Dallas Colleges: Big 12 Take Two Tuesday

Take Two: TCU offense vs. WVU defense

July, 15, 2014
It's Take Two Tuesday time, when we give diverging opinions on a topic related to the Big 12.

Today's Take Two topic: which previously beleaguered unit will be more improved due to offseason coaching changes -- the TCU offense or the West Virginia defense?

Take 1: Max Olson -- TCU offense

When Gary Patterson set out to completely reshape how his Horned Frogs move the football, he found two guys who checked all the boxes in Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie.

They’re the protégés of two of the Big 12’s most successful Air Raid coaches (Mike Leach and Mike Gundy), they aren’t first-time OCs, they know the conference well, and they know how to recruit the state of Texas.

Meacham, the play caller, should probably be Oklahoma State’s OC today but instead put in a year at Houston where he coached up freshman QB John O'Korn to conference rookie of the year honors. Cumbie gets a chance to coach quarterbacks and brings plenty of knowledge about this scheme -- both coaching it and playing in it -- after working under Leach and Kliff Kingsbury.

Will TCU instantly become a 40-points-per-game offense because of the two new guys in the room? No. This is a complete offensive transition and that’s never easy, especially when you’re trying to mesh those philosophies with Patterson’s preferences in the TCU run game. Plus, you know, the fact the likely starting QB (Matt Joeckel) didn’t get on campus until June.

But this is a long-term commitment, and it’s going to put the Frogs in position to develop into a true annual contender in the conference.

Scrapping the statistically unpleasant offense of 2013 for this new look not only improves TCU’s chances of inking big-time skill players from the DFW area. This change can also help make TCU’s defense quicker and better adjusted in practice. It’s a win-win all the way around.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- West Virginia defense

I love the moves Patterson made to boost the TCU offense. Cumbie and Meacham both have impressive offensive coaching resumes in the league and should instantly impact the Horned Frogs’ previous dilemma of scoring points.

But I believe the West Virginia defense will show more improvement this season given the moves the Mountaineers delivered in the offseason. But, even more crucial, given the players West Virginia has coming back.

TCU has a couple of nice pieces offensively, and possibly a big one that has enrolled this summer. Trevone Boykin is a valuable weapon, whether a situational quarterback or receiver. B.J. Catalon is one of the better backs in the league. Jordan Moore was one of the Horned Frogs’ best playmakers in the spring after swinging over to receiver from running back. TCU could also be primed for a major boost from Joeckel, who has more experience operating the Meacham/Cumbie offense than anyone else on the Horned Frogs roster. But the offense also has many holes to fill. The line was dreadful in 2013, and the offense is devoid of any all-conference-caliber receivers, at least on paper.

Meanwhile, the Mountaineers have fewer holes on their defense. They also made a hire in Tom Bradley that was as impressive as any made elsewhere in the league. Bradley coached alongside Joe Paterno at Penn State for more than three decades. As defensive coordinator from 2004-09, Bradley coached the Nittany Lions to six straight top 15 national finishes in total and scoring defense. He was also part of two national title teams and has coached in 26 bowl games.

Bradley brings a ton of experience to the Mountaineers defense. He has a great professional and personal relationship with new coordinator Tony Gibson. Athletic director Oliver Luck also noted that Bradley instantly brought a calming confidence to the team over the spring.

Gibson and Bradley will have some pieces to work with, too. All four linebackers come back to anchor the Mountaineers’ 3-4 attack, which is expected to put more emphasis on rushing the quarterback than previous West Virginia defenses under Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest.

The Mountaineers also return plenty of experience in the secondary, notably safety Karl Joseph and cornerback Daryl Worley, who both have All-Big 12 potential. The defensive line is the biggest question mark. But West Virginia partly addressed that by adding Gardner-Webb transfer Shaquille Riddick, who was an FCS All-American defensive end in 2013.

West Virginia has not finished better than eighth in the Big 12 in total defense since joining the league -- though injuries played a part in the disappointing finish in 2013. But under the new Gibson/Bradley regime, with more depth and an experienced core of players, the Mountaineers should be much improved defensively in 2013.
Keith Ford, DeMarcus RobinsonUSA TODAY Sports, Icon SMIBoth OU's Keith Ford and Kansas State's DeMarcus Robinson are unproven and at the forefront of two RB battles.

It's Take Two Tuesday, when we give our opinions on a topic related to the Big 12.

Today's topic: Which is the Big 12’s most compelling running back competition?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon -- Oklahoma

It will be fun to watch the battle to get the bulk of the carries at Oklahoma.

The Sooners’ running backs room is full of talent, but it’s largely unproven. Sophomore Keith Ford has shown toughness and a physical running style, fellow sophomore Alex Ross has exceptional physical gifts and the Sooners added a pair of true freshmen, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, who will be right in the thick of the battle for playing time.

If someone steps up during preseason camp and locks down the job, that would be ideal for the Sooners, but the best-case scenario is two or more running backs forcing the coaches to find a role for them this fall. And that’s not out of the question because Mixon is extremely versatile, Perine brings terrific size, Ross brings size and speed and Ford looks like the most complete back of the group.

Yet, even with all the talent, the Sooners will enter the season with Ford as the most productive returnee after recording 4.6 percent of OU’s total rushing yards (134 rushing yards) as a true freshman. There are unknowns abound at the position from Ford’s fumble troubles to Ross’ inconsistency to the freshmen’s transition into college football.

It could be a boom-or-bust situation. I can’t wait to see it play out in 2014.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

Brandon opted to go with a running back competition loaded with intriguing options. I’ll go the other way.

The biggest hole on K-State’s roster going into the preseason is at running back. John Hubert manned the position for the Wildcats for the last three years, rushing for 2,965 yards and 28 touchdowns.

His departure has left K-State with virtually no experience returning at running back. DeMarcus Robinson, in fact, is the team’s most seasoned returning rusher with just 11 career carries for 45 yards.

During the spring, neither Robinson nor Jarvis Leverett showed they’re necessarily the answer at the position, making running back the position to watch in Manhattan this August. The rest of the offense appears to be in place. At quarterback, Jake Waters surged the end of last season and was sharp and confident again this spring. Tyler Lockett is one of the best receivers in the country and the offensive line should be stout with All-Big 12 performers BJ Finney and Cody Whitehair.

The Wildcats, however, likely won’t contend for a Big 12 title unless a playmaker emerges at running back.

Robinson and Leverett will get more chances to show what they can do. But so will incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns and averaged almost 9 yards per carry during his final two years in high school.

If the answer at running back emerges, this K-State offense will be complete. But until that happens, this competition will remain compelling.
Darren Sproles, Cedric BensonGetty ImagesBoth the 2003 Wildcats and 2004 Longhorns were loaded with college stars and future pros.

It's Take Two Tuesday, when we give our opinions on a topic related to the Big 12.

Today's topic: Which was the best team left out of the Big 12 BCS-era 16-team playoff bracket?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon -- 2003 Kansas State Wildcats

Several top-notch teams didn’t make the cut in our BCS-era playoff, but the 2003 version of Kansas State gets my nod as the top team left on the outside looking in.

Bill Snyder’s Wildcats had several stumbles during the four-loss season, including a three-game losing streak early in the year. But the way KSU was playing in the final stretch of the season showed the overall potential of the 2003 Big 12 champions led by future NFL star Darren Sproles and Ell Roberson.

K-State’s dominating win over an undefeated Oklahoma squad in the Big 12 championship game sent shock waves across the national landscape as the highlight win of the year for the Wildcats. Sproles embarrassed the Sooners with 235 rushing yards, and Roberson’s efficient four-touchdown performance left no doubt in the 35-7 win. The Sooners, somehow, went on to make an appearance in the 2004 BCS title game against LSU despite the loss. KSU went on to suffer a 35-28 loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and finish 11-4.

The Wildcats surrendered the right to complain about being left out of our playoff with four losses, particularly the home defeat against Marshall, but this team proved it could play with anyone in the nation in the home stretch of the 2003 season and could have been worthy of a spot in the bracket.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- 2004 Texas Longhorns

Settling on only 16 teams for this playoff was borderline impossible, which is why we ended up holding three play-in games.

Other notable omissions included ’98 Texas A&M, ’05 West Virginia and the ’07 Sooners, who actually won the Big 12 title that year and would’ve probably made the playoff had they not been whacked by West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.

But ultimately the top two teams that just missed the cut were the ’03 Wildcats, and, the squad with the biggest beef in my opinion, the ’04 Longhorns.

Sure, ’03 K-State also has a case for inclusion. Finally at full strength, the Wildcats obliterated top-ranked Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. Sproles was one of the great players to come through the league during the BCS era, and Roberson was a heck of a quarterback.

The Wildcats, no doubt, were talented. But the ’04 Longhorns were talented, too. And Texas’ résumé included a better overall body of work.

Texas’ only loss came early in the season in a hard-fought, 12-0 defeat to Oklahoma, in which freshman Adrian Peterson rushed for 226 yards. Those Sooners would go on to play for the national championship. But Texas and quarterback Vince Young was about to find its stride that would culminate with the 2005 national championship. Young, who only completed 35 percent of his passes against Oklahoma, would complete 63 percent in Texas’ final seven games.

In addition to a budding Young, ’04 Texas had a unanimous All-American at linebacker in Derrick Johnson and the Big 12’s career-rushing leader at running back in Cedric Benson.

The fact the ’04 Longhorns failed to beat a single top-15 team during the regular season was ultimately the primary reason why they were left out of the field of 16. But this was very strong team that warranted strong consideration.
It's Take Two Tuesday, when we give takes on a burning topic related to the Big 12.

Tuesday's topic: Which nonconference matchup featuring a Big 12 team will be the best nonconference game in 2014?

Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas vs. UCLA

I can’t pick Oklahoma State-Florida State or West Virginia-Alabama simply because I don’t think either underdog stands a chance in those games. But this third neutral-site game should be a doozy.

By the time it faces Texas on Sept. 13 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, UCLA will almost undoubtedly be a top-10 team with an elite quarterback in Brett Hundley, the nation’s top two-way playmaker in Myles Jack and legitimate playoff hopes.

That’s a real credit to Jim Mora, who in two years has done a fantastic job reviving this program and taking over the city of Los Angeles. Texas fans know this well by now -- after all, Mora was reportedly a front-runner for the Longhorns head coaching job this offseason.

What Texas doesn’t know is what to expect from Charlie Strong’s debut year, especially when meetings with likely top-10 teams UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma all come in the first half of the season.

The Longhorns will have to survive a home game against BYU first, but regardless of the result of that game, a night game against UCLA on national TV will provide a huge platform for Strong to send a message about the defense he’s bringing to Texas. A win might do wonders for Texas’ momentum entering Big 12 play.

The opposite would be true, as well: If UCLA romps, it’s a convincing statement that the Bruins should be in the national title picture.

Take 2: Brandon Chatmon -- Auburn at Kansas State

The Big 12 has a bunch of terrific nonconference matchups -- Oklahoma State-Florida State, Alabama-West Virginia, Oklahoma-Tennessee, Iowa State-Iowa, Texas Tech-Arkansas -- the list goes on and on.

None of those matchups intrigue me as much as the Wildcats’ home battle with the national runner-up.

Gus Malzahn has made Auburn a fun team to watch and quarterback Nick Marshall should continue to build on an exceptional junior season, which saw him account for 3,044 total yards (passing and rushing).

I’m more interested, however, in seeing how K-State and Bill Snyder handle the speed and athletes that Auburn will bring to Manhattan, Kan. Receiver Tyler Lockett can make plays against anyone and Jake Waters finished the 2013 season playing as well as any quarterback in the Big 12. The Wildcats also feature an underrated defensive line that could develop into one of the Big 12’s best and deepest defensive fronts this fall.

Add a hostile Thursday night environment in a nonconference game that will be Auburn’s first road test of the season and things could get real, real interesting at Bill Snyder Stadium on Sept. 18.
It's Take Two Tuesday, when we give takes on a burning topic related to the Big 12.

Tuesday's topic: Texas is primed to become the third Big 12 school to serve beer at football games; should other Big 12 schools consider following suit?

Take 1: Jake Trotter – Yes

This also got asked in last week’s mailbag, but as I wrote then, I don’t have a problem with it, as long as it’s done in a responsible manner.

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia fans
AP Photo/Christopher JacksonWest Virginia reported $750,000 in revenue from beer sales in 2012 and believes allowing sales in the stadium has helped curtail binge drinking prior to games.
Selling beer at football games actually can curb the binge drinking that occurs in the parking lots before and during halftime of games. West Virginia claims it curbed binge drinking once it began serving beer at its football games, while preventing anyone from leaving the stadium during the game to go back to the tailgating area.

By serving beer, West Virginia also reportedly generated $750,000 in alcohol sales during the 2012 season. And while the money was coming in, West Virginia’s alcohol-related incidents decreased.

Last week in Oklahoma City, I was at the Big 12 baseball tournament, which also began selling beer for the first time. There wasn’t even a hint of an incident, at least while I was there.

At college sporting events, people are going to drink, whether that’s tailgating in the parking lot or at the taps in the stadium. But in the stadium, at least the drinking can be managed.

With the concessionaries assuming liability, like they have at West Virginia, there’s very little to lose. But there's a whole lot to gain -- both in the monetary windfall as well as a reduction of the drinking-related problems that can occur outside the stadiums.

Take 2: Brandon Chatmon – No

Here I am to rain on your parade.

Without a doubt, adding alcohol sales to the equation will bring more revenue to Big 12 schools who decide to start selling beer and/or wine in their stadiums. And there are some positives in relation to fan behavior including the ability to monitor sales. Yet, alcohol and college students are always a combustible mixture.

When it comes to adding alcohol sales in Big 12 stadiums, the question is simple: Why change anything?

College football is as popular as ever, the gameday fan experience is second to none and, in this post-realignment world, universities are making more money than they ever have. It’s never easy to turn away additional revenue and some schools, most notably West Virginia and Louisville, have had some success maintaining a terrific atmosphere with alcohol sales in their stadiums.

The main reason to keep alcohol sales out of stadiums is to maintain the current atmosphere. College stadiums should remain as family friendly as possible. Selling alcohol would increase the number of people inside the stadium who have had a drink or two. That’s not to say a drink or two, for most people, will completely change everything about the stadium atmosphere, but it would have an impact.

And the additional revenue, after most schools have seen added millions from TV deals after realignment, isn’t worth the added hassle.

Take Two: Biggest NFL draftee shoes?

May, 20, 2014
Justin Gilbert, Ahmad DixonAP Photo, Getty ImagesAthletic defensive backs are hard to come by and Justin Gilbert (left) and Ahmad Dixon were two of the Big 12's best.

It's Take Two Tuesday, when we give takes on a burning topic related to the Big 12.

Today's topic: There were 17 Big 12 players taken in the NFL draft -- who left the biggest shoes to fill?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon -- Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert

Ashton Lampkin has gigantic shoes to fill.

The Oklahoma State junior is in line to replace Gilbert, a top-10 NFL draft pick. Gilbert was a special playmaker for the Cowboys and he changed several games during his four seasons in Stillwater, Okla.

Lampkin won’t be able to replace the complete package Gilbert brought to the table as a cover man and returner, but he has the pedigree and ability to slide right into the starting lineup without becoming the weak link in the secondary.

The Arlington, Texas, native has played in every game since becoming a Cowboy and was named OSU’s Special Teams Most Valuable Player in 2013. Lampkin has looked like a player who could handle an increased role for the past two seasons and should finally get his opportunity to shine at cornerback this fall. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, Lampkin brings decent size to the position and has the athletic ability to be a quality Big 12 cornerback.

Yet, Lampkin still has the biggest shoes to fill in the entire conference. Gilbert was a unique athlete who often made big plays when the Cowboys needed them, so Lampkin could have a superb first season as a starter and still leave people reminiscing about the eye-popping plays that Gilbert made look easy, particularly as a senior.

Thus, Lampkin could be, for all intents and purposes, in a no-win situation.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Baylor free safety Ahmad Dixon

Brandon went with a first-rounder in Gilbert. I’ll go the other direction, and pick a seventh-rounder.

Sure, Dixon was the last Big 12 player selected in the draft, coming off the board 240 picks after Gilbert. But like Gilbert, Dixon was the tone-setter in the Baylor secondary, and one of the major reasons why the Bears fielded their best defensive unit in years. The Waco, Texas, native was also a 38-game starter, and Baylor’s first All-American safety since Thomas Everett in 1986.

The Bears also fielded the second-best pass defense in the league last year, after fielding the worst the previous two seasons. And no player had a bigger hand in that staggering improvement than Dixon, who was the unequivocal leader and heavy hitter of the Baylor defense. Sure, the Bears featured the nation’s top-scoring offense in 2013, but Baylor doesn’t capture its first Big 12 title without a drastically improved defense.

Next season, however, Dixon will be gone. And in his place, the Bears will be leaning on another Waco native that graduated from the same Midway High School as Dixon.

Backing up Dixon, Orion Stewart was a key reserve for the Bears last year as a freshman, and garnered key time in significant moments. In the same game Dixon was ejected for targeting last year, Stewart picked off a pass and dashed 82 yards for a touchdown, which helped lift Baylor to a 41-38 win over TCU. Stewart also started the following game against Texas while Dixon served a first half suspension.

In both games, Stewart performed admirably. But he’ll have to fill Dixon’s shoes for an entire season in 2014. And those shoes are as big as any in the Big 12.
Ahmad Dixon, Trey MillardIcon SMIAhmad Dixon and Trey Millard both need time but could find homes in the NFL.

It's Take Two Tuesday, when we give our takes on a burning topic in the league.

Today's Take Two topic: There were five Big 12 players taken in the seventh round of the NFL draft; which of them has the best chance to succeed in the NFL?

Take 1: Max Olson -- Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon, Dallas Cowboys

You couldn’t help but feel for Dixon, who sat in the great Waco barbecue joint Vitek’s throughout Saturday with a room full of family and friends, all of them wondering why his name hadn’t been called yet.

A difficult weekend ended with a dream come true: A chance to play for the Dallas Cowboys after being selected in the seventh round.

It was easy to see why Dixon was so emotional, to the point of crying on his conference call with reporters. The former five-star recruit was the 248th selection in the draft and must’ve gone far later than he’d expected.

But if the Cowboys are patient, and Dixon catches on quickly in minicamp and training camp, he’ll have a future in the league. He’s a fiery safety who has range and hits hard, and in time he can work his way into the Dallas secondary as more of a down safety.

First, he’ll have to prove his worth on special teams. That’s where his ability to run and hit without holding back will make him an asset. Having a close friend on the team in Terrance Williams (and, at least for now, Glasco Martin) means Dixon will have guys looking out for him.

The chip on Dixon’s shoulder after going in the final round shouldn’t be underestimated, either. This is a guy who wants to be great, and gets to do so for his childhood favorite team. He’s got a lot to prove, but I wouldn’t bet against him.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard, San Francisco 49ers

Like Max, I think Dixon has a chance to stick in Dallas. But I really think the 49ers got a steal in Millard -- the top all-around fullback in the draft -- with the 245th overall pick.

Despite being a three-time All-Big 12 selection, Millard’s draft stock fell after he suffered a season-ending torn ACL in late October against Texas Tech.

But Millard is going to a franchise with a roster so loaded it has the luxury of being able to “redshirt” injured players while giving them their first year to rehabilitate. Last year, San Francisco drafted South Carolina Marcus Lattimore, who was still coming back from a gruesome knee injury. In this draft, the 49ers took two other players in similar predicaments in Clemson offensive lineman Brandon Thomas (fourth round) and Florida Atlantic cornerback Keith Reaser (fifth round), who also had ACL surgeries.

In San Francisco, Millard be given plenty of time to get back to 100 percent for the 2015 season. And with a full bill of health, he has the ability to effectively block in the run game, grab passes in the flat and even occasionally carry the ball -- he averaged 5.5 yards per carry during his college career -- all of which will make him an asset in the San Francisco backfield. The 49ers are one of the few remaining teams in the NFL that love to pound the ball between the tackles. Heck, they even used their second round pick on physical Ohio State ball-carrier Carlos Hyde, even with Lattimore and Frank Gore already on the roster.

Bruce Miller, the 49ers’ current starting fullback, signed a three-year extension in March. But Millard could carve out a role as an H-back, considering the 49ers didn’t nab such a player for their pistol attack with any of their 12 picks this year.

Though he was one of the last picks to go off the board, Millard was an excellent player in college. If he can get back to his previous form, he has a chance to be a pretty good pro for a seventh-round selection, too.

Take Two: Potential NFL draft steal?

May, 6, 2014
It's Take Two Tuesday, when we give our takes on a burning question in the league.

Today's Take Two topic: Which potential Big 12 draftee will be the biggest steal for a team during the NFL draft? (Note: Day 2 or Day 3 prospects only)

Take 1: Max Olson

[+] EnlargeCharles Sims
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsCould former West Virginia tailback Charles Sims be a steal for an NFL team?
If West Virginia running back Charles Sims lands with the right team, he’ll have a chance to make a lot of other organizations look stupid for passing on him.

In today’s NFL, where you better have two good backs even if you have Adrian Peterson, Sims has the potential to be a special commodity. He probably would’ve been drafted off his resume at Houston, but what Sims achieved in his lone season at West Virginia opened a lot of eyes and should’ve significantly boosted his stock.

What he’ll bring to the table for whomever drafts him is all-purpose playmaking. You will not find another back in this draft who has 2,000 receiving yards on their resume. Big 12 defenses knew they had to stop Sims and he still went for a combined 1,496 yards rushing and receiving in 2013.

Last week, Todd McShay had Sims going to the Baltimore Ravens at the end of the third round, with the 99th pick, in a three-round mock Insider with Mel Kiper Jr. That would be one heck of a fit, with Sims as the explosive counterpart to an aging Ray Rice. But with his acceleration and instincts, Sims makes for an ideal fit for any number of NFL schemes.

There are no first-round caliber rushers in this draft. It’s likely whoever drafts Sims will do so with the intention of making him a complementary piece, someone who can spell the feature back and give a jolt to the offense.

And that’s a good plan, but don’t be shocked if Sims ends up outperforming expectations. This is the guy who, by the end of October, you’ll wish you had on your fantasy team.

Take 2: Brandon Chatmon

Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin was making waves and rising up draft board before tearing his ACL during Senior Bowl practices in January. His injury could make him a bargain-basement steal for any NFL team.

Whoever selects Colvin shouldn’t count on him this fall but they would earn the dividends in the long term by getting first- or second-round production from a player who fell down draft boards and out of the minds of some NFL scouts and GMs in January.

Colvin's incredible competitiveness and a hunger to succeed which will help him be an impact player in the NFL despite lacking the ideal bulk at the cornerback position. He’s very good in coverage, a willing tackler and has the versatility to play safety if needed. With the NFL moving to a more pass happy league with an aim on spreading teams out and forcing mismatches with receivers, Colvin would be a terrific addition to any defense.

When we look back at the 2014 NFL draft five years from now, Colvin will be the Big 12’s best steal because, most likely, he will exceed expectations for the pick used to select him. Most teams aren’t in a position to wait for Colvin to return to his pre-injury form, but one of the teams that are afforded that luxury will land a gem in the OU cornerback this weekend.
Devonte Fields, Shawn OakmanIcon SMI, USA TODAY SportsTCU DE Devonte Fields returns motivated after missing most of last season with an injury and Baylor DE Shawn Oakman has been unblockable this spring, but will this excitement carry into the fall?

This week's "Take Two" topic: Which Big 12 defensive player impressed you the most this spring?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon -- TCU DE Devonte Fields

Fields is back.

Watch out Big 12. The TCU defensive end is one of the league’s top defenders when healthy and his absence in 2013 played as big a role as any in the Horned Frogs' disappointing season. Explosive and athletic, Fields can dominate games when he’s healthy and has the right mental approach. His 10 sacks in 13 games as a freshman was a glimpse at the production he could provide this fall.

TCU loses a potential first round pick in cornerback Jason Verrett but could be gaining one in Fields, who TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpus said was “not only back to where he was, he’s past where he was.” If that’s the case, it’s a troubling thought for Big 12 offensive tackles.

Fields showed he has the ability to change games during his true freshman season in 2012 so if he can return to that type of form in 2014, he could spark the Horned Frogs into the Big 12 title race and put himself in the running to earn Big 12 Defensive player of the year honors.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Baylor DE Shawn Oakman

What Fields showed this spring was impressive, but it wasn’t really surprising. When healthy and motivated, Fields is one of the best defensive linemen in the Big 12, if not the country. This spring, Fields was healthy again after recovering from last year’s season-ending foot surgery. And, apparently, he was motivated.

That’s why I’m going with Oakman here.

Baylor coach Art Briles isn’t often prone to hyperbole. But he can't help himself when discussing Oakman or the potential of his defensive line.

“Same thing I’ve thought all spring, we can’t block him,” said Briles, when asked for his thoughts on Oakman's dominating performance in Baylor’s spring game. “And I don’t think anyone else will, either. I think our D-line is as good as anybody in America, and he’s just one out of about six or seven in there that are going to be dominant, dynamic players for us in the fall, no doubt.”

At 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, Oakman has the combination of size and speed to be as dominant as any defensive lineman in the league, which, with the likes of Fields, is saying quite a bit. If the Baylor offense had problems with Oakman this spring, what offense won’t next season?

We already knew Fields had star potential. The same goes for Oklahoma outside linebacker Eric Striker, Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller and Texas defensive end Cedric Reed.

After a dominating spring, it appears that Oakman does, too.

And that’s why, to me, he was most impressive.

Take Two: Texas' starting QB in Week 1?

April, 22, 2014
This week's "Take Two" topic: Who will be Texas’ starting quarterback in the Longhorns’ Aug. 30 opener against North Texas?

Take 1: Max Olson -- David Ash

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesIf David Ash can stay healthy, he's Texas' best option at quarterback for 2014.
When is the last time we saw David Ash at his best?

There are two correct answers: Either the second half of the 2013 opener against New Mexico State (a team that would go 2-10), or the second half of the 2012 Valero Alamo Bowl to rally past Oregon State.

Texas fans have been clinging to those fleeting flashes of brilliance for, what, eight months now? Those quarters are some of the best evidence that, when everything is clicking, Ash can operate a tempo offense with confidence and creativity.

But he has to do it for four quarters and 12 games if he wants to hold on to Texas’ starting quarterback job.

I don’t doubt that, barring another injury, Ash will be the guy behind center when the Longhorns open their season. He did enough this spring in nearly a dozen practices to show Charlie Strong and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson he’s the right quarterback to bet on.

The foot fracture Ash is recovering from now is a poorly timed setback, no question, and it prompts skeptics to point out Ash has now dealt with three troubling injuries (broken ribs, concussions, foot fracture) in less than two years.

An Ash optimist would point out this: As a true sophomore in 2012, he was a top-25 passer by QBR and efficiency standards. And, really, it won’t be easy for another QB to surpass him. Tyrone Swoopes should redshirt. Jerrod Heard is better off doing the same. That leaves potential transfer Max Wittek, who’d face three months of catching up this summer, to learn the offense.

As long as Ash doesn’t eliminate himself from the race with another injury, you only need that process of elimination to see it’s still his job to lose.

Take 2: Jake Trotter – Max Wittek

I don’t deny Ash has talent. But after missing an entire season due to lingering concussion issues, then most of a spring with a fractured foot, I’m skeptical of Ash’s long-term health. And that’s why I’m going another direction.

Swoopes showed in the spring game that he’s not ready to be the starting quarterback at Texas, even with a decent finish after a disastrous start. Heard is loaded with potential, but he’s going to be a true freshman.

That leaves USC transfer Max Wittek, who visited the Austin campus for a third time over the weekend, suggesting a decision to ink with the Longhorns could be imminent. Wittek will graduate from USC in May and will be eligible immediately wherever he decides to go. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Wittek might not be Bobby Layne, but given Ash’s injuries, Swoopes’ lack of polish and Heard’s complete inexperience, Wittek could very well be the best option for Strong’s maiden voyage.

Take Two: Spring game -- yes or no?

April, 8, 2014
Welcome back to Take Two Tuesday, where we give our opinions on a burning question in the league.

Today's Take Two topic: Should college football programs still hold spring games?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon -- No

There are plenty of pros for holding a spring game, from fan interest to recruiting draw, it’s an annual tradition that people look forward to attending.

[+] EnlargeKansas Jayhawks Spring Game
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsFans love to watch the spring game, but is it time to rethink whether or not it is really the best thing for the program?
Yet it’s seen better days.

Paranoia runs rampant among coaches who are worried about other schools gaining valuable information about their programs, vanilla offenses make the actual action tough to watch for football-hungry fans and a season-changing injury is one play away.

That’s why it’s time to move on from the traditional spring game.


Because, simply put, holding a spring game is not the best way to prepare a team for the upcoming season. Spring practice time is valuable. Just like flowers begin to show signs of their eventual beauty during this time, young players often start to show signs of their eventual impact during these months.

The 15-practice limit makes each opportunity for a team and individual players to improve like gold. Instead of a spring game, an actual practice and/or closed scrimmage is more likely to provide the coaches and players real answers about their potential roles in the fall.

Is the spring game great for the fans, media, boosters and family members alike? Absolutely.

Is the spring game what’s best for the team that will take the field in the fall? Absolutely not.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Yes

I agree that the paranoia surrounding spring games has rendered them to vanilla vessels of their former past.

But having a spring game is better than the alternative of not having one. It’s better for morale, better for more momentum and, most importantly, better for the fans, who are the backbone of any successful program.

The gap between the final bowl game and the season opener is painfully long for the passionate college football fan. The spring game gives an intermission to the wait. A chance to check out for the first time the freshmen that redshirted last season. Or the new hotshot transfer. Or the quarterback derby. Anymore, practices are pretty much closed to the public in the fall. Most of them are closed in the spring, too. The spring game is the one opportunity fans get to watch their favorite teams in person without having to shell out $100 for tickets and $20 for parking.

But pleasing and engaging the fans isn’t the only advantage to holding a spring game.

Playing in front of thousands of fans gives the young players a preview of playing on Saturdays in the fall will be like. There’s no substitute for that, no matter what the practice format might be behind the scenes.

The spring game can also be an awesome opportunity to gather recruits on campus to give them a taste of what the program is all about. There’s a reason why the spring game is one of the biggest recruiting days on the calendar.

Coaches might disagree about the pros of a spring game outweighing the cons. They don’t want to divulge schemes or tendencies. That’s understandable, though a bit paranoid. That paranoia shouldn’t overshadow a spring game’s many advantages.

Take Two: Biggest threat to OU and Baylor?

March, 25, 2014
It’s Take Two Tuesday again, when we give our takes on a burning question in the league.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of jumping up and challenging Big 12 favorites Baylor and Oklahoma for the conference crown?

Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas

Oklahoma and Baylor should both be considered top-10 squads in 2014, there’s no dispute about that. They’re in terrific shape going forward. But the way this league is set up, it’s hard to see either emerging undefeated by December.

The team best built to challenge them is Texas, at least on paper. Remember, for all its flaws in 2013, the Longhorns were two quarters away from winning the Big 12 despite major injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. They lose key pieces, but could come back better than expected.

That’s because there’s a new sheriff in town. Charlie Strong is dedicated to changing the mentality of this program and bringing back the toughness and accountability that went missing in recent years. He put together an impressive staff and brought in a revered strength coach. This program is undergoing big changes.

And there’s enough talent on board to sustain another run at a conference title. Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson will build an offense around the run game trio of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron, and there’s good depth at receiver and on the line. What Texas needs most is a full year from David Ash, but Max Wittek seems likely to become the insurance option there.

If Texas is going to challenge the league favorites, it’ll be with a defense that brings back leaders at all three levels (Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, Quandre Diggs) and is full of experienced talent. This is a unit that will line up a bunch of different ways and cause a lot of problems.

Revamping this Texas program will take time, but the Longhorns could have enough to make another run in 2014.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters was one of the nation's most effective quarterbacks during the second half of last season.
The Longhorns certainly have the talent and supporting cast to seriously compete for a Big 12 title. But until they find the answer at quarterback -- and I’m dubious they will in Strong’s first season – it’s hard to see them doing so.

The Kansas State Wildcats have no such issues. And they too have the surrounding cast to make a run at the Bears and Sooners for the league championship.

After struggling early, Jake Waters settled in at quarterback the last half of the season and cut talented playmaker Daniel Sams out of the rotation. From Oct. 26 on, Waters produced the 13th-best Adjusted QBR in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Info, while leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games (he threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns in the lone loss, too).

Besides Waters, K-State also boasts one of the top wide receivers in the nation in the uncoverable Tyler Lockett, who had the third-most receiving yards in college football during the same Oct. 26-on stretch.

On the other side, Bill Snyder replenished his defense with a trio of ESPN JC 50 signees in defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott and cornerback Danzel McDaniel, who should fill the slots in the lineup where the Wildcats have holes.

K-State will have to earn its way into the conference title chase, with road trips to both Baylor and Oklahoma. But K-State gets the Longhorns in the Little Apple, where it hasn’t lost to Texas since 2002.

The Wildcats also get defending national runner-up Auburn in Manhattan, Kan., earlier in September. If they topple the Tigers in that Thursday night clash, the rest of the Big 12 will quickly realize that K-State is a legitimate contender.

Take Two: Redshirt freshman defenders

March, 18, 2014
Once again, it’s Take Two Tuesday, when we give our takes on a burning question related to the Big 12.

Today's topic: Which Big 12 redshirt freshman defender will have the biggest breakout season in 2014?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon

Something tells me that Big 12 reporters and editors alike will have to become diligent in our spelling of the name Ranthony Texada.

The TCU cornerback has a name that will draw early attention but I have a feeling his game will start to garner more and more attention during his first season on the field for the Horned Frogs.

At 5-foot-10 but only 160 pounds, Texada isn’t going to be an overwhelming physical force on the perimeter for TCU. But size limitations didn’t stop two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Jason Verrett.

Texada has exceptional speed which could help him to overcome any size or strength concerns, especially if he’s competitive and aggressive. He has the physical tools to step in for Verrett alongside Kevin White as the Horned Frogs starting cornerback duo. Once he gets comfortable and starts to mature, he could become a breakout defender.

Make no mistake, Texada will have early bumps in the road as teams try to attack him as the potential weak link in an superb TCU secondary. He hasn’t even secured the starting job yet but his physical tools will be tough to overlook. If he has the mental toughness and competitive nature to shake off getting picked on constantly, he could be a key contributor on TCU’s defense and help lessen the blow of losing one of the top cornerbacks in the nation.

Take 2: Jake Trotter

Texada might be the Big 12 redshirt freshman defender most likely to secure a starting job coming out of the spring.

But ask any Oklahoma player who the most impressive redshirt freshman in closed practices was last fall, and you’ll pretty much get the same answer -- defensive tackle Charles Walker.

In December, cornerback Zack Sanchez called Walker a “monster.”

Center Gabe Ikard used the word “animal,” and said Walker might be “the most explosive guy” on the entire team.

Nothing over winter workouts curbed the hype, either, as Walker was clocked running the 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds, shattering the Oklahoma DT record in the Bob Stoops era set by All-American Tommie Harris (4.80) in 2003.

“Charles has really been impressive,” Stoops said. “He had a great fall. He’s up to about 300 pounds now, light on his feet. So Charles really has a bright future. He’s going to be a big factor in that defensive line.”

It will be interesting to see where Walker fits into the D-line rotation, considering the Sooners bring everyone back from last season. Returners Chuka Ndulue and Jordan Wade both made starts inside, and Jordan Phillips was having an All-Big 12 caliber season through the first four games before suffering a season-ending back injury.

Yet even with those players back, it might be difficult -- if not impossible -- to keep Walker off the field. And if his rapid development continues, Walker could turn into one of the more menacing defensive tackles in the entire league.

Take Two: Biggest Rushmore gripe?

February, 25, 2014
It’s Take Two Tuesday, where we give our takes on a burning question in the league.

Today's Take Two topic: Which player has the biggest gripe about being left off our Big 12 Mount Rushmore

Take 1: Jake Trotter

The player with the biggest gripe is Texas running back Ricky Williams.


Who has the biggest gripe for being left off the Big 12 Mount Rushmore?


Discuss (Total votes: 3,495)

Plenty of people have taken up his cause and filled up my Twitter timeline and email inbox, asking why the 1998 Heisman winner who also broke the FBS career rushing record was omitted.

My reply: Who then would you take off?

Nobody would argue that Vince Young doesn’t belong after his magical season that put Texas over the national championship hump for the first time in 35 years. Oklahoma’s dominance of the conference under Bob Stoops warranted the Sooners at least one spot on Rushmore. So if Adrian Peterson came off, he’d have to be replaced by some other Sooner.

Ndamukong Suh is the only defensive player, and while the Big 12 has been an offensive conference, the Rushmore wouldn’t feel legitimate without at least one defender. What about Williams over Robert Griffin III? Well, no player has had a bigger impact on his school -- or the entire Big 12 -- than RG III, who with his coach transformed Baylor from the laughingstock of the league to one of its premier programs.

But if Rushmores included five spots, Williams would have been on mine, and here’s why: by coming back to school, winning the Heisman and leading Texas to a 9-3 record (a year after the Longhorns went 4-8), he expedited Mack Brown’s rebuilding project in Austin. Two years later, the Longhorns would go on to win 10 or more games in nine consecutive seasons, culminating with the national title.

Without the rapid turnaround in ’98, who knows if the national title happens in ’05? Williams’ Heisman season gave Brown the credibility to recruit the best talent in the country. And that’s why Williams has a gripe.

Take 2: Brandon Chatmon

Big 12 folklore is full of players who are worthy of their place on the conference’s Mount Rushmore and Ricky Williams has a stronger case than most. Yet former Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon was the biggest snub.

Has he been the best receiver in Big 12 history? No, Michael Crabtree will have some say in that. Is he the most productive player left off the original foursome? No. Did he hoist the Heisman Trophy? Not even close.

But he’s the biggest snub because he fits the criteria to land on our Big 12 Mount Rushmore. OSU’s first Big 12 championship in 2011 was built upon his shoulders, as the Cowboys went 23-3 in his final two seasons. He won back-to-back Biletnikoff Awards as the nation’s top receiver with 232 receptions for 3,304 yards and 38 touchdowns combined in 2010 and 2011. And he had at least 100 receiving yards in every game he played in 2010, a 12-game streak that is the best in the FBS since 2004, with only BYU’s Austin Collie (11 games in 2008) joining Blackmon in double digits.

So, while Blackmon isn’t a name that immediately comes to mind, he helped take a football program to new heights, dominated opponents with his individual brilliance and had the ability to take over games from the receiver position in a way that has been rarely seen since the Big 12 was formed in 1996.