Big 12: Big 12

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

Best of the visits: Big 12

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Collectively, it was a slow week in the Big 12, as only four of the 10 teams competed in three combined games. One of those teams, Kansas State, played in a Thursday-night thriller against Auburn.

From a quality standpoint, the only game pitting Big 12 foes -- Oklahoma at West Virginia -- was one of the best games of Saturday. The Sooners topped the Mountaineers, but there were several recruits who left Morgantown with a positive outlook on the West Virginia program.

ESPN 300 cornerback Jordan Whitehead was on an official visit, and it’s almost a guarantee the Pennsylvania standout was getting positive feedback not only from the coaches and his player hosts, but also 2016 quarterback and fellow Pennsylvanian Jeremiah Jones, who committed to West Virginia nearly two weeks ago.

 

Three players who also took in the rowdy environment in Morgantown were ESPN 300 defensive tackle Tim Settle, ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Dwayne Haskins and rising 2017 defensive back Damani Neal. Tennessee, Penn State and Clemson are frontrunners for Settle, the nation’s No. 3 defensive tackle in the 2015 class, while Haskins, the nation’s No. 2 pocket-passing quarterback in the 2016 class, is nearing 30 offers. Both would admit the West Virginia atmosphere was hard to ignore.

 

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.

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.

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.

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
3:30
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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

New Texas Tech DC must fix run defense

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
2:30
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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.

Big 12 morning links

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
8:00
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Well, if it's any consolation, Kansas State probably would've beaten the Bucs on Thursday night. On to the links:
  • Kansas State players walked away from their 20-14 loss to No. 5 Auburn with an understandable message: "We should have won that game." The Wildcats were given every opportunity to win that game, even after their three missed field goals, but made way too many mistakes. Regardless of the result, I have to agree with the Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff when he writes that we need more games like that one in college football.
  • The departure of defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt at Texas Tech is just the latest in a long, frustrating run of coaching changes for the Red Raiders. Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal looked back on those changes and Kliff Kingsbury's need for continuity. I'm not ready to write off Mike Smith, because I think he can get the buy-in from players, but no doubt this was another bizarre twist for the Tech coaching carousel.
  • Two good West Virginia reads for your Friday: Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman went to Morgantown to examine Dana Holgorsen's increasingly comfortable fit with West Virginia. Now that WVU has weathered the conference change and its depth is back in order, Holgorsen and Luck seem genuinely happy with where the program is heading. Also enjoyed this examination of Clint Trickett's perfectionist mentality by Allan Taylor of MetroNews. Trickett didn't think he played "worth a damn" against Maryland and saw only the plays he didn't make, despite surpassing 500 yards. Not shocking, coming from a coach's kid, but it's clear his recent success won't go to his head.
  • The fact this meeting with Central Michigan is a big-time, high-stakes game for Kansas is not lost on its players. Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal wrote on KU's issue with emotional letdowns and inconsistent effort through two games. The veterans seem mad in the right way. But are they going to get 100 percent from everyone else? They're about to find out what kind of leadership they have.
  • Lastly, the report from E.J. Holland of Dave Campbell's Texas Football that Oklahoma co-OC Josh Heupel is a candidate for the SMU job is intriguing. Doesn't mean there's been contact or mutual interest, just that Heupel is evidently on the radar. I'm of the opinion that the Mustangs need to go with a young, exciting coordinator who can recruit the Metroplex and the rest of Texas like crazy. From that standpoint, there are better candidates than Heupel out there, but would many have interest? If Clemson's Chad Morris is ready to make the jump, SMU probably needs to pursue him as Plan A before everybody else does.

Kansas State is 'Walk-On U'

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
2:45
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MANHATTAN, Kan. -- As an all-state quarterback at a small-town Kansas high school, Jordy Nelson had exactly two offers to play college football.

One was from Emporia State. The other, Washburn University.

[+] EnlargeBill Snyder
Bo Rader/Icon SportswireBill Snyder estimates he's awarded 200 scholarships to walk-ons in 23 seasons at K-State.
 But before he made up his mind, Nelson called up another player who also went to Riley County High to see about a third option. Jon McGraw had no Division I scholarship offers, either. But he walked-on a few miles down the road at Kansas State. Proved himself. And, eventually, became an impact player.

Soon, Nelson would follow McGraw’s footsteps. Many others, too.

Tonight, when fifth-ranked Auburn takes the field in Manhattan with its gaggle of former 5-star recruits, “Walk-On U." will counter with a team loaded with players who never had anything given to them.

And had to earn everything they got.

“There’s a lot of pride in being a walk-on,” said Nelson, who after an All-American as a wide receiver at Kansas State has gone on to star for the Green Bay Packers. “A certain spirit inside.”

That spirit overflows with this K-State club, which has 16 current and former walk-ons on its two-deep alone, not including special teams. That’s almost half the depth chart.

Many of the Wildcats’ best players are former walk-ons, too, with the back stories that embody the “Manhattan Miracle” program coach Bill Snyder built out of little tradition, rusty facilities and thin air.

“Coach Snyder knows how to get the best out of everyone,” said Ian Campbell, who arrived at K-State as a walk-on in 2004 and left as an All-Big 12 defensive end in 2008. “That helps create diamonds in the rough.”

The Wildcats have plenty of diamonds in the rough on this team.

B.J. Finney had only one scholarship offer coming out of Andale High near Wichita, except that offer from Ohio University evaporated before he had a chance to even visit the school. Finney, a state champion wrestler, could go wrestle in college, or take a scholarship at Pittsburg (Kansas) State. Despite the potential financial stress on his mom, he walked on at K-State, where he quickly earned a scholarship and has become a three-time All-Big 12 center.

Ryan Mueller ended up at a Kansas State camp by accident. He thought the camp being held near his hometown of Leawood, Kansas was for little kids. He was just looking to volunteer as a counselor. Instead, he discovered it was a recruiting camp for budding college talent. He seemed out of his league. But his motor caught the eye of the coaching staff, which encouraged him to walk-on. He did, and last fall, he tied the K-State season sack record with 11 1/2.

Jonathan Truman, from Kechi, Kansas was praying he’d get an offer from the Jayhawks. But when assistant Joe Bob Clements, who had been recruiting him, left to join the staff at K-State, the calls from Lawrence stopped coming. Clements didn’t have a scholarship to give Truman. But he encouraged the undersized inside linebacker to walk-on in Manhattan instead of attending junior college. Thirty pounds and four years later, Truman is one of the strongest players on the K-State football team. And this season, he leads the Wildcats in tackles.

“That just shows the type of program we have here,” Truman said. “Everybody here is treated as if they were on scholarship, even if they’re not.

“There’s a blue-collar, hard-working mentality.”

It’s a mentality that has defined K-State football for more than two decades.

 “We have good, responsible people, who work hard, are unselfish and are great teammates,” said Snyder, who estimates he’s awarded 200 scholarships to walk-ons in 23 seasons at K-State. “They have a never-give-up mentality, and a real investment in trying to improve on and off the field. And they know that when they get here, if they perform well and meet the criteria, they have an excellent chance to at some point go on scholarship.”

McGraw was one of the first players to meet that criteria. He grew up near Manhattan going to K-State games in the pre-Snyder era when the Wildcats rarely won games or had the stadium half-full. Once he arrived as a walk-on in 1997, he saw the mentality that Snyder was instilling with every player, on scholarship or not.

“I remember watching a scrimmage my first year there during two-a-days and thinking, ‘There’s no way I can play with these guys. They’re too fast, too strong,” McGraw recalled. “But Coach Snyder has a process that develops football players. And when you combine that with guys that really have a heart and passion with game, it turns into something really special.”

Gradually, McGraw turned into something. By 2000, he was a starting safety on a team that won 11 games and beat Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl. Two years later, McGraw was in the NFL, blazing a path for future K-State walk-ons like Nelson.

"When you see someone you know like that make it, you know it's possible," Nelson said. "That's a big part of it."

The snowball has continued to roll to this generation of Wildcats with Finney, Mueller and Truman, who together have won eight of their past nine games heading into tonight.

"When you’ve got guys [who] have faced some adversity, overcome some obstacles, made believers out of doubters, it creates a powerful team that can play at a level higher than its talent," McGraw said. "And it can equalize the playing the field against a team with maybe more talent.”

Tonight, the Wildcats will face a team with more talent.

Year after year, Auburn reels in recruiting classes that are the envy of college football. K-State, meanwhile, hasn’t produced a ballyhooed recruiting class since Snyder arrived as coach.

According to ESPN RecruitingNation, Auburn has 49 former 4- and 5-star recruits on its roster. Kansas State has one: junior-college defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, who has yet to play a down for the Wildcats this season.

But even though Auburn won the mighty SEC in 2013 and played in the national championship game, “Walk-On U.” won’t be an easy out. It never is.

"When you’ve had to prove yourself like that," McGraw said, "it makes for an extremely physically and mentally tough football player."

One tough team, too.

Poll: Kansas State or Auburn?

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
11:00
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It’s been 45 years since Kansas State welcomed a nonconference opponent to Manhattan ranked as high as No. 5 Auburn. The Wildcats played second-ranked Penn State tough in 1969, but ultimately fell to the Nittany Lions, 17-14.

SportsNation

What will happen Thursday night between Kansas State and Auburn?

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    21%
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    18%
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    10%
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    51%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,719)

Earlier this morning, Brandon and Max picked the favored Tigers, who are coming off an SEC title and appearance in the national title game. I sided with K-State, which has won eight of its past nine games, with the lone loss coming last November against Oklahoma, which went on to topple Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

This will be the final opportunity for the Big 12 to land a splashy nonconference win after starting out 4-5 against Power 5 conference opponents.

Can quarterback Jake Waters and the Wildcats pull off the upset? Or will Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and the SEC impose their will on the road against one of the Big 12’s better teams?

Let us know what you think will happen in our weekly Big 12 poll.

Auburn vs. Kansas State primer

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
10:00
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Nick Marshall, Jake WatersGetty ImagesAuburn QB Nick Marshal and Kansas State QB Jake Waters square off on Thursday.

On a rare Thursday night game for both schools, Auburn travels to Kansas State where the Wildcats are expecting the largest crowd in program history. Gus Malzahn's squad is looking to gain national respect after reaching the national title game last year, while Bill Snyder would love to make another run of his own at a national championship.

The fifth-ranked Tigers are the highest-ranked nonconference opponent to play in the "Little Apple" since No. 2 Penn State visited in 1969.

Jake Trotter and Greg Ostendorf break down the Big 12-SEC showdown below:

How Auburn can control this game: It starts up front. Auburn has rushed for at least 200 yards in each of its last 13 games, the longest active streak in the FBS, and has gained more than 300 rushing yards in eight of its past 11 contests. No Tre Mason? No problem. Cameron Artis-Payne has 289 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the first two games. The strength of this Tigers' rushing attack is the offensive line, but the orchestrator is quarterback Nick Marshall. When he's running the show, it's nearly impossible to stop. Look for Auburn to impose its will early and wear down the Kansas State defense by the time the fourth quarter rolls around. – Ostendorf

How Kansas State can pull of upset: So far, Kansas State has been one of the nation's best teams at limiting opponents' yardage before contact. According to ESPN Stats & Info, only Alabama (20.3 yards) has allowed fewer yards before contact this season than the Wildcats (22.5). Snyder will have K-State in position to make tackles against Auburn's ferocious zone-read offense. But the only way the Wildcats will win this game is if they also make those tackles at the point of attack. – Trotter

Auburn's X factor: There have been a lot people who have doubted Marshall and questioned his ability as a passer, and after a game and a half, the Auburn quarterback hasn't done anything to prove them wrong. But he gets his favorite wide receiver Sammie Coates back Thursday, and the importance of that cannot be understated. Coates led the team last year with 42 catches for 902 yards and seven touchdowns. He and Marshall seemed to be in sync from the beginning. All the talk was on junior college transfer D'haquille Williams after Week 1, but don't be surprised if Marshall hooks up with his old pal for at least one big play against Kansas State. – Ostendorf

Kansas State's X factor: The Wildcats quietly have one of the better kickers in college football in junior Jack Cantele, who only missed two field goals last season. If this game goes down to the wire, it could come down to a kick. West Virginia and Iowa State showed last weekend that having a reliable kicker can be the difference in winning and losing. The Wildcats should feel good about their chances if it comes down to Cantele, who has the experience of booting a 41-yard game-winner to beat TCU last year. – Trotter

What a win would mean for the SEC: Despite Oklahoma's win over Tennessee last week, there aren't many folks who believe the Big 12 is better than the SEC. Taking that one step further, there aren't a lot of people picking Kansas State to win Thursday. So while an Auburn loss could hurt the SEC and its perception nationally, I don't think a win does much for the conference. However, it could mean a lot more for Auburn. Nobody's really talking about the Tigers right now as a legitimate national title contender, in part because they haven't had that signature win yet, but a win at Kansas State could change that. – Ostendorf

What a win would mean for the Big 12: It's been a solid, but hardly spectacular nonconference season so far for the Big 12. West Virginia and Oklahoma State played Alabama and Florida State tough on opening weekend. But neither Big 12 team actually won. Iowa State (Iowa), TCU (Minnesota), Oklahoma (Tennessee) and West Virginia (Maryland) landed the league four solid victories last weekend. But none of those opponents were ranked. K-State is the Big 12's final chance of securing the league marquee nonconference win. A Big 12 victory over the defending SEC champs would turn the heads of the playoff selection committee. – Trotter

Big 12 Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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Why Auburn will win: The Tigers' ground game will prove to be too much for Kansas State. Auburn is averaging 6.7 yards per carry and quarterback Nick Marshall is a proven game-changer. The Wildcats will be up for the challenge but Auburn’s overall athleticism will help it overcome a rowdy road environment. Auburn 30, Kansas State 24 --Chatmon

Why Kansas State will win: When Auburn agreed to a home-and-home with the Wildcats, Bill Snyder wasn’t the K-State coach. The Tigers also didn't know Snyder would have an extra week to prepare for this game. Manhattan, Kansas, will be rocking, Jake Waters is playing almost as well as any quarterback in the country and Tyler Lockett will be the best player on the field. The Wildcats have now won eight of their past nine games. Snyder's bunch will find a way to keep Marshall & Co. off the field, while finding a way to win this one, too. Kansas State 35, Auburn 31 --Trotter

Why Oklahoma will win: What are the Sooners' flaws? I'm hard-pressed to find many, even with Keith Ford sidelined. Their defense will be the difference, and Sterling Shepard is in for a big night with Daryl Worley suspended. WVU will score early, but Oklahoma can wear the Mountaineers out in the second half. Really wouldn't be surprised if OU plays them much tougher than Alabama did. Oklahoma 45, West Virginia 31 -- Olson

Why West Virginia will keep it close: I was tempted to pick the Mountaineers in this game. They are playing extremely well and Morgantown, West Virginia, is a tough place to play. But then the Mountaineers' best defensive player got suspended indefinitely for an altercation last week. Oklahoma will more easily replace Ford with its deep backfield than West Virginia will Worley. Even still, this won’t be an easy game for the Sooners, who barely survived a night game in Morgantown two years ago, and should consider themselves fortunate, should they survive again. Oklahoma 31, West Virginia 30 --Trotter

Why Kansas will win: The Jayhawks can’t play much worse than they played against Duke. Can they? KU knows a win over Central Michigan is a must or else things could start to get really bad in Lawrence, Kansas. Kansas 28, Central Michigan 20 --Chatmon

Why Central Michigan will keep it close: I thought I could talk myself into taking CMU in this game, but top running back Thomas Rawls, a Michigan transfer, is suspended indefinitely. Without him, the Chippewas have one brutal offense. Still think this will be close, though, because Duke exposed a bunch of issues and I'm just not sure how KU will respond. Kansas 17, Central Michigan 13 -- Olson

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