The NFL released its official list of players invited to the 2014 combine scheduled to be held February 22-25 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
More than 300 players are scheduled to attend including 25 from the Big 12.
Baylor led the way with six player invites followed by Oklahoma with five and Texas with four.
Here's the list of Big 12 players that will have the opportunity to showcase their skills in Indy. (The complete list is here). For everyone else, they'll have to wait until their school's pro day held on each campus.
Big 12 invitees to 2014 NFL combine
|Jeremiah George||LB||Iowa State|
|Cornelius Lucas||OT||Kansas State|
|Marcus Helt||LS||Kansas State|
|Josh Stewart||WR||Oklahoma State|
|Justin Gilbert||CB||Oklahoma State|
|Jace Amaro||TE||Texas Tech|
|Kerry Hyder||DT||Texas Tech|
|Charles Sims||RB||West Virginia|
|Will Clarke||DE||West Virginia|
The combine will once again be shown on the NFL Network this year and here's a rundown of the days each postion group will work out, as well.
» Saturday, Feb. 22: Tight ends, offensive linemen, special teams
» Sunday, Feb. 23: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers
» Monday, Feb. 24: Defensive linemen, linebackers
» Tuesday, Feb. 25: Defensive backs
Whether you love it, hate it, or are somewhere in between, signing day has become a national spectacle for college football fans.
There's plenty to get excited about but for as many four and five star recruits that never pan out to the walk-ons who become all-conference selections, trying to decipher whose has the best class is far more art than science.
That much we know. But what fun is all of it without putting some rankings to it. Everybody loves rankings, lists, or whatever as long as it gives us something to talk about.
In the Big 12, here's a look at where each team in the league finished nationally among the major recruiting service (it's worth noting there could be some slight movement in the coming days).
National Recruiting Class Rankings - Big 12
*ESPN only ranks the Top 40 classes.
It's no shock to see Oklahoma and Texas have signed the top two ranked recruiting classes in the conference. That's par for the course in the Big 12. The only thing that may be concerning about it, however, is that neither team - or any team in the Big 12 for that matter, finished ranked among the top ten classes in the country.
That's probably splitting hairs because who really knows if the eighth ranked class is better than the 12th or 15tth rated class but even so, you'd love to see somebody out of ten teams crack the top five or ten.
Based on the average of the four recruiting services, six of the ten teams finished inside the top 40.
West Virginia looks to have put together a solid class especially considering they are coming off a 4-8 season.
Texas Tech is likely happy, as well, although they did suffer a couple last second defections.
I'm no recruiting expert, but I'd expect to see TCU finish ranked higher than the low 40's. The competition is stiff in Texas but considering four and five star recruits grow on trees right outside their doorstep, I would think they would be able to land more than one four star guy.
Kansas State finished with the eighth ranked class in the Big 12 which is actually an improvement from ninth and tenth spots they regularly find themselves in. No worries for Kansas State, however. All it probably means is that another conference title is probably coming sooner rather than later.
Kansas coach Charlie Weis had this to say about the Jayhawks 2014 class. "I'm very pleased with this recruiting class. Our staff had to show good patience and through hard work, we filled almost every pressing need."
Take that exact quote, put any coaches name behind it, and you can quickly summarize every recruiting class in the country. Kansas checked in with the lowest ranked class in the Big 12.
It's early, but I think every team is going to get some athletes, find a few late gems, ink a special group and really meet their needs.— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) February 5, 2014
Iowa State won't wow anyone with their recruiting ranking, but they landed one of the top recruits in the Big 12 with wide receiver Allan Lazard officially signing on Monday. He's a local kid from Urbandale, Iowa with a load of talent. At least for one recruiting class, the Cyclones found out what it's like to be Texas with a top flight kid just miles from their campus.
All things considered, not a bad haul of recruits for most of the teams in the league. What do you think, are you happy, sad, angry, or jubilant with your squad's class?
The long wait for Kansas State's 2014 football schedule is finally over. The school officially announced the schedule on Monday which is highlighted by a Thursday night tilt with Auburn that will be broadcast nationally by ESPN.
The game is set for September 18th after it was originally scheduled to be played two days later on September 20th. Both teams had bye weeks the Saturday before which made the move possible.
"The chance to host a program like Auburn on ESPN's Thursday night telecast in what will be one of the best non-conference matchups in the country next year is a terrific and unique opportunity for K-State," athletic director John Currie said.
Auburn is coming off an appearance in the BCS national title game which they lost to Florida State, 34-31. The Tigers return 14 starters from their 2013 team including eight on offense which finished ranked 12th in the country in scoring offense averaging 39.5 points per game.
In total, the Wildcats will have seven home games including visits from Texas Tech, Texas, and Oklahoma State. KSU will open the season at home against Stephen F. Austin followed by the first Big 12 game of the season at Iowa State the week following.
Kansas State 2014 schedule
Aug. 30 - Stephen F. Austin
Sept. 6 - @ Iowa State
Sept. 13 - BYE
Sept. 18 - Auburn
Sept. 27 - UTEP
Oct. 4 - Texas Tech
Oct. 11 - BYE
Oct. 18 - @ Oklahoma
Oct. 25 - Texas
Nov. 1 - Oklahoma State
Nov. 8 - @ TCU
Nov. 15 - BYE
Nov. 20 - @ West Virginia
Nov. 29 - Kansas
Dec. 6 - @ Baylor
There is no getting around the fact that 2013 was a disappointing season of football in Ames. The Cyclones had gone to a bowl game in each of the last two seasons but the chance of making it three in a row was over by midseason.
The offense was again abysmal leading to the dismissal of offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham following the season. Injuries played a big part in the offensive woes, but plain and simple, Iowa State needs to get better.
On defense, the Cyclones finished last in the Big 12 giving up 36 points per game, but in all honestly, those numbers don't paint the most accurate of pictures. If you take out three lopsided games against Baylor, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, the defensive numbers weren't terrible, but when you're offense is scoring 24 points a game, it was still far from good enough.
For as bad as the season turned out, there are still some positives to build on heading into 2014, along with plenty of areas that need improvement. Here's a look at some of the good and bad:
The good: For a team that was sitting at 1-9, it would have been easy for ISU to mail in the final two games of the season although it shouldn't come as any huge surprise Paul Rhoads wasn't going to have any of it. The Cyclones finished off the season in impressive fashion shutting out Kansas and followed that up with a huge come-from-behind victory over West Virginia to end the season. A final record of 3-9 may not be impressive but it beats the heck out of 1-11 and gives the Cyclones some positive momentum heading into the offseason.
The bad: A 3-9 record isn't exactly something Iowa State will be particularly proud of when they look back on the season. One has to wonder if the non-fumble call had gone ISU's way against Texas in the first Big 12 game of the season, what that would have meant for the rest of the season. Iowa State was the best team on the field that particular night but had nothing to show for it.
The good: Take a look at the depth chart for the Cyclones last game of the season against West Virginia. On offense, there wasn't one senior listed as a starter and even on the two-deep, there was only one.
On defense, they'll lose their best player in linebacker Jeremiah George and three of their four starters in a talented secondary, but there is still plenty of youth there especially in the front seven. With an influx of junior college talent to help ease those losses, there's plenty of reasons for optimism heading into next season.
The bad: The play at the quarterback position remained an issue in 2013. Sam Richardson finished strong in 2012 but an ankle injury severely limited him for a good chunk of the season. Grant Rohach saw the first action of his career as finished the season strong, but looking at the big picture, it remains clear the Cyclones need more consistent play from their quarterbacks if they're going to jump back into bowl contention in 2014.
The good: Aaron Wimberly, Quenton Bundrage, and E.J. Bibbs. For as ineffective as ISU's offense was at times in 2013, Wimberly, Bundrage, and Bibbs all had their shining moments and will be solid building blocks for Mark Mangino's new offense in 2014. Wimberly finished the season with 567 yards rushing, Bundrage with 676 yards receiving and Bibbs finished with 39 catches from the tight end position. With Jace Amaro leaving early for the NFL draft, Bibbs may very well be the best TE in the Big 12 next season.
The bad: Following Wimberly's 117 yard performance against Texas in the fourth game of the season, the Cyclones did not have a 100 yard rusher in a game the rest of the season. The injuries along the offensive line didn't help matters, but until the final two games of the season, ISU's offense went into hibernation not hitting the 300 yard mark during a three game stretch against K-State, TCU, and Oklahoma.
While it wasn't season anyone in Ames was hoping for as bad as it was, the Cyclones still managed to finish with some positive momentum. The three wins were the fewest in the five seasons Paul Rhoads has been the head coach, but it also prompted him to make changes to his coaching staff as he let go offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham and running backs coach, Kenith Pope, following the season.
The hiring of Mark Mangino should pay immediate dividends on offense considering the talent returning in 2014, assuming of course, they can avoid the injury bug that plagued them for much of this past season.
With Rhoads looking to have secure his best recruiting class to in five seasons next week, help appears to be on the way. Combine that with some new blood on the coaching staff plus some servicable parts returning and it wouldn't be shocking to see the Cyclones back in the postseason in 2014.
It's been four seasons since the Big 12 placed a team in the national title game. Not since Texas lost to Alabama following the 2009 season has a team from the Big 12 played the in the last college football of the year.
The scenario changes this year with the upcoming four team playoff set to being on January 1st of 2015 with the Rose and Sugar Bowls hosting the first semifinal matchups.
No longer will a team have to finish in the top two for a chance because fourth will be good enough.
If a team from the Big 12 hopes to find a way into the upcoming playoffs, Oklahoma seems to have the best chance to get there and win it all based on how they finished the season plus the return of nine defensive starters..
The odds makers appear to agree with that sentiment as they've instilled the Sooners with the fourth best odds of winning next season's national title at 10 to 1. Only Florida State (3/1) Alabama (6/1), and Oregon (6/1) have better odds at the moment.
Here's a list of the current odds being offered for the teams in the Big 12 according to Sportsbook.ag.
So what do you say?
Based on what we know now, it's hard to find much fault with the current odds.
Texas is the wildcard with Charlie Strong taking over in Austin. It's not crazy to think they make a big jump in year number one. Heck, if their defense had shown up early in this past season, the Longhorns could have been 8-0 before playing Oklahoma State. Of course, Oregon proved in the Alamo Bowl Texas still has a ways to go before they start talking about national titles again.
If you're looking for value among teams in the Big 12, Baylor may be your best play if only because their nonconference schedule is about is easy as it gets. The downside is the fact they have to travel to Texas and Oklahoma.
I wouldn't overlook the value Oklahoma State and Kansas State are getting at the moment, either. The Cowboys have to open the season with Florida State but considering it's the first game of the season, they'll have plenty of time to work their way back up the rankings. And if they somehow find a way to pull the upset, well, 50/1 would sound pretty darn appealing with a victory over the Seminoles already in their back pocket.
As for Kansas State, they have to host Auburn which won't be a walk in the park but you have to love the experience they have coming back on offense and if they can find some suitable replacements on defense, who knows. Crazier things have happened and with Bill Snyder putting the pieces together, anything is possible as far as the Wildcats go.
Baylor won the Big 12 in 2013 and Oklahoma State finished in a tie for second place with Oklahoma. One big reason for that is both teams benefited from a senior laden team which of course means they'll be plenty of holes to fill heading into next season.
Mr. Phil Steele has been hard at work breaking down all the returning starters for next season and yesterday on his blog, he published the results.
As you can see, Baylor and Oklahoma State have the fewest number of starters returning next season with each returning five starters on offense and four on defense. Does that mean they're going to finish ninth and tenth next season in the Big 12? Hmmm, probably not.
But anyway, here are how the numbers shake out for the Big 12 heading into 2014.
2014 Big 12 returning starters
|* starting QB returning|
You'll notice that seven of the ten teams in the Big 12 return their starting quarterbacks. It's also worth noting that of the three team Steele's indicates do not return their starting signal caller, all three return a guy that has starting experience.
David Ash is expected to return healthy from his concussion suffered this season at Texas. TCU's Trevone Boykin has plenty of starting experience filling in for the suspended/injured Casey Pachall over the past two seasons. And at Oklahoma State, Clint Chelf is gone, but J.W. Walsh has started his share of games over the past two seasons, as well.
That's in stark contrast to the quarterback situation the Big 12 faced this past season. Coming into 2013, only Ash, Pachall/Boykin, and Chelf/Walsh had significant playing time.
**Art Briles talked a lot about the improved depth on his team this past season. With the Bears needing to replace seven starters on defense along with some key pieces on offense (Tevin Reese, Lache Seastrunk, and Cyril Richardson), they'll need that depth to step up in a big way to compete for another Big 12 title.
**TCU has struggled in their first two seasons in the Big 12. Injuries have played a part in that. So has the fact the Horned Frogs have played a plethora of young guys over that time. Well, now those young have plenty of experience under their belts. If TCU's new offense can figure out a way to put more points on the board, they have to be considered the odds on favorite to make the biggest turnaround in 2014.
**You have to love the Sooners chances of competing for a national title next season. Nine starters return on what turned out to be a very good defense by season's end in 2013. And if Trevor Knight plays anything like did in the Sugar Bowl, there aren't many teams in the country that will be able to hang with OU.
**How big of a difference will Mark Mangino make calling the plays for Iowa State next season? We'll find out, but he has 10 of 11 starters back which is reason for optimism in Ames. The biggest question mark this spring will be to find out whether quarterbacks Grant Rohach and Sam Richardson are capable of running what Mangino wants to run.
**Kansas State should be one of the favorites in the Big 12 next season so long as they can find suitable replacements for seven lost starters on defense. The good news is that Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett return on offense.
**West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen may or may not be on the proverbial "hot seat" in 2014 depending on who you listen too. The good news is that he returns 14 starters for next season. What's the bad news? Based on how the Mountaineers finished the season, I'm not sure the good news is actually good news. To make a long story short, there's plenty to improve upon heading into 2014.
The Big 12's defensive coordinators will have plenty to prepare for next season with four new offensive coordinators stepping into new roles next season. Even so, it probably won't be anything they haven't seen before.
Of the four new play callers in the Big 12 next season, each already has a long history in the conference. Combined the four new coordinators have 46 years of previous experience in the Big 12 led by Mark Mangino's 19 years between stints with Kansas State and Oklahoma.
Here's a look at the new guys that will calling plays next season in the Big 12.
Kansas - John Reagan; previous, Rice offensive coordinator
Charlie Weis gave up some of the offensive game planning responsibilities midway through the 2013 season to his offensive assistants, Ron Powlus and Jeff Blasko. He then made the move a permanent one by hiring Rice offensive coordinator to run the Jayhawks offense next season.
Reagan is a former Kansas assistant under Mark Mangino when he was the offensive line coach and run game coordinator. He will also serve as the Jayhawks offensive line under Weis in addition to his play calling duties.
For those thinking that Reagan will be a coordinator in name only, Weis has made it clear that it's Reagan's offense KU will run as he shift his duties to focusing more on the program as a whole.
"For those people who think I hired somebody to be just my manager, that's not what I'm doing. I think that I'll do a much better job of being the head coach with a guy like John being the coordinator. That's what I think," Weis said this past December.
If Reagan follows the same plan he used at Rice, Kansas fans will likely see a run first spread offense that features plenty of involvement from the quarterback in the ground game.
In Rice's 14 games this past season, quarterback Taylor McHargue, carried the ball 10+ times in nine games with a season high 20 carries coming against Tulane. The same goes for the 2012 season when McHargue averaged 13.5 carries per game.
Reagan's game plans will obviously be dependent on KU's personnel, but the move to Reagan as the play caller may not be good news for Jake Heaps as far as playing time goes. UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard and returning sophomore Montell Cozart seem better fitted to run Reagan's style of offense but that will play itself out this spring in Lawrence.
Iowa State - Mark Mangino; previous, Youngstown State tight ends coach
Paul Rhoads let Courtney Messingham go after two seasons of calling the plays for the Cyclones. Iowa State averaged just over 24 points a game in those two seasons which isn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard, per se, so it's no surprise Rhoads was looking for a change.
Rhoads had a couple options on his current staff to replace Messingham, but instead went out and plucked Mark Mangino out of the coaching abyss. Mangino had been out of coaching for three seasons following his departure from Kansas. He then returned to the game at his alma mater, Youngstown State, last season as the tight ends coach.
As far as experience goes, Mangino's hire has to be considered a home run for the Cyclones. The guy helped Oklahoma win a national title as their offensive coordinator and he put together some fairly prolific offenses while at KU. His Orange Bowl winning 2007 Jayhawks average over 43 points per game.
Now he's back in the Big 12 and although ISU is still in need of some talent upgrades, he has some key pieces to work with including running back Aaron Wimberly, wide receiver Quenton Bundrage, and tight end E.J. Bibbs. He'll also have one of the top wide receiving prospects in the country, Allen Lazzard, arriving as part of the upcoming recruiting class.
If Sam Richardson or Grant Rohach can develop some consistency at the quarterback position, the Cyclone offense has a chance to be one of the most improved units in the Big 12 next season with Mangino pulling the strings.
TCU - Doug Meacham; previous - Houston offensive coordinator
It's no secret TCU's offense has struggled since joining the Big 12. Casey Pachall's suspension in 2012 and broken forearm in 2013 played a part in the struggles, but either way, it's clear Gary Patterson wasn't happy with the direction of the offense. He switched play callers midway through the season this past year and following the season, he decided to go in a new direction entirely.
Enter Doug Meacham who was hired after one season as Houston's offensive coordinator following eight seasons coaching tight ends and then receivers at Oklahoma State.
Meacham worked under Larry Fedora and then Dana Holgorsen and Todd Monken while in Stillwater and his familiarity with the Cowboys passing attack was one of the reasons Patterson saw fit to bring him on board.
That doesn't mean, necessarily, that he's going to instill the exact offense they used in Stillwater but you can bet they'll lean on his expertise to help spice up an offense that has finished 8th in scoring offense in each of the past two seasons in the Big 12.
Patterson also brought in Sonny Crumbie from Texas Tech to coach the quarterbacks along with naming him co-offensive coordinator. Between Meacham's experience at Oklahoma State and Crumbie's time playing quarterback under Mike Leach, you can expect the Horned Frogs to debut plenty of new schemes in 2014.
Texas - Joe Wickline; previous - Oklahoma State offensive line coach
With the hiring of Charlie Strong, everything is going to be new in Austin next season with the former Louisville coach retaining just one coach from Mack Brown's staff that being tight ends coach, Bruce Chambers.
As for what to expect from the offense, well, nobody is exactly sure. Strong tabbed former Oklahoma State offensive line coach, Joe Wickline, to be his offensive coordinator. Wickline is generally considered to be one of the best offensive line coaches in the country although he doesn't have much experience calling plays not having done so since his days at Delta State in the mid-80's.
Strong also brought his offensive coordinator at Louisville, Shawn Watson, along with him to Austin. Watson will coach the quarterbacks but he'll also likely have significant input into the offensive game plan each week, as well.
What that means for UT's offense remains to be seen but it's likely it will be a collaborative effort utilizing Wickline's expertise in the Oklahoma State offense with Watson's West Coast principles.
All Strong has said thus far is that he wants to be balanced on offense so don't count on Texas throwing the ball 50 times a game. “You can talk about all those teams that throw the ball around, but at the end of the day, if you can't line up and run downhill and punch somebody in the mouth, then you are going to have issues,” Strong said.
Whatever schemes they use, having Wickline's expertise coaching the offensive line should pay immediate dividends in Austin. It is always said a successful offense starts upfront so having Wickline on staff is a good place to start.
As for the play calling, we'll soon find out.
Oklahoma's crowded situation at quarterback was apparently a little too crowed for Kendal Thompson. The sophomore who appeared in two games this past season announced on Tuesday night that he plans to transfer.
Thompson is set to graduate in May meaning he'll be able to transfer and play immediately with two years of eligibility remaining.
With Trevor Knight's out-of-this-world performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the starting quarterback job is likely locked down next season. Not to mention, Blake Bell will return for his senior season meaning playing time will likely be hard to come by in 2014.
On top of that, former four-star recruit, Cody Thomas, will be coming off of a redshirt season and another four-star player, Justice Hansen, is part of the upcoming recruiting class. Former Texas Tech starting quarterback, Baker Mayfield, is also on campus with plans to walk on although he won't be eligible to play in 2014.
Thompson was in line to battle for the starting job this past season but a right foot injury sidelined him through fall camp and into the early part of the season. That opened the door for Knight and Bell to put a stranglehold on the top two spots although Thompson made a push late in the season as he started the second half against Oklahoma State before giving way to Bell following a shoulder injury to Knight.
With Thompson just making his announcement, there's been no word on where he may land, but you've have to think he'll be a hot commodity for a team in need of quarterback for the upcoming season.
Playing behind Landry Jones as a freshman and then his foot injury this season limited his chances of seeing significant playing time but he could, without much doubt, give the right team a big boost at the position.
Enjoyed the 3 years that I spent at OU and appreciate all the support and love that this program has shown me. But I believe that God has— Kendal Thompson (@Thurm405) January 22, 2014
another path in store for me. I will be graduating in May, and transferring to play at another college next season. #WalkByFaithNotBySight— Kendal Thompson (@Thurm405) January 22, 2014
Laugh if you will, but it's never too early to start talking about next season.
As coaching staffs around the country are focused on putting the finishing touches on their recruiting classes, let's take stock of what the teams in the Big 12 have to look forward to heading into 2014.
Without a doubt, things will change a lot between now and August 30th, but here's rundown of who's on top, who's on the bottom, and everyone in between.
No team in the Big 12 finished with a bigger bang than did the Sooners. Oklahoma had largely been forgotten on the national stage after losses to Texas and Baylor spoiled any hopes of winning another Big 12 title. Then came the victory over Oklahoma State to end the regular season keeping the Cowboys from claiming a Big 12 championship for themselves. And of course, that was followed by OU's victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl capping and 11 win season.
Quarterback Trevor Knight returns and if he plays anything like he did the in the Sugar Bowl, there's no reason not to be talking national titles again as far as the Sooners go. Oklahoma will have to plug a few holes on the offensive line along with a few on defense, but all-and-all, the Sooners return a wealth of talent making them the early favorites in the Big 12 next season.
2. Kansas State
Some may be surprised to see the Wildcats this high, but Bill Snyder has plenty to be smiling about heading into the offseason. Kansas State won six of their final seven games of the season which included a dismantling of Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Both quarterback Jake Waters and wide receiver Tyler Lockett return giving K-State a lethal combination for defenses to try and stop. Daniel Sams also returns at quarterback giving KSU another option out of the backfield, as well.
That's the good news but KSU still has plenty of work to do in spring practice to fill some glaring needs. There will be three spot open on the offensive line, a replacement is needed for John Hubert at running back, and they'll be dealing with a revamped secondary as they look to replace defensive leader, Ty Zimmerman.
But if Bill Snyder has proved one thing, it's that there is no one better at mixing and matching spare parts and turning them into a unit nobody is excited to play. The key pieces are there to attempt another run at their second Big 12 title in three seasons.
You can make a solid case to have Baylor in the second slot here and for good reason. Art Briles is back after some thought he might bolt for Texas. So is Bryce Petty who had a monster year in his first season as a starting quarterback. There's plenty of firepower returning for the Bears to make run at back-to-back Big 12 titles.
The offensive line loses some key pieces, namely Cyril Richardson who most expect will be drafted in the top two rounds of the upcoming NFL draft. Running back Lache Seastrunk is also heading to the NFL draft along with senior Tevin Reese. Reese's absence over the second half of the season due to a wrist injury limited the Bears big play ability down the field. Replacing him will be no easy chore although there's plenty of talent to choose from on their current roster.
The biggest question mark remains the defense even though it showed massive improvements this season over 2012. As Central Florida showed in the Fiesta Bowl, there's still plenty of work to do as the Knights racked up 52 points and 556 total yards of offense.
Defensive back, Ahmad Dixon, is gone and so is linebacker Eddie Lackey along with both starting defensive ends. There was some youth on the defensive line, however, and the young group held up reasonably well and should be even better next season with another offseason of work.
If the defense can continue their improvement they showed for the bulk of this season, Baylor will continue to be a thorn in the side of every team they play. They play of the defense in the Fiesta Bowl, however, proved there is more than a little work yet to be done.
Charlie Strong is the new man in charge and the culture change is officially underway in Austin. How much difference can he make in his first season?
Obviously the biggest question mark facing the new coaching staff is getting more consistent play from the quarterback position. David Ash is expected to return healthy from a midseason concussion, but Tryone Swoopes and incoming freshman Jerrod Heard could also factor into the equation.
Joe Wickline is excepted to call the plays for the first time at the FBS level after spending the past nine seasons as Oklahoma State's offensive line coach. He'll have Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron, and Johnathan Gray returning in the backfield which figures to make his job just a little bit easier.
It's not an outlandish thought to think Texas could be in thick of the Big 12 race in Strong's first season but there remains plenty to accomplish before getting there. It's tough to change a mindset of an entire prrogram in just one season, but here's guessing we'll see a much improved product sooner rather than later in Austin.
5. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys may have more key pieces to replace than any other team in the Big 12 heading into next season. Six of the top eight tacklers on the Pokes defense are gone in addition to defensive backs Justin Gilbert and Tyler Patmon along with defensive tackle, Calvin Barnett.
Offensively, J.W. Walsh will most likely take over once again for Clint Chelf at quarterback although that's probably far from a sure thing. Much has also been made of offensive line coach Joe Wickline going to Texas and if he was indeed as good as everyone says, the Cowboys could be in for some growing pains up front.
All that said, not counting Oklahoma State among the Big 12 title contenders is a mistake. The Cowboys have won at least nine games in five of the past six seasons for a reason so don't expect the Pokes to fall far.
The Horned Frogs have had their struggles during their first two seasons in the Big 12 but look for that to be changing in the very near future. TCU has suffered some major injuries while dealing with some inexperienced players across the board. Those inexperienced players are only inexperienced for so long, however, and outside of losing cornerback Jason Verrett and quarterback Casey Pachall, nearly everyone returns in 2014.
If Trevone Boykin can develop into the quarterback many think he can be, TCU's fortunes may be turning in 2014. B.J. Catalon and Aaron Green return at running back along with the top four receivers from 2013 giving new coordinator Doug Meacham plenty of tools in his toolbox. Combine that with a defense that will benefit from having Devonte Fields back on the field, and TCU could be the surprise team in the Big 12 next season.
7. Texas Tech
The Red Raiders are a tough team to peg heading into 2014. When the schedule turned more difficult last season, Tech dropped five straight games to end the regular season but finished with a big victory over a solid Arizona State team in the Holiday Bowl.
The loss of quarterbacks Michael Brewer and Baker Mayfield is concerning although Davis Webb's performance in the bowl games allows for plenty of reasons for optimism assuming they can find some depth behind him.
How does Texas Tech replace tight end Jace Amaro who left early for the NFL draft? The short answer is they don't and his loss couple with coupled with Eric Ward's graduation means they'll need some playmakers to step up to replace the 189 balls they caught between them in 2013.
8. Iowa State
The Cyclones got a huge boost for their struggling offense with the hiring of Mark Mangino as offensive coordinator. While ISU will get a big boost in their play calling, it still takes players making plays. Grant Rohach showed promise at quarterback to end the season while the return of running back Aaron Wimberly and receiver Quenton Bundrage is a huge bonus.
Defensively, Jeremiah George and Jacques Washington combined for 252 tackles last season. Both are graduating. Those are two huge holes to fill heading into next season. There is still enough talent returning, however, namely Luke Knott and Jared Brackens, to make this a better than average unit.
Can the Cyclones return to a bowl game in 2014? Sure they can, but they open the season against a very good North Dakota State team (ask Kansas State about the Bison) and a road game at Iowa. How Iowa State fares in those two games will go a long ways in determining ISU's postseason hopes.
9. West Virginia
The Mountaineers struggle mightily last season finishing with a 4-8 record. Even so, West Virginia still held out hopes of going to a bowl game before losses to Texas, Kansas, and Iowa State to end the season put those hopes to rest.
With Ford Childress transferring, the quarterback duties likely once again fall to Clint Trickett. The Florida State transfer had his bright spots but also struggle with consistency. If he can show improvements in 2014, WVU's prospects for a successful increase dramatically.
Karl Joseph will lead a defense that improved last season but still has a long ways to go in stopping the offenses in the Big 12. There is some talent around him, however, with leading tackler Nick Kwiatoski returning along with Jared Barber giving WVU a good nucleus from which to build.
If there's any coach in the Big 12 on the hot seat next season, it is likely Dana Holgorsen. A four win season didn't sit well with the WVU faithful and athletic director Oliver Luck has made it clear he expects more. Of course, so does Holgorsen. Now he must prove he can deliver.
Charlie Weis handed the reins of the offense over to John Reagan this offseason and Reagan will have his hands full with an unit that was held under 20 points in 10 of their 12 games last season. Not to mention, one of the most productive running backs in KU history, James Sims, has been lost to graduation.
Jake Heaps returns at quarterback but some Jayhawks fans are likely wonder whether that is a good thing. I'll argue it's a good thing although the Jayhawks would benefit greatly from improved play from the wide receiver position. Miami transfer, Nick Harwell, should help in that category immediately.
The Kansas defense returns largely intact and if some of the recent junior college signees can start to make a bigger impact, Clint Bowen has a group that will surprise some in the Big 12.
Kansas broke their Big 12 losing streak last season, finally. Now, can they get to a bowl game? Let's not get ahead of ourselves, but how they fare at upstart Duke in their second game of the season could be a good indicator of what's in store for KU in 2014.
There were four. Then there were three. Then two. And now one. Those are the dwindling numbers of quarterbacks on Texas Tech's roster, at least as far as the four-deep looked midway through the season.
Redshirt freshman Clayton Nicholas already announced his intention to transfer to Bowl Green. Then freshman Baker Mayfield announced last week was leaving, as well. That led to Wednesday's announcement that sophomore Michael Brewer was leaving school following his graduation from Tech this spring.
QB Michael Brewer has announced he will transfer after the spring semester. He will remain on scholarship & graduate in May.— Blayne Beal (@BlayneBeal) January 15, 2014
“I am honored to receive my degree from Texas Tech and will always call this university home,” Brewer said in a statement for the athletic department. “I will never forget the friendships and memories I have made here at Texas Tech. Lubbock has been nothing but great to me and my family and we will always appreciate that. Wherever I may go, I hope our fans will respect the person and player that I am. The decision to transfer was well thought out by my family and myself and was one of the toughest of my life. I feel it’s the right decision for me moving forward. As always, Guns Up!”
That leaves sophomore-to-be Davis Webb as the lone man on the roster outside of another true freshman, Collin Bowen.
What exactly is going on at Texas Tech? If you're a quarterback, I can't think of many coaches that would be better to play for than Kliff Kingsbury and yet guys are leaving Lubbock like the zombie apocalypse just struck town.
Mayfield sighted a lack of communication between he and Kingsbury regarding his status on the depth chart as his reason for leaving.
Brewer was the odds-on-favorite to win the starting job prior to the season but a back injury put those plans on hold opening the door for Mayfield and Webb. But even after returning to health midway through the year, he wasn't giving much of a chance despite the Red Raiders struggling down the stretch. Is that why he's leaving though?
The fact is, we'll probably never know. Each guy has his own reasons and I'd be shocked if there was any comment from Kingsbury other than to say good luck.
All the departures leave Webb as the man for 2014. That's not necessarily bad thing considering how well he played at times during his freshman season. But if Webb goes down, the cupboard is now bare behind him which has to be a little concerning for Red Raider fans.
Dual threat quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, is expected to arrive this summer as part of the 2014 recruiting class, that is if he doesn't decide to play baseball. Mahomes, the son of former MLB pitcher Pat Mahomes, is a highly sought after baseball recruit and could be a high selection in the upcoming MLB draft.
For those of you wondering - like me - whether Brewer's decision may have reopened the door for Mayfield to return, he put those rumors to bed before they had a chance to get started via Joe Schad.
Baker Mayfield, who is at Oklahoma, says his plan has not changed despite loss in appeal to not yield yr of eligibility for Big 12 transfer— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) January 15, 2014
So what once looked like an abundance of talent at the position is now down to just one scholarship quarterback for spring practice. That's good for a healthy Davis Webb but if he goes down for any length of time, Tech might have to revert to on-campus tryouts among the studen population to find another one.
Of course, Texas Tech started this past season with a walk-on quarterback that didn't even arrive on campus until the summer months. That worked out in their favor with a 7-0 start to the season.
It might not be an ideal situation at the moment, but here's guessing Kingsbury and company get it figured out before kicking off against Central Arkansas come August 30th.
Nebraska 2014 Schedule
|9/13/14||@ Fresno State||9:30|
|10/4/14||@ Michigan State||7:00|
|11/28/14 (Fri.)||@ Iowa||TBA|