When thinking of Baylor and Oklahoma State, defense is rarely the first thing that comes to mind.

Yet those two teams featured the Big 12’s top defenses in 2013, a main reason they combined for 21 victories and found themselves atop the conference standings heading into the final day of the regular season a year ago.

But neither the Cowboys nor Bears found themselves among the nation’s top 15 defenses in points allowed or yards allowed, and only Oklahoma State's 21.6 points allowed per game, which ranked No. 19 nationally, was among the nation’s top 25 in either category.

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezShawn Oakman and Baylor's defense give up yards, but measure up well in the most important statistics.
“I think people are getting educated a little bit about what is good defense and what is good defense against spread offenses when having to defend 18, 19 series a game,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “It’s not yardage, it’s the winning game. Saying you’re the best defense in the nation because you gave up 375 yards per game? That’s ridiculous. That has no bearing on what the best defense in the nation is; that’s the most ridiculous stat ever.”

Recognizing good defense in the Big 12 is a little different.

“How are you going to win the game? How many points per possession?” Spencer asks. “We have a lot more possessions to defend than a lot of teams in the nation.”

So with the new season on the horizon, here are other ways to define good defense in the Big 12.

Yards per play: More important than total yards allowed, yards per play is a better representation for a defense’s success. For example, Oklahoma led the Big 12 in total yards allowed at 305.2, yet the Sooners were sixth in yards per play at 5.38. Why? The Sooners offense played a major role in OU’s strong overall yardage numbers by controlling the clock with its running game. Oklahoma's defense faced 65.1 plays per game, five plays fewer than any other Big 12 team. By comparison, Baylor allowed 4.77 yards per play, which led the conference, while facing 75.8 plays per game. The Bears allowed more yards than the Sooners, but BU’s defense clearly had more success stopping opponents than OU on a play-by-play basis.

Points per possession: Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Kansas State finished 1-2-3 in points allowed in 2013, but only the Cowboys finished in the top three in points per possession. Oklahoma State led the conference with 1.22 points per possession, followed by Baylor (1.38), TCU (1.5) and Oklahoma (1.6). Those four teams combined to win 36 games, including the Horned Frogs' disappointing four-win season. It’s also a meaningful stat nationally, with Florida State leading the nation in the category (0.9) followed by Michigan State (0.99), Louisville (1.05) and Alabama (1.09). Those four teams combined to go 50-4 in 2013.

Third down conversion defense: Getting off the field on third down is critical in any conference. The conference’s three teams that had double-digit wins finished 1-2-3 in third-down conversion defense. Oklahoma State led the Big 12 at 31.4 percent, followed by Oklahoma (33.7) and Baylor (33.9). Excellence on third down is one reason the Sooners still had one of the Big 12’s top defenses a year ago, even though they faced fewer plays. Oklahoma's offense controlling games wasn’t the only reason the Sooners faced fewer plays, as their defense consistently got off the field on key third downs.

“[In the Big 12] you have to defend the whole full of playmakers and you are going to give up some yardage,” Spencer said. “But you have to get off the field.”

Turnovers: Much like third-down excellence, turnovers are critical in any conference. Oklahoma State (33) and Baylor (28) finished 1-2 in turnovers forced, and it’s not a coincidence. Both defensive coaching staffs make creating turnovers a top priority, even more than stopping the opponent. For the Cowboys and Bears, taking the ball away from the opposing offense is the primary goal.

Percentage of possible yards allowed per drive: This is another terrific stat to monitor the overall success of a Big 12 defense against opponents. BU led the conference at 32.4 percent followed by Oklahoma State (34.7), TCU (35.1) and Oklahoma (37.1). Those four teams could easily be considered the Big 12’s top four defenses in 2013.

Three-and-out percentage: The Bears led the Big 12 by forcing a three-and-out on 28.2 percent of opponent’s drives. Oklahoma State (26.8), TCU (26.7) and Texas (25.8) rounded out the top four. One of the reasons Bryce Petty and the Bears’ offense set scoring records was the ability of Baylor's defense to immediately put the ball back in the hands of the offense.
At some point this weekend, Dravon Henry will trot onto the field against SEC power Alabama. It will be baptism under fire for West Virginia's true freshman safety.

He's not alone.

More and more, true freshman skill position players are stepping on campus ready to take jobs and play immediately at schools across the Big 12.

Seven of the nine Big 12 schools that play this weekend had released their depth charts by Tuesday afternoon. Twenty-two true freshman find themselves on those depth charts at skill positions around the conference with every school featuring at least one true freshman on its depth chart.

TCU and Oklahoma lead the league with five apiece while ISU receiver Allen Lazard is the lone true freshman skill position player on the Cyclones depth chart. Coaches at Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas — the other three schools — have already said they have true freshmen are in set to play for them at the skill positions in 2014.

The growth of pass-heavy spread offenses, increased summer and offseason football -- specifically 7-on-7 competitions -- and elite camps like The Opening are at the heart of the increased readiness of true freshman. Henry and Texas Tech cornerback Tevin Madison are the lone true freshman to earn a starting spot heading into the season but that duo is could be joined by other impressive freshmen -- like Lazard, Kansas running back Corey Avery or Kansas State safety Kaleb Prewitt -- in their squad's starting lineup at some point this season.

The additional offseason work's ability to help groom quarterbacks is well-documented but those extra reps are helping receivers, running backs and defensive backs as well.

"All the skill players, receivers, quarterbacks, tight ends, they all grow up throwing the football," Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "So they're much more developed at an early age. We're seeing that we can do things with freshman that we could never do before because a lot of them have been doing it in high school."

Recruits step on campus having been seasoned in competitive situations like never before. Their understanding of offensive concepts gained in high school makes transitions to similar systems in college easier than before.

"As much as anything it's the offenses they're growing up in," OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "They're playing in those [offenses] 365 days of the year. You go to certain parts of the country and they're practicing every day. They're growing up in those systems."

The state of Texas is at the forefront of trend with everything from weather and strong high school coaching helping to prepare signees to play from Day 1 at Big 12 schools.

"With the 7-on-7 aspect and the level of high school coaching in the state of Texas helps us," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "They're throwing the year round, they're catching the ball year round, quarterbacks go through reads year round, so by the time they get to us, they're college ready.

"As far as throwing, catching and seeing defenses, they're more prepared than ever."

The rise of elite national and regional football camps could also be helping to increase the readiness of true freshmen. Players like OU's Michiah Quick, a 2013 participant in The Opening who is listed as a backup slot receiver and punt returner for the Sooners, are stepping on campuses across the country having been tested in ways they had not been a decade ago.

"I think anytime you get to go against competition, you're going to come out more confident if you have a good showing," Kingsbury said. "The kids we have that have attended such camps come out of it knowing they belong and they fit in."
Bob StoopsKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsBob Stoops hasn't been shy about publicly questioning the perceived dominance of the SEC.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Bob Stoops' former players swear he hasn't changed.

Instead, the rest of us are just getting to know Oklahoma's head football coach a little better.

The last year and a half, college football's third-longest-tenured coach -- Stoops moved up a spot after rival Mack Brown resigned -- has become a walking, talking national newsmaker.

But his ex-players say he's always spoken his mind to them. Now, he's just speaking his mind to everyone else, too.

"Coach is the same person," said Dusty Dvoracek, who was an All-Big 12 defensive tackle for the Sooners in 2003 and 2005. "But like anything else, once you've established yourself, and had as much success as he'd had, naturally your guard comes down a little bit. I don't think it was always the case for him, but now he feels comfortable and confident to speak his mind. He's garnered enough credibility that when he gets asked questions he can answer them honestly."

Stoops isn't quite as loquacious as his mentor and godfather of his twin boys, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who just this week cracked that he hopes fans don't egg a banner of his likeness if this season goes badly for the Gamecocks.

But Stoops also has some Spurrier in him. And of late, that side has surfaced in the public domain more and more.

"You're seeing that side of Coach more than ever before," Dvoracek said. "When you've been in the profession that long, you get to a point where you can tell it how it is, and not worry about the fallout. Depending of what side of the fence you're on, you might like it and you might not. But he's not afraid to be honest."

The southern side of that fence most definitely has not liked it.

More than any other figure in college football, Stoops has taken on the SEC hype machine head on. No holds barred. Like Roster Cogburn charging into a posse, Stoops rides alone in daring to proclaim what his colleagues might think, yet don't say.

"Oh yeah, he can bristle," said former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who has never himself been accused of holding back. "Bob says what he feels. I admire that about him. That's a good quality. I always reacted the same way. I never cared what people thought about my opinion. Bob is that way, too .... and when you're the coach at Oklahoma, you carry a megaphone. You reach everybody."

Like Switzer, Stoops has utilized that megaphone in recent months.

In May 2013, he used the word "propaganda" while taking aim at the bottom half of the SEC, which Stoops correctly pointed out had gone winless the season before against the top half of the league.

A few months later, he questioned the reputation of SEC defenses, which were having difficulty slowing down Aaron Murray, A.J. McCarron and Johnny Manziel.

"Funny how people can't play defense," Stoops said then, "when they have pro-style quarterbacks over there ... which we've had."

When the Sooners were paired with the Crimson Tide in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, virtually everyone from College Station, Texas, to Gainesville, Florida, was eager to see Stoops' comeuppance. Instead, he delivered another blow to SEC pride, toppling -- in his words -- "the big, bad wolf" 45-31.

"Coach always let our football do the talking for us," said former Oklahoma safety Roy Williams, the 2001 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. "But sometimes, enough is enough. The media pumps up the big, bad SEC as some unstoppable force; that they were going to kick our butt. But that didn't happen. Look, we're not whipping boys in Oklahoma. We're a force to be reckoned with, too, and that was proven."

With his credibility cemented, Stoops hasn't backed off.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops and Nick Saban
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertBob Stoops wasn't sympathetic to Nick Saban's suggestion that he couldn't get the Crimson Tide motivated in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.
This summer, he tagged Texas A&M for all the "toughies" -- Lamar, Rice, SMU and Louisiana-Monroe -- on its nonconference schedule. And when Alabama coach Nick Saban suggested he couldn't get his team up to play in the "consolation" Sugar Bowl, Stoops fired right back.

"We've played in a bunch of national championship games, right?" he said. "So that means I've got a built-in excuse the next time we don't play for a national championship?"

Switzer especially enjoyed that retort.

"I laughed when I heard that," he said. "I understood what [Stoops] meant. It doesn't matter what game it is, you have to be ready to go play. They outcoached Alabama and they outplayed Alabama."

For the coup de grace, after being introduced as "the man who single-handedly shut up the SEC" during a preseason booster event, Stoops noted he's only been "stating facts."

"Every now and then," he said, "a few things need to be pointed out."

Days later, he was given the option to back down from his comments questioning SEC depth, SEC defenses, SEC scheduling and SEC motivation in games that don't decide national titles. He didn't budge.

"Oh, get over it," Stoops said. "Again, where am I lying?"

There's an obvious means to an end to Stoops' newfound role of Big 12 advocate. In college football, perception is reality, especially once 13 people will arbitrarily be determining who gets included in the four-team playoff.

But Stoops' loosened public persona isn't all business. And it hasn't been limited to needling the SEC.

The same Dallas hotel that hosted Big 12 media days was also home to a convention for Mary Kay, of which Stoops' wife, Carol, is a national director. While she gave a TV interview, Stoops purposely photo-bombed the shot. Twice.

Then, at the end of two-a-days, Stoops came rolling into practice on the Sooner Schooner and passed out frozen treats to the players while wearing a cowboy hat and wielding a "RUF/NEK" shotgun.

"Coach is the same," Williams said. "But when you're a young coach, you have to keep your head down and prove yourself. When you've won a lot of games, and you have the job security ... of course, you become more comfortable. Maybe that all comes with age, too. When you get to a certain point, you can say, ‘I'm going to let my hair down' in front of people a little bit more."

J.D. Runnels, who once was the lead blocker for Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma, agreed that age, success and tenure have contributed to Stoops' less guarded public approach. But Runnels believes the return of Stoops' brother, Mike, to the coaching staff has eased Stoops' mind, too.

"Mike is Bob's enforcer," Runnels said. "He takes some of that pressure off Bob. That's less micromanaging Bob has to do."

Whatever the reason, the rest of the world seems to be getting to know the real Stoops. The one who enjoys having fun. The one who says what he thinks. The one his former players say has always been there.

"He's always had the willingness to tell it how it is," Dvoracek said. "That was one of the things that stuck out to me when he recruited me.

"The players, we've always seen that. Now you're starting to see that shine through on the other side, too."

Big 12 mailbag

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
4:00
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Thanks for submitting questions for this week's mailbag. In today's mailbag we talk about Kansas State's running back situation, the big games of the week -- Oklahoma State-Florida State and Alabama-West Virginia -- as well as a potential new look for Texas. By the way, you can submit questions for next week's mailbag here.

On to the 'bag:

Doug T. from Philly writes: Am I the only one who think the perfect storm for an upset may be brewing in Atlanta this Saturday?

Chatmon: I would be surprised, not shocked, if the Mountaineers find a way against the Crimson Tide. I have reservations about WVU’s ability to win in the trenches and I need to see Clint Trickett take his game to another level and play consistently for Dana Holgorsen’s offense. But I like what WVU has at the skill positions and don't see any scenario where Holgorsen's crew will back down against the Crimson Tide.




Brenna from Stillwater writes: Maybe I'm just looking at it from a true "black and white" perspective, but isn't Baylor returning nine starters, as is Oklahoma State? According to Phil Steele, that's the case. Does Bryce Petty's return compensate for Baylor's loss on defense? Does the quality of Baylor's limited returning starters truly peg them as the team (alongside Oklahoma) to beat in the Big 12 and to make a legitimate run at the four team playoff?

Chatmon: Petty goes a long way in changing the expectations for the Bears. He’s a Heisman Trophy candidate and returning Big 12 offensive player of the year. Oklahoma State’s issue is youthful players all over its defense and uncertainty at quarterback and offensive line. Baylor’s question marks aren’t as widespread as the Cowboys. To cap it all off, the Bears young players will get a chance to ease into the season while OSU faces the defending national champion. That’s what separates the two teams before Week 1 in my eyes.




Sean from Stillwater writes: Give us [OSU] hope for an upset this weekend.

Chatmon: There are plenty of reasons for hope. OSU’s receivers and defensive line should be among the Big 12’s best and Tyreek Hill looks like a playmaker. And, talent-wise, the Cowboys have upgraded from a year ago, but hearing Mike Gundy say his team could play 20 newcomers against FSU is a scary thought.




Theylo from Snyderville writes: Who is going to be the K-State running back?

Chatmon: It looks like Charles Jones has won the job as he sits atop the Kansas State depth chart heading into the season opener. But this will be decided between the lines on several Saturdays this fall. Jones may get the initial nod but if DeMarcus Robinson outperforms him on game day then he could end up being the guy. I think we may not know who John Hubert’s replacement is today, despite the Wildcats’ releasing their depth chart, but we will know by the time October rolls around.




Jon in Tulsa writes: If OSU beats FSU, OSU doesn't become favorite for national championship, then why does OU become contender just because last year's team beat Bama? How do you know that UCF wasn't better than Bama and that mostly returning Baylor shouldn't be favorite in Big 12?

Chatmon: Why are you assuming OSU does not become a national championship favorite if they beat Florida State? I find that odd because the Cowboys will be in the College Football Playoff if they go undefeated. Regardless, Oklahoma is a national title contender because they have a good young defense that carried them to 11 wins a year ago. And the Sooners are the Big 12 favorite, for me at least, because they host Baylor in Norman. It’s not all about the Sooners' Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.




Jacob Jones from Lubbock writes: Iowa State and Texas Tech will both do better then what experts picked. Watch out for Texas Tech going 9-3 and Iowa State 6-6. West Virginia could be a sleeper as well. I still think Oklahoma holds off the competition and reclaims the Big 12 championship. Bold prediction: Texas Tech upsets OU in Lubbock.

Chatmon: I could see it happen with Tech, but I’m worried about ISU’s defensive line. I need to see them first before I can get on that train. I agree with West Virginia as well but where are those wins coming from? TCU, OSU? I think the Big 12 has a chance to be as competitive as ever this fall, particularly after OU and Baylor at the top. Also, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Sooners fall at Tech; Lubbock has been unkind to the Sooners in the past.




Shaun Rucker from Shawnee, Kansas writes: Why does the media insist on bringing up the fact that the Big 12 doesn't have a championship game every chance they get? Our teams have only ever been hurt by the title game, with the exception of Nebraska not playing in it and getting a title shot in 2001. What's your take?

Brandon Chatmon: I don’t think the Big 12 needs a championship game. I don’t see a scenario where a Big 12 team goes undefeated and finds itself on the outside looking in at the College Football Playoff bracket. Thus, the destiny of every Big 12 team is within its control. That’s good enough for me.




Andy from Austin writes: This past mailbag someone asked, "Why doesn't Texas have alternate unis?'' I love that Texas usually just has subtle tweaks instead of major overhauls. But how awesome would it be to have a solid burnt orange uni for home, like the road ones, but reversed, including the helmets? Any chance of getting that look planted in the minds of those who could make it happen?

Chatmon: I love the idea, Andy. But I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Texas has a good look, and the Longhorns have tried to meet recruits/players halfway with their practice uniforms. I wish I was wrong though.

Roundtable: Week 1 storylines

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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Game week has finally arrived. We break down some of the storylines in Week 1 in our weekly Big 12 roundtable:

Who between West Virginia and Oklahoma State has the better chance to pull off the upset this weekend?

Olson: West Virginia, simply because I think Florida State has a little more talent than Alabama. Last year, Virginia Tech gave up two punt return TDs and a pick-six in the first half of their opener vs. Alabama. The Hokies shot themselves in the foot from the start. West Virginia has absolutely no margin of error for that. What the Mountaineers do have is a potentially explosive offense and a full game film of OU thrashing the Tide to use as the blueprint. They must strike early and often and give Bama’s new starting QB hell.

Chatmon: The Mountaineers are hoping a year in the offense will pay off for quarterback Clint Trickett and the rest of the unit. At this time a year ago, none of WVU’s playmakers on offense had much experience. Twelve months later, it should be a different offense. Oklahoma State is talented but it is largely untested, and its defense could be a deer in headlights early against the Seminoles, which would be too much to overcome. Thus, WVU gets the nod, but I wouldn’t bet on either squad to triumph.

Trotter: West Virginia. Florida State returns several key parts off a team that steamrolled most everyone on the way to a national championship. Oklahoma State has the fewest returning starters among any Power 5 conference team. That’s not a recipe for an upset. Alabama is a powerhouse, too, but at least West Virginia will be taking a veteran team to Atlanta. If the Mountaineers can pull off some big plays early -- and they have the players to pull off big plays -- then they can hang around into the second half.

Which Big 12 team should be on upset alert in Week 1?

Olson: No need to overthink this one. It’s Iowa State, because they play North Dakota State. And I don’t say that out of disrespect for the Cyclones, who could be better in a lot of ways in 2014. Just have to respect how NDSU screwed up another Big 12 team’s opener a year ago. Even with coach Craig Bohl gone to Wyoming, NDSU might still be the best team in FCS.

Chatmon: I don’t expect any Big 12 team to be upset this weekend, but TCU is the team that immediately comes to mind. The Horned Frogs won’t lose to Samford -- their defense is too good for that upset to happen -- but they could run into some ups and downs as they try to get their offense humming in the first game with new coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham at the helm. Another team that will have to be on its toes is Baylor, as the Bears try to ignore the distraction of opening McLane Stadium against SMU and focus on the actual game at hand.

Trotter: This one is obvious. Iowa State lost last year’s opener to FCS opponent Northern Iowa. Iowa State’s Week 1 opponent this season, North Dakota State, beat Kansas State on the road in Week 1 last year. If the Cyclones play their game, they’ll be fine. But if they don’t, the three-time defending FCS national champs are more than capable of delivering the upset.

Who is the one player to watch this weekend?

Olson: Oklahoma RB Keith Ford. There were times last season, even when the freshman was getting limited reps, that I sensed Ford might be OU’s most talented running back. He didn’t get talked up too much this offseason, but I think Ford could run wild on Louisiana Tech and alleviate some concerns about an OU run game that lost its top three backs this offseason.

Chatmon: I’m looking forward to seeing what Tyreek Hill can do against the athletes on Florida State’s defense. If Hill is going to live up to the hype as Big 12 preseason newcomer of the year, he will have an immediate impact against the Seminoles and the Cowboys are sure to make getting him the ball a priority. I’m also looking forward to hopefully getting a look at Baylor receiver KD Cannon and Texas Tech quarterback Pat Mahomes in action during week 1.

Trotter: Remember David Ash? It’s difficult to remember, considering he has played in only a couple of games since 2012. Ash will be back behind center for the Longhorns this weekend and is the single biggest key to Texas’ 2014 outlook. If Ash stays healthy and plays well consistently, the Longhorns have the pieces elsewhere to make a run at the Big 12 title. If Ash struggles or gets injured again, the Longhorns will be cooked. The North Texas game will give us a glimpse of which player Texas will be getting.
video

Paul Finebaum answers fans' questions about college football, including which four teams will make the College Football Playoff and Florida State QB Jameis Winston's chances of winning another Heisman Trophy.

Big 12 fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
10:00
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Today, Ivan Maisel offered up his bold predictions for the college football season. We figured we'd get in on the fun, too. Here's what we're comfortable forecasting in what should be a crazy Big 12 season.

Jake Trotter's bold predictions

Davis Webb will throw for more yards than Bryce Petty. This is no slight against Petty, who himself should be in for another monster season. But Petty will also be handing off plenty to Shock Linwood, Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson. Webb, meanwhile, will be airing it out virtually every down to his big-play trio of Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis. As long as Webb stays healthy, 4,500-plus passing yards isn't out of reach.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb passed for 2,718 yards as a freshman and could compete with Baylor's Bryce Petty for most passing yards in the Big 12 this season.
Kansas State will beat either Baylor or Oklahoma on the road. Two years ago when the Wildcats traveled to Norman, they toppled Oklahoma, 24-19. Last year, nobody played Baylor tougher -- at least when the Bears were still at full strength -- than K-State (which at the time was missing Tyler Lockett). Bill Snyder teams usually come to play in big games. This season, that will come at the expense of one of the league's two co-favorites.

Tyreek Hill will lead the league in rushing. The Longhorns have the Big 12's best one-two punch at running back in Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown. And West Virginia has the league's deepest backfield. But Hill has the tools to be the best big-play back in the conference. He also figures to be the focal point of the Oklahoma State attack. Up until last season, the Cowboys had enjoyed a 1,000-yard rusher in six consecutive seasons. Hill will start another 1,000-yard rushing streak for the Pokes in a big way in 2014.

Brandon Chatmon's bold predictions

Iowa State's offense will be much improved. After finishing in the bottom two in most offensive categories a year ago, Iowa State will finish no lower than sixth in most of those categories, with a clear jump forward in points, yards per play, total yards and third-down conversion rate during its first season with Mark Mangino as offensive coordinator. The Cyclones have plenty of skill-position talent, led by receiver Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs, and may have a healthy offensive line after a 2013 season full of injuries up front.

Oklahoma safety Ahmad Thomas will emerge as an All-Big 12 candidate. The sophomore safety has continued to develop and improve for the Sooners and looks like a future star in the defensive backfield. He's versatile and gives the Sooners plenty of options with his ability to line up all over the field. Coaches and teammates have raved about his ability, so he could emerge as an All-Big 12 performer, particularly if the Sooners defense becomes a dominating force this fall. Thomas is not a household name right now but he could be by the time December rolls around.

Texas will lead the conference in rushing and finish top 10 nationally. Charlie Strong plans to run the football and the Longhorns have the horses to get it done in the backfield. Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown are a terrific foundation to build UT's offense around, and the offensive line should be solid. Add Strong's insistence that the Longhorns' “soft” label is a thing of the past, and it's a recipe for UT to grab a spot among the nation's top ground games this fall.

Max Olson's bold predictions

Texas Tech will start 7-0 again. The only major hurdles in a pretty favorable early-season schedule are back-to-back road games at Oklahoma State and Kansas State. I like Tech's chances of surviving both games so long as Webb is healthy. If the defense has come together by then and shows up in the big games, look out. From there, Kliff Kingsbury's squad will have a tough slate but a huge opportunity.

Kansas State beats Auburn. Go ahead, call me crazy. This just feels like it's going to be a weird ballgame, almost akin to KSU's 24-19 win over No. 6 Oklahoma in 2012. Kansas State's coaches have the brainpower to come up with answers to Auburn's dangerous option attack. They recruited Nick Marshall hard out of junior college and know his weaknesses. And Tyler Lockett can score on anybody. In a crazy Thursday night home game atmosphere, I think KSU can get it done.

David Ash earns All-Big 12 honors. I didn't say first team! I'm not necessarily saying second-team honors, either. But Texas' fourth-year quarterback remains one of the league's most underrated players and someone who's going to make a breakthrough if he can play all 12 games. Ash was a top-25 passer in 2012, and with quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson's tutelage and the aid of Texas' impressive run game, he can do it again.

Our boldest prediction

A Big 12 team will make the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma and Baylor will meet on Nov. 8 in Norman, Oklahoma. The winner will go on to represent the conference in the inaugural playoff. You'll see.

Planning for success: Big 12

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
9:00
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Listen up Big 12 fans, this could be a critical three weeks or so for your team.

The destiny of the Big 12 champion could be changed on a warm Saturday in September as the conference faces critical, and not so critical, nonconference games.

Oklahoma fans should be rooting for Texas, Baylor fans should be rooting for TCU, Kansas State fans should be rooting for Kansas and vice versa. Because in this new era of a College Football Playoff, where a committee decides the playoff berths and strength of schedule can take on an even higher meaning, it’s never too early to start planning for success when those initial College Football Playoff berth debates blossom in November.

Oklahoma State and West Virginia have a chance to make their individual mark on the season and strike a blow for the conference as a whole with upset wins over ACC juggernaut Florida State and SEC power Alabama in neutral site battles on Saturday.

And other big nonconference games could impact the Big 12's national title hopes against fellow Power Five foes in the next few weeks: Auburn at Kansas State, Tennessee at Oklahoma, Kansas at Duke, Iowa State at Iowa, Minnesota at TCU, Texas against UCLA, Arkansas at Texas Tech and West Virginia at Maryland.

“When all things are equal with records and whatnot, if someone has played a tougher nonconference schedule, it would usually benefit you,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said, while noting he believes tough nonconference games would have helped in the BCS era as well. “Otherwise, why play? Otherwise, you might as well just schedule three yawners that no one will pay attention to and not put yourself at risk of losing that game.”

But overlooked nonconference tilts such as Kansas State’s contest against Stephen F. Austin, Texas’ in-state clash with North Texas or Texas Tech’s opener against Central Arkansas this weekend could end up being just as important in the long term.

Any nonconference slip up from a Big 12 favorite could come back to haunt the conference as a whole, particularly since the last conference champion to finish the regular season undefeated was Texas in 2009. A one-loss Big 12 champion opens itself up for debates over its worthiness for a College Football Playoff Berth and a softer résumé won’t help its cause with the SEC, Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten likely to have teams in similar situations.

“We'll see how the committee thinks because we can't think for them,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “All we can do is do our best on the field.”

And it starts this Saturday.

NORMAN, Okla. -- Blake Bell, Oklahoma's former starting quarterback, is now its starting tight end.

The depth chart, which was released Monday, revealed the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Bell beat out Taylor McNamara at tight end. Bell, who started eight games under center last season, switched positions before the spring with the emergence of Trevor Knight.

"Blake, he's been really solid," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said Monday. "He loves doing it. He's really a big a target, a comfortable target for Trevor or any quarterback when in the middle of the field. He's got great hands.

"The different lifting and training from a quarterback to a tight end has helped him get stronger and bigger, so the blocking has been solid, and I think that's something that as we go through the year that will improve the more he's on the field and the more opportunities he gets."

Though he's been primarily working at tight end in practice, Bell has gotten a few opportunities at quarterback. Cody Thomas is listed as the second-team quarterback, but Stoops said "it never hurts to have an emergency plan."

"Once you know the entire offense, you know it," Stoops said. "He's handled it quite well."

Stoops also said the Sooners would keep "Belldozer" in the offensive playbook. Bell scored 25 touchdowns his freshman and sophomore seasons while operating the short-yardage package from behind center.


(Read full post)


Oklahoma knows a lot more about its Class of 2014 recruiting class than it did a month ago.

Several true freshmen could make an impact for the Sooners this fall after impressing during their first month on the practice fields in Norman, Oklahoma. Here’s a look at five impact true freshmen that could make noise during their first season in crimson and cream:

[+] EnlargeDimitri Flowers
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiDimitri Flowers has impressed coach Bob Stoops with his versatility and smarts.
Fullback Dimitri Flowers: Flowers' potential impact has been clear since he stepped on the field as an early enrollee last spring. OU’s coaching staff has raved about his maturity, versatility and upside since he arrived in January. Flowers has the ability to slot in at various different spots in the offense from fullback to H-back to tight end. It would be a surprise if he isn’t a consistent contributor in 2014.

“He has a natural feel for the game and is a very bright young man, picking up on schemes and everything,” coach Bob Stoops said. “As you can see, a player very similar to Trey [Millard] in how versatile he is.”

Safety Steven Parker: Parker has arrived on campus as one of the most “college ready” freshmen in recent memory. Currently listed as a second-team safety on the depth chart, Parker could be too versatile to keep on the sideline. He has the coverage skills of a cornerback and range of a safety. OU has a pair of quality sophomore safeties in Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd along with senior Quentin Hayes ahead of Parker but he is still likely to force himself on to the field at some point this season.

Cornerback Jordan Thomas: Arguably the most surprising name on this list, Thomas also could end up being the best. He didn’t step on campus with as much fanfare as some of the other names on the list this summer but he has immediately impressed. He’s secured a spot as Julian Wilson’s backup at cornerback and should be a contributor in the secondary.

“He and Steven Parker are as good of players at corner and safety as we have ever recruited,” Stoops said. “It is obvious though this number of practices how strong they are and how they are physically in a position to play and to handle it. They are intelligent and it is natural for them. You usually don’t get that all in one.”

Running back Samaje Perine: Sophomores Alex Ross and Keith Ford set atop the running back depth chart but the Sooners have been impressed with the upside of Perine during his first month on the field. He provides another physical running option for OU.

“He’s one of the freshmen that has an opportunity to contribute,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “He’s a big, physical kid, he’s taking care of the football, we’re gaining more confidence in him every day. He runs with his pads really well and he’s learned quickly. Kids that play as freshmen carry themselves with maturity and he’s done that.”

Receiver Michiah Quick: The California native has been the best true freshman receiver on the roster. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him force his way into the lineup at slot receiver or punt returner this fall. His surname (Quick) is the perfect description the asset that could help him earn a role in OU’s offense.

“[He’s] explosive when he has the ball,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “He’s made some freshman mistakes at times because the game is faster, the plays are more competitive; he is learning to play in that atmosphere.”
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Danny Kanell and Joey Galloway make their picks for which teams will make the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff.

Big 12 morning links

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
8:00
AM ET
It's game week...
  • David Ash is focused on quieting critics who thought he should quit. According to Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas' QB has used Eric Liddell, whose story is depicted in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, as inspiration. It's a good thing for the Longhorns that Ash never quit, despite suffering from concussion issues that sidelined him for most of the 2013 season. Texas has no real other options at the moment at quarterback, with Tyrone Swoopes too raw and Jerrod Heard too young. The Longhorns are in good shape at most other positions. But whether Ash can stay healthy and play consistent will go a long way in determining whether Texas will contend for the Big 12 title in Charlie Strong's first season.
  • Both Texas Tech and TCU released their Week 1 depth charts over the weekend. The Horned Frogs' two-deep brought no clarity to the quarterback position, as Trevone Boykin and Matt Joeckel are listed as co-starters. Running backs B.J. Catalon, Kyle Hicks, Aaron Green and Trevorris Johnson are actually listed as co-starters as well. It will be interesting to see whether new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie actually utilize four running backs in their system. The biggest surprise in TCU's depth chart , however, came at defensive end, where Mike Tuaua and Josh Carraway were listed as starters ahead of Terrell Lathan and James McFarland. Lathan was actually listed ahead of Devonte Fields in the spring. McFarland played in every game last season, while Carraway redshirted. With Fields gone, defensive end is probably the biggest question mark on the defense. But the Horned Frogs seem to have four players they think they can rely on.
  • The most intriguing storyline with Tech's depth chart was at cornerback, where true freshman Tevin Madison won a starting job opposite sophomore Justis Nelson. Madison beat out fellow freshman Jah'Shawn Johnson. With three starting sophomores and Madison, the Red Raiders are going to be extremely young in the secondary this season. But there's talent there -- and more on the way once true freshman Nigel Bethel II serves out his three-game suspension.
  • The Charleston Daily Mail's Mike Casazza wonders whether West Virginia can mimic the Oklahoma team that beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The Mountaineers are the biggest underdog among Power Five conference teams this weekend. Alabama is almost a four-touchdown favorite. One point Casazza makes is that West Virginia is similar in scheme to the Sooners offensively, which in theory could place the same pressure on the Alabama defense. It wasn't scheme, however, that placed pressure on the Crimson Tide. It was QB Trevor Knight, who had a career night with 348 yards and four touchdowns. For West Virginia to hang with Alabama, QB Clint Trickett is going to have to deliver a career night himself. Sure, the Mountaineers will also have to force the Crimson Tide into mistakes with pressure. And West Virginia's experienced linebacking crew is going to have to hold up against Alabama's physical rushing attack. But the Mountaineers only stand a chance if Trickett takes care of the ball while producing explosive plays, just the way Knight did.
  • Speaking of Oklahoma, the big news over the weekend was the NCAA shooting down the Sooners' request for a waiver that would have made wideout Dorial Green-Beckham eligible to play immediately. Oklahoma was considered to be the Big 12 favorite long before Green-Beckham transferred in from Missouri over the summer. And the primary reasons that made the Sooners a playoff contender previously are still in place. But DGB would have solidified the one question mark on this team: experienced playmaking at the wide receiver position. The Sooners still have three-year starter Sterling Shepard. But he is a slot receiver who operates underneath the coverage. DGB would have complemented Shepard perfectly and given Knight a lethal weapon downfield and in the red zone. Instead, Oklahoma will have to settle for relying on several unproven players at the skill positions.
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A prized transfer will have to wait to suit up for Oklahoma, an offensive weapon for Louisville faces uncertainty for the opener and Virginia Tech names Logan Thomas' successor under center. It's all ahead in the College Football Minute.

Big 12 questions heading into opening week

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
9:30
PM ET
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ESPN Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter joins Chris Hassel to discuss Charlie Strong’s debut season at Texas and the biggest outstanding questions at Oklahoma.

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