Big 12: Baylor Bears

What a 2014 season it was in the Big 12. The league featured major upsets, thrilling finishes and a pair of elite teams in TCU and Baylor who staged a shootout classic in Waco.

Below is a look back on the 13 most memorable Big 12 games of 2014:

No. 1: Oct. 11 – No. 5 Baylor 61, No. 9 TCU 58
Not only was this the game of the year in the Big 12, it might have been the game of the year in college football. TCU led by 21 in the fourth quarter after Marcus Mallet 's interception return for a touchdown. But the Horned Frogs couldn't hold on as Bryce Petty took over the rest of the way. The fourth quarter in Waco proved to be the difference in TCU not making the playoff.

No. 2: Nov. 1 – No. 7 TCU 31, No. 20 West Virginia 30
Carrying a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers were on the verge of throwing their hat into the Big 12 title race. Instead, West Virginia got conservative offensively, allowing the Horned Frogs to come back and nail a 37-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired. The Mountaineers never really recovered and wound up losing four of five games to end the season.

[+] EnlargeKD Cannon
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsKD Cannon and Baylor won in what turned out to be arguably the most pivotal game in the country this season, a shootout victory over TCU.
No. 3: Dec. 6 – Oklahoma State 38, Oklahoma 35
Once again, Bedlam delivered in the drama department. Behind two touchdowns late in the game, true freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph led the Cowboys to an improbable rally, capped by Tyreek Hill's 92-yard punt return touchdown to send the game to overtime, where the Pokes prevailed. The result had an impact on the trajectory for both programs, as Oklahoma State became bowl-eligible and the Sooners went on to get blasted in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

No. 4: Jan. 1 – No. 5 Michigan State 42, No. 8 Baylor 41
After TCU's 42-3 waxing of Ole Miss the previous day, the Big 12's top two teams were on the verge of sending a powerful message to the playoff committee. Instead, even though Petty set a Cotton Bowl Classic record with 550 passing yards, the Bears squandered a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter to sap their playoff snub argument.

No. 5: Dec. 31 – No. 6 TCU 42, No. 9 Ole Miss 3
Suggesting that they might have been one of the two best teams in the country despite getting snubbed from the playoff, TCU obliterated the Rebels in a game that was over before halftime.

No. 6: Oct. 4 – No. 25 TCU 37, No. 4 Oklahoma 33
After their Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, Oklahoma was the preseason pick to win the Big 12. That began to unravel in Fort Worth as the Sooners went in the tank offensively late. Paul Dawson's interception of Trevor Knight and touchdown return was the only score of a fourth quarter that proved to be the springboard for TCU's 12-1 season.

No. 7: Oct. 18 – West Virginia 41, No. 4 Baylor 27
The Bears were riding high after their comeback victory over TCU. But the following week, Petty & Co. couldn't sustain that offensive momentum as West Virginia knocked off a top-five team on its third try. On the same weekend his father suffered a heart attack, Clint Trickett was magnificent, with 322 yards passing and three touchdowns as he outdueled Petty.

No. 8: Nov. 15 – No. 4 TCU 34, Kansas 30
The Horned Frogs were on the inside of the playoff as they made the trip to Kansas. That ride almost came to a complete end in Lawrence. The Jayhawks gave TCU quite a scare, holding a 27-17 second-half lead before running out of steam. Still, even though they escaped with the victory, the Horned Frogs dropped out of the top four of the playoff poll the following week.

No. 9: Oct. 18 – No. 14 Kansas State 31, No. 11 Oklahoma 30
Thanks to a late goal-line stand, K-State turned the Big 12 race on its head for good with a second consecutive victory in Norman. Quarterback Jake Waters spearheaded the upset, throwing for 225 yards and rushing for 51 more in a gutty performance in which he played through a shoulder injury. K-State stuck around in the Big 12 title race until the final week of the season, while the Sooners went on to lose three more times.

No. 10: Nov. 8 – No. 12 Baylor 48, No. 15 Oklahoma 14
Nothing signaled the changing of the guard in the Big 12 more than Baylor's absolute white-washing of Oklahoma in Norman. Petty was serious when he said the week before that he was "ready for OU" as he threw for 387 yards, including 224 to Corey Coleman. Baylor went on to join the Sooners (2006-08) as the Big 12's only other back-to-back conference champ.

No. 11: Oct. 25 – No. 10 TCU 82, Texas Tech 27
This wasn't a great game, but it was a memorable one. After all TCU set a Big 12 conference game record with 82 points. Amazingly, the game was relatively close in the second quarter. Then TCU outscored Tech 49-7 in the second half.

No. 12: Nov. 29 – No. 7 Baylor 48, Texas Tech 46
The Red Raiders ended their season going down swinging as true freshman Pat Mahomes threw for 598 yards and six touchdowns. The 25-point second-half rally came up short, though, after Mahomes was unable to get off a pass on the potential game-tying two-point conversion.

No. 13: Oct. 18 – Texas 48, Iowa State 45
Maybe the most underrated and most exciting finishes of the Big 12 season. Twenty-four points were scored in the final five minutes, including Nick Rose's game-winning field goal from 21 yards out with three seconds to go.

The next best 10 of 2014
West Virginia 37, Texas Tech 34
Auburn 20, Kansas State 14
Florida State 37, Oklahoma State 31
West Virginia 40, Maryland 37
Oklahoma 31, Texas 26
Alabama 33, West Virginia 23
Kansas State 32, Iowa State 28
UCLA 20, Texas 17
UCLA 40, Kansas State 35
Oklahoma 45, West Virginia 33
The first Wednesday of February brings hope to every college football fan as the stars of the future sign on the dotted line, changing the destiny of their programs.

It’s easy to look at a recruiting class on paper and slot newcomers into need positions. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Now is a good team to revisit the Class of 2014 and see what “can’t miss” prospects fulfilled those expectations and which ones are still striving to meet those lofty projections.

Here’s a look at some of the Big 12’s most talked about signees a year ago and their impact, or lack thereof, on the Big 12 as true freshmen.

Baylor receiver KD Cannon: Cannon lived up to the hype. The No. 30 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 was the Big 12’s top-ranked recruit and one of the nation’s top freshmen. He looked every bit the five-star recruit he was laveled as, finishing with 50 receptions for 1,030 yards and eight touchdowns. He will enter his sophomore season as one of the Big 12’s most feared playmakers thanks to his blazing speed and sticky hands.

Iowa State receiver Allen Lazard: Another ESPN 300 receiver who lived up to the hype, Lazard was asked to help fill the void when the Cyclones lost Quenton Bundrage in their season opener. The No. 148 player in the 2014 class responded with 45 receptions for 593 yards and three touchdowns.

Kansas center Jacob Bragg: It wasn’t over the top to think that Bragg could slide right into Kansas' offensive line as one of two ESPN 300 signees for the Jayhawks. Yet three-star signee Junior Visalia was KU’s impact true freshman offensive lineman, starting the Jayhawks' final three games after Ngalu Fusimalohi was injured. Bragg redshirted but did impress during his redshirt season and could be poised to force his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman.

Kansas State defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales: The lone Big 12 team without an ESPN 300 signee, the Wildcats did land four players on the ESPN JC 50, including Clinkscales. The junior college transfer was Bill Snyder’s only four-star signee but didn’t make much of an impact for the Wildcats. He finished with two tackles in eight games in 2014.

Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine: As crazy as it sounds, Perine wasn’t even the highest-ranked running back on the Sooners' signee list. Joe Mixon had that honor and looked ready to make an impact before an off-the-field incident took him out of the equation. Perine, who was creating a similar summer buzz, stepped right in to become the Big 12’s top freshman, set the FBS record for single-game rushing yards (427 against Kansas) and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors. The No. 220 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 finished with 1,713 rushing yards, 6.5 yards per carry and 21 touchdowns as a true freshman.

Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph: His unique freshman season has been well-documented, as the Cowboys’ top-ranked signee went from redshirting to beating Oklahoma in Bedlam in a matter of weeks. Rudolph enters the spring as the Cowboys starting quarterback.

TCU running back Shaun Nixon: A preseason knee injury kept the No. 221 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 from having an impact as a true freshman.

Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard: It sure seemed like Heard was supposed to cure all ills at the quarterback position in Austin at this time a year ago. Now many people have already written him off after a redshirt season during his first fall on campus. The No. 149 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 still has the potential to be the answer behind center for UT, but the time is now for Heard to seize the opportunity to be a difference maker for the Longhorns.

Texas Tech cornerback Nigel Bethel II: The Red Raiders lone ESPN 300 signee, Bethel made an impact as a true freshman after missing the first three games due to suspension. The Florida native started seven games during his debut season, finishing with 41 tackles and six pass breakups in nine games. Bethel should be even better as a sophomore.

West Virginia safety Dravon Henry: The ESPN 300 safety was a starter from day one for the Mountaineers. Henry had 45 tackles and two interceptions in 13 games for WVU as a true freshman and should be a key contributor in the secondary in 2015 and beyond. The No. 140 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 has the versatility to expand his role in the defense as a sophomore.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

January, 27, 2015
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Could Baylor end up with a quarterback problem? How high could Texas' recruiting class rise? Those answers and more in Tuesday's mailbag. As always, thanks for your questions (way to step up after letting Longhorn nation take over for a week). To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Chris J. in Houston, Texas, writes: If the playoffs expand to include automatic bids for conference champions, does this affect end of season out of conference rivalries? Do you think coaches might rest or limit players knowing they essentially have a play-in game the following week?

Brandon Chatmon: Man, you leapfrogged a couple of steps here Chris. But if it ever gets to that, I definitely could see coaches making decisions like that because as important as rivalries are in college football, I think winning a national title would rise above them. I really don't see this becoming a major problem anytime soon, though.

James in Wheeling, West Virginia, writes: Can you see the Big 12 being West Virginia's permanent home? If not, where do you think we fit in best?

BC: Ready to jump ship already James? It's only been three years.

Wallace in Cincinnati writes: I hate that football has ended, and I'm not an NFL fan so my season ended January 12th, but I digress. So what needs to occur for the Big 12 to expand from 10 teams to 12? They were already left at the alter by the College Playoff Committee for not having a "true champion." Is it going to take another year of missing out on the playoff? Or having a team like Texas or Oklahoma miss out before Bob Bowlsby realizes he needs to expand the conference to have a conference championship game?

BC: A conference full of athletic directors who want to expand would be a good start. It would probably take a consistent, multi-year trend of missing out on the playoffs before expansion becomes a real consideration. As much as some people want it to happen, expansion is not a priority right now.

Rob in Denver writes: Any idea why TCU isn't in the running to get Devonte Fields back? From his stats in JUCO I'm not sure the Frogs would want him back, but I was curious. At this point, chances of the Frogs landing Daylon Mack?

BC: Why would TCU want Fields back? He had plenty of chances in Gary Patterson's program and the Horned Frogs just won 12 games without him. As far as Mack, it feels like TCU has a decent shot, the Horned Frogs would be making a terrific statement if they landed the No. 6 player in the ESPN 300.

Josh writes: Who do you think will take over the quarterback duties in Norman? Who fits the Lincoln Riley offense better?

BC: Baker Mayfield would be my favorite but it could be anybody's job. I'm not ready to give up on Trevor Knight and we never know how Cody Thomas or Justice Hansen will fit in Riley's offense. It should be a fun spring to watch in Norman.

Stanley Wren in Houston writes: Could you see a scenario whereas a Big 12 team went undefeated in '15 and was not included in the top 4 of the College Football Playoff?

BC: No.

Justin in the UK writes: How do you think all the crazy recruiting possibilities at Texas are going to pan out?

BC: I have a feeling UT will end up with a top-5 class. Charlie Strong is after a bunch of elite recruits during the home stretch and the Longhorns already have a strong class. If they're able to flip Kyler Murray or Kai Locksley and land Daylon Mack or Chris Warren as they close with a bang, UT could become the talk of signing day.

Robert in Tulsa, Oklahoma, writes: Am I the only Baylor fan concerned the Bears have a logjam under center and could end up having all the young ones transfer away? I think people jump to Seth Russell being the answer too quickly and forget that Chris Johnson was the #5 Dual Threat QB when he came out of high school. With Chad President already gone, I'm concerned Jarrett Stidham and Johnson will get antsy and leave? Am I overreacting?

BC: I think so. First, Art Briles is in charge. Enough said. Second, it's never bad to have several quality options at quarterback, most of the Big 12 would love to be in the same position. Third, Baylor isn't going to have a problem attracting talented quarterbacks if someone does leave. Who wouldn't want to trigger that offense?

Big 12 morning links

January, 27, 2015
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As Ron Burgundy would say, that escalated quickly...
  • Remember Devonte Fields, who was the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year before getting booted from TCU in late July? Well, Fields, who spent last year at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, is taking a visit to Louisville this weekend. Our man Max Olson, by the way, broke the story. Hopefully Fields has his life in order, and is able to put his football career back on track. No doubt, Fields is an immense talent with loads of potential. Which, considering they did it without Fields, makes the Horned Frogs' remarkable 2014 turnaround all the more remarkable.
  • Speaking of the Horned Frogs, ex-TCU cornerback Kevin White was one of the "winners" from the Senior Bowl over the weekend, according to NFL.com's Chase Goodbread. "White showed the skills needed to play either cornerback or nickelback," Goodbread wrote, "and such versatility could help his draft status significantly." Goodbread wasn't so high on former Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, though the writer noted Petty had the quickest release of any Senior Bowl QB.
  • Texas' recruiting class got more good news when ESPN 300 wideout John Burt committed back to the Longhorns after reopening his recruitment earlier this month and giving Auburn a hard look. The Longhorns now have 10 ESPN 300 commitments Insider and counting. New wide receivers coach Jay Norvell, who had previously been an assistant at Oklahoma since 2008, has already begun to make an impact in Austin; he appeared to have a hand in Burt's reaffirmation.
  • New Kansas coach David Beaty continued his delve into the Lone Star State, landing a pair of Texas prospects in College Station receiver Jeremiah Booker and Dorance Armstrong, a three-star defensive end from Houston. The Jayhawks did lose DeSoto, Texas, receiver Kevin Thomas to SMU over the weekend. But Beaty now has 16 commitments on board from the state of Texas. That is a development that should excite the Kansas fan base.
  • Former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has landed on his feet as the playcaller at Utah State, noted The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel. Heupel had some great seasons as a QB coach at OU, then some good ones as the offensive coordinator. After the Sooners struggled to an 8-5 finish with a pistol zone-read that Heupel never seemed comfortable calling, he ultimately became the fall guy. But Heupel should look no further than Manny Diaz for inspiration of how to bounce back. After flaming out at Texas, Diaz went to Louisiana Tech and coordinated a top-40 defense. Now, he's back in the Power 5 as the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. Likewise, Heupel could make a quick bounce back.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

January, 26, 2015
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It's the most wonderful time of the year! Signing day is less than 10 days away. The second-to-last official visit weekend is in the books. Here's where the Big 12 recruiting classes stand entering the final stretch:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 18
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 27th
The latest: The Bears added a fourth offensive lineman to their class on Sunday in the form of Ringling, Oklahoma, guard Riley Daniel. He chose Baylor after an official visit this weekend and a trip to Texas Tech last weekend. Baylor is also battling the Red Raiders for three-star Louisiana cornerback Henry Black, who visited Waco over the weekend.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 18
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Iowa State is searching for a running back to replace Devine Ozigbo, who flipped to Nebraska earlier this month. Might the answer be Joshua Thomas? The three-star back from Buford, Georgia, appears to be down to Iowa State and Wisconsin. A decision is expected soon. Thomas visited the Badgers this weekend. Another recruit to keep an eye on: Julian Good-Jones, the Cyclones' tackle commit who visited Louisville this weekend.

KANSAS
Total commits: 24
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Kansas picked up five intriguing pledges from the state of Texas in the last week -- DE Dorance Armstrong, WR Jeremiah Booker, WR Steven Sims, LB Osaze Ogbebor and former Tulsa CB commit Shola Ayinde -- but also lost two significant commits over the weekend. On Sunday, three-star receiver Kevin Thomas flipped to SMU and three-star athlete Arico Evans made his flip to TCU.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Kansas State will be a finalist for one Georgia prospect on signing day and will have to do some work to ensure another stays in the fold. Three-star defensive end G.G. Robinson, a Louisville commit, visited K-State over the weekend and hails from Lilburn, Georgia. Meanwhile, three-star OLB commit Mohamed Barry took an official visit to Nebraska and will make his final decision between KSU, Nebraska and Miami on Thursday.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 20
ESPN 300 commits: 8
ESPN JC50 commits: 3
Class rank: 17th
The latest: The Sooners are likely going to part ways with ESPN 300 defensive tackle Marquise Overton, whose ACT score has the OU staff concerned he won't qualify. A key target to take his place in the OU class is four-star Darrion Daniels. The Dallas defensive tackle visited Iowa this weekend and is expected to decide this week, though Texas Tech might be the favorite at the moment.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 18
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 35th
The latest: The Cowboys moved quickly to land ESPN 300 athlete Louis Brown after he parted ways with Texas last weekend. Brown took an official visit to OSU and made his commitment on Saturday night. The Burton, Texas, native will likely play defensive end. OSU also held its first junior day for the 2016 class this weekend.

TCU
Total commits: 24
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: 37th
The latest: The Horned Frogs loaded up on speed this weekend. First they secured a commitment from Kavontae Turpin, an electric receiver and returner from Monroe, Louisiana. Then came the commitment from Arico Evans, who'd pledged to Kansas earlier this month. He accounted for 34 total touchdowns as a quarterback at Dallas Hillcrest this season.

TEXAS
Total commits: 23
ESPN 300 commits: 9
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 9th
The latest: Texas had a big-time weekend with five-star DT Daylon Mack, ESPN 300 running back Soso Jamabo and ESPN 300 athlete Kai Locksley in town for official visits. Mack and Jamabo will announce their decisions on signing day. Locksley, an important QB target for Texas after losing Zach Gentry to Michigan, will go home and mull over whether he should flip from Florida State. The Horns also brought in Georgia DB commit Deandre Baker and Dominique Reed, the nation's No. 4 juco receiver. Texas also picked up a re-commitment on Monday from ESPN 300 wide receiver John Burt, who'd backed out earlier this month to reconsider Auburn.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: 33rd
The latest: The Red Raiders picked up a commitment last week from three-star offensive lineman Cody Wheeler of powerhouse Allen High School in Texas. He was one of the many official visitors in Lubbock over the weekend, a list headlined by ESPN 300 running back Chris Warren III. Three-star defensive end pledge Lonzell Gilmore visited Baylor over the weekend.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 24
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 25th
The latest: In addition to landing a commitment from three-star lineman Rob Dowdy, West Virginia had a big-time weekend with three Florida studs visiting Morgantown: four-star Miami pledge RB Mark Walton, four-star Georgia commit WR Shaquery Wilson and ESPN 300 receiver Antonio Callaway. Another Florida native, four-star athlete Jordan Cronkrite, will decide between WVU and Florida on signing day.
Just like Darrell Royal and Barry Switzer and Mike Leach, Art Briles is a coach blessed with the gift of gab.

"I'll fight a man with three children and a nice house any day over a man that's living out of a car,” Briles gloriously said after Baylor hung on to beat “desperate” Texas Tech in late November.

Recently, though, Briles has turned his rhetorical guns on the College Football Playoff.

Now, it’s about time he holsters them.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesArt Briles continues to take shots at the CFP selection, but it's time to move on.
Initially, Briles’ choruses – "Let's get somebody,” he said of the selection committee, “that understands what fixin' means" – carried a certain charm. And, as they might say in Texas, held a little bit of water, too. Baylor, after all, went 11-1, won the Big 12 and with its 61-58 triumph over TCU, delivered the most impressive regular-season victory of any playoff contender.

Ohio State, however, nabbed the final spot instead. And on the same day Baylor squandered a 21-point fourth-quarter lead in a Cotton Bowl Classic loss to Michigan State, the Buckeyes toppled Alabama in the Sugar Bowl semifinal before moving on to dominate Oregon and capture the national championship. With their bowl performances, the Buckeyes and Bears ultimately revealed that the selection committee got it right with its final playoff pick.

But those postseason results haven’t slowed Briles from taking aim at the committee. And his latest charge was anything but charming.

Last week, unprompted, Briles claimed "a source" told him that the Bears fell short of the fourth and final playoff spot by "an 8-to-4 vote."

"We were close this year," he said. "We were an 8-to-4 vote getting in from the No. 4 spot. Whether that's public or not, I don't know, but it is now. Unless I'm getting bad information, and I won't give you my source."

Why Briles suddenly brought this up, I don’t know. But according to CFP executive director Bill Hancock, Briles’ source gave him some pretty bad information.

Hancock retorted that an 8-4 vote technically would have been impossible, given that the committee ranks teams in sets of threes, not head to head. On top of that, Hancock added all votes are taken via secret computer ballot. Not even the committee members know what the votes are.

“An 8-4 vote,” Hancock summarized, “would not be possible under the committee's protocol."

All that said, I believe Briles believes an 8-4 vote was taken. I also believe that someone of some stature told Briles an 8-4 vote was taken. Who knows, maybe an 8-4 vote actually was taken, at least in some sense? Maybe eight voters had Ohio State fourth, and four voters had Baylor fifth.

But at this point, what is the point?

Briles still deliberating on the playoff committee smacks of rotten cotton. Especially considering Ohio State blazed to the national title as Baylor collapsed against the Spartans, whom the Buckeyes, by the way, manhandled in East Lansing. In fact, the only Big 12 team to emerge from the bowl season looking playoff worthy was TCU, which finished 12-1 after annihilating Ole Miss 42-3 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. While Briles bemoaned the committee, Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs simply let their play do their talking.

Without a doubt, Briles is among the top coaches in the country. In one of the most impressive turnarounds ever to grace college football, Briles has whipped Baylor from conference doormat to perennial power. He’s also the best quote in the game this side of Steve Spurrier. But even as persuasive and charismatic as he is, Briles is not winning anyone over with his “we-got-snubbed” argument. And if he continues to hammer this nail, he risks losing credibility.

After back-to-back Big 12 championships, Baylor is past playing the victim card – or at least it should be. And instead of focusing on what could have been, it’s time for Briles and the Bears to turn their attention to what could be. After all, despite losing all-conference quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor, with 17 returning starters, boasts another loaded squad capable of knocking on the playoff door again.

Briles got one more salvo in on the playoff.

Let's hope it's his last.

Position that needs improvement: Baylor

January, 26, 2015
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This week, we're taking a closer look at one area in which each Big 12 team needs to make improvements going into the 2015 seasons. We kick off the series with Baylor, a team poised to make a run at its third consecutive Big 12 title. That run will get even easier if its secondary can raise its game this offseason.

Position to improve: Defensive backs

Why it was a problem: There were not many weaknesses with the 2014 Bears, so this might seem like nitpicking. But Baylor's secondary was maligned at times for its occasional struggles, particularly late in the season. Baylor finished with the No. 107 pass defense in FBS. Over its final six games, Baylor ranked dead last among Power 5 conference defenses in yards per completion (15.6) and third-worst in yards per attempt. They still won five of those six games, of course, so it wasn't exactly a damning flaw.

But Texas Tech made them sweat with 609 passing yards and Michigan State threw for 179 (20 yards per completion) in the fourth quarter of its Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic comeback. At various points in the season, each member of that relatively inexperienced secondary of Xavien Howard, Ryan Reid, Orion Stewart, Terrell Burt and Collin Brence was tested. They gave up 56 completions of 20-plus yards, third-worst of all Power 5 defenses. So there's room for improvement in 2015.

How it can be fixed: Experience. Every contributing member of this secondary is slated to return in 2015 except Brence, the starting nickel. Howard, Reid and Stewart will be juniors and Burt will be a senior. The top backups at corner -- Terrence Singleton and Tion Wright -- will be juniors. There are a handful of younger players that are coming along, too, and could push the vets.

What'll be interesting to track is how newly hired safeties coach Cris Dishman can influence this group. The former Pro Bowler will team with Carlton Buckels to coach the secondary and could bring some new ideas to the table to help Phil Bennett and this defensive staff. Then again, the best antidote might simply be more competition and another year of training.

On the recruiting front, Baylor has commitments from three intriguing cornerback prospects -- Jordan Tolbert, Tony Nicholson and Jameson Houston -- plus a four-star athlete in J.W. Ketchum who could become one heck of a safety. Baylor probably will take one more corner before signing day, too, but it's unlikely these freshmen will have to take on significant roles early. There's just too much talent coming back.

Early 2015 outlook: Expect those same corners and safeties to retain their jobs, unless someone rises up and beats out a veteran over the course of this offseason. Travon Blanchard, a third-year sophomore who played in every game in 2014, is the clear frontrunner to take over for Brence at nickel. And you'd hope to see a few underclassmen (maybe second-year DBs Chance Waz, Jourdan Blake and Verkedric Vaughns) step forward and prove they can be trusted with more snaps. With all those defensive backs returning, there's no reason why this group can't get better and eventually become one of Baylor's strengths.

Big 12 morning links

January, 26, 2015
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It was good to see some Big 12 standouts making plays in the Senior Bowl.
  • Landing local recruits has played a key role in Baylor's rise, writes John Werner of the Waco Tribune. From safety Ahmad Dixon to defensive tackle Andrew Billings, Art Briles' program is starting to keep the bulk of the best players in the Waco area at BU. Briles makes an important point in the story, noting that Baylor recruits those local stars because they can help compete for championships, not because they are local stars.
  • Texas lost a commitment from ESPN300 quarterback Zach Gentry so landing a quarterback commitment in the final days of recruiting is important for Charlie Strong's program, writes Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News. It was interesting to see the reaction to Gentry's flip to Michigan over the weekend. It was as if Gentry was a lock to step in and answer the questions at the quarterback position in Austin. But, realistically, the chances of Gentry, Kyler Murray or Kai Locksley stepping in as true freshman and leading UT into Big 12 title contention aren't particularly high. It's much more likely the immediate answer is already on campus or could arrive via transfer during this offseason. The odds aren't in the favor of any true freshman quarterback -- no matter how elite-- transforming UT's outlook in Year 1.
  • A solid look at Texas Tech commitment D'Vonta Hinton from Jason McDaniel of the Houston Chronicle includes how questions about his height have placed a chip on Hinton's shoulder. "If size matters why isn't the elephant king of the jungle?" Hinton ponders in the piece. I like this guy already.
  • Could Samaje Perine be even better in Year 2? The Oklahoma running back earned All-Big 12 honors while rushing for 1,713 yards during his first semester on campus. Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World looks at ways Perine could be even more productive as a sophomore, from increased touches to improved measurables after a offseason in OU's strength and conditioning program. I could see Perine being better but less productive as a sophomore with other talented running backs on the roster and the Sooners unlikely to lean on Perine and the running game for most of its offensive success. It will be interesting to see how he grows as a player and how the offense evolves around him under new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
  • Several Big 12 players made an impression with their play in the Senior Bowl but a TCU Horned Frog was one of Todd McShay's top 10 performers Insider at the event in Mobile, Alabama. One year after Jason Verrett went from standout on TCU's defense to NFL first-round pick, Kevin White has his stock on the rise after a strong showing. He may not go as high as Verrett but he's on the road to landing on an NFL roster if he continues to perform like he did during the past week.

Best of the visits: Big 12

January, 25, 2015
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Another busy weekend on the recruiting trail as visits and commitments are starting to give shape to each school’s recruiting class. The second-to-last weekend before signing day brought plenty of intrigue and some consternation (particularly in Austin, Texas).

Oklahoma State landed a commitment from ESPN300 athlete Louis Brown during his visit to Stillwater, Oklahoma, over the weekend. The Burton (Texas) prospect boasts offers from Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oregon and others. A 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, Brown is a raw talent with extremely high upside and should be a good fit in OSU’s defense. The No. 267 player in the ESPN 300, Brown was a long-time UT commit who parted ways with the Longhorns during his official visit last weekend.
The Cowboys weren't the only team having success on the trail this past weekend, with TCU landing a pledge from Monroe (Louisiana) Neville's Kavontae Turpin. The receiver prospect picked the Horned Frogs during his visit to Fort Worth. At 5-foot-8, 145 pounds, Turpin could be a good fit for TCU's slot receiver role in its high-scoring attack. Three-star cornerback Henry Black spent his weekend in Waco, Texas, checking out Art Briles' program. A recent Bears offer, the Shreveport (Louisiana) Woodlawn prospect is a relatively raw talent with good size at 6-foot, 182 pounds. Iowa State is searching for help along its defensive line so seeing Jacksonville (Florida) Christian defensive lineman Josh Coleman in cardinal and gold is a good step forward. The Cyclones are hoping Coleman is a hidden gem that picks ISU in the end. Coleman is expected to visit Fresno State on Jan. 30. Texas hosted several top recruits over the weekend including ESPN 300 athletes Soso Jamabo (Plano, Texas/West) and Kai Locksley (Baltimore, Maryland/Gilman). Jamabo is the No. 28 player in the ESPN 300 and could kick start UT's offense by providing an immediate big play threat. Locksley, a Florida State commit, is the No. 289 player in the ESPN 300 and could project to several different positions in college including quarterback. West Virginia has its eye on rounding out its recruiting class with three-star prospect Gary Jennings. The Stafford (Virginia) Colonial Forge athlete spent the weekend in Morgantown, West Virginia, and could be a good fit at receiver in Dana Holgorsen's offense. Jennings, who boasts offers from Wisconsin, Notre Dame and others, is a prospect to keep on eye on during the home stretch of this recruiting cycle.
In today's Big 12 mailbag, we discuss the Top 25 player ranking, the looming QB derbies in Waco and Manhattan, the Texas recruiting wars, Oklahoma State running backs and, curiously, Kurt Russell.

On to the 'bag:

Trotter: We're big fans of Washington here on the blog. We made him a second-team All-Big 12 selection. But the top 25 player ranking was a tough list to crack. A number of other terrific players like Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard and Baylor's Antwan Goodley didn't make the list, either. Washington has a chance, though, to open next year on the preseason top 25 list as one of the league's top returning running backs.

Trotter: Rennie Childs is the obvious bet at this point, since he's the only healthy scholarship running back currently on campus. But I think the Cowboys land a marquee back before signing day. Oklahoma State has a powerful pitch to make, and that's immediate playing time. Keep an eye on Chris Carson, who is an ESPN Junior College 50 prospect. Carson has been committed to Georgia since August, but he's reportedly taking a visit to Stillwater this weekend. Because they can offer playing time -- and Georgia can't having Nick Chubb -- I think the Cowboys have a decent chance to flip Carson.

Trotter: I believe that Briles believes or was told that. But after Heather Dinich spoke with College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock, it doesn't seem very likely that Briles got good info, considering the playoff votes are taken via secret ballot over computer.

Trotter: The Red River Showdown hasn't been the league's most important game in seven years. I don't see why next season would be any different.

Trotter: "Miracle." But "Death Proof," "Escape from L.A.," "Tombstone," "Poseidon" and even "Overboard" have high rewatchability.

Trotter: Yes, but only if he's not the best quarterback. If he is, Baylor should start him. That would give him four seasons.

Trotter: I think so. Incoming freshman Alex Delton is an intriguing prospect, but Bill Snyder isn't prone to playing true freshmen anywhere, much less at quarterback. Joe Hubener has three years in the system, which gives him a huge advantage over the others. He has good size, good speed and a good arm, from what I hear. If he takes care of the ball he will be tough to unseat.

Trotter: No latest. If you read my Q&A with commissioner Bob Bowlsby from earlier this week, you'll know that there are no immediate plans for either. The only change I see the Big 12 making is eliminating the "co-champions" rule. Otherwise, expect status quo.

Trotter: I already did a too-early Big 12 power poll for 2015, and I had Oklahoma State third. The Cowboys clearly have something that OU, Texas, Kansas State and West Virginia don't at the moment, and that's a quarterback (Mason Rudolph).

Trotter: Pretty good. Last I checked, Trevone Boykin is still on the roster.

Trotter: He will if he flips the gem of Texas A&M's recruiting class, Kyler Murray who is the nation's No. 13 overall player and top dual-threat quarterback, to Texas. That would send a strong message to College Station.

Art Briles' brash statements can ruffle some feathers, but tend to come with a dose of truth. The Baylor coach’s declaration that the Bears are one of the best programs in college football is backed by his program’s back-to-back Big 12 titles.

"We feel like we've established ourselves as somebody," Briles said shortly before the Cotton Bowl. "When you're looking at one of the better teams in the southwest part of the United States of America, Baylor is one of them."

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong, Malcom Brown
AP Photo/Eric GayCoach Charlie Strong says finding players with strong character is the key to getting Texas back among the Big 12's elite teams.
That's right, parity has hit the Big 12. And it’s been around for a while.

Although it earned a Big 12 co-championship in 2012, Oklahoma hasn’t won an outright Big 12 title since 2010. Texas hasn’t won a conference title outright since 2009. Those two programs combined to win every Big 12 title from 2004 through 2010.

A conference that could point to Oklahoma and Texas as its standard bearers for the majority of the 2000s has seen five different teams win a share of the Big 12 title since 2010.

The immediate assumption is the problem can be found on the recruiting trail. As the Big 12’s most dominant performers slid down the standings, surely they slid down the recruiting rankings. After all, talent wins games.

The reality is different.

Oklahoma and Texas have finished 1-2 in the Big 12 in recruiting rankings every season since 2010. And each program finished among the top 20 nationally each season, including three top-five finishes by the Longhorns. According to ESPN recruiting analysts, here is a closer look at the top recruiting classes in the conference each year since 2010:

Class of 2014

  • Oklahoma No. 13 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Texas No. 16 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Baylor No. 22 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
  • Oklahoma State No. 28 in nation, 4th in Big 12
Class of 2013

  • Texas No. 16 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 17 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Oklahoma State No. 27 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
  • Baylor No. 28 in nation, 4th in Big 12
Class of 2012

  • Texas No. 3 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 11 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Texas Tech No. 20 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
Class of 2011

  • Texas No. 5 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 11 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Oklahoma State No. 23 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
Class of 2010

  • Texas No. 2 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 5 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • No other Big 12 team in top 25

Those recruiting rankings haven’t transferred to the field. Oklahoma has the best winning percentage during that span, with Oklahoma State and Baylor -- two programs lauded for their ability to develop and evaluate -- joining the Sooners in the top three. Texas is just eight games above .500 and in the bottom half of the conference.

Winning percentage since 2010

  1. Oklahoma 77.3 percent (51-15 overall)
  2. Oklahoma State 73.8 percent (48-17)
  3. Baylor 72.3 percent (47-18)
  4. Kansas State 69.2 percent (45-20)
  5. TCU 60.5 percent (23-15 in 38 games as Big 12 member)
  6. Texas 56.3 percent (36-28)
  7. Texas Tech 52.4 percent (33-30)
  8. West Virginia 47.4 percent (18-20 in 38 games)
  9. Iowa State 35.5 percent (22-40)
  10. Kansas 20 percent (12-40)
Development has been key as Oklahoma has been the Big 12’s best at developing its recruits into NFL draftees, followed by Baylor and Texas. The Sooners have the ability to attract elite talent and turn them into NFL players, and the Bears have excelled at evaluation and development, gradually rising up the recruiting rankings. Texas' individual talent has been evident on the field, but it hasn’t turned into great teams on the field.

NFL Draftees since 2010

  1. Oklahoma 28
  2. Baylor 17
  3. Texas 16
  4. TCU 13
  5. West Virginia 13
  6. Oklahoma State 10
  7. Kansas State 7
  8. Iowa State 5
  9. Kansas 4
  10. Texas Tech 4

What does it all mean?

Texas, under Mack Brown, was struggling to transform its talented signees into wins as a combination of poor evaluation and development hampered the Longhorns. First-year coach Charlie Strong has an eye on changing that trend.

"It's all about character, young men who want to change their lives," Strong said during his debut season. "The thing about it, I'm not looking for players who want to be mediocre. We don't need to be mediocre. That's not who we are. We need to recruit players who love football and want to do something special."

The Longhorns have made terrific inroads with their first full class under Strong, sitting atop the Big 12 and ranking No. 9 nationally in the Class of 2015.

The Sooners’ recruiting problems and lack of talent are grossly overstated. Bob Stoops' program is looking down at everyone in the Big 12 with the highest number of NFL draftees and best winning percentage since 2010, with only Texas consistently landing higher-ranked recruiting classes. Oklahoma isn’t as dominant as it was during the 2000s, but that has everything to do with the improved overall depth of the Big 12 more than the Sooners’ struggles. And Oklahoma looks poised to land another quality class, ranking second in the Big 12 and 17th nationally.

The foundation of Baylor’s rise is found in that program’s ability to turn overlooked recruits into stars. Turning two-star receiver Tevin Reese into an NFL draft pick is just one example of how Briles' program has risen to national prominence.

"You want to find the lifeline of our business, it's all about recruiting and getting the players that you need on campus and giving you a chance to sustain," Briles said. "We’ve proved we have substance as a football program. We have other things we need to prove at a very high level, and that to me is what it's all about. You know, that night will pass, there will be another night. We're not a one-night wonder."
This week, we’ve been counting down the Big 12's top 25 players of 2014.

Our countdown concludes below with Nos. 1-5:

1. Trevone Boykin, TCU (preseason rank: NR): Boykin put together one of the most stunning one-year turnarounds in Big 12 history. After finishing 2013 as a wide receiver, Boykin transformed himself into one of the top quarterbacks in the country in 2014. He threw for more than 3,900 yards and totaled 41 touchdowns while leading TCU to a 12-1 record. Boykin also finished fourth in the Heisman voting and figures to enter 2015 on the short list of Heisman favorites, especially with nine other offensive starters back for the Horned Frogs.

2. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State (2): Lockett was absolutely tremendous in his final season in a K-State uniform. He topped the Big 12 with 1,515 receiving yards and 11 receiving touchdowns while also leading the country in punt returns. Lockett finished with a flurry too, as he racked up 57 receptions and seven touchdowns in K-State’s final five games to pass his father, Kevin, as K-State’s all-time leading receiver.

3. Bryce Petty, Baylor (1): A back injury in the opener prevented Petty from becoming a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy. But even though his numbers were slightly down from his junior season, Petty was still lethal in his second year operating the Baylor offense. He finished sixth in the country with 321 passing yards per game to go with 29 touchdown passes. Petty was especially magical in Baylor’s stunning, come-from-behind win over TCU, in which he threw 510 yards and six touchdowns to erase TCU’s 21-point fourth-quarter lead. Petty finished his Baylor career by setting a Cotton Bowl Classic record with a career-high 550 yards passing against Michigan State.

4. Malcom Brown, Texas (15): Brown was the tone-setter for Texas’ stout defense and one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen in the country. With 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, Brown became the first defensive tackle to lead the Longhorns in both categories since Lombardi Award winner Tony Degrate in 1984. As a result, Brown was a consensus first-team All-American and finalist for the Outland (best interior lineman) and Nagurski (top defensive player) awards. Brown, who is married with children, is leaving Texas early for the NFL draft, where Mel Kiper Jr. projects Insiderhim to be a first-round pick.

5. Paul Dawson, TCU (NR): Dawson, who was a former high school receiver, spearheaded the TCU defense with a speculator senior season. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year teamed with Marcus Mallet to give the Horned Frogs the best linebacker tandem in the Big 12 and one of the finest in the country. Dawson led the conference with 136 tackles and tied for third in the league with four interceptions. One of those picks resulted in a game-winning touchdown return in the fourth quarter of TCU’s 37-33 win over Oklahoma. All year, Dawson was the heart and soul of a Horned Frogs unit that led the Big 12 in both total defense and scoring defense.

Big 12 morning links

January, 23, 2015
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And we're off...
  • Kansas quarterback commit Carter Stanley has completely shut down recruiting, reports Tom Keegan of the Lawrence Journal-World. The Jayhawks pledge told the new coaching staff he would shut things down if they stopped recruiting other signal-callers. It's a clear sign the Jayhawks think pretty highly of Stanley if they are willing to stop recruiting other quarterbacks. That's not to say that he is going to step into the starting lineup from Day 1 but new head coach David Beaty and offensive coordinator Rob Likens obviously think they may have a hidden gem in Stanley, who added an offer from Connecticut in recent weeks.
  • Who is going to be Texas' starting quarterback? Tyrone Swoopes? Jerrod Heard? Kyler Murray? Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News takes a stab at predicting the starter, with percentages for each potential option. Finger tabs Heard as the favorite to start and I'd have to agree. Murray set social media on fire with his tweet of a Longhorns jersey earlier this week and UT might be the Texas A&M commitment's best option if he hopes to play immediately. But it seems like Charlie Strong and the Longhorns are playing with fire a little it with long-time commitment Zach Gentry flirting with Michigan while UT flirts with Murray. I guess we will see if Charlie has any game.
  • Former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel appears to have landed on his feet as the new offensive coordinator at Utah State. OU fired Heupel earlier this month after the Sooners' offense struggled to find balance and explosive plays for the second-straight season. Yet it seems like a good fit for Heupel, as he gets the opportunity to blaze his own trail, and a good hire for Utah State.
  • Baylor coach Art Briles discusses several things including freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham and his coaching hires in this story from John Werner of the Waco Tribune. One interesting tidbit is Baylor holding its spring game at McLane Stadium for the first time. It will be a drastic change for the Bears, which held the spring game on their practice field in the past. Baylor's spring game should be a much better recruiting tool this year with recruits getting a much more game-like feel for the program.
  • Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett is making himself some money in Mobile, Alabama. Lockett has shined during Senior Bowl practices, showing scouts the quickness and shifty moves that made him one of the Big 12's most explosive playmakers for the past four years. He had 28 plays of 30 yards or more during his Wildcats' career and could be a terrific value pick for an NFL team with his route running, return prowess and willingness to play special teams.

Big 12's top recruiting visits 

January, 23, 2015
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We've reached the final few weeks of this recruiting cycle and things are starting to heat up nationwide. From surprise visits to flipped commitments, nothing seems certain with signing day on the horizon. It should be another intriguing weekend in Big 12 recruiting.

Big weekend for Baylor

It's a big recruiting weekend for the Bears with several prospects and commitments set to check out Art Briles' program. Three-star Henry Black (Shreveport, Louisiana/Woodlawn) is a recent Baylor offer who could provide depth to the Bears secondary. Meanwhile, Ringling (Oklahoma) offensive tackle Riley Daniel is a rising prospect who has picked up offers from Florida and Kansas State in recent weeks. Baylor will be hosting the bulk of its current commit list this weekend as one of several schools who elect to bring in the majority of their class on the same weekend. More than anything, it's important for Baylor to keep its commitment list intact as players flip their commitments during the home stretch of the recruiting cycle.

This week, we've been counting down the Big 12's top 25 players of 2014. Friday, we'll unveil our top five players.

But before then, we want to mention the players who narrowly missed the cut.

The unfortunate part of our top 25 ranking is that only 25 players can make the cut. But we considered at least a dozen other standouts who were also worthy of inclusion.

SportsNation

Who has the biggest gripe being left off the Big 12 top 25 player ranking?

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    13%
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    27%
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    45%
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    7%
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    8%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,754)

Standouts like Baylor's KD Cannon, who totaled more than 1,000 receiving yards as a true freshman; Texas' Jordan Hicks, who led a stout Longhorns defense in tackles; West Virginia's Mario Alford, who was a big-play threat on offense and special teams; Kansas State's Curry Sexton, who was third in the league in receptions despite playing alongside Tyler Lockett; Baylor's Shock Linwood, who finished second in the Big 12 in rushing; and Texas' John Harris, who finished fifth in the league in receiving.

But there were five other players who proved most difficult to leave out.

Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard most definitely would have made the top 25 had he not suffered a groin injury that severely limited him late in the season. Still, with more than 900 receiving yards before November, Shepard almost made the cut anyway.

So did his teammate, offensive right tackle Daryl Williams. The first-team All-Big 12 selection helped pave the way for the Sooners' powerful running game. His tackle cohort Tyrus Thompson, however, did crack the top 25 at No. 20.

Like Shepard, Baylor wideout Antwan Goodley would have been a lock had it not been for an early-season injury. After totaling more than 1,300 yards receiving last year, Goodley finished with just more than 800 this season. Still, Goodley re-emerged as one of the most dominant pass-catchers during Big 12 play, placing seventh in the league in receiving during conference games. He had 158 yards receiving and two touchdowns in Baylor's critical 61-58 victory over TCU.

The final two players who nearly made the list didn't play for prolific teams, but they stood out nonetheless. Iowa State tight end E.J. Bibbs tied for seventh in the Big 12 with eight touchdown receptions. Kansas' JaCorey Shepherd, meanwhile, surfaced as one of the top cover corners in the conference for an underrated Jayhawks defense. Shepherd was fourth in the country with 18 pass breakups.

So we put the question to you in our weekly Big 12 poll.

Of Shepard, Williams, Goodley, Bibbs and Shepherd, who has the biggest gripe about being left out of our Big 12 top 25 player ranking?

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