Dallas Colleges: David Ash

Ash 'at peace' with decision to stop playing

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
7:08
PM CT
video

AUSTIN, Texas -- After three difficult weeks of contemplation, David Ash is ready to move on from football and begin the rest of his life.

The former Texas Longhorns quarterback held a 25-minute news conference Monday and offered his first public comments since his concussion symptoms returned after an Aug. 30 win against North Texas.

He explained why, after consulting with Texas coach Charlie Strong and team doctors, he knew he needed to stop playing in the interest of his health and future.

"I'm at peace with that. God has given me a peace," Ash said. "I have a lot of hope and a lot of belief that there's still awesome days ahead for me."

Ash said he experienced headaches for seven or eight days after the 38-7 victory over North Texas, his first game since Sept. 2013. That painful week brought some needed closure.

"At the core of my heart of hearts," Ash said, "I knew I shouldn't be playing."

To read the full story, click here.

Timeline: Ash's yearlong concussion battle

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
10:00
PM CT
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas quarterback David Ash has elected to retire due to concussion-related symptoms, ending a 376-day saga that began with one hit in Provo, Utah, and ultimately led to the 22-game starter's decision that his playing days are over. The following is an updated timeline of how we got here.

Sept. 7, 2013: Ash exits a 40-21 loss to BYU late in the fourth quarter after suffering a concussion. He does not play against Ole Miss the following week.

Sept. 20: Texas announces Ash has been cleared by UT medical staff to start against Kansas State. He'd participated in his first practice since the concussion two days earlier after being symptom-free for at least 48 hours.

Sept. 21: Ash passes for 166 yards and guides Texas to a 17-7 halftime lead over K-State, then is held out for the second half. Team trainers evaluate him for concussion symptoms.

[+] EnlargeTexas' David Ash
AP Photo/Eric GayDavid Ash suffered several hard hits on Saturday against North Texas.
Nov. 16: Ash attends his first Texas football game since Kansas State, a home loss to Oklahoma State.

Nov. 25: Texas officially announces Ash is out for the season and will seek a medical redshirt. "Though he's made a lot of progress, we have not been able to clear him to return to competition," Texas trainer Kenny Boyd says in a statement. "Due to the duration of symptoms, we are now at a point that we all believe the best approach for him is to not return this season."

Jan. 18, 2014: Ash is cleared for offseason workouts and is expected to be a full participant in spring practice.

March 18: First day of spring practice. Ash returns to the practice field for the first time since September.

April 11: Ash is shut down for the final week of spring practice after suffering a "Jones fracture" in his left foot which requires surgery. Texas also announces Ash officially received a medical redshirt for missing 2013, giving him two remaining seasons of eligibility.

July 21: Texas announces Ash is fully cleared to participate in fall practice. A day later, Strong says at Big 12 media days Ash is his starting quarterback.

Aug. 4: First day of fall practice. Ash speaks to media for the first time since BYU. "A lot of people told me, 'You need to give it up, you need to quit.' Honestly, I never really thought about it," he says. "In my mind, I always knew I was going to play." He declines to discuss specifics about his concussion. When asked if he's ready to take his first hit, he declares: "Oh yeah, bring it on."

Aug. 25: During his Monday news conference, Strong refers to Ash as an "unbelievable quarterback who's had an unbelievable preseason camp." When asked again about taking his first hit in the season opener, Ash says, "I'm going to be OK. If I get hit, I'll be fine. I will be sliding a lot more this season, so you can count on that, and I'll be trying to protect myself and doing what's best for the team and taking care of my health during games so that I can last the whole season."

Aug. 30: Ash's first hit comes on the first play of Texas' second offensive drive. As he bends down to scoop up a fumbled snap, North Texas defensive end Jarrian Roberts hits Ash and his shoulder collides with the crown of Ash's helmet. Ash is slow to get up but does not report an injury to UT trainers. He takes at least five more hard hits during the 38-7 win, including three to his head or neck area.

Ash does not report any injuries or symptoms to team trainers during the game. A UT spokesperson says Ash spoke with trainers immediately after he came off the field from each drive.

After the game, Ash does not speak to reporters. OC Shawn Watson describes his performance as "sporadic" with some good moments. Strong is asked about the hits Ash took. "It's all within the flow of the game," he says. "I think the officials did a great job and the thing we have to do is just do a better job protecting. ... Sometimes we see it coming and you have to remember, you're going to get hit in this game."

Around 1:30 a.m. Sunday, after leaving the stadium, Ash informs the Texas staff he's experiencing headaches and dizziness and is brought in for further evaluation. He tells Strong he thinks the first hit, by Roberts, caused his symptoms.

Sept. 1: Strong announces Ash will not play against BYU and offers no timetable for his return. He's concerned about Ash's concussion history but insists the coaching staff was unaware of any in-game symptoms. "I'm not ever going to jeopardize injury," he says. "You can never, ever in this program jeopardize a young man's health to compete in a football game."

Sept. 6: Ash is able to attend Texas' home loss against BYU and watches from the sideline in a jersey and khaki shorts. He also travels for Texas' loss to UCLA at AT&T Stadium but did not suit up.

Sept. 17: Ash meets with Strong and decides to end his playing career. Strong says there is "no way" Texas coaches or trainers would've let Ash take the field again, but the quarterback made the call on retiring and will remain involved with the team this season.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 2

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
3:17
AM CT
Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 2:

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
AP Photo/Michael ThomasIt was a long night against BYU for Texas coach Charlie Strong and his Longhorns.
1. Texas has issues beyond QB: Sure, the Longhorns were missing quarterback David Ash. But quarterback was hardly Texas’ only problem Saturday. For the second consecutive season, BYU demolished the Longhorns, this time 41-7, while handing them their worst home loss in 17 years. Missing three offensive linemen, Texas couldn’t block anyone, as running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown averaged just 2.6 yards per carry. In the second half, the Texas defense couldn’t corral BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, who had another monster outing with three rushing touchdowns against the Longhorns. Ash’s replacement, Tyrone Swoopes, actually didn’t play poorly in his first career start. But it didn’t matter. Charlie Strong was right before the season: The Longhorns aren’t ready to contend for the playoffs. Heck, as anemic as they looked against BYU -- coupled with a daunting upcoming schedule that features three top-12 teams in the next month -- they might have to scramble just to be bowl eligible.

2. Jake Waters has grit: Down two touchdowns in the second half in a hostile environment, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder put the game in the hands of his senior quarterback. That senior quarterback delivered. Waters threw for 239 yards and ran for a career-high 138 while willing the Wildcats to a hard-fought, comeback victory in Farmageddon. Waters led K-State to a potential game-tying scoring midway through the fourth quarter. But on the two-point try, he was stood up just shy of the goal line by Iowa State safety Kamari Cotton-Moya, who delivered a vicious hit to Waters’ head to keep the Cyclones ahead 28-26. Two possessions later, K-State got the ball back with 3:01 remaining, and Waters marched the Wildcats back down the field and capped the drive with a game-winning, 8-yard, touchdown scamper. K-State didn’t play its best in Ames. But Waters, Tyler Lockett and Ryan Mueller wouldn’t let the Wildcats lose. That type of grit from its stars could take K-State a long way this season.

3. Daxx Garman can spin it: The last time Garman played a snap of competitive football, he was a junior in high school in 2009. But after relieving an injured J.W. Walsh in the first quarter, the former walk-on opened up the Oklahoma State offense with his big arm. Garman completed 16 of 26 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns, as the Cowboys disposed of Missouri State 40-23. Garman's first touchdown came on an 87-yard pass to Brandon Sheperd on third-and-19, in which he threw the ball back across his body downfield for the second-longest completion in Oklahoma State history. It’s unclear just how serious Walsh’s injury is, but he came out of the locker room on crutches and wearing a boot on his right foot. Although Walsh played well in the opener against Florida State, the offense has bogged down at times in the past with him at the helm because of his limited arm strength. Garman demonstrated no such limitations, as he peppered the ball around to Oklahoma State’s deep and talented receiver crew. The Cowboys should be in good hands with Garman as long as Walsh is out. When Walsh returns, Oklahoma State will have a difficult decision about the direction to take at quarterback.

4 .K.D. Cannon is a boss: With Baylor receivers Antwan Goodley (quad), Levi Norwood (wrist), Corey Coleman (hamstring) and Clay Fuller (collarbone) all out with injuries, true freshman wideout Cannon stole the show in Baylor’s 70-6 waxing of Northwestern State. In the first half alone, Cannon had three touchdown catches and 223 receiving yards -- the second-most in school history for an entire game. Cannon will have to shoulder the receiving load while his cohorts heal up. But Cannon and fellow true freshman wideout Davion Hall, who had 78 yards receiving and a touchdown, appear more than ready.

5. Texas Tech will go nowhere with a hole in its foot: The Red Raiders survived a late scare from UTEP on Sunday morning and won 30-26, but it was hardly the performance Kliff Kingsbury was looking for after a sluggish opener this past weekend against Central Arkansas. Once again, penalties tormented the Red Raiders, who already have 25 of them through two games. One almost comedic sequence late in the third quarter underscored the epidemic. As UTEP punted on fourth-and-8, Tech was flagged because it had two players on the field wearing the same number. After the mark off, facing fourth-and-3, the Miners elected to go for it, except they wouldn’t have to snap the ball because Tech was flagged again, this time because one of its coaches was too close to the field (Tech had already received a sideline warning). Thanks to the pair of gifts, UTEP went on to score a touchdown and get back in the game. The Red Raiders have talent, particularly with their offensive skill players, but they won’t be a factor in the Big 12 if they keep shooting themselves in the foot this way.

Ex-Sooner gives Swoopes reason to believe

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
5:45
PM CT
Oklahoma might not sympathize with the Longhorns’ early-season predicament at quarterback.

But Texas’ Red River neighbor can certainly empathize.

Five years ago, the Sooners were coming off a national title appearance and Big 12 championship, and entered their opener with expectations of defending their crown. But two quarters in against BYU, Sam Bradford’s throwing arm was in a sling. Before long, Oklahoma’s season was, too.

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
AP Photo/Michael ThomasTexas will be counting on Tyrone Swoopes to run its offense with starter David Ash out indefinitely.
Against the same opponent, Texas will attempt to overcome the loss of quarterback David Ash, who is out indefinitely after concussion-related symptoms resurfaced following the first hit he took against North Texas. Ash might not be anywhere near the Heisman quarterback Bradford was. But Ash is almost as important to the Longhorns as Bradford was to the Sooners.

When it comes to Texas’ new starting quarterback, Tyrone Swoopes, who has completed only five passes in his career, Oklahoma’s 2009 season can offer no message of optimism. With inexperienced freshman Landry Jones behind center, the Sooners scuffled, quickly tumbling out of the Big 12 title race despite featuring one of the toughest defenses of the Bob Stoops era.

Another part of Oklahoma’s quarterbacking past, however, does convey an audacity of hope for the Longhorns.

In the summer of 2006, the Sooners endured their darkest days in the Stoops regime. Budding star Rhett Bomar had been receiving payment for work he wasn’t doing at a Norman car dealership. Stoops boldly booted his starting quarterback off the roster, which boldly sent Oklahoma’s offense into turmoil.

Minus Bomar, all that was left in Stoops’ official quarterback cupboard was junior college transfer Joey Halzle and a skinny incoming freshman named Sam Bradford, who, like Jerrod Heard now in Austin, wasn’t ready yet for big-time college football. The Sooners had only one other recourse: swing wide receiver Paul Thompson back to his original position of quarterback.

“It was a shock,” Thompson said. “To me. To our team.”

But the Sooners soon would overcome that shock. And after a rocky start that included a controversial onside kick call in a loss at Oregon, followed by a 28-10 loss to the Longhorns, Thompson guided Oklahoma to seven consecutive wins and another Big 12 championship.

“The situation really became a rallying cry for us,” Thompson said. “The guys had confidence in me.”

There are some distinct differences between Thompson and Swoopes.

Thompson was a senior who had already earned the respect and trust of his teammates. Even though he had been moved to receiver before the offseason, Thompson had more experience in games as a quarterback than Swoopes. And Thompson had the entire preseason to get snaps with the first-team offense; Swoopes only has the week.

“I had that rapport with the team,” Thompson said. “I was a guy who had played in some games. The team trusted me. They were comfortable with me. I don’t know or not if that’s the case or not at Texas.”

But Thompson, who grew up near Austin, does see similarities with this Texas team. Those Sooners had a veteran team elsewhere, including a powerful rushing attack and a talented front seven defensively. These Longhorns likewise have perhaps the Big 12’s best one-two punch at running back in Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown. Texas also has the pieces up front defensively to dominate in the trenches.

“The slack can’t be just picked up by the quarterback position,” Thompson said. “It’s a collective effort. They have to alter the playbook, too, to suit [Swoopes’] strengths and put him in positions to have confidence. It might be short dinks and dunks early on. But the bottom line is, the rest of the team has to rally around whoever is in there. And everyone has to step up their game a little bit to compensate.”

Thompson didn’t the set the league on fire in 2006. He finished seventh in the league in passing and completed only 61 percent of his passes. But he limited mistakes, managed the game and gave the rest of the team confidence they could still win without Bomar.

The same onus will be on Swoopes, who doesn’t have to set the Big 12 on fire, either, but has in Thompson, a past model for success.

“[Swoopes] can’t be scared; he has to show confidence, and at least fake it until he [gets] it,” Thompson said. “The schedule is tough and the wheels could come off. But if he doesn’t hurt the team, and gets some confidence. … Things could end up all right there.”

Big 12 mailbag

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
4:00
PM CT
In Tuesday's mailbag we talk Texas Tech problems, a potential West Virginia letdown along with the quarterback situations at Oklahoma State and Texas. Thanks for your questions this week, you can submit questions for next week's mailbag here.

On to the mailbag:

Schloss in Falling Waters, West Virginia, writes: As a WVU alumnus, I am happy to see we have made good progress since last season. There is little doubt that we have definitely improved. But should 'Eer fans be worried about an Alabama hangover? Does WVU continue to build on its strong showing versus the Tide or does it take a step back in Week 2?

Brandon Chatmon: Mountaineer fans should be worried because we see teams that are overwhelming favorites struggle each week during nonconference play. But I think the Mountaineers are hungry and will look at the Alabama result as proof of their potential to be better than last season and strive to make a statement that they plan to rise up the Big 12 standings this season. As impressive as their showing was, it was still a loss. So I think WVU will come out hungry for the satisfaction of a victory.




John in Hillsboro, Ohio writes: So ... in this new playoff era, how can a Big 12 team, even undefeated, hope to get to the playoffs with no conference championship and traditionally weak nonconference scheduling?

Chatmon: I don’t see a scenario where an undefeated Big 12 champion is on the outside looking in when playoff berths are handed out.




Michael in Lubbock, Texas writes: It’s one thing to come out flat against an FCS team, but what's most troubling about Texas Tech's "embarrassing" performance was the same problems that you know they worked on all offseason keep biting them -- turnovers, penalties, bad special teams play and the defense getting blown off the line and unable to get off the field. How do they fix it?

Chatmon: The problems with penalties and turnovers is what bothered me the most as well, Michael. The Red Raiders didn’t play with urgency or take the field to dominate Central Arkansas. They clearly just wanted to show up and get their win. Kliff Kingsbury has been stressing penalties and turnovers, yet they’re still an issue which makes me think it won’t change until the players take more pride and ownership over being masters of the details. Everything is fixable, but Kingsbury's squad needs to understand the value of every game, every play and every opportunity.




Andy in Austin, Texas writes: Given his history of concussions, does Texas quarterback David Ash finally retire? And who does Strong give the reins to, Tyrone Swoopes or Jerrod Heard?

Chatmon: I hope so. We’ve reached the point where it’s not about David Ash the football player anymore. As far as where UT goes from here, here is what I would do if I was Charlie Strong. I would start preparing to hand the offense over to Heard. I'd tell Swoopes he gets the start this weekend but I think Heard is the future and that we’re going to get Heard ready to take over, starting with multiple series against BYU, then see how Swoopes responds. Best-case scenario is Swoopes steps his game up and either Heard earns the job and beats him out or Swoopes refuses to let this opportunity to start get away from him. That would be a win-win for the Longhorns.




John Wheeler writes: When comparing the defensive efforts of Texas and Baylor, which seems to point to more long-term success and which was more a result of opponent?

Chatmon: I think both defensive performances point to long-term success. Both defenses have terrific athletes and were dominant over the weekend so I expect both to be among the Big 12’s best. The thing I liked most about the performances was the relentless nature of the Longhorns and Bears defenses. That’s what you’re supposed to do against inferior opponents.




Matt Truelove writes: Even though J.W. Walsh almost led the Cowboys to victory vs. FSU, do you think he'll end the year as the starter for the Cowboys?

Chatmon: That’s an interesting question. I think ultimately the Cowboys quarterback will be decided by the defense they are facing as a season progresses. Walsh will be the guy until defenses load up to stop the run-heavy approach that highlights the junior’s strengths. When that happens Daxx Garman or Mason Rudolph will be counted on to make defenses respect the passing game. If all bets are off and it was only up to Mike Gundy and company, I think Walsh would get the bulk of the snaps because of his unquestioned leadership ability. But I fully expect the Pokes to adapt when defenses force their hand as the season goes on. So, to answer your question, I don’t think OSU will have an clear No. 1 signal-caller this fall, with Walsh sitting atop the queue and Garman/Rudolph ready to go when needed.

Big 12 roundtable: Injuries and surprises

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
11:00
AM CT
Just one week into the season, several storylines have developed in the Big 12 -- not all of them positive ones. We break down some of those storylines in our weekly Big 12 roundtable:

On a scale of 1-10, how big of an impact is David Ash's injury to Texas' season?

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesThe return of David Ash didn't last long, throwing Texas' season into peril.
Chatmon: 4. If the Texas coaches weren’t planning to play without Ash this season they aren’t very smart. It’s just that simple. Ash’s injury history, particularly the head injuries, means playing without him should have been at the forefront of Charlie Strong’s mind. It definitely hurts however, as Ash was the Longhorns best option at quarterback but ultimately UT should have been planning to lean on its defense to decide its destiny from Day One anyway.

Trotter: 9. Who knows when -- or even if -- Ash will be able to return to the lineup for the Longhorns this season? The timing of Ash's injury combined with the timing of a brutal upcoming schedule could send Texas' season south in a hurry. Tyrone Swoopes or Jerrod Heard might be fine quarterbacks in time. But Heard has been on campus just a few weeks. And in the spring, Swoopes looked nowhere near ready to quarterback Texas to wins over BYU, UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma, which, by the way, are four teams Texas plays in its next five games. Maybe Swoopes has improved dramatically since the spring. Maybe Ash will return shortly. But the biggest question to Texas having success in Strong's first season -- Ash staying healthy -- has already been answered. And not in the way Texas fans had hoped.

Olson: 11, possibly 12. Charlie Strong went into this season with the same belief Mack Brown held last summer: If Ash is good, we're going to be pretty good. Losing him on his first hit of the season is the absolute nightmare scenario, because there's no guarantee he'll ever come back and there's no guarantee the backup can get the job done. A senior like Case McCoy is not walking through that door. Texas once again must scramble to retool its offense and, once again, the previous staff's failures in recruiting quarterback depth are being exposed.

Other than Oklahoma State and West Virginia, what surprised you most last weekend?

Chatmon: Texas Tech’s struggles to pull away from Central Arkansas was a surprise. I expected Kliff Kingsbury’s squad to cruise to a double digit victory, but they couldn’t seem to take control of the game. The most disappointing aspect of the game was turnovers and penalties continuing to make life more difficult than it needed to be for Tech. The Red Raiders have the ability to become major players in the Big 12 race this season but that won’t happen if they’re constantly shooting themselves in the foot.

Trotter: Thee biggest surprise to me was Iowa State's dismal performance against North Dakota State. I really thought the Cyclones had the chance to form a competent offensive attack with a proven play-caller in Mark Mangino, an experienced offensive line and talent at the skill positions. Through the first quarter, that looked like the case. But after injuries to Quenton Bundrage and Tom Farniok the offense completely fell apart, while the Iowa State defensive front got dominated in the trenches. One game in, Iowa State's bowl hopes already look like a long shot.

Olson: I did think Iowa State could get upset by North Dakota State, but I didn't expect a blowout. Throughout the offseason we were led to believe the Cyclones had renovated their offense and were on track to become a bowl-quality team again. That might still be the case, but losing Farniok and Bundrage was crushing, and ISU's run defense was embarrassing in the 20-point loss. They could be in for a rough run to start this season.

Other than Swoopes, what storyline are you most interested in this weekend?

Chatmon: I’m interested to see if there’s any letdown from Oklahoma State and West Virginia as home favorites after strong showings in losses to open the season. The Cowboys face Missouri State and the Mountaineers face Towson in games they should dominate. If OSU and WVU are the type of teams they looked like to open the season, they will roll on Saturday. If they aren’t, they’ll let their overmatched opponents make the games closer than they should be.

Trotter: I'll be watching to see how the Texas defense performs in a revenge game against BYU. The Longhorns were embarrassed in Provo last year. Now, even more pressure will be on them with Texas' quarterback shuffle. The Longhorns have the talent defensively to dominate, and carry the team through this quarterback transition. But will they? We're about to find out.

Olson: The rematch of Taysom Hill vs. Texas' defense. Last season, he torched the Longhorns for 259 rushing yards and three TDs and nobody saw it coming. The nation's No. 3 rushing quarterback in 2013 looked sharper and improved as a passer in his debut vs. UConn last week. Texas' defense was spectacular against North Texas, and its players want revenge. Charlie Strong's staff should have a much better plan for containing Hill and the zone read, but this going to be a four-quarter chess match.

Texas QB David Ash won't play vs. BYU

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
2:11
PM CT

Texas quarterback David Ash, who missed most of last season with concussion symptoms, was injured again and will miss this week's game against BYU.

Ash took several hard hits in a 38-7 win over North Texas. Longhorns coach Charlie Strong says Ash didn't show any symptoms during the game, but that the coaching staff got a call later that night.

To continue reading this story, click here.

Best case, worst case: Texas

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
3:00
PM CT
Last week, we started our series on the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each Big 12 team.

The premise of these fun posts is to examine what the season might look like if everything falls into place for each school -- the best-case scenario for 2014. Conversely, we’ll also show what might happen if everything goes wrong -- the worst-case scenario.

We continue the series today with Texas.

BEST CASE

Mack Brown’s debut season at Texas featured a Heisman Trophy winner (Ricky Williams), a 9-3 record and a win in the Cotton Bowl. Tough act to follow, but why not try?

To kick off this run, David Ash takes the boot off his left foot in early July and the word “injury” is never whispered for the rest of his career. The Longhorns don’t need much from him to beat down North Texas in the opener, not with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray each rushing for 100 yards.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Rick BowmerDavid Ash missed most of the 2013 season with a concussion and fractured his foot in spring practice.
The team doesn't need much motivation against BYU, either. Texas exorcises last year’s demons by holding BYU to an unprecedented minus-550 rushing yards.

Even with Ash’s physical invincibility, Texas is challenged by a top-10 UCLA team. Trailing 28-20 early in the fourth quarter, Charlie Strong elects to insert freshman Jerrod Heard. He goes off on the Bruins, throwing for a touchdown and rushing for two more to pull off the upset. Texas goes to 3-0 and No. 10 in the polls.

Strong sticks with Heard the rest of the season and he throws for 3,707 yards and 27 touchdowns, plus 1,411 rushing yards and 22 more TDs. It’s not enough to win the Heisman, but Heard does finish second and inspires a recruiting run in December and January the likes of which this state has never seen.

So Texas beats UCLA and then has a close call at Kansas – Ash’s fourth-quarter cameo saves the day – before the big home game against No. 4 Baylor. Final score: Texas 6, Baylor 3.

Next up: No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 5 Texas. Blake Bell – yes, the Sooners go back to Blake Bell – throws for 130 yards and two interceptions and Texas wins 49-17. That makes six games in a row that Gray and Brown have each gone for 100-plus.

Texas takes care of Iowa State and Kansas State, but a nail-biter in Lubbock ends in heartbreak when Davis Webb connects with Jakeem Grant for the game-winner with 1 second left, evoking comparisons to the ending in 2008. Texas is despondent, but still No. 9 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

They beat West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU but finish in the dreaded No. 5 spot. In an incredibly close vote, the committee’s sixth tiebreaker is Strong’s April 21 statement that Texas will not play for a national championship. Alabama secures the No. 4 spot and is one of three SEC teams in the inaugural playoff.

Texas settles for a spot in the Sugar Bowl and beats LSU 33-23. Gray and Brown each finish with 1,500 rushing yards and join Cedric Reed and Quandre Diggs in earning All-America honors. A record-breaking 15 Longhorns are selected in the NFL draft.

WORST CASE

Texas has no troubles against North Texas – in fact, a healthy Ash looks encouragingly good – and folks are feeling good about the beginning of the Strong era.

But then Texas loses to BYU thanks to more heroics from Taysom Hill and his knee brace-aided touchdown runs, and this reeling team isn’t ready for the big stage in Jerry World against UCLA. Brett Hundley raises his Heisman stock with a big game and the Longhorns’ inability-to-tackle woes are again a trend.

Texas coaches have two weeks to prepare Heard for the Big 12 opener against Kansas, but they stick with Ash the rest of the season and let the rookie redshirt. Ash’s final numbers are solid, all in all – he returns to putting up top-25 passing numbers in several metrics, as he did in 2012 – but by the end of the season the Longhorns have no more confidence in their quarterback situation than they did on June 25.

Texas gets to 2-2 with a win over Kansas, then gives up 45 points to Baylor in a game that gets out of hand in the second half. Art Briles wears his Big 12 title belt on the sideline the entire fourth quarter.

Despite a valiant effort in a closer-than-expected battle, Texas still comes up just short against Oklahoma and drops to 2-4.

Texas does get to six wins by beating Iowa State, Kansas State, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, but hardly anyone notices. The nation is too captivated by a playoff race that ends with Oklahoma, Baylor, Alabama and Florida State making the College Football Playoff. The Sooners win it all.

But Texas’ humiliation doesn’t end there. The AdvoCare Texas Bowl jumps at the chance to pit the 6-6 Longhorns against a 6-6 Texas A&M team in Houston. The Aggies get the last laugh on a field goal as time expires.

Big 12 signs of success in 2014

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
1:30
PM CT
There can be various signs of success in the Big 12.

This fall there will be Big 12 players whose individual success could be a sign of greater things for their teams. Baylor needs someone to fill the void left by Tevin Reese, a healthy David Ash could transform Texas' season and consistent production from several players would boost their teams' chances to excel.

With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, here's a look at one stat from a player on each Big 12 team that could be a sign of success for their teams.

[+] EnlargeCorey Coleman
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsCan Baylor wideout Corey Coleman breakout in 2014?
Baylor receiver Corey Coleman's reception per game average: The Bears’ fourth leading receiver averaged 2.7 receptions and 40.5 yards per game as a redshirt freshman. With Reese moving on to the NFL, Coleman has the chance to drastically increase his per-game averages. The Bears hope his Fiesta Bowl performance -- seven receptions for 88 yards -- are a sign of things to come. If Coleman can double his average to 5 or 6 receptions and 80-plus yards per game, it could mean the Bears offense is humming yet again.

Iowa State receiver Quenton Bundrage's reception percentage: The Cyclones’ top target caught 52.7 percent of the passes thrown his way. For comparison’s sake, Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett caught 71 percent of his passes. Iowa State has been preaching consistency since the end of the season and Bundrage has said catching more consistently and limiting his drops is his primary goal. If Bundrage can up that percentage to 70 or better, it would open up the offense and open up space for the Cyclones' other receivers and running backs.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart's completion percentage: Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis wouldn’t have named Cozart his starter if he wasn’t confident the sophomore could be much improved as a passer. Cozart completed just 36.5 percent of his passes during his seven games played as a freshman. If KU’s offense is going to improve under new coordinator John Reagan, Cozart needs to aim to get his completion percentage to at least 58 percent.

Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters' sack percentage: Waters was sacked 23 times in 13 games a season ago and was sacked on 8.1 percent of his pass attempts. Only Iowa State's Sam B. Richardson had a higher sack percentage in the conference. Waters needs to do a better job of getting rid of the football and limiting negative plays this fall, particularly with the Wildcats searching for a consistent running threat early in the season with John Hubert no longer in the backfield. The senior signal-caller should be aiming to cut his sack percentage to five percent or less. While that number doesn't fall solely on his shoulders, Waters can play a key role in lowering the overall number of sacks and sack percentage.

Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight's yards per attempt: Knight struggled to be a consistent passing threat as a redshirt freshman, averaging 6.1 yards per attempt. Only Texas’ Case McCoy and KU’s Jake Heaps and Cozart finished with lower yards per attempt averages among Big 12 quarterbacks who started a game last fall. The league average was 7.2. Opposing defenses will likely try to force Knight to beat them with his arm this fall, so his accuracy and decision-making will rise to the forefront as he tries to lead OU to a College Football Playoff berth. If Knight’s 2014 season average is closer to the 7.9 yards per attempt he recorded in the Sugar Bowl, it will be a great sign for the Sooners.

Oklahoma State receiver Jhajuan Seales' touchdowns: The Cowboys need a breakout season from Seales, who could be the Pokes’ next star at the position. He had just three touchdown receptions as a redshirt freshman, but if he can triple that output in 2014 that would mean the Cowboys' quarterback questions have likely been answered and Seales has taken the next step toward stardom.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Tim SharpCan Texas signal-caller David Ash remain healthy in 2014?
Texas quarterback David Ash's pass attempts: Considering the state of the quarterback position in Austin, Texas, it would be great for Charlie Strong if Ash’s pass attempts surpass 200 for the second time in his career. It would mean Ash remained healthy and would give Strong an experienced signal-caller who has won 15 games as a starter. Injuries resulted in Ash attempting just 87 passes in 2013 so surpassing 200 pass attempts could help Strong have a successful first season.

TCU quarterback/receiver Trevone Boykin's total receptions: Boykin finished the 2013 season with 26 receptions for 204 yards despite starting six games at quarterback. He has been running the Horned Frogs' offense from behind center during the offseason, but if he finishes with more than 26 receptions in 2014, that’s a terrific sign for TCU. First, it means a solid option has emerged at quarterback allowing Boykin to slide to receiver. Second, it shows Boykin’s late season excellence as a pass catcher in 2013 was not a fluke, potentially making the Horned Frogs’ attack more explosive than it has been during the past two seasons.

Texas Tech receiver Jakeem Grant's yards per play: The junior wideout averaged 11.3 yards per play from scrimmage in 2013. The Red Raiders scored at least 30 points in every game in which Grant averaged at least 11 yards per play. Grant is a dynamic playmaker whom coach Kliff Kingsbury will try to get the ball as much as possible to help lessen the impact of losing Jace Amaro and Eric Ward. If Texas Tech increases Grant's touches and he rewards the coaching staff by averaging 12 yards per play in 2014, he has the potential to change games and help the offense continue to rank among the Big 12's best.

West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood's percentage of the Mountaineer’s total yardage: Smallwood accounted for 7.2 percent of WVU’s total yards from scrimmage as a freshman. Look for him to increase that percentage as a sophomore after a stellar spring. He could slide right into the versatile role manned by third-round pick Charles Sims. If the sophomore can match Sims’ 30.3 percent of WVU’s total yardage in 2013, it could be a great sign for the Mountaineers.

Big 12's Ultimate Road Trip: Week 12

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
3:00
PM CT
Texas and Oklahoma face tough road tests as we enter the final few weeks of the season.

For the past few weeks, we've taken a closer look at the 2014 Big 12 schedule during our Big 12's Ultimate Road Trip series. This week, we'll wrap up the series with the final stretch of the regular season.

To those unfamiliar with this series, we both pick a game featuring a Big 12 team in every week of the season that we’d cover if the travel budget were unlimited and there were no editors telling us where to go.

We’ll be basing our choices on several factors, including the quality of the matchup and the stakes that could be involved. The only restriction is that each of us can pick only one game per week.

Let’s continue with Week 12.

Nov. 15

Texas at Oklahoma State
TCU at Kansas
Oklahoma at Texas Tech

Jake Trotter’s pick: Oklahoma at Texas Tech

Depending on how the Red Raiders fare in road tests at Oklahoma State, Kansas State and TCU, this mid-November tilt could hold Big 12 title implications on either side. At the very least, it could be a huge roadblock standing in the path of Oklahoma’s Big 12 title and playoff hopes.

Traditionally, Lubbock has been a disaster zone for the Sooners, who at one point fell to Tech three straight times at Jones AT&T Stadium.

In 2005, a controversial call at the goal line lifted the Red Raiders to a game-winning touchdown. In 2007, quarterback Sam Bradford was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the first quarter of another Oklahoma loss. And in 2009, Tech simply obliterated the Sooners, who wore Nike combat uniforms that afternoon.

Oklahoma played one of its best games of the 2012 season in a victory in Lubbock. But over the years Tech has given the Sooners as many problems as any team in the conference.

This will be a prime spot for Kliff Kingsbury to earn a program-defining conference win and a chance for me to wolf down another Blue Sky cheeseburger.

Brandon Chatmon’s pick: Texas at Oklahoma State

I have a feeling this will end up being a critical game for both teams.

It will be the third road game in four weeks for Texas and the lone home game for OSU during a season-ending four-game stretch, which includes trips to Baylor and Oklahoma.

The Cowboys are 3-2 against the Longhorns over the past five seasons but, surprisingly, have not beaten UT at Boone Pickens Stadium since 1997. The last time UT played in Stillwater, Okla., David Ash had the moment of his career, leading the Longhorns to a controversial late win in a game that also could be considered the best of J.W. Walsh's career. If both quarterbacks are still taking the snaps for their respective teams, odds are it’s been a pretty good season in both Stillwater and Austin, Texas.

Simply put, I want to go to this contest because games like these show us what the coaches and players in both programs are truly about. Both teams will be physically and mentally exhausted. There will be no surprises, as both teams will be well-scouted by each other, and both teams will need a win.

And I like the odds for another great game between the two teams, so I’m making a trip to BPS hoping that it won’t be as chilly as my last couple of visits against Baylor and Oklahoma last season.

Previous weeks:

Week 1: Trotter -- SMU at Baylor; Chatmon -- West Virginia vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)

Week 2: Trotter -- Kansas State at Iowa State; Chatmon -- Kansas State at Iowa State

Week 3: Trotter -- Texas vs. UCLA (in Arlington); Chatmon -- Tennessee at Oklahoma

Week 4: Trotter -- Auburn at Kansas State; Chatmon -- Auburn at Kansas State

Week 5: Trotter -- Texas Tech at Oklahoma State; Chatmon -- Baylor at Iowa State

Week 6: Trotter -- Baylor at Texas; Chatmon -- Baylor at Texas

Week 7: Trotter -- Texas vs. Oklahoma; Chatmon -- TCU at Baylor

Week 8: Trotter -- Kansas State at Oklahoma; Chatmon -- Oklahoma State at TCU

Week 9: Trotter -- Texas Tech at TCU; Chatmon -- Texas at Kansas State

Week 10: Trotter -- Texas at Texas Tech; Chatmon -- TCU at West Virginia

Week 11: Trotter -- Baylor at Oklahoma; Chatmon -- Baylor at Oklahoma
In this week's mailbag we discuss scheduling, Charlie Strong tempering expectations and quarterbacks David Ash, Trevor Knight and Jake Waters.

Remember, to submit a mailbag entry, simply go here.

Without further ado, to the ‘bag we go:

Justin in Dallas writes: Sure, Kliff Kingsbury has gotten some studs, and West Virginia is off to a hot start, but are you really going to talk about recruiting in the Big 12 and not mention Baylor? I think the blinders might be on, and you could be forgetting where Baylor’s recruiting was just a few years ago. This class, though inherently small, could be one of the best ever in Waco.

Trotter: I have no idea what makes you feel slighted, but we’ve mentioned Baylor’s impressive recruiting haul multiple times. Think about this -- Baylor has six of the league’s 22 ESPN 300 commitments. That’s better than 27 percent. And the Bears aren’t done, either. This could wind up being a top-15 class.


Steve in Phoenix writes: Does the loss of Daniel Sams at K-State help Jake Waters’ chance of a standout season? Now, he can bomb away every game if he (or rather coach Bill Snyder) wants. I know I am reaching here but there has to be a bright side to this thing.

Trotter: Sorry, you’re reaching, Steve. Waters was going to be the unequivocal starter whether Sams had stayed or not. Waters was never going to be looking over his shoulder, especially considering Sams had changed positions during the spring. The bottom line is, the Wildcats lost a big-time playmaker, who is going to be making those plays now for McNeese State.


James in El Paso, Texas, writes: Jake, Texas' backfield is going to good again this year, and maybe even great. Do you see the Longhorns winning 10 games this year if David Ash can return as the starter, and stay healthy for the entire year?

Trotter: If Ash is healthy for the entire season, that changes Texas’ outlook substantially. The Longhorns have the most experienced offense and defense returning in the Big 12, and there’s not a weak unit on the team other than quarterback and possibly placekicker. If Ash stays healthy and finally realizes his potential, Texas could be formidable. But that’s a Texas-sized if.


J.J. in Tumalo, Ore., writes: Jake, good article on Big 12 scheduling last week. But if Baylor goes 12-0 playing three complete stiffs out of conference and Oregon goes 12-1 with an out of conference win against Michigan State, why would the committee select Baylor over the Ducks? Thanks for the great blog.

Trotter: We really don’t know yet how the committee is going to select the four playoff teams. I would think that any Power-5 team that goes undefeated would be a virtual lock. Where Baylor is going to run into trouble with its scheduling is if it goes 11-1. Nonconference scheduling is likely going to carry a lot of weight in differentiating one-loss teams for the playoff. Given its nonconference slate, that wouldn't bode well for Baylor.


Trevor Collins in Burleson, Texas, writes: Even as an avid Longhorn fan, I recognized Trevor Knight’s brilliant performance in the bowl game. But I don’t really think he’s fully proven himself for a whole season. Looking back at last season, he really didn’t play a significant role in most of the Sooners’ games, and when he did his stats weren’t that great. I just feel OU is being a little overrated right now, and I’m not just saying this because I’m a UT fan. What happens if Knight doesn’t work out?

Trotter: There’s no doubt that Knight has much to prove, considering he’s only started and finished three games so far in his career (Louisiana-Monroe, Kansas State, Alabama). But there’s also no denying the talent Knight showcased in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Don’t forget about the return of nine defensive starters, which is another big reason why the Sooners are getting so much preseason love. I agree, after the inconsistency last season, there’s still much for this team to prove. But there’s a lot to like, too, especially if Knight plays anywhere near the level he did in the Sugar Bowl.


Ben in Dallas writes: Do you think it was a smart or dumb move for Charlie Strong to temper fan expectations during his tour? On one hand fans might be happier with moderate improvement. On the other hand isn't fan enthusiasm during games a problem? Telling the Texas faithful they have a shot at the playoffs might solve that.

Trotter: I liked it. For too long Texas has been playing against expectations that didn’t really reflect where the team actually was. Mack Brown told everyone he ran into that the 2013 team was going to be the one that was going to take Texas back to the top. That looked utterly ridiculous after BYU obliterated the Longhorns in Week 2. Anyone who watched the Texas spring game knows the Longhorns are still a ways off from contending for a playoff spot. They could always surprise. But Strong tempering expectations will help alleviate the pressure that has enveloped the program.

Most indispensable player: Texas

May, 29, 2014
May 29
3:00
PM CT
Since last week, we’ve been examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts, so no need to worry about a jinx.

We continue with the Texas Longhorns.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Tim SharpDavid Ash needs to stay healthy given the lack of experience behind him.
Most indispensable player: Quarterback David Ash

With a healthy Ash, there’s no limit to what can happen during Charlie Strong’s first season. Good and bad.

At one point, USC transfer Max Wittek joining the Longhorns was considered a given. Now, with Wittek likely headed elsewhere, the spotlight on Ash’s health turns up a notch.

Ash is the lone experienced quarterback on the roster, and he has shown the ability to win big games for the Longhorns during his three years in Austin, Texas. The junior will enter the season with a 63.2 completion percentage, 4,538 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and 18 interceptions while starting 21 of 28 career games. That level of experience is hard to duplicate.

In 2012, when Ash started 12 games, the Longhorns went 9-3 with him under center. An injury-riddled 2013 has made it easy to forget Ash’s upside, but he was coming off a strong sophomore campaign and, if he can remain healthy, he could become the key playmaker in UT’s offense.

The inexperience behind him makes Ash’s health even more important. UT has two talented options in Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard, but this fall isn’t the time for the Longhorns to deal with the ups and downs that come with inexperience. Swoopes remains relatively raw, and Heard could use some time to get used to the demands of college football.

Disappointment has become all too common in Austin, so Strong’s squad needs to win now. And Ash has the proven ability to help make Strong’s first season a success.

Burnt Orange Breakdown: David Ash

May, 28, 2014
May 28
10:00
AM CT
Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series will take a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from them. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 14 David Ash
Junior quarterback

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Tim SharpThe Longhorns need QB David Ash to stay healthy in 2014.
Recruitment rewind: Ash committed to Texas at a 2010 junior day and never looked back. His other offers at the time were TCU and Houston, and Texas A&M showed interest. The four-star from Belton, Texas, was the nation’s No. 11 quarterback in his class and threw for 7,944 yards and 80 TDs (plus 22 rushing TDs), setting 13 schools records. He enrolled early in the spring of 2011.

Career so far: How can we sum this up in 100 words? Ash was thrust into the lineup as a true freshman, starting six games after Texas lost Garrett Gilbert. He beat out Case McCoy for the starting job in 2012 and threw for 2,699 yards and 19 TDs as a sophomore. Ash was poised to take on a leadership role last season, but suffered a concussion against BYU that would end up sidelining him for 10 games. He returned this spring but went down again, this time with a foot fracture. Ash has a 15-7 career record as a starter.

Best-case scenario for 2014: How’s this for an optimistic ceiling? Ash stays healthy for all 13 games and earns second-team All-Big 12 honors, leading Texas to a 9- or 10-win season and a shot at the conference title. Texas fans would take that in a heartbeat. Shawn Watson can bring out the best in him and help tailor an offense to Ash’s needs. He’s a fourth-year player who’s had a few great performances (rewatch this one, this one and/or this one if you’ve forgotten) and can silence a lot of critics this fall. The run game will provide some big help and guys rally around Ash when he gets on a good roll.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Texas fans worry Ash could be one hit away from ending his career. Obviously, that is the greatest fear. But a more realistic worst-case outcome for Ash and for Texas in 2014 would be if Ash played with frustrating inconsistency and lost his job to freshman Jerrod Heard before season’s end. If he starts slow, you’ll hear a lot of chatter about how long the leash is for Ash before Charlie Strong and the staff goes in a different direction. Texas can’t afford to get stuck in the limbo of not knowing whether to stick with Ash or move on.

Future expectations: Ash’s biggest supporters in Belton have always believed he’ll develop into an NFL-caliber quarterback, and physically all the tools are there. Assuming he will be a smarter decision-maker in his fourth year than he was as a sophomore, Ash could be poised for that big jump he should’ve made in 2013. There a bunch of variables in play here -- new head coach, third OC in three years, new scheme -- but first and foremost he has to heal up and stay on the field.

Strong and weak: Texas Longhorns

May, 21, 2014
May 21
3:00
PM CT
The last two weeks, we’ve been examining the strongest and weakest positions for each team in the Big 12 heading into the fall.

We continue the series with the Texas Longhorns:

Strongest position: Running back

Not only does Texas have the best one-two punch at running back in the Big 12, the Longhorns might also have the league’s best two overall running backs.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesA healthy Johnathan Gray will make the Longhorns' backfield deep and talented.
Before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury Nov. 9 at West Virginia last year, Johnathan Gray was well on his way to having an all-conference-caliber season. Despite getting limited touches at times, Gray rushed for at least 89 yards during a six-game span and was well on his way to achieving the feat again against the Mountaineers until the Achilles injury.

Malcolm Brown picked up where Gray left off and rushed for 128, 131 and 130 yards in Texas’ final three games while averaging almost five yards per a carry. From the beginning of November to the bowl season, Brown was the Big 12’s leading rusher, with an average of 112 yards per game.

Soon, Brown will be getting his backfield mate back. Gray missed the spring while recuperating, but coach Charlie Strong has said he’s hopeful Gray will be cleared by mid-June.

Either player is a handful for an opposing defense. Together, when healthy, they’re a load.

Both can catch passes out of the backfield. Both can pound the ball between the tackles. Both can make opponents miss in the open field. Both have experience shouldering the rushing load.

And with veteran Joe Bergeron (assuming he rejoins the squad) and big-play threat Jalen Overstreet flanking Gray and Brown, as well, the running back position gives Strong a foundation piece on offense in his first season.

Weakest position: Quarterback

The Longhorns really only have one glaring weakness on their roster, but it’s a weakness that has plagued the program since Colt McCoy was behind center.

For the fifth straight year, quarterback once again is a position of concern for the Longhorns heading into a season.

David Ash, the only quarterback on the team with any meaningful experience, missed most of last season with lingering concussion issues, then missed most of this spring with a fractured foot.

Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes struggled mightily through the first half of Texas’ spring practice and doesn’t look ready to take over a Big 12 offense.

And since former USC Trojans QB Max Wittek appears unlikely to transfer to Texas now, that leaves incoming freshman Jerrod Heard as Texas’ only other quarterback option.

Ash has the ability to lead Texas into Big 12 title contention. At times in his career he’s been excellent, including in the 2012 Alamo Bowl victory over Oregon State. But over three seasons, Ash has yet to display the week-to-week consistency needed to guide a team to a conference title. Now, who knows how the concussion issues might affect the remainder of his career?

Swoopes, in place of Ash, ended up posting a decent box score line in Texas’ spring game. But facing the Horns’ second-team defense, Swoopes’ first four drives ended with an interception, a punt, a three-and-out and a missed field goal after his first three offensive plays failed to net a single yard. Swoopes’ only first-quarter completion came on a screen pass.

There's no doubt, Swoopes has potential, with good mobility and a big arm. But he seems at least another year in the system away from realizing any of that potential.

That leaves Heard, who is the sixth-best incoming dual-threat quarterback recruit in the country. Heard is skilled and a winner, having led his high school team to a pair of state championships. But he'll also be a true freshman. And if Texas is forced to play a true freshman at quarterback, it will only further underscore its weakness at the position going into the season.
Two weeks ago, we ranked every team in the Big 12 position-by-position coming out of the spring. Putting that together, we’ve ranked the overall league position-by-position. In other words, what is the league’s strongest position? What is its weakest?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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