Dallas Colleges: TCU Horned Frogs

It's Take Two Tuesday, and today we’re watching the throne. Big 12 co-champions Baylor and TCU have both begun spring practice and are already hard at work toward proving they deserve playoff-contender hype in 2015. Both have flaws and holes to address over the next month.

Brandon Chatmon and Max Olson debate which defending Big 12 champ will have more questions answered by the end of spring ball.

Brandon Chatmon: Baylor Bears

Baylor doesn’t have many questions to answer after back-to-back titles and increasing depth as each season goes by.

Obviously replacing Bryce Petty will be the talk of Waco as the quarterback battle between Seth Russell, Chris Johnson and Jarrett Stidham garners plenty of headlines. Russell is the favorite to win the job thanks to his experience in the system and success behind Petty in 2014. Either Johnson or Stidham will have to take the job away from the junior quarterback, meaning it’s possible Russell cements the job this spring. Either way, BU’s track record of stellar quarterback play under Art Briles makes this a mini question mark as opposed to the elephant-sized question marks at some of the other quarterback positions around the conference.

Receiver, linebacker and defensive back are the other potential question marks at Baylor with the departures of Antwan Goodley and Bryce Hager, along with BU’s secondary struggles at various times in 2014.

Yet the receiver position looks like it could be even stronger with KD Cannon poised to make a jump in Year 2, Corey Coleman showing he can be one of the Big 12’s top targets, and a meeting room full of elite but inexperienced receiving talent.

At linebacker, Taylor Young will look to build on a productive redshirt freshman campaign and will have Aiavion Edwards and Grant Campbell battling to help fill Hager’s void.

The bulk of BU’s starting lineup returns from last season, and the small questions facing Briles' team could have answers who saw time on the field for the Bears in 2014.

Max Olson: TCU Horned Frogs

There’s no disputing TCU has more players to replace this spring, and that means more uncertainty. Gary Patterson knows replacing six veteran starters on defense is no small task, and starting defensive end Mike Tuaua is out for the spring as well.

So what are the Frogs going to do? Entering their fourth year in the Big 12, they have the quality depth needed to solve these issues. Patterson and his newly promoted co-defensive coordinators will foster a next-man-up mentality this spring and push for competition.

And there will be lots of competition. At strong safety, Sam Carter’s replacement could be Denzel Johnson, Travin Howard or George Baltimore. At weak safety, Kenny Iloka is probably the favorite but will be pushed by redshirt freshman Ridwan Issahaku.

Then you’ve got Kevin White’s starting corner job, a battle that could play out a lot of different ways. You’ve got a former juco transfer (Corry O’Meally) competing with a touted true freshman (DeShawn Raymond), a converted receiver (Cameron Echols-Luper), a senior track star (Kolby Griffin), and youngsters Nick Orr and Torrance Mosley. Of all of TCU’s question marks, this is the competition I think is most likely to carry over to fall camp, though a pecking order will surely develop in spring ball.

And then there’s linebacker. Two new starters are needed, but that situation could be mostly figured out by the end of the spring. Between Sammy Douglas, Paul Whitmill, Ty Summers and the Frogs’ freshmen, Patterson seems excited about his options.

That’s a lot of names to keep up with, isn’t it? Still, I trust that Patterson knows what he’s working with and that this group can, in time, come close to playing to their predecessors’ standards. And fortunately, this team lost practically nothing -- just one starting lineman -- on offense. Having so few concerns on that side of the ball makes me far less concerned about TCU’s situation.

Big 12 morning links

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
9:00
AM CT
Hilton Magic...
  • Iowa State is kicking off its spring drills this morning. Monday, coach Paul Rhoads met with the media to discuss his team. Among the topics was an update on defensive end Mitchell Meyer, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in February. Rhoads said Meyer has had two chemotherapy treatments, and his spirits are high.
  • The Cyclones also released a depth chart Monday, with few surprises. Perhaps the most intriguing position battle this spring will be at running back, where Iowa State is replacing Aaron Wimberly, who graduated, and DeVondrick Nealy, who left the team. Upperclassman Tyler Brown is atop the two-deep at running back, but the back creating the most buzz is redshirt freshman Mike Warren. "Mike is a guy we believe is going to be a 200-pound-plus back, which is where we want to be with our backs -- and where we haven't been in the past," Rhoads said. The Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch has more notes from Rhoads' news conference, including the plan for wideout Quenton Bundrage, who is coming back from a season-ending knee injury.
  • The Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner has a feature on Baylor quarterback Seth Russell, who is the favorite to succeed Bryce Petty. Assuming Russell does win the job, it will be interesting to see how Art and Kendal Briles tailor the offense to fit Russell's skill set. Russell isn't a track star the way Robert Griffin III was. But he's more athletic than Petty, with a 40-yard dash time of 4.48 seconds. The Bears could be running the quarterback more next season than they have in recent years. In other news, the Bears had an interesting visitor to their practice Monday.
  • TCU coach Gary Patterson discussed his philosophy for hiring assistants with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez. "So many people are so easy to let people go, to lose knowledge of your program, how you recruit," Patterson said. "I've never been someone to believe you do that." It's little wonder that Patterson promoted four of his coaches last week, including Chad Glasgow and DeMontie Cross to co-defensive coordinators. Patterson hasn't been afraid to go out and hire assistants from the outside when the occasion has called for it (see: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie). But his philosophy of promoting from within has fostered TCU's coveted continuity.
  • The Tulsa World's Bill Haisten acknowledged the rumor that Oklahoma State quarterback Daxx Garman is exploring a transfer. Haisten noted there will be no official update on Garman from Oklahoma State until the start of its spring practice next week. But a source told me over the weekend that at this point it's a "strong possibility" Garman transfers. Though he has already transferred before (from Arizona to Oklahoma State), it's hard to fault Garman for at least considering this option. Though Garman started eight games last season, Mason Rudolph has established himself as the quarterback of the future in Stillwater. The Cowboys also have J.W. Walsh coming back, which has Garman staring at the prospect of falling to third string on the depth chart.

Big 12 coaching carousel recap

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
3:00
PM CT
The coaching carousel has finally slowed to a stop (well, almost), so let’s take a look back at who has gone and who is new in the Big 12 heading into spring practice. Iowa State and Kansas State made no changes, but every other program in the conference is breaking in at least two new assistants this fall. A rundown of all the changes:

Baylor

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

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

Kansas

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

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

Oklahoma

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

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

Oklahoma State

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

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

TCU

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

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

Texas

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

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

Texas Tech

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

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

West Virginia

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

Dawson and Bradley left for good promotions, yet it’s hard to say West Virginia took a big hit as a staff this offseason. Dawson’s departure won’t change much, as Dana Holgorsen is still overseeing the offense as its playcaller. New GA hire Michael Burchett will help Holgorsen coach the QBs. Tall returns after a four-year stint as DC at FCS Charlotte. Holgorsen still has one more hire to make: special teams coach. Once they are on board, the Big 12 coaching carousel will officially (probably) come to a stop for 2015.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
1:30
PM CT
We're in the middle of junior day season with multiple schools hosting prospects last weekend and others set to host elite talent this weekend. Here's the latest on the recruiting trail:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: West Virginia sent out multiple offers last week with its March 15 junior day on the horizon. Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) Imhotep running back Tylick Raynor and Southfield (Michigan) running back Matthew Falcon are among the recruits who boasted offers from the Mountaineers.

Big 12 morning links

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
8:00
AM CT
Haven't been watching "House of Cards." How's Season 3? Lemme know in the comments. If you need a quick break between episodes, some Monday morning links:
  • TCU got started on spring ball Sunday afternoon, which capped off a pretty good weekend for Cameron Echols-Luper. The speedy returner won gold in the long jump at the Big 12 indoor track and field championships this weekend, then made it back in time for his first practice. Echols-Luper is moving from receiver to cornerback this spring and I really wouldn't be surprised if he provides a spark there once he gets comfortable.
  • Texas Tech also opened spring practice on Sunday, and a defender to keep an eye on under new DC David Gibbs is Justis Nelson. According to Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Nelson will work at corner and safety this spring and Gibbs has high hopes for him. In fact, he thinks Nelson could've nabbed as many as eight interceptions last season. Tech has established its pre-spring depth chart, but it sounds like Gibbs will have his defensive backs cross-train at multiple spots for versatility and to present different looks. Good idea.
  • Iowa State has all sorts of question marks on defense this spring, and Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune does a nice job here of breaking down the biggest concerns. First and foremost, the Cyclones' staff has to figure out how to get better up the middle. I'm not surprised there's optimism about juco import Desmond Tucker at defensive tackle -- they'll need him to be good right away. There are way too many unknowns when it comes to those linebackers, too.
  • Athlon has attempted to rank the rosters of the Big 12 based on recruiting data, with Texas coming in first place (and No. 9 in the nation) ahead of Oklahoma. They're the only two Big 12 programs that cracked Athlon's top 25. Baylor is 32nd in FBS, TCU is 35th and Kansas State is 56th. Clearly they're bad at recruiting, right? I'm reluctant to share this one because, frankly, I think using recruiting rankings to evaluate a team's roster years later is an exercise that promises to produce bogus results. But, hey, people like lists.
  • Lastly, I know this isn't a football link but it's still definitely worth a share. In this SC Featured piece, Texas women's basketball player Imani McGee-Stafford opens up about how slam poetry helped her overcome her past. It's a poignant piece about an athlete who has braved a lot and found an outlet to express her pain and inspire others. Give this video a watch today.
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.

Ranking the Big 12 coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
11:25
AM CT
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.

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.

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
1:00
PM CT
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.

Big 12 morning links

February, 18, 2015
Feb 18
8:00
AM CT
The answer is yes. This should be a no-brainer.
  • The Texas Tech quarterback battle is even heading into spring football and Kliff Kingsbury has moved the schedule around to accomodate Patrick Mahomes, who also plays baseball at Tech. In addition, Kingsbury expects Davis Webb to participate in some capacity in the Red Raiders' spring drills, reports Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. The Red Raiders went 4-8 in 2014 so competition to be the starting quarterback is the plan. I love what Mahomes brought to the table but I think people forget just how good Webb can be at times, particularly when he is taking care of the football. The Red Raiders have two very good options behind center so I don't think the quarterback position will be a problem for Tech in 2015.
  • TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin needs to try to follow the path of Marcus Mariota, writes Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Telegram. Mariota handled the pressure of entering the 2014 season as a Heisman favorite extremely well en route to winning the prestigious award. “Don’t allow all the preseason hype to get to your head, and just play your game and look forward to another good season” is Mariota's advice for Boykin. That's one thing I'll be keeping an eye on during the offseason as Boykin pushing himself is critical for Gary Patterson's program.
    Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/sports/spt-columns-blogs/mac-engel/article10502417.html#storylink=cpy
  • Signing day is still visible in the rearview mirror but the work on the recruiting trail never stops. West Virginia has a tendency to send out several offers from mid-to-late February and this February is no exception. WVU has sent out 19 offers since February 17 according to Chris Anderson, who wrote the story for the Charleston Gazette. Time will tell if becoming one of the first offers for multiple recruits pay off for the Mountaineers but WVU has done a solid job on the recruiting trail during the past few cycles and there's no reason to think that will change anytime soon.
  • Former Oklahoma State safety Markelle Martin appears to have joined the Cowboys coaching staff, reports Kyle Fredrickson of The Oklahoman. Martin was a critical part of the Cowboys 2011 Big 12 title team as a leader and tone-setter in the secondary. He could have a pretty good future in coaching if he continues down this road. I could definitely see him develop into a terrific recruiter and coach thanks to his intelligence, focus and easy going nature.
  • Iowa State has elevated Clayton Oyster to head strength and conditioning coach for the football program. Oyster has been at ISU since 2009 and was the Cyclones' assistant strength coach under Yancy McKnight, who left for Houston in January. Strength coaches are college football's unsung heroes in many ways as they can hold the key to developing players and maximizing potential while also providing a link to the coaching staff during times when NCAA bylaws limit the coaching staff's time around their players. It will be interesting to see if Oyster makes changes or tries to alter things in an effort to limit the Cyclones' injury woes.
  • Signing day is still in the rearview mirror but West Virginia has been hitting the Class of 2016 hard in February. WVU has sent out 19 offers since Feb. 10 according to Chris Anderson, who wrote this piece for the Charleston Gazette. It's been a busy time for the WVU coaching staff so time will tell if the commitment to becoming one of the first programs to offer some of these recruits will pay off.
In today's Big 12 mailbag, we discuss spring quarterback battles, playoff possibilities, and receivers to watch in 2015.

I hope everyone enjoys their Valentine's Day weekend. Guys, if you're wondering what to do, remember, it's always better to overshoot.

Now, on to the 'bag:

Trotter: The job is Seth Russell's to lose, but that doesn't mean he has it locked up. Russell has been solid for the most part backing up Bryce Petty the past two seasons, but he was a little shaky filling in for Petty against Texas Tech late last season. Chris Johnson is obviously in the mix and shouldn't be overlooked, but Jarrett Stidham has an impressive skill set that could allow him to ultimately win this job. It might not happen by the end of the spring. It might not happen at the start of next season. But, eventually, it could happen.

Trotter: I don't know how many of them will actually be decided before the end of the spring, but there will be several other intriguing quarterback battles to follow, including West Virginia (Skyler Howard vs. William Crest), Oklahoma (Trevor Knight vs. Baker Mayfield vs. Cody Thomas), Texas (Tyrone Swoopes vs. Jerrod Heard), K-State (Joe Hubener vs. Alex Delton) and Texas Tech (Pat Mahomes vs. Davis Webb). Who has the best chance to come out of spring as the definitive starter? My money is on Mahomes.

Trotter: I think Paul Millard's time has come and gone. Never say never, I guess, but the West Virginia quarterback battle is going to be about Howard and Crest. Millard is a nice No. 3 to have. But I don't see him winning the job.

Trotter: Tech has quarterback talent, and some receivers that have big-play potential. I also like Tech's offensive line, especially Le'Raven Clark manning left tackle. But that's where the comparisons to TCU stop. The Horned Frogs quietly had another superb defense again last season, with All-Big 12 talents littered across the defensive line (Chucky Hunter), linebacker (Paul Dawson), and the secondary (Chris Hackett, Sam Carter, Kevin White). I don't see the players right now in Lubbock. Sure Pete Robertson is a nice piece, and I'm looking forward to seeing what Breiden Fehoko and Mike Mitchell bring. But to go 11-1, you need a defense that can bring it, too. Tech has a long way to go there.

Trotter: As this season showed, it's very difficult for a conference to get two teams in the playoff. Possible, yes. But very difficult. I think the most likely scenario is that the Big 12 champion gets into the playoff as the league's lone rep. Right now, I'd give the edge to TCU over Baylor, because of the quarterback advantage and because Baylor has to go to Fort Worth this time around. If you're looking for a darkhorse, keep an eye on Oklahoma State, which ESPN Insider Brad Edwards actually has in the playoff in his early projection. The Cowboys get TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma all in Stillwater, all in the final month of the season. If they get hot, they could be a factor.

Trotter: Yeah, I actually really liked both. Brick Haley had a proven track record of developing big-time defensive linemen. He's familiar with the recruiting area, too. I also liked the addition of Jeff Traylor as tight ends and special teams coach. My one concern with Charlie Strong's original staff was the lack of previous connection to Texas high school football. Traylor, who won three state championships at Gilmer High, has the relationships around the state to help bridge that gap.

Trotter: Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard returns, and would have been a 1,500-yard receiver had he not suffered a groin injury on Nov. 1 that basically knocked him out for the season. Shepard along with Baylor's Corey Coleman and KD Cannon are the top returning wideouts in the league. But some other guys flying a bit under the radar to watch for include Oklahoma State's Brandon Sheperd, Iowa State's Quenton Bundrage, and Texas Tech's Devin Lauderdale. Sheperd exploded after Mason Rudolph took over at quarterback last November; he torched Oklahoma for 156 receiving yards and two TDs in the Cowboys' upset win in Norman. Bundrage was third in the Big 12 in TD catches in 2013, then missed all of last year with a knee injury; if he's healthy, he could be a force again. Finally, Lauderdale came on really strong late last season after a slow start; he had at least 80 yards receiving in four of Tech's final five games. He, Bundrage and Sheperd could all have big 2015 seasons.

Trotter: I enjoy college baseball -- and baseball overall -- very much. It's even more enjoyable when the Big 12 has so many good teams, like it appears to again this season..

Big 12 morning links

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
8:00
AM CT
On the road to becoming known as one of the best "This is SportsCenter" spots of all time.
  • Here's an interesting NFL draft diary from former TCU linebacker Paul Dawson in USA Today. Dawson addresses several different issues from concerns about his character to his reputation at TCU to his upbringing, so it's worth a read. There may be questions about Dawson, and I'm sure NFL teams will try to leave no stone unturned, but his ability to make plays is not one of those questions. Regardless of his eventual draft position, here's hoping he has a lengthy and productive NFL career.
  • Former West Virginia quarterback Marc Bulger is donating $50,000 to WVU to support a scholarship for a student-athlete with a parent or sibling on active duty in the military or working as a police officer or firefighter. It's a pretty sweet move by Bulger who has set it up so others can donate to the endowment.
  • Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt should meet Art Briles' approval as the newest member of the College Football Playoff committee, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. I'd agree with Tramel that Hocutt is a good fit and brings life experience into the meeting room that was missing in 2014. I still have to wonder if that would have changed anything last year, however. The committee came out golden when Ohio State went on to win the national title, but who is to say TCU or Baylor could not have done the same? The bottom line is the playoff needs to be expanded. Four playoff teams with five major conferences was a good first step but let's hope it doesn't stop there.
  • The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey takes a look at some candidates to replace Jerry Montgomery at Oklahoma. Montgomery, a rising star in the coaching profession, left OU to become a coach for the Green Bay Packers. Bob Stoops' recent track record of hiring assistant coaches is pretty solid with Montgomery, Bill Bedenbaugh and Jay Boulware paying off during their first two years in Norman. It's pretty staggering how much uncertainty has hit the Sooners' coaching staff with Bedenbaugh, who coaches the offensive line, as the only coach set to return in the exact same capacity as he held in 2014. Stoops has made several important decisions and he needs them to turn out well or else things could go south in a hurry for him.
  • Former Kansas high school coach Gene Wier is excited about his new job as the director of high school relations at Kansas, writes Bobby Nightengale of KUsports.com. New KU coach David Beaty's focus on high schools and developing a walk-on program has really stood out during his short span as head coach and I think it could really pay off for the Jayhawks. Wier makes a great point in the story about potential Big 12-level players from Kansas ending up playing at a lower level because they might not look like legit prospects during their prep careers then developing into quality players upon really focusing on football in college. If KU can turn two to four of their walk-ons into quality players, it could do wonders for Beaty's chances for success.

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