Big 12: Oklahoma Sooners

video Trevor Knight's job just got harder.

Oklahoma announced Missouri transfer Dorial Green-Beckham will not be eligible to play for the Sooners in 2014 after his waiver request to make the receiver immediately eligible was denied by the NCAA on Friday.

Now Knight, the Sooners starting quarterback, is left with junior Sterling Shepard as his lone proven receiver to target heading into this season. Shepard had 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. The rest of the receivers on the Sooners' roster combined for 17 receptions for 228 yards in 2013.

The Sooners were hoping Green-Beckham would become eligible to provide a proven playmaker on the outside after the 6-foot-6, 225 pound receiver had 59 receptions for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns for Missouri in 2013 before his dismissal last spring.

[+] EnlargeDorial Green-Beckham
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiThe Sooners will have to be without receiver Dorial Green-Beckham for the season.
Instead, Shepard will enter the season as Knight's No. 1 target and the clear focus of opposing secondaries. It's an unproven but talented group of receivers that will have to step up if the Sooners hope to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff this fall.

Much of the burden is likely to fall upon Durron Neal, the second-leading returning receiver on the roster. Neal was an Army All-American when he arrived on campus but has yet to fulfill those high expectations with 18 career receptions for 251 yards in his first two seasons.

"I think we have some real stability with Shepard and Neal on the perimeter," receivers coach Jay Norvell said earlier this week. "Then we've got some young guys, K.J. Young and Michiah Quick, that are kind of coming on in the slot."

Sophomore Derrick Woods is another receiver the Sooners are counting on to become an impact player on offense for the first time in his career after a redshirt freshman season that featured just two receptions for 29 yards including a clutch third-down reception in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

"We could play with Derrick Woods as a starter," Norvell said. "There's no question and feel confident doing that. He's been in the fire. He made a huge play in the Sugar Bowl and the one thing about that kid, you get him in a competitive situation, he really responds."

A portion of the onus could also fall upon covered tight end Blake Bell, who made the switch from quarterback in January with an eye on becoming an big target for Knight.

Keep an eye on a pair of redshirt freshmen who will get more opportunities with Green-Beckham out of the equation. Jordan Smallwood, who has impressed since he arrived on campus in the summer of 2013 but was forced into a redshirt season by a broken foot in the preseason a year ago, and K.J. Young, who has emerged as an potential impact player in the slot for the Sooners, have both used a redshirt year in 2013 to put themselves in position to make an impact this fall.

"K.J.'s just playing a lot faster," Norvell said. "He really has an understanding of what we want him to do inside. He's playing really fast, roaring off the football. That's a big thing here at Oklahoma. We really stress coming off the ball and playing with speed, and when you watch guys like Kenny Stills and Jalen Saunders, when those guys played, they roared off the football, and K.J.'s starting to get that."

Incoming freshman Michiah Quick is another player who could see his role expand with Shepard's ability to play in the slot or on the outside allowing the Sooners to move Shepard around with a goal of getting their top three or four receivers on the field.

It's clear the Sooners like their talent at receiver but it is largely unproven. OU's season opener against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30 and second-non conference game against Tulsa on Sept. 6 will be critical for the Sooners offense to figure out which receivers can be counted on heading into their home matchup with Tennessee on Sept. 13.
In today's mailbag, we discuss what team should be on upset alert Week 1, Baylor's front seven, Oklahoma's linebackers, Kansas' running backs and "College GameDay" possibilities this year for the Big 12.

As an aside, the season starts next week, which means we'll be looking to select our first guest picker of 2014. Click here and sell us on why you should be the Week 1 guest picker. And, as always, creativity counts.

Now, to the 'Bag:

Trotter: Iowa State. The Cyclones face the three-time defending FCS champs in North Dakota State, which toppled Kansas State in Manhattan last year. The Bison lost their coach, Craig Bohl, to Wyoming. Several key starters from last year are gone, too. But North Dakota State opened No. 2 in the FCS polls for a reason. Don't forget, Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa last season, as well. This is not a game the Cyclones can afford to play poorly in. Trotter: Eventually, yes. When, who knows? But it will happen. Trotter: Yes. Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox reportedly performed well this preseason, but so have De'Andre Mann and Corey Avery. I think the Jayhawks will be fine at running back -- provided nobody else there gets injured. Trotter: This has more to do with Trevone Boykin -- and the work he's put in this offseason -- than it does anyone else. Obviously Boykin has responded well to having Sonny Cumbie as his position coach. But Boykin has gotten into phenomenal shape and really focused on becoming a better quarterback. As result, it appears that he has. Trotter: Oklahoma is going to be fine at linebacker. Obviously the depth took a hit. But Jordan Evans showed as a true freshman last year that he can play at a high level. The Sooners would be better with Shannon on the field. But they're not going to be that much worse off without him, either. Trotter: I'm not sure Baylor is going to have the best front in the country, as Art Briles suggested in the spring. But it has a chance to be one of the three-best in the Big 12. Andrew Billings is one of the best young tackles in the league. Shawn Oakman has the ability to become a star. And Bryce Hager is one of the most proven linebackers in the conference. This has the potential to be a special group. Trotter: That would be tough. The Baylor loss would happen late in the season. It would rob Oklahoma of its best chance for landing a marquee win. And Baylor, by defeating the Sooners, would theoretically surge ahead in the Big 12 playoff pecking order. So I don't see Oklahoma making the playoff without a win over the Bears. Trotter: I can't see it, not this year at least. This isn't the Big 12 of 2008. Let's assume that the playoff would at the least include Florida State and the SEC champ. The Big 12 then getting two teams in would entail the playoff committee leaving out the champs from the Pac-12 and Big Ten, plus a potential second team from the SEC. There are a couple scenarios, however, where it might be feasible. Say Kansas State beats Auburn, loses at Oklahoma, but beats Baylor in the season finale. An 11-1 K-State would be an attractive second Big 12 playoff possibility (along with, say, an undefeated Oklahoma) because of the marquee non-conference victory over Auburn and the marquee win at the end of the season in Waco. So it's not impossible. Then again, it's probably more likely that the Big 12 gets left out completely than it gets two teams in. Trotter: Deante Burton is the player to watch. He had a big spring, and has the size and strength to go up and get the ball downfield. With every defense focused on containing Lockett, Burton should get plenty of one-to-one opportunities. Trotter: Some possibilities include: Baylor-Oklahoma on Nov. 8; the Red River Showdown on Oct. 11; Kansas State-Oklahoma on Oct. 18; Baylor-Texas on Oct. 4; and Oklahoma-Texas Tech on Nov. 15. Trotter: The fact that neither DeMarcus Robinson nor Charles Jones nor Jarvis Leverett seized the job in the spring gives Dalvin Warmack the chance. It's been radio silence in Manhattan the last week or so. But if Bill Snyder (who likes redshirting his freshmen) announces before the opener he's not going to redshirt Warmack, that will be the sign that Warmack is going to play a lot. Trotter: If West Virginia gets back to a bowl game facing such a difficult schedule, I would consider it to be a successful season. Especially with what the Mountaineers would have coming back for 2015. Trotter: Texas has one of the most iconic looks in all of college football. Many schools need alternate uniforms to grab the attention of recruits and generate energy in their programs. Texas is not one of them.
This week we've highlighted the key position battles for every program in the Big 12. We conclude the series with Oklahoma’s safety battle.

Here's where the battle stands:

Contenders: sophomore Ahmad Thomas, sophomore Hatari Byrd, freshman Steven Parker.

What happened last season: Returning starter Quentin Hayes and departed starter Gabe Lynn were a solid safety duo for the Sooners in 2013. They combined for 133 tackles and six interceptions. Hayes' versatility was an asset during his first season as a starter, and Lynn provided a veteran presence during his first and only season at safety.

Byrd saw limited duty as a true freshman but was solid in his lone extended action against Tulsa after an injury forced Lynn out of that early-season contest.

Thomas got better and better as the season went along. He was a core member of OU’s special teams and worked himself into the defensive rotation late in the season.

Parker arrived on campus this summer as the No. 139 player in the ESPN 300 for the Class of 2014.

Replacing Lynn has been a focus for the Sooners this offseason. Lynn and cornerback Aaron Colvin are the lone starters OU’s defense must replace heading into this season.

What they offer: It’s quite possible the Sooners’ safeties will be even better this fall, as all three contenders for playing time at the position appear to be securing themselves roles in the defense.

Thomas and Byrd have been so good that Hayes has migrated into the nickelback slot vacated by Julian Wilson, who has moved to cornerback to replace Colvin. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Thomas and Byrd alongside each other at safety this season, with Parker battling to earn time with the first team while providing a quality backup option.

Byrd is a fierce hitter with leadership traits that should allow him to develop into an important voice in the secondary. He’s made a clear jump from his freshman to sophomore season.

Thomas appears to be on the road to stardom. He can do it all in the secondary with good range, instincts and playmaking ability from his safety spot.

OU coaches have praised Parker as one of the most prepared freshmen they’ve seen, and he could force his way onto the field with his versatility and coverage skills.

Prediction: The Sooners will not only replace Lynn, they will use three safeties on the field at the same time quite a bit this fall. The emergence of the young safeties have made it easier to replace Colvin with Wilson’s move from nickelback to cornerback and Hayes' move from safety to nickelback. It’s all been done with an effort to get the Sooners' best 11 players on the field. OU’s safeties could be both younger and better in 2014 than they were in 2013.

Big 12 preseason recruiting report card 

August, 22, 2014
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Currently, 119 athletes in the 2015 class have announced their verbal commitments to play college football in the Big 12. Of those players, 23 are ESPN 300 athletes -- and there’s still plenty of time for the conference to land more of the nation’s best.

Look for an uptick in conference recruiting as the fall approaches, but here’s an analysis on how Big 12 teams are looking as of now for the Class of 2015.

The Wall Street Journal took an interesting look at how college football’s coaches have fared against AP Top 25 teams during their careers. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops has the best overall record at 50-23, a clear sign of the program’s consistency and success in big games under the veteran coach. He’s earned the nickname “Big Game Bob.”

Here’s a look at how each Big 12 coach has fared against the AP Top 25 at their current school. For a look at their career record, you can go to the original piece on The Wall Street Journal’s website.

Art Briles at Baylor: 7-19

Paul Rhoads at Iowa State: 4-19

Charlie Weis at Kansas: 0-8

Bill Snyder at Kansas State: 23-43

Bob Stoops at Oklahoma: 50-23

Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State: 15-20

Gary Patterson at TCU: 14-14

Charlie Strong at Texas: 0-0 (2-2 at Louisville)

Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech: 2-3

Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia: 5-6

A few quick thoughts:
  • These numbers just reinforce Stoops' ability to win games against top competition. People like to point at OU’s Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama as the return of “Big Game Bob” but that conveniently overlooks road wins at Florida State and Notre Dame in games that garnered plenty of national attention in the past three years.
  • It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Gary Patterson join Stoops as the lone current Big 12 coaches with a record of .500 or better against AP Top 25 teams. A couple of substandard seasons in the Big 12 shouldn’t completely erase years of dominating performances from the Horned Frogs under Patterson.
  • It’s quite revealing to see Kingsbury has faced more AP Top 25 teams than Strong. In one season at Tech, Kingsbury saw a Top 25 squad five different times yet Strong coached four games against AP Top 25 teams in four seasons at Louisville. It will be interesting to see how Strong handles the clear step up in competition, week in and week out.
  • Four wins against AP Top 25 teams shows the ability of Paul Rhoads to get the best out of his Iowa State teams. His 4-19 record isn’t great but it could be a lot worse.
  • Bill Snyder and Mike Gundy rank second and third in total wins against AP Top 25 teams which is to be expected as Snyder at KSU and Gundy at OSU have taken their programs to previously unseen levels during their time as head coach at their respective schools.
  • Holgorsen's 5-6 record is solid, particularly for a coach on the hot seat heading into the season. His five wins against AP Top 25 teams in three seasons at WVU could be one reason not to overlook the Mountaineers' chances to surprise in 2014.
With the opening weekend of college football just a little more than a week away, we make some calls on who some of the top passers, rushers and receivers might be:

After Bryce Petty, Davis Webb, Trevor Knight and Jake Waters, who will lead the Big 12 in passing?

Chatmon: This is a tough one, but I’m going to go with West Virginia’s Clint Trickett. The Mountaineers have the skill-position talent to support Trickett, and the senior has a year of experience in Dana Holgorsen’s offense under his belt. I fully expect to see an improved Mountaineers’ offense and Trickett should play a key role in that improvement.

Olson: Gee, we’ve really narrowed that down, haven’t we? The best way I can put my answer is this: Oklahoma State will finish with more passing yards as a team than Texas, so I guess I have to go with J.W. Walsh. While I can envision Daxx Garman earning a couple starts at some point, I still think Walsh will put up good numbers. David Ash might be a smarter choice here, but his injury history makes it a tough call.

Trotter: I can’t pick any of the quarterbacks from Oklahoma State or TCU, since it’s still unclear how much any of them will play. And I can’t go with Montell Cozart, given that his best asset right now is his wheels. That leaves Ash, Trickett and Sam B. Richardson. Ash has an injury history. Then again, so do Trickett and Richardson.And while West Virginia and Iowa State have other intriguing quarterback options, Texas really does not.This is Ash’s show. And he has shown at times in the past he has the ability to put up big passing numbers.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray is a consensus pick to lead the Big 12 in rushing this season.
Who will lead the league in rushing?

Chatmon: Johnathan Gray is a easy choice for me. A healthy Gray is easily the best running back in the Big 12, and Texas’ offense will be built around its running game. Gray, who has a 4.8 yards-per-carry average in his career, will get plenty of opportunities, and he will take advantage of them.

Olson: Gray. It’s a really difficult prediction because I do think Shock Linwood will surpass 1,000 yards. I also think Baylor loves Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson enough that there’s going to be a equitable sharing of carries in Waco. Texas, meanwhile, won’t have Baylor’s passing game and should go all-in on a run-first mentality. Gray was on pace for more than 1,100 yards last year before his Achilles tear. He’s healthy again, and I think he can have a huge year.

Trotter: I have to agree with Brandon and Max. When healthy, Gray has proven to be the best all-around back in the league, and he is the best bet here. But keep an eye on Oklahoma State running back Tyreek Hill. If the Cowboys make him their offensive workhorse, he has the big-play ability to have a monster season. Sure, durability would be a question. But speed would not.

After Tyler Lockett and Antwan Goodley, who will lead the Big 12 in receiving?

Chatmon: Jakeem Grant immediately comes to mind here, but I’m going to go with Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard. The Sooners’ passing game should be improved with an improved Knight, and Shepard has the skills to make defenses play for leaving him in one-on-one situations. Grant will garner increased attention from secondaries while Shepard, helped by OU’s running game, should have more chances to make game-changing plays.

Olson: Did you know: In 2013, six of the Big 12’s top eight receivers in yardage played for either Baylor or Texas Tech. So I would be pretty stupid not to go with Grant here. Not only was he one of those six and very productive as a No. 3 option, but he’s also going to get a nice chunk of the 106 receptions (!) and 152 targets (!!!) that went to Jace Amaro last year. Tech’s No. 2 option, Eric Ward, had more catches (83) and targets (122) than Goodley. That’s insane. Grant is going to feast on their leftovers.

Trotter: Grant missed two games and was the third banana in Tech’s passing offense last year. And he still finished sixth in the league in receiving. With Ward and Amaro gone, Grant will take over as the Red Raiders’ primary receiving threat. And with quarterback Webb budding with confidence and the Red Raiders primed to air it out, Grant is easily the best bet here.
Bob Stoops chuckled before answering the question.

"I thought they were kind of small," Oklahoma's veteran coach said during Big 12 media days last month after being asked about trying to replace the Sooners "big" trio of running backs.

Big, small or otherwise, there's no doubting the production of three departed running backs leaves a major hole in the Sooners backfield.

Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch combined for 1,857 of OU's 2,911 rushing yards in 2013. The Sooners return 153 rushing yards from running backs currently on the roster in Keith Ford's 134 and Alex Ross' 19.

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiKeith Ford is Oklahoma's top returning running back, having rushed for 134 yards last season as a freshman.
The running back position is arguably the biggest concern on the Sooners' offense heading into this season. Ford looked poised to have a bigger impact as a true freshman last season, but fumble troubles landed him in the doghouse. Ross never quite forced his way into the lineup as a redshirt freshman. Freshman Samaje Perine stepped on campus as a ESPN300 running back and has the talent to join Ford and Ross as key members of OU's running game, but OU's depth at the position took a hit when fellow freshman Joe Mixon was suspended earlier this week.

Clay, Williams and Finch combined for 348 total carries last season, so plenty of opportunities remain for what could be the Sooners' new trio of Ford, Ross and Perine.

But nobody has separated as at the No. 1 guy during preseason camp. And the Sooners don't expect that to change before they kick off the season against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30.

"They're all getting snaps now and we'll see how they do early," Stoops said. "A lot will be determined in what they do in their initial opportunities."

Ford is a physical, tough runner, who forced his way onto the field despite having three seniors in Clay, Williams and Finch standing between himself and playing time as a true freshman. He entered the offseason as the favorite to slide into the starting lineup and remains in line to be play a significant role.

Ross brings a terrific size/speed combination to the offensive backfield and was one of the Sooners' stars of the spring.

Perine is the wild card, bringing a big back option to the table at 5-foot-11 and 243 pounds. The No. 220 player in the ESPN300, he appears ready to make an immediate impact as a true freshman.

"He's one of the freshman that has an opportunity to contribute," co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "He's a big physical kid, he's taking care of the football and we're gaining confidence in him every day. He runs with his pads very well and he's learned quickly. Kids that play as freshman carry themselves with maturity. And he's done that."

Ford and Ross are likely to sit first in the queue on game day. But, after that, all bets are off.

"You'll find out, sometimes with a running back, when the lights come on, in the [middle] of action how they'll respond," offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "Ultimately on game day we're going to find out who the guy is."

Big 12 mailbag

August, 19, 2014
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First of all, thanks for all of your questions. In today’s mailbag we talk Oklahoma’s suspension of Joe Mixon, K-State’s chances against Auburn and some Big 12 quarterbacks.

Let’s jump right in:

David B from Dallas writes: Did David Boren and Oklahoma step way over the line by suspending Joe Mixon from all team activities for the entire year? And do you think this affects recruiting for Oklahoma going forward?

Brandon Chatmon: I don’t think so. The Sooners made the right move with their decision on Mixon. OU clearly wanted to send a message here and they did. I don’t think it will have a major impact on the Sooners' recruiting. Will it be a conversation piece and a question that will be asked? Yes. But once OU explains its reasoning to recruits and parents, it should be fine. I have a hard time believing recruits will leave OU off their list based on Mixon’s suspension.


Cole from Oklahoma City writes: With the Mixon thing finally finished for now, how much more of an impact can Perine have now? I feel like he'll be a 3rd and 1 guy and goal line guy just because he can truck anything in front of him. How many carries and yards do you think he'll have?

Chatmon: Samaje Perine’s chances to make a bigger impact definitely increased with Mixon’s suspension. That’s not to say he wasn’t going to have an impact before but Mixon’s absence means one less competitor for carries and Perine is a guy who looks like he will get some opportunities this fall. I could definitely see him becoming a key asset in short-yardage situations. I think he will finish with between 50-100 carries and 350-450 yards this season.


Mark from Snyderville USA writes: What percentage would you put on K-State's chances to upset Auburn in Snyderville? I give em a 83% chance based on a few stats. 1) KR yards. Auburn gave up an average of 25 YPKR (The only teams in the B12 to allow that many YPKR was TCU and Texas). K-State averages 24 YPKR. 2.) Rushing yards per attempt. Auburn gave up nearly 4.6 yards per Rush attempt. K-state averaged 4.5 yards per rush attempt. What does it all mean, you ask? It means Auburn allows teams to do the things that make K-State successful. Good starting field position and extending drives, eating up the time of possession.

Chatmon: I think 83 percent is pretty high but I’d put it at around 50-60 percent based off the fact it is a night game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium and the Wildcats’ duo of Tyler Lockett and Jake Waters is tough for anyone to handle. I could see KSU’s kick-return prowess coming into play but their yards per rush attempt advantage assumes the Wildcats find a playmaker at running back during the first two games. I’m not so sure the running game will be clicking enough to put that in the “pro” column quite yet. Nonetheless, I’m going with K-State in a close home win.


Joshua Parsons from Lubbock writes: What are the expectations for Texas Tech's Davis Webb in his sophomore season?

Chatmon: They should be high. He’s the second-best returning quarterback in the league behind Baylor's Bryce Petty. Webb was good as a freshman so I’m expecting him to be very good to great as a sophomore with a year under his belt. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Webb alongside Petty at the top of most passing categories in 2014.


Steve from Fresno writes: Who do you think Oklahoma State's starting QB should be?

Chatmon: J.W. Walsh should start against Florida State but I think Daxx Garman will get a shot at some point this season.


Winn Walker from Fort Worth writes: Do you consider TCU as a dark horse team to contend for the Big 12 championship this year? Or are they one year away from really competing for a conference title?

Chatmon: I do, mainly because the Horned Frogs play good defense which always gives you a chance. However, if they don’t get good, efficient quarterback play, their dark-horse status goes out the window for me. I can’t wait to see how TCU’s offense looks in the first couple of games.


Scott from Royce City writes: What is your feeling on OU/Mayfield appealing Tech's block of the transfer? Would it set a troubling precedence if they allow him to transfer (in conference) and not have to sit?

Chatmon: As a walk-on at Texas Tech, Baker Mayfield’s situation is a little different for me. I can see Tech’s side of the argument and I can see Mayfield’s side of things. I’d probably lean toward allowing Mayfield to play, only because he was a walk on at Tech, but I have my doubts it will happen and I don’t view it as a major injustice if he has to sit out this season.
Two trademark wins. Two drastically different game plans.

Oklahoma defeated Oklahoma State and Alabama in its final two games of the 2013 season, a pair of wins that stand as the driving force behind OU's preseason accolades heading into this season.

And the Sooners looked like two different offenses in each triumph, leaning on their running game and physical nature to overwhelm the Cowboys in a 33-24 win in early December before using an up-tempo passing attack to confuse and disorient Alabama's defense in the 45-31 Allstate Sugar Bowl win in early January.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight's versatility is one of the reasons why Oklahoma has a diverse offense.
Against OSU, the Sooners opened the game with a three-receiver, one-tight end, one-running back pistol formation and began the game with back-to-back zone read plays. OU's second offensive snap of the game came with 14 seconds on the play clock. Against Alabama, OU began the game with the same personnel grouping but opened with a completed pass followed by an no-huddle, uptempo approach that resulted in the Sooners second snap with 30 seconds left on the play clock.

In addition, the Sooners ran 18 plays (out of 73 total plays) with two tight ends on the field against OSU. Against Alabama, OU ran three plays (out of 74 total plays) with two tight ends on the field.

That type of versatility is one of the foundations of the Sooners offense and serves as one key reason why OU could find itself right in the thick of the College Football Playoff race in November.

"Our best teams have been versatile," co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "That's what we've built this offense on. We look at the talents of our players and then we try to move the pieces of the puzzle around to take advantage of it."

Those two games could be a glimpse at the versatility at the disposal of Norvell, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and the rest of the Sooners' offensive coaches in 2014. Quarterback Trevor Knight started both of those games, although he left the OSU game due to injury, and returns this fall to allow his versatility as a passer and runner to open up options for the Sooners offense.

Knight is the poster boy for OU's offensive explosion against the Crimson Tide but the Sooners' game plan and high tempo approach had just as much of an impact. Alabama looked ill-prepared for the Sooners' tempo, resulting in its defense playing much of the game on its heels as OU created chaos and confusion with the high-tempo game plan. It was a far cry from the Sooners' offense that averaged 38.7 plays per game with one or two tight ends on the field in the final six games of the regular season before running 21 plays with one or two tight ends against Alabama.

"When we have a quarterback that can handle it and our skill position players can handle it as well, our versatility helps our tempo package out tremendously," Heupel said. "I think that's where we are a little different than some tempo teams."

The change in approach gave OU an immediate advantage. And the Sooners are aiming to do more of the same in 2014.

"I think we're starting to see that with some of the kids we have the in the program now," Norvell said. "We're using that flexibility to be in tight formations and be spread out, use them as blockers, use them as receivers. We're trying to utilize those strengths the best we can. We've learned a lot about our new players in the last few weeks."

Knight is a terrific piece to build around, particularly if his passing skills continue to develop, but having a veteran offensive line could be the biggest piece of the puzzle. OU has eight different offensive linemen who have started a game in crimson and cream and feature a Big 12-best 107 career starts among those offensive linemen. That experience could pay dividends this season.

"It's huge," Heupel said of the impact of an experienced offensive line on the ability to play with tempo. "We're playing multiple formations so their ability to recognize things up front is critical. There's a lot on their plate so that experience is huge."

With Knight and an experienced offensive line to build around, OU is spending preseason camp identifying the players who can enhance the overall versatility of the offense while also fulfilling conventional roles with championship-level precision. Relatively unproven players like senior tight end Blake Bell, freshman fullback Dimitri Flowers and others will need to emerge for OU's offense to mimic the versatility it showed at the end of 2013.

"At the end of the day we have to play the guys who can go out and help compete for a championship," Heupel said. "That's what fall camp has been about."
Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.

Big 12 morning links

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
8:00
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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
Aug 18
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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 morning links

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
8:00
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Big 12 coaches over the weekend partook in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, including Kliff Kingsbury, Charlie Weis, Charlie Strong and Gary Patterson.
  • The Iowa State quarterback derby appears to be nearing a conclusion, and the Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson writes that Sam B. Richardson will be named the starter. Grant Rohach, who finished off last season as the starter, seemed to be the front-runner to hold on to the job going into the offseason. Rohach also outplayed Richardson and Joel Lanning in Iowa State's spring game. But Richardson, who opened last year as the starter, has re-emerged this preseason. He also gives coordinator Mark Mangino the threat of a running quarterback, which Mangino successfully utilized with Todd Reesing at Kansas. The Cyclones have long been searching for a long-term answer at quarterback. Perhaps Richardson will finally be that answer.
  • While Iowa State is close to settling on one quarterback, Oklahoma State seems to be heading the other direction. The Oklahoman's Kyle Fredrickson reports that the signs are pointing toward the Cowboys playing more than one quarterback this season. If that's indeed the case, it doesn't bode well for J.W. Walsh. He entered the year as the unequivocal leader of the offense and the overwhelming favorite to win the job. But Walsh's lack of arm strength led the Cowboys' wideout-heavy offense to bog down last year. If Mike Gundy is seriously considering giving Daxx Garman or even true freshman Mason Rudolph snaps, that's a signal the offense is still sputtering with Walsh behind center.
  • Oklahoma’s fight to keep starting linebacker Frank Shannon off the field this season will go before the Oklahoma Supreme Court this Wednesday, according to The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey. The Shannon saga has created the most awkward of situations for Shannon and the school. As the university seeks to suspend him after concluding he violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy, the Sooners continue to give their returning leading tackler first-team reps in practice. The situation will get even more awkward if it lingers into the season, which is why the school appealed the case to the state Supreme Court.
  • The West Virginia defense has been showing improvement, in the opinion of the Charleston Gazette's Dave Hickman. It's difficult to remember now, but the Mountaineers played good defense early last season before injuries ravaged the roster. West Virginia has quality players on that side of the ball, notably cornerback Daryl Worley and safety Karl Joseph. Under new coordinator Tony Gibson and assistant Tom Bradley, this has a chance to be one of the more improved units in the league.
  • Lastly, this piece by the San Antonio Express-News' Mike Finger on Texas coach Charlie Strong is outstanding. Read it.

 

Big 12 mailbag: Uniforms, DGB

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
4:00
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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.

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione has plans to place food trucks on campus to feed the Sooners' student-athletes. But it's doubtful any of those trucks will be as cool the one the football team ate from Friday.

At the end of practice, coach Bob Stoops rode in on the Sooner Schooner wearing a cowboy hat and wielding a Ruf/Nek shotgun. He also brought with him some frozen treats for the players.

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