Big 12: Texas Tech Red Raiders
On a day already anticipated as one to watch with the morning announcements of ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson and four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal, the Big 12 got its own version of a Christmas bonus with five major commitments by the end of the afternoon.
Jefferson and McNeal committed to Texas. ESPN 300 quarterback Jarrett Stidham committed to Baylor after recently decommitting from Texas Tech. ESPN 300 defensive end Ricky DeBerry and four-star safety Kahlil Haughton chose Oklahoma.
And better believe, it’s not over for the conference.
There are several players who could be additions to the growing number of Big 12 commitments. Here are five names to watch from now until national signing day in early February.
This list includes three ESPN freshman All-Americans, and a collection of other players who appear to be budding stars in the league.
So, without further ado, the final top 10 true freshmen of 2104:
1. Samaje Perine, running back, Oklahoma: Perine finishes atop the Big 12 true freshman power rankings as the clear No. 1. The 243-pound, All-Big 12 performer led the conference with 1,579 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 6.6 yards per carry. He also set an FBS single-game record with 427 rushing yards against Kansas. Perine will be the focal point of the Oklahoma offense in 2015, and should open the season on everyone’s list of possible Heisman contenders.
2. KD Cannon, wide receiver, Baylor: Though his production dipped over the final month of the season, Cannon still finished with 50 receptions, 833 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He also had a monster game with six catches and 124 yards receiving in Baylor’s big win over TCU. The Bears will lose Antwan Goodley to graduation, but with Cannon and Corey Coleman leading the way, Baylor will still have a dynamic collection of receivers in 2015.
3. Dravon Henry, safety, West Virginia: Henry won a starting job in the West Virginia secondary in the preseason, and was an integral defender for the Mountaineers all season. His ability to cover the pass allowed hard-hitting strong safety Karl Joseph to help more against the run. And with the Henry-Joseph safety combo leading the way, the Mountaineers finished with the second-best pass defense in the Big 12. Assuming Joseph returns for his senior year, the Mountaineers could boast one of the top safety duos in the country next season.
4 (tie). Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Texas Tech and Mason Rudolph, quarterback, Oklahoma State: After standing on the sidelines most of the season, Mahomes and Rudolph stole the show in the Big 12 late in the year. Mahomes threw for 598 yards in Tech’s season finale while almost leading the Red Raiders to an upset over Baylor. In his final three games, Mahomes tossed a head-turning 14 touchdown passes to just two interceptions. Rudolph was equally as impressive for Cowboys. After playing well in his first career start at Baylor, Rudolph rallied Oklahoma State to an overtime win over Bedlam rival Oklahoma in Norman while also catapulting the Cowboys to bowl eligibility. Thanks to Mahomes and Rudolph, Tech and Oklahoma State appear to be in great shape at quarterback for 2015 and beyond.
6. Allen Lazard, wide receiver, Iowa State: It wasn’t a good year for the Cyclones, but at least they have a burgeoning All-Big 12-caliber wideout in Lazard, who delivered a series of acrobatic receptions in his first year. Though he never had a 100-yard receiving game, he was a consistent option for quarterback Sam B. Richardson with 45 catches and 593 receiving yards.
7. Jason Hall, safety, Texas: Wondering who will eventually take over for Karl Joseph as the hardest hitter in the Big 12? It might be Hall, who dropped the hammer multiple times in his first season in Austin. He also finished with 47 tackles, and should serve as a cornerstone in Charlie Strong’s defense for years to come.
8. Corey Avery, running back, Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have many positive developments this season, but one of the bright spots was Avery, who finished 12th in the league with 631 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Avery and De’Andre Mann should give new coach David Beaty a solid one-two punch at running back to operate with in 2015.
9. Elijah Lee, linebacker, Kansas State: Bill Snyder rarely plays true freshmen, but Lee earned Snyder’s trust as a pass-rushing specialist early on in the season. He placed second only to Ryan Mueller on the team with 4.5 sacks.
10. James Washington, wide receiver, Oklahoma State : Washington ended the season as a starter, and led the Cowboys with five touchdown catches. He also finished with 26 receptions and 423 yards receiving, and figures to be a piece of the foundation in the Oklahoma State receiving corps moving forward.
Yet each team had players who made a significant impact on their teams that went largely unnoticed as teammates grabbed the headlines. With the help of SIDs around the conference, here's a closer look at the Big 12's unsung heroes during the 2014 season:
Baylor LB/S Collin Brence: A former walk-on, Brence started every game for Baylor, finishing with 49 tackles and adding seven hurries, 3.5 tackles for loss and one interception. On a defense with stars like Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart, Brence was quietly a key contributor as the Bears won a second-straight Big 12 title.
Iowa State WR D’Vario Montgomery: The sophomore transfer from South Florida emerged as the Cyclones’ best receiving threat during the home stretch of the season. Montgomery had 41 receptions for 564 yards and two touchdowns in ISU’s final seven games. His 605 receiving yards led the team and his 13.75 yards per catch average was tops among Cyclones with at least 10 receptions.
Kansas C Joe Gibson: The redshirt freshman took over starting center duties midway through the season and brought solidarity to the Jayhawks' interior line. Making QB Michael Cummings the starter and Eric Kiesau the playcaller were among the noted changes that paid off during Clint Bowen’s time as interim coach but Gibson’s role was just as important.
Kansas State DT Travis Britz: A valuable part of K-State’s defense, Britz was a key member of one of the Big 12’s top defenses before missing the final two games with an injury. The junior provided an anchor for Bill Snyder’s squad with 27 tackles including five tackles for loss and three sacks.
Oklahoma FB Aaron Ripkowski: Samaje Perine doesn’t become the Big 12’s best freshman without the help of the former walk-on fullback. Ripkowski was a driving force behind the Sooners’ running success as teams set out to stop the run yet still failed against the crimson and cream. Ripkowski’s aggressive nature, durability and stellar blocking helped OU rank No. 1 in the Big 12 in nearly every rushing category.
Oklahoma State DT Ofa Hautau: Emmanuel Ogbah grabbed Big 12 defensive lineman of the year honors but Hautau played a key role in OSU’s defensive line. His 28 tackles including 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks don’t speak to the value he brought to the table in the interior of the Pokes' defense.
Texas TE Geoff Swaim: The senior brought a consistent physical presence to the Longhorns' running game while the offensive line went through injuries, changes and uncertainty for much of the year. He also played a critical role on the Longhorns’ special-teams units.
TCU DT Davion Pierson: While Chucky Hunter got the headlines, Pierson was just as good along the Horned Frogs' defensive interior. The junior was disruptive with 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks for TCU while giving the Horned Frogs arguably the Big 12’s top defensive tackle duo.
Texas Tech HB DeAndre Washington: It’s unusual to consider Washington unsung but he was that good for the Red Raiders in 2014. There was a direct correlation between Washington’s production and Tech’s win total. He rushed for 100 yards in three of Tech’s four wins and he joined Perine and BU’s Shock Linwood as the only Big 12 running backs to surpass 1,000 rushing yards this season.
West Virginia LB Wes Tonkery: The senior brought stability to the Mountaineers defense, finishing with 62 tackles as WVU’s improved defense helped Dana Holgorsen’s squad return to a bowl game after a one-year hiatus. Tonkery also added eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck is leaving his post with the Mountaineers to join the NCAA as president Mark Emmert’s second in command.
The move leaves West Virginia in search of an athletic director. And, more importantly to the rest of the Big 12, the league in need of a new representative to the College Football Playoff selection committee.
The Big 12 has until the spring to figure it out. Most likely, it will be a sitting athletic director, and fortunately for the league, it has several competent ones to choose from.
But when it comes to finding the right man or woman for the playoff committee, one Big 12 name seems to stand out from the rest.
And that’s Kirby Hocutt.
The Texas Tech athletic director would be relatively young among playoff committee members at just over 40 years old. But as chairman of the NCAA Division I Football Recruiting Subcommittee, Hocutt is one of the most respected athletic directors in the country. And, despite being young, he would still bring a wealth of experience that would represent multiple corners of the Big 12.
In the early 1990s, Hocutt was a captain and linebacker for coach Bill Snyder during the advent of the “Manhattan Miracle” at Kansas State. Hocutt actually led the Wildcats in tackles during the 1993 season, which ended with K-State’s first bowl victory in school history. Hocutt’s background as a player would give him a distinctive perspective that would enhance the committee. And with K-State being his alma mater, he would bring a representation beyond his current school that would theoretically make the rest of the league comfortable.
Of course, K-State isn’t Hocutt’s only other Big 12 connection.
Before winding up at Texas Tech, he served on Joe Castiglione’s staff as an associate athletic director at Oklahoma from 1999-05. Hocutt was part of a massive capital fundraising effort there; he also received his master’s degree from Oklahoma. Hocutt remains so well thought of by some of the power brokers in Norman that he would be a candidate to take over as athletic director if Castiglione ever left the Sooners.
Yet, while Hocutt graduated from school in the Sunflower State and spent years working in the Sooner State, he’s a Texan first.
For that reason alone, putting Hocutt on the committee would seemingly also satisfy the demands of Baylor coach Art Briles, who has been clamoring for more committee representation from the state of Texas.
"Hopefully they'll get somebody that talks with a twang," Briles told ESPN.com's Heather Dinich on Wednesday. "Let's get somebody that understands what fixin' means. Let's get somebody from down in this part of the nation. Oliver was our representative, but last time I checked, West Virginia is a long way from Texas and Oklahoma. That's nothing to do with him, that's just the reality of the situation. I would certainly hope that we would influence the committee with somebody from this part of the nation.”
Hocutt’s twang is mild. But he was born in the northern Texas town of Sherman. He graduated from Sherman High. He’s also now athletic director of a university where Texas twang is common.
Besides wanting a Texan, Briles also told Dinich that he wanted somebody 35 years old or younger on the committee. Hocutt isn’t quite that young. But he’s closer to 35 than he is to the median age of the current committee.
“To me, college football is not just for people who are my age or older,” Briles said. “It's for everybody. It should be equally represented, but that's just me talking."
The Big 12 could go another direction, and it still would be a good decision.
Castiglione carries as much prestige nationally as any athletic director in the country. To serve on the playoff committee, he would likely have to give up his post on the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. But football is where the money is, and the Big 12 could persuade Castiglione into swapping committees.
The Big 12 boasts several other young, energetic and accomplished athletic directors like Kansas State’s John Currie, TCU’s Chris Del Conte and Baylor’s Ian McCaw. Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger is a former player, who actually served as an assistant coach on Snyder’s staff at Kansas State before transitioning into an administrator.
Any of those would represent the conference well.
But nobody in the league would represent the Big 12 from more angles than Hocutt.
A North Texan who played under Snyder at K-State who worked under Castiglione at Oklahoma who now is back running an athletic department in West Texas.
It doesn’t get more Big 12 than that, which is why Hocutt should be the Big 12's next representative on the playoff selection committee.
Throughout our evaluations we come across many players who show promise and based off their upside for development or scheme fit are great additions to their college programs. Here are five headed to the Big 12:
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Time to own it. Now that the regular season is over, we’re looking back on our best and worst picks and prognostications for the 2014 Big 12 season. In some cases, we ended up looking pretty smart. In plenty more, we do not. I’ll start us off with a doozy.
Max Olson: Texas Tech will start 7-0 again: Oops. I shouldn't have overlooked the Arkansas game. Or the Oklahoma State game. Or the Kansas State game. Or the West Virginia game.
Brandon Chatmon: Texas will lead the conference in rushing and finish top 10 nationally. The Horns currently rank sixth in the conference and 85th nationally at a disappointing 148.7 rushing yards per game. Neither Johnathan Gray nor Malcolm Brown will rush for 1,000 yards this season.
Olson: David Ash earns All-Big 12 honors. Concussion issues ended Ash’s season and playing career after one game this season. I want to stand by this take, but Texas’ offensive line was in such bad shape that all-conference honors would’ve been a challenge.
Trotter: Kansas State will beat either Baylor or Oklahoma on the road. Winner. K-State did pull off a 31-30 upset of Oklahoma, the first of the Sooners’ three home losses.
Chatmon: Iowa State's offense will be much improved. Mark Mangino seemed to make a positive impact, but the results were minimal. ISU went from 24.8 points per game to 23.2, and from 363 yards per game to 372.5.
Trotter: Tyreek Hill will lead the league in rushing. Hill finished 15th, accounting for 534 rushing yards in his 12 games as a Cowboy before being dismissed last week. He did lead all Big 12 receivers in rushing yards, for what it’s worth.
Chatmon and Olson: Projecting an 8-win season for TCU. During our game-by-game season predictions series in July, Chatmon and I were relatively optimistic about the Horned Frogs around the same time they were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 by league media.
Trotter: Predicting KSU over OU and WVU over Baylor in October. Trotter took the lead in our weekly predictions contest thanks to these prescient picks. He ended up finishing with a record of 67-8 on his regular-season picks. That is quite good.
Olson: Predicting TCU over OU and WVU over Baylor in July. The reader comments for these picks were amazing. A sampling: “Max Olson is extremely poor at predictions.” “Please lay off the crack pipe.” “TCU scoring 34 points against anyone? Really? How do you figure this?” Best of the best: “Wow ... I legitimately lost all respect for your opinion with the WVU pick over Baylor ... May God have mercy on your soul.”
Chatmon: “Malcom Brown is going to make me regret leaving him off my list.” This was from our preseason All-Big 12 discussion. We’re going to award Chatmon a point for this, even though he did snub Brown at the time.
Olson: Joe Mixon “capable of emerging as an elite playmaker from the get-go.” Unfortunately, he emerged as a troublemaker from the get-go.
Trotter: Curse of the kicker. In a pregame post for Auburn vs. Kansas State, Jake called Jack Cantele the Wildcats’ X-factor and said KSU should “feel good about their chances” if the game comes down to a kick. He also heaped praise on OU’s Michael Hunnicutt one week before the K-State game. College kicking ain’t easy.
All three: Finished 60-4 in our unanimous weekly picks. Give us a little credit here. When we put our heads together and agreed on a result, we rarely misled you this season. The four games we were unanimously wrong on: North Dakota State over Iowa State, Arkansas over Texas Tech, TCU over Oklahoma, Oklahoma State winning Bedlam.
All three: A Big 12 team will make the College Football Playoff. We declared the winner of the Baylor-Oklahoma game on Nov. 8 would go on to represent the league in the inaugural playoff. I guess that means we foolishly thought a head-to-head win would be the tiebreaker that sends a Big 12 team to the playoff.
It's OK to confess that. No way Gary Patterson or even Boykin himself could've seen that coming. In fact, Vegas didn't even start putting odds on his chances until the end of October. And yet, the TCU quarterback ended up finishing No. 4 in Heisman voting, thanks to more than 100 third-place votes and even seven first-place ballots.
So the question must be asked: Who's the next Boykin? Following up on Jake Trotter's post today that Boykin and Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine give the Big 12 two significant Heisman contenders, we're taking a way-way-way-too-early look at the conference's potential dark horse candidates.
QB Seth Russell, Baylor: There are a lot of logical reasons for betting on whoever replaces Bryce Petty as Baylor's quarterback. Not betting on Russell here so much as on Baylor's style of play, coaching and surrounding skill talent producing yet another prolific passer. Russell will be an experienced fourth-year player and brings a sneaky ability to run (4.49 40-yard dash speed). Whether it's Russell or somebody else, whoever earns the starting job has to play up to Art Briles' standard. That standard has already produced a Heisman winner and Petty, who finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting twice.
QB Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech: Why Mahomes over young QBs like Mason Rudolph or Tyrone Swoopes? We can only go by what we've seen so far, and Mahomes' four starts to end Texas Tech's season offered promise. He was the Big 12's leading passer over the final month of the season, and Jarrett Stidham exiting the picture helps Mahomes' chances of holding down the job. He'd still have to beat out Davis Webb and lead Tech to a huge comeback season, but this kid showed flashes of being special as a true freshman.
RB Shock Linwood, Baylor: We have to throw a running back in here due to the lack of established, exciting Big 12 quarterbacks returning in 2015. Since the start of the 2013 season, Linwood ranks 20th nationally in rushing with 2,107 yards. All of those yards have come while splitting carries, and he'll have to again next season. But Briles' offense has always run as much (in fact, more) than it has passed, and leaning on Linwood will make the next QB's job easier. You can also make a deep-sleeper case, by the way, for running backs Johnathan Gray and maybe even Aaron Green.
WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Oklahoma: OK, yes, this is an absolute shot in the dark and perhaps a pointless one. The biggest "if" here is really whether DGB elects to go pro after a season of practicing with the Sooners. If he spurns the draft and rewards Bob Stoops' faith with another year in Norman, Green-Beckham should be one of the Big 12's most talented players in 2015. The Heisman traditionally has no love for receivers, but DGB is good enough to put up crazy numbers for the Sooners next year.
- It was a brutal weekend in recruiting in a couple of corners of the Big 12. ESPN 300 quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who had been the cornerstone of Texas Tech's recruiting class since March and who had been planning to enroll early in Lubbock, decommitted from the Red Raiders over the weekend. Tech still has a couple of talented young quarterbacks on campus in Pat Mahomes and Davis Webb. But anytime a talent the caliber of Stidham de-commits, it's a dagger, especially considering how tough it will be for Tech to add a replacement quarterback to the class. The Stidham decommitment will sting even more for Tech if he ends up at Baylor. Stidham is from Stephenville, Texas, where Baylor coach Art Briles once won multiple state championships.
- It's been nothing for bad news for Oklahoma State since the Cowboys toppled Oklahoma in Bedlam to become bowl eligible. Days after Tyreek Hill was booted from the team, ESPN 300 running back Ronald Jones II revealed he was de-committing from the Cowboys. The news leaves Oklahoma State in an unenviable predicament in its backfield. With Hill gone, Jones no longer on board and Desmond Roland set to graduate, Rennie Childs is the only healthy scholarship running back sscheduled to be on the roster in the spring.
- Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight was cleared to resume football activities. There was speculation running through Norman about Knight's football future after the devastating hit he took from Baylor's Shawn Oakman that left him with a temporary paralysis known as transient quadriplegia. But Knight clearly is feeling well again. This is also good news for the Sooners' hopes of beating Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Sooners ran the ball fine -- better than fine, in fact -- in Knight's absence. But the passing attack turned benign with Cody Thomas behind center, as the Sooners averaged less than 100 passing yards per game in the three games Knight missed.
- New Kansas coach David Beaty is off to a fast start in Lawrence. He landed five commitments over the weekend to boost the Jayhawks' recruiting class, including four from the state of Texas, where Beaty is reputed to be a recruiting ace. Kansas suddenly now has 17 commitments in the class of 2015.
- Baylor lost offensive coordinator Phillip Montgomery to Tulsa last week, but the offense is unlikely to change or slow down, writes Mike Griffith of mlive.com. I think this is obvious. Montgomery has been by Briles' side since the two were at Stephenville. But Baylor is a program now, not an offense. And with Briles, his son and Baylor assistant Kendal Briles and quarterback Bryce Petty, the Bears will still be a load for Michigan State's vaunted defense in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl.
Now, on to the 'bag:
@Jake_Trotter who's your way too early favorite in the Big 12 in 2015?— Mitchell Stehly (@StehlyMitchell) December 12, 2014
Trotter: TCU should be the easy favorite. The Horned Frogs will bring back Trevone Boykin at QB. Almost the entire skill corps and offensive line returns, too. The Frogs will have to replace some key players defensively. But they'll be able to retool around All-Big 12 safety Chris Hackett.
@Jake_Trotter What does Baylor's O look like next year w/ Russell @ QB & Goodley gone?— Andrew Katz (@Andrewpkatz) December 12, 2014
Trotter: It looks pretty good to me. The line will need to be shored up. But the offense will still have Shock Linwood, Corey Coleman, K.D. Cannon and Johnny Jefferson -- that's some major firepower. Seth Russell, obviously, is the key. But he will have the weapons around him to thrive.
@Jake_Trotter chances of big 12 looking at expanding after championship snub?— Michael Elder (@bnhselder) December 12, 2014
Trotter: I don't think it's very likely. There's no Group of Five program out there that entices the Big 12 leadership at the moment. But before considering expansion, the Big 12 first needs to get rid of its idiotic co-champion rule. That would allow the league to advocate one champion to the playoff committee instead of co-champs, which clearly hurt the Big 12 in the final rankings.
@Jake_Trotter likelihood of a conference title game next year?— James Trotter (@MrJtrot) December 12, 2014
Trotter: Adding a conference championship game through an exemption seems more likely than expansion. The odds seem to be against it happening, at least for 2015. But there's some merit to the Big 12 considering it. A 13th game for the Big 12 champ could make a difference. It certainly did for Ohio State out of the Big Ten this year.
Trotter: One thing people need to keep in mind: Yes, Bob Bowlsby misspoke in the summer when he suggested the tiebreaker would be used for the playoff. But remember, Bowlsby is just the messenger. The league's coaches and athletic directors make the rules. And they were the ones who voted to recognize "co-champions."
@Jake_Trotter would the Texas schools ever let SMU into the Big 12 if that would allow league to have championship game?— Joey Kinney (@jkinney1987) December 12, 2014
Trotter: SMU would be pretty far down the pecking order. The Mustangs wouldn't expand the Big 12 footprint, and they wouldn't bring any new TV eyeballs. Plus, they're not a very good program right now, though Chad Morris could change that.
@Jake_Trotter What are the chances Texas Tech just hires Mike Smith as their D Coordinator? Also if not Mike Smith, then who is best choice?— Todd Norris Thornton (@TNT_WreckEmTech) December 12, 2014
Trotter: I suspect Tech will go out and hire a veteran defensive coordinator. Kliff Kingsbury really needs to add some experience to his staff. Memphis defensive coordinator Barry Odom is a name that makes sense, especially after the Tigers fielded the No. 5 scoring defense in the country this year. But Odom reportedly has generated a lot of interest from other programs, too.
@Jake_Trotter how do you feel about Malcolm Brown not even being acknowledged by his own conference?— Ryan Massad (@Massad14) December 12, 2014
Trotter: We had Malcom Brown as our Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He was also on the ESPN.com All-American team. I can't speak to what others were thinking. But he was the most dominant defensive player I saw in the league this year.
After disappointing seasons that ended without a bowl game, Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State won’t see the field again until the fall of 2015. There are plenty of reasons for concern but some glimmers of hope at each school. For the next three days, we’ll take a look at three reasons for hope and three reasons for concern at Tech, KU and ISU as they look toward 2015.
Today we wrap up our mini-series with a look at Texas Tech.
Reasons for hope
Patrick Mahomes could be the real deal: The freshman got the opportunity to play and seized it during the final three games of the season. Not only did Mahomes' competitiveness shine through, he protected the football better than any quarterback has during Kliff Kingbury’s tenure with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions in Tech’s final three games. While a healthy Davis Webb will have plenty to say about the future at the position in Lubbock, Mahomes showed signs he can raise the level of play of everyone around him.
Kliff Kingsbury and company can recruit: The Red Raiders have five ESPN 300 prospects on the commit list, including quarterback Jarrett Stidham and defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko. Tech’s five commitments from ESPN 300 members is more than Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia. Turning the program around starts in the living rooms of recruits, and the Red Raiders are doing an exceptional job securing top talent despite their on-field stumbles.
Plenty of young talent already on the roster: Nigel Bethel II, Cameron Batson and Ian Sadler are just a few of the young players who could be poised to join Mahomes as the foundation of the future in Lubbock. Kingsbury’s squad took plenty of hits in 2014, but played a bevy of freshman and sophomores who will be much more prepared for the demands of the Big 12 in 2015.
Reasons for concern
Lack of improvement: The Red Raiders finished at the bottom of the Big 12 with a minus-14 turnover margin in 2013. This season, the Red Raiders finished ninth in the Big 12 at minus-13. Until the Red Raiders get better at ball protection, it's hard to expect more wins. The yellow flag also continued to be Tech’s enemy as the Red Raiders finished ninth in the conference in penalties for the second straight season, although penalties aren't that big of a deal in comparison to turnovers (especially considering back-to-back Big 12 champion Baylor finished last in penalties in 2013 and 2014). Regardless, Tech needs to improve and address the problems that have served as an anchor on one of the Big 12’s best offenses the past two seasons.
Defense, defense, defense: Finding a CEO for his defense is Kingsbury’s most important task this offseason. He’s done a solid job with the Red Raiders' offense (outside of the turnovers) but the defense's struggles have prevented true success. Tech is gathering some talent on that side of the ball, but some semblance of continuity and direction would go a long way. It starts with landing a quality defensive coordinator who can be handed the reins and be left to do his thing by Kingsbury.
The Red Raiders need wins to turn momentum around: Tech is 5-13 since Kingsbury’s 7-0 start to his head coaching career. High-scoring offense, superb season ticket sales and improving inroads on the recruiting trail will only get you so far. The Red Raiders need some tangible success, preferably early in 2015, to erase questions about Kingsbury’s head-coaching ability and get the program moving back in the right direction.
There were plenty of no-brainers, some breakout stars and a couple surprises as Jake Trotter, Max Olson and I debated the Big 12’s best while putting together the team. Several tough decisions had to be made and quality players snubbed as we sought to honor the conference’s best players.
TCU receiver Josh Doctson emerged as a legitimate No. 1 target for Trevone Boykin, using his length and athleticism to create mismatches all over the field. He was a big-play machine, scoring nine touchdowns while averaging 16.3 yards per reception to help transform TCU's passing attack.
The linebacker spot was a tough debate with Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks finding himself left out in the cold. Hicks returned from a season-ending Achilles injury in 2013 to finish with 98 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss as a critical member of one of the Big 12's top defenses.
It’s hard to ignore the sheer production of Texas Tech linebacker/defensive end Pete Robertson, but we did. The lone bright spot on the Red Raiders’ defense, Robertson lead the Big 12 with 12 sacks and added 14.5 tackles for loss. Quite simply, Tech’s bowl-less campaign made it hard for Robertson to force himself into the first team.
Oklahoma cornerback Zack Sanchez tied with TCU first-teamer Chris Hackett for the Big 12 lead with six interceptions. The feast or famine aspect to his game was readily apparent but he never stopped competing, constantly creating turnovers for the Sooners. Yet it’s hard to find a first-team spot for a defensive back on a defense that allowed 272.7 passing yards per game, finishing No. 115 among FBS teams.
Kansas cornerback JaCorey Shepherd was quietly excellent for Clint Bowen’s defense, leading the Big 12 with 18 passes defensed. Much like Sanchez, receivers knew they were in for a battle anytime they lined up opposite Shepherd, yet he went largely overshadowed thanks to the ridiculous production of teammate Ben Heeney.
Who do you think was the biggest snub? Or is there another snub?
Between our first and second team, TCU led the Big 12 in all-conference honorees with 12 players selected. Baylor had eight players make the list and Kansas State, Oklahoma and West Virginia tied with seven players honored.
QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
RB: DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech
RB: Aaron Green, TCU
WR: John Harris, Texas
WR: Josh Doctson, TCU
WR: Curry Sexton, Kansas State
TE: Jimmay Mundine, Kansas
OL: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
OL: Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
OL: Joey Hunt, TCU
OL: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
OL: Tayo Fabuluje, TCU
AP: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
K: Jaden Oberkrom, TCU
KR: Mario Alford, West Virginia
DE: Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
DE: Michael Reynolds, Kansas
DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU
DT: Travis Britz, Kansas State
LB: Jordan Hicks, Texas
LB: Bryce Hager, Baylor
LB: Jonathan Truman, Kansas State
DB: Kevin White, TCU
DB: JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas
DB: Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
DB: Sam Carter, TCU
P: Nick O'Toole, West Virginia
PR: Cameron Echols-Luper, TCU
Which choice was the toughest to make this year?
Brandon Chatmon: There were several tough choices but our decision to go with three safeties and one cornerback in the defensive backfield tops the list. It was a hard decision but there were so many corners that were right with Quandre Diggs and the three safeties that were selected all needed a spot. I normally prefer to stay true to positions but I couldn’t imagine leaving any of the three safeties out. Ultimately I think we made a good decision by going with four defensive backs regardless of position.
Jake Trotter: The biggest discussions centered on the third linebacker after Paul Dawson and Ben Heeney and the fourth defensive back after Chris Hackett, Karl Joseph and Dante Barnett. Eric Striker didn’t have the All-American-caliber season everyone anticipated, but he was still the player opposing offenses had to gameplan for when facing the Sooners. Kansas' JaCorey Shepherd, Oklahoma's Zack Sanchez and Oklahoma State's Kevin Peterson were options I would have considered as the fourth defensive back. But Diggs meant so much to Texas, so I was comfortable with that decision.
What's the biggest surprise about this year's All-Big 12 team?
Trotter: What would the odds have been before the season on Trevone Boykin being the All-Big 12 QB? Boykin went into last offseason as a probable wide receiver and wound up one of the top QBs in the country. He was the surprise of the Big 12 this year.
Olson: Going along with that theme, Jake, I would've called the following predictions crazy back in July: Ryan Mueller and Cedric Reed don't make our All-Big 12 team, another Baylor receiver bumps Antwan Goodley out of first-team honors, no Texas running back makes the cut, TCU's first-team DB is Hackett, and somebody outperforms Bryce Petty.
Chatmon: The easy decisions for the offensive skill positions. From quarterback to running back to receivers, there were a bunch of no-brainers and not many guys on the outside looking in with legitimate beefs at any of the positions. Some people might balk at Corey Coleman being among the receivers but he had a special season when he finally got healthy. He also came up big against TCU and Oklahoma with 23 receptions, 368 receiving yards and four touchdowns in those two games.
What was the best or deepest position group in the league?
Chatmon: It’s easily the cornerback position. While we only selected one corner, Diggs, Shepherd, White, Sanchez and Peterson can each make a legit argument they should be on our first team. Diggs separated himself with his versatility and leadership but the margin between the rest was razor-thin. The Big 12 had a pretty solid crop of corners this season, making the defensive back position the strongest and most difficult to separate.
Trotter: Wide receiver and linebacker. The depth at receiver in this league was terrific. The fact somebody like Goodley didn’t even make the first team should tell you that. It also seemed like everyone in the Big 12 had at least one anchor at linebacker. We had to settle on just three, but there five or six others who had a case to be made.
Olson: For me, it's wide receiver. We clearly chose to bend the rules a little this year with our Big 12 team simply because there are too many legit wideouts worth honoring. We ended up putting four on each team, which is ridiculous, but it's also indicative of how many special pass-catchers we think the conference had in 2014. Agree with Jake on the linebackers, too. Along with Hicks, Pete Robertson probably should be a first-teamer.
There are still a ton of deserving players who did not crack the first team (our second-team choices come later today), but all in all this is a loaded squad of standouts, and nearly every Big 12 team had at least two players make the cut.
Here's the 2014 ESPN.com All-Big 12 Team:
QB Trevone Boykin, TCU: Boykin emerged as one of the nation's best and led TCU to a Big 12 co-title with 3,714 passing yards and Big 12-high 39 total TDs.
RB Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: The true freshman rumbled for 1,579 yards and 21 TDs, including the best rushing game (427 yards) in FBS history.
RB Shock Linwood, Baylor: The power back behind Baylor's speed attack, Linwood surpassed 1,200 yards in his first season as a starter.
WR Kevin White, West Virginia: The Biletnikoff Award finalist was a breakout star, racking up 102 catches for 1,318 yards and nine TDs.
WR Corey Coleman, Baylor: Led the Bears with 969 receiving yards, 17 yards per catch and 10 scores despite missing the first three games of the season.
WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma: Injuries derailed his last five games, but Shepard still put up 957 yards as the Sooners' go-to guy.
TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State: Bibbs led all tight ends nationally with eight TDs and was a matchup nightmare in Mark Mangino's offense.
OL Spencer Drango, Baylor: The All-American was dominant again after recovering from back injury with 30-plus knockdown blocks.
OL Quinton Spain, West Virginia: The mammoth guard was impressive again despite playing through injuries throughout the season.
OL B.J. Finney, Kansas State: The Rimington Trophy finalist wrapped up his career as a 51-game starter with another terrific season.
OL Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma: Oklahoma's left tackle elevated his game during his senior year and brings exceptional size and strength.
OL Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech: All-Big 12 for the second year in a row after he anchored a Tech offensive line that gave up just 13 sacks.
AP Tyler Lockett, Kansas State: Lockett broke dad Kevin Lockett's records while finishing No. 4 nationally in receiving and adding two punt-return TDs.
K Josh Lambert, West Virginia: The Groza Award finalist led the FBS with 27 made field goals, including two game winners.
KR Alex Ross, Oklahoma: Ross went for 30-plus yards on 9 of 22 returns, including scores of 91 and 100 yards.
DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor: A 6-foot-8 beast, Oakman created problems (10 sacks, 18.5 TFLs) with his length and aggression.
DE Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State: Ogbah broke out big with 11 sacks, including two-sack performances versus Florida State and TCU.
DT Malcom Brown, Texas: He was a disruptive force in the middle who produced 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
DT Andrew Billings, Baylor: The sophomore helped Oakman upgrade BU’s defensive line while finishing with 11.5 TFLs.
LB Paul Dawson, TCU: Dawson made big play after big play for the Frogs, logging at least one TFL in TCU’s final eight games.
LB Ben Heeney, Kansas: The sideline-to-sideline stud capped off his KU career with 127 tackles, including 88 solo stops.
LB Eric Striker, Oklahoma: Striker created problems off the edge in one-on-one battles and finished with 7.5 sacks.
DB Quandre Diggs, Texas: Diggs did it all. He hit, covered and tackled while playing a key role as the heart of UT's defense.
DB Chris Hackett, TCU: The junior showed up big in big games, grabbing six interceptions and 73 stops.
DB Karl Joseph, West Virginia: Joseph blossomed into a complete safety while remaining among the conference’s most physical defenders.
DB Dante Barnett, Kansas State: Sliding right into the void left by Ty Zimmerman, Barnett became a playmaker on the back end for KSU.
P Trevor Pardula, Kansas: Yes, Pardula had plenty of chances, but 44.25 yards/punt average and 38.9 punting average are nothing to sneeze at.
PR Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State: The Cowboys don’t go bowling without Hill, whose blazing speed helped beat KU, ISU and OU.
Chris J. in Houston, Texas, writes: Does the Big 12 need Texas to be good? Wouldn't that take away from the other schools that are rising in the Big 12? Realistically, could you see Texas becoming a team like Nebraska for the next 10-15 years? Don't you think the fans of Baylor, TCU and KSU would love for Texas to be a perennial loser?
Brandon Chatmon: It would be good for the Big 12, and college football in general, if the Longhorns are good. Why? Because it’s good for college football when the nation’s iconic programs are good. But I also understand why the rest of the league would find joy in the Longhorns' struggle. I don’t see UT becoming Nebraska for the next 10-15 years, however. There’s simply too much talent in Texas for that to happen, and I think Charlie Strong has the Longhorns on the right track. In fact, as soon as I saw the coaching staff Strong was putting together, I felt like if you want to beat Texas, you better beat them now. So if you’re hoping to bask in UT’s failure, you might be disappointed.
Corey in Allen, Texas, writes: How is that Texas Tech's Pete Robertson -- who led the Big 12 in sacks -- is not on the All-Big 12 first-team defense? Ben Heeney and Paul Dawson are definitely deserving, but Eric Striker was not as dominant a player this year as Robertson was.
BC: I wish I knew. I’m not the type of guy who holds a lack of team success against Robertson. He was exceptional with 12 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss this season. I don’t know what else he could have done to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors. I’ve been in his corner all season long, but I understand why the coaches preferred to reward players on teams that had winning seasons.
Alec in Iowa writes: Why do you think Texas receiver John Harris didn't get any conference honor? He had over 1,000 yards receiving and had seven TDs. I just don't understand. He even could've been first team over Sterling Shepard.
BC: I was just as surprised as you to see the coaches did not have Harris on the second team. Only three Big 12 receivers had 1,000 receiving yards and Harris was one of them. He should have been a second-team selection, no question about it, but I think Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, West Virginia’s Kevin White and Oklahoma’s Shepard on the first team was the right choice.
David in Austin, Texas, writes: Were the All-Big 12 voters upset at the Texas defense this season or was the offensive ineptitude held against them? Significantly better in passing defense than the rest of the conference, yet the secondary is barely represented.
BC: I don’t think either of those reasons are behind the Longhorns' secondary, specifically Quandre Diggs, getting snubbed for first-team honors. But I felt like Diggs earned a spot on the first team. He was excellent on one of the Big 12’s best defenses, and he did so many different things for UT as a senior. He should have been a first-teamer.
Brian in Manhattan, Kansas, writes: What really annoyed me last weekend was that all of the "analysts" criticized the Big 12 for not having a conference championship, but they never acknowledged that we couldn't have one due to just being at 10 teams. Would they have been happier if we had a "watered"-down conference with more/weaker teams so that we could get that game or would the Big 12 then be perceived as being too weak and again punished? What would it take for the Big 12 to get a waiver to have a championship game? Projecting ahead, will the Big 12 get a waiver, expand, do both or do neither?
BC: You make a good point, Brian. If the Big 12 adds teams just to add teams, that opens up the conference to be criticized for a lack of overall depth. Adding two teams strikes me as a complete overreaction to being left out of the College Football Playoff. Not to mention the Big 12 did have a championship game with Baylor knocking off Kansas State, albeit at McLane Stadium instead of a neutral field, but the committee didn’t seem to value BU’s double-digit win over a Top 10 team on the final day of the season. If the committee didn't care about that, why would they care about a Big 12 championship game? Anyway, I think the Big 12's immediate move will be to try to get the NCAA to approve a waiver and consider adding a conference title game with 10 teams.
Larry Slaughter in Salt Rock, West Virginia, writes: With the amount of players returning, and the new crop coming in, do you believe that WVU has a chance to improve again this coming season?
BC: Holgorsen has the Mountaineers moving in the right direction. Things are going well on the recruiting trail with three ESPN 300 prospects on the commit list and 24 total pledges. It also seemed like this season showed that the overall depth on the roster is on the rise, particularly when WVU lost multiple cornerbacks to injury during the game but still upset Baylor. I wouldn’t be shocked if WVU wins six or seven conference games in 2015, particularly if Skyler Howard or William Crest can be the answer behind center.
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State