NCF Nation: West Virginia Mountaineers

3-point stance: FSU still loaded

March, 25, 2014
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1. As well as national champion Florida State played last season, the biggest surprise is how many of the Seminoles came back. The Seminoles are returning five first-team All-ACC players. That’s as many as the other 13 ACC teams have on the first and second All-ACC teams combined. Not to mention that Florida State has 113 returning starts on the offensive line. None of that includes tight end Nick O'Leary (second team All-ACC) or defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (third team). The Seminoles are loaded -- still.

2. West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson leaned on his old friend Tom Bradley to coach the Mountaineers’ defensive line, even though that’s the only position on that side of the ball Bradley didn’t coach in his 33 seasons at Penn State. West Virginia needs the help; its three-man line lost two starters, and the returnees have a total of 13 starts among them. When you’re coming off a 4-8 record, you don’t have a full cupboard. Bradley makes the Mountaineers a more interesting story than they would be otherwise.

3. It would be easy to unleash the snark about Jim Tressel applying for the presidency of the University of Akron. I will leave that to Twitter. Tressel pointed out that he has 35 years of administration in higher education. He works at Akron now, so he and the school know each other. All Akron must do is come to terms with Tressel lying to the NCAA and covering up his players’ transgressions. Is three years in coaching purgatory a sufficient sentence? Auburn decided so in the case of Bruce Pearl. But Akron is hiring a president, not a basketball coach.

3-point stance: Texas two-step

March, 11, 2014
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1. Duane Akina became the seventh assistant from Mack Brown’s staff at Texas to get another job when Stanford hired him as secondary coach. Co-offensive coordinators Major Applewhite and Darrell Wyatt, the two highest-paid assistants, remain on the market. One interesting note: Most coaching contracts see to it that a fired coach gets the agreed-upon amount. If he is hired elsewhere for less than that amount, the first school makes up the difference. Not Texas. If you take another job, Texas is done.

2. Dr. Joab Thomas, the former president of the University of Alabama and Penn State University, died last week at age 81. While at Alabama, Thomas endured the controversy of hiring Ray Perkins and Bill Curry to replace the legendary Paul Bryant. In 1990, Thomas went to State College, Pa., where the equally legendary Joe Paterno turned 65 the following year. When someone asked him about Paterno retiring, Thomas said, “You can't ask one man to replace both Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno.”

3. Jake Trotter’s post Monday described the desire of West Virginia players to turn the program around after a 4-8 record last season. Injuries contributed a great deal to the Mountaineers’ troubles. But the physical and mental burden of traveling to the Big 12 footprint will be an annual drag on West Virginia football. The good news is that in this season’s nine-game conference schedule, the 5/4 split tips to Milan Puskar Stadium. The bad news is that the season opens with a neutral-site game against Alabama in Atlanta.
In its first month in the Big 12, West Virginia charged into the league with the vigor its musket-toting mascot would toward a black bear.

After striking down Texas on the road, the Mountaineers stormed into October two seasons ago ranked in the top five of the polls.

But since that moment, West Virginia has been fighting a steady, but furious, backpedal. The Mountaineers have lost eight of their past 12 games in the league, culminating with a triple-overtime collapse to Iowa State in Morgantown to cap a bowl-less 2013 season.

Yet, minus several outgoing key performers, playing for a coach whose seat is getting warmer and a brutal slate awaiting them, the Mountaineers have gone into spring ball dead-set on finally proving their mettle in their new league this fall.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Brad Davis/Icon SMIIf Clint Trickett or one of West Virginia's quarterbacks can effectively lead the offense, the Mountaineers have the personnel around them to do damage.
“Absolutely,” said rising senior guard Quinton Spain, who has started in every Big 12 game the Mountaineers have played in.

“We have stuff to prove.”

It’s not difficult to pinpoint where exactly it all went wrong for West Virginia.

In their final season in the Big East in 2011, the Mountaineers punched out nine wins, then punched out Clemson in the Orange Bowl with a convincing 70-33 victory.

West Virginia entered its inaugural Big 12 season with three of the best skill-position talents in the country in quarterback Geno Smith, wideout Stedman Bailey and versatile playmaker Tavon Austin, who all made starts in the NFL as rookies last season.

The Mountaineers, however, trotted out one of the worst defenses in the country by every statistical measure. And when the West Virginia offense finally cooled off after the Texas win, the bottom fell out.

Last season, the defense showed early improvement after coach Dana Holgorsen switched coordinators from Joe DeForest to Keith Patterson. But with its trio of offensive stars gone, the Mountaineers struggled to consistently score points. By the time the offense came around, injuries piled up on the other side of the ball, which crippled the West Virginia defense the final month of the season.

“The record [the past two years] has been unacceptable -- every player on this team knows it,” said cornerback Daryl Worley, who emerged as a starter as a true freshman last season. “We have yet to click as a whole, together. The Big 12 has so many complete teams -- teams known for winning, who are productive on both sides of the ball. We definitely understand that to compete in this league, we can’t just depend on the offense or the defense. Both sides have to be better.”

However, there's reason to believe that the Mountaineers could be better on both sides of the ball and field their most complete team since joining the league.

All-Big 12 running back Charles Sims is out of eligibility. All-conference defensive end Will Clarke and safety Darwin Cook are, too.

The record (the last two years) has been unacceptable -- every player on this team knows it.

-- cornerback Daryl Worley
The bulk of the team, however, is back. And while injuries devastated West Virginia in the short run last season, they also allowed numerous young players to gain valuable experience for the future. The Mountaineers bring back seven starters on each side of the ball and a host of key rotation players. Despite the on-field struggles, West Virginia also inked a banner recruiting class last month, loaded with potential for instant impact.

“We lost some guys, but we were pretty young last year,” Spain said. “I feel like we’ve got more people coming back than ever. So I feel like we could be pretty good.”

That will hinge heavily on the quarterback position, which might not get resolved until the fall. Clint Trickett ended last season as the starter but is out this spring recovering from shoulder surgery that repaired a torn labrum. Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and freshman William Crest, who will arrive on campus in the summer, could make this an intriguing derby.

But if Holgorsen can find his man at quarterback, the rest of the pieces seem to be in place to give the Mountaineers at least a chance of making its third season in the Big 12 the charm.

Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell, who was the nation’s third highest-ranked running back recruit in 2012, headlines a backfield that's as deep as any in the Big 12.

Elsewhere, the entire receiving and linebacking corps are basically back. Spain and veteran Mark Glowinski give the Mountaineers arguably the best one-two punch at guard in the league. Cook is the only departing starter in the secondary, which will welcome a potential future cornerstone at cornerback opposite Worley in incoming freshman Dravon Henry, who signed with West Virginia over Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, among many others.

Off the field, the Mountaineers also made one of the best assistant coaching hires in the Big 12 this cycle, snagging former Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who was one of Joe Paterno’s top lieutenants for more than three decades.

Of course, the schedule is completely unforgiving, beginning with a neutral site clash with Alabama in Atlanta. The Mountaineers also have to face Oklahoma and Baylor and have to go to Maryland, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech -- all games they figure to be underdogs in.

But Spain said his teammates are welcoming the challenging slate. What better way for the Mountaineers to finally prove their Big 12 chops?

“Everybody on this team is hungry for real,” Spain said. “We’re ready to prove ourselves.”
1. Former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston’s grounds for suing the NCAA and the five equity conferences should dredge up bad memories for college athletics’ old guard. Alston’s antitrust claim, that scholarships covering less than the full cost of attendance amount to restraint of trade, is similar to the restricted-earnings debacle of the early 1990s. The NCAA passed a rule that some assistant coaches in various sports could earn only $16,000. After losing the case, the NCAA eventually settled for $54.5 million.

2. It’s ironic that Alston is suing the five big conferences, which have the funds and the will to pay scholarships that would cover the full cost of attendance. They have been held back by Division I members who don’t have that kind of money and fear the competitive imbalance that would result. But considering that Ohio Stadium seats more than 100,000 and Ohio U.’s Peden Stadium seats 24,000, the competitive-imbalance ship sailed a long time ago.

3. The inclusion of 1994 Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam of Colorado on the new College Football Hall of Fame ballot reminds us of one aspect of what the Hall represents. The Buffaloes’ run of dominance lasted from the late 1980s through the 1990s. The Hall has elected linebacker Alfred Williams (2010) and head coach Bill McCartney (2013). Salaam and running back Eric Bieniemy are eligible. Lined up behind them are cornerback Deon Figures, center Jay Leeuwenburg, linebacker Matt Russell, wide receiver Michael Westbrook, and others. A once-dominant program gets to re-live its success. That’s nice.
With spring practice off and rolling, plenty of questions surround the league’s programs. And while many of those won’t be fully answered until the season begins in the fall, here are some of the biggest ones Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia will face this spring:

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.
1. West Virginia hired Tom Bradley as assistant head coach, and for the first time since the Penn State scandal erupted, a majority of Joe Paterno’s assistants are working again. Has it been the taint of the scandal or a commentary on Paterno’s staff? The two assistants Bill O’Brien kept -- Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden -- have moved to Ohio State and Air Force, respectively. Galen Hall and Dick Anderson retired. Jay Paterno is running for lieutenant governor in Pennsylvania. Mike McQueary, a big witness in the Jerry Sandusky trial, has yet to resurface.

2. Speaking of Penn State, new head coach James Franklin might be the first sitting SEC head coach to leave the conference for a Big Ten school since the SEC began playing football in 1933. I say “may” because I haven’t found one in my research, but I am not positive I have run down every single lead. In recent years, two prominent head coaches, Nick Saban (Michigan State to LSU) and Bret Bielema (Wisconsin to Arkansas), have left the Big Ten for an SEC school.

3. Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys 25 years ago today, catapulting his University of Arkansas teammate Jimmy Johnson out of college football after a three-year run in which Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes went 34-2, winning one national championship (1987) and losing to the eventual No. 1 team in the other two years (Penn State, 1986; Notre Dame, 1988). Another of Jones’ Razorbacks teammates, Barry Switzer, came out of retirement and joined Johnson as the only head coaches to win a college football national championship and a Super Bowl (until Pete Carroll joined them earlier this month).

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
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Spring football is rapidly approaching.

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

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

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

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

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

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

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

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

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

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

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

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

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

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

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

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

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

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

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

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

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

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.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State fans
Richard Rowe/USA TODAY SportsFans at Oklahoma State and throughout the Big 12 are largely backing their teams. But there's an ongoing discussion about how to keep the fans coming, which includes creating better cell phone coverage in stadiums.
“It’s becoming more challenging to compete with the living room experience and the wall-to-wall coverage of college football on any given Saturday,” Burda said. “We’re trying to develop more of a living-room type experience in our stadiums. The in-game highlights were one step in that direction.”

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.”

Big 12 spring practice dates

February, 10, 2014
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Spring football is just around the corner.

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.

Baylor

Spring practice begins: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

Iowa State

Spring practice begins: March 10

Spring game: April 12

Kansas

Spring practice begins: March 4

Spring game: April 12

Kansas State

Spring practice begins: April 2

Spring game: April 26

Oklahoma

Spring practice begins: March 8

Spring game: April 12

Oklahoma State

Spring practice begins: March 10

Spring game: April 12

Texas

Spring practice begins: March 18

Spring game: April 19

TCU

Spring practice begins: March 1

Spring game: TBA

Texas Tech

Spring practice begins: March 5

Spring game: April 12

West Virginia

Spring practice begins: March 2

Spring game: April 12

The QBs that got away

December, 30, 2013
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There’s no more important position in football than quarterback, and in many cases, fans look at quarterbacks that got away and wonder what might have been had they come to their favorite school. Some schools passed on a quarterback because he evaluated poorly or another QB appeared more attractive. Others simply didn't have enough recruiting ammunition to land the recruit in the first place. Here’s a look at six quarterbacks that got away.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsWhat might the offense at Oregon or Texas looked like with Johnny Manziel at the controls?
Teddy Bridgewater
Bridgewater had offers from Florida, LSU, Miami, Rutgers, USF and Tennessee when he was a senior coming out of Miami Northwestern. While there were notable programs after Bridgewater, it was hardly the amount of attention you would expect from the player who sits atop many NFL draft boards after a stellar career at Louisville. Some coaches will tell you Bridgewater’s stock was lower coming out of high school because many expected him to land at Miami. He did commit to the Canes at one point, but eventually backed off that pledge and announced he was going to Louisville because of the opportunity for early playing time. “The toughest part of it was that I had to say that I wasn't going to the University of Miami,” he said after selecting the Cards in 2011. “I told the coaches that I had to do what was best for me, and they understood that.” It was a wise decision by Bridgewater and a miss that still haunts the Canes.

Robert Griffin III
Before he was RG III, he was a Houston commitment. Coming out of Copperas Cove, Texas, Griffin originally pledged to Art Briles when he was the coach at Houston. When Briles departed for Baylor, other schools like Kansas, Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State were in hot pursuit, but that was about it. He eventually followed Briles to Waco, and the rest is history. It’s been pointed out a number of times that Texas passed on Griffin because it thought he was a defensive back, and A&M signed Tommy Dorman in that same 2008 class. Dorman played sparingly as a fullback and a tight end.

Kevin Hogan
What would Rutgers, Vanderbilt or Virginia been like had they been able to land Hogan? Hogan was a heavily recruited quarterback coming out of Washington (D.C.) Gonzaga in the 2011 class and his final five consisted of Rutgers, Vandy, UVa and the Cardinal. He decided to leave the East Coast and has settled in nicely on The Farm. Rutgers, Vandy and Virginia surely could have used Hogan this season, as they threw a combined 38 interceptions, while Hogan led the Cardinal to their second straight Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl appearance.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesThe fortunes of two SEC teams might have changed drastically had Geno Smith not gone to West Virginia.
Collin Klein
Coming out of Loveland, Colo., Klein accepted the only scholarship offer he received. And despite a stellar high school career in football and basketball and a solid showing at the Nike Training Camp, the Wildcats were the only team to believe in him enough to offer. Klein went on to lead K-State to the Big 12 championship in 2012, finish second in the Heisman Trophy voting and win more than 20 games as a starter. At the same time, Colorado struggled at the quarterback spot, won only eight games in a three-year span and would have given anything to have an in-state star like Klein as its leader.

Johnny Manziel
You have to give credit to Oregon and Texas A&M, because they identified early on that Manziel had the goods to be a special quarterback. But they were about the only ones that did. Virtually every recruiting service had him as a three-star prospect and his offer sheet read more like a regionally recruited prospect, not a Heisman Trophy winner. Texas also had a chance to recruit Manziel, but the Horns saw him more as a defensive back prospect than a quarterback. Oregon had faith early in him, and it paid off with a commitment the summer after his junior season. He later flipped to the Aggies in September of his senior season.

Bryce Petty
Coming out of Midlothian, Texas, in the Class of 2009, Petty pledged to then-Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer as a junior. When Fulmer was let go, Lane Kiffin thought Petty didn’t fit what he wanted at quarterback, and Petty was left looking for a home two months before national signing day. Several teams showed interest in the talented young quarterback, including South Carolina, Nebraska and Oklahoma, but few had room. Virginia Tech and Baylor eventually offered Petty a grayshirt opportunity, and he took the Bears’ offer. Surely a number of teams around the Big 12, or even the Hokies or Cornhuskers, would have loved to have Petty as their quarterback.

Geno Smith
Imagine Smith wearing an LSU or an Alabama uniform. It certainly was a possibility at one point in the recruiting process, as the Tigers and Tide were two of Smith’s top teams coming out of Miramar (Fla.) High School. But after an official visit to West Virginia in November of his senior season, he was sold that West Virginia was the place for him. The Tide got their QB of the future in AJ McCarron in that same class and the Tigers hinged their hopes on highly recruited Russell Shepard. McCarron was the right choice for the Tide, but Shepard never developed as a quarterback and LSU had up-and-down play at the position for a number of years. Smith rewrote WVU’s record books and is now an NFL starter.

Conference wrap: Big 12

December, 16, 2013
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Dealing with the likes of Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Landry Jones had become commonplace for Big 12 defenses in previous seasons. In 2013, defensive coordinators around the conference got their revenge, kind of, as the Big 12 scoring average dropped to 31.7 points per game, the lowest since 2010.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty proved he was a worthy successor to past Baylor quarterbacks.
Uncertainty at the quarterback position was the overriding theme throughout the Big 12 except at one school: Baylor. The Bears featured the best quarterback in the league in Bryce Petty, the junior who took control of Art Briles’ offense and looked like a veteran in his first season as a starter while leading the Bears to their first Big 12 championship. While quarterback troubles handcuffed several offenses, playmakers such as Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, West Virginia’s Charles Sims and others around the conference still found ways to impact games.

The defenses became the foundation of Big 12 title runs as Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas used improved defenses to put themselves in title contention on the season’s final day. Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat were among the Big 12’s best defenders.

The season began with Oklahoma State as the favorite in a wide-open race but few foresaw the Bears’ 11-1 season and outright conference title. BU played the role as the Big 12’s most impressive team week after week until a disappointing loss in Stillwater but didn’t let it derail their hopes for a title, defeating TCU and Texas to capture the title when OSU lost to Oklahoma to end the season.

Things weren’t quite as rosy at TCU, where a combination of injuries and turnovers took the Horned Frogs out of the conference title race early in the year. Cornerback Jason Verrett & Co. did their job on defense but got very little help from the offense on the way to a disappointing season for a team that Big 12 players picked as the league favorite.

Offensive MVP: Petty. The quarterback position was the lone question about the Bears' offense heading into the season. Could their new triggerman excel like Griffin and Nick Florence? Petty passed the test with flying colors, passing for 3,844 yards and 30 touchdowns with just two interceptions.


Defensive MVP: Jeffcoat. The Longhorns’ senior didn’t run away from the competition for this award the way Petty did for the offensive version. But a strong end to the year and sitting atop top the Big 12 in sacks (12) and was second in tackles for loss (18) made him the Big 12's top defender in 2013.


Newcomer of the year: Sims. The Houston transfer didn’t envision the struggles he experienced during his lone season in Morgantown, W.Va. Yet, he was one of the league’s best and most consistent playmakers despite the musical chairs alongside him. His 129.1 all-purpose yards per game average was second in the Big 12.

Biggest surprise: Baylor. The Bears finished fifth in the Big 12 preseason poll as question marks about Petty and their defense dragged them down in the minds of many. Yet Petty and the defense rose to the occasion, becoming the driving forces behind the program’s breakthrough season that sees them playing in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.


Biggest disappointment: TCU. Bigger things were expected from Gary Patterson's squad. Injuries to Casey Pachall and Devonte Fields hurt TCU’s chances but sloppy, uncreative offense did more damage. While the defense played well enough to be in the title hunt, the offense dragged the squad into the bottom half of the Big 12 standings.

Best game: Bedlam. Few people gave Oklahoma a chance to knock off OSU, which entered the game with the chance to make its second Fiesta Bowl berth in three years. But OU answered a late touchdown from the Cowboys with a touchdown of its own in the game’s final moments to destroy OSU’s Fiesta Bowl dreams and catapult OU into the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

ESPN.com All-Big 12 team

December, 16, 2013
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It's never easy putting together an all-conference team, and this year's All-Big 12 team was no exception. It could have been even more difficult had several of the league’s top players -- such as TCU defensive end Devonte Fields, Oklahoma linebacker Corey Nelson and Baylor wideout Tevin Reese -- not suffered significant injuries.

Even then, there were more deserving players than there were spots. But we tried to remain true to the spirit of all-conference teams, picking the 26 best players according to their positions. As a result, our team doesn’t have four defensive ends, three cornerbacks or two centers, despite how much we would have liked to include Texas’ Cedric Reed, Kansas State’s B.J. Finney or Oklahoma’s Aaron Colvin.

So, without further ado, the 2013 ESPN.com All-Big 12 Team:

Offense

QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
RB: Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
RB: Charles Sims, West Virginia
WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
TE: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
OT: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
OG: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
C: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
OG: Trey Hopkins, Texas
OT: Parker Graham, Oklahoma State

Defense

DE: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
DT: Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State
DT: Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech
DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
LB: Jeremiah George, Iowa State
LB: Caleb Lavey, Oklahoma State
LB: Eddie Lackey, Baylor
CB: Jason Verrett, TCU
S: Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
S: Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
CB: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

Special Teams

K: Anthony Fera, Texas
P: Nick O'Toole, West Virginia
PR/KR: Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma
PR/KR: Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 14 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: After trailing by three scores for most of the game, Iowa State came roaring back with 17 straight points in the fourth quarter and ultimately prevailed 52-44 in a stunning, triple-overtime comeback. Freshman QB Grant Rohach was terrific in his second career road start, accounting for five touchdowns, including the winning toss on the first play of the third overtime. The defense forced four turnovers to help spearhead the rally. And punter Kirby Van Der Kamp converted a fake punt into a huge first down, igniting the comeback early in the fourth quarter. As a result, Iowa State finished off an otherwise disappointing season with a thrilling road victory and a two-game winning streak to build on for 2014.

[+] EnlargeRyan Erxleben, David Brenner, Keenon Ward
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsTexas Tech punter Ryan Erxleben (26) celebrated perhaps the Red Raiders' only highlight Thursday.
Disappointment of the week: After a fake punt touchdown gave them a 7-0 lead, the Red Raiders basically no-showed the rest of the way in a discouraging 41-16 loss at Texas. The Longhorns obliterated Tech up front, as both Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron topped 100 yards on the ground. On the other side of the ball, Tech couldn't protect its quarterback, as Baker Mayfield was sacked seven times. As a result, a team that once was ranked 10th in the country ended its regular season with a thud -- and a five-game losing streak.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Kansas State running back John Hubert and Iowa State wide receivers Quenton Bundrage and Justin Coleman.

Hubert unleashed a monster performance in his final Sunflower Showdown. The senior rushed for a career-high 220 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries, as K-State defeated Kansas 31-10 for a fifth consecutive victory in the series.

Together with Rohach, Bundrage and Coleman fueled Iowa State's comeback with huge catches down the stretch. After Van Der Kamp's fake punt conversion, Bundrage hauled in a 62-yard touchdown grab to cut West Virginia's lead to 10. Later, Coleman's 19-yard scoring reception tied the game with a minute left in regulation. And on the first play of the third overtime, Coleman reeled in another touchdown, which proved to be the game winner.

All told, Bundrage and Coleman combined for 12 receptions, 184 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey, TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

Lackey played a hand in two turnovers that ultimately led to defensive touchdowns. With the Horned Frogs driving at the end of the second quarter with a chance to take the lead before halftime, Lackey charged up the middle and tagged TCU QB Casey Pachall's legs. The hit forced Pachall's pass to be behind his intended receiver, and Orion Stewart intercepted it and raced 82 yards for a touchdown. Then on TCU's first possession of the third quarter, Lackey picked off Pachall and dashed 54 yards for another score, putting the Bears up 34-17. Lackey added six tackles and a sack in Baylor's 41-38 win.

As good as Lackey was, no player was more dominant than Verrett. Matched up one-on-one with Baylor's Antwan Goodley the entire game, Verrett checked the Big 12's leading receiver to just one reception for 12 yards. As a result, Baylor finished with a season-low 206 passing yards.

Jeffcoat also flourished in his final home game, recording a game-high three sacks as Texas shut down Texas Tech's passing game. Jeffcoat also had seven tackles and a quarterback hurry, solidifying his candidacy as an All-Big 12 defensive end.

Special-teams player of the week: Tech punter Ryan Erxleben produced one of the special-teams plays of the year in the Big 12 in Austin. On Tech's second possession, Erxleben took off on a fake punt and raced 51 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, giving the Red Raiders an early 7-0 lead. After the game, coach Kliff Kingsbury confirmed Erxleben called the fake on his own. It proved to be Tech's longest rush of the season, but pretty much its only highlight in the lackluster loss to the Longhorns.

Play of the week: After falling behind 34-17 on two Baylor defensive touchdowns, TCU made a furious rally and drove into field goal range with a chance to either win or send the game to overtime. Instead, with 18 seconds to go, quarterback Pachall's pass to Brandon Carter was tipped away by Baylor nickelback Sam Holl and into the arms of Terrell Burt for the game-clinching interception to seal Baylor's victory.

Stat of the week: By holding Baylor to 370 yards of offense, TCU snapped the Bears' 37-game streak of at least 400 yards of offense. Ball State now holds the longest FBS streak at 12 games.

Quote of the week: "Gary Patterson lives in Fort Worth. If he's got a problem with me, that's where I live."

-- TCU coach Gary Patterson, after a pair of heated exchanges with Baylor coach Art Briles

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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There was a shakeup at the bottom of the Power Rankings after the miracle in Morgantown:

1. Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1 Big 12, last week 1): The Cowboys have a chance to state their case as the Big 12’s top program of the last five seasons. Beating Oklahoma to win a second Big 12 title in three years would convey a very compelling argument.

2. Baylor (10-1, 7-1 Big 12, LW 2): Baylor’s two worst offensive outputs have come in the last two weeks. Is America’s top offense running on fumes? The friendly confines of Floyd Casey Stadium -- for one final game -- should give QB Bryce Petty & Co. the refueling they need.

3. Texas (8-3, 7-1 Big 12, LW 3): For all their issues and injuries, the Longhorns remain in the mix for an outright Big 12 title and automatic BCS bowl berth heading into this final week of the season. Ironically, if Texas somehow upset Baylor, this would actually be one of Mack Brown’s better coaching performances.

4. Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2 Big 12, LW 4): Nobody before the season predicted these Sooners, with a young defense and a new quarterback, would contend for a national championship. A victory at Oklahoma State and another 10-win season would make this a solid season in Norman.

5. Kansas State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12, LW 5): Even after a 2-4 start, Kansas State still managed to finish ahead of where it was picked in the preseason for a third straight season. Going forward, the media should automatically bump K-State up two spots when filling out Big 12 preseason ballots, to account for the “Bill Snyder effect.”

6. Texas Tech (7-5, 4-5 Big 12, LW 6): After another November slide, the Red Raiders are likely headed back to the Texas Bowl for the second straight season. Tech has had several memorable moments in Kliff Kingsbury’s first season. The 41-16 loss at Texas was not one of them.

7. TCU (4-8, 2-7 Big 12, LW 8): In their final game, the Horned Frogs finally showed what could have been this season. While the TCU defensive backs locked up Baylor’s receivers, senior QB Casey Pachall looked the sharpest he had in two years, even with the two pick-six interceptions. Take away those two plays and the fumble at the TCU 1-yard line, and the Frogs might have won this game going away. Yes, TCU finished with its worst season since going 1-10 in 1997. But if defensive end Devonte Fields can return to his freshman form, and TCU can figure out the answer at QB, the Frogs could be a force next year.

8. Iowa State (3-9, 2-7 Big 12, LW 9): Coach Paul Rhoads proved those who have wanted him out to be ridiculous. Despite all the tough losses, the Cyclones never quit on their coach, even when down 17 points in the fourth quarter on the road in Morgantown. With a little bit of luck, especially around the goal line, the Cyclones have the pieces to return to a bowl next year.

9. Kansas (3-9, 1-8 Big 12, LW 10): Hey, at least they beat West Virginia.

10. West Virginia (4-8, 2-7 Big 12, LW 7): The Mountaineers capped off another depressing season with an epic fourth-quarter collapse. Good thing no one was there to see it. Well, almost no one. Saturday featured the third-smallest crowd in Milan Puskar Stadium’s 33-year history, and the smallest since 1992.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 14

December, 1, 2013
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What we learned about the Big 12 in Week 14:

1. Patterson has no love for Baylor: While the Baylor players were talking about getting an emotional win for coach Art Briles, who lost his brother earlier in the week, TCU coach Gary Patterson was railing on Baylor; specifically, Briles and Bears safety Ahmad Dixon, who was ejected after targeting TCU's Trevone Boykin. Said Patterson, among many other things, referring to Briles and Dixon: "If that's what class is, I don't want to be it." This old Southwest Conference rivalry just got kicked up another notch.

[+] EnlargeLevi Norwood
AP Photo/LM OteroBaylor held off a TCU rally to win 41-38 Saturday, but there's no love lost between these Texas teams.
2. Automatic BCS bowl bid still up for grabs: Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas go into the final weekend all holding a shot at an outright Big 12 title and the league's automatic BCS bowl berth. The Cowboys just have to beat Oklahoma in Stillwater. But if the Sooners pull the upset, the winner of Baylor-Texas would take the Big 12's Fiesta Bowl bid. The fun part? The Bears and Longhorns probably will know whether this will be possible before they take the field, as Bedlam kicks off three-and-a-half hours before their game.

3. Baylor only barely still alive for a BCS at-large bowl: With Wisconsin falling to Penn State and Clemson losing at South Carolina, the door cracked a little wider for Baylor to sneak into a BCS bowl game, even if Oklahoma State wins next weekend. But only just a little. Assuming the Orange Bowl sticks with its ACC ties and takes Clemson, as expected, there's really only one scenario that gets Baylor an at-large. That would entail Bowling Green knocking off Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game. If that happened, AAC champion Central Florida likely would end up in the Fiesta, freeing up the Sugar to take Baylor.

4. League in line for some intriguing bowl matchups: Even if it fails to get a second BCS bowl team, the Big 12 could be in for some compelling non-BCS bowl games. Here are some possibilities: Baylor-LSU in the AT&T Cotton; OU-Oregon in the Valero Alamo; Texas-Nebraska in the Buffalo Wild Wings; K-State-Stanford in the National University Holiday; and Tech-Michigan in the Heart of Dallas. I could get on board with all five of those matchups.

5. Big 12 newcomers end second seasons very differently: TCU and West Virginia finished their seasons with losses. But both finished in very different ways. The Horned Frogs overcame three crushing turnovers (two pick-sixes and a fumble at their own 1) to take ninth-ranked Baylor to the wire. The Mountaineers blew a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead before falling to Iowa State in triple overtime. Without West Virginia, the Cyclones would have ended their season with just one conference win, and Kansas would have ended the year without one, as the Mountaineers lost to both to close out the year. Neither TCU nor West Virginia will be going bowling in their second seasons in the Big 12. But Patterson will be feeling a lot better about the way his team finished out the season than West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen will about his.

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