Below are 10 bold predictions for the Big 12 this spring:

1. QB battles linger into the fall: Tight quarterback competitions in Austin, Manhattan, Morgantown, Norman, Waco and even Lubbock and Lawrence emerge as dominant storylines of the spring. Baylor's Seth Russell, Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes and Kansas State's Joe Hubener eventually are named starters before the summer. But the spring fails to bring resolution to the other battles, which all carry over into the fall.

[+] EnlargePatrick Mahomes
John Weast/Getty ImagesPatrick Mahomes will most likely have to compete for his role as the Red Raiders' starting quarterback.
2. TCU's defense struggles for a change: Gary Patterson's defenses perennially have been stout dating back to his days as a coordinator in Fort Worth. But this spring, with several new starters in the secondary and at linebacker, a pair of new coordinators and facing off against one of the nation's most explosive passing offenses, the TCU defense takes its lumps. Ultimately, this makes the unit better prepared for the fall. But at times this spring, it's not pretty.

3. Joe Mixon steals the show in Norman: Bob Stoops has already said Mixon won't play in the Sooners' spring game -- the final punishment on his sentence for punching a female student last year. But behind the scenes leading up to the open scrimmage, Mixon flashes the game-breaking ability that made him one of the top running back recruits in the country in 2014. After rushing for more than 1,700 yards as a true freshman last season, Samaje Perine remains the featured running back. But Mixon's talent prompts new coordinator Lincoln Riley to get creative about how to get Mixon on the field, including using him extensively in the slot.

4. Texas seeks grad transfer QB: The spring delivers no great revelation to the quarterback position in Austin, prompting the Longhorns to heavily pursue a graduate transfer quarterback, la Everett Golson or Braxton Miller. Tyrone Swoopes had his moments last season and redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard was highly recruited. But the Texas brass exits spring wondering if their long-term answer at quarterback has yet to step on campus. In the meantime, landing a difference-maker there in the short term becomes priority No. 1.

5. Baylor's LaQuan McGowan keeps scoring TDs: In light of his nifty touchdown grab against Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Baylor is experimenting with using the 6-foot-7, 410-pound McGowan at tight end and H-back this spring. The experiment turns into a permanent position for McGowan, who caps the spring with another head-turning touchdown reception in Baylor's Friday Night Lights scrimmage.

6 Oklahoma State newcomer Todd Mays steps into the Tyreek Hill role: Mays doesn't possess Hill's world-class speed. But having excelled playing running back, receiver and even quarterback last year for East Mississippi Community College, Mays' versatility proves to be a natural fit this spring in the role Hill manned for the Cowboys in 2014 as a change-of-pace back, dangerous slot receiver and big-play returner.

7. Texas Tech's QB race is tighter than predicted: Mahomes was spectacular for the Red Raiders down the stretch last season, intimating a two-man QB derby with Davis Webb would be a mere formality before Mahomes would be named the starter by spring's end. It's easy to forget, though, that Webb was terrific himself in Tech's 2013 bowl game before a turnover- and injury-plagued season sullied a potential encore campaign. Still, the Red Raiders were pumped about Webb this time last spring for a reason. And with Mahomes splitting time playing baseball -- he's missing Saturday's football workout to travel with the baseball team for a series at Cal State Fullerton — Webb makes Kliff Kingsbury's decision much tougher than anyone anticipated.

8. Iowa State finds its featured back in Mike Warren: Rising senior DeVondrick Nealy was set to become the Cyclones' starting running back in 2015, until he and coach Paul Rhoads stunningly parted ways before signing day. After the spring, no one will be left lamenting Nealy's departure. Warren, who redshirted last year in Ames after rushing for more than 2,500 yards and averaging better than 9 yards per carry during his senior season in Lawton, Oklahoma, emerges as the Cyclones' every-down back by the end of the spring, completing the biggest question mark for an offense that quietly has a chance to be very dangerous this season.

9. K-State, West Virginia exit spring with WR concerns: No teams in college football were more decimated by graduation at receiver than K-State and West Virginia. The Wildcats and the Mountaineers between them graduated 359 receptions and 4,966 receiving yards in the forms of Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton, Kevin White and Mario Alford. With quarterbacks Jake Waters and Clint Trickett gone, too, and without established go-to receivers, the passing games at both schools suffer this spring, leaving receiver as huge question marks at K-State and West Virginia heading into the fall.

10. Baylor, TCU come out still on top: Going into the offseason, TCU and Baylor looked like the clear-cut, top-two teams in the Big 12. Even with both teams carrying questions -- Baylor at quarterback, TCU on defense -- the defending conference co-champs exit spring looking like the class of the league, and are overwhelmingly voted to finish first and second in the Big 12 preseason polls in the summer.

Roundtable: Big 12 spring QB derbies

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
3:00
PM CT
This spring, the Big 12 is loaded with quarterback competitions. But the three most hotly contested quarterback battles figure to reside in Norman, Morgantown and Austin. We predict the winners of these three competitions in our weekly Big 12 roundtable:

Who will win Oklahoma's QB derby?

Max Olson: I feel like I'd be a fool to bet against Baker Mayfield in this race. I know we've seen glimpses of Trevor Knight's ceiling before, and no question he's exciting on his best days. But if you saw what Mayfield did in the OU spring game last year, you knew this day was coming, right? Sure, the best foe he ever beat at Tech was probably that 4-8 TCU team. But Mayfield is a third-year guy now who's had plenty of time to mature and learn, and I can't discount the fact he's the Oklahoma QB most accustomed to playing in the offense Lincoln Riley will run. I think Mayfield will win the job in August.

Brandon Chatmon: I expect the OU spring competition to end much like TCU’s did 12 months ago, with the overriding summer question being whether the Sooners have anyone who can do the job. The spring will be filled with plenty of ups and downs from all three competitors. I think they do have a guy who can get the job done but, like Max, I think it won’t be decided until just before the season begins. Mayfield is the favorite because people tend to like shiny new toys, but I’m going to go with Knight to hold off Mayfield and keep his job. I like what Mayfield brings to the table, but people are choosing to overlook Knight's positives and focus instead on the mental lapses that plagued him in 2014. I’m betting on Riley to bring consistency and good decision-making to Knight’s game.

Jake Trotter: I don't think Bob Stoops will name a starter until August. But when he's ready to name one, I think it will be Mayfield. I'm not ready to give up on Knight. And Cody Thomas has the tools to be a quality Big 12 quarterback. But given the offense Riley wants to run, Mayfield makes the most sense. He has experience operating the air raid from his time at Tech. And, he's not a retread from last year's disastrous season. Mayfield brings a little bit of savvy and a lot of confidence to the position, too, which is something the Sooners could really use.

What about West Virginia's QB battle?

Olson: The William Crest bandwagon was filling up quickly last year in Morgantown even when he didn't play, and it's easy to see why. Is he better than Geno Smith and Pat White combined, as some WVU fans seem to believe? Not yet. We got such a limited opportunity to see him play in 2014 (four pass attempts and five rushes vs. Towson), but as long as his shoulder holds up, I think he's the long-term solution for this program.

Chatmon: Skyler Howard made great strides toward securing the starting job after Clint Trickett’s head injuries forced him to retire. Howard was solid in three starts to end the season, particularly with his eight touchdowns without an interception. But with five quarterbacks in the battle to permanently replace Trickett, this competition looks poised to extend into the preseason. Among those candidates, I have no doubt Crest is the future at the position with his unique skill set and mature approach, but I think Howard will start when the Mountaineers kick off the season Sept. 5 against Georgia Southern. Whether he keeps that starting spot throughout 2015 is the overriding question.

Trotter: Howard did some nice things filling in for Trickett late last season. But there's a reason why Crest beat him out for the No. 2 quarterback job coming out of the preseason. Howard can make plays outside the pocket, both with his arm and feet. But I'm skeptical his accuracy will be sharp enough to hold off Crest this spring. Crest is loaded with potential, and I see him ultimately beating out Howard again.

Who will emerge from Texas' QB competition?

Olson: Of these three, the Texas battle is the one I feel least confident about. I say that because I'm just not sure where Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard stand in the eyes of their coaches. Shawn Watson repeatedly said during the season that Heard was nowhere near ready. And it's hard to predict which Swoopes we're going to see this spring. A long competition will benefit both guys. I'd give a tiny edge to Heard ultimately being the choice, but I don't assume he's in the lead at this moment.

Chatmon: At Texas, Heard gets the nod over Swoopes despite Swoopes having the edge in experience. Heard seems like the right choice and the Longhorns' best hope of finding an answer at the quarterback position this spring, and I expect him to emerge atop the depth chart after shining in spring practices on the 40 acres. The question remains why Heard didn’t get a chance with the UT offense experiencing plenty of bumps in 2014, but I’m betting he shows he should have gotten that chance by separating himself this spring.

Trotter: Considering Heard is a complete unknown, I'll go with Swoopes here. But I don't feel great about it. Swoopes had his moments last season but struggled down the stretch, leading Texas to finish its season with a thud. Yet despite Swoopes' struggles, Heard never got a shot. Apparently, he wasn't ready. Will he be ready this spring? That's anyone's guess.
Under Bob Stoops, Oklahoma has never had a quarterback competition so wide open.

Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas all own Big 12 starting experience. Redshirt freshman Justice Hansen is a former ESPN 300 signee. And all four will be operating with some degree of a clean slate due to the arrival of new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lincoln Riley, who has been tasked with reviving the air raid in Norman.

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Who will win Oklahomas QB battle?

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Discuss (Total votes: 2,591)

So, who will emerge from this competition?

We’re putting that question to you in our weekly Big 12 poll.

In one tumultuous season, Knight went from being Oklahoma’s long-term answer at quarterback to one with a murky future, at best. He led the Big 12 with three pick-six interceptions, and tossed another pick that was returned to the 1-yard line, igniting Baylor’s 48-14 rout of the Sooners in Norman. In that game, Knight also suffered a transient quadriplegia injury, which leads to pain and numbness. After sitting out Oklahoma’s final three regular-season games, Knight returned for the Russell Athletic Bowl. But he looked completely out of sorts, and in the worst performance of his career, threw three picks, as Clemson destroyed the Sooners, 40-6. A winter to recover from the injury scare and a change of position coach from Josh Heupel to Riley could revive Knight’s career this spring. But to have any chance of remaining a starter, Knight will have to display the confidence and poise he showed late in the 2013 season.

Riley, however, is sure to give a strong look to Thomas and Mayfield, as well.

Underscoring his belief that he can win the job, Thomas gave up baseball -- he would have been a starting outfielder for the Sooners -- this spring to focus solely on football. While Knight was injured, Thomas filled in as the starter to mixed results. Thomas was a natural operating the zone-read, which sparked Oklahoma’s ground game. But he also struggled throwing the ball, and finished the season with a completion rate of just 45.5 percent, which ranked lasted among Big 12 quarterbacks that made at least one start. Thomas will have to be much more accurate to have any chance of winning a job in Riley’s system -- though it’s also possible that Riley’s system might boost Thomas’ completion percentage.

Yet while Knight and Thomas started last year, the quarterback that watched from the sidelines could actually be the favorite in the competition.

Mayfield won Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors in 2013 before transferring in from Texas Tech. While Knight struggled in Oklahoma’s spring game last year, Mayfield shined, completing all 10 of his pass attempts. Still, Mayfield has much to prove. Though he won the Red Raiders’ starting job as a walk-on true freshman, he was also up-and-down at times. That said, coming from Tech -- the same place Riley developed his offensive chops -- Mayfield has the most experience in the system Riley wants to install.

Though Mayfield, Thomas and Knight could quickly turn this into a three-way competition because of their experience, Hansen shouldn’t be completely discounted. He was, after all, the No. 9 QB recruit in the country in 2014, and given Oklahoma’s struggles at the position last season, Riley would be prudent to cast a wide net in his evaluation. With a blistering start to the spring, perhaps Hansen can wedge his way into the discussion.

Either way, this will be fascinating quarterback derby to follow.

Let us who you think will win it by casting a vote in the poll.
Shortly after taking over as coach at Oklahoma in 1999, Bob Stoops inspected the practice fields. There, he was mortified to find chicken bones littering the grounds, remnants of a lax policy that had permitted fans to tailgate on Saturdays where the Sooners practiced during the week. Stoops quickly realized he had much work ahead that spring to overhaul a football culture gone haywire.

In the 16 years since, never has Stoops faced a more critical spring than the one he will embark on this weekend.

After five years of trending in the wrong direction, Oklahoma has arrived at another crossroads. The Sooners are coming off an 8-5 season in which they suffered two of the most embarrassing defeats -- 48-14 to Baylor and 40-6 to Clemson -- of the Stoops era.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesGetting Oklahoma back atop the Big 12 standings will be a difficult task for coach Bob Stoops.
Oklahoma’s top recruiter, Jerry Montgomery, has bolted town. The rest of the coaching staff has been completely revamped, leaving offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh as the only assistant holding the same duties he did last year.

The funding for an ambitious $400 million stadium renovation has come to a crawl, raising concerns as to whether it will ever be completed.

Quarterback is a total unknown. The pass defense has been in a perpetual spiral.

Baylor and TCU have surpassed the Sooners as the current class of the Big 12. Texas is back to dominating the recruiting trail.

And, for the first time since that chicken bone-clearing offseason, Oklahoma could open unranked in the preseason polls.

The pressure will be on Stoops and his Sooners this spring. To begin reversing this tide of recent decline.

"I’m more determined than ever to get Oklahoma back in the position to competing for national championships like we have so many other times," Stoops said this offseason.

Whether that will happen will hinge heavily on 31-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who has been charged with bringing the Mike Leach air raid attack back to Norman this spring.

To clear a spot for Riley, Stoops fired Josh Heupel, who, from being Stoops’ first quarterback recruit in 1999 to Sam Bradford’s position coach, had been an integral piece of Oklahoma’s resurgence in Stoops’ early days. Yet as the Sooners struggled to regain their footing over the past five years, they lost their offensive identity under Heupel along the way, prompting Stoops the make the most drastic coaching change of his tenure.

Save for one bowl game, Riley has never called plays for a Power 5 conference offense. And he’s young enough to be Stoops’ son. But Stoops’ future and Oklahoma’s fortunes are now on Riley’s shoulders. All eyes will be on him this spring as he attempts to rehabilitate an offense that desperately needs to uncover an immediate and long-term answer at quarterback.

Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield, and Cody Thomas will all be vying to be that answer in what figures to be Oklahoma’s most wide open -- and intriguing -- quarterback competition of this millennium.

Knight was supposed to be the Sooners’ quarterback of the future. But after a disastrous 2014 season in which he led the Big 12 in pick-six interceptions and suffered a scary transient quadriplegia injury, he could be Oklahoma’s quarterback of the past.

In three games relieving Knight, Thomas failed to gain a stranglehold on the job, as he finished last in the Big 12 in completion percentage.

That leaves Mayfield, who walked-on at Texas Tech before transferring to Oklahoma, where he sat out last season. Given his Tech ties, Mayfield has experience operating the system Riley will be installing. And he was the 2013 Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. But after cruising through the non-conference, Mayfield also struggled against Big 12 competition that season. And he has not played in game in two years.

Quarterback, however, isn’t the Sooners’ only pressing concern.

When defensive coordinator Mike Stoops came back to Norman two years ago, he was supposed to bring the ferocious Oklahoma defenses of the early 2000s with him. Instead, the Sooners have been a sieve on that side of ball since his return, ranking ninth in the league in pass defense last season. It got so bad that Sooner fans booed through an embarrassing sequence against Baylor, in which quarterback Bryce Petty completed all nine pass attempts on a cinch of a scoring drive with Oklahoma’s overmatched defensive backs playing 10 yards off the ball.

Bob Stoops has taken his brother off manning defensive backs, and brought in Kerry Cooks from Notre Dame. But Cooks’ task of whipping a secondary into shape this spring is daunting, because the unit features only one proven difference-maker -- cornerback Zack Sanchez.

Oklahoma’s task of challenging for a Big 12 title next season is even more daunting.

TCU and Baylor are top 10 teams. Oklahoma State toppled the Sooners in Norman last season. And a Week 2 trip to Tennessee could thwart the Sooners before they even get going.

Oklahoma won’t have chicken bones on its practice field. But once again, Bob Stoops has plenty of work ahead.
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Junior days are underway, and the spring evaluation period is quickly approaching. While a number of programs are off to a fast start and in need of keeping impressive commitments in the fold, there also are programs in need of creating momentum and battling archrivals on the trail this spring and headed into the summer.

Here is a look at 10 programs that need a big spring, for various reasons (listed alphabetically):

Florida
The Gators saved the 2015 class in the days leading up to national signing day creating some momentum heading into the spring and summer. The time to capitalize is now for Jim McElwain and staff, and Florida simply must continue to gain steam with archrival Florida State swinging a big recruiting stick in state, and Miami on a run headed into the spring evaluation period. Florida currently has three verbals, all outside the ESPN Junior 300.

The education of Kyle Allen

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
10:00
AM CT
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- August 16, 2014 was the hardest day in Kyle Allen's young Texas A&M career.

After enrolling early and spending seven months competing with sophomore Kenny Hill, gunning for one singular goal -- a chance to be the Day 1 starter for the Aggies in 2014 -- the true freshman was dealt a gut punch from Kevin Sumlin and Jake Spavital.

The Aggies' head coach and offensive coordinator pulled Allen into an office to deliver news he wasn't expecting to hear.

[+] EnlargeKyle Allen
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTexas A&M's Kyle Allen is ready to seize the starting quarterback job this season, no matter who is there to compete with him.
"They said, 'Kenny is going to start the first game,'" Allen recalls. "'You’re going to have a chance to win it back, so don’t bow out right now. You’ve got to stay in this.'"

Emotions flooded. The 18-year-old, in search for a sympathetic ear, reached out to family and friends back in Arizona. One of the phone calls he made was to his longtime private quarterback coach, Dennis Gile.

"I've never heard Kyle down; he broke down to me, crying on the phone," Gile said. "I didn't know how to take it because he's like my little brother. He's really close to me. To hear your little brother cry for the first time, when I know how good he is and how much he wanted it, it was hard for myself. I was getting choked up talking to him."

Gile urged Allen to not let the emotions of the disappointment affect him moving forward, nor let those emotions be seen by coaches and teammates. "Practice like you're the starter, every day," Gile said, and "your time is going to come."

Allen followed that advice, and 10 weeks later, it came true: He was named the starter, replacing Hill before the Aggies' home game against Louisiana-Monroe. Now, Allen begins a sophomore season with five starts under his belt and much promise as the Aggies look to trek up the SEC West standings in 2015.

From the moment he stepped on campus, teammates and coaches praised Allen's approach to his craft. Several attribute his ability to wrangle the starting job from Hill in midseason to those traits.

"The approach that Kyle has taken since Day 1, even when Kenny won the battle at the beginning of the year, [Allen] came in every single day and kept putting the work in," Spavital said. "He was wanting to get better every single day, and naturally when you see a kid take that approach to the game and the way he works, you are naturally going to see him increase and get better each day."

"He is always up here watching film before practice," current backup quarterback Conner McQueen said. "Every day Coach Spav will talk about things when we watch film, and Kyle will have seen it once or twice already. He is always up here, just doing the right things, being the first one in the weight room and doing extra. I really think his preparation, not only this year but starting last spring, put him in a great position to succeed."

Allen's starting debut vs. Louisiana-Monroe was, in many ways, forgettable. The Aggies were more than 30-point favorites but squeaked by with a 21-16 win. The offense only managed a meager 243 yards, Allen was 13-for-28 passing for 106 yards with a touchdown and an interception. With a road trip to Auburn looming, Allen's debut didn't exactly provide an overflow of optimism.

"I came in nervous, I’m not going to lie," Allen said. "Even though it’s Louisiana-Monroe, you’re playing in front of 105,000 people. You step on the field, you look around and there are people everywhere. I come from a high school where I am lucky if a thousand people come to my game."

Gile, who was on the sideline at Kyle Field for Allen's debut, implored Allen later that week to talk to his teammates before the Auburn game, to lead. Before the Aggies took the field, junior defensive end Julien Obioha requested Allen do the same. There was a sense the group needed to hear from its quarterback, even if he was a true freshman making his second start. He did and the team responded to Allen's words and energy before kickoff, exploding to a 35-point first half and hanging on for a dramatic 41-38 win.

After losses to Missouri and LSU, Allen closed out the season on a high note, winning offensive MVP honors in the Aggies' 45-37 win against West Virginia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. He bounced back from an early pick-six to put together a 294-yard, four-touchdown performance which included a dazzling rushing touchdown.

This spring Allen is not pushing anyone; he's the incumbent, with only McQueen to push him. The program awaits the fate of its five-star quarterback signee, Kyler Murray, who signed a letter of intent in February and would be Allen's primary competition upon arrival.

Murray, 42-0 as a starter with three state championships at the highest level of Texas high school football, is also a baseball star and is finishing up his senior year at Allen High School. A decision on whether he goes to Aggieland or signs with the professional baseball team that drafts him (he's projected by several experts to be a possible first-round selection) won't come until the summer.

Either way, Allen -- who couldn't possibly have missed all the hand-wringing over Murray's decision leading up to national signing day or the deserved universal praise he received for his long list of prep accomplishments -- sounds like a focused, confident competitor ready to welcome the Gatorade National Player of the Year.

"He deserves it, the kid’s never lost a game in his life. He’s a Texas legend. I know everyone here is from Texas and I’m from Arizona, so I don’t get that love yet," Allen said with a smile and a laugh. "So, he’s going to step in, he’s going to put the work in just like I did, but it’s going to be a fun competition."

Big 12 morning links

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
8:00
AM CT
This should be an interesting 30 for 30. I'm looking forward to it.
  • Sam Richardson has grown into a strong leader for Iowa State, writes Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune. Richardson's leadership can be seen on and off the practice field for the Cyclones heading into his fifth season. Richardson is easily the Big 12's most overlooked returning quarterback. Richardson's 56.2 career completion percentage must improve, but if it does, he could help the Cyclones return to a bowl game.
  • Those who have worked with Marcus Arroyo have plenty of praise for Oklahoma State's new assistant coach, reports Kyle Frederickson of The Oklahoman. Change has come to the Cowboys coaching staff and Arroyo is an intriguing hire as a guy who was calling plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season and has experience as a offensive coordinator. Mike Gundy clearly wanted to supplement the offensive coaching staff by adding creative, experienced minds and looks like Arroyo fits the bill.
  • Baylor offensive tackle Spencer Drango decided to return to Waco to get better. Becoming a unanimous All-American, winning the Outland Trophy and allowing zero sacks are among the goals for Drango, who could have left early for the NFL. Drango is one of the reasons I consider the Bears alongside TCU as a favorite in the conference. His return along with the rest of BU's offensive line will make life easier for whoever wins the starting job for Art Briles' team.
  • This look back at TCU's Class of 2012 is a reminder of how well Gary Patterson's program evaluates on the recruiting trail. Derrick Kindred, Joey Hunt and James McFarland are among the three-star recruits who have developed into key pieces of the Horned Frogs team. That should make TCU fans rest easy despite the fact the Horned Frogs did not sign a player in the ESPN 300 in the Class of 2015.
  • On the other side of the equation this look at Oklahoma's Class of 2012 isn't pretty for Sooners fans. Sure the class included standouts Sterling Shepard, Eric Striker and Charles Tapper but it also featured names like Gary Simon, John Michael McGee and Taylor McNamara who never became impact players for the Sooners. OU's recruiting is moving in a much better direction in recent years but it's a revealing glimpse at OU's struggles to evaluate a few years ago.

SEC pre-spring position rankings: DB

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
8:30
AM CT
We continue our series looking at the position groups around the SEC by looking at the defensive backs Wednesday.

1. LSU: The Tigers were the best in the SEC in 2014 against opposing pass defenses and there’s plenty of talent still in LSU’s defensive backfield to keep the good times going. Jamal Adams really came into his own late last season and is poised to be a star. Tre'Davious White is the only starting corner returning but he is a big-time player. Safety Jalen Mills returns, too. The Tigers need to find a corner opposite White but have plenty of talented players to compete for that spot.

2. Georgia: After LSU, this unit was the SEC’s best in limiting opponents through the air (170.3 passing yards allowed per game). The good news for Jeremy Pruitt is that not only does he have quite a few options in the secondary, most of them have experience. Dominick Sanders, who shined as a freshman, returns; so do fellow safeties Quincy Mauger and Corey Moore, who started seven games and six games, respectively. All the cornerbacks on the two-deep return. With Damian Swann’s departure, a new leader needs to be established, but overall, this is a good group.

3. Florida: The Gators still have the conference’s best cornerback, Vernon Hargreaves III, and that’s worth a lot. Fortunately for them, the rest of the young secondary is back -- cornerback Jalen Tabor, safeties Keanu Neal and Marcus Maye, nickel Brian Poole, and new secondary coach Kirk Callahan will try to help them take the next step this year, improving on last year’s finish (seventh in the SEC in pass defense). The talent is there.

4. Ole Miss: Replacing players such as Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt is a tall task but the Rebels have talent on the back end. Tony Conner was a second-team All-SEC pick last year and is back. So is Trae Elston, the starting “rover,” who is a three-year starter. Senior Mike Hilton, who led the team in tackles, returns and the team welcomes the No. 1 cornerback in the ESPN JC 50, Tony Bridges. Look for a bigger role for C.J. Hampton. There is some good depth in this group as well.

5. Arkansas: Razorbacks’ secondary coach Clay Jennings returns for his second year in Fayetteville and his unit showed significant growth in 2014. Elder statesmen Alan Turner and Tevin Mitchel are gone, but the Hogs had a mostly young secondary last year and bring back plenty of experience, including cornerbacks Jared Collins, D.J. Dean and Henre' Toliver, all of whom saw starts at the position. Three of the four safeties on the end-of-season two-deep -- De'Andre Coley, Josh Liddell and Davyon McKinney, also return to a unit that was fifth in the league in pass defense in 2014.

6. Tennessee: The Vols have a player with All-SEC potential in cornerback Cameron Sutton and a tremendous amount of experience at the back in senior safeties Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil. The other cornerback will be the spot to watch where there will be a battle. Emmanuel Moseley, Rashaan Gaulden, Malik Foreman and highly-touted junior college signee Justin Martin are among the contenders.

7. Missouri: The Tigers are set at cornerback with Kenya Dennis and Aarion Penton returning. Losing the experience of a Braylon Webb at safety is tough but Ian Simon is a seasoned veteran himself and returns at the position. The unit finished sixth in SEC pass defense last season (212.7) but benefited from the league’s best pass rush. The experience in the secondary is helpful but more consistency is needed from this group.

8. Alabama: The Crimson Tide had a rough year on the back end in 2014, finishing 11th in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game (226). The group has a new secondary coach (Mel Tucker) but a lot of attrition, with Landon Collins, Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams gone. Cyrus Jones, who led the team with 13 pass breakups, and Eddie Jackson, who started 11 games, are back at cornerback as are Tony Brown and Maurice Smith. Geno Smith, who started six games at the Star position, is also back. ESPN 300 safety Deionte Thompson and four-star safety Ronnie Harrison arrived in January so they’ll participate in spring practice.

9. Auburn: The Tigers yielded a lot to opposing passing games last year (230.08 yards per game; 12th in the SEC), but were also opportunistic, intercepting 22 passes. Returning Auburn defensive backs accounted for 12 of those interceptions -- Jonathan Jones (six), Johnathan Ford (three) and Trovon Reed (three). Auburn also welcomes a new secondary coach, Travaris Robinson, who was key in the Tigers’ landing four defensive back recruits from Florida on signing day. Numbers are there in terms of options to choose from, now it’s just a matter of making on-field progress.

10. South Carolina: This is a young group that played a lot of freshmen and sophomores last season but will be a year older and should show progress, especially with the addition of new co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke, who has a long history of coaching defensive backs in the NFL. Chris Lammons and Rico McWilliams are penciled in as the starting cornerbacks. Brison Williams is gone but T.J. Gurley, who was second on the team with 80 tackles last season, returns. Corners Al Harris Jr. and D.J. Smith as well as safeties Chris Moody and Chaz Elder also return. Look for this group to make strides this season after finishing 10th in pass defense last season.

10. Mississippi State: There’s a lot of room for improvement for the Bulldogs, who allowed the most passing yards per game in the SEC last season and allowed many big plays. They do have a nice talent in Taveze Calhoun at cornerback; who starts opposite him is to be determined. (Look for Will Redmond and Cedric Jiles, who missed all last season with an injury, to compete.) The Bulldogs will be young at safety but did bring in the nation’s No. 2 player at the position, ESPN 300 prospect Jamal Peters.

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats return both starting cornerbacks from 2014, Fred Tiller and Cody Quinn. Starting safety A.J. Stamps, a standout junior college transfer, returns after leading the team with four interceptions and safety Marcus McWilson, who started the season finale against Louisville, also returns. Kentucky, which was eighth in the SEC in pass defense last year, secured a safety as its top-rated recruit in February, ESPN 300 prospect Marcus Walker.

13. Vanderbilt: The Commodores fielded a young, unproven secondary last season but finished just a hair behind the middle of the pack in the conference, allowing 218.3 passing yards per game. With virtually the entire group back, led by cornerbacks Torren McGaster and Taurean Ferguson and safeties Jahmel McIntosh, Andrew Williamson and Oren Burks, there’s some promise on the back end for Vandy, especially considering the fact that Derek Mason will be simplifying the defense.

14. Texas A&M: The Aggies were second-to-last in pass defense and last in interceptions a year ago. Gone are veterans Deshazor Everett and Howard Matthews but senior cornerback De’Vante Harris remains. The group surrounding Harris is young, but has a potential star in safety Armani Watts. The other cornerback spot is up for grabs this spring but look for Nick Harvey to challenge for it. The safety next to Watts could be veteran Devonta Burns (last year’s nickel), Donovan Wilson, or possibly junior college transfer Justin Evans.

Big 12 morning links

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
8:00
AM CT
Congrats to the Jayhawks. Eleven straight Big 12 titles ain't easy.
  • Chuck McGill of the Charleston Daily Mail shares the story of West Virginia assistant JaJuan Seider, whose 14-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer and had two tumors removed in January. Jaden Seider is currently in chemotherapy -- fortunately, his cancer was 100-percent treatable -- and fans from both West Virginia and Marshall have rallied to show their support with a #SeiderStrong hashtag. Jade sure sounds like one tough kid. Be sure to give this one a read.
  • Baker Mayfield has beaten the odds before, so why can't he win the job at Oklahoma? Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman does a nice job of tracing Mayfield's competitive streak and perseverance back to his days at Lake Travis High in Austin, where he earned the starting job after an injury and never gave it up. Those who know him best are confident Mayfield will find a way to become QB No. 1 at OU. He's the guy I'd bet on right now, too, based on that mean streak and his now-convenient knowledge of Air Raid concepts.
  • Art Briles shared some wonderful news on Tuesday: the great 400-pound behemoth LaQuan McGowan is getting work at tight end and H-back this spring. Briles says the Bears will try to experiment with him in non-conference play if possible. The staff is hesitant to let him loose this spring in case he injures someone, which is a reasonable fear. Though McGowan's TD against Michigan State got all the glory, I liked how Baylor found ways late in the season to use McGowan as a bonus blocker in goal-line power sets. Why not see what else he can do?
  • As expected, a lot of eyes at Iowa State are on junior college transfer Desmond Tucker right now. The Cyclones expect the defensive tackle to take a starting job, but he'll have to earn it first. Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune offers a good breakdown of where Tucker stands and what he's working on (hands first) as he tries to prove himself. ESPN's No. 3 rated juco DT prospect is already displaying impressive athleticism and could make a big impact once he gets all caught up.
  • Best of luck to former West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett, who's reportedly set to become the new quarterbacks coach at Eastern Mississippi Community College. Trickett is following in his father's and brother's footsteps and diving right into the coaching world after concussions ended his playing days at WVU. Trickett consistently earned praise during his stint at WVU for his knowledge of the game, and this is no small-time gig. EMCC has won three NJCAA titles in the last four years and its last QB, Chad Kelly, signed with Ole Miss.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
3:00
PM CT
In Tuesday's mailbag, Tom Bradley's departure, a May signing day and Kansas State's record are among the topics. As always, thanks for your questions (and thanks for not asking about expansion this time around). To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Scott in Edgewater, Maryland, writes: Tom Bradley left for UCLA, is this going to negatively effect West Virginia, and why did he leave after just one year?

Brandon Chatmon: I think it hurts the Mountaineers, no question about it. Bradley brought tons of experience and a veteran presence to the WVU coaching staff while helping solidify the defense. It’s a big loss for Dana Holgorsen’s program but not one that is impossible to overcome. As far as why, who wouldn’t want to go to UCLA? Sign me up.


Aaron Terhume in Lenexa, Kansas, writes: With K-State's hardest games at home next year (TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor & West Virginia) what are the odds of an 8+ win season for the CATS?

BC: It feels like you’re overrating the home-field advantage a tad here, Aaron. The Wildcats still have to replace Jake Waters, Tyler Lockett, Ryan Mueller and B.J. Finney, who were among the best in the Big 12 at their positions. I think the home field will help but 7-8 wins sounds about right before spring football kicks off and we start finding out some answers about the 2015 version of Bill Snyder’s team. Anything above eight could be asking a lot from Snyder and company.


J.J. in Tumalo, Oregon, writes: With its continuing squishy soft out of conference schedule do you agree that Baylor leaves itself no margin of error? A weak SOS will always justify the College Football Playoff Committee kicking Baylor to the curb and 0-2 in its last bowl games does not help the cause.

BC: I agree on both counts. The Bears have decided to minimize their margin of error with their stance on nonconference scheduling and bowl losses to Central Florida and Michigan State, with the nation watching, doesn’t help matters. None of this is something Art Briles' program can’t overcome, however. I don’t think many people would be shocked to see the Bears in the College Football Playoff in 2015 even though they aren’t maximizing their potential routes to the playoff.


Jamie in Austin, Texas, writes: Haven't we heard this song before? Texas Tech quarterback looks great early in his career, gets loads of hype, the fanbase gets super pumped for his prospects, and then… Kliff Kingsbury shuffles the deck and that QB doesn't even finish the season as the starter. Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb, now possibly Patrick Mahomes. Is it time that we pause before we start hyping Tech QBs up?

BC: Well, Jamie, I haven’t seen too many posters touting Mahomes as the Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year. He was extremely impressive to end his freshman season but I’d agree some folks on the fringe who need to take a step back before anointing him as the Big 12’s next elite passer. And when it comes to Kingsbury, I can’t blame him for tinkering with his quarterbacks -- neither Mayfield or Webb were taking care of the ball. Mahomes, in his short time, did a better job protecting the ball (16 TDs, 4 INTs) than either of those other two quarterbacks.


rtXC in Denison, Texas, writes: Are you guys as tired of the coaching carousel extending past signing day as the fans are? Here's my suggestion: move signing day to the first Wednesday of May. By that time, all NFL and NCAA staffs should be complete, with the players getting to see exactly what the new staff members bring to the table throughout spring practice and in the spring games. Gives players more time to sort things out, while giving new staffs more time to get things together. The first season of this change would provide an extra long recruiting cycle, but after that things would feel normal again, while protecting both parties, coaches and players alike. Thoughts?

BC: It’s an interesting idea but I don’t know that moving signing day to May really addresses the problem, which is the natural desire of coaches (or anyone for that matter) to progress in their careers. Coaches are going to leave during players/recruits careers, which is why prospects are repeatedly told to pick the school not the coach. Just because the coach would be there on a May signing day doesn’t mean they would be there five years down the road or even one year down the road. The only answer is players picking the best place/environment to excel, regardless of the coaches.


Cole in Oklahoma City writes: With Riley coming to OU and establishing a new offense, would you take the bet Joe Mixon has more total offense than Samaje Perine since Samaje is more of bruiser type back? And also given OU comes back to what they're known for, who wins the Big XII? My prediction is TCU, OU, Texas, Baylor, Ok St and so on. TCU and OU will probably be the Big XII title game.

BC: I’d bet on Mixon because he’s more versatile, allowing Riley to use him in so many different ways. I’d imagine we will see that duo on the field together plenty of times in 2015 -- both are too talented to waste on the sidelines. TCU and Baylor remain the clear favorites for me with Oklahoma State as the next candidate after that top two. OU has to prove themselves title ready before I'm willing to put them up there with TCU or Baylor.
It's Take Two Tuesday, and today we’re watching the throne. Big 12 co-champions Baylor and TCU have both begun spring practice and are already hard at work toward proving they deserve playoff-contender hype in 2015. Both have flaws and holes to address over the next month.

Brandon Chatmon and Max Olson debate which defending Big 12 champ will have more questions answered by the end of spring ball.

Brandon Chatmon: Baylor Bears

Baylor doesn’t have many questions to answer after back-to-back titles and increasing depth as each season goes by.

Obviously replacing Bryce Petty will be the talk of Waco as the quarterback battle between Seth Russell, Chris Johnson and Jarrett Stidham garners plenty of headlines. Russell is the favorite to win the job thanks to his experience in the system and success behind Petty in 2014. Either Johnson or Stidham will have to take the job away from the junior quarterback, meaning it’s possible Russell cements the job this spring. Either way, BU’s track record of stellar quarterback play under Art Briles makes this a mini question mark as opposed to the elephant-sized question marks at some of the other quarterback positions around the conference.

Receiver, linebacker and defensive back are the other potential question marks at Baylor with the departures of Antwan Goodley and Bryce Hager, along with BU’s secondary struggles at various times in 2014.

Yet the receiver position looks like it could be even stronger with KD Cannon poised to make a jump in Year 2, Corey Coleman showing he can be one of the Big 12’s top targets, and a meeting room full of elite but inexperienced receiving talent.

At linebacker, Taylor Young will look to build on a productive redshirt freshman campaign and will have Aiavion Edwards and Grant Campbell battling to help fill Hager’s void.

The bulk of BU’s starting lineup returns from last season, and the small questions facing Briles' team could have answers who saw time on the field for the Bears in 2014.

Max Olson: TCU Horned Frogs

There’s no disputing TCU has more players to replace this spring, and that means more uncertainty. Gary Patterson knows replacing six veteran starters on defense is no small task, and starting defensive end Mike Tuaua is out for the spring as well.

So what are the Frogs going to do? Entering their fourth year in the Big 12, they have the quality depth needed to solve these issues. Patterson and his newly promoted co-defensive coordinators will foster a next-man-up mentality this spring and push for competition.

And there will be lots of competition. At strong safety, Sam Carter’s replacement could be Denzel Johnson, Travin Howard or George Baltimore. At weak safety, Kenny Iloka is probably the favorite but will be pushed by redshirt freshman Ridwan Issahaku.

Then you’ve got Kevin White’s starting corner job, a battle that could play out a lot of different ways. You’ve got a former juco transfer (Corry O’Meally) competing with a touted true freshman (DeShawn Raymond), a converted receiver (Cameron Echols-Luper), a senior track star (Kolby Griffin), and youngsters Nick Orr and Torrance Mosley. Of all of TCU’s question marks, this is the competition I think is most likely to carry over to fall camp, though a pecking order will surely develop in spring ball.

And then there’s linebacker. Two new starters are needed, but that situation could be mostly figured out by the end of the spring. Between Sammy Douglas, Paul Whitmill, Ty Summers and the Frogs’ freshmen, Patterson seems excited about his options.

That’s a lot of names to keep up with, isn’t it? Still, I trust that Patterson knows what he’s working with and that this group can, in time, come close to playing to their predecessors’ standards. And fortunately, this team lost practically nothing -- just one starting lineman -- on offense. Having so few concerns on that side of the ball makes me far less concerned about TCU’s situation.
Oklahoma State struggled up front for much of last season before rapidly improving late in the year. How the Cowboys shape their front will go a long way in determining whether they can return to being a conference contender in 2015:

Departed: Daniel Koenig and Chris Grisbhy, both versatile starters the last two seasons, have graduated, as has reserve tackle Brandon Garrett.

Spring contenders: Junior Paul Lewis, junior Michael Wilson, sophomore Zachary Crabtree, sophomore Jesse Robinson, junior Victor Salako, junior Brandon Pertile, sophomore Brad Lundblade, redshirt freshman Lemaefe Galea'i, redshirt freshman Matthew Mucha, redshirt freshman Deionte Noel, senior Devin Davis, sophomore Jaxon Salinas and sophomore Jack Kurzu

Summer contenders: True freshman Johnny Wilson, true freshman Vaimoe Sekona

The skinny: It took most of the 2014 season but the Cowboys finally unearthed a winning combination up front. The return of Crabtree to right tackle from an injury helped fuel the turnaround and stabilize a line that surrendered a Big 12-worst 40 sacks.

Even with the departures of Koening and Grisbhy, next season the Cowboys should go from having one of the thinnest and inexperienced lines in the league to one of the deepest and most seasoned. One big reason why is the transfer of Salako. Because UAB is shutting down its football program, Salako is eligible right away. He started the last two seasons at left tackle for the Blazers and should step into the same role for Oklahoma State. Pertile, a junior college transfer who chose the Cowboys over Florida, could push for time, but at the worst will bring immediate depth to one of the bookends.

The Cowboys figure to be in good shape on the interior, too. Lewis solidified the center position late last season. As part of the ongoing shuffle, Michael Wilson had to play left tackle last season. But with the arrival of Salako, he'll be able to shuffle back to his more natural spot at guard. Several others will be in the mix at the guard spots, including Robinson, Galea’i and Noel.

Prediction: Salako will be one of the top offensive newcomers to the Big 12, giving quarterback Mason Rudolph a bonafide protecter. Under new position assistant Greg Adkins, the rest of the line will pick up where it left off last season, giving Oklahoma State the level of blocking it has been accustomed to during its recent rise.
How is Samaje Perine going to get enough touches?

That was the immediate question when Bob Stoops picked Lincoln Riley to run Oklahoma’s offense. Riley’s philosophy didn’t seem to be the ideal fit for an offense that looked poised to be built around the sophomore running back.

A closer look at Riley’s time at East Carolina shows that his best offenses had balance. Here’s a year-by-year look at Riley’s five seasons with the help of ESPN Stats & Information:

[+] EnlargeLincoln Riley
Greg Thompson/Icon SportswireWhile at ECU, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley didn't just rely on high-powered passing attacks.
2010: 2.65 points per drive, 5.74 yards per play, 43.1 third-down conversion rate, 65.4 pass percentage (percent of total plays which are passes), 15 turnover percentage (percent of drives ending with a turnover).
Summary: In his first season as an offensive coordinator, Riley entered the year with junior college transfer Dominique Davis at quarterback and a returning all-conference receiver in Dwayne Harris. Riley built the offense around Davis -- who finished with 3,967 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and 16 interceptions -- and Harris, who eclipsed the 100-catch mark with 101 receptions for 1,123 yards and 10 touchdowns. Lance Lewis (89 receptions, 1,116 yards, 14 TDs) joined Harris to give ECU one of the best receiving combos in the nation. Running back Jonathan Williams led the Pirates with 154 carries for 847 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 52 receptions for 431 yards and another score. ECU rushed for 1,542 yards and passed for 4,143 yards in Riley’s first season.
What it could mean for OU: Much like OU, Riley didn’t have an unquestioned, established quarterback to run his offense when he arrived but he did have an returning all-conference receiver. Sterling Shepard could easily see his 2014 receptions (51) double while becoming the top target. And Williams' numbers are a clear sign that Riley aimed to get the ball in the hands of his running back, through the air or on the ground. Perine will be asked to get more involved as a receiver while running back Joe Mixon and Keith Ford could have Riley really exploit their versatility as runners and receivers.

2011: 2.06 points per drive, 5.15 yards per play, 46.1 third-down conversion rate, 60.2 pass percentage, 20.9 turnover percentage.
Summary: Easily Riley’s worst season as turnovers became a problem for ECU’s offense. Davis returned but his touchdowns went down (25) while his interceptions went up (19). And when Riley turned to the running game it struggled to get going, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry while finishing with 1,309 rushing yards on 397 total attempts. No ECU running back averaged more than 4.51 yards per carry or gained more than 500 rushing yards. Riley’s offense finished with 35 turnovers in 12 games. ECU rushed for 1,309 yards and passed for 3,433 yards in Riley’s second season.
What it could mean for OU: Anything similar to this production would be a nightmare for Bob Stoops' new hire. The turnovers in particular would have the potential to cripple any hopes for title contention as Riley would have to rein in the offense, thus limiting its explosive nature. The most important thing for Riley’s offense in 2015 will be to protect the ball, which did wonders for TCU’s offensive rebirth in 2014.

2012: 2.24 points per drive, 5.61 yards per play, 42.9 third-down conversion rate, 54.6 pass percentage, 12.2 turnover percentage.
Summary: The Pirates went out an added junior college running back Vintavious Cooper to bring balance to the offense and he responded with 1,049 rushing yards on 5.2 yards per carry. He had 226 touches in 13 games, an average of 17.4 touches per game. At quarterback Shane Carden took over after a couple of years as Davis’ understudy and immediately took better care of the football (10 interceptions) while completing 66.1 percent of his throws for 3,116 yards. Justin Hardy emerged as a legit No. 1 target with 86 receptions for 1,105 yards and 11 receptions as a sophomore.
What it could mean for OU: Balance returned to ECU’s offense when Riley had a running back he could count on. The balance, combined with Carden’s ball protection and efficiency, made this one of Riley’s top offenses.

2013: 2.94 points per drive, 5.92 yards per play, 51 third-down conversion rate, 57.9 pass percentage, 9 turnover percentage.
Summary: ECU entered the season with one of the nation’s top quarterback-running back-receiver combos in Carden-Cooper-Hardy. Carden passed for 4,139 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions; Cooper rushed for 1,193 yards (5.2 ypc); and Hardy had 114 receptions for 1,294 yards. ECU passed for 4,265 yards and rushed for 1,821 yards.
What it could mean for OU: When Riley had the tools to create a balanced, efficient offense, he built the best offense of his tenure at ECU. He had a quality, experienced quarterback and receiver combo yet made sure to get his talented running back involved, even making him a key part of the passing game (Cooper had 44 receptions for 412 yards as ECU’s third-leading receiver). OU is an experienced and consistent quarterback away from this scenario heading into the spring.

2014: 2.57 points per drive, 6.48 yards per play, 47.4 third-down conversion rate, 62.5 pass percentage, 11.9 turnover percentage.
Summary: With Cooper moving on, Riley really leaned on Carden and Hardy. Carden passed for 4,736 yards while Hardy had 121 receptions for 1,494 yards. The argument could definitely be made that running back Breon Allen, who had 134 carries for 869 yards (6.5) and eight touchdowns, should have gotten the ball more but that would require taking the ball out of the hands of Carden and Hardy, particularly since Carden never had more than 10 interceptions during his three years as the starter.
What it could mean for OU: Quite frankly it underscores the importance of finding a quarterback who makes good decisions to trigger Riley’s offense. Baker Mayfield seems the like the favorite with his experience in similar offenses but Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas have won Big 12 games and possess the talent to excel in the system.

Big 12 morning links

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
9:00
AM CT
Hilton Magic...
  • Iowa State is kicking off its spring drills this morning. Monday, coach Paul Rhoads met with the media to discuss his team. Among the topics was an update on defensive end Mitchell Meyer, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in February. Rhoads said Meyer has had two chemotherapy treatments, and his spirits are high.
  • The Cyclones also released a depth chart Monday, with few surprises. Perhaps the most intriguing position battle this spring will be at running back, where Iowa State is replacing Aaron Wimberly, who graduated, and DeVondrick Nealy, who left the team. Upperclassman Tyler Brown is atop the two-deep at running back, but the back creating the most buzz is redshirt freshman Mike Warren. "Mike is a guy we believe is going to be a 200-pound-plus back, which is where we want to be with our backs -- and where we haven't been in the past," Rhoads said. The Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch has more notes from Rhoads' news conference, including the plan for wideout Quenton Bundrage, who is coming back from a season-ending knee injury.
  • The Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner has a feature on Baylor quarterback Seth Russell, who is the favorite to succeed Bryce Petty. Assuming Russell does win the job, it will be interesting to see how Art and Kendal Briles tailor the offense to fit Russell's skill set. Russell isn't a track star the way Robert Griffin III was. But he's more athletic than Petty, with a 40-yard dash time of 4.48 seconds. The Bears could be running the quarterback more next season than they have in recent years. In other news, the Bears had an interesting visitor to their practice Monday.
  • TCU coach Gary Patterson discussed his philosophy for hiring assistants with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez. "So many people are so easy to let people go, to lose knowledge of your program, how you recruit," Patterson said. "I've never been someone to believe you do that." It's little wonder that Patterson promoted four of his coaches last week, including Chad Glasgow and DeMontie Cross to co-defensive coordinators. Patterson hasn't been afraid to go out and hire assistants from the outside when the occasion has called for it (see: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie). But his philosophy of promoting from within has fostered TCU's coveted continuity.
  • The Tulsa World's Bill Haisten acknowledged the rumor that Oklahoma State quarterback Daxx Garman is exploring a transfer. Haisten noted there will be no official update on Garman from Oklahoma State until the start of its spring practice next week. But a source told me over the weekend that at this point it's a "strong possibility" Garman transfers. Though he has already transferred before (from Arizona to Oklahoma State), it's hard to fault Garman for at least considering this option. Though Garman started eight games last season, Mason Rudolph has established himself as the quarterback of the future in Stillwater. The Cowboys also have J.W. Walsh coming back, which has Garman staring at the prospect of falling to third string on the depth chart.
video
Change the channel. Nothing to see here, right?

Did you grab the remote when Iowa State, loser of two in a row entering Monday’s matchup against Oklahoma, was down by 16 points with 3:06 to play in the first half against Oklahoma? Or when the Cyclones were down 19 points after Buddy Hield connected on a 3-pointer with 1:54 to go before the break?

Maybe the Fighting Hoibergs’ 21-point deficit 59 seconds into the second half was the final straw for you.

It seemed as if Iowa State had fumbled its opportunity to earn a Big 12 championship with back-to-back losses to Baylor and Kansas State. That feeling carried over Monday, when the Cyclones scored only 18 points in the first half -- at home.

But just as the Cyclones appeared to squander a chance to shine on their home floor, everything changed. A barrage of shots fueled a 32-11 run that ignited Hilton Coliseum and ended with an improbable 77-70 victory over the Sooners. The win also gave Kansas at least a share of its 11th consecutive Big 12 championship. The Jayhawks can win the title outright with a victory over West Virginia on Tuesday or Oklahoma in their season finale.

The Cyclones should be proud of their fortitude. Their 21-point second-half comeback matched Iowa State’s greatest post-halftime rally. They went from finished to alive.

That’s a common theme this time of year. It certainly was on Monday night.

Want to prove something to the NCAA selection committee? Want to feel secure on Selection Sunday and avoid an offseason of regrets?

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Taylor, Royce O'Neale
Eric Gay/Associated PressIsaiah Taylor and Texas were fighting for their NCAA tournament lives Monday against Baylor.
Fight for it. That's what Texas did.

The Longhorns literally brawled for their postseason future on Monday night.

With nearly two minutes remaining in overtime of a matchup that Rick Barnes’ squad had to win to maintain its tenuous spot in the NCAA tournament picture, Texas guard Isaiah Taylor and Baylor forward Royce O'Neale fought for a loose ball. The skirmish led to seven ejections: Four Longhorns and three Bears.

That tussle was unnecessary and silly. But it was an extension -- albeit extreme -- of the passion that flowed throughout the matchup.

Texas finally played with the vigor of a program that realized how desperate its circumstances had become. It moved from preseason talk about a Final Four trip and a Big 12 title to a four-game losing streak and a must-win home game against Baylor.

That must-win didn't look very winnable when Johnathan Motley gave Baylor a 10-point lead at 48-38 after he hit a jump shot with 6:41 to play. The Longhorns’ struggles had seemingly cost them another key win.

But the Longhorns launched a wild run that led to overtime, where Texas scored a crucial 61-59 victory.

A team with a 7-10 record in conference play, a 3-11 record against the RPI’s top 50, and a 6-12 record against the RPI’s top 100 isn't guaranteed a thing, but had it lost in Austin and missed its shot to grab a quality victory at home, Texas would have found itself in a more troubling situation.

The Longhorns are far from safe, but that rally against Baylor was the life raft that the program needed.

Virginia doesn’t need any sort of life vest. The Cavaliers are still winning without All-American candidate Justin Anderson. The selection committee will seed the Virginia team that it expects to see in the NCAA tournament, so the Cavaliers should be in great shape if Anderson returns for the Big Dance.

The only team that has defeated the Cavs was a Duke team that got hot against Virginia late.

The Cavs haven’t slowed down or played like a team that believes it has a No. 1 seed locked up, though. They’re not taking any chances.

Virginia scored just two points in the first 13:54 of its matchup at Syracuse on Monday, a truly ugly start. But the Cavaliers then scored 21 points in the next 6:06 and 30 more points in the first 15 minutes of the second half of a 59-47 victory for Tony Bennett’s program.

It was a stunning reversal after a messy start.

Virginia could have quit and made excuses after Anderson was sidelined with a hand injury. Instead, it continues to fight.

In March, that’s the only way to operate.

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