Big 12: Baylor Bears

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A flurry of commitments and decommitments has led to considerable movement in the latest class rankings update. Several top-10 programs added ESPN 300 prospects, including Tennessee, which picked up top-10 ILB Darrin Kirkland Jr. The Vols already have a class that features a talented group of defensive linemen, and have now added a big, powerful inside linebacker that can develop into a tough downhill run-stopper. Butch Jones now has Tennessee in contention for a second-straight top-five finish.

Outside the top 10, USC landed a verbal from in-state tight end Tyler Petite, a tall, lengthy prospect with the size, speed and leaping ability to potentially create mismatches as a receiving target at the position. After landing the former Duke commit, USC's class features eight ESPN 300 prospects.

Ole Miss also saw a move up in the rankings with a pair of additions. The Rebels landed ESPN Junior College 50 QB Chad Kelly, a player who is physically gifted enough to be a strong candidate to replace QB Bo Wallace, a one-time junior college transfer himself. Ole Miss, who not sits at No. 17, also landed ESPN 300 OT Michael Howard. He is a lean OL prospect that needs to fill out, but is an athletic and tenacious player and with development could end up being a real strong pick-up out of Florida for the Rebels.

Inside the rankings

Coach Art Briles has had two very distinct luxuries when it comes to recruiting in today's complicated landscape -- recruiting in the shadows and recruiting without pressure. Both are actually in many ways, one in the same. As Briles has built this program, he's been able to do it his way without public pressure or booster interference because early on, nobody thought it could be done and nobody cared.

This staff was able to go after who they wanted, on their own timetable and without much scrutiny. In today's recruiting world, that's a huge luxury. Players like Levi Norwood, Antwan Goodley or Tevin Reese, who was a late qualifier, were all bypassed by other Power 5 programs, but nobody even noticed Baylor signed them or griped, "who are these guys" on signing day.

As a result, prospects like these were brought along at a normal pace and developed properly by the coaching staff. Redshirting the bulk of the classes for the first few years has also been huge for the Bears. The challenge going forward will be dealing with increased program exposure and expectation level which almost always brings with it increased recruiting scrutiny from boosters and fans alike. But the Bears don??t need to change a thing.



To see the full class rankings, click here.

Big 12 top running games: Part I

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
12:00
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It's the perfect time to look back on the regular season before the bowl season is upon us.

The Big 12 used to be a quarterback's league. Now most teams lean on their running games to carry them to success. With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, let's take a closer look at the Big 12's best running games in several unique categories.

Rushing yards before contact

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesOklahoma running back Samaje Perine excelled at gaining yards after contact this season.
1. Oklahoma, 1,993: It’s easy to see why the Sooners had three different offensive linemen on the Big 12 coaches first or second team (Daryl Williams, Adam Shead, Tyrus Thompson). OU rushed for nearly 2,000 yards before contact thanks to a veteran offensive line along with fullback Aaron Ripkowski, another All-Big 12 honoree.

2. TCU, 1,808: The offensive line was easily the most overlooked contributors to the Horned Frogs' 11-1 season. Trevone Boykin, Aaron Green and B.J. Catalon proved to be among the Big 12’s top playmakers but they wouldn’t have had that space to show their talents without the offensive line. For example, 720 of Green’s 854 rushing yards came before contact.

3. Baylor, 1,751: Much like TCU, the threat of a deep passing game helped create holes for Bears running backs along with their offensive line. Tackle Spencer Drango was exceptional and BU was able to overcome injuries to its offensive front to secure a place among the Big 12’s best in yards before contact.

Rushing yards after contact

1. Oklahoma, 1,236: Thank you, Samaje Perine. OU’s freshman running back played a significant role in the Sooners landing atop the list in this category with a Big 12-best 636 rushing yards after contact.

2. Baylor, 1,071: Shock Linwood isn’t thought of as a physical runner in the mold of Perine, yet Linwood was the only other Big 12 running back with more than 400 rushing yards after contact. Linwood’s 446 RYAC are a clear sign the sophomore has the ability to shrug off defenders and brings a tough running style at 5-foot-8, 200 pounds.

3. West Virginia, 961: Dana Holgorsen’s teams aren’t renowned for their run-game excellence, but his best offenses have usually had the ability to punish defenses on the ground if needed. Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood had solid years in the backfield with Smallwood finishing fifth in the Big 12 with 296 rushing yards after contact.

Between the tackles

1. Oklahoma, 276 carries for 1,908 yards, 20 touchdowns: OU didn’t think twice about running the ball right at you behind its veteran offensive line. Perine led the Big 12 with 1,148 rushing yards between the tackles as the only Big 12 running back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.

2. Baylor, 355 carries for 1,773 yards, 23 touchdowns: The Bears' philosophy of making defenders account for the entire field includes the area between the tackles. While their speed and receivers force defenses to account for the perimeter, they won’t hesitate to run the ball right at the defense.

3. West Virginia, 342 carries for 1,637 yards, 12 touchdowns: We knew the Mountaineers had a strong interior offensive line and a bevy of running backs before the season began. Shell proved to be a physical runner with 505 of his 766 rushing yards between the tackles.

Outside the tackles

1. Oklahoma, 242 carries for 1,362 yards, 19 touchdowns: The Sooners had success outside of tackles as well, with Perine ranking as the Big 12’s best in this category. The true freshman had 431 rushing yards outside of the tackles, joining four Big 12 players with at least 300 rushing yards outside of the tackles this season.

2. Baylor, 213 carries for 1,154 yards, 18 touchdowns: Linwood was second in the Big 12 in this category as well but much closer to Perine in the other categories with 401 rushing yards outside of the tackles in 2014.

3. TCU, 192 carries for 1,048 yards, 16 touchdowns: The Horned Frogs tested defenses with their speed and open-field playmaking ability in a bunch of different ways from Boykin’s ability to scramble to Green’s exceptional quickness.

Zone-read plays

1. Oklahoma, 160 carries for 963 yards, nine touchdowns: Quarterbacks Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas used the zone-read to keep defenses honest with Perine in the backfield.

2. Baylor, 141 carries for 700 yards, nine touchdowns: Bryce Petty and Seth Russell combined for 102 carries this season as the Bears used the zone-read as another way to challenge defensive coordinators.

3. Kansas, 134 carries for 630 yards, six touchdowns: The Jayhawks had a pair of quarterbacks in Michael Cummings and Montell Cozart with the ability to keep defenses honest but neither guy changed games with their legs.
WACO, Texas -- Bryce Petty feels selfish for even thinking it, and worse for saying it. Winning, after all, should be enough. He won another Big 12 championship.

But Petty wanted so much more. He craved perfection.

“Obviously I’d want it different,” Petty told ESPN.com this month. “Shoot, I’d love to be No. 1 on the Heisman list. I’d love to be the No. 1 pick coming out. I’d love to have 40 touchdowns, no picks.”

What the Baylor quarterback endured in 2014, instead, was a senior season he can only describe as being “such a roller coaster.” As Petty reflects on the ride, he can’t help but think he wasted too much time overthinking it all.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesBryce Petty says his perfectionist mentality began to change after he threw a pick-six to fall behind TCU by 21 points.
Petty, now prepping for his college finale and Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic meeting with No. 8 Michigan State on Jan. 1, vows he’s done indulging disappointment. Ever since the season opener, though, he’d known there would be no easy route to another title.

A back injury suffered against SMU sidelined Petty for a game and a half. He can admit now the effects of the injury -- two cracked transverse processes -- lingered until the middle of October.

Along the way, he kept taking hits. The preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year was hunted all season long.

“People don’t hit me like they did last year,” he said. “As soon as I get hit, they’re driving me to the ground and talking the whole time.”

He played through pain throughout, but nothing hurt like the heartbreak on the eve of Baylor’s Big 12 opener at Iowa State.

Ethan Hallmark, a boy he’d befriended from his hometown of Midlothian, Texas, passed away on Sept. 26 after a courageous battle with stage 4 neuroblastoma. Petty stood by his side during Ethan’s bout with the rare form of childhood cancer. He visited the boy on Christmas, once drove him to a treatment session in Dallas, and even attended his last birthday party.

“I knew it was coming,” Petty said, “but I didn’t know it was coming that fast.”

While he grieved, he struggled. Petty didn’t like how he played against ISU. He hated his performance against Texas, easily the worst statistical showing of 24 career starts. And he almost blew it against TCU, throwing a pick-six to put BU behind by 21 in the fourth quarter.

And then something finally snapped.

“That’s kind of when things changed mentally for me,” Petty said. “I didn’t care about being perfect anymore. I’ve already thrown a pick and a pick-six. Perfect is out the window. I’ve got to go win this game.”

He guided the best comeback in Baylor history against the best opponent he faced all season. The Heisman buzz was suddenly back.

“Then the West Virginia game came and, again, I was just thinking so much. I was trying not to get hurt. I was pressing,” Petty said. “The little thing that has really immobilized me athletically is when I think too much. All that stuff kind of came in and it’s just been ... not tough, not difficult. Just not what I expected.”

Perfect was now officially out the window. But the 41-27 loss in Morgantown was another setback that failed to stop Petty. Baylor regrouped, stomped Kansas and Oklahoma and got back on track.

Three steps forward, a small step back. After a 49-28 win over Oklahoma State, Petty recognized just how discouraged he’d become. His time, with just three games left, was running out. Baylor was 9-1. Why wasn’t he happy with that?

Yes, he was frustrated that his individual goals weren’t being met. But he also felt guilty for caring too much about those ambitions. Prayer and heart-to-heart talks with buddies, parents and coaches helped Petty recognize the folly in his perfectionism.

He says that P-word gets him more than anything. Art Briles brings up a different one.

“I’m very proud of what he’s done. And the thing I’m most proud of is his determination inside of him,” Briles said. “He’s got a lot to prove. He’s got a lot of doubters.”

Surely he shed a few in his regular-season finale. A week after sustaining the first concussion of his college career against Texas Tech, Petty was masterful against a top-10 Kansas State team to clinch a Big 12 trophy: 412 yards on 85 percent passing.

“He was just being Bryce out there,” receiver Levi Norwood said. “That’s exactly what we expect from him.”

The Bears’ latest blow -- exclusion from the inaugural College Football Playoff -- will sting for a while. Their quarterback can take it. In a season stuffed full of unexpected twists and tests, what’s one more?

Petty is done dwelling on wanting more. He'll take the most he can get and be grateful he got this far.

“The whole roller-coaster deal, I think it’s good that it’s all happened the way it has,” he said. “I’m telling you, this game makes you stronger.”
The Associated Press released its All-America team Tuesday, and several Big 12 players were recognized:

First team

OT: Spencer Drango, Baylor

DT: Malcom Brown, Texas

LB: Paul Dawson, TCU

Second team

QB: Trevone Boykin, TCU

WR: Kevin White, West Virginia

AP: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

Third team

RB: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma

K: Josh Lambert, West Virginia

DE: Shawn Oakman, Baylor

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
Bob Bowlsby's gamble, Bob Stoops' future and the conference's future highlight Tuesday's mailbag. As always, thanks for your questions. To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Jerry in Waco writes: I think a championship game at the end of a round-robin schedule is idiotic, redundant and unfair. Do you think the NCAA might allow the addition of a single school (eg, BYU) to the BIG 12 (BIG 11) while allowing retention of the round-robin format plus 3 nonconference games resulting in a 13-game schedule that the CFP committee seems to value?

BC: That seems unlikely Jerry. First I doubt the Big 12 will overreact and expand. Second, I don’t see what a 13-game regular season schedule gets the Big 12. Third, I’m not sure I’d be making major changes to satisfy the committee. I just keep coming back to the fact Baylor beat a top-10 team by double digits on the final day of the season and it didn’t seem to matter. So why would a conference title game change that scenario? I really don't see the need for any major overreaction, to be honest. But, an overall reassessment of the tiebreaker and different marketing plan is a must.

Rick in Grapevine, Texas, writes: What bothers me about the whole "Fire Bowlsby" campaign is this: If both Florida State and Ohio State had lost their championship games then both Baylor and TCU get into the College Football Playoff. BUT, if the Big 12 had named a conference champ instead of co-champs then TCU could well have been left out at 11-1 in favor of a non-champion from the SEC or elsewhere. The choice to present co-champions was a gamble, one that might still in the long-run work out more often than not (only time will tell). You don't fire people for taking calculated risks - unless of course you're the type of person who only puts their life's savings in the mattress because stocks, bonds and CDs are too risky!

BC: A great point by Rick and one that has been overlooked by many people. Since it didn’t work out, people were quick to turn on Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. But, as Rick says, the conference was fairly close to sneaking two teams into the top four. Yet since it didn’t work out, Bowlsby took the hit for it. I can see his thinking and can’t fault him for it in hindsight even though I might not have handled it that way myself. It is something people need to take into account though, Bowlsby had a plan and took a risk. It simply didn't work out.

Marshall in Santa Clara, California, writes: Am I the only one who thinks Marshall University would be a good fit for conference expansion along with BYU? WVU would get a natural rival in the conference and the football team would be decent. Revenue might be an issue, however.

BC: You might not be the only one but you won’t have many friends on that boat with you trying to paddle it upstream. I don’t see what Marshall would bring to the table that would put the Thundering Herd atop the priority list if/when the Big 12 decides to expand as regional ties with WVU simply are not enough.

Brandon in Pickens, West Virginia, writes: With the familiarity between the West Virginia and Texas A&M staffs, what are the chances that this is a lower-scoring game than expected?

BC: First off, great name. I’d say there is a decent chance because I’m expecting a lot of points and when I've expected plenty of points this season I’ve been wrong on several occasions. The question is, what is a lower-scoring game? I could see both teams scoring in the 30s and considering that a low-scoring contest. But I still lean toward a good chance of at least one team getting into the 50s during the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis.

Pat Jones in Johnson City, Tennessee, writes: Do you think there is any way Bob Stoops is going to make changes in his coaching staff after Oklahoma’s poor performance this year (on both sides of the ball) and if not, do you feel it is time for a change at Oklahoma? I feel Bob Stoops has lost his desire and now is just drawing a paycheck.

Brandon Chatmon: I don’t see any major changes coming on the Sooners staff nor do I think Bob Stoops is going anywhere unless he wants to. I understand the angst and disappointment among Sooner Nation, but I don’t think Stoops is the problem. There are some things the Sooners can do to change things but major change is not needed, silly mistakes led to OU’s losses, even their blowout loss to Baylor. OU is close to returning to national prominence if it plays its cards right, but they need to take the steps to ensure another underachieving season is not in the cards.

Jason A. in Le Mars, Iowa, writes: In response to Chris J. from Houston's question in last Thursday's mailbag. Since Texas "tragically" lost in the national championship game after the 2009 season here are their records: 5-7, 8-5, 9-4, 8-5, 6-6. And then here are Nebraska's: 10-4, 9-4, 10-4, 9-4, 9-3. Becoming a team "like Nebraska" just might be an improvement over the last few seasons.

BC: No question here, just sheer facts from Jason A. And I like it. Nebraska is 57-23 since 2009, while Texas is 49-28. The dislike between the Huskers and the Longhorns will never get old, or less entertaining …

Roundtable: Big 12 team with most to gain in bowl

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
2:00
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In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we examine the most intriguing bowls, which team has the most to gain in the bowl season and the players we'll be focused on the most during the bowls:

[+] EnlargeKevin White
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesMountaineers receiver Kevin White finished his senior regular season with 1,318 yards and nine TDs.
Other than the Goodyear Cotton and Chick-Fil-A Peach bowls, which Big 12 bowl are you most intrigued by?

Chatmon: It has to be the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, when West Virginia and Texas A&M battle on Dec. 29. Lots of points, lots of fun, lots of Red Bull. Mentor Dana Holgorsen against understudy Jake Spavital in a battle of offensive gurus. And considering this is a meaningless bowl game, I'm not interested in seeing much defense. I'm also looking forward to seeing what Kevin White has in store for his final game in a West Virginia uniform, after his breakout senior season.

Olson: There will be points in the Liberty Bowl, and I'm excited to see what a healthier West Virginia team is capable of against Texas A&M. But for me, the choice is the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Big 12 vs. Pac-12 matchup is typically a nice one in terms of style, and K-State taking on a UCLA team that Texas almost defeated in September, in the final starts for both Brett Hundley and Jake Waters, will be a lot of fun to watch.

Trotter: I'm intrigued by the Russell Athletic Bowl, and the matchup of Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables going up against his former boss at Oklahoma in Bob Stoops. Remember, Stoops brought in his brother to coach the defense in 2011, which ultimately prompted Venables to leave Oklahoma for Clemson. If Venables' Tigers shut down the Sooners, and Clemson runs the score up on Mike Stoops, it will serve as an indictment of where Oklahoma is as a program three years after that move was made.

With no one playing for a national championship, which Big 12 team has the most to gain in bowl season?

Chatmon: It has to be Baylor against Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. As good as the Bears have been during the past two seasons, some people still point to their Fiesta Bowl loss to Central Florida as a reason to doubt what Art Briles has built in Waco. Add the intrigue of proving the committee wrong and BU has plenty of motivation. It's also a chance for an impressive win against a quality Big Ten team in the race for conference bragging rights.

Olson: I agree with Brandon here. Some Baylor coaches I talked to before the season say their Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF was arguably the most frustrating of their time in Waco. A 12th win and ending a dream season with a BCS bowl win would've meant an awful lot to this program. They get a meaningful chance for a redo against a much better opponent in Michigan State.

Trotter: Baylor and TCU have the most to gain, because they have the chance to show they deserved to be in the playoff. But I'll throw another team into the discussion here in Texas. After finishing the season with a 48-10 home loss to TCU on Thanksgiving night, the Longhorns really need to bounce back against Arkansas in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl to set the tone for 2015. Next season is going to be a critical one for Charlie Strong and the Texas program. A win over a former rival like Arkansas would give the Longhorns the momentum they'll need heading into next season.

Who is the one Big 12 player you'll be focused during the bowls?

Chatmon: I can't wait to see what Trevone Boykin has in store for an Ole Miss defense full of playmakers in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Boykin creates all kinds of problems for every defense with his ability to slither through open lanes like a running back yet frustrate defensive backs with his deep throws. The Rebels have held opposing quarterbacks to a 17.3 Adjusted QBR, ranking No. 2 among FBS teams behind Louisville, making this the best matchup of individual brilliance against team strength during the bowl season.

Olson: Giving Mason Rudolph a month of extra practice and all that post-Bedlam momentum is going to make for a fascinating performance in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl. Oklahoma State's rookie quarterback takes on Washington and a pass defense that ranked last in the Pac-12. I'll be a little surprised if he doesn't pick apart the Huskies on Jan. 2 and continue to build up hype for 2015. The confidence boost this team got from beating Oklahoma can't get squandered.

Trotter: Boykin and Rudolph are definitely players to watch. But I think I'll be most focused on Bryce Petty in his Baylor swan song facing one of the best defenses in the country in Michigan State. Quarterbacks the caliber of Petty -- on and off the field -- don't come along very often. I'll be curious to see how he goes out in a tough matchup in his final college game for the Bears.

Play that changed the Big 12 race

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
10:30
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TCU and Baylor combined for 198 offensive plays on Oct. 11. This one mattered a great deal.

A back-and-forth, four-hour slugfest was tied at 58-58 with only 1:17 left. If Trevone Boykin completes his fourth-down fade to Josh Doctson, game over.

If he doesn’t, well, game over.

No way could TCU stop the streaking Bears after they’d rallied back with 21 unanswered points in a matter of 10 minutes. So this was it. Convert here, set up the game-winning kick, take control of the Big 12.

But it wasn’t that simple. With 1:20 to go, TCU had rushed its punt team onto the field and booted a kick, catching Baylor mid-substitution with 12 on the field. The ensuing penalty trimmed the Frogs’ fourth-down distance from 8 yards to 3.

Gary Patterson had a decision to make with the ball now at the Baylor 45. He sent out Boykin and his offense to finish the job. Then Patterson called a timeout. Both his offense and his special teams unit huddled on the field. What now?

He chose the punt team, which lined up with wide splits and unclear intentions. The Horned Frogs looked to the sideline. Another timeout.

“We were going to try a punt fake,” Patterson said after the game. “Even if we kicked it to the 5-yard line, I didn't know if we could have stopped them.”

Three crucial minutes passed between the substitution penalty and TCU’s eventual fourth-down pass -- more than enough time for Patterson, the eventual ESPN.com Coach of the Year, to weigh every option.

Going for it was the best one.

“If we get that play and we can go down and kick a field goal,” Patterson said this month, “we wouldn’t be talking about it.”

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To get that play, TCU sent out five receivers. Doctson lined up on the outside. Baylor corner Ryan Reid sneaked up to press him at the snap. It didn't matter. Boykin wasn’t making a read here. Snap, step, turn and lob. He threw it up and let his 6-foot-4 go-to receiver go get it.

Reid’s right arm was wrapped around him before the ball arrived, yet Doctson still got it in his mitts. If he’d snagged it right there, TCU is looking at first down near the 30. But the ball slipped off his left hand.

As Doctson was dragged to the ground, he still almost pulled the ball in with his outstretched right hand. Instead, it bounced off his fingertips and onto the turf.

Pass interference? They make a good case for it in Fort Worth. A smart no-call in which the refs let 'em play? You'll hear that argument in Waco. Art Briles says his defensive back did exactly what was expected.

“Our motto was keep it ugly,” Briles said. “We were going to play tough. We were going to play ugly, and whatever happens, happens.”

If a penalty happens, the Horned Frogs are set up perfectly for the game winner, maybe even a perfect regular season. Maybe that undefeated TCU team goes back to the Rose Bowl, takes care of business and plays for a national title in its own backyard.

Or maybe not. After all, it’s just one play.

Big 12 morning links

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
8:00
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There has been an incredible flurry of December decommitments in the Big 12 and January is setting up to be quite the month for a lot of teams, should be fun to watch.
  • Grantland's Matt Hinton hands out demerits for this season including naming Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight the worst individual underachiever. On the one hand I'd agree with giving Knight that honor, er, demerit. Yet, as Hinton notes, the preseason expectations for Knight were way out of control. So of course he failed to meet those lofty expectations. I felt like Davis Webb was the Big 12's second-best quarterback behind Bryce Petty heading into the season, mainly because Knight only finished three of the five games he started in 2013. And was very inconsistent to top it all off as a redshirt freshman. He still has great potential, which we saw a glimpse of in the Sugar Bowl, but it is a lesson to us all to think twice during the offseason.
  • We knew recruiting was one of David Beaty's forte but did we know he was this good? Kansas' new head coach landed yet another commitment on Monday with junior college running back Ke'aun Kinner picking the Jayhawks. He is KU's seventh commitment since Saturday. Yes, that's right, SEVEN in three days. Apparently numbers won't be a problem but time will tell how well these newcomers were evaluated then developed by Beaty and his coaching staff.
  • Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett is headed to the Senior Bowl. It is a valuable opportunity for Lockett to show scouts what he is about. The record-setting wideout will likely have questions about his size and speed, so being able to show his skills and how he responds to NFL coaching and the daily battles with some of college football's best could help him rise up the draft boards of NFL teams.
  • Is Baylor the landing spot for Jarrett Stidham? Bryce Cherry of the Waco Tribune takes a look at the question. The Bears and Oregon are reportedly in a battle to secure the No. 39 player in the ESPN300. Both options look pretty good for the four-star quarterback with Marcus Mariota looking NFL bound and Bryce Petty poised to play his final game in the Cotton Bowl. The Bears already have some solid talent on campus with current commit Chad President set to join the battle to replace Petty. If Stidham decides he is Waco-bound, that would make spring football even more intriguing for Art Briles' program.
  • The accolades continue to pile up for TCU coach Gary Patterson, who was named the winner of the Eddie Robinson Award on Monday. Patterson as a great coach, one of the nation's best, isn't new. He's largely to thank for TCU's rise, the Horned Frogs defense -- his main focus --was good during its first two Big 12 seasons and finally got the help it needed with the addition of co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie this season. It's been good to see him rewarded for his excellent program management and ability to maximize the talent on the roster.
Samaje Perine ran over defenders, KD Cannon ran by them and Dravon Henry brought the savvy of a veteran to a secondary in need of depth.

Oklahoma's Perine, Baylor's Cannon and West Virginia's Henry earned ESPN.com True Freshman All-American honors on Monday as the trio secured spots among the nation's best with stellar first seasons in the Big 12. You can find the full team here.

Perine, a running back from Pflugerville, Texas, led the Big 12 with 1,579 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, averaging 6.58 yards per carry during his freshman campaign. He averaged 7.05 yards per carry on first down and rushed for 150 yards or more in each of the Sooners' final three games.

Cannon, a receiver from Mount Pleasant, Texas, finished with 50 receptions for 833 yards and six touchdowns. He was a handful from the opening kickoff with 17 receptions for 409 yards and five touchdowns in the first quarter this season.

Henry, a safety from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, made at least one tackle in 11 of 12 games this season and started every game of his freshman campaign.

Reviewing our Big 12 predictions

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
4:00
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We make a lot of predictions here on the Big 12 blog. We make a lot of bad predictions, too.

Time to own it. Now that the regular season is over, we’re looking back on our best and worst picks and prognostications for the 2014 Big 12 season. In some cases, we ended up looking pretty smart. In plenty more, we do not. I’ll start us off with a doozy.

Max Olson: Texas Tech will start 7-0 again: Oops. I shouldn't have overlooked the Arkansas game. Or the Oklahoma State game. Or the Kansas State game. Or the West Virginia game.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
AP Photo/The Norman Transcript, Kyle PhillipsOklahoma's surprising struggles made for some Big 12 predictions gone awry.
Jake Trotter: Davis Webb will throw for more yards than Bryce Petty. With a bowl game left, Petty will likely end up throwing for at least 1,000 more yards than Webb, who missed Texas Tech’s final four games. But, technically, this was a solid pick: Webb averaged 317 passing yards per game, and Petty is averaging 300.

Brandon Chatmon: Texas will lead the conference in rushing and finish top 10 nationally. The Horns currently rank sixth in the conference and 85th nationally at a disappointing 148.7 rushing yards per game. Neither Johnathan Gray nor Malcolm Brown will rush for 1,000 yards this season.

Olson: David Ash earns All-Big 12 honors. Concussion issues ended Ash’s season and playing career after one game this season. I want to stand by this take, but Texas’ offensive line was in such bad shape that all-conference honors would’ve been a challenge.

Trotter: Kansas State will beat either Baylor or Oklahoma on the road. Winner. K-State did pull off a 31-30 upset of Oklahoma, the first of the Sooners’ three home losses.

Chatmon: Iowa State's offense will be much improved. Mark Mangino seemed to make a positive impact, but the results were minimal. ISU went from 24.8 points per game to 23.2, and from 363 yards per game to 372.5.

Trotter: Tyreek Hill will lead the league in rushing. Hill finished 15th, accounting for 534 rushing yards in his 12 games as a Cowboy before being dismissed last week. He did lead all Big 12 receivers in rushing yards, for what it’s worth.

Chatmon and Olson: Projecting an 8-win season for TCU. During our game-by-game season predictions series in July, Chatmon and I were relatively optimistic about the Horned Frogs around the same time they were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 by league media.

Trotter: Predicting KSU over OU and WVU over Baylor in October. Trotter took the lead in our weekly predictions contest thanks to these prescient picks. He ended up finishing with a record of 67-8 on his regular-season picks. That is quite good.

Olson: Predicting TCU over OU and WVU over Baylor in July. The reader comments for these picks were amazing. A sampling: Max Olson is extremely poor at predictions.” “Please lay off the crack pipe.” “TCU scoring 34 points against anyone? Really? How do you figure this?” Best of the best: “Wow ... I legitimately lost all respect for your opinion with the WVU pick over Baylor ... May God have mercy on your soul.”

Chatmon: “Malcom Brown is going to make me regret leaving him off my list.” This was from our preseason All-Big 12 discussion. We’re going to award Chatmon a point for this, even though he did snub Brown at the time.

Olson: Joe Mixon “capable of emerging as an elite playmaker from the get-go.” Unfortunately, he emerged as a troublemaker from the get-go.

Trotter: Curse of the kicker. In a pregame post for Auburn vs. Kansas State, Jake called Jack Cantele the Wildcats’ X-factor and said KSU should “feel good about their chances” if the game comes down to a kick. He also heaped praise on OU’s Michael Hunnicutt one week before the K-State game. College kicking ain’t easy.

All three: Finished 60-4 in our unanimous weekly picks. Give us a little credit here. When we put our heads together and agreed on a result, we rarely misled you this season. The four games we were unanimously wrong on: North Dakota State over Iowa State, Arkansas over Texas Tech, TCU over Oklahoma, Oklahoma State winning Bedlam.

All three: A Big 12 team will make the College Football Playoff. We declared the winner of the Baylor-Oklahoma game on Nov. 8 would go on to represent the league in the inaugural playoff. I guess that means we foolishly thought a head-to-head win would be the tiebreaker that sends a Big 12 team to the playoff.
Admit it. You never, ever thought Trevone Boykin would end up being a Heisman Trophy finalist.

It's OK to confess that. No way Gary Patterson or even Boykin himself could've seen that coming. In fact, Vegas didn't even start putting odds on his chances until the end of October. And yet, the TCU quarterback ended up finishing No. 4 in Heisman voting, thanks to more than 100 third-place votes and even seven first-place ballots.

So the question must be asked: Who's the next Boykin? Following up on Jake Trotter's post today that Boykin and Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine give the Big 12 two significant Heisman contenders, we're taking a way-way-way-too-early look at the conference's potential dark horse candidates.

QB Seth Russell, Baylor: There are a lot of logical reasons for betting on whoever replaces Bryce Petty as Baylor's quarterback. Not betting on Russell here so much as on Baylor's style of play, coaching and surrounding skill talent producing yet another prolific passer. Russell will be an experienced fourth-year player and brings a sneaky ability to run (4.49 40-yard dash speed). Whether it's Russell or somebody else, whoever earns the starting job has to play up to Art Briles' standard. That standard has already produced a Heisman winner and Petty, who finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting twice.

QB Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech: Why Mahomes over young QBs like Mason Rudolph or Tyrone Swoopes? We can only go by what we've seen so far, and Mahomes' four starts to end Texas Tech's season offered promise. He was the Big 12's leading passer over the final month of the season, and Jarrett Stidham exiting the picture helps Mahomes' chances of holding down the job. He'd still have to beat out Davis Webb and lead Tech to a huge comeback season, but this kid showed flashes of being special as a true freshman.

RB Shock Linwood, Baylor: We have to throw a running back in here due to the lack of established, exciting Big 12 quarterbacks returning in 2015. Since the start of the 2013 season, Linwood ranks 20th nationally in rushing with 2,107 yards. All of those yards have come while splitting carries, and he'll have to again next season. But Briles' offense has always run as much (in fact, more) than it has passed, and leaning on Linwood will make the next QB's job easier. You can also make a deep-sleeper case, by the way, for running backs Johnathan Gray and maybe even Aaron Green.

WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Oklahoma: OK, yes, this is an absolute shot in the dark and perhaps a pointless one. The biggest "if" here is really whether DGB elects to go pro after a season of practicing with the Sooners. If he spurns the draft and rewards Bob Stoops' faith with another year in Norman, Green-Beckham should be one of the Big 12's most talented players in 2015. The Heisman traditionally has no love for receivers, but DGB is good enough to put up crazy numbers for the Sooners next year.

Big 12 morning links

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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Gift cards always the Dirty Santa gift to go for.
  • It was a brutal weekend in recruiting in a couple of corners of the Big 12. ESPN 300 quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who had been the cornerstone of Texas Tech's recruiting class since March and who had been planning to enroll early in Lubbock, decommitted from the Red Raiders over the weekend. Tech still has a couple of talented young quarterbacks on campus in Pat Mahomes and Davis Webb. But anytime a talent the caliber of Stidham de-commits, it's a dagger, especially considering how tough it will be for Tech to add a replacement quarterback to the class. The Stidham decommitment will sting even more for Tech if he ends up at Baylor. Stidham is from Stephenville, Texas, where Baylor coach Art Briles once won multiple state championships.
  • It's been nothing for bad news for Oklahoma State since the Cowboys toppled Oklahoma in Bedlam to become bowl eligible. Days after Tyreek Hill was booted from the team, ESPN 300 running back Ronald Jones II revealed he was de-committing from the Cowboys. The news leaves Oklahoma State in an unenviable predicament in its backfield. With Hill gone, Jones no longer on board and Desmond Roland set to graduate, Rennie Childs is the only healthy scholarship running back sscheduled to be on the roster in the spring.
  • Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight was cleared to resume football activities. There was speculation running through Norman about Knight's football future after the devastating hit he took from Baylor's Shawn Oakman that left him with a temporary paralysis known as transient quadriplegia. But Knight clearly is feeling well again. This is also good news for the Sooners' hopes of beating Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Sooners ran the ball fine -- better than fine, in fact -- in Knight's absence. But the passing attack turned benign with Cody Thomas behind center, as the Sooners averaged less than 100 passing yards per game in the three games Knight missed.
  • New Kansas coach David Beaty is off to a fast start in Lawrence. He landed five commitments over the weekend to boost the Jayhawks' recruiting class, including four from the state of Texas, where Beaty is reputed to be a recruiting ace. Kansas suddenly now has 17 commitments in the class of 2015.
  • Baylor lost offensive coordinator Phillip Montgomery to Tulsa last week, but the offense is unlikely to change or slow down, writes Mike Griffith of mlive.com. I think this is obvious. Montgomery has been by Briles' side since the two were at Stephenville. But Baylor is a program now, not an offense. And with Briles, his son and Baylor assistant Kendal Briles and quarterback Bryce Petty, the Bears will still be a load for Michigan State's vaunted defense in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl.
My apologies for being disconnected this week. I've been dealing with an illness. But I'm finally feeling better, and ready for the bowl season.

Now, on to the 'bag:

Trotter: TCU should be the easy favorite. The Horned Frogs will bring back Trevone Boykin at QB. Almost the entire skill corps and offensive line returns, too. The Frogs will have to replace some key players defensively. But they'll be able to retool around All-Big 12 safety Chris Hackett.

Trotter: It looks pretty good to me. The line will need to be shored up. But the offense will still have Shock Linwood, Corey Coleman, K.D. Cannon and Johnny Jefferson -- that's some major firepower. Seth Russell, obviously, is the key. But he will have the weapons around him to thrive.

Trotter: I don't think it's very likely. There's no Group of Five program out there that entices the Big 12 leadership at the moment. But before considering expansion, the Big 12 first needs to get rid of its idiotic co-champion rule. That would allow the league to advocate one champion to the playoff committee instead of co-champs, which clearly hurt the Big 12 in the final rankings.

Trotter: Adding a conference championship game through an exemption seems more likely than expansion. The odds seem to be against it happening, at least for 2015. But there's some merit to the Big 12 considering it. A 13th game for the Big 12 champ could make a difference. It certainly did for Ohio State out of the Big Ten this year.

Trotter: One thing people need to keep in mind: Yes, Bob Bowlsby misspoke in the summer when he suggested the tiebreaker would be used for the playoff. But remember, Bowlsby is just the messenger. The league's coaches and athletic directors make the rules. And they were the ones who voted to recognize "co-champions."

Trotter: SMU would be pretty far down the pecking order. The Mustangs wouldn't expand the Big 12 footprint, and they wouldn't bring any new TV eyeballs. Plus, they're not a very good program right now, though Chad Morris could change that.

Trotter: I suspect Tech will go out and hire a veteran defensive coordinator. Kliff Kingsbury really needs to add some experience to his staff. Memphis defensive coordinator Barry Odom is a name that makes sense, especially after the Tigers fielded the No. 5 scoring defense in the country this year. But Odom reportedly has generated a lot of interest from other programs, too.

Trotter: We had Malcom Brown as our Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He was also on the ESPN.com All-American team. I can't speak to what others were thinking. But he was the most dominant defensive player I saw in the league this year.

ESPN.com All-Big 12 second team

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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This morning we released our ESPN.com All-Big 12 team. We didn't forget about all those talented, deserving players who didn't earn spots on our first-team list. Here's our take on a second-team All-Big 12 squad.

Between our first and second team, TCU led the Big 12 in all-conference honorees with 12 players selected. Baylor had eight players make the list and Kansas State, Oklahoma and West Virginia tied with seven players honored.

Offense

QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
RB: DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech
RB: Aaron Green, TCU
WR: John Harris, Texas
WR: Josh Doctson, TCU
WR: Curry Sexton, Kansas State
TE: Jimmay Mundine, Kansas
OL: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
OL: Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
OL: Joey Hunt, TCU
OL: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
OL: Tayo Fabuluje, TCU
AP: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
K: Jaden Oberkrom, TCU
KR: Mario Alford, West Virginia

Defense

DE: Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
DE: Michael Reynolds, Kansas
DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU
DT: Travis Britz, Kansas State
LB: Jordan Hicks, Texas
LB: Bryce Hager, Baylor
LB: Jonathan Truman, Kansas State
DB: Kevin White, TCU
DB: JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas
DB: Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
DB: Sam Carter, TCU
P: Nick O'Toole, West Virginia
PR: Cameron Echols-Luper, TCU

Roundtable: All-Big 12 selections

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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In today's weekly Big 12 roundtable, we examine and explain our selections for the ESPN.com All-Big 12 team. Which players stood out and which ones made this process difficult?

Which choice was the toughest to make this year?

Brandon Chatmon: There were several tough choices but our decision to go with three safeties and one cornerback in the defensive backfield tops the list. It was a hard decision but there were so many corners that were right with Quandre Diggs and the three safeties that were selected all needed a spot. I normally prefer to stay true to positions but I couldn’t imagine leaving any of the three safeties out. Ultimately I think we made a good decision by going with four defensive backs regardless of position.

Jake Trotter: The biggest discussions centered on the third linebacker after Paul Dawson and Ben Heeney and the fourth defensive back after Chris Hackett, Karl Joseph and Dante Barnett. Eric Striker didn’t have the All-American-caliber season everyone anticipated, but he was still the player opposing offenses had to gameplan for when facing the Sooners. Kansas' JaCorey Shepherd, Oklahoma's Zack Sanchez and Oklahoma State's Kevin Peterson were options I would have considered as the fourth defensive back. But Diggs meant so much to Texas, so I was comfortable with that decision.

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesExpected to play wide receiver, Trevone Boykin had such a great season at QB that he ousted Bryce Petty for first-team honors.
Max Olson: My biggest argument, which I did not win, was Striker vs. Jordan Hicks for our third linebacker spot. I tried to reason with these guys. Hicks only had 82 more tackles than Striker as a do-everything linebacker in a comeback season after losing two years to injury. The senior had just as many TFLs as Striker while playing a tougher role, plus two interceptions. Oh well. Hopefully Vance Bedford sees this and calls out their ignorance on Twitter.

What's the biggest surprise about this year's All-Big 12 team?

Trotter: What would the odds have been before the season on Trevone Boykin being the All-Big 12 QB? Boykin went into last offseason as a probable wide receiver and wound up one of the top QBs in the country. He was the surprise of the Big 12 this year.

Olson: Going along with that theme, Jake, I would've called the following predictions crazy back in July: Ryan Mueller and Cedric Reed don't make our All-Big 12 team, another Baylor receiver bumps Antwan Goodley out of first-team honors, no Texas running back makes the cut, TCU's first-team DB is Hackett, and somebody outperforms Bryce Petty.

Chatmon: The easy decisions for the offensive skill positions. From quarterback to running back to receivers, there were a bunch of no-brainers and not many guys on the outside looking in with legitimate beefs at any of the positions. Some people might balk at Corey Coleman being among the receivers but he had a special season when he finally got healthy. He also came up big against TCU and Oklahoma with 23 receptions, 368 receiving yards and four touchdowns in those two games.

What was the best or deepest position group in the league?

Chatmon: It’s easily the cornerback position. While we only selected one corner, Diggs, Shepherd, White, Sanchez and Peterson can each make a legit argument they should be on our first team. Diggs separated himself with his versatility and leadership but the margin between the rest was razor-thin. The Big 12 had a pretty solid crop of corners this season, making the defensive back position the strongest and most difficult to separate.

Trotter: Wide receiver and linebacker. The depth at receiver in this league was terrific. The fact somebody like Goodley didn’t even make the first team should tell you that. It also seemed like everyone in the Big 12 had at least one anchor at linebacker. We had to settle on just three, but there five or six others who had a case to be made.

Olson: For me, it's wide receiver. We clearly chose to bend the rules a little this year with our Big 12 team simply because there are too many legit wideouts worth honoring. We ended up putting four on each team, which is ridiculous, but it's also indicative of how many special pass-catchers we think the conference had in 2014. Agree with Jake on the linebackers, too. Along with Hicks, Pete Robertson probably should be a first-teamer.

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