Big 12: Baylor Bears

In Tuesday's mailbag, we discuss how to address Baylor's nonconference scheduling stance along with Texas Tech's trip to Arkansas and Iowa State's running game. As always, thanks for your questions. To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Matthew W. in Tyler, Texas, writes: Hey guys, Baylor alum here. Baylor fans hate our noncon schedule more than anyone. Are there any practical steps we fans, especially alumni, can take to affect change? Or are we permanently at the mercy of Ian McCaw and Art Briles' misguided philosophy?

BC: One real way to express your voice is refusing to attend nonconference games that you believe will hurt the Bears’ College Football Playoff hopes. But that’s not a realistic option. I mean, the excitement of a home game happens 6 or 7 times a year so I wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice that if I was you. Otherwise, BU fans and alumni should just continue to be vocal about their desire to schedule better. All that said, I think it’s important to remember we are one season into a playoff system and there have been plenty of overreactions to such a small sample size. If BU goes undefeated this fall and locks up a playoff berth while other playoff candidates stumble out of conference, how would that change perceptions?

Zack Naegele in Morgantown, West Virginia, writes: Dana Holgorsen is going back to coaching the West Virginia quarterbacks this season. I know that's part of why we hired him in the first place. How big of an impact do you think that will have on their production next season (regardless of who gets the starting job)?

BC: It’s a good move. Holgorsen knows how to get the best out of quarterbacks and has some talented quarterbacks on campus to mold into productive ones. Skyler Howard, William Crest or whoever wins the job will have ups and downs, but Holgorsen will know how to handle it. That’s why he trusted himself to do the job. He will find a productive quarterback from the bunch.

Nick in Dallas writes: Do you believe that my Texas Tech Red Raiders can outscore Arkansas if we're able to plug the hole down the middle better on defense?

Brandon Chatmon: That’s a major if, but I don’t think scoring will be the problem. The problem is the Sept. 19 matchup in Fayetteville comes early enough in the season that new defensive coordinator David Gibbs could still be searching for his best 11 players and how to use them to shore up Tech’s run defense. It’s going to take a huge step forward for Tech to stop UA’s run game, but it’s not an impossible task.

Matt Truelove writes: Who is a player that isn't being talked about that will have the biggest impact for Oklahoma State this next year?

BC: Receiver James Washington is the guy poised for a breakout season. His true freshman numbers were decent (28 receptions, 456 yards, six touchdowns) but I think he can be a star as early as 2015. His two-touchdown performance against Tech was a glimpse of Washington’s competitiveness and ball skills. With Mason Rudolph as the Cowboys clear starter at quarterback, I think Washington’s talent will no longer go unnoticed.

Cy in Big D writes: With the amount of playing time the Iowa State reserve offensive linemen got last year due to injuries, do you see a reason to have hope they can run the ball this year?

BC: Being able to build around Daniel Burton and Jake Campos is a good start for Mark Mangino but, honestly, I think Mangino’s growing influence will be the defining factor. A full year under his tutelage should pay off this fall and I expect ISU to be more physical up front in Year 2 with Mangino as offensive coordinator.

Kirk B. in Morgantown, writes: You described Joe DeForest as a "solid coach" who takes a lot of "undue heat" from WVU fans. Are "solid" coaches consistently demoted? DeForest has failed in every position he has held at WVU. Remember how bad his stint as DC was? Or all of the special teams TDs WVU gave up last year? His status as a friend of Holgorsen is the only reason he is still employed. When Holgs goes, he will be lucky to land a job in the Sun Belt! Rant over. Have a good day.

BC: Considering DeForest had a career before he arrived in Morgantown, I stand by my statement. Strong rant though.

Ryan in Denver writes: Besides quarterback what player/position needs to step up for Oklahoma's offense to orchestrate properly: Josiah St John (LT), Mark Andrews (WR/TE hybrid), Joe Mixon (RB/WR hybrid), or one of the "700" ESPN top300 receivers?

BC: It’s the receiver position outside of Sterling Shepard. Andrews, DeDe Westbrook, Michiah Quick or anyone else, it really doesn’t matter who steps up. But someone needs to step up to supplement Shepard’s greatness and give Riley options as he tries to attack defenses.

Mike McGown in Katy, Texas, writes: Saw that Baylor ranked sixth in pass defense in 2014. Is the BU offense so good that it makes up the difference? Is it sustainable for a three-peat?

BC: Mike, one thing to keep in mind when it comes to BU is how often they are playing with huge leads. Opponents are forced to pass more often and those increased opportunities can come against BU’s second-team defenders. That said, the Bears definitely have the ability to three-peat but will need to get better in the secondary to make it happen. There were times BU’s first-team defense had real struggles stopping high-powered passing attacks in 2014, like its struggles against Tech, but I expect their pass defense to be better this fall.

It's Take Two Tuesday as we debate the Big 12 landscape this spring.

Today, Max Olson and Brandon Chatmon debate the most surprising development of the spring in the Big 12.

Max Olson: The rise of Baylor's Seth Russell

[+] EnlargeSeth Russell
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezExpectations are set to high when it comes to being the No. 1 QB at Baylor, and those goals are no different for Seth Russell.

I've heard it enough times this spring that it no longer sounds all that farfetched. People in Waco keep saying it: Russell is going to be better than Bryce Petty.

And they declare this with conviction, as if it's been some sort of well-kept secret for years. But, you know, this is coach Art Briles we're talking about. "Next man up" at the quarterback position hasn't been a problem at Baylor in a long time.

And it wasn't this spring, either. Russell was the Bears' clear No. 1 guy from the start. Chris Johnson and Jarrett Stidham competed, but neither were going to take his job. Russell has the full faith of his Baylor teammates, who consistently and proudly praise his character, arm talent and rare athleticism.

I talked to a handful of them at the start of the spring, and their level of confidence in Russell was striking. Maybe the Bears have just become conditioned to assuming excellence from QB No. 1. And maybe the expectations for Russell -- that he'll be a more efficient passer and blow everyone away with his running ability -- aren't entirely fair.

But it sure doesn't sound like that's the case. One of the few people who isn't letting the hype get out of hand is Briles, whose praise has been relatively measured during spring practice. The standard is so high and Russell has to be so good to ensure zero dropoff.

Nick Florence threw for more yards than Robert Griffin III. Petty won two conference titles. The only way Russell can really one-up all those guys is by winning it all, right?

We'll find out if Russell is the real deal this fall, when he finally gets his chance against the Big 12's heavyweights. But there's no question he's won the spring at Baylor and has a lot of folks believing the Bears' best football is still to come.

Brandon Chatmon: Unanswered questions at linebacker for TCU

Russell's stranglehold on the starting quarterback job in Waco has been a definite surprise. Yet, TCU's attempts to replace Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallett top my list of surprises in the Big 12.

Those were the two biggest questions surrounding the two Big 12 title favorites heading into the spring, and Russell appears to have answered one question while the other question remains unanswered in Fort Worth.

Replacing TCU's linebacker duo is critical to its Big 12 title and College Football Playoff hopes.

The Horned Frogs looking at the possibility of using safeties to help fill the void just adds to the intrigue. Coach Gary Patterson plans to get his best 11 defenders on the field, no matter what it takes, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that a player with safety skills can often be a better bet to play linebacker against the spread offenses in the Big 12.

Linebackers Sammy Douglas and Paul Whitmill opened the spring atop the depth chart as Dawson and Mallett's replacements. Douglas and Whitmill each have talent and Patterson's program has other talented options at linebacker and safety, but TCU is looking at a long battle to match the 236 combined tackles from Dawson and Mallett a year ago.

Patterson's track record of building top defenses should create confidence the Horned Frogs will find a way, but it remains a tough task to replace the playmaking duo that was the cornerstone of the Horned Frogs' defense in 2014.

Over the next two weeks, we'll be evaluating who the 10 best players are on every Big 12 roster this spring.

Again, these lists won't include junior college or freshman signees who have yet to arrive on campus. We're only looking at players currently with their teams this spring. These rankings are sure to change, but here's our best assessment for the moment. We continue with the two-time defending Big 12 champs from Baylor:

1. OT Spencer Drango: Drango, who will be a four-year starter at left tackle, is one of the premier blindside protectors in college football. A first-team AP All-American last season and two-time first-team All-Big 12 performer, Drango has been a key part of Baylor offenses that have ranked first, first and fourth nationally in scoring the past three seasons.

[+] EnlargeBaylor Bears
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWatch out for Corey Coleman (left) and KD Cannon, as the duo will be the big-time favorites to lead the Bears' receiving corps in 2015.

2. DE Shawn Oakman: A man of many memes, the 6-foot-9, 280-pound Oakman intimidates with his size and his play. He was second in the Big 12 last season with 11 sacks, and in just two years with the Bears he has posted 32 tackles for loss.

3. DT Andrew Billings: Billings doesn't put up the numbers that Oakman does because of where he plays. But there were few more dominating defensive linemen in the country last season than Billings, who was a first-team All-Big 12 pick. Despite facing constant double teams, Billings still finished with 11.5 tackles for loss in 2014.

4. WR Corey Coleman: Coleman is next in line of Baylor's recent run of big-time wideouts. As a sophomore last season, he took over as quarterback Bryce Petty's favorite target to finish third in the Big 12 with 1,119 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. With Kevin White and Tyler Lockett both gone, Coleman figures to be the league's premier pass-catcher in 2015.

5. RB Shock Linwood: In his first season as Baylor's featured runner, Linwood quietly placed second in the league with 1,252 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. Linwood, who also earned first-team All-Big 12 honors, might not possess the power of Oklahoma's Samaje Perine or the breakaway ability of TCU's Aaron Green. But his balanced skill set is an ideal fit between the tackles out of the Baylor offensive machine.

6. WR KD Cannon: Cannon is the other reason why Baylor might have the best one-two punch at receiver in the country. Despite being a secondary option alongside Coleman and Antwan Goodley last season, Cannon finished with 58 receptions and more than 1,000 yards receiving as a true freshman. Though much of that production came during the non-conference when Goodley and Coleman were hurt, Cannon still put up 124 receiving yards in the win against TCU, then 197 and two touchdowns in the Cotton Bowl. There might not be a more dangerous deep threat in the Big 12 this season.

7. LB Taylor Young: Young excelled in 2014 after stepping into the starting lineup following an early-season ankle injury to Aiavion Edwards. As a redshirt freshman, Young finished second on the team behind Bryce Hager with 91 tackles and was the AP's Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year. With Hager gone, Young has taken over as Baylor's primary linebacker.

8. DT Beau Blackshear: Billings and Oakman get all the headlines -- and for good reason -- but Blackshear has been a solid player in his own right. He has started at tackle the last two seasons for the Bears, and recorded 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last year.

9. DE Jamal Palmer: That's right, another Baylor defensive lineman makes this list. Palmer missed most of last year with a torn ACL, but he was having a banner season until the injury. Two years ago he was honorable-mention All-Big 12, and with defenses likely to be keyed on Oakman and Billings, Palmer should have plenty of chances at the quarterback in 2015.

10. FS Orion Stewart: The Bears are hoping Stewart can become the anchor of the secondary the way former All-American Ahmad Dixon did two years ago. Stewart has the talent to, but he just needs to add the consistency.

WACO, Texas -- On the fourth play of Baylor’s Friday Night Lights scrimmage, Corey Coleman skied over a pair of hapless defenders to snatch a pass out of the air. As they crashed to the ground, he landed firmly on his feet, then coasted 65 yards for a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeBaylor Bears
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsCorey Coleman (left) and KD Cannon are primed for bigger and better results in 2015.

 A few plays later, wingman KD Cannon blew past the secondary across the middle of the field for a 54-yard scoring bomb.

From Kendall Wright and Josh Gordon to Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley, Baylor has showcased several dynamic receiving duos during the Art Briles era, providing the budding powerhouse its claim to Wide Receiver U.

“We’re proud to carry on what they started,” Coleman said.

But as the only returning 1,000-yard receiving tandem in college football, Coleman and Cannon have a chance to do more than just carry on the tradition.

They have an opportunity to elevate it.

“I think their path is still out there to be written,” said offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who recruited both to Baylor. “But there is no doubt those guys are extremely gifted.”

Last year, Cannon arrived in Waco as perhaps the most ballyhooed receiver recruit ever to sign with the Bears, carrying offers from the likes of Florida State, Notre Dame and Miami. He quickly lived up to the recruiting hype. Following early-season injuries to Goodley and Coleman, Cannon seamlessly took over as the go-to receiver, and actually led the country in receiving through the first month of the season. When Goodley and Coleman returned, Cannon settled in as a deadly third wheel out of the slot. He gashed TCU for 124 yards and a touchdown. Then in the Cotton Bowl, he topped all receivers with 197 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“KD is extremely explosive,” Kendal Briles said. “He’s probably the fastest receiver we’ve ever had that catches the ball that well. That’s saying something, because we’ve had some guys that can fly.”

Though not quite as fast as Cannon, Coleman can also fly. He also has the versatility to overpower smaller cornerbacks downfield, as well.

Oklahoma learned that the hard way last year.

In the second quarter, Coleman maneuvered through the Sooner defense for back-to-back receptions of 18 and 33 yards, the second resulting in a touchdown over two defenders.

On the first series of the second half, Oklahoma countered by playing 10 yards off Coleman. But that led to a series of easy catches underneath for Coleman, which produced another touchdown and ignited the Baylor rout. Coleman ended the game with 15 receptions and 224 receiving yards, the most a Sooner defense had ever allowed to one player.

“The whole offense feeds off Corey, his mentality,” said Cannon, who will be rooming with Coleman this fall. “When he makes a play, it makes the rest of us feel like we’re going to win. He’s the tone-setter, that’s how he is.”

Despite playing in a league with All-Americans Kevin White and Tyler Lockett, Coleman was a first-team All-Big 12 selection last year. Now with White and Lockett gone, he is the premier wideout in the league.

Coleman, however, wants to be more.

“Corey is one of the hardest workers on a daily basis that we’ve had to be that talented,” Kendal Briles said. “A lot of times guys extremely talented don’t want to work that hard. He knows what he wants, and he’s going to do everything he can to get it. He wants to be an NFL receiver, he wants to be an All-American, he wants to win championships, and he’s not afraid to tell you that.

“Corey is pretty special.”

So are Coleman and Cannon together, which is one major reason why Baylor figures to be a load again offensively despite graduating quarterback Bryce Petty.

“With two guys on the field like me and KD, it’s hard for [defenses] to cover both of us,” Coleman said. “So somebody is going to have a big game -- or we’re both going to have a big game.

"I'm just excited to see what this year brings for both of us."

Recapping the Big 12 pro days

March, 30, 2015
Mar 30

The Big 12's pro day slate wrapped up last week. With at least three likely first-round selections and many more out to prove they merit early round consideration, this is shaping up to be a solid year for Big 12 in the NFL draft. Who stepped up on their big day? Here's a look back at how the conference's top draft prospects performed, plus a few under-the-radar players to keep an eye on:

Kansas State (March 10)
Big name: WR Tyler Lockett. After running a 4.4 40 time and doing a killer job in shuttle drills at the NFL scouting combine, Lockett didn't need to improve his numbers at his workout. He did get another chance to show off that speed in pass-catching drills and reportedly impressed.
Sleeper: WR Curry Sexton. No guarantees he gets drafted, but he might end up being a hard guy to cut. Sexton proved his talent and work ethic last fall, and his measurables at pro day (4.66 in the 40, 32-inch vertical) should be good enough to help get some looks.

Oklahoma (March 11)
Big name: WR Dorial Green-Beckham, DT Jordan Phillips. DGB, now up to No. 16 in Todd McShay's newest mock, is safely inside the first round and performed well in agility drills to go along with his workout. Phillips, a borderline first-rounder, didn't need to improve his combine stats either but did show off his athleticism in drills after checking in at 6-foot-5 and 327 pounds.
Sleeper: TE Blake Bell. It's not a deep year for tight end prospects in the draft, but Bell continues to climb that list. He didn't need to participate in timing events after clocking a 4.8 in the 40 at the NFL scouting combine, but he did show off his progress as a route-runner and pass-catcher.

Oklahoma State (March 12)
Big name: DT James Castleman. Getting snubbed for a combine invite only gave Castleman more motivation, and he trimmed down from 315 to 299 pounds for his showcase. His testing numbers won't blow you away (5.4 in the 40, 4.67 shuttle, 25 reps on the bench), but Cattleman should get late-round consideration.
Sleeper: DB Josh Furman. The Michigan transfer stepped up at his pro day with testing numbers that would have ranked among the top five safeties at the NFL combine. The highlights? A 40-yard dash of 4.47 seconds, a 38-inch vertical and a 124-inch broad jump. That'll get him noticed.

West Virginia (March 13)
Big name: WR Kevin White. The No. 7 prospect in McShay's latest mock stood by his 40 time from Indianapolis (4.35) and didn't need to improve his testing numbers. He set out to prove he should be the first receiver selected with a stellar showing in his receiving drills, which were run by Bears receivers coach Mike Groh.
Sleeper: WR Mario Alford. He knew he was a lot faster than the 4.43 40-yard dash he ran at the combine. How much faster? Alford clocked a blazing run of 4.25 in the 40 during his pro day and showed scouts why he'd be an electric receiver and returner at the next level.

Texas Tech (March 13)
Big name: No likely early-round selections from this year's group, but the star of the day had to be WR Bradley Marquez. He ran a 40 in 4.52 seconds, showed off a 38-inch vertical and did a nice job catching passes from the scouts on hand, putting himself in position to be a potential late-round selection.
Sleeper: LB V.J. Fehoko. He hit 32 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, a feat only one other linebacker in the draft matched at the NFL scouting combine. Fehoko slimmed down to 223 pounds for his agility workouts and could be an intriguing prospect when he gets into a camp.

Baylor (March 18)
Big name: QB Bryce Petty. After months of working with George Whitfield, Petty put on a show with his pro day, completing 69 of 77 passes and showing he can make all the throws. Where he'll get drafted is still a mystery, but Petty did all he could to make his case.
Sleeper: WR Antwan Goodley. He didn't redo his 40 time (4.44) but did log nice showings in the vertical jump (35 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 7 inches). Goodley had a few drops during his workout, but there's more than enough tape on him that shows an explosive target for the next level.

Texas (March 24)
Big name: DT Malcom Brown. With defensive line coaches from three NFL organizations running his rapid-fire drills, Brown was put to the test and did everything expected of a guy projected for the No. 23 pick in McShay's mock. He stood by his combine numbers.
Sleeper: WR Jaxon Shipley. He and fellow wideout John Harris didn't get combine invites, so shining at this pro day was a must. Shipley surprised scouts with a 40 time of 4.49 seconds. He spent much of his past two seasons banged up, but he's healthy now and that 40 time only helps.

<Iowa State (March 24)
Big name: TE E.J. Bibbs. He answered any fears about his offseason knee surgery with a 40-yard dash of 4.86 seconds and good performances in his vertical and broad jumps. Bibbs should be a mid-round selection and a valuable one.
Sleeper: WR Jarvis West. With 27 NFL reps in attendance, West ran a 40 of 4.36 seconds and produced a 38 1/2 inch vertical. Both would've put him in the top 10 among receivers at the combine. Not bad at all.

Kansas (March 25)
Big name: LB Ben Heeney. No need to improve on any of his combine measurements, though Heeney did redo the bench press and once again hit 19 reps. His position drills were run by a rep for the Cowboys, who are in need of linebackers.
Sleeper: DB Dexter McDonald. The guy isn't lacking for athleticism, that's for sure. He logged a 40 time of 4.42 seconds plus a 40 1/2-inch vertical and an 11-foot-2 broad jump.

TCU (March 27)
Big name: LB Paul Dawson. After disappointing at the combine, Dawson got back on track with a strong showing in front of three NFL DCs with a 40 time of 4.75, a five-pound weight loss and a performance in position drills that received good reviews.
Sleeper: CB Kevin White. You'd think he would be a little faster than 4.62 in the 40, but he sure does play fast. White was slowed somewhat by a hamstring issue but still displayed the ball skill that made him one of the conference's best corners.

Baylor's secondary could be deeper and much improved in 2015.

Junior safety Taion Sells was impressive for the second straight week as the Bears held their final scrimmage of the spring behind closed doors on Saturday. The junior finished with a team-high eight tackles, according to the Waco Tribune. Sells' performance came on the heels of a four-tackle, one-interception performance in Baylor's Friday Night Spring showcase on March 20.

Sells had just five tackles in seven games played as a sophomore in 2014, so even with his impressive spring showing, he will have to continue to prove he can be a playmaker with a consistent summer and fall camp before we can slot him as a key part of the Bears' secondary.

With Orion Stewart and Terrell Burt returning as starters, it would be huge for the Bears to have players such as Sells show they can come into the lineup with minimal drop-off in the fall. That would amp-up the overall competition at safety while allowing Baylor to keep fresh defensive backs in the lineup at all times.

Also of note, quarterback Seth Russell finished 14-of-21 for 100 yards and one touchdown and Terrance Williams had 13 carries for 105 yards in the scrimmage.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

March, 30, 2015
Mar 30

The latest from the Big 12 on the recruiting trail:

Total commits: 7
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 4
The latest: The Bears hosted two big-time defensive recruits for unofficial visits this weekend: ESPN 300 linebacker Michael Divinity and ESPN 300 defensive end Isaiah Chambers. Both stopped by after attending camps over the weekend and have a long list of high-profile suitors. Getting them to check out Waco while they passed through was a nice move by Art Briles' staff that can only help their chances.

Total commits: 0
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones were the first to extend an offer to junior college cornerback Kamal Hardy last week, and he's expected to make an unofficial visit in April. Hardy reportedly has a longstanding relationship with assistant Maurice Linguist and could become a priority target, considering Iowa State's needs in the secondary for 2016.

Total commits: 1
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: One pipeline that new coach David Beaty will work hard to establish in Texas is at Cedar Hill High. The Jayhawks recently extended an offer to a good sleeper prospect, wide receiver Josh Stewart, and have also offered 2017 QB Avery Davis and WR Jaylon Jackson. It makes sense for Kansas to go after as many FBS-caliber players as possible from one of the best programs in the DFW area, a back-to-back state champion.

Total commits: 1
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Getting defensive Xavier Kelly back on K-State's commitment list is not going to be easy. In the week since Kelly reopened his recruiting process, he's received offers from the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Ole Miss and set up a summer visit to Michigan. Kansas State will continue to recruit him hard, but those options are clearly going to give Kelly a lot to think about this spring.

Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Sooners appears to have locked in on their top quarterback target for this class: ESPN 300 standout Austin Kendall. The nation's No. 225 recruit was recently offered a scholarship and took an unofficial visit to Norman, one that seems to have significantly helped OU's chances. Kendall named Kentucky his front-runner a week ago, and Auburn and Florida are also in the mix for Kendall, a former Tennessee pledge.

Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Oklahoma State could have an opportunity to bring in one more running back for the 2015 class. Former Stanford RB Kelsey Young, a graduate transfer who would be eligible to play in 2015, reportedly visited for an Oklahoma State practice last week. Young rushed for 331 yards as a backup for Stanford during his junior season. If he picks the Pokes, he'd come in with Chris Carson and Jeff Carr to help this run game right away.

Total commits: 8
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Horned Frogs are in good shape for defensive end Caleb Roddy, who reportedly called his visit to TCU this spring the best he's taken yet. Roddy, who holds nearly a dozen offers, comes from the same Denham Springs program in Louisiana that produced Frogs defensive end Tevin Lawson, so that connection could help.

Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: Texas hosted several key recruits over the weekend during Texas Relays, including LSU wide receiver pledge Dee Anderson, Baylor defensive tackle pledge Jordan Elliott and coveted cornerback Eric Cuffee. The Horns were also able to get a bunch of incoming freshmen -- including out-of-state signees in tight end Devonaire Clarington and cornerback Davante Davis -- in town to watch practice on Friday and Saturday.

Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: You don't see this too often, but Texas Tech was able to secure a late pledge from a 2015 recruit in junior college OT Paul Stawarz. The 6-foot-5, 295-pound lineman's only other FBS offers came from Northern Illinois and Appalachian State, but Tech got him in on an official visit last week and will sign him to enroll in the program this summer. The addition of Stawarz completes a six-man offensive line class that should beef up Tech's depth during the next few years.

Total commits: 7
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Mountaineers have reportedly taken an early lead for running back Kennedy McKoy, a three-star recruit out of North Carolina. Though McKoy does hold offers from North Carolina and NC State and has checked out Virginia, West Virginia put itself in front with a strong impression during McKoy's unofficial visit to Morgantown this spring.

10 spring developments: Big 12

March, 30, 2015
Mar 30

Colleague Mark Schlabach offered up a nice breakdown on Monday of some key things we have already learned from spring practices around the country. Here is a closer look at some Big 12 spring storylines and developments worth watching going forward:

1. Sooners rally after scandal: Oklahoma's football team took a 16-day break from spring practice after the school was rocked by the release of a video featuring racist chants from a now-defunct campus fraternity. Bob Stoops and his players participated in demonstrations, spoke out frequently against the racism and worked hard to rally both their team and their community in the wake of the scandal. The Sooners returned to practice on Tuesday in black uniforms, seemingly more unified than ever.

[+] EnlargeSeth Russell
Tony Gutierrez/Associated PressSeth Russell seems to have taken control of Baylor's quarterback competition.

2. Seth Russell proving himself: Although Baylor coach Art Briles hasn’t showered Seth Russell with praise after his scrimmage performances, the quarterback has clearly sent a message this spring to anyone questioning whether he’s ready to lead the Bears. He threw for 345 yards and four TDs in the Bears' Friday Night Lights scrimmage, and from day one of spring practice, there has been very little talk of a true quarterback controversy in Waco.

3. TCU’s battles still unresolved: Coach Gary Patterson is paying close attention to a handful of vacancies in his starting lineup and hasn’t named any clear-cut starters just yet. Although cornerback Torrance Mosley recently earned some praise in the big-time battle to replace Kevin White, that race is undecided. Same goes for the five-man battle at linebacker and the four-man competition for the No. 2 quarterback job. The battles will continue until Patterson gets the answers he needs.

4. Beaty bringing his own style: New Kansas coach David Beaty says the first day of practice was the most fun he’s had since taking the gig, and you can tell he’s getting creative to make an impression. He’s highlighting Kansas' Players of the Day on his Twitter account and pushing the Jayhawks to places they have never gone in terms of tempo with 94 plays in 44 minutes on their first day of spring ball.

5. Texas Tech quarterback battle won’t end soon: Coach Kliff Kingsbury hasn’t seen enough to name Patrick Mahomes or Davis Webb his guy at quarterback. After Tech’s scrimmage in Midland, Texas, on Saturday, he told reporters the competition could continue into the fall. With Webb still limited in contact situations and Mahomes working to balance his time between football and baseball, it’s probably no surprise that no decision is imminent.

6. Swoopes has early lead at Texas: That is an awfully premature take because the Longhorns haven’t even been practicing for a full week, but Tyrone Swoopes worked with the No. 1 offense to start off the spring as he splits reps with Jerrod Heard. In the only practice open to reporters, Swoopes displayed superior passing ability, but both ran the ball much more than usual in the up-tempo attack. Players say Swoopes is their incumbent starter for now, and we’ll see whether that changes much in April.

7. ISU loves its WRs: Iowa State's dream offensive scenario -- getting Allen Lazard, D'Vario Montgomery and Quenton Bundrage all on the field together -- is starting to come to fruition this spring now that Bundrage is back from his season-ending injury. Paul Rhoads and his staff have high hopes for the trio and their ability to make this offense far more explosive, and they expect Lazard to become one of the league's premier wideouts.

8. Walsh stays; Garman goes: Oklahoma State’s three-quarterback situation resolved itself right away this spring when Daxx Garman elected to transfer and J.W. Walsh decided to return and compete for whatever playing time he can get. Walsh is finally healthy again and says he will keep prepping as if he’s the starter, but he’s done an admirable job of taking young starter Mason Rudolph under his wing in the meantime.

9. Mountaineers focused on margins: Dana Holgorsen says he’s putting more emphasis at the start of spring practices on one area that must improve: turnover margin. West Virginia ranked 120th in FBS in that category last season (minus-15) and is devoting more time to ball security, strips and takeaways. "If we can get better at that," Holgorsen says, "that’ll win us some more games." He’s not wrong.

10. Watch out for McGowan: As devoted Big 12 blog readers know, we’ve long been fascinated by Baylor’s mountain-sized lineman LaQuan McGowan. If you missed Jake Trotter’s feature on the 400-pounder, his background and his move to tight end this spring, be sure to check it out. If Briles allows McGowan get the ball in his gigantic hands more often, we’ll all be in for a fun season.

In today's Twitter mailbag we discuss 400-pound tight end LaQuan McGowan, players off the radar that could become All-Big 12 selections, and the backfields at TCU and Oklahoma.

Condolences to West Virginia fans for Thursday's historical beatdown. Still, I know of eight other Big 12 fanbases that wished their teams would have advanced to the Sweet 16.

On to the 'bag:

I actually asked Seth Russell which would be worse, getting sacked by Shawn Oakman or trying to tackle McGowan. He said Oakman. I respectfully have to disagree. Oakman is a bad dude, but nobody is stopping McGowan with a head of steam, Oakman included.

Trotter:You mean in one game? By the way, I hope you guys took time to read my McGowan piece earlier in the week. I enjoyed interviewing him. Interesting kid with a fascinating backstory.

Trotter: Texas would be the most attractive destination. Any of Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones would start with little resistance from what the Longhorns have on the roster. And Texas would be an option for any of the three for obvious reasons, including the track record of Charlie Strong and his staff working with Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville.

Trotter: At this moment, it's difficult to envision the game going much differently than it did last season. The addition of transfer linebacker Mike Mitchell and freshman defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko will help the run defense, and coordinator David Gibbs will have the players in the right gaps. But the Razorbacks completely mowed over the Red Raiders last season. You either have the horses or you don't, and Tech has long way to go to prove it can up its own again up front against a power-running team such as Arkansas.

Trotter: No update. Carry on.

Trotter: If I had to bet, I'd put heavy money on Baker Mayfield being the opening-day starter. There's a lot to like about Mayfield, notably his confidence and savvy. But people, notably Sooners fans, seem to forget that Mayfield really struggled against the better teams while at Texas Tech two years ago. Can OU win a Big 12 championship with Mayfield behind center? I'm not sure.

Trotter:It's a possibility. He's going to be buried on depth chart behind Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. True freshman Rodney Anderson had been turning heads this spring, too, before he suffered an MCL sprain. Apparently, Keith Ford's sister posted something on Facebook suggesting he might transfer. But Ford was at practice this week.

Trotter:The TCU backfield is going to be good. Aaron Green, who can reel off big plays, is an all-conference caliber talent; Shaun Nixon, meanwhile, was highly touted coming out of high school. But I don't know that it's necessary going to be markedly better than last year's group. Don't forget, B.J. Catalon was excellent before suffering the head injury.

Trotter:Hmm... I would definitely take Trevone Boykin, Mason Rudolph and Pat Mahomes over Sam B. Richardson. But after that, there are no slam dunks. Seth Russell obviously could have a big season, but he has only one career start. Skyler Howard is going to have to be more accurate to rank near the upper tier of Big 12 QBs. Joe Hubener has potential, but he's an unknown. I mentioned my concerns with Mayfield above. So is it unthinkable that Richardson becomes the fourth- or fifth-best QB in the league? No. He'll have good wideouts to throw to, and he has a ton of experience. The key for Richardson is health. He's been severely banged up the last two years, and when that's happened, his effectiveness has plummeted.

Trotter: Not sure how off the radar you want to go, but here are a few guys who have never had any honorable-mention recognition that could be first-teamers in 2015: Oklahoma State safety Jordan Sterns, Baylor nickelback Travon Blanchard, Oklahoma center Ty Darlington, Iowa State guard Daniel Burton, Texas defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, Texas Tech cornerback Nigel Bethel and TCU cornerback Ranthony Texada.

Trotter:Well, if you believe you're a big-time program that can compete with anyone, you go out and schedule the Ohio States of the world. Oklahoma has been doing it since Bob Stoops arrived, and it served the Sooners well during the BCS era. Texas has recently ramped up its scheduling as well. As a conference champ, you have to beat someone of note in the non-conference to guarantee yourself a spot in the playoff. TCU will have plenty of opportunities to do that in the coming years.

Trotter: Who didn't see that TCU fan tweet coming?

Antwan Goodley is gone, Levi Norwood won't be making plays on offense or special teams, and Clay Fuller is no longer around to make defenses pay for ignoring him.

Baylor is losing three playmaking seniors at receiver yet the Bears receiving corps could be even better in 2015 than they were in 2014, writes John Werner of the Waco Tribune. Standouts Corey Coleman and K.D. Cannon return and BU adds some supreme talent to the mix including Ish Zamora and Chris Platt, a pair of ESPN 300 receivers who redshirted in 2014.

“I feel the receiving corps is going to be better than last year,” Cannon said.

Newcomers like Zamora and Platt are likely to garner plenty of attention but I have a feeling guys like Jay Lee and Lynx Hawthorne won't just step aside and let those newcomers take their playing time. Sounds like there could be too much receiving talent in Waco, Texas, which is a very good problem to have if you're Art Briles.

The past two weeks, we've examined some the Big 12 players on the spot this spring. Below in our weekly roundtable, we likewise explore the Big 12 position groups that are also on the spot this spring:

What offensive position group is on the spot this spring?

Jake Trotter: Other than the quarterback derbies taking place in Norman and Austin, which will both be fascinating, I'm interested to see what happens with running back at Kansas State. The Wildcats have several viable contenders for the featured role, including returner Charles Jones, redshirt freshman Dalvin Warmack and true freshman Alex Barnes, who has enrolled early to participate in spring ball. Jones had a prime role in the K-State offense last season, scoring 13 touchdowns. But he also ranked 21st in the Big 12 in yards per carry. Warmack is an intriguing option, having rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 77 touchdowns his final two seasons of high school. Then there's Barnes, who physically looks ready to compete for time now. Whatever happens, with Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett gone, the Wildcats will need more production next season from their primary rusher.

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
Scott Sewell-/USA TODAY SportsTyrone Swoopes has the upper hand for Texas' starting quarterback job but can he keep it?

Max Olson: Texas quarterbacks. They've been in a rough spot for a few years now, and I think there's a lot of pressure on Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard this spring. I don't doubt that Texas will pursue a transfer quarterback after spring ball as a necessary move for competition. You have to wonder how much confidence these two can inspire over the course of 15 practices. Swoopes still has the upper hand at the moment, but how much progress can he make? Can Heard grow up and catch up?

Brandon Chatmon: Someone needs to emerge among Oklahoma’s receivers to help All-Big 12 candidate Sterling Shepard. There are some good candidates with Dede Westbrook, a junior college transfer, and Michiah Quick, a sophomore who should improve in Year 2, sitting atop the list. Lincoln Riley’s offense should give the receivers plenty of opportunities to shine and we’ve seen how a system change can completely the effectiveness of a receiver.

What defensive position group is on the spot?

Trotter: I would say the Baylor secondary, except all four returning starters have been limited by injuries this spring. So I'll go with the Oklahoma secondary instead. The Sooners ranked ninth in the Big 12 in pass defense last year, and graduated a pair of starters in Julian Wilson and Quentin Hayes, leaving cornerback Zack Sanchez as the only proven performer. Former ESPN 300 signee Steven Parker could make a big jump after playing a key role as a true freshman last season. But the Sooners need some combination of Stanvon Taylor, Ahmad Thomas, Hatari Byrd, Jordan Thomas and/or junior-college transfer Will Johnson to step up, as well, in order for Oklahoma to bounce back in 2015.

Olson: Doesn't sound like TCU has found a whole lot of clarity when it comes to its two vacant linebacker spots, though I did like Gary Patterson's idea that he should start at one spot. Sammy Douglas, Paul Whitmill and Ty Summers will do a fine job, I'm sure, and I think Patterson is onto something when he mentions possibly moving a safety into the second level. But still, these are inexperienced guys taking over for senior playmakers on a team with giant expectations.

Chatmon: I agree with Max. I’m really intrigued with what is going to happen at TCU as the Horned Frogs try to replace Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallett. Dawson got most of the attention but Mallett was exceptionally productive in his own right. Finding quality linebackers could be the difference between another Big 12 title run, or even College Football Playoff run. Coach Gary Patterson has hinted the Horned Frogs will try plenty of different options including safeties in those spots.

What position group will be most improved?

Trotter: The Oklahoma State offensive line was absolutely dreadful for much of last season, before the lightbulb flickered late in the year. I'm not saying the Cowboys will now be mowing over people. But with the bulk of last year's group back, coupled with the addition of capable transfer tackles Victor Salako and Brandon Pertile, Oklahoma State should be able to build off last year's encouraging finish to field one of the league's better lines in 2015.

Olson: I think a group poised to take a big step is Texas Tech's secondary. That's a super young group and I'm interested to see how David Gibbs' teachings influence them. I look at that roster and see some talented guys like Justis Nelson, Nigel Bethel II, Tevin Madison, Jalen Barnes and Payton Hendrix who ought to develop more confidence under the guidance of Gibbs and Kevin Curtis and force more turnovers in the fall.

Chatmon: I expect Baylor’s secondary to be much improved. A talented group of athletes will be a year older, a year wiser and much more comfortable as the back end of BU’s defense. Not to mention it won’t hurt to go against the Bears receiving corps on a regular basis. Improvement from guys like Xavien Howard, who has loads of potential, and the addition of talented newcomers such as redshirt freshman Verkedric Vaughns could help the Bears defensive backs be much better this fall.

Running back Chris Carson could hold the key to Oklahoma State’s offense, wide receiver DeDe Westbrook could take Oklahoma’s new spread attack to another level and defensive tackle Demond Tucker could provide much-needed strength in the middle of Iowa State’s defense.

That trio is among the nine ESPN Junior College 50 recruits who signed with Big 12 schools and have the potential to become household names in the conference this fall.


Which ESPN JC50 signee will have the biggest impact in 2015?






Discuss (Total votes: 3,366)

Which ESPN JC 50 newcomer do you expect to have the biggest impact?

Carson was a late addition to the Cowboys' signing class as OSU looked to secure a backfield mate for quarterback Mason Rudolph. The No. 12 player in the ESPN JC 50, Carson brings good size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and the ability to be a workhorse for Mike Gundy’s program.

Westbrook is already on campus and participating in spring drills with the Sooners. The No. 14 player in the ESPN JC 50 combines quickness and speed with good size (6-1, 175), which makes him a candidate to excel in the slot or on the outside in Lincoln Riley’s offense.

Rasul Douglas will add to a talented West Virginia secondary in the summer. The No. 23 player in the ESPN JC 50 has the size (6-2, 200) and athleticism to be a versatile asset for WVU’s defense, with the skills to play cornerback or safety.

Tucker was a much-needed addition for the Cyclones defense. After Iowa State struggled with its depth and production along its defensive front in 2014, Tucker is participating in ISU’s spring practices with a eye on making an major impact this fall. His quickness could help him become a disruptive force for the Cyclones defense.

Five other ESPN JC 50 signees could have a similar impact in the Big 12. Cornerback Will Johnson (No. 15 in the ESPN JC 50) is already impressing during the first few practices at OU, and the Sooners secondary is looking for playmakers heading into the fall.

Offensive tackle Maurice Porter (No. 31 in the ESPN JC 50) could add additional depth for Baylor’s offensive line when he arrives in the summer.

Guard Jamal Danley (No. 39 in the ESPN JC 50) is going through spring drills with OU as he battles to make an impact on a Sooners offensive line that must replace four starters.

Texas is hoping Quincy Vasser (No. 45 in the ESPN JC 50) can help lessen the loss of Cedric Reed at defensive end.

Motekiai Maile (No. 49 in the ESPN JC 50) could help replace James Castleman in the interior of OSU’s defense, helping free opportunities for returning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year Emmanuel Ogbah.

Who do you think will have the biggest impact? Vote now and leave a comment below.

Fielding a strong pass defense is critical in the Big 12.

The conference is full of offenses that look to spread opponents and attack them through the air, putting pressure on defensive backs and pass rushers alike. Yet it can be difficult to measure defensive success against those offenses as passing yards per game and completion percentage can be misleading particularly on teams that feature high-scoring offenses that end up forcing opponents to throw for the majority of the game.

Passing yards per attempt is one key stat that give a good gauge of which teams have efficient pass defenses that are harder to defeat than it may appear. With the help of ESPN Stats and Information, here's a look at the Big 12 rankings in passing yards per attempt (conference games only) since TCU and West Virginia joined the conference in 2012.

[+] EnlargeDavid Porter
AP Photo/LM OteroThe Kansas State Wildcats have allowed only 6.7 yards per pass attempt over the past three seasons.

1. Kansas State 6.7
Summary: The Wildcats are very good at forcing offenses to take what they are willing to give. Opponents 61.5 completion percentage is ninth among Big 12 teams yet their low yards per pass attempt average is a sign they tackle well after limiting opponents to short completions. Outside of standouts Ty Zimmerman and Randall Evans, KSU doesn’t tend to have superstars in the secondary but their performance as a unit is unmatched.

2. Oklahoma State 6.86
Summary: The Cowboys allow 277.85 passing yards per game but their yards per pass attempt average make them one of the Big 12’s top pass defenses. OSU’s up tempo, high scoring offense resulted in the defense facing a conference-high 40.52 pass attempts per game during the past three seasons. Talented defensive backs like Justin Gilbert and Kevin Peterson have helped the Cowboys withstand the barrage.

3. Texas 6.93
Summary: The Longhorns defense has been solid overall, ranking first in passing yards per game (220.3), sack percentage (8.4 percent) and touchdowns per pass attempt (3.6). A combination of talented defensive backs (Kenny Vaccaro, Quandre Diggs) and pass rushers (Jackson Jeffcoat, Alex Okafor) cemented UT’s place in the top three.

4. Oklahoma 7.02
Summary: The Sooners are among the top two in passing yards allowed (241.7) and completion percentage (54.9) helping to land them a spot in the top half of the conference. Current NFLers Aaron Colvin and Tony Jefferson are among the former Sooners who made OU’s pass defense one of the Big 12’s better units before a disappointing 2014 season put dents in that reputation.

5. TCU 7.18
Summary: The Horned Frogs’ opponent completion percentage (54.9), third-down conversion percentage (31.3) and first down per pass attempt percentage (28.8) were the best in the Big 12. But TCU’s yards per completion percentage (13.57) was ninth in the conference and doomed them to a spot outside the top four despite featuring some of the Big 12’s best defensive backs in Jason Verrett, Chris Hackett and Kevin White.

6. Baylor 7.39
Summary: The Bears explosive offense resulted in BU’s pass defense facing 37.67 pass attempts per game which contributed to them finishing in the bottom third of the conference in passing yards per game (278.33, eighth) and third down conversion percentage (43.4, tenth). This is one element of Art Briles program that requires continued improvement if BU is going to extended its Big 12 title run.

7. Texas Tech 7.68
Summary: The Red Raiders ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in several categories but their touchdown-to-interception percentage stands out above the crowd. Tech gave up 3.88 touchdowns per interception during this span, nearly a full touchdown worst than any other team in the Big 12. Nigel Bethel, Tevin Madison and Justis Nelson are among the young defensive backs on the roster with the talent to help turn this Red Raider trend around.

8. Iowa State 7.74
Summary: The Cyclones landed at the bottom of the Big 12 in passing yards allowed per game (292.3) and sack percentage (3) as ISU struggled to slow the pass happy attacks of the Big 12. Cornerback Nigel Tribune and safety Kamari Cotton-Moya provide hope the Cyclones can improve their pass defense in 2015.

9. West Virginia 8.21
Summary: The Mountaineers pass defense is one main reason WVU has been up and down during its first three seasons in the conference. Losing one-on-one battles and shoddy tackling have resulted in a Big 12-worst 13.92 yards per completion. Yet WVU enters the 2015 with the Big 12’s best combination of talent and experience in the secondary so the Mountaineers could start to build a better reputation this fall.

10. Kansas 8.24
Summary: The Jayhawks struggled in pretty much every category, allowing opponents to complete 62.9 percent of their attempts while also allowing 35 percent of those attempts to result in first downs. A lack of sacks (3.6 sack percentage, eighth) and interceptions (2.2 interception percentage, ninth) helped cement KU’s spot at the bottom of the Big 12. To make matters worse KU enters the 2015 looking to replace the bulk of its secondary including All-Big 12 cornerback JaCorey Shepherd.

Q&A: Baylor QB Seth Russell

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25

WACO, Texas -- After backing up Bryce Petty the past two seasons, Seth Russell is ready to take over as Baylor’s next starting quarterback.

After tossing four touchdowns in Baylor’s Friday Night Lights scrimmage last week, Russell spoke with about what he learned from Petty, his talented supporting cast, and what Baylor coach Art Briles is like behind the scenes:

[+] EnlargeSeth Russell
Tony Gutierrez/Associated PressSeth Russell on coach Art Briles: "He's a character. In the film room he gets down to business, but he'll throw a joke in there every once in awhile."

You have some big shoes to fill, not only in Petty, but everyone back to Robert Griffin III. How are you handling that?

I feel like I’m taking it a day at a time. If I look at the big picture too much it’s overwhelming, just to look at all the stats, all the accomplishments of the other quarterbacks. I feel like if I do that, I’d be down on myself if I had a bad practice. I have to take it one step at a time and learn from it.

Speaking of learning, what did you learn from Petty?

He’s a phenomenal quarterback. He studies the game, he knows the game forwards and backwards. I feel like watching him and his leadership, I can use that to my advantage on the field.

You are the heir-apparent, but there are a couple other talented quarterbacks in Chris Johnson and Jarrett Stidham pushing for the job, too. How is it different knowing the job wouldn't just be handed to you?

It pushes me, it makes me work that much harder. Because I know they’re coming. They’re on the backdoor. I love the competition. I have three brothers, we’ve competed our whole lives. It’s nothing new to me. I feel like all it can do is make me better.

What’s it like having K.D. Cannon at wideout on one side, and Corey Coleman on the other?

You can go either way. Any of the guys out there, I have two over here, two on the other side. All of them are pretty great to have.

When you look at the rest of the offense, you have an All-American in Spencer Drango protecting your blind side; Shock Linwood is a 1,000-yard rusher. How does all that help your comfort level running the offense?

They’re top-notch guys. I feel like being on the field with them, it makes me that much more confident.

What would you say is the key to you guys winning a third straight Big 12 title?

Being on the same page. If I look at a receiver and they look at me and I give them a signal, I expect them to do it, and I know they’re going to do it and I trust them to do it. I feel like that’s something that we can do. As for the defense, they’re going to going to do what they’re going to do. They’re phenomenal. Lot of returners. Lot of experience.

I hear you’re a pretty good basketball player.

Depends on what day you catch me.

How would you describe your game?

In high school, I was a post. I liked to get rough a little bit. But I can play wherever.

Best local place to eat in Waco?

I’d have to say Chuy’s, because me and my girlfriend go there every Friday night. It’s a Friday night date deal.

What’s something about Coach Briles people on the outside don’t know?

He’s a character. In the film room he gets down to business, but he’ll throw a joke in there every once in awhile. He’s serious, but he likes to make you laugh a little bit. He’s a great guy to be around.

Which would be worse, taking a sack from defensive end Shawn Oakman, or attempting to tackle 400-pound tight end LaQuan McGowan?

I guess if it’s a full-on hit from Shawn, that would be pretty tough. I feel like I could probably just chop down with Quan, but it may hurt a little bit.

During the next two weeks, we'll be featuring 10 Big 12 players who are on the spot this spring. Maybe they are coming back from injury. Maybe they have much to prove after a disappointing 2014 season. Maybe they are embroiled in a key position battle. Whatever the case, this spring is big for them.

Today's player on the spot: Baylor linebacker Aiavion Edwards

Baylor had an up-and-down 2014 season defensively. But with nine starters back, including All-Big 12 defensive linemen Shawn Oakman and Andrew Billings, the Bears have a chance to field one of the Big 12's top defenses in 2015.

[+] EnlargeAiavion Edwards
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Aiavion Edwards will be fighting his way back into the starting lineup in 2015 on the inside.

But before they get to that level, the Bears need someone to emerge in place of departing inside linebacker Bryce Hager, who was a three-time, second-team All-Big 12 selection.

The onus is on junior Aiavion Edwards this spring to prove he can fill that role.

Edwards exited last spring atop the depth chart at weak-side linebacker alongside Hager. But an ankle injury early on in the season prompted Edwards to lose the job to Taylor Young, who went on to earn Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. With Young firmly entrenched on the weak side, Edwards is attempting to circle his way back into the starting lineup on the inside, where he began his Baylor career.

"Everything is good, and I'm back 100 percent (from the ankle injury)," Edwards told reporters earlier this spring. "I've been re-familiarizing myself at middle linebacker because I had played there before last fall."

Edwards, however, has plenty of competition for the starting job in the middle.

Senior Grant Campbell, who transferred in from Bakersfield College last year, is also vying for the role after serving as the backup to Hager in 2014. Junior Kendall Ehrlich, who finished with a game-high 12 tackles in Baylor's Friday Night Lights scrimmage last week, and sophomore Raaquan Davis are also firmly in the mix.

Still, Edwards realizes the opportunity to shine is there. And if he can the man the middle anywhere near to the level that Hager did, the Bears will have a chance to boast their best defense in years.

"Bryce Hager showed the linebacker group as a whole that it has to be elite," Edwards said. "He's a role model that we all look up to and we're going to try to keep it going."