Big 12: Texas Tech Red Raiders
Total commits: 12
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Blake Lynch is making the Bears look awfully smart for accepting his early commitment in 2013. The Gilmer, Texas, four-star athlete wowed this weekend against Tatum with 93 rushing yards, 115 receiving yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score. He played quarterback as a junior but has transitioned into a true offensive weapon since transferring to Gilmer.
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: No commitments came in this weekend, but it'll be interesting to see how Iowa State's last-second win over Iowa impacts their in-state recruiting battles going forward. For example, could that win and some positive momentum help ISU's chances with 2016 linemen John Raridon and Jake Heinrich? No doubt Paul Rhoads and his coaches will be talking about that game for the next year while recruiting.
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: KU has not landed a new commitment in almost a month and a half, and a blowout loss to Duke isn't going to help its efforts on the trail much either. One commit whose season is off to a nice start: three-star RB Taylor Martin has racked up 323 rushing yards and seven TDs this year at Fort Worth (Texas) Dunbar.
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: A Thursday night game, no matter how gigantic the opponent, isn't necessarily ideal for bringing in a bunch of official visitors. K-State is reportedly expecting to have three-star RB Alex Barnes and junior college DT Deonte Reynolds in the house when Auburn comes to the The Little Apple. Both are taking midweek official visits, and they're critical targets for the Wildcats on what should be a pressure-packed week.
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 6
The latest: The Sooners hosted their biggest official visit weekend of the season and secured two pledges Saturday, from ESPN 300 safety Will Sunderland Jr. and junior college lineman Jamal Danley. The long-awaited pregame commitment from Sunderland was huge, but so was getting ESPN 300 studs Keisean Lucier-South, Kendall Sheffield, Ricky DeBerry and Neville Gallimore and four-stars Kahlil Haughton and Anthony McKee on campus.
Total commits: 12
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Pokes added to a promising offensive line class last week with 6-foot-7 offensive tackle Deya Mhiesen, a junior college lineman who can enroll in January. Mhiesen took an official visit to Baylor's season opener, then attended OSU's 40-23 win over Missouri State and decided to pull the trigger. He'll have three years of eligibility at OSU.
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Horned Frogs had several commits in the stands Saturday for their 30-7 beatdown of Minnesota, including WR Jarrison Stewart and DT Joseph Broadnax, along with Baylor commit CB Ke'Shawn Somerville, DE Andrew Fitzgerald and several more intriguing recruits in the 2016 class.
Total commits: 15
ESPN 300 commits: 7
The latest: Texas hosted some big-time recruits at AT&T Stadium for its 20-17 loss to UCLA, including top ESPN 300 targets Malik Jefferson and Ryan Newsome, ESPN Junior 300 WR Reggie Hemphill and commits DeShon Elliott, Charles Omenihu and Connor Williams. Two attendees who could end up in this class: three-star center Tyler Moore and Purdue three-star cornerback commit Isaac Warren.
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Red Raiders were not able to get Tyron Johnson, the nation's No. 2 receiver prospect, in town this weekend for his official visit due to a scheduling conflict, but he's expected to make it out to Lubbock on Oct. 11 when Tech hosts West Virginia. Tech did have ESPN 300 QB signee Jarrett Stidham, four-star commit OG Conner Dyer and three-star DE Jalen Bates in attendance.
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: With Oklahoma coming to town this weekend, expect a lot of talent on the West Virginia sideline before Saturday's big game. Among those reportedly expected to attend on official visits are ESPN 300 CB Jordan Whitehead and four-star ATH Tim Irvin.
We're only three weeks into the season but plenty of things have changed. Preseason expectations are out the window and some dreams of breakout seasons have been shattered while other preconceived notions have been re-affirmed.
Here's a review of nonconference play in the Big 12:
Biggest disappointment: Texas Tech. Wait, where are the Longhorns? Did you really expect more from Texas? More players have been kicked off the team (eight) than offensive touchdowns scored by Charlie Strong's team (seven). The Red Raiders are another story, however. Tech has never really looked outstanding at any point this season as penalties, turnovers and defensive struggles turning the Red Raiders' Big 12 title dreams into an early nightmare. Saturday's loss to Arkansas -- which included 438 rushing yards by the Razorbacks -- has Kliff Kingsbury looking for answers. Before the season Tech looked like a team that could catapult itself into the top 3 in the Big 12. Now it looks like a squad facing a fight to go bowling.
Big (offensive) man on campus: West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett. Raise your hand if you had Trickett as the first Big 12 quarterback to eclipse 1,000 yards in 2014. He's been outstanding for the Mountaineers while leading the Big 12 in passing yards (1,224) and completion percentage (75.4). He's in the top 3 among FBS quarterbacks in both categories. He's the main reason WVU is emerging as the Big 12's surprise team after three games.
Fab freshman: Baylor receiver KD Cannon. The ESPN 300 receiver has no idea what it feels like to go into the halftime locker room without a touchdown catch. Cannon has made an amazing impact with an FBS-high 471 receiving yards in his first three games as a college receiver. The true freshman has 14 receptions, an average of 33.6 yards per catch, and five touchdowns. All-Big 12 receiver Antwan Goodley's biggest competition for the conference's most explosive receiver could be sitting alongside him in the receivers' room.
Newcomer to know: Oklahoma State athlete Tyreek Hill. The junior college transfer burst upon the scene with 278 all-purpose yards against Florida State as he buzzed around the turf in Arlington, Texas, while giving Seminoles defenders fits throughout the loss. His production has dropped significantly in OSU's last two games (24 touches for 154 yards) but it's clear the Cowboys are trying to save their top playmaker for their toughest games.
Best performance: It was the only Big 12 Conference game in the first three weeks but Kansas State doesn't escape Iowa State's upset bid without quarterback Jake Waters. Trailing 28-26 with 3:01 left, the senior led the Wildcats on a seven-play, 80-yard march to win the game. Waters accounted for 74 of KSU's 80 yards on the drive including an 8-yard touchdown run. KSU won 32-28.
Worst performance: Kansas laid an egg in its 41-3 loss to Duke last weekend. The Jayhawks opened the season with plenty of hope for a new and improved offense but, after gaining 457 yards in their season opener, KU took a clear step backward with 297 yards including 97 through the air against Duke. To make matters worse, the Jayhawks allowed Blue Devil freshman running back Shaun Wilson to rush for 245 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries. Back to the drawing board.
Dream dashed: It was disappointing to see Iowa State receiver Quenton Bundrage lost for the season with an ACL injury just minutes into the Cyclones' first game. The junior spent the offseason working on becoming more consistent and had the talent to be one of the Big 12's top receivers in 2014. Now he has to wait until next season with an eye on becoming the Big 12 comeback player of the year when he returns to the field in 2015.
Best stat: TCU has held opponents without a first down or touchdown on 60 percent of its drives. In two games, the Horned Frogs have defended 30 total drives and 18 of those drives have ended without a first down including seven of Minnesota's 15 drives last weekend. Gary Patterson's defense is one reason the Horned Frogs cannot be overlooked when Big 12 play reaches high gear next month.
Best quote: "I haven't talked to [kicker] Josh Lambert since he got on campus, and we are going to keep it that way. I know his name and who he is but other than that I'm doing the hands-off approach." -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen after Lambert's game-winning kick to beat Maryland 40-37 last weekend.
Team of the week: West Virginia. The Mountaineers paid regional rival Maryland back for last year’s 37-0 beating with a dramatic 40-37 victory on a game-winning field goal as time expired. Truthfully, the Terrapins were fortunate just to be in the game. West Virginia jumped to a 28-6 lead and could have routed the Terrapins had it not self-destructed several times on Maryland’s side of the field. Still, the Mountaineers once again moved the ball at will. Clint Trickett was dishing out dimes. Mario Alford and Kevin White were producing plays. And a certain field-goal kicker, who I’ll get to later, came through in the clutch.
Disappointment of the week: Texas Tech. Something I was thinking about over the weekend: Had it not been for the sparkling win over Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl, what would the perception of the Red Raiders be right now? Outside that Arizona State win, Tech hasn’t played a clean game since losing 38-30 at Oklahoma on Oct. 26 of last year. Meanwhile, Arkansas ran right at the Tech defense Saturday, and there was nothing the Red Raiders could do. The offense behind Davis Webb hasn’t been crisp enough to overcome all the deficiencies defensively. Given how difficult the back end of the schedule is again, the concern level in Lubbock should be high.
Big (offensive) men on campus: Trickett and White. If the season ended today, the three All-Big 12 receivers would be K.D. Cannon, Sterling Shepard and White, who is now second in the country (behind Cannon) in receiving. And if the season ended today, the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year would be Trickett, who threw for 511 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Maryland. The Trickett-to-White pass-catching combo has been nothing short of awesome so far this season.
Big (defensive) man on campus: Paul Dawson. TCU’s senior linebacker led the purple crushing of the Minnesota offense in a 30-7 win over the Gophers. Dawson finished with 15 tackles, including four for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Overall, the Horned Frogs forced five turnovers and limited Minnesota to just 268 yards of offense.
Play of the week (other than the Lambert and Netten field goals): Late in the second quarter with the game knotted at 3-3, Texas elected to go for it facing fourth-and-8 at the UCLA 38-yard line. And in the biggest play of his young career, quarterback Tyrone Swoopes rolled out and delivered a 33-yard strike to John Harris. Three plays later, Swoopes hit M.J. McFarland for a touchdown to give Texas a 10-3 lead and all the momentum heading into halftime.
Stat of the week: Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight has two 300-yard passing games in his career, and both have come against SEC opponents. Knight threw for 348 yards in last season's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, and he passed for 308 yards in Oklahoma’s 34-10 win Saturday over Tennessee.
Quote of the week: “I haven't talked to Josh Lambert since he got on campus, and we are going to keep it that way. I know his name and who he is, but other than that, I'm taking the hands-off approach.” -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, when asked what he said to Lambert before the game-winning kick. Holgorsen added he likes only special-teams coach Joe DeForest talking to his kicker.
1. TCU and West Virginia might finally be finding their stride in the Big 12: Being in the Big 12 has been rough on the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers. In their first two years in the league, each went 11-14 overall. But with impressive performances Saturday, both are showing signs they are finally turning the corner. The Mountaineers racked up 33 first downs and almost 700 yards in a 40-37 win over Maryland, which was able to stay in the game only through the grace of West Virginia's three turnovers in the red zone. TCU completely manhandled Minnesota and picked off Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner three times on the way to an easy 30-7 victory. The Horned Frogs appear to be formidable on defense again, and TCU’s new offensive scheme has been generating more points. Meanwhile, West Virginia might have the two most improved players in the entire conference in quarterback Clint Trickett, who is completing 75 percent of his passes, and wideout Kevin White, who already has 460 yards receiving. The Mountaineers and Horned Frogs still have to prove themselves in league play. But their performances through the nonconference suggest they'll give Big 12 foes a run for their money.
3. The league has some unshakable kickers: Two Big 12 kickers had the chance to produce winning field goals in the final seconds of their games. And both kickers delivered. First, Josh Lambert drilled a 47-yarder as time expired to give West Virginia a monumental victory over regional rival Maryland. Then, Iowa State’s Cole Netten connected on a 42-yard attempt with two seconds remaining to lift Iowa State to a 20-17 win over in-state rival Iowa. Netten actually misfired on his first try at the game-winner, but the Hawkeyes had called timeout first. Netten shook off that miss and came back and delivered in a moment he’ll remember awhile. Field goal kicking in the college game has become a lost art. But from Oklahoma’s Michael Hunnicutt to TCU’s Jaden Oberkrom, the Big 12 is loaded with talented place-kickers. In Lambert and Netten, the league has a couple of clutch ones, too.
4. Texas Tech’s run defense seems hopeless: Coach Kliff Kingsbury signed four junior college defensive linemen during the offseason to try to shore up what was the league’s worst run defense last fall. But in a disheartening 49-28 loss to Arkansas, the Red Raiders’ run defense looked worse than ever. The Razorbacks obliterated Tech in the trenches, rolling up 438 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. As a result, Arkansas dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for more than 40 of the game’s 60 minutes while keeping Tech QB Davis Webb on the sideline and out of rhythm. “They lined up and pounded us,” Kingsbury said. “We just didn’t have an answer.” The Red Raiders might not face a rushing attack like Arkansas’ until Oklahoma visits Lubbock in November. But it might not take a powerful rushing offense like Arkansas’ to exploit what has been a shaky Texas Tech defense that has yet to stop anybody through three games.
5. Texas still has some fight: There were few reasons to believe the Longhorns could hang around with UCLA after their dismal performance last week against BYU. But behind an inspired effort from sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, Texas had UCLA on the ropes until backup QB Jerry Neuheisel tossed a 33-yard go-ahead touchdown with three minutes remaining. The Longhorns lost the game 20-17 and still have various issues, such as getting the coin toss right. But this was a performance they can build off. Although he couldn’t lead them on a game-winning drive, Swoopes was solid in his second career start, completing 24 of 34 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. And unlike last week, the Longhorns didn’t lie down when things didn’t go their way. After a disastrous start in 2013, Texas bounced back to have a decent season. This team showed on Saturday it could do the same.
How the league fares in those seven games against Power 5 conference opponents will be the major storyline today in the Big 12:
West Virginia at Maryland, noon ET (Big Ten Network): The Terrapins slaughtered West Virginia 37-0 last season. The Mountaineers, however, didn’t have quarterback Clint Trickett in that game. Trickett ranks fourth nationally with a 75.3 completion percentage, and his favorite target, Kevin White, is tied for fourth in the country with 19 receptions.
Arkansas at Texas Tech, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC): After starting fast last year, the Red Raiders are off to a sluggish beginning in Kliff Kingsbury’s second season. Only Oregon State has committed more penalties than the Red Raiders, who have 25 through two games. These two old Southwest Conference foes have met 35 times, but haven’t played since 1991.
Kansas at Duke, 3:30 p.m. ET (ACC Regional Sports Network): Kansas hasn’t won a road game since beating UTEP in El Paso the second week of the 2009 season. The Jayhawks’ 34 points last week, however, tied the highest scoring total of the Charlie Weis era, and their 6.3 yards per play against Southeast Missouri State was the program’s best game average in three years.
Minnesota at TCU, 4 p.m. ET (FS1): The Gophers are one of the only Big Ten teams off to a positive start, but injuries have piled up. Minnesota is hopeful quarterback Mitch Leidner will be able to go after injuring his knee against Middle Tennessee last weekend.
UTSA at Oklahoma State, 7 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Regional): Quarterback Daxx Garman is expected to make his first career start after taking his first competitive snap in five years during last week’s win over Missouri State. The Roadrunners are still looking for the program’s first win over a Power 5 conference opponent.
Texas vs. No. 12 UCLA (Arlington, Texas), 8 p.m. ET (FOX): The Longhorns were woeful on both sides of the ball in a 41-7 loss to BYU last weekend, and this doesn’t have the look of a favorable matchup. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Texas has allowed the fourth-most rushing yards (777) in the FBS to opposing QBs since the start of last season. Excluding sacks, UCLA’s Brett Hundley has run for the sixth-most yards by a quarterback (1,057) during the same span.
Tennessee at No. 4 Oklahoma, 8 p.m. ET (ABC): This is the first regular-season matchup between these teams, which are in the top 10 in the FBS in all-time wins. Recent history, however, favors the Sooners. Bob Stoops is 88-5 at home with Oklahoma, while Tennessee hasn’t won three games to begin a season since 2004.
@Jake_Trotter: You're referencing an NFL.com report this week that suggested Bob Stoops would be a hot commodity for NFL coaching jobs after the season. Anything is possible. But my thinking is that if Stoops wanted to leave, he would have been gone already. Over the years, he has resisted overtures from the Cleveland Browns, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Florida (twice) and the Denver Broncos. If he's turning those kind of jobs down, what job out there would he take? The Dallas Cowboys? Maybe. But my money would be on Stoops retiring as the coach at Oklahoma.
@Jake_Trotter where does the Big 12 rank in the Power 5? How can they move up?— Wade Howard (@jwadehoward) September 12, 2014
Trotter: I would place the Big 12 behind the SEC and Pac-12. But a strong case could be made for the league as the third-best conference, especially with a successful weekend that includes games against seven Power 5 conference opponents.
@Jake_Trotter Rank the three RBs at OU at this point. I know it's early but Pat Jones ranked them Ford, Perine, and Ross.— Sam Philbeck (@SamPhilbeck25) September 12, 2014
@Jake_Trotter How many conference wins does Charlie Strong need to calm the fan base?— Johnny (@johnny_323) September 12, 2014
Trotter: I'm not sure he's going to be able to do anything this season to completely calm the fan base. After all the injuries, suspensions and dismissals, this roster has been completely ravaged. I think Texas is staring down the barrel of a 2-4 start, which, before the season, would have seemed like a worst-case scenario. I will be interested to see, though, if Texas can make improvement over the second half of the season. That would bode well for 2015, which is when the pressure will begin to mount on Strong and his staff.
@Jake_Trotter Will Texas be a top 10 program in 3 years?— Sean Delmonaco (@Hockey_Chi) September 12, 2014
Trotter: At blue-chip programs like Texas, the switch can flip quickly. Oklahoma was in worse shape in 1998 than Texas is now. And the Sooners won a national title two years later. The Longhorns could be a top-10 team as soon as next season. But first, they're going to have to find an answer at quarterback, which has plagued this program since Colt McCoy was behind center.
@Jake_Trotter is TCU ranked with a convincing win tomorrow?— Chip Hanna (@chiphanna) September 12, 2014
Trotter: Probably not. It's not like Minnesota is Michigan State. And there are too many other teams ahead in the polls. But a win would definitely snag the Frogs more votes.
@Jake_Trotter If TCU beats Minnesota, how does that change their perception going forward?— DCinAZ (@DCinAZ) September 12, 2014
Trotter: When did Minnesota become the bastion of college football? This would be a very solid win for TCU. But the Gophers were picked in the preseason to finish fifth in the Big Ten West.
@Jake_Trotter what can we do to get BYU in the big 12?— Martin borg (@Martyaborg) September 12, 2014
Trotter: Write a letter to your affiliated Big 12 athletic director and president. Because right now, none of them have given any indication they are interested in expansion.
@Jake_Trotter is the Big 12 being stubborn to not expand?— Creek (@alancreekmore) September 12, 2014
Trotter: Oh, maybe a little. But you have to remember, this was a league that teetered on the edge of extinction for a couple of years. The Big 12 is enjoying this newfound stability as well as the money it's raking in with these new TV contracts. What is the motivation for them to expand?
@Jake_Trotter does Rudolph lose his redshirt now that Walsh is out— Gerald Tracy III (@GeraldTracyCRFF) September 12, 2014
Trotter: Assuming that J.W. Walsh is out for the year -- and I've been told that he is -- I think they have to. The Cowboys don't want to be in a situation where Daxx Garman gets injured, and they have to bring in Mason Rudolph in a critical moment with him having zero college experience. Plus, playing Rudolph will give them a chance to determine whether he might be the quarterback of the future. They could always come back and redshirt him next season when Walsh returns to the fray.
@Jake_Trotter Does WVU finally make their way back to the polls for the first time since 2012 with a win against Maryland tomorrow?— Country Roads (@CountryRoads2) September 12, 2014
Trotter: This would be a huge win for the Mountaineers. But I don't think it would be enough to push them into the Top 25. A win against Oklahoma the following week would do it.
@Jake_Trotter any solution in sight for Tech's rather porous defense?— Andy Dobbins (@adobbins29) September 12, 2014
Trotter: I like Matt Wallerstedt's ploy of using more players. If you are lacking in standouts, at least keep the players you do have fresh for the fourth quarter when stops are at a premium. Personnel wise, the Red Raiders need their JUCO additions to start making bigger impacts. That would give the defense a boost.
@Jake_Trotter odds the Big 12 this weekend takes a beating the way the B1G did last weekend?— Kalman K. (@KalmanKreit) September 12, 2014
Trotter: It's possible. Oklahoma losing to Tennessee would really be the only stunner. Maryland, Minnesota, UCLA, Arkansas, UTSA, Duke, Iowa are all more than capable of defeating their Big 12 counterparts..
Here's a closer look at the Big 12's leading receivers in several key stats, with the help of ESPN Stats and Information.
- Kevin White, West Virginia, 26
- Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech, 21
- John Harris, Texas, 20
- Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma, 19
- (Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech, 18
It’s clear White has developed a high level of trust with quarterback Clint Trickett and the Mountaineers are trying to get the ball in the hands of the 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior. … Texas’ John Harris is the surprise name on the list as he has emerged as a go-to target in a struggling Longhorns attack. … As Iowa State searches for someone to replace Quenton Bundrage, no Cyclone has double-digit targets through two games.
Yards per target
- Kolby Listenbee, TCU, 32.6
- Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State, 20.8
- Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma, 16.7
- KD Cannon, Baylor, 15.4
- Nick Harwell, Kansas, 14.9
TCU has only played one game, but it would be a surprise if Listenbee is not a major part of the offense. He proved to be a legitimate deep threat in the Horned Frogs' season opener two weeks ago, and that skill will make quarterback Trevone Boykin and his dynamic running ability even more lethal. … Shepard’s appearance on this list shows the Sooners plan to use him to keep defenses honest while they attempt to establish a physical running game.
Yards after catch
- Kevin White, West Virginia, 147
- Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech, 103
- Brandon Sheperd, Oklahoma State, 98
- Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma, 92
- Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech, 87
White is starting to fulfill the hype that accompanied him when he arrived as a junior college transfer before the 2013 season. He combines terrific size with run-after-catch ability. He’ll be in the mix for All-Big 12 honors if he remains consistent. … Seeing Marquez, not Grant, lead the Red Raiders in yards after the catch is a surprise, but it shows his versatility and overall importance to Tech’s passing game.
- Davion Hall, Baylor, 6
- Kevin White, West Virginia, 4
- John Harris, Texas, 4
- Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech, 4
- Five receivers tied with 3
Hall has a high third-down reception rate but only three of his six receptions have resulted in first down conversions. The Bears have made a point to get him the ball in space, with 7 of his 11 receptions coming within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. … It’s early, but Harris, White and Marquez appear to have separated themselves as go-to receivers in their offenses.
Percentage of receptions for a first down or touchdown
- Nick Harwell, Kansas, 100 percent
- Kolby Listenbee, TCU, 100 percent
- Ja'Juan Story, TCU, 100 percent
- KD Cannon, Baylor, 87.5 percent
- Tyler Lockett, Kansas State, 85.7 percent
Harwell was solid in his first game as a Jayhawk with four receptions for 46 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll be a major part of KU’s offense. … Listenbee and Story have five receptions combined so it remains to be seen if their ability to make key plays continues throughout the season. … Lockett should be a staple on this list with his ability to change games each time he touches the ball.
Gabriel Rivera, affectionately called Señor Sack, was a tackling machine in the middle of the early 1980s Texas Tech defense.
Saturday against an old Southwest Conference foe, the Red Raiders will need to channel the doggedness of their former Southwest Conference Player of the Year.
Tech might be the ones donning throwback uniforms, but the Razorbacks will be bringing a throwback offense with them to Lubbock. Arkansas is ranked 12th in the country averaging 324.5 yards per came. And the Hogs have made no secret they'll be going right at Tech's defensive line, which was once a strength when Rivera roamed the middle, but has been a weakness in recent years.
"Hopefully, we'll play hard, and that's all you can really answer to that," said Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. "They've been moving bodies. You watch them up front against Auburn, against Nicholls State and they're tough. Those running backs do a great job finishing runs. So we'll have to play hard, be physical, and be very gap sound."
Kingsbury signed four junior-college defensive linemen during the offseason to try and shore up what was one of the worst run defenses in the country. But so far, it's been more of the same. Central Arkansas ground out 178 rushing yards while giving Tech a scare in its opener. Then last weekend in El Paso, UTEP running back Aaron Jones gashed the Red Raiders for 147 rushing yards and two touchdowns, as the Miners nearly pulled off the upset.
"UTEP came out -- we knew exactly what they were going to do -- it all came down to stopping the run," said linebacker Kenny Williams. "They ran the ball all game."
Arkansas will attempt to do the same.
The Razorbacks will lean on the one-two punch of sophomore Alex Collins and junior Jonathan Williams, who have combined to rush for 385 yards and five touchdowns.
"We've really got to prepare ourselves mentally to get into a dog fight," Kenny Williams said. "We know what these guys are going to do. They're going to come in and try to run the ball all game and really it comes down to man versus man."
That won't be easy for the Red Raiders, who could be down a couple of men going in, or at least will have a couple of men up front at less than 100 percent. Nose guard Rika Levi has been out with a knee injury while fellow nose guard Jackson Richards has been nursing a bum ankle.
To counter against Arkansas' size and avoid getting worn down, the Red Raiders could rotate in as many as 10 players along the defensive line. Defensive end Branden Jackson is the only one, though, that played a substantial role up front last season.
"They'll have to grow up fast." Kingsbury said of his young D-line. "This will be a big step up in competition."
The Red Raiders might not have a playmaker like Rivera up front. But they hope with him watching on, they can grow up in a big game and plug the run in Lubbock like he once did.
After a quiet week, the Big 12 is expected to have a monster week with top recruits spread throughout Texas and Oklahoma. September was expected to be a big month for recruiting within the conference, and it can jump start during or immediately after the weekend games.
Look for these three games to draw players:
Tennessee at Oklahoma
- The game between Texas Tech and Arkansas is a great contrast in styles, writes Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News. The Red Raiders love up n tempo offense and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema does not. With all the talk about how the offenses match up with the defenses, I have a feeling this game is going to be decided by a big special teams play or turnover.
- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen insists he has a different team with more experience and a higher confidence level heading into its rematch with Maryland, reports Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail. WVU is averaging 38.5 points, 499.5 yards, and 6.1 yards per play after two games in 2014. In 2013, WVU averaged 15.5 points, 398 yards, and 5.9 yards per play after two games.
- Iowa State is turning up the pressure on defense, writes Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune. Cyclones defensive coordinator Wally Burnham recognized the need for change after ISU's season-opening loss and it paid off with a much better performance against Kansas State last weekend. It will be interesting to see if ISU is able to continue making the blitz a staple in its defensive game plan. With some of the explosive offenses in the Big 12, it might be easy to return to a safe approach if the Cyclones get burned later on this season.
- Here's a interesting story from Rustin Dodd of the Wichita Eagle. If you ever meet JaCorey Shepherd ask him how Tank is doing It's always good to see positive stories about college football players going out of their way to make a positive impact on the world. All of us, young or old, can learn from guys like Shepherd.
- I'd be lying if I said I don't expect Baylor to cruise to a comfortable win over Buffalo tonight. But the Bulls have taken an interesting approach to preparing for the Bears' offense including having receivers begin plays with a running start, according to this story from Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News.
Coming off its Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, Oklahoma will try to strike another blow for the Big 12 against the SEC when it welcomes Tennessee to Norman. Texas Tech will play host to another Big 12-SEC matchup in a meeting with old Southwest Conference rival Arkansas.
The Big 12 will also be pitted against the Big Ten in three separate games. West Virginia travels to new Big Ten member Maryland, Iowa State goes to instate rival Iowa, and TCU will play Minnesota in just the second ever meeting between the two programs.
Kansas will test its revamped offense at defending ACC Coastal Division champion Duke. And Texas will take on one of the preseason favorites to win the Pac-12 in UCLA.
With so many losable games, Saturday could be a disaster for the Big 12, as it was for the Big Ten last weekend, when Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan all fell in marquee matchups.
On the other hand, Saturday is an opportunity for the Big 12 to deliver another statement about its legitimacy in the playoff era.
But how will the league fare? We put the question to you in our weekly Big 12 poll.
Why Oklahoma will win: The Sooners have a decisive advantage in the trenches, highlighted by a powerful running game and a swarming defensive front seven. Bob Stoops is also 88-5 at home and will be looking to send another message to his friends in the SEC. Oklahoma 44, Tennessee 16 – Jake Trotter
Why Tennessee will keep it close: The Vols appear to be on the upswing under Butch Jones' better recruiting. UT has several receivers with size (four receivers 6-foot-3 or taller) and could try to test the coverage ability of OU's secondary. If the Vols are able to force mental mistakes from Trevor Knight, all bets are off. Oklahoma 35, Tennessee 21
– Brandon Chatmon
Why UCLA will win: Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes actually played alright in his first career start last week -- and Texas still couldn't score. With the offensive line and receiving corps completely decimated, the Longhorns have what amounts to a popgun offense. UCLA counters with quarterback Brett Hundley, who entered the season on the short list of Heisman contenders. UCLA 28, Texas 9 – Trotter
Why Texas will keep it close: Defense. Until Swoopes and a patchwork offensive line get some momentum, Texas' defense will have to win the day. They'll get pressure on Hundley, but they'll need turnovers. The Longhorns played three quarters of solid defense against BYU. If they can wreak havoc for four, this game could be close late. UCLA 27, Texas 17
Upset special: The Cyclones showed it is too early to write them off during a close loss to Kansas State. Meanwhile, Iowa hasn't looked like an elite team during its first two games. There were times the Cyclones were dominating K-State, and ISU could carry that momentum into a win over its rival. Iowa State 31, Iowa 27 – Chatmon
MORE UNANIMOUS PICKS
Baylor over Buffalo 56-20: Buffalo is going to black out its stadium, but the Bears will light it up in Bryce Petty's return. — Chatmon
West Virginia over Maryland 28-26: The Terrapins hammered the Mountaineers 37-0 last season, but this is a completely different West Virginia team manned by a completely different quarterback in Clint Trickett, who is completing 75 percent of his passes. – Trotter
Texas Tech over Arkansas 38-24: Tech cleans up its penalty problems, and Davis Webb picks apart a D that gave up nearly 600 yards against Auburn. – Olson
Duke over Kansas 38-24: Kansas looked good in the first 45 minutes of its win over Southeast Missouri, but Duke quarterback Anthony Boone will prove simply too much for the Jayhawks. — Chatmon
TCU over Minnesota 17-13: A close game finally goes the Horned Frogs' way. Minnesota's uncertain QB situation is the difference-maker, and TCU's underappreciated defense steps up. – Olson
Oklahoma State over UTSA 42-24: Having a full week to tailor the offense around the arm of quarterback Daxx Garman should do wonders for the Oklahoma State offense. – Trotter
With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, here’s a closer look at Big 12 rushing leaders in several categories and what it means for the future.
1. Baylor 526
2. Kansas State 472
3. Oklahoma 444
For the second straight season, Baylor sits atop the league in rushing yards. The Bears haven’t been tested in easy wins over SMU and Northwestern (La.) State but their unyielding commitment to the running game doesn’t look like it is going to change anytime soon. Expect all three teams to remain among the Big 12 rushing leaders as the season progresses. Notable: Texas Tech is fourth at 410 rushing yards per game.
Yards per carry
1. Texas Tech 6.4
2. Oklahoma 6.3
3. Kansas 5.3
It’s a bit of a surprise to see the Red Raiders atop the conference in yards per carry which was boosted by Tech's 28 rushes for 226 yards against UTEP last weekend. True freshman Justin Stockton is at the core of his team’s success with 14 carries for 173 yards (12.4 ypc) and two touchdowns. OU has a trio of running backs (Keith Ford, Alex Ross and Samaje Perine) to thank for its strong yards per carry numbers. Notable: West Virginia is averaging 3.67 yards per carry despite having a bevy of talented running backs.
Rushing yards before contact
1. Baylor 348
2. Texas Tech 304
3. Kansas State 286
It seems like BU has done a solid job replacing All-Big 12 guard Cyril Richardson along its offensive front with the Bears running backs gaining over half their yardage before contact. Center Kyle Fuller and guard Blake Muir have slid into the starting offensive line with relative ease but it remains to be seen how well they can hold up as the level of competition increases. A combination of scheme and solid line play means plenty of open space for BU running backs. Notable: Despite playing two games, Iowa State (59) is the only Big 12 team that hasn’t gained at least 100 rushing yards before contact. TCU (101) and Kansas (155) each eclipsed that mark in their lone game thus far.
Rushing yards after contact
1. Oklahoma 231
2. Oklahoma State 190
3. Kansas State 186
Bob Stoops and OU’s coaching staff have praised the physical running style of Ford, Ross and Perine so it’s no surprise to see the Sooners atop the conference in yards after contact. OU entered the season with uncertainty at running back but all three backs appear to be quality options. Notable: Tech leads the Big 12 with 6.4 yards per carry but is recording just 1.8 yards after contact per carry (116 total yards after contact).
Percentage of runs for negative or zero yards
1. Baylor 11 percent
2. Oklahoma 11.3 percent
3. TCU 15.2 percent
The Bears were second in the Big 12 in this category at 19.3 percent in 2013. Limiting negative yards is an overlooked key to great offense. Seeing BU and OU atop the conference is no surprise but TCU at No. 3 is a surprise. The Horned Frogs have played one game with their new offense so it will be something to keep an eye on in the future. Notable: Texas has seen 29.3 percent of its rushes result in zero or negative yardage in its first two games. That speaks volumes about the slow start of the Charlie Strong era in Austin, Texas.
On to the mailbag:
Brandon Chatmon: This sits among the top-5 questions I didn’t expect to find in the mailbag. The Sooners have gotten plenty of love.
Chatmon: I’m right there with you. That’s why WVU jumped Oklahoma State in our bowl projections. The Mountaineers still have a ways to go, but I like what I’m seeing thus far.
Chatmon: True freshman running back Justin Stockton looks like a star. ... Outside of that, um, Kliff Kingsbury has some work to do. But Tech is still 2-0 and a strong performance in a win over Arkansas on Saturday would erase some of the concerns that emerged in the first two games.
Chatmon: I see no reason Bundrage, Iowa State's standout receiver, wouldn’t be eligible for a medical redshirt. I've seen other guys play a lot more before their injury and be granted a medical hardship.
Chatmon: Good question, Tyler. I think it would all come down to the quarterbacks, Jameis Winston and Trevor Knight. Winston has proven to be clutch -- and a proven championship quarterback --so I’d probably give Florida State the slight edge, based on the fact their players have done it before. I think it would be similar to last year's national title game with FSU pulling out the win late in the game. It’s a game I’d love to watch.
Chatmon: Yes. And even if WVU doesn’t win against Maryland that visit to Morgantown, West Virginia is looking like a stern test for Bob Stoops' squad. Oklahoma has been as impressive as any team in the nation during the first two weeks of the season, but the Mountaineers have lost two games by a 10 combined points to the Sooners since they joined the Big 12 in 2012. WVU has the talent to beat OU, and they aren't scared of anyone.
Chatmon: I’m not sure, but I think I saw Art Briles polishing his Big 12 championship ring during the second half the other day though.
Chatmon: Not really. I’ve always felt K-State would end up third behind Oklahoma and Baylor. Nothing has really changed for me with regards to the Wildcats. Waters and Tyler Lockett are the main reason I felt the Wildcats would find themselves near the top of the Big 12 heading into the season.
Chatmon: I think Jerrod Heard is the future for Texas offense. And if he’s not quite ready, UT should start getting him ready, no matter what it takes. I get that Tyrone Swoopes wasn’t the problem against BYU so the quarterback position shouldn’t be the No. 1 priority, but that doesn’t change the fact I think Heard will end up being the better long-term option under center. As far as Shipley, I'd only try that if Texas can figure out a way he can throw it to himself.
Chatmon: I’m on the train for adding BYU (eventually) but the plan to add NDSU knocks me off your bandwagon. And even BYU doesn’t change my belief that the Big 12 won’t -- nor needs to -- expand anytime soon. Why add more mouths to feed if you aren’t significantly increasing the overall meal?
Chatmon: Paul Rhoads’ history makes me think we’ll see Iowa State’s pride showing up more often than not this fall. The two losses aren’t what the Cyclones wanted, but I’ve never watched a Rhoads team and felt like they quit. Pride seems to be a staple of his teams, and I don’t think that will change. I still have questions about their bowl chances, but I feel a lot better about those chances today than I did at this time last week.
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final West Virginia 40 Maryland 37 Final Kansas 3 Duke 41 Final Arkansas 49 Texas Tech 28 Final Iowa State 20 Iowa 17 Final Minnesota 7 TCU 30 Final UTSA 13 Oklahoma State 43 Final Tennessee 10 4 Oklahoma 34 Final 12 UCLA 20 Texas 17