Dallas Colleges: TCU Horned Frogs
Fans and recruits could circle the date on their calendars, young players and new coaches saw it as the first opportunity to make a lasting impression.
This spring, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy raised eyebrows when the Cowboys announced their “Orange Blitz” open practice session would replace their traditional Orange-White spring game. TCU has rarely held a traditional spring game under Gary Patterson, with the Horned Frogs preferring intra-squad scrimmages.
Patterson values the opportunity to watch other team’s spring games on television but refuses to give other coaches that advantage over his team and doesn’t view the event as essential for the Horned Frogs program. TCU has not finalized its plan for this spring, but a traditional spring game seems unlikely.
Although his program normally holds an event, OSU opened the spring with a young, battered roster, which was the main reason for Gundy’s decision to shun a spring game this year. For Gundy, engaging fans with a spring game had to take a backseat to the overall development of the young players in the program during the 15 practices the Cowboys will hold in March and April.
“At some point I have to make a decision based on what's best for our team first and then our fans and people that follow us second,” Gundy said earlier this week.
Other Big 12 coaches point to health concerns as obstacles to holding a traditional spring game featuring two separate squads.
“Spring games are always a trying time due to depth at certain positions,” said Kansas coach Charlie Weis, who will hold KU’s spring game on April 12. “Concern for injuries is always an issue, not being able to field two entire competitive teams is a problem.”
Postponing the spring game can become a real option, particularly after losing a large class of seniors off the roster thus crippling the overall depth of the program until February signees arrive in the summer. Quarterbacks end up switching teams in the middle of the game, a lack of available linemen waters down the quality of the action and fears of a season-changing injury can cloud these spring finales.
“Everyone says, ‘Well I would love to have a draft and have my guys go on each side of the ball,’” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “You can’t, you don’t have the personnel. Sometimes you have so many injuries or you may be thin that you can’t afford to have a spring game and get somebody hurt. Some other years, when we are a little bit down, I don’t want to take a chance on it. It is all great until someone gets hurt and blows a knee out, and then it is, ‘Why did I do that?’”
The Sooners are one of the Big 12 programs that are all-in on the spring game, selling tickets to the event, televising the action and creating a game-like atmosphere at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. But even OU dumbs down the efficiency of the actual football in the game, sitting starters and simplifying schemesto avoid lurkers, such as Patterson, who are aiming to gain useful tidbits on the Sooners that they can use in the fall.
Even with all those drawbacks, the spring game remains valuable for the majority of the conference, with several Big 12 coaches pointing toward the game-like atmosphere, not to mention the recruiting value, of the traditional spring game as assets too useful to ignore.
“I think it's great for the fans,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “You only get six home games in the regular season, sometimes we only get five some years. So to have another game at Jones Stadium so that everyone can come back and tailgate, have some festivities, I think it's great for the university and great for the fan base. And I like to see our players when the lights come on. Anybody can do it in practice, but when the lights come on and there's some pressure and people are watching, let's see how you perform."
Kansas State won’t kick off its spring drills until April 2 but will hold its spring game on April 26. Head coach Bill Snyder believes the tradition of the spring game outweighs any cons.
“The positive attributes of having a spring game for us include tradition, for our young people and our fan base, the benefits it provides our local community and the experience our players get by playing in front of a large crowd,” he said.
Charlie Strong is convinced his team can still get quality work done with a traditional spring game. The Longhorns will hold their version on April 19, with UT’s new head coach convinced it will be just another day for his players to get better.
“The most important thing is that the spring game is another opportunity to get out on the field and coach your team,” Strong said. “It's another practice, more reps and more video to look at as you get ready for the season. It is the final spring practice and having a chance to go in the stadium with a great crowd gives you an opportunity to see how the team responds to that as well."
Realistically, while opinions about the spring game vary when it comes to its value in terms of developing the current roster for the upcoming season, its recruiting value cannot be understated. There is no better spring event to put all the positives of the program on full display and intrigue potential recruits to make a special trip to campus.
“When you can bring players in and see people in the stands cheering and excited, it really helps,” Kingsbury said.
- Texas will conduct a study examining the potential completion of south end zone of Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium. In other words, the Longhorns may be aiming to take back Texas A&M's title of "biggest stadium in Texas."
- Four anonymous Texas high school coaches ranked Baylor ahead of Texas in the pecking order of the state's best college football programs.
- Kansas is bringing back the spread under new offensive coordinator John Reagan, writes the Topeka Capital-Journal's Jeff Deters.
- Coach Paul Rhoads is raring to get going with his new Iowa State coaching faces after a "crazy" offseason, writes the Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch. Spring ball has allowed the Cyclones to move on from a rough 2013 season, according to the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse.
- Texas Tech Kliff Kingsbury said with a guaranteed 10-year contract, he'd never punt again. Red Raiders defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt gives the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams five players who have caught his eye so far this spring.
- The Oklahoma State coaches have begun the rebuilding process after being decimated by graduation, writes the Oklahoman's John Helsley. The Cowboys added several junior-college kickers to the roster, reports the Tulsa World's Kelly Hines.
- Former Oklahoma linebacker Corey Nelson tells The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey that he's 100 percent after suffering torn pectoral last season. OU's pro day was this morning. Kersey also caught up with former Sooner QB Drew Allen, who is also hoping to get a shot in the NFL.
- Former TCU cornerback Jason Verrett could be a value pick for the Dallas Cowboys if Verrett's shoulder injury causes him to drop in the draft, according to Nick Eatman of DallasCowboys.com. The Cowboys were at Verrett's pro day at TCU last week.
Departed: Senior Waymon James.
Spring contenders: Junior B.J. Catalon, junior Aaron Green, redshirt freshman Kyle Hicks, redshirt freshman Trevorris Johnson.
Summer contenders: True freshman Shaun Nixon.
Catalon has game-changing quickness and playmaking ability so he could be considered the favorite to earn the bulk of the carries after leading the squad with 569 rushing yards as a sophomore. He averaged 5.32 yards per carry in 2013, so the fact he didn’t surpass the 1,000-yard mark lands more on the shoulders of the coaching staff than Catalon.
Green brings terrific talent in his own right but wasn’t the playmaker that Catalon was a year ago. This spring is his chance to show he deserves more opportunities this fall.
Hicks was a highly regarded signee in the Class of 2013 as the No. 220 player in the ESPN 300. He has the ability to be an every-down back but would really help his cause if he shows he can excel as a receiver and pass blocker during spring drills.
Johnson is easily the most overlooked competitor in this battle but could bring a physical running style to the table that earns him a short yardage or goal line role. He probably has a ways to go before he’s considered a threat to rise atop the depth chart but should not be dismissed as a non-contributor despite the overall talent at the position.
Nixon fits in perfectly with this group as another talented option. But his overall versatility and big-play ability could help him rise up the depth chart and make an immediate impact as a true freshman.
Prediction: Catalon separates himself from the rest of the pack during the spring. His athleticism, desire and versatility will cement himself a spot in the lineup. Yet don’t be surprised if other running backs also cement places in TCU’s offensive attack. The Horned Frogs offense wasn’t exactly overflowing with playmakers in 2013, so if any of the remaining backs prove they can make big plays if given the opportunity, new offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie will probably find ways to use them, even if that means playing alongside Catalon at times.
Here are the seven players from Big 12 programs on the ballot:
Brian Bosworth, Oklahoma, Linebacker: Two-time consensus first-team All-America pick (1985-86). Set school record for tackles in a game (22) and named Butkus Award winner in 1985 and ’86. Led Sooners to three consecutive Orange Bowls and 1985 national championship.
Troy Davis, Iowa State, Tailback: Two-time consensus first-team All-American and two-time Heisman Trophy finalist. First player in NCAA history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in two seasons. Big 12 Player of the Year in 1996 holds nearly every rushing record at Iowa State.
Randy Hughes, Oklahoma, Defensive Back: 1974 first-team All-American and member of 1974 national championship team and three Big Eight championship teams. Finished fourth on OU’s career interceptions list (14). NFF National Scholar-Athlete in 1974.
Bob McKay, Texas, Offensive Tackle: 1969 consensus first-team All-American helped the Longhorns to national championship and unbeaten season at Cotton Bowl in senior season. Member of two SWC championship teams and 1969 all-conference selection.
Zach Thomas, Texas Tech, Linebacker: Two-time first-team All-American, earning unanimous honors in 1995. Two-time consensus SWC Defensive Player of the Year (1993, '94) who led the Red Raiders to the 1994 SWC title. Ranks fifth all time at Tech with 390 career tackles.
LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU, Tailback: Unanimous first-team All-American in 2000 and Doak Walker Award winner in 2000. WAC Offensive Player of the Year in 1999 led TCU to consecutive co-WAC title. Holds 15 school records and is TCU’s all-time leading rusher.
Ricky Williams, Texas, Running Back: Two-time unanimous first-team All-American and 1998 Heisman Trophy winner. Finished his career as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher and won back-to-back NCAA rushing titles. Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 1998 left Texas with 46 school records.
Here are the two coaches:
Jim Carlen, West Virginia (1966-69), Texas Tech (1970-74), South Carolina (1975-81): Led teams to eight bowl games and 13 winning seasons in 16 years as a head coach. National Coach of the Year in 1973. Three-time Southwest Conference Coach of the Year. Coached Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers at South Carolina.
Pete Cawthon Sr., Texas Tech (1930-40): Led Tech to four Border Conference titles in 11 seasons at the helm. Led 1938 team to a 10-0 regular season and the school’s first-ever Cotton Bowl appearance. Boasts the highest win percentage (69.3) among Tech coaches with terms of three years or more.
After a sparkling scouting combine showing, McShay has Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert going to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 8. Writes McShay:
If they stay put, I think the Vikings take the best player available, either offensive tackle Jake Matthews or cornerback Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State. I'll go with Gilbert, the top corner prospect on our board who has excellent speed, size and playmaking ability.Gilbert isn't the only Big 12 cornerback in McShay's mock draft. McShay has TCU's Jason Verrett, who also shined at the combine, getting picked No. 25 overall by the San Diego Chargers. Writes McShay:
Verrett would be a great fit here, with his excellent speed, quickness and ball skills. He is lacking in size, but he plays big enough that I don't think it should be that big of a concern. San Diego can grab a pass-rusher and offensive guard in middle rounds.
- It will be an offense-by-committee approach at Texas.
- "I don't want that to be the highlight of my Texas Tech career." Red Raiders quarterback Davis Webb remains hungry after his Holiday Bowl MVP performance at the end of his freshman season.
- Baylor's defensive line could be the strength of the Bears' defense this season.
- It's been a while since Kansas coach Charlie Weis didn't have the offensive coordinator title next to his name.
- Oklahoma State has landed a local quarterback for its 2015 recruiting class.
- Here's a position-by-position look at Oklahoma with spring football getting under way this weekend.
- If you haven't been watching the OSU coaches Chalk Talk series, you should check it out.
- One redshirt freshman defender is impressing at TCU.
- An experienced defensive staff could be key for West Virginia.
- Texas Tech has several options at the running back position.
Some of the highlights from the Fort Worth, Texas, native:
On the Iron Bowl finish in 2013:
I would’ve liked to have been there. The SEC is where it’s really crazy, because they have nothing else in life. Just think about it, what in the name of God would Alabama be without the University of Alabama? What would Oklahoma be without the University of Oklahoma? Nothing. That’s why those people are so rabid.On Texas coach Mack Brown:
I know Mack, and he’s a nice guy. I never thought he was a great coach. He’d have been gone sooner if it hadn’t been for Vince Young. Vince gave him a lot of years. It’s like our guy here (TCU head coach Gary Patterson) said, everyone thinks Texas is the greatest job in the world, but it’s not. The greatest job in the world is OU, because you’re isolated. You got no media to deal with. Down there in Austin, you got five million bosses. And the Joe Jamails and Red McCombses and Tex Moncriefs -- the big-money guys -- they’ll give you a while, but if you don’t give them what they want, you’re gone. (Bob) Stoops? He hasn't won a national championship since 2000 -- fourteen years ago. And he’s still there. See, he wins just enough. You know, 9-3, that sort of thing. 9-3 is always what coulda happened.On money changing college football:
There’s so much money involved in the BCS, and now the playoff. I mean, can you imagine that because Baylor went to a bowl game, TCU will get a piece of the pie? It’s crazy. And there’s not one university in America that doesn’t care about money first. It should be TCU: Texas Corporate University. That part I hate.
- TCU officially named Kenny Perry as its cornerbacks coach.
- Junior cornerback Kevin Peterson talks about his road to Oklahoma State.
- Texas Tech is looking to develop depth behind Pete Robertson at linebacker during spring football.
- Here are three storylines to keep an eye on during the Red Raiders' spring drills.
- The NCAA is looking into a Baylor recruiting visit.
- A healthy Jarvis West could be key for Iowa State in 2014.
- The excitement around the Kansas State football program is growing, including record-setting season ticket sales.
- Gabe Ikard is appreciative after winning the Wuerffel Trophy. "This award validates the things I've done in college," he said.
- Former Longhorn Doug English was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame last week. He still holds the University of Texas close to his heart.
- West Virginia assistant coach Damon Cogdell feels at home coaching linebackers after thinking he would be the Mountaineers' defensive line coach at one point.
- The Kansas quarterback search is about to hit full speed.
Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Derrick Kindred has never been "the guy" at either safety spot during his first two seasons, but he started at least one game in 2012 and 2013. The junior should make a seamless transition into a starting safety spot, particularly after starting the final three games of 2013 and finishing seventh on the squad with 48 tackles. He's an active playmaker who is always around the ball and should help TCU's secondary continue to rank among the conference's top units.
Redshirt freshman to watch: Several eyes will be on cornerback Ranthony Texada, who opened the spring as Jason Verrett’s replacement opposite Kevin White. A three-star prospect out of high school, Texada is known for his speed but faces a tough task as the player sliding into Verrett’s spot. This spring will be key for Texada to show he can match the competitiveness and desire that Verrett brought to the table each Saturday.
Most significant position battle: The quarterback battle might not be decided during the spring but its easily the most important competition in this program. New offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie need to find a signal-caller with Trevone Boykin, Tyler Matthews and Zach Allen taking reps this spring. If Matthews or Allen steps up during the spring, it gives the coaching staff the freedom to move Boykin to receiver, where he excelled after Casey Pachall returned to the lineup late in the 2013 season.
Key midterm enrollee: The Horned Frogs are hoping Frank Kee’s arrival at the guard position can help solidify the offensive interior and spur competition among TCU’s offensive front. Kee, a junior-college signee, brings bulk and athleticism at 6-foot-4 and 345 pounds. He’s set to battle Jamelle Naff at left guard this spring.
Question that could be answered: How will Boykin be used? That question could be as important as who wins the starting quarterback job. Matthews or Allen’s emergence during the spring would be the best-case scenario because Boykin looked like TCU’s best receiver when he lined up on the outside in 2013. If Meacham and Cumbie aren’t worried about the quarterback spot, it opens up ways to use Boykin all over the field and, more importantly, it gives the coaching staff the summer months to devise the best ways to use Boykin without worrying about the quarterback position. The talented junior has the most experience at quarterback, but it could be his least effective position in the offense in 2014.
Question that won’t be answered until fall: Can TCU count on Devonte Fields to return to his freshman form? Even if Fields has a stellar spring and looks like the dominant force he was as a freshman, the Horned Frogs are going to make him earn his starting spot back. Fields begins the spring listed with the second-team defense, a sign that he will have to regain the trust of the coaching staff. Fields will need to carry any momentum he creates during the spring into August practices and September games before he re-establishes his name among the Big 12’s best defenders.
Below is a breakdown of all the Big 12 early enrollees, and their outlooks for the spring:
OG Jarell Broxton: Could grab a starting role with All-American guard Cyril Richardson gone.
CB Chris Sanders: Was a favorite to start, but is out for the spring after shoulder surgery.
CB Tion Wright: Less highly-touted than Sanders, but has an opportunity with Sanders out.
LB Grant Campbell: With All-Big 12 LB Eddie Lackey gone, Bears hoping Campbell can fill a starting role alongside Bryce Hager.
WR Davion Hall: Recruited as a receiver, Hall is a powerful athlete who gives Baylor another potential dynamic playmaker.
RB Terence Williams: A bruising runner destined to someday fill the role held last season by Glasco Martin.
TE Jordan Feuerbacher: Baylor lost tight ends Jordan Najvar and Jerod Monk off last season's team so there’s an opportunity for Feuerbacher.
LB Jordan Harris: Harris was the No. 5 juco ILB in the country, and will help ease the sting of losing All-Big 12 LB Jeremiah George.
S Devron Moore: The Cyclones graduated both Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield so help is needed here.
DE Gabe Luna: Luna is one of three juco DEs the Cyclones signed, but the first to arrive on campus.
OG/C Keyon Haughton: Charlie Weis calls him “a bad muchacho,” and the Jayhawks will need him to play right away.
CB Ronnie Davis: The Jayhawks return starting cornerbacks Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd, but you can never have enough corners in the Big 12.
S Anthony Smithson: Adds depth and versatility to an already deep and experienced secondary.
WR Andre Davis: All-Big 12 WR Tyler Lockett needs someone to emerge on the other side, and the No. 5-ranked juco WR has a great chance to do just that.
OT Luke Hayes: Could answer the call at a key spot vacated by departing All-Big 12 OT Cornelius Lucas.
CB Danzel McDaniel: One of the top juco corners in the country, McDaniel could lock up a starting role quickly.
TE Dayton Valentine: Adds depth as a blocking tight end.
OL Bryce Fitzner: Will have time to fill out his 6-7 frame.
TE Isaac Ijalana: The No. 1 juco TE in the country, Ijalana could help stabilize a position that has given the Sooners trouble the past couple seasons.
LB Devante Bond: Bond adds depth to what potentially could be one of the best linebacking corps in the country.
QB Justice Hansen: Will be the third-team QB with Blake Bell moving to TE and Baker Mayfield ineligible until 2015.
FB Dimitri Flowers: The Sooners need a replacement for departing all-conference blocking fullback Trey Millard.
LB Devante Averette: The hard-hitting Averette has an opportunity to nail down a starting role this spring with All-Big LBs Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis gone.
WR Tyreek Hill: Hill is running track this spring and has already broken several records; he gives the Cowboys a speedy playmaker to help ease the early loss of Josh Stewart.
QB Mason Rudolph: One of the highest-rated QBs ever to sign with the Cowboys, Rudolph will battle J.W. Walsh immediately for the starting job.
RB Devon Thomas: Thomas was the highest-rated running back from the state of Oklahoma, and adds depth to a position that could use some help.
S Kenny Iloka: Iloka has already impressed, and pads a deep and talented safety rotation at TCU.
OG Frank Kee: Will be asked to fill a starting job inside on the TCU offensive line.
TE Blake Whiteley: The nation’s No. 2 juco tight end, the Longhorns signed to fill a position that’s been inconsistent for them.
OLB Andrew Beck: With Texas’ depth at LB, Beck most likely is a redshirt candidate.
OG Alex Anderson: Recruited by Joe Wickline when still at Oklahoma State, Anderson was a late addition to the class.
S Josh Keys: The nation’s No. 5 juco safety, Keys could step into the spot vacated be departing veteran Tre’ Porter.
DT Keland McElrath: Has been dealing with a foot stress fracture, but the Red Raiders need help at DT with Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush gone.
WR Devin Lauderdale: Was a four-star player coming out of high school and will give QB Davis Webb another weapon on the inside.
QB Skyler Howard: Has a chance to make a move on the QB competition, especially with Clint Trickett out for the spring.
S Keishawn Richardson: Opened up the spring as the second-string cornerback behind Daryl Worley, who started as a true freshman in 2013.
LB Edward Muldrow II: Currently backing up returning starter Isaiah Bruce as the Sam linebacker.
OT Sylvester Townes: The Mountaineers have two holes at tackle, giving Townes a chance to make an instant impact.
DE Davonte James: The ESPN 300 signee brings speed to West Virginia’s D-end position.
WR Ricky Rogers: Rogers is a redshirt candidate with the entire West Virginia WR rotation back from last season.
- Here's an Oklahoma spring football preview.
- Kansas State received a $60 million gift from the Jack Vanier family, which includes $20 million for upgrades to Bill Snyder Stadium.
- "We need to look like who we are," said K-State athletic director John Currie, who believes the upgrades are important for the Wildcats football program.
- A closer look at Texas Tech's inside linebacker candidates to replace Will Smith.
- Here are some NFL draft projections for former Texas Tech standouts, including Jace Amaro.
- Red Raiders tackle Rashad Fortenberry has been granted a medical redshirt.
- Here are five questions heading into spring practice at Oklahoma.
- Could a Baylor basketball player find himself on the gridiron for the Bears in the future?
- Here are five questions for West Virginia to answer as the Mountaineers open spring football.
- Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads talks about the Cyclones' strong finish to 2013 and several changes on the coaching staff in this Q&A session.
- With the most experience on the roster, Trevone Boykin opened spring drills as TCU's quarterback.
- The offensive line joins quarterback as a major question mark for WVU.
Can freshman impact OSU's QB race?
Junior quarterback J.W. Walsh has made eight starts for the Cowboys over the last two seasons. But even with Clint Chelf now gone, Walsh still will have to fight for a job with freshman Mason Rudolph already on campus. Rudolph, who enrolled early to participate in spring ball, threw for more than 4,300 yards and 64 touchdowns his final year of high school and is one of the most highly-touted quarterback recruits ever to sign with the Cowboys. In high school, Rudolph played in an offensive scheme similar to Oklahoma State’s, which is what first interested him in the Cowboys. That should ease his transition to the college level. Of course for now, the job is Walsh’s to lose. But Rudolph has the talent and the skill set to begin applying pressure on Walsh as soon as this spring.
How will TCU adapt to the offensive overhaul?
TCU conducted its first spring practice over the weekend, and the exit polls suggested the Horned Frogs went through offensive drills fast. Like really fast. Tired of ranking near the bottom of the Big 12 in offense, Gary Patterson shook up his coaching staff and brought in Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham to install an up-tempo offensive system that resembled those of Texas Tech (Cumbie) and Oklahoma State (Meacham). As Patterson admitted after the first practice, there will be a learning curve for his players to picking up this new offensive style. But the quicker quarterback Trevone Boykin can adapt, the better off TCU will be going into 2014.
How will Texas look different under Strong?
The last time Texas had a coach other than Mack Brown running a spring practice, Bill Clinton was still president. The Charlie Strong era will begin in earnest with the start of spring practice in Austin. How will the players adjust to the new schemes of assistants Shawn Watson, Joe Wickline and Vance Bedford? How will the veterans react to their new position coaches? Who will thrive with the new staff? Who will falter? Those pivotal questions will begin to be answered this spring.
Can Texas Tech get by with only one scholarship QB?
With starting right tackle Rashad Fortenberry getting an extra year of eligibility over the weekend, the Red Raiders seem to be in good shape across the board offensively. Of course, that could change real quick should QB Davis Webb incur any kind of injury this spring. With Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma and Michael Brewer headed to Virginia Tech, the Red Raiders will be down to just one scholarship quarterback until Patrick Mahomes arrives in the summer. Though coach Kliff Kingsbury has said that Tech has a couple of capable walk-ons, an injury to Webb would hamper the spring development of an offense that will have big goals in the fall. Coming off a breakout performance in the bowl game, Webb also needs to continue developing this spring. But he also needs to remain healthy for the betterment of himself and the team.
Who will get carries for West Virginia?
Even with Charles Sims gone, the Mountaineers still enjoy a stable of capable of running backs. But where will Sims’ carries go? After rushing for 494 yards last season, Dreamius Smith is starting out the spring atop the depth chart. But he’ll have to fend off several comers to remain there. Wendell Smallwood came on strong late during his freshman season and finished the year averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Rushel Shell also joins the fray this spring after transferring over from Pittsburgh. Shell, who set a Pennsylvania high school rushing record, was formerly the No. 26 overall recruit in the 2012 recruiting class. There are still others. Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie are still around after leading the Mountaineers’ in rushing in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Oh yeah, West Virginia will also add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. Good luck to the running back who dares to take a play off in this crammed competition.
1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.
2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.
4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.
5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.
6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,
7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.
8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.
9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.
10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.
- Kliff Kingsbury raps.
- Casey Pachall sets the record straight about his past in this great story from Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
- Steven Parker will continue the legacy of his grandfather, a trailblazer at Oklahoma, writes ESPN's Mitch Sherman.
- Art Briles says Baylor is ready to run the show in the Big 12.
- Oklahoma State's Joe Bob Clements breaks down twists to get to the QB.
- Cowboys newcomer Tyreek Hill named Big 12 Athlete of the Week.
- How does former Oklahoma quarterback Kendal Thompson fit in with Utah?
- Do the Sooners look like a potential 12-0 team in 2014?
- Texas Tech is counting on key contributions from its defensive line signees.
- Leigh Steinberg is starting his career over with former Texas and SMU QB Garrett Gilbert.
- Ryan Gosling looks like this Big 12 head coach.
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Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett give you the latest on the Johnny Manziel story and Charles Barkley weighs in. You won't believe who the outspoken NBA Hall of Famer is disappointed in and what he thinks about the autograph allegations.
Play Podcast Kirk Herbstreit joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett for his weekly visit to preview the 2013 college football season.
Play Podcast Former TCU and current Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the expectations for the Bengals this season, give a prediction for the TCU-LSU game and talk about what it's like having the Hard Knocks cameras follow him.
Play Podcast Randy Galloway, Matt Mosley, and Mark Friedman react to Dez Bryant's comments regarding the NCAA's ongoing investigation of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Play Podcast Richard Durrett, Ian Fitzsimmons and Glenn "Stretch" Smith react to Dez Bryant sounding off yesterday after practice about Johnny Manziel and the shadiness of the NCAA.
Play Podcast Former NCAA investigator and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to weigh in on the Johnny Manziel drama and give some insight as to what goes on during an NCAA investigation.