Dallas Colleges: Javonte Magee
2. Oklahoma (1): Not only did the Sooners return the entire line that destroyed Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, they’ve added three redshirt freshmen who are clamoring for playing time. Charles Walker is the most athletic tackle on the roster, and he ran the fastest tackle 40 time (4.67 seconds) of the Bob Stoops era. Tackle Matt Romar quietly emerged this spring and could be on the verge of taking away snaps from some of the veterans inside. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo showed this spring he's yet another Sooner capable of getting to the quarterback off the edge. There's a debate on the best D-line in the league. There’s no debate on the deepest, with Oklahoma capable of going three-deep across the board.
3. Baylor (6): Coach Art Briles believes he has one of the best defensive lines in the country, and there's reason to believe he might be right. The Bears made the biggest jump on this list, thanks to the development of end Shawn Oakman and emergence of tackle Javonte Magee. Briles called the 6-foot-9 Oakman “unblockable” during the spring. Oakman already flashed plenty of potential last season as a sophomore, finishing sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss. Magee, who might be the most highly-touted high school defender Briles has ever signed, sat out his freshman season while dealing with a personal issue. But he established himself this spring and could beat out returning starter Beau Blackshear. With former four-star signee Andrew Billings (who played as a true freshman) also poised for a big year at the other tackle spot, Briles could indeed be proven correct in the fall.
4. Texas (3): The Longhorns boast two of the league’s blue-chip defensive linemen in end Cedric Reed and tackle Malcom Brown. But whether this unit rises to the top of the league will hinge on the supporting cast. If athletic end Shiro Davis and run-stuffing tackle Desmond Jackson play up to their potential, and the Longhorns can get a boost from incoming freshmen Derick Roberson and Poona Ford, this could be a foundational positional unit in Charlie Strong’s first season.
5. Kansas State (4): Like Texas, the Wildcats have two blue-chip pieces returning up front in All-Big 12 end Ryan Mueller and tackle Travis Britz. They’re banking they’ll soon be adding a third in Terrell Clinkscales, who will be arriving to Manhattan shortly. Clinkscales, whom the Wildcats snatched away from Nebraska, was the nation’s No. 4-rated juco DT, and at 315 pounds, could be the run-stuffer K-State currently lacks.
6. Oklahoma State (5): With so much turnover elsewhere, the Cowboys will be counting on their line to be their anchor defensively. There’s reason to believe it could be that and more. Sam Wren received votes for Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year last season, while Emmanuel Ogbah garnered consideration for Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Throw in promising redshirt freshmen Vili Leveni, Ben Hughes and Vincent Taylor, who all showed signs this spring they might be ready to contribute, along with veterans James Castleman, Ofa Hautau and Jimmy Bean, and Oklahoma State could have the anchor up front it needs while the rest of the defense retools.
7. West Virginia (7): This will probably be the weakest area of West Virginia defense, but with their talent at linebacker, the Mountaineers don’t have to be great up front. Dontrill Hyman, Christian Brown and Kyle Rose are currently the starters coming out of the spring. But the player to watch up front is sophomore Darrien Howard, who rapidly progressed since having his redshirt pulled late in 2013. If Howard develops into an impact player, he could give the Mountaineers a huge jolt up front.
8. Texas Tech (9): The Red Raiders tried to get by this spring while awaiting the horde of defensive line help set to arrive this summer. All told, the Red Raiders signed four juco D-linemen, only one of which – Keland McElrath -- enrolled early (McElrath was hobbled by a stress fracture all spring to boot). To be better up front, Tech, which ranked ninth in run defense last fall, will need at least a couple of its juco transfers to hit.
9. Kansas (10): Keon Stowers quietly has become as one of the better tackles in the league. He was the defensive MVP of Kansas' spring game after collecting eight tackles from his defensive tackle spot, and he was voted captain for a second straight year. Stowers and linebacker Ben Heeney will lead a defense that returns nine starters and could surprise after gaining confidence from playing Oklahoma and Texas tough last season.
10: Iowa State (8): The Cyclones took it on the chin this spring, with projected D-line starters Rodney Coe and David Irving both getting kicked off the team. Iowa State got a boost shortly after spring ball ended when 2013 starting tackle Brandon Jensen changed his mind about leaving the team. The Cyclones should be solid at end with Cory Morrissey and Mitchell Meyers, but even with Jensen’s return, interior line depth is a major concern.
Three things we learned in the spring:
1. The nation’s No. 1 offense is ready to reload. There’s no replacing guys such Lache Seastrunk and Tevin Reese, but Bryce Petty is fired up about the new weapons he gets to work with. RB Johnny Jefferson, TE Tre'Von Armstead and WRs Corey Coleman, Robbie Rhodes and Jay Lee were a few of the many who stepped up this spring.
2. Art Briles loves this defensive line. The Baylor coach says he’ll put his D-line up against any in the nation, and with good reason. Even after losing some key seniors, a unit that features ends Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer, tackles Andrew Billings, Beau Blackshear, Byron Bonds and the versatile Javonte Magee should frustrate opposing offenses.
3. A historic season ending in heartbreak left the Bears with plenty of motivation this spring. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF left a sting that troubled Baylor’s players and coaches in the winter, and there's a stronger sense that there’s unfinished business entering 2014.
Three questions for the fall:
1. Can Baylor’s defense play up to the level of its stellar 2013 unit? DC Phil Bennett is optimistic about the caliber of his new starters, and the depth that BU’s strength program is fortifying. But you can’t just assume the new guys will immediately match the quality play of Ahmad Dixon, Eddie Lackey, Sam Holl and so many other departed starters.
2. How will the Bears’ offensive line hold up? Losing left tackle Spencer Drango midseason was a major blow to this group last season, and while he’s back, All-America guard Cyril Richardson was one of three senior starters who graduated. Baylor needs LaQuan McGowan, Kyle Fuller and several others to step up.
3. What can the newcomers bring to the table? Briles brags that he signed the best wide receiver class in the country, but it’s not as if Baylor needed much help at that position. You know the junior college additions will play early on, but what can the rest of the Bears’ incoming class contribute?
One way-too-early prediction:
Calling Baylor a lock for a top-10 spot in the polls requires a lot of confidence in a defense that must replace 10 seniors on the two-deep, but the staff believes its talent evaluation and development will pay off big in 2014. But the Petty-led offense is absolutely loaded, and the Bears’ sights should be squarely set on fighting for a playoff bid.
The Bears have one of the top returning quarterbacks in college football in Petty, who was phenomenal last year in his first season as a starter. With a year of experience under his belt, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be better in 2014. Russell performed well in limited duty last year, suggesting the Bears could survive at least a minor injury to Petty.
RB: Shock Linwood (So.) or Devin Chafin (So.), Johnny Jefferson (RFr.), Terence Williams (Fr.)
The Bears boast four potentially outstanding runners who all have at least three seasons of eligibility remaining. Linwood finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing last season, despite backing up Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin. Jefferson, however, was the back who created the most buzz during the spring. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder looks poised to give the Bears a dynamic home-run threat to complement the rest of the backfield. It’s not often a program can lose two talents like Seastrunk and Martin and remain loaded.
WR: Antwan Goodley (Sr.), Davion Hall (Fr.)
WR: Jay Lee (Jr.) or Robbie Rhodes (So.), Quan Jones (RFr.)
IR: Corey Coleman (So.) or Clay Fuller (Sr.), Cal Spangler (Jr.)
IR: Levi Norwood (Sr.), Lynx Hawthorne (So.)
TE: Tre’von Armstead (So.) or Gus Penning (Jr.), Jordan Feuerbacher (Fr.)
Despite graduating all-conference performer Tevin Reese, the Bears should easily have the deepest collection of pass-catchers in the Big 12. Coleman was tremendous all spring, capped by a 47-yard receiving effort in the spring game. He and Rhodes could have breakout campaigns in their second years in the rotation. Goodley is one of the two best wideouts in the league along with Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, and Lee, Fuller and Norwood are all proven commodities. More firepower is on the way this summer, including hotshot freshman K.D. Cannon, who looks like a virtual lock to crack the rotation somewhere.
LT: Spencer Drango (Jr.), Pat Colbert (Jr.)
LG: LaQuan McGowan (Jr.) or Blake Muir (Jr.)
C: Kyle Fuller (So.), Tyler Edwards (Sr.)
RG: Desmine Hilliard (Jr.), Jarell Broxton (Jr.)
RT: Troy Baker (Sr.), Tyler Edwards (Sr.)
The Bears lose unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson, but will get a huge boost if Drango makes a full recovery from a back injury he suffered late last season. With Drango out, Baylor’s blindside pass protection also suffered the final month of the season. When healthy, Drango is one of the best pass-protecting left tackles in the country. Baker, who started as a sophomore, returned late last season after tearing his ACL last spring to reclaim his starting job, which he held through the spring. With Hilliard returning at guard, Fuller locking down the starting job at center and other quality depth inside, the Bears should be very solid on the offensive line -- provided Drango can get healthy and Baker can stay healthy at the bookends.
NT: Andrew Billings (So.), Suleiman Masumbuko (Jr.)
DT: Beau Blackshear (Jr.) or Javonte Magee (So.), Byron Bonds (So.)
LE: Jamal Palmer (Jr.), Sam Ukwuachu (Jr.)
Last week, Baylor coach Art Briles said he’d put his top-seven defensive linemen against any other top seven in college football. The unit still has a lot to prove to reach that level, but there’s no denying the potential. Oakman elevated his game to another level this spring, and was basically unblockable. He’s a candidate to be an All-Big 12 performer even in a league that’s stocked at defensive end. The fact that Magee is listed as a co-starter with Blackshear -- a starter last season -- underscores what the coaching staff thinks of Magee, who before taking last year off due to personal matters was among the most highly touted recruits Briles had ever signed. This group is high on ability, and has the capability to prove their coach right in the fall.
WLB: Aiavion Edwards (So.), Taylor Young (RFr.) or Raaquan Davis(RFr.)
MLB: Bryce Hager (Sr.), Grant Campbell (Jr.) or Kendall Ehrlich (So.)
Hager missed the final four games of last season due to a groin injury, which also kept him out this spring. But Hager is about as reliable as it gets in the Big 12, having earned second-team all-conference honors the last two years. Edwards is the one to watch. He was given the first nod on the weak side, after playing in the middle last season and in the spring in place of Hager. But he’ll have to perform to fend off the competition, including Young, who impressed defensive coordinator Phil Bennett during the spring with his nose for the ball.
NB: Collin Brence (Sr.), Pat Levels (So.)
CB: Terrence Singleton (So.), Ryan Reid (So.)
CB: Xavien Howard (So.) or Chris Sanders (Jr.)
DS: Orion Stewart (So.), Alfred Pullom (RFr.)
CS: Terrell Burt (Jr.), Taion Sells (So.)
This unit comprises by far the biggest question mark on the team. The Bears should be in good shape at safety. Burt, the only returning starter in the group, will be back shortly from offseason shoulder surgery that kept him out of a spring ball. Briles also singled out Stewart for having a very promising spring as the replacement for All-American Ahmad Dixon. After a series of injury setbacks early in his career, Singleton returned to win a starting job at corner, at least for now. Howard also showed a ton of promise during the spring, but he’ll have competition from Sanders, one of the top juco corners in the country, who had a shoulder injury this spring. Brence, a walk-on, was the biggest surprise in the secondary, and is listed as the starter at nickelback. How this untested unit comes together could ultimately determine whether the Bears repeat as Big 12 champs.
“I’ve been saying it for four months,” Briles said, “I would put our D-line up against any D-line in the United States of America, when you’re looking at six- or seven-deep personnel and say, hey, let’s roll the ball out there and let’s play, let’s see who’s better.
“I think our guys are really good up there.”
The Big 12 could be chock-full of talented defensive lines this season.
TCU could be formidable up front, too, especially if end Devonte Fields returns to his 2012 Big 12 Defensive-Freshman-of-the-Year-form, as Horned Frogs defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas suggested he had this week.
Texas and Kansas State should be stout along the line as well, spearheaded by the returns of all-conference ends Cedric Reed and Ryan Mueller, who combined for 22.5 sacks last season.
Baylor, however, has a chance to field a defensive line as good as any in the league.
The defensive tackle trio of Andrew Billings, Beau Blackshear and Javonte Magee could be especially menacing.
Billings, a four-star signee last year who chose the Bears over Texas, instantly became a key rotation player inside as a true freshman. Blackshear started last season but is getting pushed for that starting spot by Magee, who shined in the spring after sitting out last season due to a personal issue. Like Billings, Magee was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school and had offers from the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Michigan and Oregon.
The Bears are talented on the outside, as well.
Shawn Oakman, who was sixth in the Big 12 with 12.5 tackles-for-loss last season, will take over a full-time starting spot. At 6-foot-9, 280 pounds, Oakman has the size to be a dominant player. He showed that during the spring.
“I think the same thing I’ve thought all spring -- we can’t block him,” Briles said after the Bears’ spring game. “And I don’t think anybody else will either.”
Opposite Oakman will be returning starter Jamal Palmer as well as Sam Ukwuachu, who will be eligible this season after transferring in from Boise State last year. Ukwuachu was a starter for the Broncos in 2012 as a redshirt freshman and was second on the team in sacks.
The Bears have questions elsewhere defensively. At linebacker, only Bryce Hager returns, and he was out this spring recovering from a groin injury. In the secondary, only safety Terrell Burt comes back, and he also missed spring ball recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
But Baylor could overcome those questions in its back seven with a dominating defensive line -- something Briles firmly believes he’ll have in 2014.
“These guys can play, and they’re good,” he said. “I really think these guys are that special up front.”
WACO, Texas -- Last season, Baylor won 11 games, claimed a Big 12 championship and played in a BCS bowl game -- all first-time accomplishments for the once-woebegone program.
But as much as the Bears accomplished last season -- they also scored more points (52.4 per game) and gained more yards (618.8) than any other FBS team in the country –- their last performance left a bitter taste in their mouths.
Kind of like Texas dust.
After starting the 2013 season with a 9-0 record and then beating then-No. 25 Texas 30-10 to win a Big 12 championship, the Bears were embarrassed in a 52-42 loss to Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Knights, who were 17-point underdogs, piled up 556 yards of offense and scored on four straight possessions after Baylor tied the score at 28 in the third quarter. The Bears were penalized 17 times for 135 yards.
Baylor coach Art Briles and his players haven’t forgotten the ugly loss more than five months after the bitter defeat in the Arizona desert. It figures to provide the Bears with plenty of motivation as they head into an unexpected Big 12 title defense this coming season.
“I don’t know how you describe sickening,” Briles said. “You hate to have your motivation fueled by getting slapped in the face, but that’s kind of what happened. We know [UCF] has a good football team, but we had to listen to how good we were for more than a month. Sometimes, reality isn’t perception. There was a hungry team on the field and a happy one on the field. We were the happy one.”
While its lackluster performance in the Fiesta Bowl might have sullied what had been a magical season, Baylor will enter the 2014 season as the team to beat in the Big 12. For a program that hadn’t been to a bowl game for 13 consecutive seasons when Briles arrived in 2008, it’s a rare position for the Bears.
“I think we take being the Big 12 champions as a challenge,” Baylor receiver Levi Norwood said. “Guys are targeting us and wanting what we have. We have to go out and do it again. We all know that when we got here, we weren’t that good and it’s not normal for us to be winning. We’re trying to make it normal.”
There’s nothing normal about Baylor under Briles. The Bears bring back much of the offense that shattered nearly every school record last season, although they’ll miss leading rusher Lache Seastrunk (1,177 yards with 11 touchdowns in 2013), All-America guard Cyril Richardson and receiver Tevin Reese (38 catches for 867 yards with eight touchdowns).
Petty, a senior from Midlothian, Texas, is back after completing 62 percent of his passes for 4,200 yards with 32 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first season as a starter.
“He needs to be better and he should be,” Briles said. “He’s expected to be better. You can have a lot of money, but you can’t buy experience. Some things should happen on pre-snap reads. We should know what happens before it happens. He’s a good player and a great leader. That’s why he’s who he is.”
Petty will be surrounded by plenty of proven playmakers in Briles’ high-octane offense. All-America receiver Antwan Goodley is back after catching 71 passes for 1,339 yards with 13 touchdowns last season, and three other Bears wideouts caught at least 32 passes. Tailback Shock Linwood returns after running for 881 yards with eight touchdowns.
“We’ve got some people who can play,” Briles said. “We feel really good about everybody who is around [Petty] offensively. We can be very diverse with everybody around him.”
“The Bears must replace seven starters on defense, but Briles feels much better about his defensive front. Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu and sophomore tackle Javonte Magee, who sat out last season after unexpectedly leaving the team, are expected to bolster the defensive front.
I had to be reminded that we won a Big 12 title. I didn't even remember it because of what happened in the bowl game, and it's the best thing that's happened to Baylor football in a long time.” -- Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty
“You’d have to shake the tree pretty hard to find three or four universities that have what we have up front,” Briles said.
Now, Briles’ challenge is to make sure his team doesn’t become complacent after last season’s unexpected success.
“That’s the first thing we talked about when we got back to campus,” Briles said. “We had to learn and grow up. We thought we were an accomplished football team and program. We lost [our edge] and got happy. We have to stay humble.”
If the Bears don’t, they might be a one-hit wonder. The Big 12 figures to be even more rugged this coming season. Oklahoma stunned Alabama 45-31 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to finish 11-2 last season, and former Louisville coach Charlie Strong replaced longtime Texas coach Mack Brown.
“To be honest, we got too happy with where we were,” Petty said. “We became complacent. Every game is a big game that you have to prepare for as a hunter. We kind of bought into what everybody was saying about us, and unfortunately UCF put us in our place. You don’t lose; you learn. We learned a lot from that game, and we’re not going to let it happen again. When you’re building a tradition and dynasty, you can’t talk about complacency. It’s not something that Coach Briles is going to allow.”
The Bears open the 2014 season against SMU on Aug. 31 at McLane Stadium, their new $260 million riverfront stadium. They’ll play at Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma and versus Texas Tech in Dallas -- opponents they defeated at home last year.
“I think it’s always tough,” Briles said. “If we jump back a year ago, I don’t think people were picking us to be an outright champion. We’ve got to lock our doors and windows. Everybody is coming for us, but we’re going to protect what we got.”
He had a bunch of them last season, at every level of his Bears defense. Freaky athletes, experienced studs, players who exceeded expectations. They’re ultimately the reason why Baylor won the Big 12.
Those players had been building toward that breakthrough season for years. Now Bennett has to repeat it, and do so without 10 seniors from last season's two-deep.
“To get back,” he said, “we’ve got to have those guys play at a level we played last year.”
As Baylor wraps up its final week of spring ball, Bennett sees plenty of reason for optimism all over his roster. Replacing leaders such as Ahmad Dixon, Eddie Lackey, Sam Holl and Chris McAllister will be a tall task, but the cupboard is far from empty.
Defensive backs Xavien Howard and Orion Stewart received major playing time. Linebacker Bryce Hager and safety Terrell Burt, both out for the spring, are trusted starters. The pieces are in place to maintain Baylor’s production level on defense.
But that’s just the core of the defense, and Bennett is just as excited about the more unknown commodities.
Coach Art Briles and Bennett both speak highly of Howard, a big, 6-foot-2 sophomore corner who shined in a small role last season, and defensive lineman Javonte Magee, a big-time talent playing end and tackle this spring after sitting out 2013.
Bennett says he’s “tickled” by the comeback that Terrence Singleton has made at corner after several injury setbacks. He has been impressed by the impact senior walk-on Collin Brence is making in the “Bear” nickel role that Holl played.
Linebacker Aiavion Edwards, forced to start late last season when Hager went down, has had a strong spring. Junior college transfer Grant Campbell is catching on quickly.
And Bennett has found another one of those so-called football playin’ fools in redshirt freshman linebacker Taylor Young.
“Whatever the 'it' factor is, he has it. He’s 5-foot-9½, 225 pounds, runs a 4.5 [40-yard dash] and he finds the ball,” Bennett said.
And more help is on the way this summer. Bennett already has his eye on a few three-star signees who could surprise, including defensive backs Jourdan Blake and Verkedric Vaughns.
Never heard of these guys? You’ll get familiar this fall. Bennett and Briles see no reason why Baylor should take a step backward on defense, even with so many top players being replaced.
That’s because the Bears understand their mission on defense. Bennett swears that his time working with Briles has changed his entire perspective.
“That was our plan when I came here,” Bennett said. “Get two sides of the ball that could complement each other, and if need be, carry each other. We’re getting closer to that.
“The yardage deal, I can give a rat’s ass. It’s takeaways, it’s red zone, it’s three-and-outs and it’s scoring. Get them the ball.”
Baylor was about as good as it gets on those fronts last season. This was a top-10 defense in points per drive that forced 29 takeaways, second-most in the Big 12. No team in the nation forced more three-and-out drives (63) than the Bears.
Those are the ambitions Bennett and his players aim to replicate. When they trot out of the football facility and smack the white “BE THE STANDARD” sign hanging on the chain-link fence on their way to the practice field, this is the standard to which they refer.
After years of struggles, Baylor’s defense set the bar high in 2013. The next step is exceeding it every season, no matter which football playin’ fools Bennett plugs in.
“I don’t want to say tradition,” Bennett said, “but we’ve started building expectancy.”
If you listen carefully to Briles, now entering his seventh year at Baylor, you’ll notice he isn’t wasting a second pondering whether his next defense can replace eight starters and still thrive.
Gone are senior defensive ends Chris McAllister and Terrance Lloyd, linebackers Eddie Lackey and Brody Trahan and defensive backs Ahmad Dixon, Sam Holl, K.J. Morton and Demetri Goodson.
The offense gets all the publicity, but Baylor wouldn't be where it is today without those guys. So why isn’t Briles worried?
“We’ve been recruiting, we’ve got good guys, we’ve got seven guys in at midterm that we’ll look at,” he said. “That’s why you coach and why you play; we’ll find guys. We’re not going to take a step backwards anywhere.”
The cupboard certainly isn't empty for defensive coordinator Phil Bennett. There are questions in the secondary and at linebacker, that much seems obvious.
And this should be perfectly clear, too: Baylor has a chance to field a killer defensive line in 2014.
Shawn Oakman wants to be the leader of that group. The monstrous junior end checks in at 6-foot-9 and 270 pounds these days and believes his debut season was the just the beginning of big things.
As a backup, he racked up 12.5 tackles for loss and two sacks off the edge. He says he was just a “free-wheeler” last fall, sent in to pass rush and cause hell.
“It wasn’t a bad role to play,” he said. “It was fun. But this year, I’ve got to take a bigger role and I’ve got to be able to play every down and every snap.”
The former Penn State transfer learned quickly that, in his opinion, this Big 12 is “10 times faster” than what he’d prepared for in the Big Ten. There was a lot of learning last season behind McAllister and Lloyd. Now it’s Oakman’s turn.
He’s on a mission to surpass the bar he and his teammates set in 2013. Oakman has no personal goals in 2014, just this team goal: “Best defense in the country, hands down.
“No one should be better than us,” he said. “We should lead the Big 12 and the nation in tackles for loss and sacks.”
He should get plenty of help from Andrew Billings. The second-year defensive tackle, a Waco native, chipped in 30 tackles and four TFLs as a true freshman.
He also happens to be arguably one of the strongest players in the conference, a former state powerlifting champ who says he squatted 600 pounds five times this winter. He was more proud of his gains in the hang clean, where he can now knock out 340 pounds five times.
“He and fellow sophomore Byron Bonds were asked to contribute right away last season. Those opportunities to play in big games will prove invaluable this spring.
No one should be better than us. We should lead the Big 12 and the nation in tackles for loss and sacks.” End Shawn Oakman on the Bears' defensive line.
“Last year, we were really just learning how to play football,” Billings said. “It was different in college than in high school and there was a lot we didn't know.”
Throw in Jamal Palmer, Beau Blackshear, Suleiman Masumbuko and the Bears have a core of experienced linemen that, they hope, can lead the charge while the rest of the new starters get comfortable.
“The leadership is going to have to start coming toward the D-line,” Billings said. “We need to help them out.”
And Briles is just as excited about the return of Javonte Magee. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound lineman played as a true freshman in 2012 but left the program and didn’t play in a game last season due to personal problems.
He’s back on the practice field and trying to get back on track. Can Magee help this defensive line?
“Immediately, yes,” Briles said. “Slow guys don’t get fast and fast guys don’t get slow. Great athletes are great athletes. He’s a great athlete that’s come back with a great dedication, and it’s really heartwarming to see somebody have vision, have focus, have dreams and fulfill them. That’s what he’s got.”
Baylor has more than a few of those driven players back to lead its defensive line. McAllister and Lloyd started a combined 64 consecutive games before departing, and they helped build a foundation. They helped establish the standard.
Their successors -- like their head coach -- are just as confident the new guys can be even better.
“We’re going to cause a lot of havoc,” Oakman said.
Mulley in Cleveland, OH writes: For the Playoff Committee, not that anyone would go for this, but wouldn't a Committee consisting of smaller schools (ie, AD's from old Non-BCS schools) work nice? That way the Big Boys would have to play nice with the little guys, as not to make them angry and give them a reason to not vote them into a playoff.
David Ubben: That's definitely an interesting idea, Mulley. Hadn't heard that one before. That said, I think you might run into some snags if some of those guys are angling for jobs at the bigger schools. A lot of major school ADs come from those smaller schools, so it's not a bad idea at all, but you're not going to find any suggestion for selection committee members that don't have some appearance of bias.
Interesting suggestion, though. I could be on board.
Bobby in Portland, Ore. writes: At Kansas State, this coming year reminds me A LOT of the 2001 season. Bill Snyder was deciding between a potentially dynamic running quarterback (Ell Roberson/Daniel Sams) and a highly touted juco transfer (Marc Dunn/Jake Waters). He was also trying to replace several defensive stars (Beisel, Fatefehi, Cooper and Butler were all drafted). That year resulted in a see-saw battle between the quarterbacks that lasted all year, and a 6-6 record (3-5 Big 12) with a loss to Syracuse in the insight.com bowl. I fear that the 2013 Wildcats can expect a similar result this year.
DU: Decent comparison, Bobby. That 2001 team, though, was sandwiched between a pair of 11-win seasons. If that means enduring a six-win season this year, I'm betting K-State folk would take that one.
Ryan in Austin writes: I have this scary feeling Baylor is going to be really good and people are sleeping on them. I flipped on that K-State game last year and didn't recognize Baylor. So I decided to watch the Bowl game. Again, that team looked incredible. And I can't believe Wright, Williams, Gordon and RG III were all on the same team at one time. I feel weird about this Art Briles guy. He knows something.
DU: His eye for offensive talent is just absurd. I agree with you on the Bears, but I would say this: The Bears have never had a better chance to win the Big 12 title than they do this season. That's the case for a couple reasons. For as much attention as offenses get, everybody in the Big 12 knows you can't win league titles without a good defense. Time will tell how good Baylor's truly is, but that spurt last year was good enough to win Baylor a Big 12 title in a number of seasons. They completely shut down UCLA and K-State. We'll see if it carries over, but I know this: They aren't short on athletes. Guys like Javonte Magee and Ahmad Dixon and Bryce Hager along with K.J. Morton and Demetri Goodson give Baylor a great shot athletically to have a fantastic defense. That hasn't been the case in the past. RG III was a transcendent player, but Baylor has a better shot to win a title this year than in any year Griffin was on campus. This is simply a more complete team. Briles has that crazy eye for offensive talent, but his development on the team defensively is what has Baylor in position to do some special things this year.
Nathan Nely in Kansas City, Kan. writes: I get the sense from the blogs that it kind of bothers you that Bill Snyder is not more forthcoming when dealing with the media. I'm always wondering, would you feel more at ease if he gave up all his secrets about where his team is at and what direction the Wildcat's are moving in for their upcoming season? I know from being a K-State fan for many years now, it takes time but you get used to not knowing what kind of football team is going to show up on opening day. I guess for most of us, it's part of the magic!
DU: No, not really. Coaches are CEOs, and they've got a right to handle programs however they see fit. Is it easier and more fun for me to do my job if they open up practice and answer questions directly? Definitely. But I'm not going to blame a coach if he doesn't want to do things that way.
It's not really about me feeling at ease, though. I'm not nervous. I just like to be more informed, and that's hard to do when programs lock it up so tight. If I was a coach, I'd probably handle it more like Snyder than I would coaches who operate programs with a lot of openness.
Bill in Orange County, Calif. writes: Geno Smith and Justin Blackmon could wind up teammates in the Arena League before you know it. When you're their age, you don't always see clearly how tenuous that link to your brilliant future can be. Here's hoping they both get a clue before it's too late.
DU: This is so, so misguided. Terrible comparison that's not even close to the same thing. Blackmon has gotten into trouble twice on alcohol-related offenses and now violated the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Geno Smith is battling anonymous reports with vague critiques that don't really fall in line with what his college coaches say and the reputation he had in college.
Both should be great players, though the deck is stacked against both with no offensive weapons in New York for Geno, and no quarterback in Jacksonville for Blackmon.
Blackmon's choices have gotten him suspended four games in the NFL and one game in college. They've put charges on his record.
The stories about Smith are reports people think will affect his ability to succeed at the next level. They might. They might not. If he plays well, they largely go away. He can also defeat them by being a good teammate and going about his business with the Jets whether he plays or not.
Neither of these guys will be in the Arena league anytime soon, but they're not even close to the same level of issues. That's silly.
janorman74 in Fort Worth, Texas writes: In your recent post on the 2014 draft you mentioned that you were surprised not to see Jeffcoat as the biggest surprise -- what about Casey Pachall? No one is talking about this guy in terms of the 2014 draft despite his prototypical height and arm -- is his past really weighing him down so much? If he has a solid season and stays clean don't you think he'll run up the draft board?
DU: He has to prove he can play. He's got NFL-type size, and if he has a huge season, he'll definitely get a lot of NFL attention. His past is obviously a red flag, and those kinds of struggles are never 100 percent behind you. It's a daily battle. It sounds harsh, but it's the truth. For now, though, Pachall is a player whose troubles with alcohol and the law are more recent than his success on the field. He's got to change that this season.
If he does, you can bet he'll show up on NFL teams' draft boards.
2012 Big 12 record: 4-5
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1
Top returners: OL Cyril Richardson, RB Lache Seastrunk, S Ahmad Dixon, WR Tevin Reese, LB Eddie Lackey, DE Chris McAllister, LB Bryce Hager, K Aaron Jones
Key losses: WR Terrance Williams, QB Nick Florence, WR Lanear Sampson, S Mike Hicks, C Ivory Wade, DT Gary Mason Jr.
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Passing: Nick Florence (4,309 yards)
Rushing: Lache Seastrunk* (1,012 yards)
Receiving: Terrance Williams (1,832 yards)
Tackles: Bryce Hager* (124)
Sacks: Chris McAllister* (6)
Interceptions: Eddie Lackey* (4)
1. Bryce is the guy. It was going to take a lot for Bryce Petty to lose his starting spot, but he looked like a guy who suited up for his fourth spring this year and cemented his status as the heir apparent to a crazy-good quarterback tradition under Art Briles. He'll follow Robert Griffin III and Florence, who both set school records for passing yards.
2. Defense changes its identity. The Bears didn't have a ton of speed in the secondary last season, and as a result, relied heavily on zone and didn't play a lot of tight coverage. To start fixing the problem, Dixon moved back to traditional safety, and as the defense's most physically skilled talent, that was a wise decision. Baylor wants to play more man and play tighter this year, and we'll see if it pays off in the fall.
3. Offense finds its playmakers. Williams is gone and so is Sampson, two of the team's top three receivers. Reese returns, but Antwan Goodley and Jay Lee emerged to win starting spots this spring, and both look like big-time targets for one of college football's best offenses. Count on those guys and Clay Fuller to keep the tradition going.
1. Can the defense prove itself? The Bears were definitely one of the best defenses in the Big 12 over the last month of the season. The same unit, however, was also a big reason why Baylor limped to an 0-5 start in conference 12 play before ripping off four wins to end the season. The defensive line should be improved and young talents like Javonte Magee and Shawn Oakman could make names for themselves this fall.
2. Is the offensive line deep enough? Baylor's history under Briles at this position makes me pretty confident, and the Bears have a solid starting five. But losing Troy Baker this spring is a big knock, and the Bears only had 10 healthy offensive linemen this spring. Come fall, more injuries could force the Bears to force inexperienced players into the rotation. This was probably the biggest concern for Briles all spring.
3. Just how good is Petty? He looks good for now, and was productive and impressive during the spring. That's also the spring. RG3 and Florence broke school records for passing yards in consecutive seasons, though, so the bar is sky-high. There's every reason to believe in Petty, but expectations are high and reaching them won't be easy. The good news is he has a huge talent in Seastrunk and a solid receiving corps around him to support his efforts.
We'll close with those Baylor boys in Waco.
Strongest position: Running back
Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk emerged as the Big 12's best running back over the final month of the season, sprinting to a 1,000-yard season and returning to Waco for a highly anticipated encore. He's the Big 12's most dangerous player with the ball in his hands and will get plenty of chances to showcase his game-breaking speed. He's sometimes a bit too ambitious and and takes losses in the backfield, but it's definitely worth it, and he's working on being more north-south through the first line of the defense this spring.
He's not alone, either. Running back Glasco Martin "runs angry," Bears coach Art Briles told me on my visit earlier this month. We've seen that to be the case over his career, but the duo definitely balances each other out well. Martin is a more physical runner capable of earning tough yards, and he'll come in handy in short-yardage situations this season. The depth is impressive, but the Bears' 1-2 punch at running back is the Big 12's best entering the season. I don't know if I buy talk of them both hitting 1,000 yards this year, but they're going to be tough to handle all season.
Weakest position: Defensive tackle
Beau Blackshear and Javonte Magee have potential, but both combined for just 1.5 tackles for loss in spot duty last season, and they'll be forced into starting duty this season. Neither of them have a career start, though reserve Trevor Clemons-Valdez made three last season before being passed up on the depth chart this spring. Baylor's had issues stopping the run, and though it should be better at safety and defensive end this year, that development won't look nearly quite as impressive if the teeth of the defense doesn't toughen up a bit.
The position isn't a huge weakness, but when you look at the rest of the Bears' roster, it pops out to me as the biggest question mark on a defense that should be improved.
Baylor needed a quarterback and defensive tackle, and delivered in both positions. Javonte Magee is on the way as the nation's No. 20 tackle, and the Bears grabbed former Kansas commit Seth Russell, the nation's No. 47 quarterback, from outside Dallas. The Bears also added the No. 78 defensive tackle, Zorrell Ezell, and Joey Sercy from junior college.
The Cyclones needed receivers and got them. Two of the team's top four signees are receivers, P.J. Harris and Quan West. The duo was just outside the top 100 nationally at the position and came from Florida and Texas, respectively.
The raw rankings won't tell you the strength of Kansas' recruiting class. Quarterback has been a huge weakness the past two years, and passers Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps arrive as transfers from Notre Dame and BYU, respectively. It also fulfilled a need by adding Tyler Holmes, the nation's No. 105 tackle.
The biggest need filled for K-State is simple: defensive line. Two of the team's top signees (Travis Britz, Demonte Hood) are along the line, and the team added two more signees (Chaquil Reed, Wesley Hollingshed) from the juco ranks.
The Sooners clearly filled their biggest need. The team's top three recruits (Trey Metoyer, Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal) are all receivers, which is huge for a team that found out it wasn't very strong at the position after Ryan Broyles' injury. It also added the nation's No. 19 receiver, Derrick Woods, to the class.
The Cowboys added a whole lot of volume at receiver. Time will tell how much noise it makes. OSU added six receivers in this class, but none ranked in the top 85 at their position. The team's top recruit, Dominic Ramacher, is the nation' No. 3 tight end and will surely be able to catch a few passes.
The Longhorns lost two starters at linebacker, and filled the void extremely well. The nation's No. 1 inside linebacker, Dalton Santos, is coming. As is Peter Jinkens, the nation's No. 5 outside linebacker, and the No. 12 outside linebacker, Torshiro Davis. It also added Tim Cole, the No. 27 outside linebacker and Alex De La Torre, the No. 11 inside linebacker.
The Horned Frogs' top two commits in their top-25 class are both on the defensive line, filling a big need. That includes Devonte Fields, an ESPNU 150 signee and the No. 11 defensive end. Joey Hunt is the nation's No. 18 defensive tackle. Both hail from Texas. The Horned Frogs also added James McFarland and Terell Lathan, two defensive ends in the top 85 at the position.
The Red Raiders got big-time reinforcements at receiver, adding two of the nation's top 15 at the position. Dominique Wheeler and Reginald Davis are two of Tech's three ESPNU 150 signees in the top-20 class.
Top class: Texas
The Longhorns did what the Longhorns do once again: Dominate a state with a talent pool as rich as any in America. The flagship school in the state of Texas reeled in 12 ESPNU 150 signees, seven more than any school in the Big 12, and finished the day at No. 3 in ESPN Recruiting's class rankings, the only Big 12 team in the top five.
Player you'll see next year: Courtney Gardner, WR, Oklahoma
The Sooners grabbed Gardner, a juco prospect, on signing day after he had been committed to Arkansas. Gardner's physical maturity earned rave reviews. For the Sooners, who need big help at pass-catcher positions, he'll provide a big, versatile target to help replace Ryan Broyles, who left for the NFL and left a big void in the Sooners' lineup when he tore his ACL late in 2011.
Best save: Texas A&M
The Aggies got some semi-expected news early, receiving word that Bralon Addison had sent his letter of intent to Oregon. It didn't take A&M long to get over it, though. The nation's No. 18 receiver had left the fold, but later in the day, at a news conference in Dallas broadcast live on ESPNU, the nation's No. 3 receiver pledged to the Aggies. The sweetest part for the Ags: SEC-bound Thomas Johnson had previously been committed to Texas, which is badly in need of receivers.
Biggest thieves: Texas
The Longhorns did a little work on the recruiting trail late, too. Eight of the final nine commitments that Texas received were previously committed elsewhere, and Mack Brown's staff flipped four players between Saturday and signing day. The final one came midday on signing day, when LSU-committed, Shreveport-bred Torshiro Davis flipped his commitment from LSU and sent Texas his letter of intent.
Future award winner: Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas
You don't become the nation's all-time high school leader in touchdowns scored by accident. Gray is the top overall player headed to a Big 12 school and could do big things in Texas' physical attack. The backfield will be crowded at first, but Gray seems like a can't-miss prospect who could perhaps become another award winner in the backfield for Texas, which hasn't had one since Cedric Benson in 2004.
Program on the rise: Baylor
RG who? Baylor's more than just one player, and Art Briles' staff proved it this year. Baylor brings in a class just outside the national top 25 that's loaded with prospects on the side of the ball the Bears need the most help with: Defense. Linebacker Brian Nance and defensive tackle Javonte Magee are among the nation's best at their positions.
This will change quickly in the next couple days, but here's how they look before things get real crazy. Here's how the rankings looked two weeks ago, when we last updated the Big 12 scorecard.
This scorecard is written in pencil. Tomorrow, players will sign in ink.
1. Texas Longhorns
National ranking: No. 3
Total commits: 27
ESPNU 150 commits: 11
Key commits: RB Johnathan Gray, DT Malcom Brown, WR Cayleb Jones, QB Connor Brewer
Latest news: Texas recently added the nation's No. 1 inside linebacker, former Tennessee commit Dalton Santos. That may help its national ranking, which fell from No. 2 to No. 3 since our last update. The Longhorns also added No. 14 ATH Daje Johnson, a former TCU commit. Both were ESPNU 150 prospects. Texas also added defensive end Bryce Cottrell, who had previously been committed to Oregon.
2. Oklahoma Sooners
National ranking: No. 10
Total commits: 20
ESPNU 150 commits: 5
Key commits: RB Alex Ross, WR Sterling Shepard, WR Durron Neal, OL Ty Darlington, WR Trey Metoyer
Latest news: Oklahoma surpassed Texas A&M since our last update, and added Sam Grant, the nation's No. 18 TE. David Smith, the nation's No. 124 ATH, also joined the fold for the Sooners. One of the nation's top juco offensive tackles, Will Latu also pledged to Oklahoma and could make an immediate impact. Oklahoma swiped Zack Sanchez on Monday, a cornerback who had been committed to Baylor since July.
3. Texas A&M Aggies
National ranking: No. 12
Total commits: 22
ESPNU 150 commits: 5
Key commits: OLB Jordan Richmond, RB Trey Williams, ATH Bralon Addison, QB Matt Davis
Latest news: The nation's No. 33 defensive end, Polo Manukainiu, became a late addition to the Aggies' class, and the nation's No. 30 safety, Edward Pope, also gave new coach Kevin Sumlin a commitment.
4. Texas Tech Red Raiders
National ranking: No. 17
Total commits: 26
ESPNU 150 commits: 3
Key commits: WR Reginald Davis, WR Dominique Wheeler, OT Michael Starts, QB Clayton Nicholas
Latest news: The Red Raiders added juco cornerback Ola Falemi to their class, but look out for Tuberville on signing day. Switches on the big day are no surprises with him at Tech.
5. Baylor Bears
Total commits: 22
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: ATH Corey Coleman, OT Kyle Fuller, DT Javonte Magee, OLB Brian Nance
Latest news: Baylor swiped Kansas QB commit Seth Russell, No. 47 nationally at the position, to make a big wave across the Big 12. It also grabbed cornerback Patrick Levels out of Dallas. Nance and Magee both pledged to Baylor after the new year.
6. Missouri Tigers
Total commits: 18
ESPNU 150 commits: 1
Key commits: OG Evan Boehm, QB Maty Mauk, ILB Donavin Newsom, OLB Torey Boozer
Latest news: Missouri may be in the lead in the DGB sweepstakes after hosting the nation's No. 1 receiver on a visit on the final weekend of the recruiting season. The nation's No. 105 ATH John Gibson and No. 151 DT, Harold Brantley, are the latest additions to Mizzou's class.
7. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Total commits: 21
ESPNU 150 commits: 1
Key commits: TE Dominic Ramacher, OLB Jeremiah Tshimanga, OT Michael Wilson, QB Wes Lunt
Latest news: OSU has added five commits since our last update, including Wilson, the nation's No. 22 offensive tackle. Receiver Chance Allen (No. 141) joins the squad as well. CB Kevin Peterson came to OSU after originally committing to Oklahoma. OSU also added receiver Jhajuan Seales. Juco offensive tackle Chris Grishby committed on Jan. 22.
8. Iowa State Cyclones
Total commits: 21
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: OT Daniel Burton, WR P.J. Harris, WR Quan West, ATH Damien Lawry
Latest news: The Cyclones have two fewer commits than the last time we checked in, but added Devlyn Cousin, the nation's No. 154 defensive tackle.
9. Kansas State Wildcats
Total commits: 18
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: WR Vernon Vaughn, DT Travis Britz, RB Jarvis Leverett, QB Tavarius Bender
Latest news: Kansas State added five commitments in the last two weeks, highlighted by Demonte Hood, the nation's No. 111 DT. RB Charles Jones is headed to Manhattan via Louisiana, too. S Donovan Starks is coming from Crosby, Texas, and receiver Judah Jones is a Wildcat after wrapping his high school career at power Evangel Christian in Louisiana. OT Ellwood Clement gave K-State five juco players in this class, low by Bill Snyder's standards.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
Total commits: 18
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: TE Jordan Smith, OG Brian Beckmann, S Gregg Allen, DT Tyler Holmes
Latest news: New coach Charlie Weis has added four commits since our last update. QB Seth Russell, the team's top commit, is gone, but the Jayhawks have the QB spot settled for the next three years with transfers Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps. Greg Allen (No. 89 safety) is the top new addition, and Charles Brooks gives the class a second tight end. The Jayhawks also added a pair of juco defensive tackles that figure to have immediate impacts, Chaquil Reed and Jordan Tavai.