Big 12 stat check: Week 9

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
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A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 9:

Baylor: The problem with penalties is no one-week fluke. Yes, Baylor's 215 penalty yards against West Virginia were the most by any FBS team in the past decade. But the reality is, since 2010, Baylor leads the nation in penalties (8.05 per game), penalty yards (74.6) and offensive penalties (4.12).

Iowa State: E.J. Bibbs is establishing himself as one of the nation's top tight ends this season. After catching two more touchdowns against Texas on Saturday, he now ranks first nationally in TDs (six) and second in receptions (32) among tight ends. He's not putting up Jace Amaro-level numbers, but this year there simply aren't many like Bibbs in the Big 12 or elsewhere.

Kansas: The Jayhawks are showing signs they're going to win a Big 12 game this year. One factor that's helping their cause: stingy goal-line defense. Opponents are scoring touchdowns on just 54.5 percent of their goal-to-go situations. That rate ranks second-best in the Big 12 behind TCU. Kansas has allowed six TDs, forced teams to settle for 12 field goals and recorded one takeaway. For comparison's sake, that's a dozen fewer TDs than Iowa State has given up in those situations.

Kansas State: This one paid off big last week and has continued during Bill Snyder's return to K-State: Since 2009, the Wildcats are No. 1 in the Big 12 at blocking field goals (seven) and extra points (eight). Travis Britz got No. 8 last week on the point-after attempt that would've tied the game against Oklahoma.

Oklahoma: Michael Hunnicutt had a rough day Saturday, but he's still one of the most consistent kickers in Big 12 history. Hunnicutt's 84.5 percent career success rate on field goals ranks No. 3 among kickers in the past decade with more than 70 attempts.

Oklahoma State: Against TCU, the Cowboys had undeniably one of their worst offensive performances of the Mike Gundy era. For only the third time in his tenure, OSU produced zero touchdowns in any phase of the game. The minus-33 scoring margin was OSU's worst since a 56-20 loss to Texas Tech in 2008 and fourth-worst in Gundy's 10 seasons, and the Pokes' 4.03 yards per play ranked fifth-worst.

TCU: The Horned Frogs are now 91-3 under Gary Patterson when they hold a team to 17 points or fewer. After last Saturday's 42-9 win over Oklahoma State, the Frogs have now won their last 10 games against Big 12 teams when achieving that 17-or-under feat defensively.

Texas: Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's efforts to script the first 15 to 25 plays of a game are paying dividends for quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. He's completing 77 percent of his passes in the first quarter this season, connecting on 40 of 52 attempts for 426 yards and 10.6 yards per completion. That's certainly helping him get into an early rhythm.

Texas Tech: DeAndre Washington is quietly putting together one of the best seasons by a Tech running back in years. He's averaging 5.55 yards per carry (No. 2 in Big 12), 88.8 yards per game (No. 3) and is on pace to become Tech's first 1,000-yard rusher since 1998. Texas Tech is still passing on nearly 63 percent of its snaps, but Washington is making this run game go when he gets his touches.

West Virginia: There are a ton of numbers we can throw around for Kevin White, the nation's leading receiver, but here's an impressive one: If he surpasses 100 receiving yards against Oklahoma State, he'll become just the second FBS receiver in the last decade to start a season with eight straight 100-yard games. The other guy? Another Dana Holgorsen prodigy, Justin Blackmon. He put up 100-plus in every game of his 2010 season.
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Offenses are getting harder and harder to defend.

Big receivers are becoming common, slot receivers are as quick as ever and quarterbacks can use their arm or their feet to create nightmares for defensive coordinators. Add the creative game-planning from Big 12 offenses and it can leave opposing coordinators at a loss for words.

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is not at a loss for words but he is looking for answers, sounding off against the rule that allows offensive linemen to block three yards downfield even when the ball is thrown.

Several teams have done a great job of putting defenses in lose-lose situations by utilizing the rule with creative schemes used by multiple offensive systems from “Air Raid” offenses to run-based spread attacks. He never referenced any team specifically but Stoops clearly remains frustrated with how to defend teams that use run-pass plays that include offensive linemen past the line of scrimmage after OU’s 31-30 loss to Kansas State, a team that has used the rule to create chaos for opposing defenses during the past few years.

“The linemen running down the field and trying to throw a pass when they’re five yards down the field, to me is ridiculous,” Stoops said on Tuesday evening. “Football has gotten to where it is stupid, letting guys run [running] plays then throw the ball. I’m just not a big fan of it -- it’s lenient and all of a sudden it’s three, four, five yards.

“Once you get to a certain point it’s not even fair.”

OU’s disappointing loss to Kansas State included a Wildcats touchdown pass to Glenn Gronkowski (see below), so Stoops' words sound like sour grapes that lingered into OU’s bye week even though he never referenced the Wildcats or any specific team while expressing his frustration with how the rule has been interpreted in recent years.



Rule 7, article 10 in the NCAA rulebook states:
Ineligible Receiver Downfield
ARTICLE 10. No originally ineligible receiver shall be or have been more than three yards beyond the neutral zone until a legal forward pass that crosses the neutral zone has been thrown.
PENALTY—Five yards from the previous spot.

“We’re having a hard enough time [stopping it] and it just keeps expanding,” Stoops said. “It’s not supposed to be more than three yards but it seems like a very lax three yards.”

The architect of the Sooners’ defense is adamant about his hopes that the rule and issue will be revisited in the offseason as several different teams have been able to use the three-yard rule to their advantage in recent years, including Auburn in 2013, which ran a similar play to tie Alabama before the Tigers’ field goal return that shocked the Crimson Tide.

The run-pass option package that K-State and quarterback Jake Waters uses to stress defenses creates a lose-lose scenario for safeties and linebackers, who must choose to stop the run with Waters or cover the pass while Waters simply reads the defender and choses whatever option the defender leaves free.

Stoops admitted there’s not much any defense can do to stop the creative schemes like the ones KSU and Auburn built upon the rule and used with success.

"Complain … until they do something about it,” Stoops said when asked how to stop it. “What is the gray area? They’re allowed to be down there three yards but at three there should be a flag, that’s how I look at it. It can’t be gray, it’s black or white.”
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The updated ESPN 300 player rankings are now live, and one of the primary Big 12 targets is the newly crowned top-ranked running back.

Soso Jamabo said in September that he was gunning for the No. 1 spot at running back, and after several huge games, Jamabo has earned that spot, bypassing Kentucky running back Damien Harris. The hunter, however, is now the hunted, as Jamabo looks to maintain that spot. He'll have to fight off Harris, Oklahoma State commit Ronald Jones II, fast-rising Chris Warren III -- who jumped from 183 to 102 in the new rankings -- and several others.

Here are five things to know involving Big 12 recruiting:

ESPN 300: Five things to know in the SEC 

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
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The SEC has an impressive 89 committed prospects in the updated ESPN 300 rankings. While the SEC West has been dominant on the field, 13 of the 14 SEC schools are ranked in the top 40 of the RecruitingNation class rankings. Here’s a closer look at five things to know in the SEC from the new recruiting rankings.


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It's amazing how things can change in a matter of 18 days. Earlier this month we took a look at the Big 12's most efficient offenses based on the points per possession of the top five teams in the conference.

Almost three weeks later, the list has transformed, much like the Big 12 standings. Here's a look at the overall efficiency of all 10 Big 12 offenses, with the help of ESPN Stats & Information, including each team's points per drive during the past three weeks.

T-1. Kansas State -- 3.11 points per possession overall

Key stat: The Wildcats' success on third down has been a key to their efficiency. They convert 50 percent of their third-down conversion attempts.

Last three games: KSU has been even better in recent weeks, averaging 3.53 points per possession in games against UTEP, Texas Tech and Oklahoma as Jake Waters has gotten comfortable in his dual-threat role.

Future outlook: The Wildcats' running game has been solid but not spectacular, but KSU’s efficient offensive numbers should continue with Waters' ability to provide a run-pass threat and Curry Sexton's emergence alongside Tyler Lockett.

T-1. Baylor -- 3.11

Key stat: Baylor has gained 58 percent of the possible yards on its drives this season, best in the Big 12. The conference average is 46.7 percent.

Last three games: As the competition has stepped up, Baylor’s offense has slowed down. The Bears averaged 2.22 points per drive in games against Texas, TCU and West Virginia.

Future outlook: In recent weeks, the Bears and Bryce Petty haven’t displayed the consistency that made them the conference’s most explosive offense. All the ingredients still remain for Baylor’s elite production to return in the second half of the season.

3. TCU -- 2.79

Key stat: The Horned Frogs are averaging 83.2 plays per game, ranking behind only Baylor and West Virginia in the Big 12. It’s a clear sign TCU has made a smooth transition into its new up-tempo attack.

Last three games: The Horned Frogs' offense has continued to be productive against Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State, averaging 2.54 points per drive in its last three games. Trevone Boykin has been at his best against increased competition.

Future outlook: There’s no reason to think TCU’s offense will slow down any time soon with Boykin and a roster full of big-play running backs and receivers.

4. Oklahoma -- 2.51

Key stat: The Sooners score touchdowns 73.3 percent of the time in the red zone, second in the Big 12.

Last three games: OU averaged 1.95 points per drive against TCU, Texas and Kansas State as a lack of big plays has resulted in Sooners stumbles.

Future outlook: More playmakers must emerge to join Sterling Shepard or the Sooners could tumble down this list.

5. West Virginia -- 2.43

Key stat: Only 22 percent of WVU’s drives have ended without a first down or touchdown. Only Baylor has a better percentage (21.3), and the conference average is 29.3.

Last three games: The Mountaineers averaged 2.26 points per possession in games against Kansas, Texas Tech and Baylor.

Future outlook: As long as Clint Trickett and Kevin White continue playing like the Big 12’s best quarterback-receiver duo, the sky is the limit for WVU’s offense.

6. Texas Tech -- 2.3

Key stat: The Red Raiders have committed a turnover on 17 percent of their drives, worst in the Big 12.

Last three games: Tech averaged 1.98 points per drive in games against Kansas, Kansas State and West Virginia.

Future outlook: Kliff Kingsbury’s offense would be just fine if it could cut down the turnovers and limit the penalties. Quarterback Davis Webb and a reborn running game make this offense one to keep an eye on.

7. Oklahoma State -- 2.12

Key stat: The Cowboys have settled for field goals on 17 percent of their drives, worst in the Big 12.

Last three games: OSU averaged 1.4 points per drive in games against Kansas, Iowa State and TCU.

Future outlook: As the Cowboys look toward the second half of their season, the offensive line needs to steadily improve if the Pokes hope to rise up this list.

8. Iowa State -- 2.07

Key stat: The Cyclones are averaging 4.96 yards per play, with only Kansas (4.6) averaging less yards per play.

Last three games: ISU is getting better as the season progresses, averaging 2.5 points per drive in its last three games against Texas, Toledo and Oklahoma State.

Future outlook: The Cyclones are starting to find a rhythm under new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino and could rise up this list in the second half of the season.

9. Texas -- 1.58

Key stat: The Longhorns' average drive distance is 25.8 yards per drive, ranking ninth in the Big 12. The Big 12 average is 32.6, with West Virginia leading the conference at 39.5.

Last three games: UT averaged 1.72 points per drive in games against Baylor, Oklahoma and Iowa State.

Future outlook: Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes is coming along behind center after a poor start. If he continues to play like he did against Iowa State last Saturday, UT’s offense could make some noise in the second half of the season.

10. Kansas -- 1.08

Key stat: The Jayhawks have managed a touchdown on just 12.9 percent of their drives, worst in the Big 12. The conference average is 28.7 percent.

Last three games: KU has averaged 1.09 points per drive in games against West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

Future outlook: The offense is on a upswing with Michael Cummings at quarterback under Clint Bowen. After struggles in Bowen’s first game at WVU, KU averaged 1.33 points per drive against OSU and 1.5 points per drive against Tech in the past two weeks.

Texas QB Swoopes defying all expectations

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The doubts about Tyrone Swoopes ever since his high school days at tiny Whitewright (Texas) High School weren’t unreasonable.

[+] EnlargeSwoopes
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAfter his most recent performances, expectations are on the rise for Texas QB Tyrone Swoopes.
 Swoopes was raw. Special tools. High ceiling. Reaching it would require extensive work and time.

What a difference six starts can make. The Texas quarterback’s personal ascent in the past two months has occurred at a pace nobody could’ve predicted. In the process, the Longhorns discovered a quarterback who has defied all expectations.

“It's just so fun to watch the development of Tyrone and how he's getting better and better week by week,” coach Charlie Strong said. “Our offense is going to go as our quarterback goes.”

One year ago this week, Swoopes made his post-midnight debut in the final minutes of a blowout at TCU. That impromptu appearance serves as a reminder now that, once David Ash went down, Swoopes was never going to be afforded the luxury of time or patience. And the initial results warranted concern.

Last fall, Swoopes was barely trusted to pass the ball in his mop-up minutes. This year, after an erratic spring game performance, Strong wondered like everyone else whether Swoopes’ future was at quarterback. On Aug. 30, the head coach wasn’t sure his young quarterback would’ve been prepared to replace Ash against North Texas in the opener.

“You look at it, and good thing that [Ash] was able to complete that game,” Strong said, “because if we had thrown Tyrone in there in like the third or fourth quarter, would he be playing with the confidence he's playing with right now? And, actually, would he have been ready to go play and go into the game?”

All of those steps in this process raised valid questions. They also created myths: Swoopes has a big arm but no confidence, can’t read defenses, is only comfortable running, is too quiet and not leader-like and is generally years away from being a quality Big 12 starting quarterback.

He’s dispelled most of those notions in the past few weeks while exceeding even the most reasonable expectations. In this process of accelerated in-season development, he’s proven things not only to his doubters, but also to himself.

“Sometimes when you hear those kinds of things, you kind of second-guess yourself,” Swoopes said last week. “I’ve gone out there and showed myself that I really can do what the coaches think I can do and believe I can do.”

The turning point, his peers say, came against Oklahoma on Oct. 11 and the two touchdowns drives he led from down 31-13. His fourth-quarter heroics against Iowa State – a 39-yard bomb to Jaxon Shipley followed by a 29-yard dime to John Harris, all in the final 30 seconds, to set up the winning field goal -- showed off how far he’d come: The big arm, the newfound precision, the confidence to take deep shots with time ticking, the never-in-doubt mentality.

“In my eyes,” Harris said, “there’s no turning back for him.”

As Swoopes continues to figure out how good he can be, coaches are unpacking new wrinkles for Texas’ offense. Co-offensive coordinator Joe Wickline installed zone-read principles from his Oklahoma State playbook, which Swoopes used to rush for 100 yards (excluding sacks) against ISU.

 And yet, it’s his passing proficiency that’s more startling. He averaged 183.5 passing yards in his first four starts. Now he’s put up back-to-back 300-yard performances.

“When people see us play, they want instant success,” Swoopes said. “I knew that wasn’t going to happen, that wasn’t going to be the case. I knew it was going to take a little bit for us to get going as a unit. I feel like these last couple games, we’ve gotten a lot better. We’re going to a good place.”

The simplification process is over, and Texas has an offense unlike any it foresaw in preseason. The pass game now sets up the run. With a patchwork offensive line and inconsistent run game, Texas had no choice but to highlight its first-time starter. Everything now runs through Swoopes.

Shawn Watson has said he sees his pupil more as a freshman than a true sophomore, at least in this teaching process. But after weeks of molding and teaching and baby steps, he asked Swoopes to take the big step against Oklahoma.

“I said, ‘Dude, here's the deal: I see it in practice,’” Watson said last week. “‘Every day, I see it in practice. I see you doing this. Now stop thinking in a game -- play, react, see and react, see and react. Trust yourself.’”

He’s earned the Longhorns’ trust, too. Teammates aren’t ready to call Swoopes fast or a dual-theat yet -- “I’m going to say 1 ˝ threat,” Malcolm Brown joked Monday -- but they can see how fast Swoopes has grown up.

“Every week that he plays better, our expectations get higher,” Harris said. “He can be that guy here. I don't understand why people doubt him.”

That could be the most improbable development of Swoopes’ rise, and the greatest compliment he can be paid: After four seasons of instability, Texas might’ve finally found its QB to build around for the next few years.

“There's never been any doubt in our minds,” Watson said. “There's been nothing but conviction that he's our guy. That's our starting quarterback. He's the guy [who] we need to develop.”

Roundtable: Big 12's strongest position?

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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In our weekly Big 12 roundtable, we examine what the strongest position has been in the league so far, who has a better chance of going bowling between Texas and Texas Tech, and whether Oklahoma State should consider pulling the redshirt off quarterback Mason Rudolph:

What has been the strongest position in the league so far?

[+] EnlargeKevin White
AP Photo/Chris JacksonThrough seven games this season, Mountaineers senior receiver Kevin White has 69 receptions for 1,020 yards and seven touchdowns.
Brandon Chatmon: As we saw last week with our midseason All-Big 12 team, it's got to be the linebacker spot. The Big 12 is overflowing with all-conference worthy linebackers. Oklahoma's Eric Striker, Kansas' Ben Heeney, Baylor's Bryce Hager and Kansas State's Jonathan Truman entered the season among the Big 12's best at the position and haven't disappointed while other linebackers such as West Virginia's Nick Kwiatkoski, Texas' Jordan Hicks, Texas Tech's Pete Robertson, TCU's Paul Dawson and Iowa State's Jevohn Miller have emerged to join the fray. There are more teams with an all-conference worthy linebacker than without one.

Max Olson: I agree it's linebacker right now, but I think we'll be talking about this group of wide receivers as being special by the end of the season. West Virginia's Kevin White is playing at Biletnikoff Award level. Sterling Shepard is a potential All-American. You can make a case that KD Cannon, Tyler Lockett, Josh Doctson, Antwan Goodley, Jakeem Grant and John Harris are playing at an all-conference level or should be soon. Throw in underrated guys such as Mario Alford, Curry Sexton, Kolby Listenbee and Bradley Marquez and this position group looks deep and impressive in 2014.

Jake Trotter: Linebacker is a deep position in the Big 12. But I'm going with wide receiver. White has begun to generate Heisman buzz. Shepard has had an All-American season. And Lockett and Goodley are All-American-caliber players. It doesn't stop there. Doctson had 225 yards receiving over the weekend. Grant could break 100 receptions. Harris could pass 1,000 yards. And true freshmen Allen Lazard (Iowa State) and Cannon are budding stars. There's no better league for the position in the country.

At 3-4, both Texas Tech and Texas are holding out hope of qualifying for a bowl game. Of the two, who has the better shot?

Chatmon: Texas Fight! Or least that's what Charlie Strong's team looks like it will do for the remainder of the 2014 season. The Longhorns' defense is superb and Tyrone Swoopes is looking better and better with each game, surpassing my expectations for the sophomore quarterback. Even with three of its final five games away from Austin, I think Texas will find a way to go bowling in Strong's debut season.

Olson: That Texas Tech schedule just scares me too much. The Red Raiders go to TCU, host Texas, then a bye, home against Oklahoma, on the road at Iowa State and a meeting Baylor at AT&T Stadium to finish that run off. Are there two obvious wins on that slate? That's just a brutal ask. Texas doesn't have it much easier -- they'll probably have to beat Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma State to win six -- but already having OU and Baylor out of the way at least gives them the upper hand here.

Trotter: Given their remaining schedules, it's possible -- if not probable -- that neither qualifies for a bowl. But even though the Longhorns have to go to Lubbock, I give them the better chance. Texas has been playing better than Tech as of late. The Longhorns have the decidedly superior defense. And Swoopes seems to be gaining confidence with every start. The Red Raiders will have to beat either No. 10 TCU, No. 17 Oklahoma or No. 12 Baylor, just to have a chance at a bowl. And they'll be heavy underdogs in all three.

[+] EnlargeDaxx Garman
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiDaxx Garman has led OSU's offense since starter J.W. Walsh went out in Week 2 with an injury.
In light of the recent struggles offensively, should Oklahoma State give redshirting freshman Mason Rudolph a crack at QB?

Chatmon: No. That just changes who will spend the game running for their life. Some Cowboys fans might point the finger at Daxx Garman, but the Cowboys' struggles are rooted in the problems up front with a inexperienced offensive line. OSU is averaging 3.69 yards per carry (96th among FBS teams) and has a 7.5 sack percentage (99th among FBS teams). It doesn't matter who is playing quarterback.

Olson: I'm with Brandon on this. No point in crossing that bridge unless Rudolph begins to consistently and seriously outplay Garman in practice. Mike Gundy says he's getting maximum reps during the week. That's a good start. But you can't throw the rookie in there, behind that offensive line, out of sheer curiosity of whether he's a little better than Garman. I get the whole build-for-the-future viewpoint, but isn't J.W. Walsh still the imminent future? The potential downsides still seem like they outweigh the marginal benefits, at least for now.

Trotter: Rudolph intrigues me. The ESPN recruiting scouts loved his skill set Insider, and he was a winner in high school. But with only five games remaining, I don't see the point in pulling his redshirt. This Oklahoma State team is not contending for a Big 12 championship, regardless, due to other issues, namely along the offensive line. The staff clearly feels he's not ready, or else they would have given him a shot early in the season after Walsh's injury in Week 2. Rudolph might very well be the Cowboys' QB of the future. But it's way too late to squander his redshirt for the last five games of a rebuilding season.

Defensive struggles continue for Aggies

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
12:00
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Texas A&M’s 59-0 loss to Alabama on Saturday raised a lot of questions about the Aggies. The team was inferior to the Crimson Tide in all three phases of the game -- offense, defense and special teams -- and the loss brings into question the direction the Aggies are headed.

One of the many areas of concern is a theme that hasn’t drastically changed since last season: the struggles on defense.

Texas A&M’s 2013 defense was poor by any measure. This season began with some promise, but many of the reasons for optimism have gone by the wayside with recent performances. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, in discussing his team’s loss Saturday, noted the Aggies had to evaluate where they are in all three phases of the game and that changes could be in store.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonThe Texas A&M defense has been behind the curve far too often in the past four games.
Defensively, the question is whether the changes need to be in personnel, coaching staff or both. The reasons for the struggles have been varied, but let’s take a look at each season and where the defense is under coordinator Mark Snyder, who is in his third season at the defensive helm.

The 2012 season was by far the Aggies’ best under Snyder. Though depth wasn’t ideal, the combination of experience and leadership in key areas in Texas A&M’s first-team defense is something the group hasn’t had since. Players like linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, safety Steven Terrell and defensive tackle Spencer Nealy (not to mention the pure pass-rushing production of defensive end Damontre Moore) are what the Aggies have been missing the last two seasons.

That season, the Aggies ranked in the top half or, in some cases, the top third nationally in several categories. They were 26th in scoring defense (21.8 points per game), 37th in yards per play (5.22), 31st in yards per rush (3.72), 43rd in yards per pass attempt (6.72) and 16th in third-down conversions (32.4 percent).

In other areas they weren’t as strong but still respectable, like yards per game (390.2, 57th nationally), rushing yards per game (139.5, 35th), red-zone efficiency (58.1 percent, 51st) and goal-to-go efficiency (71.4 percent, 46th).

The 2013 season, on the other hand, was easily the worst so far. With those aforementioned veterans moving on as graduated seniors (or in Moore’s case, early entry into the NFL draft), the Aggies plugged in a ton of youth and were a porous unit for virtually the entire season.

Last year’s defense ranked worse than 100th nationally in yards per game (475.8), yards per play (6.36), rushing yards per game (222.31), yards per carry (5.38) and red-zone efficiency (71.4 percent).

Their rankings in several other areas weren’t much better. Those included scoring defense (32.2 points per game, 95th), passing yards per game (253.46, 95th), yards per pass attempt (7.56, 91st), sacks (21, 84th) and third-down conversions (41 percent, 78th).

That brings us to 2014, where the Aggies have shown statistical improvement in every one of the above-mentioned statistical categories. A solid start in the first four weeks of the season against South Carolina and three non-Power 5 teams in nonconference play gave the illusion of marked improvement.

In addition, increased depth, particularly along the defensive line thanks to the 2014 recruiting class, has helped. A pass-rushing presence that was sorely missed last season has been found in a player like true freshman Myles Garrett, a four-star recruit who is closing in on Jadeveon Clowney's SEC freshman sack record.

Depth is still thin at linebacker, however, where the Aggies dismissed a starter this offseason (Darian Claiborne) and lost another to injury in the season opener (A.J. Hilliard). In the secondary, there’s a mix of veterans and youth, seemingly plenty of depth but much inconsistency in terms of performance.

While the start to this season was good, the past four games, which have all been against SEC opponents (Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama) have established an alarming trend. The Aggies’ defense is trending statistically worse in that four-game stretch.

In just the last four games, the Aggies have allowed 42.5 points per game, which ranks 119th nationally. Yardage numbers have been poor, too: yards per game (495.8, 110th), yards per play (6.96, 117th), rushing yards per game (255.75, 117th), yards per carry (5.78, 117th) and yards per pass attempt (8.89, 115th).

In key conversion areas, Texas A&M has also struggled. The Aggies' third-down conversion defense in the last four games (41.2 percent, 75th nationally) is about where it was a season ago. Similar traits apply for red-zone efficiency (68.2 percent, 103rd) and goal-to-go efficiency (76.5 percent, 72nd).

And while the numbers tell enough of a story, so do a layman’s eyes. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the Aggies are struggling defensively. Just look at Saturday’s game against Alabama and watch Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims evade about six Texas A&M defenders en route to a 43-yard touchdown run. Or Amari Cooper catch eight passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Or T.J. Yeldon run for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. The Aggies allowed 602 total yards -- poor any way you slice it.

Senior linebacker Justin Bass put it plainly after Saturday’s game.

“You can’t play defense if you can’t tackle,” Bass said. “It’s as simple as that. ... If you don’t tackle, you aren’t going to win games.”

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
10:00
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While West Virginia landed a commit at a much-needed position, Oklahoma hosted one of the nation's top-ranked players -- hoping to lure him away from his SEC commitment. Those were the highlights of the weekend in the Big 12, but here's a recap of the recruiting weekend, one that could lead to some much bigger results as October progresses.


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Planning for success: Oklahoma State

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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Baylor’s undefeated season went out the window and Oklahoma suffered its second conference loss during a crazy weekend in the Big 12, as the standings were shuffled and preseason predictions fell by the wayside.

No team took a bigger blow than Oklahoma State.

[+] EnlargeDaxx Garman
Tony Gutierrez/Associated PressDaxx Garman has struggled at times for Oklahoma State, but his offensive line isn't helping him much.
Not only did TCU snap the Cowboys’ five-game losing streak, they overwhelmed Mike Gundy’s team in the process. The numbers are pretty staggering.

  • OSU ran 18 plays for 51 yards, an average of 2.83 yards per play, in the second half.
  • OSU quarterback Daxx Garman was 0 of 6 with one interception in the second half.
  • OSU was 3 of 15 on third down.
  • OSU ran 15 third-down plays for 36 yards, averaging 2.4 yards per play.
  • TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin’s 451 yards of total offense was 193 more yards than the Cowboys' team total (258).

Gundy’s squad hasn’t looked anything like the offenses we’ve seen from his program since the change to an “Air Raid” style offense under Dana Holgorsen after the 2009 season. The Cowboys will try to right the ship when Holgorsen’s West Virginia team visits Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday.

As bad as things were against the Horned Frogs, Oklahoma State still sits at 5-2 and 3-1 in Big 12 play alongside Baylor, West Virginia and TCU as Big 12 teams with one conference loss. Their destiny remains largely in their hands.

"We can win all of them, that's what we’ve got to think,” linebacker Ryan Simmons said. “We can't think, ‘We may have a chance,’ because that's already putting doubt in our mind. We have to be confident in one another and what we can do with one another. We just have to approach every game like it's the Big 12 Championship game."

If the Cowboys hope to rebound from their first conference loss with another win streak, they will have to start with a win over West Virginia, another team with one loss in conference play. As OSU looks to plan for success against the Mountaineers, the Cowboys offense will need to transform into a unit we’ve rarely seen in 2014. OSU’s struggles have been caused by subpar offensive line play, but the entire group of 11 needs to play better if the Pokes hope to prove last Saturday was an anomaly.

Gundy has been banging the drum about the need for his team to run the ball better, but he was encouraged by what he saw from the Cowboys running game.

"I know everybody is tired of hearing this, but we have to run the ball,” Gundy said. "We actually blocked better in the run game [against TCU].”

OSU ran for 126 rushing yards, averaging 3.23 yards per carry against TCU, its best yards per carry average since its 3.76 average in a 45-35 win over Texas Tech on Sept. 25.

Garman has shouldered his share of the blame after the Cowboys couldn’t manage double-digit points for the first time since before Holgorsen arrived, but Gundy sees no reason to consider a change under center, even with Garman’s bad outing against TCU. Garman’s early success made it easy to forget he is seeing his first extensive action since 2009 and has a grand total of six collegiate games (five starts) under his belt.

“We need to protect Garman better,” Gundy said. “I'm not trying to defend anybody, but if we don't run the ball better than we did Saturday and protect, then it is hard for him to operate. With the learning and information that he's getting in the game and the adjustments he's making, he's doing fine.”

Big 12 morning links

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
7:00
AM CT
Let him who has not made a late-night Whataburger stop after a rough day cast the first stone, right? On to the links...
  • Gary Patterson didn't think his offense would evolve this quickly. How could he? TCU's head coach has concerns about where this offense was heading after spring ball was up, which makes these impeccable six-game results even more surprising and gratifying. The rise of Trevone Boykin under Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie stands out, of course, but Patterson deserves just as much credit for finding not only the right two guys to install and instill what he wanted, but to also do so while working together seemingly seamlessly.
  • Best of luck to Baylor offensive lineman Troy Baker, whose college playing days are over after an MRI revealed the senior suffered a torn ACL against West Virginia. He started in seven games at right tackle and had already gone through this process before after a torn ACL in the spring in 2013. Pat Colbert filled in on Saturday and gets the first shot at keeping that job, but this means Baylor is working with its backup plan at right guard and tackle for the rest of the season.
  • You're not going to sucker Bill Snyder into devoting any attention to the College Football Playoff race. Now that his Wildcats are in the national discussion following their upset of Oklahoma, their head coach couldn't care less. Texas is the only thing on his mind, and anything else is a waste of his time. That's the only approach he can take, and to his credit Snyder is going to say that with complete honesty. If K-State does make a run here, though, no doubt he'll have to do some campaigning if they Big 12 ends up with co-champs or tiebreaker drama.
  • West Virginia didn't let Baylor turn their Saturday meeting into a track meet. That was essential. How'd they do it? The Mountaineers are dispelling the myth that they prefer finesse over physical, writes Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail. Be sure to read what WVU's coaches said about last year's Baylor game. You can tell how seriously they and their players took being the more aggressive team and how much pride played a role in that upset. WVU showed in its blocking and hitting a lot of things to be encouraged about going forward.
  • No word yet on the severity, but Kansas receiver Tony Pierson is being evaluated for an injury in his neck area during KU's bye week. Let's hope it's not serious. Pierson is too fun to watch when he's at his best. If he has to miss time, at least the Jayhawks have the promising connection of Michael Cummings to Nigel King. He's a wideout Cummings definitely seems to trust, even if the numbers last week didn't make that obvious.

Charlie Strong: Texas D didn't play to standard

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
5:00
PM CT
AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong went back to his coaching playbook after Texas’ 48-45 win over Iowa State and dug up a familiar tactic. He wanted to make sure his defenders hadn’t deceived him.

When his defense met Sunday, they went to the tape. Strong pulled up five plays that bothered him. He’d caught a few players letting up, not running to the ball, jogging. So he brought back the lowlight reel.

“I said, ‘This is not us, but I want you to see these five plays,’” Strong said Monday. “‘If this is us, I need to know that. If it’s an imposter wearing your jersey, I need to know that. I want you guys to watch this tape.’”

[+] EnlargeSam Richardson
AP Photo/Michael ThomasSam Richardson and Iowa State humbled Texas' defense this past Saturday.
Strong used the same tactic this offseason, meeting individually with each Longhorn and showing them their worst plays of 2013. It’s a measure meant to hammer home how good those players can be with better effort.

He brought it back this week because, seven games into this season, Strong has seen how good this Texas defense can be. He’s OK with winning by three points. He’s OK with a last-second victory, Texas’ first win in a close game all season.

He’s not OK with Iowa State putting 45 points on the scoreboard, 38 of them permitted by his defense.

“Our defense did not play to the standard we’re used to seeing them at,” Strong said.

Iowa State gained 10-plus yards on 22 different plays, the second most a Strong defense has allowed in his five years as a head coach. ISU quarterback Sam B. Richardson, responsible for 18 of those big gains, threw for 345 yards and three scores against the nation’s No. 3-ranked pass defense.

Stats aside, Iowa State came into Texas’ house, kept scoring in crunch time -- a TD with five seconds left in the first half, another with 28 seconds left in the ballgame -- and had a lot of right answers offensively.

“He was mad,” Diggs said of Strong. “We’re all mad. We know we didn’t play well.”

Credit masterful play calling from offensive coordinator Mark Mangino and consistently stout play from Iowa State’s offensive line. With the exception of his two interceptions, Richardson played keep-away from Texas. He found holes in Texas’ zone coverage with quick intermediate passes that beget good tempo.

Safety Dylan Haines picked off Richardson for a 74-yard touchdown, but conceded this unit backed off a little too much after Texas’ offense provided a fast 14-0 start.

“We started missing keys, missing our drops in our zone coverages,” Haines said. “I think when they started to make those throws, they were able to get momentum and move with tempo. I don’t think we were ever able to slow them down after that.”

Just two of Richardson’s 55 attempts went longer than 20 yards. He got into a rhythm with tight end E.J. Bibbs, and missed tackles created opportunities for running back Aaron Wimberly. ISU’s 38 points were all hard-earned.

“Those guys attacked all their keys and did everything they were supposed to do,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said. “They didn’t make many mistakes. They were throwing the ball quick, getting it out in a hurry. Those guys played a good game. We still won.”

The good news, Strong says, is the particular mistakes and missteps Texas defenders made this past Saturday are teachable and correctable.

“It’s all about fundamentals, technique, alignment, gap integrity, them making throws that never should’ve been made,” Strong said.

He’ll praise the growth of quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and Texas’ offense and acceptable play on the special-teams front this week, no doubt. A four-loss team takes its wins by any means necessary.

But with a trip to No. 11 Kansas State up next, Strong will not take it easy on his defense this week. The shaming phase is probably complete. A little humbling never hurts. The next step? Address the formula the Cyclones offered and find a better way to stop it.

“If that formula’s there,” Strong said, “it’s there every week in this conference.”
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops thought his team played better against Kansas State than it had the previous two weeks in a loss at TCU and a narrow win against Texas.

The Sooners missed fewer assignments defensively. Quarterback Trevor Knight completed 26 of 32 passes for a sparkling QBR of 90.5 (scale 0-to-100). Oklahoma also averaged 6.8 yards per play for its best statistical offensive output since Week 2 against Tulsa.

Stoops, however, said the performance that resulted in a 31-30 loss to the Wildcats was still not good enough.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiBob Stoops said crucial mistakes by the Sooners negated their improved overall play Saturday.
"Nothing’s well enough when you lose by a point," Stoops said during his weekly news conference Monday. "We needed to be a play or two better on offense. A series or two better on defense. Or (a play better) on special teams. It all isn’t good enough when you lose."

Though Oklahoma generated 13 more first downs than the Wildcats and outgained them 533-to-385, the Sooners were ultimately doomed by several costly mistakes.

From his own goal line, Knight elected to throw on a run-pass option call. The ill-advised pass was picked off by Danzel McDaniel, who returned it three yards for a touchdown.

"Certain plays are tagged," Stoops said "If (Knight) gets a soft corner he has the option to throw the out. When the guy squeezed back down, you can’t throw it."

The Sooners had another ill-advised throwing decision, though it didn't come from Knight. Off a reverse/wide receiver pass, Durron Neal forced a throw into a coverage trying to hit Sterling Shepard for a touchdown. Instead, K-State’s Morgan Burns intercepted in the end zone for a touchback and thwarted the scoring opportunity.

"We didn’t have as many mental breakdowns, we executed our passing game in a really good way, we were much better on third-down conversions," Stoops said. "We were much better as far as missed assignments.

"But it doesn’t matter. I’d take the other in a minute. You can’t make the critical mistakes that change the game."

The Sooners also made critical mistakes elsewhere. Safety Ahmad Thomas whiffed trying to tackle quarterback Jake Waters on the opening play of the third quarter, resulting in a 53-yard run that set up a field goal. Earlier, Oklahoma turned fullback Glenn Gronkowski loose on a delayed pass play that led to a 62-yard touchdown, though Stoops implied he wasn’t pleased with the way the play was officiated.

"The guy (Gronkowski) running down the middle of the field, that’s a difficult play when (Waters) waits and waits and the center (B.J. Finney) is blocking the linebacker," said Stoops, who wanted officials to flag K-State for an illegal man downfield. Before that, Stoops was also upset that his fullback, Aaron Ripkowski, was ejected in the first quarter for targeting, and that on the same play, the Wildcats weren’t penalized for hitting Knight after he had hit ground diving.

"Those are tough plays to defend," Stoops said of the delayed pass, "in the way they’re allowed to play them."

Yet the biggest play that decided the outcome came on special teams. Senior Michael Hunnicutt, the school’s all-time leading scorer, missed two field goals, including a 19-yarder late in the fourth quarter. Hunnicutt also had an extra point blocked in the fourth.

"He just rushed the second (field goal). He hit a bad shot," Stoops said. "Michael has been as consistent and as good a player as we’ve had here. He’s been a big part of a lot of wins. He had a bad day and a couple of bad shots. It came at a bad time.

"We all respect him and think the world of him. And we’ll need (him) to win more games coming forward."

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
1:30
PM CT
Here’s the latest around the Big 12 on the recruiting trail after another big weekend of official and unofficial visits:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 12
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: There aren't many spots left in Baylor's class, but one of them is presumably being saved for Waco Midway four-star safety Kahlil Haughton. He took an official visit to Arkansas last weekend and could take his official trip to a Baylor game on Nov. 1. Haughton has already taken officials to Oklahoma and Nebraska, and his final two trips are expected to go to BU and Texas Tech.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones' latest pledge came from Itawamba (Mississippi) C.C. -- defensive lineman Xavier Pegues. He committed one day after juco teammate Larry Jefferson picked ISU. Both big men attended Iowa State's win over Toledo this month. Pegues, a 6-foot-3, 270-pound lineman, will likely play defensive tackle next year.

KANSAS
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Despite the coaching change, Kansas' recruiting class has stayed intact to this point. The Jayhawks aren't making many new offers under interim coach Clint Bowen, and its committed prospects seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach on how this season and subsequent coaching search play out.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: One recruit expected to be in Manhattan on Saturday for the Wildcats' game against Texas is Kylan Johnson. The three-star safety from Dallas Skyline is planning to take an official visit and is reportedly also considering Texas Tech and Arkansas.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 6
The latest: The Sooners had a surprising star on campus for an official visit this weekend: Texas A&M commit Kyler Murray, the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation. The five-star from Allen, Texas, also attended OU's Red River Showdown win last week before taking in A&M's loss to Ole Miss.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 4
The latest: Playing at TCU gave OSU coaches a chance to check in on their DFW-area commitments on Friday night. The Pokes staff got a chance to watch their coveted ESPN 300 running back pledge, Ronald Jones II, rush for 130 yards and two scores (including a 73-yard TD) to help McKinney North beat rival McKinney.

TCU
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Horned Frogs had a nice collection of 2016 recruits in the house Saturday for their beatdown of OSU, including No. 1 overall recruit Greg Little and ESPN Junior 300 defensive backs Jared Mayden and Jaylon Jones. Three more important visitors: 2015 three-star corner DeShawn Raymond, LSU commit Hanner Shipley and 2017 athlete Anthony Hines III, who holds more than 50 offers.

TEXAS
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 8
The latest: The Longhorns got a critical opportunity on Saturday to convince receiver John Burt to stick with his commitment. The ESPN 300 receiver from Florida is contemplating flipping his commitment to Auburn after taking an official visit there this season. He returned to Austin this weekend for an unofficial visit to watch Texas' 48-45 win over Iowa State. Burt has been committed to UT since July.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Red Raiders landed a commitment last Sunday from three-star defensive tackle Courtney Wallace of Monroe (Louisiana) Neville. He turned down a dozen offers to become the fourth defender in Tech's class. This Sunday, TTU extended an offer to ESPN Junior 300 linebacker Dontavious Jackson, the Houston Elsik standout who now holds six offers.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 21
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The latest member of the Mountaineers' class is Longwood, Florida, defensive end Adam Shuler. He committed on Saturday after taking an official visit to WVU earlier this month for the Kansas game. The 6-foot-5 end turned down offers from Cincinnati, Purdue and Indiana.
video
Welcome to a brave new world of Big 12 football.

Aldous Huxley told us things could get weird. And chaos reigned in a wild Big 12 weekend, as heavyweights Baylor and Oklahoma went down, leaving preseason predictions (and Morgantown) smoldering, the conference race hazy and the league’s hopes for playoff inclusion on the brink.

The depth of teams has boosted the Big 12’s reputation, firmly cementing it as the nation’s second-best conference behind the almighty SEC. But will the self-cannibalization also knock the Big 12 out of the playoff party?

We’re about to find out. And either way, the next six weeks should be fun.

As many as five teams could still realistically win the Big 12, making it the tightest conference race in the country according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, and three Big 12 teams still have a shot to make the playoff (though a fourth, Oklahoma, might also have a chance in an Armageddon-level scenario -- more on that later).

But out of the dust from this past weekend, TCU has emerged as the league’s best hope to do both.

According to FPI, the Horned Frogs have a 31 percent chance to win the Big 12, up 22 percentage points from last week on the back of a resounding 42-9 victory over Oklahoma State, coupled with Baylor’s loss at West Virginia.

[+] EnlargeKansas State Wildcats
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsAfter a win over Oklahoma, Kansas State is the lone team in the Big 12 that controls its own destiny for an outright conference title.
FPI also suggests TCU has a 24.7 percent chance to win out, which would make the Horned Frogs a strong candidate for the playoff.

TCU’s 30-7 nonconference victory over Minnesota (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) looks better and better. And the Horned Frogs’ lone defeat at Baylor, while catastrophic at the time, won’t look bad in the eyes of the playoff selection committee in the long run.

But as dominant as TCU has been, running the table won’t be a cinch, even with the Sooners and Bears in the rearview mirror. And the first two weeks in November should determine TCU’s playoff fate. The Horned Frogs go to Morgantown (assuming it’s still standing) Nov. 1, then welcome No. 11 Kansas State the following weekend. A two-game sweep would all but catapult the Horned Frogs into the playoff. But a loss in either would further the pandemonium.

At the moment, Baylor is the other co-favorite to win the league, even after the loss at West Virginia. FPI also gives the Bears a 31 percent chance of winning the Big 12. Baylor has the head-to-head advantage over TCU. And the Bears have only one road game remaining -- at Oklahoma Nov. 8 in a game everyone pegged as the game of the year in the Big 12 before the season. Baylor will have another chance to impress the playoff committee in the regular-season finale against Kansas State.

But even if the Bears win out (FPI gives them a 17.9 percent chance of doing so), their nonconference schedule could ultimately doom them. Baylor’s two FBS nonconference wins came against teams ranked 114th (Buffalo) and 125th (SMU) in the FPI. When stacked against other potential one-loss teams, that won’t look good. Which is why ESPN playoff guru Brad Edwards says Baylor needs the other Power 5 leagues to produce two-loss champions Insider in order to get back in the mix.

Yet while Baylor might need help to get in the playoff, Kansas State is the lone team in the Big 12 that truly controls its own destiny for an outright conference title. After a 31-30 win at Oklahoma, the Wildcats might control their destiny in the playoff hunt, too.

But that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

Of all the Big 12 contenders, K-State has the toughest remaining road. The Wildcats still have to travel to TCU, West Virginia and Baylor, all games they could be underdogs in. K-State has a 17.1 percent chance to win the league according to FPI but only a 1.9 percent chance of winning out. Having lost to Auburn in nonconference, the Wildcats would likely have to win out, too, to have a chance. And even then, K-State would probably need Auburn to fall out of contention, since the Tigers would hold the head-to-head advantage over the Wildcats in the eyes of the committee.

Still, K-State has a feather-in-cap win in Oklahoma already in its hip pocket. And if the Wildcats were able to somehow topple TCU, West Virginia and Baylor all on the road, their résumé would be formidable.

West Virginia has a feather-in-cap win, too, after its 41-27 victory over Baylor, which has propelled the Mountaineers into the Big 12 title conversation. West Virginia now has a 9.1 percent chance to win the Big 12 according to FPI and a favorable remaining schedule, with both TCU and K-State coming at home.

While the Mountaineers have entered the Big 12 picture, the Sooners haven’t completely exited it even with two conference losses. According to FPI, Oklahoma has the best chance of any Power 5 team of winning out with a 43.8 percent chance. The Sooners get Baylor at home, which gives them an opportunity for a statement victory.

Though it is highly unlikely at this point, Oklahoma (and who knows, maybe even West Virginia?) could get back into the playoff discussion as a two-loss conference champion, should chaos strike elsewhere.

It certainly struck the Big 12 on Saturday, when the league was turned on its head yet again.

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