Video: Big 12 media days preview

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
10:30
AM ET
video
With Big 12 media days one week away, ESPN.com reporter Brandon Chatmon gives three things to keep an eye on during Big 12 media days July 21-22.
Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series takes a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from him. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 88 Montrel Meander
Redshirt freshman wide receiver


Recruitment rewind: Meander was about as last-second a find as it gets, a relatively unknown three-star recruit from up north in the Panhandle. He committed in January 2013 to play safety at Washington State with a teammate from Amarillo Palo Duro High, and then Texas entered the picture a week before signing day. Darrell Wyatt convinced him to fly down to Austin for an official visit, and Meander committed during his trip.

Career so far: Meander redshirted in 2013 along with most of Texas' true freshmen. He had arguably the best catch of the spring game, a 30-yard snag early in the first quarter for the second-team offense.

Best-case scenario for 2014: He's going to see the field on special teams, but no doubt Meander wants a shot at making some plays for the Texas offense. Best-case, he's looking at maybe 10-20 catches as the Longhorns' No. 4 receiver if he can work his way up the depth chart. He got stronger and faster in his first year in the program, and the lowest-rated member of Texas' 2013 class could end up being a surprise standout.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Meander is a big 6-foot-3 target with a lot of raw talent, but don't be surprised if he needs more seasoning and plays a limited role this fall. Fellow second-year receivers Jacorey Warrick and Jake Oliver are probably ahead of him on the depth chart behind the three returning starters, and at least one newcomer -- likely Armanti Foreman and/or Lorenzo Joe -- could sneak up into the two-deep. Still, Meander will help on special teams regardless of his receiving duties.

Future expectations: Texas' depth chart at wide receiver is going to be wide open entering the 2016 season after Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson graduate, so that year is probably Meander's best bet for winning a starting job. He's going to push his way onto the field before then, especially if he has that knack for making tough catch he demonstrated in the spring game, but Meander's best years are most likely at least a year away.
ESPN's Stats & Information team released is official preseason projections last week, and the results are no shock: Oklahoma and Baylor are overwhelming favorites to win the league in 2014.

The Sooners have a 42 percent chance of winning the conference for the ninth time in Bob Stoops' tenure, per ESPN's projections.

Their odds of running the table to 12-0 are 6.2 percent, which ranks fourth-best among major-conference teams behind Florida State (40.3 percent), Oregon (12.6) and Ohio State (7.6).

Baylor comes in at No. 5 among the potential undefeated teams, with a 5.3 percent chance of a perfect season. The Bears' odds of winning a second consecutive Big 12 title, according to the ESPN projections, are 33.2 percent.

That leaves the rest of the Big 12 -- you know, "the field" -- with almost exactly one-in-four odds (24.5 percent) of securing the conference crown. Oklahoma State's Big 12 title odds are nearly 11 percent, with Texas (6.1 percent) and Texas Tech (3.1) the next most likely to win the league.

OU and Baylor have been receiving similar top-10 hype all offseason long, and the data is backing that up. This isn't just a collection of simple odds. Each prediction comes from crunching projected results for every single FBS game this season, and the projections will be updated weekly throughout the season.

A few more takeaways from the Big 12 conference title projections:
  • Oklahoma will undoubtedly be named the preseason Big 12 favorite when the league's annual media poll comes out later this month before Big 12 media days. Keep in mind, though: The last three Big 12 champs were ranked fifth (Baylor, 2012), sixth (Kansas State, 2011) and third (Oklahoma State, 2011) in that same preseason poll. In other words: Ever since the Big 12 went to 10 teams, the league's preseason poll has failed to predict the correct champion. Could we be making the same mistake this year?
  • Don't feel too bad about your imperfect seasons, Big 12 teams. In these ESPN projections, only 11 FBS teams were given more than 1 percent chance of winning out. Texas Tech was actually given the third-best odds of a perfect season among Big 12 teams, at 0.07 percent -- as in, 7-in-10,000 odds. (So you're saying there's a chance...)
  • According to ESPN's preseason projections, West Virginia's strength of schedule is tops in the league and seventh-toughest in FBS. Texas' schedule ranked 11th, and Kansas (19th) and Iowa State (24th) also cracked the top 25 in SOS. Baylor's schedule is ranked easiest in the league, but only 48th nationally.
  • Kansas is projected to have literally zero chance of winning the Big 12, but they have interesting company in that category. Penn State, Vanderbilt, North Carolina State, California, Colorado, Wake Forest, Boston College and Purdue were also projected as having no chance to win their respective conferences.

On Tuesday, we'll take a closer look at ESPN's win-loss projections for each and every Big 12 team.
The season is just around the corner.

It should be a fun year in the Big 12 with defending champion Baylor returning the conference offensive player of the year, Bryce Petty, yet finding themselves behind Oklahoma in several preseason projections. The Sooners used their Allstate Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama to spark themselves into the top 10 in several preseason prognostications.

It's our turn. Over the next week or so we will be predicting the entire season on the Big 12 blog. This morning, we kick things off with Week 1.

Iowa State 35, North Dakota State 31: North Dakota State looks poised to win its second-straight season opener against a Big 12 team after pulling the upset over Kansas State in 2013. But a pair of big plays from ISU tight end E.J. Bibbs and receiver Quenton Bundrage early in the second half help the Cyclones take a comfortable lead before a late Bison touchdown makes the final score look closer than is actually was.

Alabama 45, West Virginia 35 (in Atlanta): The Mountaineers are ready for the challenge against the Crimson Tide, taking them into the fourth quarter with WVU within striking distance. But Bama's running game eventually takes over to help the Crimson Tide pull away in the final quarter. Mountaineer quarterback Clint Trickett plays well but WVU's struggles in the trenches stifle its upset hopes.

Kansas State 42, Stephen F. Austin 21: Bill Snyder's team cruises in this one as Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett hook up for two early touchdowns and the Wildcats force a turnover to add another score to make this game a blowout before halftime. The lone downside for the Wildcats during an otherwise perfect start is the lack of a strong performance from any of its running backs.

TCU 49, Samford 17: The Horned Frogs new offense looks ready to roll as four different TCU receivers catch touchdowns in the win. And Gary Patterson's defense looks as dominant as ever with four sacks and two interceptions as TCU cruises in Week 1.

Texas Tech 56, Central Arkansas 14: Red Raider quarterback Davis Webb has the performance of the week with six touchdown passes in the first game of his sophomore season. Tech's defense surrenders an early touchdown but rebounds to have a solid opener once Webb and the offense get rolling and the confidence carries over to the other side of the ball.

Oklahoma 45, Louisiana Tech 20: The Sooners look like they haven't skipped a beat after the Allstate Sugar Bowl, taking a four-touchdown lead into halftime thanks to three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) from Trevor Knight.

Florida State 38, Oklahoma State 21 (in Arlington, Texas): The Seminoles simply overwhelm the Cowboys to start the season. OSU's young talent shows up in various moments against the defending national champions but its inexperience is the story of the night.

Texas 31, North Texas 14: Charlie Strong's debut game is up and down with the Longhorn defense taking a shutout into the fourth quarter but with the offense struggling to pull away from North Texas. Ultimately, UT is never really threatened but has plenty of room to grow after Week 1.

Baylor 63, SMU 42: Baylor's offense does what we've come to expect from Baylor's offense, but the Bears defense and secondary in particular struggle in the season opener against the Mustangs. BU quarterback Bryce Petty, once again making things look easier than they are, passes 400-plus yards and four touchdowns including two to Antwan Goodley as SMU never really has a hope of outscoring Art Briles' crew despite having plenty of success on offense.

Current Big 12 standings

1. Baylor -- 1-0
2. Iowa State -- 1-0
3. Kansas State -- 1-0
4. Oklahoma -- 1-0
5. Texas -- 1-0
6. TCU -- 1-0
7. Texas Tech -- 1-0
8. Kansas -- 0-0
9. Oklahoma State -- 0-1
10. West Virginia -- 0-1
Only three Big 12 players popped up Friday on the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to college football's most outstanding defensive back:
The three players above also were named to the watch list for the Nagurski Trophy, which is awarded to the best defensive player overall. Carter and Diggs also were on the watch list for the Bednarik, which goes to the defensive player of the year.

On Monday, the watch list releases will continue with the Butkus Award (best linebacker) and Lombardi Award (best lineman).

Big 12 lunchtime links

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
12:00
PM ET
Cleveland or Miami?
  • Kansas State's athletic donors gave a record $46.4 million in 2013-14.
  • Texas' chancellor says beer will not be sold at football games this year, the Austin American-Statesman's Brian Davis reports.
  • The Charleston Gazette's previews West Virginia's Week 3 opponent, Maryland.
  • The Sporting News' Matt Hayes gives Dorial Green-Beckham "zero" percent chance of playing at Oklahoma this season.
  • Safety Isaiah Johnson is next in the Lawrence Journal-World's crucial Jayhawks, according to Tom Keegan.

Burnt Orange Breakdown: Cedric Reed

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:00
AM ET
Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series takes a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from him. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 88 Cedric Reed
Senior defensive end


Recruitment rewind: Reed, a four-star defensive end from Cleveland, Texas, came down to a final four of Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and LSU. After taking several spring visits to UT and A&M, Reed settled on the Longhorns in April 2010. He racked up 344 tackles and 40 sacks in his three years of starting at Cleveland High and earned all-state honors as a senior.

Career so far: Reed played in seven games in his freshman year as a reserve end. As a sophomore, he was thrust into the starting lineup at midseason when Jackson Jeffcoat went down and recorded 2.5 sacks and 13 QB pressures in his six starts. Alex Okafor graduating opened up a spot for Reed to start across from Jeffcoat, and he thrived as a junior: 10 sacks, 19 TFLs, five forced fumbles and four pass breakups. For that, he earned first-team All-Big 12 honors from the AP and second-team honors from the league's coaches.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Reed's game is a step better in every area -- as a pass-rusher, run-stopper and locker room leader -- and he goes on to win Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and earn a few All-America nods. The guy came back with unfinished business on his mind and will benefit greatly from Chris Rumph's instruction. The end Jeffcoat used to call "Too Tall" leverages his killer size and power into some big-time numbers and fills up his trophy case the way Jeffcoat did in 2013.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Beyond a season-ending injury, which would be a devastating blow for Texas' defense and the team in general, there isn't a whole lot to fear with Reed. If he's drawing double teams and is less effective than a year ago, that's just going to create big opportunities for Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson rushing up the middle. Texas was dreadful at defending the read option last season, and that's one area where Reed and Texas' ends will get exploited again if they aren't better coached-up to handle the pressure.

Future expectations: Reed is not a surefire first-round NFL draft pick, at least not yet. He needs to continue developing his pass rushing moves and his strength/physicality this fall. But Reed absolutely passes the eye test and, at 6-foot-6 and 258 pounds, should become a coveted draft prospect if he matches or improves upon last year's production. But, again, draft stock isn't the only reason Reed decided to come back. This is a man on a mission to get Texas back on the right track before he goes off to the pros, and that's his sole focus for now.
Unfortunately it's the time of year when off-the-field missteps litter the headlines as college football players remind us they aren't much different than many other college students outside of their athletic endeavors. And while occasional misdeeds are getting the headlines other college football players are going out of their way to make a positive impact.

With that in mind, it's never a bad time to look at guys who impact their football team on the field yet strive to have a positive impact on their worlds off the field as well. Here are five Big 12 players to root for this fall, regardless of your normal allegiances:

Deep snapper Nate Boyer, Texas

If you aren't cheering for Boyer to excel, something is wrong with you, die-hard fans of the Sooners, Bears, Red Raiders included. His road to becoming the Longhorns long snapper has been well-documented, from his exploits as a Green Beret to his time in Darfur. Boyer has been a solid special teams' contributor at UT during the past two seasons. The recipient of the 2012 Disney Spirit Award, which is given annually to college football's most inspirational figure, Boyer is entering his final season at UT.

Quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor

Petty isn't just exceptional on the field. He's a guy whose impacts lives off the field as well. The reigning Big 12 offensive player of the year is active in Big Brothers, Big Sisters and FCA. He also has spent time in Kenya on a mission trip with fellow Baylor athletes in 2011 and was a finalist for the Big 12 male sportsperson of the year in 2013. On the field, Petty is a guy who knows how to lead, shoulders the blame during tough times, brings a positive attitude to the Bears' football squad and elite production behind center. Petty's exploits during his time in Waco, Texas are probably coming to an NCAA student-athlete commercial near you at some point in the future.

 

Defensive end Ryan Mueller, Kansas State One of the Big 12's top sack masters, Mueller befriended Kaiden Schroeder, a nine-year-old boy who suffers from Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Their relationship lead to one of the Big 12's most memorable moments in the spring when Schroeder scored a touchdown in the Wildcats' spring game. Mueller, who had 11.5 sacks in 2013, was a finalist for the Big 12 male sportsperson of the year and has been named as one of KSU's captains for the 2014 season.

Cornerback JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas Another guy who is active with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Shepherd also volunteers at local elementary schools. He won KU's Galen Fiss Award, which is given for exemplary service to the community and campus. On the field, he's a impact cornerback and kick returner for the Jayhawks leading KU with 15 passes defended in 2013. He was a finalist for the Big 12 male sportsperson of the year.

 

Quarterback Trevor Knight, Oklahoma

Knight is just starting to approach his potential on the field but he's already made a mark off it. The Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP has gone to Haiti twice as a member of OU's “Sooners4Haiti” contingent and is active in FCA, often appearing as a public speaker when his schedule allows. On the field, he's developing as a leader and playmaker and could rise to battle Petty for All-Big 12 honors with consistent performances in 2014.

 
In this week's mailbag, we discuss West Virginia and TCU in their third year in the league, the College Football Playoff and BYU yet again.

To submit a future mailbag entry, simply go here.

Now, on to the 'bag:

Kevin H. in San Antonio, Texas, writes: It'd be interesting to hear your take on the TCU-Baylor "revivalry." I realize most people in t he Big 12 probably don't know about one of the longest traditions in football and I think it deserves a little limelight. Plus, I’m tired of this "blossoming" TCU-Texas rivalry nonsense.

Trotter: TCU-Baylor is one of the more interesting games on the conference schedule, particularly with how the game went down last year. After two rounds of conference realignment, this league needs to build new and rekindle old rivalries. TCU-Baylor has some heat right now, and could be a game we all look forward to in the Big 12, given the animosity and the contrast of strengths.


Dennis in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, writes: Bill Snyder is a classy guy with a great coaching tree. But he’s old. Has he ever mentioned retiring? The Wildcats have never won without Bill as their coach. If and when he does retire, who do you think takes his place?

Trotter: I hope Snyder never retires (again). The Big 12 is way more fun with him in it. But if he hangs it up, here are three names K-State might consider: Snyder’s son, Sean, who is also K-State’s associate head coach; offensive coordinator Dana Dimel, who has head coaching experience; and TCU coach Gary Patterson, who has been wooed before and is a K-State alum.


Dave in Dallas, Texas, writes: Have you ever seen this much parity in recruiting in the Big 12? Mack Brown and Bob Stoops used to have a lock on talent.

Trotter: There is no doubt there is more recruiting parity in the Big 12, particularly in the state of Texas. In 2008, Oklahoma and Texas landed seven of the state’s top 10 players, and 11 of its top 20. At the moment, neither Red River school has a single commitment from the state’s top 10. And the two bluebloods only have four of the state’s top 20. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has a pair of top 10 Texas players (running back Ronald Jones II and cornerback Jaylon Lane), Texas Tech has the fourth-best Texan (quarterback Jarrett Stidham) and Baylor has four of the Texas top 50. Factor in the level Texas A&M has been recruiting at lately, along with the SEC incursion, and the Lone Star State has never had so many tentacles grasping for the high-end players.


Dalan in Lubbock, Texas, writes: In lieu of a conference title game, could the Big 12 champion play BYU to close out the regular season. I have come to realize my mistake, but is that type of a semi-preplanned game possible? The idea would be to further enhance the Big 12 top contender’s resume prior to selection of the four playoff teams.

Trotter: The SEC and ACC don’t think BYU is worthy of including in their non-conference scheduling mandate, but the Big 12 champ is going to solidify its playoff spot by playing a 13th game against the Cougars? Even if it were logistically possible, little good would come of it; but, potentially, a whole lot of bad.


10 ` XII, guys in Towson, Maryland, writes: If BYU were the 11th school to get a full share, why not add Boise State at a fractional share? They could be football only, so it would be easy to only give them a smaller piece of the pie. Twelve really only matters to football, the rest of the sports teams can live at 11.

Trotter: I’m sure Boise State would jump at the chance to join a conference in which it would be treated as a subclass member.


Chris in Exton, Pennsylvania, writes: Hey Jake, love the blog, you and the other guys that cover college football are awesome! Big Sooner fan here and was wondering what you could tell me and other OU fans about LB coach Tim Kish. We always hear about the Stoops Brothers, and the other assistants, but Kish seems to lay low. How is he received in Norman?

Trotter: Thanks, Chris. Kish’s popularity in Norman hinges on the play of his linebackers. And considering he has one of the top units in the country right now, he’s pretty popular.


Coop in DC writes: Jake, you've mentioned that WVU and TCU have understandably struggled in their first two years adjusting to life in the Big 12. Assessing their programs today, how do you think both have done in regards to addressing what it takes to compete regularly in the Big 12?

Trotter: Both have made strong adjustments this offseason that I think will do them well. TCU coach Gary Patterson had to do something after two dreadful offensive seasons. He brought in Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham to install an up-tempo offense, and also convinced quarterback Matt Joeckel to transfer in from Texas A&M. Those moves could significantly upgrade TCU’s points per game. West Virginia’s hiring of longtime Penn State assistant Tom Bradley was very shrewd. He should bring a calming effect to a team that has been all over the place the past two seasons. Both squads have noticeably better depth, which should really help, too. TCU has a rosier outlook in part because of the scheduling difference. But I think both teams, potentially, could take steps forward this season.


Joe Ratliff in Frisco, Texas, writes: When the committee starts selecting its four teams for the playoff, do you think that the strength of a conference should be determined by how competitive the conference is over a team can beat up on its weak conference opponents?

Trotter: That is why the non-conference portion of the schedule will be so important. That will go a long way in differentiating the strength of the conferences. In other words, it would really help if the Big 12 could win a couple of these marquee non-conference games this season.
Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series takes a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from him. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 86 Jake Oliver
Redshirt freshman wide receiver


Recruitment rewind: The record-setting ESPN 300 receiver from Dallas Jesuit was the second member of Texas' 2013 class after Jake Raulerson and chose UT over Oklahoma and more than 50 other offers (no, really, check that list). He caught a whopping 93 passes for 1,354 yards and 18 TDs as a senior and broke Jordan Shipley's Texas high school state record with 308 career receptions, which ranked second all time nationally.

Career so far: Oliver redshirted as a freshman in 2013, and an injury prevented him from making his debut this spring. He suffered a minor elbow injury that did not require surgery but was held out of the Orange-White game and should be fully recovered by now.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Oliver could push his way up to the No. 4 receiver spot behind Jaxon Shipley, Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders. He's a big 6-foot-4, 216-pound target who can be an impact blocker immediately in the run game, and Oliver should see a decent amount of targets. He has some of the best hands on the team and could team with Jacorey Warrick to give Texas some exciting options beyond the starting trio.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: To get that kind of playing time, Oliver will have to hold off the new freshmen -- namely Armanti Foreman and Lorenzo Joe -- and he'll also get some strong competition from fellow second-year receiver Montrel Meander. As we've acknowledge throughout this series, Texas has so many options at receiver and it's going to be a wide-open battle until the end of August.

Future expectations: Oliver has four years left in the program, and there's really no telling what that position group will look like a couple years from now. Texas inked nine wideouts in its last two classes (now eight, because Chevoski Collins moved to DB) and you figure the best of the bunch will rise up. Oliver can develop into a multi-year starter and a nice red-zone target if he plays his cards right and shows the new staff what he's capable of this fall.

Big 12 lunchtime links

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:00
PM ET
I would write a better intro, but I can't stop checking Twitter to see if LeBron has signed.
  • Texas Tech sold out its season football ticket allotment for the first time in program history.
  • Texas Tech QB recruit Jarrett Stidham is outperforming the competition at the Elite 11 camp, according to USA Today's Paul Myerberg and Daniel Uthman.
  • University of Texas President Bill Powers resigned, and will leave his post in 2015.
  • The Longhorns picked up a commitment from a Louisiana offensive lineman.
  • Was Charlie Strong the right hire for Texas?
  • West Virginia's season ticket sales are as low as they’ve been in nine years, according to the Charleston Daily Mail's Mike Casazza.
  • West Virginia faces a tough road to redemption, according to the Daily Athenaeum's Connor Murray.
  • The Mountaineers could play Virginia Tech at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., in 2017.
  • Former Jayhawk Brad Thorson announced that he's gay. The Topeka Capital-Journal's Jesse Newell has the details.
  • Baylor coach Art Briles say his program will do whatever it can to help troubled Cleveland Browns and former Baylor standout Josh Gordon.
  • TV plans are set for Oklahoma State's first four games.
  • The return of Devonte Fields could put TCU's D-line over the top, according to the Dallas Morning News' Ryan Gerbosi.
  • Is TCU's Jaden Oberkrom college football's best kicker?
  • The Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse gives his take on the Iowa State-Texas game appearing on the Longhorn Network.
  • The Waco Herald-Tribune's Brice Cherry says four games will make or break Baylor’s Big 12 title quest.
Several Big 12 players popped up on the watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded to college football's best defensive player, and the Outland Trophy, given to the best interior lineman.

Here are the Big 12 players that made each list:

Nagurski
Outland

Already this week, the Maxwell (player of the year), Bednarik (defensive player of the year), Hornung (most versatile player), Mackey (best tight end), Rimington (best center), Groza (best kicker) and Guy (best punter) watch lists have come.

Below is the rest of the preseason watch list schedule:

Friday, July 11
- Jim Thorpe Award, best defensive back

Monday, July 14
- Butkus Award, best linebacker
- Lombardi Award, best lineman

Tuesday, July 15
- Biletnikoff Award, best receiver

Wednesday, July 16
- Davey O’Brien Award, best quarterback.

Thursday, July 17
- Doak Walker Award, best running back

Friday, July 18
- Walter Camp Award, best player
In 2008, the Big 12’s strongest position was quarterback with a deep roster that featured Heisman winner Sam Bradford, Heisman finalist Colt McCoy and national passing champ Graham Harrell, among several other noteworthy QBs.

Five years later, the league’s top position turned out to be cornerback, headlined by eventual first-round picks Justin Gilbert and Jason Verrett.

SportsNation

Which Big 12 defensive end will have the best 2014 season?

  •  
    22%
  •  
    23%
  •  
    34%
  •  
    11%
  •  
    10%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,507)

This season, the Big 12’s best position is looking more and more like it will be defensive end, notably thanks to Kansas State’s Ryan Mueller, Texas’ Cedric Reed, Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper, Baylor’s Shawn Oakman and TCU’s Devonte Fields -- all of whom have All-American potential.

Mueller was a first-team All-Big 12 selection last year after finishing second in the league with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. Only Jackson Jeffcoat, the departed Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, topped Mueller in either category.

Just one spot behind Mueller, Reed finished third in the league with 10 sacks, and was a second-team All-Big 12 pick. Even though his teammate Jeffcoat racked up all the accolades, many coaches around the league felt Reed was the tougher assignment.

Tapper was another tough assignment, and the only underclassman defender to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors last season. Tapper was timed running the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds during the spring, underscoring why he’s such a nightmare matchup for opposing offensive linemen.

Speaking of nightmare matchups, Oakman presents just that with his 6-foot-9, 275-pound frame. Despite being a part-time player last year, Oakman still finished sixth in the conference with 12.5 tackles for loss. According to coach Art Briles, Oakman was unblockable during spring ball and could be in for a monster breakout season.

Fields already broke out two years ago, when he was the AP’s Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a true freshman. A suspension followed by season ending foot surgery turned Fields’ sophomore campaign into a disaster. But by all accounts, Fields was his old self again this spring, and seems primed to have a dominating season.

But which of these defensive ends will have the most dominating 2014 season?

We put the question to you via our weekly Big 12 poll.
Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series takes a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from him. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 85 M.J. McFarland
Junior tight end


Recruitment rewind: A four-star tight end from El Dorado High out in El Paso, McFarland's decision was supposed to come down to Texas and Texas Tech. But he took a junior day visit to UT in 2010, locked in his commitment and never looked back. McFarland put up 2,604 receiving yards and 39 TDs at El Dorado and was able to enroll early at Texas in the spring of 2011.

Career so far: McFarland redshirted in 2011 and walked into some big expectations as a redshirt freshman. He hauled in eight passes for 125 yards and one touchdown in 12 games (four starts) that year, but he suffered a concussion late in the season. McFarland was relegated to a more limited role last fall and did not record a catch in the 11 games he played.

Best-case scenario for 2014: For years, McFarland has been trying to live up to the hype that he could be the Longhorns' next great tight end, its next Jermichael Finley. He hasn't come close to that bar yet, but there's still time for McFarland to become a weapon over the middle. He can be Texas' best pass-catcher at tight end and could get a lot more looks if he breaks back into the starting lineup. After all, Louisville's top tight end last year (Gerald Christian) did get 36 targets and finished with 426 yards and four TDs.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Geoff Swaim and Greg Daniels have a leg up on McFarland in the tight end room, even with Daniels missing spring ball, and it's entirely possible juco transfer Blake Whiteley rises up and becomes the superior receiver of the group. Simply put, McFarland has to put in a lot of work this summer and has fall camp to prove he deserves to be on the field ahead of that trio.

Future expectations: Swaim and Daniels are both seniors, and Texas does not have a tight end committed for next year. Unless another juco transfer or a game-changer like ESPN 300 TE Will Gragg comes on board, that's going to mean a McFarland-Whiteley tandem in 2015. There's plenty of untapped, unrefined potential in McFarland. If the new staff is able to coax it out of him this fall, an already deep receiving corps gets much better.

Big 12 lunchtime links

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
12:00
PM ET
The biggest meltdown in the history of sports? It might have been.
  • After nudging Mack Brown out the door, Texas president Bill Powers faces a similar fate, writes The Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton.
  • The Texas regents are expected to ratify the deal to keep the Oklahoma game at the Cotton Bowl.
  • Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard explains to the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse why he wanted to put the Cyclones' game with Texas on the Longhorn Network.
  • Former Oklahoma QB and congressman J.C. Watts discussed the changing landscape in college football with The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey.
  • Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury wants to keep pushing the limits.
  • Red Raiders QB commit Jarrett Stidham is impressing at the Elite 11 football camp.
  • West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck says improvement this season may not necessarily be measured in wins.
  • The Charleston Gazette previews West Virginia's game with FCS power Towson.
  • Kansas State coach Bill Snyder's legend grows, writes the Leavenworth Times' Mac Stevenson.
  • The Lawrence Journal-World's Tom Keegan has been counting down the 25 most crucial Jayhawks to the 2014 season.
  • TCU is working to enhance its game-day experience.
  • Baylor will be introducing an app to help with game-day traffic to McLane Stadium.

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