Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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A true freshman made his case to become a household name, a pair of Jayhawks changed the game, another target emerged in Manhattan, Kansas, and the Big 12's most consistent receiving threat did it again. Here's a look at the best performances in the Big 12 this week:

RB Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: Even if you didn't watch the game you probably already know how dominant the Sooners true freshman running back was in OU's 45-33 win over West Virginia. He finished with 34 carries for 242 yards and four touchdowns. And he got better as the game went on. Keith Ford better hurry back.

Oklahoma's offensive line: While Perine basks in all the headlines, the Sooners offensive line was the foundation of OU's ground-and-pound victory in Morgantown, West Virginia. Perine and Alex Ross (eight rushes for 56 yards) each averaged at least 7 yards per carry. Tackles Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson, guards Nila Kasitati, Adam Shead and Dionte Savage along with center Ty Darlington deserve a ton of credit.

WR Justin McCay, Kansas: His numbers aren't staggering. His impact was. The Jayhawks receiver changed the game with his 60-yard catch and run for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. McCay finished with two receptions for 66 yards and the score but KU might not have defeated Central Michigan, 24-10, without McCay's big play.

LB Jake Love, Kansas: Fellow linebacker Ben Heeney was outstanding, as usual, but Love was very productive in his own right. He finished with five tackles including four tackles for loss and one sack. His back-to-back tackles for loss in the middle of the fourth quarter helped set up Corey Avery's touchdown on the Jayhawks next possession, which essentially sealed the win.

WR Curry Sexton, Kansas State: The Wildcats got the usual big plays from Tyler Lockett but Sexton provided a quality second option for K-State's offense. He had a career-high 11 receptions for 121 yards in the Wildcats' 20-14 loss to Auburn. Six of Sexton's 11 receptions came on third down and seven of his catches resulted in a first down. His previous career high was six receptions and 112 against West Virginia in 2013.

WR Kevin White, West Virginia: The Mountaineers' senior continues to prove Lockett and Baylor's Antwan Goodley have competition for the honor of Big 12's best receiver. White had 10 receptions for 173 yards and one touchdown. It was his fourth straight 100-yard game to start the season and third game with at least 140 receiving yards.

OU's Perine bulldozes, closes out WVU

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- The Oklahoma backfield is a full house, and Bob Stoops hardly seems concerned about putting his talented tailbacks in any order on a depth chart.

But if the Sooners don’t want to get too hung up on designating a pecking order, particularly when the nominal starter is hurt, that’s fine. No matter who takes the first carries for Oklahoma’s brutally efficient rushing attack, it’s pretty clear by now it knows who will handle the last few.

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Tyler Evert/Associated PressSamaje Perine was a battering ram that West Virginia couldn't handle Saturday, especially in the fourth quarter.
In case there was any doubt, Samaje Perine bulldozed it out of existence on Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium, battering his way through the West Virginia defense until it couldn’t take any more and establishing himself as the ideal closer as the No. 4 Sooners rode him hard down the stretch in a 45-33 win.

“I wouldn’t say it’s best to be the closer,” Perine said. “But it sure is a good thing for a coach to have confidence in you like that at the end of the game.”

The Sooners had plenty of faith in the true freshman well before the end of the game, riding Perine almost from start to finish in a coming-out party that at least made it worth discussing whether Keith Ford had been unseated while sitting out with an ankle injury.

Perine rushed 34 times for 242 punishing yards, each one taking a toll on every Mountaineer who tried to bring him down. By the time he finished off his fourth touchdown run of the game, West Virginia seemed almost completely unwilling to take him on, and the Sooners definitely took notice as defenders continually lowered their sights on him after getting trucked repeatedly by the 243-pounder.

Regardless of whether or not the Sooners call on him that early or often again this season as they rely on the ground game to compensate for some inconsistency through the air, Perine clearly has carved out a role for himself. And if the Sooners can keep him fresh with a lighter load alongside Ford and Alex Ross, that might make him even more dangerous to tired defenders as they make a push for the College Football Playoff.

“Samaje was just outstanding,” Stoops said. “You know about how powerful and strong he is, but he also has great vision, great ability to cut and he just had a sensational night.

“You know what, these guys are all going to play. And we’re going to keep them fresh. But like tonight, you know, somebody gets hot -- he gets more. It’s really pretty simple.”

There was no need to complicate matters against the Mountaineers, though they made the Sooners’ road conference win a challenge.

They capitalized on a few misfires from Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight to get defensive stops, continued to cause some problems offensively with their explosive passing attack and had the score tied heading into halftime. But that was when Perine took over, toting the ball 20 times after intermission -- and grinding the game away with seven consecutive carries on the final scoring drive, which ended with a 19-yard trip to the end zone and a warm embrace from Stoops as he trotted back to the sideline.

“I didn’t know [his game] was that big until I looked down at the stat sheet,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “He’s a great player, mature player -- he’s a load, you know what I mean?

“But before it’s all said and done, before this season is over, we’re going to need everybody who was in that locker room tonight on our side of the ball. Tonight was Samaje’s night. Hopefully he has more nights like that, but the rest of those guys have to be ready, too.”

Stoops has already proven he can find a way to use them all, and a huge outing by Perine isn’t going to change either his plans or interest in providing a clear-cut depth chart.

But even if Perine’s workload lightens up in the coming weeks, it’s a safe bet now that he’ll be on the field when it’s time for the Sooners to close the deal.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Here’s what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 4:

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
AP Photo/Tyler EvertThere was no stopping Samaje Perine on Saturday, as the Sooners freshman ran for 242 yards and four touchdowns against West Virginia.
1. Samaje Perine is a man-child: Oklahoma true freshman running back Samaje Perine just turned 19 years old this week. But he was a grown man among boys Saturday, as he bowled over West Virginia in Oklahoma’s 45-33 win in Morgantown. Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 7.1 yards per carry. It was the 13th best rushing total in Sooners history, which is saying something at a school that has produced Greg Pruitt, Steve Owens and Billy Sims, among countless other standout rushers. It was also the second best rushing output ever in a game by a true freshman at Oklahoma, trailing only Adrian Peterson's 249-yard performance against Oklahoma State in 2004. After the opener, Perine naively declared this could be the best running back group ever to pass through Oklahoma. That’s way too bold, but Perine and sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross -- who returned a critical kick for a touchdown at the end of the first half to give the Sooners momentum for good -- figure to give Oklahoma one of the nation’s most formidable one-two-three punches at running back for the foreseeable future. Perine, a tank of a rusher, is heading that charge.

2. Dana Holgorsen has West Virginia heading in the right direction: This was a disappointing loss for coach Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers, who moved the ball at will on Oklahoma in the first half. But after Ross’ 100-yard kickoff return at the end of the first half, West Virginia could never regain momentum nor get its offense back on track. Still, despite being 2-2, the Mountaineers have proven they have a quality squad, after hanging tough with two teams that might well end up in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Clint Trickett is the most improved quarterback in the Big 12, if not the country, and receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford are devastating weapons downfield. If the Mountaineers play the rest of the year the way they have this first month of the season, they will win a bunch of games. Meanwhile, Holgorsen, whose job status once seemed to be in jeopardy, should be firmly entrenched as the head coach of the future in Morgantown.

3. Kansas’ defense ought to keep it in games: At the beginning and the end of their 24-10 victory over Central Michigan, the Jayhawks produced some big plays offensively. But the defense was the reason Kansas ultimately prevailed, as its offense endured some shaky stretches over the second and third quarters. Led by linebackers Ben Heeney and Jake Love, the Kansas defense forced three turnovers, sacked Central Michigan QB Cooper Rush three times and limited the Chippewas to just 279 yards of offense. Wins haven’t been easy to come by at Kansas, but the defense should give the Jayhawks a chance to win again this season while the offense attempts to harness semblances of consistency.

4. Kansas State figures to be a load in the Big 12: Even in a 20-14 loss to Auburn, the Wildcats showed Thursday night that they will be a tough out for anyone they face the rest of the season. The K-State run defense was phenomenal and snapped Auburn’s 13-game streak of at least 200 yards rushing. Wideout Tyler Lockett, whom Auburn coach Gus Malzahn called “electric,” is a game-changer on offense and special teams, never mind the crucial dropped touchdown pass that turned into an interception. Bill Snyder has to figure out what to do going forward at placekicker, but the Wildcats were good enough to beat the fifth-ranked team in the country. And they’re good enough to be a force in the Big 12 the rest of the way.

5. Oklahoma and Baylor remain the co-favorites: Coming into the season, the Sooners and Bears appeared to be the clear frontrunners to win the league title. Through four weeks of the season, nothing has changed. Oklahoma has been incredibly impressive with its physical offensive line, powerful rushing attack and swarming defense. The Bears have wiped out lesser competition, though they’ve done it while missing many of their key players due to injuries. Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU have impressed, but there’s been nothing so far that suggests the Nov. 8 showdown between Oklahoma and Baylor in Norman won’t decide the Big 12 championship.

No. 4 Oklahoma 45, West Virginia 33

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
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video Samaje Perine rushed for three of his four touchdowns in the second half as Oklahoma powered past West Virginia 45-33.

Video: OU's Eric Striker has 'perfect name'

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
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After wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks in 2013, and more of the same so far in 2014, there is little doubt Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker has the most fitting name in college football. The No. 4 Sooners play at West Virginia at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Big 12 viewer’s guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
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In Week 4 of Big 12 action, most of the conference will have the day off to watch Oklahoma and West Virginia square off in a key early season clash; while Kansas will attempt to bounce back after getting steamrolled at Duke last week.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to follow today in the Big 12:

Central Michigan at Kansas, 3:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Regional): The pressure is already on Kansas coach Charlie Weis, whose Jayhawks were overwhelmed in a 41-3 loss to Duke last week. Kansas desperately needs a better performance from sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart, who against the Blue Devils struggled mightily, completing just 41 percent of his passes while throwing a pair of interceptions. A bounce-back performance won’t come easy. Central Michigan returns 19 starters, and hammered Purdue by three touchdowns on the road two weeks ago. The Jayhawks, though, will catch a break, with Chippewas star running back Thomas Rawls, who rushed for 155 yards against the Boilermakers, still facing suspension after being accused of stealing a woman’s purse.

No. 4 Oklahoma at West Virginia, 7:30 p.m. ET (Fox): The last time these two teams met in Morgantown, they staged a classic -- and this showdown has the makings of the same. The key matchup figures to be West Virginia’s big-play wide receivers against Oklahoma’s big-play defensive backs. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Mountaineers are averaging 247 yards after the catch a game, which is third most of any Power 5 conference offense. The Sooners, however, are giving up just 4.4 yards after the catch per reception, which is tops among Big 12 defenses. The Oklahoma secondary also forced three turnovers last weekend against Tennessee, including Julian Wilson's 100-yard touchdown interception return. Both teams will be missing key players. Oklahoma running Keith Ford is out with a leg injury, while West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley has been suspended indefinitely after being accused of assaulting a female last weekend. The Sooners still have Samaje Perine (177 yards) and Alex Ross (132 yards) to shoulder the rushing load, while the Mountaineers will get back 2013 starting cornerback Ishmael Banks from an academic suspension, which should help ease the loss of Worley.

Chat: CFB Saturday Live

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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Chat live with our writers from 9 a.m. to noon ET and then again starting at 8 p.m. ET for the prime-time games. In between, keep this page open as we bring you the latest real-time reaction, analysis, pics and video from our ESPNers scattered throughout the country.

Mailbag: On K-State, OU-WVU, Tech woes

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
5:30
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In today’s Twitter mailbag, we discuss Kansas State's future after the hard-fought loss to Auburn, the big game between Oklahoma and West Virginia and Texas Tech's defensive problems.

On to the 'bag:

Trotter: The K-State game should make Oklahoma fans a little queasy. The week before meeting the Wildcats on Oct. 18, the Sooners play Texas. The same weekend, the Wildcats will be off. We saw Thursday night how good Bill Snyder is at drawing up a game plan with an extra week to prepare. And this time, his opponent won't have the extra week as well.

Trotter: The good news for Tech is that Oklahoma State's offensive line hasn't exactly dominated, either. But the Cowboys have good backs and they create creases by spreading the field. Though Daxx Garman can't run like J.W. Walsh, he can stretch the field to open up the running game with his arm. That said, if Tech gets steamrolled up front by an Oklahoma State offensive line that even Mike Gundy has termed as "very below average," the Red Raiders might very well get steamrolled by all comers the rest of the way.

Trotter: You're not going to like this answer, but I think it comes down to recruiting better players more than anything else, especially along the defensive line. There isn't a scheme out there that can account for a team's defensive front getting blown off the ball the way Tech's did against Arkansas. The Red Raiders can be better defensively than they were against the Hogs. But ultimately, you either have the horses or you don't.

Trotter: Brandon got the plum assignment of covering the stadium unveiling against SMU. At the moment, I'm not sure yet when exactly I'll be assigned to go down to Waco. But when I do, I'm going to see if I can find a spot in the Baylor Armada.

Trotter: It's a big loss, no doubt. Ford has been OU's best all-around back. But the Sooners are better equipped to deal with the loss of Ford than West Virginia is the loss of standout cornerback Daryl Worley.

Trotter: The fact that Kansas State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia hung tough against Auburn, Florida State and Alabama will do nothing but strengthen the perception of the Big 12 in the eyes of the playoff selection committee. I don't think the committee will get overly focused on scoring differentials. But Oklahoma (or Baylor) beating the Wildcats, Cowboys and Mountaineers would be viewed as quality wins, based on how those three opponents performed in their nonconference schedules.

Trotter: Did you not see the Duke score? I guess anything is possible. But there's reason why Kansas is 1-29 in its last 30 Big 12 games.

Trotter: Why would I trade away the league's best basketball program? And why would you want to trade away an automatic win for whatever team you pull for?


Matt H. writes: Is there a chance for Clint Trickett or Kevin White to be mentioned in the Heisman race if they keep performing at the high level they are playing at right now?

Trotter: White has no shot, if only because receivers don't win Heisman Trophies. But if Trickett lights up a really good Oklahoma defense Saturday, he might begin to generate a little buzz as a possible darkhorse contender.

 

Big 12 true freshman power rankings

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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Going into the fourth weekend of the season, we’ve updated our Big 12 true freshman power rankings again, which we’ll be revising occasionally throughout the year. Again, this list combines both opportunity and impact.

The rankings:

1. K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor (previous rank: 2): Cannon has been nothing short of spectacular while temporarily taking over the role as Baylor’s No. 1 receiver with Levi Norwood, Clay Fuller, Corey Coleman and Antwan Goodley all out with injuries. In three games, Cannon leads the nation with 471 receiving yards, while averaging 33.6 yards per catch. No other Big 12 receiver is averaging more than 25 yards per catch. This is a future star in the making.

2. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma (3): Perine has been stout as Oklahoma’s power back, but will only see his role expand after the leg injury to Keith Ford. While splitting carries with Ford and Alex Ross, Perine has still rushed for 177 yards while averaging 5.5 yards a carry. Ross is expected to get the start at West Virginia, but don’t be surprised if Perine gets the most work.

3. Dravon Henry, FS, West Virginia (1): Henry has kept his starting job, though has been rather quiet since shining in West Virginia’s opener against Alabama. He’ll face another huge challenge this weekend against the balanced Sooners.

4. Dimitri Flowers, FB, Oklahoma (5): Flowers continues to be an instrumental part of Oklahoma’s powerful rushing attack. He hasn’t seen the ball much. But he has paved the way with his lead blocks for Ford, Perine and Ross and an Oklahoma ground game that averaging 5.6 yards per rushing attempt.

5. Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State (7): Lazard led the Cyclones in receiving in their 20-17 victory over the Hawkeyes. He also hauled in a key pass on Iowa State’s game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. With Quenton Bundrage out for the season, Lazard has taken over as Iowa State’s go-to receiver on the outside.

6. Davion Hall, WR, Baylor (4): Like Cannon, Hall has made the most of his opportunities as the rest of the Baylor receiving corps recovers from injuries. He’s currently 10th in the league with 192 receiving yards.

7. Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State (9): Lee didn't have much of an impact Thursday night against Auburn, but he still ranks fifth in the league with 2.5 sacks. Bill Snyder leans against playing true freshmen, but Lee has earned his trust.

8. Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech (10): Along with the rest of the Red Raiders, Stockton struggled against Arkansas with only seven yards rushing on six carries. But the week before against UTEP, he was outstanding with 135 yards rushing, including a 75-yard touchdown dash.

9. Corey Avery, RB, Kansas (8): While the rest of the Kansas offense did little, Avery was the lone bright spot in the loss at Duke. He led the Jayhawks with 87 yards rushing, after rushing for 91 the week before in his debut.

10. Jason Hall, S, Texas (NR): Hall had a sack and a couple of big hits against UCLA after entering the game in the second quarter. His aggression figures to warrant him more playing time after Texas returns from the open weekend.

On the radar: Tevin Madison, CB, Texas Tech; Colin Downing, P, Iowa State; Cameron Batson, PR/WR, Texas Tech; Matthew Boateng, CB, Kansas; Steven Parker II, Oklahoma
Oklahoma's defense will face a stern test when the Sooners take on West Virginia on Saturday.

Oklahoma's coaching staff likes its 3-4 defense because of the versatility it provides and our colleague at Grantland, Matt Hinton, took a closer look at the Sooners' reasons for a shift from 4-3 to 3-4 and how it helped create problems for Tennessee last weekend. Here's are a short glimpse at the piece, which you can read in its entirety here.

Bob Stoops on the change after the 2012 season:
“None of the reasons [for the transition] had to do with what we did the year before. The reasons were personnel-driven.”

Hinton on Eric Striker's influence:
In their only test to date in 2014, the Sooners registered five sacks last Saturday in a 34-10 win over Tennessee, only one of which was credited to Striker, as a half-sack. While his influence went well beyond that, that sack is an ideal example of how the Sooners use the threat of multiple stand-up rushers — “multiple” is Stoops’s favorite word to describe the current scheme — to get their best player free.

Hinton on the difference between Oklahoma's defense from 2013 to 2014:
The 3-4 experiment in 2013 was arguably a more radical shift for the coaches than for the players, most of whom had barely seen the field in any alignment: Of Oklahoma’s top 20 tacklers at the end of the season, only four had significant starting experience at the beginning of the year, and one of those four (linebacker Corey Nelson) was sidelined by a season-ending pectoral injury in the fifth game. The 2014 defense, by contrast, features 10 players who started at least four games in 2013, for whom the revamped scheme is the status quo.

Check it out. It's an interesting read if you want a better understanding of what makes Oklahoma's defense a nightmare for quarterbacks and offensive coordinators.

New Texas Tech DC must fix run defense

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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Fourth-and-1 at Texas Tech's 39. Time for the Red Raiders, down seven points in the third quarter, to get a stop.

Arkansas lined up exactly how you would expect: A three-tight-end power set with a fullback. Nine blockers, one running back. No pass, no fakes, no funny stuff. Just a power run off right tackle. And Texas Tech played it right.

Safety J.J. Gaines met Arkansas back Jonathan Williams near the line of scrimmage. Williams juked left. Gaines whiffed. Then the Arkansas junior threw two stiff-arms at linebacker Sam Eguaoven and picked up 21 yards. Six plays later, the Hogs were back in the end zone.

[+] EnlargeAlex Collins
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsOver the past nine games, this has been a familiar view of running backs for Texas Tech defenders.
This wasn't the turning-point play in Texas Tech's 49-28 loss. Just another landed punch in an eventual beatdown.

Williams ran for 80 yards in the second half, teammate Alex Collins added 167 yards, Arkansas averaged a ridiculous 7.15 yards per carry and attempted just two passes. No need to throw. Everything was working against a Red Raiders defense whose biggest flaw of 2013 re-emerged.

"You've got to give them credit," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said after the loss. "They lined up and pounded us, and we just didn't have an answer today."

Fixing a Texas Tech run defense that has been a sieve in its past nine games is Challenge No. 1 for newly elevated defensive coordinator Mike Smith. Though Matt Wallerstedt exited Thursday because of off-field issues, he leaves behind one real on-field problem that Big 12 foes will try to exploit.

Since Oct. 26, 2013, Tech's first loss of last season at Oklahoma, the Red Raiders have the second-worst run defense in the FBS at 293.4 rushing yards allowed per game.

During that nine-game stretch, of which Tech has lost six, no defense in the country has given up more first downs on rushes (142). Only Southern Miss has allowed more touchdowns and more rushes of 10-plus yards.

In fact, Tech gave up 36 rushing touchdowns during that period, eight more than any other FBS team.

Though Arkansas has one of the best run games in the country, a power-heavy attack the likes of which Tech probably will not face again in Big 12 play, the fact is no FBS defense has faced more rushing plays in those nine games than Tech. Opponents know they must hit this weak spot hard. The Red Raiders know it's coming. They can't stop it.

In the third quarter against Arkansas, Williams' fourth-down dash was deadly because it was another play that kept Texas Tech’s defense on the field. The Hogs ran 23 plays in the quarter and kept the ball for a total of 12:45. That is an easy way to get your opponent gassed.

Linebacker V.J. Fehoko said he saw too many communication issues, too many times when defenders tried to do too much and didn't stick to their assignment.

"In this conference," Fehoko said Saturday, "the smallest mistakes go the longest ways."

Though this is a generally young defense, the starters in the front seven are all juniors and seniors. How are they going to react to another letdown against the run?

"You know, it's tough. It's tough when the ball's not going your way and the momentum's not going your way," Fehoko said. "But I think we've got to just persevere and fight through it. As a team we've got a lot of young guys, but that's no excuse. I think energy and fire comes from within."

So does Texas Tech's new leadership on defense. Smith was already the co-coordinator, so it's not a drastic change. He is expected to bring more of an NFL mindset to assignment and alignment than Wallerstedt. And no doubt he's already hard at work to address his defense's most obvious defect.

It's not that complicated. Next up is Oklahoma State. They and every other opponent are going to pound the rock. They will keep doing it, and the reputation will continue, until Texas Tech starts finding answers to stop it.
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Coming into the season, the Big 12 had three shots to produce a marquee victory against a top-5 opponent.

West Virginia against Alabama.
Oklahoma State against Florida State.
And Kansas State against Auburn.

In all three cases, the Big 12 showed it could hang with the best in the country. But ultimately, the league failed to deliver that signature nonconference victory to place at the feet of the playoff selection committee.

The Mountaineers and the Cowboys had their opportunities to pull off massive upsets.

But the Big 12’s best chance for such a hang-your-hat win came Thursday night in Manhattan, where K-State went toe-to-toe with Auburn in a showdown that wasn’t decided until the final two minutes.

The Wildcats had every opportunity to win the game. Instead, they blew their opportunities.

The opening salvos served as a bad omen of what was to come. After being forced into a quick punt on their first possession, Auburn punter Matthew Shiel dropped the long snap. K-State’s Colborn Couchman came bearing down off the edge with a chance to either tackle Shiel or at least block the punt. Instead Shiel, a native Australian with a rugby background, collected the fumble, dashed around Couchman and booted the ball on the fly all the way to the Kansas State 12-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Jake Waters fumbled the ball back to the Tigers, who capitalized with a field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.

“It’s so frustrating because you work so hard to get in those situations and to play a great team like that,” Waters said. “We had them on the ropes and had the chance to win, but we just didn’t make the plays we needed to make. It’s just really frustrating.”

More frustrated than anyone, K-State coach Bill Snyder was asked afterward whether Auburn won the game, or his Wildcats lost it.

“The latter,” Snyder replied.

Not politically correct coach-speak. Yet, not untrue, either.

The Wildcats had the perfect defensive game plan to slow -- and in many instances, stuff -- Auburn’s high-powered, zone-read ground attack. With good positioning and sure tackling, K-State snapped the Tigers’ 13-game, 200-yard rushing streak.

“As a defense, we came together and played well,” said Wildcats linebacker Jonathan Truman.

But such a sterling defensive performance was otherwise overshadowed by a very un-Snyder-like comedy of blunders from the K-State offense and special teams.

No gaffe more underscored the night than when Tyler Lockett bobbled up a well-thrown Waters strike in the end zone to turn a certain touchdown into a touchback interception.

Later at the end of the first half, Waters had Lockett breaking wide open toward the corner of the end zone. But instead of uncorking a throw, he pulled the ball back, allowing the Auburn pass rush to bat it loose.

Then, worst of all, there were Jack Cantele’s three missed goals in the swirling wind, which proved to be the difference in a six-point loss -- and a three-point win.

“We never gave up, we kept fighting,” Lockett said. “But mistakes were made.”

Once they get off the mat, the Wildcats will realize that, when they play clean, they’re a team capable of challenging Big 12 co-favorites Oklahoma and Baylor down the road. The defense has the potential to be stout all year. And the offense has a special playmaker in Lockett, who already has a history of shredding the Big 12.

But the Wildcats will long be kicking themselves for the field goals they didn’t make, the balls they didn’t catch and the chances that were before them Thursday. This was a game they could have won. Probably should have won. A game that could have catapulted them into the early playoff discussion. Instead, they’re left wondering about what could have been.

The Big 12, too.

West Virginia gave Alabama everything it wanted. Oklahoma State took Florida State to the brink.

And Kansas State outplayed the Tigers.

But mistakes were made. Opportunities were squandered. The Big 12 will exit the nonconference without that landmark win, when three could have been had.

Oh, what could have been.

Big 12's top recruiting visits 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
10:00
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It's a super-slow week of football for the Big 12.

How slow? Only three games were on tap this week, and one of those -- Kansas State hosting Auburn -- was played on Thursday.

Weeks like these are rare, but it gives both West Virginia and Kansas the opportunity to put on a show -- for the recruits in attendance and for those who will be watching on TV. West Virginia gets a huge test in a home game and conference opener against Oklahoma. Additionally, Kansas will look to improve to 2-1 as it hosts Central Michigan.

An imposing figure at 6-foot-4, 252 pounds, Geneo Grissom lined up in a blitzing position before the snap. Seconds later, the Oklahoma linebacker stepped back, re-aligning over Tulsa’s slot receiver. After the snap, Grissom dropped into his zone, passed off the inside route to a teammate before leaping into the passing lane to intercept a pass from Golden Hurricane quarterback Dane Evans and gallop 38 yards into the end zone.

It was just like Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops envisioned.

[+] EnlargeGeneo Grissom
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesGeneo Grissom's versatility was on full display with his 38-yard interception-return touchdown against Tulsa.
After making several position changes during his first four seasons at OU, Grissom has finally found a home as a linebacker in the Sooners’ 3-4 system. In doing so the senior joins Eric Striker to give the Sooners arguably the nation’s top pass-rushing linebacker duo while also providing the versatility to handle the various offensive attacks of the Big 12.

“He’s a great athlete,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “Geneo’s a big guy, he has great range, he can run, he’s got great hands. If our 120 players on our team had a pickup basketball game, he’d be one of the first couple picked. That’s the kind of athlete he is, even with that size.”

Cornerback Zack Sanchez probably puts it best.

“He’s a freak of nature, the way he can get to the ball and make plays,” Sanchez said. “Geneo is a freak athlete, he’s a ball player.”

In many ways, Grissom is too good an athlete for his own good as the Sooners kept tinkering to find the best way to put his skills to use. His athletic prowess resulted in stops at defensive end as a freshman, tight end as a sophomore and defensive end again as a junior before finally finding a home at linebacker this fall.

In Saturday’s Big 12 opener against West Virginia, Grissom’s versatility and talent will be in the spotlight. WVU coach Dana Holgorsen excels at finding ways to create mismatches and exploit defenses with the run or pass, but that task gets harder with Grissom on the field.

Last time these two teams met in 2012, the versatility of Tavon Austin gave the Sooners fits. This time around it could be the versatility of Grissom that creates chaos for WVU’s offense. He has the size and strength to handle the run and the athleticism to be comfortable in coverage against the pass. No matter what approach the Mountaineers’ offense takes, run or pass, Grissom can remain on the field and impact the game.

“For me personally, this is going to be a good game for me to test where I’m at and where I need to get better,” Grissom said. “I’ll measure myself and the things I need to work on.”

Don’t be surprised if Grissom and Striker excel against the Mountaineers, as their ability to rush the passer or drop in coverage is one of the reasons the Sooners made the change to a 3-4 defense after the 2012 season.

“Every game is like that with those two guys, they give us a lot of versatility,” Mike Stoops said. “That’s what we like about this defense, and it will be put to the test again.”

Grissom has started all three games for the Sooners, contributing 12 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, along with his interception.

“If he hasn’t shown it already, this [game] will add on to what he’s capable of doing,” Sanchez said. “Playing tight end a couple years ago helps him go up and get the ball and make crazy plays like that. He’s so athletic, he’s smart, he knows where to be, he just flies around the field.”

While Striker creates havoc all over the field from his position as “field” linebacker, Grissom has more than held his own as the “boundary” linebacker. He finally got comfortable at his new position near the end of two-a-days in August and has performed like a veteran during nonconference action.

“He’s one of those guys who’s always watching film,” Sanchez said. “He’s always watching film and if he makes a mistake, he’s fixing it. He’s not one of those guys that makes the same mistake twice. He’s real tenacious in everything he does.”

Latest Dish: Five things I learned

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
9:00
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Here are five things I learned in college football this week:

1. Sure, No. 5 Auburn greatly benefited from No. 20 Kansas State’s red zone miscues and three missed field goals in Thursday night's 20-14 victory at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. But give the Tigers some credit for making plays when it mattered most, especially on defense.

Auburn limited the Wildcats to only 40 rushing yards on 30 carries (1.3 yards per carry) and surrendered only one run longer than 10 yards to KSU tailback Charles Jones, who came into the game averaging 6 yards per attempt. Also, Auburn only allowed two passes of more than 15 yards, and held quarterback Jake Waters to minus-7 rushing yards on 11 attempts.

Auburn might not yet have a championship-caliber defense, but it is certainly making strides under second-year coordinator Ellis Johnson.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsThe Seminoles are used to getting off to a fast start in games when Jameis Winston is under center.
2. No. 1 FSU is used to starting fast with quarterback Jameis Winston on the field. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Seminoles had a halftime lead of at least seven points in 15 of the previous 16 games Winston started at FSU. The only team that stayed within six points of the Seminoles in the first half was Auburn, which had an 11-point halftime lead in last season’s BCS National Championship. FSU rallied for a 34-31 victory in the second half to claim the school’s third national title.

We’ll see if No. 22 Clemson can keep it close in Saturday night’s ACC showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. Winston is suspended from playing in the first half after making vulgar comments in the FSU student union Tuesday, and redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire is expected to make his first career start. Maguire hasn't started a game since November 2011, when he was a senior at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey.

3. Although hindsight is 20/20, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo accepted blame for not having tailback Todd Gurley more involved in the offense when the Bulldogs faced first-and-goal at South Carolina’s 4-yard line in the closing minutes of last week’s 38-35 loss. UGA attempted a play-action pass on first-and-goal, and quarterback Hutson Mason was penalized for intentional grounding. After two more plays, the Bulldogs missed a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the score, and the Gamecocks were able to run out the clock.

Bobo's first-down call was an aggressive one, and it can certainly be argued that he should have put the ball in the hands of Gurley, who might be the country's best running back. But if the play-action pass had worked, we'd be talking about how brilliant Bobo's call was. And, of course, if Bobo had called for Mason to hand the ball to Gurley on four straight plays and the Bulldogs didn't score, we'd be talking about how vanilla and uncreative his play calling was.

4. West Virginia's defense surrendered 447 yards of offense in last week’s 40-37 win at Maryland, but Mountaineers defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said 188 yards came on three plays. Quarterback C.J. Brown threw a 77-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs and had a 75-yard scoring run of his own. The Mountaineers didn't give up a touchdown after Brown’s long run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half (the Terps kicked a field goal and scored on a long punt return in the fourth quarter).

West Virginia will need a similar defensive effort if it’s going to upset No. 4 Oklahoma in Morgantown on Saturday night. Last season, the Sooners defeated the Mountaineers 16-7, their fewest points total during the previous two seasons.

5. Oregon’s recent dominance over Washington State is making it one of the most lopsided conference series in the country. The No. 2 Ducks have won seven straight games over the Cougars heading into Saturday night’s game in Pullman, averaging 52.4 points per game with an average margin of victory of 32.1 points. Ouch.

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