Big 12: Iowa State Cyclones
Teams of the week: Yes, West Virginia and Oklahoma State might have ultimately lost. But as heavy underdogs, they also took the top two ranked teams in the country to the wire on neutral sites. Both squads should gain a ton of confidence from their performances. And assuming they both play the way they did in their openers, their 2014 outlooks will look much different than they did in the preseason.
Disappointment of the week: Iowa State lost its season opener to an FCS opponent for the second straight year. The Cyclones jumped to a 14-0 lead, then got dominated by North Dakota State the rest of the way. Iowa State could be without leading receiver Quenton Bundrage for awhile. And the schedule doesn’t get any easier, with the next four opponents all coming off bowl appearances.
Big (offensive) man on campus: West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett was terrific in the loss, throwing for 365 yards -- the second-most a Nick Saban Alabama team had ever allowed behind Johnny Manziel in 2013. Trickett also completed 29 of 45 passes, and would have had more completions had it not been for several drops.
Big (defensive) man on campus: Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman was unblockable against SMU Sunday night. He had two of Baylor’s eight sacks, as the Bears held SMU to just 64 yards of a total offense in a 45-0 shutout -- the first time the Mustangs had been shutout since 2004.
Special teams player of the week: Tyreek Hill set an Oklahoma State record for all-purpose yards in a debut with 278. And he did it against the No. 1 ranked team in the country. Florida State has one of the nation’s fastest teams around, and yet they couldn’t catch Hill, whether it was on offense, on punt returns or kickoff returns. The Cowboys have one dynamic playmaker in their backfield, and on special teams.
Play of the week: Oklahoma State had the ball at midfield with five minutes left and a chance to take the lead over the Seminoles. But as quarterback J.W. Walsh dove for a first down, he was upended and lost control of the ball. The Seminoles recovered and scored two plays later to extend its lead to 37-24. Oklahoma State came right back and scored a touchdown, but couldn’t come up with the onside kick. The fumble was the difference maker.
Stat of the week: Baylor finished with more sacks (eight) than SMU did first downs (seven).
Quote of the week: “We can function. It’s not like it’s the end of the world.” – Texas coach Charlie Strong, after revealing Monday morning that quarterback David Ash would miss Saturday’s game with BYU due to concussion-like symptoms suffered in the opener.
Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads announced Monday that wide receiver Quenton Bundrage would miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL in the first quarter against the Bison.
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Here is how the Big 12 stacks up after Week 1 of the season:
1. Oklahoma State and West Virginia showed the Big 12 can go toe-to-toe with anyone: The Mountaineers went 4-8 last season and were picked in the preseason to finish eighth in the Big 12. After graduating 28 seniors, the Cowboys had the fewest returning starters of any program from a Power 5 conference. And yet, Oklahoma State and West Virginia gave college football’s two highest-ranked teams all they wanted. Ultimately, the Cowboys committed too many turnovers to topple No. 1 Florida State, and West Virginia dropped too many passes to knock off No. 2 Alabama. But both Big 12 teams acquitted themselves well with valiant efforts against formidable competition to set up the rest of their seasons. The Cowboys and Mountaineers also sent a message at the outset of this playoff era that the Big 12 is a conference to be reckoned with.
3. Trevone Boykin is the man in Fort Worth: All preseason, TCU coach Gary Patterson refused to showed his cards at quarterback. He even reportedly had the Amon G. Carter Stadium public address announcer introduce both Boykin and Matt Joeckel as starting quarterbacks. But once the game began, there was no doubt left that Boykin is Patterson’s quarterback. After relieving Casey Pachall the last two seasons, Boykin came out sharp in his first opening-game start against Samford. He completed 29 of 41 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns before passing off to Joeckel for mop-up duty. The Horned Frogs, who limited Samford to 143 yards of offense, figure to be tough defensively again. But Boykin will be the key to them getting over the hump in the program’s third year in the Big 12.
4. Oklahoma remains stout at running back: Coming into the season, the Sooners had to replace starting running back Brennan Clay. They then lost blue-chip freshman Joe Mixon to a season-long suspension. But Oklahoma showed Saturday it is still loaded in the backfield. The three-headed monster of sophomore Alex Ross, sophomore Keith Ford and freshman Samaje Perine stole the show in the Sooners’ convincing 48-16 win over Louisiana Tech. The trio combined for 164 yards and five touchdowns while averaging almost five yards per carry. Ford also added 65 yards receiving. “They’re powerful, physical guys,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “But they have speed and can run, too.” Mixon had the talent to boost Oklahoma’s offense, and the Sooners will miss Clay’s reliability. But Oklahoma is going to be just fine at running back this season.
5. The Big 12 should avoid North Dakota State like the plague: If you can’t beat them, ban them. After falling behind 14-0, North Dakota State roared back to throttle Iowa State 34-14 in Ames. The Bison have now won three in a row against Big 12 teams, including last year’s victory over Kansas State. It’s apparent the back-to-back-to-back FCS national champs have reloaded again. And it would be wise for the Big 12 to avoid scheduling them ever again. As for the Cyclones, it was a disheartening start to the 2014 season. Iowa State lost center Tom Farniok and wideout Quenton Bundrage -- both critical cogs -- to first-half injuries. And from the second quarter on, the Cyclones got dominated in the trenches. It doesn’t get any easier for Iowa State, which had high hopes before the season of getting back to bowl. The Cyclones’ next four opponents went a combined 37-14 last season.
Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch this week in the Big 12:
North Dakota State at Iowa State, 11 a.m. CT (FS1): The Cyclones will attempt to avoid opening with a loss to an FCS opponent for the second straight year. That won’t be easy. The Bison have captured three straight FCS national championships. This will also be the Iowa State debut of offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, who last week tabbed Sam B. Richardson to be the Cyclones’ starting quarterback.
West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. CT (ABC or ESPN2): The Mountaineers are the biggest underdog of any Power 5 conference team this weekend. The Crimson Tide lost their final two games of last season, but won back-to-back national championships before that. This, however, appears to be the deepest and most experienced team Dana Holgorsen has had at West Virginia since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12.
Samford at TCU, 6 p.m. CT (FSN regional): TCU coach Gary Patterson hasn’t indicated whether Trevone Boykin or Matt Joeckel will get the start at quarterback in the Horned Frogs’ new offense. Samford coach Pat Sullivan, who won the Heisman Trophy at Auburn in 1971 and coached at TCU form 1992-97, won’t be making the trip to Fort Worth with his team because of complications after offseason neck surgery.
Louisiana Tech at No. 4 Oklahoma, 6 p.m. CT (PPV): The Bulldogs will be bringing former Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz with them to Norman. Diaz’s track record against the Sooners wasn’t good. With Diaz manning the defense, Texas allowed 63 points to Oklahoma two years ago and 55 the year before that. Elsewhere, all eyes will be on Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight, who will be making just his sixth career start, most recently shredding Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Stephen F. Austin at No. 20 Kansas State, 6 p.m. CT: The Wildcats dropped last year’s season opener to FCS opponent North Dakota State. But Stephen F. Austin, which won only three games last year, is a far cry from North Dakota State. The Wildcats are also settled at quarterback this time around with Jake Waters, who struggled as the part-time quarterback in last year’s opener, but surged during the second half of the season.
North Texas at Texas, 7 p.m. CT (Longhorn Network): Charlie Strong will finally make his debut as coach of the Longhorns. This game will also mark the return of quarterback David Ash after he missed most of last year with a concussion, and then the spring with a fractured foot. North Texas is coming off a nine-win season but is 9-67 lifetime against Big 12 programs, including 0-9 against Texas.
Oklahoma State vs. No. 1 Florida State, 7 p.m. CT (ABC): No Power 5 conference team returns fewer starters than the Cowboys, who also graduated 28 players. The Seminoles, meanwhile, bring back the reigning Heisman winner in quarterback Jameis Winston. Oklahoma State will start out with J.W. Walsh at quarterback. Walsh led the Big 12 in QBR two years ago. But last year in Big 12 play, Oklahoma State averaged 6.2 yards per play with Clint Chelf at quarterback and only 4.8 with Walsh, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
SMU at No. 10 Baylor, 6:30 p.m. CT (FS1): The Bears will christen the $260 million McLane Stadium, as Baylor will go from having the worst stadium in the Big 12 to one of the best. The celebration in Waco could begin early, too. Last year, Baylor had an average halftime lead of three touchdowns and enters this game as almost five-touchdown favorites over the Mustangs.
To the 'bag:
@Jake_Trotter which player in the big 12 hasn't garnered national media attention but will after the first few weeks of the season? - KJH (@KJHolley25) August 28, 2014
Trotter: I think people will know the name Tyreek Hill after this weekend. The Oklahoma State running back is going to have a big year. Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman doesn't seem to be talked about much nationally, but he could be a star. Some other names flying under the radar nationally: Texas Tech wide receivers Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley, Iowa State running back Aaron Wimberly, TCU cornerback Kevin White, Baylor receiver Corey Coleman and Kansas State's entire roster.
@Jake_Trotter has there ever been a top 25 team with as much undervalued talent as KState? (walkons, players not recruited in state) - Paul White (@DCEPaulW) August 28, 2014
Trotter: Who knows? But Kansas State is being way undervalued nationally, including by some of my colleagues at ESPN. This was a top 15-caliber team at the end of last year. The offensive and defensive lines are going to be very good again, Jake Waters has his footing at quarterback and Tyler Lockett, well, I'm out of superlatives for him. The Wildcats will have to beat Auburn in September to gain some respect. But they are more than capable of doing just that.
@Jake_Trotter which sooner is the most NFL ready right now, and why - T-WAD3 (@WadeWonder1) August 28, 2014
Trotter: Probably linebacker Eric Striker. He can already do one thing at an NFL level, and that's rush the passer.
@Jake_Trotter Jake, can Tech go 8-0 before welcoming in the Longhorns on Nov. 1 (though you have already picked several teams over Tech)? - Johnny Fowler (@OfficialJFowler) August 28, 2014
Trotter: That would require them beating Oklahoma State, Kansas State and TCU all on the road. Even if you considered all three of those to be coin-flip games, that, mathematically, would still give Tech only a 12.5 percent chance of winning all three. Possible? Sure. But the odds are very much against it.
@Jake_Trotter OSU is currently unranked, but depending on the outcome of the FSU game, do you think OSU will be ranked soon afterwards? - Clinton Scott (@CScottOSUPokes) August 28, 2014
Trotter: Even if the Cowboys get blasted this weekend -- and I think they will -- they'll have five winnable games immediately afterward. If they won all five, including that pivotal Thursday night matchup with Texas Tech in Stillwater, I could see them popping up in the Top 25 in mid-October.
@Jake_Trotter who wins the Big 12, and why is it Baylor? - Dr. SHBUCKETS (@craballin) August 28, 2014
Trotter: I see what you did there. I have Oklahoma winning the Big 12. The Sooners get Baylor in Norman, where the Bears have never won, and where Bob Stoops is 87-5.
@jake_trotter What are you looking forward to the most in week 1? - Lesslie Stanford (@lessliestanford) August 28, 2014
Trotter: Storylines I will be following: Can Oklahoma State and West Virginia hang tough in tough openers? How will David Ash look in his fourth start since 2012? How will Trevor Knight look coming off that Sugar Bowl performance? Who will get the majority of snaps at QB for TCU? Can Iowa State avoid disaster facing a tricky opponent? And, the return of Mark Mangino and debut of Baylor's new stadium.
@Jake_Trotter since start of Big12 round robin, no undefeated championship team. Is this the year? Will we see it In next 3-5 years? - Blake West (@blakewesttx) August 28, 2014
Trotter: The odds are we'll see an undefeated Big 12 team over the next five years. Who knows, we could see it this year. Oklahoma will be favored in every game. And if Baylor can topple the Sooners in Norman, the rest of its schedule is fairly manageable.
@Jake_Trotter why is nobody talking about Texas Tech being a Big 12 contender? - Briar Briar Briar (@Statechampxc96) August 28, 2014
Trotter: How many Big 12 titles has Texas Tech won? I think Tech is going to have a good and exciting team this year. But until the Red Raiders actually win a championship, I don't see how you can complain about them getting overlooked in the title conversation. Especially when the top five teams in the league last year beat Tech by an average margin of three touchdowns.
@Jake_Trotter Will Sam Richardson remain Iowa State's QB the whole season or will he share snaps with Grant Rohach? - brian moore (@mcso694) August 28, 2014
Trotter: Richardson is not going to share snaps. They want -- and need -- him to be the guy. It feels like the Cyclones are still trying to replace Seneca Wallace. They're going to give Richardson plenty of opportunities to show he's the long-term answer at quarterback.
@Jake_Trotter Jake - rank the #Big12's best game day experience. How, in your opinion, do the teams stack up? - Red Raider Ranting (@RaiderRantings) August 28, 2014
Trotter: That's impossible for me to say. All of them are cool in their own way. There's no place in the Big 12 I don't look forward to going to. @mulloy_k: You are a 4-5* recruit, but your only criteria for choosing a school is based on the unlimited snack rule ... and what LOCAL fare would be available (for free) in that city. What Big 12 school do you choose? Appreciate your work! Trotter: Thanks, Kyle. I've been to every campus in the Big 12 multiple times, and I can vouch that in all 10 venues, there are great places to eat. But nowhere in the Big 12 has more great eating options than Austin. That's no slight on the other Big 12 locales. New York City is the only place I've been to that has better food than Austin.
But this is our first real chance, after months of speculation and projection, to see how newcomers and players in new roles fare. Here are 11 players we'll be keeping an eye on Saturday and Sunday.
Devin Chafin, RB, and Johnny Jefferson, RB, Baylor: Both backs dealt with injuries in fall camp but should be good to go. And if you ask Baylor players, they'll tell you Chafin and Jefferson are about to be stars on the rise. This should be a true stable of backs led by Shock Linwood, but you're going to see Chafin and Jefferson a lot -- especially if Baylor's second team gets a lot of playing time in a blowout.
DeAndre Washington, RB, Texas Tech: We could still see Kenny Williams in short-yardage opportunities, but otherwise, Tech is ready to roll with the 5-foot-8, 201-pound junior leading its run game. Freshmen Justin Stockton and Demarcus Felton are intriguing, but Washington has a chance to establish himself as the feature back and a sneaky good one.
Deandre Burton, WR, Kansas State: The local kid from Manhattan was named a starter this week and is about to get his first meaningful action on offense. The redshirt sophomore has good size and will be one of a few wideouts getting reps with Lockett and Curry Sexton. The competition for his spot will be ongoing, so a big play or two against Stephen F. Austin could go a long way.
Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State: Cyclones fans can't wait to see what Lazard, listed as the backup to Quenton Bundrage at X receiver, can do in his first career day. After all the boasting Paul Rhoads did on signing day (and rightfully so), expectations are awfully high. Let's see Sam B. Richardson lob a few up to him and see if the 6-foot-5 stud can make a splash.
Tyreek Hill, WR/RB, Oklahoma State: What more can we say? We've hyped him up as much as anybody in the Big 12 this offseason. OSU will get the ball in his hands as much as possible. Florida State will do whatever it can to stop him. Can Hill be the game-changer the Pokes need to keep up with the defending champs?
Julian Wilson, CB, Oklahoma: Wilson's transition from nickel to cornerback, where he'll replace a big-time player in Aaron Colvin, has received good reviews. Louisiana Tech will no doubt test him and new starting safety Ahmad Thomas early on to see if they can handle the pressure.
Dravon Henry, FS, West Virginia: Mountaineer coaches have been excited about Henry all year long, and the true freshman seemingly had no trouble earning a starting job. He'll get lots of help from veteran safety Karl Joseph, but you just know Lane Kiffin will take some shots deep to see if the young dude has instincts. He would be wise to keep an eye on Amari Cooper, one of the nation's best wideouts.
Jason Hall, SS, and Dylan Haines, SS, Texas: Hall, a true freshman and former three-star recruit, was named the starter on Texas' depth chart released Thursday. But Haines, a walk-on, will play and so should Adrian Colbert. With safety Mykkele Thompson likely being used as Texas' top nickel, the Longhorns will have a lot of inexperience on the back end on passing downs. They need to play up to the considerable praise they received in camp.
Who are you excited to scout this weekend? Let us know any players we missed in the comments below.
The good news for the Wildcats is they open with a far less frightening opponent this weekend in Stephen F. Austin. While North Dakota State was capturing a third consecutive FCS national title, Stephen F. Austin was going 3-9 in the Southland Standings.
Who in the Big 12 should most be on upset watch Saturday?
Iowa State is certainly a candidate. The Cyclones play the same Bison team that toppled K-State last fall. Sure, North Dakota State lost its head coach to Wyoming and the quarterback who engineered the game-winning drive to beat the Wildcats. The Bison, however, have reloaded before. And just last season, Iowa State fell in the opener to FCS opponent Northern Iowa.
North Dakota State, however, isn’t the only capable FCS team coming to Big 12 country this weekend. Central Arkansas, which travels to Texas Tech, received votes in the FCS Top 25 after winning seven games in 2013. So did TCU’s opponent, Samford, which finished in a tie for first with Chattanooga and Furman in the Southern standings. The Horned Frogs, meanwhile, will be debuting a new offense without a clear-cut starting quarterback. Texas Tech has the clear-cut starter at quarterback in Davis Webb, but it will be starting four underclassmen in its secondary.
The two traditional powers in the Big 12 both have curious games, as well. North Texas, which will head to Austin, went 9-4 last season. The Longhorns are still big favorites, but this will be just the fourth start quarterback David Ash has made since the 2012 season.
Oklahoma too is a heavy favorite to dispose of Louisiana Tech. The Sooners are riding high after taking down Alabama their last time out. But Oklahoma has a tradition under Bob Stoops of sputtering at times in openers. And while the Bulldogs struggled last season, they are only two years removed from going 9-3 and taking Texas A&M to the wire in a 59-57 shootout.
Now, we put it to you in our weekly Big 12 poll: Of these five teams, pick one to put on upset alert for this weekend.
Why Florida State will win: Last week, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy called Florida State the best team he had ever faced as a player or a coach. The Seminoles are loaded, headlined by the return of Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The Cowboys, meanwhile, will be fielding almost a completely new squad after losing 28 seniors and returning the fewest starters among any program in a Power 5 conference. Those factors do not equal a recipe for an upset. -- Jake Trotter
More consensus picks: Iowa State over North Dakota State; TCU over Samford; Texas Tech over Central Arkansas; Oklahoma over Louisiana Tech; Kansas State over Stephen F. Austin; Texas over North Texas; Baylor over SMU.
Because as North Dakota State was driving to knock off Kansas State in Manhattan, the Cyclones were licking the wounds after falling to another FCS power, Northern Iowa.
So its little surprise that Iowa State is giving its full respect to this weekend’s opener with North Dakota State, which not only knocked off the Wildcats, but went on to capture a third consecutive FCS national title.
“They are a well-coached, hard-playing football program.”
Iowa State, meanwhile, will try to stave off a second straight disappointing start to its season. After winning their opener in Rhoads’ first four seasons – three of which ended in bowl appearances – the Cyclones couldn’t stop Northern Iowa’s balanced offensive attack, which included 228 yards on the ground and 229 threw through the air. Iowa State fell behind 21-7, and its rally in the second half fell short in a 28-20 defeat.
The Cyclones never recovered, and started the season 1-9.
“I would argue that the start of our season, beyond the opener, was affected by that opening game loss,” Rhoads said.
That is why starting strong is a major goal for the Cyclones, who face a daunting September schedule that includes Kansas State, Iowa and Baylor. Including North Dakota State, Iowa State’s four September opponents went a combined 42-12 last year.
“We want to be 1-0, and that is pretty much the only thing right now,” said Sam Richardson, who was named Iowa State’s starting quarterback this year after losing the job in part due to injuries last season. “We want to start fast.”
That might be easier said than done. The Bison lost head coach Craig Bohl to Wyoming, as well as several key offensive players, including quarterback Brock Jensen, who engineered the 18-play, game-winning touchdown drive against Kansas State. But North Dakota State also is riding a 24-game winning streak, has the bulk of its defense back and has defeated an FBS opponent – Minnesota, Kansas, Colorado State and Kansas State – in each of the last four seasons.
“There isn’t anyone in that program that doesn’t know how to win and expect to win when they take the field,” Rhoads said. “They will get on the buses and come into Ames, Iowa, expecting to win their first game of the season.”
The Cyclones know it can happen, and how critical it is to the rest of their season that it doesn’t happen again.
“Our guys' eyes are wide open,” Rhoads said.
He's not alone.
More and more, true freshman skill position players are stepping on campus ready to take jobs and play immediately at schools across the Big 12.
Seven of the nine Big 12 schools that play this weekend had released their depth charts by Tuesday afternoon. Twenty-two true freshman find themselves on those depth charts at skill positions around the conference with every school featuring at least one true freshman on its depth chart.
TCU and Oklahoma lead the league with five apiece while ISU receiver Allen Lazard is the lone true freshman skill position player on the Cyclones depth chart. Coaches at Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas — the other three schools — have already said they have true freshmen are in set to play for them at the skill positions in 2014.
The growth of pass-heavy spread offenses, increased summer and offseason football -- specifically 7-on-7 competitions -- and elite camps like The Opening are at the heart of the increased readiness of true freshman. Henry and Texas Tech cornerback Tevin Madison are the lone true freshman to earn a starting spot heading into the season but that duo is could be joined by other impressive freshmen -- like Lazard, Kansas running back Corey Avery or Kansas State safety Kaleb Prewitt -- in their squad's starting lineup at some point this season.
The additional offseason work's ability to help groom quarterbacks is well-documented but those extra reps are helping receivers, running backs and defensive backs as well.
"All the skill players, receivers, quarterbacks, tight ends, they all grow up throwing the football," Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "So they're much more developed at an early age. We're seeing that we can do things with freshman that we could never do before because a lot of them have been doing it in high school."
Recruits step on campus having been seasoned in competitive situations like never before. Their understanding of offensive concepts gained in high school makes transitions to similar systems in college easier than before.
"As much as anything it's the offenses they're growing up in," OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "They're playing in those [offenses] 365 days of the year. You go to certain parts of the country and they're practicing every day. They're growing up in those systems."
The state of Texas is at the forefront of trend with everything from weather and strong high school coaching helping to prepare signees to play from Day 1 at Big 12 schools.
"With the 7-on-7 aspect and the level of high school coaching in the state of Texas helps us," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "They're throwing the year round, they're catching the ball year round, quarterbacks go through reads year round, so by the time they get to us, they're college ready.
"As far as throwing, catching and seeing defenses, they're more prepared than ever."
The rise of elite national and regional football camps could also be helping to increase the readiness of true freshmen. Players like OU's Michiah Quick, a 2013 participant in The Opening who is listed as a backup slot receiver and punt returner for the Sooners, are stepping on campuses across the country having been tested in ways they had not been a decade ago.
"I think anytime you get to go against competition, you're going to come out more confident if you have a good showing," Kingsbury said. "The kids we have that have attended such camps come out of it knowing they belong and they fit in."
On to the 'bag:
Doug T. from Philly writes: Am I the only one who think the perfect storm for an upset may be brewing in Atlanta this Saturday?
Chatmon: I would be surprised, not shocked, if the Mountaineers find a way against the Crimson Tide. I have reservations about WVU’s ability to win in the trenches and I need to see Clint Trickett take his game to another level and play consistently for Dana Holgorsen’s offense. But I like what WVU has at the skill positions and don't see any scenario where Holgorsen's crew will back down against the Crimson Tide.
Brenna from Stillwater writes: Maybe I'm just looking at it from a true "black and white" perspective, but isn't Baylor returning nine starters, as is Oklahoma State? According to Phil Steele, that's the case. Does Bryce Petty's return compensate for Baylor's loss on defense? Does the quality of Baylor's limited returning starters truly peg them as the team (alongside Oklahoma) to beat in the Big 12 and to make a legitimate run at the four team playoff?
Chatmon: Petty goes a long way in changing the expectations for the Bears. He’s a Heisman Trophy candidate and returning Big 12 offensive player of the year. Oklahoma State’s issue is youthful players all over its defense and uncertainty at quarterback and offensive line. Baylor’s question marks aren’t as widespread as the Cowboys. To cap it all off, the Bears young players will get a chance to ease into the season while OSU faces the defending national champion. That’s what separates the two teams before Week 1 in my eyes.
Sean from Stillwater writes: Give us [OSU] hope for an upset this weekend.
Chatmon: There are plenty of reasons for hope. OSU’s receivers and defensive line should be among the Big 12’s best and Tyreek Hill looks like a playmaker. And, talent-wise, the Cowboys have upgraded from a year ago, but hearing Mike Gundy say his team could play 20 newcomers against FSU is a scary thought.
Theylo from Snyderville writes: Who is going to be the K-State running back?
Chatmon: It looks like Charles Jones has won the job as he sits atop the Kansas State depth chart heading into the season opener. But this will be decided between the lines on several Saturdays this fall. Jones may get the initial nod but if DeMarcus Robinson outperforms him on game day then he could end up being the guy. I think we may not know who John Hubert’s replacement is today, despite the Wildcats’ releasing their depth chart, but we will know by the time October rolls around.
Jon in Tulsa writes: If OSU beats FSU, OSU doesn't become favorite for national championship, then why does OU become contender just because last year's team beat Bama? How do you know that UCF wasn't better than Bama and that mostly returning Baylor shouldn't be favorite in Big 12?
Chatmon: Why are you assuming OSU does not become a national championship favorite if they beat Florida State? I find that odd because the Cowboys will be in the College Football Playoff if they go undefeated. Regardless, Oklahoma is a national title contender because they have a good young defense that carried them to 11 wins a year ago. And the Sooners are the Big 12 favorite, for me at least, because they host Baylor in Norman. It’s not all about the Sooners' Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.
Jacob Jones from Lubbock writes: Iowa State and Texas Tech will both do better then what experts picked. Watch out for Texas Tech going 9-3 and Iowa State 6-6. West Virginia could be a sleeper as well. I still think Oklahoma holds off the competition and reclaims the Big 12 championship. Bold prediction: Texas Tech upsets OU in Lubbock.
Chatmon: I could see it happen with Tech, but I’m worried about ISU’s defensive line. I need to see them first before I can get on that train. I agree with West Virginia as well but where are those wins coming from? TCU, OSU? I think the Big 12 has a chance to be as competitive as ever this fall, particularly after OU and Baylor at the top. Also, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Sooners fall at Tech; Lubbock has been unkind to the Sooners in the past.
Shaun Rucker from Shawnee, Kansas writes: Why does the media insist on bringing up the fact that the Big 12 doesn't have a championship game every chance they get? Our teams have only ever been hurt by the title game, with the exception of Nebraska not playing in it and getting a title shot in 2001. What's your take?
Brandon Chatmon: I don’t think the Big 12 needs a championship game. I don’t see a scenario where a Big 12 team goes undefeated and finds itself on the outside looking in at the College Football Playoff bracket. Thus, the destiny of every Big 12 team is within its control. That’s good enough for me.
Andy from Austin writes: This past mailbag someone asked, "Why doesn't Texas have alternate unis?'' I love that Texas usually just has subtle tweaks instead of major overhauls. But how awesome would it be to have a solid burnt orange uni for home, like the road ones, but reversed, including the helmets? Any chance of getting that look planted in the minds of those who could make it happen?
Chatmon: I love the idea, Andy. But I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Texas has a good look, and the Longhorns have tried to meet recruits/players halfway with their practice uniforms. I wish I was wrong though.
Who between West Virginia and Oklahoma State has the better chance to pull off the upset this weekend?
Olson: West Virginia, simply because I think Florida State has a little more talent than Alabama. Last year, Virginia Tech gave up two punt return TDs and a pick-six in the first half of their opener vs. Alabama. The Hokies shot themselves in the foot from the start. West Virginia has absolutely no margin of error for that. What the Mountaineers do have is a potentially explosive offense and a full game film of OU thrashing the Tide to use as the blueprint. They must strike early and often and give Bama’s new starting QB hell.
Chatmon: The Mountaineers are hoping a year in the offense will pay off for quarterback Clint Trickett and the rest of the unit. At this time a year ago, none of WVU’s playmakers on offense had much experience. Twelve months later, it should be a different offense. Oklahoma State is talented but it is largely untested, and its defense could be a deer in headlights early against the Seminoles, which would be too much to overcome. Thus, WVU gets the nod, but I wouldn’t bet on either squad to triumph.
Trotter: West Virginia. Florida State returns several key parts off a team that steamrolled most everyone on the way to a national championship. Oklahoma State has the fewest returning starters among any Power 5 conference team. That’s not a recipe for an upset. Alabama is a powerhouse, too, but at least West Virginia will be taking a veteran team to Atlanta. If the Mountaineers can pull off some big plays early -- and they have the players to pull off big plays -- then they can hang around into the second half.
Which Big 12 team should be on upset alert in Week 1?
Olson: No need to overthink this one. It’s Iowa State, because they play North Dakota State. And I don’t say that out of disrespect for the Cyclones, who could be better in a lot of ways in 2014. Just have to respect how NDSU screwed up another Big 12 team’s opener a year ago. Even with coach Craig Bohl gone to Wyoming, NDSU might still be the best team in FCS.
Chatmon: I don’t expect any Big 12 team to be upset this weekend, but TCU is the team that immediately comes to mind. The Horned Frogs won’t lose to Samford -- their defense is too good for that upset to happen -- but they could run into some ups and downs as they try to get their offense humming in the first game with new coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham at the helm. Another team that will have to be on its toes is Baylor, as the Bears try to ignore the distraction of opening McLane Stadium against SMU and focus on the actual game at hand.
Trotter: This one is obvious. Iowa State lost last year’s opener to FCS opponent Northern Iowa. Iowa State’s Week 1 opponent this season, North Dakota State, beat Kansas State on the road in Week 1 last year. If the Cyclones play their game, they’ll be fine. But if they don’t, the three-time defending FCS national champs are more than capable of delivering the upset.
Who is the one player to watch this weekend?
Olson: Oklahoma RB Keith Ford. There were times last season, even when the freshman was getting limited reps, that I sensed Ford might be OU’s most talented running back. He didn’t get talked up too much this offseason, but I think Ford could run wild on Louisiana Tech and alleviate some concerns about an OU run game that lost its top three backs this offseason.
Chatmon: I’m looking forward to seeing what Tyreek Hill can do against the athletes on Florida State’s defense. If Hill is going to live up to the hype as Big 12 preseason newcomer of the year, he will have an immediate impact against the Seminoles and the Cowboys are sure to make getting him the ball a priority. I’m also looking forward to hopefully getting a look at Baylor receiver KD Cannon and Texas Tech quarterback Pat Mahomes in action during week 1.
Trotter: Remember David Ash? It’s difficult to remember, considering he has played in only a couple of games since 2012. Ash will be back behind center for the Longhorns this weekend and is the single biggest key to Texas’ 2014 outlook. If Ash stays healthy and plays well consistently, the Longhorns have the pieces elsewhere to make a run at the Big 12 title. If Ash struggles or gets injured again, the Longhorns will be cooked. The North Texas game will give us a glimpse of which player Texas will be getting.
Jake Trotter's bold predictions
Davis Webb will throw for more yards than Bryce Petty. This is no slight against Petty, who himself should be in for another monster season. But Petty will also be handing off plenty to Shock Linwood, Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson. Webb, meanwhile, will be airing it out virtually every down to his big-play trio of Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis. As long as Webb stays healthy, 4,500-plus passing yards isn't out of reach.
Tyreek Hill will lead the league in rushing. The Longhorns have the Big 12's best one-two punch at running back in Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown. And West Virginia has the league's deepest backfield. But Hill has the tools to be the best big-play back in the conference. He also figures to be the focal point of the Oklahoma State attack. Up until last season, the Cowboys had enjoyed a 1,000-yard rusher in six consecutive seasons. Hill will start another 1,000-yard rushing streak for the Pokes in a big way in 2014.
Brandon Chatmon's bold predictions
Iowa State's offense will be much improved. After finishing in the bottom two in most offensive categories a year ago, Iowa State will finish no lower than sixth in most of those categories, with a clear jump forward in points, yards per play, total yards and third-down conversion rate during its first season with Mark Mangino as offensive coordinator. The Cyclones have plenty of skill-position talent, led by receiver Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs, and may have a healthy offensive line after a 2013 season full of injuries up front.
Oklahoma safety Ahmad Thomas will emerge as an All-Big 12 candidate. The sophomore safety has continued to develop and improve for the Sooners and looks like a future star in the defensive backfield. He's versatile and gives the Sooners plenty of options with his ability to line up all over the field. Coaches and teammates have raved about his ability, so he could emerge as an All-Big 12 performer, particularly if the Sooners defense becomes a dominating force this fall. Thomas is not a household name right now but he could be by the time December rolls around.
Texas will lead the conference in rushing and finish top 10 nationally. Charlie Strong plans to run the football and the Longhorns have the horses to get it done in the backfield. Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown are a terrific foundation to build UT's offense around, and the offensive line should be solid. Add Strong's insistence that the Longhorns' “soft” label is a thing of the past, and it's a recipe for UT to grab a spot among the nation's top ground games this fall.
Max Olson's bold predictions
Texas Tech will start 7-0 again. The only major hurdles in a pretty favorable early-season schedule are back-to-back road games at Oklahoma State and Kansas State. I like Tech's chances of surviving both games so long as Webb is healthy. If the defense has come together by then and shows up in the big games, look out. From there, Kliff Kingsbury's squad will have a tough slate but a huge opportunity.
Kansas State beats Auburn. Go ahead, call me crazy. This just feels like it's going to be a weird ballgame, almost akin to KSU's 24-19 win over No. 6 Oklahoma in 2012. Kansas State's coaches have the brainpower to come up with answers to Auburn's dangerous option attack. They recruited Nick Marshall hard out of junior college and know his weaknesses. And Tyler Lockett can score on anybody. In a crazy Thursday night home game atmosphere, I think KSU can get it done.
David Ash earns All-Big 12 honors. I didn't say first team! I'm not necessarily saying second-team honors, either. But Texas' fourth-year quarterback remains one of the league's most underrated players and someone who's going to make a breakthrough if he can play all 12 games. Ash was a top-25 passer in 2012, and with quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson's tutelage and the aid of Texas' impressive run game, he can do it again.
Our boldest prediction
A Big 12 team will make the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma and Baylor will meet on Nov. 8 in Norman, Oklahoma. The winner will go on to represent the conference in the inaugural playoff. You'll see.
Here is what was said, and my thoughts:
Strong: Jaxon Shipley (hamstring) is day-to-day. Game time decision.— Ryan Autullo (@AutulloAAS) August 25, 2014
Jake Trotter: The Longhorns won't need Jaxon Shipley this week. But they will need him the following weekend against BYU. With quarterback David Ash working his way back into form, he will need Texas' most experienced and accomplished wideout on the field.
Weis continues to emphasize that newcomers Corey Avery & De'Andre Mann are talented and capable backs who can shoulder the load... #KUfball— Matt Tait (@mctait) August 25, 2014
Trotter: The injuries to Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox hurt Kansas' depth. But De'Andre Mann and Corey Avery were pushing for the top spots on the depth chart before the injuries. The depth took a hit. But the Jayhawks should be fine at running back, provided they suffer no more injuries.
Trotter: The BCS was kind to the Sooners over the years, notably in 2003 and 2008. It remains to be seen whether the playoff committee will look favorably on Oklahoma as well.
Florida State is as "far along as any team I've prepared for in 25 years," says OklaSt Coach Mike Gundy.— Blair Kerkhoff (@BlairKerkhoff) August 25, 2014
Trotter: That is high praise. As a player and coach, Mike Gundy played against some formidable opponents, including some powerhouse Oklahoma and Nebraska teams as a player, then a pair of national championship teams at Oklahoma and Texas as a coach. The combination of Florida State's prominence and Oklahoma State's inexperience is hardly an ideal combination for an opener.
Bill Snyder said he expects to start Charles Jones at running back against Stephen F. Austin— Ken Corbitt (@KenCorbitt) August 25, 2014
Trotter: Bill Snyder traditionally has preferred to utilize one primary running back, and Charles Jones evidently will get the first shot to replace John Hubert. Whoever emerges from the competition will have the opportunity to shine playing alongside quarterback Jake Waters, receiver Tyler Lockett and behind an offensive line with a pair of all-conference performers.
Holgorsen: Icky Banks has been reinstated to the team after academic issues. Will be suspended for non-conference schedule.— Stephen J. Nesbitt (@stephenjnesbitt) August 25, 2014
Trotter: The loss off Icky Banks, a starter last season, in the non-conference hurts, but at least they get him back for the conference portion of the season. The Mountaineers have senior Travis Bell and Terrell Chestnut to at least bridge the gap. The good news is West Virginia has a reliable cover man at the other cornerback in Daryl Worley.
"I've seen some good flashes during fall camp. I expect them to be an improved group." #TexasTech HC Kliff Kingsbury on Red Raiders defense— Brandon Chatmon (@BChatmon) August 25, 2014
Trotter: Whether Texas Tech makes a big jump defensively will hinge heavily on how big an impact the junior-college defensive linemen make. The Red Raiders were gashed against the run last season. They need some of these big men up front, notably, 340-pound nose guard Rika Levi, to help shore that up.
Art Briles said his defense is the most talented he's ever put on the field. Remains to be seen whether it produces.— Suzanne Halliburton (@suzhalliburton) August 25, 2014
Trotter: This is interesting. The Baylor Bears were formidable last season defensively, headlined by All-American safety Ahmad Dixon and All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. But there is no doubt the defensive line is going to be better this season. If the secondary comes around the way coach Art Briles think it will, Baylor might not suffer the downturn defensively many are predicting.
Big12 Teleconference - Paul Rhoads on improving on defense - starts with run defense but we didn't stop the pass either - need more pressure— BlueGoldSports.com (@Blue_GoldSports) August 25, 2014
Trotter: It was an uncharacteristically poor season for the Iowa State defense, which ranked last in the league in rushing defense, and seventh in pass defense. Improving those numbers won't come easy, but the Cyclones have some experienced pieces in the front seven to work with in tackle Brandon Jensen, ends Cory Morrissey and Mitchell Meyers, and linebackers Jared Brackens, Alton Meeks, Jevohn Miller and Luke Knott.
TCU's Gary Patterson said he'll announce starting QB when offense takes the field Saturday.— Anthony Andro (@aandro) August 25, 2014
Trotter: No surprise here. My money is on Trevone Boykin getting the first snap. But as coach Gary Patterson has hinted, this competition could linger into September.
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final North Dakota State 34 Iowa State 14 Final West Virginia 23 2 Alabama 33 Final Louisiana Tech 16 4 Oklahoma 48 Final Samford 14 TCU 48 Final Central Arkansas 35 Texas Tech 42 Final Stephen F. Austin 16 20 Kansas State 55 Final North Texas 7 Texas 38 Final 1 Florida State 37 Oklahoma State 31