Big 12: Texas Longhorns
That, Charlie Strong says, was the cleaned-up gist of his animated speech to Tyrone Swoopes before the second quarter against TCU began.
Toward the end of his quick 12-second lecture, Strong pointed a finger right at the Texas quarterback’s chest just to ensure the message was delivered.
“I just told him he has to play,” Strong said after the 48-10 loss. “You can't turn the football over. You can't get down on yourself. It's all about his demeanor.”
A month later, Swoopes’ rocky first year as the Longhorns’ starter reaches a finale that will further define how his 2014 is remembered and perhaps how 2015 is resolved. Like the rest of his 11 starts, Swoopes’ showing against Arkansas on Monday night in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl is sure to get overanalyzed for months to come.
The sophomore, thrown into an unexpected starting role with unfair expectations when David Ash went down, calls what he has endured an “up-and-down experience.” The peaks required patience. The valleys required thick skin.
“You definitely have to have that, playing quarterback at a big school like this,” Swoopes said this month.
Strong and co-offensive coordinator Shawn Watson never publicly wavered this fall when it came to their faith in Swoopes. They had no other option, of course, but Swoopes never burned them either. He had tough days in losses to Baylor and Kansas State, but never so tough that a benching was considered. Not until the TCU game.
“I know that game wasn’t me,” Swoopes said.
His performance against the Horned Frogs left frustrated fans wondering whether Swoopes is the long-term answer and offered confirmation to table-pounding critics that he’s not the one meant to lead Texas back to championship-level football.
Granted, we’re talking about a second-year player taking on a top-six team, but the setback did seem significant. How is Swoopes going to respond? He knows all the right things to say about what comes next.
“Keep my head up, learn from it, put it behind me, don’t let it get to me too much, use it as motivation,” he said.
Senior receiver John Harris senses Swoopes gets too down on himself when things aren’t going his way, which was evident against TCU. But the go-to receiver also has witnessed growth at every step of the season and expects even more now.
“I think it’s good for him to learn this way,” Harris said.
So much of Swoopes’ play hinges on his confidence. On his best days – road showings against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State stand out – he went out and proved as much to himself as anyone else. Watson treats Swoopes like a freshman because he had so little meaningful experience and so much to learn.
Against Arkansas and its top-25 defense, we might learn just how resilient Swoopes can be. But win or lose, he will have to fight for his job next year.
Strong and Watson have repeatedly said they crave competition at the QB spot. The situation they have right now – a sophomore starting, true freshman Jerrod Heard learning slowly and redshirting, walk-ons Logan Vinklarek and Trey Holtz the only real backup options – won’t cut it.
Competition, they hope, is the best path to pushing Swoopes this offseason. The incumbent must be made uncomfortable by peers capable of challenging him. Whether that’s coming from Heard, ESPN 300 commit Zach Gentry or some other arm remains unclear.
For now, all that’s certain is Monday’s bowl game is another test that can propel Swoopes into the offseason and beyond in ways nobody can foresee.
“He’ll be fine,” Strong said. “The thing about it, he just needs to play well this next one. He’s just got to move on and just get better, and he’ll get better, and it will happen for him.”
But only Swoopes can make it happen.
But any more in college football, they only tell a small portion of the story.
With the rise of the hurry-up offense, some defenses have to face more plays or defend more possessions than others. By default, a defense that has to defend 100 plays is usually going to give up more yards and points than the defense that has to defend 70 plays.
With that in mind, ESPN Stats & Information keeps track of a pair of metrics that better define how a defense performs: The yards a defense allows per play; and the points a defense gives up per drive. Factor in a third category -- turnovers gained -- and you have a better account of who is actually playing good defense. And who is not.
Below, we will examine those three statistics and average them out to provide a more accurate representation of Big 12 defense rankings for 2014 (also, in the interest of keeping a level playing field, only conference games were evaluated):
Yards per play
- 1. Texas: 4.83
- 2. West Virginia: 5.28
- 3. TCU: 5.41
- 4. Kansas State: 5.51
- 5. Oklahoma: 5.58
- 6. Baylor: 5.70
- 7. Oklahoma State: 5.94
- 8. Kansas: 6.31
- 9. Texas Tech: 6.63
- 10. Iowa State: 6.81
- 1. Texas: 1.30
- 2. TCU: 1.50
- 3. West Virginia: 1.65
- 4. Kansas State: 1.73
- 5. Oklahoma: 1.92
- 6. Baylor: 1.99
- 7. Oklahoma State: 2.40
- 8. Kansas: 2.47
- 9. Iowa State: 2.82
- 10. Texas Tech: 2.98
- 1. TCU: 26
- 2. Baylor: 19
- 3. Kansas State: 18
- 4 (tie). Kansas: 15
- 4 (tie). Texas : 15
- 6. Iowa State: 14
- 7. Texas Tech: 13
- 8 (tie). Oklahoma: 11
- 8 (tie). West Virginia: 11
- 10. Oklahoma State: 9
- 1. TCU: 2.0 (average rank)
- 2. Texas: 2.2 (average rank)
- 3. Kansas State: 3.7
- 4. West Virginia: 4.5
- 5. Baylor: 4.7
- 6. Oklahoma: 6.2
- 7. Kansas: 6.8
- 8. Oklahoma State : 8.0
- 9. Iowa State: 8.3
- 10. Texas Tech: 8.7
Here's to everyone having a Merry Christmas.
Now, on to the 'bag;
@Jake_Trotter: It's probably a wash. Considering the Bears still have coach Art Briles and a veteran quarterback in Bryce Petty, I don't think not having Phillip Montgomery will have a major effect on the offense. Briles has established a culture of scoring that goes beyond any one assistant or player. Likewise, Michigan State has implemented a culture of defense under Mark Dantonio. Pat Narduzzi has been a fabulous coordinator. But just because he won't be in Arlington doesn't mean the Spartans will forget how to play defense. I still expect this to be an epic clash of irresistible offense vs. immovable defense.
Trotter: From a list of West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State, I would have to go with the Cowboys. Oklahoma State appears to have uncovered its long-term answer at quarterback in Mason Rudolph, who was terrific in his two starts to cap the regular season. Oklahoma State will also return its entire receiving corps, as well as eight starters defensively. With TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State all headed to Stillwater next season, the schedule lines up for the Cowboys to make a bounce-back run at the conference crown.
@Jake_Trotter do you see expansion on our horizon?— Jake Perry© (@JakePerry56) December 23, 2014
Trotter: For the first time this football season, I went to the movies over the weekend and saw "Interstellar." So if by "horizon" you mean the wormhole next to the rings of Saturn, then yes, expansion is on the horizon.
@Jake_Trotter what is the percent of probability, in your opinion, that UCF joins the Big 12 in the next 3 years?— Eli Fried (@elisfkc) December 23, 2014
Trotter: Highly unlikely, considering any expansion is highly unlikely. That said, commissioner Bob Bowlsby has indicated in recent days that if the Big 12 ever expanded, it would look east instead of west. That would seemingly put UCF in play, as one of the top available schools to the east. I'm not sure how a Big 12 school in Florida would work. Then again, the Big 12 really has no convenient options left when it comes to expansion.
@Jake_Trotter tech DC thoughts? Who might it b? Ideas on where President is leaning?— Brian Martin (@gunsupbm) December 23, 2014
Trotter: It's possible Chad President ends up in Lubbock. After losing Jarrett Stidham to Baylor, Texas Tech needs a quarterback for this class, and President needs a new team after de-committing from Baylor. But Tech won't be the only Big 12 school that goes after him. Highly ranked quarterbacks (even quarterbacks that could end up as college receivers) usually aren't available this late in the recruiting game. So President will be in demand. As for the Tech defensive coordinator search, Houston's David Gibbs is at the top of the list. Even though Houston finished just fifth in the American, the Cougars have improved defensively under Gibbs, ranking 11th in scoring defense this season. A former defensive coordinator at Minnesota and Auburn, Gibbs is the kind of veteran coordinator Kliff Kingsbury needs to add to his staff.
@Jake_Trotter if you could put a percentage on it, what are the odds Daylon Mack ends up in a TCU uniform?— Chris Conaty (@Con_Man95) December 23, 2014
Trotter: After de-committing from Texas A&M, Daylon Mack tweeted that TCU and LSU were his top two schools. He is apparently scheduled to take an official visit Texas on Jan. 23, which could change things. But I would think TCU's odds of landing Mack at this point are at least 33 percent.
Trotter: Huge bummer. This, by the way, was his farewell letter. In memoriam, below was a great moment in @FauxHolgorsen history...
Trotter: This one is easy ...
There is plenty at stake when these 6-6 teams square off at Houston's NRG Stadium on Monday night. Pretty simple, really: One team goes home with a winning record, the other doesn't. Which team will embrace the momentum-building moment?
ESPN.com's Greg Ostendorf and Max Olson break down the matchup.
How Arkansas can control the game: Run the ball and control the clock. This has been Arkansas’ strength all season. The Razorbacks have 14 touchdown drives of five minutes or longer, second most in the FBS behind only Georgia Tech. Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins each have more than 1,000 yards rushing. No other FBS team can say that. When the Razorbacks are gashing the opponent on the ground, they are hard to stop. -- Ostendorf
How Texas can control the game: Charlie Strong wins games with his stout defense, and when this group forces turnovers it can be awfully tough to beat. Texas had the Big 12's No. 1 total defense and pass defense, and the pressure that Malcom Brown, Hassan Ridgeway and Cedric Reed get up front ought to make running the ball a challenge at times. It's a bend-don't-break defense that will keep this game relatively low-scoring. -- Olson
Arkansas' X-factor: Trey Flowers has been a quarterback’s nightmare this season. The senior defensive end has 13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and nine quarterback hurries. When he’s not chasing him down, he’s batting the ball down at the line of scrimmage. He has been the heart and soul of an Arkansas defense that allowed only 9.5 points per game in the month of November, and this will be his final game in a Razorbacks’ uniform. -- Ostendorf
Texas' X-factor: The play of Tyrone Swoopes, obviously. His five-turnover showing against TCU gave the Longhorns no shot and raised doubts among the fan base about whether he's "the guy" for the future. Swoopes can kill those questions with a bounce-back showing. He had one of the finest performances of his career (305 yards, two TDs, 72 percent passing) against Oklahoma State right before facing the Frogs. Can he bring his best against the Hogs? -- Olson
What a win would mean for the Razorbacks: The rebuilding process at Arkansas took a big step this season under second-year coach Bret Bielema. The Hogs won an SEC game, nearly knocked off the eventual conference champion, and now they are playing in a bowl game. A win could propel them into next season and validate them as a contender in 2015. -- Ostendorf
What a win would mean for Texas: The Longhorns got their recruiting momentum rolling last week with a commitment from elite linebacker Malik Jefferson. This 'W' can get the rest of the program rolling. An important win would aid an important offseason for growth, and the Horns badly need to move past the buzzkill of getting beat up by TCU. -- Olson
What is the biggest key for West Virginia?
Chatmon: Kevin White ’s return to the dominating force that caused all sorts of problems for West Virginia’s early season opponents would help, particularly if he can do it against double teams. But it will be the Mountaineers’ pass defense, led by cornerback Daryl Worley, that could decide the game. Facing the SEC’s top passing offense, WVU’s secondary has talent but faces a tall task against a Texas A&M offense that featured five different receivers that passed 400 receiving yards in the regular season. Thus, it will take a solid pass rush and strong performances from the WVU secondary to slow down the Aggies.
Olson: Don't overlook the reason why Texas A&M is searching for a new defensive coordinator. The Aggies allowed 298, 363, 335 and 384 rushing yards in their final four SEC games. The formula for beating them up late in the season was pretty obvious. With West Virginia's line healthy again, the Mountaineers should ride Rushel Shell, Wendell Smallwood and Dreamius Smith and take advantage of the passing looks the run game sets up.
Trotter: Get Kevin White going early and often. The Aggies had one of the worst pass defenses in the SEC this year, and they have no one (who does?) who can physically match up with White. If the Mountaineers can devise ways to get White -- and wingman Mario Alford -- opportunities for big plays early, they can put A&M on its heels for the rest of the game.
What is the biggest key for Oklahoma?
Chatmon: Quite simply the Sooners' offensive line must win in the trenches. OU’s offensive front is among the nation’s top units but will face a fast, physical and athletic Clemson defense with all the traits to slow down OU’s offense. Offensive balance will be key, as well as winning on first down. The Sooners averaged 7.94 yards per first-down play in their eight wins. That number dropped to 6.13 yards per first-down play in their four losses. If OU faces a game full of third down-and-long plays, it could be a long 60 minutes.
Olson: It's not just about winning the trenches for Oklahoma. The protection of Trevor Knight is of the upmost importance against Clemson. I'm no expert on transient quadriplegia -- nor had I ever heard of it prior to Knight's injury against Baylor -- and I trust that OU was extremely careful with its testing to deem Knight cleared to play. But you know he will take tough hits in his first game back, and after such a jarring injury, you'd hope his line can keep him clean and playing without fear of getting hurt again.
Trotter: Clemson owns one of the best statistical defense in the country, which could put points at a premium for the Oklahoma offense. That's why it's imperative that the Sooners' defense shows up in this game. The Tigers aren't great offensively, so the Sooners ought to be able to impose their will. Then again, this is an Oklahoma defense that massively underachieved during the last two months of the season.
What is the biggest key for Texas?
Chatmon: The formula has been pretty simple for the Longhorns. When Charlie Strong’s team wins the turnover battle, it wins the game. When it loses the turnover battle it heads into the locker room full of disappointment. Arkansas did a decent job protecting the ball, with 17 turnovers in 12 games, but the Razorbacks' 11 fumbles provides some hope for the Longhorns to get one or two turnovers. More importantly, UT and quarterback Tyrone Swoopes must protect the ball much better than they did against TCU and give themselves a chance.
Olson: This might sound like a strange request, but I want to see Texas finally show up in the third quarter and score some points. The Horns put up a total of nine points in the third period in Big 12 play. Nine. After nine games that's not some anomaly; it's a weakness and a strange one. Arkansas is going to play UT close and has had real trouble scoring in the second half (7.5 ppg in SEC play). Any points Texas can muster after halftime could make all the difference.
Trotter: Whoever wins the battle in the trenches between the Arkansas offensive line and the Texas defensive front probably is going to win this game. When the Hogs struggled to run the ball this year they struggled to score. But when they got the run game going they were difficult to beat. Texas has the horses with Malcom Brown and Co. to win the battle with the Razorbacks up front. If the Longhorns do, odds are they'll also end their season with a win.
“If you can get that, you can win,” Strong said. “When you get the two 1,000-yard rushers, you know you're a physical football team and you're running the ball. It is all about ball control.”
Arkansas is in Year 2 of the Bret Bielema project, with the former Wisconsin head coach’s blueprint starting to see dividends with a bowl appearance, a pair of shutouts in Arkansas’ final three games, and one of the SEC’s best running games serving as the foundation. Johnathan Williams (1,085 rushing yards) and Alex Collins (1,024 rushing yards) have paced the SEC’s No.4-ranked running game heading into the meeting with its former Southwest Conference foe.
While Strong’s plan is different than Bielema’s blueprint, the similarities are stark. In an era of high-scoring offenses, big plays and offensive fireworks, Strong and Bielema aim to build around physical, running offenses that can control the game along with tough, versatile defenses than can adapt to the flurry of different styles present on any given Saturday.
UT wants to be known for its toughness, with a physical running gameone of the clearest signs of a team’s physicality. The Longhorns have a long way to go, averaging 146.67 rushing yards per game in 2014. UT averaged 176.33 rushing yards per game in its six wins and 121 rushing yards per game in six losses, including three games of less than 100 rushing yards.
“[We] could have played a lot better than what we played,” Strong said. “We lose six games, [that] would never be a standard here. We could have played a lot better at times than what we did. I think about those close games we were in.”
It’s a similarity Strong’s team shares with Arkansas, another sign both blueprints are starting to work despite being in the infant stages of their instillation. Both teams lost six games but can look back at the regular season and see an eight- or nine-win season just outside their grasp. The Longhorns can look back at games against UCLA, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma as opportunities left on the table. The Razorbacks can look back at losses to Alabama, Mississippi State and Missouri and say the same.
“I think it's a really good football team,” Strong said. “But, at the right time, they didn't win those close games.”
Strong was talking about his opponent but might as well have been talking about his own squad. Many people point to the dismissals and departures that followed Strong’s installation of his rules as the culprit in the .500 season.
“It had nothing to do with the guys who we didn't have,” Strong said. “You're going to win with the ones you have and not with the ones you don't have. So with a lot of those players not being with us, playing with what we had, we were good enough. We just didn't play well. We didn't play well at the right time.”
Change didn’t come, but it was needed. UT took some lumps early this season with the hopes of a later payoff. That came in the form of three wins in the Longhorns’ final four games to secure bowl eligibility.
“I think that we needed him,” offensive lineman Sedrick Flowers said of his coach. “He came in here, and he's made us all humble ourselves. I know when I first got here, I wouldn't say I was an arrogant person, but in the program there was some arrogance. There were some players that were entitled, and he came in here and just took that all away. Everybody is on the same level. We all just want to work and get a championship.”
The foundation has been set, but the concrete is still drying. The will to have a physical running game is apparent, but UT’s 3.91 yards per carry, ranking No. 85 among FBS teams, is not the standard that will lead to championships or make anyone envious.
“Physicality is what we pride ourselves on,” tight end Geoff Swaim said. “Anytime you can impose your will on another team, it makes your job easier, makes the defense's job easier. I don't really get into the whole run/pass, all that kind of stuff. It's more about who can be more physical, who can do their job the best and which team is tougher.
“That's what we want to be and that's who we strive to be. It's a growing process. It's never something you just say this is who you are and it just becomes that. That develops and that develops; not only this year, but it'll develop next year and it'll just keep growing.”
This season's bowl games provide another opportunity for young players on Big 12 teams to show they're ready for a bigger roles in the future. Here are some Big 12 names to keep an eye on this bowl season:
Baylor DE K.J. Smith: The redshirt freshman stepped in and stepped up after Jamal Palmer was lost for the season with his ACL injury midway through the year. Smith finished with 39 tackles including 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. His 3.5 tackles per game are a sign he can impact the running game as well as the passing game in the Bears GoodYear Cotton Bowl matchup with Michigan State. And he could see his role in Baylor’s defense expand even further in 2015 if Shawn Oakman elects to head to the NFL.
Kansas State LB Elijah Lee: The true freshman forced himself into the Wildcats plans early during his freshman season and saw his role continue to expand as the season progressed. Lee finished the regular season with 16 tackles and 4.5 sacks while playing various roles on Bill Snyder’s defense. His athleticism could be an asset against Brett Hundley and UCLA with a big game setting him up as one of the Big 12’s potential breakout players in 2015.
Oklahoma WR Michiah Quick: The true freshman showed flashes of playmaking ability after he became a bigger part of the offense following Shepard’s injury in early November. His 16 receptions for 164 yards and one touchdown during Shepard’s absence led the Sooners. Quick’s speed and open field ability could make him a threat for Clemson’s defense particularly with Trevor Knight’s return. A big Russell Athletic Bowl performance could cement Quick’s role in OU’s offense in 2015, even with the Dorial Green-Beckham, if he returns to school, and highly touted junior college signee DeDe Westbrook amping up the competition at receiver.
Oklahoma State LB Justin Phillips: The Cowboys' crazy overtime win in Bedlam overshadowed a stellar performance from Phillips. The true freshman played the majority of the game, finishing with 10 tackles including seven solo stops in the most significant action of his debut season. Phillips saw spot duty through much of the season but if he builds on his Bedlam performance with solid Ticket City Cactus Bowl, he could be a name to keep an eye on in 2015.
Texas WR Armanti Foreman: The Longhorns will be searching for playmakers in the passing game next season with John Harris and Jaxon Shipley moving on. The freshman scored touchdowns in each of UT’s final two games including a 73-yard catch-and-run against TCU on Thanksgiving. Foreman’s quickness and speed makes him an asset to the Longhorns' offense and a solid AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl showing would re-affirm his long term potential and place him high on the list of Longhorns to get the ball in 2015.
TCU CB Ranthony Texada: The redshirt freshman locked down the starting cornerback spot opposite Kevin White as Jason Verrett’s replacement, making him a guy to keep on eye on during the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Texada started every game of his freshman season and will be the most experienced member of TCU’s cornerback group in 2015. Texada has been solid all season long but will need to take his game to another level to be the No. 1 cover man in Gary Patterson’s defense.
West Virginia WR Daikiel Shorts: Dana Holgorsen will be looking for someone to fill the playmaking void left by White and Mario Alford after the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Shorts seems a prime candidate and could use the bowl game to send the message that he plans to make a jump from complementary receiver to go-to target as a junior. With eight of his 24 receptions in WVU’s final two games of the regular season, Shorts could be starting to come into his own.
On a day already anticipated as one to watch with the morning announcements of ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson and four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal, the Big 12 got its own version of a Christmas bonus with five major commitments by the end of the afternoon.
Jefferson and McNeal committed to Texas. ESPN 300 quarterback Jarrett Stidham committed to Baylor after recently decommitting from Texas Tech. ESPN 300 defensive end Ricky DeBerry and four-star safety Kahlil Haughton chose Oklahoma.
And better believe, it’s not over for the conference.
There are several players who could be additions to the growing number of Big 12 commitments. Here are five names to watch from now until national signing day in early February.
On to the 'bag:
@Jake_Trotter who would be your Top 5 in Big12 football going into next year?— Chuck (@cbilly126) December 19, 2014
@Jake_Trotter: My top five, as of December 19, would be 1) TCU, 2) Baylor, 3) Oklahoma, 4) Texas, 5) Oklahoma State. But a lot can and will change between now and the preseason that could shake up this top five.
@Jake_Trotter are we any closer to adding 2 more teams and a championship game?— Dwayne Chamberlain (@dtchamberlain) December 19, 2014
Trotter: Closer? Maybe. Close? No. The only change I see happening is the league clarifying its goofy One True Champion rule, and actually declaring a single champion for playoff purposes. There is a chance the conference could apply for a waiver to hold a championship game with 10 teams. But in talking to people around the league, I don't envision the Big 12 adding such a game, at least for next season.
@Jake_Trotter when will BYU will be invited possibly?— Martin borg (@Martyaborg) December 19, 2014
Trotter: No time soon. The Big 12 still has no plans to expand. If it did, BYU would obviously be in the picture. But again, the Big 12 is not adding teams right now.
@Jake_Trotter will DGB come back to OU or leave for the NFL?— Jon Greene (@JonGreene9) December 19, 2014
Trotter: The decision remains up in the air, but if I had to bet, I would put my money on Dorial Green-Beckham going to the NFL. The decision to transfer to Oklahoma was always about playing this season, not sitting out and playing in 2015. That could still happen. But as a likely Day 1 or Day 2 pick, I see him declaring for the draft.
@Jake_Trotter for 2015, best guess starting QB at WVU next year and Rushell Shell, plus or minus 1,000 yards rushing?— Bryan Shaw (@BGoGolf) December 19, 2014
Trotter: I could see Rushel Shell breaking the 1,000-yard barrier. With a new quarterback, the Mountaineers could pound the ball a little more next season. As for who the quarterback will be, Skyler Howard has generated momentum with the way he performed the last two games, but I still favor William Crest. There was a reason Crest was the No. 2 quarterback as a true freshman coming out of fall camp. Assuming he is healthy and can go through spring ball, Crest would still be my pick to win the job for 2015.
@Jake_Trotter which bowl wins would do the most to amp up the Big12's national perception? Top-tier, middle-tier, or low-tier?— Diego De Valdenebro (@Diegobear) December 19, 2014
Trotter: The Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Baylor beating Michigan State and TCU handling Ole Miss would do the most for the Big 12's national perception. It certainly wouldn't hurt if the other Big 12 teams win, too. But a sweep in the two New Year's Six bowls is what will count most toward 2015 perception of the conference.
@Jake_Trotter what does Stidham committing to Baylor mean for Chad President? Does he open his commitment back up?— Jim Bell (@Bell4Jim) December 19, 2014
Trotter: Chad President has indicated that he's sticking with Baylor. President also has the ability to play other positions, too, if he gets beat out by Jarrett Stidham. So I would guess he stays pledged to Baylor. By the way, not many better surnames out there than "President."
@Jake_Trotter who is starting at quarterback for Baylor next year?— Nate Earl (@nate_earl) December 19, 2014
Trotter: I think it's Seth Russell, at least to start out. Russell has the experience edge both on the field and with reps operating the Baylor offense. Russell struggled a bit in the Texas Tech game, which gives me pause. But he has also had a bunch of good moments as Bryce Petty's backup the past two years.
@Jake_Trotter do you think K-State will have to fight those Oklahoma schools for Lockett's younger brothers?— Matt 'Emaw' Stafford (@mstaffrd) December 19, 2014
Trotter: No. Kansas State has first dibs on any Lockett from now until the end of time.
@jake_trotter Who is taller: Art Briles or Paul Rhoads?— Drew (@Dlew56) December 19, 2014
Trotter: This is probably the most random question in this mailbag's history. But I believe the answer is Paul Rhoads. Someone also provided photographic evidence:
Trotter: Thanks for all the questions, guys. Sorry I couldn't include all of them. I hope everyone has a great weekend..
This list includes three ESPN freshman All-Americans, and a collection of other players who appear to be budding stars in the league.
So, without further ado, the final top 10 true freshmen of 2104:
1. Samaje Perine, running back, Oklahoma: Perine finishes atop the Big 12 true freshman power rankings as the clear No. 1. The 243-pound, All-Big 12 performer led the conference with 1,579 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 6.6 yards per carry. He also set an FBS single-game record with 427 rushing yards against Kansas. Perine will be the focal point of the Oklahoma offense in 2015, and should open the season on everyone’s list of possible Heisman contenders.
2. KD Cannon, wide receiver, Baylor: Though his production dipped over the final month of the season, Cannon still finished with 50 receptions, 833 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He also had a monster game with six catches and 124 yards receiving in Baylor’s big win over TCU. The Bears will lose Antwan Goodley to graduation, but with Cannon and Corey Coleman leading the way, Baylor will still have a dynamic collection of receivers in 2015.
3. Dravon Henry, safety, West Virginia: Henry won a starting job in the West Virginia secondary in the preseason, and was an integral defender for the Mountaineers all season. His ability to cover the pass allowed hard-hitting strong safety Karl Joseph to help more against the run. And with the Henry-Joseph safety combo leading the way, the Mountaineers finished with the second-best pass defense in the Big 12. Assuming Joseph returns for his senior year, the Mountaineers could boast one of the top safety duos in the country next season.
4 (tie). Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Texas Tech and Mason Rudolph, quarterback, Oklahoma State: After standing on the sidelines most of the season, Mahomes and Rudolph stole the show in the Big 12 late in the year. Mahomes threw for 598 yards in Tech’s season finale while almost leading the Red Raiders to an upset over Baylor. In his final three games, Mahomes tossed a head-turning 14 touchdown passes to just two interceptions. Rudolph was equally as impressive for Cowboys. After playing well in his first career start at Baylor, Rudolph rallied Oklahoma State to an overtime win over Bedlam rival Oklahoma in Norman while also catapulting the Cowboys to bowl eligibility. Thanks to Mahomes and Rudolph, Tech and Oklahoma State appear to be in great shape at quarterback for 2015 and beyond.
6. Allen Lazard, wide receiver, Iowa State: It wasn’t a good year for the Cyclones, but at least they have a burgeoning All-Big 12-caliber wideout in Lazard, who delivered a series of acrobatic receptions in his first year. Though he never had a 100-yard receiving game, he was a consistent option for quarterback Sam B. Richardson with 45 catches and 593 receiving yards.
7. Jason Hall, safety, Texas: Wondering who will eventually take over for Karl Joseph as the hardest hitter in the Big 12? It might be Hall, who dropped the hammer multiple times in his first season in Austin. He also finished with 47 tackles, and should serve as a cornerstone in Charlie Strong’s defense for years to come.
8. Corey Avery, running back, Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have many positive developments this season, but one of the bright spots was Avery, who finished 12th in the league with 631 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Avery and De’Andre Mann should give new coach David Beaty a solid one-two punch at running back to operate with in 2015.
9. Elijah Lee, linebacker, Kansas State: Bill Snyder rarely plays true freshmen, but Lee earned Snyder’s trust as a pass-rushing specialist early on in the season. He placed second only to Ryan Mueller on the team with 4.5 sacks.
10. James Washington, wide receiver, Oklahoma State : Washington ended the season as a starter, and led the Cowboys with five touchdown catches. He also finished with 26 receptions and 423 yards receiving, and figures to be a piece of the foundation in the Oklahoma State receiving corps moving forward.
Why West Virginia will win: Quarterback Clint Trickett has been cleared for the bowl. Trickett struggled a bit late in the season but was a still a major factor in the Mountaineers' midseason run. He and Kevin White should have their way against an Aggies defense that got lit multiple times this season. West Virginia 38, Texas A&M 29 -- Trotter
Why Texas A&M will win: The Aggies will get their house in order after shaking up their coaching staff and give West Virginia all it can handle. Clint Trickett's status can swing this game, of course, but doesn't a showdown between Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen have to be decided by who scores last? Texas A&M 35, West Virginia 28 — Olson
Russell Athletic Bowl
Why Oklahoma will win: While Clemson will be without dynamic freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson for the game, OU welcomes Trevor Knight back under center. Combined with Samaje Perine in the backfield, that should be enough for OU to eke out a win. Oklahoma 28, Clemson 21 -- Chatmon
Why Clemson will win: The Oklahoma passing game was a mess the last month of the season. Trevor Knight returning will help, but even when Knight was healthy, the passing attack was uneven. Former Sooners coordinator Brent Venables directs Clemson's pass defense, which is No. 3 nationally. That means the pressure will be on Samaje Perine (coming off an ankle injury) to shoulder the offensive load. Clemson is not great offensively, but I'm not confident the Sooners will be able to score enough in this one. Clemson 21, Oklahoma 17 -- Trotter
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl
Why Texas will win: The Longhorns' defensive line is full of talent and will be ready and well-equipped to handle the physical nature of the Razorbacks' offense. Texas 27, Arkansas 17 -- Chatmon
Why Arkansas will win: Strength on strength will be on display in this matchup, with the big boys on the Arkansas offensive line squaring off against Malcom Brown and Texas' menacing front. But I have a little more confidence in the Hogs to score points than the Longhorns, who were wildly inconsistent at times with young Tyrone Swoopes at QB. Arkansas 20, Texas 14 -- Trotter
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Why TCU will win: You don't get the sense there will be a letdown factor with this team after it missed the College Football Playoff. Gary Patterson has worked too hard on building TCU's mentality to allow a slipup now. The Horned Frogs swing this with a fourth-quarter turnover from Bo Wallace. TCU 35, Ole Miss 31 -- Olson
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
Why Baylor will win: The Bears are bummed they didn't make the playoff, but they also realize this is an opportunity to atone for last season's Fiesta Bowl fiasco. Michigan State has a great defense with a good quarterback. But the Spartans couldn't hang against all of Oregon's offensive firepower early in the season and will succumb to Bryce Petty & Co., too. Baylor 42, Michigan State 34 -- Trotter
Valero Alamo Bowl
Why Kansas State will win: This is a sneaky great matchup, though I still can't figure out why Stanford made it look so easy against the Bruins in the regular-season finale. The last hurrah for Jake Waters, and Tyler Lockett will be as deadly efficient and effective as usual. Kansas State 31, UCLA 27 -- Olson
Why UCLA will win: Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley entered the season as a Heisman candidate but stumbled in UCLA’s final game. He should rebound and cause all kinds of problems for K-State’s defense with his feet and his arm. UCLA 31, Kansas State 27 -- Chatmon
TicketCity Cactus Bowl
Why Oklahoma State will win: There was no reason to believe the Cowboys could win Bedlam, yet they did and became bowl eligible. Mason Rudolph looks like the real deal, and this young Cowboys team has plenty of momentum. Oklahoma State 31, Washington 30 — Chatmon
Why Washington will win: The Huskies lost to every ranked team they faced in Pac-12 play. Until Bedlam, the same was true of OSU in the Big 12. I'm a Mason Rudolph believer, but I like the UW defense a bit more. Washington 28, Oklahoma State 17 -- Olson
Season records: Trotter 67-8, Chatmon 66-9, Olson 64-11.
- The attorneys for Oklahoma State and attorneys for Texas offensive line coach Joe Wickline bickered in court on Thursday, reports Mike Finger of the San Antonio-Express News. The battle over Wickline's buyout and eventual role in the Longhorns offense continues to wage on. The entire ordeal has actually overshadowed a pretty solid job from Wickline during his first season in Austin. With injuries and dismissals destroying his offensive line group, Wickline was still able to help the unit slowly improve during the home stretch of the season including a pair of 200-yard rushing games.
- Oklahoma State's Bedlam win over Oklahoma might have meant more to Cowboys running back Desmond Roland than any other person on the field. The senior lost his mother Carolyn to cancer during the season and told The Oklahoman's Kyle Fredrickson "It felt like a spirit hit me" as the game headed into overtime. It was good to see something positive happen to Roland after all the sadness and disappointment that he overcame during his final season.
- It's been a frustrating scenario for Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard, who has been trying to overcome a groin injury since early November, writes Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World. A critical part of OU's passing game, Shepard tried to play against Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State but simply couldn't accelerate or be as explosive as normal, forcing him to miss the bulk of those games. He remains questionable for the Russell Athletic Bowl but is confident he could return to action after having some time to rest the injury. Trevor Knight's return to the Sooners offense is key but Shepard's potential return is even more important. The junior receiver brings game-breaking ability to the perimeter and was one of the nation's best receivers before his injury.
- West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett has been cleared to play in the Autozone Liberty Bowl after missing WVU's final game due to a concussion. Coach Dana Holgorsen called the Mountaineers' bowl game starter a "game-time decision" and even mentioned a "rotation" during his pre-bowl news conference on Thursday. It's a smart move for Holgorsen to consider using both quarterbacks. Skyler Howard had a strong game to lead WVU to a win over Iowa State in the Mountaineers final game and could be the starter in 2015 yet Trickett's improved play is one of the main reasons for his team's bowl berth. It seems like the right move to reward both guys with snaps in the bowl game.
- TCU didn't make a playoff but the Horned Frogs are No. 1 on this list of College Football's Top 25, ranked by academics. Kansas State is ranked No. 10, Baylor is No. 16 to round out the Big 12 schools in the ranking. It should be a nice tip of the cap to Gary Patterson's program, which clearly values off-the-field excellence in addition to its on-field success this fall. No wonder Patterson has been pulling in the coach of the year awards on a regular basis since season's end.
Yet each team had players who made a significant impact on their teams that went largely unnoticed as teammates grabbed the headlines. With the help of SIDs around the conference, here's a closer look at the Big 12's unsung heroes during the 2014 season:
Baylor LB/S Collin Brence: A former walk-on, Brence started every game for Baylor, finishing with 49 tackles and adding seven hurries, 3.5 tackles for loss and one interception. On a defense with stars like Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart, Brence was quietly a key contributor as the Bears won a second-straight Big 12 title.
Iowa State WR D’Vario Montgomery: The sophomore transfer from South Florida emerged as the Cyclones’ best receiving threat during the home stretch of the season. Montgomery had 41 receptions for 564 yards and two touchdowns in ISU’s final seven games. His 605 receiving yards led the team and his 13.75 yards per catch average was tops among Cyclones with at least 10 receptions.
Kansas C Joe Gibson: The redshirt freshman took over starting center duties midway through the season and brought solidarity to the Jayhawks' interior line. Making QB Michael Cummings the starter and Eric Kiesau the playcaller were among the noted changes that paid off during Clint Bowen’s time as interim coach but Gibson’s role was just as important.
Kansas State DT Travis Britz: A valuable part of K-State’s defense, Britz was a key member of one of the Big 12’s top defenses before missing the final two games with an injury. The junior provided an anchor for Bill Snyder’s squad with 27 tackles including five tackles for loss and three sacks.
Oklahoma FB Aaron Ripkowski: Samaje Perine doesn’t become the Big 12’s best freshman without the help of the former walk-on fullback. Ripkowski was a driving force behind the Sooners’ running success as teams set out to stop the run yet still failed against the crimson and cream. Ripkowski’s aggressive nature, durability and stellar blocking helped OU rank No. 1 in the Big 12 in nearly every rushing category.
Oklahoma State DT Ofa Hautau: Emmanuel Ogbah grabbed Big 12 defensive lineman of the year honors but Hautau played a key role in OSU’s defensive line. His 28 tackles including 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks don’t speak to the value he brought to the table in the interior of the Pokes' defense.
Texas TE Geoff Swaim: The senior brought a consistent physical presence to the Longhorns' running game while the offensive line went through injuries, changes and uncertainty for much of the year. He also played a critical role on the Longhorns’ special-teams units.
TCU DT Davion Pierson: While Chucky Hunter got the headlines, Pierson was just as good along the Horned Frogs' defensive interior. The junior was disruptive with 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks for TCU while giving the Horned Frogs arguably the Big 12’s top defensive tackle duo.
Texas Tech HB DeAndre Washington: It’s unusual to consider Washington unsung but he was that good for the Red Raiders in 2014. There was a direct correlation between Washington’s production and Tech’s win total. He rushed for 100 yards in three of Tech’s four wins and he joined Perine and BU’s Shock Linwood as the only Big 12 running backs to surpass 1,000 rushing yards this season.
West Virginia LB Wes Tonkery: The senior brought stability to the Mountaineers defense, finishing with 62 tackles as WVU’s improved defense helped Dana Holgorsen’s squad return to a bowl game after a one-year hiatus. Tonkery also added eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Though the Big 12 fell short in this season’s battle for the playoff, there will be another one to wage in 2015. The conference can take steps to ensure it doesn’t get left out again next season, notably by crafting a way to finally crown only One True Champion. But the Big 12 can also send a 2015 message to the playoff selection committee through a triumphant 2014 bowl season.
Though out of the playoff, the Big 12 is hardly devoid of high-profile matchups against name teams this bowl season. And a successful bowl record would cement national perception of the strength and depth of the Big 12 while setting the conference up for a run at the playoff next season.
"It won’t help us this year," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. "But it would help for next year."
That starts with conference co-champs Baylor and TCU, which play in the prestigious New Year’s Six bowls against opponents that were ranked in the top 10 for most of the season.
The Bears will face Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. The defensive-minded Spartans went 10-2, with their only two losses coming against playoff teams Oregon and Ohio State. Michigan State won the Big Ten last season, and boasts the nation’s seventh-ranked defense.
"There's a statement to be made just for us nationwide," said Baylor safety Orion Stewart. "To show (the nation) that we really have one of the best programs in the country."
The same way the Bears’ loss to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl last season hurt Baylor’s standing, a win against Michigan State would solidify the Bears as a title contender again in 2015, even without quarterback Bryce Petty. Especially if the Bears can light up the scoreboard against Michigan State, which surrendered more than 31 points just twice all season (to the Ducks and Buckeyes).
"We're playing one of the greatest teams in America, Michigan State," said Baylor coach Art Briles. "There have been four football programs that have played in back-to-back BCS (level) games; you're talking to one of them (Baylor) and Michigan State is one of them, (along with) Florida State and Alabama. That's pretty good company in my book."
TCU will also be in good company in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. The playoff committee had Ole Miss in the top four in its first two playoff rankings before the Rebels stumbled against LSU and Auburn in back-to-back weeks. Still, Ole Miss bounced back to hammer fourth-ranked Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to claim a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. Like Michigan State, Ole Miss features one of the best defenses in the country, with a unit that leads the nation in scoring defense with an average allowance of just 13.8 points per game. The Rebels flashed how dynamic they can be when they downed Alabama early in the season.
"(Our team) wanted to play somebody that was a caliber of a top-five team," said TCU coach Patterson, "and we feel like Ole Miss is that team."
In 2015, TCU will bring back quarterback Trevone Boykin and nine other offensive starters, meaning the Horned Frogs could be primed for another run at the playoff next season. A victory against a quality SEC West opponent would position TCU well for the start of 2015. And a Big 12 sweep in the Cotton and Peach bowls against top-10 competition would reaffirm that the best of the Big 12 can play with anyone in the country.
"Ole Miss is a team that was as high as third in the nation, that played at a very high level, that could have been in the playoffs, lost a couple heartbreakers," Patterson said. "We feel like this is a playoff game."
The two New Year's Six bowls, however, aren’t the only opportunities for the Big 12 to deliver statements.
In the Valero Alamo Bowl, Kansas State meets UCLA, a team that was in playoff contention until late in the season. Oklahoma takes on ACC power Clemson and college football's No. 1-ranked total defense in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
In the Autozone Liberty Bowl and Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, West Virginia and Texas have a chance to land wins against SEC West opponents Texas A&M and Arkansas, respectively.
Even Oklahoma State takes on a talented Washington team in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.
Sure, there are no easy bowl games for the Big 12. But every win will count toward forging the league’s reputation for 2015.
"I was shocked (the Big 12 was left out of the playoff) based on the strength of this league from top to bottom," Gundy said. "We can’t have this many good football teams in this league and not get one in the top four. We can’t allow that to happen again."
The Big 12 can take steps off the field to ensure it doesn’t happen.
But in the meantime, the Big 12 can take some big steps on the field this bowl season, too.
All told, six players from the ESPN JC 50 signed with Big 12 schools, including a conference-high three to Oklahoma.
Not everyone in the league, however, signed juco help this week. Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas State did not sign any juco players Wednesday.
Below is a roundup of this week's Big 12 juco signees (remember, this list does not include juco players who will sign in February):
- OT Dominic Desouza (No. 17 OT)
- OL D’Andre Banks (No. 8 OG)
- CB Bazie Bates IV (No. 11 CB)
- DL Jacky Dezir (No. 11 DT)
- RB Ke’aun Kinner (No. 8 RB)
- DB Michael Mathis (No. 3 ATH)
- OL Jayson Rhodes (No. 5 OG)
- OG Will Smith (No. 3 OG)
- CB Brandon Stewart (not ranked)
- OG Jamal Danley (No. 1 OG, ESPN JC 50)
- CB William Johnson (No. 2 CB, ESPN JC 50)
- WR DeDe Westbrook (No. 3 WR, ESPN JC 50)
- S Jordan Burton (No. 8 S)
- OT Matt Kellerman (No. 14 OT)
- DT Motekiai Maile (No. 8 DT, ESPN JC 50)
- RB Todd Mays (No. 7 RB)
- OT Brandon Pertile (No. 18 OT)
- OT Victor Salako (UAB transfer)
- OT Brandon Hodges (No. 8 OT)
- OT Tristan Nickelson (No. 16 OT)
- DE Quincy Vasser (No. 3 DE, ESPN JC 50)
- DE Larry Jefferson (No. 8 DE)
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35 Final Rutgers 40 North Carolina 21 Final North Carolina State 34 UCF 27
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State