NCF Nation: Sonny Cumbie

After an 8-5 season, Bob Stoops fired a playcaller for the first time in his career, terminating offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and receivers coach Jay Norvell over the weekend.

In our weekly Big 12 roundtable, we examine the big moves, whether Stoops should go deeper with further changes to his staff and who he should target next at offensive coordinator:

Should Stoops have fired Heupel and Norvell?

Chatmon: That's a tough one but it sure looks like the Sooners needed a scapegoat. OU's offense was among the nation's best during their time in charge. Yet I understand the need for excitement to blow away the cloud of disappointment hanging over the program. Heupel and Norvell aren't high on the list of guys that should have been handed a pink slip. The better option was a return to the balanced spread offense the Sooners once ran. The change to a zone-read style attack was silly. But I do understand the need for tangible change for appearance's sake.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiCoach Bob Stoops is in search of a coordinator to help resurrect Oklahoma's offense next season.
Olson: Honestly, I didn't think it would come to this for Stoops. I thought he would strip Heupel of his play-calling duties but retain him as a position coach. I thought he'd try to help Norvell find another job and ease the transition instead of just letting him go. But you could argue this OU team lost three or four more games than was expected, so that's naturally going to up the pressure and the calls for change. Stoops made it clear on Tuesday you can't accuse him of cronyism with this staff. He just dismissed two coaches he deeply cares about. Can't be easy, but I can see why Sooner supporters wanted a shakeup in some form or fashion.

Trotter: Were Heupel and Norvell necessarily deserving of losing their jobs? No. But did Stoops have to make a drastic change to his staff to appease the administration and donor base? No doubt. Blood is thicker than water, which made changes to the offense a little more palpable, even though Mike Stoops' defense had the more disappointing season. The fact is, the majority of Norvell's recruits failed to pan out (can you imagine if Jalen Saunders and Justin Brown hadn't transferred to OU?). Heupel, meanwhile, struggled to transition calling plays for the zone-read pistol scheme Bob Stoops demanded he install two years ago. The Sooners had to make a change. And that came at the expense of Heupel and Norvell.

Should OU make changes to the defensive side, too?

Chatmon: Now that the first steps have been taken with Norvell and Heupel shown the door, some changes on the defensive side of the ball might be a good idea. New ideas and new blood wouldn't hurt for a defense that finished No. 117 among FBS teams in passing defense. Jerry Montgomery's promotion to co-defensive coordinator is a great first step, and I don't think defensive coordinator Mike Stoops' removal is the right move as he has an eye for talent. I don't like calling for people's jobs but linebackers coach Tim Kish could be in the crosshairs, and if he left the program it wouldn't be a crippling blow.

Olson: You do get the sense that more change could be on the way, and I can understand why Bob Stoops wouldn't want to roll that out all at once. It's about optics, really -- you don't want the perception among recruits and boosters that OU is officially in the rebuilding business. Mike Stoops and Montgomery should feel safe but, really, why should any other member of that defensive staff feel the same? The Stoops brothers can and probably should seek assistants who can bring in new ideas and get more out of what I think is a talented defensive cast.

Trotter: Did anyone else find it a bit curious in that Bob's primary justification for keeping his brother on staff was the defense returned nine starters? What would have happened if the Sooners had graduated nine starters instead? Firing both playcallers would have reeked of desperation. So it's understandable why Mike Stoops is being retained. But OU needs to upgrade its overall talent level (Montgomery can't recruit for the entire defense alone). Bringing in a couple of young assistants who can grind on the trail, like Montgomery, would do wonders.

What offensive coordinator should Stoops go after?

Chatmon: East Carolina's Lincoln Riley is a name that immediately comes to mind. ECU led the American Conference in total yards (533), yards per play (6.48) and third down conversion rate (47.4 percent) with Riley running things. Riley's experience is just as important, as a offensive coordinator with five years calling plays and running the Pirates' offense for Ruffin McNeil's program. Stoops should look at Riley as an answer to OU's offensive ills.

Olson: If I were Stoops, I'd reach out to Jake Spavital at Texas A&M. He's a rising young offensive mind who'd offer a wealth of knowledge about Air Raid ball -- the Tulsa native has worked for Kevin Sumlin, Dana Holgorsen, Mike Gundy and Gus Malzahn -- and would bring a new jolt that these Sooners have been missing. He could be great for the development of Trevor Knight and the rest of this program's passers, and better yet, what if five-star A&M recruit Kyler Murray could follow him to Norman? The top dual-threat QB in the country is tight with Spavital and visited OU this fall. The Sooners need an innovator and Spav could be a great fit.

Trotter: Riley and Spavital are interesting names the Sooners should reach out to. But I would also make a call to TCU co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie (my apologies, TCU fans). Cumbie hasn't called plays before. But he oversaw the transformation of Trevone Boykin, who went from being a below average Big 12 quarterback to one of the best in the country. Cumbie is a rising star in the coaching profession. Snatching him up from a Big 12 rival would be a coup.

How TCU built its breakthrough in 9 months

December, 29, 2014
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Gary Patterson got grief for it from coaching buddies all season long. They are glad that, after 31 years in the business, the guy finally wanted to have a little fun on offense.

"People are shocked Gary Patterson can have an offensive team," he joked. "'Have you lost your mind? What are you doing?' I like to win. It’s a very simple situation."

His not-so-simple New Year’s resolution to develop a thrilling spread offense set TCU on course for a transformative journey that will end with a New Year’s Eve bowl.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerGary Patterson's change in offensive philosophy led to big things for TCU and QB Trevone Boykin.
Mapping the path to a Big 12 championship trophy, a No. 6 ranking and spot in the Chik-fil-A Peach Bowl against Ole Miss required foresight and fortune. The process began on Dec. 1, 2013, the first day of the offseason for a 4-8 team.

Patterson had exactly nine months to rethink what winning the Big 12 required. After 15 years in Fort Worth -- and two tough ones in the Big 12 -- he had to reimagine TCU football.

He had realized this in November. After a last-second loss to Kansas State guaranteed TCU would not go bowling, Patterson warned his staff that change was imminent.

"But it wasn’t just 'let’s go get an offense,'" Patterson said. "I’m big on chemistry. It was about guys that would fit the staff, guys that could recruit the Metroplex and the state of Texas and were respected."

His search ended up being easy. By Dec. 3, word of Doug Meacham leaving Houston for TCU had already leaked. Before that addition became official on Dec. 12, Patterson met with AD Chris Del Conte and laid out his plan.

"I was probably the most proud of that, because football coaches are creatures of habit," Del Conte said. "He said he had to evolve and change how we go about it. I was like, 'Wow. OK.'"

Meacham told Patterson the man he trusted most to coach quarterbacks was Sonny Cumbie. Until this season their paths had crossed only on the recruiting trail. West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen deserves some credit for the pairing -- he’s the one who first introduced Meacham to Cumbie.

By Dec. 18, Patterson had both on board. By April 5, he was nervous. The Air Raid, while incredibly simple in terms of its playbook, isn’t easily taught in less than a hundred days. TCU’s vanilla spring game hinted at the difficulty.

"We weren’t very good on offense at the end of spring," Patterson says bluntly.

Too many balls on the turf, too many interceptions, too many incorrect routes. Teaching the system is largely a mental challenge that requires constant repetition. Meacham and Cumbie could only teach Trevone Boykin so much in 15 practices. Plus, it didn’t help that TCU's scholarship backs were all banged up.

"Some days, you’d just say, "We’re bad,'" Patterson recalled. "Oh yeah, there was a lot of concern. But you went down a path. This is the path."

Quarterback Matt Joeckel understood the path. Two weeks after TCU’s spring game, the Texas A&M transfer picked the Horned Frogs. His arrival was supposed to spell trouble for Boykin, maybe even prompt a move to receiver. Instead, the two bonded and competed.

Linebacker Marcus Mallet says he saw this team’s rebound coming by June. The buy-in was intense and pervasive. Joeckel was an unsung hero, teaching his new teammates the offensive system in workouts and 7-on-7 at a time when coaches were required to be hands-off.

By August, not even the departure of Devonte Fields could shake TCU players’ faith. Three of their most talented and troubled peers -- Fields, Brandon Carter and LaDarius Brown -- were dismissed during the offseason. Their absence never proved to be an issue.

But the quarterback conundrum remained. TCU’s eventual Heisman Trophy candidate separated himself in scrimmages with his accuracy. Boykin had been a headache to defend in practices for years. He had yet to prove enough on Saturdays. Battling with Joeckel upped his game to another level.

"That’s one of the reasons why Boykin is where he is now," receiver David Porter said. "He had pressure on him, and he had to be on his p's and q's."

By the second scrimmage, Patterson knew. TCU’s offense started shredding his defense in the red zone. The sloppy project was turning into a slick, speedy operation just in time.

"Two weeks into fall camp, oh my god, they got it," Del Conte said. "They looked really good."

How good? Just ask Jason Verrett. TCU’s Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year and first-round pick a year ago watched this season’s Kansas State game in awe from the sideline. He didn’t expect this.

"If we had this offense last year, I don’t think a team would’ve beaten us," Verrett said. "That’s just the truth."

Chucky Hunter warned him, though. Verrett didn’t believe the Frogs' defensive tackle when he called during two-a-days in August.

"All he kept saying was, 'Bro, our offense is real as s---.'"

Hunter called Verrett again the week of the Oklahoma game and predicted a Big 12 title. Patterson wasn’t thinking nearly that big. Heck, he just wanted to win six. An eight- or nine-win season to set up a 2015 breakthrough? Even better.

On Wednesday in Atlanta, TCU plays for its 12th win. On Jan. 1, another offseason begins in Fort Worth. This one should be a bit easier.

"We’re built for success now," Del Conte said. "It’s fantastic. It’s no flash in the pan. We’re in this for the long haul."

TCU's success has recruits turning heads 

November, 5, 2014
Around this time last year, TCU was near the bottom of the Big 12 barrel. The Horned Frogs were fresh off an overtime loss to West Virginia, which ultimately meant being in the middle of losing five of their last six games.

In short, the Horned Frogs weren’t taken seriously. Not by opponents. Not by analysts. Not by many of their fans.

And especially, not by star recruits.
Trevone Boykin wanted to be a quarterback. He just didn't understand how to be a quarterback.

The TCU quarterback does now.

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
David Purdy/Getty ImagesTrevone Boykin has always been a threat to run, but his focus this season has been on accuracy.
The arrival of co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie has jump-started Boykin's career under center as the junior now has a much better feel for the demands of playing quarterback in the Big 12. It's showing with Boykin seeing his completion percentage increase from 59.7 in 2013 to 64.4 this season and his touchdown-to-interception ratio improve from 1-1 to 4-1.

The biggest change for Boykin has been a simple one.

"Time and preparation," he said. "I probably hadn't put as much time in as I need to to be successful. The most important thing is being prepared and going through things during the week so when you get in a game it's second nature."

Cumbie, who coaches the quarterbacks, has had a major impact on Boykin. The former Texas Tech assistant instilled a different work ethic, different commitment in the dynamic Boykin.

"When Coach Cumbie got here everything changed," Boykin said. "They changed the whole atmosphere. We spent a lot of hours during the summer and spring going over film. You have to prepare every day like if you want to win and you have to try to keep your job. You never want to go to practice and feel like you won."

Boykin was a different quarterback a year ago. The Dallas native was quick to escape the pocket. At times, he looked like he trusted himself with the football more than he trusted his teammates. Still a work in progress, Boykin has improved that part of his game. In TCU's first two games, wins over Samford and Minnesota, Boykin has connected with 14 receivers while remaining a running threat with 22 carries for 121 yards.

"He's letting the offense work, he's not trying to do everything himself," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "I've talked about him being patient. It's OK to get fired up for a ballgame but what he has to get accomplished is he can't get so much that he can't think."

One of the Cumbie's main focuses with Boykin has been his accuracy and ball placement. It's paid off early on for TCU, with the Horned Frogs averaging 306.5 yards per game through the air and more than half of its receiving yards after the catch (156).

"Big explosive plays really depend on ball placement," Boykin said. "Being accurate was his main focus."

Heading into the summer it looked like Boykin was just as likely to be on the end of passes instead of throwing them. Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel could've ended up the Horned Frogs starter' after he joined the competition in the summer. But Boykin responded to the competition and Joeckel even helped Boykin get to the point he is today with his tutelage in the new offense.

"From Day 1 I could tell he had experience in this offense. He knew stuff that helped us out and will make us better down the road," Boykin said while stating the competition remained friendly throughout. "He's helped me out in a lot of ways, with a little tricks and things you can do with this offense that they ran at A&M. It helped us out a lot during two-a-days and him being an older guy has helped us out a lot."

After playing running back and receiver at various times during his career, Boykin looks like he may have finally secured a landing spot at his preferred position. Now, he could develop into a nightmare for defensive coordinators. He dropped 20 pounds in the offseason, feels better and quicker while the skills that made him a solid receiver at the end of the 2013 season remain. To top it off, he's grown as a passer and overall quarterback.

"I think he's quicker, he's thinking faster, the game has slowed down a little for him," Patterson said.

Boykin has improved but detractors still remain. And for good reason, as he sits among the bottom half of the Big 12 in several categories including Adjusted QBR (54.1) and passing yards (578). But those detractors just add fuel to the fire that burns within the run-pass threat as he knows he still has plenty to prove.

"I've put so much hard time and effort into trying to become the best quarterback I can be and prove people wrong," he said. "I'm getting better every day."
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TCU's new offense is a receiver’s dream.

"This is the type of offense a receiver wants to be in," Horned Frogs receiver David Porter said. "You get to spread the defense out and get the ball in open spaces."

Bragging rights among TCU’s skill guys are up for grabs and on the minds of playmakers like Porter and running back B.J. Catalon.

[+] EnlargeDavid Porter
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsReceiver David Porter is excited about the potential for big plays in TCU's up-tempo offense.
"We talk about that every day," said Porter who rooms with Catalon. "Who is going to have the most catches? Who is going to make the most plays. We’re always talking about this offense."

Yet the Horned Frogs’ new up-tempo attack won’t mean TCU will be abandoning the running game. When Mike Leach’s "Air Raid" style attack is at the root of an offense, the assumption tends to be made that moving the ball on the ground is a thing of the past. That belief is well-earned, evidenced by Leach’s Washington State squad ranking last among FBS teams at 18.7 rush attempts per game in 2013.

Yet new offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie aren’t expected to put TCU’s talented running backs on the cupboard shelf. As the Leach offense has grown and expanded, with several different guys putting their spin on it, the running game has become a integral part of its success at several different places, including Oklahoma State, where Meacham helped the Cowboys rank in the top five nationally in total offense from 2010-12 before his lone season at Houston.

In 2013, Houston averaged 33.5 rush attempts per game with Meacham at the helm and Texas Tech, Cumbie’s former team, averaged 32.7 rush attempts per game. Those rush attempt per game numbers are music to the ears of TCU center Joey Hunt.

"I came from an offense in high school where we ran the ball all the time," Hunt said. "I want to continue to run the ball, too, [so we] have big plays running and passing.”

Up-tempo spread offenses at OSU, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Baylor are known for their high-flying passing games, yet OSU and Baylor averaged more rush attempts than pass attempts a year ago. Not surprisingly, those two squads found themselves in the thick of the Big 12 title race in November.

Balance is key.

"You have to run the ball," Hunt said. "We want to have a balanced offense. Be able to run the ball when we need to and pass the ball when we need to."

Having that ability is arguably the thing that separated Baylor’s offense from the rest last season. The Bears could throw when they wanted to throw or run when they wanted to run, and both aspects of the offense set up the other.

With Meacham and Cumbie in charge, TCU hopes to do the same. The tempo has increased, with Porter calling it "crazy" and Hunt admitting "it’s different" and noting that he has taken on a centerpiece role in the tempo change as the guy who gets on the ball and sets the rhythm for the entire offense.

It is creating excitement and anticipation for TCU’s offense to debut on Aug. 30 against Samford, because it’s not just a new offensive system the Horned Frogs' OC duo has brought to Fort Worth, Texas.

"They have swagger and confidence," Hunt said. "And that’s what our offense needs."
FORT WORTH, Texas -- For years, TCU stuck to an offensive philosophy built around trying to out-physical foes and trick them with play action. That style won the Horned Frogs five conference titles while in the Mountain West and Conference USA. They have not won many Big 12 games.

After two years in his new league and a 6-12 record in Big 12 play, TCU coach Gary Patterson knew it was time for a new approach.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTCU coach Gary Patterson brought in new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to change the team's offense.
“We’re going to a style of offense that I thought evened the playing field,” Patterson said.

He went out and landed a pair of offensive coordinators who know Big 12 ball to design a hybrid Oklahoma State-Texas Tech scheme that Patterson says will still have “some of the old TCU” in the run game.

But this is the new TCU. No playbook, no huddle, no looking back.

The struggles of 2013 weren’t the lone motivator for Patterson’s change of plans, but the evidence was hard to ignore. Last season, TCU’s offense hit 10-year lows in points per game (25.1) and yards per play (5.03) and 10-year highs in turnovers (30) and three-and-outs (49).

The Horned Frogs had an offense that averaged 8.8 points in the first half of games, behind an offensive line that Patterson admits got “pushed around” at times due to injuries and departures. You can’t keep up with high-speed Big 12 offenses that way.

Another motivator? Patterson’s belief that a seemingly unexciting Horned Frogs offense wasn’t helping his cause in recruiting.

“I had watched too many skill players leave the city. Right now, they don’t know what this offense is about,” Patterson said. “Right now, they think TCU has a defensive coach. But to be honest with you, I have no problem winning 45-31.”

He’s putting his full trust in Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to build up the new-look offense, so much so that Patterson says he’s taken a hands-off approach to the transition. He just tried to defend it in spring practice, and that wasn’t fun.

Meacham spent eight years learning and teaching one of the nation’s finest spread offenses at Oklahoma State, then left to run his own at Houston in 2013. TCU’s new playcaller has already served as an OC at five other schools in his career.

He’ll collaborate with Cumbie, a Mike Leach disciple who coached the past four years at Texas Tech and will oversee the TCU quarterbacks.

As Tech’s quarterback in 2004, Cumbie put up 70 points on the Frogs -- two touchdowns more than a Patterson-led TCU team has ever given up. And yes, that came up in the job interview.

Both are respected offensive minds and recruiters in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and previous coordinators Rusty Burns and Jarrett Anderson are still on staff and have a say in game plans.

“Their relationship is awesome,” Patterson said. “I think the whole group has meshed real well. They’ve brought a lot of energy and new ideas.”

[+] EnlargeTy Slanina
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsHorned Frogs receiver Ty Slanina caught 19 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown as a freshman last season.
Installing the new attack meant coming up with new terminology, since at least three other Big 12 programs run similar sets, and new answers to how to outsmart opponents.

“It’s not so much you don’t know what’s coming, but can you out-execute it?” Patterson said. “It’ll be very important for us to be able to run the football, because I think going in that’s where our strengths are -- our offensive line and our running backs and our quarterback can run, especially Trevone [Boykin].”

The offensive line should be better and much, much bigger. Six of TCU’s best exiting spring ball -- Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Tayo Fabuluje, Frank Kee, Matt Pryor, Joseph Noteboom and Aviante Collins -- average 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds.

TCU’s top running backs all got hurt in spring ball -- literally -- but there are options there with B.J. Catalon, Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks, incoming freshman Shaun Nixon and a few others.

At receiver, Patterson says TCU has the guys needed to stretch a defense. Whether or not Brandon Carter returns, the staff is excited about speedsters like Deante' Gray and Kolby Listenbee and incoming freshmen Emanuel Porter and Corey McBride to go along with David Porter, Josh Doctson, Cameron Echols-Luper, Ty Slanina and Jordan Moore.

“I think we’ll have enough weapons to be able to move the football,” Patterson said.

Quarterback is still the question mark, especially if the versatile Boykin isn’t the choice. No matter who runs the show, the initial goal will be simple: first downs, points and a tempo that causes trouble.

“They’ve been awfully fast this spring,” Patterson said. “The biggest thing is to go fast enough to make people uncomfortable.”

That, after all, is the goal here: An offense that can prove as challenging as Patterson’s stingy defenses. The Horned Frogs’ mission for transformation isn’t guided by some sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” sentiment.

No, this is adaptation, and it’s necessary. After its first two Big 12 seasons ended in frustration, TCU is working on a new way to beat ‘em.

LUBBOCK, Texas -- From the outside, it seemed as if the House That Leach Built was crumbling all around Kliff Kingsbury.

There was a five-game losing streak that included getting whipped at Texas on Thanksgiving night. His starting QB left for another Big 12 program. His right-hand assistant bolted days later for a different Big 12 foe.

Yet through such trying weeks, the 34-year-old first-year head coach never changed his demeanor. Not publicly. Not even privately with his team. He still arrived at Texas Tech’s football training facility during the 4 o’clock hour each morning. He still worked out twice a day, once around sunrise, and again after lunch.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsKliff Kingsbury stayed cool when there was chaos all around. The Red Raiders followed his lead and it's been paying off ever since.
Kingsbury refused to dwell on the past. Instead, he focused his players on the opportunities ahead.

“Really, a team gets its personality from its head coach,” said senior running back/outside linebacker Kenny Williams. “Coach Kingsbury is a very strong person. I think the way he conducted himself during that time made us a stronger team.”

Because their coach never wavered in the weeks leading up the National University Holiday Bowl, the team didn’t, either. And like a captain guiding his crew through choppy waters, Kingsbury righted the (pirate) ship at Texas Tech.

The two-touchdown-underdog Red Raiders completely dismantled No. 14 Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl -- and they’ve been riding a wave of momentum no one outside the program saw coming ever since.

“For what they did and the way they performed in the bowl game, I couldn’t have been more proud of those guys,” Kingsbury said. “I think the biggest part was the resiliency this team showed. That’s how you build for the future. Because it’s not always going to be going well. It’s not always going to fall in your favor. But you gotta keep fighting.”

After they rallied past West Virginia to move to 7-0 and into the top 10 of the polls, nothing seemed to fall in the Red Raiders’ favor. Texas Tech played Oklahoma tough in a tight loss on the road, but then lost to Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas by an average margin of almost 24 points.

“I don’t think anyone on the team felt sorry for themselves or felt like, ‘Hey, this wasn’t a good team,’” Kingsbury said. “We just weren’t playing as good as we needed to be to beat good teams.”

But just like the five straight losses themselves, the losses of quarterback Baker Mayfield and assistant Sonny Cumbie stung, too.

Mayfield became a national story after winning the starting job during the preseason as a walk-on true freshman. He was named the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year the same day he informed Kingsbury he was leaving to enroll at Oklahoma.

Cumbie’s departure was almost as shocking. He played quarterback at Texas Tech under Mike Leach, had been teammates and longtime friends with Kingsbury and was the only assistant retained by both former Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville and Kingsbury. Cumbie had recruited several of the players on Texas Tech’s current roster, including quarterback Davis Webb. And he had been instrumental in helping Kingsbury acclimate during his first few days as head coach, even bringing recruiting tape for Kingsbury to review in his empty office.

“It was really rough having coach Cumbie leave, because that was the guy that had been recruiting me since my sophomore year,” Webb said. “He’s a guy I got really close to. He knows my parents really well. He came to my house multiple times. That was really rough on me I guess because I look up to him a lot. Baker leaving threw everyone off guard, too. Coach Cumbie leaving to TCU was very surprising. So there was a lot of shock. But we never became distraught.”

Instead, Kingsbury kept his players on campus throughout December to prepare them for the bowl game. And by the time the Holiday Bowl rolled around, the Red Raiders had the look of a team that had successfully weathered a storm.

“Everything just boiled up in a pot,” Webb said. “And we just exploded.”

Really, a team gets its personality from its head coach. Coach Kingsbury is a very strong person. I think the way he conducted himself during that time made us a stronger team.

-- Texas Tech senior RB/OLB Kenny Williams
Taking over for Mayfield, Webb came out on fire. Also a true freshman last year, Webb threw touchdown passes on Texas Tech’s first four possessions and finished with 403 passing yards on his way to earning Holiday Bowl offensive MVP honors. The defense, finally at full strength again after several injuries, held up too.

“More than anything, that showed our players that you gotta handle adversity, you gotta be mentally tough,” Kingsbury said. “And if you do, that good things can happen.”

Good things have been happening for Texas Tech ever since.

Last month, Kingsbury scored a commitment from Jarrett Stidham, the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2015. Stidham had offers from Alabama, Oregon, Texas and Baylor, which was thought to be the favorite because of Art Briles’ connection to Stidham’s Stephenville High School (Briles won four state titles there).

“Coach Kingsbury done everything to make sure that program is going in the right direction,” said Stidham, who revealed he’s been in touch with several other high-profile recruits about joining him at Texas Tech. “I believe what he’s doing is going to pay off.”

The momentum from the bowl game has carried over into the spring.

More than 10,000 fans attended an open scrimmage in Midland, Texas, and another big turnout is expected Saturday for the spring game in Lubbock. Plus, Texas Tech broke a record with more than 34,000 season tickets sold, and is sure to sell more with five months to go before the Aug. 30 opener against Central Arkansas.

On the field, Webb has used the bowl performance as a springboard and has been even sharper this spring. During the Midland scrimmage, he tossed four touchdowns to four different receivers without an interception. Even with All-American Jace Amaro and Eric Ward moving on, the Red Raiders appear to be loaded at receiver again as well, with Jakeem Grant, Reginald Davis and Bradley Marquez, all of whom had touchdowns in the bowl game.

The defense should be improved, with the players having a year of experience now in coordinator Matt Wallerstedt’s 3-4 scheme.

And the schedule lines up nicely, with Oklahoma and Texas both coming to Lubbock, and defending Big 12 champ Baylor still on a neutral field in Arlington, Texas.

“We’re really ready to build off the Holiday Bowl,” Webb said. “We don’t want that to be the highlight, though.

“We want that to be the jump-start.”

With spring practice off and rolling, plenty of questions surround the league’s programs. And while many of those won’t be fully answered until the season begins in the fall, here are some of the biggest ones Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia will face this spring:

Can freshman impact OSU's QB race?

Junior quarterback J.W. Walsh has made eight starts for the Cowboys over the last two seasons. But even with Clint Chelf now gone, Walsh still will have to fight for a job with freshman Mason Rudolph already on campus. Rudolph, who enrolled early to participate in spring ball, threw for more than 4,300 yards and 64 touchdowns his final year of high school and is one of the most highly-touted quarterback recruits ever to sign with the Cowboys. In high school, Rudolph played in an offensive scheme similar to Oklahoma State’s, which is what first interested him in the Cowboys. That should ease his transition to the college level. Of course for now, the job is Walsh’s to lose. But Rudolph has the talent and the skill set to begin applying pressure on Walsh as soon as this spring.

How will TCU adapt to the offensive overhaul?

TCU conducted its first spring practice over the weekend, and the exit polls suggested the Horned Frogs went through offensive drills fast. Like really fast. Tired of ranking near the bottom of the Big 12 in offense, Gary Patterson shook up his coaching staff and brought in Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham to install an up-tempo offensive system that resembled those of Texas Tech (Cumbie) and Oklahoma State (Meacham). As Patterson admitted after the first practice, there will be a learning curve for his players to picking up this new offensive style. But the quicker quarterback Trevone Boykin can adapt, the better off TCU will be going into 2014.

How will Texas look different under Strong?

The last time Texas had a coach other than Mack Brown running a spring practice, Bill Clinton was still president. The Charlie Strong era will begin in earnest with the start of spring practice in Austin. How will the players adjust to the new schemes of assistants Shawn Watson, Joe Wickline and Vance Bedford? How will the veterans react to their new position coaches? Who will thrive with the new staff? Who will falter? Those pivotal questions will begin to be answered this spring.

Can Texas Tech get by with only one scholarship QB?

With starting right tackle Rashad Fortenberry getting an extra year of eligibility over the weekend, the Red Raiders seem to be in good shape across the board offensively. Of course, that could change real quick should QB Davis Webb incur any kind of injury this spring. With Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma and Michael Brewer headed to Virginia Tech, the Red Raiders will be down to just one scholarship quarterback until Patrick Mahomes arrives in the summer. Though coach Kliff Kingsbury has said that Tech has a couple of capable walk-ons, an injury to Webb would hamper the spring development of an offense that will have big goals in the fall. Coming off a breakout performance in the bowl game, Webb also needs to continue developing this spring. But he also needs to remain healthy for the betterment of himself and the team.

Who will get carries for West Virginia?

Even with Charles Sims gone, the Mountaineers still enjoy a stable of capable of running backs. But where will Sims’ carries go? After rushing for 494 yards last season, Dreamius Smith is starting out the spring atop the depth chart. But he’ll have to fend off several comers to remain there. Wendell Smallwood came on strong late during his freshman season and finished the year averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Rushel Shell also joins the fray this spring after transferring over from Pittsburgh. Shell, who set a Pennsylvania high school rushing record, was formerly the No. 26 overall recruit in the 2012 recruiting class. There are still others. Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie are still around after leading the Mountaineers’ in rushing in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Oh yeah, West Virginia will also add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. Good luck to the running back who dares to take a play off in this crammed competition.

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
Spring football is rapidly approaching.

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Way-Too-Early 2014 Big 12 power poll

January, 7, 2014
Immediately after the national championship game, colleague Mark Schlabach released his Way-Too-Early Top 25. In concert, below is our Way-Too-Early Big 12 power poll. This could change between now and the end of the spring. In fact, it probably will. But this is a first look at how the Big 12 teams stack up against one another for 2014:

1. Oklahoma Sooners

In the Allstate Sugar Bowl, freshman Trevor Knight finally played like the quarterback that had been drawing comparisons to Johnny Manziel behind Oklahoma’s closed practices. The Sooners lose some cornerstone players to graduation, notably running back Brennan Clay, center Gabe Ikard, receiver Jalen Saunders and cornerback Aaron Colvin. But with Knight and budding running back Keith Ford returning to man the backfield, and nine starters coming back defensively, including menacing outside linebacker Eric Striker, Oklahoma could be a favorite in every game next season -- and a force once again on the national stage.

2. Baylor Bears

Even with running back Lache Seastrunk going pro, the Bears return plenty of firepower offensively. Bryce Petty will be the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback, and Antwan Goodley will be coming off a monster junior season. Rising sophomore Shock Linwood showed he could shoulder the rushing load, too, when Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were banged up late in the season. The Bears, however, could take a step back defensively. Baylor, which got torched for 52 points in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, loses six starters there, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon and All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Former blue-chip defensive tackle recruit Andrew Billings will need to step up and become more of a force. Even if the defense stumbles, Baylor should be capable of scoring enough points to win every game on its schedule, thanks to coach Art Briles being back on its sidelines.

3. Kansas State Wildcats

Along with Missouri, the Wildcats were the first two teams left out of Schlabach’s Top 25. But they make a compelling case for inclusion. Quarterback Jake Waters improved dramatically during the second half of the season, eventually squeezing Daniel Sams out of the QB rotation. Wideout Tyler Lockett could be a preseason All-American, after torching Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan for a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The defense should be better, too, with sack artist Ryan Mueller back at end, and rising junior safety Dante Barnett set to take over for the outgoing Ty Zimmerman as leader of the secondary. The Wildcats will be tested early with national runner-up Auburn visiting Manhattan on Sept. 20. If K-State can win that game, the rest of the Big 12 will be on notice.

4. Texas Longhorns

During his introductory news conference on Monday, new Texas coach Charlie Strong said Mack Brown left him with a team that could win right away. Strong might be right. The Longhorns return eight starters off a defense that found its stride under interim coordinator Greg Robinson. Texas also brings back six starters offensively and its entire running back corps, including Malcolm Brown, who rushed for more than 100 yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A big part of Mack Brown’s downfall, however, was quarterback play, and that once again will be a huge question mark in Strong’s first season. David Ash sat out most of this season with concussion issues, making his football future tenuous. Tyrone Swoopes is athletic with a big arm but needs polish. The other option will be incoming freshman Jerrod Heard, who just led his high school team to a Texas state championship. If one of those three emerges, Strong could have Texas on the way back ahead of schedule.

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Cowboys were 19 seconds away from playing in a BCS bowl game. But two losses to end the year soured what could have been a stellar season. Now, Oklahoma State must replace the bulk of its team, including quarterback Clint Chelf and seven starters defensively. Star slot receiver Josh Stewart is also reportedly mulling over leaving early, too. Either way, 2014 will be a retooling season for coach Mike Gundy, whose first order of business will be settling on a quarterback. J.W. Walsh, who started the first half of the season before losing the job back to Chelf, would have to be considered the favorite. But Gundy has shown before he’s not afraid of turning the keys of the offense to a true freshman, and the Cowboys have an intriguing freshman QB enrolling for the spring in Mason Rudolph, who threw 64 touchdown passes this fall as a high school senior in South Carolina. That could result in some growing pains for Oklahoma State, which opens the season against defending national champion Florida State. But if Rudolph proves to be the long-term answer at QB, it shouldn’t be more than a year before the Cowboys are contending in the Big 12 again.

6. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Texas Tech completely changed the tenor of its offseason with a dominating 37-23 win over Pac-12 South Division champ Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Finally healthy again, the Red Raiders showed they were better than a five-game losing streak to end the regular season indicated. Now, Tech returns eight starters offensively, including quarterback Davis Webb, who torched the Sun Devils and had several other encouraging moments as a true freshman. Tech has to replace most of its defense. But if Webb settles in at quarterback, the Red Raiders should be improved in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s second season in Lubbock.

7. TCU Horned Frogs

TCU was the 2013 preseason pick of many people to win the Big 12. Instead, injuries ravaged the roster, and the Horned Frogs failed to go to a bowl game for just second time with Gary Patterson as coach. Patterson shook up his offensive staff after the season, bringing in Houston’s Doug Meacham and Texas Tech’s Sonny Cumbie as co-coordinators to revamp TCU’s offensive attack. TCU should be stout again defensively, especially if 2012 Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Devonte Fields returns to form from a broken foot. But the key to a better season will be whether Meacham and Cumbie can squeeze more offense out of the Horned Frogs and find the answer at quarterback. The answer, however, might not be on campus yet. Trevone Boykin has 15 career QB starts, but is probably a better fit as a receiver. Meanwhile, TCU’s top incoming recruits, Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, are both quarterbacks, and could factor into the wide-open competition.

8. Iowa State Cyclones

Even though Iowa State just finished in the bottom three of the Big 12 in points per game (24.8), yards per game (363), yards per play (4.82), rushing yards (143.8) and passing yards (219.2), the Cyclones return some offensive firepower. Tailback Aaron Wimberly was effective when healthy, and Quenton Bundrage flashed signs of a legit No. 1 receiver. The key will be QB, and whether Grant Rohach builds on his late-season surge. But with a proven offensive coordinator in Mark Mangino now on board, the Cyclones have the pieces to form one of the better offenses in the league next season.

9. West Virginia Mountaineers

The Mountaineers careened off the road late this season with back-to-back losses to Kansas and Iowa State. Now, the pressure is on coach Dana Holgorsen, who will have to win games to keep his job even though the 2014 schedule is brutal. Like so many other teams in the Big 12, West Virginia must find a solution at quarterback. Holgorsen has options. Clint Trickett, Paul Millard and Ford Childress are all back after getting at least two starts apiece last year. Junior-college transfer Skyler Howard will be enrolling early and joining the fray. Four-star recruit William Crest will be in the mix, too. Even if Holgorsen finds his answer at quarterback, a winning season won’t come easy. The Mountaineers have one of the toughest schedules in the country, beginning with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Alabama in Atlanta.

10. Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas showed only modest improvement in Charlie Weis’ second season as head coach. This will be a key season for Weis as he attempts to rebuild the program. He desperately needs Montell Cozart to develop into the answer at quarterback. Cozart still has a ways to go with his passing, but he showed he could hurt defenses with his legs. Defensively, the Jayhawks bring back some solid players, notably linebackers Ben Goodman and Ben Heeney and safety Isaiah Johnson. But Kansas will take the next step only if Cozart -- or somebody else -- emerges at quarterback.

Every day, Baker Mayfield kept waiting for that scholarship to come. That scholarship he really wanted. That scholarship that never arrived.

In just two games, Texas Tech’s true freshman walk-on quarterback has become one of the unlikeliest of stories in college football.

But it wasn’t the Red Raiders he always dreamed of playing for. It was the team the Red Raiders are playing against Thursday night.

“TCU was the only school he really had interest in,” said Shaun Nixon, Mayfield’s running back at Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas. “That was the school he really wanted to go to.”

On Thursday, when Tech faces TCU in a Big 12 clash that could have conference title implications down the line, Mayfield will have the chance to show the Horned Frogs what they missed out on, live and in person.

“He’s going to have a chip on his shoulder because TCU didn’t want him,” said Nixon, an ESPN 300 prospect in the Class of 2014 who is committed to Texas A&M.

“He’s going to be ready for this one.”

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTexas Tech QB Baker Mayfield isn't playing like a freshman walk-on, completing 71 percent of his passes for seven TDs and no picks through two games.
How Mayfield ended up at Tech as a walk-on and not somewhere like TCU as a scholarship player is something his high school teammates and coaches are still trying to figure out. Even the Tech coaches aren’t quite sure. Even if they are thankful.

“It’s a great question,” said Red Raiders receivers coach Sonny Cumbie. “I think a lot of people who were close to pulling the trigger are probably kicking themselves now.”

Cumbie knows firsthand what it feels like to fall through the recruiting cracks. After running the wing-T for a small school just west of Abilene, Texas, Cumbie graduated high school with no FBS offers.

“It was before the era of summer camps,” he said. “I was completely under the radar.”

Despite being under the radar, Cumbie still wanted to play for an FBS program. So he reached out to Texas Tech, which had just hired Mike Leach, to see whether the Red Raiders might have any interest. Not only did Leach have interest, he invited Cumbie to visit Lubbock on a Sunday and personally gave him a tour of the campus.

“Especially now looking back on it,” Cumbie said, “when the head coach in the middle of the afternoon meets a walk-on quarterback in the parking lot -- it goes a long way.”

Due in large part to Leach’s hospitality, Cumbie decided to turn down his Division II offers and walk on at Tech, ultimately earning a scholarship before winning the starting job four years later.

Like Cumbie, Mayfield won the starting job at Tech after walking on. But it took Mayfield just a summer.

“That’s where the story starts taking a different path,” said Cumbie, who led the nation in passing in 2004. “He’s having a whole lot more success early on than I did.”

Is he ever.

Through two games, Mayfield is completing 71 percent of his passes and has thrown seven touchdowns with no interceptions, leading the Red Raiders to routs in their first two games.

“He’s a special type of talent,” Cumbie said. “He’s got the ‘wow’ factor to him.”

Mayfield had the wow factor to him in high school, too. He quarterbacked Lake Travis to a state championship and in two years as the starter threw 67 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. Yet even though Lake Travis had produced FBS quarterbacks before him like Todd Reesing (Kansas), Garrett Gilbert (SMU) and Michael Brewer (Texas Tech), Mayfield was lightly recruited. He had offers from New Mexico, Washington State and Florida Atlantic. But as Mayfield waited for a bigger offer, the rest of them dried up.

Hank Carter, his high school coach, said many of the schools that scouted Mayfield elected to go with bigger quarterbacks.

“People thought he was too short,” Carter said.

Mayfield is listed at 6-foot-2 now. But he was 5-5 as a high school freshman.

“He was a late bloomer,” Carter said. “We always made the comment, 'If Baker Mayfield ever grows, he’s going to be a freaking stud.' He’s such a gamer.”

Mayfield eventually grew, and eventually took over as quarterback at Lake Travis when the starter was hurt during the first game of Mayfield's junior season.

Nixon said he and Mayfield went to visit TCU often together, and he fully expected his quarterback to end up in Fort Worth.

“He thought he had found a home there,” said Nixon. “In the locker room, I’d ask him, ‘When you gonna commit?’ He’d say, ‘I’m still waiting on TCU. I’m still waiting on TCU.’"

Mayfield waited patiently. But less than a month before national signing day, Temple (Texas) quarterback Zach Allen decommitted from Syracuse when Orange coach Doug Marrone bolted for the NFL, and the Horned Frogs decided to take Allen over Mayfield. By that point, Washington State had moved on, too, leaving Mayfield without a home.

Texas Tech didn’t have a scholarship, either. But due to his connections to Brewer from high school, as well as new Tech assistant Eric Morris, who remembered Mayfield from his time at Washington State, Mayfield decided to follow the path Cumbie took and walk on in Lubbock.

“When he decided to walk on, we were not excited he was going to do that,” Carter said. “We didn’t think he was going to get a chance, at least for a while. But that shows how much we know. He always knew something we didn’t”

Mayfield turned heads the moment he arrived on campus over the summer. And when Brewer’s lingering back injury kept giving him problems, Mayfield found himself in a head-to-head competition with Texas Tech’s scholarship freshman quarterback, Davis Webb, for the starting job.

“It was one day after another, where [Mayfield] kept having good days,” Cumbie said. “The chains kept moving when he was in there.

“After awhile, we were like, ‘This dude is for real.’”

On Thursday night, Mayfield will attempt to prove to the school he dreamed of playing for that he’s for real, too. All while revealing what the Horned Frogs could have had.

“I’m sure he’s pretty psyched,” Carter said, “to go out there and show TCU they should have offered him a scholarship.”

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas keys

December, 28, 2012
Let's take a look at three keys for tonight's Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

1. Grab a turnover or two. Texas Tech's defense has to be very, very frustrated by now. The last time the Red Raiders forced a turnover was all the way back on Oct. 20. Since then, the Red Raiders are 1-4 with the only win coming at home in overtime against 1-11 Kansas. That stretch has sent Tech to minus-12 in turnover margin, which is seven takeaways below any team in the Big 12 and tied for 110th nationally. If Texas Tech can't crack the streak and force a turnover, this one will turn into a game quickly.

2. Force the tempo. It might be a little odd for Texas Tech without offensive coordinator Neal Brown in charge of things. Offensive line coach Chris Thomsen has taken over as interim coach and receivers coach Sonny Cumbie is stepping up to call the plays. There aren't a lot of teams in the Big Ten who run with the tempo that Texas Tech wants, but Cumbie's got to be quick on the trigger and keep the Tech offense rolling. Schematically, Minnesota can slow down the Red Raiders, but going with a lightning pace in Brown's absence will give the Golden Gophers problems.

3. Don't forget about Kenny Williams and Eric Stephens. Texas Tech didn't win the game, but its 208 rushing yards against Baylor was nearly enough to knock off the Bears and helped Tech put 45 points on the board. Minnesota ranks 77th nationally in rush defense, and though Tech loves to throw it around the yard, some balance would no doubt help the Red Raiders. Against Kansas and Oklahoma State, Tech averaged fewer than three yards a carry, but the team posted nearly seven yards a touch against Baylor. Williams, Stephens and SaDale Foster all average nearly five yards a touch and combined for more than 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns. Cumbie's not a very experienced playcaller, but he's got to keep those guys active, too.
DALLAS -- At 5 a.m., Tommy Tuberville arrived at the Texas Tech football facilities, food for his assistants in hand.

The rest of his staff would arrive shortly.

[+] EnlargeTommy Tuberville
AP Photo/Cody DutyTexas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville calls recruiting "a two year process."
The sun followed about two and a half hours later. Seven of his 27 recruits ready to sign letters of intent were on the East Coast, and he'd like to avoid any fax machine shenanigans.

"Those guys can start faxing in letters at 6 a.m. local time, so you've got to be ready," Tuberville said with a laugh.

Of course, anyone can attest climbing out of bed is a lot easier when you know a good day awaits. By its end, Tuberville had signed what Texas Tech says is the highest-rated recruiting class in school history. More encouraging? It's Tuberville's first "full" class, and he doesn't even believe he's had a chance to complete his recruiting process. He took the job on Jan. 9, 2010, less than 13 months ago.

"To me, recruiting really is a two-year process for a player," Tuberville said.

The process starts with evaluation, by far the most important stage, Tuberville says. During a prospect's junior year, Tuberville collects all his film, evaluates the prospect and before spring practice, decides whether or not to extend an offer.

He had three weeks after taking the job to complete that process last year for his 2011 class before kicking off spring practice.

"If you wait until mid or late summer, some of them might have already committed, and there will be a lot of guys committed before late spring," Tuberville said.

As a result, he likes to have every scholarship offer out before spring practice begins.

What's at risk isn't an impressive "recruiting class ranking," but finding contributors.

"It’s essential that you have an 80-90 percent rate of kids that come in and maybe they're not be great players, but they can contribute to wins at your school," Tuberville said.

He estimates that about half of his 27 signees will have a chance to either start or be in the rotation as freshmen.

This year, Tuberville didn't have to hear questions about whether he'd throw the ball.

At his post-signing day rallies in Dallas and Houston last year, it seemed like that's all boosters and alums wanted to know.

"And I said, listen, do I look stupid?" Tuberville said. "We’re going to take the players we’ve got and do what we need to do to be successful. We’re going to run it a little bit more, but we’re going to try to do whatever we can to keep what you’ve built here in the last few years."

On Thursday, the day after signing day, Tuberville made the rounds again. He flew to Houston from Lubbock in the morning, and flew from Houston to Dallas in the afternoon to present his new class via a photo/video slideshow to the program's supporters.

What he showed them was a class full of speed on both offense and defense and a collection of pass rushers, exactly what Tuberville believes he needs to have success in the Big 12.

"In the Big 12, if you don’t have a good pass rusher, I don’t care how good your DBs are, you have to have a good pass rusher or you’re getting beat," he said. "So we signed five or six guys that are 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 with good wingspan."

A good pass rush doesn't mean racking up sacks, Tuberville says. Especially in the Big 12. The prevalence of the quick passing game and the shotgun means that goal is unrealistic. What's not unrealistic is making a quarterback go through through as many reads as possible by getting those long arms in passing lanes and making a quarterback throw on the move.

The last piece of his class who can offer that came late.

Defensive end Cooper Washington had committed to Oklahoma in April 2010, and remained a solid commitment for most of it. But Tuberville did what he does with plenty of committed recruits.

"You’ll have guys who commit really early to Nebraska or a Texas or Oklahoma and we’ll tell him, 'Hey, you're committed. We understand that. But just stay in contact. Make a phone call once a week or whatever, hey, how you doing? Everything going alright? Stay in touch in case something happens,'" Tuberville said.

Last Sunday, something happened. Washington began doubting that commitment. He placed a call to Sonny Cumbie, his recruiter. Playing his college ball seven hours away suddenly wasn't as attractive as doing the same an hour away from his hometown of Muleshoe, Texas.

Monday morning, Cumbie had a welcome message for Tuberville. Washington wanted to be a Red Raider. On Wednesday, in front of banners at his school congratulating him for signing with the Sooners, he signed with Tuberville and Tech.

"It wasn’t anything we did," Tuberville said. "It was just a decision of, do I want to go there or stay home? And when you’re the home team, usually you’ve got a little bit of an advantage."

But that philosophy of keeping in touch helped quite a bit.

It's not often that Texas Tech swipes a recruit from one of the Big 12 powers, but it could be happening more often as Tech tries to become one under Tuberville.

And if that's going to happen, it'll have to start with recruiting.

"If we can get a defense to go with the kind of offense we’ve got, we’ve got a chance, but we’re not even close defensively right now," Tuberville said. "But [on signing day], we helped it a lot."

McNeill, Riley sent packing in Texas Tech coaching change

January, 14, 2010
The coaches who were most directly responsible for helping direct Texas Tech to the Red Raiders' victory over Michigan State in the Valero Alamo Bowl won't be a part of Tommy Tuberville's new staff.

Interim coach/defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill and inside receivers coach Lincoln Riley were among six coaches who were let go by Tuberville.

McNeill served as the interim coach after Mike Leach was fired the week before the game. And Riley served as the Red Raiders' offensive coordinator, juggling the quarterback switch in which Steven Sheffield was inserted in place of Taylor Potts in the middle of the fourth quarter to direct the comeback victory.

Other coaches from Leach's staff who won't be retained include running backs coach Clay McGuire, safeties coach Carlos Mainord, cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell and special-teams coordinator Eric Russell.

Among former members of Leach's staff who survived the coaching switch include offensive line coach Matt Moore, defensive ends coach Charlie Sadler and Sonny Cumbie, who is a graduate assistant for the offense. Wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons also will be retained in some capacity on Tuberville's staff.

McNeill directed the transformation of the Red Raiders' defense over the last two-and-a-half seasons. The Red Raiders finished 2009 ranked fourth nationally in sacks, but only 94th in turnover margin.

Alabama associate head coach/linebacker coach James Willis appears to have the inside track on becoming Tuberville's new defensive coordinator. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Willis has been in Lubbock the last two days with his family attempting to get settled in the area.