NCF Nation: West Virginia Mountaineers
You're forgiven if this entire exercise seems foreign. But at least 10 of the ACC's 14 teams will start new faces under center when games kick off next week. And there is a good chance that four of those 10 will have quarterbacks who began their college careers elsewhere.
"I really don't know," Miami coach Al Golden said of the surplus of ACC quarterback transfers. "We liked where we were in the spring, and clearly Ryan [Williams] went down the week before the spring game. It's really not a function of not being confident in the guys that are on campus. It's more a function of just wanting to get a guy that has been in the game and has the experience."
Golden acknowledged the quarterback market has been busier than usual, particularly in his league. He brought in former BYU and Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps this summer after Williams, the Hurricanes' No. 1 quarterback, suffered a right ACL injury that will keep him out for an indefinite period of time. (Williams, naturally, began his career elsewhere, at Memphis.)
Heaps, eligible immediately as a graduate transfer, is battling true freshman Brad Kaaya to start Miami's opener.
"I think the quarterback position has grown in terms of talent over the last few years," said Heaps, who set several freshman records at BYU in 2010 before losing his job both with the Cougars and later at Kansas. "There’s a lot of great, quality quarterbacks in college football right now and they all want a chance to play. That’s where you’re seeing a lot of these guys transfer. They’re in their situation but they know they can play somewhere else so they make those moves and try and find the best situation for them and in some cases it works out, in others it doesn’t. Just knowing they have that opportunity is first and foremost.
"Sometimes things just don’t work out. Recruiting is the way it is and sometimes a situation isn’t what you think it will be when you get there. It’s been a unique trend in the last little bit, but I think if a guy has an opportunity to go play, he should go explore that."
Likewise, fellow Coastal member Virginia Tech turned to the free-agent route following an underwhelming spring from its three quarterbacks, welcoming Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer (and two true freshmen) to the race to replace Logan Thomas and kick-start an offense in need of a jolt after just 15 wins in the past two seasons. In an odd twist, Brewer, who has two seasons left to play after graduating from Texas Tech, was recommended to the Hokies' staff by Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who coached Brewer back at Lake Travis (Texas) High.
Brewer brings with him a nearly 71 percent completion percentage from his limited action with the Red Raiders, including 440 passing yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
On the other side, in the more daunting Atlantic, a pair of second-year coaches are turning to former Gators quarterbacks to command their offenses.
Boston College coach Steve Addazio goes back with Tyler Murphy, a fellow Connecticut native whom Addazio had initially recruited to Gainesville, Florida, during his time as an assistant there. Jacoby Brissett transferred to NC State shortly after coach Dave Doeren was hired there, sitting out last season and taking enough initiative behind the scenes to earn the starting nod before spring ball this year.
“Last year we brought in Brandon Mitchell [from Arkansas] through the one-year loophole, and then at the end of the year, Pete Thomas and Manny Stocker left to go to [Louisiana-Monroe and UT-Martin]," Doeren said. "While that was going on, Jacoby transferred here from Florida. So I’ve seen about all of it that can go around. It’s just part of what recruiting is now. Guys want to play and people don’t want to wait their turn much anymore."
Murphy, who transferred in January, has one year to add some pizzazz to an Eagles' offense looking to spread the field more after last season's run-heavy approach. He spoke often with Brissett (who has two years left at NC State) back when both were still weighing their options when departing Florida.
The familiarity was more than enough to reunite Murphy with Addazio, who said a guy like Murphy probably should have gone to BC in the first place.
"Being a New England guy and growing up around BC, I watched a lot of BC and Matt Ryan in the early 2000s," Murphy said. "So it feels good to be a part of this institution, this program and I'm looking forward to the season."
Florida State could see a pair of its former quarterbacks start against each other next week, as Jake Coker transferred to Alabama one year after Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia.
Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher was supportive of both, with Trickett being familiar with WVU (his dad used to coach there before moving to FSU) and Coker heading to his home-state program after backing up Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Fisher likened the rash of quarterback departures to that of college basketball transfers, because both are possession-dominated athletes.
The graduate-transfer rule, popularized by Russell Wilson three years ago, has only added to that. And, in many ways, it has been a boon for both sides.
"[It] gives some opportunities for guys that are worried about situations like Tyler's," Addazio said, referring to Murphy's injury-shortened 2013. "He's like, 'I've got one shot at this thing. I want to go where I feel like I've got the best opportunity to be the starter.' So you're seeing a lot of this right now. I like this opportunity."
This season, Bradley will be coaching at a place other than Penn State for the first time in his 34-year career. But it's also a place he feels he knows well.
"I get it. I've followed them. I know it. I understand the pride that West Virginia takes in their football team. They get after it. These people are die-hard fans. And they live and breathe with the Mountaineers."
It wasn't long ago that the man known as "Scrap" lived and breathed Penn State. After playing there, Bradley joined Joe Paterno's staff in 1979, and would remain there for 33 seasons. He started as a graduate assistant and finished as the interim head coach in 2011. No person alive has coached in more Penn State games than Bradley, who was part of two national championships and 26 bowl teams there.
But when Penn State hired Bill O'Brien to be its head coach following the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Bradley resigned and became a broadcast analyst, notably covering Army football games.
Other opportunities to coach elsewhere came along over the past three years. Bradley, however, was waiting for the right one.
And when West Virginia asked him to be its senior associate head coach, Bradley finally pounced.
"It was just a great opportunity," he said. "It's very close to where I live (in Pittsburgh). I understand it. I'm not going to a totally different environment that I don't get. Coach (Dana) Holgorsen and (athletic director) Oliver Luck, when they talked to me about this opportunity, it was just something I couldn't pass up.
"This was the right fit."
Bradley just might be the right fit for the Mountaineers, too.
West Virginia has struggled in the Big 12, especially on the defensive side. Through two different coordinators, the Mountaineers have ranked ninth and eighth in total defense, which is a major reason why they've gone 6-12 in two seasons in the league.
After Keith Patterson bolted for Arizona State, Holgorsen promoted safeties coach Tony Gibson to become West Virginia's fourth defensive coordinator in as many years. Gibson and Bradley have known each other for years, developing a friendship while squaring off in Pennsylvania for the state's top recruits. Gibson's promotion is another reason why Bradley felt West Virginia was the place he needed to be. And the combination of the two could form the coaching chemistry that finally turns the Mountaineers' defense around.
"Tony is a first-year defensive coordinator and has a plan with what he wants to do and we're very comfortable with his plan," Holgorsen said. "But having a confident, well-respected coach like Tom Bradley that understands the game, what makes kids tick, gives you a backup defensive coordinator in the room. Coach Bradley being able to game plan each week, helping Tony with that, kind of figure out what offenses are trying to get accomplished. ...I think it will pay dividends."
Bradley admits there's been an adjustment. He knew the entire Penn State defensive scheme by heart, but has had to consult the West Virginia playbook occasionally this fall. But Bradley has instantly impressed the players this preseason with his energy, knowledge and confidence.
"He's just a natural leader," veteran defensive lineman Kyle Rose recently said to reporters. "He's doesn't get mad at you too much, but you can tell when he does get mad that he means business. He's a once-in-a-lifetime coach, after coaching that many guys in the NFL and having years of coaching experience.
"A great addition to us."
Bradley coached many great players and won many big games at Penn State over the years. He's hoping he can bring the same to his second football home.
"I'm here to help this team win," he said. "To help honest to goodness anyway I can. No task is too small. Whatever they need, I'm going to do it.
"The bottom line is to try and win some games."
Previewing the 2014 season for the West Virginia Mountaineers:
Key returners: QB Clint Trickett, OG Quinton Spain, CB Daryl Worley, SS Karl Joseph
Key losses: RB Charles Sims, DT Shaq Rowell, DE Will Clarke, SS Darwin Cook
Most important 2014 games: Sept. 13 at Maryland; Sept. 20 vs. Oklahoma; Oct. 18 vs. Baylor; Nov. 20 vs. Kansas State
Projected win percentage: 38.5 percent
Instant impact newcomers: DE Shaquille Riddick, FS Dravon Henry. Riddick was one of the top defensive players in the FCS last year for Gardner-Webb. He should give the Mountaineers an element of pass rushing they previously might have lacked. Henry, one of the top recruits in West Virginia’s freshman signing class, is pushing for a starting job at free safety right away. In Henry and sophomore Daryl Worley, the Mountaineers could have two young cornerstones to anchor the secondary for years to come.
High point from 2013: The Mountaineers got off to a tough September, including a 37-0 loss to Maryland that was even uglier than the final score. But the following week with a new quarterback, West Virginia pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the Big 12 by knocking off No. 11 Oklahoma State 30-21 in Morgantown. In his first start, Trickett was 24-for-50 for 309 yards and a touchdown, and the West Virginia secondary put the clamps on Cowboys QB J.W. Walsh.
Low point from 2013: Kansas has only one Big 12 victory in its past 30 tries. That lone win came against West Virginia last season as the Jayhawks snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a 31-19 win over the Mountaineers. West Virginia went on to squander a huge lead the following week and fell in triple overtime to Iowa State, which ended the Mountaineers’ season with six losses in their final seven games.
Best-case scenario for 2014: Trickett stays healthy, limits his turnovers and spreads the ball around to West Virginia’s bevy of playmakers. The defense holds up, too, with more depth and a playmaking secondary led by Joseph, Worley and Henry. The Mountaineers beat Maryland in a key nonconference game and go 8-4 to get back to a bowl game, with three of their losses coming to top-10 teams.
Worst-case scenario for 2014: West Virginia gets off to a 1-3 start against a rugged early-season schedule. The rest of the season doesn’t go much better. The quarterbacks can’t stop turning the ball over, and the defense doesn’t improve in the Tony Gibson/Tom Bradley regime. West Virginia goes 3-9 and its Big 12 career record drops to 8-19.
They said it: “I think our players in our locker room understand what the Big 12 is all about. They understand how challenging it is. They understand what the venues are like. They understand what the teams are like, personnel is like, coaching is like, style of play is like. I obviously tried my hardest to be able to relay that to not only the players, but the coaches and the administration and the fan base. And until we got through it for a couple of years, I knew it was going to be challenging.” – West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen
Can you tell me about the maintenance required for the mustache?
Nick O'Toole: The maintenance is I just let it flow and I have to shave everything else. Other than that, it's not too bad. Other than dates and events like this, I usually just let it go. It kind of has its own curl.
Do you wax and twirl it around a pencil? I hear that's one method.
When did this become a passion and commitment of yours?
O'Toole: It definitely became a commitment after the roster picture my first year here at WVU. I had a great game and Pat McAfee, everyone referred to him as "Boomstick" because of his powerful leg. After I averaged like 50 yards against William & Mary, everyone started calling me "Boomstache." I just thought it was a funny thing and kept it. The mullet and the 'stache was a huge hit with the West Virginia fans.
So once you've branded yourself like that, you're stuck, right?
O'Toole: Definitely. I've told a couple people here that if I shave it now, I'll probably get some hate mail from some fans.
Do you appreciate the fan-favorite status you have now?
O'Toole: I enjoy having people laugh, and if I can make them laugh, I love that. We were at Baylor and our kicker, Michael Molinari, he gets mad at me because I came off the field and the fans were chanting 'Olé, Olé, Olé,' but it was 'O'Toole, O'Toole, O'Toole.' He comes off and says, 'I hate you man!' I asked why. He said, 'Even at away games, you're the fan favorite.' I just started laughing.
Were you impressed by the Oregon State kicker who shaved his chest last year?
O'Toole: Yeah, Trevor Romaine. He's from Centennial High School, I actually kick with him on weekends when I'm back home in California. He's a goofy guy, too. I saw that picture with the big beard and the glasses and thought it was brilliant. Trevor is a great guy.
You're wearing USA socks today. What were your other options?
O'Toole: I had to go USA. I have a couple pairs, I think nine. I have Jesus on one. I have Sugar Daddy socks. Beach balls. Anchors. Captains. Some floral socks. I don't have any argyles. We've elevated to a new level.
I notice you have a scar on the top of your head. What's the story there?
O'Toole: I had surgery when I was two months old. My soft spot closed, and so at four months, they had to cut me open and cut a strip of skull out. That's been a scar I've had my whole life. My parents were worried how I would respond to it when I was growing up. I just used to tell people it was a shark bite and they'd laugh and think it was awesome. It doesn't bother me too much.
How would you sum up your career at West Virginia thus far?
O'Toole: It's been a wild ride. It's awesome. Coming in and having that first game against Williams & Mary and doing as well as I did in my first Division I game, it was awesome for me and my confidence. It's like, 'OK, I'm here and this is why I'm here.' All I can do is keep getting better and I strive for that every day.
Do you enjoy the long, long trips to Big 12 road games? What's your perspective on that?
O'Toole: I love it. I've always loved away games. At home games, you have the advantage and all that. But away games give such a different feeling. You're going to some place new, you see new sights. I was telling my dad, this is the most I've ever traveled. I've been to more states in the past year than I have in my entire life.
Are you a guy who dresses up for road trips to complement the 'stache?
O'Toole: I definitely try to dress up as much as I can. I love putting on some slacks and nice shoes. With a mustache this classy, you have to look classy.
He was born in the state. His dad coached at the state school.
“It’s my livelihood,” Trickett said. “The only thing I’m focused on.”
Whether the Mountaineers can improve upon a 6-12 conference record in their two seasons in the Big 12 will hinge heavily on how Trickett performs in his senior season.
After transferring from Florida State, Trickett had his moments last fall, namely when he quarterbacked the Mountaineers to a 30-21 upset victory in September over Oklahoma State in his first career West Virginia start. But he won only one other game as a starter, he threw as many interceptions as he did touchdowns, and he got injured on three different occasions. Trickett twice suffered concussions and also injured his shoulder, which eventually required offseason surgery.
But this fall, Trickett is feeling healthier than he did at any point last season post-Oklahoma State, when he first injured the shoulder. And after a year in the system, Trickett is feeling comfortable operating coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense.
“Compared to last year, I’m light years ahead,” said Trickett, who didn’t arrive at West Virginia in 2013 until just before the season. “Last year, I was slowly grasping what I needed to do. But I had no idea why I needed to do it. This year, I’m understanding the why, and that has made a big difference with my confidence.”
Holgorsen in turn has shown confidence in Trickett.
Last season, Holgorsen first tabbed Paul Millard to be his starting quarterback. After the offense was ineffective through two games, Holgorsen turned to freshman Ford Childress. Only after Childress suffered a pectoral injury did Holgorsen finally give Trickett a shot.
This year, all Holgorsen was waiting for was Trickett’s clean bill of health. During the spring, while Trickett sat out after recovering from shoulder surgery, Millard, junior-college transfer Skyler Howard and walk-on Logan Moore competed for the job. But coming out of the spring, Trickett remained atop the depth chart. And short after that, Holgorsen affirmed that Trickett would be his starter.
“When he joined the team in August last year, although he’s got a good knowledge of the game of football, he had no idea what we were talking about,” Holgorsen said. “He didn’t understand what we were trying to do. It just takes time. When you’ve been in one offense for three years, it takes time to adjust your mindset into what were trying to do. So he didn’t feel comfortable running the offense until about [the Oklahoma State game]. But he was our best option. He was our best option Game 5, and he was our best option Game 12.
“I had to see how he responded to shoulder surgery. Once I saw him attack rehab, and do a good job with that and stay engaged in spring practice, and come back and look as healthy as I’ve seen him, it was a no brainier to name him the starter."
As the new kid on an old block, Trickett said he felt he had to prove himself to his teammates once he got the nod against Oklahoma State. He took hits instead of sliding. He took hits standing in the pocket. And those shots plagued him all season.
This preseason, Trickett no longer has to prove his toughness. And that, he said, should help keep him on the field this time around.
“When I first got here, they didn’t know who I was -- I was basically a stranger,” Trickett said. “It’s hard to be like, ‘Hey guys, everyone follow me,’ when you’re not in there with the first team.
“But the guys saw what I’m about. That I’m a competitor. That I put the team before myself. That I can play hurt. I don’t need to take on linebackers [who] have 80 pounds on me anymore. If I need to get that one play, I’ll still try to get there. But I can also avoid the hits that I don’t need to take.”
Trickett staying healthy could be critical for the Mountaineers, who will be entering a crossroads season in Year 3 in the Big 12.
Holgorsen has continued to recruit well off the field. And the Mountaineers appear to have more depth and more capable players than they have their previous two seasons in the Big 12. But West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck has gone on record saying he wants to see the program be more competitive this season. In 2013, the Mountaineers got blown out by Maryland and Baylor and lost to Kansas, which hadn’t won a conference game in 27 tries.
West Virginia, however, was also close at times to getting over the hump in 2013. The Mountaineers played Oklahoma tough on the road and had Texas on the ropes before falling in overtime. They also had second-half leads on Texas Tech, Kansas State and Iowa State before falling late.
“We really were so close to being a nine-win team,” Trickett said. “A lot of teams say that, but we really were. It’s almost a confidence builder. A lot of people are down us. But we know we can turn it around. The pieces are in place.”
One of those pieces is a West Virginian quarterback, who doesn’t have to be told what a turnaround season would mean for his home state.
“We’re the pro team here, the only thing going on,” he said. “Everyone wants us to succeed.
“But we gotta do it.”
Brandon, Max and I had a hand in putting together the list for the Big 12.
Nine of the 10 that ultimately made the list were the players I pushed for (I actually had Michael Bishop over Darren Sproles for Kansas State, for reasons I'll detail below).
You can read the list here. But here's a snapshot of the Big 12 players who delivered the season above all others.
Baylor: Robert Griffin III, QB, 2011
My take: This one was easy. Mike Singletary was a great player. But Griffin's 2011 season transformed the program, which will culminate with the opening of McLane Stadium later this month.
Iowa State: Troy Davis, RB, 1996
My take: Only Barry Sanders, Kevin Smith and Marcus Allen have rushed for more yards in a season than Davis. The only Iowa State season that comes close was Davis' 1995 season in which he rushed for 2,010 yards.
Kansas: Gale Sayers, RB, 1963
My take: Sayers' 1964 season was magnificent, too, when the "Kansas Comet" led the Jayhawks to a 15-14 upset over Oklahoma. How monumental was that win? Kansas has defeated the Sooners only six times since.
Kansas State: Darren Sproles, RB, 2003
My take: Sproles was fabulous player and had a fabulous season. But Bishop had the Manhattan Miracle one game away from the national championship game. He also finished second in the Heisman voting.
Oklahoma: Lee Roy Selmon, DE, 1975
My take: With so many great seasons to consider, Oklahoma was one of the toughest programs to sift through. But as good as Billy Sims, Adrian Peterson, Sam Bradford and Tommy McDonald were, none dominated the way Selmon did. He was the heart and soul of the Sooners' dominating run through the mid-1970s.
Oklahoma State: Barry Sanders, RB, 1988
My take: Forget college football. Sanders' 1988 season was one of the greatest in the history of sports.
Texas: Vince Young, QB, 2005
My take: Earl Campbell had the better career and was the better player. But Young had the better single season in 2005, strapping the Longhorns to his shoulders and carrying them to the school's first national title in 35 years.
TCU: Davey O'Brien, QB/DB/P/K, 1938
My take: How loaded was TCU at quarterback in 1935? O'Brien actually backed up Sammy Baugh, who would go on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Texas Tech: Michael Crabtree, WR, 2007
My take: Though the numbers weren't anywhere as good, I actually pushed for Crabtree's '08 season. But it's hard to argue against 134 receptions, 1,962 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns.
West Virginia: Major Harris, QB, 1988
My take: The Mountaineers have enjoyed some remarkably talented players offensively in recent years in Pat White, Tavon Austin and Geno Smith. But none took West Virginia as far as Harris did.
Both Young and Sanders are in the playoff for the best season overall. You can vote for both by clicking here.
Baylor has a chip on its shoulder: Despite winning the Big 12 last season and returning the Big 12 offensive player of the year in quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor was voted second in the conference’s preseason poll behind Oklahoma. The Bears clearly felt a bit disrespected while in Dallas this week. "That comes with being Baylor," defensive end Shawn Oakman said. "We're gonna be great one day and y'all are gonna notice." The Bears were pretty great last season, stomping the Sooners 41-12 on the way to their first Big 12 title. "That game from OU last year, that should have showed you that that product was nowhere near as good as the product that Baylor was putting on the field," Oakman said. "The execution, the players from each and every position ... You could tell we were on a different level from OU." Still getting picked to finish behind Oklahoma has given the Bears extra fuel for this season. "In our minds, we’re still underdogs," Oakman said. "We play with a chip on our shoulder. You only get the respect if you earn it."
Stoops is loose as a goose: The loosest coach at Big 12 media days might have been Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. He was cracking jokes, photo-bombing his wife’s TV interview (she was there for a Mary Kay convention) and taking a break between interview sessions to grab a strawberry smoothie. He even chided Alabama coach Nick Saban for suggesting the Crimson Tide didn’t care about being in the Sugar Bowl. "So if I’m not in a national championship game, that means I’ve got a built-in excuse?" Stoops said. Such bravado could be a sign that Stoops thinks he has a pretty good team. With Trevor Knight at quarterback and nine starters back defensively, it’s not hard to see why.
TCU has a big problem: Though they had already left, the Horned Frogs were the story the second day of Big 12 media days. Defensive end Devonte Fields, who last week was voted the league's preseason defensive player of the year, was accused of pulling a gun on his ex-girlfriend. TCU acted quickly after the news surfaced, claiming it had "separated" from Fields. If any part of the allegations levied against Fields are true, it’s difficult to see him ever playing another game in the Big 12. That is a big loss for the league. And an even bigger one for TCU, which is attempting to bounce back from one of its worst seasons in the Gary Patterson era.
Strong believes in Ash: The biggest question mark in Charlie Strong’s first season as coach at Texas is quarterback. More specifically, quarterback David Ash. But even though Ash missed virtually all of last season with concussion issues, then the spring with a fractured foot, Strong said he was impressed with Ash when watching old game film. "When Ash is healthy, he played very well," Strong said. All signs point to Ash being the starter when the Longhorns open the season. Whether he can be consistent and be healthy could go a long way in dictating how Strong’s first season goes, too.
Bowlsby does not believe in the NCAA: According to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, cheating pays. And the enforcement wing of the NCAA is broken. Bowlsby painted a bleak future for the NCAA, also predicting that Olympic sports could be in trouble down the line. "If you like intercollegiate athletics the way it is, you're going to hate it going forward," he said. "There's a lot of change coming." Because of its popularity, football will always be fine. But with lawsuits and athletic department expenses about to rise dramatically, Bowlsby thinks something will have to give.
Everyone’s mind is on the playoff, even if all minds don’t quite get it: The inaugural College Football Playoff was one of the big topics of conversation this week. The Big 12 coaches all believe the league is positioned strongly for inclusion, thanks to a robust nonconference slate of games and a nine-game conference schedule. Many players, however, weren’t well-informed about how the playoff will work. One didn’t know how many teams would be in it. Another thought every conference champ automatically advanced to it. And still another had no idea just how the playoff would be picked. The playoff is going to be an adjustment for college football fans. There is going to be an adjustment for the players, too.
Trickett was always the guy: According to West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, Clint Trickett was always going to be this season’s starting quarterback. It was just a matter of him getting cleared medically. "We wanted him to be the guy," Holgorsen said. "We had to wait and see how he did coming off the shoulder surgery." Holgorsen said there was little the other West Virginia quarterbacks could have done this spring to unseat Trickett, who sat out while recovering from the shoulder injury. "He was the best option we had this year, he was the best option we had last year," Holgorsen said. "Once I was pleased with what I saw, it was a no-brainer to me."
Hill will get the ball a lot: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has had some talented offensive players over the years. But Gundy said it has been a long time since the Cowboys had a playmaker like juco running back Tyreek Hill. "He's very fast," said Gundy, comparing him to former West Virginia standout Tavon Austin. "He gets [past] that first level [of the defense] and no one is caching him." Gundy wants Hill to touch the ball at least 20 times a game. Whether he’s at running back or lined up in the slot, Hill is going to be the focal point of the Oklahoma State attack.
Snyder is still the man: Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is 74 years old, just two years younger than former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who popped by media days Monday night. But Snyder is still coaching strong, with a team that was voted third in the preseason poll behind co-favorites Oklahoma and Baylor. Apparently everyone should eat only one meal a day.
Iowa State Cyclones
Attending: Coach Paul Rhoads, tight end E.J. Bibbs, center Tom Farniok, defensive end Cory Morrissey, linebacker Jevohn Miller.
Storyline: The Cyclones missed out on a bowl game last season after back-to-back appearances. But Rhoads appears to have the offensive pieces to get back to bowl eligibility. Bibbs was a preseason All-Big 12 selection, and Farniok leads an offensive line that trails only Oklahoma in the league in career starts. Rhoads appears to have the offensive coordinator, too. Mark Mangino has returned to the Big 12 after four years away from coaching in the FBS. Mangino's résumé includes a national championship as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, and an Orange Bowl victory as the head coach at Kansas.
Kansas State Wildcats
Attending: Coach Bill Snyder, quarterback Jake Waters, receiver Tyler Lockett, center BJ Finney, defensive end Ryan Mueller, linebacker Jonathan Truman.
Storyline: From start to end, the Wildcats were the most improved team in the Big 12 last season. The biggest reason was the emergence of Waters at quarterback during the second half of the year. Waters actually outperformed Baylor quarterback and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Bryce Petty during the final seven games in QBR. Waters has one of college football's top playmakers to throw to again in Lockett, and the team is solid again on both sides of the trenches. Snyder's squads usually improve over the course of a season. But if K-State starts out this season the way it finished the previous, look out.
Attending: Coach Bob Stoops, quarterback Trevor Knight, offensive tackle Daryl Williams, defensive end Geneo Grissom, safety Julian Wilson.
Storyline: After a brief malaise, the bloom is back on Oklahoma. That's what a 45-31 bowl win over the preeminent program in college football will do. But can the Sooners carry over the momentum generated from the Alabama win into this season? The answer to that question will depend largely on Knight, the sophomore quarterback. In the Sugar Bowl, Knight was sensational, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns. But he has started and finished only three games in his young career. If he can rekindle the Sugar Bowl magic, the Sooners will push for inclusion in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Attending: Coach Charlie Strong, running back Malcolm Brown, center Dominic Espinosa, defensive end Cedric Reed, cornerback Quandre Diggs.
Storyline: The Strong era is afoot in Austin.
Regardless of what he has or hasn't said this offseason to boosters or high school coaches, Strong ultimately will be measured by how many games he wins on the field. At almost every position, the Longhorns are equipped for success. But that won't amount to much if they don't get better quarterbacking than they have the previous four seasons. That makes David Ash the most important player on the roster. He missed almost all of last season with concussion issues and then the spring with a fractured foot. If Ash can stay healthy, the Longhorns can make a serious run in the Big 12. If he can't, the Strong era could be off to a tumultuous start.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Attending: Coach Dana Holgorsen, receiver Kevin White, cornerback Daryl Worley, punter Nick O'Toole.
Storyline: It's make-or-break time for Holgorsen, who has produced a pair of mediocre seasons in West Virginia's first two years in the Big 12. The schedule is brutal, but that won't discharge Holgorsen from showing improvement from last year's 4-8 season. The Mountaineers have good running backs and receivers. But do they have the answer at quarterback? Holgorsen unexpectedly gave the early nod this summer to Clint Trickett, even though he missed all of spring ball recovering from shoulder surgery. Holgorsen's fate figures to be intertwined with that of his senior quarterback.
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Longtime Baylor commit ATH Blake Lynch transferred to Gilmer (Texas) High School, a big-time East Texas program, this summer and is trying his hand at a new role. The former Troup (Texas) quarterback played wide receiver at the Texas state 7-on-7 tournament this past weekend, and that's the position our ESPN scouts see him playing in college. Lynch's commitment to BU remains solid.
Total commits: 6
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: RB Devine Ozigbo of Sachse, Texas, is set to announce his commitment next Tuesday and is down to eight schools on his list: Iowa State, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Boise State, Boston College and Mississippi State. The Cyclones are selling him on the chance to be the only rusher they take in their 2015 class, but ISU's top competition for Ozigbo might be its in-state rival.
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: ESPN 300 running back Tyreik Gray told our Damon Sayles this past weekend he wants to take official visits to Kansas, Oklahoma and Louisville before deciding on signing day. Gray is also expected to take an unofficial visit to Texas on Friday. Gray transferred to powerhouse Houston Lamar this spring and is being recruited as a RB/DB by most schools.
Total commits: 7
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats' newest commitment came from ILB Chase Johnston. The Carl Junction, Missouri, native impressed enough at a K-State camp this summer to earn an offer, running an impressive 4.6-second 40 at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. Johnston also went to Arkansas and Missouri camps this summer and made a strong impression, but KSU was his first and only scholarship offer.
Total commits: 7
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: The Sooners appear to be in the lead now for ESPN 300 offensive tackle Madison Akamnonu of Arlington (Texas) Bowie, and he could be closing in on a decision soon. The 6-foot-5 lineman's father attended OU, and this is likely going to come down to a Texas-Oklahoma decision for the rising four-star. For what it's worth, two of Akamnonu's high school teammates have already committed to TCU.
Total commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Pokes are out in front for a sleeper wide receiver out of Louisiana. Don't be surprised if OSU locks up a pledge from Jalen McCleskey of Covington (Louisiana) St. Paul's in the near future. The 5-foot-10, 165-pound wideout has visited Stillwater several times and could end up being OSU's first WR pledge for 2015.
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: TCU is one of two early offers for Plano (Texas) Prestonwood linebacker Deonte Williams. Baylor has also joined the mix with an offer for the teammate of ESPN Junior 300 receiver Michael Irvin Jr., and Williams is planning to camp at Florida State soon. The Horned Frogs already got Williams on campus this summer and are in good shape so far.
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: Texas hosts its first-ever "Under The Lights" camp on Friday night inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, and a star-studded turnout is expected. Among those planning to attend are all 11 commits in this class and reportedly as many as 25-plus members of the ESPN 300 for 2015 and 2016, highlighted by WR Ryan Newsome, CB Holton Hill, CB Kris Boyd and possibly OLB Malik Jefferson. Top QB targets Kai Locksley (2015) and Shea Patterson (2016) will also be on campus.
Total commits: 7
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: Texas Tech had just two of its commits qualify for Nike's The Opening in Oregon, but both were stellar. QB Jarrett Stidham finished in seventh place in the final Elite 11 standings and DT Breiden Fehoko proved he's one of the nation's strongest linemen with an event-best 42 reps of 185 pounds on the bench press. Both will play in the Under Armour All-America Game after their senior season.
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: LB Riley Nicholson is expected to make his decision this week, and the Mountaineers are finalists along with UCF and NC State. The Kissimmee (Florida) Osceola standout visited all three schools multiple times during his recruitment, but UCF's rise to prominence in 2013 might be the difference-maker in this battle.
Here are the Big 12 players that made each list:
- DT Malcom Brown, Texas
- SS Sam Carter, TCU
- CB Quandre Diggs, Texas
- DE Devonte Fields, TCU
- LB Bryce Hager, Baylor
- LB Ben Heeney, Kansas
- DT Chucky Hunter, TCU
- DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
- DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor
- DE Cedric Reed, Texas
- CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
- LB Eric Striker, Oklahoma
- DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
- DT Malcom Brown, Texas
- OT Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
- OT Spencer Drango, Baylor
- C Dominic Espinosa, Texas
- C B.J. Finney, Kansas State
- DT Chucky Hunter
- OG Quinton Spain, West Virginia
- OG/OT Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
- OT Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
Already this week, the Maxwell (player of the year), Bednarik (defensive player of the year), Hornung (most versatile player), Mackey (best tight end), Rimington (best center), Groza (best kicker) and Guy (best punter) watch lists have come.
Below is the rest of the preseason watch list schedule:
Friday, July 11
- Jim Thorpe Award, best defensive back
Monday, July 14
- Butkus Award, best linebacker
- Lombardi Award, best lineman
Tuesday, July 15
- Biletnikoff Award, best receiver
Wednesday, July 16
- Davey O’Brien Award, best quarterback.
Thursday, July 17
- Doak Walker Award, best running back
Friday, July 18
- Walter Camp Award, best player
The Sooners' stadium innovation plans are now full steam ahead after receiving regent approval on Tuesday, but nearly every other program in the conference is busy raising money and working up blueprints for facility changes, big or small, this offseason. A rundown of every upgrade currently in the works, starting with the league's newest palace:
Constructed: 2014 Recent renovation: N/A
Coming soon: The $250 million stadium on the Brazos opens in 64 days. The seats are all sold out and the place should be plenty tricked out. McLane Stadium is capable of eventually being expanded to a capacity of 55,000 in the future. There's a construction cam if you're interested in checking in on the progress.
Iowa State: Jack Trice Stadium
Constructed: 1975 Recent renovation: 2007
Coming soon: Iowa State will have the Big 12's third-largest stadium in August 2015 when a recently announced $60 million expansion project is completed. Jack Trice Stadium is getting a new south end zone side, with upper and lower bowls, premium club seating and a new HD video board. The project will boost capacity to 61,000.
Kansas: Memorial Stadium
Constructed: 1921 Recent renovation: 2006
Coming soon: Thanks to an anonymous donor, a minor six-week renovation project is underway this summer to remove the track from inside Memorial Stadium. Not only was it a bit of a eyesore, but the track's elimination means more practice space and full-turf sidelines. It's a small fix, but an important one.
Kansas State: Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium
Constructed: 1968 Recent renovation: 2013
Coming soon: In April, K-State unveiled plans for Phase 3 of its stadium improvement project: A $65 million renovation to the stadium's north end. The construction will double the size of its football complex, add 1,000 seats and new video boards. More than 70 percent of the funding had already been raised at the time of the announcement. Construction begins at the end of this season, and most should be wrapped up for the 2015 opener.
Oklahoma: Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium
Constructed: 1923 Recent renovation: 2003
Coming soon: Regents approved a $370 million project that will bring comprehensive renovations and modernize the Sooners' home, but the intent is not to increase capacity. The south end zone will be enclosed to create a continuous bowl, the west side will be remodeled with a new press box and suites and there will be a new south video board. But just as important, much of OU's plans are dedicated to improving student-athlete facilities and fan amenities. Most of the work should be done for the start of the 2016 season.
Oklahoma State: Boone Pickens Stadium
Constructed: 1920 Recent renovation: 2009
Coming soon: After all the money T. Boone has poured into renovating the place in the past decade, this offseason wasn't too expensive: Oklahoma State is installing 76,000 square feet of new AstroTurf inside Boone Pickens Stadium and should be done by mid-July. The new turf design is pretty slick, if you haven't seen it.
TCU: Amon G. Carter Stadium
Constructed: 1930 Recent renovation: 2012
Coming soon: Nada. What more could Gary Patterson and the Frogs ask for? The $164 million reconstruction of their stadium was completed in 2012 and, from a facilities standpoint, TCU now has everything it ever wanted. There is potential for Amon G. Carter to expand to 50,000 seats in the future, but nothing is imminent.
Texas: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium
Constructed: 1924 Recent renovation: 2013
Capacity: 100,119 Coming soon: Texas had only minor cosmetic fixes last offseason, including new FieldTurf, but big changes are on the horizon. This spring, new AD Steve Patterson began exploring the feasibility of expansion to complete the south end zone of DKR. Currently, that end zone houses simple bleachers and the "Godzillatron" video board. Such an expansion would target adding more premium seating and suites, not general seats, and (no surprise here) would likely aim to surpass Texas A&M's new Kyle Field capacity of 102,500.
Texas Tech: Jones AT&T Stadium
Constructed: 1947 Recent renovation: 2013
Coming soon: Texas Tech kicked off a new campaign in February to raise more than $100 million for more than two dozen athletic facility projects. "The Campaign For Fearless Champions" will involve all 17 Red Raider athletic teams and facilities all over campus. Development of Jones AT&T Stadium's south end zone is said to be one of the cornerstones of the funding venture, as well as an indoor football practice facility.
West Virginia: Milan Puskar Stadium
Constructed: 1980 Recent renovation: 2007 Capacity: 60,000
Coming soon: West Virginia unveiled plans for $106 million in facility upgrades in April. Milan Puskar Stadium will receive concourse renovations, a new scoreboard, upgraded box seats and plenty more. One of Dana Holgorsen's top priorities will also be addressed: $5 million is going toward building a new team meeting room. No timetable on when all that gets done, but construction should begin after the 2014 season.
But other schools around the league are interested in the prospects of rekindling rivalries that were destroyed by two rounds of conference realignment.
While the Longhorns and Aggies remain at odds, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told ESPN.com this week he’s optimistic that he’ll be able to get Texas A&M on the Red Raiders’ schedule down the line again. Hocutt said there has been interest from Texas A&M’s side, as well.
“Hopefully that’s a series that at some point in time that could start again,” Hocutt said. “Is that a game that won’t happen again? No. We’ve had discussions about it. Hopefully we can reengage that in the coming years.”
Oklahoma and Nebraska already have an agreement in place to play a home-and-home in 2021-22. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has reportedly said he thinks his school will play Kansas again someday.
And West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who has already added Penn State and Virginia Tech to future schedules, told ESPN.com he's hopeful he'll be able to revive the “Backyard Brawl” with Pitt at some point, as well.
“At some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule,” Luck said. “What I’m trying to do with our nonconference games is stay as regional as possible and rekindle some of our historical rivalries. Penn State is back on the schedule. Virginia Tech is back on the schedule. That game meant a lot to southern West Virginians. The Pitt game meant a lot to northern West Virginians. We’ve continued to play Pitt in many of the sports.
“We’ve both gone through transitions, so it’s tough schedule-wise for both of us. But I think at some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule. I see [Pitt athletic director] Steve Pederson every now and then at various conventions. And we’ve had some discussions about that. We just haven’t been able to really eyeball the proper time to get it going again.”