NCF Nation: Collin Klein

The QBs that got away

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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There’s no more important position in football than quarterback, and in many cases, fans look at quarterbacks that got away and wonder what might have been had they come to their favorite school. Some schools passed on a quarterback because he evaluated poorly or another QB appeared more attractive. Others simply didn't have enough recruiting ammunition to land the recruit in the first place. Here’s a look at six quarterbacks that got away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not long ago, Big 12 media days was an event worthy of a red carpet, with star-studded quarterbacks annually filling the halls.

Many -- like “Vince” and “Sam” -- were on a first-name basis with their fans. Others -- like “RG3” -- donned catchy nicknames.

This year, though, there were no rock stars at media days in Dallas. Because, well, there are no marquee quarterbacks returning.

As the SEC with defense, the Big 12 has become synonymous with quarterbacking. Of the past 13 quarterbacks taken in the first round of the NFL draft, six are Big 12 alums.

But these are foreign times in the conference. For a change, quarterbacking is the Big 12’s big unknown.

“We're in the same situation as seven or eight others,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who is replacing his school’s all-time leading passer, Geno Smith.

“Pretty much everyone is in the same boat.”

A boat that seats virtually everyone in the league.

Texas' David Ash is the Big 12's only expected starter who started more than five games last season. Six other teams are still officially involved in quarterback derbies, including Texas Tech, which could wind up starting true freshman walk-on Baker Mayfield in its opener with projected starter Michael Brewer dealing with a back injury.

Such quarterback uncertainty has rendered the Big 12 as wide open as ever, with six teams receiving first-place votes in the league’s preseason poll.

“I think it would be unfair to even predict what could happen in the league this year,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who has hinted he won’t announce Clint Chelf or J.W. Walsh as the starter until the opener against Mississippi State. “You have a certain number of teams, five or six, who if they stay healthy and get quality quarterback play, have a chance to win the league.

“For the fans and for the media, this year is as exciting as it gets -- because I don’t think anyone really knows.”

But the lack of marquee returning quarterbacks is also predominantly why for the first time in its history the Big 12 doesn't have a team ranked in the top 10 of the preseason polls. Oklahoma State was the league’s highest-ranked squad at No. 13.

Ash started every game but one for the Longhorns last season. But he also was benched against Kansas and TCU.

TCU’s Casey Pachall had a banner 2011 campaign. But he left four games into last season to seek treatment for substance abuse.

And while Chelf and Walsh both won games for the Cowboys as starters last year, it’s unclear at the moment which of the two will get the majority of snaps.

“The preseason polls for the majority in my opinion are based on returning quarterback play, because we all know how important quality quarterback play is to winning games,” Gundy said. “They look on paper and see there’s not a lot of returning quarterbacks in this league and so you’re not going to get recognized as much as other schools.”

Coaches and players around the conference, however, caution not to dismiss this batch of quarterbacks just because they’re new.

“There’ll be a bunch of names you’ll be talking about next year -- that they’re all back,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

While there’s no Vince Young, Sam Bradford or Robert Griffin III yet, there is talent.

Blake Bell and Trevor Knight, who are vying to replace four-year starter Landry Jones in Norman, were both four-star recruits. So was Kansas’ Jake Heaps, who sat out last season after transferring from BYU.

Baylor’s Bryce Petty had offers to play at Nebraska and Virginia Tech coming out of high school.

And Kansas State’s Jake Waters, who is fighting Daniel Sams to succeed Heisman finalist Collin Klein, was the No. 1-rated quarterback to come out of junior college this year.

“The quarterback play in the Big 12 last year was phenomenal,” Holgorsen said. “And it's always going to be phenomenal.

“It's just going to be with newer people.”
Who is this year’s Johnny Manziel in the Pac-12? In other words, which player could come out of nowhere and win the Heisman from the conference? Well, if we knew, he wouldn't be coming out of nowhere in the preseason, now, would he?

Perhaps it is better that the Pac-12’s elite players are coasting below Mr. Heisman's persnickety radar. After all, front-runner status hasn't been kind to the Pac-12 the past couple of years. Two seasons ago it was Andrew Luck -- a shoo-in from the day he announced his return to take home the Heisman. Last year, it was Matt Barkley who had the unpropitious front-runner title pegged on him.

Luck carried the title much longer in his final season. Barkley, however, quickly gave way to Geno Smith, who in turn gave way to Collin Klein, who in turn fell to Johnny Football.

[+] EnlargeMarion Grice
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsArizona State's Marion Grice averaged 6.6 yards per carry and had 11 touchdowns last season.
So how about the Pac-12?

Marcusy Football?

Marqy Football?

DATy Football?

Ka’Deemy Football?

Bretty Football?

Not exactly phonetically pleasing.

Within the Pac-12, there aren't many dark-horse candidates. There are some front-runners who immediately come to mind: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, USC’s Marqise Lee, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and UCLA’s Brett Hundley. But none of them are considered national front-runners with Manziel (maybe?) back to defend his title, Braxton Miller coming off a perfect season, AJ McCarron and his ridiculous 30-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year and Teddy Bridgewater soaking up his share of hype.

You can make a case for all five in the preseason. Mariota and Thomas will be playing for a top-five team, which always helps garner the necessary attention from the national media, and they should continue to put up video game numbers. Hundley is one of the most exciting players in the league, and with a year of maturity, many are anxious to see just how far he can lead the Bruins. Lee was last year’s Biletnikoff winner and is arguably the top skill player in the country. Carey was last year’s national leader in rushing. Solid credentials for all.

But this is about the sleepers. The guys who are so under the radar they're practically stealth. So who are they?

You have to start with ASU’s Marion Grice, who is going to continue putting up fantastic dual-threat numbers as a runner and receiver. He’s packed on more weight and ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said they've expanded the playbook now that he and quarterback Taylor Kelly are a year into the system. (Probably not a bad idea to keep an eye on Kelly, either).

Stanford’s Kevin Hogan could also be a sleeper. Like the Oregon duo, he’ll be on a high-profile team that is going to get plenty of national exposure with showdowns against Oregon, UCLA, USC and Notre Dame on the 2013 docket. He’s not as flashy as the other players and his numbers might not be as lofty, but he’s asked to do a lot more behind the scenes than a lot of other quarterbacks. That was Luck’s brilliance, as well as his Heisman curse.

The appearance of Manti Te’o in New York last year proved defensive players aren't immune to getting some attention in the spread era. So UCLA’s Anthony Barr and ASU’s Will Sutton certainly deserve to be in the conversation if we’re talking defensive players. Both should be atop the national defensive rankings in sacks and tackles for a loss. But both will have to play well enough to surpass the well-deserved hype of South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and overcome the public perception of the Pac-12 when it comes to defense. As I’ve written previously, the Heisman is all about subjectivity and perception. (Full disclosure, I have Clowney No. 1 on my preseason Heisman ballot).

Finally, a guy who I think is really a long shot -- but should be getting more love than he is -- is Oregon State running back Storm Woods. In the Beavers’ first six games against FBS opponents in 2013, they face only one defense that ranked in the top 20 last year in total rushing yards allowed (Utah), and only one other in the top 50 (San Diego State). The opportunity will be there early in the season for Woods to make a name for himself. He’s got four of five offensive linemen coming back (including an outstanding center), an offense that wants to be more balanced, and a quarterback-to-be-named who is a veteran and knows the offense. He’s also really, really good.

It’s probably best not to put all your hopes into one of these guys winning the Heisman. For now, it’s safer to track the conference front-runners. But don’t sleep on these guys, either.

The next Stormy Football is just waiting to breakout.

Big 12 future power rankings

June, 21, 2013
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We're all about projecting the future at ESPN.com this week, looking inside the crystal ball at what the next few years will look like for the Big 12.

So who will accomplish the most in the next three years? Here's how I rank the Big 12.

1. Texas: Mack Brown has a lot to prove this year and in the ones that follow, but the Longhorns are deep all over the field and have recruited well. The Big 12 is more competitive than ever, but the Longhorns look like they've moved on from the past three years of struggle. Even if the Longhorns make a change at coach, the new guy would inherit a stacked roster.

2. Oklahoma: There's lots of talk about sliding recruiting rankings and staleness in the Sooner program, but they've still got tradition, talent and a man with a strong case as the Big 12's best coach. Even though the Sooners have won "just" 10 games the past two seasons, there's no reason to believe the Sooners will fall out of the conference's top two over the next three years. OU's 32 wins in those three years lead the Big 12.

3. Oklahoma State: OSU has won 31 games over the past three years and is finally seeing some recruiting payoff for that stretch. But what's keeping them at No. 3? When Oklahoma and Texas reload with strong rosters like OSU did last season, they win more than eight games. OSU proved it can get over the hump, but its valleys have been lower than Oklahoma's and Texas' over the past decade.

4. TCU: The Frogs may have to wait more than three years to see the Big 12 membership dividends really pay off on the recruiting trail. How the 2013 season goes could have a big impact there, but the Frogs already have a lot of talent on the depth chart. Recruiting depth is their main challenge now.

5. Baylor: The Bears are building -- on and off the field. They've seen recruiting take off after Robert Griffin III's Heisman Trophy campaign, and a new riverside stadium should provide another boost. This is the most talented team at Baylor in Big 12 history, and as long as it holds on to coach Art Briles, it'll be in good shape. He's recruited the quarterback position well, and you're going to be just fine in the Big 12 as long as you do that.

6. Kansas State: The middle of the Big 12 is crowded, so no need to take offense here. Bill Snyder worked his magic with Collin Klein over the past two seasons, but doing it over and over again isn't easy. K-State doesn't have quite as much talent in the wings as it did over the past two seasons, especially on defense, but juco newcomers Nate Jackson and Jake Waters could make the next few seasons interesting.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are a wild card who could skyrocket into the top 3-4 under Kliff Kingsbury. For now, it's hard to make an argument for them over more accomplished programs. Recruiting to Lubbock is never easy, but Tommy Tuberville established a little momentum with some of the best classes in school history.

8. West Virginia: It feels a little odd to have WVU this low. But the Mountaineers flopped in 2012, despite having one of the best offenses in school history, and they haven't caught on to recruiting in Texas. Continuing to recruit in Florida might get a little tougher in the Big 12 instead of the Big East, but WVU has to keep its defensive depth. I need more convincing that the Big 12 transition will turn around.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones begin their rebuilding project this year with a young defense and an offense lacking any reliable players in the passing game. Strong running back depth and talent is ISU's biggest strength, but you have to be able to score lots of points (and preferably fast, with apologies to Kansas State) to win consistently in the Big 12.

10. Kansas: KU is employing a risky reboot strategy with a mix-and-match group of junior college transfers. Chris Martin's exit from the program has the project off to a rough start. He might have been KU's best defender next season. The Jayhawks have a long way to go to catch even Iowa State, which has played in three bowl games in the past four years.
Kansas State enjoyed a historic season in 2012, winning the Big 12 in dramatic fashion with a win against Texas at home, setting off a party on the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium the Wildcat faithful will never forget.

But the party's over now, and it's coach Bill Snyder's job now to clean up the mess. Only two teams in college football return fewer starters than Kansas State, and winning the Big 12 title last season illustrates the quality of what Kansas State is trying to replace.

[+] EnlargeBill Snyder
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireKansas State head football coach Bill Snyder is no stranger to starting out a new season with a roster of young and inexperienced players.
Talents like quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown don't come around all that often. This year, Snyder will have no choice but to employ a team that hasn't seen much time on the field in the Big 12.

"Every year is going to be different regardless of who you have back, and the number of people you have back. The dynamics change year in and year out, regardless. I’d labor under the assumption that’s true virtually everywhere," Snyder said. "We have what we have. It’s not a matter of, 'Is there some sort of magic formula where you can address the fact that maybe you have less experience than you have at some other particular year?' We’ve been here before."

To be fair, Snyder's been pretty much everywhere when it comes to coaching college football, but just eight starters return from last year's team and he's still trying to figure out who'll replace Klein.

Sophomore Daniel Sams and juco transfer Jake Waters are neck-and-neck going into the summer, but that's only one of a whole lot of position battles still unsettled in Manhattan.

"Our basic concern is not so much who it is, but how much they’re getting better day in and day out. We’re invested, and a variety of positions have become competitive during the spring, which is positive in my way of thinking. We don’t have enough of those positions that are strongly competitive, but I think about half of the position that we have, just taking offense and defense, are very, very competitive," Snyder said.

"We’d like to have the other 11 be equally as competitive."

Kansas State has earned a status as a perennial overachiever under Snyder, whose Big 12 title team in 2012 was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 by the media before the season. Even the 2011 team that won 10 games was picked to finish eighth in the conference. Is another surprise season on the way? Colleague Mark Schlabach has K-State in his top 20 after the spring, but we'll see come fall if the Wildcats have more believers with an inexperienced roster that requires faith to see it finishing in the top 25.

"It’s just a matter of doing what you can every single day, trying to get better every single day, working diligently on the entirety of our package, being able to define what our personnel will allow us to do, what it will not allow us to do and be able to circumvent your weaknesses and play to your strength," Snyder said. "That hasn’t changed in 20-some odd years."
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder says less about less than any coach in the Big 12, and is making no exception about the contest to succeed Collin Klein as Wildcats quarterback.

Snyder spoke with the media for the first time this spring Thursday, and through five practices, if there was any development in the quarterback race, he didn't offer much of an update.

"We have had some ups and downs. I have been pleased with the progress that they are making, not necessarily with the consistency, but they have given us reason to believe that they are very capable," Snyder said. "It is just a matter of doing some of the things that they do on a very regular and consistent basis."

Both Daniel Sams, last season's backup, and junior-college transfer Jake Waters are working with the first team, but Snyder's not providing much in the way of readable tea leaves in regard to either having an edge this early.

"I think that they have been very competitive. I appreciate that and they work very hard in trying to develop their game. They do a nice job of helping each other," Snyder said. "I am proud of Daniel -- even though Jake is making it very competitive for him, he is doing all that he can to help Jake. Jake is a bright young guy and picks things up very quickly. It is just about the consistency and being able to do it the same way every time."

Sams obviously has more experience in the system and knowing what's expected, but it's definitely easy to see either player winning the job. Sams' speed provides a lot of excitement, but I have questions about his proficiency as a passer after seeing him play in person for the second half against Oklahoma State this year. Waters' reputation precedes him, but how well he navigates the transition from junior college to Division I will determine his future. That kind of thing is so unpredictable.

"He is a smart guy and is picking up things a lot quicker than I expected him to," receiver Tramaine Thompson said of Waters. "He has been definitely been putting in the film work and spending a lot of time working. Daniel has been helping him out a lot and they have been kind of helping each other out through this whole process."

Maybe Waters is Cam Newton, quietly preparing another run at the Big 12 title for the Cats. Maybe he's a backup that just provides insurance for Sams. Maybe he's somewhere in the middle, like last year's big juco prize: Quarterback Bo Wallace, who threw for 2,994 yards and 22 scores for Ole Miss last season.

It's too early to tell.

Collin Klein sticking to NFL QB route

February, 25, 2013
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Collin Klein's throwing motion, as anyone who has seen it can attest, is unorthodox. He can't escape those criticisms in the draft process, most notably when the Senior Bowl came and went without an invitation to the biggest pre-combine showcase for scouts. He's not packing a cannon on his shoulder, either, but his arm was good enough to win a Big 12 title.

And, Klein says, good enough to earn him a career in the NFL, too.

Entering the combine, there was plenty of talk about whether or not Klein would work out or be open to being used as a tight end or a receiver, but he worked exclusively with the passers at the Indianapolis event and struck a defiant tone to folks doubting his future as an NFL quarterback.

"I know I have the tools to do that. I know I bring a lot to a team at that position. That’s what I want to do. I’m going to pursue every door that I possibly can to play quarterback. Until every one of those is closed, I’m not really considering anything else," Klein told the Kansas City Star. "We’re going to make something happen."

Well then. I've followed Klein closely the past two seasons and his response surprises me a little bit. I respect the passion and drive to do what he wants to do and play where he wants to play, but I would have expected more of a "I'll do whatever it takes" approach from Klein, who spent 2009 playing receiver for the Wildcats as a redshirt freshman.

He told the Star that wasn't a true position change. He'd work with quarterbacks before moving to receiver or tight end briefly, depending on what was needed.

Klein was a great college player and an even better man, but I generally agree with the skepticism around Klein as an NFL quarterback. I'm sure he'll get a chance in camp with someone, but seeing him get a call as a draft pick at quarterback seems like a battle he's very unlikely to win. His arm strength leaves a lot to be desired, and his accuracy leaves even more. His legs won't be a threat at the next level, and his size will be less effective against NFL linebackers at quarterback.

He's a big athlete with a lot of toughness, and he could perhaps find a future in the league, but hard as it is to say, Klein would be well-served by showing off a little more flexibility moving forward in the draft process.

Catching up on Big 12 and NFL combine

February, 25, 2013
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Two Big 12 receivers were the biggest head-turners on Sunday as the skill position players went through their workouts in Indianapolis at the NFL scouting combine.

Texas' Marquise Goodwin is hoping his 4.27 40 time -- the fastest of any player at the combine -- is enough to outweigh his lack of production throughout his career and convince an NFL team to see his potential. He was well ahead of a trio tied for second at 4.34, a group that included West Virginia's Tavon Austin. The two earned a whole lot of buzz early in the morning when they tied for 4.25 unofficial 40 times, just one-hundredth of a second slower than Chris Johnson's 4.24 time in 2008, the fastest of any player in combine history.

Goodwin caught just 26 passes for 340 yards and three scores last year, which certainly makes one wonder about how well he was used in Texas' offense. The Olympic long jumper was way out in front of the pack in the 40, though, and his time is the second fastest in combine history.

TCU receiver Josh Boyce and Oklahoma receiver Kenny Stills tied with the sixth-fastest time at 4.38. Those are two really strong times, and Stills definitely turned heads.

Baylor's Lanear Sampson was 13th overall with a 40 time of 4.46. Here are some other top performers at the combine from the Big 12, according to NFL.com. You can see the full results here on the NFL's very cool searchable database.

40-yard dash
  • West Virginia QB Geno Smith: 4.59 seconds, fastest among quarterbacks.
  • Kansas State QB Collin Klein: 4.78 seconds, fifth among quarterbacks
  • Oklahoma QB Landry Jones: 5.11 seconds, 13th among quarterbacks
Broad jump
  • Texas WR Marquise Goodwin: 11 feet, second overall
  • TCU WR Josh Boyce: 10 feet, 11 inches, fourth overall
  • Oklahoma WR Kenny Stills: 10 feet, four inches, 13th overall
  • West Virginia QB Geno Smith: 10 feet, four inches, 13th overall
Three-cone drill
  • Boyce: 6.68 seconds, third-fastest
  • West Virginia WR Stedman Bailey: 6.81 seconds, 12th fastest
20-yard shuttle
  • Austin: 4.01 seconds, third overall
  • Bailey: 4.09 seconds, 10th overall
  • Boyce: 4.1 seconds, 12th overall
60-yard shuttle
  • Boyce: 11.26 seconds, third overall
  • Baylor WR Terrance Williams, 11.5 seconds, 12th overall

You can see top performers in every event by position at that database, too, so check it out.
Collin Klein grew up in Colorado, so it's doubtful he needed much introduction to the man helping him prepare for his future at the next level.

Former Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer left football almost six years ago, but he's back now after a gig as a high school assistant. Klein signed up to have Plummer help him reach his goal of playing QB in the NFL.

"Sure, I was a little anxious at first, just because I didn't know what to expect," Klein told the Denver Post. "I knew of [Plummer] as a player, but I just wanted to make sure we maximized our time together, getting ready. But after the first week, I knew it was right. I knew we would make great progress and he was going to help me, and he has helped me every time we've worked together."

After football, Plummer embraced a career in handball, but his latest project came about after meeting with the Broncos' chiropractor, who led him to Klein's agent and taking on Klein as a new student. Not that Plummer was unfamiliar.

"I was watching him his junior year, and I was thinking: 'Man, this kid just has it. He can run, he's got great feet, he can throw the ball all around the field.' I just thought he was one of the top prospects at quarterback I had seen," Plummer told the paper. "Then this year he has a great year, scrambling, making plays. ... You can't coach that. And it just came together. It's funny that it turned out to be him, and that I was just ready to do something like this."

The two are certainly similar in their penchant for scrambling, but for all the naysaying around Klein, it's got to be good to hear from somebody who believes in him at the next level. Plummer's always been an interesting guy, but Klein couldn't have found a more out-of-the-box coach to help him prepare.

Don't sweat those three-star quarterbacks

February, 12, 2013
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As we continue to process who everybody signed and who they didn’t sign last week, I couldn’t help but think about the quarterback position.

It goes without saying that having a winner at that position is a must if you’re going to win championships and consistently compete for championships.

But as this past season showed us, there’s no reason to fret just because your school signed a quarterback that wasn’t on everybody’s list of blue-clippers.

Case in point: There were two quarterbacks among the three Heisman Trophy finalists in 2012, and neither one of those guys was a four-star prospect.

Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy, and in 2010, he was a three-star prospect out of Kerrville, Texas, and ranked by ESPN as the No. 39 quarterback prospect in the country. Among prospects in the state of Texas that year, he was ranked No. 97.

Kansas State’s Collin Klein was very lightly recruited. He was a three-star prospect out of Loveland, Colo., and barely even ranked among the top 10 prospects in the state of Colorado that year. He played some receiver his first season at Kansas State before eventually moving back to quarterback.

Don’t stop with just Manziel and Klein.

Look at the two starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl this season.

The Baltimore Ravens’ Joe Flacco, who’s about to be paid handsomely following an incredible playoff run, was a three-star prospect out of Audubon, N.J., in 2003. He signed with Pittsburgh and played very little his first two years before transferring to Delaware.

Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers was also a three-star prospect out of Turlock, Calif. He played his college ball at Nevada and was ranked as the No. 50 quarterback nationally by ESPN coming out of high school in 2006. Early on in the recruiting process, he was receiving more interest to play baseball in college than he was football.
Every year, we see players take the leap. It's a natural progression in college. Contributors become impact players. Solid starters become superstars and there are plenty of moves in between. Only players who have played two full seasons in college football count. That means no freshmen or transfers. My regrets to guys such as Calvin Barnett, Lache Seastrunk and Devonte Fields.

Here are my picks for the Big 12's most improved players:

[+] EnlargeJosh Stewart
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports Oklahoma State's Josh Stewart stepped in at receiver and delivered a 101-catch, 1,210-yard season.
Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State: Stewart takes the honor of being the Big 12's most improved player by a landslide. A year ago, he was a bit player on a high-powered offense, grabbing 19 catches for 291 yards. The Cowboys lost their three best receivers from last season's team (Justin Blackmon, Josh Cooper, Mike Harrison) and needed somebody to step up. This season, Stewart answered the bell for an offense that needed him, catching 101 balls for 1,210 yards and seven scores.

Kerry Hyder, DL, Texas Tech: Hyder was arguably the biggest reason for Texas Tech's defensive resurgence this season, racking up 14 tackles for loss to rank fifth in the Big 12. A year ago, he had just five among his 42 tackles. This year, he made 56 stops, but had 5.5 sacks alone and broke up four passes.

Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor: Williams was a really good receiver a year ago, putting together maybe the quietest 900-yard receiving season ever. This year, though, he was better than anyone could have predicted. I voted for him for the Biletnikoff Award after leading the nation with 1,832 yards and 12 scores on 97 catches, up from 59 a year ago. He made the jump from great player to true superstar. He'll be an NFL first-rounder.

Jason Verrett, CB, TCU: Verrett had a nightmare start to 2011, getting burned by Robert Griffin III in a painful loss in Waco to begin the season. This year, he was unquestionably the Big 12's best shutdown corner and arguably one of the best in the country. Ask any Big 12 receiver. He's fast, physical and his great hands helped him grab six interceptions (fifth-most nationally) and break up a ridiculous 16 passes. That's 22 pass defenses. No other Big 12 player had more than 15.

Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas: Pierson was a great complement to power back James Sims, and ranked 10th in the league with 760 yards on just 117 carries. While Sims was suspended to begin the season, he had a pair of 120-yard games and topped 200 yards against Texas Tech, but his yards per carry (6.5) gets him on this list. Among the 25 Big 12 backs with at least 75 carries this year, only Seastrunk had a higher yards-per-carry average.

Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: Johnson was a good tackle last season, but he made a decent argument for being the best in the Big 12 this year. He was solid all season long, but seeing him shut down Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields in the regular season finale made a big impact on me. He also played well against possible top-five pick Damontre Moore, who was largely quiet in the Cotton Bowl loss to Texas A&M.

Bryce Hager, LB, Baylor: Hager's tackle numbers are a little inflated because of Baylor's early defensive struggles, but he led the Big 12 with 124 stops after making just 13 in limited duty a year ago as a freshman. If you watched him late in the year against K-State or UCLA, you saw how good Hager and his partner in crime at linebacker, Eddie Lackey, could be. It seemed like he was in Collin Klein's face all day, and the game may have been different without him.

Early Big 12 power rankings for 2013

January, 8, 2013
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The season is done, but ask any coach and he'll tell you the 2013 season already has begun. That's true on this blog, too. So, how would I slot the Big 12 heading into the fall? With a month before national signing day and a couple of months before spring football kicks into high gear, here's my first crack at slotting the conference.

To me, it looks as if we have four legitimate contenders for the conference title and three possible dark horses. We'll see how the latter three develop, but I'm sold on the top four as teams that could realistically win the league next season.

1. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys will be loaded, and that's especially true if running back Joseph Randle comes back. Cornerback Justin Gilbert is returning, but we saw this season that they can win with any one of their three quarterbacks. That's a recipe for success in this league. The defense was a bit streaky; this season was the first under defensive coordinator Bill Young that the Cowboys didn't finish in the top 15 in turnovers forced. If they can get back to forcing turnovers in bunches next season, another Big 12 title could be headed to Stillwater.

2. TCU: The Frogs are growing up fast, but their spot here is assuming that quarterback Casey Pachall will be back on the field this spring to reclaim his job. The defense looks likely to be the best in the Big 12, and as much offense as this league has, you can't win it without a solid defense. TCU's offense will win it some games; its defense might win it a Big 12 title. Look out for Devonte Fields' encore.

3. Oklahoma: The Sooners look like they may lack a true star on next season's team, but they are still solid across the two-deep and will be good enough to be in the mix for a title even without quarterback Landry Jones. A wealth of losses on the defensive end is a bigger concern, but receivers Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard also will have to navigate a transition to a new QB after three-plus years with Jones. The Sooners ought to feature fullback Trey Millard a bit more in the offense next year.

4. Texas: Believe it or not, but David Ash is the Big 12's most experienced passer. Can he look the part on the field? We'll see, but the biggest problem for Texas is continuing its defensive improvements. Jackson Jeffcoat could be back, and Jordan Hicks will be one of the league's biggest talents if he is able to recover from a hip injury. The time is now if the Longhorns' trio of backs are going to mature into true impact players.

5. Baylor: I'm a believer in the late-season run for these guys translating to 2013. The defense made big strides, and we'll see if those continue, but the offense will be fine. I buy Bryce Petty as a big talent and the next in the long line of Art Briles' quarterback disciples. Lache Seastrunk will help him out early, too. Don't be surprised if he surpasses Randle next year as the Big 12's best back.

6. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are a huge wild card and might have the biggest upside of any team in the bottom half of these rankings. Michael Brewer is a promising QB, and he now has Kliff Kingsbury -- the former Texas A&M offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach who helped the Aggies far surpass expectations -- as his new head coach. Could Tech do the same? The Red Raiders have tons of talent on both sides of the ball, thanks to a couple of great recruiting classes from Tommy Tuberville (who left to become the coach at Cincinnati).

7. Kansas State: No Collin Klein and Arthur Brown? You know about that, but there's no Chris Harper, Travis Tannahill, Braden Wilson, and the entire defensive line is gone, including star DE Meshak Williams. Both starting cornerbacks are gone, too. Point is, K-State's probably a bowl team next season, but to come back from that mountain of losses and be in the top half of the Big 12 is going to be a tall, tall task.

8. West Virginia: The Mountaineers' trio of wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin and quarterback Geno Smith was outstanding this year. Not much else in Morgantown was. All three are gone, and that team only went 7-5. Coordinator Keith Patterson has got to fix this defense in the spring and apply some lessons learned in a disappointing Year 1 in the Big 12. The QB derby between Paul Millard and Ford Childress should be interesting.

9. Iowa State: Sam Richardson was severely ill while playing in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, but he still didn't inspire a lot of confidence in the future of the QB spot in Ames, despite a strong finish to the season. With linebacking pillars A.J. Klein and Jake Knott both headed to the NFL, the odds once again will be against Iowa State winning six games and getting to a bowl. Without consistency at the quarterback spot, it's going to be tough, especially with the defense likely to take a step back.

10. Kansas: Gotta prove something before the Jayhawks move out of the basement. Charlie Weis is bringing in tons of juco talent, but after the Dayne Crist experiment didn't work, BYU transfer Jake Heaps simply must be better for KU to begin its climb back to the postseason.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Oregon Ducks donned new T-shirts after their 35-17 victory over Kansas State in the Totitos Fiesta Bowl. "Won the Day" those shirts said, obviously playing off the program's mantra under Chip Kelly: Win the day.

Oregon certainly did that against the Wildcats.

Both teams ran 70 plays. Oregon gained 385 yards. Kansas State 283. Kansas State led the nation in turnover margin this year, but it lost that battle to the Ducks 2-0. The Wildcats had the second-fewest penalty yards per game in the nation this season, but they had seven flags for 57 yards versus five for 33 for the Ducks. The Wildcats were widely viewed as the nation's best on special teams this season, but they yielded a 94-yard return on the opening kickoff to De'Anthony Thomas and missed a field goal while the Ducks were 2-for-2.

Senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein was outplayed by Ducks redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.

So Oregon won the day -- night, actually -- but the use of the past tense hints at something else, of a mission accomplished and completed. That has an ominous suggestion for Oregon fans. That feeling, of course, arises from the fact that Kelly is about to interview with at least three NFL teams, according to various reports, and many believe this was his last game at Oregon.

He and Oregon won the day and now he will move on.

Kelly fought off questions about his NFL aspirations during the weeks leading up to the game, saying his entire focus was on the Fiesta Bowl. He opened up a bit after the victory, noting that he will talk to his agent David Dunn on Thursday night or Friday morning to get an update on where things stand.

"I was getting my hair cut on Wednesday and saw my name on the bottom of ESPN, which I thought was funny because I haven't talked to anyone," he said. "I'll sit down and talk with Dave. I've said I'll always listen. That's what I'll do. ... I'll listen and we'll see."

Kelly is expected to interview with the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills. It's possible we'll know Kelly's plans by the end of the weekend.

Ducks fans chanted "Four more years!" at the end of the game. Kelly's four years atop the program -- two Rose Bowls, a national title game and a Fiesta Bowl -- have been the most successful in program history by a wide margin. The Ducks are headed for their third consecutive top-five ranking and figure to be top-five in the 2013 preseason, whoever their coach is.

The postgame interviews focused less on the Ducks' dominant performance in all phases and more on Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, who is expected to replace Kelly should he leave.

Oregon players paid tribute to both.

"[Kelly] means everything," said running back Kenjon Barner, who gained 120 of his 143 yards in the second half. "Without him, I wouldn't be the running back that I am. Sitting with him in meeting rooms is a lot different than sitting in any other meeting room that I've ever been in because it's not just about football, it's about life. He teaches you life lessons as a man, so he means a lot to me."

But Barner also added that Helfrich is ready to take over.

"If that does happen, expect the same," he said. "Nothing will change."

Said offensive lineman Kyle Long: "Seamless transition. They're cut from the same tree. I'll tell Duck Nation right now, Coach Helfrich is a brilliant coach. Great relationships with his players and other staff members. We all love Helf."

Said Helfrich about potentially becoming the Ducks coach: "We'll cross that bridge. ... Whatever happens, happens."

Helfrich coaches the Ducks quarterbacks, and his star pupil had another great game. Mariota, who won game MVP honors, completed 12 of 24 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also rushed eight times for 62 yards and a score.

"He's a great young player," said Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, an All-America. "He has a bright future."

Both these teams suffered their only regular-season loss on Nov. 17. The Ducks lost in overtime to Stanford, which won the Rose Bowl. Alabama also has one loss, but it's playing unbeaten No. 1 Notre Dame for the national title. Kelly was asked where he thought his team ranked.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't have a vote. I don't want a vote. This is my favorite team, so I vote us No. 1."

As for whether he's about to leave his favorite team, Kelly left few clues. He called his oncoming interviews a "fact-finding mission."

"I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I'm going to be," he said.

He's not the only one.

A program and an enraptured fan base is holding its collective breath. They are hoping Kelly will be winning more days for years to come.



GLENDALE, Ariz.-- Collin Klein could only stare and watch as the final seconds of his college career ticked away. Oregon would hand him a 35-17 loss at the Fiesta Bowl in his final game, an ugly offensive performance that featured a pair of interceptions, a pair of touchdowns and one painful finale.

With glassy eyes shadowed underneath his helmet, he congratulated a few of the Ducks before joining his teammates and locking arms, grabbing a spot on the front row in the middle of the final CatPack of his life.

He and his teammates trotted off the field for the last time. Together.

"It's hard," Klein said, "It's not the way any of us wanted to go out."

Coach Bill Snyder collected his team in the locker room and delivered his final address of the season. He thanked his players for the work they put in, but most importantly, he reminded them that no one thought they'd be playing in this game. No one thought these seniors would end their careers as Big 12 champions, even if they couldn't be Fiesta Bowl champions, too.

He finished his remarks and dismissed the team before sharing a few words and a hug with Klein before the two went out the door to answer questions at a postgame news conference.

"Everybody might not see us as the most talented team in America, but we hang our hat on toughness, giving the greatest efffort we can do and this dude sums it up," linebacker Arthur Brown said of Klein. "Probably one of the toughest dudes I ever met."

He was tough enough to carry his team to 10 wins a year ago when some wondered if the 'Cats were good enough to reach a bowl game. He was tough enough to carry K-State to 11 wins and a Big 12 title this season when it was picked to finish sixth in the league. Along the way, he finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Thursday's bittersweet performance won't be easy to swallow, but as players dressed, there were a whole lot more hugs than tears. A whole lot of promises to stay in touch as careers ended and brothers went their separate ways.

[+] EnlargeCollin Klein, Bill Snyder
Jennifer Stewart/USA TODAY SportsThe final go-round for K-State QB Collin Klein didn't go quite as he and coach Bill Snyder had hoped.
"This was a fantastic year for us, we did a lot of things when people didn't believe in us," running back John Hubert said. "It was great. We like proving people wrong. Every year since I've been here, we always hear we couldn't do this or couldn't do that. Just to go out and prove people wrong and win is a great feeling."

That's what these Cats will always be remembered for. They're the team that did what no other in K-State history did: Reached No. 1 in the BCS standings. They're also a team that lost two of its final three games and let a chance at a national title slip through its fingers, but time will provide perspective, and many of the Wildcats already possessed it not long after their season had ended.

"The Big 12 championship, when we got that 11th win and beat Texas, seeing that crowd rush the field," Hubert said. "Holding up that Big 12 Championship Trophy and for it to be in our locker room is one of the greatest things we've done."

Added linebacker Justin Tuggle: "I hope we're remembered for the good things we did, and not for the two slip-ups we had."

These Wildcats absolutely will be remembered for those moments. Klein's interception on the final pass attempt of his career will fade away. So will Cornelius Lucas' second-quarter false start on fourth-and-1 that led to a missed field goal by Anthony Cantele and the loss of every bit of momentum the Wildcats had built after falling behind 15-0 and giving up a 94-yard return for a score from Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas on the game's opening kick.

"It had a significant impact on the outcome of the ballgame," Snyder said of the false start.

Well, Snyder had a significant impact on the individual lives of his players and the community in Manhattan, too. Those false starts and missed tackles and missed opportunities will fade away. That Big 12 trophy and Klein's memories from a trip to the Heisman Trophy presentation never, ever will.

Kansas State's season ended with a difficult loss and the extension of a bowl drought that now stretches beyond a decade. K-State wishes it could have won this game. Any one of the Wildcats would have told you that. But they'd also tell you that a loss in this game does little to diminish the accomplishments of the 2012 team, which will go down in history as one of the best in school history.

Halftime: Oregon 22, Kansas State 10

January, 3, 2013
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The first half of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl featured plenty of momentum swings, but Oregon's proved the most potent, even though the Ducks' running game struggled.

The Ducks are up 22-10 at the half, despite only rushing for 52 yards.

Oregon couldn't have started faster, with De'Anthony Thomas going 94 yards for a touchdown on the opening kickoff, with a 2-point conversion making it 8-0. Thomas then scored on a brilliant 23-yard run after a screen pass, making it 15-0.

The Kansas State offense and quarterback Collin Klein then got on track, scoring the next 10 points.

But the final swing was huge: Kansas State missed a 40-yard field goal, and Oregon drove 77 yards in five plays, needing just 46 seconds to make it 22-10.

Kansas State gets the ball to start the third quarter.

The Wildcats outgained Oregon 170 to 158. They were 6-of-10 on third down, and had the ball for 21 minutes in the first half, compared to nine for the Ducks.

The big question in the second half is whether the Ducks can get the running game going or if they will need to pass. Kansas State has been a second-half team all season, so this one is hardly over.

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