Dallas Colleges: K.D. Cannon
Earlier this month, the Baylor wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator inked four receivers ranked in the ESPN 300, padding what was already a loaded position in Waco.
As the defending Big 12 champs get ready to open spring practice Friday, Briles took time to talk to ESPN.com about his signing class, the new expectations at Baylor and what he’s learned coaching under his dad -- Bears head coach Art Briles.
Let’s first go through the four receivers you signed, and what each brings to the table. Start with K.D. Cannon, who was recruited by virtually everyone in the country.
What about Davion Hall?
Briles: Davion is already here and is doing a really good job. His body weight has already come up. He looks real good. He’s a powerful, powerful athlete. He’s got really good ball skills. He’s not going to be as fluid as a K.D.-type player, but he’s a really powerful kid [who] runs well. He’s a great, great person, and wants to be extremely successful. That’s the thing we really love about him; that’s a really good person. We’ll see what he can do here in a few days. He’s going to get a chance to put the pads on and see where he’s at. He’s a little bit nervous, as he should be. But he’s been great since he’s been here working with the strength and conditioning program, and he’s going to compete in spring ball.
Briles: Ishmael is a guy who might have the greatest upside of all of them. He was up to 210 pounds when I talked to him the other day. I expect him to win the state title in the 110-meter hurdles again in [Texas Class] 5A. He’s a great athlete whose talents didn’t flourish in high school because of the offense he played in. I think he had like five catches as a junior. But his upside is incredible. We’re very, very excited about him.
Last, but not least, what about Chris Platt?
Briles: Chris Platt is a sleeker guy, 168 pounds probably right now. He’s going to win the state track meet and become the first four-time state champ in the 400 meters in Texas state high school history. He’s a guy [who] can play -- good ball skills. We had him in camp, and you might think he’s just a straight-line guy, but he’s got some good hip flexion. He catches the ball, is competitive. He’s got tremendous upside as well.
OK, let’s get to the guys you have coming back, starting with Antwan Goodley. I remember talking to a Big 12 coach last October, and he was like, ‘Where did Antwan Goodley come from?’ How did Goodley make so much improvement, and where can he go after a monster junior season?
Briles: Antwan was a really good high school football player. I saw him, and the kid could run. He wasn’t real tall. He committed to us on a junior day in February and held strong the whole time. He was 192 pounds, and he’s been as high as 222 -- he’s gained 30 pounds of pure muscle. He’s one of the strongest kids we have on the team without a doubt. My expectation for him now is to be the best wide receiver in the United States of America. He’s proven what he can do on the football field, now we have to make sure he keeps getting better. The spring is big for him. We won’t let him go as much -- we have other guys we want to get reps, and we know what he can do. But there are things for him to work on, and he’s very excited to get back out there and get back to work.
You’ve got two highly-touted young guys in Corey Coleman and Robbie Rhodes who haven’t made that big splash yet. What is your expectation for them as sophomores?
Briles: With Corey, you don’t think he had a splash as a freshman, but if you look at it, he was second all-time among Baylor freshmen in receiving yards next to Kendall Wright. That’s pretty good company. He has a chance to have a tremendous career. He’s a little bit raw, but has tremendous speed, tremendous hands and catches the ball very well. He wants to be great. And he’s a tough guy. That allows us to play him inside and outside. He’s not a big guy (5-foot-10) but at 190 pounds, he’s very stout. He can play inside and outside because he can handle the blocking stuff well with how strong he is. We’re going to have him plugged in all over the field, and he gives a really dynamic factor.
As for Robbie, it’s hard to come in and play as a true freshman. I probably should have redshirted Robbie because he didn’t get the experience that he probably needed. He got to play in some big games, but he hurt his ankle early against West Virginia, then again against Kansas, and was out the latter part of the year. He gained 10 pounds in the fall, changed his body in the last two months and looks tremendous. He’s going to have an unbelievable spring, and I can’t wait for the fall for him. He’s about as natural as it gets.
Briles: That’s Clay. That’s what we call him. If it’s third down or we’re in the red zone, you throw it up to him, and he’ll make the catch for you. He runs really well, and he’s reliable. Add in Levi Norwood, who’s in the same mold, and you’re playing two big guys inside who are long, rangy, block well, catch the football well, run well. They do a tremendous job for us. Both do a great job on special teams for us, too.
With so many options at receiver, seems like you’ve got a good problem to have, right?
Briles: Yeah it is. One guy we haven’t talked about, Jonathon Lee, came on at the end of the year. I expect him to have a good year, too. We’ve done a good job recruiting as a staff. And playing wide receiver at Baylor is a pretty good deal. Wide receivers in this league have had success. We’ve led the country in total offense, we chuck the ball around, play in space. We have great uniforms, we’re going to be playing in a great stadium. It’s a pretty good gig playing wide receiver for us.
This season is going to have a different feel for you guys. As the defending Big 12 champs, you’re going to have a target on your backs. How will you guys adjust?
Briles: There’s no doubt there’s going to be a target on our backs, but we’ve always had a chip on our shoulder the way we play. We’re not going to change our mindset. Our guys play fearless, physical and fast. People will be gunning for us, but we’ll be ready for the task. We have a great team, and we’re looking forward to defending our Big 12 championship.
What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned about being a coach from your dad?
Briles: Treating people right. The way he treats people on a daily basis is one reason why he’s been so successful. The humility, the way he cares for people, he truly wants people to be successful. He makes people around him feel good, and he gets the best out of people. That’s a great trait that he has.
There was a lot of talk leading up to the bowl game about him possibly taking a job elsewhere. How did you guys handle that behind the scenes, and what was it like with all that around you?
Briles: To be honest with you, it never came up inside this office or practice field with our players. People say stuff, put stuff out there. No telling what’s true and not true. But if other people are coming after your head coach, then you’re doing something right. But I think Baylor University understands the coach we have here, and weren’t going to let him go anywhere. And Art Briles understands how much he loves Baylor, and doesn’t want to go anywhere. It’s a great marriage, and we’re looking forward to being here a long time.
What’s the one thing about your dad that people don’t know about him?
Briles: Everyone knows he’s competitive. But if he sends you a text message to play golf at 11:30 in the morning, you better understand you’re getting into a war. He’s not going out there to enjoy the scenery. He’s going out there to kick someone’s [butt]. Most people don’t know that. But it better be understood by the people getting into that situation.
2. Kansas State: The Wildcats have the Big 12’s finest receiver in Tyler Lockett, which warrants them a high ranking even if the supporting cast isn’t tantalizing. Lockett was basically uncoverable downfield last season, and exploded once QB Jake Waters got more comfortable. Curry Sexton has turned into a reliable possession target. The Wildcats also welcome one of the best juco receivers in the country in Andre Davis. If Davis pans out, this has a chance to be among the best receiving corps Bill Snyder has ever had.
3. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose an ultra-productive player in Eric Ward and a superstar in tight end Jace Amaro, but this position remains stocked with talent. Jitterbug slot man Jakeem Grant was sixth in the league last year in receiving, and showed in the Holiday Bowl how dangerous he can be when 100 percent focused. Bradley Marquez and Jordan Davis are reliable pass-catchers, but the player to watch here is Reginald Davis. A former high school quarterback, Davis has gradually picked up the nuances of playing receiver. But as he flashed in a kickoff return touchdown against Arizona State, Davis is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and could be a major factor.
4. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose their top three receivers, but outside Baylor, no team in the Big 12 has more WRs ready to contribute in 2014 than Oklahoma State. Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman combined for 61 receptions as freshmen, and will give the Cowboys a physical presence on the perimeter. Brandon Shepard and David Glidden were also part of the regular rotation, and Austin Hayes, who started nine games in 2012, would have been had he not missed virtually the entire season with injury. The two to watch here, though, have yet to play a down, but will bring major speed. Former ESPN 300 recruit Ra’Shaad Samples redshirted last year, but reportedly ran a 4.3-second 40 last summer. That might seem slow compared to Tyreek Hill, the nation’s No. 4 juco recruit, who doubles as a track phenom.
5. Texas: Jaxon Shipley isn’t his brother Jordan, but he’s still a quality college receiver. Even with all of Texas’ QB issues, Shipley already has 159 career receptions. The Longhorns have speed and playmaking elsewhere in downfield burner Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and the versatile Daje Johnson. The Longhorns also signed one of three best incoming WRs in the Big 12 in Armanti Foreman. This group could really thrive with an uptick in QB play.
7. Iowa State: Quenton Bundrage is one of the more underrated receivers in the league despite ranking third in the league. With Amaro gone, E.J. Bibbs becomes the best receiving tight end in the league after hauling in 39 passes last year. Iowa State’s standing here, though, is contingent on incoming freshman Allen Lazard, one the most highly touted WRs Iowa State has ever signed. If Lazard can make an immediate impact, like the Iowa State coaching staff is banking on, this could become one of the better units in the league.
8. West Virginia: There’s no corps in the Big 12 that could move up more spots than West Virginia’s. The Mountaineers didn’t have a receiver rank in the top 15 in the Big 12 last year, but Kevin White, Mario Alford and Daikiel Shorts all ranked in the top 20. All three are back, too, as is the diminutive Jordan Thompson, who finally came alive the second half of the season. Former ESPN 300 recruit Shelton Gibson, who redshirted, will also join the rotation. The Mountaineers rank eighth for now, but they are closer to Kansas State than to Kansas.
9. TCU: This week, TCU kicked receiver LaDarius Brown off the team. Considering Brown tied for the team lead in receptions last year, it’s a tough loss. This unit is obviously better with Trevone Boykin, but he might have to play QB, at least until someone else emerges there. The Horned Frogs desperately need Brandon Carter to become a No. 1 receiver. After a promising sophomore year, Carter was basically a non-factor, before showing signs of bouncing back the last month of the season. TCU needs him back in a big way in 2014.
10. Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have a receiver with more than 11 catches last year. Some of that was the quarterbacks. Some of it was, well, the receivers. The group had little overall impact, which put tremendous pressure on James Sims and the running game. With Sims gone, the receivers have to elevate their game significantly for Kansas to have a chance of taking a step forward. The Jayhawks do have a solid tight end in Jimmay Mundine, who had five TD catches. And Tony Pierson could play more receiver this year. But somebody else needs to emerge.
“Allen is a guy who could come and make an impact,” Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads said. “We’re going to give him every opportunity to come in and play his way onto the field as a true freshman. This is a guy who is going to continue to challenge himself, day in and day out, for the rest of his career.”
2. Nigel Bethel, Texas Tech cornerback: The Red Raiders are losing several senior defensive backs including cornerbacks Bruce Jones, Derrick Mays and Olaoluwa Falemi. Yet Bethel could combine with 2013 signee Justis Nelson to give the Red Raiders one of the best cornerback duos in the Big 12 over the next few seasons. As one of the best cover cornerbacks in the Class of 2014, Bethel should see the field early. Bethel, the No. 226 player in the ESPN 300, has the speed, ball skills and natural instincts to make a smooth transition to college football.
3. K.D. Cannon, Baylor receiver: The Bears don’t have a major need at receiver but Cannon is an exceptional talent. Cannon, ranked No. 30 overall in the ESPN 300, needs to put on additional weight but he should be able to overcome his slight build thanks to his excellent feet and quickness.
“K.D.'s the smoothest and purest receiver at the high school level I've ever seen,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “When the ball's in his hands, he is as instinctive as anybody I've ever been around.”
4. Steven Parker II, Oklahoma safety: The Sooners were the first team to offer the Jenks (Okla.) standout and remained in hot pursuit until he signed. Their pursuit could pay off as early as this fall. The No. 139 player in the ESPN300, Parker will bring athleticism and versatility to the Sooners secondary.
“He’s a guy we desperately needed at safety,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Because he’s a guy that brings a different element to the safety position that a lot of players just can’t just by his mobility, his skill level, his cover ability. We ask our safeties to do a lot of that and he fits perfectly in to our system.”
5. Dalvin Warmack, Kansas State running back: Warmack should get plenty of opportunities to make an impact for the Wildcats. KSU is looking to replace John Hubert, who carried the load in the backfield for the past three seasons, rushing for 2,965 yards and 28 touchdowns.
With Jake Waters under center and Tyler Lockett making plays on the outside, KSU will need someone to help ensure offensive balance. Warmack can help keep defenses honest with his vision, versatility and open-field running. He might not be ready to step in and replace Hubert on an every-down basis but Warmack has the talent to make an immediate impact.
First five out: Jacob Bragg, Kansas center; Dravon Henry, West Virginia defensive back; Joe Mixon, Oklahoma running back; Kyron Watson, Kansas linebacker; Derick Roberson, Texas defensive end
QB: Justice Hansen, Oklahoma (Edmond, Okla./Santa Fe)
RB: Joe Mixon, Oklahoma (Oakley, Calif./Freedom)
RB: Donte Thomas-Williams, West Virginia (Durham, N.C./Hillside)
WR: K.D. Cannon, Baylor (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant)
WR: Armanti Foreman, Texas (Texas City, Texas/Texas City)
WR: Allen Lazard, Iowa State (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale)
TE: Carson Meier, Oklahoma (Tulsa, Okla./Union)
OT: Alec Ruth, Kansas State (Highlands Ranch, Colo./Valor Christian)
OT: Kenyon Frison, Oklahoma (West Valley City, Utah/Granger)
OG: Natrell Curtis, Oklahoma (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe)
OG: Dontae Angus, West Virginia (Philadelphia/Martin Luther King)
C: Jacob Bragg, Kansas (Nacogdoches, Texas/ Nacogdoches)
AP: Davion Hall, Baylor (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau)
DE: Derick Roberson, Texas (San Antonio/William J. Brennan)
DE: Jordan Brailford, Oklahoma State (Tulsa, Okla./Booker T. Washington)
DT: Poona Ford, Texas (Hilton Head, S.C./Hilton Head)
DT: Courtney Garnett, Oklahoma (New Orleans/St. Augustine)
LB: Edwin Freeman, Texas (Arlington, Texas/Bowie)
LB: Kyron Watson, Kansas (East St. Louis, Ill./East St. Louis)
LB: Gyasi Akem, Oklahoma State (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow)
CB: Nigel Bethel II, Texas Tech (Miami/Booker T. Washington)
CB: Jermaine Roberts, Texas (New Orleans/St. Augustine)
S: Steven Parker II, Oklahoma (Jenks, Okla./Jenks)
S: T'Kevian Rockwell, Baylor (Wylie, Texas/Wylie)
A few observations on this team:
- Oklahoma leads the way with seven players. Underscoring their strong close, the Sooners landed four of those players after their Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. In December, Oklahoma’s class ranked 24th. But it finished ranked at the top of the Big 12 and 13th nationally.
- The Big 12 didn’t have a class ranked outside the top 60 nationally, and this list highlights that with nine teams represented.
- TCU is the only school without a player here, though running back Shaun Nixon (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis) was slotted only five running back spots behind Thomas-Williams, whom the Mountaineers snagged on signing day. Nixon, who flipped from Texas A&M, was a huge get for the Horned Frogs.
- Charlie Weis and his staff really delivered a solid recruiting class, despite a lack of success on the field. The Jayhawks had two players on this team, and that doesn’t even include four-star running backs Traevohn Wrench (Gardner, Kan./Gardner Edgerton) and Corey Avery (Dallas/Carter).
- Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, known for their high-powered offenses, didn’t have an offensive player make the team. They did, however, comprise three of the defensive spots with Brailford, Akem and Bethel II. Oklahoma State CB Chris Hardeman (Houston/Alief Taylor) was rated just below Roberts, too.
QB: Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/Guyer), Texas
RB: Devon Thomas (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow), Oklahoma State
WR: Lamar Parker (Miami/Booker T. Washington), West Virginia
TE: Mark Andrews (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain), Oklahoma
OT: Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge), Oklahoma
OG: Joseph Paul (New Orlean/St. Augustine), Oklahoma
C: Terrell Cuney (Jasper, Texas/Jasper), Texas
DE: Trey Carter (Dallas/Pinkston), Oklahoma State
DT: D.J. Williams (Lufkin, Texas/Lufkin), Kansas
LB: Davonte James (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield), West Virginia
CB: Chris Hardeman, Oklahoma State
S: John Bonney (Houston/Lamar), Texas
AP: Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East), Oklahoma
Which incoming freshman QB will play most in 2014?
Max Olson: Don’t sleep on the two quarterbacks that TCU signed on Wednesday. Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein walk into a situation that could be pretty wide-open entering the spring. The Frogs not only need a replacement for Casey Pachall, but one who will be comfortable and competent in the Oklahoma State/Texas Tech style offense they’ll install for 2014. We know Trevone Boykin is capable of playing a number of roles in this offense, but can one (or both) of these rookies come in and do what Webb and Baker Mayfield did for Texas Tech?
Jake Trotter: I’m already hearing good things about four-star QB Mason Rudolph, who is already enrolled at Oklahoma State and will participate in spring ball. Rudolph’s skill set is a better fit for the Oklahoma State’s offense than J.W. Walsh, who struggled getting the ball downfield last season, which in turn allowed opposing defenses to stack the line of scrimmage. Rudolph might not be the starter in the opener, but coach Mike Gundy has shown he’s not afraid of playing a true freshman quarterback.
Which non-QB freshman will make the biggest splash?
Chatmon: Iowa State receiver Allen Lazard is an elite talent who will have every opportunity to emerge as a major part of a Cyclones offense searching for playmakers at the skill positions. At 6-foot-5, 208 pounds, Lazard brings terrific size and athleticism. The No. 148 player in the ESPN 300 will become a valuable asset for Paul Rhoads’ squad in 2014.
Olson: I hate to feed the hype machine, but I have to go with Joe Mixon. Oklahoma managed the lure the No. 1 running back in California by convincing him he can play from Day 1, which is obviously a reasonable promise with OU’s top three backs from 2013 all gone now.
Trotter: I think this ultimately could come down to a pair of blue-chip wide receivers in Baylor’s K.D. Cannon and Lazard. Both players should be in their receiving rotations from Day 1; either could wind up starting before long, too.
Which juco player will make the most significant immediate impact?
Chatmon: TCU defensive back Kenny Iloka fits the mold of a Gary Patterson safety. He’s athletic, aggressive and physical so he should be among friends on TCU’s defense. The Horned Frogs return several talented secondary players, including Sam Carter, Derrick Kindred and Chris Hackett, but Iloka should force Patterson to find a spot for him.
Olson: You didn’t hear about him much on Wednesday because he’s already on campus, but
Trotter: This spring, Paul Millard will be playing baseball and Clint Trickett will still be injured, at least at the outset. With Ford Childress also gone, plenty of snaps will be available to juco QB Skyler Howard, who enrolled for the spring at West Virginia. Howard was the No. 3-ranked dual-threat juco QB. With West Virginia's QB situation completely in flux, Howard will have an opportunity this spring of laying claim to the job.
Who is the recruit nobody is talking about that will be talked about a lot in the fall?
Chatmon: Although the opportunity will be there with three senior cornerbacks moving on from Baylor, I’m not ready to say cornerback Verkedric Vaughns will immediately be an impact player in the Bears secondary in 2014. Nonetheless he is a name to know that went largely unnoticed on signing day and a guy to keep an eye on this fall, particularly if he makes a smooth transition to the demands of college football. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Vaughns ends up outperforming several highly rated cornerback prospects who signed with other Big 12 schools on signing day.
Olson: Lots of very talented receivers signed with Big 12 schools on Wednesday, and I’m tempted to say Baylor’s Ishmael Zamora is the choice here. Instead, let’s go with a guy who the Texas Tech coaching staff absolutely loves: Ian Sadler. The do-everything athlete led Argyle (Texas) High to a state championship as a receiver/quarterback, rushing for three touchdowns and returning a punt for a fourth score in the title game. He has the kind of playmaking ability and polish needed to see the field early, and I don’t doubt he’ll elicit comparisons to Wes Welker from the fan base.
Trotter: Keep an eye on Kansas State wide receiver Andre Davis. QB Jake Waters loves throwing the ball downfield, and Davis, one of the top receivers coming out of the juco ranks, has the ability to get downfield. When other teams focus their attention on Tyler Lockett on the other side, Davis should have plenty of opportunities to make plays in one-on-one coverage.
It’s always an exciting day for college football fans. And there’s plenty to be excited about in the Big 12.
Below is a breakdown of the most exciting element from each of the 10 Big 12 recruiting classes:
What to get excited about: The wide receivers
The players: K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant), Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau), Ishmael Zamora (Houston/Alief Elsik), Chris Platt (Willis, Texas/Willis)
The skinny: The Bears have one of the best WR classes in the country, with four players ranked in the ESPN 300. With Antwan Goodley also back in Waco, QB Bryce Petty should have a big, signing day smile on his face.
What to get excited about: A blue-chip wideout
The player: Allen Lazard (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale)
The skinny: Elite skill talent has come at premium in Ames the last few years. But that’s exactly what Iowa State is getting in Lazard, an ESPN 300 prospect who had offers from Notre Dame, Nebraska and Stanford. If Lazard comes ready to play, new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino will have a dynamic complement to pair with No. 1 wideout Quenton Bundrage.
What to get excited about: The replacements for RB James Sims
The players: Traevohn Wrench (Gardner, Kan./Gardner Edgerton), Corey Avery (Dallas/Carter)
The skinny: The Jayhawks graduated their only All-Big 12 performer this past season in Sims. But they prevailed in a pair of hard-fought recruiting battles to land four-star running backs Wrench and Avery. Wrench was the first commit in the class, and gave coach Charlie Weis a player to build the rest of the class around. Then this week, Weis beat out Nebraska, Ohio State and LSU, among others, to reel in Avery. The one-two combination of Wrench and Avery is reason to be optimistic about the future of the KU offense, even without Sims.
What to get excited about: Junior-college impact
The players: Terrell Clinkscales (Dodge City, Kansas), Andre Davis (Santa Rosa, Calif./Santa Rosa), D’Vonta Derricott (Garden City, Kan./Garden City), Danzel McDaniel (Dodge City, Kan.)
The skinny: The Wildcats have a returning core capable of contending for the Big 12 title. In this recruiting class, they’ll be adding four players in the ESPN Junior College 50 to aid that cause. K-State swiped Clinkscales from Nebraska, and he could team with Travis Britz to form a stout one-two punch at DT. Davis could be the perfect complement opposite wideout Tyler Lockett. Derricott (OLB) and McDaniel (CB) should help the defense.
What to get excited about: Backfield firepower
The player: Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom)
The skinny: The Sooners closed as strong as any program in the country, and that included plucking the No. 53 overall recruit away from the West Coast powers. Mixon, together with last year’s No. 3 RB Keith Ford and budding dual-threat QB Trevor Knight, could be a devastating rushing force in the Big 12 for years to come.
What to get excited about: The linebackers
The players: Gyasi Akem (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow), Josh Mabin (Spring, Texas/Klein Oak), Kirk Tucker (Tucker, Ga./Tucker), Devante Averette (Melvindale, Mich./Ellsworth Community College), Justin Phillips (Pearland, Texas/Pearland)
The skinny: The Cowboys graduated a pair of all-conference linebackers in Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, who played big parts in Oklahoma State’s defensive turnaround. But impressive help is on the way. Akem is a ESPN 300 prospect, and Tucker, the other outside linebacker in the class, ended up at Oklahoma State after failing to gain admission to Stanford. Averette should provide instant impact on the inside, and Mabin is a four-star recruit.
What to get excited about: The offensive skill talent
The players: Foster Sawyer (Fort Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal), Grayson Muehlstein (Decatur, Texas/Decatur), Shaun Nixon (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis), Corey McBride (Geismar, La.,/Dutchtown), Emanuel Porter (Dallas/Lincoln)
The skinny: The top five players in TCU’s class are offensive skill players, providing help where the Horned Frogs really need it. Sawyer and Muehlstein could battle for the starting QB job right away. The opportunity for playing time is there for receivers McBridge and Porter, too. TCU also pulled off a coup Tuesday by flipping Nixon, a four-star RB, from Texas A&M.
What to get excited about: Possible QB of the future
The player: Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/Guyer)
The skinny: Charlie Strong’s quickest path to putting Texas back on top is finding a solution at QB that eluded Mack Brown the last four years. Heard, an ESPN 300 quarterback who won two state titles in high school, could very well emerge as the answer.
What to get excited about: A shutdown corner
The player: Nigel Bethel II (Miami, Fla./Booker T. Washington)
The skinny: The Red Raiders lose three starters from their secondary, but they have a player who can come in and help right away in Bethel. The ESPN 300 prospect is one of the better pure coverage corners in the country. To win in the Big 12, you have to defend the pass. And Bethel can defend the pass.
What to get excited about: The quarterbacks
The players: Skyler Howard (White Settlement, Texas/Riverside Community College), William Crest (Baltimore/Dunbar)
The skinny: Coach Dana Holgorsen struggled to replace Geno Smith last year, using three quarterbacks to limited success. But Holgorsen is bringing in a pair of talented players at the position who could be immediate factors. Howard was the No. 3 dual-threat juco QB in the country and is already enrolled for spring ball. Crest is the No. 11 high school dual-threat QB nationally.
Senior national recruiting writer Jeremy Crabtree and Big 12 recruiting reporter Damon Sayles took time from their extremely busy schedules this week to address a few questions:
Oklahoma is closing strong here. With a few blue-chip players still in play, could the Sooners end up with the top class in the Big 12
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Plenty of those requests were denied. No, thank you. Not playing at Baylor.
“Now,” Briles says proudly, “we’re making some moves.”
The Baylor receivers coach has a much easier time selling what the Bears have to offer these days. Kids want to play in this high-tempo offense. They’re the ones befriending him now. The reason why is obvious.
Sorry, Tennessee. No offense, USC. But since arriving in Waco, Texas, in 2008, Art Briles has quickly built arguably the premier receiver factory in college football. The proof is all over, from his former players to current Bears to the next ones up.
What Briles’ son is selling now is tangible proof that Baylor can turn receivers into stars. Just look at Kendall Wright, the Tennessee Titans slot man who surpassed 1,000 yards in his second season. Former Baylor teammate Terrance Williams finished third among rookies in receiving for the Dallas Cowboys.
And how about Josh Gordon? The former Bear led the NFL in receiving with 1,646 yards this season. You bet Briles and his son are throwing their names around these days when recruiting.
Baylor replaced those three with one of the top receiving duos in the country in All-Big 12 wideouts Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese and one of the conference’s best slot receivers in Levi Norwood. They have underclassmen Corey Coleman, Robbie Rhodes and Jay Lee on the way.
And coming soon, Baylor has three of the best wide receiver prospects in Texas in ESPN 300 verbal commits K.D. Cannon, Davion Hall and Ishmael Zamora. The surprisingly rich are about to get richer.
“There’s no doubt you’ve got guys who are proven in the system and now proven on the next level,” Kendal Briles said. “If you’re a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kid in high school and you’re looking at where to play in college and you’re looking at the things we’re doing with throwing the football, it’s a pretty good deal. You’ve got to take a pretty heavy look at us.”
Art Briles’ first receivers coach at Baylor, Dino Babers, just landed the Bowling Green head-coaching job this month. Briles' son has been on the staff from the start and now coordinates Baylor’s passing game. He’s had plenty of talent to work with in this gig.
This season, Goodley became the third consecutive Bear to lead the Big 12 in receiving. He insists his 1,319-yard, 13-touchdown breakout season wouldn’t have been possible without his predecessors.
“I just knew you better show up to work every day, because those guys work hard every day,” Goodley said. “They play with a passion and love being out there. They taught me a lot and built me into the receiver I am today.”
In Wright, Williams and Reese, Baylor has three of the six most prolific receivers in the Big 12 since 2008. They all still send text messages to each other on a daily basis. Their position group is becoming a fraternity.
Gordon had the best hands of the bunch. Reese indisputably was the fastest. Williams was the superior route-runner. Goodley, at 222 pounds, might be the strongest. And Baylor cornerbacks say Wright was the most impossible to cover.
One thing nearly all of them had in common: They were not coveted recruits.
Goodley was a three-star prospect. Reese was a two-star recruit who weighed 138 pounds in high school. Gordon was ranked No. 128 among receiver prospects by ESPN. Only Wright was a member of the ESPN 150, but as a quarterback who’d never played receiver.
“We’ve been overlooked a little bit, but we like that,” Goodley said. “We show guys what we can do. You don’t have to be a five-star athlete to be a great receiver.”
Baylor’s approach to evaluating and recruiting receivers is no different than anyone else’s: Get them in camp and see what they can do. Hitting on the trio of Wright, Williams and Lanear Sampson in the 2008 class gave Briles precisely the kind of weapons Robert Griffin III needed. Baylor loaded up on speed and more speed.
“Track speed, football speed, it’s just speed, period,” said Wright, who finished with 4,004 receiving yards at Baylor. “They just want somebody with speed. Everything else will come.”
Kendal Briles would argue that Baylor’s scheme is as easy as it gets for a receiver. Often times, Reese said he’ll have three options on a route. A defender can’t answer for all of them. With how wide the Bears split out their receivers, there’s plenty of opportunity to get the ball in the open field.
What’s remarkable is the fact that Baylor has built a top-five passing offense nationally while still running the ball on 55 percent of its snaps. Since Art Briles arrived, Baylor ranks No. 5 in the FBS in yards per catch at 13.7. Its best big-play threats, Williams and Reese, averaged a stunning 11.2 yards per target.
No wonder the big-name recruits are interested. Landing Rhodes, the No. 3 receiver in the class of 2013, was a coup. Getting Cannon and Hall on board was even better, and Zamora might have the most upside of the incoming three.
“Now you get some top-notch players in here,” Kendal Briles said, “and it could be crazy what happens.”
Only Reese is graduating, setting up Baylor to have a loaded group of wideouts in 2014. That will mean plenty of competition, and Reese frequently talks with Goodley and Norwood about becoming the vocal leaders when he’s gone.
The way Reese sees it, there’s a certain pay-it-forward mentality within the group. Wright took him under his wing and believed in him from the start.
He cares about maintaining what’s quickly becoming a proud tradition.
“When we have wide receivers coming in, we’re going to put it in their head: This is Wide Receiver University,” he said. “You’ve got to play like it. Baylor produces the best wide receivers and the No. 1 offense in the nation.”
And a few good pros, too. Wright is looking forward to seeing his successors join him at the next level soon. Together, they’re planning to take over the NFL.
“That’s what we plan to do, man,” Goodley said. “They don’t call us Wide Receiver U for nothing.”
A group of commits are beyond elated about the future of the program. Baylor has 27 commits in its 2014 class -- four of whom have already signed as mid-year, junior-college transfers -- and three are in its 2015 class. The Bears have four ESPN 300 players, one ESPN Junior College 50 player and one ESPN Junior 300 player.
Ask the commits, and the classes get high marks. And, to many, rightfully so. “A-plus,” said ESPN 300 athlete Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau). “We have people that play different positions and not just same ones.”
“Scale of 1-10, I’ll give it a 10,” added ESPN 300 wide receiver K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant). “Baylor has done a good job in getting players who want to win and play every game like it’s his last. We don’t have a lot of five-star people, but we all are willing to show the world that stars don’t mean anything.”
When Baylor held its first junior day of 2013, it was fortunate to land verbals from three standouts in Hall, running back Terence Williams (Ennis, Texas/Ennis) and wide receiver Chris Platt (Willis, Texas/Willis). Since then, Baylor’s class has grown to become a top-20 class nationally. The Bears are ranked No. 16 in the latest RecruitingNation class rankings, second only to No. 13 Texas in the Big 12 conference rankings.
ESPN 300 wide receiver Ishmael Zamora (Houston/Alief Elsik) graded the class a “95,” a quality mark considering he’s very critical of giving it or any other group a perfect score. Zamora is a fan of this class, and he’s excited about his future teammates. Statistically, Baylor has 14 defensive commits, 11 offensive commits and two who could see time on both sides of the ball.
“We got basically all position [players] who were top talent and can flat-out ball,” Zamora said.
The missing link of the class, according to Zamora? A lack of a quarterback commit. Every wide receiver commit wants his own quarterback in the class, but the Bears won’t be hurting for a signal-caller in the immediate future. Bryce Petty said he will return to Baylor for his senior season. Seth Russell just finished his redshirt freshman campaign, Andrew Frerking will be a junior, and Cole Edmiston and Chris Johnson -- an ESPN 300 player from the 2013 class -- will be sophomores.
And then there’s the 2015 class. Baylor received commits from ESPN Junior 300 athlete Chad President (Temple, Texas/Temple) and three-star athlete Blake Lynch (Troup, Texas/Troup) -- two players who can line up at both quarterback and wide receiver.
For both President and Lynch, who still have a year of high school ball remaining, the goals of following in the footsteps of this Baylor squad are sky high -- and attainable.
“Another Big 12 championship,” President said, referring to upcoming college goals. “Hopefully, we can play in the national championship game. We have an A-plus, five-star recruiting class.”
Lynch added: “I think we have one of the best 2014 recruiting classes in the nation. Our versatility and diversity is what makes our 2014 class special.”
“Three-star safety Chance Waz (Pflugerville, Texas/Hendrickson), the latest high school player to commit to the Bears, switched his pledge to Baylor from Nebraska. He wanted the opportunity to play close to home, and he's excited about the talent he’ll be surrounded by. Waz said the 2014 Baylor class could be compared to Ole Miss' 2013 class, a group that saw several freshmen thrust into starting positions and become major contributors in the super-competitive SEC.
I think we have one of the best 2014 recruiting classes in the nation. Our versatility and diversity is what makes our 2014 class special.
-- Baylor commit Blake Lynch
“A lot of Ole Miss players saw PT [playing time]. I follow at least five [of them] on Twitter,” Waz said. “I think a lot of us can get playing time; we just have to see what we do in camp.”
When asked about the comparison and the shot at immediate playing time, Hall said, “It all depends on us and work ethic, but I don’t think that will be a problem.”
Expect all of the commits to be paying full attention to Baylor as it faces Central Florida on Jan. 1 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. And they'll continue monitoring who commits between now and Feb. 6, the first day to sign a national letter of intent. And they're watching the 2015 class as well.
Cannon said there are tons of talented players he’d love to call a teammate. And there’s one in particular, however, who has caught his eye.
“I hope we get that No. 1 corner,” Cannon said, referring to ESPN Junior 300 Kendall Sheffield (Missouri City, Texas/Fort Bend Marshall), the nation’s No. 13 overall player and the top-ranked player in Texas for the 2015 class. Sheffield has a Baylor offer but also has offers from Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Texas, Ohio State, Oklahoma and a host of other recruiting heavyweights.
Time will tell, but it looks like Baylor has set a new bar. And it doesn’t plan on looking back.
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Yet, it’s not enough.
When Stoops was asked this week what he was told about Texas when he arrived in Norman, his response was telling.
“That all anyone cared about was just winning that game,” Stoops said. “They were lying; you’ve got to win them all.”
Forgive Stoops if he seems disinterested in making the Red River Rivalry the most important matchup of the Sooners’ season. OU defeated Texas 63-12 in 2012 and 55-17 in 2011, yet, after the Sooners stumbled in the home stretch of both seasons, the offseason was filled with talk of what was wrong at OU.
“That doesn’t seem to be a factor anymore does it?” Stoops said. “We won last year and I didn’t see anyone patting us on the back at the end of the year, right?”
But let’s not pretend the Longhorns-Sooners rivalry is nothing special. UT remains at the top of the list, circled on OU’s schedule for players, coaches and fans alike.
Nonetheless the importance of beating Texas has diminished. OU dominated Texas during the past two seasons yet Stoops made drastic changes on the coaching staff during the past offseason, hiring offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery to help make the Sooners more physical up front.
“In the end, this game is never the end-all for either program,” Stoops said. “We’ve won this game before and haven’t won the rest of them and that isn’t good enough. That’s how it is and that’s okay. That’s how it should be. We want to win them all.”
And on the recruiting trail, Texas is no longer the Sooners' lone in-conference competitor for elite recruits. ESPN 300 receiver prospect K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant) was offered by OU and UT, yet committed to Baylor. Cannon is just one example of the Sooners losing out to up-and-coming Big 12 programs such as the Bears, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech in recent recruiting battles. Thus winning the Red River Rivalry doesn’t necessarily set the Sooners apart or give them a leg up on the recruiting trail.
“I think for some players, some recruits, it may be [important] and for others it isn’t,” Stoops said. “I think what means more to recruits though is your overall big body of work through one year or several years. Those kinds of things I think stand out more than one game does.”
But much like it still remains important to win the game to define the success of each season, the Red River Rivalry still remains an important recruiting tool, even with other Big 12 schools picking off some of the cream of the crop in the state of Texas.
“This is always a big game, it is the University of Texas, and we are the University of Oklahoma so this game is always big and this year will be no different,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “Regardless of the records, this will be a hard-fought game. There’s still recruits that are considering Oklahoma and Texas, and it always helps when you win.”
More importantly the Red River Rivalry brings national attention that is unmatched, making representing the Oklahoma brand well on Saturday as important as it has always been.
“Everybody will be watching this game around the country and it’s important that we play well,” Norvell said. “How we play is important and how we respond to challenges is important because that’s how people recognize you in the country as far as recruiting.”
- Michael Brewer completed 26-of-43 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Davis Webb completed 17-of-30 passes for 224 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Brewer took two sacks but had 15 yards rushing on five carries.
- Kenny Williams and Quinton White rushed a combined 30 times for 130 yards.
- Jace Amaro led all receivers with 11 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.
- The defense topped the offense, 34-28.
- For all you recruitniks out there, hyped receiver K.D. Cannon was in attendance, and called the experience "outstanding. He's the nation's No. 58 player and No. 5 receiver.
- It's still Brewer's job to lose. Kingsbury has been slowplaying who his starting quarterback will be in the fall, but the long-held assumption by most is that Brewer would easily win the job on a roster with not much competition. Davis Webb has made things interesting, but Brewer's performance on Saturday -- just the third open practice of the entire spring -- made it look like it's hard to believe he won't be the guy come fall. Kingsbury, though, says the competition is "close." "It’s good competition and I think that’s good for everybody,” Kingsbury told reporters. “We’ll go through the summer, go into fall camp and get a starter named." I do think it's closer than most people realized, but I don't buy the prospect of Brewer legitimately not winning this job just yet. It might be "close," but there's a clear frontrunner. Webb did have a huge play on an 83-yard score to Dereck Edwards, but also threw an ugly interception after being flushed from the pocket.
- The defensive progress looked like it's continuing. I expect Texas Tech's offense to still be stellar next fall, but the defense opened up a 23-0 lead early on. That's got to be encouraging, even though it's still just one practice. There's a lot of firepower on Tech's offense, but this is the same team who was -13 in turnover margin last season, the worst mark of any Big 12 team in the last three years. The defense forced three turnovers on Saturday, and Kingsbury's been continually encouraged. It did all of that despite playing a pretty vanilla defense. "We addressed that going into this game," DC Matt Wallerstedt told reporters. "We just wanted to see guys run and hit, play your assignment, be aggressive, play with emotion and take the football away. I think we accomplished those things." Will Smith led the defense with 10 tackles and Branden Jackson made three tackles for loss, with a sack. Pete Robertson also had six tackles and a sack.
- The receivers are who we thought they were. Eric Ward sat out for good reason (he's got nothing to prove), but Amaro showed up big and Tech got some nice showings from unheralded receivers like Brent Mitcham (8 rec. 98 yards, TD) and Brad Pearson (six rec, 60 yards), while Jakeem Grant had a somewhat quiet day. He hauled in a short touchdown pass and a 22-yard grab.
- Tech is serious about The King. Only about 16,000 fans showed up on Saturday, but no autograph line in the Red Raiders' postgame meet-and-greet was longer than Kingsbury's. You don't have to look long for more evidence that he's got the people's vote in Lubbock these days. That was just another reminder.
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