Here's what happened last week on the recruiting trail in the Big 12:
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 4
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 23rd
The latest: Jarrett Stidham, No. 39 in the ESPN 300 and the nation's No. 3-ranked dual-threat quarterback prospect, gave his pledge to Baylor over Oregon on Friday. An Under Armour All-America Game selection, Stidham decommitted from Texas Tech on Dec. 13, just a couple weeks before he was scheduled to enroll with the Red Raiders. Stidham instead will enroll early at Baylor and vie immediately to become Bryce Petty's replacement as the Bears' next starting quarterback.
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Just a little more than a week after getting a commitment from ESPN JC50 DT Demond Tucker, the Cyclones closed the deal by signing him Wednesday. Tucker should help shore up an Iowa State defense than ranked 122nd nationally in stopping the run. The Cyclones also picked up juco CB Jomal Wiltz last week. Wiltz was considering Cal, as well.
Total commits: 21
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Shortly after grabbing four high school players out of the Metroplex, new coach David Beaty signed a Big 12-high seven juco players on Wednesday. Three of those committed last week, including running back Ke'aun Kinner, cornerback Brandon Stewart and guard Jayson Rhodes.
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Alex Delton, a three-star dual-threat QB out of Hays, Kansas, remains on track to enroll early in Manhattan and contend this spring for the starting quarterback job that will turn vacant after Jake Waters graduates. The Wildcats also dipped in the Lone Star State last week to add a pledge from Flower Mound offensive tackle Evan Curl.
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 7
ESPN JC50 commits: 3
Class rank: 20th
The latest: Like Red River rival Texas, Oklahoma had a big Friday, adding ESPN 300 DE Ricky DeBerry out of Virginia, and four-star safety Kahlil Haughton out of Waco. The Sooners lost a commitment from three-star DE Tyrell Jacobs over the weekend, but they remain in the hunt for ESPN 300 inside linebacker Anthony Wheeler.
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 2
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 33rd
The latest: The Cowboys made efforts to shore up their offensive line in signing juco tackle Brandon Pertile , who picked Oklahoma State over Florida. The Pokes also added a key FBS offensive tackle transfer in Victor Salako, who started for UAB last year, and will be eligible immediately since UAB shut down its football program.
Total commits: 22
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: 36th
The latest: The Horned Frogs are positioned well to land five-star DT Daylon Mack, who decommitted from Texas A&M on Friday. Mack released his new top two on Twitter, and TCU made the cut with LSU. Reeling in Mack would pin the exclamation point on an otherwise solid TCU class.
Total commits: 22
ESPN 300 commits: 9
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 11th
The latest: After a few shaky weeks on the recruiting trail, the Longhorns had a monster Friday, snagging a commitment from ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson, who is the No. 5 overall prospect in state. The same morning, Texas also added Jefferson's high school teammate four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal. Charlie Strong's defensive class could get even stronger if DT Daylon Mack and ESPN 300 CB Kris Boyd end up in Austin. Mack is slated to take an official visit to Texas on Jan. 23. Boyd is planning to announce his decision on Christmas day.
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 4
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: 29th
The latest: After losing Stidham, Texas Tech's QB predicament took another hit when Waco Midway's Ben Hicks picked SMU days after Tech offered. The Red Raiders want to add a QB in this class, but they're running out of viable high school options. Signing a juco QB could be the answer. Tech has a successful week otherwise, picking up pledges from three-star safeties Darreon Jackson and Christian Taylor, three-star WR Tony Brown and DE Lonzell Gilmore.
Total commits: 24
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 24th
The latest: The Mountaineers batted .500 last week on ESPN JC50 prospects. Thursday, they missed on WR Isaac Whitney, who chose USC instead. But the day before, West Virginia picked up Rasul Douglas, the nation's No. 3 juco CB. Assuming All-Big 12 strong safety Karl Joseph stays at West Virginia for his senior year, the Mountaineers could boast a formidable secondary in 2015 with Douglas, Joseph, freshman All-American free safety Dravon Henry and cornerback Daryl Worley.
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.
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..
“We Run This State”? Not today.
Texas won a critical head-to-head recruiting battle over Texas A&M on Friday morning when a pair of Mesquite (Texas) Poteet High teammates, ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson and four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal, announced that they’re Austin-bound.
Jefferson, the No. 35 player in the country, was a priority recruit for the Aggies, while landing McNeal -- who would have likely projected to receiver, a talent-rich position at A&M -- would have been a bonus. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jefferson was the one that Sumlin and linebackers coach Mark Hagen have spent nearly two years developing a relationship with and pinning their hopes on as a game-changer at a position of need: linebacker.
The Aggies offered Jefferson a scholarship 632 days ago. Over that time, as Texas A&M’s defense struggled and Jefferson’s profile rose, the need to land him increased. What’s worse for A&M is that the Aggies seemed in prime position to do so only to lose momentum in the final days of the recruitment for myriad reasons, but none more glaring than the fact that Sumlin has yet to hire a defensive coordinator to replace Mark Snyder, whom he fired on Nov. 28. Jefferson stated as much in talking about the final weeks of his recruitment.
The famed maroon helicopter Sumlin once touted as “undefeated”? No more.
Sumlin took said helicopter to Rockwall, Texas, to watch Jefferson and McNeal on Sept. 25 when they played Rockwall-Heath High. It was that night that he became sold enough on McNeal to later offer the versatile, 6-foot-2, 200-pound prospect and at the time, it seemed to be a safe bet that Jefferson was leaning toward A&M where some of his friends -- like ESPN 300 quarterback Kyler Murray and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Daylon Mack, among others -- are heading.
The Aggies were quietly confident they’d land Jefferson after his official visit to Texas A&M the weekend of their Nov. 15 loss to Missouri, which Jefferson attended. The nation's third-ranked outside linebacker was wowed during his time there. He also was impressed on visits to Texas and UCLA, but ultimately, Sumlin was confident.
Sumlin’s pitch to Jefferson? He’s the missing piece the Aggies need on defense to pair with star-in-the-making freshman defensive end Myles Garrett. The need for quality linebacker depth was clear when Texas A&M’s two true freshmen starters at the position -- Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker -- suffered injuries in that loss. That night, the Aggies promptly saw their run defense go to hell in a handbasket, as the Tigers rolled up 202 rushing yards in the third quarter alone with Alaka and Walker sidelined en route to a 34-27 Missouri win. A&M made the decision midseason to move Alaka and Walker into starting linebacker spots after ineffectiveness from their predecessors in the season’s first half.
The Aggies struggled getting (or keeping) quality linebackers on campus since Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart graduated after the 2012 season. In their 2013 recruiting class, they seemed to find a future star in Darian Claiborne, but dismissed him from the team after multiple arrests. Injuries affected 2013 recruits Shaan Washington and A.J. Hilliard this season and other linebacker prospects from that class either played sparingly or haven't been effective.
The 2014 linebacker haul included Alaka and Walker, but ESPN 300 linebacker Hoza Scott -- once ranked the No. 1 outside linebacker in the nation -- was a nonqualifier and thus wasn't signed, never made it to campus and the Aggies weren’t able to land other ESPN 300 linebackers they targeted in the class like Kenny Young or Zach Whitley Jr. Add Jefferson to the list of “what ifs” should he stick with Texas until classes begin in January, as he is a midyear enrollee.
Jefferson would have been a key piece to the defensive puzzle, one the Aggies sorely needed. Could a splash defensive coordinator make enough of a difference to flip Jefferson? Possible, but unlikely. Jefferson took great time and care in this decision and it will be difficult to reverse, especially with his family's support in him choosing Texas.
Malik Jefferson's father on A&M trying for flip when they get DC: "A commitment from a Jefferson is final. It's over."— Max Olson (@max_olson) December 19, 2014
The lack of a defensive coordinator was key here, but regardless of recruiting, Sumlin has to get that hire right. After two seasons of atrocious defense and a sixth-place finish in the SEC West this season, the pressure is on to get someone who will produce elite results and help the Aggies turn into contenders in the nation’s most talked-about conference. Sumlin and the Aggies are about to enter Year 4 in the SEC and it’s time to see results of the recruiting the Aggies have been talking about producing.
The Aggies still have a top-10 recruiting class (they’re ranked sixth in the ESPN Class Rankings currently) and there are still big targets on the board that they’re strongly in the mix for, like five-star cornerback Kendall Sheffield.
But no matter the reasoning, two days after landing the nation's No. 30 player, ESPN 300 receiver Christian Kirk and three junior college prospects, Friday goes down as a loss for the Aggies and a win for the Longhorns. Sumlin said Thursday that missing a defensive coordinator or receivers coach hadn’t affected recruiting yet.
On Friday, it did.
The Longhorns ran the state on Friday morning. The Aggies have work to do in the final seven weeks of the 2014 recruiting cycle.
Best win: When the Aggies traveled to Auburn on Nov. 8, they did so as 23-point underdogs, with few convinced they could leave Jordan-Hare Stadium with a victory. They had barely beaten Louisiana-Monroe at home the previous week and that came after an ugly, three-game losing streak. Freshman quarterback Kyle Allen was on fire early, the Aggies blocked a field goal return and returned it for a touchdown to end the first half and hung on in the second half for a 41-38 victory. It required some good fortune (two lost Auburn fumbles in the final three minutes and three overall) but it served as the signature win for Texas A&M this season.
Worst loss: Texas A&M’s first road game at Alabama in 2012 was the stuff dreams are made of for the Aggies; this year it was an unequivocal nightmare. The Aggies were whipped six ways to Sunday by the Crimson Tide, 59-0. Texas A&M was never competitive in the game. The Aggies allowed 602 yards, only managed 172 yards itself and it was the program’s worst loss since the 77-0 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma in 2003. It was a jarring loss -- it prompted personnel changes soon after and began raising questions about where exactly this program was headed, three years into SEC membership.
Player of year: Myles Garrett. It’s strange to see a true freshman in this spot, but he was the team’s best player this season in terms of production. He led the Aggies with 11 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and was a second-team All-SEC selection. Even when he wasn’t sacking quarterbacks, he was wreaking havoc (ask Auburn’s Shon Coleman) and Garrett’s presence was missed when he sat out the Missouri game because of a concussion. He had nine quarterback hurries, a blocked kick that was huge in the victory over Auburn, a pass breakup and 50 total tackles.
Breakout player: Josh Reynolds was one of the least-heralded recruits in the Aggies’ 2014 recruiting class, but he turned out to be a gamer. The former Tyler (Texas) Junior College player tied the school’s single-season record for touchdown receptions with 12, led the team with 762 receiving yards and was second on the team in catches with 47. A player few were talking about coming into the season -- much of the preseason hype at receiver centered around Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil andMalcome Kennedy -- turned out to be one of the most productive for Texas A&M in 2014.
Play of year: It's Garrett's blocked field goal against Auburn, which Deshazor Everett returned for a key touchdown in the Aggies’ upset of Auburn. But the most “wow-worthy" play has to be the one Noil made in the Aggies’ loss at Mississippi State. In a ridiculous display of athleticism, Noil leaped to catch the ball near the sideline over a defender, got two feet down while falling out of bounds and made sure to reach over the goal line. The true freshman showed why he was a five-star recruit.
2015 outlook: This season was one of growing pains; next season is one the Aggies must take a big step forward. They’ll return most of their starting skill-position players on offense and most of the front seven on defense. Allen, who ended the regular season as the starting quarterback, should be better with some experience under his belt (so should Kenny Hill, if by chance he returns to the starting job) and how the defense performs will hinge on who is in charge of it, as Kevin Sumlin has yet to hire a defensive coordinator to replace Mark Snyder. The schedule starts with a big game early (against Arizona State at Houston’s NRG Stadium) but it’s favorable because the Aggies don’t have to leave the state until October. With another top-10 recruiting class on the way, the Aggies should show improvement.
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.
Now, we’re putting you in charge of the Big 12’s destiny.
With 10 teams and no championship game, the league finds itself at a disadvantage on Championship Saturday. The names of several schools have been thrown into the conversation as people debate which teams could help the Big 12’s cause in the future. Should the Big 12 consider expansion?
The Big 12 was left with the impression that a conference title game would have helped the case of Baylor or TCU, but expansion isn’t the only option. If the NCAA allows the Big 12 to play a conference championship game with just 10 teams, it could be a clear step toward solving the problem without adding additional schools with more mouths to feed at the money table.
Expansion and adding a championship game are significant changes. Yet, maybe significant change is not needed. The answer could be as simple as crowning a single champion. That’s right ... bye, bye co-champions. If there is one clear winner of the Big 12 Conference, it removes any doubt about a true champion in the eyes of the committee. And, by the way, actually fits the conference’s moniker of “One True Champion”.
Or is it all an overreaction? The Big 12 was one or two upsets away from having two teams in the top four, which would have been a best-case scenario for the conference. The option to stand pat and do nothing could be considered. Just because things didn’t work out in the Big 12’s favor during Year 1 of the College Football Playoff doesn’t necessarily mean the conference must react immediately and make changes.
Considering the current state of the conference, what would you do? What changes would you make? Vote in our poll and comment below.
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.
That threat mostly comes in the form of TCU All-American quarterback Trevone Boykin, who electrified the nation this season with 4,411 total yards of offense and 39 total touchdowns. Boykin’s on-field talents have been dazzling to watch, just like a quarterback who just left the SEC in 2014.
“Boykin, they’ve got great players around him, but he’s a different animal,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze told reporters this week.
“He reminds me of Johnny Manziel when we had to play and defend him. He’s very similar to that.”
“It’s always a red flag for a defense when you’ve got a quarterback is that caliber [of player],” Ole Miss All-American cornerback Senquez Golson said. “They have a lot of athletes; they make a lot of plays. It’s definitely one of the better offenses we’ll face this year.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge. I don’t think we could have had a better matchup. This is really going to put our defense to the test and see what we got.”
Added linebacker Serderius Bryant: “You think about it as you get to play Johnny again.”
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound firecracker helped push the sixth-ranked Horned Frogs (11-1) to the tip of the College Football Playoff behind the nation’s No. 4 offense (542.2 yards per game) and No. 2 scoring offense (46.8 points per game). TCU has scored 40-plus points eight times and hit 82 against Texas Tech, a game in which Boykin threw seven touchdowns.
Boykin and that spread offense are scary, but the Rebels present an equally as imposing defense for the Frogs to handle in this year's Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 31. Ole Miss owns the nation’s best scoring defense (13.8 points per game and 18 touchdowns allowed) and the No. 13 defense overall, allowing 321.2 yards per game.
The best defense TCU has faced this year? That would be Texas’ 26th-ranked defense (348.3) That isn’t bad at all, but the Horned Frogs piled on 34 points and gained a season-low 368 yards.
So how does Ole Miss’ defense, which spent the entire season near the top of the SEC, plan to stop Boykin and that fantastic offense? Bryant says the key is containing Boykin and combating speed with, well, speed – something Bryant says is the best he’s seen on Ole Miss’ defense during his four-year career.
The Rebels struggled with containing the middle of the field against Manziel when he took off under duress. Ole Miss collapsed the pocket well and took away his receivers at times, but they left themselves vulnerable up the middle, where Manziel absolutely gashed the Rebels, rushing for a combined 253 yards in those two games.
This season, Bryant said with increased speed at linebacker, the Rebels have been better equipped against running quarterbacks. The best rushing performances by QBs against Ole Miss this season were from Louisiana-Lafayette’s Terrance Broadway (59 yards) and Auburn’s Nick Marshall (50 yards and two touchdowns).
Boykin rushed for 642 yards and averaged 54.7 yards per game, but he likes to make a lot of plays outside the pocket, whether it’s running or throwing. That means the Rebels will have have to spy on him and collapse the pocket while being disciplined across the line of scrimmage and filling run gaps in order to take away potential big plays from Boykin’s arm and legs.
“As soon as he takes that step forward and tries to run, the defense is going to collapse on him,” Bryant said. “… If everyone knows that, it’s going to happen.”
Boykin is a special player, but the TCU offense can hurt teams in so many ways. Running back Aaron Green is averaging 7.7 yards per carry (854 rushing yards), and five players grabbed at least 29 receptions, including wide receiver Josh Doctson, who led the team in catches (59), yards (959) and touchdowns (nine).
There’s motion, space and quickness to frustrate a defense, and the Rebels know they’ll be on high alert.
“That’s how they put up big points,” Bryant said. “They put up points in all senses with throwing a lot of different things that confuse defensive coordinators. We have to get ready for that.”
But TCU also has to be ready for the Rebels, who held top SEC offenses at Alabama and Mississippi State to less than 20 points this year. The Rebels' defense has been impressive in its own right, and to Golson, he hasn’t seen a better defense face TCU.
“I’m really excited to find out, but I don’t think so,” he said. “… It might be even more exciting for us because we get to face this type of offense. It’s always exciting to play a team out of conference, so I’m just glad we’re playing a team like TCU.”
The TCU coach was named the college football coach of the year by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
The annual award is voted on by the nation's 125 FBS head coaches and sports information directors.
Patterson also won the award in 2009, and joins former Penn State coach Joe Paterno (1972, 1994 and 2005) and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops (2000 and 2003) as multiple winners.
Patterson will be honored at the foundation's national awards banquet on Jan. 17 at Yale.
West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck is leaving his post with the Mountaineers to join the NCAA as president Mark Emmert’s second in command.
The move leaves West Virginia in search of an athletic director. And, more importantly to the rest of the Big 12, the league in need of a new representative to the College Football Playoff selection committee.
The Big 12 has until the spring to figure it out. Most likely, it will be a sitting athletic director, and fortunately for the league, it has several competent ones to choose from.
But when it comes to finding the right man or woman for the playoff committee, one Big 12 name seems to stand out from the rest.
And that’s Kirby Hocutt.
The Texas Tech athletic director would be relatively young among playoff committee members at just over 40 years old. But as chairman of the NCAA Division I Football Recruiting Subcommittee, Hocutt is one of the most respected athletic directors in the country. And, despite being young, he would still bring a wealth of experience that would represent multiple corners of the Big 12.
In the early 1990s, Hocutt was a captain and linebacker for coach Bill Snyder during the advent of the “Manhattan Miracle” at Kansas State. Hocutt actually led the Wildcats in tackles during the 1993 season, which ended with K-State’s first bowl victory in school history. Hocutt’s background as a player would give him a distinctive perspective that would enhance the committee. And with K-State being his alma mater, he would bring a representation beyond his current school that would theoretically make the rest of the league comfortable.
Of course, K-State isn’t Hocutt’s only other Big 12 connection.
Before winding up at Texas Tech, he served on Joe Castiglione’s staff as an associate athletic director at Oklahoma from 1999-05. Hocutt was part of a massive capital fundraising effort there; he also received his master’s degree from Oklahoma. Hocutt remains so well thought of by some of the power brokers in Norman that he would be a candidate to take over as athletic director if Castiglione ever left the Sooners.
Yet, while Hocutt graduated from school in the Sunflower State and spent years working in the Sooner State, he’s a Texan first.
For that reason alone, putting Hocutt on the committee would seemingly also satisfy the demands of Baylor coach Art Briles, who has been clamoring for more committee representation from the state of Texas.
"Hopefully they'll get somebody that talks with a twang," Briles told ESPN.com's Heather Dinich on Wednesday. "Let's get somebody that understands what fixin' means. Let's get somebody from down in this part of the nation. Oliver was our representative, but last time I checked, West Virginia is a long way from Texas and Oklahoma. That's nothing to do with him, that's just the reality of the situation. I would certainly hope that we would influence the committee with somebody from this part of the nation.”
Hocutt’s twang is mild. But he was born in the northern Texas town of Sherman. He graduated from Sherman High. He’s also now athletic director of a university where Texas twang is common.
Besides wanting a Texan, Briles also told Dinich that he wanted somebody 35 years old or younger on the committee. Hocutt isn’t quite that young. But he’s closer to 35 than he is to the median age of the current committee.
“To me, college football is not just for people who are my age or older,” Briles said. “It's for everybody. It should be equally represented, but that's just me talking."
The Big 12 could go another direction, and it still would be a good decision.
Castiglione carries as much prestige nationally as any athletic director in the country. To serve on the playoff committee, he would likely have to give up his post on the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. But football is where the money is, and the Big 12 could persuade Castiglione into swapping committees.
The Big 12 boasts several other young, energetic and accomplished athletic directors like Kansas State’s John Currie, TCU’s Chris Del Conte and Baylor’s Ian McCaw. Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger is a former player, who actually served as an assistant coach on Snyder’s staff at Kansas State before transitioning into an administrator.
Any of those would represent the conference well.
But nobody in the league would represent the Big 12 from more angles than Hocutt.
A North Texan who played under Snyder at K-State who worked under Castiglione at Oklahoma who now is back running an athletic department in West Texas.
It doesn’t get more Big 12 than that, which is why Hocutt should be the Big 12's next representative on the playoff selection committee.