Big 12 programs have done a solid job on the recruiting trail in the Class of 2015, with seven teams ranking in the top 40 nationally as signing day approaches next Wednesday. Texas leads the way with a top 10 class, while TCU, Oklahoma State and West Virginia are among the squads that have put together quality recruiting classes.

Yet, every Big 12 program still has questions to answer as they aim to finish their 2015 recruiting classes with some late additions.

In this ESPN Insider story, you can get a detailed look Insider at where every Big 12 team stands heading into the final days of this recruiting cycle.

Hidden gems in the Class of 2014

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
12:15
PM CT
It happens every year.

A recruit goes largely unnoticed on signing day only to outperform highly regarded recruits in the same class during their first seasons in the program. Earlier today we looked at some "can't miss" recruits from the Class of 2014 during their first fall on campus. This afternoon we take a look at six Class of 2014 signees that went largely unnoticed on signing day but started to impact their teams immediately:

Kansas State linebacker Elijah Lee: The three-star prospect outperformed several five-star signees during their first semesters on campus. Lee forced his way into the Wildcats' plans with a strong preseason, earning a role as a pass-rush specialist. After a season featuring 19 tackles and 4.5 sacks, Lee looks like a future star for KSU’s defense.

Oklahoma State receiver James Washington: A three-star signee, Washington flashed elite potential several times during his freshman season. His competitive nature when the ball is in the air could elevate him to another level as a sophomore after a true freshman season with 28 receptions for 456 yards and six touchdowns.

Texas safety Jason Hall: The Longhorns' lowest-rated signee, Hall had the biggest impact as a true freshman. Hall hits like a fifth-year senior and has the potential to become a tone-setter for Charlie Strong’s defense in the next few seasons. The three-star recruit finished with 36 tackles in 12 games as a true freshman.

Texas Tech cornerback Tevin Madison: The three-star signee led all Tech freshmen in tackles, tackles for loss and pass breakups while starting seven games as a true freshman. ESPN300 member Nigel Bethel II was the Red Raiders’ highly regarded cornerback signee but Madison was second to none among Big 12 true freshmen at the position. He finished his debut season with 56 tackles and seven passes defensed.

TCU receiver Desmon White: The Horned Frogs' lowest-rated high school signee didn’t look like it. White earned a late-season role in TCU’s offense with his terrific open-field ability and quickness in the slot providing another potential option in the passing game. White didn’t have a major impact but he’s setting himself up to be a significant option in the offense as a sophomore. He finished with 14 receptions for 119 yards and one touchdown.

Kansas cornerback Matthew Boateng: A three-star signee, Boateng ended up providing depth at cornerback behind seniors JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald while playing in seven games for the Jayhawks. He finished with nine tackles, five pass breakups, a forced fumble, fumble recovery and interception as a true freshman. Boateng should play an even bigger role in 2015 with Shepherd and McDonald moving on.

Position that needs improvement: Oklahoma

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
11:00
AM CT
Oklahoma’s football roster has too much talent to finish 8-5.

From the coaching staff to the players, the Sooners underachieved in 2014. And it’s hard to lay the sole blame on one position as OU quarterbacks and receivers struggled while several other positions were inconsistent. But the secondary proved to be a clear weak link on a defense that finished No. 8 nationally against the run.

Position to improve: Defensive backs

Why it was a problem: It would have been easy to single out the cornerbacks, but that would have let the safeties off the hook. And vice versa. Thus the entire defensive backfield shoulders the blame as OU simply couldn’t trust its defensive backs to win their one-on-one battles in 2014. Cornerback Zack Sanchez won his share of individual battles on his way to six interceptions and All-Big 12 honors while safeties Ahmad Thomas and Quentin Hayes were among OU’s top five tacklers. Yet, OU’s defensive backs as a whole struggled throughout the season as the Sooners allowed 276.23 passing yards per game, ninth in the Big 12 and No. 117 among FBS teams. The Sooners' blowout home loss to Baylor spotlighted the lack of answers in the secondary.

How it can be fixed: Cornerbacks coach Bobby Jack Wright has retired so OU is likely to add another coach to help Mike Stoops coach the secondary, meaning new ideas and a change in approach could be step one. ESPN300 cornerback and current OU commit P.J. Mbanasor should help while upping the competition at cornerback. Sophomore cornerback Jordan Thomas, who flashed his talent at times as a freshman, should be improved and sophomore safety Steven Parker could help answer some questions at safety. Add ESPNJC50 cornerback William Johnson and the Sooners should have the depth to match up with spread offenses much better in 2015. The key for the Sooners is having at least eight defensive backs ready to play at a starting level next fall instead of having five clear starters then watching the secondary fall apart when the injury bug hits and an untested player gets thrown into the fire.

Early 2015 outlook: Recruiting misses and slow development played a major role in OU’s terrible pass defense in 2014. Added depth, competition and a new coaching style should combine to make this an improved unit. After all, it’s hard to go anywhere but up for OU's secondary.

Revisiting the Big 12's top 2014 signees

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
10:00
AM CT
The first Wednesday of February brings hope to every college football fan as the stars of the future sign on the dotted line, changing the destiny of their programs.

It’s easy to look at a recruiting class on paper and slot newcomers into need positions. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Now is a good team to revisit the Class of 2014 and see what “can’t miss” prospects fulfilled those expectations and which ones are still striving to meet those lofty projections.

Here’s a look at some of the Big 12’s most talked about signees a year ago and their impact, or lack thereof, on the Big 12 as true freshmen.

Baylor receiver KD Cannon: Cannon lived up to the hype. The No. 30 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 was the Big 12’s top-ranked recruit and one of the nation’s top freshmen. He looked every bit the five-star recruit he was laveled as, finishing with 50 receptions for 1,030 yards and eight touchdowns. He will enter his sophomore season as one of the Big 12’s most feared playmakers thanks to his blazing speed and sticky hands.

Iowa State receiver Allen Lazard: Another ESPN 300 receiver who lived up to the hype, Lazard was asked to help fill the void when the Cyclones lost Quenton Bundrage in their season opener. The No. 148 player in the 2014 class responded with 45 receptions for 593 yards and three touchdowns.

Kansas center Jacob Bragg: It wasn’t over the top to think that Bragg could slide right into Kansas' offensive line as one of two ESPN 300 signees for the Jayhawks. Yet three-star signee Junior Visalia was KU’s impact true freshman offensive lineman, starting the Jayhawks' final three games after Ngalu Fusimalohi was injured. Bragg redshirted but did impress during his redshirt season and could be poised to force his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman.

Kansas State defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales: The lone Big 12 team without an ESPN 300 signee, the Wildcats did land four players on the ESPN JC 50, including Clinkscales. The junior college transfer was Bill Snyder’s only four-star signee but didn’t make much of an impact for the Wildcats. He finished with two tackles in eight games in 2014.

Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine: As crazy as it sounds, Perine wasn’t even the highest-ranked running back on the Sooners' signee list. Joe Mixon had that honor and looked ready to make an impact before an off-the-field incident took him out of the equation. Perine, who was creating a similar summer buzz, stepped right in to become the Big 12’s top freshman, set the FBS record for single-game rushing yards (427 against Kansas) and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors. The No. 220 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 finished with 1,713 rushing yards, 6.5 yards per carry and 21 touchdowns as a true freshman.

Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph: His unique freshman season has been well-documented, as the Cowboys’ top-ranked signee went from redshirting to beating Oklahoma in Bedlam in a matter of weeks. Rudolph enters the spring as the Cowboys starting quarterback.

TCU running back Shaun Nixon: A preseason knee injury kept the No. 221 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 from having an impact as a true freshman.

Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard: It sure seemed like Heard was supposed to cure all ills at the quarterback position in Austin at this time a year ago. Now many people have already written him off after a redshirt season during his first fall on campus. The No. 149 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 still has the potential to be the answer behind center for UT, but the time is now for Heard to seize the opportunity to be a difference maker for the Longhorns.

Texas Tech cornerback Nigel Bethel II: The Red Raiders lone ESPN 300 signee, Bethel made an impact as a true freshman after missing the first three games due to suspension. The Florida native started seven games during his debut season, finishing with 41 tackles and six pass breakups in nine games. Bethel should be even better as a sophomore.

West Virginia safety Dravon Henry: The ESPN 300 safety was a starter from day one for the Mountaineers. Henry had 45 tackles and two interceptions in 13 games for WVU as a true freshman and should be a key contributor in the secondary in 2015 and beyond. The No. 140 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 has the versatility to expand his role in the defense as a sophomore.

Big 12 morning links

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
8:00
AM CT
Prepared a successful salmon dish last night. Tweet me if you want the recipe.
  • The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal got a copy of the contract of David Gibbs, Texas Tech's new defensive coordinator. Not surprisingly, Tech had to pony up to snag Gibbs, who was coveted by other schools. Gibbs has a two-year contract that will pay him $550,000 a year. Mike Stoops (Oklahoma), Josh Heupel (Oklahoma), Tom Bradley (West Virginia), Vance Bedford (Texas), Shawn Watson (Texas), Joe Wickline (Texas) and Phil Bennett (Baylor) were the only Big 12 assistants that made more than $550,000 last year, according to USA TODAY. After years of instability at defensive coordinator and seasons of mediocre defense, as well, this was a hire the Red Raiders needed to make. Even with the cost.
  • Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman delves into the nation's hottest recruiting battle this year, which happens to be between Texas and Texas A&M. The Longhorns and Aggies are duking it out for the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB in Kyler Murray (more on Murray here from The Sporting News). Murray has been committed to A&M for awhile, but is considering a flip to the Longhorns. "It feels like Murray or Bust for UT," Feldman writes, "especially perception-wise as Strong tries to get some momentum in-state" I can't disagree. We don't know yet what kind of QB Murray will develop into. But we do know what kind of message it would send if Charlie Strong grabbed a prospect of Murray's talent from A&M.
  • Kansas State has enjoyed plenty of success with players from the Sooner State, notably from the Lockett family. Tuesday, the Wildcats picked up another Oklahoman in three-star defensive back Darreyl Patterson, who committed to K-State over the Sooners and Louisville. Patterson visited Manhattan this past weekend.
  • The Charleston Daily Mail's Mike Casazza crunched the numbers on West Virginia's current scholarship situation. According to Casazza, the Mountaineers have 90 scholarship promised out at the moment, including the incoming recruiting class (the NCAA limit is 85). Even though it sounds bad, this is actually not a bad place to be. Defection strikes every program during the offseason. There's always the chance some recruit flips his commitment elsewhere before signing day. Better to be where West Virginia is then well under the 85-man limit and scrambling to add players in the week leading up to signing day.
  • Oklahoma safety Hatari Byrd was cited on complaints of possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of alcohol by a minor early Saturday morning, the Tulsa World's Guerin Emig reported. Byrd will be spending a lot of time with Sooner strength coach Jerry Schmidt in the coming weeks.
The fever pitch in the state of Texas on the recruiting trail hasn’t been felt since the 2003-04 recruitment of Adrian Peterson, or even prior. Starting on Friday, it will be the Texas Longhorns and Texas A&M Aggies duking it out for supremacy in the Lone Star State. A cycle that started with Texas A&M being the "cool school" in the state and seemingly winning every big battle has gotten a lot more interesting after last Wednesday’s unofficial visit to Texas by Texas A&M quarterback commitment Kyler Murray and receiver DaMarkus Lodge.

With what could be a recruiting windfall for either the Aggies or Longhorns, and momentum for the 2016 class and beyond, here are the eight most important recruits remaining in the balance in the Lone Star State.

Kris Boyd, CB, Gilmer High
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 241


Boyd is set to announce Friday, along with good buddy and fellow ESPN 300 cornerback Holton Hill. Boyd has dwindled his list to Texas and Texas A&M, where he officially visited the past two weekends. If either the Longhorns or Aggies are to start an overwhelming wave of momentum Friday, it could lead to a near historic finish for the winning school. Boyd played for head coach Jeff Traylor at Gilmer, whose son is a walk-on quarterback at Texas A&M. Boyd is also the cousin of former Gilmer and Texas standout Curtis Brown.

.

Holton Hill, CB, Houston Lamar High
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 152


As mentioned above, Hill will announce on Friday. Though a Texas A&M official visit over the weekend seemingly put the Aggies in the race, Texas and LSU were the overwhelming favorites headed into the visit, with the closest-to-home Longhorns considered to be the front-runner. Like Boyd, if either Texas or Texas A&M gets both of the ESPN 300 cornerbacks, it could start a tidal wave come National Signing Day. Hill visited LSU on Dec. 5 before Texas and Texas A&M the past two weekends, respectively.

.

Chris Warren III, RB, Rockwall High
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 102


What looked like a Texas vs. Washington battle has possibly changed with Texas A&M offering recently. In fact, add this to the list of battles between the two rivals if Warren visits College Station before heading to Washington on Jan. 30. Warren is the load-carrying big back who could be a running-game changer for any program. This is likely one of at least four National Signing Day decisions that will have all state of Texas fans closely following, with the Longhorns considered the favorite heading into the final two official visits. Warren made an official visit to Texas Tech over the weekend.

In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we examine the major storylines leading into signing day, including the most compelling uncommitted recruit still out there, and the team to watch in the final week before recruits can sign their letters of intent:

Which Big 12-targeted uncommitted recruit is most intriguing?

[+] EnlargeDaylon Mack
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTexas and TCU are among the competitors for 6-foot-1, 330-pound defensive lineman Daylon Mack, ranked No. 6 in the ESPN300.
Chatmon: It has to be Daylon Mack. It’s hard to find game-changing defensive linemen, and Mack fits the mold at 6-foot-1, 330 pounds. Texas and TCU are among the competitors for the No. 6 player in the ESPN300, who has the talent to make an impact during his first season, not matter where he decides to call home for the next few years. Mack moves with the quickness and explosion of a player who weighs in at 230 pounds, not 330, making it easy to see why he would be the gem of any recruiting class.

Olson: I think Chris Warren III is going to make one Big 12 team very happy on national signing day. He's one of the best running back recruits in the country, and he can make an immediate impact at Texas, Oklahoma State, or Texas Tech. All three earned official visits, and Washington gets his final one this weekend. Don't sleep on that visit -- his father Chris Warren was an All-Pro running back for the Seattle Seahawks, so the distance isn't a prohibiting factor -- but it's a safe bet Warren ends up in Big 12 country, and ends up getting a lot of snaps as a true freshman.

Trotter: Mack would be a tremendous capper for TCU's class at a position of need; he would also seal what already is a fabulous class for Charlie Strong at Texas. Without a high school running back committed, Oklahoma State would love to sign Warren III, though he would boost the classes in Austin and Lubbock, too. But to me, the Kyler Murray saga is the most fascinating storyline in Big 12 country. Forget the schools, the contentions chase for the nation’s No. 13 overall player and top dual-threat quarterback has even triggered a feud between recruiting writers in Austin and College Station. If the Longhorns can pluck Murray away, what a message it would send to Texas A&M.

Who is the Big 12 team to pay attention to leading up to signing day?

Chatmon: I’ll be among many keeping an eye on the Longhorns as Texas looks to make a statement with the first full recruiting class under Strong. It’s already a strong class, but it feels like the Longhorns are poised to finish with a couple of surprises. Will they be good surprises, or bad surprises? Well, that’s why Texas is the team to watch as it looks to flip quarterbacks Murray and Kai Locksley, close on Mack and Soso Jamabo, and lock down the rest of its class.

Olson: Texas could be the talk of the country on signing day and finish with a top-three caliber class. Or the Longhorns could strike out. It's a high-risk, insane-reward gamble. If the Longhorns somehow persuade Murray to flip from A&M, I really wouldn't be surprised if Mack, Jamabo, and Damarkus Lodge follow him. Throw in Warren and cornerback Holton Hill, too, and you're talking about a group of potential Day One starters all teaming up in Austin after a 6-7 season. If that pans out, it would be one of the most improbable signing day sweeps we've ever seen.

Trotter: It's definitely the Longhorns, in my opinion. With quarterback issues that date to 2009, Texas is gambling it can flip a quarterback in the final week. But what if Murray sticks with A&M, and Locksley stays true to Florida State? Texas will be in a major hole at the most critical of positions, which could set Strong's rebuilding back for years. The Longhorns also remain in the mix for several high-profile prospects. It will be compelling to see how Texas finishes.

Who is your underrated (non-4 or 5-star) Big 12 commit to watch?

Chatmon: It will be interesting to see what Tony Brown can do in Texas Tech’s offense. The three-star receiver from California decided to play for Kliff Kingsbury despite offers from UCLA, Nebraska, Arizona State, and others. He would bring terrific size (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) to the Red Raiders' receiving corps. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but would bring quickness and good ball skills to Lubbock.

Olson: There are way too many three-stars in the Baylor and TCU classes. And by that, I mean you just know a bunch of these guys are going to outperform those above-average expectations over the next few years. I particularly like several of the Frogs' receiver commits, led by Dallas-area playmakers Jaelan Austin and Jarrison Stewart, and I think Baylor linebacker commit Clay Johnston will be sneaky good.

Trotter: At Kansas State, it will be interesting to see whether quarterback Alex Delton or running back Alex Barnes can become the rare players to see the field for Bill Snyder as true freshmen. The Wildcats have a void at quarterback, though sophomore Joe Hubener will be the massive favorite to succeed Jake Waters. Still, Delton has a skill set in the mold of past K-State signal callers. Though the passing attack with Waters was tremendous, the Wildcats had a mediocre running game last season. At 212 pounds, Barnes brings much needed size to the position. He has a chance to be an immediate factor.

Big 12 tipping point classes 

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
9:30
AM CT
Signing day is just around the corner and several Big 12 teams have the opportunity to put their stamp on their recruiting class by landing one of the nation’s top players in the final days of this recruiting cycle.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

In today's Big 12 mailbag, we discuss the Top 25 player ranking, the looming QB derbies in Waco and Manhattan, the Texas recruiting wars, Oklahoma State running backs and, curiously, Kurt Russell.

On to the 'bag:

Trotter: We're big fans of Washington here on the blog. We made him a second-team All-Big 12 selection. But the top 25 player ranking was a tough list to crack. A number of other terrific players like Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard and Baylor's Antwan Goodley didn't make the list, either. Washington has a chance, though, to open next year on the preseason top 25 list as one of the league's top returning running backs.

Trotter: Rennie Childs is the obvious bet at this point, since he's the only healthy scholarship running back currently on campus. But I think the Cowboys land a marquee back before signing day. Oklahoma State has a powerful pitch to make, and that's immediate playing time. Keep an eye on Chris Carson, who is an ESPN Junior College 50 prospect. Carson has been committed to Georgia since August, but he's reportedly taking a visit to Stillwater this weekend. Because they can offer playing time -- and Georgia can't having Nick Chubb -- I think the Cowboys have a decent chance to flip Carson.

Trotter: I believe that Briles believes or was told that. But after Heather Dinich spoke with College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock, it doesn't seem very likely that Briles got good info, considering the playoff votes are taken via secret ballot over computer.

Trotter: The Red River Showdown hasn't been the league's most important game in seven years. I don't see why next season would be any different.

Trotter: "Miracle." But "Death Proof," "Escape from L.A.," "Tombstone," "Poseidon" and even "Overboard" have high rewatchability.

Trotter: Yes, but only if he's not the best quarterback. If he is, Baylor should start him. That would give him four seasons.

Trotter: I think so. Incoming freshman Alex Delton is an intriguing prospect, but Bill Snyder isn't prone to playing true freshmen anywhere, much less at quarterback. Joe Hubener has three years in the system, which gives him a huge advantage over the others. He has good size, good speed and a good arm, from what I hear. If he takes care of the ball he will be tough to unseat.

Trotter: No latest. If you read my Q&A with commissioner Bob Bowlsby from earlier this week, you'll know that there are no immediate plans for either. The only change I see the Big 12 making is eliminating the "co-champions" rule. Otherwise, expect status quo.

Trotter: I already did a too-early Big 12 power poll for 2015, and I had Oklahoma State third. The Cowboys clearly have something that OU, Texas, Kansas State and West Virginia don't at the moment, and that's a quarterback (Mason Rudolph).

Trotter: Pretty good. Last I checked, Trevone Boykin is still on the roster.

Trotter: He will if he flips the gem of Texas A&M's recruiting class, Kyler Murray who is the nation's No. 13 overall player and top dual-threat quarterback, to Texas. That would send a strong message to College Station.

Art Briles' brash statements can ruffle some feathers, but tend to come with a dose of truth. The Baylor coach’s declaration that the Bears are one of the best programs in college football is backed by his program’s back-to-back Big 12 titles.

"We feel like we've established ourselves as somebody," Briles said shortly before the Cotton Bowl. "When you're looking at one of the better teams in the southwest part of the United States of America, Baylor is one of them."

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong, Malcom Brown
AP Photo/Eric GayCoach Charlie Strong says finding players with strong character is the key to getting Texas back among the Big 12's elite teams.
That's right, parity has hit the Big 12. And it’s been around for a while.

Although it earned a Big 12 co-championship in 2012, Oklahoma hasn’t won an outright Big 12 title since 2010. Texas hasn’t won a conference title outright since 2009. Those two programs combined to win every Big 12 title from 2004 through 2010.

A conference that could point to Oklahoma and Texas as its standard bearers for the majority of the 2000s has seen five different teams win a share of the Big 12 title since 2010.

The immediate assumption is the problem can be found on the recruiting trail. As the Big 12’s most dominant performers slid down the standings, surely they slid down the recruiting rankings. After all, talent wins games.

The reality is different.

Oklahoma and Texas have finished 1-2 in the Big 12 in recruiting rankings every season since 2010. And each program finished among the top 20 nationally each season, including three top-five finishes by the Longhorns. According to ESPN recruiting analysts, here is a closer look at the top recruiting classes in the conference each year since 2010:

Class of 2014

  • Oklahoma No. 13 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Texas No. 16 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Baylor No. 22 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
  • Oklahoma State No. 28 in nation, 4th in Big 12
Class of 2013

  • Texas No. 16 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 17 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Oklahoma State No. 27 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
  • Baylor No. 28 in nation, 4th in Big 12
Class of 2012

  • Texas No. 3 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 11 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Texas Tech No. 20 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
Class of 2011

  • Texas No. 5 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 11 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Oklahoma State No. 23 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
Class of 2010

  • Texas No. 2 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 5 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • No other Big 12 team in top 25

Those recruiting rankings haven’t transferred to the field. Oklahoma has the best winning percentage during that span, with Oklahoma State and Baylor -- two programs lauded for their ability to develop and evaluate -- joining the Sooners in the top three. Texas is just eight games above .500 and in the bottom half of the conference.

Winning percentage since 2010

  1. Oklahoma 77.3 percent (51-15 overall)
  2. Oklahoma State 73.8 percent (48-17)
  3. Baylor 72.3 percent (47-18)
  4. Kansas State 69.2 percent (45-20)
  5. TCU 60.5 percent (23-15 in 38 games as Big 12 member)
  6. Texas 56.3 percent (36-28)
  7. Texas Tech 52.4 percent (33-30)
  8. West Virginia 47.4 percent (18-20 in 38 games)
  9. Iowa State 35.5 percent (22-40)
  10. Kansas 20 percent (12-40)
Development has been key as Oklahoma has been the Big 12’s best at developing its recruits into NFL draftees, followed by Baylor and Texas. The Sooners have the ability to attract elite talent and turn them into NFL players, and the Bears have excelled at evaluation and development, gradually rising up the recruiting rankings. Texas' individual talent has been evident on the field, but it hasn’t turned into great teams on the field.

NFL Draftees since 2010

  1. Oklahoma 28
  2. Baylor 17
  3. Texas 16
  4. TCU 13
  5. West Virginia 13
  6. Oklahoma State 10
  7. Kansas State 7
  8. Iowa State 5
  9. Kansas 4
  10. Texas Tech 4

What does it all mean?

Texas, under Mack Brown, was struggling to transform its talented signees into wins as a combination of poor evaluation and development hampered the Longhorns. First-year coach Charlie Strong has an eye on changing that trend.

"It's all about character, young men who want to change their lives," Strong said during his debut season. "The thing about it, I'm not looking for players who want to be mediocre. We don't need to be mediocre. That's not who we are. We need to recruit players who love football and want to do something special."

The Longhorns have made terrific inroads with their first full class under Strong, sitting atop the Big 12 and ranking No. 9 nationally in the Class of 2015.

The Sooners’ recruiting problems and lack of talent are grossly overstated. Bob Stoops' program is looking down at everyone in the Big 12 with the highest number of NFL draftees and best winning percentage since 2010, with only Texas consistently landing higher-ranked recruiting classes. Oklahoma isn’t as dominant as it was during the 2000s, but that has everything to do with the improved overall depth of the Big 12 more than the Sooners’ struggles. And Oklahoma looks poised to land another quality class, ranking second in the Big 12 and 17th nationally.

The foundation of Baylor’s rise is found in that program’s ability to turn overlooked recruits into stars. Turning two-star receiver Tevin Reese into an NFL draft pick is just one example of how Briles' program has risen to national prominence.

"You want to find the lifeline of our business, it's all about recruiting and getting the players that you need on campus and giving you a chance to sustain," Briles said. "We’ve proved we have substance as a football program. We have other things we need to prove at a very high level, and that to me is what it's all about. You know, that night will pass, there will be another night. We're not a one-night wonder."

Big 12 morning links

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
8:00
AM CT
And we're off...
  • Kansas quarterback commit Carter Stanley has completely shut down recruiting, reports Tom Keegan of the Lawrence Journal-World. The Jayhawks pledge told the new coaching staff he would shut things down if they stopped recruiting other signal-callers. It's a clear sign the Jayhawks think pretty highly of Stanley if they are willing to stop recruiting other quarterbacks. That's not to say that he is going to step into the starting lineup from Day 1 but new head coach David Beaty and offensive coordinator Rob Likens obviously think they may have a hidden gem in Stanley, who added an offer from Connecticut in recent weeks.
  • Who is going to be Texas' starting quarterback? Tyrone Swoopes? Jerrod Heard? Kyler Murray? Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News takes a stab at predicting the starter, with percentages for each potential option. Finger tabs Heard as the favorite to start and I'd have to agree. Murray set social media on fire with his tweet of a Longhorns jersey earlier this week and UT might be the Texas A&M commitment's best option if he hopes to play immediately. But it seems like Charlie Strong and the Longhorns are playing with fire a little it with long-time commitment Zach Gentry flirting with Michigan while UT flirts with Murray. I guess we will see if Charlie has any game.
  • Former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel appears to have landed on his feet as the new offensive coordinator at Utah State. OU fired Heupel earlier this month after the Sooners' offense struggled to find balance and explosive plays for the second-straight season. Yet it seems like a good fit for Heupel, as he gets the opportunity to blaze his own trail, and a good hire for Utah State.
  • Baylor coach Art Briles discusses several things including freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham and his coaching hires in this story from John Werner of the Waco Tribune. One interesting tidbit is Baylor holding its spring game at McLane Stadium for the first time. It will be a drastic change for the Bears, which held the spring game on their practice field in the past. Baylor's spring game should be a much better recruiting tool this year with recruits getting a much more game-like feel for the program.
  • Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett is making himself some money in Mobile, Alabama. Lockett has shined during Senior Bowl practices, showing scouts the quickness and shifty moves that made him one of the Big 12's most explosive playmakers for the past four years. He had 28 plays of 30 yards or more during his Wildcats' career and could be a terrific value pick for an NFL team with his route running, return prowess and willingness to play special teams.

Q&A: Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby Part II

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
4:00
PM CT
After an eventful 2014 football season, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby recently conducted a lengthy phone interview with ESPN.com to discuss the state of the Big 12, the controversial co-champions rule and the possibility of expansion.

Part I of the interview ran Wednesday. Part II is below:

What are the pros and cons of having a conference championship game?

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong, Malcom Brown
AP Photo/Eric GayBig 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby expects traditional league powers such as Oklahoma and Charlie Strong's Texas to rebound from down years.
Bowlsby: The pros are you have the same number of data points as everyone else, that is to say 13 games instead of 12 games. I suppose there is some revenue to be garnered from playing the 13th game. And I think it makes us look like everyone else. So I would say all those things would be favorable. On the unfavorable side, we play everybody already and the rule doesn't permit us to play a championship game under its current structure. The other thing is with a full round robin of the league, it's always going to be a regular-season rematch. So you could obviously ask the question, is it fair for the winning team to play the losing team again, and maybe lose out as a result of it. There are legitimate pros and cons on either side. Some years we'll be very glad we're not playing a playoff game, when we'll have to risk having our best team lose to another team. And other years, we'll wish we could play one more game in order to demonstrate that we belong there.

What about the pros and cons of expansion?

Bowlsby: No, I'm not going into that at this point. Those are things that we evaluate, but I don't need to have that out there for public consumption.

You indicated during a radio interview last month that the league would be more apt to expand east than west. Why is that?

Bowlsby: What I said was there are more likely candidates east than west. We don't have any candidate list. We have zero candidate list. We're at 10 now. We expect to be at 10 going forward. There are more people looking for a home, if you aggregate the list nationally of those that might be tempted to either change leagues or join a league, there are more of them in the eastern half of the United States than there are in the western half. Just like there are more institutions, more people, more everything in the eastern half.

Have the struggles of Texas and Oklahoma, especially in their bowl games, damaged the overall perception of the league?

Bowlsby: OU and Texas both have storied football traditions. OU was picked in the top four in the country at the beginning of the year, so I'm sure they're disappointed. On the other hand, Texas has a new coach (Charlie Strong) who has done a great job and I think they made progress throughout the year. So they're on an upward trend. Those programs aspire to win national championships. So anytime they don't win national championships they want to get better.

With Oliver Luck leaving West Virginia, you guys have to submit a new representative to the playoff selection committee. How will that work?

Bowlsby: It's my appointment. I appointed Oliver, and I'll appoint the next person. It will come from within our athletic directors and the meeting that is going to be held in early February is our board of directors meeting. And I notified Bill Hancock that I wanted to socialize my decision with them before I announced it publicly.

What traits will you be looking for?

Bowlsby: Their ability to serve, their integrity, their football knowledge, their past participation perhaps, the esteem they're held in among their athletic director colleagues. What they have on their plate and their general willingness and ability to serve because it's a very time-consuming undertaking. All of those things.
This week, we've been counting down the Big 12's top 25 players of 2014. Friday, we'll unveil our top five players.

But before then, we want to mention the players who narrowly missed the cut.

The unfortunate part of our top 25 ranking is that only 25 players can make the cut. But we considered at least a dozen other standouts who were also worthy of inclusion.

SportsNation

Who has the biggest gripe being left off the Big 12 top 25 player ranking?

  •  
    13%
  •  
    27%
  •  
    45%
  •  
    7%
  •  
    8%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,747)

Standouts like Baylor's KD Cannon, who totaled more than 1,000 receiving yards as a true freshman; Texas' Jordan Hicks, who led a stout Longhorns defense in tackles; West Virginia's Mario Alford, who was a big-play threat on offense and special teams; Kansas State's Curry Sexton, who was third in the league in receptions despite playing alongside Tyler Lockett; Baylor's Shock Linwood, who finished second in the Big 12 in rushing; and Texas' John Harris, who finished fifth in the league in receiving.

But there were five other players who proved most difficult to leave out.

Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard most definitely would have made the top 25 had he not suffered a groin injury that severely limited him late in the season. Still, with more than 900 receiving yards before November, Shepard almost made the cut anyway.

So did his teammate, offensive right tackle Daryl Williams. The first-team All-Big 12 selection helped pave the way for the Sooners' powerful running game. His tackle cohort Tyrus Thompson, however, did crack the top 25 at No. 20.

Like Shepard, Baylor wideout Antwan Goodley would have been a lock had it not been for an early-season injury. After totaling more than 1,300 yards receiving last year, Goodley finished with just more than 800 this season. Still, Goodley re-emerged as one of the most dominant pass-catchers during Big 12 play, placing seventh in the league in receiving during conference games. He had 158 yards receiving and two touchdowns in Baylor's critical 61-58 victory over TCU.

The final two players who nearly made the list didn't play for prolific teams, but they stood out nonetheless. Iowa State tight end E.J. Bibbs tied for seventh in the Big 12 with eight touchdown receptions. Kansas' JaCorey Shepherd, meanwhile, surfaced as one of the top cover corners in the conference for an underrated Jayhawks defense. Shepherd was fourth in the country with 18 pass breakups.

So we put the question to you in our weekly Big 12 poll.

Of Shepard, Williams, Goodley, Bibbs and Shepherd, who has the biggest gripe about being left out of our Big 12 top 25 player ranking?

Big 12 morning links

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
7:00
AM CT
Marcin, it was nice knowing ya.
  • Well, Baylor coach Art Briles made national news again Wednesday. During an interview with a group of reporters, Briles noted "a source" told him that his Bears fell short of the fourth and final playoff spot by an 8-to-4 vote. "We were close this year," Briles said. "We were an 8-to-4 vote getting in from the No. 4 spot. Whether that's public or not, I don't know, but it is now. Unless I'm getting bad information, and I won't give you my source." Briles might have been handed some bad info, at least according to College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock, who said an "8-4 vote would not be possible under the committee's protocol," since teams are only examined in groups no smaller than three. Hancock added that all votes are taken confidentially via secret ballot, as well.
  • This is a cool idea: Kansas State is considering playing its spring game off-campus at Kansas City’s Sporting Park, according to the Kansas City Star's Kellis Robinett. The soccer venue of Sporting Kansas City would host the spring game instead of Bill Snyder Family Stadium with construction of the new Vanier Football Complex in the north end zone well underway. I'm all for schools holding spring practices or scrimmages off campus. Texas Tech (in Midland) and West Virginia (in Charleston and Wheeling) have done this in recent years.
  • Could the Longhorns be on the verge of a recruiting coup, at the expense of their old instate rival no less? Possibly. Kyler Murray, the nation’s No. 13 overall player and top dual-threat quarterback, and ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge took an impromptu unofficial visit to Texas on Wednesday, causing a stir among recruiting circles. Murray has been the gem of the Texas A&M commitment class since May 28. Lodge was previously pledged to the Aggies as well before re-opening up his recruitment, though he's still believed to be considering A&M. If the Longhorns landed either or both, what a message it would send to College Station.
  • To Texas Tech fans worried that commit D’Vonta Hinton might waver, have no fear. The three-star inside linebacker from Texas City, Texas, got a special haircut to reaffirm his pledge to the Double T. The Dallas Morning News has more on how the Red Raiders' recruiting class is going here.
  • The Dallas Morning News' Ryan Gerbosi also examined how TCU's recruiting has been going, which includes pursuit of five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack. With longtime stalwart Chucky Hunter graduating, the Horned Frogs have an open spot in their rotation along the defensive line. Either way, Gerbosi writes, with only a couple spots left TCU is putting the finishing touches on a solid class coming off its 12-1 season.
For a few weeks last season season, Mike Gundy didn’t look like he was having much fun.

The tension spilled over with the media, culminating in the final regular-season press conference when the Oklahoma State coach declined comment on virtually every question; at one point in the middle of it, he picked up his phone and answered a text message. After mega-booster Boone Pickens gave Gundy a backhanded vote of confidence, rumors began to surface Gundy and Oklahoma State might part ways after the season, despite the success Gundy had brought the Cowboys over the previous nine seasons. Even the Oklahoma State student newspaper concluded Gundy should be gone.

[+] EnlargeMason Rudolph
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesFreshman QB Mason Rudolph helped breathe new life into the Cowboys during the final three games of the 2014 season.
Instead, it's those days that are gone. And armed with a potential rising star at quarterback and a host of other key starters, Gundy seems rejuvenated about his standing in Stillwater.

“We’re climbing back to where we were when we lost all those guys a couple of years ago,” Gundy reportedly told a small group of beat reporters following the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.

The impetus of Gundy’s perceived rejuvenation coincided with Oklahoma State’s stunning, come-from-behind win at Oklahoma -- Gundy’s first Bedlam road victory as a player or coach.

The Sooners led by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. But behind promising true freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State rallied to topple Oklahoma in overtime.

After the game, Gundy got back to having fun, unleashing his patented locker room dance for the players.

Gundy would later call the Oklahoma victory the biggest of his tenure in Stillwater. It not only made the Cowboys bowl eligible, it seemingly changed the mood and perhaps the 2015 trajectory of the program.

Leading up to the TicketCity Cactus Bowl, Gundy shelved the cold demeanor that had defined him for much of the 2014 season. He publicly expressed a desire to patch things up with Pickens. He even took a selfie with the Oklahoma State media.

Then, his team went out and played with the same looseness in the bowl game, handling Washington 30-22 in an inspiring performance that included Gundy putting 300-pound defensive tackle James Castleman at fullback for a touchdown run and a 48-yard reception.

Fresh off their phenomenal finish to last season, the Cowboys now have high hopes they can get back in 2015 to making noise in the Big 12 championship chase.

“We’ve got 21 guys that we played that are either freshmen or redshirt freshmen,” Gundy said. “Those guys are better, but they’re still not where we were because they don’t have that kind of experience. They will toward the middle part of next year.”

The biggest key for the Cowboys, though, will be the continued development of Rudolph, who shined after having his redshirt pulled for Oklahoma State’s final three games.

“When Mason came in -- and timing is important in everything we do -- he just kind of provided a lift,” Gundy said.

“He has some grit and toughness. How much? I don’t know because he has only played three games. I’m going to find out. I’m going to find out about his leadership skills. Is he going to bust his [tail] in the offseason? Is he going to step up? Is he going to have that same demeanor? Is he going to spend all his time in the [meeting room] by himself, like Peyton Manning does? We’re going to find out.”

The Cowboys, however, should be better on the offensive line, a unit that struggled most of last season but came together in front of Rudolph at the end.

Despite facing a talented Washington front seven, Oklahoma State controlled the line of scrimmage in the bowl game. With four starters back and plenty of transfer help on the way, offensive line figures to be a strength again for the Cowboys next season.

"We played with a senior, two sophomores and two freshmen, so I was surprised that they performed as well as they did,” Gundy said. “You’re playing on the road at Norman, and then you’re playing against a Washington team that had three All-Americans on defense. I think we had only one procedure penalty.”

Rudolph will also have his entire receiving corps back, including starters Brandon Sheperd, David Glidden and James Washington, who also had a banner true freshman season.

Defensively, Oklahoma State returns seven starters, including defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, linebacker Seth Jacobs and safety Jordan Sterns, who all broke out as sophomores.

Still, challenging in the Big 12 won’t be easy. TCU and Baylor are loaded again and will likely open in the top five of the preseason polls. Oklahoma and Texas are banking on having better seasons, too.

But Gundy is back to being his old self again.

Which is exciting news for the Cowboys in 2015.

SPONSORED HEADLINES