NCF Nation: West Virginia Mountaineers

This spring, the Big 12 is loaded with quarterback competitions. But the three most hotly contested quarterback battles figure to reside in Norman, Morgantown and Austin. We predict the winners of these three competitions in our weekly Big 12 roundtable:

Who will win Oklahoma's QB derby?

Max Olson: I feel like I'd be a fool to bet against Baker Mayfield in this race. I know we've seen glimpses of Trevor Knight's ceiling before, and no question he's exciting on his best days. But if you saw what Mayfield did in the OU spring game last year, you knew this day was coming, right? Sure, the best foe he ever beat at Tech was probably that 4-8 TCU team. But Mayfield is a third-year guy now who's had plenty of time to mature and learn, and I can't discount the fact he's the Oklahoma QB most accustomed to playing in the offense Lincoln Riley will run. I think Mayfield will win the job in August.

Brandon Chatmon: I expect the OU spring competition to end much like TCU’s did 12 months ago, with the overriding summer question being whether the Sooners have anyone who can do the job. The spring will be filled with plenty of ups and downs from all three competitors. I think they do have a guy who can get the job done but, like Max, I think it won’t be decided until just before the season begins. Mayfield is the favorite because people tend to like shiny new toys, but I’m going to go with Knight to hold off Mayfield and keep his job. I like what Mayfield brings to the table, but people are choosing to overlook Knight's positives and focus instead on the mental lapses that plagued him in 2014. I’m betting on Riley to bring consistency and good decision-making to Knight’s game.

Jake Trotter: I don't think Bob Stoops will name a starter until August. But when he's ready to name one, I think it will be Mayfield. I'm not ready to give up on Knight. And Cody Thomas has the tools to be a quality Big 12 quarterback. But given the offense Riley wants to run, Mayfield makes the most sense. He has experience operating the air raid from his time at Tech. And, he's not a retread from last year's disastrous season. Mayfield brings a little bit of savvy and a lot of confidence to the position, too, which is something the Sooners could really use.

What about West Virginia's QB battle?

Olson: The William Crest bandwagon was filling up quickly last year in Morgantown even when he didn't play, and it's easy to see why. Is he better than Geno Smith and Pat White combined, as some WVU fans seem to believe? Not yet. We got such a limited opportunity to see him play in 2014 (four pass attempts and five rushes vs. Towson), but as long as his shoulder holds up, I think he's the long-term solution for this program.

Chatmon: Skyler Howard made great strides toward securing the starting job after Clint Trickett’s head injuries forced him to retire. Howard was solid in three starts to end the season, particularly with his eight touchdowns without an interception. But with five quarterbacks in the battle to permanently replace Trickett, this competition looks poised to extend into the preseason. Among those candidates, I have no doubt Crest is the future at the position with his unique skill set and mature approach, but I think Howard will start when the Mountaineers kick off the season Sept. 5 against Georgia Southern. Whether he keeps that starting spot throughout 2015 is the overriding question.

Trotter: Howard did some nice things filling in for Trickett late last season. But there's a reason why Crest beat him out for the No. 2 quarterback job coming out of the preseason. Howard can make plays outside the pocket, both with his arm and feet. But I'm skeptical his accuracy will be sharp enough to hold off Crest this spring. Crest is loaded with potential, and I see him ultimately beating out Howard again.

Who will emerge from Texas' QB competition?

Olson: Of these three, the Texas battle is the one I feel least confident about. I say that because I'm just not sure where Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard stand in the eyes of their coaches. Shawn Watson repeatedly said during the season that Heard was nowhere near ready. And it's hard to predict which Swoopes we're going to see this spring. A long competition will benefit both guys. I'd give a tiny edge to Heard ultimately being the choice, but I don't assume he's in the lead at this moment.

Chatmon: At Texas, Heard gets the nod over Swoopes despite Swoopes having the edge in experience. Heard seems like the right choice and the Longhorns' best hope of finding an answer at the quarterback position this spring, and I expect him to emerge atop the depth chart after shining in spring practices on the 40 acres. The question remains why Heard didn’t get a chance with the UT offense experiencing plenty of bumps in 2014, but I’m betting he shows he should have gotten that chance by separating himself this spring.

Trotter: Considering Heard is a complete unknown, I'll go with Swoopes here. But I don't feel great about it. Swoopes had his moments last season but struggled down the stretch, leading Texas to finish its season with a thud. Yet despite Swoopes' struggles, Heard never got a shot. Apparently, he wasn't ready. Will he be ready this spring? That's anyone's guess.
A closer look at a few important position battles in the Big 12 entering spring practice:

Baylor: Middle linebacker
Aiavion Edwards vs. Grant Campbell

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

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

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

Oklahoma State: Running back
Rennie Childs vs. Sione Palelei

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

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

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

Texas: Quarterback
Tyrone Swoopes vs. Jerrod Heard

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

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

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

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

Howard showed dramatic improvement leading up to his three-game audition to end 2014. He lost two of those three, but threw eight TDs and played with confidence when he got his shot. West Virginia fans are rightfully excited about Crest, a dual-threat redshirt freshman whose first year was cut short by a shoulder issue. Millard and true freshmen Chris Chugunov and David Sills are also battling for this job, giving Dana Holgorsen better QB depth than he’s had in a while. If Crest proves he’s ready to lead now, he might run away with this race.
It is an important spring for several players in the Big 12.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranking the Big 12 coaching jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Kansas
Only eight years ago, Mark Mangino took Kansas to the Orange Bowl. It seems even more amazing now. The Jayhawks are behind the rest of the league in every area, from attendance to facilities.
Spring ball kicks off in Big 12 country today with Baylor slated to hold its first practice. Later this week, TCU and Texas Tech will get started, too.

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

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

Can freshmen factor into Baylor, Kansas State quarterback derbies?

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

What will the new Oklahoma offense look like?

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

Who will play linebacker for TCU?

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

Can Mason Rudolph, Patrick Mahomes take next step?

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

Is Jerrod Heard ready?

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

Who will catch passes at Kansas State and West Virginia?

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

Can Skyler Howard hold off William Crest?

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

Can David Gibbs turn around the Tech defense?

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

Can a new staff give Kansas hope?

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

How will Iowa State replace its dismissed players?

Since the end of the season, Iowa State lost running back DeVondrick Nealy, safety T.J. Mutcherson and wide receivers P.J. Harris and Tad Ecby. All four were supposed to play big roles for the Cyclones in 2015. With Quenton Bundrage's return from a knee injury, Iowa State should be fine at receiver. But finding a starting running back to replace Nealy and safety to step in for Mutcherson will be paramount this spring.
Here are three players in the Ultimate ESPN 300 who will be remembered for their exploits in the Big 12.

Austin
Tavon Austin, receiver, West Virginia

The No. 197 player in the Ultimate ESPN 300 played in the Big 12 for only one season but stuffed a career's worth of memories into those 13 games with the conference logo on his uniform. Austin rushed for 643 yards, averaging 8.9 yards per carry, while adding 114 receptions for 1,269 yards as a senior in 2012.

His performance in a 50-49 loss to Oklahoma in 2012 won’t be forgotten anytime soon as he left any Sooners defender who tried to tackle him one-on-one in the open field grasping for air more often than not. He finished with 572 all-purpose yards, including 344 rushing yards on 21 carries (16.4 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. That single-game performance will not be forgotten anytime soon.

Griffin
Robert Griffin III, quarterback, Baylor

It’s hard not to like what Griffin was able to accomplish during his time at Baylor. He stands as a sterling example of what one talented person can accomplish with confidence, laser-like focus and unyielding desire. The No. 57 player in the Ultimate 300 put Baylor on the map and wasn’t shy about letting people know this was a new era at Baylor. Griffin joined Art Briles to help create excitement and belief around a program that had called the Big 12 basement home since the conference’s inception.

During his Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2011, Griffin had plenty of Heisman moments, including exceptional performances against TCU, Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri as he helped the Bears to a 10-win season. A big-play machine with exceptional speed, Griffin was a joy to watch.

Thomas
Earl Thomas, safety, Texas

The No. 240 player in the Ultimate 300 was simply awesome to watch play football. Thomas played only two seasons in Austin but he was a marvel during his time in the Big 12. He was a blur in the secondary who caused havoc with his explosiveness to the ball. Thomas was a true rarity as a must-watch college football player who lined up on the defensive side of the ball.

As he made play after play, it was amazing how the native of Orange, Texas, was dominating a game as a 5-foot-10, 197-pound safety. Thomas earned All-American honors and finished his career with 149 tackles, 33 pass breakups, 10 interceptions and five forced fumbles in 27 games. Texas lost just twice with Thomas in the lineup.

Coaches' poll: Favorite Big 12 recruits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Virginia DE Adam Shuler: "He didn’t get all of the attention and all of that but I think he has the chance to be a special player."

What we learned: Big 12 signing day

February, 5, 2015
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National signing day has come and gone and is never devoid of drama. Seven Big 12 programs ended up with top-40 signing classes and most picked up a new signee (or three) on the final day of recruiting for the Class of 2015. Here’s a roundup of what we learned from signing day:

1. Charlie Strong’s first full Texas class gets top-10 finish

The word “foundational” will get thrown around a lot when talking about the Longhorns’ No. 9-ranked signing class, and with good reason. A nice big chunk of the 28 who inked with UT on Wednesday will be given a shot at playing time right away, including most of Texas’ 14 ESPN 300 signees.

Strong earned three nice victories on signing day: winning a coin flip (literally) for running back Chris Warren III, flipping speedy receiver/returner Ryan Newsome from UCLA and persuading three-star safety P.J. Locke to bail on Oregon. Texas went 0-for-3 on the coveted trio of Daylon Mack, Soso Jamabo and DaMarkus Lodge but still put together one of the more impressive defensive classes in the country.

It’s going to take another class like this before Texas’ cupboards are stockpiled again, but Strong confirmed with this class he won’t be afraid to take out-of-state talent (nine signees in 2015) if need be. His approach at Texas will continue to evolve, but the initial results look promising.

2. TCU misses on Mack, but could still pull surprise

Gary Patterson and his staff invested a lot of time and sweat into the recruitment of Mack, ESPN’s No. 6 overall recruit, and did an impressive job along the way. There was a phase of his process this winter during which the Frogs truly did hold a lead.

Patterson likely knew going into Wednesday that Mack was signing with Texas A&M, but it had to be a little disheartening to hear Mack declare he’d actually been silently committed to the Aggies since his Jan. 16 official visit. Kids like to maintain the charade and attention. Coaches don’t like wasting time.

The Frogs ended the day with ESPN’s No. 37 ranked class but might have one more chance to sweeten their haul. ESPN 300 Louisiana receiver Terrell Chatman delayed his signing until Thursday and, despite being a Miami commit, is mulling a flip to TCU or Arizona State.

3. Volatile day, valuable wins for West Virginia

Dana Holgorsen bragged on Wednesday that for the first time in a long time at West Virginia, he had the luxury of being selective with this 2015 class. He and his staff went hard after some big names, and a few pursuits paid off.

The most glaring need? Wide receiver. West Virginia inked an elite one in longtime ESPN 300 commit Jovon Durante and secured two more intriguing options on Wednesday: three-star Gary Jennings and juco transfer Ka’Raun White, younger brother of the great Kevin White.

But the Mountaineers missed on some key wideout targets: Shaquery Wilson flipped back to Georgia, Kahlil Lewis backed out and signed with Cincinnati and ESPN 300 standout Antonio Callaway chose Florida along with four-star back Jordan Cronkrite. WVU had as much to gain as any Big 12 program on Wednesday but had to settle for solid and a 36th-ranked class.

4. Sooners wrap up killer D with flip

Texas’ defensive class gets serious hype, but take a closer look at what the Sooners signed. Bob Stoops is right to call this his best secondary class yet: P.J. Mbanasor, Will Sunderland Jr., William Johnson, Kahlil Haughton and Antoine Stephens is a crazy collection of DB talent. That group added one more safety in four-star Prentice McKinney Jr., who’d previously committed to Notre Dame and North Carolina.

Oklahoma’s fears at linebacker were relieved -- Ricky DeBerry and Arthur McGinnis are both exciting takes -- and there are some nice pieces up front led by Canada’s finest, defensive tackle Neville Gallimore.

The infusion of depth and competition this class offers should help reshape an Oklahoma D that underperformed in 2014. Give props to newly elevated co-DC Jerry Montgomery, too. He’s a rising star in the recruiting world.

5. Red Raiders get double steal

Who doesn’t love a good package deal? Over the weekend, Texas Tech coaches sneaked Texas commit Jamile Johnson Jr. and TCU pledge J.F. Thomas in for an official visit. Soon after, Johnson made the third decommitment of his recruiting process and backed out on the Longhorns. His next move seemed obvious.

Thomas leaped with him. Both signed with TTU, in large part because their high school coach, Dallas South Oak Cliff’s Emmett Jones, has joined the Tech staff as director of player development. Thomas, a four-star wideout, is a great get after the Red Raiders missed on Carlos Strickland.

But it’s not that simple, of course. It seems TCU folks are skeptical Thomas will qualify, as evidenced by Patterson telling reporters that not only was he not surprised by the flip, he didn’t even ask the longtime pledge to take an official visit to TCU.

Got to love a good intraconference recruiting battle, right? This year’s signing day might not have been fireworks-filled, but it didn’t disappoint.

Big 12 signing day primer

February, 3, 2015
Feb 3
8:00
PM ET
Signing day is upon us, with ESPNU set to bring us 11 hours of live coverage and 17 live TV announcements on Wednesday, including ESPN 300 members Daylon Mack, Soso Jamabo and Josh Wariboko making their college choice known with Big 12 schools remaining in consideration for their signatures.

Jamabo will announce between UCLA and Texas at 9:20 a.m. ET, Wariboko will reveal his choice of Oklahoma, UCLA or Ohio State at 11:05 a.m., and Mack will select Texas A&M, Texas or TCU at 12:35 p.m.

For team-by-team coverage of the Big 12, check out the conference’s recruiting pages:
Baylor
Iowa State
Kansas
Kansas State
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
TCU
Texas
Texas Tech
West Virginia

Programming schedule:
Signing Day Special (8 a.m. ET): ESPNU or Watch ESPN
Texas Football Signing Day Live (9 a.m. ET): LHN or WatchESPN

Storyline to watch: Where will Texas end up in the national rankings? Charlie Strong's first full recruiting cycle on the 40 acres has been fruitful, with ESPN 300 recruits making up more than a third of his commitment list. The Longhorns remain hopeful they can land Mack and Jamabo, but UT looks poised to bring in the best recruiting class in the Big 12 even if both players decide to play their college football elsewhere.

Recruit to watch: Wariboko would be a terrific addition to Oklahoma's recruiting class. The onetime Sooners commit decided to weigh his options during the recruiting process, but everything could come full circle if the Oklahoma City Casady guard decides to play college football near home. If he picks the Sooners, he would be the ninth member of the ESPN 300 on OU's commit list.

Signing day surprise: Keep an eye on West Virginia. Dana Holgorsen's program has put together the No. 30 recruiting class in the nation and would love to top it off with a surprise like ESPN 300 receiver Antonio Callaway. WVU’s flip of longtime Georgia commit Shaquery Wilson was a pleasant pre-signing day surprise for the Mountaineers, so an addition such as Callaway could give WVU the Big 12's top group of receiver prospects.
This week, we're taking a closer look at one specific area each Big 12 team needs to improve before 2015. We continue the series with West Virginia:

Position to improve: Quarterback

Why it was a problem: Calling the Mountaineers quarterback situation in 2014 a problem is a bit unfair, as WVU’s return to a bowl game would not have been possible without the exploits of Clint Trickett. Yet, at the same time, Trickett shoulders plenty of blame for WVU’s late-season slide. The departed senior was outstanding in WVU wins over Maryland and Baylor, but his interceptions proved too much to overcome during a three-game losing streak to TCU, Texas and Kansas State. In those games, Trickett threw one touchdown and five interceptions. In addition, Skyler Howard replaced Trickett (who was forced to retire due to lingering concussion symptoms) for WVU’s final two games and was solid with back-to-back games with three touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

How it can be fixed: It feels like the Mountaineers have the answer on campus with Howard and William Crest among the competitors to take over as the starter in 2015. Howard has experience and ball protection on his side heading into the quarterback derby, but Crest could be the future. The redshirt freshman was WVU’s backup quarterback heading into the 2014 season before an injury forced a redshirt campaign. The Mountaineers also added a pair of quarterbacks in David Sills and Chris Chugunov in their Class of 2015. WVU has some quality options behind center, and it's just a matter of who seizes the opportunity to become the main man.

Early 2015 outlook: Howard or Crest are likely to rise to the top of this quarterback battle. Howard was impressive during his short stint as the starter in 2014, showing the ability to protect the ball and lead WVU to points in a road win over Iowa State and bowl loss to Texas A&M. But all signs point to Crest being the long-term answer at the position, and the future could start as early as this fall. Either way, the starter will be tasked to run the offense efficiently and take care of the football for Dana Holgorsen's offense. One thing is certain: The quarterback position in Morgantown, West Virginia looks a lot better right now than it did 12 months ago.
This week, we’re counting down the Big 12’s top 25 players of 2014.

Remember, criteria for these rankings were based solely on performances from 2014, not a culmination of previous seasons. Pro potential was not a factor. Neither was preseason hype. Number of games played was taken into account.

Without further delay, our countdown goes on to Nos. 6-10:

6. Kevin White, WR, West Virginia (preseason rank: not ranked): The light came on for White as a senior, as the Mountaineer receiver committed himself to taking more of a businesslike approach to his preparation. The result was 109 receptions for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns during a season that made him an Biletnikoff Award finalist. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, White’s long frame and terrific ball skills make him a prime red zone candidate and deep-ball threat. Yet he’s terrific after the catch, as well, leading the Big 12 with 650 yards after catch.

7. Spencer Drango. T, Baylor (9): Drango’s importance to the Baylor offense rose to the forefront after his injury late in the 2013 season. He returned to his dominant, pre-injury form in 2014, earning All-Big 12 and All-American honors while anchoring the offensive line that helped the Bears lead the nation in points per game (48.2), yards per game (581.5) and first downs (30.1). Drango led all BU offensive linemen with an 88.8 coaches grade.

8. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma (NR): The hard-running true freshman burst upon the scene with a 242-yard, four-touchdown performance in an early road win at West Virginia. Yet few remember that performance, thanks to his FBS-record 427 rushing yards against Kansas in November. Perine is a handful for defenders, finishing with 263 carries for 1,713 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns. His 636 yards after contact and 1,148 yards between the tackles led the Big 12.

9. Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas (16): Few players can match the productivity of Captain Heeney in 2014. The Jayhawks senior left his best for last, leading the Big 12 with 10.58 tackles per game and 88 solo tackles. Heeney could make plays from sideline to sideline and finished his final season with double-digit tackles in seven games, including a 21-tackle game against Texas Tech. KU didn’t have the team success he was striving for, but Heeney did everything he could for the Jayhawks.

10. Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor (NR): The strongest man in the Big 12 is also one of the most disruptive. While teammate Shawn Oakman got most of the attention, Billings was anchoring the middle of a Bears defense that allowed 3.15 yards per carry, ranking seventh among FBS teams. The sophomore had a breakout season, finishing with 37 tackles including 11.5 tackles for loss, nine hurries, two sacks and one forced fumble. Billings is a critical building block for Art Briles' team in 2015.
The 2014 season is over and done. This week, we're going to rank the top 25 players in the Big 12 from the past season.

We're including our top 25 preseason rankings of each player too. In some cases we were on the money with our preseason player projections. In others, our prognostications were completely off the mark.

Criteria for these rankings were based solely on performances from 2014, not a culmination of previous seasons. Pro potential was not a factor. Neither was preseason hype.

On Tuesday, we continue with players 16 through 20:

16. Le'Raven Clark, T, Texas Tech (preseason rank: 10): The Red Raiders finished No. 2 among FBS teams in sack percentage, and Clark was a major reason why. The anchor of on offensive line that allowed 13 sacks in 2014, Clark has started 38 straight games. He also played a key role in DeAndre Washington's 1,000-yard season. The 6-foot-6, 313-pound junior has been among the Big 12’s best players since his sophomore season.

17. Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia (NR): Arguably the Big 12’s fiercest hitter, Joseph plays with a physical style, yet has been one of the Big 12’s most durable defenders. The senior-to-be has started all 38 games he has played in a Mountaineers uniform and has vastly improved as an all-around safety since his true freshman season. He finished with 92 tackles in 2014, including 4.5 tackles for loss, 62 solo stops, three forced fumbles, one interception and three pass breakups.

18. Chris Hackett, S, TCU (NR): Hackett just seemed to come up with big plays when the Horned Frogs needed them, recording his best games of the season against Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State and West Virginia. He finished with 75 tackles, 13 passes defensed, seven interceptions and one forced fumble in 2014. It was hard to watch TCU’s defense in action without noticing Hackett’s No. 1 jersey all over the field.

19. S Sam Carter, S, TCU (14): Numbers can’t possibly represent Carter’s importance to the Horned Frogs. His veteran leadership helped carry TCU to a 12-1 record in his final season and his statistical numbers were pretty solid with 55 tackles and four interceptions. Essentially a coach on the field, Carter played a critical role on a TCU defense that finished atop the Big 12 in most defensive categories.

20. Tyrus Thompson, T, Oklahoma (NR): Thompson finished his OU career with a stellar senior season. He earned first-team All-Big 12 honors as a key contributor on an offensive line that carried the Sooners to the Big 12 rushing title with 261.15 rushing yards per game. The Sooners also led the nation by allowing only nine sacks in 13 games.

Big 12 all-bowl team

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
11:00
AM ET
Below, we recognize the best individual performances of the 2014-15 bowl season with our Big 12 all-bowl team:

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
AP Photo/LM OteroBryce Petty had a huge game in his college finale.
QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor. Petty didn’t go out with a win, but he did go out with a monster performance, as he threw for a Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic-record 550 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for another score.

RB: Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State. Roland ran for more than 100 yards for the first time all season and finished with 123 yards on 32 carries in Oklahoma State’s TicketCity Cactus Bowl win.

RB: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma. Perine was about the Sooners’ only positive in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Playing on a bum ankle, he ran for 134 yards to finish his true freshman season with a Big 12-best 1,713 rushing yards.

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State. Lockett fueled a furious second-half comeback in the Valero Alamo Bowl with 164 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The rally came up short, but Lockett was fabulous in his final game at K-State.

WR: Kevin White, West Virginia. White was unstoppable yet again in his last college game. He finished with 129 yards receiving and a touchdown in West Virginia’s loss to Texas A&M in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

WR: K.D. Cannon, Baylor. By hauling in eight caches for 197 yards and two touchdowns, Cannon became just the seventh receiver and first underclassman in Baylor history to finish with more than 1,000 yards receiving.

AP: Aaron Green, TCU. Green ignited a 42-3 onslaught of Ole Miss in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl by hauling in a 31-yard pass on a trick play for TCU's first touchdown. He scored the Horned Frogs’ second touchdown too and finished with 114 yards rushing and receiving.

OT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU: With “Big V” locking up one of the edges, the Horned Frogs dominated the line of scrimmage and finished with 177 yards on the ground.

OG: LaQuan McGowan, Baylor. The 400-pound backup guard delivered one of the most unforgettable plays of the bowl season, when he lined up as an eligible receiver then snagged an 18-yard touchdown pass to give Baylor a 20-point lead.

C: B.J. Finney, Kansas State. With K-State struggling to protect quarterback Jake Waters through the first half, Finney swung from center to right tackle after halftime. The Wildcats had no trouble moving the ball the rest of the way.

OG: Brady Foltz, TCU: Foltz had one of the best games of his TCU career as the Horned Frogs rolled up 423 total yards against Ole Miss’ talented defense.

OT: Zach Crabtree, Oklahoma State. Crabtree’s return to the lineup late in the year helped stabilize the line. With Crabtree, the Cowboys controlled a Washington front seven that featured three All-Americans.

DEFENSE

DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State. Mueller finished with seven tackles and produced a huge forced fumble of the Bruins in the third quarter that sparked K-State’s rally.

DT: James Castleman, Oklahoma State. Castleman’s biggest contributions actually came on offense. In Oklahoma State’s heavy set, Castleman rushed for a 1-yard touchdown, then late in the game hauled in a 48-yard yard reception off play-action that helped propel the Cowboys to victory.

DT: Malcom Brown, Texas. Brown did what he could in a 31-7 loss to Arkansas in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl by leading Texas with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a pair of QB hurries.

DE: James McFarland, TCU. McFarland essentially ended the game when he came up with an acrobatic, diving interception of Bo Wallace in the Ole Miss end zone that put the Frogs ahead 28-0 just before halftime.

LB: K.J. Dillon, West Virginia. Dillon had a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave West Virginia a 10-point lead over the Aggies and early command of the game. Neither the lead nor the command lasted, however.

LB: Marcus Mallet, TCU. The Horned Frogs brutalized Ole Miss’ offense, and Mallet was a big reason for that. He put up a game-high 10 tackles and forced and recovered a fumble, as the Rebels finished with just 9 yards rushing.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State, Deric Robertson, Kevin Peterson
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriKevin Peterson (1) and the Oklahoma State defense made plenty of stops against Washington.
LB: Taylor Young, Baylor. Young had a game-high 15 tackles and very nearly produced the game-clinching play. His 84-yard fourth-quarter interception return, however, was called back by a penalty.

CB: Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State. In addition to providing solid coverage all night, Peterson came up with the game-clinching interception of Washington in the final seconds.

CB: Ramon Richards, Oklahoma State. The sure-tackling true freshman had perhaps the best performance in his young career and finished with six tackles, a tackle for loss and two pass breakups.

S: Karl Joseph, West Virginia. Joseph led the Mountaineers with 10 tackles and delivered yet another devastating hit that resulted in a forced fumble.

S: Derrick Kindred, TCU. Kindred picked off the Rebels in the first quarter and finished with five tackles and a tackle for loss as the TCU secondary swarmed Ole Miss' receivers all game.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Matthew McCrane, Kansas State. McCrane nailed 47-yard and 29-yard field goals and nearly pulled off a remarkable onside kick using the “Rabona” soccer technique. Honorable mention honors here go to West Virginia’s Josh Lambert, who broke the FBS season record with 39 made field goals.

P: Kip Smith, Oklahoma State. Smith placed all four of his punts inside the Washington 20 to help the Cowboys control the field-position battle.

Returner: Mario Alford, West Virginia: The electric Alford had two big kick returns, as well as a 45-yard touchdown reception off a quick pass in his final game as a Mountaineer.

Top recruiting targets in the Big 12 

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
10:30
AM ET
Here's a team-by-team look at some remaining targets for Big 12 teams.

Final 2014 Big 12 Power Rankings

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
1:00
PM ET
» More Final 2014 Power Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

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