Fully capitalizing on red-zone chances is a trait of championship teams.

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

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

Red-zone points per drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red-zone points per drive allowed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Texas Tech, 5.42: The Red Raiders allowed a 57.1 third-down conversion rate, worst in the Big 12. By comparison, TCU's 20 third-down conversion rate was the Big 12's best.
Art BrilesKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsBaylor coach Art Briles has defended the Bears' nonconference scheduling in the playoff era.
Baylor and Louisiana Tech have scheduled a three-game series for 2020-2022, according to a contract obtained in a public records request by ESPN.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranking the Big 12 coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
11:25
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This week, ESPN.com ranked the best Power 5 coaching jobs in college football, No. 1 through 65. Below is how we rank the jobs in the Big 12:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Kansas
Only eight years ago, Mark Mangino took Kansas to the Orange Bowl. It seems even more amazing now. The Jayhawks are behind the rest of the league in every area, from attendance to facilities.

Bears trust QB Seth Russell is ready to take over

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
10:00
AM CT
WACO, Texas -- Baylor hasn’t had a difficult decision at quarterback in a long time. Doesn’t seem like there’s one now, either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 morning links

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
8:00
AM CT
Farewell, Parks and Rec, and bye bye Li'l Sebastian.
  • Shock Linwood did what I simply cannot this offseason and elected to give up fast food to trim down. After a rough showing against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, the Baylor running back entered the first day of spring football on Tuesday at a lean 195 pounds and said he's worked on his arm strength to help shed tacklers. He looked fleet in the 15 minutes of practice I watched, and he told me his goal is to be the best back in the conference this year.
  • Another update from Baylor's first day of spring practice: Art Briles confirmed again Tuesday that defensive lineman Javonte Magee is no longer with the program. He's not enrolled at the school and won't take part in spring practices. News of Magee's departure came out in January, but Briles said Tuesday he's not fully ruling out the possibility that the former four-star talent could someday return to BU. Magee had left the team in 2013, as well, so this is no huge surprise. Best of luck to him going forward in whatever comes next.
  • Oklahoma State might be facing another departure from its coaching staff. According to a report out of Arkansas, OSU running backs coach Jemal Singleton has interviewed for a job on the Razorbacks' staff. Bret Bielema lost his running backs coach to the New Orleans Saints after signing day. If Singleton takes the position, that would leave Mike Gundy with three vacancies on his staff and less than two weeks before the start of spring practice to fill them. Trying to make hires this late in the game is never easy. We'll see if Gundy can convince Singleton to stay put.
  • One challenge Kliff Kingsbury plans to ponder this spring: How can Texas Tech do an even better job of using DeAndre Washington? And how can Justin Stockton get his touches, too? The Red Raiders' run game was one of the few things they could lean on offensively in 2014, and Kingsbury knows it can be better once his QBs are more comfortable checking into run plays at the line. Striking the right run/pass balance is an intriguing issue for this offense now that we know what Washington can do.
  • Jacorey Shepherd didn't get to show much at the NFL combine, but the former Kansas cornerback is hoping his pro day can significantly boost his stock. Shepherd's hamstring injury prevented him from doing anything else but bench press while in Indy, but he's confident his pro day can show he's an premium corner prospect. You hope his hammy heals up by late March when that day comes, because I think Shepherd can be a late-round steal for someone.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
3:00
PM CT
In Tuesday's mailbag, Oklahoma State's defense, Baylor/TCU and Bryce Petty's future are among the topics. As always, thanks for your questions (and thanks for not asking about expansion this time around). To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Christian in Missoula, Montana, writes: Even though I love James Castleman and Ofa Hautau, neither seem to be getting much of a sniff from the NFL. Based on this and the players that we brought in to play defensive tackle and the younger guys moving up, is it crazy to think that we could be better across the board on defense next season? Would you be that surprised if Okstate had the best overall defense next year?

Brandon Chatmon: I fully expect Oklahoma State to be better defensively next season than it was in 2014. All those talented young players will be experienced, talented young players along with defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, safety Jordan Sterns and cornerback Kevin Peterson returning to be among the Big 12’s best at their positions. The Cowboys have a ways to go before they can lay claim to the best overall defense moniker, however, as OSU still needs to replace that duo at defensive tackle to help take pressure off Ogbah and a playmaking linebacker needing to emerge to become the missing piece of the puzzle.


David in Dallas writes: After looking at the position by position rankings, were you surprised to see Baylor on top over TCU? Knowing you guys view these two as the upper echelon of the Big 12, are the deciding factors for TCU as the favorite simply Trevone Boykin and playing in Fort Worth?

BC: I wasn’t really surprised, David. BU is built to last with talent up and down the roster. Boykin is definitely the determining factor for me as a legit preseason Heisman candidate who creates problems that are difficult to answer for any defense. Anytime a team has the best quarterback in the league surrounded by a talented roster, that’s always going to be tough to beat. Boykin makes TCU the favorite with BU right on the heels of the Horned Frogs.


Scotty in Waco, Texas, writes: Why is Bryce Petty being projected as a 3rd-4th round pick? Big guy, big arm, can move, proven winner in college. Does it have anything to do with RG3's struggles translating his game to the NFL? Is that fair? Bryce's play in college seems to warrant a first round pick.

BC: I’d imagine Robert Griffin’s struggles may play a role but not a huge one. I’m not a draft expert but questions about how Petty can transition out of BU’s offense into an NFL attack and his ability to handle pressure seem to be holding him back a bit. He had a solid showing at the combine, which should help, but it doesn’t seem like he will rise into the first round barring something unforeseen. It may cost him money on the front end but landing in a good situation should be more important to Petty. We all know mistakes are made on draft day as nobody is batting 100 percent and lower picks outperform first-rounders each year. Going to a good organization, not one full of chaos, is critical for Petty. Or any draftee, to be honest.


Mike McGown in Katy, Texas, writes: I don't understand why you guys rated BU as 4th best in position ratings when it comes to QB. Totally understand Boykin/TCU at #1. But OSU & TTU ahead of BU? Seriously? Look at the track record: RG3/Florence/Petty in successive years--not to mention Seth Russell threw for more than 800 yards and looked pretty doggone good doing it (and running too). Please, justify or rectify. Thanks! Sic ‘em!

BC: I can think of several reasons but I’ll just go with this one: Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, barring a transfer or injury, are guaranteed to go into the 2015 season with a backup quarterback who has won a Big 12 game. Can Baylor say the same? So there’s no reason to just slot the Bears at No. 2 automatically, regardless of the track record of Art Briles’ program. That said, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if the Bears are No. 1 or 2 in the postseason rankings because there’s plenty of talent in Waco. I mean, there’s a reason TCU and Baylor are still clear favorites in my mind despite uncertainty at quarterback for the Bears. I don’t expect that offense to take a step backward no matter who wins that job, but Baylor should not be ahead of OSU or Tech in a pre-spring ranking.


Dagger in Salinas, California, writes: Do you think there is any chance of the Power 5 conferences getting together enough to arrange an five-way interconference challenge for one of the weeks of non-conference play? Reserve one (or 2) weeks. Let each conference (coaches/athletic directors) seed their own teams. Randomly select opponents. 1's play 1's or 2's, and lasts play lasts or second to lasts so everyone is getting a comparable opponent, and there can be a bit more rational basis for selecting playoff teams , no more skating by on cupcake non-conference schedule and whining about being left out.

BC: I love the idea, Dagger, and I’d love to see something similar come into play at some point in the future. But we’re a long way off from something like this becoming reality and all the negotiation and politics involved would be draining. Are you willing do the rest of us a favor and take care of that part? Thanks!

Big 12 coaching job with the most upside: TCU

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
10:48
AM CT
ESPN.com’s exhaustive endeavor to rank all 65 FBS head-coaching jobs continues today with what you might call the middle tier of gigs -- Nos. 25 to 47 -- which includes five members of the Big 12.

Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas Tech are all poised to continue trending in the right direction over the next few years. Baylor has built a powerhouse in Waco, Texas. But at the moment, TCU (ranked No. 31 by ESPN) appears to be the Big 12 job offering the biggest upside.

Set aside the preseason top-five expectations for 2015 and the Heisman contender at quarterback. They’re just frosting on the cake for Gary Patterson and a program that’s positioned to remain an annual contender. Entering their fourth season in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs have practically everything they could ask for.

Stability? Check. It took a few rounds of musical chairs, but securing a spot in the Big 12 and escaping mid-major status continues to pay off big. And don’t forget, TCU begins receiving its full share of conference revenue in the upcoming 2015-16 school year.

Facilities? Check. The $164 million rebuild of Amon G. Carter Stadium, completed in 2012, gave the Horned Frogs some of the best digs in the conference. Their locker room, training facilities and football offices are among the Big 12’s best, too.

Location? Check. The DFW Metroplex talent pool is as good as it gets, and having this much buzz at a time when Texas and Oklahoma aren’t dominant can be a powerful thing. TCU isn’t reeling in the five-stars yet, but the momentum built in 2014 is already having a tangible effect on recruiting this year.

Support? Couldn’t be better. According to Forbes, TCU’s football budget is up to at least $35 million and still on the rise. AD Chris Del Conte and the school’s administrators have bet big on football and are enjoying strong backing from donors.

“We’re built for success now,” Del Conte told ESPN.com in November. “We’re in the right league. It’s fantastic. It’s no flash in the pan. We’re invested for the long haul.”

We don’t really know how good the TCU job is because, you know, it hasn’t opened up since 1999. It probably won’t anytime soon, either. Would it be viewed as a coveted top-25 gig if it opened up tomorrow? Perhaps not, but any national perception that TCU is still just a small, private Christian school has never stopped Patterson and the Frogs from reaching new heights.

“Everything that’s ever been said about TCU, we’ve proven people wrong,” he told ESPN.com in November. “We’ve done it the right way and we’ve done it slowly.”

The Frogs won’t be slowing down now.
When listing the programs that needed a top-notch quarterback in the 2016 class, one would start with Texas. The Longhorns took a big step toward addressing the vital need on Feb. 23, securing a verbal commitment from ESPN Jr 300 Shane Buechele. He is the third ESPN Jr 300 commitment for Texas head coach Charlie Strong, joining wide receivers Collin Johnson (No. 130) and Reggie Hemphill-Mapps (No. 161).

Big 12 morning links

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
8:00
AM CT
It was good to see Kevin White, Tyler Lockett and Bryce Petty among the Big 12 players who helped themselves during the combine. And here's hoping the TCU trio can redeem themselves at pro day.
  • Dustin Garrison has decided to leave West Virginia. The running back is set to graduate and should be eligible to play immediately at his next school. It's not a major blow to the Mountaineers, as Garrison managed 20 carries for 92 yards as a junior. WVU has Rushel Shell, Wendell Smallwood, Andrew Buie and redshirt freshman Dontae Thomas-Williams coming off a solid season on the scout team. Garrison's decision to leave is the best move for both parties and he could be a quality pickup for any team searching for help at running back.
  • Former Oklahoma State defensive tackle James Castleman has been working out alongside people who have suffered catastrophic injuries, writes Kyle Fredrickson of The Oklahoman. It's pushed Castleman, who wasn't invitied to the NFL combine, to work harder as he prepares to try to earn a spot in the NFL. I was surprised Castleman didn't earn an invite to the combine so I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up getting drafted, particularly with a strong showing at OSU's pro day.
  • Everyone associated with Texas Tech expects more from the Red Raiders next season, reports Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News. Kliff Kingsbury found the 4-8 season to be motivating while athletic director Kirby Hocutt remains certain that Kingsbury is the right guy to get Tech back on track. And there's no reason to assume he isn't. The Red Raiders are recruiting well but there's no doubt Kingsbury needs to start a conference winning streak after going 6-12 in the Big 12 during his first two seasons. Tech fans shouldn't be impatient with Kingsbury because there aren't a lot of people who want to get things right or care more about Tech football than he does.
  • Oklahoma inside receivers coach Cale Gundy insists the Sooners are going to run the ball in Lincoln Riley's new offense, writes Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World. It's odd that people think Riley wouldn't run the ball and the myth that "Air Raid" style attacks don't run the ball is getting odd. Mike Leach is the only one who really sticks to the pass only philosophy (79.6 pass percentage) at Washington State. Riley's ECU offense was among the top five among FBS teams in pass percentage but at a much lower 62.5 pass percentage in 2014. Time will tell how much the Sooners run the ball, but I'd be surprised if Riley doesn't put together a balanced offense during his first season in charge.
  • Texas landed a quarterback for the Class of 2016 with Shane Buechele deciding to commit to the Longhorns. Buechele, the No. 246 player in the ESPN Jr300, had offers from Oklahoma, TCU, Texas Tech and others. UT has offered several quarterbacks in the Class of 2016 and would be wise to continue to pursue some of those signal callers even with Buechele's commitment. Not only does UT need more options at the position, they would be wise to have Plan B, C and D in place if Buechele changes his mind late in the process like Zack Gentry did during the last recruiting cycle.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
1:30
PM CT
Junior day season is still underway, and that means a lot more offers and new names on the radar. Here's the latest on the 2016 recruiting trail in the Big 12:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 5
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: Baylor running back commit Kameron Martin received an offer from Texas last week, but so far that move hasn't been enough to flip him. The ESPN Junior 300 back is a cousin of former Texas great Jamaal Charles and has called UT his "dream school," but Baylor was the first to offer and he's been a loyal pledge to the Bears since July 2014.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 0
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones were the first to offer 6-foot-5 tight end T.J. Hockenson of Chariton, Iowa. He landed his offer during a junior day visit and put up serious numbers as a junior: 73 catches, 1,116 yards and 18 touchdowns. Hockenson is expected to take a junior day trip to Kansas State as well.

KANSAS
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Jayhawks locked up their second commitment of 2016 from Antoine Frazier, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound offensive tackle from Huffman, Texas, who pledged one day after receiving an offer. Frazier was a high school teammate of KU early enrollee receiver Chase Harrell at Huffman.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: One of the many recruits hoping for an offer at Kansas State's junior day Feb. 28 will be Ian Rudzik, a linebacker/running back from Ulysses, Kansas, who visited KU earlier this month. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior is drawing interest from Arizona State and Minnesota, but a KSU offer might end his recruitment quickly.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 1
The latest: Though Oklahoma only picked up one commitment from its junior day last weekend, the Sooners did make progress with a number of key targets in the state of Texas. ESPN Junior 300 defensive end Marvin Terry, defensive tackle Chris Daniels and lineman Kellen Diesch all emerged with positive reviews and will be intriguing targets moving forward.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Oklahoma State went to the juco ranks for its second pledge of 2016. Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College cornerback Malik Kearse picked the Cowboys on Thursday. He originally hails from Miami, but an elbow injury in his senior year of high school meant no offers. Kearse logged two interceptions and 10 pass breakups in his first year at Fort Scott.

TCU
Total commits: 8
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: TCU hosted another big junior day on Saturday and received a commitment from offensive lineman Austin Myers of Manvel, Texas. The Horned Frogs also made offers to ATH Tyrell Alexander, TE Donte Coleman and 2017 ATH Roshauud Paul and were able to get ESPN Junior 300 running back Trayveon Williams and corner Jared Mayden on campus.

TEXAS
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 2
The latest: Texas made a ton of offers this week, and most of them went to quarterbacks. LSU commit Feleipe' Franks, Oregon commit Seth Green, Texas Tech commit Tristen Wallace and Baylor commit Zach Smith all picked up Texas offers, as did uncommitted passers Xavier Gaines, Woody Barrett and Bowman Sells. Considering the Horns' depth issues at QB, taking two in this class might make sense.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Red Raiders landed their third commitment of the 2016 class from running back Da'Leon Ward of powerhouse Dallas Skyline. The all-purpose back picked Tech over TCU and rushed for 1,779 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior, but he is still expected to take more visits despite his pledge.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: West Virginia is reportedly expected to get an unofficial visit from defensive end Shavar Manuel this spring. The nation's No. 2 overall 2016 recruit has Florida State in the lead following his FSU junior day trip, but WVU is on Manuel's list of upcoming trips along with Clemson, Florida, LSU and Virginia Tech.
In today's Big 12 Twitter mailbag, we discuss the position unit with the most to prove, who holds the edge at quarterback in Manhattan, and whether the the league will finally rid itself of the ridiculous co-champions rule.

On to the 'bag:

@jake_trotter: Taking quarterback out of the equation, I think it might be the Baylor defensive backs. When ranking individual position groups, the Baylor secondary generated the most discussion. Yeah, they have four starters back. But true freshman Patrick Mahomes also lit them up for 600 yards passing. I like Orion Stewart, and you would think cornerbacks Ryan Reid and Xavien Howard would be better in their second seasons as starters. Then again, this was a unit that was really poor at times last season. It collectively has a lot to prove, in my opinion.

Trotter: Great question, and I don't know the answer. The Horned Frogs were completely decimated by graduation, losing All-American Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet, and key reserve Jonathan Anderson. This is the one glaring issue the Horned Frogs going into 2015. They were actually in this situation two years ago, and Dawson and Mallet stepped up. They will need a couple of guys to emerge again from a pool of inexperienced returners -- Sammy Douglas, Paul Whitmill and Ty Summers -- and incoming freshmen Alec Dunham, Mike Freeze and Semaj Thomas.

Trotter: The edge goes to Joe Hubener. This will be his fourth year on campus. He has a huge advantage when it comes to maturity and knowledge running K-State's offense. Even though he's played sparingly, I've also heard good things about his arm strength and mobility. Then again, Alex Delton is a talented and intriguing prospect. Should Hubener struggle to move the chains (which is a distinct possibility given how many new faces K-State will have to rely on in the passing game), the Wildcats could turn to Delton for a spark.

Trotter: I'm concerned with some of the rhetoric defending the status quo, but ultimately I'm confident the Big 12 will tweak this rule during the spring meetings. The confusion hurt the Big 12 in the playoff rankings this past season. And I think they realize having co-champs will hurt them again unless they change it.

Trotter: This is a common misconception. This is not up to Bob Bowlsby. The schools are the ones that vote on rule changes. The conference just enforces them.

Trotter: I really liked what I saw from defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway last season. He might not be Malcom Brown, but the 300-pound Ridgeway could be one of the best tackles in the league, and the new anchor up front for the Texas defense.

Trotter: If not him, then who? Michael Cummings was effective after taking over for Montell Cozart, leading the Jayhawks to a win against Iowa State and a near upset of TCU. I know the scheme will be more wide open under new coordinator Rob Likens. And yes, the Jayhawks have a couple of intriguing incoming freshmen quarterbacks in Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis. But even if Cummings doesn't have the job locked up yet, he has to be considered the front-runner.

Trotter: That will hinge on how good the Sooners are, and how Samaje Perine is utilized in the Lincoln Riley air raid offense. Perine is not winning the Heisman on another 8-5 team. And he's not going to have the numbers getting less than 20 carries per game. But if Oklahoma emerges as a playoff contender, and Perine remains the focal point of the attack, then he could force himself into the mix. Remember, Perine rushed for more than 1,700 yards as a true freshman despite starting just over half the season.

Trotter: Baylor at TCU on Black Friday tops the list. That game could determine the Big 12 title and a playoff spot. Both teams will have to win at Stillwater in November first. Honorable mention honors go to the Red River Showdown, which, someday, will matter again..

TCU cements spot as Big 12's top defense

February, 20, 2015
Feb 20
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Playing good defense wasn’t just a 2014 trademark of the TCU Horned Frogs.

Gary Patterson’s program has played strong defense since it joined the Big 12, sitting atop the conference in points per drive allowed by a comfortable margin after three seasons as a member. TCU is joined by Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in the top three, making it no surprise those two teams have been in the middle of the Big 12 title battle more often than not in recent years.

Here’s a look at the Big 12’s points per drive allowed rankings since TCU and West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012 (conference games only).

1. TCU, 1.58
Conference record: 14-13
Summary: Patterson’s team prides itself on good defense, and a change in conference didn’t change the production of the Horned Frogs' defensive unit. TCU creates turnovers, limits big plays and makes offenses uncomfortable to cement its spot as the toughest defense to score against during the past three seasons.
Key stat: TCU sets the standard, leading the Big 12 in several other key stats including yards per play (5.24), forced turnovers (66) and third-down conversion percentage (31.2 percent).

2. Oklahoma State, 1.77
Conference record: 16-11
Summary: Ever since Mike Gundy’s team started lighting up scoreboards there’s been a myth the Cowboys never play good defense. Yet TCU is the only defense that is harder to score on than OSU's. The Pokes rarely rank among the best in the league in total yards allowed but is third in yards per play allowed (5.41).
Key stat: OSU’s defense steps up in the red zone, allowing touchdowns on 54.1 percent of opponents' red zone drives, ranking second in the conference behind TCU (42.2 percent).

3 (tied). Oklahoma, 1.83
Conference record: 20-7
Summary: The Sooners' defense has had plenty of ugly moments but has been solid overall, particularly when it comes to allowing opponents to score. OU ranks among the Big 12’s best in punt percentage (43.3) and percentage of possible yardage allowed (40.7). Mike Stoops has work to do, but the Sooners' defense has not been horrible during the past three seasons.
Key stat: Limiting the big play has been one of the Sooners' specialties as they rank second in the Big 12 in percent of plays allowed gaining 10 yards or more (18.7).

3 (tied). Kansas State, 1.83
Conference record: 20-7
Summary: The Wildcats consistently have underrated athletes on defense who force offenses to methodically drive down the field if they hope to score. They get pressure on the quarterback (64 sacks, second in the Big 12) while limiting big plays in the passing game (6.7 passing yards per attempt).
Key stat: KSU’s plus-33 turnover margin is mind-boggling but not surprising. Bill Snyder’s teams win with relentless efficiency and playmaking in key moments.

5. Texas, 1.84
Conference record: 17-10
Summary: UT’s defense has been full of athletes but inconsistent at times. The Longhorns are good on third down, allowing a 36.2 percent conversion rate, yet sit in the middle of the conference as neither exceptional or bad in most key categories.
Key stat: The Longhorns' 79 sacks by far are the most in the Big 12 during the past three seasons, with K-State’s 64 ranking second.

6. Baylor, 2.13
Conference record: 20-7
Summary: The Bears' defense is getting better but still has a ways to go before it locks down a spot among the conference’s top units. BU’s run defense is strong (3.93 yards per rush, second in Big 12) but its struggles to stop teams once they get in the red zone are at the heart of its medicore ranking. BU is in the bottom third of the Big 12 in red zone touchdown percentage (71.6 percent) and goal-to-go touchdown percentage (82 percent).
Key stat: BU’s run defense is second in the Big 12 at 3.93 yards per carry.

7. West Virginia, 2.33
Conference record: 11-16
Summary: It’s taken a while for the Mountaineers to get settled in the Big 12 as they were forced to play young, inexperienced talent on defense early in their transition to the conference. The Mountaineers' defense has been improving, however, as their young talent has begun to mature.
Key stat: A lack of a pass rush has also been an issue for WVU with 34 sacks in 27 conference games, tied for eighth worst in the Big 12.

8. Iowa State, 2.44
Conference record: 5-22
Summary: The Cyclones feature the least disruptive defense in the conference with a Big 12-worst 29 percent of opponents' plays resulting in zero or negative yardage. ISU tends to have quality linebacker play but its defensive line and secondary play needs improving.
Key stat: The Cyclones allowed 5.33 yards per carry during this span, worst in the Big 12.

9. Kansas, 2.59
Conference record: 2-25
Summary: The Jayhawks are second in the conference in forced fumbles (28) but that didn’t do much to change the production of their defense. KU’s inability to consistently force punts and struggles to stop the run (5.11 yards per carry allowed) or pass (8.24 yards per pass attempt allowed) are at the root of the problem.
Key stat: KU’s 6.55 yards per play allowed was the Big 12’s worst.

10. Texas Tech, 2.63
Conference record: 10-17
Summary: New Texas Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs is tasked with creating more turnovers for the Red Raiders, who have forced 34 turnovers in 27 games during the past three seasons. The inability to slow offenses or take the ball away has made Tech the Big 12’s easiest defense to score on.
Key stat: Tech’s minus-159 points off turnover margin speaks volumes. Having to make up an average of 5.8 points per game is a good way to end up 10-17 during this three-year span.
Even Kevin Sumlin knows this is a make-or-break season for him at Texas A&M. The talent is certainly there to win big, and as he told ESPN’s Travis Haney, “You’d think it would start to pay off this year.”

If it does, watch out, because the issue all along hasn’t been whether the Aggies are good enough, it’s whether they will play well enough.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsKevin Sumlin hopes his defense will improve in 2015 with the addition of DC John Chavis.
 That’s splitting hairs, of course, but when you begin to combine talent (four straight top-15 recruiting classes) with experience (Kyle Allen, Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones and Myles Garrett will be sophomores) and better coaching (hello, new defensive coordinator John Chavis), you have the right recipe for improvement.

Besides, just how much growth is needed for A&M to reach a New Year’s Six bowl anyway? Despite its perception as a “promising” program, it has produced, too, averaging 9.3 wins per season since 2012. Inching forward into the double-digit win territory would likely be enough to make it to one of the top six bowls.

With the most productive offense in the SEC the past three seasons (517.4 yards per game), the only thing left to do is discover what defense is and how to play it. After all, over that same period A&M had the league’s worst defense to overcome (438.9 yards per game).

Enter Chavis, whose résumé all but guarantees better numbers. During his six seasons as LSU’s defensive coordinator, the Tigers had the fifth-best defense in the country, allowing an average of 309.6 yards per game.

The defensive talent in College Station and Baton Rouge isn’t the same, granted, but they’re not miles apart necessarily. Just look at Garrett, who is already one of the league’s premiere pass-rushers. If he can get some help from five-star freshman defensive tackle Daylon Mack and No. 11-ranked defensive end James Lockhart, you could see a ripple effect on defense from the trenches back to the secondary.

Any improvement on defense, however slight, would be a welcome sight for Sumlin.

If that happens and the talent at A&M finally starts paying off on both sides of the ball, look for the Aggies to make their presence known.

What could go wrong

Texas A&M’s defense has been bad of late. Horrifically bad, in fact. So bad you might wonder whether there’s a culture of bad defense in College Station.

If that’s the case, Chavis has his work cut out for him. Because even though there is talent there to work with, he might spend his entire first year there trying to break bad habits.

It’s the thing every Texas A&M fan must hate to hear, but it could be true yet again: The Aggies might be a year away.

When you’re the 101st-ranked defense in the nation since 2012, you have a long ways to go and not a long time to get there.

And besides, even if the defense does improve, we don’t know who Sumlin will start at QB. It might be Allen, who went 2-2 as a starter after Kenny Hill was suspended. Or maybe it’s blue-chip freshman Kyler Murray, who could wind up bypassing A&M altogether if a professional baseball team throws enough money at him.

Noil is a spectacular talent and it feels like it’s only a matter of time before Seals-Jones emerges, but with a question mark at QB, an offensive line replacing two senior starters and veteran tight end Cameron Clear off to the NFL, spring practice could be very interesting.

Everything could very well come together in 2015, but there are a lot of dominos that must fall before A&M is considered a New Year’s Six team just yet.

Big 12 morning links

February, 20, 2015
Feb 20
8:00
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That NBA trading deadline was unreal. I can't wait to see how all the moves play out.
  • Oklahoma replaced departed defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery on Thursday with the hire of former Stanford assistant Diron Reynolds, reports Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman. Reynolds has solid college and NFL experience but it seems unlikely he can replace the recruiting prowess of Montgomery. Yet it seems like a good hire because that experience should help develop the young defensive line talent already on campus like Charles Walker, Matt Romar and others. And a "now" hire feels like the right move because patience has left the building in Norman.
  • Tilman Fertitta, the chairman of the Board of Regents at the University of Houston, believes the school should be a member of the Big 12 Conference and should push current in-state members to add UH, reports Benjamin Wermund of the Houston Chronicle. Guess we can add UH to the list of schools that would like to be added to the conference. It's pretty clear the conference has no desire to add more mouths to feed despite Fertitta's belief the school should essentially threaten its way into the conference. So, good luck with that.
  • Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney did a draft diary for USA Today. Heeney tells us how "Captain Heeney" came about and talks about some of the misconceptions about his ability. Heeney will be taking part in the NFL combine during the next few days, so he has the chance to change some of those misconceptions about his athletic ability and potential to transfer his production into the NFL.
  • Former Missouri and Oklahoma receiver Dorial Green-Beckham talked to the media for the first time in a year on Thursday, writes Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star. DGB said he was disappointed in having to miss the entire season after transferring to OU before the 2014 season but he tried to show NFL scouts he had matured during his time in Norman. Time will tell how much he has grown and matured but it's hard to blame NFL teams for being hesitant to take him. It's pretty much a guarantee he gets drafted lower than his physical talent would warrant.
  • Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty may have to be patient when it comes to his NFL future, writes Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. It's clear questions about his ability to translate his production into the NFL level will linger until he proves himself outside of Baylor's explosive spread attack. Petty seems like the type of quarterback prospect the Patriots or Packers will grab and stash then develop into an asset for the future.

Poll: Top Big 12 player in Ultimate 300?

February, 19, 2015
Feb 19
2:00
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The Ultimate 300 featured plenty of Big 12 playmakers, but it’s hard to decide which one is the best.

So we are going to let you decide.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was the highest former Big 12 player on the list. The former Oklahoma All-American was No. 19 on the Ultimate 300 after a stellar college career which saw him start every game he played at Oklahoma. He finished with 33 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks in 40 games.

SportsNation

Who was the best Big 12 player on the Ultimate 300?

  •  
    30%
  •  
    15%
  •  
    23%
  •  
    13%
  •  
    19%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,080)

Former Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown was one of the best linebackers in the Big 12 era. After the Wichita native returned home after two years at Miami (Fla.), he became one of the top defenders in the Big 12 in 2011 and 2012. The No. 47 player in the Ultimate 300 finished with 201 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss during his two seasons in Bill Snyder’s program.

What more can be said about Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III? The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner had observers glued to their televisions during his time in Waco, Texas. He could drop a deep pass over the heads of the secondary or escape the pocket and run away from the defense as he cemented a spot among the Big 12’s most explosive playmakers from 2008-2011. Griffin was the No. 57 player in the Ultimate 300.

Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat became an All-American during his time in Austin after stepping on campus as the No. 2 overall recruit in the Class of 2010. Jeffcoat started 33 games and joined Carlton Massey, Bill Atessis, Tony Brackens, and Brian Orakpo as the only Longhorns defensive ends to become consensus All-Americans. The No. 70 player in the Ultimate 300 had 25 sacks in his final 26 games in a Longhorns uniform.

Those four players where the highest ranked players from their schools, yet other former Big 12 stars on the Ultimate 300 could easily be considered the top Big 12 player on the list. From Oklahoma's Sam Bradford to Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant to Kansas State's Collin Klein, there are plenty of other candidates as the top Big 12 player on the list.

Who do you think should sit atop the list? Vote and leave your comment below.

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