Big 12: DeAnthony Thomas

Three keys for Texas in Alamo Bowl

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
4:00
PM ET
The Mack Brown era at Texas comes to a close Monday night during the Valero Alamo Bowl (5:45 p.m. CT, ESPN). Pac-12 power Oregon provides a stern test for the Longhorns as UT tries to send Brown out with a win.

Here are three keys for Texas:

Success on the ground. In Oregon’s two losses, to Arizona and Stanford, the Ducks allowed 289 rushing yards per game. In the Ducks' 10 wins, they allowed 139.4 rushing yards per contest. The Longhorns have a talented backfield with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, so Texas could try to take the Ducks’ explosive offense out of the game by ramming the ball down the throat of their West Coast opponent, much like Stanford did. UT’s chances of success can’t rest solely on the shoulders of Case McCoy.

Slow the Ducks' tempo. Few offenses can operate as quickly and efficiently as the Ducks. Oregon finished among the top five nationally in points per game, yards per game and yards per play. Texas must figure out a way to slow their offense. The best way would be getting consistent pressure on Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, so Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Jackson Jeffcoat will need to show why he earned that honor.

Big plays. UT’s destiny in this game depends on big plays, both creating them and preventing them. Texas must limit an Oregon offense which had 27.7 percent of its plays go for 10 yards or more, second in the FBS. Ducks running back De'Anthony Thomas is a big-play machine and the rest of the attack is full of speed and athletes. Fortunately for UT, the Longhorns match better than most teams with their athletes on both sides of the ball. Only 16.9 of UT's plays went for 10 yards or more so if the Longhorns find a way to have more explosive plays than Oregon their chances of winning will skyrocket.

Valero Alamo Bowl roundtable

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
1:30
PM ET
Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell and Texas reporter Max Olson break down the biggest storylines in Monday’s Valero Alamo Bowl matchup featuring Texas and No. 10 Oregon:

How do you think Mack Brown's resignation affects this game?

Max Olson: Throughout the past few weeks, Brown has stuck to the same message publicly: Texas players should win this game for themselves, not for their coach. They’ve had a brutal season, overcome plenty and have a chance to cap it with a ninth win and a few good memories. Brown keeps saying he wants this to be about the kids, not him.

What we’ll get out of kids, though, I just don’t know. They’ve been big underdogs before. They came out firing against Oklahoma and built real momentum. They held Baylor to 3 points in the first half but ran out of gas. Which Texas team shows up Monday? They’ll need plenty of motivation and good fortune.

Kevin Gemmell: My first thought was that this was going to be a huge motivation advantage for Texas -- and I’m a big believer that the bowl season is all about which team is motivated to be there. But I think the recent news that Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is also retiring balances things out in the Oregon locker room. While he’s not as big of a name nationally as Brown, he’s as much an Oregon institution as Brown is to Texas.

Both pregame speeches will be rousing. Heartstrings will be tugged. But ultimately it comes down to what happens on the field. If Oregon is able to set aside its disappointment of not being in a BCS game, then who is coaching on which sideline shouldn't matter because on paper Oregon is the stronger team.

What should be expected of a 100-percent healthy Marcus Mariota?

Gemmell: For starters, an extra element to the Oregon offense that makes them that much tougher to stop. Consider Mariota in the first seven games of the season before his knee injury. He averaged 70.4 rushing yards per game and scored nine touchdowns -- including at least one rushing touchdown in all seven games. Since hurting the knee against UCLA, he’s averaged just 17.8 rushing yards with zero rushing touchdowns.

He also threw four interceptions in the final two games after going pick-free for the first 10, so aside from his rushing abilities -- which are substantial -- his throwing mechanics should be much stronger. I’m of the belief that when he’s 100 percent healthy, Mariota is the best football player in the country. And if Texas gets a 100 percent Mariota, he’s going to be very, very difficult to stop.

Olson: Mariota is one of the many reasons why this is just not a good matchup for Texas, especially considering its defense has had legitimate issues defending the option against mobile quarterbacks. Of quarterbacks who started the last two seasons, nobody in the country has a better Total QBR than Mariota at 89.0. He’s the real deal. I fully expect him to put up big numbers in the Alamodome, and it’ll be interesting to see how Texas defends him, probably with Jackson Jeffcoat reprising his freestyle “spinner” role.

Who will be the key player in this game?

Olson: If you’ve been following this Texas team, you know the key isn’t getting a huge performance from Case McCoy. Yes, he needs to play relatively mistake-free and hit on the big passes when they’re there. But Texas doesn’t stand a chance in this one without a big night from Malcolm Brown.

The San Antonio native had rushed for 421 yards in the four games since Texas lost Johnathan Gray, including 118 in the first half against Baylor. He did a terrific job of hitting cutback lanes against the Bears, and run defense hasn’t been a strength for Oregon. Brown needs to get rolling or Texas could fall behind quickly.

Gemmell: Take your pick from any number of superstars on both sides of the ball for Oregon. Be it Mariota, Josh Huff or Byron Marshall. Defensively, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is as lockdown as they come. But the guy who always seems to show up in the postseason is De’Anthony Thomas.

Last season against Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, he returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, caught four balls for 60 yards and a score and rushed twice for 15 yards. In the 2011 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, he carried twice for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Wisconsin. He also caught four balls for 34 yards and returned five kicks for 125 yards. Thomas is a big-game player with blazing speed and scary elusiveness. When he’s hitting on all cylinders, he’s a difference maker.


GLENDALE, Ariz.-- Collin Klein could only stare and watch as the final seconds of his college career ticked away. Oregon would hand him a 35-17 loss at the Fiesta Bowl in his final game, an ugly offensive performance that featured a pair of interceptions, a pair of touchdowns and one painful finale.

With glassy eyes shadowed underneath his helmet, he congratulated a few of the Ducks before joining his teammates and locking arms, grabbing a spot on the front row in the middle of the final CatPack of his life.

He and his teammates trotted off the field for the last time. Together.

"It's hard," Klein said, "It's not the way any of us wanted to go out."

Coach Bill Snyder collected his team in the locker room and delivered his final address of the season. He thanked his players for the work they put in, but most importantly, he reminded them that no one thought they'd be playing in this game. No one thought these seniors would end their careers as Big 12 champions, even if they couldn't be Fiesta Bowl champions, too.

He finished his remarks and dismissed the team before sharing a few words and a hug with Klein before the two went out the door to answer questions at a postgame news conference.

"Everybody might not see us as the most talented team in America, but we hang our hat on toughness, giving the greatest efffort we can do and this dude sums it up," linebacker Arthur Brown said of Klein. "Probably one of the toughest dudes I ever met."

He was tough enough to carry his team to 10 wins a year ago when some wondered if the 'Cats were good enough to reach a bowl game. He was tough enough to carry K-State to 11 wins and a Big 12 title this season when it was picked to finish sixth in the league. Along the way, he finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Thursday's bittersweet performance won't be easy to swallow, but as players dressed, there were a whole lot more hugs than tears. A whole lot of promises to stay in touch as careers ended and brothers went their separate ways.

[+] EnlargeCollin Klein, Bill Snyder
Jennifer Stewart/USA TODAY SportsThe final go-round for K-State QB Collin Klein didn't go quite as he and coach Bill Snyder had hoped.
"This was a fantastic year for us, we did a lot of things when people didn't believe in us," running back John Hubert said. "It was great. We like proving people wrong. Every year since I've been here, we always hear we couldn't do this or couldn't do that. Just to go out and prove people wrong and win is a great feeling."

That's what these Cats will always be remembered for. They're the team that did what no other in K-State history did: Reached No. 1 in the BCS standings. They're also a team that lost two of its final three games and let a chance at a national title slip through its fingers, but time will provide perspective, and many of the Wildcats already possessed it not long after their season had ended.

"The Big 12 championship, when we got that 11th win and beat Texas, seeing that crowd rush the field," Hubert said. "Holding up that Big 12 Championship Trophy and for it to be in our locker room is one of the greatest things we've done."

Added linebacker Justin Tuggle: "I hope we're remembered for the good things we did, and not for the two slip-ups we had."

These Wildcats absolutely will be remembered for those moments. Klein's interception on the final pass attempt of his career will fade away. So will Cornelius Lucas' second-quarter false start on fourth-and-1 that led to a missed field goal by Anthony Cantele and the loss of every bit of momentum the Wildcats had built after falling behind 15-0 and giving up a 94-yard return for a score from Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas on the game's opening kick.

"It had a significant impact on the outcome of the ballgame," Snyder said of the false start.

Well, Snyder had a significant impact on the individual lives of his players and the community in Manhattan, too. Those false starts and missed tackles and missed opportunities will fade away. That Big 12 trophy and Klein's memories from a trip to the Heisman Trophy presentation never, ever will.

Kansas State's season ended with a difficult loss and the extension of a bowl drought that now stretches beyond a decade. K-State wishes it could have won this game. Any one of the Wildcats would have told you that. But they'd also tell you that a loss in this game does little to diminish the accomplishments of the 2012 team, which will go down in history as one of the best in school history.

Oregon gives the Pac-12 a final 4-4 bowl record, though that record now includes victories in a pair of BCS bowl games.

Here's how we see it following the Ducks' 35-17 victory over Kansas State.

It was over when: Oregon owned the third quarter, making a game that looked competitive at halftime into a tension-free fourth quarter. The Ducks outscored the Wildcats 10-0 and outgained them 166-51 in the frame. They also scored a one-point safety on an blocked PAT, meaning we all saw something we likely never had seen before.

Turning point: Oregon jumped ahead 15-0, but Kansas State came back in the second quarter. Down 15-7, but moving the ball well, the Wildcats faced a fourth-and-1 from the Oregon 18. Instead of trying for the yard, they tried a freeze play. Instead of getting the Ducks to jump, it was the Wildcats who got a false start. They backed it up five yards and then missed the field goal. Oregon, which had been struggling on offense, took the ball and went 77 yards in five plays and just 46 seconds, making it 22-10 at the break. The Wildcats never really mounted a threat thereafter.

Game ball goes to: While De'Anthony Thomas was spectacular with a 94-yard kickoff return for a TD and a brilliant 23-yard run on a screen pass, it was QB Marcus Mariota who earned game MVP honors. The redshirt freshman complete 12 of 24 passes for 166 yards with two TDs and no interceptions, and he rushed for 62 yards on eight carries, a number of them critical third-down conversion dashes.

Notable number: Both teams entered the game among the nation's leaders in turnover margin, and Kansas State had only yielded 10 turnovers the entire year. Oregon won the turnover battle 2-0.

Unsung hero: Senior running back Kenjon Barner had 23 yards on seven carries at halftime, but he finished with 143 yards on 31 carries. And most of those were tough yards.

Unsung hero II: The Ducks' defense may finally get credit for how good it is -- and has been. Kansas State ranked ninth in the nation in scoring this year at 40.67 points per game. It also averaged 411 yards. It gained just 283 yards against the Ducks, and was shut down completely in the critical third quarter.

What it means for Oregon: That Oregon wins a second consecutive BCS bowl game and finishes ranked in the top-five for a third consecutive year. Of course, this might be the last game under coach Chip Kelly, who led the Ducks to unprecedented heights, but he would leave behind a team that should contend for a national title in 2013.

What it means for Kansas State: It was a dream season for Kansas State in Year 4 of Bill Snyder Take 2. The Wildcats have improved every year since Snyder came back in 2009. The next step is winning a bowl game, which they haven't done since 2002. The Fiesta Bowl loss is a bummer, but the Wildcats are back atop the Big 12. That's big.

Halftime: Oregon 22, Kansas State 10

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
10:28
PM ET
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The first half of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl featured plenty of momentum swings, but Oregon's proved the most potent, even though the Ducks' running game struggled.

The Ducks are up 22-10 at the half, despite only rushing for 52 yards.

Oregon couldn't have started faster, with De'Anthony Thomas going 94 yards for a touchdown on the opening kickoff, with a 2-point conversion making it 8-0. Thomas then scored on a brilliant 23-yard run after a screen pass, making it 15-0.

The Kansas State offense and quarterback Collin Klein then got on track, scoring the next 10 points.

But the final swing was huge: Kansas State missed a 40-yard field goal, and Oregon drove 77 yards in five plays, needing just 46 seconds to make it 22-10.

Kansas State gets the ball to start the third quarter.

The Wildcats outgained Oregon 170 to 158. They were 6-of-10 on third down, and had the ball for 21 minutes in the first half, compared to nine for the Ducks.

The big question in the second half is whether the Ducks can get the running game going or if they will need to pass. Kansas State has been a second-half team all season, so this one is hardly over.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl keys

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
10:30
AM ET
Let's take a look at three keys for a K-State victory Thursday night in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl versus Oregon.

1. Win the turnover battle. You could point to this in really any game, but here is why it's so important in the Fiesta Bowl: Both teams win on the backs of turnovers. K-State does a little of both -- forcing and preventing. Both teams are in the top three nationally in turnover margin, but K-State has largely done so by preventing turnovers; the Wildcats have just 10 turnovers all season, fewer than all but one team in college football. Oregon, meanwhile, is tied for the national lead with 38 takeaways in 12 games. That's a 2011 Oklahoma State-like pace. If either team has an uncharacteristic performance (giveaways by K-State, no takeaways by Oregon), you can bet it'll correlate with the winner.

2. Keep Oregon from YAC-ing it up. This counts for yards after catch too, but mostly contact. Arthur Brown is a speedy, sure tackler and K-State has done a good job as a whole in that area, but it's of special importance against speedsters like Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, who can turn a 10-yard gain into a 60- or 70-yard gain if you don't tackle them when you get an opportunity. Marcus Mariota can do it too, but the Wildcats' defense knows the kind of task that lies ahead. Will that show on the field? In case you missed the Baylor loss, big plays are the quickest way to knock off K-State.

3. Stick with what you do best. Two of K-State's worst performances all season featured the two highest pass attempt totals of the year for Collin Klein. He attempted 28 passes in a three-quarter fistfight against Missouri State before letting it fly an insane 50 times in the loss to Baylor. That game was within reach late until the Lache Seastrunk 80-yard run, but it seemed as if K-State panicked, forced the ball downfield and had Klein throwing way, way more than is advisable. Even if Oregon stuffs the run early or for most of the game, unless you're down 30, having Klein continue to drop back and throw it while abandoning the run game isn't the answer. Stick with the ground game. Whichever team throws the ball least in this game wins. I'd almost guarantee that.

A closer look: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
10:00
AM ET
As the bowl season approaches, we're going to be looking a little closer at each game. We'll go down the Big 12 bowl schedule in chronological order.

TOSTITOS FIESTA BOWL

No. 5 Kansas State (11-1) vs. No. 4 Oregon (11-1)

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

When: Thursday, Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

About Kansas State: Bill Snyder's boys proved they could get over a painful Baylor loss. With the Big 12 title in the balance, K-State thrashed Texas with a second-half surge to win the Big 12 title on its home field. K-State made the first 10 games of the season look pretty easy, even with close wins over Oklahoma and Iowa State on the road. The Wildcats largely controlled both games but blew out a whole bunch of 7-5 Big 12 teams like West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have a great case as the best K-State team ever, even though a painful loss to Baylor cost them what looked like a really likely shot at a national title after reaching No. 1 in the BCS for the first time ever after a win at TCU. This was K-State's first Big 12 title since 2003 but the first time it's truly been the Big 12's best team throughout the regular season since 1998.

About Oregon: The Ducks are all about go, go, go and this season's been no exception. The run-heavy offense didn't miss a beat without LaMichael James and Darron Thomas. We'll talk about the Ducks trio more a little later, but Oregon nearly reached the national title game for the second time in three years before a painful overtime loss to Oregon's super offense's kryptonite: Stanford. The Ducks hadn't scored fewer than 42 points all season. Stanford held them to just 14 in an overtime loss the same night K-State lost to Baylor. The teams were No. 1 and No. 2 in the BCS on Nov. 17, poised to block the SEC from playing for a seventh straight national title, but the loss also cost Oregon a bid to the Pac-12 championship and a second consecutive Rose Bowl berth. Instead, the Ducks are headed to the desert where they lost to Auburn in the title game two years ago. The Ducks are 4-1 against top 25 teams, but haven't played anyone ranked higher than No. 13, which was Stanford. Those four wins, though, came by an average of almost 29 points.

Wildcats to watch: In case you missed the second half of the Wildcats' win over Oklahoma State, Heisman finalist Collin Klein is K-State's offense. Receiver Chris Harper and running back John Hubert are fine talents in their own right, but Klein is the man who makes it all go. When he's out or plays poorly like he did against TCU and Baylor (performances that ultimately cost him the Heisman Trophy), K-State can look very, very average offensively. Linebacker and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Arthur Brown has led one of the Big 12's best defenses along with cornerback Nigel Malone and big-time pass-rusher Meshak Williams.

Ducks to watch: How many players on any team ever have had three different players earn legitimate Heisman hype at some point during the season? Scatback De'Anthony Thomas was an early-season splash before slowing with limited touches as the season moved forward, though Kenjon Barner emerged as the team's best back throughout the season. In the middle of the season, though, quarterback Marcus Mariota landed on a few ballots with some big games, too. Barner is the team's best player, ranking fifth nationally with 1,624 rushing yards, but Mariota's passer rating of 165.36 is higher than every Big 12 quarterback but J.W. Walsh. Linebacker Michael Clay racked up 92 tackles and fellow backer Kiko Alonso led the team with 12 tackles for loss (two defensive linemen, Dion Jordan and Taylor Hart, combined for 20.5), but let's be honest: It's all about the offense on this squad.

Did you know? Because of expansion quirks, there have been six Big 12 teams to play in this game in the past five years. No Big 12 team won the game from 2001-08, but the league is 3-1 in the game in the past four seasons, including huge wins over No. 10 Ohio State and No. 4 Stanford over that stretch. (There were also rumors of a win over a five-loss team from somewhere in the Northeast, but I don't know anything about that.)

More on the Big 12 Bowls:

Passing out some Big 12 Christmas gifts

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
2:00
PM ET
Christmas is only a few hours away, but I hope you've been shopping for your favorite folks across the league. Here's a wish list for a handful of folks across the Big 12.

Charlie Weis: A quarterback. Kansas made some big upgrades to its team via the juco ranks, but this is the Big 12. None of it will matter much if BYU transfer Jake Heaps doesn't pan out and become the player Weis hoped he would be when he brought him to Lawrence. Maybe Michael Cummings makes life interesting, but Heaps has heaps of starting experience, and if KU is going to get any better, it has to be much, much better at the quarterback spot after the Dayne Crist Experiment turned out to be a bust.

Oklahoma State fans: Forgiveness and selective memory. Yes, Oklahoma State fans, Mike Gundy disagreed with AD Mike Holder on scheduling philosophy and flirted with Tennessee and Arkansas to the point that some erroneous reports had him accepting the job as the new head Hog. Yes, he almost ruined a hugely beneficial relationship on both sides, but in the process, he damaged it some. Don't hold it against him. He says he gets along with Holder on "95 percent" of what they talk about as it relates to Oklahoma State. OSU gave him opportunities he wouldn't have gotten elsewhere, like becoming a position coach at 23 years old, and becoming a head coach at 36. He provided the program something no other coach could in a long, long time: An outright conference title. Focus on that, not on the aggravations of the offseason.

Kansas State's defense: Rocket-powered roller skates. This Oregon offense is no joke, and they've got backs faster and more talented than anything Kansas State has seen all season in the Big 12. De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner are going to be a handful, and quarterback Marcus Mariota has wheels of his own. Kansas State's defense might need a little help keeping up.

Oklahoma's defense: A dash of extra self-discipline. Speaking of keeping up, Oklahoma better subscribe to the LSU and Florida School of Johnny Football Defense. That is to say, keep contain and make him throw to beat you. If he gets loose in the secondary, it's going to be a long, long day for the Sooners. Keep him under wraps and in the pocket, and the Sooners will have a great shot to force a few turnovers (something they've struggled to do all season) and get a big win for the Big 12.

Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott: A hug. Shoulder surgery ended his career early, but everybody in the Big 12 respects what Knott did over his fantastic career. His leadership and toughness are rivaled by few to ever play in this league. He'll have to be in Memphis watching his fellow seniors close out their careers on the field. That's not easy to watch. Give him a hug and a pat on the back on the way to the NFL Combine. Best of luck, Jake.

Texas Tech fans: A chill pill. Excitement is through the roof in Lubbock, and Tech fans are dreaming of titles as season tickets fly out the door and fans celebrate Kliff Kingsbury's hire in the streets. Give the man time, though, and don't expect him to start racking up Big 12 titles right away. Maybe he will. I'm not saying he won't. I'm just saying the relationship between Kingsbury and Tech has a chance to be really, really special. He's still young, and still going to be learning how to run an entire program where he's making all the decisions. Give him time if it starts out rough, and don't force upon him crazy expectations.

West Virginia: Some new enemies. The poor Mountaineers didn't really find anybody to hate in their first season in the Big 12. TCU rekindled their old Southwest Conference ready-made rivalries with Texas and Texas Tech and Baylor, but the Mountaineers might get a little something going eventually with Tech (John Denver Bowl), Oklahoma State (Dana Holgorsen Bowl) or others. It doesn't help when you're getting stomped by both, and beaten by a bunch of others. For now, they'll have to settle with facing old friend from the Big East, Syracuse, in the Pinstripe Bowl.

TCU's young talents: Earplugs. The Frogs are very young and very, very promising. Over the next eight months, prepare to hear a whole lot about how good the Frogs will be, especially if Casey Pachall shows up in spring camp with his same old arm and a new way of seeing life. The freshmen and sophomore-heavy crew can't listen to it, though. That's the surest way to make it nothing more than hype.

Texas: No more Heisman mistakes in Texas. I really do feel bad for Texas. They recruit by selecting more than recruiting, and a whole lot of guys are going to be left wanting to go to Texas but not going to Texas. Offering guys like RG3 and Manziel to play defensive back while Case McCoy and David Ash hold down the quarterback spot at Texas? It's not a good look for the Longhorns. Some better quarterback evaluations are necessary, but there are a lot of good quarterbacks in the state and not all of them can go to Texas. The Longhorns would love it if guys who don't end up at Texas would stop winning Heismans.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
8:47
PM ET
Oregon Ducks (11-1) vs. Kansas State Wildcats (11-1)

Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET, Glendale, Ariz. (ESPN)

Oregon take by Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: Oregon began the season as the perceived second fiddle to USC. It finished as the second fiddle to Stanford, after the Cardinal handed the Ducks their only defeat, a 17-14 overtime loss. Still, another top-five ranking and a fourth consecutive BCS bowl game makes it difficult to call the season less than a success.

The big question entering the season was replacing quarterback Darron Thomas, who made an ill-fated decision to leave early for the NFL draft. One of the theories on why Thomas left early was that his two backups were better than him. Well, based on the way redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota played, it's easy to see why Thomas might have thought that.

Mariota ranked sixth in the nation in passing efficiency this season, with 30 TD passes and just six interceptions. He completed 70 percent of his throws. He also rushed for 690 yards and four touchdowns. So quarterback questions were answered emphatically.

The Ducks blew through an easy early schedule. There was no marquee nonconference matchup to provide a test, and the early Pac-12 foes didn't offer much resistance, either. Arizona was supposed to offer a challenge, but it went down 49-0. Same with Washington (59-21) and Arizona State (43-21). The Nov. 3 game with USC was supposed to be a marquee showdown, but the Trojans didn't cooperate, arriving at the game with two losses, including a defeat the weekend before at Arizona. The Ducks rolled past the Trojans 62-51, despite numerous injuries on defense.

The dominance against solid, if non-elite foes, made Ducks look like a national title contender. By Week 12, they were ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings behind Kansas State. That looked like the potential national title matchup. But things changed for both.

After dusting California, the Ducks played host to Stanford, a team they had dominated the previous two seasons. Yet the Cardinal found its mojo on defense and shut down Chip Kelly's offense like few had before. Even with an impressive 48-24 win at Oregon State the next weekend, the Ducks couldn't get into the Pac-12 title game, because Stanford won the North, due to the head-to-head victory.

This Oregon team is strong on both sides of the ball. The defense faltered a bit late because of injuries, but it should be fairly healthy after a few weeks of rest.

The final question for Oregon fans heading into the bowl game: Will this be Kelly's last game leading the program? Many have already projected he will take an NFL job this offseason.




Kansas State take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Kansas State can celebrate its first Big 12 title since 2003 with a trip to Glendale, Ariz., for the Fiesta Bowl, the Big 12’s traditional tie-in for its champion. The Wildcats’ loss to Baylor in their 11th game of the season kept them out of the national title game, but they rebounded to beat Texas in the finale and earn the Big 12’s automatic BCS bid, and face Oregon.

Just like he’s done so many times this season, the focus for Bill Snyder and his Wildcats will be slowing down an offense that loves to move fast, fast, fast. Even the fastest Big 12 teams might not move as quickly as Oregon, which has the nation’s fastest running backs and an offense that prides itself on pace. Kansas State’s offense is plenty effective, but will take its time at the line of scrimmage. Heisman candidate Collin Klein will face a worthy adversary in Oregon freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, who received a little bit of Heisman hype himself. However, Kansas State’s defense, led by speedy, sure-tackling linebacker Arthur Brown, will try to contain Oregon’s duo of Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, who also spent some time on Heisman watch lists during the season. Expect two potent, but different, running games to go head to head. Whoever wins the line of scrimmage will win this one, but Kansas State will try to get back to its efficient self. The Wildcats lead the nation in turnover margin and starting field position, and they have committed the third-fewest penalties in FBS games, with just 42 in 10 games. That’s a recipe for success, and it’s exactly how the Wildcats won the Big 12 title and reached their first BCS game since 2003, the last time it won the league.

Like Oklahoma State last season, Kansas State successfully bounced back after a painful upset loss on the road ruined hopes of a national title and a Heisman Trophy. Can the Wildcats beat a solid Pac-12 opponent in Oregon like Oklahoma State did with Stanford a year ago?

This wasn’t the ending to the season Kansas State would have liked after reaching 10-0, but with a month between games, it’ll realize by then that reaching this point is no small accomplishment, and winning this game will be important in improving the way this season is remembered. Kansas State won the Fiesta Bowl back in 1997, but lost in 2003. Can this be another BCS notch on the belt of the Cats’ legendary coach?

Big 12 Heisman Watch: Week 9

October, 23, 2012
10/23/12
10:30
AM ET
Here are the Big 12's best opportunities to bring home the Heisman this season:

1. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein is the new front-runner for the award, and largely stands alone atop the standings. He threw for a career-high 323 yards and accounted for seven touchdowns in Saturday's 55-14 win over then-No. 13 West Virginia.

2. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith hit rock bottom this week and WVU's offense is reeling, but he's still got good numbers, and if he gets back on his previous pace, he might play his way back to the ceremony and who knows, maybe more. Can't emphasize enough how much football is still left to play, and his ratio of 26 touchdowns to two picks is still impressive.

3.Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech: Doege had a terrible outing in the loss to Oklahoma, but he's been lights-out just about every other week. If Texas Tech springs the upset in Manhattan this week, you might see Doege get some Heisman hype, especially if he plays well. He leads the nation with 28 touchdown passes and is third in the Big 12 with 2,209 passing yards with just seven interceptions.

4. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Jones has played fantastic football these past three weeks. Blake Bell is still vulturing touchdowns, which hurts Jones' case, but he's kept a low profile this season and could make a late-season charge if the Sooners keep winning. His numbers still aren't fantastic, though. He's fifth in the Big 12 in yards and ninth in completion percentage, though he's thrown 12 touchdowns to three interceptions.

5. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State: Randle's been pretty consistent this season and he's all alone at the top of the Big 12 rushing race. He has 765 yards and eight scores, and averages 127.5 yards a game on the ground. No other back averages more than 94. If OSU makes a late-season run, he'll get into the mix, especially considering OSU's quarterback injuries.

Here's how I voted in this week's ESPN Heisman Watch, and did so with the belief that there's really only one player in the country right now who's played well enough to really deserve the award:
  1. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
  2. DeAnthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
  3. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
  4. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
  5. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

Big 12 Heisman Watch: Week 7

October, 9, 2012
10/09/12
10:30
AM ET
Here are the Big 12's best hopes for a Heisman after six weeks of football:

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith is all alone in this race for now. It's a long season, but after EJ Manuel and Aaron Murray suffered losses this past weekend, Smith would win the award in an absolute landslide if it were distributed this week. He had two fumbles against Texas, but threw four TDs and has thrown 30 touchdowns since his last interception, dating to last season's final regular-season game, Dec. 1 against South Florida. This year, he's got 24 TD passes and no picks.

2. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein got my No. 2 vote this week, but he's definitely in the mix to win this, and would be in New York if voting were held this weekend. A simple win might not be enough, but Klein might become a co-leader of this race if he goes to Morgantown Oct. 20 and wins. For now, he's got to go to Ames and beat a good Iowa State team.

3. Tavon Austin, WR/KR, West Virginia: Austin turned his first five touches into 166 total yards Saturday against Texas, including a pair of long kick returns and an unbelievable 40-yard touchdown on fourth-and-4 that was the best play of the weekend in the Big 12. He caught 10 passes for 102 yards, and his two kick returns went for 111 yards.

4. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State: Randle leads the Big 12 in rushing, and if Oklahoma State makes a run later this season, he might get in the Heisman mix, too. Casey Pachall and David Ash took a tumble on this list, and Randle moves up, despite being off last week.

5. Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia: Bailey was money against Texas, catching touchdowns on three of his eight grabs in the win over the Longhorns. He finished with 75 yards, and the Longhorns simply couldn't cover him in the red zone.

6. David Ash, QB, Texas: The Longhorns lost Saturday, but it wasn't because of Ash. In a 48-45 loss to West Virginia, he completed 22 of 29 passes for 269 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He takes a tumble down this list, but he's still third nationally in passer rating.

Here's how I voted in this week's ESPN Heisman Watch, a panel of 15 voters comprising ESPN experts and analysts.
  1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
  2. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
  3. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
  4. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
  5. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

Big 12 Heisman Watch: Week 6

October, 2, 2012
10/02/12
10:30
AM ET
We've played five weeks of football, and here are the Big 12's best hopes at bringing the Heisman back to the league for a second consecutive season.

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith played one of the best games we've seen in a long time in a 70-63 win over Baylor, and finds himself all alone and way ahead of the pack in the Heisman race. If voting happened today, Smith might collect every No. 1 vote from across the country. Who else is even in the mix at this point? Smith has four more touchdown passes than anybody else and leads the passer rating statistic by more than 20 points. At this point, he's playing even better than RG3 did a year ago. There's a lot of football left to play, and Smith has a lot of tough opponents ahead. This race is far from over, but there's no doubt about the front-runner right now.

2. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein was off last week, but he's definitely in the mix for this race, too. He won't be able to make any moves this week against Kansas, but his stock probably will parallel Kansas State's record. Klein isn't able to put up the type of numbers Smith can.

3. David Ash, QB, Texas: Ash looks like a new man this year, and debuts on the Big 12 Heisman Watch this week after a 300-yard game with a handful of clutch throws in a 41-36 win over Oklahoma State on the road. So far, Ash is second in the Big 12 in passer rating and second in completion percentage, with the league's second-best touchdown-interception ratio. Ash has 10 scores and threw his first interception on Saturday in Stillwater.

4. Casey Pachall, QB, TCU: Pachall got stuck in a downpour Saturday night, and had his worst game in a long time. The Frogs got the win, but you can't take a lot from Pachall's numbers, which didn't affect his stock all that much. For now, TCU is just hanging around. Pachall's stock will either skyrocket or crash and burn on the final half of TCU's schedule.

5. Tavon Austin, WR/KR, West Virginia: Austin leads the Big 12 with 48 catches and he's third in the league with 560 yards. He has been quiet this year in the return game, but to this point, Stedman Bailey's probably been even better than Austin. Still, without return yardage, Bailey's got no shot to win. Justin Blackmon has taught us this. The Biletnikoff, though? Bailey's in the driver's seat.

Here's how I voted in this week's ESPN Heisman Watch, a weekly poll of 15 ESPN experts and analysts:
  1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
  2. E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
  3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
  4. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
  5. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

Big 12 Heisman Watch: Week 5

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
10:30
AM ET
Here are the Big 12's best hopes for the Heisman through four weeks of football:

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith is the front-runner for the entire race, and with that come a whole lot of eyes. He has yet to throw an interception this year and has accounted for 13 touchdowns. Smith completed 30-of-43 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-21 win over Maryland. His completion percentage came down to earth, but he was still pretty good, despite being pressured more than he had all season. The reason: WVU's running game stalled without Shawne Alston.

2. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein helped engineer the Wildcats' 24-19 win over Oklahoma with another solid game, even if his numbers aren't going to turn any heads. He's easily in the national top five for the Heisman after completing 13-of-21 passes for 149 yards and running 17 times for 79 yards and a touchdown.

3. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia: Austin had his best game of the year in the win over Maryland, catching 13 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns, earning the Big 12's player of the week honors. Austin's start/stop acumen was on display, and he's easily the quickest guy in the Big 12.

4. Casey Pachall, QB, TCU: Pachall makes his debut on our Big 12 Heisman Watch. It's still early for the Frogs, but despite some turnover issues in the red zone, Pachall has been really, really good and really underrated on the national scene so far this season. He completed 21-of-32 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns and an interception last week. Pachall is completing 76 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns, and the interception was his first of the season.

Here's how I voted in our ESPN Heisman Watch this week, a panel of 15 voters that previews the award each week:
  1. Geno Smith, QB, WVU
  2. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
  3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
  4. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
  5. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

Geno Smith new No. 1 in Heisman Watch

September, 18, 2012
9/18/12
11:14
AM ET
For now, let's make it official: Geno Smith is the new Heisman frontrunner.

In our weekly ESPN Heisman Watch, Smith collected 12 of the 15 first-place votes, including mine.

That gave him a 22-point lead over second-place finisher De'Anthony Thomas, the Oregon running back.

Here's what we wrote about Smith in the Heisman Watch blurb:
Smith kept himself in the Heisman race, finishing with five touchdowns and 411 yards on 34-of-39 passing in a 42-12 win over James Madison. He passed Marc Bulger to earn the school's all-time passing mark, and through two games, he's thrown nine touchdown passes and nine incompletions.

Not bad, not bad at all.

Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein was the only other Big 12 player to receive votes. He grabbed one second-place vote, three fourth-place votes (including mine) and three fifth-place votes. That put him in sixth place, one of only six players to receive double-digit points and just one point behind Matt Barkley.

Big 12 Heisman Watch: Week 4

September, 18, 2012
9/18/12
10:30
AM ET
Here's who I've got as the Big 12's best Heisman hopes through three weeks of games.

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith should take over the spot as the front-runner for the award after a crazy-good two games and a USC loss in which Matt Barkley played awful. Smith has accounted for 10 touchdowns (nine passing, one rushing) and thrown just nine incompletions. West Virginia's two wins have been no-doubters fueled by the offense, and Smith is second nationally in passer rating and fourth in touchdowns.

2. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein's Cats have had a pair of slow starts, but he made a big impression in K-State's win over Miami. He had a pretty good outing against North Texas, completing 15 of 20 passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also added 85 yards rushing and a touchdown on 11 carries. Good enough. Klein is still a dark horse, but if he goes into Norman and wins? Look out.

3. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Jones is on this list in name only so far this season. He has been underwhelming through two games, but the Sooners are still in the top 10 and Jones has big name recognition. If he has a big game in the Sooners' first real test -- Kansas State -- he'll get back in the mix. Through two games, though, Jones is completing just 62.5 percent of his passes (40-of-64) for 474 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.

4. Tavon Austin, WR/KR/PR, West Virginia: Austin has been overshadowed a bit by his more traditional teammate, Stedman Bailey, but has put up some good numbers through two games, too. He's caught 21 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns, but was quiet in the return game on Saturday, not returning a punt and taking his only kick return just 8 yards. Bailey has put up bigger numbers in the receiving game, but traditional receivers have zero chance to win the Heisman. If Austin makes noise in the return game, he could get in the mix.

Here's how I voted in this week's ESPN Heisman Watch:
  1. Geno Smith, QB, WVU
  2. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
  3. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
  4. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
  5. Matt Barkley, QB, USC -- Completely silly to think Barkley is out of this race with one bad game and one loss. Take a look at what happened to RG3 last season.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

BIG 12 SCOREBOARD