We've been doing something different with the mailbag, including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To submit a mailbag entry via Twitter, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You also still can send in questions the traditional way here, too.

To the 'bag...

Trotter: At this point, I think it's only a matter of time before Grant Rohach is named the starter. He was clearly the best QB in the spring game, and coming off the way he played at the end of last season, momentum is in his corner. I know the Cyclones are high on the potential of redshirt freshman Joel Lanning, and Rohach will have to perform once the season begins to keep the job, but at this point, it's difficult envisioning anyone other than Rohach starting the opener against North Dakota State.

Trotter: Texas' Cedric Reed, Kansas State's Ryan Mueller, Oklahoma's Charles Tapper, TCU's Devonte Fields and Baylor's Shawn Oakman. On the next tier, I'd have Oklahoma's Geneo Grissom, Texas Tech's Branden Jackson, Iowa State's Cory Morrissey and Oklahoma State's Jimmy Bean.

Trotter: My two darkhorse picks at this point would be Texas Tech and TCU. Schedule is a big part of this, and Tech gets Oklahoma and Texas at home, and Baylor in Arlington, Texas. If the Red Raiders could escape a September Thursday night clash at Oklahoma State, then they could be a factor. QB Davis Webb has made tremendous improvement since December, and he's going to have plenty of firepower surrounding him. Assuming Fields is back to his old self, the Horned Frogs will again be a formidable defense. The big question, as always, is, can they score enough points? But if Matt Joeckel can step in at QB and direct what is essentially the same offense he had at Texas A&M to respectability, TCU could be a handful.

Trotter: Charlie Strong can't get destroyed by Oklahoma. Can't enter any fourth quarter without a legitimate chance to win. Can't lose more than three games. If he avoids those three potholes, he has chance to take Texas a step forward. To me, that's the litmus test.

Trotter: Anytime a team loses its leading tackler, it hurts. Fortunately for the Sooners, they're deep at linebacker, and can absorb a key loss there better than they'd be able to at some other positions. Jordan Evans played well as a true freshman, and shined in place of Shannon in the spring game. A linebacking corps of Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Dominique Alexander, sack-master Eric Striker and Evans would still be stout. Of course, it would be even better with Shannon.

Trotter: That's a tough question. It was startling how much the K-State defense suffered when Ty Zimmerman wasn't on the field last year, but I have faith Dante Barnett is ready to assume a leadership role in that secondary and stabilize the defense. I have less faith right now in K-State's running backs. So far this spring, no one has really emerged from a crop of backs with almost no meaningful experience. The K-State attack has always been predicated on a strong running game, so this is no small issue. Maybe freshman Dalvin Warmack can jumpstart the position when he arrives this summer. But running back looks like the biggest question on a solid-looking team with not many questions elsewhere.

Spring game preview: Texas

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The first Texas football game of the Charlie Strong era will look a lot more like a practice.

The Longhorns hit the field this weekend for the first time since Strong arrived. Even though fans can expect a more scrimmage-like approach to the annual Orange-White spring game, there will be plenty worth keeping an eye on.

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMISophomore QB Tyrone Swoopes will get a chance to work with the No. 1 offense in a game setting Saturday.
What to watch for:

  • Swoopes' confidence: The last time we saw Tyrone Swoopes in action, he looked like a flustered freshman (he was, in fact, a freshman) trying his hardest not to mess up amid a beatdown from Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl. He wasn't afraid to take some shots, and he scrambled for a 28-yard gain, but all in all it was a tough ask for a first-year QB who still had a lot to learn. With David Ash sidelined, Swoopes gets a chance to run the No. 1 offense in the spring game and show how far he has come in 14 practices with Shawn Watson, Texas' new quarterbacks coach. Watson is enthusiastic about the sophomore's future and praises his work as a student of the game, but this is a chance to see how well he can execute with a crowd watching and a No. 1 defense coming after him. Strong says the key to Swoopes' play is confidence and playing within himself. Everyone in attendance on Saturday will want to see if he can do just that.
  • New-look defense: This is going to be a vanilla ballgame on both sides of the ball. Both coordinators acknowledged that after their final practice Thursday. Why give up the good stuff when any Big 12 opponent can DVR the game on Longhorn Network and pick it apart? Even fiery defensive coordinator Vance Bedford will show restraint. But how he lines this defense up, both in scheme and personnel, will be intriguing. Texas coaches say this will be a multiple defense capable of lining up in 4-3 or 3-4, and you could see a little bit of both on Saturday. No, the defenders can't touch Swoopes. But you better believe Bedford will demand they get after him and put up a fight.
  • Playmakers on the outside: The hype is building for this Longhorns receiving corps, and their coaches have had nothing but good things to say about a group that must make up for the loss of deep threat Mike Davis. Nobody will be surprised if Marcus Johnson is the breakout player of the spring game. He's a star in the making. Jaxon Shipley, Kendall Sanders, Daje Johnson and Jacorey Warrick are all said to have had a big spring as well, and don't be shocked if you see tight end Geoff Swaim do some things in the passing game after primarily serving as a blocker in 2013.
  • Rising returnees: A new coaching staff means a clean slate for these Longhorns, and that means a fresh start for players who either weren't playing or were underperforming. The differences will be far more noticeable by August after a long summer of lifting and drills, but there will be some new standouts on Saturday. Guys such as safety Mykkele Thompson, offensive guard Taylor Doyle and linebacker Tim Cole have made an impression on the new staff and could do so again this weekend. Or perhaps it'll be someone nobody else is talking about, like how Duke Thomas caught everyone's eyes last year.
  • New sheriff in town: It's going to be a little strange to see someone other than Mack Brown on that sideline, isn't it? You know plenty of Texas fans will have their eyes on Strong for a glimpse of how he operates in a game setting and what he bring to the Texas sideline. You know the 100-plus recruits in attendance will care about that, too. For all the talk about how Strong is a stern coach out to lay down the law and whip the Longhorns into shape, let's see him have a little fun on Saturday.

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
12:00
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NBA playoffs start this weekend. This should get you ready for the fun!
AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong’s #letsride movement is picking up momentum, and it’s going to the next level on Saturday at Texas’ Orange-White spring game.

Strong and his coaching staff already have picked up seven verbal commitments since taking over and could have a chance to lock up a few more at the annual spring game. As many as 100 prospects from the 2014, 2015, 2016 and even 2017 classes are expected to be on the sidelines and in the stands for the unofficial first game of the Strong era.

The highlight of that lengthy list? Texas is expected to receive unofficial visits from the following members of the newly released ESPN 300:

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Defensive Backs Coach & Special Teams Coordinator Chris Vaughn wired during 2014 spring practice.

The athletic director with the largest budget in the nation said Thursday he doesn't support paying athletes nor a system in which they can market themselves, and doesn't understand the recent quest by some Northwestern football players to unionize.

Steve Patterson, who took over as AD at the University of Texas this past November, told ESPN.com that he listened to the case made by former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, which was backed by the College Athletes Players Association, and it wasn't clear what he was seeking.

"It's interesting when you look at the objections of the plaintiffs in the case; we address all of them," Patterson said. "If our athletes get hurt, we pay all their medical bills. If they want to come back and graduate, we pay for them to come back and graduate. We do everything that they say they wanted."

Northwestern players, who were found by the National Labor Relations Board last month to be university employees, are set to vote on whether to unionize late next week.

Patterson, who oversees an annual athletic budget of roughly $170 million, said the "whole thing smells of guys in the legal profession looking for a fee."

Patterson directed that comment towards sports labor lawyer Jeff Kessler, who last month filed an antitrust claim against the NCAA and the five largest conferences in New Jersey federal court, hoping to represent all scholarship players in college basketball and football players.

Kessler is arguing for a more free market in which schools can offer more than a scholarship to win over a player's services.


(Read full post)


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Ash suffered a fracture in his left foot during spring practice and will undergo surgery. With Ash out, Texas is left with three passers for its Saturday scrimmage: sophomore Tyrone Swoopes, walk-on Trey Holtz and converted tight end Miles Onyegbule.
Two sons of a former Texas legend are following in their father's footsteps.

San Jose (Calif.) Valley Christian running back Kirk Johnson and younger brother receiver Collin Johnson announced their commitments to Texas on Thursday during an unofficial visit.



Kirk is Texas' third running back pledge for the 2015 class, while Collin is the new first member of the Longhorns' 2016 class. And nobody is happier than their father, Johnnie Johnson.

“This is an awesome day for the Johnson family,” he said. “Watching them give their commitment to Charlie Strong was a precious moment.”

A consensus All-America defensive back for the Longhorns in 1978 and 1979, Johnson brought his sons back to Austin last month for a junior day that nearly ended their recruitment on the spot. Both brothers were offered that day, but they held off because they'd promised to take more visits elsewhere.

They still had more trips on the schedule, too, including to UCLA next week, but a return trip to Austin on Thursday was all they needed to lock down their commitments.

In addition to Strong, the Johnsons were made a priority by defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, receivers coach Les Koenning and running backs coach Tommie Robinson. Johnson played with Bedford and Koenning while at Texas, so he knew what kind of men were going to coach his sons.

“You could’ve have asked for better, stronger character guys with values,” Johnnie Johnson said. “The other factor is the fact that Charlie and his staff continued to communicate how high they were on their board and how much they wanted them.”

Kirk Johnson, a three-star prospect, held offers from Cal, Washington, Utah and Colorado State. Despite an ankle injury that held him to seven games, he still rushed for 1,228 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior. Texas also has verbal commitments from ESPN 300 backs Tristian Houston and Jordan Stevenson.

The recruiting interest was starting to heat up for both of them, especially Collin Johnson. The 6-foot-4, 192-pound wideout held offers from TCU, Arizona State, Cal, Utah and Colorado State and had strong interest from USC.

Landing pledges from the Johnson brothers could be the first step toward Texas growing its recruiting footprint in California. While the Longhorns have found junior-college transfers Geoff Swaim and Desmond Harrison there in recent years, the previous coaching staff signed just two high school prospects out of that state in more than 15 years.

Though they have committed early, the Johnsons are sure to sign. Now that they've made their pledge, their father says the recruiting process is completely over. The brothers wanted to weigh their options before deciding, and in the end, that decision led them back to their dad's alma mater.

And he can’t help but fantasize about the day he first watches Kirk, and then both boys, run onto the field in burnt orange like he once did.

“It’s a dream I can’t even describe to know they are going to be able to experience that,” Johnnie said. “I’ve shared with them it’s a feeling I can’t even describe. Anything I could say wouldn’t do it true justice until they have that first experience.”

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Offensive Coordinator Joe Wickline wires up for All Access during spring practice.
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LHN analyst Ahmad Brooks breaks down Saturday's Texas football spring game (1 CT/LHN).

Getting to know DaMarkus Lodge 

April, 17, 2014
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video Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

DESOTO, Texas -- With all the multiple camps, combines and special events happening each spring, DaMarkus Lodge chooses not to be a regular on the circuit.

It’s not that Lodge is against them, or that he thinks he’s above them. The ESPN 300 receiver has simply prioritized his life as a student-athlete. The camp circuit happens to be a middle-of-the-pack priority.


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Charlie StrongErich Schlegel/Getty ImagesCharlie Strong has said he will reinforce an up-tempo offense with the Longhorns.
If you are unaware, Charlie Strong has the reputation of being someone who does not exactly like to show his cards. It’s why some coaches I know wondered how the guarded, introverted coach would fare with a spotlight as bright as the one at the University of Texas.

We’ll see, in time, but give him this: Strong was up front in saying the Longhorns will embrace an up-tempo offense, the same style that has worked, and mostly worked well, for years in the Big 12.

“I want to play fast,” Strong said earlier this month as we talked in a conference room adjacent to his plush new office, the one that belonged to Mack Brown for a decade and a half. “For me, it starts at practice. I just don’t like guys sitting round, not running on and off the field.”

As spring workouts wind down, Texas leads our discussion of scheme changes and tweaks in college football.

Brown had promised a year ago that the Longhorns would, like the majority of their conference peers, move the offense at a faster pace.

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Today is a minor holiday for recruitniks: The newest edition of the ESPN 300 recruiting rankings have been released, along with a slew of other grades and evaluations.

It's always a big-time endeavor for the ESPN crew of scouts, so be sure to click HERE for the ESPN 300 rankings.

Several of today's updates to the ESPN 300 affect the Big 12. Here's a closer look at what you should take away from the rankings:
  • Oklahoma State quarterback commit John Kolar enjoyed an incredible jump, going from unranked to the nation's No. 3 pocket passer. He's now ranked No. 82 overall in the ESPN 300. The Norman (Okla.) North senior-to-be impressed filling in for injured Alabama signee David Cornwell last year, and he has wowed our scouts as well.
  • What a killer start for Baylor. The Bears have verbal commitments from six high school prospects, and all six made the ESPN 300. The highest ranked of the bunch is WR John Humphrey Jr., who announced his commitment last night. He's one of three ESPN 300 receivers in the class, joining Devontre Stricklin and Chad President. The Bears signed four ESPN 300 recruits in last year's class, and three the previous year, so this is quite the jump. With Baylor high on the list of several other ESPN 300 prospects, including WR DaMarkus Lodge (No. 63 in ESPN 300) and DE James Lockhart (No. 113), there's a good chance this class ends up being the best in the Big 12 when it's all said and done.
  • Texas now has verbal commitments from five ESPN 300 recruits: S DeShon Elliott (No. 94), OT Toby Weathersby (No. 138), OG Patrick Vahe (No. 171), new RB commit Tristian Houston (No. 208) and RB Jordan Stevenson (No. 296). The Longhorns are in the mix for more than 30 ESPN 300 prospects and have offered several more elite out-of-state recruits. Texas has some real momentum under new coach Charlie Strong at the moment, and it's possible more than 10 uncommitted ESPN 300 prospects visits Austin this week for the spring game.
  • The state of Oklahoma has five prospects in the ESPN 300, and nearly all of them could end up being Sooners. OU already has verbal pledges from DT Marquise Overton (No. 150) and OG Joshua Wariboko (No. 190) and is among the leaders for OG Jalin Barnett (No. 36) and S Will Sunderland Jr. (No. 212). And then there's Kolar, who the Sooners could still make a push for over time. Four of Oklahoma's five current pledges are in the ESPN 300.
  • Texas Tech already has two top-50 recruits in QB Jarrett Stidham and DT Breiden Fehoko, and they'll be the lead recruiters of this Red Raiders class. Stidham checks in at No. 37 in the new ESPN 300, which puts him No. 4 among all prospects in Texas, and Fehoko is the nation's No. 7 defensive tackle.
  • It's a great year to find a running back in the state of Texas. Ten of them made the newest ESPN 300, and six have already committed to schools. The top-rated member of the group is Oklahoma State commit Ronald Jones II, the nation's No. 3 running back. Texas already has Houston and Stevenson, Baylor has Ja'Mycal Hasty (No. 274) and Texas A&M has pledges from Rodney Anderson (No. 263) and Jay Bradford (No. 277).
  • West Virginia is off to a great start with the 2015 class thanks to its dedication to recruiting Florida. Two of its verbal commits made the ESPN 300 in WR Jovon Durante (No. 120) and S Kendrell McFadden (No. 153), and half of its 10 pledges come from the Sunshine State. WVU is one of only seven program in the country with double-digit commitments at this point.

ESPN 300: Top Big 12 targets 

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
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The spring evaluation period is upon us, and coaches are traveling and hosting spring games in an effort to evaluate and attract the nation’s elite prospects. Fortunately for coaches, roughly two-thirds of the players making up the 2015 ESPN 300 are still uncommitted. A large majority of those players are considering playing in the Big 12.

Here are five ESPN 300 players heavily targeted by Big 12 schools:


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AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong tried to play coy. Well, either that or he didn’t understand the question.

The question posed Tuesday was whether the first-year Texas coach can envision a quarterback joining this Longhorns program in the summer and competing for the starting job.

“I don’t know who that would be. You got somebody coming in for me?” Strong said before chuckling. “You got a secret guy coming here for me? We signed one in Jerrod [Heard]. He’s the only one.”

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMITexas QB Tyrone Swoopes will now run the first-team offense and coach Charlie Strong told him "This is your team and it's up to you to go lead."
This was, of course, a veiled attempt at the question Horns fans have been chewing on for weeks and, in particular, the past five days: Is Max Wittek coming to Texas?

The Longhorns’ need for the former USC quarterback looms large now that David Ash has been lost for the spring. Right now, there’s a whole lot more interest in the three passers who won’t be playing in the Orange-White spring game this Saturday than the trio who will.

Finally recovered from the concussion-related issues that ended his 2013 season early, Ash was poised to once again take control of the Texas offense and he made a strong first impression on his new coaches.

Those efforts got put on hold when UT doctors discovered a fracture in his left foot that required surgery.

“It’s very tough because the injury for him, I don’t know how long he had it, but he said it had been bothering him,” Strong said. “He came in the other day, our trainers checked him and we were able to find out exactly what was wrong.

“You would’ve never known he had the injury with just how well he was practicing and the way he’s been carrying himself. He understands this: A team is going to come and go as its quarterback goes. He wants to be the leader.”

Strong won’t call Ash his clear-cut No. 1 quarterback, at least not publicly, and said he didn’t anticipate naming a starter this spring. That decision will come during fall camp. But Ash had learned the new scheme and terminology, and he’s led the offense before.

With Ash out, Texas is left with three passers for its Saturday scrimmage at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes will run the first-team offense. Walk-on Trey Holtz and converted tight end Miles Onyegbule, who prior to this spring hadn’t played QB since 2010, will get the backup snaps.

After the news of Ash’s injury broke, Strong told Swoopes to get ready to roll. This is, for the final week of spring ball, his offense.

“I told Tyrone the key thing for you is it’s all about confidence and it’s all about you just doing everything we ask you to do and play within yourself,” Strong said. “Now that you are the quarterback, just take the field and know this: This is your team and it’s up to you to go lead.”

In his six appearances as Texas quarterback last season, Swoopes played like a freshman. With the exception of three drives in a Valero Alamo Bowl loss to Oregon, the dual-threat quarterback with tantalizing size (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) and intriguing speed wasn’t asked to do much. He was inconsistent in the mop-up minutes he did receive.

Swoopes will remain a project until he gets more comfortable throwing the ball. His legs usually did the job while he thrived in small-town Whitewright, Texas, and he still has plenty to learn about beating Big 12 defenses.

But Strong saw enough last Saturday during a spring scrimmage to be encouraged, calling his performances “outstanding.”

“I don’t know his numbers, but he had really good numbers and threw an unbelievable ball to Marcus [Johnson] down the sideline where he beat one of our defensive backs, laid it out there and it was a big throw,” Strong said. “He did a really good job and he settled in. He took it and had the confidence and just had a different air about him, and did a really good job leading the offense.”

Still, quarterback is atop the list of Strong’s biggest concerns as Texas finishes off its first round of practices. The addition of Wittek, who has taken multiple visits to Austin and is expected to decide in the near future, would alleviate some of the worry.

So would a strong summer from Heard, a two-time state champion at Denton (Texas) Guyer who arrives the first week of June. Strong said he’ll get a chance to win the job like everyone else, but first he’ll have to master his playbook.

Heard will be in the stands on Saturday afternoon, with the thousands of other Longhorns fans. They'll be watching closely for the first round of a Texas quarterback battle, but the truth is, it hasn't even begun.

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All Access Wired: Chris Vaughn
Defensive Backs Coach & Special Teams Coordinator Chris Vaughn wired during 2014 spring practice.Tags: Texas Longhorns, All Access, Longhorn Network, Chris Vaughn, NCAA Football
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