NCF Nation: Cyril Richardson

WACO, Texas – As the story goes, and Phil Bennett likes telling this one, Baylor’s coaching staff held a meeting in the fall of 2011 to discuss bringing in a junior college linebacker.

They pulled up the film from Riverside City College in California. This juco squad had three studs at linebacker.

[+] EnlargePhil Bennett
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBaylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett and the Bears staff take pride in finding under-the-radar gems.
The heavily recruited member of the unit, Zaire Anderson, would sign with Nebraska. Will Smith landed at Texas Tech, where he’d start 24 games and win Holiday Bowl defensive MVP.

But Bennett, Baylor's defensive coordinator, had his eyes on the other guy. When he asked the staff to raise their hands for which one they’d take, the vote was unanimous. They wanted No. 10.

That was Eddie Lackey, a former Division II player whose only offers were Hawaii and New Mexico State. So, naturally, he’d verbally committed to Hawaii. Bennett made him a Bear that December.

“I told him, ‘You better be 6-foot or we’re gonna send your ass home,’” Bennett joked last week. “And how good a player was Eddie Lackey?”

A first-team All-Big 12 player, in fact. Nine other Baylor players earned that honor in 2013, including a former Hurricane Katrina refugee whose only offer was BU (Cyril Richardson), a receiver who weighed 138 pounds in high school (Tevin Reese) and a quarterback who’d been dumped by Tennessee (Bryce Petty).

If that’s not enough proof of Baylor’s impressive knack for evaluating talent, Bennett can tell plenty more stories. Like the time his brother tipped him off to go after running back Shock Linwood, the No. 176-rated athlete from a Class 2A school in Linden, Texas, who eventually flipped from TCU and will likely start for Baylor this fall.

Coach Art Briles says he isn’t one for telling these recruiting tales, but he’s proud of plenty of these finds. When he arrived in Waco in 2008, there was no doubt the job of building the doormat Bears back up would require taking chances on kids in recruiting.

“Those guys are out there,” Briles said last week. “This is a big state with a lot of great football players.”

In those early years of rebuilding, Briles leaned on the relationships built from 20-plus years of coaching Texas high school ball. He has now been a college coach in this state for 15 years. Those bonds can pay off big when he and his coaches go hunting for undiscovered talent.

“We know the state of Texas and the state of Texas knows us,” he said. “They know we’re not going anywhere. I’m not trying to cross the border and not come back. I’m home.”

And while Texas, Texas A&M and the state’s recruiting powers cherry-picked from the best of the best, scooping up the big-name kids on the top-100 lists before the summer had even begun, Baylor was forced to take a different approach. You’ve got to be willing to turn over a lot of rocks, in locales near and far, if the blue-chippers aren’t returning your calls.

In seeking kids who fit their high-speed scheme, Briles and his assistants did lots of projecting. They found the quarterbacks (example: Kendall Wright) who could move to receiver or defensive back, the linebackers who could grow into defensive end, the linemen with developing bodies. They had to take gambles.

“The farther you get away from the center and nose tackle, the harder the prediction gets,” Briles said. “Once you get to the skill people on both sides, it’s tough. We just try to find the guys that fit what we’re looking for. If they have an interest in us and vice versa, we’re all in.”

[+] EnlargeEddie Lackey
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Eddie Lackey, who committed to Hawaii before signing with Baylor, was a key member of the Bears' defense in 2013.
But that’s not enough. Briles says he focuses closely on a kid’s commitment and passion, on the kind of stuff that makes good teammates. And he loves the chip on the shoulder.

“I like a guy that, when you look in his eyes, you can see the steely determination to him,” Briles said. “A guy who really wants to do something.”

They’ve found those kinds of kids from Amarillo to Refugio, from Midland to Texarkana. This spring, nearly 30 percent of Baylor’s players came from the always-fertile Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. A fifth of the spring roster hailed from the Central Texas territory that includes Waco and Austin. Greater Houston-area kids made up a little more than 10 percent.

As for the other 40 percent of the squad? There are more than a dozen transfers, five players from out-of-state schools and, of course, a melting pot of guys from all over Texas. A couple were four-star recruits, but more of them are the sleepers and projects that have fueled Baylor’s rise.

The game changed in 2011 thanks to Robert Griffin III. McLane Stadium and a Big 12 title have made Briles’ pitch even easier today. Petty signed in 2009 and can’t help but marvel at how the roster has transformed since then.

“I’m pretty sure I was the last class that had that problem of saying, ‘Baylor was my only offer. I had to go here,’” he joked. “It’s not that way anymore.”

Now that the big-name recruits are visiting Waco, the staff’s approach will have to change.

“It’s a whole different deal,” Briles said. “Our calls are getting answered, and we’ve got to be careful who we ask now -- 'cause there’s a good chance they might say yes. Got to make sure we’re asking the right ones.”

Still, three of Baylor’s six verbal commitments for 2015 are true athletes who could play a variety of positions next season. It’ll be a smaller-than-usual class, but one that will still feature a few three-star recruits few schools wanted. Those kind of kids made Baylor what it is today.

“Has the door opened for us, and are we getting more of the quote-unquote four- and five-stars? Absolutely,” Bennett said. “We’ll look at them. But the thing I’m proud of is, you’ve got to be a player here.

“If you come here, you’ve got to be a player.”

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
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Spring football is rapidly approaching.

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

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

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

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

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

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

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

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

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

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

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

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

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

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

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

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

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

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

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

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

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

Big 12 all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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After 16 years, the BCS era is finally over. Next season, college football will have a playoff instead.

With the BCS done, we've come up with our Big 12 all-BCS era team (1998-2013) below:

Offense

[+] EnlargeVince Young
Scott Clarke/Getty ImagesWith Vince Young at the helm, Texas won a national title and Rose Bowl.
QB: Vince Young, Texas (2003-05) -- Young led Texas to its first national title in 35 years with an unforgettable performance in the Rose Bowl against USC. The Heisman runner-up also became the first QB in college football history to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in the same season.

RB: Ricky Williams, Texas (1998) -- Williams was part of the BCS era for only one season, but what a season it was. He rushed for 2,327 yards and won the Heisman Trophy going away. Only Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne has more career rushing yards than Williams (6,279).

RB: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06) -- Despite battling injuries throughout his career, Peterson still was a beast in college. After rushing for 1,925 yards while leading the Sooners to the national title game, he finished second in the ’04 Heisman voting, even though there was still a stigma then in voting for a freshman.

WR: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (2007-08) -- Crabtree became the first two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver. In '08, he and QB Graham Harrell led the Red Raiders to an upset of Texas and a No. 2 ranking in the polls.

WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2009-11) -- Blackmon became the second and only other two-time winner of the Biletnikoff. In his final two seasons, he finished with 233 receptions, 3,304 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns, and he helped propel the Cowboys to their first Big 12 title in '11.

TE: Chase Coffman, Missouri (2005-08) -- Coffman had a monster statistical college career for a tight end with 247 catches for 2,659 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns. He won the ’08 Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end. Missouri won 37 games during the four years Coffman was in the lineup.

OT: Jammal Brown, Oklahoma (2001-04) -- Brown was a unanimous All-American and a three-time All-Big 12 selection. He became the fifth Sooner to win the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top interior lineman.

OT: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State (2007-09) -- In Okung’s final two seasons, Oklahoma State led the Big 12 in rushing yards. The Cowboys were also third in the country in ’07 in fewest sacks allowed with Okung at left tackle. He was a unanimous All-American and Outland finalist in ’09 and became the sixth overall pick in the ’10 NFL draft.

OG: Cyril Richardson, Baylor (2010-13) -- Richardson became Baylor’s seventh all-time unanimous All-American. The Outland finalist was also a key piece on the nation’s highest-scoring offense this season.

OG: Justin Blalock, Texas (2003-06) -- Though a guard in the NFL, Blalock actually started 50 games for Texas, most coming at right tackle. He was a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and a consensus All-American in 2006.

C: Dominic Raiola, Nebraska (1998-2000) -- Raiola was the inaugural winner of the Rimington Award, named after former Nebraska center Dave Rimington, which recognizes the best center in college football. He was an Outland finalist and a consensus All-American.

APB: Darren Sproles, Kansas State (2001-04) -- One of the most prolific all-purpose performers in college football history, Sproles finished his career with 6,812 all-purpose yards. Among his 39 consecutive starts, his most memorable performance came in the ’03 Big 12 championship, when he had 235 yards rushing and 88 receiving, as K-State upset top-ranked Oklahoma 35-7.

Defense

DE: Brian Orakpo, Texas (2005-08) -- Orakpo captured the ’08 Nagurski Award as the most outstanding defensive player in the country, and the Lombardi Award, given to the best college lineman or linebacker. He also was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American while piling up 11 sacks his senior year.

DE: Von Miller, Texas A&M (2007-10) -- Out of a hybrid defensive end/linebacker role, Miller led the nation with 17 sacks in ’09. He was a two-time All-American and won the Butkus Award in ’10 as the nation’s top linebacker.

DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- There was no more dominant defensive player in college football during the BCS era. Suh finished fourth in the Heisman voting in ’09 and won several national awards, including the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski (most outstanding defensive player)and Bednarik (defensive player of the year). He was also a unanimous All-American and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

DT: Tommie Harris, Oklahoma (2001-03) -- Harris was a force from the beginning as a freshman on the OU defensive line. He won the Lombardi his junior year, and he was a two-time consensus All-American, garnering unanimous honors in ’03.

LB: Derrick Johnson, Texas (2001-04) -- Johnson was a menacing linebacker for the Longhorns, earning consensus All-American honors in ’03 and unanimous honors in ’04. He was also a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and won the Butkus (best linebacker) and Nagurski awards as a senior. Johnson finished his career with 458 tackles.

LB: Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma (1998-2001) -- Calmus played a major role in OU’s resurgence under Bob Stoops. He won the Butkus in ’01 and was a finalist for the Nagurski and Bednarik. A three-time All-Big 12 pick, Calmus led the Sooners in tackles in all three of those seasons.

LB: Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- Lehman too won the Butkus, beating out Johnson for the award in ’03. He also was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, captured the Bednarik, was a unanimous All-American and played in two national championship games.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesWest Virginia receiver and returner Tavon Austin had a huge 2012 season.
CB: Terence Newman, Kansas State (1999-2002) -- Newman was a solid player for Bill Snyder his first three seasons, then broke out as a senior. Newman was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous All-American and the Thorpe winner, given to college football’s top defensive back.

CB: Derrick Strait, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- A four-year starter, Strait finished with a school-record 52 career pass breakups. He also won the Thorpe, and was a unanimous All-American.

S: Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-2001) -- Nicknamed “Superman,” Williams was the Big 12’s most dominating defensive player until Suh came along. He won the Thorpe and Nagurski in ’01, and was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American the same season. He also famously skied over the Texas offensive line to force the game-clinching interception to earn his moniker.

S: Michael Huff, Texas (2002-05) -- Huff became the first Longhorn to win the Thorpe, and was the leader of the ’05 national championship defense. He was also a unanimous All-American that season.

Special teams

K: Mason Crosby, Colorado (2003-06) -- Crosby was three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and twice was a consensus All-American even though he never won the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's top kicker. He was also the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year as a junior, and converted 66 field goals in his career.

P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State (2009-12) -- Sharp became the first three-time All-American in Oklahoma State history, and he earned All-American honors both as a punter and a kicker. He was twice named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year. In his career, he made 50 of 59 field goals, averaged 45.9 yards per punt and missed only one extra point.

KR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2012) -- Austin was in the Big 12 only one season, but he was unstoppable that one season. On top of being one of the most dangerous kick returners in the country, Austin had 1,289 yards receiving and 643 rushing, and finished second in the country in all-purpose yards.

PR: Ryan Broyles Oklahoma (2008-11) -- On top of being a prolific punt returner, Broyles was one of the most efficient receivers in college football history. He finished his career with an FBS-record 349 receptions, and was a two-time consensus All-American before a knee injury cut his senior season short.
Going back to the advent of the BCS, 18 teams have been to just one BCS bowl without returning for a second.

This week, Baylor and Tostitos Fiesta Bowl opponent UCF will make their BCS debuts.

[+] EnlargeBaylor Bears
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWith a financial commitment, recruiting success and head coach Art Briles leading the way, Big 12 title celebrations could become a frequent occurrence at Baylor.
And the biggest question for the upstart Bears is whether this will be a one-time BCS trip or one of many BCS-level bowls to come.

“We want to build a dynasty,” said Baylor junior quarterback Bryce Petty. “We didn’t come into this for just one season.”

Before head coach Art Briles arrived in 2007, Baylor making a BCS bowl seemed about as likely as zombies taking over the Earth.

But after 14 consecutive losing seasons, the Bears finally broke through in 2010 with Robert Griffin III as quarterback. And in the three seasons since, Baylor has gone a combined 29-9, culminating with this year’s Big 12 championship and BCS bowl berth.

Can the Bears keep it going or will this one year, like it has been for so many other programs, be a flash in the pan?

There are reasons to believe it might be the former.

“I think there are two things that will keep us out of the category of being just a one-time BCS team,” said defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who has remarkably transformed Baylor’s defense into one of the best in the Big 12. “A lot of people use the word commitment, but you’re not committed if you’re not spending money and building the program.

“There’s a commitment here.”

Indeed, Baylor is putting its money where its mouth is.

Next season, the Bears will play in a new $260 million on-campus stadium, erected on the banks of the Brazos River.

Two weeks ago, Baylor announced plans to build a 14,000-square-foot nutrition center for its athletes that will be adjacent to the athletic academic building and indoor practice facility, which have both been constructed in the last several years. Once the nutrition center is completed later next year, Baylor’s football players will be able to meet with tutors, grab lunch and go to practice in one central vicinity.

“That’s millions and millions of dollars,” Bennett said. “And when you make that kind of commitment, it turns into recruiting assets.”

Which leads to the second reason why Bennett believes Baylor is built to last.

The last five years, the Bears have done a phenomenal job of unearthing hidden gems in recruiting and developing them into quality players. Unanimous All-America guard Cyril Richardson garnered little recruiting interest after relocating to Texas from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey's only other offers out of junior college were from Hawaii and New Mexico State. And standout wide receiver Tevin Reese was just a two-star recruit in high school because he weighed less than 140 pounds.

“Coach Briles does a great job knowing what he wants in recruiting,” said Baylor All-Big 12 wideout Antwan Goodley, who was also lightly recruited. “And getting his guys.”

The Bears are still targeting those guys.

But thanks to its success on the field and commitment off it, Baylor is also now gaining access to the blue-chip prospects. As a result, the Bears currently have RecruitingNation's No. 16-ranked recruiting class in the country, nine spots ahead of Oklahoma and only three behind Texas.

“We all know it’s a players’ game,” Bennett said. “And our days of not competing for the upper echelon guys are over.”

But as critical as the facility investments are to Baylor’s future success, no investment has been more critical than the one Baylor has made in Briles, who has guided the Bears to the first 11-win season in school history.

Last month, Briles agreed to a 10-year contract extension that will pay him more than $4 million annually. The Bears hope the deal will keep him at Baylor through at least the 2023 season.

Of course, that could be put to the test in the coming weeks.

Both the Austin American-Statesman and Dallas Morning News reported over the weekend that Texas has vetted Briles for its head coaching vacancy and has him on a short list of candidates.

But when asked about Texas before, Briles has said that “the grass is green” at Baylor. And thanks to the massive facility overhaul and uptick in recruiting, it definitely is more so now than ever.

With Petty, the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback, and other key players like Goodley and possibly running back Lache Seastrunk back, Baylor could be loaded for bear again in 2014.

If Briles returns as well, this BCS appearance just might be the first of many big-time bowls for Baylor. Where the grass continues to get greener.

“This is a team that wants more,” Petty said. "We're still hungry."

2013 AT&T ESPN All-America Team

December, 14, 2013
12/14/13
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Offense
QB: Jameis Winston, Florida State
RB: Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona, Andre Williams, Boston College
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M, Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
TE: Eric Ebron, North Carolina
OT: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M, Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
OG: Cyril Richardson, Baylor; David Yankey, Stanford
C: Bryan Stork, Florida State

Defense
DE: Michael Sam, Missouri; Leonard Williams, USC
DT: Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh; Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama; Ryan Shazier, Ohio State, Trent Murphy, Stanford
CB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
FS: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
SS: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
K: Nate Freese, Boston College
P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State
KR: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina
Baylor still leads the nation with 635.1 yards and 55.4 points per game going into its regular season finale against Texas. But "America's Top Offense" hasn't looked much looked like itself recently.

In fact, since exploding for six touchdowns in just over 23 minutes in a 63-34 rout of Texas Tech last month, the Bears almost seem to be running on fumes.

[+] EnlargeLache Seastrunk
AP Photo/Jose YauWith Lache Seastrunk almost fully healthy, Baylor will have most of its offensive weapons back against Texas.
Over their last two games, the Bears have mustered just five offensive touchdowns combined, with one coming after TCU fumbled on its own 1-yard line.

At Oklahoma State, Baylor trailed 35-3 in the fourth quarter before finishing with a season-low 17 points.

At TCU, the Bears mustered a season-low 370 yards of offense while Spencer Roth punted a season-high eight times, as Baylor survived only after two defensive touchdowns and the fumble at the TCU 1.

"I feel like we may be looking around for too much and trying to see too many things,” said Baylor guard Cyril Richardson. “We just need to go out there and play. We need to go back to hard-nosed football, and that's basically it."

That will be easier with running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin back in the lineup.

Neither was available for the 32-point loss at Stillwater. And at TCU, both were easing their way back in after injuries.

“Those guys are warriors,” said coach Art Briles. “I don’t think either guy was 100 percent. They’ll both be a lot closer to 100 percent his week. But from a confidence standpoint, it made a big difference.”

Even at less than 100 percent, Seastrunk dashed his way to 94 yards on 24 carries. Martin was the closer, pounding out 69 yards on 17 carries, most coming in the fourth quarter when Baylor was attempting to move the chains and grind out the clock.

"I think it showed those guys provide a spark that not a lot of guys can,” said quarterback Bryce Petty. “Lache is that spark. Lache is that guy that can take a carry that shouldn't get anything and make yards out of it, which you've got to love. Glasco's the veteran guy. He's been there. He's done that. He's that thunder part of it so it's always fun to have him as far as closing out games. The guy that can make those tough yards for you so it's always fun watching him play."

Baylor, however, will continue to be without two key players to its passing game, left tackle Spencer Drango (back) and wideout Tevin Reese (wrist).

Through the first nine games with Drango protecting Petty’s blindside, the Bears gave up just 13 sacks. The last two games, they have given up five.

The loss of Reese and his downfield speed has been even more critical. One of the most lethal deep threats in college football, Reese was averaging 25 yards per catch, and 54 yards on his eight touchdown catches.

The Bears didn’t miss him at Tech. But they missed him dearly against Oklahoma State and TCU.

With TCU All-American cornerback Jason Verrett locking up leading receiver Antwan Goodley, Baylor’s patented vertical passing attack was almost non-existent. The Bears, which still lead the country in pass plays over 30 yards, had only one such completion against the Horned Frogs, while Goodley finished with just one reception for 12 yards.

“We’ve had to change a little bit to the personnel we’ve had or haven’t had on the field the last couple weeks,” Briles said.

The good news for the Bears is they’ll finally be back at Floyd Casey, for the stadium’s swan song. And even with the injuries, America’s Top Offense still has the personnel to put up big points.

“We didn’t have a lot going on offense,” Seastrunk said. “Missing key players hurts a lot.

“But we’ve got to get back to doing what Baylor does.”
Baylor Graphic ESPN Stats & InfoBaylor's offense was a buzzsaw until it ran into Oklahoma State last week.

In 2011, Oklahoma State entered late November undefeated with a shot at the national title. Then, the Cowboys suffered their first loss after an inexplicable performance at Iowa State, knocking them out of the national championship race.

Two years later, Baylor finds itself in similar waters after getting decimated by many of those same Cowboys over the weekend. The Bears are also hoping they can respond the very same way those Cowboys did two years ago.

“We hit a bump in the road,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “But shoot, we’ve still got a lot of things out there.”

Baylor went into Stillwater, Okla., with a chance to climb as high as third in the BCS standings. But after quarterback Bryce Petty tripped at the Oklahoma State 1-yard line in the first quarter and running back Shock Linwood fumbled two plays later, the Bears were never the same. The Cowboys jumped to a 35-3 lead before coasting to a 49-17 victory, handing Baylor its first loss of the season in emphatic fashion.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty and Baylor still have a lot to play for in their final two regular-season games.
“[Sunday] we had a pretty tough time, because we knew how close we were, as far as postseason stuff,” Petty said. “At the same time, this is a mature team. We have to put that stuff in the rearview mirror now. We can’t let it affect us here these last two games.”

This Saturday, the Bears travel to TCU before playing the final game at Floyd Casey Stadium on Dec. 7 against Texas. The Bears will be heavy favorites in both games. But they’ll also have to play better than they did in Stillwater.

Baylor allowed Oklahoma State’s offense to average more than eight yards per play, almost double what the Bears had surrendered in any game this season.

The Baylor offense, which entered averaging a national-best 61 points per game, couldn’t get the ground game rolling or complete passes against man coverage downfield -- its two calling cards all season. Injuries to running backs Lache Seastrunk (groin) and Glasco Martin (knee), left tackle Spencer Drango (back) and wideout Tevin Reese (wrist) finally took their toll as the Oklahoma State defense completely shut down the Bears for three quarters.

“We lost badly. Tremendously,” said guard Cyril Richardson, who was named an Outland Trophy finalist Monday. “There weren’t too many positives in that game. We just have to learn from the experience and come back stronger from it.”

Nobody knew how Oklahoma State would come back after that stunning defeat at Ames two seasons ago. But instead of allowing Iowa State to beat them twice, the Cowboys bounced back with their finest performance of the season, routing No. 14 Oklahoma 44-10 to clinch the school’s first Big 12 title and first BCS bowl berth.

Like the Cowboys did, Baylor still has a lot of things out there, as Briles put it.

“If we finish with just one loss, in three weeks no one will care about it,” Petty said. “We still have a lot to play for. That’s how we have to treat it.”

The Bears could still earn a share of their first Big 12 title, or even win it outright if the Sooners can upset Oklahoma State in two weeks. The Bears could also still advance to their first BCS bowl game.

But at the worst, Baylor could set a school record for victory in a season, go to its first Cotton Bowl in 32 years and finish in the top 10 of the polls for the first time since 1951.

“We’re fine; we really are,” Briles said. “I mean, what choice do you have? My goodness, we played a good football team, and they made the plays when they needed to make them. It’s happened to a lot of people at a lot of different times.

"To me it’s a great chance to show our resolve, our toughness and where our direction is.”

Eight years ago to the day, Oklahoma State traveled to Waco for a clash of the Big 12’s worst defense against its worst offense.

That season, Baylor couldn’t move the chains. The Cowboys couldn’t keep the chains from moving against them.

The Bears ultimately prevailed that day, but only because first-year coach Mike Gundy’s offense coughed up the ball eight times.

My, how times have changed.

Saturday, instead of playing for last place, Baylor and Oklahoma State will be vying for the Big 12 title. And this time, the matchup will feature the Big 12’s best offense (Baylor) against the league’s best defense (Oklahoma State).

“Everyone talks about their quarterback, but they average 300 yards rushing a game -- I don't think people really realize that,” Cowboys safety Zack Craig said. “Their passing is great, but their running backs are some of the best in this league.

"They are, by far, the ultimate offense.”

Not only is Baylor’s offense the ultimate, it has a chance to go down as the most prolific in college football history. The Bears lead the country with an average of 61 points and 684 yards per game, which, if they held up, would both shatter NCAA records.

Baylor has already totaled 53 touchdown drives of two minutes or less (Oregon led the country with 45 last season), 50 plays from scrimmage that have gone for 30 yards or more (Indiana is second with 38) and six games with at least 60 points (Ohio State is next with only three such games).

"They are the way they are because they have great talent,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “A quarterback with a fast and accurate release, running backs who can make you miss and an offensive line that will maul you.”

Bryce Petty ranks third nationally in QBR, four different running backs have 100-yard rushing games and guard Cyril Richardson is on the short list to win the Outland Trophy. The receiving corps is as explosive as any around, too, headlined by All-American candidate Antwan Goodley.

“No doubt, this is going to be a huge test for us,” Oklahoma State nickel back Lyndell Johnson said.

But this will be a huge test for the Bears as well.

Behind a veteran core, the Cowboys have featured one of the stoutest defenses in college football all season. Oklahoma State’s defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in several “Next Level” stats from ESPN Stats & Info, including points per drive (seventh), percentage of drives that end in touchdowns (sixth) and red-zone efficiency (seventh).

Oklahoma State is also now tied for the national lead in interceptions after picking off Case McCoy three times in a dominating 38-13 win at Texas last weekend.

“They have great personnel and they do a great job,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “They’ve done a great job recruiting the last four to five years, and it’s paying off for them.”

Thanks to those talent upgrades, this Oklahoma State defense, which features seven senior starters, has been the best of the Gundy era. By far.

Tackle Calvin Barnett is a run-stuffer up front. Linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey don’t miss tackles. And Justin Gilbert is a lockdown cornerback who tops the Big 12 with six interceptions.

Over seven Big 12 games, the defense has surrendered just 14 offensive touchdowns, the fewest in the league.

“We’re more athletic and more aggressive on defense than what we’ve been the last three or four years,” Gundy said. “Our players have bought into it, and they’re consistent in their play each week."

But on Saturday, Oklahoma State’s defense will find out just how stingy it is, while the Baylor offense will learn if it truly is unstoppable.

“We have a great defense and they’re a great offense,” Craig said. “When you go against somebody like this, you find out just how good you are.”

Baylor rise goes back to 2011 OU win

November, 6, 2013
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With 18 seconds left, Robert Griffin III scrambled to his left. Then the defense converged. So he planted his lead foot and heaved the ball down the field back to the right. The pass found Terrance Williams streaking toward the corner of the end zone between two Sooners defenders.

[+] EnlargeTevin Reese
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsTevin Reese torched OU for a 69-yard score in the 2011 game and has eight scores this season.
Baylor 45, Oklahoma 38.

“I’ll never forget that game,” said Baylor senior guard Cyril Richardson, who also started on the offensive line that game. “It was special.”

Two years ago, Baylor toppled the Sooners in a wild shootout for one of the biggest wins in the school’s history.

RG III delivered his Heisman moment while simultaneously knocking Oklahoma out of the national title picture.

The play would have lasting effects for both programs. Oklahoma hasn’t been a November national title contender since. And Baylor, improbably, has gone on to build itself into just that.

“It was the moment this program changed,” said quarterback Bryce Petty, who himself has emerged into a Heisman hopeful this season. “That’s when we knew we could play with anybody.”

Since that game, the Bears, once perennial Big 12 doormats, are 19-5.

No one in the Big 12 -- including the Sooners -- owns a winning percentage that good over the same span.

“That was big, real big,” said Bears wideout Tevin Reese, who had a 69-yard touchdown reception in the 2011 game. “You got a lot of people’s eyes starting to look on Baylor, started opening a lot of people’s eyes about what Baylor really could do, what they were really capable of. It was a great feeling being a part of it. That was great for the university.”

Underscoring just how far Baylor has come since that game, the Bears will be two-touchdown favorites over the Sooners on Thursday night. Under coach Bob Stoops, Oklahoma has been a double-digit underdog only twice -- against Florida State in the 2000 national championship game and in 2005 against Texas, which went on to capture the national title.

“It shows we’ve gained a little bit of respect since then,” Reese said. “Being a favorite in this game is great and it’s a big game and being the favorite is a good thing for your team. It builds their confidence, and we go out and play with that type of confidence, it’s kind of hard to stop us.”

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
AP Photo/Brandon WadeBob Stoops is 1-1 in games at Oklahoma where his teams are double-digit underdogs.
Baylor has been virtually impossible to stop lately. The Bears lead the nation in scoring, and are on pace to break the FBS records for points (56.0) and yards (624.9) per game, set by Army in 1944 and Houston in 1989, respectively.

The undefeated Bears are ranked sixth in the BCS standings, and very much alive in the national title conversation.

“What we’ve done this season has proved to a lot of people how good of a team we are,” said Reese, who is second in the country in yards per catch (25.0). “We know how good a team we are.”

As the Bears have ascended, Oklahoma has stagnated.

The Sooners entered that weekend in 2011 ranked fifth in the country. But before the game was finished, two teams ranked ahead of them -- No. 2 Oklahoma State and No. 4 Oregon -- both fell in stunning upsets, opening the door for Oklahoma to make a move into the national championship game.

Instead, Griffin torched the Sooners secondary, setting a school record with 479 passing yards and four touchdowns.

After falling behind by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma rallied and had a chance to take the lead in the final minute after Blake Bell rumbled 6 yards for a touchdown. Stoops sent Bell back on the field for the two-point try, and the lead. But the Sooners were flagged for a false start, and had to settle for the extra point and the tie, setting the stage for Griffin’s heroics in the final seconds.

Oklahoma State routed the Sooners in Stillwater three weeks later, and Oklahoma tumbled all the way to the Insight Bowl.

“That was a long time ago,” Stoops said of the Sooners’ last trip to Waco.

It was also the last moment Oklahoma was a legit national title contender.

This time, Baylor is the national contender.

“It’s going to be a very exciting atmosphere, kind of like in 2011,” Petty said.

“And hopefully with the same result.”

Happy Halloween in the Big 12

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Happy Halloween, dear readers. To commemorate this frightful holiday, here’s a look at the Big 12 teams, coaches and players who might have a few things in common with some classic horror movie villains.

Michael Myers (“Halloween”): Oklahoma Sooners

[+] EnlargeLache Seastrunk
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWith 869 yards, Baylor back Lache Seastrunk leads the Big 12 in rushing.
The villain that just will not die. Deal them a couple body blows -- losing Corey Nelson, Jordan Phillips and Trey Millard -- and they just keep going. Got blown out by Texas and lived another day to light up Texas Tech. Like Myers, too, this Sooners team still has a bit of a faceless identity on both sides of the ball.

Freddy Krueger (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”): Texas Tech Red Raiders

While you’re busy dreaming of the always-dreamy Kliff Kingsbury, his red-dressed team will destroy you in your sleep. Makes up for its human vulnerabilities with lots of razors. Got burned in a previous life by its last head coach.

The Alien (“Aliens”): Baylor Bears

Pretty much a perfect fit here. Highly evolved and truly deadly. Loaded up with blades from head to toe and pumping with yellowish-green acid blood. There’s really no way of preparing for its wrath, and it’ll kill you much faster than the average human villain.

Jaws (“Jaws”): Texas Longhorns

The big fish of the Big 12 is finally playing with some bite after lurking in the water early on. Like most murderous sharks, they’re catching people by surprise and playing like they have nothing to lose.

Ghostface (“Scream”): Oklahoma State Cowboys

Who’s behind the mask? J.W. Walsh or Clint Chelf? Despite some identity confusion, this is still a strong, durable bad guy who wields a knife. Not to be underestimated.

Jason Voorhees (“Friday The 13th”): TCU Horned Frogs

Keep the cool masks (helmets) on, Horned Frogs. This season is starting to get ugly.

Zombies (“Dawn of the Dead”): Iowa State Cyclones

Injuries keep piling up for the Cyclones but they’re as motivated and hungry as ever. They might be 1-6, but they’re never dead.

Edward Scissorhands (“Edward Scissorhands”): Baylor RB Lache Seastrunk

This makes too much sense. Both possess fantastic natural weapons, wild hairstyles and, most important, a heart of gold.

Predator (“Predator”): TCU CB Jason Verrett

Dangerous, well-built, awesome dreadlocks. Intercepts and breaks up so many passes that it’s possible he has thermal imaging vision.

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (“Ghostbusters”): Baylor G Cyril Richardson

Richardson isn’t 100-feet tall, but the best lineman in the Big 12 does destroy everything in his path.

Centaur (“The Chronicles of Narnia”): Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro

Wanted to go with Bane here, which is also very complimentary, but alas there is already photographic proof that Amaro is half man, half horse. "Narnia" isn't a horror movie but just go with it, OK?

Dracula (“Dracula”): Kansas State coach Bill Snyder

Though he’s typically revered for being a wizard, it’s not unfair to see a few parallels between the oldest coach in FBS (74) and the undead. He’s not a bloodsucker, but he has admitted to eating only one meal a day, typically at Taco Bell.

Beetlejuice (“Beetlejuice”): West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen

The bravado and the hair make this a good fit. Have to imagine Beetlejuice’s salesmanship in the model graveyard is a lot like how Hologorsen recruits, right?

Dr. Evil (“Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery”): Texas coach Mack Brown

Not a horror, but both are eccentric masterminds with outgoing, friendly demeanors. Always plotting world domination. Dr. Evil demands $100 billion, and Texas has made that much in Brown’s tenure. Wanted sharks with laser beams at quarterback, ended up with an ill-tempered sea bass.

Pile Of Crap (“Envy”): Kansas Jayhawks

Well, you know, this is pretty self-explanatory. “Envy,” about a man inventing a magical spray that makes piles of crap disappear, isn’t a horror movie. But it is a horrible movie.

Can you think of any more Big 12 horror villains? Disagree on any? Just furiously angry because you don’t get that we're joking? We welcome your suggestions in the comments below.

And last but certainly not least, it’s time to pay tribute to the art of dressing children up like Big 12 coaches. It’s an annual tradition of which we can all be proud.

The runaway champion of 2013 is Kliff Kingsbury Kid. Brilliant job, son. Way to keep your swag up. You'll learn to keep your V-necks deep as you get older. Only thing missing might be some PB&J sandwiches.

Past champions include Dana Holgorsen Kid, Bill Snyder Baby and who could forget the irresistible Mark Mangino Baby. This is truly becoming an art form, people.
You can argue over who's the best running back in college football, but there's little doubt who the two most efficient runners are.

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Baylor's Lache Seastrunk are essentially picking up a first down on every rush attempt. Gordon is averaging 9.46 yards per carry, while Seastrunk is at 9.16. Those are the top two yards per carry averages by running backs in the FBS and trail only Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota among all players. Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett and Big 12 blogger Jake Trotter discuss what makes both runners so dynamic and try to figure out whether they should be touching the ball even more.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon, Wisconsin Badgers
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon has rushed for more than 100 yards in six of the Badgers' seven games this season.
Brian Bennett: Jake, let's start with Seastrunk. We all know Baylor's offense is an astronomical phenomenon. How big a part of that is Seastrunk, and what makes him special in that offense?

Jake Trotter: He's a huge part. There's a reason why receivers Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley have combined for 10 touchdowns of 40 yards or more. Sure, those guys are blazing fast. But defenses are so concerned about Seastrunk running wild on them, that Reese and Goodley end up in one-on-one situations downfield.

What about Gordon, Brian?

BB: Gordon is incredibly talented, so much so that Montee Ball said before Gordon ever took the field that he might be the most talented Wisconsin back ever. That's saying something. At 6-foot-1, Gordon gobbles up the field with his long-striding form and is almost impossible to catch once he finds a seam. He has touchdown runs of 70, 71 and 80 yards this season. The Badgers also know just how to use him right. He not only lines up in conventional positions, but he is often employed on jet sweeps where he can get a full head of steam as he heads out to the perimeter.

Of course, we'd be remiss not to mention Wisconsin's offensive line, which is once again stacked with massive human beings who create gaping holes for their backs. That's a major reason for the program's tradition of star tailbacks, and it undoubtedly contributes to Gordon's success, though I think he'd be wildly effective in any system. Which leads me to my question for you: how much of Seastrunk's stats stem from Baylor's system, and how much is just on his own talent? In other words, do you think he'd have the same type of numbers if he and Gordon switched places tomorrow?

JT: The system is a big part of it. Coach Art Briles' track record dating back to the Robert Griffin III years speaks for itself. But the supporting cast is a big part, too. Guard Cyril Richardson leads an offensive line that excels at paving running lanes. The threat of Bryce Petty throwing the ball downfield to Reese and Goodley means defenses can't even think about loading the box. Seastrunk also has a capable wingman in Glasco Martin, who takes some of the rushing load off Seastrunk's shoulders. This Baylor offense is awesome, and Seastrunk is just one part of it. That is a big reason why he's such an efficient runner. He plays on a great offense.

[+] EnlargeOregon Ducks' Lache Seastrunk
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesBaylor running back Lache Seastrunk, who transferred from Oregon, already has three more rushing touchdowns (10) than he had all of last season.
That takes away from his carries. But he doesn't need a lot of carries to be effective. What about Gordon?

BB: Yeah, Seastrunk is averaging a little under 14 carries per game, while Gordon is getting just a little more than 15 rushing attempts per game. In Gordon's case, Wisconsin has another stud running back in senior James White, who ranks No. 29 in the FBS in rushing yards and who has over 3,200 career rushing yards. Four times already this season, Gordon and White have gone over 100 yards in the same game, and White came within two yards last week at Illinois of making it five times. Coach Gary Andersen has basically split the carries between the two, which keeps them both fresh, and I think he feels a little more comfortable with the veteran White in there for pass protection purposes.

But it makes you wonder what kind of numbers Gordon could put up if he got a steady 20-to-25 carries per game. What do you think Seastrunk could do with a heavier workload, and do you think the lack of carries will hurt either back when it comes to major awards like the Doak Walker or All-America honors?

JT: I don't think it will hurt Seastrunk in either category as long as Baylor keeps winning. The key stat with Seastrunk is yards per carry. He is averaging a whopping 9.16 per rush. As long as he keeps that up, Baylor keeps pouring on points and the Bears keep winning, he'll remain at the forefront of the Doak Walker and All-American candidacies. Seastrunk, however, probably has almost no shot at the Heisman. Petty has divided the Baylor vote, and in many ways overshadowed the running back by leading the nation in Total QBR through the midway point of the season. If Petty keeps putting up monster numbers, he -- not Seastrunk -- will likely emerge as the Baylor candidate for the Heisman.

Reranking the Big 12's top 10 players

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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In August, this blog reviewed the 25 best players in the Big 12 entering the 2013 season. Now, midway through the season and just as conference play really starts to get interesting, it's time to wipe the slate clean and start over.

The No. 3 player in our preseason list, TCU defensive end Devonte Fields, is out for the season. Others have had good or great starts to their seasons but didn't hold onto their top-10 spots. Here, then, is our new take on the 10 best players in the Big 12 at midseason.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesBryce Petty has efficiently led Baylor's explosive offense.
1. QB Bryce Petty, Baylor (preseason ranking: NR) Petty entered his first season as a starter with impossibly high standards. He’s surpassing them. He’s the Big 12’s leading passer, he had a TD-INT ratio of 13-1 and he leads the nation in yards per attempt (14.8) -- and he’s just getting started. The triggerman of the highest-scoring offense in college football will be challenged more in Big 12 play, but so far, he’s needed fourth-quarter snaps in only one game.

2. CB Jason Verrett, TCU (preseason: 1) He’s the best cover man in the conference, and it’s probably not even close. Verrett leads the Big 12 in pass breakups with 10 and nabbed his first interception against Kansas. He’s well on his way to matching last year’s total of 22 passes defended, which led the nation. Opposing offenses know to avoid the All-American, but he’s still making a major impact for the Horned Frogs.

3. RB Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (preseason: 5) He wants to be a Heisman contender, but right now he’ll have to settle for the title of most explosive back in college football. Seastrunk leads the Big 12 in rushing on 13 carries per game. He’s averaging just a shade under 10 yards per carry. He’s sharing the load right now, but expect Seastrunk’s workload to increase as the Bears’ schedule gets much more difficult late.

4. DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (preseason: 10) Jeffcoat leads the Big 12 in sacks with five, has seven tackles for loss and, most important, he’s staying healthy. The senior is finally playing up to his elite potential and has made big plays for the Longhorns, including the game-clinching interception at Iowa State and two key sacks against Oklahoma. It’s possible fellow Texas DE Cedric Reed joins him on the postseason list: Reed leads UT in tackles and pass breakups and has similar sack/TFL numbers.

5. OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor (preseason: 2) The mammoth 6-foot-5, 340-pound lineman is the star of a Baylor offensive line that consistently bullies opponents and paves the way for 302.2 rushing yards per game. The Bears' line has also kept Petty relatively safe, with just seven sacks in five games. Richardson is one of the best guards in college football and has a long NFL future ahead of him.

6. TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech (preseason: NR) In a league with so few impact receiving tight ends, Amaro has been an absolute revelation in 2013. He’s developed into a dangerous target in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense with a Big 12-leading 47 catches for 606 yards and a touchdown. He’s put up nearly 200 more receiving yards than any other tight end in the country and makes life easy for Tech’s freshman passers.

7. DL Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech (preseason: NR) Texas Tech's transition to a 3-4 defense this season is working out just fine for Hyder, and the senior end/tackle could end up being a serious contender for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year if the Red Raiders remain a conference title contender. Nine of his 27 tackles have been behind the line of scrimmage, and Hyder has two sacks and two forced fumbles.

8. WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor (preseason: NR) You can make just as good a case for Tevin Reese making this list, but Goodley gets the nod on better stats and the pure surprise factor. Baylor’s fifth-leading receiver last season has become its best downfield threat. He’s No. 1 in the Big 12 with 669 yards, and his touchdowns catches have gone for 72, 61, 63, 65, 83 and 27 yards.

9. C Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma (preseason: 4) Oklahoma’s line took a bit of a hit against Texas but has otherwise impressed this season, and Ikard is its unquestioned leader. It has helped lead the way for the No. 2 rushing offense in the conference. Ikard is as versatile and accomplished as any lineman you’ll find in this league and should probably be ranked much higher than ninth.

10. RB Johnathan Gray, Texas (preseason: NR) We considered several players for this final spot, and a lot more than 10 merit inclusion. Gray, a true sophomore, is playing up to his five-star potential. He leads the Big 12 in rushes and is No. 2 in yards, with big performances against Oklahoma (123 yards) and Kansas State (141) and has emerged as Texas’ workhorse in the absence of David Ash.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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Taking stock of Week 6 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Baylor. This is starting to get ridiculous. Despite the uptick in opponent, the Bears scored more than 70 points for the third consecutive week, becoming the first FBS team to do so since 1930. The offense has overshadowed how well the defense has also been playing. Baylor, which gave up 70 in Morgantown last year, limited West Virginia to just two offensive touchdowns through three quarters. By that point, the Bears led 66-21. Can anyone stop these guys?

Disappointment of the week: West Virginia. Nobody really expected the Mountaineers would go to Waco and win as four-touchdown underdogs. But this was a litmus test for a defense that had been pretty solid through the first month of the season. Well, the West Virginia defense failed the test miserably, giving up a Big 12-record 864 yards of offense. Baylor had four turnovers and committed 100 yards' worth of penalties. And the Bears still scored 73 points.

[+] EnlargeLache Seastrunk
AP Photo/Jose YauBaylor's Lache Seastrunk contributed 172 of Baylor's whopping 468 rushing yards against West Virginia.
Big (offensive) men on campus: Baylor's offensive line. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said afterward he’d never seen a line establish the line of scrimmage the way the Bears did. Up front, Spencer Drango, Cyril Richardson, Stefan Huber, Desmine Hilliard and Kelvin Palmer paved the way for Baylor to rack up 468 yards on the ground against a defensive front that held Oklahoma State running back Jeremy Smith to just 1 yard on 15 carries a week ago. The Bears have been unstoppable so far, in large part because their offensive line has been paving lanes as well as any line in college football.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Shaun Lewis and Jason Verrett. The Oklahoma State linebacker and TCU cornerback showed over the weekend why they’re all-conference-caliber players. Lewis led the Cowboys with eight tackles, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass late in the fourth quarter. Lewis also chased down Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams with a shoestring tackle in the open field on the Wildcats’ final drive that kept the clock ticking. Verrett, meanwhile, was fabulous in a losing effort at Oklahoma. Verrett had six tackles and two pass breakups, and he basically blanketed any receiver that lined up on his side of the field. TCU's defense dominated the Sooners in the third quarter, which allowed the Horned Frogs to climb back into the game despite a 13-0 halftime deficit.

Special-teams players of the week: Travis Britz and Kip Daily. The Kansas State duo came up with a huge play at Oklahoma State with 2:45 to go in the first half. Britz jumped up and blocked Ben Grogan’s 43-yard field goal attempt, and Daily grabbed the deflection and raced 65 yards for the touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 14-10 lead (Oklahoma State won the game 33-29). Daily is having quite the season. Three weeks ago, he was the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Week after picking off two passes against UMass. Placekickers Michael Hunnicutt and Ryan Bustin get honorable-mention honors here. Hunnicutt set an Oklahoma record with his 49th career field goal. After missing a 32-yard field goal at Kansas, Bustin bounced back to connect on four field goals and six extra points as Texas Tech routed the Jayhawks 54-16.

Play of the week: After getting completely shut down in the second half, the Sooners' offense finally got the play to put TCU away. With OU holding on to a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter, running back Brennan Clay got a carry to the left and then cut it back right 76 yards for a touchdown to basically put the game away with 4:37 to play. "We set it up the whole day," Clay said. "The [linebackers] were going over the top and the O-line did a great job just pressing the play, and I was fortunate enough to make the cut backdoor and the safety was a little flat-footed. I made a stutter step and just took it to the crib."

Stat of the week: After six weeks, Baylor QB Bryce Petty leads the nation in opponent-adjusted Total QBR, which takes into account the strength of the opposing defenses faced. Petty has a score of 97.7 (0-100 scale, 50 is average). Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is second (96.8) followed by Georgia’s Aaron Murray (95.6).

Quote of the week: “70 points, I guess, isn’t enough.” – Petty, on those who still doubt the Bears' offense

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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This week's Power Rankings after a weekend in which there were no upsets:

1. Oklahoma (5-0, 2-0 Big 12, last week 1): The Sooners currently have the top-ranked defense in the Big 12. However, on Sunday they learned they’d likely be without linebacker Corey Nelson for the rest of the season. Nelson, who suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle, had been one of the defense’s three most valuable players. Can the Sooners overcome his loss? The answer to that question will go a long way in determining whether OU emerges with the Big 12 title.

2. Baylor (4-0, 1-0, LW 2): West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said he’d never seen an offensive line establish the line of scrimmage the way Baylor did Saturday night. Quarterback Bryce Petty and Lache Seastrunk are getting the headlines, and for good reason, but Baylor's offensive line is another reason it has been putting up points in record fashion. Led by All-American guard Cyril Richardson, Baylor’s line is one of the best units in the country. Just ask Holgorsen.

3. Texas Tech (5-0, 2-0, LW 3): Texas Tech is beginning to look like last season's Oklahoma State, which had to shuffle through three different quarterbacks because of injuries. Michael Brewer finally returned to the field from a back injury, but not before starter Baker Mayfield left with an undisclosed knee injury. The Oklahoma State offense survived its QB injury shuffle. Can the Red Raiders follow suit?

4. Oklahoma State (4-1, 1-1, LW 7): The Cowboys won, but it has been four seasons since an Oklahoma State offense has looked anywhere near this discombobulated. J.W. Walsh engineered the game-winning touchdown drive, but the offense was largely ineffective otherwise, as the Cowboys went the entire second half without a first down until that drive. Oklahoma State’s intermediate and downfield passing game has fallen off a cliff, as Walsh had only two completions go for more than 15 yards (though he should have had a third that Josh Stewart dropped). This has allowed opponents to zero in on Oklahoma State’s rushing game, which has been poor since the opener against Mississippi State. If the Cowboys don’t make a QB change and give Clint Chelf a chance, or find some way for Walsh to be more effective through the air, they stand little chance of contending in the Big 12.

5. Texas (3-2, 2-0, LW 5): The Longhorns' season and Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas comes down to one game. If the Longhorns somehow knock off Oklahoma, the conversation in Austin changes. If the Longhorns get blasted like they have the past two seasons, the conversation is effectively done. And, for all intents and purposes, the season is, too.

6. TCU (2-3, 0-2, LW 6): It’s a shame this TCU defense can’t be paired with a more effective offense. Even though the Horned Frogs opened at Oklahoma with seven straight three-and-outs, the defense somehow kept the Frogs in the game. I was told over the weekend that QB Casey Pachall is ahead of schedule on his recovery from a broken forearm -- but he is still weeks away from actually returning. Until then, TCU will have to find a way to generate a little offense. And with the way its defense is playing, that would still be enough to win most games.

7. West Virginia (3-3, 1-2, LW 4): It’s about time to end the honeymoon with the West Virginia defense. The Mountaineers were completely and utterly torched in Waco, 73-42. The last time West Virginia gave up that many points was in 1904, when Michigan beat the Mountaineers 130-0. This Baylor game was almost as bad. West Virginia is definitely improved defensively, but good defenses don’t give up 73 points, regardless of who they are facing.

8. Kansas State (2-3, 0-2, LW 8): KSU coach Bill Snyder finally gave QB Daniel Sams a chance Saturday in Stillwater to run the offense. You have to wonder when he might give Sams a chance again. Sams moved the chains but turned the ball over four times, which ultimately proved to be K-State’s downfall. Sams showed he’s capable of being an effective Big 12 quarterback, but Snyder is not a coach who will tolerate turnovers from his quarterback.

9. Iowa State (1-3, 0-1, LW 9): What a bummer it’s been to be an Iowa State fan this year. I don’t know which was worse, losing twice in overtime in hoops to Kansas, getting bounced from the NCAA tournament by Aaron Craft’s leaning jumper or falling to Texas the way the Cyclones did Thursday. Iowa State has shown rapid improvement offensively the past two games, but it’s a challenge finding five more wins on the schedule that will get the Cyclones to a bowl game.

10. Kansas (2-2, 0-1, LW 10): Even if Charlie Weis didn’t call for the fake punt, it’s on him for even giving punter Trevor Pardula an option to take off that deep in his own territory. The Jayhawks probably wouldn’t have beaten Tech anyway, but the botched fake punt ensured that they wouldn’t. With running back Tony Pierson now out indefinitely, the Jayhawks will be without their best offensive weapon now, too.

Baylor sends message to Bedlam schools

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
1:00
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Oklahoma and Oklahoma State had the day off. So the two schools got a good look at the biggest threat to Bedlam deciding the Big 12 in December.

Baylor whitewashed yet another opponent Saturday, serving notice to the Oklahoma schools that this won’t just be a two-team race for the conference crown.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Bryce Petty and the Baylor Bears continued their torrid start to the season with a 70-7 beatdown of Louisiana-Monroe.
By annihilating Louisiana-Monroe 70-7, the Bears became the first FBS team to score at least 60 points in three consecutive games since the Sooners did it five times in a row in 2008. That Oklahoma team set a modern college football scoring record on its way to capturing the Big 12 title.

The Bears are quickly proving they too have a Big 12 championship-caliber offense.

Sure, Baylor has yet to face a quality opponent. Wofford, Buffalo and Monroe hardly comprise a challenging nonconference slate.

But it’s not who the Bears have beaten. It’s the way they’ve beaten them.

Through three games, Baylor has outscored its opponents by a combined score of 209-23 -- the largest scoring differential through the first three games by any FBS team in the last decade.

Buffalo’s defense gave Ohio State problems in Columbus. The Sooners struggled to move the ball against Monroe in Norman.

But in Waco, Buffalo and Monroe were fortunate Baylor didn’t drop off a hundred on them, because it probably could have.

The Bears are the first team to score 28 points in the first quarter in three consecutive games since the stat started being tracked in 1996. Against Monroe, they opened with five touchdowns, despite holding possession for just 2 minutes, 54 seconds.

And through just three games, Baylor has already totaled 24 touchdown drives of two minutes or less. Oregon, for context, led the FBS with 45 such drives last year.

“We've got good people,” coach Art Briles said after the Monroe shellacking. “We've got a good football team.”

The Bears might have more than just that.

Bryce Petty continues to look like the most complete quarterback in the league. He threw for 351 yards and four touchdowns before coming out of the game early in the third quarter again. So far this season, Petty is completing 75 percent of his passes, and leads the country with a Total QBR of 98.3.

“Not only this game, but every game [the mentality] is to attack first,” Petty said.

The Bears can attack in so many different ways, too.

Tevin Reese has thrived since taking over for Terrance Williams as the No. 1 receiver. But Reese has more support at wideout than Williams or Kendall Wright did. Antwan Goodley has at least 90 yards receiving in all three games, including 156 and two touchdowns Saturday. And Robbie Rhodes and Corey Coleman are two of the most dynamic freshman receivers in the league.

But the attack still goes through running back Lache Seastrunk, who has done nothing but augment his Heisman campaign. In just 38 carries, Seastrunk has rushed for 417 yards and six touchdowns, and is averaging almost 11 yards per carry. Seastrunk now has seven straight 100-yard rushing games, the nation’s longest active streak.

Factor in a line that features NFL talents like mammoth guard Cyril Richardson, and this is an offense that appears to be without a weakness.

"We don't match up with them very well -- but not very many people do,” Monroe coach Todd Berry said, two weeks after Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn claimed the Bears should be ranked in the top five.

“We got scalded.”

It hasn’t just been the Bears offense doing the scalding, either. Over a seven-game winning streak dating back to last year, Baylor’s defense is allowing an average of just 21 points a game. In the first quarter Saturday, Joe Williams and Terrell Burt picked off passes for Baylor touchdowns.

The Bears have had their issues defensively in the past. But since dismantling top-ranked Kansas State in Waco last November, Baylor has been a solid defensive unit that has also been very opportunistic.

“When you score defensive touchdowns and you have the ability to score from an offensive standpoint, which we do, and you combine those two things, you've got a chance to put some points on the board,” Briles said. “That's our mentality."

Thanks to an improved defense and a seemingly unstoppable offense, the Bears have the mentality of seriously contending for their first Big 12 title.

Baylor should be decent-to-heavy favorites in its next four games -- the toughest being an Oct. 12 road trip to Kansas State.

The Bears have never won in Manhattan. But K-State labored to move the chains Saturday night against a Texas defense that previously had been surrendering rushing totals at record levels.

Neither K-State, nor West Virginia (Oct. 5), Iowa State (Oct. 19) or Kansas (Oct. 26) seems capable at the moment of slowing down these Bears, who appear to be rolling on a collision course toward a Thursday night bout with Oklahoma in Waco on Nov. 7.

That showdown could go a long way in determining the Big 12 title, which even with the falls of TCU and Texas isn’t just about Bedlam. As the Oklahoma schools got to see Saturday, it’s about Briles’ high-flying bunch, too.

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