Big 12: Baylor Bears

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
4:30
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In Tuesday's mailbag we chat about West Virginia, Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight and the College Football Playoff hopes of Baylor and Kansas State. To submit questions for next Tuesday's mailbag, go here.

On to the mailbag:

Craig Dias in Dallas writes: You mentioned that Trevor Knight wasn't hurried more than once in the West Virginia game. Do you think hurrying Knight is the key to stopping OU's offense?

Brandon Chatmon: I think it’s the key to stopping any offense, not just OU’s. Creating confusion and chaos in the backfield could be the key to beating the Sooners, but it’s easier said than done. As far as Knight specifically, I think he has the potential to handle added pressure better than most quarterbacks thanks to his athleticism and mobility, but there’s no doubt in my mind he would be more prone to mistakes if he was being constantly harassed in the pocket.

Marty in West Virginia writes: Is Kevin White the best receiver in Big 12?

Chatmon: He sure is playing like it. He has been consistent and dominant with 42 receptions for 633 yards (both Big 12 highs) and three touchdowns. Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett and Baylor’s Antwan Goodley, among others, will still have their say, but White sits atop the list after the Mountaineers’ first four games. He has been exceptional.

Zane Dennis in Waco writes: Hey, Brandon! Love the blog and read every post daily. Even as a Baylor fan/student, I think we can all agree that Oklahoma is the team to beat for now in the Big 12 (and I think they should be No. 1 in the country, as well). As it's looking right now, our whole season will likely end up coming down to that epic Nov. 8 showdown, but as far as the rest of our schedule, which game should we be more worried about: West Virginia or Kansas State? Also, are there any more possible upsets on the Sooners' schedule?

Chatmon: I’ll have a piece that touches on this in detail later this week, but both programs have some potential pitfalls before that massive showdown in Norman. For Baylor, the trip to West Virginia would be the biggest worry between those two games. I think the Mountaineers have proven they are a tall task for any team. And if Baylor is undefeated after 11 games, I have a hard time believing they would let the Wildcats come into McLane Stadium and take their College Football Playoff dreams away. The Sooners still have several tough tests, but the road game at TCU stands out.

Mike Quick writes: I'm looking for a positive note with this question. Baylor’s nonconference schedule is weak, there's no question there. But with Northwestern State beating Louisiana Tech over the weekend does that at least make Baylor’s win over Northwestern State a bit better in the eyes of the selection committee?

Chatmon: It doesn’t hurt. But the Bears' destiny will be decided in Big 12 conference play either way. An undefeated Baylor doesn’t get left on the outside looking in, even with a subpar nonconference slate.

Harry in Kansas City writes: If KSU and Auburn both win out, do the 'Cats make it into the playoffs?

Chatmon: Good question, Harry. I’m going to say yes because I don’t expect four undefeated conference champions. If fact, I only expect one, maybe two, undefeated teams. It’s simply too hard to go a season without a loss in college football these days. So if Auburn is 12-0 and Kansas State is 11-1, I think the Wildcats find their way into the College Football Playoff, particularly with road wins at Oklahoma and Baylor. Quite frankly, if they don’t there’s a problem.

Abimael Downing in Colorado writes: I know that this year will not be the best for Texas and I understand that Charlie Strong needs some time to get his team together, but how long do you think it will take for Texas to become a contender in the Big 12 again?

Chatmon: Next year. I doubt they win it in 2015, but I definitely think they can contend for a Big 12 title in Strong's second season.

David Hess in Glen Dale, West Virginia writes: Is WVU the best two-loss team in college football?

Chatmon: Yes. The Mountaineers will make their mark in Big 12 play. They’re better than I expected, and I’d be surprised if they don’t return to a bowl game with relative ease.

Kelly in Oregon writes: What are Iowa State's chances Saturday night?

Chatmon: It’s going to be a tough task for Paul Rhoads team, but I don’t expect a repeat of what we saw in Waco, Texas a year ago in Baylor’s 71-7 win. The Bears will win but I don’t think they embarrass the Cyclones again. I expect a competitive game with BU pulling away in the second half. I'll give them a 20-percent chance of pulling the upset.

rtXC in Denison, Texas, writes: Gotta love these polls! OU beats Bama in the Sugar Bowl, returns most of that team, then beats WVU on the road in better fashion than Bama did at a neutral site. BUT Bama stays ahead in the rankings. Thoughts?

Jason in Elkview, West Virginia writes: The emphasis on strength of schedule appears to be selective. I watched WVU give two top 5 teams all they wanted, but still lost. After watching WVU play and after watching at least one game from most of the rest of the top 25 ranked teams, I don't think 15 of them could beat WVU. Yet we continue to lose votes in the polls, and others that have played a smorgasbord of nobodies continue to get more votes each week. I realize you have to win, but this being rewarded for playing a tough schedule business is a farce.

Chatmon: Sounds like a pair of really good reasons to ignore the polls. Particularly since they don’t mean anything anyway. If the polls affect the College Football Playoff committee then we, as college football fans, have bigger problems.
In our weekly Big 12 roundtable, we examine what should be a fascinating race for Big 12 offensive freshman of the year, the Sooners’ remaining schedule and which third team could emerge as a threat to Oklahoma and Baylor for the Big 12 championship:

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
AP Photo/Tyler EvertFreshman Samaje Perine has faced some tough competition in racking up his early-season numbers.
 Who has been the more impressive true freshman, Baylor wide receiver KD Cannon or Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine?

Brandon Chatmon: Even with Perine’s explosion against West Virginia over the weekend, KD Cannon remains the Big 12’s most impressive freshman. The Baylor receiver is a playmaker who makes the game look easy with his smooth strides and silky hands. Both players will be a handful for Big 12 defenses, but I have a feeling Cannon is the man to be for Big 12 freshman-of-the-year honors.

Jake Trotter: Cannon has been unbelievable while ranking third nationally with 157 receiving yards per game. But Cannon has piled up those numbers against two of the worst FBS teams in the country in SMU and Buffalo and an FCS opponent in Northwestern State. Meanwhile, in 34 carries before a hostile crowd in Morgantown, Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns against a quality opponent in West Virginia. Cannon will have his chance to impress against tough competition. But Perine has already done it.

Max Olson: I do agree that Cannon is the Big 12's best freshman so far, but I'm a little more impressed by Perine because he's faced a much better level of competition. True, he's got it fairly easy behind that mauling OU O-line, but Perine is blasting Tennessee and West Virginia for 7.2 yards per carry makes his future look pretty scary. His 242 rushing yards vs. WVU is fifth-best in FBS this year and perhaps just the beginning.

With West Virginia out of the way, what is Oklahoma's toughest remaining game, other than the Nov. 8 clash with Baylor?

Chatmon: The Sooners trip to TCU still looms large to me. The Horned Frogs can play defense and will have confidence on the offensive side of the ball heading into the matchup between the two teams on Oct. 4. TCU will put OU quarterback Trevor Knight in uncomfortable situations and could have the defensive line depth to handle OU’s physical running game. Add better ball protection from the offense and OU’s road trip to Fort Worth, Texas could be the toughest remaining test outside of Baylor.

Trotter: We witnessed last week how brilliant a game plan Kansas State coach Bill Snyder can design with an extra week to prepare. With the week off leading into the Oklahoma game Oct. 18, Snyder will have an extra week to prepare for the Sooners, too. Only this time, Oklahoma won’t have the extra week, as well. Instead, the Sooners will be coming off the emotional Red River showdown with Texas. This is a potentially dangerous game for Oklahoma. K-State won in Norman its last trip there. And with another brilliant Snyder game plan, the Wildcats are good enough to win there again.

Olson: The TCU game is a classic trap, but I don't think the Sooners should overlook their home meeting against Kansas State on Oct. 18. That game falls one week after the Red River showdown, a high-emotion, highly physical game, and I think we're going to figure out quickly K-State is not a team to be trifled with. A lot can change between now and then, but I'd be surprised if that isn't a four-quarter brawl that should really test OU's resolve.

Based on what you've seen, who is the biggest threat to Baylor and Oklahoma for the Big 12 crown?

Chatmon: K-State immediately came to mind, but the Wildcats face the Sooners, Bears, West Virginia and TCU all on the road. TCU is another team that could be considered, but Gary Patterson’s squad is looking at a three-game stretch that features OU, BU and Oklahoma State after SMU on Saturday. So I’m going to step out on the limb and say West Virginia, despite already having a conference loss to OU, is the biggest threat. If WVU knocks off Baylor and BU beats OU, WVU is right back in the mix. And with Clint Trickett and Kevin White playing like All-Big 12 performers, every game is winnable for Dana Holgorsen’s squad.

Trotter: This is a great question, with four possible answers. West Virginia has looked really sharp so far, but the Mountaineers already have a conference loss. Oklahoma State’s schedule is brutal, with road trips to Fort Worth, Manhattan, Waco and Norman. And I want to see more from this TCU offense before I elevate it into contender status. That leaves Kansas State, which has a veteran team and a Hall of Fame coach. The Wildcats have already proven that they can play with the nation's best. I don’t know if K-State has the firepower to win the league. But I do know that with Snyder at the helm, they’ll be a tough out for everyone, including Oklahoma and Baylor.

Olson: The gap between No. 2 and No. 3 in this league remains significant, but I'm buying stock in Kansas State after that Auburn game. I have a ton of respect for that Nick Marshall-led attack, and the Tigers would probably put up 35-plus on most Big 12 contenders. We'd be talking about KSU very differently today had they not made a few fatal mistakes. Plus, I generally have more faith in Jake Waters than in most of the other conference quarterbacks (excluding Petty and Knight) at this point.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
10:00
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video 
September has been an interesting month, and it’s only going to get even more intriguing in the land of recruiting. Texas flipped an ESPN 300 player, and Baylor landed another skill-position threat. Additionally, West Virginia made an impact on an ESPN 300 player, and Texas Tech looked west at a couple of big-time prospects.

Here are some of the highlights from the week of Big 12 recruiting.

WACO, Texas -- Spencer Drango and Bryce Hager got rings like everyone else.

They celebrated like everyone else inside Floyd Casey Stadium last December, when the Bears clinched their first outright conference title in more than 30 years. But it just didn’t feel the same.

[+] EnlargeSpencer Drango
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezSpencer Drango's return to the field is good news for Baylor.
“Watching the celebration was tougher than I thought it would be,” Drango said. “I’m so happy we won everything, but…I wasn’t suited out.”

As No. 7 Baylor gears up for its Big 12 opener at Iowa State on Saturday, two of its biggest leaders are not taking another conference title run for granted.

Drango and Hager were both lost for the 2013 season just as Baylor’s stretch run was getting good, during a 63-34 win over Texas Tech last November to improve to 9-0. Both went down with unusual ailments, leaving a void in both production and leadership. Both watched Baylor lose two of its last four -- derailing their BCS title chase -- and couldn’t do anything about it.

That unsatisfying feeling is giving Drango and Hager plenty to play for this season.

“I think there definitely is some unfinished business,” Drango said.

Drango, the left tackle with 25 career starts, hurt his back four days before Baylor’s blowout win over Texas Tech. He assumed he had a pulled muscle and played through it. In the week following that game, as Baylor prepared to face No. 11 Oklahoma State on the road, Drango met with doctors and learned that, if he kept playing, he risked permanent nerve damage.

The surgery that followed, a microscopic lumbar discectomy, lasted no longer than an hour but required roughly five months of rehab.

Drango doesn’t remember much about watching Baylor’s 49-17 loss to OSU, mostly because he was still on post-surgery pain medication. But he remembers wishing he could assist his struggling teammates.

“I was disappointed I couldn’t be there. I was texting guys at halftime, trying to say, ‘Here’s what I’m seeing,’ stuff like that,” Drango said. “I knew a lot of them don’t check their phones, so a lot of them wouldn’t get it. So I texted four of them, just to try to help.”

The first few weeks of recovery were rough. He couldn’t carry more than 10 pounds for a while. Fortunately, his mother came up to Waco during those weeks to help out.

“A gallon of milk was about the most I could carry,” Drango said, “and I had to hold it to my chest.”

Most of the rehab process required ab work, for up to 90 minutes a day. He never got a six-pack – “it’s under there somewhere,” the 310-pound lineman joked -- but he did get better.

“You can’t replace a guy like Spencer Drango,” Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said. “Not physically, not from a leadership standpoint, not intellectually. I’m delighted to have him back.”

Hager’s recovery process was a bit more confusing. The 22-game starter at inside linebacker suffered a groin injury last October, during a win over Kansas State, but kept playing for another month. Art Briles and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett limited his practice schedule, but after four games, the inflammation finally overwhelmed Hager during the Texas Tech game.

Coaches didn’t rule out his eventual return, but Baylor doctors couldn’t diagnose what was really wrong. Like Drango, Hager missed the Bears’ final four games.

“He wasn’t getting better,” Bennett said this spring. “I could tell in his eyes.”

So they sought outside help and found the best of the best. Hager and his father flew to Philadelphia last winter to see Dr. William Meyers, an esteemed sports injury expert. He discovered an abdominal tear and an adductor tear and completed Hager’s operation the next morning.

“All of our doctors referred us to Dr. Meyers in Philadelphia,” Hager said. “I knew I was going to the best guy and felt really comfortable about that.”

Before he left, Hager visited Lincoln Financial Field, got a Cheez Whiz-topped cheesesteak from Geno’s and received some long-awaited relief after months of pain.

Hager and Drango both missed spring practice but felt better than ever by the end of the summer. They went right back to playing at a high level, too.

Drango has graded out better than 85 percent on his blocking in each of Baylor’s first three games. And Hager, the quarterback of the defense, leads the Bears with 19 tackles.

“He’s the guy,” Briles said during fall camp. “He makes the calls and he makes the plays.”

They both do. The Bears proved last season than can win the Big 12 without Drango and Hager. But the chase Baylor begins Saturday is made easier now that they’re back. And this time, they want a little more to celebrate come December.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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Here’s the latest around the Big 12 on the recruiting trail this week:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Tony Nicholson (Grand Prairie, Texas/South Grand Prairie) is the latest Baylor pledge. The three-star athlete picked the Bears over offers from Kansas State, Arizona State, California, Ole Miss, Wisconsin and others.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones are in good shape with commitments from three-star prospects at quarterback, running back and receiver. Current commits running back Devine Ozigbo (Sachse, Texas/Sachse) and receiver Denver Johnson (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma/Casady) each scored touchdowns over the weekend.

KANSAS
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Receiver Kevin Thomas is the Jayhawks’ headline commitment and would bring big-play ability to the Jayhawks' offense. The three-star prospect spurned offers from Clemson, Nebraska, Wisconsin and others to pick Charlie Weis’ program.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Could Kansas State have another Collin Klein in the pipeline? Wildcats quarterback commit Alex Dalton was outstanding last weekend with 265 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 6
The latest: The Sooners offered Minkah Fitzpatrick, a four-star Alabama commitment, last week. The Jersey City (New Jersey) Saint Peter’s Prep cornerback is the No. 27 player in the ESPN 300 and an UnderArmour All-American. There’s a 100-percent chance the Allstate Sugar Bowl is a topic of conversation when the Sooners chat with Fitzpatrick.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 12
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Cowboys quarterback commit John Kolar (Norman, Oklahoma/North) had a superb game over the weekend, passing for 355 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-41 loss to Moore, Oklahoma/Westmoore.

TCU
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Longhorn swoop? Texas offered Dallas South Oak Cliff receiver J.F. Thomas, TCU’s lone four-star commit, last week. Thomas already boosted offers from several schools including Ohio State and LSU so the Longhorns are just adding to the list of programs trying to swipe Thomas off the Horned Frogs’ commit list.

TEXAS
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 8
The latest: The Longhorns added a commitment from ESPN 300 safety Jamile Johnson Jr. (Dallas/South Oak Cliff). The No. 240 player in the ESPN 300, Johnson has offers from several schools, including Oklahoma, TCU and Texas Tech.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury was on hand as quarterback commitment Jarrett Stidham (Stephenville, Texas/Stephenville) amassed 398 yards and four touchdowns in a 50-39 loss to Lubbock (Texas) Cooper.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: It was a huge weekend for the Mountaineers with defensive tackle Tim Settle, receiver Gary Jennings and athlete Lamont Wade among the prospects reportedly on visits to Morgantown for the loss to Oklahoma.

Big 12 FPI rankings: Week 4

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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ESPN's Football Power Index is a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team's performance going forward for the rest of the season. Every week, ESPN will be updating its FPI to compile a ranking based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date and the remaining schedule.

A few notable changes after Week 4: Kansas State moved up five spots by hanging close with Auburn, who moved from No. 1 down to No. 3 in FPI, and West Virginia also did not drop despite losing this weekend.

Kansas got a six-spot jump in FPI for its 24-10 win over Central Michigan, but FPI does not project KU to be a favorite in any game the rest of the season.

And Oklahoma remains in the No. 6 spot behind four SEC programs and Florida State despite a win over a top-35 opponent. The Sooners' odds of winning the Big 12 did improve by nearly 5 percent, and FPI data says they have a 22 percent chance of running the table.

Here's how they and the rest of the Big 12 stack up entering Week 5.


Trevor KnightKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight and the Sooners have been the class of the Big 12 in the first month of the season.
Coming into the season, people in and out of the footprint wondered if the Big 12 would be able to land a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

But after the nonconference season, Baylor and Oklahoma have emerged as bona fide playoff contenders – thanks to how they’ve performed.

But also, how their conference foes have performed, as well.

Sure, the Big 12 didn’t deliver a signature nonconference victory. Oklahoma State failed to topple Florida State. West Virginia couldn’t upset Alabama. And Kansas State squandered too many opportunities to knock off Auburn.

But in all three spotlight games, the Big 12 acquitted itself well, setting up Oklahoma or Baylor – or whoever wins the conference – as a strong playoff contender when the committee sits down to select its four teams in December. More importantly, in an era when there are five major conferences and only four playoff spots, the Big 12 positioned itself ahead of the Big Ten and the ACC heading into league play.

The Big Ten endured a disastrous start to the playoff era, with the Big 12 contributing to the debacle. West Virginia edged out Maryland. TCU hammered Minnesota. Iowa State handed Iowa its only loss so far. With Ohio State also falling at home to Virginia Tech and Michigan getting wiped out by Utah and Notre Dame, league wins in the Big Ten won’t look nearly as impressive as they will in the Big 12.

The effects of that have already begun to come to fruition.

Oklahoma received eight more first-place votes in the coaches' poll and two more in the AP poll over the weekend after winning at West Virginia, even though the three teams ranked ahead of the Sooners – Florida State, Alabama and Oregon – all won Saturday, too.

The reason?

The Sooners’ victory in Morgantown was viewed nationally as a quality win, because of how tough West Virginia played Alabama and how it played in the road win over Maryland.

Should the Bears prevail in Ames this weekend, the win would be viewed in a more favorable light because the Cyclones bounced back at Iowa City.

Such a domino effect will roll through the entire Big 12 schedule. If Baylor and Oklahoma escape Kansas State, the playoff committee will be compelled to think back to how the Wildcats outplayed Auburn for much of the game in their narrow loss. If the Bears and Sooners defeat Oklahoma State, the committee will have the Cowboys’ performance against defending national champion Florida State in the back of their minds.

It wasn’t the perfect nonconference showing for the Big 12. Besides West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Kansas State coming up in short in marquee matchups they could have very easily won, Texas has let the league down again, dropping two nonconference games for the second consecutive year. Iowa State’s opening loss to North Dakota State didn’t help. And Texas Tech getting steamrolled on its home field by Arkansas only enhanced the reputation of the SEC West Division at the expense of the Big 12.

But when compared to the Big Ten or even the ACC outside Florida State, the Big 12’s nonconference performance overall was a success. The ACC delivered some stunning wins, notably Boston College’s victory over then-No. 9-ranked USC and Virginia Tech’s win over then-fourth-ranked Ohio State. But as everyone heads into conference play, the No. 1 Seminoles are the only ACC team currently ranked in the AP Top 25. The Big 12 has four ranked teams in the AP poll, with TCU and West Virginia sitting right on the fringe, as well.

Meanwhile, as other top teams around the country have endured shaky moments, Oklahoma and Baylor have been dominant. The Sooners, who have been as impressive as any team in the country through the first month of the season, are 4-0 with an average margin of victory of four touchdowns. The Bears – albeit to much lesser competition – have an average winning margin of more than 50 points.

Their showdown on Nov. 8 in Norman will give either the opportunity to make a huge statement to the playoff committee.

But there will be other opportunities to impress along the way, as well. Thanks to the rest of the Big 12, which as a league exits the nonconference looking even stronger than when the season began.

Big 12 morning links

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
8:00
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I was watching this game live. Unbelievable.
  • West Virginia's players and coaches are thankful their open week has finally arrived, writes Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Mountaineers have definitely earned it. No one in the country has played a more brutal schedule so far than West Virginia, which has faced the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in the ESPN power rankings; a team that retuned 17 starters; and a team that played in the FCS national championship last season. "It's been four tough weeks to start the season," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Been some tight games, close games, and guys are starting to wear down." Still, by hanging tough with the Sooners and Crimson Tide, the Mountaineers have proven they have a tough team, too. After this well-deserved week of rest, they could be a team that does some major damage the rest of the season.
  • Kansas State is picking up the pieces after its heartbreaking loss to Auburn, according to Joshua Kinder of the Manhattan Mercury. The Wildcats essentially left 16 points on the field in the 20-14 loss to the Tigers. It will be tempting to obsess about what could have been in that loss. But the Wildcats have to look forward. K-State will have another opportunity to deliver a landmark win before long. The Wildcats play host to UTEP and Texas Tech, then get an open week before traveling to Oklahoma. Coach Bill Snyder showed against Auburn what he can do with an extra week to prepare.
  • Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty is eager to get his full complement of wideouts back for the conference opener at Iowa State, he tells the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner. Even though the Bears have played one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country, they are leading the nation in almost every major statistical category despite missing several key offensive players because of injuries. Antwan Goodley (quad) and Corey Coleman (hamstring) are expected to be good to go this weekend. Levi Norwood (wrist) and Clay Fuller (collarbone) are on the verge of returning, too. The return of those four, coupled with the emergence of freshmen K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall, could make for a receiving corps as formidable as any in the country.
  • The Tulsa World's Bill Haisten looks back at "the rant" seven years ago that has come to define in part Mike Gundy's tenure at Oklahoma State. Haisten points out that before the rant, Gundy’s record at Oklahoma State was three games below .500. Since the rant, Gundy is 43 games above .500. Personally, I think the rant has had very little to do with Gundy's success in Stillwater. Oklahoma State has won because it has recruited better, installed good schemes and constructed immaculate facilities. The Cowboys would be where they are now, with or without Gundy's rant.
  • The child abuse charges levied against former Oklahoma All-American running back Adrian Peterson have left the Sooners in a quandary. Peterson gave $1 million to his alma mater two years ago, the biggest gift ever by a former player. In return, the school put Peterson’s name on the football team’s meeting room. The Oklahoman's Jenni Carlson wonders if Oklahoma should remove Peterson's name from the room. It's an interesting thought. When I was at the Oklahoma-Tennessee game two weeks ago, I cringed when they kept announcing interviews were in the "Adrian Peterson" room. If the NFL elects to dissociate itself with Peterson, that will put Oklahoma in a tough spot.

Big 12 bowl projections: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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With six Big 12 teams on bye this weekend, there was no need to shake up our weekly conference bowl projection.

Kansas State and West Virginia were impressive enough, despite losing, to hold on to their bowl spots from last week. Oklahoma continues to look like a strong contender for the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma State could move up in the Big 12 bowl hierarchy Thursday with a win over Texas Tech.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: TCU
Cactus Bowl: Texas

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
12:46
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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.

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.

 

Baylor QB Russell ready when needed

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
6:30
PM ET
The current No. 1 passer in the country, according to QBR, is neither a superstar nor a starter.

Baylor's Seth Russell, the unknown understudy to Bryce Petty, is not out to start a quarterback controversy. Three games into his sophomore season, he's served as both a mop-up reliever and spot starter during Petty's trials with a back injury. He knows this will pay off later.

"All it can do is help with improvement and learning and building my trust," Russell said. "Hopefully I'll build their trust in me that, whenever I get my opportunity, I'll make the most of it."

[+] EnlargeSeth Russell
Tony Gutierrez/Associated PressNeither star nor starter, Baylor's Seth Russell is one of the country's most efficient quarterbacks.
Russell's adjusted QBR of 96.2 puts him right ahead of his teammate Petty (93.6) and Texas A&M's Kenny Hill (92.9), and he's No. 3 nationally in passer efficiency.

"Aw, shoot, that's just numbers," Russell said. "That doesn't mean a whole lot. It's all about going out there, working with the team, getting the 'W.'"

When he's been on the field – nearly 45 percent of Baylor's offensive snaps this season -- there's been zero drop-off in production. In fact, the Bears average a whopping 8.5 yards per snap when Russell is in the game and 7.25 when it's Petty or third-stringer Chris Johnson.

After Petty exited at halftime in the opener against SMU, Russell was put in charge. He was nervous in the days that followed, knowing it was possible he might have to make his first career start.

"What really calmed me down was Coach [Art] Briles talking to us and saying,'This is a time to inspire people,'" Russell said. "He said just because you're a backup doesn't mean you can't play. It was definitely a burden taken off me and a sense of relief."

Petty was officially ruled out hours before kickoff against Northwestern State and Russell got his shot. He earned Big 12 co-Offensive Player of the Week honors after throwing for 438 yards and accounting for six touchdowns in one half of play in a 70-6 win.

"He was exceptional in how he handled himself and the decisions that he made," Briles said last week. "That's the thing that I told him I was proud of."

Briles said there were two plays in which Russell made the wrong decision against Northwestern State. That's two too many by his standard, but not bad for a first start. Last Friday, as Petty's backup once again, Russell played two series and led two touchdown drives.

"Whenever I got out there, I have to have the mindset that it's a win-or-lose game," Russell said. "It's the mindset that, even if we're up 50 points, you always have something to prove."

Like Petty, Russell's road to Baylor was paved by a coaching change. He'd committed to Kansas and then-coach Turner Gill in the summer before his senior season at Garland (Texas) High School.

When Gill was fired at the end of the year, Charlie Weis came in and brought former Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist with him. Russell says his scholarship offer was not pulled, but he had to reconsider his decision.

"It definitely tested my faith," he said. "I talked to the coaches there and gave them the best opportunity possible, but when I went up there I didn't feel like it was the right fit. Baylor opened up their arms and I felt like it was the right place for me."

Coincidently, Baylor had a scholarship open up when Robert Griffin III went pro early. Kevin Murray, the Dallas-area quarterback coaching guru and former Texas A&M quarterback, worked with Russell in high school and said he couldn't get any other Big 12 programs to bite on taking him. He played in a system at Garland that didn't showcase his passing ability.

Baylor was the best fit, Murray said, because Briles and offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery recognized Russell had a high ceiling to match unusual athleticism.

"I don't think anyone outside of Waco understands how good this kid is," Murray said.

They'll start to find out soon enough. As Baylor enters Big 12 play, its backup knows he's ready for whatever comes next. He must be rooting for a few more blowouts and fourth-quarter snaps, right?

"Aw, shoot, I'm just happy if we get the win," Russell said. "Obviously I want to play, but if we get the win, that's all the matters."

Big 12 bye-week blueprint

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
2:45
PM ET
With six Big 12 teams having this weekend off, now is a good time to take stock of what's working and what isn't after Week 3. What are these six teams happy with and what still needs to get fixed? Here's a closer look:

Baylor
Next game:
Sept. 27 at Iowa State
What's working: Pretty much everything. Baylor's offense kept rolling even when Bryce Petty was sidelined, the run game broke in new toys in Johnny Jefferson and Silas Nacita, KD Cannon became a national phenom in three weeks and the defense ranks top five nationally in scoring, total defense, yards per play and run defense to go along with an FBS-high 15 sacks.
What needs work: This is welcomed recovery time for a team that got the injury bug in fall camp. Petty is 100 percent now and excited to get go-to target Antwan Goodley (quad) and receivers Corey Coleman (hamstring) and Clay Fuller (collar bone) back on the field. The Bears will likely get running back Devin Chafin (high ankle sprain) back in time to travel to Ames, too. With the exception of Levi Norwood, they'll have the full arsenal back in time for Big 12 play.

Iowa State
Next game:
Sept. 27 vs. Baylor
What's working: The Cyclones go into the week off riding an emotional high they aim to turn into momentum. Their 20-17 upset of Iowa provided so many encouraging signs. Quarterback Sam B. Richardson had arguably the best game of his career, the defense came up with its first takeaway in a big moment and we saw another impressive performance from Cory Morrissey. Paul Rhoads is a happy camper after the rivalry win, and ISU avoided an 0-3 start in dramatic fashion.
What needs work: A game plan for slowing down Baylor will be the main focus this week. ISU has a few injury issues of its own, but the good news is Jarvis West should be OK. Rhoads is focusing in on a four-week, four-game stretch in which the Clones take on Baylor, Oklahoma State, Toledo and Texas. After a win this good, there's always another upset to chase.

Oklahoma State
Next game:
Sept. 25 vs. Texas Tech
What's working: The youth and inexperience Oklahoma State has on paper is not showing on the field. The Pokes haven't slipped since losing J.W. Walsh, they gave Florida State a tough four-quarter ballgame, they won with relative ease after that and they have entered the Top 25. Thsi is not a perfect team yet but is a rising one that's going to scare a lot of teams in conference play.
What needs work: Facing Tech will give OSU a much better sense of how good its defense can be in 2014 after a nice showing in nonconference play. Gundy wants to see more depth develop in the back seven, and on offense he's expressed concerns about blocking the run game.

TCU
Next game:
Sept. 27 at SMU
What's working: The offensive transition has been smooth and effective. TCU has averaged 39 points and 491 yards per game with its new Air Raid, and Trevone Boykin has been everything the coaches hoped for -- and maybe a little more. The defense hasn't taken a step back without Devonte Fields and has seen several players step up their games up front. Smooth sailing so far for a team that definitely looks bowl-bound again.
What needs work: TCU's pass defense ranks No. 6 in FBS, but Gary Patterson has said he still wants to make some fixes in pass coverage. They'll devote the required amount of time on SMU, a struggling team led by an interim coach and a third-string quarterback, but the Frogs know they need to work ahead a little on Oklahoma and Baylor, including preparing for the 3-4 fronts of the Sooners' defense.

Texas
Next game:
Sept. 27 at Kansas
What's working: Despite taking two losses, this defense is playing at a high level with a top-20 yards-per-play rate, a top-15 pass defense and 13 sacks. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown looks like a potential All-American so far. Tyrone Swoopes is taking steps in the right direction and shined at times against UCLA, while John Harris has finally emerged as a go-to receiver.
What needs work: Where to begin? Texas' patchwork offensive line hasn't gelled and desperately needs these two weeks. The Longhorns need suspended WR/RB Daje Johnson back and need a healthy Desmond Jackson (ankle). Cedric Reed was better against UCLA but hasn't broken out yet. And Charlie Strong needs to start coming up with plans for stopping Baylor and Oklahoma or else this team could start 2-4.

Texas Tech
Next game:
Sept. 25 at Oklahoma State
What's working: Tech is getting nice production in the run game from DeAndre Washington and Justin Stockton and in the pass game from Bradley Marquez and Jakeem Grant. Offensive line play has improved and Tech hasn't given up a sack. Its pass defense ranks 11th nationally, which is probably misleading.
What needs work: Run defense, penalties, tackling, Davis Webb's consistency -- lots of fundamental issues here that are starting to cause concern. Webb seemed to be forcing throws against Arkansas and will need to put in some time this week to clean up concerns about his footwork and decision-making. And that porous run defense has to get cleaned up quick because opponents will keep attacking it hard over the next month.

Big 12 stat check: Week 4

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
9:00
AM ET
A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 4:

Baylor: The combined adjusted QBR rating for Baylor's quarterbacks this season is 94.6, best in the nation ahead of Texas A&M and Oregon. The trio of Bryce Petty, Seth Russell and (in one appearance) Chris Johnson is averaging 11.14 yards per attempt, most among all Power 5 conference teams. Even with Petty missing a game and a half, this offense didn't suffer much.

Iowa State: In 14 of 28 games Iowa State has won under coach Paul Rhoads, including the 20-17 defeat of rival Iowa last weekend, ISU was the underdog. The Hawkeyes were a 13-point favorite. Past point spreads say this was the fifth time ISU has pulled off an upset under Rhoads as a double-digit underdog, joining the 2011 wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, the 2010 defeat of Texas and the 2009 upset of Nebraska.

Kansas: KU is averaging 144.6 passing yards per game since coach Charlie Weis took over in 2012, which ranks sixth-worst in FBS over that period and second-worst among Power 5 programs ahead of Georgia Tech. In a 41-3 loss to Duke, the Jayhawks finished with fewer than 100 passing yards for the seventh time in Weis' tenure.

Kansas State: Under Bill Snyder, K-State is 4-0 in non-conference home games against Power 5 conference opponents, with wins over USC, UCLA, Miami and Minnesota. But No. 5 Auburn will be Kansas State's highest-ranked non-conference opponent visiting Manhattan since 1969, when No. 2 Penn State beat KSU, 17-14. Snyder was a 29-year-old high school coach at the time.

Oklahoma: Since 2009, the Sooners are just 6-7 in road games that kick off at 6 p.m. CT or later, according to ESPN's Dane Beavers. In all, OU is 17-8 in road night games under Bob Stoops and started off 9-0 in those games under Stoops until at 2007 loss at Texas Tech. OU's road game at West Virginia kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CT.

Oklahoma State: Since rushing for four TDs against Iowa State on Oct. 26, 2013, Desmond Ronald leads all active FBS running backs with 14 rushing touchdowns. Only Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds (24) has found the end zone more times among active players.

TCU: TCU has the No. 1 efficiency defense in the country according to ESPN analytics. Through two games, the Horned Frogs also rank No. 1 nationally in yards per play allowed (3.04) and No. 2 in total defense (205.5 ypg). Those numbers should hold fairly steady after TCU takes on a SMU team missing its head coach and starting quarterback next weekend.

Texas: The Longhorns' run defense currently ranks 91st nationally, allowing 181.3 rushing yards per game. One reason for that? Their first three opponents have leaned heavily on the run. Texas is facing, on average, 50 rushes per game this season, second-most among Power 5 defenses behind Texas Tech.

Texas Tech: Having the second-worst run defense in the country isn't the only problem for Tech. The Red Raiders have this problem because they've given up 468 rushing yards after contact, third-most in FBS. The 416 rushing yards allowed before contact also ranks sixth-most in FBS. Only FAU's defense is averaging fewer tackles for loss per game.

West Virginia: Clint Trickett's career-high 511 passing yards against Maryland isn't that uncommon in the history of Dana Holgorsen-coached QBs. Since becoming an offensive coordinator in 2005, Holgorsen has now had five QBs surpass 500 in one game: Trickett, Case Keenum (four times), Graham Harrell (twice), Geno Smith and Cody Hodges.

Big 12 morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
8:00
AM ET
No matter how many times I watch this, it's still funny. Why? What did it accomplish?
  • The quarterback curse is alive and well at Kansas, writes Tom Keegan of KUsports.com. Six different quarterbacks have started KU's last six season openers and Keegan believes that number could rise to seven next fall. I disagree. True enough, Montell Cozart was bad in KU's 41-3 loss to Duke with a 14.7 Adjusted QBR that is the worst single game QBR from a starting quarterback in the Big 12 this season. But I'm not ready to say Cozart is not the man to lead the Jayhawk offense in the future. He's still young and talented so I'd like to see him respond like he was disgusted with his performance by having a superb game against Central Michigan, then take that momentum into KU's Big 12 opener against Texas. If he can excel against the Longhorns, he can take a giant step toward shrinking his list of doubters. But if he continues this downward trend, then Keegan will be right.
  • It's no surprise but Kansas State is trying to downplay the "big game" mentality surrounding Thursday's clash with Auburn, reports Kellis Robinett of the Wichita Eagle. Bill Snyder preaches focus and emphasizes the importance of each day, but it will be interesting to see if KSU can ignore the distractions of hosting the BCS runner-up on national television. I wouldn't be surprised to see some nervy moments but I don't expect nervous miscues to decide the game one way or the other.
  • Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman has his list of Oklahoma's 10 best players. Kersey ranks linebacker Eric Striker atop the list, which includes eight defensive players and does not include quarterback Trevor Knight. It's a surprise to see the sophomore on the honorable mention list but I can't disagree. I thought OU's defense would be good but its even better than I expected and every guy on the list is deserving. Quite frankly, the list could easily include 10 defenders, although receiver Sterling Shepard and tackle Daryl Williams, the lone offensive players on the list, are legit All-Big 12 candidates.
  • Texas Tech is taking a different approach to special teams this season, writes Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Several Red Raiders starters have found themselves on special teams with new special teams coach Darrin Chiaverini looking to find his best 11 for every unit. Some might question this approach but I think it's a good one. Special teams tend to get overlooked but games can turn in an instant on one special teams play. With its defense struggling, strong and consistent special teams units could be just what Tech needs.
  • Baylor freshman receiver KD Cannon was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list on Tuesday. It's no surprise and well-deserved for Cannon, who has been an explosive playmaker during his first three college games. He has 14 receptions for 471 yards and five touchdowns with an average of 33.6 yards per reception. Many people point to the Bears' lackluster nonconference schedule for Cannon's great numbers but it's pretty simple: If it was that easy everyone would be doing it. I don't expect Cannon to continue to be this dominant. There's no doubt he will continue to make plays when the competitive level increases in Big 12 play.

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