Big 12: Baylor Bears

Big 12 morning links

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
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A lot of good tweets out there about Johnny Manziel's gesture to the Washington Redskins on "Monday Night Football," but my favorite? The excuse his agent came up with. Good times. On to the links:
  • The final verdict on Joe Mixon's discipline Monday -- a one-season suspension and removal from the roster -- evoked an excellent column from Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman, who writes that no matter what a courtroom decides, Mixon will always been the guy who hit the girl. Powerful stuff, and Tramel is dead-on. Mixon is now stuck with a reputation that will endure well beyond one football season. He's right, too, that if the video gets released this might get worse for the freshman running back. John E. Hoover of the Tulsa World mentions an OU precedent Mixon might want to follow: Dusty Dvoracek, who rejoined the Sooners a year after a similar incident and still had a productive career.
  • Gary Patterson made his quarterback decision Monday night: There is no decision. Trevone Boykin and Matt Joeckel will both play in the season opener against Samford on Aug. 30. As Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports, it's as much a strategy move as an indicator of indecision. He took the same approach to prep for LSU last season, all the way down to putting both Boykin and Casey Pachall on the field for TCU's first offensive snap. Realistically, Patterson wants to see what both do against Samford so he can reassess during the bye week before hosting Minnesota. Gotta have a more clear-cut plan by then, right?
  • Meanwhile, at Iowa State, a definitive call: Sam B. Richardson will start at quarterback. Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register writes that Richardson's push to win the job was an inspiring one. He was the No. 3 quarterback to play in the spring game, and now he's back on top thanks to a determined rally this summer. He deserves major props for that comeback, and Paul Rhoads believe Richardson has been excellent in fall practice. Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune points out that what ISU really needs is the Richardson who nearly upset Texas a year ago.
  • Baylor's McLane Stadium opens in two weeks and is 99 percent complete. The Waco Tribune had a thorough recap of the tour reporters were given of stadium on Monday as the final touches come together. Baylor also unveiled an iPhone app that lets you watch replays right from your seat. If you want a closer look, the Dallas Morning News has a great gallery. I went on that tour and, I have to say, that place is a gem. The locker room, recruiting room and suites definitely stood out, as did (selfishly) the greatly expanded press box. We'll see how it handles a crowd of 45,000, but so far McLane Stadium is living up to the hype.
  • Two teams facing tough questions at cornerback right now: Texas Tech and West Virginia. In Lubbock, true freshmen Jah'Shawn Johnson and Tevin Madison have both impressed and are poised to make the two-deep, if not become starters. At WVU, MetroNews is reporting Ishmael Banks, a 12-game starter last year, could be academically ineligible this season. Both programs feel they have a good No. 1 corner in Justis Nelson and Daryl Worley, respectively, but these No. 2 cornerback spots are critical position battles that will have a real effect on how these inconsistent defenses bounce back in 2014.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

August, 18, 2014
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We're less than two weeks away from the season and only 170 days away from national signing day. Here's your weekly update on where each Big 12 program stands on the recruiting front:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: ESPN 300 WR Chad President made it official: He's now a Baylor Bear. President, who's been committed since last summer, inked financial aid papers with the Bears this week. Coach Art Briles appears intent to let the 6-foot-3, 195-pound standout from nearby Temple, Texas, play quarterback when he enrolls early.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: ISU will soon get a visit from one of their top targets, junior college CB Antoine Albert of Diablo Valley College in California. The 6-foot-2 defender has seen his offer list grow considerably -- now including Tennessee and Arizona -- but Iowa State got in the mix early and has to like its chances.

KANSAS
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Jayhawks are having a hard time winning recruiting battles within their own state. That'll make the guys KU can get even more important. Keep an eye on safety Darreon Jackson from Derby, Kansas. He's a move-in who came from a big-time Texas program, Mesquite Horn, where he earned all-district honors at linebacker. Charlie Weis' staff should like its chances with him.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats continue to do an impressive job of locking down their backyard. Their latest pledge came from three-star OT Evan Applegate, who's listed at 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds. Applegate turned down offers from Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Nebraska to join a KSU class that's off to a nice start.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: The Sooners have missed on a bunch of big-time offensive line targets, but they got a good one last week in Cody Ford. OU coaches convinced the three-star offensive guard from Pineville, Louisiana, to back out of his six-month pledge to TCU and join fellow linemen Bobby Evans and Dominique Hearne in their class.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: OSU beefed up its offensive line class last week with the addition of three-star tackle Joshua Jones and junior college tackle Brandon Pertile. Jones, one of the top linemen in the Houston area, chose the Pokes over Texas Tech and TCU. Pertile spent one year at Georgia State before enrolling at Mesa Community College in Arizona.

TCU
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: TCU has joined what should end up being a long list of suitors for 2016 DE Erick Fowler. The ESPN Junior 300 defender from Manor, Texas, went up to Fort Worth last week to watch a fall practice and went home with an offer. He now has at least six, and that list will continue to grow.

TEXAS
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 7
The latest: The Longhorns are among the top contenders for Mesquite (Texas) Poteet teammates LB Malik Jefferson and ATH DeAndre McNeal, and both have decided to announce their decisions in late December. McNeal might project out best as a linebacker in college, but he now says he wants to play offense. They'll take their official visit to out-of-state schools, and one lucky program could snag both for Christmas.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The leaders of Tech's class, ESPN 300 recruits Jarrett Stidham and Breiden Fehoko, are both set to enroll early and have now signed financial aid papers with the school. The ability to unofficially sign in August is a beneficial deal for all involved, because Tech coaches are now permitted unlimited calls and visits (and even public tweets) with their top two committed guys.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: The Mountaineers already have two QBs committed for their 2015 class, but they could be chasing another in Lamar Jackson. The three-star dual-threat passer from Boynton Beach, Florida, reportedly intends to take an official visit to Morgantown this fall and will also check out Nebraska. With David Sills and Chris Chugunov already on board, it'll be interesting to see how seriously WVU pursues him.

Big 12 mailbag: Uniforms, DGB

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
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In today’s mailbag, we discuss uniforms, Dorial Green-Beckham and Baylor's home schedule.

I took Twitter questions for this mailbag. But you can always submit a mailbag entry the traditional way by clicking here.

On to the 'bag:

@Jake_Trotter: If Heard is clearly the No. 3 quarterback, then they should try to redshirt him. But remember, he's playing behind a quarterback in David Ash with a severe injury history. And another in Tyrone Swoopes, who has yet to prove he can be a viable Big 12 quarterback. So while I think it would be beneficial to redshirt Heard for his future development, they need to keep him ready to play just in case.

@Jake_Trotter: I don't know who has the "worst" uniform, but there are some pieces in this league I don't like. I love Oklahoma State's alternates, but I'm not a fan of their shiny orange helmet with the interlocking "OSU" logo. Texas Tech's all black is one of the cleanest looks in the league, but their Lone Star Pride uniform is not my favorite. I'm not big on Oklahoma's alternates, but we'll see what they look like in person. The beak on Kansas' Crimson Chrome helmets is way too big, though I did enjoy the alternates the Jayhawks introduced last year.

@Jake_Trotter: I had Iowa State's receiving corps ranked sixth in the spring. With Kendall Sanders gone, Daje Johnson suspended and Jaxon Shipley nursing a hamstring injury, I could see myself slotting the Cyclones ahead of Texas. But if Dorial Green-Beckham were cleared, they would fall back behind Oklahoma. Either way, somewhere around sixth feels about right for Iowa State going into the season.

@Jake_Trotter: Not anytime soon, because there's no one feasible to add at the moment that makes sense for everyone financially, geographically, competitively.

@Jake_Trotter: There are really only three possibilities for a home loss. TCU on Oct. 11; Oklahoma State on Nov. 22; and Kansas State on Dec. 6. The Horned Frogs still have much to prove offensively before I'd pick them to win in Waco. Oklahoma State has traditionally played Baylor well, but the Cowboys are going to be very young this year. That leaves Kansas State as the most likely to pull the upset. That could be a dangerous game for the Bears. But if you're asking me today if Baylor loses at home this year, I say no.

@Jake_Trotter: Depends on who it is. And who that team beat during the nonconference relative to the other 11-1/12-1 teams that would theoretically be in the mix. This is where the Bears could fall into trouble. Baylor's best win would be SMU, which isn't going to stack up well. An 11-1 Big 12 champ would have a great chance. But it wouldn't be a lock, either.

@Jake_Trotter: Well, Shannon isn't technically off the team yet. He's still practicing while waiting to learn the outcome of his appeal. But anytime you lose your leading tackler, it hurts. Shannon has been a good player for the Sooners the past two years. That said, I think it's a defection the Oklahoma defense would be able to overcome. Jordan Evans was solid as a true freshman last year. He should be able to step in and fill Shannon's role. Evans would also be flanked by some very good players, which would help ease the transition.  

Ben R. in San Jose, California writes: How bad is ESPN going to look for ignoring KSU in the initial power rankings? They missed out of the Top 25 and Travis Haney's next four.

Trotter: I didn’t have a vote in the ESPN Top 25, but I would have advocated having the Wildcats ranked ahead of Texas and TCU. K-State is third in my Big 12 power rankings for a reason. So you and I are in agreement, even if others are not.

Kale in Dallas writes: Hey Jake, assuming DGB remains ineligible, there is a ton of talent but little experience at receiver for OU this year. I know Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal are locks to start, and Jordan Smallwood, K.J. Young and Michiah Quick are getting hype, but what about Austin Bennett? He looked really sharp in the spring game, and he could really make an impact.

Trotter: It’s going to come down to who makes plays in practice the next two weeks and the early portion of the schedule. Shepard is the only receiver right now guaranteed to be part of the rotation. Bennett is in that mix. But the competition for inclusion in that rotation will be fierce.

Today, we debut our Big 12 true freshman power rankings, which we’ll update occasionally through August and the season. This list combines the factors of playing time and potential impact.

Without further ado, the Big 12 freshman power ranks:

1. Dravon Henry, FS, West Virginia: After just a few months in Morgantown, Henry is pushing to be the starting free safety for the opener against Alabama, another team that also recruited him hard. The ultra-athletic Henry could also be a factor in the return game. He and cornerback Daryl Worley give the Mountaineers potentially two of the best young defensive backs in the Big 12.

2. Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State: The gem of Iowa State’s recruiting class has not disappointed this preseason. He is already getting first-team reps alongside Quenton Bundrage and E.J. Bibbs. If he continues to progress, Lazard could round out a dynamic pass-catching trio.

3. K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor: Cannon is behind Lazard, but only because the Bears are loaded at wide receiver. Cannon has been equally as impressive. Baylor coach Art Briles acknowledged that Cannon has proved to be even faster than he thought while recruiting him.

4. Armanti Foreman, WR, Texas: Foreman has taken full advantage of the injuries and dismissals Texas has endured at the wide receiving position this preseason. He might even have a chance to start the opener against North Texas.

5. Corey Avery, RB, Kansas: Avery could be heir in the Kansas backfield to departed All-Big 12 running back James Sims. Avery has wowed with his ability to make defenders miss and has recently begun to receive first-team snaps.

6. Dimitri Flowers, FB, Oklahoma: The Sooners raved about Flowers in the spring before he suffered an injury in the spring game. The 220-pound Flowers, who has drawn comparisons to former Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard, is healthy again and figures to be a big part of the Sooners’ pistol attack.

7. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: Up until late in the recruiting process, this small-school Texas standout’s only other offer was from Texas State. But the Cowboys have apparently uncovered a diamond in the rough in Washington, who has been turning heads with his knack for catching any pass in his direction. Oklahoma State is deep at receiver, but Washington has played himself into a rotation role.

8. William Crest, QB, West Virginia: Clint Trickett was named the starter over the summer, but Crest is vying to become West Virginia’s second-team quarterback. That could be a critical role, considering Trickett’s injury history. Dana Holgorsen also has hinted at installing a special offensive package for his athletic quarterback.

9. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech: Davis Webb is the clear-cut starter in Lubbock, but Mahomes is showing he might be ready to be a reliable backup. Mahomes tossed five touchdown passes during a scrimmage over the weekend. That might also be an indictment of Tech’s second-team defense. But even against air, five touchdowns is impressive.

10. Emanuel Porter, WR, TCU: With Trevone Boykin still working at quarterback, the Horned Frogs need help at receiver. They’ve been getting it from Porter, who has impressed the coaching staff with his penchant for making big plays downfield.

On the radar: Dalvin Warmack, RB, Kansas State; Jeffery Mead, WR, Oklahoma; Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech

Big 12 morning links

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
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Happy Friday everybody. The first glorious Saturday of the season is now two weeks and a day away. Hang in there, we're just so close. Here's what happening in Big 12 country:
  • The Oklahoman is reporting the Joe Mixon case is finally seeing some progress: The alleged victim is believed to have interviewed with police Thursday. Even if, as hoped, the case is turned over to a DA by the end of the week, Jenny Carlson points out that this isn't your typical "Law & Order" episode. OU obviously wants some clarity with the season two weeks away, but this process is going to take time, and who knows how it might play out? Still, after a relatively quiet three weeks, it's good to hear we're getting a little closer.
  • Now that quarterback Davis Webb is in his second year and the uncontested starter, Kliff Kingsbury is ready to entrust him with more duties. Kingsbury told Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal he's giving Webb more responsibility to change the play at the line. "He’s always had freedom," Kingsbury said. "I just feel like with his comfort level, he’ll take more risk as far as believing what he sees out there and getting us into a play." That's what makes the prospect of three more years of the Kingsbury-Webb duo scary: Once he gets confident with running the show on his own, look out.
  • This is my favorite fall camp position battle in the Big 12 and it's not even close: LaQuan McGowan vs. Blake Muir. The competition to replace Cyril Richardson at left guard on Baylor's line is still rolling. McGowan is the 6-foot-8, 400-pound monster we wrote about earlier this week, the one Art Briles calls "2034" because he assumes linemen will be that big in 20 years. He'll have to beat out Muir, the Australian who has a year of starting experience under his belt from his time at Hawaii. Whoever wins has to work well alongside Spencer Drango and keep Bryce Petty clean, so it's a critical job.
  • Now this is a wonderful story: Kansas defensive lineman T.J. Semke was put on scholarship this week. If you happen to skip a court date in the Kansas City area, you could have a chance to meet him. Semke is a bounty hunter in his spare time who made the Jayhawks' roster after seeing an ad for a tryout in the college newspaper. Now he's a second-string defensive tackle tasked with hunting quarterbacks. Hard not to root for that dude.
  • As Mike Gundy maintains his relative silence about his quarterback plan, Mason Rudolph has to be wondering where he stands. His high school coach told Kyle Fredrickson of The Oklahoman that Rudolph "wants to be the starter right now." That same coach also hopes he redshirts, for the betterment of his development. Gundy has been coy about his plans for using the true freshman from South Carolina. Considering how fellow backup Daxx Garman has raised his game lately, I think the redshirt is probably a safe bet at this point.
Baylor Bears quarterback Bryce Petty ranked No. 6 in the debut addition of ESPN.com’s Heisman Watch on Thursday. The Bears’ quarterback was the lone Big 12 representative on the list.

Here is a closer look at four dark horse Heisman candidates who could find themselves alongside Petty in the Heisman conversation at some point this fall.

Receiver Tyler Lockett, Kansas State Wildcats

Why he might: Lockett is the Big 12’s most important offensive player that doesn’t line up behind center. He does it all for the Wildcats and has matured into a quality receiver in the past year with seven games of 100 receiving yards or more in 2013. As the centerpiece of the offense, he will become the face of K-State’s offensive success.

Why he might not: If the Wildcats aren’t in the mix to win the Big 12, Lockett’s dark horse Heisman campaign likely hits the wall. It won’t matter what type of numbers he puts up if the Wildcats aren’t getting the national attention that comes with a Big 12 title race.

Quarterback Davis Webb, Texas Tech Red Raiders

Why he might: Only Petty had a higher adjusted QBR last season among the Big 12's returning quarterbacks. Webb’s 79.7 joined Petty’s 86.6 as the lone returning signal callers above 75 in 2013. He appears to be even better heading into the 2014 season after settling in as the clear No. 1 quarterback for Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raiders.

Why he might not: He’ll need Tech receivers to step up and replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who were a quarterback’s best friend a season ago. The Red Raiders will also need to exceed expectations as a team to help validate the eye-popping numbers that Webb could have this fall.

Receiver Antwan Goodley, Baylor

Why he might: Goodley makes highlight-reel plays with his running back-like strength and blazing speed. If the senior makes a major jump in production for the second straight season, the sky is the limit for Petty’s top target.

Why he might not: There’s only one football and a receivers’ room full of talented pass-catchers at Baylor. Goodley could easily have multiple games this fall where he has more than 100 receiving yards yet doesn’t lead the team in receiving. Petty will have Levi Norwood, KD Cannon and several other options along with Goodley.

Quarterback Trevor Knight, Oklahoma Sooners

Why he might: Did you see the Allstate Sugar Bowl? If Knight can repeat that performance, particularly in OU’s biggest games this fall, he would find himself cemented in the race for the Heisman.

Why he might not: He’s surrounded by youth and inexperience at the skill positions for the Sooners, meaning a bigger share of the Sooners’ offense will be on his shoulders than any point last season. OU needs young players to step up at running back and receiver to make Knight the all-purpose threat that he can be in 2014.

Petty ranked sixth in Heisman Watch

August, 14, 2014
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If you ask Art Briles, Bryce Petty should've been a Heisman Trophy finalist last December.

"You know, honestly, personally and professionally, I'm a little upset about the way it all transpired last year," Briles said at Big 12 media days. "I certainly felt like he should have been in New York, without question."

But Petty has another opportunity -- and a huge one -- to make a run at the trophy this fall. Baylor's senior quarterback is ranked No. 6 in the first edition of ESPN.com's weekly Heisman Watch poll.

Petty received votes from four of our 10 national experts and is the No. 5 quarterback on the list behind Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Braxton Miller and Brett Hundley.

If you're curious what Vegas thinks of the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Bovada.lv has tabbed Petty's odds of winning the Heisman at 12/1. They also set the over-unders for his 2014 production: 3,700.5 passing yards, 30 1/2 touchdowns.

Petty laughed last week when asked whether he thinks people should starting buying in at those Heisman odds. He said he's never been to Las Vegas and doesn't know how that betting industry works, but he's excited to at least be considered a contender.

"It's great to be in the talk. It's good for Baylor," Petty said. "As long as we're winning and as long as I've got a trophy to hold up with these guys at the end of the year, that's what's most important for me. It's not about the individual stuff. This game is such team sport. There's so many things that go into that award. Shoot, I'd much rather have a Big 12 championship, a national championship or both than that."
Last year Kansas joined the alternate uniform craze, which gave the Jayhawks triple-digit uniform possibilities. Wednesday, Kansas released another alternate option, dubbed the Crimson Chrome, which includes a gigantic Jayhawk beak on the helmet.

The Jayhawks are hardly alone in the Big 12 in donning alternative uniforms.

SportsNation

Which team in the Big 12 does alternate uniform combinations the best?

  •  
    21%
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    4%
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    23%
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    22%
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    30%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,264)

Oklahoma introduced an alternative concept this summer, with cream helmets and crimson pants. Iowa State has been known to wear throwbacks. And TCU unveiled special helmets for last year’s opener with two streaks of red flamed on either side of a purple helmet.

Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech, West Virginia and now Kansas, however, have been the most aggressive in changing up their looks from week to week.

Oklahoma State was on the cutting edge of the alternative uniform trend, and has been utilizing combinations of orange, black, white and gray dating back to 2011.

 
Baylor’s digs have also been brash, highlighted by a golden chrome helmet.

 
West Virginia still has its classic blue-blue-gold look, but the Mountaineers have introduced several other combinations since joining the Big 12, including a white helmet with an old-school WVU logo.

 
Texas Tech opened up its options last year under coach Kliff Kingsbury, who had creative authority designing the Red Raiders' many new alternate looks.

 
Now, in light of Kansas’ latest uniform addition, we put this question to you: Which team in the Big 12 does alternate uniform combinations the best?

Let us know what you think in our weekly Big 12 poll.
Baylor has arrived.

Or have they?

The Bears will kick off the 2014 season as the reigning Big 12 champions with their success under Art Briles impossible to ignore. Yet there remains an undercurrent in Big 12 country that leaves the impression that Baylor still has plenty to prove.

The comments earlier this year from Texas linebacker Steve Edmond, who said Baylor was “still trash,” then apologized for his statement, is a glimpse into the minds of those who aren’t believers in Briles’ Bears quite yet. Even with the success, Baylor players and their families still hear the noise coming from the naysayers who think they could be short-term placeholders at the top of the conference standings.

“They don’t matter and they never did,” Baylor receiver Antwan Goodley said of detractors. “We know what we’re capable of; we know what we’re capable of doing. We’re just trying bring a trophy to Waco, Texas.”

It’s nothing new for Goodley, who heard the questions when he initially picked the Bears out of Midland (Texas) High School.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty and Antwan Goodley
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsAnywan Goodley and Bryce Petty plan to give Baylor staying power atop the Big 12.
“Before I even came here it was, 'You’re going to Baylor? Why Baylor?' ” Goodley said. “A couple of years ago, hearing Baylor won the Big 12 wouldn’t even sound right. We’ve changed it around a lot, we’ve got a lot of people ridin’ with us and a lot of people against us. That’s just how it goes.”

Baylor rose to the forefront of college football in 2013 with its high-scoring offense earning nationwide attention as it averaged 64.7 points per game during the first six games of the season. But none of that matters now as their 2013 conference title run is in the rearview mirror.

“2013 is gone forever; that title is ours,” Briles said. “We're attacking 2014 just like everybody else. That's our mindset with our players, and that's the way they've been approaching everything. We see ourselves as the guy fighting hard, scratching hard to try to get some recognition and some respect.”

The perception has changed, however. Baylor’s No. 2 ranking in the Big 12 preseason poll shows just how far Briles’ program has progressed.

“We have to learn how to prepare as the hunted as opposed to the hunter,” Briles said. “We've always been the hunter. And I don't want to lose that edge and that attitude and that's something that we're working hard to maintain.”

But does Baylor have the staying power to cement themselves at the top of the Big 12?

“That’s the next step for us,” quarterback Bryce Petty said. “We have to become relevant and we have to stay relevant. That’s the goal for anyone coming in and myself, leave it better than I found it.”

Petty and company insist that’s the goal and point to the new home of the Bears as one of the reasons everyone should get used to seeing Baylor among the Big 12’s best for years to come.

“Having them build that stadium is a huge sign that Baylor is here to stay,” linebacker Bryce Hager said. “They wouldn’t have spent that type of money if it was a one or two-year thing.”

McLane Stadium, Baylor’s brand-new $266 million, 45,140-seat stadium, is set to open on Aug. 31 when the Bears host SMU. Much like the Bears’ football program, McLane Stadium is striving to be ahead of the curve with “state-of-the-art” technology and exceptional amenities for fans and players.

“We have the toys, no doubt,” quarterback Bryce Petty said. “It’s huge for Baylor to be relevant to have everything everyone else has and also set the standard of having things other people don’t. We want to be that school that when you come in you say, ‘Man, this is different.’”

Sitting alongside Interstate 35, the on-campus stadium is impossible to miss. Briles hopes it can plant a seed in the mind of every youngster who lays eyes on it for years to come when they’re told McLane Stadium is a centerpiece of Baylor University and the Bears’ football program.

“Then, for the rest of their lives they're going to associate Baylor with excellence,” Briles said. “And that's hard to come by.”
Trevor Knight, OklahomaStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThere's reason for optimism in the Big 12 following Oklahoma's win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

The last time a Big 12 team won a national championship, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was still in junior high. And the last national title game that merely included a Big 12 program, Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight had just passed his driver's test.

Yet with the BCS era dead and gone -- and conference realignment in the rearview mirror -- the Big 12 is out to re-establish its legitimacy in the debut season of the College Football Playoff.

And, most importantly, get back to contending for national championships again.

"We have excellent programs in the Big 12," said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. "Is there any reason why this conference couldn't play somebody in the national championship?

"I don't see why not."

At the turn of the millennium, the Big 12 forged an identity on playing for BCS national championships an almost annually. Between 2000 and 2009, in fact, the Big 12 pushed a team into the national title game seven times.

But since Vince Young led Texas to that thrilling Rose Bowl win over USC nine years ago, the league has gone without a national title. And since Colt McCoy quarterbacked the Longhorns to the BCS national championship game five years ago, the Big 12 has not played in one.

[+] EnlargeStrong
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsCharlie strong is hoping to return Texas, the last Big 12 school to play for and win the national title, to its former national standing.
The title drought can be attributed, in part, to bad luck. But it can also be attributed to Oklahoma slipping a bit and Texas slipping a bunch over the past few years.

After hitting grand slams with Young and McCoy, Texas whiffed in its quarterback recruiting, and has failed to reach double-digit victories since 2009 as a result.

After winning six Big 12 titles early in the Bob Stoops era with dominating defense, the Sooners softened on that side of the ball and consequently have won only one outright conference title since 2008.

But there are signs the league could finally be breaking out of its recent malaise. None bigger than Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl smashing of Alabama behind a resurgent defense under coordinator Mike Stoops and the emergence of quarterback Trevor Knight, who torched the Crimson Tide in just his fifth career start.

Texas also took steps to revive its program by bringing in Charlie Strong, who already has installed a no-nonsense approach his first year in Austin.

But unlike the early 2000s, the conference flagships won't have to carry the Big 12 banner alone in the playoff era.

Oklahoma State has won 59 games over the past six years. Kansas State was ranked No. 1 in the polls at one point late in 2012. And Baylor ascended under coach Art Briles, who last season delivered the program its first Big 12 title.

"Name me two leagues that are better," said Briles. "You might could name one. But on a week in, week out basis, name me two. I ain't got them."

The Big 12's mettle, however, will be put to the test in the playoff era. With five major conferences and only four playoff spots, at least one league will be left out every year.

But the Big 12 believes its unique, nine-game, round-robin league schedule -- the same format that doomed the conference during the BCS -- will be a strength in the eyes of the playoff selection committee.

"I think we're in great position," said Bob Stoops. "When you play nine conference games, it's challenging. The more you play, the more you knock each other out. That's what happens generally. That's why it's difficult playing nine conference games. No matter what, it's easier to play eight conference games."

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports"If those other (conferences) round-robined it, there'd be a bunch more bruises on some bodies," Art Briles said. "I can tell you that right now."
The Cowboys were ranked second in the BCS standings in 2011 before losing on the road in double overtime at Iowa State in its fifth conference road game.

Kansas State was also undefeated two years ago heading into its fifth Big 12 road game, but ran out of steam at Baylor. Those same Bears went on to win 13 straight, but fell at Oklahoma State last November.

"If those other [conferences] round-robined it, there'd be a bunch more bruises on some bodies," Briles said. "I can tell you that right now."

Even though Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor each won 11 regular-season games in those seasons, none wound up playing for the national championship. All three Big 12 champs, however, might have been strong contenders for a playoff spot.

"I think people across the country have a lot of respect for our league," said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. "I think they're aware that teams that come out of this league at the top ... not only can compete, but they can win."

The Big 12 sent such a message during the last bowl season.

Baylor lost to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. But on top of the Sooners defeating Alabama, Kansas State destroyed Michigan while Texas Tech manhandled Arizona State.

Fresh off its banner bowl season, the Big 12 will have several more opportunities to send a message this nonconference season.

Oklahoma State will take on defending national champ Florida State in the opener. That same day, West Virginia will play Alabama.

Later in September, Kansas State will get reigning SEC champion Auburn in Manhattan. Texas will meet seventh-ranked UCLA. Oklahoma will face Tennessee. And Texas Tech will host Arkansas.

"Those games are big," said Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters. "To be able to play those teams and beat them would really solidify the Big 12.

"We're a great conference. We just need to get over the hump."
WACO, Texas -- Two years ago, Baylor’s backup quarterback rounded up the starting offensive linemen in the preseason and took them to Chuy’s for a Mexican feast on his dime. He wasn’t playing in 2012, but he understood the importance of keeping the big boys well fed.

Last August, Bryce Petty took the gang to Olive Garden. This time he brought six linemen. They capitalized on his kindness.

“They had appetizers and salads and two entrees -- one to take home, which was ridiculous,” Petty said. “I didn’t think they needed that, but I couldn’t really tell them no.”

[+] EnlargeSpencer Drango
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJunior tackle Spencer Drango is one of the leaders of the Baylor offensive line.
The final bill? More than $120. Petty would love to make these lineman dinners a weekly staple in 2014, but as he put it, “The budget doesn’t really call for that all the time.”

Tackle Troy Baker got the Olive Garden invite despite being out with a torn ACL, so he was especially appreciative. The love Petty has always shown his linemen, even before he was a starter or Big 12 Player of the Year, isn’t lost on them.

“He’s going to take care of his big guys. He knows we’ll get beat up and we’ll work for him,” Baker said. “He knows what we mean to him. We know how important he is to us.”

But Petty still has to tread lightly among his linemen in the locker room. Baylor’s offensive line room is full of athletic freaks, blue-collar grinders and loudmouths, plus a Brit and two Aussies. And they can be merciless, even to QB1.

“Sometimes he’ll come in wearing his decked-out Nike stuff, looking like Tiger, or he’ll be wearing neon yellow Nike stuff head to toe,” Baker said. “We’ll give him some crap about that.”

Petty doesn’t get it as bad as Jason Osei, the 27-year-old sophomore from London with a martial arts and rugby background. He gets called “Pickle” on the days he’s wearing his green skull cap, shirt, shorts and shoes.

“He’s a character, man,” tackle Spencer Drango said. “All the girls love him for his accent. It’s pretty thick. We have a joke about who won the Revolutionary War. He says it was a tie.”

Then you have brothers Blake Muir and Sean Muir, who arrived in Waco last year. Blake started 12 games at Hawaii in 2012 before transferring. Sean had never played football before joining the Bears. Their accents are just as beloved.

Blake is competing for the left guard job with LaQuan McGowan, a young man who might be from the future.

“LaQuan is legitimately 6-foot-8, 400 pounds,” Baker said. “He’s strong as can be. Coach [Art] Briles always says he’s 20 years out of his time. It’s unbelievable physically what he can do.

“You can’t do anything to him. You literally can’t. He can cut you in line and, even as another offensive lineman, you’re like, ‘Go ahead, buddy. It’s yours. All you.’”

Drango jokes that the first time he shook hands with McGowan, his freshman-year roommate, he almost lost his.

“I have big hands,” Drango said. “He completely dwarfed my hand and almost crushed it.”

McGowan or Muir will line up to the right of Drango, an All-Big 12 tackle and NFL prospect who’s fully recovered from the back injury that ended his 2013 season early. His backup, Pat Colbert, is known as “Sinbad” in the locker room. Look up his mug shot and it’s easy to see why.

At center, there’s Kyle Fuller, a redshirt sophomore who’s described as no-nonsense and “very blue-collar” by teammates. Desmine Hilliard is the starting right guard and also an All-American at throwing the discus; he set school records at the NCAA track and field championships last year.

The backup at right tackle, Tyler Edwards, gets called “The Undertaker” for his hair. And then you have Baker, who’s back from the torn ACL and can’t wait to see what this group does at full strength.

[+] EnlargePetty
AP Photo/LM OteroBryce Petty knows his success is tied to staying upright, and he has a top-notch offensive line upon whom to rely.
As one of the old guys in the line room, Baker says he has witnessed an evolution in the past four years. The Waco native swears he wouldn’t have been recruited by BU if he were a high schooler today. He wouldn't have been good enough.

“To be honest, I don’t think I would,” the former three-star recruit said. “They don’t have to. They can recruit the studs, and the studs come after them now.”

Randy Clements, Baylor’s line coach, has been working alongside Briles since 1989. He oversaw linemen and power lifting back in their Stephenville High days. His linemen say he’s brilliant, a coach capable of developing anybody. At Baylor, he’s produced an NFL draft pick in six straight years.

The line began breaking through, in Baker's estimation, late in the 2012 season. Injuries hit the group hard last year during the stretch run, but they plugged in new starters and survived. Having All-American left guard Cyril Richardson to learn from no doubt helped.

“We had a perfect example,” Baker said. “His technique was flawless and that’s why he was so successful. He was able to do everything Coach Clem asked.”

As Clements’ linemen describe it, fall camp can be brutal. This 19-man line group averages 6-5 and 305 pounds. In practice, they run just as hard as everyone else to prep for hustling to the line of scrimmage. You can’t sustain a four-plays-per-minute tempo without practicing faster than you play.

And while Petty, his trio of running backs and his endless supply of receivers get all the attention, his offensive linemen will be busy doing the dirty work.

Drango and Baker, the leaders of the gang, were stuck on the sidelines when Baylor’s undefeated season fell apart at Oklahoma State. They know the run game faltered late, averaging 168 yards per game and 3.7 per carry in the final four games after putting up 300 a game and 6.0 per carry in the first nine. The seniors vow it can’t happen again.

“We go as they go. I’ve always said that,” Petty said. “I’m just praying those guys stay healthy.”

His linemen are practicing and conditioning this month with December on their minds. Sure, they love to mess with each other and tease their quarterback in their spare time. But when it comes to title talk, they’re not joking around.

“As we get closer to November,” Baker said, “we plan on being in contention for the playoff."
February is still months away, which means there is plenty of time for all of the Big 12 programs to fill holes in much-needed spots. With signing day on Feb. 4, conference programs are hoping the next few weeks will be beneficial from a recruiting standpoint.

Here are some must-get 2015 recruits who will help bolster each Big 12 school’s recruiting class.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

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You aren't the only one interested in the start of preseason camp at various Big 12 schools. Several recruits have taken the opportunity to visit during preseason preparations to get a better feel for what to expect at each program as recruiting heats up.

BAYLOR
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Manor (Texas) defensive end Erick Fowler, ranked No. 192 in the ESPNJr300, visited Baylor this week. His offers include Baylor, Nebraska, Oklahoma and UCLA. The four-star prospect has the ability to play defensive end or linebacker at the collegiate level.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones landed a commitment from receiver Denver Johnson (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma/Casady) last week. At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, the three-star playmaker would bring terrific size to ISU’s receiving corps. After a slow start, the Cyclones have secured nine commitments since June.

KANSAS
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Former Maryland receiver Nigel King joined the Jayhawks and is eligible immediately. He has the ability to help KU’s passing attack after 33 receptions for 450 yards and four touchdowns for the Terps in 2013. A graduate transfer, King will be a junior this season.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats have entered the chase for Rancho Santa Margarita (California) Catholic High School prospect Austin Maihen with an reported offer to the 6-foot-5, 285 pound tackle. KSU joins Northern Arizona and San Diego State on his offer list.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: ESPN300 safety Jamile Johnson Jr. (Dallas/South Oak Cliff) decided to decommit from the Sooners and re-open his recruiting last week. The Sooners no longer appear to be in the race for his services with Johnson after finding themselves on the outside looking in when he released his top 5 schools later in the week.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Cowboys joined TCU and Baylor as stops for elite 2017 defensive end Anthony Hines (Plano, Texas/East) last week. Currently committed to Mississippi State, Hines already has around 50 offers and spent the week making stops at several schools in the region.

TCU
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Gary Patterson’s desire to switch offenses to, in part, help recruiting is paying off for the Horned Frogs. TCU’s commitment list is tied with West Virginia as the biggest in the conference and features at least five receivers as it looks to add firepower to its new up-tempo passing attack.

TEXAS
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 7
The latest: Texas joined Oklahoma as one of five teams that are scheduled to get an official visit from ESPN300 receiver Ryan Newsome. The Aledo (Texas) standout plans to visit UT on Oct. 4 and the Sooners on Nov. 8. Newsome is the No. 173 player in the ESPN300.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Red Raiders continued to make a statement on the recruiting trail with the pledge of Arlington (Texas) Bowie tackle Madison Akamnonu. The No. 248 player in the ESPN300, Akamnonu picked Tech over Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: Dana Holgorsen’s program continues to have success in Florida, earning a commitment from Miami (Florida) Norland cornerback Antonio Howard. A three-star prospect, Howard picked WVU over offers from Clemson, Penn State and others. Seven of the Mountaineers’ 17 pledges are from Florida.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Preseason

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Big 12 morning links

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Beginning this week across the ESPN conference blogs we're saying goodbye to "lunch links," but hello to "morning links." In these morning posts, we'll be linking to fewer stories, but adding more of our analysis to go with them. Enjoy:
  • The Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin writes that Baylor has the best receiving room in America. You will get no argument from me. Antwan Goodley is a bona fide All-American candidate after amassing almost 1,400 receiving yards and leading the country with five catches of 60 yards or more. Corey Coleman appears to be a budding star. Levi Norwood and Jay Lee are proven veterans. Losing Clay Fuller for two months to a broken collarbone hurts. But the Bears are going to get a huge boost from the incoming freshman class headlined by K.D. Cannon. In Kendall Wright, Josh Gordon and Terrance Williams, Baylor has produced several NFL receivers during the Art and Kendal Briles era in Waco. More appear to be on the way.
  • Oklahoma State freshman James Washington is pushing his way into the rotation at wide receiver, reports The Oklahoman's John Helsley. The Cowboys have a strong history of uncovering hidden gems at wide receiver. Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon was a two-star recruit. So was Jhajuan Seales, who started as a freshman for Oklahoma State last season. The Cowboys apparently have mined another diamond in the rough in Washington, who has been catching everything in practice and is generating as much buzz as any new addition to the Cowboys' roster including Big 12 Newcomer of the Year pick Tyreek Hill. Washington caught 73 passes for 1,331 yards and 24 touchdowns while leading his small Texas high school team to a pair of state championships. But up until the final days leading up to signing day, his only other offer came from Texas State. The Cowboys were already going to be deep at wideout to begin with. Washington's emergence is going to make the Oklahoma State wide receiving corps even deeper.
  • Sam B. Richardson should not be counted out in Iowa State's quarterback race, in the opinion of the Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson. According to Peterson, Richardson played well in the Cyclones' scrimmage over the weekend. Richardson might have played well, but I have a hard time seeing Iowa State not naming Grant Rohach the starter when the Cyclones open Aug. 30 with North Dakota State. Rohach fueled Iowa State's triple overtime comeback win at West Virginia to cap last season. And he was the best quarterback during the spring and in Iowa State's spring game. The Cyclones have been playing musical quarterbacks basically since Seneca Wallace was behind center more than a decade ago. Richardson's mobility brings another dimension to the offense. And redshirt freshman Joel Lanning has a lot of potential and a big arm. But Iowa State needs to see if Rohach can become that long-term answer it has been craving at quarterback.

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