Big 12: Shawne Alston

Every season, every player feels he's got at least something to prove. Otherwise, all the work wouldn't be worth it. That said, some guys have more to prove than others.

These are the guys with the most to prove on their respective Big 12 teams.

Next up: West Virginia

More guys with plenty to prove.

Plenty to prove: RB Dustin Garrison

Most fans across the Big 12 likely have no idea who Garrison is, and that's not necessarily his fault. He came out of nowhere to win West Virginia's starting running back job four games into his true freshman season, and in his first start carried the ball 32 times for 291 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Bowling Green.

Yeah, it was Bowling Green, but so much for a pass-happy offense. He finished the 2011 regular season, West Virginia's last in the Big East, with a team-high 742 rushing yards, including 87 yards and a score in a season-ending win over South Florida that clinched an Orange Bowl berth for the Mountaineers. He was also a fixture in the passing game.

However, in practices leading up to the bowl game, he suffered a knee injury. West Virginia rolled over Clemson and his absence hardly made a blip, but he rushed back from the injury after missing the first two games of 2012. He was never quite back to his old self. He never had double-digit carries in a game and topped 45 yards in a game just once.

Shawne Alston is gone, but Andrew Buie returns and talented juco newcomer Dreamius Smith further crowds the backfield. Garrison has to prove he can return to his previous form. If he doesn't, it's going to be tough to win carries and tough to help West Virginia gain the offensive balance it lacked last season. Buie logged a 200-yard game against Texas last season and has plenty of talent of his own, but Garrison's definitely got some claim to that No. 1 spot if he can prove he deserves it.
You saw my all-interview team last week, but considering I'm not on campus every day during the season, I only spend a finite amount of time around players. The local media gets a whole lot more time, and as such, has their own set of top interviews across the league.

I enlisted their help to nominate the players who helped readers like you learn more about the game and players they love. Here's what they had to say:

David Ash, QB, Texas: He doesn't mind mixing it up with reporters in a playful manner and offers short and often very blunt answers that are very telling. Sharp guy. And he's always good for at least one Scripture passage. -- Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman

Lanear Sampson, WR, Baylor: Thoughtful interviewee, really listens to the question. Interested in the media so he’s using interview sessions as a training ground. Very well spoken and always available without being a pest about it. -- John Morris, Baylor

R.J. Washington, DL, Oklahoma: Tells it straight, good storyteller, always funny, always brought it to the interview room, whether things were good or bad. -- Jake Trotter, ESPN SoonerNation

Chris Harper, WR, Kansas State: By far the best quote on the team. He was insightful, confident and never afraid to speak his mind. It will be a shame for everyone on the K-State beat to lose him to the NFL. -- Kellis Robinett, Kansas City Star

Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor: Go-to guy for interviews for most people around here because you can always get good sound bites from him. Playful-type interview subject, always a smile in his voice. -- John Morris, Baylor

Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas: The future high NFL draft pick was far and away the most colorful Longhorn to speak with the media week in and week out. Not so much for his Manny Diaz-like analogies or funny outtakes on different aspects of the team/game. But because of his brutal honesty. No moment speaks more to that than when he angered Texas fans by speaking his mind about the loud (or lack there of) the fan base is during home games. "I like without a doubt playing on the road better than playing at home," Vaccaro said. "It's way louder and gets me way [more excited]. No offense to our fans, but [DKR] is not loud." Quotes like that were few and far between in 2012 for the Longhorns. -- William Wilkerson, ESPN HornsNation

Jeff Woody, RB, Iowa State: Articulate, and can talk about nearly any topic. Funny, but not showy. -- Andrew Logue, Des Moines Register

Gabe Ikard, OL, Oklahoma: Always has a good sense of the pulse of the team. Insightful when discussing his teammates. Pre-med, very bright. -- Jake Trotter, ESPN SoonerNation

Jeremiah George, LB, Iowa State: He is the only player I've ever seen who showed up to an interview with opening remarks like a coach at a press conference. He is honest about his play and that of his team. Also, he is plugged in with his teammates and can tell you exactly why someone is playing better. -- Bobby La Gesse, Ames Tribune

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor: Youthful enthusiasm shows through in interviews. Never shies away from interview requests. Not completely polished but will get plenty of opportunities over the next couple of years. -- John Morris, Baylor

Shawne Alston, RB, West Virginia: It's a shame his thigh bruise kept him out of action (and out of the interview room) for much of the season, because Alston was always honest and direct in answering questions. He was at his best when describing his injury, the painful rehab process (including multiple hospital visits where he went under general anesthesia to have blood drained from the bruise) and the reaction from fans who questioned his toughness. -- Patrick Southern, Blue and Gold News

Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: No one had to deal with the media more, but Klein handled the attention of a Heisman campaign exceptionally well. He never turned down an interview, even when others gave him permission to do so, and always provided insight into his life story and K-State's successful season. I mean, is there an anecdote about his life we don't know? -- Kellis Robinett, Kansas City Star

Austin Zouzalik, WR, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders’ receiver-return man isn’t loud or gregarious, but he puts a lot of thought into what he says and doesn’t stick to just the safe answers. With a dry humor, he’ll share funny anecdotes about his roommates who happen to be teammates. He gave some good insight into how things changed when Tommy Tuberville replaced Mike Leach. And he was one of the players brave enough to stick up for former teammate Adam James, a pariah to a lot of Red Raiders fans after Leach was fired. -- Don Williams, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Travis Tannahill, TE, Kansas State: Whether you wanted to talk about hunting or football, Tannahill was there for the media. He was capable of breaking down every aspect of K-State's offense, and always had a knack for putting wins and losses into perspective. -- Kellis Robinett, Kansas City Star

Mike Ragone, TE, Kansas: He was an automatic request by almost every local media member every week and was routinely the last guy in the media room on player availability day. Colorful character from New Jersey with a classic accent and a sinister laugh, Ragone always filled his interviews with great stories and a clear appreciation for his chance to play football and love of KU. -- Matt Tait, Lawrence Journal-World

Alex Torres, WR, Texas Tech: Because he came late to the Red Raiders after spending time at Air Force Academy Prep School, Torres was a 25-year-old senior in 2012 and his maturity and comfort level show through in interviews. After he caught the winning touchdown pass to beat TCU in triple overtime, Torres gave an interesting chalk-talk explanation for why the play worked. He’d run the same route stem toward the same linebacker all afternoon -- then threw in a wrinkle on the decisive play that got him open. Sharing that sort of thing helps fans and media understand what they didn’t see in real time, no matter how closely they looked. -- Don Williams, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Terrance Bullitt, LB, Texas Tech: Serious shoulder injuries have limited Bullitt for two years and led to two surgeries. The fact he’s played in 22 games during that time shows how much the game means to him. It also comes through with the media. Bullitt will defend his teammates when he feels criticism is unwarranted or overdone, but takes ownership for shortcomings when he sees them. He was a junior in 2012, but Bullitt's one of those guys who seemed to carry himself like a leader even when he was young. -- Don Williams, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Open, honest, witty and comfortable in the spotlight. He'll do very well under the NFL media glare at the next level. -- Jimmy Burch, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Austin Stewart, S, Texas Tech: Stewart made headlines last April when he accidentally smacked his scooter into a bus at an intersection on the Tech campus. Luckily, he came away uninjured. The mishap certainly did nothing to impair Stewart’s speech, which is fast and unfiltered. As loquacious a Red Raider as you’ll find, Stewart said the bus accident felt “like I got blindsided by [Brian] Urlacher.” Discussing a two-tiered, two-color hairstyle he sported this fall, Stewart said that “going to California (for JUCO ball) helped.” Too bad he played in only four games in 2012, because he’s a sound bite waiting to happen. -- Don Williams, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Nick Florence, QB, Baylor: Thoughtful and well-spoken. A solid citizen, all the way around. -- Jimmy Burch, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Season report card: West Virginia

January, 28, 2013
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We're grading each Big 12 team's season right now, and we'll finish up with the last team on the list: The West Virginia Mountaineers.

OFFENSE: The Mountaineers boasted the Big 12's best passer, and Geno Smith played as advertised this season. He racked up an FBS-high 42 touchdown passes and just six interceptions, slowing a bit from a red-hot start but turning in a fantastic season. His numbers were obviously aided a bit by having the Big 12's best duo of receivers in Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, but the trio worked together in fabulous fashion. The running game was inconsistent at times, but part of the reason for that was a nagging injury that sidelined starting running back Shawne Alston for about half the season. The offensive line, led by senior center Joe Madsen, was solid though unspectacular. The lack of a consistent running game was part offensive line, part average back play from Andrew Buie, but either way, it made protecting Smith a more difficult task. Smith's passer rating of nearly 165 was outrageous, but he was sacked 23 times on 513 attempts. That was more sacks than everyone in the Big 12 except TCU and Kansas. The offense had some rough patches, but it still had a case as the Big 12's best, even though its 6.5 yards per play average ranked third in the Big 12. GRADE: A

DEFENSE: Where to begin? I'll try to be nice, but opposing offenses were not very nice and this unit simply didn't show enough fight. Defensive coordinator Joe DeForest was demoted in favor of co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, who took over playcalling roles. Cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts was let go. The carnage after just one year in the Big 12 came after a year that might be one of the most difficult I've seen for a Big 12 defense. I've seen a lot of bad defense in this league, but West Virginia's was honestly one of the worst I've ever seen in the Big 12. I knew WVU would be due for a wakeup call on defense jumping from the Big East to the Big 12, but I never thought it would get this bad. WVU gave up a Big 12-worst 38 points a game, ranking 117th nationally. In conference play, WVU gave up an average of 43.3 points. Only Colorado was worse in all of the FBS, and the Buffaloes lost to an FCS team last year. GRADE: F

OVERALL: Grading this team is really difficult. As I've admitted all offseason, I was among the hordes of folks who overrated this team from the start. The trio of Smith, Austin and Bailey were just as good as we all thought, but simply put, the rest of this team was not ready to compete for a Big 12 title. I overlooked some of those weaknesses, so though this team fell well short of expectations thanks to a five-game losing streak in the middle of the season, when you looked at this team a bit closer, the weaknesses should have been more obvious. WVU rose to No. 5 in the polls without beating a truly outstanding team, and joined USC and Arkansas as some of the nation's most disappointing teams. That title, though, is somewhat unfair because this team was overrated from the beginnings, and the expectations out of reach. GRADE: D+

More Big 12 report cards:

Pregame: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

December, 29, 2012
12/29/12
9:00
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West Virginia (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) versus Syracuse (7-5, 5-2 Big East):

WHO TO WATCH: Stedman Bailey. Hard to pick just one of the West Virginia trio on offense that has shattered just about every school record. Geno Smith and Tavon Austin are just as worthy of selection. So are Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon for Syracuse. But I went with Bailey for a variety of reasons. First, he had an incredible season, leading the nation with 23 touchdown receptions. Second, this is his last game after declaring early for the NFL draft, a perfect opportunity to showcase his talents for everybody to see. And third, he was just about the only West Virginia player to have any success against Syracuse last season, with seven catches for 130 yards and a touchdown.

WHAT TO WATCH: Geno Smith versus Syracuse's front. This is the biggest matchup to watch in the game, and it is not even really that close. Syracuse beat West Virginia the past two years in large part because its defensive front found a way to harass Smith. In those two victories, Syracuse combined to sack Smith nine times and force him into five interceptions. Chandler Jones was particularly impressive in both of those games. He is gone, and you can bet Syracuse will be turning its focus to Brandon Sharpe as a rush end in this game. Now, by all measures, Smith was a more complete quarterback this season than the past two years, as he threw a whopping 40 touchdown passes. But five of his six interceptions came in losses, so the game plan for Syracuse should remain the same as the previous two years -- make Smith as uncomfortable as possible.

WHY WATCH: This game is being billed as potentially having plenty of offensive fireworks, as both teams average more than 470 yards per game. Plus, they are longtime Big East rivals. Before 2012, Syracuse and West Virginia had met annually since 1955 and played for the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy when it was established in 1993. Although the trophy is not going to be on the line in this game, West Virginia will try to beat the Orange for the first time since 2009. One more thing to keep an eye on -- the weather. Snow is expected in New York on Saturday, so that could radically alter game plans and force both teams to rely more on their ground games. Jerome Smith and Andrew Buie (or even Shawne Alston) could end up with big days.

PREDICTION: Syracuse 45, West Virginia 44.

Big 12 Game Balls: Week 13

November, 27, 2012
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Not everybody can earn helmet stickers on Sunday morning or mentions in our Monday morning weekend rewind, but lots of performances deserve recognition. These are the best of the rest:

Shawne Alston, RB, West Virginia: Alston lost half of his season to a bruise, but he finally broke back out last week against Iowa State. After 123 yards in WVU's season opener, hopes were high for Alston. This hasn't been the season he wanted, but he racked up 130 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries against an Iowa State team solid against the run. It was a new career high for Alston, and just his second touchdown since the second game of the season.

Darrin Moore, WR, Texas Tech: Moore was an absolute handful for Baylor in Cowboys Stadium on Saturday afternoon. He hauled in 13 catches for 186 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the overtime loss. Teammate Eric Ward wasn't far off the pace. He caught nine passes for 113 yards and a score. Quite the duo for quarterback Seth Doege.

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor: Another week, another huge game for Seastrunk, who's building for what may be an enormous campaign in 2013. He rolled over Texas Tech for 136 yards on 19 carries. Seastrunk began the season as the No. 3 back, but Jarred Salubi's been largely relegated to the bench for Seastrunk as the featured back in recent weeks. Seastrunk now has at least 91 yards in his last four games, and has accounted for four touchdowns and three 100-yard games in that span.

Justin Brown, WR, Oklahoma: There were plenty of big performances on Saturday, but Brown's got overshadowed in the Sooners' win. The Penn State transfer caught a game-high 15 balls for 146 yards, and also caught a two-point conversion try that tied the game in the fourth quarter. He'd never had more than seven catches in a game before Saturday night.

Lunch links: No A&M-Texas Cotton Bowl?

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
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Iowa State fans: Thoughts on Chizik getting the ax on the Plains?


West Virginia's defense has been deservedly maligned all season long, and a pair of drive-extending penalties on a possible game-winning drive showed some reason why.

Inside the 10-yard line, though, Darwin Cook made the day's biggest play that erased the earlier penalties, forcing a Jeff Woody fumble that trickled into the hands of Karl Joseph.

It wasn't easy and certainly wasn't pretty, but the stop helped West Virginia (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) hold off Iowa State (6-6, 3-6) at Jack Trice Stadium, 31-24. A 75-yard catch-and-run from Tavon Austin, capped by a two-point conversion, gave the game its final margin.

The Cyclones' freshman quarterback Sam Richardson provided a strong effort in his first career start. He took over for Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett in a breakout game against Kansas a week ago and accounted for five touchdowns. Today, he completed 13 of 31 passes for 162 yards and three scores, while also rushing for 119 yards on 18 carries.

Once again, though, Austin's late heroics stole the show. He was contained for much of the game, but returned a punt for a touchdown to take the lead before it was called back because of a flag. Then, his 75-yard touchdown finished the job. He finished with 64 yards on 13 carries, and caught six passes for a game-high 99 yards.

Stedman Bailey also caught seven passes for 82 yards and a touchdown, his 21st of the season. That's more than Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon had in either of his two award-winning seasons. Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree grabbed 22 scores in his 2007 Biletnikoff season, but Bailey will have one more game this year at home against Kansas next week.

Shawne Alston finally re-emerged after a frustrating thigh bruise that sidelined him for five games, rushing for a season-high 130 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.

West Virginia's five-game losing streak is officially over, and the Big 12 now has eight bowl-eligible teams. West Virginia would have liked it to be much prettier, but a disappointing season will still be prolonged with a trip to a bowl game.

Might West Virginia slip to the Pinstripe Bowl and see old rival Pittsburgh in Yankee Stadium? That'd be a whole lot of fun.

Winning in Ames is getting tougher and tougher these days, but the Mountaineers did it to grab a sixth win that surely feels fantastic. When you've lost your last five games and haven't won since Oct. 6, any win feels great, no matter what it takes to get it.

Dana Holgorsen & Co. can surely attest to that.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
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Here's what I'm keeping an eye on in the Big 12 this week:

1. Remember all the little people. K-State has dealt with the distraction and hype really well this season. The Wildcats have been consistent and solid every week. This week, though, the pressure is at a whole new level. They're the nation's No. 1 team. Collin Klein's presence will test the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. Oklahoma State lost in its 11th game last season. K-State should roll Baylor on paper, but can it keep its focus in uncharted territory?

2. To care or not to care, that is the question. West Virginia was hyped all offseason for this game. Carrying a four-game losing streak into the Oklahoma game was not part of the plan, though. It's asking a lot for fans to come in droves and provide a big-time atmosphere. Will the Mountaineers fans do it and try to help their team reach bowl eligibility? Tough test for a fan base that has had a pretty terrible month or so and hasn't seen a win since Oct. 6 or a win in its home stadium since Sept. 29.

[+] EnlargeBaylor's Lache Seastrunk
Denny Medley/US PRESSWIRELache Seastrunk (25) rushed for 91 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries against Oklahoma.
3. Baylor breaks out its Jet Ski. Lache Seastrunk was officially set free last week, emerging as Baylor's No. 1 back with three touchdowns. Can he go to work against K-State's front seven this week, a solid unit headlined by Arthur Brown but still missing Tre Walker? Jarell Childs has played well, but Seastrunk's game-breaking speed could come into play.

4. Just do it. If Kansas is going to beat Iowa State, it will do so on the backs of its, uh, backs. Tony Pierson and James Sims are fantastic. Charlie Weis talked about needing to do creative things to run the ball when everybody knows the Jayhawks are going to run the ball. Well, everybody knows KU is going to run the ball. What does Weis have prepared this week for KU's best chance to crack its 19-game Big 12 losing streak?

5. Get a medical team on it, stat. Klein's injury saga is over, but K-State has more injury issues this week to keep an eye on. Starting safety Ty Zimmerman left the stadium in a boot last week, and Tyler Lockett suffered an ankle injury late against TCU. Both are key pieces to the nation's No. 1 team. Will they play, and will they do so effectively? All bets are off in this one.

6. At what point does someone start swiping chairs? Oklahoma State has played musical chairs at quarterback, and it shocked a lot of folks when Mike Gundy confirmed J.W. Walsh was available last week but didn't play. He is not on the depth chart this week, instead with an "or" between Clint Chelf and Wes Lunt. The good news: All three can play, and OSU can win with all of them. The bad news: This is turning into a bit of a circus. At least it's unpredictable for opponents, so that plays to OSU's advantage while the competition has to prepare for all three.

7. If you're so inKleined. A.J. Klein has had a quiet couple of games since Jake Knott's injury, making just 11 tackles total in the past two games after tallying at least 11 in three of the past five before Klein left the field. Klein has moved to weakside linebacker and wants more production out of the position. Iowa State needs that while Jeremiah George replaces Knott and the duo teams up to slow KU's running game.

8. Gotta fix the leaks. Oklahoma dominated Baylor's passing game, but the defense was hot after the game after giving up a season-high 252 yards on the ground to the Bears. Can WVU's Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie have a little success? Dana Holgorsen wasn't happy with the Mountaineers' run game, but this matchup will have an influence on the winner in Morgantown.

9. Time for the hook ... again? Steele Jantz has gone back to struggling after tearing up Baylor. He completed just more than 50 percent of his passes in consecutive weeks -- both losses -- and hasn't topped 200 yards through the air with one touchdown to three picks. If he struggles again, does Jared Barnett get a shot against KU? I seem to remember another Big 12 team switching QBs late and having it pay off.

Lunch links: K-State stay ahead of Ducks?

November, 7, 2012
11/07/12
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You can learn a lot about someone from his biography.

Mailbag: Award gripes, WVU offense

October, 26, 2012
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Thanks for all the mail this week, everybody. Here's where you can reach me if you've got more to say.

On to your mail!

Evan in Atlanta writes: So Nick Florence, the guy leading the entire nation in total yards per game, gets no mention on your offensive player of the year list? What gives man I know you've been on the Florence band wagon since the spring.

David Ubben: I like Florence, but from the opening weeks of the season, I said he makes poor decisions and it would cost him. It has. He's productive, but how can you ignore the 10 interceptions? Only a handful of guys in college football have more and he's got three more than any player in the Big 12. He throws it a lot, but he's still one of four guys in the league with more than 200 attempts, but Seth Doege's seven picks are the only thing close to that. Landry Jones and Geno Smith only have half as many interceptions as Doege ... combined.

MKM in Addison, Texas, writes: Since you and Tubs both hail from Arkansas, how alluring is that job to a native Arkansawyer? Which Big 12 coach do you think would be most likely to jump at an SEC job? (Arkansas, Auburn or Tennessee)?

DU: Arkansawyer? That hurts my heart. Arkansan, sir. I'm from the northwest part of the state, though. Tuberville is from way down south. I don't think there's much draw. The only draw would be coming back to the SEC. Arkansas is a better job than Texas Tech, but it's not in a completely different stratosphere, and Tuberville's not trying to climb the coaching ladder. He's been around a whole lot of places for a long, long time. He's told me in the past he just wants a place he can just be happy. By all accounts, he's found that in Lubbock. I'm not going to say never, but I think he sticks around. He's recruited well and it looks like Texas Tech is finally turning the corner. He put in a lot of work these past two years, and considering where Arkansas is right now and stuck in a loaded division, he'd have to go right back to work trying to rebuild.

At this point in his life, I don't think he'd want to do that. Tenneesee would be more attractive, but again, I don't think he's trying to move up anywhere. He's been around in the SEC. I'll never say never on Tuberville leaving, but I'm betting he stays, even if any of those three schools are interested.

Art Briles and Gary Patterson are the other two names that come up for that, but Briles has already built a great program at Baylor and the program is paying it back by building a gorgeous new stadium. Briles is kind of married to that project. I don't see him leaving. Patterson, meanwhile, has made TCU a much, much, much better job than when he arrived. He worked for more than a decade before getting this program into the league it always wanted to be in, turning down a lot of jobs he probably could have had along the way. Why would he leave now? Makes no sense.

Calm Your Jets in Lincoln, Neb., writes: Do you really think that the cancelled KSU/Oregon series has any bearing on who should play in a NCG? Good ol Ivan Maisel seems to think KSU should be penalized since in his mind, KSU cancelled the series. But how could voters possibly knock off KSU because of institutional decisions on both sides? It is never one side or the others complete fault, and I for one would be happy if this talking point died and we focus on what the teams are currently doing. There is too much football left to put the bug in people's ear that the cancelled series should have anything to do with anything, and lets face it, there is a good chance one or BOTH of these teams could stumble. The BCS always has some funny way of working itself out by the end of it all.

DU: No, that seems a little ridiculous. I think Oregon's style points and recent history will help it if it comes down to the end of the season and everybody's undefeated, but if Notre Dame is undefeated, they'll probably get in over all of them.

It's a little shady, sure. And yes, this game would be happening if Kansas State wanted it to happen, even if it wouldn't be happening this year. But to penalize a team in the polls for that? Nothing short of shameful. If anybody does that, they deserve whatever blasting is coming their way. The players on the field had nothing to do with that, and they're the guys playing the games that show up on the schedule.

Chris in Maryland writes: "Your guess is as good as mine for why WVU's offense is struggling. Part of it is the inability to run the ball, but it's hard to not look past Geno Smith's inability to hit the deep ball the past two games."Come on, you're the journalist here! At least try to come up with some reasons. You know the league. Is it that the TTU and KSU defenses were just that much better, or is the team lacking depth and confidence?

DU: Hey, even WVU's coaches don't know what's going on. I talked to Shannon Dawson, the OC, after the Texas Tech game, and he said it comes down to three things. One, is effort. That's fixable. I didn't see a huge change from last week vs. K-State to the debacle at Texas Tech. Tavon Austin was playing, but everybody else looked average. Andrew Buie seemed unable to make guys miss.

The second thing coaches can change is personnel. WVU is missing Shawne Alston but moved some guys around on offense, throwing Travares Copeland out there to start. He didn't have much effect.

The third thing that can change is scheme. That's just not happening. That's not the problem. If anything, that's the biggest asset.

Bottom line: Geno Smith has not been sharp these past few weeks. Throws he usually makes have not been made. That's very clearly the problem. What's wrong with Geno? Only he knows, and only he can make it better. If that doesn't change, neither will WVU's newfound issues on offense.

Curtis in Iowa writes: Mr. Ubben, which ISU offense do you think will show up against Baylor Saturday night? The offense that put up 37 @ TCU or the one that put up 10 @ OK state.

DU: Well, Baylor's defense will help. The Bears are giving up 58.3 points (!!!) a game in conference play. Iowa State has struggled to find consistency at quarterback, and the simple throws aren't being made. The TCU game looks like a bit of an anomaly in hindsight, but I would expect the Cyclones to look a lot more like that against the Bears defense. I picked Baylor to win, but picked the Bears to do it while giving up 34 points in the process.

What to watch for in the Big 12: Week 7

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
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Here's what I'm keeping an eye on this week across the Big 12.

1. Frogs stick together. It's been a trying couple of weeks for the Horned Frogs, but can this team rally without its best player, quarterback Casey Pachall? It didn't get the job done at home last week against Iowa State. Baylor is a better team, and TCU is going on the road. What do these guys have in their tank?

2. Tackling ain't for dummies. Texas' tackling issues have been obvious and continued last week against West Virginia. Longhorns coach Mack Brown admits it's an issue but says plenty of other people will be missing tackles against the Cowboys and Mountaineers. Probably, but there are plenty of good offenses across the Big 12. Oklahoma is one of them. Can the Longhorns get back to looking like what most people thought this defense would look like?

3. Keep the bad man at bay. We've seen Good Landry in this game -- he was on full display last year in the Sooners' blowout rivalry win. Texas is putting big-time pressure on quarterbacks this year, even if its linebackers and defensive backs are having tackling issues. That means plenty of opportunities for Bad Landry to make an appearance. Can Landry Jones be all good, fight off the pressure and avoid mistakes?

[+] EnlargeJared Barnett
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireCan Jared Barnett work his home upset magic on another top-10 foe with K-State visiting?
4. Perhaps his first name should be "David" instead of Jared. Iowa State quarterback Jared Barnett was the quarterback in the Cyclones' two most impressive performances last season, with apologies to Steele Jantz's comeback victory over Iowa. Barnett torched Texas Tech 41-7 and showed up later to knock off No. 2 Oklahoma State, the best win in school history. Can Barnett play giant-killer once again with Kansas State coming to town?

5. Time to bounce back. The last we saw Baylor's defense, it was having fun giving up 70 points on the road to West Virginia. TCU will be a much different task, with a much less capable arm at quarterback. The Bears will be without one of their best defenders, cornerback Demetri Goodson, who's out for the year with a broken arm. How does BU's defense look, and can it force TCU into some mistakes?

6. Get your binoculars out; we're QB-watching. Once again, Oklahoma State faces the question: Wes Lunt or J.W. Walsh? Lunt is back practicing after injuring his knee, and coach Mike Gundy says he's "day to day." Does OSU try to get him on the field now and ease him in against an opponent it should beat easily? Or does it stick with Walsh and give Lunt more time to heal?

7. Keep on running it up. West Virginia looked good running the ball against Texas, but that hasn't been the case as much since Shawne Alston went down. Alston's status is in doubt, but can Andrew Buie keep it going against Texas Tech and keep relieving that pressure on Geno Smith? Texas Tech's defensive line is underrated and can get a push up front.

8. They're not perfect, but they're pretty dang close. Kansas State's game against Iowa State might be the most physical game it's played all season, including against Oklahoma. So far, the Wildcats have just nine penalties, four fewer than any other team in the nation and 11 fewer than any other team in the Big 12. The Wildcats also have just three turnovers this season. If they keep doing that, Iowa State doesn't have much of a chance to win. Will K-State keep it up?

9. Total carnage, or improvement? Kansas looked decent against TCU, but Oklahoma State will be the first bona-fide, powerful Big 12 spread offense the Jayhawks have seen this season. If you want to win in the Big 12, these are the offenses you have to figure out how to slow down. KU's defense has looked improved, but this is the best offense the unit has seen. If OSU scores 50 points without much resistance like last year, KU is going to feel a lot like not much progress is being made.

10. Learning how to Doege. Texas Tech senior quarterback Seth Doege had one of his worst outings ever and just his second three-interception game last week in a loss to Oklahoma. If he doesn't play well, Texas Tech has absolutely zero shot to win this game. Will he bounce back and silence the ridiculous calls for him to be benched in favor of Michael Brewer?

The Big 12 Primer: Week 7

October, 10, 2012
10/10/12
4:05
PM ET
It's time for our weekly look at when and where you can find every game in the Big 12 this week. I'll have my predictions up in the morning, and I'll also be revealing which game I'll be attending.

Until then, let's hear your predictions in the comments:

No. 6 Kansas State at Iowa State (noon, FX): Farmageddon goes back to Ames after a hiatus in Kansas City and a game in Manhattan a year ago. Iowa State loves to play giant killer, and it'll get a good chance in this one. Bill Snyder and Collin Klein knocked off the Cyclones 30-23 a year ago and will try to set up a huge showdown in Morgantown next week. Jared Barnett helped ISU beat No. 2 Oklahoma State in Ames last year, and after taking over for Steele Jantz, how will he look in his second start?

No. 15 Texas vs. No. 13 Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas (noon, ABC): A century of tradition continues in the Cotton Bowl with Texas and Oklahoma going head to head. Both already have home losses and its the first matchup with neither team in the top 10 since 1999. The loser would have two losses just two weeks into October, but Landry Jones will get a tough test against a Texas defense hungry to prove itself. Meanwhile, how will David Ash look against the best defense he's faced all season?

Oklahoma State at Kansas (3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net): This game was 35-7 after the first quarter last year, but Charlie Weis turned heads this week by holding a practice on Sunday without his seniors, who were sent to lift weights and run. Is he already looking to the future? Oklahoma State, meanwhile, is waiting on Wes Lunt's knee to heal and until then, it's J.W. Walsh's offense.

No. 5 West Virginia at Texas Tech (3:30 p.m., ABC) West Virginia has looked like the Big 12's best team through six weeks, but haven't played an entire season without a loss to an unranked team since 2003. Texas Tech is trying to bounce back from a lopsided loss to Oklahoma at home, but the improving Texas Tech defense will get the toughest test of their young season when Heisman frontrunner Geno Smith rolls into town with two of the best receivers in the country, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Running back Andrew Buie proved WVU could be more balanced, but could Shawne Alston return this week?

TCU at Baylor (7 p.m., Fox Sports Net) TCU and Baylor played a classic last year, but TCU is officially moving on after Casey Pachall disenrolled from school and sought treatment at an inpatient facility. Baylor might be one of the most underrated teams in the league. After a seven-point loss on the road to West Virginia, BU dropped out of the top 25. Doesn't seem fair, does it? Look for Nick Florence and Co. to prove a little something on Saturday.

Balanced attack pushes WVU over Texas

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
12:50
AM ET
AUSTIN, Texas -- Geno Smith is used to having the game in his hands. It's been the story of West Virginia's season. Near the end of a chilly night in central Texas, that changed.

Smith's offensive line had a simple message for their Heisman candidate: "We got this. It's over. We're going to win this game," they said.

"Andrew Buie said, 'Put it on my back,' Smith said. "He put it on his back and led us to a victory."

Not just any victory. He led them to a 48-45 victory in West Virginia's first road trip in the Big 12, where they found a record crowd of 101,851 waiting at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium -- a crowd Texas coach Mack Brown called the loudest in 15 years.

Said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who was an assistant in the Big 12 for nine years: "I've never seen this place like that."

It even got after Smith at one point, serenading him with a "Geno Sucks" chant as he gestured to the crowd, egging them on.

"Where does that come from?" Smith said. "Obviously, I don't suck. I'll let them believe that."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Buie
Tim Heitman/US PresswireThe second of Andrew Buie's rushing TDs gave West Virginia a 48-38 lead.
Buie led them to a victory that helped West Virginia clear the highest hurdle of its Big 12 (or national?) title "marathon," as Smith called it.

The Big 12 title runs through Morgantown, with Kansas State and Oklahoma waiting later in the season.

Saturday in Austin, though, it was Buie's time.

"He carried us," said Smith, the man used to carrying the Mountaineers. "We knew we were going to need to run the ball, because those guys like to get after the quarterback."

Texas did exactly that, sacking Smith four times and twice forcing fumbles inside the West Virginia 20-yard line. Before tonight, Smith had been sacked three times in four games.

Buie's 207 yards? Holgorsen said he wasn't surprised by those. But the 31 carries? That was a head-turner.

"We did commit to the run," he said. "That was something we talked about early in the week, and there weren't any tricks, either. We lined up and we just ran it right at 'em. We felt like that was gonna be the difference. If we could do that, it was going to alleviate some of the pressure on Geno."

On West Virginia's final drive, needing points to ice the game, the Mountaineers handed the ball to Buie on seven of eight plays. He turned them into 63 yards, capping his big night with a five-yard touchdown run, his second score of the night. While his teammates ran wild and kicked off the party on the West Virginia sideline, he trotted back through a parade of backslaps before being bearhugged by his position coach, Robert Gillespie.

"If we would have just drop back pass after drop back pass, they would have had 12 sacks. Maybe 20," Holgorsen said. "We just felt like it would be in the best interest of our football team to commit to the run."

Texas stuck in its nickel package for most of the night with just two linebackers on the field, even when West Virginia used its jumbo packages with bigger bodies. Buie saw it as a sign of "disrespect," and proved he'd make the most of his opportunities.

"With coach Holgorsen, you never know what the game plan is going to be fully," Buie said. "You just always want to be prepared to run from whatever he's put inside the menu for that week. When he calls your number, obviously he has confidence in you to make plays."

Holgorsen (and Smith, who often checked to various running plays at the line of scrimmage) had confidence in Buie 31 times on Saturday night. Buie was likely West Virginia's No. 3 back entering the season behind Shawne Alston and a recuperating Dustin Garrison. He looked like a man well deserving of the No. 1 spot against one of the Big 12's top defense. Before last week's 25 carries, Buie had never had more 15 carries in a game, and hadn't topped even 100 yards in a game. He had 52 carries in his entire freshman season in 2011.

Since 2009, Texas was 18-0 when winning the turnover battle. The Horns won it 2-1 on Saturday, but Buie's effort helped the Mountaineers overcome both of Smith's fumbles and move into the driver's seat for the Big 12 title.

"We're not going to force the ball. We're not going to force the issue. We'll take what you give us. I'm a smart quarterback, I understand defenses. I understand how to exploit them." Smith said. "The offensive line did a great job of getting all those guys, finishing blocks, getting to the second level. Buie was reading it and cutting back. Yards after contact was big. He ran hard tonight."

Think West Virginia's offense is just Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey? West Virginia proved otherwise.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 6

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
10:15
AM ET
Here's what I'm keeping an eye on across the Big 12 this weekend.

1. Get 'em down and keep 'em down. Texas' tackling issues were on display in a big way in a narrow victory over Oklahoma State. The Longhorns got away with it in Stillwater. I don't think that'll be the case against West Virginia, even at home. Texas has emphasized the issue this week. How will it work?

2. Time for a quarterback change? Steele Jantz turned the ball over four times in Iowa State's loss to Texas Tech, and coach Paul Rhoads said this week the quarterback who looks best in practice will play. Does Jared Barnett finally see some time? For Jantz, it will ultimately boil down to turnovers.

3. Take care of opportunities. TCU has reached the red zone 20 times this season, but has come away with a touchdown on just nine occasions. The Horned Frogs have scored just 12 times. The touchdown percentage (45 percent) ranks 106th nationally. The Frogs are good enough to get away with it against Kansas or SMU or Virginia. Iowa State? The Cyclones will take advantage if the Frogs leave the doors open.

4. A big piece is missing. West Virginia's running game has taken a big hit with Shawne Alston on the sidelines. Coach Dana Holgorsen was tight-lipped this week in regards to Alston's status, but he's going to be needed this week against Texas. He's a better pass-blocker than Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison, too. Will big back Ryan Clarke make a return, too?

5. It's real. We know that. But is it spectacular? Texas Tech took a step toward validating its defense, holding Iowa State to fewer than 200 yards of total offense, forcing four turnovers and maintaining its spot as the nation's No. 1 defense. How good is this unit, though? Oklahoma will be the toughest test yet, and its offense will be more like what Tech will see the rest of the season. Teams like OSU, Baylor and West Virginia have more high-powered offenses, but the Sooners will offer a huge checkpoint for Tech on its defensive road to redemption after an awful 2011.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
William Purnell/Icon SMIFreshman Johnathan Gray led Texas in rushing in relief at OSU; the spotlight will be brighter Saturday.
6. The young legs are back. Sophomore Malcolm Brown, Texas' leading rusher a year ago, is out against West Virginia, but he'll sit on Saturday with an ankle injury. Now's the time for hyped freshman Johnathan Gray to step up. He looked really good in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State and led the Longhorns in rushing. How will he handle West Virginia and how will he look with a week to know he'll be counted on?

7. Getting competitive yet? I stick to my belief that Kansas is better than it was last year, despite its frustrating losses and worse record than in 2011. Nothing would signify progress more than hanging with in-state rival Kansas State. When Charlie Weis got the job, he looked at K-State and Missouri to see what they had and what KU didn't have, and how the Jayhawks could start closing the gap. Here's his first chance to measure up on the field.

8. Call it a Heisman special. Geno Smith's not throwing for 656 yards against Texas. Let's just get that out of the way. The Longhorns have defensive personnel and depth unlike anything Baylor's got. It's one of a few major hurdles for Smith to go from Heisman front-runner, as he is now, to Heisman winner in December. Can he maintain his crazy numbers that are better than RG3's from a year ago?

9. Where is the elder statesman? The young'un Devonte Fields, a true freshman, has grabbed all the headlines so far this year at TCU, leading the Big 12 with five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Meanwhile, preseason All-Big 12 representative Stansly Maponga has been really, really quiet thus far. He's got just 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Can he have a coming-out party against the Cyclones?

10. A lesson in thievery is needed. Oklahoma's got just one turnover through three games this year. Buffalo is the only other team in the country who has forced just one turnover. Texas Tech has lost six turnovers this year (32nd nationally), but if Oklahoma doesn't force a turnover against the Red Raiders, the Sooners could very well be looking at an upset and a drop out of the top 25.

Big 12 game predictions: Week 5

September, 27, 2012
9/27/12
9:00
AM ET
We're only two days from another helping of Big 12 football, but I'm making my way to Stillwater this weekend to get my first in-person look at both Texas and Oklahoma State.

It should be a fun weekend, for sure, and good to get back in Stillwater, where it seems like I've sort of camped out the past couple seasons. The spoils of outstanding home schedules, I suppose. No worries in Morgantown, though, folks. Our Ivan Maisel is headed to West Virginia's game vs. Baylor, so we'll have plenty of Big 12 flavor across ESPN.com this weekend.

Let's get to this week's picks!

Last week: 3-2 (.600)

Overall: 25-5 (.833)

No. 7 Kansas State, Kansas and No. 16 Oklahoma are all off this week.

No. 9 West Virginia 45, No. 25 Baylor 34: Baylor's looked pretty questionable in the first half this season, and the same applies in a hyped Morgantown atmosphere. The problem: These Mountaineers are tough and won't let the Bears get back into it. Shawne Alston is back on the field and has WVU's offense back to its usual self. Could we see 200 snaps in this game? It's possible, but the lion's share go to the new guys, who kick off Big 12 play in spectacular style with an exhibition of two of the league's best offenses.

No. 15 TCU 27, SMU 10: The Iron Skillet is headed back to Fort Worth. TCU has to deal with a night crowd at SMU, but Casey Pachall is able to pace the Frogs, whose running game continues to look a little punchless. The red zone turnovers aren't a problem anymore, but Garrett Gilbert is getting better in SMU's offense and moves the chains enough to make this close early. TCU pulls away late.

Texas Tech 41, Iowa State 28: This is just a painful pick. I've already been burned once by doubting Paul Rhoads, but I underestimated the craptitude that is Iowa's offense. Steele Jantz is better and gives the Red Raiders a good test, but even with the weak early schedule, I'm starting to believe a little bit in this Red Raiders team. I'm not buying this defense yet, but the offense will be back to its usual self as long as it stays healthy. For now, that's the case. Too much depth. Too much speed. Tommy Tuberville's best offensive line yet gives ISU's front four all kinds of problems.

No. 12 Texas 37, Oklahoma State 27: This is my pick of the week. Come back later today for a more in-depth look at this game, but Texas' running game will do horrible, horrible things to Oklahoma State's defensive line.

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