Dallas Colleges: Blake Jackson
Running back Glasco Martin, Baylor: While Lache Seastrunk garners all the headlines, Martin should be a key weapon for the Bears' offense. BU’s short-yardage specialist scored 14 of his 15 rushing touchdowns in the red zone in 2012. He provides a terrific complement to Seastrunk’s shifty moves with his power and strength. Putting the duo on the field on the same time could be a nightmare for Big 12 defenses.
Receiver Jarvis West, Iowa State: The 5-foot-7 dynamo can create problems for any defense from the slot. Baylor got a glimpse at West’s potential during his seven-reception, 99-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Bears in 2012. Getting the ball in his hands should be a priority for ISU’s offense.
Receiver Tramaine Thompson, Kansas State: Tyler Lockett draws the majority of praise among the Wildcats’ receivers. But Thompson has terrific playmaking ability of his own. He averaged 33.4 yards per kickoff return and 19.75 yards per punt return as he continually changed games with his quickness. If KSU makes a point to get him the ball more, he should reward the Wildcats with even more big plays as a senior.
Running back Roy Finch, Oklahoma: The very talented but seldom used Finch enters his final season with a sense of urgency. If he’s more mature and ready to contribute, Finch could make a major impact in OU’s backfield with his quickness and versatility. If the Sooners strive to get him 5-10 touches per game, he could reward them with one or two momentum-changing plays.
Receiver Blake Jackson, Oklahoma State: With Josh Stewart testing the middle of defenses with his quickness and Tracy Moore returning to the outside as a perimeter threat, Jackson could have plenty of one-on-one situations to use his size and strength to take advantage of overmatched defenders. If he emerges as a consistent pass catcher, OSU's offense could explode.
Running back Malcolm Brown, Texas: The junior is, in some ways, the forgotten man in the Longhorns’ backfield after only playing in seven games as a sophomore while watching freshman Johnathan Gray lead the squad in rushing. Yet, his versatility could allow him to be a terrific complimentary threat in UT’s backfield.
Receiver Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech: One of the fastest players in the conference, Grant tests Big 12 defenses with his speed and quickness. Expect coach Kliff Kingsbury to find creative ways to get him the ball by moving him around and making it difficult for defenses to corral the 5-foot-6 speedster.
Quarterback Trevone Boykin, TCU: It’s hard to imagine Boykin not factoring into the Horned Frogs' offense in some way. Even if he doesn’t win the starting quarterback job, he gives TCU an experienced, athletic signal caller who could be useful in a number of different situations.
FB/TE/WR Cody Clay, West Virginia: Clay brings a unique versatility to the Mountaineers’ offense. He can line up at fullback on first down, tight end on second down and slot receiver on third down. That ability will open up options for Dana Holgorsen to get creative as he aims to attack defenses this fall.
Two of those passers -- Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh -- are back. But their teammates don’t seem to care which wins the starting quarterback job. They say they can put up the points with either. Or, perhaps, even both.
“Doesn’t matter to me at all,” said Josh Stewart, who led Oklahoma State in receiving last year. “They both put up big numbers without even playing the whole season.
The Cowboys have reason to be.
After Brandon Weeden set school records during Oklahoma State’s Fiesta Bowl run in 2011, the Cowboys were left without a clear succession plan at quarterback going into 2012. Chelf and Walsh battled incoming freshman Wes Lunt for the job during spring. Then days after spring ball, coach Mike Gundy stunned everyone, even his own players, by naming Lunt the starter.
“We really had no clue what our season would look like because we didn’t have a quarterback until summertime,” Stewart said. “And it was Wes, which was a shocker to everybody because it was a freshman coming in. We had Clint, who was a veteran and J-Dub, who performed really well in the spring game. Wes was the last person we were thinking.
“It was a shocker.”
Lunt showed why Gundy picked him to start by throwing for 436 yards and four touchdowns in a shootout loss to Arizona the second game of the season. But a week later, Lunt was out of the lineup with a knee injury, and Walsh was in. And the offense kept on humming, as the Cowboys racked up 576 yards against Texas, then 625 against Iowa State.
After Walsh suffered his own knee injury -- and Lunt got knocked out again with a concussion -- Chelf was in. And the offense kept on humming. With Chelf at the helm, the Cowboys scored 55 points against West Virginia, 59 against Texas Tech and 48 at Oklahoma in a heartbreaking, overtime loss in which the Cowboys led virtually the entire game.
All told, despite shuffling through three inexperienced quarterbacks, Oklahoma State finished third in the nation in scoring, averaging almost 46 points a game.
“We were very fortunate they didn’t have any experience and still played pretty well,” Gundy said. “You feel a little better this year because they’ve been out there, they’ve played on the road, they’ve been in tough environments, they’ve executed and they certainly know the offense better than they did a year ago.”
Gundy hasn’t made either quarterback available to the media this preseason. He hasn’t indicated when he’ll name a starter, either – although he did say he would have done so already if the Cowboys weren’t facing an SEC opponent in the opener.
Because he ended last season as the starter, Chelf is the favorite to get the nod over Walsh against Mississippi State in Houston. But their teammates hinted a two-quarterback attack isn’t off the table, either.
“I’d be looking out for both of them,” said running back Jeremy Smith. “I think it’s going to be a one-two punch with those guys.”
Walsh is the better runner, and operated Oklahoma State’s goal line package late last season when he returned from injury. Chelf, meanwhile, is more comfortable throwing downfield out of the pocket.
“I think that’s got to be the scariest thing for rest of the Big 12, if we put both those guys back there at different times,” said receiver Blake Jackson. “That’s really dangerous.”
Whether they play Chelf, play Walsh or play both, the Cowboys ought to be dangerous on offense once again. Due in large part to their two quarterbacks.
“This year, we know what we have,” Stewart said. “We know what our quarterbacks can do.
“And we’re very confident, because both are great.”
Yet top to bottom, coach Mike Gundy agrees his Cowboys have never featured a deeper, more talented overall receiving corps than the one he’ll take into this season.
“But from top to bottom ... we have 10 or 12 guys that I think in three weeks could play in a game and go out there with the ones and have success. So we may be as good at that position as we’ve ever been -- without having maybe a potential first-round guy.”
The Cowboys might not have that potential first-round pick, but thanks to the fortuitous timing of an injury, they do have two go-to guys.
Oklahoma State went into 2012 counting on senior Tracy Moore to take over for Blackmon as the No. 1 receiver. Moore proved up to the challenge, hauling in four touchdown passes in a shootout loss at Arizona early in the season. But a month later, Moore’s season was derailed when he suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for the year.
“Other than (running back) Joseph Randle, before Tracy got hurt, he was our best player on offense,” Gundy said.
Moore getting hurt, however, provided a silver lining that should benefit the Cowboys this season: it cleared the way for Josh Stewart to shine out of the slot. After taking over as Oklahoma State’s primary pass-catcher, Stewart rapidly developed into one of the most dangerous receivers in college football and finished with 101 receptions, third-most in the Big 12.
And because Moore played less than 30 percent of the 2012 season, he was given a medical redshirt to come back, providing Oklahoma State with two playmakers who have shouldered the No. 1 receiver role.
“Not a lot of teams have that,” Stewart said.
Moore and Stewart will have plenty of help, too.
The Cowboys return two other starters at receiver in Charlie Moore and Blake Jackson, who combined for more than 65 receptions and 1,000 yards last season. Oklahoma State also brings back Austin Hays, who filled in admiringly after Tracy Moore got hurt with 29 catches, and Blake Webb, who got the start against Oklahoma.
“It’s crazy because last year I thought that we had great depth at the position,” said Jackson, who plays on the inside opposite Stewart. “Now getting Tracy back for another year, it’s crazy how many good receivers we have. We have 12 guys that could start right now and we’d be productive and keep moving.”
Among those 12 are underclassmen David Glidden, Brandon Sheperd and Jhajuan Seales, who all are vying for time. Seales has been especially turning heads. Gundy singled him out as someone who developed physically during the offseason as much as anyone on the squad.
“Anyone in the starting lineup go down, we’ve got someone that could fill them up at every spot and do good, and I’m not just saying that,” Stewart said. “We’ve had pretty good depth the last three years -- but nothing like this.”
The Cowboys are also about to reap the benefits of more fruitful recruiting efforts. In its most recent signing class, Oklahoma State landed four-star receivers Ra'Shaad Samples and Marcell Ateman, incoming freshmen who appear talented enough to contribute right away.
“The success we’re having has a lot to do with this, the previous success,” Tracy Moore said. “People see what Blackmon did, people see what Dez Bryant did. They want to come here and we’re getting top guys now."
The Cowboys don’t have a Blackmon or a Bryant. But the position in Stillwater has never been better.
“We are so stacked on receivers,” Moore said. “We’re definitely pretty stacked.”
Damien Williams, RB, Oklahoma: Williams doesn't have breakneck speed, but has a huge ability to turn medium runs into huge ones once he hits the second level of the defense. That was never more evident than on his 95-yard touchdown run against Texas. He also had an 89-yard run against Florida A&M, a 66-yard run against TCU and a 48-yard run against West Virginia.
Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor: Reese is the most dangerous vertical receiving threat in the Big 12 and gets to prove it in a wide-open Baylor offense. He's the Big 12's returning leader in catches longer than 40 yards, with eight. He's got a great case as the fastest player in the Big 12, and hauled in a 75-yard score against Oklahoma State. Reese caught passes longer than 38 yards in 10 games last season.
Tyler Lockett, WR/KR, Kansas State: Lockett's the Big 12's best return man and one of the most dangerous special teamers in college football. He was the only Big 12 player with more than one kick return for a touchdown last season, and led the league with 32.76 yards per return. That mark was fourth nationally.
Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas: Pierson quietly established his reputation last year behind James Sims. He didn't bust many game-breaking plays, but he was consistently productive in the passing and running games. Among running backs with at least 100 carries last season, only Seastrunk averaged more than Pierson's 6.5 yards per carry.
Blake Jackson, WR/TE, Oklahoma State: Like Williams at OU, Jackson's not going to wow you with his speed, but he's a mismatch for defenses in the slot and showed it on the stat sheet last season. He's not explosive in the purest sense, but you can't argue with a guy who averaged better than 20 yards a catch last season. He caught just 29 balls, but Jackson's mark was fourth-most nationally.
Mike Davis, WR, Texas: Davis is a balanced receiver with an ability to get vertical. He's always had it, but as David Ash has progressed, Davis' skill has been much easier to appreciate. He caught seven balls longer than 40 yards, and his four catches longer than 50 yards are more than any returning player in the Big 12. He hauled in a 75-yard score against Texas Tech, grabbed a 61-yard catch against Iowa State and logged a 67-yard reception against Baylor.
The Cowboys are my pick to win the Big 12 in 2013, but here's how high they could fly, and how low they could fall.
Other best- and worst-case scenarios.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- The Cowboys began their season with a victory against an SEC team, and ended it with a loss to one.
The Cowboys rolled through their nonconference slate with three wins all by at least 20 points, including a rout of Mississippi State. Early struggles in their Big 12 opener at West Virginia gave way to 21 consecutive second-half points and a 17-point victory. OSU took a top-10 ranking back home and made it look easy against Kansas State before TCU brought the first real fight to the Cowboys. Both defenses starred, and Clint Chelf was able to come back from a sack/fumble courtesy of Devonte Fields that gave TCU a fourth-quarter lead. Josh Stewart's four catches on the eventual game-winning drive pushed OSU to a 24-20 win in Stillwater.
Ames and Lubbock have been difficult places for the Cowboys to win at times, but OSU proved the better team in both trips, which were largely incident-free and pushed OSU to 8-0; a KU rout a week later meant 9-0.
The pressure was officially built for the home stretch. The trip to Texas to face a top-10 Longhorns squad had plenty of hype, but OSU's turnover-free performance helped it hold off a late Texas rally for a 31-27 win. Baylor brought its big guns the next week and embarrassed the OSU defense, but Blake Jackson, Tracy Moore and Stewart answered, helping Chelf rack up 400 yards and five scores in a 47-44 win, giving OSU a spotless 11-0 record heading into Bedlam. No surprise here: Another classic for bragging rights in the Sooner State, which won't be a Sooner State for the next year after the Pokes' overtime victory. Last year, Blake Bell broke the Cowboys' hearts. This year, it's Jeremy Smith's turn, breaking two tackles for the game-winning score, setting off another field-storming and a trip to the national title game. A loss to Alabama at the Rose Bowl tasted bitter, but nobody's forgetting these Cowboys anytime soon.
FINAL RECORD: 12-1
STILLWATER, Okla. -- You know how you can predict whether or not a season's going to be a disappointment? Losing as a two-touchdown favorite in the season opener is a great start, and that's what OSU fans who traveled to Houston got. The Cowboys survived their first two conference games against West Virginia and Kansas State, but an ugly loss to TCU had fans wondering whether or not it was still possible to bring Wes Lunt back.
Chelf won back some doubters with a fourth-quarter comeback in Ames against Iowa State the next week, but a trip to Lubbock sent the Pokes to a disappointing 5-3 mark with the toughest stretch of the schedule to come. Just like last season, Oklahoma State narrowly avoided an embarrassing loss by holding off KU late, but Stillwater braced itself to face three of the Big 12's best teams in a big finish to 2013.
Predictably, all three sent Oklahoma State home disappointed and ended a hyped season with a modest 6-6 mark. The Pokes got tangled up in the Big 12's depth and proved that, just like West Virginia in 2012 and Texas A&M in 2011, if you don't turn in a high-quality performance for 60 minutes every week, there are many teams in the Big 12 who can beat even the league's most talented squads. Welcome back to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, Oklahoma State.
FINAL RECORD: 6-6
2012 Big 12 record: 5-4
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 0
Top returners: QB Clint Chelf, WR Josh Stewart, CB Justin Gilbert, LB Shaun Lewis, LB Caleb Lavey, WR Blake Jackson, DT Calvin Barnett, S Daytawion Lowe, DE Tyler Johnson
Key losses: RB Joseph Randle, LB Alex Elkins, K/P/KOS Quinn Sharp, CB Brodrick Brown, DE Nigel Nicholas, WR Isaiah Anderson
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Passing: Clint Chelf* (1,588 yards)
Rushing: Joseph Randle (1,417 yards)
Receiving: Josh Stewart* (1,210 yards)
Tackles: Alex Elkins, Daytawion Lowe* (75)
Sacks: Tyler Johnson* (4)
Interceptions: Lyndell Johnson*, Daytawion Lowe*, Shamiel Gary* (2)
1. The defense's intentions are clear. Bill Young is out. Glenn Spencer is in, and he's all about playing aggressive. Tight coverage and blitzes are the name of the game, and we'll see if it pays off in a Big 12 lacking in quarterback experience. Last season, OSU's parade of turnovers came to an end, but Spencer seems intent on bringing it back. Nobody's stopping Big 12 offenses, but forcing turnover and holding teams to three in the red zone are how you succeed on defense in this league.
2. The offensive line is set ... for now. Center Evan Epstein and guard Lane Taylor are gone, but the Pokes are going with youth at left tackle in sophomore Devin Davis, moving last year's left tackle, Parker Graham, to left guard. Meanwhile, junior Jake Jenkins is sliding up to take Epstein's spot at center. That's how it ended in the spring, but OL coach Joe Wickline is kind of unpredictable, so those guys better continue to bring it in fall camp.
3. Athletic director Mike Holder is still running the show. Gundy and Holder had a disagreement on scheduling that nearly ended with Gundy packing his bags to succeed Derek Dooley in Knoxville. But Gundy's displeasure with Holder helping schedule Mississippi State this year and Florida State next year -- both on neutral fields -- hasn't changed much. OSU just announced a future home-and-home with Boise State. Who knows what Boise will look like then, but the intent is clear: Holder wants attention-grabbing, money-making games to start the season, not home games against patsies to help OSU run up an easy 3-0 mark before conference play begins.
1. Seriously, what's the deal at quarterback? Chelf is the safe bet at quarterback, but Gundy reneged on a statement midway through spring that he would hold onto his starting spot in Week 1 ahead of J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt. Now, Gundy says the starter for Game 1 hasn't been decided, and quarterbacks are off limits to the media with no updates being given until after the season opener. We'll see if Gundy sticks to it, and if Chelf hangs onto the starting job he earned with strong play to close 2012.
2. Is Oklahoma State a new Big 12 power? The Pokes broke through and won a title in 2011, but one title doesn't mean anything in the big picture. OSU is in position to win another and just may be the league favorite to start the season. They are in my book for sure. Two Big 12 titles in three seasons? That's serious, and the Pokes have a chance to do some special things this season.
3. Is Mike Yurcich the next super coordinator at OSU? Mike Gundy's been a head coach less than a decade, but his coaching tree is already way underrated. He's churning out head coaches year after year, highlighted by guys like Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, Larry Fedora at North Carolina and Tim Beckman at Illinois. Todd Monken just left for Southern Miss, and if Yurcich, who stepped into the new role from a Division II school, keeps the pace for this offense, I'm betting he may attract interest before too long, too. Watching how he handles Year 1 will be interesting. Monken came from being an NFL position coach and made parlaying that into a head coaching job look easy.
- Clint Chelf worked with the Orange team and completed 17-of-34 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown with no picks, leading them to a 17-7 win.
- J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt split reps with the White team. Walsh finished with 123 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 13-of-23 passing. Lunt finished with 122 yards and an interception on 15-of-27 passing.
- Linebacker Caleb Lavey returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown with just over a minute left to lock in the win.
- Cornerback Justin Gilbert swiped two interceptions and defensive lineman Jimmy Bean made two sacks and scooped up a fumble.
- It's going to be an intriguing few months in Stillvegas. Mike Gundy made it clear after the game that he won't be updating the quarterback spot until the season opener. "There's really no reason to talk about what our quarterback situation is. We've been very open about it through the spring, but I don't know if there's anything else we can say other than we're fortunate to have three that are really good," Gundy said. Well, no, he could say who's going to start against Mississippi State, but that would certainly be a lack of gamesmanship. At this point, I'd say the smart money is on Chelf getting the ball to start the season, but this isn't the first time we've seen a coach handle a quarterback competition this way. Nebraska's Bo Pelini waited until starting lineups were announced on opening day to reveal his pick between Cody Green, Zac Lee and Taylor Martinez, but the young, speedy freshman ended up beating the odds and his competition. I'm sure you'll hear a number of anonymously sourced reports between now and then with updates on who's winning, but by now, if it's anyone but Chelf, it'll be a surprise. OSU wants to go faster, and that experience gives him the ability to do so. Not turning the ball over (something that's continually been a huge problem for Lunt) in Saturday's game doesn't hurt, either.
- Welcome back, Justin Gilbert. I wrote on Friday that I was intrigued to see the cornerback play, and Gilbert made it happen. He went 13 games without an interception last season after nabbing five in 2011. He grabbed two on Saturday. Interceptions aren't necessarily a fair representation of cover skills, but Saturday was a welcome development for everyone involved, minus the quarterbacks, of course. "Justin played very average last year, and he would be the first to admit that," Gundy told reporters. "He's certainly very talented, and he was in position to make plays today, and that's what he needs to do for us. He needs to be a guy who has several interceptions and runs the ball back. As fast he as he is, if he's in the right area, he can get the ball off a tip -- and that's what he did today." OSU really needs that to carry over into the fall, and that position battle opposite Gilbert between Ashton Lampkin and Kevin Peterson should be interesting to watch in the fall, too. Ultimately, both will be in the rotation. The defense as a whole was really, really impressive, and we know what this offense is capable of. Lots to be encouraged about for Pokes fans after Saturday.
- Don't worry about the run game. The offense as a whole was pretty underwhelming on Saturday, with all three quarterbacks having lower completion percentages than I'm sure they'd like and starting running back Jeremy Smith being held to just two yards on six carries. "I think our run game is going to be fine," Gundy told reporters. "It's all based on how a defense wants to defend us. We're going to rush the football and we're going to throw it. We're not going to change what we do. Obviously, Jeremy has to be the guy now, and Desmond (Roland) backs him up." I buy Gundy here. It's a bit of a red flag for now, and I don't think Smith is quite as talented as a lot of the other backs that have come through OSU in the past few years, but I expect OSU to have a seventh consecutive 1,000-yard rusher this season.
- Another problem finding a solution? Blake Jackson's unreliable hands were one of the bigger frustrations for OSU in 2012, but he definitely showed some progress on Saturday, catching five balls for 34 yards. "It's a pleasure to show the fans that I'm better than I was last year, and really getting to come out here and show how hard I've been working. It was definitely a fun time for me. The hard work won't stop."
Next up: Oklahoma State.
Strongest position: Pass-catchers
I'll have to apologize to Oklahoma State's trio of safeties in Daytawion Lowe, Shamiel Gary and Zack Craig here, but I'm going with the guys hauling in balls in OSU's pass-first offense as the strongest position. I don't care to debate whether Blake Jackson is a receiver or a tight end (he's the former), but I'm obviously including him in this group. He'll be an interesting guy to watch this year after struggling with drops but clearly possessing loads of potential and averaging better than 20 yards a catch on his 29 grabs.
Oklahoma State had nine players with at least 12 catches and 150 receiving yards last season and returns six of those players, including Tracy Moore, who was given an extra year of eligibility. He won't be joined by Michael Harrison, who sat out 2012 and was expected to return, but won't be doing so after a strong 2011 season under Justin Blackmon.
Somehow, we've gotten this far without mentioning the unit's headliner, breakout star Josh Stewart. He was overshadowed by a trio of superstars in Baylor's Terrance Williams and West Virginia's Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but all three are gone and Stewart is easily the Big 12's best returning receiver. He caught 101 balls for 1,210 yards and seven scores last season, which is more than 150 yards more than any other returning receiver in the league. Stewart's underrated for now, but that could change soon, even though Oklahoma State has a ton of depth at the position with guys like Austin Hays and Charlie Moore filling out the position and Blake Webb emerging late in the season. Will incoming freshmen like Ra'Shaad Samples and Marcell Ateman find space to make an impact right away? It won't be easy, because this is Oklahoma State's biggest strength.
Weakest position: Defensive end
I've got nothing against juco transfers, who can walk on campus and be game-changers immediately, but if you're bringing in guys to do that, it shows a weakness at the position. Oklahoma State is doing that with Sam Wren, the nation's No. 16 overall juco prospect, after the Pokes lost three defensive ends from last season's team in Nigel Nicholas, Ryan Robinson and Cooper Bassett. Tyler Johnson is a solid player who made six tackles for loss a year ago, but OSU needs to find him help on the other side or opponents will be able to shut him down with double teams. Kansas State's Joe Bob Clements is a new addition to the staff who'll coach the position and try to sort it out this spring, but look for guys like Trace Clark, Jimmy Bean and early enrollee Naim Mustafaa to try to earn a starting spot, too.
More Weak and Strong.
To celebrate, we'll have a little theoretical bracket competition in the Big 12 with next season's teams.
Here's how I'm seeding the league's 10 teams:
- Oklahoma State
- Texas Tech
- Kansas State
- West Virginia
- Iowa State
So, how would a 10-team bracket play out? Here's how I slot it. Feel free to provide your own conclusions in the comments. The Big 12, like this year's NCAA tournament, is wide open. Anything could happen, but assume that these games are played during this week. (Note: Players injured this spring will be included, as will early enrolling freshmen. Freshmen not on campus are not eligible for these games).
Play-in games (at Hutchinson Junior College in Hutchinson, Kansas):
No. 7 Kansas State vs. No. 10 Kansas: KU's got a bit more experience on its side, but experience doesn't mean much in this latest iteration of the Sunflower Showdown. Bill Snyder gets the best of the Jayhawks on the kind of field he knows very, very well. Kansas State 38, Kansas 20
No. 8 West Virginia vs. No. 9 Iowa State: This game was too close for comfort in November, but Iowa State's Sam Richardson makes enough plays to outgun an inexperienced WVU offense and a still-learning defense. West Virginia goes with experience at quarterback in Paul Millard, but the timing is still a bit off. Iowa State 31, West Virginia 30
FIRST ROUND (in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas)
No. 1 Oklahoma State vs. No. 7 Kansas State: These two have had some classic battles over the past two years, but OSU quarterback Clint Chelf finishes without a turnover, and that gets the job done. If OSU hadn't thrown an interception against Kansas State in Manhattan last year, the Pokes might have pulled the upset. Cowboys running back Jeremy Smith goes off against Kansas State's new defensive line. Oklahoma State 47, Kansas State 31
No. 2 TCU vs. No. 9 Iowa State: Iowa State beat the heck out of TCU in Fort Worth last year, but that was just days after the Frogs lost quarterback Casey Pachall. Pachall is back, and so is running back Waymon James. Iowa State's green linebackers get bowled over by James' power. TCU 21, Iowa State 13
No. 3 Texas vs. No. 6 Texas Tech: Texas Tech is still searching for its offensive identity, and Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat isn't all about giving the Red Raiders time to do it. The Red Raiders get off to a nice start, though Texas' running game seizes control in the second half. Tech's Michael Brewer hits Jace Amaro for a pair of long gains and finds Eric Ward for the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds. Sounds oddly familiar, no? Texas Tech 31, Texas 27
No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 5 Baylor: Oklahoma's quarterback gets off to a decent start, but Baylor's defense is still red-hot and Baylor's Bryce Petty outguns Oklahoma's Blake Bell in the debut for both quarterbacks. It's a breakout game for redshirt freshman Baylor receiver Jay Lee, too. The Sooners' young defense is caught off guard. Baylor 41, Oklahoma 31
SEMIFINALS (at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas)
No. 1 Oklahoma State vs. No. 5 Baylor: Baylor sprung the upset late in the season, and leads by double digits early in this one before Chelf rallies with a pair of touchdown passes to Charlie Moore and a third to Blake Jackson. The senior is trying to prove he deserves the job permanently, but OSU seals the game with a late score on the ground from J.W. Walsh in the short-yardage formation, overcoming 185 rushing yards from Baylor's Lache Seastrunk. Oklahoma State 44, Baylor 31
No. 2 TCU vs. No. 6 Texas Tech: Texas Tech's offense gets completely suffocated by TCU's defense, and defensive end Devonte Fields makes life tough for Tech's Brewer. Tech can't establish the running game to offset the rush, and TCU's cornerbacks lock down the Red Raiders' screen game, too. Ugly, ugly game to watch. For anyone but TCU fans, anyway. TCU 20, Texas Tech 10
CHAMPIONSHIP (at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas)
No. 1 Oklahoma State vs. No. 2 TCU: Are we allowed to have a Big 12 title game (and semifinals) without Texas or Oklahoma involved? The league's top two squads in my book survived a pair of games to reach the finals, and both teams are solid on both sides of the ball. Oklahoma State's offense is better. TCU's defense is better. Both teams' weaker units are still solid, though. At the end of the game, it's exactly what we wanted to see. Chelf, Smith and Tracy Moore going head to head with Fields and Jason Verrett for the Frogs. OSU has been there before and drives the length of the field before kicker Bobby Stonebraker proves Oklahoma State's edge in the special teams is the difference with a 45-yard, game-winning field goal. Oklahoma State 31, TCU 28
Cue up One Shining Moment!
OFFENSE: You have to grade this unit on a curve. No other team in the Big 12 had to deal with this kind of injuries to the most important position on the field, quarterback. Wes Lunt was hurt twice (head, knee) and J.W. Walsh magically returned from a season-ending knee injury after missing a handful of games. Ultimately, the man who began the season as the third-stringer, Clint Chelf, was probably the most consistent quarterback on the roster, and mixing in Walsh's short-yardage package was fantastic. Running back Joseph Randle led the Big 12 in rushing by 300 yards, which is a testament to him and the offensive line, which was great again. Josh Stewart proved to be the team's No. 1 receiver, though Blake Jackson and Tracy Moore were a bit underwhelming. Dealing with those quarterback issues and finishing fourth nationally in total offense is pretty amazing. GRADE: A+
DEFENSE: Oklahoma State forced more than three turnovers in a game six times in 2011. This year, the Pokes did it just once, in the bowl game against Purdue. That was kind of the story for this defense, which will be coached by Glenn Spencer next year after Mike Gundy let veteran coach Bill Young go at the end of his contract. Giving up 59 points in a penalty-filled loss on the road to Arizona gave reason to believe this might be a long year for this unit, but Oklahoma State actually gave up fewer yards per play this season than it did in last year's Big 12 campaign. The cornerbacks were a huge disappointment this year relative to expectations following 2011's huge year, and there wasn't a huge standout on defense in Stillwater this year. Calvin Barnett and Daytawion Lowe had good years, and Alex Elkins and Shaun Lewis were solid at linebacker, but didn't get much notice in a super deep position across the Big 12. Oklahoma State dominated the Big 12's lower-tier offenses like TCU, Iowa State and Kansas, and played well against Texas Tech, but it did little to slow the elite offenses in the Big 12. GRADE: B-
OVERALL: You knew the expectations would be lower for this team after losing Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon alone, despite all the returning talent on defense. Winning five of six Big 12 games in the middle of the season with the lone loss coming to K-State set this team apart and made it clear they would again be an upper-tier Big 12 team, but the losses to Oklahoma and Baylor down the stretch kept them from truly exceeding the reasonable expectations. Oklahoma State can feel happy about a solid year that will build toward a big opportunity in 2013, and Gundy gets a pass for making 2012 the first season in his eight years in Stillwater that he didn't equal or surpass his win total from the previous year. That's what happens when you win 12 games and then lose the best parts of your offense. Kidding aside, kudos to the Cowboys. GRADE: A-
More Big 12 report cards:
Keep an eye on these guys:
Blake Jackson, WR, Oklahoma State: Jackson was the flavor of the spring in Stillwater, but for some reason, the attention slowed down this fall. The juco transfer will change that pretty quick on Saturday against Savannah State. The Tigers don't have the athletes to contend with his size and speed. It could be a big coming out party for the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder.
Terence Garvin, LB, West Virginia: Garvin was banged up late last season and missed a couple games with head and knee injuries, including the bowl win against Clemson. He's back now, and trying out a new position. He played "spur safety" in the Mountaineers' 3-3-5 scheme last season, but he moves up to play the "Star" linebacker spot in WVU's new 3-4 scheme. He'll start as a hybrid safety-linebacker and have plenty of chances to make plays as a senior with two years of starting experience. Big 12 fans don't know him now, but he can change that on Saturday.
Kale Pick, WR, Kansas: Pick's story is eerily similar to that of Kerry Meier. He started the first game of the Turner Gill Era, but lost out on his chance after that game. Since then, he's moved to receiver, and now, he looks like he might make a huge impact. He played well late last season, and coaches pegged him as the most impressive player of fall camp. He'll get a chance to showcase his skills against South Dakota State, and with the upgrade at quarterback now that Dayne Crist is in town, Pick could put up some serious numbers.
Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas: Brown battled through injuries last season, too, but he and fellow sophomore Joe Bergeron have focused on getting their bodies in ideal shape, and Saturday will be our first chance to see both. Brown is the headliner of the group, and though plenty of Texas fans want to get their first look at national player of the year Johnathan Gray, Brown should be the player who remains the most consistent force in the backfield for the Horns.
Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma: Coming Out Party City, population Metoyer. Expect big things from the freshman. He's waited a long time to finally make his debut in the crimson and cream. It's not exactly a headline-making opener, but Metoyer might make a whole lot of noise out in the West Texas town of El Paso. Prediction: He will be regarded much differently on Monday morning than he is today.
Remember, these are preseason predictions. We'll obviously still do week-to-week picks once the season arrives, and they might change between now and then. There are a lot of preseason practices, and a lot of games between now and the end of the season.
There are always teams that disappoint and teams that surprise. But here's how I see the Big 12 shaking out in Week 12.
My predictions for Week 12 in the Big 12:
Oklahoma 41, West Virginia 38: Just one more stop was all Oklahoma needed. It got it. The Big 12 Game of the Year lives up to the hype, and it's decided by two of the league's best talents. Tony Jefferson makes an acrobatic interception on a Geno Smith ball intended for Stedman Bailey in the final minute to seal the game. Landry Jones tosses four touchdowns and has all day to throw. He's not sacked once, and hardly ever knocked down to dirty his jersey. Those big-game jitters on the road? Jones did a heck of a job silencing them on this night ... but one more dangerous road game awaits.
Oklahoma State 44, Texas Tech 31: Wes Lunt keeps getting better, and slings three touchdown passes, including two in the red zone to Blake Jackson. The Cowboys don't run all over a handcuffed Texas Tech squad as they did in 2011's 60-point victory in Lubbock, but OSU wins this one convincingly to put Texas Tech's bowl hopes on thin ice.
Kansas State 24, Baylor 20: Just like last year's game, this one comes down to the wire, but Bill Snyder goes with the gutsy play in the final seconds, giving the ball to his Honey Badger on a run-pass option in the red zone on third down, instead of kicking the game-tying field goal. Quarterback Collin Klein drags two Baylor defenders into the end zone and proves the Big 12's silver fox still has plenty of magic left. K-State's ball-control offense hogties its powerful Baylor counterpart into one of its lowest outputs of the season.
Iowa State 17, Kansas 13: Kansas keeps threatening, but the Cyclones duo of Shontrelle Johnson and James White overcomes a pair of fumbles to win this one, icing it late with a six-yard run from Johnson to seal the game with a first down near midfield. Kansas' offense looks out of sorts in its final home game of the year, and even though the Jayhawks keep looking competitive, they can't get over the hump.
BIG 12 STANDINGS (after Week 12)
1. Oklahoma: 10-0 (7-0)
2. West Virginia: 9-2 (6-2)
2. Kansas State: 9-2 (6-2)
4. Texas: 8-2 (5-2)
5. TCU: 7-3 (4-3)
5. Oklahoma State: 7-3 (4-3)
7. Baylor: 5-5 (2-5)
8. Texas Tech: 5-6 (2-6)
9. Iowa State: 4-7 (2-6)
10. Kansas: 3-8 (0-8)
See more fall camp previews.
Next up: Oklahoma State.
Media's predicted finish: Fourth.
Biggest story line: Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon are gone. The Cowboys are going from a 28-year-old quarterback to an 18-year-old quarterback, but he's got to find a handful of new targets to come close to what Oklahoma State was used to with Weeden and Blackmon in 2010 and 2011. The Cowboys enter the season in the unfamiliar position of defending champs, but outside of the quarterback and pass-catching spots, this team is anything but rebuilding.
Biggest question mark: Wes Lunt. We know he beat out J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf this spring to amazingly win the job as a true freshman who should have still been in high school, but how will he handle the first year of major college football? It won't be easy, especially considering the strength of the league's defenses, which should be stronger than they've been in recent seasons. Can Lunt be productive and also take care of the ball?
Who needs to step up: The cornerbacks. Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown should be absolutely nasty at cornerback, but they simply have to be great this season. The margin for error for the defense is nothing like it was last season. It may surprise some, but the Cowboys actually led the Big 12 in scoring defense in conference games last season. That's nice. OSU still has to be better, and it's going to start with the Pokes' pair of returning starters at corner.
Biggest position battle: Starting left tackle Michael Bowie broke team rules and was suspended, but chose to leave the team, leaving the Cowboys reliant on a sudden position battle at left tackle. Parker Graham started three games there last year and may grab the spot, but sophomore Daniel Koenig, redshirt freshman Devin Davis and juco transfer Chris Grisbhy will be in the mix, too.
Don't forget about: RB Jeremy Smith. Joseph Randle is the headliner. Herschel Sims was the superstar recruit kicked off the team this spring. Smith will have to join Randle in supporting his new quarterback, proving that their success on the ground -- the duo combined for almost 2,000 yards -- was more than defenses being distracted by Weeden and Blackmon. Smith is a power back, but even he broke out for scores from 74 and 30 yards against Texas, the league's best defense.
Breaking out: There are lots of receptions to be had in this offense. The only question? Who's going to get them? Tracy Moore, Isaiah Anderson and Josh Stewart are the most likely candidates, but look out for spring breakout star Charlie Moore and newcomer Blake Jackson, one of the nation's best juco tight ends a year ago.
This year's crop of receivers aren't as loaded as 2011, when the Big 12 nearly swept all three finalist spots for the Biletnikoff Award, but the group in 2012 is still solid. That's clear when you run down Haney's list.
No. 2 is West Virginia, behind only USC. Couldn't agree more with this. USC's Robert Woods is more physically gifted than WVU's Stedman Bailey or Tavon Austin, but don't be surprised if one (or both) of the Mountaineers' duo outproduces Woods.
They're the only teammates other than Woods and Marqise Lee to both top 1,000 yards and return this season. Nice.
Baylor checked in at No. 6 on the list, offering a little more confirmation of what I've said all offseason. Yes, Baylor doesn't have RG3. It doesn't have Kendall Wright.
It has a lot more than nothing, though. Nick Florence will be able to get Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese the ball. Don't be surprised if both flirt with or surpass 1,000 yards, with Florence divvying out the receptions liberally.
Oklahoma is the only other Big 12 team on the list -- at No. 8 -- despite the loss of Ryan Broyles. Kenny Stills has all the physical measurables you could want, but still has to prove he can be the No. 1 target. Last season, he played in the slot where Broyles made his living, which was unfamiliar. We'll see how the Sooners use him now.
Haney got an up-close look at newcomer Trey Metoyer in the spring game, but he's still got to prove he can be what everyone around the program believes he can be. I'm betting (quite confidently, I might add) that he's going to do it, but it'll be fun to watch him this season.
It's a good list. I'd agree with all the selections. TCU (Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson, Brandon Carter) and Oklahoma State (Isaiah Anderson, Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart, Charlie Moore, Blake Jackson) can ascend to elite status this season, but just have to prove it.
Here's how I voted:
Offensive Player of the Year: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. In talking with people involved with the conference voting process this week at media days, I learned that the final vote between Smith and Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones was very, very close. I went with Geno. It's pretty close, but I didn't debate this one very much. Smith was inconsistent at times last year, sure, but when it mattered most, he was great. Jones faltered in big spots. Sure, Jones doesn't have the same quality of targets for all of last season after Ryan Broyles went down, but when it came to numbers, Smith dominated. Additionally, he takes care of the ball much more efficiently than Jones. That counts for a lot. Even though Smith has never played a down in the Big 12, I went with the Mountaineers' man for the preseason award.
Defensive Player of the Year: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State. There's no slam dunk here. You could probably make a case for no fewer than seven or eight guys. After a lot of debate, I voted for Brown. I mostly did so because of his importance to Kansas State's defense. His speed in the middle and locked-in tackling make him more valuable to his team than any other player in the league. The SnyderCats aren't loaded on depth and athletes, but Brown has the measurables to play for anybody in the league. He's irreplaceable for Kansas State and his speed and athleticism make him a specimen anybody would love to have. Anybody else remember him hurdling a blocker in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas? Not many guys can do that.
Newcomer of the Year: Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma. This was a tough vote, too. You hear a lot about these guys and have to go by players' words in these days of closed practices. For me, Newcomer of the Year comes down to opportunity and need, though. Metoyer has been hyped by coaches and teammates since he arrived on campus as a freak athlete, but he's got to do more than contribute. Oklahoma needs him to be a huge factor, and he'll have every opportunity to do so. He's got a Heisman candidate in Jones throwing him the ball, an established weapon in Kenny Stills to take some attention from defenses and a great offensive line. All the pieces are in place for him to be very, very productive. For me, that earned him my vote just ahead of guys like Wes Lunt and Blake Jackson at Oklahoma State, Dayne Crist at Kansas, Brandon Moore at Texas, Will Smith and SaDale Foster at Texas Tech and Lache Seastrunk at Baylor.
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