Oklahoma 48, Louisiana Tech 16

August, 30, 2014
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Oklahoma rushed for five touchdowns in a 48-16 win over Louisiana Tech.

No. 4 Oklahoma defeats Louisiana Tech 48-16

August, 30, 2014
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Trevor Knight passed for 252 yards and a touchdown and Keith Ford had 117 yards from scrimmage and scored two touchdowns to help No. 4 Oklahoma defeat Louisiana Tech 48-16 on Saturday night.

Ford ran for 51 yards and caught four passes for 66 yards for the Sooners, who rolled to a 31-0 lead in the second quarter of the season opener for both teams. Samaje Perine ran for 78 yards and a touchdown and Alex Ross ran for two scores for the Sooners.

Zack Sanchez led Oklahoma's defense with an interception and a blocked field goal. Oklahoma linebacker Jordan Evans was ejected in the second quarter for targeting when he tried to make a play against Louisiana Tech quarterback Cody Sokol, but the Sooners remained dominant.

Sokol, an Iowa transfer in his first career start, passed for 191 yards and two touchdowns for Louisiana Tech.


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Sooners' Jordan Evans ejected

August, 30, 2014
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma inside linebacker Jordan Evans was ejected from Saturday night's game against Louisiana Tech for targeting.

Evans went to make a play on Louisiana Tech quarterback Cody Sokol with 5:04 left in the first quarter. Evans went over Sokol's head as Sokol ducked to avoid contact. The play was reviewed and the call stood.

Frank Shannon, the usual starter at Evans' spot, is not on the depth chart because the school is trying to suspend him for a year for what it calls a violation of its rules against sexual assault. A district court judge did not allow Oklahoma to suspend Shannon, and the school is challenging that in the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Shannon is in uniform but has not played.

Caleb Gastelum replaced Evans for the Sooners.


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Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 1

August, 30, 2014
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In Week 1, Oklahoma State and West Virginia will try to pull off monumental upsets against the nation’s top two teams; Iowa State and Kansas State will look to avoid back-to-back disastrous openers; TCU and Texas Tech will also attempt to take care of business against the FCS; Texas will kick off the Charlie Strong era; Oklahoma will try to keep its Sugar Bowl level; and Baylor will introduce a new stadium.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch this week in the Big 12:

Saturday

North Dakota State at Iowa State, 11 a.m. CT (FS1): The Cyclones will attempt to avoid opening with a loss to an FCS opponent for the second straight year. That won’t be easy. The Bison have captured three straight FCS national championships. This will also be the Iowa State debut of offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, who last week tabbed Sam B. Richardson to be the Cyclones’ starting quarterback.

West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. CT (ABC or ESPN2): The Mountaineers are the biggest underdog of any Power 5 conference team this weekend. The Crimson Tide lost their final two games of last season, but won back-to-back national championships before that. This, however, appears to be the deepest and most experienced team Dana Holgorsen has had at West Virginia since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12.

Samford at TCU, 6 p.m. CT (FSN regional): TCU coach Gary Patterson hasn’t indicated whether Trevone Boykin or Matt Joeckel will get the start at quarterback in the Horned Frogs’ new offense. Samford coach Pat Sullivan, who won the Heisman Trophy at Auburn in 1971 and coached at TCU form 1992-97, won’t be making the trip to Fort Worth with his team because of complications after offseason neck surgery.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtJ.W. Walsh is back as the Oklahoma State starting quarterback, and he has a huge challenge waiting for him in the opener.
Central Arkansas at Texas Tech, 6 p.m. CT (FSN regional): This could be an interesting test for Tech’s defense, which will be relying on a host of junior-college transfers along the defensive line and a sophomore-and-under defensive backfield. The Bears return 10 starters from an offense that averaged more than 450 yards per game last year.

Louisiana Tech at No. 4 Oklahoma, 6 p.m. CT (PPV): The Bulldogs will be bringing former Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz with them to Norman. Diaz’s track record against the Sooners wasn’t good. With Diaz manning the defense, Texas allowed 63 points to Oklahoma two years ago and 55 the year before that. Elsewhere, all eyes will be on Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight, who will be making just his sixth career start, most recently shredding Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Stephen F. Austin at No. 20 Kansas State, 6 p.m. CT: The Wildcats dropped last year’s season opener to FCS opponent North Dakota State. But Stephen F. Austin, which won only three games last year, is a far cry from North Dakota State. The Wildcats are also settled at quarterback this time around with Jake Waters, who struggled as the part-time quarterback in last year’s opener, but surged during the second half of the season.

North Texas at Texas, 7 p.m. CT (Longhorn Network): Charlie Strong will finally make his debut as coach of the Longhorns. This game will also mark the return of quarterback David Ash after he missed most of last year with a concussion, and then the spring with a fractured foot. North Texas is coming off a nine-win season but is 9-67 lifetime against Big 12 programs, including 0-9 against Texas.

Oklahoma State vs. No. 1 Florida State, 7 p.m. CT (ABC): No Power 5 conference team returns fewer starters than the Cowboys, who also graduated 28 players. The Seminoles, meanwhile, bring back the reigning Heisman winner in quarterback Jameis Winston. Oklahoma State will start out with J.W. Walsh at quarterback. Walsh led the Big 12 in QBR two years ago. But last year in Big 12 play, Oklahoma State averaged 6.2 yards per play with Clint Chelf at quarterback and only 4.8 with Walsh, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Sunday

SMU at No. 10 Baylor, 6:30 p.m. CT (FS1): The Bears will christen the $260 million McLane Stadium, as Baylor will go from having the worst stadium in the Big 12 to one of the best. The celebration in Waco could begin early, too. Last year, Baylor had an average halftime lead of three touchdowns and enters this game as almost five-touchdown favorites over the Mustangs.
[+] EnlargeFrank Shannon
AP Photo/Darron Cummings"(Frank Shannon) has been painted in a way that is in no way how he is," an attorney for the player said Friday.

The attorney for Oklahoma linebacker Frank Shannon claims the university has "failed" Shannon, who was suspended for one year by the school in early August.

Shannon's attorney, Aletia Timmons, had stern words about the school's handling of the situation and came to the player's defense during a news conference Friday in Oklahoma City.

"(Shannon) has been painted in a way that is in no way how he is," Timmons said.

"It's my belief that my client, even though there's ample evidence that he should be left alone and this should never have proceeded to the level it did, is being scapegoated so that OU won't have to face any questions about how they run the Title IX program. That has been done without any regard to the truth or falsity, I believe, of the alleged victim's statements."

An Oklahoma spokesman said Friday that the university had no comment on Timmons' statements. Timmons said she felt it was time to speak up because Oklahoma made a public statement on the matter earlier this month.


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In Friday's Twitter mailbag, we discuss under-the-radar players, storylines this weekend, Texas Tech's chances of starting 8-0 and the best city for food in the Big 12.

To the 'bag:


Trotter: I think people will know the name Tyreek Hill after this weekend. The Oklahoma State running back is going to have a big year. Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman doesn't seem to be talked about much nationally, but he could be a star. Some other names flying under the radar nationally: Texas Tech wide receivers Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley, Iowa State running back Aaron Wimberly, TCU cornerback Kevin White, Baylor receiver Corey Coleman and Kansas State's entire roster.
Trotter: Who knows? But Kansas State is being way undervalued nationally, including by some of my colleagues at ESPN. This was a top 15-caliber team at the end of last year. The offensive and defensive lines are going to be very good again, Jake Waters has his footing at quarterback and Tyler Lockett, well, I'm out of superlatives for him. The Wildcats will have to beat Auburn in September to gain some respect. But they are more than capable of doing just that.
Trotter: Probably linebacker Eric Striker. He can already do one thing at an NFL level, and that's rush the passer.
Trotter: That would require them beating Oklahoma State, Kansas State and TCU all on the road. Even if you considered all three of those to be coin-flip games, that, mathematically, would still give Tech only a 12.5 percent chance of winning all three. Possible? Sure. But the odds are very much against it.
Trotter: Even if the Cowboys get blasted this weekend -- and I think they will -- they'll have five winnable games immediately afterward. If they won all five, including that pivotal Thursday night matchup with Texas Tech in Stillwater, I could see them popping up in the Top 25 in mid-October.
Trotter: I see what you did there. I have Oklahoma winning the Big 12. The Sooners get Baylor in Norman, where the Bears have never won, and where Bob Stoops is 87-5.
Trotter: Storylines I will be following: Can Oklahoma State and West Virginia hang tough in tough openers? How will David Ash look in his fourth start since 2012? How will Trevor Knight look coming off that Sugar Bowl performance? Who will get the majority of snaps at QB for TCU? Can Iowa State avoid disaster facing a tricky opponent? And, the return of Mark Mangino and debut of Baylor's new stadium.
Trotter: The odds are we'll see an undefeated Big 12 team over the next five years. Who knows, we could see it this year. Oklahoma will be favored in every game. And if Baylor can topple the Sooners in Norman, the rest of its schedule is fairly manageable.
Trotter: How many Big 12 titles has Texas Tech won? I think Tech is going to have a good and exciting team this year. But until the Red Raiders actually win a championship, I don't see how you can complain about them getting overlooked in the title conversation. Especially when the top five teams in the league last year beat Tech by an average margin of three touchdowns.
Trotter: Richardson is not going to share snaps. They want -- and need -- him to be the guy. It feels like the Cyclones are still trying to replace Seneca Wallace. They're going to give Richardson plenty of opportunities to show he's the long-term answer at quarterback.
Trotter: That's impossible for me to say. All of them are cool in their own way. There's no place in the Big 12 I don't look forward to going to. @mulloy_k: You are a 4-5* recruit, but your only criteria for choosing a school is based on the unlimited snack rule ... and what LOCAL fare would be available (for free) in that city. What Big 12 school do you choose? Appreciate your work! Trotter: Thanks, Kyle. I've been to every campus in the Big 12 multiple times, and I can vouch that in all 10 venues, there are great places to eat. But nowhere in the Big 12 has more great eating options than Austin. That's no slight on the other Big 12 locales. New York City is the only place I've been to that has better food than Austin.
It’s football time in Oklahoma.

The Sooners open the season against Louisiana Tech on Saturday with an eye on cementing a spot in the College Football Playoff derby in 2014. Here are five key stats to keep an eye on.

Sooners yards per carry average: It is important for the Sooners to replace last year’s trio of seniors — Brennan Clay, Roy Finch, Damien Williams — with another solid running game. Oklahoma averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2013 and leaned on its running game to carry a Sooners’ offense that averaged 199.1 passing yards per contest. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will get the first chance to prove they can handle the bulk of the carries, but they could be looking over their shoulders at true freshman Samaje Perine. Between the three of them, Oklahoma should hope to, at the very least, match last year’s yards-per-carry average against Louisiana Tech.

Trevor Knight’s completion percentage: Knight’s 59-percent completion rate from 2013 isn’t going to get it done if the Sooners expect to earn a College Football Playoff berth. The good news for Sooners fans is Knight had a 67.1 completion percentage in the final five games of the 2013 season. So if he can mimic his strong play at the end of the season, Oklahoma could be in business. It starts against Louisiana Tech, so the Sooners should hope Knight can complete 65 percent of his throws on Saturday.

Sooners’ second leading receiver: Nobody’s worried about Knight finding a No. 1 target. Sterling Shepard should fill that role with ease. But Oklahoma needs at least one more consistent target to emerge in the offense alongside Shepard. It feels like now or never for junior Durron Neal, who stepped on campus with as much acclaim as Shepard. Redshirt freshman K.J. Young joins Shepard and Neal in the starting lineup and could become a key playmaker if he fulfills the promise he’s shown during his 12 months on campus. Tight end Blake Bell could also emerge as a legitimate No. 2 option. It doesn’t really matter who it is, but someone needs to show signs they will be a trustworthy target for Knight against Louisiana Tech by hauling in at least five receptions.

Tackles for loss: The Sooners defense was good in 2013, but it could be dominant in 2014 if it can make more tackles for loss. Oklahoma finished seventh in the Big 12 with 73 tackles for loss, an average of 5.6 per game. If the Sooners can record at least seven tackles for loss against Louisiana Tech, it would be a sign that the defense can create more chaos in opponents' backfields this season, which could be the perfect recipe for a College Football Playoff berth.

Third-down conversion rate: Oklahoma must get better on third down if they plan to compete for a national championship. The Sooners converted just 39.5 percent of their third-down attempts a year ago, ranking 69th among FBS teams. It’s no coincidence the Sooners were 7-0 last season when their conversion rate was 40 percent or higher, including victories over Alabama, Kansas State and Texas Tech. Thus, converting 45 percent of their third-down attempts should be the goal on Saturday.

'Guarantee' games to fetch $12.9M

August, 29, 2014
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College football teams will pay their opponents at least $12.9 million this weekend.

Big Ten teams will pony up the most money in the so-called "guarantee" games, which compensate smaller budget opponents for playing at the bigger opponent's stadium without returning to play at their stadium.

Michigan will pay $1 million to Appalachian State, the school that shocked the Wolverines in 2007. Nebraska will also pay $1 million to its opponent, FAU.

Florida, which paid Georgia Southern $550,000 last season and lost to it, will pay Idaho $975,000 for Saturday's game at "The Swamp."

Big 12 heavyweights Texas and Oklahoma will also be paying their opponents a pretty penny. Texas is writing North Texas a $875,000 check, while the Sooners will give Louisiana Tech $975,000 just for showing up in Norman.

FBS teams that pay for FCS opponents often wind up on top, although some teams have presented more trouble than others. One of those teams is North Dakota State, who has been paid and then subsequently knocked off Colorado State, Minnesota, Kansas and Kansas State in recent years. Iowa State is paying the Bison $350,000 this week to play it in Ames.


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Big 12 morning links

August, 29, 2014
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Happy Friday, everybody. Just one more day of work until the best three-day weekend of your year (until next weekend). Hang in there.
  • The Topeka Capital-Journal went long on Bill Snyder's legacy in a package -- entitled "Manhattan Project" -- that you're gonna want to check out. Here's the main piece by Ken Corbitt, and Kevin Haskin came up with a fun list of what-ifs when you think back on Snyder's tenure. One observation from Corbitt's piece that stands out: Had Snyder not come along and rescued the Wildcats, might they have been kicked out of the Big Eight? That's how dire the situation Snyder inherited was becoming. Everything he's achieved in the 25 years since has been flat-out stunning.
  • Texas finally released its depth chart on Thursday. The big news? True freshman Jason Hall is slated to start at strong safety, making him the Longhorns' first opening-day true freshman starter since Blake Gideon in 2008. Hall is one of 10 freshmen who made the depth chart. Another key decision came on the offensive line. With Desmond Harrison suspended for the opener, Texas moved Kennedy Estelle back to right tackle and promoted Marcus Hutchins to left tackle. The former scout-team defensive tackle has never started a game. That makeshift line is going to have to keep David Ash clean against North Texas.
  • Who is Texas Tech's fastest player? Might seem like a silly question, but Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal wisely points out that the number of speedsters the Red Raiders have had has been on the uptick in recent years. I'd put my money on receiver Jakeem Grant, who told the paper he sees speed becoming a real advantage for Tech's offense this year. Its receiving corps is full of guys you'd want in on the fastest-man race. Newcomers Justin Stockton and Mike Mitchell are also getting talked up for their legit speed. If the perception is true, and Tech does have that much speed at each receiver spot, Davis Webb is going to have some fun throwing deep.
  • One team we have admittedly not written about much this week is Kansas. For the second year in a row, the Jayhawks open their season with a bye. The weekend off does provide a strategic advantage for Charlie Weis: He got to watch Week 2 opponent Southeast Missouri State play its season opener last night, a 77-0 win over Missouri Baptist. The week gave KU more time to address its running back situation, and Weis says freshman Corey Avery and juco transfer De'Andre Mann are "1 and 1A."
  • Lastly, I enjoyed this story by Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman on what goes into the groundskeeping crew's efforts to prepare Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for a ballgame. Bob Stoops, he of so many hot offseason takes, argues grass fields are the best. I don't have a strong feeling either way on that one, but I must say I did not know a field requires up to 300 gallons of paint in one weekend.
The College Football Playoff isn’t the only thing new for the Big 12 this year. The league will welcome new bowl tie-ins, as well as old bowl tie-ins with new names. The playoff is obviously new. The Russell Athletic Bowl and AutoZone Liberty Bowl are new to the league, as well. The Cactus Bowl is the old Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (which before that was the Insight Bowl). Next year, the Champions Bowl, which will pit top teams from the Big 12 and SEC, will jump into the rotation as well.

But, without further ado, here are our preseason bowl projections for the Big 12, which, like the bowl tie-ins themselves, are sure to change before long:

Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Orleans (Jan. 1): Oklahoma vs. College Football Playoff semifinal
Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Texas (Jan. 1): Baylor vs. at-large
Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio (Jan. 2): Kansas State vs. Pac-12 No. 2
Russell Athletic Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (Dec. 29): Texas vs. ACC No. 2
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Houston (Dec. 29): Texas Tech vs. SEC
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn. (Dec. 29): TCU vs. SEC
Cactus Bowl, Tempe, Ariz. (Jan. 2): Oklahoma State vs. Pac-12 No. 7

Big 12 players in Week 1 spotlight

August, 28, 2014
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Are you guys ready? We're less than 48 hours away from the first kickoff of the Big 12 season. (There are some good games tonight, too, if you can't wait that long.) Once we finally get rolling, the guys worth watching closely won't just be the All-Americans like Bryce Petty and Tyler Lockett. We know what they can do, and they'll probably be even better.

But this is our first real chance, after months of speculation and projection, to see how newcomers and players in new roles fare. Here are 11 players we'll be keeping an eye on Saturday and Sunday.

Matt Joeckel and Trevone Boykin
Getty ImagesGary Patterson won't reveal who his starting quarterback is -- Matt Joeckel or Trevone Boykin -- until the Horned Frogs take the field Saturday.
Matt Joeckel, QB, TCU: Will he be the starter? Did Trevone Boykin do enough to regain the job? Gary Patterson won't reveal a thing until his Horned Frog offense takes the field Saturday against Samford. The guy who sets foot on the field won't matter as much as which one thrives, because it seems likely both will get a fair shot. TCU just needs a capable distributor.

Devin Chafin, RB, and Johnny Jefferson, RB, Baylor: Both backs dealt with injuries in fall camp but should be good to go. And if you ask Baylor players, they'll tell you Chafin and Jefferson are about to be stars on the rise. This should be a true stable of backs led by Shock Linwood, but you're going to see Chafin and Jefferson a lot -- especially if Baylor's second team gets a lot of playing time in a blowout.

DeAndre Washington, RB, Texas Tech: We could still see Kenny Williams in short-yardage opportunities, but otherwise, Tech is ready to roll with the 5-foot-8, 201-pound junior leading its run game. Freshmen Justin Stockton and Demarcus Felton are intriguing, but Washington has a chance to establish himself as the feature back and a sneaky good one.

Deandre Burton, WR, Kansas State: The local kid from Manhattan was named a starter this week and is about to get his first meaningful action on offense. The redshirt sophomore has good size and will be one of a few wideouts getting reps with Lockett and Curry Sexton. The competition for his spot will be ongoing, so a big play or two against Stephen F. Austin could go a long way.

Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State: Cyclones fans can't wait to see what Lazard, listed as the backup to Quenton Bundrage at X receiver, can do in his first career day. After all the boasting Paul Rhoads did on signing day (and rightfully so), expectations are awfully high. Let's see Sam B. Richardson lob a few up to him and see if the 6-foot-5 stud can make a splash.

Tyreek Hill, WR/RB, Oklahoma State: What more can we say? We've hyped him up as much as anybody in the Big 12 this offseason. OSU will get the ball in his hands as much as possible. Florida State will do whatever it can to stop him. Can Hill be the game-changer the Pokes need to keep up with the defending champs?

Julian Wilson, CB, Oklahoma: Wilson's transition from nickel to cornerback, where he'll replace a big-time player in Aaron Colvin, has received good reviews. Louisiana Tech will no doubt test him and new starting safety Ahmad Thomas early on to see if they can handle the pressure.

Dravon Henry, FS, West Virginia: Mountaineer coaches have been excited about Henry all year long, and the true freshman seemingly had no trouble earning a starting job. He'll get lots of help from veteran safety Karl Joseph, but you just know Lane Kiffin will take some shots deep to see if the young dude has instincts. He would be wise to keep an eye on Amari Cooper, one of the nation's best wideouts.

Jason Hall, SS, and Dylan Haines, SS, Texas: Hall, a true freshman and former three-star recruit, was named the starter on Texas' depth chart released Thursday. But Haines, a walk-on, will play and so should Adrian Colbert. With safety Mykkele Thompson likely being used as Texas' top nickel, the Longhorns will have a lot of inexperience on the back end on passing downs. They need to play up to the considerable praise they received in camp.

Who are you excited to scout this weekend? Let us know any players we missed in the comments below.

Big 12 Week 1 predictions

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Why Alabama will win: The Crimson Tide don't have a quarterback with a career start, but that seems to be the only question with this team. The losses to Auburn and Oklahoma are fresh on everyone's mind, but before those two games, Alabama had allowed an FBS-low 9.3 points per game last season. Coach Nick Saban's defense will be formidable again. Though the Mountaineers feature several intriguing skill players, it's unlikely they will be able to move the ball the way the Tigers and Sooners did. -- Jake Trotter

Why Florida State will win: Last week, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy called Florida State the best team he had ever faced as a player or a coach. The Seminoles are loaded, headlined by the return of Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The Cowboys, meanwhile, will be fielding almost a completely new squad after losing 28 seniors and returning the fewest starters among any program in a Power 5 conference. Those factors do not equal a recipe for an upset. -- Jake Trotter

More consensus picks: Iowa State over North Dakota State; TCU over Samford; Texas Tech over Central Arkansas; Oklahoma over Louisiana Tech; Kansas State over Stephen F. Austin; Texas over North Texas; Baylor over SMU.

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."

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