Big 12: Sam Richardson

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
10:00
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Spring football is rapidly approaching.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.
The quarterback position looks shockingly familiar at Iowa State.

At this time last year, Sam Richardson was a redshirt freshman quarterback coming off a strong finish to the season and looked poised to lead the Cyclones during the upcoming season and beyond.

Now, one year later, the exact same could be said of ISU quarterback Grant Rohach.

[+] EnlargeGrant Rohach
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesGrant Rohach finished the season with two 300-yard passing performances.
Rohach replaced Richardson as the Cyclones starter for the final four games of 2013, leading ISU to a 2-2 finish after a 1-7 start with Richardson under center. Rohach was outstanding in the Cyclones back-to-back wins to end the season, going 40-of-59 for 631 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions in wins over Kansas and West Virginia. His 85.4 adjusted QBR was ninth among FBS quarterbacks who started two games during the final two weeks of November and ahead of Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Clemson’s Tahj Boyd among others.

After getting his feet wet in games against Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas State, Rohach started against TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. Here’s a closer look, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, at how the redshirt freshman performed during his first season under center in Ames, Iowa and the potential impact on ISU’s offense under new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino.

  • Rohach was 79-of-134 for 870 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions when teams didn’t blitz during his freshman season. Most importantly, he was 52-of-84 for 676 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in his four starts, a sign he was improving as a season progressed. Impact on 2014: Part of the reason Richardson lost his job was a lack of development as a sophomore, although injuries played a role in his inconsistent play. For Rohach, he improved as the season went on, becoming more comfortable in the final weeks. As long as he doesn’t regress, Mangino will have a quality quarterback to run his offense.
  • Against the blitz, Rohach was 31-of-57 for 320 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. In games he started, he was 27-of-47 for 289 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Impact on 2014: This will be one of the biggest areas of improvement for Rohach in the offseason. As Big 12 defensive coordinators get a better feel for his strengths, they will attack him in the pocket. That means he’ll need to become comfortable against the blitz because being able to operate comfortably and efficiently in the chaos of the pocket is often the difference between success and failure for quarterbacks.
  • Not surprisingly, Rohach was much better on play-action passes than regular passing plays. He was 45-of-75 for 625 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions on play-action plays. On plays without play-action, he was 65-of-116 for 595 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions. Impact on 2014: The Cyclones need to run the ball better. But we knew that already. Regardless, this means Rohach can take advantage and keep teams honest with his passing skills if the Cyclones do get their running game going. And his ability to make teams pay with his arm could help Mangino’s run attack test defenses.
  • Each of Rohach’s seven interceptions came when opponents rushed four or five defenders. In other words, defenses didn’t have to sell out and leave their secondary at risk to force Rohach into a mistake. Impact on 2014: With natural development, this shouldn’t be a major issue as he gets more comfortable with what he’s seeing from defenses as a sophomore. But it does mean that teams won’t be taken out of their element to try to come up with ways to slow Rohach. Until he proves teams must get pressure to stop him, defenses won’t risk putting their secondary in peril against the Cyclones.

Big 12 lunchtime links

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
12:00
PM ET
He's back, and he's still gettin' buckets.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
9:00
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There was little change in this week’s power rankings, as the favorites held serve:

1. Baylor (6-0, 3-0 Big 12, last week 1): The No. 8-ranked Bears got some major help in the national title picture over the weekend, as LSU, Louisville, Texas A&M, Clemson and South Carolina all got knocked out of the mix. That really leaves only Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Missouri, Ohio State and Miami (Fla.) ahead of Baylor in the pecking order at the moment. Missouri will have to beat Alabama to get the title game, and Baylor has a decent chance of passing the Buckeyes, due to the weakness of the Big Ten. The Bears, however, have virtually no shot of passing Oregon or Florida State. Those are the two teams Baylor fans need to begin rooting against.

2. Texas Tech (7-0, 4-0, LW 2): The faith Kliff Kingsbury showed in true freshman QB Davis Webb on Saturday was extraordinary. Webb’s second-quarter fumble at the West Virginia 1-yard line completely changed the complexion of the game, but that didn’t shake Kingsbury’s confidence in his quarterback. And, even though Texas Tech’s defense had shut down West Virginia on four straight drives and led by a field goal, Kingsbury put the game on Webb’s arm by calling two third-down pass plays in the final two minutes. Webb completed both passes, which should also give him plenty of self-confidence heading into this weekend’s road tilt at Oklahoma.

3. Texas (4-2, 3-0, LW 3): Was the dominant performance against Oklahoma a one-game anomaly? The Longhorns have the talent to make a run at the Big 12 title. Maybe they have the identity now, too. If Texas keeps pounding the ball between the tackles with Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, that will continue to set up one-on-one opportunities for Mike Davis downfield. As the Sooners found out, such a formula could make the Longhorns formidable the final month and a half of the season.

4. Oklahoma State (5-1, 2-1, LW 5): The Cowboys finally turned the offense back over to Clint Chelf and not a moment too soon, as J.W. Walsh threw another two interceptions in the first quarter. But, in reality, Oklahoma State’s offense would be best off utilizing both quarterbacks going forward. The Cowboys hit their stride offensively last season only when they used Chelf as the base quarterback, then brought in the Walsh package in certain situations. Chelf’s arm strength can get the ball to Oklahoma State’s talented receivers downfield, which, in turn, opens up the running game. But Walsh brings savvy, toughness and leadership -- and he can make plays with his legs. Perhaps that quarterback blend will finally ignite this offense, which looks pretty rough at the halfway point of the season.

5. Oklahoma (6-1, 3-1, LW 4): The Sooners’ downfield passing game continues to be incompetent, as Oklahoma completed just two passes longer than 16 yards at Kansas. One of those was a reverse pass from Lacoltan Bester to Sterling Shepard. That’s two straight games in which QB Blake Bell has completed only one pass downfield. The Sooners were able to grind out 235 yards on the ground, but that was against a Kansas defense missing its best player (linebacker Ben Heeney). If the Sooners can’t complete passes downfield against man coverage, they have little chance of getting to double-digit wins.

6. West Virginia (3-4, 1-3, LW 7): West Virginia has begun to show some life offensively. The Mountaineers gained 473 yards of offense against a Texas Tech defense that has been pretty solid. At one point, the Mountaineers scored on five straight possessions. Clint Trickett is all over the place with his throws, but at least he makes things happen. Running back Charles Sims is a star, and backfield mate Dreamius Smith is legit, too. The schedule also eases up considerably for the Mountaineers, as West Virginia has already faced four of the top five teams in the league. If the offense keeps developing, this could still be a bowl team. That wouldn’t be a bad season, either, considering the offensive firepower the Mountaineers had to replace from last season.

7. Kansas State (2-4, 0-3, LW 8): The Wildcats have not played poorly despite their 0-3 start in the league, but with Oklahoma and Texas Tech still on the schedule, K-State almost has to beat West Virginia at home this weekend if it’s going to advance to a bowl. The good news is that starting receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson are expected back, which should be a big boost to QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters.

8. TCU (3-4, 1-3, LW 6): The Horned Frogs are beginning to stake their claim as one of the worst offenses in Big 12 history. Switching coordinators or switching quarterbacks -- Gary Patterson tried both Saturday -- isn’t going to make any difference, either. Even with the best defense in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs will be in danger of missing out on a bowl game if they don’t beat Texas this weekend. QB Casey Pachall is close to returning, but not even he can salvage this dumpster fire of an offense.

9. Iowa State (1-5, 0-3, LW 9): After three straight promising performances, the Cyclones took a step back in Waco, Texas. Nobody expected Iowa State to win, but to get completely annihilated was disappointing, as coach Paul Rhoads called the game a “fiasco.” Now, yet again, the quarterback position has become a moving part. Sam B. Richardson is so banged up the Cyclones considered shutting him down for the season. Rhoads replaced Richardson with Grant Rohach in the second quarter to no avail. The No. 1 obstacle that’s kept Iowa State from becoming more than a .500 program has been the inability to find a long-term answer at quarterback. Dating back to last November, the Cyclones have put their chips on Richardson being that answer. Now, who knows what direction they'll go.

10. Kansas (2-4, 0-3, LW 10): Now that the Jayhawks have burned the redshirt of freshman QB Montell Cozart, they might as well turn the offense over to him. Jake Heaps just isn’t getting it done, as he completed five of 13 passes for 16 yards against Oklahoma. Sixteen yards. It’s not all on Heaps: The Kansas receiving corps is terrible. But that’s all the more reason to go with Cozart, who can at least make plays with his feet.

Big 12 Week 8: Did you know?

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
10:00
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Another week of great tidbits and numbers thanks to ESPN Stats and Information along with sports information departments around the conference. Did you know …
  • Baylor is looking to become bowl-eligible for the fourth straight season for the first time in school history.
  • Baylor is looking to start 6-0 for the first time since 1980 and the sixth time in school history.
  • Baylor is the highest ranked Big 12 team in both the AP and Coaches Poll for the first time ever.
  • Baylor joins Florida State as the only two teams in the nation that are top 5 in total offense and top 25 in total defense.
  • The Bears starting offense has scored touchdowns on 35 of 48 drives (72.9 percent) this season.
  • Baylor’s defense has forced two or more turnovers in nine of its last 12 games.
  • Baylor leads the nation in total offense (715.4 yards per game) and scoring offense (63.4 points per game).
  • Baylor’s Bryce Petty leads the nation in Raw QBR at 94.5, yards per attempt (14.87) and yards per completion (21.27).
  • Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk leads the nation in yards per carry at 9.97. He leads the Big 12 with 648 rushing yards despite ranking seventh in total carries (65).
  • Baylor’s Antwan Goodley leads the nation with 26.76 yards per reception. His 669 receiving yards lead the Big 12.
  • Baylor’s 9.38 yards per play is a full yard better than anyone else in the nation. Florida State’s 8.27 yards per play is second nationally.
  • Baylor averages 17 yards per pass attempt on third down and 9.91 yards per third down play. Both marks lead the nation.
  • Iowa State has yet to lose by double digits, averaging 5.5 points per game margin of defeat in its four losses.
  • ISU ranks second in the Big 12 and 13th nationally in turnover margin at 1.2.
  • The Cyclones have seen 20 different players earn their first career start this season.
  • ISU gave up more than 40 points for the first time in 24 games during its 42-35 loss to Texas Tech last week.
  • Sam Richardson has a touchdown pass in eight straight games, tying him for the third longest streak in school history.
  • Richardson’s 10 touchdown passes puts him second in the Big 12 behind Petty.
  • Oklahoma defensive end Geneo Grissom and Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney won two Kansas state championships together at Hutchinson (Kan.) High School.
  • Kansas has stopped every opponent from scoring on its opening drive this season, limiting those teams to three first downs through five games.
  • Jayhawks tight end Jimmay Mundine has a touchdown reception in three straight games, the longest streak since Dezmon Briscoe’s three-game streak in 2009 for the Jayhawks.
  • The Jayhawks’ pass defense has been overlooked by KU’s offensive troubles. KU allowed 5.91 yards per pass attempt, ranking third in the Big 12 this season and 15th nationally.
  • Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams leads Big 12 quarterbacks in rushes (86), rushing yards (522) and rushing touchdowns (7).
  • Sams ranks No. 7 nationally in adjusted QBR (which takes into account level of competition) at 86.8. He’s second in the Big 12 in the category behind Petty.
  • Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has never lost in a game immediately after the Red River Rivalry. He’s looking to improve to 15-0 in that scenario against KU.
  • The Sooners have won 20 straight games after a regular season loss since 2004.
  • OU has won 29 straight games when allowing 21 points or fewer.
  • OU has held KU to 17 points or less in eight of its nine victories over the Jayhawks under Stoops.
  • The Sooners lead the Big 12 in points allowed per game (16.8), yards allowed per game (308.8), passing yards allowed per game (172), yards allowed per pass attempt (5.55) and first downs allowed per game (15.5).
  • Beginning in 2011, Oklahoma State is 14-1 in its last 15 home games.
  • The Cowboys have won 20 straight home games against unranked opponents.
  • OSU has a touchdown drive of two minutes or less in 27 straight games.
  • OSU will host TCU for the second straight season because the Horned Frogs inherited Texas A&M’s conference schedule after joining the league and the Aggies were scheduled to face the Cowboys in Stillwater in 2012 and 2013 after OSU agreed to move the 2011 game from Stillwater to College Station.
  • OSU has 71 players from Texas, more than any other program outside of the state of Texas.
  • OSU ranks second nationally in turnovers forced since 2009 (142). Only Oregon has forced more turnovers during that span (147).
  • OSU has ranked no lower than 19th nationally in fewest sacks allowed each season since 2006.
  • OSU quarterback J.W. Walsh ranks third in adjusted QBR at 74.4 behind Petty and Texas’ David Ash.
  • The Cowboys defense leads the conference in opponent adjusted QBR at 19.0.
  • OSU ranks No. 2 in the Big 12 in rushing yards allowed at 115.8 and yards per carry allowed at 3.16.
  • Longhorns running back Johnathan Gray leads the conference in total carries with 111 and ranks second in rushing yards (562) behind Seastrunk.
  • OSU is the fourth ranked opponent TCU will face in its first seven games.
  • Saturday marks the fourth time TCU will kickoff at 11 a.m. this season. The Horned Frogs are 5-1 in early starts in the past two seasons.
  • Over 40 percent of the players who have seen action for the Horned Frogs this season are sophomores.
  • TCU has scored more points in the third quarter (58) and fourth quarter (65) than in the first half combined (44) this season.
  • Wyoming transfer Josh Doctson is the only active player in the nation who has scored a touchdown against his current team. Doctson had a touchdown catch for the Cowboys against TCU in 2011.
  • TCU’s 100 receptions have been divided among 15 different receivers.
  • Texas Tech will play in the eastern time zone for the first time since 2008 when they face West Virginia in Morgantown, W. Va., on Saturday. The Red Raiders defeated Virginia 31-28 in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day in 2008.
  • The Red Raiders have never played at Milan Puskar Stadium and this is just the third meeting between the two schools, first in Morgantown.
  • For the first time in school history, the Red Raiders ran at least 100 plays for two straight games. Tech had 100 offensive plays against Kansas and 101 against Iowa State.
  • Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in third down conversion defense, allowing just 28.2 percent of third down conversion attempts. The Red Raiders also led in rush defense, allowing 113.2 rushing yards per game.
  • TTU is bowl eligible for the 20th time in 21 seasons. The Red Raiders are one of 11 teams nationally that have already secured bowl eligibility.
  • TTU forced 11 Iowa State punts, the most by an opponent against the Red Raiders in Big 12 play.
  • Davis Webb is the sixth Red Raider quarterback to throw for more than 400 yards in his first career start. He passed for 415 yards in TTU’s 42-35 win over ISU last weekend.
  • West Virginia is 7-3 under Dana Holgorsen when the Mountaineers have more than seven days to prepare. WVU had a bye last weekend.
  • TTU leads the Big 12 in yards per play allowed on third down at 3.66 and points allowed per drive at 0.99.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
9:00
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This week's Power Rankings feature a new No. 1, as last week's No. 1 takes a tumble:

1. Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12, last week 3): The Sooners take over the top spot after delivering the most impressive Big 12 win of the season. Notre Dame is not the same team as last season, but the Irish hadn't lost in South Bend since October of 2011. OU has been a different team since Blake Bell took over at quarterback, and Bell was fabulous Saturday, throwing for two touchdowns without a turnover while churning out first downs with his arm and his legs. The OU defense is clearly better, too, picking off QB Tommy Rees on Notre Dame's first two possessions, with linebacker Corey Nelson returning one for a touchdown. The Sooners were clearly a team overlooked in the preseason, and, after five weeks, are looking like a clear Big 12 favorite along with Baylor.

2. Baylor (3-0, 0-0 Big 12, last week 2): After the off week, the Bears' offense will get its first real challenge this weekend from West Virginia's defense that appears to be the most improved unit in the league. Baylor has been unstoppable so far, but the level of competition is about to undergo an uptick. Can the Bears keep it up? They've shown no signs they can't.

3. Texas Tech (4-0, 1-0 Big 12, last week 4): Despite having the week off, the Red Raiders move up a spot with Oklahoma State's loss. The big question in Lubbock is who will be starting at quarterback for Tech come Saturday against Kansas. Baker Mayfield? Davis Webb? Michael Brewer, who has been progressing well from the back injury? The Red Raiders have been solid defensively, and the skill talent is legit. If Tech can get better play from its quarterback, this team could be a handful -- even for OU and Baylor.

4. West Virginia (3-2, 1-1 Big 12, last week 8): What a difference a week makes. The Mountaineers produced the most impressive in-conference win of the season with a 30-21 victory over preseason favorite Oklahoma State. West Virginia's defense continues to play at a high level (Maryland's 37 points were somewhat of an anomaly because of West Virginia turnovers) and Clint Trickett sparked the offense with his energy and leadership. West Virginia's offense is still pretty limited, but at least it no longer looks completely inept with Trickett at quarterback. The Mountaineers can't score with Baylor this weekend, but maybe they can slow the Bears down? Nobody thought West Virginia could slow Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, either, though Baylor's offense is at another level. We'll see.

5. Texas (2-2, 1-0 Big 12, last week 5): The Longhorns have a couple of interesting games looming. Thursday, Texas travels to Iowa State, which looked much better offensively in a 38-21 win at Tulsa this past Thursday. Then, Texas gets surging Oklahoma in Dallas. This figures to be the defining two-game stretch of the season for the Longhorns. Win the next two, and the season -- as well as Mack Brown's status in Austin -- looks totally different than it did two weeks ago. The off week could not have come at a better time for the Longhorns, giving acting defensive coordinator Greg Robinson another week to acclimate to his defense and quarterback David Ash another week to recover from the head injury that knocked him out of the Ole Miss and Kansas State games.

6. TCU (2-2, 0-1 Big 12, last week 6): Did TCU's offense finally uncover an identity during a rainy fourth quarter against SMU? The Horned Frogs poured on 31 points in the final quarter and did it with some new faces, as Ty Slanina, Ja'Juan Story and Cameron Echols-Luper all factored into the scoring onslaught in the first real action of their TCU careers. The Horned Frogs can really turn their season around with a win in Norman this weekend. That won't be easy, though, if All-American cornerback Jason Verrett (shoulder) and defensive end Devonte Fields (foot) can't play.

7. Oklahoma State (3-1, 0-1 Big 12, last week 1): The Cowboys plummet six spots after an uninspiring performance in Morgantown. It was just one loss, but it was a loss that exposed weaknesses across the board. For the first time in seemingly forever, Oklahoma State's kicking game is awful. The Cowboys' secondary gave up 320 yards to a West Virginia passing attack that previously had been completely futile. And on the other side of the ball, when the Mountaineers dared QB J.W. Walsh to beat them deep, he couldn't do it. That allowed West Virginia to stuff the Cowboys' running game, which also doesn't appear to have that bell-cow running back Oklahoma State has been accustomed to featuring. The Cowboys are better than they looked at West Virginia -- but how much better?

8. Kansas State (2-2, 0-1 Big 12, last week 7): Bill Snyder maintains the Wildcats will stick with the two-quarterback system, which has yielded mixed results. K-State has moved the ball better when Daniel Sams has been in at quarterback. But when he's in, the Wildcats are virtually no threat to pass. Sams has 29 rushes and only four passing attempts. Is Sams really that poor of a passer? Maybe it's time for K-State to find out.

9. Iowa State (1-2, 0-0 Big 12, last week 10): It's hard to believe a center could make that much of a difference. But the return of Tom Farniok sure seemed to do wonders for Iowa State's offense, which finally got going in a 38-21 win at Tulsa. The Cyclones also finally involved running back Aaron Wimberly, who ignited the running game with Iowa State's first 100-yard performance in more than a year. With former blue-chip junior-college transfer E.J. Bibbs emerging now at tight end, QB Sam Richardson no longer appears to be on his own. Jack Trice will be rocking Thursday night for the Longhorns, as Iowa State has a chance to land a signature win to build off of for the rest of the season.

10. Kansas (2-1, 0-0 Big 12, last week 9): The Jayhawks have a winning record but have been mostly unimpressive. Can they turn around the offense against Texas Tech? That will hinge almost entirely on quarterback Jake Heaps, who has talent but has been unable to find any rhythm so far with a collection of unproven wideouts. If the Jayhawks can be competitive this weekend, it will be a good sign they are moving in the right direction. If they get blasted, it could be a long season, especially with Iowa State and West Virginia seemingly having found their stride.

Big 12 lunchtime links

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
12:00
PM ET
There's no crying in baseball, but I guess it's OK here.
  • The Cyclones found their footing, and an offense, at Tulsa, according to the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse. Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register writes about how QB Sam Richardson overcame injuries to guide Iowa State to the 38-21 win. The paper's Bryce Miller explains how center Tom Farniok shored up the Cyclones offensive line.
  • Saturday, Clint Trickett will become West Virginia's third starting quarterback already this season. The Charleston Daily Mail's Mike Casazza breaks it down. The Mountaineers are also ready to pick up the pace, writes Dave Hickman of the Charleston Gazette. Opposing defenses, meanwhile, have the blueprint for stopping the West Virginia offense, in the opinion of Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  • The Sooners are expecting a big-time atmosphere in South Bend. The Oklahoma players talk about playing in big-time games. The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey breaks down the OU-Notre Dame matchups. The Dallas Morning News does the same.
  • Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich is getting the opportunity of a lifetime, writes The Oklahoman's Gina Mizell. Running back Jeremy Smith has been a reason for Oklahoma State's 3-0 start.
  • Baylor coach Art Briles is hoping his book, “Looking Up: My Journey from Tragedy to Triumph," inspires. The Bears expect to get back tight end Jordan Najvar and running back Glasco Martin next week in their Big 12 opener against West Virginia. The Dallas Morning News compares the Baylor and Oregon offenses side-by-side.
  • TCU is the best in the Big 12 when it comes to non-conference scheduling, according to The Oklahoman's Ryan Aber. The Horned Frogs need an offensive spark, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Jimmy Burch and Stefan Stevenson. E.J. Holland of the Dallas Morning News predicts the Frogs will keep the Iron Skillet in Fort Worth.
  • The Lawrence Journal-World's Matt Tait writes that the Kansas offensive line is trying to get tougher during its open week.
  • A bye week on the schedule doesn’t mean Kansas State has taken it easy, either, according to Ken Corbitt of the Topeka Capital-Journal.
  • Texas Tech is planning some reunions.
  • Could there be crimson on the burnt orange side? The AP reports that Texas students have not claimed all their tickets for the Red River Rivalry.

Five thoughts on Iowa State's win

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
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Five thoughts on Iowa State's 38-21 win Thursday night over Tulsa:

1. Tom Farniok showed why he’s Iowa State’s MVP: How often do you see a center take a clipboard and start drawing up plays? Well, Farniok was doing that last night. Clearly Farniok brings leadership and a calming presence to the Cyclones offense, which ran smoother than it had the previous two games. On top of his intangibles, Farniok is a good player, too. No wonder Iowa State ran the ball better than it had all season.

2. The Cyclones found a running back: The Iowa State running game had been completely dormant the first two games, as the Cyclones shuffled through a series of running backs without much rhyme or reason. But in the Tulsa game, Iowa State finally figured out that Aaron Wimberly is its best option in the backfield. Wimberly ran for 137 yards on 19 carries and added a 31-yard grab in the passing game. Wimberly’s playmaking took pressure off quarterback Sam Richardson, too, something he had too much of against Northern Iowa and Iowa. The one-two punch of Wimberly and Jeff Woody, who had three goal-line touchdowns against Tulsa, should serve the Cyclones well going forward.

3. Tight end E.J. Bibbs finally emerged: In the Iowa loss, Iowa State’s only real receiving threat was Quenton Bundrage, who had three touchdown receptions. Bibbs, however, emerged against Tulsa with four grabs for 49 yards. He had a spectacular 20-yard catch to set up one Iowa State touchdown, and also hauled in a touchdown reception of his own. Bibbs was one of Iowa State’s big recruiting gets this offseason, as he chose the Cyclones despite a hard recruiting push for Oklahoma. With his combination of size, speed and hands, Bibbs has the talent to really help Richardson in the passing game the rest of the season.

4. Richardson showed he can play on the bad ankle: The Cyclones revealed some ominous news before the Tulsa game -- that Richardson’s ankle injury would likely linger all season. But Richardson showed against Tulsa he could still have success and moved around in and out of the pocket well despite the injury. “I definitely needed this game,” he said afterward. “It was a big game for me. It definitely gets my confidence (up).” Richardson will likely be sore this weekend. But with the right treatment, it’s something that won’t keep him off the field or hobble him too badly on it.

5. Iowa State now has momentum heading into the Texas game: Had the Cyclones lost to Tulsa, it would have been difficult seeing them turn things around in time for next week's Thursday night game with Texas. But with Iowa State figuring out some things offensively in Tulsa, the Texas game looks completely different. The Longhorns have been vulnerable and Jack Trice Stadium should be rocking, making this a winnable game for Iowa State. The Cyclones now have a golden opportunity to put the rough two-game start to the season behind them.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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Oklahoma's visit to Notre Dame highlights a very light week in the Big 12. Half of the league’s teams are on byes but there are still some interesting things to learn from the four games involving Big 12 teams this weekend.


Here's what to watch in the Big 12 for Week 5.

  1. Can Oklahoma strike for the Big 12 Conference? The Sooners have the chance to earn the biggest nonconference win of any Big 12 team this season if they can knock off Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday. OU has its eye on inserting itself into the BCS title conversation and that could begin with a win against the Fighting Irish.
  2. What does Dana Holgorsen have in store for his former colleagues at Oklahoma State? Holgorsen spent one season as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State before he was named coach in waiting at West Virginia. He played a major part in transforming OSU’s offense into what it is today so both teams will be very familiar with the other’s offensive attack. Add in the Mountaineers’ struggles on offense this season and you have to expect Holgorsen will have some new, creative wrinkles to confuse OSU’s defense and spark WVU’s offense.
  3. How will TCU respond to a 1-2 start? TCU coach Gary Patterson didn’t like how his team was handling its start to the season, saying his group was "feeling sorry for themselves." Yet the Horned Frogs have had two weeks to get things going back in a positive direction and, even though they’ve stumbled at the start, they still have one of the top defenses in the conference. And that’s a terrific foundation to build upon.
  4. [+] EnlargePaul Rhoads
    David Purdy/Getty ImagesPaul Rhoads and Iowa State are off to a slow start.
  5. Can Iowa State get its first win of the season? The Cyclones opened the season with losses to Northern Iowa and Iowa. Worst yet, Paul Rhoads’ crew has played just two games heading into tonight’s game at Tulsa, making it tough to find any kind of rhythm and confidence on either side of the football. ISU’s defense has been particularly bad allowing 27.5 points and 417.5 yards per game thus far. It’s a young roster, full of inexperience, so if the Cyclones don’t win tonight, things could snowball in a hurry for the Cyclones.
  6. Will OSU stumble in Morgantown? The Cowboys will be a big favorite when they step on the field in Morgantown, W. Va., after WVU’s embarrassing 37-0 loss to Maryland last weekend. It would be easy for the Pokes to overlook the Mountaineers and stumble on the road in a conference play, particularly since WVU does have some talented, albeit young, players on the roster. WVU will be looking to prove it is better than it showed against the Terps while OSU will simply be looking to get off to a good start in conference play. Motive advantage: WVU.
  7. Can TCU find some type of offensive identity? What is TCU’s identity on offense? Does anybody know? The Horned Frogs have looked uncertain during their first three games, particularly with Trevone Boykin under center. Don’t be surprised if TCU re-commits its offense to the running game with talented runners B.J. Catalon and Waymon James in the backfield while putting Boykin on the back burner.
  8. How will OU quarterback Blake Bell do in his first road start? The Sooners signal caller has the opportunity to send a message with a stellar performance in his first road start. The Fighting Irish will be looking to stop the run and play physical, forcing Bell to beat them with his arm. If he can do it on a national stage, the junior will remove all doubt who should be leading the Sooners’ offense for the next two seasons.
  9. Is OU’s defense the real deal? The Sooners' defense has been terrific in OU’s first three games. Yet it hasn't been tested like it will be against the Fighting Irish. OU’s defense is built for speed and handling the spread offenses in the Big 12 so if ND comes out and tries to ram the football down OU’s throat, the Sooners will have to have an answer or risk being compared to last season’s disappointing unit.
  10. Will Ford Childress reward Holgorsen for sticking with him? The WVU quarterback has kept his starting job after throwing more touchdown passes to Maryland defenders than his teammates last weekend. He threw more interceptions than he completed passes to WVU receivers in the loss. Yet Holgorsen didn’t hesitate when asked if he was sticking with the redshirt freshman. Childress will be looking to reward that loyalty against OSU.
  11. Will Iowa State find an answer to its offensive woes? This was supposed to be a breakout season for quarterback Sam Richardson. It’s not looking good for the sophomore thus far. His numbers aren’t horrible (502 passing yards, 62 completion percentage) but he’s been unable to spark the Cyclones offense and take the entire team to another level like ISU fans would have hoped. If Richardson hopes to turn things around, he can start against a Tulsa defense that gave up 51 points to Oklahoma on Sept. 14.

Big 12 predictions: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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Our guest picker this week is Omar Ahmad, out of Huntington, W.Va. Here was Omar’s clever submission:

I should be your Big 12 guest picker for Week 5. Why? Because when it comes to challenging the experts at ESPN, nobody Bears down like I do. I'm like an unstoppable Cyclone of correct predictions. I'm not a Wildcat with my selections (you'll never catch me picking a Longhorn to do anything other than be a horn that's long). I strive for the highest summits of analysis the likes of which no Mountaineer has ever seen. While you may be a college football maverick, I'm the Red Raider with guns-up accuracy. No Jayhawk can hang with my stuff (or anyone's stuff, for that matter). So stop being a Cowboy with your reckless game-picker selections. You know you're gonna tab me Sooner or later. Horned Frogs.

Last week, I correctly picked Texas to bounce back and beat Kansas State, but Omar’s Mountaineers burned me with a no-show performance in Baltimore. I was also called out in front of my ACC colleagues via this tweet from a @beedubss: “I hope Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich get to give @ESPN_Big12 a really hard time about his #WVUvsMD prediction. #GirlsRuleBoysDrool #GoTerps”.

Come on, guys. We’re better than this.

If you want to be next week’s guest picker, contact me here, and tell me why. And, as always, creativity counts.

To the Week 5 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 4-1 (.800)

Guest picker last week: 4-1 (.800)

Trotter overall: 25-5 (.833)

Guest picker overall: 10-3 (.769)

Tulsa 30, Iowa State 27: Dating back to last year, Iowa State has now lost six of seven, which includes a two-touchdown loss to Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl. Tulsa, meanwhile, has played better since an embarrassing 27-point loss at Bowling Green in its opener. This game is in Tulsa, where the Hurricane has not lost since falling to eighth-ranked Houston in November 2011. The Cyclones just don’t have the offensive firepower right now around quarterback Sam Richardson, who also faces the possibility of playing the rest of the season on a bum ankle.

Omar’s pick: The Golden Hurricane is a young team, but can still run the ball. The Cyclones cannot, and the return of Tom Farniok won’t change the fact that Sam Richardson is currently the team’s biggest threat on the ground. Tulsa, 31-27

TCU 31, SMU 16: Coach Gary Patterson rode his team hard during the off week, even calling them out in the media for “feeling sorry for themselves.” Despite the disappointing 1-2 start, the Horned Frogs have too many veteran players to feel sorry for themselves for very long. This is still a good team, with good players on both sides of the ball. If TCU can uncover an offensive identity post QB Casey Pachall -- perhaps running the ball more with B.J. Catalon and Waymon James to take pressure off QB Trevone Boykin -- the Frogs will be fine. This SMU game is a golden opportunity for TCU to figure out some things before going to Norman next weekend.

Omar’s pick: Despite the 1-2 start, TCU’s defense is still arguably the best in the Big 12. Garrett Gilbert will get his yards, but Boykin and Catalon run wild on a Mustang front seven that’s one of the smallest and most inexperienced in the nation. TCU, 36-20

Oklahoma State 42, West Virginia 14: Both teams are running Dana Holgorsen’s offense. Only one is running it well. After the 37-0 loss to Maryland, Holgorsen rightfully called West Virginia’s offense as inept as it could be. Omar's Mountaineers don’t have any playmakers at receiver, the offensive line is not getting any push in the run game and QB Ford Childress is too young to overcome either deficiency. Poor Charles Sims, by the way, picked the wrong year to transfer. Imagine Sims on the same team with Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Now that would be an offense that could outscore Oklahoma State. This West Virginia offense cannot.

Omar’s pick: The Cowboys are getting it done by land and air so far, while the Mountaineers are trying to rebuild the offense through Ford Childress. The WVU defense keeps it closer than most expect. OSU, 34-21

Notre Dame 24, Oklahoma 21: The Sooners feel good about themselves after Blake Bell’s performance against Tulsa. But this isn’t Tulsa. And this game won’t be played in Norman. The Irish have looked lackluster so far this season, but they’ve played a difficult schedule featuring Michigan and Michigan State. The Sooners, meanwhile, have yet to play anybody. Notre Dame wins the battle in the trenches, forces Bell into a couple of critical mistakes in his first start on the road, makes the plays in the fourth quarter like it did last year in Norman and moves to 10-1 all-time in the series while preventing the Big 12 from picking up its first Top 25 non-conference victory.

Omar’s pick: Blake Bell has a cool nickname; Tommy Rees does not. OU, 28-23

Big 12 lunch links

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
12:00
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It's time to bring the pain, Jack!

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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Oklahoma and Oklahoma State rolled, Texas capitulated, Texas Tech prevailed, TCU scuffled, West Virginia and Kansas State cruised, Iowa State and Kansas faltered and Baylor watched. The third weekend that was in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Texas Tech. So far, the Red Raiders have been the big surprise of the Big 12. The first two games Tech won with quarterback Baker Mayfield and its air assault. Thursday, the Red Raiders beat TCU 20-10 with hard-nosed defense. Tech is off to a phenomenal start and could keep it going with four winnable games coming up next. Those games will be even more winnable if this defense proves to be the real deal.

Disappointment of the week: Iowa State. After a disappointing opener, the Cyclones had high hopes they could turn their season around against their instate rival. Instead, Iowa jumped to a 27-7 lead, then withstood Iowa State’s mild fourth-quarter rally. The Cyclones have not looked good offensively through two games, and outside Sam Richardson throwing the ball up to Quenton Bundrage, have really shown no pop. The Cyclones desperately need a running back and a running game to emerge. So far, neither has.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsBlake Bell took charge as quarterback for Oklahoma.
Big (offensive) man on campus: Blake Bell. After losing the preseason quarterback battle to Trevor Knight, Bell roared back to recapture the job for good. Bell completed 27 of 37 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns in Oklahoma’s 51-20 win over Tulsa. Accounting for both rushing and passing, Bell finished the game with a QBR of 96.7. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that’s the highest single-game QBR (before opponent adjustment) by a qualifying Oklahoma quarterback since Sam Bradford recorded a 99.0 at Baylor in 2008.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Terrance Bullitt and Will Smith. Several different Red Raiders qualified for the honor, but the senior linebackers were instrumental in the win over TCU. Bullitt collected six tackles and batted down four passes, which helped prevent Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin from generating any rhythm on his shorter passes. Smith, who led Tech with nine tackles, helped stuff TCU’s run up the middle. With Tre’ Porter anchoring the secondary and Kerry Hyder wreaking havoc up front, the Red Raiders have the makings of a very solid defense, if this level of linebacker play from Bullitt and Smith continues.

Special teams player of the week: Anthony Fera. Don’t blame the Texas kicker for the Longhorns’ 44-23 loss to Ole Miss. Fera nailed all three of his field goal attempts in the defeat, including a 47-yarder that put Texas up two scores just before halftime (of course, the Longhorns failed to score the rest of the game). Fera was effective punting, too, pinning Ole Miss inside its own 20 twice. The Longhorns don’t have much going for them at the moment, but at least they have a reliable kicker and punter.

Play of the week: Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington appeared to have scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 49-yard pass in the fourth quarter against TCU. Washington, however, let go of the football just before crossing the goal line. The ball rolled into the end zone and came to a stop, but no one touched it after the field judge signaled touchdown. The play was reviewed and the touchdown was overturned, but Tech was given the ball at the half-yard line (though a celebration penalty pushed the ball back to the 15). The Frogs have a beef about the field judge signaling touchdown prematurely, but, according to the rulebook, officials made the right call on the replay. Had a Frog picked up the ball or had the ball rolled out of the end zone, TCU would have taken over possession, but none of that happened. Instead, Tech was given back the ball, and Davis Webb found Bradley Marquez for the game-winning touchdown -- a play that could have long-lasting effects for both the Red Raiders and TCU.

Stat of the week: After giving up 272 rushing yards to Ole Miss, Texas now has the third-worst rush defense in college football. The Longhorns are allowing 308.7 rushing yards per game. No one else in the Big 12 is giving up more than 223.

Quote of the week: “Forget the coaches, come for the kids. Come for the young guys who are really trying, and come watch them try to beat Kansas State, which we haven't done very often.” -- coach Mack Brown, in a plea to Texas fans to keep filling the stadium despite the Longhorns’ 1-2 start.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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Only because Iowa State and Kansas also lost is Texas not last in this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings:

1. Oklahoma State (3-0, 0-0 Big 12, last week 1): While they’ve been in the news plenty lately for other reasons, the Cowboys on the field have quietly lived up to the role of favorite rather well. And with the Nov. 16 trip to Austin no longer looking all that daunting, Oklahoma State should be favored in every game the rest of the way.

2. Baylor (2-0, 0-0 Big 12, last week 2): The Bears are one of only three Big 12 teams that haven’t been forced to play a backup quarterback due to injury, ineffectiveness or the need for a spark. That kind of stability with Bryce Petty is one major reason why Baylor has the look of a viable conference title contender.

3. Oklahoma (3-0, 1-0 Big 12, last week 3): Before the weekend, the Sooners had been brilliant in every facet of the game, except for quarterback. Against Tulsa, they were brilliant there, too. Blake Bell gave the passing attack a huge lift, delivering college football’s sixth-highest raw QBR of the week. So far, the OU running game has been dynamic, and the defense has been solid. If the Sooners can also get that level of production from their quarterback, they'll be dangerous.

4. Texas Tech (3-0, 1-0 Big 12, last week 5): Sometimes winning ugly is what’s required. Aesthetics aside, Texas Tech’s victory TCU was huge for the Kliff Kingsbury era. Some of it was TCU’s anemic offense, but Kingsbury had to feel buoyed by the way his defense completely shut down the Horned Frogs. If the Red Raiders keep playing defense, they could emerge into a surprise title contender. Their next four games are very winnable.

5. TCU (1-2, 0-1 Big 12, last week 4): Coach Gary Patterson probably could not have envisioned a worse start to TCU’s season. The Horned Frogs already have two losses, and star defensive end Devonte Fields made little impact in Lubbock after sitting out most of the first two games with a suspension. Now, Fields has an injured foot. Given how lost the Frogs look offensively, they’re probably going to have to win games with defense, at least for now. That won’t be easy with Fields either hobbled, ineffective or both.

6. West Virginia (2-1, 0-1 Big 12, last week 6): After auditioning Paul Millard and bypassing on Clint Trickett, the Mountaineers might finally have uncovered their quarterback in Ford Childress, who had a strong debut showing against Georgia State. These next two weeks will be huge for Childress and the Mountaineers. How they perform against Maryland in Baltimore and conference favorite Oklahoma State in Morgantown will set the tone for the rest of the season, one way or the other.

7. Kansas State (2-1, 0-0 Big 12, last week 8): After the stunning loss to North Dakota State, the Wildcats have bounced back nicely, and there’s reason to believe they can keep it going in Austin. The zone-read has been devastating to Texas, and K-State change-of-pace QB Daniel Sams might be the best running QB in the league.

8. Texas (1-2, 0-0 Big 12, last week 7): After beating the Longhorns by three touchdowns, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Texas’ defensive scheme was basically the same as last week. The Longhorns played about the same, too, giving up another 272 yards on the ground. That’s 822 rushing yards the Horns have allowed over the past two games. It's not even October, and Texas is already a total disaster. Coach Mack Brown is running out of scapegoats to fire, too.

9. Kansas (1-1, 0-0 Big 12, last week 9): The Jayhawks actually played well defensively in a nine-point loss at Rice. The offense, however, did not; notably, quarterback Jake Heaps, who had a raw QBR of 10.2, the fourth-lowest rating of any FBS quarterback for the week. The Kansas offense has to be -- and should be -- better than this for the Jayhawks to win more than two games.

10. Iowa State (0-2, 0-0 Big 12, last week 10): After two losses to open the year, it’s difficult to see how Iowa State gets to a bowl game. Other than receiver Quenton Bundrage, quarterback Sam Richardson has had virtually no help offensively, and the defense is a notch below what it's been. If Iowa State can’t uncover a running game to take pressure off Richardson, this could end up becoming a long, long year in Ames.

Q&A: Iowa State QB Sam Richardson

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
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Iowa State's season did not get off to the start quarterback Sam Richardson hoped it would, as the Cyclones fell in their opener to Northern Iowa, 28-20.

Richardson, however, said the Cyclones aren't changing the goals they set before the season. Beating rival Iowa this weekend is one of those goals.

[+] EnlargeSam B. Richardson
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerSam Richardson and Iowa State look to earn their first win of the season against rival Iowa on Saturday.
As Iowa State heads into a clash with its instate rival, Richardson spoke with ESPN.com about how important the Iowa game is, how he plans to avoid becoming the next flash-in-the-pan Iowa State quarterback and what the players think of head coach Paul Rhoads:

Jake Trotter: How do you feel the outside world views Iowa State?

Sam Richardson: We play in the Big 12, one of the best conferences in college football. Honestly, I think that’s the only respect we get as a program. People, I guess, started to respect a little bit more when we got those wins [Oklahoma State in 2011, Texas in 2010, Nebraska in 2009]. We’ve kinda gotten the respect as a team you can’t overlook.

Trotter: What’s it like to be viewed that way?

Richardson: I love it. I play better as an underdog to be honest with you. It’s something I take pride in. I love it here. It’s something, if we can perform to our ability, we can beat anyone any Saturday. Being the underdog doesn’t phase me one way or the other.

Trotter: What is the key for Iowa State to turn the corner from being just a .500 program?

Richardson: We’ve got the guys to do it. People use the term nitty-gritty games, where it’s the last possession, and we really take advantage of that opportunity. That’s something we failed to do last weekend [against Northern Iowa], [and it's] something we’ll continue to work on.

Trotter: One of the things that has kept Iowa State from turning that corner has been the turn over at quarterback. How do you stop that cycle and show you’re the future at quarterback?

Richardson: I definitely have to be consistent. That’s something I always try to work on. Obviously, I want to be the guy the remaining time I’m here. It’s about staying healthy and being consistent and showing the coaches why I should be the one on the field. That’s something I plan on doing, being the guy.

Trotter: So being consistent is the big key?

Richardson: Every one of those quarterbacks has had those big games. The big thing is being consistent. Something I’ll try to continue to do as the quarterback here.

Trotter: What do the players think of Coach Rhoads?

Richardson: He’s a real passionate coach. The guy loves doing what he does. He gives everything he’s got. The players respect the hell out of him. We love playing for him, all the emotion he shows, the way he leads by character, how he shows how much heart and soul should be put into the game.

Trotter: Describe what Iowa State-Iowa means?

Richardson: It’s Yankees-Red Sox. It’s the biggest thing we’ve got in Iowa. It’s something everyone in Iowa takes pride in. No one in Iowa won’t be watching that game. Every state has that instate rivalry, but imagine a state without pro teams. All eyes are on this game.

Trotter: How important is it to win this game?

Richardson: You never want to lose to the other side of the state, that other city. We’ve definitely got be ready. You’re going to get the best shot from both teams.

Trotter: If you win this game, will you guys be back on track?

Richardson: You could say that. I’d say we’re back on track right now. We expect to win every game. But definitely it would be a big bounce-back win.

Trotter: What would constitute a successful season for you guys?

Richardson: Coach Rhoads set the standard for us to finish in the top half of the Big 12. That’s something we’re striving for. Once we get there, obviously we’ll keep working for more. But that’s the standard.

Trotter: And if you don’t get into the top half of the Big 12?

Richardson: The season will not be successful. That would be a disappointment.

Trotter: Last question – best non-chain place to eat in Ames?

Richardson: Definitely Hickory Park. The best barbecue you can get in Ames. That’s where you take all the recruits on their visits. It’s a great place.
Robert SealsAP Photo/LM OteroBaker Mayfield's combination of accurate passing and mobility might make Texas Tech a tougher out in the Big 12 than previously thought.
In today’s mailbag, we discuss West Virginia’s chances in Norman, Texas Tech’s new ceiling and the fallout from the Kansas State and Iowa State FCS losses.

To the ‘bag:

Chris Gibson in Morgantown, W.V., writes: After averaging over 50 yards per punt, has Nick O'Toole solidified his nickname as “Boomstache?”

Jake Trotter: I like the nickname. But isn’t a little concerning that West Virginia’s best player in the opener was its punter?

Ali H. in Fort Worth, Texas writes: Love the blog. Regarding conference expansion, has there been any rumors that the Big 12 will expand? If so, I think the Big 12 should go after Virginia, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Louisville. Furthermore, create an East division and West division. That conference would go head-to-head with the SEC any day.

Jake Trotter: Why stop there? Why not add Notre Dame and Miami while we’re at it? Let’s be realistic: the Big 12 is not a destination conference for programs with wandering eyes at the moment. That said, I do think it’s possible the Big 12 and ACC merge into one conference down the line. Those two conferences have proven to be the most vulnerable to pilfering, and the momentum of conference realignment has been to settle at four superconferences. It’s doubtful, however, that the Big 12 would be able to just cherry-pick from the ACC. The more likely scenario is that one of the two conferences begins to crumble during the next realignment shift and is assimilated into the other.

Mr. Kingsbury in the Sunglass Hut writes: How concerned should I be that my top two rushers opening game were my QB and an inside receiver? I know run-stopping is SMU's defensive M.O., but I'm supposed to have two solid backs in DeAndre Washington and Kenny Williams. This is NOT the University of Texas where talented backs are allowed to underperform. The talent is there for our first 1,000-yard rusher in a decade, so ... not a good start. Thoughts?

Jake Trotter: I’m not sure Texas Tech has the offensive line to have a dominant run game. Baker Mayfield’s mobility is one of the many reasons he was the more attractive choice at quarterback, given what would be protecting him. Sure, the run game could be better. But I have a hard time seeing it becoming the M.O. of this Tech offense.

Wildcat Faithful writes: First off, welcome to the blog. Obviously K-State has Texas's number given that even under the Ron Prince’s guidance the ‘Cats still managed to beat Texas. So with that I fully expect this trend to continue even with Friday's disappointing start. What would you say the odds of this happening are? I would give it about a 70 percent chance, with the 'Cats winning by a late TD.

[+] EnlargeBrock Jensen
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesThe lesson learned in the Big 12 this week: If you are going to schedule an FCS team, don't schedule the best one.
Jake Trotter: I appreciate the warm welcome, Faithful. However, I must advise against drinking and messaging the 'bag. Otherwise you end up saying things like K-State has a 70 percent chance to win in Austin days after it couldn't beat North Dakota State in Manhattan.

Wilfred in Beverly, W.V., writes: Well, what can West Virginia do to beat Oklahoma?

Jake Trotter: If they can somehow take away OU’s ground game and force Trevor Knight to beat them through the air, the game could get interesting. Knight was shaky throwing the ball in his debut last week, though did get batter as the game wore on. I just don’t know if the Mountaineers have enough offensive pop to pull if off. Charles Sims is big time, but he doesn’t appear to have much help up front. If West Virginia somehow could get its ground game rolling, then beat the Sooners deep with some playaction completions down field, well, the game could get really interesting.

Matt in El Paso, Texas, writes: Of the Big 12 wins in Week 1, I feel like Texas Tech's victory over SMU proved the most. Given the situation at quarterback and Kingsbury being a first-year head coach, preseason predictions were understandably lowered. Assuming they can maintain that level of play on a consistent basis, what do you think Texas Tech's ceiling is for 2013?

Jake Trotter: I can’t disagree. Getting the win wasn’t all that impressive. Tech’s performance, though, was. A top-half finish in the conference is certainly attainable, something I wouldn’t have predicted before the season. But this is a question to revisit in two weeks, after TCU comes to town. If the Red Raiders win that game, I might be willing to raise the ceiling again.

Craig in Ames, Iowa, writes: Iowa State HAS to fire their offensive coordinator after that game, right? Our offense has been just -- to quote Charles Barkley -- turrible since (Courtney Messingham) took over. Our defense played bad in the first half. But they're young, we knew there would be growing pains after losing (Jake) Knott and (A.J.) Klein. But how is the zone-read, bubble-screen, then-pass-short-of-the-sticks-and punt-offense still viable? We have five good running backs, and yet our QB rushed the ball 21 times! Messingham has got to go after that, doesn't he?

Jake Trotter: I did find it curious that no Iowa State running back had more than eight carries. Then again, Messingham put this game in Sam Richardson’s hands, which I have no problem with. He’s Iowa State’s best offensive skill player -- probably by far. And doesn’t that smack more of being a talent problem than a play-calling problem? Other than Richardson, is there anyone on the Iowa State offense that would scare you as a defensive coordinator?

Doug in Morgantown, W.V., writes: I was wondering who should be more concerned, us barely beating a bottom-dwelling FCS team, or K-State, having actually lost, but to the two-time defending champion FCS team?

Jake Trotter: Both teams should be equally concerned. If West Virginia played the way it did against William & Mary, it would have lost to North Dakota State, too. But West Virginia is 1-0. Which brings us to this next question…

Steve in Mission Hills, Kan., writes: As much as I want Big 12 members do to well in the non-conference, I feel no sympathy for the Wildcats, who have eight homes games year-after-year. When will they step it up?

Jake Trotter: The lesson to be learned here is, if you’re going to play an FCS school, play a bad one. Don’t play the best one. You have nothing to gain by winning. And everything to lose. At the end of the year, nobody will remember that West Virginia almost lost to William & Mary. But they will remember Kansas State’s loss to North Dakota State.

Anonymous writes: What is the injury status of Oklahoma State receiver Austin Hays?

Jake Trotter: Hays is dealing with a hamstring injury. He didn’t make the trip last week to Houston, but it’s not believed to be serious. He’s expected to be back before too long.

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