plays.
Olson: Did you know: In 2013, six of the Big 12’s top eight receivers in yardage played for either Baylor or Texas Tech. So I would be pretty stupid not to go with Grant here. Not only was he one of those six and very productive as a No. 3 option, but he’s also going to get a nice chunk of the 106 receptions (!) and 152 targets (!!!) that went to Jace Amaro last year. Tech’s No. 2 option, Eric Ward, had more catches (83) and targets (122) than Goodley. That’s insane. Grant is going to feast on their leftovers.
Trotter: Grant missed two games and was the third banana in Tech’s passing offense last year. And he still finished sixth in the league in receiving. With Ward and Amaro gone, Grant will take over as the Red Raiders’ primary receiving threat. And with quarterback Webb budding with confidence and the Red Raiders primed to air it out, Grant is easily the best bet here.
- The future of Kansas' offense took a downward turn when the Jayhawks announced the loss of Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox to season-ending injuries on Tuesday, writes Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. It's a painful loss for a KU offense that is going to need a strong running game to help take the burden off sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart. Neither Cox or Bourbon come to mind as the top playmakers in KU's offense before injuries took them out of the equation -- Tony Pierson and Nick Harwell top the list -- but it's hard to overlook the impact on KU's offense. The good news is Corey Avery stepped on campus ready to play as a freshman and De'Andre Mann is another option at running back for the Jayhawks.
- Iowa State safety Kamara Cotton-Moya was shot, yet he insists losing last season to an Achilles injury was worse, writes Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register. The redshirt freshman was says he learned to "try not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time" from the incident, which occurred before he headed to Ames, Iowa, last summer. Cotton-Moya's story is an interesting one but his impact on the field is just as intriguing. He would have likely joined Nigel Tribune as a true freshman to see time in ISU's secondary in 2013 if he hadn't hurt his Achilles, so it should be fun to monitor his impact on a defense that needs to replace its top two tacklers (Jacques Washington, Jeremiah George) from 2013.
- Who is the active leader in career tackles on Kansas State's roster? Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star has the surprising answer: Randall Evans sits atop the list with 146 career tackles. Evans isn't a guy who comes to mind when you think of the most productive defenders on Bill Snyder's team but Robinett's story reminds us just how important the versatile Evans is to K-State's defense, particularly considering the fact he goes head to head with some of the Big 12's best receivers at his slot cornerback position.
- The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel believes Oklahoma State is a Big 12 heavyweight. Why? The Cowboys' defensive line tells the tale as that group is the best unit on OSU's defense heading into 2014 which is sign things have changed in Stillwater, Oklahoma. It's hard to disagree as quality defensive linemen often help separate teams and are easily the hardest jewel to find on the recruiting trail. Is OSU's defensive line good enough to overcome concerns at linebacker and safety? That's the bigger, unanswered question.
- Finally, in case you missed it, take a look at Grantland's Big 12 preview by Holly Anderson. It's a fun look at the conference including a outlandish prediction that someone in the conference will score 100 points in a game this season. Yes, you read that right, 100 points. Could it happen? I don't think so, but that's why they call it an outlandish prediction.
Contenders: Junior Marcus Johnson, sophomore Jacorey Warrick, redshirt freshman Jake Oliver, freshmen Armanti Foreman, Dorian Leonard, Lorenzo Joe, Roderick Bernard, Garrett Gray, sophomore Ty Templin, senior John Harris
Not contenders: Jaxon Shipley is sidelined indefinitely with a hamstring injury. Daje Johnson is suspended for at least one game. Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander were dismissed from the program before fall camp.
What they replace: Not only do the Longhorns need a possession receiver as reliable as Shipley while he's recovering, they also must replace top deep threat Mike Davis. There's still no word on how quickly Shipley will be back on the field. Davis, who's now in Oakland Raiders camp, finished with 2,753 career receiving yards and 18 TDs. Sanders was supposed to be a major contributor for this group after catching 37 passes for 361 yards and a TD as a sophomore last year.
What they offer: The only proven commodity in the group is Johnson. He offers serious speed; he was productive last season, including in big games, and he can play inside or outside. With Shipley sidelined, you'd have to think Johnson will be the go-to target for David Ash to start the season.
But who knows what to expect from the rest. Warrick, known by his peers as "Petey," has earned consistent praise from Charlie Strong and his coaches and saw a little mop-up duty last season.
Oliver redshirted last season and could be a nice target on the outside with his 6-foot-3 frame. Harris is a guy who made a few big plays in 2013, but has still yet to really break through and earn consistent playing time.
What remains to be seen is just how far these five true freshmen have come in the past few weeks. The coaching staff has repeatedly said publicly that all five are doing well and haven't singled out one or two as standing out above the rest. But Strong has acknowledged he likes Foreman's explosiveness and playmaking ability. Joe and Leonard seem to have a real shot at playing as well.
And then the surprise of the group has been Templin, a 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore walk-on whose efforts in fall camp have been called "unbelievable" by Strong. He played on the scout team last year but was getting first-team reps in Texas' only fall practice open to the media.
Prediction: Shipley will fight hard to try to get back for BYU and UCLA, and he just might pull that off. But in the meantime, Texas goes with a starting four of Marcus Johnson, Warrick, Harris and, yes, Templin. Foreman quickly works his way up to the No. 1 offense with a few nice plays against North Texas. And then the pressure is on for Daje Johnson, who needs to get back in good standing before the Longhorns get their rematch with the Cougars.
Got your four teams picked for the inaugural College Football Playoff?
Beware before you turn in your final list, because teams always come out of nowhere. For instance, Auburn, Michigan State and Missouri all finished in the top five of the final polls last season -- and weren't even ranked to start the season.
Conversely, the team starting the season ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason poll hasn't finished higher than No. 7 the past four years.
None of us has a crystal ball, but we do have a road map of sorts -- the games that will shape who gets in and who gets left out this season when the selection committee unveils the first football version of the Final Four.
Here are 10 games to mark on your calendar:
LSU vs. Wisconsin, in Houston, Aug. 30
Right out of the gate, we get a game between two teams just outside the top 10 in the preseason polls who are talented enough to state their case come selection time for the College Football Playoff. And check out Wisconsin's schedule. If Melvin Gordon and the Badgers can get past the Tigers in the opener, the only other nationally ranked team (in the preseason) they face is Nebraska at home on Nov. 15. They avoid both Ohio State and Michigan State in the regular season.
Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6
Last season, Baylor captured its first Big 12 title and BCS berth and notched the most wins in school history (11). Incredibly, the Bears outgained their conference opponents by 223 yards per game, the best mark in the Big 12 since Oklahoma was plus-267 YPG in 2003. While the Bears were upset by UCF in the Fiesta Bowl, the Sooners did give the conference a jolt thanks to their upset win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, which is the primary reason they enter 2014 as the favorite.
Despite some recent player dismissals, both Texas and TCU could score major upsets in Big 12 play this season, while Oklahoma State -- due to its inexperience -- could be in store for a major drop-off.
Here are my 2014 projected Big 12 standings:
Projected Record: 12-0
Early lines on toughest matchups: at TCU (minus-3), Baylor (minus-6)
While analysts and Vegas experts can overreact to bowl wins, OU does have 14 returning starters, including an offensive line that returns 107 starts (15th-most in the country). They have my No. 12 offense, No. 8 defense and No. 9 special teams. The Sooners also have the path of least resistance among the top four contenders. They're 57-4 at home the past decade, and in their five true road games this season, they take on just one team (Texas Tech) that had a winning record last year. Plus, they don't have to play a Big 12 title game, and they get the revenge game against Baylor at home. I have OU favored in all 12, but four are by a TD or less.
While the belt and its origins remain shrouded in mystery, some key details have emerged.
The Texas Takeaways belt was introduced this fall as a method for inspiring the Longhorns' defense to take more pride in forcing turnovers, something it didn’t do too much of in 2013.
“It’s just a fun thing we’ve got going on so everyone competes on defense,” defensive end Cedric Reed said.
The points reset every day, and it’s not just about which unit -- defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs -- scored the most in a given practice. If your unit won the day but didn’t meet the coaches’ required number of points, Reed said, no belt for you.
“Whoever wins the most days at the end of the week -- which will be the DBs this week -- will get that belt,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said.
The belt has a Longhorn logo and the word “WARRIOR” printed in the middle of its silver plate. Players say they don’t know where it came from. Cornerback Duke Thomas claimed defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn brought it in to work one day. Texas’ defense has been battling ever since.
Last season, Texas finished with 10 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and 16 fumble recoveries. Its 26 takeaways tied for 26th-best nationally, but the turnover margin was a mere plus-four. Only three FBS schools recovered more fumbles, so that’s a positive, but Texas’ interception total ranked eighth in the Big 12 and 82nd nationally, and the 12 forced fumbles tied for fewest in a single season in school history.
Strong’s defense at Louisville put up relatively similar numbers last year, but did have 16 interceptions and the No. 2 turnover margin in the nation at plus-17.
“Whatever you emphasize and whatever you put in, you get out,” said Thomas, whose three interceptions led the Longhorns last year. “That’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
The linebackers evidently won the belt for the first week of fall camp. Three days after Santos ran onto the field to show it off, Texas’ defensive backs earned it back.
And yet, as is the case with most wrestling and boxing belts, this one comes with dispute.
“Just to let y’all know, the D-line is winning it,” Reed said. “We run out there with it pretty much every time.”
Diggs frowned in disgust when told Reed had claimed domination of the belt.
“Look at my face. Ced has told y’all a big, flat-out lie,” Diggs said.
Added an outraged Thomas: “The DBs are going to have the belt regardless. Aww, man, we had like 35 points [on Friday]. Ced doesn’t know what he’s talking about. They didn’t get no points out there.”
After Texas’ first scrimmage on Saturday, the defending champ entering the weekend was holding on tight to his prize. He was confident the DBs were ahead in the points race.
“It’s meant a lot,” Diggs said. “If you go in the locker room right now, it’s in my locker. So that can tell you who’s winning that belt.”
On Monday morning, Reed fired back the best way he could: with a photo of the belt's new true owners.
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: ESPN 300 WR Chad President made it official: He's now a Baylor Bear. President, who's been committed since last summer, inked financial aid papers with the Bears this week. Coach Art Briles appears intent to let the 6-foot-3, 195-pound standout from nearby Temple, Texas, play quarterback when he enrolls early.
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: ISU will soon get a visit from one of their top targets, junior college CB Antoine Albert of Diablo Valley College in California. The 6-foot-2 defender has seen his offer list grow considerably -- now including Tennessee and Arizona -- but Iowa State got in the mix early and has to like its chances.
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Jayhawks are having a hard time winning recruiting battles within their own state. That'll make the guys KU can get even more important. Keep an eye on safety Darreon Jackson from Derby, Kansas. He's a move-in who came from a big-time Texas program, Mesquite Horn, where he earned all-district honors at linebacker. Charlie Weis' staff should like its chances with him.
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats continue to do an impressive job of locking down their backyard. Their latest pledge came from three-star OT Evan Applegate, who's listed at 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds. Applegate turned down offers from Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Nebraska to join a KSU class that's off to a nice start.
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: The Sooners have missed on a bunch of big-time offensive line targets, but they got a good one last week in Cody Ford. OU coaches convinced the three-star offensive guard from Pineville, Louisiana, to back out of his six-month pledge to TCU and join fellow linemen Bobby Evans and Dominique Hearne in their class.
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: OSU beefed up its offensive line class last week with the addition of three-star tackle Joshua Jones and junior college tackle Brandon Pertile. Jones, one of the top linemen in the Houston area, chose the Pokes over Texas Tech and TCU. Pertile spent one year at Georgia State before enrolling at Mesa Community College in Arizona.
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: TCU has joined what should end up being a long list of suitors for 2016 DE Erick Fowler. The ESPN Junior 300 defender from Manor, Texas, went up to Fort Worth last week to watch a fall practice and went home with an offer. He now has at least six, and that list will continue to grow.
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 7
The latest: The Longhorns are among the top contenders for Mesquite (Texas) Poteet teammates LB Malik Jefferson and ATH DeAndre McNeal, and both have decided to announce their decisions in late December. McNeal might project out best as a linebacker in college, but he now says he wants to play offense. They'll take their official visit to out-of-state schools, and one lucky program could snag both for Christmas.
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The leaders of Tech's class, ESPN 300 recruits Jarrett Stidham and Breiden Fehoko, are both set to enroll early and have now signed financial aid papers with the school. The ability to unofficially sign in August is a beneficial deal for all involved, because Tech coaches are now permitted unlimited calls and visits (and even public tweets) with their top two committed guys.
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: The Mountaineers already have two QBs committed for their 2015 class, but they could be chasing another in Lamar Jackson. The three-star dual-threat passer from Boynton Beach, Florida, reportedly intends to take an official visit to Morgantown this fall and will also check out Nebraska. With David Sills and Chris Chugunov already on board, it'll be interesting to see how seriously WVU pursues him.
COMMERCE, Texas -- Former Texas running back Joe Bergeron, who was dismissed from the team for undisclosed rules violations, has enrolled at Texas A&M-Commerce.
A&M-Commerce spokesman Kevin Young said Monday that Bergeron is eligible to play this fall because the Lions are a Division II school. Bergeron would have had to sit out a year if he moved to another Division I school.
Young also says Bergeron, a senior who began practicing with the Lions last week, chose A&M-Commerce to be close to his family in Mesquite, near Dallas. Commerce is 60 miles northeast of Dallas.
- The Iowa State quarterback derby appears to be nearing a conclusion, and the Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson writes that Sam B. Richardson will be named the starter. Grant Rohach, who finished off last season as the starter, seemed to be the front-runner to hold on to the job going into the offseason. Rohach also outplayed Richardson and Joel Lanning in Iowa State's spring game. But Richardson, who opened last year as the starter, has re-emerged this preseason. He also gives coordinator Mark Mangino the threat of a running quarterback, which Mangino successfully utilized with Todd Reesing at Kansas. The Cyclones have long been searching for a long-term answer at quarterback. Perhaps Richardson will finally be that answer.
- While Iowa State is close to settling on one quarterback, Oklahoma State seems to be heading the other direction. The Oklahoman's Kyle Fredrickson reports that the signs are pointing toward the Cowboys playing more than one quarterback this season. If that's indeed the case, it doesn't bode well for J.W. Walsh. He entered the year as the unequivocal leader of the offense and the overwhelming favorite to win the job. But Walsh's lack of arm strength led the Cowboys' wideout-heavy offense to bog down last year. If Mike Gundy is seriously considering giving Daxx Garman or even true freshman Mason Rudolph snaps, that's a signal the offense is still sputtering with Walsh behind center.
- Oklahoma’s fight to keep starting linebacker Frank Shannon off the field this season will go before the Oklahoma Supreme Court this Wednesday, according to The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey. The Shannon saga has created the most awkward of situations for Shannon and the school. As the university seeks to suspend him after concluding he violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy, the Sooners continue to give their returning leading tackler first-team reps in practice. The situation will get even more awkward if it lingers into the season, which is why the school appealed the case to the state Supreme Court.
- The West Virginia defense has been showing improvement, in the opinion of the Charleston Gazette's Dave Hickman. It's difficult to remember now, but the Mountaineers played good defense early last season before injuries ravaged the roster. West Virginia has quality players on that side of the ball, notably cornerback Daryl Worley and safety Karl Joseph. Under new coordinator Tony Gibson and assistant Tom Bradley, this has a chance to be one of the more improved units in the league.
- Lastly, this piece by the San Antonio Express-News' Mike Finger on Texas coach Charlie Strong is outstanding. Read it.
Without further ado, the Big 12 freshman power ranks:
1. Dravon Henry, FS, West Virginia: After just a few months in Morgantown, Henry is pushing to be the starting free safety for the opener against Alabama, another team that also recruited him hard. The ultra-athletic Henry could also be a factor in the return game. He and cornerback Daryl Worley give the Mountaineers potentially two of the best young defensive backs in the Big 12.
2. Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State: The gem of Iowa State’s recruiting class has not disappointed this preseason. He is already getting first-team reps alongside Quenton Bundrage and E.J. Bibbs. If he continues to progress, Lazard could round out a dynamic pass-catching trio.
3. K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor: Cannon is behind Lazard, but only because the Bears are loaded at wide receiver. Cannon has been equally as impressive. Baylor coach Art Briles acknowledged that Cannon has proved to be even faster than he thought while recruiting him.
4. Armanti Foreman, WR, Texas: Foreman has taken full advantage of the injuries and dismissals Texas has endured at the wide receiving position this preseason. He might even have a chance to start the opener against North Texas.
5. Corey Avery, RB, Kansas: Avery could be heir in the Kansas backfield to departed All-Big 12 running back James Sims. Avery has wowed with his ability to make defenders miss and has recently begun to receive first-team snaps.
6. Dimitri Flowers, FB, Oklahoma: The Sooners raved about Flowers in the spring before he suffered an injury in the spring game. The 220-pound Flowers, who has drawn comparisons to former Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard, is healthy again and figures to be a big part of the Sooners’ pistol attack.
7. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: Up until late in the recruiting process, this small-school Texas standout’s only other offer was from Texas State. But the Cowboys have apparently uncovered a diamond in the rough in Washington, who has been turning heads with his knack for catching any pass in his direction. Oklahoma State is deep at receiver, but Washington has played himself into a rotation role.
8. William Crest, QB, West Virginia: Clint Trickett was named the starter over the summer, but Crest is vying to become West Virginia’s second-team quarterback. That could be a critical role, considering Trickett’s injury history. Dana Holgorsen also has hinted at installing a special offensive package for his athletic quarterback.
9. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech: Davis Webb is the clear-cut starter in Lubbock, but Mahomes is showing he might be ready to be a reliable backup. Mahomes tossed five touchdown passes during a scrimmage over the weekend. That might also be an indictment of Tech’s second-team defense. But even against air, five touchdowns is impressive.
10. Emanuel Porter, WR, TCU: With Trevone Boykin still working at quarterback, the Horned Frogs need help at receiver. They’ve been getting it from Porter, who has impressed the coaching staff with his penchant for making big plays downfield.
On the radar: Dalvin Warmack, RB, Kansas State; Jeffery Mead, WR, Oklahoma; Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech
“What’s been the highlight of your career?”
“You know, it’s kind of hard to say,” Hicks said. “I think my best moment was that A&M game. I think everyone who experienced that game would say the same. But personally, it’s tough. I haven’t been out there in a long time. It’s hard.”
He’s referring to the win in 2011, but the senior linebacker is one of two Longhorns left who actually played against the Aggies twice. He jokes that he’s been around so long, he even played for Will Muschamp.
After the two years he just got through, after the crutches and boots and the many games spent on a couch or a sideline, Hicks is smiling again. The two-season detour that could've derailed his playing career is over, and he’s still standing.
Hicks came to Texas as a five-star gem from Ohio with immense promise. This is Year Five. Had his career gone according to plan, he’d be gone by now.
“It’s been very, very difficult. Very emotional,” Hicks said. “But I’ve learned a ton about myself and who I am, what I bring to the table. If I go back and think about those times, it makes this year that much more precious to me.”
He played as a true freshman on that Muschamp-coached defense in 2010 and showed flashes of potential. He played through hamstring issues for much of 2011 but capped the season with a Holiday Bowl performance against California (eight tackles, two TFLs, a sack and a pass breakup) that suggested his big break was next.
Three games into 2012, Hicks’ progress halted with one painful pop. Doctors were hopeful the groin and hip injury he suffered at Ole Miss would only keep him out a few weeks, maybe a month.
He didn’t play another snap, and worse, he watched Texas’ defense give up the most yards in school history without him. But he rallied back, received a medical redshirt for his time lost and saw 2013 as a chance for a do-over.
Then came chaos. The BYU game. The Manny Diaz firing. The 1-2 start. And, soon after, more heartbreak.
His season-ending injury in Texas’ Big 12 opener against Kansas State was as random and inexplicable as they come. While running to cover a K-State tight end, he felt another pop.
“I do it every day in practice,” Hicks said of the play that caused his torn Achilles. “I do it every day in a game. It just happens. It’s something you can’t control.”
When his mother, Kelly Justice, told him she was coming down from Cincinnati for the surgery that following week, Hicks said no thanks.
“He’s like, ‘I’m fine, mom, you don’t need to come down,’” she said. “And I said, ‘Are you kidding?’”
The physical pain wasn’t really what bothered Hicks. Sure, he hated the crutches and vows he’ll never touch them again. But it was the mental aspect -- the task of trying to understand why -- that got to him.
“I’d never had an injury before I got here,” Hicks said. “I don’t know what it is, don’t know what happened to me. Maybe one thing led to another. Honestly, I have no clue. Achilles is one of those deals where it just happens. What are you supposed to do about that? I did everything I could to stay healthy. The year before, my groin, I did everything I could.
"I think about it all the time. What else could you have done?”
He was in a boot for more than four months, a spectator for the wild ride that ended in Mack Brown’s ousting. He couldn’t affect anything he was witnessing. He could only heal and wait.
“There was a period when he was pretty down and frustrated,” Justice said. “Anybody in that situation gets kind of angry. It’s out of your control, nothing you can do. You have to accept it and get busy getting better.”
As unfathomable as Hicks’ injuries have been, so is the constant state of change around him. He’s now on his fourth defensive coordinator and his fourth linebackers coach at Texas.
“When we talked to Coach Brown and Coach Muschamp way back during the recruiting days, it seemed like they were a very stable kind of program,” Justice said.
That was 2009, when Texas was chasing a national title. How much has Hicks’ world changed since? Well, during his senior year at Lakota West High School, he took an official visit to Florida.
He came away surprised and impressed by their defensive coordinator, Charlie Strong.
“We both really liked him,” Justice said. “Jordan even said, ‘I’d like playing for him.’ They had an instant connection.”
Strong still sees plenty of potential in Hicks. He’s confident everyone else will if he can just stay on the field. Vance Bedford, the fourth defensive coordinator, says Hicks can be one of the Big 12’s best linebackers this fall. He’s playing like it so far in fall camp.
“You can tell that he’s hungry,” new linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary said. “You can just tell by the way he carries himself and the way he’s practicing.”
Hicks shed 10 pounds to get to 235 and vows his speed and strength are back. He already got his first few hits out of the way in practice and sees no reason to play with any hesitation.
If he wants it, Hicks can push the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility in 2015. But he’s already working towards his Master’s in advertising. Most of the guys he signed with in 2010 are gone. When he’s back in Cincinnati, he says some folks are surprised to learn he’s still playing. Mom is trying her best to not be nervous.
“He definitely has that passion again. He has a fire burning,” Justice said. “I honestly don’t know what the future holds. We’re just hoping and praying for a healthy season.”
Hicks is ready for another redo. This time, he just wants to go out with a few good memories. He still needs an answer for that career highlight.
“I understand the pressure I’m under,” he said. “I’ve got to go out and handle my business. I plan on doing that."
Vince Young has been hired by the University of Texas to work for its Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.
Young, who retired from the NFL in June after six seasons, will serve as a development officer for program alumni relations, raising money for programs that help first-generation and low-income college students.
"The position with DDCE is a great way to stay connected to the university and help make a difference in the lives of underserved kids across the state," Young said in a statement.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Young's position will pay him at least $100,000 a year. He begins work on Sept. 1.
"Vince's passion for the educational success of young people and his experiences as a first-generation college graduate make him a perfect fit for this role," Gregory J. Vincent, UT's vice president for diversity and community engagement, said in a statement. "We are excited about the enthusiasm and skill set he is bringing to our team and look forward to working with Vince."
Former Texas coach and current ESPN analyst Mack Brown posted his excitement on Twitter.
I'm excited VY will be back @ work @ Texas!
- Mack Brown (@ESPN_CoachMack) August 14, 2014
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