SEC Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
9:00
AM CT
Week 3 brought some serious action in the SEC, including Florida surviving triple overtime against Kentucky and Vanderbilt escaping against UMass. (And to think, Alex, everyone laughed when you picked the Minutemen.) With three high-profile games on the docket this week, let's get on with the picks.


Why Auburn wins big: Kansas State isn't going to be scared by Auburn's breakneck tempo -- the Wildcats see it against Baylor annually. The difference will come in that tempo combined with the strength and athleticism in Auburn's offensive line that powers the Tigers' running game. Look for the game to be close and competitive initially before the Tigers pull away in the fourth quarter as they wear down the Wildcats up front. Auburn 45, Kansas State 24 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Why Kansas State keeps it close: When was the last time the SEC ventured into the Midwest to play a Power 5 opponent? Exactly. It's just not done, and with good reason. Expect Kansas State to load the box and dare Auburn to pass. Nick Marshall hasn't thrown the ball all that well thus far, completing 56 percent of his passes for just 151 yards. Auburn 31, Kansas State 24 -- Alex Scarborough


Why LSU wins: LSU has won 14 in a row in this series, but that won’t matter on Saturday. The Tigers will beat Mississippi State again on Saturday because they are the better team -- and it doesn’t hurt that they’re playing at night at Tiger Stadium, a scenario in which they’re 43-3 under Les Miles. LSU 28, Mississippi State 14 -- David Ching

Why Mississippi State wins: How good is LSU? I watched the first half against Wisconsin and was less than impressed. I still don’t trust Anthony Jennings at quarterback. Meanwhile, Mississippi State comes in with a little bit of a chip on its shoulder, having not won in Death Valley since 1991, and Dak Prescott, a Louisiana native, gave the LSU defense fits in last year’s game. Mississippi State 24, LSU 21 -- Greg Ostendorf


Why Alabama wins big: After scoring just three points in the first half and needing triple overtime to beat Kentucky last week, there are some serious concerns for Florida heading into a tough environment at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama's defensive line should create a miserable afternoon for Florida's offense, specifically quarterback Jeff Driskel. Alabama 36, Florida 16 -- Jeff Barlis

Why Florida keeps it close: After a triple-overtime win against Kentucky, people are down on the Gators. But despite last week's scare, Florida is better than it was last year. I can already hear the silly homer chants, and I'm sure Jeff is snickering at me, but if Florida's communication and pass protection hadn't been so bad last week, I'd be tempted to pick Florida in the upset. Notice that I said "tempted." I think you'll see a defensive struggle, but Alabama's running game will be too much and the Crimson Tide will pull away late. Alabama 24, Florida 13 -- Edward Aschoff

More unanimous picks:

Georgia over Troy: Now you can show off that passing game, Georgia. The Bulldogs won't need much of Todd Gurley, as the coaches look to get more out of Hutson Mason's arm. Georgia 51, Troy 10

Texas A&M over SMU: Kenny Trill adds to his flashy numbers and the defense continues to look better in a road rout that will leave Eric Dickerson looking to take a blowtorch to his former program. Texas A&M 65, SMU 13

Missouri over Indiana: These Tigers don't need -- or want -- respect, and they'll continue to quietly go about their business with another convincing victory that will just lead to more Mizzou fans yelling at that @AschoffESPN Twitter account. Missouri 45, Indiana 20

Arkansas over Northern Illinois: Northern Illinois actually has had a respectable run defense through three games, so maybe the Hogs won't rush for 400 yards on Saturday. Maybe. Arkansas 48, Northern Illinois 21

South Carolina over Vanderbilt: After a thrilling 38-35 victory over SEC East favorite Georgia, the Gamecocks must get back on the field. Expect a slow start, but no fourth-quarter visor-throwing from the HBC. South Carolina 34, Vanderbilt 14

Unanimous summaries and scores by Edward Aschoff.

Big 12 Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
9:00
AM CT
Why Auburn will win: The Tigers' ground game will prove to be too much for Kansas State. Auburn is averaging 6.7 yards per carry and quarterback Nick Marshall is a proven game-changer. The Wildcats will be up for the challenge but Auburn’s overall athleticism will help it overcome a rowdy road environment. Auburn 30, Kansas State 24 --Chatmon

Why Kansas State will win: When Auburn agreed to a home-and-home with the Wildcats, Bill Snyder wasn’t the K-State coach. The Tigers also didn't know Snyder would have an extra week to prepare for this game. Manhattan, Kansas, will be rocking, Jake Waters is playing almost as well as any quarterback in the country and Tyler Lockett will be the best player on the field. The Wildcats have now won eight of their past nine games. Snyder's bunch will find a way to keep Marshall & Co. off the field, while finding a way to win this one, too. Kansas State 35, Auburn 31 --Trotter

Why Oklahoma will win: What are the Sooners' flaws? I'm hard-pressed to find many, even with Keith Ford sidelined. Their defense will be the difference, and Sterling Shepard is in for a big night with Daryl Worley suspended. WVU will score early, but Oklahoma can wear the Mountaineers out in the second half. Really wouldn't be surprised if OU plays them much tougher than Alabama did. Oklahoma 45, West Virginia 31 -- Olson

Why West Virginia will keep it close: I was tempted to pick the Mountaineers in this game. They are playing extremely well and Morgantown, West Virginia, is a tough place to play. But then the Mountaineers' best defensive player got suspended indefinitely for an altercation last week. Oklahoma will more easily replace Ford with its deep backfield than West Virginia will Worley. Even still, this won’t be an easy game for the Sooners, who barely survived a night game in Morgantown two years ago, and should consider themselves fortunate, should they survive again. Oklahoma 31, West Virginia 30 --Trotter

Why Kansas will win: The Jayhawks can’t play much worse than they played against Duke. Can they? KU knows a win over Central Michigan is a must or else things could start to get really bad in Lawrence, Kansas. Kansas 28, Central Michigan 20 --Chatmon

Why Central Michigan will keep it close: I thought I could talk myself into taking CMU in this game, but top running back Thomas Rawls, a Michigan transfer, is suspended indefinitely. Without him, the Chippewas have one brutal offense. Still think this will be close, though, because Duke exposed a bunch of issues and I'm just not sure how KU will respond. Kansas 17, Central Michigan 13 -- Olson

Big 12 morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
AM CT
It's a big night in the "Little Apple."
  • Texas quarterback David Ash elected to give up football after struggling with concussion-related symptoms for the past year. Given the seriousness of head injuries, this was not a surprising decision. Max will have more on this later in the morning, but the move makes you wonder what could have been with Ash. He had moments of brilliance, notably in the 2012 Alamo Bowl win over Oregon State. That game seemed to be the turning point in Ash's career. As it turned out, Ash's career would basically be over not long into the following season.
  • Ash's retirement wasn't the only major Big 12 story of the day. West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley turned himself into police after a warrant was issued for his arrest on a misdemeanor battery charge. Worley is accused of choking a woman and shoving her to the floor during a nightclub altercation hours after West Virginia's win over Maryland last weekend. This is a huge blow for the Mountaineers on and off the field. Worley was arguably West Virginia's best defensive player, and would have been matched up against Oklahoma WR Sterling Shepard this weekend. But Worley, who was one of the three players coach Dana Holgorsen took to Big 12 media days, was also viewed as one of the leaders of the team. Whenever a player of that stature is suspended indefinitely, the ripple effect in the locker room can be significant.
  • In case you forgot, there's also a pretty big game being played tonight. Auburn will be the highest-ranked nonconference team to visit Manhattan since second-ranked Penn State came to town 45 years ago. There are a bunch of good reads setting up this showdown. Coach Bill Snyder has a message for his fans, according to the Kansas City Star's Kellis Robinett. AL.com's Brandon Marcello has the scoop on Auburn QB Nick Marshall reuniting with Snyder. And the Chicago Sun-Times' Steve Greenberg has more on the intriguing coaching matchup between Gus Malzahn and Snyder. I arrived in Manhattan last night for this one, and can't wait for kickoff.
  • Oklahoma will debut its alternate uniforms this weekend at West Virginia, Bob Stoops revealed. As I detailed in this Take Two over the summer, I wasn't a fan of the Sooners going in this direction. It was my opinion that Oklahoma's iconic brand was above the uniform craze. But I have to admit, I'm curious to see what they'll look like in an actual game.
  • TCU coach Gary Patterson is doing everything he can to get his team's attention in an open week before the Horned Frogs play winless SMU next weekend. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez, Patterson demoted both of his starting cornerbacks, senior Kevin White and redshirt freshman Ranthony Texada, for not playing up to Patterson's standard. It's understandable why Patterson is getting after his team. It's also understandable, with the open week and hapless SMU up next, why the Horned Frogs might be a bit sluggish in practice this week.

Timeline: Ash's yearlong concussion battle

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
10:00
PM CT
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas quarterback David Ash has elected to retire due to concussion-related symptoms, ending a 376-day saga that began with one hit in Provo, Utah, and ultimately led to the 22-game starter's decision that his playing days are over. The following is an updated timeline of how we got here.

Sept. 7, 2013: Ash exits a 40-21 loss to BYU late in the fourth quarter after suffering a concussion. He does not play against Ole Miss the following week.

Sept. 20: Texas announces Ash has been cleared by UT medical staff to start against Kansas State. He'd participated in his first practice since the concussion two days earlier after being symptom-free for at least 48 hours.

Sept. 21: Ash passes for 166 yards and guides Texas to a 17-7 halftime lead over K-State, then is held out for the second half. Team trainers evaluate him for concussion symptoms.

[+] EnlargeTexas' David Ash
AP Photo/Eric GayDavid Ash suffered several hard hits on Saturday against North Texas.
Nov. 16: Ash attends his first Texas football game since Kansas State, a home loss to Oklahoma State.

Nov. 25: Texas officially announces Ash is out for the season and will seek a medical redshirt. "Though he's made a lot of progress, we have not been able to clear him to return to competition," Texas trainer Kenny Boyd says in a statement. "Due to the duration of symptoms, we are now at a point that we all believe the best approach for him is to not return this season."

Jan. 18, 2014: Ash is cleared for offseason workouts and is expected to be a full participant in spring practice.

March 18: First day of spring practice. Ash returns to the practice field for the first time since September.

April 11: Ash is shut down for the final week of spring practice after suffering a "Jones fracture" in his left foot which requires surgery. Texas also announces Ash officially received a medical redshirt for missing 2013, giving him two remaining seasons of eligibility.

July 21: Texas announces Ash is fully cleared to participate in fall practice. A day later, Strong says at Big 12 media days Ash is his starting quarterback.

Aug. 4: First day of fall practice. Ash speaks to media for the first time since BYU. "A lot of people told me, 'You need to give it up, you need to quit.' Honestly, I never really thought about it," he says. "In my mind, I always knew I was going to play." He declines to discuss specifics about his concussion. When asked if he's ready to take his first hit, he declares: "Oh yeah, bring it on."

Aug. 25: During his Monday news conference, Strong refers to Ash as an "unbelievable quarterback who's had an unbelievable preseason camp." When asked again about taking his first hit in the season opener, Ash says, "I'm going to be OK. If I get hit, I'll be fine. I will be sliding a lot more this season, so you can count on that, and I'll be trying to protect myself and doing what's best for the team and taking care of my health during games so that I can last the whole season."

Aug. 30: Ash's first hit comes on the first play of Texas' second offensive drive. As he bends down to scoop up a fumbled snap, North Texas defensive end Jarrian Roberts hits Ash and his shoulder collides with the crown of Ash's helmet. Ash is slow to get up but does not report an injury to UT trainers. He takes at least five more hard hits during the 38-7 win, including three to his head or neck area.

Ash does not report any injuries or symptoms to team trainers during the game. A UT spokesperson says Ash spoke with trainers immediately after he came off the field from each drive.

After the game, Ash does not speak to reporters. OC Shawn Watson describes his performance as "sporadic" with some good moments. Strong is asked about the hits Ash took. "It's all within the flow of the game," he says. "I think the officials did a great job and the thing we have to do is just do a better job protecting. ... Sometimes we see it coming and you have to remember, you're going to get hit in this game."

Around 1:30 a.m. Sunday, after leaving the stadium, Ash informs the Texas staff he's experiencing headaches and dizziness and is brought in for further evaluation. He tells Strong he thinks the first hit, by Roberts, caused his symptoms.

Sept. 1: Strong announces Ash will not play against BYU and offers no timetable for his return. He's concerned about Ash's concussion history but insists the coaching staff was unaware of any in-game symptoms. "I'm not ever going to jeopardize injury," he says. "You can never, ever in this program jeopardize a young man's health to compete in a football game."

Sept. 6: Ash is able to attend Texas' home loss against BYU and watches from the sideline in a jersey and khaki shorts. He also travels for Texas' loss to UCLA at AT&T Stadium but did not suit up.

Sept. 17: Ash meets with Strong and decides to end his playing career. Strong says there is "no way" Texas coaches or trainers would've let Ash take the field again, but the quarterback made the call on retiring and will remain involved with the team this season.

Big 12 bye-week blueprint

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
1:45
PM CT
With six Big 12 teams having this weekend off, now is a good time to take stock of what's working and what isn't after Week 3. What are these six teams happy with and what still needs to get fixed? Here's a closer look:

Baylor
Next game:
Sept. 27 at Iowa State
What's working: Pretty much everything. Baylor's offense kept rolling even when Bryce Petty was sidelined, the run game broke in new toys in Johnny Jefferson and Silas Nacita, KD Cannon became a national phenom in three weeks and the defense ranks top five nationally in scoring, total defense, yards per play and run defense to go along with an FBS-high 15 sacks.
What needs work: This is welcomed recovery time for a team that got the injury bug in fall camp. Petty is 100 percent now and excited to get go-to target Antwan Goodley (quad) and receivers Corey Coleman (hamstring) and Clay Fuller (collar bone) back on the field. The Bears will likely get running back Devin Chafin (high ankle sprain) back in time to travel to Ames, too. With the exception of Levi Norwood, they'll have the full arsenal back in time for Big 12 play.

Iowa State
Next game:
Sept. 27 vs. Baylor
What's working: The Cyclones go into the week off riding an emotional high they aim to turn into momentum. Their 20-17 upset of Iowa provided so many encouraging signs. Quarterback Sam B. Richardson had arguably the best game of his career, the defense came up with its first takeaway in a big moment and we saw another impressive performance from Cory Morrissey. Paul Rhoads is a happy camper after the rivalry win, and ISU avoided an 0-3 start in dramatic fashion.
What needs work: A game plan for slowing down Baylor will be the main focus this week. ISU has a few injury issues of its own, but the good news is Jarvis West should be OK. Rhoads is focusing in on a four-week, four-game stretch in which the Clones take on Baylor, Oklahoma State, Toledo and Texas. After a win this good, there's always another upset to chase.

Oklahoma State
Next game:
Sept. 25 vs. Texas Tech
What's working: The youth and inexperience Oklahoma State has on paper is not showing on the field. The Pokes haven't slipped since losing J.W. Walsh, they gave Florida State a tough four-quarter ballgame, they won with relative ease after that and they have entered the Top 25. Thsi is not a perfect team yet but is a rising one that's going to scare a lot of teams in conference play.
What needs work: Facing Tech will give OSU a much better sense of how good its defense can be in 2014 after a nice showing in nonconference play. Gundy wants to see more depth develop in the back seven, and on offense he's expressed concerns about blocking the run game.

TCU
Next game:
Sept. 27 at SMU
What's working: The offensive transition has been smooth and effective. TCU has averaged 39 points and 491 yards per game with its new Air Raid, and Trevone Boykin has been everything the coaches hoped for -- and maybe a little more. The defense hasn't taken a step back without Devonte Fields and has seen several players step up their games up front. Smooth sailing so far for a team that definitely looks bowl-bound again.
What needs work: TCU's pass defense ranks No. 6 in FBS, but Gary Patterson has said he still wants to make some fixes in pass coverage. They'll devote the required amount of time on SMU, a struggling team led by an interim coach and a third-string quarterback, but the Frogs know they need to work ahead a little on Oklahoma and Baylor, including preparing for the 3-4 fronts of the Sooners' defense.

Texas
Next game:
Sept. 27 at Kansas
What's working: Despite taking two losses, this defense is playing at a high level with a top-20 yards-per-play rate, a top-15 pass defense and 13 sacks. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown looks like a potential All-American so far. Tyrone Swoopes is taking steps in the right direction and shined at times against UCLA, while John Harris has finally emerged as a go-to receiver.
What needs work: Where to begin? Texas' patchwork offensive line hasn't gelled and desperately needs these two weeks. The Longhorns need suspended WR/RB Daje Johnson back and need a healthy Desmond Jackson (ankle). Cedric Reed was better against UCLA but hasn't broken out yet. And Charlie Strong needs to start coming up with plans for stopping Baylor and Oklahoma or else this team could start 2-4.

Texas Tech
Next game:
Sept. 25 at Oklahoma State
What's working: Tech is getting nice production in the run game from DeAndre Washington and Justin Stockton and in the pass game from Bradley Marquez and Jakeem Grant. Offensive line play has improved and Tech hasn't given up a sack. Its pass defense ranks 11th nationally, which is probably misleading.
What needs work: Run defense, penalties, tackling, Davis Webb's consistency -- lots of fundamental issues here that are starting to cause concern. Webb seemed to be forcing throws against Arkansas and will need to put in some time this week to clean up concerns about his footwork and decision-making. And that porous run defense has to get cleaned up quick because opponents will keep attacking it hard over the next month.

Big 12 stat check: Week 4

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
11:00
AM CT
A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 4:

Baylor: The combined adjusted QBR rating for Baylor's quarterbacks this season is 94.6, best in the nation ahead of Texas A&M and Oregon. The trio of Bryce Petty, Seth Russell and (in one appearance) Chris Johnson is averaging 11.14 yards per attempt, most among all Power 5 conference teams. Even with Petty missing a game and a half, this offense didn't suffer much.

Iowa State: In 14 of 28 games Iowa State has won under coach Paul Rhoads, including the 20-17 defeat of rival Iowa last weekend, ISU was the underdog. The Hawkeyes were a 13-point favorite. Past point spreads say this was the fifth time ISU has pulled off an upset under Rhoads as a double-digit underdog, joining the 2011 wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, the 2010 defeat of Texas and the 2009 upset of Nebraska.

Kansas: KU is averaging 144.6 passing yards per game since coach Charlie Weis took over in 2012, which ranks sixth-worst in FBS over that period and second-worst among Power 5 programs ahead of Georgia Tech. In a 41-3 loss to Duke, the Jayhawks finished with fewer than 100 passing yards for the seventh time in Weis' tenure.

Kansas State: Under Bill Snyder, K-State is 4-0 in non-conference home games against Power 5 conference opponents, with wins over USC, UCLA, Miami and Minnesota. But No. 5 Auburn will be Kansas State's highest-ranked non-conference opponent visiting Manhattan since 1969, when No. 2 Penn State beat KSU, 17-14. Snyder was a 29-year-old high school coach at the time.

Oklahoma: Since 2009, the Sooners are just 6-7 in road games that kick off at 6 p.m. CT or later, according to ESPN's Dane Beavers. In all, OU is 17-8 in road night games under Bob Stoops and started off 9-0 in those games under Stoops until at 2007 loss at Texas Tech. OU's road game at West Virginia kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CT.

Oklahoma State: Since rushing for four TDs against Iowa State on Oct. 26, 2013, Desmond Ronald leads all active FBS running backs with 14 rushing touchdowns. Only Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds (24) has found the end zone more times among active players.

TCU: TCU has the No. 1 efficiency defense in the country according to ESPN analytics. Through two games, the Horned Frogs also rank No. 1 nationally in yards per play allowed (3.04) and No. 2 in total defense (205.5 ypg). Those numbers should hold fairly steady after TCU takes on a SMU team missing its head coach and starting quarterback next weekend.

Texas: The Longhorns' run defense currently ranks 91st nationally, allowing 181.3 rushing yards per game. One reason for that? Their first three opponents have leaned heavily on the run. Texas is facing, on average, 50 rushes per game this season, second-most among Power 5 defenses behind Texas Tech.

Texas Tech: Having the second-worst run defense in the country isn't the only problem for Tech. The Red Raiders have this problem because they've given up 468 rushing yards after contact, third-most in FBS. The 416 rushing yards allowed before contact also ranks sixth-most in FBS. Only FAU's defense is averaging fewer tackles for loss per game.

West Virginia: Clint Trickett's career-high 511 passing yards against Maryland isn't that uncommon in the history of Dana Holgorsen-coached QBs. Since becoming an offensive coordinator in 2005, Holgorsen has now had five QBs surpass 500 in one game: Trickett, Case Keenum (four times), Graham Harrell (twice), Geno Smith and Cody Hodges.

Aggies' Myles Garrett living up to hype

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
11:00
AM CT
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — On the first day of preseason training camp, Texas A&M freshman defensive end Myles Garrett stalked around the Bright Football Complex in a tight Superman shirt.

Bold? Sure. But so far, Garrett has done plenty to live up to superhero status for the Aggies’ defense.

Garrett, from Arlington, Texas, quickly made his presence felt for the No. 6 Aggies. A five-star recruit who was ranked No. 4 overall in the ESPN 300, Garrett was an impact player, collecting 5.5 sacks in Texas A&M’s first three games, tying the school’s freshman record held by Sam Adams and Damontre Moore.

[+] EnlargeMyles Garrett and Dylan Thompson
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M freshman Myles Garrett has 5.5 sacks in his first three college games.
“I guess he's doing all right,” coach Kevin Sumlin said jokingly.

No recruit had more hype and expectation in the recruiting process than Garrett. At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, he was physically ready to join the lineup immediately and showed up this summer as one of the strongest players on the team, thanks to a strong weight-room work ethic that dates to his days at Martin High.

He began to open the eyes of the coaching staff during preseason training camp. The Aggies have one of the country’s best offensive lines, and when he started beating the guys across from him, Sumlin, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and defensive line coach Terry Price knew they had something special.

“We've got two pretty good tackles in Germain Ifedi and Cedric [Ogbuehi],” Sumlin said. “Our line is pretty good. For a guy to walk in here and have the success he had during two-a-days [is impressive]. Did he win all the time? No. But against those guys, a lot of time, guys don't win any. He's had his moments with every guy on that offensive line.”

Price said the biggest deficiency on the 2013 defense – and thus, the biggest priority in 2014 recruiting – was adding speed to the edge.

“So we went out and tried to find the best we could find,” Price said.

Garrett has that speed, along with a host of pass- rush moves. He’s not being asked to do everything just yet – the Aggies have a healthy rotation of defensive ends that includes sophomore Daeshon Hall, junior Julien Obioha and freshmen Qualen Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson. The staff is doing its best to keep Garrett fresh, so he stays effective.

But he’s on his way to making a permanent mark. Garrett is on pace to break Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC record for sacks by a freshman (eight).

There is still much ahead for the Aggies’ prized recruit of the 2014 class. But so far, so good for Garrett.

“He's still a work in progress and he still has a lot of work to do,” Snyder said, “but boy, is he talented.”

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
4:00
PM CT
In Tuesday's mailbag we'll talk Bryce Petty's Heisman hopes, West Virginia's future and Texas' offense. As always, thank you for all of your questions. You can submit questions for next Tuesday here.

On to the mailbag:

Greg writes: OK, I know this is a crazy question but it crossed my mind. Say at the end of the regular season you have a one-loss West Virginia team (I know, I know, just humor me). Do you believe they would have a shot at the playoff?

Brandon Chatmon: Why not? That would mean wins over Oklahoma and Baylor, a pair of Top 10 teams currently, along with a sole loss to Alabama. The key would be a strong season from the Crimson Tide to reaffirm the Mountaineers’ effort in the season opener. If the Crimson Tide somehow tumble down the SEC standings, that would hurt a one-loss WVU’s chances, no doubt about it. A solid season from Maryland would help the cause as well. After all, it’s not like all of the other Power 5 conferences have been dominating the competition, so any one-loss Big 12 champion could have a strong case.

Singletary in Austin writes: I recognize it's faced subpar competition, but how would you rate Baylor's defense and defensive depth against the last couple years? To my eyes they look bigger, faster and deeper.

Chatmon: I’d agree. Even though the Bears haven’t been tested, the talent upgrade is obvious. I really like what I’ve seen from Shawn Oakman, Jamal Palmer and Xavien Howard thus far, but those three are just a few of the athletes on Baylor’s defense that I would consider an upgrade over previous years. It’s becoming really clear how well Art Briles and company have done on the recruiting trail lately.

NoZe in Austin writes: What chance do you give Bryce Petty of winning the Heisman? Do they have to run the table (which would include a first-ever win in Norman)?

Chatmon: Petty just needs to play extremely well in big games. It wasn’t numbers that kept him away from New York a year ago (4,200 passing yards and 46 total touchdowns is enough). He looked like a superhero at times but looked human against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas last season. It really doesn’t matter what he does right now, he just needs to excel against the Big 12’s best and have his Heisman moment with everyone watching. If that happens, even if BU is not undefeated he could cement his spot in the Heisman race.

Ben in Waco, Texas, writes: Why isn't Oklahoma State's defense, and particularly our D-line, getting any love? Going into the Florida State game, everyone knew our D-line was the strength of our team, yet when FSU had trouble with them, national media made no mention of OSU having anything to do with FSU's struggles. They've chalked it up to a bad game, despite OSU's defense continuing to look the part of a solid D. We heard about how good Oklahoma's defense was against Tulsa, and how good Baylor's D looked against SMU, but OSU's performance against FSU no big deal???

Chatmon: I was candid about my concerns about OSU’s defense, although not necessarily the defensive line, before the season opener and they accepted the challenge against FSU. I apologized on Twitter to the Pokes defense for questioning it, so I can’t really speak to what others are doing. If OSU’s defensive line wants more love, it can earn it with dominant performances in Big 12 play because it looks like, for the second straight season, OSU’s destiny will be decided by its defense, not its more ballyhooed offense in 2014.

Josh in Morgantown, Kentucky, writes: How do you think WVU's offense will fare against the Oklahoma defense? Do you see the WVU defense getting enough stops for a win?

Chatmon: I think it will be a great back-and-forth battle to watch between WVU’s offense and OU’s defense. The Sooners will force other playmakers to emerge, and I think WVU has some guys, like Wendell Smallwood and Daikiel Shorts, who are ready to do that. I expect both sides to win their share of battles. Ultimately I think WVU’s defensive line, which impressed me against Maryland, will decide the game. If that group plays well, WVU can upset the Sooners. If not, OU’s running game and deep passing will prove too much for the Mountaineers.

Kurt in Lubbock writes: Hey guys, love the blog. I'm going to support and back my team no matter what, but do you think Texas Tech has any chance of making a bowl game this year? And do you think our defense can ever get better? Or are we doomed to a three- to four-win season this year?

Chatmon: I’m not ready to say Tech has no chance at a bowl game, but a lot has to change if the Red Raiders even hope to go bowling. I think we will learn everything we need to know about Texas Tech when it visits Oklahoma State Sept. 25. How much pride do the Red Raiders have? Do they have the depth to make the needed changes on defense? We will find out at Boone Pickens Stadium. If those answers are negative, that’s when I’d start thinking just three or four wins is a distinct possibility.

Don in Muscatine writes: Can Iowa State win four Big 12 games (as well as Toledo) and push for a bowl game?

Chatmon: I love the fight the Cyclones have shown early, but I just don’t see where those wins would come from. The Big 12 is even deeper than I expected with West Virginia and Oklahoma State looking like they will be better than I thought. Toledo should be a win, but it’s hard for me to see them reaching four conference wins unless Sam Richardson really takes his game to another level during the rest of the season.

Aaron in Temple, Texas, writes: How scary would the Longhorns be if they had a better offense?

Chatmon: I wouldn’t call them scary, but I’d consider them Big 12 title contenders. But that’s not the scenario for Charlie Strong’s bunch. They rank eighth or lower in several major offensive categories, including points (20.7), third-down conversions (27.3 percent) and yards per play (4.6). There have been some positive signs from Tyrone Swoopes, and he’s starting to make me rethink my belief that Jerrod Heard is the future under center. Nonetheless, UT’s offense is not explosive, dynamic, powerful or efficient. Until that changes, nobody can consider the Longhorns a real threat in the Big 12.

Roundtable: Keys for K-State, OU, WVU

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
1:00
PM CT
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
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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
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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
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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.

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