Chucky Hunter manned the middle, while Terrell Lathan and James McFarland terrorized opposing quarterbacks off the edge.
The three are doing the same now for TCU, which sits on the precipice of advancing into the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Horned Frogs are tied for second in the Big 12 with 28 sacks, and own the league’s third-best run defense.
“We’ve had some great players come through here,” said longtime West Monroe defensive assistant Jerry Arledge, who took over as head coach after legendary coach Don Shows passed away in the spring. “Those three were outstanding.”
West Monroe has had some outstanding players indeed. But the majority of them, like 2013 first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo, went to LSU.
Hunter finally bucked that trend, when LSU elected not to offer him a scholarship.
“Chuck started for us as a 15-year-old sophomore,” Arledge said. “He was one of those rare kids built like a fireplug that could also move his feet. We thought he was the best defensive lineman in the state his senior year, and were hoping LSU would offer him. When they didn’t, he decided to go to TCU.
“And we were thinking, what is he doing going to TCU?”
Turned out, Hunter knew exactly what he was doing.
Hunter has been a four-year starter for the Horned Frogs, and earned second-team All-Big 12 honors last year. And while LSU has struggled in the SEC West, Hunter and the Horned Frogs are on the short list of legitimate playoff contenders.
“It wasn’t just about football,” said Hunter, who credits Horned Frogs wide receivers coach Rusty Burns, TCU's primary recruiter in Louisiana, as the main reason he ended up at Fort Worth. “They never lied to me, stood by me when I needed to get my SAT scores up. They did everything the right, and showed me respect.
“People first wondered why I went to TCU. Now, I think they understand.”
Others from West Monroe began to understand, too. And in January 2012, McFarland committed to the Horned Frogs. A month later, Lathan joined him on signing day.
“We knew the success Chuck was having at TCU,” McFarland said. “We thought TCU would be a good place. So we both decided to come.”
The decision has paid off for Lathan and McFarland, and for the Horned Frogs. Lathan and McFarland have been in the rotation on the defensive line since their true freshman seasons. This year, the two and fellow end Mike Tuaua have combined for 15 sacks.
"We're glad that they're here, no doubt about that," said TCU coach Gary Patterson. "It's worked out well. We love Texas kids. But we've had a lot of success with Louisiana kids coming here. Hopefully we'll keep recruiting them."
The West Monroe trio, meanwhile, hope they’re just the first of many that make the same move they did.
“We’re in the process of starting a pipeline,” McFarland said. “We’re creating an atmosphere where West Monroe players are welcome.”
So far, that seems to be working.
Not long ago, Arledge asked one of his top college prospects whether he wanted to play college football. The player surprised him with the answer.
“Only if it’s TCU.”
“It’s turned out those three guys all made a great choice,” Arledge said. “They’re all extremely happy.
“And they’re doing pretty well -- especially compared to what our state institution is doing right now.”
West Virginia S Karl Joseph: He's in contention to make some All-Big 12 teams but needs to finish strong to rack up the honors he deserves. At one point against Texas, he knocked both running backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray out of the game on the same drive. There might not be a harder hitter in the league, so you know he can change the makeup of this K-State game in an instant.
Oklahoma WR Michiah Quick: This freshman is electric and fun to watch when he gets the ball and a little space, but it wasn't thrown his way much last week at Texas Tech. Whether or not Sterling Shepard plays -- seems like he'll be a game-time decision -- Oklahoma coaches should find more ways to utilize Quick against Kansas. He can make Cody Thomas' job much easier.
Texas Tech LB Pete Robertson: Is he the best Big 12 defender you haven't heard of? Maybe so. Robertson is up to nine sacks on the season and will get a shot to rack up a few more on the road at Iowa State. Eight of his nine sacks have come since Mike Smith took over as the Red Raiders' interim defensive coordinator.
Iowa State QB Sam B. Richardson: It's been a tough month for Richardson, but after missing one game and getting a bye week to let his shoulder heal, he makes his return this week against Texas Tech. Having to watch Iowa State's loss to Kansas from the sideline should have him plenty motivated this week. If the Richardson who nearly beat Texas can show up on Saturday, the Red Raiders had better look out.
Oklahoma State offensive line: A group that ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in sacks allowed desperately needs to protect its quarterback(s) this week. Whether the quarterback is true freshman Mason Rudolph playing in (and starting) his first career game or a recently concussed Daxx Garman, they need to be kept out of harm's way as much as possible. And that's easier said than done with Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Beau Blackshear coming after you.
Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney, Kansas State safety Dante Barnett, Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown, Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings and TCU linebacker Paul Dawson made the list.
Who was the biggest snub? Plenty of top-notch playmakers found themselves on the outside looking in.
Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is hard to overlook, even with the Cowboys falling apart around him. The redshirt sophomore leads the Big 12 in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (16.5). He’s even turned it up during OSU’s current four-game losing streak with five sacks in his past four games. His team’s horrible recent stretch has overshadowed Ogbah’s excellence.
Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker has been a terror at times and has been taken out of games at other times. The junior has 6.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss this season but just three tackles for loss and two sacks in OU’s past four games. When he’s at his best, Striker is second to none coming off the edge, constantly forcing offensive coordinators to build their game plans with him in mind.
Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman sets the tone for the Bears defense and backs it up with terrific production. He has 12.5 tackles for loss and ranks third in the Big 12 in tackles for loss per game (1.39), and he’s fourth in the Big 12 at 0.67 sacks per game (six total sacks).
TCU safety Chris Hackett seems to make a big play for the Horned Frogs every week. The junior leads the Big 12 with six interceptions including an interception in each of TCU’s past four games. Hackett has added 66 tackles, including 45 solo stops.
Other potential candidates include Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson, Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks and Kansas State linebacker Jonathan Truman.
Which Big 12 defender was the biggest snub? Vote now and leave your comment below.
Not only are both teams bowl eligible heading into their head-to-head matchup at Milan Puskar Stadium tonight, but both teams have started the same quarterback in every game this season. Only TCU can make the same claim.
KSU's Jake Waters and WVU's Clint Trickett have been among the Big 12's top quarterbacks this season as both players have shown some durability, offseason growth and increased production in their senior seasons. The duo joins Oklahoma's Trevor Knight in the top three rankings of Big 12 quarterbacks in Adjusted QBR. Knight's 80.2 leads the way followed by Trickett's 77.4 and Waters 74.3.
A junior college transfer, Waters shared time with Daniel Sams in 2013 before seizing the position late in the season and emerging as the clear No. 1 starter in the spring. This fall, he's become a centerpiece of K-State's offense with his toughness, comfort in the offense and will to win. Waters has passed for 2,169 yards and rushed for 406 yards while accounting for 20 total touchdowns.
"You have heard me say this time and time again about Jake. The experience of two years of practice and playing some games just made him better," Wildcats coach Bill Snyder said. "Through that, he has gained so much more confidence. I think that Clint has probably done the exact same thing. I see the same progress. I see him at ease and more comfortable with his situation and schematically what they do. I see a lot of similarities in the two."
Trickett arrived at WVU late in the summer 2013 after transferring from Florida State before sharing time with Paul Millard and Ford Childress during a bowl-less season. Holgorsen has praised his growth in the offense as a senior, often calling his understanding of the system "night and day" from a year ago. The senior has passed for a Big 12-best 3,173 yards and added 18 passing touchdowns.
Being the quarterback at WVU has been a dream come true for Trickett, who grew up wanting to play for the Mountaineers while his father Rick was an assistant at the school, but never got the opportunity until Holgorsen's arrival and Trickett's decision to leave FSU.
"That is one reason why we are winning some games," Holgorsen said. "It means so much to him. It does mean a lot to him, and he understands what it means to the people of West Virginia."
Trickett's 2013 meeting with Snyder's Wildcats was one of his worst outings of the year. He was 15-of-28 for 227 yards and finished with a 50.2 Adjusted QBR in a 35-12 loss at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. But it will be a different Clint Trickett the Wildcats see tonight.
"He has improved so much, just his understanding of the system," KSU linebacker Will Davis said. "He can really throw the ball around to about anyone. He has a lot of playmakers and he utilizes all of them."
Meanwhile Waters destroyed the Mountaineers a year ago, passing for 198 yards and three touchdowns while recording a 90.4 Adjusted QBR, his second highest in 2013. New West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson saw Waters' excellence first-hand a year ago and he has plenty of respect for Waters' skills.
"He is very patient and lets everything develop," Gibson said. "He has an option to run out of everything too. He's very mobile and makes great decisions. He can hurt you a lot of different ways."
Big 12 eyes will be on Morgantown tonight with K-State playing to keep its conference title hopes alive and WVU looking to earn a better bowl game. And, after seizing their opportunity as seniors, Waters or Trickett could be the deciding factor.
- The Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton gave his thoughts on the 2015 Big 12 schedule being released. Carlton noted Baylor's November slate, which, while brutal, will also give the Bears an opportunity to impress. The Bears travel to Kansas State (on a Thursday), Oklahoma State and TCU (on a Black Friday) and then play host to Oklahoma before welcoming Texas the first week in December. Whatever happens, the Bears won't be flying under the radar against that stretch.
- The West Virginia and K-State defenses will be in the spotlight tonight, notes the Charleston Gazette's Dave Hickman. K-State is tough against the run. West Virginia is second in the Big 12 in pass defense. Hickman believes that whichever defense limits the big plays in Morgantown will give its team a win in a Big 12 matchup that will go a long way in determining the bowl fates of both sides.
- The Tulsa World's Bill Haisten reported that Oklahoma State QB Daxx Garman was able to practice Wednesday. According to Haisten, Garman had been rendered inactive by what is believed to have been concussion symptoms. What will be interesting is if Garman is ruled out this weekend at Baylor. The Cowboys could pull the redshirt off freshman Mason Rudolph with only two games left in the season. The Cowboys would obviously like to avoid that, and end the season with Garman behind center. But finally getting the chance to see what Rudolph can do will would be intriguing.
- TCU coach Gary Patterson said the College Football Playoff selection committee has a hard job, and he’s trying to make it harder. “I just want to make it tough on them,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez. “I want to win the next two, be 11-1, and let them decide. That’s all I can control. I just want to finish the journey.” All the Horned Frogs can do is beat Texas. But there's still a lot of ball to be played around the country. And Patterson seems to realize, if college football has taught us anything over the years, we could be in for a major upset or two.
- Kansas coach Clint Bowen told the Lawrence Journal-World's Matt Tait that he's been hearing the voices of support, including from Patterson and from Iowa State offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, who both suggested that Bowen deserves the permanent job. “Anytime someone says something positive about you, obviously you notice,” Bowen said. “And it means a lot." Bowen has done everything possible to show the Kansas administration he deserves the permanent job. A strong finish these final two games will only help, too.
- Great read today by Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News on Texas' beloved loudmouth, cornerback Quandre Diggs. The senior four-year starter gets called an old soul by his family and teammates, which is an apt label. He grew up fast and has always brought a mature presence to this Texas team. Referring to Diggs as his team's "conscience" is spot-on. He's the kind of hard-nosed competitor Charlie Strong would love to have a lot more of at UT.
- Two years ago, we got Collin Klein vs. Geno Smith in Morgantown. This time around, the QB showdown of Jake Waters vs. Clint Trickett promises to be a good one. The second-year starters have more in common than you might think -- both are transfers who've raised their game now that they're more at ease operating their respective offense. Keep this in mind, too: Among Big 12 teams, only WVU, KSU and TCU have managed to avoid starting multiple QBs this season. Excited to see how two of the league's most efficient passers respond in coming back from crushing losses.
- Texas Tech is wondering whether left tackle Le'Raven Clark will be back next season. The junior, a three-year starter, could pursue the NFL draft this spring if he gets good feedback from the league. Clark admits he wouldn't like to leave Tech behind after this season, but Kliff Kingsbury and his coaches went through this with Jace Amaro last year and will support Clark no what matter what he decides. The fact that Clark is versatile and experience at playing multiple spots on the line should help his cause.
Why Kansas State will win: West Virginia will bounce back and give K-State a heck of a fight in Morgantown. The Wildcats haven't gone on the road much this season (three times, in fact), but they'll be locked in and angry. KSU's defense gets after Clint Trickett just as Texas did. Kansas State 38, West Virginia 34 -- Max Olson
Why West Virginia will win: After battling four top 10 teams, the Mountaineers finally looked like a tired bunch in Austin. The week off should have done wonders for them physically and psychologically. I expect West Virginia to come out fired up for this game, knowing a win over the Wildcats would ensure this season will be deemed a success. West Virginia 34, Kansas State 31 -- Jake Trotter
Why Iowa State will win: Trotter has a two-game lead in our picks contest. I have to catch up. Fortune favors the bold. The Cyclones are fresh off a bye and will be able to move the ball on Tech. This is their best (only?) chance to avoid a winless conference season. If Davis Webb is back and dealing, I might be dead wrong. Iowa State 27, Texas Tech 24 -- Olson
Why Texas Tech will win: The Red Raiders simply have more firepower. Neither defense is great, so the team with the bigger arsenal should triumph, and that team is Tech. Texas Tech 38, Iowa State 24 -- Chatmon
Baylor over Oklahoma State: Have you been watching the Oklahoma State offense? The Cowboys lead the Big 12 in three-and-outs, and since the Bears are gunning for style points, this could get ugly fast in Waco. The only variable to this game will be whether Oklahoma State is forced to pull the redshirt off freshman Mason Rudolph if a banged up Daxx Garman can't go. Yet even though Rudolph is an intriguing quarterback prospect, he won't have enough help around him and up front for it to make much of a difference against the speedy Bears. Baylor 66, Oklahoma State 13 – Trotter
Oklahoma over Kansas: If the Sooners lean on their running game, KU could struggle to find answers. Even though Clint Bowen’s Jayhawks are much improved, a road win at OU still seems out of reach. Oklahoma 31, Kansas 17 – Chatmon
Why Kansas will keep it close: The Jayhawks will find a way to force OU to pass the ball. KU plays great pass defense. Without Trevor Knight, Oklahoma isn't playing great pass offense. Oklahoma 31, Kansas 21 -- Olson
- Trotter: 58-6
- Chatmon: 56-8
- Olson: 55-9
ACC commissioner John Swofford spoke Wednesday at a weekly Durham (N.C.) Sports Club meeting and said eight teams would be "ideal" in a playoff format.
But which coaches in the conference provide the best value for the dollar? Here’s a look at the Big 12’s top five coaches in terms of value -- i.e. cost per win -- in 2014.
1. Art Briles, Baylor: Not only did Briles lead Baylor to its first Big 12 title a year ago, he’s still bringing terrific value to BU at $391,893.25 per win (eight wins). His salary of $3,135,146 makes him the nation’s 22nd-highest paid coach.
2. Bill Snyder, Kansas State: The veteran coach brings terrific value at $414,285.71 per win (seven wins) as his Wildcats still have hope to secure their second Big 12 title in three seasons if they can win out. His salary of $2,900,000 makes him the nation’s 29th-highest paid coach.
3. Gary Patterson, TCU: He’s really earned his money this season with his decision to revamp the offense, potentially at the expense of his defense, during the offseason. As a result, Patterson has brought great value at $445,350 per win (nine wins) this season. He’s the nation’s 11th-highest paid coach at $4,008,150 in 2014.
4. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia: After seeing WVU’s bowl streak snapped a year ago, Holgorsen’s squad has responded with six wins thus far this season, making him one of the Big 12’s top values at $513,333.33 per win. Holgorsen’s salary of $3,080,000 makes him the nation’s 23rd-highest paid coach.
5. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State: Even with his squad in the midst of a four-game losing streak, Gundy finds himself in the top half of the conference in terms of value. OSU is paying Gundy $700,000 dollars per win (five wins) in 2014. His salary of $3,500,000 ranks him 15th among college coaches this season.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is the Big 12’s highest-paid coach and the nation's third-highest paid coach at $5,058,333 in 2014. You can find the entire list and where each Big 12 coach lands here.
Baylor: The Bears' defense was supposed to take a step backward after losing several starters from its 2013 unit. Instead BU ranks among the conference leaders in several categories and leads the Big 12 by forcing a punt on 50.8 percent of opponents possessions and could see that number increase this weekend with a hapless Oklahoma State offense visiting McLane Stadium on Saturday.
Iowa State: The Cyclones will need to improve their sack percentage if they hope to slow down Texas Tech’s passing attack. ISU’s 3.5 sack percentage ranks last in the Big 12 as the Cyclones have struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks outside of defensive end Cory Morrissey’s five sacks.
Kansas: Beware of the Jayhawks coming out of the halftime locker room. KU has a plus-8 turnover margin in the third quarter, which leads the Big 12. Clint Bowen’s squad could need some turnovers to upset Oklahoma in Norman, so an opportunistic defense could be the Jayhawks' key against OU.
Kansas State: The Wildcats are tough to stop once they get rolling. K-State scores on 66.2 percent of its drives that begin with an initial first down. In other words, a three-and-out is the best bet to slow the Wildcats’ offense, so West Virginia should take heed.
Oklahoma: The Sooners' running game has been impressive but their ball protection has been even more impressive. OU is averaging 240.9 rushing yards per game yet has lost a fumble once in 408 rushes. That’s a 0.7 fumble percentage, best in the Big 12.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys' offense is trending downward and the offensive line is a big reason why. Negative plays have become the norm for Mike Gundy’s team with 36.2 percent of their plays resulting in negative yardage. Only Iowa State (37.9) has a worse percentage in the Big 12.
Texas: With a date with TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin on the horizon, the Longhorns might be the best equipped to handle the conference’s top dual-threat signal-caller. UT’s 9.3 sack percentage is the best in the Big 12 with Baylor (8.4) as the only other Big 12 team with a sack percentage higher than 8 percent.
TCU: The Horned Frogs do a good job of adjusting their approach at halftime. Their average of 8.39 yards per play in the third quarter is first in the Big 12 and nearly two yards better than second-ranked K-State (6.68 ypp).
Texas Tech: Even with Tech’s uncertainty at the quarterback position, the Red Raiders' defense is at the heart of the struggles for Kliff Kingsbury’s team. Tech is allowing 3.04 points per drive, last in the Big 12 and No. 123 among FBS teams. The Red Raiders' offense hasn’t helped the cause with 22 turnovers but the defense has been unable to overcome those mistakes.
WVU: The Mountaineers' defense has played a huge role in the improvement of Dana Holgorsen’s team. WVU’s pass defense has been much improved with the Mountaineers allowing 6.06 yards per pass attempt, ranking second in the Big 12. Last season, WVU ranked last in the conference at 7.88 yards allowed per pass attempt.
The top five remains steady, but Ohio State has moved a step closer to potentially breaking into that group. The Buckeyes, whose class is led by three five-star prospects, added a commitment from an eighth ESPN 300 player in offensive lineman Matt Burrell Jr. The top-10 OG is a big, tough and competitive player. He needs to continue to better blend technique with his aggressive nature, but with some work he can be a physical and productive presence in the trenches for Ohio State.
It has been a challenging season for North Carolina, but the Tar Heels, who have won three of their past four games, were able to score a big victory on the recruiting trail. With a commitment from ESPN 300 DE Jalen Dalton, North Carolina was able to keep the state's No. 3-ranked prospect at home. A lengthy and athletic defender with good upside, Dalton is a promising player who could grow into a potential playmaker for a team that needs major help on defense. Despite some of the struggles this season UNC has still managed to put together a strong class that now sits at No. 21 and features five ESPN 300 prospects.
Inside the rankings
The biggest challenge for Urban Meyer and his staff since he arrived in Columbus has been luring top-flight defensive front personnel and overall skill from the Midwest that is comparable to what he had at Florida. It has been a down period in Ohio for the 2014 and 2015 classes in terms of sheer numbers and caliber of players, which led to the Buckeyes going after guys like Joey Bosa (Florida), Raekwon McMillan (Georgia), Vonn Bell (Georgia) and many others to help supplement the roster. That trend is continuing with the commitment of 2015 athlete Torrance Gibson.
The good news for the Buckeyes is that the upcoming in-state 2016 class is much stronger and deeper, which hopefully will allow for them to not have to venture too far south this time around to supplement the roster. The Buckeyes already have four players committed in 2016 and all are from Ohio.
To read the full class rankings, click here.
Oklahoma State at Texas
TCU at Texas Tech
Texas Tech vs. Baylor (Arlington)
Kansas at Iowa State
Kansas State at Oklahoma State
West Virginia at Oklahoma
Texas at TCU
Baylor at Kansas
Iowa State at Texas Tech
Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas)
Oklahoma State at West Virginia
TCU at Kansas State
West Virginia at Baylor
Oklahoma at Kansas State
Texas Tech at Kansas
TCU at Iowa State
Iowa State at Baylor
Kansas at Oklahoma State
Kansas State at Texas
Texas Tech at Oklahoma
Oct. 29 (Thursday)
West Virginia at TCU
Oklahoma at Kansas
Oklahoma State at Texas Tech
Texas at Iowa State
Nov. 5 (Thursday)
Baylor at Kansas State
Iowa State at Oklahoma
Kansas at Texas
Texas Tech at West Virginia
TCU at Oklahoma State
Kansas at TCU
Kansas State at Texas Tech
Oklahoma at Baylor
Oklahoma State at Iowa State
Texas at West Virginia
Baylor at Oklahoma State
Iowa State at Kansas State
West Virginia at Kansas
TCU at Oklahoma
Nov. 26 (Thursday)
Texas Tech at Texas
Nov. 27 (Friday)
Baylor at TCU
Iowa State at West Virginia
Kansas State at Kansas
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
West Virginia at Kansas State
Texas at Baylor
- The biggest thing that jumps out is the Baylor-TCU game on Black Friday. I saw some dissension about this on Twitter, but I actually kind of like it. The Big 12 needs rivalries after the Red River Showdown and Bedlam, and TCU-Baylor seems to be the league's best chance at developing a third major rivalry. Putting the game on a special day like Black Friday places an added emphasis on the game. Especially if it again holds Big 12 title and playoff implications.
- Baylor has a killer November slate, with road trips to K-State, Oklahoma State and TCU, and a home bout with Oklahoma. The Bears will also play their first two conference games away from home. I doubt Art Briles will be fired up about this schedule.
- TCU has a brutal stretch late in November, playing Oklahoma and Baylor in a six-day span. That two-game swing could define the Horned Frogs' season.
- Dec. 5 potentially could be a big weekend for the league. West Virginia, K-State, Texas and Baylor could all be in the Big 12 title mix. The league should have a national presence while other conferences are playing their championship games.
- The Big 12 has three Thursday night conference games, and all three have a chance to be good ones.
But the Cowboys also expected to progress, setting themselves up for a run back at the Big 12 title and possibly the playoff in 2015.
Armed with a collection of talented budding players such as end Emmanuel Ogbah, linebacker Seth Jacobs and safety Jordan Sterns, the defense has done just that, flashing signs it could be a formidable unit next year.
The offense, however, has been a disaster that seems to worsen with every game. The Cowboys rank last in the Big 12 in scoring in conference games. And with questions everywhere from quarterback to offensive line to coaching, Oklahoma State’s hopes for a bounce-back season in 2015 will hinge on whether players on thta side of the ball can make a rapid transformation in the offseason.
“We need to improve,” said coach Mike Gundy. “Do I wish we were further along? Yes. Do I know for sure why we're not? No.”
Oklahoma State’s offensive identity under Gundy had always been forged on well-disciplined, tenacious offensive lines that protected the quarterback and paved lanes for the runners in a balanced attack.
But with the mastermind behind that unit, Joe Wickline, now at Texas, the Cowboys have suffered up front.
Some of it is because of injury. Devin Davis was supposed to be the cornerstone of the line at left tackle. But he has yet to return from a catastrophic knee injury suffered last August.
Some of it is because of poor luck. Both returning centers from last season retired from football, forcing Oklahoma State to shuffle linemen into spots they were unfamiliar with.
But injury and luck comprises only part of the equation.
The rest of the line has been outmanned in virtually every game this season. And they seem to be regressing, too. After giving up just 48 total sacks from 2010-14, the Cowboys have surrendered 32 already this year, including 12 sacks in their last two games. Tennessee, Penn State and Wake Forest are the only Power 5 programs that have given up more sacks per game this season.
And if that weren’t sobering enough, Oklahoma State will graduate its two best linemen, tackle Daniel Koenig and guard Chris Grisbhy, after this season.
“We have three new starters and it just takes a little while for those guys to get going,” Gundy said. “Unfortunately, we haven't been able to identify a way to get freshmen and first-year players to be as effective as we want them to.”
But while the most glaring problem has been the line, it’s hardly been the only issue.
The Cowboys went into the 2012 season armed with their quarterback of the future in Wes Lunt, who won the starting job at as a true freshman. But after injuries wrecked his first year, Lunt inexplicably transferred to Illinois in the spring, leaving the Cowboys with a void at the position. Clint Chelf admiringly filled in as the stopgap the second half of last season. But with Chelf gone, too, the position has entered a perilous transition. J.W. Walsh was knocked out for the season in the second game, leaving former walk-on Daxx Garman as this year’s stopgap. And though Garman has a big arm, his immobility and inability to burn defenses that blitz have been the imperfect marriage. Garman ranks last in the Big 12 with a completion percentage of 55 percent, leading to a conference-worst 42 three-and-outs.
“The defense has to account for one other guy when you have a mobile quarterback and right now Daxx doesn't move around in the pocket as much as J.W. did,” Gundy said. "So that's a little bit of a factor, but we just have to continue to get better.”
The only way the Cowboys will get better, though, is by solving the quarterback woes.
Walsh will be a senior and the likely favorite to start next season when he returns from a foot injury. But the offense also bogged down with Walsh behind center in 2013.
Player-development issues won’t be the only element Gundy will have to evaluate in the offseason. Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s two-year contract is up after this season. After stunningly getting hired from Division II Shippensburg in Pennsylvania, Yurcich has not blossomed as a play-caller the way his predecessors in Stillwater did, the way Larry Fedora, Dana Holgorsen and Todd Monken did. Gundy will also have to make a determination on whether Bob Connelly, who was coaching high school in Arizona when Oklahoma State hired him, is the position coach that can turn around the Cowboys’ beleaguered offensive line.
Barring a miracle at Baylor this weekend or at Oklahoma on Dec. 6, Oklahoma State figures to miss out on a bowl for the first time since Gundy’s debut season in 2005.
Even with such a young roster, this was not the season the Cowboys envisioned.
Without a dramatic development from the Big 12’s worst offense, 2015 won’t be the season they had once envisioned it could be, either.
A four-year starter for the Cyclones, Farniok took some time to chat with ESPN.com about his Cyclones career, his best memories and his post-football plans.
What’s been your best memory of being a Cyclone?
Tom Farniok: So far, beating Iowa for the first time in triple overtime since they had dominated us the previous two years and beating Oklahoma State my redshirt freshman year. And playing against my brother (Derek, a junior tackle at Oklahoma) has been pretty cool, but we lost every time we played them, which is not as fun.
What is your favorite coach Paul Rhoads moment?
TF: That’s a hard one. I’d have to go back to beating Iowa. Pretty much every time we beat Iowa, it’s a pretty good celebration.
What stands out about that?
TF: Just his passion and his care.
What has been the best part of being an Iowa State Cyclone?
TF: It’s a good place with a lot of good guys and a lot of good people that care. The fans are good, they stick with us through thick and thin. It’s a pretty good place to be.
What’s this season been like for you and the team? Seems like you've been ravaged with injuries.
TF: I got dinged up the first week and it hindered me for about four weeks, and you know, that’s just the way it happens, you know? It’s football, you’ve just got to roll with the punches sometimes.
Has it been tough for you dealing with injuries this year and last year?
TF: Well, this season was not bad, I just got dinged up and I couldn’t play to my full potential. Last year stunk because I had a couple foolish things happen that were bad injuries and it was just a fluke, but you just have to roll with it, toughen it out sometimes and it will all be OK.
Has your leadership been tested this season as far as keeping everyone upbeat?
TF: Not really. We have a pretty good group of guys, so we’ve done a good job as a team of not dragging down and focusing on trying to go out there and get the next one.
Any game you remember as particularly fun or because of the atmosphere?
TF: Iowa is always a huge game and the atmosphere is crazy. And when we played Oklahoma State was probably the most insane atmosphere I’ve ever been in. Well, maybe not insane, but it was pretty dang intense.
When you look back on your Iowa State career, what do you want your legacy to be?
TF: A guy who was a good player who did things right.
What are you wanting to do post football?
TF: Post football I want to be a strength and conditioning coach.
Why a strength coach?
TF: I like seeing people grow. It’s something I really gravitate toward.
What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to be a four-year starter?
TF: Just being a young guy and making young guy mistakes.
When did you get past that?
TF: About halfway through my sophomore year I started becoming a real veteran. I’d played in a lot of games.
If you didn’t play football what do you think you’d be doing?
TF: I have no idea.
Heading down the stretch, what’s going to be the key to finishing your career strong?
TF: Just finishing strong, taking it one play at a time and hoping for the best.
With the latest ESPN Junior 300 rankings now live, one thing is for sure: The state of Texas has its share of players in the 2016 class.
Of the top 300 players, 39 are from Texas. Seven players in the top 30 are from the Lone Star State, including the nation’s top-ranked player, Texas A&M OT recruit Greg Little.
From a Big 12 perspective, OT Patrick Hudson is the highest ranked recruit. The 6-foot-5, 330-pound lineman, a Baylor pledge, jumped from No. 20 to No. 11, and he’s the nation’s second ranked offensive tackle.
Here are five things to watch involving players in the revised rankings:
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