Dallas Colleges: Justin Blackmon
Today's Take Two topic: Which player has the biggest gripe about being left off our Big 12 Mount Rushmore
Take 1: Jake Trotter
The player with the biggest gripe is Texas running back Ricky Williams.
My reply: Who then would you take off?
Nobody would argue that Vince Young doesn’t belong after his magical season that put Texas over the national championship hump for the first time in 35 years. Oklahoma’s dominance of the conference under Bob Stoops warranted the Sooners at least one spot on Rushmore. So if Adrian Peterson came off, he’d have to be replaced by some other Sooner.
Ndamukong Suh is the only defensive player, and while the Big 12 has been an offensive conference, the Rushmore wouldn’t feel legitimate without at least one defender. What about Williams over Robert Griffin III? Well, no player has had a bigger impact on his school -- or the entire Big 12 -- than RG III, who with his coach transformed Baylor from the laughingstock of the league to one of its premier programs.
But if Rushmores included five spots, Williams would have been on mine, and here’s why: by coming back to school, winning the Heisman and leading Texas to a 9-3 record (a year after the Longhorns went 4-8), he expedited Mack Brown’s rebuilding project in Austin. Two years later, the Longhorns would go on to win 10 or more games in nine consecutive seasons, culminating with the national title.
Without the rapid turnaround in ’98, who knows if the national title happens in ’05? Williams’ Heisman season gave Brown the credibility to recruit the best talent in the country. And that’s why Williams has a gripe.
Take 2: Brandon Chatmon
Big 12 folklore is full of players who are worthy of their place on the conference’s Mount Rushmore and Ricky Williams has a stronger case than most. Yet former Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon was the biggest snub.
Has he been the best receiver in Big 12 history? No, Michael Crabtree will have some say in that. Is he the most productive player left off the original foursome? No. Did he hoist the Heisman Trophy? Not even close.
But he’s the biggest snub because he fits the criteria to land on our Big 12 Mount Rushmore. OSU’s first Big 12 championship in 2011 was built upon his shoulders, as the Cowboys went 23-3 in his final two seasons. He won back-to-back Biletnikoff Awards as the nation’s top receiver with 232 receptions for 3,304 yards and 38 touchdowns combined in 2010 and 2011. And he had at least 100 receiving yards in every game he played in 2010, a 12-game streak that is the best in the FBS since 2004, with only BYU’s Austin Collie (11 games in 2008) joining Blackmon in double digits.
So, while Blackmon isn’t a name that immediately comes to mind, he helped take a football program to new heights, dominated opponents with his individual brilliance and had the ability to take over games from the receiver position in a way that has been rarely seen since the Big 12 was formed in 1996.
- RB: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06) -- Nicknamed "A.D." because he could run "All Day," Peterson set an FBS freshman record with 1,925 rushing yards while finishing second to Matt Leinart in the '04 Heisman voting. Injuries plagued his next two seasons, but he still was a force and rushed for more than 1,000 yards to finish with 4,041 career rushing yards and 41 touchdowns before turning pro early.
- WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2009-11) -- Blackmon joined Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree as the only receiver to win the Biletnikoff twice. In those two seasons, Blackmon put up 233 receptions, 3,304 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns. Blackmon gets the slight nod over Crabtree, because Oklahoma State won its first Big 12 title with Blackmon at wideout, while the Red Raiders came up just short with Crabtree.
- DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- There was no more dominant defensive tackle during the BCS era than Suh. After registering 12 tackles and 24 tackles for loss, he placed fourth in the Heisman voting in '09, and won a host of national awards, including the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik. Suh too went on to become the second overall pick in the draft.
- S: Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-01) -- Williams was a major part of Oklahoma's revival at the turn of the millennium. He was one of the Sooners' best players on the 2000 national championship team, before winning the Thorpe and Nagurski awards in '01. That year, he also was the Big 12 defensive player of the year and a unanimous All-American while placing seventh in the Heisman voting.
With the BCS done, we've come up with our Big 12 all-BCS era team (1998-2013) below:
RB: Ricky Williams, Texas (1998) -- Williams was part of the BCS era for only one season, but what a season it was. He rushed for 2,327 yards and won the Heisman Trophy going away. Only Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne has more career rushing yards than Williams (6,279).
RB: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06) -- Despite battling injuries throughout his career, Peterson still was a beast in college. After rushing for 1,925 yards while leading the Sooners to the national title game, he finished second in the ’04 Heisman voting, even though there was still a stigma then in voting for a freshman.
WR: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (2007-08) -- Crabtree became the first two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver. In '08, he and QB Graham Harrell led the Red Raiders to an upset of Texas and a No. 2 ranking in the polls.
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2009-11) -- Blackmon became the second and only other two-time winner of the Biletnikoff. In his final two seasons, he finished with 233 receptions, 3,304 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns, and he helped propel the Cowboys to their first Big 12 title in '11.
TE: Chase Coffman, Missouri (2005-08) -- Coffman had a monster statistical college career for a tight end with 247 catches for 2,659 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns. He won the ’08 Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end. Missouri won 37 games during the four years Coffman was in the lineup.
OT: Jammal Brown, Oklahoma (2001-04) -- Brown was a unanimous All-American and a three-time All-Big 12 selection. He became the fifth Sooner to win the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top interior lineman.
OT: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State (2007-09) -- In Okung’s final two seasons, Oklahoma State led the Big 12 in rushing yards. The Cowboys were also third in the country in ’07 in fewest sacks allowed with Okung at left tackle. He was a unanimous All-American and Outland finalist in ’09 and became the sixth overall pick in the ’10 NFL draft.
OG: Cyril Richardson, Baylor (2010-13) -- Richardson became Baylor’s seventh all-time unanimous All-American. The Outland finalist was also a key piece on the nation’s highest-scoring offense this season.
OG: Justin Blalock, Texas (2003-06) -- Though a guard in the NFL, Blalock actually started 50 games for Texas, most coming at right tackle. He was a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and a consensus All-American in 2006.
C: Dominic Raiola, Nebraska (1998-2000) -- Raiola was the inaugural winner of the Rimington Award, named after former Nebraska center Dave Rimington, which recognizes the best center in college football. He was an Outland finalist and a consensus All-American.
APB: Darren Sproles, Kansas State (2001-04) -- One of the most prolific all-purpose performers in college football history, Sproles finished his career with 6,812 all-purpose yards. Among his 39 consecutive starts, his most memorable performance came in the ’03 Big 12 championship, when he had 235 yards rushing and 88 receiving, as K-State upset top-ranked Oklahoma 35-7.
DE: Brian Orakpo, Texas (2005-08) -- Orakpo captured the ’08 Nagurski Award as the most outstanding defensive player in the country, and the Lombardi Award, given to the best college lineman or linebacker. He also was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American while piling up 11 sacks his senior year.
DE: Von Miller, Texas A&M (2007-10) -- Out of a hybrid defensive end/linebacker role, Miller led the nation with 17 sacks in ’09. He was a two-time All-American and won the Butkus Award in ’10 as the nation’s top linebacker.
DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- There was no more dominant defensive player in college football during the BCS era. Suh finished fourth in the Heisman voting in ’09 and won several national awards, including the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski (most outstanding defensive player)and Bednarik (defensive player of the year). He was also a unanimous All-American and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
DT: Tommie Harris, Oklahoma (2001-03) -- Harris was a force from the beginning as a freshman on the OU defensive line. He won the Lombardi his junior year, and he was a two-time consensus All-American, garnering unanimous honors in ’03.
LB: Derrick Johnson, Texas (2001-04) -- Johnson was a menacing linebacker for the Longhorns, earning consensus All-American honors in ’03 and unanimous honors in ’04. He was also a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and won the Butkus (best linebacker) and Nagurski awards as a senior. Johnson finished his career with 458 tackles.
LB: Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma (1998-2001) -- Calmus played a major role in OU’s resurgence under Bob Stoops. He won the Butkus in ’01 and was a finalist for the Nagurski and Bednarik. A three-time All-Big 12 pick, Calmus led the Sooners in tackles in all three of those seasons.
LB: Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- Lehman too won the Butkus, beating out Johnson for the award in ’03. He also was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, captured the Bednarik, was a unanimous All-American and played in two national championship games.
CB: Derrick Strait, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- A four-year starter, Strait finished with a school-record 52 career pass breakups. He also won the Thorpe, and was a unanimous All-American.
S: Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-2001) -- Nicknamed “Superman,” Williams was the Big 12’s most dominating defensive player until Suh came along. He won the Thorpe and Nagurski in ’01, and was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American the same season. He also famously skied over the Texas offensive line to force the game-clinching interception to earn his moniker.
S: Michael Huff, Texas (2002-05) -- Huff became the first Longhorn to win the Thorpe, and was the leader of the ’05 national championship defense. He was also a unanimous All-American that season.
K: Mason Crosby, Colorado (2003-06) -- Crosby was three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and twice was a consensus All-American even though he never won the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's top kicker. He was also the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year as a junior, and converted 66 field goals in his career.
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State (2009-12) -- Sharp became the first three-time All-American in Oklahoma State history, and he earned All-American honors both as a punter and a kicker. He was twice named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year. In his career, he made 50 of 59 field goals, averaged 45.9 yards per punt and missed only one extra point.
KR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2012) -- Austin was in the Big 12 only one season, but he was unstoppable that one season. On top of being one of the most dangerous kick returners in the country, Austin had 1,289 yards receiving and 643 rushing, and finished second in the country in all-purpose yards.
PR: Ryan Broyles Oklahoma (2008-11) -- On top of being a prolific punt returner, Broyles was one of the most efficient receivers in college football history. He finished his career with an FBS-record 349 receptions, and was a two-time consensus All-American before a knee injury cut his senior season short.
Baylor’s Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley, however, have a chance to top that list.
But Reese and Goodley aren’t the only big-time duos in the Big 12 this year.
Kansas State’s Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett have been lighting it up since returning from injury. The last two weeks the two have totaled five touchdown catches.
Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard lead the Sooners with five touchdowns apiece. Texas Tech’s Eric Ward and Jakeem Grant are fifth and sixth in the league in receiving. Oklahoma State’s Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore are beginning to warm up with Clint Chelf at QB. And Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis have been stalwarts in this league for years.
But who are the best tandems ever to play Big 12? We lay it out below.
Tight ends were not included (sorry Jermaine Gresham and Chase Coffman). The tandems were evaluated on what they accomplished together, not on whether their careers simply overlapped (eliminating Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander, for example); and, this is a list for duos, not singles, trios or quartets (apologies to Rashaun Woods, and the 2008 Oklahoma and 2010 Baylor receiving corps).
To the list:
1. Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2012): In their only year in the league, this tandem was one-two in the Big 12 in receiving, combining for 224 receptions and 2,914 receiving yards. Bailey himself had 25 receiving touchdowns; nobody else in the league had more than 13. Austin, meanwhile, also rushed for 344 yards in one game at running back. As Bailey tweeted out earlier Monday morning on this topic, “case closed.”
2. Michael Crabtree and Danny Amendola, Texas Tech (2007): Crabtree got all the headlines in 2007 on his way to winning his first of two Biletnikoff awards. But out of the slot, Amendola quietly put up 109 receptions for 1,245 yards, as Tech went 9-4.
3. Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby, Texas (2008): Shipley and Cosby starred on one of the three best Big 12 teams that didn’t win a conference title. The two each had 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit TDs from QB Colt McCoy, as the Longhorns finished the year 12-1, their only loss coming on Crabtree’s game-winning touchdown in the final seconds in Lubbock. The two were also prolific on special teams, with Shipley’s kick return touchdown sparking Texas’ 45-35 comeback win over Oklahoma.
4. Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper, Oklahoma State (2011): As with Crabtree-Amendola, Blackmon got all the attention on his way to a second Biletnikoff award. But Cooper was a pivotal piece in OSU’s first Big 12 title team, as he racked up 71 receptions out of the slot. Blackmon, of course, had a monster year with 121 catches and 18 touchdowns.
5. Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams, Baylor (2011): Reese was actually the third wheel to this duo, which shined with RGIII at quarterback. Wright was an All-American with 108 catches, 1,663 yard and 14 touchdowns. Williams was big time, too, finishing fifth in the Big 12 in receiving before taking over the No. 1 role in 2012.
6. Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills, Oklahoma (2010): Broyles led college football with 131 receptions on his way to becoming the all-time FBS leader in career catches. Stills broke OU’s freshman single-season receiving record, as the Sooners stormed back to capture the Big 12 crown after a pair of midseason losses.
7. Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas (2008): It might be difficult to remember now, but the Jayhawks used to play some ball. Meier tied Crabtree for second in the league with 97 receptions. Briscoe trailed only Dez Bryant with 1,402 receiving yards. This was an underrated duo.
8. Quincy Morgan and Aaron Lockett, Kansas State (1999): On one of the first passing teams in the Big 12, Morgan and Lockett shined. Morgan had 42 receptions for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns and was a first-team all-conference selection. Lockett, Tyler Lockett's uncle, was a second-team all-league pick for the Wildcats, who went 11-1 and finished the year ranked sixth in the polls.
9. Jarrett Hicks and Joel Filani, Texas Tech (2005): Neither might be a household name around the Big 12 anymore, but these two were both first-team All-Big 12 selections in ’05 along with Iowa State WR Todd Blythe.
10. Mark Clayton and Travis Wilson, Oklahoma (2004): Clayton carried the moniker of best receiver in OU history until Broyles came around. Because of Adrian Peterson, Clayton’s numbers dipped in ’04, but he was still an All-American with 66 catches. Wilson led the Sooners with 11 TD grabs, as OU advanced to a second consecutive national championship game.
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.
Fellow expert Todd McShay has the same two as Kiper and also is optimistic about the chances of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Tavon Austin.
So let’s split the difference and label the potential Big 12 first-round picks as an optimistic three, with Johnson being the only absolute first-round lock.
Those three would represent the fewest Big 12 players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2008. Even if four went, the Big 12 still would have the fewest since 2008.
That year, only Kansas -- yep, the Jayhawks -- managed a first-rounder, Aqib Talib to Tampa Bay with the 20th pick. In the four drafts that followed, the Big 12 has always put at least five players into the first round, including the first four overall picks in 2010.
How well this year’s group of first-round picks will fare might not be known for years. What is known, though, is how well Big 12 players have done when they are selected in the first round. With that in mind, here is a ranking -- from worst to best -- of the Big 12’s best first-round draft classes over the past 10 years.
2008: It’s all about quantity, and a little bit of quality. In 2008, the Big 12 only produced one first-round pick, Talib. He has not produced dramatic returns in the NFL. In the past two years, he has only started nine games. He was somewhat productive for Tampa Bay in the previous three seasons, starting 41 games and playing in 53. But, again, he was the only Big 12 player taken in the first round in 2008.
2006: Vince Young is working out at Texas’ pro day at the end of March. Enough said. Davin Joseph and Michael Huff have been solid producers. But when the No. 3 overall pick is out of the league and having to work out at his alma mater's pro day, it means it was a bad year for the Big 12 in the first round of the NFL draft.
2004: Tommie Harris and Marcus Tubbs, the two defensive tackles taken in the first round, were productive for a few years, with Harris selected to Pro Bowls in 2005, '06 and ’07 before he was beset by injuries. Tubbs lasted four seasons in the NFL. Roy Williams had 5,715 receiving yards but never lived up to the hype he generated coming out of Texas. Rashaun Woods played only two years and had seven career catches.
2005: The lack of numbers might be what hurts this group the most. Cedric Benson, Jammal Brown, Derrick Johnson, Mark Clayton and Fabian Washington all proved they could play at the NFL level. Benson has had three 1,000-yard-plus seasons. Johnson is one of the top linebackers in the game. Brown remains a solid option on the offensive line. Clayton played seven NFL seasons; Washington played six. But there were only five guys selected and that isn't enough to push 2005 to the top of the list.
2007: It wasn’t the biggest group, but it did include Adrian Peterson, so there could be some quibbling that maybe 2007 should be higher in the rankings. Throw in Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin and the debate could get even more heated. Adam Carriker was also taken this year. He started his career strong but suffered an injury and only played in two games last season.
2003: Kevin Williams has been the standout of this group. The defensive tackle has started every game but four in his 10-year career. Terence Newman has been effective as a defensive back, first in Dallas and last season in Cincinnati. Tyler Brayton played at least 15 games on the defensive line in a nine-year career. Ty Warren played eight solid seasons for New England but tailed off last season with Denver. Andre Woolfolk lasted four seasons, mostly as a reserve.
2011: Von Miller, who was the highest pick among Big 12 players this year, has proved to be the top player so far. Aldon Smith is not far behind. Add in Prince Amukamara, Phillip Taylor, who when healthy is a starter at defensive tackle, a somewhat productive Blaine Gabbert and Nate Solder as well as reliable backups Danny Watkins and Jimmy Smith and this proved to be a successful year for Big 12 first-round selections.
2012: Three quarterbacks, and all were not only starters as rookies but also made huge differences for their respective squads. Clearly, Robert Griffin III made the most dramatic impact, but Ryan Tannehill, with the Dolphins, and Brandon Weeden, with Cleveland, were both solid. Kendall Wright and Justin Blackmon each had 64 catches, for Tennessee and Jacksonville, respectively. Blackmon was targeted more (133 to 104) and had 200 more receiving yards.
2010: This list maybe doesn’t have the star power and is not littered with offensive playmakers, but six of the nine players picked were selected for the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl: Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Thomas, Russell Okung and Jermaine Gresham. And the other three players -- Dez Bryant, Sam Bradford and Sean Weatherspoon -- were vital pieces for their respective teams.
The Cowboys have a pair of receivers in the fold in Ra'Shaad Samples, the nation's No. 166 player, and Marcell Ateman, the nation's No. 245 player. The duo ranks No. 19 and No. 37 at the position, respectively. Samples is a 5-foot-11, 170-pound target from power program Skyline in Dallas, and Ateman is a 6-foot-5, 200-pound prospect from Wylie, Texas. Those are two very different receivers, but they'll get a chance to start their career in an Oklahoma State offense with lots of receptions to go around.
Oklahoma State missed out on the nation's top receiver, Laquon Treadwell, who signed with Ole Miss earlier today, and longtime commit Fred Ross (No. 22 WR) flipped to Mississippi State on Tuesday. But it's still a solid pair of pickups for Oklahoma State, which has established a stellar receiver tradition with Dez Bryant and two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon, as well as 2012 breakout star Josh Stewart. There's no doubt those guys influenced Samples' and Ateman's decisions.
The Cowboys' third ESPN 300 signee, defensive tackle Vincent Taylor, made it official this morning, too. He's a 6-foot-2, 267-pound defensive tackle from San Antonio, Texas, and ranks as the nation's No. 24 defensive tackle.
Here are my picks for the Big 12's most improved players:
Kerry Hyder, DL, Texas Tech: Hyder was arguably the biggest reason for Texas Tech's defensive resurgence this season, racking up 14 tackles for loss to rank fifth in the Big 12. A year ago, he had just five among his 42 tackles. This year, he made 56 stops, but had 5.5 sacks alone and broke up four passes.
Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor: Williams was a really good receiver a year ago, putting together maybe the quietest 900-yard receiving season ever. This year, though, he was better than anyone could have predicted. I voted for him for the Biletnikoff Award after leading the nation with 1,832 yards and 12 scores on 97 catches, up from 59 a year ago. He made the jump from great player to true superstar. He'll be an NFL first-rounder.
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU: Verrett had a nightmare start to 2011, getting burned by Robert Griffin III in a painful loss in Waco to begin the season. This year, he was unquestionably the Big 12's best shutdown corner and arguably one of the best in the country. Ask any Big 12 receiver. He's fast, physical and his great hands helped him grab six interceptions (fifth-most nationally) and break up a ridiculous 16 passes. That's 22 pass defenses. No other Big 12 player had more than 15.
Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas: Pierson was a great complement to power back James Sims, and ranked 10th in the league with 760 yards on just 117 carries. While Sims was suspended to begin the season, he had a pair of 120-yard games and topped 200 yards against Texas Tech, but his yards per carry (6.5) gets him on this list. Among the 25 Big 12 backs with at least 75 carries this year, only Seastrunk had a higher yards-per-carry average.
Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: Johnson was a good tackle last season, but he made a decent argument for being the best in the Big 12 this year. He was solid all season long, but seeing him shut down Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields in the regular season finale made a big impact on me. He also played well against possible top-five pick Damontre Moore, who was largely quiet in the Cotton Bowl loss to Texas A&M.
Bryce Hager, LB, Baylor: Hager's tackle numbers are a little inflated because of Baylor's early defensive struggles, but he led the Big 12 with 124 stops after making just 13 in limited duty a year ago as a freshman. If you watched him late in the year against K-State or UCLA, you saw how good Hager and his partner in crime at linebacker, Eddie Lackey, could be. It seemed like he was in Collin Klein's face all day, and the game may have been different without him.
West Virginia ran away with the poll before the year began. Who wins now? Which Big 12 offense was best this year?
Note: We can only include five teams in polls. TCU was in the preseason poll, but obviously won't be in this poll. I also put Kansas State in here, rather than Texas Tech, which was fifth in the Big 12 in total offense.
Let's take a look.
The Bears boast the nation's leader in total offense, quarterback Nick Florence, and led the nation in total offense. Florence even accounted for more yards per game than Johnny Football at Texas A&M. The Bears discovered another weapon in running back Lache Seastrunk late in the season and have one of the league's best offensive lines, but Biletnikoff Award finalist and the nation's leader in receiving yards, Terrance Williams, might be the most talented player on the roster.
The Pokes had quarterback issues, but finished the season with three (!!) 1,000-yard passers and finished fifth in the nation in total offense. Running back Joseph Randle is the Big 12's best, and receiver Josh Stewart broke out with 1,154 receiving yards as a sophomore. The rest of the unit is deep, but even without Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden, the Pokes got up and down the field quickly.
Geno Smith got off to one of the greatest starts in the history of the Big 12, reaching 5-0 and throwing 25 touchdowns before his first interception. He came to Earth a bit in the middle of a five-game losing streak, but Tavon Austin definitely has a case as the league's best overall offensive weapon, even though fellow receiver Stedman Bailey racked up 23 touchdown catches, 10 more than any player in the league and more than Blackmon and Michael Crabtree in their Biletnikoff Award-winning seasons. The Mountaineers never found a consistent running game, but were sixth nationally in pass offense.
Oklahoma relied heavily on Landry Jones, but found a home-run hitter in juco transfer Damien Williams. The youth at receiver showed up early in the season, but transfers Jalen Saunders (Fresno State) and Justin Brown (Penn State) provided solid targets late in the season for Jones, who racked up consecutive 500-yard passing games in wins against Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Jones' season has already pushed him into third in NCAA history in passing yardage.
Kansas State didn't rack up yardage by the bunches, but until late struggles against TCU and Baylor, the Wildcats led the Big 12 in scoring offense. Quarterback Collin Klein rumbled his way to New York City as a Heisman finalist, and the ground-inclined Wildcats offense had two of the Big 12's top five rushers, with Klein and running back John Hubert.
1. West Virginia (2-0; last week: 1) The Mountaineers' offense is setting all kinds of records and is on track to be one of the best we've seen in awhile. Geno Smith's numbers are competitive with what we saw from Robert Griffin III a year ago, and Stedman Bailey's been more productive than Justin Blackmon was this time last year. Can they keep it up when league play starts? Maryland stands between WVU and its Big 12 opener at home versus Baylor.
2. Oklahoma (2-0; last week: 2) The Sooners were off this week, but Norman will be buzzing for a hyped Big 12 opener, and what I'd consider the real start of league play: Bill Snyder, Optimus Klein and Kansas State are on their way to Soonerville.
3. Texas (3-0, last week: 4) Texas' offense looked better than it has for a long time against Ole Miss. The Rebels didn't offer much of a pass rush and its defensive backs were ... not very good. Still, who would have thought David Ash could throw for 326, four scores and go three games without an interception? As for the Big 12 Power Rankings, I hopped the Horns over K-State ... for now. The Longhorns have two weeks to prepare for their league opener at Oklahoma State.
4. Kansas State (3-0; last week: 3) The Wildcats once again struggled early against an inferior opponent. This time it was North Texas. No worries about anything like that next week. Oklahoma's lost three games at home in Bob Stoops' 13-plus seasons in Norman. Collin Klein's toughest test so far in 2012 awaits.
5. Baylor (2-0; last week: 5) The Bears looked ugly for the first half against FCS power Sam Houston State. The fact of the matter is this: SHSU is better and more composed than a lot of bad FBS teams. But still, not an encouraging sign. That said, Baylor's one-time cupcake actually gives it a chance to impress next week. The Bears travel to face Louisiana-Monroe in an awkward Friday nighter. The WarHawks knocked off Arkansas last week and nearly did the same to Auburn on Saturday.
6. TCU (2-0, 1-0 Big 12; last week: 6) The Frogs made some awful mistakes in the red zone, and what should have been a four- to five-touchdown romp at Kansas turned into an ugly 20-6 win. They'll take it, but the mistakes have to be fixed. The Frogs have another somewhat reasonable challenge coming up this week: Virginia. The Hoos were rolled by Georgia Tech this week, but beat Penn State in their second game.
7. Oklahoma State (2-1; last week: 7) Oklahoma State will do some dancing with its quarterbacks for the next two weeks before hosting Texas, but J.W. Walsh looked a lot more than just capable in the Cowboys' lopsided win over Louisiana. Can he do it against Texas? Will he have to? We may not know for sure for quite some time.
8. Texas Tech (3-0; last week: 8) Tech has been legitimately impressive through three games, easily disposing of three overmatched opponents. Still, we don't know anything about this team yet. Can it beat Iowa State? We'll find out in two weeks ... and then the Red Raiders host Oklahoma. We'll have a decent idea of whether or not this is a bowl team -- or more -- by then.
9. Iowa State (3-0; last week: 9) Iowa State did what it needed to do against Western Illinois to improve to 3-0. That's the second consecutive season the Cyclones have pulled that off, and the first time that's happened in more than a decade. Is 5-0 possible? Iowa State's never lost to Tommy Tuberville at Texas Tech, and gets the Riverboat Gambler pretty far inland in two weeks in Ames. Then, a trip to TCU awaits.
10. Kansas (1-2, 0-1 Big 12; last week: 10) The offense still leaves a lot to be desired, but there's no question the defense is better. The Jayhawks have already nabbed a Big 12-high 12 takeaways, and though TCU moved the ball, KU made it look difficult often. When will the Jayhawks' Big 12 losing skid -- currently at 13 games -- end?
The reigning Big 12 champs are quite mortal. Chalk this one up as the biggest surprise of the young season in the Big 12. Turns out, Oklahoma State can't just plug-and-play to replace a pair of first-round picks. Tracy Moore turned in a fantastic game (eight receptions, 106 yards, four TDs), but Wes Lunt is no Brandon Weeden, and Justin Blackmon's usually sure hands were missed. Lunt threw for 440 yards, but three interceptions and a school-record 167 penalty yards on 15 flags were too much to overcome. The front seven looked like it had never seen a zone read before, giving up 59 points to a still-learning Arizona team in a 59-38 loss. The defense was missing its coordinator, Bill Young, who is dealing with a health issue, but the Cowboys might end up looking pretty mediocre in a very deep Big 12 if the turnovers and penalties don't cease. Worse than committing four turnovers? Forcing zero. The Cowboys didn't get a single takeaway in the desert on Saturday night after forcing 44 last season.
Never, ever doubt Paul Rhoads (again). How do we keep doing this? A tossup game? Against a rival? Most folks (myself included) picked the Hawkeyes, but Rhoads pulled off another huge program win, setting a milestone yet again with the Cyclones, who hadn't won at Iowa since 2002, when Seneca Wallace was still in town. It didn't look pretty, and Iowa State's loaded with flaws, but there's no such thing as a bad win when it comes against a rival or it comes on the road. Iowa State got both on Saturday, making big plays down the stretch to make it happen.
TCU knows how to make an entrance. Yes, it was an FCS opponent, but zero incompletions in 17 attempts for two quarterbacks, and a defensive shutout? Oklahoma State showed us on Saturday night exactly what beating up on an FCS opponent ultimately means (nothing), but what else could TCU do? Look out for true freshman Devonte Fields, too, who could become a force in this league. An injury to Ross Forrest has forced TCU to depend on him more than it would like, but the talented blue-chip recruit notched his first career sack as Gary Patterson became the school's all-time leader in wins.
It's going to be another long year in Lawrence. What's more troubling? Kansas losing this game? Or Kansas being just a six-point favorite against Rice, which had never beaten a team from the Big 12 since the league was formed? The Jayhawks looked the part of an inexperienced team that didn't know how to win on Saturday, squandering a 24-13 lead late in the third quarter and losing a game it had no business losing. Dayne Crist's second interception of the day was a back-breaker, giving Rice the ball near midfield to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired. Crist is better than KU's alternatives, but he hasn't played well to this point. He finished just 16-of-28 for 144 yards with a touchdown and two picks. I thought Kansas would be better this year. The Jayhawks may improve by season's end -- Saturday proved they've got more room to do it than any team in the Big 12 -- but good grief, losing to Rice at home? I don't care what the circumstances are. That's terrible for a Big 12 team. This is the worst KU loss since the 6-3 North Dakota State disaster that kicked off the Turner Gill Era in 2010.
Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team to open its season on the road or even away from home, and it wins the award for weirdest opening game, too.
TCU is idle in Week 1. If you're wondering where Texas A&M and Missouri went, go check the SEC blog.
SATURDAY (all times ET)
No. 11 West Virginia vs. Marshall (noon, FX): West Virginia takes on its in-state rival to kick off its first season in the Big 12. There's been plenty of hype about what Dana Holgorsen's offense will look like in Year 2. Time to stop talking and start producing. Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin just might put on a show in this one.
Iowa State vs. Tulsa (3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network): Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads isn't hiding from the fact that his team is the underdog in this one. Despite hosting the Conference USA member Golden Hurricane, oddsmakers have Rhoads' squad as a 1.5-point underdog. Here's guessing Rhoads is a little insulted at that, but using it to motivate his team. Will it work?
No. 21 Kansas State vs. Missouri State (7 p.m., K-StateHD.TV): Kansas State's campaign to validate last season's narrow successes kicks off with what should be simple: an FCS opponent. Don't take it for granted, though. Even last year's 10-win team needed a touchdown in the final minutes to beat FCS member Eastern Kentucky 10-7. This one shouldn't be close, but you never know.
Texas Tech vs. Northwestern State (7 p.m., Fox Sports Southwest Plus): It's been nine years since Texas Tech played a nonconference game against a BCS conference opponent, and that won't change in 2012. This time around, though, it's needed. Tech is trying to win its way back after going 5-7 last year, but the main attraction on Saturday will be Eric Stephens, who will be making his return from a terrible knee injury suffered against Texas A&M last year.
No. 19 Oklahoma State vs. Savannah State (7 p.m., Fox College Sports): Savannah State's won just one game in the FCS in each of the past two seasons. Oklahoma State won 12 and the Big 12 last season. The post-Brandon Weeden/Justin Blackmon era might have its bumpy nights, but this shouldn't be one of them. The only thing that could go wrong here is if the Cowboys unleash their hideous gray jerseys again like they did in last year's opener. True freshman QB Wes Lunt's debut has been long-awaited since he won the starting job this spring.
Kansas vs. South Dakota State (7 p.m., Jayhawk All-Access/Jayhawk Television Network): The Jayhawks have undergone a transformation unlike any other team in the Big 12 this offseason. Former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is in charge and he brought with him an avalanche of transfers, headlined by QB Dayne Crist. Keep an eye on defensive end Josh Williams, who transferred from Nebraska. Wins have been scarce the past two years at KU, so don't expect the Jayhawks to take anyone lightly, even an FCS opponent. Coach Turner Gill's tenure got off to a rough start back in 2010 when he lost to FCS North Dakota State.
No. 15 Texas vs. Wyoming (8 p.m., Longhorn Network): This offseason, Texas has been hard at work crafting a powerful running game and a quarterback in David Ash who's better at making decisions. We'll get a preview of what's to come Saturday night. The Longhorns have looked sluggish in the past two openers against Rice, but a suffocating defense could feast on the Cowboys' spread attack.
No. 4 Oklahoma at Texas-El Paso (10:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network): Oklahoma is the Big 12's only team on the road in Week 1, but the Miners have been talking a big game all summer. Quarterback Nick Lamaison told reporters he hoped to be the best QB in the game, and the university president said she told UT-Austin the team would "do our best to ensure that Oklahoma would be not as competitive after they left El Paso, because we will have shown them a surprise." Here's guessing that talk is cheap when the ball is finally kicked off. The Sooners are 31-point favorites.
Baylor vs. SMU (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network): The old Southwest Conference rivalry is renewed when SMU heads fewer than 100 miles south to face the Bears in the first game since Robert Griffin III left for the NFL and won the starting job with the Washington Redskins. New QB Nick Florence is capable of putting up big numbers, too, but keep an eye on Oregon transfer RB Lache Seastrunk, and don't be surprised if he breaks a big run or two.
More fresh faces:
Next up: Oklahoma State.
Josh Stewart, WR: You probably remember a bit from Stewart last year, who broke out and caught 19 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns, but the time is now for Stewart to become a star. OSU needs him after losing Justin Blackmon, Josh Cooper and Michael Harrison. He had a huge spring, and coach Mike Gundy predicted running back Joseph Randle would lead the team in receptions, though it might be Stewart, too. The 5-foot-10, 178-pound Denton, Texas native is as shifty as you might expect, and could emerge as freshman Wes Lunt's favorite new target.
Parker Graham, OT: I knew OSU was going to be replacing starters along the offensive line this year, and at last year's Fiesta Bowl, asked around the Cowboys' line for the young guys who were the most impressive. The same name kept popping up over and over: Parker Graham. He started five games last year and became the team's starting right tackle by season's end after having almost no experience. Now, he's a junior loaded with potential. The 6-foot-7, 315-pounder is now the starter at left tackle and had 20 knockdowns last season, though he did give up two of the 12 sacks given up by OSU's line last season.
Shamiel Gary, S: Gary had no profile last year because he was sitting out after transferring in from Wyoming. Now, he's a co-starter alongside Lavocheya Cooper at strong safety, looking to replace Markelle Martin. Losing Johnny Thomas hurt this squad, but Gary has been a big reason why it won't be a huge issue this fall. He's got prototype safety size at 6-foot, 210 pounds and could challenge for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors by season's end.
Monday, we looked at the Big 12 team most likely to surprise, but what about the other side of the coin?
Who's most likely to underachieve? Let's ask the people.
Here are my five candidates:
David King. The Sooners bring back defensive playmakers in Tony Jefferson and Demontre Hurst, as well as quarterback Landry Jones, but Jones is dealing with a lot of new faces in the receiving corps. The Sooners seem to have at least one annual head-scratching loss. Will the Sooners disappoint and fail to win 10 games, despite starting the season in the top five?
Can Kansas State truly disappoint if no one expects the Wildcats to succeed? The Big 12's second-place team a season ago returns its core, but finds itself outside the preseason top 20 and picked to finish sixth in the Big 12. Kansas State has the potential to win the conference, but will the SnyderCats regress after some magic in 2011? That means a 6-7-win season in Manhattan.
Hopes are high for Oklahoma State, despite the loss of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. The biggest reason? The Cowboys' Air Raid offense and a defense that returns lots of big talents, headlined by cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown, as well as linebacker Shaun Lewis. But do you believe enough receivers will emerge, and that true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt can handle his first year of major college football? Or will OSU slide down the Big 12 standings and win 6-7 games after winning the Big 12 last season?
TCU is joining the Big 12 and looks like it has the offense to compete, but do the Horned Frogs have enough defense? Offseason departures for drug arrests and academics have the Frogs razor thin at linebacker, and last season was disappointing for a secondary that has had big expectations the past few years. Disappointment for the Horned Frogs, picked in the preseason's top 15, would mean about six wins.
The Mountaineers have the league's biggest headliners on offense in quarterback Geno Smith, and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. The Mountaineers are buzzing around the top 10 to start the season, but their 70-point outburst in the Orange Bowl has diverted attention from losses along their front seven and some ugly games last season, including defeats against Syracuse and Louisville, and poor performances against Pitt and South Florida. Will West Virginia fail to contend for a league title, falling to a 7-8 win season?
There's also the option of Texas and Baylor, but we can only have five teams in the poll results. Would you pick someone else who isn't on our poll as the most likely Big 12 team to disappoint?
Collin Klein emerged as a star and carried his team to a memorable season.
In 2010, Oklahoma State played the part of shocker. Despite losing Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant, the Cowboys won a school-record 11 games and Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon made names for themselves along the way to becoming first-round NFL draft picks.
So who's going to be the surprise team this season?
Cast your vote in our poll.
The Jayhawks have won just one of their past 24 Big 12 games, but there are a ton of new faces these days, and ultimately, it'll be hard to predict what to expect from the Jayhawks. Coach Charlie Weis couldn't be more different than former coach Turner Gill, and the Jayhawks already got a big upgrade at quarterback with Dayne Crist. Add an avalanche of transfers and newcomers who are cracking the two-deep, and the Jayhawks could shock plenty of people this season by flirting with bowl contention.
Texas Tech dropped its final five games last season after beating No. 1 Oklahoma in Norman, the first team to beat Bob Stoops' Sooners at Owen Field since 2005. That meant the first losing season since 1992, and the end of the Big 12's longest bowl streak. The catch? The Red Raiders were already thin, and fell apart once they were racked by injuries. Tech has one of the league's most underrated players in Seth Doege at quarterback, and a great set of receivers. With some defensive improvements under coordinator Art Kaufman and the end of its bad luck with injuries, could Texas Tech surprise and come close to a nine- or 10-win season?
The Cowboys are the defending champs, but the echoes of doubt won't be silenced. How will they replace Weeden and Blackmon? Sounds pretty familiar, no? (Read the top of this post for a refresher.) The defense is going to be pretty stout and still make big plays. True freshman Wes Lunt is progressing well and should have plenty of big targets. Will the Cowboys surprise and be a serious threat in the Big 12 title race?
K-State won 10 games, finished the season ranked 15th and second in the Big 12, and return 17 starters. Yet, because of all the close and comeback wins last season, plenty of folks are chalking it up to luck. K-State begins the season ranked outside the top 20 and picked sixth in the Big 12. Will Bill Snyder prove everyone wrong once again and contend for a Big 12 title?
Paul Rhoads has a quarterback controversy on his hands to deal with first. Once that's settled, could Iowa State show it's making steps toward being a bigger player in the Big 12? The Cyclones have just barely made bowl games in two of the past three seasons, courtesy of huge upsets. ISU wants those wins to be much less shocking. Rhoads once again is saying that this is the best team he's ever had in Ames. Can he prove it and win eight games for the first time as the Cyclones' coach? (Note: Keeping the beard can only help.)
Cast your votes now.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Part 2 of the articles on OSU's involvment in academic fraud was released. Some claim the expose is unfounded. Ian and Richard warn that there are two sides to all stories.
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Play Podcast Kirk Herbstreit joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett for his weekly visit to preview the 2013 college football season.
Play Podcast Former TCU and current Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the expectations for the Bengals this season, give a prediction for the TCU-LSU game and talk about what it's like having the Hard Knocks cameras follow him.
Play Podcast Randy Galloway, Matt Mosley, and Mark Friedman react to Dez Bryant's comments regarding the NCAA's ongoing investigation of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Play Podcast Richard Durrett, Ian Fitzsimmons and Glenn "Stretch" Smith react to Dez Bryant sounding off yesterday after practice about Johnny Manziel and the shadiness of the NCAA.
Play Podcast Former NCAA investigator and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to weigh in on the Johnny Manziel drama and give some insight as to what goes on during an NCAA investigation.