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Big 12 Spotlight: Winners and losers from 2021 recruiting cycle

Both signing days for the class of 2021 are now complete, and while there may still be a recruitment or two ongoing that involves Big 12 programs the script for this class is pretty well complete. We look back over the strangest of recruiting years and declare winners and losers for the conference.



RELATED: Pac-12 winners and losers | Big Ten winners and losers | SEC storylines | ACC winners and losers | Top QB classes | Top RB classes | Top WR classes | Top TE classes | Five programs that improved the most in the team rankings | Five that regressed

CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLASS OF 2022 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

COVERAGE: Rivals Transfer Tracker | Rivals Camp Series




Oklahoma's 'Speed D'

Clayton Smith
Clayton Smith ( McCuistion)

There’s plenty to like about Oklahoma’s conference-best 2021 recruiting class that was tabbed No. 13 nationally by Rivals. The group is highlighted by five-star quarterback Caleb Williams and five-star wide receiver Mario Williams, but the Sooners loaded up on the defensive side of the ball in this haul and there’s plenty of reasons to buy stock in what Alex Grinch is building.

Defensively, Oklahoma inked five-star outside linebacker Clayton Smith, who gives Grinch a marquee edge-rusher with enormous athleticism and upside to pair opposite in-state signee Ethan Downs, who was terrific as a senior for Weatherford (Okla.) High. Billy Bowman flipped from Texas to Oklahoma about six weeks before the Early Signing Period, giving the Sooners — potentially — a dynamic ball-hawking defensive back with outstanding closing speed.

Factor in Rivals100 talents such as cornerback Latrell McCutchin — a one-time Alabama pledge — and defensive tackle Kelvin Gilliam Jr. out of Virginia — and there are plenty of difference-making pieces in place for Grinch’s Speed D.



Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski 

Ja'Tavion Sanders
Ja'Tavion Sanders (

Ja’Tavion Sanders closed out the 2021 class as the nation’s top athlete, a conversation that factored in his upside as a defensive end and as a tight end. Ultimately, it was clear Sanders has the potential to be a high-level pass-catcher or defender on The Forty Acres, which is why he was tabbed as an athlete.

Of course, if Texas is going to make a run at Big 12 titles under first-year coach Steve Sarkisian, then it doesn’t hurt to have Sanders as a building block. The Longhorns lost their best edge defender, Joseph Ossai, to the NFL Draft, leaving a gaping opportunity for Sanders, who finished as a five-star, to come in and earn playing time. Sanders has been electric on both sides of the ball during his time at Denton (Texas) Ryan, and while he has a habit out of making highlight-reel grabs on offense, he may find that there are more opportunities to see the field quicker playing in the front seven.

Texas signed a few quality in-state defenders in 2021. Besides Sanders, it reeled in four-star defensive backs JD Coffey and Ishmael Ibraheem, along with an athletic trio of linebackers in Morice Blackwell, Derrick Harris and Terrance Cooks. That’s plenty of talent for new defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski to build a foundation around, including the five-star freshman.



Texas Tech QB Behren Morton 

Behren Morton
Behren Morton (Billy Watson)

Behren Morton is already on campus in Lubbock as the highest-rated quarterback signee in more than a decade — and that includes a former Texas Tech standout named Patrick Mahomes, who signed back in 2014. Morton, a local product, is the first four-star quarterback on Texas Tech’s campus since Scotty Young singed with the Red Raiders in 2010.

While Morton represents the future of the offense, it's Texas Tech’s offensive tackle haul that's most worthy of recognition.

Texas Tech signed Argyle (Texas) tackle Jack Tucker and courted fellow Dallas-area tackle Jacoby Jackson — a TCU legacy — away from the Horned Frogs to a regional Big 12 rival. Both had strong senior seasons and make for a formidable 1-2 punch at the tackle spots for Morton for the foreseeable future.

If Texas Tech is going to make a run at a Big 12 title, it begins up front with its tackles giving Morton a clean pocket to fire downfield.



Kansas WR coach Emmett Jones 

Quaydarius Davis
Quaydarius Davis (

Quaydarius Davis was committed to SMU, Texas and USC before committing to Kansas and becoming the Jayhawks’ highest-rated signee of the Rivals era. Davis, out of Dallas (Texas) Skyline, finished as Rivals' No. 59 overall player, the No. 8 wideout and a top-12 prospect from a talented group of Lone Star State talent.

Emmett Jones continued to recruit Davis while he was committed elsewhere, and his relationships in and around the Dallas Metroplex won over the prized receiver. Jones coached at Skyline High and helped Kansas win a critical recruiting battle over Florida and Oklahoma State late. Jones has been dubbed as a “program changer” for Les Miles and the Jayhawks, and that victory on the recruiting trail looms large for his entire body of work moving forward.



West Virginia's backfield 

Justin Johnson
Justin Johnson (Nick Lucero / Rivals)

Of the four-stars in West Virginia’s 2021 haul, two are running backs. Jaylen Anderson was a Rivals250 prospect and a top-12 back in the country for 2021, and Justin Johnson, another four-star running back, finished No. 16 nationally in the position rankings.

Mountaineers running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator Chad Scott courted both Midwest running backs to West Virginia, which signed a top-50 class for the fourth consecutive season and third under coach Neal Brown.

The 1-2 punch of Anderson and Johnson highlight West Virginia’s 2021 haul, which also featured four-star offensive tackle Wyatt Milum — the state’s top player — and Rivals250 wide receiver Kaden Prather. While the class is low on numbers, there is still plenty to build around, primarily in the backfield.



The return of the Air Raid 

When Oklahoma State is a contender, it’s no secret that Mike Gundy’s offense is clicking. From 2015 to 2017, the Pokes notched back-to-back-to-back 10-3 campaigns. In that span, the offense averaged better than 38 points per game, including 45 points per game in 2017, when Oklahoma State finished as the No. 4 team in the land.

Over the past three seasons, Oklahoma State’s Air Raid offense has been out of rhythm. The Cowboys’ average points per game have dropped off each season, to No. 52 in the country this past fall, which coincided with an 8-3 mark.

Oklahoma State added a plethora of reinforcements to its offense in 2021. The team’s two highest-rated signees are twin receivers Bryson and Blaine Green out of Dallas powerhouse Allen (Texas) High School, along with productive pass-catchers in Jaden Bray, John Paul Richardson and Cam Smith. Additionally, the Pokes inked speedy scat-back Jaden Nixon, who is well-equipped to catch passes out of the backfield.

Rarely does a team ink five receivers, but Gundy needs his offense to regain form. When Oklahoma State averaged 10 wins the offense was ranked in the top-20 nationally. There’s optimism in Stillwater this new group of pass-catchers will bring the offense back to the standard.




Teams that failed to sign QBs

It was not only a weird year for our country, but also for recruiting. Being able to effectively recruit and evaluate players without having them on campus or viewing them in-person became a daunting task. It’s unlikely any college coach would disagree.

Every year, it’s important to sign a quarterback. Whether it’s a five-star to build your offense around or a quality three-star that turned heads a senior, it’s critical. A cycle without a quarterback puts the depth chart in disarray and makes it even more arduous to recruit the position the following year.

Oklahoma is in rarified Big-12 air by signing Caleb Williams, the nation’s No. 1 quarterback, which is the standard in Norman. Texas lost Rivals100 quarterback Jalen Milroe to Alabama but signed local standout Charles Wright, who flashed the past two seasons at Austin (Texas) High. Behren Morton was Texas Tech’s highest-rated signee in more than a decade. Baylor signee Kyron Drones helped Alvin (Texas) Shadow Creek to a state title in 2019. Kansas State signed four-star Jake Rubley out of Iowa, and TCU went overseas to get Germany’s Alexander Honig.

However, the same can’t be said for Oklahoma State or Iowa State. The Pokes have a track record of developing quarterbacks and molding them for the Air Raid attack, but after signing two a year ago they came up short in that department in 2021. The Cyclones were never able to rebound after early commit Charles Wright flipped to Texas over the summer when the Longhorns offered. Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell inked a pair of quarterbacks last year, but he missed a chance to bolster the depth chart with a quarterback in 2021.


NSD 2021: Mind of Mike | Winners and losers from NSD | Alabama wins recruiting title | Top 25 recruiters | NSD blog | Announcement Guide

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CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLASS OF 2022 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

COVERAGE: Rivals Transfer Tracker | Rivals Camp Series