NCF Nation: TCU Horned Frogs

NEW ORLEANS -- At 6-foot-7 and 314 pounds, Alabama defensive tackle commitment Raekwon Davis towered over the competition at Saturday's Opening Regional at Joe Brown Park in New Orleans. He also loomed large over his peers with his play. Davis, who is from Meridian (Mississippi) High School and ranks as the nation's No. 243 player, earned an invitation to The Opening finals, which will be held from July 5-10 at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Davis took a little while to get going during drills, but by the time the one-on-ones arrived, he performed admirably, winning repetitions at defensive tackle, defensive end and even offensive tackle.
Two things have become clear in recruiting: If you want a top quarterback you had better move quickly; each prospect’s decision affects others. That’s why the upcoming decision of Jarrett Guarantano looms large over the 2016 class.

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Samaje Perine runs over defenders, Aaron Green shakes them out of their cleats, and Shock Linwood slithers through defenses like a snake.

It’s not a good time to be a linebacker in the Big 12.

The conference that was once known for producing NFL first-round draft picks at quarterback could be known for the guys who carry the rock in 2015. Only Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Iowa State enter the spring with real questions at the running back spot, while the rest of the conference has proven playmakers.

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiAfter rushing for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2014, Oklahoma's Samaje Perine could be even better in 2015.
 Oklahoma’s Perine could fight for All-American honors after a true freshman season that featured 1,713 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns along with first-team All-Big 12 honors. He was a handful for defenders with 636 of his rushing yards coming after contact.

Perine could be even better as a sophomore. It’s easy to overlook his journey to those incredible freshman numbers. The Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year was the foundation of the OU offense with minimal help in 2014, particularly after receiver Sterling Shepard was injured midway through conference play. Opponents knew he was the lone legit threat in the offense, yet he still rushed for 1,056 yards in the Sooners' final six games, including a single-game FBS-record 427 rushing yards against Kansas.

This season, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will bring his version of the Air Raid to Norman, Oklahoma, with the potential to create additional rushing lanes for Perine while also creating additional playmaking threats that defenses could be forced to account for. Even though Perine will be running behind a revamped offensive line, his open field and one-on-one opportunities could skyrocket in Riley’s system.

Baylor’s Linwood could be the most overlooked 1,200-yard rusher in Big 12 history. While Bryce Petty and the Bears’ high-powered passing game was showered with praise, Linwood was the platform that allowed the passing game to soar. Only Perine rushed for more yards after contact than Linwood’s 446. He finished with 1,252 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.

There’s no reason to think he will take a step back in 2015, particularly with Petty no longer with him in the BU backfield. As the Bears' new starter at quarterback gains experience, Art Briles' team could turn to Linwood to shoulder the burden as one of the Big 12’s top playmakers.

Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington was the only other Big 12 running back to surpass 1,000 yards in 2015, even though the Red Raiders' 4-8 record cast an impenetrable cloud over his individual brilliance. Washington contributed as a rusher (1,103 rushing yards, 2 TDs) and receiver (30 receptions, 328 yards) and was Tech’s most consistent offensive threat. He could be the most versatile running back in the entire conference while combining cat-like quickness with a willingness to run between the tackles.

TCU’s Green could be the biggest nightmare for Big 12 defenders this fall. The senior will line up alongside Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Trevone Boykin and has the ability to leave any defender grasping for air when they meet in the open field. His 7.1 yards-per-carry was the Big 12’s best, and he should enter the season atop the Horned Frogs' depth chart after starting 2014 as B.J. Catalon’s backup. A 1,200-yard season is well within his sights.

Perine, Linwood, Washington and Green finished 1-2-3-4 in the Big 12 rushing standings a year ago and could be even better in 2015. Add West Virginia’s duo of Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood along with Texas’ Johnathan Gray and Kansas’ Corey Avery and the conference has plenty of proven runners who could take it to another level this fall. And several newcomers, including OU’s Joe Mixon and Kansas State's Dalvin Warmack, could make an immediate impact during their first seasons on the field.

The Big 12 has earned a reputation as a quarterback league during the past decade, but a bevy of talented running backs appear poised to steal the spotlight in 2015.
Art Briles, Gary PattersonUSA TODAY SportsWith the matchup between Art Briles' Baylor Bears and Gary Patterson's TCU Horned Frogs at peak intensity, the Big 12 has scheduled the game for the day after Thanksgiving.
Last week, after Texas-Baylor basketball sparked mass ejections, Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls wondered whether the Longhorns and Bears could supplant Texas-Texas A&M’s as one of the Big 12’s primary rivalries.

With apologies to Bohls (one of America’s best sports columnists, by the way) and to the Longhorns, the Bears already have their primary rival.

It’s up the way on Interstate 35, not down it. And well on its way to taking the place of Texas-Texas A&M in the Big 12's pantheon of rivalry games.

Two rounds of conference realignment not only damaged the Big 12’s national reputation, it gutted some of the league’s most storied and intense rivalries.



And Texas-Texas A&M.

But among its few silver linings, realignment blessed us with the "Revivalry."

Since reconnecting as conference foes two seasons ago, the reincarnation of the Baylor-TCU game has unleashed a combination of high stakes, high drama, and high acrimony on both sides that has rapidly elevated it to the forefront of the Big 12’s most anticipated annual showdowns, along with the Red River and Bedlam clashes.

The acrimony itself between the old Southwest Conference adversaries has generated plenty of headlines.

Two years ago, Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon was ejected for targeting TCU’s Trevone Boykin with a hit to the head. Dixon didn’t immediately leave the field, then laughed while doing so, prompting an icy midfield handshake between TCU coach Gary Patterson and Baylor coach Art Briles. After the game, Patterson called out Briles and Dixon in his postgame news conference. This past season's meeting led to yet another dustup, as Patterson accused Baylor safety Orion Stewart of threatening him on the field, which Baylor defensive coordinator later Phil Bennett denied.

Acrimony can be fun. But acrimony alone does not a big-time rivalry make.

Yet unlike Baylor-Texas, resulting in easy Baylor wins in recent seasons, the Revivalry has produced a pair of dramatic finishes, notably Baylor’s thrilling 61-58 comeback victory this past season, which might have been the game of the year in college football.

Unlike Bedlam, one of the most historically lopsided instate rivalries despite Oklahoma State’s win in Norman last season, the Revivalry is among the most hotly contested, with Baylor owning a single game advantage in 110 all-time meetings.

And unlike the Red River Showdown, which hasn’t carried major Big 12 title implications in years, the Revivalry pitted the league’s two-best teams against one another last season.

Next season, with TCU and Baylor set to open in the top 10 of the preseason polls, the stakes could be even higher, with a possible playoff appearance at stake.

Bohls suggested that Texas, which used to face the Aggies every Thanksgiving night, should replace the TCU-Texas Tech alternating combo with Baylor as its annual Thanksgiving game.

That’s a nice suggestion.

Except Baylor has a bigger contest against a bigger rival slated for the following day next season.

Capitalizing on the heat the Revivalry has generated, the Big 12 has pulled out the Baylor-TCU game and scheduled it for Black Friday in a game that figures to put the conference on the national stage again.

Baylor and TCU fans can’t agree on anything, especially on who was more deserving of advancing to the playoff last season.

But if Twitter is any indication, they agree on this: The Bears' biggest rival has become TCU. And the Horned Frogs' most hated opponent has become Baylor.

Texas might still be searching to fill the rivalry void that Texas A&M left. But the Big 12 has found its replacement.

The Revivalry.
Below are 10 bold predictions for the Big 12 this spring:

1. QB battles linger into the fall: Tight quarterback competitions in Austin, Manhattan, Morgantown, Norman, Waco and even Lubbock and Lawrence emerge as dominant storylines. Baylor's Seth Russell, Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes and Kansas State's Joe Hubener eventually are named starters before the summer. But the spring fails to bring resolution to the other battles, which all carry over into the fall.

[+] EnlargePatrick Mahomes
John Weast/Getty ImagesPatrick Mahomes will most likely have to compete for his role as the Red Raiders' starting quarterback.
2. TCU's defense struggles for a change: Coach Gary Patterson's defenses perennially have been stout dating to his days as a coordinator in Fort Worth. But this spring, with several new starters in the secondary and at linebacker, a pair of new coordinators and facing off against one of the nation's most explosive passing offenses, the TCU defense takes its lumps. Ultimately, this makes the unit better prepared for the fall. But at times this spring, it's not pretty.

3. Joe Mixon steals the show in Norman: Coach Bob Stoops has already said Mixon won't play in the Sooners' spring game -- the final punishment in his season-long suspension for punching a female student last year. But behind the scenes leading up to the open scrimmage, Mixon flashes the game-breaking ability that made him one of the top running back recruits in the country in 2014. After rushing for more than 1,700 yards as a true freshman last season, Samaje Perine remains the featured running back. But Mixon's talent prompts new coordinator Lincoln Riley to get creative about how to get Mixon on the field, including using him extensively in the slot.

4. Texas seeks grad transfer QB: The spring delivers no great revelation to the quarterback position in Austin, prompting the Longhorns to heavily pursue a graduate transfer quarterback, la Everett Golson or Braxton Miller. Tyrone Swoopes had his moments last season and redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard was highly recruited. But the Texas brass exits spring wondering if the long-term answer at quarterback has yet to step on campus. In the meantime, landing a difference-maker there in the short term becomes priority No. 1.

5. Baylor's LaQuan McGowan keeps scoring TDs: In light of his nifty touchdown grab against Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Baylor is experimenting with using the 6-foot-7, 410-pound McGowan at tight end and H-back this spring. The experiment turns into a permanent position for McGowan, who caps the spring with another head-turning touchdown reception in Baylor's Friday Night Lights scrimmage.

6. Oklahoma State newcomer Todd Mays steps into the Tyreek Hill role: Mays doesn't possess Hill's world-class speed. But having excelled playing running back, receiver and even quarterback last year for East Mississippi Community College, Mays' versatility proves to be a natural fit in the role Hill manned for the Cowboys in 2014 as a change-of-pace back, dangerous slot receiver and big-play returner.

7. Texas Tech's QB race is tighter than predicted: Mahomes was spectacular for the Red Raiders down the stretch last season, intimating a two-man QB derby with Davis Webb would be a mere formality before Mahomes would be named the starter by spring's end. It's easy to forget, though, that Webb was terrific himself in Tech's 2013 bowl game before a turnover- and injury-plagued season sullied a potential encore campaign. Still, the Red Raiders were pumped about Webb this time last spring for a reason. And with Mahomes splitting time playing baseball -- he's missing Saturday's football workout to travel with the baseball team for a series at Cal State Fullerton -- Webb makes coach Kliff Kingsbury's decision much tougher than anyone anticipated.

8. Iowa State finds its featured back in Mike Warren: Rising senior DeVondrick Nealy was set to become the Cyclones' starting running back in 2015, until he and coach Paul Rhoads stunningly parted ways in early February. After the spring, no one will be left lamenting Nealy's departure. Warren, who redshirted last season in Ames after rushing for more than 2,500 yards and averaging better than 9 yards per carry during his senior season at Lawton (Oklahoma) High School, emerges as the Cyclones' every-down back by the end of the spring, answering the biggest question for an offense that quietly has a chance to be very dangerous this season.

9. Kansas State, West Virginia exit spring with WR concerns: No teams in college football were more decimated by graduation at receiver than K-State and West Virginia. The Wildcats and the Mountaineers between them graduated 359 receptions and 4,966 receiving yards in the forms of Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton, Kevin White and Mario Alford. With quarterbacks Jake Waters and Clint Trickett gone, too, and without established go-to receivers, the passing games at both schools suffer this spring, leaving the receiver spot a huge question mark.

10. Baylor, TCU come out still on top: Going into the offseason, TCU and Baylor looked like the clear-cut, top-two teams in the Big 12. Even with both teams carrying uncertainties -- Baylor at quarterback, TCU on defense -- the defending conference co-champs exit spring looking like the class of the league and are voted overwhelmingly to finish first and second in the Big 12 preseason polls in the summer.
A closer look at a few important position battles in the Big 12 entering spring practice:

Baylor: Middle linebacker
Aiavion Edwards vs. Grant Campbell

Replacing Bryce Hager, one of the Big 12’s most underappreciated stars, won’t be easy. He was the quarterback of Baylor’s defense, and his successor inherits a lot of responsibility. Edwards started five games last season while Campbell, a junior college transfer, served as Hager’s top backup. They’ll be aided by the return of exciting sophomore Taylor Young, who took Edwards’ job at weakside linebacker last year. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is going to let Edwards and Campbell keep competing until the right fit is found, and it’s been a good battle so far.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight will need to find consistency this offseason to earn the nod as Oklahoma's starting QB.
Oklahoma: Quarterback
Trevor Knight vs. Baker Mayfield vs. Cody Thomas

The great variable here is new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and the Sooners’ transition to Air Raid-style football. All three of his QB candidates have starting experience in the Big 12. Knight needs to stay healthy and get much more consistent. Mayfield has experience in this scheme and needs to show the spark he provided Texas Tech as a freshman in 2012. And Thomas, who dropped baseball to focus on winning this job, just needs to keep pushing them. All three are in for a rigorous offseason of learning under Riley’s watch.

Oklahoma State: Running back
Rennie Childs vs. Sione Palelei

Chris Carson, the touted juco signee who flipped from Georgia, doesn’t arrive in Stillwater until the summer. Neither does freshman Jeff Carr. That means Childs, Palelei and the rest of the Cowboys' backs have the spring to prove they deserve carries this fall. Childs has rushed for 483 yards and five scores as a reserve over the past two years, while the speedy Palelei redshirted last year. Carson seems like the safe bet to be this group’s workhorse when he arrives, but somebody has to tote the rock this spring.

TCU: Cornerback
Corry O’Meally vs. DeShawn Raymond vs. Nick Orr vs. Cameron Echols-Luper

The Horned Frogs are expected to have a wide-open battle for the spot Kevin White held down for three years, and all four of these guys bring different traits to the table. O’Meally and Orr played as reserves in their first year as Frogs. Raymond, a four-star early enrollee, would be TCU’s biggest option here at 6-foot-1. And Echols-Luper, a prolific returner, just switched from receiver to corner this offseason. There’s not a lot of experience among this group, but there is a lot of potential.

Texas: Quarterback
Tyrone Swoopes vs. Jerrod Heard

Swoopes started 12 games last season and at times showed flashes of an exciting future. He also struggled mightily against TCU and Arkansas to end the year. How much better can he get as a junior? Heard, a redshirt freshman, was nowhere near ready to play last year in the eyes of co-offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. We’ll see how both respond to playing in a higher-tempo offense this spring, and whether ESPN 300 signee Kai Locksley tests them in the summer. Texas badly needs stability and leadership at this spot as well as a much-improved line.

Texas Tech: Defensive tackle
Rika Levi vs. Keland McElrath vs. Demetrius Alston vs. Breiden Fehoko

What’ll makes this group fun to watch is the influence of their new position coach, fiery co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith. He’ll push Tech’s big men like never before. Levi didn’t play up to the hype last year, but he’s looking much better this spring now that he’s dropped 20 pounds. Tech fans will be clamoring to see Fehoko, Tech’s top-rated signee, on the field as soon as possible. Anthony Smith, Marcus Smith and the injured Donte Phillips are also in the mix. Considering Tech’s inability to stop the run last year, finding the right combo here is important.

West Virginia: Quarterback
Skyler Howard vs. William Crest vs. Paul Millard

Howard showed dramatic improvement leading up to his three-game audition to end 2014. He lost two of those three, but threw eight TDs and played with confidence when he got his shot. West Virginia fans are rightfully excited about Crest, a dual-threat redshirt freshman whose first year was cut short by a shoulder issue. Millard and true freshmen Chris Chugunov and David Sills are also battling for this job, giving Dana Holgorsen better QB depth than he’s had in a while. If Crest proves he’s ready to lead now, he might run away with this race.
It's Take Two Tuesday, and today we’re watching the throne. Big 12 co-champions Baylor and TCU have both begun spring practice and are already hard at work toward proving they deserve playoff-contender hype in 2015. Both have flaws and holes to address over the next month.

Brandon Chatmon and Max Olson debate which defending Big 12 champ will have more questions answered by the end of spring ball.

Brandon Chatmon: Baylor Bears

Baylor doesn’t have many questions to answer after back-to-back titles and increasing depth as each season goes by.

Obviously replacing Bryce Petty will be the talk of Waco as the quarterback battle between Seth Russell, Chris Johnson and Jarrett Stidham garners plenty of headlines. Russell is the favorite to win the job thanks to his experience in the system and success behind Petty in 2014. Either Johnson or Stidham will have to take the job away from the junior quarterback, meaning it’s possible Russell cements the job this spring. Either way, BU’s track record of stellar quarterback play under Art Briles makes this a mini question mark as opposed to the elephant-sized question marks at some of the other quarterback positions around the conference.

Receiver, linebacker and defensive back are the other potential question marks at Baylor with the departures of Antwan Goodley and Bryce Hager, along with BU’s secondary struggles at various times in 2014.

Yet the receiver position looks like it could be even stronger with KD Cannon poised to make a jump in Year 2, Corey Coleman showing he can be one of the Big 12’s top targets, and a meeting room full of elite but inexperienced receiving talent.

At linebacker, Taylor Young will look to build on a productive redshirt freshman campaign and will have Aiavion Edwards and Grant Campbell battling to help fill Hager’s void.

The bulk of BU’s starting lineup returns from last season, and the small questions facing Briles' team could have answers who saw time on the field for the Bears in 2014.

Max Olson: TCU Horned Frogs

There’s no disputing TCU has more players to replace this spring, and that means more uncertainty. Gary Patterson knows replacing six veteran starters on defense is no small task, and starting defensive end Mike Tuaua is out for the spring as well.

So what are the Frogs going to do? Entering their fourth year in the Big 12, they have the quality depth needed to solve these issues. Patterson and his newly promoted co-defensive coordinators will foster a next-man-up mentality this spring and push for competition.

And there will be lots of competition. At strong safety, Sam Carter’s replacement could be Denzel Johnson, Travin Howard or George Baltimore. At weak safety, Kenny Iloka is probably the favorite but will be pushed by redshirt freshman Ridwan Issahaku.

Then you’ve got Kevin White’s starting corner job, a battle that could play out a lot of different ways. You’ve got a former juco transfer (Corry O’Meally) competing with a touted true freshman (DeShawn Raymond), a converted receiver (Cameron Echols-Luper), a senior track star (Kolby Griffin), and youngsters Nick Orr and Torrance Mosley. Of all of TCU’s question marks, this is the competition I think is most likely to carry over to fall camp, though a pecking order will surely develop in spring ball.

And then there’s linebacker. Two new starters are needed, but that situation could be mostly figured out by the end of the spring. Between Sammy Douglas, Paul Whitmill, Ty Summers and the Frogs’ freshmen, Patterson seems excited about his options.

That’s a lot of names to keep up with, isn’t it? Still, I trust that Patterson knows what he’s working with and that this group can, in time, come close to playing to their predecessors’ standards. And fortunately, this team lost practically nothing -- just one starting lineman -- on offense. Having so few concerns on that side of the ball makes me far less concerned about TCU’s situation.
It is an important spring for several players in the Big 12.

Some are fighting to keep their jobs, others are trying not to be forgotten and others have to fight off lauded Class of 2015 recruits. Here's a look at several Big 12 players who have plenty to gain during spring football.

Chris Johnson, QB, Baylor: With Seth Russell as the clear favorite to replace Bryce Petty as the starting quarterback, Johnson needs a strong spring to ensure the competition continues into the fall. He’ll also need to hold off highly regarded true freshman Jarrett Stidham.

Vernell Trent, DT, Iowa State: Trent had a decent redshirt freshman season, starting three games and finishing with 10 tackles in 2014. But ISU signed a pair of defensive tackles in the Class of 2015 with an eye on Demond Tucker and Bobby Leath becoming immediate impact performers. A good spring would help Trent secure a spot in the Cyclones’ defense.

[+] EnlargeMontell Cozart
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesMontell Cozart must impress the new Kansas coaching staff this spring.
Montell Cozart, QB, Kansas: The junior went from unquestioned starting quarterback to afterthought in a span of a few months. Former coach Charlie Weis anointed Cozart to be the Jayhawks' quarterback of the future, but he faltered and eventually was replaced by Michael Cummings in 2014. If Cozart has any hope making a major impact during his Jayhawks career, he needs to impress the new coaching staff this spring.

Judah Jones, WR, Kansas State: The Wildcats are hoping to replace the playmaking skills of Tyler Lockett. One player isn’t going to do it, but Jones has the upside to become a key player in KSU’s offense while also making an impact on special teams. KSU has several other options at receiver, so Jones needs to rise above the competition if he hopes to separate himself this spring.

Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma: The junior has started 15 games during the past two seasons but faces stern competition to keep his starting spot with Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield becoming eligible in the fall. As Lincoln Riley brings his version of the Air Raid to OU, many assume Mayfield is the best bet to trigger the attack. Knight can use the spring to remind everyone of his unique physical gifts.

Marcell Ateman, WR, Oklahoma State: It’s time for Ateman to step up and separate himself at the receiver spot. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, he brings size, speed and ball skills that are tough to duplicate, but he doesn’t dominate the way he should. With plenty of competition at the position, he needs to show he is ready to match his All-Big 12 talent with All-Big 12 production.

Daje Johnson, WR, Texas: When he touches the ball, Johnson looks like the dynamic playmaker the Longhorns have longed for during the past few seasons, but he constantly takes himself out of the equation by making bad decisions off the field. This spring is the opportunity for him to show he has the focus needed to make his final season on the 40 acres a breakout year.

Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, QBs, TCU: The battle to back up Trevone Boykin should be interesting, so the spring gives Sawyer and Muehlstein the chance to lay claim to the No. 2 spot. Both quarterbacks should get plenty of chances to impress and the winner of the backup quarterback derby could set himself up to take over in 2016.

Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech: A strong finish to the 2014 season by Patrick Mahomes has resulted in Webb being overlooked in many ways, but a healthy Webb was productive during his first two seasons in Kliff Kingsbury's program. The job is open heading into spring and Webb can make sure the quarterback battle in Lubbock is one of the most interesting aspects of Big 12 football in the spring.

Daikiel Shorts, WR, West Virginia: The Mountaineers need to fill the void left by Kevin White and Mario Alford. Shorts has been a contributor to the WVU offense since his true freshman season but hasn’t really developed into a game-changing target. This spring will give him the chance to show he can be a primary target for Dana Holgorsen's team.

Ranking the Big 12 coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
This week, ranked the best Power 5 coaching jobs in college football, No. 1 through 65. Below is how we rank the jobs in the Big 12:

1. Texas
The Longhorns have unlimited financial resources with a massive donor base. They are located in the middle of one of the country's pre-eminent recruiting hotbeds, too.

2. Oklahoma
The Sooners have one of the great traditions in college football, a recruiting pipeline into Texas and a supportive administration.

3. Oklahoma State
Thanks to Boone Pickens, Oklahoma State boasts facilities that take a backseat to no one. Over the past 10 years, few teams have won more than the Cowboys, either.

4. Baylor
This job would have ranked near the bottom not long ago. But Art Briles has whipped Baylor into a powerhouse. The Bears have a new stadium, a budding fan base and a brand that seems to be resonating with young recruits.

5. TCU
Facilities and conference used to be impediments for the Horned Frogs. Not anymore. TCU has a newly renovated stadium and state-of-the-art facilities, including an air-conditioned practice facility. TCU's proximity to the Metroplex makes it an attractive recruiting destination, too.

6. Texas Tech
Unlike West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas, the Red Raiders are located in the Lone Star State, which gives them a proximity advantage in recruiting. Texas Tech also has rabid fans and a strong donor base in the Midland/Odessa area, which is pumping money into the stadium renovation.

7. West Virginia
The Mountaineers have severe recruiting challenges, with the lack of in-state talent. Still, this is the equivalent of a pro team in the state, and it has the backing necessary to win.

8. Kansas State
Nobody does more with less than Bill Snyder. Manhattan has never been a recruiting destination. But the Wildcats have passionate fans (as the court rushing in basketball the other night demonstrated) who make Bill Snyder Family Stadium a tough place to play. The Wildcats also have been making impressive facility upgrades, most recently to the Vanier Football Complex.

9. Iowa State
The Cyclones have obstacles with a small in-state recruiting pool they also have to share with Iowa. The elimination of the Big 12 North hurt Iowa State as well. But the Cyclones have something Kansas does not -- and that's a fan base committed to football.

10. Kansas
Only eight years ago, Mark Mangino took Kansas to the Orange Bowl. It seems even more amazing now. The Jayhawks are behind the rest of the league in every area, from attendance to facilities.’s exhaustive endeavor to rank all 65 FBS head-coaching jobs continues today with what you might call the middle tier of gigs -- Nos. 25 to 47 -- which includes five members of the Big 12.

Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas Tech are all poised to continue trending in the right direction over the next few years. Baylor has built a powerhouse in Waco, Texas. But at the moment, TCU (ranked No. 31 by ESPN) appears to be the Big 12 job offering the biggest upside.

Set aside the preseason top-five expectations for 2015 and the Heisman contender at quarterback. They’re just frosting on the cake for Gary Patterson and a program that’s positioned to remain an annual contender. Entering their fourth season in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs have practically everything they could ask for.

Stability? Check. It took a few rounds of musical chairs, but securing a spot in the Big 12 and escaping mid-major status continues to pay off big. And don’t forget, TCU begins receiving its full share of conference revenue in the upcoming 2015-16 school year.

Facilities? Check. The $164 million rebuild of Amon G. Carter Stadium, completed in 2012, gave the Horned Frogs some of the best digs in the conference. Their locker room, training facilities and football offices are among the Big 12’s best, too.

Location? Check. The DFW Metroplex talent pool is as good as it gets, and having this much buzz at a time when Texas and Oklahoma aren’t dominant can be a powerful thing. TCU isn’t reeling in the five-stars yet, but the momentum built in 2014 is already having a tangible effect on recruiting this year.

Support? Couldn’t be better. According to Forbes, TCU’s football budget is up to at least $35 million and still on the rise. AD Chris Del Conte and the school’s administrators have bet big on football and are enjoying strong backing from donors.

“We’re built for success now,” Del Conte told in November. “We’re in the right league. It’s fantastic. It’s no flash in the pan. We’re invested for the long haul.”

We don’t really know how good the TCU job is because, you know, it hasn’t opened up since 1999. It probably won’t anytime soon, either. Would it be viewed as a coveted top-25 gig if it opened up tomorrow? Perhaps not, but any national perception that TCU is still just a small, private Christian school has never stopped Patterson and the Frogs from reaching new heights.

“Everything that’s ever been said about TCU, we’ve proven people wrong,” he told in November. “We’ve done it the right way and we’ve done it slowly.”

The Frogs won’t be slowing down now.
Spring ball kicks off in Big 12 country today with Baylor slated to hold its first practice. Later this week, TCU and Texas Tech will get started, too.

Plenty of questions surround the league. Many won’t be answered until the the fall. But a few could gain clarity over the next two months.

Here are some of the biggest Big 12 questions to follow this spring:

Can freshmen factor into Baylor, Kansas State quarterback derbies?

[+] EnlargeRussell
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAfter being the backup at Baylor, Seth Russell is now the favorite to lead the Bears.
With all-conference performers Bryce Petty and Jake Waters gone, the Bears and Wildcats will have new quarterbacks behind center. After backing up Petty the past two years, Seth Russell is the favorite to take over as the starter. In Manhattan, former walk-on Joe Hubener will be entering his fourth year on campus and holds the edge to succeed Waters. Both, however, will have to hold off a pair of talented freshmen in Jarrett Stidham and Alex Delton, who have enrolled early with sights on winning starting jobs. Stidham was the No. 3 quarterback signee in the country; Delton’s skill set fits the mold of quarterbacks who have thrived for Bill Snyder in the past. The learning curve for first-year quarterbacks is always steep. But both Snyder and Art Briles have indicated Delton and Stidham will have the chance to prove they deserve to start.

What will the new Oklahoma offense look like?

After a recent trend in the wrong direction, Bob Stoops brought in play-calling prodigy Lincoln Riley to inject life in the Sooners program. Riley is a product of the Mike Leach air raid. So how will he balance that background while also utilizing Oklahoma’s dynamic backfield trio of Samaje Perine, Alex Ross and Joe Mixon? And who will Riley turn to at quarterback among Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas to lead the offense? Those reasons alone makes this the most fascinating spring of the Stoops era.

Who will play linebacker for TCU?

The Horned Frogs return 10 offensive starters, experience along the defensive line and a couple of key cogs in the secondary. But with All-American Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson gone, the slate has been wiped clean at linebacker. Sammy Douglas and Paul Whitmill will get the first cracks to show they can fill the void. But early enrollees Alec Dunham and Mike Freeze could push them.

Can Mason Rudolph, Patrick Mahomes take next step?

Rudolph and Mahomes were fabulous after taking over starting quarterback jobs as true freshmen late last season. Rudolph ignited Oklahoma State to wins over Oklahoma and Washington, elevating expectations in Stillwater for 2015. Mahomes threw 14 touchdowns with just two interceptions in Texas Tech’s final three games, and passed for 598 yards in the season finale against Baylor. The fortunes of both the Cowboys and Red Raiders will hinge on whether their young quarterbacks can build on such promising performances.

Is Jerrod Heard ready?

Though he had moments, the prospects of Tyrone Swoopes becoming Texas' long-lost, long-term answer at quarterback diminished toward the end of last season as the Longhorns flat-lined offensively. That has opened the door for Heard to make a run at the job this spring. Heard has the pedigree. He won two state championships in high school and was an ESPN 300 recruit. But by all accounts, he wasn't ready to step in last season. Will that change this spring?

Who will catch passes at Kansas State and West Virginia?

The Wildcats and the Mountaineers between them graduated 359 receptions and 4,966 receiving yards after Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton, Kevin White and Mario Alford left. That is an unenviable -- and unbelievable -- amount of production to replace. This spring, both schools will begin to sift through who they can lean on at receiver in 2015.

Can Skyler Howard hold off William Crest?

After taking over for injured quarterback Clint Trickett late last season, Howard brought another dimension to the West Virginia offense with his wheels. At the same time, he struggled with his accuracy. As a result, Howard didn’t quite lock up the job for 2015. Now, he’ll have to fend off Crest, who actually beat out Howard for the No. 2 job coming out of August before a shoulder injury forced a redshirt. Crest, a four-star signee last year, is a talented prospect. Howard will have to be more precise with his arm to remain behind center.

Can David Gibbs turn around the Tech defense?

Last season the Red Raiders fielded one of the most futile defenses in Big 12 history. Tech will now hope its new coordinator can cure those ills on that side of the ball. Getting the Red Raiders to play more opportunistic will be one key. Under Gibbs, Houston forced 73 turnovers the past two seasons. Over the same span, the Red Raiders forced just 34.

Can a new staff give Kansas hope?

In five years under Turner Gill and Charlie Weis, the Jayhawks failed to total more than three victories in a season. Kansas brought in David Beaty to set the Jayhawks back on a course to respectability. How will he begin to set that plan into motion? This spring will give us a glimpse.

How will Iowa State replace its dismissed players?

Since the end of the season, Iowa State lost running back DeVondrick Nealy, safety T.J. Mutcherson and wide receivers P.J. Harris and Tad Ecby. All four were supposed to play big roles for the Cyclones in 2015. With Quenton Bundrage's return from a knee injury, Iowa State should be fine at receiver. But finding a starting running back to replace Nealy and safety to step in for Mutcherson will be paramount this spring.

Coaches' poll: Favorite Big 12 recruits

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
College recruiters rarely care about star ratings. They're looking for all sorts of other things: scheme fit, projection, growth potential, maturity, even track times. So once signing day passed, we asked.

We polled more than a dozen anonymous Big 12 coaches and recruiting coordinators for their favorite prospects in the 2015 class -- both the kids they signed and the ones they wanted.

[+] EnlargePatrick Vahe, Josh Wariboko
Gerry Hamilton/ESPNOne Big 12 recruiter predicts offensive guard Patrick Vahe (at left), a Longhorns' 2015 signee, will be "a good one" at the collegiate level.
Most of the recruits they named were under-the-radar finds. By now, you already know all about the elite signees such as Malik Jefferson, Jarrett Stidham and Breiden Fehoko. We were looking for the recruits who might not be big names now but are poised to make a big impact in the conference for years to come.

Here are 25 players that Big 12 recruiters liked in the class of 2015:

Baylor OG Riley Daniel: "Riley is a huge human. Schools got on him late. If you make a mistake in recruiting, make it big."

Baylor WR Blake Lynch: "Like him a lot. We had a hard time projecting where we saw him last spring position-wise, but I liked him a lot. At first we were thinking safety and we fell in love with him, but we were too late."

Baylor LB Jordan Williams: "Tremendous upside. I think he's athletic enough to play inside or outside with great tenacity. When I went to see him I said, 'How did we not know about this guy earlier?' Everybody had him at 5-11 and 190. He's 6-1 and 217."

Iowa State WR Hakeem Butler: "He’s got huge hands, good 40, good vert in a big body. He played AAU basketball, now football will become his focus. His ceiling is really high. Four or five years from now people could be looking back like ... how did Iowa State get that guy?"

Iowa State DE Seth Nerness: "Seth Nerness is a great kid. He plays with a great attitude and work ethic."

Kansas DE Dorance Armstrong: "That kid has a body on him and he can run. No idea how other people didn't get him. He had like 20 offers and comes from a big program. Watch him and he's every bit of what you'd want to recruit. That was a steal."

Kansas TE Jace Sternberger: "Jace is a coach’s son. Small-school, multiple-sport athlete. He shows his athleticism on the basketball court. He could blow up once he’s committed to one sport."

Kansas State DT Trey Dishon: "Trey is a big athlete. Everyone slept on him."

Kansas State DB Johnny Durham: "Jonathan plays with a very high football IQ. He’s always in the right spot and deceptively fast. I would compare him to Ty Zimmerman."

Oklahoma RB Rodney Anderson: "Anderson is a freak. He’s the real deal. Size, speed, power. He’s a no-brainer."

Oklahoma WR John Humphrey Jr.: "A guy that I really liked in camps. He was a fast kid, came out of nowhere and can really run. I see him playing corner, to be honest, because of his feet and speed. With his change of direction and how fast he is, there's something about that kid."

Oklahoma CB P.J. Mbanasor: "Potentially really good player. I watched him and researched him and he was fluid and really played transition well. Big corners who can run are hard to come by."

Oklahoma State RB Chris Carson: "I think they may have gotten the best back in this signing class. He’s a Newcomer of the Year-type possibility."

Oklahoma State CB Antwan Hadley: "He has a safety body playing corner. Tall and long with a nose for the ball. He played against good people, too."

Oklahoma State S Kenneth McGruder: "McGruder is a stud. Big, physical, a leader. He’s a big-time safety. That’s the enforcer you want."

TCU S Arico Evans: "One kid that I think is really going to be good. He was an athletic quarterback who has that 'it' factor. He was his whole (high school) team, he knows how to play and has real upside. He's going to thrive in Gary Patterson's defense and can even grow into a linebacker."

TCU CB Julius Lewis: "Julius is a good athlete. Multiple-sport athlete, which limited his exposure in spring ball. He played both ways, which questioned what position he would play."

TCU C Jozie Milton: "Reminds you of Joey Hunt, a hardcore guy. He had all kinds of offers, but a lot of people in Texas probably didn’t see him coming. Physical, smart and you like that he can call signals."

Texas TE Devonaire Clarington: "He’s very talented. He’s just a nightmare for DBs with that size and speed. He’s probably going to end up being an NFL guy."

Texas OG Patrick Vahe: "He probably gets lost in the shuffle and gets forgotten because he committed so early. He’s going to be a good one. Tough player."

Texas Tech WR Tony Brown: "He's smooth, a good route runner. He's a good get for them. Kliff [Kingsbury] got some good receivers."

Texas Tech RB Corey Dauphine: "I like him a lot. He was a good player and a 200-meter guy. Big, physical and fast. I have a feeling he’ll cause people a lot of problems before he’s done."

Texas Tech LB D'Vonta Hinton: "Under the radar because of his height, but just a freaking football player with instincts."

West Virginia LB David Long: "He's not the biggest guy, but he plays bigger than his size. Reminds you a lot of Karl Joseph coming out of high school, a guy who can cover a big space. He's a good fit for the Big 12."

West Virginia DE Adam Shuler: "He didn’t get all of the attention and all of that but I think he has the chance to be a special player."
Quarterback Kyler Murray grabbed all of the headlines at Allen (Texas) High School over the past few seasons, but it’s actually junior offensive tackle Greg Little who is a higher-ranked prospect.

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The trend was hard to miss if you walked the sidelines of a Baylor or TCU game before kickoff this season. What was soon to come looked pretty obvious on those Saturdays.

Throughout their dream seasons as co-Big 12 champions, guess who Art Briles and Gary Patterson packed their respective houses with? High school juniors and sophomores.

This week starts the clock on the class of 2016, yet Baylor and TCU are as ahead of the game as ever on that front. Their top-10 finishes are already beginning to pay off with this next batch of recruits.

Together, Baylor and TCU have landed 14 pledges for the 2016 class. Only 12 of the state of Texas' top 30 recruits have made commitments, but eight belong to the leaders of the Big 12.

While Texas and the rest of their recruiting rivals were scrambling to finish off the class that signed Wednesday, both Baylor and TCU have already hosted their first junior day of the year. It never hurts to have those kids stopping by to see your new trophies as soon as possible.

For TCU, it was only natural to get a jump-start on the next class. The Horned Frogs had 21 of their 23 signees for 2014 on board by the end of December.

The majority of that group committed off a 4-8 season. That group was pitched potential and promise. The 2016 class got to witness the results, and that has Patterson and his staff optimistic about how good this next batch of newcomers can be.

"I think kids that came to our ballgames, our type of offense and defense is very exciting," Patterson said during a national signing day appearance on Fox Sports. "I think the sky's the limit. I don't think we've even scratched the surface of what TCU can be."

The Frogs' group of eight pledges for 2016 already has its quarterback in San Angelo Central's Brennen Wooten, plus ESPN Junior 300 athletes Christian Wallace and D'Eriq King and receiver Courtney Lark. They also have a cornerback, three-star Ke'Shawn Somerville, who flipped from Baylor.

The Bears' 2016 class already has of the nation's best in offensive tackle Patrick Hudson, the No. 11 rated recruit in the ESPN Junior 300. The 6-foot-5, 330-pound lineman from Silsbee, Texas, flipped his commitment from Texas A&M to BU back in July.

Baylor took its quarterback for this class, Zach Smith, last summer as well. He's joined by ESPN Junior 300 back Kameron Martin, who's become the most vocal recruiter of the bunch on Twitter. BU also accepted a pledge last summer from Navasota's Tren'Davian Dickson, who went on to shatter the national single-season record with 39 touchdown catches (including four to win his state title game).

Briles and his assistants secured 13 of their 19 latest signees by the end of 2014. They didn't have to worry about many of them, either. That provided the luxury of time to get moving on 2016 and beyond.

"The last couple of weeks of recruiting, I mean, we recruited 2016 kids and looked at 2017 sophomores," Briles said during his signing day news conference. "Because these guys had been with us, stayed strong, they committed and stayed intelligent."

The commitments for this next class aren't the only key. By hosting those early junior days, Baylor and TCU get to be among the first to target and offer those in-state recruits who might not be on everyone else's radar just yet.

Neither program inked a top-30 recruiting class in ESPN's 2015 rankings Insider. Together, they signed almost four times as many three-stars as four-stars. This 2016 class can be a different story. The highly-touted kids who wouldn't take a call from Briles or Patterson a few years ago are taking trips to Waco and Fort Worth.

What matters, of course, is how you finish. TCU and Baylor will have to fend off foes for the next 12 months to ensure these pledges stick. The momentum of preseason top-10 hype should endure for these next six, making it easy to envision why both could be on the way to their highest-rated classes in a long time.
Big 12 programs have already turned their focus toward the Class of 2016, with several already holding junior days.

Here is a look at five Class of 2016 prospects to keep an eye on in the Big 12 region.

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