NCF Nation: West Virginia Mountaineers

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
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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
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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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AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Three thoughts

December, 30, 2014
12/30/14
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West Virginia opened a catastrophic day for the Big 12 with a 45-37 loss to Texas A&M in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The Mountaineers started out fast offensively, but fizzled in the second half. The defense, meanwhile, struggled to slow the Aggies all day. Here are three thoughts from the game:

1. The QB competition for next season is actually wide open: After relieving Clint Trickett the final two games of the regular season, sophomore Skyler Howard generated excitement as the possible -- if not probable -- heir apparent at quarterback in Morgantown. But against an Aggie defense that had been hapless at times this year, Howard struggled severely in the second half. He finished with three touchdown passes, but overthrew and underthrew open receivers all game. He also completed just 9 of 26 passes in the second half, which allowed Texas A&M to take command of the game. Howard has talent, the ability to inflict damage with his wheels and a fervor that could conceivably galvanize a team. But his accuracy will have to improve significantly if he is to beat out talented freshman William Crest Jr. for the starting job in 2015.

2. The defense takes a step back: The West Virginia defense had been one of the most improved units in the Big 12 this season, ranking second in the league in yards per played allowed (5.28) and third in points per drive surrendered (1.65). But in Memphis, Texas A&M true freshman quarterback Kyle Allen shredded the West Virginia secondary with four touchdown passes. The Mountaineers were also inept with their tackling, giving up a season-high 6.9 yards per play. And Dana Holgorsen even called the defensive line "terrible," as the Aggies controlled the line of scrimmage. With up to nine starters returning, coordinator Tony Gibson's group has a chance to be solid, if not stout in 2015. But the bowl performance showed this defense is still a work in progress.

3. The Mountaineers are going to really miss Kevin White and Mario Alford: Even though the Mountaineers lost, White and Alford were spectacular again in their West Virginia swan songs. White had seven receptions for 129 yards and a 49-yard touchdown. Alford took a swing pass 45 yards to the house and was a handful for Texas A&M on returns the entire game. The two All-Americans were special all season and helped fuel West Virginia's return to bowl eligibility in 2014. And while the Mountaineers will have several key starters returning, playmakers the caliber of White and Alford are never easily replaced.
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- There were touchdowns, pick-sixes, spin moves, pushes, shoves (even a punch or two) and a whole lot of points and yards. At the end, Texas A&M outlasted West Virginia 45-37 in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Monday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Here’s how it went down:

How the game was won: It was a shootout early, with 55 points scored between the two teams in the first two quarters, but in the final two quarters, Texas A&M won it with its defense. Despite having an interim defensive coordinator -- linebackers coach Mark Hagen was serving in the role after the Aggies fired Mark Snyder the day after Thanksgiving -- Texas A&M held a high-powered West Virginia offense to only 10 points in the second half. Sure, West Virginia played a backup quarterback (Skyler Howard), but the Aggies have had trouble stopping anybody this season.

Game ball goes to: Kyle Allen. The true freshman grew up quite a bit after tossing an early pick-six, throwing a career-high four touchdown passes and rushing for another. Allen finished the day 22-of-35 for 294 yards. If he’s to be the quarterback of the Aggies’ future, he made a solid case why on Monday.

It was over when: Allen hit Malcome Kennedy over the middle with a 21-yard pass on third-and-3 for a first down with just more than two minutes remaining in the game. The Mountaineers couldn't stop the clock at that point and the Aggies were able to run it all the way out.

Stat of the game: If you like offense, this game was for you. The teams combined for 1,001 offensive yards and 82 points. Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen aren’t considered offensive-minded head coaches for nothing. Also of note: Texas A&M sophomore receiver Josh Reynolds broke the Aggies’ single-season school record for touchdown catches with his 13th, surpassing Mike Evans and Jeff Fuller in the record book.

Best play: Allen was ranked as the country’s No. 1 pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class, but he showed he’s more than just arm on his lone touchdown run of the day. Allen made an impressive spin move to escape pressure, sprinted and dove to the pylon for a 14-yard touchdown run. The score gave A&M a 28-27 lead late in the first half, and the Aggies would never relinquish the lead.
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LOS ANGELES -- As offensive line coach of the Florida State Seminoles, Rick Trickett is known as a teacher of both technique and toughness, and not necessarily in that order. As the father of West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett, whose career ended a few days short of the Mountaineers’ AutoZone Liberty Bowl appearance on Monday because of a series of concussions, Rick Trickett’s hard-guy shell got pierced.

“I would have really liked to have seen him finish out his college career and play in this bowl game,” Rick Trickett said of Clint on Monday at media day for the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual. “But the numbers, and everything with all the tests up in Pittsburgh, weren’t high enough. The doctor told me, ‘If it was Big Ben (Roethliesberger), I wouldn’t put him out there.’ As a dad, that puts you in a comfort zone. At least we know what we’ve got here.”

So there is no Liberty Bowl, and Clint Trickett finished the season with 3,285 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 11 games this season for the 7-5 Mountaineers. He also will not be able to accept his invitation to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl all-star game.

“I kind of would have liked to see him have that experience, maybe go (be a) free agent,” Rick Trickett said. “That’s not what it is. Everybody said he retired. No -- he was told he couldn’t play in the game. There’s nothing left to do. It’s time to go coach. He got a taste of it and loves it. That’s what he has always wanted to do. He’ll do good at it.”

Hey, what dad is going to argue with his son coming into his business?
MEMPHIS, Tennessee -- The fun began with a phone call and a Twitter battle.

Laughs and jokes were exchanged upon the announcement that Texas A&M and West Virginia would meet in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Head coaches Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen and Aggies offensive coordinator Jake Spavital are among those involved who once shared time on the same coaching staff -- relationships that provide an intriguing backdrop for the reunion.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill, Jake Spavital
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesTexas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital (right) learned under West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen at Houston.
"He taught me everything about this offense and he knows how I signal the game and I know how he signals the game," Spavital said of Holgorsen. "It'll keep the game interesting, and it'll keep us on our toes."

They're part of a group that shared time together five years ago, interestingly, while trying to get to a Liberty Bowl. During the 2009 season at Houston, Sumlin was head coach and Holgorsen was offensive coordinator. Clarence McKinney, Texas A&M's current running backs coach, held the same position with the Cougars at the time. Spavital was a graduate assistant and current Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury was the offensive quality control coach.

Making it more interesting was the fact that, at one time, Holgorsen, Kingsbury and Spavital all lived together in an apartment in Houston's Midtown district, a trendy neighborhood with a thriving business scene and nightlife. What could happen with three young, single coaches in close proximity to such an area?

"I'd better not say anything about that," Sumlin said, with laughter. "I didn't go over there at all. Anybody who knows Houston knows that Midtown has a lot of nice restaurants that stay open late at night, I'll just put it that way."

When he took over at Houston in 2008, Sumlin made Holgorsen -- who he describes as "brilliant" -- one of his first hires to install an innovative up-tempo offensive attack.

Holgorsen called Kingsbury, who was still pursuing a pro playing career, that summer. Sumlin agreed to add Kingsbury to the staff while also allowing him time to try out for the NFL.

"He spent more time out there throwing the football and practicing with guys than he did coaching," Sumlin joked. "Over time, thank God he got cut."

In 2009, Spavital's older brother, Houston defensive backs coach Zac Spavital, encouraged Jake to join the Cougars staff. Zac saw promise in Sumlin and Holgorsen and thought Jake could benefit from working with them. After interviewing with Holgorsen, Jake was hired on the spot.

"I loved him," Spavital said of Holgorsen. "He was great to me. He coaches his ass off. He's hard on the kids, he was hard on me. But he would separate work on and off the field. He was hard on me about things and he wanted me to grow as a coach, but then afterwards he was one of my buddies and he treated me that way."

Kingsbury was already living with Holgorsen in that two-bedroom apartment. Spavital would go from couch to couch, from his brother's to Holgorsen's.

"I wanted to be around Dana the whole time, so I'd sleep on his couch a lot," Spavital said. "I'd sleep at the offices, depending on whether Dana had his kids in or anything. I'd just move around because it's a two-bedroom apartment."

The bachelor pad was pretty bare in terms of furnishings.

"We were very minimalist in that household," Kingsbury said. "There wasn't anything to get in your way. ... You know, in Houston there's a lot to do. We would be there to sleep and that was about it."

Added Spavital: "There was no silverware and plates and stuff like that. It was two rooms, two bathrooms and a couch and a TV. We never were there."

McKinney, who joined the staff in 2008, recalls some of the late-night meetings the offensive staff had.

"We spent a lot of time together in meetings after practice," McKinney said. "We'd go from the office to somewhere down the street to grab something to eat, grab some drinks and the meetings would still be going until 2 in the morning."

Certainly it wasn't only football, though, right? When Holgorsen, Spavital and Kingsbury hit the town, there have to be some entertaining stories.

"You can't put that in the paper," Kingsbury said coyly. "It was fun."

Each of them have distinct traits. There's Holgorsen, the casual dresser ("I don't even think Dana owned a suit until he got to Oklahoma State," Spavital said. "He would always say, 'How many games has that suit won?'") and Red Bull devotee ("It's amazing that he's still functioning," Kingsbury said. "I guess his kidneys are pretty strong. He gets after those.").

There's well-dressed Kingsbury, who might still be holding on to NFL dreams. ("If Kliff could play right now, he'd play," Spavital said. "That's why Kliff works out all the time, because I know he believes that he can still do it.")

And there's Spavital, the youngest who deferred to his elders. ("He listens a lot," Kingsbury said. "He's not just going to talk a lot, he likes to listen and soak things up.")

It wasn't just tomfoolery; they had significant success. The 2009 Houston team ranked No. 1 nationally in offense (563.4 yards per game; 42.2 points per game), upset Oklahoma State in Stillwater and triumphed over Texas Tech. The 10-4 Cougars came within an incomplete pass of a Conference USA championship and a Liberty Bowl berth.

As each moved on, they kept in touch daily. They've traded game film, though that practice stopped between Holgorsen and Kingsbury once they became opposing Big 12 head coaches. They still talk, but the relationship dynamic is different now.

It didn't change for Spavital and Holgorsen until this year's Liberty Bowl announcement. They still communicate daily, but they obviously weren't trading tape or exchanging ideas in preparation for Monday's game (2 p.m. ET, ESPN).

"He gave us all his offensive stuff and we didn't give him any of our offensive stuff; I pulled the wool over his eyes in the last couple of weeks," Holgorsen joked. "When it gets competitive and you've got to play a game, you're going to have a good time talking about anything than actual football."

Viewer's guide: AutoZone Liberty Bowl

December, 28, 2014
12/28/14
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As we get closer to New Year’s Day the bowl games become more compelling, and that’s certainly the case with Monday’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl between Texas A&M and West Virginia. It’s a matchup of two head coaches familiar with each other and two similar offenses, and it gives us a dose of Big 12 vs. SEC, which always is good for debate. Let’s break it down:

What’s at stake: In the 119-season history of Texas A&M football, the Aggies have never won four consecutive bowl games. They have the opportunity to do so here, seeking a fourth straight bowl win dating back to 2011. West Virginia is appearing in its third bowl game in four seasons under Dana Holgorsen and seeks its second bowl win in that span.

Players to watch: West Virginia receiver Kevin White is worth the price of admission. The senior is one of college football’s best receivers, ranking sixth in the nation in receptions (102) and seventh in receiving yards (1,318), with nine touchdowns. He shows a knack for making big-time, highlight-worthy plays. For Texas A&M, true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett has lived up to the hype that preceded his arrival in Aggies land. He finished the regular season tied for second in the SEC in sacks (11), which broke Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman sack record, Garrett had 12.5 tackles for loss, and he has been a headache for opposing offensive tackles and quarterbacks.

Familiar faces: These head coaches know each other well. Kevin Sumlin’s first offensive coordinator hire as a head coach in Houston was Holgorsen in 2008. The two won 18 games together in two seasons before Holgorsen left for the same position at Oklahoma State. He took then-graduate assistant Jake Spavital with him from Houston to Stillwater and eventually to West Virginia before Sumlin tabbed Spavital to replace Kliff Kingsbury’s spot on the Texas A&M staff when Kingsbury left his offensive coordinator post for the head-coaching job at Texas Tech.

Similar attacks: Both teams operate in a one-back spread attack rooted in Air Raid principles. Each team scores a lot (West Virginia averages 33.2 points, Texas A&M 34.4) and throws quite a bit, too; the Mountaineers average 314.6 passing yards per game, while the Aggies average 306.4.

Trickett out: West Virginia starting quarterback Clint Trickett will miss the game, announcing last week that he is hanging up his cleats because of concussions he's suffered. Sophomore Skyler Howard will start at quarterback for the Mountaineers. In three games, including a start versus Iowa State, Howard has thrown for 483 yards and five touchdowns.

Record breaker: Texas A&M sophomore receiver Josh Reynolds has emerged as one of quarterback Kyle Allen’s favorite receivers, and even when Kenny Hill was starting, Reynolds was making things happen. The unheralded junior college recruit tied the single-season school record (held by Mike Evans and Jeff Fuller) with 12 receiving touchdowns. One more would put Reynolds at the top of the list, lofty status for someone who received little buzz when he enrolled at Texas A&M in January.

Coaching attrition: Texas A&M will be without three coaches that it ended the regular season with: defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, offensive line coach B.J. Anderson and receivers coach David Beaty. Snyder was fired the day after the Aggies’ season-ending loss to LSU; linebackers coach Mark Hagen will serve as the interim defensive coordinator for the Liberty Bowl. Beaty accepted the head-coaching position at Kansas, and earlier this month Sumlin announced that Anderson won’t return next season or coach in the bowl game. The Aggies will operate with two full-time offensive assistants (Jake Spavital and Clarence McKinney), while graduate assistant Chris Smith assists with the offensive line duties for the game. West Virginia will say goodbye to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson after the Liberty Bowl, as he will become Kentucky’s offensive coordinator, but Dawson will be with the Mountaineers’ staff working Monday’s game.
As he left the meeting, Kevin White wasn’t exactly happy with what he’d just heard.

After an up-and-down junior campaign, the West Virginia receiver had just sat down for a postseason chat with Mountaineers receivers coach Lonnie Galloway. It wasn’t all good, it wasn’t all bad but it was exactly what White needed to hear.

“Coach Galloway told me I have all the aspects to be great, but I only show flashes of it,” White said. “I took it personal.”

White had solid work habits and focus as a junior but something needed to change. He’d combined for 14 receptions for 210 yards and two touchdowns against Oklahoma and Baylor then combined for three receptions for 61 yards against TCU and Kansas State in 2013 as inconsistency became his trademark. All told he finished with 35 receptions on 83 targets for 507 yards and five touchdowns during his first season as a junior college transfer from Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania.

[+] EnlargeKevin White
Scott Clarke/ESPN Images"I wanted to be a dominant receiver," Kevin White said. "Not the best receiver on the team, the best receiver in college."
Thus Galloway’s message was simple.

“[We talked about] attacking each day,” Galloway said. “Each day is a different work day. [It was about] not getting in your own way. Coming out being focused, working hard, being a leader, setting a good example. “

White left the meeting with renewed focus and it started to show. In winter workouts, in spring football and in summer workouts, White brought a different energy to the table.

“The focus and work habit were there in his junior year but they intensified in winter workouts to spring ball to his senior year,” Galloway said. “[He was] finishing first in just about everything. His attitude in the weight room, his attitude in spring ball [changed] and he was being a dominant player in spring ball.”

During the times when nobody was watching was when the light turned on for the Biletnikoff Award Finalist. Preparing for his senior season became his only focus.

“This is my last year, I wanted to put everything aside and focus in 110 percent,” White said. “Whatever happens, happens, as long as I’ve done the best I can.”

White’s senior year was his last chance to show himself, teammates, coaches, fans, NFL scouts and anyone else who doubted his ability to be a dominant receiver.

“I wanted to be a dominant receiver,” White said. “Not the best receiver on the team, the best receiver in college.”

He didn’t earn that honor, as Alabama’s Amari Cooper beat him out for the Biletnikoff, which is awarded to college football’s top receiver. But, he did become a consistent, game-changing threat for the Mountaineers as WVU returned to bowl eligibility after a one-year hiatus.

White’s final season featured 102 receptions in 151 targets for 1,318 yards and nine touchdowns including a seven-game stretch to start the season which included seven straight games of 100 receiving yards or more. He torched Alabama’s secondary for nine receptions for 143 yards and one touchdown while his 13-reception, 216-yard performance against Maryland two weeks later set the tone that his dominance was going to become commonplace in 2014. Heading into WVU’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl matchup with Texas A&M on Dec. 29, White has cemented his name among the nation’s best receivers.

“We knew he had it in him,” Galloway said. “You knew that he was going to have a special year. The stuff he’s accomplished is all due to the work he put in.”

In the process he’s gone from fringe NFL prospect to a likely Day 1 or Day 2 selection as one of the nation’s best receiving prospects. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has White as the No. 3-ranked receiver in 2015 NFL draft class and ESPN draft expert Todd McShay has the Mountaineers’ top pass-catcher as the No. 14 prospect overall.

Thanks in part to one offseason meeting followed by a business-like approach that defined his senior season, White has gone from pondering his future to steps away from fulfilling his dream.

“It changed dramatically,” White said of his future. “I knew if I focused in I would be able to play on Sundays despite how my junior season went.

“I always knew I could do it … but the world didn’t know.”

Big 12 bowl predictions

December, 19, 2014
12/19/14
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AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Why West Virginia will win: Quarterback Clint Trickett has been cleared for the bowl. Trickett struggled a bit late in the season but was a still a major factor in the Mountaineers' midseason run. He and Kevin White should have their way against an Aggies defense that got lit multiple times this season. West Virginia 38, Texas A&M 29 -- Trotter

Why Texas A&M will win: The Aggies will get their house in order after shaking up their coaching staff and give West Virginia all it can handle. Clint Trickett's status can swing this game, of course, but doesn't a showdown between Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen have to be decided by who scores last? Texas A&M 35, West Virginia 28 Olson

Russell Athletic Bowl

Why Oklahoma will win: While Clemson will be without dynamic freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson for the game, OU welcomes Trevor Knight back under center. Combined with Samaje Perine in the backfield, that should be enough for OU to eke out a win. Oklahoma 28, Clemson 21 -- Chatmon

Why Clemson will win: The Oklahoma passing game was a mess the last month of the season. Trevor Knight returning will help, but even when Knight was healthy, the passing attack was uneven. Former Sooners coordinator Brent Venables directs Clemson's pass defense, which is No. 3 nationally. That means the pressure will be on Samaje Perine (coming off an ankle injury) to shoulder the offensive load. Clemson is not great offensively, but I'm not confident the Sooners will be able to score enough in this one. Clemson 21, Oklahoma 17 -- Trotter

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl

Why Texas will win: The Longhorns' defensive line is full of talent and will be ready and well-equipped to handle the physical nature of the Razorbacks' offense. Texas 27, Arkansas 17 -- Chatmon

Why Arkansas will win: Strength on strength will be on display in this matchup, with the big boys on the Arkansas offensive line squaring off against Malcom Brown and Texas' menacing front. But I have a little more confidence in the Hogs to score points than the Longhorns, who were wildly inconsistent at times with young Tyrone Swoopes at QB. Arkansas 20, Texas 14 -- Trotter

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Why TCU will win: You don't get the sense there will be a letdown factor with this team after it missed the College Football Playoff. Gary Patterson has worked too hard on building TCU's mentality to allow a slipup now. The Horned Frogs swing this with a fourth-quarter turnover from Bo Wallace. TCU 35, Ole Miss 31 -- Olson

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

Why Baylor will win: The Bears are bummed they didn't make the playoff, but they also realize this is an opportunity to atone for last season's Fiesta Bowl fiasco. Michigan State has a great defense with a good quarterback. But the Spartans couldn't hang against all of Oregon's offensive firepower early in the season and will succumb to Bryce Petty & Co., too. Baylor 42, Michigan State 34 -- Trotter

Valero Alamo Bowl

Why Kansas State will win: This is a sneaky great matchup, though I still can't figure out why Stanford made it look so easy against the Bruins in the regular-season finale. The last hurrah for Jake Waters, and Tyler Lockett will be as deadly efficient and effective as usual. Kansas State 31, UCLA 27 -- Olson

Why UCLA will win: Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley entered the season as a Heisman candidate but stumbled in UCLA’s final game. He should rebound and cause all kinds of problems for K-State’s defense with his feet and his arm. UCLA 31, Kansas State 27 -- Chatmon

TicketCity Cactus Bowl

Why Oklahoma State will win: There was no reason to believe the Cowboys could win Bedlam, yet they did and became bowl eligible. Mason Rudolph looks like the real deal, and this young Cowboys team has plenty of momentum. Oklahoma State 31, Washington 30Chatmon

Why Washington will win: The Huskies lost to every ranked team they faced in Pac-12 play. Until Bedlam, the same was true of OSU in the Big 12. I'm a Mason Rudolph believer, but I like the UW defense a bit more. Washington 28, Oklahoma State 17 -- Olson

Season records: Trotter 67-8, Chatmon 66-9, Olson 64-11.
Art Briles, Gary PattersonUSA TODAY SportsBaylor's Art Briles, left, and TCU's Gary Patterson can give the Big 12 a lift this bowl season.
When the inaugural College Football Playoff begins on New Year’s Day, the Big 12 will be the only Power 5 conference watching from home.

Though the Big 12 fell short in this season’s battle for the playoff, there will be another one to wage in 2015. The conference can take steps to ensure it doesn’t get left out again next season, notably by crafting a way to finally crown only One True Champion. But the Big 12 can also send a 2015 message to the playoff selection committee through a triumphant 2014 bowl season.

Though out of the playoff, the Big 12 is hardly devoid of high-profile matchups against name teams this bowl season. And a successful bowl record would cement national perception of the strength and depth of the Big 12 while setting the conference up for a run at the playoff next season.

"It won’t help us this year," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. "But it would help for next year."

That starts with conference co-champs Baylor and TCU, which play in the prestigious New Year’s Six bowls against opponents that were ranked in the top 10 for most of the season.

The Bears will face Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. The defensive-minded Spartans went 10-2, with their only two losses coming against playoff teams Oregon and Ohio State. Michigan State won the Big Ten last season, and boasts the nation’s seventh-ranked defense.

"There's a statement to be made just for us nationwide," said Baylor safety Orion Stewart. "To show (the nation) that we really have one of the best programs in the country."

The same way the Bears’ loss to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl last season hurt Baylor’s standing, a win against Michigan State would solidify the Bears as a title contender again in 2015, even without quarterback Bryce Petty. Especially if the Bears can light up the scoreboard against Michigan State, which surrendered more than 31 points just twice all season (to the Ducks and Buckeyes).

"We're playing one of the greatest teams in America, Michigan State," said Baylor coach Art Briles. "There have been four football programs that have played in back-to-back BCS (level) games; you're talking to one of them (Baylor) and Michigan State is one of them, (along with) Florida State and Alabama. That's pretty good company in my book."

TCU will also be in good company in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. The playoff committee had Ole Miss in the top four in its first two playoff rankings before the Rebels stumbled against LSU and Auburn in back-to-back weeks. Still, Ole Miss bounced back to hammer fourth-ranked Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to claim a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. Like Michigan State, Ole Miss features one of the best defenses in the country, with a unit that leads the nation in scoring defense with an average allowance of just 13.8 points per game. The Rebels flashed how dynamic they can be when they downed Alabama early in the season.

"(Our team) wanted to play somebody that was a caliber of a top-five team," said TCU coach Patterson, "and we feel like Ole Miss is that team."

In 2015, TCU will bring back quarterback Trevone Boykin and nine other offensive starters, meaning the Horned Frogs could be primed for another run at the playoff next season. A victory against a quality SEC West opponent would position TCU well for the start of 2015. And a Big 12 sweep in the Cotton and Peach bowls against top-10 competition would reaffirm that the best of the Big 12 can play with anyone in the country.

"Ole Miss is a team that was as high as third in the nation, that played at a very high level, that could have been in the playoffs, lost a couple heartbreakers," Patterson said. "We feel like this is a playoff game."

The two New Year's Six bowls, however, aren’t the only opportunities for the Big 12 to deliver statements.

In the Valero Alamo Bowl, Kansas State meets UCLA, a team that was in playoff contention until late in the season. Oklahoma takes on ACC power Clemson and college football's No. 1-ranked total defense in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

In the Autozone Liberty Bowl and Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, West Virginia and Texas have a chance to land wins against SEC West opponents Texas A&M and Arkansas, respectively.

Even Oklahoma State takes on a talented Washington team in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.

Sure, there are no easy bowl games for the Big 12. But every win will count toward forging the league’s reputation for 2015.

"I was shocked (the Big 12 was left out of the playoff) based on the strength of this league from top to bottom," Gundy said. "We can’t have this many good football teams in this league and not get one in the top four. We can’t allow that to happen again."

The Big 12 can take steps off the field to ensure it doesn’t happen.

But in the meantime, the Big 12 can take some big steps on the field this bowl season, too.

Roundtable: Big 12 team with most to gain in bowl

December, 16, 2014
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In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we examine the most intriguing bowls, which team has the most to gain in the bowl season and the players we'll be focused on the most during the bowls:

[+] EnlargeKevin White
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesMountaineers receiver Kevin White finished his senior regular season with 1,318 yards and nine TDs.
Other than the Goodyear Cotton and Chick-Fil-A Peach bowls, which Big 12 bowl are you most intrigued by?

Chatmon: It has to be the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, when West Virginia and Texas A&M battle on Dec. 29. Lots of points, lots of fun, lots of Red Bull. Mentor Dana Holgorsen against understudy Jake Spavital in a battle of offensive gurus. And considering this is a meaningless bowl game, I'm not interested in seeing much defense. I'm also looking forward to seeing what Kevin White has in store for his final game in a West Virginia uniform, after his breakout senior season.

Olson: There will be points in the Liberty Bowl, and I'm excited to see what a healthier West Virginia team is capable of against Texas A&M. But for me, the choice is the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Big 12 vs. Pac-12 matchup is typically a nice one in terms of style, and K-State taking on a UCLA team that Texas almost defeated in September, in the final starts for both Brett Hundley and Jake Waters, will be a lot of fun to watch.

Trotter: I'm intrigued by the Russell Athletic Bowl, and the matchup of Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables going up against his former boss at Oklahoma in Bob Stoops. Remember, Stoops brought in his brother to coach the defense in 2011, which ultimately prompted Venables to leave Oklahoma for Clemson. If Venables' Tigers shut down the Sooners, and Clemson runs the score up on Mike Stoops, it will serve as an indictment of where Oklahoma is as a program three years after that move was made.

With no one playing for a national championship, which Big 12 team has the most to gain in bowl season?

Chatmon: It has to be Baylor against Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. As good as the Bears have been during the past two seasons, some people still point to their Fiesta Bowl loss to Central Florida as a reason to doubt what Art Briles has built in Waco. Add the intrigue of proving the committee wrong and BU has plenty of motivation. It's also a chance for an impressive win against a quality Big Ten team in the race for conference bragging rights.

Olson: I agree with Brandon here. Some Baylor coaches I talked to before the season say their Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF was arguably the most frustrating of their time in Waco. A 12th win and ending a dream season with a BCS bowl win would've meant an awful lot to this program. They get a meaningful chance for a redo against a much better opponent in Michigan State.

Trotter: Baylor and TCU have the most to gain, because they have the chance to show they deserved to be in the playoff. But I'll throw another team into the discussion here in Texas. After finishing the season with a 48-10 home loss to TCU on Thanksgiving night, the Longhorns really need to bounce back against Arkansas in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl to set the tone for 2015. Next season is going to be a critical one for Charlie Strong and the Texas program. A win over a former rival like Arkansas would give the Longhorns the momentum they'll need heading into next season.

Who is the one Big 12 player you'll be focused during the bowls?

Chatmon: I can't wait to see what Trevone Boykin has in store for an Ole Miss defense full of playmakers in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Boykin creates all kinds of problems for every defense with his ability to slither through open lanes like a running back yet frustrate defensive backs with his deep throws. The Rebels have held opposing quarterbacks to a 17.3 Adjusted QBR, ranking No. 2 among FBS teams behind Louisville, making this the best matchup of individual brilliance against team strength during the bowl season.

Olson: Giving Mason Rudolph a month of extra practice and all that post-Bedlam momentum is going to make for a fascinating performance in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl. Oklahoma State's rookie quarterback takes on Washington and a pass defense that ranked last in the Pac-12. I'll be a little surprised if he doesn't pick apart the Huskies on Jan. 2 and continue to build up hype for 2015. The confidence boost this team got from beating Oklahoma can't get squandered.

Trotter: Boykin and Rudolph are definitely players to watch. But I think I'll be most focused on Bryce Petty in his Baylor swan song facing one of the best defenses in the country in Michigan State. Quarterbacks the caliber of Petty -- on and off the field -- don't come along very often. I'll be curious to see how he goes out in a tough matchup in his final college game for the Bears.

Early Offer: Isaac Nauta keeps FSU rolling 

December, 15, 2014
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The addition of No. 1 2016 TE Isaac Nauta shows that the Florida State recruiting machine shows no signs of slowing down. Plus, Tennessee continues to impress with its 2015 defensive class.


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