Signing Day 2014 primer: Big 12
The balance of power in the Big 12 shifted in 2013, with Baylor winning the league and longtime Texas coach Mack Brown stepping down to make way for Louisville's Charlie Strong. Heading into next fall, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are right there, Kansas State is consistently dangerous and Texas Tech continues to lie in wait, like a shark just beneath the surface, ready to attack. TCU and West Virginia are looking to bounce back, while Iowa State and Kansas are just searching for signs of progress. National Signing Day is a week away, and this is the time when programs continue to either build on prior success or climb out of difficult times.
So, with just more than a week remaining until Feb. 5, where do the Big 12 programs stand? Here’s a breakdown of each school's class heading into 2014.
• Baylor: The Bears would like to have a Fiesta Bowl victory to bring to the recruiting table, but even following their 52-42 loss to UCF, they boast a coveted Big 12 title. And with Art Briles weathering every job rumor imaginable to remain at Baylor, as well as the team keeping a majority of its star underclassmen (including quarterback Bryce Petty), things are looking up. The Bears thrive on speed and athleticism, so securing four-star wide receiver KD Cannon (4.37 40-yard dash) from Mount Pleasant, Texas, is a great way to keep that momentum going. Athlete Davion Hall has drawn Keenan Allen comparisons and held multiple SEC offers, and T'Kevian Rockwell has the explosiveness to make an impact at either outside linebacker or safety.
• Iowa State: Give Paul Rhoads credit. Keeping the Cyclones competitive on a regular basis is a challenge in and of itself. Iowa State won nine games in a season only once (in 2000) since 1906, so the fact that Rhoads has reached three bowls in his five seasons in Ames is no small feat. There's still a lot of work to be done after a 3-9 campaign in '13. Many of the Cyclones' losses were by a touchdown or less, and this is where recruiting can make the difference. They have wide receiver Allen Lazard -- who received offers from schools such as Stanford, Notre Dame and Nebraska -- and might have a hidden gem in speedy running back Michael Warren. Six-foot safety Devron Moore, a juco transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M who enrolled in school early, should help out at a position in need.
• Kansas: The Jayhawks won three games last season for the first time since 2010, so that's something. Maybe Charlie Weis' "pile of crap" -- as he so eloquently put it at Big 12 Media Day last summer -- is finally starting to turn things around. What KU needs most is players, and there are some building blocks in its '14 bunch. Thirteen of the program's 22 commits so far are at least three-star prospects, according to Rivals.com, including running back Traevohn Wrench, who Weis pulled away from Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. Wrench, the second-rated player in the state of Kansas, should give the Jayhawks some of the offensive firepower they so desperately need. Defensive end Anthony Olobia from Arizona Western Community College was also a good get; at 6-5, he has plenty of room to add to his 230-pound frame.
• Kansas State: Bill Snyder is a certifiable alchemist, so stars and rankings don't tend to mean much to the Wizard of Manhattan. That said, despite featuring a potent offense (15th via S&P+ rankings) in 2013, the Wildcats have to get better on defense to be a real contender in the Big 12 next year. A few members of the class of '14 may be able to help out. Getting Dodge City C.C. defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales to flip from Nebraska was big. He has the size and build to play right away. Garden City C.C. Dvonta Derricott is a four-star linebacker who runs a sub-4.5 40. Add that to the pipeline (linebacker Elijah Lee, running back Dalvin Warmack, safety Kaleb Prewett) Snyder and his staff have at Blue Springs, Mo., and there are some intriguing prospects headed to K-State.
• Oklahoma: What is a Sugar Bowl win over Nick Saban and Alabama worth? Bob Stoops is about to find out, as the Sooners still have a number of top prospects on the board who could join what already appears to be a solid class. It's a longshot, but landing Adoree' Jackson from Gardena, Calif., could give Oklahoma a top-10 class. Jackson should be a difference maker from day one wherever he lands. The Sooners are in athlete Michiah Quick's final consideration set, and safety Steven Parker might be leaning toward Oklahoma, too. Stoops has already landed stud running back Joe Mixon, four-star quarterback Justice Hansen and talented wide receivers Mark Andrews from Scottsdale, Ariz., and Dallis Todd from La Mirada, Calif., to beef up the offense.
• Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have a strong foundation in place, but there are still a few holes coach Mike Gundy must address. The quarterback situation remains up in the air, and Justin Gilbert's graduation means that Oklahoma State will need to find another lockdown cornerback. That said, the Cowboys have already done a lot: They landed juco all-purpose back Tyreek Hill over Florida State, have a four-star quarterback prospect in Mason Rudolph from Rock Hill, S.C., and have a number of intriguing defensive backs. Oklahoma State may always be a bit behind Oklahoma as far as the overall recruiting rankings are concerned, but as long as the Cowboys put in their work and find players who fit their system, they'll continue to squeeze plenty of wins out of their roster.
• TCU: Any way you look at it, the Horned Frogs should have won more than four games in 2013. A few bad injury breaks made things look worse than they were, and TCU was about as unlucky as any team in the country. One of the incoming local quarterbacks -- Foster Sawyer or Grayson Muehlstein – could turn out well for Gary Patterson, and wide receiver Emanuel Porter recently flipped from Texas. The Frogs make their living on defense, and that won't change. If Patterson can improve offensive line play, the '14 campaign could be huge. Ty Barrett recommitted this week, and if TCU can also land offensive tackle Braden Smith -- who bench presses about a billion pounds and is an avid gardener -- it would help a ton.
• Texas: Strong has a lot of ground to make up. Texas A&M has already won recruiting battles for Speedy Noil and Otaro Alaka, but the Longhorns are still the Longhorns; the reason Texas hires giant search firms and has its own TV network is because it's a top-tier program. The Longhorns have the best class in the Big 12, including quarterback Jerrod Heard, running back Donald "Duke" Catalon and defensive end Derick Roberson. This won't be an overnight fix for Strong; the problems didn't suddenly go away when he was hired. But despite all the distractions and injuries, Texas still had a shot at winning the conference in 2013. Snag another big recruit or two before Signing Day, and this program will be on its way.
• Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have bottomed out in each of the past three seasons, rallying to win their bowl game in the last two. Although coach Kliff Kingsbury is some kind of football whisperer, he still needs to address his team's lack of depth. The offense is in really good shape, and commitments from such players as cornerback Nigel Bethel II (a four-star prospect from Miami) and safety Payton Hendrix (Bishop Dunne High in Dallas) show that Tech is making strides on defense as well. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes from Whitehouse, Texas, has a solid arm and can also make plays with his legs.
• West Virginia: In retrospect, it's almost hard to believe that the Mountaineers were ranked as high as No. 5 in the AP Poll following a 48-45 win over Texas on Oct. 6, 2012. Things quickly came crashing down. Dana Holgorsen needs to find a quarterback or his system won't work -- to that end, four-star prospect William Crest, from Baltimore, may help sooner rather than later. Defensive back Dravon Henry should get playing time in what was a pretty porous secondary. Six early enrollees, including wide receiver Ricky Rogers and linebacker Davonte James, can get a jump start during spring practice. No one class can solve anything, but West Virginia needs its '14 commits to play beyond their years – and fast.