NCF Nation: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Here we go:
QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
Easy choice. Petty is the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after he threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns with just three picks. He should be even better in Year 2 as a starter.
RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas
Malcolm Brown finished strong in place of Gray the past season, but there’s a reason Gray was Texas’ No. 1 back before he suffered an Achilles injury. Gray is healthy again, which gives Texas the best one-two punch at running back in the league.
RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor
Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back the past season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing. He’s the featured back now and could wind up the league’s top rusher.
WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Lockett was literally uncoverable at times last year. Just ask Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan, which surrendered a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns to Lockett. With Jake Waters settled in at quarterback, Lockett could put up even bigger numbers in 2014.
WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
Goodley might have been the most improved player in the league the past season. He was also one of the most dominant, with 1,339 receiving yards and a national-best five catches of 60 yards or more.
TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
With Jace Amaro gone, Bibbs takes over as the top receiving tight end threat in the league. Only Amaro had more catches and yards than Bibbs among Big 12 tight ends the past season.
OT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
With Drango in the lineup, Petty was sacked only eight times through the Bears’ first nine games last year. After Drango was sidelined with a back injury, Petty was sacked nine times in Baylor’s last four games. Suffice it to say, Petty is glad to have Drango back protecting his blindside.
OG: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders previously had plans to move Clark inside to guard, but they still have him manning left tackle this season. Whether he stays at the bookend or slides to guard, Clark is one of the most dominating offensive linemen in the league.
C: BJ Finney, Kansas State
Finney owns a Big 12-best 39 starts over the past three years. The former walk-on is also a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection and will be the favorite to garner such recognition again as the linchpin of the K-State offensive line.
OG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
Whitehair is capable of manning either guard or tackle, but the Wildcats will be showing their trust in him by asking him to protect Waters’ blindside this season.
OT: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
Williams is the best piece on the league’s best offensive line, which returns four starters and plenty of capable backups.
AP: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
Grant finished sixth in the league in receiving yards per game, despite being the third option in Tech’s passing attack the past season. Grant is now the first option in the passing game, as well as an electric playmaker on special teams.
K: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
The Sooners have never had an All-American kicker before, but they have a strong candidate in Hunnicutt, who converted 24 of 27 field goals the past season.
DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
In 2013, Mueller finished with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, which were second in the league only to Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat. Mueller, who also forced four fumbles, has one of the conference’s best noses for finding the ball.
DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU
The Horned Frogs still had a formidable front the past season, even without Devonte Fields, due in large part to Hunter. TCU won’t have Fields again. But Hunter is back to anchor a defensive line loaded with quality players.
DT: Malcom Brown, Texas
This former blue-chipper broke out the past season with 68 tackles, including 12 for loss. He and Cedric Reed team up to form the best inside-outside defensive line combination in the league.
DE: Cedric Reed, Texas
Reed was third in the Big 12 in 2013 with 10 sacks, fourth with 19 tackles for loss and tied for first with five forced fumbles. He gives the Longhorns a chance to feature the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.
LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
When it comes to rushing the passer, there’s no one better in the league. Striker has spent this offseason refining other parts of his game to become a more complete player. But his pass rushing alone makes him one of the top players in the league.
LB: Ben Heeney, Kansas
Heeney was a tackling machine last year for a defense that performed valiantly despite getting little help from its offense. Heeney will get plenty of help from his defense, though, which returns eight other starters.
LB: Bryce Hager, Baylor
Hager has notched 195 tackles over the past two seasons, while twice earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. With Ahmad Dixon and Eddie Lackey gone, he takes over as the leader of a defense angling to prove it can be as good as the past year’s.
CB: Quandre Diggs, Texas
Diggs, who has never been afraid to speak his mind, is the heart and soul of the Longhorns. If the rest of the team takes on his mentality, Texas could have one feisty team in Charlie Strong’s first season.
CB: Daryl Worley, West Virginia
Despite being just a second-year player, Worley has already taken over as one of the vocal leaders of the West Virginia defense. He’s also already one of the best cover corners in the league.
SS: Sam Carter, TCU
Carter has nine interceptions the past two years, the most of any returning Big 12 player. He leads arguably the best secondary in the league, too.
FS: Karl Joseph, West Virginia
Joseph has started all 25 games for the Mountaineers since he stepped foot in Morgantown. No other returning Big 12 defensive back has more career tackles than Joseph’s 170.
P: Nick O'Toole, West Virginia
The “Boomstache” ranked 15th nationally last year, with an average of 44.1 yards per punt. He also has the best mustache in the league, which has to count for something.
"My dad was better than your dad."
"No, my dad was obviously better than your dad. If Coach woulda put him in in the fourth quarter, he would've been a state champion. No doubt. No doubt in my mind."
Barry J. Sanders was never one of those kids, but if he was the argument would have ended pretty quickly: "1988."
ESPN.com readers voted this week and determined it was that year in which Sanders' father, the elder Barry Sanders, turned in the best season in college football history. There were plenty of good options to choose from -- including Vince Young's 2005 season at Texas, which was the other finalist -- but the whole time there was only one common-sense choice.
Pops isn't one to talk much publicly about that season -- it's just not his style. But with his son, who is now fighting for playing time in a crowded Stanford backfield, he's surely spoken at length about the year Dad won the Heisman Trophy, right?
“Not directly, no,” the younger Sanders said this week.
Of course, that doesn't mean he hasn't gone out and done his own research. He's watched plenty of highlight tapes and read up on it as best he could.
When asked what he knows about that season, Sanders was quick to rattle off his father's accomplishments, one after the next.
"I know that he broke or set 38 NCAA records that year," Sanders said with pride. "And he had something like 2,600 yards, not including the bowl game and almost 2,900 and 40-plus touchdowns including that bowl game.
"Incomparable year to any other running back in the history of the game."
And there was really no need to limit it to just running backs.
Sanders said the football discussions he has with his father, a College and Pro Football Hall of Famer, are more about how he should have fun playing the game. They talk about competing and about what he learned from his experiences.
Coincidentally, 1988 also was the final year of a four-year stretch in which Willie Shaw, the father of Stanford coach David Shaw, was on the coaching staff for the Detroit Lions. The following year, the Lions made Sanders the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft and Shaw moved on to Stanford, where he was named the Cardinal's defensive coordinator.
Who really deserves to claim the title of “Kicker U” for the 2000s?
1. Ohio State (80 points): The Buckeyes placed first among place-kickers and tied for ninth at punter thanks to an award winner in each category. The high-point man who helped Ohio State win the “Kicker U” label was Mike Nugent, who won the Lou Groza Award, was a two-time All-American and All-Big Ten pick and was picked in the second round of the 2005 draft. Punter B.J. Sander won the Ray Guy Award and was drafted in the third round before enjoying a short career with the Green Bay Packers.
Award winners: B.J. Sander, Guy (2003); Mike Nugent, Groza (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Mike Nugent (2002, 2004).
First-team all-conference: Dan Stultz (2000), Adam Groom (2002), Mike Nugent (2002, 2004), B.J. Sander (2003), Josh Huston (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: B.J. Sander (Round 3, 2004), Mike Nugent (Round 2, 2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.
2. UCLA (72 points): A pair of consensus All-Americans (Justin Medlock and Kai Forbath) and a Lou Groza Award (which Forbath won in 2009) helped UCLA push toward the top of the rankings. Medlock was also drafted in 2007 and has spent portions of several seasons on NFL rosters, while also kicking at times in the CFL.
Award winners: Kai Forbath, Groza (2009).
Consensus All-Americans: Justin Medlock (2006), Kai Forbath (2009).
First-team all-conference: Nate Fikse (2001, 2002), Justin Medlock (2004, 2006), Aaron Perez (2008), Kai Forbath (2009), Jeff Locke (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Justin Medlock (Round 5, 2007), Jeff Locke (Round 5, 2013).
3. Colorado (64 points): Three-time all-conference pick Mason Crosby -- also a consensus All-American in 2005 -- accounted for nearly all of Colorado’s point production at place-kicker. He went on to become a sixth-round draft pick and has set several franchise records as a member of the Green Bay Packers. Mark Mariscal also added some points by winning the Ray Guy Award and becoming an All-American and all-conference selection in 2002.
Award winners: Mark Mariscal, Guy (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Mark Mariscal (2002), Mason Crosby (2005).
First-team all-conference: Jeremy Flores (2001), Mark Mariscal (2002), Mason Crosby (2004, 2005, 2006), John Torp (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Mason Crosby (Round 6, 2007).
4. Michigan State (62 points): With six first-team All-Big Ten selections -- including three-time honoree Brandon Fields, who was also a consensus All-American in 2004 -- Michigan State takes the No. 3 spot. The Spartans have also had two punters drafted since 2001, which is a rare feat for a college program, as well as kickers Dave Rayner and Craig Jarrett.
Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Brandon Fields (2004).
First-team all-conference: Brandon Fields (2003, 2004, 2006), Brett Swenson (2009), Aaron Bates (2010), Dan Conroy (2010), Mike Sadler (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Craig Jarrett (Round 6, 2002), Dave Rayner (Round 6, 2005), Brandon Fields (Round 7, 2007).
T-5. Baylor (56 points): Baylor places almost solely because of one player: mid-2000s standout Daniel Sepulveda. The two-time Ray Guy Award winner scored 44 points by himself, which is greater than the score for every other program in the punter rankings except one (No. 2 Michigan State, which had 48).
Award winners: Daniel Sepulveda, Guy (2004, 2006).
Consensus All-Americans: Daniel Sepulveda (2006).
First-team all-conference: Daniel Sepulveda (2004, 2006), Derek Epperson (2009), Spencer Roth (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Daniel Sepulveda (Round 3, 2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.
T-5. Oklahoma State (56 points): Between Quinn Sharp’s three all-conference selections at punter and two at place-kicker, Dan Bailey's 2010 Groza Award and Matt Fodge’s 2008 Guy Award, Oklahoma State fared well at both kicking positions.
Award winners: Matt Fodge, Guy (2008); Dan Bailey, Groza (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Dan Bailey (2010), Quinn Sharp (2010, 2011, 2012 at punter; 2011, 2012 at place-kicker).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.
7. Florida State (54 points): A pair of Groza Award wins (by Graham Gano and last season by Roberto Aguayo) helped Florida State place third solely among place-kickers and sixth overall. Aguayo helped extend the Seminoles’ streak of first-team All-ACC place-kickers to three consecutive years after Dustin Hopkins earned the honor in 2011 and 2012. Since Aguayo was only a redshirt freshman last fall, there is a good chance the streak will continue. Punter Shawn Powell was the Seminoles' only All-American during this stretch.
Award winners: Graham Gano, Groza (2008); Roberto Aguayo, Groza (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Shawn Powell (2011).
First-team all-conference: Dustin Hopkins (2011, 2012), Shawn Powell (2011), Roberto Aguayo (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Dustin Hopkins (Round 6, 2013).
8. Georgia (52 points): Give Mark Richt credit: In his 13-plus seasons as Georgia’s coach, he has rarely been without a consistent place-kicker. Players like Blair Walsh, Brandon Coutu, Billy Bennett and most recently Marshall Morgan have given Georgia a consistent scoring threat in the kicking game. And Drew Butler had one of the best seasons by any punter in SEC history when he won the Ray Guy Award in 2009.
Award winners: Drew Butler, Guy (2009).
Consensus All-Americans: Drew Butler (2009).
First-team all-conference: Billy Bennett (2002), Brandon Coutu (2005), Drew Butler (2009), Blair Walsh (2010), Marshall Morgan (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Brandon Coutu (Round 7, 2008), Blair Walsh (Round 6, 2012).
8. Miami (52 points): Another program with two punters who were drafted (Matt Bosher and Pat O’Donnell, both in the sixth round), Miami hasn’t had a punter win the Ray Guy Award or earn an All-America nod, but the Hurricanes do boast four all-conference punters since the turn of the century. Bosher was also an all-conference place-kicker in 2010.
Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Freddie Capshaw (2000, 2001), Todd Sievers (2001, 2002), Jon Peattie (2003), Matt Bosher (2009 at place-kicker, 2010 at punter), Pat O’Donnell (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Matt Bosher (Round 6, 2011), Pat O’Donnell (Round 6, 2014).
10. Florida (48 points): Chas Henry, who won the Ray Guy Award and was a consensus All-American and first-team All-SEC pick in 2010, accounted for 24 of Florida’s 30 points at punter. The Gators also had a pair of place-kickers (Jeff Chandler and Caleb Sturgis, a two-time all-conference pick) drafted.
Award winners: Chas Henry, Guy (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: Chas Henry (2010).
First-team all-conference: Chas Henry (2010), Caleb Sturgis (2011, 2012), Kyle Christy (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jeff Chandler (Round 4, 2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Caleb Sturgis (Round 5, 2013).
REST OF “KICKER U” RANKINGS
46 – California; 44 – Auburn, Nebraska, Utah, Wake Forest; 42 – Georgia Tech; 40 – Purdue; 38 – Pittsburgh, Tennessee; 34 – Iowa, Louisville, Maryland; 32 – BYU, Texas A&M, TCU, Wisconsin; 28 – LSU, Michigan, Oregon State; 26 – USC, Virginia Tech; 22 – Arizona State; 16 – Ole Miss; 14 – Arizona, Penn State, Texas; 12 – Alabama, Duke, Illinois, Kansas State, Kentucky, Missouri, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Washington State; 8 – Virginia, West Virginia, Boston College; 6 – Indiana, Oregon, Rutgers, Stanford; 2 – Arkansas, South Carolina, Vanderbilt; 0 – Clemson, Iowa State, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi State, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame, Texas Tech, Washington.
TCU’s future starting quarterback might have spent his spring in College Station, Texas.
It’s possible Texas' next starter hasn’t even moved to Austin yet.
And half the teams in the Big 12 still haven't officially named a starter for the 2014 season.
After losing the job last season, J.W. Walsh retook a commanding lead in Oklahoma State’s third quarterback derby in as many years.
Grant Rohach built off his strong finish last season to head into the summer as the clear frontrunner at Iowa State.
And even though Clint Trickett sat out the spring recovering from a shoulder injury, none of West Virginia’s other spring contenders could unseat him from the top of the depth chart.
Elsewhere, Kansas surprisingly named sophomore Montell Cozart as its starter days after he outshined incumbent Jake Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard in the Jayhawks’ spring game.
And Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight and Texas Tech’s Davis Webb rode the momentum of their breakout bowl performances to spring improvement.
Even the two schools with the biggest quarterback questions received some possible panaceas this spring.
Matt Joeckel, Johnny Manziel’s backup at Texas A&M the last two seasons, revealed two weeks ago that he would be transferring to TCU, where he’ll be eligible immediately. The Horned Frogs, who are installing an up-tempo offense similar to one Joeckel played in with the Aggies, ended spring with Trevone Boykin as their No. 1 quarterback, even though Boykin finished last year as a receiver.
To the south, another high-profile transfer could soon be following Joeckel to the Big 12. Since announcing he was transferring from USC, Max Wittek has visited Texas three times, including the Longhorns’ spring game. Wittek would be eligible right away as well, and with David Ash out for now with a fractured foot, Wittek could viably challenge to become Texas’ opening game starter.
Such positive developments at the most critical of positions are welcome developments for a league that struggled and juggled at quarterback through much of the 2013 season. In fact, Baylor’s Bryce Petty was the only Big 12 quarterback to start every game for his team last season.
Petty, who was on the short list of Heisman contenders until November, will again be the class of the league at quarterback.
But he should have plenty more company this season, beginning with Kansas State's Jake Waters, who improved as much as any quarterback in the country did over the course of last season. In leading the Wildcats to victories in six of their final seven games, Waters actually produced a higher Adjusted QBR rating than Petty during the same stretch.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder came away impressed with the confidence Waters carried throughout the spring, which included a crisp effort in the spring game minus his favorite receiver, Tyler Lockett, who sat out the scrimmage with a minor injury.
“He just understands things a lot better,” Snyder said. “He has gained more confidence, probably just because of going through the process of going through some growing pains.”
Both Walsh and Rohach also went through growing pains last season.
But after a jittery sophomore campaign in which he eventually lost the starting job back to Clint Chelf in October, Walsh re-established himself this spring and performed with the poise he did two years ago as a freshman to emerge as the favorite to become the Cowboys' starter again.
“J.W. has become more of a leader,” offensive tackle Daniel Koenig said after Oklahoma State’s “Orange Blitz” scrimmage. “He’s staying in the pocket more, which is good. Maybe a year or two years ago, he’d get nervous back there and start scrambling. But now he’s sitting in there and throwing.”
Rohach, who finished off the 2013 season by leading Iowa State to a come-from-behind, triple-overtime victory at West Virginia, also showed more confidence this spring, leading Iowa State on three of its six scoring drives in the spring game. Coach Paul Rhoads said he’d wait until mid-August before declaring a starter, but Rohach seems to have the clear edge over Sam B. Richardson and Joel Lanning heading into the summer.
"To begin [the spring], coming off that huge game against West Virginia, putting pressure on myself, my first few practices weren't very good," Rohach said. "But as spring ball went on I shrugged off those mistakes, and I think I got a lot better."
Webb and Knight also used their final performances of last season to springboard into their second springs on campus.
Webb has been especially impressive since earning MVP honors in the Red Raiders' National University Holiday Bowl victory over Arizona State. In Texas Tech’s three spring open scrimmages, he tossed 13 touchdowns with no interceptions.
“He is night and day from what he was at this time last year,” Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I am really impressed with him.”
With a limited playbook and a no-contact jersey, Knight had a lackluster showing in Oklahoma’s spring game, and was actually outplayed by Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield. But behind closed practices, the Sooners liked the development they saw from their sophomore quarterback, who last torched two-time defending national champ Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
“He’s continued to make strides,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “It’s not even like he played perfect in the Sugar Bowl -- there are things he missed in that game. He’s by no means a finished product.”
The quarterback position in the Big 12 is by no means a finished product, either, coming out of the spring. But the position looks better -- and clearer -- now than it did just two months ago.
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.
Last season, however, that identity all but vanished.
But thanks to breakout performances during the bowl season, coupled with the imminent arrival of numerous blue-chip freshmen, the conference appears on the way back to restoring its quarterbacking reputation heading into spring practice.
Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech have their starters cemented. Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU and West Virginia will welcome true freshmen with the pedigrees and opportunities to compete for jobs right away. And Kansas (Montell Cozart) and Iowa State (Grant Rohach) enjoyed promising moments from a pair of freshmen.
After totaling 46 touchdowns to just three interceptions in his first season as the starter, Petty headlines the position in the league again.
But if the bowl season was any indication, he won’t be the lone headliner.
Oklahoma freshman Trevor Knight torched Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to the level backup Blake Bell asked to change his position to tight end.
In the National University Holiday Bowl, Texas Tech freshman Davis Webb lit up Arizona State, too, driving Michael Brewer to ask for a transfer.
And Kansas State’s Jake Waters capped a red-hot second half of his season by throwing for three touchdowns in a rout of Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Knight, Webb and Waters delivered three of college football’s 10 best bowl performances according to the Adjusted QBR metric. All three rapidly improved in their first seasons. And that rapid improvement figures only to continue in their second.
“Traditionally, Year 2 in the offense is when you see the most growth in a quarterback,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
Of the three, Knight was the only full-time starter to begin the season. Spearheaded by a dazzling preseason, he beat out Bell, who was the favorite to replace four-year starter Landry Jones. But Knight completed just 21 of his first 48 pass attempts, and after a knee injury, lost the job to Bell not even two games in.
Knight, however, emerged late in the season, and displaying improvement with his accuracy, led the Sooners to a late November win at Kansas State. Then in the Sugar Bowl, he finally showed why he won the job originally in August. Against one of the nation’s most dominant defenses, Knight completed 32 of 44 passes as the Sooners toppled the Crimson Tide in one of the biggest upsets in BCS bowl history.
“If you’re going to win a championship, your quarterback is going to have to make plays,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We all saw Trevor [struggle] as a young freshman, first start, first game. To see him grow throughout the entire year and play extremely well down the stretch and played really well in the Sugar Bowl, obviously -- he’s obviously got a great future.”
Despite being the only healthy scholarship quarterback on the roster in August, Webb was beaten out by walk-on true freshman Baker Mayfield. But like Knight, Webb settled in behind the scenes. After Mayfield injured his knee, Webb led Tech to a come-from-behind win at West Virginia. Then, after Mayfield transferred, Webb was almost flawless against the Sun Devils. He passed for 403 yards and four touchdowns as Texas Tech controlled the game the entire night.
“The success he had in that bowl game against one of the top defenses showed what he can be,” Kingsbury said.
Waters’ bowl success showed the same.
Out of junior college, Waters beat out Daniel Sams for the starting job to begin the season. But with Waters taking the majority of the snaps, K-State fell in its season opener to FCS opponent North Dakota State. The next two months weren’t much better for Waters or the Wildcats, as the defending Big 12 champs stumbled to a 2-4 start.
But after losing snaps to Sams, Waters reestablished control of the position and quarterbacked K-State to wins in six of its final seven games, including a 31-14 rout of Michigan in the bowl. Waters had his best outing yet, too, completing 78 percent of his passes for three touchdowns.
While Waters, Webb and Knight will be looking to build off their bowl performances this spring, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph will be looking to win a job. Perhaps the most highly acclaimed quarterback the Cowboys have ever signed, Rudolph had a monster senior season in Rock Hill, S.C., throwing for 64 touchdowns while leading his team to a state championship. Enrolled for spring ball, the ESPN 300 recruit will challenge J.W. Walsh.
“Mason really brings all of the characteristics you want to see in a quarterback,” Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “All of the intangibles.”
Plenty more quarterback talent is on its way, too.
Texas’ Jerrod Heard, West Virginia’s William Crest and TCU’s Foster Sawyer were also four-star recruits in the 2014 class, and they will be joining their schools in the summer with chances to play right away.
Such opportunities exist because the Big 12 quarterback play was down last season. But heading to spring, the league’s most identifiable position is on its way back up.
A couple of notes: These are the best student sections in the Big 12 right now, and only in the context of football (sorry, Kansas basketball fans). Factors included attendance, interest, noise and, well, who seems to have the most fun.
2. Baylor: In the final game played at Floyd Casey Stadium, Baylor students picked up 9,943 tickets. Baylor’s undergraduate enrollment is only 13,292, meaning close to 75 percent of the entire student body watched the Bears defeat Texas to clinch the school’s first Big 12 title. Even when the Bears weren’t yet winning big under coach Art Briles, the students still showed up. The “Baylor Line,” in which the school’s freshmen wear yellow shirts (and various other crazy outfits) and dash across the field to form a human tunnel for the players to run through, is one of the more underrated traditions in the Big 12. Lately, Baylor students have had plenty to cheer about. In each of the past four seasons, they’ve stormed the field to celebrate program-building victories.
3. Oklahoma State: The “Paddle People,” a group of Oklahoma State students who bang their boards against the padded side walls of Boone Pickens Stadium, had become so menacing that other Big 12 athletic directors passed a rule in 2012 that they could no longer bang their boards while the ball was in play or the offense was at the line of scrimmage. Even with the rule change, the Oklahoma State students, who sit almost on top of the opposing team’s sideline, have fueled one of the best home-field advantages in the Big 12, which includes a 34-7 record in Stillwater over the past six seasons.
4. Kansas State: K-State’s rendition of the "The Wabash Cannonball" is one of the best pregame traditions in the Big 12. The school’s 9,000-plus student section goes wild (at a rhythm) through it every time, ensuring Bill Snyder Family Stadium will be raucous throughout. Stretching from one end zone to the 50-yard line, the K-State students are right behind the opposing sideline, which is often perilous for the opponent considering one of the best coaches to ever live is on the other sideline.
5. Iowa State: This past season, Iowa State sold out its student season tickets in July -- the earliest the school had ever sold out of its student allotment. The students have been a big reason why Jack Trice Stadium has set single-season attendance records in each of the past three seasons (averaging 55,361 in 2013, 55,274 in 2012 and 53,647 in 2011). On homecoming weekend in November, Iowa State played TCU with nothing on the line but pride. Sill, the fans showed up, including the students, as 55,000 total fans watched the Horned Frogs win an ugly 21-17 game. The next home game, more than 54,000 showed up to watch Iowa State play last-place Kansas. Under coach Paul Rhoads, Iowa State has always been a tough out in Ames. Student fan support is one reason why.
If anyone ever wondered what 10 inches of snow looks like on Bill Snyder Family Stadium, here you go. pic.twitter.com/V9tkirc8J0— Tom Gilbert (@tgilbertSID) February 4, 2014
This morning at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium... pic.twitter.com/DO83YDT9kn— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) February 6, 2014
Call Carl Spackler, that gopher is back again under Mountaineer Field. pic.twitter.com/YXsTqIZTfR— Murphy Tinsley (@Murphoff) February 5, 2014
Of the five major conferences, the Big 12 had the fewest players leave early for the NFL draft with only three. The departures of those three players, however, leave massive holes in their former offenses.
Below is a breakdown of those three players and who will be counted on to fill their shoes:
The replacement: Tyreek Hill
In a mild surprise, Stewart elected to go pro, even though he was given a Day 3 (fourth through seventh rounds) draft grade. Stewart might not get drafted high, but he has been a critical piece on the Oklahoma State offense as a dynamic slot receiver the past three years.
Due to inconsistent quarterbacking early in the season and a foot injury late, Stewart finished with only 60 receptions for 707 and three touchdowns. Stewart still ranked eighth in the Big 12 in receiving. But the season before, he had 101 receptions for 1,287 yards and seven touchdowns. Stewart’s numbers were down, but he was still Oklahoma State’s top playmaker, both as a receiver and a returner (Stewart was fourth nationally in punt returns).
The good news is the Cowboys might have just the player to replace him. Hill is the No. 4-rated junior college player in the country out of Garden City (Kan.) Community College. Hill had offers from Alabama, Florida State and USC, and Texas made an especially strong push to land him late, but Hill ultimately stuck with his commitment to Oklahoma State and signed with the Cowboys.
The 5-foot-8, 190-pound Hill was a running back in junior college, but the Cowboys plan to use him as a slot receiver. Hill has run the 100 meters in 10.19 seconds, which would make him one of the fastest players in college football.
Hill has the speed and the moves. If he can consistently catch the ball, the Cowboys could have yet another dangerous playmaker operating out of the slot -- and as a punt returner -- next season.
The replacement: Shock Linwood
Seastrunk went into this season on the short list of Heisman contenders. While he was never a threat to win the Heisman, Seastrunk still led the Big 12 with 1,117 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns and an average of 7.45 yards per carry as Baylor led the nation in scoring and captured the school’s first Big 12 title.
Even with Seastrunk bolting early for the draft, the Bears figure to feature another prolific offense next season, thanks to the return of quarterback Bryce Petty and wideout Antwan Goodley. If Linwood performs the way he did as Seastrunk’s replacement last season, then the Bears' offense might not miss a beat.
After gashing defenses in mop-up time, Linwood finally got meaningful snaps in a prime-time Thursday matchup with Oklahoma in early November. When Seastrunk strained his groin and Glasco Martin suffered a knee injury, Linwood took over in the Baylor backfield and the Sooners had no answer for him. Linwood cut his way to 182 rushing yards on 23 carries, with most of his damage coming in the second half as the Bears coasted to a 41-12 win.
Linwood followed that up with 187 yards in Baylor’s 63-34 victory over Texas Tech the next week. As a result, despite being Baylor’s third-team tailback, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and averaged 6.88 yards per carry, second in the league only to Seastrunk.
With Seastrunk and Martin gone for good, Linwood will be the featured back, and he has the talent and skill to put up huge numbers over an entire season.
Leaving: Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro
The replacement: Jakeem Grant
There was no player like Amaro in college football this season. The unanimous All-American had 106 catches for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns. He was too fast for linebackers; too strong for defensive backs.
The Red Raiders obviously don’t have anyone resembling Amaro’s skill set on their roster. But they do have an inside receiver in Grant who has the talent to replace some of that production.
As a sophomore this season, Grant hauled in 65 passes for 796 yards and seven touchdowns. The 5-foot-6, 160-pound dynamo was also fifth in the Big 12 in plays of 20 yards or more.
Due to some immaturity, Grant was benched for Texas Tech’s regular-season finale against Texas. But he got coach Kliff Kingsbury’s message and responded with 125 all-purpose yards, including six receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns, in the Red Raiders’ 37-23 upset of Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl.
Grant probably won’t be able to replicate what Amaro accomplished this season. But his unique quickness and speed could make Grant one of the best playmakers in the Big 12 in 2014.
1. Oklahoma (11-2, 7-2 Big 12, last week 2): Where did this team come from? The Sooners seemed dead in the water after a 29-point loss at Baylor in early November. Instead, Oklahoma finished out the season by reeling off four straight wins, including the last three as the underdog. The Sooners saved their best performance for last, wiping out two-time defending national champ Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide didn't even play poorly. Oklahoma was just that good.
2. Baylor (11-2, 8-1 Big 12, LW 1): The Bears just weren’t quite the same team at the end of the season. With an outright Big 12 title, it was still a terrific season, even if the bowl game was not so terrific.
3. Oklahoma State (10-3, 7-2 Big 12, LW 3): The Cowboys finished with two brutal losses. The season was still a good one, but it could have been a great one. With several key players graduating, 2014 figures to be a rebuilding season.
4. Kansas State (8-5, 5-4 Big 12, LW 5): The Wildcats broke Bill Snyder’s bowl game losing streak by hammering Michigan while also continuing the momentum build for 2014. With star wideout Tyler Lockett back, K-State should be a legitimate title contender next season.
5. Texas (8-5, 7-2 Big 12, LW 4): New coach Charlie Strong is putting together an impressive coaching staff, notably plucking away Oklahoma State’s Joe Wickline, who is one of the best offensive line coaches in the country. If the Longhorns can find a quarterback, Strong might have Texas back ahead of schedule.
6. Texas Tech (8-5, 4-5 Big 12, LW 6): What five-game losing streak? The tenor in Lubbock has completely changed following the Red Raiders' pummeling of No. 14 Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl.
7. TCU (4-8, 2-7 Big 12, LW 7): Coach Gary Patterson has overhauled his offensive staff with expectations of bringing a more high-powered offense to Fort Worth. The Frogs will need to find a quarterback who can run the attack, but they do have a pair of blue-chip freshmen arriving in Grayson Muehlstein and Foster Sawyer.
8. Iowa State (3-9, 2-7 Big 12, LW 8): Iowa State missed out on a bowl game, but optimism has returned to Ames with the hiring of offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, who will have some talented pieces with which to work.
9. Kansas (3-9, 1-8 Big 12, LW 9): Joy has returned to Lawrence, Kan. It’s basketball season!
10. West Virginia (4-8, 2-7 Big 12, LW 10): The Mountaineers have hope that newcomers William Crest or Skyler Howard can be the answer at quarterback. We know it won’t be Ford Childress, who reportedly left school.
With the BCS done, we've come up with our Big 12 all-BCS era team (1998-2013) below:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Best win: The Oklahoma Sooners have been searching for a victory that would signal their return to the nation’s elite. They finally got such a victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, as Oklahoma smoked the two-time defending national champs from Alabama, 45-31. With tons of young talent returning, notably quarterback Trevor Knight and linebacker Eric Striker, the Alabama victory could propel Oklahoma toward a national title run in 2014.
Worst loss: Baylor had a chance to put the finishing touches on a fabulous season. Instead, the Bears lost to UCF, one of the biggest underdogs in BCS history, 52-42 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl as the conference champion Bears ended their season on a sour note. It was still a great season for Baylor, yet one that didn’t end so great.
Best offensive performance: Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Kansas State’s Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett were all terrific, but nobody had the bowl game Knight did. Oklahoma’s redshirt freshman quarterback completed 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He did have one interception, but even that pass bounced off his receiver’s hands. Those would be great numbers against anybody, and Knight didn’t produce them against just anybody. He produced them against Alabama.
Best special teams performance: Texas Tech dominated most of the National University Holiday Bowl. But the game became tense early in the third quarter when Arizona State scored on a 44-yard run to cut Tech’s lead to 27-20. Those tense moments lasted for just moments. That’s because Reginald Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, putting the Red Raiders back up by two scores. Arizona State never threatened again as the Red Raiders cruised to a 37-23 upset victory.
Best play: With just a minute to play, Alabama got the ball back at its 18-yard line with a chance for game-tying touchdown drive. Instead, on the first snap, Striker came barreling around the edge and crashed into McCarron’s blind side. The ball popped to the ground, and defensive end Geneo Grissom scooped it up and rumbled eight yards for a game-clinching touchdown. It was Oklahoma’s seventh sack of McCarron.
Worst play: The Big 12 had a similar play go the other way. Down 34-31, Oklahoma State drove into Missouri territory with a chance of – at worst – lining up for a game-tying field goal. Instead, the Cowboys called a pass on third-and-7, and before quarterback Clint Chelf could unload the ball, he was sacked from behind by SEC defensive player of the year Michael Sam, who knocked the ball loose. Missouri’s Shane Ray gobbled up the fumble and raced 73 yards for the touchdown, as the Tigers won the game 41-31.
Best catch: On second-and-goal from the Michigan 8, Kansas State wideout Tyler Lockett was lined up across from Michigan cornerback Raymon Taylor. Lockett drove right into Taylor, then looked back to quarterback Jake Waters. The ball came sailing low, but Lockett went down to get his hands under the ball before it touched the ground, giving him his third touchdown catch of the game and putting K-State ahead 21-6.
Worst play-calling: The Cowboys were just 9 of 22 on third down against Missouri, and curious play-calling from offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich seemed to be a big reason why. Twice on third-and-3, Yurcich called running plays up the middle, which Missouri’s powerful defensive line stuffed to snuff promising Oklahoma State drives. Yurcich called another running play up the middle on third-and-1 at the end of the quarter, which the Tigers obliterated again. With the Cowboys defense dominating Missouri through the third quarter, Oklahoma State missed an opportunity to take command of the game. Third-down play-calling was a big reason why.
Best bounce-back performance: The Texas Tech defense had capitulated during a five-game losing streak, giving up 38, 52, 49, 63 and 41 points. But finally healthy again, Tech bucked up in the National University Holiday Bowl, holding Arizona State to 18 points below its season average.
Best quote: “So much for the big bad wolf, huh?” – coach Bob Stoops, after Oklahoma defeated the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide.
Worst official’s call: With the AT&T Cotton Bowl knotted at 24-24 in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma State cornerback Tyler Patmon appeared to have delivered the play of the game. He stepped in front of Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham to intercept James Franklin’s pass and returned it 37 yards into the end zone. Officials, however, flagged Patmon with pass interference – a ticky-tack call at best on Patmon, who on replays appeared to be going for the ball. With new life, Missouri capitalized to drive for a field goal, and the Tigers eventually won the game.
Best fan showing: The Longhorns didn’t have the kind of season they had hoped for. But in Mack Brown’s final game, burnt orange filled the Alamodome, turning the Valero Alamo Bowl into a sellout. The bowl game didn’t go the way the Longhorns had hoped, either -- a 30-7 loss to Oregon. But Texas fans sent out their coach in a classy way.
QB: Trevor Knight, Oklahoma. Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Kansas State’s Jake Waters were marvelous, too, but Knight was simply incredible, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns against the two-time defending national champs.
RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas. Brown did everything he could to keep the Longhorns in the Valero Alamo Bowl, rushing for 130 yards on 26 carries. Unfortunately, he had little help from the rest of the offense.
WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State. The Wolverines became the next team unable to guard Lockett, who had another stellar outing with 10 catches, 116 yards and three touchdowns. Big 12 defensive backs cannot be looking forward to this guy coming back next season.
WR: Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma. Saunders hauled in two of Knight’s touchdown passes, the second a 43-yarder coming off a gorgeous double move that gave OU the lead for good.
TE: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech. Amaro became the NCAA's all-time single season tight end record holder for receptions and receiving yards, reeling in eight catches for 112 yards against the Sun Devils before revealing he would be turning pro.
OT: Bronson Irwin, Oklahoma. Irwin held up remarkably well against Alabama’s mighty front in his first career start at right tackle, as Knight was sacked only once. Irwin, a guard his entire career, had to move outside because of an injury to Tyrus Thompson.
OT: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech. Webb attempted 41 passes and wasn’t sacked once. Clark was a big reason.
OG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State. The Wildcats moved the ball at will against Michigan. Along with Clark, Whitehair is one of the best young returning offensive linemen in the league.
OG: Beau Carpenter, Texas Tech. After missing three straight games with a concussion, Carpenter returned to help shut down Arizona State All-American DT Will Sutton, who basically was a non-factor.
C: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma. Even with a makeshift offensive line, OU somehow won the battle in the trenches against Alabama. Ikard, an All-American and quarterback of the line, deserves a ton of credit for keeping the line together.
DE: Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma. Grissom was a man possessed against the Crimson Tide. The former tight end had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, the latter of which he returned for a touchdown to clinch the Sooners’ victory.
DT: Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State. Despite the loss, Barnett tied a career high with five tackles and one sack and repeatedly found his way into the Missouri backfield.
DT: Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech. The Red Raiders desperately missed Bush late in the regular season. His performance against Arizona State underscored why, as Bush delivered three tackles and a sack and freed up Kerry Hyder to make plays, too.
LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma. Not even Alabama could block Striker off the edge. Striker had a monster performance against the Tide with seven tackles and three sacks, with his final sack forcing the game-clinching fumble in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
LB: Will Smith, Texas Tech. The senior had a National University Holiday Bowl-high 14 tackles, as the Red Raiders held Arizona State 17 points below its season average.
LB: Blake Slaughter, Kansas State. One of the better linebackers in the Big 12 all year, Slaughter had another fine game in the desert with seven tackles, including one for loss, as Michigan’s offense was held in check all night.
CB: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma. The Sooners gave up some big plays in the passing game, but Colvin was the exception. He also had a critical, touchdown-saving tackle in the first quarter that resulted in Alabama having to settle for a field goal.
CB: Demetri Goodson, Baylor. The Bears gave up 52 points, but they might have given up more had Goodson not collected an acrobatic interception inside the Baylor 5-yard line.
S: Dante Barnett, Kansas State. Barnett led the Wildcats with eight tackles, and he delivered the exclamation point against Michigan with a 51-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.
S: Tanner Jacobson, Texas Tech. In his last college game for a while, the walk-on freshman had a very solid performance with seven tackles. Jacobson is leaving the program for a two-year Mormon mission to Bolivia.
K: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma. “Moneycutt” nailed a season-long 47-yard field goal in the second quarter that allowed OU to keep momentum. It was the third-longest field goal of his career.
P: Spencer Roth, Baylor. One of the few bright spots for Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was its punter, who was busier than he had been all season. Roth averaged almost 44 yards on seven punts, and pinned UCF inside the 20-yard line three times.
Returner: Reginald Davis, Texas Tech. After Arizona State had trimmed Tech’s lead to 27-20 early in the third quarter, Davis answered on the ensuing kickoff with a 90-yard touchdown return down the sideline. The Sun Devils failed to retake the momentum again the rest of the game.
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.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- No matter what Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops tells you, the Big 12 is not up to the SEC’s level. Not yet, anyway. But the conference isn’t as far off as the experts thought when the season began, either.
It was a back-and-forth fourth quarter between two of the better offenses in the country, and it ended with the SEC team making a key play late to ensure the victory.
Just six years ago, Missouri was winning the Cotton Bowl as a member of the Big 12. You can take Missouri’s success this season -- an East Division title and a spot in the SEC championship game -- and Texas A&M’s status as a top-flight program as a slap to the Big 12, since the Tigers and Aggies left the conference for the greener (think dollars) pastures of the SEC two years ago. But there’s another way of looking at it: Perhaps the Big 12 was better than many thought, since both programs are competing for titles in the best conference in the country so quickly.
It’s clear the Big 12 needs the Texas Longhorns to return to prominence for this league to consistently compete for national titles as the SEC continues to do. But Auburn is proof that a big program with resources, talent and the right coach can engineer a turnaround in record time. There’s no reason to think Texas can’t rebound quickly, either.
I know what you’re thinking: If the biggest school in your conference is making news by looking for a new coach fresh off a tumultuous season -- and having some trouble finding some big names who want to actually take the job -- how can 2013 be considered a step forward for said conference?
But to judge this Big 12 season on Texas’ failure isn’t completely fair. How quickly we forget that nobody expected much from this conference when the season began.
The preseason AP top 25 included four Big 12 teams. None of them were in the top 10. The highest-ranked team was Oklahoma State, at No. 13. Texas was a sleeper pick by some for a run to the national title game. Instead, the Longhorns sputtered, fired their defensive coordinator and waved goodbye to head coach Mack Brown after a blowout loss to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl.
TCU, ranked 20th when the season began, was supposed to be primed for conference championship contention with a bunch of returning starters. But injuries and an ineffective offense led to the end of the school’s bowl streak and the hiring of a couple of new offensive coaches.
Baylor wasn’t even in the top 25 when the season began, but sprinted up the rankings about as quickly as it scored points. The Bears got rid of the tarps and became the conference’s best chance for a BCS title-game appearance, but that run ended in a blowout loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
The conference did manage a few bowl wins that could be building blocks toward next season. Texas Tech came into the Holiday Bowl as a huge underdog after losing its final five regular-season games. But the Red Raiders beat up Arizona State. Kansas State outplayed Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. It hurt that Baylor lost as a heavy favorite to Central Florida in the Fiesta, but that might say more about the Knights and how good they were than it does about the Bears. Oklahoma made the biggest statement, pulling the shocker of the bowl season with a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama on Thursday. With Texas down, the Sooners needed to step up for the conference -- and did against a team that many thought was the best in the country despite losing to Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
In the end, the conference held its own during bowl season. Monday night will be another reminder that the Big 12 has work to do as the SEC plays for an eighth consecutive national title against an undefeated Florida State team from the ACC.
It wasn’t that long ago that Texas and Oklahoma were playing for national titles -- and even winning some of them. There’s still work to do, but the Big 12 isn’t far from having that opportunity again.