Dallas Colleges: Clint Trickett

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 10

November, 2, 2014
11/02/14
12:30
AM CT
Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 10:

1. TCU doesn't fold in fourth: Trailing by nine, road game, rough weather, an inconsistent Trevone Boykin, countless missed opportunities -- it was all lining up for another TCU fourth-quarter flop. But these Horned Frogs, three weeks after their debacle at Baylor, showed resolve and toughness under pressure. In a 31-30 comeback win that will boost their College Football Playoff résumé, the Frogs weren't as explosive as usual (for all those aforementioned factors) but did find a way to play clutch in all three phases late. Good timing, too, because Gary Patterson's gang might need some four-quarter heroics to survive against No. 9 Kansas State next week.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Catalon
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsTCU escaped with a win in Morgantown but faces a red-hot Kansas State team next week.
2. Sugar Bowl Trevor is back: We've seen a young, developing version of Trevor Knight a few times this season. In a 59-14 win over Iowa State, we once again got to see the one who shredded Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Knight racked up 376 yards of total offense and six touchdowns (three rushing), despite getting just one play out of Sterling Shepard. When Knight is bringing that confidence and dual-threat efficiency, this offense can do it all -- he was one of three 100-yard rushers -- and blow a game wide open. The Oklahoma offense we saw Saturday can definitely hang with and challenge Baylor next week, but Sugar Bowl Trevor has to show up again.

3. Mountaineers play not to lose and lose: West Virginia turned the ball over five times yet still had every opportunity to upset TCU. Its efforts to nurse a lead and run out the clock were totally fruitless in the fourth: Three drives, nine plays, a net gain of minus-7 yards, three punts. When West Virginia got the ball back up 30-28 with 3:46 left, a monumental win was only a couple first downs away. No dice. Why so conservative with the playcalling? Clint Trickett threw just one pass (an incompletion) in the quarter, and Dana Holgorsen admitted afterward that's because Trickett was rattled. Regaining confidence is a must this week after such a disastrous finish.

4. K-State firing on all cylinders: The Wildcats couldn't be any more ready to take on TCU and the rest of the Big 12's best. They reminded us of that again Saturday with their 48-14 destruction of Oklahoma State. KSU scored 45 straight points after falling behind 7-0. Jake Waters and his receiving duo of Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton were masterful, as usual. The defense gave up 48 yards in the second half, even while using backups. This was start-to-finish domination for a second straight week, and three of KSU's five Big 12 wins have come by double-digit margins. You do not want to play these guys right now.

5. Texas' bowl dream isn't dead: The Longhorns overcame an ugly start and rolled in Lubbock 34-13, with 24 unanswered points, to improve to 4-5. All of those points came after Quandre Diggs knocked Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes out of the game with a vicious hit. Some reasons for encouragement? The Longhorns' run game finally got moving with 240 yards, and the starting D allowed just seven points. They have to go 2-of-3 against West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU to hit six wins. The odds of pulling that off aren’t great, but Texas at least took care of business on Saturday.

Big 12 stat check: Week 10

October, 29, 2014
10/29/14
4:30
PM CT
A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 10:

Baylor: The Bears had a bye week to address their penalty problems. One stat to put that issue in perspective: The Bears have more 10-plus penalty games this season (five) than the entire Big Ten conference combined (three). Then again, Big 12 teams have combined for 16 such games. That suggests style of play and the league's refs are probably important factors in the Bears' penalty woes.

Iowa State: The breakthrough is coming for Allen Lazard and D'Vario Montgomery. Both were impressive against Texas and have been targeted a combined 51 times by Sam B. Richardson in the Cyclones' past three games. In fact, Lazard was targeted a season-high 15 times against the Longhorns, one more than team receptions leader E.J. Bibbs.

Kansas: When interim head coach Clint Bowen says running back Corey Avery isn't being properly appreciated, he might be right. Avery's 417 rushing yards rank No. 11 in FBS among true freshmen on Power 5 conference teams and second most in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma's Samaje Perine, and he's already surpassed 500 total yards in his debut season.

Kansas State: ESPN Football Power Index data ranks the strength of Kansas State's record so far as No. 10 in the country and best in the Big 12. That's a good snapshot of both KSU's tough schedule and its impressive showings against ranked foes. But FPI still projects K-State will lose to TCU and Baylor, and that its road test at West Virginia is almost a 50-50 game (KSU's odds of winning are currently pegged at 46.8 percent).

Oklahoma: Getting running back Keith Ford back is good news for this Oklahoma offense, but tip your cap to his young understudies. In the four games Ford missed, Perine and Alex Ross combined to average 4.99 yards per carry and 156 rushing yards a game. All three offer different skill sets, giving the Sooners one dangerous trio if they can stay healthy the rest of the way.

Oklahoma State: After impressing in his first two starts, quarterback Daxx Garman has shown regression in his past four. His adjusted QBR of 40.2 in the month of October ranks No. 99 nationally and ninth in the Big 12. His QBR for those first starts against UTSA and Texas Tech was a combined 74.1, but he finished this month with a TD-to-INT ratio of 3-7.

TCU: The aerial attack stole most of the attention, but here's a big reason why TCU was capable of scoring 82 against Texas Tech: The Horned Frogs rushed for 224 yards on first downs against Tech. When you're getting 8.3 yards per carry on first down, you have the opportunity to do pretty much anything on offense.

Texas: Here's something you couldn't have expected entering the season: Texas is eight games in and hasn't had a running back surpass 100 rushing yards in any games. In fact, since losing David Ash in the opener, Texas has not had a back surpass 80 rushing yards in a single game. Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes' 95 rushing yards against Iowa State remains the team high.

Texas Tech: Following last week's record-setting debacle, Texas Tech's defense ranks No. 123 nationally and last among Power 5 conference teams in defensive efficiency, according to ESPN Stats & Info. But really, after a game like that, there's nowhere to go but up from here.

West Virginia: Clint Trickett continues to rank No. 1 in the Big 12 in passing, completion percentage, yards per attempt, completions of 20-plus yards, passer efficiency and QBR. He has more passing yards (2,763) and a better completion percentage (68.3 percent) than Bryce Petty had through the first eight games of his prolific Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year season last year.

This time last year, Clint Trickett was an injury-prone, turnover-waiting-to-happen quarterback.

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezTrevone Boykin has gained confidence, and it's showing on the field for TCU.
 But at least he was a quarterback.

Trevone Boykin was a wide receiver. A good wide receiver. But a wide receiver, nonetheless.

Saturday in Morgantown, West Virginia, Trickett and Boykin will meet again, only this time as college football's arguably two most improved quarterbacks from last season.

Trickett’s unrivaled precision has fueled West Virginia’s unforeseen rise into the Big 12 title picture. Boykin’s sudden penchant for big passing plays has TCU unexpectedly thinking playoff.

“That’s what happens with quarterbacks when they get a little game experience and have success,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who has faced Boykin and Trickett in back-to-back weeks. “Those guys are playing with confidence.”

Maybe with as much as any quarterback in college football. That is crazy to consider when neither was even assured a starting job before the summer.

In the spring, TCU welcomed in Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel with the idea of sliding Boykin back to receiver. Boykin had manned quarterback only the previous two seasons, when starter Casey Pachall was out of the lineup. Boykin started out his TCU career as a running back, then eventually settled in at receiver. After Pachall suffered a broken forearm early last season, Boykin took over again at quarterback and struggled along with the rest of the offense. In five Big 12 games with Boykin as its starting quarterback, TCU averaged just 14 points and lost four times.

When West Virginia traveled to Fort Worth, Pachall had returned, pushing Boykin back to receiver. Boykin had a banner game with 11 receptions. But after the Horned Frog offense fell flat in the second half, West Virginia rallied to win in overtime.

“I thought he was an awesome receiver. I thought he was the best guy on the field last year at receiver,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “Boykin started two years ago in Morgantown at quarterback as a true freshman and beat us here. I thought he was a pretty good player then. So he's just a tremendously talented kid.”

This season in TCU's new uptempo, wide-open scheme, that talent has manifested at quarterback, placing Boykin into the conversation of legitimate Heisman contenders. He has thrown for 21 touchdowns and just three interceptions. And he’s eighth in the nation in passing yards per game, averaging 329.

“You see how our offense was last year and this year,” said TCU running back Aaron Green. “And it all starts with Boykin. He's playing amazing right now. He has all the confidence in himself and in us. When your quarterback is playing like that, there's not much we need to do.”

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, who watched Boykin toss a TCU-record seven touchdowns in the Horned Frogs’ 82-27 wipeout of the Red Raiders last weekend, admitted he’s never seen a quarterback make such a dramatic turnaround from one season to the next.

“I think he’s the best player in the country,” Kingsbury said. “Just watching him and the way he carries himself this year compared to last year, the way he’s leading, extending plays, putting it on the money, he’s night and day from where he was.

“He’s a phenomenal talent.”

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
AP Photo/Chris JacksonClint Trickett has thrown 17 touchdown passes this season, surpassing his total of seven from 2013.
 Trickett’s transformation has been almost as phenomenally stark.

After backing up E.J. Manuel at Florida State, Trickett lost the starting job in Tallahassee to Jameis Winston two springs ago. He transferred to West Virginia but was slow to transition into Holgorsen’s cutting edge offense. Paul Millard won the starting job in the preseason, and when Millard was ineffective, Holgorsen turned to freshman Ford Childress next over Trickett. Only when Childress suffered a pectoral injury did Holgorsen finally give Trickett a shot.

“Last year, I had no clue what I was doing,” Trickett said, “and I think it was evident.”

He upset Oklahoma State in his first start but struggled after that. He finished with as many interceptions as touchdowns (seven) and missed several snaps due to an assortment of injures.

The Mountaineers brought in junior-college quarterback Skyler Howard for the spring, which Trickett missed recovering from shoulder surgery. But with neither Howard nor any other West Virginia quarterback standing out, Holgorsen named Trickett the starter in the summer.

Since, Trickett has been a completely different quarterback. He leads the Big 12 with a completion rate of better than 68 percent. He has 17 touchdowns to just five interceptions. And he has Holgorsen’s attack humming again.

“He’s the leader,” said West Virginia running back Dreamius Smith. “He will check a play off that he sees different -- it doesn’t even have to be a call Coach Holgorsen sees -- and it turns out to be the right call.”

Last weekend at Oklahoma State, Trickett capped the Mountaineers’ first string of back-to-back road wins since joining the Big 12 by completing 70 percent of his throws with two touchdowns in a 34-10 win over the Cowboys.

“He’s not making near as many mistakes as he was,” Gundy said. “I visited with Trickett for a few seconds before the game, and I could just tell in talking to him he had confidence. The quarterback at TCU is playing with confidence right now, too. Last year, I didn’t think he played with any.”

The confidence is brimming over now for Boykin and Trickett, who have come miles since their meeting last fall. Two quarterbacks who have taken unthinkable leaps upward -- while taking their teams there with them.

ESPN.com midseason All-Big 12 team

October, 14, 2014
10/14/14
11:00
AM CT
We're halfway through the season, which means it's time for our midseason All-Big 12 team. There's plenty of football still to play. And this midseason team might be very different from the end-of-season one. But this list recognizes the players who have distinguished themselves thus far.

After careful consideration and friendly debate, our midseason All-Big 12 team:

Offense

QB: Clint Trickett, West Virginia: Baylor's Bryce Petty had the Big 12's best game last weekend, but Trickett has had the better season so far. He leads the Big 12 in QBR and completion percentage and is third nationally in passing, fueling the Mountaineers' surprising 4-2 start.

RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor: The Big 12's top rusher has 326 rushing yards over Baylor's last two games, including 104 in the fourth quarter of the Bears' monumental comeback win against TCU.

RB: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: This true freshman is second in the league in rushing, first in rushing touchdowns and delivered an historic performance at West Virginia with 242 yards and four scores.

WR: Kevin White, West Virginia: White has been as dominant as any player in the league. He easily leads the country with an average of 148 yards receiving per game, and has come up with a hundred yards receiving in every game.

WR: Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma: It's hard to imagine where the Oklahoma passing game would be without Shepard. He has accounted for 48 percent of Trevor Knight's passing yards.

WR: K.D. Cannon, Baylor: The true freshman might already be the most dangerous big-play receiver in the league, averaging 62.5 yards per catch on his six touchdowns.

TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State: The senior has been a big part of the Cyclones' offense with 22 receptions for 190 yards and four touchdowns, including a one-handed scoring grab at Oklahoma State.

OL: Spencer Drango, Baylor: The Bears' franchise left tackle is thriving again after a return from a season-ending back injury. He has graded out the highest on the offensive line of the nation's top scoring offense.

OL: Joey Hunt, TCU: Hunt is the best offensive lineman on the Big 12's most improved offense, which is second in the league in scoring with almost 46 points per game.

OL: B.J. Finney, Kansas State: Finney is well on his way to a third consecutive All-Big 12 season as the lynchpin of the K-State offensive line.

OL: Quinton Spain, West Virginia: He and Mark Glowinski form one of the top guard duos in the country for the league's second-best passing offense.

OL: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech: Arkansas coach Bret Bielema singled out Clark's prowess after facing him. Despite throwing the ball on almost every down, Tech leads the league in fewest sacks allowed with Clark protecting Davis Webb's blindside.

AP: Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State: The speedy Hill has kick return touchdowns the past two weeks, and has proven to be tough and durable as well as really fast.

Defense

DE: Shawn Oakman, Baylor: The freaky 6-foot-9 end is second in the league with five sacks and fourth with eight tackles for loss.

DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU: Hunter has been the anchor of the TCU defensive line, joining Davion Pierson to give Gary Patterson's squad one disruptive duo up front.

DT: Malcom Brown, Texas: This 320-pound monster has been unblockable, and the most disruptive defensive player in the league.

DE: Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State: Ogbah has broken out with five sacks, including two on defending Heisman winner Jameis Winston in the opener. In addition to being tied for second in the Big 12 in sacks, he's also second with 9.5 tackles for loss.

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma: Striker has 4.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss, and his relentless pass-rushing ability makes him the primary focus of opposing offensive coordinators.

LB: Jordan Hicks, Texas: The Longhorns' fifth-year senior is racking up 10 tackles per game, and is bringing leadership to the Texas defense after an injury-plagued career.

LB: Paul Dawson, TCU: The Big 12's leading tackler is on pace for the most single-season tackles in the Gary Patterson era. He also had the game-winning pick-six to upset the Sooners.

CB: Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma: Sanchez has given up some big plays, but he's countered with big plays of his own. He's second nationally with five interceptions, including a pick-six against Texas.

CB: Danzel McDaniel, Kansas State: McDaniel hits more like a linebacker than a cornerback. He's been another impressive junior-college find for Bill Snyder.

S: Sam Carter, TCU: Carter doesn't have eye-popping numbers, but he's once again been the heart of the TCU defense.

S: Karl Joseph, West Virginia: The enforcer of the West Virginia secondary is second among Big 12 defensive backs with 45 tackles.

Special teams

K: Josh Lambert, West Virginia: All he's done is nail two game-winning field goals as time has expired to beat Maryland (47 yards) and Texas Tech (55 yards) on the road.

P: Trevor Pardula, Kansas: He's gotten plenty of chances, but he's made the most of them, averaging 44.8 yards per punt, while putting 37.8 percent of them inside the opponents' 20.

PR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State: Lockett, who is second in the nation in punt returns, once again has been an electric all-around playmaker. He's also sixth in the league in receiving.

KR: Alex Ross, Oklahoma: Ross leads the nation in kickoff returns, taking two of his nine kick returns to the house for touchdowns.

Roundtable: Big 12 favorite, playoff chances

October, 7, 2014
10/07/14
12:00
PM CT
In our weekly Big 12 roundtable, we examine who the Big 12 favorite is and the chances the league will put a team in the playoff:

Who is your favorite at the moment to win the Big 12?

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Tyler Evert/Associated PressDespite losing to TCU, two of our three experts think Samaje Perine's Sooners are the Big 12 favorites.
 Brandon Chatmon: Oklahoma remains the favorite in my eyes. Before the season began I expected a one-loss Sooners’ squad to win the conference, and nothing I’ve seen has changed my thinking. Baylor and OU will finish the year atop the Big 12 standings with one loss apiece with the Sooners getting the nod thanks to their head-to-head home victory over BU on Nov. 8. The only surprise for me thus far has been just how good Trevone Boykin has looked operating -- and protecting the ball -- in TCU’s new offensive system.

Max Olson: I'm comfortable with standing behind Baylor at this point, even if TCU is playing like the best team in the league right now. The schedule ahead for the Bears looks treacherous, but if they get past Oklahoma, they finish the season with their final three games at home. As was the case last season, it all depends on injuries. But the Bears are playing at a high level in all three phases, and I don't think we've seen how good they can be just yet.

Jake Trotter: It might sound nuts considering they just lost this weekend, but I still have the Sooners pegged as the favorite. This is still a good team, and the schedule still favors them above the other contenders. Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State all must travel to Norman. And while TCU still controls its own destiny, the Horned Frogs still have to go to Waco this weekend, Morgantown and Austin. Not since 2009 have we had a team run the table in the Big 12. I don’t think we have one this year, either.

What percentage chance would you give the league at this point to land a team in the playoff?

Chatmon: 90 percent. I don’t think the upsets ended on Oct. 5. I expect more upsets, more top-ranked teams falling, and the projected top four teams to be a very fluid proposition for the rest of the year. Even with the loss, I have a feeling OU could find its way into the playoff. And if it’s not OU, then it will be Baylor. Thus, the 10 percent is my likelihood that both teams stumble -- and have multiple losses -- from this point forward, and as much as I like what TCU has done, they are more likely to stumble into multiple losses than OU and Baylor.

Olson: 75 percent. After what we just witnessed this weekend, you do get the sense that there will be multiple one-loss teams making the playoff come December. If we're forecasting the rest of the way, the Big 12 champion seems likely to have one loss on their résumé. I'm not too convinced yet that the Big Ten or the Pac-12 will have a team in the field based on how their best teams have started the season. The struggles (and parity) of those leagues have me liking the Big 12's odds.

Trotter: I give it 75 percent. At the moment the Big 12 has three teams in the top 10 of postseason guru Brad Edwards’ playoff forecast Insider in No. 2 Baylor, No. 6 TCU and No. 10 Oklahoma. As long as one of those three teams -- or K-State or even Oklahoma State -- finishes with just one loss, the Big 12 should be in. The league is also in better position than the Big Ten, the Pac-12 and anyone other than Florida State in the ACC. Notre Dame could potentially create problems. But the Big 12 as a whole is in good shape after six weeks.

Who has been the more surprising Big 12 quarterback thus far, Clint Trickett or Boykin at TCU?

Chatmon: As exceptional as Trevone Boykin has been, Trickett still stands as the more surprising of the pair. I always knew Boykin was a special talent, I just had reservations about his ability to consistently excel under center. He’s proving me wrong. With Trickett, I had overall questions about his ability to get the job done, and he’s making me look even more foolish than Boykin has. Trickett has been accurate, confident and productive for WVU while his overall command and understanding of Dana Holgorsen’s offense is on another level. Clint Trickett is the bigger surprise by a landslide.

Olson: For most of this year, Boykin has had to deal with a backhanded compliment that must've bugged him: Maybe he's a better receiver than quarterback. Maybe he makes this offense better by not playing QB. Nobody's saying that now, and his transformation this season is the reason why I'm more surprised by him than by Trickett. We knew less about the ceiling and potential of Boykin, and the addition of Matt Joeckel sent the message that TCU wasn't sure either. Good thing everyone doubted him -- it probably made Boykin better.

Trotter: Boykin. This summer, we at least knew Trickett would be West Virginia’s starting quarterback. We didn’t know whether Boykin would even be playing quarterback. But Boykin committed to the position in the offseason, beat out Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel and has gone on to have a phenomenal start to the season. Both Trickett and Boykin, though, have been incredibly impressive. And they are both firmly in the running for Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors.

Big 12 stat check: Week 5

September, 24, 2014
9/24/14
10:00
AM CT
A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 5:

Baylor: Don't forget about Antwan Goodley. The potential All-America receiver went down with an injury in the season opener and enters Big 12 play with zero receptions. While KD Cannon and the rest of Baylor's wideouts feasted in his absence, Goodley is back this week, and he and Bryce Petty have some catching up to do. No Big 12 player matched his 598 yards after the catch last season.

Iowa State: Well, the Cyclones are 2-0 in home games against Baylor under coach Paul Rhoads. During the Art Briles era, Baylor has averaged 33.2 points per game on the road against the rest of the Big 12. In their losses in Ames in 2009 and 2012, Baylor's offense put up a combined 31 points. But ever since that 35-21 loss at ISU in 2012, the Bears are 19-3.

Kansas: Tony Pierson has recorded 280 touches on offense in his career at Kansas. He's gained 10 or more yards on 25 percent of his touches and picked up 20-plus yards on 26 of those 70 plays. The majority of his big plays have come on rushes, but Pierson is also averaging 12.7 yards per reception in his four seasons. He's instant offense, plain and simple.

Kansas State: ESPN Stats & Info analyzed the Auburn-Kansas State game tape and determined Jake Waters was pressured on nine plays. He completed three passes, threw two incompletions and an interception and took three sacks. K-State's net yardage when the Tigers got pressure on Waters? Just 15 yards. Waters and his linemen will have to handle the heat a bit better in Big 12 play.

Oklahoma: How will freshman Samaje Perine follow up his 242-yard night at West Virginia? In the past decade, 19 FBS running backs have surpassed 240 rushing yards multiple times in a season. If Perine does it again this year, he'll join some elite company that includes Reggie Bush, Matt Forte, Le'Veon Bell, Ray Rice, Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, Andre Williams and, yes, Adrian Peterson.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys rank No. 2 nationally in a statistic that's pretty darn important: red zone efficiency defense. OSU's defense has entered the red zone 10 times this season and permitted just two touchdowns. Opposing offenses have had to settle for field goals seven times (one was blocked) and Jameis Winston threw a red zone interception. Getting stingy under pressure like that will pay off big in Big 12 play.

TCU: The Horned Frogs are one of only two teams in FBS that have played just two games entering Week 5. (Cincinnati started the season bizarrely with back-to-back byes.) This isn't just some silly observation. The fact is, starting this week against SMU, Gary Patterson's team must play eight games in eight consecutive weeks before getting a pre-Thanksgiving reprieve. They face a brutal run in October (OU, at Baylor, OSU, Texas Tech) and need some gas in the tank if they hope to make a run in November.

Texas: It's hard to believe that, with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray both healthy and splitting time, Texas ranks No. 9 in the Big 12 in rushing right now at 123.7 yards per game. That's 99 fewer yards per game than Oklahoma is averaging and almost 115 fewer than Baylor. The culprit here is a shoddy offensive line, but the downhill run game was supposed to be the strength of the Longhorns' offense and they've struggled without one.

Texas Tech: One not-unreasonable excuse for Texas Tech's problems on defense: According to its sports information office, 17 of 27 Red Raiders who've recorded tackles this season are freshmen, sophomores or newcomers. That number does include Kenny Williams, who moved from running back to linebacker this spring. The rest are young guys who better catch up quickly.

West Virginia: Clint Trickett ranks No. 3 nationally now with 1600 passing yards, a feat through four games that most WVU fans probably wouldn't have predicted back in the spring. He leads all Big 12 passers with 20 completions of 20-plus yards (nine to Kevin White), but then again, Trickett also has 43 more completions than any other quarterback in the conference. Let's wait a few more weeks before assessing where he fits in the Big 12 QB hierarchy, but this is a heck of a start.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
9/21/14
12:46
AM CT
Here’s what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 4:

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
AP Photo/Tyler EvertThere was no stopping Samaje Perine on Saturday, as the Sooners freshman ran for 242 yards and four touchdowns against West Virginia.
1. Samaje Perine is a man-child: Oklahoma true freshman running back Samaje Perine just turned 19 years old this week. But he was a grown man among boys Saturday, as he bowled over West Virginia in Oklahoma’s 45-33 win in Morgantown. Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 7.1 yards per carry. It was the 13th best rushing total in Sooners history, which is saying something at a school that has produced Greg Pruitt, Steve Owens and Billy Sims, among countless other standout rushers. It was also the second best rushing output ever in a game by a true freshman at Oklahoma, trailing only Adrian Peterson's 249-yard performance against Oklahoma State in 2004. After the opener, Perine naively declared this could be the best running back group ever to pass through Oklahoma. That’s way too bold, but Perine and sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross -- who returned a critical kick for a touchdown at the end of the first half to give the Sooners momentum for good -- figure to give Oklahoma one of the nation’s most formidable one-two-three punches at running back for the foreseeable future. Perine, a tank of a rusher, is heading that charge.

2. Dana Holgorsen has West Virginia heading in the right direction: This was a disappointing loss for coach Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers, who moved the ball at will on Oklahoma in the first half. But after Ross’ 100-yard kickoff return at the end of the first half, West Virginia could never regain momentum nor get its offense back on track. Still, despite being 2-2, the Mountaineers have proven they have a quality squad, after hanging tough with two teams that might well end up in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Clint Trickett is the most improved quarterback in the Big 12, if not the country, and receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford are devastating weapons downfield. If the Mountaineers play the rest of the year the way they have this first month of the season, they will win a bunch of games. Meanwhile, Holgorsen, whose job status once seemed to be in jeopardy, should be firmly entrenched as the head coach of the future in Morgantown.

3. Kansas’ defense ought to keep it in games: At the beginning and the end of their 24-10 victory over Central Michigan, the Jayhawks produced some big plays offensively. But the defense was the reason Kansas ultimately prevailed, as its offense endured some shaky stretches over the second and third quarters. Led by linebackers Ben Heeney and Jake Love, the Kansas defense forced three turnovers, sacked Central Michigan QB Cooper Rush three times and limited the Chippewas to just 279 yards of offense. Wins haven’t been easy to come by at Kansas, but the defense should give the Jayhawks a chance to win again this season while the offense attempts to harness semblances of consistency.

4. Kansas State figures to be a load in the Big 12: Even in a 20-14 loss to Auburn, the Wildcats showed Thursday night that they will be a tough out for anyone they face the rest of the season. The K-State run defense was phenomenal and snapped Auburn’s 13-game streak of at least 200 yards rushing. Wideout Tyler Lockett, whom Auburn coach Gus Malzahn called “electric,” is a game-changer on offense and special teams, never mind the crucial dropped touchdown pass that turned into an interception. Bill Snyder has to figure out what to do going forward at placekicker, but the Wildcats were good enough to beat the fifth-ranked team in the country. And they’re good enough to be a force in the Big 12 the rest of the way.

5. Oklahoma and Baylor remain the co-favorites: Coming into the season, the Sooners and Bears appeared to be the clear frontrunners to win the league title. Through four weeks of the season, nothing has changed. Oklahoma has been incredibly impressive with its physical offensive line, powerful rushing attack and swarming defense. The Bears have wiped out lesser competition, though they’ve done it while missing many of their key players due to injuries. Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU have impressed, but there’s been nothing so far that suggests the Nov. 8 showdown between Oklahoma and Baylor in Norman won’t decide the Big 12 championship.

Big 12 stat check: Week 4

September, 17, 2014
9/17/14
11:00
AM CT
A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 4:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roundtable: Keys for K-State, OU, WVU

September, 16, 2014
9/16/14
1:00
PM CT
With only four teams playing, it’s a light week for the Big 12. But it’s also another monster one, with a couple of nationally relevant matchups in Auburn-Kansas State and Oklahoma-West Virginia. We examine the keys in these two games in our weekly Big 12 roundtable:

What is the biggest key for Kansas State against Auburn?

Max Olson: Gap integrity. Kansas State's defense sees high-caliber option football on a daily basis in practice, but it doesn't see many athletes like the ones Auburn brings to the table. The Tigers are so good at stretching and squeezing defenses and setting them up to fail. What's essential for KSU is smart decision-making and reads, fundamentally sound tackling and playing consistently solid assignment football. You won't stop these guys if all 11 defenders aren't operating on the same page.

Brandon Chatmon: The Wildcats will need big plays if they hope to knock off Auburn. All three phases -- offense, defense and special teams -- will need to provide a big play to overcome a Tigers offense that will be tough to hold down for the entire contest. Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett has the proven ability to provide several big plays, and quarterback Jake Waters is improving with each game. But outside of that duo, K-State will need a relatively unknown name to rise to the occasion Thursday.

Jake Trotter: Establishing the run. Even with a wideout the caliber of Lockett, Bill Snyder’s attack is predicated on getting the run game going, either with Waters (the leading rusher in the Big 12) or the committee of running backs. An effective run game would keep the Auburn defense on its heels while also keeping Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense on the sidelines.

What is the biggest key for Oklahoma against West Virginia?

Olson: Endurance. West Virginia is averaging 91 plays per game this season, more than any other Power 5 conference team. OU is holding opponents to 75 per game thus far, but if that number gets into the 80s or 90s on Saturday, the Sooners need to be able to hang in there, get stops and get off the field in a hostile environment. WVU only needed 82 plays to absolutely terrorize OU in 2012. I don't doubt this defense can answer the challenge, but Clint Trickett and his crew of skill players shouldn't be taken lightly.

Chatmon: Adapt. The last time OU went to Morgantown, the Sooners didn’t adapt well during the game as Tavon Austin ran through, around and by their defense. Mike Stoops' defense is much better equipped to adjust to anything WVU throws at Oklahoma this time around, with a defensive unit overflowing with versatile talents like Eric Striker, Geneo Grissom and Quentin Hayes to deal with the run and the pass from Dana Holgorsen’s offense.

Trotter: Another quick start. Oklahoma has been unbelievable in the first quarter of its three games this season, and another quick start would serve the Sooners well in Morgantown. It would deflate what will be a hostile crowd. It will take pressure off quarterback Trevor Knight. And it will allow Oklahoma's defense to do what it does best, and that’s tee off on the quarterback in obvious passing downs.

What is the biggest key for West Virginia against Oklahoma?

Olson: Knight. He was downright average against the Mountaineers last season, turning the ball over three times and getting benched for the final quarter of a close game. Granted, his two interceptions came after suffering a bruised knee. And it was his second career start. Knight has been sharp to start the 2014 season, but it'll be fascinating to see how WVU comes up with ways to challenge and frustrate him again.

Chatmon: A quick start. If Trickett and the Mountaineers can take a quick lead, the atmosphere at Milan Puskar Stadium could reach epic levels. A WVU lead, especially a double-digit one, could also force the Sooners to move away from their running game and lean more on the pass to try to regain the momentum. Tennessee tried to take away the run game and Knight made the Vols pay, but it could be another story in the first road start in a night game for the Sooners’ sophomore.

Trotter: The Mountaineers have to stop the run. Or at least slow the run. West Virginia allowed 5.9 yards per carry to Alabama and 6.0 to Maryland. Those numbers will get West Virginia beat against Oklahoma, which features one of the most powerful rushing attacks in the country -- even without sophomore running back Keith Ford. Samaje Perine and Alex Ross are more than capable of shouldering the load, and Knight can be lethal off QB draws, zone reads and play-action rollouts. The Mountaineers have to hold their own up front against the best offensive line in the league. Because once the Sooners get the ground game going, they are difficult to stop.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 3

September, 15, 2014
9/15/14
9:30
AM CT
Taking stock of Week 3 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: West Virginia. The Mountaineers paid regional rival Maryland back for last year’s 37-0 beating with a dramatic 40-37 victory on a game-winning field goal as time expired. Truthfully, the Terrapins were fortunate just to be in the game. West Virginia jumped to a 28-6 lead and could have routed the Terrapins had it not self-destructed several times on Maryland’s side of the field. Still, the Mountaineers once again moved the ball at will. Clint Trickett was dishing out dimes. Mario Alford and Kevin White were producing plays. And a certain field-goal kicker, who I’ll get to later, came through in the clutch.

Disappointment of the week: Texas Tech. Something I was thinking about over the weekend: Had it not been for the sparkling win over Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl, what would the perception of the Red Raiders be right now? Outside that Arizona State win, Tech hasn’t played a clean game since losing 38-30 at Oklahoma on Oct. 26 of last year. Meanwhile, Arkansas ran right at the Tech defense Saturday, and there was nothing the Red Raiders could do. The offense behind Davis Webb hasn’t been crisp enough to overcome all the deficiencies defensively. Given how difficult the back end of the schedule is again, the concern level in Lubbock should be high.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Trickett and White. If the season ended today, the three All-Big 12 receivers would be K.D. Cannon, Sterling Shepard and White, who is now second in the country (behind Cannon) in receiving. And if the season ended today, the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year would be Trickett, who threw for 511 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Maryland. The Trickett-to-White pass-catching combo has been nothing short of awesome so far this season.

Big (defensive) man on campus: Paul Dawson. TCU’s senior linebacker led the purple crushing of the Minnesota offense in a 30-7 win over the Gophers. Dawson finished with 15 tackles, including four for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Overall, the Horned Frogs forced five turnovers and limited Minnesota to just 268 yards of offense.

[+] EnlargeCole Netten
Charlie Neibergall/Associated PressCole Netten connected on a last-second field goal to give Iowa State a big win over in-state rival Iowa.
Special-teams players of the week: Josh Lambert (West Virginia) and Cole Netten (Iowa State). Field-goal kicking seems to have become a lost art in college football. But Lambert and Netten turned back the clock with their heroics in delivering game-winning field goals that beat Maryland and Iowa, respectively. Netten’s was a 42-yarder, while Lambert connected from 47 yards out. Both kicks resulted in massive wins for their teams.

Play of the week (other than the Lambert and Netten field goals): Late in the second quarter with the game knotted at 3-3, Texas elected to go for it facing fourth-and-8 at the UCLA 38-yard line. And in the biggest play of his young career, quarterback Tyrone Swoopes rolled out and delivered a 33-yard strike to John Harris. Three plays later, Swoopes hit M.J. McFarland for a touchdown to give Texas a 10-3 lead and all the momentum heading into halftime.

Stat of the week: Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight has two 300-yard passing games in his career, and both have come against SEC opponents. Knight threw for 348 yards in last season's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, and he passed for 308 yards in Oklahoma’s 34-10 win Saturday over Tennessee.

Quote of the week: “I haven't talked to Josh Lambert since he got on campus, and we are going to keep it that way. I know his name and who he is, but other than that, I'm taking the hands-off approach.” -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, when asked what he said to Lambert before the game-winning kick. Holgorsen added he likes only special-teams coach Joe DeForest talking to his kicker.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
9/14/14
2:45
AM CT
Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 3:

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.

[+] EnlargeJulian Wilson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJulian Wilson returned an interception 100 yards in Oklahoma's win over Tennessee.
 2. Oklahoma’s secondary is no joke: Everyone knew how deep and talented the Sooners’ front seven was coming into this season. The secondary, however, seemed to be a question mark. But in a 34-10 win over the Volunteers, Oklahoma’s defensive backs were dominant, delivering three game-changing plays among them. In the first quarter, Quentin Hayes came on a safety blitz and forced and recovered a fumble. In the third quarter, cornerback Zack Sanchez came up with an acrobatic interception in the end zone (his fifth pick in six games). And in the fourth quarter, cornerback Julian Wilson delivered the exclamation point, hauling in a tipped interception and returning it 100 yards for a game-clinching touchdown. After the game, coach Bob Stoops lauded this group. “They’re playing really well,” he said. “They’re not making mistakes. They’re challenging, competing for balls. They’re making big plays. Maybe as good a three-game stretch we may have had.” That’s high praise for this Oklahoma secondary. But the way it's playing, it's well deserved.

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.

Roundtable: Most intriguing matchup

September, 9, 2014
9/09/14
12:00
PM CT
With seven games against Power 5 conference opponents, this is a huge week for the Big 12. We examine that and other storylines in our weekly Big 12 roundtable:

Which Big 12 matchup are you most looking forward to this weekend?

Max Olson: While watching UTSA give Arizona all it could handle last week, I had to wonder if the rising Roadrunners were playing well enough to beat Kansas or Iowa State. Well, we get to find out on Saturday when UTSA travels to Stillwater. Larry Coker's bunch doesn't have much star power besides a stout defensive line, but they play sound football and can keep it close against an OSU team that might not have J.W. Walsh. An upset win would be absolutely gigantic for this upstart.

Brandon Chatmon: Texas Tech’s battle with Arkansas is intriguing. The Red Raiders will look to rebound after a slow start, albeit two wins, to start the season. Arkansas will try to pound the ball and control the clock so whichever team controls the tempo is likely to win the game. The key for Tech is to start showing some improvement by limiting turnovers and penalties, otherwise it could be looking at a potential loss against an SEC foe.

Jake Trotter: I’m interested to see how West Virginia fares in a payback game against Maryland. The Terrapins returned 17 starters from a squad that throttled the Mountaineers 37-0 last season. But West Virginia has the look of a different team so far. If the Mountaineers also go to Maryland and win, it will be a signal West Virginia might actually be for real this season.

In light of its performance against BYU, does Texas has have hope for the rest of the year?

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsCharlie Strong's Longhorns get a tough test against UCLA on Saturday.
 Olson: Let's not call them dead just yet, but a 2-4 start seems like a distinct possibility now. If UCLA blows them out of the water, it's hard to envision a scenario in which the Longhorns trip up Baylor or Oklahoma without an absolutely perfect day of defense. The hope rests on the defense coming together as one of the nation's best and, in either Tyrone Swoopes or Jerrod Heard, the discovery of a quarterback who can lead this team in 2015 and beyond if David Ash is indeed done.

Chatmon: Yes, just look at last year. The loss to BYU was bad, really bad. But the same thing happened in 2013 yet UT still found itself playing for a Big 12 title on the final day of the regular season. I don’t expect them to match that feat again, but I still think 6-8 wins is possible if the Longhorns can get things turned around and somehow survive this four-game stretch of UCLA, Kansas, Baylor and Oklahoma.

Trotter: I don’t have a lot of hope for Texas. Yeah, the Longhorns bounced back after last season’s BYU debacle. But that offense wasn’t gutted to the point this one has been. I just don’t see Texas scoring enough points to avoid a 2-4 start. And after that, the Longhorns would still have road trips to Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. It’s not unthinkable that Texas misses out on a bowl game, which would be a disappointing start to the Charlie Strong era in Austin.

What player has impressed you most so far this season?

Olson: Just from an instant-impact standpoint, KD Cannon and Justin Stockton come to mind. But I covered their recruitments and watched them play live in high school at Mount Pleasant and Cibolo Steele, respectively so their play early on hasn't shocked me at all. Two guys who have my respect two weeks in are Clint Trickett and Jake Waters. They're underrated gamers, they've gotten sharper, and they're leading their teams at a high level right now.

Chatmon: This one’s easy. Somehow, someway, Tyreek Hill has been even better than advertised for Oklahoma State. I had my reservations about the track star heading into the season, but his performance against Florida State proved he is a football player not a track guy having fun on the gridiron. And OSU’s use of Hill has been smart as the Cowboys have looked to get him the ball in several different ways. Hill looks poised for a all-conference season.

Trotter: Trickett has impressed me the most so far. He ranks 22nd nationally in QBR, and I’m not sure that rating does justice to how well he’s played. Through two games, he’s completing 75 percent of his passes, a year after he connected on only 53 percent of his throws. As a result, Dana Holgorsen’s offense has been humming. He still has more to prove, including this weekend against Maryland. But if he plays this way the rest of the season, West Virginia will win a lot of games.

OSU, WVU look to build off openers

September, 2, 2014
9/02/14
2:25
PM CT
Oklahoma State and West Virginia might both be 0-1.

But the way they lost their openers has completely changed the outlook for the rest of their seasons.

For the better, too.

The Cowboys took defending national champion Florida State to the wire. The Mountaineers went toe-to-toe with second-ranked Alabama.

[+] EnlargeKevin White, Bradley Sylve
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsWest Virginia's Kevin White had nine receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown against Alabama.
 Before last weekend, Oklahoma State was thought to be in rebuilding mode. Facing a brutal schedule, West Virginia seemed headed for another year without a bowl.

Not anymore in Stillwater.

And not anymore in Morgantown.

“They should be able to establish a certain level of confidence from the way we played,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said of his team. “The second half we were very competitive. Once they got up and going and realized they could play with the speed that Florida State brought to the table, they were much better. And so I think there’s a certain amount of confidence they should have developed from that game.”

The Mountaineers should take plenty of confidence out of their opener with Alabama, too.

West Virginia went into Atlanta almost a four-touchdown underdog. But on the first drive, the Mountaineers took it right to the Crimson Tide. Rushel Shell grinded out tough yards between the tackles, while quarterback Clint Trickett fired completions all over the field. The opening drive stalled inside the Alabama 5-yard line, leading to a field goal. But the Crimson Tide quickly learned they’d have a fight on their hands.

“We’re not interested in any moral victories,” Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. “But we felt like we could play with those guys. And went into the game with a good frame of mind that was going to happen. And it did.”

Coming off an injury-riddled year in which he was still learning Holgorsen’s offense, Trickett looked like a completely different quarterback. With perfect poise and even more perfect hair, he completed 29 of 45 passes for 365 yards -- the second-highest passing total a Nick Saban defense had ever allowed at Alabama.

“Clint is a completely different quarterback than he was last year,” West Virginia receiver Jordan Thompson told reporters after the game. “People are basing our team off of what we were last year. We were inexperienced last year. Everybody now has a year under their belts. We’re healthier, stronger, faster, a little bigger, but most of all we’re more experienced, and Clint’s the No. 1 difference.”

Mario Alford and Kevin White were difference-makers, too. Against one of the top-rated defensive backfields in the country, White showed he could flourish as West Virginia’s first go-to wideout since Stedman Bailey. White hauled in nine receptions for 143 yards and a 19-yard touchdown pass. Alford, meanwhile, kick-started a return unit that ranked last in the Big 12 last fall, returning a kick 100 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Defensively, the Mountaineers should get better, too. They struggled to contain Alabama’s powerful rushing attack up front. But at the back end Karl Joseph finished with 18 tackles and Daryl Worley pick off a pass, underscoring the playmaking West Virginia will have in its secondary this season.

Ultimately, the Mountaineers dropped too many passes and coughed up too many touchdown chances to pull off the upset. But along the way, they learned they can play with anyone in the country, which should do wonders for a program that has struggled the past season-and-a-half.

“Our guys are in a good place right now,” Holgorsen said. “That’s the standard that we need to play with. And if we can play with that kind of mentality the whole year, we’ll have a good team.”

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsAfter a slow start, J.W. Walsh and the Cowboys regrouped against defending champion Florida State.
 If the Cowboys continue playing the way they did in Arlington, Texas, they might have a great team.

With the fewest returning starters among any team from a Power 5 conference, Oklahoma State’s young squad seemed to be on the verge of getting blown out after falling behind 17-0 in the second quarter.

Instead, the Cowboys hung tough. Quarterback J.W. Walsh settled down after a rocky start. Tyreek Hill began running away from anyone wearing a white Seminoles jersey. And Oklahoma State’s defensive line began imposing its will against Heisman winner Jameis Winston and a Florida State offensive line starting five seniors.

"We saw our team grow a little bit and mature," Gundy said. "I wasn't really sure how a number of players would react, and I think we learned that they'll fight and compete. We were in a really tough situation at one point, being down 17 points to a really good football team, but they kept their focus. I was proud of them for that."

Every time Florida State made a play, the Cowboys answered. And only after the Seminoles -- who won every regular-season game last season by least two touchdowns -- recovered an onside kick in the final minutes could they rest easy.

The Cowboys figure to be favored in at least their next five games, with the key tilt coming Sept. 25 at home against Texas Tech. And as Saturday showed, Oklahoma State has the pieces to transform its season outlook from rebuilder to Big 12 contender.

"We've got a lot of things to work on, and we had our mistakes, but there's obviously a lot of talent,” said slot receiver David Glidden, who hauled in a 55-yard touchdown bomb against the Seminoles. “There are a lot of guys who can play the game of football pretty well.”

The Cowboys and Mountaineers didn’t win Saturday. But based on how they played, plenty of victories could be on the way.

Big 12 lunchtime links

June, 30, 2014
6/30/14
11:00
AM CT
I just ordered this. You should, too.

Big 12's Ultimate Road Trip: Week 13

June, 11, 2014
6/11/14
3:00
PM CT
Week 13 features some interesting matchups but no clear game of the week.

For the past few weeks, we've taken a closer look at the 2014 Big 12 schedule during our Big 12's Ultimate Road Trip series. This week, we'll wrap up the series with the final stretch of the regular season.

To those unfamiliar with this series, we both pick a game featuring a Big 12 team in every week of the season that we’d cover if the travel budget were unlimited and there were no editors telling us where to go.

We’ll be basing our choices on several factors, including the quality of the matchup and the stakes that could be involved. The only restriction is that each of us can pick only one game per week.

Let’s continue with Week 13.

Nov. 20-22

Kansas State at West Virginia
Oklahoma State at Baylor
Kansas at Oklahoma
Texas Tech at Iowa State

Jake Trotter’s pick: Kansas State at West Virginia

Two years ago at West Virginia, Kansas State proved it was a Big 12 title contender while the Mountaineers showed they were just a pretender. Ever since, these two programs have been going in opposite directions.

This is almost a must-win for West Virginia if it wants to get back to a bowl game, and a must-win for Dana Holgorsen if he wants to show athletic director Oliver Luck he has the Mountaineers back on track. West Virginia has talent in the backfield and at wide receiver, and the defense could be sneaky good under the Tony Gibson/Tom Bradley regime. But the Mountaineers better hope a quarterback has emerged (Clint Trickett? Paul Millard? Skyler Howard? William Crest? Logan Moore?) well before this game comes around.

K-State has an open date before and after this trip to West Virginia, which bodes well. When Bill Snyder has time to prepare, the Wildcats can be tough to beat (just ask Michigan). If K-State can escape Morgantown, that season finale at Baylor could loom large.

You won’t find a prettier drive than the one along the country roads from Pittsburgh to Morgantown. I can’t wait to make it again.

Brandon Chatmon’s pick: Kansas State at West Virginia

A Thursday night game in Morgantown, W. Va.? Yes, please.

Both teams have a bye week before this weekday matchup, meaning the bumps and bruises of the season could have time to heal. This allows both coaching staffs, which feature some of the conference’s most creative minds, some time to come up with new wrinkles for each other as well.

If the Mountaineers’ quarterback situation is not settled by this point, I have little hope for a great game. If it is, I expect a great game. WVU could be fighting for a bowl appearance, and K-State could be fighting for quite a bit more.

To top it off, a potential matchup between WVU cornerback Daryl Worley, who I think is poised for a breakout sophomore season, and KSU receiver Tyler Lockett, who I think is the Big 12’s most dynamic receiver, is enough to make a trip to Milan Puskar.

A great environment, great individual matchups and two hungry teams make this the game of the week.

Previous weeks:

Week 1: Trotter -- SMU at Baylor; Chatmon -- West Virginia vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)

Week 2: Trotter -- Kansas State at Iowa State; Chatmon -- Kansas State at Iowa State

Week 3: Trotter -- Texas vs. UCLA (in Arlington); Chatmon -- Tennessee at Oklahoma

Week 4: Trotter -- Auburn at Kansas State; Chatmon -- Auburn at Kansas State

Week 5: Trotter -- Texas Tech at Oklahoma State; Chatmon -- Baylor at Iowa State

Week 6: Trotter -- Baylor at Texas; Chatmon -- Baylor at Texas

Week 7: Trotter -- Texas vs. Oklahoma; Chatmon -- TCU at Baylor

Week 8: Trotter -- Kansas State at Oklahoma; Chatmon -- Oklahoma State at TCU

Week 9: Trotter -- Texas Tech at TCU; Chatmon -- Texas at Kansas State

Week 10: Trotter -- Texas at Texas Tech; Chatmon -- TCU at West Virginia

Week 11: Trotter -- Baylor at Oklahoma; Chatmon -- Baylor at Oklahoma

Week 12: Trotter -- Oklahoma at Texas Tech; Chatmon -- Texas at Oklahoma State

SPONSORED HEADLINES