- A lot of great reads came out of Baylor's Sunday night christening of McLane Stadium. The Dallas Morning News' Kevin Sherrington wrote that the Bears left their inhibitions -- and their tarp -- on other side of I-35. Baylor fans marveled at the new stadium, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald's Regina Davis. And the paper's John Werner added that it's time for Baylor to believe again. Brandon was in Waco and and has more on the unveiling on the blog this morning. But from the view of my TV set, the stadium looked awesome. It should be a game-changer for the Bears, especially in recruiting. Who wouldn't want to play in that venue? Underscoring that theme, Robert Griffin III, took this spectacular selfie in front of the Baylor student section. A great night all around for Baylor.
- Back to Saturday's games, Oklahoma State did not fear the spear, The Oklahoman's John Helsley wrote. And according to the paper's Berry Tramel, the Cowboys should be dejected about the night, and euphoric about the future. As I wrote last week, Oklahoma State's sustainability was going to be tested this season. And despite the loss, the Cowboys passed that test with flying colors against the top-ranked team in the country. Despite having to lean on several young players, the Pokes gave Florida State everything it wanted, and might have been a J.W. Walsh fumble away from flat pulling off the upset. Oklahoma State's 2014 outlook looks completely different now than I had it pegged in the preseason. This is a team to be reckoned with. And no matter the circumstance, a program to be reckoned with, too.
- Speaking of giving an opponent everything it wanted, West Virginia took second-ranked Alabama to the wire in an inspired performance from Dana Holgorsen's bunch. The game showed how far the Mountaineers have come, wrote the Charleston Daily Mail's Chuck McGill. The biggest difference for West Virginia was the play of quarterback Clint Trickett, who was terrific against the Crimson Tide. With Rushel Shell also pounding out yards between the tackles and Kevin White hauling in passes downfield, this could be a dynamite offense. If the Mountaineers play the entire season the way they did Saturday, there is no doubt they will get back to bowl eligibility. The schedule might still be brutal. But do you think Oklahoma and Baylor and Kansas State are looking forward to their trips to Morgantown now?
- We addressed the good. Now, to the ugly. The Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson believes Iowa State's 34-14 defeat to North Dakota State was the worst loss of the Paul Rhoads era. I can't disagree. After jumping on the Bison 14-0, the Cyclones simply were dominated the rest of the way. Most disheartening was how Iowa State was obliterated in the trenches. If an FCS team can do that to the Cyclones this weekend, what are Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State going to do? Adding injury to insult, Iowa State suffered injuries to a pair of its key players in center Tom Farniok and wideout Quenton Bundrage. Farniok might be back this weekend, but it doesn't look promising for Bundrage, who was Iowa State's leading receiver last season. This now has the look of a very rough year for the Cyclones, whose next four opponents went a combined 37-14 last season.
- Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury was not happy with his team's performance over the weekend, either, as the Red Raiders narrowly escaped Central Arkansas 42-35. Kingsbury called the showing "embarrassing," according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams. The Red Raiders have high hopes for the season and for the future of the program, illustrated by the extension the school agreed to with Kingsbury the day before. But all hope is not lost. Plenty of teams have looked lackluster in their openers, then gone on to great seasons. But quarterback Davis Webb will have to be sharper, and the defense will have to be better for the Red Raiders to have the season they envision.
For the first time since he arrived in Waco, the Baylor Bears' head coach stepped onto the field in a brand new stadium with a team considered a national title contender.
He couldn't have even dreamed of this.
"I don't dream big enough, don't think big enough, don't foresee big enough," Briles said. "It was unbelievable. The atmosphere was everything we hoped it could be."
Those expectations could be seen and heard around the stadium as the pregame festivities led to an exceptional atmosphere for a season opener.
"The atmosphere was unbelievable," tackle Spencer Drango said. "We had the 'Walk of the Bears' and we had to stop before we were supposed to because there were so many people. It felt like it went on forever. It was an amazing environment. It was something special. I can't find the words to describe it."
Sitting alongside I-35 as the on-campus jewel of Baylor, the $266 million, 45,140-seat stadium is a physical representation of how far Briles program has come since he took over the Bears prior to the 2008 season.
Few college football cathedrals can match McLane. Fans can arrive by boat and tailgate on the Brazos river before entering one of the most innovative venues in the nation, one which also features an in-game app that can be downloaded to enhance the game-day experience.
Just outside the stadium's South entrance, a statue of Robert Griffin III sits just yards away from the Brazos river, serving as another representation of a new era in Waco.
"It's not a representation of me," said Griffin, who was in town to experience the opening of the picturesque facility first-hand. "It's more a representation of what we've done at Baylor."
After a pair of 4-8 seasons to begin his tenure, Briles' Bears have put together four straight winning seasons, including double-digit wins in 2011 and 2013. He is 44-32 during his six seasons in Waco, including 29-10 in the past three seasons as the talent he recruited started to really put its stamp on the program. The Bears won 21 total games in the six seasons prior to Briles' arrival.
It's ideal that the two men who have become the face of Baylor's rise were reunited to open BU's new home. Griffin played an integral role in the rise, leading the Bears to a 23-17 record in 40 starts including a 10-win season in 2011. And he continues to play an active role.
"He had a nice little talk with us during summertime, basically saying we have to keep this trend going," tight end Tre'Von Armstead said.
The bulk of Baylor's success was all built upon the vision Briles had for the Big 12's second-smallest school. He's no longer selling a vision.
Seven years later, reality is finally on Briles' side. The Bears do have a recent Heisman Trophy winner, the Bears do have one of the nation's nicest stadiums and, most importantly, the Bears do have one of the nation's best teams.
"The sky is the limit for this team, for this program, for this university," Griffin said. "It's only going to get bigger, it's only going to get better."
They don't have to dream anymore on BU's campus. All the pieces are in place to cement a spot among the nation's best, year in and year out. Thus, the focus has turned instead to another dream: A berth in the College Football Playoff and the first national championship in school history.
"We plan on, we are going to, go all the way," Armstead said. "We'll take it one game at a time, but we have big goals."
1. Oklahoma State and West Virginia showed the Big 12 can go toe-to-toe with anyone: The Mountaineers went 4-8 last season and were picked in the preseason to finish eighth in the Big 12. After graduating 28 seniors, the Cowboys had the fewest returning starters of any program from a Power 5 conference. And yet, Oklahoma State and West Virginia gave college football’s two highest-ranked teams all they wanted. Ultimately, the Cowboys committed too many turnovers to topple No. 1 Florida State, and West Virginia dropped too many passes to knock off No. 2 Alabama. But both Big 12 teams acquitted themselves well with valiant efforts against formidable competition to set up the rest of their seasons. The Cowboys and Mountaineers also sent a message at the outset of this playoff era that the Big 12 is a conference to be reckoned with.
3. Trevone Boykin is the man in Fort Worth: All preseason, TCU coach Gary Patterson refused to showed his cards at quarterback. He even reportedly had the Amon G. Carter Stadium public address announcer introduce both Boykin and Matt Joeckel as starting quarterbacks. But once the game began, there was no doubt left that Boykin is Patterson’s quarterback. After relieving Casey Pachall the last two seasons, Boykin came out sharp in his first opening-game start against Samford. He completed 29 of 41 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns before passing off to Joeckel for mop-up duty. The Horned Frogs, who limited Samford to 143 yards of offense, figure to be tough defensively again. But Boykin will be the key to them getting over the hump in the program’s third year in the Big 12.
4. Oklahoma remains stout at running back: Coming into the season, the Sooners had to replace starting running back Brennan Clay. They then lost blue-chip freshman Joe Mixon to a season-long suspension. But Oklahoma showed Saturday it is still loaded in the backfield. The three-headed monster of sophomore Alex Ross, sophomore Keith Ford and freshman Samaje Perine stole the show in the Sooners’ convincing 48-16 win over Louisiana Tech. The trio combined for 164 yards and five touchdowns while averaging almost five yards per carry. Ford also added 65 yards receiving. “They’re powerful, physical guys,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “But they have speed and can run, too.” Mixon had the talent to boost Oklahoma’s offense, and the Sooners will miss Clay’s reliability. But Oklahoma is going to be just fine at running back this season.
5. The Big 12 should avoid North Dakota State like the plague: If you can’t beat them, ban them. After falling behind 14-0, North Dakota State roared back to throttle Iowa State 34-14 in Ames. The Bison have now won three in a row against Big 12 teams, including last year’s victory over Kansas State. It’s apparent the back-to-back-to-back FCS national champs have reloaded again. And it would be wise for the Big 12 to avoid scheduling them ever again. As for the Cyclones, it was a disheartening start to the 2014 season. Iowa State lost center Tom Farniok and wideout Quenton Bundrage -- both critical cogs -- to first-half injuries. And from the second quarter on, the Cyclones got dominated in the trenches. It doesn’t get any easier for Iowa State, which had high hopes before the season of getting back to bowl. The Cyclones’ next four opponents went a combined 37-14 last season.
Considering the way the final three quarters played out, there were a dozen or so plays that stemmed the tide and flipped momentum in AT&T Stadium. Ultimately, three plays ended up having the biggest impact on the game, and they were all born out of mistakes. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher agrees with the contemporary cliché that more games are lost rather than won, and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has to feel that way after the No. 1 Seminoles defeated the Cowboys 37-31.
The decisive play came with a little more than four minutes left in the game. The Florida State offense struggled much of the night, and reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston looked flustered throughout. Rashad Greene, now fourth all-time on the Seminoles' receiving list, ran a shallow cross, and as he broke to the middle of the field, the Cowboys cornerback bumped into a teammate, freeing Greene. The pass was a little behind Greene, so that little collision might have been the difference between an interception and what Greene did once he caught the ball -- go 50 yards for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. Two plays earlier, Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh had fumbled the football when he looked poised to rip off a big gain. The Cowboys trailed by three and had a chance to take their first lead of the game. But Walsh was tripped up and fumbled, and Winston iced the game shortly thereafter.
Winston looked like a Heisman winner on a 28-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore lumbered down the field, jumped over his offensive lineman, juked a Cowboys defender and then dove into the end zone. It was the kind of play we've come to expect from Winston but hadn't seen Saturday to that point. That touchdown was also set up by a series of Oklahoma State miscues. The Cowboys looked as if they would pin Florida State deep, but an errant snap on a punt gave the Seminoles the ball near midfield. The Cowboys defense held, but on third-and-11, Cowboys defensive back Ashton Lampkin, who was picked on constantly, was called for holding. It extended Florida State's drive, and Winston rumbled into the end zone the very next play.
Florida State capitalized on the Cowboys' two turnovers, scoring touchdowns off of each. Oklahoma State managed only three points off the Seminoles' two miscues. The first Cowboys turnover came early in the game as Nate Andrews intercepted Walsh near the Oklahoma State end zone, and then Andrews walked in for the score. It was an outstanding play from Andrews, but it once again was precipitated by a special teams breakdown. The Cowboys fouled up the kickoff return and started the drive at their own 3-yard line. Walsh's interception was on the drive's first play, and it gave FSU an early 10-0 lead.
Good teams feed off their opponents' mistakes, and that is exactly what Florida State did.
Here was some of the immediate reaction:
"@Jake_Trotter: Barry Switzer just took the field from the tunnel through smoke. Why? I have no idea." Because Barry Switzer that's why.— Josh Walker (@OneBlessedFella) August 31, 2014
Because it was awesome, Jake! "@Jake_Trotter: Barry Switzer just took the field from the tunnel through smoke. Why? I have no idea."— Justin Logan (@THEJustinLogan) August 31, 2014
Barry Switzer just introduced himself on the jumbotron then ran out of a smoke filled tunnel #GOAT— Grayson Niemeyer (@Geedermeyer) August 31, 2014
Barry Switzer enters field to smoke, salutes crowd. AC/DC music blaring. Fireworks go off. A new 4th-quarter tradition? #Sooners— Eric Bailey (@EricBaileyTW) August 31, 2014
When Barry Switzer comes out of a tunnel full of fog you stand up, clap, & scream. There are no other options. #OnlyOne— Katy King (@katykinng) August 31, 2014
After I tweeted out my confusion, OU sports information director Pete Moris clarified the reason:
We'll have a LEGEND join us entering 4th qtr all year MT @Jake_Trotter: Switzer just took field from the tunnel through smoke. Why?— Pete Moris (@PeteMoris) August 31, 2014
Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch this week in the Big 12:
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.
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.
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.
And that is precisely why the Red Raiders elected to make a huge investment in their 35-year-old head coach.
Tech isn’t necessarily rewarding Kingsbury solely for the mere eight wins he’s brought the Red Raiders last season.
Instead, the school is rewarding Kingsbury for the excitement he’s brought to the program. And the news Tech revealed earlier in the day was proof of that excitement.
Just hours before they disclosed Kingsbury’s extension, the Red Raiders held a press conference announcing the launch of a capital campaign to raise $185 million to construct an indoor practice facility and build 30 suites as part of a renovation of the Jones AT&T Stadium south end zone.
The school would not have fashioned such a project had Kingsbury not filled up the stadium last season. Nor would Tech have raised the $75 million it already has committed for the project without the buzz Kingsbury has generated for the program.
“We are very fortunate that we have 85 suites in Jones AT&T Stadium and they're all at capacity right now,” Hocutt said. “There is a wait list for folks who have requested those seats.”
Kingsbury’s return to Lubbock spearheaded the formation for that demand.
Bucking a national trend of declining student attendance, Tech actually set a student season-attendance record in Kingsbury’s first season. This summer, Tech sold out its season-ticket allotment for the first time in school history, shattering the previous record by roughly 7,000.
Hocutt attributes all of the above to a “new pride” in Tech football. And Kingsbury, who was Mike Leach’s first great quarterback for the Red Raiders when he played from 1999-2002, is the one flying the banner.
And he's the one who has unified what previously was a fractured fan base.
Sure, the Red Raiders still have a ways to go on the field. Another November swoon last season underscored that. But before that, Tech started out 7-0 and reached its first top 10 ranking in five years despite rotating through a pair of true freshman quarterbacks. And even after the late-season losing streak, the Red Raiders bounced back to throttle Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl.
Going into this season, Tech appears to have one of the best young quarterbacks in the country in sophomore Davis Webb. And the Red Raiders have been going toe-to-toe with prominent programs for blue-chip talent. Tech already has landed commitments from a trio of ESPN 300 recruits including Jarrett Stidham, one of the top quarterback prospects in the country.
There’s plenty of excitement for where the Tech football program is.
But plenty more for where Kingsbury is taking it.
Walsh is always the last to leave the practice field. And the first to arrive in the film room. And he climbs stadium steps faster than any player on the team.
“He’s our quarterback. ... We’re pulling for him and we’re going to depend on him.”
Walsh didn’t earn that trust overnight.
In his first career start two years ago, he showed he was a gamer, totaling 357 yards while nearly leading the Cowboys to a fourth-quarter victory over then 12th-ranked Texas.
Two games later, he validated his toughness, throwing for 415 yards against Iowa State while playing through a serious knee injury.
Then in the opener last year against Mississippi State, Walsh displayed his determination, essentially willing a sluggish Oklahoma State offense to a 21-3 victory.
“He’s the leader of this team,” guard Zac Veatch said of Walsh, who's been off limits to the media this preseason. “People follow him.”
But the biggest question for an Oklahoma State team long on youth and short on experience is not whether Walsh can finally lead the Cowboys as their full-time quarterback.
“He feels the urgency,” Veatch said.
Two years ago, Walsh lost a three-way battle for the starting job to true freshman Wes Lunt. Walsh stepped in after Lunt suffered a knee injury of his own. But Walsh was relegated to operating the Cowboys’ short-yardage package behind Clint Chelf after returning later in the season from his knee injury.
Last season, Walsh took over the offense three series into the Mississippi State game. But after finishing 15th nationally in QBR in 2012, Walsh struggled with his accuracy and decision-making in 2013. And after several games with the offense sputtering with him at quarterback, the Cowboys turned back to Chelf, who became just the second Oklahoma State quarterback ever to earn first- or second-team all-conference honors.
This offseason, Walsh found himself in another three-way battle with true freshman Mason Rudolph and former walk-on Daxx Garman. But even though neither Rudolph nor Garman had ever taken a college snap, coach Mike Gundy waited until this week before finally indicating that Walsh would start against the Seminoles. Gundy also previously suggested that Garman could get 10-15 snaps Saturday.
“Each one of those guys has come a long way since the spring,” Gundy said. “They’ve come along and they’re doing better. If they’re out there in a crucial situation, we’d like to be able to use those guys when we want to use them, not when someone else determines when we use them.”
Because of his experience and leadership, the Cowboys would probably prefer to use Walsh.
Garman has the bigger arm, which seems to be the better fit for an offense stocked with capable receivers. Rudolph, the gem of February’s signing class, has the higher ceiling.
But Walsh has the team.
“He’s the leader of the team,” said cornerback Kevin Peterson. “In workouts, he’s always going to be first. His work ethic is really great. I have all the confidence in J-Dub. If I want to pick anybody, it’s going to be J-Dub, because he shows all the leadership attributes.”
Walsh, however, will have to demonstrate more than merely leadership to keep the job. He’ll have to complete passes at a better rate than the 59 percent he did in 2013.
He’ll have to avoid the costly interceptions, the last of which in the red zone against TCU last fall finally cost him the job.
And he’ll have to flash more of the big-play ability -- both with his wheels and his arm -- he did two seasons ago as a freshman.
The Cowboys want Walsh on the field. But they also want the best quarterback, too.
“Him having the experience and being the veteran is great,” Veatch said. “And him being the veteran and having the experience is going to help him be the guy that plays.
“But whoever is the best guy is going to play.”
Walsh has already proven he’s Oklahoma State’s leader.
Saturday night against the No. 1 team in the country, he’ll have the chance to prove the Cowboys can depend on him to be their quarterback, too.