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Tramel's ScissorTales: Baylor quarterback decision means just more change for Big 12 football

Berry Tramel
Oklahoman

Baylor coach Dave Aranda didn’t play the waiting game when it came to naming a quarterback. Baylor website sicem365.com reported this week that Aranda has selected 2021 backup Blake Shapen the starting QB for 2022, and espn.com reported that 2021 starter Gerry Bohanon has entered the transfer portal. 

Which means Big 12 quarterbacking is undergoing an even bigger change. 

It’s possible only two 2021 Big 12 starters will be quarterbacking their teams in 2022 — OSU's Spencer Sanders and Kansas’ Jalon Daniels, though Texas Tech’s Tyler Shough likely will retain his job. 

That’s quite a transformation for a league that once was known for quality quarterbacking but in recent years has left that distinction mostly to OU. 

The Baylor decision should have been expected. Shapen filled in for the injured Bohanon down the stretch of last season and led the Bears to a 21-16 victory over OSU in the Big 12 Championship Game. 

Bohanon returned to quarterback Baylor to a 21-7 Sugar Bowl victory over Ole Miss, but Shapen clearly was the more efficient quarterback. 

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Baylor quarterback Blake Shapen holds the Most Outstanding Player trophy after winning the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 4 in Arlington, Texas.

Shapen completed 23 of 28 passes for 180 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against OSU. Against that same defense earlier in the season, Bohanon completed 13 of 27 for 173 yards, with no TDs or interceptions

Baylor’s offense was conservative all season. The Bears ran the ball and threw most short passes. But Shapen’s numbers were better than Bohanon’s. After Bohanon was injured, Shapen quarterbacked victories of 20-10 over Kansas State and 27-24 over Texas Tech, and his season totals were .721 completion percentage, five touchdowns, no interceptions and 596 yards, basically in three games. 

Bohanon completed 62.9% of his passes, with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions, for 2,200 yards, in 11 games. 

And Baylor’s previous quarterback, four-year starter Charlie Brewer, completed just 63.5% of his career passes. So Shapen’s apparent elevated accuracy is a nice treat for the Bears. 

The Big 12 is a microcosm of college football, with the transfer portal’s immediate eligibility igniting massive change yearly. 

Sanders is about to begin his fourth season as the Cowboy starter. That’s an anomaly. Teams don’t start inexperienced quarterbacks as much as they once did, but they do start new faces much more frequently. 

Here is the rundown on Big 12 quarterback jobs leaving spring: 

Incumbents: OSU’s Spencer Sanders, Kansas’ Jalon Daniels. 

Ascending backups: Baylor’s Blake Shapen, Iowa State’s Hunter Dekkers. 

Transfers:OU’s Dillon Gabriel, Kansas State’s Adrian Martinez, West Virginia’s J.T. Daniels

August battles: Texas’ Quinn Ewers and Hudson Card; TCU’s Max Duggan and Chad Morris; Texas Tech’s Tyler Shough and Donovan Smith. 

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Most observers expect Ewers to win the Longhorn job and Shough to win the Red Raider job. TCU? Seems wide open. 

Ewers, Shough and Morris are part of the trend. Ewers transferred from Ohio State after last season, Shough transferred from Oregon after the 2020 season and started the first four games at Tech before an injury derailed his season, and Morris transferred from OU after the 2020 season. 

Portal usage is all over Big 12 quarterbacking. 

Gabriel was at Central Florida last season but now has the job that in 2021 was held by Caleb Williams (off to Southern Cal) and Spencer Rattler (South Carolina). 

Martinez was a four-year starter at Nebraska but now seems destined to take over at Kansas State, though he missed spring practice due to surgery. 

Daniels was the Georgia starter to begin the 2021 season but lost that job to Stetson Bennett. At West Virginia, Daniels is expected to replace Jarret Doege, who has transferred to Western Kentucky. 

And Ewers is expected to replace Casey Thompson, who left Texas for Nebraska and is expected to replace Martinez. These things get circular really quickly. 

The only traditional quarterback ascension appears to be at Iowa State, where Dekkers is expected to replace four-year starter Brock Purdy. 

All of which leaves Sanders and Daniels as the league veterans. Daniels has started 10 Kansas games over the last two seasons. 

And Sanders has started 32 OSU games over the previous three years. That’s more Big 12 starts than the rest of the conference combined, unless Duggan beats out Morris. Duggan has made 32 career starts himself. 

Sanders and Duggan are outliers. Welcome to the new Big 12, where quarterback change is virtually annual. Welcome to the new way college football is conducted.  

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Malachi Nelson talks decommitment 

Back when the world was young, Lincoln Riley was the OU coach, Caleb Williams was the OU quarterback and Malachi Nelson was the crown prince. 

You know what happened. But the earth-shattering news of Riley to Southern Cal, followed a month later by Williams joining Riley with the Trojans, cast Nelson to the background. 

Which is only natural. Nelson is a high school quarterback in the Los Angeles suburb of Los Alamitos. Nelson committed to OU last July, becoming the latest quarterback star to cast his lot with Riley. Spencer Rattler, Williams, Nelson. Riley had them lined up. 

Nelson decommitted from OU the night the Riley news broke, Nov. 28. No surprise. The Sooners’ appeal to Nelson clearly centered on Riley and his status as a quarterback whisperer. 

While Riley and Williams have constantly been in the news, Nelson not so much. But he and his father, Eric Nelson, appeared last week on the Youth Inc. Podcast with former National Football League tight end Greg Olsen. And among the topics was Malachi Nelson’s decision to decommit. 

It’s an interesting discussion, because we don’t get much of an inside view of such recruiting drama. 

“It was obviously a weird time,” Malachi Nelson said. “At that time, they didn’t even really have a coach … It wasn’t just me. We had to up to 6-7-8 commits, and three of ‘em or so kind of decommitted that same day. It was quick. He was gone. 

“I had texted Lincoln. ‘I need to hear it from you. I don’t believe it.’ He was going through the whole training kind of thing and he couldn’t text me back. He ended up texting me back when he could later that night. ‘Yeah, I wanted to tell you, but I obviously couldn’t.’ You’re talking about a lot of money. Business kind of things.” 

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In an abbreviated spring season in 2020-21, Malachi Nelson threw for 1,513 yards and 23 touchdowns with just four interceptions.

No, OU did not have a coach, four hours after losing Riley. Shame on the Sooners. OU set the standard for literal seamless transition when going from Bob Stoops to Riley, but expecting that from two coaching changes in a row is a little much. 

Also, if those indeed were Riley’s words, why couldn't he tell Nelson? We all know the answer. Despite Riley’s repeated assertions, this wasn’t a deal that came down on that Sunday. This was weeks or months in the making. Riley didn’t feel comfortable telling Nelson, because he couldn’t afford to let the news out. More of the façade falls. 

Malachi Nelson deferred to his father on the exact details of the decommitment. 

“The neat thing, social media, everything’s done through Twitter,” Eric Nelson said. “He put together a nice decommitment. Put it out there publicly for them. Because really, the whole staff was gone, right? We just wanted to put it out, let it be clear.” 

The tweet indeed touched all the bases. Thanked OU and thanked the Sooner fans. But let’s be honest. The whole staff was not gone. Riley took about half his coaches, but offensive stalwarts Cale Gundy and Bill Bedenbaugh still were around. 

Riley is what was gone. And that’s fine. Riley is the reason Nelson was headed to OU in the first place. Perfectly understandable if Riley’s departure is the reason Nelson bailed. 

“Once the smoke started settling,” Eric Nelson said, “someone in the recruiting department reached out, said they had a coach coming as an interim situation, trying to keep everything together.” 

It seems likely that “someone in the recruiting department” was Gundy, a 23-year assistant coach. And yes, you might say OU had an interim coach coming. Stoops. Bob Stoops. 

The OU contact “said he would like to reach out, get you guys on a Zoom,” Eric Nelson said. “At that point, we did a really good job of being open and honest with people. Malachi had all these offers, he was open with coaches, ‘Oh coach, thank you so much; I’m honored, I’m flattered,’ but he didn’t want to lead people on. We just didn’t want to treat people the wrong way. We didn’t have to have many conversations, because we kind of only dated one girl at a time. That helped. 

“They wanted to get our family on a Zoom, and I just said, ‘Hey, rather than the family, like, you don’t even know my family.' Ultimately, they were going to try to recruit him and try pitch it to him. I just didn’t want to complicate a young kid’s mind. He had already gone through this whirlwind. I said, ‘If coach wants to talk, obviously I know we have to have a tough conversation.’ We had just decommitted from the university. So if the coach wants to talk, we can communicate. So it was at that point, once the coach knew, he didn’t want to communicate, he had other things to do.” 

In other words, Stoops knew Nelson was a lost cause. And again, perfectly understandable. 

Perhaps some recruits pick a school for geography or tradition or opportunity or, believe it or not, even academics. But blue-chip quarterbacks tend to go with a coach and a style of offense. 

Nelson never committed to OU. He committed to Lincoln Riley. 

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Luguentz Dort report card 

Luguentz Dort remains a Thunder cornerstone in the franchise’s rebuilding phase. The 6-foot-3 Canadian is one of the NBA’s best defensive players and has a rising offensive game. 

Our series on Thunder report cards continues with Dort: 

Shot selection: C. Dort took 7.7 3-point attempts per game. Only 15 other NBA players took that many deep shots per game. Among those 15 were the game’s elite shooters or scorers. The Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Trae Young, Duncan Robinson crowd. But Dort made just 33.2% of his 3-point attempts; of those other 15 frequent gunners, only D’Angelo Russell (.340) made less than 35%. Some of Dort’s shots were the result of inefficient offense that left few other options than to jack up a shot late in the shot clock. But that 7.7 number needs to decrease. Or at least move more to the corner. As a rookie, Dort took 39.6% of his 3-point shots from the corners, though he made just 32.5% of them. This season, he made 42.9% of his corner 3’s but just 14.3% of his deep balls were from the shorter spot. 

Fouling: A. Dort was a human whistle as a rookie two years ago, averaging 4.3 fouls per 36 minutes. But Dort dropped that to 3.2 a year ago and 3.1 this season. That’s an excellent number for a bulldog defender like Dort. Minnesota’s Patrick Beverley, for example, averaged 4.2 fouls per 36 minutes. Better yet, Dort fouled out just once and reached five fouls only twice. That’s severe second-half foul trouble only thrice in 51 games. Quite acceptable. 

Driving: B. Dort was born aggressive. And after three NBA years, he’s turned that aggression into a total positive. But Dort’s shots in the lane were down this year; only 19.7% of his shots came from the restricted area and just 20.4% of his shots were from 3-10 feet. Dort countered that by making a career high 61.5% of his restricted-area shots and 41.9% of his shots from 3-10 feet, a big jump from the previous two years. And Dort got to the foul line more frequently, 4.1 foul shots per 36 minutes, third-best on the squad, behind only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Isaiah Roby. Dort actually drew 3.5 fouls per game. One of the NBA’s best defenders gets fouled more than he fouls. That’s quite a feat. 

Defense: A. Another year, another stellar performance by Dort guarding James Harden or LeBron James or whoever the Thunder needs to stop. Dort’s defensive reputation now is spread league-wide; ESPN guru Zach Lowe mentioned Dort as honorable mention all-defense despite Dort playing just 51 games. When Dort was available, the Thunder hovered near the top 10 in defensive efficiency. After Dort was shut down for shoulder surgery in February, the Thunder defense cratered and finished 17th among the 30 NBA teams. 

Facilitation: C. Dort has not developed many playmaker skills. That’s sort of to be expected on a team that starts two point guards (Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey), plus has Theo Maledon off the bench. And Dort has come a long way since his rookie year, when his assist rate (percentage of teammates’ baskets he assisted on while on the court) was 4.6, a ghastly-low number. Dort the last two years has an assist rate of 8.8 and 8.6, and his turnover rate is a quite acceptable 9.8 -- only about one of every 10 possessions he finishes ends in a turnover. Not bad for a guy who never met a lane he couldn’t drive. 

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Mailbag: College basketball transfers 

OU’s Umoja Gibson has joined Elijah Harkless in the transfer portal — Harkless has committed to Nevada-Las Vegas, Gibson to Texas Tech — and the Sooners’ 2022-23 basketball fortunes have some fans concerned. 

Patricia: “In light of the transfer portal entries from the Sooner men's best players, I'm trying to determine — in this new age of transfers — if I need to develop a new way and/or timeframe for evaluating new coaches. I've always believed that you need to give new coaches at least 3-4 years to fairly evaluate their new recruits, player development and culture/fundamentals. However, I'm not sure what to make of multiple transfers out of a program, after those players stayed to play for the new coach. Will there just be increased chaos for the first couple of years, until the new recruits and player development stabilize the roster? Does an increase in transfers after one year mean that the ‘sales pitch’ wasn't consistent with real life of the new regime? Or is it just that the players were disappointed by a disappointing season and (given the success enjoyed by other former Sooners in the ACC) decided to test the waters elsewhere? I like the Porter Moser hire and trust Joe C.'s judgment, but not sure what to make of continuing/increased chaos in the roster. Especially compared with the stability in the women's basketball roster and how much they seem to enjoy playing for Jennie B. Perhaps it's not a fair comparison (given that every male player seems to think they will play pro ball somewhere), but the contrast is stark. Interested to hear your thoughts on whether the philosophy I've used for new coach evaluations needs a 21st-century upgrade.” 

Tramel: I wouldn’t read too much into the decisions as an indictment of Moser. Players all over the country have wanderlust. Moreso on the men’s side than the women’s, but the women’s volatility will come, trust me. 

But to answer your question, I would say yes, we all need an upgrade on evaluating coaches. Frankly, the three-year window doesn't hold water anymore. Getting your own recruits in and established doesn't mean much. Players, as you said, don't stick around. The great ones go pro. Even some merely good ones. Others leave quickly. Harkless and Gibson this year, Brady Manek and De’Vion Harmon last year. Harmon already is in the portal to leave Oregon. 

That's not an indictment of Moser. That's an indictment of the sport. That’s what's happening to everyone. The average number of players headed out to the transfer portal is about 3.5 per school. About one third of those are really good players, so each team stands to lose 1-2.  

That increases pressure on coaches, I'd say. The rebuilding starts over every year. Rosters are microwaved, not simmered. If you don't put together a good team quickly, that's on you. The portal makes college basketball the Wild Wild West, but if it's the Wild Wild West in which you live, that's where you live. 

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The List: OSU’s highest draft picks 

National Football League teams have selected 175 OSU players in the history of the NFL Draft, including 21 in the first round.  

The NFL Draft begins Thursday night. Here are the 10 highest picks in Cowboy history: 

1. Bob Fenimore, Bears, No. 1, 1947: Fenimore, a tailback, played just one NFL season. In those days, that was not uncommon. 

2. Barry Sanders, Lions, No. 3, 1989: Became one of the NFL’s all-time great rushers. 

3. Justin Blackmon, Jaguars, No. 5, 2012: Wide receiver extraordinaire struggled with substance abuse and had just 93 NFL catches. 

3. Terry Miller, Bills, No. 5, 1978: Rushed for 1,060 yards as a Buffalo rookie but played just three more seasons and totaled 523 rushing yards. 

5. Russell Okung, Seahawks, No. 6, 2010: Offensive tackle played 11 seasons and made 131 NFL starts. Excellent career. 

6. Neill Armstrong, Eagles, No. 8, 1947: End had 76 catches over five NFL seasons; eventually became head coach of the Chicago Bears. 

6. Leslie O’Neal, Chargers, No. 8, 1986: An all-time great pass rusher, O’Neal played 13 seasons and totaled 132½ sacks. 

6. Justin Gilbert, Browns, No. 8, 2014: Mostly a bust, the cornerback played just three seasons and made three starts. 

9. Kevin Williams, Minnesota, No. 9: A star defensive lineman for the Vikings, Williams five times made all-pro. 

10. Jim Spavital, Cardinals, No. 11, 1948: The fullback played just two NFL seasons but had a 96-yard run in his final year. 

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.