Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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Lesson learned.

Last weekend appeared like it would have minimal impact on the race for a College Football Playoff berth, with TCU visiting Kansas and Baylor sitting at home during a bye week. Instead, KU gave TCU everything it could handle and the Horned Frogs ended up dropping out of the CFP rankings top four despite a win.

This weekend, Baylor faces a similar scenario as the clear favorite over Oklahoma State, which is in the midst of a four-game losing streak.

Here are the storylines to watch in the Big 12 during Week 13:

[+] EnlargeCody Thomas
AP Photo/Alonzo AdamsCody Thomas will get his second start at QB this weekend for Oklahoma.
Kansas at No. 21 Oklahoma, noon ET (Fox Sports 1): The Sooners returned to the Top 25 after a 42-30 road win over Texas Tech last Saturday, but it has been a while since Bob Stoops' squad looked like one of the nation’s elite. Redshirt freshman quarterback Cody Thomas will get his second start and a second opportunity to show he should be in OU’s future plans. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks are coming off a strong performance, albeit a loss, against TCU. KU’s offense is more explosive with Eric Kiesau handling the play-calling duties and could make enough plays to put another ranked team on upset alert.

Texas Tech at Iowa State, 3:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Networks): Both teams badly need a win with one conference victory combined between the Red Raiders and Cyclones. Texas Tech showed plenty of fight in the loss to OU and has the better offense of the two with either Patrick Mahomes or Davis Webb at quarterback. But the Red Raiders also have an ugly trend of shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers and penalties. The Cyclones are coming off a bye week with a renewed focus on righting the ship after a blowout loss to KU in their last game. In a lot of ways, the 2015 season starts now for the Red Raiders and Cyclones with players on both teams looking to solidify themselves as key playmakers of the future.

Oklahoma State at No. 7 Baylor, 7:30 p.m. ET, (Fox): There is no shortage of reasons for Baylor to want to win -- and win impressively. Not only did Oklahoma State hammer Baylor 49-17 in 2013, but the Pokes have been the biggest thorn in the Bears' side in the entire conference in recent years, having won four of the past five meetings. Combine Baylor’s pursuit of a College Football Playoff berth and desire to impress the committee with Oklahoma State’s recent struggles and it could be an explosive night at McLane Stadium.

Poll: Big 12 DPOY biggest snub?

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
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Earlier this week, we took a look at five candidates for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney, Kansas State safety Dante Barnett, Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown, Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings and TCU linebacker Paul Dawson made the list.

SportsNation

Biggest Big 12 Defensive Player of Year snub?

  •  
    15%
  •  
    29%
  •  
    34%
  •  
    22%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,514)

Who was the biggest snub? Plenty of top-notch playmakers found themselves on the outside looking in.

Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is hard to overlook, even with the Cowboys falling apart around him. The redshirt sophomore leads the Big 12 in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (16.5). He’s even turned it up during OSU’s current four-game losing streak with five sacks in his past four games. His team’s horrible recent stretch has overshadowed Ogbah’s excellence.

Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker has been a terror at times and has been taken out of games at other times. The junior has 6.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss this season but just three tackles for loss and two sacks in OU’s past four games. When he’s at his best, Striker is second to none coming off the edge, constantly forcing offensive coordinators to build their game plans with him in mind.

Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman sets the tone for the Bears defense and backs it up with terrific production. He has 12.5 tackles for loss and ranks third in the Big 12 in tackles for loss per game (1.39), and he’s fourth in the Big 12 at 0.67 sacks per game (six total sacks).

TCU safety Chris Hackett seems to make a big play for the Horned Frogs every week. The junior leads the Big 12 with six interceptions including an interception in each of TCU’s past four games. Hackett has added 66 tackles, including 45 solo stops.

Other potential candidates include Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson, Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks and Kansas State linebacker Jonathan Truman.

Which Big 12 defender was the biggest snub? Vote now and leave your comment below.

Big 12 morning links

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
9:10
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Well, that didn't take long.
  • The Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton gave his thoughts on the 2015 Big 12 schedule being released. Carlton noted Baylor's November slate, which, while brutal, will also give the Bears an opportunity to impress. The Bears travel to Kansas State (on a Thursday), Oklahoma State and TCU (on a Black Friday) and then play host to Oklahoma before welcoming Texas the first week in December. Whatever happens, the Bears won't be flying under the radar against that stretch.
  • The West Virginia and K-State defenses will be in the spotlight tonight, notes the Charleston Gazette's Dave Hickman. K-State is tough against the run. West Virginia is second in the Big 12 in pass defense. Hickman believes that whichever defense limits the big plays in Morgantown will give its team a win in a Big 12 matchup that will go a long way in determining the bowl fates of both sides.
  • The Tulsa World's Bill Haisten reported that Oklahoma State QB Daxx Garman was able to practice Wednesday. According to Haisten, Garman had been rendered inactive by what is believed to have been concussion symptoms. What will be interesting is if Garman is ruled out this weekend at Baylor. The Cowboys could pull the redshirt off freshman Mason Rudolph with only two games left in the season. The Cowboys would obviously like to avoid that, and end the season with Garman behind center. But finally getting the chance to see what Rudolph can do will would be intriguing.
  • TCU coach Gary Patterson said the College Football Playoff selection committee has a hard job, and he’s trying to make it harder. “I just want to make it tough on them,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez. “I want to win the next two, be 11-1, and let them decide. That’s all I can control. I just want to finish the journey.” All the Horned Frogs can do is beat Texas. But there's still a lot of ball to be played around the country. And Patterson seems to realize, if college football has taught us anything over the years, we could be in for a major upset or two.
  • Kansas coach Clint Bowen told the Lawrence Journal-World's Matt Tait that he's been hearing the voices of support, including from Patterson and from Iowa State offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, who both suggested that Bowen deserves the permanent job. “Anytime someone says something positive about you, obviously you notice,” Bowen said. “And it means a lot." Bowen has done everything possible to show the Kansas administration he deserves the permanent job. A strong finish these final two games will only help, too.
  • Great read today by Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News on Texas' beloved loudmouth, cornerback Quandre Diggs. The senior four-year starter gets called an old soul by his family and teammates, which is an apt label. He grew up fast and has always brought a mature presence to this Texas team. Referring to Diggs as his team's "conscience" is spot-on. He's the kind of hard-nosed competitor Charlie Strong would love to have a lot more of at UT.
  • Two years ago, we got Collin Klein vs. Geno Smith in Morgantown. This time around, the QB showdown of Jake Waters vs. Clint Trickett promises to be a good one. The second-year starters have more in common than you might think -- both are transfers who've raised their game now that they're more at ease operating their respective offense. Keep this in mind, too: Among Big 12 teams, only WVU, KSU and TCU have managed to avoid starting multiple QBs this season. Excited to see how two of the league's most efficient passers respond in coming back from crushing losses.
  • Texas Tech is wondering whether left tackle Le'Raven Clark will be back next season. The junior, a three-year starter, could pursue the NFL draft this spring if he gets good feedback from the league. Clark admits he wouldn't like to leave Tech behind after this season, but Kliff Kingsbury and his coaches went through this with Jace Amaro last year and will support Clark no what matter what he decides. The fact that Clark is versatile and experience at playing multiple spots on the line should help his cause.

Big 12 Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
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Why Kansas State will win: West Virginia will bounce back and give K-State a heck of a fight in Morgantown. The Wildcats haven't gone on the road much this season (three times, in fact), but they'll be locked in and angry. KSU's defense gets after Clint Trickett just as Texas did. Kansas State 38, West Virginia 34 -- Max Olson

Why West Virginia will win: After battling four top 10 teams, the Mountaineers finally looked like a tired bunch in Austin. The week off should have done wonders for them physically and psychologically. I expect West Virginia to come out fired up for this game, knowing a win over the Wildcats would ensure this season will be deemed a success. West Virginia 34, Kansas State 31 -- Jake Trotter



Why Iowa State will win: Trotter has a two-game lead in our picks contest. I have to catch up. Fortune favors the bold. The Cyclones are fresh off a bye and will be able to move the ball on Tech. This is their best (only?) chance to avoid a winless conference season. If Davis Webb is back and dealing, I might be dead wrong. Iowa State 27, Texas Tech 24 -- Olson

Why Texas Tech will win: The Red Raiders simply have more firepower. Neither defense is great, so the team with the bigger arsenal should triumph, and that team is Tech. Texas Tech 38, Iowa State 24 -- Chatmon

Unanimous selections:

Baylor over Oklahoma State: Have you been watching the Oklahoma State offense? The Cowboys lead the Big 12 in three-and-outs, and since the Bears are gunning for style points, this could get ugly fast in Waco. The only variable to this game will be whether Oklahoma State is forced to pull the redshirt off freshman Mason Rudolph if a banged up Daxx Garman can't go. Yet even though Rudolph is an intriguing quarterback prospect, he won't have enough help around him and up front for it to make much of a difference against the speedy Bears. Baylor 66, Oklahoma State 13 – Trotter

Oklahoma over Kansas: If the Sooners lean on their running game, KU could struggle to find answers. Even though Clint Bowen’s Jayhawks are much improved, a road win at OU still seems out of reach. Oklahoma 31, Kansas 17 – Chatmon

But...

Why Kansas will keep it close: The Jayhawks will find a way to force OU to pass the ball. KU plays great pass defense. Without Trevor Knight, Oklahoma isn't playing great pass offense. Oklahoma 31, Kansas 21 -- Olson

Season records:
  • Trotter: 58-6
  • Chatmon: 56-8
  • Olson: 55-9
USA Today released its annual list of the 2014 salaries for college football coaches on Wednesday.

But which coaches in the conference provide the best value for the dollar? Here’s a look at the Big 12’s top five coaches in terms of value -- i.e. cost per win -- in 2014.

1. Art Briles, Baylor: Not only did Briles lead Baylor to its first Big 12 title a year ago, he’s still bringing terrific value to BU at $391,893.25 per win (eight wins). His salary of $3,135,146 makes him the nation’s 22nd-highest paid coach.

2. Bill Snyder, Kansas State: The veteran coach brings terrific value at $414,285.71 per win (seven wins) as his Wildcats still have hope to secure their second Big 12 title in three seasons if they can win out. His salary of $2,900,000 makes him the nation’s 29th-highest paid coach.

3. Gary Patterson, TCU: He’s really earned his money this season with his decision to revamp the offense, potentially at the expense of his defense, during the offseason. As a result, Patterson has brought great value at $445,350 per win (nine wins) this season. He’s the nation’s 11th-highest paid coach at $4,008,150 in 2014.

4. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia: After seeing WVU’s bowl streak snapped a year ago, Holgorsen’s squad has responded with six wins thus far this season, making him one of the Big 12’s top values at $513,333.33 per win. Holgorsen’s salary of $3,080,000 makes him the nation’s 23rd-highest paid coach.

5. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State: Even with his squad in the midst of a four-game losing streak, Gundy finds himself in the top half of the conference in terms of value. OSU is paying Gundy $700,000 dollars per win (five wins) in 2014. His salary of $3,500,000 ranks him 15th among college coaches this season.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is the Big 12’s highest-paid coach and the nation's third-highest paid coach at $5,058,333 in 2014. You can find the entire list and where each Big 12 coach lands here.

Big 12 stat check: Week 13

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
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A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 12:


Baylor: The Bears' defense was supposed to take a step backward after losing several starters from its 2013 unit. Instead BU ranks among the conference leaders in several categories and leads the Big 12 by forcing a punt on 50.8 percent of opponents possessions and could see that number increase this weekend with a hapless Oklahoma State offense visiting McLane Stadium on Saturday.


Iowa State: The Cyclones will need to improve their sack percentage if they hope to slow down Texas Tech’s passing attack. ISU’s 3.5 sack percentage ranks last in the Big 12 as the Cyclones have struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks outside of defensive end Cory Morrissey’s five sacks.


Kansas: Beware of the Jayhawks coming out of the halftime locker room. KU has a plus-8 turnover margin in the third quarter, which leads the Big 12. Clint Bowen’s squad could need some turnovers to upset Oklahoma in Norman, so an opportunistic defense could be the Jayhawks' key against OU.


Kansas State: The Wildcats are tough to stop once they get rolling. K-State scores on 66.2 percent of its drives that begin with an initial first down. In other words, a three-and-out is the best bet to slow the Wildcats’ offense, so West Virginia should take heed.


Oklahoma: The Sooners' running game has been impressive but their ball protection has been even more impressive. OU is averaging 240.9 rushing yards per game yet has lost a fumble once in 408 rushes. That’s a 0.7 fumble percentage, best in the Big 12.


Oklahoma State: The Cowboys' offense is trending downward and the offensive line is a big reason why. Negative plays have become the norm for Mike Gundy’s team with 36.2 percent of their plays resulting in negative yardage. Only Iowa State (37.9) has a worse percentage in the Big 12.


Texas: With a date with TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin on the horizon, the Longhorns might be the best equipped to handle the conference’s top dual-threat signal-caller. UT’s 9.3 sack percentage is the best in the Big 12 with Baylor (8.4) as the only other Big 12 team with a sack percentage higher than 8 percent.


TCU: The Horned Frogs do a good job of adjusting their approach at halftime. Their average of 8.39 yards per play in the third quarter is first in the Big 12 and nearly two yards better than second-ranked K-State (6.68 ypp).


Texas Tech: Even with Tech’s uncertainty at the quarterback position, the Red Raiders' defense is at the heart of the struggles for Kliff Kingsbury’s team. Tech is allowing 3.04 points per drive, last in the Big 12 and No. 123 among FBS teams. The Red Raiders' offense hasn’t helped the cause with 22 turnovers but the defense has been unable to overcome those mistakes.


WVU: The Mountaineers' defense has played a huge role in the improvement of Dana Holgorsen’s team. WVU’s pass defense has been much improved with the Mountaineers allowing 6.06 yards per pass attempt, ranking second in the Big 12. Last season, WVU ranked last in the conference at 7.88 yards allowed per pass attempt.

ESPN Jr. 300: What to know in the Big 12 

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
10:39
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video
With the latest ESPN Junior 300 rankings now live, one thing is for sure: The state of Texas has its share of players in the 2016 class.

Of the top 300 players, 39 are from Texas. Seven players in the top 30 are from the Lone Star State, including the nation’s top-ranked player, Texas A&M OT recruit Greg Little.

From a Big 12 perspective, OT Patrick Hudson is the highest ranked recruit. The 6-foot-5, 330-pound lineman, a Baylor pledge, jumped from No. 20 to No. 11, and he’s the nation’s second ranked offensive tackle.

Here are five things to watch involving players in the revised rankings:

TCU, BaylorMCT via Getty Images, USA TODAY SportsWill TCU and Baylor both be on the outside looking in when the four playoff teams are decided?
TCU and Baylor supporters have bickered back and forth the past few weeks about which of the two most deserves a spot in the national semifinals.

But the fourth edition of the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night confirmed a sobering possibility: instead of either/or for the Big 12, it could be neither/nor.

After a near-fatal trip to Kansas, the Horned Frogs fell one spot to No. 5 in the rankings; Baylor remained stuck in the mud at seventh, still weighed down by its pillowy nonconference schedule.

And so, the primary playoff storyline for the Big 12 is no longer which of the two longtime foes will represent the Big 12 in the playoff, but rather whether the league will have representation in college football's biggest bash at all.

Earlier Tuesday, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said during a radio interview with SiriusXM that he still prefers the Big 12's path to the playoff without a conference championship game. But that path also could leave the league in the cold when the four teams are finally determined.

Without a championship game, neither TCU nor Baylor could possibly catch Mississippi State, which currently owns the coveted No. 4 spot, and still has the all-time biggest Egg Bowl looming in two weeks against eighth-ranked Ole Miss.

Without a championship game, TCU might be unable to stave off the budding Buckeyes, either. And Baylor might not be able to pass Ohio State, which surged past the Bears to No. 6 this week. Ohio State also still has the Big Ten championship game, which could feature a top-10-ranked Wisconsin on the other side.

With a championship game of their own, TCU and Baylor could finally settle their bickering on a neutral site, while giving the winner a monster victory that not only would trump wins against Ole Miss, Wisconsin or anyone else for that matter, but catapult the victor into the playoff.

Without a championship game, the Horned Frogs are left hoping the committee will reward them for beating unranked Texas in Austin on Thanksgiving night. And without a championship game, Baylor is left praying Kansas State will keep winning to set up the possibility for a marquee triumph the final week of the season.

But if Tuesday’s rankings were any indication, neither potential victory figures to be enough.

Sure, while the committee is pummeling Baylor in the rankings for its nonconference schedule, Mississippi State seems to be getting a free pass for a creampuff out-of-conference slate that comprised the fearsome foursome of Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin.

And sure, while TCU is getting punished for its fourth quarter in Waco, Ohio State's embarrassing home loss to Virginia Tech seems to be getting swept under the rug because it happened in September in redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett's second career start.

But one of the 12 committee members I am not.

Meaning TCU and Baylor could require losses from those ranked above, below and in between. Either from Alabama or Oregon or Florida State. Or from the Bulldogs or Buckeyes. Yet if the final month of college football has taught us anything over the years, it's that no one is safe. Especially when pressure begins to mount.

Alabama still has the tricky Iron Bowl and the SEC title game either against Missouri or Georgia, the latter sure to provide a formidable roadblock.

The Ducks have the Civil War at plucky Oregon State, then the conference title game against whomever emerges out of a convoluted Pac-12 South.

And the serendipitous Seminoles have Florida, which will at least be galvanized to send Will Muschamp out with a memorable win.

If Kansas can almost beat TCU, then any of those underdogs can win, too. So it's no time for the Bears or Horned Frogs to panic. Not yet, at least.

It is time, however, for both to put aside the bickering. The rankings showed it's no longer about TCU or Baylor, but rather, without a conference championship game, whether either will be in the playoff at all.

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Big 12 playoff tracker: Nov. 19

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
9:00
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The fourth edition of the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night left both TCU and Baylor on the outside looking in to the coveted top four. The Horned Frogs fell one spot to No. 5. The Bears remained ranked seventh.

Here's a deeper look at what those rankings mean for the Big 12's remaining two playoff contenders:

TCU Horned Frogs
Record: 9-1 (6-1 Big 12)
Playoff committee rank: No. 5
Next big obstacle: Nov. 27 at Texas
Reason for optimism: The Horned Frogs dropped only one spot after their lackluster performance at Kansas. TCU also kept a sizable lead over Baylor in the eyes of the committee, preventing Baylor's head-to-head advantage from coming into play. Oklahoma returned to the rankings at No. 21 and Minnesota remained at No. 25 despite losing, giving the Horned Frogs a trio of top-25 wins. TCU still has a chance to land another quality victory on the road at Texas on Thanksgiving night.
Cause for concern: The Horned Frogs might not control their destiny. Alabama, Oregon and Florida State appear to be the committee's clear top three, leaving only the fourth spot up for grabs. With Mississippi State also sticking in the top four even after falling at Alabama, the Bulldogs could stave off TCU by beating eighth-ranked Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl in two weeks.
Whom they'll be rooting for this week: Minnesota to beat No. 23 Nebraska. As long as the Gophers remain in the top 25, TCU's nonconference résumé will get a boost. It wouldn't hurt if Arkansas knocked off Ole Miss in Fayetteville, either. If Ole Miss went into the Egg Bowl with three losses, then beat Mississippi State, the SEC West would be left with the Crimson Tide as its only real playoff possibility.

Baylor Bears
Record: 8-1 (5-1)
Playoff committee rank: No. 7
Next big obstacle: Dec. 6 vs. Kansas State
Reason for optimism: At least the Bears didn't go down in the rankings this week, despite coming off an open weekend. Committee chairman Jeff Long also said the difference between No. 4 Mississippi State and No. 7 Baylor was "narrow." Baylor is also now only two spots behind the Horned Frogs. Conventional wisdom would suggest that if the Bears can climb within one spot of TCU, the head-to-head advantage would kick in, and catapult them past the Horned Frogs as well.
Cause for concern: Ohio State jumped Baylor, and considering the Buckeyes still have the Big Ten championship game against No. 16 Wisconsin looming, it might be tough for Baylor to jump Ohio State back. The committee can't get over the Bears' weak nonconference schedule, which is why Baylor ranks behind all the one-loss teams. A lot can happen in three weeks. And it remains to be seen how the committee will factor in conference championships at the end. But at this juncture, it's hard to see the Bears getting into the top four without help.
Whom they'll be rooting for this week: Kansas State to beat West Virginia on Thursday night. Though that would make Baylor's loss in Morgantown look worse, it would give the Bears the chance for a statement win against a potential top-10 team Dec. 6. Nebraska beating Minnesota also would kill two birds with one stone, damaging the playoff profiles of both TCU and Ohio State.

Big 12 morning links

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
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Fear the Beard. A new "This is SportsCenter" ad has arrived.
  • Iowa State is hoping to use the final stretch of the season as a springboard for next year, writes Bobby LaGesse of the Ames Tribune. The Cyclones used their bye week to change their outlook heading into games with West Virginia, Texas Tech and TCU. It's been a rough year for the Cyclones but going winless in Big 12 play could be a disaster for Paul Rhoads' team.
  • Kansas' improved performances on the weekend have begun during the week, writes Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World. The intensity of practices have increased and players are starting to understand they have to pay the price, says interim coach Clint Bowen. It's interesting that the intensity and fun have picked up at Bowen's practices. It speaks to the relationships that Bowen has created with his players. If they didn't have a strong relationship, it's unlikely KU's players would respond to Bowen like they have.
  • Kansas State coach Bill Snyder would have liked to see one of the Wildcats' running backs seize the primary ball carrier spot and become the "man" in the backfield, writes Ken Corbitt of the Topeka Capital-Journal. The Wildcats' inability to replace John Hubert has seemed like a handicap to the K-State offense for the bulk of the year. Quite frankly, it shows how well KSU has played as a team for the Wildcats to be 7-2 through nine games without a running back with more than 500 rushing yards.
  • Becoming a Mountaineer was a dream come true for Clint Trickett and now the West Virginia quarterback can make it a perfect home finale with an upset win over Kansas State. Trickett has had a terrific season but has fallen off in recent weeks with more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2). Make no mistake, he has been a key to WVU's improved record this season and he will be the key on Thursday night.
  • Lastly, Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said the Red Raiders changed defensive signals "as soon as they found out" their signals may have been compromised after former defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt left the program, reports Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Earlier this week questions arose about the possibility of Tech's defensive signals "being passed around" during the past two to three weeks. It's such an odd situation but it seems odd the Red Raiders didn't immediately change signals upon Wallerstedt's departure but I can also see how, particularly in the midst of a tough season, it wouldn't even cross their mind that those signals could be compromised.

Big 12 bowl projections: Week 12

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
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The fourth College Football Playoff rankings were revealed Tuesday night, and the Big 12 was left on the outside of the top four.

TCU dropped one spot to No. 5 after struggling to a 34-30 win at Kansas. Baylor remained at No. 7 after having the week off. Both teams remain very alive in the playoff hunt. But for now, we project them to miss the cut.

The outcome of Thursday night's game between Kansas State and West Virginia, meanwhile, could a long way in determining their bowl destination fates.

And with its 28-7 win at Oklahoma State, Texas produced its sixth win to lock up a bowl spot somewhere.

Oklahoma State is the only other team not bowl eligible at the moment that could still get there. But the Cowboys will be major underdogs at Baylor and Oklahoma. So we're still projecting the Cowboys to miss out on a bowl.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl: TCU
VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Texas
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: West Virginia
Cactus Bowl: None eligible

Playoff breakdown: If the games were today

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
7:50
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video
Roll Tide -- all the way to No. 1.

Following its win over Mississippi State -- currently the best win in the country -- Alabama ascended to No. 1 in the latest ranking by the College Football Playoff’s 12-member selection committee.

The Crimson Tide jumped No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Mississippi State, which remained one of the top four teams in the country in spite of its loss. For the second time this season, the committee has placed more than one team from the SEC West in its top four.

Here’s what the bracket would look like today:

NCF PlayoffESPN


Beyond the top four, there were some perplexing moves made by the committee. Among the more eyebrow-raising decisions:

  • Undefeated Marshall is still unranked after its biggest win of the season, yet No. 25 Minnesota, which just lost at home, is still No. 25.
  • Louisville, USC, Missouri and Oklahoma -- all unranked a week ago -- are ranked again.
  • USC climbed to No. 19 on the back of a home win over 5-5 California.
  • Clemson, in spite of a convincing 28-6 loss to Georgia Tech in which it was held to 190 total yards and had three turnovers, only dropped three spots.
  • Utah jumped from No. 23 to No. 17 after a double-overtime win against five-loss Stanford, and still has a home loss to Washington State on its resume.

One of the biggest movers was LSU, which dropped from No. 17 out of the ranking after it was shut out at Arkansas. Arizona State dropped seven spots after an embarrassing loss to Oregon State. Georgia moved up five spots after thumping Auburn 34-7, and Wisconsin jumped from No. 20 to No. 16 after beating Nebraska. That bodes well for Ohio State’s playoff hopes, should the Buckeyes and Badgers meet in the Big Ten title game.

As for the other major bowls, here’s a projection based on the current rankings:

The Orange Bowl lost the ACC champion (FSU) so it gets the next highest-ranked ACC team, No. 18 Georgia Tech. Then the Orange selects the next highest-ranked non-conference champion team from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame. By contract, displaced conference champs from the SEC and Big Ten don't go to the Orange Bowl. That would pit the Yellow Jackets against No. 8 Ole Miss.

Here’s what New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day could look like, based on today’s ranking:

Dec. 31

12:30 p.m. ET, Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: No. 10 Georgia vs. Marshall

4 p.m. ET, VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 9 UCLA

8 p.m. ET, Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 18 Georgia Tech vs. No. 8 Ole Miss

Jan. 1

12:30 p.m. ET, Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: No. 5 TCU vs. No. 6 Ohio State

5 p.m. ET, Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

8:30 p.m. ET, Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State

Marshall is still projected in a New Year’s Six bowl even though it didn’t crack the selection committee’s top 25. If a Group of 5 conference champion does not play its way into the ranking by Dec. 7, the committee will evaluate all five conference champions before selecting one for a New Year’s Six bowl.

Take Three: Who deserves 4th playoff spot?

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
10:50
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With the unveiling of the fourth set of College Football Playoff rankings only hours away, we wanted to dive once again into which team is most deserving of that coveted fourth spot. With the assumption that Oregon, Alabama and Florida State will take the top three spots, SEC reporter Alex Scarborough, Big Ten reporter Austin Ward and Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter debate which team has earned the final berth to this point.

Is it Mississippi State? Ohio State? Or Big 12 contenders Baylor or TCU?

Take 1: Scarborough -- Mississippi State

It was odd looking back on Saturday's loss at Alabama. Down 12 points with around three minutes remaining, Mississippi State's offense wasn't moving with a sense of urgency. Granted, getting the initial touchdown to make it a one-score game was important, but what was the point if there wasn't enough time left to attempt an onside kick and make another run at the end zone?

But today I'm reminded of the final score, 25-20. After thinking about it, a five-point loss on the road to the No. 5 team in the country isn't that bad. It might sound good enough to be deemed a "quality loss," whereas a double-digit defeat might not be looked upon so kindly.

In fact, seeing as Ohio State and Baylor both fell to unranked opponents, I would say that Mississippi State and TCU have the clear edge in the "best loss" debate -- even though it's hard for me to stomach TCU giving up 61 points to anybody.

I'll concede that Mississippi State's nonconference schedule is weak, but so is Baylor's, and is that really enough to make you ignore three straight wins against top-10 teams? If you're going to move past the losses Baylor, Ohio State and TCU suffered in September and October, why should Mississippi State be penalized for a loss in November? Why is that any worse?

If Mississippi State beats Ole Miss and finishes with four wins against ranked opponents, that would be more than Baylor and Ohio State and tied with TCU. If you want a tiebreaker for later, there's still the possibility that Mississippi State makes it to the SEC championship game with an Alabama loss to Auburn.

Take 2: Ward -- Ohio State

The flaw in the résumé isn't hard to find, and there's no question Ohio State figures to have the ugliest blemish of any one-loss team vying for the final spot in the College Football Playoff.

But that's not the only factor the selection committee will be considering when the field is set. If it focused only on the early misstep, the committee would be overlooking a truly impressive body of work and a compelling case that the Buckeyes are currently playing the finest football in the nation.

For starters, if winning a conference championship is going to be valued, claiming the crown in the Big Ten is nothing to be scoffed at, particularly in a league that had five teams in the top 25 a week ago, a total topped only by the SEC. Over the past two weeks, the Buckeyes have knocked off a pair of ranked opponents on the road in poor weather, showing off a high-powered offense that is complemented by an opportunistic, aggressive defense, with both units showing marked improvement since that loss in Week 2 to Virginia Tech. At that time, J.T. Barrett was making just the second start of his career after being thrust into action in place of Braxton Miller, and neither the redshirt freshman nor a handful of other new starters was ready for the big stage.

Look at the Buckeyes now instead of where they were then and it's easy to see they have earned one of the last tickets to the playoff.

Take 3: Trotter -- Baylor or TCU

After the SEC, the Big 12 has been as good as any conference in the country this season. After the SEC, only the Big 12 still has two teams alive in the playoff chase. The Baylor vs. TCU debate can be saved for another time, but whoever emerges from that conversation deserves playoff inclusion. Neither team has a bad loss, especially TCU. And both teams have great wins, especially Baylor.

Ohio State has surged in recent weeks, but the Buckeyes lost their only nonconference bout with a Power 5 opponent. Ohio State also has only two wins against top-25 teams, which is sure to be trimmed to one win tonight when Minnesota is bounced from the top 25. With only one noteworthy win and the horrible loss in Columbus to Virginia Tech, Ohio State's overall résumé doesn't stack up.

Mississippi State's body of work is only slightly better. The Bulldogs opened SEC play by toppling LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. Those wins looked impressive then. They don't look so impressive now. Those three teams have a combined 11 losses. Only Auburn figures to remain in the top 25 when the selection committee updates its rankings. The loss at Alabama carries no shame. But Mississippi State's nonconference schedule of Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama and Tennessee Martin should. Much has been made of Baylor's soft nonconference schedule, and rightfully so. But Mississippi State's is even worse because it includes four cream puffs as opposed to three.

Unlike Mississippi State or Ohio State, Baylor defeated a team up for the playoff debate in TCU. The Bears also handed Oklahoma its worst home loss of the Bob Stoops era.

The only flaw on TCU's résumé, meanwhile, is a disastrous fourth quarter on the road against another playoff contender. The Horned Frogs otherwise have mostly been stout, with a victory over Minnesota that trumps anything Ohio State or Mississippi State accomplished in the nonconference slate and wins against Oklahoma and K-State.

The TCU vs. Baylor debate will rage on. But for now, one of the two should be in the committee's top four.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
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The Big 12 had a relatively slow week, as three games were on tap. The result of the slow week, however, proved to be prosperous for Baylor, as the Bears landed a commit to increase its 2015 class to a baker's dozen.

Here's an in-depth look at how the weekend fared from a recruiting perspective:


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Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb entered the season as the Big 12’s second-best signal-caller.

Now, there’s no guarantee he’s the future behind center for the Red Raiders.

That is partially because true freshman Patrick Mahomes is making his case to become the man under center for Tech. With Webb ailing with an ankle injury, Mahomes could be staking his claim as the man to run Kliff Kingsbury’s offense in 2015 and beyond after delivering a solid performance in a loss to Oklahoma on Saturday.

Placed alongside the numbers put up by Tech quarterbacks in recent history, Mahomes' statistics don’t stand out. He finished 27 of 50 for 393 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-30 loss to the Sooners. But it was one number in particular, his zero interceptions, that did stand out.

[+] EnlargePatrick Mahomes
John Weast/Getty ImagesFreshman quarterback Patrick Mahomes played a turnover-free game against Oklahoma.
“That was huge,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “That’s what we’ve been missing, really the entire year. We haven’t been good enough offensively to turn it over then make up for it. I think that was the key stat that jumped out to me.”

It was the Red Raiders' first game without an interception since their Sept. 6 win over UTEP. The Red Raiders’ 16 interceptions are tied for 119th among FBS teams, and their 3.4-percent interception percentage is tied for 85th.

“He protected the football,” Kingsbury said. “I asked him to do that and he did a great job of it against a very good defense. He was under duress most of the evening but continued to make great plays with his feet and threw some balls away, had a couple big plays called back.”

Mahomes' poise under duress really stood out against the Sooners, as the true freshman showed unusual calm amidst the chaos of the pocket and repeatedly turned Sooners pressure into Red Raiders opportunities.

“He was throwing on the run, escaping rushers and still delivering the ball with great accuracy and touch on the ball,” receiver Bradley Marquez said.

Mahomes, who spurned the opportunity to play professional baseball to play at Tech, also showed a toughness and willingness to stand in the pocket and take a hit to deliver the ball.

“The maturity to stand in there, know you’re going to get hit and still deliver the ball was awesome to see,” Marquez said. “It’s kind of the composure you have to have.”

It’s a maturity that Marquez, who also has a baseball background as a former outfielder in the New York Mets organization, thinks might have been honed on the diamond. While Marquez is a outfielder and Mahomes a prized pitcher, both have been toughened up by their baseball backgrounds. Mahomes made an adult decision in turning down the money that professional baseball could have provided him and exposing himself to physical punishment on the football field. It's likely made him mentally tougher and more mature than the average true freshman quarterback.

“That’s exactly what I think has helped him,” Marquez said. “I’ve gone through the same process as him so I know first hand the maturity it takes to do those things. I think it’s definitely something that benefited him and his game.

“In baseball, you’re going to fail more times than you’re going to succeed, so you have to have the maturity to move on when you do something bad so it doesn’t disrupt you later on in the game. It’s helped me be mentally strong, and I think Pat would agree it’s helped him as well.”

The maturity, poise and ball protection by Mahomes has put him in the position to continue to run the Red Raiders attack, even with Webb inching closer to full health. On Monday, Kingsbury said he would name his starter “at kickoff” when Tech faces Iowa State on Saturday, a thought would have been unthinkable before the season. And no matter who starts the final two games of Tech’s season, Kingsbury says all bets are off heading into the spring.

“Going into the spring, it will be an open competition,” Kingsbury said. “Anytime you have a record of 3-7, you have to re-evaluate some things.”

And what a competition it could be with the rapidly improving Mahomes, the experienced Webb, and ESPN 300 quarterback Jarrett Stidham among several quarterbacks ready to battle it out in the spring.

But, make no mistake, Mahomes has taken a step toward convincing Kingsbury he can be the answer at a position that has been unstable since he took over. Mahomes' development and ability to excel while protecting the ball in a game against a defensive front full of athletes will be remembered once the competition begins.

“He’s just a gamer,” Kingsbury said. “There’s something you can’t really see until he plays a game. I see how hard he plays and how hard he works, he’s going to be a great player for years to come.”

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