Video: Class rankings Oct. 1 update

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1

National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert breaks down updates to the ESPN class rankings for 2015 football recruiting. Two top-10 classes from the SEC East added ESPN 300 prospects Friday.

Big 12 stat check: Week 6

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 6:

Baylor: Since defeating BCS No. 1 Kansas State at home on Nov. 17, 2012, Baylor's record of 19-2 is second-best in FBS behind Florida State (21-1). The Bears lead the nation in scoring offense, total offense, plays per game, first downs and yards per passing attempt during that 21-game stretch.

Iowa State: Tight end E.J. Bibbs' numbers seem way down, but they're relatively on pace with what he did last season. Bibbs has 11 receptions for 88 yards. and a TD today, and had 11 receptions for 105 yards and a TD through four games last season. Meniscus surgery during fall camp is the reason why the preseason All-Big 12 selection hasn't been a bigger factor. We should start seeing much more from him soon.

Kansas: One small reason for hope for new Kansas interim coach Clint Bowen: Of KU's 18 conference losses under Charlie Weis, the Jayhawks did hold a lead at some point in nine of those Big 12 games (including a 13-0 start vs. Oklahoma last season). But KU held a fourth-quarter lead in just one of those games, a 21-17 loss to Texas in 2012.

Kansas State: One thing K-State's defense is doing really well: Attacking the run game. The Wildcats are allowing 2.69 yards per carry this season, a rate that ranks 10th-best in FBS, and its total run defense (90.2 ypg) ranks 13th. Considering they faced an Auburn offense that's averaged 304.7 rushing yards in its other three games of 2014, that's pretty solid. Baylor and TCU are also in the top 10 for yards/rush defense.

Oklahoma: When the Sooners get close, they're getting the job done. Oklahoma has scored touchdowns on 100 percent of its goal-to-go situations this season and 79 percent of its trips to the red zone. Inside the red zone, Trevor Knight has turned the ball over just once (an interception vs. Louisiana Tech) and has taken one sack.

Oklahoma State: Through three games, Daxx Garman ranks No. 3 nationally in passing yards per completion at a whopping 18.96 yards. He's also ranked No. 7 in FBS in passing yards per attempt at 10.68. That's about as good a start as OSU could've asked for after losing J.W. Walsh.

TCU: The Horned Frogs outscored their non-conference opponents 73-7 in the first half this season. This team averaged 8.8 points per game in the first half last season but has scored 24 or more before halftime in all three of its games in 2014. None of those three foes were on Oklahoma's level, but it does appear TCU's new Air Raid is making this team better-equipped to put up points early.

Texas: The Longhorn defense has been stingy once opponents cross midfield. Its 3.38 yards per play allowed in those situations ranks No. 9 in FBS. Texas has nearly as many turnovers forced (six) as touchdowns allowed (seven) when opposing offenses have entered their territory.

Texas Tech: A few notes on the Red Raiders' problem with penalties: Tech has been flagged 150 times for 1,400 yards since the start of the 2013 season. No team has more penalty yards and only Baylor (154) has more penalties during that span. Texas Tech's 86 offensive penalties since Kliff Kingsbury took over is tied with Baylor for most in the country.

West Virginia: If the season ended today, WVU receiver Kevin White would have a legit case in the All-America discussion. He's the nation's second-leading receiver in yards per game (158.2) and ranks No. 3 in receptions per game (10.5). He's been so successful because he's caught 73.7 percent percent of passes thrown his way, a rate bested by only Alabama's Amari Cooper among wideouts with 500-plus receiving yards.
With a third of the season behind the majority of the Big 12, we’re starting to see which quarterbacks have improved since a year ago and which quarterbacks’ play is leaving much to be desired.

Baylor’s Bryce Petty has carried last season’s excellence into this season while West Virginia’s Clint Trickett and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight are among the conference’s most improved players. With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, here’s a closer look at the Adjusted QBR (0-100, with 50 being average) rankings for each starting quarterback in the league as conference play starts to heat up heading into October.

[+] EnlargePetty
AP Photo/LM OteroBryce Petty has picked up where he left off last season, leading the Big 12 in Total QBR.
1. Bryce Petty, Baylor: 86. It’s no surprise to see the Big 12’s reigning offensive player of the year atop the list. He’s dropped dimes over the shoulders of defenders and even hurdled opponents on his way to the end zone. He’s passed for 913 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception while adding four touchdowns on the ground.

2. Clint Trickett, West Virginia: 82.5. The surprise of the early season, Trickett has held up his end of the bargain against the best competition any Big 12 quarterback has faced through four games. He leads the Big 12 in passing yards (1,600, 4th in FBS) and completion percentage (72 percent, 5th in FBS).

3. Trevor Knight, Oklahoma: 76.4. The sophomore has built upon his Allstate Sugar Bowl performance with the most consistent stretch of his young career. His 86.7 raw QBR on play-action plays is a terrific fit with the Sooners’ ground-and-pound approach.

4. Daxx Garman, Oklahoma State: 75.7. He’s not playing like a guy who seeing his first consistent action since 2009. Garman leads the Big 12 in raw QBR on third down plays (93.8) and against the blitz (99.3). His 18.96 yards per completion shows his willingness to look deep and trust the Cowboys’ receivers in one-on-one situations downfield.

5. Davis Webb, Texas Tech: 71.7. One of Webb’s strengths is his movement in the pocket. His 0.5 sack percentage ranks second in the Big 12 behind Petty as he’s been sacked once in 182 pass attempts. If he's unable to play against Kansas State, it will be interesting to see if freshman Patrick Mahomes can mimic his low sack total.

6. Trevone Boykin, TCU: 71.3. The Horned Frogs quarterback is third in the Big 12 in total offense at 347 yards per game. Boykin’s 0.8 interceptions per attempt is easily the most encouraging stat for TCU. He has one interception in 123 attempts through three games.

7. Jake Waters, Kansas State: 63.2. The senior has been solid in all areas while excelling with the ball tucked under his arm. He leads Big 12 quarterbacks with 215 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

8. Sam B. Richardson, Iowa State: 53.2. The Cyclones have had their problems this season but Richardson has been solid through four games. His completion percentage (68 percent) ranks second in the conference behind Trickett but there are plenty of areas for improvement for the Cyclones' signal-caller.

9. Tyrone Swoopes, Texas: 46.3. The sophomore is growing as a quarterback but still has a long way to go. His 33.2 raw QBR on third down is the worst in the Big 12 as UT has converted just 25 percent of his third-down throws into first downs, ranking last in the conference.

10. Montell Cozart, Kansas: 27.4. It feels like now or never for the sophomore who is talented but simply hasn’t gotten the job done. He’s the only quarterback in the conference who has thrown more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (5) and his 50.4 completion percentage is the Big 12’s worst.
Travis Green has seen his impact on Kansas State's defense skyrocket with 13 of his 14 tackles in the Wildcats last two games. The junior college transfer is helping to fill the void in KSU's seccondary after Ty Zimmerman completed his eligibility after the 2013 season. Green talked with about Zimmerman, his interest in criminology and some of the struggles he overcame to end up in Manhattan, Kansas.

What things did you take away from playing with Ty Zimmerman?

Travis Green: With Ty being around there’s a lot of knowledge. He has a leadership mentality and he’s also smart and knows the game. He helped out a lot with being patient and waiting for the right time and doing the right thing when it comes to play execution. Having him around was very important and very lucky for me to have him in the locker room.

[+] EnlargeTravis Green
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesTravis Green has taken over a leadership role in Kansas State's secondary.
What really sticks with you?

Green: Be patient and believe, don’t worry about what is not in front of you.

You’ve seen your playing time jump up lately, was the Auburn game the game you started to feel like you could carve a role in this defense?

Green: Yeah. I talked to my teammates beforehand and they said, ‘Don’t be nervous, just play football.’ Believing that they believed in me was very important. Knowing they weren’t worried about me, I felt very comfortable.

What was last year like, I know you played a bit, then had your injury?

Green: It was kind of tough, coming out of juco, you’re having a good season then all of a sudden you had to sit. I tore my ACL against West Virginia and it put pressure on me because I had injuries in high school, but I knew how to come back. It just made me stronger in my mind.

Did you ever wonder if you would come back or feel snake-bitten at all?

Green: I didn’t question my recovery. The trainers told me "You can do this, we’ve had guys come back stronger than before” that motivated me.

Do you feel 100 percent back?

Green: I definitely feel 100 percent -- I’m not wearing a brace anymore. I feel a lot stronger and more confident in my play.

How has playing at Kansas State been different than you expected?

Green: You never would have known a kid from Omaha, Nebraska, would be playing big-time football. It’s a big deal to me, something I take a lot of pride in.

It’s not a position you thought about growing up?

Green: Growing up I only thought about what was in front of me. Playing in the NFL is a kid’s dream but I never thought I’d be at Kansas State. Once my name was called and they wanted me, I was very happy.

Do you have a earliest memory on the football field?

Green: Definitely my sophomore year of high school. Going through some things my freshman year, getting kicked out and stuff like that, not being able to play for a semester broke my heart. Once I got the opportunity to play football again, I took it very seriously. I knew this was what I wanted to do and if I can do it, I’ll do it to the best of my ability.

Those freshman issues were a blessing in disguise?

Green: Definitely a blessing in disguise, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Criminology is your major, what is it about criminology that interests you?

Green: Giving back. Being able to stop a lot of things with youth and delinquency and being able to control the future and not allowing them to fall into the stereotypes of being young people. There are good people out here who do good things and good things happen to them. I’m definitely, I wouldn’t call it a success story yet, but it happened to me. I was very deviant as a kid. A lot of things worked out for me, I changed for the better, and I’m playing for one of the best schools in the country.

Once your playing career is done is that the dream job for you?

Green: After I’m done with a major in criminology, I want to get my master’s in youth development and be able to convert a lot of kids.

If you had to use one world to describe yourself what would it be?

Green: Humble. I don’t flaunt myself. I stay humble and stay true to what I know and what I know is school and football.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Green: Earning a scholarship. Living up to my goal out of high school, not being able to go to straight to a big-time school and being able to go to junior college, work really hard and play football at a big-time school. I’m proud of myself for going through all those obstacles in order to be where I am now.

Where does your desire for success come from?

Green: My godmother, Yana Morgan. She’s very successful in what she does, she also had a crazy lifestyle a lot of things went on in her life. Now she’s successful and she can do a lot of things, what she wants to do, not what everyone else wants her to do. She’s my motivation.

TCU will stun the Big 12, and soon 

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
Trevone BoykinAP Photo/LM OteroTrevone Boykin has exceeded expectations under center for the TCU Frogs.
Mark it down. One of the next two weekends, TCU is going to wreck the marquee November game that everyone believes will decide the Big 12.

The Frogs are going to beat either Oklahoma this weekend or Baylor next weekend, giving one of those conference favorites an early-season L. (Personally, I believe it’ll be Baylor.)

Here’s why.

They’ve been close

The Frogs lost eight games in 2013 by an average of 8.5 points per loss, including four in conference by two or three points in each game. Think about that. A field goal, #collegekickers and all, decided half their losses.

Two of those games were, you guessed it, Baylor and Oklahoma.

And here’s the takeaway: If you’re continually in games, you’re bound to win games.
WACO, Texas -- Goliath wasn't the one slinging stones. Nor had he much need for trash talk.

That's what makes the blossoming feud between Baylor and Texas so bemusing. Who would've ever thought the once-powerless Bears could someday provoke contempt from these once-gigantic Longhorns?

Their relationship has never felt more different than in 2014. David is faster and more confident than ever, his arsenal of weapons expanded well beyond the slingshot. Goliath, well, he's working through some issues right now.

Baylor players got heated in April when Texas linebacker Steve Edmond, in relatively unprovoked fashion, declared: "I really don't like Baylor. I still think they're trash." This week, when Texas receiver John Harris made a similarly dismissive comment, those players couldn't help but laugh.

"It's a sign of something…I just can't put my finger on it," Baylor lineman Pat Colbert said.

It's mostly disrespect. Texas players see no reason to bow down to the Big 12 champions in advance of their rematch on Saturday in Austin. No. 7 Baylor has beat the Longhorns three of the last four years, but can't quite seem to humble them.

If the Bears expect deference, they're looking in the wrong place.

"They're still Baylor," Harris said Monday. "Just because they started playing better in this era, that's good for them. We're still Texas."

Baylor coach Art Briles didn't quite know how to respond to that statement on Monday.

"I mean, what am I supposed to say?" Briles said. "We're still Baylor, TCU is still TCU, Oklahoma is still Oklahoma. I'm not sure what it means."

Why'd Harris say it? He was asked if Baylor was snatching control of the state of Texas away from his program. Briles says he doesn't look at things that way, that this is a "week-to-week business."

But anyone suggesting Baylor is still Baylor hasn't been paying too much attention, including to the scoreboard, over these past few seasons.

"We're a completely different team than we were five years ago," Bears linebacker Bryce Hager said. "We're a nationally contending team. Eventually, people are just going to have to accept it."

When Edmond's comments hit Twitter, Colbert was one of the first to react, vowing that the Bears would "kick our feet straight through his teeth AGAIN!!" Fellow lineman Troy Baker posted a photo of their Big 12 title trophy with the caption, "I love this trash too."

When asked Tuesday how he'd respond to being called trash, Colbert paused before offering: "You're trash for saying that."

Edmond has spoken to reporters just once since his post-spring game smack talk. When asked if he wanted to say anything more on the subject, he quickly said no. Teammate Quandre Diggs joked this summer that Edmond's comments weren't surprising because, simply put, he's gonna say what's on his mind.

"Steve is country. That's just how it is," Diggs said. "When you're raised in the country, you don't really care. You don't care about hurting people's feelings."

What made Edmond's diss so silly is the fact he didn't even play against Baylor last season while recovering from a lacerated liver. He'll get a chance to back up (or pay for) his words on Saturday.

"We'll keep an eye out for him," Colbert said.

Baylor receiver KD Cannon said he considers Texas' disrespect a sign of weakness. The freshman star, who did turn down an offer from UT, noticed Monday that Diggs said he'd never heard Baylor considers itself "Wide Receiver U."

"Texas is going to be Texas," Cannon said. "They have a good program. It's just trash talk. It's just something we've got to shut up."

There's a little more to the "trash" talk, too: Remember, Texas and Baylor were tied 3-3 at halftime last December. The Big 12 trophy and a Fiesta Bowl trip were on the line. And Texas flopped in the second half, getting outscored 27-7 and walking off the Floyd Casey Stadium field in silence as Baylor fans filled the field.

"It still haunts us that we were 30 minutes away from winning a Big 12 championship," Texas defensive end Cedric Reed said.

That heartbreak was the true source of Edmond's negativity and the reason why this bickering began. But if Texas can't appreciate the all-time high Baylor is riding right now, that's just fine with the Bears. They'd rather come down to Texas' house on Saturday and prove their point there.

"Of course they're not going to like us," Colbert said. "We're winning. They're down. We're up. We'll get ‘em back."

Big 12 morning links

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
Come on LeBron. Is it that serious?
  • Texas players didn't hesitate to speak their minds about Baylor but the Bears' players refused to bite when asked about the comments of John Harris and Quandre Diggs on Monday, reports John Werner of the Waco Tribune. I'm sure the Bears had conversations about not feeding into the comments but somehow I think we will be looking at a different story on Saturday. I'd be shocked if the Bears are as quiet on Saturday as they were this week, there should be plenty of trash talk in Austin, Texas, this weekend. On the field and in the stands.
  • Can Iowa State mimic Baylor? Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune thinks the Cyclones can follow BU's blueprint. It makes sense on a bunch of different levels since the Bears were once cemented on the bottom of the Big 12 standings. But BU has a much bigger talent base to tap into, even though they have to hold off nationwide suitors for the top players in their state. The Cyclones just don't have the pool of talent to recruit from like Baylor does, so evaluation and finding hidden gems becomes even more important in Ames, Iowa. That said, ISU does have plenty of assets to offer so a Baylor-like rise is not impossible, it would just have to be done differently.
  • The poor quarterback play at Kansas is now Clint Bowen's problem, writes Tom Keegan of the Lawrence Journal-World. Montell Cozart has been bad early this season and the fact the Jayhawks haven't turned to Michael Cummings speaks volumes about the state of the quarterback position in Lawrence. Cozart looked like the quarterback of the future but if he doesn't turn things around immediately the future may never come.
  • This was a classy move from Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs. He took the time to write a letter to the editor at Kansas State's student newspaper to thank K-State and its fans for the hospitality when the Tigers visited Manhattan, Kansas, on Sept. 18.
  • Oklahoma confirmed the NCAA's denial of Baker Mayfield's eligibility on Tuesday, reports Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World. Mayfield will be allowed to be placed on scholarship. Of all the uncertainty surrounding the Sooners program in the offseason, Mayfield's ineligibility could be the biggest blow. Quarterback Trevor Knight has remained healthy through four games but if anything happens to Knight, OU could be forced to turn to Blake Bell under center or rely on a redshirt freshman Cody Thomas. Bell has moved to tight end and Thomas has only played one game in his career. If Mayfield had been cleared to play, it would have brought peace of mind to the program.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
In Tuesday's mailbag we talk Charlie Strong, the futures of TCU, Oklahoma State and West Virginia and the College Football Playoff committee. Thanks for your questions this week, to submit a question for next Tuesday's mailbag, click here.

On to the mailbag:

[+] EnlargeBill Snyder
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesBill Snyder's Wildcats have a difficult remaining schedule, but it's one that would garner national attention should they negotiate it successfully.
Cain in Auckland writes: Hey guys, love the blog! Firstly, do you think Kansas State has found their answer at running back with Charles Jones? And also, with K-State's schedule (Auburn, at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, at TCU, at West Virginia, at Baylor) do you believe KSU as an 11-1 Big 12 champ makes the playoff over a 11-1 SEC West runner up or 11-1 Big 10 Champ?

Brandon Chatmon: I really like what Charles Jones is bringing to the table for the Wildcats. He’s not John Hubert, but he has the chance to be a very productive back and has proven his ability to find the end zone with eight touchdowns in four games. To answer your second question, I think an 11-1 K-State should get in over most one-loss Big Ten champions or most one-loss SEC West runners-up. Obviously a lot of that has to do with who those losses came against, but the Wildcats would have a strong case with road wins at Baylor and Oklahoma. Now, will they get in? That’s another question entirely and we don’t have a history to look back upon to know how the College Football Playoff committee will handle these situations.

Christian in Missoula, Montana, writes: Do you have week 8 circled on your calendars for a little more clarity in the Big 12 title race? The top six teams are on the field against one another. Also, even as an Oklahoma State grad I'm left wondering why so much love for WVU and so little for TCU? I personally would put TCU's wins over WVU losses, but who cares, right? We'll know what TCU has by next Saturday.

Chatmon: I think every week is a big week. We sometimes overlook the week ahead of us in anticipation of later matchups then something unexpected happens. Week 8 will be a big week but we could have some clarity before then. TCU hasn’t really been tested but can take care of business against the Sooners and plenty of love will be headed their way.

Matt in Fort Worth writes: The Playoff Committee had already publicly stated that they will not be looking at margin of victory. Now Barry Alvarez says he has been looking at just that (normalized for schedule strength). And, he made the statement just in time for some teams viewed as having little shot to make the playoffs to whip up on their final weak out-of-conference foe. This doesn't seem right. What do you think?

Chatmon: That’s why they have a playoff committee. Everyone has their own bias, expectations, etc., but I’m confident the committee will do a solid job. And I doubt any team would be running up the score based on what one committee member says. I can’t imagine winning by 44 instead of 24 over a weak opponent is going to be a deciding factor.

Louie in Pace, Florida, writes: What do you think WVU's chances are of going 9-3 this year? They played two of the top four teams in the country and pretty much competed with both of them. The toughest game left on their schedule are at home with the exception of Tech and Texas being on the road. If not 9-3 where do you think they will finish?

Chatmon: I’m not ready to lock them in at 9-3 but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mountaineers finish with 9 or 10 wins with a bowl game. I’d add Oklahoma State to your list of tough road games making WVU’s tough stretch of Baylor, at OSU, TCU, at Texas the main reason I’m looking at 7 or 8 wins for WVU as of right now.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
AP Photo/Michael ThomasTexas coach Charlie Strong is still trying to gain a foothold in his first season.
John McKay in Louisville writes: Why in the world is Charlie Strong getting any criticism at all? He has coached four games, not four seasons! He did not turn around Louisville in four games, it took his third season to have a really good one, and beat a perceived powerhouse program. Everyone needs to calm down and give him at least 3-4 complete seasons to see what his effect is on the program. A third of a season does not a career make.

Chatmon: I agree John, but we live in a "win now" world. Strong should get a pass this season as he tries to lay a quality foundation but if we don’t see clear signs of progress early next year, that’s when I would understand the heat starting to turn up under his seat.

Nicholas in Houston writes: OSU has a brutal stretch in the back half of the season. Apart from OU and Baylor, which of our remaining opponents should scare us the most? As of this moment, my vote is WVU.

Chatmon: I’d also keep on eye on the Pokes visit to TCU on Oct. 18. The Horned Frogs will play good defense and will be the best defense Daxx Garman has faced since he took over as OSU starting signal-caller. How will he respond?

Taylor Cook in Houston writes: After watching OK State vs. Texas Tech play with alternate uniforms on Thursday I wonder what happens first with a Bill Snyder-coached team: A CFB Playoff appearance or a game with alternate KSU uniforms? Even some "iconic" teams have gone with slight tweaks to the uniform or helmet, but K-State has been the same for a long time.

Chatmon: That’s easy Taylor, a College Football Playoff berth.

Mike in Goldsby, Oklahoma, writes: You said, "If the polls affect the College Football Playoff committee then we have bigger problems". Do you think there's any chance of the opposite happening? The CFP committee rankings affecting the polls?

Chatmon: I would hope so. I expect the College Football Playoff committee to invest more time in their rankings than the average voter.
Oklahoma State and Iowa State will meet in Stillwater this weekend in a battle of coaches unhappy with their running games.

The Cyclones are last in the league with an average of just 104 rushing yards per game. The Cowboys are faring better on the ground, but their 4.1 yards per carry average is the worst Oklahoma State has had since Mike Gundy’s first season in 2005.

“It’s not good enough,” Gundy said. “You’ve got to be over five in most cases.”

Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads has become exasperated with his rushing attack, as well. Running backs Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy gained just 17 yards on 12 carries in a 49-28 loss to Baylor last weekend.

"There is no running attack," said Rhoads, whose club is averaging just 3.4 yards a carry, which ranks 108th nationally. "You've got to run the football and you've got to defend the run if you want to be successful. We're not even scratching the surface at doing that."

That starts for both teams with the offensive line. After graduating several key players, Oklahoma State had one of the most inexperienced offensive lines coming into the season. That wasn’t the case for Iowa State. Only Oklahoma had more career returning starts along its offensive line than the Cyclones. But so far, Iowa State has been unable to pave consistent lanes for Wimberly and Nealy.

"We need to do a better job of blocking. That's not just the interior five, that's everybody," Rhoads said. "Receivers are part of the blocking group and the tight ends. And our running backs need to do a better job of running the football. We've got to make some folks miss.

“In watching Oklahoma State, other people are taking care of every gap, too, and sometimes backs make folks miss. We need that added to the quotient."

The Cowboys have a back in Tyreek Hill who can make opponents miss, and another in Desmond Roland who can through tackles. Roland broke out in Ames last year with 219 yards rushing.

But Gundy would disagree about his offensive line taking care of every gap. Gundy called it a “stretch” to say that the line was any better in a 45-35 win over Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders, who had been awful in run defense, stacked the box to compensate for their own deficiencies, which made running the ball tough sledding.

“Last week we didn't really have an opportunity to run the ball with the way they played defense,” Gundy said. “Tech's perspective was to stop the run with safeties, which didn't really give us numbers throughout the evening."

But after watching Oklahoma State quarterback Daxx Garman throw for 370 yards and four touchdowns, it’s unlikely Iowa State will utilize a similar scheme and put its young secondary in vulnerable situations.

The Cowboys hope this will be the game that finally gets their ground attack going. Iowa State, too.

Roundtable: Keys for TCU, Texas

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
In our weekly Big 12 roundtable, we examine the keys to Texas and TCU knocking off Big 12 co-favorites Baylor and Oklahoma this weekend, and whether Kansas will notch another win under interim coach Clint Bowen:

What is the key to Texas pulling off the upset over Baylor?

Brandon Chatmon: If Texas actually decides to walk the walk. The Longhorns players haven’t been bashful in sharing their thoughts on Baylor’s rise. UT hung with Baylor for a while a year ago before the Bears finally pulled away, but that Longhorns squad had rebounded after a horrible start to the season and entered the 2013 meeting with some confidence. That’s not the scenario this time around. Are the Longhorns are trying to talk themselves into believing they can win?

Max Olson: Charlie Strong is the kind of coach who'll tell you Texas just needs to score one more point than Baylor. Well, how many points is that going to take? His track record suggests Strong and his staff will draw up a game plan that gives Texas' defense a chance to slow down Bryce Petty and his infinite weapons. But Tyrone Swoopes and this slow-moving Longhorn offense must find easier ways to run the ball and score and, more important, they must answer whenever Baylor does strike. It's going to take resilience, but Texas can't win unless its offense rises to the challenge in a way we've yet to witness in 2014.

Jake Trotter: The only way Texas will have a chance is if it runs the ball. Swoopes isn’t Blake Bortles or even Clint Chelf, so the Longhorns aren’t going to be able to simply outscore the Bears. That means Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown will have to move the chains to keep Petty and Co. off the field. The Longhorns actually are talented enough defensively to create issues for the Baylor offense. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown has been a beast in the middle, and the back seven is creating turnovers. But they can hold the finger in the dam for only so long. Eventually, the Bears will hit Texas up for big plays. Which is why it’s imperative the Horns grind out some drives and limit Petty’s opportunities to gouge them.

What is the key to TCU pulling off the upset over Oklahoma?

Chatmon: Trevone Boykin. Nobody knows how Boykin will react against the chaos the Sooners defense will create nor do we know just how much Boykin has improved since last season. It could get ugly for the TCU signal-caller. Or he could be the biggest nightmare this Sooners defense will see all season. If he executes TCU’s new offense like a veteran quarterback, Boykin has the ability to stress a defense unlike any other quarterback in the Big 12 with his ability to run like a running back in the open field. A great game from Boykin could be the worst-case scenario for OU.

Olson: Brandon is right, it's Boykin and the way he responds to the pressure of this Oklahoma defense. But I'm curious about the other side of the ball, too: How will the Horned Frogs attack Trevor Knight, make him uncomfortable and force him to make difficult throws? Against Tennessee and West Virginia, Knight was efficient when passing against blitzes. TCU needs to get after him and throw off the timing of this offense. OU will take this game over if Knight gets off to a sharp start.

Trotter: The TCU offensive line has to hold up against Oklahoma’s swarming front seven. The Horned Frogs’ defense traditionally has fared well against the Sooners, but TCU has been unable to win in its two Big 12 meetings with the Sooners because of its inability to move the ball. The Horned Frogs opened last year’s game against Oklahoma with seven three-and-outs. TCU got dominated at the line of scrimmage and finished with only 44 yards rushing in that game. That didn’t cut it last year, and it won’t Saturday, either. Gary Patterson switched up his coordinators in the offseason to jump-start the offense. But it won’t amount to much if TCU gets obliterated up front again.

Under Bowen, will Kansas win another game?

Chatmon: Sure, why not? It only takes one team to slip up against the Jayhawks, and KU’s defense has actually been pretty good this season. But it has been overshadowed by the lackluster performance of its offense and sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart. The Jayhawks could find themselves hanging in a game thanks to their defense then getting one or two big plays to somehow pull out a win. I can’t say who should be on upset alert, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they pull off an win.

Olson: You would think that Texas Tech will have its house in order by the time KU plays in Lubbock on Oct. 18, though clearly at this point that's a team with some vulnerabilities. Realistically, though, Kansas' best chance comes at home against Iowa State on Nov. 8. And I think Bowen will treat the season finale at Kansas State like the Jayhawks' bowl game. That's going to be a throw-the-kitchen-sink game and a prime chance for Bowen to prove he deserves a shot at the job.

Trotter: I want to say yes, but look at the schedule and tell me who Kansas is going to beat? The Jayhawks have only three more home games. I don’t see Kansas being able to score against TCU on No. 15. I don’t see them being able to score with Oklahoma State on Oct. 11. That leaves Iowa State on Nov. 8. And if I had to pick that game today, I’d pick the Cyclones, who, by the way, slaughtered Kansas last year, 34-0. I think the Jayhawks will compete harder under Bown than they did under Charlie Weis. I’m just not sure this Kansas offense is competent enough for it to matter.
Oklahoma State figured replacing Justin Gilbert would not be easy.

The former Cowboy was the eighth overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft after an All-America season at OSU a year ago. While Gilbert provided game-changing plays and three years of starting experience to the Cowboys secondary in his final season, Kevin Peterson was the overlooked lieutenant in the cornerback duo, quietly holding his own opposite his standout teammate.

This year it’s Peterson’s time to be the captain in the Cowboys’ backfield. And he’s slid into the role with unusual ease.

[+] EnlargeKevin Peterson
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsKevin Peterson had big shoes to fill in Oklahoma State's secondary, replacing Justin Gilbert as the top corner.
“He wanted that role,” defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “He knew Gilbert’s gone, I’m the guy, I’m going to be put on a island a lot. I think he wanted that.”

Lots of guys want a role like that, as the key cover man who can be counted on to battle with the Big 12’s best receivers throughout a 60-minute frenzy of passes from all angles. Fewer guys seize the opportunity and hold up under the barrage.

“To want it and then to be effective every snap is different,” Spencer said. “He’s doing what he’s supposed to do now preparations-wise and practice-wise to fulfill that role. It’s a week-by-week process though.”

Now he finds himself on a similar path as Gilbert. He’s been a starter since his sophomore season after making an impact as a freshman and teams that test him, more often than not, end up regretting it. Most importantly, he sets the competitive tone and provides a daily model for OSU’s freshman cornerbacks Ramon Richards and Juwan Offray as the most experienced cover man on the roster.

“They see how he approaches practice and when we’re doing scout reps he’s not backing up, he’s not going through the motions,” Spencer said. “The harder they practice it translates to Saturday and Kevin does that, so it’s good for the young guys to see … 'He's practicing like this? Against the scout team on a Wednesday?' Then they say, that’s probably the way it’s supposed to be done.”

It’s part of the reason the Cowboys have been better than expected thus far this season. Gilbert wasn’t just a superstar. Along with fellow three-year starter and departed Cowboy Daytawion Lowe, Gilbert passed along his good habits and provided a baseline during Peterson's first two seasons for how to strive to mimic their success when he was the man.

“Having those guys show how to work hard instilled it in me,” Peterson said. “It takes more than athletic ability to be a great player.”

Said defensive tackle James Castleman: "I feel like what sets him apart from everyone else is not only is he a vocal leader, but he sets an example. So, you know, ‘You've got to do this, you've got to do that,' and it's good when you tell someone 'You've got to do this,' and you do it as well.”

Four games into his junior season Peterson has 15 tackles, six pass breakups and one interception. He ranks second in the Big 12 with seven disrupted dropbacks -- an ESPN metric that combines sacks, interceptions, passes broken up and batted balls -- behind Baylor’s Xavien Howard (7.5). He's not quite on Gilbert's level yet but he's quickly becoming one of the Big 12's top cornerbacks and a critical playmaker for OSU's defense.

“Up to now, game-by-game, he hasn't disappointed,” Spencer said. “He’s made some big-time breakups in critical situations and his discipline is good. He’s done what he’s supposed to do. His preparation needs to be the same. If he takes that approach he will do that every week.”

OU, Baylor offenses to be tested

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
Through four games, fourth-ranked Oklahoma and seventh-ranked Baylor have been two of the most dominant teams in the country while emerging onto the short list of playoff contenders.

Both offenses have been dominant, too, with the Sooners running through opponents, and Baylor running past them.

But the next three games will be telling for both programs.

Beginning this weekend with challenging road tilts against a pair of tough defenses.

Oklahoma heads to Fort Worth for a showdown with TCU, which debuted in the Top 25 this week after a strong start to the season. Baylor travels south to Austin, where the Bears have won just once since 1991.

[+] EnlargeGarrett Krstich
AP Photo/LM OteroOklahoma's offense will face a stiff test against Josh Carraway and a TCU defense that had seven sacks last week against SMU.
The schedule doesn’t ease up for Oklahoma or Baylor afterward, either. The Bears play host to TCU, then travel to Morgantown to face the most improved team in the Big 12 in West Virginia.

Next weekend, the Sooners have the Red River Showdown, which they lost as heavy favorites last season. Then, Oklahoma will have to bounce back quickly for Bill Snyder and a tenacious Kansas State defense, which will be coming off a bye with an extra week to prepare for the Sooners.

But Oklahoma and Baylor, especially their offenses, can set the tone for these key three-game stretches on Saturday.

The Sooners have struggled to move the ball on the Horned Frogs in the past, with TCU losing both games by a total of 10 points. Even without preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields, the Horned Frogs have been stifling on the defensive side yet again, allowing just a single touchdown in their last two games. TCU was especially impressive in a 30-7 win over Minnesota, which moved to 4-1 after stomping Michigan in Ann Arbor last weekend.

“TCU looks really, really good and has played really well to this point,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said Monday.

Oklahoma’s seasoned offensive line has overpowered opponents this season, but the Horned Frogs appear to be one of the few teams in the league capable of matching up with the Sooners in the trenches. Davion Pierson and Chucky Hunter form one of the best one-two punches at defensive tackle in the league, and defensive end James McFarland is coming off a three-sack performance in TCU’s 56-0 victory over SMU.

“They always have played great defense,” Stoops said.

This, however, could be the best overall team Gary Patterson has fielded since joining the Big 12. Patterson’s revamped hurry-up, no-huddle offense hasn’t been tested much yet, but has shown signs of improvement under new coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. Quarterback Trevone Boykin’s Adjusted QBR is up 30 points from last year, and behind a more sturdy offensive line, the Horned Frogs are third in the league at the moment in rushing. That has taken some of the pressure that has been on Patterson’s defense in the past.

“They’re doing a great job of route running and (Boykin) is throwing the football really well, accurately,” Stoops said. “You can tell he’s comfortable in the offense and is playing really well.”

With a new quarterback and a diminished line, Texas, meanwhile, has struggled offensively again this season. But the Longhorns have also been formidable defensively in their past two games.

Texas picked off Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart four times on the way to a 23-0 shutout. Two weeks before, the Longhorns hung tough behind their defense in a 20-17 loss to now eighth-ranked UCLA, which dropped off 62 points on Arizona State last week.

Baylor is rightfully a two-touchdown favorite to win in Austin. But the Longhorns still have the talent on the defensive side to surprise anyone, as Oklahoma found out last year as a two-touchdown favorite.

Defensive tackle Malcom Brown has been a menace on the inside. And the Texas defensive backs -- led by preseason All-Big 12 selection Quandre Diggs and Duke Thomas, who had two picks last weekend -- are better equipped than most Big 12 teams to deal with Baylor’s prolific array of wide receivers.

“They always play good defense, and this year is no exception,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “That’s always what you’ve seen from their staff and it’s something you expect.”

The Baylor and Oklahoma offenses have been exceptional so far. But their playoff mettle is about to be tested.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU and Kansas State all scored victories over the weekend, but Kansas seemed to be the big story, as the Jayhawks lost head coach Charlie Weis, who was fired after compiling a 6-22 record and earning only one win against a Power 5 school in three seasons.

What will this mean for recruiting? Currently, the Jayhawks have 13 commits in the 2015 class, and while the consensus is still committed, the idea of exploring other options is a definite. Find out more about Kansas and the rest of Big 12 recruiting with these highlights.

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Week 6 playoff implications

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
Claim your spot on the couch now. Reserve your table at your favorite sports bar. Buy another TV. Do whatever you gotta do to make sure you don't miss a snap Saturday because this is going to be a good one.

College football has been a well-kept secret so far, as it has been hiding the true identities of teams. Not this week. It's time to play or go home. There are six games between ranked teams. Of the 17 undefeated teams remaining, eight play against each other this week. It's the most relevant weekend the sport has had in regard to the new College Football Playoff.

Here are the games you can't miss, ranked from least to most likely to affect the playoff:

No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame -- Stanford already has one loss, and this is the second straight road trip for the Cardinal. If Stanford loses again, its playoff hopes will be in serious jeopardy but not over, given that it could still win the conference. This game should reveal more about Notre Dame's place in the playoff, as it will be the first ranked opponent for the Irish.

No. 4 Oklahoma at No. 25 TCU -- ESPN's Football Power Index gives Oklahoma a 64 percent chance to win and predicts this to be Oklahoma's hardest remaining game -- slightly more difficult than Nov. 8 against Baylor. If the Sooners can't handle TCU, they'll be on the outside looking in.

No. 15 LSU at No. 5 Auburn -- LSU gave Auburn its only regular-season loss the past year, but LSU has already lost to Mississippi State, which put the Tigers behind in the SEC West race. Considering the rest of LSU's schedule -- and the hole it's already in -- this is a must-win. For Auburn, this is a chance to erase some doubts and make a push from the bubble into the top four.

No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 12 Mississippi State -- Two terrific quarterbacks will be on display in the Aggies' Kenny Hill and the Bulldogs' Dak Prescott, who both rank in the top 10 in total QBR. A&M's stock dropped a bit this past week after it needed overtime to beat Arkansas, but it could be a top-four team if it can survive the state of Mississippi the next two weeks.

No. 3 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss -- This is the most interesting matchup of the day. Alabama ranks third in offensive efficiency, and Ole Miss ranks second in defensive efficiency. Neither team has played a ranked opponent, so there is still some margin for error, but the Tide have a chance to separate from the crowded West.

No. 19 Nebraska at No. 10 Michigan State -- Surprise. The game with the biggest playoff implications is not in the SEC West. This Big Ten matchup could knock Sparty out of the playoff entirely. It's one thing to lose to Oregon; it's another to try to make the four-team playoff with two losses and your best win coming over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Conversely, a win in East Lansing could vault the Huskers into the playoff conversation. They're the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten, and the toughest game left on their schedule is against No. 17 Wisconsin. If Nebraska pulls off the upset, it's time to take it seriously as a playoff team.

Planning for success: Texas Tech

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
In its 20-14 loss to Auburn two weeks ago, Kansas State missed three field goals, squandered a red zone opportunity with an interception and fumbled deep in its own territory.

But even in that mistake-filled game, the Wildcats didn’t commit a single penalty, a trademark of Bill Snyder-coached teams.

This weekend, Texas Tech will travel to Manhattan as the most-penalized team in the country so far this season. The Red Raiders have averaged 105.5 penalty yards a game, which is a major reason why they’re off to a sluggish 2-2 start in Kliff Kingsbury's second season.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsKliff Kingsbury's Red Raiders will be at a major disadvantage if they don't clean up their penalty issues against the disciplined Wildcats.
K-State, meanwhile, once again is the least penalized team in the Big 12. So for Tech to have any chance of knocking off the Wildcats and putting its season back on track, it has to shed the penalty bug before arriving in Manhattan.

“We'll just keep addressing them and keep trying to get better,” Kingsbury said Monday. “A lot of it is technique, fundamentals. I think they're playing hard but not always smart. So we've got to keep coaching and that's on us as a staff to get that straightened out.”

Kingsbury has been saying the same for weeks, to no avail.

In a 45-35 loss at Oklahoma State last Thursday, the Red Raiders were flagged 16 times for 158 yards. Twice, that directly took points off the board. Jakeem Grant had a kickoff return for a touchdown nullified by a holding call. The Red Raiders also lost an opportunity for a field goal try after a delay of game penalty bumped them from field goal range. Those 10 points wound up being the margin in the loss.

“We've got to be tougher coaching-wise, then when they're out there, they've got to execute it or we've got to find guys that can,” Kingsbury said. “But to do that against anybody, you're not going to win the game, to have 16 penalties.

“That's something we'll have to improve on dramatically this week against a team that's known for not making mistakes.”

K-State traditionally has feasted on opponents that beat themselves. That included the Red Raiders in Lubbock last season.

Tech had 11 more first downs than the Wildcats. The Red Raiders produced 92 more yards of offense. And they converted more than 50 percent of their third-down attempts.

But Tech was never really in the game and got demolished 49-26, thanks to 10 penalties and three turnovers.

“Penalties are going to happen in the game of football, but the way we've been having them around here in bunches and 15yarders is unacceptable,” said receiver Bradley Marquez. “We've put emphasis on this from the offseason. We've tried everything. We've done a lot of different things for it.”

The Red Raiders would get a major boost if quarterback Davis Webb is able to play this weekend after suffering an injury to his non-throwing shoulder against Oklahoma State. Webb, who is coming off his best game of the season, threw for 374 yards and four touchdowns. Yet even with Webb's sparkling performance, penalties doomed the Red Raiders in Stillwater. And even if Webb is able to play, penalties will doom Tech in Manhattan, too, if not corrected.

“Kansas State is a team that's not going to hurt themselves and they've done that over the years,” Marquez said. “They've had great discipline. They execute, and they have great technique, and they don't have those penalties.

“So we'll definitely have to go out there and play as mistake-free as possible to give ourselves a chance. I don't know what can be done about it. It just comes down to the individual and being able to go out there and not commit these mistakes. We're still trying to figure it out, but it definitely needs to change.”