Big 12: TCU Horned Frogs

In today's Big 12 mailbag, we discuss coaching hires, QB battles, why I hate everyone and what Big 12 apparel I have in my closet.

On to the 'bag:
Trotter: Never underestimate the power of Bill Snyder's magic wand. That said, I don't see how K-State doesn't take a step back this year without Jake Waters, Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton, B.J. Finney, Ryan Mueller and Jonathan Truman.

Trotter: It's funny to me when a particular fan base thinks I only pick on their team. I pick on everyone, when the occasion calls for it. All 10 Big 12 fan bases have gotten mad at me at one time or another. Just check my Twitter mentions sometime.

Trotter: Right now, I have them third in the league behind TCU and Baylor. The Cowboys really don't have any weaknesses on paper, and they boast an up-and-coming quarterback in Mason Rudolph, who was fabulous in three starts last year. The schedule also lines up for the Cowboys, who get TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma in Stillwater.

Trotter: Very solid hire. Adkins has been around the block, with stints coaching offensive line at Tennessee and Georgia. Our SEC guru Chris Low really liked the hire. Doug Marrone obviously thought a lot of Adkins to bring him along from Syracuse to the Bills. Mike Gundy could have done a lot worse.

Trotter: To me, it's a two-man race between William Crest and Skyler Howard. Paul Millard is a nice veteran to have around. David Sills is a solid prospect, and we'll see what Chris Chugunov can do. But Crest's year in the system gives him an edge over the freshmen. And Howard's game experience gives him an edge over everyone.

Trotter: Considering court-storming is probably going to get banned this year, I'd go with the former.

Trotter: For one, what the Lincoln Riley offense will look like. For two, who will emerge in the QB derby. There's plenty of intrigue in Norman this spring.

Trotter: Given that Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas all have a bunch of experience, Hansen is a long shot. Not that those three can't be beaten out. But it's going to be hard for Hansen to shine when he's going to be getting fourth-team reps.

Trotter: Pretty business-as-usual hire. Patterson oversees the defense to a large degree, anyway. By promoting in-house, he keeps that continuity, which is an obvious positive. Patterson might be more involved than when Dick Bumpas was around. But the defense is going to be similar to what we've seen in Fort Worth.

Trotter: I actually have one article of Big 12 apparel in my closet -- a pair of West Virginia sweatpants my wife's family (who are rabid Mountaineers fans) got me at the most recent family reunion (which, by the way, was in West Virginia). They're too comfortable for me to get rid of. So everyone is just going to have to deal with that.
Fully capitalizing on red-zone chances is a trait of championship teams.

Settling for field goals can cost a team a game. Worst yet, turning the ball over in the opponent's red zone can completely change momentum.

Here's a look at the Big 12's rankings in red-zone efficiency in conference games only during the past three years since TCU and West Virginia joined in 2012.

Red-zone points per drive

1. Kansas State, 5.14: The Wildcats' 64.3 red-zone touchdown percentage is the best in the Big 12. Five Wildcats (John Hubert, Collin Klein, Charles Jones, Jake Waters, Daniel Sams) rushed for at least seven red-zone touchdowns.

2. Oklahoma, 5.02: The Sooners average 3.1 yards per carry in the red zone, ranking second in the Big 12. Samaje Perine rushed for 240 yards and 14 touchdowns on 56 red-zone carries in 2014 as he erased any need for a special short yardage package for the Sooners.

3. Baylor, 4.94: The Bears have the unique ability to run defenses ragged with their speed and explosiveness yet buckle down with physical offense when needed. Baylor's 75 red-zone rushing touchdowns are the Big 12's best during this span.

4 (tied). Texas, 4.92: The Longhorns convert 50.7 percent of third-down conversions in the red zone, second in the conference but Texas' 282 total plays and 106 total drives rank eighth in the Big 12 -- a sign UT doesn't sustain long scoring drives on a consistent basis.

4 (tied). Oklahoma State, 4.92: The Cowboys scored on 85.3 percent of their red-zone drives, but a 34.8 third-down conversion rate ranked last in the Big 12. Some of OSU's offensive struggles in recent years followed them into the red zone at times.

6. Iowa State, 4.90: The Cyclones' 3.79 yards per play in the red zone sits atop the Big 12 but their 236 total red-zone plays is ninth in the conference. Paul Rhoads' team was decent when it got inside the 20-yard line but a combination of turnovers and inefficiency slowed ISU down.

7. Texas Tech, 4.79: The Red Raiders' eight red-zone turnovers helped push them down the rankings despite Tech recording a conference-best 61.9 completion percentage inside the red zone.

8. West Virginia, 4.76: The Mountaineers had a 29 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the red zone with one interception in 115 red zone attempts but their 34.9 third-down conversion percentage resulted a poor red-zone touchdown percentage (58.9 percent, eighth in Big 12).

9. TCU, 4.59: The Horned Frogs nine red-zone turnovers were the worst in the Big 12, offsetting TCU's 55.9 completion percentage and 4.88 yards per pass attempt in the red zone, which ranked second in the Big 12 in both categories.

10. Kansas, 3.72: The Jayhawks rank last in pretty much every category including yards per play (2.6), total plays (202) and yards per carry (2.14). Kansas' bad offense followed them any time they ventured within the red zone.

Red-zone points per drive allowed

1. TCU, 4.25: Gary Patterson's program sits atop the Big 12 in total plays (229), yards per play (2.85) and yards per carry (2.39) in the red zone.

2. Oklahoma State, 4.43: The Cowboys allowed 1.98 yards per carry in the red zone and nine red-zone sacks, ranking first in the Big 12, and tied TCU for first at 2.85 yards per play.

3 (tied). Kansas State, 4.64: The Wildcats were terrific on third down, allowing 35.8 percent of conversion attempts to be converted.

3 (tied). Kansas, 4.64: Kansas saw the most total plays (369) yet ranked third behind OSU and TCU in yards per play (3.08). The Jayhawks' defense also added nine red-zone turnovers forced, which is second in the conference.

5. Texas, 4.66: The Longhorns' 8.1 sack percentage in the red zone led the conference, but 33.2 percent of opponents' plays resulted in five yards or more, the worst percentage in the Big 12. It gave the defense a boom-or-bust type of feel.

6. West Virginia, 4.75: The Mountaineers faced the second-highest number of red-zone plays (364) and ranked fourth in yards per play allowed (3.17) yet allowed opponents to convert 50.6 of third-down attempts.

7. Iowa State, 4.82: The Cyclones have forced the most red-zone turnovers in the Big 12 (11) yet have allowed 80 red-zone touchdowns, tied with Kansas for eighth.

8. Oklahoma, 5.06: The Sooners' inability to force turnovers in the red zone is part of the problem as OU forced one red-zone mistake in three seasons.

9. Baylor, 5.39: Baylor's 3.58 yards per play ranked ninth in the conference and didn't record a red-zone sack in three seasons.

10. Texas Tech, 5.42: The Red Raiders allowed a 57.1 third-down conversion rate, worst in the Big 12. By comparison, TCU's 20 third-down conversion rate was the Big 12's best.

Big 12 morning links

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
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The dress is white and gold. And it's ugly. There, I said it. On to the links...
  • Mike Gundy is a fast shopper. The Oklahoma State coach filled all of his coaching staff vacancies on Thursday night, hiring three assistants and bringing on two analysts who were former OSU assistants. Marcus Arroyo is perhaps the most intriguing new hire, as he was the Tampa Bay Bucs' interim OC last season. His duties at OSU have yet to be defined. Gundy went with two coaches from the NFL and one from FCS, so it'll be interesting to see what they bring to the table as recruiters in this conference.
  • Gary Patterson is expecting a "baptism by fire" for the young TCU defenders competing for starting jobs this spring. With six starters gone and Mike Tuaua out for the spring, the Frogs' D is going to be filled with fresh faces over the course of its 15 spring practices, which begin Saturday. We've addressed their holes at linebacker on the blog this week, but take note of the battles in their secondary. Lot of candidates and a lot of competition coming soon.
  • David Gibbs understands why his Texas Tech defensive staff looks a little "screwy" (his words) on paper, but the new Texas Tech defensive coordinator likes who he's working with. Most of Tech's defensive assistants have been displaced in that they aren't coaching their usual position, but Gibbs makes a compelling case for why that's an overrated concern. Good coaches are good coaches no matter what they're coaching, he says. I like his confidence.
  • Baylor agreeing to future nonconference games against Louisiana Tech and FCS Abilene Christian is evoking the predictable "cupcake" criticism, just as expected. Which is probably a tad disrespectful to La. Tech, a nine-win program in 2014. Evidently Baylor fans aren't happy about these games either, which I kind of don't get. Ian McCaw is merely acting on Art Briles' philosophy for scheduling, and Briles' philosophy has led to a 16-2 record in Big 12 games of the last two seasons. McCaw and Briles aren't convinced the nonconference games hurt their playoff chances, so their plans aren't going to change.
  • You knew Kevin White's performance at the NFL combine was going to help his stock and probably put him firmly in the top-10 conversations. I wasn't sure he'd move up this much. The West Virginia star has moved up to the No. 4 spot in Todd McShay's Mock Draft 3.0. Insider That pick belongs to the Oakland Raiders, who could face a heck of a dilemma between White and Amari Cooper. Malcom Brown, Dorial Green-Beckham and Jordan Phillips made McShay's mock as well.
Last week, we completed a series ranking the individual position groups in the Big 12 heading into spring ball. We also weighed in with who we thought the best position units in the Big 12 are.

Now, we put to the question to you.

Who has the best individual position group (not including quarterback) in the league?

SportsNation

Who has the Big 12s best individual position group?

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    23%
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    1%
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    39%
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    8%
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    29%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,639)

Despite losing Antwan Goodley off last year's team, the Baylor wide receivers are certainly in the conversation. All-Big 12 selection Corey Coleman and freshman All-American K.D. Cannon both return coming off 1,000-yard receiving seasons and form one the most prolific one-two punches at wideout in college football. The group has depth, too, with veteran Jay Lee, sophomore Davion Hall and a host of up-and-coming prospects including Ishmael Zamora, Chris Platt, Devontre Stricklin and Blake Lynch.

Receiver isn't Baylor's only stocked position, either. The Bears also bring back a devastating defensive line, headlined by a pair of first-team All-Big 12 performers in defensive end Shawn Oakman and defensive tackle Andrew Billings. Together, the two combined for 30 tackles for loss last season -- the highest total among defensive line teammates in the Big 12. Tackle Beau Blackshear is also entering his third season as a starter for the Bears.

Baylor, however, isn't the only Big 12 team with a loaded position.

Samaje Perine is back to lead an Oklahoma running back stable loaded with talent. As a true freshman, Perine led the Big 12 with more than 1,700 yards on the ground and 21 touchdowns. He also broke the FBS single-game record with 427 rushing yards against Kansas. Perine is flanked with plenty of talent in the Sooners backfield. Alex Ross led the Big 12 in kick returns last season and averaged 6.8 yards per carry as a change of pace to Perine's barreling style. Keith Ford has 94 career carries. And the Sooners will finally debut Joe Mixon, who was the gem of the 2014 signing class before being suspended for the season.

While Oklahoma will lean on the firepower of its backfield, West Virginia will be relying on a secondary overflowing with talent. Strong safety Karl Joseph, who has forged a reputation as the league's hardest hitter, will be entering his fourth year as a starter. He could emerge as a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Dravon Henry is coming off a freshman All-American campaign after starting every game at free safety during his season in Morgantown. Daryl Worley is one of the top returning cornerbacks in the league. And West Virginia signed two more would-be contributors in ESPN 300 defensive back Tyrek Cole and ESPN 50 JC corner Rasul Douglas.

Lastly, we'd be remiss if we didn't include a position group from early Big 12 2015 favorite TCU. The Horned Frogs are obviously strong at several positions. But for the purpose of this exercise, we'll actually feature their special teams units. All-Big 12 kicker Jaden Oberkrom will be a four-year starter. Punter Ethan Perry will be a four-year starter, as well. Cameron Echols-Luper is back after ranking 16th in the country in punt returns. The Horned Frogs have several players with kickoff return experience. And, not only did they lead the country in punt return coverage last year, they became the first team to allow negative punt return yards in the 14 seasons the statistic has been tracked. The TCU special teams have no weaknesses.

Now, it's your to weigh in.

Tell us who you think the best individual position group in the Big 12 is by voting in our weekly Big 12 poll.
Success on third downs can decide games.

Coaches focus on it, quarterbacks can become stars and defenders can become feared by stepping up to another level on those key moments. Here's a look at the Big 12's third-down conversion rate rankings, offensively and defensively, in Big 12 games during the three seasons since TCU and West Virginia joined the conference in 2012.

Third-down conversion rate
  1. Kansas State, 47.1 percent
  2. Baylor, 45.5 percent
  3. Oklahoma, 44.4 percent
  4. Texas, 42 percent
  5. Texas Tech, 41.7 percent
  6. West Virginia, 39.6 percent
  7. Iowa State, 36.9 percent
  8. TCU, 35.5 percent
  9. Oklahoma State, 35.3 percent
  10. Kansas, 30.8 percent
Third-down conversion rate allowed
  1. TCU, 31.2 percent
  2. Texas, 36.6 percent
  3. Oklahoma State, 38.5 percent
  4. West Virginia, 39.6 percent
  5. Oklahoma, 40 percent
  6. Kansas State, 41.2 percent
  7. Texas Tech, 42.5 percent
  8. Iowa State, 42.5 percent
  9. Kansas, 42.7 percent
  10. Baylor, 42.9 percent

Here are some team-by-team thoughts:

Baylor: Clearly the Bears offense overcomes the Bears defensive struggles on third down. The Bears offense had 68 drives without a first down out of 291 drives in the past three seasons. Good quarterback play from Bryce Petty and Nick Florence have played a key role as well as a solid running game that has picked up 90 first downs on the ground, best in the Big 12.

Iowa State: Ranking in the bottom half in both categories is not a good look for Paul Rhoads program. Limited production at the quarterback position and 14 third-down sacks from the defense have played a major role as well as injuries to key players like Quenton Bundrage in 2014 and Tom Farniok in 2013 have made life a lot harder on the Cyclones.

Kansas: The only team to rank in the bottom two in both categories, it's easy to see why David Beaty is taking charge in Lawrence, Kansas. It's somewhat surprising to see the Jayhawk defense so far down the list but KU had 13 third-down sacks during this span. And the quarterback position has been a major problem at KU since Todd Reesing left in 2009.

Kansas State: Yet again the Wildcats efficient offense leads the Big 12 in a key category. Strong quarterback play from Collin Klein and Jake Waters along with receiver Tyler Lockett made KSU very difficult to stop. To see Bill Snyder's team in the bottom half of the conference in conversion allowed rate is a surprise but the Wildcats have a hard time getting three-and-outs. KSU's 17.8 three-and-out percentage on defense is only better than KU's 17.7.

Oklahoma: The Sooners offense has been good on third down despite some of its recent struggles while the defense has been very average. Offensively, OU has done a good job of getting its playmakers, namely Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard, involved on third-down plays. Defensively, the Sooners have talented players, like Eric Striker, yet sit middle of the road in third down defense.

Oklahoma State: Seeing the Cowboys near the bottom on the list in offensive conversion rate will make Cowboy fans long for the days of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. OSU's defense has been consistently good on third down and its third-down production was one of the reasons for the Cowboys recent Big 12 title contention. OSU's offense will need to be a lot better if the Pokes hope to surprise in 2015.

Texas: UT's 37 sacks is one key reason the Longhorns are among the Big 12's top third-down defenses. The surprise is the Longhorns offense sitting in the top half of the conference, ahead of Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, who have generally put together more productive offenses. It's a sign UT's offense has had its moments of offensive precision even if the bad moments are the most memorable.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders haven't been great on third down but they haven't been horrible either. Improving the turnover margin is priority No. 1 for Kliff Kingsbury as the offense turns the ball over and the defense doesn't take the ball away. Once that is handled, then Tech can work on improving third down conversion rates.

TCU: The Horned Frogs defense is stellar in nearly every category, ranking first in the Big 12 in yards per play allowed (4.62) and yards per carry allowed (2.13) on third down. Its offense was terrible on third down before the 2014 season, when it converted 42.9 percent on its third down attempts. TCU could end up in the top third of the conference in both categories in 2015 unless Gary Patterson's program takes a step backward this fall.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers haven't been particularly good on either side of the ball. WVU's struggles to stop the pass on defense -- 13.63 yards per completion on third down -- have hampered WVU's ability to get off the field. On offense, uneven quarterback play after Geno Smith's departure doomed the Mountaineers to finish in the middle of the pack.

Big 12 morning links

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
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This Big 12 hoops season is getting nice and crazy.
  • The story that captured the nation's attention yesterday isn't over yet. If you missed it the story on Baylor ruling fan favorite walk-on running back Silas Nacita ineligible, here's our updated post with quotes from Art Briles. And if you're wondering why a walk-on running back is causing this big a fuss, here's the Sports Illustrated story on him from last year. Briles is leaving the door open for his return if a "remedy" can be found, but I'm curious to see what Nacita's next move is and how he responds.
  • How is Trevone Boykin handling all the hype these days? Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News checks in with the TCU quarterback on his offseason now that's surrounded by Heisman hype, and even gets Marcus Mariota to offer some advice (plus a cameo from Vince Young). Boykin gives the backstory on his time hanging out with the Ohio State quarterbacks, too. It's a good read, give it a click.
  • Mike Cassaza of the Charleston Daily Mail offers a thoughtful reflection on Tom Bradley's time at West Virginia and argues that nobody really lost in Bradley's decision to bolt for UCLA. Taking the Bruins' defensive coordinator job made too much sense, especially when the alternative appeared to be coaching WVU's special teams this fall. Bradley made a positive impact during his brief stint in Morgantown, but WVU already had a new D-line coach on the staff in Bruce Tall and you get the sense the transition here shouldn't be a challenge.
  • A possibility we acknowledged in yesterday's morning links came true. Oklahoma State is indeed in need of three assistant coaches on offensive now after Jemal Singleton accepted the running backs job at Arkansas. According to Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World, Singleton landed a raise of $30,000 and will get to coach two of the best backs in the country in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Good deal for him. Gundy, meanwhile, has 12 days to complete his offensive staff.
  • Some TCU administrators are speaking out against the Big 12's new concussion policy, calling it "a huge PR stunt" because the legislation lacks the teeth needed to make a real difference. They offer some reasonable critiques of the Big 12's plan in this piece by TCU 360's Abigail Massey, including that it fails to ensure each school in the league will use the same equipment to measure concussions. Big 12 representatives tried and failed to table the protocol vote at the 2015 NCAA Conference and is trying to be more proactive on the issue. Do you think the Big 12 is doing enough?
It is an important spring for several players in the Big 12.

Some are fighting to keep their jobs, others are trying not to be forgotten and others have to fight off lauded Class of 2015 recruits. Here's a look at several Big 12 players who have plenty to gain during spring football.

Chris Johnson, QB, Baylor: With Seth Russell as the clear favorite to replace Bryce Petty as the starting quarterback, Johnson needs a strong spring to ensure the competition continues into the fall. He’ll also need to hold off highly regarded true freshman Jarrett Stidham.

Vernell Trent, DT, Iowa State: Trent had a decent redshirt freshman season, starting three games and finishing with 10 tackles in 2014. But ISU signed a pair of defensive tackles in the Class of 2015 with an eye on Demond Tucker and Bobby Leath becoming immediate impact performers. A good spring would help Trent secure a spot in the Cyclones’ defense.

[+] EnlargeMontell Cozart
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesMontell Cozart must impress the new Kansas coaching staff this spring.
Montell Cozart, QB, Kansas: The junior went from unquestioned starting quarterback to afterthought in a span of a few months. Former coach Charlie Weis anointed Cozart to be the Jayhawks quarterback of the future, but he faltered and eventually was replaced by Michael Cummings in 2014. If Cozart has any hope making a major impact during his Jayhawks career, he needs to impress the new coaching staff this spring.

Judah Jones, WR, Kansas State: The Wildcats are hoping to replace the playmaking skills of Tyler Lockett. One player isn’t going to do it, but Jones has the upside to become a key player in KSU’s offense while also making an impact on special teams. KSU has several other options at receiver, so Jones needs to rise above the competition if he hopes to separate himself this spring.

Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma: The junior has started 15 games during the past two seasons but faces stern competition to keep his starting spot with Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield becoming eligible in the fall. As Lincoln Riley brings his version of the Air Raid to OU, many assume Mayfield is the best bet to trigger the attack. Knight can use the spring to remind everyone of his unique physical gifts.

Marcell Ateman, WR, Oklahoma State: It’s time for Ateman to step up and separate himself at the receiver spot. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, he brings size, speed and ball skills that are tough to duplicate, but he doesn’t dominate the way he should. With plenty of competition at the position, he needs to show he is ready to match his All-Big 12 talent with All-Big 12 production.

Daje Johnson, WR, Texas: When he touches the ball, Johnson looks like the dynamic playmaker the Longhorns have longed for during the past few seasons, but he constantly takes himself out of the equation by making bad decisions off the field. This spring is the opportunity for him to show he has the focus needed to make his final season on the 40 acres a breakout year.

Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, QBs, TCU: The battle to backup Trevone Boykin should be interesting, so the spring gives Sawyer and Muehlstein the chance to lay claim to the No. 2 spot. Both quarterbacks should get plenty of chances to impress and the winner of the backup quarterback derby could set themselves up to take over in 2016.

Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech: A strong finish to the 2014 season by Patrick Mahomes has resulted in Webb being overlooked in many ways, but a healthy Webb was productive during his first two seasons in Kliff Kingsbury’s program. The job is open heading into spring and Webb can make sure the quarterback battle in Lubbock is one of the most interesting aspects of Big 12 football in the spring.

Daikiel Shorts, WR, West Virginia: The Mountaineers need to fill the void left by Kevin White and Mario Alford. Shorts has been a contributor to the WVU offense since his true freshman season but hasn’t really developed into a game-changing target. This spring will give him the chance to show he can be a primary target for Dana Holgorsen’s team.

Big 12 spring battle spotlight: TCU LBs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
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How will TCU address two critical vacancies in the middle of its defense? A closer look at another key position battle in the Big 12 going into spring practice:

Departed: The Frogs' top three linebackers all graduated. Paul Dawson left as the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American playmaker. His partner in crime, Marcus Mallet, logged 100 tackles as a senior. Top backup Jonathan Anderson, a 10-game starter in 2013, has also moved on. There's significant void in production and experience without them.

Spring contenders: Junior Sammy Douglas, sophomore Paul Whitmill, redshirt freshman Ty Summers, freshman Mike Freeze, freshman Alec Dunham.

Summer contenders: Freshman Semaj Thomas.

The skinny: Never heard of those contenders? That's perfectly understandable. Dawson and Mallet didn't need too much help in 2014, and whoever takes their place has large shoes to fill. The Horned Frogs' trio of senior linebackers combined for 266 tackles and 35.5 tackles for loss. Douglas, now the veteran of this group by default, logged 17 tackles and a sack as a reserve last year but has mostly been relegated to special teams. Gary Patterson's staff is excited about the potential of Summers, a converted high school quarterback who redshirted last year, and Whitmill enters his third year in the program with a shot to make a move. He and Douglas waited their turn, and now they have to deliver. Three-star signees Freeze and Dunham enrolled early and will get thrown right in the mix for snaps this spring.

Prediction: It's a fairly wide-open battle going into spring ball, and I wouldn't be surprised if one of the freshmen in this group proves he deserves a chance. Linebackers coach DeMontie Cross should be able to tinker with combinations this spring and in fall camp until he finds what the Frogs needs. Douglas, an athletic 'backer who's bulked up more than 30 pounds since joining the program, figures to be the answer for outside spot. The inside linebacker job is a tougher call, but the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Summers has proven to be a quick learner. As long as his shoulder has healed up, I like his chances.

Ranking the Big 12 coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
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This week, ESPN.com ranked the best Power 5 coaching jobs in college football, No. 1 through 65. Below is how we rank the jobs in the Big 12:

1. Texas
The Longhorns have unlimited financial resources with a massive donor base. They are located in the middle of one of the country's pre-eminent recruiting hotbeds, too.

2. Oklahoma
The Sooners have one of the great traditions in college football, a recruiting pipeline into Texas and a supportive administration.

3. Oklahoma State
Thanks to Boone Pickens, Oklahoma State boasts facilities that take a backseat to no one. Over the past 10 years, few teams have won more than the Cowboys, either.

4. Baylor
This job would have ranked near the bottom not long ago. But Art Briles has whipped Baylor into a powerhouse. The Bears have a new stadium, a budding fan base and a brand that seems to be resonating with young recruits.

5. TCU
Facilities and conference used to be impediments for the Horned Frogs. Not anymore. TCU has a newly renovated stadium and state-of-the-art facilities, including an air-conditioned practice facility. TCU's proximity to the Metroplex makes it an attractive recruiting destination, too.

6. Texas Tech
Unlike West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas, the Red Raiders are located in the Lone Star State, which gives them a proximity advantage in recruiting. Texas Tech also has rabid fans and a strong donor base in the Midland/Odessa area, which is pumping money into the stadium renovation.

7. West Virginia
The Mountaineers have severe recruiting challenges, with the lack of in-state talent. Still, this is the equivalent of a pro team in the state, and it has the backing necessary to win.

8. Kansas State
Nobody does more with less than Bill Snyder. Manhattan has never been a recruiting destination. But the Wildcats have passionate fans (as the court rushing in basketball the other night demonstrated) who make Bill Snyder Family Stadium a tough place to play. The Wildcats also have been making impressive facility upgrades, most recently to the Vanier Football Complex.

9. Iowa State
The Cyclones have obstacles with a small in-state recruiting pool they also have to share with Iowa. The elimination of the Big 12 North hurt Iowa State as well. But the Cyclones have something Kansas does not -- and that's a fan base committed to football.

10. Kansas
Only eight years ago, Mark Mangino took Kansas to the Orange Bowl. It seems even more amazing now. The Jayhawks are behind the rest of the league in every area, from attendance to facilities.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
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In Tuesday's mailbag, Oklahoma State's defense, Baylor/TCU and Bryce Petty's future are among the topics. As always, thanks for your questions (and thanks for not asking about expansion this time around). To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Christian in Missoula, Montana, writes: Even though I love James Castleman and Ofa Hautau, neither seem to be getting much of a sniff from the NFL. Based on this and the players that we brought in to play defensive tackle and the younger guys moving up, is it crazy to think that we could be better across the board on defense next season? Would you be that surprised if Okstate had the best overall defense next year?

Brandon Chatmon: I fully expect Oklahoma State to be better defensively next season than it was in 2014. All those talented young players will be experienced, talented young players along with defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, safety Jordan Sterns and cornerback Kevin Peterson returning to be among the Big 12’s best at their positions. The Cowboys have a ways to go before they can lay claim to the best overall defense moniker, however, as OSU still needs to replace that duo at defensive tackle to help take pressure off Ogbah and a playmaking linebacker needing to emerge to become the missing piece of the puzzle.


David in Dallas writes: After looking at the position by position rankings, were you surprised to see Baylor on top over TCU? Knowing you guys view these two as the upper echelon of the Big 12, are the deciding factors for TCU as the favorite simply Trevone Boykin and playing in Fort Worth?

BC: I wasn’t really surprised, David. BU is built to last with talent up and down the roster. Boykin is definitely the determining factor for me as a legit preseason Heisman candidate who creates problems that are difficult to answer for any defense. Anytime a team has the best quarterback in the league surrounded by a talented roster, that’s always going to be tough to beat. Boykin makes TCU the favorite with BU right on the heels of the Horned Frogs.


Scotty in Waco, Texas, writes: Why is Bryce Petty being projected as a 3rd-4th round pick? Big guy, big arm, can move, proven winner in college. Does it have anything to do with RG3's struggles translating his game to the NFL? Is that fair? Bryce's play in college seems to warrant a first round pick.

BC: I’d imagine Robert Griffin’s struggles may play a role but not a huge one. I’m not a draft expert but questions about how Petty can transition out of BU’s offense into an NFL attack and his ability to handle pressure seem to be holding him back a bit. He had a solid showing at the combine, which should help, but it doesn’t seem like he will rise into the first round barring something unforeseen. It may cost him money on the front end but landing in a good situation should be more important to Petty. We all know mistakes are made on draft day as nobody is batting 100 percent and lower picks outperform first-rounders each year. Going to a good organization, not one full of chaos, is critical for Petty. Or any draftee, to be honest.


Mike McGown in Katy, Texas, writes: I don't understand why you guys rated BU as 4th best in position ratings when it comes to QB. Totally understand Boykin/TCU at #1. But OSU & TTU ahead of BU? Seriously? Look at the track record: RG3/Florence/Petty in successive years--not to mention Seth Russell threw for more than 800 yards and looked pretty doggone good doing it (and running too). Please, justify or rectify. Thanks! Sic ‘em!

BC: I can think of several reasons but I’ll just go with this one: Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, barring a transfer or injury, are guaranteed to go into the 2015 season with a backup quarterback who has won a Big 12 game. Can Baylor say the same? So there’s no reason to just slot the Bears at No. 2 automatically, regardless of the track record of Art Briles’ program. That said, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if the Bears are No. 1 or 2 in the postseason rankings because there’s plenty of talent in Waco. I mean, there’s a reason TCU and Baylor are still clear favorites in my mind despite uncertainty at quarterback for the Bears. I don’t expect that offense to take a step backward no matter who wins that job, but Baylor should not be ahead of OSU or Tech in a pre-spring ranking.


Dagger in Salinas, California, writes: Do you think there is any chance of the Power 5 conferences getting together enough to arrange an five-way interconference challenge for one of the weeks of non-conference play? Reserve one (or 2) weeks. Let each conference (coaches/athletic directors) seed their own teams. Randomly select opponents. 1's play 1's or 2's, and lasts play lasts or second to lasts so everyone is getting a comparable opponent, and there can be a bit more rational basis for selecting playoff teams , no more skating by on cupcake non-conference schedule and whining about being left out.

BC: I love the idea, Dagger, and I’d love to see something similar come into play at some point in the future. But we’re a long way off from something like this becoming reality and all the negotiation and politics involved would be draining. Are you willing do the rest of us a favor and take care of that part? Thanks!
ESPN.com’s exhaustive endeavor to rank all 65 FBS head-coaching jobs continues today with what you might call the middle tier of gigs -- Nos. 25 to 47 -- which includes five members of the Big 12.

Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas Tech are all poised to continue trending in the right direction over the next few years. Baylor has built a powerhouse in Waco, Texas. But at the moment, TCU (ranked No. 31 by ESPN) appears to be the Big 12 job offering the biggest upside.

Set aside the preseason top-five expectations for 2015 and the Heisman contender at quarterback. They’re just frosting on the cake for Gary Patterson and a program that’s positioned to remain an annual contender. Entering their fourth season in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs have practically everything they could ask for.

Stability? Check. It took a few rounds of musical chairs, but securing a spot in the Big 12 and escaping mid-major status continues to pay off big. And don’t forget, TCU begins receiving its full share of conference revenue in the upcoming 2015-16 school year.

Facilities? Check. The $164 million rebuild of Amon G. Carter Stadium, completed in 2012, gave the Horned Frogs some of the best digs in the conference. Their locker room, training facilities and football offices are among the Big 12’s best, too.

Location? Check. The DFW Metroplex talent pool is as good as it gets, and having this much buzz at a time when Texas and Oklahoma aren’t dominant can be a powerful thing. TCU isn’t reeling in the five-stars yet, but the momentum built in 2014 is already having a tangible effect on recruiting this year.

Support? Couldn’t be better. According to Forbes, TCU’s football budget is up to at least $35 million and still on the rise. AD Chris Del Conte and the school’s administrators have bet big on football and are enjoying strong backing from donors.

“We’re built for success now,” Del Conte told ESPN.com in November. “We’re in the right league. It’s fantastic. It’s no flash in the pan. We’re invested for the long haul.”

We don’t really know how good the TCU job is because, you know, it hasn’t opened up since 1999. It probably won’t anytime soon, either. Would it be viewed as a coveted top-25 gig if it opened up tomorrow? Perhaps not, but any national perception that TCU is still just a small, private Christian school has never stopped Patterson and the Frogs from reaching new heights.

“Everything that’s ever been said about TCU, we’ve proven people wrong,” he told ESPN.com in November. “We’ve done it the right way and we’ve done it slowly.”

The Frogs won’t be slowing down now.
West Virginia receiver Kevin White was one of the stars of the combine, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett made a statement, and a trio of TCU Horned Frogs disappointed.

It was a busy few days at the NFL combine in Indianapolis as former Big 12 stars tried to impress during the NFL's annual interview process. Here's a recap of the top Big 12 performers at the NFL combine.

Headliner: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. One of the stars of the combine with his 4.35 40-yard dash time. Heading into the weekend his 40 time was considered a potential determining factor as analysts tried to separate White, Alabama’s Amari Cooper and Louisville’s Devante Parker. The former Mountaineer might have cemented himself atop the list of receivers and could find himself in the top 10.

Made some money: Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State. The Wildcats all-time leading receiver erased any questions about his speed. His 4.4 was among the best receiver times, and he backed it up with a 4.07 in the 20-yard shuttle and 11.14 in the 60-yard shuttle. His playmaking during his four years spoke volumes about his talent and he just reiterated those skills with a stellar combine. Overshadowed, again: Mario Alford, WR, West Virginia. Much like the 2014 season, White grabbed the headlines while Alford was quietly productive. He was among the combine's top performers in the three-cone drill (6.64), 20-yard shuttle (4.07) and 60-yard shuttle (11.22). Alford also ran a 4.43 40-yard dash with a 34-inch vertical. One for the future: Blake Bell, TE, Oklahoma. The tight end position, as a whole, was underwhelming. But Bell was one of the top performers while recording a 4.8 40-yard dash, 4.32 20-yard shuttle and 11.81 60-yard shuttle. He's raw and inexperienced at the tight end spot, but he proved his athleticism at the combine which could convince a team that his long-term upside is worth taking a chance on. "Well, at least I have pro day": It was a rough weekend for a trio of TCU standouts. Linebacker Paul Dawson Jr., safety Chris Hackett and cornerback Kevin White disappointed at the combine. Dawson ran a 4.93 40-yard dash, Hackett ran a 4.81 40-yard dash, and White ran a 4.63 in Indianapolis. They'll get the chance to redeem themselves during TCU's pro day on March 27. All three players earned All-Big 12 honors in 2014 but their slow times will force teams to take another look at their game film and adds pressure to excel at their pro days. Dawson's post-combine tweet pretty much sums up the situation for the TCU trio. Keep an eye on: Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas: The Jayhawks best player had a strong showing at the combine. The Big 12’s leader in tackles per game was among the combine’s top performers in the 40-yard dash (4.59), three-cone drill (6.68), 20-yard shuttle (4.00) and 60-yard shuttle (11.06). Those strong numbers could spark teams to take a deeper look at his chances of being an impact player on the next level.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

February, 23, 2015
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Junior day season is still underway, and that means a lot more offers and new names on the radar. Here's the latest on the 2016 recruiting trail in the Big 12:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 5
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: Baylor running back commit Kameron Martin received an offer from Texas last week, but so far that move hasn't been enough to flip him. The ESPN Junior 300 back is a cousin of former Texas great Jamaal Charles and has called UT his "dream school," but Baylor was the first to offer and he's been a loyal pledge to the Bears since July 2014.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 0
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones were the first to offer 6-foot-5 tight end T.J. Hockenson of Chariton, Iowa. He landed his offer during a junior day visit and put up serious numbers as a junior: 73 catches, 1,116 yards and 18 touchdowns. Hockenson is expected to take a junior day trip to Kansas State as well.

KANSAS
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Jayhawks locked up their second commitment of 2016 from Antoine Frazier, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound offensive tackle from Huffman, Texas, who pledged one day after receiving an offer. Frazier was a high school teammate of KU early enrollee receiver Chase Harrell at Huffman.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: One of the many recruits hoping for an offer at Kansas State's junior day Feb. 28 will be Ian Rudzik, a linebacker/running back from Ulysses, Kansas, who visited KU earlier this month. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior is drawing interest from Arizona State and Minnesota, but a KSU offer might end his recruitment quickly.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 1
The latest: Though Oklahoma only picked up one commitment from its junior day last weekend, the Sooners did make progress with a number of key targets in the state of Texas. ESPN Junior 300 defensive end Marvin Terry, defensive tackle Chris Daniels and lineman Kellen Diesch all emerged with positive reviews and will be intriguing targets moving forward.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Oklahoma State went to the juco ranks for its second pledge of 2016. Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College cornerback Malik Kearse picked the Cowboys on Thursday. He originally hails from Miami, but an elbow injury in his senior year of high school meant no offers. Kearse logged two interceptions and 10 pass breakups in his first year at Fort Scott.

TCU
Total commits: 8
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: TCU hosted another big junior day on Saturday and received a commitment from offensive lineman Austin Myers of Manvel, Texas. The Horned Frogs also made offers to ATH Tyrell Alexander, TE Donte Coleman and 2017 ATH Roshauud Paul and were able to get ESPN Junior 300 running back Trayveon Williams and corner Jared Mayden on campus.

TEXAS
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 2
The latest: Texas made a ton of offers this week, and most of them went to quarterbacks. LSU commit Feleipe' Franks, Oregon commit Seth Green, Texas Tech commit Tristen Wallace and Baylor commit Zach Smith all picked up Texas offers, as did uncommitted passers Xavier Gaines, Woody Barrett and Bowman Sells. Considering the Horns' depth issues at QB, taking two in this class might make sense.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Red Raiders landed their third commitment of the 2016 class from running back Da'Leon Ward of powerhouse Dallas Skyline. The all-purpose back picked Tech over TCU and rushed for 1,779 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior, but he is still expected to take more visits despite his pledge.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: West Virginia is reportedly expected to get an unofficial visit from defensive end Shavar Manuel this spring. The nation's No. 2 overall 2016 recruit has Florida State in the lead following his FSU junior day trip, but WVU is on Manuel's list of upcoming trips along with Clemson, Florida, LSU and Virginia Tech.

Biggest Big 12 spring questions

February, 23, 2015
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Spring ball kicks off in Big 12 country today with Baylor slated to hold its first practice. Later this week, TCU and Texas Tech will get started, too.

Plenty of questions surround the league. Many won’t be answered until the the fall. But a few could gain clarity over the next two months.

Here are some of the biggest Big 12 questions to follow this spring:

Can freshmen factor into Baylor, Kansas State quarterback derbies?

[+] EnlargeRussell
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAfter being the backup at Baylor, Seth Russell is now the favorite to lead the Bears.
With all-conference performers Bryce Petty and Jake Waters gone, the Bears and Wildcats will have new quarterbacks behind center. After backing up Petty the last two years, Seth Russell is the favorite to take over as the starter. In Manhattan, former walk-on Joe Hubener will be entering his fourth year on campus and holds the edge to succeed Waters. Both, however, will have to hold off a pair of talented freshmen in Jarrett Stidham and Alex Delton, who have enrolled early with sights on winning starting jobs. Stidham was the No. 3 quarterback signee in the country; Delton’s skill set fits the mold of quarterbacks who have thrived for Bill Snyder in the past. The learning curve for first-year quarterbacks is always steep. But both Snyder and Art Briles have indicated Delton and Stidham will have the chance to prove they deserve to start.

What will the new Oklahoma offense look like?

After a recent trend in the wrong direction, Bob Stoops brought in play-calling prodigy Lincoln Riley to inject life in the Sooner program. Riley is a product of the Mike Leach air raid. So how will he balance that background while also utilizing Oklahoma’s dynamic backfield trio of Samaje Perine, Alex Ross and Joe Mixon? And who will Riley turn to at quarterback among Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas to lead the offense? Those reasons alone makes this the most fascinating spring of the Stoops era.

Who will play linebacker for TCU?

The Horned Frogs return 10 offensive starters, experience along the defensive line and a couple of key cogs in the secondary. But with All-American Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson gone, the slate has been wiped clean at linebacker. Sammy Douglas and Paul Whitmill will get the first cracks to show they can fill the void. But early enrollees Alec Dunham and Mike Freeze could push them.

Can Mason Rudolph, Patrick Mahomes take next step?

Rudolph and Mahomes were fabulous after taking over starting quarterback jobs as true freshmen late last season. Rudolph ignited Oklahoma State to wins over Oklahoma and Washington, elevating expectations in Stillwater for 2015. Mahomes threw 14 touchdowns with just two interceptions in Texas Tech’s final three games, and passed for 598 yards in the season finale against Baylor. The fortunes of both the Cowboys and Red Raiders will hinge on whether their young quarterbacks can build on such promising performances.

Is Jerrod Heard ready?

Though he had moments, the prospects of Tyrone Swoopes becoming Texas' long-lost, long-term answer at quarterback diminished toward the end of last season as the Longhorns flat-lined offensively. That has opened the door for Heard to make a run at the job this spring. Heard has the pedigree. He won two state championships in high school and was an ESPN 300 recruit. But by all accounts, he wasn't ready to step in last season. Will that change this spring?

Who will catch passes at Kansas State and West Virginia?

The Wildcats and the Mountaineers between them graduated 359 receptions and 4,966 receiving yards after Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton, Kevin White and Mario Alford left. That is an unenviable -- and unbelievable -- amount of production to replace. This spring, both schools will begin to sift through who they can lean on at receiver in 2015.

Can Skyler Howard hold off William Crest?

After taking over for injured quarterback Clint Trickett late last season, Howard brought another dimension to the West Virginia offense with his wheels. At the same time, he struggled with his accuracy. As a result, Howard didn’t quite lock up the job for 2015. Now, he’ll have to fend off Crest, who actually beat Howard out for the No. 2 job coming out of August before a shoulder injury forced a redshirt. Crest, a four-star signee last year, is a talented prospect. Howard will have to be more precise with his arm to remain behind center.

Can David Gibbs turn around the Tech defense?

Last season the Red Raiders fielded one of the most futile defenses in Big 12 history. Tech will now hope its new coordinator can cure those ills on that side of the ball. Getting the Red Raiders to play more opportunistic will be one key. Under Gibbs, Houston forced 73 turnovers the last two seasons. Over the same span, the Red Raiders forced just 34.

Can a new staff give Kansas hope?

In five years under Turner Gill and Charlie Weis, the Jayhawks failed to total more than three victories in a season. Kansas brought in David Beaty to set the Jayhawks back on a course to respectability. How will he begin to set that plan into motion? This spring will give us a glimpse.

How will Iowa State replace its dismissed players?

Since the end of the season, Iowa State lost running back DeVondrick Nealy, safety T.J. Mutcherson and wide receivers P.J. Harris and Tad Ecby. All four were supposed to play big roles for the Cyclones in 2015. With Quenton Bundrage's from a knee injury, Iowa State should be fine at receiver. But finding a starting running back to replace Nealy and safety to step in for Mutcherson will be paramount this spring.

Big 12 morning links

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
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Haven't seen "Birdman," but a big Michael Keaton fan. Was hoping he'd win Best Actor. Oh well...
  • In case you missed it, former West Virginia wideout Kevin White absolutely tore up the combine. Despite standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 215 pounds, White delivered times of 4.35 and 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Alabama's Amari Cooper was thought to be the consensus No. 1 receiver in the draft. After this weekend, that's no longer necessarily the case. Either way, White has all but ensured he will be a top 10 pick come May. He has the size, he has the film, and now he has the time.
  • Former Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty also had a banner combine performance. ESPN’s John Clayton praised Petty for his ability to “effortlessly” throw the ball; NFL.com’s Mike Mayock raved about how Petty is a “natural, beautiful thrower.” Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston are the two clear-cut quarterbacks at the draft, but Petty has a chance to be the No. 3 quarterback off the board.
  • Speaking of Petty, the Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton broke down the five biggest questions Baylor faces as it opens spring camp today. The most pressing question obviously will be who takes over for Petty. Quarterback derbies, actually, will be the theme of the entire Big 12 this spring, with Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Kansas State also all holding wide open competitions.
  • While White and Petty shined, TCU linebacker Paul Dawson flopped at the combine with a 40 time of 4.93 seconds. It will be interesting to see how his combine performance affects his draft stock. Dawson was the top linebacker on many draft boards going into the weekend after his awesome senior season -- something he reminded the Twitter world about Sunday.
  • According to a report last week from Albert Breer of the NFL Network, Dorial Green-Beckham had planned to stay at Oklahoma for the 2015 season until receivers coach Jay Norvell lost his job. Green-Beckham was asked about this report at the combine -- this is what he had to say. We'll never know what would have happened with Green-Beckham had Norvell been kept in Norman. All we know is that he would have been a major force on the field.

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