Dallas Colleges: Keith Ford

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
9/21/14
12:46
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Here’s what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 4:

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
AP Photo/Tyler EvertThere was no stopping Samaje Perine on Saturday, as the Sooners freshman ran for 242 yards and four touchdowns against West Virginia.
1. Samaje Perine is a man-child: Oklahoma true freshman running back Samaje Perine just turned 19 years old this week. But he was a grown man among boys Saturday, as he bowled over West Virginia in Oklahoma’s 45-33 win in Morgantown. Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 7.1 yards per carry. It was the 13th best rushing total in Sooners history, which is saying something at a school that has produced Greg Pruitt, Steve Owens and Billy Sims, among countless other standout rushers. It was also the second best rushing output ever in a game by a true freshman at Oklahoma, trailing only Adrian Peterson's 249-yard performance against Oklahoma State in 2004. After the opener, Perine naively declared this could be the best running back group ever to pass through Oklahoma. That’s way too bold, but Perine and sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross -- who returned a critical kick for a touchdown at the end of the first half to give the Sooners momentum for good -- figure to give Oklahoma one of the nation’s most formidable one-two-three punches at running back for the foreseeable future. Perine, a tank of a rusher, is heading that charge.

2. Dana Holgorsen has West Virginia heading in the right direction: This was a disappointing loss for coach Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers, who moved the ball at will on Oklahoma in the first half. But after Ross’ 100-yard kickoff return at the end of the first half, West Virginia could never regain momentum nor get its offense back on track. Still, despite being 2-2, the Mountaineers have proven they have a quality squad, after hanging tough with two teams that might well end up in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Clint Trickett is the most improved quarterback in the Big 12, if not the country, and receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford are devastating weapons downfield. If the Mountaineers play the rest of the year the way they have this first month of the season, they will win a bunch of games. Meanwhile, Holgorsen, whose job status once seemed to be in jeopardy, should be firmly entrenched as the head coach of the future in Morgantown.

3. Kansas’ defense ought to keep it in games: At the beginning and the end of their 24-10 victory over Central Michigan, the Jayhawks produced some big plays offensively. But the defense was the reason Kansas ultimately prevailed, as its offense endured some shaky stretches over the second and third quarters. Led by linebackers Ben Heeney and Jake Love, the Kansas defense forced three turnovers, sacked Central Michigan QB Cooper Rush three times and limited the Chippewas to just 279 yards of offense. Wins haven’t been easy to come by at Kansas, but the defense should give the Jayhawks a chance to win again this season while the offense attempts to harness semblances of consistency.

4. Kansas State figures to be a load in the Big 12: Even in a 20-14 loss to Auburn, the Wildcats showed Thursday night that they will be a tough out for anyone they face the rest of the season. The K-State run defense was phenomenal and snapped Auburn’s 13-game streak of at least 200 yards rushing. Wideout Tyler Lockett, whom Auburn coach Gus Malzahn called “electric,” is a game-changer on offense and special teams, never mind the crucial dropped touchdown pass that turned into an interception. Bill Snyder has to figure out what to do going forward at placekicker, but the Wildcats were good enough to beat the fifth-ranked team in the country. And they’re good enough to be a force in the Big 12 the rest of the way.

5. Oklahoma and Baylor remain the co-favorites: Coming into the season, the Sooners and Bears appeared to be the clear frontrunners to win the league title. Through four weeks of the season, nothing has changed. Oklahoma has been incredibly impressive with its physical offensive line, powerful rushing attack and swarming defense. The Bears have wiped out lesser competition, though they’ve done it while missing many of their key players due to injuries. Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU have impressed, but there’s been nothing so far that suggests the Nov. 8 showdown between Oklahoma and Baylor in Norman won’t decide the Big 12 championship.

Big 12 viewer’s guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
9/20/14
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In Week 4 of Big 12 action, most of the conference will have the day off to watch Oklahoma and West Virginia square off in a key early season clash; while Kansas will attempt to bounce back after getting steamrolled at Duke last week.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to follow today in the Big 12:

Central Michigan at Kansas, 3:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Regional): The pressure is already on Kansas coach Charlie Weis, whose Jayhawks were overwhelmed in a 41-3 loss to Duke last week. Kansas desperately needs a better performance from sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart, who against the Blue Devils struggled mightily, completing just 41 percent of his passes while throwing a pair of interceptions. A bounce-back performance won’t come easy. Central Michigan returns 19 starters, and hammered Purdue by three touchdowns on the road two weeks ago. The Jayhawks, though, will catch a break, with Chippewas star running back Thomas Rawls, who rushed for 155 yards against the Boilermakers, still facing suspension after being accused of stealing a woman’s purse.

No. 4 Oklahoma at West Virginia, 7:30 p.m. ET (Fox): The last time these two teams met in Morgantown, they staged a classic -- and this showdown has the makings of the same. The key matchup figures to be West Virginia’s big-play wide receivers against Oklahoma’s big-play defensive backs. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Mountaineers are averaging 247 yards after the catch a game, which is third most of any Power 5 conference offense. The Sooners, however, are giving up just 4.4 yards after the catch per reception, which is tops among Big 12 defenses. The Oklahoma secondary also forced three turnovers last weekend against Tennessee, including Julian Wilson's 100-yard touchdown interception return. Both teams will be missing key players. Oklahoma running Keith Ford is out with a leg injury, while West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley has been suspended indefinitely after being accused of assaulting a female last weekend. The Sooners still have Samaje Perine (177 yards) and Alex Ross (132 yards) to shoulder the rushing load, while the Mountaineers will get back 2013 starting cornerback Ishmael Banks from an academic suspension, which should help ease the loss of Worley.

Roundtable: Keys for K-State, OU, WVU

September, 16, 2014
9/16/14
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With only four teams playing, it’s a light week for the Big 12. But it’s also another monster one, with a couple of nationally relevant matchups in Auburn-Kansas State and Oklahoma-West Virginia. We examine the keys in these two games in our weekly Big 12 roundtable:

What is the biggest key for Kansas State against Auburn?

Max Olson: Gap integrity. Kansas State's defense sees high-caliber option football on a daily basis in practice, but it doesn't see many athletes like the ones Auburn brings to the table. The Tigers are so good at stretching and squeezing defenses and setting them up to fail. What's essential for KSU is smart decision-making and reads, fundamentally sound tackling and playing consistently solid assignment football. You won't stop these guys if all 11 defenders aren't operating on the same page.

Brandon Chatmon: The Wildcats will need big plays if they hope to knock off Auburn. All three phases -- offense, defense and special teams -- will need to provide a big play to overcome a Tigers offense that will be tough to hold down for the entire contest. Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett has the proven ability to provide several big plays, and quarterback Jake Waters is improving with each game. But outside of that duo, K-State will need a relatively unknown name to rise to the occasion Thursday.

Jake Trotter: Establishing the run. Even with a wideout the caliber of Lockett, Bill Snyder’s attack is predicated on getting the run game going, either with Waters (the leading rusher in the Big 12) or the committee of running backs. An effective run game would keep the Auburn defense on its heels while also keeping Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense on the sidelines.

What is the biggest key for Oklahoma against West Virginia?

Olson: Endurance. West Virginia is averaging 91 plays per game this season, more than any other Power 5 conference team. OU is holding opponents to 75 per game thus far, but if that number gets into the 80s or 90s on Saturday, the Sooners need to be able to hang in there, get stops and get off the field in a hostile environment. WVU only needed 82 plays to absolutely terrorize OU in 2012. I don't doubt this defense can answer the challenge, but Clint Trickett and his crew of skill players shouldn't be taken lightly.

Chatmon: Adapt. The last time OU went to Morgantown, the Sooners didn’t adapt well during the game as Tavon Austin ran through, around and by their defense. Mike Stoops' defense is much better equipped to adjust to anything WVU throws at Oklahoma this time around, with a defensive unit overflowing with versatile talents like Eric Striker, Geneo Grissom and Quentin Hayes to deal with the run and the pass from Dana Holgorsen’s offense.

Trotter: Another quick start. Oklahoma has been unbelievable in the first quarter of its three games this season, and another quick start would serve the Sooners well in Morgantown. It would deflate what will be a hostile crowd. It will take pressure off quarterback Trevor Knight. And it will allow Oklahoma's defense to do what it does best, and that’s tee off on the quarterback in obvious passing downs.

What is the biggest key for West Virginia against Oklahoma?

Olson: Knight. He was downright average against the Mountaineers last season, turning the ball over three times and getting benched for the final quarter of a close game. Granted, his two interceptions came after suffering a bruised knee. And it was his second career start. Knight has been sharp to start the 2014 season, but it'll be fascinating to see how WVU comes up with ways to challenge and frustrate him again.

Chatmon: A quick start. If Trickett and the Mountaineers can take a quick lead, the atmosphere at Milan Puskar Stadium could reach epic levels. A WVU lead, especially a double-digit one, could also force the Sooners to move away from their running game and lean more on the pass to try to regain the momentum. Tennessee tried to take away the run game and Knight made the Vols pay, but it could be another story in the first road start in a night game for the Sooners’ sophomore.

Trotter: The Mountaineers have to stop the run. Or at least slow the run. West Virginia allowed 5.9 yards per carry to Alabama and 6.0 to Maryland. Those numbers will get West Virginia beat against Oklahoma, which features one of the most powerful rushing attacks in the country -- even without sophomore running back Keith Ford. Samaje Perine and Alex Ross are more than capable of shouldering the load, and Knight can be lethal off QB draws, zone reads and play-action rollouts. The Mountaineers have to hold their own up front against the best offensive line in the league. Because once the Sooners get the ground game going, they are difficult to stop.

OU running game should remain strong

September, 15, 2014
9/15/14
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Oklahoma will make its first Big 12 road trip of the season without leading rusher Keith Ford.

Ford will miss the Sooners game against West Virginia and could be out for two-to-three weeks with an ankle injury, coach Bob Stoops announced on Monday. Stoops said sophomore Alex Ross to likely start against the Mountaineers.

"You need a bunch of running backs when you go through a long year," Stoops said.

Ford, a sophomore, is the Sooners' most complete running back. Ford has 34 carries for 194 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and five touchdowns this season. He’s also proven to be a valuable asset in the passing game with six receptions for 100 yards and one touchdown along with his solid pass blocking skills.

"Keith has great hands and is really explosive out there in space," Stoops said. "He has played really well."

Yet losing Ford is not a crippling loss for the Sooners' offense, which has featured the trio of Ford, Ross and true freshman running back Samaje Perine during the first three games. Ford is averaging 11.3 carries and 64.7 yards per game. Perine is averaging 10.7 carries for 59 yards per game (5.5 yards per carry). Ross is averaging seven carries for 44 yards per game (6.3 yards per carry).

Despite Ford's injury, the Sooners' running back-by-committee approach remains intact and OU will continue to build its offensive success around the running game with Ross and Perine as a main contributors.

Ross has already shown his big-play ability with a 82-yard touchdown gallop against Tulsa and a 80-yard kick return against Louisiana Tech. Sliding him into the starting lineup won’t limit anything the Sooners try to do against WVU.

"Alex is a big, strong, powerful, fast guy," Stoops said last week. "So hopefully he’ll just continue to play the way he has."

Perine should be able to continue his trend of entering games midway through the first or second half and punishing defenses with his physical running style while helping the Sooners put the game away. Perine's team-high 108 rushing yards after contact reinforce OU's plan to wear down defenses with the 5-foot-11, 243-pound big back.

"He’s a really bright young guy that is playing really well and he knows what he’s doing," Stoops said of Perine. "We love him. He’s an excellent runner. Even when there isn't much there he finds a way to make something happen with his power."

The loss of Ford gives Ross and Perine the chance to prove they can handle an even bigger role in OU's offense as much as anything else. The duo has each shown the ability to be impact running backs but Ford’s injury means even more carries to show they could handle the burden of being the No. 1 guy if that opportunity arises in the future.

Trio of backs provide base for OU offense

September, 5, 2014
9/05/14
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Oklahoma opened the season with unknowns at running back.

In Keith Ford, Alex Ross and Samaje Perine, the Sooners backfield featured plenty of talent but no proven commodities that made fans in Norman, Oklahoma, feel good about their running back.

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiKeith Ford scored two touchdowns against Louisiana Tech as part of Oklahoma's three-headed running back attack.
One game into the 2014 season, all three running backs look like they could be the man if needed after the Sooners rushed for 183 yards, 5.8 yards per carry, and five touchdowns in OU’s 48-16 win over Louisiana Tech.

“I thought our young running backs were all really, really good,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “Every one of them were 100 percent assignment correct. They protected the quarterback when they had to. They knew where they were going in routes. They caught the ball exceptionally well and, of course, ran the ball in a very physical way. They made some great cuts and took care of the football.”

Ford built upon a solid freshman campaign with decisive running combining with a solid showing as pass catcher and pass blocker. He finished with nine carries for 51 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Ross displayed terrific speed and versatility as a running back and kick returner, adding 11 carries for 36 yards (3.27 ypc) two touchdowns along with an 80-yard kick return. Perine lived up to the hype, showing a physical running style that resembled the physicality of a fifth-year senior -- not a true freshman in his first collegiate game -- finishing with 13 carries for 77 yards.

The numbers are just part of the story. Ford, Ross and Perine combine to fit perfectly into the Sooners’ offense.

“I love our backs, I think our backs really fit our style of running game,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “We do a lot of downhill running with the zone read and some of our triple-option stuff and our backs really fit that style. Keith, Alex and Samaje are a great trio of physical downhill runners that we can pour at a defense.”

That’s exactly what the Sooners did against La. Tech, with 22 rushes for 95 yards (4.3 ypc) and four touchdowns between the tackles. Perine excelled between the tackles with five carries for 37 yards, while Ford was outstanding as well with seven carries for 42 yards and two touchdowns.

“We’ve always done a lot of power running,” Stoops said. “This isn’t anything different or new.”

The threat of the inside run will be the foundation of everything the Sooners will try to accomplish offensively this season, opening up oppotunities for quarterback Trevor Knight and the Sooners' passing game while also preventing defenses from focusing on slowing OU's perimeter running game.

“To be able to have a defense respect us going north and south allows us to hit the perimeter,” Norvell said. “It’s really exciting, we have a physical line, physical runners and when you add the perimeter game and what we can do with the screen game.

“It gives us a fastball to work off of offensively.”

The result was 14 rushes for 66 yards and two touchdowns on option plays against La. Tech. Additionally, Ford and Ross combined for six receptions for 96 yards, showing their versatility while reminding defenses they can be just as dangerous in the passing game.

Ford, Ross and Perine are building reputations as physical runners, but ultimately their versatility and desire to become complete running backs could help them transform into one of the best trios in the nation before the season is over. None of them are close to finished products, but their hunger to master details such as pass protection and ball security are at the heart of the coaching staff’s growing trust in each running back.

“They are approaching the game like they want to be a complete back,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “They are a work in progress. I love that they do come to work, and that was on the practice field and in the weight room this summer. They attack things in the right way.”

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 1

August, 31, 2014
8/31/14
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Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 1:

1. Oklahoma State and West Virginia showed the Big 12 can go toe-to-toe with anyone: The Mountaineers went 4-8 last season and were picked in the preseason to finish eighth in the Big 12. After graduating 28 seniors, the Cowboys had the fewest returning starters of any program from a Power 5 conference. And yet, Oklahoma State and West Virginia gave college football’s two highest-ranked teams all they wanted. Ultimately, the Cowboys committed too many turnovers to topple No. 1 Florida State, and West Virginia dropped too many passes to knock off No. 2 Alabama. But both Big 12 teams acquitted themselves well with valiant efforts against formidable competition to set up the rest of their seasons. The Cowboys and Mountaineers also sent a message at the outset of this playoff era that the Big 12 is a conference to be reckoned with.

Tyreek Hill, Jalen Ramsey
Tony Gutierrez/Associated PressTyreek Hill and Oklahoma State gave No. 1 Florida State all it could handle.
2. Tyreek Hill is the real deal: This summer, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy confessed that running back Tyreek Hill was the fastest football player he’d ever witnessed in person. Hill confirmed Gundy’s proclamation against Florida State, and showed he was faster than anyone playing for perhaps the fastest defense in college football. "We know he's fast," Gundy said. "Because those guys who were chasing him are fast." Hill produced 278 all-purpose yards and quickly drew the full attention of the Seminoles, both defensively and on special teams. Hill is going to be fun to watch over the next two seasons and will be a difficult matchup for Big 12 opponents.

3. Trevone Boykin is the man in Fort Worth: All preseason, TCU coach Gary Patterson refused to showed his cards at quarterback. He even reportedly had the Amon G. Carter Stadium public address announcer introduce both Boykin and Matt Joeckel as starting quarterbacks. But once the game began, there was no doubt left that Boykin is Patterson’s quarterback. After relieving Casey Pachall the last two seasons, Boykin came out sharp in his first opening-game start against Samford. He completed 29 of 41 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns before passing off to Joeckel for mop-up duty. The Horned Frogs, who limited Samford to 143 yards of offense, figure to be tough defensively again. But Boykin will be the key to them getting over the hump in the program’s third year in the Big 12.

4. Oklahoma remains stout at running back: Coming into the season, the Sooners had to replace starting running back Brennan Clay. They then lost blue-chip freshman Joe Mixon to a season-long suspension. But Oklahoma showed Saturday it is still loaded in the backfield. The three-headed monster of sophomore Alex Ross, sophomore Keith Ford and freshman Samaje Perine stole the show in the Sooners’ convincing 48-16 win over Louisiana Tech. The trio combined for 164 yards and five touchdowns while averaging almost five yards per carry. Ford also added 65 yards receiving. “They’re powerful, physical guys,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “But they have speed and can run, too.” Mixon had the talent to boost Oklahoma’s offense, and the Sooners will miss Clay’s reliability. But Oklahoma is going to be just fine at running back this season.

5. The Big 12 should avoid North Dakota State like the plague: If you can’t beat them, ban them. After falling behind 14-0, North Dakota State roared back to throttle Iowa State 34-14 in Ames. The Bison have now won three in a row against Big 12 teams, including last year’s victory over Kansas State. It’s apparent the back-to-back-to-back FCS national champs have reloaded again. And it would be wise for the Big 12 to avoid scheduling them ever again. As for the Cyclones, it was a disheartening start to the 2014 season. Iowa State lost center Tom Farniok and wideout Quenton Bundrage -- both critical cogs -- to first-half injuries. And from the second quarter on, the Cyclones got dominated in the trenches. It doesn’t get any easier for Iowa State, which had high hopes before the season of getting back to bowl. The Cyclones’ next four opponents went a combined 37-14 last season.
Keith Ford, DeMarcus RobinsonUSA TODAY Sports, Icon SMIBoth OU's Keith Ford and Kansas State's DeMarcus Robinson are unproven and at the forefront of two RB battles.

It's Take Two Tuesday, when we give our opinions on a topic related to the Big 12.

Today's topic: Which is the Big 12’s most compelling running back competition?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon -- Oklahoma

It will be fun to watch the battle to get the bulk of the carries at Oklahoma.

The Sooners’ running backs room is full of talent, but it’s largely unproven. Sophomore Keith Ford has shown toughness and a physical running style, fellow sophomore Alex Ross has exceptional physical gifts and the Sooners added a pair of true freshmen, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, who will be right in the thick of the battle for playing time.

If someone steps up during preseason camp and locks down the job, that would be ideal for the Sooners, but the best-case scenario is two or more running backs forcing the coaches to find a role for them this fall. And that’s not out of the question because Mixon is extremely versatile, Perine brings terrific size, Ross brings size and speed and Ford looks like the most complete back of the group.

Yet, even with all the talent, the Sooners will enter the season with Ford as the most productive returnee after recording 4.6 percent of OU’s total rushing yards (134 rushing yards) as a true freshman. There are unknowns abound at the position from Ford’s fumble troubles to Ross’ inconsistency to the freshmen’s transition into college football.

It could be a boom-or-bust situation. I can’t wait to see it play out in 2014.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

Brandon opted to go with a running back competition loaded with intriguing options. I’ll go the other way.

The biggest hole on K-State’s roster going into the preseason is at running back. John Hubert manned the position for the Wildcats for the last three years, rushing for 2,965 yards and 28 touchdowns.

His departure has left K-State with virtually no experience returning at running back. DeMarcus Robinson, in fact, is the team’s most seasoned returning rusher with just 11 career carries for 45 yards.

During the spring, neither Robinson nor Jarvis Leverett showed they’re necessarily the answer at the position, making running back the position to watch in Manhattan this August. The rest of the offense appears to be in place. At quarterback, Jake Waters surged the end of last season and was sharp and confident again this spring. Tyler Lockett is one of the best receivers in the country and the offensive line should be stout with All-Big 12 performers BJ Finney and Cody Whitehair.

The Wildcats, however, likely won’t contend for a Big 12 title unless a playmaker emerges at running back.

Robinson and Leverett will get more chances to show what they can do. But so will incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns and averaged almost 9 yards per carry during his final two years in high school.

If the answer at running back emerges, this K-State offense will be complete. But until that happens, this competition will remain compelling.

Big 12 post-spring breakdown: RBs

April, 29, 2014
4/29/14
3:00
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With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and reranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with running backs. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:


1. West Virginia (pre-spring ranking: 4): West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider has one of the best and most difficult jobs in the Big 12. Seider has an embarrassment of riches at his position in Dreamius Smith (the No. 1 juco back in 2013), Wendell Smallwood (who played last year as a true freshman), Rushel Shell (who before transferring from Pitt set the Pennsylvania state high school rushing record), Andrew Buie (the team’s leading rusher in 2012) and Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s leading rusher from 2011, who, finally healthy again, enjoyed a resurgent spring. The Mountaineers also will add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. The difficult part for Seider will be divvying up carries to so many capable backs. But if the Mountaineers can keep everyone happy and find the right combination, this could become a devastating and versatile running back stable.

2. Texas (1): Coach Charlie Strong delivered promising news on Monday in San Antonio, suggesting Johnathan Gray could be cleared from his Achilles injury by mid-June. Strong also said that Joe Bergeron will be rejoining the team shortly, too, after sitting out the spring to focus on academics. When healthy and eligible, the trio of Malcolm Brown, Gray and Bergeron is a formidable bunch and the backbone of the Texas offense.

3. Baylor (3): Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin exited spring as the co-starters, but Johnny Jefferson left the biggest impression in the spring game. The Bears have a track record of spreading carries around, which means Big 12 fans will become very acquainted with the talented redshirt freshman next season.

4. Oklahoma State (5): One of the biggest surprises of the spring was how much the Cowboys used Tyreek Hill at running back. Oklahoma State is planning to utilize the nation’s top juco playmaker the way West Virginia did Tavon Austin two years ago. In other words, Hill could line up in the backfield one play then slot receiver the next. Either way, arguably the fastest player in college football gives the Cowboys a dynamic lightning component to complement the thunderous running of senior Desmond Roland, who led all Big 12 backs in touchdowns last season.

5. Oklahoma (3): There might not be a Big 12 backfield with more upside than Oklahoma’s. Of course, with that upside comes little experience. Sophomore Keith Ford has the potential to be a punishing inside runner, but he had fumbling issues last season as a freshman that re-emerged during the spring. If he can’t hang onto the ball, he won’t play, no matter how tough he runs between the tackles. After getting passed by Ford on the depth chart last year, Alex Ross bounced back with an impressive spring. Early enrollee Dimitri Flowers was a revelation this spring as a powerful run-blocking fullback in the mold of Trey Millard. If fellow incoming freshman Joe Mixon lives up to his recruiting hype, the Sooners could feature their most potent rushing attack in years.

6. Iowa State (8): The most underrated one-two punch at running back in the league resides in Ames. According to first-year offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy were sharp all spring and will spearhead an offense that could surprise in 2014. The key will be keeping the slight but explosive Wimberly relatively healthy, which he never really was before and after rushing for 137 and 117 yards back to back against Tulsa and Texas. Wimberly, however, was 100 percent all spring, and it showed, as he racked up 68 yards on just nine touches in the spring game.

7. TCU (7): TCU had to make do without its three top backs in the spring due to injuries. Aaron Green suffered a broken collarbone, Kyle Hicks had a shoulder bruise, and returning leading rusher B.J. Catalon dealt with a nagging hamstring injury. All three, however, should be fine for the fall, and could form a reliable rotation at running back. Four-star recruit Shaun Nixon could help out, too, once he arrives on campus.

8. Texas Tech (6): The Red Raiders dropped two spots, largely because returning starter Kenny Williams played outside linebacker all spring and could remain there for good. But even if Williams becomes a full-time linebacker, Tech still could be solid at running back with veteran DeAndre Washington, sophomore Quinton White and incoming four-star freshman Justin Stockton, whom the Texas Tech coaching staff is very high on. Head coach and offensive play-caller Kliff Kingsbury wouldn’t have given Williams the go-ahead to move to defense if he didn’t feel optimistic about what remained in the backfield.

9. Kansas (9): Though they come in ninth here, running back could be a position of strength for the Jayhawks next season. Brandon Bourbon, the favorite to start, rushed for 96 yards on 12 carries in the spring game, but Taylor Cox (63 yards on 15 carries) and Darrian Miller (50 yards on seven carries) had nice outings, as well. The Jayhawks also will welcome De’Andre Mann, the nation’s fifth-best juco running back, in the summer, as well as four-star freshmen Traevohn Wrench and Corey Avery. Until they start winning more games, it’s difficult to give the Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt in these position rankings. But with this collection of runners, they might not miss All-Big 12 performer James Sims as much as first thought.

10. Kansas State (10): The spring brought little clarity about who John Hubert’s primary replacement will be. Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones both ran hard in K-State’s spring game, though neither broke a run for longer than 11 yards. Meanwhile, DeMarcus Robinson, who has the most experience of the three, sat out the scrimmage with an injury. As a result, incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns while averaging almost 9 yards per carry his final two years in high school, will have an opportunity to be a factor once he joins the team this summer.

Spring depth chart analysis: Oklahoma

April, 29, 2014
4/29/14
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Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. On Tuesday, we continue the series with Oklahoma:

Offense (projected starters in bold)

QB: Trevor Knight (So.), Cody Thomas (RFr.), Justice Hansen (Fr.)

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAfter receiving only 23 carries last season as a freshman, OU's Keith Ford will likely be the starting tailback in 2014.
The Sooners feel great about putting the offense in the hands of Knight after his Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP performance against Alabama. The sophomore looked like a future star against the Crimson Tide while leading the Sooners to a 45-31 upset win. OU is inexperienced behind Knight with a pair of freshman in Thomas and Hansen. Former Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield, who transferred to OU in January, would be the perfect fit behind Knight but won’t be eligible to play until 2015. If he plays consistent and remains healthy, Knight could lead his team to a College Football Playoff berth. If not, OU could flounder below expectations and look back upon the 2014 season as a missed opportunity.

RB: Keith Ford (So.), Alex Ross (So.), Daniel Brooks (So.)

Ford exits spring as the favorite to start in the backfield, but he didn’t take the job and hide during 15 spring practices. Ross was one of the stars of the spring as he continually made plays during scrimmages, and Brooks was one of the standouts during the spring game. OU has several talented options at running back and is poised to add two top freshman runners in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.

FB/TE: Aaron Ripkowski (Sr.), Dimitri Flowers (Fr.), Blake Bell (Sr.)

OU uses fullbacks and tight ends in similar ways as both positions spend their meeting time with tight ends coach Jay Boulware. Ripkowski is one of the unsung heroes on the entire roster. He played a critical role during the team's strong finish to the 2013 season. Flowers has stepped on campus ready to make an impact with his versatility and football IQ after enrolling in school early. Bell has moved over from quarterback and looks poised to make an impact as a pass catcher with his size and athleticism. It’s a talented and versatile group that is likely to get overlooked this fall but could be the foundation of any success the team has on offense.

WR: Sterling Shepard (Jr.), Derrick Woods (So.), Durron Neal (Jr.), K.J. Young (RFr.), Jordan Smallwood (RFr.), Austin Bennett (So.)

Shepard should be one of the Big 12’s top receivers if Knight continues to develop as a passer. OU badly needs someone to emerge alongside Shepard if it hopes to have a strong passing game to help make the 2014 version of the offense more balanced than the 2013 version. There’s talent on campus but nobody separated themselves during the spring, opening the door for a freshman like Michiah Quick to step on campus and into the lineup this fall.

C: Ty Darlington (Jr.)

G: Dionte Savage (Sr.), Nila Kasitati (Jr.), Tony Feo (Sr.), Adam Shead (Sr.), Tyler Evans (Sr.)

T: Tyrus Thompson (Sr.), Daryl Williams (Sr.), Josiah St. John (Sr.)

Darlington has been groomed to replace All-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard and could slide into the starting lineup with ease. Nonetheless, adding competition at this position would help the Sooners. OU is fairly deep at guard and tackle which should allow competition for playing time to help everyone improve. Williams is the anchor of the entire offensive line and should be one of the Big 12’s top tackles this fall. The Sooners should have one of the better offensive lines in the Big 12.

DEFENSE

DE: Charles Tapper (Jr.), Geneo Grissom (Sr.), Matt Dimon (So.)

DT: Jordan Phillips (Jr.) or Chuka Ndulue (Sr.), Jordan Wade (So.)

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSooners linebacker Dominique Alexander emerged as a playmaker as a freshman.
OU’s defensive line could be one of the most disruptive and deepest in the nation. The Sooners should easily go six or seven deep along the defensive line, particularly if Phillips returns to his early 2013 form after suffering a back injury last season. Tapper and Grissom have the ability to be disruptive against anyone, and the overall depth on the roster should allow OU to come at offenses in waves with fresh bodies rotating throughout games. If OU makes a national title run, the defensive line will likely be the driving force.

LB: Dominique Alexander (So.), Frank Shannon (Jr.), Eric Striker (Jr.), Jordan Evans (So.), Devante Bond (Jr.)

Striker could be the Big 12’s best pass rusher, Alexander has the potential to be one of the Big 12’s best before his career is over, Evans could take a major step forward as a sophomore and Bond impressed as a junior college transfer this spring. If Shannon returns to good standing after missing part of spring due to personal issues, this is a good, experienced group. OU’s linebackers are one of the main reasons its defense could be the most athletic and versatile in the conference this fall.

CB: Zack Sanchez (So.), Julian Wilson (Sr.), Dakota Austin (So.), Stanvon Taylor (So.), Cortez Johnson (Jr.)

Here’s where things get interesting for the defense. Wilson returns as the starting nickelback and a productive veteran in the secondary. Sanchez is solid and took his game to another level this spring as he strives to be the type of coverage cornerback that teams don’t want to test. But the Sooners need someone to step up on the opposite side of the field with Austin ending the spring as a starter but remaining untested. No matter who wins the job, they will be picked on repeatedly until they prove they aren’t the weak link of the secondary. Defensive back is one of the few unsettled and unproven spots on the entire roster.

S: Quentin Hayes (Sr.), Hatari Byrd (So.), Ahmad Thomas (So.)

Hayes was quietly one of the better safeties in the Big 12 in 2013. He was productive with 75 tackles and solid in coverage. Byrd and Thomas have matured and started to develop as sophomores and should be key contributors this fall. Nonetheless, freshman Steven Parker has the talent to step in an earn a role this summer. If Parker is as good as advertised, OU will go two deep with talented options.
It was a quiet and productive spring at Oklahoma. The Sooners emerged relatively free of injuries and were able to tinker with their systems on both sides of the ball. This week we'll review OU's spring. On Monday, we began with five questions that were answered during the Sooners' 15 practices. Today, we move on to five questions that remain unanswered.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight is already a good QB, as evidenced by his play last season but now he needs to take the next step in his development.
Which Trevor Knight will trigger the Sooners this fall? Knight left no doubt how good he could be after his MVP performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Now the OU quarterback needs to answer how good he is over the course of a season. It’s easy to forget Knight is just a sophomore with plenty of developing to do if he plans to become one of the Big 12’s top signal-callers. His subpar spring game is an example, as he finished with 53 passing yards and one interception during a disappointing showing. Transforming from a good quarterback to a great quarterback is the next step in Knight’s progression.

Who will be the starting running back? The competition promises to continue into August, but don't be surprised if it continues deep into the season. OU has plenty of good options including sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross, but this competition could be decided by what the Sooners' running backs do without the ball in their hands. Ross had an excellent spring but didn’t star in the spring game while Ford showed he can play at a Big 12 level as a freshman. The running back battle could be the most exciting battle to monitor this fall.

How will Ahmad Thomas be used? The sophomore has really come on since the middle of last season. He saw time against Alabama and held his own, then built upon that performance with a strong spring. It would be a surprise if he’s not a major contributor on OU’s defense; it’s just a matter of where he plays. Thomas is a versatile defensive back who can play safety or nickelback. He’s the type of guy the Sooners can leave on the field -- regardless of the offense they’re facing -- and feel confident he will make an positive impact against the run or pass.

Who will back up Knight? Baker Mayfield is the obvious choice … in 2015. The former Texas Tech quarterback was the standout of the spring game and will have Knight feeling like his starting spot is never secure when he becomes eligible to play for the Sooners after sitting out the 2014 season. This fall, however, Knight’s backup remains a question mark. Redshirt freshman Cody Thomas looks like he could develop into a quality quarterback, and the new NCAA rules will allow the Sooners to quicken his development like never before. Thomas should be considered the favorite to win the No. 2 job but Justice Hansen's decision to enroll early has allowed him to get one spring under his belt and he could arrive in the fall much more comfortable than the average freshman. This is another battle that could last deep into August.

Who will make big plays in the passing game? Austin Bennett. Blake Bell. Jordan Smallwood. Durron Neal. K.J. Young. Those names could emerge as key targets for Knight this fall but none of them have locked down a spot in the offense quite yet. Smallwood, who probably had the best spring of the bunch, will undoubtedly play a role but OU needs someone to emerge as a legit, consistent threat alongside Sterling Shepard or risk watching one of the Big 12’s top returning receivers be double teamed constantly.
Spring football has come to a close at Oklahoma.

The Sooners 15 practices answered some questions, but others remain. Now is the perfect time to update the some of the position battles that made this spring intriguing in Norman. We took a look at offense and defense earlier this week. We end the series on Friday with special teams.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard should be able to step up and fill the void left in OU's return game by the departure of Jalen Saunders.
Kicker

Pre-spring: Already considered among the nation’s best, Michael Hunnicutt is locked in as the Sooners’ starting kicker.

Post-spring: Not only should the Sooners feel great about Hunnicutt, he showed increased kicking prowess in the spring game. Long-range field goals have not been a strength for the 2013 Lou Groza Award semifinalist during his first three years, but he nailed two 40-plus yard field goals in the spring game, including a 53-yarder, although it was wind-aided.

Summer outlook: OU heads into the summer knowing it has one of the nation’s best kickers.

Punter

Pre-spring: Jed Barnett returns after his first season as OU’s punter, averaging 41.7 yards per punt.

Post-spring: Much like kicker, there's not much to see here. Barnett was solid during his first season and returns to give OU solid punting in his final year on campus. OU should exit the spring feeling good about both kicking positions.

Summer outlook: Barnett is a very solid punter and heads into the summer as the clear No. 1 guy. There’s no reason to think that will change.

Returners

Pre-spring: The Sooners lose all of their returners. Receiver Jalen Saunders was dynamic on punt returns and running backs Roy Finch and Brennan Clay were very productive kick returners. With that, there are plenty of questions about who will return kicks.

Post-spring:Receiver Sterling Shepard is in line to return punts. He was a superb punt returner in high school and has proven playmaking ability. Cornerback Zack Sanchez could also be an option as a punt returner this fall. Kick returns could be a good fit for running back Alex Ross or running back Daniel Brooks among several other young and talented options.

Summer outlook: OU will start finalizing its return game in August. Plenty of talented freshmen could get the opportunity, with Shepard looking like the lone frontrunner for any of the return positions.

“When we get our whole football team on here in the summer, that’s when I’ll identify and make final decisions on that,” special teams coordinator Jay Boulware said of potential punt and kick returners. “We have a lot of freshmen coming in and we have a lot of guys who are busting their butts right now. We won’t make any final decisions until towards the end of fall camp.”

Punt/kick coverage

Pre-spring: OU’s coverage teams could improve after allowing 15.6 yards per punt return and 23.28 yards per kick return in 2013. But OU’s coverage overall was pretty solid and its coverage units allowed then-freshmen like Ahmad Thomas, Dakota Austin and Keith Ford to get their feet wet and contribute during their first seasons.

Post-spring: Much like the returners, Boulware will be looking to finalize these units after the freshmen arrive. One key to keep an eye on will be OU’s attempt to replace Trey Millard, who was a special teams monster during his four seasons. Freshman Dimitri Flowers appears ready to help replace Millard on offense but Boulware said he’s not certain if the early enrollee can match Millard’s contributions on special teams as well.

Summer outlook: Special teams coverage units can be a way for true freshmen to get their foot in the door. Boulware likes the overall speed and athleticism on the roster this spring, so adding additional, hungry freshmen into the mix should help OU be able to field some of the quickest and more athletic coverage units in the Big 12 in 2014. The battle for special teams spots should be interesting to watch and could provide a glimpse at the young guys who could be the future on offense and defense.

OU position battle update: Offense

April, 16, 2014
4/16/14
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Spring football has come to a close at Oklahoma.

The Sooners’ 15 practices answered some questions but others still remain. Now is the perfect time to update the some of the position battles that made this spring intriguing in Norman, Okla. beginning with the offense.

Backup quarterback

Pre-spring: This was arguably the biggest offensive concern heading into the spring. Two freshmen, Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen, are behind projected starter Trevor Knight and preparing them for the backup role was one of the spring’s most important goals.

Post-spring: Those questions still remain. Thomas, who was splitting time with OU’s baseball team during the spring, is clearly ahead of Hansen, who threw two interceptions in the spring game after enrolling early to participate in spring drills. Even though Thomas performed better in the spring game he hasn’t appeared to run away with the job.

Summer outlook: The four months until August are the best news for the Sooners. That extra time to develop could be critical for Thomas and Hansen because one of them will need to be the No. 2 quarterback. Either way, OU must have its fingers crossed that Knight stays healthy.

Starting running back

Pre-spring: Keith Ford was considered the favorite to take over as OU’s starting running back after a solid freshman debut. His determination and physical running style earned him carries in a senior-laden backfield in 2013.

Post-spring: Even though he had a lackluster spring game (three carries, six yards), Alex Ross made a move during spring drills. Coach Bob Stoops consistently praised the sophomore, who continually made plays during spring scrimmages. Fellow sophomore Daniel Brooks also looked healthy for the first time in a Sooners’ uniform during the spring game, giving OU more options at the position. The spring left the position murkier than ever but it’s a good problem because the Sooners have several talented options to carry the ball, much like they did in 2013.

Summer outlook: February signees Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine are expected to arrive in the summer, kicking up the competition at the position to an even higher level. Stoops expects multiple running backs to get carries this fall, so expect this competition to rage on into the season.

No. 2 receiver

Pre-spring: Sterling Shepard is a proven playmaker and emerging leader. Junior Durron Neal was the clubhouse favorite to emerge alongside Shepard with sophomore Derrick Woods and others ready to battle to become key contributors.

Post-spring: This battle is far from over but redshirt freshman Jordan Smallwood could join Shepard as one of Knight’s favorite targets. The buzz surrounding Smallwood has been unrelenting since he stepped on campus last summer, only to be muffled after a foot injury forced him to redshirt. He returned for bowl practices and the buzz wasn’t far behind. With three receptions for 60 yards and one touchdown in the spring game, the redshirt freshman showed his size, athleticism, route running and ball skills could make him a consistent part of OU’s offense.

Summer outlook: Several receivers could become receiving targets this fall but outside of Smallwood, nobody looks like they’ve cemented a role in the offense. Thus, the competition continues and four freshmen, including potential game-breaker Michiah Quick, will arrive in the summer with an eye on surpassing their older teammates on the depth chart.

Spring game review: Oklahoma

April, 14, 2014
4/14/14
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The excitement surrounding Oklahoma’s football program is night and day compared to a year ago. The Sooners announced 43,500 fans in attendance for their spring game on Saturday, a school record. Last year’s announced crowd was 29,200. With the Trevor Knight era fully underway, here’s a recap of OU’s spring game.

[+] EnlargeMayfield
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsFormer Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield was impressive in the spring game.
Best offensive performance: Baker Mayfield stole the show, completing 9 of 9 pass attempts for 125 yards and two touchdowns. The former Texas Tech quarterback, who transferred to OU in January after earning Big 12 offensive freshman of the year honors last season, is ineligible for the 2014 season. Nonetheless, Mayfield outshined Knight, the Sooners’ projected starter this fall, with his flawless outing. Mayfield has Big 12 game experience, and it showed throughout the spring game. He’ll spend this fall giving OU’s defense fits while leading the scout team.

Best defensive performance: Linebacker Eric Striker looked like he was in midseason form with two sacks and one tackle for loss. Striker, who starred in OU’s Allstate Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, picked up right where he left off. He continually got into the offensive backfield and appeared unblockable at times coming off the edge. He could be poised for a dominant junior season.

Best debut: True freshman Dimitri Flowers looks ready to help the offense immediately. One of the scariest scenes of the spring game was Flowers lying on the ground, clutching his knee. Fortunately for the Sooners, it was just a hyper-extended knee for the fullback/tight end hybrid. Flowers has impressed with his football IQ and receiving skills during his short time on campus as an early enrollee. He tied for the team high with four receptions and finished with 40 receiving yards. He should be a key contributor this fall.

Notable play: Sophomore linebacker Jordan Evans had the hit of the day against K.J. Young on a receiver screen. Evans’ hit popped the ball up in the air, allowing defensive tackle Jordan Wade to secure Knight’s lone interception of the day. It was a key play because Evans played with the No. 1 defense after returning starter Frank Shannon, OU's leading tackler in 2013, missed the game for personal reasons. Shannon's status remains unclear, so the Sooners could turn to Evans to be the man alongside Dominique Alexander this fall if Shannon is unable to return. Evans looked ready for the task on Saturday.

Developing storyline: OU’s defense clearly won the day. The Sooners are young, talented and versatile on that side of the ball, led by Striker and returning All-Big 12 defensive end Charles Tapper. OU’s secondary, a potential concern with the loss of two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin, had a strong day in coverage, particularly the starting unit. Sophomore Dakota Austin was solid sliding into Colvin’s former spot opposite Zack Sanchez. If this unit continues to develop, it could be one of the best and more versatile defenses in the nation.

Biggest question answered: Few, if any, questions got answered. The defense was dominant, but that wasn't surprising, and nobody separated themselves in the running back derby or backup quarterback race. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will welcome true freshmen Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine into the running back competition this summer. At quarterback, Cody Thomas outperformed Justice Hansen, but didn’t put a stranglehold on the backup quarterback position heading into the summer. The best development of the game was a relatively injury-free outing.

Biggest question emerging: Which Knight will lead the Sooners in 2014? He didn't look like the Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP, going 5-of-14 for 53 yards and one interception. Evans' hit led to his lone pick, but he was inefficient and unproductive. The defense carries a large portion of the blame and the receiving corps, without top target Sterling Shepard and potential starter Durron Neal, also contributed to Knight's underwhelming spring finale. Knight knows he will have to perform much better for OU's national title dreams to approach reality.

Quotable: “I don’t know that you ever get anything answered in 15 practices. What I feel like is there has been improvement. Players that haven’t had a ton of experience have more now. We’ll build on it.” -- OU coach Bob Stoops

Ranking the Big 12's offensive triplets

March, 28, 2014
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The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s captured three Super Bowls on the backs of their triplets. Running back Emmitt Smith churned out yardage between the tackles. Wide receiver Michael Irvin hauled in receptions downfield. And quarterback Troy Aikman captained the unstoppable attack.

Like with the Cowboys, big-time triplets usually translate to big-time offense. And the Big 12 over the years has showcased several notable ones. Oklahoma’s Jason White, Adrian Peterson and Mark Clayton in 2004. Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle and Justin Blackmon in 2011. West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in 2012. Even last season, Baylor boasted one of the best triplets in the country in Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and Antwan Goodley.

So which Big 12 teams will feature the most prolific offensive triplets in 2014? We rank them below:

1. Baylor

QB Bryce Petty, RB Shock Linwood, WR Antwan Goodley

The Bears remain atop this list, even with Seastrunk bolting early for the NFL draft. Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back last season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and shined as the featured back while Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were injured. After totaling 46 touchdowns throwing and rushing, Petty should be even better in his second season as a starter. Goodley is an All-American-caliber wideout.

2. Oklahoma

QB Trevor Knight, RB Keith Ford, WR Sterling Shepard

Knight finally live up to his preseason billing with a sparkling Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama. Knight has the talent and potential to be one of the best dual-threat QBs in the country. Ford was one of the top running back recruits in 2013, and would have played more as a freshman had the Sooners not also had four senior running backs on the roster. Shepard has been a dependable starter the last two seasons, and he already has 96 career receptions going into his junior season. He seems ready to take over for Jalen Saunders as the go-to receiver.

3. Texas Tech

QB Davis Webb, RB Kenny Williams, WR Jakeem Grant

Webb broke out with a tremendous performance in the National University Holiday Bowl, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in an upset of Arizona State. He had his moments during the regular season, too, and could be in for a monster sophomore campaign in Kliff Kingsbury’s air-it-out offense. Williams is a solid pass-catching running back out of the backfield, and he led the Red Raiders with 497 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season. Williams has been taking first-team snaps at outside linebacker this spring, so he could wind up deferring carries to DeAndre Washington, who has been a capable backup. Grant is electric with the ball, burning Arizona State with a pair of touchdown catches. Grant was sixth in the Big 12 last season in receiving, and with Jace Amaro and Eric Ward gone, should take on an expanded role offensively.

4. Texas

QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Jaxon Shipley

The possibilities of this threesome hinges heavily on the health of Ash, who missed virtually all of the 2013 season with concussion issues. Ash is back with the team this spring, and he has had moments before of performing at a high level. After Johnathan Gray’s Achilles injury, Brown took over as the starting running back and performed admirably, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of Texas’ final three games. Shipley has sure hands, is a precise route runner and is capable of catching 70-plus passes in the right quarterback situation.

5. Kansas State

QB Jake Waters, RB DeMarcus Robinson, WR Tyler Lockett

The Wildcats would be ranked second here if John Hubert had another season of eligibility. But running back is a major question, with no back on the roster holding much experience. Robinson might be the favorite to win the job, but he’ll have to fend off Jarvis Leverett and incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack. Lockett is the best receiver in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country. Waters improved dramatically in his first season as the starter in 2013. If a running back emerges, the Wildcats could surge up this list.

6. Iowa State

QB Grant Rohach, RB Aaron Wimberly, WR Quenton Bundrage

Rohach first must win the starting quarterback derby this spring over Sam B. Richardson. But he played well down the stretch while leading Iowa State to a pair of wins to finish last year. Wimberly was banged up for much of last season, but he can be dynamic when healthy. Bundrage was third in the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns in 2013, and with a little more consistency, could be an all-league receiver. This could be the best triplet combination coach Paul Rhoads has enjoyed in Ames.

7. Oklahoma State

QB J.W. Walsh, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales

Walsh was fifth in college football in Adjusted Total QBR as a redshirt freshman, but he took a step back as a sophomore and eventually lost the starting gig back to Clint Chelf. If he plays like he did as a freshman, Walsh could be one of the five-best QBs in the league. If he performs like his sophomore season, he could lose the job again. Roland is a touchdown machine and is as good as any back in the league in short-yardage situations. Seales could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way after starting as a freshman.

8. West Virginia

QB Clint Trickett, RB Dreamius Smith, WR Kevin White

The Mountaineers have plenty of weapons, but they will only score more points with more consistent QB play. Trickett tops the projected depth chart for now, but he’ll have to outperform Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and William Crest to stick there. Smith was very impressive at times last season backing up Charles Sims. He’ll get the first crack at starting, but Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell will be looming if Smith sputters. White gets the nod as the No. 1 wideout, but Daikiel Shorts and Mario Alford are not far behind as part of a deep and balanced wide receiving corps.

9. TCU

QB Trevone Boykin, RB B.J. Catalon, WR Josh Doctson

Boykin is back at quarterback again after splitting time at receiver the last two seasons. Boykin struggled as the starting QB last season but got little help from his offensive line or receivers. Reports are that he has been sharp this spring in the new Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie offense. Catalon is a solid cog at running back, and he averaged 5.3 yards per carry despite playing in an anemic attack last year. Brandon Carter was supposed to be the No. 1 receiver last season -- and still could be in 2014 -- but he wasn’t reliable on or off the field. In Carter’s stead, Doctson surfaced after transferring in from Wyoming, and led the Horned Frogs with 36 receptions and 440 receiving yards.

10. Kansas

QB Jake Heaps, RB Brandon Bourbon, WR Nick Harwell

Harwell should give Kansas what it hasn’t had in a long time -- a go-to receiver. Harwell was the nation’s second-leading receiver in 2011 at Miami (Ohio), and he should give the Kansas offense a much needed shot in the arm. Heaps lost time to freshman Montell Cozart last fall, but he has reasserted himself this spring amid a three-way competition with Cozart and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Bourbon is battling Taylor Cox and Darrian Miller to see who replaces All-Big 12 running back James Sims.

OU hopeful it found Trey Millard 2.0

March, 24, 2014
3/24/14
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Big 12 teams rejoice.

For the first time in four years, Oklahoma faces the proposition of a season without Trey Millard as a critical piece of its offense and special teams.

[+] EnlargeDimitri Flowers
Tom Hauck for Student SportsWhile only a 3-star recruit, Dimitri Flowers' versatility stood out to scouts.
The former Sooner earned a reputation as one of the conference’s most physical and versatile players as a four-year starter and could easily be considered the hardest player to replace in the Big 12. Millard ran like a running back, blocked like an offensive lineman and covered kicks like a linebacker. Locating guys like Millard is nearly an impossible task.

The Sooners hope they found a similar hidden gem in early enrollee Dimitri Flowers. He starred all over the field at San Antonio Churchill, making plays as a running back, tight end and defensive end. Flowers, at 6-foot-1, 234 pounds, has been earmarked for a Millard-type role as a hybrid tight end and running back and is already impressing coaches and teammates with his versatility.

“He’s one of the most skilled, well-rounded guys that I’ve seen come into our program,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “His ability to play in line and in space as an H-back, motion guy, [and] he does a great job of catching the football and he’s extremely bright for a young kid coming into your program.”

Flowers was called “as versatile as any player in high school” by ESPN.com recruiting experts, who rated him as a three-star athlete with “above average” size, speed and strength.

It would be asking a lot for Flowers to step right into the Sooners plan and have a similar impact as Millard, who essentially forced the coaching staff to find an immediate role for him as a true freshman. Fortunately for OU, it doesn’t need him to make an similar impact with former walk-on Aaron Ripkowski already proving he can be a core contributor as a fullback/tight end after Millard missed the end of the 2013 season with a knee injury.

Nonetheless, Flowers still could provide superb depth and play a special teams role this fall, particularly if he makes a smooth transition to college football and can handle the little details that can be the difference between seeing the field or watching from the sideline.

“He came in [as] a really good [player],” sophomore running back Keith Ford said. “He’s adjusted to the speed and the things I’ve seen with the catching the ball and pass blocking, he’s picking it up fast.”

OU used Millard and Ripkowski together at various times in 2012 and 2013 so it’s not out of the question for Flowers to have a role in the Sooners’ offensive plans with a strong showing this spring.

“He’s a really versatile player, very young, but a lot of great qualities,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “A lot of our best players can do a lot of things and he’s showing a lot of versatility on the field. He’s green as grass, he doesn’t know much but he’s a good athlete and he can play for us so we’re excited to have him.”

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