Dallas Colleges: Darrian Miller

Big 12 post-spring breakdown: RBs

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
3:00
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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.

Ranking the Big 12's offensive triplets

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
9:00
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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.

Pass defense, 3rd down defense spark OU

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
9:00
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Here are some key stats that defined Oklahoma’s 34-19 win over Kansas on Saturday.

Kansas’ 5.94 yards per carry by running backs: The Jayhawks averaged 5.94 yards per carry combined from James Sims and Darrian Miller. Sims had 23 carries for 129 yards and two touchdowns while Miller added nine carries for 67 yards (7.44 yards per carry). The Jayhawks offensive line was horrible in their first five games but showed signs of life on Saturday while the Sooners run defense continues to struggle without injured defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.

Kansas’ minus-2 passing yards after the first quarter. That’s right, the Jayhawks passed for negative two yards in the final 45 minutes of the game. And you thought OU’s passing game was bad. KU quarterback Jake Heaps was 1 of 7 for minus-2 yards and two sacks after the first quarter. The Sooners has had their struggles stopping the run but they clearly can stop the pass, leading the nation in passing yards allowed (149.71) and ranking second in passing yards per attempt (5.27).

Sterling Shepard’s first down or touchdown per catch percentage. The Sooners receiver was outstanding with 57.1 percent of his receptions going for a first down or touchdown. Shepard finished with seven receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns. The more involved he gets, the more big plays the Sooners’ passing attack seems to make this season.

Kansas’ 0.64 yards per play on third down: One week after allowing Texas to convert 13 of 20 third down attempts, OU held KU to 11 yards on seven third-down plays, an average of 0.64 yards per play. The Jayhawks converted just 2 of 11 third-down attempts in the loss.

OU’s average starting position in the second quarter: The Sooners’ average starting point was their own 47-yard line in the second quarter. OU grabbed control of the game in those 15 minutes thanks in part to its terrific field position, helping the Sooners to outscore the Jayhawks 18-6 in the quarter.

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
2:00
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Here are the Big 12's unsung heroes for Week 6.

Receiver Antwan Goodley, Baylor: Teammates like Lache Seastrunk and Bryce Petty get a lot of the attention but Goodley has been ridiculously consistent, much like the Bears’ offense as a whole. The sophomore had seven receptions for 170 yards and one touchdown in BU’s 73-42 win over West Virginia. Goodley has at least 90 receiving yards and one touchdown in every game and has caught 21 of 26 passes thrown his way this season.

Linebacker Luke Knott, Iowa State: The younger brother of former ISU standout Jake Knott, Luke has been a bright spot in the Cyclones season. The redshirt freshman finished with 11 tackles, one forced fumble, one quarterback hurry and one pass breakup. As devastating as the 31-30 loss to Texas had to be for ISU, the Cyclones have to be encouraged to know Knott can anchor their defense for the rest of the season and beyond.

Running back Darrian Miller, Kansas: The sophomore led the Jayhawks with 67 rushing yards on 12 carries in the Jayhawk’s 54-16 loss to Texas Tech. Miller added 77 kick return yards to finish with 144 all-purpose yards. He could be an important piece for the Jayhawks offense moving forward with Tony Pierson’s status unclear after his head injury on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Sams
Ed Zurga/Getty ImagesQuarterback Daniel Sams is the focal point for the Kansas State offense.
Quarterback Daniel Sams, Kansas State: It’s unusual to call a quarterback who turned the ball over four times a unsung hero, but the Wildcats wouldn't have been in the game without Sams. He was outstanding with the football in his arms and made enough plays in the passing game to keep Oklahoma State honest. Sams rushed for 118 yards and passed for 181 yards in the 33-29 loss to OSU. If he can clean up the mistakes, his special skills could spark a winning streak for the Wildcats during Big 12 play.

Defensive tackle Jordan Wade, Oklahoma: Asked to step in with starter Jordan Phillips out, Wade was superb against TCU. The redshirt freshman had two tackles including one tackle for loss and one sack in OU’s 20-17 win. If Wade continues to develop, he increases competition in the Sooners' defensive interior and could provide a quality rotational player alongside Phillips in the future.

Linebacker Caleb Lavey, Oklahoma State: Teammate Shaun Lewis got all the accolades with his Big 12 defensive player of the week honors, but Lavey was just as critical in OSU’s 33-29 win over Kansas State. Lavey forced turnovers on back-to-back plays in the third quarter with a forced fumble and interception. The senior finished with seven tackles including two tackles for loss to go along with the forced fumble and interception. He’s a solid anchor and leader in the middle for the Cowboys.

Defensive tackle Malcom Brown, Texas: The sophomore was a beast in the middle with 10 tackles including two tackles for loss and one sack in the Longhorns’ 31-30 victory over ISU. Brown’s development into playmaker in the UT defensive interior could make things harder on Big 12 offenses as they create a plan of attack against the Longhorns.

Receiver Ty Slanina, TCU: The freshman provided a spark for the Horned Frogs’ offense in their 20-17 loss to OU. He had six receptions for 38 yards against the Sooners but his competitiveness and ability to get open and make plays when he gets the opportunity stands out on the TCU offense. If he continues to make plays, he should become a bigger part of the offense in the future.

Receiver Eric Ward, Texas Tech: After catching seven passes since opening the year with a 13-catch performance against SMU on Aug. 30, Ward got back on track against Kansas. Ward had seven receptions for 122 yards and one touchdown in the Red Raiders’ 54-16 win over the Jayhawks. When Ward is making plays on the outside with Jace Amaro punishing defenses in the middle, TTU’s offense becomes much more lethal.

Receiver Kevin White, West Virginia: White's breakout performance was overshadowed by the dominance of Baylor's defense. He had seven receptions for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the Mountaineers' 73-42 loss to Baylor. On a WVU offense looking for playmakers, it has to encourage Dana Holgorsen to watch White start to emerge and make plays. Now they just need the junior college transfer to be more consistent.

Big 12's unsung heroes: Week 2

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
6:00
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Here's a look at some of the Big 12's unsung heroes in Week 2.

Entire offensive line, Baylor: Anytime you gain 781 yards -- including 329 rushing yards with just 13 yards lost rushing -- the big guys up front deserve a lot of credit. Led by All-America candidate Cyril Richardson, the Baylor offensive line is better than people think and has been for several seasons. As explosive as BU’s offense is, it would struggle to get off the ground without a quality group of linemen.

Running back Darrian Miller, Kansas: Looks like the Jayhawks found another one. KU already features terrific running backs in James Sims and Tony Pierson, but Miller showed he’s a name to watch with 14 carries for 72 yards in the Jayhawks’ 31-14 win over South Dakota. If Miller continues to emerge, it will allow Charlie Weis to get even more creative when divising ways to get the ball to his various playmakers in Lawrence.

Receiver Tramaine Thompson, Kansas State: His two-reception, 46-yard performance on offense wasn’t earth-shattering. Yet Thompson single-handedly sparked the Wildcats in KSU’s 48-27 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. He opened the third quarter with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown., then returned ULL’s next punt 79 yards to the ULL 3-yard line. Thompson finished with 234 all-purpose yards.

Safety Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma: Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has praised the athleticism and range of Hayes in the OU secondary. The junior finished with eight tackles and a forced fumble in OU’s 16-7 victory over West Virginia. His versatility and coverage skills could help make the Sooners’ secondary even better than last year’s unit.

Safety Zack Craig, Oklahoma State: The senior safety quietly played a key role in the Cowboys' 56-35 win over Texas San-Antonio. Craig, a backup safety, finished with seven tackles and two pass breakups, including a pass breakup that led to a Shaun Lewis interception. At one point, the Pokes were without both starting safeties because of injury and Craig stepped in to fill the void. He brings a veteran presence to OSU’s secondary and special teams.

Receiver Mike Davis, Texas: Overshadowed by the Longhorns' defensive collapse in Provo, Davis is off to a superb start in his senior season. He had eight receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns in UT’s 40-21 loss to BYU. If Davis continues to consistently produce, it should open up opportunities for UT’s running backs.

Defensive tackle Terrell Lathan, TCU: Lathan stepped in and stepped up after Chucky Hunter was injured during TCU’s 38-17 win over Southeastern Louisiana. The sophomore had four tackles, including two tackles for loss and one sack. If the backup defensive lineman continues to progress, he could provide quality depth along the defensive front for TCU.

Receiver Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech: The junior had just two receptions for 94 yards and one touchdown in the Red Raiders’ 61-13 victory over Stephen F. Austin. But Marquez could be a key piece in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense with defenses focusing on Eric Ward, Jace Amaro and Jakeem Grant. Marquez has the speed and athleticism to make defenses pay if they leave him one-on-one.

Receiver Kevin White, West Virginia: He didn’t play a perfect game in his first outing in a WVU uniform, but the junior college transfer showed signs he could emerge as a playmaker who will test Big 12 defenses this season. He finished with seven receptions for 80 yards and one fumble in WVU’s 16-7 loss to Oklahoma. White is big, athletic and physical, so it won’t be easy for Big 12 defenses to match up with him, giving Dana Holgorsen another one-on-one mismatch to exploit in 2013.

Note: Iowa State did not play in Week 2.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 1

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
9:30
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video

Here's what I'm keeping an eye on in the Big 12 openers this weekend:

1. Close calls. It happens to somebody every weekend. You never know who, but some heavy favorite is going to get locked in a tight game. You can't really read into it too much later in the season, but you always know there's going to be drama somewhere when teams take the field after nine months off. Who's it going to be? Look out for unexpected excitement on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireTexas will be counting on improvement from quarterback David Ash this season.
2. David Ash. No single player has more power to reshape the Big 12 preseason landscape. He might look like a whole new quarterback this season, or he might show the same old mediocrity. The odds probably favor the latter, considering how little experience Ash had in practice before starting last season. How much better will he be?

3. West Virginia's offense. The Mountaineers struggled with consistency last season, for those of you who didn't see WVU play a game last season before its Orange Bowl coming out party. For one, tune in to see how they look in Week 1. For two, I'm betting some of you have legitimately never seen Geno Smith, Tavon Austin or Stedman Bailey play before. Change that on Saturday. The Mountaineers are the only Big 12 game going at noon ET.

4. The youngest gun in the Big 12. Wes Lunt surprised a lot of folks when he beat out two older players to win the Oklahoma State quarterback job. He's got great running backs and should have some good targets. Few people have ever seen Lunt play in this offense. That changes this weekend.

5. Iowa State's quarterback(s). Steele Jantz has been named the starter, and he'll have a long leash, but how will he look? We didn't see much of him late in the season, and it's been a long time since this was really his team. It will be to start the season, but Iowa State's receivers need to help him out. Jantz needs to help himself out and control his turnovers, too. Nothing would put backup quarterback Jared Barnett on the field faster than turnovers.

6. Baylor's running back logjam. This one should be interesting. There's no telling just yet what Baylor will do, but it hasn't used a real committee since 2009, when it didn't have Robert Griffin III. Since then, the Bears have had a pair of 1,200-yard rushers, and Terrance Ganaway won the Big 12 rushing title last season. Will Lache Seastrunk, Jarred Salubi and Glasco Martin form a committee? Or will a featured back emerge. Ganaway broke out in a big way last season against TCU.

7. Kansas' new faces. I've got no idea what to think of Kansas this season. It's anybody's guess. Nobody's seen a complete overhaul this offseason like KU has. Charlie Weis saw a lot of work that needed to be done when he got to Lawrence and he did it. Big upgrades at quarterback and along the defensive line are the biggest change, but suspensions will keep running back Darrian Miller off the team forever, and James Sims for three games. What's Kansas look like? Here's guessing Dayne Crist holds the answer to that question.

8. Collin Klein's arm. Klein put in a lot of work this offseason to progress as a passer, and threw for 480 yards and six scores in the spring game. That's about all we've seen of Kansas State this offseason, but that was against the Wildcats' second-team defense. That said, it was more than a third of Klein's production through the air in all of last season. How much better has he gotten this offseason? We'll get a preview this weekend.

9. Oklahoma's young receivers. Kenny Stills will be the only eligible receiver on Saturday night who has ever caught a pass in a Sooners uniform. Freshman Trey Metoyer and Penn State transfer Justin Brown will start alongside Stills, and we know they'll have a good quarterback in Landry Jones. owever, what can juco transfer LaColton Bester, and freshmen Durron Neal and Sterling Shepard do? Shepard has already drawn comparisons to Ryan Broyles.

10. Texas Tech's health and new defense. Tech already lost one of its most talented special teamers in camp, Aaron Fisher, but can the rest of these guys finally stay in one piece? Art Kaufman has a new defense in place, and we'll get our first look at Eric Stephens on Saturday after a horrific knee injury ended his 2011 season.

Crowning the best freshmen in the Big 12

December, 13, 2011
12/13/11
10:24
AM CT
The regular season is over, but with the end of any season, you can't help but look to the future. In college football, that means youth, i.e., freshmen.

Plenty of big talents played their first season in the Big 12 this year, and here were the best of the bunch.

It should come as no surprise that the bulk of the young talent plays offense, assuring that the Big 12's reputation as an offense-driven league looks as though it'll remain a constant.

Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas: The Longhorns were tentative to let Brown start early in the season, but he emerged as the team's top back and into the starting slot, finishing the season as the team's leading rusher, at 707 yards and five touchdowns.

Tyler Lockett, WR/KR, Kansas State: Lockett became one of K-State's best playmakers late in the year and the Big 12's best kick returner. He returned two kicks for scores and averaged more than 35 yards per return, catching 18 passes for 246 yards and three scores. No small accomplishment in the Wildcats' run-heavy offense.

Jaxon Shipley, WR, Texas: Shipley was hampered by a knee injury for much of the season, but he was the Longhorns' most reliable receiver, leading the team with three touchdown catches. He was narrowly edged for the team lead in catches (40) and receiving yards (593).

Jared Barnett, QB, Iowa State: Barnett is best known for playing an unbelievable game against Oklahoma State. He took over for Steele Jantz in midseason and led the Cyclones from 3-4 to 6-4 and a bowl berth, with a blowout win over Texas Tech and dramatic wins over OSU and Kansas. He threw for 376 yards and three scores against OSU and ran 84 more yards.

Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas: Diggs has star written all over him. Don't be surprised if he's the Big 12's best defensive back next year. He showed flashes in the spring game after enrolling early and started nine games for Texas as a true freshman. A rare feat in most years, especially for the defense. He led the team with three interceptions, forced two fumbles and had 43 tackles and 13 pass breakups. An unbelievable freshman year for the Horn.

Darrian Miller, RB, Kansas: Miller's got some great wiggle to his running style as one of the league's most elusive backs, and he ran for 559 yards and four scores on just 136 yards.

Blake Dees, LB, Texas Tech: Dees looked like a potential starter in spring practice and showed up once fall came for the Red Raiders. Despite an ankle injury that basically erased the second half of his season, he made 32 tackles with four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.

Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas: Memo to Charlie Weis: You've got a heck of a backfield; you'd better use it. Pierson, Miller and James Sims are all solid for the Jayhawks, and Pierson might have as much upside as any of them. He's an electrifying player like Miller but with more size, and he averaged more than 5.5 yards on his 71 carries, scoring three times. Here's guessing the scoring numbers and touches go up next year.

Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State: Stewart was a nice piece of a powerful OSU offense and showed plenty of promise as a kick returner, too, averaging better than 20 yards on his 11 returns. He caught 19 balls for 291 yards and two scores.

Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma: Bell redshirted before showing up midseason in the valuable BellDozer formation that OU came up with after Dominique Whaley went down with a fractured ankle. He scored an unbelievable 10 touchdowns on 34 carries, but the throwing thing could use some work. In four attempts, he completed as many passes to the other team (one) as his own.

Part II: Wrapping up Week 1 in the Big 12

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
11:44
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No. 1 Oklahoma 47, Tulsa 14: Hard to ask for much more from the title contenders and current No. 1. Tulsa was handcuffed by the loss of Damaris Johnson, but this was still a 10-win team from last year with a big playmaker at quarterback in G.J. Kinne. And yet, Oklahoma dominated. The Sooners ran for 246 yard, led by walk-on Dominique Whaley, who scored four times and had 131 yards on 18 carries. Whaley was a spring-game star, but he's taken his act to the fall, and further crowds Oklahoma's loaded backfield. Great news for Sooners' fans. Kenny Stills sat with a one-game suspension, but the passing game did what it does. Landry Jones racked up 375 yards on 35-of-47 passing, hitting Ryan Broyles 14 times (one short of Broyles' school record) for 158 yards and a touchdown. But the best stat for the Sooners? No sacks in all that chucking. A-plus performance for the Sooners in Week 1.

Texas Tech 50, Texas State 10: Awful, awful start for the Red Raiders, who trailed 10-0 late in the first quarter after a turnover set up the Bobcats. Tech trailed 10-9 at the half, but usually, if you can outscore an opponent 41-0 in the second half, you'll do OK. The Red Raiders got it rolling against their FCS opponents. And those replacements at the skill positions? No worries. Each was as advertised. Seth Doege threw for 326 yards and three scores. Darrin Moore caught 12 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. Eric Stephens rolled for 118 yards on 21 carries. The competition wasn't much, but at least Tech knows it can execute.

Oklahoma State 61, Louisiana-Lafayette 34: Predictable and safe. Oklahoma State's Saturday night went as planned, and Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden did exactly what they usually did, save Blackmon scoring a touchdown, ending his 12-game streak of a score and 100 yards. He did catch eight passes for 144 yards to lead his team. Weeden threw for 388 yards and three scores, but had three picks, including one returned for a touchdown. That's may be a bit of a red flag, but this early in the season, not a huge cause for concern. The Cowboys ran up a nice 24-point second quarter and made life easy for themselves.

Kansas 42, McNeese State 24: There we go, Jayhawks. I wanted to see if they could put a big number on the board against anyone, and Kansas proved it could. As they should, the Jayhawks relied heavily on the running game, throwing just 10 passes to 55 rushes, but they rolled up 301 yards rushing on the night. Very nice, Kansas. Safe to say the Jayhawks have played themselves out of the No. 10 spot in the Big 12 power rankings for the first time in awhile. James Sims and Darrian Miller combined for 167 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries. Jordan Webb threw three touchdown passes and no picks.

Ranking the Big 12's top 10 running backs

July, 29, 2011
7/29/11
9:00
AM CT
We wrapped up our position rankings by team a bit earlier, but we'll move on in ranking the 10 best players at each position.

Here's the top 10's you've missed so far:
Running back is one of the weakest position groups in the Big 12 heading into 2011, a change from last year's extremely strong class. Just one of the league's top 11 rushers returns, and part of the success from last season was because of so much experience at the position. There are a few guys on this list with upside, but only a few are truly established. Some guys might make good on their upside, but for now, running back joins cornerback and defensive line as the league's weakest positions.

Also, if you haven't played a snap in the Big 12, you're not included on this list. (Also, if your last name is Brown.)

[+] EnlargeCyrus Gray
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireTexas A&M's Cyrus Gray is among the Big 12's most experienced returning tailbacks.
1. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M -- Gray took over late last season and returns as the only Big 12 player to rush for more than 750 yards last season. He finished with 1,133 yards and 12 scores, but 938 of those yards and 10 of those touchdowns came in the season's final seven games, most of which came after the No. 2 guy on this list got hurt.

2. Christine Michael, Texas A&M -- Before Gray took off, Michael was far outperforming his teammate and looked headed for a 1,000-yard season after rushing for 844 yards and 10 scores in 2009. He was at 631 yards through eight games before breaking his leg, and no player in the Big 12 could top his 2009 effort. Despite playing just over half the season, he still ranked 14th in the Big 12 in rushing. Considering 10 of the top 11 rushers in the league are gone, it's easy to see why the powerful, 5-foot-11, 215-pounder is No. 2 on the list.

3. Roy Finch, Oklahoma -- Finch showed lots of flash last season in spot duty behind DeMarco Murray before aggravating a foot injury that kept him out of the first half of the season. He'll have to stay healthy to make good on his potential, and despite being on the All-Big 12 preseason team, he's not on his own team's depth chart just yet. He'll have to jump over Brennan Clay and Jonathan Miller to get his touches in a crowded backfield that will likely carry the load by committee this season.

4. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State -- Randle was extremely valuable last season out of the backfield, catching 37 passes for 427 yards and a key touchdown against Texas A&M. That was more receptions than any running back outside of DeMarco Murray, but this year, he'll join Jeremy Smith in trying to replace Kendall Hunter, who ran for more than 1,500 yards last season.

5. Eric Stephens, Texas Tech -- Stephens has been underrated and underexposed behind starter Baron Batch, but his time looks like it has finally come. The Red Raiders have a deep backfield, but Stephens is its top talent, averaging 5.26 yards on his 127 carries last season, leading the team with six touchdowns.

6. James Sims, Kansas -- Sims was one of the bright spots in a dark year for Kansas football last season, taking over the starting role after a season-opening loss to North Dakota State and rushing for 101 yards in an upset win against Georgia Tech. Sims also scored four of his nine touchdowns in a comeback win against Colorado. I'd expect Sims' touches to take a slight hit with Darrian Miller on campus now, but he was extremely productive considering the Jayhawks' lack of a passing game, which ranked 105th nationally last season.

7. Shontrelle Johnson, Iowa State -- Johnson's lateral movement reminds me a bit of Finch, but he's got a lot of speed and if Iowa State's offensive line gets him a crack, he can be a home-run hitter. He was stuck behind Alexander Robinson last season, but Johnson averaged 6.2 yards on the limited carries he got, turning them into a pair of touchdowns. That's the highest average of any returning Big 12 back.

8. De'Vion Moore, Missouri -- Missouri doesn't have a big time back, but it doesn't need one. Moore led a group of four backs that combined to rush for more than 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last seaosn. Look out for shifty Henry Josey to slide in and unseat Moore to lead the team in rushing, but Moore will get lots of touches in the red zone this season, and he's great at finding a crease. No Tigers running back got more than 100 carries last season, and that might still be the case, but Missouri truly proved that a running back platoon can be extremely successful, even if it lacks a game-changer at the top of the depth chart.

9. Terrance Ganaway, Baylor -- Ganaway is the bowling ball third of a good trio at Baylor. Jarred Salubi is the shiftier third and Glasco Martin is the young guy with lots of hype. All three should form a solid group. Art Briles said this week at media days that he'd love for one of them to separate themselves, but also understands it might not happen with this group.

10. Fozzy Whittaker, Texas -- Whittaker has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, but rushed for 351 yards last season and enters the season as the starter ahead of Cody Johnson. He'll have to hold off promising freshman Malcolm Brown as well as Johnson, but for now, the Longhorns' running backs have a lot to prove in a new offense built to help them succeed.

Big 12 position rankings: Offensive line

July, 20, 2011
7/20/11
11:54
AM CT
We'll move on to the cornerbacks today in our position rankings across the Big 12.

Here's what we've covered so far:
This group is subject to more change during the season than perhaps any other position. You never quite know how chemistry will develop, and in these rankings, you really have to rely heavily on experience, similar to quarterbacks. It's not the only factor, but you have to acknowledge that it's a major one.

So, here's how I rank them:

[+] EnlargeLevy Adcock
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtOklahoma State's Levy Adcock, 73, is among the Big 12's best returning offensive linemen.
1. Oklahoma State: This is a no-brainer. The Cowboys broke in four new starters last season, but became a big reason why OSU's offense was one of college football's best. Despite throwing 532 passes, third-most in the Big 12, the group surrendered just 10 sacks. All five starters return, too. Running back Kendall Hunter also rushed for more than 1,500 yards. Right tackle Levy Adcock headlines the unit as the league's best overall lineman.

2. Baylor: The Bears might be a bit of a surprise here, but Baylor's strong skill-position talents wouldn't look nearly as good without this group, which lost a first-round pick at left tackle in Danny Watkins. However, Philip Blake is one of the league's best centers and four starters return from a line that helped Baylor finish second in the Big 12 last season in yards per carry, just behind Nebraska but nearly a half-yard more than Oklahoma State, the third-place team.

3. Missouri: The Tigers suffered a big loss in center Tim Barnes, a three-year starter and the offensive line's leader, but they return four starters from last season line and have the most career starts on the line of any team in the Big 12, with 105, which ranks 11th nationally.

4. Texas A&M: A&M's rising sophomore tackles, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, had to learn on the go last season, but their development should be fun to watch this season on an offensive line blocking for the Big 12's best overall collection of skill-position talents. The line returns four starters, replacing only center Matt Allen.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners' goal-line problems last season cost them a game at Texas A&M, but this line was very solid the rest of the season and has plenty of upside. Likely starter Jarvis Jones won't be available until perhaps October, so the Sooners will turn to touted redshirt freshman Daryl Williams at right tackle in the interim. Center Ben Habern and tackle Tyler Evans add a lot of experience.

6. Texas Tech: Tech boasts one of the Big 12's best guards in Lonnie Edwards, but don't be surprised if Mickey Okafor grabs the Big 12's first-team spot at right tackle by season's end. The Red Raiders return all five starters, and will have to play well to support new faces at every skill position on offense.

7. Kansas: Four of the Jayhawks' starters are juniors and another is a senior, and for all of KU's struggles last season, it did have some success running the ball in spots, even though its 1,615 total rush yards were the fewest in the Big 12. James Sims (742 yards, 9 TDs) returns and KU adds a possible home-run threat in Darrian Miller, but the offensive line returns 97 total starts, 15th-most in college football and second-most in the Big 12. That has to pay off eventually, if not this season.

8. Iowa State: The Cyclones boast the league's best left tackle, Kelechi Osemele, but center Ben Lamaak is gone and ISU might turn to redshirt freshman Tom Farniok as his replacement. Brayden Burris is solid at right tackle, but sophomore Ethan Tuftee, who has very little experience (just five appearances total), enters fall camp as the starter at right guard.

9. Texas: No, I don't know how this happens. But it's hard to deny. Run blocking has been a struggle for Texas, and new position coach Stacy Searels will have to change that for the Longhorns, who have kept quiet about any real depth-chart developments throughout the spring and into fall camp. Tray Allen's health is a concern, but Mason Walters played well in 2010 and David Snow has a lot of experience at center with 19 starts and 39 appearances. If this group can't ascend in these rankings during the season, Texas' turnaround from last season 5-7 campaign will not happen. Texas, though, has the fewest career starts in the Big 12, with 36, which ranks 105th nationally.

10. Kansas State: Kansas State has had the Big 12's leading rusher the past two seasons, but he's gone and so are three offensive linemen, including the unit's best blocker, guard Zach Kendall. Center Wade Weibert and guard Kenneth Mayfield also are gone, leaving gaps in the interior. Senior Zach Hanson joins Manese Foketi and Clyde Aufner on a unit that returns just 42 career starts, second-fewest in the Big 12 and 97th-most in college football.

Big 12 position rankings: Running back

June, 22, 2011
6/22/11
8:49
AM CT
Here's the next in our look at the Big 12 rankings by position: Running backs.

Last year's class was one of the best in recent history, but this year's class? Unassuming to begin the season. There are a few possible stars looming, but very, very little talent returning. Cyrus Gray ranked seventh in rushing yards last year (thanks to an insane finish), but he's the only player returning to the Big 12 from the conferences' top 10 rushers in 2010.

That's nuts.

The Aggies are the only team with a truly elite backfield tandem, though I could see Oklahoma and/or Oklahoma State joining that group by the end of the year.

The rest of the league? Every team has at least a couple of players to get excited about, and teams 5-10 are all pretty close. No one is really understaffed at the position, but obviously, they're fit to be ranked.

Here's where I have them:

1. Texas A&M

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Cyrus Gray
AP Photo/Eric GayCyrus Gray had at least 100 yards rushing in each of A&M's final seven games last season.
I wouldn't have been surprised if Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael were the Big 12's top leading returning rushers this year, but a midseason injury from Michael prevented it from happening. Regardless, his return gives Texas A&M by far the best tandem in the Big 12, and arguably the best in the country. When Mister Jones isn't cranking the Counting Crows on his stereo, he's a pretty good reserve, alongside Ben Malena, who impressed me on my visit to College Station this spring.

2. Oklahoma

Oklahoma will try and replace do-everything forever (or whatever) back DeMarco Murray with a platoon likely led by shifty Florida native Roy Finch. True freshman Brandon Williams made a big impact in spring camp, and Brennan Clay will likely earn a few touches, too. Health concerns raise questions about a pair of other OU backs' knees (Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller), but walk-on Dominique Whaley led the team in rushing in the spring game.

3. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys have a great pair in sophomores Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, and a nice set of backs to spell them if needed, too. Kye Staley, once a top-flight recruit, returned this spring after quitting the team following a severe knee injury, and might earn a few touches this spring. Also, Abilene, Texas, native and 2011 ESPNU 150 signee Herschel Sims arrives this fall and may jockey for time and the opportunity to shed a redshirt.

4. Missouri

What the Tigers lack in a truly elite back, they have in depth. Missouri has four backs who are all capable of being very good in the Big 12, even though neither of the four topped 600 yards a year ago. A big reason for that was none of the four got more than 100 carries, but with the carries they did get, every back averaged more than five yards per carry. The platoon approach works for Missouri, but senior De'Vion Moore and junior Kendial Lawrence will lead the way with sophomores Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy not far behind.

5. Kansas

[+] EnlargeKansas' James Sims
John Rieger/US PRESSWIREJames Sims is the No. 2 returning rusher in the Big 12 this season.
Running back will be a strength for Kansas next year, who might have found a second back this spring that perfectly complements power runner James Sims, a rising sophomore who racked up 742 yards last year after not playing in the opener. Believe it or not, he's the Big 12's No. 2 returning rusher, behind A&M's Gray. Darrian Miller burst onto the scene this spring, and figures to be a big part of the team in the fall. I see him being the Jayhawks' biggest home-run threat. DeShaun Sands and Brandon Bourbon offer even more depth at the position.

6. Texas Tech

The Red Raiders lose backfield constant Baron Batch, but have a good group lined up for 2011. Tommy Tuberville's effort to establish a more efficient running game is a realistic possibility with Eric Stephens as the likely feature back, and Aaron Crawford, Ben McRoy and Harrison Jeffers in the mix. True freshman Ronnie Daniels' strong spring likely earned him some time, too, rather than a redshirt.

7. Baylor

Baylor loses a 1,200-yard rusher in Jay Finley, and figures to use a thunder-and-lightning approach with 6-foot, 240-pound bowling ball Terrance Ganaway and shifty, 5-foot-9, 205-pound Jarred Salubi. Glasco Martin, a more balanced back, may earn a few carries, too. Regardless of who has the ball, life is good for Baylor backs, who get a bit more room from defenses that are forced to respect Robert Griffin III's legs.

8. Kansas State

The Wildcats' top two rushers, including two-time league rushing champ Daniel Thomas, are gone. Hopes are high for Wichita native and former blue-chip back Bryce Brown, but he's still entrenched in a position battle with John Hubert and Robert Rose heading into fall camp.

9. Texas

Texas brings back a pair of seniors in Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson, but if the Longhorns are going to climb up this ladder by year's end (and they might) it's likely to be on the back of hyped incoming freshman Malcolm Brown, who is on campus and set to begin fall camp. D.J. Monroe might be the fastest player in the Big 12, but he'll have to master the nuances of pass blocking to get more than a few touches every game. Jeremy Hills can offer some depth at the position, too, after Tre Newton was forced to quit the game because of concussions.

10. Iowa State

Shontrelle Johnson showed some flash last year, but he still brings just 35 career carries into his 2011 effort to replace Alexander Robinson. Jeff Woody and James White offer a bit more depth, too. Florida native DeVondrick Nealy might get into the mix if he can put together a strong fall camp.

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