Big 12 Mailbag: Breakout players, title contenders, spring games
Welcome back to the Big 12 Mailbag. With spring football nearing an end across the league, it was time for another edition.
Make sure to follow me on Twitter for a chance to crack the next Mailbag. Let’s get to it!
Hunter Cooke asks: Who will literally win the Heisman based solely on spring performance for each team?
David Ubben: What a great question. Spring hype is an annual tradition in college football, and for every Samaje Perine and Tyreek Hill, there’s a Trey Metoyer, a Blake Jackson or a Jordan Thompson.
The hype train this time of year is pretty unpredictable. Nonetheless, here are a few of the guys who’ll be fun to watch this fall, based on what we’ve seen this spring.
Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma: The Sooners need help at the position and Westbook may provide it. The juco transfer has been the talk of the spring in Norman and had a 28-yard catch and a 22-yard run on a reverse in OU’s spring game. You can probably lump Baker Mayfield into this group for the Sooners, too. We’ve seen him plenty already, so I can’t really classify him as a "breakout" guy. He’s been a scout team legend for the better part of the last year and Trevor Knight’s struggles in 2014 lent a whole lot of credence to the idea that Mayfield will open 2015 as the Sooners’ starter.
Sammy Douglas and Mike Freeze, LBs, TCU: Gary Patterson doesn’t talk about his new defense much without mentioning these two. TCU is young at linebacker and the junior Douglas and freshman Freez have grabbed a pair of starting spots for now, replacing Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallett.
Jerrod Heard, QB, Texas: Charlie Strong said he’s "closed the gap" on Tyrone Swoopes in the Longhorns starting quarterback race. "The single most important thing to happen to this football team is his improvement," OC Shawn Watson said. Swoopes showed some brief flashes last year, but if Heard gets his head around this offense and can be productive, the biggest void on Texas’ roster could be filled. He’ll have very weighty expectations in Saturday’s spring game.
Chris Platt, WR, Baylor: The Bears don’t need much help at this position, but Platt might be the next in a long line of pass-catchers at "Wide Receiver U." He’s a speedy track star who made an impact this spring and might occupy the slot for the Bears next fall.
Dalvin Warmack, RB, Kansas State: Running back wasn’t a real strength for Kansas State last year and without Tyler Lockett and Jake Waters, look for the Wildcats to lean more on the ground game next fall. Warmack’s been a spring standout and even earned a little bit of hype last season after redshirting and earning the honor of the team’s top scout teamer. He’s no Cinderella story, either. He was twice named the top player in the Kansas City area and is probably K-State’s best recruiting win since Jake Waters (juco) or Arthur Brown (transfer). Unlike those two, though, K-State will get him for four years.
Mike Mitchell, LB, Texas Tech: Speaking of high-impact transfers, Mitchell has lived up to the hype so far after sitting out 2014. The former five-star recruit transferred to Lubbock after a season at Ohio State to be closer to his father, who is ill. The Red Raiders need talent upgrades on defense, and Mitchell will provide it. He famously set a record in the SPARQ drills that measure power, speed, agility, quickness and reaction time. Between Mitchell and DT Breiden Fehoko, It’s been a long time since Tech has had this much raw defensive talent on campus.
Marshall Weber in Austin asks: What makes a stadium elite: Design or atmosphere or subjectivity?
David Ubben: It’s a little bit of everything. You have to take it all into account. Texas gets some points for being gigantic, but loses some for being a little bit dated. In the same vein, TCU and Baylor get major points for being sparkling, state-of-the-art facilities and lose some for not being nearly as imposing or intimidating as what Texas and Oklahoma have.
Baylor’s old stadium also lost major points for being so separate from campus and anything else going on in Waco, but that’s not a problem anymore.
MK in Dallas asks: KSU is having their spring game at Sporting KC’s stadium, very cool. Where should other Big 12 teams consider holding theirs?
David Ubben: I like the idea of taking the game to the people and going to a unique venue, even though K-State did it out of necessity. The difference is they got lucky that a moderately-sized stadium is in its nearest major metro area. That’s the issue with a lot of other schools playing games elsewhere.
Schools like TCU and Baylor or Texas Tech aren’t going to spend oodles of dollars playing at a venue like AT&T Stadium, which would be about 1/10th full.
While it’s kind of cool to think about OU or OSU playing a game at Bricktown Ballpark, K-State mostly got lucky. It’s kind of a perfect storm.
The idea of playing spring games at unique locations is much better in theory than in practice when you start thinking about the logistics and possibilities. Count your lucky stars, K-State.
John asks: Lets say the over/under for total yards of OSU’s leading rusher is 1000. Which side are you on & who is the RB?
David Ubben: I’m on board. Give me Chris Carson with the over for Oklahoma State.
Offensive line coach Joe Wickline is obviously gone and so is running backs coach Jemal Singleton. That poses a challenge for Mike Yurcich in this offense, but Mike Gundy told me earlier this spring that Chris Carson can expect to get 15-20 touches per game.
He and Rennie Childs will be the main backs. Gundy said the same thing about Tyreek Hill last year, but Carson’s bigger body and between-the-tackles style is more conductive to making that happen because it won’t take much creativity to let Carson’s talent shine.
After a long run of four-digit rushers, OSU has gone without one in each of the last two seasons without Joseph Randle. Look for the Cowboys to get back to that this year and give Mason Rudolph some support on the ground.
Bears Can Climb asks: What can we expect from Baylor on defensive penalties this year? Mainly from the secondary.
David Ubben: Last year was so odd. Baylor’s DBs went up against big, fast receivers in practice every day but they seemed to panic a bit when the ball went up in the air, especially in that infamous West Virginia game. When you get flagged once for that kind of thing, you’re asking to have them throw the flag again. And again. And again.
The good news for Baylor is it brings back everyone from that secondary and a year of experience and knowledge in Phil Bennett’s system can only help.
Even better news: Baylor has managed to win two Big 12 titles while being one of college football’s most penalized teams. It’s a lot more frustrating when you make those kinds of mistakes and don’t win. Ask Texas Tech.
Joe Sirera in Greensboro, N.C. asks: Will WVU name Skyler Howard QB1 after spring like Clint Trickett last year or will it be a disastrous QB shuffle like ’13?
David Ubben: I expect the battle between Howard and William Crest to extend into the fall. Neither sounds like he’s made a ton of ground on the other, but certainly, with his experience, Howard would have to be the more reliable and lower-risk option.
These are questions without a real answer.
Dana Holgorsen would love for one of those guys to emerge. That’s his ideal situation. At some point you have to commit, but you’ve still got plenty of time now to commit first-team reps to both.
The QB shuffle is never ideal, but for now, it’s too early to tell.
Kade Gottschalk in Stillwater asks: Does Oklahoma State have a legit shot at winning the Big 12 title this year? If so what’s it going to take?
David Ubben: Absolutely. TCU coach Gary Patterson had some interesting things to say on this when he sat down with a few reporters last week.
In TCU’s case (and in many teams who win titles), he had four, five or six guys who stepped up and did a lot more than most people thought. That’s what you’ve got to have, especially if you’re going to overachieve. In TCU’s case, Trevone Boykin is the obvious example, but Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallett made huge plays and the Frogs’ receiving corps with guys like Josh Doctson made major strides.
That’s what has to happen if Oklahoma State’s going to do it. Both Baylor and TCU are legitimate national title contenders going into the season, but if OSU can split with them, they could split a title, too.
Is Chris Carson the guy? How good is Mason Rudolph? Can OSU really lean on Jordan Sterns defensively?
Who are the names we’re not talking about right now that will be All-Big 12 talents in November?
If OSU has the right answers to those questions, it’ll be right in the mix for a title next year as the league dark horse.
Travis Roeder in Waco asks: David, who are the two Big 12 programs whose spring practices have the most starkly different feels?
David Ubben: Well, very few teams open practices, but Texas Tech and Baylor are very similar with music blaring and the speed and energy of practice.
The times I’ve seen Oklahoma State, they’re a little bit more deliberately paced and not as loud. The same at Oklahoma.
I’m not sure anybody’s seen a practice at K-State in decades and I haven’t been able to see one under Strong at Texas outside of what you can see on Longhorn Network.