Dallas Colleges: DeAndre Washington

As a true freshman, Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine exploded for more than 1,700 yards last season to capture the Big 12 rushing title.

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Who has the best chance to dethrone Samaje Perine as Big 12 rushing champ?

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    15%
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    18%
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    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,173)

But with the Sooners transitioning to an air raid offense, could Perine be dethroned as Big 12 rushing champ in 2015? And if so, who has the best shot of dethroning him?

We put the latter question to you in our weekly Big 12 poll.

Baylor running back Shock Linwood is firmly on the list of contenders. Last season in his first as the Bears’ featured back, Linwood finished second only to Perine in the Big 12 with 1,252 rushing yards. Though Linwood got 251 carries last year, the Bears could lean on him and the ground game even more next season with quarterback Bryce Petty gone.

TCU’s Aaron Green could also have a chance playing on the Big 12’s other premier offense. Among backs with at least 50 carries, Green led the conference with an average of 7.15 yards per carry. After stepping into the starting lineup for an injured B.J. Catalon, Green shined with 544 yards over the Horned Frogs’ final five games. With opposing defenses having to game plan against stopping quarterback Trevone Boykin first, Green should have plenty of open running lanes again in 2015.

Texas Tech has never been known for its running backs. But the Red Raiders currently have a good one in DeAndre Washington, who became the first Texas Tech back in 16 years to top the 1,000-yard rushing threshold. Some of Washington’s touches will come via the pass on screens and swing throws. But with Washington in the backfield, the Red Raiders are sure to run the ball often again.

West Virginia could be running the ball often, as well. Quarterback Clint Trickett and wide receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford are gone. But Rushel Shell returns in the backfield. The former Pitt transfer finished fifth in the Big 12 in rushing last year despite missing two games with an ankle injury. With the Mountaineers retooling the passing attack, Shell could emerge as the focal point of Dana Holgorsen’s offense.

Linwood, Green, Washington and Shell aren’t the only backs who could factor into the rushing title.

Texas’ Johnathan Gray won’t be splitting carries with Malcolm Brown anymore. Gray wasn’t quite the same runner after suffering an Achilles tear in 2013. But perhaps another year away from the injury will be rejuvenating for him.

Oklahoma State has boasted several 1,000-yard rushers under Mike Gundy, and four-star junior-college transfer Chris Carson has the potential to be the next to do so.

Kansas’ Corey Avery was one of the league’s top true freshman last year.

Now, it's your turn to tell us what you think. Let us know by casting your vote in the poll.

2015 Too-Early Big 12 Power Rankings

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
10:00
AM CT
» More 2015 Too-Early Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
11/23/14
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It was a good weekend to be a running back, and a trio of signal-callers staked their claim for the future. Here are the Big 12's top performers for Week 13:

Oklahoma RB Samaje Perine: The numbers say plenty: 34 carries, 427 yards, five touchdowns, 12.6 yards per carry. But it was a record-setting day for the true freshman, who broke Melvin Gordon’s week-long record for single-game rushing yardage in the FBS in OU's 44-7 win over Kansas. Perine also became the first player in FBS history to rush for at least 200 yards in both halves of a single game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Vision, physicality, durability, speed ... Perine has it all.

Oklahoma blockers: Sure, the Sooners' offensive line deserves the bulk of the credit as Perine repeatedly cruised untouched into the Jayhawks' secondary. But the Sooners' fullbacks, tight ends and receivers deserve their share of the accolades as well because Perine doesn’t have eight carries of 20 yards or more without downfield blocking by OU’s skill players. OU’s starting line of Daryl Williams, Ty Darlington, Adam Shead, Nila Kasitati, Tyrus Thompson built the foundation and fullbacks Aaron Ripkowski and Dimitri Flowers built upon that foundation.

Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes: The Red Raiders might have something in the true freshman quarterback who spurned professional baseball to play in Lubbock. Making his third collegiate start, Mahomes was 23-of-35 for 325 yards and four touchdowns with one interception in Tech’s 34-31 win over Iowa State. He was clutch in the fourth quarter, leading the Red Raiders on a touchdown drive to take the lead then converting a key third down with a 9-yard run to seal the win on the next drive.

Iowa State RB Aaron Wimberly: The Cyclones running back averaged 5.4 yards per carry in the loss. He had 19 carries for 102 yards and two touchdowns. He also added three receptions for 22 yards. Wimberly was a consistent threat for ISU’s offense, helping the Cyclones finish with 569 total yards.

Texas Tech RB DeAndre Washington: A dynamic running threat for Tech all season long, Washington had 20 carries for 186 yards (9.3 yards per carry) and one touchdown. He added two receptions for 51 yards and another score. He becomes the first Red Raider to rush for 1,000 yards since 1998 (Ricky Williams) and the seventh in school history.

Baylor RBs Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin: The Bears' pair of running backs combined for 219 rushing yards in Baylor's 49-28 win over Oklahoma State. Linwood had 21 carries for 113 yards and one touchdown. Chafin had 21 carries for 106 yards and three touchdowns. On a rainy night at McLane Stadium, Art Briles' squad turned to the running game and the Bears' running back duo didn’t disappoint.

Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph: The Cowboys may have found themselves an answer at quarterback for the final game against Oklahoma and beyond. The true freshman finished 13-of-25 for 281 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his first collegiate game. OSU’s 28 points was its most since a 37-20 win over Iowa State on Oct. 4.

Kansas State WR Tyler Lockett: The Wildcats' dynamic playmaker had 321 all-purpose yards in K-State's 26-20 win over West Virginia on Thursday night. Lockett had 10 receptions for 196 yards and added a 43-yard punt return for a touchdown. Week in and week out, Lockett makes a strong case to be known as the Big 12's toughest player to stop.

West Virginia QB Skyler Howard: The junior college transfer came off the bench to pass for 198 yards and two touchdowns. He completed 15 of 23 passes to spark a late rally by the Mountaineers and could get the opportunity to see more time behind center in WVU's final regular-season game against Iowa State next Saturday.

Reality of rebuild hitting Texas, Texas Tech

October, 29, 2014
10/29/14
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Kliff Kingsbury, Charlie StrongIcon Sportswire, AP PhotoKliff Kingsbury and Charlie Strong both lead 3-5 teams in the midst of a rebuilding process.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Vance Bedford was describing with admiration what Bob Stoops built at Oklahoma when, as the loquacious Texas defensive coordinator is prone to do, he swerved off course. A children’s fable had come to mind.

“We are not where we need to be, but it's going in the right direction. It's just one brick at a time. One step at a time,” Bedford said earlier this month. “I know people now say Texas is this and Texas is that. Stay right here. Just like the three little pigs.

“We aren't building a straw house here, guys. We're building a brick house that is going to withstand a whole lot of things in time. A straw house is built real fast. When a strong wind comes by, it's gone real fast. A brick house will withstand a hurricane, a tornado. It's going to stand tall. It's going to stand a long time.”

There’s no one wolf to blame for the mighty winds that have blown through Austin and Lubbock this fall. For Texas and Texas Tech, both 3-5 and clinging to the faint hope of a bowl game, a frustrating season has offered humbling reminders about the reality of a true rebuild. They’ll meet on Saturday night amid different phases of the same difficult construction.

What Tech built up last season under Kliff Kingsbury was a house with more sticks than bricks. A 7-0 start beget irrational expectations. You can’t reasonably expect Big 12 titles right away from a first-time head coach, or at least you shouldn’t. The bar of public perception was raised too high, too fast.

And then the Red Raiders lost five in a row. They saved face in their bowl game, but the damage was done. They’ve spent 2014 in a frustratingly fruitless chase to get back what they briefly had a year ago.

“It's in there,” Kingsbury said earlier this season. “We’ve just got to get it out and find a way to get that type of composure, that confidence back.”

The road back has offered disaster at nearly every turn: the beatdown from Arkansas, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt’s dismissal, a four-game slide, innumerable injuries and penalties and now the 82-27 loss to TCU. Tech, losers of nine of its last 10 conference games, is just trying to get through this now.

“Where we're at, any win would be good,” Kingsbury said. “It's just -- it's been one of those years where any win is good. We're not a good enough team to look past anybody or not play well against anybody to get a win at this point.”

Through it all, the brick-by-brick building doesn't stop. Tech players haven't given up. Running back DeAndre Washington remembers what happened after the 5-7 season of 2011. He calls it the longest offseason in all his years playing football.

“I definitely don't want to have to endure that feeling again,” Washington said. “We're trying to do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen again.”

At Texas, the bricklaying is off to a slower start. Charlie Strong promised a culture change for the program, and that foundation has shown progress. He never promised a Big 12 title in Year 1. But unexpected roster upheaval has created real obstacles to reaching six wins.

It’s not just the nine Longhorns dismissed from the program and the one still suspended. Losing senior starters Dominic Espinosa and Desmond Jackson for the season and junior quarterback David Ash for his career, all before Big 12 play began, required a shift in both plans and expectations.

“Nobody could’ve predicted this,” receiver John Harris said. “We figured we’d be a way better team than we were. If you go back and don’t lose any of those people, maybe it’s a different story. But this is the hand we’ve been dealt.”

The Texas team that’s left might best be described as unpredictable. Close calls against ranked UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma teams are defensible. A couple fewer mistakes here and there and the narrative changes. But losses are losses.

“That's not the standard,” Strong said. “I still believe this. I always will believe this. I told our team this: We are a better football team than a 3-5 record. The record doesn't show it, but we're a better team.”

Strong and Kingsbury are in this for the long haul -- Strong has a five-year deal, Kingsbury’s was extended to 2020 -- and have time to assemble something that will endure. It’s about the next four years, not just these next four games. But both could use something good on Saturday night.

Their fans are disappointed. Their players are hurting. Their coaches are digging deep. Their reputations are taking hits. This is the rough battle of rebuilding. But neither coach should lose sight of the little pigs’ lesson: How you build your house matters far more than how quickly.
Texas Tech is known for throwing the ball.

But lately, the Red Raiders' most effective offensive weapon has been a running back.

Tech heads to No. 10 TCU this weekend hoping to turn its season around against the Big 12’s highest-ranked team. The Red Raiders (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) desperately need an upset victory to keep their bowl hopes alive.

The player that could give them a chance is emerging running back DeAndre Washington. The past two weeks, Washington has rushed for 296 yards. Perhaps even more impressive, Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has given him 52 carries in those games. Washington ranks second in the Big 12 at 5.6 yards per carry, and third with an average of almost 89 yards a game. He is on track to become Tech's first 1,000-yard rusher since 1998, when Ricky Williams (the Red Raider, not the Longhorn) ran for 1,168 on his way to earning second-team All-America honors.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Washington
John Weast/Getty ImagesDeAndre Washington ranks second in the Big 12 at 5.6 yards per carry.
"He’s done a good job the last couple of weeks," Kingsbury said. "He's been running it well and protecting (the ball). So we like to get him going."

Washington has endured plenty of obstacles to reach this point. After a promising true freshman season, he suffered a torn ACL the following year. When he came back, he was behind Kenny Williams on the depth chart. Though he had his good moments, Washington had a couple bad ones, too. Against TCU last season, he caught a swing pass and dashed 49 yards seemingly for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. But Washington celebrated prematurely. He dropped the ball at the half-yard line, resulting in an unsportsmanlike penalty that negated the touchdown (the Red Raiders scored two plays later; and they still won the game).

Washington learned his lesson. Practically the only Red Raider not to get bitten by the mistake bug this season, Washington has yet to fumble. He has proven to be durable. And he has given much-needed balance to the offense.

"I’m feeling pretty good," Washington said. "In the offseason, I tried to take care of my body and get myself mentally prepared, physically prepared for the season. ... That's been the main reason why I've been able to go into games and sustain ... handling a lot of the load with the carries I've had."

To help Washington and add more leadership to the offense, Kingsbury has moved Kenny Williams back to running back after a short-lived experiment at outside linebacker. Together with freshman Justin Stockton, the Red Raiders will feature three capable backs during the second half of the season.

"I'm happy to have him back," Washington said of Williams. “Kenny, he's our war hawk. He'll do a lot of short-yardage. We'll use him in the pass game as well."

This time, though, Williams will be flanking Washington. Although Williams will take away carries, Washington has established himself as the Red Raiders’ primary back. That should give him the shot to become the first 1,000-yard rusher in Tech’s "Air Raid" era.

Still, that is not what Washington has on his mind going into this weekend. Instead, it's on getting a victory to keep bowl hopes alive.

"My freshman year when I came in, we didn't make a bowl game, and that was probably the longest offseason that I’ve ever been a part of in all my years of football," Washington said. "So I definitely don't want to have to endure that feeling again. We're trying to do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen again. We kind of put ourselves in a hole early on in the season. But that's definitely what we want."

Big 12 stat check: Week 9

October, 22, 2014
10/22/14
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A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 9:

Baylor: The problem with penalties is no one-week fluke. Yes, Baylor's 215 penalty yards against West Virginia were the most by any FBS team in the past decade. But the reality is, since 2010, Baylor leads the nation in penalties (8.05 per game), penalty yards (74.6) and offensive penalties (4.12).

Iowa State: E.J. Bibbs is establishing himself as one of the nation's top tight ends this season. After catching two more touchdowns against Texas on Saturday, he now ranks first nationally in TDs (six) and second in receptions (32) among tight ends. He's not putting up Jace Amaro-level numbers, but this year there simply aren't many like Bibbs in the Big 12 or elsewhere.

Kansas: The Jayhawks are showing signs they're going to win a Big 12 game this year. One factor that's helping their cause: stingy goal-line defense. Opponents are scoring touchdowns on just 54.5 percent of their goal-to-go situations. That rate ranks second-best in the Big 12 behind TCU. Kansas has allowed six TDs, forced teams to settle for 12 field goals and recorded one takeaway. For comparison's sake, that's a dozen fewer TDs than Iowa State has given up in those situations.

Kansas State: This one paid off big last week and has continued during Bill Snyder's return to K-State: Since 2009, the Wildcats are No. 1 in the Big 12 at blocking field goals (seven) and extra points (eight). Travis Britz got No. 8 last week on the point-after attempt that would've tied the game against Oklahoma.

Oklahoma: Michael Hunnicutt had a rough day Saturday, but he's still one of the most consistent kickers in Big 12 history. Hunnicutt's 84.5 percent career success rate on field goals ranks No. 3 among kickers in the past decade with more than 70 attempts.

Oklahoma State: Against TCU, the Cowboys had undeniably one of their worst offensive performances of the Mike Gundy era. For only the third time in his tenure, OSU produced zero touchdowns in any phase of the game. The minus-33 scoring margin was OSU's worst since a 56-20 loss to Texas Tech in 2008 and fourth-worst in Gundy's 10 seasons, and the Pokes' 4.03 yards per play ranked fifth-worst.

TCU: The Horned Frogs are now 91-3 under Gary Patterson when they hold a team to 17 points or fewer. After last Saturday's 42-9 win over Oklahoma State, the Frogs have now won their last 10 games against Big 12 teams when achieving that 17-or-under feat defensively.

Texas: Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's efforts to script the first 15 to 25 plays of a game are paying dividends for quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. He's completing 77 percent of his passes in the first quarter this season, connecting on 40 of 52 attempts for 426 yards and 10.6 yards per completion. That's certainly helping him get into an early rhythm.

Texas Tech: DeAndre Washington is quietly putting together one of the best seasons by a Tech running back in years. He's averaging 5.55 yards per carry (No. 2 in Big 12), 88.8 yards per game (No. 3) and is on pace to become Tech's first 1,000-yard rusher since 1998. Texas Tech is still passing on nearly 63 percent of its snaps, but Washington is making this run game go when he gets his touches.

West Virginia: There are a ton of numbers we can throw around for Kevin White, the nation's leading receiver, but here's an impressive one: If he surpasses 100 receiving yards against Oklahoma State, he'll become just the second FBS receiver in the last decade to start a season with eight straight 100-yard games. The other guy? Another Dana Holgorsen prodigy, Justin Blackmon. He put up 100-plus in every game of his 2010 season.

Big 12 players in Week 7 spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 bye-week blueprint

September, 17, 2014
9/17/14
1:45
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With six Big 12 teams having this weekend off, now is a good time to take stock of what's working and what isn't after Week 3. What are these six teams happy with and what still needs to get fixed? Here's a closer look:

Baylor
Next game:
Sept. 27 at Iowa State
What's working: Pretty much everything. Baylor's offense kept rolling even when Bryce Petty was sidelined, the run game broke in new toys in Johnny Jefferson and Silas Nacita, KD Cannon became a national phenom in three weeks and the defense ranks top five nationally in scoring, total defense, yards per play and run defense to go along with an FBS-high 15 sacks.
What needs work: This is welcomed recovery time for a team that got the injury bug in fall camp. Petty is 100 percent now and excited to get go-to target Antwan Goodley (quad) and receivers Corey Coleman (hamstring) and Clay Fuller (collar bone) back on the field. The Bears will likely get running back Devin Chafin (high ankle sprain) back in time to travel to Ames, too. With the exception of Levi Norwood, they'll have the full arsenal back in time for Big 12 play.

Iowa State
Next game:
Sept. 27 vs. Baylor
What's working: The Cyclones go into the week off riding an emotional high they aim to turn into momentum. Their 20-17 upset of Iowa provided so many encouraging signs. Quarterback Sam B. Richardson had arguably the best game of his career, the defense came up with its first takeaway in a big moment and we saw another impressive performance from Cory Morrissey. Paul Rhoads is a happy camper after the rivalry win, and ISU avoided an 0-3 start in dramatic fashion.
What needs work: A game plan for slowing down Baylor will be the main focus this week. ISU has a few injury issues of its own, but the good news is Jarvis West should be OK. Rhoads is focusing in on a four-week, four-game stretch in which the Clones take on Baylor, Oklahoma State, Toledo and Texas. After a win this good, there's always another upset to chase.

Oklahoma State
Next game:
Sept. 25 vs. Texas Tech
What's working: The youth and inexperience Oklahoma State has on paper is not showing on the field. The Pokes haven't slipped since losing J.W. Walsh, they gave Florida State a tough four-quarter ballgame, they won with relative ease after that and they have entered the Top 25. Thsi is not a perfect team yet but is a rising one that's going to scare a lot of teams in conference play.
What needs work: Facing Tech will give OSU a much better sense of how good its defense can be in 2014 after a nice showing in nonconference play. Gundy wants to see more depth develop in the back seven, and on offense he's expressed concerns about blocking the run game.

TCU
Next game:
Sept. 27 at SMU
What's working: The offensive transition has been smooth and effective. TCU has averaged 39 points and 491 yards per game with its new Air Raid, and Trevone Boykin has been everything the coaches hoped for -- and maybe a little more. The defense hasn't taken a step back without Devonte Fields and has seen several players step up their games up front. Smooth sailing so far for a team that definitely looks bowl-bound again.
What needs work: TCU's pass defense ranks No. 6 in FBS, but Gary Patterson has said he still wants to make some fixes in pass coverage. They'll devote the required amount of time on SMU, a struggling team led by an interim coach and a third-string quarterback, but the Frogs know they need to work ahead a little on Oklahoma and Baylor, including preparing for the 3-4 fronts of the Sooners' defense.

Texas
Next game:
Sept. 27 at Kansas
What's working: Despite taking two losses, this defense is playing at a high level with a top-20 yards-per-play rate, a top-15 pass defense and 13 sacks. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown looks like a potential All-American so far. Tyrone Swoopes is taking steps in the right direction and shined at times against UCLA, while John Harris has finally emerged as a go-to receiver.
What needs work: Where to begin? Texas' patchwork offensive line hasn't gelled and desperately needs these two weeks. The Longhorns need suspended WR/RB Daje Johnson back and need a healthy Desmond Jackson (ankle). Cedric Reed was better against UCLA but hasn't broken out yet. And Charlie Strong needs to start coming up with plans for stopping Baylor and Oklahoma or else this team could start 2-4.

Texas Tech
Next game:
Sept. 25 at Oklahoma State
What's working: Tech is getting nice production in the run game from DeAndre Washington and Justin Stockton and in the pass game from Bradley Marquez and Jakeem Grant. Offensive line play has improved and Tech hasn't given up a sack. Its pass defense ranks 11th nationally, which is probably misleading.
What needs work: Run defense, penalties, tackling, Davis Webb's consistency -- lots of fundamental issues here that are starting to cause concern. Webb seemed to be forcing throws against Arkansas and will need to put in some time this week to clean up concerns about his footwork and decision-making. And that porous run defense has to get cleaned up quick because opponents will keep attacking it hard over the next month.

Planning for success: Texas Tech

September, 2, 2014
9/02/14
8:00
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Texas Tech stumbled out of the blocks with a 42-35 win over Central Arkansas on Saturday.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury wasn’t happy with the performance of the Red Raiders' offense despite a Big 12-best 636 total yards and 7.2 yards per play in the season-opening win.

DeAndre Washington
John Weast/Getty ImagesGetting production from running backs such as DeAndre Washington will be essential for the Texas Tech offense.
But one shining light for the Tech offense was the performance of its running backs. After a spring move to defense, leading returning rusher Kenny Williams now lines up at linebacker for the Red Raiders. It didn’t seem to hamper the running game on Saturday, as Kingsbury’s squad finished with 184 rushing yards, including a 104-yard, two-touchdown performance from DeAndre Washington. Fellow running backs Quinton White and Justin Stockton combined to add 83 rushing yards.

“I thought they ran tough,” Kingsbury said of his running backs. “I thought Q. White stepped in and had some good catches, and Justin Stockton ran fearless, and DeAndre picked up where he left off this spring. I think he's full speed again and has a lot of confidence right now.”

As the Red Raiders start planning for success in the future, a running game could prove helpful for quarterback Davis Webb. Improving its running game is critical for Tech after finishing No. 111 among FBS teams and last in the Big 12 with 118.2 rushing yards per game in 2013.

While Washington’s performance brings a lot of hope to the Red Raiders’ running game, Kingsbury was impressed by Stockton, a true freshman playing in his first collegiate action.

“I thought he ran the ball well, he stuck his nose in there and did good on protections,” Kingsbury said.

Stockton had six carries for 38 yards (6.3 yards per carry) and one touchdown along with two receptions for 17 yards. The four-star signee from Cibolo, Texas, created plenty of preseason buzz before fulfilling some of the hype on Saturday. He could see his role in the offense expand if he continues to make plays as a versatile threat in Tech’s offensive attack.

”He's a tough kid, heck of a player, heck of a talent,” Kingsbury said. “So, yeah, that will be a big piece of our offense moving forward.”
Since last week, we've been analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. Monday, we continue with the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who released an official two-deep after finishing up spring ball last month:

OFFENSE (starters in bold)

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb had a great spring and returns to lead the offense.
QB: Davis Webb (So.)

This one is pretty simple. Webb, who broke out in the bowl game, is loaded with potential and had a fabulous spring with 13 touchdowns and no turnovers over three open scrimmages. With no other QB on the roster, incoming freshman Patrick Mahomes will assume the backup spot by default.

RB: DeAndre Washington (Jr.), Quinton White (So.)

With Kenny Williams taking over as the starting “Raider” linebacker, Washington takes over as the starting running back. Washington has two seasons of experience and was just as productive out of the backfield as Williams was in 2013. White will have to perform in a backup role to fend off incoming four-star freshman Justin Stockton.

WR: D.J. Polite-Bray (So.), Devin Lauderdale (So.)


IR: Jakeem Grant (Jr.), Brent Mitcham (Sr.)

IR: Bradley Marquez (Sr.), Jordan Davis (Sr.)

WR: Reginald Davis (So.), Derreck Edwards (Jr.)

The playmaking potential is boundless in the speedy trio of Grant, Marquez and Davis, who combined for four touchdowns in the National University Holiday Bowl. Polite-Bray can fly, too, and made a living hauling in bombs downfield during the spring to emerge as the fourth starting receiver. With bulky tight end Jace Amaro and Eric Ward (who ranked 29th in the Big 12 in yards per catch), the Red Raiders struggled at times last season to stretch the field. With a major upgrade in speed across the board at the position, that won’t be an issue in the fall. Jordan Davis gives Tech a reliable fifth option inside when Kliff Kingsbury goes to his five wide receiver sets.

LT: Le’Raven Clark (Jr.), Poet Thomas (RFr.)

LG: Alfredo Morales (Jr.), James Polk (Sr.)

C: Jared Kaster (Jr.), Tony Morales (Jr.)

RG: Trey Keenan (So.), Baylen Brown (So.)

RT: Rashad Fortenberry (Sr.), Josh Outlaw (RFr.)

The offensive line two-deep could undergo a transformation once junior-college transfer Dominique Robertson arrives in the summer. Offensive line coach Lee Hays has said that he would consider swinging Clark to guard to boost the run game, should Robertson show up ready to play. Hays was given this option after Fortenberry was awarded another year of eligibility in the spring. At the moment, right guard is the biggest question up front, but if Clark were to slide inside, he and Morales could team up to give the Red Raiders a powerful run-blocking duo at the guard spots.

DEFENSE

DE: Branden Jackson (Jr.), Zach Barnes (So.)

NG: Jackson Richards (Jr.), Donte Phillips (Jr.)

DT: Demetrius Alston (Jr.), Keland McElrath (Jr.)

This appears to be the biggest question on the entire team. Jackson is coming off a solid sophomore season, with nine tackles for loss and four sacks. But Tech, which finished next-to-last in run defense in 2013, got pushed around in Big 12 play with the unit its currently projecting to start. That’s why Tech signed four juco defensive linemen -- Brandon Thorpe, Marcus Smith, Rika Levi and McElrath – in its 2014 class. To toughen up their front, the Red Raiders will need at least a couple of those jucos to pan out.

BANDIT: Pete Robertson (Jr.), Kris Williams (So.)

WLB: V.J. Fehoko (Sr.), Malik Jenkins (So.)

MLB: Sam Eguavoen (Sr.), Micah Awe (Jr.)

RAIDER: Kenny Williams (Sr.), Austin Stewart (Sr.)

This is a unit that really came together over the spring. What started as an experiment could result in the Red Raiders uncovering their answer at the “Raider” linebacking spot vacated by Terrance Bullitt. Even though he sat out the spring game, Williams had a tremendous run of practices at the position and was rewarded with a spot atop the depth chart. Elsewhere, the Red Raiders are in good shape. Robertson was an honorable mention All-Big 12 performer last season, and Eguavoen and Awe were third and sixth on the team in tackles. Some big-time help could be on the way this summer, too. Former Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell, who was an ESPN 300 recruit last season, attended Texas Tech’s spring game and could be in line for a hardship waiver to play immediately at his next school.

BC: Justis Nelson (So.), Thierry Nguema (So.)

FS: J.J. Gaines (So.), Jalen Barnes (RFr.)

SS: Keenon Ward (So.), Dorian Crawford (Sr.)

FC: Dee Paul (So.)

The Red Raiders have reason to be cautiously optimistic about their young secondary. Gaines was performing at a high level last fall before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury five games into the year. He was a limited participant during spring ball and should be good-to-go again for the fall. Ward had an MVP spring, laying out several receivers with big hits to solidify the other safety job. Nelson returns after starting as a true freshman, essentially leaving the field cornerback spot as the only lingering competition. Nigel Bethel II, the four-star gem of the 2014 recruiting class, has the talent to vie for that job when he arrives on campus. Even though he didn't appear on the depth chart, safety transfer Josh Keys, who did enroll early, could add valuable depth once he settles into coordinator Matt Wallerstedt’s scheme.

Big 12 post-spring breakdown: RBs

April, 29, 2014
4/29/14
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.

Spring game preview: Texas Tech

April, 10, 2014
4/10/14
1:30
PM CT
On Saturday, Texas Tech will hold its annual spring game, which will be open to the public. Here’s a closer look:

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

Where: Jones AT&T Stadium

What to watch for:
  • QB Davis Webb: Building off his MVP performance in the National University Holiday Bowl, Webb has been fabulous in Texas Tech’s last two open scrimmages. In Midland, Texas, he threw four touchdowns to four different receivers. In the Red Raiders’ “Friday Night Lights” scrimmage last week, he completed his first 13 passes and threw for five more scores. The rising sophomore has rapidly developed since becoming the clear-cut starter last December and is playing with a lot of confidence. He could gain even more with another strong showing in the spring game.
  • New receivers: Even with All-American tight end Jace Amaro and second-leading receiver Eric Ward gone, Webb should have plenty of attractive targets. Jakeem Grant caught two touchdowns from Webb in the bowl game and has only begun to scratch the surface of his potential. Reginald Davis has been battling a groin injury this spring, but he has the overwhelming speed to give Webb the deep threat on the outside that the Red Raiders lacked last season. Bradley Marquez is as reliable as it gets at the receiver position in the Big 12. That trio has a chance to be as prolific as any in the league. If D.J. Polite-Bray and Devin Lauderdale continue to come on the other outside spot opposite Davis, look out.
  • Kenny Williams: Going into the spring, Williams asked the Texas Tech coaches if he could swing from running back to outside linebacker, where the Red Raiders needed help after Terrance Bullitt graduated. So far, the experiment has gone swimmingly, as Williams has proved he could impact Texas Tech on both sides of the ball next season. Texas Tech feels secure about its running backs with DeAndre Washington, Quinton White and, eventually, incoming freshman Justin Stockton. Williams could still help out there. But he could also boost a defense that was short on depth in 2013.
  • Juco impact: Sensing a need for an instant impact at several positions, Kliff Kingsbury signed nine junior college players in his recruiting class, including three – Lauderdale, safety Josh Keys and defensive tackle Keland McElrath – who have been around for the spring. All three players could play key roles for the Red Raiders next season and will be on full display in the spring game.
  • FS Keenon Ward: Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt singled out Ward for standing out as much as any player on his side of the ball this spring. Ward has been bringing some thunder to the Texas Tech secondary, laying big hits, most notably on slot receiver Zach Austin in the Midland scrimmage. The Red Raiders are looking for a replacement for departed 35-game starter Tre Porter at safety. Ward is looking primed to fill that role, and is the best bet to provide the hit of the spring game.

Ranking the Big 12's offensive triplets

March, 28, 2014
3/28/14
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.

Big 12's future two-way standout?

March, 27, 2014
3/27/14
12:00
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Maybe he was inspired by UCLA’s Myles Jack. Or maybe he got frustrated watching from the sidelines while knowing he could help.

Either way, Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams wants to be the Big 12’s answer to the Pac-12’s Jack, who was named Pac-12 offensive and defensive freshman of the year after starring at running back and linebacker for the Bruins last season. According to the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, the Red Raiders senior has spent the majority of the spring taking first-team reps as a linebacker after leading the squad in rushing with 497 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior.

[+] EnlargeKenny Williams, Jordan Evans, Dominique Alexander
Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY SportsKenny Williams may see time at running back and linebacker this fall.
“He’s looking great, I love that kid,” Texas Tech defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “Everybody here knows about him. He’s accountable. He’s reliable. He loves football.”

Williams had 14 tackles as a special teams standout last season, showing a hunger to make plays and a willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team.

“He wants to come over and help,” Wallerstedt said. “He’s learning and doing and great job, and he comes over with credibility.”

Williams wanted to make the move and the coaching staff was receptive as it searches for a replacement for Terrance Bullitt at outside linebacker. He immediately brought a veteran voice and senior leadership to the linebackers.

It could be an ideal fit. It would be difficult for Williams to start on offense and defense and then play both ways for the duration of any game, particularly since Tech led the Big 12 and FBS with 87.4 plays per game. Yet, having a veteran playmaker and leader as a viable option at running back and linebacker would do nothing but help the Red Raiders’ chances for success in 2014.

Ultimately though, Williams’ destiny could be decided by his teammates more than himself.

Fellow running back DeAndre Washington was right on the heels of Williams with 450 rushing yards in 2013 and could be in line to share carries with him this fall. Meanwhile, Williams’ ability to slide into the mix at linebacker means it will be important for other players to emerge at that position in Wallerstedt’s defense.

Even as Williams works at linebacker, spring is unlikely to decide where the Pflugerville, Texas, native could end up helping the Red Raiders the most during the 2014 season. The lone certainty is the Williams’ experimentation at the linebacker position gives the Red Raiders options and additional competition for playing time.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: RBs

February, 19, 2014
2/19/14
3:45
PM CT
As we wait for the start of spring ball, we're examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Wednesday with running backs. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how they compare at the moment:

1. Texas: The three-headed monster of Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron gives Texas the best 1-2-3 punch in the league. Whether this group goes from good to great hinges on a healthy return for Gray, who is coming back from an Achilles injury and will sit out spring drills. Either way, this will be the backbone of Charlie Strong’s first offense.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsShock Linwood showed breakaway ability as a Baylor reserve in 2013.
2. Baylor: Shock Linwood takes over in the backfield after a dynamic freshman season in which he finished seventh in the league in rushing despite being a third-team running back. The competition for carries after Linwood will be interesting. Devin Chafin is the favorite to be Linwood’s wing man, but he could be pressed by Johnny Jefferson and/or incoming four-star freshman Terence Williams, who is already on campus.

3. Oklahoma: The potential of this running back crop has no bounds. But it will be young and inexperienced after seniors Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and Damien Williams (until he was kicked off the team) hoarded the carries last season. Keith Ford, who was the nation’s No. 3 running back recruit in the 2013 class, will take over the starting role. Joe Mixon, this year’s No. 6 RB recruit, won’t get to Norman until the summer, but he should supply the lightning to Ford’s thunder. Alex Ross, who was the nation’s No. 7 RB recruit in the 2012 class, rounds out a fearsome threesome with tremendous pedigree.

4. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose All-Big 12 performer Charles Sims, but still claim a glut of capable rushers. Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood thrived playing behind Sims last year. West Virginia also has Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie, its leading rushers from 2011 and 2012, respectively. (Buie is back after leaving school for a semester.) On top of all that, Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell figures to be in the mix. Shell was the No. 26 overall recruit in the country coming out of high school after becoming the all-time leading rusher in Pennsylvania high school history. If that weren’t enough, the gem of the incoming recruiting class, Donte Thomas-Williams, is also a running back. Suffice to say, the competition for carries will be fierce in the league’s deepest backfield.

5. Oklahoma State: Desmond Roland helped fuel Oklahoma State’s midseason turnaround after seizing a starting role. Roland was great in short yardage and led the Big 12 with 13 touchdowns, but he wasn’t a big-play runner, with an average of only 4.6 yards per carry (14th in the league). The Cowboys are banking that Rennie Childs can complement Roland as the breakaway back. Childs showed flashes as a true freshman. Roland and Childs can form a solid combo, but four-star freshman Devon Thomas, who is enrolled for the spring, should not be discounted, nor should Sione Palelei, who has the good hands that past Oklahoma State running backs also possessed.

6. Texas Tech: The returning trio of Kenny Williams, DeAndre Washington and Sadale Foster won’t do much damage between the tackles. All three, however, are excellent pass-catchers, making them supreme fits for Kliff Kingsbury’s spread attack. Together they combined for 82 receptions, and that number should go up in 2014 as quarterback Davis Webb settles in as a sophomore.

7. TCU: The Horned Frogs were a disaster offensively last year, but the potential at running back is a reason why TCU could be equipped for a bounce-back season. Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks and incoming freshman Shaun Nixon were all ESPN 300 recruits. That doesn’t include B.J. Catalon, either, who led the Frogs with 569 yards and six touchdowns last season. With a new regime making the play calls, there’s reason to believe this could become one of the better units in the league.

[+] EnlargeDalton Santos
David Purdy/Getty ImagesIf Aaron Wimberly can stay healthy, Iowa State has a potentially dynamic returning running back.
8. Iowa State: When healthy, Aaron Wimberly can be a game-breaker. He torched Texas for 137 yards as the Cyclones nearly pulled off a Thursday night upset. Wimberly, however, was never really healthy the rest of the season, and never had the same impact. After Wimberly, though, the Cyclones don’t have much returning firepower. Firepower, however, could be on the way. Oklahoma native Michael Warren went overlooked in recruiting, but he can fly; he rushed for more than 2,500 yards as a high school senior.

9. Kansas: The Jayhawks gradated their heart and soul in James Sims, who was an all-conference selection even though Kansas won only one Big 12 game. Tony Pierson returns as an electric playmaker, but he has never been a full-time running back, often flexing out as a receiver. It will be interesting to see who emerges in Sims’ shoes. Brandon Bourbon (191 yards) will have the first crack in the spring, but newcomers De'Andre Mann and Traevohn Wrench could vie for time once they arrive in the summer.

10. Kansas State: It’s difficult to believe K-State will be at the bottom here once the season starts, but running back is a major hole for the Wildcats going into the spring. That’s because longtime starter John Hubert is gone. Hubert, senior backup Robert Rose and QBs Jake Waters and Daniel Sams combined for 492 carries last season. Nobody else had more than five. Rising senior DeMarcus Robinson, who has only 11 career carries, will probably be atop the depth chart going into the spring. It’s also possible that Sams will get a look at running back with Waters having nailed down the full-time QB job. But the player to watch here is freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns his final two seasons in Blue Springs, Mo. Warmack isn’t big at 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds. But his size fits the mold of past K-State running backs Hubert and Darren Sproles.

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