Q&A: TCU safety Sam Carter

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
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Sam Carter is one of the Big 12's top defenders. The TCU safety has started 25 straight games and has earned second-team All-Big 12 honors twice for the Horned Frogs heading into his senior season. One of the leaders on Gary Patterson's defense, Carter took some time during Big 12 media days to chat about last season, the Horned Frogs' defense and Kevin White trying to fill the void left by Jason Verrett.

[+] EnlargeSam Carter
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsSenior safety Sam Carter is looking to help turn around TCU after a 4-8 season in 2013.
How do you look at last year? You were close in so many games then let them get away, what did you learn so those games won’t get away this year?

Sam Carter: You learn from all of your losses, you learn from all of your wins. It’s just understanding that, at the end of the day, they made one more play than you did and understand it’s in the past. I forgive all those teams that beat us but never forget. I have not forgot about those games, it’s not winning games that make you a better team, it’s losing games. Sometimes when you win, some guys think, ‘I did this, I did that.’ When you lose, you can’t point fingers because you lost as a team. I’m excited to go into the season and know those mistakes are behind us. We went 4-8 last season, it's in the past.

Do you think people overlook your defense?

SC: I don’t really know, they might. I’m not a big stats guy but I know my coach [Patterson] is one of the top coaches in the nation. He has a lot of wins. Folks say, ‘Well, that was the Mountain West,’ but I’ve seen Mountain West teams beat all these other big programs. You just have to not worry about what people say and just play football.

When you look at your defense, I know you won’t put it on your offense, but there were situations where the defense was actually was real solid.

SC: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that we wish our offense had played better, but that’s in the past. I forgive them but haven’t forgot, either, with our offense. We know if you live in the past you might think, the offense just went three-and-out then we go out there and let them score because we’re worried about what the offense did. Just play, let the chips fall where they fall. We need to give them the ball back so they get another opportunity to score. That’s all we can control.

Tell me more about Kevin White.

SC: He’s like a brother to me, we came in the same year. We call him “Squirrel.” Kevin started off rough, just like Jason did, first few games were rough. He has the confidence now, he’s the guy. Last year, Jason was the guy. Now Kevin is the guy and all the young corners look up to him. I believe the experience that he has and the leadership he brings knowing what it takes to play in Division I and in the Big 12 is going to help the young cornerbacks. I’m excited to see what he does. To be able to say I left with this guy after coming in with this guy, I’m excited.

Do you think he has a chip on his shoulder? He’s been overshadowed by Jason.

SC: I tell people all the time, sometimes it’s your time, sometimes it’s not. I feel I’ve been overlooked for the longest, not just on my team but in the nation. When it’s not your time, you have to wait. God does things for a reason. Patience is the key to success. If you feel you’ve been overlooked, the only way to stop people from overlooking you is to do something they remember. And that’s how I look at every year, I try to come out and do something to make people say, ‘Wow, that’s the kid we should watch.’ When the light is shining on someone, you never want to be the guy to say, 'Give me that.' No, be happy for them and let God bless you later. I’m happy for Jason. If [Kevin] feels overshadowed, the only way to stop that is do something you’ve never done before.

Do you have a much better feel for the conference now than when you came in?

SC: I don’t know. There are still things all these Big 12 schools do that you get there and say, 'Wow, I didn’t see that on tape.' Every snap I’m learning something new about the Big 12.

Texas A&M Aggies season preview

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
10:30
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» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Texas A&M Aggies:

2013 record: 9-4

Final grade for 2013 season: The Aggies finished fourth in the SEC West, and considering the lofty preseason expectations placed upon them with a returning Heisman Trophy winner and three eventual first-round NFL draft picks, it wasn't quite the season they hoped for. The nine wins are nice, and so was the Chick-fil-A Bowl victory, but they were 1-4 against Top 25 teams. We'll give them a B-minus.

Key losses: QB Johnny Manziel, RB Ben Malena, WR Mike Evans, WR Travis Labhart, OT Jake Matthews, DT Isaiah Golden, DE Gavin Stansbury, LB Darian Claiborne, LB Steven Jenkins.

Key returnees: QB Kenny Hill, RB Tra Carson, RB Trey Williams, WR Malcome Kennedy, WR Ricky Seals-Jones, OT Cedric Ogbuehi, C Mike Matthews, DE Julien Obioha, LB Jordan Mastrogiovanni, CB Deshazor Everett, CB De'Vante Harris.

Projected 2014 starters: QB Kenny Hill, RB Tra Carson, LT Cedric Ogbuehi, LG Garrett Gramling, C Mike Matthews, RG Joseph Cheek, RT Germain Ifedi, WR Speedy Noil, WR Ricky Seals-Jones, WR Malcome Kennedy, WR Joshua Reynolds, DE Daeshon Hall, DT Alonzo Williams, DT Hardreck Walker, DE Julien Obioha, OLB Donnie Baggs, MLB Jordan Mastrogiovanni, OLB A.J. Hilliard, CB Deshazor Everett, S Howard Matthews, S Armani Watts, CB De'Vante Harris.

Instant-impact newcomers: WR Speedy Noil, DE Myles Garrett, WR Joshua Reynolds, DT Zaycoven Henderson, S Armani Watts

[+] EnlargeDeshazor Everett
AP Photo/Bob LeveyDeshazor Everett and the Aggies' defense will have their work cut out for them this season.
Breakout player: His collegiate debut as a true freshman gave us a glimpse of his ability but an injury robbed Ricky Seals-Jones of the rest of his season. Now he's healthy, big (6-foot-5, 230 pounds), fast for his size and only continues to get better as a receiver. He'll be able to line up inside or outside, but expect him to spend most of his time as an inside receiver, looking for mismatches against linebackers and safeties. He is developing good chemistry with new starting quarterback Kenny Hill, so expect the 2013 ESPN 300 recruit to have a huge season.

Most important game: There are plenty of big ones, but our pick is South Carolina. Yes, it's the season opener and there are 11 games that follow, but for a young A&M team that has inexperienced players in many key positions, most notably quarterback, going to Columbia and generating some confidence -- win or lose -- will be important. The Gamecocks are a top-10 team and SEC road games are tough, but think of the way the Aggies got on a roll after their competitive SEC debut in 2012, a 20-17 loss to Florida. Like that season, the Aggies have a lot to prove and many tough SEC road games in their future, and a win or at least playing well on Aug. 28 can go a long way toward getting this group heading in the right direction.

Biggest question mark: Without question, it's the defense. It was atrocious last season and the Aggies lost four players this offseason who they expected to return, three of which would likely have been starters. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder is encouraged by the increased athleticism and depth his group has, thanks in large part to the influx of talent from the 2014 recruiting class, but there are still many unproven talents who will log significant time in the front seven. Can they take a step forward this season?

Upset special: Keep an eye on the LSU game. Seems to be an unusual choice, since the Aggies didn't beat the Tigers the two years Manziel was on campus, but the last time LSU visited Kyle Field, Texas A&M took a 12-0 lead with its up-tempo offense before the Tigers came from behind to win 24-19 in Manziel's freshman season. Night games at Kyle Field usually provide for an electric atmosphere, so expect nothing less on Thanksgiving night. By Game 12, the Aggies' offense should be operating at peak efficiency and the young defense should be coming into its own. Don't be shocked if the Aggies finally upend the Tigers here.

Key stat: Texas A&M returns offensive linemen that combine for 78 career starts, though the most tenured starter of them all -- guard Jarvis Harrison (31 starts) -- might not start, an indication of the depth the Aggies developed across their offensive front.

They said it: "That was a very tough decision. Both of them are playing at a very high level. I just kind of went back to my gut feeling and the maturity of him and being around this system for one year. There were a lot of other factors, but that was the one that kind of stood out the most to me, because he sat here and watched Johnny for a year and he's going to be put in some situation that he has probably – hopefully – seen before, and he can get us out of those bad looks." -- Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital, on why the Aggies chose Kenny Hill to start at quarterback over Kyle Allen.

Preseason predictions:

ESPN Stats & Information: 8.3 wins

Bovada over/under: 7 wins

Our take: The schedule-makers did the Aggies no favors by giving them road games at South Carolina, Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn. That's tough for a young squad. Fortunately for the Aggies, after the opener at Williams Brice Stadium, they have three manageable nonconference games and Arkansas, so the opportunity to string wins together is there early in the season. Even minus Manziel, Evans and Matthews, this offense should still be one of the best in the nation given Kevin Sumlin's and Jake Spavital's track record for coaching offensive football. Will the defense be better? It should be given the added talent and depth. How much better is the key question and will be the difference between a six- or seven-win season and an eight- or nine-win season. This is definitely a bowl team but probably not ready to finish in the top two of the SEC West yet; 2015 is the season this team could take a huge step forward. If the Aggies finish the 2014 regular season with eight wins, that should be considered a good year and something to build on for 2015.

Big 12 morning links

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
8:00
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Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A breakfast with morning links? One thousand percent better. In fact, 9 of 10 nutritionists recommend morning links as a healthy companion to your breakfast.
  • The future of Kansas' offense took a downward turn when the Jayhawks announced the loss of Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox to season-ending injuries on Tuesday, writes Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. It's a painful loss for a KU offense that is going to need a strong running game to help take the burden off sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart. Neither Cox or Bourbon come to mind as the top playmakers in KU's offense before injuries took them out of the equation -- Tony Pierson and Nick Harwell top the list -- but it's hard to overlook the impact on KU's offense. The good news is Corey Avery stepped on campus ready to play as a freshman and De'Andre Mann is another option at running back for the Jayhawks.
  • Iowa State safety Kamara Cotton-Moya was shot, yet he insists losing last season to an Achilles injury was worse, writes Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register. The redshirt freshman was says he learned to "try not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time" from the incident, which occurred before he headed to Ames, Iowa, last summer. Cotton-Moya's story is an interesting one but his impact on the field is just as intriguing. He would have likely joined Nigel Tribune as a true freshman to see time in ISU's secondary in 2013 if he hadn't hurt his Achilles, so it should be fun to monitor his impact on a defense that needs to replace its top two tacklers (Jacques Washington, Jeremiah George) from 2013.
  • Who is the active leader in career tackles on Kansas State's roster? Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star has the surprising answer: Randall Evans sits atop the list with 146 career tackles. Evans isn't a guy who comes to mind when you think of the most productive defenders on Bill Snyder's team but Robinett's story reminds us just how important the versatile Evans is to K-State's defense, particularly considering the fact he goes head to head with some of the Big 12's best receivers at his slot cornerback position.
  • The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel believes Oklahoma State is a Big 12 heavyweight. Why? The Cowboys' defensive line tells the tale as that group is the best unit on OSU's defense heading into 2014 which is sign things have changed in Stillwater, Oklahoma. It's hard to disagree as quality defensive linemen often help separate teams and are easily the hardest jewel to find on the recruiting trail. Is OSU's defensive line good enough to overcome concerns at linebacker and safety? That's the bigger, unanswered question.
  • Finally, in case you missed it, take a look at Grantland's Big 12 preview by Holly Anderson. It's a fun look at the conference including a outlandish prediction that someone in the conference will score 100 points in a game this season. Yes, you read that right, 100 points. Could it happen? I don't think so, but that's why they call it an outlandish prediction.

Position battle update: Texas WR

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
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Texas' wide receiving corps lost three players to discipline and one starter to an injury. Who's left? Who's going to make an impact in the Longhorns' opener against North Texas? Here's a closer look.

Contenders: Junior Marcus Johnson, sophomore Jacorey Warrick, redshirt freshman Jake Oliver, freshmen Armanti Foreman, Dorian Leonard, Lorenzo Joe, Roderick Bernard, Garrett Gray, sophomore Ty Templin, senior John Harris

Not contenders: Jaxon Shipley is sidelined indefinitely with a hamstring injury. Daje Johnson is suspended for at least one game. Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander were dismissed from the program before fall camp.

What they replace: Not only do the Longhorns need a possession receiver as reliable as Shipley while he's recovering, they also must replace top deep threat Mike Davis. There's still no word on how quickly Shipley will be back on the field. Davis, who's now in Oakland Raiders camp, finished with 2,753 career receiving yards and 18 TDs. Sanders was supposed to be a major contributor for this group after catching 37 passes for 361 yards and a TD as a sophomore last year.

What they offer: The only proven commodity in the group is Johnson. He offers serious speed; he was productive last season, including in big games, and he can play inside or outside. With Shipley sidelined, you'd have to think Johnson will be the go-to target for David Ash to start the season.

But who knows what to expect from the rest. Warrick, known by his peers as "Petey," has earned consistent praise from Charlie Strong and his coaches and saw a little mop-up duty last season.

Oliver redshirted last season and could be a nice target on the outside with his 6-foot-3 frame. Harris is a guy who made a few big plays in 2013, but has still yet to really break through and earn consistent playing time.

What remains to be seen is just how far these five true freshmen have come in the past few weeks. The coaching staff has repeatedly said publicly that all five are doing well and haven't singled out one or two as standing out above the rest. But Strong has acknowledged he likes Foreman's explosiveness and playmaking ability. Joe and Leonard seem to have a real shot at playing as well.

And then the surprise of the group has been Templin, a 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore walk-on whose efforts in fall camp have been called "unbelievable" by Strong. He played on the scout team last year but was getting first-team reps in Texas' only fall practice open to the media.

Prediction: Shipley will fight hard to try to get back for BYU and UCLA, and he just might pull that off. But in the meantime, Texas goes with a starting four of Marcus Johnson, Warrick, Harris and, yes, Templin. Foreman quickly works his way up to the No. 1 offense with a few nice plays against North Texas. And then the pressure is on for Daje Johnson, who needs to get back in good standing before the Longhorns get their rematch with the Cougars.

Position battle update: Oklahoma St. QB

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
10:00
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This week we'll be highlighting the key position battles for every program in the Big 12. We continue the series with Oklahoma State’s quarterback derby.

Here's where the battle stands:

Contenders: junior J.W. Walsh, junior Daxx Garman, freshman Mason Rudolph

What happened last season: Departed quarterback Clint Chelf ignited OSU’s offense when he took over as the starter midway through the 2013 season. He played as well as any quarterback in the conference during OSU’s final seven games, playing a major role in the Cowboys' late-season surge. Chelf finished second in the Big 12 with an 82.9 adjusted QBR.

Walsh started five games and played the majority of OSU’s season-opening win over Mississippi State while helping the Cowboys to a 10-3 record. His 74.5 adjusted QBR was fourth in the Big 12, and he rushed for 294 yards and passed for 1,333 yards in 2013. Nonetheless, Walsh hasn’t run away with OSU’s starting quarterback job heading into the 2014 season.

While Chelf and Walsh were running the Pokes' offense each Saturday, walk-on quarterback Garman was beginning to create some buzz in practice while sitting out due to transfer rules after transferring from Arizona.

What they offer: Walsh offers an unquestioned leader who has a proven ability to win Big 12 games. He enters his junior season with 2,897 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions along with 584 rushing yards and 10 scores in 18 games played. Walsh struggled at times during the 2013 season and needs to greatly improve as a passer, but nobody on the roster can match his experience or college production.

Garman’s ability to throw the ball started garnering attention last fall. His passing ability remains one of his top assets, with offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich repeatedly praising his throwing skills. Garman’s play is the main reason Walsh, despite his experience, has not been named the starter, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the former walk-on taking snaps in the season opener against Florida State.

Rudolph appears to be the Cowboys' quarterback of the future. The question is, could the future begin this fall? With OSU featuring two quality options ahead of him, Rudolph faces a long road to earning playing time this fall. And if he does, that’s a terrific sign for the future.

They said it: “As a group, the three of them had as good of a scrimmage at the quarterback position in a number of years.” -- OSU coach Mike Gundy after the Cowboys’ scrimmage on Saturday.

Prediction: The Cowboys’ quarterback battle will wage deep into the season. It would be a surprise if Walsh didn’t start against Florida State, particularly since his running ability could come in handy against an active Seminoles defensive front. But, much like last season, Walsh will have to hold off another quality quarterback behind him in Garman. There will probably be times when Garman is the best option instead of Walsh, and Rudolph’s physical gifts are impressive. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise if all three quarterbacks take snaps for the Cowboys in 2014.

Position battle update: TCU QB

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
4:00
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TCU will soon have an answer to its offseason-long question of who will replace Casey Pachall. Here's what we know:

Contenders: Senior Matt Joeckel, junior Trevone Boykin

Not contenders: Freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein are both expected to redshirt this fall, according to TCU coach Gary Patterson.

What they replace: While Pachall's final two seasons at TCU might best be described as rocky, he did leave Fort Worth as one of the school's top three all-time passers in completions, passing yards and passing TDs while ranking first in completion percentage. Between his suspension in 2012 and his injuries in 2013, Pachall was at times unreliable for this Horned Frog offense. Still, he started 23 career games and isn't easy to replace.

What they offer: Now that's what makes this competition so interesting, because each one brings a different kind of experience to the table.

Joeckel has the experience of operating an Air Raid offense with confidence, and that's crucial as TCU makes its transition to an offense that should resemble what we've seen from Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in recent years. He's had great mentors in Kevin Sumlin, Jake Spavital and Kliff Kingsbury. He has prototypical size and, after four years on the bench in College Station, he's hungry.

The downside is Joeckel showed up in June. He had a ton of catching up to do and he's done an admirable job so far, but not enough to lock down the job from Day 1.

Boykin brings a different kind of experience: He knows this team. The players know him. He's won a few games with them. He dropped 15 pounds this offseason and is in the best shape of his life. The OCs are new to him, but otherwise, this is Boykin's fourth year in the program. He says working with Sonny Cumbie has raised his game. And he happens to be one of the best athletes on the team.

The only problem with that is, if this race is dead even, is TCU better off going with Joeckel knowing that Boykin can still be a dynamic receiver? Wouldn't you prefer to have both on the field? Boykin is playing QB throughout camp with every intention of winning that job, but no doubt that idea was crossed Patterson's mind.

Prediction: We all expected Joeckel to win this in the end, but I'm betting on Boykin. There seems to be real enthusiasm about how he responded to competition this summer. Realistically, though, TCU's best course of action might be to use both QBs in their opener against Samford and then re-evaluate during the two weeks they have to prep for Minnesota.

Takeaways belt a point of pride for Texas D

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
1:30
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AUSTIN, Texas – When Texas linebacker Dalton Santos ran onto the field for practice last Sunday wearing a pro wrestling-style title belt, naturally, there were going to be questions.

While the belt and its origins remain shrouded in mystery, some key details have emerged.

The Texas Takeaways belt was introduced this fall as a method for inspiring the Longhorns' defense to take more pride in forcing turnovers, something it didn’t do too much of in 2013.

[+] EnlargeTexas championship belt
btp_longhorn/InstagramPeter Jinkens sports the takeaways belt, which goes to the unit that racks up the most points toward forcing turnovers
Every day, Charlie Strong’s defenders are graded by a point system for every interception, fumble, strip, rip and poke. There might be more criteria, but even Texas’ veterans are hesitant to reveal the criteria and point values.

“It’s just a fun thing we’ve got going on so everyone competes on defense,” defensive end Cedric Reed said.

The points reset every day, and it’s not just about which unit -- defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs -- scored the most in a given practice. If your unit won the day but didn’t meet the coaches’ required number of points, Reed said, no belt for you.

“Whoever wins the most days at the end of the week -- which will be the DBs this week -- will get that belt,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said.

The belt has a Longhorn logo and the word “WARRIOR” printed in the middle of its silver plate. Players say they don’t know where it came from. Cornerback Duke Thomas claimed defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn brought it in to work one day. Texas’ defense has been battling ever since.

Last season, Texas finished with 10 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and 16 fumble recoveries. Its 26 takeaways tied for 26th-best nationally, but the turnover margin was a mere plus-four. Only three FBS schools recovered more fumbles, so that’s a positive, but Texas’ interception total ranked eighth in the Big 12 and 82nd nationally, and the 12 forced fumbles tied for fewest in a single season in school history.

Strong’s defense at Louisville put up relatively similar numbers last year, but did have 16 interceptions and the No. 2 turnover margin in the nation at plus-17.

“Whatever you emphasize and whatever you put in, you get out,” said Thomas, whose three interceptions led the Longhorns last year. “That’s what we’re trying to do right now.”

The linebackers evidently won the belt for the first week of fall camp. Three days after Santos ran onto the field to show it off, Texas’ defensive backs earned it back.

And yet, as is the case with most wrestling and boxing belts, this one comes with dispute.

“Just to let y’all know, the D-line is winning it,” Reed said. “We run out there with it pretty much every time.”

Diggs frowned in disgust when told Reed had claimed domination of the belt.

“Look at my face. Ced has told y’all a big, flat-out lie,” Diggs said.

Added an outraged Thomas: “The DBs are going to have the belt regardless. Aww, man, we had like 35 points [on Friday]. Ced doesn’t know what he’s talking about. They didn’t get no points out there.”

After Texas’ first scrimmage on Saturday, the defending champ entering the weekend was holding on tight to his prize. He was confident the DBs were ahead in the points race.

“It’s meant a lot,” Diggs said. “If you go in the locker room right now, it’s in my locker. So that can tell you who’s winning that belt.”

On Monday morning, Reed fired back the best way he could: with a photo of the belt's new true owners.

Aggies QB Hill groomed for new role

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
1:00
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Kenny Hill knows plenty about pressure.

From the time he became a varsity quarterback at Texas high school football power Southlake Carroll to preparing for the unknown as a true freshman at Texas A&M, to engaging in an offseason battle for the right to succeed Johnny Manziel, Hill has met and conquered his fair share of challenges.

Now, his biggest one awaits.

After being officially named the Aggies’ starting quarterback by coach Kevin Sumlin on Saturday, Hill prepares to lead Texas A&M into its post-Johnny Football era on Aug. 28 when the Aggies visit South Carolina.

[+] EnlargeHill
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesKenny Hill was named the Aggies' starting quarterback on Saturday.
It’s a moment that Hill has been groomed for.

Hill is no stranger to following a rich legacy. At Southlake, the standards are high -- especially if you’re a quarterback. The program owns eight state championships and is a factory for Division I quarterbacks. Chase Wasson, Chase Daniel, Greg McElroy, Riley Dodge, Kyle Padron and David Piland, who all preceded Hill, went on to play college football.

“Is there pressure? Yes,” said Southlake Carroll coach Hal Wasson, who coached several of the aforementioned players, including Hill. “Every quarterback since '02 has gone D-I.”

But Wasson and those close to Hill never compared him to his assembly line of predecessors. They pressed him to create his own identity -- a concept he embraced.

“Like Kenny would say, he can't be anybody but himself,” said Ken Hill Sr., Kenny’s father. “He's not trying to be somebody he’s not. You have to create your own opportunity and your own legacy.”

Kenny Hill did. In 2011, Hill guided the Dragons to a 16-0 record and a state championship as a junior. Whether by air (3,014 passing yards, 25 touchdowns) or on the ground (1,400 yards, 24 touchdowns), Hill was dominant. As a senior, he accounted for 3,196 offensive yards and 42 touchdowns en route to Gatorade Texas Player of the Year honors.

"He handled that well,” Hill Sr. said. “Like I always tell him, just go out there and do your deal. ... People can talk all they want but your play on the field will speak [for itself]."

Living up to a high standard comes natural to Hill because of his bloodlines. His father, Ken Hill Sr., had a 14-year Major League Baseball career as a pitcher, one that included an All-Star season in 1994.

Kenny Hill continued Carroll’s tradition of Division I quarterbacks by signing with Texas A&M in 2013 and before long, he was thrust into another potential pressure situation. As questions about Manziel’s eligibility loomed amid an NCAA investigation into a pay-for-autographs controversy, Sumlin had Hill, then a true freshman, battle for a chance to start in the event Manziel was suspended.

Manziel wound up serving only a two-quarter suspension, but Hill’s camp performance earned him playing time later, as he appeared in four games as a freshman. That experience proved invaluable entering yet another training camp quarterback race this month with prized recruit Kyle Allen.

Hill’s ability to assimilate the Aggies’ Air Raid-style offense can also be attributed to his prep days; Southlake Carroll ran similar concepts. Texas A&M quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital immediately noticed Hill’s comfort level with the offense.

“You can tell he was raised in a spread, no-huddle system,” Spavital said. “That comes pretty much second nature to him.”

The journey wasn’t without hurdles. Hill missed the final week of spring football practice after an arrest on a public intoxication charge in March.

It was an eye-opener for the 19-year-old. Not only was he suspended from team activities, cell phone photos of Hill passed out in a planter box circulated on social media.

“He was embarrassed,” Hill Sr. said. “Not only did he let his family down, he let the university down, coaches down, teammates. It wasn't a good moment. It was an embarrassing moment. Hopefully he'll continue to learn from it."

Once reinstated for summer workouts, Hill bounced back.

"He's a completely different person now,” said Texas A&M receiver Sabian Holmes, who was also a high school teammate of Hill’s. “You can tell he wants it and he takes everything more serious, not just football but off-the-field decisions and he takes the film [study] more serious.”

If there’s one thing that has carried Hill to this point, it’s his toughness. Whether it's from a mental standpoint (dealing with the daily grind or off-field noise) or a physical standpoint (carrying the ball 382 times in his final two seasons at Southlake Carroll or adding muscle to prepare for the rigors of an SEC schedule), Hill has displayed the necessary fortitude.

“I always admired his toughness,” Hal Wasson said. “I admired the way he commanded a huddle. ... [I remember a game he] didn't play as well as he wanted to, he walked into my office and said ‘Coach, I wasn't at my best, I apologize and it'll never happen again,’ and it didn't. He always took ownership in everything he did.”

When reporting day for Aggies training camp approached this month, Hill was excited and confident. After a year of spot duty and watching Manziel work his magic, his opportunity called and he grabbed it.

Yes, succeeding Johnny Football is a tough task. But Hill was groomed for it.

“With Kenny, his composure, there's really no situation that's too big for him,” Texas A&M sophomore quarterback Conner McQueen said. “Pressure doesn't ever seem to faze Kenny.”

Big 12 mailbag: Uniforms, DGB

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
4:00
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In today’s mailbag, we discuss uniforms, Dorial Green-Beckham and Baylor's home schedule.

I took Twitter questions for this mailbag. But you can always submit a mailbag entry the traditional way by clicking here.

On to the 'bag:

@Jake_Trotter: If Heard is clearly the No. 3 quarterback, then they should try to redshirt him. But remember, he's playing behind a quarterback in David Ash with a severe injury history. And another in Tyrone Swoopes, who has yet to prove he can be a viable Big 12 quarterback. So while I think it would be beneficial to redshirt Heard for his future development, they need to keep him ready to play just in case.

@Jake_Trotter: I don't know who has the "worst" uniform, but there are some pieces in this league I don't like. I love Oklahoma State's alternates, but I'm not a fan of their shiny orange helmet with the interlocking "OSU" logo. Texas Tech's all black is one of the cleanest looks in the league, but their Lone Star Pride uniform is not my favorite. I'm not big on Oklahoma's alternates, but we'll see what they look like in person. The beak on Kansas' Crimson Chrome helmets is way too big, though I did enjoy the alternates the Jayhawks introduced last year.

@Jake_Trotter: I had Iowa State's receiving corps ranked sixth in the spring. With Kendall Sanders gone, Daje Johnson suspended and Jaxon Shipley nursing a hamstring injury, I could see myself slotting the Cyclones ahead of Texas. But if Dorial Green-Beckham were cleared, they would fall back behind Oklahoma. Either way, somewhere around sixth feels about right for Iowa State going into the season.

@Jake_Trotter: Not anytime soon, because there's no one feasible to add at the moment that makes sense for everyone financially, geographically, competitively.

@Jake_Trotter: There are really only three possibilities for a home loss. TCU on Oct. 11; Oklahoma State on Nov. 22; and Kansas State on Dec. 6. The Horned Frogs still have much to prove offensively before I'd pick them to win in Waco. Oklahoma State has traditionally played Baylor well, but the Cowboys are going to be very young this year. That leaves Kansas State as the most likely to pull the upset. That could be a dangerous game for the Bears. But if you're asking me today if Baylor loses at home this year, I say no.

@Jake_Trotter: Depends on who it is. And who that team beat during the nonconference relative to the other 11-1/12-1 teams that would theoretically be in the mix. This is where the Bears could fall into trouble. Baylor's best win would be SMU, which isn't going to stack up well. An 11-1 Big 12 champ would have a great chance. But it wouldn't be a lock, either.

@Jake_Trotter: Well, Shannon isn't technically off the team yet. He's still practicing while waiting to learn the outcome of his appeal. But anytime you lose your leading tackler, it hurts. Shannon has been a good player for the Sooners the past two years. That said, I think it's a defection the Oklahoma defense would be able to overcome. Jordan Evans was solid as a true freshman last year. He should be able to step in and fill Shannon's role. Evans would also be flanked by some very good players, which would help ease the transition.  

Ben R. in San Jose, California writes: How bad is ESPN going to look for ignoring KSU in the initial power rankings? They missed out of the Top 25 and Travis Haney's next four.

Trotter: I didn’t have a vote in the ESPN Top 25, but I would have advocated having the Wildcats ranked ahead of Texas and TCU. K-State is third in my Big 12 power rankings for a reason. So you and I are in agreement, even if others are not.

Kale in Dallas writes: Hey Jake, assuming DGB remains ineligible, there is a ton of talent but little experience at receiver for OU this year. I know Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal are locks to start, and Jordan Smallwood, K.J. Young and Michiah Quick are getting hype, but what about Austin Bennett? He looked really sharp in the spring game, and he could really make an impact.

Trotter: It’s going to come down to who makes plays in practice the next two weeks and the early portion of the schedule. Shepard is the only receiver right now guaranteed to be part of the rotation. Bennett is in that mix. But the competition for inclusion in that rotation will be fierce.

Bob Stoops rides on Sooner Schooner

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
1:41
PM CT
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione has plans to place food trucks on campus to feed the Sooners' student-athletes. But it's doubtful any of those trucks will be as cool the one the football team ate from Friday.

At the end of practice, coach Bob Stoops rode in on the Sooner Schooner wearing a cowboy hat and wielding a Ruf/Nek shotgun. He also brought with him some frozen treats for the players.

Sumlin cancels practice; Aggies rejoice

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
12:00
PM CT
The Texas A&M Aggies were dressed out, padded up and ready to begin their second practice of the day on Thursday and their 15th of preseason training camp until Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin delivered a special message with a change of plans.

"We're going to see a movie ... no practice."

The way the players celebrated, you would think they were just told they won the SEC championship.

The good folks at AggieFBLife.com captured Sumlin delivering the news and the player reaction:



The Aggies got some rest before a full scrimmage scheduled for Friday evening, their third scrimmage of camp and their second of the week after a "mini-scrimmage" on Wednesday.

Let's just say the team was a fan of the decision and of Sumlin himself. Here are some of the reactions from A&M players on Twitter:

Big 12 true freshman power rankings

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
9:30
AM CT
Today, we debut our Big 12 true freshman power rankings, which we’ll update occasionally through August and the season. This list combines the factors of playing time and potential impact.

Without further ado, the Big 12 freshman power ranks:

1. Dravon Henry, FS, West Virginia: After just a few months in Morgantown, Henry is pushing to be the starting free safety for the opener against Alabama, another team that also recruited him hard. The ultra-athletic Henry could also be a factor in the return game. He and cornerback Daryl Worley give the Mountaineers potentially two of the best young defensive backs in the Big 12.

2. Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State: The gem of Iowa State’s recruiting class has not disappointed this preseason. He is already getting first-team reps alongside Quenton Bundrage and E.J. Bibbs. If he continues to progress, Lazard could round out a dynamic pass-catching trio.

3. K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor: Cannon is behind Lazard, but only because the Bears are loaded at wide receiver. Cannon has been equally as impressive. Baylor coach Art Briles acknowledged that Cannon has proved to be even faster than he thought while recruiting him.

4. Armanti Foreman, WR, Texas: Foreman has taken full advantage of the injuries and dismissals Texas has endured at the wide receiving position this preseason. He might even have a chance to start the opener against North Texas.

5. Corey Avery, RB, Kansas: Avery could be heir in the Kansas backfield to departed All-Big 12 running back James Sims. Avery has wowed with his ability to make defenders miss and has recently begun to receive first-team snaps.

6. Dimitri Flowers, FB, Oklahoma: The Sooners raved about Flowers in the spring before he suffered an injury in the spring game. The 220-pound Flowers, who has drawn comparisons to former Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard, is healthy again and figures to be a big part of the Sooners’ pistol attack.

7. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: Up until late in the recruiting process, this small-school Texas standout’s only other offer was from Texas State. But the Cowboys have apparently uncovered a diamond in the rough in Washington, who has been turning heads with his knack for catching any pass in his direction. Oklahoma State is deep at receiver, but Washington has played himself into a rotation role.

8. William Crest, QB, West Virginia: Clint Trickett was named the starter over the summer, but Crest is vying to become West Virginia’s second-team quarterback. That could be a critical role, considering Trickett’s injury history. Dana Holgorsen also has hinted at installing a special offensive package for his athletic quarterback.

9. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech: Davis Webb is the clear-cut starter in Lubbock, but Mahomes is showing he might be ready to be a reliable backup. Mahomes tossed five touchdown passes during a scrimmage over the weekend. That might also be an indictment of Tech’s second-team defense. But even against air, five touchdowns is impressive.

10. Emanuel Porter, WR, TCU: With Trevone Boykin still working at quarterback, the Horned Frogs need help at receiver. They’ve been getting it from Porter, who has impressed the coaching staff with his penchant for making big plays downfield.

On the radar: Dalvin Warmack, RB, Kansas State; Jeffery Mead, WR, Oklahoma; Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech

Petty ranked sixth in Heisman Watch

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
2:30
PM CT
If you ask Art Briles, Bryce Petty should've been a Heisman Trophy finalist last December.

"You know, honestly, personally and professionally, I'm a little upset about the way it all transpired last year," Briles said at Big 12 media days. "I certainly felt like he should have been in New York, without question."

But Petty has another opportunity -- and a huge one -- to make a run at the trophy this fall. Baylor's senior quarterback is ranked No. 6 in the first edition of ESPN.com's weekly Heisman Watch poll.

Petty received votes from four of our 10 national experts and is the No. 5 quarterback on the list behind Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Braxton Miller and Brett Hundley.

If you're curious what Vegas thinks of the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Bovada.lv has tabbed Petty's odds of winning the Heisman at 12/1. They also set the over-unders for his 2014 production: 3,700.5 passing yards, 30 1/2 touchdowns.

Petty laughed last week when asked whether he thinks people should starting buying in at those Heisman odds. He said he's never been to Las Vegas and doesn't know how that betting industry works, but he's excited to at least be considered a contender.

"It's great to be in the talk. It's good for Baylor," Petty said. "As long as we're winning and as long as I've got a trophy to hold up with these guys at the end of the year, that's what's most important for me. It's not about the individual stuff. This game is such team sport. There's so many things that go into that award. Shoot, I'd much rather have a Big 12 championship, a national championship or both than that."

Hicks ready for redo after two lost years

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
11:00
AM CT
AUSTIN, Texas -- Jordan Hicks had to pause last week when the question that has no perfect answer was broached.

“What’s been the highlight of your career?”

“Umm…”

[+] EnlargeHicks
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesJordan Hicks hasn't been able to suit up much the last two seasons, as injuries have detoured his career path.
He’s started 15 games at Texas and played in 17 more. But he’s also been injured and sidelined for 19 of his team’s last 23 games.

“You know, it’s kind of hard to say,” Hicks said. “I think my best moment was that A&M game. I think everyone who experienced that game would say the same. But personally, it’s tough. I haven’t been out there in a long time. It’s hard.”

He’s referring to the win in 2011, but the senior linebacker is one of two Longhorns left who actually played against the Aggies twice. He jokes that he’s been around so long, he even played for Will Muschamp.

After the two years he just got through, after the crutches and boots and the many games spent on a couch or a sideline, Hicks is smiling again. The two-season detour that could've derailed his playing career is over, and he’s still standing.

Hicks came to Texas as a five-star gem from Ohio with immense promise. This is Year Five. Had his career gone according to plan, he’d be gone by now.

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“It’s been very, very difficult. Very emotional,” Hicks said. “But I’ve learned a ton about myself and who I am, what I bring to the table. If I go back and think about those times, it makes this year that much more precious to me.”

He played as a true freshman on that Muschamp-coached defense in 2010 and showed flashes of potential. He played through hamstring issues for much of 2011 but capped the season with a Holiday Bowl performance against California (eight tackles, two TFLs, a sack and a pass breakup) that suggested his big break was next.

Three games into 2012, Hicks’ progress halted with one painful pop. Doctors were hopeful the groin and hip injury he suffered at Ole Miss would only keep him out a few weeks, maybe a month.

He didn’t play another snap, and worse, he watched Texas’ defense give up the most yards in school history without him. But he rallied back, received a medical redshirt for his time lost and saw 2013 as a chance for a do-over.

Then came chaos. The BYU game. The Manny Diaz firing. The 1-2 start. And, soon after, more heartbreak.

His season-ending injury in Texas’ Big 12 opener against Kansas State was as random and inexplicable as they come. While running to cover a K-State tight end, he felt another pop.

“I do it every day in practice,” Hicks said of the play that caused his torn Achilles. “I do it every day in a game. It just happens. It’s something you can’t control.”

When his mother, Kelly Justice, told him she was coming down from Cincinnati for the surgery that following week, Hicks said no thanks.

“He’s like, ‘I’m fine, mom, you don’t need to come down,’” she said. “And I said, ‘Are you kidding?’”

The physical pain wasn’t really what bothered Hicks. Sure, he hated the crutches and vows he’ll never touch them again. But it was the mental aspect -- the task of trying to understand why -- that got to him.

“I’d never had an injury before I got here,” Hicks said. “I don’t know what it is, don’t know what happened to me. Maybe one thing led to another. Honestly, I have no clue. Achilles is one of those deals where it just happens. What are you supposed to do about that? I did everything I could to stay healthy. The year before, my groin, I did everything I could.

"I think about it all the time. What else could you have done?”

He was in a boot for more than four months, a spectator for the wild ride that ended in Mack Brown’s ousting. He couldn’t affect anything he was witnessing. He could only heal and wait.

“There was a period when he was pretty down and frustrated,” Justice said. “Anybody in that situation gets kind of angry. It’s out of your control, nothing you can do. You have to accept it and get busy getting better.”

As unfathomable as Hicks’ injuries have been, so is the constant state of change around him. He’s now on his fourth defensive coordinator and his fourth linebackers coach at Texas.

“When we talked to Coach Brown and Coach Muschamp way back during the recruiting days, it seemed like they were a very stable kind of program,” Justice said.

That was 2009, when Texas was chasing a national title. How much has Hicks’ world changed since? Well, during his senior year at Lakota West High School, he took an official visit to Florida.

He came away surprised and impressed by their defensive coordinator, Charlie Strong.

“We both really liked him,” Justice said. “Jordan even said, ‘I’d like playing for him.’ They had an instant connection.”

Strong still sees plenty of potential in Hicks. He’s confident everyone else will if he can just stay on the field. Vance Bedford, the fourth defensive coordinator, says Hicks can be one of the Big 12’s best linebackers this fall. He’s playing like it so far in fall camp.

“You can tell that he’s hungry,” new linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary said. “You can just tell by the way he carries himself and the way he’s practicing.”

Hicks shed 10 pounds to get to 235 and vows his speed and strength are back. He already got his first few hits out of the way in practice and sees no reason to play with any hesitation.

If he wants it, Hicks can push the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility in 2015. But he’s already working towards his Master’s in advertising. Most of the guys he signed with in 2010 are gone. When he’s back in Cincinnati, he says some folks are surprised to learn he’s still playing. Mom is trying her best to not be nervous.

“He definitely has that passion again. He has a fire burning,” Justice said. “I honestly don’t know what the future holds. We’re just hoping and praying for a healthy season.”

Hicks is ready for another redo. This time, he just wants to go out with a few good memories. He still needs an answer for that career highlight.

“I understand the pressure I’m under,” he said. “I’ve got to go out and handle my business. I plan on doing that."

Big 12 morning links

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
8:00
AM CT
I had Peanut Butter Crunch while writing these morning links. What will you have while reading them?
  • I've always felt that Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel would eventually emerge as the starter in TCU's quarterback competition. Maybe that assertion was wrong. Coach Gary Patterson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Travis L. Brown that after TCU's second scrimmage Tuesday, Trevone Boykin holds a slight edge over Joeckel in the quarterback battle. I still contend it makes sense to start Joeckel at quarterback and Boykin at wide receiver. Joeckel has more experience in the offense TCU is attempting to install, and Boykin instantly would become one of TCU's best receivers. But if Boykin is clearly the better quarterback this preseason, Patterson will have to start him. By the way, kudos to TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte for adding California to the future schedule. The Horned Frogs now have home-and-homes coming up with Minnesota (2014-15), Arkansas (2016-17), Ohio State (2018-19) and Cal (2020-21). That's solid.
  • Several times we've written about the talent and potential of the Big 12's true freshman skill class. But one player we've overlooked is Kansas running back Corey Avery, who has been turning heads in Lawrence this preseason, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal's Jesse Newell. Avery has been getting carries with the first-team offense, and could be the instant successor to James Sims in the Kansas backfield. Maybe this shouldn't be so surprising. Avery was one of the gems of Charlie Weis' signing class in February, choosing the Jayhawks over Baylor, LSU and Ohio State.
  • Iowa State's already-thin defensive line has taken yet another hit. Junior college defensive end Gabe Luna might have to redshirt after injuring his back, the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse reports. The Cyclones have already lost incoming defensive tackle Terry Ayeni to a torn ACL, as well as tackles David Irving and Rodney Coe, who were booted from the team in the spring. The Cyclones still have good players up front. End Cory Morrissey was an honorable mention All-Big 12 pick last year. Noseguard Brandon Jensen has started to come on again after rejoining the team after spring ball. But Iowa State's depth up front has been decimated. That's a scary way to begin the season for a unit that finished last in the league in 2013 in sacks and rushing yards allowed.
  • When it comes to his quarterbacks, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy likes to keep things mysterious. This year is no different, writes The Oklahoman's Kyle Fredrickson. Gundy has yet to name veteran J.W. Walsh his starter. And he curiously said at a booster event last week that former walk-on Daxx Garman would get 10-15 snaps in the Florida State game. Who knows what will happen with Oklahoma State's QB situation, given the track record of the last two seasons. But it's worth keeping an eye on Garman. Because of his leadership and experience, Walsh remains the front-runner to start the opener. But Garman's superior arm strength could ultimately be a better fit for this Oklahoma State offense, which is loaded with wide receivers that can make plays in the passing game downfield.
  • Kansas State's Tyler Lockett and Baylor's Antwan Goodley are the league's only returning 1,000-yard receivers. But don't sleep on West Virginia's Mario Alford being a contender to pass the 1,000-yard barrier in Dana Holgorsen's offense. As the Charleston Gazette's Dave Hickman points out, Alford really came on late last season with 450 receiving yards in the Mountaineers' final four games after being moved from the slot to the outside. With better quarterback continuity and a year of experience behind him, Alford could be in for a big season.

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