Dallas Colleges: Orion Stewart

2014 All-Big 12 underclassman team

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
12:00
PM CT
From Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine to West Virginia placekicker Josh Lambert, the Big 12 was loaded with underclassmen who made an impact on the 2014 season. With that in mind we unveil our second annual All-Big 12 underclassman team (freshmen and sophomores).

The underclassman team is based on 2014 performances, not future potential -- though many on this list have bright futures as well. Number of games played was also a factor, which is a reason why budding true freshman quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Mason Rudolph, who both came on strong only during the final month of the season, just missed the cut.

Without further ado, the ESPN.com 2014 All-Big 12 underclassman team:

Offense
QB: Tyrone Swoopes, Texas
RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor
RB: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
WR: Corey Coleman, Baylor
WR: KD Cannon, Baylor
WR: Allen Lazard, Iowa State
OT: Adam Pankey, West Virginia
OG: Baylen Brown, Texas Tech
C: Kyle Fuller, Baylor
OG: Daniel Burton, Iowa State
OT: Kent Perkins, Texas
FB: Glenn Gronkowski, Kansas State
AP: Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia

Defense
DE: Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
DT: Andrew Billings, Baylor
DT: Hassan Ridgeway, Texas
DE: Jordan Willis, Kansas State
LB: Taylor Young, Baylor
LB: Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
LB: Seth Jacobs, Oklahoma State
CB: Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
CB: Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
S: Jordan Sterns, Oklahoma State
S: Orion Stewart, Baylor

Special teams
K: Josh Lambert, West Virginia
P: Colin Downing, Iowa State
KR: Alex Ross, Oklahoma
PR: Cameron Echols-Luper, TCU

Baylor trusting new-look back seven

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
10:00
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WACO, Texas -- Orion Stewart knows what pundits are saying about his Baylor defense. He doesn’t like it one bit.

Yes, the sophomore safety knows the Bears lost 13 letterwinners on his side of the ball. He gets why that is concerning. But the offseason buzz that Baylor’s defense is a question mark is almost offensive to him.

“I hate it. We’re going to show them this year,” Stewart said. “Everywhere you look: ‘Baylor’s defense is not this good, it’s not that great, it’s the offense that wins the games.’ They don’t know that we’re going to get it done.”

[+] EnlargeBaylor Celebration
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsOrion Stewart was an impact player at safety for Baylor toward the end of last season.
No one is questioning a defensive line that Art Briles has called possibly the best in America. Middle linebacker Bryce Hager is a proven commodity and a preseason All-Big 12 selection. But it’s the rest of the back seven, the Bears’ linebackers and defensive backs, that raises eyebrows. The development of that group will decide whether Baylor can field another Big 12 title-caliber defense.

“We’re in the proving business,” BU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said Tuesday before the team’s first fall practice. “But they’ve played a lot of football, and they’re talented.”

As Stewart put it: “They’ll know those guys by the end of the year.”

Here’s a closer look at exactly what Baylor is working with in the back seven. These are the names you’ll need to know.

Weakside linebacker: Aiavion Edwards OR Taylor Young

What is Bennett looking for at this spot?

“Eddie Lackey. Remember him?” he joked.

Finding someone to match what the consensus All-Big 12 senior provided last season isn’t easy, and Edwards will battle Young throughout August for the right to start.

Edwards, a sophomore, played in 12 games last season and saw his playing time increase when Hager went down, though he didn’t crack the starting lineup.

“I like him a lot as a player,” Hager said. “He brings physicality. He’s really strong, makes plays happen in the middle, and breaks up blocks.”

But Bennett is just as excited about Young, a 5-foot-11, 225-pound redshirt freshman from DeSoto, Texas. He wowed the coaching staff in spring ball.

“After looking at the spring cut-ups, Taylor Young is going to be hard to keep off the field,” Bennett said. “He has a natural playmaker instinct. The guys I’ve had there had that ability.”

Cornerback: Xavien Howard, Terrence Singleton

Baylor is entrusting its coverage at corner to two players who have never started a game. Bennett isn’t scared for a second about that.

“I’ve coached a lot of NFL guys,” he said. “They’re NFL guys.”

Howard and Singleton each played in 13 games last season and earned praise from Briles and teammates for the potential they’ve flashed in practice.

Howard, a sophomore from Houston, did pick off a pass in mop-up duty against Buffalo and isn’t afraid to cover Antwan Goodley and the Bears’ best weapons.

“He’s a playmaker,” Stewart said. “He’s really good, always going against the best receivers. I feel like he’s going to be ready.”

Like Howard, Singleton is a third-year sophomore who got his first taste of game action last year after a redshirt season.

“He’s fun to watch, in workouts especially,” Hager said. “He’s fast and quick and really athletic. He’s going to help us out a lot.”

Ryan Reid will also see the field, and juco transfer Chris Sanders is dealing with hamstring issues but should contribute. Bennett isn’t ruling out playing freshmen Verkedric Vaughns, Jourdan Blake or Chance Waz, too.

But, again, only Reid (seven games) has any playing experience among the top backups.

Safety: Terrell Burt, Stewart

Stewart is ready to hold down the down safety spot after earning starts in two of Baylor’s final four games last season. Bennett admitted he might be as underrated as the rest of these fresh faces.

“When we made the run to win it, Orion Stewart was a starter for us,” Bennett said. “As we came down the back stretch to win the championship, Orion Stewart was huge. He injured his ankle in the Texas game, plays the whole half with a terrible injury, wasn’t able to play in bowl game.”

He’s healthy now. So is Burt, who Bennett called “outstanding” for most of last season as his cover safety, with the exception of the Fiesta Bowl loss. He totaled 61 tackles and two interceptions, including one for a TD.

“He started 13 games with a torn labrum,” Bennett said. “Terrell Burt is a football player.”

Nickleback: Collin Brence

Never heard of him? That’s understandable. The senior from Plano, Texas, has been a career special teams player who arrived at Baylor as a walk-on.

But there’s just something about Brence that reminds Bennett of the last guy who held this “Bear” hybrid spot, Sam Holl. He’s played in 29 games and learned plenty in the process.

“I’m comfortable with Collin Brence,” Bennett said. “He’s a coach’s son. He’s a football player.”

If the season started today, Brence would be a starter. He proved he deserved the spot in spring ball. Most fans have probably never heard of him, but they’ll find out soon.

“I don’t care. I like him,” Bennett said. “Nobody knew who Eddie Lackey was, either. But I tell ya, he’s a coach’s son. Looking at those tapes, he knows how to do it."

Take Two: Biggest NFL draftee shoes?

May, 20, 2014
May 20
10:30
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Justin Gilbert, Ahmad DixonAP Photo, Getty ImagesAthletic defensive backs are hard to come by and Justin Gilbert (left) and Ahmad Dixon were two of the Big 12's best.

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

Today's topic: There were 17 Big 12 players taken in the NFL draft -- who left the biggest shoes to fill?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon -- Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert

Ashton Lampkin has gigantic shoes to fill.

The Oklahoma State junior is in line to replace Gilbert, a top-10 NFL draft pick. Gilbert was a special playmaker for the Cowboys and he changed several games during his four seasons in Stillwater, Okla.

Lampkin won’t be able to replace the complete package Gilbert brought to the table as a cover man and returner, but he has the pedigree and ability to slide right into the starting lineup without becoming the weak link in the secondary.

The Arlington, Texas, native has played in every game since becoming a Cowboy and was named OSU’s Special Teams Most Valuable Player in 2013. Lampkin has looked like a player who could handle an increased role for the past two seasons and should finally get his opportunity to shine at cornerback this fall. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, Lampkin brings decent size to the position and has the athletic ability to be a quality Big 12 cornerback.

Yet, Lampkin still has the biggest shoes to fill in the entire conference. Gilbert was a unique athlete who often made big plays when the Cowboys needed them, so Lampkin could have a superb first season as a starter and still leave people reminiscing about the eye-popping plays that Gilbert made look easy, particularly as a senior.

Thus, Lampkin could be, for all intents and purposes, in a no-win situation.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Baylor free safety Ahmad Dixon

Brandon went with a first-rounder in Gilbert. I’ll go the other direction, and pick a seventh-rounder.

Sure, Dixon was the last Big 12 player selected in the draft, coming off the board 240 picks after Gilbert. But like Gilbert, Dixon was the tone-setter in the Baylor secondary, and one of the major reasons why the Bears fielded their best defensive unit in years. The Waco, Texas, native was also a 38-game starter, and Baylor’s first All-American safety since Thomas Everett in 1986.

The Bears also fielded the second-best pass defense in the league last year, after fielding the worst the previous two seasons. And no player had a bigger hand in that staggering improvement than Dixon, who was the unequivocal leader and heavy hitter of the Baylor defense. Sure, the Bears featured the nation’s top-scoring offense in 2013, but Baylor doesn’t capture its first Big 12 title without a drastically improved defense.

Next season, however, Dixon will be gone. And in his place, the Bears will be leaning on another Waco native that graduated from the same Midway High School as Dixon.

Backing up Dixon, Orion Stewart was a key reserve for the Bears last year as a freshman, and garnered key time in significant moments. In the same game Dixon was ejected for targeting last year, Stewart picked off a pass and dashed 82 yards for a touchdown, which helped lift Baylor to a 41-38 win over TCU. Stewart also started the following game against Texas while Dixon served a first half suspension.

In both games, Stewart performed admirably. But he’ll have to fill Dixon’s shoes for an entire season in 2014. And those shoes are as big as any in the Big 12.

Strong and weak: Baylor Bears

May, 12, 2014
May 12
3:00
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There’s a weak link on every team, but also a strength. This series will look at the strongest and weakest position groups for each Big 12 team heading into the fall.

We begin with the defending Big 12 champs, the Baylor Bears:

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty accounted for 46 touchdowns last season.
Strongest position: Quarterback

When a team has one of the nation’s five best players at a position coming back, that constitutes as a major strength. That’s what Baylor has in senior Bryce Petty.

In his first season as the starter, Petty threw for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also rushed for 14 touchdowns and finished fifth in the FBS in Adjusted QBR.

Petty’s production tailed off the final fourth of the season, but much of that was due to injuries to running back Lache Seastrunk, wideout Tevin Reese and, especially, left tackle Spencer Drango, as Petty was under duress during the month of November. Drango, a first-team All-Big 12 pick last year, is expected to make a healthy return from back surgery, and restore Baylor’s blindside pass protection.

The Big 12 has several young up-and-coming quarterbacks, notably Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight, but Petty should be the class of the league again.

And with a year of starting experience under his belt, Petty could be even better in 2014.

Honorable mention for Baylor’s strongest position goes to its collection of receivers. Antwan Goodley will be a preseason All-American candidate. Levi Norwood, Clay Fuller and Jay Lee are proven commodities. And Corey Coleman and K.D. Cannon have the pedigrees to become stars at some point in their careers.

Weakest position: Defensive back

The Bears had a tremendous secondary last year, as opponents completed just 48 percent of their passes against Baylor. But All-American Ahmad Dixon, Sam Holl, K.J. Morton and Demetri Goodson all graduated, leaving safety Terrell Burt as the only returning starter from that group.

Sophomore Orion Stewart stepped up with the best spring of Baylor’s young defensive backs and should step into the deep safety role manned by Dixon last year.

Cornerback is the much bigger question, but the Bears have some intriguing options, including Chris Sanders, a juco transfer. Sanders originally signed with Georgia out of high school, but was booted off the Bulldogs during the first year. He has the talent to boost Baylor in a big way, but first must beat out Xavien Howard and also remain on the straight-and-narrow off the field. Like Stewart, sophomore Terrence Singleton had a banner spring, and has won a starting job for now at the other corner spot.

Underscoring the lack of proven performers in the secondary, walk-on senior Collin Brence exited the spring as Baylor’s starting nickelback.

With Petty back at the helm, the Bears should put up big points again and the defensive line has a chance to be disruptive, but the young secondary will need to come together for Baylor to repeat its success from last season.

Big 12 post-spring breakdown: DBs

May, 7, 2014
May 7
3:00
PM CT
With spring ball done, we’ve been re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team. Wednesday, we finish up with defensive backs. Once again, these outlooks could look different in August. But this is how we see them post-spring:

1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 1): Juco safety Kenny Iloka was one of the storylines of the spring in Fort Worth, augmenting an already loaded secondary. In TCU’s spring game, Iloka scored a touchdown off a fumble return and picked off a pass, underscoring pretty much how he performed all spring. Iloka could probably start for the majority of teams in the Big 12. At TCU, he’s a backup. Coach Gary Patterson seemingly praised Ranthony Texada more than anyone else on his roster this spring, and the redshirt freshman cornerback looks poised to step into the starting role vacated by All-American Jason Verrett. At 5-foot-9, Texada isn’t big. Then again, neither was Verrett. Safeties Sam Carter and Chris Hackett and cornerback Kevin White could play for anyone in the conference. In other words, this TCU secondary is stacked.

2. Texas (2): Texas is one of the few teams in the Big 12 without really any position battle in its secondary coming out of the spring. Senior safeties Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner have been up and down throughout their careers, but they really buttoned up their play in the spring. Thompson delivered a pick-six in the Orange-White game. Turner had the hit of the day and intercepted a pass. At cornerback, Quandre Diggs isn’t an All-American, but he’s developed into a solid veteran leader. Duke Thomas can really run at the other cornerback spot. This is a sound group.

3. Oklahoma (3): The Sooners return two proven players in cornerback Zack Sanchez and nickel back Julian Wilson. Sanchez was erratic at times last season, but he displayed mental toughness and usually came back with big plays of his own after getting burned. Wilson will be a three-year starter. Safety Quentin Hayes had a decent junior season, too. After that, things get murky, and that’s not necessarily a negative. Dakota Austin, who was an unheralded two-star signee last year, is probably the favorite coming out of the spring to start at cornerback opposite Sanchez and over more heralded classmate Stanvon Taylor. Sophomores Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd are both talented young safeties, but they have yet to prove they’re every-down players. Steven Parker II will be the player to watch here. Insiders in Norman believe the incoming true freshman has the talent and the temperament to win a starting job by the opener the way Tony Jefferson did in 2010. If he does, that will allow coordinator Mike Stoops to utilize Byrd and Thomas in certain sub-packages where the scheme will be more simplified.

4. Kansas State (4): K-State already boasts one of the best nickel backs in the league in Randall Evans and an up-and-coming safety in Dante Barnett. The Wildcats had a productive spring elsewhere in their secondary, as Morgan Burns stepped up to essentially nail down a starting job at corner. Coveted juco transfer Danzel McDaniel progressed after arriving on campus and exited spring ball on the cusp of earning the other starting cornerback gig. Dylan Schellenberg, who started the two games Ty Zimmerman missed last season, will go into the fall as the favorite to start at safety alongside Barnett.

5. West Virginia (5): The Mountaineers might have the best underclassman cornerback in the league in sophomore Daryl Worley, who locked up Mario Alford in West Virginia’s spring game. Worley was fabulous all spring, and he brings a maturity and attitude that defies his age. Like Worley, Karl Joseph started as a true freshman, and he could be on the verge of turning into one of the best safeties in the Big 12 as a junior. It will be interesting to see if incoming blue-chip freshman Dravon Henry can break into the rotation at cornerback, which would only make this secondary better.

6. Kansas (6): Senior cornerback Dexter McDonald put in the work during the offseason, and it showed in Kansas’ spring game. He's become a technically-sound player. Fellow cornerback Kevin Short, a juco transfer forced by the NCAA to sit out last season, can fly. Safety Isaiah Johnson, who became the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year after picking off five passes last season, had another pick in the spring game. With four starters back from last fall, plus the addition of Short, Kansas’ secondary will be the team's strength next season.

7. Oklahoma State (7): The emergence of Ashton Lampkin was a positive development for the Cowboys. Lampkin had a pick-six in the “Orange Blitz” scrimmage, and after two seasons as a key backup, looks ready to take over as a starting cornerback opposite All-Big 12 hopeful Kevin Peterson. The Cowboys are completely inexperienced at safety, with second-year players Jordan Sterns, Deric Robertson, Jerel Morrow and Tre Flowers basically comprising the position. Only time will determine how effective the Cowboys can be at the back end.

8. Texas Tech (8): The Red Raiders have to feel good about their safeties coming out of the spring. Keenon Ward was the defensive MVP and brought the hammer all spring. J.J. Gaines will soon be completely back from a season-ending shoulder injury. He played extremely well through five games last season. Justis Nelson is oozing confidence after earning a starting job as a true freshman last fall. The biggest question is at the other cornerback spot. Sophomore La’Darius Newbold is currently the starter, but speedy true freshman Nigel Bethel II could make noise once he arrives this summer.

9. Baylor (9): The rebuild of a secondary that graduated four starters remains a work in progress. Sophomore Orion Stewart had the best spring of the young players and looks primed to take over the deep safety role held by All-American Ahmad Dixon. Sophomore cornerbacks Terrence Singleton and Xavien Howard also won starting jobs, but they’ll have to fend off juco transfer Chris Sanders in the preseason. Walk-on senior Collin Brence was the surprise of the spring and is listed as the starter at nickelback. This a group, though, that still has more questions to answer.

10: Iowa State (10): Nigel Tribune, who was the only true freshman to play at Iowa State in the past two seasons, is one of the best young cornerbacks in the league and a cornerstone defender for the Cyclones. The rest of the secondary is a big fat unknown. Juco transfer Devron Moore, whom Iowa State beat TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia for, left school in the middle of spring ball with homesickness. He is dubious to return. That leaves juco transfer Qujuan Floyd, redshirt freshman Kamari Cotton-Moya and T.J. Mutcherson, who suffered an MCL injury in the spring game (he should be back in June), as Iowa State’s only remaining options at safety.

Spring depth chart analysis: Baylor

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
9:00
AM CT
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. We start with Baylor, which released an official two-deep shortly after concluding spring ball in early April.

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCan Bryce Petty be even better this season?
QB: Bryce Petty (Sr.), Seth Russell (So.)

The Bears have one of the top returning quarterbacks in college football in Petty, who was phenomenal last year in his first season as a starter. With a year of experience under his belt, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be better in 2014. Russell performed well in limited duty last year, suggesting the Bears could survive at least a minor injury to Petty.

RB: Shock Linwood (So.) or Devin Chafin (So.), Johnny Jefferson (RFr.), Terence Williams (Fr.)

The Bears boast four potentially outstanding runners who all have at least three seasons of eligibility remaining. Linwood finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing last season, despite backing up Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin. Jefferson, however, was the back who created the most buzz during the spring. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder looks poised to give the Bears a dynamic home-run threat to complement the rest of the backfield. It’s not often a program can lose two talents like Seastrunk and Martin and remain loaded.

WR: Antwan Goodley (Sr.), Davion Hall (Fr.)

WR: Jay Lee (Jr.) or Robbie Rhodes (So.), Quan Jones (RFr.)

IR: Corey Coleman (So.) or Clay Fuller (Sr.), Cal Spangler (Jr.)

IR: Levi Norwood (Sr.), Lynx Hawthorne (So.)

TE: Tre’von Armstead (So.) or Gus Penning (Jr.), Jordan Feuerbacher (Fr.)

Despite graduating all-conference performer Tevin Reese, the Bears should easily have the deepest collection of pass-catchers in the Big 12. Coleman was tremendous all spring, capped by a 47-yard receiving effort in the spring game. He and Rhodes could have breakout campaigns in their second years in the rotation. Goodley is one of the two best wideouts in the league along with Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, and Lee, Fuller and Norwood are all proven commodities. More firepower is on the way this summer, including hotshot freshman K.D. Cannon, who looks like a virtual lock to crack the rotation somewhere.

LT: Spencer Drango (Jr.), Pat Colbert (Jr.)

LG: LaQuan McGowan (Jr.) or Blake Muir (Jr.)

C: Kyle Fuller (So.), Tyler Edwards (Sr.)

RG: Desmine Hilliard (Jr.), Jarell Broxton (Jr.)

RT: Troy Baker (Sr.), Tyler Edwards (Sr.)

The Bears lose unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson, but will get a huge boost if Drango makes a full recovery from a back injury he suffered late last season. With Drango out, Baylor’s blindside pass protection also suffered the final month of the season. When healthy, Drango is one of the best pass-protecting left tackles in the country. Baker, who started as a sophomore, returned late last season after tearing his ACL last spring to reclaim his starting job, which he held through the spring. With Hilliard returning at guard, Fuller locking down the starting job at center and other quality depth inside, the Bears should be very solid on the offensive line -- provided Drango can get healthy and Baker can stay healthy at the bookends.

DEFENSE

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsShawn Oakman has elevated his game.
RE: Shawn Oakman (Jr.), K.J. Smith (RFr.)

NT: Andrew Billings (So.), Suleiman Masumbuko (Jr.)

DT: Beau Blackshear (Jr.) or Javonte Magee (So.), Byron Bonds (So.)

LE: Jamal Palmer (Jr.), Sam Ukwuachu (Jr.)

Last week, Baylor coach Art Briles said he’d put his top-seven defensive linemen against any other top seven in college football. The unit still has a lot to prove to reach that level, but there’s no denying the potential. Oakman elevated his game to another level this spring, and was basically unblockable. He’s a candidate to be an All-Big 12 performer even in a league that’s stocked at defensive end. The fact that Magee is listed as a co-starter with Blackshear -- a starter last season -- underscores what the coaching staff thinks of Magee, who before taking last year off due to personal matters was among the most highly touted recruits Briles had ever signed. This group is high on ability, and has the capability to prove their coach right in the fall.

WLB: Aiavion Edwards (So.), Taylor Young (RFr.) or Raaquan Davis(RFr.)

MLB: Bryce Hager (Sr.), Grant Campbell (Jr.) or Kendall Ehrlich (So.)

Hager missed the final four games of last season due to a groin injury, which also kept him out this spring. But Hager is about as reliable as it gets in the Big 12, having earned second-team all-conference honors the last two years. Edwards is the one to watch. He was given the first nod on the weak side, after playing in the middle last season and in the spring in place of Hager. But he’ll have to perform to fend off the competition, including Young, who impressed defensive coordinator Phil Bennett during the spring with his nose for the ball.

NB: Collin Brence (Sr.), Pat Levels (So.)

CB: Terrence Singleton (So.), Ryan Reid (So.)

CB: Xavien Howard (So.) or Chris Sanders (Jr.)

DS: Orion Stewart (So.), Alfred Pullom (RFr.)

CS: Terrell Burt (Jr.), Taion Sells (So.)

This unit comprises by far the biggest question mark on the team. The Bears should be in good shape at safety. Burt, the only returning starter in the group, will be back shortly from offseason shoulder surgery that kept him out of a spring ball. Briles also singled out Stewart for having a very promising spring as the replacement for All-American Ahmad Dixon. After a series of injury setbacks early in his career, Singleton returned to win a starting job at corner, at least for now. Howard also showed a ton of promise during the spring, but he’ll have competition from Sanders, one of the top juco corners in the country, who had a shoulder injury this spring. Brence, a walk-on, was the biggest surprise in the secondary, and is listed as the starter at nickelback. How this untested unit comes together could ultimately determine whether the Bears repeat as Big 12 champs.

Spring primer: Baylor Bears

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
3:00
PM CT
Baylor is already on the practice field, set to begin its Big 12 title defense. Below is a preview of what to look for from the Bears during their spring practices:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Playing time was hard to come by last season for freshman wideout Robbie Rhodes. On top of competing in a loaded rotation, Rhodes injured his knee early in the season and gradually drifted out of the rotation. But Rhodes, the nation’s No. 3 WR in the Class of 2013, has the talent to be an elite pass-catcher in the Big 12, and he should have opportunities in his second season.

[+] EnlargeRobbie Rhodes
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsA healthy Robbie Rhodes should be able to play a significant role in Baylor's passing attack.
Defensive returner ready to take the next step: DT Andrew Billings. Last season, Billings signed with the Bears despite a strong recruitment by Texas, and immediately contributed as a freshman. With the bulk of Baylor’s defense gone, the time has come for him to elevate his game. And all signs point to Billings, who has the talent to be the best defensive tackle in the entire league, being ready for the challenge.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Even though the Bears lost their top two running backs in Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, they bring back a clear-cut starter in Shock Linwood. The coaching staff, however, has been waiting in delighted anticipation to see what Johnny Jefferson can do on the field after redshirting last season. Jefferson had offers from the likes of Ohio State, Notre Dame and UCLA coming out of high school, and he has the blend of speed and power to command a role in the offense.

Most significant position battle: With four of five starters gone from its secondary -- and that one starter back (Terrell Burt) out for the spring with shoulder surgery -- the battle for time in the defensive backfield is wide open. The spotlight will be on cornerbacks Tyler Stephenson, Xavien Howard, Ryan Reid and Tion Wright, as well as Orion Stewart, Taion Sells, Terrence Singleton, Alfred Pullom and Patrick Levels at safety.

Key midterm enrollee: The Bears face the task of replacing All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey, but they’re hoping Bakersfield College transfer Grant Campbell can step in and take his place. Other than Bryce Hager, who is out this spring with a groin injury, the Bears have little experience at linebacker. Campbell filling a major hole will be a huge step forward in coordinator Phil Bennett retooling his defense.

Question that could be answered: The Bears should have a feel after this spring about who will be their primary playmakers. Even with Seastrunk and receiver Tevin Reese gone, the Bears should boast plenty of offensive firepower next season to surround All-Big 12 quarterback Bryce Petty with. Rhodes, Jay Lee and Corey Coleman should be able to fill out Reese’s production, while Linwood, Jefferson and Devin Chafin could give the Bears another prolific combination at running back.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: The Bears had one of the best defenses in the Big 12 last season, but it could be a while before Baylor discovers what it has defensively in 2014. Billings, Beau Blackshear and Shawn Oakman have the talent to field the best defensive line Baylor has had in years. But the back seven is a major question mark, with Hager and Burt being the only incumbents.

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
10:00
AM CT
Spring football is rapidly approaching.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.

OU leads Big 12 in post-signing day Top 25

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
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Signing day was kind to the Oklahoma Sooners.

A strong finish to its 2014 recruiting class has helped OU land at No. 5 in the ESPN.com Post-Signing Day Way-Too-Early Top 25. The Sooners are the Big 12’s top team, with Baylor and Texas joining them on the list. The Bears are ranked No. 10 and the Longhorns No. 22.

Florida State, Alabama, Oregon and Michigan State are the top four teams, in that order.

OU skyrocketing to the top five shows just how quickly things can change. In mid-November the Sooners were reeling after a 41-12 thrashing at the hands of the eventual Big 12 champion Bears. Almost three months later, the Sooners find themselves projected to be among the nation’s top five teams after four straight wins to end the season, including a 45-31 Allstate Sugar Bowl triumph over Alabama led by sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight. The Sooners used that momentum to land several top recruits, including running back Joe Mixon, athlete Michiah Quick and safety Steven Parker II.

Baylor will have to overcome the loss of running back Lache Seastrunk and defensive leader Ahmad Dixon, but running back Shock Linwood and safety Orion Stewart both made game-changing plays as backups. Linwood finished with 881 rushing yards and Stewart had a critical interception return for touchdown against TCU. Art Briles' team appears ready to handle those departures -- and the loss of All-American guard Cyril Richardson -- while adding a recruiting class full of talented athletes, including elite receiver K.D. Cannon, to its roster to earn a preseason top-10 ranking.

Texas is the wildcard team with a new coach in Charlie Strong but uncertainty at the quarterback position due to David Ash’s health concerns. But a solid finish to its recruiting class, including the late addition of ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford, combined with an exceptional coaching staff landed Texas in the Top 25. The Longhorns have the talent to rise into the top 10 or, if their struggles at the quarterback position continue, could tumble out of the rankings completely.

Oklahoma State could have a strong case for inclusion in the Way-Too-Early Top 25, but Kansas State has the strongest case of the Big 12 squads that find themselves left outside. The Wildcats have quarterback Jake Waters returning to man the offense, and receiver Tyler Lockett could be the Big 12’s top returning offensive playmaker. Add in several impact junior college signees and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Wildcats consistently ranked among the top 25 teams in college football this fall.

Big 12 games of the year: No. 4

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
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We’ve been counting down the 10 best games of the year in the Big 12, and here's No. 4. It wasn't expected to be one of the best games. TCU's offense was more productive than Baylor's during this battle in late November. Leave your expectations at the door, folks.

No. 4: Nov. 30 Baylor 41, TCU 38

TCU was calling this its bowl game, Baylor was looking to rebound after getting run off the field in Stillwater the week before.

What happened: Baylor’s defense won the game. Yes, you read that right.

The Bears’ defense scored touchdowns late in the second quarter and early in the third quarter to give BU a comfortable 34-17 lead after interception returns from Eddie Lackey and Orion Stewart. Then the Bears stopped TCU’s last-minute drive with Terrell Burt’s interception in the end zone. Baylor’s defense wasn’t dominant by any stretch of the imagination but it made key plays when needed and kept Baylor’s Big 12 title hopes intact.

TCU held Baylor’s offense to 370 yards and 4.11 yards per play, season lows. But the Horned Frogs’ four turnovers left them with a minus-26 points off turnover margin to try to make up.

It was game that showed the Bears, while headlined by their offense, became Big 12 champions because of the progression of their defense.

Player of the game: Lackey. The senior linebacker finished with six tackles, one sack, one interception return for a touchdown and one quarterback hurry. He was active, aggressive and efficient as the backbone of the Bears’ defense.

Stat of the game: 136. The Bears returned interceptions for 136 yards with Lackey’s 54-yard return and Stewart’s 82-yard return. Not only did the Bears score off their interceptions, they stopped drives that were potential scoring drives for the Horned Frogs.

Quotable: “It's possibly the biggest win that we've experienced -- one of the biggest -- since we've been at Baylor the last six years.” -- Baylor coach Art Briles.

The rest of the list:



Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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Here are the Big 12's unsung heroes in Week 14:

Safety Orion Stewart, Baylor: As the injury bug hit the Bears defense, Stewart has stepped up during his redshirt freshman season. He quietly led Baylor with eight tackles and added an 82-yard interception return for a touchdown in his team’s 41-38 win over TCU. He’s an example of the improved depth and playmaking ability the Bears have recruited to the program. His 12-tackle outing against Oklahoma State gives him 20 total tackles in Baylor’s last two games.

Linebacker Michael Reynolds, Kansas: The Jayhawks junior linebacker was very solid in KU’s 31-10 loss to Kansas State. Reynolds finished with six tackles including 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack. It was the third time in the last six games he has recorded at least five tackles.

[+] EnlargeDylan Schellenberg
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsKansas State DB Dylan Schellenberg had a pair of takeaways in the Sunflower Showdown.
Safety Dylan Schellenberg, Kansas State: Replacing Ty Zimmerman isn’t easy. Yet Schellenberg was outstanding in Zimmerman’s spot during KSU’s 31-10 win over Kansas. He finished with nine tackles including five solo stops, one tackle for loss, one fumble recovery and one interception. He was a constant thorn in the Jayhawks’ side during the Sunflower Showdown.

Safety Jacques Washington, Iowa State: The senior was outstanding in his final game as a Cyclone. He led the squad with eight tackles, including six solo stops, along with two interceptions, one fumble recovery and one tackle for loss. Washington’s fourth quarter interception helped ISU tie the game at 38 and send it into overtime in the Cyclones’ 52-44 win.

Cornerback Duke Thomas, Texas: Overlooked as Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed combined to record six sacks, Thomas finished with six tackles including two tackles for loss, one sack and one interception. The sophomore was constantly around the ball in the Longhorns’ 41-16 win over Texas Tech on Thanksgiving night. His speed and athleticism should be an asset on UT’s defense for the next two seasons.

Running back B.J. Catalon, TCU: The sophomore was one of the Horned Frogs' most explosive playmakers this season and ended the year with 163 all-purpose yards in his team’s 41-38 loss to Baylor. Catalon had 11 carries for 93 yards, averaging 8.5 yards per carry, but he did have a fumble. Nonetheless, he’s a solid piece for TCU’s offense to build upon in 2014.

Quarterback Michael Brewer, Texas Tech: Brewer saw limited action in mop-up duty during the Red Raiders’ 41-16 loss to Texas. Yet he provided some hope for the future by completing 7 of 8 passes for 65 yards and one touchdown. He was expected to be TTU’s starter before a back injury derailed his season, but his performance in the fourth quarter showed the Red Raiders could have three quality options at the quarterback position heading into their bowl game and the 2014 season, raising the overall competition at the position, which is never a bad thing.

Safety Jeremy Tyler, West Virginia: The performance of the true freshman should be a bright spot for Mountaineers fans after watching their squad squander a 38-21 fourth-quarter lead against Iowa State. Tyler had 10 tackles, including seven solo stops, along with 2.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble in WVU’s 52-44 overtime loss. He entered the game with seven tackles in the first 11 games.

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 14

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
9:00
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Recognizing the best of the best from the Big 12 in Week 14:

Baylor Bears defense: Yes, Baylor gave up 38 points against a TCU team that finished 4-8. But the Bears wouldn’t have won this game without four critical takeaways from its opportunistic defense. Two were interceptions for touchdowns by Orion Stewart and Eddie Lackey. Another was a goal-line fumble recovery to set up a 1-yard touchdown. So that’s 21 points. Terrell Burt clinched the win when he picked off a deflected pass in the final minute.

QB Grant Rohach, Iowa State: What a memorable way for Rohach to end his redshirt freshman campaign. In a three-overtime, 52-44 victory at West Virginia, he threw for a career-high 331 yards and four touchdowns, added a 54-yard touchdown run and led a gigantic comeback from down 31-7. Not bad at all for Rohach’s third career start.

DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas: The Longhorns got creative in their use of Jeffcoat in a 41-16 win against Texas Tech, lining him up as a linebacker/end hybrid. That move paid off big on his senior night. Jeffcoat racked up three sacks and seven tackles and was flat-out unblockable at times, making a tough night for Tech QB Baker Mayfield even tougher. Jeffcoat now has 10 sacks on the year, all of them coming in Big 12 play.

RB John Hubert and S Dante Barnett, Kansas State: Barnett grabbed two interceptions and recovered a fumble in Kansas State’s 31-10 win over Kansas, while Hubert paced the Wildcats offense by rushing for a for career-high 220 yards in his final Big 12 game. K-State looks destined to end up at the Holiday Bowl, which is certainly an impressive feat after starting the season 2-4.

RB Charles Sims, West Virginia: Lots of others who merit helmet stickers this week, but we’ll honor Sims after another big game to end his college career. Sims rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns against ISU and finished with 1,095 yards and 11 TDs in his only season in Morgantown. He’ll receive some All-Big 12 honors this month.

Baylor beats Horned Frogs for Briles

November, 30, 2013
11/30/13
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FORT WORTH, Texas -- Before Baylor's game at TCU, Bears running back Lache Seastrunk pulled his head coach to the side.

“Coach Briles, I know you lost somebody,” Seastrunk told him. “But you’ve gained 99 of us.”

On Wednesday, Art Briles lost his brother, Eddie, who died unexpectedly from a head injury after falling in the bathroom of his home.

On Saturday, Briles’ football family gave him a win to ease the pain of that loss, if only for a little bit.

Keeping their Big 12 title and BCS bowl aspirations alive, the ninth-ranked Bears (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) held on to defeat TCU 41-38 at Amon G. Carter Stadium in a thriller that came down to the final seconds.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
MCT via Getty ImagesCoach Art Briles' Baylor team didn't play its best game against TCU but still came out on top.
After falling behind 34-17 on a pair of Baylor defensive touchdowns, the Horned Frogs made a furious comeback and drove into field goal range with a chance to tie. But with 18 seconds to go, TCU went for the win, and quarterback Casey Pachall’s pass toward the end zone was tipped, then intercepted by Terrell Burt, sealing the victory.

“That just showed we're a tough football team,” said Briles, who declined to speak directly about his brother, but spent time outside the locker room emotionally hugging players, boosters and administrators. “You want to be in a room full of fighters and believers, and that’s what we have.”

This week required some fight from the Bears.

They suffered their first loss of the season last weekend, as Oklahoma State emphatically bounced them from the national title picture with a 49-17 victory in Stillwater.

Four days later, Eddie -- a nurse in Haskell, Texas, and Briles’ only sibling -- passed away, leaving behind a wife and two children.

Eddie actually appeared in a "College GameDay" feature last weekend, and spoke to ESPN.com for a feature story on his younger brother earlier this month. Their parents, Dennis and Wanda Briles, and their aunt, Elsie "Tottie" Kittley, died in a car accident while traveling to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas to watch Art play for the University of Houston on Oct. 16, 1976.

“(Winning for Coach Briles) was the emphasis of the week for sure,” Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said. “Every guy in that locker room loves him like their own dad. It hurts you to see him hurt. I think this win was huge for him and that’s what we wanted to do.”

The win didn’t come easily.

TCU (4-8, 2-7), without enough wins to have a chance of qualifying for a bowl, turned Baylor into its de facto bowl game.

Due to an array of injuries and suspensions, the Horned Frogs had struggled offensively all season. But with an extra week to prepare, they saved their best performance for last. The Horned Frogs outgained the nation’s top statistical offense by 40 yards. Yet, after a flurry of turnovers, they found themselves still trailing Baylor 34-17 early in the third quarter.

Over the course of four possessions, TCU fumbled at its own 1-yard line, then Pachall threw two interceptions that Orion Stewart and Eddie Lackey returned for touchdowns.

"I made quite a few mistakes that cost us the ball game,” Pachall said. “I gave them 14 points, just handed it over on a platter."

But TCU didn't go down without a fight, either.

And the turning point came on its following possession. Baylor senior captain and safety Ahmad Dixon was ejected for a targeting penalty on Horned Frogs wide receiver Trevone Boykin, seemingly igniting a heated exchange between Briles and TCU coach Gary Patterson on the field.

Briles avoided addressing the exchange after the game. But Patterson didn't.

“To come across the field to me. ... He's picking on the wrong guy,” said Patterson, who didn't refer to Briles by name. “You're not going to come across to me. You can go correct your player, not me.

"If that's what class is, then I don't want to be it."

The penalty ultimately ignited the Horned Frogs, too. TCU scored touchdowns on its next two possessions, thanks to a Pachall 4-yard touchdown scamper, then a 16-yard scoring toss to Josh Doctson at the back of the end zone.

After Petty found Levi Norwood for a touchdown, TCU came right back again with Pachall’s touchdown strike to David Porter, trimming the deficit to 41-38.

The Horned Frogs got the ball back again with 1 minute, 23 seconds remaining and moved the ball all the way to the Bears’ 23. But two plays later, Pachall’s attempt to Brandon Carter was tipped away by Baylor nickelback Sam Holl, and into the arms of Burt in the end zone.

“This win really showed the character of this team,” Holl said. “We were all playing for Coach Briles. He’s family. He’s going through a rough time right now.

“So we really wanted to get this one for him.”

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