TGS 2015 COLLEGE FB PREVIEW...A LOOK AT THE BIG 12
Followign is our preview of the Big 12, courtesy Senior Editor Chiuck Sippl. Teams are presented in predicted order of finish, with last year's straight-up, spread, and "over-under" results as well as bowl appeaances...Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor
by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor
by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor
TCU (Straight-Up Record 12-1; Pointspread Record 11-2; Over/Under 8-5; Beat Mississippi 42-3 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl)...TCU was among the nation’s most improved teams last season, climbing from 4-8 in 2013 to a solid 12-1, an improvement of 7½ games. The only loss was a 61-58 late fade at Baylor, where the Horned Frogs led 58-37 with 11½ minutes to play.
With only five starters back on defense this season, TCU might give up a few more points than last year’s 19 per game (8th in the nation). However, by the end of 2014, HC Gary Patterson could not believe how much his offense had improved. Remember, many last August expected A&M transfer QB Matt Joeckel to win the starting QB job because Patterson had decided to roll the dice on offense, bringing in Sonny Cumbie from Texas Tech and Doug Meachem from Houston to install the “Air Frog” uptempo spread. But then-junior Trevone Boykin--who twice previously had been moved to WR--took hold of the starting QB spot in the new attack like an amphibian takes to water, passing for a school-record 3901 yards and 33 TDs (only 10 ints.) while rushing for 707 yards and 8 TDs on the ground. Now, the 6-2, 205 Boykin goes into his senior year as a bona fide Heisman candidate, focused on boosting his completion percentage (61.2% LY) and hitting more passes downfield to a veteran, versatile WR crew.
Leading the that receiving group is 6-3 go-to guy Josh Doctson (65 recs., 1018 yards, 11 TDs; 17 catches of 20+ yards). Doctson is expected to be recovered from a hand injury in spring practice. 6-1 sr. Kolby Listenbee sparkled in spring, with HC Patterson hinting at new plays this season to feature his special talents. 5-10 sr. Deante’ Gray is a home-run threat who combined with Listenbee 77 recs. and 12 TDs last season. And there is some seasoned depth behind them, including 6-0 jr. WR/PR/sprinter Cameron Echols-Luper, who was tried at CB in spring because of his size, speed and athleticism.
TCU won its last three games of 2014 by a combined count of 145-16, partly because of the emergence of former Nebraska RB Aaron Green (922 YR), who blossomed once he took over for injured RB B.J. Catalon in the new spread scheme. Green started only the last six games, and by the end of the year he had gained 7.1 ypc. 5-11, 221 soph Trevorris Johnson (302 YR in 2014) earned more carries this year. Meanwhile, soph Kyle Hicks (160 YR in 2014), a one-time blue-chip recruit, and redshirt freshman Shaun Nixon, coming off an ACL tear, provide the Frogs with more high-quality potential at RB than they’ve had since joining the Big 12 three years ago. Unlike the out-of-balance Mike Leach-type Air Raid offenses, TCU remained committed to the ground last year, with 2689 YR vs. 4240 YP.
The veteran OL returns four senior starters, led by 6-6, 308 LT Halapoulivaati Vaitai. And there is some experience in reserve. The new starter up front is 6-5, 310 soph RT Joseph Noteboom, a redshirt soph from powerhouse Plano High who saw action in every game LY.
TCU is strong in many areas for 2015, but has two major concerns. One is its backup QB spot, where sr. Bram Kohlhausen (7 of 9 LY) is a walk-on. Former A&M starter Kenny Hill is on the way for next season to run the “Air Frog” offense. But if something happens to the mobile Boykin, it’s either Kohlhausen or, perhaps, redshirt freshman Forest Sawyer, a 6-5, 220 pocket type.
The other main concern is the back seven on defense, especially since Gary Patterson buddy and long-time TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas has retired. Promoted to take over as co-coordinators are safeties coach Chad Glasgow and LBs coach DeMonte Cross. The front four of Patterson’s pet 4-2-5 scheme appears to be well set heading into the season, with senior DEs James McFarland, Terrell Lathan and Mike Tuaua having combined for 17½ sacks last year. 6-2, 305 senior DT David Pierson had another 3½ and is getting a look from NFL scouts. Junior DT Aaron Curry is a Texas-native transfer from Nebraska who sat out LY. And 6-2, 255 soph DT Chris Bradley ascended in spring due to his quickness and competitiveness.
Thus, the Frogs figure to be voracious again up front. However, TCU lost both of its stalwart starting LBs from last season (A-A MLB Phil Dawson & OLB Marcus Mallett) and three members of its five-man starting secondary. With this year’s first three games at Minnesota, vs. Stephen F. Austin and vs. SMU, the rebuilding back seven should be able to get by. But the new unit better have things squared away before TCU’s conference opener at pass-happy, upset-minded Texas Tech in Lubbock.
Patterson, a defensive maestro who tutors the basics of the 4-2-5 and its variations, made a special project in the spring of finding a new LBing pair, with the winners in April being true freshman MLB Mike Freeze and jr. SLB Sammy Douglas. Freeze missed his senior year of high school play due to injury, but picked up the TCU defensive quickly as an early enrollee this spring. The speedy Douglas has been impressed on coverage teams the last two years and now appears ready to start. Another true frosh early enrollee, Alec Dunham, is expected to see action early in the season.
The returning starters in the secondary are sr. FS Derrick Kindred (80 Ts and 4 ints. LY) and soph CB Ranthony Texada (1 int.), who should be more aggressive in coverage after starting every game LY. Senior Kenny Iloka and junior Denzel Johnson are penciled in as the other two safeties. But the other starting CB might turn out to be true freshman DeShawn Raymond, a four-star early enrollee from Louisiana.
Patterson designed his 4-2-5 to both muffle the run of “conventional” attacks and to have more speed on the field to help cope with the proliferation of spread offenses. The Frogs were 8th nationally vs. the run last season, but 75th vs. the pass, yielding too many big plays. However, in many respects the scheme was successful, forcing many useful three-and-outs, giving up only 27.9% third-down conversions (third in the nation), and collecting 40 takeaways (second in the nation).
TCU has also excelled on special teams, and not just because of kicker Jaden Oberkrom, who hit 22 of 27 FG attempts last season. The Horned Frogs—largely due to Patterson’s use of special teams as training ground for his prideful defenders—have been the “Stonewall” Frogs when covering punts, with only nine returned in all of 2014, for a “total” of minus 9 yards.
SUMMARY...Going into the Big 12 season, the key game on paper appears to be the Baylor-TCU contest on November 27. But with that event to take place at Fort Worth with his revenge-minded, defense-oriented Horned Frogs, Gary Patterson’s boys rate being a slight favorite over the Bears. The youngsters on Patterson’s rebuilding defense should be grisled by then, but perhaps not to last year’s level, when TCU allowed only 2.8 ypc and finished +18 in turnovers. However, with the head-to-head result now being the first Big 12 tiebreaker by rule (after last year’s ambiguous co-championship), the Purple rate the edge. And Patterson loves having a senior QB. Yes, there is lots of quality balance in the league and plenty of tough road games, so both TCU and Baylor will have to be near their best virtually every week to make sure that final game is meaningful. TCU itself faces four tough conference road games (K-State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma).
BAYLOR (2014 Straight-Up Record 11-2; Pointspread Record 7-6; Over/Under 8-
5; Lost 42-41 to Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl Classic)...Let’s get right to the point. The eyes of Baylor this season are firmly focused on a place in the College Football Playoff.
The positives on the team are rife. A total of seventeen offensive/defensive starters return, plus the Bears’ placekicker. The starting OL and DL return intact. Four seniors are scheduled to start in the line on offense. At RB, one who gained 1000 yards last year returns, and at WR, two. On defense, the seasoned front four includes an All-American at DE and candidate for A-A at DT. The LB group is led by a 2014 freshman A-A. The secondary is led by two DBs who had 4 ints. each as sophs last year.
Did we mention a returning QB who has thrown for 61 TDs vs. only 10 ints. the last two seasons? No. Because that’s what the Bears don’t have in 2015. Bryce Petty has taken his talents to the NFL (N.Y. Jets). So the pressure falls upon redshirt junior Seth Russell to guide the high-revving, high-output, high-scoring Baylor machine to football’s final four. Last year, the Bears led the nation in plays per game (87.5), yards per game (581.5), and points per game (48.2). Early returns in spring indicate that the lightly-experienced Russell (15 career appearances, one start) is very likely to be up to the task. The 6-3 Russell has a big arm, and he is quicker on his feet than was Petty. Says Russell, “I think I’ll be able to extend plays. No offense to Bryce. He’s an amazing QB. But speed-wise, I have the advantage. If the defense drops eight on third-and-6, I can get those 6 yards if I need to. We’re going to be able to open up the running game more with my feet and the running backs.”
To be sure, Russell takes over as the driver of a finely-tuned offense. Kendal Briles, son of HC Art, takes over as offensive coordinator after spending seven years as the team’s WR coach and passing game coordinator. The coordinator spot opened when long-time Briles assistant Philip Montgomery took over as head coach at Tulsa. As for any nepotism involved in the promotion, father Art says forget it: “If I didn’t hire him, somebody else was going to.”
To be sure, Russell takes over as the driver of a finely-tuned offense. Kendal Briles, son of HC Art, takes over as offensive coordinator after spending seven years as the team’s WR coach and passing game coordinator. The coordinator spot opened when long-time Briles assistant Philip Montgomery took over as head coach at Tulsa. As for any nepotism involved in the promotion, father Art says forget it: “If I didn’t hire him, somebody else was going to.”
Kendal Briles has been tasked with speeding up the Baylor attack even further, and he’s got the talent to get the job done. 6-6, 310 sr. LT Spencer Drago appears NFL ready and leads the experienced offensive line. Shock Linwood (1252 YR and 16 TDR last year) leads a RB crew that coaches consider to be five deep. 6-0, 225 jr. RB Devin Chafin (383 YR, 8 TDs) adds a proven power element to the Baylor spread.
The two returning big-play WRs are 5-11 jr. Corey Coleman (64 recs., 1119 yards, 17.5 ypr) and 6-0 soph KD Cannon (58 recs., 1030 yards, 17.8 ypr). Sr. Jay Lee and soph Davion Hall are also proven contributors on offense. But the star wideout of spring was 6-4, 220 Ishmael Zamora, who dazzled at times. Adding speed was 5-11, 165 redshirt freshman Chris Platt.
Yes, Art Briles has ‘em lined up for his stretch-the-field, deep-throwing attack. But the head coach also points out that his spread offense is not one of those that neglects the run. The head coach is quick to point out that the Bears ran 54% of the time last season. And Baylor will have a special weapon this season, as 6-7, 410 sr. LaQuan McGowan will wear the TE number of 80 in 2015. McGowan, formerly a backup G who helped in the past in the “jumbo” short-yardage packages, will be employed as an extra TE this season after demonstrating soft hands on an 18-yard TD catch last year.
If Baylor is truly going to make a strong run at the CFP, the Bears need their veteran defense to advance another level. The unit was 107th vs. the pass last season and, although it collected a respectable 37 sacks, none occurred after foes had penetrated the red zone. That lack of clutch playmaking showed up in the 42-41 loss to Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl Classic, when BU gave up 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, including the winning TDP with just 17 seconds left. Just one key play by the defense might have saved the day. Baylor was also outscored 14-0 in the fourth of its only other loss last season, a 41-27 setback at West Virginia.
There is hope for improvement this season partly because 6-9, 280 sr. DE stud Shawn Oakman decided to return to Waco for his final season. Oakman posted 11 sacks, 19½ TFL, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries last year and is being compared by NFL scouts to former college DEs such as J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Among his other freakish workout tricks, Oakman is on video performing a 40-inch vertical standing box jump while holding a 70-pound dumbbell in each hand. Yes, Oakman will be given extra attention by opponents. But he is supported up front by soph DE K.J. Smith, a freshman A-A who had 5 sacks LY; 6-2, 300 jr. DT Andre Billings, who had 11 TFL and possesses a good upside; and 6-4, 300 sr. DT Beau Blackshear, who had 4½ sacks last year.
At LB, the Bears have lost the very valuable Bryce Hager (top tackler LY with 114), but the team has another blossoming star in 5-10, 225 soph hitting machine Taylor Young (92 Ts, 4 sacks LY; only 8 starts). The intact secondary boasts a couple of ball hawks in jr. CB Xavien Howard and jr. FS Orion Stewart, who each had 4 ints. LY. But more playmakers were sought in the spring after the back unit was burned too often for big plays last season. Briles is hopeful that increased competition and greater depth will help improve the unit. Plus, promising 6-2, 195 soph nickel-back Travon Blanchard (31 Ts LY) now has a full year under his belt.
Soph kicker Chris Callahan (18 of 26 LY) made 17 of his last 20 as a freshman, but needs to increase his length after missing 4 of 6 beyond 40 yards.
Briles is somewhat concerned that the high-powered Bears had the dubious distinction of leading the nation in most penalties and penalty yards. Some in Waco say the penalties are merely a function of the rapidity of Baylor’s uptempo attack and its impressive number of plays. That likely is one factor. But Briles says he will not be deterred on offense. “We’ll continue to look for ways to stretch that defense as far as we can. You can say whatever you want, but they’re mimicking what we’ve done. It makes us have to keep looking for different ways to do things...so we have to be different again, and we will be.”
SUMMARY...Briles has taken former Southwest Conference “church school” Baylor to a 40-12 record the last four years, securing at least a piece of the last two Big 12 titles. He now has a flashy new stadium as a recruiting tool, and a flashy, big-play offense to drew talented recruits. That latter fact is keeping the Big 12 establishment folks in Austin and Norman plenty worried, as Briles was already doing well enough with his carefully-targeted and carefully-nurtured two and three-star recruits. All that being said, however, the on-paper odds seem to be against Baylor reaching the College Football Playoff this season. First, victories against Baylor’s non-conference foes of SMU, Lamar, and Rice will not do much to impress the selection committee no matter how big the victory margin. And, second, at least one, key late-season loss is not hard to envision in the Bears’ final five games—at K-State, vs. Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, at TCU, and vs. Texas. That key contest in Fort Worth figures to be especially difficult to win after the Horned Frogs blew a 55-37 lead last year in a 61-58 last-second loss. So, we’ll forecast another fun ride in Waco in 2015, but one that ends just short of the Big 12 championship and a spot in the CFP.
Note that Baylor games continue to exceed oddsmakers’ totals expectations, going “over” 43-18-1 in the last five years (8-5 in 2014).
OKLAHOMA STATE (SUR 7-6; PSR 5-7-1; O/U 7-6)...It will be both a big surprise and major disappointment if Oklahoma State is not substantially improved this season. Injuries at QB and in the OL slowed down the usually high-flying Cowboy offense in 2014, reducing its output to just 27.6 ppg after a robust 39.1 in 2013. Dual-threat jr. QB J.W. Walsh suffered a severe ankle injury in the second game. And because his former OSU QB mate Wes Lunt had transferred to Illinois, one-time No. 3 QB Daxx Garman became the triggerman for the Cowboy offense for most of last year. Garman, due to a high-school injury and a previous transfer, had not seen any game action since 2009 in high school, so it was no surprise that he had problems keeping pace in the dynamic Big 12, hitting only 55% with 12 TDs and 12 interceptions.
Garman was handed the task because HC Mike Gundy wanted to redshirt promising true freshman Mason Rudolph, who started the season third on the depth chart. But when Garman was injured in the tenth game, the red shirt came off the highly-regarded Rudolph, whose first two collegiate starts were exceedingly challenging—at Baylor and at Oklahoma. But the 6-4, 220 freshman held his own, passing for 281 yards and two TDs in Waco, and then another 273 yards and two TDs in Norman. Thanks to a dramatic, last-minute punt return TD by Tyreek Hill to tie the score at Oklahoma, the Cowboys upset the Sooners, finished 6-6 to grab a bowl bid, and then upset Washington 30-22 in the Cactus Bowl with Rudolph passing for 299 yards and another two TDs. OSU had found its strong-armed QB of the future.
Now, heading into 2015, big things are expected of the talented soph, who is being counted upon to provide even more pyrotechnics through the air. The Cowboys believe they have ten quality wideouts capable of starting, including big-play guys soph James Washington (28 recs. & 6 TDs LY), sr. Brandon Shepherd (39 & 5), and jr. Jhajuan Seales (18 & 3). 6-3 redshirt freshman Keenen Brown flashed big-time potential in spring, joining the deep field in the fight for playing time.
One of the problems for OSU last season was its rushing offense, which generated an unacceptable 3.5 ypc and finished 99th in the nation with only 137 ypg. Last year’s RBs disappointed when asked to carry more of the load following the QB injuries, but it wasn’t all their fault. Injuries to the rebuilding OL required some of the Cowboy blockers to play out of position while several youngsters had to be forcefed into action. Throw in the inexperience at QB, and you got 40 sacks allowed. Now, the big uglies up front return three starters, including impressive 6-7, 305 soph Zach Crabtree, who is likely to be a fixture at RT for several years. Plus, the demise of the UAB program has gifted the Cowboys with a bona fide LT in 6-6, 330 Victor Salako, a two-year starter for the spread-oriented Blazers.
Meanwhile, HC Gundy has decided to include more participation by his FB/H-back/TE hybrids in this year’s attack in order to further restore punch to the overland attack. 6-2, 250 sr. Jeremy Seaton had 13 recs. LY and should see even more playing time TY as a blocker for the RBs and a blitz picker-upper for the valuable Rudolph. 5-11, 205 jr. Rennie Childs is the leading returning rusher with only 294 yards and 3.8 ypc. But Childs showed improvement in spring. And the fall will bring a talented juco RB to Stillwater. 6-2, 210 Chris Carson, a one-time recruit of Georgia, averaged 7.2 ypc last season in the JC ranks. On campus for spring practice was 6-0, 205 speedster Todd May, who led his JC team to consecutive 12-0 marks and who is expected to be used in the RB/KR/WR role last year played by Tyreek Hill, who was dismissed from the team last December.
The offense owns another valuable piece in dual-threat QB Walsh, ecovered from his latest injury and now a sr. leader. The talented but erratic and oft-injured senior says he never considered following the recent trend of transferring after learning in spring he would go into August as No. 2. Instead, Walsh becomes a high-quality change-of-pace and situational QB for OSU, plus a valuable backup.
Seven starters return on a defense that is very deep in the back seven. The starting DEs are solid, led by 6-4, 275 future NFLer Emmanuel Ogbah, last year’s Big 12 DLman of the Year, who collected 11 sacks. Three-year starter Jimmy Bean (3½ sacks) is on the other side. DT is the major area of concern on the defensive unit going into this season, with new starters required at both spots. One of those question marks vanished in spring due to the excellent showing of 6-3, 300 soph Vincent Taylor.
HC Gundy says there is fine depth at LB, with excellent experience represented by 6-0, 240 sr. Ryan Simmons (96 Ts LY) and jr. OLB Seth Jacobs (92 Ts and 2 ints.).
Meanwhile, the secondary might be the deepest ever in Stillwater, led by jr. S Jordan Sterns, who led the team with 103 Ts in 2014. Rangy 6-3 soph S Trey Flowers (56 Ts) started six times. Four CBs with starting experience are available, including sr. cover corner Kevin Peterson (2 ints.), emerging soph Ramon Richards (3 ints.), and jr. Ashton Lampkin (2 ints. in only four games before an ankle injury). Joining that group will be sr. transfer CB Michael Hunter, a 2½-year starter at Indiana looking for “orange-er” pastures and a bowl game to finish his career. With up-and-coming soph Darius Curry (a four-star recruit) also in the group, the Cowboys own coveted CB depth in a league that needs plenty of it in order to match up with the many high-flying spread passing attacks.
Jr. PK Ben Grogan converted 22 of 28 FG tries last season.
SUMMARY...Last year’s 7-6 mark was the worst for Gundy (84-44 career) in seven seasons. The head coach knew there might be a downturn after losing 28 seniors from 2013, and last year’s early QB/OL injuries made the situation worse. Many fair-weather fans howled. Confesses Gundy, “There was a time I felt underappreciated.” But Gundy’s new-found patience now appears to be paying off. If OSU’s RBs come through, as expected, and if its OL is improved, as anticipated, this year’s attack should flourish. The defense has depth at key positions and should improve. The Cowboys’ toughest conference games (TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma) are all at Boone Pickens Stadium. OSU appears to have all the makings to not only be a spoiler in the Big 12 race, but also a major contender. But Gundy remains aware of the bottom line, saying “If we don’t win our league, we’re never going to play for a national championship.” That task seems a bit too tough in Stillwater this season.
OKLAHOMA (SUR 8-5; PSR 5-8; O/U 9/4; Lost 40-6 to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl)...Changes are being made in Norman. And some of them are a bit curious. One of them that isn’t is the hiring of a new DB coach, that being Kerry Cooks, who has been at Notre Dame the last five years. The previous secondary coach was Mike Stoops, who remains as defensive coordinator for brother Bob, but switches from DBs to OLBs as position instructor. Meanwhile, following the early departure of mammoth NT Jordan Phillips to the NFL, Oklahoma is also shifting from its recent 3-4 base back to a 4-3.
The main reason for the changes on defense was the series of defensive failures last season, when the 8-5 Sooners lost 4 of their last 9 games, including three home games, including their Bedlam rivalry game to Oklahoma State in OT, followed by a 40-6 blasting administered by Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, with marginal QB Cole Stoudt burning the OU defense for 319 yards and 3 TDP. That humiliating loss to the Tigers was the last straw for HC Bob Stoops, who saw his often-mystified secondary give up 276 ypg passing last season, ranking a lowly 117th of 125 teams. Considering the caliber of athletes signed by the Sooners over the years, that ranking is embarrassing. And 2014 does not represent the first failure of an OU secondary, which has endured many discombobulations at key times over the years.
Considering the many volatile attacks in the Big 12, defense is once again the key concern going into 2015. The LB corps is potentially outstanding, led by A-A OLB Eric Stryker, who had 9 sacks LY. Jr. MLB Dominique Alexander (107 Ts LY) and jr. OLB Jordan Evans (92) helped OU stuff the run (3.0 ypc) in 2014. Moreover, sr. MLB Frank Alexander, suspended all of last season, returns after being OU’s top tackler in 2013.
The front four and the secondary are different matters. The only proven player on the defensive line is sr. Charles Tapper, who had 3 sacks LY. Yes, there are plenty of DL athletes in Norman, but effective DE and DT rotations must be developed quickly, as 2015's second game is a visit to up-and-coming Tennessee in Knoxville.
At defensive back, jr. CB Zack Sanders (6 ints., 8 passes broken up last year) emerged as one of the best in the Big 12, and soph Steven Parker flashed star potential at safety. Soph CB Jordan Thomas and soph S Ahmad Thomas (74 Ts LY) saw lots of action in 2014. But new secondary coach Cooks says that newcomers will get a chance to show their wares early after last season’s numerous Sooner failures. True freshmen marked for early trials are well-regarded recruits CB P.J. Mbanasor, S Will Sutherland Jr., S Prentice McKinney, and S Kahlil Haughton. Says Cooks of his many youngsters, “They better be ready to go. I need those guys. They’re going to be young and new. But it they come in with passion and energy and want to get on the field...I’m going to push them that way.”
The Sooner offense has its own concerns, but RB is not one of them. Not with burly 237-pound soph Samaje Perine back after starting 2014 as No. 3 on the depth chart but emerging to gain 1713 yards, including a record 427 vs. Kansas. But Perine might have trouble matching his 2014 total this season, as the Sooners are loaded with RB talent. Not only is 6-1, 220 backup Alex Ross (595 YR, 6.8 ypc LY) returning, but he is being joined in the RB queue by 6-2, 217 redshirt freshman Joe Mixon, a blue-chipper rated higher than Perine coming out of high school. Mixon was suspended for all of last season after a battery charge. There is also expected to be a place for 5-8, 182 jr. Daniel Brooks, a scatback expected to be more useful this season in Oklahoma’s revised offense.
For his new-styled attack, HC Stoops has dipped into the past to guide OU’s new future. Yes, the Sooners put up an acceptable 36.4 ppg last season. However, due to QB inconsistency and the presence of Perine, poorly-balanced OU was 10th in the nation in rushing (261 ypg), but only 83rd in passing (204 ypg). Thus, Stoops reluctantly replaced QB coach and co-off. coord. Josh Heupel, who led the Sooner offense in its 2000 BCS title game victory. Now in charge of re-establishing the Oklahoma aerial game is Lincoln Riley, a Mike Leach Air Raid disciple who coached for seven years at Texas Tech and for the last five at East Carolina. When Stoops took over in Norman, Leach was Stoops’ first offensive coordinator, lasting just one season at OU before being tabbed to take over in Lubbock.
The challenge for Riley is to develop the Sooners’ flagging aerial attack that was once famous for turning out prolific passers such as Josh White, Sam Bradford, and Landry Jones. This year’s starting QB gig remained undecided after spring, but most expect former Texas Tech QB Baker Mayfield (eight starts for the Red Raiders in 2013) to get the first shot. Mayfield tossed a pair of bothersome interceptions in the spring game. But he ran the spread in high school and at TT. Meanwhile, 2014 starting QB Trevor Knight failed to live up to the promise exhibited in the Sugar Bowl the previous year, when he lit up Alabama for 348 yards and 4 TDs, accurately hitting 32 of 44 mostly short, quick passes. Knight, a darting runner, is more of an option type (339 YR LY), but had only 14 TDP in 2014 vs. 12 ints., hitting just 56.5%, an unacceptable rate of efficiency. 6-4 soph Cody Thomas (45.5%, 2 TDs, 4 ints.) started three games when Knight was sidelined with a neck injury.
Big-play WR Sterling Shepard (51 recs, 970 yards) and fellow sr. Durron Neal (42) return, but depth must be developed for the revised aerial scheme. While the recent attacks of many Air Raid teams have virtually eschewed the run, Riley’s ECU offenses produced a 1000-yard rusher in two of the last three years. So, considering their RB talent, expect the Sooners to have more balance than most other Air Raids around. One of the more important tasks of August workouts will be to meld an effective offensive line, where OU lost a monstrously-large total of 105 starts to graduation last year, returning only sr. starting C Ty Darlington and half-time starting G Nila Kasitati.
SUMMARY...A combination of weak passing (17 TDs vs. 17 ints.) and a porous secondary (only 12 ints. vs. 23 TDP allowed) was a key factor in the 8-5 Sooners finishing -5 in turnover margin in 2014. By comparison, Oregon was +23; TCU +18. So, even with an embarrassment of riches at RB, and a dearth of proven weapons at receiver, Stoops is willing to roll the dice and transition back to his preferred uptempo, pass-heavy attack of the recent past. There might be some “growing pains,” but transfer QB Baker Mayfield has shown the ability to get the job done. There are plenty of athletes on the rebuilding defense, but it will need a little time to develop clutch playmakers and to jell. Another 8-5 season is unlikely in Norman. But so also is a Big 12 title for the Sooners, especially considering OU’s last three games—at Baylor, vs. TCU, and at Oklahoma State.
TEXAS (SUR 6-7; PSR 7-6; O/U 4-9; Lost 31-7 to Arkansas in Texas Bowl)...The transition from Mack Brown to Charlie Strong enters its second year. And there are even more changes in the works than in Year One, which ended with a struggling offense (only 21.4 ppg; 106th in the nation) and a 6-7 record after a one-sided 31-7 licking administered by one-time Southwest Conference rival Arkansas in the Texas Bowl. Five times last year , Texas was held to 10 points or fewer.
Some more of last year’s transitionary attrition occurred in the offseason (former five-star OLman Darius James transferred to Auburn). But the no-nonsense Strong now has two classes of his own recruits, and he has fully installed his core value system (honesty; no drugs, guns or stealing; treat women with respect) among all players remaining. Strong has called last year’s 6-7 mark an embarrassment, so changes are forthcoming on both offense and defense.
On the attack, last year’s pro-style system—designed to exploit the talents and experience of returning QB David Ash—is gone, in favor of the in-vogue, uptempo spread. That new attack is better suited to the dual threats presented by returning starting QB Tyrone Swoopes (5-7 as a starter LY; 58.3%, 13 TDs, 11 ints.) and promising redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard. After spring, Strong said that the jumbo-sized 6-4, 245 Swoopes will go into August camp as No. 1, but that the quicker 6-2, 200 Heard has definitely closed the gap. Both might see action early in the season. But maybe not so much in the opener, which is on the road against national contender Notre Dame. However, there is the feeling in Austin that Heard’s athleticism in the new spread might eventually prevail over Swoopes’ greater experience and raw power.
Regardless of the QB, the running aspect of the new Longhorn offense is likely to be more of a factor than the aerial aspect. The leading RB is expected to be Johnathan Gray, the one-time five-star recruit who had 637 YR last year while splitting time with Malcolm Brown. Gray is expected to be quicker this season, now more than one full year removed from a torn Achilles in 2013. And Strong likes his young potential at RB, with 231-pound soph D’Onta Foreman and quick redshirt freshman “Duke” Catalon providing other dimensions. True freshman Chris Warren III could also get some playing time.
Even before the transfer loss of offensive tackle James, the Longhorns had a few issues in their OL, even though three starters return. All told, there are 52 starts returning, but last year’s group was disappointingly inconsistent. And the new spread attack has opened the door of opportunity. Plus, four true frosh offensive linemen enrolled early for spring, with 6-5, 290 T Connor Williams grabbing a tentative starting spot.
6-1 sr. Marcus Johnson (27 recs. LY) leads a mostly green receiving corps greatly in need of development in the fall. New WR coach Jay Norvell—for seven years at Oklahoma, most recently as co-off. coord.—says true freshmen will get a shot in August. Incoming WR John Burt and TE Devonaire Clarington are expected to get early opportunities. However, consistency among the receivers is expected to be an issue for UT early in the season.
Such is not the case on defense, which is expected to be a strength for Texas once again this season. Last year’s early retirement (after the first game) due to concussions of veteran QB Ash put lots of pressure on the Longhorn defense, which had been shocked repeatedly by running QBs in 2013. But Strong, who coordinated national championship defenses at Florida for Urban Meyer, helped stop the bleeding, with the Horns allowing only 3.9 ypc in 2014, finishing 25th in total yards allowed, and ending 11th vs. the pass. The Horns collected 40 sacks.
This year’s defensive platoon returns only five starters but figures to again be a solid unit, one that will feature more of the increasingly-popular 4-2-5 scheme. The strength is expected to be the defensive line, led by jr. DT Hassan Ridgeway (6 sacks LY) and sr. Desmond Jackson (coming off a foot injury in spring). And defensive coordinator Vance Bedford (a former Longhorn DB) likes his depth at DE, led by sr. Shiro Davis, who recorded 3½ sacks LY in a rotational role. The DE platoon also includes promising soph Naashon Hughes, jr. Bryce Cottrell (the surprise of spring), and 6-4, 260 early enrollee juco Quincy Vasser, who is expected to contribute immediately.
Last year’s top LBs, Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond, have moved on, but UT returns experienced 6-3, 252 sr. ILB Dalton Santos and sr. OLB Peter Jinkins. But those two will have to fight to hold their jobs vs. bright incoming talent, especially blue-chip early-enrolling Malik Jefferson—whose dynamism was quickly noted in spring—and redshirt freshman Edwin Wheeler, who also impressed. With all the speed and offensive variety in the Big 12, there will be plenty of chances for all four, and even a couple more.
The starters in the five-man backfield configuration figure to be good, but there is a rapid drop-off in experience, especially after sr. CB Sheroid Evans, who missed LY due to a knee injury, was lost for 2015 in spring due to further knee issues. Elsewhere, sr. Duke Thomas (3 ints. LY) is solid at one CB, jr. Dylan Haines (4 ints. LY) is set at strong safety, and noted hitter Jason Hall is at free safety. Redshirt freshman John Barney, a four-star recruit in Strong’s first recruiting class, has been groomed to hold down the key nickel-back spot in the 4-2-5. Coaches are hopeful that the starting group is durable, as the Longhorn backups will be greenhorns, and the youngsters will have to be fast learners when facing the deceptive, speed-laden attacks of Baylor, TCU, WV, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech. But Strong, who is rebuilding Texas from the ground up, as he did the Louisville program, says, “I have no fear at all of playing a redshirt freshman. If he earns it, and he ends up becoming the starter, I’m good with it, because I know that he is good enough and he can get the job done.”
Last year’s special teams were a disappointment overall. Kicker Nick Rose hit 14 of 21 FGs. But the kick coverage was spotty, the return yardage poor, and no TDs were generated.
SUMMARY...Strong-willed Charlie Strong has gone out of his way to be more friendly and accessible in his second year at UT. He’s taken his weekly radio show on the road in Austin, engages the proud Longhorn fans, signs autographs. He invited the likes of Tony Dungy and Lou Holtz to address the team in spring. But Strong still needs to produce a better record on the field, especially because the sale of beer has been approved this season at 100,000-seat Royal-Memorial Stadium, providing fuel for unhappy fanatics. Texas’ drop in the Big 12 has been due partly to overrated recruits in recent years and partly due to blue-chippers lost to competing schools in the Big 12, and now the SEC. Strong concedes that as many as five DBs and four WRs from his 2015 class are unlikely to be redshirted for the coming campaign. In fact, fully 21 of UT’s 25 incoming freshmen were enrolled by June. The Longhorns will be no “easy out” this season. But in order for Texas to begin climbing the ladder after last year’s 5-4 conference finish, the young Horns will need improved production from the QB spot...and in a hurry. More likely for UT is the role of Big 12 spoiler in 2015, with a good shot at another minor bowl.
KANSAS STATE (SUR 9-4; PSR 8-5; O/U 8-5; Lost 40-35 to UCLA in Alamo Bowl)...K-State will have a much different look this season. Despite a somewhat vulnerable defense (28 points or more six times) and a sputtering running game (101st in the nation; only 3.7 ypc), the Wildcats were still in the hunt in the Big 12 in the final week of the seson, ending up at 7-2 in league play, only one game behind TCU and Baylor.
Last year’s team depended more on the pass than previous Bill Snyder editions, thanks to the presence of sr. QB Jake Waters (3501 YP, 22 TDs), big-play wideout Tyler Lockett (106 recs. for 1515 yards to become the team’s all-time leading receiver), clever slot guy Curry Sexton (79 catches for 1059), who always seemed open, and useful sr. TE Zach Trujillo (19 recs. for 20.5 yards apiece). But that passing emphasis was more by necessity than by choice. Snyder, who has always liked to run his QBs at key junctures of games, had to alter that thinking near midseason of 2014 when Waters sustained a shoulder injury. And no K-State RB gained more than 76 yards in any one game last season. Passing is what the Wildcats did best in 2014, so that’s what the Wildcats did most.
With the departure of that quartet of seniors, look for a change of emphasis back to the more-familiar Kansas State ground game that will once again include lots of QB draws, delays, zone reads, options, and counters, all generally well-blocked and well-executed. And look for more support from the RB spot, as the Wildcats return only a vapor of QB experience.
Three will be battling for the starting QB job come August. Leading the way out of spring was 6-4, 205 jr. Joe Huebner (9 of 17 passing, 142 YR in seven games as LY’s backup). An all-around athlete with a strong arm, Huebner also played WR and DB in high school, but never started at QB! But the nard-nosed Huebner provides the type of elements at QB that Collin Klein (currently on staff as a grad asst.) did a few years ago at K-State. Then, there is 6-4 soph Jesse Ertz (four token appearances LY), the Iowa Player of the Year in 2012 who tossed 98 TD passes as a prep. Dual-threat, true freshman Alex Delton enrolled early to learn the KSU offense in the spring. Quick and elusive, the 6-1, 196 Delton rushed for 1519 yards LY in high school while passing for 1402. With those three QBs strong in different areas, it’s most likely two, or even all three, will see action in the Wildcats’ first three games--vs. South Dakota, at UTSA, and vs. Louisiana Tech--before K-State’s tough conference opener at Oklahoma State.
The RBs were a disappointment overall last season, but returning jr. Charles Jones (540 YR, 13TDR) provides experience and still has room to develop. Spring work showed that Jones will be pressed for playing time by a couple of redshirt freshman speedsters—5-8, 182 Dalvin Warmack and 5-10, 191 Justin Silmon. And you can look for more this season from 6-3, 235 FB Glenn Gronkowski, the hard-blocking, good-receiving younger brother of the Patriots’ TE. Four of five starters return along the OL, where all will be seniors except for the new center, expected to be 6-4, 302 redshirt freshman Dalton Risner.
The WR situation is in rebuilding mode with the loss of two 1000-yard receivers in Lockett & Sexton, but 6-1 sr. Kody Cook (20 recs. LY) and 6-2 jr. Deante Burton (17) both saw considerable action in 2014. And the WR standout of the spring was 6-4 sr. Kyle Klein, the younger brother of former QB Collin. Kyle missed last season due to a disc injury.
Six starters return on defense, and that unit might be able to hold its own much of the time. The most experience is at DB, where 5-11 “speed” CB Morgan Burns (3 ints. LY), 6-1 “physical” CB Danzel McDaniel, and sr. S Dante Barnett (28 career starts; 3 ints. and 77 Ts LY) are back. 6-3, 215 soph OLB Elijah Lee (4½ sacks in a situational role LY) is now ticketed for the starting lineup. And speedy jr. LB Charmeachealle Moore is back in action after being injured in the first game last year. The projected Wildcats starting front four combined for 12 sacks in 2014. That group--jr. DE Jordan Willis (4 sacks), sr. DE Marquel Bryant (3), sr. DT Travis Britz (3) and soph DT Will Geary (2)--offers the promise of a bigger upside in 2015, but quality backups need to be developed.
HC Snyder is a strong proponent of the “bend, but don’t break” philosophy on defense. Even in the explosive Big 12, with all its pyrotechnics on offense, Snyder says, “By laying off people and keeping them underneath you, you make them march down the field and put them in a position that if they make a mistake, they stop themselves.” Yet, it must be pointed out that K-State was unable to beat any of the four best teams on its schedule in 2014, with the four Wildcat losses coming against Auburn, TCU, Baylor, and UCLA. The Wildcats allowed only 23.2 ppg. But a little more aggression at key times in 2015 might have been prove helpful.
Special teams play, another Snyder trademark, was usually excellent last season, with soph K Matthew McCrane hitting 18 of 19 FGs after taking over early in the season and with the return game producing three TDs. In spring, 5-9 RS freshman WR Dominique Heath indicated he might be the next stickout KSU return man.
SUMMARY...A couple of strengths of last year’s veteran KSU offense (35.8 ppg) was its minimum of mistakes. The Wildcats turned the ball over only 13 times, finishing +8 in turnover margin. And they were 14th best in fewest penalties. However, with 2015's inexperienced QBs learning on the fly, those edges appear certain to diminish. It would be no surprise to see another Bill Snyder team develop rapidly as the season progresses. But this year’s conference schedule is frontloaded, with Oklahoma State, TCU, Oklahoma, Texas, and Baylor comprising K-State’s the first five conference games. If the Wildcats are still close to the league lead after that tough stretch, people will be talking about another Bill Snyder miracle in Manhattan. A mid-level bowl is more like it.
WEST VIRGINIA (SUR 7-6; PSR 7-6; O/U 4-9; Lost 45-37 to Texas A&M in Liberty Bowl)...West Virginia advanced a step last year, finishing 7-5 in the regular season vs. 4-8 in 2013. Yes, the Mountaineers were outclassed in the second half of their bowl game vs. Texas A&M, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism in 2015. For the first time since joining the Big 12 in 2012, WV should have one of the better defenses in a league annually loaded with offense. Last year, the Mounties handed Big 12 co- champ Baylor its only conference defeat, 41-27. And WV had co-champ TCU on the ropes, but five giveaways eventually resulted in a late 31-30 Mountaineer loss.
Still, the main impression is clear. Top Big 12 contenders best not overlook West Virginia or they might end up in the Valero Alamo Bowl, not the College Football Playoff. With nine starters (and 15 with significant starting experience) returning on defense, the Mountaineers seem eager to challenge the rapid-firing attacks of the league. In fact, Tony Gibson, the coordinator of WV’s 3-3-5 attack, has doubled down on his platoon, saying, “We want to be aggressive. We want to dictate tempo of games. We don’t want to let the offense do that to us; that’s when you get on your heels.” And Gibson went even further, putting the pressure on himself: “There are a lot of expectations now, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. We should be really good. And if we’re not, I’ll take that responsibility on me.”
It can easily be argued that Gibson should tone things down, at least a little bit. In 2014, his unit—although younger and thinner than this season—gave up 27.6 ppg and collected only 20 sacks and two fumble recoveries (last in the U.S.) all season. There were some positives, as Mountie defenders held their own on third down (31%). But a terrible punt return game frequently fumbled the ball right back.
This year’s defensive unit will be led by the five starters at DB, who include sr. NFL prospect S Karl Joseph (92 Ts), sr. nickel-back K.J. Dillon (3 ints.), jr. CB Daryl Worley (3 ints.), and freshman A-A safety Dravon Henry. A veteran, well-coordinated back unit is a big plus in the pass-happy Big 12. The LBing rotation includes five seniors, including the productive Nick Kwiatkowski (103 Ts LY) and redshirt senior MLB Jared Barber, a 2013 starter who returns this year after missing 2014 rehabbing a torn ACL.
The potential weak link in the stop unit is the front three, where jr. DE Noble Nwachukwu is the leading returning Mountaineer sacker with only two! Further clouding the up-front 2015 prospectus is the offseason arrest of returning starting NT Kyle Rose, who was tazed and arrested following an April dust-up outside a nightspot. The team has announced any punishment will be internal. But the climate for bad behavior of football players these days is not favorable for perpetrators. It is hoped that 6-5, 225 juco DE Larry Jefferson will develop quickly as a pass rusher.
The offense is expected to go through some growing pains, but is still expected to be potent, albeit more run-oriented than last year, when creative HC and off. coord. Dana Holgorsen had two dynamic targets in 6-3 Kevin White (109 recs.; 7th overall selection in the NFL draft) and elusive 5-8 speedster Mario Alford (65 recs.). With those two missing from Holgorsen’s versatile version of the spread attack, WV is counting on improved play from sr. 5-7 inside receiver Jordan Thompson (49 recs. LY) and 6-1 outside receiver Daikiel Shorts (24 LY). The HC always had a knack of developing receivers when an assistant at Texas Tech, Houston, and Oklahoma State, and an even better knack of coming up with formation variations to cleverly exploit defenses. Thus, it was no surprise in the spring when 5-11 co-starting RB Wendell Smallwood (722 YR and 31 recs. LY) got action at receiver and athletic 6-2, 218 redshirt freshman backup QB William Crest got some trials elsewhere, as well.
The main man at RB is slated to be 5-10, 221 jr. Rushel Shell, who had 788 YR in 2014 despite ankle woes. Shell still has an upside and is one of those Mounties who needs to be more consistent. If Smallwood is employed more at receiver in 2014, 6-1, 224 redshirt freshman Donte Thomas-Williams--a former four-star recruit--will be the backup RB.
Holgorsen is expected to depend a bit more on his spread running game (43rd in the country LY) while 6-0 jr. QB Skyler Howard gains more experience. Howard (51%, 8 TDs, 0 ints.) played in four games LY, starting the last two when then-sr. Clint Trickett was sidelined due to concussion problems. Howard, a former JC transfer as a soph, was slow to pick up the WV offense, but showed a nice flair for it in his two starts and then pleased Holgorsen further with his rapid improvement in the spring.
Three starters return in the OL, and the Mountaineers received an unexpected surprise in May. 6-5, 318 Michigan transfer Kyle Bosch, a one-time coveted OL recruit who played just a handful of plays for the Wolverines last season before taking a leave of absence, has received permission for the NCAA to play this year and will immediately push for playing time.
Junior kicker Josh Lambert led the NCAA last season both in attempted FGs (39) and converted FGs (30). While that’s good in and off itself, it also means there were too many TD chances present that were not converted.
Finally, there is an irregularity that greatly hindered West Virginia in 2014, when the Mountaineers finished an awful -15 in turnover margin. As mentioned above, WV was last in the nation with only two fumble recoveries. But it was also last in fumbles lost with 19 (of 28 bobbles). That’s -17 in possessions just on fumbles! Statistics would predict at least some regression to the mean this season. However, with a new starting QB, the number of interceptions is likely to rise a bit. Simply put, the Mounties aren’t going too far until they are able to find the handles on the football.
SUMMARY...Last year’s 5-4 league record helped relieve some of the pressure on Holgorsen, with the intense yet likable head coach demonstrating a bit more useful patience. Sideline temper eruptions declined a bit. And there are a few other positive trends. After being disappointed when trying to recruit in the Big 12 hotbed of Texas/Oklahoma, West Virginia has found greater success by returning to its old haunts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, plus Florida, with those hard-nosed high schoolers eager to test their mettle vs. Big 12 foes traveling to the league’s eastern outpost of Morgantown. We believe def. coord. Gibson about his defense..IF it “bags” more sacks. Another bowl berth appears in the offing for 2015. But unless new starting QB Skyler Howard develops rapidly, the Mountaineers are more likely to play the role of spoiler in the Big 12 than the role of major contender.
TEXAS TECH (SUR 4-8; PSR 5-6-1; O/U 6-6)...The Kliff Kingsbury era, which began with such promise in 2013 with seven straight wins to open the season, has struggled with porous defense and turnover problems nearly ever since. Following that seven-game winning streak, the Red Raiders have gone 5-13. In 2014, TT failed to beat any team of decent importance, scoring wins only over FCS-level Central Arkansas, C-USA rep UTEP (by only four points), lowly Kansas, and beaten-down Iowa State. However, with a good cast of returnees on hand for 2015, plus the addition of a couple of blue-chippers on defense, an upward move is likely in Buddy Holly country.
As usual, Texas Tech has fine ingredients for its fast-firing Air Raid attack. This year, those ingredients include two veteran QBs, good depth at RB, a veteran OL, and nice returning experience at WR.
The two QBs are 6-3, 221 soph Patick Mahomes, who impressed after being forced into action as a true freshman last year, starting the last four games after wiry then-soph Davis Webb was felled by a shoulder injury. Although Webb (61.2%, 2539 YR, 24 TDs, 13 ints.) was developing, he was a bit too prone to key giveaways. Mahomes flashed both potential and inconsistency, hitting only 56.8% for 1547 yards, but with a favorable 16 TDs vs. only 4 interceptions. Until Webb shows that his shoulder is 100%, Mahomes (393 YP and 4 TDs vs. Oklahoma; 598 and 6 TDs vs. Baylor) will hold the starting spot.
Unlike most of the Mike Leach Texas Tech Air Raid teams, Kingsbury features the running dimension a bit more, partly because of the presence of darting 5-8, 198 sr. De’Andre Washington, who became the first Red Raider RB to gain more than 1000 yards since 1998, picking up 1103 yards on the ground, not to mention another 328 in receptions. Plus, soph backup Justin Stockton demonstrated some valuable home-run potential in 2013, picking up 396 YR on 8.2 ypc. Another youngster with big-play potential is incoming 5-11 true freshman Corey Dauphine, a 5-11 speedster from the Houston area.
5-7 sr. waterbug Jakeem Grant (67 recs., 7 TDs LY), 6-0 jr. Devin Lauderdale (31 & 7), and 6-0 jr. Reginald Davis (29 & 5) lead a WR corps with a good veteran base, but is seeking to improve its depth and reduce the frequency of drops it had last season.
Like most offenses, TT has often been at its best in seasons when featuring an experienced OL, and the Raiders go into 2015 with one of the more experienced front fives in the nation—three seniors; four players with at least two years of starting. Leading the way are 6-7 sr. all Big 12 tackle Le’Raven Clark and sr. Rimington nominee C Jared Kaster. The new guy up front is expected to be RS freshman RT Justin Murphy, who joins with a reputation as a dogged run blocker.
So expect the offense to pile up yards and points. After all, TT posted 30.5 ppg and 351 ypg passing last season; 153 ypg running. And that was despite an awful 28 giveaways (114th worst in the nation) last season, contributing to a terrible -13 turnover margin and leading to a whopping 116 opponents’ points. Not surprisingly, a major emphasis in the spring was ball security by the offense.
But another contributor to that -13 TO margin was the porosity of the defense, which garnered only six interceptions. Opponents rolled to 41.3 ppg against Tech last year, racking up 513 ypg. Opposing RBs stomped for 5.2 ypc, breaking 90 runs for 10 or more yards.
Hired to correct the situation is long-time NFL and college defense schemer David Gibbs, formerly at the University of Houston the past two seasons. Last year, the Cougars gave up only 21.8 ppg, and, in 2013, the UH snared 43 takeaways to help the Cougars finish +25 in TO margin. That’s the type of turnaround Kingsbury is hoping for when he tabbed Gibbs as his new defensive coordinator.
Gibbs will have decent material to work with in 2015. The entire secondary returns this season, including five with substantial starting experience. That unit was too young, and, thus, overmatched last season. This year, the DB platoon should be able to hold its own more often in the offense-oriented Big 12. And a little tighter coverage should be a plus for sr. DE Pete Robertson, who led the conference with 12 sacks last season.
There is hope that this year’s front seven will be tougher vs. the run. Big DTs Rika Levi (6-2, 335) and Keland McElrath (6-4, 307) are both former jucos who now have a year of Big 12 experience under their ample belts. Plus, in a bit of a recruiting coups, the Red Raiders somehow coaxed prized DT recruit Breiden Fehoko from Hawaii, and he enrolled in January and participated in spring. At LB, sr. MLB Micah Awe (69 Ts) is a veteran with starting experience, while 6-3, 226 soph transfer Mike Mitchell is a former five-star signee with Urban Meyer at O
Return To Home Page
Return To Home Page