The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Certain schools always manage to hit home runs at specific positions, despite a player’s ranking. Michigan State is a perfect example of that with quarterbacks, and the Spartans hit one out of the park this past weekend. And Texas made the most out of its opportunity to host recruits at its spring game.

Spartans continue QB success
Four-star quarterback Brian Lewerke, who is ranked No. 255 in the nation, announced his commitment to Michigan State this past Saturday. For the Spartans it was their second ESPN 300 commitment in the 2015 class along with offensive lineman Kyonta Stallworth. But more important, it gives Michigan State additional quarterback depth, a position where it rarely misses.

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Swoopes struggles in Texas spring game

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
11:42
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The Charlie Strong era began at Texas with a shaky performance at quarterback and few questions answered about just how quickly the Longhorns can rebound in the Big 12 under their new coach.

Tyrone Swoopes' audition had its downs and ups, leaving Texas with little clarity for its quarterback concerns after the Orange-White spring game on Saturday.

The sophomore got off to a rough start, missing on seven of his first nine pass attempts, but finished with 229 passing yards and three touchdowns. He led the Longhorns' first-team offense on four touchdown drives during the two-hour scrimmage at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Swoopes received every first-team snap in place of David Ash, who missed the final week of spring practice with a fractured foot, but every snap came against the Texas second-team defense.

"You like the way he (was) able to bounce back," said Strong, who was hired in January from Louisville to replace Mack Brown. "He missed some big throws there, you'd like to see him complete those balls, but then the way he settled down and was able to bounce back, now you feel like, 'OK, he's getting himself back under control.'"

Swoopes was sacked on his first dropback of the day, and then threw an interception to walk-on Dylan Haines on his first attempt. The Texas starting offense accounted for 4 total yards on its first 18 snaps against the No. 2 defense.

The second-year passer rallied from there, leading a 91-yard drive in the second quarter capped by an 11-yard touchdown run from Malcolm Brown, and then ended the half with a 42-yard touchdown on a Hail Mary to Daje Johnson.

Read the rest of this story here.

Mailbag: Darkhorses, Charlie Strong, DEs

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
4:30
PM CT
We've been doing something different with the mailbag, including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To submit a mailbag entry via Twitter, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You also still can send in questions the traditional way here, too.

To the 'bag...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring game preview: Texas

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
2:00
PM CT
AUSTIN, Texas -- The first Texas football game of the Charlie Strong era will look a lot more like a practice.

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

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

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

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

The Sooners 15 practices answered some questions, but others remain. Now is the perfect time to update the some of the position battles that made this spring intriguing in Norman. We took a look at offense and defense earlier this week. We end the series on Friday with special teams.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard should be able to step up and fill the void left in OU's return game by the departure of Jalen Saunders.
Kicker

Pre-spring: Already considered among the nation’s best, Michael Hunnicutt is locked in as the Sooners’ starting kicker.

Post-spring: Not only should the Sooners feel great about Hunnicutt, he showed increased kicking prowess in the spring game. Long-range field goals have not been a strength for the 2013 Lou Groza Award semifinalist during his first three years, but he nailed two 40-plus yard field goals in the spring game, including a 53-yarder, although it was wind-aided.

Summer outlook: OU heads into the summer knowing it has one of the nation’s best kickers.

Punter

Pre-spring: Jed Barnett returns after his first season as OU’s punter, averaging 41.7 yards per punt.

Post-spring: Much like kicker, there's not much to see here. Barnett was solid during his first season and returns to give OU solid punting in his final year on campus. OU should exit the spring feeling good about both kicking positions.

Summer outlook: Barnett is a very solid punter and heads into the summer as the clear No. 1 guy. There’s no reason to think that will change.

Returners

Pre-spring: The Sooners lose all of their returners. Receiver Jalen Saunders was dynamic on punt returns and running backs Roy Finch and Brennan Clay were very productive kick returners. With that, there are plenty of questions about who will return kicks.

Post-spring:Receiver Sterling Shepard is in line to return punts. He was a superb punt returner in high school and has proven playmaking ability. Cornerback Zack Sanchez could also be an option as a punt returner this fall. Kick returns could be a good fit for running back Alex Ross or running back Daniel Brooks among several other young and talented options.

Summer outlook: OU will start finalizing its return game in August. Plenty of talented freshmen could get the opportunity, with Shepard looking like the lone frontrunner for any of the return positions.

“When we get our whole football team on here in the summer, that’s when I’ll identify and make final decisions on that,” special teams coordinator Jay Boulware said of potential punt and kick returners. “We have a lot of freshmen coming in and we have a lot of guys who are busting their butts right now. We won’t make any final decisions until towards the end of fall camp.”

Punt/kick coverage

Pre-spring: OU’s coverage teams could improve after allowing 15.6 yards per punt return and 23.28 yards per kick return in 2013. But OU’s coverage overall was pretty solid and its coverage units allowed then-freshmen like Ahmad Thomas, Dakota Austin and Keith Ford to get their feet wet and contribute during their first seasons.

Post-spring: Much like the returners, Boulware will be looking to finalize these units after the freshmen arrive. One key to keep an eye on will be OU’s attempt to replace Trey Millard, who was a special teams monster during his four seasons. Freshman Dimitri Flowers appears ready to help replace Millard on offense but Boulware said he’s not certain if the early enrollee can match Millard’s contributions on special teams as well.

Summer outlook: Special teams coverage units can be a way for true freshmen to get their foot in the door. Boulware likes the overall speed and athleticism on the roster this spring, so adding additional, hungry freshmen into the mix should help OU be able to field some of the quickest and more athletic coverage units in the Big 12 in 2014. The battle for special teams spots should be interesting to watch and could provide a glimpse at the young guys who could be the future on offense and defense.

Texas spring game draws loaded list 

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
11:00
AM CT
video
AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong’s #letsride movement is picking up momentum, and it’s going to the next level on Saturday at Texas’ Orange-White spring game.

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

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

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Texas spring game draws loaded recruit list 

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
11:00
AM CT
AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong’s #letsride movement is picking up momentum, and it’s going to the next level on Saturday at Texas’ Orange-White spring game.

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

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

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
11:00
AM CT
NBA playoffs start this weekend. This should get you ready for the fun!

Joeckel adds a veteran to TCU QB derby

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
8:33
PM CT
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That didn’t take long.

One day after Matt Joeckel's departure from Texas A&M, the senior-to-be has landed at TCU.

[+] EnlargeMatt Joeckel
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsFormer Texas A&M QB Matt Joeckel's decision to transfer to TCU could strengthen the Horned Frogs at two positions this fall.
The addition of the former Aggies quarterback, who will be eligible immediately, has to bring a smile to the face of Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson. TCU exited spring football with questions remaining at the position after the offense failed to score a touchdown in its spring scrimmage finale.

Trevone Boykin, who started six games at quarterback for the Horned Frogs in 2013, got the majority of the snaps at quarterback with TCU’s starting offense this spring, yet he could be TCU’s best receiver. Tyler Matthews, who was battling Boykin in the spring, elected to transfer earlier this week, and redshirt freshman Zach Allen never emerged as a major threat to Boykin’s spot atop the depth chart.

Joeckel’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Horned Frogs are moving to a pass-heavy offense under new offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie but don’t have a trigger man for the attack.

Joeckel could be that guy. Or, at the very least, he could provide a veteran bridge while freshman quarterbacks Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein get comfortable in the offense and in the Horned Frogs program. Patterson has been candid with his willingness to turn to one of the true freshman in 2014, but Joeckel’s decision could be the answer to all the remaining questions at the position.

Joeckel, who backed up 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel during his time at Texas A&M, ran a similar offense with the Aggies and started the 2013 season opener against Rice when Manziel was suspended. He finished the 2013 season with 293 passing yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He was 14 of 19 for 190 yards and one touchdown during one half of action -- before Manziel took over -- against Rice, his lone start a year ago.

The overlooked impact of his decision to join the Horned Frogs is the opportunity for TCU to move Boykin back to receiver and still have a mature, veteran option under center this fall. Boykin was arguably TCU’s best receiver at the end of the 2013 season after Casey Pachall returned from injury. The junior is dynamic with the ball in his hands and is much better served catching passes than throwing them, particularly in TCU's new offensive system. He had 26 receptions for 204 yards in 2013.

Thus, with Joeckel’s addition to the TCU offense, the Horned Frogs might have added two additional pieces to their arsenal, not just one.
Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has a simple explanation to describe the change in his job in the past year.

“180 degrees,” he says.

At this time a year ago, Spencer was a new defensive coordinator with a defense full of veterans. From cornerback Justin Gilbert, a likely NFL draft first-round pick, to linebacker Shaun Lewis, an All-Big 12 performer, the Cowboys defense featured several players with plenty of experience. His task required fine-tuning and allowed him to be creative, with the understanding his experienced defense could handle the extra burden of additional schemes.

This spring has been much different as he prepares for his second season running the Pokes' defense. The unit, while talented, is young and inexperienced as they try to replace a group of seniors who started 239 combined games in a Cowboys uniform.

[+] EnlargeGlenn Spencer
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer admits that his young defense "keeps him up at night."
“Right now it keeps me up at night,” Spencer said midway through the spring. “I just want them to find within themselves what they’re all about, check their heartbeat out before they come out here [to practice] and find the right motivation for what they’re doing. That’s part of the fun part, watching a kid find that, so we just have to get more people to find that.”

Instilling mental toughness was a spring focus.

“It’s been a process the whole spring; it’s not a real surprise,” Spencer said. “We have some guys running with the first unit that haven’t earned a thing yet and there’s probably a sense of entitlement right now.”

Oklahoma State does have several returning defenders with experience, including defensive tackle James Castleman and cornerback Kevin Peterson, who both say they prefer to lead by example. So there is a potential vocal leadership void, but Spencer has been pleased with the spring progress of his youthful unit, even if it hasn’t reached the heights required for success this fall.

“We got a lot done,” Spencer said. “I’m still not happy, but we got a lot done. There was some improvement made -- a lot of it -- mostly in the tough situations we put them in, some adversity that happened and watching and studying and seeing yourself on tape and realizing what you think you’re doing and what you’re actually doing doesn’t match up sometimes.”

If removing what Spencer had referred to as "a sense of entitlement" earlier in the spring has been achieved, then Oklahoma State can call this spring a success.

“Our perception of what we are and then what we are accomplishing is a lot different,” Spencer said. "Those things were huge, and we took a big step toward that.”

Even with their spring progress, the inexperience of the Cowboys defense will remain a storyline until the fall.

“There were a number of years where we had Joe [Mitchell] and Shaun and those guys you know about,” head coach Mike Gundy said. “When you’re experienced on defense, they can overcome speed, and they can overcome different tempos of offense and formations and movement. When you get in a game on that side of the ball, if you’re not real experienced, things that move around a little bit and you start paying attention to that, and then they snap the ball and you get out of your gap. We have to really pay attention as a coaching staff to that and put our players in positions to give them the best chance to have success early in the season.”

OU position battle update: Defense

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
11:00
AM CT
Spring football has come to a close at Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeDakota Austin
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesOklahoma's Dakota Austin ended the spring as the starter at cornerback opposite Zack Sanchez.
The Sooners' 15 practices answered some questions, but others still remain. Now is the perfect time to update the some of the position battles that made this spring intriguing in Norman, Okla. On Tuesday we took a look at the offense. Today, all eyes turn to the defense.

Cornerback

Pre-spring: A trio of Sooners entered the spring set to battle to replace Aaron Colvin. Sophomores Stanvon Taylor and Dakota Austin joined junior Cortez Johnson in the competition. None of the three entered the spring as the clear favorite to secure the spot.

Post-spring: Austin had the best spring of the bunch, taking the field with the Sooners’ first-team defense in the spring game and holding his own. The sophomore is undersized (5-foot-11, 162 pounds) but good in coverage and has a chip on his shoulder. Injuries hampered Johnson’s spring, and Taylor didn’t make the move you would expect from a guy who stepped on campus with lofty expectations.

Summer outlook: Someone needs to seize the opportunity by taking their game to another level. Austin sent a message with a strong spring, but a few incoming recruits, including Tito Windham and Jordan Thomas, arrive in the summer with an eye on stepping up if nobody else makes it their spot to lose.

Free safety

Pre-spring: Sophomores Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd each saw action as freshmen in 2013. With Quentin Hayes comfortably manning the other safety spot, letting the Class of 2013 signees compete for a starting spot was the plan.

Post-spring: Both guys look like they could be solid, trustworthy options at the position. Thomas has emerged as a player who should see the field regardless thanks to his versatility and athleticism, while Byrd has progressed as a playmaker.

Summer outlook: Depth, not the starters, is the main concern at safety. Thomas or Byrd could do the job, and Steven Parker arrives in the summer with a unique skill set that could make him tough to keep on the sidelines. Though the name of the starter at free safety remains unclear, the position doesn’t look like a potential weak link in the defense this fall.

Linebacker depth

Pre-spring: OU returned its two leading tacklers at the linebacker spot with Dominique Alexander and Frank Shannon, along with pass-rushing dynamo Eric Striker. It was a unit full of playmakers but questionable depth.

Post-spring: The depth questions remain and could get worse if Shannon, whose status is unclear after missing the spring game for personal reasons, does not return. Fortunately for OU, Jordan Evans looks ready to step in and fill the void if needed. Additionally, Devante Bond should provide another option for Mike Stoops’ defense, and defensive end Geneo Grissom even spent time at linebacker this spring. Alexander is a terrific foundation and Evans is unusually athletic at linebacker, so developing more depth is the lingering question.

Summer outlook: Shannon’s status is the main storyline of the summer. If he returns it's a big boost for the Sooners. If not, OU will likely turns to Evans, which is another hit to its depth. Incoming recruits Curtis Bolton and Tay Evans might be called upon sooner than anticipated.

Big 12's lunch links

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
11:00
AM CT
I'm guessing this is how Usain Bolt plays soccer.
Two seasons ago, the Big 12 sent an unprecedented nine of its 10 members to bowl games, prompting Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops -- among others -- to tout the depth of the league.

But last season, only six Big 12 teams qualified for bowls, as Iowa State, TCU and West Virginia had losing records while Kansas ran its bowl-less streak to five seasons.

In this week’s poll question, we ask: Which Big 12 team that didn’t qualify for a bowl last year has the best chance of getting back to one in 2014?

SportsNation

Which Big 12 team that failed to qualify for a bowl last year has the best chance of making one in 2014?

  •  
    17%
  •  
    2%
  •  
    39%
  •  
    42%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,424)

Until last season, the Mountaineers had made a bowl every year all the way back to 2001. But inconsistent play at quarterback and defensive injuries doomed them in 2013. West Virginia returns starter Clint Trickett and has added some interesting quarterbacks to the competition. The Mountaineers also appear loaded in the backfield and at wide receiver, and they added veteran assistant Tom Bradley to the defensive staff. But West Virginia plays a brutal schedule, which includes Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, and has road trips to Maryland, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas.

TCU had also been accustomed to going to bowl games annually, as the Horned Frogs hadn’t missed one since 2004. Injuries to defensive end Devonte Fields and quarterback Casey Pachall ravaged TCU early on in the season. The Horned Frogs also struggled offensively all year, prompting coach Gary Patterson to overhaul his attack and bring in Houston’s Doug Meacham and Texas Tech’s Sonny Cumbie to coordinate a no-huddle, spread attack. TCU lost All-American cornerback Jason Verrett off last fall’s team, but Fields appears healthy after undergoing foot surgery. The defense figures to be stout again.

Paul Rhoads had led Iowa State to two straight bowls before taking a step back last season. The Cyclones got off to a rough start with a stunning loss to Northern Iowa in the opener. They later dropped a one-point game on a Thursday night to Texas and never regained the momentum. The Cyclones never quit, however, and finished the season on a high note by routing Kansas and rallying to topple West Virginia on the road in triple overtime. Iowa State still needs several players to emerge defensively, but the offense could feature the best collection of skill players the Cyclones have enjoyed in a long time, headlined by running back Aaron Wimberly, wideout Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs.

Kansas hasn’t been to a bowl since current Iowa State offensive coordinator Mark Mangino was its head coach. The Jayhawks did defeat West Virginia last season to snap their 27-game Big 12 losing streak, but that remained their lone Big 12 win. Kansas has added transfer Nick Harwell, who was second in the nation in receiving in 2011 at Miami (Ohio) and should give the Jayhawks a much-needed go-to receiver. Kansas also brings back 16 starters, including nine on a defensive unit that played several teams tough last season. Of course, after winning just nine games combined the past four seasons, the Jayhawks would seemingly have the longest road back to a bowl.

But we leave it to you to decide: Which of these four teams -- West Virginia, TCU, Iowa State or Kansas -- has the best chance of getting back to a bowl in 2014?

Innovation still the aim for Baylor offense

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
9:00
AM CT
WACO, Texas -- Art Briles always wears sleeves. Go ahead, run a Google search. Try to find those forearms. Good luck.

You won't have any more luck getting Briles to reveal what's up his sleeve when it comes his newest offensive strategies. This future of the Baylor offense, and specifically how it intends to tear up opposing defenses in 2014, isn’t something he's looking to gab about this spring or any spring.

“Not publicly, no,” Briles said. “I like my job. I’m going to keep it.”

There's no need to give up any secrets about the Bears’ scheme, not when defensive coordinators have surely been scrutinizing it throughout this offseason in search of hints on how to stop it. Yet when you have the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense and No. 1 total offense, when you rank first in FBS in yards per attempt and 20-plus yard plays, how can you get any better? What’s the next step?

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesWhat's up Baylor coach Art Briles' ever-present sleeves for his offense this fall? Don't bother asking, becuase he's not telling.
Bryce Petty has to pause and think a moment when he hears that question, not because he seeks a calculating answer. It’s just a tricky thing to sum up when, really, the goal isn’t changing.

“The next level is not just being able to stretch out a defense. The next level for us is to perfect it,” Petty said. “It’s to say there’s honestly not a formation you can do that works. To me, that’s the next step, and that’s where we’re getting to.”

Innovation is the name of the game in Waco this offseason, as usual. This high-powered offense still needs new wrinkles, the latest tweaks and tricks, to stay ahead of the game.

And Briles knows this is a copycat game. This fall, you’ll see offenses all over the country run the packaged run/pass option plays that Baylor mastered long ago. And that means defenses all over the country will have answers for it, too, which is all the more reason for Briles and his staff to cook up new recipes for scoring.

There’s motivation in how Baylor closed out the season, too. It’s not just the Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF. Briles knows there was a dip in consistency, that his offense wasn’t the same in November and December.

“Honestly, we found that out last year,” he said. “Through eight games last year, there’s not a team playing better than us in the United States of America. It’s hard to stay at that level that long.

He brings up this year’s NCAA tournament. You’re going to have teams that rise early and slide late, such as Syracuse. You’re going to have the ones such as Kentucky that figure it out late in the season. There’s just no room for that in college football, not when you’re judged on a 12-game sample.

“You can’t be a Kentucky (basketball) in football, because you’ll never get there,” Briles said. “You have to do it every week you step on the field. That’s just the way it is.”

What makes the job even trickier, as Petty points out, are the games like Kansas State last season. Baylor came to Manhattan fresh off a 73-42 beatdown of West Virginia and had a concrete plan on how to attack the Wildcats.

The plan got crumpled up and tossed aside quickly once K-State rolled out defensive looks the Bears had never seen on film.

“It was nothing like what we saw,” Petty said. “That’s the chess match of it. That’s what’s fun for me, it’s a challenge to say, ‘All of our game plan? Throw it out!’”

There will be aspects of the Bears’ record-setting 2013 offense that gets thrown out because Briles knows the rest of the Big 12 will have caught up. Baylor has to be different.

“That’s the cat-and-mouse game that I love,” Briles said with a grin.

He’ll have some speedy new cats to work with this fall with true home-run threats such as Johnny Jefferson at running back and K.D. Cannon at receiver. He’ll even work in a few physical freaks like Tre'Von Armstead, a 6-foot-5, 280-pound tight end with 4.8 40-yard-dash speed.

They’re all pieces to an ever-changing puzzle that will only get more challenging to solve.

“Trying to be perfect? Trying to be innovative? We’re not trying,” Briles said. “We’re being perfect, we’re being innovative, being fearless, not trying to open the book and play by what the book says. We’re willing to think outside the box. That, to me, is the biggest challenge we have. Because the bar is set so high that it’s really hard to maintain that level for an extended period of time.”

For a perfectionist such as Briles, and for an offense that aims to score on every single snap, this is the fun part. He can say with pride Baylor was the nation’s best for eight games, but in his book, that’s not nearly enough.

“We still feel like we really haven’t played a season here yet,” Briles said. “We’re just getting this thing going. We’re on the ground floor. So to me, that’s very inspirational.”

Lessons from spring: Little clarity at QB

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
9:00
AM CT
It would be easy to assume that 15 spring football practices would bring some clarity to the Texas A&M quarterback race.

Instead, there were seemingly as many questions coming out of spring as there were when it began.

The arrest and subsequent suspension of sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill, one of three Aggies who entered spring competing for the right to succeed Johnny Manziel, complicated matters in the final week of spring practice as senior Matt Joeckel and true freshman Kyle Allen spent the final week of spring drills splitting reps.

The announcement Wednesday of Joeckel's decision to transfer cleared things up somewhat, but it's still a marathon until the Aggies pick a starter.

Hill, who was suspended on March 28 following an arrest for public intoxication, has since been reinstated to the team and will have to stay out of trouble moving forward. He has experience on his side, having appeared in five games last season and having plenty of experience in a no-huddle, up-tempo spread-style offense like the Aggies run.

Allen, who went through customary true freshman growing pains in the early portions of spring practice while working to grasp the offense, came along nicely toward the end of spring drills, throwing a quality deep ball and handling the entire menu of plays that offensive coordinator Jake Spavital threw at him.

Joeckel's departure thins out the quarterback depth, leaving the Aggies with just two scholarship players at the position (look for walk-on Conner McQueen to be the third-string quarterback). Joeckel was still in the race when he made his decision, and the Aggies would have liked to have his veteran presence around, but he clearly felt his chance to start in 2014 was better somewhere else than Aggieland. And keep in mind, the Aggies continue to look for a quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class, with the focus currently set on ESPN 300 prospect and two-time Texas Class 5A Division I state champion Kyler Murray, son of former Aggies quarterback Kevin Murray.

With Joeckel out, it's a two-man race between Allen and Hill until mid-August, but it's too early to call a winner just yet. That's not the way A&M coach Kevin Sumlin works. He prefers to wait until approximately two weeks before the season opener before calling the quarterback competition, something he stayed true to in 2008 (his first year at Houston) and in 2012 (his first year at Texas A&M).

So Hill and Allen will continue to battle it out this summer and when preseason training camp begins in late July or early August. Speculation will run rampant as it did in 2012 (when many observers felt Jameill Showers led Manziel coming out of spring ball, though Manziel ultimately won the job), but the bottom line is we won't truly know who's trotting out into the offensive huddle first on Aug. 28 against South Carolina until Sumlin says so in about four months.

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