Big 12: Garrett Gilbert

OU, Texas look to keep rolling

September, 7, 2013
9/07/13
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Today, the Big 12’s two flagship programs have opportunities to show they’re bouncing back in the right direction.

For Texas, it's to show it’s not the same discombobulated mess that nearly fell to BYU at home two years ago.

For Oklahoma, it's to show its defense is no longer the open sieve it was at West Virginia late last season.

In the Big 12’s two marquee games this week, Texas will meet BYU in Provo, Utah tonight, while Oklahoma will meet the Mountaineers in Norman in a rematch of last year’s wild 50-49 shootout.

Earlier in the week, former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer made a guarantee on Twitter that the Sooners would not give up 778 yards this time to West Virginia.

That’s probably a safe bet.

After all, Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, who set a yardage record against an Oklahoma defense, are now in the NFL.

But the Stoops Brothers are hoping it will also be because their defense has improved its personnel and scheme following the late-season collapse of 2012. Despite replacing seven starters, the Sooners got off to a promising start last week, shutting out an opponent for the first time in three years.

“I think our guys were very confident when they took the field,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “That was different than before.”

Texas coach Mack Brown believes his team is very different than the one that last faced the Cougars. In the second game of 2011, the Longhorns struggled to a 17-16 win over BYU, which proved to be a harbinger for a rocky five-loss season.

"Playing in that atmosphere will be a good test for us," Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom said. "It will show us where we're at as a team.”

Like Oklahoma, the Longhorns’ began the season with a promising performance.

David Ash, who along with Case McCoy actually took over for Garrett Gilbert at quarterback after that BYU game two years ago, threw four touchdowns last week in a 56-7 rout of New Mexico State. Most impressive was how Ash and the offense responded to three early turnovers. Of course, the BYU defense offers a much tougher litmus test of where the Texas offense is.

"When we played them two years ago they were a tough physical team, and they're still that," Texas offensive lineman Mason Walters said. "It's going to be a great challenge for us knowing that we're going to have to go on some long drives against them.”

While Oklahoma and Texas will try to build on their openers, two other preseason contenders will attempt to bounce back from disappointing debuts. TCU and Kansas State will also try to straighten out quarterback controversies that grew more muddled after Week 1.

In a 37-27 loss to LSU, TCU coach Gary Patterson started Casey Pachall, but turned to Trevone Boykin in the second half. Patterson said Pachall remains his starter, even though the offense was more effective last week when Boykin was in. How TCU rotates QBs against Southeastern Louisiana today could clarify the position heading into next week’s clash at Texas Tech.

The same goes for K-State.

The Wildcats, who were stunned by North Dakota State, have indicated they’ll go with Jake Waters again as their starting quarterback against Louisiana-Lafayette. But Kansas State coach Bill Snyder indicated backup Daniel Sams would see more snaps than he did last week.

“Jake proved he is a very capable quarterback and played well during the course of the ballgame,” Snyder said. “But you have a good athlete like Daniel and you have to find places for him -- which we will.”
AUSTIN, Texas -- Years from now, the 2011 BYU-Texas game won’t likely be remembered for anything more than its 17-16 final score, just another pair of numbers on a list of all-time results. A win, a close win but still a win, and nothing more.

But if Mack Brown is right and Texas does make another run at a national title soon, if the Longhorns do become elite again, perhaps we’ll look back on Sept. 10, 2011, as one of the key milestones of the rebuilding project.

You see, it was in that game when, with 9:42 left in the second quarter and a chorus of boos raining down from the stands of DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, Garrett Gilbert walked off the field and never returned.

The fresh start Gilbert would get under new offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin lasted less than two games, undone by a bum shoulder and a deeply shaken confidence. He had surgery three days later and left the program within three weeks.

David Ash
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesDavid Ash played against BYU two years ago, but he's a completely different player now.
Oh, and Texas trailed BYU 13-0. David Ash and Case McCoy would have to take over and scrap together a victory, initiating a quarterback battle that would continue for nearly another year.

That Longhorns team was inexperienced and full of freshmen. It had five new coaches. It had to lead the program out of the 5-7 ditch. Two years later, Texas and BYU meet again.

These Longhorns might not look too terribly different from the 2011 squad, but so much has changed.

“Back then we still had, what, three quarterbacks?” senior offensive lineman Trey Hopkins said. “We had a new offense, a whole new staff came in, so many things. Young offensive line, young quarterbacks, young wide receivers, young everything. Everything was brand new and fresh to us.”

The Texas team that takes the field Saturday in Provo will feature 14 starters who played against BYU in 2011, including eight who will have started both games. The Texas two-deep has nearly 30 players who appeared in that 2011 contest.

“Now people have settled in. We know the system, we know each other, we’ve played next to each other for years now,” Hopkins said. “We’ve been in the great wins and the tough losses together. It’s almost like a completely new team going against them now.”

The task of rebuilding Texas has largely fallen on the shoulders of Texas’ 2011 recruiting class. From that group of 21, 13 played against BYU as true freshmen. None of the signees have transferred. They’ve agreed to ride this roller coaster together.

Seven of those 2011 signees will start against BYU this weekend, and a total of 14 have earned starts in their career. They comprise the core of this veteran roster.

Remember, these are the kids who signed two months after the 5-7 season ended. They signed despite that 2010 season and despite the coaching shakeup. They signed because they wanted to fix Texas.

Those players say now that having to overcome adversity before they ever showed up on campus made them closer and more determined to turn the program around.

“That group had something special about them, or they would’ve left,” Brown said. “They cared about Texas. They were very loyal to me and to the coaches that were still here. They had every opportunity to be negative and leave, and they didn’t.

“I think that’s one of the reasons they’ve come in here and helped us get this thing back in the right direction.”

Junior cornerback Quandre Diggs was one of the guys who kept that class intact during the turmoil. He still remembers sitting in the stands with Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, M.J. McFarland and others and watching Texas’ season fall apart. When the coaches left, he worked the phones to make sure everyone stuck to their word.

“We all stuck together,” Diggs said. “It’s just tremendous, tremendous chemistry we have between our 2011 class. I love those guys like brothers. It’s something special we have.”

Back when BYU came to town, Diggs and Jaxon Shipley were learning on the job as true freshman starters. Malcolm Brown led the team in rushing. Now they’re just a few of the veteran leaders of a vastly different team.

The Longhorns have won 16 games and lost nine since BYU came to Austin. They’ve found their starting quarterback, surrounded him with weapons and developed one of the nation’s most experienced offensive lines. Their defense is out to prove itself after take a step backward in 2012.

“If we want to claim we’ve grown since the last time we played them, the table is set for a great challenge and, really, a measuring stick at this point in the season to see where we’re at,” offensive lineman Mason Walters said.

Garrett Gilbert is long gone now, as are any doubts about who should be Texas’ starting quarterback. Ash had to laugh Monday when asked how much he has grown up. These past two years haven’t always been easy, but he’s proud of how far his team has come.

“I think we came in at a difficult time when things were changing a lot,” Ash said. “A lot of us had to play young. We took our licks early, but I think we’re starting to learn from it all, all of the things we struggled through. I think now we’ve played football long enough that I think we can be a good ballclub.”

Just how good? We’ll know more after Saturday, after Texas takes on a familiar foe.

DALLAS -- Baker Mayfield is not a normal freshman.

The Texas Tech walk-on quarterback led the Red Raiders to a 41-23 win over SMU at Ford Stadium on Friday night. Here’s how it happened.

How the game was won: The Red Raiders pulled away in the fourth quarter, scoring 21 consecutive points to put the game away after SMU had cut the margin to 20-16 after three quarters.

Player of the game: Mayfield accounted for five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) in his first collegiate game. The walk-on true freshman settled down more and more as the game went on, finishing 43-of-60 for 413 yards and four touchdowns. He scored on an 11-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run to help secure the win.

Turning point: Mayfield’s 33-yard pass to Jordan Davis with 1:01 left in the first half. The freshman zipped the ball through a tight window to Davis before the safety could arrive, and Davis did the rest. It seemed to give the Red Raiders’ quarterback renewed confidence that he could get it done against SMU.

Unsung hero of the game: SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert has to be disappointed with a loss, but he did as much as he could to prevent the season-opening setback. He accounted for 441 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown run.

Unsung hero of the game, Part II: When he wasn’t holding on running plays, Texas Tech receiver Eric Ward was close to unstoppable. The senior finished with 13 receptions for 150 yards in the win.

What Texas Tech learned: Coach Kliff Kingsbury learned that Mayfield can excel in his offense. Anytime you start a true freshman, particularly at quarterback, you never know how he will respond. Mayfield responded by making big plays without making the big mistake. Kingsbury will be smiling all the way back to Lubbock.

What SMU learned: The Mustangs learned they need to find some playmakers on offense. Dropped passes, limited yards after catch and a general lack of explosiveness was the underlying narrative for June Jones’ squad. Gilbert is going to need some help from his teammates if SMU hopes to have success in 2013.
Last season, we began this exercise. Here's how we did last season. Not terrible, but certainly some room for improvement.

We'll move forward again this offseason by making preseason picks for every single game on the Big 12 schedule.

Naturally, Week 1 seems an appropriate place to begin. By the end of this exercise, you'll know how I'm projecting every Big 12 team heading into the bowl season.

FRIDAY

Kansas State 27, North Dakota State 21: Kansas State needed a late defensive stop to earn the win against the two-time defending FCS national champions. John Hubert's 150-yard game was much needed, but K-State will be glad to get this dangerous game with nothing to win and a lot to lose behind it. Sneaky fun game here to kick off Fox Sports 1's launch.

Texas Tech 31, Southern Methodist 21: Garrett Gilbert has already beaten Texas Tech in Lubbock, but won't get the job done at SMU in Dallas this time around. After some first-half hiccups, Tech takes control for a solid, but not quite impressive win to kick off the Kliff Kingsbury Era.

SATURDAY

West Virginia 44, William and Mary 17: West Virginia's offense puts up some impressive fireworks against an overmatched FCS team. There are a few good games to watch in Week 1 across the Big 12. This is not one of them.

Iowa State 34, Northern Iowa 13: The in-state rivalry between these two is lopsided, and even a rebuilding year in Ames won't change the gap between the FCS and FBS foes. Sam Richardson has a nice debut.

Oklahoma 34, Louisiana-Monroe 27: The Sooners' 2012 season got off to an ugly, ugly start in El Paso. This is another sneaky dangerous team that reminds me a bit of Utah State back in 2010. Oklahoma wins this one and it's a little too close for comfort. Kolton Browning is back, and Sooner fans would be well-served to watch his performance against Baylor last season.

Baylor 51, Wofford 17: EDIT: Sorry about that. Mixed up South Dakota and Wofford notes. Baylor can score a lot of points against everyone. Big day for Lache Seastrunk in this one.

Oklahoma State 41, Mississippi State 23: The Pokes strike a blow for the Big 12 as a heavy favorite in Houston. Blake Jackson breaks out in a big way. He snags a pair of scores and goes for 100+ yards, and most importantly, he doesn't have a drop.

Texas 37, New Mexico State 10: Texas isn't going to convince anyone of anything good against New Mexico State, but the defense looks good and gives up its only touchdown of the day after the game is well out of hand.

TCU 21, LSU 20: I'll take the Frogs to pull the upset here. Casey Pachall looks shaky but gets the job done thanks to a strong night by the running backs against a young LSU defensive line.
Wes Lunt's exit from Oklahoma State surprised a lot of people, but what kind of results can he expect over the rest of his career?

Here's an update on the Big 12's recent notable transfers. The results are all over the map.

Garrett Gilbert, transferred from Texas to SMU in 2011: Struggled in 2010 during Texas' 5-7 season, despite a strong showing in relief of Colt McCoy in the 2009 national title game against Alabama. Earned a starting position in June Jones' offense in Dallas and threw for 2,932 yards, 15 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season. He'll start as a senior in 2013.

Keith Nichol, transferred from Oklahoma to Michigan State in 2008: Nichol was a superstar recruit but lost a quarterback competition to some guy named Sam Bradford. After taking his talents to Lansing, he earned some time at quarterback as a sophomore in 2009, but found a home at receiver. He finished his career with 50 catches for 625 yards and four touchdowns, highlighted by a game-winning, Hail Mary touchdown to beat Wisconsin in 2011. He also threw for 826 yards and nine touchdowns.

Jevan Snead, transferred from Texas to Ole Miss in 2006: Played some in relief of Colt McCoy, but left for Oxford in search of playing time and found it. Carried the Rebels to a Cotton Bowl win and threw for 2,762 yards, 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2008. A year later, he tossed 20 touchdowns and 20 interceptions and racked up 2,632 yards. He left Ole Miss early, but wasn't drafted.

G.J. Kinne, transferred from Texas to Tulsa in 2008: Kinne never cracked the field at Texas, but had a huge career as a Golden Hurricane. He threw for just under 9,500 yards, ran for 1,365 yards and accounted for 96 total touchdowns in three seasons as starter. He went undrafted and hasn't caught on in the NFL, but is under contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Connor Wood, transferred from Texas to Colorado in 2011: Wood couldn't get on the field at Texas, but sought playing time in Boulder, and it looks like he's found it. After Nick Hirschman transferred last week, Wood is Colorado's likely starter in 2013, and has three years of eligibility remaining.

Jacob Karam, transferred from Texas Tech to Memphis in 2012: Was eligible immediately because he had already received his degree. He won the Tigers' starting job and threw for 1,895 yards and 14 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He'll be a senior, and the starter again in 2013.

Scotty Young, transferred from Texas Tech to Louisiana Tech in 2012: Never got on the field for the Red Raiders and sat out the 2012 season at Louisiana Tech. He's in good position to be the Bulldogs' starter next season, replacing Colby Cameron.

Drew Allen, transferred from Oklahoma to Syracuse in 2013: Allen served as a backup his entire career, but after receiving his degree, started looking for a place to play out his career. He believes Syracuse is the place to do it, and he'll compete for the starting job in the fall.

Jared Barnett, transferred from Iowa State to Illinois State in 2013: Barnett earned a place in ISU lore when he led the Cyclones to a win against undefeated, BCS No. 2 Oklahoma State in 2011, but struggled after that and throughout 2012. He finished the season on the bench behind Sam Richardson and elected to become a Cardinal after the season. He's eligible immediately, because his new team is an FCS school.

Bobby Reid, transferred from Oklahoma State to Texas Southern in 2007: Reid was the subject of Mike Gundy's infamous "I'm a man, I'm 40!" rant, and later said he felt like that rant ended his "life", though Gundy was defending his player. He threw for 1,791 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions at Texas Southern in 2008, but he and Gundy seem close again. He joined Gundy's staff in an administrative role this year.

Rhett Bomar, transferred from Oklahoma to Sam Houston State in 2006: Bomar's transfer wasn't his choice. Bob Stoops famously kicked Bomar off the team in the wake of reports that he had received payment from a local car dealership without doing the work. That was an obvious NCAA violation. He played just 19 games over the next two seasons, but finished as the school's all-time leader in passing yards, with 5,564 yards. He was a finalist for the 2008 Walter Payton Award as the nation's best FCS player. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 draft by the New York Giants, but has been out of the NFL since May 2012.

Jordan Webb, transferred from Kansas to Colorado in 2012: Started two seasons for the Jayhawks, but left town when Charlie Weis brought Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps with him to Lawrence. He played 10 games last season, throwing for 1,434 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. He tore his ACL in spring practice, though, and is questionable to get back on the field this fall. He's not helping his case to regain his starting status by getting arrested on felony assault charges last weekend.
Texas Tech is the latest Big 12 team to kick off spring practice later today. Let's take a closer look.

Schedule: The first of Texas Tech's 15 NCAA-allowed spring practices begins today. They will conclude with a spring game on April 20. Between now and then, just two practices will be open: April 6 (in Midland, Texas) and April 12.

What's new: Pretty much everything. Tech does return 13 starters from last season's eight-win team, tied for fourth-most in the Big 12. Beyond that, though, it's a whole new ballgame on the sidelines. More on that later.

New faces: Besides the coaches, Texas Tech is welcoming a new quarterback to the practice field this spring: Davis Webb. The 6-foot-5, 205-pounder is the nation's No. 24 pocket passer.

All eyes on: Kliff Kingsbury and his new staff. He's added six alums to the Red Raiders' sidelines. Kingsbury will be calling the plays for the Red Raiders. He handed the keys to his defense over to Matt Wallerstedt, who followed him over from Texas A&M. How will the 33-year-old Kingsbury run the program? As a program legend, he has the support of the city, and he'll have to learn on the job as a first-time head coach, the youngest among AQ conference teams. He inherited a talented team capable of making some noise immediately, but he'll have to take them there. That journey begins today.

Breaking out: Big 12 blog readers voted quarterback Michael Brewer the breakout player of the spring across the league. He's my pick, too. Kingsbury's not handing the sophomore the job right out of the gate, but it doesn't look like he has a ton of competition. The 6-foot-1, 183-pound native of Austin, Texas, hails from the same powerhouse Lake Travis program as Garrett Gilbert. Brewer lost just one game in high school, helping his coach, Chad Morris, take his first steps to being a major conference offensive coordinator. He's now at Clemson.

Question marks: I've written about the safeties a lot this spring, but the Red Raiders have a lot of work to do in replacing starters Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson. New position coach Trey Haverty has his work cut out for him, and any weakness in this area come fall will be exposed quickly.

On the mend: Tight end Jace Amaro. He became something of an afterthought during Big 12 play last season sue to a rib injury, but he's the cure for what has ailed the Big 12's tight ends these past couple of seasons. The position has been really, really weak, but if he's healthy, Amaro is the league's best at the spot. He had a forgettable night in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, catching two passes for 15 yards and getting ejected after throwing a punch. But shortly after taking the job, Kingsbury was already talking about how Amaro pops off game tape.

Don't forget about: Wide receiver Eric Ward. He's one of the Big 12's most underrated players, and all he's done in his career is lead Tech in receiving in each of the past two seasons and became the first Tech receiver to top 1,000 yards receiving and return to campus since Michael Crabtree in 2007. Ward's a big-time player in the passing game who doesn't get enough respect across the conference. Among returning players, only Oklahoma State's Josh Stewart had more receiving yards.
Earlier this morning, we broke down half of the big surprises and big busts from the 2009 recruiting class in the Big 12. Let's take a look at the rest of the Big 12.

Oklahoma State

Best surprise: OL Levy Adcock (Claremore, Okla.)

Adcock came to Oklahoma State as a juco transfer but had a quiet beginning to his career. He was the Pokes' No. 4 tight end in 2009 but moved to the offensive line and won the right tackle job, emerging as one of the Big 12's best lineman, and certainly the league's best in 2011. He was a first-team All-Big 12 selection and an All-American as a senior.

Biggest bust: RB Dexter Pratt (Navasota, Texas)

Pratt came as the only ESPN 150 member of Oklahoma State's 2009 class, but left the team in the spring of 2010. He was the nation's No. 15 running back and No. 139 overall recruit, but redshirted his first season on campus. He transferred to a junior college but was arrested in April 2011 on drug charges. That came less than two years after Pratt was arrested on a misdemeanor drug possession charge in July 2009.

Texas

Best surprise: S Kenny Vaccaro (Brownwood, Texas)

Vaccaro was just the nation's No. 42 safety and entered Texas more highly ranked than just two of the Longhorns' 20 signees. Still, he emerged as a playmaker throughout his career. He was a three-year starter and a two-time All-Big 12 selection, earning All-America honors as a senior. It's not as tangible of an honor, but for my money, he's been one of, if not the hardest hitter in the Big 12 the past two years.

Biggest bust: QB Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas)

Gilbert might be one of the biggest busts in Big 12 history. He was a hometown talent and the nation's No. 2 quarterback and No. 11 overall recruit, rated higher than guys like AJ McCarron and just behind talents like Matt Barkley and Manti Te'o. He showed big promise in the 2009 national title game against Alabama when Colt McCoy was injured, but threw 17 interceptions in Texas' 5-7 nightmare season in 2010. He returned in 2011, but threw two quick interceptions as Texas fell behind BYU. Gilbert was benched as fans booed him off the field, and he never saw any more time. He underwent shoulder surgery later that year and transferred to SMU, where he started and threw for 15 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2012.

TCU

Best surprise: DE Stansly Maponga (Carrolton, Texas)

Maponga came to TCU as the nation's No. 111 defensive end and ranked higher than just a handful of TCU's high-school recruits. He was a freshman All-American in 2010 after redshirting and became a full-time starter, earning all-conference honors. In 2011, he was a first-team All-Mountain West honoree and was TCU's only preseason representative on the All-Big 12 team. He battled injuries, but still had 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, a year after making nine sacks.

Biggest bust: OLB Justin Isadore (Beaumont, Texas)

Isadore redshirted in 2009 but left the team after the season and transferred to Stephen F. Austin. He was the nation's No. 38 outside linebacker and the Frogs' second-highest ranked recruit. After transferring to the FCS level, he still has yet to record more than 20 tackles in a season.

Texas Tech

Best surprise: S D.J. Johnson (Austin, Texas)

Johnson was a middle-of-the-road recruit in a Texas Tech class that was just OK, but he emerged as a huge contributor and a three-year starter for the Texas Tech defense. He was an All-Big 12 honoree in 2010 and 2012 and racked up 90 tackles in 2012 for a much-improved Texas Tech defense under coordinator Art Kaufman.

Biggest bust: OLB Brandon Mahoney (Keller, Texas)

Mahoney was the class' highest-ranked signee and the nation's No. 13 outside linebacker. At one time, he was committed to Oklahoma, but Texas Tech made a swipe on the recruiting trail, but Mahoney didn't pan out. He left the team in August 2010 after redshirting in 2009.

West Virginia

Best surprise: S Darwin Cook (East Cleveland, OH)

Cook was the nation's No. 89 safety and didn't attract much attention on the way into Morgantown, even though he's got a pretty crazy backstory. He emerged to be a two-year starter at safety for the Mountaineers and a three-year contributor, providing the biggest defensive highlight of 2011 when he returned a fumble 99 yards for a touchdown in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson.

Biggest bust: WR Logan Heastie (Chesapeake, Va.)

Heastie was the nation's No. 19 receiver and only Geno Smith (known by recruiting services as "Eugene Smith" ... awesome) was rated higher in the Mountaineers' class. Heastie, though, never caught on with the Mountaineers and reportedly didn't take to offseason workouts and didn't do much to impress coach Bill Stewart. Heastie transferred in April 2010.

Big 12 players to watch in 2013

January, 15, 2013
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As we finish wrapping up the 2012 season, it's time to look forward today. Here's a look at a few players you need to keep an eye on in 2013:

Casey Pachall, QB, TCU: If Pachall returns to form, you can bet on TCU as the Big 12 favorite in 2013, especially after Joseph Randle left Oklahoma State. He's officially back on the team after spending last fall in a treatment facility for drug and alcohol addiction, and we'll see what reports are out of spring in Fort Worth. He'll have to prove he's the same player and earn his job back, but if he is and he does, and TCU's defense does what it did in 2012 ... look out. Pachall was completing 66 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and a pick before his season ended following a DUI arrest in early October. The entire Big 12 race could very well shift on Pachall's return and subsequent development.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Michael C. Johnson/US PresswireJohnathan Gray rushed for 701 yards and three touchdowns during the 2012 season.
Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas: Gray emerged as the most consistent back for the Longhorns this past season, becoming the second consecutive true freshman to lead the Longhorns in rushing. Gray rushed for more touchdowns than any back in high school football history, and if he can build on his 700 yards on fewer than 150 carries from 2012, he'll look more and more like the player Texas hopes he can be. He also might help Texas look like a real Big 12 title contender.

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor: No player in the Big 12 was hotter at the end of 2012, and Seastrunk already made a well-publicized statement that he's planning on winning the Heisman Trophy in 2013. We'll see about that, but Seastrunk began November with fewer than 200 yards rushing. He ended the season as one of three Big 12 backs with at least 1,000 rushing yards. Craziness.

Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia: West Virginia's defense got all kinds of heat from critics and opposing offenses last year, but Joseph was the bright spot and a piece to build around for the future. He and fellow true freshman Isaiah Bruce showed real promise, but Joseph was sixth in the Big 12 with 102 tackles, forced three fumbles and had a pair of picks and seven tackles for loss. He's a stud.

Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State: Stewart takes my title as the Big 12's most underrated player entering 2013. He doesn't have the same reputation as an elite receiver, but he has put up the numbers to support the idea that he's exactly that. He caught 101 balls for 1,210 yards and will be the Big 12's leading returning receiver in 2013 by more than 150 yards. Only three Big 12 receivers hit triple-digit receptions last season, too. No returning receiver had more than 82.

Jake Heaps, QB, Kansas: Heaps is a wild card, but if KU is truly going to get out of the Big 12 basement (or win a game in Big 12 play), it needs Heaps' transition after transferring to go better than Dayne Crist's. The BYU transfer, who signed on with the Jayhawks and Charlie Weis after Weis' hiring, threw 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in almost two seasons as the Cougars' starter. He very nearly quarterbacked BYU to a win at Texas in 2011, too.

Aaron Green, RB, TCU: Green is another high-impact transfer this year, or at least could be. The San Antonio native sat out last year after transferring in from Nebraska. He was the No. 3 running back in the 2011 recruiting class and No. 11 on the ESPN 150. We saw this year the kind of impact a super recruit like Seastrunk can have, and TCU needs a big hitter in the backfield. We'll see what Green can do after rushing for 105 yards and two scores on 24 touches at Nebraska in 2011.

Michael Brewer, QB, Texas Tech: Brewer followed in Garrett Gilbert's footsteps in high school with a huge career at Lake Travis in Austin, but here's guessing his college career will be much more impressive. Brewer earned a little time this year behind Seth Doege, but I love what I saw from him in spot duty, and he'll be responsible for what kind of a start the Kliff Kingsbury Era gets off to in Lubbock. Here's guessing it'll be a good one.

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 30, 2012
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Time to hand out a few helmet stickers for a job well done. Your stickers are in the mail, boys. We're even making history this week:

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Holy. Cow. Smith deserves the helmet sticker of all helmet stickers for his game on Saturday, leaving no doubt in regards to the Heisman Trophy race. He's officially the unquestioned frontrunner. In a 70-63 win over Baylor in West Virginia's first-ever Big 12 Conference game, Smith threw for 656 yards on 45-of-51 passing with a whopping eight touchdown passes. "Please explain to me how he can improve on that," coach Dana Holgorsen told reporters after the game. I ... I got nothin'.

Eric Ward, WR, Texas Tech: Ward had the play of the day for Texas Tech, hauling in a 19-yard touchdown pass on first-and-goal from the 19 to put the Red Raiders ahead by eight in their 24-13 road win over Iowa State. Ward gave the Cyclones fits all night and caught nine passes for 122 yards in a defense-laden game. Not everybody in the Big 12 has forgotten how to cover, but Ward worked to get free.

David Ash, QB, Texas: Ash helped Texas rally to beat Oklahoma State, 41-36, and finished the game with 304 yards and three touchdowns on 30-of-37 passing. Despite throwing his first interception of the season, Ash bounced back to lead Texas to touchdowns on three of its four final drives. He's grown up, and sure, he may suffer a bad game at some point down the line, but Mack Brown said it best after the game: "He couldn't have done this last year." He did it this year, though, and Oklahoma State's secondary is a whole lot different than Ole Miss' secondary.

Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor: This is a first, but it's unavoidable. I've never, ever given out a helmet sticker for a player on a losing team, but nobody's ever deserved to buck that trend more than Williams does after his performance on Saturday. On the road against a top-10 opponent, Williams led all receivers with 17 catches for 314 yards and added two touchdowns. He broke the single-game school records for catches and yardage. The Bears suffered a 70-63 loss to West Virginia, but it wouldn't have been a game without Williams.

Chris Hackett, S, TCU: Hackett was all over the place for TCU in the Frogs' 24-16 win over SMU. With apologies to Devonte Fields (4 TFL, 2.5 sacks), I'm giving the sticker to Hackett. Hackett scooped up a Zach Line fumble, returning it 11 yards to set up TCU's first touchdown of the night. Hackett later intercepted Garrett Gilbert. That loomed large in what became a sloppy, close win in the Dallas rain for the Frogs.

Big 12 game predictions: Week 5

September, 27, 2012
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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.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 4

September, 20, 2012
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Here's what I'm keeping an eye on in this week's five games across the Big 12.

1. Dominance up front is where it's at: How did Kansas State beat Miami so handily? By handling its business on both the offensive and defensive lines. Oklahoma's offensive line has been underwhelming, and it's thin, too. The defensive line is unproven and has had to shift around because of suspensions and personnel issues. If Kansas State is going to come into Norman and do the impossible (?), that's how it's going to happen.

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Rick Scuteri/AP ImagesLandry Jones is hoping for another monster game against Kansas State.
2. Was last year a reality, or a rarity? Where Oklahoma had the biggest advantage a year ago? On the outside. Landry Jones torched Kansas State's secondary for 505 yards, and the Sooners scored 58 points in the blowout win. The personnel is mostly the same for the Cats in the secondary, but if the Sooners hang 58 again, this one's going to just be another blowout.

3. How much better are you, really? Baylor's defense looked good against SMU in Week 1, but I'm not so sure how much Mustangs quarterback Garrett Gilbert has (A) improved or (B) was ready to run June Jones' offense. Last week, Baylor's defense didn't look great against Sam Houston State, especially in the first half. The second half was a different story. So which defense can we count on seeing from Baylor? The answer to that question might determine the outcome of the Friday-nighter.

4. Welcome to the land of the big-armed passers: Five of the nation's top six leaders in passer rating are in the Big 12, and Collin Klein gives the Big 12 six of the top nine. The Big 12 is living up to its reputation as the league with the best quarterbacks. Will that continue this week, the final one before conference play officially kicks in?

5. Keeping up appearances: Geno Smith has been downright ridiculous through two games. The competition doesn't get much tougher this week, but can he maintain his 9-9 touchdown-incompletion ratio? Craziness. Also, if you've lost track, TCU quarterback Casey Pachall isn't far off. He's got five touchdowns and six incompletions.

6. Don't get defensive about it. (On second thought, do exactly that): Kansas' defense looked decent last week against TCU, and helped force four turnovers, moving into the national lead with 12. Northern Illinois topped 40 points in Lawrence last year, but the Huskies' offense has been unimpressive to this point this season. What does the Kansas defense have in store this week, in its first road game?

7. Can we get a medic here? STAT! Wildcats star linebacker Arthur Brown went down with what looked like an ugly, ugly ankle injury last week against North Texas. However, after missing only limited time, he returned to the field and made two tackles on his first two snaps, and finished with a career-high 13 stops. He's expected to play again, but will he look like his usual self? Kansas State needs him to.

8. What about the supporting cast? TCU's Josh Boyce and Brandon Carter have been really good through two weeks, both grabbing multiple touchdowns, nine catches and amassing at least 160 yards. Skye Dawson was quiet last week, and LaDarius Brown didn't have a catch until breaking out for five catches and 70 yards last week against Kansas. What does TCU's receiver depth have in store for this week against Virginia?

9. Welcome to the Thunderdome: Bob Stoops didn't really "call out" Oklahoma's crowd this week, but he did say he wanted the atmosphere to be something special. Will the folks around Owen Field respond? I'll be there to find out. We'll see.

10. Time to improve: Landry Jones has been unimpressive through two games, completing just 62 percent of his passes, and his offensive line has put him on the run more than you'd like to see if you're in crimson and cream. He has to be much better this week, both to grab the win and also to feel encouraged about how the rest of the season will play out. He's still dealing with a young offensive line and inexperienced receivers, and those guys have to help him out.

Ash gives Longhorns a brand-new look

September, 17, 2012
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David Ash completed just 57 percent of his passes as a wide-eyed true freshman in 2011. He compounded his problems by outweighing his four touchdowns with eight interceptions.

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Spruce Derden/US PresswireTexas QB David Ash has found his comfort zone so far in 2012.
This was Garrett Gilbert's team through all the offseason leading up to 2011. Ash was the true freshman who was better than expected but not good enough to get more than four snaps in Texas' spring game last season.

By the end of 2011, it was clear that Texas was Ash's team, but he looked wholly unprepared to shoulder the load and lead the way. And now? After what Ash did to Ole Miss? The stat sheet tells you pretty much everything you need to know.

Ash is one of just three Big 12 quarterbacks (Heisman front-runner Geno Smith and TCU's Casey Pachall) without an interception, and he's been good enough to add seven touchdown passes, including four in Texas' 66-31 rout of Ole Miss.

He's also completing 76 percent of his passes this time around, including 83 percent on Saturday night. His 326 yards were the second consecutive game in which Ash set a career high for passing yardage, too.

Scoff at the opponents (Ole Miss and New Mexico won a combined three games in 2011), but Ash has Texas looking more and more like it's ready to return to a spot among the nation's elite. He doesn't need to complete 76 percent of his passes every night. He can throw a pick or two. But he's been good, and far better than he needs to be for Texas to improve on its eight-win season a year ago. For now, as long as Ash is stringing together completions (he hit on 15 consecutive passes on Saturday), defenses will soften up for a powerful running game with a revolving door of backs who will always have fresh legs.

When that happens, a defense that's led the Big 12 in total defense four years running gets more leeway it doesn't necessarily need.

Add that all up, and you get a scary proposition for the rest of the Big 12: Texas beginning to put together the pieces that comprise a return to a college football juggernaut.
WACO, Texas -- It's been almost five years since Baylor hasn't had Robert Griffin III on its roster, but later tonight, Art Briles begins his first season at Baylor without last year's Heisman winner.

The Bears have plenty of offensive talent returning, though the Big 12's rushing champ (Terrance Ganaway) and receiving champ (Kendall Wright) are gone, too.

What will the new faces look like? We'll find out tonight. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports, and this should be a fun one between two teams that love to open up their offenses and let it fly.

That's what I'm watching today. We know Nick Florence can do it in spots. We saw it last year in the win over Texas Tech, and we saw flashes of it back in 2009 when he filled in for RG3 following his torn ACL early in the season.

Can he do it every week? That starts today. I'm a believer in Florence, in part because of the solid guys in front of him, headlined by center Ivory Wade and tackle Cyril Richardson, who are both All-Big 12-caliber guys. His backs should have plenty of holes and receivers like Tevin Reese and Terrance Williams are speedy, with plenty of experience playing with Griffin the past couple of seasons.

How will the defense handle SMU? The Bears made some strides late in the season in the turnover department, but the last time we saw the Bears, they were giving up 56 points to Washington in the bowl game ... and still finding a way to win. Florence is good, but the loss of RG3 no doubt trims the margin of error for this defense.

Baylor's got to be careful. Cornerbacks K.J. Morton, Demetri Goodson and Joe Williams need to play well against June Jones' run-and-shoot attack, but the bigger concern might be Zach Line up front. Baylor won't face many running backs like him in the Big 12.

Curious Big 12 fans can get a their first look at former Longhorn Garrett Gilbert in his new surroundings. He's a good fit for Jones' scheme, and despite his obvious failures at Texas, there's no denying his physical skills and resume as one of the greatest high school players in Texas history. This is a completely different offense and a completely different challenge. Should be interesting to see how he responds.

I expect the Bears to hang enough points to win this one, but the Mustangs will light up the scoreboard, too, and make it interesting. Either way, this should be a fun one. Let's get started. Stay right here for coverage throughout the night.

Video: Friday Four Downs

August, 31, 2012
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Big 12 Blogger David Ubben revisits the major storylines of Week 1 in the Big 12 in this week's Friday Four Downs.
The Big 12 is known for its quarterback play, but not every five-star recruit meets his potential.

Not every two or three-star is a diamond in the rough.

Sometimes, careers require a restart.

The most prominent case this weekend? Former Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who left high school as the nation's No. 2 quarterback and No. 11 overall prospect.

[+] EnlargeGarrett Gilbert
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireGarrett Gilbert once looked like Texas' future QB, but is now trying to restart his career at SMU.
Gilbert showed limitless promise when he was rushed into duty against Alabama for the Longhorns in the national title game to close the 2009 season. Colt McCoy suffered a shoulder injury on the opening drive, and the rest of the game was Gilbert's.

After struggling early, he hit Jordan Shipley for a pair of scores, and looked the part of McCoy's heir apparent in 2010, despite struggling with turnovers against the Tide. (What redshirt freshman wouldn't?)

He never fixed it. Gilbert threw 17 interceptions a year later as the Horns fell to 5-7, and he was benched in the second game of 2011. He never saw the field again, transferring to SMU after rushing to complete 27 hours at Texas.

That allowed him to graduate and play immediately for June Jones at SMU, where he'll get a shot against more Big 12 competition on Sunday when the Mustangs travel to Waco to face Baylor.

"That says a lot about how badly he wants to be here and what kind of person he is," Jones told reporters this offseason.

He's not the only former Big 12 quarterback getting shot against Big 12 competition in Week 1.

Cody Green signed with Nebraska in 2009 after visiting Lincoln and only Lincoln, despite interest from other major programs.

He earned playing time in 2010 and 2011, but transferred to Tulsa in July 2011 after it became clear Taylor Martinez was Nebraska's future at quarterback.

Green threw for 657 yards and five touchdowns in two seasons for the Huskers, but he's found a new home with the Golden Hurricane, who travel to Iowa State on Saturday.

After redshirting in 2011, Green is the new starter for Bill Blankenship's team.

He's already beaten Iowa State once. In 2010, he completed 7-of-12 passes for 79 yards in a 31-30 overtime win to deny Iowa State an upset win and keep Nebraska in the driver's seat for its eventual Big 12 North title.

Green's squad is once again the favorite, and a Tulsa team that has won 10 games in three of the past five seasons could make more noise with the former Husker at the helm. A win against Iowa State would be the perfect start to a season, and the Golden Hurricane were picked to finish second in the C-USA West division.

Former Missouri quarterback Ashton Glaser, who transferred to Missouri State, could jockey for time on Saturday against Kansas State. Because the Bears are an FCS program, Glaser is immediately eligible.

Glaser appeared in just one game for the Tigers over his three years in Columbia, but the Wildcats will be a familiar opponent across the sidelines in his first game at his new home.

For Gilbert and Green, the same is true.

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