What a busy Monday it will be in the Big 12.

West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas will all be on the field today as the Big 12 kicks off its bowl season with a tripleheader.

Below is a final preview of all three games. But first, some quick housekeeping: We’ll be light on the blog the rest of the afternoon as these games are being played, but heavy on Twitter with our real-time thoughts and analysis. Be sure to be following @ESPN_Big 12, @BChatmon, @Max_Olson and @Jake_Trotter for that. Of course, we’ll have plenty of coverage of all three games on the blog both this evening and Tuesday morning.

Now, on to a preview of what should be an entertaining day in the league:

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. Texas A&M (2 ET, ESPN)

Who to watch: West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard, who will start again after Clint Trickett revealed last week that he is retiring from football following a fifth concussion in a little over a year. Howard played well in relief of Trickett the last two games of the season, which included a 13-point victory at Iowa State. He’ll still have to battle freshman William Crest (who sat out most of this season with a shoulder surgery) next year to see who replaces Trickett permanently. But Howard can take a edge in the competition into the spring with a big game against the Aggies.

What to watch: West Virginia’s powerful one-two receiving punch of Kevin White and Mario Alford will match up against a Texas A&M defensive backfield that was downright awful at times this year. This will be the final college game for both these All-American seniors. If Howard is able to get them the ball early and on time, they could go out putting on a show.

Why to watch: The preseason expectations for these Mountaineers were meager, given the struggles they endured in 2013 and the difficulty of the schedule. At 7-5, they have already outperformed those expectations. Still, the team fizzled late in the season with consecutive losses to TCU, Texas and Kansas State, somewhat marring the season. A victory over the Aggies would cap what really has been a solid season for the Mountaineers, and give them even more to build on going forward.

Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Clemson (5:30 ET, ESPN)

Who to watch: Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight, who is returning from a transient quadriplegia injury that sidelined him the final three games of the regular season. Knight’s status as the Sooners’ quarterback of the future is murky after an up-and-down sophomore season. A sparking performance against the nation’s No. 1-ranked defense in the bowl game, however, would restore some faith – both inside the program and out – that he is in fact the quarterback who can lead Oklahoma into the playoff down the road.

What to watch: Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables going up against his old school. Venables was the co-defensive coordinator on Oklahoma’s 2000 national championship team and the defensive play-caller from 2004-11 after Mike Stoops left for Arizona. When Bob Stoops brought his brother back to Oklahoma to take the lead again, Venables had little to choice but to leave. He's stated he carries no hard feelings toward Oklahoma or the Stoops brothers, who actually politicked furiously to get Venables to stay. Still, you can believe this is a game that Venables badly wants to win.

Why to watch: The Sooners were arguably the most disappointing team in the country this year, losing four games after opening in the top five of every preseason poll. A victory over Clemson would do little to serve as a balm. But a loss would further the notion that Oklahoma is miles away from contending for a national championship again. The Sooners desperately need momentum heading into a critical 2015 for the Stoops brothers. A victory over the Tigers would be a start.

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Arkansas (9 ET, ESPN)

Who to watch: Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown, who will be facing off against the heaviest and one of the better offensive line in the country. Brown has had a fabulous season, earning ESPN.com Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. In what will probably be his final game in a Texas uniform, he can deliver the exclamation point.

What to watch: Whether the Texas offense can generate points against an Arkansas defense that has been salty at times. The Longhorns have enjoyed some good moments offensively in Charlie Strong's first year, but they’ve suffered through a lot of bad ones, too. Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes has been a major part of that inconsistency. And after struggling mightily in the regular-season finale against TCU, Swoopes desperately needs a bounce-back showing in the bowl to regain confidence for next year, when Jerrod Heard and Zach Gentry will be gunning for his job.

Why to watch: These old rivals once harbored bad blood as members of the now defunct Southwest Conference. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, however, stoked the dormant flames over the weekend when he surreptitiously threw the “Horns Down” sign (allegedly) while posing for a picture with Strong. No insolence riles Longhorns like the Horns Down. And considering the opposing head coach was the offender this time, Texas should have plenty of motivation Monday to take it to the Hogs.

Recruit and return: Oklahoma Sooners 

December, 29, 2014
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Oklahoma finished the regular season 8-4, but could have been 11-1 with a play here or there. The Sooners lost three of their four games by a total of eight points, including a three-point setback in their regular-season finale to Oklahoma State. The Sooners can end the season on a high note with a victory in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Clemson on Monday.

Big 12 morning links

December, 29, 2014
Dec 29
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I will be watching 12 hours of Big 12 football today ... I suggest you join me.
  • All West Virginia eyes will be on sophomore quarterback Skyler Howard today in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl with Clint Trickett's football career finished because of concussions. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Stephen J. Nesbitt writes that the sky is the limit for Howard, who has improved dramatically over the past two months. The Charleston Gazette's Dave Hickman points out that Howard's running ability has added another dimension the West Virginia offense lacked when Trickett was behind center. And the Charleston Daily Mail's Mike Casazza notes that Howard has continued to show poise in the bowl practices, even with the first-team defense blitzing and trash-talking him. The Mountaineers will have other quarterback options in 2015, including William Crest, who actually beat out Howard for the backup job as a true freshman back in the preseason. But Howard can take a big step forward toward winning the permanent job with a big performance against the Aggies.
  • As the Sooners prepare to play Clemson today in the Russell Athletic Bowl, the Oklahoma football monster is growing hungry and angry, in the opinion of Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. As Tramel points out, Oklahoma hasn’t won a Big 12 title since 2012. Hasn’t won an outright Big 12 title since 2010. Hasn’t played in the national championship game since 2008. Hasn’t finished with the Big 12’s best conference record since 2006. Hasn’t won the national title since 2000. That isn't good enough for a fan base that, whether always reasonable or not, demands more. After the most disappointing season of the Bob Stoops era, the Sooners could really use a win in the bowl. Because without a little feeding, the monster will only grow hungrier and angrier in a pivotal offseason in Norman.
  • The Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton believes the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl against Arkansas tonight will carry plenty of meaning for Texas coach Charlie Strong. A record of 7-6 does look better than 6-7. But at Texas, 7-6 still doesn't look all that good. A win over the Hogs could serve as a springboard for Strong heading into 2015. But regardless of what happens in this bowl, the bottom line is the Longhorns will need to be better in Strong's second season.
  • Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy gave a candid interview with the Tulsa World's Bill Haisten on a series of topics, including his relationships with athletic director Mike Holder and mega-booster T. Boone Pickens. In it Gundy admitted he hasn't spoken with Pickens much since a contract negotiation three years ago. "We haven’t really had any communication," Gundy said. "I don’t know what his thought is, but I would like for there to be more communication." Haisten then asks Gundy why he doesn't just call Pickens this week to set up a meeting. Gundy says he would, but then goes on a tangent about things he can't control. I've said for weeks this whole spat comes off as childish. Maybe I don't know the whole story. But it seems silly that Gundy and Pickens can't get in the same room and work all this out. Both have been important to rise of the football program. Why neither side can acknowledge this defies reason to me.
  • According to Courtney Cronin of the Clarion-Ledger, the Horned Frogs have something to prove in Wednesday's Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. "We're trying to put on for the Big 12 and show that we play a good brand of football as well," said cornerback Kevin White. "It's definitely a stepping stone for us to show off our talents." As a senior, White will actually be finished at TCU after the bowl. But he is right about this game being a stepping stone. A win against Ole Miss in a New Year's Six bowl would help vindicate the strength of the Big 12 at the top. And, given that the Horned Frogs have 10 starters coming back on offense, it would help establish TCU as a viable national title contender for 2015.
Clemson is on the brink of a fourth straight 10-win season, but it will go to battle with a backup quarterback and big questions on offense. Oklahoma fell far short of expectations this year, but with its stars on offense getting healthier, the Sooners are still extremely dangerous.

Will Clemson send out its dominant senior class of defenders on a high note, or will Oklahoma turn in another breakthrough performance in a bowl game? Here are the storylines to watch in the Russell Athletic Bowl:

Stoudt back at the helm: Cole Stoudt steps in once again as the Tigers quarterback after Deshaun Watson elected to have surgery on his injured knee. Given that Stoudt’s last two games against Power 5 competition included four picks and zero touchdowns, that opens some significant questions about whether Clemson can put up points. Adding more intrigue is the coaching situation for the Tigers. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris departed for the head-coaching job at SMU, which means Tony Elliott will get his first crack at calling plays.

Healthy Oklahoma: When the Sooners fell to Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale, they were without starting QB Trevor Knight and lost star tailback Samaje Perine in the third quarter to a sprained ankle. Both players have had time to heal and should be on the field against Clemson, which certainly makes Oklahoma’s offense far more dangerous.

Perine vs. Clemson rush D: Despite sitting out the final quarter of the Oklahoma State game, Perine racked up 791 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in his final three games of the season, making Oklahoma’s ground game one of the most explosive in the nation. On the flip side, Clemson’s D surrendered just 2.8 yards per carry this season -- the best in the nation -- and allowed just 10 touchdowns all year. While it does seem like a strength-on-strength matchup, it’s worth mentioning that when the Tigers played Georgia’s prolific running game in the opener, they allowed 328 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

Getting to Knight: Clemson’s pass rush has been among the best in the nation the past two years. The Tigers had 44 sacks this season, which ranked fifth nationally, and Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett & Co. tormented opposing quarterbacks all season. To have that same success against Oklahoma won’t be easy, though. The Sooners surrendered just eight sacks all year, the second fewest in the country.

Gallman on the ground: He didn’t exactly finish the year with as much of a bang as Perine did at Oklahoma, but Wayne Gallman helped transform the Clemson offense down the stretch by finally giving the Tigers a consistent threat on the ground. Gallman had 516 yards rushing in Clemson’s last five games, and the Tigers’ ground game, which had averaged just 3.8 yards per rush in the first seven games of the season, upped that average to 4.8 over the final five. A strong game by Gallman and the rushing attack could take a lot of pressure off Stoudt.
The reunion storyline has dominated the talk headed into the Russell Athletic Bowl between Oklahoma and Clemson.

But if Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables had his way, he would have done anything he could to avoid facing his former team.

The relationships he developed in 13 seasons with Bob Stoops and the Sooners remain remarkably strong. There is no bitterness, no anger, just mutual admiration on both sides -- from players and coaches.

[+] EnlargeVenables
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesClemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables will face off against former employer Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Take Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard. Though he never played one down for Venables, the two spent countless hours together at Oklahoma while Shepard was growing up. As has been well-documented, Stoops invited Shepard to be a part of the football program with open arms following the death of his father, Derrick, a former Sooners great.

Shepard did not just hang out with Stoops, though. He grew close with all the coaches on staff, including Venables.

“As a young kid I just remember talking to him a lot,” Shepard said in a recent interview. “I had a pretty close relationship with all the coaches at that time, so throughout the years of me just being there and being around the facility we saw each other a lot of the time so we’d talk. ...

“I always loved how passionate he was for the game. You could tell his nose was in the book at all times. He knew the ins and outs of the defense. He’d be fired up every game day. That’s what I liked most about him.”

Shepard also grew into a high school standout, playing defensive back and receiver. Oklahoma initially recruited him to play defensive back, where he attended camps and got first-hand coaching from Venables. And that coaching was intense.

“If you didn’t do a drill right, you were going to go back and do it again until you got it right,” Shepard said. “His voice would be gone for sure ... his head beet-red sometimes from screaming so much but he definitely got the guys fired up. No doubt about it.”

But Shepard really wanted to play receiver, something that was fine with the Oklahoma staff. He signed in 2012, Venables’ first season at Clemson.

Despite a groin injury that kept him out or limited him in the final four games of the regular season, Shepard still leads the Sooners with 957 yards and five touchdowns. Shepard is expected to play Monday.

Venables will be ready and waiting.

“He grew up in the middle of our team breakdowns and practice and fall camp and football camps and sidelines on game days,” Venables said. “He’s a great ambassador for that program. I know his dad’s awfully proud as well as the rest of his family. He’s a terrific ball player. I feel terrible that he’s been banged up this year but knowing him and the fortitude that he has, he’ll find a way to get back out there on the field to finish the year off. Real proud of Sterling and how he’s grown up.”

Venables also built a close relationship with Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker during the recruiting process. Striker, who played high school football in Florida, chose Oklahoma in large part because of Venables.

But before he had a chance to sign in 2012, Venables was gone. Striker has not gone into much length or depth about having to face the man who recruited him to Oklahoma, telling local reporters earlier in December, “He's not here no more.”

Shepard said, “I know some of the guys he did recruit are fired up. Coaching changes happen all the time, we just know that he knows a lot about this program, and just guys are fired up to play him because he recruited them here.”

For his part, Venables has tried to put Oklahoma out of his mind. As he says, "You have to separate what your job is and what your past was. I'll be just fine. At the end of the day, it's all about those guys with the paw on their helmet."
Total defense and scoring defense have forever been the statistics widely used to evaluate defenses.

But any more in college football, they only tell a small portion of the story.

With the rise of the hurry-up offense, some defenses have to face more plays or defend more possessions than others. By default, a defense that has to defend 100 plays is usually going to give up more yards and points than the defense that has to defend 70 plays.

With that in mind, ESPN Stats & Information keeps track of a pair of metrics that better define how a defense performs: The yards a defense allows per play; and the points a defense gives up per drive. Factor in a third category -- turnovers gained -- and you have a better account of who is actually playing good defense. And who is not.

Below, we will examine those three statistics and average them out to provide a more accurate representation of Big 12 defense rankings for 2014 (also, in the interest of keeping a level playing field, only conference games were evaluated):

Yards per play
  • 1. Texas: 4.83
  • 2. West Virginia: 5.28
  • 3. TCU: 5.41
  • 4. Kansas State: 5.51
  • 5. Oklahoma: 5.58
  • 6. Baylor: 5.70
  • 7. Oklahoma State: 5.94
  • 8. Kansas: 6.31
  • 9. Texas Tech: 6.63
  • 10. Iowa State: 6.81
Points per drive
  • 1. Texas: 1.30
  • 2. TCU: 1.50
  • 3. West Virginia: 1.65
  • 4. Kansas State: 1.73
  • 5. Oklahoma: 1.92
  • 6. Baylor: 1.99
  • 7. Oklahoma State: 2.40
  • 8. Kansas: 2.47
  • 9. Iowa State: 2.82
  • 10. Texas Tech: 2.98
Turnovers gained
  • 1. TCU: 26
  • 2. Baylor: 19
  • 3. Kansas State: 18
  • 4 (tie). Kansas: 15
  • 4 (tie). Texas : 15
  • 6. Iowa State: 14
  • 7. Texas Tech: 13
  • 8 (tie). Oklahoma: 11
  • 8 (tie). West Virginia: 11
  • 10. Oklahoma State: 9
Taking average placement for the three above categories, this is how the overall defensive rankings shake out:
  • 1. TCU: 2.0 (average rank)
  • 2. Texas: 2.2 (average rank)
  • 3. Kansas State: 3.7
  • 4. West Virginia: 4.5
  • 5. Baylor: 4.7
  • 6. Oklahoma: 6.2
  • 7. Kansas: 6.8
  • 8. Oklahoma State : 8.0
  • 9. Iowa State: 8.3
  • 10. Texas Tech: 8.7
In today's holiday edition of the Big 12 Twitter mailbag, we talk recruiting, potential expansion (again), who could be 2015's version of TCU, and the end of a Twitter era, as @FauxHolgorsen.

Here's to everyone having a Merry Christmas.

Now, on to the 'bag;

@Jake_Trotter: It's probably a wash. Considering the Bears still have coach Art Briles and a veteran quarterback in Bryce Petty, I don't think not having Phillip Montgomery will have a major effect on the offense. Briles has established a culture of scoring that goes beyond any one assistant or player. Likewise, Michigan State has implemented a culture of defense under Mark Dantonio. Pat Narduzzi has been a fabulous coordinator. But just because he won't be in Arlington doesn't mean the Spartans will forget how to play defense. I still expect this to be an epic clash of irresistible offense vs. immovable defense.

Trotter: From a list of West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State, I would have to go with the Cowboys. Oklahoma State appears to have uncovered its long-term answer at quarterback in Mason Rudolph, who was terrific in his two starts to cap the regular season. Oklahoma State will also return its entire receiving corps, as well as eight starters defensively. With TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State all headed to Stillwater next season, the schedule lines up for the Cowboys to make a bounce-back run at the conference crown.

Trotter: Clever.

Trotter: For the first time this football season, I went to the movies over the weekend and saw "Interstellar." So if by "horizon" you mean the wormhole next to the rings of Saturn, then yes, expansion is on the horizon.

Trotter: Highly unlikely, considering any expansion is highly unlikely. That said, commissioner Bob Bowlsby has indicated in recent days that if the Big 12 ever expanded, it would look east instead of west. That would seemingly put UCF in play, as one of the top available schools to the east. I'm not sure how a Big 12 school in Florida would work. Then again, the Big 12 really has no convenient options left when it comes to expansion.

Trotter: It's possible Chad President ends up in Lubbock. After losing Jarrett Stidham to Baylor, Texas Tech needs a quarterback for this class, and President needs a new team after de-committing from Baylor. But Tech won't be the only Big 12 school that goes after him. Highly ranked quarterbacks (even quarterbacks that could end up as college receivers) usually aren't available this late in the recruiting game. So President will be in demand. As for the Tech defensive coordinator search, Houston's David Gibbs is at the top of the list. Even though Houston finished just fifth in the American, the Cougars have improved defensively under Gibbs, ranking 11th in scoring defense this season. A former defensive coordinator at Minnesota and Auburn, Gibbs is the kind of veteran coordinator Kliff Kingsbury needs to add to his staff.

Trotter: After de-committing from Texas A&M, Daylon Mack tweeted that TCU and LSU were his top two schools. He is apparently scheduled to take an official visit Texas on Jan. 23, which could change things. But I would think TCU's odds of landing Mack at this point are at least 33 percent.

Trotter: Huge bummer. This, by the way, was his farewell letter. In memoriam, below was a great moment in @FauxHolgorsen history...

Trotter: This one is easy ...

.
Brent Venables, Mike StoopsUSA TODAY SportsBrent Venables, left, has turned Clemson into the No. 1 statistical defense in the country while Oklahoma has shown little improvement under Mike Stoops.
Three seasons ago, Oklahoma seemed to be in need of a defensive change.

Baylor had racked up 620 yards against the Sooners, the most an Oklahoma defense had ever surrendered. Shorty after, rival Oklahoma State destroyed the Sooners by almost five touchdowns, sending Oklahoma tumbling all the way to the Insight Bowl.

Yet during that Tempe bowl, a supposed Sooner defense savior stood off the sideline.

Mike Stoops' return to Norman seemed imminent. And days later, Bob Stoops turned that supposition into reality.

The hire didn’t exactly force longtime assistant Brent Venables out. The Stoops brothers, in fact, wanted Venables to stay. After all, Mike Stoops and Venables together co-coordinated Oklahoma’s national championship defense in 2000. But with Mike Stoops coming back to take the lead, Venables realized his tenure in Norman was no longer tenable, and he bolted for Clemson.

Three years later, that moment will come full circle Monday, when Oklahoma will meet Venables and the Tigers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

But while Venables has whipped Clemson into the No. 1 statistical defense in the country, Oklahoma seems no closer to fielding a championship-caliber defense than it did three seasons ago.

Just like 2011, the Sooners come limping into a mid-level bowl after finishing fourth in the Big 12 standings. Like 2011, they couldn’t stop Baylor. Like 2011, they fell to the rival Cowboys.

And a reunion with Venables only accentuates how far the Sooners have come since 2011. Or, in actuality, how far they haven’t.

Oklahoma has won only one Big 12 title since Venables’ departure – a 2012 co-championship with Kansas State that was sullied by a head-to-head home defeat to the Wildcats.

Since Venables, the Sooners haven’t claimed a first-team defensive All-American, a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year or a national award finalist.

And this season, with Mike Stoops recruits finally littering the secondary, the Sooners ranked only ahead of Iowa State among Big 12 teams in defending the pass.

Following a catastrophic 2012 defensive season loaded with highlights of Tavon Austin and Johnny Manziel carving up the Sooners, Oklahoma finally seemed to be turning that elusive corner defensively under Mike Stoops last year. After getting blown out by Texas and Baylor, the Sooners surged late. Then, in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma swarmed Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. The Sooners sacked him seven times and forced him into three turnovers in a stunning 45-31 win.

With nine starters returning, Oklahoma defense looked as if it was on its way back. But as it turned out, the Alabama performance was merely an aberration.

Even with the entire front returning, the Sooners struggled to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks and finished just fifth in the league in sacks. As a result, with no standouts at safety and little depth at cornerback, the defensive backfield Mike Stoops cobbled together was exposed.

With the ultimate capitulation coming on Nov. 8 against Baylor.

Completely overmatched, the Sooners opened the first drive of the second half playing their cornerbacks 10 yards off the ball. With little resistance, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty completed all nine of his pass attempts, as the Bears zipped right down the field to take a 31-14 lead on their way to handing Oklahoma its worst home loss since the John Blake days.

Even after that, Bob Stoops avoided publicly criticizing his brother’s defense. But he didn’t have to. His actions later spoke loudest.

In the final minute of the season finale against Oklahoma State, Bob Stoops elected to punt to Tyreek Hill a second time after a running-into-the-kicker penalty. The decision was questionable. But the reasoning was understandable. Bob Stoops wasn’t confident his defense could stop Oklahoma State true freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph from driving the Cowboys 90 yards to tie the game. And Bob Stoops wanted to milk every second from the clock he could. But Hill took his second chance at a return to the house, and Oklahoma State dominated the overtime to win, 38-35, while dimming the Sooners’ season even more.

It wasn’t long ago hope bubbled over for the defense. Now, regardless of what happens Monday, the Sooners will head into 2015 overflowing with questions. Yes, the Sooners will boast probable preseason All-American running back Samaje Perine offensively. But with a strained secondary and subdued pass rush, the Oklahoma defense has never looked more discombobulated.

Three years have passed now since Venables left.

And yet under Mike Stoops, the feeling in Norman remains the same.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

December, 23, 2014
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Kansas State's preseason destiny, Texas' offensive style, and the decisions of the committee highlight Tuesday's mailbag. As always, thanks for your questions. To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Nick in Las Vegas, Nevada writes: In online chatter people suggest that schools such as TCU & Baylor will never be allowed to play for a National Championship due to being small private schools. Do you think there is any merit to this "anti-small school" theory?

Brandon Chatmon: Not really. Say Florida State and Ohio State lost in their title games, what would have happened then? The committee just jumps Michigan State or Ole Miss or whoever into the top four? Now, I do think the committee needs to re-evaluate how it does things, because Baylor should have been in the top four, but I don’t think the Bears were left out because the committee is "anti-small school." The Bears were left out because the committee decided Ohio State was the better team. We’ll see if the committee was right and I was wrong.


Connor in Beaumont, Texas writes: A big issue with Texas' offense is that the quarterbacks that have been recruited over the last couple of years (Swoopes, Heard) have little to no experience in a "pro-style offense." Meanwhile the rest of the country is running spread and it's working. What are the implications of changing offensive philosophy? Can it be done for just one season or a couple?

BC: It doesn't matter the type of offense Tyrone Swoopes or Jerrod Heard ran in high school. Either they are playmakers or they aren’t. Now, changing the philosophy does have an impact as it can limit your options on the recruiting trail with limited options at tight end, fullback, etc... But that shouldn’t matter much at Texas. I think coach Charlie Strong’s focus is more on being a physical running team more than a "pro-style offense" and it’s important to note that running a spread-style passing offense doesn’t mean you can’t have a physical, tough running game. In fact, Baylor and TCU averaged more than 200 rushing yards per game in 2014. If I was a Longhorns fan, it would be more important to me that our offense changes organically each year to adapt to the best players on the offense, including the best playmaking option at quarterback.


Catalokie in Tulsa, Oklahoma writes: I know there's a lot of relief about Trevor Knight under center for the Sooners' bowl game, I'm thrilled he's healthy, but what about next season? Knight hasn't always shown the consistency he was applauded for after the Alabama game. Might Baker Mayfield top Knight for the starting job?

BC: I wouldn’t be surprised if Baker Mayfield becomes a starter at Oklahoma, and I expect a pretty good battle to start during the offseason. Knight’s status as the future at quarterback in Norman has changed from unquestioned to unclear, that’s the only thing I’m certain about.


Omar in Flower Mound, Texas writes: Can you explain to me why Trevone Boykin didn't even get invited to the New York, I feel like every other year they always bring in at least 4 people if not more. I don't think he should or would have beaten out Marcus Mariota for it, but I definitely would have picked him over Amari Cooper or Melvin Gordon. Your thoughts?

BC: Inviting four finalists to New York is not the norm, Omar. I thought Trevone Boykin had a great year as the catalyst to TCU’s turnaround, he was exceptional in every way. But I didn’t pick him to win the Heisman. I voted Mariota, Cooper then Boykin, and that was harder than I expected to pick between Mariota and Cooper, but Boykin was below that pair in my eyes. I agree he probably should have been in New York though.


Tyler in Waco, Texas writes: Reading your most recent mailbag, one thing that stuck out to me was this idea that if FSU and OSU both lost in championship week, but the Big 12 had chosen their "One True Champion" in Baylor, that TCU would have been left out of the Playoff at 11-1 for some other team. I just don't see that happening at all. Even without their "co-champs" label, would a two-loss Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, or Mississippi State really have made it ahead of TCU? I just don't see that happening. I may just irrationally hate Bowlsby, and maybe what he did was the right call in some scenarios, but I just can't see how an 11-1 TCU doesn't make the playoff, even without the "Co-Champ" title.

BC: I pretty much agree with what you’re saying Tyler, that’s why I’ve said I would have handled it differently and named Baylor as the Big 12’s champion. Yet we have to remember, in the weeks leading up to the selection, the committee was steadily dropping undefeated Florida State in favor of one-loss teams. Why wouldn’t it consider jumping any two-loss team it wanted ahead of TCU? I doubt it would have happened, but I doubted TCU would be ranked No. 3, win by 50 points and drop to No. 6, so ...


Daniel Drummond in Houston writes: Brandon, what can the Big 12 do to get better representation on the CFP committee? The Big Ten and Pac 12 had a lot of ties to the committee, but the Big XII was notably excluded, and more than a few people think that played into the decision to keep Baylor and TCU out.

BC: Obviously with Oliver Luck’s departure to the NCAA that leaves an opening in the committee, and I’d agree with fellow Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter that Texas Tech’s Kirby Hocutt would be a great fit with his experience at various Big 12 schools and overall understandings of the dynamics of the Big 12 region. He would be a terrific first step. But I must say issues like this are the reason I'm hoping for a expanded playoffs in the near future. I mean, could you imagine if a committee decided who makes the NFL playoffs?
The Big 12 bowl season kicks off Monday with a tripleheader featuring West Virginia-Texas A&M in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Oklahoma-Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl and Texas-Arkansas in the nightcap in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl. In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we examine the keys for the three Big 12 teams playing in the Monday bowls:

What is the biggest key for West Virginia?

Chatmon: Kevin White ’s return to the dominating force that caused all sorts of problems for West Virginia’s early season opponents would help, particularly if he can do it against double teams. But it will be the Mountaineers’ pass defense, led by cornerback Daryl Worley, that could decide the game. Facing the SEC’s top passing offense, WVU’s secondary has talent but faces a tall task against a Texas A&M offense that featured five different receivers that passed 400 receiving yards in the regular season. Thus, it will take a solid pass rush and strong performances from the WVU secondary to slow down the Aggies.

Olson: Don't overlook the reason why Texas A&M is searching for a new defensive coordinator. The Aggies allowed 298, 363, 335 and 384 rushing yards in their final four SEC games. The formula for beating them up late in the season was pretty obvious. With West Virginia's line healthy again, the Mountaineers should ride Rushel Shell, Wendell Smallwood and Dreamius Smith and take advantage of the passing looks the run game sets up.

Trotter: Get Kevin White going early and often. The Aggies had one of the worst pass defenses in the SEC this year, and they have no one (who does?) who can physically match up with White. If the Mountaineers can devise ways to get White -- and wingman Mario Alford -- opportunities for big plays early, they can put A&M on its heels for the rest of the game.

What is the biggest key for Oklahoma?

Chatmon: Quite simply the Sooners' offensive line must win in the trenches. OU’s offensive front is among the nation’s top units but will face a fast, physical and athletic Clemson defense with all the traits to slow down OU’s offense. Offensive balance will be key, as well as winning on first down. The Sooners averaged 7.94 yards per first-down play in their eight wins. That number dropped to 6.13 yards per first-down play in their four losses. If OU faces a game full of third down-and-long plays, it could be a long 60 minutes.

Olson: It's not just about winning the trenches for Oklahoma. The protection of Trevor Knight is of the upmost importance against Clemson. I'm no expert on transient quadriplegia -- nor had I ever heard of it prior to Knight's injury against Baylor -- and I trust that OU was extremely careful with its testing to deem Knight cleared to play. But you know he will take tough hits in his first game back, and after such a jarring injury, you'd hope his line can keep him clean and playing without fear of getting hurt again.

Trotter: Clemson owns one of the best statistical defense in the country, which could put points at a premium for the Oklahoma offense. That's why it's imperative that the Sooners' defense shows up in this game. The Tigers aren't great offensively, so the Sooners ought to be able to impose their will. Then again, this is an Oklahoma defense that massively underachieved during the last two months of the season.

What is the biggest key for Texas?

Chatmon: The formula has been pretty simple for the Longhorns. When Charlie Strong’s team wins the turnover battle, it wins the game. When it loses the turnover battle it heads into the locker room full of disappointment. Arkansas did a decent job protecting the ball, with 17 turnovers in 12 games, but the Razorbacks' 11 fumbles provides some hope for the Longhorns to get one or two turnovers. More importantly, UT and quarterback Tyrone Swoopes must protect the ball much better than they did against TCU and give themselves a chance.

Olson: This might sound like a strange request, but I want to see Texas finally show up in the third quarter and score some points. The Horns put up a total of nine points in the third period in Big 12 play. Nine. After nine games that's not some anomaly; it's a weakness and a strange one. Arkansas is going to play UT close and has had real trouble scoring in the second half (7.5 ppg in SEC play). Any points Texas can muster after halftime could make all the difference.

Trotter: Whoever wins the battle in the trenches between the Arkansas offensive line and the Texas defensive front probably is going to win this game. When the Hogs struggled to run the ball this year they struggled to score. But when they got the run game going they were difficult to beat. Texas has the horses with Malcom Brown and Co. to win the battle with the Razorbacks up front. If the Longhorns do, odds are they'll also end their season with a win.
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Baylor receiver Corey Coleman and Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard showed signs of their All-Big 12 futures with strong bowl showings during the holiday season a year ago. Both players led their team in receptions in the 2013 postseason before earning All-Big 12 honors in 2014.

This season's bowl games provide another opportunity for young players on Big 12 teams to show they're ready for a bigger roles in the future. Here are some Big 12 names to keep an eye on this bowl season:

Baylor DE K.J. Smith: The redshirt freshman stepped in and stepped up after Jamal Palmer was lost for the season with his ACL injury midway through the year. Smith finished with 39 tackles including 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. His 3.5 tackles per game are a sign he can impact the running game as well as the passing game in the Bears GoodYear Cotton Bowl matchup with Michigan State. And he could see his role in Baylor’s defense expand even further in 2015 if Shawn Oakman elects to head to the NFL.

Kansas State LB Elijah Lee: The true freshman forced himself into the Wildcats plans early during his freshman season and saw his role continue to expand as the season progressed. Lee finished the regular season with 16 tackles and 4.5 sacks while playing various roles on Bill Snyder’s defense. His athleticism could be an asset against Brett Hundley and UCLA with a big game setting him up as one of the Big 12’s potential breakout players in 2015.

Oklahoma WR Michiah Quick: The true freshman showed flashes of playmaking ability after he became a bigger part of the offense following Shepard’s injury in early November. His 16 receptions for 164 yards and one touchdown during Shepard’s absence led the Sooners. Quick’s speed and open field ability could make him a threat for Clemson’s defense particularly with Trevor Knight’s return. A big Russell Athletic Bowl performance could cement Quick’s role in OU’s offense in 2015, even with the Dorial Green-Beckham, if he returns to school, and highly touted junior college signee DeDe Westbrook amping up the competition at receiver.

Oklahoma State LB Justin Phillips: The Cowboys' crazy overtime win in Bedlam overshadowed a stellar performance from Phillips. The true freshman played the majority of the game, finishing with 10 tackles including seven solo stops in the most significant action of his debut season. Phillips saw spot duty through much of the season but if he builds on his Bedlam performance with solid Ticket City Cactus Bowl, he could be a name to keep an eye on in 2015.

Texas WR Armanti Foreman: The Longhorns will be searching for playmakers in the passing game next season with John Harris and Jaxon Shipley moving on. The freshman scored touchdowns in each of UT’s final two games including a 73-yard catch-and-run against TCU on Thanksgiving. Foreman’s quickness and speed makes him an asset to the Longhorns' offense and a solid AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl showing would re-affirm his long term potential and place him high on the list of Longhorns to get the ball in 2015.

TCU CB Ranthony Texada: The redshirt freshman locked down the starting cornerback spot opposite Kevin White as Jason Verrett’s replacement, making him a guy to keep on eye on during the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Texada started every game of his freshman season and will be the most experienced member of TCU’s cornerback group in 2015. Texada has been solid all season long but will need to take his game to another level to be the No. 1 cover man in Gary Patterson’s defense.

West Virginia WR Daikiel Shorts: Dana Holgorsen will be looking for someone to fill the playmaking void left by White and Mario Alford after the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Shorts seems a prime candidate and could use the bowl game to send the message that he plans to make a jump from complementary receiver to go-to target as a junior. With eight of his 24 receptions in WVU’s final two games of the regular season, Shorts could be starting to come into his own.

Russell Athletic Bowl primer: Clemson vs. Oklahoma

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
12:00
PM ET
Clemson and Oklahoma took two different avenues on the road to the Russell Athletic Bowl.

The Tigers knocked off South Carolina in their final game, snapping a five-game losing streak to their in-state rival in the process. Meanwhile, a devastating home loss to in-state rival Oklahoma State on the final day of the regular season sent Oklahoma tumbling into the Dec. 29 matchup in Orlando, Florida.

Clemson can grab victory No. 10 with a victory; Oklahoma can grab much-needed momentum heading into the offseason after a disappointing final six games. ACC reporter David Hale and Big 12 reporter Brandon Chatmon break down the matchup:

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTrevor Knight is returning as Oklahoma's quarterback for the bowl game, but Clemson will be missing its starter, freshman Deshaun Watson.
How Clemson can move the ball on offense: Clemson finished the regular season No. 1 in the nation on defense. But on offense, there are some major concerns, and those worries only increased when the Tigers announced that quarterback Deshaun Watson will miss the bowl game after undergoing knee surgery. That leaves the offense in the hands of Cole Stoudt, who was awful in his last two games against Power 5 foes. That means the key for Clemson will be limiting how much the offense needs to rely on Stoudt, who had 33 or more passing attempts in four straight games midway through the year. Instead, Clemson needs to rely on an improved running game led by Wayne Gallman (486 yards in his last four games against Power 5 foes) and a healthy Tyshon Dye. Through Week 8, Clemson ranked 111th nationally in yards per carry and 27.4 percent of its runs went for a loss or no gain. Since then, it’s added more than a yard per rush and just 19 percent of the Tigers' runs have been stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. That trend needs to continue against a solid Oklahoma run defense if the Tigers are to have a chance.

How Oklahoma can move the ball on offense: If the Sooners can run the ball, they can control the game. Oklahoma averaged 299.8 rushing yards per game in its eight victories and 206.3 rushing yards per game in its four losses and if All-Big 12 receiver Sterling Shepard plays, should be closer to full strength on offense in the bowl game than at any point since a 48-14 blowout loss to Baylor on Nov. 8. Bob Stoops' team will need all of its weapons against arguably the best defense it has faced all season led by former OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables. The return of Shepard and quarterback Trevor Knight would bring the balance the Sooners need if they hope to avoid being one-dimensional as they strive for success against Clemson’s defense.

Clemson’s X-factor: The secondary. Clemson has a formidable defensive front, and that reputation is well deserved. The Tigers have recorded 245 tackles for loss in the past two years — 29 more than any other program in the country — and since a season-opening loss to Georgia, no team has allowed fewer yards on the ground than Clemson. But while the pass rush and run defense get a lot of credit, the secondary has been widely overlooked. Still, Clemson finished third in the nation in pass defense, allowing just 162 yards per game through the air and just 5.5 yards per attempt. Freshman MacKensie Alexander is a star in the making, and veterans Garry Peters and Robert Smith are among the ACC’s best. With the pass rush challenging Knight up front, the back end of Clemson’s defense is more than capable of cashing in on mistakes, and Clemson is 35-4 under Dabo Swinney when it wins the turnover battle.

Oklahoma’s X-factor: As the season approached the winter months, Big 12 teams learned it was ill-advised to kickoff to Alex Ross. The Tigers would be wise to mimic that special-teams game plan because Ross has the ability to change games with his kick-return skills. The redshirt sophomore returned 40 percent of his kick returns at least 30 yards, averaged 32 yards per return and changed the game with kickoff returns for touchdowns in Oklahoma's victories over West Virginia and Texas. A game-breaking special-teams play could be the difference in a game that looks headed toward a defensive battle, and Ross looks like the perfect guy to provide it.

What a win would do for Clemson: The obvious impact here is that it would give the Tigers their fourth straight 10-win season for just the second time in school history. It would also give Clemson a bowl victory for the third straight season, something that hasn’t happened since the Tigers won five in a row from 1986 through 1990. But perhaps as much as anything, this would be a nice reminder of Dabo Swinney’s success as a head coach. Much of that has been pinned on Chad Morris’ offense, but with Morris gone to SMU and Watson on the sideline, a Clemson victory would belong as much to Swinney as anyone.

What a win would do for Oklahoma: It would be a breath of fresh air after a suffocating second half of the season, when the Sooners played .500 football (3-3). Oklahoma hasn’t beaten a winning team since Oct. 11 (Texas) and enters the bowl game off the heels of that devastating Bedlam loss that left players, coaches and fans alike bewildered in early December. A win would help bandage that wound and send out the Sooners’ redshirt seniors, such as tackle Daryl Williams and tight end Blake Bell, with a 52-14 record during their five seasons at Oklahoma despite a disappointing final season.

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