Big 12: Texas Tech Red Raiders

We've been doing something different with the mailbag, including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To submit a mailbag entry via Twitter, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You also still can send in questions the traditional way here, too.

To the 'bag...

Trotter: At this point, I think it's only a matter of time before Grant Rohach is named the starter. He was clearly the best QB in the spring game, and coming off the way he played at the end of last season, momentum is in his corner. I know the Cyclones are high on the potential of redshirt freshman Joel Lanning, and Rohach will have to perform once the season begins to keep the job, but at this point, it's difficult envisioning anyone other than Rohach starting the opener against North Dakota State.

Trotter: Texas' Cedric Reed, Kansas State's Ryan Mueller, Oklahoma's Charles Tapper, TCU's Devonte Fields and Baylor's Shawn Oakman. On the next tier, I'd have Oklahoma's Geneo Grissom, Texas Tech's Branden Jackson, Iowa State's Cory Morrissey and Oklahoma State's Jimmy Bean.

Trotter: My two darkhorse picks at this point would be Texas Tech and TCU. Schedule is a big part of this, and Tech gets Oklahoma and Texas at home, and Baylor in Arlington, Texas. If the Red Raiders could escape a September Thursday night clash at Oklahoma State, then they could be a factor. QB Davis Webb has made tremendous improvement since December, and he's going to have plenty of firepower surrounding him. Assuming Fields is back to his old self, the Horned Frogs will again be a formidable defense. The big question, as always, is, can they score enough points? But if Matt Joeckel can step in at QB and direct what is essentially the same offense he had at Texas A&M to respectability, TCU could be a handful.

Trotter: Charlie Strong can't get destroyed by Oklahoma. Can't enter any fourth quarter without a legitimate chance to win. Can't lose more than three games. If he avoids those three potholes, he has chance to take Texas a step forward. To me, that's the litmus test.

Trotter: Anytime a team loses its leading tackler, it hurts. Fortunately for the Sooners, they're deep at linebacker, and can absorb a key loss there better than they'd be able to at some other positions. Jordan Evans played well as a true freshman, and shined in place of Shannon in the spring game. A linebacking corps of Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Dominique Alexander, sack-master Eric Striker and Evans would still be stout. Of course, it would be even better with Shannon.

Trotter: That's a tough question. It was startling how much the K-State defense suffered when Ty Zimmerman wasn't on the field last year, but I have faith Dante Barnett is ready to assume a leadership role in that secondary and stabilize the defense. I have less faith right now in K-State's running backs. So far this spring, no one has really emerged from a crop of backs with almost no meaningful experience. The K-State attack has always been predicated on a strong running game, so this is no small issue. Maybe freshman Dalvin Warmack can jumpstart the position when he arrives this summer. But running back looks like the biggest question on a solid-looking team with not many questions elsewhere.

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 18, 2014
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NBA playoffs start this weekend. This should get you ready for the fun!

Big 12's lunch links

April, 17, 2014
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I'm guessing this is how Usain Bolt plays soccer.
Now that most FBS schools have wrapped up spring ball, here comes a necessary next step: Transfer season. The dominoes started falling for several Big 12 quarterbacks situations on Wednesday morning.

First came the news that Texas A&M quarterback Matt Joeckel is leaving the Aggies and is eligible to play immediately. The Arlington, Texas, native will have one season left after finishing his undergraduate degree in December. He played in four games last season and threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns.

Might TCU be his most logical destination? The Horned Frogs had been considering transfer options this offseason, including former Texas Tech QB Michael Brewer -- who chose Virginia Tech after the option to transfer inside the Big 12 was blocked -- and Joeckel has two years of experience playing in the kind of high-speed spread offense the Horned Frogs are installing.

Then came another move, perhaps clearing the way for Joeckel: TCU backup quarterback Tyler Matthews is also transferring.

A TCU spokesperson confirmed Matthews' decision, which he also announced on his Twitter account.



As a redshirt freshman, Matthews appeared in four games last season while backing up Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin. So the Horned Frogs' decision, with Pachall now graduated, comes down to Boykin and incoming freshmen Grayson Muehlstein and Foster Sawyer. And maybe Joeckel, or another transfer.

Texas Tech, meanwhile, is dealing with its own departures at quarterback. Walk-on backups Tanner Tausch and Mike Richardson are both leaving the program, a spokesperson confirmed.

Tausch is going to focus on academics after one semester with the team. He is a junior-college transfer who threw for 255 yards in Tech’s spring game last Saturday as the No. 2 QB. Richardson is planning to transfer after one semester, leaving Davis Webb as the only quarterback on the roster.

That will change this summer, when touted signee Patrick Mahomes joins the program along with walk-ons Payne Sullins, Hunter Rittimann and Vincent Testaverde, the son of former NFL QB Vinny Testaverde. There's no doubt Mahomes, a two-sport star who also plays baseball at Whitehouse (Texas) High School, will have to assume the backup job this fall.

Of course, Joeckel isn't the only option if these Big 12 coaches go looking for free-agent QBs. Jalen Whitlow is leaving Kentucky, Chad Kelly was dismissed at Clemson, and several more could enter the market in the next month. That's just how it goes now. Quarterbacks don't want to sit on the bench, especially if they aren't in their coach's immediate plans.
Today is a minor holiday for recruitniks: The newest edition of the ESPN 300 recruiting rankings have been released, along with a slew of other grades and evaluations.

It's always a big-time endeavor for the ESPN crew of scouts, so be sure to click HERE for the ESPN 300 rankings.

Several of today's updates to the ESPN 300 affect the Big 12. Here's a closer look at what you should take away from the rankings:
  • Oklahoma State quarterback commit John Kolar enjoyed an incredible jump, going from unranked to the nation's No. 3 pocket passer. He's now ranked No. 82 overall in the ESPN 300. The Norman (Okla.) North senior-to-be impressed filling in for injured Alabama signee David Cornwell last year, and he has wowed our scouts as well.
  • What a killer start for Baylor. The Bears have verbal commitments from six high school prospects, and all six made the ESPN 300. The highest ranked of the bunch is WR John Humphrey Jr., who announced his commitment last night. He's one of three ESPN 300 receivers in the class, joining Devontre Stricklin and Chad President. The Bears signed four ESPN 300 recruits in last year's class, and three the previous year, so this is quite the jump. With Baylor high on the list of several other ESPN 300 prospects, including WR DaMarkus Lodge (No. 63 in ESPN 300) and DE James Lockhart (No. 113), there's a good chance this class ends up being the best in the Big 12 when it's all said and done.
  • Texas now has verbal commitments from five ESPN 300 recruits: S DeShon Elliott (No. 94), OT Toby Weathersby (No. 138), OG Patrick Vahe (No. 171), new RB commit Tristian Houston (No. 208) and RB Jordan Stevenson (No. 296). The Longhorns are in the mix for more than 30 ESPN 300 prospects and have offered several more elite out-of-state recruits. Texas has some real momentum under new coach Charlie Strong at the moment, and it's possible more than 10 uncommitted ESPN 300 prospects visits Austin this week for the spring game.
  • The state of Oklahoma has five prospects in the ESPN 300, and nearly all of them could end up being Sooners. OU already has verbal pledges from DT Marquise Overton (No. 150) and OG Joshua Wariboko (No. 190) and is among the leaders for OG Jalin Barnett (No. 36) and S Will Sunderland Jr. (No. 212). And then there's Kolar, who the Sooners could still make a push for over time. Four of Oklahoma's five current pledges are in the ESPN 300.
  • Texas Tech already has two top-50 recruits in QB Jarrett Stidham and DT Breiden Fehoko, and they'll be the lead recruiters of this Red Raiders class. Stidham checks in at No. 37 in the new ESPN 300, which puts him No. 4 among all prospects in Texas, and Fehoko is the nation's No. 7 defensive tackle.
  • It's a great year to find a running back in the state of Texas. Ten of them made the newest ESPN 300, and six have already committed to schools. The top-rated member of the group is Oklahoma State commit Ronald Jones II, the nation's No. 3 running back. Texas already has Houston and Stevenson, Baylor has Ja'Mycal Hasty (No. 274) and Texas A&M has pledges from Rodney Anderson (No. 263) and Jay Bradford (No. 277).
  • West Virginia is off to a great start with the 2015 class thanks to its dedication to recruiting Florida. Two of its verbal commits made the ESPN 300 in WR Jovon Durante (No. 120) and S Kendrell McFadden (No. 153), and half of its 10 pledges come from the Sunshine State. WVU is one of only seven program in the country with double-digit commitments at this point.

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 16, 2014
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This kid might have just saved a life.

ESPN 300: Top Big 12 targets 

April, 16, 2014
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The spring evaluation period is upon us, and coaches are traveling and hosting spring games in an effort to evaluate and attract the nation’s elite prospects. Fortunately for coaches, roughly two-thirds of the players making up the 2015 ESPN 300 are still uncommitted. A large majority of those players are considering playing in the Big 12.

Here are five ESPN 300 players heavily targeted by Big 12 schools:


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LUBBOCK, Texas -- Few assistants in college football have soared up the coaching ladder faster than Texas Tech offensive coordinator Eric Morris.

The 28-year-old Morris, who was a key receiver on Mike Leach’s 11-win team at Texas Tech in 2008, finished his playing career with 184 receptions. After coaching stints at Houston under Kevin Sumlin and Washington State under Leach, Morris returned to his alma mater last year to be Kliff Kingsbury’s inside receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator. This offseason after Sonny Cumbie bolted for a job at TCU, Kingsbury (who is the primary playcaller) promoted Morris to offensive coordinator and coach of the entire receiving corps.

Morris took time to chat with ESPN.com on a range of topics, including the similarities and differences between Kingsbury and Leach, how Kingsbury has grown as a coach over his first year and the benefits and challenges of Texas Tech having such a young staff:

You’ve coached with Kliff, you’ve coached with Leach, how would you compare and contrast the two?

[+] EnlargeEric Morris
Orlando Ramirez/Icon SMIEric Morris sees several advantages in coming back to coach at his alma mater.
Morris: You know, I think coach Leach is, for lack of a better term, really set in his ways, which has really been a positive thing. He really believes in what he does. You’re not adding and trying to game plan every week. You just have this certain amount of set plays and you get really good at them and that’s what you do, and the quarterback has to trust them. Whereas Kliff likes to cater a little bit more to the athletes he has. He likes to sit in there with the whiteboard and think of things, different formations, motions, but he still keeps the quarterbacks’ reads pretty much similar for the most part. Kliff does a great job finding, catering to the athletes on his team, finding a way to get them the ball in space. Those are two things, but they’re really similar as far as running the organization day-to-day. Mike is a really late guy, he’ll stay up all hours of the night. Kliff is a really early guy, he’ll be up here at 4 a.m. pretty much every single morning. That’s a little bit of a difference. Kliff’s dad with his military background and coaching background, what surprised me so far, [is the] discipline and the way he runs a tight ship with the players. And they really respect that. But Coach Leach did the same thing.

Where has Kliff really found his stride as a coach? Where has he improved over the last year?

Morris: He’s always been really good with the players. The players love him, he relates really well to them. Him sitting in a team meeting is like cake to him. The kids really understand where he’s coming from. He uses young terminology, which they appreciate. I would say outside of that, learning how to deal with the media with the instant success with people in and out. With interviews, he’s night and day better from last year speaking in public. He does a great job handling all the girls that want to take photos with him, that want to take selfies with him. He definitely has a lot of patience, he’s not the most patient guy I’ve ever known, but he’s learned how to have patience.

So he’s gotten better dealing with the donors and the dinners and those things?

Morris: Night and day. When we go speak at recruiting dinners or with a lot of our donors, he’s a lot more relaxed, comfortable, himself up there. And just comfortable in his own skin and not trying to impress all these guys. Just being himself, which is good.

This has been written about before, but with five Texas Tech alums on the coaching staff (Kingsbury, Morris, Trey Haverty, Mike Smith and Kevin Curtis), what benefit does that give you guys?

Morris: Yeah, absolutely. It means a little more to us to put on the Double T and represent that. We’ve put in so many hours, blood, sweat, tears in the uniform. So that symbol and putting on that uniform means more to us, because we are so much more vested in it. One, I think it helps as far as recruiting, people see that, the energy, the passion we have for this place. And two, I think it helps with our current players. It’s funny we’ll be in an academic meeting, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I have Dr. Timmons,’ and I’ll go, ‘I had Dr. Timmons six years ago in the same anatomy class.’ We can relate to them. We passed all the classes. We know what to do and what not to do around town, on campus, with our academic staff. We can just relate on a different level.

[+] EnlargeEric Morris
AP Photo/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal/John A. BowersmithEric Morris was a key receiver for Texas Tech in 2008.
Because most of you all on this staff are relatively young, how do you balance connecting to the kids with still being authority figures to them?

Morris: The worst thing ever is if you mistake our kindness for weakness. It’s definitely a case where we have to pull on the reins a little bit more at times. And Coach does an incredible job of really teaching these guys about how to be respectful to women, to people that are trying to help this program, to donors, to people that serve us food at the training table and things of that nature. And if they don’t, there’s punishment for it. He’s done an awesome job of not letting things go, even though they have excuses. If they mess up, there’s going to be a cost to pay. That’s one thing they know, and you can ask any player right now, if they’re not going to class, if they’re not doing the right things, then there’s going to be a price to pay.

What’s one thing about Kliff that’s interesting that people don’t know about him?

Morris: Well, he’s a health freak. He eats extremely healthy. I lived with him for a couple years when we were at Houston and usually you’d hear the cereal bowl get filled at 3:45 a.m. He’d eat cereal every morning, then go work out. And then protein and all of his shakes and supplements that he takes. Then snacks nuts and little snacks throughout the day. Then you’d go to lunch and it’s always grilled chicken, some kind of salad, something like that. He works hard at it and he’s pretty disciplined. That’s really impressive to me, how he stays on the straight and narrow with that.

I think his way of relieving stress is working out. But it has been funny. Because Coach Leach used to always call me late to ask questions about the program. And this semester, Kliff has started to do that. You can tell he’s up late at night, thinking about the program. And so I’m getting more phone calls at night again asking hypothetical questions and recruiting questions, ‘What do you think we need to do here? Do you think I was too hard on them? Do you think I should have called that play?' It’s definitely on his mind 24/7, he’s definitely infatuated about making this place really good. I think still there’s a doubt in people’s mind and there’s a lot of people we lost to last year that Kliff -- I don’t think he’ll ever stop until he gets to the top of this thing. And so losing always pushes him. He hates to lose, and that drives him every single day, to see these kids be successful and win a lot of football games at Texas Tech.
LUBBOCK, Texas -- The list of two-way players to grace the Big 12 in recent years is a short one.

Oklahoma State cornerback R.W. McQuarters had an interception and a touchdown catch in the 1997 Alamo Bowl.

During Oklahoma’s national championship run in 2000, Andre Woolfolk, as a wide receiver and cornerback, became the first Sooners player in 21 years to go both ways.

Bill Snyder utilized Kansas State cornerbacks Chris Canty and Terence Newman at receiver.

[+] EnlargeKenny Williams
John Weast/Getty ImagesTexas Tech's Kenny Williams played linebacker this spring, and coaches are thinking about deploying him on both offense and defense.
And Charles Gordon and Aqib Talib were superb two-way performers for the Jayhawks as cornerbacks/receivers under coach Mark Mangino.

In 2014, Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams could become the next in a short line of Big 12 two-way players.

Williams has been the Red Raiders’ starting running back the past two seasons, but he spent spring ball exclusively at outside linebacker. Williams didn’t take part in Texas Tech’s spring game Saturday because of a minor injury. But he took snaps with the first-team defense all spring, and turned heads doing it.

“Kenny has done a great job coming over and learning the system,” said defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt. “He’s a football guy, so it doesn’t take him a whole lot of time. He sees everything, understands the concepts.”

The impetus for Williams expanding his football résumé began with a simple request before the spring. The Red Raiders graduated outside linebacker Terrance Bullitt, and Williams was looking to help every way he could. That included asking for an opportunity to boost the other side of the ball.

“I talked to Coach [Kliff] Kingsbury and Coach Wallerstedt, and basically told them, whatever the team needs, I’d be willing to do it,” Williams said. “I’ve always considered myself a defensive-minded person, so switching over to linebacker, I didn’t think it would be very hard for me. It’s kind of been like second nature.”

At first, the position switch seemed merely experimental. That's what spring ball is for. Williams had been a tackling machine on special teams for the Red Raiders, but learning linebacker in one spring appeared to be a monumental task. Yet, as the spring waned on, Williams showed his coaches and teammates he was a natural for the position.

“I think he’s a guy [who] can help us,” Wallerstedt said. “He played on all our special teams last year. He knows the offense cold. Kliff wouldn’t have given him the opportunity if he didn’t feel like he could miss reps at running back, and go back on offense and do what he does. With all these reps he’s been getting at linebacker in the spring, he’s going to be a guy we can count on.”

Though it’s possible -- if not probable -- that Williams ultimately ends up on one side of the ball or the other, Kingsbury and Williams both indicated the plan right now for next fall is to use him on both sides.

The Red Raiders have DeAndre Washington, who rushed for 450 yards backing up Williams in 2013, returning at running back. Sophomore Quinton White is primed for more playing time. Texas Tech will also add four-star signee Justin Stockton in the summer.

That depth gave the Red Raiders confidence they could try Williams on the defensive side. But Williams has also proven to be a key and reliable offensive weapon, rushing for 1,321 yards and 13 touchdowns the past two seasons. Williams has also been Texas Tech’s best pass protector among the running backs, and it’s no secret Red Raiders can ill-afford for Davis Webb to get injured as the only experienced quarterback on the roster.

“I’m willing to go from starting offense over to defense, or starting defense over to offense,” Williams said. “Wherever I can get in and help.”

There’s precedent for a player taking on both running back and linebacker in the modern game. UCLA’s Myles Jack was named the Pac-12 offensive and defensive freshman of the year last season while manning both linebacker and later running back for the Bruins.

The next few months will dictate if Williams can become Texas Tech’s version of Jack. But coming out of the spring, one valuable Red Raider has the chance to become even more valuable next season.

“We have a lot of time to really push the envelope with this,” Wallerstedt said. “We’ll have to see how we end up defensively. … we’ll know more in August camp.

“But saying we could only have him 25 snaps, would we take him? Certainly. He’s the type of kid who’s going to do whatever it takes to help his football team, whether that’s offense, defense or the kicking game.”
Even though almost 10 months remain until the next national singing day, teams across the Big 12 have jumped off to fast starts in putting together their 2015 classes.

To catch you up on all the recruiting storylines that have developed so far, we checked in with ESPN.com senior national recruiting writer Jeremy Crabtree and Big 12 recruiting reporter Damon Sayles for their takes:

Which team has impressed you the most with its 2015 recruiting?

Crabtree: With all of the questions West Virginia faced in the offseason and the product the Mountaineers put on the field in 2013, you would think they would be struggling out of the gate with the 2015 class. But it has been the exact opposite. WVU has 10 commitments, including from one of the best receivers in the country, Jovon Durante. West Virginia is selling kids on an opportunity to play early and make a big difference in getting the program back on track. Plus, it has gone back to its roots and mined the very familiar recruiting territory of Florida for some of its best pledges.

Sayles: As much as I like what Texas Tech and TCU have done so far, I have to tip my hat to what West Virginia has accomplished. The Mountaineers have a pair of ESPN Junior 300 players in safety Kendrell McFadden and Durante. The Mountaineers are recruiting the state of Florida well; five of the 10 pledges are from the Sunshine State. West Virginia is off to a fast start, and with the program fresh off a successful spring game, more big-time commits could be coming soon.

Who has disappointed?


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Texas Tech spring game review

April, 14, 2014
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LUBBOCK, Texas -- With a school-record crowd of 19,500 in attendance, Texas Tech finished its spring schedule with a two-hour spring game at Jones AT&T Stadium. Here’s what we learned from the game:

Best offensive performance: A bulked-up Davis Webb put on a show, completing 25 of 37 passes for 354 yards and four touchdowns. Most of his reps came in the first half, and he showed off some impressive touch on his TD throws -- his 23-yard score to Bradley Marquez under pressure was a gem. The sophomore QB even added a long touchdown run that was called back. And for what it’s worth, Webb was even better in Tech’s previous open scrimmages this spring. He’s just no fun to defend, and his coaches will vouch for that. “He’s driving me to drink Pepto-Bismol,” defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt joked after the game.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsKliff Kingsbury said his team will start the season with a lot more confidence than last year.
Best defensive performance: Got to give credit to Josh Keys for being opportunistic. The junior college transfer safety scooped up a fumble that rolled right to him at the end of the first quarter and scored from 22 yards out. That takeaway, a strip after a screen pass, had to be encouraging for a defense that ranked third-worst in FBS with a turnover margin of minus-14 last season. Redshirt freshman linebacker Collin Bowen also snagged an interception.

Best debut: This wasn’t a true debut, since he did play some special teams last season, but receiver Brent Mitcham made a nice impression. The senior spent three years on the scout team and had a minimal role in 2013 but stepped up on Saturday with a game-high six receptions for 80 yards. The best of the bunch was a catch over the middle that Mitcham turned and took down the sideline for a 41-yard gain.

Notable play: On a play-action pass in the first quarter, Webb rolled right, planted and fired a pass toward the opposite hash to a wide-open Jakeem Grant. The speedster made a defender miss along the sideline and cut across the field for a 75-yard touchdown. Grant finished with 105 yards on five receptions.

Developing storyline: Help is still on the way for this Texas Tech defense. Much will be expected of ESPN 300 cornerback signee Nigel Bethel II and junior college transfers Rika Levi, Brandon Thorpe and Marcus Smith when they arrive this summer. You should see a few more freshmen (maybe safety Payton Hendrix and linebacker Dakota Allen) fight their way into the two-deep. “As all of our guys get here in June and we have a monster summer, this thing will look a little different than even what it looked like today,” Wallerstedt said.

Biggest question answered: Can Texas Tech’s receivers make up for the loss of Eric Ward and Jace Amaro? From a statistical standpoint, they will go down as two of the all-time greats among Red Raider pass-catchers, but Webb is confident this group can be even better. In addition to Grant and Marquez, he singled out Reginald Davis, D.J. Polite-Bray, Devin Lauderdale and Derreck Edwards as playmakers he’s excited to utilize this fall. “This is the fastest receiving group I’ve known since I’ve ever watched Texas Tech football,” Webb said.

Quotable: "We have a lot more confidence than last year. Last year, we just tried to install and the guys are trying to figure us out and figure out our expectations. They know what they can be after that bowl game and carry that confidence over to being a top-15 team. They know what they can be if they put it all together, so that's exciting." -- Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
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It's not like bringing a cat to the spring game but Kliff Kingsbury is still winning ...

Video: Webb, Knight in spring games

April, 14, 2014
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Brandon Chatmon discusses the performances of Texas Tech's Davis Webb and Oklahoma's Trevor Knight, two returning bowl MVP quarterbacks, in their spring games. Webb starred while Knight struggled, but the Red Raiders still need help on defense.
Saturday, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and West Virginia all held their spring games. Below is a sample of the sights from each stadium:

IOWA STATE

KANSAS

OKLAHOMA

TEXAS TECH

WEST VIRGINIA

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
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Happy Friday, everybody. Here are the links...

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