Top-10 player spring update: TCU

March, 30, 2015
Mar 30

Who are the 10 best players on every Big 12 roster this spring? As we do every year, it's time again to take on that question.

As a reminder, these lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who have yet to arrive on campus. We're only looking at the players currently on their teams this spring. These rankings are sure to change after the spring, but here's our best assessment right now.

First up, the TCU Horned Frogs.

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
Jason Getz/USA TODAY SportsTrevone Boykin should be on the short list for major awards in 2015.

1. QB Trevone Boykin: Boykin enters 2015 as one of the nation’s most dynamic players after accounting for more than 4,600 yards and 42 touchdowns in his breakout junior season. He’s the ideal triggerman for TCU’s high-speed offense and a creative, confident decision-maker. It will be fascinating to see how his leadership skills continue to develop amid significant Heisman Trophy hype (and, with that, heightened scrutiny).

2. DT Davion Pierson: One of the conference’s most underrated players, Pierson enters his senior season with 31 career starts and a reputation for backing up his trash talk with fierce play up the middle. Last season, nearly a third of his stops came behind the line of scrimmage.

3. WR Josh Doctson: Broke TCU single-season records last season with 1,018 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns and was one yard shy of the single-game receiving record with 225. Good luck winning a jump ball against the 6-foot-4 Doctson. He’s out for the spring with a broken hand.

4. RB Aaron Green: Green accounted for 863 yards and nine touchdowns in his final seven games last season. Once the starting job was his, Green ran with it and never looked back, eluding tackles along the way. What will the former five-star recruit do with a full season in a featured role?

5. C Joey Hunt: A 26-game starter who earned second-team All-Big 12 honors last year, Hunt is one of the Frogs’ most valuable players. He makes all the calls up front for TCU’s offensive line and is a respected leader in the locker room.

6. S Derrick Kindred: He probably was overlooked with all the star power in TCU’s secondary in 2014, but Kindred took care of business as the starting free safety with 79 tackles and four interceptions.

7. CB Ranthony Texada: This should be a big season for Texada, who was targeted by opposing quarterbacks at a lot last season because opponents didn’t want to go after Kevin White. He got better as the year went on, and he’s only a redshirt sophomore.

8. OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai: Big name, big size (6-foot-6, 308 pounds), big potential. Vaitai enters his senior season with 20 career starts and a chance to prove he’s one of the best blind-side protectors in the conference.

9. WR Kolby Listenbee: A sneaky-good big-play threat, Listenbee recorded 12 catches of 30-plus yards last season. Those 12 catches resulted in 501 of his 753 receiving yards. He’s one of the fastest players in college football with a personal record of 10.23 seconds in the 100-meter dash.

10. K Jaden Oberkrom: Several others merited consideration for this top-10 list, but a reliable veteran kicker is a valuable asset. Oberkrom led all FBS kickers in scoring last year, making 22 of 27 field-goal attempts. He’ll be a four-year starter who’s converted 68 percent of his career tries.

In today's Twitter mailbag we discuss 400-pound tight end LaQuan McGowan, players off the radar that could become All-Big 12 selections, and the backfields at TCU and Oklahoma.

Condolences to West Virginia fans for Thursday's historical beatdown. Still, I know of eight other Big 12 fanbases that wished their teams would have advanced to the Sweet 16.

On to the 'bag:

I actually asked Seth Russell which would be worse, getting sacked by Shawn Oakman or trying to tackle McGowan. He said Oakman. I respectfully have to disagree. Oakman is a bad dude, but nobody is stopping McGowan with a head of steam, Oakman included.

Trotter:You mean in one game? By the way, I hope you guys took time to read my McGowan piece earlier in the week. I enjoyed interviewing him. Interesting kid with a fascinating backstory.

Trotter: Texas would be the most attractive destination. Any of Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones would start with little resistance from what the Longhorns have on the roster. And Texas would be an option for any of the three for obvious reasons, including the track record of Charlie Strong and his staff working with Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville.

Trotter: At this moment, it's difficult to envision the game going much differently than it did last season. The addition of transfer linebacker Mike Mitchell and freshman defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko will help the run defense, and coordinator David Gibbs will have the players in the right gaps. But the Razorbacks completely mowed over the Red Raiders last season. You either have the horses or you don't, and Tech has long way to go to prove it can up its own again up front against a power-running team such as Arkansas.

Trotter: No update. Carry on.

Trotter: If I had to bet, I'd put heavy money on Baker Mayfield being the opening-day starter. There's a lot to like about Mayfield, notably his confidence and savvy. But people, notably Sooners fans, seem to forget that Mayfield really struggled against the better teams while at Texas Tech two years ago. Can OU win a Big 12 championship with Mayfield behind center? I'm not sure.

Trotter:It's a possibility. He's going to be buried on depth chart behind Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. True freshman Rodney Anderson had been turning heads this spring, too, before he suffered an MCL sprain. Apparently, Keith Ford's sister posted something on Facebook suggesting he might transfer. But Ford was at practice this week.

Trotter:The TCU backfield is going to be good. Aaron Green, who can reel off big plays, is an all-conference caliber talent; Shaun Nixon, meanwhile, was highly touted coming out of high school. But I don't know that it's necessary going to be markedly better than last year's group. Don't forget, B.J. Catalon was excellent before suffering the head injury.

Trotter:Hmm... I would definitely take Trevone Boykin, Mason Rudolph and Pat Mahomes over Sam B. Richardson. But after that, there are no slam dunks. Seth Russell obviously could have a big season, but he has only one career start. Skyler Howard is going to have to be more accurate to rank near the upper tier of Big 12 QBs. Joe Hubener has potential, but he's an unknown. I mentioned my concerns with Mayfield above. So is it unthinkable that Richardson becomes the fourth- or fifth-best QB in the league? No. He'll have good wideouts to throw to, and he has a ton of experience. The key for Richardson is health. He's been severely banged up the last two years, and when that's happened, his effectiveness has plummeted.

Trotter: Not sure how off the radar you want to go, but here are a few guys who have never had any honorable-mention recognition that could be first-teamers in 2015: Oklahoma State safety Jordan Sterns, Baylor nickelback Travon Blanchard, Oklahoma center Ty Darlington, Iowa State guard Daniel Burton, Texas defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, Texas Tech cornerback Nigel Bethel and TCU cornerback Ranthony Texada.

Trotter:Well, if you believe you're a big-time program that can compete with anyone, you go out and schedule the Ohio States of the world. Oklahoma has been doing it since Bob Stoops arrived, and it served the Sooners well during the BCS era. Texas has recently ramped up its scheduling as well. As a conference champ, you have to beat someone of note in the non-conference to guarantee yourself a spot in the playoff. TCU will have plenty of opportunities to do that in the coming years.

Trotter: Who didn't see that TCU fan tweet coming?

Roundtable: Big 12 units on the spot

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26

The past two weeks, we've examined some the Big 12 players on the spot this spring. Below in our weekly roundtable, we likewise explore the Big 12 position groups that are also on the spot this spring:

What offensive position group is on the spot this spring?

Jake Trotter: Other than the quarterback derbies taking place in Norman and Austin, which will both be fascinating, I'm interested to see what happens with running back at Kansas State. The Wildcats have several viable contenders for the featured role, including returner Charles Jones, redshirt freshman Dalvin Warmack and true freshman Alex Barnes, who has enrolled early to participate in spring ball. Jones had a prime role in the K-State offense last season, scoring 13 touchdowns. But he also ranked 21st in the Big 12 in yards per carry. Warmack is an intriguing option, having rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 77 touchdowns his final two seasons of high school. Then there's Barnes, who physically looks ready to compete for time now. Whatever happens, with Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett gone, the Wildcats will need more production next season from their primary rusher.

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
Scott Sewell-/USA TODAY SportsTyrone Swoopes has the upper hand for Texas' starting quarterback job but can he keep it?

Max Olson: Texas quarterbacks. They've been in a rough spot for a few years now, and I think there's a lot of pressure on Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard this spring. I don't doubt that Texas will pursue a transfer quarterback after spring ball as a necessary move for competition. You have to wonder how much confidence these two can inspire over the course of 15 practices. Swoopes still has the upper hand at the moment, but how much progress can he make? Can Heard grow up and catch up?

Brandon Chatmon: Someone needs to emerge among Oklahoma’s receivers to help All-Big 12 candidate Sterling Shepard. There are some good candidates with Dede Westbrook, a junior college transfer, and Michiah Quick, a sophomore who should improve in Year 2, sitting atop the list. Lincoln Riley’s offense should give the receivers plenty of opportunities to shine and we’ve seen how a system change can completely the effectiveness of a receiver.

What defensive position group is on the spot?

Trotter: I would say the Baylor secondary, except all four returning starters have been limited by injuries this spring. So I'll go with the Oklahoma secondary instead. The Sooners ranked ninth in the Big 12 in pass defense last year, and graduated a pair of starters in Julian Wilson and Quentin Hayes, leaving cornerback Zack Sanchez as the only proven performer. Former ESPN 300 signee Steven Parker could make a big jump after playing a key role as a true freshman last season. But the Sooners need some combination of Stanvon Taylor, Ahmad Thomas, Hatari Byrd, Jordan Thomas and/or junior-college transfer Will Johnson to step up, as well, in order for Oklahoma to bounce back in 2015.

Olson: Doesn't sound like TCU has found a whole lot of clarity when it comes to its two vacant linebacker spots, though I did like Gary Patterson's idea that he should start at one spot. Sammy Douglas, Paul Whitmill and Ty Summers will do a fine job, I'm sure, and I think Patterson is onto something when he mentions possibly moving a safety into the second level. But still, these are inexperienced guys taking over for senior playmakers on a team with giant expectations.

Chatmon: I agree with Max. I’m really intrigued with what is going to happen at TCU as the Horned Frogs try to replace Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallett. Dawson got most of the attention but Mallett was exceptionally productive in his own right. Finding quality linebackers could be the difference between another Big 12 title run, or even College Football Playoff run. Coach Gary Patterson has hinted the Horned Frogs will try plenty of different options including safeties in those spots.

What position group will be most improved?

Trotter: The Oklahoma State offensive line was absolutely dreadful for much of last season, before the lightbulb flickered late in the year. I'm not saying the Cowboys will now be mowing over people. But with the bulk of last year's group back, coupled with the addition of capable transfer tackles Victor Salako and Brandon Pertile, Oklahoma State should be able to build off last year's encouraging finish to field one of the league's better lines in 2015.

Olson: I think a group poised to take a big step is Texas Tech's secondary. That's a super young group and I'm interested to see how David Gibbs' teachings influence them. I look at that roster and see some talented guys like Justis Nelson, Nigel Bethel II, Tevin Madison, Jalen Barnes and Payton Hendrix who ought to develop more confidence under the guidance of Gibbs and Kevin Curtis and force more turnovers in the fall.

Chatmon: I expect Baylor’s secondary to be much improved. A talented group of athletes will be a year older, a year wiser and much more comfortable as the back end of BU’s defense. Not to mention it won’t hurt to go against the Bears receiving corps on a regular basis. Improvement from guys like Xavien Howard, who has loads of potential, and the addition of talented newcomers such as redshirt freshman Verkedric Vaughns could help the Bears defensive backs be much better this fall.

Big 12 poll: Impact ESPN JC 50 signee?

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26

Running back Chris Carson could hold the key to Oklahoma State’s offense, wide receiver DeDe Westbrook could take Oklahoma’s new spread attack to another level and defensive tackle Demond Tucker could provide much-needed strength in the middle of Iowa State’s defense.

That trio is among the nine ESPN Junior College 50 recruits who signed with Big 12 schools and have the potential to become household names in the conference this fall.


Which ESPN JC50 signee will have the biggest impact in 2015?






Discuss (Total votes: 3,265)

Which ESPN JC 50 newcomer do you expect to have the biggest impact?

Carson was a late addition to the Cowboys' signing class as OSU looked to secure a backfield mate for quarterback Mason Rudolph. The No. 12 player in the ESPN JC 50, Carson brings good size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and the ability to be a workhorse for Mike Gundy’s program.

Westbrook is already on campus and participating in spring drills with the Sooners. The No. 14 player in the ESPN JC 50 combines quickness and speed with good size (6-1, 175), which makes him a candidate to excel in the slot or on the outside in Lincoln Riley’s offense.

Rasul Douglas will add to a talented West Virginia secondary in the summer. The No. 23 player in the ESPN JC 50 has the size (6-2, 200) and athleticism to be a versatile asset for WVU’s defense, with the skills to play cornerback or safety.

Tucker was a much-needed addition for the Cyclones defense. After Iowa State struggled with its depth and production along its defensive front in 2014, Tucker is participating in ISU’s spring practices with a eye on making an major impact this fall. His quickness could help him become a disruptive force for the Cyclones defense.

Five other ESPN JC 50 signees could have a similar impact in the Big 12. Cornerback Will Johnson (No. 15 in the ESPN JC 50) is already impressing during the first few practices at OU, and the Sooners secondary is looking for playmakers heading into the fall.

Offensive tackle Maurice Porter (No. 31 in the ESPN JC 50) could add additional depth for Baylor’s offensive line when he arrives in the summer.

Guard Jamal Danley (No. 39 in the ESPN JC 50) is going through spring drills with OU as he battles to make an impact on a Sooners offensive line that must replace four starters.

Texas is hoping Quincy Vasser (No. 45 in the ESPN JC 50) can help lessen the loss of Cedric Reed at defensive end.

Motekiai Maile (No. 49 in the ESPN JC 50) could help replace James Castleman in the interior of OSU’s defense, helping free opportunities for returning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year Emmanuel Ogbah.

Who do you think will have the biggest impact? Vote now and leave a comment below.

On the spot: TCU QB Bram Kohlhausen

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26

During the next two weeks, we'll be featuring 10 Big 12 players who are on the spot this spring. Maybe they are coming back from injury. Maybe they have much to prove after a disappointing 2014 season. Maybe they are embroiled in a key position battle. Whatever the case, this spring is big for them.

Today's player on the spot: TCU backup quarterback Bram Kohlhausen

Who? If you find yourself asking that, it’s perfectly OK. The better question is why.

Last season, only two Big 12 programs managed to survive a full 13-game season with the same starting quarterback from start to finish. Kansas State did it, though Jake Waters was so beat up he probably should’ve missed some time. And TCU pulled it off.

Along the way, Trevone Boykin established himself as a Heisman contender and unquestionably the most improved QB in the country. He took some big hits -- sometimes willingly on touchdown dives -- and he kept on playing. But he didn’t survive unscathed.

Boykin hurt his non-throwing wrist in the middle of the season against Baylor, a bone fracture that will require a procedure later this spring. The Horned Frogs were fortunate this injury wasn’t severe, especially late in the season.

For how special Boykin was, folks at TCU will tell you there’s a good reason why his worst performances came in November at West Virginia and Kansas. Matt Joeckel, his backup, couldn’t travel to those games after enduring a season-ending injury. The senior Texas A&M transfer played a huge role in Boykin’s on-field maturation. He served as a mentor on the sideline, offering up advice and insight about what defenses were bringing. Joeckel was also a trustworthy option in case Boykin went down.

This spring, TCU simply doesn’t have that luxury. And coach Gary Patterson is taking the issue seriously.

“Right now we’ve got one; that’s it,” Patterson said this week. “We’ve got a long way to go with the rest of them. We’ve got one quarterback right now we can win the Big 12 title with.”

Kohlhausen, a juco transfer who started his career at Houston, got mop-up time in four games last season. The senior might be the front-runner for the No. 2 gig by default. Another backup, sophomore Zach Allen, got to take snaps at quarterback in one game. And then there’s redshirt freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, who have promising futures but zero experience.

None of them made a good impression on Patterson and his staff in TCU’s most recent spring scrimmage. Somebody will have to step forward and prove he can handle driving the high-tempo attack against a real defense.

Because no matter how great Boykin plays this fall, it only takes one bad play for the plan to change. A TCU team this good can’t afford to live one snap away from the destruction of its College Football Playoff dream.

Q&A: Baylor QB Seth Russell

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25

WACO, Texas -- After backing up Bryce Petty the past two seasons, Seth Russell is ready to take over as Baylor’s next starting quarterback.

After tossing four touchdowns in Baylor’s Friday Night Lights scrimmage last week, Russell spoke with about what he learned from Petty, his talented supporting cast, and what Baylor coach Art Briles is like behind the scenes:

[+] EnlargeSeth Russell
Tony Gutierrez/Associated PressSeth Russell on coach Art Briles: "He's a character. In the film room he gets down to business, but he'll throw a joke in there every once in awhile."

You have some big shoes to fill, not only in Petty, but everyone back to Robert Griffin III. How are you handling that?

I feel like I’m taking it a day at a time. If I look at the big picture too much it’s overwhelming, just to look at all the stats, all the accomplishments of the other quarterbacks. I feel like if I do that, I’d be down on myself if I had a bad practice. I have to take it one step at a time and learn from it.

Speaking of learning, what did you learn from Petty?

He’s a phenomenal quarterback. He studies the game, he knows the game forwards and backwards. I feel like watching him and his leadership, I can use that to my advantage on the field.

You are the heir-apparent, but there are a couple other talented quarterbacks in Chris Johnson and Jarrett Stidham pushing for the job, too. How is it different knowing the job wouldn't just be handed to you?

It pushes me, it makes me work that much harder. Because I know they’re coming. They’re on the backdoor. I love the competition. I have three brothers, we’ve competed our whole lives. It’s nothing new to me. I feel like all it can do is make me better.

What’s it like having K.D. Cannon at wideout on one side, and Corey Coleman on the other?

You can go either way. Any of the guys out there, I have two over here, two on the other side. All of them are pretty great to have.

When you look at the rest of the offense, you have an All-American in Spencer Drango protecting your blind side; Shock Linwood is a 1,000-yard rusher. How does all that help your comfort level running the offense?

They’re top-notch guys. I feel like being on the field with them, it makes me that much more confident.

What would you say is the key to you guys winning a third straight Big 12 title?

Being on the same page. If I look at a receiver and they look at me and I give them a signal, I expect them to do it, and I know they’re going to do it and I trust them to do it. I feel like that’s something that we can do. As for the defense, they’re going to going to do what they’re going to do. They’re phenomenal. Lot of returners. Lot of experience.

I hear you’re a pretty good basketball player.

Depends on what day you catch me.

How would you describe your game?

In high school, I was a post. I liked to get rough a little bit. But I can play wherever.

Best local place to eat in Waco?

I’d have to say Chuy’s, because me and my girlfriend go there every Friday night. It’s a Friday night date deal.

What’s something about Coach Briles people on the outside don’t know?

He’s a character. In the film room he gets down to business, but he’ll throw a joke in there every once in awhile. He’s serious, but he likes to make you laugh a little bit. He’s a great guy to be around.

Which would be worse, taking a sack from defensive end Shawn Oakman, or attempting to tackle 400-pound tight end LaQuan McGowan?

I guess if it’s a full-on hit from Shawn, that would be pretty tough. I feel like I could probably just chop down with Quan, but it may hurt a little bit.

During the next two weeks, we'll be featuring 10 Big 12 players who are on the spot this spring. Maybe they are coming back from injury. Maybe they have much to prove after a disappointing 2014 season. Maybe they are embroiled in a key position battle. Whatever the case, this spring is big for them.

Today's player on the spot: Baylor linebacker Aiavion Edwards

Baylor had an up-and-down 2014 season defensively. But with nine starters back, including All-Big 12 defensive linemen Shawn Oakman and Andrew Billings, the Bears have a chance to field one of the Big 12's top defenses in 2015.

[+] EnlargeAiavion Edwards
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Aiavion Edwards will be fighting his way back into the starting lineup in 2015 on the inside.

But before they get to that level, the Bears need someone to emerge in place of departing inside linebacker Bryce Hager, who was a three-time, second-team All-Big 12 selection.

The onus is on junior Aiavion Edwards this spring to prove he can fill that role.

Edwards exited last spring atop the depth chart at weak-side linebacker alongside Hager. But an ankle injury early on in the season prompted Edwards to lose the job to Taylor Young, who went on to earn Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. With Young firmly entrenched on the weak side, Edwards is attempting to circle his way back into the starting lineup on the inside, where he began his Baylor career.

"Everything is good, and I'm back 100 percent (from the ankle injury)," Edwards told reporters earlier this spring. "I've been re-familiarizing myself at middle linebacker because I had played there before last fall."

Edwards, however, has plenty of competition for the starting job in the middle.

Senior Grant Campbell, who transferred in from Bakersfield College last year, is also vying for the role after serving as the backup to Hager in 2014. Junior Kendall Ehrlich, who finished with a game-high 12 tackles in Baylor's Friday Night Lights scrimmage last week, and sophomore Raaquan Davis are also firmly in the mix.

Still, Edwards realizes the opportunity to shine is there. And if he can the man the middle anywhere near to the level that Hager did, the Bears will have a chance to boast their best defense in years.

"Bryce Hager showed the linebacker group as a whole that it has to be elite," Edwards said. "He's a role model that we all look up to and we're going to try to keep it going."

WACO, Texas -- Shortly after Baylor's "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage last week, LaQuan McGowan took in the photo capturing the second-biggest moment of his college football career.

The Bears' mammoth tight end had broken free down the seam of the field, snagged a pass and smashed through intrepid free safety Mallory Franklin, who dared to duck in his path.

"I'm 400 pounds," McGowan said. "Just doesn't seem fair or even."

Baylor inside linebacker Grant Campbell would agree.

During the first week of practice this spring, McGowan exploded off the line and met Campbell, who had sprinted right for him. Campbell later would explain that he wanted to see what would happen if he just hit McGowan as hard as he could.

"That wasn't the smartest idea," McGowan said.

The encounter left the 230-pound Campbell staring up at the sky, prompting coach Art Briles to summarily bar McGowan from anymore contact in practice.

[+] EnlargeLaQuan McGowan
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesLaQuan McGowan's big moment in the spotlight included this TD catch in last season's Cotton Bowl.

"It could have been really bad," McGowan said. "I have to watch how I hit people because it doesn't take much effort for me to knock someone over.

"But once the season starts, they're going to turn me loose again."

That's a frightening proposition for Baylor's 2015 opponents, who will have to deal with the unprecedented issue of matching up against a 6-foot-7, 410-pound tight end, who not only can decapitate defenders, but possesses the agility to run routes and has enormous, yet soft, hands.

"You can throw a ball as hard as you can at Quan, and he's going to catch it like this," said Baylor offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, picking up an iPhone case off his desk. "It's incredible."

Long before he hauled in a touchdown pass in the Cotton Bowl, McGowan had dazzled teammates in practice with a knack for snatching any ball tossed in his direction.

"He can catch passes one-handed, behind his back," said receiver KD Cannon. "He can do it all. His hands are so big. It's really fun to watch."

After watching McGowan warm up with the quarterbacks and receivers before every practice last season, Art Briles decided he wanted to install a play for the backup guard.

"That was Coach Briles' baby," Kendal Briles said of his father.

The Bears had planned to unleash McGowan in the regular-season finale against Kansas State, but never found the right moment.

But in their bowl game against Michigan State, McGowan's moment finally came.

Lining up to the left on the weak side of an unbalanced formation, McGowan looked up to see if any of the Spartans' defenders had noticed him. They hadn't.

"That's when I knew I had it," he said.

McGowan easily hauled in a 21-yard touchdown reception to deliver the most memorable highlight in a wild 42-41 loss chock-full of them.

If Baylor's spring scrimmage was any indication, many more pass-catching highlights could be on the way. But McGowan confessed he still watches the Cotton Bowl catch daily on YouTube, noting how it was a "proud moment" for him.

[+] EnlargeLaQuan McGowan
Courtesy of Cal Farley's Boys RanchWhile a student at Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, McGowan gave back one Spring Break by volunteering to deliver food to need-based areas.

"It opened doors for me," McGowan said of the play, which inspired his audition for tight end this spring.

That wasn't the first time, though, he has seen doors opened for him.

McGowan grew up in a rough Dallas neighborhood. So rough that his mother feared he might not ever make it out. When he was 11 years old, she enrolled him at the Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, a nonprofit school with about 250 students outside Amarillo, Texas, that takes in at-risk boys and girls.

"I remember first bumping into him in the dining hall line," said Mike Wilhelm, the school's chaplain. "I thought he was a junior in high school."

Being that big that young wasn't easy. McGowan kept mostly to himself at first. But sports eventually gave him an outlet.

Ironically, McGowan didn't enjoy contact initially, so he tried out for the cross country team his sophomore year.

"I did it for like two days," McGowan said. "Then I realized that was too much running."

Eventually, McGowan grew to love football. He starred for the basketball team, too.

The school, however, had difficulty finding basketball shoes for McGowan, who wore a Size 22 by the time he reached high school. Dan Adams, Cal Farley's president, tried everywhere, including the Dallas Mavericks, to find shoes that would fit. The Mavs couldn't help, either. But they put Adams in touch with the Phoenix Suns, who had the solution: Shaquille O'Neal wore the same size.

"This big box shows up in my office and it's two pair of Size 22 shoes from Shaq," Adams said. "LaQuan was just beaming."

McGowan doesn't know where he'd be now had he not gone to Cal Farley.

"I think one thing I always needed that I never had was a dad," McGowan said. "Every kid needs a father figure and the Boys Ranch kind of did that for me even though there were a bunch of different people there that filled that role."

Wilhelm and Adams were two of those men.

"LaQuan is a special person and it has nothing to do with his size," said Wilhelm, who recalled the time McGowan spent a spring break delivering food to kids who lived in a tough neighborhood in Amarillo. "He's a big man, but he has a big heart, too."

Through football, McGowan has given the Cal Farley kids another person to look up to.

"Even the younger kids who've never met him, they know LaQuan, they know about the Cotton Bowl catch," said Wilhelm, who's noticed a wave of green and gold attire surfacing on campus. "He's become a hero to a bunch of kids who have come here from all kinds of unfortunate backgrounds and needed a hero."

Another door is open for McGowan. Best of luck to anyone who tries to stop him.

Big 12 morning links

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25

Deep-fried nachos sound like they have potential, but I'd prefer some Fried S'mOreo.

  • Is TCU the No. 3 team in the country right now? Not in the opinion of Gary Patterson, who expressed some displeasure after the Horned Frogs' practice on Tuesday. His team got tired in the heat, his defensive line isn't playing great, his linebackers aren't there yet and he knows there's a long way to go before the season opener. No reason to fret, TCU fans: this is more about Patterson sending a message to his team. He's going to have to guard against complacency and inflated ego in his locker room as expectations continue to rise.
  • Kansas opened spring ball on Tuesday, and senior quarterback Michael Cummings took the first-string snaps ahead of Montell Mozart, according to Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital-Journal. New coach David Beaty says there's no need to read too much into that, though he did declare he plans to pick one starter and won't rotate QBs. More importantly, the Jayhawks got their first taste of their new pace with 94 plays in 44 minutes. That's pretty dang quick.
  • E.J. Bibbs quieted a lot of the concerns about his knee on Tuesday at Iowa State's pro day. The tight end, a likely late-round pick who underwent postseason surgery, ran a nice 40 time (4.86) and showed off his athleticism with some good testing numbers in front of NFL scouts. Knowing how hard it is to find good tight ends at the college level, you'd think Bibbs will get a long look from a few organizations during this draft process. Good to hear he's healed up nicely after missing the Cyclones' final two games.
  • Texas opens spring practice on Wednesday with some glaring issues along its defensive line. The Longhorns released their pre-spring injury report, and half of the team's scholarship defensive linemen are going to be out or at least limited this spring. That includes potential starters Desmond Jackson, Caleb Bluiett and Quincy Vasser. We won't get to see exciting redshirt freshman Derick Roberson until the fall, either. The good thing for new D-line coach Brick Haley is a bunch of his healthy guys -- Poona Ford, Shiro Davis and Naashon Hughes stand out -- could really use those extra snaps.
  • And finally, in case you need a little extra to bring some joy to your morning, here's a video of beloved Baylor tight end LaQuan McGowan catching passes with one hand. We're not worthy! The 400-pound behemoth continues to establish himself as the most interesting man in the Big 12 this spring, and Jake is going to have a lot more on him in a great story today.

TCU and Colorado have agreed to a home-and-home series, sources told ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.

The Horned Frogs and Buffaloes will play in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2022 and in Boulder, Colorado, in 2023. It will be the first meeting between the schools.

Even though the Big 12 and Pac-12 -- which both play nine league games -- do not require their league members to play at least one nonconference Power 5 opponent, both schools have lined up several future home-and-home series against nonconference Power 5 teams.

TCU has series scheduled with Minnesota (2014-15), Arkansas (2016-17), Ohio State (2018-19) and California (2020-21).

Colorado has a four-game series with Nebraska (2018-19 and 2023-24), two games with Minnesota (2021-22) and also will visit Michigan in 2016.

Offseason spotlight: Texas A&M

March, 24, 2015
Mar 24

One thing Texas A&M has been pretty successful with in recent years is left tackle. The last two NFL drafts saw an A&M left tackle get drafted in the top 10, and for the third straight season the Aggies will have to replace an All-SEC member at the most important position up front. (Other posts in the Offseason Spotlight series.)

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesTexas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin needs someone to step in as the Aggies' new left tackle? Could Avery Gennesy be the guy?

Spotlight: Avery Gennesy, offensive tackle, 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, redshirt junior

2014 summary: Gennesy arrived in College Station last year as a junior college transfer but redshirted in 2014.

The skinny: The departure of All-SEC left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi means the Aggies must find someone new to protect quarterback Kyle Allen's blindside. While Gennesy had a solid juco career, he has yet to play a down of football at the FBS level. Now, can he be a starting left tackle in the SEC? He won't be handed the job, but it sounds like he's had a pretty good spring to this point and has a good chance to be the starter at left tackle this fall. It was smart to give Gennesy a chance to play two real seasons with the Aggies, rather than waste 2014 on a season in which he would have played primarily as a backup, but now Gennesy has to show he was worth waiting on. Having that juco experience will help him from a maturity standpoint and somewhat with the grind of upper-level football, and he's getting pushed by Germain Ifedi, who started 10 of 12 games at right tackle last season. Honestly, that will help both of them this offseason, which is great for the Aggies. One other thing to keep an eye on here is what changes -- if any -- are made for the offensive line, especially schematically, with new offensive line coach Dave Christensen overseeing the big uglies up front. Left tackle has been a position of prestige at A&M during Kevin Sumlin's tenure, so the Aggies won't accept any sort of drop off. And with a young quarterback, you simply can't have that. Gennesy has the size and, if his solid spring continues, A&M likely won't have an issue at the line's top position.

The plan this spring has been to work both Gennesy and Ifedi at the tackle spots, so in some form or fashion those two will most likely be the starters on the outside this fall. While Ifedi has wanted to move over to left tackle, Gennesy is built more naturally for left tackle, while Ifedi is more of a right tackle in the long run.

Big 12 morning links

March, 24, 2015
Mar 24

The St. Louis Raiders? Seriously? I'm all for bringing the NFL to L.A., but come on.

  • After a break of more than two weeks, Oklahoma returned to the practice field on Monday. Its players are wearing black to continue their efforts toward eliminating racism on OU's campus following the SAE fiasco. You have to respect the fact that Sooners players are taking this problem seriously and haven't just moved on now that the national controversy has seemingly passed. As for on-field news, Joe Mixon and Dede Westbrook are earning praise, and all four quarterbacks are reportedly getting near-equal reps.
  • Charlie Strong talked quarterbacks and a whole lot more on Monday to kick off Texas' first week of spring practice. Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News offers a solid recap here and makes some good points about the kind of building that's ahead for Strong and his Longhorns. Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman offers a fine take on talk of rebuilding, too. As I wrote about yesterday, Strong is still working to build up a lot more than just the talent level when it comes to this team.
  • Kansas is opening spring practice on Tuesday, and David Beaty sounds fired up to get started. Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World caught up with the new head coach on the eve of practice and got him to lay out some of his goals for spring ball. You will notice Beaty rarely talks about specific players in these interviews -- it sure seems like he's trying to bring a clean-slate mentality to finding out what he's working with on this roster. Beaty's emphasis on establishing a clean brand of football in terms of penalties, turnovers and special teams is probably a good start, too.
  • Former Oklahoma tight end Taylor McNamara is transferring to USC, he announced Monday night via Twitter. His plans to depart had been largely expected for the past month, and McNamara seems to be making a smart move here. He'll graduate from Oklahoma in May and play right away for a Trojans team that's thin at tight end while Bryce Dixon is suspended. Blake Bell's move to tight end really marginalized McNamara's chances to help Oklahoma in 2014, so you can't blame him for wanting to start over closer to home.
  • Here's an interesting look by Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune at Iowa State's Jake Campos and why improved flexibility is going to be a difference-maker for the touted tackle this fall. It's a close examination of how a 6-foot-8, 295-pound lineman can get more effective simply by making a change as minor as doing more ankle stretches. If you're an O-line junkie, I think you'll enjoy this read.

On the spot: Texas RB Johnathan Gray

March, 23, 2015
Mar 23

Continuing our series from last week, we're featuring 10 Big 12 players who are on the spot this spring. Maybe they are coming back from injury. Maybe they have much to prove after a disappointing 2014 season. Maybe they are embroiled in a key position battle. Whatever the case, this spring is big for them.

Today’s player on the spot: Texas running back Johnathan Gray

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesTexas will be counting on big production from running back Johnathan Gray this season.

Johnathan Gray is too polite a guy to complain about the cards he’s been dealt. That’s just not like him. He would shrug, too, if asked about his former five-star status. Why worry about old expectations?

The Texas senior running back has been a quality contributor for three seasons, but not exactly a star. Gray seemed to be on the fast track to that fame in 2013, during a six-game stretch in which he compiled 628 rushing yards. He was explosive, elusive, savvy.

Then, in an instant, the setback. A freak accident, really, considering Gray tore his Achilles without being touched. Days later, of course, he was still smiling and chuckling about his bad luck.

More than 16 months have now passed since Gray went down that night against West Virginia. He wasn’t the same player last fall. Nobody’s questioning his health today. The Longhorns are about to find out how good Gray can still be.

Coach Charlie Strong needs him to be great. Gray is already there with his leadership and his hard work, but it’s time for the production to match. His workload will be significant -- four of Texas’ five backups this fall will be freshmen -- and 1,000 yards is well within reach for Gray.

He has rushed for 100 yards just five times at Texas. He has logged 20 carries only four times. The Longhorns are undefeated in those games. They are 9-2 when he scores. They are tough to beat on his best days.

Why Gray had so few of those days as a junior had a lot to do with his offensive line, an underwhelming and constantly changing group for most of 2014. Gaping holes for big gains are hard to come by when your line is inexperienced, and even harder when it's unstable.

Texas is working hard to correct its flaws up front with an influx of new talent this spring, but Gray has work to do, too. He didn’t have the same burst last fall. His vision and open-field instincts -- traits that made him ESPN’s No. 2 recruit and made college scouts drool -- weren’t consistently strengths.

But on a Texas team with such big question marks at quarterback, the running back has to be the answer. With the torn Achilles now in the past and a better line now in the works, it’s about time for Gray to become one of the Big 12’s best.

Thursday wasn't pretty for Big 12 basketball. Never fear, I'm here to put ailing minds back on football. In Friday's Twitter mailbag, we discuss a potential undefeated Revivalry showdown, Texas Tech's underrated offensive weapon, and whether Baker Mayfield will win the starting QB job in Norman.

On to the 'Bag:

Trotter: The easy answer on offense is either TCU or Baylor or both. The Horned Frogs return 10 starters off an attack that ranked second in the country (behind Baylor). Quarterback is the only real question in Waco, and the early returns on Seth Russell this spring have been good. Defensively, keep an eye on Oklahoma State. The Cowboys will have four cornerbacks whocan really play. Jordan Sterns is an All-Big 12-caliber safety. The linebacking corps will be the deepest of the Mike Gundy era. And Emmanuel Ogbah is the reigning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year.

Trotter: At this point, I'd be surprised. A lot can happen this spring. But the Sooners got a long look at Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas last year, and it was very evident that neither was the answer, at least in their 2014 form. Given his time at Texas Tech and his skill set, Mayfield is also a better fit for the air raid offense that new coordinator Lincoln Riley is installing. Knight could get another shot if Mayfield struggled next season. But my money would be on Mayfield opening the year as the starter.

Trotter: You forced me to look up that 1935 Iron Skillet showdown. That was a big one, considering both the Frogs and Ponies were undefeated. But a "Revivalry" featuring an unbeaten TCU and Baylor would be monstrous. The winner would be all but guaranteed a spot in the playoff. I feel pretty comfortable in saying that would constitute the biggest college football game in Fort Worth history.

Trotter: I expect a step back offensively. But maybe a step forward on defense. It would be almost impossible for any offense to immediately replace the production that Kevin White, Mario Alford and Clint Trickett supplied last year. The Mountaineers also have some retooling to do on the offensive line. Even in a best-case scenario, it's hard to see the Mountaineers being close to as explosive as they were last year. That said, West Virginia could have the league's top secondary with Karl Joseph, Dravon Henry and Daryl Worley. The linebackers have experience. And though pass rush is a concern, this has a chance to be West Virginia's best defense in years. Will that be a net plus given the losses on offense? Probably not. But the possibility is there.

Trotter: I'm not sure what preview you're referring to, but Washington definitely gets overlooked, due to Tech's overall struggles last year. But he's a dynamic all-around back, who can reel off big plays and inflict damage as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. This is one of the league's better offensive players. With more consistent quarterbacking in front of him, he could have a huge 2015 season.

Recruit and return: SMU Mustangs 

March, 19, 2015
Mar 19
videoTo return to the NCAA tournament, a team needs contributions from both returning players and incoming recruits. Here's a look at SMU and its chances of dancing again in 2016. Quick references: 2014-15 roster 2015 recruiting Possible 2015-16 starting five: G: Nic Moore G: Keith Frazier F: Ben Emelogu F: Sterling Brown C: Markus Kennedy