Dallas Colleges: West Virginia Mountaineers
To the 'bag...
Grant Rohach is named the starter. He was clearly the best QB in the spring game, and coming off the way he played at the end of last season, momentum is in his corner. I know the Cyclones are high on the potential of redshirt freshman Joel Lanning, and Rohach will have to perform once the season begins to keep the job, but at this point, it's difficult envisioning anyone other than Rohach starting the opener against North Dakota State.
Cedric Reed, Kansas State's Ryan Mueller, Oklahoma's Charles Tapper, TCU's Devonte Fields and Baylor's Shawn Oakman. On the next tier, I'd have Oklahoma's Geneo Grissom, Texas Tech's Branden Jackson, Iowa State's Cory Morrissey and Oklahoma State's Jimmy Bean.
Davis Webb has made tremendous improvement since December, and he's going to have plenty of firepower surrounding him. Assuming Fields is back to his old self, the Horned Frogs will again be a formidable defense. The big question, as always, is, can they score enough points? But if Matt Joeckel can step in at QB and direct what is essentially the same offense he had at Texas A&M to respectability, TCU could be a handful.
Jordan Evans played well as a true freshman, and shined in place of Shannon in the spring game. A linebacking corps of Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Dominique Alexander, sack-master Eric Striker and Evans would still be stout. Of course, it would be even better with Shannon.
Ty Zimmerman wasn't on the field last year, but I have faith Dante Barnett is ready to assume a leadership role in that secondary and stabilize the defense. I have less faith right now in K-State's running backs. So far this spring, no one has really emerged from a crop of backs with almost no meaningful experience. The K-State attack has always been predicated on a strong running game, so this is no small issue. Maybe freshman Dalvin Warmack can jumpstart the position when he arrives this summer. But running back looks like the biggest question on a solid-looking team with not many questions elsewhere.
- Rough Wednesday at Oklahoma. One Sooner is being accused of sexual assault and the program lost a commitment from one of its top recruits.
- Here are five questions that remain after Texas Tech's spring game.
- Two more departures have left Davis Webb as the lone quarterback on the Red Raider roster. TTU has had five different quarterbacks transfer since last year.
- Baylor is gearing up for what it hopes is a national title run.
- Kansas safety Isaiah Johnson has a even bigger goal in mind after earning Big 12 defensive newcomer-of-the-year honors last season.
- West Virginia linebacker Isaiah Bruce is feeling more comfortable after his move back inside after spending last season at outside linebacker.
- TCU lost one quarterback, Tyler Matthews, but could be gaining another in former Texas A&M quarterback Matt Joeckel.
- A former wrestler has been impressing along Kansas State's offensive line.
- Five questions about the Iowa State football program are answered by Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register.
But last season, only six Big 12 teams qualified for bowls, as Iowa State, TCU and West Virginia had losing records while Kansas ran its bowl-less streak to five seasons.
In this week’s poll question, we ask: Which Big 12 team that didn’t qualify for a bowl last year has the best chance of getting back to one in 2014?
Until last season, the Mountaineers had made a bowl every year all the way back to 2001. But inconsistent play at quarterback and defensive injuries doomed them in 2013. West Virginia returns starter Clint Trickett and has added some interesting quarterbacks to the competition. The Mountaineers also appear loaded in the backfield and at wide receiver, and they added veteran assistant Tom Bradley to the defensive staff. But West Virginia plays a brutal schedule, which includes Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, and has road trips to Maryland, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas.
TCU had also been accustomed to going to bowl games annually, as the Horned Frogs hadn’t missed one since 2004. Injuries to defensive end Devonte Fields and quarterback Casey Pachall ravaged TCU early on in the season. The Horned Frogs also struggled offensively all year, prompting coach Gary Patterson to overhaul his attack and bring in Houston’s Doug Meacham and Texas Tech’s Sonny Cumbie to coordinate a no-huddle, spread attack. TCU lost All-American cornerback Jason Verrett off last fall’s team, but Fields appears healthy after undergoing foot surgery. The defense figures to be stout again.
Paul Rhoads had led Iowa State to two straight bowls before taking a step back last season. The Cyclones got off to a rough start with a stunning loss to Northern Iowa in the opener. They later dropped a one-point game on a Thursday night to Texas and never regained the momentum. The Cyclones never quit, however, and finished the season on a high note by routing Kansas and rallying to topple West Virginia on the road in triple overtime. Iowa State still needs several players to emerge defensively, but the offense could feature the best collection of skill players the Cyclones have enjoyed in a long time, headlined by running back Aaron Wimberly, wideout Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs.
Kansas hasn’t been to a bowl since current Iowa State offensive coordinator Mark Mangino was its head coach. The Jayhawks did defeat West Virginia last season to snap their 27-game Big 12 losing streak, but that remained their lone Big 12 win. Kansas has added transfer Nick Harwell, who was second in the nation in receiving in 2011 at Miami (Ohio) and should give the Jayhawks a much-needed go-to receiver. Kansas also brings back 16 starters, including nine on a defensive unit that played several teams tough last season. Of course, after winning just nine games combined the past four seasons, the Jayhawks would seemingly have the longest road back to a bowl.
But we leave it to you to decide: Which of these four teams -- West Virginia, TCU, Iowa State or Kansas -- has the best chance of getting back to a bowl in 2014?
It's always a big-time endeavor for the ESPN crew of scouts, so be sure to click HERE for the ESPN 300 rankings.
Several of today's updates to the ESPN 300 affect the Big 12. Here's a closer look at what you should take away from the rankings:
- Oklahoma State quarterback commit John Kolar enjoyed an incredible jump, going from unranked to the nation's No. 3 pocket passer. He's now ranked No. 82 overall in the ESPN 300. The Norman (Okla.) North senior-to-be impressed filling in for injured Alabama signee David Cornwell last year, and he has wowed our scouts as well.
- What a killer start for Baylor. The Bears have verbal commitments from six high school prospects, and all six made the ESPN 300. The highest ranked of the bunch is WR John Humphrey Jr., who announced his commitment last night. He's one of three ESPN 300 receivers in the class, joining Devontre Stricklin and Chad President. The Bears signed four ESPN 300 recruits in last year's class, and three the previous year, so this is quite the jump. With Baylor high on the list of several other ESPN 300 prospects, including WR DaMarkus Lodge (No. 63 in ESPN 300) and DE James Lockhart (No. 113), there's a good chance this class ends up being the best in the Big 12 when it's all said and done.
- Texas now has verbal commitments from five ESPN 300 recruits: S DeShon Elliott (No. 94), OT Toby Weathersby (No. 138), OG Patrick Vahe (No. 171), new RB commit Tristian Houston (No. 208) and RB Jordan Stevenson (No. 296). The Longhorns are in the mix for more than 30 ESPN 300 prospects and have offered several more elite out-of-state recruits. Texas has some real momentum under new coach Charlie Strong at the moment, and it's possible more than 10 uncommitted ESPN 300 prospects visits Austin this week for the spring game.
- The state of Oklahoma has five prospects in the ESPN 300, and nearly all of them could end up being Sooners. OU already has verbal pledges from DT Marquise Overton (No. 150) and OG Joshua Wariboko (No. 190) and is among the leaders for OG Jalin Barnett (No. 36) and S Will Sunderland Jr. (No. 212). And then there's Kolar, who the Sooners could still make a push for over time. Four of Oklahoma's five current pledges are in the ESPN 300.
- Texas Tech already has two top-50 recruits in QB Jarrett Stidham and DT Breiden Fehoko, and they'll be the lead recruiters of this Red Raiders class. Stidham checks in at No. 37 in the new ESPN 300, which puts him No. 4 among all prospects in Texas, and Fehoko is the nation's No. 7 defensive tackle.
- It's a great year to find a running back in the state of Texas. Ten of them made the newest ESPN 300, and six have already committed to schools. The top-rated member of the group is Oklahoma State commit Ronald Jones II, the nation's No. 3 running back. Texas already has Houston and Stevenson, Baylor has Ja'Mycal Hasty (No. 274) and Texas A&M has pledges from Rodney Anderson (No. 263) and Jay Bradford (No. 277).
- West Virginia is off to a great start with the 2015 class thanks to its dedication to recruiting Florida. Two of its verbal commits made the ESPN 300 in WR Jovon Durante (No. 120) and S Kendrell McFadden (No. 153), and half of its 10 pledges come from the Sunshine State. WVU is one of only seven program in the country with double-digit commitments at this point.
- New summer rules could help West Virginia start to narrow down its quarterback battle.
- A look at West Virginia's defensive line after spring football.
- The Mountaineers have a bunch of quality running backs. That's a good problem to have.
- Kansas State's offensive line is a work in progress. Multiple starters return but position changes and replacing both tackles makes spring practices a key time at KSU.
- Is Pasta-gate a thing of the past? Former Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard likes what a potential NCAA rule change could mean for walk-on athletes.
- Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury remains a fan of former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and he says a social life is just one plane ride away.
- Baylor landed another speedy athlete for its Class of 2015.
- Iowa State players enjoyed the schedule change for the Cyclones spring practices this spring. ISU started spring drills before spring break, splitting up the 15 practices into two sections.
- Don't be too concerned about Trevor Knight's poor performance in OU's spring game.
To catch you up on all the recruiting storylines that have developed so far, we checked in with ESPN.com senior national recruiting writer Jeremy Crabtree and Big 12 recruiting reporter Damon Sayles for their takes:
Which team has impressed you the most with its 2015 recruiting?
Crabtree: With all of the questions West Virginia faced in the offseason and the product the Mountaineers put on the field in 2013, you would think they would be struggling out of the gate with the 2015 class. But it has been the exact opposite. WVU has 10 commitments, including from one of the best receivers in the country, Jovon Durante. West Virginia is selling kids on an opportunity to play early and make a big difference in getting the program back on track. Plus, it has gone back to its roots and mined the very familiar recruiting territory of Florida for some of its best pledges.
Sayles: As much as I like what Texas Tech and TCU have done so far, I have to tip my hat to what West Virginia has accomplished. The Mountaineers have a pair of ESPN Junior 300 players in safety Kendrell McFadden and Durante. The Mountaineers are recruiting the state of Florida well; five of the 10 pledges are from the Sunshine State. West Virginia is off to a fast start, and with the program fresh off a successful spring game, more big-time commits could be coming soon.
Who has disappointed?
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I know where you live Rhoads...have a nice prom. pic.twitter.com/NZDRnRtMaG— Fred Hoiberg (@ISUMayor32) April 12, 2014
To the 'bag...
@Jake_Trotter best newcomers this spring?Trotter: So far, Oklahoma State running back/receiver Tyreek Hill, TCU safety Kenny Iloka and Kansas receiver Nick Harwell. With his speed, Hill could lead the league in all-purpose yards. Iloka is going to be a key piece in the best secondary in the Big 12. And Harwell should finally give the Jayhawks that go-to receiver they haven’t had since Dezmon Briscoe.
— Eric Bowman (@E_ROCK12) April 10, 2014
@Jake_Trotter this far out if you had to pick this year's Paul Rhoads upset special who would it beTrotter: The Cyclones get K-State in Ames the second week of the season, which could be a dangerous game for the Wildcats, who might get caught looking ahead to that Thursday night clash with Auburn. Another team that must pay heed is Oklahoma. The Sooners go to Iowa State the week before hosting Baylor in a game that could determine the Big 12 crown. OU can't afford to be looking ahead, either.
— Ted Flint (@TedFlintKansas) April 10, 2014
@Jake_Trotter What's your over/under on Kansas conference wins this coming season? #big12mailbagTrotter: I'm going to set it at 1 1/2, and I think I would actually bet the over. The Jayhawks are going to be better this season, and quite possibly good enough to steal two conference wins.
— Michael Nichols (@mdn_13) April 10, 2014
@Jake_Trotter @ESPN_Big12 what is TTU going to do with all these young QBs? Webb, Mahomes, Stidham #big12mailbagTrotter: Right now, the Red Raiders have one on campus, and that's well below the national average. I don't see an issue. The way Davis Webb has improved in the last five months, he's going to be the guy the next three seasons barring something unforeseen. That would still give Jarrett Stidham three seasons of eligibility to be the starter, if he redshirted next year. Patrick Mahomes will get this chances, too. Seems like what TTU is going to do is be really good at quarterback the next six years.
— Matt McNicoll (@Matt_McNicoll) April 10, 2014
@Jake_Trotter you think OU/TX will have a 2:30 kickoff? It's hard for us college students to make the noon kickoffs, heck hard for anybody — Konnor Lohman (@konnorlohman) April 10, 2014Trotter: I have no inside info here, but if the game is at 11 a.m. again, hit me up in the fall and I'll share with you my shortcut to the Texas State Fair.
@Jake_Trotter how do you see the Daniel Sams move to WR working out for #KState? — Corbin McGuire (@CorbinMcGuire1) April 10, 2014Trotter: It was a move that had to be made. Sams is too talented to be standing on the sidelines. He's not going to instantly become an All-Big 12 receiver. But if they can devise ways to get Sams the ball in space, the move could work out well. I see Sams getting a lot of his touches through flares, screens, reverses and maybe a handoff or Wildcat formation here or there. If they can get Sams the ball 10 times a game, that will only help the K-State offense. Think Trevone Boykin in TCU's offense late last year. That's how I see Sams best fitting in.
@Jake_Trotter Do you see Kenny Williams starting on both sides of the ball next year?Trotter: Playing? Yes. Starting? No. I think Williams ultimately favors one side of the ball. The most likely scenario is he still keeps a major role at running back, then gives coordinator Matt Wallerstedt 15-20 plays at outside linebacker, which is more than I would have predicted at the beginning of the spring. Williams can really help the defense, but not at the expense of playing 130 snaps.
— Michael Bates (@BatesTheDoulos) April 10, 2014
@Jake_Trotter which big 12 coach's job is the most secure and who has to win right now?Trotter: Bob Stoops, Art Briles, Mike Gundy, Bill Snyder and Gary Patterson have ironclad job security. Paul Rhoads and Kliff Kingsbury have nothing to worry about, either, and Charlie Strong is too new to have to worry (though in Austin, that could change fast). That leaves Charlie Weis and Dana Holgorsen, whose seats are warmest among Big 12 coaches. I think Weis just has to show improvement this season. He can't go 0-12. Holgorsen is the most interesting to watch. Considering the brutal schedule, it's very possible West Virginia is better than last year and still goes 5-7, which might not be enough for Holgorsen to keep his job. But if the Mountaineers go, say, 7-5 against that slate, then I would think Holgorsen would be deserving of another year. West Virginia has been recruiting at an impressive clip, and the schedule will line up more favorably in 2015.
— David Leake (@DavidLeake) April 10, 2014
Trotter: Appreciate it, sir. Cannon was actually on the poll for Offensive Freshman of the Year two weeks ago. The newcomer poll was for transfers, which is why you didn't see him there.
Trotter: I actually released a power poll in January that went this way: OU, Baylor, K-State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Tech, TCU, Iowa State, West Virginia, Kansas. I'll be updating it, though, after spring ball concludes.
As a disclaimer, this is NOT our list. This is Athlon’s. So forward all hate tweets and emails to them. Not me. I already get enough.
1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
2. Art Briles, Baylor
3. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
5. Gary Patterson, TCU
6. Charlie Strong, Texas
7. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
8. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
9. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
10. Charlie Weis, Kansas
- Athlon prefers coaches who win conference championships. Briles, Snyder, Gundy and Stoops, the top four on this list, have won the past four Big 12 titles.
- I went back and checked and noticed some interesting changes. Snyder was No. 1 in 2013, but dropped two spots this year (why, I’m not sure; K-State did win six of seven to close out the season). Mack Brown was No. 6 -- the same slot that Strong opened up here. Kingsbury moved up only one spot after going 8-5 in his first season.
- In the eyes of Athlon, Patterson’s stock is falling. He was the No. 2 coach going into his first year in the Big 12 and was ranked third going into last season. On the flip side, Briles has made the biggest rise in the last two years, going from sixth to second after winning the Big 12 last season.
- Athlon actually had Snyder fifth in 2012, which is hard to believe. We’re talking about one of the best coaches of all-time, right?
- As you can see, I have a bigger beef with the 2012 and 2013 rankings than the 2014 one.
- Kingsbury has the potential to ascend the most of anyone on this list. I don’t know that the No. 8 spot is completely unfair, considering he’s only been a head coach one season. But if he can turn Texas Tech into a Big 12 contender on a quasi-regular basis, he could jump several spots.
- This is obviously not an easy list to compile. How do you weigh what Briles has done the last five years against what Snyder has the last 25? It’s all a matter of subjectivity.
This year, several offensive transfers have the potential to impact their teams in their first year in the league the way Sims did last season.
But who will win this year’s award?
Oklahoma State running back/wide receiver Tyreek Hill already has the look of a serious contender. Hill was the No. 4 overall juco recruit this year and figures to be one of the fastest players in college football. He was named Big 12 Indoor Track & Field Outstanding Freshman of the Year and finished fifth at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships in the 200-meter dash. Though he’s been splitting time this spring between track and football, Hill has been almost as impressive on the gridiron as on the track. The Cowboys are hoping to utilize Hill the way the Mountaineers did Tavon Austin two years ago as a slot receiver and backfield threat. Hill has spent the spring working mostly at running back, the position he played in junior college. But he also has good enough hands to line up at receiver, too, which would give Oklahoma State more ways to get him the football.
Hill isn't the only intriguing offensive player to transfer into the league from the juco ranks.
Kansas State is counting on big things from receiver Andre Davis, who most likely will be lining up opposite All-Big 12 performer Tyler Lockett. Davis averaged more than 20 yards per reception last season at Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College, and should get plenty of opportunities in single coverage downfield with defenses keyed on Lockett. Davis could also help out in returns with Tramaine Thompson gone.
The Big 12 has other talented receivers joining the league, especially Kansas newcomer Nick Harwell, who was second in the country in receiving in 2011 for Miami (Ohio). Harwell, who transferred to Kansas last summer, has 229 career receptions, 3,166 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns. He should instantly give the Jayhawks a go-to receiver, something they’ve desperately lacked in recent years. Kansas, in fact, hasn’t had a top-20 Big 12 receiver the last four seasons.
Iowa State is also getting help from a transfer receiver in D'Vario Montgomery, who arrived from South Florida. Montgomery was a top-100 player in Florida, coming out of the same high school as Iowa State quarterback Sam B. Richardson. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Montgomery gives the Cyclones a physical presence on the perimeter. And with him, Quenton Bundrage, slot man Jarvis West, tight end E.J. Bibbs and hotshot freshman Allen Lazard, Iowa State could field its most talented group of wideouts in a long time.
The West Virginia offense is also getting a shot in the arm with another high-profile running back transfer. Rushel Shell, who transferred in from Pittsburgh last year, set a Pennsylvania high school record with 9,078 career-rushing yards. He was formerly rated the third-best running back in the country and had offers from programs such as Alabama and Ohio State before signing with Pitt and rushing for 641 yards as a freshman. The Mountaineers have plenty of other options at running back in Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the 6-foot, 220-pound Shell gives West Virginia a potentially devastating power back between the tackles.
Could he give the Mountaineers a second consecutive Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year? Or will one of the other aforementioned candidates snag the award? Weigh in with your opinion in this week’s poll.
- For all his swag, Kliff Kingsbury is also a grinder dedicated to detail, writes Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports.
- D.J. Polite-Bray will bring a deep threat to the Texas Tech offense.
- Oliver Luck explains his $106 million master plan for facility renovations at West Virginia.
- Second-year back Rennie Childs is still fighting for a spot in the Oklahoma State rotation.
- With the top three set, OSU is looking for one more rusher to contribute in 2014.
- Oklahoma has a new attitude on defense going forward, writes Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman.
- The Sooners will be missing some top receivers for their spring game.
- Redshirt freshman Joel Lanning is still competing for the Iowa State QB job.
- Watch KU go as Montell Cozart grows, writes Tom Keegan of the Lawrence Journal-World.
- Charlie Weis doesn't shoot down the possibility of a two-QB system in 2014.
- ISU's Jarvis West is ready for his comeback season after a knee injury cost him 2013.
- Three Big 12 coaches cracked the top 10 of this Athlon ranking of all 128 FBS coaches.
- Baylor's spring scrimmage showed flashes of the past and the future, writes John Werner of the Waco Tribune.
- Believe it or not, Art Briles says he still hasn't visited his new stadium.
- At the end of spring ball, J.W. Walsh is looking like the starter at QB for Oklahoma State.
- New offensive line coach Bob Connelly faces challenges in rebuilding the OSU O-line.
- The Pokes landed a pledge from an elite Dallas-Fort Worth area running back on Sunday.
- The redesigned TCU spread offense sputtered in its spring game scrimmage.
- Devonte Fields and the Horned Frog offensive line did make a good impression on Saturday.
- Davis Webb and DeAndre Washington shined in Texas Tech's scrimmage on Friday.
- West Virginia's offense showed it still needs work in an open scrimmage on Saturday.
- Don't sleep on Dustin Garrison, who scored two TDs in the WVU scrimmage.
- Transfer receiver Nick Harwell is turning some heads in Kansas spring practices.
- Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson are among the stars Texas assistant Tommie Robinson has coached.
- Is the tight end position making a comeback in the Oklahoma offense?
- The Sooners are seeing more physical play from the offensive and defensive lines.
- The NCAA uncovered no infractions connected to Sports Illustrated's allegations of Baylor assistant Kendal Briles committing a recruiting violation.
- The Bears are working this spring to replenish their depleted secondary, reports the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner.
- The Jayhawks know it might seem far-fetched, but they have the goal of fielding the best defense in the Big 12 next season, they tell the Topeka Capital-Journal's Jesse Newell.
- Kansas RB Darrian Miller is having to learn his third offense, the Lawrence Journal-World's Tom Keegan writes.
- From the B team to the spotlight, it's Oklahoma State receiver Jhajuan Seales' time to shine, writes The Oklahoman's Cody Stavenhagen.
- Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford did a Q&A with Sports Illustrated. Former Longhorns QB Colt McCoy is joining RG III in Washington.
- The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel thought the Sooners' April Fool's joke involving tight end Blake Bell was in poor taste.
- Oklahoma receiver Jordan Smallwood has bounced back from surgery, reports the Tulsa World's Guerin Emig.
- The Daily (Va.) Press' David Teel speculates whether a West Virginia-Virginia Tech game could work in 2017.
- SportsOnEarth.com's Matt Brown calls Kansas State a sleeper to watch for the 2014 season.
- TCU coach Gary Patterson, who does not like having spring games, frequently watches tape of future opponents' spring games, according to TCU 360's Jordan Ray.
- Texas Tech linebacker Kris Williams has returned from ACL surgery to crack the depth chart, writes the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams.
This year, the immediate impact from the incoming freshman class could be much greater. Collectively, the league signed 11 defensive players ranked in the ESPN 300. And several could vie for time from the moment they step on campus.
But who among them will make the biggest impact? There are some notable contenders.
Nigel Bethel II was the gem of the Texas Tech recruiting class, and he fits the profile of an instant-impact recruit. A four-star signee out of Miami whom Tech flipped from the University of Miami late in the recruiting window, Bethel II brings a level of speed the Red Raiders just don’t possess elsewhere on defense. Given that two-year starter Bruce Jones is gone, the opportunity for playing time at corner is there for Bethel, too.
Playing-time opportunities are also there for Oklahoma State linebacker Gyasi Akem. The Cowboys graduated three key linebackers, including starters Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey. With the lone returning starter, Ryan Simmons, moving to the middle this spring, the Cowboys have a hole on the weak side. Akem, who was Oklahoma State’s top defensive signee, has the closing speed and physicality to help fill it.
Steven Parker II, Oklahoma's top defensive recruit, also might carve out a role rather quickly. The safety out of Jenks, Okla., could help the Sooners replace another safety from Jenks (Gabe Lynn). Oklahoma has some other intriguing young defenders vying for time at the back end of their defense, notably Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd. But Parker has the potential to make an immediate impression.
West Virginia, meanwhile, returns both its starting cornerbacks in Ishmael Banks and Daryl Worley, who started as a true freshman. But it won’t be easy keeping Dravon Henry off the field. Henry, the top-ranked player from the state of Pennsylvania this year, had offers from Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State before picking the Mountaineers. He is a ball hawk who will bring a playmaking reputation to the West Virginia secondary when he gets his chance. That might come sooner, rather than later.
Henry, Parker, Akem and Bethel are all elite prospects. But the top-rated defensive signee in the Big 12 this year is Texas defensive end Derick Roberson, who was the No. 78 overall recruit in the ESPN 300. Even though he’s still slight, Roberson can get after the quarterback. The Longhorns are in terrific shape at one end with returning All-Big 12 performer Cedric Reed. Roberson has the skill set to break into the rotation on the other side in the fall.
Among a few others, any of the five above could make a huge splash next season. So we put it to you in a poll: Of Akem, Bethel II, Henry, Parker II and Roberson, which true freshman defender will have biggest impact in 2014?
TCU (March 6)
Big name: CB Jason Verrett. A total of 26 NFL teams had reps at the Horned Frogs’ pro day, and you know many of them came for Verrett. He didn’t look to improve his 40 time from the NFL combine (4.38), but he did show off a 39 ½-inch vertical and benched 19 reps.
Sleeper: QB Casey Pachall. While he’ll have to answer lots of questions about his off-field issues, Pachall’s on-field work at pro day was encouraging. He checked in at 6-foot-3½ and 216 pounds, ran his 40 in the mid-4.9s and completed 62 of 72 passes, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Kansas State (March 11)
Big name: S Ty Zimmerman. Though 20 Kansas State players worked out at pro day, Zimmerman was not one of them. He’s still recovering from labrum surgery and reportedly plans to hold a workout next month to show his progress.
Sleeper: OT Cornelius Lucas. Hard to project how things will play out for Lucas, a mammoth tackle at 6-8 and 316 pounds, after he discovered a stress fracture in his left foot at the NFL combine. He’s supposed to be out up to eight weeks but plans to work out along with Zimmerman on April 28.
Oklahoma (March 12)
Big name: CB Aaron Colvin. The Sooners had 28 NFL organization represented at their pro day, but a few key players were still on the mend. Colvin, who suffered a torn ACL at the Senior Bowl, did not work out but hopes to be running again by late April and vowed his recovery is ahead of schedule.
Sleeper: C Gabe Ikard. While Ikard elected to stand by his combine numbers, which were strong for his position group, he did use the pro day to show in position drills just how athletic an interior lineman he can be for an NFL club. Running back Damien Williams also made a solid impression, and receiver Jalen Saunders drew mixed reviews after poor shuttle times.
Oklahoma State (March 13)
Big name: CB Justin Gilbert. The Steelers have the No. 15 pick, so it made sense that Mike Tomlin and his GM were among the many coaches in Stillwater to scout Gilbert. He stood by his 4.37 in the 40 from the NFL combine but did agility drills and reportedly wowed in his position drills. He’s a first-rounder, no doubt.
Sleeper: WR Josh Stewart. Well, OK, he’s not much of a sleeper. But Stewart had work to do to raise his stock, and pro day should’ve helped. He improved his 40 slightly, from 4.69 at the combine to 4.59 at pro day, and showed what he can do as a receiver and returner. Safety Daytawion Lowe also made a good impression.
Texas Tech (March 14)
Big name: TE Jace Amaro. The All-America tight end tried to secure a spot in the first round with improvements in the 40 (4.68) and vertical, and at 6-5 and 266 pounds he evoked comparisons to Vernon Davis from one 49ers scout.
Sleeper: CB Bruce Jones. He’s undersized at 5-7 and 183 pounds, but Jones did grab some attention at pro day with a run of a 4.5-second 40 time and team-best vertical of 41 inches.
Kansas (March 14)
Big name: RB James Sims. A dozen scouts showed up for the Jayhawks’ pro day, and the highlight was probably Sims busting off a run of 4.56 seconds in the 40. The 6-foot, 205-pound back was not invited to the NFL combine and told the Lawrence Journal-World he felt good about the numbers he put up.
Baylor (March 19)
Big names: OT Cyril Richardson, RB Lache Seastrunk, S Ahmad Dixon. Richardson shed 20 pounds after his senior season, which had to encourage NFL scouts, and he did nothing at his pro day to diminish his chances of being a top-50 pick. Seastrunk was as explosive as expected, with a time of 4.37 in the 40 and a 4.36 second shuttle, and tried to show off his pass-catching ability. Dixon ran a 4.64 in the 40 at the NFL combine and improved that to 4.48 at pro day.
Sleeper: TE Jordan Najvar. At nearly 6-6 and 280 pounds, Najvar certainly has the size to make the NFL. His speed had been a question mark, but his reported best for pro day was 4.86 seconds in the 40.
West Virginia (March 21)
Big name: RB Charles Sims. A nice showing at the NFL combine (40 time: 4.48) meant Sims needed only to do positional drills, and he drew good reviews for his pass-catching ability despite small hands.
Sleeper: DE Will Clarke. Knowing it’s possible he’ll be asked to play outside linebacker in an NFL scheme, Clarke worked out at both end and linebacker on pro day and tried to show what he can bring to pass coverage as a nearly 6-6, 268-pound defender.
Iowa State (March 25)
Big name: LB Jeremiah George. After a subpar showing at the combine, George had a nice day in front of 30 NFL officials. He hit 4.69 in the 40-yard dash, posted a big improvement in his broad jump and was solid in positional work.
Sleeper: CB Jeremy Reeves. How’s this for a success story? Reeves played at ISU from 2010-12, missed last season with a pectoral injury and showed up to pro day to prove he’s still got it. He had a crazy good day: 4.29-second 40, 43-inch vertical, 11½-foot broad jump. The New York Jets signed him on Friday.
Texas (March 26)
Big name: DE Jackson Jeffcoat. Like most other top prospects, Jeffcoat stuck with his NFL combine testing numbers. The 6-3, 253-pound end demonstrated his coverage ability in position drills amid talk that he might have to be a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level.
Sleeper: CB Carrington Byndom. Questions about the three-year starter’s speed were put to rest when he ran his 40 in 4.37 seconds. Byndom was happy with his positional drills and is starting to line up meetings.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Part 2 of the articles on OSU's involvment in academic fraud was released. Some claim the expose is unfounded. Ian and Richard warn that there are two sides to all stories.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mack Brown, Manny Diaz and all the latest with the Texas Longhorns.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett give you the latest on the Johnny Manziel story and Charles Barkley weighs in. You won't believe who the outspoken NBA Hall of Famer is disappointed in and what he thinks about the autograph allegations.
Play Podcast Kirk Herbstreit joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett for his weekly visit to preview the 2013 college football season.
Play Podcast Former TCU and current Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the expectations for the Bengals this season, give a prediction for the TCU-LSU game and talk about what it's like having the Hard Knocks cameras follow him.
Play Podcast Randy Galloway, Matt Mosley, and Mark Friedman react to Dez Bryant's comments regarding the NCAA's ongoing investigation of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Play Podcast Richard Durrett, Ian Fitzsimmons and Glenn "Stretch" Smith react to Dez Bryant sounding off yesterday after practice about Johnny Manziel and the shadiness of the NCAA.
Play Podcast Former NCAA investigator and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to weigh in on the Johnny Manziel drama and give some insight as to what goes on during an NCAA investigation.