Impact Freshmen In The Big 12
By David Hiserote
It is critical to coach-up existing talent in college football, but power-conference teams rarely, if ever, can compete with the nation’s elite without top-level recruits.
As one of the Power Five Conferences, the Big 12 holds its own in recruiting. Though the SEC has dominated for the past decade, the Big 12 remains ideally centered around the Lone Star State, one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country. Recruiting big-time talent from Texas has allowed Oklahoma to remain a national power through the BCS era, while the Texas Longhorns played in two national championship games and Baylor has risen to become a leading program. The remaining Big 12 schools have also been successful on the recruiting trail, especially high-octane teams like Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
This year’s recruiting story has been a similar tale. Although no Big 12 teams are ranked in the top-10 of the final rankings, Oklahoma came in at a solid 15, and Texas, which was in the middle of a coaching change during the recruiting period, came in at a respectable 20, (according to Rivals). With Bob Stoops coaching Oklahoma and Charlie Strong at Texas, expect both teams to be back in the top-10 shortly.
Oklahoma State and Baylor, ranked 27th and 35th, respectively, will add even more quality players to recently successful teams. The remaining Big 12 schools all ranked in the top-56 nationwide.
So who are the Big 12 incoming freshmen that could immediately produce? After slightly more than one week of practice in the books for most teams, here are five players that should make a significant impact this fall:
Note: The Big 12's prize recruit, Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, is currently involved in a police investigation and is not with the team. Mixon has elite talent and would have been in the mix to start as a true freshman. If he plays for the Sooners this season, expect big things from him.
Baylor Wide Receiver 6-0/162
Cannon was one of two impressive wide receivers Baylor landed to add to its already great receiving corps. The other is the talented Davion Hall, who may be redshirted.
Although small in stature, Cannon has blazing speed, timed at 10.32 in the 100-meters at the Texas State Track Meet. Ranked 30th in the ESPN 300, he is expected to play inner receiver and relieve Levi Norwood and Corey Coleman.
“I don't know how we keep KD Cannon off the field this season. He lacks the size and strength of Robbie Rhodes, but it's pointless to compare the two. Cannon is a much more mature football player at this point in his development. His routes are crisp, he demonstrates his knowledge of the offense on every down, and his combination of speed and agility will make him a nightmarish mismatch against any safety, nickel back, or linebacker. He's going to be a star, folks.”
Circle the Texas game on Oct. 4 in Austin on your calendar. At that point, Cannon will have four games under his belt, and this could be his coming-out party against the state’s flagship university.
Iowa State Wide Receiver 6-5/221
Like K.D. Cannon, Allen Lazard is another receiver you can expect to hear from this fall. In what is the biggest recruit of the Paul Rhodes era, the ESPN Top-300 and No. 7-ranked receiver (according to Athlon Sports) chose the Cyclones over a number of major programs, including Notre Dame, Stanford, and Iowa.
Lazard is predicted to rise quickly to the top of the depth chart and provide instant help on offense. Dan Keeley of Rant Sports says:
“Lazard should see the field immediately at wide receiver, despite the relative strength of that position for the Iowa State football team. He is simply too good to leave on the sidelines.”
One thing that will help Lazard contribute early on is his size. The former Army All-American stands 6-foot-5, 221 pounds, making him a match-up nightmare for most cornerbacks.
It’s probably a big part of the reason Lazard has moved up to the second-team offense less than a week into training camp.
Oklahoma Safety 6-2/188
Ranked No. 139 in the ESPN-300, Parker is going to be a force for the Sooners.
He played his high school ball at Oklahoma football powerhouse Jenks High School. John Shinn of CNHI News Service reported:
“One freshman the Sooners are counting on this season is safety Steven Parker. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops expects him to push for playing time at any of three safety spots — free, strong or nickel — early this season. There’s a lot that he can do well at a very high speed.”
Key games to watch will be at West Virginia on Sept. 20, against Texas at the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 11, and against pass-happy Baylor on Nov. 8 in a game that could determine the Big 12 champion.
West Virginia Safety 5-11/185
The Aliquippa, Pa., native was one of the top recruits for the Mountaineers, a team that needed help in the secondary after ranking 106th in pass defense last season.
Dravon turned down Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State to stay close to home. He should challenge for the starting spot at free safety. When The Charleston Gazette's Dave Hickman asked West Virginia coach Joe DeForest about Dravon, he said:
“Some guys are just different as freshmen. A lot of them have talent, but sometimes they won’t jump in and ask questions because they’re afraid you’ll think they don’t know anything. Dravon’s not like that. He’s learning everything he can and he’s working hard. I coached Karl Joseph as a freshman and he was the same way.”
Joseph was the Mountaineers' Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 as a true freshman. Dravon and the Mountaineers will get tested early in the season when they open against Alabama in Atlanta on Aug. 30 and host Oklahoma on Sept. 20.
Texas Defensive Tackle 6-0/285
A defensive tackle from Hilton Head, S.C., Ford followed Charlie Strong from Louisville to Texas. Poona, an ESPN-300 recruit, has an opportunity to challenge immediately for playing time on a defensive line that is lacking depth, and he will likely be part of the defensive line rotation. The second and third weeks of the season will be big tests for the defensive line when they go up against BYU and UCLA.
(SLEEPER) Samaje Perine
Oklahoma Running Back 5-11/233
Perine is a possible sleeper with Mixon’s status in doubt. He is a big, physical runner, and Stoops seems excited about what he brings to the team.
Stoops told Ryan Aber of the Oklahoman:
“Samaje Perine’s an incredibly physical, powerful young guy at running back. He’s had a great summer in the way he’s trained. (I’m) impressed all the older guys are talking about him and how competitive and how physical he is.”
Look for Perine to be in the mix this season.
Others to watch are Oklahoma’s Michiah Quick, a slot receiver who was ranked 75th in the ESPN-300, and a pair of Longhorns, defensive end Derick Robertson and wide receiver Armanti Foreman. Strong hopes Robertson will fill the hole after Cedric Reed graduates, while Foreman is talented enough to force his way onto the field.
Finally, TCU running back Shaun Nixon, who switched his commitment from Texas A&M to TCU, was the No. 2-ranked running back in Texas, and is in the mix with a number of talented Horned Frog running backs, including returning rushing leader B.J. Catalon.