Big 12: Kansas State Wildcats

In today's Twitter mailbag, West Virginia, Baylor and Oklahoma fans want to know their playoff odds, Iowa State fans want to know their chances for an upset Saturday and Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas fans solicit hope for the future.

Everyone have a safe and happy Halloween tonight.

Now, on to the 'bag:

@Jake_Trotter: That's probably asking too much. West Virginia would need a lot of help in that scenario, like Florida State, Oregon, Michigan State and Notre Dame losing, and the SEC West cannibalizing itself to some degree. The Mountaineers would have some really good wins and no bad losses. But the odds would be long.

@Jake_Trotter: Like West Virginia, Baylor would need a bunch of help. West Virginia's hindrance is that it has two losses. For Baylor, it is its nonconference schedule, which ultimately could be what keeps it from snagging a spot. By ranking them 13th in the inaugural poll, the committee clearly punished Baylor for its nonconference schedule. Because otherwise, Baylor's résumé was strong with a marquee win over TCU, and a not-bad loss at West Virginia. When compared with every other contender, Baylor is going to lose the nonconference debate. That will be tough to overcome.

@Jake_Trotter:OU, I guess technically has some shot as the highest-ranked two-loss team on the board. But it would take a minor miracle. Outside next weekend's clash with Baylor, the Sooners don't have another game ahead that would allow them to make a splash nationally. So it would take a deluge of losses from other teams ranked ahead for OU to re-emerge into in the playoff picture.

@Jake_Trotter: Those two might be the most improved QBs in the country, but if I had to pick one, it would be Boykin. At least Trickett was a full-time QB last year. In the spring, I would have guessed that Boykin would have ended up at receiver. I don't think I've ever seen a one-year turnaround more dramatic than Boykin's.

@Jake_Trotter: I have optimism Texas will continue to get better. Tyrone Swoopes has shown promise this year, and the offensive line keeps improving. The most important change has been Charlie Strong putting his toughness stamp on the program. That foundation will serve the Longhorns well down the road.

@Jake_Trotter: It's basically going to come down to the game against Texas on Nov. 15, because I don't see the Cowboys beating K-State, Baylor or Oklahoma on the road. If I had to pick that game today, I'd pick Oklahoma State to beat Texas in Stillwater. But that's a game the Cowboys are more than capable of losing. Even with all the turnover from last year, 5-7 would be a very disappointing season for Mike Gundy's bunch.

@Jake_Trotter: The offensive line is probably the biggest culprit. The Cowboys just aren't any good up front. But Daxx Garman hasn't been accurate enough throwing the football, and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich hasn't found a groove with this unit. Toss all those factors together, and you have a train wreck offense.

@Jake_Trotter: It's unfair to judge Kingsbury yet. The 7-0 start last year was ultimately a bit of a mirage that blocked how much rebuilding the program really needed. I always give coaches the benefit of the doubt of three years. Next year will be a big one for Kingsbury and the Red Raiders.

@Jake_Trotter: It kind of depends what happens to West Virginia and TCU in the interim. But I will say this weekend could be dangerous for the Sooners. Iowa State has played OU tough in Ames in recent years, and Mark Mangino and Co. can move the ball on an Oklahoma defense that has shown plenty of vulnerability in recent weeks. I wouldn't be surprised if this game came down to the fourth quarter.

@Jake_Trotter: The Big 12 tiebreaking procedure is the same as before, only the College Football Playoff Rankings have replaced the BCS in the tiebreaking pecking order. Head-to-head is the first tiebreaker. But if we had, say, a three-way tie at the top like we did in 2008, then playoff ranks would break the tie. 

Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 10

October, 31, 2014
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All eyes will be on Milan Puskar Stadium in Week 10 as TCU and West Virginia battle to put themselves in prime position to win the conference in their third season as members. Kansas State hopes to strengthen its résumé against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma could face a tough task against Iowa State in Ames, Baylor hopes to shake off injury troubles against Kansas and Texas Tech against Texas could be a classic offense-defense battle.

Here are the storylines to watch in the Big 12 during Week 10:

No. 18 Oklahoma at Iowa State, noon ET (Fox Sports 1): This has the potential to be a scary game for an OU squad looking to rebound after two losses in three games. Iowa State's offense is finding its footing under offensive coordinator Mark Mangino after a season-high 45 points against Texas on Oct. 18. Tight end E.J. Bibbs, who leads all Big 12 tight ends with 32 receptions and six touchdowns, could cause problems for the Sooners' secondary. For Oklahoma, Trevor Knight will be looking to build on his performance against Kansas State, which included 318 passing yards, a 81.3 completion percentage and season-best 92.1 Adjusted QBR. Meanwhile the Sooners' defense will be looking to prove it's better than the 6.2 yards per play and the 2.11 points per drive it has allowed during conference games.

No. 7 TCU at No. 20 West Virginia, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN2): The Horned Frogs earned the distinction of the Big 12's top-ranked team in the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings and visits West Virginia on the heels of an 82-point outburst that was the talk of the Big 12. The Mountaineers feature a much-improved defense and one of the best quarterback-receiver duos in the nation with Clint Trickett and Kevin White. If TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin plans to cement his name in the Heisman race, this is the opportunity to do so with a Heisman moment or two and leading his team to victory over an explosive and confident Mountaineers' squad. It should be an exciting game to watch as Trickett and Boykin are the Big 12's most improved signal-callers, with their increase in Total QBR -- Boykin (plus-29.8, second) and Trickett (plus-27.3, fourth) -- ranking in the top four among Power 5 quarterbacks this season.

Kansas at No. 13 Baylor, 4 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1): Does Baylor have a problem looking up at TCU in the College Football Playoff rankings after it beat them head-to-head? If so, the matchup with the Jayhawks is BU's first chance to show the committee its No. 13 ranking is too low for the defending Big 12 champion. Quarterback Bryce Petty has watched TCU's Boykin and WVU's White sprint past him in the race to be the Big 12's most legitimate Heisman contender and is looking to regain the production that placed him among the preseason favorites. Petty has been uncharacteristically inconsistent in Big 12 play with Adjusted QBRs of 74.9, 19.5, 74.7 and 41.2 in four conference outings. Meanwhile, KU could make a strong statement in Clint Bowen's candidacy for the permanent head coaching gig with a shocking upset at McLane Stadium.

Texas at Texas Tech, 7:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1): Which team is more deflated? Texas is coming off a shutout loss to Kansas State, which included an average of 3.77 yards per play, the second-worst single game average in a conference game this season. Yet, there sits Texas Tech on the opposite end of the spectrum, having given up 9.13 yards per play in its 82-27 loss to TCU, the largest yards-per-play average allowed in conference play in 2014. Charlie Strong's team will lean on its defense to spark a tough road win, and the Red Raiders will count on Kliff Kingsbury's offense to outscore an subpar Texas attack. Should be fun to see who wins this battle of offensive and defensive minds.

Oklahoma State at No. 9 Kansas State, 8 p.m. ET (ABC): Oklahoma State is still chasing bowl eligibility and faces a difficult final stretch. To get a win in Manhattan, coach Mike Gundy must get more from an offense that has three combined touchdowns in its last three games. K-State knows this could be another win over a team with a winning record to add to the résumé after the Wildcats knocked off OU and UT in back-to-back weeks. With quarterback Jake Waters operating KSU's offense with efficient precision, KSU should feel good about extending its win streak to five before trips to TCU, West Virginia and Baylor in its final four games.

Big 12's top recruiting visits 

October, 31, 2014
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With five big games on tap Saturday, it could mean a memorable weekend for recruiting in the Big 12. Iowa State will host Oklahoma and Kansas will host Baylor, but there are three other games to watch where a player or two may decide their college destinations.

TCU at West Virginia

[+] EnlargeTim Settle
Tom Hauck/Student SportsTim Settle will be on his official visit to West Virginia as the Mountaineers play TCU.
The game could be considered a clash between the conference’s hottest two teams, but West Virginia could come out a double winner if everything works as planned. With "College GameDay" set to air in Morgantown this weekend, the Mountaineers will host several big-name players, including ESPN 300 defensive tackle Tim Settle, ESPN 300 athlete Jordan Cronkrite and four-star athlete Tim Irvin. Guard Jah'Shaun Seider and cornerback Antonio Howard, two three-star West Virginia commits, also will be in attendance -- most likely playing the role of player-recruiters during what is shaping out to be an important weekend.

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- The people sitting in Section 14 never needed a game program.

Because little Curry Sexton always knew all the Kansas State players. Knew their jersey numbers. Knew their stats.

"He knew everything about the game," said his father, Ted Sexton, who began taking his son to K-State games as a child. "Always soaked it all in."

[+] EnlargeCurry Sexton
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerCurry Sexton wears No. 14 to commemorate the section from which he cheered on K-State as a kid.
Once the smartest kid in Section 14, Curry Sexton is now the smartest player on the Bill Snyder Family Stadium field. At 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, the senior isn't the biggest. And with a time of 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash, he certainly isn't the fastest. But driven by his intelligence and knack for getting open at opportune moments, Sexton has filled a major role at slot receiver for the Wildcats, who remain in the thick of the Big 12 title and College Football Playoff races.

"His best asset is his knowledge," said Tyler Lockett, Sexton's cohort at receiver. "He knows how to get open, and every time we call on him to make a big play, he makes it."

With 40 receptions and 450 receiving yards, Sexton has surfaced as a much-needed secondary receiving target alongside Lockett for quarterback Jake Waters, who is Sexton's roommate. Thanks in part to Sexton's emergence, K-State ranks 23rd nationally in scoring, despite playing at a slower pace than most Big 12 offenses.

"I'm not flashy. I'm not big. Nothing about me really sticks out," Sexton said. "But I pride myself on being reliable and being in the right place."

Sexton has been in the right place all season. But before that, he had to decide if K-State was the right place for him.

Sexton grew up on a wheat, soybean and alfalfa farm in Abilene, Kansas, a 45-minute drive from Manhattan. His capacity for football knowledge at an early age wowed everyone, including John Dorsey, his uncle who is the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs. When Sexton was 10, Dorsey was at the Sexton farm helping with the annual harvest and casually mentioned a Florida State player he was considering drafting.

"Curry immediately rattled off all his statistics, and John was like, 'My gosh, Curry knows more about this kid than I do, and this is my job,'" Ted Sexton recalled.

That acumen didn't stop with football. Curry excelled in the classroom as well. His grades, combined with his savvy on the field, drew the interest of the Ivy League.

The boy from Abilene was accepted into Harvard, Columbia and Princeton, which all offered the chance to play football, too.

"We were kind of sold on Harvard," Ted said. "They were telling him, 'Curry, come here, get your degree from here and you can go anywhere in the world -- and you won't have to ask how much they're paying, you'll tell them what you're going to make.'"

But a Harvard education wasn't really what Sexton coveted. He wanted to be a coach, or possibly even follow in his uncle's footsteps with scouting or football personnel.

On New Year's Eve of his senior year, his dream school finally called. Bill Snyder offered Sexton a scholarship, with the caveat he'd have to grayshirt, meaning he'd have to wait a year before he could enroll and join the K-State football team.

"I felt like coming to K-State would be a better learning experience if I wanted to go into coaching," Sexton said. "I didn't feel like Harvard would have benefited me as much as learning from this staff."

Harvard's education might be world-renowned, but the Crimson couldn't offer a professor like Snyder.

"He wanted to coach," Ted said. "Who better to learn from than Bill Snyder?"

The decision to spurn the Ivy League and grayshirt didn't come without angst. While away that first year, Sexton passed the time taking community college classes and helping his father at the farm. He worked out at a local rec center and at his former high school with younger brother Collin (who went on to play for K-State, too) and cousin Cody Whitehair, now the Wildcats' starting left tackle.

"It was tough," Sexton said. "When you're not part of the team, you wonder, do they really want you there?"

But Snyder had a track record of turning grayshirts into starters, giving Sexton the fortitude he needed. And that perseverance has paid off five years later in Sexton's senior season.

Wearing No. 14 in honor of the section he sat in all those years, he has become K-State's secret weapon.

He recorded 11 receptions against Auburn, and he snagged an acrobatic one-handed touchdown in the Wildcats' rout of Texas Tech.

Two weeks ago, he delivered a critical third-down catch to help K-State run out the clock and beat Oklahoma. Then, last weekend, his 24-yard grab on third-and-long propelled K-State to its first touchdown in a win over Texas.

"Curry is a very astute player," Snyder said. "He is very knowledgeable. He runs excellent routes; he's really good about deciphering defenses.

"Kind of like a quarterback out there."

When this season ends, Sexton wants to begin his football career off the field. He double-majored in business and marketing and has a minor in leadership studies, the degree Snyder championed into existence at K-State.

Until then, Sexton wants to help the team he cheered from Section 14 win another championship.

"Never once have I said I wish I was at Harvard, and I don't think I ever will," Sexton said. "This is where I always wanted to be."

Oklahoma State at Kansas State primer

October, 30, 2014
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Kansas State debuted at No. 9 in the College Football Playoff Rankings. They have a chance to boost their résumé at home on Saturday against Oklahoma State, a team that's dropped from No. 15 to unranked in the polls after back-to-back losses.

Brandon Chatmon and Max Olson break down the key Big 12 matchup in Manhattan:

How Oklahoma State can earn the upset: Get back to its defensive roots. The Cowboys' defense has been better than anticipated, especially considering the youth on that side of the football. Yet forced turnovers, OSU’s bread-and-butter, have been missing. After averaging 2.5 forced turnovers per game during the past four seasons, OSU is averaging one per game in 2014. If the Cowboys force two or three turnovers, which won’t be easy, against Kansas State, then the Pokes will have a chance of leaving Manhattan with a W. -- Chatmon

How Kansas State can control the game: The Wildcats have won 44 straight games when leading at halftime, and they're scoring more far points in the second quarter than in any other quarter this season. They've become adept at setting the tone in all three phases and making teams play games their way. With a healthier Jake Waters, that should be even easier this week. The way K-State manhandled Texas up front last week made a huge difference, too. -- Olson

Oklahoma State’s X factor: Receiver James Washington has the talent to be a game-changer if the Cowboys can find a way to get him the ball. His competitiveness and ball skills could make him the next great receiver but inexperience at quarterback and along the offensive line have combined to limit his impact. But it only takes a few plays to change the game and Washington has the talent to make it happen. -- Chatmon

Kansas State's X factor: Turnovers! The great equalizer and game-changer in any close ballgame. Kansas State has been superb on this front in Big 12 play: Four games, one turnover, eight takeaways. One of the best turnover margins in conference play in FBS. Keep that trend going and KSU is going to be awfully tough to beat. -- Olson

What a win would mean for Oklahoma State: The Cowboys would become bowl eligible with games against Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma remaining. It would be a clear sign Mike Gundy’s inexperienced squad is maturing and, most importantly, learning from the setbacks that have shaped the past two weeks. -- Chatmon

What a win would mean for Kansas State: TCU and Baylor get all the attention, but don't forget that K-State sits alone atop the Big 12 standings. The Wildcats would improve to 5-0 in Big 12 play with three ranked teams still left on their slate. And all three of those games are on the road. The Wildcats must get good home wins and momentum however they can. -- Olson

Poll: Big 12's best return man?

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
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It's the moment Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia fans hold their breath for.

When Tyler Lockett, Alex Ross, Tyreek Hill or Mario Alford set up for a kick or punt return, the game might change in a manner of seconds. All four players have returns for touchdowns this season.

But which one is the Big 12's top return man? Well, that's up to you.

SportsNation

Who is the Big 12's top return man?

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    12%
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    45%
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    33%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,967)

Oklahoma's Alex Ross leads the conference in kick return average at 38 yards per return with a pair of kick returns for touchdowns. The sophomore running back has returned 41.7 percent of his kickoff returns for 30 yards or more, best in the Big 12 and his average of one kickoff return for a touchdown every six opportunities also sits atop the conference. His terrific speed has made him a deadly threat allowing the Sooners to count on good field position, either from a Ross return or teams trying to kick away from him.

West Virginia's Mario Alford is second in the conference at 31.08 yards per kickoff return. The Mountaineers receiver is silky smooth with an uncanny ability to accelerate and leave defenders in his wake. He has two kickoff returns for touchdowns and has returned 30.8 percent of his kickoff returns for at least 30 yards, third in the Big 12.

Ranking among the league leaders in kickoff and punt returns, Oklahoma State's Tyreek Hill is the best dual return threat in the league. His 26.58 yards per kick return average is third in the conference and his 7.43 yards per punt return ranks fourth. His four punt returns for 20 yards or more is tied for the league lead and he's returned two kickoffs for score to join Ross and Alford atop that list. His blazing speed makes him a nightmare for special teams coordinators.

Tyler Lockett doesn't leave a trail of smoke behind him like the other returners on the list but he does tend to leave a trail of frustrated defenders. The Kansas State receiver first made his name in the Big 12 as a returner during his freshman season and has continued to be a threat on returns even as he's elevated himself to one of the Big 12's top receivers. The senior is averaging an eye-popping 23.6 yards per punt return, easily the best in the Big 12 and he's returned a punt for a score. His impact on kickoff returns (5 returns for 91 yards) has been minimal but ask any Big 12 coach if they think it is a good idea to kick to him.

Texas Tech's Jakeem Grant, TCU's Cameron Echols-Luper and Texas' Jaxon Shipley are other returners who have made opponents think twice before kicking to them this season.

Who do you think is the Big 12's top return man? Vote now and leave your comment below.

Big 12 Week 10 predictions

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
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Why TCU will win: The Horned Frogs, playing like one of the nation's best teams, can get better. Trevone Boykin has been lethal, this offense has too much explosive diversity and TCU's defense will get the crucial second-half stops. This will be a fun chess match, a really physical game and another statement win for the Frogs. TCU 48, West Virginia 38. -- Max Olson

Why West Virginia will take it down to the wire: Clint Trickett and Kevin White are a great place to start. Add the Big 12's most improved defense, and WVU is in business. WVU has the playmakers to keep up with Boykin and the Horned Frogs' offense, while an electric atmosphere in Morgantown will make things even more difficult on TCU. Expect a close, high-scoring affair. TCU 49, West Virginia 46 -- Brandon Chatmon

Why Kansas State will win: Oklahoma State's offense is a dumpster fire right now, while K-State is coming off a shutout victory over Texas. The Cowboys again won't be able to move the ball against K-State's defense, which is stout at every level. And Jake Waters & Co. will be able to generate enough offensively to put this game away in the second half. Kansas State 31, Oklahoma State 13 -- Jake Trotter

Why Oklahoma will win: Don't sleep on these Cyclones. They proved against K-State and Texas that they're no easy out. But the Sooners are coming off a bye week, get top back Keith Ford back and know this Big 12 race isn't over for them just yet. OU steps up and gets a much-needed, bounce-back win. Oklahoma 45, Iowa State 20. -- Olson

Why Iowa State will keep it close: The Cyclones have historically played Oklahoma tough in Ames. The Iowa State offense is beginning to find its stride under coordinator Mark Mangino, while the Sooners have been suspect defensively the past month. The Cyclones probably won't be able to make enough stops to win. But they have the offense to make this one interesting. Oklahoma 35, Iowa State 31 -- Trotter

Why Baylor will win: Big plays, big plays and big plays. Injuries have dealt the Bears a blow along the offensive line, but Bryce Petty & Co. should come up with enough big plays to win comfortably against the Jayhawks. Baylor 45, Kansas 14 -- Chatmon

Why Texas will win: Anytime a game seems like a toss-up, I lean toward the team with the best defense. The Longhorns' defense ranks in the top third of the Big 12 in several categories including yards per play and sacks, which should help UT slow the Red Raiders' offense. Texas 24, Texas Tech 13 -- Chatmon

Season records:
  • Trotter: 48-4
  • Chatmon: 46-6
  • Olson: 46-6

Big 12 stat check: Week 10

October, 29, 2014
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A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 10:

Baylor: The Bears had a bye week to address their penalty problems. One stat to put that issue in perspective: The Bears have more 10-plus penalty games this season (five) than the entire Big Ten conference combined (three). Then again, Big 12 teams have combined for 16 such games. That suggests style of play and the league's refs are probably important factors in the Bears' penalty woes.

Iowa State: The breakthrough is coming for Allen Lazard and D'Vario Montgomery. Both were impressive against Texas and have been targeted a combined 51 times by Sam B. Richardson in the Cyclones' past three games. In fact, Lazard was targeted a season-high 15 times against the Longhorns, one more than team receptions leader E.J. Bibbs.

Kansas: When interim head coach Clint Bowen says running back Corey Avery isn't being properly appreciated, he might be right. Avery's 417 rushing yards rank No. 11 in FBS among true freshmen on Power 5 conference teams and second most in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma's Samaje Perine, and he's already surpassed 500 total yards in his debut season.

Kansas State: ESPN Football Power Index data ranks the strength of Kansas State's record so far as No. 10 in the country and best in the Big 12. That's a good snapshot of both KSU's tough schedule and its impressive showings against ranked foes. But FPI still projects K-State will lose to TCU and Baylor, and that its road test at West Virginia is almost a 50-50 game (KSU's odds of winning are currently pegged at 46.8 percent).

Oklahoma: Getting running back Keith Ford back is good news for this Oklahoma offense, but tip your cap to his young understudies. In the four games Ford missed, Perine and Alex Ross combined to average 4.99 yards per carry and 156 rushing yards a game. All three offer different skill sets, giving the Sooners one dangerous trio if they can stay healthy the rest of the way.

Oklahoma State: After impressing in his first two starts, quarterback Daxx Garman has shown regression in his past four. His adjusted QBR of 40.2 in the month of October ranks No. 99 nationally and ninth in the Big 12. His QBR for those first starts against UTSA and Texas Tech was a combined 74.1, but he finished this month with a TD-to-INT ratio of 3-7.

TCU: The aerial attack stole most of the attention, but here's a big reason why TCU was capable of scoring 82 against Texas Tech: The Horned Frogs rushed for 224 yards on first downs against Tech. When you're getting 8.3 yards per carry on first down, you have the opportunity to do pretty much anything on offense.

Texas: Here's something you couldn't have expected entering the season: Texas is eight games in and hasn't had a running back surpass 100 rushing yards in any games. In fact, since losing David Ash in the opener, Texas has not had a back surpass 80 rushing yards in a single game. Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes' 95 rushing yards against Iowa State remains the team high.

Texas Tech: Following last week's record-setting debacle, Texas Tech's defense ranks No. 123 nationally and last among Power 5 conference teams in defensive efficiency, according to ESPN Stats & Info. But really, after a game like that, there's nowhere to go but up from here.

West Virginia: Clint Trickett continues to rank No. 1 in the Big 12 in passing, completion percentage, yards per attempt, completions of 20-plus yards, passer efficiency and QBR. He has more passing yards (2,763) and a better completion percentage (68.3 percent) than Bryce Petty had through the first eight games of his prolific Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year season last year.

Big 12 playoff tracker: Oct. 29

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
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The first College Football Playoff Rankings were unveiled Tuesday night, and five Big 12 teams made the Top 25 cut. Here's a deeper look at what those rankings mean for the Big 12 and its hope of placing a team in the inaugural College Football Playoff:

TCU
Record: 6-1 (3-1 Big 12)
Playoff committee rank: No. 7
Next big obstacle: Nov. 1 at West Virginia
Reason for optimism: Assuming the SEC West starts to knock itself out, TCU is in pretty good shape after the first unveiling of the playoff rankings. Playoff committee chairman Jeff Long said the gap between No. 6 Alabama and No. 7 TCU was a “small” one. The Horned Frogs also have the chance to notch a pair of marquee wins these two next weeks against No. 20 West Virginia and No. 9 Kansas State.
Cause for concern: The Horned Frogs are ranked ahead of every Big Ten team, but not No. 5 Oregon. Assuming the playoff committee ends up with Florida State and two SEC West teams, that final playoff spot could come down to the Ducks and the Horned Frogs, and the Ducks appear to have the slight advantage at the moment. TCU could win out and still get snubbed if Oregon won out, too.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: Stanford to knock off Oregon for a third straight year.

Kansas State
Record: 6-1 (4-0)
Playoff committee rank: No. 9
Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 at TCU
Reason for optimism: The Wildcats are ranked higher in the playoff rankings than they are in the polls, which means K-State is getting more respect where it counts. The committee also seems to be valuing quality losses, which is one reason K-State is ranked seven spots ahead of Ohio State, whose lone loss to Virginia Tech looks worse and worse. With road games at No. 7 TCU, No. 20 West Virginia and No. 13 Baylor still ahead, the Wildcats have as much upside as any team outside the top four.
Cause for concern: At No. 3, Auburn is currently in the playoff. The committee is putting an emphasis on head-to-head, which is the primary reason Ole Miss got the edge for the fourth spot ahead of Alabama. If the final spot came down to Auburn and K-State, the committee would probably be compelled to favor Auburn, which won in Manhattan, Kansas, last month.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: Ole Miss to give Auburn its second loss.

Baylor
Record: 6-1 (3-1)
Playoff committee rank: No. 13
Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 at Oklahoma
Reason for optimism: The Bears are ahead of four one-loss teams, including three spots ahead of No. 16 Ohio State. Baylor also has two remaining games against ranked teams, including Oklahoma and No. 9 Kansas State in the regular-season finale. The timing of the K-State game could be significant for Baylor to make a late surge.
Cause for concern: Even if they go 11-1, the Bears are going to need a lot of help. The nonconference schedule is going to weigh them down like an albatross. That’s one significant reason there are 10 other one-loss teams ranked ahead of them.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: TCU to take down West Virginia. The Bears have the head-to-head advantage over TCU. They don’t have it over the Mountaineers. The better TCU does, the better it looks for Baylor.

Oklahoma
Record: 5-2 (2-2)
Playoff committee rank: No. 18
Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 vs. Baylor
Reason for optimism: The Sooners are the highest-ranked two-loss team. There’s still a lot of football to be played, and if a two-loss team can make a run, it might be Oklahoma.
Cause for concern: The Sooners would need a minor miracle to surge that far. Even though Oklahoma’s two losses came against top-10 teams, the playoff committee is not giving the Sooners the edge over one-loss teams. Oklahoma will need a bunch of losing from those teams ranked ahead in the coming weeks.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: West Virginia to beat TCU. The Sooners would need to win the Big 12 to have a chance, and they have the head-to-head advantage over West Virginia.

West Virginia
Record: 6-2 (4-1)
Playoff committee rank: No. 20
Next big obstacle: Nov. 1 vs. TCU
Reason for optimism: The Mountaineers are the third-highest-ranked two-loss team, just behind Oklahoma and LSU. They have a chance to climb higher in the month of November with home bouts against No. 7 TCU and No. 9 Kansas State.
Cause for concern: West Virginia still has a giant mountain to climb to get in the playoff mix. A lot can happen here over the next few weeks. But the Mountaineers are going to need a bevy of upsets elsewhere in college football.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: Kansas State to throttle Oklahoma State. The Mountaineers need K-State to be ranked as high as possible when it visits Morgantown on Nov. 20 for a Thursday night clash.

Big 12 bowl projections: Week 9

October, 28, 2014
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The initial College Football Playoff rankings have brought changes in the Big 12 bowl projections.

With the Allstate Sugar Bowl serving as a semifinal site and TCU on the outside of the top 4 at No. 7, the Horned Frogs slide over to another New Year's Day bowl (Fiesta, Cotton or Peach). Ninth-ranked Kansas State, as one of the top 12 teams in the initial rankings, joins TCU in a New Year's Day bowl.

Additional movement this week features Charlie Strong's Texas squad dropping out completely. UT would have to win three of four games in the final weeks of the season to reach six wins and bowl eligibility. With TCU, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech remaining on the schedule, the odds aren't on the side of the Longhorns.

Cotton Bowl: TCU
Fiesta Bowl: Kansas State
Valero Alamo Bowl: West Virginia
Russell Athletic Bowl: Baylor
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Oklahoma
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Oklahoma State
Cactus Bowl: None eligible
In Tuesday's mailbag we discuss Baylor and West Virginia's playoff hopes, Big 12 parity and Kliff Kingsbury. As always, thanks for your questions. To submit questions for next Tuesday's mailbag, click here.

Lennon Coley in Temple, Texas, writes: I’m still not sure why when it comes to playoff discussions, TCU is the only one ever mentioned. Kansas State occasionally gets a little love. But why is Baylor all of a sudden out of it? People act like they have nothing left on the schedule. Oklahoma was a catapulting win for both TCU and Kansas State. Does Baylor not get that luxury? Also a win over K-State has been cited as a quality win for Auburn, but doesn't provide Baylor with an opportunity should they win that game? If Baylor wins out, which won't be easy, what gives TCU the edge? A win over Minnesota? That definitely shouldn't do it, especially when Baylor has the head-to-head win. Both nonconference schedules were extremely weak.

Brandon Chatmon: A loss to two-loss West Virginia doesn’t help and is one reason why Baylor sits behind TCU and Kansas State on the Big 12 queue of College Football Playoff contenders. BU’s best potential remaining wins are at two-loss Oklahoma and home against one-loss Kansas State. Is that enough to get them in the College Football Playoff? Not without some help. Baylor is not out of it by any stretch, particularly if the Bears take care of business, but TCU and K-State should be ahead of the Bears right now.

William Mills in Dunkirk, Ohio, writes: What are the odds of a two-loss West Virginia (if it can win out) making it to the playoff?

Chatmon: Slim. Dubious. Tenuous. All those words apply. Dana Holgorsen’s squad would need some serious help to find its way into the College Football Playoff conversation. Basically, nationwide chaos needs to occur. But, the resume would look pretty solid with wins over TCU, Baylor and Kansas State. But I think two losses is just too much for WVU to overcome without chaos reigning to help out the Mountaineers.

Corey in Allen, Texas, writes: I know it takes a while for a young coach to relinquish the reins as a play-caller, but do you think it's time for Kliff Kingsbury to let go of the offensive play-calling? Seems he needs to focus more on whole team strategy and mentoring his coordinators than just the offense and quarterbacks.

Chatmon: No. I don’t think the problems in Lubbock are related to Kingsbury’s play-calling. In fact, that’s way down the list. The No. 1 problem is lack of depth and overall playmakers in the program. As Kingsbury increases the overall depth and talent on the roster, Tech will improve. We’re starting to see just how much rebuilding was needed when he arrived. The 7-0 start to his head coaching career was a mirage in many ways. So, no, I don’t see any reason for Kingsbury to make that change in his gameday approach.

Chelsea in Pineville, West Virginia, writes: ESPN and the College Gameday crew have clearly recognized what a momentous day it will be in Morgantown on Saturday when the 10th-ranked Horned Frogs roll into town. What is the absolute No. 1 thing the Mountaineers need to do this weekend to send the TCU back to Fort Worth with a loss?

Chatmon: Win the turnover battle. Overshadowed by TCU’s explosive offense has been the Horned Frogs ability to win the turnover battle. TCU is plus-12 in turnover margin, best in the Big 12 and double the plus-six of second-place Oklahoma. West Virginia, meanwhile, is ninth in the conference at minus-9. If the Mountaineers’ can flip the script and win the turnover battle, it takes the ball out of Trevone Boykin’s hands while giving more opportunities to Clint Trickett, Kevin White and the WVU offense. That would be a great recipe for an upset.

rtXC in Denison, Texas, writes: Last week you asked, "All the positives of the offensive change makes you wonder, why didn't TCU make this change earlier?" Well, remember in 2010 when TCU had the most balanced offensive attack possible? That offense worked in the MW, and it might've in the Big 12 too had Pachall played for those two full seasons. Especially with Pachall returning last year, would it really have made as much sense to make the change that quickly?

Chatmon: Yes. Remember why Gary Patterson says he made the move. Not to score more points, not to be more entertaining, he made the move for recruiting. He felt he could attract and keep more talented skill players in the Dallas metro area with this offense. Had he made the move years ago those players would already be in the system. Not to mention the personnel at TCU hasn’t changed much but the results have changed dramatically. Why wouldn’t that have been the right move? But hindsight doesn’t really matter, I’m sure Patterson and the Horned Frog faithful are pretty happy about the change.

Mike in Goldsby writes: I'd like to hear your thoughts on two things. First, I love the drama around the Big 12 round robin title hunt. It seems to produce a down-to-the wire competition regularly, and I think it's much more exciting than the old championship game. How do you feel about it? Second, we've had five different champions in the last five years, and two new teams with a legitimate chance at winning the title this year. What does this say about the depth and parity of the Big 12?

Chatmon: I agree, Mike. I like the Big 12’s scheduling approach, and it has made the homestretch pretty exciting in recent years. I don't think the Big 12 needs a championship game just to say it has one. As far as your other question, the depth of the conference as a whole is pretty awesome. I’m sure it’s not ideal for die-hard fans, because it makes conference and national titles more difficult to achieve, but for a someone who doesn’t care who wins, it’s great to watch. It’s way better than having one or two dominant teams and one or two “title-deciding” games each season. Where’s the fun in that?

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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Even while Texas is losing ball games, it’s managing to find the silver lining in the dark clouds. The Longhorns lost to Kansas State and were shut out for the first time in 10 years, but they won on the recruiting trail, as another ESPN 300 athlete committed Sunday.

Baylor also added to its 2015 class over the weekend. The Bears have some outstanding skill-position players on their current roster, and they have studs within its 2015 class. They added another top skill-position player on Sunday.

Here’s an in-depth look at how the weekend finished in Big 12 recruiting.


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National links: Beware the big day 

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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Welcome to terrific Tuesday. Or terrible Tuesday. All depends on your perspective.

The College Football Playoff selection committee began deliberations on Monday in Grapevine, Texas. Tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET, Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long will unveil to a most curious audience the first-ever CFP rankings.

It's a historic time -- and surely chaotic.

Marc Tracy of the New York Times, in assessing the moment, writes that “historians will most likely date the end of the era of good feelings to 7:31.”

With that in mind, some advice for fans from the Big Ten to the SEC:

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Big 12 recruiting scorecard

October, 27, 2014
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Here's what happened on the recruiting trail around the Big 12 this week:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 12
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Houston (Texas) Lamar prospect J.W. Ketchum made it a good bye week for the Bears with his Sunday commitment to Art Briles' program. The four-star athlete picked BU over Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Alabama and others.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Defense has been the focus of this recruiting class for the Cyclones. Eight of its 13 commitments are defenders including four defensive linemen. Paul Rhoads squad dealing with small numbers along its defensive front heading into this season but hopes to address some of those issues with a pair of junior college defensive linemen in Larry Jefferson and Xavier Pegues.

KANSAS
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: It’s been an interesting dynamic in Lawrence, Kansas, where interim coach Clint Bowen landed Olathe (Kansas) North tight end Josh Moore picked KU last week. Moore spurned offers from the majority of the Big 12, Auburn and Ohio State to pledge to the Jayhawks.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Bill Snyder’s program dipped into Texas for its latest commitment with McKinney (Texas) North safety Bryce Balous picking the Wildcats last week. The three-star prospect turned down Texas Tech and Iowa to verbal to K-State. The Wildcats also added Pittsburg (Kansas) running back Alex Barnes, who committed to KSU on Monday. The three-star prospect picked KSU over Kansas, Minnesota, Rutgers and others.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 6
The latest: The Sooners sent out some offers to Class of 2016 pass-catchers last week with La Canada (California) St. Francis receiver Dylan Crawford and West Hills (California) Chaminade receiver Dymond Lee reportedly receiving offers last week. Both receivers are ESPN Junior 300 members and four-star prospects.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 4
The latest: It wasn’t a great day on the field but one ray of light came to Oklahoma State during Saturday’s 34-10 loss to West Virginia as ESPNJr300 member Mike Williams appeared to love his unofficial to OSU, tweeting about his visit multiple times on Saturday.

TCU
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Not only did TCU score big on the field, putting up 82 points against Texas Tech, the Horned Frogs could have scored big on the recruiting trail as well. Gladewater (Texas) defensive tackle Daylon Mack, the No. 15 player in the ESPN 300, loved his official visit to TCU. He’s currently committed to Texas A&M but it appears Gary Patterson’s program definitely gave the elite defensive tackle something to think about.

TEXAS
Total commits: 18
ESPN 300 commits: 9
The latest: ESPN 300 member Cameron Townsend picked Texas on Sunday, becoming the 18th commitment for Charlie Strong’s program. The Missouri City (Texas) Ridge Point linebacker picked UT over Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU, USC, Michigan and others. He is the No. 284 player in the ESPN 300.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Could it get any worse for Kliff Kingsbury’s program? Not only did Tech give up 82 points to TCU, its top 2015 commitment, quarterback Jarrett Stidham, broke his hand over the weekend. The injury shouldn’t impact his future as a Red Raider but there doesn’t seem to be much good news in Lubbock, Texas, right now.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 21
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: It could be a critical recruiting weekend with TCU and ESPN’s "College Gameday" heading to Morgantown, West Virginia, on Saturday. Expect several prospects to take advantage of the opportunity with ESPN 300 defensive tackle Tim Settle, ESPN 300 athlete Jordan Cronkite and Army All-American Tim Irvin among the early list of prospects who could be on campus.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 27, 2014
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Taking stock of Week 9 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: TCU scored a school-record 82 points in its thumping of Texas Tech. The 82 points were the most scored in a Big 12 conference game, breaking the previous mark of 77 set by Oklahoma in 2003 against Texas A&M. In 16 possessions, the Horned Frogs scored 10 touchdowns, kicked four field goals and punted twice. It was a masterful performance.

Disappointment of the week: Anytime a team gives up 82 points, it has to be considered a disappointment, and then some. Texas Tech coughed up the ball four times, and the defense surrendered 11 plays of at least 20 yards. The Red Raiders actually trailed just 31-20 in the second quarter before completely collapsing in the second half. With quarterback Davis Webb also injured, the 2014 season just keeps getting worse for Tech.

Big (offensive) man on campus: Pretty much anyone from the TCU offense deserves this honor, but no one more than quarterback Trevone Boykin, who broke a school-record with seven touchdown passes. Boykin also threw for a school-record 433 yards. With the TCU offense steamrolling, Boykin has begun to generate Heisman buzz.

Big (defensive) man on campus: It seemed every time Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes tried to throw downfield, Kansas State safety Dante Barnett was there to knock the pass down in the Wildcats’ 23-0 win. Barnett finished with four pass-breakups and seven tackles, and K-State handed the Longhorns their first shutout in 10 years.

Special-teams player of the week: Place-kicker could have been a huge problem for K-State this season after Jack Cantele missed three field goals in the loss to Auburn. But freshman Matthew McCrane has solidified that spot for the Wildcats. He made all three attempts, giving K-State some breathing room against Texas. McCrane is now 6-of-6 on field goals this season.

Play of the week: West Virginia true freshman free safety Dravon Henry, who had two interceptions in the 34-10 win against Oklahoma State, also delivered the exclamation point. He stepped in front of an errant Daxx Garman throw and returned it 51 yards to put the game away late in the fourth quarter.

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Stat of the week: Texas Tech has gone 16 straight games without winning the turnover battle. The Red Raiders lost the turnover battle to TCU, 4-0.

Quote of the week: "Fortunately for us, we didn’t play very well and won a ballgame." -- TCU coach Gary Patterson, after his team beat Texas Tech 82-27.

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