Big 12: Oklahoma State Cowboys
But, without further ado, here are our preseason bowl projections for the Big 12, which, like the bowl tie-ins themselves, are sure to change before long:
Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Orleans (Jan. 1): Oklahoma vs. College Football Playoff semifinal
Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Texas (Jan. 1): Baylor vs. at-large
Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio (Jan. 2): Kansas State vs. Pac-12 No. 2
Russell Athletic Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (Dec. 29): Texas vs. ACC No. 2
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Houston (Dec. 29): Texas Tech vs. SEC
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn. (Dec. 29): TCU vs. SEC
Cactus Bowl, Tempe, Ariz. (Jan. 2): Oklahoma State vs. Pac-12 No. 7
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.
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.
- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy finally admitted on ESPN Radio that J.W. Walsh will be starting quarterback when the Cowboys take the field against Florida State. In other news, water is wet. Walsh being the starter was the worst-kept secret in Stillwater. What isn't known is how he'll play. To have any chance of beating the Seminoles, Oklahoma State will need Walsh to play the way he did two years ago in his first career start against Texas. The Cowboys lost that game, but Walsh was phenomenal, throwing for 301 yards and two touchdowns. Walsh was pretty phenomenal the entire 2012 season, and finished third nationally in QBR. But he took a step back last year, struggling with accuracy and decision-making before ceding the starting job back to Clint Chelf. Which Walsh will show up Saturday, and for that matter, the rest of the season? The answer to that will go a long way in determining what kind of the season the retooling Cowboys will have.
- West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley will have a monumental test covering Alabama All-America wideout Amari Cooper, writes Dave Hickman of the Charleston Gazette. There might not be a better receiver in the country than Cooper, who is being projected to go in the top five of the first round of the NFL draft next spring. But Worley is one of the fastest-rising stars in the Big 12 and could be up to the challenge. He'll have to limit Cooper's big plays if West Virginia is to have any shot of hanging around in Atlanta. But at the least, the matchup will reveal how far along Worley has progressed in his second year and serve as a harbinger for how he'll fare against Antwan Goodley and Tyler Lockett during the conference season. Speaking of West Virginia-Alabama, the Crimson Tide won't have one of their starting linebackers this weekend.
- TCU coach Gary Patterson was fuming in front of reporters Wednesday because of how poorly his defense looked in practice, according to Travis L. Brown of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "We better not play like that or we’ll give up 40," Patterson said. Look, TCU isn't giving up 40 to Samford. And while Patterson might be concerned, on the scale of 1-to-10, my worry factor with the TCU defense is a 0. As for the offense, well, that's a different story. We'll see. Also, Samford coach Pat Sullivan won't be making the trip to Fort Worth with his team due to complications from neck surgery. Sullivan was TCU's head coach from 1992-97.
- The bronze statue of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III has arrived at McLane Stadium and is awaiting its Sunday unveiling. Between that, the stadium debut and the fact the Bears have another elite team, Sunday will be one of the great days in Baylor football history. Enjoy it, Bears fans.
- In case you missed the previous post on this blog, Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford called out the Longhorn fans with 9,000 tickets remaining for the Charlie Strong debut against North Texas. "People out there: Get off your duff and go buy these tickets," Bedford said. "It should be standing room only. If not, don’t complain, don’t say anything." This isn't the first time Bedford has called out fans. Oklahoma State fans will remember well when he compared bandwagon fans to "roaches," as the Cowboys defensive coordinator in 2006. Bedford can call out fans all he wants -- as long as he doesn't lose to Oklahoma come Oct. 11.
Yet those two teams featured the Big 12’s top defenses in 2013, a main reason they combined for 21 victories and found themselves atop the conference standings heading into the final day of the regular season a year ago.
But neither the Cowboys nor Bears found themselves among the nation’s top 15 defenses in points allowed or yards allowed, and only Oklahoma State's 21.6 points allowed per game, which ranked No. 19 nationally, was among the nation’s top 25 in either category.
Recognizing good defense in the Big 12 is a little different.
“How are you going to win the game? How many points per possession?” Spencer asks. “We have a lot more possessions to defend than a lot of teams in the nation.”
So with the new season on the horizon, here are other ways to define good defense in the Big 12.
Yards per play: More important than total yards allowed, yards per play is a better representation for a defense’s success. For example, Oklahoma led the Big 12 in total yards allowed at 305.2, yet the Sooners were sixth in yards per play at 5.38. Why? The Sooners offense played a major role in OU’s strong overall yardage numbers by controlling the clock with its running game. Oklahoma's defense faced 65.1 plays per game, five plays fewer than any other Big 12 team. By comparison, Baylor allowed 4.77 yards per play, which led the conference, while facing 75.8 plays per game. The Bears allowed more yards than the Sooners, but BU’s defense clearly had more success stopping opponents than OU on a play-by-play basis.
Points per possession: Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Kansas State finished 1-2-3 in points allowed in 2013, but only the Cowboys finished in the top three in points per possession. Oklahoma State led the conference with 1.22 points per possession, followed by Baylor (1.38), TCU (1.5) and Oklahoma (1.6). Those four teams combined to win 36 games, including the Horned Frogs' disappointing four-win season. It’s also a meaningful stat nationally, with Florida State leading the nation in the category (0.9) followed by Michigan State (0.99), Louisville (1.05) and Alabama (1.09). Those four teams combined to go 50-4 in 2013.
Third down conversion defense: Getting off the field on third down is critical in any conference. The conference’s three teams that had double-digit wins finished 1-2-3 in third-down conversion defense. Oklahoma State led the Big 12 at 31.4 percent, followed by Oklahoma (33.7) and Baylor (33.9). Excellence on third down is one reason the Sooners still had one of the Big 12’s top defenses a year ago, even though they faced fewer plays. Oklahoma's offense controlling games wasn’t the only reason the Sooners faced fewer plays, as their defense consistently got off the field on key third downs.
“[In the Big 12] you have to defend the whole full of playmakers and you are going to give up some yardage,” Spencer said. “But you have to get off the field.”
Turnovers: Much like third-down excellence, turnovers are critical in any conference. Oklahoma State (33) and Baylor (28) finished 1-2 in turnovers forced, and it’s not a coincidence. Both defensive coaching staffs make creating turnovers a top priority, even more than stopping the opponent. For the Cowboys and Bears, taking the ball away from the opposing offense is the primary goal.
Percentage of possible yards allowed per drive: This is another terrific stat to monitor the overall success of a Big 12 defense against opponents. BU led the conference at 32.4 percent followed by Oklahoma State (34.7), TCU (35.1) and Oklahoma (37.1). Those four teams could easily be considered the Big 12’s top four defenses in 2013.
Three-and-out percentage: The Bears led the Big 12 by forcing a three-and-out on 28.2 percent of opponent’s drives. Oklahoma State (26.8), TCU (26.7) and Texas (25.8) rounded out the top four. One of the reasons Bryce Petty and the Bears’ offense set scoring records was the ability of Baylor's defense to immediately put the ball back in the hands of the offense.
- Sad news from Cyclone country as former Iowa State running back Hiawatha Rutland was found dead near Lake Erie on Monday. Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register reports that his death continues a unfortunate trend of former Cyclones losing their lives. ISU's leading rushers from 2000-2006 have all died, a total of three former Cyclones ball carriers (Ennis Haywood, Stevie Hicks).
- Kansas State released its first depth chart of the season but it doesn't mean much writes Kellis Robinett of the Wichita Eagle. While Tyler Lockett, Jake Waters, Ryan Mueller and the rest of the Wildcats' stars would appear safe, the competition continues at several positions, most notably at running back. Charles Jones sits atop the depth chart but I'm betting DeMarcus Robinson and Jarvis Leverett will have their say before a bell cow is anointed in K-State's backfield. The most interesting part of the running back battle could be an expected redshirt for true freshman Dalvin Warmack. I was hoping to get a look at Warmack this season, particularly with an open competition to replace John Hubert.
- KUsports.com's Matt Tait gives you a few percentage predictions for the Kansas' win total and seven Jayhawks to keep an eye on this fall. Tait puts KU's chances for four or five wins at 51 percent and while I'd imagine many people scoff at that percentage it made more and more sense the more I thought about it. KU has several experienced upperclassmen and seems to be upgrading the overall talent on the roster under Charlie Weis. I've had my reservations about the Jayhawks but I'm starting to agree with Tait and think Weis' squad could be better than people expect this fall.
- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy can't seem to commit to quarterback J.W. Walsh, despite the fact all signs point to the junior being the Cowboys' starting quarterback against Florida State on Saturday writes John Helsley of The Oklahoman. As the season gets closer and closer it becomes clearer that the Pokes could have two different offenses this fall with a run-heavy approach with J.W. Walsh and an approach that leans more toward the pass when Daxx Garman or Mason Rudolph get their chance behind center. It's not unlike what the Pokes did to knock off Mississippi State in last season's opener, when Walsh entered the game for Clint Chelf and the Pokes used the read-option to confuse and exploit the Bulldogs defense. I'm expecting more of the same against the Seminoles on Saturday.
- Good news for Texas fans as receiver Jaxon Shipley has been deemed "ready to roll" by passing game coordinator Shawn Watson and is expected to play against North Texas, reports Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News. A healthy Shipley could be a critical asset for the Longhorns this season as the senior receiver led the Big 12 with 23 third-down receptions in 2013. He is a quarterback's best friend and proven clutch performer for the Longhorns.
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.
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Bears commitment Chad President appears ready to start his season for Temple (Texas) High School, throwing for four touchdowns in a scrimmage on Friday. President is an ESPN 300 receiver whom the Bears will give a shot to play quarterback when he arrives on campus in January after enrolling early.
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Lawton (Oklahoma) athlete Darreyl Patterson will make his official visit to Iowa State this weekend. The three-star prospect has offers from ISU, Kansas State, Washington State and others.
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Junior college players represent the bulk of KU’s class with eight of its 13 current commitments from the juco level. The Jayhawks continue to do a terrific job in North Texas, with four of their five high school commitments from the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats added arguably their top commitment of the class with a verbal from Tucker (Georgia) cornerback Duke Shelley last week. The three-star prospect turned down Clemson, Tennessee, Wisconsin and others to commit to Bill Snyder’s program.
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: The Sooners added more bulk to their recruiting class with a pledge from three-star guard Dru Samia of Danville, California/San Ramon. Samia, who turned down offers from Texas Tech, UCLA, Oregon State, Cal and Washington State, is the fourth offensive lineman on OU’s commit list.
Total commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Cowboys will get the chance to impress receiver offer Ryan Newsome of Aledo, Texas, who plans to attend OSU’s season-opening tilt with Florida State on Saturday. Newsome tweeted his plans to join Cowboys commit Ronald Jones at the game. Newsome also has plans to officially visit OU and Texas, with Oregon, Tennessee and UCLA rounding out his official visit list.
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: One name to keep an eye on for the Horned Frogs could be Euless (Texas) Trinity defensive end Tipa Galeai. He doesn’t have an offer but visited the school last week and could be a long-term, developmental prospect to keep an eye on at 6-foot-6, 206 pounds. The three-star prospect boasts offers from Utah, Utah State and Washington State.
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 7
The latest: Long Beach (California) Poly cornerback Iman Marshall, the No. 8 player in the ESPN300, started a buzz on Twitter last week by asking fans of OU and UT to help him decide where to go for his fifth official visit. He already plans to visit Florida State, LSU, Notre Dame and Michigan with his other officials.
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Red Raiders reportedly offered Class of 2016 prospect Keith Corbin last week. The Beaumont (Texas) West Brook receiver also has an offer from Ole Miss. A big, athletic target at 6-2, 175 pounds, Corbin could see his offer list reach double digits.
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: WVU quarterback commitment David Sills had a terrific weekend, accounting for seven touchdowns in his team’s 58-56 overtime win over Spartanburg, South Carolina.
The Cowboys lost by three touchdowns, but the defeat marked the launch of one of college football’s most successfully sustainable programs since.
Over the past seven seasons, Oklahoma State has more wins than the Bulldogs. More wins than Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas and Florida, too.
And only four wins fewer than the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles, who the Cowboys open with this weekend.
No power five conference school has fewer returning starters this season than the Cowboys’ nine. Oklahoma State will be starting a trio of new receivers. The secondary is mostly green. Same with the offensive line. The linebacking corps, too. And though junior quarterback J.W. Walsh has been around, he has never fully been the guy before, either.
With all that to overcome, can the Cowboys avoid a rebuilding season and cement their elite sustainability by simply reloading yet again?
"We’re going to find out," Gundy said. "I think there are some really talented players on this team. They just don’t have any experience. And until you get out there and do it, you don’t know what to expect."
It won’t take long for the Pokes to find out just what kind of team they have.
Florida State returns the bulk of a squad that mowed through the competition on the way to capturing the national championship. Reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston is back at quarterback for the Seminoles, who could wind up being double-digit favorites against every one of their regular-season opponents.
"We’ve embraced this game," Gundy said. "We’re playing the best team in the country. We’re playing the best player in the country. This will give us a good idea where we’re at -- what a great opportunity."
Seven years ago in Athens, Georgia, the Cowboys discovered they weren’t quite ready to clash with the premier clubs in college football. Oklahoma State hung tough in the first half, but was outclassed in the second, as Georgia's combination of quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno propelled the Bulldogs to a 35-14 win against the Cowboys. Georgia went on to win the Sugar Bowl and finish 11-2.
Gundy cautioned that these Seminoles are at a different level than the 2007 Bulldogs. But after 66 wins, pristine facilities and better recruiting classes, these Cowboys are at a different level than the 2007 Cowboys, too.
"We were a more experienced team back then -- we weren’t in the situation we are now from an inexperienced standpoint," Gundy said. "This is the most difficult year we’ve had when it comes to returning players.
"But the players competing now, two years from now could very well be more talented as a group than what was there (in 2007)."
The Cowboys, however, don’t have two years. They only have a few days. And armed with just a couple dozen players who have actually stepped on a field in a big-time college atmosphere, this is the most monumental retooling effort Gundy’s staff has ever faced in Stillwater.
"This is, by far, the most inexperienced defensive unit I’ve ever taken into a game," said coordinator Glenn Spencer, Gundy’s now longest-tenured assistant. "It’s a different year for us. We have a lot of players that are inexperienced, and they’re learning on the run."
But Oklahoma State has precedent for defying preseason expectations despite inexperience.
Going into 2010, only Bowling Green, East Carolina and Colorado State had fewer returning starters than the Cowboys. Some prognosticators even picked Oklahoma State to finish dead last in the Big 12 South. Nobody had heard of receiver Justin Blackmon. Few knew who quarterback Brandon Weeden was, either.
But behind the most prolific pass-catching duo in school history, the Cowboys reeled off 11 wins to finish in a tie atop the South standings.
"We’re a winning team -- that’s the attitude around here," said linebacker Ryan Simmons. "The new guys that haven’t had a chance, it’s their time now. We’re definitely a young team, but it’s a reloading year. We have the guys to get the job done."
In the past few years, only a handful of programs have proven they have the sustainability to produce winning teams every year, no matter what. Bedlam rival Oklahoma is one of those programs. Oregon, Ohio State, Alabama, LSU and Florida State are a few of the others.
The odds are stacked against the Cowboys becoming a winning team again this season. The odds are even longer that Oklahoma State will be competitive against the vaunted Seminoles.
But since that Georgia opener seven years ago, the Cowboys have proven their program is on solid ground. This season, they have the chance to prove their sustainability is among the elite, too.
Look for an uptick in conference recruiting as the fall approaches, but here’s an analysis on how Big 12 teams are looking as of now for the Class of 2015.
- Lane Kiffin's arrival at Alabama creates some uncertainty for West Virginia, writes Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail. A new quarterback and new offensive coordinator is making it difficult for the Mountaineers' new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson to prepare for the Crimson Tide. Even with all the uncertainty, nothing will matter if WVU cannot stop the run. If Alabama wins the battle up front and the Crimson Tide's exceptional running backs find room to roam, it won't matter who is taking the snaps or calling the plays.
- Texas coach Charlie Strong detailed the Longhorns' starters on Thursday, with multiple freshman and walk-ons showing up in the mix for a starting role in Strong's first season. Safety Jason Hall, tackle Darius James are among the freshman who could become starters while sophomore walk-ons Dylan Haines, a safety, and Ty Templin, a receiver, could end up earning roles. It's a clear sign everyone began with a clean slate under Strong and the new coach is willing to give anyone, no matter class or scholarship status, a chance to contribute if they show the commitment he's requiring from his players.
- On Thursday, Mike Gundy did everything but name J.W. Walsh the starting quarterback for Oklahoma State's opening game against Florida State, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. If indeed Walsh does start for the Cowboys it would be the right move for Gundy's squad. The junior has the most experience and he's the best runner of the quarterbacks on campus. With relatively an unproven offensive line set to battle the defending national champions, Walsh brings traits that could allow OSU to test the Seminoles ability to handle a game plan full of quarterback run game.
- The bulk of Kansas' freshman class talked to the media for the first time on Thursday, with running back Corey Avery getting plenty of attention after the Jayhawks lost a pair of senior running backs earlier this week. But fellow freshman Kyron Watson, a linebacker, sounds like he's been just as impressive as Avery on the defensive side of the ball. Weis calls Watson a "sideline-to-sideline" player and the ESPN300 linebacker is expected to play as a true freshman for the Jayhawks. So keep an eye on Watson as KU could have its understudy for Ben Heeney already on campus.
- Last but not least, this terrific read from Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star reveals Ryan Mueller's journey from overlooked prep recruit to sack master at Kansas State. Mueller has become known for hard work, on and off the field. He is the Big 12's leading returning sack leader with 11.5 in 2013, more than Texas' Cedric Reed, Oklahoma's Eric Striker and other Big 12 defenders who enter the season with more preseason hype. Bold prediction: Mueller reaches double-digit sacks for the second season and makes those who think he is a flash in the pan regret questioning his ability.
Here’s a look at how each Big 12 coach has fared against the AP Top 25 at their current school. For a look at their career record, you can go to the original piece on The Wall Street Journal’s website.
Art Briles at Baylor: 7-19
Paul Rhoads at Iowa State: 4-19
Charlie Weis at Kansas: 0-8
Bill Snyder at Kansas State: 23-43
Bob Stoops at Oklahoma: 50-23
Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State: 15-20
Gary Patterson at TCU: 14-14
Charlie Strong at Texas: 0-0 (2-2 at Louisville)
Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech: 2-3
Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia: 5-6
A few quick thoughts:
- These numbers just reinforce Stoops' ability to win games against top competition. People like to point at OU’s Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama as the return of “Big Game Bob” but that conveniently overlooks road wins at Florida State and Notre Dame in games that garnered plenty of national attention in the past three years.
- It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Gary Patterson join Stoops as the lone current Big 12 coaches with a record of .500 or better against AP Top 25 teams. A couple of substandard seasons in the Big 12 shouldn’t completely erase years of dominating performances from the Horned Frogs under Patterson.
- It’s quite revealing to see Kingsbury has faced more AP Top 25 teams than Strong. In one season at Tech, Kingsbury saw a Top 25 squad five different times yet Strong coached four games against AP Top 25 teams in four seasons at Louisville. It will be interesting to see how Strong handles the clear step up in competition, week in and week out.
- Four wins against AP Top 25 teams shows the ability of Paul Rhoads to get the best out of his Iowa State teams. His 4-19 record isn’t great but it could be a lot worse.
- Bill Snyder and Mike Gundy rank second and third in total wins against AP Top 25 teams which is to be expected as Snyder at KSU and Gundy at OSU have taken their programs to previously unseen levels during their time as head coach at their respective schools.
- Holgorsen's 5-6 record is solid, particularly for a coach on the hot seat heading into the season. His five wins against AP Top 25 teams in three seasons at WVU could be one reason not to overlook the Mountaineers' chances to surprise in 2014.