Dallas Colleges: Spencer Drango

Big 12 pre-spring position rankings: OL

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
10:00
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With spring ball a month away, we've been ranking position groups in the Big 12. These evaluations are based on past performance, future potential and quality depth. We continue this series with offensive line:

1. Baylor: All five starters return for the Bears, notably All-American left tackle Spencer Drango, who spurned the NFL draft to return for his senior season. The majority of the entire two-deep, in fact, is back, as well, including right guard Desmine Hilliard, who missed much of last year with a wrist injury. Despite being a two-year starter, Hilliard will have to fight to reclaim his starting job, as Jarell Broxton slotted in nicely in place of him during the second half of the season. This unit has a superstar in Drango, plenty of experience and a ton of depth.

2. TCU: The TCU offensive line was among the most-improved units in the league last year, setting the tone up front for the nation's second-highest scoring offense. Left tackle Tayo Fabuluje is gone, but the rest of the unit returns intact, including center Joey Hunt and right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who were both second-team All-Big 12 performers in 2014.

3. Texas Tech: Texas Tech encountered all kinds of problems last year, but offensive line wasn't one of them. All-Big 12 left tackle Le'Raven Clark was terrific protecitng the blindside of quarterbacks Pat Mahomes and Davis Webb, as Tech allowed only one sack per 43 pass attempts, which was among the best rates in the country. Center Jared Kaster and guards Alfredo Morales and Baylen Brown will all be three-year starters.

4. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys were dreadful along the offensive line for much of last year. But the group rapidly rebounded late, due in part to the healthy comeback of Zachary Crabtree at right tackle. Crabtree will be able to stick on the right side, too, thanks to the mid-semester arrival of transfer Victor Salako, who started two years for UAB and is expected to man left tackle for the Pokes. Oklahoma State also should be deeper overall with junior college transfers Brandon Pertile and Matt Kellerman joining returning starters Michael Wilson, Jesse Robinson and center Paul Lewis. Mike Gundy still needs to hire a position coach for this group with Bob Connelly bolting for USC.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners were hit hard by graduation with longtime lynchpin tackles Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson both departing. Center Ty Darlington is back; so is veteran guard Nila Kasitati. Oklahoma also signed the nation's No. 1 juco guard, Jamal Danley, to play alongside them. Tackle is the big concern, but the Sooners are hopeful that either Orlando Brown Jr. or Kenyon Frison will be ready to step up after redshirting last year.

6. Kansas State: B.J. Finney was a four-year fixture at center for the K-State offensive line and will be dearly missed. But the Wildcats return the rest of the offensive line, including standout left tackle Cody Whitehair, who should take over for Finney as group leader. The Wildcats need guard Boston Stiverson to make a full return from the leg injury he suffered in the Valero Alamo Bowl. They also need more consistent pass protection from their right tackles.

7. Texas: The Longhorns got better up front as the season wore on, but this is still a unit with a bunch of questions. Left guard Sedrick Flowers was the only linemen to start every game, as Texas tinkered with six different combinations over the course of the season. Center Taylor Doyle and right guard Kent Perkins should retain their starting gigs, but junior college transfers Brandon Hodges and Tristan Nickelson, as well as early enrollee freshman Connor Williams, all have a chance to overtake Marcus Hutchins, Camrhon Hughes and Jake Raulerson at the tackle spots.

8. Iowa State: Left tackle Brock Dagel missing most of last season with a knee injury could be a silver lining for the Cyclones in 2015. Jake Campos got valuable experience along the line, including left tackle. As a result, the Cyclones should be in good shape on the bookends, provided Dagel is 100 percent. Guard Daniel Burton is one of the more underrated players in the league. Cole Anderson and Kory Kodanko, who both redshirted last year, have a good shot of joining the rotation.

9. West Virginia: The Mountaineers weren't great up front last year, and now they've graduated their two best blockers in guards Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski. Tyler Orlosky bring stability on the inside at center, but tackles Adam Pankey and Marquis Lucas need to take a step forward in their second seasons as full-time starters.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks don't have any difference-makers up front, at least not yet. But Jacob Bragg, one of the top center recruits in the country last year, has a chance to become one in time. Joe Gibson and Junior Visinia return along the interior. So does rising senior tackle Larry Mazyck, who may be asked to swing to the left side.

Big 12 NFL draft deadline winners, losers

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
10:00
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At midnight, we hit the deadline for underclassmen to declare intention to enter the NFL draft. In all, just five Big 12 players elected to forgo eligibility and go pro. Some big-name ones elected to stay put, too. Here's a roundup of how the Big 12 programs affected by the underclassmen deadline fared.

Biggest winner: Baylor. Defensive end Shawn Oakman could've been a first-round pick. Left tackle Spencer Drango already has his degree and two All-Big 12 seasons. Both are coming back to Waco, Texas, to chase a third consecutive conference title and shouldn't have a hard time improving their draft position. Oakman is such a freaky athlete that you'd think scouts would fall in love with him at the NFL combine anyway. Luckily, we get to watch him play another season of college ball first. The draft advisory board recommended Drango go back to school, and that's terrific news for Seth Russell or whomever takes over the Baylor quarterback job.

Biggest loser: Oklahoma. The Sooners lost defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, and it's hard to know which one is more damaging. Phillips, a fourth-year junior, flashed major potential but logged only one full season as a starter after missing most of 2013. Looks like he made a good choice: Phillips is No. 11 in Todd McShay's rankings and 27th in Mel Kiper Jr.'s Mock Draft 1.0. Insider And then there's Green-Beckham, the Missouri transfer whose total contribution at OU was one season on the scout team. Kiper has him projected to go 18th. DGB could've been one of the most talented players in the Big 12 next season, but we will never got to see him play a down in Norman, Oklahoma. It'll be interesting to see how much that one semester at OU helped repair his image and draft stock.

Most expected: Texas DT Malcom Brown. For probably four months or so, it's seemed obvious that Brown would be taking his talents to the NFL early. Even before the third-year junior turned in a season worthy of the ESPN.com Big 12 defensive player of the year honor, Brown's circumstances made this a smart move. He's married with two children (as we detailed in November) and plays at an elite level at a premiere position. What more could he have proven in 2015? Brown is projected at No. 23 in Kiper's mock and is No. 29 in McShay's prospect rankings.

Tough loss: TCU S Chris Hackett TCU was already set to lose senior defenders Paul Dawson, Kevin White, Sam Carter, Chucky Hunter and Marcus Mallet, so adding Hackett to that group doesn't help. Snagging a conference-best seven interceptions and thriving in a big role for the Frogs helped raised his profile this season, so you can see why he'd want to cash in. Hackett actually had a pretty nice backup in juco transfer Kenny Iloka, so there might not be much drop-off here.

Most unexpected: Kansas WR Nigel King. The graduate transfer from Maryland produced one of the top plays in college football this season with his 78-yard touchdown against TCU, but that was also his only touchdown as a Jayhawk. King felt he was ready to move on after logging a pair of 100-yard games and finishing with 537 yards on 30 catches this fall. He could've been a nice weapon for new coach David Beaty in a KU offense that will throw the ball around more.

Also coming back -- worth noting: When looking ahead to 2015 nonconference play, a few departures could be deemed good news for the Big 12. West Virginia won't have to face game-changing Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs again. He scored a 77-yard touchdown and finished with 127 receiving yards against WVU last season. TCU doesn't have to defend Minnesota's Maxx Williams, a matchup nightmare at tight end.

Roundtable: Keys for TCU, Baylor

November, 11, 2014
11/11/14
1:00
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In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we focus on playoff hopefuls TCU and Baylor, as they prepare for a stretch run at one of the coveted playoff spots:

What will be the biggest key for TCU and Baylor down the stretch?

Brandon Chatmon: The quarterbacks will decide the Big 12 champion. TCU's Trevone Boykin has been the Big 12's best player for the majority of the season while Baylor's Bryce Petty has had his moments as well. But with the way Petty played on Saturday against Oklahoma, the Bears' quarterback looks like a determining factor with his leadership, experience and determination setting the tone for Baylor in its final three games.

Max Olson: I know this is frowned upon by some, but you know Gary Patterson and Art Briles are going to be battling for style points for the next month. Baylor will try to beat Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in more impressive fashion than TCU did, then run it up on Kansas State. And GP has to be going for 50-plus in Austin if he can get it, right? I'm curious to see how these coaches approach the real need to impress the College Football Playoff committee on the field.

Jake Trotter: Defense. When clicking, these offenses are unstoppable. But there have been moments, when the offenses have sputtered. Baylor and TCU both have the defensive talent to dominate the opposition (see: Saturday, Week 11). If these two defenses play anywhere like they did over the weekend, Baylor and TCU should be unbeatable the rest of the regular season.

Other than Boykin, who will be TCU's most important player the rest of the season?

Chatmon: Linebacker Paul Dawson is in the middle of a superb senior season. He has double-digit tackles in six of nine games, including his 18-tackle effort against Baylor. Dawson's athleticism has helped him be a core part of the defense's success. There are other players who have been critical to TCU's success, particularly Chris Hackett, Kevin White and Sam Carter.

Olson: Entering this final stretch of the season, we still don't have a clear-cut favorite for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. I want to see what Paul Dawson does to boost his campaign in his final three games. He can finish as the Big 12's leading tackler (currently six stops behind Ben Heeney) as well as No. 1 in tackles for loss. Dawson has already had a few big moments and could use a couple more.

Trotter: Thanks to a breakout effort from backup running back Aaron Green, TCU didn't need B.J. Catalon in the 41-20 demolition of K-State. That doesn't mean the Horned Frogs won't need Catalon the rest of the season. With his ability to impact the game rushing, receiving and returning, Catalon adds a unique dimension to TCU's scoring machine. They'll need him to heal up and be ready to go for the backstretch.

Other than Petty, who will be Baylor's most important player?

Chatmon: Defensive tackle Andrew Billings has been a disruptive force throughout the season but his performance against Oklahoma catapulted his name into the forefront with all-conference honors in sight. One tackle against the Sooners doesn't represent the havoc he was creating for the Bears' defense. His play in the middle is a key reason the Bears have the Big 12's best defense for the second straight season.

Olson: As defenses begin to overcompensate for Corey Coleman and continue to focus on Antwan Goodley, it's time for KD Cannon to reemerge. He's caught a total of eight passes for 80 yards in his last three games and has one 100-yard game in Big 12 play. Opponents are being more careful in coverage to not give up the long ball, but Cannon still has the speed to burn the teams left on Baylor's schedule.

Trotter: Offensive tackle Spencer Drango. When Drango exited the lineup due to a back injury last season, Baylor's pass protection fell apart. As long as Drango remains upright, Petty should, too. And with Petty beginning to find his groove again, this Baylor offense seems primed to take off -- at the perfect time, too.

ESPN.com midseason All-Big 12 team

October, 14, 2014
10/14/14
11:00
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We're halfway through the season, which means it's time for our midseason All-Big 12 team. There's plenty of football still to play. And this midseason team might be very different from the end-of-season one. But this list recognizes the players who have distinguished themselves thus far.

After careful consideration and friendly debate, our midseason All-Big 12 team:

Offense

QB: Clint Trickett, West Virginia: Baylor's Bryce Petty had the Big 12's best game last weekend, but Trickett has had the better season so far. He leads the Big 12 in QBR and completion percentage and is third nationally in passing, fueling the Mountaineers' surprising 4-2 start.

RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor: The Big 12's top rusher has 326 rushing yards over Baylor's last two games, including 104 in the fourth quarter of the Bears' monumental comeback win against TCU.

RB: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: This true freshman is second in the league in rushing, first in rushing touchdowns and delivered an historic performance at West Virginia with 242 yards and four scores.

WR: Kevin White, West Virginia: White has been as dominant as any player in the league. He easily leads the country with an average of 148 yards receiving per game, and has come up with a hundred yards receiving in every game.

WR: Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma: It's hard to imagine where the Oklahoma passing game would be without Shepard. He has accounted for 48 percent of Trevor Knight's passing yards.

WR: K.D. Cannon, Baylor: The true freshman might already be the most dangerous big-play receiver in the league, averaging 62.5 yards per catch on his six touchdowns.

TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State: The senior has been a big part of the Cyclones' offense with 22 receptions for 190 yards and four touchdowns, including a one-handed scoring grab at Oklahoma State.

OL: Spencer Drango, Baylor: The Bears' franchise left tackle is thriving again after a return from a season-ending back injury. He has graded out the highest on the offensive line of the nation's top scoring offense.

OL: Joey Hunt, TCU: Hunt is the best offensive lineman on the Big 12's most improved offense, which is second in the league in scoring with almost 46 points per game.

OL: B.J. Finney, Kansas State: Finney is well on his way to a third consecutive All-Big 12 season as the lynchpin of the K-State offensive line.

OL: Quinton Spain, West Virginia: He and Mark Glowinski form one of the top guard duos in the country for the league's second-best passing offense.

OL: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech: Arkansas coach Bret Bielema singled out Clark's prowess after facing him. Despite throwing the ball on almost every down, Tech leads the league in fewest sacks allowed with Clark protecting Davis Webb's blindside.

AP: Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State: The speedy Hill has kick return touchdowns the past two weeks, and has proven to be tough and durable as well as really fast.

Defense

DE: Shawn Oakman, Baylor: The freaky 6-foot-9 end is second in the league with five sacks and fourth with eight tackles for loss.

DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU: Hunter has been the anchor of the TCU defensive line, joining Davion Pierson to give Gary Patterson's squad one disruptive duo up front.

DT: Malcom Brown, Texas: This 320-pound monster has been unblockable, and the most disruptive defensive player in the league.

DE: Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State: Ogbah has broken out with five sacks, including two on defending Heisman winner Jameis Winston in the opener. In addition to being tied for second in the Big 12 in sacks, he's also second with 9.5 tackles for loss.

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma: Striker has 4.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss, and his relentless pass-rushing ability makes him the primary focus of opposing offensive coordinators.

LB: Jordan Hicks, Texas: The Longhorns' fifth-year senior is racking up 10 tackles per game, and is bringing leadership to the Texas defense after an injury-plagued career.

LB: Paul Dawson, TCU: The Big 12's leading tackler is on pace for the most single-season tackles in the Gary Patterson era. He also had the game-winning pick-six to upset the Sooners.

CB: Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma: Sanchez has given up some big plays, but he's countered with big plays of his own. He's second nationally with five interceptions, including a pick-six against Texas.

CB: Danzel McDaniel, Kansas State: McDaniel hits more like a linebacker than a cornerback. He's been another impressive junior-college find for Bill Snyder.

S: Sam Carter, TCU: Carter doesn't have eye-popping numbers, but he's once again been the heart of the TCU defense.

S: Karl Joseph, West Virginia: The enforcer of the West Virginia secondary is second among Big 12 defensive backs with 45 tackles.

Special teams

K: Josh Lambert, West Virginia: All he's done is nail two game-winning field goals as time has expired to beat Maryland (47 yards) and Texas Tech (55 yards) on the road.

P: Trevor Pardula, Kansas: He's gotten plenty of chances, but he's made the most of them, averaging 44.8 yards per punt, while putting 37.8 percent of them inside the opponents' 20.

PR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State: Lockett, who is second in the nation in punt returns, once again has been an electric all-around playmaker. He's also sixth in the league in receiving.

KR: Alex Ross, Oklahoma: Ross leads the nation in kickoff returns, taking two of his nine kick returns to the house for touchdowns.

Baylor just finds a way -- again

October, 11, 2014
10/11/14
11:24
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WACO, Texas -- While some Baylor fans were filing out of McLane Stadium, full of doubts and disappointment, quarterback Bryce Petty was looking into his teammates eyes and reaffirming his belief that his team would find a way to win on Saturday.

“I told our guys we weren’t going to lose that game,” Petty said of the sequence early in the fourth quarter. “I don’t know what it is, I don’t know why I felt that. I just knew, looking in guys' faces, we were going to come back in that game.”

Twelve minutes later, Petty and his teammates were surrounded by rowdy fans clad in green and gold celebrating a game-winning 28-yard field goal from Chris Callahan as Baylor defeated TCU 61-58. Petty and the Bears scored 24 unanswered points in the final quarter to improve to 6-0 overall, 3-0 in the Big 12 and cement their status as the favorite to win the Big 12.

The battle between No. 5 Baylor and No. 9 TCU (4-1, 1-1) -- the first-ever meeting between the two teams when both were ranked -- exceeded expectations. Petty put up prolific numbers with 510 passing yards and six touchdowns, along with a pair of interceptions, but was matched by the playmaking of TCU running back B.J. Catalon, who had 213 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. Big plays, trick plays, big hits and 38 combined points in the final 15 minutes left the Bears’ newly-minted stadium buzzing.

[+] EnlargeChris Callahan
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsChris Callahan's field goal as time expired gave Baylor and its fans reason to go bonkers on Saturday.
“I think there were 40 plays in this game that determined the football game,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “We made 21 and they made 19.”

After TCU linebacker Marcus Mallet intercepted a Petty pass and returned it 49 yards for a score, BU trailed the Horned Frogs 58-37 with 11:38 left in the game, prompting a small number of Bears fans to head for the exits.

Petty was unfazed.

“With our offense and the way we play defensively, 21 points isn’t that big a deal for us,” he said. “We just know that we’re never out of it, we really never are.”

It was an interesting reaction from a team that had never trailed at any point of the 2014 season heading into Saturday’s action. BU was chasing the game throughout -- trailing by 14 in the first quarter and 21 in the fourth quarter -- and never took the lead until Callahan’s game winner.

“This was the first game this year that we were behind,” defensive tackle Andrew Billings said. “It showed that wasn’t going to effect how we played even though we were down 21 at one point.”

For the second straight week, Baylor found a way. Against Texas, BU turned to its running game and special teams to lead the way in a 28-7 road win in Austin, Texas. This week it was the entire team that stepped up with its backs against the wall and College Football Playoff hopes in jeopardy in the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter.

“We have a saying -- ‘clear it’ -- if something bad happens, something good happens, clear it and move on to the next play,” linebacker Bryce Hager said. “It was just one of those games we kind of knew, we had a feeling. When we needed to step up, we stepped up and when the offense needed to step up, they did the same.”

Buoyed by a pair of questionable pass interference calls, one questionable non-call on BU’s Ryan Reid on a critical fourth-down attempt by TCU and one pass interference penalty against TCU’s Corry O’Meally, the Bears completed their comeback with a nine-play, 44-yard drive to set up Callahan’s field goal.

“Everyone played really, really well at the end of the game,” tackle Spencer Drango said.

And in doing so the Bears showed the type of resilience generally equated with championship-level teams. Trevone Boykin and TCU came with punch after punch to the jaw of the reigning Big 12 champions, but the Bears' belief in their ability to win didn’t waver.

“Every champion has his back against the wall at some point in time and either cowers down or comes out swinging," Drango said. "We came out swinging.”

It’s a relatively new trait of the program that Briles has built alongside the banks of the Brazos River.

“I think that’s the difference now,” receiver Antwan Goodley said. “A couple years ago we didn’t have that mentality that, ‘Hey, we’re the best team and we’re going to go out there and play like it.’ This year, all of us guys are hungry, we want the same thing and we can get it done.”

Baylor's Drango, Hager ready for title run

September, 23, 2014
9/23/14
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WACO, Texas -- Spencer Drango and Bryce Hager got rings like everyone else.

They celebrated like everyone else inside Floyd Casey Stadium last December, when the Bears clinched their first outright Big 12 title in more than 30 years. But it just didn’t feel the same.

[+] EnlargeSpencer Drango
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezSpencer Drango's return to the field is good news for Baylor.
 “Watching the celebration was tougher than I thought it would be,” Drango said. “I’m so happy we won everything, but…I wasn’t suited out.”

As No. 7 Baylor gears up for its Big 12 opener at Iowa State on Saturday, two of its biggest leaders are not taking another conference title run for granted.

Drango and Hager were both lost for the 2013 season just as Baylor’s stretch run was getting good, during a 63-34 win over Texas Tech last November to improve to 9-0. Both went down with unusual ailments, leaving a void in both production and leadership. Both watched Baylor lose two of its last four -- derailing their BCS title chase -- and couldn’t do anything about it.

That unsatisfying feeling is giving Drango and Hager plenty to play for this season.

“I think there definitely is some unfinished business,” Drango said.

Drango, the left tackle with 25 career starts, hurt his back four days before Baylor’s blowout win over Texas Tech. He assumed he had a pulled muscle and played through it. In the week following that game, as Baylor prepared to face No. 11 Oklahoma State on the road, Drango met with doctors and learned that, if he kept playing, he risked permanent nerve damage.

The surgery that followed, a microscopic lumbar discectomy, lasted no longer than an hour but required roughly five months of rehab.

Drango doesn’t remember much about watching Baylor’s 49-17 loss to OSU, mostly because he was still on post-surgery pain medication. But he remembers wishing he could assist his struggling teammates.

“I was disappointed I couldn’t be there. I was texting guys at halftime, trying to say, ‘Here’s what I’m seeing,’ stuff like that,” Drango said. “I knew a lot of them don’t check their phones, so a lot of them wouldn’t get it. So I texted four of them, just to try to help.”

The first few weeks of recovery were rough. He couldn’t carry more than 10 pounds for a while. Fortunately, his mother came up to Waco during those weeks to help out.

“A gallon of milk was about the most I could carry,” Drango said, “and I had to hold it to my chest.”

Most of the rehab process required ab work, for up to 90 minutes a day. He never got a six-pack – “it’s under there somewhere,” the 310-pound lineman joked -- but he did get better.

“You can’t replace a guy like Spencer Drango,” Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said. “Not physically, not from a leadership standpoint, not intellectually. I’m delighted to have him back.”

Hager’s recovery process was a bit more confusing. The 22-game starter at inside linebacker suffered a groin injury last October, during a win over Kansas State, but kept playing for another month. Art Briles and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett limited his practice schedule, but after four games, the inflammation finally overwhelmed Hager during the Texas Tech game.

Coaches didn’t rule out his eventual return, but Baylor doctors couldn’t diagnose what was really wrong. Like Drango, Hager missed the Bears’ final four games.

“He wasn’t getting better,” Bennett said this spring. “I could tell in his eyes.”

So they sought outside help and found the best of the best. Hager and his father flew to Philadelphia last winter to see Dr. William Meyers, an esteemed sports injury expert. He discovered an abdominal tear and an adductor tear and completed Hager’s operation the next morning.

“All of our doctors referred us to Dr. Meyers in Philadelphia,” Hager said. “I knew I was going to the best guy and felt really comfortable about that.”

Before he left, Hager visited Lincoln Financial Field, got a Cheez Whiz-topped cheesesteak from Geno’s and received some long-awaited relief after months of pain.

Hager and Drango both missed spring practice but felt better than ever by the end of the summer. They went right back to playing at a high level, too.

Drango has graded out better than 85 percent on his blocking in each of Baylor’s first three games. And Hager, the quarterback of the defense, leads the Bears with 19 tackles.

“He’s the guy,” Briles said during fall camp. “He makes the calls and he makes the plays.”

They both do. The Bears proved last season than can win the Big 12 without Drango and Hager. But the chase Baylor begins Saturday is made easier now that they’re back. And this time, they want a little more to celebrate come December.

Preseason All-Big 12 team

August, 21, 2014
8/21/14
9:00
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Today, ESPN.com released its preseason All-American team. Before Big 12 media days, we released our individual preseason All-Big 12 ballots. But to pair with the All-American team, we debated, argued and eventually settled on one Big 12 blog, consensus preseason All-Big 12 team.

Here we go:

Offense

QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
Easy choice. Petty is the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after he threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns with just three picks. He should be even better in Year 2 as a starter.

RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas
Malcolm Brown finished strong in place of Gray the past season, but there’s a reason Gray was Texas’ No. 1 back before he suffered an Achilles injury. Gray is healthy again, which gives Texas the best one-two punch at running back in the league.

RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor
Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back the past season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing. He’s the featured back now and could wind up the league’s top rusher.

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Lockett was literally uncoverable at times last year. Just ask Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan, which surrendered a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns to Lockett. With Jake Waters settled in at quarterback, Lockett could put up even bigger numbers in 2014.

WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
Goodley might have been the most improved player in the league the past season. He was also one of the most dominant, with 1,339 receiving yards and a national-best five catches of 60 yards or more.

TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
With Jace Amaro gone, Bibbs takes over as the top receiving tight end threat in the league. Only Amaro had more catches and yards than Bibbs among Big 12 tight ends the past season.

OT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
With Drango in the lineup, Petty was sacked only eight times through the Bears’ first nine games last year. After Drango was sidelined with a back injury, Petty was sacked nine times in Baylor’s last four games. Suffice it to say, Petty is glad to have Drango back protecting his blindside.

OG: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders previously had plans to move Clark inside to guard, but they still have him manning left tackle this season. Whether he stays at the bookend or slides to guard, Clark is one of the most dominating offensive linemen in the league.

C: BJ Finney, Kansas State
Finney owns a Big 12-best 39 starts over the past three years. The former walk-on is also a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection and will be the favorite to garner such recognition again as the linchpin of the K-State offensive line.

OG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
Whitehair is capable of manning either guard or tackle, but the Wildcats will be showing their trust in him by asking him to protect Waters’ blindside this season.

OT: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
Williams is the best piece on the league’s best offensive line, which returns four starters and plenty of capable backups.

AP: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
Grant finished sixth in the league in receiving yards per game, despite being the third option in Tech’s passing attack the past season. Grant is now the first option in the passing game, as well as an electric playmaker on special teams.

K: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
The Sooners have never had an All-American kicker before, but they have a strong candidate in Hunnicutt, who converted 24 of 27 field goals the past season.

Defense

DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
In 2013, Mueller finished with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, which were second in the league only to Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat. Mueller, who also forced four fumbles, has one of the conference’s best noses for finding the ball.

DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU
The Horned Frogs still had a formidable front the past season, even without Devonte Fields, due in large part to Hunter. TCU won’t have Fields again. But Hunter is back to anchor a defensive line loaded with quality players.

DT: Malcom Brown, Texas
This former blue-chipper broke out the past season with 68 tackles, including 12 for loss. He and Cedric Reed team up to form the best inside-outside defensive line combination in the league.

DE: Cedric Reed, Texas
Reed was third in the Big 12 in 2013 with 10 sacks, fourth with 19 tackles for loss and tied for first with five forced fumbles. He gives the Longhorns a chance to feature the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
When it comes to rushing the passer, there’s no one better in the league. Striker has spent this offseason refining other parts of his game to become a more complete player. But his pass rushing alone makes him one of the top players in the league.

LB: Ben Heeney, Kansas
Heeney was a tackling machine last year for a defense that performed valiantly despite getting little help from its offense. Heeney will get plenty of help from his defense, though, which returns eight other starters.

LB: Bryce Hager, Baylor
Hager has notched 195 tackles over the past two seasons, while twice earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. With Ahmad Dixon and Eddie Lackey gone, he takes over as the leader of a defense angling to prove it can be as good as the past year’s.

CB: Quandre Diggs, Texas
Diggs, who has never been afraid to speak his mind, is the heart and soul of the Longhorns. If the rest of the team takes on his mentality, Texas could have one feisty team in Charlie Strong’s first season.

CB: Daryl Worley, West Virginia
Despite being just a second-year player, Worley has already taken over as one of the vocal leaders of the West Virginia defense. He’s also already one of the best cover corners in the league.

SS: Sam Carter, TCU
Carter has nine interceptions the past two years, the most of any returning Big 12 player. He leads arguably the best secondary in the league, too.

FS: Karl Joseph, West Virginia
Joseph has started all 25 games for the Mountaineers since he stepped foot in Morgantown. No other returning Big 12 defensive back has more career tackles than Joseph’s 170.

P: Nick O'Toole, West Virginia
The “Boomstache” ranked 15th nationally last year, with an average of 44.1 yards per punt. He also has the best mustache in the league, which has to count for something.

Petty keeps freak-filled Baylor line well fed

August, 12, 2014
8/12/14
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WACO, Texas -- Two years ago, Baylor’s backup quarterback rounded up the starting offensive linemen in the preseason and took them to Chuy’s for a Mexican feast on his dime. He wasn’t playing in 2012, but he understood the importance of keeping the big boys well fed.

Last August, Bryce Petty took the gang to Olive Garden. This time he brought six linemen. They capitalized on his kindness.

“They had appetizers and salads and two entrees -- one to take home, which was ridiculous,” Petty said. “I didn’t think they needed that, but I couldn’t really tell them no.”

[+] EnlargeSpencer Drango
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJunior tackle Spencer Drango is one of the leaders of the Baylor offensive line.
The final bill? More than $120. Petty would love to make these lineman dinners a weekly staple in 2014, but as he put it, “The budget doesn’t really call for that all the time.”

Tackle Troy Baker got the Olive Garden invite despite being out with a torn ACL, so he was especially appreciative. The love Petty has always shown his linemen, even before he was a starter or Big 12 Player of the Year, isn’t lost on them.

“He’s going to take care of his big guys. He knows we’ll get beat up and we’ll work for him,” Baker said. “He knows what we mean to him. We know how important he is to us.”

But Petty still has to tread lightly among his linemen in the locker room. Baylor’s offensive line room is full of athletic freaks, blue-collar grinders and loudmouths, plus a Brit and two Aussies. And they can be merciless, even to QB1.

“Sometimes he’ll come in wearing his decked-out Nike stuff, looking like Tiger, or he’ll be wearing neon yellow Nike stuff head to toe,” Baker said. “We’ll give him some crap about that.”

Petty doesn’t get it as bad as Jason Osei, the 27-year-old sophomore from London with a martial arts and rugby background. He gets called “Pickle” on the days he’s wearing his green skull cap, shirt, shorts and shoes.

“He’s a character, man,” tackle Spencer Drango said. “All the girls love him for his accent. It’s pretty thick. We have a joke about who won the Revolutionary War. He says it was a tie.”

Then you have brothers Blake Muir and Sean Muir, who arrived in Waco last year. Blake started 12 games at Hawaii in 2012 before transferring. Sean had never played football before joining the Bears. Their accents are just as beloved.

Blake is competing for the left guard job with LaQuan McGowan, a young man who might be from the future.

“LaQuan is legitimately 6-foot-8, 400 pounds,” Baker said. “He’s strong as can be. Coach [Art] Briles always says he’s 20 years out of his time. It’s unbelievable physically what he can do.

“You can’t do anything to him. You literally can’t. He can cut you in line and, even as another offensive lineman, you’re like, ‘Go ahead, buddy. It’s yours. All you.’”

Drango jokes that the first time he shook hands with McGowan, his freshman-year roommate, he almost lost his.

“I have big hands,” Drango said. “He completely dwarfed my hand and almost crushed it.”

McGowan or Muir will line up to the right of Drango, an All-Big 12 tackle and NFL prospect who’s fully recovered from the back injury that ended his 2013 season early. His backup, Pat Colbert, is known as “Sinbad” in the locker room. Look up his mug shot and it’s easy to see why.

At center, there’s Kyle Fuller, a redshirt sophomore who’s described as no-nonsense and “very blue-collar” by teammates. Desmine Hilliard is the starting right guard and also an All-American at throwing the discus; he set school records at the NCAA track and field championships last year.

The backup at right tackle, Tyler Edwards, gets called “The Undertaker” for his hair. And then you have Baker, who’s back from the torn ACL and can’t wait to see what this group does at full strength.

[+] EnlargePetty
AP Photo/LM OteroBryce Petty knows his success is tied to staying upright, and he has a top-notch offensive line upon whom to rely.
As one of the old guys in the line room, Baker says he has witnessed an evolution in the past four years. The Waco native swears he wouldn’t have been recruited by BU if he were a high schooler today. He wouldn't have been good enough.

“To be honest, I don’t think I would,” the former three-star recruit said. “They don’t have to. They can recruit the studs, and the studs come after them now.”

Randy Clements, Baylor’s line coach, has been working alongside Briles since 1989. He oversaw linemen and power lifting back in their Stephenville High days. His linemen say he’s brilliant, a coach capable of developing anybody. At Baylor, he’s produced an NFL draft pick in six straight years.

The line began breaking through, in Baker's estimation, late in the 2012 season. Injuries hit the group hard last year during the stretch run, but they plugged in new starters and survived. Having All-American left guard Cyril Richardson to learn from no doubt helped.

“We had a perfect example,” Baker said. “His technique was flawless and that’s why he was so successful. He was able to do everything Coach Clem asked.”

As Clements’ linemen describe it, fall camp can be brutal. This 19-man line group averages 6-5 and 305 pounds. In practice, they run just as hard as everyone else to prep for hustling to the line of scrimmage. You can’t sustain a four-plays-per-minute tempo without practicing faster than you play.

And while Petty, his trio of running backs and his endless supply of receivers get all the attention, his offensive linemen will be busy doing the dirty work.

Drango and Baker, the leaders of the gang, were stuck on the sidelines when Baylor’s undefeated season fell apart at Oklahoma State. They know the run game faltered late, averaging 168 yards per game and 3.7 per carry in the final four games after putting up 300 a game and 6.0 per carry in the first nine. The seniors vow it can’t happen again.

“We go as they go. I’ve always said that,” Petty said. “I’m just praying those guys stay healthy.”

His linemen are practicing and conditioning this month with December on their minds. Sure, they love to mess with each other and tease their quarterback in their spare time. But when it comes to title talk, they’re not joking around.

“As we get closer to November,” Baker said, “we plan on being in contention for the playoff."

Top Big 12 players: Nos. 10-6

July, 31, 2014
7/31/14
9:00
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With the season just a month away, we’re taking this week to rank the top 25 players in the Big 12.

This is a ranking of who we think the best 25 players will be over the course of the 2014 season.

You can click here to see the previous three installments.

Today, we continue the series with Nos. 10-6:

10. Le'Raven Clark, OG, Texas Tech: Clark was a freshman All-American tackle two years ago and a first-team All-Big 12 performer last season as the anchor of the Texas Tech offensive line. With the addition of junior-college tackle Dominique Robertson, Clark is moving inside to guard, a more natural position for his 315-pound frame. Clark already has proven to be a terrific pass-blocker, but he could also become a road-grader in the run game in his new spot.

9. Spencer Drango, OT, Baylor: Sometimes you don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty found out the hard way just how valuable his left tackle is when Drango suffered a season-ending back injury in early November. With Drango protecting his blindside, Petty was sacked only eight times through the Bears’ first nine games. With Drango sidelined, Petty was sacked nine times in Baylor’s last four games -- two of which the Bears lost as their high-powered offense sputtered down the stretch. The good news for Petty, and Baylor, is that Drango is healthy again and ready to help keep one of the nation’s most lethal quarterbacks upright.

8. Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma: One offensive lineman at Big 12 media days noted that Tapper was the most difficult defender to block in the Big 12. The 6-foot-4, 281-pound junior runs like a linebacker with the strength of a defensive tackle. He was the only defensive underclassman to be named first-team All-Big 12 last season, and considering he’s only started 12 games in his career, he figures only to get better playing alongside one of the most talented and deepest defensive lines in the country.

7. Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor: Coach Art Briles has been effusive in his praise of Oakman, whom he called “unblockable” during the spring. The 6-foot-9, 275-pound outspoken defensive end could be an unstoppable force this season in the Big 12. Despite being a part-time player in 2013, Oakman still finished sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss. The switch just now appears to have flipped for Oakman this offseason, which is a frightening proposition for Big 12 quarterbacks not named Bryce Petty.

6. Ryan Mueller, DE, Kansas State: Mueller doesn’t have the length or the athleticism that Tapper and Oakman do. But the former unrecruited walk-on finds a way to make plays. In 2013, Mueller finished with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, both of which were second in the league only to Jackson Jeffcoat, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Mueller forced four fumbles, too. There are players, and then there are playmakers. Mueller fits the latter.

Coming Friday: Nos. 5-1 ...

Preseason All-Big 12 team, honors released

July, 16, 2014
7/16/14
12:00
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Five days before Big 12 media days get underway, the conference has released its official preseason All-Big 12 team as well as its preseason award-winners, as voted on by conference media.

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was named Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. No surprise there. Oklahoma State RB/WR Tyreek Hill, the speedy juco transfer from Garden City (Kansas) Community College, received preseason Newcomer of the Year honors.

The more debatable award, preseason Defensive Player of the Year, went to TCU defensive end Devonte Fields. He played in just three games in 2013 due to a foot injury but was voted the league's top defender and newcomer in 2012 as a true freshman.

Baylor led the way with seven players on the All-Big 12 team. Kansas State had five selections on the squad, and Oklahoma received four. Only one Big 12 program -- Oklahoma State -- did not have at least one player make the team.

All-Big 12 Team

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor
RB Shock Linwood, Baylor
RB Malcolm Brown, Texas
WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor
TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
OL Spencer Drango, Baylor
OL Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
OL B.J. Finney, Kansas State
OL Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
OL Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

DL Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
DL Devonte Fields, TCU
DL Chucky Hunter, TCU
DL Cedric Reed, Texas
LB Bryce Hager, Baylor
LB Ben Heeney, Kansas
LB Eric Striker, Oklahoma
DB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
DB Sam Carter, TCU
DB Quandre Diggs, Texas
DB Karl Joseph, West Virginia

PK Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
P Spencer Roth, Baylor
KR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
PR Levi Norwood, Baylor

There aren't many snubs to be found from this year's team. You can make a case for a bunch of other players -- TCU cornerback Kevin White, Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman, Texas' Johnathan Gray and Malcom Brown, West Virginia's Quinton Spain and Nick O'Toole. But based on 2013 performance, this list looks about right.

Any more exclusions stand out to you? Should Ryan Mueller or someone else win DPOY? Hit us with your complaints in the comments below.

Best case, worst case: Baylor

June, 16, 2014
6/16/14
3:00
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One of my favorite annual sports pieces to read is Bill Simmons’ NBA Draft Diary. I also always have to read Mel Kiper’s yearly NFL Draft grades as well as the annual unveiling of Keith Law’s top 100 baseball prospects.

Another one of my favorites is Pat Forde’s dream and nightmare scenario for every team going into college basketball’s NCAA tournament.

With that in mind, we’ve come up with the best- and worst-case scenarios for every Big 12 team going into the 2014 season. Of course, the reality will fall somewhere in between. But this will forecast what a season would look like if every single imaginable domino fell into place. And likewise, if everything that could go wrong, well, did.

We begin this series with the defending Big 12 champs -- the Baylor Bears:

BEST CASE

[+] EnlargePetty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThere will be a lot of celebrating if things go swimmingly for Bryce Petty and Baylor.
Thanks to his work on pocket awareness with QB guru George Whitfield and a season of experience in his belt, Bryce Petty comes out looking better than ever. He throws for seven touchdowns in the christening of McLane Stadium and never looks back on his way to giving Baylor its second Heisman Trophy quarterback (Jameis who?) in four years. With USC still struggling, people everywhere begin dubbing Baylor college football’s next “QBU.”

Of course, Petty can’t win a Heisman without his supporting cast showing up, and they do just that and more. Antwan Goodley matches his 2013 totals and earns first-team All-American honors. Corey Coleman has a breakout campaign, setting the stage to become the next in the ever-growing line of big-time Baylor wide receivers. Redshirt freshman running back Johnny Jefferson lives up to the spring hype, leading Baylor’s running back stable with 1,100 yards on the ground. Left tackle Spencer Drango doesn’t surrender a sack all season to win the Outland Trophy. And led by mammoth defensive end Shawn Oakman, the defensive line makes good on Art Briles’ spring proclamation, and leads the nation in tackles for loss.

With the team firing on more cylinders than ever, Baylor empties Darrell K. Royal Stadium by the third quarter then obliterates TCU, leaving Gary Patterson speechless in his postgame news conference.

The undefeated Bears march into Norman on Nov. 8 and edge the Sooners in one of the all-time great games in Big 12 history, catapulting Baylor to No. 1 in the polls, and to No. 1 in the minds of the playoff committee.

The Bears coast through the rest of the Big 12 season unscathed, securing them a spot in the inaugural four-team playoff. They squeak through in the first game, setting up a clash with the SEC champ in AT&T Stadium, just a hundred miles from Waco’s campus. With plenty of green on hand, the Bears capture their first national championship on a fourth-quarter bomb from Petty to Goodley, reminiscent of James Street’s heave to Cotton Speyrer that handed Texas the national championship in the Cotton Bowl Classic 34 years before.

In his postgame news conference, Briles tells the nation he plans to retire in Waco, and days later signs another extension to keep him there for life.

Fresh off the national title, Baylor lands a top 10 recruiting class, and with confidence swelling about the state of the program, athletic director Ian McCaw beefs up the nonconference schedule by ringing up Alabama and immediately agreeing to fill the Crimson Tide’s vacant slot in 2015.

Without Johnny Football, the Aggies finish with a losing record, and the Longhorns get drilled in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. In the NFL draft, the Dallas Cowboys trade up to get Petty in the first round to be their heir apparent to Tony Romo.

WORST CASE

In his second year as the starter, Petty succumbs to the dreaded sophomore slump. He throws three picks in the opener, as Baylor just barely survives SMU in a sluggish unveiling of McLane Stadium.

The defensive line falls way below Briles’ expectation, the new secondary turns out to be a disaster, and the Bears wind up ranking in the bottom 10 nationally in pass defense.

Baylor also desperately misses the consistency of Lache Seastrunk and Tevin Reese, as the offense becomes too dependent on Petty and Goodley to make plays. Drango’s back issues flare up and, and right tackle Troy Baker never really returns to form from last year’s knee injury. In turn, Petty is under duress all season, and the Baylor offense doubles last season's turnover total.

The Bears survive the Ponies. But they can’t escape Ames, as the giant killers of the Big 12 upset Baylor after Petty fumbles on the first play of double overtime.

The stunning defeat sends the Bears into a mini-tailspin. They get battered by the Longhorns the following week in the game of Texas linebacker Steve Edmond’s career. TCU’s defense smothers Baylor the following week, handing the Bears a third straight loss. At 4-3, the Bears hobble into Norman and put up a gutty performance but can’t stop Trevor Knight, who all but locks up All-Big 12 quarterback honors.

Baylor rebounds to take down Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl, which gets other schools interested in Briles to be their coach again.

Edmond is named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Petty slips to the second round. McCaw adds Old Dominion to the schedule.
Only one Big 12 player is projected to be an first-team All-American on Phil Steele’s Preseason All-American teams, which were released on ESPN.com on Friday.

The conference had 13 players earn honors on the four preseason All-American squads selected by Steele. Here’s a look at the honorees:

First team

WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor

Second team

WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
LB Eric Striker, Oklahoma

Third team

C B.J. Finney, Kansas State
T Le’Raven Clark, Texas Tech
T Spencer Drango, Baylor
DE Devonte Fields, TCU
DE Cedric Reed, Texas

Fourth team

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor
CB Quandre Diggs, Texas
S Sam Carter, TCU
K Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma

Some quick thoughts:
  • Goodley and Lockett are essentially 1A and 1B in the battle to be considered the top receiver in the conference. Goodley earned the spot from Steele thanks to Petty and the Bears’ stat-stuffing offensive attack.
  • Kansas State and Baylor each have three players on the list, tied for tops in the conference.
  • A strong argument could be made for Petty to be the first-team quarterback, but it’s hard to find fault in Steele’s choices of Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Jameis Winston (Florida State) and Braxton Miller (Ohio State), as all three quarterbacks ahead of Petty are the foundation of their team’s success.
  • Even though the Big 12 has three different defensive ends on the list, a strong argument could be made for Baylor’s Shawn Oakman and Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper to have a place on one of the four teams.
  • Zero Big 12 running backs made the list, a sign of the relative inexperience at the position across the conference. Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Texas’ Malcolm Brown and Oklahoma State’s Desmond Roland have the strongest argument for a spot on one of those teams.
  • Hunnicutt is on the fourth team but is second to none nationally, particularly with his accuracy on field goals inside the 40-yard line. He is 62 of 72 field goal attempts heading into his senior season.
  • Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Kansas and West Virginia didn't have anyone make the list. It's not a huge surprise as those teams and players must enter the season having to earn respect.

Poll: Big 12's best position unit

May, 22, 2014
5/22/14
10:30
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On Wednesday, we ranked the Big 12 position-by-position from strongest to weakest.

Last season the strongest position of the league was defensive back, headlined by Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett, Ahmad Dixon, Aaron Colvin and Ty Zimmerman, among others.

But those players are all gone. So what will be the strongest position in 2014?

With such players such as TCU’s Devonte Fields, Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper and Texas’ Cedric Reed returning, we believe it will be defensive line.

SportsNation

What will be the Big 12's strongest overall position in 2014?

  •  
    32%
  •  
    12%
  •  
    8%
  •  
    11%
  •  
    37%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,613)

But do you agree?

Maybe you think it will be another position such as receiver, which includes All-American hopefuls Antwan Goodley and Tyler Lockett, and a host of potential 1,000-yard threats such as Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley.

Perhaps it’s your opinion that the strength of the Big 12 will be at linebacker, where Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU bring their entire units back, and virtually everyone else has at least one proven performer returning.

Maybe the conference’s best unit is the offensive line, with experienced centers BJ Finney (Kansas State), Dominic Espinosa (Texas) and Tom Farniok (Iowa State); talented tackles Spencer Drango (Baylor), Le'Raven Clark (Texas Tech) and Daryl Williams (Oklahoma); and versatile stalwarts Cody Whitehair (Kansas State), Quinton Spain (West Virginia) and Daniel Koenig (Oklahoma State).

Or with Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Kansas State’s Jake Waters, Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight, do you believe quarterback is on its way back to becoming the dominant position in a league that not long ago was the nation’s preeminent conference for that position?

Tell us by voting in the weekly Big 12 poll.

Ranking the Big 12 position-by-position

May, 21, 2014
5/21/14
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Two weeks ago, we ranked every team in the Big 12 position-by-position coming out of the spring. Putting that together, we’ve ranked the overall league position-by-position. In other words, what is the league’s strongest position? What is its weakest?

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed will anchor Texas' defensive line.
In 2013, there’s no doubt the strength of the league was in the defensive backfield. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the league’s two first-round picks. Safety Ahmad Dixon earned All-American honors and Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman and Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin were longtime stalwarts in their defensive backfields.

Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:

1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.

2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.

3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.

4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb seems like one of the few sure things at QB in the Big 12.
5. Quarterback: The Big 12 has one Heisman candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty, a proven performer in Kansas State’s Jake Waters and two budding stars in Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. The rest of the league is a big fat unknown at the game’s most-critical position. But if Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and Texas’ David Ash regain their forms from two seasons ago, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach builds off his strong 2013 finish, Clint Trickett can stay upright at West Virginia, and transfer Matt Joeckel and sophomore Montell Cozart prove to be the answers at TCU and Kansas, the Big 12 could be on the way back to becoming the preeminent conference for quarterbacking once again.

6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.

7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.

Top Big 12 NFL draft prospects for 2015

May, 15, 2014
5/15/14
1:30
PM CT
Though the 2014 NFL draft ended just last weekend, ESPN Insider Todd McShay posted his way-too-early 2015 mock draft Insider on Wednesday.

McShay had three Big 12 players going in his mock first round: Baylor QB Bryce Petty 15th overall to the Houston Texans, TCU DE Devonte Fields 25th overall to the San Francisco 49ers and Oklahoma LB Eric Striker 29th overall to the Green Bay Packers.

Though we have almost a full year to go, here are some of other top Big 12 prospects for the 2015 draft (in alphabetical order):

    • TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State: Three pass-catching tight ends went in the first two rounds last weekend, and that’s exactly what Bibbs is. He caught 39 passes last season and can far exceed that if QB Grant Rohach settles into new coordinator Mark Mangino’s offense.

 

  • DT Malcom Brown, Texas: Like his D-line teammate Cedric Reed, Brown has first-round talent. He was rated the second-best DT coming out of high school and began to realize that potential last season.
  • SS Sam Carter, TCU: Carter has manned strong safety at a high level in Fort Worth for the past two seasons and was the only underclassman defensive back to earn first- or second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2013. With teammate Jason Verrett gone, he won’t be as overshadowed next season.
  • OT Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech: After starting his first two seasons in college at left tackle, Clark could get moved to guard this season. Clark has the strength to be a devastating run-blocking guard, and the NFL loves players who can play multiple positions.
  • CB Quandre Diggs, Texas: Diggs has been a starter in Austin since his true freshman season. He is fast, and he’s a solid tackler against the run. Diggs has an NFL pedigree, too. His brother, Quentin Jammer, was a first-round pick in 2002 after starring for the Horns.
  • OT Spencer Drango, Baylor: Drango will get plenty of attention protecting Petty’s blindside. The back injury from last season is a concern, but it also underscored how dominant Drango actually was. Baylor’s pass protection was leaky without him the rest of the year. Like Clark, Drango will just be a junior next season.
  • C BJ Finney, Kansas State: The Big 12 has some other draft hopefuls at center in Iowa State’s Tom Farniok and Texas’ Dominic Espinosa, but Finney seems like the best bet of the three to get drafted. The former walk-on and high school state wrestling champ will be a four-year starter, and has 39 career starts, which is tied for the Big 12 active lead.
  • WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor: He might not be tall at only 5-foot-10, but Goodley is physical and fast. With another ultra-productive season like last fall, he could be one of the top receivers on next year’s board.
  • WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State: Lockett’s versatility both as an inside or outside receiver and in the return game only makes him a more attractive prospect. With Jake Waters now installed as the full-time QB, Lockett could have a monster statistical senior season.
  • DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor: At 6-9, 275 pounds, Oakman has intriguing size for an NFL defensive line. If he dominates in the fall the way Art Briles said he did in the spring, Oakman could quickly turn into a hot prospect even though he’ll only be a junior.
  • DE Cedric Reed, Texas: According to NFL.com, Reed was one of two players nationally in 2013 to record five sacks, five forced fumbles and four pass breakups. The other? Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, who was the fifth overall pick in last week’s draft. By coming back to school for another year, Reed could potentially become a first rounder, too.
  • DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma: Tapper almost has the size of a defensive tackle and the athleticism of a linebacker. He didn’t have an overly huge statistical sophomore season but was the only underclassman defensive lineman voted All-Big 12 by the coaches. Tapper too will only be a junior.
  • OT Daryl Williams, Oklahoma: Even though Tyrus Thompson has manned the left side in Norman, Williams has the better pro outlook. Williams will be a three-year starter and has the athleticism to transition to the left side at the next level.

 

Others to watch: RB Malcolm Brown, Texas; DT James Castleman, Oklahoma State; C Dominic Espinosa, Texas; C Tom Farniok, Iowa State; ILB Bryce Hager, Baylor; FS Chris Hackett, TCU; LB Ben Heeney, Kansas; DT Chucky Hunter, TCU; FS Karl Joseph, West Virginia; DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State; DT Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma; DT Davion Pierson, TCU; OG Quinton Spain, West Virginia; OT Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma; CB Kevin White, TCU; OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State

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