Big 12: Oklahoma State Cowboys

In today's Twitter mailbag we discuss 400-pound tight end LaQuan McGowan, players off the radar that could become All-Big 12 selections, and the backfields at TCU and Oklahoma.

Condolences to West Virginia fans for Thursday's historical beatdown. Still, I know of eight other Big 12 fanbases that wished their teams would have advanced to the Sweet 16.

On to the 'bag:

I actually asked Seth Russell which would be worse, getting sacked by Shawn Oakman or trying to tackle McGowan. He said Oakman. I respectfully have to disagree. Oakman is a bad dude, but nobody is stopping McGowan with a head of steam, Oakman included.

Trotter:You mean in one game? By the way, I hope you guys took time to read my McGowan piece earlier in the week. I enjoyed interviewing him. Interesting kid with a fascinating backstory.

Trotter: Texas would be the most attractive destination. Any of Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones would start with little resistance from what the Longhorns have on the roster. And Texas would be an option for any of the three for obvious reasons, including the track record of Charlie Strong and his staff working with Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville.

Trotter: At this moment, it's difficult to envision the game going much differently than it did last season. The addition of transfer linebacker Mike Mitchell and freshman defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko will help the run defense, and coordinator David Gibbs will have the players in the right gaps. But the Razorbacks completely mowed over the Red Raiders last season. You either have the horses or you don't, and Tech has long way to go to prove it can up its own again up front against a power-running team such as Arkansas.

Trotter: No update. Carry on.

Trotter: If I had to bet, I'd put heavy money on Baker Mayfield being the opening-day starter. There's a lot to like about Mayfield, notably his confidence and savvy. But people, notably Sooners fans, seem to forget that Mayfield really struggled against the better teams while at Texas Tech two years ago. Can OU win a Big 12 championship with Mayfield behind center? I'm not sure.

Trotter:It's a possibility. He's going to be buried on depth chart behind Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. True freshman Rodney Anderson had been turning heads this spring, too, before he suffered an MCL sprain. Apparently, Keith Ford's sister posted something on Facebook suggesting he might transfer. But Ford was at practice this week.

Trotter:The TCU backfield is going to be good. Aaron Green, who can reel off big plays, is an all-conference caliber talent; Shaun Nixon, meanwhile, was highly touted coming out of high school. But I don't know that it's necessary going to be markedly better than last year's group. Don't forget, B.J. Catalon was excellent before suffering the head injury.

Trotter:Hmm... I would definitely take Trevone Boykin, Mason Rudolph and Pat Mahomes over Sam B. Richardson. But after that, there are no slam dunks. Seth Russell obviously could have a big season, but he has only one career start. Skyler Howard is going to have to be more accurate to rank near the upper tier of Big 12 QBs. Joe Hubener has potential, but he's an unknown. I mentioned my concerns with Mayfield above. So is it unthinkable that Richardson becomes the fourth- or fifth-best QB in the league? No. He'll have good wideouts to throw to, and he has a ton of experience. The key for Richardson is health. He's been severely banged up the last two years, and when that's happened, his effectiveness has plummeted.

Trotter: Not sure how off the radar you want to go, but here are a few guys who have never had any honorable-mention recognition that could be first-teamers in 2015: Oklahoma State safety Jordan Sterns, Baylor nickelback Travon Blanchard, Oklahoma center Ty Darlington, Iowa State guard Daniel Burton, Texas defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, Texas Tech cornerback Nigel Bethel and TCU cornerback Ranthony Texada.

Trotter:Well, if you believe you're a big-time program that can compete with anyone, you go out and schedule the Ohio States of the world. Oklahoma has been doing it since Bob Stoops arrived, and it served the Sooners well during the BCS era. Texas has recently ramped up its scheduling as well. As a conference champ, you have to beat someone of note in the non-conference to guarantee yourself a spot in the playoff. TCU will have plenty of opportunities to do that in the coming years.

Trotter: Who didn't see that TCU fan tweet coming?

At one point Devin Davis looked destined to play on Sundays.

Now, he won't play another down of competitive football.

The former Oklahoma State offensive tackle has retired, reports Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World. Davis suffered a major knee injury before the 2013 season and never could recover from the injury.

“It was emotional for him, but he handled it better than I would have ever handled it,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said.

There was hope Davis would have a similar story as Kye Staley, who suffered a major knee injury during preseason camp in 2009 that forced him to miss the 2009 and 2010 seasons while putting his career in doubt. Staley eventually returned to the team after a two-year hiatus to play a significant role as a bruising blocker and special teams ace for OSU from 2011-13.

Although not unexpected, it's a disappointing end to a promising (and potentially lucrative) career for Davis.

The past two weeks, we've examined some the Big 12 players on the spot this spring. Below in our weekly roundtable, we likewise explore the Big 12 position groups that are also on the spot this spring:

What offensive position group is on the spot this spring?

Jake Trotter: Other than the quarterback derbies taking place in Norman and Austin, which will both be fascinating, I'm interested to see what happens with running back at Kansas State. The Wildcats have several viable contenders for the featured role, including returner Charles Jones, redshirt freshman Dalvin Warmack and true freshman Alex Barnes, who has enrolled early to participate in spring ball. Jones had a prime role in the K-State offense last season, scoring 13 touchdowns. But he also ranked 21st in the Big 12 in yards per carry. Warmack is an intriguing option, having rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 77 touchdowns his final two seasons of high school. Then there's Barnes, who physically looks ready to compete for time now. Whatever happens, with Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett gone, the Wildcats will need more production next season from their primary rusher.

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
Scott Sewell-/USA TODAY SportsTyrone Swoopes has the upper hand for Texas' starting quarterback job but can he keep it?

Max Olson: Texas quarterbacks. They've been in a rough spot for a few years now, and I think there's a lot of pressure on Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard this spring. I don't doubt that Texas will pursue a transfer quarterback after spring ball as a necessary move for competition. You have to wonder how much confidence these two can inspire over the course of 15 practices. Swoopes still has the upper hand at the moment, but how much progress can he make? Can Heard grow up and catch up?

Brandon Chatmon: Someone needs to emerge among Oklahoma’s receivers to help All-Big 12 candidate Sterling Shepard. There are some good candidates with Dede Westbrook, a junior college transfer, and Michiah Quick, a sophomore who should improve in Year 2, sitting atop the list. Lincoln Riley’s offense should give the receivers plenty of opportunities to shine and we’ve seen how a system change can completely the effectiveness of a receiver.

What defensive position group is on the spot?

Trotter: I would say the Baylor secondary, except all four returning starters have been limited by injuries this spring. So I'll go with the Oklahoma secondary instead. The Sooners ranked ninth in the Big 12 in pass defense last year, and graduated a pair of starters in Julian Wilson and Quentin Hayes, leaving cornerback Zack Sanchez as the only proven performer. Former ESPN 300 signee Steven Parker could make a big jump after playing a key role as a true freshman last season. But the Sooners need some combination of Stanvon Taylor, Ahmad Thomas, Hatari Byrd, Jordan Thomas and/or junior-college transfer Will Johnson to step up, as well, in order for Oklahoma to bounce back in 2015.

Olson: Doesn't sound like TCU has found a whole lot of clarity when it comes to its two vacant linebacker spots, though I did like Gary Patterson's idea that he should start at one spot. Sammy Douglas, Paul Whitmill and Ty Summers will do a fine job, I'm sure, and I think Patterson is onto something when he mentions possibly moving a safety into the second level. But still, these are inexperienced guys taking over for senior playmakers on a team with giant expectations.

Chatmon: I agree with Max. I’m really intrigued with what is going to happen at TCU as the Horned Frogs try to replace Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallett. Dawson got most of the attention but Mallett was exceptionally productive in his own right. Finding quality linebackers could be the difference between another Big 12 title run, or even College Football Playoff run. Coach Gary Patterson has hinted the Horned Frogs will try plenty of different options including safeties in those spots.

What position group will be most improved?

Trotter: The Oklahoma State offensive line was absolutely dreadful for much of last season, before the lightbulb flickered late in the year. I'm not saying the Cowboys will now be mowing over people. But with the bulk of last year's group back, coupled with the addition of capable transfer tackles Victor Salako and Brandon Pertile, Oklahoma State should be able to build off last year's encouraging finish to field one of the league's better lines in 2015.

Olson: I think a group poised to take a big step is Texas Tech's secondary. That's a super young group and I'm interested to see how David Gibbs' teachings influence them. I look at that roster and see some talented guys like Justis Nelson, Nigel Bethel II, Tevin Madison, Jalen Barnes and Payton Hendrix who ought to develop more confidence under the guidance of Gibbs and Kevin Curtis and force more turnovers in the fall.

Chatmon: I expect Baylor’s secondary to be much improved. A talented group of athletes will be a year older, a year wiser and much more comfortable as the back end of BU’s defense. Not to mention it won’t hurt to go against the Bears receiving corps on a regular basis. Improvement from guys like Xavien Howard, who has loads of potential, and the addition of talented newcomers such as redshirt freshman Verkedric Vaughns could help the Bears defensive backs be much better this fall.

Running back Chris Carson could hold the key to Oklahoma State’s offense, wide receiver DeDe Westbrook could take Oklahoma’s new spread attack to another level and defensive tackle Demond Tucker could provide much-needed strength in the middle of Iowa State’s defense.

That trio is among the nine ESPN Junior College 50 recruits who signed with Big 12 schools and have the potential to become household names in the conference this fall.

SportsNation

Which ESPN JC50 signee will have the biggest impact in 2015?

  •  
    20%

  •  
    36%

  •  
    25%

  •  
    8%

  •  
    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,650)

Which ESPN JC 50 newcomer do you expect to have the biggest impact?

Carson was a late addition to the Cowboys' signing class as OSU looked to secure a backfield mate for quarterback Mason Rudolph. The No. 12 player in the ESPN JC 50, Carson brings good size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and the ability to be a workhorse for Mike Gundy’s program.

Westbrook is already on campus and participating in spring drills with the Sooners. The No. 14 player in the ESPN JC 50 combines quickness and speed with good size (6-1, 175), which makes him a candidate to excel in the slot or on the outside in Lincoln Riley’s offense.

Rasul Douglas will add to a talented West Virginia secondary in the summer. The No. 23 player in the ESPN JC 50 has the size (6-2, 200) and athleticism to be a versatile asset for WVU’s defense, with the skills to play cornerback or safety.

Tucker was a much-needed addition for the Cyclones defense. After Iowa State struggled with its depth and production along its defensive front in 2014, Tucker is participating in ISU’s spring practices with a eye on making an major impact this fall. His quickness could help him become a disruptive force for the Cyclones defense.

Five other ESPN JC 50 signees could have a similar impact in the Big 12. Cornerback Will Johnson (No. 15 in the ESPN JC 50) is already impressing during the first few practices at OU, and the Sooners secondary is looking for playmakers heading into the fall.

Offensive tackle Maurice Porter (No. 31 in the ESPN JC 50) could add additional depth for Baylor’s offensive line when he arrives in the summer.

Guard Jamal Danley (No. 39 in the ESPN JC 50) is going through spring drills with OU as he battles to make an impact on a Sooners offensive line that must replace four starters.

Texas is hoping Quincy Vasser (No. 45 in the ESPN JC 50) can help lessen the loss of Cedric Reed at defensive end.

Motekiai Maile (No. 49 in the ESPN JC 50) could help replace James Castleman in the interior of OSU’s defense, helping free opportunities for returning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year Emmanuel Ogbah.

Who do you think will have the biggest impact? Vote now and leave a comment below.

Dominating Florida is always critical for Florida State, but another secret to the Seminoles' success is doing well in Virginia, and highly-coveted corner Levonta Taylor could be the Noles' next big get from the state.

Fielding a strong pass defense is critical in the Big 12.

The conference is full of offenses that look to spread opponents and attack them through the air, putting pressure on defensive backs and pass rushers alike. Yet it can be difficult to measure defensive success against those offenses as passing yards per game and completion percentage can be misleading particularly on teams that feature high-scoring offenses that end up forcing opponents to throw for the majority of the game.

Passing yards per attempt is one key stat that give a good gauge of which teams have efficient pass defenses that are harder to defeat than it may appear. With the help of ESPN Stats and Information, here's a look at the Big 12 rankings in passing yards per attempt (conference games only) since TCU and West Virginia joined the conference in 2012.

[+] EnlargeDavid Porter
AP Photo/LM OteroThe Kansas State Wildcats have allowed only 6.7 yards per pass attempt over the past three seasons.

1. Kansas State 6.7
Summary: The Wildcats are very good at forcing offenses to take what they are willing to give. Opponents 61.5 completion percentage is ninth among Big 12 teams yet their low yards per pass attempt average is a sign they tackle well after limiting opponents to short completions. Outside of standouts Ty Zimmerman and Randall Evans, KSU doesn’t tend to have superstars in the secondary but their performance as a unit is unmatched.

2. Oklahoma State 6.86
Summary: The Cowboys allow 277.85 passing yards per game but their yards per pass attempt average make them one of the Big 12’s top pass defenses. OSU’s up tempo, high scoring offense resulted in the defense facing a conference-high 40.52 pass attempts per game during the past three seasons. Talented defensive backs like Justin Gilbert and Kevin Peterson have helped the Cowboys withstand the barrage.

3. Texas 6.93
Summary: The Longhorns defense has been solid overall, ranking first in passing yards per game (220.3), sack percentage (8.4 percent) and touchdowns per pass attempt (3.6). A combination of talented defensive backs (Kenny Vaccaro, Quandre Diggs) and pass rushers (Jackson Jeffcoat, Alex Okafor) cemented UT’s place in the top three.

4. Oklahoma 7.02
Summary: The Sooners are among the top two in passing yards allowed (241.7) and completion percentage (54.9) helping to land them a spot in the top half of the conference. Current NFLers Aaron Colvin and Tony Jefferson are among the former Sooners who made OU’s pass defense one of the Big 12’s better units before a disappointing 2014 season put dents in that reputation.

5. TCU 7.18
Summary: The Horned Frogs’ opponent completion percentage (54.9), third-down conversion percentage (31.3) and first down per pass attempt percentage (28.8) were the best in the Big 12. But TCU’s yards per completion percentage (13.57) was ninth in the conference and doomed them to a spot outside the top four despite featuring some of the Big 12’s best defensive backs in Jason Verrett, Chris Hackett and Kevin White.

6. Baylor 7.39
Summary: The Bears explosive offense resulted in BU’s pass defense facing 37.67 pass attempts per game which contributed to them finishing in the bottom third of the conference in passing yards per game (278.33, eighth) and third down conversion percentage (43.4, tenth). This is one element of Art Briles program that requires continued improvement if BU is going to extended its Big 12 title run.

7. Texas Tech 7.68
Summary: The Red Raiders ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in several categories but their touchdown-to-interception percentage stands out above the crowd. Tech gave up 3.88 touchdowns per interception during this span, nearly a full touchdown worst than any other team in the Big 12. Nigel Bethel, Tevin Madison and Justis Nelson are among the young defensive backs on the roster with the talent to help turn this Red Raider trend around.

8. Iowa State 7.74
Summary: The Cyclones landed at the bottom of the Big 12 in passing yards allowed per game (292.3) and sack percentage (3) as ISU struggled to slow the pass happy attacks of the Big 12. Cornerback Nigel Tribune and safety Kamari Cotton-Moya provide hope the Cyclones can improve their pass defense in 2015.

9. West Virginia 8.21
Summary: The Mountaineers pass defense is one main reason WVU has been up and down during its first three seasons in the conference. Losing one-on-one battles and shoddy tackling have resulted in a Big 12-worst 13.92 yards per completion. Yet WVU enters the 2015 with the Big 12’s best combination of talent and experience in the secondary so the Mountaineers could start to build a better reputation this fall.

10. Kansas 8.24
Summary: The Jayhawks struggled in pretty much every category, allowing opponents to complete 62.9 percent of their attempts while also allowing 35 percent of those attempts to result in first downs. A lack of sacks (3.6 sack percentage, eighth) and interceptions (2.2 interception percentage, ninth) helped cement KU’s spot at the bottom of the Big 12. To make matters worse KU enters the 2015 looking to replace the bulk of its secondary including All-Big 12 cornerback JaCorey Shepherd.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

March, 23, 2015
Mar 23
2:30
PM ET

Spring ball rolls on and a few new commitments rolled in, too. The latest from the Big 12 on the recruiting trail:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 7
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 4
The latest: The Bears hosted a big group of recruits for its "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage, including incoming freshmen and targets from several classes. One big man on campus was ESPN 300 lineman J.P. Urquidez, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound tackle from Copperas Cove, Texas. Urquidez also visited Miami recently and has those two schools high on his list along with Texas and Oklahoma. He's expected to make his decision this spring.

IOWA STATE
Total commits:
0
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones still have not landed a commitment for 2016. They do continue to pursue defensive end Noah Fant, though that's getting more challenging. The defensive end out of Omaha, Nebraska, recently took an unofficial visit to Nebraska and is expected to check out Purdue next. Getting him in for ISU's junior day was a good move, but Fant is drawing more and more interest these days.

KANSAS
Total commits: 1
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest:
Kansas could face an interesting battle for offensive lineman Chris Hughes of Harker Heights, Texas. He's been offered by KU, North Texas and now Texas Tech, and you wonder if his stock will rise this spring. The younger brother of Texas players Naashon Hughes and Camrhon Hughes is 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, but doesn't hold an offer from the Longhorns yet. Can KU fight to steal him from the state of Texas?

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 1
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats lost a big-time commit over the weekend when defensive end Xavier Kelly elected to reopen his recruitment. Kelly, whose stock has been on the rise this spring, had committed to KSU back in November but is reportedly focusing on Michigan, Oregon and TCU at the moment. He checked in at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds with a 4.55-second 40-yard dash at The Opening regional camp in Arlington, Texas.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Sooners got one of the nation's best running back recruits on campus. ESPN 300 running back Devwah Whaley, the nation's No. 34 recruit, took an unofficial visit to Norman over the weekend. Texas A&M is presumed to be the frontrunner for Whaley at the moment, but OU is right there in the mix along with Texas, Georgia and several other programs.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Who might Oklahoma State take at quarterback for 2016? The favorite sure seems to be Nick Starkel, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound passer from Argyle, Texas. Though his only FBS offers are from Oklahoma State and Old Dominion, Starkel had a good showing at his Elite 11 tryout in Dallas earlier this month and is expected to visit Stillwater again at the end of the month.

TCU
Total commits: 8
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Horned Frogs' first commit for 2017 is in the books: Roshauud Paul. The athlete from Bremond, Texas, pulled the trigger on a commitment last Tuesday and is being recruited as a receiver/corner. As a sophomore, he helped lead Bremond to a Class 2A state title as a quarterback with more than 3,200 total yards and 40 TDs.

TEXAS
Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: Texas actually has five pledges for 2016, as quarterback Matthew Merrick will grayshirt and enroll next spring. That's his final decision after several schools (led by Florida) pushed hard following signing day to flip Merrick and get him enrolled in the fall. Merrick and ESPN 300 commit Shane Buechele both are expected to arrive in Austin in January. Merrick has a big arm and will be a nice development prospect.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Texas Tech's staff landed a good one in Donte Coleman. The tight end from West Mesquite High in Texas turned down a dozen other good offers to pick the Red Raiders on Saturday. Coleman, who hauled in four TDs as a junior, could be a matchup nightmare in Tech's scheme at 6-4 and 220 pounds.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 7
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: West Virginia's newest pledge came from Zach Sandwisch of Toledo, Ohio, an outside linebacker who likes how he'll fit in the Mountaineers' defensive plans. Sandwich racked up 80 tackles in 10 games while helping lead Central Catholic to a state title as a junior. He took visits to West Virginia, Indiana, Toledo and Bowling Green before reaching his decision last week.

Big 12 morning links

March, 23, 2015
Mar 23
9:00
AM ET

Best of luck to Texas Tech sports information director Blayne Beal, who is leaving for a job in the private sector. Being SID can be a tireless gig. But Blayne is a great guy who did a great job.

  • Baylor had its "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage (more on this on the blog later this morning) and new Bears QB Seth Russell showed that Baylor should continue to have big-play ability even without Bryce Petty. Russell was little up-and-down with his accuracy in rainy weather, but still tossed four touchdown passes. The Bears only suffered one injury, to cornerback Xavien Howard, who suffered an ankle injury early in the scrimmage. Baylor will be light in the secondary the rest of the spring. Safeties Orion Stewart and Terrell Burt and cornerback Ryan Reid have all sat out this spring, nursing injuries.
  • TCU receiver Josh Doctson will miss the rest of spring practice because of a broken bone in his hand, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez. Doctson, who will need surgery to correct the break, led the Horned Frogs with 1,018 receiving yards last season. Doctson is expected to be ready to go for the fall. But his injury will open up an opportunity for some of TCU's younger receivers to make an impression. The Horned Frogs were already without receivers Deante' Gray and Emanuel Porter this spring.
  • Mendez also had un update on how TCU's search at linebacker is going. With Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet both gone, the Horned Frogs have basically had to start from scratch, Mendez writes. "We got a long way to go at linebacker," coach Gary Patterson told Mendez. "There's just a lot of learning to it. They'll get there. Or I'll move somebody there." Despite losing key players elsewhere defensively, the Horned Frogs should be in good shape both in the secondary and up front. Linebacker will be the key to whether the Horned Frogs will field a top-two Big 12 defense for a fourth straight year.
  • Without any other upperclassmen at the position on the roster, the pressure is on Tyler Brown to give Iowa State something at running back, according to the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse. This is a huge spring for Brown, and a big chance for him to establish himself as the Cyclones' featured runner. But he will have to earn it. The Cyclones are high on the potential of freshman Mike Warren, who redshirted last year. Martinez Syria is also back after filling the short-yardage role last season. Running back is by far the biggest question on the Iowa State offense. Sam B. Richardson has solidified his standing as the starting quarterback. The group of receivers is talented with the likes of Allen Lazard and Quenton Bundrage. And the offensive line is experienced.
  • Like Brown, Oklahoma State running back Rennie Childs has a shot this spring to command a big role, points out the Tulsa World's Bill Haisten. With Dez Roland and Tyreek Hill gone and Chris Carson and Jeff Carr not set to arrive until the summer, Childs will get the bulk of the work in the Cowboys' backfield this spring. Last week, we listed Childs as one of our "on the spot" players for this very same reason.

Thursday wasn't pretty for Big 12 basketball. Never fear, I'm here to put ailing minds back on football. In Friday's Twitter mailbag, we discuss a potential undefeated Revivalry showdown, Texas Tech's underrated offensive weapon, and whether Baker Mayfield will win the starting QB job in Norman.

On to the 'Bag:

Trotter: The easy answer on offense is either TCU or Baylor or both. The Horned Frogs return 10 starters off an attack that ranked second in the country (behind Baylor). Quarterback is the only real question in Waco, and the early returns on Seth Russell this spring have been good. Defensively, keep an eye on Oklahoma State. The Cowboys will have four cornerbacks whocan really play. Jordan Sterns is an All-Big 12-caliber safety. The linebacking corps will be the deepest of the Mike Gundy era. And Emmanuel Ogbah is the reigning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year.

Trotter: At this point, I'd be surprised. A lot can happen this spring. But the Sooners got a long look at Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas last year, and it was very evident that neither was the answer, at least in their 2014 form. Given his time at Texas Tech and his skill set, Mayfield is also a better fit for the air raid offense that new coordinator Lincoln Riley is installing. Knight could get another shot if Mayfield struggled next season. But my money would be on Mayfield opening the year as the starter.

Trotter: You forced me to look up that 1935 Iron Skillet showdown. That was a big one, considering both the Frogs and Ponies were undefeated. But a "Revivalry" featuring an unbeaten TCU and Baylor would be monstrous. The winner would be all but guaranteed a spot in the playoff. I feel pretty comfortable in saying that would constitute the biggest college football game in Fort Worth history.

Trotter: I expect a step back offensively. But maybe a step forward on defense. It would be almost impossible for any offense to immediately replace the production that Kevin White, Mario Alford and Clint Trickett supplied last year. The Mountaineers also have some retooling to do on the offensive line. Even in a best-case scenario, it's hard to see the Mountaineers being close to as explosive as they were last year. That said, West Virginia could have the league's top secondary with Karl Joseph, Dravon Henry and Daryl Worley. The linebackers have experience. And though pass rush is a concern, this has a chance to be West Virginia's best defense in years. Will that be a net plus given the losses on offense? Probably not. But the possibility is there.

Trotter: I'm not sure what preview you're referring to, but Washington definitely gets overlooked, due to Tech's overall struggles last year. But he's a dynamic all-around back, who can reel off big plays and inflict damage as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. This is one of the league's better offensive players. With more consistent quarterbacking in front of him, he could have a huge 2015 season.

The production from Kansas State's quarterbacks in the past three seasons should make it no surprise the Wildcats have become mainstays in the Big 12 title race.

Since TCU and West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012, the Wildcats have had the conference's most productive quarterbacks ahead of Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and other Big 12 programs that have a reputation for stellar signal-callers. With the help of ESPN Stats and Information, here's a closer look at the Big 12 Total QBR rankings (conference games only) since 2012.

(Note: Total QBR is a ESPN metric used to determine a quarterback's impact. Here is a detailed explanation of Total QBR.)

1. Kansas State, 79.5
2014: 83.5, 1st
2013: 71.8, 3rd
2012: 83.2, 2nd

Summary: The combination of Jake Waters and Collin Klein helped push the Wildcats to the top of the list. Klein’s 83.9 Total QBR in 2012 is the third-best in the Big 12 since 2012, and his 23 rushing touchdowns helped offset a 16:9 touchdown-interception ratio. Waters’ 83.2 Total QBR led the Big 12 in 2014 and was fifth overall during this span. The Wildcats were the only program with two quarterbacks in the top five.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesIn 2013, Baylor's Bryce Petty had the Big 12's best statistical season for a quarterback in the last three years.

2. Baylor, 78.6
2014: 71.2, 4th
2013: 85.4, 1st
2012: 78.8, 4th

Summary: Bryce Petty had the Big 12’s best season during this span, recording a 86.2 Total QBR and earning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year during the 2013 season. Nick Florence finished with a 79.5 Total QBR in 2012, helping offset Petty’s 71.4 a year ago. The Bears started one of the conference’s top quarterbacks in each of the past three seasons, a feat only K-State can match.

3. Oklahoma, 74.5
2014: 75, 2nd
2013: 57.8, 7th
2012: 83.9, 1st

Summary: Landry Jones had the Big 12’s second-highest Total QBR during this span, recording a 84.4 in 2012 during the last season OU used a air raid-style offense. After a horrible 2013 season full of uncertainty at the position, the Sooners landed third on this list thanks to Trevor Knight’s 79.4 in 2014.

4. Texas Tech, 69.4
2014: 68.9, 5th
2013: 67.2, 5th
2012: 72.5, 6th

Summary: Davis Webb’s 77.7 Total QBR in 2013 is yet another reason to pump the brakes on the Patrick Mahomes coronation. It was the Red Raiders' best and among the top 10 in the conference during this span. Mahomes (70.7 in 2014) and Seth Doege (71.4 in 2012) join Webb among the top 15 in the Big 12 during the past three seasons, giving the Red Raiders three quarterbacks in the top 15, more than any other Big 12 program.

5. Oklahoma State, 66.4
2014: 46.3, 9th
2013: 74.6, 2nd
2012: 72.7, 5th

Summary: Clint Chelf is the sole reason the Pokes finished in the top half of the conference. His Total QBR was second in the Big 12 at 83.8 in 2013 and 13th in the Big 12 at 71.2 in 2012. Chelf was constantly battling for his spot during his final two seasons, but when Oklahoma State turned the offense over to him, he produced.

6. Texas, 65
2014: 58.4, 8th
2013: 70.1, 4th
2012: 66.7, 7th

Summary: This sums up the Longhorns' quarterback struggles. Case McCoy’s Total QBR of 69.1 in 2013 was the Longhorns' highest Total QBR during this span. Tyrone Swoopes recorded a 58.2 in 2014 and David Ash had a 67 in 2012.

7. West Virginia, 64.3
2014: 64, 6th
2013: 44.1, 9th
2012: 81.2, 2nd

Summary: Things went downhill for Dana Holgorsen’s team after Geno Smith recorded a 80.5 Total QBR in 2012, sixth in the Big 12 during this span, then headed to the NFL. Clint Trickett started the 2014 season strong, but his turnover-filled second half of the season dropped his final Total QBR to 61.9. Yet that was still better than the 54.9 he recorded in 2013.

8. TCU, 58.5
2014: 72.5, 3rd
2013: 47.9, 8th
2012: 54.2, 8th

Summary: This underscores just how bad the Horned Frogs production at quarterback was during TCU’s first two seasons in the Big 12. And that lackluster production came partially with Trevone Boykin under center. Boykin recorded a 52 Total QBR in 2013 before jumping to a 71.8 in 2014. It was one of the nation's highest jumps from a returning quarterback.

9. Iowa State, 54.9
2014: 58.8, 7th
2013: 56.7, 6th
2012: 47.5, 9th

Summary: One big reason the Cyclones have been going downhill since TCU and West Virginia entered the league is their subpar quarterback play. Fortunately for Iowa State, Sam Richardson has the potential to make quarterback a strength for the Cyclones in 2015.

10. Kansas, 31.7
2014: 44.5, 10th
2013: 20.2, 10th
2012: 30.7, 10th

Summary: The Jayhawks are the only team that showed no movement in the standings in any of the three seasons. It doesn’t get much worse than KU’s production in 2013. It’s easy to see why Kansas decided to go in a different direction with the hope David Beaty can spark a change at quarterback.

It's tourney time!

Here's our effort to take your mind off of your bracket with a few angst-filled days ahead during the NCAA tournament. In today's roundtable we single out potential Cinderella teams, potential overseeded (i.e. overrated) teams and potential underseeded (underrated) teams.

Who could be the Cinderella of the Big 12?

Brandon Chatmon: My vote goes for West Virginia. I have a feeling the Mountaineers are going to get productive and efficient play at the quarterback position from Skyler Howard or William Crest and I think they will answer various questions at receiver, offensive line and defensive line. I love the talent on Dana Holgorsen’s roster and expect WVU to learn from its late-season stumbles a year ago.

[+] EnlargePatrick Mahomes
Jerod Foster/Icon SportswireIn Patrick Mahomes' last three games, the Texas Tech QB had eight TD passes and no picks.

Jake Trotter: Who could reprise the role of TCU as Big 12 Cinderella? I think it’s Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are coming off a dreadful 4-8 season in which they fielded a turnover machine of an offense and one of the worst statistical defenses in Big 12 history. But the Red Raiders are not devoid of talent. Patrick Mahomes was one of the most exciting players in the league late last year as a true freshman quarterback. DeAndre Washington is coming off a 1,000-yard season. Jakeem Grant leads a bevy of playmaking receivers. And All-Big 12 performer Le'Raven Clark heads an underrated offensive line. The big question is whether Tech can play better defense. But new coordinator David Gibbs ought to give the Red Raiders an immediate jolt with his ability to coach turnovers. Pete Robertson can get after the quarterback and linebacker newcomer Mike Mitchell should instantly improve the run defense. I’m not saying the Red Raiders are going to win the Big 12. But if you’re looking for Cinderella-like potential, they’re the pick.

Max Olson: Can I say Oklahoma State? I mean, I know it's looking like the Pokes will have top-25 expectations in 2015. But this is still a team that went 1-5 against the Big 12's best teams last season, and got outscored by an average margin of 26 points in those losses. The OU win was epic, but I still think OSU is a sleeper from a national standpoint and poised for a comeback season that'll surprise.

Who could be "overseeded" heading into the preseason?

Chatmon: Oklahoma. I had high expectations for the Sooners last season and got burned for believing Trevor Knight would take things to another level as a sophomore and the defense would be among the Big 12’s best. Now the Sooners will have to make me a believer in September and October before I will expect anything higher than a mid-Big 12 finish.

Trotter: I think Texas has the chance to be very good very soon. But the Longhorns have many questions before I would consider them a top-25 team. And yet, if history is any indication, Texas will likely open in the preseason top 25. The Longhorns still have no definitive answer at quarterback. And they will be replacing their best running back (Malcolm Brown, their two best receivers (John Harris and Jaxon Shipley), their two best defensive linemen (Malcom Brown and Cedric Reed), their leading tackler (Jordan Hicks) and their best defensive back (Quandre Diggs). Texas has some good, young players on campus and on the way this summer. But they’re not top-25 material. At least not yet.

Olson: Kansas State is probably still going to get some benefit of the doubt entering this season -- Bill Snyder magic and all that good stuff -- but the senior leaders they've lost aren't going to be easy to replace. I'm sure a bunch of walk-ons and two-stars will rise up and make me look silly for saying this, but I'm just not convinced K-State is going to be a Big 12 title contender this year.

Who could be "underseeded" heading into the preseason?

Chatmon: Kansas State will exceed expectations. Bill Snyder’s program is likely to enter the season projected to be among the bottom half of the conference but I’m expecting a finish in the top half of the conference even though uncertainty reigns at quarterback, running back and receiver. The Wildcats won’t get much respect heading into the season but they’ll prove everyone wrong yet again.

Trotter: Seemingly every year Kansas State is picked low in the standings. And every year, Bill Snyder & Co. figure out a way to outperform expectations. Sure, the Wildcats have their work cut out in 2015. The bulk of production from last year’s Big 12 contending club is gone, including All-American Tyler Lockett, quarterback Jake Waters and leading tackler Jonathan Truman. But the K-State system is bigger than one player or even one team. It would hardly surprise me if the Wildcats outperformed their preseason seed yet again.

Olson: Takeaways make any defense look a lot better, and I think Texas Tech is going to find a way to get a lot more under new DC David Gibbs. With so much offensive firepower returning along with two confident guys at quarterback in Patrick Mahomes and Davis Webb, I think Tech is getting closer to having what it needs to play with the best in this league. Folks will be wary of expecting much from the Red Raiders, but I think they're moving in the right direction.

Barring some unforeseen catastrophe in Waco or Fort Worth, TCU and Baylor will exit spring ball still as the Big 12 co-favorites heading into 2015.

But the following question will linger well into the summer: Who in the league is most equipped to challenge their conference superiority?

It’s a question sure to foster several opinions, which is why we’re putting it you in our weekly Big 12 poll.

SportsNation

Which team has the best chance of challenging Baylor and TCU?

  •  
    11%

  •  
    26%

  •  
    19%

  •  
    22%

  •  
    22%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,873)

Oklahoma State debuted as the No. 3 team in our Way-Too-Early Big 12 Power Rankings. The Cowboys seem to have a budding standout at quarterback in rising sophomore Mason Rudolph. Oklahoma State returns several starters on either side of the ball as well. But the Cowboys also struggled for much of last season. And without a miraculous comeback in the regular-season finale in Norman, which catapulted Oklahoma State to its bowl victory over Washington, the Cowboys’ 2015 outlook wouldn’t be looking so sunny. This is still a team with much to prove.

Oklahoma was viewed as the co-favorite along with Baylor heading into the 2014 season. The Sooners were in the top five of the polls during the first half of the season, too, before the bottom fell out. The Sooners have some major questions, notably at quarterback and in pass defense. But Samaje Perine and Sterling Shepard are All-American-caliber performers and whoever wins the quarterback battle could flourish in Lincoln Riley’s air-raid system.

Texas has an even bigger question at quarterback. Tyrone Swoopes struggled down the stretch last year, and Jerrod Heard will only be a second-year freshman. The Longhorns will also be replacing several of its best players off last year’s team. Charlie Strong, however, has recruited well. And if the young pieces come along fast, Texas could be a factor.

TCU overshadowed the run that West Virginia made last year until a late-season slide. The Mountaineers have to replace a lot of offensive firepower in wideouts Kevin White and Mario Alford. But Skyler Howard received invaluable experience at quarterback filling in for Clint Trickett. And behind safety Karl Joseph, the Mountaineers should feature the best defensive backfield in the league.

Kansas State doesn’t have much coming back off a team that was a Big 12 title contender going into the final week of last season. The departures of Tyler Lockett, Jake Waters and several other key contributors won’t easily be replaced. But the presence of Bill Snyder alone warrants the Wildcats a spot in this poll.

So, midway through spring ball, who is the biggest threat to TCU and Baylor?

Let us know what you think by casting your vote.

One of the best times of the year tips off later Thursday as March Madness gets underway.

A Cinderella team is likely to emerge to grab the attention of the entire nation this weekend.

The exact same thing could happen in the Big 12 this fall. TCU and Baylor are clear favorites to win the conference with uncertainty reigning behind the returning co-champions. Yet it wouldn't be a surprise to see a Cinderella team rise into the Big 12 title fight. Here's a look at three teams that could become a Cinderella Big 12 champion in 2015:

Kansas State

Outside observers will look at the departures of Tyler Lockett, B.J. Finney, Jake Waters and Ryan Mueller and assume the Wildcats can't put themselves in Big 12 title contention for the fourth time in five seasons.

Bill Snyder's program is like an undeterred train that just keeps cruising down the track with minimal impact from its surroundings. It doesn't matter who is the conductor, it doesn't really matter if there are new parts in the engine room, the train just keeps on moving forward. No matter what the scenario, the odds are the Wildcats are going to be difficult to beat and will not beat themselves.

Joe Hubener is the favorite to replace Waters at quarterback and KSU has several options at receiver to help mimic the production of Lockett. Even with plenty of offensive questions, the Wildcats promise to have a creative attack that puts the ball in the hands of its best players in unique ways. Defensively, safety Dante Barnett, defensive tackle Travis Britz and cornerback Danzel McDaniel return to be among the best in the Big 12 at their positions and sophomore linebacker Elijah Lee has star potential.

Oklahoma State

The Cowboys are the easiest Cinderella pick of the bunch after a strong finish to the 2014 season and a roster full of talented returnees. Mike Gundy's program has made people take notice, even being projected as a College Football Playoff participant by ESPN insider Brad Edwards.

Last season, OSU was like a lion cub. It was readily apparent they would eventually be dangerous but just as apparent they weren't quite ready to hunt. Then came Bedlam. The Cowboys notched their first "big game" with a 38-35 road win over Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma, transforming from potential predator to bonafide killer. This fall presents the opportunity for Gundy's squad to show they're established hunters and ready to become among the nation's most dangerous teams.

Sophomore quarterback Mason Rudolph is the spark plug who has ignited the preseason praise for the Pokes. But he still has just three total games under his belt, meaning there could be potholes ahead as he learns what it takes to consistently perform at a Big 12 title level. Luckily for the Cowboys, Rudolph's relative inexperience is overridden by eight returning starters on each side of the ball including All-Big 12 defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah.

West Virginia

It's easy to forget how close the Mountaineers were in 2014. Fresh off the heels of wins over Baylor and Oklahoma State, WVU entered November with the Big 12 title within reach. Three losses in their final four Big 12 games and turnover-filled performances followed to erase the memories of the Mountaineers in the Big 12 title chase.

After two up-and-down seasons in the conference, WVU was like a long-distance traveler in 2014. Nearing the end of a long journey, which included plenty of new roadside views and unexpected turns in the road, the Mountaineers stumbled as they neared the destination as if they forgot to stop for gas. Committing 13 turnovers in the final four regular season games ended Mountaineer dreams of a first Big 12 title.

Heading into the fall, WVU has the speed and athleticism on its roster, from top to bottom, to compete with anyone. The Mountaineers' two games against the Big 12's best resulted in a win over Baylor and narrow one-point loss to TCU in 2014. Dana Holgorsen's team could have the Big 12's best secondary, one of the Big 12's best groups of running backs and plenty of experience at linebacker. If WVU finds a pass rush and a playmaking quarterback, the Mountaineers could rise up the Big 12 standings in a hurry.

Despite being only a sophomore in high school, Jack Anderson has already developed into one of the top offensive linemen in Texas and could easily become the top line target in the nation for the 2017 class.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

While it might not be as deep as other cities in the Midlands, Wichita has a great reputation with recruiters, producing top prospects such as Kamerion Wimbley, Arthur Brown and Bryce Brown since 2000. Next on the list is likely to be defensive end Xavier Kelly.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES