Dallas Colleges: TCU Horned Frogs
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.
Which Big 12-targeted uncommitted recruit is most intriguing?
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.
On to the 'bag:
@Jake_Trotter Really enjoyed the Top 25 players series, but curious why the underutilized and underrated DeAndre Washington wasn't on it.— Robert Jones (@wr_jones) January 23, 2015
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.
@Jake_Trotter who takes the opening handoff for Oklahoma State next year?— Brian Murphy (@Bmurphy47) January 23, 2015
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.
@Jake_Trotter do you believe Art Briles when he said Baylor was only 3 votes short of making the playoff?— Floyd_Sign (@sign_floyd) January 23, 2015
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.
@Jake_Trotter red river rivalry or black Friday showdown more important game next year?— BearsCanClimb (@TideNormand) January 23, 2015
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.
@Jake_Trotter favorite Kurt Russell movie?— Michael Van (@MichaelVan17) January 23, 2015
Trotter: "Miracle." But "Death Proof," "Escape from L.A.," "Tombstone," "Poseidon" and even "Overboard" have high rewatchability.
@Jake_Trotter Should BU redshirt Stidham, letting him backup Seth Russell next year, then having a 3 yr starter with maturity & experience?— Mike McGown (@mikemcgown) January 23, 2015
Trotter: Yes, but only if he's not the best quarterback. If he is, Baylor should start him. That would give him four seasons.
@Jake_Trotter is Joe Hubener Kstates most like go to starter next year at QB?— Nathan Davis (@nate_davis17) January 23, 2015
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.
@Jake_Trotter The latest on Big XII expansion/conf. championship game ?— Chris Hartzler (@cykowboyz) January 23, 2015
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.
@Jake_Trotter if you were doing your preseason power rankings today, who #3?— John Cassidy (@TheRealJCassidy) January 23, 2015
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).
@Jake_Trotter what's tcu's chance of making the playoffs next year without dawson, hackett or kevin white— Sasha Lueck (@Sasha02997) January 23, 2015
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.
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.
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?
- 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.
- Ever wonder which teams spend in waves on the recruiting trail and which teams take a more frugal approach? Bleacher Report has an interesting look at the recruiting expenses for men's teams at FBS schools. The story reveals that no Big 12 is among the top 10 spenders and Oklahoma State gets the most bang for its buck. It isn't a major surprise that the Cowboys are able to combine wise spending with landing well-regarded recruiting classes. With the facilities at OSU, if they can get a recruit on campus, that is half the battle.
- Kansas added another Texan to its commitment list with a pledge from cornerback Shola Ayinde of Richmond, Texas. The Jayhawks were already starting to stick their foot into the state of Texas before David Beaty was named head coach and it continued with Ayinde's decision. KU's class has a strong Texas slant with 15 of its 23 current commits from Texas.
- Tommy Hicks of Al.com took a Senior Bowl player poll asking 20 players if they would have included TCU in the College Football Playoff. The players seemed just as split as the general public with 11 saying the committee got it right and nine saying TCU should have been included. It's good to know college football players are just as uncertain as the rest of us. Although I should note they were kind of busy on Saturdays this fall so it would have been hard for them to see all the teams in action as much as the rest of us. It's an interesting poll nonetheless.
- It's never too early for 2015 predictions and Athlon comes through with its ranking of the Big 12 from top to bottom. They had a couple of teams a little low but West Virginia at No. 7 strikes me as particularly low. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Mountaineers rise towards the top of the standings in 2015 and even possibly force their way into the Big 12 title race. They were on that road this year and played TCU and Baylor as well as anyone in the conference. TCU and Baylor are the clear favorites but WVU could surprise.
- Baylor's Bryce Petty is one of the players with the most to gain at the Senior Bowl, writes ESPN Insider's Todd McShay. Petty could play his way into the conversation as a first-round pick with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl. I was asked about Petty's pro prospects in Tuesday's mailbag and I think he will have a solid NFL career. There are a lot of things to like about Petty but, most importantly, he's a winner. It's a big week for several former Big 12 stars with Kansas State's Tyler Lockett and TCU's Kevin White already creating some buzz early in the week. It should be fun to keep track of these guys after watching them excel in the Big 12 the past few weeks.
We're including our top 25 preseason rankings of each player too. In some cases we were on the money with our preseason player projections. In others, our prognostications were completely off the mark.
Criteria for these rankings were based solely on performances from 2014, not a culmination of previous seasons. Pro potential was not a factor. Neither was preseason hype.
On Tuesday, we continue with players 16 through 20:
16. Le'Raven Clark, T, Texas Tech (preseason rank: 10): The Red Raiders finished No. 2 among FBS teams in sack percentage, and Clark was a major reason why. The anchor of on offensive line that allowed 13 sacks in 2014, Clark has started 38 straight games. He also played a key role in DeAndre Washington's 1,000-yard season. The 6-foot-6, 313-pound junior has been among the Big 12’s best players since his sophomore season.
17. Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia (NR): Arguably the Big 12’s fiercest hitter, Joseph plays with a physical style, yet has been one of the Big 12’s most durable defenders. The senior-to-be has started all 38 games he has played in a Mountaineers uniform and has vastly improved as an all-around safety since his true freshman season. He finished with 92 tackles in 2014, including 4.5 tackles for loss, 62 solo stops, three forced fumbles, one interception and three pass breakups.
18. Chris Hackett, S, TCU (NR): Hackett just seemed to come up with big plays when the Horned Frogs needed them, recording his best games of the season against Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State and West Virginia. He finished with 75 tackles, 13 passes defensed, seven interceptions and one forced fumble in 2014. It was hard to watch TCU’s defense in action without noticing Hackett’s No. 1 jersey all over the field.
19. S Sam Carter, S, TCU (14): Numbers can’t possibly represent Carter’s importance to the Horned Frogs. His veteran leadership helped carry TCU to a 12-1 record in his final season and his statistical numbers were pretty solid with 55 tackles and four interceptions. Essentially a coach on the field, Carter played a critical role on a TCU defense that finished atop the Big 12 in most defensive categories.
20. Tyrus Thompson, T, Oklahoma (NR): Thompson finished his OU career with a stellar senior season. He earned first-team All-Big 12 honors as a key contributor on an offensive line that carried the Sooners to the Big 12 rushing title with 261.15 rushing yards per game. The Sooners also led the nation by allowing only nine sacks in 13 games.
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We conclude our Big 12 team-by-team season report card series with TCU:
The Frogs had it all: a brand new Air Raid-inspired scheme; a quarterback in Trevone Boykin who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting and instantly began playing at an elite level; a much-improved line; a loaded supply of skill talent all over the field; and the No. 2 scoring offense and No. 5 total offense in the country that scored a Big 12-best 47 points per game in conference play. It’s incredible how explosive these Frogs became on offense and how effectively they built up and maintained that level of play.
A top-five unit nationally in measures that matter: three-and-outs, yards per play, turnovers, third-down defense and red-zone defense. With star talent at every level, led by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Paul Dawson and defensive backs Kevin White and Chris Hackett, the Horned Frogs ranked No. 8 in scoring defense by holding seven opponents to 14 points or fewer. Their pass defense was slightly more generous but still fourth best in the Big 12. You can get away with that when your team grabs 40 takeaways, second most in FBS.
Special teams: B+
TCU had an All-Big 12 placekicker in Jaden Oberkrom, a great kick returner (when healthy) in B.J. Catalon and a punt returner in Cameron Echols-Luper who probably won TCU a game with his TD at Kansas. Even punter Ethan Perry did a nice job of pinning punts inside the 20 and 10.
The honors don’t lie. Gary Patterson has already racked up at least nine national Coach of the Year awards this offseason. He did a masterful job managing this team, especially once the expectations ratcheted up. His hiring of co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie and their ability to apply and install their vision proved brilliant. Patterson's ability to rally this team after the Baylor loss and win out was special. From staffing to scheme to preparation to week-by-week improvement and survival, this was a master class in coaching.
TCU enjoyed a dream season, simple as that. Had the Frogs been able to hold onto their fourth-quarter lead in Waco, they would’ve made the College Football Playoff. Instead, they blasted No. 9 Ole Miss in the Chik-fil-A Peach Bowl and more than proved their legitimacy. This was one of the great surprise turnarounds in college football, and the future looks bright.
RB: Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State. Roland ran for more than 100 yards for the first time all season and finished with 123 yards on 32 carries in Oklahoma State’s TicketCity Cactus Bowl win.
RB: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma. Perine was about the Sooners’ only positive in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Playing on a bum ankle, he ran for 134 yards to finish his true freshman season with a Big 12-best 1,713 rushing yards.
WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State. Lockett fueled a furious second-half comeback in the Valero Alamo Bowl with 164 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The rally came up short, but Lockett was fabulous in his final game at K-State.
WR: Kevin White, West Virginia. White was unstoppable yet again in his last college game. He finished with 129 yards receiving and a touchdown in West Virginia’s loss to Texas A&M in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
WR: K.D. Cannon, Baylor. By hauling in eight caches for 197 yards and two touchdowns, Cannon became just the seventh receiver and first underclassman in Baylor history to finish with more than 1,000 yards receiving.
AP: Aaron Green, TCU. Green ignited a 42-3 onslaught of Ole Miss in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl by hauling in a 31-yard pass on a trick play for TCU's first touchdown. He scored the Horned Frogs’ second touchdown too and finished with 114 yards rushing and receiving.
OT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU: With “Big V” locking up one of the edges, the Horned Frogs dominated the line of scrimmage and finished with 177 yards on the ground.
OG: LaQuan McGowan, Baylor. The 400-pound backup guard delivered one of the most unforgettable plays of the bowl season, when he lined up as an eligible receiver then snagged an 18-yard touchdown pass to give Baylor a 20-point lead.
C: B.J. Finney, Kansas State. With K-State struggling to protect quarterback Jake Waters through the first half, Finney swung from center to right tackle after halftime. The Wildcats had no trouble moving the ball the rest of the way.
OG: Brady Foltz, TCU: Foltz had one of the best games of his TCU career as the Horned Frogs rolled up 423 total yards against Ole Miss’ talented defense.
OT: Zach Crabtree, Oklahoma State. Crabtree’s return to the lineup late in the year helped stabilize the line. With Crabtree, the Cowboys controlled a Washington front seven that featured three All-Americans.
DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State. Mueller finished with seven tackles and produced a huge forced fumble of the Bruins in the third quarter that sparked K-State’s rally.
DT: James Castleman, Oklahoma State. Castleman’s biggest contributions actually came on offense. In Oklahoma State’s heavy set, Castleman rushed for a 1-yard touchdown, then late in the game hauled in a 48-yard yard reception off play-action that helped propel the Cowboys to victory.
DT: Malcom Brown, Texas. Brown did what he could in a 31-7 loss to Arkansas in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl by leading Texas with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a pair of QB hurries.
DE: James McFarland, TCU. McFarland essentially ended the game when he came up with an acrobatic, diving interception of Bo Wallace in the Ole Miss end zone that put the Frogs ahead 28-0 just before halftime.
LB: K.J. Dillon, West Virginia. Dillon had a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave West Virginia a 10-point lead over the Aggies and early command of the game. Neither the lead nor the command lasted, however.
LB: Marcus Mallet, TCU. The Horned Frogs brutalized Ole Miss’ offense, and Mallet was a big reason for that. He put up a game-high 10 tackles and forced and recovered a fumble, as the Rebels finished with just 9 yards rushing.
CB: Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State. In addition to providing solid coverage all night, Peterson came up with the game-clinching interception of Washington in the final seconds.
CB: Ramon Richards, Oklahoma State. The sure-tackling true freshman had perhaps the best performance in his young career and finished with six tackles, a tackle for loss and two pass breakups.
S: Karl Joseph, West Virginia. Joseph led the Mountaineers with 10 tackles and delivered yet another devastating hit that resulted in a forced fumble.
S: Derrick Kindred, TCU. Kindred picked off the Rebels in the first quarter and finished with five tackles and a tackle for loss as the TCU secondary swarmed Ole Miss' receivers all game.
K: Matthew McCrane, Kansas State. McCrane nailed 47-yard and 29-yard field goals and nearly pulled off a remarkable onside kick using the “Rabona” soccer technique. Honorable mention honors here go to West Virginia’s Josh Lambert, who broke the FBS season record with 39 made field goals.
P: Kip Smith, Oklahoma State. Smith placed all four of his punts inside the Washington 20 to help the Cowboys control the field-position battle.
Returner: Mario Alford, West Virginia: The electric Alford had two big kick returns, as well as a 45-yard touchdown reception off a quick pass in his final game as a Mountaineer.
Biggest winner: Baylor. Defensive end Shawn Oakman could've been a first-round pick. Left tackle Spencer Drango already has his degree and two All-Big 12 seasons. Both are coming back to Waco, Texas, to chase a third consecutive conference title and shouldn't have a hard time improving their draft position. Oakman is such a freaky athlete that you'd think scouts would fall in love with him at the NFL combine anyway. Luckily, we get to watch him play another season of college ball first. The draft advisory board recommended Drango go back to school, and that's terrific news for Seth Russell or whomever takes over the Baylor quarterback job.
Biggest loser: Oklahoma. The Sooners lost defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, and it's hard to know which one is more damaging. Phillips, a fourth-year junior, flashed major potential but logged only one full season as a starter after missing most of 2013. Looks like he made a good choice: Phillips is No. 11 in Todd McShay's rankings and 27th in Mel Kiper Jr.'s Mock Draft 1.0. And then there's Green-Beckham, the Missouri transfer whose total contribution at OU was one season on the scout team. Kiper has him projected to go 18th. DGB could've been one of the most talented players in the Big 12 next season, but we will never got to see him play a down in Norman, Oklahoma. It'll be interesting to see how much that one semester at OU helped repair his image and draft stock.
Most expected: Texas DT Malcom Brown. For probably four months or so, it's seemed obvious that Brown would be taking his talents to the NFL early. Even before the third-year junior turned in a season worthy of the ESPN.com Big 12 defensive player of the year honor, Brown's circumstances made this a smart move. He's married with two children (as we detailed in November) and plays at an elite level at a premiere position. What more could he have proven in 2015? Brown is projected at No. 23 in Kiper's mock and is No. 29 in McShay's prospect rankings.
Tough loss: TCU S Chris Hackett TCU was already set to lose senior defenders Paul Dawson, Kevin White, Sam Carter, Chucky Hunter and Marcus Mallet, so adding Hackett to that group doesn't help. Snagging a conference-best seven interceptions and thriving in a big role for the Frogs helped raised his profile this season, so you can see why he'd want to cash in. Hackett actually had a pretty nice backup in juco transfer Kenny Iloka, so there might not be much drop-off here.
Most unexpected: Kansas WR Nigel King. The graduate transfer from Maryland produced one of the top plays in college football this season with his 78-yard touchdown against TCU, but that was also his only touchdown as a Jayhawk. King felt he was ready to move on after logging a pair of 100-yard games and finishing with 537 yards on 30 catches this fall. He could've been a nice weapon for new coach David Beaty in a KU offense that will throw the ball around more.
Also coming back -- worth noting: When looking ahead to 2015 nonconference play, a few departures could be deemed good news for the Big 12. West Virginia won't have to face game-changing Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs again. He scored a 77-yard touchdown and finished with 127 receiving yards against WVU last season. TCU doesn't have to defend Minnesota's Maxx Williams, a matchup nightmare at tight end.
But the conference Offensive Player of the Year is poised to return and several young players had breakout seasons. Here's a look at ten Big 12 offensive players to keep an eye on heading into 2015:
TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin: If Boykin makes the same jump he has in the past 12 months, he will cement a spot as a Heisman finalist in New York. He will enter the season with plenty of fanfare and has the skill set that leaves defenses searching for answers. If they try to pressure Boykin and he escapes into the open field, he’s like a running back. If defenses sit back, he can distribute the ball through the air like a veteran. Boykin is the clear favorite to repeat as Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after accounting for 4,608 total yards in 2014.
Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard: He was one of the nation’s top receivers before a leg injury derailed his junior season. Shepard finished with 51 receptions for 970 yards and five touchdowns despite making just two of those receptions after his 15-catch explosion against Kansas State on Oct. 18. He should be one of the Big 12's top pass-catchers and the Sooners' No. 1 target.
Baylor receiver Corey Coleman: The junior-to-be is a big play waiting to happen. Coleman can catch the deep ball, turn a short pass into a long gain and remains a threat on kick returns. His 15-reception, 224-yard, two-touchdown performance against OU was a glimpse at his big-time potential. He finished the season with 64 receptions for 1,119 yards (17.5 yards per catch) and 11 touchdowns.
Baylor receiver KD Cannon: As soon as defensive backs see Cannon they would be wise to start to backpedal. He had a amazing true freshman season with 1,080 receiving yards and eight touchdowns as he repeatedly ran by defenders as if they were standing still. Cannon’s speed creates problems but his competitiveness when the ball is in the air really separates him. He has the potential to be even better as a sophomore.
TCU running back Aaron Green: The Nebraska transfer is the ideal backfield mate for Boykin, as both playmakers are among the Big 12’s best in the open field. Green had four 100-yard games in the final half of the season as the Horned Frogs called upon him to fill the void after B.J. Catalon's injury.
Kansas running back Corey Avery: New coach David Beaty is going to need playmakers and Avery fits the bill. Don’t be surprised if the Jayhawks make it a priority to get Avery involved in the offense, as he’s one of the few proven playmakers on the roster after finishing his debut season with 631 rushing yards and five touchdowns. His 18 receptions show his versatility, which could make him an even more valuable piece in KU’s version of the Air Raid during his sophomore season.
Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph: He completely transformed the Cowboys fortunes in the final three games of the season. But it’s important to remember he’s still a young quarterback coming off a great finish to his first season, much like OU quarterback Trevor Knight was at this time last year. Let’s not crown him as a future of the Big 12 quarterback position quite yet, but Rudolph shows all the signs of being able to lead the Pokes into title contention.
Texas Tech running back DeAndre Washington: Coming off an overlooked 1,000-yard season, Washington makes the Red Raiders confident they will have balance in 2015. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry on his way to 1,103 rushing yards. Washington should continue to be one of the Big 12’s top playmakers this fall.
West Virginia running back Rushel Shell: The Pittsburgh transfer brings a physical presence to WVU’s offense and his success on the ground often directly impacted the Mountaineers' odds of winning. He finished with 788 rushing yards and seven touchdowns and could be counted on to play an even bigger role in 2015 with Kevin White headed to the NFL.
Next five: Iowa State WR D'Vario Montgomery; TCU WR Josh Doctson; Baylor RB Shock Linwood; Iowa State WR Allen Lazard; Texas Tech WR Jakeem Grant.
Aug. 30: Oklahoma State almost beat Florida State!
Season openers can be consistently pretty good at making people look foolish. With all the prep time coaches have, the results can be about as meaningful and enduring as bowl games. In this instance, Oklahoma State played No. 1 Florida State a lot closer than most expected. The Seminoles won 37-31 at AT&T Stadium but almost squandered a 17-0 lead. That game was a coming-out party for Emmanuel Ogbah and Tyreek Hill, who went on to have great seasons, but the Pokes finished 7-5. We sensed that OSU's showing and West Virginia's close game against Alabama signaled that the Big 12 can play with anyone. That might be right, but the Cowboys' season didn't get much easier from there.
Oct. 18: Texas has its QB of the future!
Nov. 1: Sugar Bowl Trevor is back!
Speaking of quarterbacks with highs and lows, Oklahoma's Trevor Knight was also a tough dude to peg during the 2014 season. Once again, we witnessed a quarterback shred Iowa State and believed this meant progress. Knight was at his dual-threat best on Nov. 1: 230 yards passing, 146 rushing and six total TDs in a 59-14 beatdown in Ames. That "Sugar Bowl Trevor" label of how good he can be on the right day remains both unfair and elusive, though, as the Sooners' showing against Baylor the next week proved.
Dec. 2: TCU is making the College Football Playoff!
They really got us good with this one. We didn't make such a bold prediction at the time, but all the indicators were there, right? When the playoff committee boosted the Horned Frogs up to No. 3, ahead of Florida State, going into the final weekend of the season, it seemed reasonable to conclude that a blowout win against Iowa State would be enough to secure TCU's playoff bid. This ended up being a false hope, and it was heartbreaking for Horned Frogs fans. Baylor fans were angry at the time, too, but didn't need to be. A few days later, the playoff committee finally bumped the Bears ahead of TCU, which lost to Baylor in October.
Have you had enough yet? No? Here's a preview of a few talking points you're sure to hear about in the offseason that might in fact be regrettable overreactions. Only time will tell, really, but we have to discuss 'em anyway.
Mason Rudolph is a star!
The way Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph closed out the season with three inspiring starts, including the shocking upset of Oklahoma in Norman, is inspiring a lot of confidence about where the Pokes are heading in 2015. But he was a true freshman, and surely there will be speed bumps along the way as he grows in his sophomore year. Let's have a little patience, shall we?
Paul Rhoads is on the hot seat!
You knew this talking point was coming eventually. To this point, the job of beloved Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads has never really seemed to be in jeopardy, despite the on-field results (2-10). But the Cyclones just endured a winless conference season and have lost 23 of their past 29 games. Recruiting isn't going great, either. The pressure will build if Rhoads can't produce more promising results in 2015.
Maybe TCU and Baylor can both make the playoff!
Putting both teams in the top three of our Way-Too-Early preseason rankings might lead to this viewpoint, but it's probably a shaky one. Only one of these teams can go undefeated, and there are no guarantees for one-loss teams. Whoever wins their Black Friday showdown in Fort Worth should be in great shape. But who knows what that game will mean for the loser?