Big 12: Baylor Bears

During the Big 12 spring teleconference this week, Baylor coach Art Briles was not bashful about touting his defensive line, which is loaded with potential if somewhat short on experience.

“I’ve been saying it for four months,” Briles said, “I would put our D-line up against any D-line in the United States of America, when you’re looking at six- or seven-deep personnel and say, hey, let’s roll the ball out there and let’s play, let’s see who’s better.

“I think our guys are really good up there.”

The Big 12 could be chock-full of talented defensive lines this season.

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
John Rivera/Icon SMIBaylor defensive end Shawn Oakman has been nearly unblockable this spring.
Oklahoma basically returns the entire unit -- led by ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper -- that overwhelmed Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Sooners will also be getting back tackle Jordan Phillips, who was playing at an All-Big 12 level last season before undergoing season-ending back surgery in early October. Tackle Charles Walker, who redshirted as a freshman last fall, has been turning heads, and reportedly ran the fastest defensive tackle 40 time (4.67 seconds) since Bob Stoops became coach.

TCU could be formidable up front, too, especially if end Devonte Fields returns to his 2012 Big 12 Defensive-Freshman-of-the-Year-form, as Horned Frogs defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas suggested he had this week.

Texas and Kansas State should be stout along the line as well, spearheaded by the returns of all-conference ends Cedric Reed and Ryan Mueller, who combined for 22.5 sacks last season.

Baylor, however, has a chance to field a defensive line as good as any in the league.

The defensive tackle trio of Andrew Billings, Beau Blackshear and Javonte Magee could be especially menacing.

Billings, a four-star signee last year who chose the Bears over Texas, instantly became a key rotation player inside as a true freshman. Blackshear started last season but is getting pushed for that starting spot by Magee, who shined in the spring after sitting out last season due to a personal issue. Like Billings, Magee was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school and had offers from the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Michigan and Oregon.

The Bears are talented on the outside, as well.

Shawn Oakman, who was sixth in the Big 12 with 12.5 tackles-for-loss last season, will take over a full-time starting spot. At 6-foot-9, 280 pounds, Oakman has the size to be a dominant player. He showed that during the spring.

“I think the same thing I’ve thought all spring -- we can’t block him,” Briles said after the Bears’ spring game. “And I don’t think anybody else will either.”

Opposite Oakman will be returning starter Jamal Palmer as well as Sam Ukwuachu, who will be eligible this season after transferring in from Boise State last year. Ukwuachu was a starter for the Broncos in 2012 as a redshirt freshman and was second on the team in sacks.

The Bears have questions elsewhere defensively. At linebacker, only Bryce Hager returns, and he was out this spring recovering from a groin injury. In the secondary, only safety Terrell Burt comes back, and he also missed spring ball recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

But Baylor could overcome those questions in its back seven with a dominating defensive line -- something Briles firmly believes he’ll have in 2014.

“These guys can play, and they’re good,” he said. “I really think these guys are that special up front.”

Big 12 spring stars, Part 1

April, 24, 2014
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Spring football is coming to a close in the Big 12, with several players making a move in their respective programs and securing or bettering their role on the team. During the next two days, we’ll review the Big 12’s stars of the spring by taking a closer look at their pre-spring roles, spring performance and potential roles this fall.

Defensive end Shawn Oakman, Baylor

Pre-spring role: Oakman looked like he could be a breakout star on Baylor’s defense after recording 12.5 tackles for loss in a backup role.

What he did this spring: Oakman cemented his spot in the starting lineup and boosted the belief that he could be one of the Big 12’s top defensive linemen this fall.

What his role could be this fall: A freakish athlete at 6-foot-9 and 270 pounds, Oakman has NFL ability and could show it as the key piece in Baylor’s stellar defensive line.

Quotable: “We can't block him. And I don't think anybody else will, either. It's what I've been saying all along: Our defensive line is as good as anyone's in America. He's just one of them out of six or seven that is going to be a dynamic player for us in the fall.” - Baylor coach Art Briles.

Receiver Brett Medders, Iowa State

Pre-spring role: The redshirt junior hadn’t really made an impact during his first three seasons, so not much was expected from him.

What he did this spring: Medders emerged as a legitimate option at receiver for a Cyclones offense searching for additional playmakers this spring. He had six receptions for 48 yards in the spring game. Coach Paul Rhoads praised Medders' performance during ISU’s spring practices.

What his role could be this fall: Even though ISU has several potential options at receiver, including true freshman Allen Lazard, Medders could have carved himself a role in Mark Mangino’s offense. He’s not a game-changing target, but could help force defenses to account for receiving threats other than Quenton Bundrage.

Receiver Nick Harwell, Kansas

Pre-spring role: The Jayhawks knew they had someone who could help them in Harwell, who was forced to sit out the 2013 season after transferring from Miami (Ohio).

What he did this spring: Harwell emerged as arguably the Jayhawks’ go-to playmaker. He’s a shifty receiver who can excel in the open field. KU repeatedly tried to put the ball in his hands during its spring game, so expect that to continue this fall. The Jayhawks wanted to identify playmakers during the spring and Harwell stepped up to fill that void.

What his role could be this fall: Harwell will be Montell Cozart’s main target and should join running back Tony Pierson as KU’s top playmakers in John Reagan’s new offense.

Quotable: “You try not to get too excited because he is so competitive and he runs good routes and he catches the ball. He doesn't like getting beat in drills. He wants to go against the best guy every single time. He is the type of competitor I am used to playing with. If he comes even close to the expectation I have for him, then I think we will be pretty happy.” - KU coach Charlie Weis

Cornerback Morgan Burns, Kansas State

Pre-spring role: Burns was poised to battle for a spot in the secondary after two seasons in a backup role.

What he did this spring: While the Wildcats' spring is not over yet, Burns has worked himself into a key role while separating himself among the Wildcats’ cornerbacks, who are competing for two starting positions.

What his role could be this fall: He appears poised to be KSU’s No. 1 option at cornerback unless he takes a step backward during the four months before the season kicks off.

Safety Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma

Pre-spring role: He was very solid as a freshman, playing a role on special teams while getting spot duty on defense. Thomas was expected to battle fellow sophomore Hatari Byrd to replace Gabe Lynn at safety.

What he did this spring: Thomas showed he’s going to be on the field one way or the other with a strong spring, which he capped with several plays in the spring game. He showed the ability to line up at multiple positions in the Sooners defense, allowing OU to use him in several roles.

What his role could be this fall: Byrd had a solid spring as well, so Thomas didn’t run away with the job at safety. But it would be a surprise if Thomas is not a key contributor on OU’s defense in 2014.

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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Played pick-up basketball last night... and lost all six games.
  • Texas coach Charlie Strong is a little too honest for his fanbase, in the opinion of the Dallas Morning News' Kevin Sherrington. The paper's Chuck Carlton got a one-on-one video interview with Strong.
  • The naming of Montell Cozart as Kansas' starting QB was all about timing, writes the Lawrence Journal-World's Matt Tait.
  • Baylor is relishing its role as the defending Big 12 champs.
  • TCU defensive end Devonte Fields has returned better than ever, writes Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Lindy Berry, a former TCU All-American QB, passed away at 86.
  • Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads wants a starting quarterback named by mid-August, reports the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse.
  • The Kansas State running back competition continues, according to the Manhattan Mercury's Joshua Kinder. The Wildcats are looking for more out of linebacker Charmeachealle Moore, writes the Topeka Capital-Journal's Ken Corbitt.
  • Oklahoma lost another commitment, its second in the last week. The Sooners are hoping to land this blue-chip kicker. An Alabama transfer offensive lineman chose Ohio State over Oklahoma. Bob Stoops weighs in on whether transfer QB Baker Mayfield will be on scholarship.
  • West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is a fan of the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule, but wonders if it's going to be reformed, reports Dave Hickman of the Charleston Gazette. Allan Taylor of the West Virginia MetroNews Network addresses whether the Mountaineers receiving corps can regain its swagger.
  • Coach Kliff Kingsbury said incoming freshman Patrick Mahomes is likely to be Texas Tech's No. 2 QB behind starter Davis Webb.
  • Big 12 coaches don't see players as employees, The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey reports.
  • Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy sees the College Football Playoff eventually going to eight teams, according to the Austin American-Statesman's Kevin Lyttle. Gundy also thinks college football is becoming more time consuming for players, reports the Tulsa World's Kelly Hines.
  • The Dallas Morning News wraps up spring ball for Baylor, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas and Texas Tech.
Baylor coach Art Briles finally got his chance Tuesday to respond to Texas linebacker Steve Edmond's rantings against Baylor.

Three days after Edmond told reporters after the Orange-White spring game that, among other things, "I really don't like Baylor. I still think they're trash," Baylor's head coach offered a response that was predictably diplomatic.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
AP Photo/LM OteroCoach Art Briles and Baylor have won three out of four games against the Longhorns.
"I’m not aware of anything he had to say," Briles said in his Big 12 teleconference appearance. "Hard for me to comment on something I’m not aware of."

When a reporter further clarified that Edmond said he considers Baylor "trash," Briles didn't bite.

“Well that’s all right," he said. "Shoot, everybody's entitled to their opinion."

The senior linebacker's post-spring game comments evoked a big response from Baylor players and fans on social media, and no doubt gave Briles and his coaching staff perfect bulletin board material for when BU takes on Texas in Austin on Oct. 4.

Briles didn't think much of Edmond's complaint about how much the Bears celebrated their 30-10 victory over Texas last December. He has been in those shoes before.

"I wasn't particularly pleased at some of the places we weren't victorious, either," Briles said. "Our cause for celebration that game was for two reasons: winning the Big 12 and closing down Floyd Casey Stadium. I'm not going to spend a lot of time being protective of somebody's comments about our program when they don't understand it."

Edmond wasn't reprimanded by Texas for his largely unprovoked comments about Baylor, at least not publicly, but first-year coach Charlie Strong was disappointed by Edmond's comments.

"You know how kids are, they get so emotional and wrapped up in the game," Strong said on the teleconference. "But he's got to be smarter than that. I have a lot of respect for Coach Briles. He's done an unbelievable job at Baylor. Right now, that's the way it is. We haven't beaten Baylor."

Briles does have the scoreboard on his side. Baylor was won three of its last four against Texas, with two of those victories coming by 20-plus point margins. Sure seems like he has won the war of words with Edmond, too.

Big 12's lunch links

April, 22, 2014
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The Grizzlies eventually won, but this shot was insane.

Big 12 recruiting update: 2015

April, 22, 2014
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With spring football all wrapped up, college coaches are back on the road recruiting from now until May 31. Here’s an update on where the Big 12 classes stand entering the spring evaluation period. Also, remember to check out the RecruitingNation team and follow the On the Trail blog:

BAYLOR

4-star: WR John Humphrey Jr.; WR Devontre Stricklin; ATH Louis Brown; WR Chad President; RB Ja’Mycal Hasty; ATH Blake Lynch

3-star: OT Sam Tecklenburg

Other: OT Maurice Porter

The skinny: Baylor’s class is ranked No. 15 nationally, and no program in this conference has more ESPN 300 commitments than BU’s six. Hasty and Humphrey are perfect fits for what the Bears do on offense, and Humphrey might be the fastest prospect in the state of Texas. After loading up on offensive talent, expect some defensive pledges in the next few months.

IOWA STATE

4-star: None

3-star: None

Other: OLB Bobby McMillen

The skinny: More than two months after landing McMillen, the Cyclones have yet to add a second pledge.

KANSAS

4-star: None

3-star: None

Other: None

The skinny: Kansas hosted plenty of recruits this spring, but still no verbal commitments so far.

KANSAS STATE

4-star: None

3-star: QB Alex Delton

Other: None

The skinny: Delton remains the only pledge in this class, but he’s a good one. ESPN scouts praise his athleticism and instincts but want to see him make some mechanical fixes before he gets on KSU’s campus.

OKLAHOMA

4-star: DT Marquise Overton; TE Bobby Evans; S Jamile Johnson Jr.

3-star: DT Du’Vonta Lampkin

Other: None

The skinny: Oklahoma’s post-Sugar Bowl recruiting moment took a hit when ESPN 300 lineman Joshua Wariboko decommitted last week, but the Sooners are still in the running for him as well as some of the best prospects in Oklahoma and Texas. Wariboko wants to play in college with his younger brother, 2016 CB Max Wariboko, so it might take offering both to get the offensive guard back on board.

OKLAHOMA STATE

4-star: RB Ronald Jones II; QB John Kolar; OG Johnny Wilson

3-star: DT Taaj Bakari

Other: None

The skinny: The newly released ESPN 300 was very friendly to the Cowboys. Jones chose OSU this month over Baylor, Oklahoma, Oregon, Ohio State, USC and Notre Dame, and he’s now ranked No. 3 among all running back prospects. Kolar was a huge riser in the rankings and is now the nation’s No. 3 pocket passer. Bakari, the most recent pledge, was a nice interior addition.

TCU

4-star: None

3-star: WR Tony James; WR Jarrison Stewart; OLB Alec Dunham; DE Breylin Mitchell

Other: DT Joseph Broadnax; WR J.F. Thomas; ILB Semaj Thomas; ATH Tre’Vontae Hights; OT Cody Ford

The skinny: TCU is off to a really nice start with nine commitments, highlighted by pledges from four future receivers. That’s just what the Frogs’ new offense needs. James might be one of the most underrated athletes in Texas, but the same could be said of several of these recruits. Considering this staff’s reputation for talent evaluation, don’t be shocked if a few of these TCU commits end up as four-stars when it’s all said and done.

TEXAS

4-star: S DeShon Elliott; OT Toby Weathersby; OG Patrick Vahe; RB Tristian Houston; RB Jordan Stevenson; OT Ronnie Major

3-star: DT Bryce English; RB Kirk Johnson; DE Charles Omenihu

Other: CB Keivon Ramsey

The skinny: The Longhorns are now in great shape at running back after landing Houston and Johnson in the same week, and Johnson’s coveted younger brother, 2016 WR Collin Johnson, also committed last week. Ramsey made his pledge at the spring game and is another hard hitter for the secondary. Texas would have 12 commitments now, but early pledges CB Jalen Campbell and S Johnny Shaw were taken off the list and will get a chance to re-earn their offers in summer camp.

TEXAS TECH

4-star: QB Jarrett Stidham; DT Breiden Fehoko

3-star: None

Other: ILB D’Vonta Hinton; RB Corey Dauphine; OT Trace Ellison; OG Lio Lafaele

The skinny: Landing Stidham was huge, but Fehoko is another top-50 recruit who followed in his brother’s footsteps and will work hard to recruit for this class. He can play anywhere on a defensive line. Even at 5-foot-10, Hinton is one of the state’s most talented linebackers. The Red Raiders have a chance to put together one of their best classes in a long time.

WEST VIRGINIA

4-star: WR Jovon Durante; S Kendrell McFadden

3-star: ATH Jordan Adams; ATH Jacquez Adams; WR Kahlil Lewis; RB William Cameron; OG Matt Jones; Stone Wolfley

Other: S Kevin Williams; S Sheldrick Redwine

The skinny: Thanks to its efforts in Florida, WVU is off to an excellent start with this 10-man class. The tricky part will be holding on to some of these recruits, especially Durante. The No. 120 overall recruit visited Alabama this weekend and reportedly came very close to committing. That flip could be coming soon unless the Mountaineers coaching staff can convince him to stay put.

Big 12's lunch links

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
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A great moment.
We've been doing something different with the mailbag, including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To submit a mailbag entry via Twitter, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You also still can send in questions the traditional way here, too.

To the 'bag...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12's lunch links

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
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I'm guessing this is how Usain Bolt plays soccer.
WACO, Texas -- Art Briles always wears sleeves. Go ahead, run a Google search. Try to find those forearms. Good luck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We still feel like we really haven’t played a season here yet,” Briles said. “We’re just getting this thing going. We’re on the ground floor. So to me, that’s very inspirational.”
Today is a minor holiday for recruitniks: The newest edition of the ESPN 300 recruiting rankings have been released, along with a slew of other grades and evaluations.

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

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

ESPN 300: Top Big 12 targets 

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
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video
The spring evaluation period is upon us, and coaches are traveling and hosting spring games in an effort to evaluate and attract the nation’s elite prospects. Fortunately for coaches, roughly two-thirds of the players making up the 2015 ESPN 300 are still uncommitted. A large majority of those players are considering playing in the Big 12.

Here are five ESPN 300 players heavily targeted by Big 12 schools:


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Big 12's lunch links

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
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Tap, tap. I can't wait for this 30 for 30.
video
WACO, Texas -- Last season, Baylor won 11 games, claimed a Big 12 championship and played in a BCS bowl game -- all first-time accomplishments for the once-woebegone program.

But as much as the Bears accomplished last season -- they also scored more points (52.4 per game) and gained more yards (618.8) than any other FBS team in the country –- their last performance left a bitter taste in their mouths.

Kind of like Texas dust.

After starting the 2013 season with a 9-0 record and then beating then-No. 25 Texas 30-10 to win a Big 12 championship, the Bears were embarrassed in a 52-42 loss to Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Knights, who were 17-point underdogs, piled up 556 yards of offense and scored on four straight possessions after Baylor tied the score at 28 in the third quarter. The Bears were penalized 17 times for 135 yards.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
AP Photo/LM OteroArt Briles and Baylor have the talent to be considered the favorite to repeat as Big 12 champs in 2014.
“It was disappointing because that’s the only game you remember,” Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said. “I had to be reminded that we won a Big 12 title. I didn’t even remember it because of what happened in the bowl game, and it’s the best thing that’s happened to Baylor football in a long time.”

Baylor coach Art Briles and his players haven’t forgotten the ugly loss more than five months after the bitter defeat in the Arizona desert. It figures to provide the Bears with plenty of motivation as they head into an unexpected Big 12 title defense this coming season.

“I don’t know how you describe sickening,” Briles said. “You hate to have your motivation fueled by getting slapped in the face, but that’s kind of what happened. We know [UCF] has a good football team, but we had to listen to how good we were for more than a month. Sometimes, reality isn’t perception. There was a hungry team on the field and a happy one on the field. We were the happy one.”

While its lackluster performance in the Fiesta Bowl might have sullied what had been a magical season, Baylor will enter the 2014 season as the team to beat in the Big 12. For a program that hadn’t been to a bowl game for 13 consecutive seasons when Briles arrived in 2008, it’s a rare position for the Bears.

“I think we take being the Big 12 champions as a challenge,” Baylor receiver Levi Norwood said. “Guys are targeting us and wanting what we have. We have to go out and do it again. We all know that when we got here, we weren’t that good and it’s not normal for us to be winning. We’re trying to make it normal.”

There’s nothing normal about Baylor under Briles. The Bears bring back much of the offense that shattered nearly every school record last season, although they’ll miss leading rusher Lache Seastrunk (1,177 yards with 11 touchdowns in 2013), All-America guard Cyril Richardson and receiver Tevin Reese (38 catches for 867 yards with eight touchdowns).

Petty, a senior from Midlothian, Texas, is back after completing 62 percent of his passes for 4,200 yards with 32 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first season as a starter.

“He needs to be better and he should be,” Briles said. “He’s expected to be better. You can have a lot of money, but you can’t buy experience. Some things should happen on pre-snap reads. We should know what happens before it happens. He’s a good player and a great leader. That’s why he’s who he is.”

Petty will be surrounded by plenty of proven playmakers in Briles’ high-octane offense. All-America receiver Antwan Goodley is back after catching 71 passes for 1,339 yards with 13 touchdowns last season, and three other Bears wideouts caught at least 32 passes. Tailback Shock Linwood returns after running for 881 yards with eight touchdowns.

“We’ve got some people who can play,” Briles said. “We feel really good about everybody who is around [Petty] offensively. We can be very diverse with everybody around him.”

Petty I had to be reminded that we won a Big 12 title. I didn't even remember it because of what happened in the bowl game, and it's the best thing that's happened to Baylor football in a long time.

-- Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty
The Bears must replace seven starters on defense, but Briles feels much better about his defensive front. Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu and sophomore tackle Javonte Magee, who sat out last season after unexpectedly leaving the team, are expected to bolster the defensive front.

“You’d have to shake the tree pretty hard to find three or four universities that have what we have up front,” Briles said.

Now, Briles’ challenge is to make sure his team doesn’t become complacent after last season’s unexpected success.

“That’s the first thing we talked about when we got back to campus,” Briles said. “We had to learn and grow up. We thought we were an accomplished football team and program. We lost [our edge] and got happy. We have to stay humble.”

If the Bears don’t, they might be a one-hit wonder. The Big 12 figures to be even more rugged this coming season. Oklahoma stunned Alabama 45-31 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to finish 11-2 last season, and former Louisville coach Charlie Strong replaced longtime Texas coach Mack Brown.

“To be honest, we got too happy with where we were,” Petty said. “We became complacent. Every game is a big game that you have to prepare for as a hunter. We kind of bought into what everybody was saying about us, and unfortunately UCF put us in our place. You don’t lose; you learn. We learned a lot from that game, and we’re not going to let it happen again. When you’re building a tradition and dynasty, you can’t talk about complacency. It’s not something that Coach Briles is going to allow.”

The Bears open the 2014 season against SMU on Aug. 31 at McLane Stadium, their new $260 million riverfront stadium. They’ll play at Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma and versus Texas Tech in Dallas -- opponents they defeated at home last year.

“I think it’s always tough,” Briles said. “If we jump back a year ago, I don’t think people were picking us to be an outright champion. We’ve got to lock our doors and windows. Everybody is coming for us, but we’re going to protect what we got.”

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 14, 2014
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