Dallas Colleges: Big 12
What is the biggest key for West Virginia?
Chatmon: Kevin White ’s return to the dominating force that caused all sorts of problems for West Virginia’s early season opponents would help, particularly if he can do it against double teams. But it will be the Mountaineers’ pass defense, led by cornerback Daryl Worley, that could decide the game. Facing the SEC’s top passing offense, WVU’s secondary has talent but faces a tall task against a Texas A&M offense that featured five different receivers that passed 400 receiving yards in the regular season. Thus, it will take a solid pass rush and strong performances from the WVU secondary to slow down the Aggies.
Olson: Don't overlook the reason why Texas A&M is searching for a new defensive coordinator. The Aggies allowed 298, 363, 335 and 384 rushing yards in their final four SEC games. The formula for beating them up late in the season was pretty obvious. With West Virginia's line healthy again, the Mountaineers should ride Rushel Shell, Wendell Smallwood and Dreamius Smith and take advantage of the passing looks the run game sets up.
Trotter: Get Kevin White going early and often. The Aggies had one of the worst pass defenses in the SEC this year, and they have no one (who does?) who can physically match up with White. If the Mountaineers can devise ways to get White -- and wingman Mario Alford -- opportunities for big plays early, they can put A&M on its heels for the rest of the game.
What is the biggest key for Oklahoma?
Chatmon: Quite simply the Sooners' offensive line must win in the trenches. OU’s offensive front is among the nation’s top units but will face a fast, physical and athletic Clemson defense with all the traits to slow down OU’s offense. Offensive balance will be key, as well as winning on first down. The Sooners averaged 7.94 yards per first-down play in their eight wins. That number dropped to 6.13 yards per first-down play in their four losses. If OU faces a game full of third down-and-long plays, it could be a long 60 minutes.
Olson: It's not just about winning the trenches for Oklahoma. The protection of Trevor Knight is of the upmost importance against Clemson. I'm no expert on transient quadriplegia -- nor had I ever heard of it prior to Knight's injury against Baylor -- and I trust that OU was extremely careful with its testing to deem Knight cleared to play. But you know he will take tough hits in his first game back, and after such a jarring injury, you'd hope his line can keep him clean and playing without fear of getting hurt again.
Trotter: Clemson owns one of the best statistical defense in the country, which could put points at a premium for the Oklahoma offense. That's why it's imperative that the Sooners' defense shows up in this game. The Tigers aren't great offensively, so the Sooners ought to be able to impose their will. Then again, this is an Oklahoma defense that massively underachieved during the last two months of the season.
What is the biggest key for Texas?
Chatmon: The formula has been pretty simple for the Longhorns. When Charlie Strong’s team wins the turnover battle, it wins the game. When it loses the turnover battle it heads into the locker room full of disappointment. Arkansas did a decent job protecting the ball, with 17 turnovers in 12 games, but the Razorbacks' 11 fumbles provides some hope for the Longhorns to get one or two turnovers. More importantly, UT and quarterback Tyrone Swoopes must protect the ball much better than they did against TCU and give themselves a chance.
Olson: This might sound like a strange request, but I want to see Texas finally show up in the third quarter and score some points. The Horns put up a total of nine points in the third period in Big 12 play. Nine. After nine games that's not some anomaly; it's a weakness and a strange one. Arkansas is going to play UT close and has had real trouble scoring in the second half (7.5 ppg in SEC play). Any points Texas can muster after halftime could make all the difference.
Trotter: Whoever wins the battle in the trenches between the Arkansas offensive line and the Texas defensive front probably is going to win this game. When the Hogs struggled to run the ball this year they struggled to score. But when they got the run game going they were difficult to beat. Texas has the horses with Malcom Brown and Co. to win the battle with the Razorbacks up front. If the Longhorns do, odds are they'll also end their season with a win.
On a day already anticipated as one to watch with the morning announcements of ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson and four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal, the Big 12 got its own version of a Christmas bonus with five major commitments by the end of the afternoon.
Jefferson and McNeal committed to Texas. ESPN 300 quarterback Jarrett Stidham committed to Baylor after recently decommitting from Texas Tech. ESPN 300 defensive end Ricky DeBerry and four-star safety Kahlil Haughton chose Oklahoma.
And better believe, it’s not over for the conference.
There are several players who could be additions to the growing number of Big 12 commitments. Here are five names to watch from now until national signing day in early February.
On to the 'bag:
@Jake_Trotter who would be your Top 5 in Big12 football going into next year?— Chuck (@cbilly126) December 19, 2014
@Jake_Trotter: My top five, as of December 19, would be 1) TCU, 2) Baylor, 3) Oklahoma, 4) Texas, 5) Oklahoma State. But a lot can and will change between now and the preseason that could shake up this top five.
@Jake_Trotter are we any closer to adding 2 more teams and a championship game?— Dwayne Chamberlain (@dtchamberlain) December 19, 2014
Trotter: Closer? Maybe. Close? No. The only change I see happening is the league clarifying its goofy One True Champion rule, and actually declaring a single champion for playoff purposes. There is a chance the conference could apply for a waiver to hold a championship game with 10 teams. But in talking to people around the league, I don't envision the Big 12 adding such a game, at least for next season.
@Jake_Trotter when will BYU will be invited possibly?— Martin borg (@Martyaborg) December 19, 2014
Trotter: No time soon. The Big 12 still has no plans to expand. If it did, BYU would obviously be in the picture. But again, the Big 12 is not adding teams right now.
@Jake_Trotter will DGB come back to OU or leave for the NFL?— Jon Greene (@JonGreene9) December 19, 2014
Trotter: The decision remains up in the air, but if I had to bet, I would put my money on Dorial Green-Beckham going to the NFL. The decision to transfer to Oklahoma was always about playing this season, not sitting out and playing in 2015. That could still happen. But as a likely Day 1 or Day 2 pick, I see him declaring for the draft.
@Jake_Trotter for 2015, best guess starting QB at WVU next year and Rushell Shell, plus or minus 1,000 yards rushing?— Bryan Shaw (@BGoGolf) December 19, 2014
Trotter: I could see Rushel Shell breaking the 1,000-yard barrier. With a new quarterback, the Mountaineers could pound the ball a little more next season. As for who the quarterback will be, Skyler Howard has generated momentum with the way he performed the last two games, but I still favor William Crest. There was a reason Crest was the No. 2 quarterback as a true freshman coming out of fall camp. Assuming he is healthy and can go through spring ball, Crest would still be my pick to win the job for 2015.
@Jake_Trotter which bowl wins would do the most to amp up the Big12's national perception? Top-tier, middle-tier, or low-tier?— Diego De Valdenebro (@Diegobear) December 19, 2014
Trotter: The Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Baylor beating Michigan State and TCU handling Ole Miss would do the most for the Big 12's national perception. It certainly wouldn't hurt if the other Big 12 teams win, too. But a sweep in the two New Year's Six bowls is what will count most toward 2015 perception of the conference.
@Jake_Trotter what does Stidham committing to Baylor mean for Chad President? Does he open his commitment back up?— Jim Bell (@Bell4Jim) December 19, 2014
Trotter: Chad President has indicated that he's sticking with Baylor. President also has the ability to play other positions, too, if he gets beat out by Jarrett Stidham. So I would guess he stays pledged to Baylor. By the way, not many better surnames out there than "President."
@Jake_Trotter who is starting at quarterback for Baylor next year?— Nate Earl (@nate_earl) December 19, 2014
Trotter: I think it's Seth Russell, at least to start out. Russell has the experience edge both on the field and with reps operating the Baylor offense. Russell struggled a bit in the Texas Tech game, which gives me pause. But he has also had a bunch of good moments as Bryce Petty's backup the past two years.
@Jake_Trotter do you think K-State will have to fight those Oklahoma schools for Lockett's younger brothers?— Matt 'Emaw' Stafford (@mstaffrd) December 19, 2014
Trotter: No. Kansas State has first dibs on any Lockett from now until the end of time.
@jake_trotter Who is taller: Art Briles or Paul Rhoads?— Drew (@Dlew56) December 19, 2014
Trotter: This is probably the most random question in this mailbag's history. But I believe the answer is Paul Rhoads. Someone also provided photographic evidence:
Trotter: Thanks for all the questions, guys. Sorry I couldn't include all of them. I hope everyone has a great weekend..
Why West Virginia will win: Quarterback Clint Trickett has been cleared for the bowl. Trickett struggled a bit late in the season but was a still a major factor in the Mountaineers' midseason run. He and Kevin White should have their way against an Aggies defense that got lit multiple times this season. West Virginia 38, Texas A&M 29 -- Trotter
Why Texas A&M will win: The Aggies will get their house in order after shaking up their coaching staff and give West Virginia all it can handle. Clint Trickett's status can swing this game, of course, but doesn't a showdown between Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen have to be decided by who scores last? Texas A&M 35, West Virginia 28 — Olson
Russell Athletic Bowl
Why Oklahoma will win: While Clemson will be without dynamic freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson for the game, OU welcomes Trevor Knight back under center. Combined with Samaje Perine in the backfield, that should be enough for OU to eke out a win. Oklahoma 28, Clemson 21 -- Chatmon
Why Clemson will win: The Oklahoma passing game was a mess the last month of the season. Trevor Knight returning will help, but even when Knight was healthy, the passing attack was uneven. Former Sooners coordinator Brent Venables directs Clemson's pass defense, which is No. 3 nationally. That means the pressure will be on Samaje Perine (coming off an ankle injury) to shoulder the offensive load. Clemson is not great offensively, but I'm not confident the Sooners will be able to score enough in this one. Clemson 21, Oklahoma 17 -- Trotter
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl
Why Texas will win: The Longhorns' defensive line is full of talent and will be ready and well-equipped to handle the physical nature of the Razorbacks' offense. Texas 27, Arkansas 17 -- Chatmon
Why Arkansas will win: Strength on strength will be on display in this matchup, with the big boys on the Arkansas offensive line squaring off against Malcom Brown and Texas' menacing front. But I have a little more confidence in the Hogs to score points than the Longhorns, who were wildly inconsistent at times with young Tyrone Swoopes at QB. Arkansas 20, Texas 14 -- Trotter
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Why TCU will win: You don't get the sense there will be a letdown factor with this team after it missed the College Football Playoff. Gary Patterson has worked too hard on building TCU's mentality to allow a slipup now. The Horned Frogs swing this with a fourth-quarter turnover from Bo Wallace. TCU 35, Ole Miss 31 -- Olson
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
Why Baylor will win: The Bears are bummed they didn't make the playoff, but they also realize this is an opportunity to atone for last season's Fiesta Bowl fiasco. Michigan State has a great defense with a good quarterback. But the Spartans couldn't hang against all of Oregon's offensive firepower early in the season and will succumb to Bryce Petty & Co., too. Baylor 42, Michigan State 34 -- Trotter
Valero Alamo Bowl
Why Kansas State will win: This is a sneaky great matchup, though I still can't figure out why Stanford made it look so easy against the Bruins in the regular-season finale. The last hurrah for Jake Waters, and Tyler Lockett will be as deadly efficient and effective as usual. Kansas State 31, UCLA 27 -- Olson
Why UCLA will win: Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley entered the season as a Heisman candidate but stumbled in UCLA’s final game. He should rebound and cause all kinds of problems for K-State’s defense with his feet and his arm. UCLA 31, Kansas State 27 -- Chatmon
TicketCity Cactus Bowl
Why Oklahoma State will win: There was no reason to believe the Cowboys could win Bedlam, yet they did and became bowl eligible. Mason Rudolph looks like the real deal, and this young Cowboys team has plenty of momentum. Oklahoma State 31, Washington 30 — Chatmon
Why Washington will win: The Huskies lost to every ranked team they faced in Pac-12 play. Until Bedlam, the same was true of OSU in the Big 12. I'm a Mason Rudolph believer, but I like the UW defense a bit more. Washington 28, Oklahoma State 17 -- Olson
Season records: Trotter 67-8, Chatmon 66-9, Olson 64-11.
Yet each team had players who made a significant impact on their teams that went largely unnoticed as teammates grabbed the headlines. With the help of SIDs around the conference, here's a closer look at the Big 12's unsung heroes during the 2014 season:
Baylor LB/S Collin Brence: A former walk-on, Brence started every game for Baylor, finishing with 49 tackles and adding seven hurries, 3.5 tackles for loss and one interception. On a defense with stars like Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart, Brence was quietly a key contributor as the Bears won a second-straight Big 12 title.
Iowa State WR D’Vario Montgomery: The sophomore transfer from South Florida emerged as the Cyclones’ best receiving threat during the home stretch of the season. Montgomery had 41 receptions for 564 yards and two touchdowns in ISU’s final seven games. His 605 receiving yards led the team and his 13.75 yards per catch average was tops among Cyclones with at least 10 receptions.
Kansas C Joe Gibson: The redshirt freshman took over starting center duties midway through the season and brought solidarity to the Jayhawks' interior line. Making QB Michael Cummings the starter and Eric Kiesau the playcaller were among the noted changes that paid off during Clint Bowen’s time as interim coach but Gibson’s role was just as important.
Kansas State DT Travis Britz: A valuable part of K-State’s defense, Britz was a key member of one of the Big 12’s top defenses before missing the final two games with an injury. The junior provided an anchor for Bill Snyder’s squad with 27 tackles including five tackles for loss and three sacks.
Oklahoma FB Aaron Ripkowski: Samaje Perine doesn’t become the Big 12’s best freshman without the help of the former walk-on fullback. Ripkowski was a driving force behind the Sooners’ running success as teams set out to stop the run yet still failed against the crimson and cream. Ripkowski’s aggressive nature, durability and stellar blocking helped OU rank No. 1 in the Big 12 in nearly every rushing category.
Oklahoma State DT Ofa Hautau: Emmanuel Ogbah grabbed Big 12 defensive lineman of the year honors but Hautau played a key role in OSU’s defensive line. His 28 tackles including 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks don’t speak to the value he brought to the table in the interior of the Pokes' defense.
Texas TE Geoff Swaim: The senior brought a consistent physical presence to the Longhorns' running game while the offensive line went through injuries, changes and uncertainty for much of the year. He also played a critical role on the Longhorns’ special-teams units.
TCU DT Davion Pierson: While Chucky Hunter got the headlines, Pierson was just as good along the Horned Frogs' defensive interior. The junior was disruptive with 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks for TCU while giving the Horned Frogs arguably the Big 12’s top defensive tackle duo.
Texas Tech HB DeAndre Washington: It’s unusual to consider Washington unsung but he was that good for the Red Raiders in 2014. There was a direct correlation between Washington’s production and Tech’s win total. He rushed for 100 yards in three of Tech’s four wins and he joined Perine and BU’s Shock Linwood as the only Big 12 running backs to surpass 1,000 rushing yards this season.
West Virginia LB Wes Tonkery: The senior brought stability to the Mountaineers defense, finishing with 62 tackles as WVU’s improved defense helped Dana Holgorsen’s squad return to a bowl game after a one-year hiatus. Tonkery also added eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Now, we’re putting you in charge of the Big 12’s destiny.
With 10 teams and no championship game, the league finds itself at a disadvantage on Championship Saturday. The names of several schools have been thrown into the conversation as people debate which teams could help the Big 12’s cause in the future. Should the Big 12 consider expansion?
The Big 12 was left with the impression that a conference title game would have helped the case of Baylor or TCU, but expansion isn’t the only option. If the NCAA allows the Big 12 to play a conference championship game with just 10 teams, it could be a clear step toward solving the problem without adding additional schools with more mouths to feed at the money table.
Expansion and adding a championship game are significant changes. Yet, maybe significant change is not needed. The answer could be as simple as crowning a single champion. That’s right ... bye, bye co-champions. If there is one clear winner of the Big 12 Conference, it removes any doubt about a true champion in the eyes of the committee. And, by the way, actually fits the conference’s moniker of “One True Champion”.
Or is it all an overreaction? The Big 12 was one or two upsets away from having two teams in the top four, which would have been a best-case scenario for the conference. The option to stand pat and do nothing could be considered. Just because things didn’t work out in the Big 12’s favor during Year 1 of the College Football Playoff doesn’t necessarily mean the conference must react immediately and make changes.
Considering the current state of the conference, what would you do? What changes would you make? Vote in our poll and comment below.
Though the Big 12 fell short in this season’s battle for the playoff, there will be another one to wage in 2015. The conference can take steps to ensure it doesn’t get left out again next season, notably by crafting a way to finally crown only One True Champion. But the Big 12 can also send a 2015 message to the playoff selection committee through a triumphant 2014 bowl season.
Though out of the playoff, the Big 12 is hardly devoid of high-profile matchups against name teams this bowl season. And a successful bowl record would cement national perception of the strength and depth of the Big 12 while setting the conference up for a run at the playoff next season.
"It won’t help us this year," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. "But it would help for next year."
That starts with conference co-champs Baylor and TCU, which play in the prestigious New Year’s Six bowls against opponents that were ranked in the top 10 for most of the season.
The Bears will face Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. The defensive-minded Spartans went 10-2, with their only two losses coming against playoff teams Oregon and Ohio State. Michigan State won the Big Ten last season, and boasts the nation’s seventh-ranked defense.
"There's a statement to be made just for us nationwide," said Baylor safety Orion Stewart. "To show (the nation) that we really have one of the best programs in the country."
The same way the Bears’ loss to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl last season hurt Baylor’s standing, a win against Michigan State would solidify the Bears as a title contender again in 2015, even without quarterback Bryce Petty. Especially if the Bears can light up the scoreboard against Michigan State, which surrendered more than 31 points just twice all season (to the Ducks and Buckeyes).
"We're playing one of the greatest teams in America, Michigan State," said Baylor coach Art Briles. "There have been four football programs that have played in back-to-back BCS (level) games; you're talking to one of them (Baylor) and Michigan State is one of them, (along with) Florida State and Alabama. That's pretty good company in my book."
TCU will also be in good company in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. The playoff committee had Ole Miss in the top four in its first two playoff rankings before the Rebels stumbled against LSU and Auburn in back-to-back weeks. Still, Ole Miss bounced back to hammer fourth-ranked Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to claim a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. Like Michigan State, Ole Miss features one of the best defenses in the country, with a unit that leads the nation in scoring defense with an average allowance of just 13.8 points per game. The Rebels flashed how dynamic they can be when they downed Alabama early in the season.
"(Our team) wanted to play somebody that was a caliber of a top-five team," said TCU coach Patterson, "and we feel like Ole Miss is that team."
In 2015, TCU will bring back quarterback Trevone Boykin and nine other offensive starters, meaning the Horned Frogs could be primed for another run at the playoff next season. A victory against a quality SEC West opponent would position TCU well for the start of 2015. And a Big 12 sweep in the Cotton and Peach bowls against top-10 competition would reaffirm that the best of the Big 12 can play with anyone in the country.
"Ole Miss is a team that was as high as third in the nation, that played at a very high level, that could have been in the playoffs, lost a couple heartbreakers," Patterson said. "We feel like this is a playoff game."
The two New Year's Six bowls, however, aren’t the only opportunities for the Big 12 to deliver statements.
In the Valero Alamo Bowl, Kansas State meets UCLA, a team that was in playoff contention until late in the season. Oklahoma takes on ACC power Clemson and college football's No. 1-ranked total defense in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
In the Autozone Liberty Bowl and Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, West Virginia and Texas have a chance to land wins against SEC West opponents Texas A&M and Arkansas, respectively.
Even Oklahoma State takes on a talented Washington team in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.
Sure, there are no easy bowl games for the Big 12. But every win will count toward forging the league’s reputation for 2015.
"I was shocked (the Big 12 was left out of the playoff) based on the strength of this league from top to bottom," Gundy said. "We can’t have this many good football teams in this league and not get one in the top four. We can’t allow that to happen again."
The Big 12 can take steps off the field to ensure it doesn’t happen.
But in the meantime, the Big 12 can take some big steps on the field this bowl season, too.
The TCU coach was named the college football coach of the year by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
The annual award is voted on by the nation's 125 FBS head coaches and sports information directors.
Patterson also won the award in 2009, and joins former Penn State coach Joe Paterno (1972, 1994 and 2005) and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops (2000 and 2003) as multiple winners.
Patterson will be honored at the foundation's national awards banquet on Jan. 17 at Yale.
West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck is leaving his post with the Mountaineers to join the NCAA as president Mark Emmert’s second in command.
The move leaves West Virginia in search of an athletic director. And, more importantly to the rest of the Big 12, the league in need of a new representative to the College Football Playoff selection committee.
The Big 12 has until the spring to figure it out. Most likely, it will be a sitting athletic director, and fortunately for the league, it has several competent ones to choose from.
But when it comes to finding the right man or woman for the playoff committee, one Big 12 name seems to stand out from the rest.
And that’s Kirby Hocutt.
The Texas Tech athletic director would be relatively young among playoff committee members at just over 40 years old. But as chairman of the NCAA Division I Football Recruiting Subcommittee, Hocutt is one of the most respected athletic directors in the country. And, despite being young, he would still bring a wealth of experience that would represent multiple corners of the Big 12.
In the early 1990s, Hocutt was a captain and linebacker for coach Bill Snyder during the advent of the “Manhattan Miracle” at Kansas State. Hocutt actually led the Wildcats in tackles during the 1993 season, which ended with K-State’s first bowl victory in school history. Hocutt’s background as a player would give him a distinctive perspective that would enhance the committee. And with K-State being his alma mater, he would bring a representation beyond his current school that would theoretically make the rest of the league comfortable.
Of course, K-State isn’t Hocutt’s only other Big 12 connection.
Before winding up at Texas Tech, he served on Joe Castiglione’s staff as an associate athletic director at Oklahoma from 1999-05. Hocutt was part of a massive capital fundraising effort there; he also received his master’s degree from Oklahoma. Hocutt remains so well thought of by some of the power brokers in Norman that he would be a candidate to take over as athletic director if Castiglione ever left the Sooners.
Yet, while Hocutt graduated from school in the Sunflower State and spent years working in the Sooner State, he’s a Texan first.
For that reason alone, putting Hocutt on the committee would seemingly also satisfy the demands of Baylor coach Art Briles, who has been clamoring for more committee representation from the state of Texas.
"Hopefully they'll get somebody that talks with a twang," Briles told ESPN.com's Heather Dinich on Wednesday. "Let's get somebody that understands what fixin' means. Let's get somebody from down in this part of the nation. Oliver was our representative, but last time I checked, West Virginia is a long way from Texas and Oklahoma. That's nothing to do with him, that's just the reality of the situation. I would certainly hope that we would influence the committee with somebody from this part of the nation.”
Hocutt’s twang is mild. But he was born in the northern Texas town of Sherman. He graduated from Sherman High. He’s also now athletic director of a university where Texas twang is common.
Besides wanting a Texan, Briles also told Dinich that he wanted somebody 35 years old or younger on the committee. Hocutt isn’t quite that young. But he’s closer to 35 than he is to the median age of the current committee.
“To me, college football is not just for people who are my age or older,” Briles said. “It's for everybody. It should be equally represented, but that's just me talking."
The Big 12 could go another direction, and it still would be a good decision.
Castiglione carries as much prestige nationally as any athletic director in the country. To serve on the playoff committee, he would likely have to give up his post on the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. But football is where the money is, and the Big 12 could persuade Castiglione into swapping committees.
The Big 12 boasts several other young, energetic and accomplished athletic directors like Kansas State’s John Currie, TCU’s Chris Del Conte and Baylor’s Ian McCaw. Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger is a former player, who actually served as an assistant coach on Snyder’s staff at Kansas State before transitioning into an administrator.
Any of those would represent the conference well.
But nobody in the league would represent the Big 12 from more angles than Hocutt.
A North Texan who played under Snyder at K-State who worked under Castiglione at Oklahoma who now is back running an athletic department in West Texas.
It doesn’t get more Big 12 than that, which is why Hocutt should be the Big 12's next representative on the playoff selection committee.
The Big 12 used to be a quarterback's league. Now most teams lean on their running games to carry them to success. With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, let's take a closer look at the Big 12's best running games in several unique categories.
Rushing yards before contact
2. TCU, 1,808: The offensive line was easily the most overlooked contributors to the Horned Frogs' 11-1 season. Trevone Boykin, Aaron Green and B.J. Catalon proved to be among the Big 12’s top playmakers but they wouldn’t have had that space to show their talents without the offensive line. For example, 720 of Green’s 854 rushing yards came before contact.
3. Baylor, 1,751: Much like TCU, the threat of a deep passing game helped create holes for Bears running backs along with their offensive line. Tackle Spencer Drango was exceptional and BU was able to overcome injuries to its offensive front to secure a place among the Big 12’s best in yards before contact.
Rushing yards after contact
1. Oklahoma, 1,236: Thank you, Samaje Perine. OU’s freshman running back played a significant role in the Sooners landing atop the list in this category with a Big 12-best 636 rushing yards after contact.
2. Baylor, 1,071: Shock Linwood isn’t thought of as a physical runner in the mold of Perine, yet Linwood was the only other Big 12 running back with more than 400 rushing yards after contact. Linwood’s 446 RYAC are a clear sign the sophomore has the ability to shrug off defenders and brings a tough running style at 5-foot-8, 200 pounds.
3. West Virginia, 961: Dana Holgorsen’s teams aren’t renowned for their run-game excellence, but his best offenses have usually had the ability to punish defenses on the ground if needed. Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood had solid years in the backfield with Smallwood finishing fifth in the Big 12 with 296 rushing yards after contact.
Between the tackles
1. Oklahoma, 276 carries for 1,908 yards, 20 touchdowns: OU didn’t think twice about running the ball right at you behind its veteran offensive line. Perine led the Big 12 with 1,148 rushing yards between the tackles as the only Big 12 running back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.
2. Baylor, 355 carries for 1,773 yards, 23 touchdowns: The Bears' philosophy of making defenders account for the entire field includes the area between the tackles. While their speed and receivers force defenses to account for the perimeter, they won’t hesitate to run the ball right at the defense.
3. West Virginia, 342 carries for 1,637 yards, 12 touchdowns: We knew the Mountaineers had a strong interior offensive line and a bevy of running backs before the season began. Shell proved to be a physical runner with 505 of his 766 rushing yards between the tackles.
Outside the tackles
1. Oklahoma, 242 carries for 1,362 yards, 19 touchdowns: The Sooners had success outside of tackles as well, with Perine ranking as the Big 12’s best in this category. The true freshman had 431 rushing yards outside of the tackles, joining four Big 12 players with at least 300 rushing yards outside of the tackles this season.
2. Baylor, 213 carries for 1,154 yards, 18 touchdowns: Linwood was second in the Big 12 in this category as well but much closer to Perine in the other categories with 401 rushing yards outside of the tackles in 2014.
3. TCU, 192 carries for 1,048 yards, 16 touchdowns: The Horned Frogs tested defenses with their speed and open-field playmaking ability in a bunch of different ways from Boykin’s ability to scramble to Green’s exceptional quickness.
1. Oklahoma, 160 carries for 963 yards, nine touchdowns: Quarterbacks Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas used the zone-read to keep defenses honest with Perine in the backfield.
2. Baylor, 141 carries for 700 yards, nine touchdowns: Bryce Petty and Seth Russell combined for 102 carries this season as the Bears used the zone-read as another way to challenge defensive coordinators.
3. Kansas, 134 carries for 630 yards, six touchdowns: The Jayhawks had a pair of quarterbacks in Michael Cummings and Montell Cozart with the ability to keep defenses honest but neither guy changed games with their legs.
Jerry in Waco writes: I think a championship game at the end of a round-robin schedule is idiotic, redundant and unfair. Do you think the NCAA might allow the addition of a single school (eg, BYU) to the BIG 12 (BIG 11) while allowing retention of the round-robin format plus 3 nonconference games resulting in a 13-game schedule that the CFP committee seems to value?
BC: That seems unlikely Jerry. First I doubt the Big 12 will overreact and expand. Second, I don’t see what a 13-game regular season schedule gets the Big 12. Third, I’m not sure I’d be making major changes to satisfy the committee. I just keep coming back to the fact Baylor beat a top-10 team by double digits on the final day of the season and it didn’t seem to matter. So why would a conference title game change that scenario? I really don't see the need for any major overreaction, to be honest. But, an overall reassessment of the tiebreaker and different marketing plan is a must.
Rick in Grapevine, Texas, writes: What bothers me about the whole "Fire Bowlsby" campaign is this: If both Florida State and Ohio State had lost their championship games then both Baylor and TCU get into the College Football Playoff. BUT, if the Big 12 had named a conference champ instead of co-champs then TCU could well have been left out at 11-1 in favor of a non-champion from the SEC or elsewhere. The choice to present co-champions was a gamble, one that might still in the long-run work out more often than not (only time will tell). You don't fire people for taking calculated risks - unless of course you're the type of person who only puts their life's savings in the mattress because stocks, bonds and CDs are too risky!
BC: A great point by Rick and one that has been overlooked by many people. Since it didn’t work out, people were quick to turn on Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. But, as Rick says, the conference was fairly close to sneaking two teams into the top four. Yet since it didn’t work out, Bowlsby took the hit for it. I can see his thinking and can’t fault him for it in hindsight even though I might not have handled it that way myself. It is something people need to take into account though, Bowlsby had a plan and took a risk. It simply didn't work out.
Marshall in Santa Clara, California, writes: Am I the only one who thinks Marshall University would be a good fit for conference expansion along with BYU? WVU would get a natural rival in the conference and the football team would be decent. Revenue might be an issue, however.
BC: You might not be the only one but you won’t have many friends on that boat with you trying to paddle it upstream. I don’t see what Marshall would bring to the table that would put the Thundering Herd atop the priority list if/when the Big 12 decides to expand as regional ties with WVU simply are not enough.
Brandon in Pickens, West Virginia, writes: With the familiarity between the West Virginia and Texas A&M staffs, what are the chances that this is a lower-scoring game than expected?
BC: First off, great name. I’d say there is a decent chance because I’m expecting a lot of points and when I've expected plenty of points this season I’ve been wrong on several occasions. The question is, what is a lower-scoring game? I could see both teams scoring in the 30s and considering that a low-scoring contest. But I still lean toward a good chance of at least one team getting into the 50s during the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
Pat Jones in Johnson City, Tennessee, writes: Do you think there is any way Bob Stoops is going to make changes in his coaching staff after Oklahoma’s poor performance this year (on both sides of the ball) and if not, do you feel it is time for a change at Oklahoma? I feel Bob Stoops has lost his desire and now is just drawing a paycheck.
Brandon Chatmon: I don’t see any major changes coming on the Sooners staff nor do I think Bob Stoops is going anywhere unless he wants to. I understand the angst and disappointment among Sooner Nation, but I don’t think Stoops is the problem. There are some things the Sooners can do to change things but major change is not needed, silly mistakes led to OU’s losses, even their blowout loss to Baylor. OU is close to returning to national prominence if it plays its cards right, but they need to take the steps to ensure another underachieving season is not in the cards.
Jason A. in Le Mars, Iowa, writes: In response to Chris J. from Houston's question in last Thursday's mailbag. Since Texas "tragically" lost in the national championship game after the 2009 season here are their records: 5-7, 8-5, 9-4, 8-5, 6-6. And then here are Nebraska's: 10-4, 9-4, 10-4, 9-4, 9-3. Becoming a team "like Nebraska" just might be an improvement over the last few seasons.
BC: No question here, just sheer facts from Jason A. And I like it. Nebraska is 57-23 since 2009, while Texas is 49-28. The dislike between the Huskers and the Longhorns will never get old, or less entertaining …
Chatmon: It has to be the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, when West Virginia and Texas A&M battle on Dec. 29. Lots of points, lots of fun, lots of Red Bull. Mentor Dana Holgorsen against understudy Jake Spavital in a battle of offensive gurus. And considering this is a meaningless bowl game, I'm not interested in seeing much defense. I'm also looking forward to seeing what Kevin White has in store for his final game in a West Virginia uniform, after his breakout senior season.
Olson: There will be points in the Liberty Bowl, and I'm excited to see what a healthier West Virginia team is capable of against Texas A&M. But for me, the choice is the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Big 12 vs. Pac-12 matchup is typically a nice one in terms of style, and K-State taking on a UCLA team that Texas almost defeated in September, in the final starts for both Brett Hundley and Jake Waters, will be a lot of fun to watch.
Trotter: I'm intrigued by the Russell Athletic Bowl, and the matchup of Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables going up against his former boss at Oklahoma in Bob Stoops. Remember, Stoops brought in his brother to coach the defense in 2011, which ultimately prompted Venables to leave Oklahoma for Clemson. If Venables' Tigers shut down the Sooners, and Clemson runs the score up on Mike Stoops, it will serve as an indictment of where Oklahoma is as a program three years after that move was made.
With no one playing for a national championship, which Big 12 team has the most to gain in bowl season?
Chatmon: It has to be Baylor against Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. As good as the Bears have been during the past two seasons, some people still point to their Fiesta Bowl loss to Central Florida as a reason to doubt what Art Briles has built in Waco. Add the intrigue of proving the committee wrong and BU has plenty of motivation. It's also a chance for an impressive win against a quality Big Ten team in the race for conference bragging rights.
Olson: I agree with Brandon here. Some Baylor coaches I talked to before the season say their Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF was arguably the most frustrating of their time in Waco. A 12th win and ending a dream season with a BCS bowl win would've meant an awful lot to this program. They get a meaningful chance for a redo against a much better opponent in Michigan State.
Trotter: Baylor and TCU have the most to gain, because they have the chance to show they deserved to be in the playoff. But I'll throw another team into the discussion here in Texas. After finishing the season with a 48-10 home loss to TCU on Thanksgiving night, the Longhorns really need to bounce back against Arkansas in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl to set the tone for 2015. Next season is going to be a critical one for Charlie Strong and the Texas program. A win over a former rival like Arkansas would give the Longhorns the momentum they'll need heading into next season.
Who is the one Big 12 player you'll be focused during the bowls?
Chatmon: I can't wait to see what Trevone Boykin has in store for an Ole Miss defense full of playmakers in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Boykin creates all kinds of problems for every defense with his ability to slither through open lanes like a running back yet frustrate defensive backs with his deep throws. The Rebels have held opposing quarterbacks to a 17.3 Adjusted QBR, ranking No. 2 among FBS teams behind Louisville, making this the best matchup of individual brilliance against team strength during the bowl season.
Olson: Giving Mason Rudolph a month of extra practice and all that post-Bedlam momentum is going to make for a fascinating performance in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl. Oklahoma State's rookie quarterback takes on Washington and a pass defense that ranked last in the Pac-12. I'll be a little surprised if he doesn't pick apart the Huskies on Jan. 2 and continue to build up hype for 2015. The confidence boost this team got from beating Oklahoma can't get squandered.
Trotter: Boykin and Rudolph are definitely players to watch. But I think I'll be most focused on Bryce Petty in his Baylor swan song facing one of the best defenses in the country in Michigan State. Quarterbacks the caliber of Petty -- on and off the field -- don't come along very often. I'll be curious to see how he goes out in a tough matchup in his final college game for the Bears.
Throughout our evaluations we come across many players who show promise and based off their upside for development or scheme fit are great additions to their college programs. Here are five headed to the Big 12:
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The underclassman team is based on 2014 performances, not future potential -- though many on this list have bright futures as well. Number of games played was also a factor, which is a reason why budding true freshman quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Mason Rudolph, who both came on strong only during the final month of the season, just missed the cut.
Without further ado, the ESPN.com 2014 All-Big 12 underclassman team:
QB: Tyrone Swoopes, Texas
RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor
RB: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
WR: Corey Coleman, Baylor
WR: KD Cannon, Baylor
WR: Allen Lazard, Iowa State
OT: Adam Pankey, West Virginia
OG: Baylen Brown, Texas Tech
C: Kyle Fuller, Baylor
OG: Daniel Burton, Iowa State
OT: Kent Perkins, Texas
FB: Glenn Gronkowski, Kansas State
AP: Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
DE: Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
DT: Andrew Billings, Baylor
DT: Hassan Ridgeway, Texas
DE: Jordan Willis, Kansas State
LB: Taylor Young, Baylor
LB: Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
LB: Seth Jacobs, Oklahoma State
CB: Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
CB: Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
S: Jordan Sterns, Oklahoma State
S: Orion Stewart, Baylor
K: Josh Lambert, West Virginia
P: Colin Downing, Iowa State
KR: Alex Ross, Oklahoma
PR: Cameron Echols-Luper, TCU
A back-and-forth, four-hour slugfest was tied at 58-58 with only 1:17 left. If Trevone Boykin completes his fourth-down fade to Josh Doctson, game over.
If he doesn’t, well, game over.
No way could TCU stop the streaking Bears after they’d rallied back with 21 unanswered points in a matter of 10 minutes. So this was it. Convert here, set up the game-winning kick, take control of the Big 12.
But it wasn’t that simple. With 1:20 to go, TCU had rushed its punt team onto the field and booted a kick, catching Baylor mid-substitution with 12 on the field. The ensuing penalty trimmed the Frogs’ fourth-down distance from 8 yards to 3.
Gary Patterson had a decision to make with the ball now at the Baylor 45. He sent out Boykin and his offense to finish the job. Then Patterson called a timeout. Both his offense and his special teams unit huddled on the field. What now?
He chose the punt team, which lined up with wide splits and unclear intentions. The Horned Frogs looked to the sideline. Another timeout.
“We were going to try a punt fake,” Patterson said after the game. “Even if we kicked it to the 5-yard line, I didn't know if we could have stopped them.”
Three crucial minutes passed between the substitution penalty and TCU’s eventual fourth-down pass -- more than enough time for Patterson, the eventual ESPN.com Coach of the Year, to weigh every option.
Going for it was the best one.
“If we get that play and we can go down and kick a field goal,” Patterson said this month, “we wouldn’t be talking about it.”
To get that play, TCU sent out five receivers. Doctson lined up on the outside. Baylor corner Ryan Reid sneaked up to press him at the snap. It didn't matter. Boykin wasn’t making a read here. Snap, step, turn and lob. He threw it up and let his 6-foot-4 go-to receiver go get it.
Reid’s right arm was wrapped around him before the ball arrived, yet Doctson still got it in his mitts. If he’d snagged it right there, TCU is looking at first down near the 30. But the ball slipped off his left hand.
As Doctson was dragged to the ground, he still almost pulled the ball in with his outstretched right hand. Instead, it bounced off his fingertips and onto the turf.
Pass interference? They make a good case for it in Fort Worth. A smart no-call in which the refs let 'em play? You'll hear that argument in Waco. Art Briles says his defensive back did exactly what was expected.
“Our motto was keep it ugly,” Briles said. “We were going to play tough. We were going to play ugly, and whatever happens, happens.”
If a penalty happens, the Horned Frogs are set up perfectly for the game winner, maybe even a perfect regular season. Maybe that undefeated TCU team goes back to the Rose Bowl, takes care of business and plays for a national title in its own backyard.
Or maybe not. After all, it’s just one play.