NCF Nation: Oklahoma State Cowboys
At least without missing a major beat.
Starters Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore, who combined for 146 catches and almost 2,000 receiving yards, are gone, leaving rising sophomore Jhajuan Seales as the only returning starter.
But the Cowboys also welcome back a host of budding young receivers, who seem poised to keep the Oklahoma State passing attack humming.
“I think the receiving corps is going to be good,” Seales said. “I think our offense will be the same. People have to step up and fill in for Tracy and Charlie and those guys. But I think we have the guys who can do that.”
The Cowboys have Seales, which is a nice start.
As a redshirt freshman last season playing alongside Stewart and the Moores, Seales hauled in 39 catches for 571 yards. Two of Seales’ three touchdowns came in two of Oklahoma State’s final three games. Though he still has much to prove, Seales has the same combination of physicality and speed reminiscent of another Cowboy receiver who donned the jersey No. 81 -- Justin Blackmon.
“I feel I can be a go-to guy,” Seales said. “But there are other guys out there who can be that go-to guy, as well.”
Such as Marcell Ateman, who like Seales, carved out a role at outside receiver as a freshman, and caught 22 passes.
“Ateman, when he decides to play hard, he’s a big, physical body,” coach Mike Gundy said.
Sophomores Brandon Sheperd (223 receiving yards) and David Glidden (15 catches) received plenty of time in the rotation last season.
The Cowboys also bring back Blake Webb and Austin Hays, who both started in 2012 as freshmen before injuries sidelined them for virtually the entire 2013 season.
Hays, who played with Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight in high school in San Antonio, started nine games two seasons ago and finished with 394 receiving yards. But he was unable to play most of last season because of a nagging hamstring injury.
“It was so frustrating,” he said. “I kept thinking I was going to come back and never did. Not getting to get on the plane with the team, that very frustrating.”
Hays is close to 100 percent again this spring, and he has shown the versatility to play on the outside or in the slot. But he might have more competition for playing time now than he did two years ago.
The Cowboys signed junior-college speed demon Tyreek Hill, who has already broken numerous sprint records on the track team. Ra'Shaad Samples, who redshirted as a freshman last season, can also fly and reportedly has run the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds. Both players could bring major speed to the inside receiver positions.
“Some of those young receivers are starting to make a few plays,” Gundy said. “So it’s exciting that we have talent on our team that can make plays in the future.”
No doubt, Oklahoma State will miss Stewart, Charlie Moore and Tracy Moore at receiver. But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys will miss a beat there, too.
Said Seales: "Now we get to follow in their footsteps.”
Never heard of him? That’s understandable if you’re not a recruitnik. But the track world has known his name for a while, and was reminded once again this weekend.
The Oklahoma State two-sport athlete finished fifth at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships in the 200-meter dash on Friday. It’s an event Hill ran no more than four times this spring.
He broke his own school record with a time of 20.68 seconds in the prelims, then broke it again by hitting 20.57 in the final. Hill, the Big 12 Indoor Freshman of the Year, also became the first OSU spring in school history to earn indoor All-America honors. And he was a gold and bronze medalist at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Barcelona.
To say Mike Gundy and his staff are salivating to get Hill on a football field could be the understatement of the spring in Stillwater.
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound transfer was ESPN’s No. 1 rated athlete out of Garden City (Kan.) Community College and has a chance to become this conference’s next Tavon Austin, a receiver/running back/returner capable of burning a defense in a variety of ways. But track came first when Hill joined the program in January.
Landing Hill was a major coup for both the Cowboys football and track programs, and they worked together to make this happen. Hill took visits to the likes of Florida State, Alabama and Texas and was recruited by the best of the best in both sports.
“He felt that Oklahoma State was a place where he was comfortable, and his mom is in Norman so she’s very close to him,” Flaquer said. “All those little things played a huge role. For us to be able to get him to come here and for him to feel at home here was huge.”
Most track athletes dedicate their fall semester to preparing for the winter indoor season. Hill, who put up 1,191 total yards and 11 touchdowns in his sophomore year at Garden City, didn’t have that luxury as a midyear enrollee.
That’s what made his performances at the Big 12 and NCAA championships all the more remarkable: Hill did it all on about a month of training.
He didn’t run his first college meet until Feb. 14, at a Tyson Invitational in Arkansas that’s annually one of the nation’s best. He finished fourth in the 60-meter finals.
One week later, and immediately after some football workouts, Flaquer drove Hill up to the K-State Open. His time of 6.68 seconds in the 60-meter broke the meet record long held by former KSU great Terence Newman.
Two weeks ago, at the Big 12 Indoor Championships, Hill took home gold in the 200-meter dash and finished second in the 60 meters.
“These other guys have been doing this for 28 or 30 weeks,” Flaquer said. “For him to come in and make the impact he made so quickly in the Big 12 and nationally, that’s something I think we can build on. His future is extremely bright.”
Fifth in the nation wasn’t good enough for Hill, and Flaquer admits Hill didn’t execute his sprint as planned. He’s just scratching the surface of what he can do, and still learning what it takes at the college level.
Hill finally gets a chance to recover this week while Oklahoma State is on spring break. Next week, he puts on the pads and gets back to work with the Cowboys football team.
And so, obviously, the question must be asked: Just how fast could Hill be on a football field?
“I think he’s a low 4.2 or 4.3 guy,” Flaquer said of Hill’s 40 time. “If he catches the start right, he’s a 4.2 guy.”
Gundy and his staff have been supportive throughout this process and OK’d his plan to miss spring ball for the national meet. They don’t mind sharing, but the playbook and the practice field will be Hill’s focus from now until mid-April.
“He has been very successful when he has the ball in his hands,” Gundy said after signing day. “I don’t think it’s any secret for all of us, certainly from a coaching standpoint, if you have a player that can make plays then he has to touch the football.”
The logical use of his speed and acceleration will be as a receiver who also takes sweeps and handoffs out of backfield.
Oklahoma State brings back a deep recruiting corps despite losing Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore, but no way the Cowboys have anybody else this fast.
Hill wants to do both sports on a professional level someday. That’s the dream. But first, he’ll have to live up to the hype with a helmet on.
“If they find a way to get this kid the ball,” Flaquer said, “and find someone to even halfway block for him, it’s going to be scary.”
Fans and recruits could circle the date on their calendars, young players and new coaches saw it as the first opportunity to make a lasting impression.
This spring, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy raised eyebrows when the Cowboys announced their “Orange Blitz” open practice session would replace their traditional Orange-White spring game. TCU has rarely held a traditional spring game under Gary Patterson, with the Horned Frogs preferring intra-squad scrimmages.
Patterson values the opportunity to watch other team’s spring games on television but refuses to give other coaches that advantage over his team and doesn’t view the event as essential for the Horned Frogs program. TCU has not finalized its plan for this spring, but a traditional spring game seems unlikely.
Although his program normally holds an event, OSU opened the spring with a young, battered roster, which was the main reason for Gundy’s decision to shun a spring game this year. For Gundy, engaging fans with a spring game had to take a backseat to the overall development of the young players in the program during the 15 practices the Cowboys will hold in March and April.
“At some point I have to make a decision based on what's best for our team first and then our fans and people that follow us second,” Gundy said earlier this week.
Other Big 12 coaches point to health concerns as obstacles to holding a traditional spring game featuring two separate squads.
“Spring games are always a trying time due to depth at certain positions,” said Kansas coach Charlie Weis, who will hold KU’s spring game on April 12. “Concern for injuries is always an issue, not being able to field two entire competitive teams is a problem.”
Postponing the spring game can become a real option, particularly after losing a large class of seniors off the roster thus crippling the overall depth of the program until February signees arrive in the summer. Quarterbacks end up switching teams in the middle of the game, a lack of available linemen waters down the quality of the action and fears of a season-changing injury can cloud these spring finales.
“Everyone says, ‘Well I would love to have a draft and have my guys go on each side of the ball,’” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “You can’t, you don’t have the personnel. Sometimes you have so many injuries or you may be thin that you can’t afford to have a spring game and get somebody hurt. Some other years, when we are a little bit down, I don’t want to take a chance on it. It is all great until someone gets hurt and blows a knee out, and then it is, ‘Why did I do that?’”
The Sooners are one of the Big 12 programs that are all-in on the spring game, selling tickets to the event, televising the action and creating a game-like atmosphere at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. But even OU dumbs down the efficiency of the actual football in the game, sitting starters and simplifying schemesto avoid lurkers, such as Patterson, who are aiming to gain useful tidbits on the Sooners that they can use in the fall.
Even with all those drawbacks, the spring game remains valuable for the majority of the conference, with several Big 12 coaches pointing toward the game-like atmosphere, not to mention the recruiting value, of the traditional spring game as assets too useful to ignore.
“I think it's great for the fans,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “You only get six home games in the regular season, sometimes we only get five some years. So to have another game at Jones Stadium so that everyone can come back and tailgate, have some festivities, I think it's great for the university and great for the fan base. And I like to see our players when the lights come on. Anybody can do it in practice, but when the lights come on and there's some pressure and people are watching, let's see how you perform."
Kansas State won’t kick off its spring drills until April 2 but will hold its spring game on April 26. Head coach Bill Snyder believes the tradition of the spring game outweighs any cons.
“The positive attributes of having a spring game for us include tradition, for our young people and our fan base, the benefits it provides our local community and the experience our players get by playing in front of a large crowd,” he said.
Charlie Strong is convinced his team can still get quality work done with a traditional spring game. The Longhorns will hold their version on April 19, with UT’s new head coach convinced it will be just another day for his players to get better.
“The most important thing is that the spring game is another opportunity to get out on the field and coach your team,” Strong said. “It's another practice, more reps and more video to look at as you get ready for the season. It is the final spring practice and having a chance to go in the stadium with a great crowd gives you an opportunity to see how the team responds to that as well."
Realistically, while opinions about the spring game vary when it comes to its value in terms of developing the current roster for the upcoming season, its recruiting value cannot be understated. There is no better spring event to put all the positives of the program on full display and intrigue potential recruits to make a special trip to campus.
“When you can bring players in and see people in the stands cheering and excited, it really helps,” Kingsbury said.
This spring, the Cowboys have another true freshman quarterback who might be capable of the same.
After winning 10 games and ranking in the top-10 for several weeks late last season, Oklahoma State kicked off its spring practice on Monday as a team in transition. Of all 128 FBS programs, only Utah State returns fewer starters than the Cowboys. And one of the many positions the Pokes must find starting replacement is at quarterback.
Gone is Clint Chelf, who became just the second quarterback in program history to earn first- or second-team all-conference honors.
J.W. Walsh, who has eight career starts over two seasons, is the only returner at the position with any experience and is the favorite to reclaim the starting job.
Two years ago, head coach Mike Gundy named true freshman Wes Lunt the starter coming out of spring drills. And one pressing question that popped up Monday during Oklahoma State’s spring press conference was, would Gundy entertain the idea of doing the same again?
“The truth is, if you have a freshman come in and is the better player, you probably play him,” Gundy replied. “It would be hard at that position [quarterback] because we can say what we want, but everybody watches the practices we watch. And everybody has a good feel for what’s happening. And we have a responsibility to our team to give them the best chance to have success. So we have to watch real close. I thought three springs ago that [Lunt] was clearly the best player -- that’s why we named him the starter. What that holds for the future, I’m not sure. But if we didn’t think he was [the best], we certainly wouldn’t have named him the starter. And so we just have to watch and see how it works.”
In other words, Rudolph will have his chance, just like Lunt did.
Rudolph arrived in Stillwater as perhaps the most highly-touted quarterback prospect the school had ever signed.
Lunt was a three-star recruit and was the No. 42-ranked quarterback coming out of high school. By contrast, Rudolph was Oklahoma State’s top recruit of this class and was rated the eighth-best pocket passing quarterback in the nation.
He threw for 4,377 yards and 64 touchdowns as a senior at Northwestern High in Rock Hill, S.C., while leading his team to a state championship.
Weeks later, he was named MVP of the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas All-Star Game after leading his team on a game-winning touchdown drive. Rudolph split time with Georgia quarterback signee Jacob Park, but when the game was on the line, Rudolph was the one the coaches called on. And like he had in high school, Rudolph delivered in crunch time.
“He had that leadership ability that you could see on the sideline with his team,” Oklahoma State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich said. “When he threw the football, the physical side was apparent.
“He also has an ‘it’ factor. You know when you see it. It’s hard to describe. It’s hard to put into words.”
Whether that “it” factor translates into Rudolph accomplishing what Lunt did two springs ago remains to be seen.
Lunt had an easier path to the starting job then. The Cowboys were replacing first-round NFL draft pick Brandon Weeden, and at the time, neither Chelf nor Walsh had any experience.
Though Walsh’s play dipped last season, he shined as a redshirt freshman after Lunt got injured in 2012 and wound up leading the entire Big 12 in the Adjusted QBR metric.
“J.W. always has had great leadership, and we want him to have a great feel for what we want to accomplish on offense from a read standpoint, footwork fundamentals, things that he can control,” Gundy said. “J.W. brings experience to the table. J.W. will be the guy that goes out there first this year because he has the most experience.”
Experience alone, however, won’t guarantee Walsh the job.
Limited arm strength plagued Walsh’s ability to complete throws downfield last season. That, coupled with poor decision-making, opened the door for Chelf to reclaim the job in early October.
Superior arm strength is what helped propel Lunt to the top of the depth chart two springs ago, and that could also be a similar asset for the 6-foot-4, 217-pound Rudolph this spring. But Rudolph, who rushed for 16 touchdowns as well last season, also seems to possess more mobility than Lunt, who suffered a knee injury after his third start while unsuccessfully attempting to escape the pocket.
“You can also tell he has some fight in him,” said third-year wide receiver Austin Hays. “It’s so hard when you’re a freshman. But towards the end of spring, Wes really started to find his way. Eventually he earned it, and everybody followed him.
“I don’t see why Mason couldn’t do that, too.”
Can freshman impact OSU's QB race?
Junior quarterback J.W. Walsh has made eight starts for the Cowboys over the last two seasons. But even with Clint Chelf now gone, Walsh still will have to fight for a job with freshman Mason Rudolph already on campus. Rudolph, who enrolled early to participate in spring ball, threw for more than 4,300 yards and 64 touchdowns his final year of high school and is one of the most highly-touted quarterback recruits ever to sign with the Cowboys. In high school, Rudolph played in an offensive scheme similar to Oklahoma State’s, which is what first interested him in the Cowboys. That should ease his transition to the college level. Of course for now, the job is Walsh’s to lose. But Rudolph has the talent and the skill set to begin applying pressure on Walsh as soon as this spring.
How will TCU adapt to the offensive overhaul?
TCU conducted its first spring practice over the weekend, and the exit polls suggested the Horned Frogs went through offensive drills fast. Like really fast. Tired of ranking near the bottom of the Big 12 in offense, Gary Patterson shook up his coaching staff and brought in Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham to install an up-tempo offensive system that resembled those of Texas Tech (Cumbie) and Oklahoma State (Meacham). As Patterson admitted after the first practice, there will be a learning curve for his players to picking up this new offensive style. But the quicker quarterback Trevone Boykin can adapt, the better off TCU will be going into 2014.
How will Texas look different under Strong?
The last time Texas had a coach other than Mack Brown running a spring practice, Bill Clinton was still president. The Charlie Strong era will begin in earnest with the start of spring practice in Austin. How will the players adjust to the new schemes of assistants Shawn Watson, Joe Wickline and Vance Bedford? How will the veterans react to their new position coaches? Who will thrive with the new staff? Who will falter? Those pivotal questions will begin to be answered this spring.
Can Texas Tech get by with only one scholarship QB?
With starting right tackle Rashad Fortenberry getting an extra year of eligibility over the weekend, the Red Raiders seem to be in good shape across the board offensively. Of course, that could change real quick should QB Davis Webb incur any kind of injury this spring. With Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma and Michael Brewer headed to Virginia Tech, the Red Raiders will be down to just one scholarship quarterback until Patrick Mahomes arrives in the summer. Though coach Kliff Kingsbury has said that Tech has a couple of capable walk-ons, an injury to Webb would hamper the spring development of an offense that will have big goals in the fall. Coming off a breakout performance in the bowl game, Webb also needs to continue developing this spring. But he also needs to remain healthy for the betterment of himself and the team.
Who will get carries for West Virginia?
Even with Charles Sims gone, the Mountaineers still enjoy a stable of capable of running backs. But where will Sims’ carries go? After rushing for 494 yards last season, Dreamius Smith is starting out the spring atop the depth chart. But he’ll have to fend off several comers to remain there. Wendell Smallwood came on strong late during his freshman season and finished the year averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Rushel Shell also joins the fray this spring after transferring over from Pittsburgh. Shell, who set a Pennsylvania high school rushing record, was formerly the No. 26 overall recruit in the 2012 recruiting class. There are still others. Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie are still around after leading the Mountaineers’ in rushing in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Oh yeah, West Virginia will also add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. Good luck to the running back who dares to take a play off in this crammed competition.
Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yet, more and more, the at-home experience is intriguing for college football fans.
The Big 12 understands the challenges that continue to emerge as its member schools try to fill their stadiums each weekend, and the conference is trying to be proactive in overcoming the attendance challenges each school faces.
“It’s an ongoing conversation with our athletic directors,” said Bob Burda, the Big 12’s associate commissioner of communications. “How can we continue to encourage people to come out? How can we give them an invaluable experience for a return on their investment of buying a ticket and coming to the venue?”
For example, member schools began showing in-game highlights conference-wide for the first time in 2013.
Arguably the biggest issue could be Internet access in stadiums on game days. With social media developing into a staple of most fans' game experience, lack of connectivity has the potential to have an impact on fans’ decisions to attend games or watch from the comfort of their own living rooms with no concerns about connectivity.
“Many of our institutions are now addressing the connectivity challenges that are faced when you have 50,000 to 100,000 people in one setting,” Burda said. “More and more, fans' sporting game experience includes the use of a handheld device.”
It can be particularly troublesome for college students, some of whom are unwilling to risk spending several hours without cell phone service.
“That’s the next generation of season-ticket holders,” Burda said. “So it’s incumbent upon our facilities to provide a fan-friendly experience. And that’s part of it.”
Connectivity issues or not, the game-day experience is difficult to match. Memories are more likely to be made in stadiums than on couches. Being in the stadium as history unfolds is different than watching from afar.
“There’s a excitement that comes with being a part of the crowd attending a game, not only inside the facility but outside the facility as well,” Burda said. “Having attended the Sugar Bowl and the Oklahoma win over Alabama, it was truly magical in the stadium that night. For those in the stadium cheering Oklahoma, that was an experience they are going to have for the rest of their lives, an experience they would not have had if they were not inside the venue.”
Overall, the Big 12’s attendance has been solid for the past few seasons. Eight of 10 Big 12 schools played to 90 percent of capacity and all Big 12 schools played to at least 80 percent capacity in 2013, Burda said. Seven Big 12 schools averaged at least 50,000 fans for their home games.
“We play an exciting game of football in the Big 12, and I think it resonates with fans,” Burda said. “All of our teams are competitive and everybody plays everybody. You don’t win a championship in the Big 12 because of who is not on your schedule. You have to play everybody, and that resonates with fans as well -- to see your team play the best teams in the Big 12, year in and year out.”
Several coaches have come out against the proposal, including Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, who took to Twitter on Thursday evening to voice his opposition.
The no huddle, fast tempo style has changed the game of CFB. Our sport has exploded in popularity with high scoring games & packed stadiums.— Mike Gundy (@CoachGundy) February 13, 2014
College Football is constantly evolving. Coaches have to make adjustments based on their team, their talents and their opponents.— Mike Gundy (@CoachGundy) February 13, 2014
The 10-second rule is like asking basketball to take away the shot clock - Boring!. It’s like asking a blitzing linebacker to raise his hand— Mike Gundy (@CoachGundy) February 13, 2014
Why change our sport at the peak of its popularity— Mike Gundy (@CoachGundy) February 13, 2014
The reigning conference champions will get things started for the Big 12 when Baylor begins spring practice in 18 days. The majority of the Big 12 will start spring practice in early March with Kansas State as the last team to get started with spring drills on April 2.
These dates are subject to change by the individual schools, but here are the spring practice dates to know in the Big 12.
Spring practice begins: Feb. 28
Spring game: April 5
Spring practice begins: March 10
Spring game: April 12
Spring practice begins: March 4
Spring game: April 12
Spring practice begins: April 2
Spring game: April 26
Spring practice begins: March 8
Spring game: April 12
Spring practice begins: March 10
Spring game: April 12
Spring practice begins: March 18
Spring game: April 19
Spring practice begins: March 1
Spring game: TBA
Spring practice begins: March 5
Spring game: April 12
Spring practice begins: March 2
Spring game: April 12
Of the five major conferences, the Big 12 had the fewest players leave early for the NFL draft with only three. The departures of those three players, however, leave massive holes in their former offenses.
Below is a breakdown of those three players and who will be counted on to fill their shoes:
The replacement: Tyreek Hill
In a mild surprise, Stewart elected to go pro, even though he was given a Day 3 (fourth through seventh rounds) draft grade. Stewart might not get drafted high, but he has been a critical piece on the Oklahoma State offense as a dynamic slot receiver the past three years.
Due to inconsistent quarterbacking early in the season and a foot injury late, Stewart finished with only 60 receptions for 707 and three touchdowns. Stewart still ranked eighth in the Big 12 in receiving. But the season before, he had 101 receptions for 1,287 yards and seven touchdowns. Stewart’s numbers were down, but he was still Oklahoma State’s top playmaker, both as a receiver and a returner (Stewart was fourth nationally in punt returns).
The good news is the Cowboys might have just the player to replace him. Hill is the No. 4-rated junior college player in the country out of Garden City (Kan.) Community College. Hill had offers from Alabama, Florida State and USC, and Texas made an especially strong push to land him late, but Hill ultimately stuck with his commitment to Oklahoma State and signed with the Cowboys.
The 5-foot-8, 190-pound Hill was a running back in junior college, but the Cowboys plan to use him as a slot receiver. Hill has run the 100 meters in 10.19 seconds, which would make him one of the fastest players in college football.
Hill has the speed and the moves. If he can consistently catch the ball, the Cowboys could have yet another dangerous playmaker operating out of the slot -- and as a punt returner -- next season.
The replacement: Shock Linwood
Seastrunk went into this season on the short list of Heisman contenders. While he was never a threat to win the Heisman, Seastrunk still led the Big 12 with 1,117 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns and an average of 7.45 yards per carry as Baylor led the nation in scoring and captured the school’s first Big 12 title.
Even with Seastrunk bolting early for the draft, the Bears figure to feature another prolific offense next season, thanks to the return of quarterback Bryce Petty and wideout Antwan Goodley. If Linwood performs the way he did as Seastrunk’s replacement last season, then the Bears' offense might not miss a beat.
After gashing defenses in mop-up time, Linwood finally got meaningful snaps in a prime-time Thursday matchup with Oklahoma in early November. When Seastrunk strained his groin and Glasco Martin suffered a knee injury, Linwood took over in the Baylor backfield and the Sooners had no answer for him. Linwood cut his way to 182 rushing yards on 23 carries, with most of his damage coming in the second half as the Bears coasted to a 41-12 win.
Linwood followed that up with 187 yards in Baylor’s 63-34 victory over Texas Tech the next week. As a result, despite being Baylor’s third-team tailback, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and averaged 6.88 yards per carry, second in the league only to Seastrunk.
With Seastrunk and Martin gone for good, Linwood will be the featured back, and he has the talent and skill to put up huge numbers over an entire season.
Leaving: Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro
The replacement: Jakeem Grant
There was no player like Amaro in college football this season. The unanimous All-American had 106 catches for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns. He was too fast for linebackers; too strong for defensive backs.
The Red Raiders obviously don’t have anyone resembling Amaro’s skill set on their roster. But they do have an inside receiver in Grant who has the talent to replace some of that production.
As a sophomore this season, Grant hauled in 65 passes for 796 yards and seven touchdowns. The 5-foot-6, 160-pound dynamo was also fifth in the Big 12 in plays of 20 yards or more.
Due to some immaturity, Grant was benched for Texas Tech’s regular-season finale against Texas. But he got coach Kliff Kingsbury’s message and responded with 125 all-purpose yards, including six receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns, in the Red Raiders’ 37-23 upset of Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl.
Grant probably won’t be able to replicate what Amaro accomplished this season. But his unique quickness and speed could make Grant one of the best playmakers in the Big 12 in 2014.
Here’s a look back at the 2013 season with our Best of the Big 12:
Best player, offense: Even though he cooled off later in the year, Baylor’s Bryce Petty still finished fifth nationally in QBR in his first season as a starting quarterback. He threw 32 touchdown passes and did a masterful job taking care of the ball, tossing only three interceptions.
Best player, defense: There wasn’t really anyone who clearly stood out here. TCU cornerback Jason Verrett, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State linebacker Caleb Lavey, Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller and Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey all had their moments. Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, however, was the only defensive player from the league to win a national award. He was given the Ted Hendricks Award, which goes to the defensive end of the year in college football. Jeffcoat tied for third nationally with 13 sacks.
Best moment: The league has been waiting for a signature victory to hang its hat on. Oklahoma finally gave the Big 12 that victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl with a stunning 45-31 win over Alabama. Behind freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, the Sooners controlled the game from the second quarter on. Defensively, linebacker Eric Striker and end Geneo Grissom were unblockable, combining for five sacks of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. Offensively, Knight carved up the Crimson Tide for 348 passing yards and four touchdowns. It wasn’t even that Alabama played poorly. It was that Oklahoma played terrifically.
Best rivalry game: Maybe new Texas coach Charlie Strong will bring some more juice to the Red River Rivalry. Lately, it’s been second fiddle to Bedlam. In quality. In drama. In impact. Once again, Bedlam carried major Big 12 title implications, and once again, the game delivered a thrilling ending. Backup quarterback Blake Bell found Jalen Saunders in the corner of the end zone with 19 seconds remaining for the Sooners’ first offensive touchdown of the game, lifting Oklahoma to a win and spoiling Oklahoma State’s shot at a Big 12 title.
Best play: Late in the third quarter of Kansas State’s game against Baylor, Mueller stripped Petty while simultaneously recovering the fumble near the sideline. The acrobatic play gave K-State good field position in Baylor territory, and the Wildcats would go on to take a 25-21 lead. Baylor ultimately outlasted the Wildcats, but Mueller, who also had two sacks in the game, was a big reason why the Bears' high-powered offense was held in check most of the afternoon.
Best individual defensive performance: Mueller against Baylor, Verrett shutting down Baylor wideout Antwan Goodley, and Gilbert picking off Texas twice all deserve honorable mention. But Striker gets the nod for wreaking havoc on the two-time defending national champ in New Orleans. Striker had three sacks and forced a fumble after barreling around the edge to slam into McCarron’s blind side. The ball popped loose and Grissom returned the fumble for the game-winning touchdown.
Best true freshman: Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb had to split time with fellow true freshman Baker Mayfield for most of the season. When Mayfield left unexpectedly in December, the job was finally Webb’s to run with. And run he did. Actually, he threw. Against No. 14 Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl, Webb completed 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in one of this year’s best bowl performances from a quarterback. Webb had a solid freshman season, leading the Red Raiders to fourth-quarter wins over TCU and West Virginia. But if the bowl was any indication, the best is yet to come.
Best quote: “So much for the big bad wolf, huh?” -- Bob Stoops, after the Sooners defeated Alabama.
With the BCS done, we've come up with our Big 12 all-BCS era team (1998-2013) below:
RB: Ricky Williams, Texas (1998) -- Williams was part of the BCS era for only one season, but what a season it was. He rushed for 2,327 yards and won the Heisman Trophy going away. Only Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne has more career rushing yards than Williams (6,279).
RB: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06) -- Despite battling injuries throughout his career, Peterson still was a beast in college. After rushing for 1,925 yards while leading the Sooners to the national title game, he finished second in the ’04 Heisman voting, even though there was still a stigma then in voting for a freshman.
WR: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (2007-08) -- Crabtree became the first two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver. In '08, he and QB Graham Harrell led the Red Raiders to an upset of Texas and a No. 2 ranking in the polls.
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2009-11) -- Blackmon became the second and only other two-time winner of the Biletnikoff. In his final two seasons, he finished with 233 receptions, 3,304 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns, and he helped propel the Cowboys to their first Big 12 title in '11.
TE: Chase Coffman, Missouri (2005-08) -- Coffman had a monster statistical college career for a tight end with 247 catches for 2,659 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns. He won the ’08 Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end. Missouri won 37 games during the four years Coffman was in the lineup.
OT: Jammal Brown, Oklahoma (2001-04) -- Brown was a unanimous All-American and a three-time All-Big 12 selection. He became the fifth Sooner to win the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top interior lineman.
OT: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State (2007-09) -- In Okung’s final two seasons, Oklahoma State led the Big 12 in rushing yards. The Cowboys were also third in the country in ’07 in fewest sacks allowed with Okung at left tackle. He was a unanimous All-American and Outland finalist in ’09 and became the sixth overall pick in the ’10 NFL draft.
OG: Cyril Richardson, Baylor (2010-13) -- Richardson became Baylor’s seventh all-time unanimous All-American. The Outland finalist was also a key piece on the nation’s highest-scoring offense this season.
OG: Justin Blalock, Texas (2003-06) -- Though a guard in the NFL, Blalock actually started 50 games for Texas, most coming at right tackle. He was a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and a consensus All-American in 2006.
C: Dominic Raiola, Nebraska (1998-2000) -- Raiola was the inaugural winner of the Rimington Award, named after former Nebraska center Dave Rimington, which recognizes the best center in college football. He was an Outland finalist and a consensus All-American.
APB: Darren Sproles, Kansas State (2001-04) -- One of the most prolific all-purpose performers in college football history, Sproles finished his career with 6,812 all-purpose yards. Among his 39 consecutive starts, his most memorable performance came in the ’03 Big 12 championship, when he had 235 yards rushing and 88 receiving, as K-State upset top-ranked Oklahoma 35-7.
DE: Brian Orakpo, Texas (2005-08) -- Orakpo captured the ’08 Nagurski Award as the most outstanding defensive player in the country, and the Lombardi Award, given to the best college lineman or linebacker. He also was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American while piling up 11 sacks his senior year.
DE: Von Miller, Texas A&M (2007-10) -- Out of a hybrid defensive end/linebacker role, Miller led the nation with 17 sacks in ’09. He was a two-time All-American and won the Butkus Award in ’10 as the nation’s top linebacker.
DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- There was no more dominant defensive player in college football during the BCS era. Suh finished fourth in the Heisman voting in ’09 and won several national awards, including the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski (most outstanding defensive player)and Bednarik (defensive player of the year). He was also a unanimous All-American and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
DT: Tommie Harris, Oklahoma (2001-03) -- Harris was a force from the beginning as a freshman on the OU defensive line. He won the Lombardi his junior year, and he was a two-time consensus All-American, garnering unanimous honors in ’03.
LB: Derrick Johnson, Texas (2001-04) -- Johnson was a menacing linebacker for the Longhorns, earning consensus All-American honors in ’03 and unanimous honors in ’04. He was also a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and won the Butkus (best linebacker) and Nagurski awards as a senior. Johnson finished his career with 458 tackles.
LB: Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma (1998-2001) -- Calmus played a major role in OU’s resurgence under Bob Stoops. He won the Butkus in ’01 and was a finalist for the Nagurski and Bednarik. A three-time All-Big 12 pick, Calmus led the Sooners in tackles in all three of those seasons.
LB: Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- Lehman too won the Butkus, beating out Johnson for the award in ’03. He also was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, captured the Bednarik, was a unanimous All-American and played in two national championship games.
CB: Derrick Strait, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- A four-year starter, Strait finished with a school-record 52 career pass breakups. He also won the Thorpe, and was a unanimous All-American.
S: Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-2001) -- Nicknamed “Superman,” Williams was the Big 12’s most dominating defensive player until Suh came along. He won the Thorpe and Nagurski in ’01, and was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American the same season. He also famously skied over the Texas offensive line to force the game-clinching interception to earn his moniker.
S: Michael Huff, Texas (2002-05) -- Huff became the first Longhorn to win the Thorpe, and was the leader of the ’05 national championship defense. He was also a unanimous All-American that season.
K: Mason Crosby, Colorado (2003-06) -- Crosby was three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and twice was a consensus All-American even though he never won the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's top kicker. He was also the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year as a junior, and converted 66 field goals in his career.
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State (2009-12) -- Sharp became the first three-time All-American in Oklahoma State history, and he earned All-American honors both as a punter and a kicker. He was twice named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year. In his career, he made 50 of 59 field goals, averaged 45.9 yards per punt and missed only one extra point.
KR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2012) -- Austin was in the Big 12 only one season, but he was unstoppable that one season. On top of being one of the most dangerous kick returners in the country, Austin had 1,289 yards receiving and 643 rushing, and finished second in the country in all-purpose yards.
PR: Ryan Broyles Oklahoma (2008-11) -- On top of being a prolific punt returner, Broyles was one of the most efficient receivers in college football history. He finished his career with an FBS-record 349 receptions, and was a two-time consensus All-American before a knee injury cut his senior season short.
Instead, the conference held its own during the season finale, finishing 3-3 in six bowl games, including 1-1 in BCS contests. The SEC led the way among automatic-qualifying conferences with a 7-3 record, followed by a 6-3 mark from the Pac-12, with the Big 12 third, then the ACC (5-6) and Big Ten (2-5).
The eerie silence around Norman, Okla., is Bob Stoops still awaiting the “S-E-C, S-E-C” chant that many expected to rain down upon his Sooners when OU was matched with the Crimson Tide. Outside of BCS champion Florida State, OU was the story of the bowl season thanks to its 45-31 upending of Alabama. And somewhere Stoops is still smiling. His team validated his words about quality quarterback play against SEC defenses; redshirt freshman Trevor Knight validated Stoops' confidence in naming him the starter before the season; and his defense validated the decision to move from a 4-3 to 3-4 with strong performances throughout the year. Nobody had a better bowl experience than Stoops and Co.
Baylor entered the bowl season as the conference's lone clear favorite, with the Big 12 champions expected to take care of business against UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. But Blake Bortles and the Knights had other ideas, upsetting the Bears 52-42 and knocking the Big 12’s reputation back a step in the process. To see the Big 12 champions fall, and look defenseless doing so, kept the bowl season from being an exceptional few weeks for the conference.
Texas Tech could be the overlooked surprise of the conference with its 37-23 win over Arizona State, which finished the season with a loss in the Pac-12 title game. The Red Raiders entered the contest with shaken confidence, having lost five straight games to close out the regular season, yet were undeterred, jumping on the Sun Devils from the outset and dominating the game with a stellar quarterback performance from freshman Davis Webb.
Kansas State took care of business against Michigan and its true freshman quarterback, Shane Morris, cruising to a 31-14 win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and snapping its five-game bowl losing streak to join the Sooners and Red Raiders in the win column. And Big 12 secondaries can feel better about themselves, because a Big Ten foe couldn’t seem to stop Tyler Lockett, either.
Oklahoma State’s AT&T Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri wasn’t a surprise in a game that was tough to pick as soon as it was announced. The Cowboys had opportunities to win, but ultimately came up short thanks to Missouri’s ability to consistently force OSU’s offense into game-changing mistakes.
And Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl ... um, well, it was good to see Mack Brown walk off the field to cheers after his final game in burnt orange despite a 30-7 thrashing at the hands of Oregon.
Ultimately it was a terrific bowl season for a conference that needed it. OU reminded the nation it can play with anyone, an upstart Tech knocked off a 10-win team, Bill Snyder finally got to end his season with a bowl victory, and future Big 12 stars may have emerged at the quarterback position in Knight and Webb.
Did the Big 12 prove to be the best conference in the nation? No. But it proved to be better than many people thought it was when the season kicked off in August.
QB: Trevor Knight, Oklahoma. Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Kansas State’s Jake Waters were marvelous, too, but Knight was simply incredible, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns against the two-time defending national champs.
RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas. Brown did everything he could to keep the Longhorns in the Valero Alamo Bowl, rushing for 130 yards on 26 carries. Unfortunately, he had little help from the rest of the offense.
WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State. The Wolverines became the next team unable to guard Lockett, who had another stellar outing with 10 catches, 116 yards and three touchdowns. Big 12 defensive backs cannot be looking forward to this guy coming back next season.
WR: Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma. Saunders hauled in two of Knight’s touchdown passes, the second a 43-yarder coming off a gorgeous double move that gave OU the lead for good.
TE: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech. Amaro became the NCAA's all-time single season tight end record holder for receptions and receiving yards, reeling in eight catches for 112 yards against the Sun Devils before revealing he would be turning pro.
OT: Bronson Irwin, Oklahoma. Irwin held up remarkably well against Alabama’s mighty front in his first career start at right tackle, as Knight was sacked only once. Irwin, a guard his entire career, had to move outside because of an injury to Tyrus Thompson.
OT: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech. Webb attempted 41 passes and wasn’t sacked once. Clark was a big reason.
OG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State. The Wildcats moved the ball at will against Michigan. Along with Clark, Whitehair is one of the best young returning offensive linemen in the league.
OG: Beau Carpenter, Texas Tech. After missing three straight games with a concussion, Carpenter returned to help shut down Arizona State All-American DT Will Sutton, who basically was a non-factor.
C: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma. Even with a makeshift offensive line, OU somehow won the battle in the trenches against Alabama. Ikard, an All-American and quarterback of the line, deserves a ton of credit for keeping the line together.
DE: Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma. Grissom was a man possessed against the Crimson Tide. The former tight end had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, the latter of which he returned for a touchdown to clinch the Sooners’ victory.
DT: Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State. Despite the loss, Barnett tied a career high with five tackles and one sack and repeatedly found his way into the Missouri backfield.
DT: Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech. The Red Raiders desperately missed Bush late in the regular season. His performance against Arizona State underscored why, as Bush delivered three tackles and a sack and freed up Kerry Hyder to make plays, too.
LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma. Not even Alabama could block Striker off the edge. Striker had a monster performance against the Tide with seven tackles and three sacks, with his final sack forcing the game-clinching fumble in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
LB: Will Smith, Texas Tech. The senior had a National University Holiday Bowl-high 14 tackles, as the Red Raiders held Arizona State 17 points below its season average.
LB: Blake Slaughter, Kansas State. One of the better linebackers in the Big 12 all year, Slaughter had another fine game in the desert with seven tackles, including one for loss, as Michigan’s offense was held in check all night.
CB: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma. The Sooners gave up some big plays in the passing game, but Colvin was the exception. He also had a critical, touchdown-saving tackle in the first quarter that resulted in Alabama having to settle for a field goal.
CB: Demetri Goodson, Baylor. The Bears gave up 52 points, but they might have given up more had Goodson not collected an acrobatic interception inside the Baylor 5-yard line.
S: Dante Barnett, Kansas State. Barnett led the Wildcats with eight tackles, and he delivered the exclamation point against Michigan with a 51-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.
S: Tanner Jacobson, Texas Tech. In his last college game for a while, the walk-on freshman had a very solid performance with seven tackles. Jacobson is leaving the program for a two-year Mormon mission to Bolivia.
K: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma. “Moneycutt” nailed a season-long 47-yard field goal in the second quarter that allowed OU to keep momentum. It was the third-longest field goal of his career.
P: Spencer Roth, Baylor. One of the few bright spots for Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was its punter, who was busier than he had been all season. Roth averaged almost 44 yards on seven punts, and pinned UCF inside the 20-yard line three times.
Returner: Reginald Davis, Texas Tech. After Arizona State had trimmed Tech’s lead to 27-20 early in the third quarter, Davis answered on the ensuing kickoff with a 90-yard touchdown return down the sideline. The Sun Devils failed to retake the momentum again the rest of the game.
1. Oklahoma Sooners
In the Allstate Sugar Bowl, freshman Trevor Knight finally played like the quarterback that had been drawing comparisons to Johnny Manziel behind Oklahoma’s closed practices. The Sooners lose some cornerstone players to graduation, notably running back Brennan Clay, center Gabe Ikard, receiver Jalen Saunders and cornerback Aaron Colvin. But with Knight and budding running back Keith Ford returning to man the backfield, and nine starters coming back defensively, including menacing outside linebacker Eric Striker, Oklahoma could be a favorite in every game next season -- and a force once again on the national stage.
2. Baylor Bears
Even with running back Lache Seastrunk going pro, the Bears return plenty of firepower offensively. Bryce Petty will be the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback, and Antwan Goodley will be coming off a monster junior season. Rising sophomore Shock Linwood showed he could shoulder the rushing load, too, when Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were banged up late in the season. The Bears, however, could take a step back defensively. Baylor, which got torched for 52 points in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, loses six starters there, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon and All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Former blue-chip defensive tackle recruit Andrew Billings will need to step up and become more of a force. Even if the defense stumbles, Baylor should be capable of scoring enough points to win every game on its schedule, thanks to coach Art Briles being back on its sidelines.
3. Kansas State Wildcats
Along with Missouri, the Wildcats were the first two teams left out of Schlabach’s Top 25. But they make a compelling case for inclusion. Quarterback Jake Waters improved dramatically during the second half of the season, eventually squeezing Daniel Sams out of the QB rotation. Wideout Tyler Lockett could be a preseason All-American, after torching Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan for a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The defense should be better, too, with sack artist Ryan Mueller back at end, and rising junior safety Dante Barnett set to take over for the outgoing Ty Zimmerman as leader of the secondary. The Wildcats will be tested early with national runner-up Auburn visiting Manhattan on Sept. 20. If K-State can win that game, the rest of the Big 12 will be on notice.
4. Texas Longhorns
During his introductory news conference on Monday, new Texas coach Charlie Strong said Mack Brown left him with a team that could win right away. Strong might be right. The Longhorns return eight starters off a defense that found its stride under interim coordinator Greg Robinson. Texas also brings back six starters offensively and its entire running back corps, including Malcolm Brown, who rushed for more than 100 yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A big part of Mack Brown’s downfall, however, was quarterback play, and that once again will be a huge question mark in Strong’s first season. David Ash sat out most of this season with concussion issues, making his football future tenuous. Tyrone Swoopes is athletic with a big arm but needs polish. The other option will be incoming freshman Jerrod Heard, who just led his high school team to a Texas state championship. If one of those three emerges, Strong could have Texas on the way back ahead of schedule.
5. Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Cowboys were 19 seconds away from playing in a BCS bowl game. But two losses to end the year soured what could have been a stellar season. Now, Oklahoma State must replace the bulk of its team, including quarterback Clint Chelf and seven starters defensively. Star slot receiver Josh Stewart is also reportedly mulling over leaving early, too. Either way, 2014 will be a retooling season for coach Mike Gundy, whose first order of business will be settling on a quarterback. J.W. Walsh, who started the first half of the season before losing the job back to Chelf, would have to be considered the favorite. But Gundy has shown before he’s not afraid of turning the keys of the offense to a true freshman, and the Cowboys have an intriguing freshman QB enrolling for the spring in Mason Rudolph, who threw 64 touchdown passes this fall as a high school senior in South Carolina. That could result in some growing pains for Oklahoma State, which opens the season against defending national champion Florida State. But if Rudolph proves to be the long-term answer at QB, it shouldn’t be more than a year before the Cowboys are contending in the Big 12 again.
6. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech completely changed the tenor of its offseason with a dominating 37-23 win over Pac-12 South Division champ Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Finally healthy again, the Red Raiders showed they were better than a five-game losing streak to end the regular season indicated. Now, Tech returns eight starters offensively, including quarterback Davis Webb, who torched the Sun Devils and had several other encouraging moments as a true freshman. Tech has to replace most of its defense. But if Webb settles in at quarterback, the Red Raiders should be improved in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s second season in Lubbock.
7. TCU Horned Frogs
TCU was the 2013 preseason pick of many people to win the Big 12. Instead, injuries ravaged the roster, and the Horned Frogs failed to go to a bowl game for just second time with Gary Patterson as coach. Patterson shook up his offensive staff after the season, bringing in Houston’s Doug Meacham and Texas Tech’s Sonny Cumbie as co-coordinators to revamp TCU’s offensive attack. TCU should be stout again defensively, especially if 2012 Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Devonte Fields returns to form from a broken foot. But the key to a better season will be whether Meacham and Cumbie can squeeze more offense out of the Horned Frogs and find the answer at quarterback. The answer, however, might not be on campus yet. Trevone Boykin has 15 career QB starts, but is probably a better fit as a receiver. Meanwhile, TCU’s top incoming recruits, Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, are both quarterbacks, and could factor into the wide-open competition.
8. Iowa State Cyclones
Even though Iowa State just finished in the bottom three of the Big 12 in points per game (24.8), yards per game (363), yards per play (4.82), rushing yards (143.8) and passing yards (219.2), the Cyclones return some offensive firepower. Tailback Aaron Wimberly was effective when healthy, and Quenton Bundrage flashed signs of a legit No. 1 receiver. The key will be QB, and whether Grant Rohach builds on his late-season surge. But with a proven offensive coordinator in Mark Mangino now on board, the Cyclones have the pieces to form one of the better offenses in the league next season.
9. West Virginia Mountaineers
The Mountaineers careened off the road late this season with back-to-back losses to Kansas and Iowa State. Now, the pressure is on coach Dana Holgorsen, who will have to win games to keep his job even though the 2014 schedule is brutal. Like so many other teams in the Big 12, West Virginia must find a solution at quarterback. Holgorsen has options. Clint Trickett, Paul Millard and Ford Childress are all back after getting at least two starts apiece last year. Junior-college transfer Skyler Howard will be enrolling early and joining the fray. Four-star recruit William Crest will be in the mix, too. Even if Holgorsen finds his answer at quarterback, a winning season won’t come easy. The Mountaineers have one of the toughest schedules in the country, beginning with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Alabama in Atlanta.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas showed only modest improvement in Charlie Weis’ second season as head coach. This will be a key season for Weis as he attempts to rebuild the program. He desperately needs Montell Cozart to develop into the answer at quarterback. Cozart still has a ways to go with his passing, but he showed he could hurt defenses with his legs. Defensively, the Jayhawks bring back some solid players, notably linebackers Ben Goodman and Ben Heeney and safety Isaiah Johnson. But Kansas will take the next step only if Cozart -- or somebody else -- emerges at quarterback.