We've been doing something different with the mailbag, including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To submit a mailbag entry via Twitter, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You also still can send in questions the traditional way here, too.

To the 'bag...

Trotter: At this point, I think it's only a matter of time before Grant Rohach is named the starter. He was clearly the best QB in the spring game, and coming off the way he played at the end of last season, momentum is in his corner. I know the Cyclones are high on the potential of redshirt freshman Joel Lanning, and Rohach will have to perform once the season begins to keep the job, but at this point, it's difficult envisioning anyone other than Rohach starting the opener against North Dakota State.

Trotter: Texas' Cedric Reed, Kansas State's Ryan Mueller, Oklahoma's Charles Tapper, TCU's Devonte Fields and Baylor's Shawn Oakman. On the next tier, I'd have Oklahoma's Geneo Grissom, Texas Tech's Branden Jackson, Iowa State's Cory Morrissey and Oklahoma State's Jimmy Bean.

Trotter: My two darkhorse picks at this point would be Texas Tech and TCU. Schedule is a big part of this, and Tech gets Oklahoma and Texas at home, and Baylor in Arlington, Texas. If the Red Raiders could escape a September Thursday night clash at Oklahoma State, then they could be a factor. QB Davis Webb has made tremendous improvement since December, and he's going to have plenty of firepower surrounding him. Assuming Fields is back to his old self, the Horned Frogs will again be a formidable defense. The big question, as always, is, can they score enough points? But if Matt Joeckel can step in at QB and direct what is essentially the same offense he had at Texas A&M to respectability, TCU could be a handful.

Trotter: Charlie Strong can't get destroyed by Oklahoma. Can't enter any fourth quarter without a legitimate chance to win. Can't lose more than three games. If he avoids those three potholes, he has chance to take Texas a step forward. To me, that's the litmus test.

Trotter: Anytime a team loses its leading tackler, it hurts. Fortunately for the Sooners, they're deep at linebacker, and can absorb a key loss there better than they'd be able to at some other positions. Jordan Evans played well as a true freshman, and shined in place of Shannon in the spring game. A linebacking corps of Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Dominique Alexander, sack-master Eric Striker and Evans would still be stout. Of course, it would be even better with Shannon.

Trotter: That's a tough question. It was startling how much the K-State defense suffered when Ty Zimmerman wasn't on the field last year, but I have faith Dante Barnett is ready to assume a leadership role in that secondary and stabilize the defense. I have less faith right now in K-State's running backs. So far this spring, no one has really emerged from a crop of backs with almost no meaningful experience. The K-State attack has always been predicated on a strong running game, so this is no small issue. Maybe freshman Dalvin Warmack can jumpstart the position when he arrives this summer. But running back looks like the biggest question on a solid-looking team with not many questions elsewhere.

Spring game preview: Texas

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The first Texas football game of the Charlie Strong era will look a lot more like a practice.

The Longhorns hit the field this weekend for the first time since Strong arrived. Even though fans can expect a more scrimmage-like approach to the annual Orange-White spring game, there will be plenty worth keeping an eye on.

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMISophomore QB Tyrone Swoopes will get a chance to work with the No. 1 offense in a game setting Saturday.
What to watch for:

  • Swoopes' confidence: The last time we saw Tyrone Swoopes in action, he looked like a flustered freshman (he was, in fact, a freshman) trying his hardest not to mess up amid a beatdown from Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl. He wasn't afraid to take some shots, and he scrambled for a 28-yard gain, but all in all it was a tough ask for a first-year QB who still had a lot to learn. With David Ash sidelined, Swoopes gets a chance to run the No. 1 offense in the spring game and show how far he has come in 14 practices with Shawn Watson, Texas' new quarterbacks coach. Watson is enthusiastic about the sophomore's future and praises his work as a student of the game, but this is a chance to see how well he can execute with a crowd watching and a No. 1 defense coming after him. Strong says the key to Swoopes' play is confidence and playing within himself. Everyone in attendance on Saturday will want to see if he can do just that.
  • New-look defense: This is going to be a vanilla ballgame on both sides of the ball. Both coordinators acknowledged that after their final practice Thursday. Why give up the good stuff when any Big 12 opponent can DVR the game on Longhorn Network and pick it apart? Even fiery defensive coordinator Vance Bedford will show restraint. But how he lines this defense up, both in scheme and personnel, will be intriguing. Texas coaches say this will be a multiple defense capable of lining up in 4-3 or 3-4, and you could see a little bit of both on Saturday. No, the defenders can't touch Swoopes. But you better believe Bedford will demand they get after him and put up a fight.
  • Playmakers on the outside: The hype is building for this Longhorns receiving corps, and their coaches have had nothing but good things to say about a group that must make up for the loss of deep threat Mike Davis. Nobody will be surprised if Marcus Johnson is the breakout player of the spring game. He's a star in the making. Jaxon Shipley, Kendall Sanders, Daje Johnson and Jacorey Warrick are all said to have had a big spring as well, and don't be shocked if you see tight end Geoff Swaim do some things in the passing game after primarily serving as a blocker in 2013.
  • Rising returnees: A new coaching staff means a clean slate for these Longhorns, and that means a fresh start for players who either weren't playing or were underperforming. The differences will be far more noticeable by August after a long summer of lifting and drills, but there will be some new standouts on Saturday. Guys such as safety Mykkele Thompson, offensive guard Taylor Doyle and linebacker Tim Cole have made an impression on the new staff and could do so again this weekend. Or perhaps it'll be someone nobody else is talking about, like how Duke Thomas caught everyone's eyes last year.
  • New sheriff in town: It's going to be a little strange to see someone other than Mack Brown on that sideline, isn't it? You know plenty of Texas fans will have their eyes on Strong for a glimpse of how he operates in a game setting and what he bring to the Texas sideline. You know the 100-plus recruits in attendance will care about that, too. For all the talk about how Strong is a stern coach out to lay down the law and whip the Longhorns into shape, let's see him have a little fun on Saturday.

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
12:00
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NBA playoffs start this weekend. This should get you ready for the fun!
Charlie Weis knew change was necessary.

The Kansas coach stepped away from the Jayhawks offense this spring after his team fielded one of the nation’s worst offenses. Weis hired former Rice offensive coordinator John Reagan to take over the offense as well as coach KU’s offensive line. They’re only 15 practices into the change, and there's a long way to go until the offense reaches its destination, but Weis has been happy with the results after one spring of drills.

“I think he’s blended in very well in our place,” said Weis, who had studied Reagan’s offense at Rice before luring him to Lawrence, Kan. “It gives the offensive line a little bit extra when they know the guy setting up the offense is also their position coach.”

The general theme?

[+] EnlargeTony Pierson
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsKansas is hoping that John Reagan's simplified offense will mean more big plays for players such as Tony Pierson.
Less is more.

Weis has made a point of stepping away from the offense and allowing Reagan to take over that side of the football. He doesn’t sit in or look over the shoulder of his new offensive coordinator, or try to put his stamp on every little aspect of the offense. Instead, his role is being a sounding block and a resource for the Jayhawks’ new play-caller.

“I’ve moved away and let them do it,” Weis said. “He has a great resource where he can come to me, ‘What do you think of this? What do you think of that?” and I don’t step on his toes. I’m letting him do it, I’m not sitting with the offense, [saying] ‘Do this, do that.’ It’s been really good for him, and I think it’s been really good for me too.”

Less is more translates to the field as well.

The offense has been simplified making things easier on the Jayhawks' playmakers. Less plays means less thinking and, hopefully, faster and more explosive playmaking from players such as dynamic running back Tony Pierson and newly anointed starting quarterback Montell Cozart.

“Because there are a lot less plays, you’re putting a lot less mental pressure on your players and putting more on the play-caller [Reagan],” Weis said. “Because there aren’t as many plays to choose from, the quarterbacks have a very good understanding where if they have a bad play at the line of scrimmage, they have the opportunity to put us in a good one.”

The simplified offense could help Cozart, who Weis named his starter on Thursday. Taking mental stress off of the shoulders of the sophomore could allow him to trust his football instincts to take over instead of overthinking while behind center and triggering KU’s attack.

The transformation from Weis’ offense to Reagan’s offense has come with a change in tempo as well. The Jayhawks focused on tempo this spring, but not for the reasons many would expect. KU doesn’t want to join Baylor and Texas Tech among the nation’s leaders in plays per game.

The Jayhawks do, however, want to inject added flexibility into the offense.

“[That's] the interesting thing with John’s offense,” Weis said. “So many places are just, ‘How fast can you snap the ball?’ That’s only one element. His [offense] is no-huddle, but they can play at a really fast tempo or they can play at a really slow tempo. He’s practiced a slow methodical tempo and one where you’re trying to snap the ball every 10 or 15 seconds.”

Sometimes the threat of being able to snap the ball quickly is just as beneficial as actually doing so. But having the ability to slow the pace of the game down is important as well, particularly if KU is looking to give its defense additional rest or change the overall momentum of the action.

“Most teams running no-huddle are ‘How many snaps can we get off?’” Weis said. “Well that’s great if you always feel like you have better players than the other team, then you’re just wearing them out. In his case, he can go either way. He can go that way or he can slow the whole thing down. It gives him a lot of flexibility.”

It’s a different era of offensive football for KU heading into the fall. And Weis is hoping addition by subtraction will pay dividends for the Jayhawks offense in 2014.
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That didn’t take long.

One day after Matt Joeckel's departure from Texas A&M, the senior-to-be has landed at TCU.

[+] EnlargeMatt Joeckel
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsFormer Texas A&M QB Matt Joeckel's decision to transfer to TCU could strengthen the Horned Frogs at two positions this fall.
The addition of the former Aggies quarterback, who will be eligible immediately, has to bring a smile to the face of Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson. TCU exited spring football with questions remaining at the position after the offense failed to score a touchdown in its spring scrimmage finale.

Trevone Boykin, who started six games at quarterback for the Horned Frogs in 2013, got the majority of the snaps at quarterback with TCU’s starting offense this spring, yet he could be TCU’s best receiver. Tyler Matthews, who was battling Boykin in the spring, elected to transfer earlier this week, and redshirt freshman Zach Allen never emerged as a major threat to Boykin’s spot atop the depth chart.

Joeckel’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Horned Frogs are moving to a pass-heavy offense under new offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie but don’t have a trigger man for the attack.

Joeckel could be that guy. Or, at the very least, he could provide a veteran bridge while freshman quarterbacks Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein get comfortable in the offense and in the Horned Frogs program. Patterson has been candid with his willingness to turn to one of the true freshman in 2014, but Joeckel’s decision could be the answer to all the remaining questions at the position.

Joeckel, who backed up 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel during his time at Texas A&M, ran a similar offense with the Aggies and started the 2013 season opener against Rice when Manziel was suspended. He finished the 2013 season with 293 passing yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He was 14 of 19 for 190 yards and one touchdown during one half of action -- before Manziel took over -- against Rice, his lone start a year ago.

The overlooked impact of his decision to join the Horned Frogs is the opportunity for TCU to move Boykin back to receiver and still have a mature, veteran option under center this fall. Boykin was arguably TCU’s best receiver at the end of the 2013 season after Casey Pachall returned from injury. The junior is dynamic with the ball in his hands and is much better served catching passes than throwing them, particularly in TCU's new offensive system. He had 26 receptions for 204 yards in 2013.

Thus, with Joeckel’s addition to the TCU offense, the Horned Frogs might have added two additional pieces to their arsenal, not just one.
Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has a simple explanation to describe the change in his job in the past year.

“180 degrees,” he says.

At this time a year ago, Spencer was a new defensive coordinator with a defense full of veterans. From cornerback Justin Gilbert, a likely NFL draft first-round pick, to linebacker Shaun Lewis, an All-Big 12 performer, the Cowboys defense featured several players with plenty of experience. His task required fine-tuning and allowed him to be creative, with the understanding his experienced defense could handle the extra burden of additional schemes.

This spring has been much different as he prepares for his second season running the Pokes' defense. The unit, while talented, is young and inexperienced as they try to replace a group of seniors who started 239 combined games in a Cowboys uniform.

[+] EnlargeGlenn Spencer
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer admits that his young defense "keeps him up at night."
“Right now it keeps me up at night,” Spencer said midway through the spring. “I just want them to find within themselves what they’re all about, check their heartbeat out before they come out here [to practice] and find the right motivation for what they’re doing. That’s part of the fun part, watching a kid find that, so we just have to get more people to find that.”

Instilling mental toughness was a spring focus.

“It’s been a process the whole spring; it’s not a real surprise,” Spencer said. “We have some guys running with the first unit that haven’t earned a thing yet and there’s probably a sense of entitlement right now.”

Oklahoma State does have several returning defenders with experience, including defensive tackle James Castleman and cornerback Kevin Peterson, who both say they prefer to lead by example. So there is a potential vocal leadership void, but Spencer has been pleased with the spring progress of his youthful unit, even if it hasn’t reached the heights required for success this fall.

“We got a lot done,” Spencer said. “I’m still not happy, but we got a lot done. There was some improvement made -- a lot of it -- mostly in the tough situations we put them in, some adversity that happened and watching and studying and seeing yourself on tape and realizing what you think you’re doing and what you’re actually doing doesn’t match up sometimes.”

If removing what Spencer had referred to as "a sense of entitlement" earlier in the spring has been achieved, then Oklahoma State can call this spring a success.

“Our perception of what we are and then what we are accomplishing is a lot different,” Spencer said. "Those things were huge, and we took a big step toward that.”

Even with their spring progress, the inexperience of the Cowboys defense will remain a storyline until the fall.

“There were a number of years where we had Joe [Mitchell] and Shaun and those guys you know about,” head coach Mike Gundy said. “When you’re experienced on defense, they can overcome speed, and they can overcome different tempos of offense and formations and movement. When you get in a game on that side of the ball, if you’re not real experienced, things that move around a little bit and you start paying attention to that, and then they snap the ball and you get out of your gap. We have to really pay attention as a coaching staff to that and put our players in positions to give them the best chance to have success early in the season.”
Kansas State heads into the 2014 season with its entire coaching staff intact for the first time since Bill Snyder returned to lead the program he built in 2009.

Normally, the thought of continuity would bring great piece of mind for a head coach. But Snyder is a unique man and coach, one who is always covering every angle and thinking of every possibility.

[+] EnlargeBill Snyder
AP Photo/Matt YorkBill Snyder's entire coaching staff is back this season. While that's comforting, Snyder isn't happy with just maintaining the status quo.
“I think that it is something that you have to be cautious about, not taking that for granted,” Snyder said of having the coaching staff intact. “Just the fact that you have the same people in place, it will be very easy to think it will just be done how it has always been done. Then you get yourself into some dire straits if you accept it that way.”

The Wildcats staff features several coaches who have been at KSU for more than a decade. Special teams coordinator Sean Snyder, co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel, co-offensive coordinator Del Miller and interior defensive line coach Mo Latimore have combined to spend 82 seasons in the program. The program does feature some newer faces in receivers coach Andre Coleman and defensive ends coach Blake Seiler, who just completed their first season as position coaches in Manhattan.

Snyder’s response to the question about continuity could be a glimpse at what helps separate him from other coaches. In his mind, there’s no advantage to having his entire staff return if they return as the same coaches they were during the previous season. He expects his staff to grow as coaches, much like he expects his team to grow as players.

“It is a plus to have all of your staff returning, but it is a plus only if that staff continues to grow and continue to provide the foundation for our players to improve on a regular basis,” Snyder said. “When you have been in a position -- yours, mine, anyone else’s -- the longer that you are in it, the more susceptible you [are to] take certain aspects for granted. We need to be awfully careful about that.”

Clearly the coaches on his staff buy into that mindset, and it’s working. The Wildcats have averaged 8.4 wins per season since Snyder’s return five years ago, including 29 wins during the past three seasons. KSU averaged 5.6 wins per season in three years with a 17-20 overall record under Ron Prince from 2006-08.
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Kansas coach Charlie Weis’ decision to name Montell Cozart as his starting quarterback wasn’t a major surprise.

Those who watched Cozart separate himself from the competition during KU’s spring game could sense this was coming. The sophomore quarterback clearly was the best of the group, using his feet to make plays while also showing progress as a passer in new offensive coordinator John Reagan’s offense. He earned offensive MVP honors by accounting for two touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeMontell Cozart
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerMontell Cozart has been named the starting quarterback for the Jayhawks.
Weis' decision to hand over the future of KU’s offense to Cozart is the right one for several reasons.

First, Cozart has three years of eligibility remaining, giving him time to grow and improve, with some of his ups and downs as a young player likely to pay off later. Jake Heaps, his main competitor heading into the spring game, will be a senior in 2014. Cozart was pulled out of his redshirt as a freshman last season, starting three games and putting any freshman jitters in the past, allowing him to enter this season with knowledge of what to expect.

Second, Cozart brings the best combination of physical traits with his running ability and his passing skills continuing to develop. Earlier in the spring, Weis had talked of playing multiple quarterbacks and using them in different ways this fall, but Cozart’s progress as a passer makes that unnecessary. If he continues to develop as a passer, he could become the complete package behind center. And his spring performance showed he's the best option for now and the future.

Last, Weis' decision to name Cozart the starter just days after the spring game is a sign of confidence. The decision allows the sophomore to settle in as the face of KU’s offense, and it means the coach is confident that he has a quarterback. He said earlier in the spring that a lengthy quarterback battle that lasts deep into preseason camp means “you don’t have one.” If it all works out, Weis’ confidence will breed confidence in Cozart and among his teammates.

Cozart finished his freshman season with 227 passing yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions in seven games, so it’s not time to cement his spot on the preseason All-Big 12 team quite yet.

But naming Cozart as the starter could be remembered as the first step toward making KU’s offense the most explosive of Weis’ tenure.

Big 12's lunch links

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
12:00
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I'm guessing this is how Usain Bolt plays soccer.
Two seasons ago, the Big 12 sent an unprecedented nine of its 10 members to bowl games, prompting Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops -- among others -- to tout the depth of the league.

But last season, only six Big 12 teams qualified for bowls, as Iowa State, TCU and West Virginia had losing records while Kansas ran its bowl-less streak to five seasons.

In this week’s poll question, we ask: Which Big 12 team that didn’t qualify for a bowl last year has the best chance of getting back to one in 2014?

Until last season, the Mountaineers had made a bowl every year all the way back to 2001. But inconsistent play at quarterback and defensive injuries doomed them in 2013. West Virginia returns starter Clint Trickett and has added some interesting quarterbacks to the competition. The Mountaineers also appear loaded in the backfield and at wide receiver, and they added veteran assistant Tom Bradley to the defensive staff. But West Virginia plays a brutal schedule, which includes Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, and has road trips to Maryland, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas.

TCU had also been accustomed to going to bowl games annually, as the Horned Frogs hadn’t missed one since 2004. Injuries to defensive end Devonte Fields and quarterback Casey Pachall ravaged TCU early on in the season. The Horned Frogs also struggled offensively all year, prompting coach Gary Patterson to overhaul his attack and bring in Houston’s Doug Meacham and Texas Tech’s Sonny Cumbie to coordinate a no-huddle, spread attack. TCU lost All-American cornerback Jason Verrett off last fall’s team, but Fields appears healthy after undergoing foot surgery. The defense figures to be stout again.

Paul Rhoads had led Iowa State to two straight bowls before taking a step back last season. The Cyclones got off to a rough start with a stunning loss to Northern Iowa in the opener. They later dropped a one-point game on a Thursday night to Texas and never regained the momentum. The Cyclones never quit, however, and finished the season on a high note by routing Kansas and rallying to topple West Virginia on the road in triple overtime. Iowa State still needs several players to emerge defensively, but the offense could feature the best collection of skill players the Cyclones have enjoyed in a long time, headlined by running back Aaron Wimberly, wideout Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs.

Kansas hasn’t been to a bowl since current Iowa State offensive coordinator Mark Mangino was its head coach. The Jayhawks did defeat West Virginia last season to snap their 27-game Big 12 losing streak, but that remained their lone Big 12 win. Kansas has added transfer Nick Harwell, who was second in the nation in receiving in 2011 at Miami (Ohio) and should give the Jayhawks a much-needed go-to receiver. Kansas also brings back 16 starters, including nine on a defensive unit that played several teams tough last season. Of course, after winning just nine games combined the past four seasons, the Jayhawks would seemingly have the longest road back to a bowl.

But we leave it to you to decide: Which of these four teams -- West Virginia, TCU, Iowa State or Kansas -- has the best chance of getting back to a bowl in 2014?
WACO, Texas -- Art Briles always wears sleeves. Go ahead, run a Google search. Try to find those forearms. Good luck.

You won't have any more luck getting Briles to reveal what's up his sleeve when it comes his newest offensive strategies. This future of the Baylor offense, and specifically how it intends to tear up opposing defenses in 2014, isn’t something he's looking to gab about this spring or any spring.

“Not publicly, no,” Briles said. “I like my job. I’m going to keep it.”

There's no need to give up any secrets about the Bears’ scheme, not when defensive coordinators have surely been scrutinizing it throughout this offseason in search of hints on how to stop it. Yet when you have the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense and No. 1 total offense, when you rank first in FBS in yards per attempt and 20-plus yard plays, how can you get any better? What’s the next step?

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesWhat's up Baylor coach Art Briles' ever-present sleeves for his offense this fall? Don't bother asking, becuase he's not telling.
Bryce Petty has to pause and think a moment when he hears that question, not because he seeks a calculating answer. It’s just a tricky thing to sum up when, really, the goal isn’t changing.

“The next level is not just being able to stretch out a defense. The next level for us is to perfect it,” Petty said. “It’s to say there’s honestly not a formation you can do that works. To me, that’s the next step, and that’s where we’re getting to.”

Innovation is the name of the game in Waco this offseason, as usual. This high-powered offense still needs new wrinkles, the latest tweaks and tricks, to stay ahead of the game.

And Briles knows this is a copycat game. This fall, you’ll see offenses all over the country run the packaged run/pass option plays that Baylor mastered long ago. And that means defenses all over the country will have answers for it, too, which is all the more reason for Briles and his staff to cook up new recipes for scoring.

There’s motivation in how Baylor closed out the season, too. It’s not just the Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF. Briles knows there was a dip in consistency, that his offense wasn’t the same in November and December.

“Honestly, we found that out last year,” he said. “Through eight games last year, there’s not a team playing better than us in the United States of America. It’s hard to stay at that level that long.

He brings up this year’s NCAA tournament. You’re going to have teams that rise early and slide late, such as Syracuse. You’re going to have the ones such as Kentucky that figure it out late in the season. There’s just no room for that in college football, not when you’re judged on a 12-game sample.

“You can’t be a Kentucky (basketball) in football, because you’ll never get there,” Briles said. “You have to do it every week you step on the field. That’s just the way it is.”

What makes the job even trickier, as Petty points out, are the games like Kansas State last season. Baylor came to Manhattan fresh off a 73-42 beatdown of West Virginia and had a concrete plan on how to attack the Wildcats.

The plan got crumpled up and tossed aside quickly once K-State rolled out defensive looks the Bears had never seen on film.

“It was nothing like what we saw,” Petty said. “That’s the chess match of it. That’s what’s fun for me, it’s a challenge to say, ‘All of our game plan? Throw it out!’”

There will be aspects of the Bears’ record-setting 2013 offense that gets thrown out because Briles knows the rest of the Big 12 will have caught up. Baylor has to be different.

“That’s the cat-and-mouse game that I love,” Briles said with a grin.

He’ll have some speedy new cats to work with this fall with true home-run threats such as Johnny Jefferson at running back and K.D. Cannon at receiver. He’ll even work in a few physical freaks like Tre'Von Armstead, a 6-foot-5, 280-pound tight end with 4.8 40-yard-dash speed.

They’re all pieces to an ever-changing puzzle that will only get more challenging to solve.

“Trying to be perfect? Trying to be innovative? We’re not trying,” Briles said. “We’re being perfect, we’re being innovative, being fearless, not trying to open the book and play by what the book says. We’re willing to think outside the box. That, to me, is the biggest challenge we have. Because the bar is set so high that it’s really hard to maintain that level for an extended period of time.”

For a perfectionist such as Briles, and for an offense that aims to score on every single snap, this is the fun part. He can say with pride Baylor was the nation’s best for eight games, but in his book, that’s not nearly enough.

“We still feel like we really haven’t played a season here yet,” Briles said. “We’re just getting this thing going. We’re on the ground floor. So to me, that’s very inspirational.”
Now that most FBS schools have wrapped up spring ball, here comes a necessary next step: Transfer season. The dominoes started falling for several Big 12 quarterbacks situations on Wednesday morning.

First came the news that Texas A&M quarterback Matt Joeckel is leaving the Aggies and is eligible to play immediately. The Arlington, Texas, native will have one season left after finishing his undergraduate degree in December. He played in four games last season and threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns.

Might TCU be his most logical destination? The Horned Frogs had been considering transfer options this offseason, including former Texas Tech QB Michael Brewer -- who chose Virginia Tech after the option to transfer inside the Big 12 was blocked -- and Joeckel has two years of experience playing in the kind of high-speed spread offense the Horned Frogs are installing.

Then came another move, perhaps clearing the way for Joeckel: TCU backup quarterback Tyler Matthews is also transferring.

A TCU spokesperson confirmed Matthews' decision, which he also announced on his Twitter account.



As a redshirt freshman, Matthews appeared in four games last season while backing up Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin. So the Horned Frogs' decision, with Pachall now graduated, comes down to Boykin and incoming freshmen Grayson Muehlstein and Foster Sawyer. And maybe Joeckel, or another transfer.

Texas Tech, meanwhile, is dealing with its own departures at quarterback. Walk-on backups Tanner Tausch and Mike Richardson are both leaving the program, a spokesperson confirmed.

Tausch is going to focus on academics after one semester with the team. He is a junior-college transfer who threw for 255 yards in Tech’s spring game last Saturday as the No. 2 QB. Richardson is planning to transfer after one semester, leaving Davis Webb as the only quarterback on the roster.

That will change this summer, when touted signee Patrick Mahomes joins the program along with walk-ons Payne Sullins, Hunter Rittimann and Vincent Testaverde, the son of former NFL QB Vinny Testaverde. There's no doubt Mahomes, a two-sport star who also plays baseball at Whitehouse (Texas) High School, will have to assume the backup job this fall.

Of course, Joeckel isn't the only option if these Big 12 coaches go looking for free-agent QBs. Jalen Whitlow is leaving Kentucky, Chad Kelly was dismissed at Clemson, and several more could enter the market in the next month. That's just how it goes now. Quarterbacks don't want to sit on the bench, especially if they aren't in their coach's immediate plans.
Kansas State went into the 2013 season with hopes of defending its Big 12 title. Those hopes quickly vanished after the Wildcats lost their first three Big 12 games.

But after a sizzling finish coupled with the return of several key performers, K-State opened spring ball this month with its eyes turned back to the Big 12 crown.

“I definitely think we have the confidence and talent to play with anyone,” quarterback Jake Waters said. “I’m not saying we’re going undefeated. But we can play with anyone in this league and anyone in the country. We’re going to have a chance to win every game.”

The Wildcats have good reason to feel confident about contending for the Big 12 title again.

They closed out last season winning six of their final seven games, including a 31-14 dismantling of Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

They also have a confident returning quarterback in Waters, who rapidly improved after transferring in from junior college. In fact, during that seven game stretch, Waters produced a better Adjusted Total QBR than All-Big 12 quarterback Bryce Petty while throwing for 14 touchdowns to just four interceptions (he threw four interceptions alone in K-State’s first two games against North Dakota State and Louisiana-Lafayette).

“My confidence is night and day from when I first got here and even maybe during the season,” said Waters, who eventually bumped Daniel Sams out of K-State’s two-quarterback system (Sams is playing receiver this spring). “Towards the end of the year, it started to click for me. The game started to slow down. I was able to see the coverages better and see the things I wanted to get to.”

Of course, Waters also benefited from having one of the best security blankets in all of college football in All-Big 12 wideout Tyler Lockett, who could be a preseason All-American going into his senior season.

Despite missing two games earlier in the season with injury, Lockett led the league in receiving yards per game (105.2). As Waters settled in, Lockett became almost uncoverable, hauling in 278 yards and three touchdowns in late November against Oklahoma before reeling in three first-half touchdown catches in the bowl game against Michigan.

“It’s pretty awesome for a quarterback to have a guy like him,” Waters said. “I’m confident he’s going to get open every single time. I know where he’s going to be, what he’s going to do, and that’s a big help. Me and him have a great connection.”

The Wildcats, however, won’t merely be a two-man show next season.

Veteran center BJ Finney and guard Cody Whitehair are All-Big 12-caliber offensive linemen. The Wildcats also inked one of the top-rated juco wideouts in the country in Andre Davis, who enrolled early and is participating in spring ball.

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
AP Photo/Matt YorkQuarterback Jake Waters' strong play was a big reason for the Wildcats winning six of seven games to end the 2013 season.
“He can fly,” Waters said of Davis. “That’s another weapon we need to be able to use.”

The Wildcats also welcome back All-Big 12 defensive linemen Travis Britz and Ryan Mueller, who was second in the league last season with 11 sacks.

With the playmakers on both sides of the ball, Mueller said he sees likenesses this spring between the makeup of this team and the one that won the Big 12 title two years ago.

“I do see some similarities as far as talent level,” Mueller said of the 2012 Wildcats, who featured both conference players of the year in quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown. “We have strong impact players. The teams are very similar that way, and we’re looking forward to showcasing that.”

These Wildcats still have obstacles to overcome before matching what those Wildcats accomplished.

K-State has no experienced running back to replace graduated three-year starter John Hubert, and coach Bill Snyder didn’t seem overly pleased with the position thus far while speaking with reporters Tuesday.

The Wildcats must also find a place in the offensive gameplan for Sams, who, outside of Lockett, is the team’s most explosive playmaker.

K-State will also be leaning heavily on several junior-college players, including defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales and linebacker D'Vonta Derricott, who won’t be joining the team until the summer.

But the way they finished last season, the Wildcats have the same goal they did early last year.

And that’s to be a contender.

“We showed (late last year) what we’re capable of doing,” Mueller said. “We’re looking forward to doing bigger and better things in 2014.”
Today is a minor holiday for recruitniks: The newest edition of the ESPN 300 recruiting rankings have been released, along with a slew of other grades and evaluations.

It's always a big-time endeavor for the ESPN crew of scouts, so be sure to click HERE for the ESPN 300 rankings.

Several of today's updates to the ESPN 300 affect the Big 12. Here's a closer look at what you should take away from the rankings:
  • Oklahoma State quarterback commit John Kolar enjoyed an incredible jump, going from unranked to the nation's No. 3 pocket passer. He's now ranked No. 82 overall in the ESPN 300. The Norman (Okla.) North senior-to-be impressed filling in for injured Alabama signee David Cornwell last year, and he has wowed our scouts as well.
  • What a killer start for Baylor. The Bears have verbal commitments from six high school prospects, and all six made the ESPN 300. The highest ranked of the bunch is WR John Humphrey Jr., who announced his commitment last night. He's one of three ESPN 300 receivers in the class, joining Devontre Stricklin and Chad President. The Bears signed four ESPN 300 recruits in last year's class, and three the previous year, so this is quite the jump. With Baylor high on the list of several other ESPN 300 prospects, including WR DaMarkus Lodge (No. 63 in ESPN 300) and DE James Lockhart (No. 113), there's a good chance this class ends up being the best in the Big 12 when it's all said and done.
  • Texas now has verbal commitments from five ESPN 300 recruits: S DeShon Elliott (No. 94), OT Toby Weathersby (No. 138), OG Patrick Vahe (No. 171), new RB commit Tristian Houston (No. 208) and RB Jordan Stevenson (No. 296). The Longhorns are in the mix for more than 30 ESPN 300 prospects and have offered several more elite out-of-state recruits. Texas has some real momentum under new coach Charlie Strong at the moment, and it's possible more than 10 uncommitted ESPN 300 prospects visits Austin this week for the spring game.
  • The state of Oklahoma has five prospects in the ESPN 300, and nearly all of them could end up being Sooners. OU already has verbal pledges from DT Marquise Overton (No. 150) and OG Joshua Wariboko (No. 190) and is among the leaders for OG Jalin Barnett (No. 36) and S Will Sunderland Jr. (No. 212). And then there's Kolar, who the Sooners could still make a push for over time. Four of Oklahoma's five current pledges are in the ESPN 300.
  • Texas Tech already has two top-50 recruits in QB Jarrett Stidham and DT Breiden Fehoko, and they'll be the lead recruiters of this Red Raiders class. Stidham checks in at No. 37 in the new ESPN 300, which puts him No. 4 among all prospects in Texas, and Fehoko is the nation's No. 7 defensive tackle.
  • It's a great year to find a running back in the state of Texas. Ten of them made the newest ESPN 300, and six have already committed to schools. The top-rated member of the group is Oklahoma State commit Ronald Jones II, the nation's No. 3 running back. Texas already has Houston and Stevenson, Baylor has Ja'Mycal Hasty (No. 274) and Texas A&M has pledges from Rodney Anderson (No. 263) and Jay Bradford (No. 277).
  • West Virginia is off to a great start with the 2015 class thanks to its dedication to recruiting Florida. Two of its verbal commits made the ESPN 300 in WR Jovon Durante (No. 120) and S Kendrell McFadden (No. 153), and half of its 10 pledges come from the Sunshine State. WVU is one of only seven program in the country with double-digit commitments at this point.

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
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This kid might have just saved a life.

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