Dallas Colleges: TCU Horned Frogs
But after the nonconference season, Baylor and Oklahoma have emerged as bona fide playoff contenders – thanks to how they’ve performed.
But also, how their conference foes have performed, as well.
Sure, the Big 12 didn’t deliver a signature nonconference victory. Oklahoma State failed to topple Florida State. West Virginia couldn’t upset Alabama. And Kansas State squandered too many opportunities to knock off Auburn.
But in all three spotlight games, the Big 12 acquitted itself well, setting up Oklahoma or Baylor – or whoever wins the conference – as a strong playoff contender when the committee sits down to select its four teams in December. More importantly, in an era when there are five major conferences and only four playoff spots, the Big 12 positioned itself ahead of the Big Ten and the ACC heading into league play.
The Big Ten endured a disastrous start to the playoff era, with the Big 12 contributing to the debacle. West Virginia edged out Maryland. TCU hammered Minnesota. Iowa State handed Iowa its only loss so far. With Ohio State also falling at home to Virginia Tech and Michigan getting wiped out by Utah and Notre Dame, league wins in the Big Ten won’t look nearly as impressive as they will in the Big 12.
The effects of that have already begun to come to fruition.
Oklahoma received eight more first-place votes in the coaches' poll and two more in the AP poll over the weekend after winning at West Virginia, even though the three teams ranked ahead of the Sooners – Florida State, Alabama and Oregon – all won Saturday, too.
The Sooners’ victory in Morgantown was viewed nationally as a quality win, because of how tough West Virginia played Alabama and how it played in the road win over Maryland.
Should the Bears prevail in Ames this weekend, the win would be viewed in a more favorable light because the Cyclones bounced back at Iowa City.
Such a domino effect will roll through the entire Big 12 schedule. If Baylor and Oklahoma escape Kansas State, the playoff committee will be compelled to think back to how the Wildcats outplayed Auburn for much of the game in their narrow loss. If the Bears and Sooners defeat Oklahoma State, the committee will have the Cowboys’ performance against defending national champion Florida State in the back of their minds.
It wasn’t the perfect nonconference showing for the Big 12. Besides West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Kansas State coming up in short in marquee matchups they could have very easily won, Texas has let the league down again, dropping two nonconference games for the second consecutive year. Iowa State’s opening loss to North Dakota State didn’t help. And Texas Tech getting steamrolled on its home field by Arkansas only enhanced the reputation of the SEC West Division at the expense of the Big 12.
But when compared to the Big Ten or even the ACC outside Florida State, the Big 12’s nonconference performance overall was a success. The ACC delivered some stunning wins, notably Boston College’s victory over then-No. 9-ranked USC and Virginia Tech’s win over then-fourth-ranked Ohio State. But as everyone heads into conference play, the No. 1 Seminoles are the only ACC team currently ranked in the AP Top 25. The Big 12 has four ranked teams in the AP poll, with TCU and West Virginia sitting right on the fringe, as well.
Meanwhile, as other top teams around the country have endured shaky moments, Oklahoma and Baylor have been dominant. The Sooners, who have been as impressive as any team in the country through the first month of the season, are 4-0 with an average margin of victory of four touchdowns. The Bears – albeit to much lesser competition – have an average winning margin of more than 50 points.
Their showdown on Nov. 8 in Norman will give either the opportunity to make a huge statement to the playoff committee.
But there will be other opportunities to impress along the way, as well. Thanks to the rest of the Big 12, which as a league exits the nonconference looking even stronger than when the season began.
- Texas quarterback David Ash elected to give up football after struggling with concussion-related symptoms for the past year. Given the seriousness of head injuries, this was not a surprising decision. Max will have more on this later in the morning, but the move makes you wonder what could have been with Ash. He had moments of brilliance, notably in the 2012 Alamo Bowl win over Oregon State. That game seemed to be the turning point in Ash's career. As it turned out, Ash's career would basically be over not long into the following season.
- Ash's retirement wasn't the only major Big 12 story of the day. West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley turned himself into police after a warrant was issued for his arrest on a misdemeanor battery charge. Worley is accused of choking a woman and shoving her to the floor during a nightclub altercation hours after West Virginia's win over Maryland last weekend. This is a huge blow for the Mountaineers on and off the field. Worley was arguably West Virginia's best defensive player, and would have been matched up against Oklahoma WR Sterling Shepard this weekend. But Worley, who was one of the three players coach Dana Holgorsen took to Big 12 media days, was also viewed as one of the leaders of the team. Whenever a player of that stature is suspended indefinitely, the ripple effect in the locker room can be significant.
- In case you forgot, there's also a pretty big game being played tonight. Auburn will be the highest-ranked nonconference team to visit Manhattan since second-ranked Penn State came to town 45 years ago. There are a bunch of good reads setting up this showdown. Coach Bill Snyder has a message for his fans, according to the Kansas City Star's Kellis Robinett. AL.com's Brandon Marcello has the scoop on Auburn QB Nick Marshall reuniting with Snyder. And the Chicago Sun-Times' Steve Greenberg has more on the intriguing coaching matchup between Gus Malzahn and Snyder. I arrived in Manhattan last night for this one, and can't wait for kickoff.
- Oklahoma will debut its alternate uniforms this weekend at West Virginia, Bob Stoops revealed. As I detailed in this Take Two over the summer, I wasn't a fan of the Sooners going in this direction. It was my opinion that Oklahoma's iconic brand was above the uniform craze. But I have to admit, I'm curious to see what they'll look like in an actual game.
- TCU coach Gary Patterson is doing everything he can to get his team's attention in an open week before the Horned Frogs play winless SMU next weekend. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez, Patterson demoted both of his starting cornerbacks, senior Kevin White and redshirt freshman Ranthony Texada, for not playing up to Patterson's standard. It's understandable why Patterson is getting after his team. It's also understandable, with the open week and hapless SMU up next, why the Horned Frogs might be a bit sluggish in practice this week.
Next game: Sept. 27 at Iowa State
What's working: Pretty much everything. Baylor's offense kept rolling even when Bryce Petty was sidelined, the run game broke in new toys in Johnny Jefferson and Silas Nacita, KD Cannon became a national phenom in three weeks and the defense ranks top five nationally in scoring, total defense, yards per play and run defense to go along with an FBS-high 15 sacks.
What needs work: This is welcomed recovery time for a team that got the injury bug in fall camp. Petty is 100 percent now and excited to get go-to target Antwan Goodley (quad) and receivers Corey Coleman (hamstring) and Clay Fuller (collar bone) back on the field. The Bears will likely get running back Devin Chafin (high ankle sprain) back in time to travel to Ames, too. With the exception of Levi Norwood, they'll have the full arsenal back in time for Big 12 play.
Next game: Sept. 27 vs. Baylor
What's working: The Cyclones go into the week off riding an emotional high they aim to turn into momentum. Their 20-17 upset of Iowa provided so many encouraging signs. Quarterback Sam B. Richardson had arguably the best game of his career, the defense came up with its first takeaway in a big moment and we saw another impressive performance from Cory Morrissey. Paul Rhoads is a happy camper after the rivalry win, and ISU avoided an 0-3 start in dramatic fashion.
What needs work: A game plan for slowing down Baylor will be the main focus this week. ISU has a few injury issues of its own, but the good news is Jarvis West should be OK. Rhoads is focusing in on a four-week, four-game stretch in which the Clones take on Baylor, Oklahoma State, Toledo and Texas. After a win this good, there's always another upset to chase.
Next game: Sept. 25 vs. Texas Tech
What's working: The youth and inexperience Oklahoma State has on paper is not showing on the field. The Pokes haven't slipped since losing J.W. Walsh, they gave Florida State a tough four-quarter ballgame, they won with relative ease after that and they have entered the Top 25. Thsi is not a perfect team yet but is a rising one that's going to scare a lot of teams in conference play.
What needs work: Facing Tech will give OSU a much better sense of how good its defense can be in 2014 after a nice showing in nonconference play. Gundy wants to see more depth develop in the back seven, and on offense he's expressed concerns about blocking the run game.
Next game: Sept. 27 at SMU
What's working: The offensive transition has been smooth and effective. TCU has averaged 39 points and 491 yards per game with its new Air Raid, and Trevone Boykin has been everything the coaches hoped for -- and maybe a little more. The defense hasn't taken a step back without Devonte Fields and has seen several players step up their games up front. Smooth sailing so far for a team that definitely looks bowl-bound again.
What needs work: TCU's pass defense ranks No. 6 in FBS, but Gary Patterson has said he still wants to make some fixes in pass coverage. They'll devote the required amount of time on SMU, a struggling team led by an interim coach and a third-string quarterback, but the Frogs know they need to work ahead a little on Oklahoma and Baylor, including preparing for the 3-4 fronts of the Sooners' defense.
Next game: Sept. 27 at Kansas
What's working: Despite taking two losses, this defense is playing at a high level with a top-20 yards-per-play rate, a top-15 pass defense and 13 sacks. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown looks like a potential All-American so far. Tyrone Swoopes is taking steps in the right direction and shined at times against UCLA, while John Harris has finally emerged as a go-to receiver.
What needs work: Where to begin? Texas' patchwork offensive line hasn't gelled and desperately needs these two weeks. The Longhorns need suspended WR/RB Daje Johnson back and need a healthy Desmond Jackson (ankle). Cedric Reed was better against UCLA but hasn't broken out yet. And Charlie Strong needs to start coming up with plans for stopping Baylor and Oklahoma or else this team could start 2-4.
Next game: Sept. 25 at Oklahoma State
What's working: Tech is getting nice production in the run game from DeAndre Washington and Justin Stockton and in the pass game from Bradley Marquez and Jakeem Grant. Offensive line play has improved and Tech hasn't given up a sack. Its pass defense ranks 11th nationally, which is probably misleading.
What needs work: Run defense, penalties, tackling, Davis Webb's consistency -- lots of fundamental issues here that are starting to cause concern. Webb seemed to be forcing throws against Arkansas and will need to put in some time this week to clean up concerns about his footwork and decision-making. And that porous run defense has to get cleaned up quick because opponents will keep attacking it hard over the next month.
Baylor: The combined adjusted QBR rating for Baylor's quarterbacks this season is 94.6, best in the nation ahead of Texas A&M and Oregon. The trio of Bryce Petty, Seth Russell and (in one appearance) Chris Johnson is averaging 11.14 yards per attempt, most among all Power 5 conference teams. Even with Petty missing a game and a half, this offense didn't suffer much.
Iowa State: In 14 of 28 games Iowa State has won under coach Paul Rhoads, including the 20-17 defeat of rival Iowa last weekend, ISU was the underdog. The Hawkeyes were a 13-point favorite. Past point spreads say this was the fifth time ISU has pulled off an upset under Rhoads as a double-digit underdog, joining the 2011 wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, the 2010 defeat of Texas and the 2009 upset of Nebraska.
Kansas: KU is averaging 144.6 passing yards per game since coach Charlie Weis took over in 2012, which ranks sixth-worst in FBS over that period and second-worst among Power 5 programs ahead of Georgia Tech. In a 41-3 loss to Duke, the Jayhawks finished with fewer than 100 passing yards for the seventh time in Weis' tenure.
Kansas State: Under Bill Snyder, K-State is 4-0 in non-conference home games against Power 5 conference opponents, with wins over USC, UCLA, Miami and Minnesota. But No. 5 Auburn will be Kansas State's highest-ranked non-conference opponent visiting Manhattan since 1969, when No. 2 Penn State beat KSU, 17-14. Snyder was a 29-year-old high school coach at the time.
Oklahoma: Since 2009, the Sooners are just 6-7 in road games that kick off at 6 p.m. CT or later, according to ESPN's Dane Beavers. In all, OU is 17-8 in road night games under Bob Stoops and started off 9-0 in those games under Stoops until at 2007 loss at Texas Tech. OU's road game at West Virginia kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CT.
Oklahoma State: Since rushing for four TDs against Iowa State on Oct. 26, 2013, Desmond Ronald leads all active FBS running backs with 14 rushing touchdowns. Only Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds (24) has found the end zone more times among active players.
TCU: TCU has the No. 1 efficiency defense in the country according to ESPN analytics. Through two games, the Horned Frogs also rank No. 1 nationally in yards per play allowed (3.04) and No. 2 in total defense (205.5 ypg). Those numbers should hold fairly steady after TCU takes on a SMU team missing its head coach and starting quarterback next weekend.
Texas: The Longhorns' run defense currently ranks 91st nationally, allowing 181.3 rushing yards per game. One reason for that? Their first three opponents have leaned heavily on the run. Texas is facing, on average, 50 rushes per game this season, second-most among Power 5 defenses behind Texas Tech.
Texas Tech: Having the second-worst run defense in the country isn't the only problem for Tech. The Red Raiders have this problem because they've given up 468 rushing yards after contact, third-most in FBS. The 416 rushing yards allowed before contact also ranks sixth-most in FBS. Only FAU's defense is averaging fewer tackles for loss per game.
West Virginia: Clint Trickett's career-high 511 passing yards against Maryland isn't that uncommon in the history of Dana Holgorsen-coached QBs. Since becoming an offensive coordinator in 2005, Holgorsen has now had five QBs surpass 500 in one game: Trickett, Case Keenum (four times), Graham Harrell (twice), Geno Smith and Cody Hodges.
We're only three weeks into the season but plenty of things have changed. Preseason expectations are out the window and some dreams of breakout seasons have been shattered while other preconceived notions have been re-affirmed.
Here's a review of nonconference play in the Big 12:
Biggest disappointment: Texas Tech. Wait, where are the Longhorns? Did you really expect more from Texas? More players have been kicked off the team (eight) than offensive touchdowns scored by Charlie Strong's team (seven). The Red Raiders are another story, however. Tech has never really looked outstanding at any point this season as penalties, turnovers and defensive struggles turning the Red Raiders' Big 12 title dreams into an early nightmare. Saturday's loss to Arkansas -- which included 438 rushing yards by the Razorbacks -- has Kliff Kingsbury looking for answers. Before the season Tech looked like a team that could catapult itself into the top 3 in the Big 12. Now it looks like a squad facing a fight to go bowling.
Big (offensive) man on campus: West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett. Raise your hand if you had Trickett as the first Big 12 quarterback to eclipse 1,000 yards in 2014. He's been outstanding for the Mountaineers while leading the Big 12 in passing yards (1,224) and completion percentage (75.4). He's in the top 3 among FBS quarterbacks in both categories. He's the main reason WVU is emerging as the Big 12's surprise team after three games.
Fab freshman: Baylor receiver KD Cannon. The ESPN 300 receiver has no idea what it feels like to go into the halftime locker room without a touchdown catch. Cannon has made an amazing impact with an FBS-high 471 receiving yards in his first three games as a college receiver. The true freshman has 14 receptions, an average of 33.6 yards per catch, and five touchdowns. All-Big 12 receiver Antwan Goodley's biggest competition for the conference's most explosive receiver could be sitting alongside him in the receivers' room.
Newcomer to know: Oklahoma State athlete Tyreek Hill. The junior college transfer burst upon the scene with 278 all-purpose yards against Florida State as he buzzed around the turf in Arlington, Texas, while giving Seminoles defenders fits throughout the loss. His production has dropped significantly in OSU's last two games (24 touches for 154 yards) but it's clear the Cowboys are trying to save their top playmaker for their toughest games.
Best performance: It was the only Big 12 Conference game in the first three weeks but Kansas State doesn't escape Iowa State's upset bid without quarterback Jake Waters. Trailing 28-26 with 3:01 left, the senior led the Wildcats on a seven-play, 80-yard march to win the game. Waters accounted for 74 of KSU's 80 yards on the drive including an 8-yard touchdown run. KSU won 32-28.
Worst performance: Kansas laid an egg in its 41-3 loss to Duke last weekend. The Jayhawks opened the season with plenty of hope for a new and improved offense but, after gaining 457 yards in their season opener, KU took a clear step backward with 297 yards including 97 through the air against Duke. To make matters worse, the Jayhawks allowed Blue Devil freshman running back Shaun Wilson to rush for 245 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries. Back to the drawing board.
Dream dashed: It was disappointing to see Iowa State receiver Quenton Bundrage lost for the season with an ACL injury just minutes into the Cyclones' first game. The junior spent the offseason working on becoming more consistent and had the talent to be one of the Big 12's top receivers in 2014. Now he has to wait until next season with an eye on becoming the Big 12 comeback player of the year when he returns to the field in 2015.
Best stat: TCU has held opponents without a first down or touchdown on 60 percent of its drives. In two games, the Horned Frogs have defended 30 total drives and 18 of those drives have ended without a first down including seven of Minnesota's 15 drives last weekend. Gary Patterson's defense is one reason the Horned Frogs cannot be overlooked when Big 12 play reaches high gear next month.
Best quote: "I haven't talked to [kicker] Josh Lambert since he got on campus, and we are going to keep it that way. I know his name and who he is but other than that I'm doing the hands-off approach." -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen after Lambert's game-winning kick to beat Maryland 40-37 last weekend.
Team of the week: West Virginia. The Mountaineers paid regional rival Maryland back for last year’s 37-0 beating with a dramatic 40-37 victory on a game-winning field goal as time expired. Truthfully, the Terrapins were fortunate just to be in the game. West Virginia jumped to a 28-6 lead and could have routed the Terrapins had it not self-destructed several times on Maryland’s side of the field. Still, the Mountaineers once again moved the ball at will. Clint Trickett was dishing out dimes. Mario Alford and Kevin White were producing plays. And a certain field-goal kicker, who I’ll get to later, came through in the clutch.
Disappointment of the week: Texas Tech. Something I was thinking about over the weekend: Had it not been for the sparkling win over Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl, what would the perception of the Red Raiders be right now? Outside that Arizona State win, Tech hasn’t played a clean game since losing 38-30 at Oklahoma on Oct. 26 of last year. Meanwhile, Arkansas ran right at the Tech defense Saturday, and there was nothing the Red Raiders could do. The offense behind Davis Webb hasn’t been crisp enough to overcome all the deficiencies defensively. Given how difficult the back end of the schedule is again, the concern level in Lubbock should be high.
Big (offensive) men on campus: Trickett and White. If the season ended today, the three All-Big 12 receivers would be K.D. Cannon, Sterling Shepard and White, who is now second in the country (behind Cannon) in receiving. And if the season ended today, the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year would be Trickett, who threw for 511 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Maryland. The Trickett-to-White pass-catching combo has been nothing short of awesome so far this season.
Big (defensive) man on campus: Paul Dawson. TCU’s senior linebacker led the purple crushing of the Minnesota offense in a 30-7 win over the Gophers. Dawson finished with 15 tackles, including four for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Overall, the Horned Frogs forced five turnovers and limited Minnesota to just 268 yards of offense.
Play of the week (other than the Lambert and Netten field goals): Late in the second quarter with the game knotted at 3-3, Texas elected to go for it facing fourth-and-8 at the UCLA 38-yard line. And in the biggest play of his young career, quarterback Tyrone Swoopes rolled out and delivered a 33-yard strike to John Harris. Three plays later, Swoopes hit M.J. McFarland for a touchdown to give Texas a 10-3 lead and all the momentum heading into halftime.
Stat of the week: Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight has two 300-yard passing games in his career, and both have come against SEC opponents. Knight threw for 348 yards in last season's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, and he passed for 308 yards in Oklahoma’s 34-10 win Saturday over Tennessee.
Quote of the week: “I haven't talked to Josh Lambert since he got on campus, and we are going to keep it that way. I know his name and who he is, but other than that, I'm taking the hands-off approach.” -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, when asked what he said to Lambert before the game-winning kick. Holgorsen added he likes only special-teams coach Joe DeForest talking to his kicker.
- In this story in the Kansas City Star, Kellis Robinett detailed how Kansas State is being careful about giving Auburn too much respect. No doubt Auburn is a great team. The Tigers are explosive offensively in Gus Malzahn's offense. But K-State is to be respected, too. This is a team that has lost once in its past nine games -- and that was to an Oklahoma program currently ranked fourth in the country. The Wildcats should respect Auburn. But they should also realize they are good enough to win Thursday night, too.
- West Virginia showed grit that had been missing in the recent past in a 40-37 win against Maryland, wrote the Charleston Daily Mail's Mike Casazza. The Mountaineers lost several tight games last season, which fueled their first losing season in a dozen years. And even though West Virginia played Alabama tough, mistakes in the fourth quarter ultimately prevented the Mountaineers from pulling the upset. The Maryland win wasn't without mistakes. West Virginia made six scoreless trips inside Maryland’s 40. But when the Mountaineers had to make plays with the game on the line, they did. That will serve them well the rest of the season, and this weekend in a massive clash with Oklahoma.
- Even though the Longhorns fell 20-17 to UCLA, sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes made strides, according to the Austin American-Statesman's Brian Davis. Before the UCLA game, I had serious doubts about the potential of Swoopes as Texas' long-term answer at quarterback. I'm still to be convinced. But like Davis, I could finally see the potential that Jaxon Shipley and the Texas coaching staff had been raving about from behind the scenes. That said, the road doesn't get any easier for the Longhorns or Swoopes. After an open week and Kansas, Big 12 co-favorites Baylor and Oklahoma await.
- An Iowa State program that had once forged a reputation under coach Paul Rhoads of winning big games got back to its roots in a 20-17 victory against Iowa, wrote the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse. Early in the Rhoads era, the Cyclones indeed had developed a rep as a giant-killer. But that had waned a bit in the past couple of the years, because of Iowa State's inability to close the deal in close games, including the narrow loss to Kansas State the week before. The Iowa victory should give this program plenty of confidence for the rest of the season, which could be a scary thought for some of the league's top teams.
- The TCU defense overwhelmed Minnesota in a 30-7 win, but the offense still needs work, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez. The biggest issue seemed to be third-down offense. TCU converted only twice on 12 third-down attempts. If they want to emerge into a Big 12 title contender, the Horned Frogs will have to clean that up. But, as the Gophers found out, TCU appears to have another Big 12 championship-caliber defense. If the offense can continue to make progress, this could be a team to keep an eye on.
Texas showed some fight, Oklahoma and Baylor cruised, and West Virginia continued to impress. Thursday night's matchup with Auburn looms large for Kansas State while a bye week comes at the perfect time for Texas Tech.
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: TCU
Cactus Bowl: Texas
1. TCU and West Virginia might finally be finding their stride in the Big 12: Being in the Big 12 has been rough on the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers. In their first two years in the league, each went 11-14 overall. But with impressive performances Saturday, both are showing signs they are finally turning the corner. The Mountaineers racked up 33 first downs and almost 700 yards in a 40-37 win over Maryland, which was able to stay in the game only through the grace of West Virginia's three turnovers in the red zone. TCU completely manhandled Minnesota and picked off Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner three times on the way to an easy 30-7 victory. The Horned Frogs appear to be formidable on defense again, and TCU’s new offensive scheme has been generating more points. Meanwhile, West Virginia might have the two most improved players in the entire conference in quarterback Clint Trickett, who is completing 75 percent of his passes, and wideout Kevin White, who already has 460 yards receiving. The Mountaineers and Horned Frogs still have to prove themselves in league play. But their performances through the nonconference suggest they'll give Big 12 foes a run for their money.
3. The league has some unshakable kickers: Two Big 12 kickers had the chance to produce winning field goals in the final seconds of their games. And both kickers delivered. First, Josh Lambert drilled a 47-yarder as time expired to give West Virginia a monumental victory over regional rival Maryland. Then, Iowa State’s Cole Netten connected on a 42-yard attempt with two seconds remaining to lift Iowa State to a 20-17 win over in-state rival Iowa. Netten actually misfired on his first try at the game-winner, but the Hawkeyes had called timeout first. Netten shook off that miss and came back and delivered in a moment he’ll remember awhile. Field goal kicking in the college game has become a lost art. But from Oklahoma’s Michael Hunnicutt to TCU’s Jaden Oberkrom, the Big 12 is loaded with talented place-kickers. In Lambert and Netten, the league has a couple of clutch ones, too.
4. Texas Tech’s run defense seems hopeless: Coach Kliff Kingsbury signed four junior college defensive linemen during the offseason to try to shore up what was the league’s worst run defense last fall. But in a disheartening 49-28 loss to Arkansas, the Red Raiders’ run defense looked worse than ever. The Razorbacks obliterated Tech in the trenches, rolling up 438 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. As a result, Arkansas dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for more than 40 of the game’s 60 minutes while keeping Tech QB Davis Webb on the sideline and out of rhythm. “They lined up and pounded us,” Kingsbury said. “We just didn’t have an answer.” The Red Raiders might not face a rushing attack like Arkansas’ until Oklahoma visits Lubbock in November. But it might not take a powerful rushing offense like Arkansas’ to exploit what has been a shaky Texas Tech defense that has yet to stop anybody through three games.
5. Texas still has some fight: There were few reasons to believe the Longhorns could hang around with UCLA after their dismal performance last week against BYU. But behind an inspired effort from sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, Texas had UCLA on the ropes until backup QB Jerry Neuheisel tossed a 33-yard go-ahead touchdown with three minutes remaining. The Longhorns lost the game 20-17 and still have various issues, such as getting the coin toss right. But this was a performance they can build off. Although he couldn’t lead them on a game-winning drive, Swoopes was solid in his second career start, completing 24 of 34 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. And unlike last week, the Longhorns didn’t lie down when things didn’t go their way. After a disastrous start in 2013, Texas bounced back to have a decent season. This team showed on Saturday it could do the same.
How the league fares in those seven games against Power 5 conference opponents will be the major storyline today in the Big 12:
West Virginia at Maryland, noon ET (Big Ten Network): The Terrapins slaughtered West Virginia 37-0 last season. The Mountaineers, however, didn’t have quarterback Clint Trickett in that game. Trickett ranks fourth nationally with a 75.3 completion percentage, and his favorite target, Kevin White, is tied for fourth in the country with 19 receptions.
Arkansas at Texas Tech, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC): After starting fast last year, the Red Raiders are off to a sluggish beginning in Kliff Kingsbury’s second season. Only Oregon State has committed more penalties than the Red Raiders, who have 25 through two games. These two old Southwest Conference foes have met 35 times, but haven’t played since 1991.
Kansas at Duke, 3:30 p.m. ET (ACC Regional Sports Network): Kansas hasn’t won a road game since beating UTEP in El Paso the second week of the 2009 season. The Jayhawks’ 34 points last week, however, tied the highest scoring total of the Charlie Weis era, and their 6.3 yards per play against Southeast Missouri State was the program’s best game average in three years.
Minnesota at TCU, 4 p.m. ET (FS1): The Gophers are one of the only Big Ten teams off to a positive start, but injuries have piled up. Minnesota is hopeful quarterback Mitch Leidner will be able to go after injuring his knee against Middle Tennessee last weekend.
UTSA at Oklahoma State, 7 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Regional): Quarterback Daxx Garman is expected to make his first career start after taking his first competitive snap in five years during last week’s win over Missouri State. The Roadrunners are still looking for the program’s first win over a Power 5 conference opponent.
Texas vs. No. 12 UCLA (Arlington, Texas), 8 p.m. ET (FOX): The Longhorns were woeful on both sides of the ball in a 41-7 loss to BYU last weekend, and this doesn’t have the look of a favorable matchup. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Texas has allowed the fourth-most rushing yards (777) in the FBS to opposing QBs since the start of last season. Excluding sacks, UCLA’s Brett Hundley has run for the sixth-most yards by a quarterback (1,057) during the same span.
Tennessee at No. 4 Oklahoma, 8 p.m. ET (ABC): This is the first regular-season matchup between these teams, which are in the top 10 in the FBS in all-time wins. Recent history, however, favors the Sooners. Bob Stoops is 88-5 at home with Oklahoma, while Tennessee hasn’t won three games to begin a season since 2004.
@Jake_Trotter: You're referencing an NFL.com report this week that suggested Bob Stoops would be a hot commodity for NFL coaching jobs after the season. Anything is possible. But my thinking is that if Stoops wanted to leave, he would have been gone already. Over the years, he has resisted overtures from the Cleveland Browns, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Florida (twice) and the Denver Broncos. If he's turning those kind of jobs down, what job out there would he take? The Dallas Cowboys? Maybe. But my money would be on Stoops retiring as the coach at Oklahoma.
@Jake_Trotter where does the Big 12 rank in the Power 5? How can they move up?— Wade Howard (@jwadehoward) September 12, 2014
Trotter: I would place the Big 12 behind the SEC and Pac-12. But a strong case could be made for the league as the third-best conference, especially with a successful weekend that includes games against seven Power 5 conference opponents.
@Jake_Trotter Rank the three RBs at OU at this point. I know it's early but Pat Jones ranked them Ford, Perine, and Ross.— Sam Philbeck (@SamPhilbeck25) September 12, 2014
@Jake_Trotter How many conference wins does Charlie Strong need to calm the fan base?— Johnny (@johnny_323) September 12, 2014
Trotter: I'm not sure he's going to be able to do anything this season to completely calm the fan base. After all the injuries, suspensions and dismissals, this roster has been completely ravaged. I think Texas is staring down the barrel of a 2-4 start, which, before the season, would have seemed like a worst-case scenario. I will be interested to see, though, if Texas can make improvement over the second half of the season. That would bode well for 2015, which is when the pressure will begin to mount on Strong and his staff.
@Jake_Trotter Will Texas be a top 10 program in 3 years?— Sean Delmonaco (@Hockey_Chi) September 12, 2014
Trotter: At blue-chip programs like Texas, the switch can flip quickly. Oklahoma was in worse shape in 1998 than Texas is now. And the Sooners won a national title two years later. The Longhorns could be a top-10 team as soon as next season. But first, they're going to have to find an answer at quarterback, which has plagued this program since Colt McCoy was behind center.
@Jake_Trotter is TCU ranked with a convincing win tomorrow?— Chip Hanna (@chiphanna) September 12, 2014
Trotter: Probably not. It's not like Minnesota is Michigan State. And there are too many other teams ahead in the polls. But a win would definitely snag the Frogs more votes.
@Jake_Trotter If TCU beats Minnesota, how does that change their perception going forward?— DCinAZ (@DCinAZ) September 12, 2014
Trotter: When did Minnesota become the bastion of college football? This would be a very solid win for TCU. But the Gophers were picked in the preseason to finish fifth in the Big Ten West.
@Jake_Trotter what can we do to get BYU in the big 12?— Martin borg (@Martyaborg) September 12, 2014
Trotter: Write a letter to your affiliated Big 12 athletic director and president. Because right now, none of them have given any indication they are interested in expansion.
@Jake_Trotter is the Big 12 being stubborn to not expand?— Creek (@alancreekmore) September 12, 2014
Trotter: Oh, maybe a little. But you have to remember, this was a league that teetered on the edge of extinction for a couple of years. The Big 12 is enjoying this newfound stability as well as the money it's raking in with these new TV contracts. What is the motivation for them to expand?
@Jake_Trotter does Rudolph lose his redshirt now that Walsh is out— Gerald Tracy III (@GeraldTracyCRFF) September 12, 2014
Trotter: Assuming that J.W. Walsh is out for the year -- and I've been told that he is -- I think they have to. The Cowboys don't want to be in a situation where Daxx Garman gets injured, and they have to bring in Mason Rudolph in a critical moment with him having zero college experience. Plus, playing Rudolph will give them a chance to determine whether he might be the quarterback of the future. They could always come back and redshirt him next season when Walsh returns to the fray.
@Jake_Trotter Does WVU finally make their way back to the polls for the first time since 2012 with a win against Maryland tomorrow?— Country Roads (@CountryRoads2) September 12, 2014
Trotter: This would be a huge win for the Mountaineers. But I don't think it would be enough to push them into the Top 25. A win against Oklahoma the following week would do it.
@Jake_Trotter any solution in sight for Tech's rather porous defense?— Andy Dobbins (@adobbins29) September 12, 2014
Trotter: I like Matt Wallerstedt's ploy of using more players. If you are lacking in standouts, at least keep the players you do have fresh for the fourth quarter when stops are at a premium. Personnel wise, the Red Raiders need their JUCO additions to start making bigger impacts. That would give the defense a boost.
@Jake_Trotter odds the Big 12 this weekend takes a beating the way the B1G did last weekend?— Kalman K. (@KalmanKreit) September 12, 2014
Trotter: It's possible. Oklahoma losing to Tennessee would really be the only stunner. Maryland, Minnesota, UCLA, Arkansas, UTSA, Duke, Iowa are all more than capable of defeating their Big 12 counterparts..
There was, after all, no need to go back to the drawing board. The Horned Frogs' new Air Raid-inspired offense did too many things right in a 48-14 win over Samford back on Aug. 30.
Gary Patterson wasn't joking this week when he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that TCU's offense hasn't installed anything new in four weeks. No need. The offense's successful launch made it easy to devote the first week of September to preparing for anything Minnesota might try Saturday.
Changing schemes worked wonders for Week 1. The number of plays (96), total yards (555) and first downs (33) the Horned Frogs put up against Samford were new single-game highs since joining the Big 12 in 2012. The offense matched its Big 12-best of 21 plays gaining 10-plus yards, and its 355 passing yards were second-best since 2012.
TCU enters this week averaging an offensive snap every 20.2 seconds. That clip is right up there with the Big 12's fastest offenses, Texas Tech (19.2 seconds) and Baylor (19.9).
Patterson no doubt appreciates all of this data, but in a wide-ranging interview in April about offensive renovation, the head coach said he's setting no goals or benchmarks for offensive production.
"Still comes down to scoring one more point," Patterson said.
Even back then, Patterson was already starting to look ahead to facing Minnesota, a ground-and-pound team with the No. 2 rusher in the Big Ten (David Cobb) that, as Patterson admiringly put it this week, can lull you to sleep and then run you over.
"I haven't been worried about anybody else except a little bit of Minnesota," Patterson said this spring, "because of how many tight ends they use. If we were running the old offense, I wouldn't worry about it, because we saw it [in practice]."
So in fall camp and the bye week, Patterson dedicated time to making sure his defense got comfortable facing those power sets that TCU has little use for today outside of the goal line.
Another fall camp philosophy of Patterson's that hasn't gone away: He reserves the right to play backup quarterback Matt Joeckel, the Texas A&M graduate transfer who was beat out by Trevone Boykin. He wants to have both quarterbacks up to speed, and though Boykin is undoubtedly the starter, the two are still listed as the co-No. 1 QB this week.
What Patterson and co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie need to see this week, against a Gopher defense that currently ranks 94th in FBS in total defense, is Boykin's advanced ability to manage the offense and get the Frogs out of bad looks and into the right plays with his pre-snap decision-making.
"Running the offense, execution, running it when they don’t have numbers in the box, throwing it when they have too many, doing all the things that a quarterback has to do to manage the game and operate it,” Patterson told the Star-Telegram this week. “Doug does a great job on the sideline seeing all that. You’re going to get some different coverages, possibly more man coverage in this ballgame. So now you’ve got to beat 1-on-1s. There’s the first thing you’ve got to see that you got better at.”
But here's the upside: After this weekend, there's another bye and another chance to get better before playing an SMU team whose coach resigned this week. Get past Minnesota and this September can't get much cushier for the Horned Frogs. By the time they face Oklahoma at home on Oct. 4, it'll finally be time to cash in on all those extra reps.
Here's a closer look at the Big 12's leading receivers in several key stats, with the help of ESPN Stats and Information.
- Kevin White, West Virginia, 26
- Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech, 21
- John Harris, Texas, 20
- Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma, 19
- (Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech, 18
It’s clear White has developed a high level of trust with quarterback Clint Trickett and the Mountaineers are trying to get the ball in the hands of the 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior. … Texas’ John Harris is the surprise name on the list as he has emerged as a go-to target in a struggling Longhorns attack. … As Iowa State searches for someone to replace Quenton Bundrage, no Cyclone has double-digit targets through two games.
Yards per target
- Kolby Listenbee, TCU, 32.6
- Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State, 20.8
- Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma, 16.7
- KD Cannon, Baylor, 15.4
- Nick Harwell, Kansas, 14.9
TCU has only played one game, but it would be a surprise if Listenbee is not a major part of the offense. He proved to be a legitimate deep threat in the Horned Frogs' season opener two weeks ago, and that skill will make quarterback Trevone Boykin and his dynamic running ability even more lethal. … Shepard’s appearance on this list shows the Sooners plan to use him to keep defenses honest while they attempt to establish a physical running game.
Yards after catch
- Kevin White, West Virginia, 147
- Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech, 103
- Brandon Sheperd, Oklahoma State, 98
- Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma, 92
- Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech, 87
White is starting to fulfill the hype that accompanied him when he arrived as a junior college transfer before the 2013 season. He combines terrific size with run-after-catch ability. He’ll be in the mix for All-Big 12 honors if he remains consistent. … Seeing Marquez, not Grant, lead the Red Raiders in yards after the catch is a surprise, but it shows his versatility and overall importance to Tech’s passing game.
- Davion Hall, Baylor, 6
- Kevin White, West Virginia, 4
- John Harris, Texas, 4
- Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech, 4
- Five receivers tied with 3
Hall has a high third-down reception rate but only three of his six receptions have resulted in first down conversions. The Bears have made a point to get him the ball in space, with 7 of his 11 receptions coming within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. … It’s early, but Harris, White and Marquez appear to have separated themselves as go-to receivers in their offenses.
Percentage of receptions for a first down or touchdown
- Nick Harwell, Kansas, 100 percent
- Kolby Listenbee, TCU, 100 percent
- Ja'Juan Story, TCU, 100 percent
- KD Cannon, Baylor, 87.5 percent
- Tyler Lockett, Kansas State, 85.7 percent
Harwell was solid in his first game as a Jayhawk with four receptions for 46 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll be a major part of KU’s offense. … Listenbee and Story have five receptions combined so it remains to be seen if their ability to make key plays continues throughout the season. … Lockett should be a staple on this list with his ability to change games each time he touches the ball.