Big 12: Baylor Bears

Big 12 coaching carousel recap

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
4:00
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The coaching carousel has finally slowed to a stop (well, almost), so let’s take a look back at who has gone and who is new in the Big 12 heading into spring practice. Iowa State and Kansas State made no changes, but every other program in the conference is breaking in at least two new assistants this fall. A rundown of all the changes:

Baylor

Out: Philip Montgomery (Tulsa), Brian Norwood (Tulsa)
In: Promoted Kendal Briles (OC) and Tate Wallis (WRs), hired Cris Dishman (DBs)

Art Briles is handing the reins of Baylor's offense to his son, Kendal Briles, who had previously coached the Bears’ prolific receivers. He earned the promotion after Montgomery landed the head coaching job at Tulsa and brought Norwood along as his co-defensive coordinator. The younger Briles will now oversee quarterbacks and provide his own innovative touches to playcalling. Dishman, a former Pro Bowler, will also bring fresh ideas to the mix as the safeties coach.

Kansas

In: Hired David Beaty (HC), Rob Likens (OC), Reggie Mitchell (RBs), Klint Kubiak (WRs), Zach Yenser (OL), Gary Hyman (ST/TEs), Kenny Perry (co-DC), Calvin Thibodeaux (DL), Kevin Kane (LBs)

Beaty has been well-received by Kansas fans so far and assembled a staff that will compete on the recruiting trail. Retaining Clint Bowen as co-DC and assistant head coach was his first move and certainly a popular one. Likens and Yenser come from Cal and will help install Beaty’s Air Raid-style vision for the offense. Perry, a high school coach just three years ago, was plucked from TCU’s staff. Bringing back strength coach Je'Ney Jackson, a former Mark Mangino assistant, was another savvy move.

Oklahoma

Out: Josh Heupel (Utah State), Jay Norvell (Texas), Jerry Montgomery (Green Bay Packers), Bobby Jack Wright (retired)
In: Hired Lincoln Riley (OC), Dennis Simmons (WRs), Diron Reynolds (DL), Kerry Cooks (DBs)

Bob Stoops hated having to part ways with Heupel and Norvell, but a change of direction for the offense was necessary. Riley, a Mike Leach disciple who got the Air Raid rolling at East Carolina, seems like a great fit and the perfect guy to deliver on Stoops’ new plan. Simmons, another former Leach assistant, should help with the transition. Cooks was Notre Dame’s ace recruiter in Texas, and Reynolds has more than a decade of NFL coaching experience.

Oklahoma State

Out: Bob Connelly (USC), Jemal Singleton (Arkansas), Van Malone (SMU), Eric Wolford (San Francisco 49ers), Jason Ray
In: Hired Dan Hammerschmidt, Marcus Arroyo, Greg Adkins, Jason McEndoo

Gundy completed his staff last week after enduring a lot of change, including one coach (Wolford) taking an NFL job a week after being hired. The specific roles for OSU’s four new hires have yet to be announced. Hammerschmidt is taking a job on the defense, and the other three will work with the offense. Arroyo was the Tampa Bay Bucs’ interim offensive coordinator last season. Adkins also comes from the pros. McEndoo was a longtime assistant at FCS Montana State.

TCU

Out: Dick Bumpas (retired), Kenny Perry (Kansas)
In: Promoted DeMontie Cross (co-DC), Chad Glasgow (co-DC), Paul Gonzales (CBs), Dan Sharp (DL)

Gary Patterson stuck to promoting from within this offseason, rewarding Cross and Glasgow when Bumpas stepped aside after 11 years as a Frog. Gonzales was promoted after three years as a grad assistant. Sharp, a member of the staff since 2001, was a director of player personnel last season, but has long overseen TCU’s special teams. Patterson says every member of his staff was offered jobs this offseason, and all but one stay put. This much continuity after a big season is critical.

Texas

Out: Chris Rumph (Florida), Les Koenning, Bruce Chambers
In: Hired Brick Haley (DL), Jay Norvell (WRs), Jeff Traylor (ST/TEs)

The abrupt departure of the well-liked Rumph was a surprise, but Charlie Strong found a respected replacement in LSU’s Haley. Bringing in Norvell from the Sooners was a surprise, too, and adds a little extra juice to the rivalry. We’ll see what influence, if any, the former OC has on Texas’ plans to go up-tempo offensively. Traylor, a successful Texas high school coach, gives the Longhorns a better presence in recruiting the valuable East Texas area.

Texas Tech

Out: John Scott Jr. (New York Jets)
In: Hired David Gibbs (DC), Zac Spavital (LBs)

Nobody forced more turnovers over the past two seasons (73) than Houston. That is one of the many reasons why Gibbs was a smart hire to overhaul the Red Raiders' defense. The eighth Texas Tech DC since 2007 should bring a bit more stability, and he also brought along Spavital from Houston. Mike Smith, the interim DC last year, was retained and will now coach the defensive line in addition to keeping his co-DC title.

West Virginia

Out: Tom Bradley (UCLA), Shannon Dawson (Kentucky)
In: Hired Bruce Tall (DL)

Dawson and Bradley left for good promotions, yet it’s hard to say West Virginia took a big hit as a staff this offseason. Dawson’s departure won’t change much, as Dana Holgorsen is still overseeing the offense as its playcaller. New GA hire Michael Burchett will help Holgorsen coach the QBs. Tall returns after a four-year stint as DC at FCS Charlotte. Holgorsen still has one more hire to make: special teams coach. Once they are on board, the Big 12 coaching carousel will officially (probably) come to a stop for 2015.
We're in the middle of junior day season with multiple schools hosting prospects last weekend and others set to host elite talent this weekend. Here's the latest on the recruiting trail:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 5
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: Baylor hosted several elite prospects over the weekend including Plano (Texas) East prospect Anthony Hines III, an elite Class of 2017 prospect who boasts offers from most of the Big 12 as well as LSU, Ohio State and others. Fellow Class of 2017 prospects Hezekiah Jones and Jeff Okudah, who was offered over the weekend, were also in Waco for BU’s junior day as Art Briles' program focuses on this recruiting cycle and beyond.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 0
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: It’s a big week for the Cyclones with spring football set to kick off and junior day this weekend. ISU also sent out some offers last week including an offer to Allen (Texas) defensive end Levi Onwuzurike. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound prospect also boasts offers from Boston College and Illinois.

KANSAS
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: KU held a junior day over the weekend with Wildwood (Missouri) Lafayette offensive lineman Chase Behrndt among the visitors. The Jayhawks also offered Sachse (Texas) athlete Donovan Duvernay last week. His twin brother, Devin Duvernay, is the No. 12 player in the ESPN Junior 300 and already boasted a KU offer. The Jayhawks joined Boise State as teams who have offered Donovan.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Edmond (Oklahoma) Santa Fe linebacker Calvin Bundage has emerged as one of the rising stars in the Big 12 region as he added an offer from the Wildcats. Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech and Michigan are among the schools who have offered the Class of 2016 safety/linebacker hybrid.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 1
The latest: The Sooners could have a big weekend ahead with another junior day set for March 7. New Orleans (Louisiana) Easton linebacker Pernell Jefferson is among the recruits who are set to head to Norman, Oklahoma, this weekend. TCU and Texas Tech are among the other Big 12 teams who have offered Jefferson.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Oklahoma State didn’t see any reason to wait any longer before offering Class of 2018 offensive tackle Brey Walker. The Moore (Oklahoma) Southmoore prospect is 6-foot-6, 285 pounds and excelled on the gridiron and wrestling mat during his freshman season. He’s going to be a name to watch over the next few years.

TCU
Total commits: 8
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: TCU hopes to go into Arkansas to grab Little Rock (Arkansas) Robinson athlete T.J. Hammonds away from the Razorbacks. The Horned Frogs offered the 5-foot-11, 186-pound prospect this week and he could be a good fit on either side of the ball for Gary Patterson’s program.

TEXAS
Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: Texas held a junior day over the weekend with several top prospects visiting Austin, Texas, despite the weather playing havoc with the travel plans of many prospects. The Longhorns offered multiple prospects last week including OU offensive line commitment Jean Delance along with running back Darius Anderson and cornerback Eric Cuffee.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Red Raiders looked to the East Coast for one of its latest offers with Washington (D.C.) Woodrow Wilson running back Abdul Adams boasting an offer from Kliff Kingsbury’s program. The No. 277 player in the ESPN Junior 300, Adams has a large offer list which includes OU and West Virginia.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: West Virginia sent out multiple offers last week with its March 15 junior day on the horizon. Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) Imhotep running back Tylick Raynor and Southfield (Michigan) running back Matthew Falcon are among the recruits who boasted offers from the Mountaineers.
Baylor doesn't have many question marks along its depth chart this spring, but replacing the quarterback of its defense could be a challenge. A closer look at another key Big 12 spring position battle:

Departed: Bryce Hager is off to the NFL -- and made a big impression at the NFL combine -- after earning second-team All-Big 12 honors three straight years. He logged a total of 32 starts and 322 tackles during his time in Waco and provided critical production, consistency and leadership during the Bears' run to back-to-back Big 12 championships.

Spring contenders: Senior Grant Campbell, junior Aiavion Edwards, sophomore Raaquan Davis, sophomore Xavier Phillips, junior Kendall Ehrlich.

Summer contenders: Freshman Lenoy Jones Jr.

The skinny: This is shaping up to be a battle between two relatively veteran players. Edwards started five games last season at weakside linebacker before Taylor Young took over that spot. He enters his fourth year in the program with 55 career tackles (six for loss). Campbell's résumé is a bit lighter. He transferred from Bakersfield Community College last year and recorded 11 tackles as a reserve while getting accustomed to the speed of Baylor's play. Teammates say he's strong, fast, physical and ready to help this defense. Davis and Ehrlich played as reserves and on special teams last season, and we've yet to see what Phillips can do. Jones was a late get in recruiting who seems likely to redshirt.

Prediction: Edwards and Campbell are both qualified and well-suited to take over for Hager, and I wouldn't be surprised if they compete through spring ball and into fall camp for the job. The Bears need a know-it-all in the middle who can handle getting the defensive calls and getting his teammates lined up. Hager was practically an extra coach on the field. His successor will need to play at a high level right away. I like Campbell's chances, but I think both will end up earning starts this fall.

Spring primer: Baylor Bears

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
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Baylor became the first Big 12 school to kick off spring ball, holding its first practice last week. Below is a preview of what to look for from the Bears during the rest of spring practice:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: KD Cannon was a freshman All-American last season, and one of only seven Big 12 wide receivers to surpass the 1,000-yard threshold. But his best ball is ahead of him. Cannon was often the third wheel in Baylor's passing attack behind Corey Coleman and Antwan Goodley. With Goodley gone, and with a season of experience behind him, Cannon figures to play a more prominent role as a sophomore in the Baylor offensive machine.

Defensive returner ready to take the next step: To win a national title in 2015, the Bears need a difference-maker to emerge in their secondary. Rising junior free safety Orion Stewart has a chance to be that difference-maker. Stewart led the Bears last season with four interceptions, and finished third with 82 tackles and seven pass-breakups. The Baylor secondary struggled mightily at times last season. If Stewart can become an All-Big 12-caliber performer, that will go a long way in stabilizing Phil Bennett's defensive backfield.

Redshirt freshman to watch: As if the Bears needed more big-play wideouts, Chris Platt and Ishmael Zamora, both four-star parts of Baylor's sterling 2014 wide receiver class, have already been turning heads this spring. Platt, a three-time state track champion in the quarter mile, brings playmaking speed to the slot. Zamora, at 6-foot-4, has the size to win jump balls downfield (watch this catch). Baylor was already going to be loaded at receiver with Coleman, Cannon and veteran Jay Lee. But Zamora and Platt have the opportunity to be Baylor's next wave at the position.

Most significant position battle: After backing up Bryce Petty the past two seasons, fourth-year junior Seth Russell has been getting first-team reps at quarterback this spring. But he hasn't won the job yet. Russell first must fend off sophomore Chris Johnson and hotshot freshman Jarrett Stidham, who is with the squad this spring. Russell is a big-time athlete with loads of potential. Before he becomes Baylor's next great quarterback, he has to prove his competitive mettle this spring.

Key midterm enrollee: Whether he wins the starting job now or later, Stidham is a big-time talent. The top Big 12 quarterback signee didn't flip his commitment from Texas Tech to Baylor and still enroll early so that he could redshirt this season, either. Coach Art Briles has said that Russell will "have to be beat out." Though that won't be easy, Stidham has the skill set to do it.

Question that could be answered: Stidham is intriguing, but it's very possible Russell ends Baylor's quarterback battle before the end of the spring. The Bears have enjoyed enviable quarterback stability during the Briles era. Provided Russell performs up to his potential this spring, the Bears might end the suspense and name him the starter.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: Four times last season, the Bears gave up more than 40 points and more than 300 yards passing. For a team with playoff aspirations, that won't cut it. With basically the entire unit back, the Baylor secondary has a chance to be better than it was in 2014. But that won't be revealed until it's tested in the fall.
Fully capitalizing on red-zone chances is a trait of championship teams.

Settling for field goals can cost a team a game. Worst yet, turning the ball over in the opponent's red zone can completely change momentum.

Here's a look at the Big 12's rankings in red-zone efficiency in conference games only during the past three years since TCU and West Virginia joined in 2012.

Red-zone points per drive

1. Kansas State, 5.14: The Wildcats' 64.3 red-zone touchdown percentage is the best in the Big 12. Five Wildcats (John Hubert, Collin Klein, Charles Jones, Jake Waters, Daniel Sams) rushed for at least seven red-zone touchdowns.

2. Oklahoma, 5.02: The Sooners average 3.1 yards per carry in the red zone, ranking second in the Big 12. Samaje Perine rushed for 240 yards and 14 touchdowns on 56 red-zone carries in 2014 as he erased any need for a special short yardage package for the Sooners.

3. Baylor, 4.94: The Bears have the unique ability to run defenses ragged with their speed and explosiveness yet buckle down with physical offense when needed. Baylor's 75 red-zone rushing touchdowns are the Big 12's best during this span.

4 (tied). Texas, 4.92: The Longhorns convert 50.7 percent of third-down conversions in the red zone, second in the conference but Texas' 282 total plays and 106 total drives rank eighth in the Big 12 -- a sign UT doesn't sustain long scoring drives on a consistent basis.

4 (tied). Oklahoma State, 4.92: The Cowboys scored on 85.3 percent of their red-zone drives, but a 34.8 third-down conversion rate ranked last in the Big 12. Some of OSU's offensive struggles in recent years followed them into the red zone at times.

6. Iowa State, 4.90: The Cyclones' 3.79 yards per play in the red zone sits atop the Big 12 but their 236 total red-zone plays is ninth in the conference. Paul Rhoads' team was decent when it got inside the 20-yard line but a combination of turnovers and inefficiency slowed ISU down.

7. Texas Tech, 4.79: The Red Raiders' eight red-zone turnovers helped push them down the rankings despite Tech recording a conference-best 61.9 completion percentage inside the red zone.

8. West Virginia, 4.76: The Mountaineers had a 29 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the red zone with one interception in 115 red zone attempts but their 34.9 third-down conversion percentage resulted a poor red-zone touchdown percentage (58.9 percent, eighth in Big 12).

9. TCU, 4.59: The Horned Frogs nine red-zone turnovers were the worst in the Big 12, offsetting TCU's 55.9 completion percentage and 4.88 yards per pass attempt in the red zone, which ranked second in the Big 12 in both categories.

10. Kansas, 3.72: The Jayhawks rank last in pretty much every category including yards per play (2.6), total plays (202) and yards per carry (2.14). Kansas' bad offense followed them any time they ventured within the red zone.

Red-zone points per drive allowed

1. TCU, 4.25: Gary Patterson's program sits atop the Big 12 in total plays (229), yards per play (2.85) and yards per carry (2.39) in the red zone.

2. Oklahoma State, 4.43: The Cowboys allowed 1.98 yards per carry in the red zone and nine red-zone sacks, ranking first in the Big 12, and tied TCU for first at 2.85 yards per play.

3 (tied). Kansas State, 4.64: The Wildcats were terrific on third down, allowing 35.8 percent of conversion attempts to be converted.

3 (tied). Kansas, 4.64: Kansas saw the most total plays (369) yet ranked third behind OSU and TCU in yards per play (3.08). The Jayhawks' defense also added nine red-zone turnovers forced, which is second in the conference.

5. Texas, 4.66: The Longhorns' 8.1 sack percentage in the red zone led the conference, but 33.2 percent of opponents' plays resulted in five yards or more, the worst percentage in the Big 12. It gave the defense a boom-or-bust type of feel.

6. West Virginia, 4.75: The Mountaineers faced the second-highest number of red-zone plays (364) and ranked fourth in yards per play allowed (3.17) yet allowed opponents to convert 50.6 of third-down attempts.

7. Iowa State, 4.82: The Cyclones have forced the most red-zone turnovers in the Big 12 (11) yet have allowed 80 red-zone touchdowns, tied with Kansas for eighth.

8. Oklahoma, 5.06: The Sooners' inability to force turnovers in the red zone is part of the problem as OU forced one red-zone mistake in three seasons.

9. Baylor, 5.39: Baylor's 3.58 yards per play ranked ninth in the conference and didn't record a red-zone sack in three seasons.

10. Texas Tech, 5.42: The Red Raiders allowed a 57.1 third-down conversion rate, worst in the Big 12. By comparison, TCU's 20 third-down conversion rate was the Big 12's best.

Big 12 morning links

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
9:00
AM ET
The dress is white and gold. And it's ugly. There, I said it. On to the links...
  • Mike Gundy is a fast shopper. The Oklahoma State coach filled all of his coaching staff vacancies on Thursday night, hiring three assistants and bringing on two analysts who were former OSU assistants. Marcus Arroyo is perhaps the most intriguing new hire, as he was the Tampa Bay Bucs' interim OC last season. His duties at OSU have yet to be defined. Gundy went with two coaches from the NFL and one from FCS, so it'll be interesting to see what they bring to the table as recruiters in this conference.
  • Gary Patterson is expecting a "baptism by fire" for the young TCU defenders competing for starting jobs this spring. With six starters gone and Mike Tuaua out for the spring, the Frogs' D is going to be filled with fresh faces over the course of its 15 spring practices, which begin Saturday. We've addressed their holes at linebacker on the blog this week, but take note of the battles in their secondary. Lot of candidates and a lot of competition coming soon.
  • David Gibbs understands why his Texas Tech defensive staff looks a little "screwy" (his words) on paper, but the new Texas Tech defensive coordinator likes who he's working with. Most of Tech's defensive assistants have been displaced in that they aren't coaching their usual position, but Gibbs makes a compelling case for why that's an overrated concern. Good coaches are good coaches no matter what they're coaching, he says. I like his confidence.
  • Baylor agreeing to future nonconference games against Louisiana Tech and FCS Abilene Christian is evoking the predictable "cupcake" criticism, just as expected. Which is probably a tad disrespectful to La. Tech, a nine-win program in 2014. Evidently Baylor fans aren't happy about these games either, which I kind of don't get. Ian McCaw is merely acting on Art Briles' philosophy for scheduling, and Briles' philosophy has led to a 16-2 record in Big 12 games of the last two seasons. McCaw and Briles aren't convinced the nonconference games hurt their playoff chances, so their plans aren't going to change.
  • You knew Kevin White's performance at the NFL combine was going to help his stock and probably put him firmly in the top-10 conversations. I wasn't sure he'd move up this much. The West Virginia star has moved up to the No. 4 spot in Todd McShay's Mock Draft 3.0. Insider That pick belongs to the Oakland Raiders, who could face a heck of a dilemma between White and Amari Cooper. Malcom Brown, Dorial Green-Beckham and Jordan Phillips made McShay's mock as well.
Last week, we completed a series ranking the individual position groups in the Big 12 heading into spring ball. We also weighed in with who we thought the best position units in the Big 12 are.

Now, we put to the question to you.

Who has the best individual position group (not including quarterback) in the league?

SportsNation

Who has the Big 12s best individual position group?

  •  
    23%
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    1%
  •  
    40%
  •  
    8%
  •  
    28%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,264)

Despite losing Antwan Goodley off last year's team, the Baylor wide receivers are certainly in the conversation. All-Big 12 selection Corey Coleman and freshman All-American K.D. Cannon both return coming off 1,000-yard receiving seasons and form one the most prolific one-two punches at wideout in college football. The group has depth, too, with veteran Jay Lee, sophomore Davion Hall and a host of up-and-coming prospects including Ishmael Zamora, Chris Platt, Devontre Stricklin and Blake Lynch.

Receiver isn't Baylor's only stocked position, either. The Bears also bring back a devastating defensive line, headlined by a pair of first-team All-Big 12 performers in defensive end Shawn Oakman and defensive tackle Andrew Billings. Together, the two combined for 30 tackles for loss last season -- the highest total among defensive line teammates in the Big 12. Tackle Beau Blackshear is also entering his third season as a starter for the Bears.

Baylor, however, isn't the only Big 12 team with a loaded position.

Samaje Perine is back to lead an Oklahoma running back stable loaded with talent. As a true freshman, Perine led the Big 12 with more than 1,700 yards on the ground and 21 touchdowns. He also broke the FBS single-game record with 427 rushing yards against Kansas. Perine is flanked with plenty of talent in the Sooners backfield. Alex Ross led the Big 12 in kick returns last season and averaged 6.8 yards per carry as a change of pace to Perine's barreling style. Keith Ford has 94 career carries. And the Sooners will finally debut Joe Mixon, who was the gem of the 2014 signing class before being suspended for the season.

While Oklahoma will lean on the firepower of its backfield, West Virginia will be relying on a secondary overflowing with talent. Strong safety Karl Joseph, who has forged a reputation as the league's hardest hitter, will be entering his fourth year as a starter. He could emerge as a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Dravon Henry is coming off a freshman All-American campaign after starting every game at free safety during his season in Morgantown. Daryl Worley is one of the top returning cornerbacks in the league. And West Virginia signed two more would-be contributors in ESPN 300 defensive back Tyrek Cole and ESPN 50 JC corner Rasul Douglas.

Lastly, we'd be remiss if we didn't include a position group from early Big 12 2015 favorite TCU. The Horned Frogs are obviously strong at several positions. But for the purpose of this exercise, we'll actually feature their special teams units. All-Big 12 kicker Jaden Oberkrom will be a four-year starter. Punter Ethan Perry will be a four-year starter, as well. Cameron Echols-Luper is back after ranking 16th in the country in punt returns. The Horned Frogs have several players with kickoff return experience. And, not only did they lead the country in punt return coverage last year, they became the first team to allow negative punt return yards in the 14 seasons the statistic has been tracked. The TCU special teams have no weaknesses.

Now, it's your to weigh in.

Tell us who you think the best individual position group in the Big 12 is by voting in our weekly Big 12 poll.
Art BrilesKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsBaylor coach Art Briles has defended the Bears' nonconference scheduling in the playoff era.
Baylor and Louisiana Tech have scheduled a three-game series for 2020-2022, according to a contract obtained in a public records request by ESPN.

The Bears will host the Bulldogs on Sept. 12, 2020 and Sept. 10, 2022, and Baylor will visit Louisiana Tech on Sept. 11, 2021. Baylor will pay Louisiana Tech $500,000 for the 2020 game in Waco, Texas.

The Bears also are scheduled to play FCS member Abilene Christian in 2018, sources said.

Baylor’s visit to Ruston, Louisiana, will mark a rare home game for Louisiana Tech against a Power 5 conference opponent. The Bulldogs, who played host to Mississippi State in 2008, have another home game against Mississippi State in 2017 as part of a future three-game series with MSU.

Baylor and Louisiana Tech last met in 1996, a 24-16 Baylor victory. The Bears lead the all-time series 5-1.

Baylor’s addition of Louisiana Tech and Abilene Christian continues the Bears’ non-conference scheduling philosophy of playing almost exclusively non-Power 5 opponents.

Last season, Baylor played SMU, Buffalo and Northwestern (La.) State out of conference. This season, the Bears play SMU, Lamar, and Rice.

Baylor’s future non-conference schedule includes only one Power 5 conference opponent: a home-and-home series with Duke in 2017-18. Other future non-league opponents for Baylor include SMU, Rice, and Texas-San Antonio and FCS opponents Northwestern State, Liberty, Abilene Christian, and Incarnate Word.

The Baylor and Louisiana Tech series contract was completed last October.

Over the past several months Baylor coach Art Briles has repeatedly defended the Bears’ non-conference schedule.

"The way I've looked at it is, you want to get in the final four and win the Big 12 and go unscathed," Briles said last July. "You do that, you go 9-0 in the Big 12, you're going to be in the final four, because you're going to beat probably two top-10 teams, probably two others in the top 20, and maybe another top 25, which is what we faced (in 2013). That's a résumé that's good enough to match any other conference."

Ironically, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said last summer that he told conference members "if you’re sitting on a No. 5 ranking and you had a weak non-conference schedule, you’ll be in real jeopardy of not making the playoffs. They’ve all heard us talk about that."

Baylor did indeed finish fifth in the College Football Playoff rankings, just missing the four-team playoff. The Bears then lost to Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl and finished seventh in the final AP rankings.
Success on third downs can decide games.

Coaches focus on it, quarterbacks can become stars and defenders can become feared by stepping up to another level on those key moments. Here's a look at the Big 12's third-down conversion rate rankings, offensively and defensively, in Big 12 games during the three seasons since TCU and West Virginia joined the conference in 2012.

Third-down conversion rate
  1. Kansas State, 47.1 percent
  2. Baylor, 45.5 percent
  3. Oklahoma, 44.4 percent
  4. Texas, 42 percent
  5. Texas Tech, 41.7 percent
  6. West Virginia, 39.6 percent
  7. Iowa State, 36.9 percent
  8. TCU, 35.5 percent
  9. Oklahoma State, 35.3 percent
  10. Kansas, 30.8 percent
Third-down conversion rate allowed
  1. TCU, 31.2 percent
  2. Texas, 36.6 percent
  3. Oklahoma State, 38.5 percent
  4. West Virginia, 39.6 percent
  5. Oklahoma, 40 percent
  6. Kansas State, 41.2 percent
  7. Texas Tech, 42.5 percent
  8. Iowa State, 42.5 percent
  9. Kansas, 42.7 percent
  10. Baylor, 42.9 percent

Here are some team-by-team thoughts:

Baylor: Clearly the Bears offense overcomes the Bears defensive struggles on third down. The Bears offense had 68 drives without a first down out of 291 drives in the past three seasons. Good quarterback play from Bryce Petty and Nick Florence have played a key role as well as a solid running game that has picked up 90 first downs on the ground, best in the Big 12.

Iowa State: Ranking in the bottom half in both categories is not a good look for Paul Rhoads program. Limited production at the quarterback position and 14 third-down sacks from the defense have played a major role as well as injuries to key players like Quenton Bundrage in 2014 and Tom Farniok in 2013 have made life a lot harder on the Cyclones.

Kansas: The only team to rank in the bottom two in both categories, it's easy to see why David Beaty is taking charge in Lawrence, Kansas. It's somewhat surprising to see the Jayhawk defense so far down the list but KU had 13 third-down sacks during this span. And the quarterback position has been a major problem at KU since Todd Reesing left in 2009.

Kansas State: Yet again the Wildcats efficient offense leads the Big 12 in a key category. Strong quarterback play from Collin Klein and Jake Waters along with receiver Tyler Lockett made KSU very difficult to stop. To see Bill Snyder's team in the bottom half of the conference in conversion allowed rate is a surprise but the Wildcats have a hard time getting three-and-outs. KSU's 17.8 three-and-out percentage on defense is only better than KU's 17.7.

Oklahoma: The Sooners offense has been good on third down despite some of its recent struggles while the defense has been very average. Offensively, OU has done a good job of getting its playmakers, namely Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard, involved on third-down plays. Defensively, the Sooners have talented players, like Eric Striker, yet sit middle of the road in third down defense.

Oklahoma State: Seeing the Cowboys near the bottom on the list in offensive conversion rate will make Cowboy fans long for the days of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. OSU's defense has been consistently good on third down and its third-down production was one of the reasons for the Cowboys recent Big 12 title contention. OSU's offense will need to be a lot better if the Pokes hope to surprise in 2015.

Texas: UT's 37 sacks is one key reason the Longhorns are among the Big 12's top third-down defenses. The surprise is the Longhorns offense sitting in the top half of the conference, ahead of Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, who have generally put together more productive offenses. It's a sign UT's offense has had its moments of offensive precision even if the bad moments are the most memorable.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders haven't been great on third down but they haven't been horrible either. Improving the turnover margin is priority No. 1 for Kliff Kingsbury as the offense turns the ball over and the defense doesn't take the ball away. Once that is handled, then Tech can work on improving third down conversion rates.

TCU: The Horned Frogs defense is stellar in nearly every category, ranking first in the Big 12 in yards per play allowed (4.62) and yards per carry allowed (2.13) on third down. Its offense was terrible on third down before the 2014 season, when it converted 42.9 percent on its third down attempts. TCU could end up in the top third of the conference in both categories in 2015 unless Gary Patterson's program takes a step backward this fall.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers haven't been particularly good on either side of the ball. WVU's struggles to stop the pass on defense -- 13.63 yards per completion on third down -- have hampered WVU's ability to get off the field. On offense, uneven quarterback play after Geno Smith's departure doomed the Mountaineers to finish in the middle of the pack.
WACO, Texas -- The next man up at Baylor is a 5-foot-11, 165-pound redshirt freshman. Or maybe it's the one who’s 6-4 and 220 pounds. At “Wide Receiver U,” speed is stockpiled in all shapes and sizes.

It’s time once again for the Bears’ track-speed studs to pass the baton. Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams needed Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley to keep “WRU” rolling once they left. Now it’s on Corey Coleman and KD Cannon, but they’re going to have a lot of help in 2015.

Can a group replacing Goodley and fellow seniors Levi Norwood and Clay Fuller get even better in 2015?

[+] EnlargeBaylor Bears
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsCorey Coleman and KD Cannon lead a deep Baylor receiving corps that's expecting big things in 2015.
“If I’m leading it, it has to,” Coleman says bluntly.

Heck, Cannon says this group is already superior after five weeks of working out together. Coleman (1,119 yards) and Cannon (1,030) are the Big 12’s top two returning receivers, yet it’s the guys Baylor didn’t use in 2014 who excite them most.

That bring us back to the diminutive freshman: Chris Platt. Baylor players and even Art Briles himself are already raving about the second-year wideout as they kick off spring practice this week.

Cannon’s best way of summing up Platt’s talent: “Chris has a different type of speed, something you don’t see every day.” Which is saying something at Baylor. Briles calls it speed that sustains, speed that made him a three-time state track champ in the quarter mile.

“The thing I respect about him is he’s low maintenance and he’s a tough, tough competitor,” Briles said. “He’s a guy that is very sure-handed and physical with the football for his size. He’s got a chance to make a spark this spring and hopefully next fall.”

And then there’s Ishmael Zamora, the prototypical skyscraper. You’re not supposed to run a 40 in 4.44 seconds at 6-4 and 220. He did so this winter. Again, the Bears couldn’t find playing time for him last fall and he redshirted.

“Once he gets stuff down, he’s going to be a freak,” Coleman said. “Hard to stop.”

Don’t forget senior Jay Lee, who caught 41 passes in 2014. Or Davion Hall, a coveted recruit who came in with Cannon and played sparingly. Or Lynx Hawthorne and Quan Jones.

Four-star freshman Blake Lynch enrolled early. ESPN 300 signee Devontre Stricklin is on the way. At other programs, they might be a big deal. At Baylor, you might not hear their names for a while. They can sit and learn for now, then compete like crazy just to see the field.

“It’s my job to lead and show the younger guys,” Coleman said, “just like how Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams and Antwan showed me the ropes.”

Coleman says he’s running his 40 in the 4.3s with a 45-inch vertical. Set records in three-cone and pro agility drills this offseason. He torched Oklahoma, TCU and Michigan State in 2014 and did more in 10 games than nearly anyone did with 13. He expects so much more and welcomes the competition.

“I have somebody trying to take my spot, even though I’m one of the leading receivers coming back,” Coleman said. “It excites me. It reminds me I can’t get lazy.”

Same goes for Cannon. The sophomore’s production dropped off considerably in Big 12 play -- 36 catches, 362 yards, one TD -- once Coleman and Goodley got healthy. This spring, he’s trying to sharpen his attention to detail and understanding of the playbook.

He knows if he doesn’t, one of Cannon’s buddies can easily take his job and his targets. Nothing’s guaranteed, though the speedster is already promising this wideout group is as good as the 2014 edition. Actually, he’ll go a step further.

“I feel like, right now, we’re a lot better than last year’s,” Cannon said.

Big 12 morning links

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
9:00
AM ET
This Big 12 hoops season is getting nice and crazy.
  • The story that captured the nation's attention yesterday isn't over yet. If you missed it the story on Baylor ruling fan favorite walk-on running back Silas Nacita ineligible, here's our updated post with quotes from Art Briles. And if you're wondering why a walk-on running back is causing this big a fuss, here's the Sports Illustrated story on him from last year. Briles is leaving the door open for his return if a "remedy" can be found, but I'm curious to see what Nacita's next move is and how he responds.
  • How is Trevone Boykin handling all the hype these days? Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News checks in with the TCU quarterback on his offseason now that's surrounded by Heisman hype, and even gets Marcus Mariota to offer some advice (plus a cameo from Vince Young). Boykin gives the backstory on his time hanging out with the Ohio State quarterbacks, too. It's a good read, give it a click.
  • Mike Cassaza of the Charleston Daily Mail offers a thoughtful reflection on Tom Bradley's time at West Virginia and argues that nobody really lost in Bradley's decision to bolt for UCLA. Taking the Bruins' defensive coordinator job made too much sense, especially when the alternative appeared to be coaching WVU's special teams this fall. Bradley made a positive impact during his brief stint in Morgantown, but WVU already had a new D-line coach on the staff in Bruce Tall and you get the sense the transition here shouldn't be a challenge.
  • A possibility we acknowledged in yesterday's morning links came true. Oklahoma State is indeed in need of three assistant coaches on offensive now after Jemal Singleton accepted the running backs job at Arkansas. According to Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World, Singleton landed a raise of $30,000 and will get to coach two of the best backs in the country in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Good deal for him. Gundy, meanwhile, has 12 days to complete his offensive staff.
  • Some TCU administrators are speaking out against the Big 12's new concussion policy, calling it "a huge PR stunt" because the legislation lacks the teeth needed to make a real difference. They offer some reasonable critiques of the Big 12's plan in this piece by TCU 360's Abigail Massey, including that it fails to ensure each school in the league will use the same equipment to measure concussions. Big 12 representatives tried and failed to table the protocol vote at the 2015 NCAA Conference and is trying to be more proactive on the issue. Do you think the Big 12 is doing enough?
It is an important spring for several players in the Big 12.

Some are fighting to keep their jobs, others are trying not to be forgotten and others have to fight off lauded Class of 2015 recruits. Here's a look at several Big 12 players who have plenty to gain during spring football.

Chris Johnson, QB, Baylor: With Seth Russell as the clear favorite to replace Bryce Petty as the starting quarterback, Johnson needs a strong spring to ensure the competition continues into the fall. He’ll also need to hold off highly regarded true freshman Jarrett Stidham.

Vernell Trent, DT, Iowa State: Trent had a decent redshirt freshman season, starting three games and finishing with 10 tackles in 2014. But ISU signed a pair of defensive tackles in the Class of 2015 with an eye on Demond Tucker and Bobby Leath becoming immediate impact performers. A good spring would help Trent secure a spot in the Cyclones’ defense.

[+] EnlargeMontell Cozart
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesMontell Cozart must impress the new Kansas coaching staff this spring.
Montell Cozart, QB, Kansas: The junior went from unquestioned starting quarterback to afterthought in a span of a few months. Former coach Charlie Weis anointed Cozart to be the Jayhawks' quarterback of the future, but he faltered and eventually was replaced by Michael Cummings in 2014. If Cozart has any hope making a major impact during his Jayhawks career, he needs to impress the new coaching staff this spring.

Judah Jones, WR, Kansas State: The Wildcats are hoping to replace the playmaking skills of Tyler Lockett. One player isn’t going to do it, but Jones has the upside to become a key player in KSU’s offense while also making an impact on special teams. KSU has several other options at receiver, so Jones needs to rise above the competition if he hopes to separate himself this spring.

Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma: The junior has started 15 games during the past two seasons but faces stern competition to keep his starting spot with Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield becoming eligible in the fall. As Lincoln Riley brings his version of the Air Raid to OU, many assume Mayfield is the best bet to trigger the attack. Knight can use the spring to remind everyone of his unique physical gifts.

Marcell Ateman, WR, Oklahoma State: It’s time for Ateman to step up and separate himself at the receiver spot. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, he brings size, speed and ball skills that are tough to duplicate, but he doesn’t dominate the way he should. With plenty of competition at the position, he needs to show he is ready to match his All-Big 12 talent with All-Big 12 production.

Daje Johnson, WR, Texas: When he touches the ball, Johnson looks like the dynamic playmaker the Longhorns have longed for during the past few seasons, but he constantly takes himself out of the equation by making bad decisions off the field. This spring is the opportunity for him to show he has the focus needed to make his final season on the 40 acres a breakout year.

Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, QBs, TCU: The battle to back up Trevone Boykin should be interesting, so the spring gives Sawyer and Muehlstein the chance to lay claim to the No. 2 spot. Both quarterbacks should get plenty of chances to impress and the winner of the backup quarterback derby could set himself up to take over in 2016.

Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech: A strong finish to the 2014 season by Patrick Mahomes has resulted in Webb being overlooked in many ways, but a healthy Webb was productive during his first two seasons in Kliff Kingsbury's program. The job is open heading into spring and Webb can make sure the quarterback battle in Lubbock is one of the most interesting aspects of Big 12 football in the spring.

Daikiel Shorts, WR, West Virginia: The Mountaineers need to fill the void left by Kevin White and Mario Alford. Shorts has been a contributor to the WVU offense since his true freshman season but hasn’t really developed into a game-changing target. This spring will give him the chance to show he can be a primary target for Dana Holgorsen's team.

Ranking the Big 12 coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
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This week, ESPN.com ranked the best Power 5 coaching jobs in college football, No. 1 through 65. Below is how we rank the jobs in the Big 12:

1. Texas
The Longhorns have unlimited financial resources with a massive donor base. They are located in the middle of one of the country's pre-eminent recruiting hotbeds, too.

2. Oklahoma
The Sooners have one of the great traditions in college football, a recruiting pipeline into Texas and a supportive administration.

3. Oklahoma State
Thanks to Boone Pickens, Oklahoma State boasts facilities that take a backseat to no one. Over the past 10 years, few teams have won more than the Cowboys, either.

4. Baylor
This job would have ranked near the bottom not long ago. But Art Briles has whipped Baylor into a powerhouse. The Bears have a new stadium, a budding fan base and a brand that seems to be resonating with young recruits.

5. TCU
Facilities and conference used to be impediments for the Horned Frogs. Not anymore. TCU has a newly renovated stadium and state-of-the-art facilities, including an air-conditioned practice facility. TCU's proximity to the Metroplex makes it an attractive recruiting destination, too.

6. Texas Tech
Unlike West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas, the Red Raiders are located in the Lone Star State, which gives them a proximity advantage in recruiting. Texas Tech also has rabid fans and a strong donor base in the Midland/Odessa area, which is pumping money into the stadium renovation.

7. West Virginia
The Mountaineers have severe recruiting challenges, with the lack of in-state talent. Still, this is the equivalent of a pro team in the state, and it has the backing necessary to win.

8. Kansas State
Nobody does more with less than Bill Snyder. Manhattan has never been a recruiting destination. But the Wildcats have passionate fans (as the court rushing in basketball the other night demonstrated) who make Bill Snyder Family Stadium a tough place to play. The Wildcats also have been making impressive facility upgrades, most recently to the Vanier Football Complex.

9. Iowa State
The Cyclones have obstacles with a small in-state recruiting pool they also have to share with Iowa. The elimination of the Big 12 North hurt Iowa State as well. But the Cyclones have something Kansas does not -- and that's a fan base committed to football.

10. Kansas
Only eight years ago, Mark Mangino took Kansas to the Orange Bowl. It seems even more amazing now. The Jayhawks are behind the rest of the league in every area, from attendance to facilities.
WACO, Texas -- Baylor hasn’t had a difficult decision at quarterback in a long time. Doesn’t seem like there’s one now, either.

The defending back-to-back Big 12 champs took the field for their first spring practice Tuesday with junior Seth Russell taking the majority of the first-string snaps as expected. The returning leaders of the nation’s top offense made it clear they’re rallying around him.

“He’s shown us that he is the leader of this team,” tackle Spencer Drango said. “As far as who has the position, I still think it’s up in the air and for the coaches to decide. But Seth has stepped up to fill that leadership role that’s been vacated by other guys.”

[+] EnlargeSeth Russell
Tony Gutierrez/Associated PressIn Seth Russell's only start, he threw for six touchdowns against Northwestern State.
The fourth-year passer is drawing rave reviews from his peers for his “freaky” athleticism, and the Bears think they’ve developed a gem who’s ready to roll after two years as Bryce Petty’s understudy. Sophomore Chris Johnson and touted freshman Jarrett Stidham have some catching up to do if they intend to make this a battle.

“Right now, Seth is going to have to get beat out,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “He’s the guy that’s been here, knows the system and we’ll see how those other guys develop.”

There’s nothing controversial about that plan in the eyes of his players. Just ask receiver Corey Coleman, who arrived at Baylor in the same class as Russell and might be his biggest advocate.

“I see the fire in the kid’s face when he has a football in his hands,” Coleman said. “Throwing ability, he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. And that’s not a lie. That’s the truth. That kid has a bright future.”

The transitions Baylor made from Robert Griffin III to Nick Florence to Petty could not have been any smoother. The next guy in line recognizes how important his duty is to ensure there’s zero drop-off.

“It’s a huge responsibility, being able to go out there with the guys you love and being able to continue the legacy set here already,” Russell said. “I’m following in some big, big shoes with the past quarterbacks and being able to step into them is going to be fun.”

Russell’s lone career start at Baylor merited Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors, a six-TD performance in one half against Northwestern State in place of an injured Petty. He’s played in 14 other games, yet remains a relative unknown on the national radar.

His fellow Bears say that’ll soon change. Their pickup hoops games last summer offered the first hint of Russell’s freak gifts.

“He can jump out the gym,” receiver Jay Lee said. Another teammate claims Russell can dunk from the free throw line. Added KD Cannon: “Windmill, go between his legs, he does all that stuff.”

Coleman goes so far as to say the 6-foot-3, 222-pound quarterback would be his first selection in any pickup game. Which begs the question: What, what? He’s going with Russell over Shawn Oakman, Baylor’s 6-foot-9, 280-pound monstrosity at defensive end?

“Uh ... yeah,” Coleman says. “We’d throw each other some oops, have some fun. I don’t know if Oak can do all that. I know he can bring it down, though.”

Russell can run, too. The last 40 time he clocked was 4.49. Briles calls his ability to scramble when plays break down an X factor, though the staff is staying away from designed run calls for now to protect Russell’s health.

As for leadership, Baylor players admire the example Russell has continued to set. Coleman guessed his quarterback goes to bed around 8:40 every night. He’s never looking for off-field trouble. He’s dependable. That’s a trait Briles -- forever hunting for what he calls “predictable outcomes” -- greatly values.

But before Russell is anointed anything, he must first play up to that level of predictability Art and Kendal Briles demand in spring practice. The job must still be won.

“He hasn’t said anything’s set in stone yet,” Russell said, “so I have to go out and prove myself.”

If his teammates’ bold boasts prove true, that should be no problem.

“They gonna know real fast,” Coleman said. “They gonna know real fast. That’s all I really have to say."

Big 12 morning links

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
9:00
AM ET
Farewell, Parks and Rec, and bye bye Li'l Sebastian.
  • Shock Linwood did what I simply cannot this offseason and elected to give up fast food to trim down. After a rough showing against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, the Baylor running back entered the first day of spring football on Tuesday at a lean 195 pounds and said he's worked on his arm strength to help shed tacklers. He looked fleet in the 15 minutes of practice I watched, and he told me his goal is to be the best back in the conference this year.
  • Another update from Baylor's first day of spring practice: Art Briles confirmed again Tuesday that defensive lineman Javonte Magee is no longer with the program. He's not enrolled at the school and won't take part in spring practices. News of Magee's departure came out in January, but Briles said Tuesday he's not fully ruling out the possibility that the former four-star talent could someday return to BU. Magee had left the team in 2013, as well, so this is no huge surprise. Best of luck to him going forward in whatever comes next.
  • Oklahoma State might be facing another departure from its coaching staff. According to a report out of Arkansas, OSU running backs coach Jemal Singleton has interviewed for a job on the Razorbacks' staff. Bret Bielema lost his running backs coach to the New Orleans Saints after signing day. If Singleton takes the position, that would leave Mike Gundy with three vacancies on his staff and less than two weeks before the start of spring practice to fill them. Trying to make hires this late in the game is never easy. We'll see if Gundy can convince Singleton to stay put.
  • One challenge Kliff Kingsbury plans to ponder this spring: How can Texas Tech do an even better job of using DeAndre Washington? And how can Justin Stockton get his touches, too? The Red Raiders' run game was one of the few things they could lean on offensively in 2014, and Kingsbury knows it can be better once his QBs are more comfortable checking into run plays at the line. Striking the right run/pass balance is an intriguing issue for this offense now that we know what Washington can do.
  • Jacorey Shepherd didn't get to show much at the NFL combine, but the former Kansas cornerback is hoping his pro day can significantly boost his stock. Shepherd's hamstring injury prevented him from doing anything else but bench press while in Indy, but he's confident his pro day can show he's an premium corner prospect. You hope his hammy heals up by late March when that day comes, because I think Shepherd can be a late-round steal for someone.

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