Dallas Colleges: B.J. Catalon

Season report card: TCU Horned Frogs

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
12:00
PM CT
After finishing 4-8 in 2013, an eight- or nine-win season that got the TCU program back on track to being competitive in the Big 12 would've been a reasonable aspiration in 2014. A 12-win season in which the Horned Frogs shared a Big 12 title and finished No. 3 in the AP poll is pretty good, too.

We conclude our Big 12 team-by-team season report card series with TCU:

Offense: A+

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.

Defense: A-

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.

Coaching: A+

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.

Overall: A+

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.

Rewind: Baylor 61, TCU 58

December, 3, 2014
12/03/14
2:00
PM CT
Baylor 61. TCU 58. It happened. It still matters. The Big 12's unofficial conference championship game, played on Oct. 11, might not end up settling the College Football Playoff debate as a title tiebreaker or head-to-head hammer to the No. 3 Frogs' hopes. In the totality of these two teams' résumés, evidently the committee values this one as just one game.

Still, what a phenomenal game it was. The first-ever Big 12 game at McLane Stadium was a four-hour shootout between two evenly matched teams with all the traits of an instant classic. Here are 10 lessons learned after a thorough re-watch of the Big 12's best game of 2014.

1. Admiring the instant comeback. Months later, Baylor’s successful 21-point rally in less than seven game minutes remains an astonishing feat. Bryce Petty had fans exiting with 11 minutes left after his pick-six to TCU's Marcus Mallet put the Bears in a three-score hole. “I was pissed,” Petty said this week, “but there was never a thought of, ‘I just lost us this game.’ I wanted the ball back.” He immediately engineered an unfathomable offensive run: 14 plays, 228 yards, 21 points in three minutes, 21 seconds. Per ESPN Stats & Information, TCU’s likelihood of winning after the Mallet pick-six was 98 percent. We witnessed the not-so-impossible 2 percent.

2. Count those turning points. Close games usually get decided by four or five plays. This one might've had a dozen game-changers. Ever since TCU jumped ahead 14-0, handing Baylor its first deficit of the season, the twists and turns were constant. A 90-yard scoring drive to put TCU up 21-10? Nobody remembers that. KD Cannon’s 64-yard touchdown, capped by a stiff-arm, makes it 21-21? No big deal. B.J. Catalon took the ensuing kickoff to the house. Petty’s first INT, David Porter's near touchdown and countless other plays might’ve swung a more ordinary game.

3. TCU led for 80 percent of the game. A total of 48:01, in fact, of the game’s 60 minutes. The Frogs led for 160 plays against a foe that, again, had never trailed. Against Baylor, TCU never trailed until the final play of the game. Say what you want about game control measurements and their meaningfulness. In a matchup of two top-10 teams, controlling a game that long is significant.

4. It was like playing us.’ That’s what Baylor DC Phil Bennett said this week, when reflecting on the challenge TCU presented. The new-look Frogs took such a similar approach to this game, particularly with deep shots and gutsy big plays. The best pass of the night was receiver Cameron Echols-Luper chucking the ball to end the third quarter that soared 55 yards and right into B.J. Catalon’s hands. The Bears matched those big plays by the day’s end, with these teams combining for 41 plays of 10-plus yards. The influence of aggression was everywhere.

5. The Big 12’s great QB battle. Petty put up career-high passing numbers, but he also pressed and was pressured throughout. What remains a mystery is just how injured Trevone Boykin was during the game. The injury to his non-throwing wrist was revealed days after the Baylor game. For a 119-point game, neither QB was as unstoppable as you'd expect.

6. Three the easiest way. With 8 seconds left in the first half, a deep snap soaring over punter Ethan Perry’s head nearly cost TCU its lead. Shawn Oakman, all 6-foot-9 of him, chased and fell on the ball with 2 seconds left. TCU got lucky, in a way, because Oakman could’ve tapped the ball to one of three oncoming teammates. Nobody stood in their way of a TD. But the big man set Chris Callahan up for an easy 29-yard field goal to make it 31-27. Those three points paid off in the end, didn’t they?

7. Shock, awe up the middle. The secret key to the comeback? Baylor running back Shock Linwood and his five linemen. Linwood, once a Horned Frogs commit, pounded the middle of the TCU defense for 113 rushing yards on 13 fourth-quarter runs, repeatedly busting through well-cleared lanes to set Art Briles and Petty up for ideal passing downs. As that game wore on, TCU couldn’t get him down.

8. Frogs get tired. These teams combined for 198 offensive snaps, including 103 pass attempts. TCU cornerback Kevin White said Tuesday he knows that workload played a role in the Frogs’ failures late. “We were both going fast. A lot of deep balls, a lot of guys tired by the end of that game,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of football. I’ve never felt like that after a game as far as being exhausted and tired.”

9. ‘No mas.’ TCU’s back and forth over going for it on fourth down is still a little baffling. With 1:20 left in a 58-58 game, the Frogs quickly lined up and punted on fourth-and-8 while the Bears were still substituting players. That drew a 5-yard penalty for fourth-and-3. Patterson sent out his offense, then called a timeout. Then he sent out his punting team. Then he called another timeout. Back came the offense. “He went no mas, all or nothing,” Bennett said. The DC blitzed six when TCU finally ran its fourth-down play. Had Boykin waited a second, he had B.J. Catalon open on an out along the sideline. But the call was a lob and fade to Josh Doctson. The result? A low-percentage throw, an incompletion and a chance for Baylor's offense to start at its 45 with 77 seconds left and a win in sight.

10. Patterson right about PI, not ending. Patterson recently offered USA Today the following take: “It still really came down to two pass interference penalties; one that didn’t get called and one that did.” His complaint is fair. Officials didn’t call PI on Ryan Reid for his physical fourth-down coverage of Doctson. They had no business calling one on Corry O’Meally's third-down coverage of BU’s Levi Norwood five plays later. That flag set Callahan up for the game-winner. In a rollercoaster four-hour battle, blaming the result on one flag or no-call makes little sense. Baylor won 61-58 because, after nearly 200 plays of pure craziness, the Bears made the last one count.

Roundtable: Keys for TCU, Baylor

November, 11, 2014
11/11/14
1:00
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In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we focus on playoff hopefuls TCU and Baylor, as they prepare for a stretch run at one of the coveted playoff spots:

What will be the biggest key for TCU and Baylor down the stretch?

Brandon Chatmon: The quarterbacks will decide the Big 12 champion. TCU's Trevone Boykin has been the Big 12's best player for the majority of the season while Baylor's Bryce Petty has had his moments as well. But with the way Petty played on Saturday against Oklahoma, the Bears' quarterback looks like a determining factor with his leadership, experience and determination setting the tone for Baylor in its final three games.

Max Olson: I know this is frowned upon by some, but you know Gary Patterson and Art Briles are going to be battling for style points for the next month. Baylor will try to beat Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in more impressive fashion than TCU did, then run it up on Kansas State. And GP has to be going for 50-plus in Austin if he can get it, right? I'm curious to see how these coaches approach the real need to impress the College Football Playoff committee on the field.

Jake Trotter: Defense. When clicking, these offenses are unstoppable. But there have been moments, when the offenses have sputtered. Baylor and TCU both have the defensive talent to dominate the opposition (see: Saturday, Week 11). If these two defenses play anywhere like they did over the weekend, Baylor and TCU should be unbeatable the rest of the regular season.

Other than Boykin, who will be TCU's most important player the rest of the season?

Chatmon: Linebacker Paul Dawson is in the middle of a superb senior season. He has double-digit tackles in six of nine games, including his 18-tackle effort against Baylor. Dawson's athleticism has helped him be a core part of the defense's success. There are other players who have been critical to TCU's success, particularly Chris Hackett, Kevin White and Sam Carter.

Olson: Entering this final stretch of the season, we still don't have a clear-cut favorite for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. I want to see what Paul Dawson does to boost his campaign in his final three games. He can finish as the Big 12's leading tackler (currently six stops behind Ben Heeney) as well as No. 1 in tackles for loss. Dawson has already had a few big moments and could use a couple more.

Trotter: Thanks to a breakout effort from backup running back Aaron Green, TCU didn't need B.J. Catalon in the 41-20 demolition of K-State. That doesn't mean the Horned Frogs won't need Catalon the rest of the season. With his ability to impact the game rushing, receiving and returning, Catalon adds a unique dimension to TCU's scoring machine. They'll need him to heal up and be ready to go for the backstretch.

Other than Petty, who will be Baylor's most important player?

Chatmon: Defensive tackle Andrew Billings has been a disruptive force throughout the season but his performance against Oklahoma catapulted his name into the forefront with all-conference honors in sight. One tackle against the Sooners doesn't represent the havoc he was creating for the Bears' defense. His play in the middle is a key reason the Bears have the Big 12's best defense for the second straight season.

Olson: As defenses begin to overcompensate for Corey Coleman and continue to focus on Antwan Goodley, it's time for KD Cannon to reemerge. He's caught a total of eight passes for 80 yards in his last three games and has one 100-yard game in Big 12 play. Opponents are being more careful in coverage to not give up the long ball, but Cannon still has the speed to burn the teams left on Baylor's schedule.

Trotter: Offensive tackle Spencer Drango. When Drango exited the lineup due to a back injury last season, Baylor's pass protection fell apart. As long as Drango remains upright, Petty should, too. And with Petty beginning to find his groove again, this Baylor offense seems primed to take off -- at the perfect time, too.

After Marcus Mallet's fourth-quarter pick-six of Bryce Petty, the visiting fans rained chants down from the upper deck of McLane Stadium.

“TCU! TCU!”

The Horned Frogs seemingly had put a vise on the Big 12 race. And placed themselves at the top of the playoff conversation.

Then the unthinkable happened.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Catalon
Tom Pennington/Getty Images"The loss (to Baylor) hurt," B.J. Catalon said. "But if it was going to happen, it's better it happened now rather than later. We can learn from this."
Baylor and Petty roared back with 24 unanswered points in the final 11 minutes to stun TCU with a 61-58 victory.

“I felt really bad for them,” coach Gary Patterson said this week. “We didn't get done what we wanted to do.”

That, however, doesn't mean the Horned Frogs still can't win the Big 12. Or even make the playoff.

Sure, TCU needs a little help now. And the margin for error is gone. But in Fort Worth, there is life after an improbable one-game demise.

“Everyone is disappointed,” said TCU running back B.J. Catalon. “We left that game on the field. We didn't take it.

“But even though we have a loss, if we get out and play hard through this next stretch, we'll be fine. We'll have the opportunity to compete to get a Big 12 championship and get to a big bowl game.”

But that will hinge on whether No. 12 TCU can ditch any Baylor hangover in time for Oklahoma State this weekend. The No. 15 Cowboys are 5-1, with five straight wins since taking defending national champion Florida State to the wire in the opener. Oklahoma State has also defeated TCU by double digits in two meetings as Big 12 foes.

Of course, this isn't the same TCU.

The Horned Frogs knocked off Big 12 preseason favorite Oklahoma two weeks ago, then had the defending Big 12 champion Bears on the ropes in their own stadium.

“One thing I didn't see last year, I didn't see tears. And I did the other night,” Patterson said of the locker room at Baylor. “This group is a lot more invested in what we want to get accomplished and where we're trying to get.”

These Horned Frogs have already shown they're capable of getting to the top of the Big 12 standings.

Thriving in TCU's new up-tempo attack, quarterback Trevone Boykin has been as improved as any player in the league. He's thrown for 1,463 yards and 11 touchdowns with just two picks. He's also rushed for another 305 yards and three scores.

“Trevone has been delivering the ball,” Kolby Listenbee, who had 146 receiving yards and a touchdown against Baylor, told reporters Tuesday. “Making plays.”

Catalon has been making plays, too, ranking seventh in the league in all-purpose yards while tying for second with eight touchdowns. And save for the fourth-quarter collapse in Waco, the defense has been stout, too, shutting out Oklahoma in the fourth quarter of a 37-33 win.

The key for the Horned Frogs now is preventing the Baylor loss from defeating them twice.

“The same thing I said in the locker room after the Oklahoma game is basically the way I treated them after the loss in the Baylor game -- you can't get too high or too low, especially playing the level of competition we're playing,” Patterson said. “It was a better practice on Sunday for Oklahoma State than it was for Baylor on Sunday the week before. I think people handle failure a lot better than they handle success sometimes.”

If the Horned Frogs can handle failure, they could set themselves up for plenty of success.

Baylor is now in the driver's seat of the Big 12 race. But the Bears have the more difficult remaining schedule, including a Nov. 8 road trip to Oklahoma. Both Baylor and TCU still have to go to West Virginia. But TCU's only two remaining games against ranked opponents both come at home, including the Cowboys this weekend and No. 14 Kansas State on that pivotal Nov. 8 Saturday in the Big 12.

“The loss (to Baylor) hurt,” Catalon said. “But if it was going to happen, it's better it happened now rather than later. We can learn from this. We can't get comfortable no matter what the score is. We can fix how we lost and make sure we don't lose that way again. We know now we have to finish every game.”

The Horned Frogs didn't finish in Waco. But they can still finish this season strong -- while keeping their Big 12 and playoff hopes alive.

“That (Baylor) game hurt pretty bad,” Listenbee said. “But we're putting it behind us and getting ready for the rest of the season.”

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 12, 2014
10/12/14
8:00
AM CT
It's that time again! Let's honor the Big 12's top performers over the weekend:

CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma: The sophomore has been a feast-or-famine player in crimson and cream but seems to consistently make big plays in the Sooners' biggest games. His 43-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Sooners breathing room while the offense was struggling in the first half and he finished fourth on the squad with eight tackles. He also added three pass breakups in OU's 31-26 win over Texas.

QB Tyrone Swoopes, Texas: Swoopes played with a presence and poise we had rarely seen from the sophomore during his stint as the Longhorns' starting quarterback. Playing in his first Red River Rivalry, he passed for 334 yards and rushed for 50 yards, accounting for three touchdowns along the way. It was a losing effort but Swoopes performance provides a glimmer of hope for UT.

K Josh Lambert, West Virginia: Not only did Lambert make 3 of 4 field goals, including a 55-yarder to give the Mountaineers a 37-34 win over Texas Tech, Dana Holgorsen actually talked to him. That, my friends, is the definition of winning.

DB Kennon Ward, Texas Tech: The sophomore finished with 16 tackles (11 solo) and 0.5 tackles for loss and one pass break up. It was a disappointing but productive day for Ward.

K Chris Callahan, Baylor: The Bears kicker entered the game 1-of-6 on field goal attempts this season. It didn't matter on Saturday as he went 4-of-4 in the Bears 61-58 win, including the 28-yard game winner as time expired. Redemption must have felt pretty sweet.

RB B.J. Catalon, TCU: Catalon finished with 213 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in the Horned Frogs' loss. He made big plays as a runner, receiver and kickoff returner while giving the Bears defenders fits throughout the game.

WR Corey Coleman, Baylor: The sophomore receiver quietly had a monster game in the Bears win, finishing with 253 all-purpose yards including eight receptions for 144 yards and two touchdowns. He added 22 rushing yards and 87 kick return yards.

QB Sam B. Richardson, Iowa State: It was looking like Toledo might ruin the Cyclones' homecoming before a pair of Richardson touchdown tosses in the fourth quarter helped put the game out of reach. The junior finished 37-of-53 for 351 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in the 37-30 win. He added 13 carries for 31 yards.

DE Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State: It's officially a breakout season for the sophomore. Ogbah finished with 10 tackles including 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in Oklahoma State's 27-20 win over Kansas.

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor: His eye-popping numbers have become so commonplace he almost didn't make the list but I don't want to live in a world where 510 passing yards and six touchdowns isn't enough to earn a helmet sticker. Do you?

Big 12 players in Week 7 spotlight

October, 9, 2014
10/09/14
3:00
PM CT
Last week, Brandon Chatmon correctly predicted big games for Baylor's offensive line, TCU receiver Kolby Listenbee (103 receiving yards) and Iowa State cornerback Nigel Tribune (one interception). Who could be due for a breakout game in Week 7? Here are nine players to keep an eye on Saturday.

Baylor WR KD Cannon: He was killer in non-conference play, but now that the veterans are back his targets are down considerably. He played an insignificant role last week -- one catch, 8 yards -- and Baylor did not hit the game-changing deep bombs against Texas. The Bears will need to find better ways to free up Cannon in space and let him do his thing.

Iowa State TE E.J. Bibbs: The breakthrough finally came last week for Bibbs, who caught two touchdowns in the second half against Oklahoma State. Against a Toledo defense that ranks fourth-worst in FBS in pass defense, he should feast.

Kansas QB Michael Cummings: It's possible the Jayhawks stick with Montell Cozart this week, but now that the quarterback position is an open competition again, what is Cummings capable of? A week of preparation knowing that he could start should help, and he did better things in the pass game during his second-half audition last week than Cozart has. Let's see what the guy can do if he gets his chance.

Oklahoma offensive line: Two things Texas' defense does best: Sacks and takeaways. At a time when Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight's play is being called into question, it's going to be on his big boys up front to protect him and reduce the pressure he will face in a crazy Cotton Bowl atmosphere. Plus, if the weather forecast holds true and we get some rain on Saturday, this line has to create push for Oklahoma's run game in what could be a sloppy brawl.

Oklahoma State CB Kevin Peterson: Whoever is playing quarterback at Kansas (and the Pokes could see all three), the Cowboys' secondary should be in for some fun. Peterson has just one interception this season, but should get a chance to snag at least one pass forced Nick Harwell's way.

TCU RB B.J. Catalon: His final stats against Oklahoma were relatively modest, but Catalon is a guy who can burn you as a rusher, receiver and returner. He snuck behind the Sooners' defense for a wide-open, 39-yard touchdown reception last week, ran another TD in and went 30 yards on TCU's trick play kick return. Don't be surprised if he finds the end zone a few more times this week.

Texas LB Steve Edmond: He is coming off probably the finest performance of his career, a team-high 17 tackles and two sacks against Baylor, and he is earning major praise from Charlie Strong and his teammates for all the extra film work he's putting in during the week. Edmond was asked to do a lot against the Bears, and he will be just as responsible this week against Oklahoma's tough power run game.

Texas Tech RB DeAndre Washington: The Red Raiders completely abandoned the run last week, giving just one carry to a running back in the second half against Kansas State. And it didn't go to Washington, either. Tech needs to keep this game close enough that it can have a lot more balance offensively, and Washington needs to make a dent with his first-half opportunities.

West Virginia CB Daryl Worley: Well, how much rust should we expect? Worley is coming back from a two-game suspension and has some catching up to do. Now that he has been reinstated, West Virginia has arguably its best defender back just in time to help shut down Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez. He should get tested often on Saturday.

Ranking the Big 12 position-by-position

May, 21, 2014
5/21/14
1:30
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Two weeks ago, we ranked every team in the Big 12 position-by-position coming out of the spring. Putting that together, we’ve ranked the overall league position-by-position. In other words, what is the league’s strongest position? What is its weakest?

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed will anchor Texas' defensive line.
In 2013, there’s no doubt the strength of the league was in the defensive backfield. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the league’s two first-round picks. Safety Ahmad Dixon earned All-American honors and Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman and Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin were longtime stalwarts in their defensive backfields.

Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:

1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.

2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.

3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.

4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb seems like one of the few sure things at QB in the Big 12.
5. Quarterback: The Big 12 has one Heisman candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty, a proven performer in Kansas State’s Jake Waters and two budding stars in Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. The rest of the league is a big fat unknown at the game’s most-critical position. But if Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and Texas’ David Ash regain their forms from two seasons ago, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach builds off his strong 2013 finish, Clint Trickett can stay upright at West Virginia, and transfer Matt Joeckel and sophomore Montell Cozart prove to be the answers at TCU and Kansas, the Big 12 could be on the way back to becoming the preeminent conference for quarterbacking once again.

6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.

7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.

Spring depth chart analysis: TCU

May, 6, 2014
5/06/14
9:00
AM CT
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. We continue today with TCU, which released an official two-deep after wrapping up spring ball. After its recent addition at QB, here’s our take on what the Horned Frogs’ depth chart now looks like:

OFFENSE (projected starter in bold)

QB: Matt Joeckel (Sr.) OR Trevone Boykin (Jr.), Zach Allen (RFr.)

Joeckel announced last month he will transfer from Texas A&M to TCU, but the paperwork isn’t officially done so TCU has made no formal announcement. When he does arrive in Fort Worth, expect Joeckel to become the frontrunner for the QB spot due to his experience running the Air Raid offense. Boykin will fight for his job but is versatile enough to be a legitimate contributor at receiver. Freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein arrive in the summer.

[+] EnlargeCatalon
Jim Cowsert/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty ImagesB.J. Catalon is the most experienced player in a crowded, unsettled TCU backfield.
RB: B.J. Catalon (Jr.) OR Kyle Hicks (RFr.) OR Aaron Green (Jr.) OR Trevorris Johnson (RFr.)

The three-OR move isn’t about Gary Patterson refusing to tip his hand. It’s more a sign that the Horned Frogs will rely on a committee of backs, and by the end of spring Catalon, Hicks and Green had all suffered injuries. The competition to find that No. 1 back continues in the fall, and freshman Shaun Nixon will be in the mix then, too.

WR-X: Ja'Juan Story (Jr.) OR Kolby Listenbee (Jr.)

WR-H: Ty Slanina (So.), Deante' Gray (Jr.)

WR-Y: David Porter (Sr.), Cameron Echols-Luper (So.), Griffin Gilbert (So.)

WR-Z: Josh Doctson (Jr.), Jordan Moore (Jr.)

TCU will need several of these guys to step up to make the high-speed passing game thrive. Two-year starter Brandon Carter is not listed on the post-spring depth chart but is still a member of the program. The athletic Moore might’ve finally found his position after moving over from running back. Gilbert moved over from tight end and could be a factor, while Cliff Murphy and Buck Jones are now the options at tight end in short-yardage situations. This group gets better and deeper in the summer when touted signees Emanuel Porter and Corey McBride show up.

LT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai (Jr.), Tayo Fabuluje (Sr.)

LG: Jamelle Naff (Jr.), Bobby Thompson (Jr.)

C: Joey Hunt (Jr.), Brady Foltz (Jr.), Patrick Morris (So.)

RG: Frank Kee (Jr.), Matt Pryor (RFr.)

RT: Joseph Noteboom (RFr.), Aviante Collins (Jr.)

Patterson felt much better about the strength and depth of this group following spring ball. Noteboom was the surprise of the group, and Kee made a big impression coming out of junior college. Collins was listed as the starter at left tackle entering the spring, but “Big V” Vaitai impressed, and Fabuluje should contribute again after leaving the team last fall. Don’t be surprised if Thompson eventually wins the job at left guard. TCU adds four freshmen, and each one could redshirt if the depth holds up.

DEFENSE

LE: James McFarland (Jr.), Josh Carraway (So.), Bryson Henderson (RFr.)

DT: Chucky Hunter (Sr.), Mike Tuaua (Jr.)

DT: Davion Pierson (Jr.), Tevin Lawson (So.)

RE: Devonte Fields (So.), Terrell Lathan (Jr.)

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsNow healthy, Devonte Fields is working to returning to his All-Big 12 form of 2012.
Fields is listed as the backup right end on TCU’s official post-spring depth chart, but that’s more a measure for motivation. The former Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year is healthy and hungry. Hunter and Pierson forms one of the Big 12’s better defensive tackle combos. McFarland, Carraway and Lathan will all compete for the left end job, and Lathan and Tuaua can play several spots on the line.

MLB: Jonathan Anderson (Sr.), Paul Whitmill (RFr.)

SLB: Marcus Mallet (Sr.) OR Paul Dawson (Sr.), Sammy Douglas (So.)

The Horned Frogs bring back their entire linebacker corps this fall and have some nice pieces for these two starting spots. Dawson will continue to push Mallet and let the team with 91 tackles in 2013. It’ll be interesting to see what Douglas, a special teams contributor last season, and Whitmill can provide in their second year in the program.

CB: Kevin White (Sr.), Travoskey Garrett (Jr.)

CB: Ranthony Texada (RFr.), Cyd Calvin (RFr.)

SS: Sam Carter (Sr.), Denzel Johnson (So.), George Baltimore (RFr.)

FS: Derrick Kindred (Jr.), Geoff Hooker (Sr.), Steve Wesley (RFr.)

WS: Chris Hackett (Jr.), Kenny Iloka (Jr.)

With Jason Verrett gone, White is the leader of the corners now, and TCU needs several others to be ready to contribute by August. Texada was consistently praised by his coaches this spring and is the favorite to take the vacant starting spot after redshirting last season. Carter, Hackett and Kindred form a talented safety trio, but don’t sleep on Iloka and Johnson. Both are expected to see the field a lot in 2014.

Big 12 spring breakdown: Special teams

May, 2, 2014
5/02/14
5:00
PM CT
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Friday with special teams. These outlooks will probably look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Horned Frogs’ coverage units were pretty lousy last year. If they can shore those up, this could be an elite special-teams unit with kicker Jaden Oberkrom, punter Ethan Perry and returners B.J. Catalon and Cameron Echols-Luper.

2. Kansas State (3): Freshman Judah Jones, who was one of the stars of the spring game with a 51-yard touchdown catch, fielded kickoffs, too. Cornerback Morgan Burns also added a 39-yard kickoff return. They could take some pressure off Tyler Lockett in the return game and also him to get a breather when needed.

3. Baylor (2): The return units are going to be spectacular, and Spencer Roth is one of the best punters in the nation. But field-goal kicking is an unknown. Freshman Chris Callahan has taken over for now as the team’s kicker, but missed one chip shot badly in the spring game. Callahan could be fine. But as Oklahoma State found out last year, rolling with a first-time kicker can be dicey.

[+] EnlargeMichael Hunnicutt
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsMichael Hunnicutt has the ability to become Oklahoma's first All-America kicker.
4. Oklahoma (5): Place-kicker Michael Hunnicutt (Moneycutt?) nailed field goals of 52 and 47 yards during a windy spring game. Amazingly, the Sooners have never had an All-America kicker. Hunnicutt has the potential to be the first.

5. West Virginia (7): Josh Lambert created plenty of buzz this spring, including his 53-yard field goal in the spring game. Mario Alford also took the opening kick in the spring game to the house. Punter Nick O’Toole is a proven commodity. If Lambert has a big sophomore year (he was really good as a freshman) and Alford’s TD is a sign of improvement in the return units, which ranked last in the Big 12 last year, this could become one of the league’s better special-teams units.

6. Texas Tech (4): The Red Raiders continued to have issues fielding punts during the spring, which is probably one reason why the return slots were left blank in the team’s post-spring depth chart. Incoming freshman Ian Sadler, who had six return touchdowns during his senior season of high school, could solidify that spot once he arrives on campus.

7. Iowa State (6): Sophomore kicker Cole Netten showed off his big leg in the spring game by making a 56-yard field goal. That came after coach Paul Rhoads gave him a shot at a 62-yard attempt. Netten, combined with the dynamic return trio of Jarvis West, DeVondrick Nealy and Aaron Wimberly, should translate into a strong special-teams unit. If incoming freshman Colin Downing can adequately step in at punter, the unit will be even stronger.

8. Texas (8): Nick Rose showed a strong leg on a missed 55-yard field goal try in the spring game and converted a 40-yarder. William Russ averaged 43.3 yards per punt in the spring game. Those were positive signs, but replacing All-American kicker/punter Anthony Fera will be one of the underrated storylines in Charlie Strong’s first season.

9: Oklahoma State (10): With so much turnover on both sides of the ball, the Cowboys need their special teams to be much better than last season. They just might be, though. With his speed, Tyreek Hill will be a major factor in the return game. Also, place-kicker Ben Grogan, after a shaky freshman season, drew praise for his improvement this spring from coach Mike Gundy.

10. Kansas (9): Special teams did not excel in Kansas’ spring game. Matthew Wyman made a 23-yard field goal but missed an extra point. The punting in the game was mediocre as well. The Jayhawks reportedly have preferred walk-on John Duvic enrolling this summer. After setting the Illinois state high school record with five field goals in a game, he could be a welcomed addition.

TCU spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
5/01/14
8:00
AM CT
A recap of what we learned about TCU this spring as the Horned Frogs work to rebound from a 4-8 season.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Devonte Fields is back. The former Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year missed most of 2013 due to a foot injury and played like the guy who was a freshman phenom this spring, particularly in the final weeks of practice. If he stays healthy, he can be one of the nation’s top defensive ends once again.

2. The QB battle begins. Weeks after wrapping up spring practice, TCU got good news for its quarterback conundrum when Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel announced that he’s heading to Fort Worth. The senior will challenge Trevone Boykin and incoming freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein in what should be a competitive summer battle.

3. Spring ball is essential for getting a better grasp of what you’ve got in the fall, and coach Gary Patterson got some questions answered on that front. He liked how TCU’s offensive line came together, and successors in the secondary began to emerge. TCU’s overall depth seems to be steadily improving entering Year 3 in the Big 12.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Offensive mastery is a big one. Patterson brought in two quality up-tempo spread coaches in Doug Meacham (Houston) and Sonny Cumbie (Texas Tech) to install a new scheme. Learning how to execute that attack with consistent success takes times and lots and lots of reps, plus a steady QB. If you don’t get it down, you’re left with an offense that gets off the field quickly.

2. Must get the running back stable healthy. TCU was left with only one healthy scholarship rusher for the spring-ending scrimmage due to a variety of injuries. The run game is essential to how Patterson sees this offense operating, and there’s talent with B.J. Catalon, Kyle Hicks, Aaron Green, Trevorris Johnson and incoming frosh Shaun Nixon.

3. There really is no replacing Jason Verrett, so no point in phrasing it that way. What’s obvious is TCU needs several cornerbacks to step up if it hopes to replicate the impact of the future first-round pick. Ranthony Texada, a redshirt freshman, is the guy to watch, with senior Kevin White expected to hold down the other side.

One way-too-early prediction:

Expect TCU to still be one of the surprises of the Big 12 this fall. Yes, the schedule provides challenges early and often, with Minnesota on the nonconference slate and the Frogs opening Big 12 play against conference favorites Oklahoma (at home) and Baylor (in Waco), but don’t be shocked if the Horned Frogs are already sitting on six wins by the first week of November.

Big 12 post-spring breakdown: RBs

April, 29, 2014
4/29/14
3:00
PM CT
With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and reranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with running backs. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:


1. West Virginia (pre-spring ranking: 4): West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider has one of the best and most difficult jobs in the Big 12. Seider has an embarrassment of riches at his position in Dreamius Smith (the No. 1 juco back in 2013), Wendell Smallwood (who played last year as a true freshman), Rushel Shell (who before transferring from Pitt set the Pennsylvania state high school rushing record), Andrew Buie (the team’s leading rusher in 2012) and Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s leading rusher from 2011, who, finally healthy again, enjoyed a resurgent spring. The Mountaineers also will add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. The difficult part for Seider will be divvying up carries to so many capable backs. But if the Mountaineers can keep everyone happy and find the right combination, this could become a devastating and versatile running back stable.

2. Texas (1): Coach Charlie Strong delivered promising news on Monday in San Antonio, suggesting Johnathan Gray could be cleared from his Achilles injury by mid-June. Strong also said that Joe Bergeron will be rejoining the team shortly, too, after sitting out the spring to focus on academics. When healthy and eligible, the trio of Malcolm Brown, Gray and Bergeron is a formidable bunch and the backbone of the Texas offense.

3. Baylor (3): Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin exited spring as the co-starters, but Johnny Jefferson left the biggest impression in the spring game. The Bears have a track record of spreading carries around, which means Big 12 fans will become very acquainted with the talented redshirt freshman next season.

4. Oklahoma State (5): One of the biggest surprises of the spring was how much the Cowboys used Tyreek Hill at running back. Oklahoma State is planning to utilize the nation’s top juco playmaker the way West Virginia did Tavon Austin two years ago. In other words, Hill could line up in the backfield one play then slot receiver the next. Either way, arguably the fastest player in college football gives the Cowboys a dynamic lightning component to complement the thunderous running of senior Desmond Roland, who led all Big 12 backs in touchdowns last season.

5. Oklahoma (3): There might not be a Big 12 backfield with more upside than Oklahoma’s. Of course, with that upside comes little experience. Sophomore Keith Ford has the potential to be a punishing inside runner, but he had fumbling issues last season as a freshman that re-emerged during the spring. If he can’t hang onto the ball, he won’t play, no matter how tough he runs between the tackles. After getting passed by Ford on the depth chart last year, Alex Ross bounced back with an impressive spring. Early enrollee Dimitri Flowers was a revelation this spring as a powerful run-blocking fullback in the mold of Trey Millard. If fellow incoming freshman Joe Mixon lives up to his recruiting hype, the Sooners could feature their most potent rushing attack in years.

6. Iowa State (8): The most underrated one-two punch at running back in the league resides in Ames. According to first-year offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy were sharp all spring and will spearhead an offense that could surprise in 2014. The key will be keeping the slight but explosive Wimberly relatively healthy, which he never really was before and after rushing for 137 and 117 yards back to back against Tulsa and Texas. Wimberly, however, was 100 percent all spring, and it showed, as he racked up 68 yards on just nine touches in the spring game.

7. TCU (7): TCU had to make do without its three top backs in the spring due to injuries. Aaron Green suffered a broken collarbone, Kyle Hicks had a shoulder bruise, and returning leading rusher B.J. Catalon dealt with a nagging hamstring injury. All three, however, should be fine for the fall, and could form a reliable rotation at running back. Four-star recruit Shaun Nixon could help out, too, once he arrives on campus.

8. Texas Tech (6): The Red Raiders dropped two spots, largely because returning starter Kenny Williams played outside linebacker all spring and could remain there for good. But even if Williams becomes a full-time linebacker, Tech still could be solid at running back with veteran DeAndre Washington, sophomore Quinton White and incoming four-star freshman Justin Stockton, whom the Texas Tech coaching staff is very high on. Head coach and offensive play-caller Kliff Kingsbury wouldn’t have given Williams the go-ahead to move to defense if he didn’t feel optimistic about what remained in the backfield.

9. Kansas (9): Though they come in ninth here, running back could be a position of strength for the Jayhawks next season. Brandon Bourbon, the favorite to start, rushed for 96 yards on 12 carries in the spring game, but Taylor Cox (63 yards on 15 carries) and Darrian Miller (50 yards on seven carries) had nice outings, as well. The Jayhawks also will welcome De’Andre Mann, the nation’s fifth-best juco running back, in the summer, as well as four-star freshmen Traevohn Wrench and Corey Avery. Until they start winning more games, it’s difficult to give the Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt in these position rankings. But with this collection of runners, they might not miss All-Big 12 performer James Sims as much as first thought.

10. Kansas State (10): The spring brought little clarity about who John Hubert’s primary replacement will be. Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones both ran hard in K-State’s spring game, though neither broke a run for longer than 11 yards. Meanwhile, DeMarcus Robinson, who has the most experience of the three, sat out the scrimmage with an injury. As a result, incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns while averaging almost 9 yards per carry his final two years in high school, will have an opportunity to be a factor once he joins the team this summer.

TCU hopes new offense levels playing field

April, 15, 2014
4/15/14
9:30
AM CT
FORT WORTH, Texas -- For years, TCU stuck to an offensive philosophy built around trying to out-physical foes and trick them with play action. That style won the Horned Frogs five conference titles while in the Mountain West and Conference USA. They have not won many Big 12 games.

After two years in his new league and a 6-12 record in Big 12 play, TCU coach Gary Patterson knew it was time for a new approach.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTCU coach Gary Patterson brought in new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to change the team's offense.
“We’re going to a style of offense that I thought evened the playing field,” Patterson said.

He went out and landed a pair of offensive coordinators who know Big 12 ball to design a hybrid Oklahoma State-Texas Tech scheme that Patterson says will still have “some of the old TCU” in the run game.

But this is the new TCU. No playbook, no huddle, no looking back.

The struggles of 2013 weren’t the lone motivator for Patterson’s change of plans, but the evidence was hard to ignore. Last season, TCU’s offense hit 10-year lows in points per game (25.1) and yards per play (5.03) and 10-year highs in turnovers (30) and three-and-outs (49).

The Horned Frogs had an offense that averaged 8.8 points in the first half of games, behind an offensive line that Patterson admits got “pushed around” at times due to injuries and departures. You can’t keep up with high-speed Big 12 offenses that way.

Another motivator? Patterson’s belief that a seemingly unexciting Horned Frogs offense wasn’t helping his cause in recruiting.

“I had watched too many skill players leave the city. Right now, they don’t know what this offense is about,” Patterson said. “Right now, they think TCU has a defensive coach. But to be honest with you, I have no problem winning 45-31.”

He’s putting his full trust in Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to build up the new-look offense, so much so that Patterson says he’s taken a hands-off approach to the transition. He just tried to defend it in spring practice, and that wasn’t fun.

Meacham spent eight years learning and teaching one of the nation’s finest spread offenses at Oklahoma State, then left to run his own at Houston in 2013. TCU’s new playcaller has already served as an OC at five other schools in his career.

He’ll collaborate with Cumbie, a Mike Leach disciple who coached the past four years at Texas Tech and will oversee the TCU quarterbacks.

As Tech’s quarterback in 2004, Cumbie put up 70 points on the Frogs -- two touchdowns more than a Patterson-led TCU team has ever given up. And yes, that came up in the job interview.

Both are respected offensive minds and recruiters in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and previous coordinators Rusty Burns and Jarrett Anderson are still on staff and have a say in game plans.

“Their relationship is awesome,” Patterson said. “I think the whole group has meshed real well. They’ve brought a lot of energy and new ideas.”

[+] EnlargeTy Slanina
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsHorned Frogs receiver Ty Slanina caught 19 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown as a freshman last season.
Installing the new attack meant coming up with new terminology, since at least three other Big 12 programs run similar sets, and new answers to how to outsmart opponents.

“It’s not so much you don’t know what’s coming, but can you out-execute it?” Patterson said. “It’ll be very important for us to be able to run the football, because I think going in that’s where our strengths are -- our offensive line and our running backs and our quarterback can run, especially Trevone [Boykin].”

The offensive line should be better and much, much bigger. Six of TCU’s best exiting spring ball -- Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Tayo Fabuluje, Frank Kee, Matt Pryor, Joseph Noteboom and Aviante Collins -- average 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds.

TCU’s top running backs all got hurt in spring ball -- literally -- but there are options there with B.J. Catalon, Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks, incoming freshman Shaun Nixon and a few others.

At receiver, Patterson says TCU has the guys needed to stretch a defense. Whether or not Brandon Carter returns, the staff is excited about speedsters like Deante' Gray and Kolby Listenbee and incoming freshmen Emanuel Porter and Corey McBride to go along with David Porter, Josh Doctson, Cameron Echols-Luper, Ty Slanina and Jordan Moore.

“I think we’ll have enough weapons to be able to move the football,” Patterson said.

Quarterback is still the question mark, especially if the versatile Boykin isn’t the choice. No matter who runs the show, the initial goal will be simple: first downs, points and a tempo that causes trouble.

“They’ve been awfully fast this spring,” Patterson said. “The biggest thing is to go fast enough to make people uncomfortable.”

That, after all, is the goal here: An offense that can prove as challenging as Patterson’s stingy defenses. The Horned Frogs’ mission for transformation isn’t guided by some sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” sentiment.

No, this is adaptation, and it’s necessary. After its first two Big 12 seasons ended in frustration, TCU is working on a new way to beat ‘em.

Top-10 player spring update: TCU

April, 1, 2014
4/01/14
3:00
PM CT
This week, we continue breaking down the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12.

These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus yet. Rather, they will include only the players currently on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now.

Next up, the TCU Horned Frogs:

1. SS Sam Carter: Devonte Fields and Jason Verrett have overshadowed Carter the last two years, but Carter, a second-team All-Big 12 selection the last two seasons with 25 career starts, is an excellent safety and a keystone of the defense. He is sitting out the rest of spring ball with nagging injuries, but the Horned Frogs know what Carter can do.

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDE Devonte Fields is aiming to return to the form that made him one of the league's most feared players two years ago.
2. DE Devonte Fields: Fields might be the biggest enigma of the entire league. He was dominant as a true freshman two years ago. Last season, he was basically a non-factor before suffering a season-ending foot injury. When at the top of his game, Fields can be as prolific as any defender in the conference. The reviews so far this spring have been positive, which is an encouraging sign that Fields will bounce back in 2014.

3. DT Chucky Hunter: Though TCU struggled last season, Hunter did not, taking over for Fields as the Horned Frogs’ primary force along the defensive line. Hunter is one of the three-best defensive tackles in the Big 12, if not the very best.

4. CB Kevin White: With Verrett gone, White takes over as TCU’s No. 1 cornerback, and should be up to the task. White was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection as a junior after finishing in the top 10 of the conference in pass breakups and interceptions. The Horned Frogs figure to be difficult to throw on again, and White will be a big a reason why.

5. FS Chris Hackett: Notice a trend here? Yes, TCU is going to be formidable in the defensive backfield yet again. Hackett has started the last two seasons and been stout coming up to help against the run, finishing 10th in the league last season in tackles. Hackett and Carter gives TCU the best safety combination in the league

6. QB Trevone Boykin: Boykin finished out last season at receiver, but so far this spring, he’s been sharp as the No. 1 quarterback in Doug Meacham’s and Sonny Cumbie’s new scheme. Boykin might be a better fit as a receiver, but if he’s the best option at quarterback, that’s where he’ll play.

7. RB B.J. Catalon: The only other offensive player on this list, Catalon has proven to be a solid all-around playmaker for the Horned Frogs. Catalon was second in the Big 12 in kickoff returns, and led TCU with 569 yards rushing and six touchdowns. Catalon will have help in the backfield with Aaron Green and Kyle Hicks, but he will start out as the primary option.

8. DT Davion Pierson: Pierson is an underrated complement to Hunter at tackle. The trio of Fields, Hunter and Pierson along the defensive line has the potential to be as good as any in the Big 12.

9. K Jaden Oberkrom: Oberkrom, who will wind up being a four-year starter barring injury over the next two seasons, gives TCU a huge advantage in field goals. He nailed a 56-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter that almost gave the Horned Frogs the win at Kansas State. That 56-yarder was the longest field goal in the Big 12 during the 2013 season.

10. LB Paul Dawson: Dawson stepped up into a starting role and stabilized the linebacker position last season. He led the Horned Frogs with 91 tackles and teamed with Marcus Mallet to give TCU a solid and reliable one-two punch at linebacker.

Ranking the Big 12's offensive triplets

March, 28, 2014
3/28/14
9:00
AM CT
The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s captured three Super Bowls on the backs of their triplets. Running back Emmitt Smith churned out yardage between the tackles. Wide receiver Michael Irvin hauled in receptions downfield. And quarterback Troy Aikman captained the unstoppable attack.

Like with the Cowboys, big-time triplets usually translate to big-time offense. And the Big 12 over the years has showcased several notable ones. Oklahoma’s Jason White, Adrian Peterson and Mark Clayton in 2004. Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle and Justin Blackmon in 2011. West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in 2012. Even last season, Baylor boasted one of the best triplets in the country in Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and Antwan Goodley.

So which Big 12 teams will feature the most prolific offensive triplets in 2014? We rank them below:

1. Baylor

QB Bryce Petty, RB Shock Linwood, WR Antwan Goodley

The Bears remain atop this list, even with Seastrunk bolting early for the NFL draft. Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back last season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and shined as the featured back while Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were injured. After totaling 46 touchdowns throwing and rushing, Petty should be even better in his second season as a starter. Goodley is an All-American-caliber wideout.

2. Oklahoma

QB Trevor Knight, RB Keith Ford, WR Sterling Shepard

Knight finally live up to his preseason billing with a sparkling Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama. Knight has the talent and potential to be one of the best dual-threat QBs in the country. Ford was one of the top running back recruits in 2013, and would have played more as a freshman had the Sooners not also had four senior running backs on the roster. Shepard has been a dependable starter the last two seasons, and he already has 96 career receptions going into his junior season. He seems ready to take over for Jalen Saunders as the go-to receiver.

3. Texas Tech

QB Davis Webb, RB Kenny Williams, WR Jakeem Grant

Webb broke out with a tremendous performance in the National University Holiday Bowl, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in an upset of Arizona State. He had his moments during the regular season, too, and could be in for a monster sophomore campaign in Kliff Kingsbury’s air-it-out offense. Williams is a solid pass-catching running back out of the backfield, and he led the Red Raiders with 497 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season. Williams has been taking first-team snaps at outside linebacker this spring, so he could wind up deferring carries to DeAndre Washington, who has been a capable backup. Grant is electric with the ball, burning Arizona State with a pair of touchdown catches. Grant was sixth in the Big 12 last season in receiving, and with Jace Amaro and Eric Ward gone, should take on an expanded role offensively.

4. Texas

QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Jaxon Shipley

The possibilities of this threesome hinges heavily on the health of Ash, who missed virtually all of the 2013 season with concussion issues. Ash is back with the team this spring, and he has had moments before of performing at a high level. After Johnathan Gray’s Achilles injury, Brown took over as the starting running back and performed admirably, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of Texas’ final three games. Shipley has sure hands, is a precise route runner and is capable of catching 70-plus passes in the right quarterback situation.

5. Kansas State

QB Jake Waters, RB DeMarcus Robinson, WR Tyler Lockett

The Wildcats would be ranked second here if John Hubert had another season of eligibility. But running back is a major question, with no back on the roster holding much experience. Robinson might be the favorite to win the job, but he’ll have to fend off Jarvis Leverett and incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack. Lockett is the best receiver in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country. Waters improved dramatically in his first season as the starter in 2013. If a running back emerges, the Wildcats could surge up this list.

6. Iowa State

QB Grant Rohach, RB Aaron Wimberly, WR Quenton Bundrage

Rohach first must win the starting quarterback derby this spring over Sam B. Richardson. But he played well down the stretch while leading Iowa State to a pair of wins to finish last year. Wimberly was banged up for much of last season, but he can be dynamic when healthy. Bundrage was third in the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns in 2013, and with a little more consistency, could be an all-league receiver. This could be the best triplet combination coach Paul Rhoads has enjoyed in Ames.

7. Oklahoma State

QB J.W. Walsh, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales

Walsh was fifth in college football in Adjusted Total QBR as a redshirt freshman, but he took a step back as a sophomore and eventually lost the starting gig back to Clint Chelf. If he plays like he did as a freshman, Walsh could be one of the five-best QBs in the league. If he performs like his sophomore season, he could lose the job again. Roland is a touchdown machine and is as good as any back in the league in short-yardage situations. Seales could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way after starting as a freshman.

8. West Virginia

QB Clint Trickett, RB Dreamius Smith, WR Kevin White

The Mountaineers have plenty of weapons, but they will only score more points with more consistent QB play. Trickett tops the projected depth chart for now, but he’ll have to outperform Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and William Crest to stick there. Smith was very impressive at times last season backing up Charles Sims. He’ll get the first crack at starting, but Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell will be looming if Smith sputters. White gets the nod as the No. 1 wideout, but Daikiel Shorts and Mario Alford are not far behind as part of a deep and balanced wide receiving corps.

9. TCU

QB Trevone Boykin, RB B.J. Catalon, WR Josh Doctson

Boykin is back at quarterback again after splitting time at receiver the last two seasons. Boykin struggled as the starting QB last season but got little help from his offensive line or receivers. Reports are that he has been sharp this spring in the new Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie offense. Catalon is a solid cog at running back, and he averaged 5.3 yards per carry despite playing in an anemic attack last year. Brandon Carter was supposed to be the No. 1 receiver last season -- and still could be in 2014 -- but he wasn’t reliable on or off the field. In Carter’s stead, Doctson surfaced after transferring in from Wyoming, and led the Horned Frogs with 36 receptions and 440 receiving yards.

10. Kansas

QB Jake Heaps, RB Brandon Bourbon, WR Nick Harwell

Harwell should give Kansas what it hasn’t had in a long time -- a go-to receiver. Harwell was the nation’s second-leading receiver in 2011 at Miami (Ohio), and he should give the Kansas offense a much needed shot in the arm. Heaps lost time to freshman Montell Cozart last fall, but he has reasserted himself this spring amid a three-way competition with Cozart and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Bourbon is battling Taylor Cox and Darrian Miller to see who replaces All-Big 12 running back James Sims.

Spring battle spotlight: TCU RB

March, 6, 2014
3/06/14
1:00
PM CT
Even though TCU’s new offense is sure to put the football in the air, the Horned Frogs will undoubtedly try to run the football and establish balance this fall. Several talented running backs should battle to emerge as the main ball carrier for the Horned Frogs this season, and that battle for carries begins this spring.

Departed: Senior Waymon James.

Spring contenders: Junior B.J. Catalon, junior Aaron Green, redshirt freshman Kyle Hicks, redshirt freshman Trevorris Johnson.

Summer contenders: True freshman Shaun Nixon.

[+] EnlargeCatalon
Jim Cowsert/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty ImagesB.J. Catalon looks like the favorite to emerge as TCU's lead RB, but that doesn't mean other backs won't find their way on the field too.
The skinny: Finding the strengths of each running back could be as important as developing overall depth or finding a clear starter at the position for TCU this spring. Once the Horned Frogs identify the strengths and weaknesses of each guy they can start to prepare them for different roles during August practices with a goal of having fresh (and capable) legs in the offensive backfield at all times.

Catalon has game-changing quickness and playmaking ability so he could be considered the favorite to earn the bulk of the carries after leading the squad with 569 rushing yards as a sophomore. He averaged 5.32 yards per carry in 2013, so the fact he didn’t surpass the 1,000-yard mark lands more on the shoulders of the coaching staff than Catalon.

Green brings terrific talent in his own right but wasn’t the playmaker that Catalon was a year ago. This spring is his chance to show he deserves more opportunities this fall.

Hicks was a highly regarded signee in the Class of 2013 as the No. 220 player in the ESPN 300. He has the ability to be an every-down back but would really help his cause if he shows he can excel as a receiver and pass blocker during spring drills.

Johnson is easily the most overlooked competitor in this battle but could bring a physical running style to the table that earns him a short yardage or goal line role. He probably has a ways to go before he’s considered a threat to rise atop the depth chart but should not be dismissed as a non-contributor despite the overall talent at the position.

Nixon fits in perfectly with this group as another talented option. But his overall versatility and big-play ability could help him rise up the depth chart and make an immediate impact as a true freshman.

Prediction: Catalon separates himself from the rest of the pack during the spring. His athleticism, desire and versatility will cement himself a spot in the lineup. Yet don’t be surprised if other running backs also cement places in TCU’s offensive attack. The Horned Frogs offense wasn’t exactly overflowing with playmakers in 2013, so if any of the remaining backs prove they can make big plays if given the opportunity, new offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie will probably find ways to use them, even if that means playing alongside Catalon at times.

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