In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we focus on the recruiting class of 2014, including those who redshirted last year, those who played and those who need to step up most:
Who is the Big 12 true sophomore to watch this season?
Brandon Chatmon: Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine seems like the obvious choice as a potential preseason All-American and possible Heisman candidate. Nonetheless I like Baylor’s KD Cannon to be the best true sophomore in the Big 12. The speedster with terrific ball skills showed his supreme talent in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic with eight receptions for 197 yards and two touchdowns against a Michigan State defense that featured Trae Waynes, largely regarded as the top cornerback in the 2015 NFL draft. I expect Cannon to build on that performance with a exceptional second season in Waco.
Max Olson:I think Allen Lazard is going to take the leap this fall. The Iowa State second-year receiver will need consistency at quarterback to get where I think he's going, and that's hard to guarantee. But Lazard has everything you covet in a big-bodied wideout, and the Cyclones ought to get him the ball as much as possible (92 targets last season was a good start). I'm excited to see what the next step for Lazard looks like.
Jake Trotter: To me, the answer is Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph. No true sophomore could have a bigger hand in shaping the Big 12 title race than Rudolph, who has the potential to elevate the Cowboys into the conference championship conversation alongside TCU and Baylor. Rudolph was terrific in three starts last season. If he builds on that, the Cowboys could be a factor in 2015.
What about the redshirt freshman to watch?
Chatmon: The buzz surrounding Oklahoma hybrid receiver Mark Andrews seems to rise another notch with each passing day. Sooners defensive backs, who have been tasked with covering the redshirt freshman, have lauded his combination of size (6-foot-6, 247 pounds) and route-running. He carries himself with a self confidence that could help him emerge as a major contributor in the Sooners' offense. With OU searching for playmaking receivers, Andrews could be the answer as a big pass-catching target who can excel as a slot receiver in Lincoln Riley’s offense.
Olson: Have you guys heard about this Joe Mixon kid? He's flown under the radar a bit, but in an absolutely loaded 2014 class of running backs, he was supposed to be one of the best. If you've seen his tape, you know he's a magician in the open field, and Lincoln Riley's offense is supposed to create a lot of open field. I know who's ahead of him on the depth chart, but doesn't take much for Mixon to bust big plays.
Trotter: Mixon could have the biggest season of any Big 12 redshirt freshman. But keep an eye on Baylor slot receiver Chris Platt, who is the favorite to start for a receiving corps that will also include Cannon, Corey Coleman and Jay Lee. Platt is another Baylor blazer, having won three state titles in high school in the 400 meters. Given how much attention defenses will have to pay to Coleman and Cannon, Platt should get plenty of opportunities for big plays.
Who is the second-year player who needs to step up?
Chatmon: Cornerback Nigel Bethel could help transform Texas Tech’s defense if he develops into a shutdown cover corner as a sophomore. The sophomore flashed his coverage skills at various times but showed the perils of youth at other times. Bethel has the potential to take a step forward as a sophomore while allowing new defensive coordinator David Gibbs to get creative with his schemes if he’s confident Bethel will hold his own against the Big 12’s top receivers. Tech’s defense needs playmakers and Bethel has the talent to become a centerpiece of its secondary.
Olson: The pressure is on for Jerrod Heard. When this kid figures it all out and proves he's ready, he could be a pretty exciting option as Texas' quarterback. But Heard doesn't seem to be there yet in terms of his maturation and passing ability. I'd love to see him at least get used in special run packages, because he might have game-changing speed. But this Texas starting job is just begging to be taken if Heard can progress quickly in the next five months.
Trotter: With Jake Waters, Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton all gone, Kansas State desperately need to rediscover its running game. That includes getting more production out of its featured runner, as Charles Jones and DeMarcus Robinson ranked 21st and 22nd in the league in yards per carry last year. That's not going to cut it again, if the Wildcats hope to finish in the top half of the league standings. Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 77 touchdowns his final two seasons of high school, has the potential after redshirting to give the position the pop it lacked last year.