Roundtable: Keys for K-State, OU, WVU

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
1:00
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With only four teams playing, it’s a light week for the Big 12. But it’s also another monster one, with a couple of nationally relevant matchups in Auburn-Kansas State and Oklahoma-West Virginia. We examine the keys in these two games in our weekly Big 12 roundtable:

What is the biggest key for Kansas State against Auburn?

Max Olson: Gap integrity. Kansas State's defense sees high-caliber option football on a daily basis in practice, but it doesn't see many athletes like the ones Auburn brings to the table. The Tigers are so good at stretching and squeezing defenses and setting them up to fail. What's essential for KSU is smart decision-making and reads, fundamentally sound tackling and playing consistently solid assignment football. You won't stop these guys if all 11 defenders aren't operating on the same page.

Brandon Chatmon: The Wildcats will need big plays if they hope to knock off Auburn. All three phases -- offense, defense and special teams -- will need to provide a big play to overcome a Tigers offense that will be tough to hold down for the entire contest. Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett has the proven ability to provide several big plays, and quarterback Jake Waters is improving with each game. But outside of that duo, K-State will need a relatively unknown name to rise to the occasion Thursday.

Jake Trotter: Establishing the run. Even with a wideout the caliber of Lockett, Bill Snyder’s attack is predicated on getting the run game going, either with Waters (the leading rusher in the Big 12) or the committee of running backs. An effective run game would keep the Auburn defense on its heels while also keeping Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense on the sidelines.

What is the biggest key for Oklahoma against West Virginia?

Olson: Endurance. West Virginia is averaging 91 plays per game this season, more than any other Power 5 conference team. OU is holding opponents to 75 per game thus far, but if that number gets into the 80s or 90s on Saturday, the Sooners need to be able to hang in there, get stops and get off the field in a hostile environment. WVU only needed 82 plays to absolutely terrorize OU in 2012. I don't doubt this defense can answer the challenge, but Clint Trickett and his crew of skill players shouldn't be taken lightly.

Chatmon: Adapt. The last time OU went to Morgantown, the Sooners didn’t adapt well during the game as Tavon Austin ran through, around and by their defense. Mike Stoops' defense is much better equipped to adjust to anything WVU throws at Oklahoma this time around, with a defensive unit overflowing with versatile talents like Eric Striker, Geneo Grissom and Quentin Hayes to deal with the run and the pass from Dana Holgorsen’s offense.

Trotter: Another quick start. Oklahoma has been unbelievable in the first quarter of its three games this season, and another quick start would serve the Sooners well in Morgantown. It would deflate what will be a hostile crowd. It will take pressure off quarterback Trevor Knight. And it will allow Oklahoma's defense to do what it does best, and that’s tee off on the quarterback in obvious passing downs.

What is the biggest key for West Virginia against Oklahoma?

Olson: Knight. He was downright average against the Mountaineers last season, turning the ball over three times and getting benched for the final quarter of a close game. Granted, his two interceptions came after suffering a bruised knee. And it was his second career start. Knight has been sharp to start the 2014 season, but it'll be fascinating to see how WVU comes up with ways to challenge and frustrate him again.

Chatmon: A quick start. If Trickett and the Mountaineers can take a quick lead, the atmosphere at Milan Puskar Stadium could reach epic levels. A WVU lead, especially a double-digit one, could also force the Sooners to move away from their running game and lean more on the pass to try to regain the momentum. Tennessee tried to take away the run game and Knight made the Vols pay, but it could be another story in the first road start in a night game for the Sooners’ sophomore.

Trotter: The Mountaineers have to stop the run. Or at least slow the run. West Virginia allowed 5.9 yards per carry to Alabama and 6.0 to Maryland. Those numbers will get West Virginia beat against Oklahoma, which features one of the most powerful rushing attacks in the country -- even without sophomore running back Keith Ford. Samaje Perine and Alex Ross are more than capable of shouldering the load, and Knight can be lethal off QB draws, zone reads and play-action rollouts. The Mountaineers have to hold their own up front against the best offensive line in the league. Because once the Sooners get the ground game going, they are difficult to stop.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
10:00
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The upcoming week for the Big 12 will be quiet, as only three games featuring conference teams will take place -- one of those occurring on Thursday. Fortunately, the conference is coming off a dynamic week of football that featured big-time commitments for Oklahoma.

OU running game should remain strong

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
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Oklahoma will make its first Big 12 road trip of the season without leading rusher Keith Ford.

Ford will miss the Sooners game against West Virginia and could be out for two-to-three weeks with an ankle injury, coach Bob Stoops announced on Monday. Stoops said sophomore Alex Ross to likely start against the Mountaineers.

"You need a bunch of running backs when you go through a long year," Stoops said.

Ford, a sophomore, is the Sooners' most complete running back. Ford has 34 carries for 194 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and five touchdowns this season. He’s also proven to be a valuable asset in the passing game with six receptions for 100 yards and one touchdown along with his solid pass blocking skills.

"Keith has great hands and is really explosive out there in space," Stoops said. "He has played really well."

Yet losing Ford is not a crippling loss for the Sooners' offense, which has featured the trio of Ford, Ross and true freshman running back Samaje Perine during the first three games. Ford is averaging 11.3 carries and 64.7 yards per game. Perine is averaging 10.7 carries for 59 yards per game (5.5 yards per carry). Ross is averaging seven carries for 44 yards per game (6.3 yards per carry).

Despite Ford's injury, the Sooners' running back-by-committee approach remains intact and OU will continue to build its offensive success around the running game with Ross and Perine as a main contributors.

Ross has already shown his big-play ability with a 82-yard touchdown gallop against Tulsa and a 80-yard kick return against Louisiana Tech. Sliding him into the starting lineup won’t limit anything the Sooners try to do against WVU.

"Alex is a big, strong, powerful, fast guy," Stoops said last week. "So hopefully he’ll just continue to play the way he has."

Perine should be able to continue his trend of entering games midway through the first or second half and punishing defenses with his physical running style while helping the Sooners put the game away. Perine's team-high 108 rushing yards after contact reinforce OU's plan to wear down defenses with the 5-foot-11, 243-pound big back.

"He’s a really bright young guy that is playing really well and he knows what he’s doing," Stoops said of Perine. "We love him. He’s an excellent runner. Even when there isn't much there he finds a way to make something happen with his power."

The loss of Ford gives Ross and Perine the chance to prove they can handle an even bigger role in OU's offense as much as anything else. The duo has each shown the ability to be impact running backs but Ford’s injury means even more carries to show they could handle the burden of being the No. 1 guy if that opportunity arises in the future.

Aggies still have room for improvement

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
2:00
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M is becoming a more popular pick currently when it comes to projecting things like the SEC championship game participants or the four teams who will make the College Football Playoff field.

[+] EnlargeMalcome Kennedy
David J. Phillip/AP PhotoMalcome Kennedy and the Aggies are sitting at 3-0, but there's still plenty of course corrections to be made on the field this season.
There's valid reasoning for it: the Aggies have a quality win on their résumé, a convincing road victory over South Carolina. They are ranked sixth in the country, first in our SEC power rankings and the general consensus is that more success is ahead for Kevin Sumlin's crew.

But every team has flaws and the Aggies are no exception. And several of those flaws were visible in Texas A&M's most recent game, a 38-10 win against Rice.

Texas A&M had fewer total offensive yards, rushing yards, first downs and ran only 59 plays to Rice's 91 on Saturday.

The offense had its hiccups, such as the opening drive which consisted of a dropped pass, an intentional grounding penalty and an incomplete pass. The Aggies were only 3-for-8 on third-down attempts. Even though it wasn't a bad offensive day (477 yards, 38 points), the Aggies' standard is set so high that a day like Saturday is considered a down day (the Aggies had more than 600 yards and 50 points against both South Carolina and Lamar, their first two opponents).

"People get a little spoiled with how we play offense around here," Sumlin said. "And if we don't score right off the bat, the sky is falling. We'd like to score every time the first series of every game. Our percentage is high enough that people get frustrated and our team starts pressing a little bit. But you know what? That's football."

Defensively, the Aggies allowed a season-high 481 yards including 240 rushing yards. It was the first time this season the Aggies allowed a team to reach 100 or more rushing yards, a far cry from last season when allowing 200 or more rushing yards was the norm.

But the first two weeks provided different circumstances. In Week 1 vs. South Carolina, the Aggies raced out to a large lead, virtually taking the running game away from the Gamecocks as a long-term option, and the Gamecocks' star back, Mike Davis, was injured. In Week 2, the Aggies were simply far superior to Lamar, an FCS squad.

Rice, a well-coached squad whose head coach (David Bailiff) knows Sumlin well from their days coaching head-to-head in Conference USA, provided a viable challenge. A mix of read-option, speed option, play-action passing and a mobile quarterback (Driphus Jackson) gave the Aggies plenty to deal with, especially minus a key player, starting middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni.

Still, Sumlin was happy with what the final scoreboard read.

"Ten points," he said. "That's pretty good. If we can keep our point totals down -- we gave up some yards, a lot of yards at time -- and the time of possession deal, third down. We're not nearly where we've been the last two weeks on third down.

"I think their quarterback played very, very well, particularly in the first half, extending drives, improvising, not just the option, but dropping back and taking off."

Sumlin noted third downs, which the Aggies allowed 10 conversions on 21 Rice attempts. The biggest play allowed was the result of freshman cornerback Victor Davis biting on a Jackson pump fake, which left receiver Mario Hull wide open for a 35-yard touchdown. With a lot of youth in key positions, things like that are bound to happen.

The result on the scoreboard was positive at the end of the night. But that doesn't mean the Aggies are perfect and Sumlin acknowledged that.

"Guys weren't very happy with how they played," Sumlin said. "Rice had something to do with that. They had a great plan. Our guys were kind of ho-hum in the locker room afterward and hard on themselves because of their performance. That's good, when you get to that point, as a team, because there's a lot of guys that would have liked to have won 38-10 today and be happy with how they played."

Big 12 FPI rankings: Week 3

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
12:00
PM CT
ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) is a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team's performance going forward for the rest of the season. Every week, ESPN will be updating its FPI to compile a ranking based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date and the remaining schedule.

Here's what changed after Week 3: Oklahoma State and Iowa State both moved up nine spots after solid wins, while Oklahoma and Baylor maintained their top-10 status. The Sooners beat a Tennessee team that had been ranked 34th in FPI, but went from No. 5 to No. 6 when Alabama jumped up from sixth to No. 3.

Kansas State is still back at No. 40 but has a big opportunity to change that Thursday when it hosts Auburn. The Tigers hold onto the No. 1 spot in FPI for the second week in a row.

According to FPI data, Oklahoma is now seen as having an 18 percent chance of going undefeated, while Baylor's odds of winning out are currently 10 percent. Here's how they and the rest of their Big 12 competition stack up entering Week 4:

Big 12 nonconference rewind

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
11:00
AM CT
The majority of the Big 12 enters a bye week with conference play right around the corner.

We're only three weeks into the season but plenty of things have changed. Preseason expectations are out the window and some dreams of breakout seasons have been shattered while other preconceived notions have been re-affirmed.

Here's a review of nonconference play in the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
J.P. Wilson/Icon SportswireQuarterback Trevor Knight and a stubborn defense have teamed to make Oklahoma the Big 12's best.
Best team: Oklahoma. The Sooners have done nothing to lose their status as the Big 12 preseason favorite. Bob Stoops' squad has been dominant while reeling off three wins over Louisiana Tech (2-1), Tulsa (1-2) and Tennessee (2-1). Quarterback Trevor Knight has taken a clear step forward from his freshman production and the defense could end up among the best of the Stoops era. Baylor has been just as impressive but against lesser competition with its three opponents holding one FBS win (1-5) combined this season.

Biggest disappointment: Texas Tech. Wait, where are the Longhorns? Did you really expect more from Texas? More players have been kicked off the team (eight) than offensive touchdowns scored by Charlie Strong's team (seven). The Red Raiders are another story, however. Tech has never really looked outstanding at any point this season as penalties, turnovers and defensive struggles turning the Red Raiders' Big 12 title dreams into an early nightmare. Saturday's loss to Arkansas -- which included 438 rushing yards by the Razorbacks -- has Kliff Kingsbury looking for answers. Before the season Tech looked like a team that could catapult itself into the top 3 in the Big 12. Now it looks like a squad facing a fight to go bowling.

Big (offensive) man on campus: West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett. Raise your hand if you had Trickett as the first Big 12 quarterback to eclipse 1,000 yards in 2014. He's been outstanding for the Mountaineers while leading the Big 12 in passing yards (1,224) and completion percentage (75.4). He's in the top 3 among FBS quarterbacks in both categories. He's the main reason WVU is emerging as the Big 12's surprise team after three games.

[+] EnlargeMalcom Brown
John Albright/Icon SMIYou can't pin Texas' struggles on defensive tackle Malcom Brown, the Big 12's co-leader in sacks.
Big (defensive) man on campus: Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown. The junior defensive tackle is one of the few blameless Longhorns on the roster. He's been dominant as the Big 12's leader in sacks (3.5, tied with Iowa State's Cory Morrissey) and tackles for loss (seven). He has added 16 tackles and has forced a fumble for Strong's defense. In a league overflowing with defensive talent -- like OU's Eric Striker and Baylor's Shawn Oakman -- Brown is second to none.

Fab freshman: Baylor receiver KD Cannon. The ESPN 300 receiver has no idea what it feels like to go into the halftime locker room without a touchdown catch. Cannon has made an amazing impact with an FBS-high 471 receiving yards in his first three games as a college receiver. The true freshman has 14 receptions, an average of 33.6 yards per catch, and five touchdowns. All-Big 12 receiver Antwan Goodley's biggest competition for the conference's most explosive receiver could be sitting alongside him in the receivers' room.

Newcomer to know: Oklahoma State athlete Tyreek Hill. The junior college transfer burst upon the scene with 278 all-purpose yards against Florida State as he buzzed around the turf in Arlington, Texas, while giving Seminoles defenders fits throughout the loss. His production has dropped significantly in OSU's last two games (24 touches for 154 yards) but it's clear the Cowboys are trying to save their top playmaker for their toughest games.

Best performance: It was the only Big 12 Conference game in the first three weeks but Kansas State doesn't escape Iowa State's upset bid without quarterback Jake Waters. Trailing 28-26 with 3:01 left, the senior led the Wildcats on a seven-play, 80-yard march to win the game. Waters accounted for 74 of KSU's 80 yards on the drive including an 8-yard touchdown run. KSU won 32-28.

Worst performance: Kansas laid an egg in its 41-3 loss to Duke last weekend. The Jayhawks opened the season with plenty of hope for a new and improved offense but, after gaining 457 yards in their season opener, KU took a clear step backward with 297 yards including 97 through the air against Duke. To make matters worse, the Jayhawks allowed Blue Devil freshman running back Shaun Wilson to rush for 245 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries. Back to the drawing board.

Dream dashed: It was disappointing to see Iowa State receiver Quenton Bundrage lost for the season with an ACL injury just minutes into the Cyclones' first game. The junior spent the offseason working on becoming more consistent and had the talent to be one of the Big 12's top receivers in 2014. Now he has to wait until next season with an eye on becoming the Big 12 comeback player of the year when he returns to the field in 2015.

Best stat: TCU has held opponents without a first down or touchdown on 60 percent of its drives. In two games, the Horned Frogs have defended 30 total drives and 18 of those drives have ended without a first down including seven of Minnesota's 15 drives last weekend. Gary Patterson's defense is one reason the Horned Frogs cannot be overlooked when Big 12 play reaches high gear next month.

Best quote: "I haven't talked to [kicker] Josh Lambert since he got on campus, and we are going to keep it that way. I know his name and who he is but other than that I'm doing the hands-off approach." -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen after Lambert's game-winning kick to beat Maryland 40-37 last weekend.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 3

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
9:30
AM CT
Taking stock of Week 3 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: West Virginia. The Mountaineers paid regional rival Maryland back for last year’s 37-0 beating with a dramatic 40-37 victory on a game-winning field goal as time expired. Truthfully, the Terrapins were fortunate just to be in the game. West Virginia jumped to a 28-6 lead and could have routed the Terrapins had it not self-destructed several times on Maryland’s side of the field. Still, the Mountaineers once again moved the ball at will. Clint Trickett was dishing out dimes. Mario Alford and Kevin White were producing plays. And a certain field-goal kicker, who I’ll get to later, came through in the clutch.

Disappointment of the week: Texas Tech. Something I was thinking about over the weekend: Had it not been for the sparkling win over Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl, what would the perception of the Red Raiders be right now? Outside that Arizona State win, Tech hasn’t played a clean game since losing 38-30 at Oklahoma on Oct. 26 of last year. Meanwhile, Arkansas ran right at the Tech defense Saturday, and there was nothing the Red Raiders could do. The offense behind Davis Webb hasn’t been crisp enough to overcome all the deficiencies defensively. Given how difficult the back end of the schedule is again, the concern level in Lubbock should be high.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Trickett and White. If the season ended today, the three All-Big 12 receivers would be K.D. Cannon, Sterling Shepard and White, who is now second in the country (behind Cannon) in receiving. And if the season ended today, the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year would be Trickett, who threw for 511 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Maryland. The Trickett-to-White pass-catching combo has been nothing short of awesome so far this season.

Big (defensive) man on campus: Paul Dawson. TCU’s senior linebacker led the purple crushing of the Minnesota offense in a 30-7 win over the Gophers. Dawson finished with 15 tackles, including four for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Overall, the Horned Frogs forced five turnovers and limited Minnesota to just 268 yards of offense.

[+] EnlargeCole Netten
Charlie Neibergall/Associated PressCole Netten connected on a last-second field goal to give Iowa State a big win over in-state rival Iowa.
Special-teams players of the week: Josh Lambert (West Virginia) and Cole Netten (Iowa State). Field-goal kicking seems to have become a lost art in college football. But Lambert and Netten turned back the clock with their heroics in delivering game-winning field goals that beat Maryland and Iowa, respectively. Netten’s was a 42-yarder, while Lambert connected from 47 yards out. Both kicks resulted in massive wins for their teams.

Play of the week (other than the Lambert and Netten field goals): Late in the second quarter with the game knotted at 3-3, Texas elected to go for it facing fourth-and-8 at the UCLA 38-yard line. And in the biggest play of his young career, quarterback Tyrone Swoopes rolled out and delivered a 33-yard strike to John Harris. Three plays later, Swoopes hit M.J. McFarland for a touchdown to give Texas a 10-3 lead and all the momentum heading into halftime.

Stat of the week: Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight has two 300-yard passing games in his career, and both have come against SEC opponents. Knight threw for 348 yards in last season's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, and he passed for 308 yards in Oklahoma’s 34-10 win Saturday over Tennessee.

Quote of the week: “I haven't talked to Josh Lambert since he got on campus, and we are going to keep it that way. I know his name and who he is, but other than that, I'm taking the hands-off approach.” -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, when asked what he said to Lambert before the game-winning kick. Holgorsen added he likes only special-teams coach Joe DeForest talking to his kicker.

Big 12 morning links

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
7:00
AM CT
Bummer again for Robert Griffin III. It hasn't been a good year for former Big 12 quarterbacks.
  • In this story in the Kansas City Star, Kellis Robinett detailed how Kansas State is being careful about giving Auburn too much respect. No doubt Auburn is a great team. The Tigers are explosive offensively in Gus Malzahn's offense. But K-State is to be respected, too. This is a team that has lost once in its past nine games -- and that was to an Oklahoma program currently ranked fourth in the country. The Wildcats should respect Auburn. But they should also realize they are good enough to win Thursday night, too.
  • West Virginia showed grit that had been missing in the recent past in a 40-37 win against Maryland, wrote the Charleston Daily Mail's Mike Casazza. The Mountaineers lost several tight games last season, which fueled their first losing season in a dozen years. And even though West Virginia played Alabama tough, mistakes in the fourth quarter ultimately prevented the Mountaineers from pulling the upset. The Maryland win wasn't without mistakes. West Virginia made six scoreless trips inside Maryland’s 40. But when the Mountaineers had to make plays with the game on the line, they did. That will serve them well the rest of the season, and this weekend in a massive clash with Oklahoma.
  • Even though the Longhorns fell 20-17 to UCLA, sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes made strides, according to the Austin American-Statesman's Brian Davis. Before the UCLA game, I had serious doubts about the potential of Swoopes as Texas' long-term answer at quarterback. I'm still to be convinced. But like Davis, I could finally see the potential that Jaxon Shipley and the Texas coaching staff had been raving about from behind the scenes. That said, the road doesn't get any easier for the Longhorns or Swoopes. After an open week and Kansas, Big 12 co-favorites Baylor and Oklahoma await.
  • An Iowa State program that had once forged a reputation under coach Paul Rhoads of winning big games got back to its roots in a 20-17 victory against Iowa, wrote the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse. Early in the Rhoads era, the Cyclones indeed had developed a rep as a giant-killer. But that had waned a bit in the past couple of the years, because of Iowa State's inability to close the deal in close games, including the narrow loss to Kansas State the week before. The Iowa victory should give this program plenty of confidence for the rest of the season, which could be a scary thought for some of the league's top teams.
  • The TCU defense overwhelmed Minnesota in a 30-7 win, but the offense still needs work, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez. The biggest issue seemed to be third-down offense. TCU converted only twice on 12 third-down attempts. If they want to emerge into a Big 12 title contender, the Horned Frogs will have to clean that up. But, as the Gophers found out, TCU appears to have another Big 12 championship-caliber defense. If the offense can continue to make progress, this could be a team to keep an eye on.

Big 12 bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
8:00
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Overall, it was a good weekend for the Big 12.

Texas showed some fight, Oklahoma and Baylor cruised, and West Virginia continued to impress. Thursday night's matchup with Auburn looms large for Kansas State while a bye week comes at the perfect time for Texas Tech.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: TCU
Cactus Bowl: Texas

SEC Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:00
PM CT
There's a new No. 1 in the SEC Power Rankings following South Carolina's triumph over Georgia. The teams at the top of this week's rankings weren't tested this week, but that could change Saturday, when Florida travels to Alabama and Mississippi State heads to LSU. This week's shakeup could be just the beginning.

Edward Aschoff, Jeff Barlis, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:00
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Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
9:00
AM CT
Here's our weekly recognition of the finest performances in the Big 12. Lots of tough choices as usual, and a lot of first-time honorees this week. These guys got our attention:

K Cole Netten, Iowa State, and Josh Lambert, West Virginia: College kickers! We mean that in a good way this time. Lambert lifted West Virginia to a 40-37 victory with a 47-yard game-winner at Maryland. Netten, after Kirk Ferentz kindly iced a miss with a timeout, hit a 42-yarder on the road to steal the Cy-Hawk Trophy from Iowa, 20-17. Difficult kicks, clutch results, huge wins for their respective teams.

WR Kevin White, West Virginia: He's played at an All-Big 12 level in each of West Virginia's first three games. This time, White went for 216 receiving yards, including a 44-yard TD, on 13 catches in the last-second win at Maryland. He's surpassed nine catches and 100 yards in every game this season.

CB Julian Wilson, Oklahoma: As far as icing on the cake goes, it's hard to beat a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown to secure a 34-10 victory over Tennessee. Wilson grabbed a ball deflected by Jordan Evans and took it all the way to make a statement for the Sooners' defense.

LB Paul Dawson, TCU: Dawson was all over the place in a 30-7 win over Minnesota, racking up 15 tackles (nine solo), four tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Josh Doctson had a heck of a day too, with one of the prettiest touchdown catches you'll see in the Big 12 this season. But we've got to tip our caps to a dynamite day from Dawson.

WR Lynx Hawthorne, Baylor: Sorry, Bryce Petty and KD Cannon. You'll get yours some other day. Hawthorne, a sophomore who caught two passes last year, is getting more run with all those Baylor receivers sidelined and making the most of it. He hauled in seven passes in Baylor's 63-21 victory over Buffalo on Friday for 123 yards and the first two touchdowns of his career, further confirming the belief that the Bears could not get much deeper at the receiver position.

LB Josh Furman, Oklahoma State: Why not give love to the defenders this week? The Michigan transfer shined with six tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup to help the Cowboys romp to a 43-13 win over a UTSA squad that had proven it can play. Honorable-mention props to Daxx Garman for a nice showing in his first career start.

In five plays, Texas triumph became torment

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
3:11
AM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Five plays. Two minutes of football. That’s the difference.

That’s how quickly Texas’ gut-check triumph became gut-punching torture. A No. 12-ranked UCLA team was all but finished. Had those five plays gone as planned, the Longhorns walk out of AT&T Stadium with their first huge victory under Charlie Strong.

The result of those four plays -- UCLA 20, Texas 17 -- left them devastated.

[+] EnlargeJordan Payton
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsJordan Payton's 33-yard touchdown reception capped a five-play stretch that doomed Texas to a 20-17 loss to UCLA and a 1-2 record.
“We had that game right there,” Texas receiver John Harris said. “It hurts everybody in the locker room. It was a hard loss. The heartbreak is there. That hurts. It hurts bad.”

What makes the torment feel so much more raw was the fact that, with 4:17 left in the ballgame, they were celebrating a victory that felt almost assured.

When Steve Edmond stripped running back Jordon James and little-used defensive tackle Paul Boyette Jr. fell on it at the Texas 25, the party was on. That was it. The first turnover of the ballgame went Texas’ way. The signature victory was so close.

Tyrone Swoopes and the Texas offense took the field and got back to work with a 5-yard run from Malcolm Brown on first down.

And then, for reasons they’d later regret, they reverted back to the hurry-up pace that had, just moments earlier, helped spur an 80-yard, 10-play touchdown drive. The clock was rolling.

“We probably could’ve slowed it down a little and milked the clock,” Harris said. “I think we were still high emotion after the big touchdown. I don’t think we really grasped what was going on at that point in time.”

Brown’s next run lost 5 yards. And then Swoopes, on third-and-10, couldn’t connect with go-to receiver Harris.

Three plays. No yards gained. Only 1 minute, 11 seconds taken off the clock. Then Texas moved back to the 20 on a false start by safety Josh Turner, playing in his first game post-suspension.

While that’s not an ideal turn, not for a coach that preaches toughness and a team that knows it has to win with its run game, it’s still survivable.

Will Russ’ punt soared 58 yards. Ishmael Adams sped down the left sideline, past a crushing block by linebacker Cameron Judge. He bounced off a hit from Russ and picked up an extra 11 yards for a 45-yard return down to the 33.

And then, just as Charlie Strong and his defensive coordinator suspected, UCLA took the field knowing it was time to take the big shot.

“They ran double moves, wheel routes, fake bubble gos throughout the ballgame,” Texas DC Vance Bedford said. “For the most part we did a good job with it. Until that last play.”

Jerry Neuheisel, the backup quarterback the Longhorns were more than happy to face, sold it to perfection. When he pump-faked with 3:05 left, and Texas corner Duke Thomas bit on the faked bubble screen, Texas was finished. Jordan Payton had Thomas beat by 4 yards when he hauled in the game-winning touchdown.

“He knew he should’ve stayed on top,” Bedford said. “After the fact, it’s always tough. I feel for the young man. He played his tail off.”

And so did Texas. Its four-quarter battle felt so even and, briefly, so winnable. Edmond made the strip at 10:15 p.m. CT. Payton was in the end zone at 10:18.

“It’s about finishing,” Strong said. “When you have those opportunities, you’ve got to take advantage of them. The good teams take advantage of the opportunities."

The story before that five-play swing was of a Texas team that rallied from embarrassment, with a young quarterback enjoying breakthrough moments and a hard-nosed defense saving the day against a Bruins team missing its Heisman-contending star.

This should've been Texas storming out of AT&T Stadium as don't-bet-against-us underdogs with renewed pride.

Not Saturday. Not yet. Instead, it's another painful ending, a familiar 1-2 record and a feeling that being this close only makes it hurt worse.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:45
AM CT
Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 3:

1. TCU and West Virginia might finally be finding their stride in the Big 12: Being in the Big 12 has been rough on the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers. In their first two years in the league, each went 11-14 overall. But with impressive performances Saturday, both are showing signs they are finally turning the corner. The Mountaineers racked up 33 first downs and almost 700 yards in a 40-37 win over Maryland, which was able to stay in the game only through the grace of West Virginia's three turnovers in the red zone. TCU completely manhandled Minnesota and picked off Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner three times on the way to an easy 30-7 victory. The Horned Frogs appear to be formidable on defense again, and TCU’s new offensive scheme has been generating more points. Meanwhile, West Virginia might have the two most improved players in the entire conference in quarterback Clint Trickett, who is completing 75 percent of his passes, and wideout Kevin White, who already has 460 yards receiving. The Mountaineers and Horned Frogs still have to prove themselves in league play. But their performances through the nonconference suggest they'll give Big 12 foes a run for their money.

[+] EnlargeJulian Wilson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJulian Wilson returned an interception 100 yards in Oklahoma's win over Tennessee.
 2. Oklahoma’s secondary is no joke: Everyone knew how deep and talented the Sooners’ front seven was coming into this season. The secondary, however, seemed to be a question mark. But in a 34-10 win over the Volunteers, Oklahoma’s defensive backs were dominant, delivering three game-changing plays among them. In the first quarter, Quentin Hayes came on a safety blitz and forced and recovered a fumble. In the third quarter, cornerback Zack Sanchez came up with an acrobatic interception in the end zone (his fifth pick in six games). And in the fourth quarter, cornerback Julian Wilson delivered the exclamation point, hauling in a tipped interception and returning it 100 yards for a game-clinching touchdown. After the game, coach Bob Stoops lauded this group. “They’re playing really well,” he said. “They’re not making mistakes. They’re challenging, competing for balls. They’re making big plays. Maybe as good a three-game stretch we may have had.” That’s high praise for this Oklahoma secondary. But the way it's playing, it's well deserved.

3. The league has some unshakable kickers: Two Big 12 kickers had the chance to produce winning field goals in the final seconds of their games. And both kickers delivered. First, Josh Lambert drilled a 47-yarder as time expired to give West Virginia a monumental victory over regional rival Maryland. Then, Iowa State’s Cole Netten connected on a 42-yard attempt with two seconds remaining to lift Iowa State to a 20-17 win over in-state rival Iowa. Netten actually misfired on his first try at the game-winner, but the Hawkeyes had called timeout first. Netten shook off that miss and came back and delivered in a moment he’ll remember awhile. Field goal kicking in the college game has become a lost art. But from Oklahoma’s Michael Hunnicutt to TCU’s Jaden Oberkrom, the Big 12 is loaded with talented place-kickers. In Lambert and Netten, the league has a couple of clutch ones, too.

4. Texas Tech’s run defense seems hopeless: Coach Kliff Kingsbury signed four junior college defensive linemen during the offseason to try to shore up what was the league’s worst run defense last fall. But in a disheartening 49-28 loss to Arkansas, the Red Raiders’ run defense looked worse than ever. The Razorbacks obliterated Tech in the trenches, rolling up 438 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. As a result, Arkansas dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for more than 40 of the game’s 60 minutes while keeping Tech QB Davis Webb on the sideline and out of rhythm. “They lined up and pounded us,” Kingsbury said. “We just didn’t have an answer.” The Red Raiders might not face a rushing attack like Arkansas’ until Oklahoma visits Lubbock in November. But it might not take a powerful rushing offense like Arkansas’ to exploit what has been a shaky Texas Tech defense that has yet to stop anybody through three games.

5. Texas still has some fight: There were few reasons to believe the Longhorns could hang around with UCLA after their dismal performance last week against BYU. But behind an inspired effort from sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, Texas had UCLA on the ropes until backup QB Jerry Neuheisel tossed a 33-yard go-ahead touchdown with three minutes remaining. The Longhorns lost the game 20-17 and still have various issues, such as getting the coin toss right. But this was a performance they can build off. Although he couldn’t lead them on a game-winning drive, Swoopes was solid in his second career start, completing 24 of 34 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. And unlike last week, the Longhorns didn’t lie down when things didn’t go their way. After a disastrous start in 2013, Texas bounced back to have a decent season. This team showed on Saturday it could do the same.

Video: Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
1:42
AM CT
video
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin knows his team can play better but was content enough with the 38-10 win over Rice.

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