After one weekend, the Big 12 was turned on its head. Big 12 favorite Oklahoma went down. The Sooners' biggest preseason threat, TCU, surrendered 41 points to South Dakota State. And Texas, well, landed the Big 12's biggest nonconference win in years.
It's looking like it will be another thrilling Big 12 season, with several teams looking capable of challenging for the conference crown. We know this bowl projection will change a bunch over the course of the year. But after a week, here's how we see it:
College Football Playoff semifinal: None
Allstate Sugar Bowl (New Year's Six): Texas
Valero Alamo Bowl: Okahoma
Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma State
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: TCU
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Baylor
Cactus Bowl: West Virginia
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Texas Tech
TCU quarterback Kenny Hill knows the spotlight. The former Texas 5A prep star at Southlake Carroll started eight games at Texas A&M in 2014 before his transfer to the Big 12 school.
He won the job in August, following four-year starter Trevone Boykin as Horned Frogs’ offensive catalyst. But coach Gary Patterson said this week, as 13th-ranked TCU readies to open Saturday night against South Dakota State, that Hill “needs not to try to win the world” in his TCU debut.
It’s a smart move.
The junior QB ought to aim to ease his way back into stardom as the Horned Frogs attempt to reload offensively. The Saturday opener at Amon G. Carter Stadium serves as a perceived tuneup for TCU ahead of its Sept. 10 meeting with Arkansas.
But the adjustment period for Patterson's team on offense may extend into September as the Horned Frogs replace Boykin in addition to their leading rusher and receiver from 2015.
“You’re just a little bit apprehensive,” said Patterson, entering his 16th season, “because you don’t know how that will all go. We’re hoping that those jitters, all those kind of things, those thought processes will go away early.”
Despite the lack of experience at skill positions, TCU hardly lacks for talent.
In addition to Hill, it returns running back Kyle Hicks, named to the Doak Walker Award watch list, and receive KaVontae Turpin, who was a standout return specialist who snagged 45 catches for 649 yards and eight scores as part of an explosive offense in 2015.
Deante’ Gray is also back at receiver after missing all of last season with a knee injury. He caught eight touchdowns in 2014. Additionally, heralded junior-college transfer Taj Williams and Emanuel Porter, who caught three touchdowns last year, top the depth chart at the wideout spots.
TCU opened last season with a No. 2 national ranking. It has finished in the top 10 in five of the past eight seasons and accumulated the fifth-highest FBS win total since 2005, behind Ohio State, Boise State, Alabama and Oregon.
So the expectation for Hill and the other new starters on offense is to win right away -- and to look good doing it.
Of course, you won't hear any of that from Patterson. He’s looking for a steady performance from his new-look offense and its QB.
This is no longer the unit that scored 45 points or more in six consecutive games a year ago.
“The biggest thing is having a handle for the offense and not feeling you have to do too much,” Patterson said of his quarterback. “Just run the offense and let the offense work for you.”
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M’s 2016 defense may be the best defense Kevin Sumlin has had in his coaching career.
On the surface, that doesn’t sound like much – Sumlin has long been thought of as an offensive-minded head coach and never has he had what would be considered an “elite” defense. The highest the Aggies have ranked in his time at Texas A&M was last season, when they were 51st in yards per game allowed.
But after a 2015 season in which they turned in their worst offensive season since joining the SEC -- and the team transitions to a new offensive coordinator and quarterback -- the Aggies could use some help from the defense if they’re going to win games.
On his annual alumni speaking tour this summer, Sumlin made no secret of his confidence in his unit, telling fans the Aggies could be a top-20 or top-15 outfit nationally.
Why is Sumlin so confident? Two main reasons: defensive coordinator John Chavis enters his second season in College Station, and there are several key defensive players returning.
“I think we've got a lot of guys back that are high-level players, NFL-caliber players,” Sumlin said. “That hasn't been the case [in the past].”
The players he’s referring to specifically are defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall and safeties Justin Evans, Armani Watts and Donovan Wilson. Garrett and Hall form what Chavis thinks can be the best defensive end tandem in college football, while Evans, Watts and Wilson bring a wide range of skills that helped the Aggies solidify their secondary and bring a unit that in 2014 ranked 102nd nationally in yards per game up to 51st in 2015.
Chavis last season went as far to compare Wilson to Tyrann Mathieu, who he coached at LSU. Because of Wilson’s ability both in coverage and to tackle and make plays near the line of scrimmage, the Aggies – who are a base 4-3 defense – will not often play three linebackers, as Wilson customarily serving as the fifth defensive back/third linebacker near the line of scrimmage. Chavis said Wilson could play safety, nickel and maybe even another spot.
“You want to get your 11 best players out on the field, and there’s no doubt he’s one of our best 11,” Chavis said.
There’s quality depth on the defensive line behind Garrett and Hall, and Chavis identified five defensive tackles that he feels confident can play on Saturdays. But they’re looking for a sixth. Linebacker and specifically, run defense, has been a weakness in recent years – even under Chavis last season – but playing only two linebackers (likely veterans Otaro Alaka and Shaan Washington) most of the time will help with depth at the position.
Said Sumlin: “Who's the third linebacker? Well, the third linebacker better be pretty damn good to get Donovan Wilson off the field….That's my thought process….The rotation changes drastically when you talk about depth when you're not looking for two or three deep for three guys and instead looking for two or three deep for two guys.”
Chavis said plainly, “We will be improved at linebacker. We’re bigger, stronger, faster.” He cited Alaka and Washington both able to lift more than 400 pounds on the bench press as a sign of improved strength for both.
Whether the Aggies actually turn out to be that caliber of unit remains to be seen. But Sumlin and Chavis feel good about where they are.
“We don’t want to be pretty good,” Chavis said. “We want to be great.”
With spring ball having come and gone, we've been updating our Big 12 position group rankings over the past two weeks.
We conclude the series with a look at special teams. On Friday, we'll recap the rankings.
1. Oklahoma State (3): Senior kicker Ben Grogan should end up breaking Oklahoma State’s career records for points scored and PATs this year. Punter Zach Sinor had an impressive year for a freshman, as did returner Jalen McCleskey. Kickoff specialist Matt Ammendola impressed in the spring game. All in all, the Cowboys are in good shape.
2. Kansas State (1): Even with elite returner Morgan Burns gone, you know special teams will remain a strength for the Wildcats. Dominique Heath will only keep getting better as their speedy punt returner, and kicker Matthew McCrane and punter Nick Walsh are proven guys who were both honorable mention All-Big 12 picks last fall.
3. Oklahoma (2): The Sooners lost a valuable special teams weapon when former All-America kick returner Alex Ross transferred to Missouri following spring ball. John Humphrey could’ve been a solution to return punts, but he transferred to Arizona State. OU does still have a second-team All-Big 12 kicker/punter in Austin Seibert to rely upon, and Joe Mixon can return kicks.
4. TCU (4): This No. 4 spot might be a little high for the Horned Frogs since they’re breaking in a new placekicker (Jonathan Song) and a new punter (Adam Nunez). But they get a few bonus points for possessing KaVontae Turpin. He’s the best returner in the Big 12 and can get even better as a sophomore.
5. Iowa State (6): Kicker Cole Netten can be one of the conference’s better kickers if he can stay consistent, and kickoff man Chris Francis pushed him this spring. Big receiver Allen Lazard averaged nearly 20 yards per punt return last year, and Trever Ryen has proven to be reliable in a return role as well.
6. Baylor (7): Kicker Chris Callahan has had many ups and downs and needs to be more consistent, but Baylor can turn to punter Drew Galitz for long-distance field goals as well. He had a solid year as a true freshman punter and will take on kickoffs as well. Lynx Hawthorne is a quality punt returner, and the Bears have all sorts of options for kick returners.
7. West Virginia (5): WVU moves down this list after former Groza Award finalist kicker Josh Lambert received a three-game suspension from the Big 12. The fact Lambert missed the spring, too, meant junior Mike Molina is currently handling the punting, kicking and kickoff duties. The Mountaineers do still have a few talented returners.
8. Texas Tech (8): Kicker Clayton Hatfield and punter Michael Barden are both sophomores but should be solid this season. Nobody can replace Jakeem Grant, but Cameron Batson and a few others will try. Tech did add one of the nation’s top special-teams coaches, Joe Robinson, to make sure this unit keeps improving.
9. Texas (9): Texas does have Aussie punter Michael Dickson, a sophomore with a big leg. Texas does not have a placekicker, nor did one emerge this spring. So some unproven newcomer will probably take on those duties. Speedy sophomore Ryan Newsome will be the Longhorns’ new return man and was prolific in that role as a high schooler.
10. Kansas (10): The Jayhawks bring every contributor back from a special teams unit that wasn’t too successful in 2015. David Beaty’s decision to hire veteran Big 12 assistant Joe DeForest as his special-teams coach should help, but KU must improve in pretty much every aspect of the game’s third phase.
FORT WORTH, Texas – Kyle Hicks glanced around the room during TCU’s first offseason team meeting and figured it out quickly.
“You look at all the seniors that are gone and think, man, this is a new team,” Hicks said. “This year it was kind of weird. I’m looking around and thinking, ‘I’m an oldhead now.’”
He didn’t see many guys who were on the team back when he arrived in 2013. The Horned Frogs have seven scholarship seniors this year. Guys like Hicks, a fourth-year junior running back, have to take over this team now.
So he wasn’t surprised when Gary Patterson told players this spring their motto for 2016 is “Turn the Page.” The show goes on. For Hicks, that will mean stepping into the spotlight. His page is mostly blank.
Ask him to name his best moment of his sophomore year and he’ll point to a 21-yard touchdown run at Texas Tech, his first career score in Big 12 play. Soon after it, Hicks realized he hadn’t visited the end zone in nearly three years.
Hicks suffered a torn left ACL and meniscus at the end of his senior season at Arlington Martin High. That forced him to redshirt as a freshman in 2013. He said he didn’t really feel 100 percent healthy until the bowl practices leading up to TCU’s Chik-fil-A Peach Bowl win over Ole Miss to end the 2014 season.
In two seasons as Aaron Green’s understudy, Hicks rushed for 422 yards on 101 carries. He always admired how much emotion Green played, how all-in he went when he played. He thinks he can bring that same passion.
“In the three years I’ve been here, I’ve always kind of been sitting back, soaking up notes from the running backs before me,” Hicks said. “So this is a challenge I’m ready for.”
He’s never rushed for more than 53 yards in a game or received more than 11 carries. Patterson said TCU coaches tried to keep Hicks’ workload somewhat light this spring, in the hopes it’ll help his endurance this fall.
“The longer he goes, the better he’s done,” Patterson said.
Hicks will get help this year from a good collection of backs – Shaun Nixon, Trevorris Johnson, Sewo Olonilua, Darius Anderson – but this is his chance to be the Frogs’ workhorse back and one of their most important leaders.
Green and his fellow seniors set a high standard. This next group isn’t getting as much hype, Hicks says, but he knows they can put up the same numbers.
“Knowing we have a pretty young squad, somebody has to step up and lead us. Not saying we don’t have any leaders, but I want to be that guy,” Hicks said. “I want to help this team win football games. I know what it takes now to be successful here. I want to make sure this program stays on the right track.”
In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we focus on the recruiting class of 2015, including those who redshirted last year, those who played and those who could be X-factors:
Who is the Big 12 true sophomore to watch this season?
Max Olson: I know the obvious answer among that large group of Texas sophomores is Malik Jefferson, but how about Connor Williams? You don't see too many guys in this league take over the left tackle job and shine as a true freshman. Williams is mentally sharp, super athletic and plays with a mean streak. As long as he stays healthy, he could become a monster.
Brandon Chatmon: Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson has star written all over him, and I’m expecting him to start approaching those lofty expectations as a sophomore. He started nine games as true freshman, but that doesn’t mean he always knew what to do and where to be. After a full season understanding the demands of Big 12 football, I expect Jefferson to excel as a second-year sophomore and transform himself from a productive player to a potentially dominant one.
Jake Trotter: There are several more Texas sophomores I could including, including Patrick Vahe and John Burt, but I'll mention Kansas State cornerback Duke Shelley here. Jefferson might be the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, but Shelley could be an All-Big 12 performer as a sophomore himself. Shelley flashed a ton of potential after being tossed into the starting lineup as a true freshman. He already appears to be one of the better cover corners in the league.
What about the redshirt freshman to watch?
Olson: Oklahoma saved some really intriguing redshirts for this season, and the guy at the top of the list for me is defensive tackle Neville Gallimore. The big fella (6-foot-3, 320 pounds) from Canada benefitted from a year of sitting out and is in better shape to help the Sooners this fall. He arrived in Norman with big expectations (No. 165 in last year's ESPN 300), and he'll start living up to them this year.
Chatmon: Sounds like West Virginia linebacker David Long is on a mission to make an impact as a redshirt freshman -- making him a great candidate to be a key player for West Virginia. Long’s situation is a good combination of potential meeting opportunity, as the Mountaineers lose three seniors at linebacker. He is poised to step up after a season as an understudy in 2015, and while he may not set the world on fire initially, Long's role could expand and increase as the season goes on and he starts to show why he was one of West Virginia’s most impressive redshirt freshman a year ago.
Trotter: With Ranthony Texada coming back from a knee injury and Julius Lewis out for the season already, the Horned Frogs were hurting for cornerbacks going into the spring. They aren't hurting so much anymore. That's due to the emergence of Jeff Gladney, who was forced to redshirt last year due to injury. He was probably the biggest standout of TCU's spring scrimmage, providing sticky coverage all day. In Gladney, converted receiver Tony James and, eventually, Texada, the Horned Frogs could be just fine at corner this season.
Which second-year player could be an X-factor?
Olson: I know technically he's a redshirt freshman this year, but I'm going with Kansas State QB Alex Delton because he did play in two games last year. Considering the challenges K-State faced at the QB spot last year, it's sort of a miracle Bill Snyder still took that team to a bowl. The Wildcats really need a (healthy) quarterback to elevate their offense, and Delton should eventually be that guy. Can he step up this spring and prove he's ready?
Chatmon: Oklahoma State receiver Jalen McCleskey seems prime to be an X-factor in the Cowboys' offense. Mason Rudolph and James Washington return as a dynamic duo that showed what it can do at its best against TCU (when they connected five times of 184 yards and three touchdowns), and Marcell Ateman looks ready to take advantage of his final season. That’s where McCleskey fits in with his quickness, speed and athleticism, which allow him to make teams pay for the attention they give Washington and Ateman on the outside. McCleskey won’t be the best receiver on the team, but he could be a critical big-play threat in this offense.
Trotter: Max took the guy (Delton) I was going to say, so I'll just mention a few names: Texas Tech RB Corey Dauphine, who will bring big-time speed to the Tech offense; K-State LB Elijah Sullivan, who flipped from Auburn to the Wildcats; Oklahoma DE Ricky DeBerry, who will be part of the contingent charged with replenishing the Sooner pass rush; Oklahoma State S Kenneth McGruder, who has already become a leader for the Pokes defensively; and Baylor RB JaMycal Hasty, who might not play a bunch because of Johnny Jefferson and Shock Linwood, but could make an impact when he does.
TCU closed out spring ball with a spring game over the weekend. Here's what we learned from it:
1. The QB battle goes on: Kenny Hill started the game at quarterback over Foster Sawyer, but coach Gary Patterson was adamant that the competition is far from decided, and that it was simply Hill's turn to start with the first team. Either way, neither Hill nor Sawyer delivered a spring game performance to separate themselves in the derby. Hill completed 9 of 20 passes for 75 yards with neither a touchdown nor an interception. Sawyer went 7-of-15 passing for 80 yards with an interception and no touchdowns. Though Hill seems to be the favorite heading into the summer, this battle will continue. Said Patterson, “We’ll go into fall camp with two guys working to be the starting quarterback.”
2. TCU might have answers at CB: With Ranthony Texada still working his way back from a knee injury and Julius Lewis already out for this season, the Horned Frogs entered the spring with major questions at cornerback. But Jeff Gladney, who was forced to redshirt last year due to injury, might have been the standout of the scrimmage, displaying tenacious coverage. With converted receiver Tony James also surging over the spring, the Horned Frogs could turn out to be just fine at cornerback. Said Patterson, "[They] have come a long way. They’re going to get pushed, so they’ve got to get stronger, but they did some good things.”
3. The DEs stand out: After missing all of last season after breaking his toe on a sprinkler head, James McFarland, TCU's 2014 sack champ, was back on the field for the spring game and often was able to pressure the quarterbacks. But he wasn't the only the defensive end to stand out. Tipa Galeai delivered the highlight of the day, tipping a Sawyer pass to himself and returning it 65 yards for a touchdown.
4. Song in line to replace Oberkrom: One of TCU's more underrated losses off last year's 11-win squad was Jaden Oberkrom, who was an All-Big 12 placekicker. Jonathan Song, a sophomore out of Fort Worth, got the first shot at kicking in the scrimmage and nailed a pair of field goals, from 33 and 29 yards. Special teams has been a strength for the Horned Frogs, especially over the past two years. TCU needs Song to emerge for that to remain.
5. TCU deep at receiver: Even with Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee moving on, the Horned Frogs clearly still have a number of intriguing players at receiver. Deante Gray, a starter in 2014, was back for the spring game after missing all of last season with an injury. Highly-touted junior-college transfer Taj Williams, who had a touchdown, and LSU transfer John Diarse got plenty of time, as well. Even with Emanuel Porter, Jarrison Stewart and Ty Slanina all sitting out, the Horned Frogs had no problem putting talent on the field at receiver for the spring game. Led by reigning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year KaVontae Turpin, this figures to be one of the better units in the Big 12 once again.
IRVING, Texas -- Last week’s Big 12 meetings delivered less action than a Woody Allen film.
Over more than eight meeting hours covering two days, the league’s presidents and athletic directors didn’t vote on a conference championship game. They didn’t even set a date on when they might vote on a conference championship. And, sorry BYU or Cincinnati, they didn’t compare individual expansion candidates, either.
In fact, the only “news” to come out of the conference office was the league’s newfound so-called public “unanimity” among the leadership.
No longer would Oklahoma president David Boren be sounding off about the conference being “psychologically disadvantaged,” they said. Instead, going forward, the conference would present one voice, and that would be that of commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
"At some particular point, sort of like a family argument, is it better to do it in Applebee's or is it better to do it at home?" explained Kansas State’s Kirk Schulz, who, as the Big 12 board chairman, was the only president to address reporters. "I think we're at a point that we decided that when we have the family argument, we're going to do it at home with the door shut.”
That’s all fine and good. And no doubt, the Big 12’s public perception would be well-served if the bickering were saved for the boardroom.
But whether it happens in an Applebee’s, a Ruby Tuesday’s or behind closed doors of the conference office, the battle for the future of the Big 12 still lies ahead.
In Irving, Boren accommodated the theme of unanimity, declining multiple interview requests while deferring to Bowlsby and Schulz. But in the weeks leading up to the conference meetings, Boren had already, emphatically, given his opinion about the state of the Big 12 and what direction it needed to take.
“I have been pushing, and I still feel very strongly, that there’s the Big 12, which has only 10 members, and when you look at the big five conferences, we’re the one with only 10 members, we’re the one without a [a championship game], we’re the one without a conference network,” he told the Tulsa World. “And when you look at the long-range stability and the well-being of the conference, I think we’re disadvantaged by being the ‘little brother,’ so to speak, by being smaller. I think expansion is crucial.”
Curiously, Schulz noted he didn’t get why outsiders have come to believe the Big 12 to be disadvantaged.
“Frankly, it drives me bananas,” Schulz said. “I don’t necessarily understand why it’s out there.”
Well, it’s largely because Boren has been terming the Big 12 just that in the press for months. And just because Boren apparently played Kumbaya last week doesn't mean he will in the future.
As he has stated several times, Boren clearly wants Texas to give up the Longhorn Network in favor of a conference network.
He wants the Big 12 to expand back to 12 members.
And he wants a conference championship game.
And he wants them all at once, together -- or else.
“I think if -- if -- we can get the Big 12 on the right track, if this comprehensive plan could be adopted, then I would rather stay in the Big 12,” he told the World last month. “I think that would be to our advantage. But it’s something that we really need to have happen. Certainly, my first choice, if we can get the right things done in the Big 12, the right steps taken, especially these three, then I think we ought to stay in the Big 12.
“If it just doesn’t happen, then I try to think long-term.”
Though Bowlsby and Schulz didn’t disclose the nature of the discussions, they did acknowledge that they went around the table and allowed each university representative to air his or her concerns before the room. That evidently included a desire for Boren to pipe down publicly. But it also allowed everyone to know where the other members stood.
“All 10 CEOs are open to the idea of looking at the number of schools, a championship game and what a [conference] network might look like,” Schulz said.
“A lot of smart people sitting in a room laying their cards on the table and talking about what will make the conference stronger going forward,” Bowlsby called it.
Boren’s cards have been on the table for some time.
The Big 12 came out of Irving wanting to paint the facade of unanimity. But until Boren’s fight is had, the Big 12 will continue to be anything but behind the door.
AUSTIN, Texas -- After all the faxes, hashtags, dabs, DMs and dust settled, Charlie Strong had himself the No. 10 recruiting class in the country and a burgeoning reputation as a closer. Few programs won national signing day quite like Texas.
So now the question becomes this: How much closer is Texas getting to regaining its powerhouse status? Or, as one reporter asked Wednesday, does Texas now have enough talent to win the Big 12?
“I knew that question was coming,” Strong said. “Let’s see what we’ve got. We’ll put it together and see what we’ve got.”
How they managed to get this 24-man class featuring 12 ESPN 300 recruits and turn a 5-7 season and no bowl game into a fireworks display on signing day takes a lot more than convincing kids to #believe.
Strong and his staff were strategically on point with this group in ways that weren’t always obvious over the course of 2015. By not pressing their targets for early commitments and not giving up on kids who did make those pledges, Texas coaches were able to build year-long relationships before cranking up the heat during in-home and official visits in the final month.
“I just try to tell them, ‘Hey, listen, I don’t need a commitment right now. You go ahead and visit wherever you want to. We’re still gonna be here. We’re still gonna recruit you hard,’” Strong said.
Top signing day gets Brandon Jones, Jeffrey McCulloch and Jordan Elliott all cited the family vibe they fell for at Texas and the admiration they developed over time for Strong. And when it came time for their official visits to Austin, Texas converted relationships into results.
But it wasn’t just coaches. If this wasn’t clear before, it’s obvious now: The youth movement going on inside Texas’ locker room helped yield this remarkable haul.
Strong witnessed a level of player recruiting like he’d never seen before. Go back to January 15. Texas brought in 19 official visitors on the same weekend its early enrollees moved to campus. Most coaches might not bring that many kids into town on the most important recruiting weekend of the year, because one-on-one time is of the utmost importance.
Strong didn’t have to call on his freshmen to host those visits. They volunteered. They hung around from start to finish, answering questions and building bonds. Malik Jefferson, Charles Omenihu, DeShon Elliott, Kris Boyd, Patrick Vahe and their buddies took over.
“The best salesmen were our players,” Strong said.
Added recruiting coordinator Brian Jean-Mary: “We give Malik a lot of credit, because I know he is the unofficial mayor of Austin, but I could mention 10 guys that did an unbelievable job.”
The pitch from those freshmen wasn’t all that different from the one that hooked them a year earlier: If you come to Texas and come prepared, you’re going to play right away.
“Most kids, when they see five wins -- especially at a place like this -- they see opportunity,” Jean-Mary said.
Texas signed 24 players on Wednesday, and 18 of them were on campus that weekend. In fact, the Longhorns only ended up using 32 of their permitted 56 official visits. By the time things got serious in December and January, they knew exactly who they needed.
Now that all those guys are on board and convinced Texas will be chasing titles in the near future, you do have to wonder when it's all going to come together.
Add up the 2015 signees on Texas’ roster, all those freshmen who just signed, and you get a grand total of 50 scholarship players.
How those 50 players develop and produce – how many of them start, how many of them shine, how many of them leave – will probably determine whether the Strong era at Texas is a successful one.
Those 50 signees are Strong’s best asset, his best defense. They buy him time and patience. Texas’ best players in 2016 are going to be sophomores, and everyone knows it. That Strong’s boss, athletic director Mike Perrin, showed up to the coaching staff’s war room Wednesday morning to celebrate these recruiting victories tells you he gets it, too.
But as Strong proudly told stories of his recruiting victories and bonds on Wednesday afternoon, he remembered to pause and acknowledge what must come next.
The Longhorns won just enough games to win all these elite recruits. Now they need more.
“We know how important winning is,” Strong said. “We know we have to win some football games.”
Oklahoma advanced to the College Football Playoff.
TCU completed the biggest comeback in bowl history.
Baylor annihilated the ACC Coastal champs without bothering to use a quarterback.
The 2015 season in the Big 12 officially was put to bed late Saturday night after West Virginia rallied to topple Arizona State in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl, giving the conference a respectable 3-4 bowl record.
In many ways, the Big 12 took a much-needed step forward this year. Oklahoma State, TCU and Baylor all finished with double-digit win totals. The Sooners also showed that a Big 12 team could in fact make the playoff, even in a disadvantaged format.
But as it finished on a high with the TCU and West Virginia wins, this bowl season also revealed that the Big 12 still has a ways to go before becoming a premier conference again.
That begins with Oklahoma’s outcome in the playoff.
The Sooners stormed through the Big 12’s backloaded November by taking down Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State in consecutive weeks to clinch the conference title and secure a spot in the second playoff.
But though they entered the Capital One Orange Bowl as the betting favorite to defeat Clemson after averaging 300 rushing yards the final two months of the season, the Sooners ultimately proved no match for the Tigers.
The Orange Bowl wasn’t decided by turnovers, coaching blunders or special teams miscues. Clemson simply imposed its will on both sides of the ball in the second half, and Oklahoma was powerless to do much about it. And while dominating what had been one of the Big 12's most physical teams, the Tigers outgained Oklahoma on the ground, 312-to-67
“They played in a more physical way than we did,” said Bob Stoops, affirming what anyone who watched the game could easily discern.
By making the playoff, the Sooners broke down one barrier for the Big 12, which got shut out of the inaugural playoff last year despite having a pair of worthy teams in Baylor and TCU.
But now two years into the playoff era, the Big 12 remains the only major conference yet to make the national championship game.
That is a troubling trend for a conference that has struggled to be relevant at the very top over the last decade. It's now been six years since a Big 12 member played for a national title. And not since 2005 has a Big 12 team won it. The SEC, ACC and Big Ten, meanwhile, have won national titles in the past three years. And Alabama alone has won three titles over the past six seasons and will play for a fourth against Clemson next Monday.
Yet, the Orange Bowl debacle wasn't the only troubling sign for the Big 12 this bowl season. And when it came to facing the SEC, the reason was the same.
In the three bowl matchups against the SEC, the Big 12 -- like Oklahoma vs. Clemson -- was completely overmatched up front. LSU outrushed Tech 384-to-29; the Rebels outrushed Oklahoma State 207-to-63; and the Razorbacks outrushed K-State 254-to-79. As a result, the Big 12 lost those three games by a combined margin of 79 points.
“Fast and physical,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury called the Tigers. Mike Gundy and Bill Snyder essentially echoed the same following their losses, too.
The bowl season wasn't all bad for the Big 12.
Baylor, in fact, showed that a Big 12 team could still win a battle in the trenches. Despite not having leading rusher Shock Linwood or Biletnikoff winner Corey Coleman due to injuries, the Bears set an all-time bowl record with 645 rushing yards in their resounding 49-38 win over North Carolina.
Saturday, senior quarterback Bram Kohlhausen helped deliver the Big 12 another quality bowl win in his first career start, rallying TCU from a 31-point deficit for a stunning 47-41 triple-overtime victory over Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
And the same night, West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard played the best game of his career, as well, throwing for 532 yards, which included the game-winning touchdown pass, to lift the Mountaineers to a 43-42 win in the desert.
Before those two wins, it looked as if the postseason would be an unmitigated disaster for the Big 12, especially when TCU trailed 31-0 at halftime.
The bowl season, turned out, was no catastrophe. Considering the opponents, three out of seven wasn't half-bad. Yet, all told, it wasn't great, either.
Overall, the Big 12 did take a step forward this year. But as this bowl season showed, the conference still has work ahead.
SAN ANTONIO -- One of the greatest bowl game comebacks in the history of college football started with a wardrobe change.
Gary Patterson laughs at how stupid that sounds, but it felt necessary. His TCU team was down 31-0 to Oregon when he sneaked into his Alamodome office at halftime and quickly changed clothes. The black, long-sleeved mock turtleneck wasn't working.
He turned to his purple, short-sleeved Nike mock turtleneck, a lightweight shirt that absorbs sweat and, evidently, absolves fear. Had to change visors, too, to make the new look match.
And then his Horned Frogs scored 47 points, 38 of them in a row, and miraculously stunned Oregon 47-41 in triple overtime to steal a Valero Alamo Bowl victory Saturday night.
Gotta be the shirt, right?
"I will never wear black again," Patterson said with a smile.
And he had to chuckle, because he'd done this a few months ago at Iowa State. He wore black and led 24-21 at halftime. He changed to purple and won 45-21. How could he make this same mistake twice?
"You know, I'm trying to look thinner," Patterson joked. "At the end of the year, you're not in as good of shape. At least that's a good excuse."
TCU would've had a lot of reasonable excuses for losing this game. The incomparable Trevone Boykin was gone, sent home after a bar fight and third-degree assault charge. Josh Doctson, the best receiver in TCU history, was too hurt to play. An impossibly long list of injuries should've wrecked this season a long time ago.
The 31-point deficit had been understandable, almost justified. The Frogs had no business winning this one. Yet there they were, standing under a shower of confetti and balloons after pulling off the most insane rally imaginable. When the festivities were over, players snapped photos with fans and family. A few stepped on balloons, bursting them with their cleats.
Doctson watched the revelry with as much pleasure as he felt when Patterson addressed the team at halftime. TCU is a proud program, Patterson preached, and the first half wasn't what this program is about. So decide to play. If you do, you've got a chance.
"We checked ourselves as men," Doctson said. "Nobody wants to go out at the end of the year and get skunked."
Added Patterson: "The key to the story is, you can't look around and blame anybody else."
Across the field, Oregon endured its own dramatic change at halftime. Vernon Adams Jr. took off his pads and put on a hoodie. His marvelous day -- and college career -- were done after a hit to the head late in the second quarter. He didn't make it back to the sideline until early in the third quarter. By then, the Ducks were already in trouble.
A 10-play drive for a TCU field goal. Oregon goes three-and-out. An 11-play drive for a touchdown. Oregon fumbles the kickoff. Another easy TCU touchdown. Now it's 31-17 and the Ducks are panicking.
And, amazingly, Bram Kohlhausen is not. Good thing Patterson didn't change quarterbacks at halftime. Something finally clicked for Kohlhausen, the senior transfer who'd never started a game in his career, and there was no stopping him.
"Nobody had a doubt that, at 31 points, we could come back," Kohlhausen said.
He hit on 19 of 26 throws for 255 yards after halftime and scored four touchdowns, including the game winner on an option keeper that was as unexpected as his breakthrough.
When it was all over, Kohlhausen shrugged like it was no big deal.
"With their quarterback out, if we get something on the board and get a couple turnovers, defense plays well. ... I mean, 31 points was easy," he said.
"I don't know about easy," Patterson interjected. "But I'll stick with him, because he did it."
So did TCU's defense. Oregon backup Jeff Lockie was struggling to even catch snaps against the Frogs' swarming D. The Ducks could run only 18 plays in the second half. Net gain: 18 total yards. Each drive was stomped out as easily as all those postgame balloons.
Still, this game had to go to overtime. And double overtime. And then triple overtime. For a team that won on a miracle tip at Texas Tech, needed a bomb to beat Kansas State and somehow stuffed Baylor in a monsoon in overtime, this was the masterpiece.
By the time he was done celebrating, Patterson was simply too exhausted to contemplate it all on Saturday. Like everyone else who'd just witnessed one of the game's most unbelievable comebacks -- tying the bowl record set by Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight Bowl -- he walked off asking the night's impossible question.
"How do you explain any of it?" Patterson questioned. "I mean, seriously, how do you explain any of it?"
SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- In the most insane bowl game of the season, No. 11 TCU rallied from a 31-0 halftime deficit to force overtime against No. 15 Oregon and then came up with a little more magic in triple overtime for a 47-41 victory to win the Valero Alamo Bowl. Here’s what we learned:
What the win means for TCU: Now that was special. Gary Patterson’s squad produced the most memorable win of this bowl season by regrouping at halftime and refusing to give up. The Horned Frogs' odds of beating the Ducks without Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson weren’t great, and pretty much slim-to-none when they took a 31-0 deficit into halftime.
But senior quarterback Bram Kohlhausen ended up being sensational, throwing for 351 yards and scoring four total TDs while guiding the greatest comeback in the Patterson era at TCU. He showed up big in overtime, rushing for the game winner on an improbable option keeper, and his phenomenal defense finally finished the job for him four plays later. The Frogs end up with 11 wins and an awful lot to be proud of after a season that should've been derailed by injuries.
What the loss means for Oregon: Once Vernon Adams Jr. was knocked out of this game, the Ducks were doomed. This was shaping up to be an easy Oregon blowout, but losing Adams late in the second quarter on a head-to-head hit flipped this entire ballgame. The Ducks completely unraveled on defense against Kohlhausen, a guy who'd never started a game at the FBS level, and were clearly gassed in the fourth quarter.
Losing this game should've been impossible, but as we learned multiple times in 2015, these Ducks are a very different team when No. 3 isn't on the field. That was made painfully clear on Saturday night.
The game turned when… Patterson changed shirts at halftime. Well, that didn’t actually change the result, but it certainly didn’t hurt. Patterson switched from a black mock turtleneck to a purple one in the hopes of changing the Frogs’ fortunes. Maybe the changeup brought a little good mojo, but the way his defense rebounded and thrived against Oregon backup quarterback Jeff Lockie probably had more to do with this game flipping the way it did. Another early, important turning point: TCU freshman Arico Evans forced a fumble on a kickoff when down 31-10, setting TCU up for an easy score that helped build momentum.
Stat of the game: The yardage margins in this game were ridiculous. In the first half, Oregon outgained TCU 376-142 and was picking up a healthy 7.2 yards per play. In the second half, it was the complete opposite. TCU produced 356 total yards on 7 yards per play. Oregon ended up with 18 yards on 18 plays. Yes, 18 plays in an entire half of football. Each half was absolutely one-sided.
We’ve handed out all of our Big 12 postseason awards and all-conference honors to recognize the best players of the season. But what about the best performances? This one wasn’t easy to put together, but here’s our take on the 10 best offensive performances in the Big 12 for 2015. In the interest of spreading the love, no player appears on this list more than once.
1. TCU WR Josh Doctson vs. Texas Tech: Unstoppable. Doctson matched the Big 12 single-game record for receptions with 18 and added 267 receiving yards and three touchdowns in a 55-52 road win over the Red Raiders. Trevone Boykin just kept throwing it up for his go-to guy -- 21 targets in all -- and Doctson delivered again and again.
2. Baylor QB Seth Russell vs. West Virginia: Russell’s second-to-last start in a season cut short was a thing of beauty. Against a respectable Mountaineers defense, Russell threw for 380 yards and rushed for 160, accounting for six total TDs and making it all look too easy in a 62-38 blowout.
3. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield vs. Tulsa: Mayfield had more important victories, but this performance was just flat-out fun to watch and served as his reintroduction to the college football world. He sure looked like a Heisman candidate that afternoon, dropping 572 total yards (487 passing, 85 rushing) and six scores on Tulsa in a back-and-forth, 52-38 win.
4. TCU QB Trevone Boykin vs. Texas Tech: Hard to pick just one performance from Boykin -- we considered the dap-worthy showing against West Virginia -- but he was nails in the Horned Frogs’ last-second win in Lubbock, accounting for 527 total yards (not counting his clutch 2-point conversion catch). Yes, he needed a little luck to finish the job, but it’s better to be lucky and also very good.
5. Baylor WR Corey Coleman vs. West Virginia: This might need to be ranked a little higher out of respect for Coleman’s sheer dominance. It’s really not just the stats, though they were nice: 10 catches, 199 yards, three TDs. It’s how he did it. Coleman put on a clinic, filling up his highlight reel with nasty footwork and speed against WVU’s helpless corners.
6. Oklahoma WR Sterling Shepard vs. Baylor: Shepard shined in a rainy brawl in Waco, hauling in 14 catches for 177 yards and two important TDs in the Sooners’ 44-34 win to take control of the Big 12 title race. He made tough catches -- like his toe-tapping 39-yard score -- and terrific plays for Mayfield all night.
7. Texas Tech WR Jakeem Grant vs. Oklahoma State: Even in a losing effort, Grant was just ridiculous against the Cowboys. Thanks to a wild 90-yard catch and run and a 100-yard kick return TD, he racked up a healthy 323 all-purpose yards and a pair of scores. The always-underrated Grant reminded everybody he’s one of the Big 12’s premier playmakers that day.
8. Texas RB Chris Warren III vs. Texas Tech: In his first career start, the true freshman rumbled for 276 yards and four TDs on 25 carries. Not a bad performance considering he had no relief -- all of Texas’ other backs were injured -- and had never recorded more than five carries in a game before his big break.
9. Oklahoma State WR James Washington vs. TCU: If you still didn’t know about Washington, you found out on Nov. 7 when he torched the Horned Frogs. The sophomore picked a fine time for a huge day, hauling in TD catches of 74, 50 and 48 yards and finishing with 184 yards on five receptions in the Pokes’ huge 49-29 upset victory.
10. Texas Tech RB DeAndre Washington vs. Kansas State: Had to find a spot for Washington on this list, and his Senior Day performance was the best of his career. He put on a show for Tech fans, rushing for 248 yards and three TDs on a fairly healthy 9.2 yards per carry in a 59-44 win over K-State.
Honorable mention: Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes vs. Oklahoma State (526 total yards, 5 TDs); Oklahoma RB Samaje Perine vs. TCU (204 total yards, 1 TD); Texas QB Jerrod Heard vs. California (527 total yards, 3 TDs); Iowa State RB Mike Warren vs. Texas Tech (245 rushing yards); Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph vs. TCU (352 passing yards, 5 TDs)
We revealed our 2015 ESPN.com All-Big 12 team on Wednesday, but there are a lot more players worthy of recognition. Here are our second-team All-Big 12 selections. On Friday, we’ll unveil our All-Big 12 underclassman squad.
QB Trevone Boykin, TCU
RB Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
RB Shock Linwood, Baylor
WR James Washington, Oklahoma State
WR Allen Lazard, Iowa State
WR KD Cannon, Baylor
OT Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
OT Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
OG Jarell Broxton, Baylor
OG Boston Stiverson, Kansas State
C Joey Hunt, TCU
AP Kody Cook, Kansas State
K Jack Cantele, Kansas State
KR/PR Daje Johnson, Texas
DE Jamal Palmer, Baylor
DE Charles Walker, Oklahoma
DT Travis Britz, Kansas State
DT Kyle Rose, West Virginia
LB Peter Jinkens, Texas
LB Elijah Lee, Kansas State
LB Jordan Evans, Oklahoma
CB Xavien Howard, Baylor
CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
S Denzel Johnson, TCU
S Steven Parker, Oklahoma
P Zach Sinor, Oklahoma State
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Shortly after TCU's thrilling 28-21 double overtime win over Baylor on Friday, Gary Patterson wouldn’t say if he considered this season one of the best coaching jobs he’s done during his 16 seasons in Fort Worth.
“I’m going to let you guys grade me,” the veteran head coach said. “My job is to just win ball games.”
And he did his job exceptionally well in 2015.
On paper, it looks like the Horned Frogs took a step backward this season after a 12-1 campaign in 2014, which included a dominating 42-3 win in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Yet, while Patterson won't say it, TCU’s 10-2 regular season might be the best coaching job he has done during his time in Fort Worth, further cementing his spot among the nation's elite coaches.
“If you just look at all the things we've had to do - with all the players that have been out - it's been outstanding,” Patterson said. “It's been a whole building success story. Nobody lost faith in what's been going on. The key to it is that we aren't going to make excuses. We'll play and let the chips fall and go about our business."
Nobody got hit harder by the injury bug than TCU. It’s easier to list the Horned Frogs stars who stayed relatively healthy this season -- like running back Aaron Green and safety Derrick Kindred -- than list the playmakers who missed significant time with injuries. The defense was hit particularly hard with nine starters missing major time. Kindred was the lone returning starter to play in all 12 games. And the offense was crippled in November with quarterback Trevone Boykin, receiver Josh Doctson and center Joey Hunt each being forced to miss games down the home stretch.
"Last year we had a great team and this season we came in and lost guys each and every week so it was kind of dragging us down,” Kindred said. “But, at the same time, it was picking us up to encourage one another. This season is more memorable because everyone fought harder to get where we are.”
Double-digit win seasons are nothing new under Patterson, who has led TCU to 10 wins or more in 10 of his 16 seasons. But back-to-back double-digit win seasons in the Big 12 is a first, and playing in a major conference can test a program in ways the Horned Frogs had never experienced before.
“It's an amazing year for these guys for everything they've gone through,” Patterson said.
The fruits of Patterson’s labor could be seen in Friday's win in particular, as the Horned Frogs were able to fight through the rainy conditions and sloppy field to find a way to knock Baylor out of the College Football Playoff chase. Several players said all of the injuries and adversity that has followed them this season helped TCU overcome the elements.
"It does," defensive end Josh Carraway said when asked if previous adversity helped against the Bears. "We're used to it, so it doesn't faze us at this point. You just put it in the back of your head and move on."
Some teams would have been crippled after seeing their top returning pass rusher (James McFarland) and top cornerback (Ranthony Texada) lost for the season before conference play began. But Patterson’s mantra of “no excuses” made it easier for his team to absorb those setbacks while finding a way to keep winning.
“Since I've been here we have never made excuses,” Kindred said. “We just go out there and play ball.”
Last year’s 11-1 regular season was led by a healthy squad which featured veteran stars like linebacker Paul Dawson, safety Sam Carter and Boykin. This season’s 10-2 mark has been accomplished by a inexperienced defense full of freshmen and sophomores, along with an offense that had to evolve on the fly after key injuries in November.
“When you see how many injuries we have on our roster and to be able to come out with as 10 wins like we did, it’s really something you’ll remember better than last year,” Boykin said. “Last year we stayed relatively healthy throughout the season. We’ll remember this season probably more than last year, just because the things we’ve been through.”