Big 12: 2011-midseason-team-reports

Midseason review: Baylor

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
10:30
AM ET
BAYLOR BEARS

Record: 4-1 (1-1 Big 12)

The Bears' season began with a bang and an upset. Alone on college football's Friday night stage during the opening weekend, Baylor won a 50-48 thriller over TCU with a pair of comebacks and set the tone for its entire season. Baylor would be taken seriously. It has. That game helped make Robert Griffin III an ESPN "College GameDay" mainstay and the same for the Bears in the Top 25. The season's lone loss came on a fluky interception, Griffin's only pick of the season, that set up a game-winning field goal for Kansas State. The Wildcats won that game by a point and have slipped inside the top 20 since as one of three undefeated Big 12 teams remaining.

Phil Bennett's defense hasn't been outstanding, but it's been improving. The Bears have benefited while the offense has been better than ever. Baylor looks headed for an encore to its bowl game from last season, but the major question now is whether the Bears can top last season's seven-win campaign. The defense will still have to progress, but it isn't short on athletes. Tevin Elliott, Elliot Coffey and Ahmad Dixon have emerged as playmakers, and the future looks bright for the program.

Offensive MVP: Robert Griffin III, QB. Griffin is the Big 12's best offensive player through the first half of the season. RG3 has not only been slinging it, but slinging it with precision. He leads the nation in completion percentage (80.4) and touchdown passes (19) and looks headed for a career year that has him in the Heisman hunt. He's shattering the perception that he's a scrambler, but on Saturday Griffin recorded his first 100-yard rushing game of the season, and he has 280 yards rushing overall this year. Find me something he can't do better than almost any QB in the game.

Defensive MVP: Elliot Coffey, LB. The Bears' defense lacks a big-time standout, but it's getting contributions from a lot of places, and Coffey is the unit's leader. Coffey has made 33 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss and has broken up three passes.

Midseason review: Iowa State

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
10:00
AM ET
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Record: 3-2 (0-2 Big 12)

Iowa State's season began with drama and a dream. Three fourth-quarter comebacks and an overtime win over rival Iowa had the Cyclones undefeated and 3-0 riding a fantastically named quarterback in Steele Jantz and an improving group of skill position players. A pair of 23-point losses to Texas and Baylor have followed, but Iowa State is still in the hunt for a bowl game -- its second in three years under Paul Rhoads. But it's going to be tough with a nine-game conference schedule and dates with four ranked teams ahead. Linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott have continued their excellence, and any path to a bowl game likely will require a win at Missouri on Saturday and wins at Texas Tech and Kansas to follow.

Or does Rhoads have another shocking upset up his sleeve to help the Cyclones sneak into the postseason?

Shontrelle Johnson had high hopes before the season, but he's been banged up. RB James White has emerged and played well, as has WR Darius Reynolds, who has six touchdowns and 488 yards receiving.

Offensive MVP: Steele Jantz, QB. I nearly gave this to Reynolds, but I'll go with the early-season playmaker who is still learning to take care of the ball. He's shown the ability to make plays with the game on the line, and he rallied his team back for three wins early in the season. He's also proven to be one of the most mentally tough passers in the league. On the road against UConn, he threw interceptions on three of his first four passes, but came back and got the win. There aren many passers who can't do that. He's thrown for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns with eight interceptions, while also running for 148 yards and two more scores.

Defensive MVP: Jake Knott, LB. The Cyclones' "tough nut" is back and excelling as expected. His 59 tackles are 13 more than any player in the Big 12, and he's making his case as the Big 12's top defender. He ranks 13th nationally in tackles after his 18-tackle day against Baylor, and he has 3.5 tackles for loss and has forced a fumble.

Midseason review: Kansas

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
9:30
AM ET
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Record: 2-3 (0-2 Big 12)

Kansas is one of two Big 12 teams with a losing record, but through the first half of the season, the Jayhawks have been by far the league's worst team. The year started with promise, highlighted by a 45-42 comeback win over Northern Illinois, but since, the season has been three consecutive disappointments.

Take your pick on which was worse: Losing a 20-0 first quarter lead to Texas Tech? Giving up 35 points in the first quarter against Oklahoma State, who rested its starters five minutes before halftime even arrived in a 70-28 beatdown? Or letting Georgia Tech rack up a handful of school records and getting immortalized on a T-shirt after a 66-24 loss?

Kansas has been much more solid offensively, but defensively, there's not much reason for hope as the schedule only gets more difficult this season. The Jayhawks rank dead last in scoring defense by more than six points per game (49.4), and rank last in total defense by 34 yards per game (556 yards). Simply put, a much-improved offense has no chance to help the team see improvement from last year's three-win campaign with the defense playing like that.

With that, Turner Gill has heard plenty of voices in Lawrence wondering how long he can continue without seeing more improvement.

Offensive MVP: Jordan Webb, QB. We heard the talk all summer about an improved Webb who had seized control of the starting job in Lawrence. Webb is proving them right. He was part of a three-man revolving door at quarterback last season, but this year, he's been the man for the Jayhawks. He's completing 68 percent of his passes for 1,130 yards, 11 touchdowns and just five picks. Last year, he had just seven touchdown passes and 1,195 yards.

Defensive MVP: Steven Johnson, LB. The Jayhawks defense has struggled mightily, but Johnson is putting up a nice effort. He's second in the Big 12 with 46 tackles, and the former walk-on is making the most of his opportunity. He's made four tackles for loss and forced a fumble.

Midseason review: Kansas State

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
9:00
AM ET
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Record: 5-0 (2-0 Big 12)

Kansas State has earned the title of the Big 12's most surprising team through its first half, and like Oklahoma State in 2010, is all alone in collecting the honor. It's happened via a disciplined defense that's exponentially faster than it was a year ago, buoyed by newcomers Arthur Brown at linebacker and cornerback Nigel Malone. Additionally, the development of junior college transfer David Garrett and sophomore Ty Zimmerman, as well as converted safety Emmanuel Lamur playing linebacker alongside Brown, has completely changed the face of Kansas State's team.

The season started modestly, with a 10-7 win over Eastern Kentucky, but the Wildcats have racked up wins against Miami, Baylor and Missouri since. Collin Klein is carrying the team on his back, leading the Big 12 in carries. All the focus entering the season was on the Brown brothers, and while Arthur has blossomed into a star and one of the league's top talents, Bryce Brown's status with the team is tenuous at best as he deals with a personal situation. It hasn't mattered on the field for the rest of the team. John Hubert has assumed the role of featured back and served the team well.

All that stands between K-State and one of the biggest games in school history, when they Oklahoma in two weeks, are trips to Texas Tech and Kansas. The second half of the season will be much dicier as the meat of the schedule hits. So far though Kansas State has been as good as anyone could have expected, and as a result, it has ascended to just outside the top 15.

Offensive MVP: Collin Klein, QB. Klein's passes aren't pretty, but he's getting it done for the 'Cats and taking a beating along the way. He's leading the Big 12 in carries with 115. There are eight running backs on the carries list before another quarterback. Klein's rushed for 468 yards and seven touchdowns, and thrown for 593 yards while completing 57 percent of his passes.

Defensive MVP: Arthur Brown, LB. Brown has a legit case as the Big 12's best defensive player through the first half of the season. The linebacker's been flying around and ranks fifth in the Big 12 with 38 tackles, with 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He also came up with the biggest play of the year, intercepting Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III (the only player to score a pick off of Griffin) that helped set up the game-winning field goal that kept K-State undefeated.

Midseason review: Missouri

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
8:30
AM ET
MISSOURI TIGERS

Record: 2-3 (0-2 Big 12)

Missouri's tough early-season schedule has taken its toll, causing the Tigers to fall out of the polls, to the bottom of the Big 12 standings and underneath .500 for the first time since 2004. The offense has been solid and the transition from Blaine Gabbert to James Franklin has been about as good as could realistically been expected. A late comeback bid and a game-winning kick went wayward in an overtime loss at Arizona State. Then Missouri failed to end the nation's longest home winning streak at Oklahoma before getting out-schemed by Bill Snyder in Manhattan.

So, here the Tigers sit. Disappointed, but yet underrated by virtue of their unimpressive record. The schedule softens now, with Iowa State next week and three games at home or a neutral site to close the season against Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas. In between? It could get bumpy with Oklahoma State and Texas A&M still queued up. Games like Arizona State and Manhattan aren't easy, but if you don't want to take a step back as a program after a 10-win season in 2010, they're games that have to be won. They weren't.

The defense hasn't been as good as advertised after a strong year last year and the defensive line has lacked the disruptiveness that was a hallmark of the 2010 team. There's still plenty of time to salvage the season for the Tigers, but the Big 12 title darkhorses look like they won't be a factor this year.

Offensive MVP: James Franklin, QB. Apologies to Henry Josey here, but Franklin has been really, really good and really, really vital to the offense. His 83 carries are 28 more than any other player on the team, and he's turned them into 306 yards and a team-high five touchdowns. He's also thrown the ball 161 times, completing just under 60 percent of his passes for just under 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns. Those 244 touches mean on 67 percent of Missouri's 364 plays this season, Franklin has been the man they've counted on. Missouri's only sixth in the Big 12 in total offense, but that's 16th nationally against a really tough schedule. Not bad for a first-year starter.

Defensive MVP: Andrew Wilson, LB. Wilson, a sophomore, lacked the hype of the more-athletic Zaviar Gooden, but he's been a huge playmaker early on this season. He leads the team with 38 tackles (24 solo) and has four tackles for loss. The 230-pounder from outside Kansas City was named the team's most improved player in the spring, and is carrying that improvement into the season. The Tiger D has benefited.

Midseason report: Oklahoma

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
8:00
AM ET
Oklahoma Sooners

Record: 5-0 (2-0 Big 12)

Oklahoma entered 2011 as national title contenders and the prohibitive favorite for the crown. So far, the Sooners have been as advertised, even if their ranking has suffered. Tougher early schedules and impressive showings have pushed LSU and Alabama ahead of Oklahoma in the AP Poll, but the Sooners earned some early-season respect with a win against Florida State on a rowdy night in Tallahassee, and injured FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel in the process. The Sooners erased an early 14-3 deficit to Missouri and beat the Tigers by double digits two weeks before a showdown with Texas on Saturday.

That game went exactly as Oklahoma would have liked, and the Sooners showed off their best performance of the season. Much to the delight of the rest of the Big 12, Oklahoma exposed an overmatched Texas team and rolled to a 55-17 win in the Cotton Bowl, handing Mack Brown his third-worst loss at Texas.

The reigning Big 12 champions still have to host Texas A&M and travel to Kansas State and Baylor, but the real major attraction of the season's second half may come down to a possible national semifinal in Stillwater against Oklahoma State. It would be a rematch of last season's 47-41 Oklahoma win with the Big 12 South title on the line. This time, a trip to the national title game may be at stake. Will the Sooners take care of business? History suggests yes.

Offensive MVP: Landry Jones, QB. Jones has continued his development this season with a fantastic start. He's distributing the ball to a deep receiving corps and has 1,815 yards with 13 touchdowns to five picks. He's fifth nationally and second in the Big 12 in passing, and while quarterbacking the Sooners, has himself in the Heisman conversation.

Defensive MVP: Frank Alexander, DE. Alexander has a case as the Big 12's best defender through the season's first half. He's been a big playmaker, disruptive and blossoming into the player Oklahoma hoped he'd become early in his career. He already has 5.5 sacks (second in the Big 12), 7.5 tackles for loss and has broken up four passes. He's got 28 tackles and even picked off a pass against Tulsa, returning it 27 yards. He forced a second-half fumble against Texas that was returned for a touchdown, too.

Midseason review: Oklahoma State

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
7:30
AM ET
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Record: 5-0 (2-0 Big 12)

The trajectory of Oklahoma State's entire season swung in 30 minutes. Down 20-3 at Kyle Field, Oklahoma State looked headed for the bleachers to watch Texas A&M and Oklahoma decide the Big 12 title later this season. The offense rallied, though, taking the lead before the fourth quarter even began, prompting OSU fans everywhere to say, "Dana who?" The loss of offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen was a major question mark entering the season, but it's become an afterthought as the offensive line has kept Brandon Weeden's ever-changing, brand-new jersey clean. The Cowboys rank second nationally in total offense while leading the nation in scoring offense after a 70-point day against Kansas that featured 35 first-quarter points in under nine minutes. Joseph Randle has emerged as a big-time running back, and though the defense ranks outside the national top 100, if there's a team in the country that can outscore anyone, it's these guys. OSU should be favored in every game the rest of this season until what looks like a near toss-up at season's end against Oklahoma. Both teams could be undefeated and it could serve as a national semifinal between two undefeated, top 3 teams for a spot in the national title game, in lieu of the defunct Big 12 title game.

Offensive MVP: Brandon Weeden, QB. Justin Blackmon's physical skills are clear, but the Cowboys have showed off their depth at receiver throughout the season, and Weeden's been the guy making it happen. Through five games, nine players have at least 100 yards receiving and five players have at least 15 catches. Weeden is completing just under 76 percent of his passes and his 1,880 yards lead the Big 12 and are fourth-most nationally. He's also thrown 15 touchdowns. He was at his best when it counted most and the Cowboys were down, too.

Defensive MVP: The defensive ends. No big standouts for the Cowboys, though safeties Daytawion Lowe and Markelle Martin have been solid, despite losing Johnny Thomas for the season with an eligibility issue. But ends Richetti Jones and Jamie Blatnick have been solid, along with linebacker Shaun Lewis. You really could give this to any of those groups. Jones and Blatnick have been consistently disruptive and combined for five sacks.

Midseason review: Texas

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
7:00
AM ET
Texas Longhorns

Record: 4-1 (1-1 Big 12)

The season was looking up for the Longhorns, who started to find an identity (albeit one with two heads at quarterback) after a comeback win over BYU that featured the end of the Garrett Gilbert Era in Austin. With David Ash and Case McCoy at the helm, Texas went on the road and rolled over UCLA and Iowa State and got everyone wondering, "Just how good are these new-look Longhorns?" as they ascended to No. 11 in the polls while teams above them stumbled.

Oklahoma answered that question rather emphatically in Dallas on Saturday. Texas may be better this year, but the Longhorns are nowhere near the team that routinely churned out 10-win seasons nine times in the past decade. The turnover margin that plagued Texas shifted heavily in the Longhorns favor (+6) until Saturday's disaster, which featured five Texas turnovers, including three that went for scores. Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas A&M and others are lined up after Texas' nonconference slate which seemed solid in name only, and we won't have to wonder just how good these Longhorns are for much longer.

Offensive MVP: Jaxon Shipley, WR. The true freshman has been an immediate impact for the Longhorns, catching 25 passes for 369 yards, 10 more catches and 35 more yards than any other player on Texas' roster. He also leads the team with three catches for touchdowns, throwing another in one of the defining plays of the comeback win over BYU. He'll only continue to get better, but the second half of the season will feature even more highlights.

Defensive MVP: Emmanuel Acho, LB. Acho's older brother, defensive end Sam Acho, was the Longhorns MVP last year. Emmanuel is carrying on that tradition with a great start to his season. The senior linebacker's 42 tackles are 10 more than any other player on the Longhorns' roster, and he's leading the team with two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.

Midseason review: Texas A&M

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
6:30
AM ET
TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Record: 3-2 (1-1 Big 12)

The story for Texas A&M in the season's first half has been simple, yet painful. In the Aggies two biggest games of the year thus far, the pattern has been identical: First-half dominance followed by second-half incompetence. Oklahoma State didn't look like it belonged on the same field as the suddenly scary Aggies that looked befitting of a national title contender with a 20-3 lead. Arkansas was getting outplayed and outmuscled by a physical Texas A&M offense in the first half and trailed, 35-17.

The Aggies lost both games. That's about all there is to say through six games for the Aggies. The offense, though it got away from the powerful running game against Oklahoma State, has been as advertised. Year 2 under defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter hasn't gone as planned, and though the Aggies are second nationally in sacks with 21, they're dead last in pass defense, giving up over 347 yards per game. Oklahoma State and Arkansas set new school records with a combined 948 yards through the air while beating Texas A&M. The second half of the season will feature plenty more chances for the Aggies to prove themselves, but the biggest goals for Texas A&M on the way to the SEC after this season have already been lost.

Offensive MVP: Ryan Tannehill, QB. The running back combo of Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael is right there with Tannehill, but the quarterback has been excellent outside of a few untimely picks late against Oklahoma State. He's completing 67 percent of his passes, has thrown for 1,327 yards and opened the scoring against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech with 65-yard and 19-yard touchdown runs, respectively. Outside the pocket, he's been brilliant this season.

Defensive MVP: Sean Porter, LB. Though the pass defense has struggled, Porter has been one of the Big 12's best defenders over the first half of the season. He leads the Big 12 with 6.5 sacks and has 34 tackles with 8.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. The Aggies needed somebody to step up in the linebacking corps without Von Miller this year, and Porter has been at his best this year.

Midseason review: Texas Tech

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
6:00
AM ET
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Record: 4-1 (1-1 Big 12)

Texas Tech played the worst nonconference schedule in the Big 12, and opened conference play with the league's worst team in Kansas. So, understandably, the 4-0 start wasn't wholly impressive. Texas Tech's first real test came Saturday night, and though the loss to Texas A&M meant the Red Raiders didn't pass, they were far from failing.

The 45-40 defeat was disappointing, but Tech hung tough against a team much better than its ranking outside the top 20. There's not much evidence to suggest the Red Raiders' streak of 18 consecutive seasons with bowl eligibility will be coming to an end anytime soon, even with the young team in a bit of a rebuilding stage in 2011. The lessons learned over the second half of this season, though, could set up a huge year in 2011. Tech is in the meaty portion of its schedule, and four teams currently ranked in the top 25 are on the slate during the next five weeks. Just how good is this year's team? We'll know exactly how good after that stretch.

Offensive MVP: Seth Doege, QB. No question about this one. Doege has been every bit the passer Texas Tech hoped and he's living his childhood dream of being the next legend in the red and black. He's already written his name in the record books by breaking former Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury's single-game completion-percentage record. Doege leads the league in pass attempts and is third in completion percentage; his 1,706 yards passing yards is good for eighth nationally and his 17 touchdowns have him tied with Case Keenum of Houston for second-most nationally.

Defensive MVPs: Safeties Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson. It's tough to pick between these two, who have a combined 58 solo tackles and 67 total stops. Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in pass defense, and Johnson leads the team with two picks. Only Texas and Oklahoma have given up fewer passing touchdowns than Texas Tech (6) this season. The pair have combined for five pass breakups. Defensive tackle Kerry Hyder deserves a shoutout, too. His efforts won't get much pub, but he's been really disruptive up front with Davis and Johnson holding down the back.

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