This season's bowl games provide another opportunity for young players on Big 12 teams to show they're ready for a bigger roles in the future. Here are some Big 12 names to keep an eye on this bowl season:
Baylor DE K.J. Smith: The redshirt freshman stepped in and stepped up after Jamal Palmer was lost for the season with his ACL injury midway through the year. Smith finished with 39 tackles including 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. His 3.5 tackles per game are a sign he can impact the running game as well as the passing game in the Bears GoodYear Cotton Bowl matchup with Michigan State. And he could see his role in Baylor’s defense expand even further in 2015 if Shawn Oakman elects to head to the NFL.
Kansas State LB Elijah Lee: The true freshman forced himself into the Wildcats plans early during his freshman season and saw his role continue to expand as the season progressed. Lee finished the regular season with 16 tackles and 4.5 sacks while playing various roles on Bill Snyder’s defense. His athleticism could be an asset against Brett Hundley and UCLA with a big game setting him up as one of the Big 12’s potential breakout players in 2015.
Oklahoma WR Michiah Quick: The true freshman showed flashes of playmaking ability after he became a bigger part of the offense following Shepard’s injury in early November. His 16 receptions for 164 yards and one touchdown during Shepard’s absence led the Sooners. Quick’s speed and open field ability could make him a threat for Clemson’s defense particularly with Trevor Knight’s return. A big Russell Athletic Bowl performance could cement Quick’s role in OU’s offense in 2015, even with the Dorial Green-Beckham, if he returns to school, and highly touted junior college signee DeDe Westbrook amping up the competition at receiver.
Oklahoma State LB Justin Phillips: The Cowboys' crazy overtime win in Bedlam overshadowed a stellar performance from Phillips. The true freshman played the majority of the game, finishing with 10 tackles including seven solo stops in the most significant action of his debut season. Phillips saw spot duty through much of the season but if he builds on his Bedlam performance with solid Ticket City Cactus Bowl, he could be a name to keep an eye on in 2015.
Texas WR Armanti Foreman: The Longhorns will be searching for playmakers in the passing game next season with John Harris and Jaxon Shipley moving on. The freshman scored touchdowns in each of UT’s final two games including a 73-yard catch-and-run against TCU on Thanksgiving. Foreman’s quickness and speed makes him an asset to the Longhorns' offense and a solid AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl showing would re-affirm his long term potential and place him high on the list of Longhorns to get the ball in 2015.
TCU CB Ranthony Texada: The redshirt freshman locked down the starting cornerback spot opposite Kevin White as Jason Verrett’s replacement, making him a guy to keep on eye on during the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Texada started every game of his freshman season and will be the most experienced member of TCU’s cornerback group in 2015. Texada has been solid all season long but will need to take his game to another level to be the No. 1 cover man in Gary Patterson’s defense.
West Virginia WR Daikiel Shorts: Dana Holgorsen will be looking for someone to fill the playmaking void left by White and Mario Alford after the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Shorts seems a prime candidate and could use the bowl game to send the message that he plans to make a jump from complementary receiver to go-to target as a junior. With eight of his 24 receptions in WVU’s final two games of the regular season, Shorts could be starting to come into his own.
On a day already anticipated as one to watch with the morning announcements of ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson and four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal, the Big 12 got its own version of a Christmas bonus with five major commitments by the end of the afternoon.
Jefferson and McNeal committed to Texas. ESPN 300 quarterback Jarrett Stidham committed to Baylor after recently decommitting from Texas Tech. ESPN 300 defensive end Ricky DeBerry and four-star safety Kahlil Haughton chose Oklahoma.
And better believe, it’s not over for the conference.
There are several players who could be additions to the growing number of Big 12 commitments. Here are five names to watch from now until national signing day in early February.
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I have decomitted from Texas A&M and I will be releasing my top two schools around noon Saturday!— THEE MACK TRUCK (@DaylonMack) December 19, 2014
Just minutes ago, Mack followed through on his Friday tweet, releasing his top two teams.
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MESQUITE, Texas -- Three crazy days, Mike Jefferson says. That's how his brother got here. In truth, it wasn't that long.
Malik Jefferson's decision to commit to Texas was reached in just a few hours on Wednesday. Three crucial conversations that night convinced the state's most coveted recruit where he was going.
The first one: The Jeffersons' long-awaited family meeting. Going into that talk, Mesquite Poteet's ESPN 300 star insists he wasn't seriously leaning toward any of his three finalists. But he wanted to get this done. He needed clarity.
The talk was neither brief nor easy. The arguments were impassioned, the voices at times raised. Malik knew the family debate, while vitally important to his process, wasn't going to be pretty at times.
"Everything was kind of intense," father Michael Jefferson Sr. said. "Very intense."
He and wife Teresa insisted throughout that Malik needed to appreciate the big-picture pros of Texas. They were all-in on the disciplined culture Strong is cultivating, as well as the value of a degree from Texas for the rest of his post-football life.
"We butted heads a little bit," Malik said Friday following his commitment ceremony. "I just had to understand what my parents were telling me."
UCLA, the family agreed, was ultimately just too far away. Texas A&M, his father argued, offered too much uncertainty, starting with its still-unresolved defensive coordinator vacancy. Malik was still on the fence about those concerns.
The biggest factor tugging him to become an Aggie? His friendships with Kyler Murray, Christian Kirk, now-former pledges Daylon Mack and Damarkus Lodge, and several other leaders of the A&M recruiting class.
"I wanted to play with those guys so bad, my gosh," Malik said. "Those are my brothers. We talked every day."
Though he agreed with the case his parents and brother Mike made for Texas, Malik felt he had to give A&M one last shot. So once the tense family discussions wrapped up, he called Kevin Sumlin.
The linebacker wants to keep the contents of that conversation to himself, out of respect for a coach he's admired throughout this two-year process. Simply put, Malik says, the conversation did not go well. He needed to know who his coordinator and position coach would be. That question couldn't be answered.
"Malik is very emotionally invested in things," Mike Jefferson said. "When he feels betrayed in any type of way, you're setting yourself up for failure. I think A&M not contacting him about the defensive coordinator had a major influence."
He moved on. Texas seemed like his best and most logical option, but Malik still needed a little more convincing. So, late Wednesday night, he went over to DeAndre McNeal's house.
The four-star receiver had quietly made up his mind earlier in the week. In fact, he'd been leaning toward Texas ever since attending the Red River Showdown game in October.
But he played coy when Malik showed up, pretending to care more about the pepperoni pizza he was eating.
"What are we going to do?" Jefferson asked.
McNeal says he elected to answer that by singing: "The stars at night are big and bright/deep in the heart of Texas."
"When I said that, he jumped out of his chair and shouted, 'Is that what what you're thinking? Heck yeah!' We went berserk," McNeal said. "He actually broke the chair. My mom got on him about that."
"I didn't think he would say that," Jefferson confessed. "It was a great surprise."
Malik went home, prayed and slept on his choice. In the morning, his mother wanted to know if he'd made up his mind. So he decided to surprise her: he walked up to her and held up a Texas banner.
Later that day, McNeal called Strong to deliver the good news.
"He jumped out of his seat and threw a block party on the 40 Acres," McNeal joked.
Jefferson, at last, had found closure in a thrilling but exhausting recruitment. And Strong had his first gigantic recruiting victory as a Longhorn.
"The No. 1 player in Texas chooses a 6-6 school?" Michael Jefferson Sr. said. "Why did he choose a 6-6 school? It's because of the coach, because of the leadership."
But it was the family and the best friend that sealed the deal.
On to the 'bag:
@Jake_Trotter who would be your Top 5 in Big12 football going into next year?— Chuck (@cbilly126) December 19, 2014
@Jake_Trotter: My top five, as of December 19, would be 1) TCU, 2) Baylor, 3) Oklahoma, 4) Texas, 5) Oklahoma State. But a lot can and will change between now and the preseason that could shake up this top five.
@Jake_Trotter are we any closer to adding 2 more teams and a championship game?— Dwayne Chamberlain (@dtchamberlain) December 19, 2014
Trotter: Closer? Maybe. Close? No. The only change I see happening is the league clarifying its goofy One True Champion rule, and actually declaring a single champion for playoff purposes. There is a chance the conference could apply for a waiver to hold a championship game with 10 teams. But in talking to people around the league, I don't envision the Big 12 adding such a game, at least for next season.
@Jake_Trotter when will BYU will be invited possibly?— Martin borg (@Martyaborg) December 19, 2014
Trotter: No time soon. The Big 12 still has no plans to expand. If it did, BYU would obviously be in the picture. But again, the Big 12 is not adding teams right now.
@Jake_Trotter will DGB come back to OU or leave for the NFL?— Jon Greene (@JonGreene9) December 19, 2014
Trotter: The decision remains up in the air, but if I had to bet, I would put my money on Dorial Green-Beckham going to the NFL. The decision to transfer to Oklahoma was always about playing this season, not sitting out and playing in 2015. That could still happen. But as a likely Day 1 or Day 2 pick, I see him declaring for the draft.
@Jake_Trotter for 2015, best guess starting QB at WVU next year and Rushell Shell, plus or minus 1,000 yards rushing?— Bryan Shaw (@BGoGolf) December 19, 2014
Trotter: I could see Rushel Shell breaking the 1,000-yard barrier. With a new quarterback, the Mountaineers could pound the ball a little more next season. As for who the quarterback will be, Skyler Howard has generated momentum with the way he performed the last two games, but I still favor William Crest. There was a reason Crest was the No. 2 quarterback as a true freshman coming out of fall camp. Assuming he is healthy and can go through spring ball, Crest would still be my pick to win the job for 2015.
@Jake_Trotter which bowl wins would do the most to amp up the Big12's national perception? Top-tier, middle-tier, or low-tier?— Diego De Valdenebro (@Diegobear) December 19, 2014
Trotter: The Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Baylor beating Michigan State and TCU handling Ole Miss would do the most for the Big 12's national perception. It certainly wouldn't hurt if the other Big 12 teams win, too. But a sweep in the two New Year's Six bowls is what will count most toward 2015 perception of the conference.
@Jake_Trotter what does Stidham committing to Baylor mean for Chad President? Does he open his commitment back up?— Jim Bell (@Bell4Jim) December 19, 2014
Trotter: Chad President has indicated that he's sticking with Baylor. President also has the ability to play other positions, too, if he gets beat out by Jarrett Stidham. So I would guess he stays pledged to Baylor. By the way, not many better surnames out there than "President."
@Jake_Trotter who is starting at quarterback for Baylor next year?— Nate Earl (@nate_earl) December 19, 2014
Trotter: I think it's Seth Russell, at least to start out. Russell has the experience edge both on the field and with reps operating the Baylor offense. Russell struggled a bit in the Texas Tech game, which gives me pause. But he has also had a bunch of good moments as Bryce Petty's backup the past two years.
@Jake_Trotter do you think K-State will have to fight those Oklahoma schools for Lockett's younger brothers?— Matt 'Emaw' Stafford (@mstaffrd) December 19, 2014
Trotter: No. Kansas State has first dibs on any Lockett from now until the end of time.
@jake_trotter Who is taller: Art Briles or Paul Rhoads?— Drew (@Dlew56) December 19, 2014
Trotter: This is probably the most random question in this mailbag's history. But I believe the answer is Paul Rhoads. Someone also provided photographic evidence:
Trotter: Thanks for all the questions, guys. Sorry I couldn't include all of them. I hope everyone has a great weekend..
This list includes three ESPN freshman All-Americans, and a collection of other players who appear to be budding stars in the league.
So, without further ado, the final top 10 true freshmen of 2104:
1. Samaje Perine, running back, Oklahoma: Perine finishes atop the Big 12 true freshman power rankings as the clear No. 1. The 243-pound, All-Big 12 performer led the conference with 1,579 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 6.6 yards per carry. He also set an FBS single-game record with 427 rushing yards against Kansas. Perine will be the focal point of the Oklahoma offense in 2015, and should open the season on everyone’s list of possible Heisman contenders.
2. KD Cannon, wide receiver, Baylor: Though his production dipped over the final month of the season, Cannon still finished with 50 receptions, 833 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He also had a monster game with six catches and 124 yards receiving in Baylor’s big win over TCU. The Bears will lose Antwan Goodley to graduation, but with Cannon and Corey Coleman leading the way, Baylor will still have a dynamic collection of receivers in 2015.
3. Dravon Henry, safety, West Virginia: Henry won a starting job in the West Virginia secondary in the preseason, and was an integral defender for the Mountaineers all season. His ability to cover the pass allowed hard-hitting strong safety Karl Joseph to help more against the run. And with the Henry-Joseph safety combo leading the way, the Mountaineers finished with the second-best pass defense in the Big 12. Assuming Joseph returns for his senior year, the Mountaineers could boast one of the top safety duos in the country next season.
4 (tie). Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Texas Tech and Mason Rudolph, quarterback, Oklahoma State: After standing on the sidelines most of the season, Mahomes and Rudolph stole the show in the Big 12 late in the year. Mahomes threw for 598 yards in Tech’s season finale while almost leading the Red Raiders to an upset over Baylor. In his final three games, Mahomes tossed a head-turning 14 touchdown passes to just two interceptions. Rudolph was equally as impressive for Cowboys. After playing well in his first career start at Baylor, Rudolph rallied Oklahoma State to an overtime win over Bedlam rival Oklahoma in Norman while also catapulting the Cowboys to bowl eligibility. Thanks to Mahomes and Rudolph, Tech and Oklahoma State appear to be in great shape at quarterback for 2015 and beyond.
6. Allen Lazard, wide receiver, Iowa State: It wasn’t a good year for the Cyclones, but at least they have a burgeoning All-Big 12-caliber wideout in Lazard, who delivered a series of acrobatic receptions in his first year. Though he never had a 100-yard receiving game, he was a consistent option for quarterback Sam B. Richardson with 45 catches and 593 receiving yards.
7. Jason Hall, safety, Texas: Wondering who will eventually take over for Karl Joseph as the hardest hitter in the Big 12? It might be Hall, who dropped the hammer multiple times in his first season in Austin. He also finished with 47 tackles, and should serve as a cornerstone in Charlie Strong’s defense for years to come.
8. Corey Avery, running back, Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have many positive developments this season, but one of the bright spots was Avery, who finished 12th in the league with 631 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Avery and De’Andre Mann should give new coach David Beaty a solid one-two punch at running back to operate with in 2015.
9. Elijah Lee, linebacker, Kansas State: Bill Snyder rarely plays true freshmen, but Lee earned Snyder’s trust as a pass-rushing specialist early on in the season. He placed second only to Ryan Mueller on the team with 4.5 sacks.
10. James Washington, wide receiver, Oklahoma State : Washington ended the season as a starter, and led the Cowboys with five touchdown catches. He also finished with 26 receptions and 423 yards receiving, and figures to be a piece of the foundation in the Oklahoma State receiving corps moving forward.
Why West Virginia will win: Quarterback Clint Trickett has been cleared for the bowl. Trickett struggled a bit late in the season but was a still a major factor in the Mountaineers' midseason run. He and Kevin White should have their way against an Aggies defense that got lit multiple times this season. West Virginia 38, Texas A&M 29 -- Trotter
Why Texas A&M will win: The Aggies will get their house in order after shaking up their coaching staff and give West Virginia all it can handle. Clint Trickett's status can swing this game, of course, but doesn't a showdown between Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen have to be decided by who scores last? Texas A&M 35, West Virginia 28 — Olson
Russell Athletic Bowl
Why Oklahoma will win: While Clemson will be without dynamic freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson for the game, OU welcomes Trevor Knight back under center. Combined with Samaje Perine in the backfield, that should be enough for OU to eke out a win. Oklahoma 28, Clemson 21 -- Chatmon
Why Clemson will win: The Oklahoma passing game was a mess the last month of the season. Trevor Knight returning will help, but even when Knight was healthy, the passing attack was uneven. Former Sooners coordinator Brent Venables directs Clemson's pass defense, which is No. 3 nationally. That means the pressure will be on Samaje Perine (coming off an ankle injury) to shoulder the offensive load. Clemson is not great offensively, but I'm not confident the Sooners will be able to score enough in this one. Clemson 21, Oklahoma 17 -- Trotter
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl
Why Texas will win: The Longhorns' defensive line is full of talent and will be ready and well-equipped to handle the physical nature of the Razorbacks' offense. Texas 27, Arkansas 17 -- Chatmon
Why Arkansas will win: Strength on strength will be on display in this matchup, with the big boys on the Arkansas offensive line squaring off against Malcom Brown and Texas' menacing front. But I have a little more confidence in the Hogs to score points than the Longhorns, who were wildly inconsistent at times with young Tyrone Swoopes at QB. Arkansas 20, Texas 14 -- Trotter
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Why TCU will win: You don't get the sense there will be a letdown factor with this team after it missed the College Football Playoff. Gary Patterson has worked too hard on building TCU's mentality to allow a slipup now. The Horned Frogs swing this with a fourth-quarter turnover from Bo Wallace. TCU 35, Ole Miss 31 -- Olson
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
Why Baylor will win: The Bears are bummed they didn't make the playoff, but they also realize this is an opportunity to atone for last season's Fiesta Bowl fiasco. Michigan State has a great defense with a good quarterback. But the Spartans couldn't hang against all of Oregon's offensive firepower early in the season and will succumb to Bryce Petty & Co., too. Baylor 42, Michigan State 34 -- Trotter
Valero Alamo Bowl
Why Kansas State will win: This is a sneaky great matchup, though I still can't figure out why Stanford made it look so easy against the Bruins in the regular-season finale. The last hurrah for Jake Waters, and Tyler Lockett will be as deadly efficient and effective as usual. Kansas State 31, UCLA 27 -- Olson
Why UCLA will win: Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley entered the season as a Heisman candidate but stumbled in UCLA’s final game. He should rebound and cause all kinds of problems for K-State’s defense with his feet and his arm. UCLA 31, Kansas State 27 -- Chatmon
TicketCity Cactus Bowl
Why Oklahoma State will win: There was no reason to believe the Cowboys could win Bedlam, yet they did and became bowl eligible. Mason Rudolph looks like the real deal, and this young Cowboys team has plenty of momentum. Oklahoma State 31, Washington 30 — Chatmon
Why Washington will win: The Huskies lost to every ranked team they faced in Pac-12 play. Until Bedlam, the same was true of OSU in the Big 12. I'm a Mason Rudolph believer, but I like the UW defense a bit more. Washington 28, Oklahoma State 17 -- Olson
Season records: Trotter 67-8, Chatmon 66-9, Olson 64-11.
- The attorneys for Oklahoma State and attorneys for Texas offensive line coach Joe Wickline bickered in court on Thursday, reports Mike Finger of the San Antonio-Express News. The battle over Wickline's buyout and eventual role in the Longhorns offense continues to wage on. The entire ordeal has actually overshadowed a pretty solid job from Wickline during his first season in Austin. With injuries and dismissals destroying his offensive line group, Wickline was still able to help the unit slowly improve during the home stretch of the season including a pair of 200-yard rushing games.
- Oklahoma State's Bedlam win over Oklahoma might have meant more to Cowboys running back Desmond Roland than any other person on the field. The senior lost his mother Carolyn to cancer during the season and told The Oklahoman's Kyle Fredrickson "It felt like a spirit hit me" as the game headed into overtime. It was good to see something positive happen to Roland after all the sadness and disappointment that he overcame during his final season.
- It's been a frustrating scenario for Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard, who has been trying to overcome a groin injury since early November, writes Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World. A critical part of OU's passing game, Shepard tried to play against Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State but simply couldn't accelerate or be as explosive as normal, forcing him to miss the bulk of those games. He remains questionable for the Russell Athletic Bowl but is confident he could return to action after having some time to rest the injury. Trevor Knight's return to the Sooners offense is key but Shepard's potential return is even more important. The junior receiver brings game-breaking ability to the perimeter and was one of the nation's best receivers before his injury.
- West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett has been cleared to play in the Autozone Liberty Bowl after missing WVU's final game due to a concussion. Coach Dana Holgorsen called the Mountaineers' bowl game starter a "game-time decision" and even mentioned a "rotation" during his pre-bowl news conference on Thursday. It's a smart move for Holgorsen to consider using both quarterbacks. Skyler Howard had a strong game to lead WVU to a win over Iowa State in the Mountaineers final game and could be the starter in 2015 yet Trickett's improved play is one of the main reasons for his team's bowl berth. It seems like the right move to reward both guys with snaps in the bowl game.
- TCU didn't make a playoff but the Horned Frogs are No. 1 on this list of College Football's Top 25, ranked by academics. Kansas State is ranked No. 10, Baylor is No. 16 to round out the Big 12 schools in the ranking. It should be a nice tip of the cap to Gary Patterson's program, which clearly values off-the-field excellence in addition to its on-field success this fall. No wonder Patterson has been pulling in the coach of the year awards on a regular basis since season's end.
Yet each team had players who made a significant impact on their teams that went largely unnoticed as teammates grabbed the headlines. With the help of SIDs around the conference, here's a closer look at the Big 12's unsung heroes during the 2014 season:
Baylor LB/S Collin Brence: A former walk-on, Brence started every game for Baylor, finishing with 49 tackles and adding seven hurries, 3.5 tackles for loss and one interception. On a defense with stars like Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart, Brence was quietly a key contributor as the Bears won a second-straight Big 12 title.
Iowa State WR D’Vario Montgomery: The sophomore transfer from South Florida emerged as the Cyclones’ best receiving threat during the home stretch of the season. Montgomery had 41 receptions for 564 yards and two touchdowns in ISU’s final seven games. His 605 receiving yards led the team and his 13.75 yards per catch average was tops among Cyclones with at least 10 receptions.
Kansas C Joe Gibson: The redshirt freshman took over starting center duties midway through the season and brought solidarity to the Jayhawks' interior line. Making QB Michael Cummings the starter and Eric Kiesau the playcaller were among the noted changes that paid off during Clint Bowen’s time as interim coach but Gibson’s role was just as important.
Kansas State DT Travis Britz: A valuable part of K-State’s defense, Britz was a key member of one of the Big 12’s top defenses before missing the final two games with an injury. The junior provided an anchor for Bill Snyder’s squad with 27 tackles including five tackles for loss and three sacks.
Oklahoma FB Aaron Ripkowski: Samaje Perine doesn’t become the Big 12’s best freshman without the help of the former walk-on fullback. Ripkowski was a driving force behind the Sooners’ running success as teams set out to stop the run yet still failed against the crimson and cream. Ripkowski’s aggressive nature, durability and stellar blocking helped OU rank No. 1 in the Big 12 in nearly every rushing category.
Oklahoma State DT Ofa Hautau: Emmanuel Ogbah grabbed Big 12 defensive lineman of the year honors but Hautau played a key role in OSU’s defensive line. His 28 tackles including 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks don’t speak to the value he brought to the table in the interior of the Pokes' defense.
Texas TE Geoff Swaim: The senior brought a consistent physical presence to the Longhorns' running game while the offensive line went through injuries, changes and uncertainty for much of the year. He also played a critical role on the Longhorns’ special-teams units.
TCU DT Davion Pierson: While Chucky Hunter got the headlines, Pierson was just as good along the Horned Frogs' defensive interior. The junior was disruptive with 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks for TCU while giving the Horned Frogs arguably the Big 12’s top defensive tackle duo.
Texas Tech HB DeAndre Washington: It’s unusual to consider Washington unsung but he was that good for the Red Raiders in 2014. There was a direct correlation between Washington’s production and Tech’s win total. He rushed for 100 yards in three of Tech’s four wins and he joined Perine and BU’s Shock Linwood as the only Big 12 running backs to surpass 1,000 rushing yards this season.
West Virginia LB Wes Tonkery: The senior brought stability to the Mountaineers defense, finishing with 62 tackles as WVU’s improved defense helped Dana Holgorsen’s squad return to a bowl game after a one-year hiatus. Tonkery also added eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Though the Big 12 fell short in this season’s battle for the playoff, there will be another one to wage in 2015. The conference can take steps to ensure it doesn’t get left out again next season, notably by crafting a way to finally crown only One True Champion. But the Big 12 can also send a 2015 message to the playoff selection committee through a triumphant 2014 bowl season.
Though out of the playoff, the Big 12 is hardly devoid of high-profile matchups against name teams this bowl season. And a successful bowl record would cement national perception of the strength and depth of the Big 12 while setting the conference up for a run at the playoff next season.
"It won’t help us this year," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. "But it would help for next year."
That starts with conference co-champs Baylor and TCU, which play in the prestigious New Year’s Six bowls against opponents that were ranked in the top 10 for most of the season.
The Bears will face Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. The defensive-minded Spartans went 10-2, with their only two losses coming against playoff teams Oregon and Ohio State. Michigan State won the Big Ten last season, and boasts the nation’s seventh-ranked defense.
"There's a statement to be made just for us nationwide," said Baylor safety Orion Stewart. "To show (the nation) that we really have one of the best programs in the country."
The same way the Bears’ loss to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl last season hurt Baylor’s standing, a win against Michigan State would solidify the Bears as a title contender again in 2015, even without quarterback Bryce Petty. Especially if the Bears can light up the scoreboard against Michigan State, which surrendered more than 31 points just twice all season (to the Ducks and Buckeyes).
"We're playing one of the greatest teams in America, Michigan State," said Baylor coach Art Briles. "There have been four football programs that have played in back-to-back BCS (level) games; you're talking to one of them (Baylor) and Michigan State is one of them, (along with) Florida State and Alabama. That's pretty good company in my book."
TCU will also be in good company in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. The playoff committee had Ole Miss in the top four in its first two playoff rankings before the Rebels stumbled against LSU and Auburn in back-to-back weeks. Still, Ole Miss bounced back to hammer fourth-ranked Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to claim a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. Like Michigan State, Ole Miss features one of the best defenses in the country, with a unit that leads the nation in scoring defense with an average allowance of just 13.8 points per game. The Rebels flashed how dynamic they can be when they downed Alabama early in the season.
"(Our team) wanted to play somebody that was a caliber of a top-five team," said TCU coach Patterson, "and we feel like Ole Miss is that team."
In 2015, TCU will bring back quarterback Trevone Boykin and nine other offensive starters, meaning the Horned Frogs could be primed for another run at the playoff next season. A victory against a quality SEC West opponent would position TCU well for the start of 2015. And a Big 12 sweep in the Cotton and Peach bowls against top-10 competition would reaffirm that the best of the Big 12 can play with anyone in the country.
"Ole Miss is a team that was as high as third in the nation, that played at a very high level, that could have been in the playoffs, lost a couple heartbreakers," Patterson said. "We feel like this is a playoff game."
The two New Year's Six bowls, however, aren’t the only opportunities for the Big 12 to deliver statements.
In the Valero Alamo Bowl, Kansas State meets UCLA, a team that was in playoff contention until late in the season. Oklahoma takes on ACC power Clemson and college football's No. 1-ranked total defense in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
In the Autozone Liberty Bowl and Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, West Virginia and Texas have a chance to land wins against SEC West opponents Texas A&M and Arkansas, respectively.
Even Oklahoma State takes on a talented Washington team in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.
Sure, there are no easy bowl games for the Big 12. But every win will count toward forging the league’s reputation for 2015.
"I was shocked (the Big 12 was left out of the playoff) based on the strength of this league from top to bottom," Gundy said. "We can’t have this many good football teams in this league and not get one in the top four. We can’t allow that to happen again."
The Big 12 can take steps off the field to ensure it doesn’t happen.
But in the meantime, the Big 12 can take some big steps on the field this bowl season, too.
All told, six players from the ESPN JC 50 signed with Big 12 schools, including a conference-high three to Oklahoma.
Not everyone in the league, however, signed juco help this week. Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas State did not sign any juco players Wednesday.
Below is a roundup of this week's Big 12 juco signees (remember, this list does not include juco players who will sign in February):
- OT Dominic Desouza (No. 17 OT)
- OL D’Andre Banks (No. 8 OG)
- CB Bazie Bates IV (No. 11 CB)
- DL Jacky Dezir (No. 11 DT)
- RB Ke’aun Kinner (No. 8 RB)
- DB Michael Mathis (No. 3 ATH)
- OL Jayson Rhodes (No. 5 OG)
- OG Will Smith (No. 3 OG)
- CB Brandon Stewart (not ranked)
- OG Jamal Danley (No. 1 OG, ESPN JC 50)
- CB William Johnson (No. 2 CB, ESPN JC 50)
- WR DeDe Westbrook (No. 3 WR, ESPN JC 50)
- S Jordan Burton (No. 8 S)
- OT Matt Kellerman (No. 14 OT)
- DT Motekiai Maile (No. 8 DT, ESPN JC 50)
- RB Todd Mays (No. 7 RB)
- OT Brandon Pertile (No. 18 OT)
- OT Victor Salako (UAB transfer)
- OT Brandon Hodges (No. 8 OT)
- OT Tristan Nickelson (No. 16 OT)
- DE Quincy Vasser (No. 3 DE, ESPN JC 50)
- DE Larry Jefferson (No. 8 DE)
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OT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
DT: Malcom Brown, Texas
PR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
KR: Mario Alford, West VIrginia
QB: Trevone Boykin, TCU
RB: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
WR: Kevin White, West Virginia
LB: Jordan Hicks, Texas
Texas Picks Up No. 3 OLB Malik Jefferson
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State