Big 12: Kliff Kingsbury

Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb entered the season as the Big 12’s second-best signal-caller.

Now, there’s no guarantee he’s the future behind center for the Red Raiders.

That is partially because true freshman Patrick Mahomes is making his case to become the man under center for Tech. With Webb ailing with an ankle injury, Mahomes could be staking his claim as the man to run Kliff Kingsbury’s offense in 2015 and beyond after delivering a solid performance in a loss to Oklahoma on Saturday.

Placed alongside the numbers put up by Tech quarterbacks in recent history, Mahomes' statistics don’t stand out. He finished 27 of 50 for 393 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-30 loss to the Sooners. But it was one number in particular, his zero interceptions, that did stand out.

[+] EnlargePatrick Mahomes
John Weast/Getty ImagesFreshman quarterback Patrick Mahomes played a turnover-free game against Oklahoma.
“That was huge,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “That’s what we’ve been missing, really the entire year. We haven’t been good enough offensively to turn it over then make up for it. I think that was the key stat that jumped out to me.”

It was the Red Raiders' first game without an interception since their Sept. 6 win over UTEP. The Red Raiders’ 16 interceptions are tied for 119th among FBS teams, and their 3.4-percent interception percentage is tied for 85th.

“He protected the football,” Kingsbury said. “I asked him to do that and he did a great job of it against a very good defense. He was under duress most of the evening but continued to make great plays with his feet and threw some balls away, had a couple big plays called back.”

Mahomes' poise under duress really stood out against the Sooners, as the true freshman showed unusual calm amidst the chaos of the pocket and repeatedly turned Sooners pressure into Red Raiders opportunities.

“He was throwing on the run, escaping rushers and still delivering the ball with great accuracy and touch on the ball,” receiver Bradley Marquez said.

Mahomes, who spurned the opportunity to play professional baseball to play at Tech, also showed a toughness and willingness to stand in the pocket and take a hit to deliver the ball.

“The maturity to stand in there, know you’re going to get hit and still deliver the ball was awesome to see,” Marquez said. “It’s kind of the composure you have to have.”

It’s a maturity that Marquez, who also has a baseball background as a former outfielder in the New York Mets organization, thinks might have been honed on the diamond. While Marquez is a outfielder and Mahomes a prized pitcher, both have been toughened up by their baseball backgrounds. Mahomes made an adult decision in turning down the money that professional baseball could have provided him and exposing himself to physical punishment on the football field. It's likely made him mentally tougher and more mature than the average true freshman quarterback.

“That’s exactly what I think has helped him,” Marquez said. “I’ve gone through the same process as him so I know first hand the maturity it takes to do those things. I think it’s definitely something that benefited him and his game.

“In baseball, you’re going to fail more times than you’re going to succeed, so you have to have the maturity to move on when you do something bad so it doesn’t disrupt you later on in the game. It’s helped me be mentally strong, and I think Pat would agree it’s helped him as well.”

The maturity, poise and ball protection by Mahomes has put him in the position to continue to run the Red Raiders attack, even with Webb inching closer to full health. On Monday, Kingsbury said he would name his starter “at kickoff” when Tech faces Iowa State on Saturday, a thought would have been unthinkable before the season. And no matter who starts the final two games of Tech’s season, Kingsbury says all bets are off heading into the spring.

“Going into the spring, it will be an open competition,” Kingsbury said. “Anytime you have a record of 3-7, you have to re-evaluate some things.”

And what a competition it could be with the rapidly improving Mahomes, the experienced Webb, and ESPN 300 quarterback Jarrett Stidham among several quarterbacks ready to battle it out in the spring.

But, make no mistake, Mahomes has taken a step toward convincing Kingsbury he can be the answer at a position that has been unstable since he took over. Mahomes' development and ability to excel while protecting the ball in a game against a defensive front full of athletes will be remembered once the competition begins.

“He’s just a gamer,” Marquez said. “There’s something you can’t really see until he plays a game. I see how hard he plays and how hard he works, he’s going to be a great player for years to come.”
Kliff Kingsbury, Charlie StrongIcon Sportswire, AP PhotoKliff Kingsbury and Charlie Strong both lead 3-5 teams in the midst of a rebuilding process.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Vance Bedford was describing with admiration what Bob Stoops built at Oklahoma when, as the loquacious Texas defensive coordinator is prone to do, he swerved off course. A children’s fable had come to mind.

“We are not where we need to be, but it's going in the right direction. It's just one brick at a time. One step at a time,” Bedford said earlier this month. “I know people now say Texas is this and Texas is that. Stay right here. Just like the three little pigs.

“We aren't building a straw house here, guys. We're building a brick house that is going to withstand a whole lot of things in time. A straw house is built real fast. When a strong wind comes by, it's gone real fast. A brick house will withstand a hurricane, a tornado. It's going to stand tall. It's going to stand a long time.”

There’s no one wolf to blame for the mighty winds that have blown through Austin and Lubbock this fall. For Texas and Texas Tech, both 3-5 and clinging to the faint hope of a bowl game, a frustrating season has offered humbling reminders about the reality of a true rebuild. They’ll meet on Saturday night amid different phases of the same difficult construction.

What Tech built up last season under Kliff Kingsbury was a house with more sticks than bricks. A 7-0 start beget irrational expectations. You can’t reasonably expect Big 12 titles right away from a first-time head coach, or at least you shouldn’t. The bar of public perception was raised too high, too fast.

And then the Red Raiders lost five in a row. They saved face in their bowl game, but the damage was done. They’ve spent 2014 in a frustratingly fruitless chase to get back what they briefly had a year ago.

“It's in there,” Kingsbury said earlier this season. “We’ve just got to get it out and find a way to get that type of composure, that confidence back.”

The road back has offered disaster at nearly every turn: the beatdown from Arkansas, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt’s dismissal, a four-game slide, innumerable injuries and penalties and now the 82-27 loss to TCU. Tech, losers of nine of its last 10 conference games, is just trying to get through this now.

“Where we're at, any win would be good,” Kingsbury said. “It's just -- it's been one of those years where any win is good. We're not a good enough team to look past anybody or not play well against anybody to get a win at this point.”

Through it all, the brick-by-brick building doesn't stop. Tech players haven't given up. Running back DeAndre Washington remembers what happened after the 5-7 season of 2011. He calls it the longest offseason in all his years playing football.

“I definitely don't want to have to endure that feeling again,” Washington said. “We're trying to do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen again.”

At Texas, the bricklaying is off to a slower start. Charlie Strong promised a culture change for the program, and that foundation has shown progress. He never promised a Big 12 title in Year 1. But unexpected roster upheaval has created real obstacles to reaching six wins.

It’s not just the nine Longhorns dismissed from the program and the one still suspended. Losing senior starters Dominic Espinosa and Desmond Jackson for the season and junior quarterback David Ash for his career, all before Big 12 play began, required a shift in both plans and expectations.

“Nobody could’ve predicted this,” receiver John Harris said. “We figured we’d be a way better team than we were. If you go back and don’t lose any of those people, maybe it’s a different story. But this is the hand we’ve been dealt.”

The Texas team that’s left might best be described as unpredictable. Close calls against ranked UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma teams are defensible. A couple fewer mistakes here and there and the narrative changes. But losses are losses.

“That's not the standard,” Strong said. “I still believe this. I always will believe this. I told our team this: We are a better football team than a 3-5 record. The record doesn't show it, but we're a better team.”

Strong and Kingsbury are in this for the long haul -- Strong has a five-year deal, Kingsbury’s was extended to 2020 -- and have time to assemble something that will endure. It’s about the next four years, not just these next four games. But both could use something good on Saturday night.

Their fans are disappointed. Their players are hurting. Their coaches are digging deep. Their reputations are taking hits. This is the rough battle of rebuilding. But neither coach should lose sight of the little pigs’ lesson: How you build your house matters far more than how quickly.

Texas Tech at TCU primer

October, 24, 2014
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A week after knocking off a top-15 Oklahoma State team at home, TCU welcomes another dangerous foe to Fort Worth.

The No. 10-ranked Horned Frogs look to improve 6-1 and boost their rising College Football Playoff hopes with a win over Texas Tech on Saturday afternoon. Brandon Chatmon and Max Olson break down the matchup.

How Texas Tech can earn the upset: Davis Webb needs to outplay Trevone Boykin, and the Red Raider defense needs to force some turnovers if Kliff Kingsbury’s squad hopes to knock off the nation’s 10th-ranked team. Webb has done a better job of taking care of the football in recent weeks (six touchdowns, two interceptions), but it will be critical for him and the Red Raiders to limit their mistakes while putting together some big plays of their own. -- Chatmon

How TCU can control the game: This might be a survive-and-advance kind of game for TCU. You know the Red Raiders are going to take lots of shots in the pass game. They want a shootout, and they really have nothing to lose. TCU's 42-9 rout of Oklahoma State was a perfect blueprint for controlling a game from start to finish, so we know the Frogs are more than capable of that. Another strong first-half start -- stops, takeaways, red-zone TDs -- would go a long way this week against this inconsistent TTU defense. -- Olson

Texas Tech’s X factor: Running back Justin Stockton has been a big play waiting to happen with five touchdowns in seven games thus far in his career. The true freshman has scored a touchdown in all three Red Raider wins this season and has the ability to make game-changing plays as the second running option in Tech’s attack. He’s averaging 9.6 yards per carry and could be just what the Red Raiders need to pull the upset. -- Chatmon

TCU's X factor: Its diversity of skill talent production. Nine different players recorded rushes or receptions of 10-plus yards against Oklahoma State last week, including Josh Doctson. Anybody else could do it this week. The Horned Frogs' ability to move the ball without relying heavily on any one player can be an asset at this phase of the season and in the playoff chase. -- Olson

What a win would mean for Texas Tech: A win would be huge for Kingsbury’s squad, which has suffered some ups-and-downs during his second season in charge. It would be an unexpected step towards a second straight bowl game and a sign the Red Raiders have shaken off their four-game losing streak with back-to-back wins heading into a showdown with Texas. -- Chatmon

What a win would mean for TCU: Another step toward proving the Horned Frogs are the team to beat in the conference. They had one heck of an October schedule and finishing that stretch with a 3-1 record would be an impressive feat that keeps them right in the middle of the Big 12 title hunt. TCU needs to maintain its momentum, too, because the next two games are a doozy: a trip to West Virginia and a home game against Kansas State. -- Olson
In today's mailbag we talk West Virginia, Mountaineers' receiver Kevin White, storming the field and Oklahoma State's recent struggles. As always thanks for your questions, submit questions for next week's mailbag here.

On to the mailbag:

Brian Popp in Kansas City, Missouri writes: What's the deal with Kansas State's kicker situation? Do you think that Bill Snyder will give Jack Cantele another shot?

Brandon Chatmon: Well, Matthew McCrane hasn't missed a kick, 2 of 2 field goals and 14 of 14 on PATs, so I don't see why the Wildcats would turn back to Cantele unless McCrane stumbles.



Steve writes: What is your opinion about Baylor students storming the field after the TCU game?

Chatmon: I loved it. The perfect ending to a great game. College football is supposed to be fun, as long as people aren't being dangerous about it, I have no issues with storming the field, particularly after winning a battle of top-10 teams on the game's last play.



Kenny R. in Blacksburg, Virginia writes: West Virginia seems to have Baylor in a perfect spot (in Morgantown, early kickoff, sandwiched between emotional TCU win and OU). As a diehard Mountaineer though it makes me nervous to even think that though without confirmation. What do you think?

Chatmon: I would agree. I expect a close, exciting game at Milan Puskar. A blowout on either side would surprise me.



Mike in Wheeling, West Virginia writes: Why isn't Kevin White in the Heisman race?

Chatmon: Because WVU has two losses and he is a receiver. Unfortunately it takes a special, special season for a receiver to get some love.



Myles in Morgantown, West Virginia writes: If Kevin White keeps producing like he has, is he a 1st round receiver?

Chatmon: I'm not an NFL scout, but I'd definitely consider him. It's hard to find receivers with his size and ball skills. If not first round, he should be a Day 2 selection.



Brooks in Galveston, Texas writes: Baylor/TCU last Saturday was one for the ages. However, it seems all people take away from it is "bad defenses/crazy offenses." But lost in the mix is that TCU had 17 possessions with Baylor getting stops on 9. How do we reconcile this? Also, does ANYONE want to play Baylor right now?

Chatmon: You'll have a hard time finding someone to say giving up five touchdowns was a great defensive performance, Brooks. But BU's comeback doesn't happen without its defense, either. And, while Baylor is a problem for anyone it plays, I don't think the Bears are looking at a conference full of teams scared to play them.



P.T. Dee in Lubbock writes: First, I would like to give props to the WVU kicker for making that field goal. Even though I am a Texas Tech student, I was impressed. Second, I just want to know your thoughts on what Tech's season will look like from here. Is the Texas or Oklahoma game winnable since they are both in Lubbock?

Chatmon: Both are winnable but things aren't looking good for the Red Raiders. Kliff Kingsbury's squad can't seem to find a rhythm, but Lubbock is always a hard place to play. Expect the Red Raiders to hang around in both games but doubt they will triumph in either.



Zach in Morgantown, West Virginia writes: Josh Lambert, great kicker, or the greatest kicker?

Chatmon: I'm not sure I consider him a kicker anymore, he's reached superhero status at this point, right?



Michael in Lubbock writes: I hear that as punishment, Texas Tech players who commit a penalty in a game have to show up at 5 a.m. to run. At this rate, I don't think there will be many Red Raiders on the all-conference football team, but how many do you think could earn all-conference honors in cross country?

Chatmon: At least five Red Raiders could be up for All-Big 12 cross country honors because all three units (offense, defense, special teams) have had penalty problems this season. Let's hope they at least get to check out some of Lubbock's best running trails.



Adam in Fort Worth, Texas writes: What happened to the Oklahoma State team that took FSU to the wire? I get we have inexperience and lost one of the best position coaches in the nation to the evil empire - but come on, man! Kansas was the better team Saturday. Any chance TCU's hangover lets us get one by my wife's Horned Frogs?

Chatmon: Maybe they stayed in Texas? I don't know, it's been a different Cowboys squad since FSU, but an undefeated one. And that cannot be overlooked. OSU isn't playing terrific yet continues to pile up wins. If this game was in Stillwater I might like OSU's chances a little more but TCU's defense is sound, its offense has been outstanding and Gary Patterson's squad is coming off a loss. The cards are stacked against OSU so they'll have to surprise again to knock off TCU. Feels like you could be losing bragging rights in your household.
From the first snap of the Holiday Bowl through three open scrimmages in the spring, Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb threw 17 touchdowns.

And not a single interception.

But this season, Webb’s ball security has gone the other direction. Webb has thrown a Big 12-high 10 interceptions during Tech's disappointing 2-3 start. Only Kansas' Montell Cozart has tossed more than five. And only two Power 5 conference quarterbacks -- Wake Forest’s John Wolford and Webb’s former teammate, Virginia Tech’s Michael Brewer -- have been intercepted more times than Webb.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiDavis Webb and Texas Tech are searching for confidence after a tough start to the season.
"I’ve put too much pressure on myself when things aren't going right and guys aren't getting open as much as they usually do or we aren't running the ball as we usually do," Webb said this week. "I put the pressure on myself and say, 'We've got to make a better play and force this,' instead of just calming down and let our guys make the plays."

Things haven’t gone right very often for the Tech offense season. A program that has been forged on lighting up the scoreboard ranks just seventh in the league in scoring.

The turnovers have been a big reason why.

"It's a combination of everything, bad play calls, tough reads and not being in the right spot. It's a combination of things. It's not on one person," said coach Kliff Kingsbury. "I haven't figured that out, but that's how it looks to me as well. There [are] moments of greatness.

"And then it looks like the Bad News Bears some of the times."

The Red Raiders have moved the ball well, even in last weekend’s 45-13 loss at Kansas State. Webb led Tech right down the field on its opening drive in Manhattan. But once the Red Raiders got into the red zone, it was Bad News Bears time. Webb tried to squeeze a pass into Bradley Marquez in the end zone. Instead, K-State’s Morgan Burns intercepted. Webb went on to finish with a career-high four interceptions, spurring the Wildcats to the easy win.

"After that interception, I felt the air come out of the sidelines, which as a coach, you try to keep from happening," Kingsbury said. "You want to be resilient, but it did feel that way."

In response, as they prepared to find a way turn their season around against West Virginia on Saturday, the Red Raiders held a players-only meeting at the beginning the week.

"We kind of went dead," Webb said. "We were down just by 17 points. This program has come back by a lot more than that in recent years throughout our history, and yet there was this 'here we go again' kind of feeling."

Over the years, the Red Raiders have forged an identity as a team capable of big comebacks. Just last season, Webb, as a true freshman, rallied Tech back from a 27-16 deficit at West Virginia to a 37-27 victory, which catapulted the Red Raiders to a 7-0 start and a top-10 ranking in the polls.

So far this season, Tech has been unable to rekindle any of that gumption.

"I think as a group, that entire group does things that you watch them out here in practice play with confidence and swag, and then they get to the games and you don't see that," Kingsbury said. "You gotta grow up. We haven't had a lot of confidencebuilding moments in this season -- there haven't been a ton, to be honest.

"You gotta have success to get it back, and those first couple of games where you would like to build confidence, we really didn't. We sputtered along. So now we are at the midway point and we've got to breed success. That's the only way to find confidence."

That starts with Webb.

"We know how good we can be," Webb said. "We see it when we score on big drives and we hit little plays.

"We got to get better at the little things, routine plays, routine drives, routine plays. ... and see what happens at the end."

Planning for success: Texas Tech

September, 30, 2014
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In its 20-14 loss to Auburn two weeks ago, Kansas State missed three field goals, squandered a red zone opportunity with an interception and fumbled deep in its own territory.

But even in that mistake-filled game, the Wildcats didn’t commit a single penalty, a trademark of Bill Snyder-coached teams.

This weekend, Texas Tech will travel to Manhattan as the most-penalized team in the country so far this season. The Red Raiders have averaged 105.5 penalty yards a game, which is a major reason why they’re off to a sluggish 2-2 start in Kliff Kingsbury's second season.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsKliff Kingsbury's Red Raiders will be at a major disadvantage if they don't clean up their penalty issues against the disciplined Wildcats.
K-State, meanwhile, once again is the least penalized team in the Big 12. So for Tech to have any chance of knocking off the Wildcats and putting its season back on track, it has to shed the penalty bug before arriving in Manhattan.

“We'll just keep addressing them and keep trying to get better,” Kingsbury said Monday. “A lot of it is technique, fundamentals. I think they're playing hard but not always smart. So we've got to keep coaching and that's on us as a staff to get that straightened out.”

Kingsbury has been saying the same for weeks, to no avail.

In a 45-35 loss at Oklahoma State last Thursday, the Red Raiders were flagged 16 times for 158 yards. Twice, that directly took points off the board. Jakeem Grant had a kickoff return for a touchdown nullified by a holding call. The Red Raiders also lost an opportunity for a field goal try after a delay of game penalty bumped them from field goal range. Those 10 points wound up being the margin in the loss.

“We've got to be tougher coaching-wise, then when they're out there, they've got to execute it or we've got to find guys that can,” Kingsbury said. “But to do that against anybody, you're not going to win the game, to have 16 penalties.

“That's something we'll have to improve on dramatically this week against a team that's known for not making mistakes.”

K-State traditionally has feasted on opponents that beat themselves. That included the Red Raiders in Lubbock last season.

Tech had 11 more first downs than the Wildcats. The Red Raiders produced 92 more yards of offense. And they converted more than 50 percent of their third-down attempts.

But Tech was never really in the game and got demolished 49-26, thanks to 10 penalties and three turnovers.

“Penalties are going to happen in the game of football, but the way we've been having them around here in bunches and 15yarders is unacceptable,” said receiver Bradley Marquez. “We've put emphasis on this from the offseason. We've tried everything. We've done a lot of different things for it.”

The Red Raiders would get a major boost if quarterback Davis Webb is able to play this weekend after suffering an injury to his non-throwing shoulder against Oklahoma State. Webb, who is coming off his best game of the season, threw for 374 yards and four touchdowns. Yet even with Webb's sparkling performance, penalties doomed the Red Raiders in Stillwater. And even if Webb is able to play, penalties will doom Tech in Manhattan, too, if not corrected.

“Kansas State is a team that's not going to hurt themselves and they've done that over the years,” Marquez said. “They've had great discipline. They execute, and they have great technique, and they don't have those penalties.

“So we'll definitely have to go out there and play as mistake-free as possible to give ourselves a chance. I don't know what can be done about it. It just comes down to the individual and being able to go out there and not commit these mistakes. We're still trying to figure it out, but it definitely needs to change.”
Thursday night, Oklahoma State defeated Texas Tech 45-35 in the Big 12 opener for both teams.

Here were my thoughts on the game:

The long ball figures to be Oklahoma State’s bread-and-butter going forward with Garman: This is not the sharpest offense Oklahoma State has featured under Mike Gundy. But with Daxx Garman at quarterback and some big-play receivers at his disposal, this offense has the ability to throw the ball downfield as well as any offense Gundy has had. Garman completed six passes of 30 yards or more against Tech, and had chances to connect on several others. Marcell Ateman, true freshman James Washington, Tyreek Hill and tight ends Blake Jarwin and Jeremy Seaton were all part of the barrage. Brandon Sheperd, Jhajuan Seales and David Glidden all have the ability to go deep, too. At varying times since 2011, the Cowboys have been seeking a consistent offensive identity. They now appear to have one. It’s a little bit feast or famine, underscored by a drive chart Thursday that included six three-and-outs. But with all six of their touchdown drives against Tech coming in five plays or fewer, the Cowboys showed they are also capable of putting up points at any moment.

Tech won’t break out of its slump until it eradicates the penalties: The Red Raiders played much better in Stillwater than they did in the 49-28 home thumping Arkansas gave them two weeks ago. Quarterback Davis Webb came out on fire, and the Red Raiders basically controlled the game through the entire first half. Yet, Tech still trailed at halftime 21-14. The reason? Penalties and turnovers. Tech was penalized 16 times for 158 yards, and currently leads the nation with almost 106 penalty yards per game. Jakeem Grant had a kickoff return for a touchdown negated by a holding call. The Red Raiders also lost an opportunity at a field-goal try because of a delay of game. That’s 10 points Tech left on the field in a game it lost by, that’s right, 10 points. "I have to figure out something to tone that down, because we are not going to win any more games the rest of the year if we keep doing stuff like that," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. Kingsbury is right. No matter what else Tech does, it is going to be a long season until the Red Raiders correct their penalty problem, and fast.

The Cowboys have to get Hill more involved: Hill is an immense talent. But since the opener against Florida State, the Cowboys have struggled to find ways to get the speedy back involved. Before the season, Gundy said he wanted to get Hill 20-25 touches per game. But in each of Oklahoma State’s past three games, Hill has gotten exactly nine offensive touches. The Cowboys actually did a better job of involving Hill in the second half Thursday. In the third quarter, they lined him up in the slot, and he beat the defense down the middle for a 50-yard touchdown. Later in the quarter, Hill popped through on a well-designed, 17-yard draw on third-and-18, which led to a first-down conversion on fourth-and-1. That draw was the key play on a drive that ended with a field goal that put the Cowboys up by two scores for good. Hill is too explosive, though, to only be getting nine offensive touches per game. But the second half could be a sign offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich is finally getting a feel for how to utilize Hill more often.

What Oklahoma State can take from this game: Before the season, this was the key game on the Cowboys’ schedule. With it now out of the way, Oklahoma State has a great chance to move to 5-1 before heading to Fort Worth for an Oct. 18 clash at TCU. The Cowboys still have plenty to correct before then. The offensive line yet again didn’t impose its will in the running game, despite facing a defensive front that gave up 438 yards on the ground to Arkansas. The Oklahoma State defense also had issues early on covering up Tech’s nickel-and-dime passing attack, and was dreadful at times with its tackling. That said, there is a lot to like about this team in what was supposedly going to be a rebuilding year. The offense with Garman has big-play ability. And the defense is loaded with young players who seem to be getting better with every appearance. Oklahoma State doesn’t have the look yet of a Big 12 contender. But the Cowboys could still do a lot of damage in the league.

What Texas Tech can take from this game: This was actually the best game Tech has played so far this season. Webb was on point early, and Grant, Reginald Davis and Bradley Marquez made big plays in the passing game. The run defense also made huge improvement in Mike Smith’s first game as coordinator, limiting the Cowboys to just 3.8 yards per carry. But while plugging the run, the Red Raiders were left vulnerable downfield, and the Tech defensive backs repeatedly failed to make plays in one-on-one situations. Even then, had it not been for the penalties and three turnovers, this was a game Tech could have won. In many ways, this is a performance the Red Raiders can build on. But it won’t amount to much unless they can also fix their penalty problem.

Big 12 morning links

September, 25, 2014
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I must admit, as a Nuggets fan, my reaction was more like ... "YES!!!!!"
  • How do you stop Baylor? Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune takes a closer look at how Iowa State will try to stop the Bears. Among the priorities is stopping the running game. Baylor is thought of as a high-flying attack but the Bears lead the Big 12 in rushing yards per game (207.5) since 2009. Art Briles has always built his offense around the running game so the Cyclones focus on stopping that ground attack is a great place to start.
  • Oklahoma's offensive line is big and physical, writes Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman. OU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has been one of the best hires in the Big 12 in recent years. The Sooners have averaged a Big 12-best 5.35 yards per carry since Bedenbaugh was hired before the 2013 season. OU averaged 4.15 yards per carry in the three seasons before Bedenbaugh's arrival.
  • An excellent piece by SI.com's Lindsay Schnell on Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury gives you a glimpse at his extremely competitive nature among other things. It should be no surprise that Kingsbury's competitive drive is strong. It's hard to rise so quickly from quality control assistant to head coach at your alma mater without unique traits like Kingsbury's competitiveness.
  • TCU running backs are sharing the ball-carrying load reports Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The Horned Frogs running backs might be splitting carries but I was expecting TCU's new offense to bring a little more commitment to the running game than we've seen in the first two games. TCU is averaging 36.3 rushes per game after averaging 33.58 rushes per game a year ago. It will be interesting to see if that number increases in Big 12 play or remains between 35-40 rushes per game for the duration of the year.
  • His Kansas State teammates weren't surprised to see linebacker Dakorey Johnson make a big impact against Auburn last Thursday, writes Joshua Tinder of the Manhattan Mercury. Johnson earned Big 12 defensive player of the week honors with six tackles including two tackles for loss and one interception in the loss to the Tigers. Johnson brings increased athleticism to K-State's defense so it will be interesting to see if he can consistently play at a high level for Bill Snyder's squad. If he can, the Wildcats defense could end up among the Big 12's best units.
Kliff Kingsbury knows what it is like to experience struggles as the quarterback at Texas Tech. As a sophomore signal-caller in 2000, the Red Raiders' current coach threw as many interceptions as touchdowns (9) during his first five games.

“It's all part of the process,” Kingsbury said. “I remember being a sophomore, getting booed off the field here. I remember Graham [Harrell] getting booed off the field here.”

Webb
Current Red Raiders quarterback Davis Webb knows exactly how his head coach must have felt. Webb's ball protection, a clear asset in 2013, has taken a step backward in 2014 with a Big 12-worst four interceptions in the Red Raiders' first three games.

“It takes time to grow up,” Kingsbury said. “You got a lot on your shoulders. You just have to keep plugging away. We'll get it.”

Webb hasn’t been horrible. He just hasn’t been the Davis Webb we saw a year ago, when he passed for 2,718 yards and 20 touchdowns with nine interceptions while finishing third in the Big 12 in adjusted QBR behind Baylor’s Bryce Petty and Oklahoma State’s Clint Chelf.

This fall, Webb has passed for 982 yards and 10 touchdowns along with his four interceptions. His 252 passing yards along with three touchdowns and two interceptions in Tech’s 49-28 loss to Arkansas underscores his early season struggles. His 65.3 Adjusted QBR is sixth in the Big 12 and his 3.1 interception percent is tied for eighth in the Big 12 with Iowa State’s Sam B. Richardson and Kansas State’s Jake Waters.

“You could say he had a rough game, but he comes out wanting to be the best quarterback in the Big 12, in the nation,” center Jared Kaster said. “Nothing affects him. Just keep going. As a quarterback, you want that in the huddle. You want a guy we can count on, step up, somebody we can believe in.”

Quite frankly, without the interceptions, Webb’s production wouldn't be a major problem. Thus, he simply needs to return to his solid ball protection of a year ago, when his 2.5 interception percentage was third in the conference.

“We have to protect the football,” Kingsbury said. “We can't put our defense in those situations. No more three-and-outs and squandering possessions because teams are going to hold onto the ball.”

When the Red Raiders travel to Oklahoma State on Thursday night, Webb will get the chance to show nothing has changed and his early season interception struggles are a temporary mirage as he enters the national stage against the Cowboys.

“He's had a good look about him,” Kingsbury said. “The big deal is just making sure how we're practicing translates over to the playing field.”
Mike Smith is not talking this week, which must be killing him.

The man now fully responsible for Texas Tech’s defense is not doing interviews this week, which is understandable. Tech is busy trying to rally from its abrupt coaching shakeup and prepare for a critical Thursday night game at No. 24 Oklahoma State.

The 33-year-old steps into a tricky situation, but one he no doubt treasures. The unexpected resignation of co-defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt last week is giving Smith, a loud and proud former Red Raiders linebacker, a pressure-packed chance to once again prove himself.

Smith
“He brings a lot of energy,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said this week. “Very positive. Good with the players. Things won’t change a lot schematically or personnel. But every guy is going to have their different way of doing things. I think he’s handled himself well.”

Smith’s rapid rise in the coaching ranks parallels Kingsbury’s in many ways. They were teammates at Texas Tech for three years. They cut their teeth with some of the game’s best coaches. They approach their jobs today with the passion of guys who wish they were still playing.

A four-year starting linebacker with the Red Raiders who racked up 314 tackles, Smith, who graduated in 2004, played hard and might’ve pranked harder. He and roommate Wes Welker, one of Smith’s best friends to this day, developed quite the reputation. One time, they released a pack of hairless rats in Tech’s running backs room.

On the field, though, they teamed with Kingbsury to help lay the foundation for the Mike Leach era in Lubbock. Smith tied for the team lead in tackles as a senior and was a seventh-round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens.

He played there for two seasons under defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, backing up an All-Pro in Ray Lewis and learning from veterans like Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott.

But Smith’s climb up the coaching ladder couldn’t begin without a heartbreaking setback. He earned his first career start, in place of an injured Lewis, on Nov. 12, 2006. He injured his left shoulder on his very first snap, after a cut block from Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae.

The Ravens announced he would miss two or three weeks. But the injury was much worse than that. Smith suffered a torn labrum, rotator cuff and biceps tendon and had dislocated his shoulder. The injury would eventually require four surgeries.

Smith missed the 2007 season and reached an injury settlement with the Ravens in summer 2008. His playing days were over after just 14 games as a pro.

But Smith made some important friends during his time with the Ravens. After a stint as a grad assistant at Hawaii in 2009, he landed an internship with the New York Jets and reunited with Ryan.

This was grunt work at its finest: up to 20 hours a day of helping with game plans and meetings for little pay and less recognition. He stayed in the townhouse of then-Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, now the Cleveland Browns’ head coach. Smith made a big impression, especially for his work helping revive linebacker Aaron Maybin’s career.

“It’s like the 'it' factor with coaches,” Pettine told the New York Daily News in 2011. “You either have it or you don’t. And he’s got it.”

He got the coaches’ attention, too, with his sideline antics. The no-name intern couldn’t stop himself from running on the field and celebrating his pass-rushers’ feats.

“The refs would tell me before the game, ‘Hey, Coach Smith, you’re going to have to stay off the field. You’re out there on the freaking numbers,’ ” Smith told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal last year. “I was going to go tackle those guys.”

He turned down opportunities to work with two of his former Texas Tech coaches, Leach and Dana Holgorsen, after Ryan finally promoted him to a full-time gig -- outside linebackers coach -- for the 2012 season.

He couldn’t say no, though, to teaming up with Kingsbury at the end of 2012 as co-defensive coordinator. And now, for the first time in his young coaching career, he’s fully in charge of a defense. When the news broke Thursday, Smith received congratulatory text messages from both Ryan and Pettine.

In the week since, the interim DC has had plenty to fix after Tech gave up 49 points and 438 rushing yards in a blowout loss to Arkansas. Smith will lean on his NFL background to fix alignment issues. He’ll lean on his Ryan-trained love for dialing up blitzes, too. For all of Smith's energy, Tech Tech linebacker Sam Eguavoen said Smith’s daily demeanor meshes well with players.

“He's just more laid-back. I don't want to say a friendly environment, but it's less stress, less screaming,” Eguavoen said. “I mean, he comes to you like a man, not as a child or something.”

During Kingsbury’s weekly radio show last week, Smith spoke for the first and only time before the Red Raiders take the field against Oklahoma State. He told the story of meeting with the defense that day. He made a challenge to his players that he’ll promise to match:

“For the next nine games, give me everything you’ve got.”

New Texas Tech DC must fix run defense

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
2:30
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Fourth-and-1 at Texas Tech's 39. Time for the Red Raiders, down seven points in the third quarter, to get a stop.

Arkansas lined up exactly how you would expect: A three-tight-end power set with a fullback. Nine blockers, one running back. No pass, no fakes, no funny stuff. Just a power run off right tackle. And Texas Tech played it right.

Safety J.J. Gaines met Arkansas back Jonathan Williams near the line of scrimmage. Williams juked left. Gaines whiffed. Then the Arkansas junior threw two stiff-arms at linebacker Sam Eguaoven and picked up 21 yards. Six plays later, the Hogs were back in the end zone.

[+] EnlargeAlex Collins
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsOver the past nine games, this has been a familiar view of running backs for Texas Tech defenders.
This wasn't the turning-point play in Texas Tech's 49-28 loss. Just another landed punch in an eventual beatdown.

Williams ran for 80 yards in the second half, teammate Alex Collins added 167 yards, Arkansas averaged a ridiculous 7.15 yards per carry and attempted just two passes. No need to throw. Everything was working against a Red Raiders defense whose biggest flaw of 2013 re-emerged.

"You've got to give them credit," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said after the loss. "They lined up and pounded us, and we just didn't have an answer today."

Fixing a Texas Tech run defense that has been a sieve in its past nine games is Challenge No. 1 for newly elevated defensive coordinator Mike Smith. Though Matt Wallerstedt exited Thursday because of off-field issues, he leaves behind one real on-field problem that Big 12 foes will try to exploit.

Since Oct. 26, 2013, Tech's first loss of last season at Oklahoma, the Red Raiders have the second-worst run defense in the FBS at 293.4 rushing yards allowed per game.

During that nine-game stretch, of which Tech has lost six, no defense in the country has given up more first downs on rushes (142). Only Southern Miss has allowed more touchdowns and more rushes of 10-plus yards.

In fact, Tech gave up 36 rushing touchdowns during that period, eight more than any other FBS team.

Though Arkansas has one of the best run games in the country, a power-heavy attack the likes of which Tech probably will not face again in Big 12 play, the fact is no FBS defense has faced more rushing plays in those nine games than Tech. Opponents know they must hit this weak spot hard. The Red Raiders know it's coming. They can't stop it.

In the third quarter against Arkansas, Williams' fourth-down dash was deadly because it was another play that kept Texas Tech’s defense on the field. The Hogs ran 23 plays in the quarter and kept the ball for a total of 12:45. That is an easy way to get your opponent gassed.

Linebacker V.J. Fehoko said he saw too many communication issues, too many times when defenders tried to do too much and didn't stick to their assignment.

"In this conference," Fehoko said Saturday, "the smallest mistakes go the longest ways."

Though this is a generally young defense, the starters in the front seven are all juniors and seniors. How are they going to react to another letdown against the run?

"You know, it's tough. It's tough when the ball's not going your way and the momentum's not going your way," Fehoko said. "But I think we've got to just persevere and fight through it. As a team we've got a lot of young guys, but that's no excuse. I think energy and fire comes from within."

So does Texas Tech's new leadership on defense. Smith was already the co-coordinator, so it's not a drastic change. He is expected to bring more of an NFL mindset to assignment and alignment than Wallerstedt. And no doubt he's already hard at work to address his defense's most obvious defect.

It's not that complicated. Next up is Oklahoma State. They and every other opponent are going to pound the rock. They will keep doing it, and the reputation will continue, until Texas Tech starts finding answers to stop it.

Big 12 morning links

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
8:00
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Happy Tuesday to all you NFL fantasy owners of Big 12 legend Darren Sproles.
  • You knew this talk was coming: Kliff Kingsbury has a lot of work to do to earn his rich contract, writes Nicholas Talbot of the Lubbock Avalance-Journal. Talbot calls this a potential four- or five-win Tech team and goes so far as to suggest there are parallels between the start of the Charlie Weis era at Notre Dame and the much-hyped Kingsbury era at Tech. He also fears the contract extension Kingsbury got after his first year was too premature. I would probably urge a little caution before making those claims, but then again, Texas Tech's next three games are all quite losable.
  • Kudos to Jacob Gannon for not only returning to the Iowa State football team, but also for opening up to Tommy Birch of The Des Moines Register about his anxiety disorder diagnosis and his decision to continue playing. Many were quick to call Gannon a quitter when he exited the program 12 days ago, but the truth is, he believed football was the source of his panic attacks. He's now on medication and sounds motivated to get back on the field. ISU coach Paul Rhoads deserves a lot of credit for welcoming Gannon back.
  • Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine will step into the spotlight this week with Keith Ford ruled out against West Virginia. The true freshman sure doesn't play or act like one and, as Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman reports, his maturity has never been an issue (though birth certificates have been demanded). I covered Perine as a high schooler and knew he'd be the kind of thumper who'd catch people's attention early on (plus, look at those arms). A torn ACL and MCL in 2011 caused a lot of schools to overlook him, but now that he's full-speed again, Perine is going to be fun to watch.
  • Really nice use of Vine videos here by Kyle Fredrickson of The Oklahoman to give a thorough breakdown of Daxx Garman's first career start for Oklahoma State. Against a UTSA defense that really impressed me in the first two weeks, Garman averaged 19 yards per completion and hit seven completions of more than 20 yards. With J.W. Walsh sidelined, he's bringing a downfield component that seems to be bringing out the best in OSU's receiving corps.
  • OK, this is just flat-out cool. In an effort to determine whether Texas Tech fans are the Big 12's worst, Nicole C. Brambila of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal did an extensive study of game-day arrests and ejections in 2013. Of the eight schools analyzed (TCU and Baylor, as private schools, refused to provide data), West Virginia had one arrest/ejection for every 3,000 fans. Lots of great anecdotes and info in here, give it a read. And, in the comments below, let us know who you think the worst Big 12 fans are and why.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:45
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Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 3:

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.

[+] EnlargeJulian Wilson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJulian Wilson returned an interception 100 yards in Oklahoma's win over Tennessee.
 2. Oklahoma’s secondary is no joke: Everyone knew how deep and talented the Sooners’ front seven was coming into this season. The secondary, however, seemed to be a question mark. But in a 34-10 win over the Volunteers, Oklahoma’s defensive backs were dominant, delivering three game-changing plays among them. In the first quarter, Quentin Hayes came on a safety blitz and forced and recovered a fumble. In the third quarter, cornerback Zack Sanchez came up with an acrobatic interception in the end zone (his fifth pick in six games). And in the fourth quarter, cornerback Julian Wilson delivered the exclamation point, hauling in a tipped interception and returning it 100 yards for a game-clinching touchdown. After the game, coach Bob Stoops lauded this group. “They’re playing really well,” he said. “They’re not making mistakes. They’re challenging, competing for balls. They’re making big plays. Maybe as good a three-game stretch we may have had.” That’s high praise for this Oklahoma secondary. But the way it's playing, it's well deserved.

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.

Tech hoping to channel Rivera vs. Hogs

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
11:00
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This weekend, Texas Tech will add arguably the greatest defensive lineman in program history to its ring of honor.

Gabriel Rivera, affectionately called Seņor 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.

Big 12 has prime chance to impress

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
9:30
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The Big 12 has proven it can hang with the best.

Now, the league has a chance to show it can beat the rest.

With seven games against the four other power conferences, this weekend offers the Big 12 another opportunity to establish credibility in the College Football Playoff era.

Oklahoma jump started the Big 12 momentum by toppling Alabama last bowl season. Oklahoma State and West Virginia kept the wave going by taking Florida State and Alabama to the wire in their openers. This Saturday, the Big 12 can begin to carve out a place at the playoff table.

"Everyone is paying attention to your strength of schedule and things like that,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “So sure, it's always important that your league plays well.”

[+] EnlargeJordan Phillips
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma is off to a 2-0 start but will have a chance to make an impression against a Power 5 nonconference opponent when 2-0 Tennessee visits on Saturday.
The playoff committee will surely be paying attention to how Big 12 performs against teams from the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 who are a combined 13-1 two weeks into the season.

Stoops, who has been waving the Big 12 banner over the last year and a half, will attempt to move to 14-4 against Power 5 nonconference opponents in his Oklahoma career when undefeated Tennessee visits the fourth-ranked Sooners.

“We recognize it as another big challenge, an exciting challenge,” Stoops said. “I know they’ve recruited really strong in the last couple of years. When you watch them on tape, you see a lot of speed running around, you see a lot of big guys. They’ve really got a great-looking team.”

Oklahoma, however, isn’t the only Big 12 team with an SEC challenge. Texas Tech takes on old Southwest Conference rival Arkansas in a matchup that could be a potential springboard for the Red Raiders, who have gotten off to a sluggish start despite defeating Central Arkansas and UTEP.

“I think for us and our university, it's a great matchup between two teams that used to be in the same conference,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I think that's where all the excitement comes from. It's the most talented opponent we've played so far, and our kids will be fired up for it.”

While the Red Raiders and Sooners will be squaring off against the SEC, TCU and Iowa State will have the chance to deliver more blows to the Big Ten, which could be the one conference on the outside looking in for a playoff spot after suffering several disastrous losses last weekend.

The Horned Frogs play Minnesota, one of the few Big Ten teams that has been sharp so far this season. Iowa State has a prime opportunity to get its season back on track at instate rival Iowa, which barely survived Northern Iowa and Ball State in its first two games.

“The nation’s eyes will be on these games,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.

The Cyclones, who fell to the Hawkeyes at home last season, won’t be the only team out for revenge this weekend.

West Virginia will be looking for payback against Maryland after getting destroyed by the Terrapins 37-0 last season. The Mountaineers, however, have been a different team so far this year. They made Alabama sweat, then last weekend demolished Towson, which played for the FCS national championship in 2013. A win at Maryland, which returned 17 starters from last year’s team, would be a tone-setter for the Big 12 and for the rest of West Virginia’s season.

“The majority of the people on our team right now played in that game last year and wasn't too happy with the outcome and was embarrassed with the outcome,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We've got a pretty motivated bunch to be able to get over there and try to obviously put a little bit of a better effort out there on the field.”

After a promising performance in its first game against Southeast Missouri State, Kansas will see how its revamped offense measures up at reigning ACC Coastal Division champion Duke. And Texas will round out the marquee weekend by attempting to bounce back against No. 12 UCLA after a disastrous 41-7 loss to BYU.

"Can we get this team and bounce them back from a humiliating, disappointing loss and get them to prevail and go play?" Longhorns coach Charlie Strong said. "It's going to be a challenge.”

Saturday will be a challenge for the entire Big 12, which will have only one more chance to make a national impression -- when Kansas State faces defending SEC champ Auburn in Manhattan next Thursday -- before conference play begins.

And the playoff committee, among others, will be watching.

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