Big 12: 2013-midseason-team-reports

Midseason report: Baylor

October, 15, 2013
It’s hard not to marvel at what Baylor has achieved through five games, becoming not only the frontrunner in the Big 12 but also perhaps the most dangerous, explosive team in the country.

The Bears lead the country in scoring and total offense, with the No. 2 passing offense and No. 4 rushing offense in FBS. They scored 35 points last week and are still averaging 63 per game. They have the best quarterback (Bryce Petty), running back (Lache Seastrunk) and receiving duo (Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese) in the conference, and it's really not even close.

And the defense, mocked for so many years during the offensive explosive Art Briles has brought to Waco, is one of the five best in the Big 12 in most statistical categories at this point and is playing with serious confidence. The Bears are only No. 12 in the AP poll but can crack the top 10 and earn some serious respect nationally with a win over Oklahoma in Waco on Nov. 7.

From there, the schedule is a bear: Texas Tech, at Oklahoma State, at TCU and the Floyd Casey Stadium home finale against Texas. Three of those four games could come against ranked foes, and at this point we have to believe Baylor can put up 70 on any of them when everything is clicking.

They destroyed their nonconference opponents and West Virginia but were slowed to some extent by K-State, and the difference-maker will be how these Bears play on the road. But they control their destiny and just might steamroll the rest of the conference if they keep improving.

Offensive MVP: Petty is your Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year if the season ended today, and he would be deserving. The junior has been lights out in his first year as a starter and ranks No. 1 in the conference in every statistical category as a passer. In a year with so few great Big 12 quarterbacks, Petty is the real deal.

Defensive MVP: The Baylor defense is full of guys who have stepped up in 2013, and Bryce Hager is their leader. The junior linebacker has a team-high 48 tackles and a whole lot more: 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack, three pass breakups, three QB hurries and a ridiculous 91-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Midseason report: Iowa State

October, 15, 2013
Iowa State’s 1-4 record doesn’t accurately reflect where this team is. Or how far it’s come in just a month.

After a disastrous start to the season with losses to Northern Iowa and Iowa, the Cyclones have played much better in their last three games. The return of center Tom Farniok, who missed the first two games, stabilized the offensive line. And the emergence of Aaron Wimberly gave the Cyclones the bell-cow running back they’ve desperately been searching for.

But due to a couple of bad breaks, Iowa State has little to show for its improvement.

Two weeks ago, the Cyclones led Texas 30-24 with less than four minutes remaining. But Texas went on a 75-yard drive, which was aided by two pass-interference penalties and a controversial fumble call. Near the goal line, Iowa State's Jeremiah George picked up a loose ball and started running the other way. But officials ruled the ball down, and replay upheld the call. Texas scored two plays later.

The Cyclones played Texas Tech tough last weekend, too, but fell 42-35.

With four losses already, Iowa State’s two-year bowl run is likely to come to an end, given the remaining schedule. But this is a team with plenty to build on for next year. Especially if the Cyclones continue to improve like they have.

Offensive MVP: Wimberly has been the biggest difference for the Cyclones offense in its last three games. In those first two losses in which Iowa State failed to move the ball effectively, Wimberly got 10 total touches. Since, the Cyclones have been feeding the junior college transfer, and he’s rewarded them with an average of 106.3 rushing yards per game. Wimberly was knocked out of the Texas Tech game, but is expected back this week against Baylor.

Defensive MVP: Jacques Washington has made a team-high 31 consecutive starts and ranks third in the Big 12 with 10 tackles per game. The senior free safety has been a foundational player for a defense that’s otherwise in rebuilding mode.

Midseason report: Kansas

October, 15, 2013
The team Kansas is putting on the field this season, contrary to Charlie Weis’ preseason comments is not pile of crap. But at 2-3 and 0-2 in the Big 12, the Jayhawks aren’t off to a great start either.

They led Texas Tech for one quarter and hung with TCU for three, but right now coach Weis just doesn’t have the talent or depth on the roster to keep up with the conference’s better teams.

The Jayhawks are last in the Big 12 in scoring and total offense through five games. They have a brutal offensive line, which is becoming more and more of a problem for Jake Heaps, and he’s getting hardly any production from his wide receivers.

Life doesn’t get easier anytime soon for the Jayhawks, who face Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State in their next four contests. KU showed against TCU last week -- in a game that was tied 10-10 at halftime -- that it has a shot to upset somebody this season. At this point, the best this team can hope for is eventually ending its streak of 23 consecutive Big 12 losses.

Offensive MVP: It’s a shame running back/receiver Tony Pierson was injured, because he was enjoying a nice follow-up to a 2012 season in which he produced 1,051 total yards of offense. Pierson is Kansas’ leading receiver in both catches (21) and yards (327) and is averaging 6.7 yards per carry. He’s a weapon any Big 12 team would want in its arsenal.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Ben Heeney might be among the most underrated players in the entire Big 12, and could end up being a dark horse candidate for conference Defensive Player of the Year. He’s No. 3 among Big 12 linebackers in tackles and has added 7.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, four pass breakups. He could end up having a special season.

Midseason report: Kansas State

October, 15, 2013
It seems silly to say this, but Kansas State might be the best 2-4 team in the country. The Wildcats’ three Big 12 losses have come against three of the conference’s best in Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor and none by a margin of more than 10 points.

The Wildcats aren’t awful by any means, but they’re still trying to figure out what they are. It seems they might’ve finally stumbled onto their offensive identity now that Daniel Sams is running wild at quarterback, but he’s still very unproven as a passer with 32 attempts on the year.

The defense has a few nice parts and is ranked around sixth in the Big 12 in most of the key stats, and Kansas State is as good on special teams as any team it will play going forward. Even after four losses, there’s some room for hope.

KSU showed in its nail-biter against Baylor that it can play with a lot of teams in this conference. Perhaps getting a bye, West Virginia and Iowa State in the next three weeks is just what Bill Snyder, his coaches and his players need to get back on track. Surpassing six wins would require a few big upsets, but don’t rule that possibility out just yet.

Offensive MVP: Sams proved against Baylor he just might end up being one of the Big 12’s best quarterbacks by December, even if he’s not a great passer. Putting up 199 rushing yards as a quarterback is impressive no matter who you’re playing, and Sams’ 522 rushing yards on the year are third best among all FBS quarterbacks.

Defensive MVP: Replacing Arthur Brown was no doubt a tall task, but it appears linebacker Blake Slaughter is up to it. After taking a redshirt in 2012, the senior is off to an impressive start with a team-high 52 tackles, two sacks and three pass breakups.

Midseason report: Oklahoma

October, 15, 2013
Two weeks ago, Oklahoma was on cloud nine, having just beaten Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., with dreams of a BCS title game berth and Big 12 title in its sights. Now, the Sooners are coming off a devastating loss to their chief rival and face the remainder of the season without two of their top defensive players, Jordan Phillips and Corey Nelson. How quickly things change.

Yet, realistically, a 5-1 record at this point in the season could be considered a lofty preseason expectation for a Sooners squad that entered 2013 with a handful of new starters on defense and a new quarterback under center.

OU’s hopes of a Big 12 title aren’t completely dashed as long as it starts to get consistent play from the quarterback position and a game-changing playmaker emerges among its skill position players. Saturday’s loss to Texas proved what we knew already -- OU can’t just lean on its defense and expect to cruise through conference play even though defensive coordinator Mike Stoops' unit appears improved this season.

The Sooners have suffered two big injuries with Phillips, a defensive tackle, and Nelson, a linebacker, out for the season. Nonetheless, the Sooners still feature the talent to jump back into the Big 12 title race in the second half of the season. But it won’t happen until OU develops consistent playmakers in its passing game to supplement a solid running attack.

Offensive MVP: Center Gabe Ikard. The senior has been a consistent, calm presence in the middle with the unrest at the quarterback position, which has seen Blake Bell and Trevor Knight both start multiple games. Ikard has been the anchor of an offensive line that has paved the way for OU’s running game, which is averaging 226.7 yards per game, second in the Big 12. Ikard's leadership and experience might be his most important contribution in the second half of the season.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Frank Shannon. Phillips or Nelson could easily be considered the first-half MVP but Shannon has been just as consistent and OU will count on him even more in the second half of the season. The sophomore has 50 tackles, 18 more than any other Sooner, three quarterback hurries, one interception and a forced fumble.

Midseason report: Oklahoma State

October, 15, 2013
Oklahoma State is not in the position it expected. The Cowboys are looking up at Baylor, Texas Tech and Texas in the Big 12 standings after starting the season as the preseason favorite. Nonetheless, the Cowboys' destiny remains in their hands with their lone loss coming to West Virginia, which has already suffered two Big 12 losses, and the bulk of their conference schedule beginning with TCU this weekend.

OSU doesn’t look like the relentless, high-scoring attack that was the norm in Stillwater for the past few seasons yet the Pokes have continued to find ways to win games in 2013. The defense has been very solid, ranking No. 24 nationally in yards per play at 4.69, giving Mike Gundy’s squad a consistent base to build around and the confidence it can weather the storm while the search for offensive consistency continues.

Quarterback J.W. Walsh is triggering an offense that averages 38 points per game but needs help from the running game. OSU is averaging 4.14 yards per carry and 144.8 rushing yards per game after averaging 215.31 rushing yards and 5.39 yards per carry in 2012. If OSU’s run game improves, its offense will follow.

The Cowboys were the preseason pick to win the conference because of their overall talent and offensive reputation so if they can start living up to expectations they can put themselves back into the Big 12 title race.

Offensive MVP: Walsh. The sophomore’s 74.4 adjusted QBR ranks third in the Big 12 behind Baylor’s Bryce Petty and Texas’ David Ash. He has completed 103 of 169 passes for 1,209 yards (7.2 yards per attempt), nine touchdowns and three interceptions. And his 265 rushing yards lead all Big 12 quarterbacks. Yet, if OSU wants to win a Big 12 title, Walsh will have to take his play to an even higher level.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Caleb Lavey has been a force in the middle of OSU’s defense. The senior has 40 tackles, 10 more than any other Cowboy, along with 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one interception. OSU needs him to continue to be a versatile playmaker in the middle of its defense.

Midseason report: TCU

October, 15, 2013
Nobody in the Big 12 has played a tougher schedule or dealt with more crushing injuries than TCU. But the bottom line is, the Horned Frogs are 3-3 overall, and likely one loss away from falling out of the Big 12 race altogether.

Even without All-American defensive end Devonte Fields, who is out for the year with a foot injury, the Frogs haven’t endured a drop-off defensively. Led by cornerback Jason Verrett and safety Sam Carter, TCU covers the pass as well as any team in the conference.

The offense, however, can’t score.

Going into the season, the Horned Frogs had hoped the return of quarterback Casey Pachall, who sat out most of last season, would ignite an offense that struggled in 2012. But after getting replaced by Trevone Boykin in the opener against LSU, Pachall suffered a broken forearm in Week 2.

Since taking over full time for the second straight season, Boykin has been wildly inconsistent, and is 10th in the league among qualified quarterbacks in Adjusted QBR (46.7). The receivers haven’t been much help, either. Brandon Carter has failed to live up to the role of No. 1 receiver and has only 14 receptions and no touchdowns.

As a result, the Frogs have been shut out in the first half in two of their three conference games. And TCU is ninth in the league in passing and eighth in rushing.

Pachall could return from his injury by the end of the month, but by then it might be too little too late. If the Frogs don’t knock off Oklahoma State and Texas over the next two weeks, they will effectively be removed from the Big 12 race.

Offensive MVP: It’s not easy finding an offensive MVP for TCU. But running back B.J. Catalon has been the Frogs’ steadiest performer. He leads the offense with 313 rushing yards, an average of 5.5 yards per carry and five touchdowns. Catalon also returned a kick for a touchdown against LSU.

Defensive MVP: One of the bright spots for TCU has been Verrett, who is a strong candidate for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Even though opposing quarterbacks try to avoid throwing his way, Verrett leads the Big 12 in passes defended. He’s also been a sure tackler against the run.

Midseason report: Texas

October, 15, 2013
Back in August, Texas fans would’ve traded pretty much anything for a victory over an undefeated, No. 12-ranked Oklahoma team to end the Longhorns’ three-year Red River losing streak. They would’ve accepted that outcome no matter the result of the first five games.

That’s what made Texas’ upset victory over the Sooners so unexpected, so hard to fathom. Think back on all the Longhorns have dealt with since the end of August.

They set a school record for total yards in their first game. They lost quarterback David Ash and running back Daje Johnson against BYU and gave up 550 rushing yards. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz got fired after two games. Texas lost at home to an Ole Miss team it had defeated by five touchdowns in 2012. Ash came back for one half and hasn’t played since. Texas barely defeated Kansas State and Iowa State and was a loss to OU away from being 3-3 and potentially sealing Mack Brown’s fate.

That’s hardly a comprehensive review, but this 2013 season really has been that crazy for Texas, a team picked somewhere between No. 4 in the nation and No. 4 in the Big 12 in preseason polls. The Longhorns weren’t living up to either expectation.

Now there’s hope. Most expected Oklahoma to end Texas’ season six games in. Instead, the stunning win could do wonders for the Longhorns in these next six games. It’s a much-needed confidence booster and puts Texas in the driver’s seat in the conference with a 3-0 record.

Offensive MVP: If running back Johnathan Gray keeps playing like this, it won’t matter whether Ash or Case McCoy is starting at quarterback. The true sophomore has taken his game to the next level. Since a quiet performance in the season opener, Gray is averaging 106.8 yards per game and is now No. 2 in the Big 12 at 562 yards and No. 1 in rushes. He just gets better every week.

Defensive MVP: Not only is defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat the best player on the field for Texas’ defense, but he’s becoming one of its best playmakers. He leads the Big 12 with five sacks and has added 32 tackles and seven tackles for loss. With linebacker Jordan Hicks out, Jeffcoat’s leadership is just as important right now. The defensive end duo of Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed is as good as any in the conference right now.

Midseason report: Texas Tech

October, 15, 2013
At 6-0, the Red Raiders have been the biggest surprise in the Big 12. And they’ve remained undefeated, despite having to rotate a pair of true freshman quarterbacks.

Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb have had their freshman moments. But overall, the two have played well. Helping them along the way has been a collection of pass-catchers that is as good as any in the Big 12, and that includes Baylor, the nation’s leading offense.

Jace Amaro, Eric Ward, Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez all rank in the top eight in the league in receptions. Running backs Kenny Williams, DeAndre Washington and Sadale Foster have been effective safety valves for Mayfield and Webb out of the backfield.

But while the offense has been efficient, an upstart defense is the No. 1 reason why the Red Raiders are undefeated. Behind disrupting nose guard Kerry Hyder, Tech ranks 23rd nationally in total defense, and ninth in third-down defense.

The great start has Lubbock abuzz about the Kliff Kingsbury era. But what Tech does over the next two weeks will determine whether the Red Raiders are truly contenders. So far, Tech has only had to travel to SMU and Kansas. This week, the Red Raiders go to Morgantown, followed by a trip to Norman the following weekend. Tech will need its freshman quarterbacks to play with poise. And its defense needs to continue getting off the field on third downs. If those two things happen, the Red Raiders could be a major factor in a wide-open Big 12 race.

Offensive MVP: There might be no tougher matchup in the league than Amaro. Built like a tight end, Amaro has the quickness and hands of a wide receiver. He can outmuscle safeties. And outmaneuver linebackers. At the moment, he leads the Big 12 with 47 receptions while commanding the full attention of opposing defenses.

Defensive MVP: Hyder is the unquestioned leader and catalyst of this Tech defense. Despite getting double-teamed often as the nose guard, Hyder leads the Big 12 with nine tackles for loss. At 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, Hyder is not big for an interior defensive lineman. But because of his quickness, he’s as disruptive as any in the conference.

Midseason report: West Virginia

October, 15, 2013
The West Virginia Mountaineers are still searching for continuity on offense seven weeks into the season. Coach Dana Holgorsen didn’t want to feature an offense that used multiple quarterbacks, yet three quarterbacks have started for WVU in 2013.

“I wish I was sitting here after six games saying that we know who we are, where we’re at and where we’re going,” Holgorsen said last week.

Clint Trickett, the Florida State transfer, has had good moments, including his tough, clutch play against Oklahoma State, yet has struggled as well. Neither Paul Millard nor Ford Childress have looked like the answer at quarterback, either. The Mountaineers’ 24-points-per-game average ranks No. 91 nationally as WVU doesn't resemble the type of attack Holgorsen has become known for developing. Despite their upset victory over the preseason Big 12 favorite Cowboys, their season has largely been defined by blowout losses to Baylor and Maryland, which have stood out because of the sheer domination by their opponents in those defeats.

Yet Holgorsen remains confident his squad can get things back on track in the second half of the season and, with the Big 12 looking as wide open as ever, there’s no reason to think the Mountaineers can’t have more success in the second half of the season than they did in their first six games, which included losses to Baylor and Oklahoma.

Offensive MVP: Running back Charles Sims. The Houston transfer has been one of the few bright spots on offense for the Mountaineers. Sims has 97 carries for 480 yards and four touchdowns and has 19 receptions for 179 yards. He’s averaging 5.68 yards per play from scrimmage. Getting Sims the football could help spark additional success.

Defensive MVP: Safety Darwin Cook. It’s hard to watch a WVU game and not notice Cook, who is active, aggressive and dependable for the Mountaineers. He has 40 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions and one sack. If he continues to play well, he will be the anchor of the WVU secondary.