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.

'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.


(Read full post)


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.

Poll: Team most on upset alert?

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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Last year, North Dakota State marched into Manhattan, Kansas and then marched down Bill Snyder Family Stadium in the fourth quarter with a game-winning touchdown drive to stun Kansas State.

The good news for the Wildcats is they open with a far less frightening opponent this weekend in Stephen F. Austin. While North Dakota State was capturing a third consecutive FCS national title, Stephen F. Austin was going 3-9 in the Southland Standings.

SportsNation

Which Big 12 team should be on upset alert Saturday?

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    64%
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    8%
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    4%
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    19%
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    5%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,456)

 Who in the Big 12 should most be on upset watch Saturday?

Iowa State is certainly a candidate. The Cyclones play the same Bison team that toppled K-State last fall. Sure, North Dakota State lost its head coach to Wyoming and the quarterback who engineered the game-winning drive to beat the Wildcats. The Bison, however, have reloaded before. And just last season, Iowa State fell in the opener to FCS opponent Northern Iowa.

North Dakota State, however, isn’t the only capable FCS team coming to Big 12 country this weekend. Central Arkansas, which travels to Texas Tech, received votes in the FCS Top 25 after winning seven games in 2013. So did TCU’s opponent, Samford, which finished in a tie for first with Chattanooga and Furman in the Southern standings. The Horned Frogs, meanwhile, will be debuting a new offense without a clear-cut starting quarterback. Texas Tech has the clear-cut starter at quarterback in Davis Webb, but it will be starting four underclassmen in its secondary.

The two traditional powers in the Big 12 both have curious games, as well. North Texas, which will head to Austin, went 9-4 last season. The Longhorns are still big favorites, but this will be just the fourth start quarterback David Ash has made since the 2012 season.

Oklahoma too is a heavy favorite to dispose of Louisiana Tech. The Sooners are riding high after taking down Alabama their last time out. But Oklahoma has a tradition under Bob Stoops of sputtering at times in openers. And while the Bulldogs struggled last season, they are only two years removed from going 9-3 and taking Texas A&M to the wire in a 59-57 shootout.

Now, we put it to you in our weekly Big 12 poll: Of these five teams, pick one to put on upset alert for this weekend.
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Texas hosted the Kickoff Rally where incoming freshmen were introduced to game day traditions and the freshmen on the Texas football squad.
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Kevin Dunn gives the rundown on freshmen who could be impact players for Charlie Strong and the Texas Longhorns.

Big 12 Week 1 predictions

August, 28, 2014
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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.

Big 12 morning links

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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College football returns tonight:
  • Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy finally admitted on ESPN Radio that J.W. Walsh will be starting quarterback when the Cowboys take the field against Florida State. In other news, water is wet. Walsh being the starter was the worst-kept secret in Stillwater. What isn't known is how he'll play. To have any chance of beating the Seminoles, Oklahoma State will need Walsh to play the way he did two years ago in his first career start against Texas. The Cowboys lost that game, but Walsh was phenomenal, throwing for 301 yards and two touchdowns. Walsh was pretty phenomenal the entire 2012 season, and finished third nationally in QBR. But he took a step back last year, struggling with accuracy and decision-making before ceding the starting job back to Clint Chelf. Which Walsh will show up Saturday, and for that matter, the rest of the season? The answer to that will go a long way in determining what kind of the season the retooling Cowboys will have.
  • West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley will have a monumental test covering Alabama All-America wideout Amari Cooper, writes Dave Hickman of the Charleston Gazette. There might not be a better receiver in the country than Cooper, who is being projected to go in the top five of the first round of the NFL draft next spring. But Worley is one of the fastest-rising stars in the Big 12 and could be up to the challenge. He'll have to limit Cooper's big plays if West Virginia is to have any shot of hanging around in Atlanta. But at the least, the matchup will reveal how far along Worley has progressed in his second year and serve as a harbinger for how he'll fare against Antwan Goodley and Tyler Lockett during the conference season. Speaking of West Virginia-Alabama, the Crimson Tide won't have one of their starting linebackers this weekend.
  • TCU coach Gary Patterson was fuming in front of reporters Wednesday because of how poorly his defense looked in practice, according to Travis L. Brown of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "We better not play like that or we’ll give up 40," Patterson said. Look, TCU isn't giving up 40 to Samford. And while Patterson might be concerned, on the scale of 1-to-10, my worry factor with the TCU defense is a 0. As for the offense, well, that's a different story. We'll see. Also, Samford coach Pat Sullivan won't be making the trip to Fort Worth with his team due to complications from neck surgery. Sullivan was TCU's head coach from 1992-97.
  • The bronze statue of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III has arrived at McLane Stadium and is awaiting its Sunday unveiling. Between that, the stadium debut and the fact the Bears have another elite team, Sunday will be one of the great days in Baylor football history. Enjoy it, Bears fans.
  • In case you missed the previous post on this blog, Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford called out the Longhorn fans with 9,000 tickets remaining for the Charlie Strong debut against North Texas. "People out there: Get off your duff and go buy these tickets," Bedford said. "It should be standing room only. If not, don’t complain, don’t say anything." This isn't the first time Bedford has called out fans. Oklahoma State fans will remember well when he compared bandwagon fans to "roaches," as the Cowboys defensive coordinator in 2006. Bedford can call out fans all he wants -- as long as he doesn't lose to Oklahoma come Oct. 11.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Three days before Charlie Strong and his staff make their official Texas debut, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford sent a clear message to the fan base: Buy a ticket.

Bedford, the first-year DC who played at Texas from 1977-81, was told during a post-practice interview session Wednesday that about 9,000 tickets are still available for the season opener against North Texas.

He was then asked if he had a message for fans thinking about staying home on Saturday. Here's what he had to say:
Staying at home? What do you mean staying at home? I hear that the state of Texas is all about what? Football. Friday Night Lights. The University of Texas. What do you mean you have 8 or 9,000 tickets left? People out there: Get off your duff and go buy these tickets! It should be standing room only! If not, don't complain, don't say anything. Get in the stands right now and cheer us on to victory. North Texas, when they're on offense, should not hear a thing. They should not be able to check. Why? It's standing room only. There should be 105,000, the fire marshal's outside saying get out. Thank you.
Here's the video of Bedford's impassioned plea, courtesy of UT, in case you're curious about the context. Based on the instant reaction on Twitter, it's safe to say Bedford got Texas' fans attention.

Texas senior defensive tackle Desmond Jackson offered up a similar declaration during his post-practice comments.

"Hey, whoever ain't got their ticket yet, make sure you get your ticket!" Jackson said. "That's all I'm saying. Make sure you get your ticket. It's going to be a nice show out there."
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.
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During Spring practice the Texas coaching staff prepared the Longhorns for the 2014 season.
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Junior defensive tackle Malcom Brown talks about leading the Texas defense and learning the game under head coach Charlie Strong.
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Texas head coach Charlie Strong discusses the dynamics of the Texas team and the upcoming game against North Texas.

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Strong Fires Up Crowd at Kickoff Rally
Texas hosted the Kickoff Rally where incoming freshmen were introduced to game day traditions and the freshmen on the Texas football squad.
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