Dallas Colleges: Dayne Crist
West Virginia running back Charles Sims tops the list, bringing his impressive résumé to Morgantown after scoring 14 touchdowns and accounting for 1,219 yards last season. Most importantly for his new offense, he caught 37 passes a year ago. That versatility will give him a lot of opportunities.
Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters is No. 4 on the list. Color me skeptical that juco transfers should count (I kid!), but if he can beat out Daniel Sams for the quarterback job, I totally agree with Haney. Bringing back most of his offensive line and having John Hubert, Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson surrounding him is a recipe for success.
BYU transfer Jake Heaps is hoping to have better fortunes than another impact transfer to Kansas at quarterback a year ago: Dayne Crist. Heaps will definitely have a big impact one way or another, but there's no telling how this experiment will go. He'll have a better supporting cast on offense than Crist did, but nobody forecast a midseason benching for Crist.
Nebraska transfer running back Aaron Green will debut at TCU this fall, but with B.J. Catalon and Waymon James in the backfield finding immediate carries won't be an easy task. I think he'll develop into a big-time player eventually, but finding time now and making a huge impact is asking a lot.
The Sooners' backup quarterback, Drew Allen, graduated and headed to Syracuse and made No. 15 on Haney's list, but we'll close with No. 14, who's coming to Norman.
Oklahoma's secondary needs playmakers, and Arizona transfer Cortez Johnson will try to provide it. He followed Mike Stoops and Tim Kish from Tucson, and Oklahoma will probably need him to start opposite Aaron Colvin. The Sooners are going to be very young all over on defense, which is the biggest reason I see a down year ahead in Norman, but a nice debut from Johnson could help change that.
Here's how I rank the Big 12 teams at quarterback:
1. Oklahoma State: Wes Lunt is gone, but OSU still has two quarterbacks capable of winning a Big 12 title with this roster in likely starter Clint Chelf and short-yardage specialist J.W. Walsh. Walsh nearly knocked off Texas in his first career start last season. Chelf has lots of experience in the system, and Walsh led the Big 12 in passer rating last season.
2. TCU: Casey Pachall has to prove he can get back to his old self, but he's got a strong case as the Big 12's best quarterback. Trevone Boykin improved a lot over the 2012 season and coach Gary Patterson raved about his progress this spring, making Pachall's likely reclamation of his starting spot a tougher assignment than most figured. Boykin's arguably the Big 12's best playmaker at QB with his feet. No QB in the Big 12 has a stronger on-field résumé at this point in their careers than Pachall. That carries a lot of weight in these rankings.
4. Texas: David Ash has a shot to be the Big 12's best quarterback this season, but has to shake off rough games like he had against Kansas to do it. Case McCoy isn't the most physically gifted specimen at the position, but there's no denying his playmaking ability. Even Texas A&M fans would have to admit that. Tyrone Swoopes turned some heads during the spring game, and Connor Brewer is a solid prospect.
5. Oklahoma: Blake Bell should be an above average Big 12 starter, who proves he can throw the ball and is more than just a threat around the goal line. The inexperience all over the Big 12 at this position makes ranking this spot extremely difficult, but Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight behind Bell would be intriguing to watch if they're forced into duty. All three are playmakers with their feet.
6. West Virginia: The Mountaineers probably have more upside than any team on this list, and have three guys who could probably carry the Mountaineers to 7-8 wins this season. That's a luxury, but other than Ford Childress, I'm not sure I see a real game changer in Clint Trickett or Paul Millard. Still, don't be surprised if whoever wins the job racks up 3,500-plus yards in this offense.
7. Texas Tech: Tech is right behind West Virginia in potential at this position. Michael Brewer breaking out and proving himself as the Big 12's best quarterback this season wouldn't surprise me at all. True freshman Davis Webb has impressed Kliff Kingsbury, but Brewer's inability to beat him out for the job is something of a red flag. Not much depth at the position slides the Red Raiders down the list a bit.
8. Kansas State: K-State has an intriguing race between Daniel Sams and Jake Waters. Bill Snyder has historically preferred dual-threat quarterbacks, and Sams will easily be the fastest quarterback in the Big 12, but I want to see him operate the whole offense and not do so while nursing big leads before I truly buy in. Waters isn't a statue, but Sams could surpass Boykin as the Big 12's best running quarterback.
9. Kansas: Jake Heaps is the great hope for the Jayhawks, who don't have another serviceable quarterback on the roster. Heaps has earned some rave reviews during the spring and had moderate success at BYU. He'll have a strong running game and a better group of receivers around him than Dayne Crist did last season. Michael Cummings played some last season after replacing Crist, but the results were far from inspiring.
10. Iowa State: Sam Richardson has to prove he improved a lot in his first offseason as the team's unquestioned starter. Grant Rohach is a decent backup, but this position has been a constant struggle recently in Ames. I'm not entirely sold on Richardson being the guy to change that.
Here are the five games from 2012 that nobody saw coming.
1. Baylor 52, Kansas State 24: No result was more head-scratching than this one, and it completely turned the Big 12 season upside down, ending K-State's bid for an undefeated season and making the Wildcats' stop at No. 1 in the BCS standings last exactly one week. Baylor entered this game just 1-5 in Big 12 play, not long removed from a two-touchdown loss to an average Iowa State team in which the Bears scored just 21 points in doing so. This Nov. 17 upset kicked off a stretch that ended with Baylor as the hottest team in the Big 12. Lache Seastrunk also broke out with a career-high 185 rushing yards and a touchdown.
3. Rice 25, Kansas 24: Everybody knew life would get rough for a Kansas team low on talent once conference play arrived, but even a two-win team from 2011 could expect to beat Rice ... right? The former Southwest Conference program had never beaten a member of the Big 12 since their old league broke up, but embarrassed the Jayhawks with a game-winning field goal as time expired. More embarrassing? The Jayhawks led by eight with just under five minutes to play, and Dayne Crist inexplicably tossed an interception with 3:47 to play that setup the winner.
4. Kansas State 24, Oklahoma 19: Oklahoma had never lost to a ranked team at home under Bob Stoops, and only one team had ever come within single digits while the Sooners racked up a 14-0 record. Oklahoma won those games by an average of 28.2 points, but a costly fumble by Blake Bell on one goal line cost OU a touchdown. Landry Jones' fumble on the other goal line gave K-State a first-quarter lead it never relinquished. K-State was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12, but this game made it clear that the Wildcats were to be taken seriously in the league title race it eventually won.
5. Texas 21, Kansas 17: The Jayhawks lost to Texas 43-0 in 2011 and nobody gave the 1-6 Jayhawks a chance in 2012, but David Ash played his worst game of the season and got benched with the Longhorns firmly on the ropes. The Jayhawks led 14-7 going into the fourth quarter, and answered a Longhorns TD with a field goal to go up 17-14 with just 2:28 to play. Case McCoy completed five consecutive passes for 68 yards off the bench, including an 18-yarder to Jaxon Shipley on fourth down to extend the game-winning drive and help Texas survive what could have been its most embarrassing loss in a long, long time.
What other games from 2012 surprised you?
Minicamps aren't far away, but players can sign with teams as soon as the draft ends. Many did over the weekend. Here's a look at the Big 12's notable signings.
- Kansas State QB Collin Klein -- Houston Texans
- Oklahoma S Tony Jefferson -- Arizona Cardinals
- Iowa State LB Jake Knott -- Philadelphia Eagles
- Texas Tech QB Seth Doege -- Atlanta Falcons
- Oklahoma RB Dominique Whaley -- Seattle Seahawks
- Oklahoma OL Lane Taylor -- Green Bay Packers
- Texas Tech OL LaAdrian Waddle -- Detroit Lions
- Oklahoma State K/P Quinn Sharp -- Cincinnati Bengals
- Texas Tech S Cody Davis -- St. Louis Rams
- Iowa State DL Jake McDonough -- New York Jets
- Kansas State DE Meshak Williams -- unsigned
- Texas Tech WR Darrin Moore -- unsigned
- West Virginia OL Joe Madsen -- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Kansas QB Dayne Crist -- Kansas City Chiefs
A few thoughts:
- Collin Klein is the obvious headliner on this list, and I'm torn on him. On the one hand, there's nothing like playing quarterback, and that's the position he wants to play and loves to play. On the other, he hasn't looked like an NFL passer at any point in his career, and he did his future career a disservice by not letting scouts get a look at him at receiver or tight end. He's a big body and an athletic, tough guy. If he wants to play quarterback and only quarterback, then fine. That's up to him. If he really is open to doing something else at the next level, he should have done more work at other positions. I don't see him making an NFL roster as a quarterback.
- Safeties Tony Jefferson and Cody Davis should definitely make their respective rosters, however, and I'll be intrigued to see what Jefferson looks like and says once he's in camp. He sounded pretty salty on Twitter over the weekend. "I can't even attempt to express how I feel right now. Y'all really don't know how hurt/confused I am!" he tweeted. "Y'all don't even understand the fire inside of me man." Him going undrafted was definitely the most shocking Big 12 development of the draft for me, but he'll have a whole lot of motivation and a lot to prove.
- I have to think Jake Knott would have gotten drafted if not for his shoulder surgery and being limited in workouts for NFL teams. He makes his name on his smarts, instincts and toughness because he lacks speed and a ton of agility, but being banged up and not testing well certainly didn't bode well for him in the immediate future. Mildly surprised that somebody didn't start drooling over his game tape and take a shot on him in the sixth or seventh round.
- First guy in this group to get paid big soon? My money is on Quinn Sharp, the do-everything special teamer.
- Very surprised to see Darrin Moore and Meshak Williams go unsigned so far. Moore is physically gifted, but lacked production and didn't make a team fall in love with him. Williams, though? I get that he's not exactly ideal size, but for his effort and production, how does some team not at least bring him into minicamp? That's just insane.
- Watching the Big 12 quarterbacks is always interesting. Doege didn't have great arm strength, but had solid accuracy. Crist had the big arm, but his decision-making and accuracy were lacking. We'll see if either of those guys can make a splash with a fresh start in a new spot.
- One final thought: If I have to hear the phrase "chip on their shoulder" another time in the next week, I'm going to lose it. For the record, if you really did have one, I'm fairly certain that's something that would require surgery.
A quick note on the rankings: Only one player per team was allowed. I picked the best QB on the teams that shuffled throughout the season, and didn't include players who left the team or were ineligible to end the season.
1. Collin Klein, Kansas State: Klein is not your traditional quarterback and not the kind of guy the Big 12 has made its offensive reputation behind. What he is, though? A leader who showcases his toughness and a good enough passer to make K-State one of the nation's most efficient offenses and forces defenses to respect him on deep and intermediate throws. He completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,646 yards and rushed for 925 yards, accounting for 39 touchdowns.
2. Geno Smith, West Virginia: One would think if you win the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year honor, throw 42 touchdowns to just six picks and rack up almost 4,200 yards passing, you'd win it easily in the postseason. Not the case. Smith was fantastic this year and might be the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft. Smith is clearly the Big 12's best "passer," but he's not quite the Big 12's best quarterback.
3. Landry Jones, Oklahoma: Jones' experience is unmatched in this league, but he never quite got over the top as the Big 12's best quarterback. He was always solid, even if he might be vulnerable to a big mistake. He threw an interception in each of his final seven games at OU, but he also racked up 30 touchdowns and 4,272 yards. He threw for at least 3,000 yards in each of the past four seasons and leaves as the No. 3 all-time passer in FBS history.
4. Nick Florence, Baylor: Florence led the Big 12 in total offense by almost 40 full yards per game. Not only did he lead the league in passing yards with 4,309, he added almost 600 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. He filled in admirably for RG III, and it's a shame he had to burn his redshirt in 2011 after Griffin suffered a head injury.
5. Seth Doege, Texas Tech: Doege was second nationally with 39 touchdown passes and had a solid senior season. There were some rough games, sure, but he was third in the Big 12 with 4,205 yards. The biggest negative for Doege that bumped him down this list? A Big 12-high 16 interceptions.
6. Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State: Only took one Oklahoma State quarterback for this list, but Chelf was the steadiest this season for the Pokes, and the only one who didn't get hurt. Chelf threw for 15 touchdowns and just six picks and averaged just under 200 passing yards a game. He also ran for 162 yards on just 31 carries.
7. David Ash, Texas: Ash had a really strong start and looked like one of the Big 12's best quarterbacks early in the season. He flirted with the FBS lead in passer rating before coming to Earth a bit late in the year and getting benched against KU and suffering a rib injury late in the year. He still threw for almost 2,700 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight picks.
8. Trevone Boykin, TCU: Boykin had to fill in for the Frogs' Casey Pachall, but had his biggest successes in two situations: Broken plays that required him to scramble and deep balls. The rest of the offense seemed to struggle at times, but Boykin definitely made it interesting. He completed just 57 percent of his passes and had 10 interceptions to his 15 scores, but he hung in there and helped carry the Frogs to a seven-win season.
9. Sam Richardson, Iowa State: Richardson emerged from nowhere to win the Cyclones' quarterback job in the final weeks of the season and prompt a transfer from 2011's season hero: Jared Barnett. Richardson is a prototypical passer who also has wheels and threw eight touchdowns to just one pick in the Cyclones' final three games.
10. Michael Cummings, Kansas: Cummings stepped in for a struggling Dayne Crist, but didn't offer much after doing so and couldn't get KU over the hump to get a Big 12 win. BYU transfer Jake Heaps is likely to slide in front of Cummings on the depth chart next year after Cummings completed just 45 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and four interceptions. He did make some plays with his feet, though it was hard for the yardage to show that was the case because there were so many sacks.
To me, it looks as if we have four legitimate contenders for the conference title and three possible dark horses. We'll see how the latter three develop, but I'm sold on the top four as teams that could realistically win the league next season.
1. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys will be loaded, and that's especially true if running back Joseph Randle comes back. Cornerback Justin Gilbert is returning, but we saw this season that they can win with any one of their three quarterbacks. That's a recipe for success in this league. The defense was a bit streaky; this season was the first under defensive coordinator Bill Young that the Cowboys didn't finish in the top 15 in turnovers forced. If they can get back to forcing turnovers in bunches next season, another Big 12 title could be headed to Stillwater.
2. TCU: The Frogs are growing up fast, but their spot here is assuming that quarterback Casey Pachall will be back on the field this spring to reclaim his job. The defense looks likely to be the best in the Big 12, and as much offense as this league has, you can't win it without a solid defense. TCU's offense will win it some games; its defense might win it a Big 12 title. Look out for Devonte Fields' encore.
3. Oklahoma: The Sooners look like they may lack a true star on next season's team, but they are still solid across the two-deep and will be good enough to be in the mix for a title even without quarterback Landry Jones. A wealth of losses on the defensive end is a bigger concern, but receivers Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard also will have to navigate a transition to a new QB after three-plus years with Jones. The Sooners ought to feature fullback Trey Millard a bit more in the offense next year.
4. Texas: Believe it or not, but David Ash is the Big 12's most experienced passer. Can he look the part on the field? We'll see, but the biggest problem for Texas is continuing its defensive improvements. Jackson Jeffcoat could be back, and Jordan Hicks will be one of the league's biggest talents if he is able to recover from a hip injury. The time is now if the Longhorns' trio of backs are going to mature into true impact players.
5. Baylor: I'm a believer in the late-season run for these guys translating to 2013. The defense made big strides, and we'll see if those continue, but the offense will be fine. I buy Bryce Petty as a big talent and the next in the long line of Art Briles' quarterback disciples. Lache Seastrunk will help him out early, too. Don't be surprised if he surpasses Randle next year as the Big 12's best back.
6. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are a huge wild card and might have the biggest upside of any team in the bottom half of these rankings. Michael Brewer is a promising QB, and he now has Kliff Kingsbury -- the former Texas A&M offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach who helped the Aggies far surpass expectations -- as his new head coach. Could Tech do the same? The Red Raiders have tons of talent on both sides of the ball, thanks to a couple of great recruiting classes from Tommy Tuberville (who left to become the coach at Cincinnati).
7. Kansas State: No Collin Klein and Arthur Brown? You know about that, but there's no Chris Harper, Travis Tannahill, Braden Wilson, and the entire defensive line is gone, including star DE Meshak Williams. Both starting cornerbacks are gone, too. Point is, K-State's probably a bowl team next season, but to come back from that mountain of losses and be in the top half of the Big 12 is going to be a tall, tall task.
8. West Virginia: The Mountaineers' trio of wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin and quarterback Geno Smith was outstanding this year. Not much else in Morgantown was. All three are gone, and that team only went 7-5. Coordinator Keith Patterson has got to fix this defense in the spring and apply some lessons learned in a disappointing Year 1 in the Big 12. The QB derby between Paul Millard and Ford Childress should be interesting.
9. Iowa State: Sam Richardson was severely ill while playing in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, but he still didn't inspire a lot of confidence in the future of the QB spot in Ames, despite a strong finish to the season. With linebacking pillars A.J. Klein and Jake Knott both headed to the NFL, the odds once again will be against Iowa State winning six games and getting to a bowl. Without consistency at the quarterback spot, it's going to be tough, especially with the defense likely to take a step back.
10. Kansas: Gotta prove something before the Jayhawks move out of the basement. Charlie Weis is bringing in tons of juco talent, but after the Dayne Crist experiment didn't work, BYU transfer Jake Heaps simply must be better for KU to begin its climb back to the postseason.
2. Texas A&M: The Aggies might have been the hottest team in the country at the end of the 2012 season. Maybe defenses will have a little better handle on Johnny Manziel the second time around, but Johnny Football will have a little better handle on defenses, too. If offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews return for their senior seasons, look out. Losing Damontre Moore on defense will hurt, but the Aggies like their young talent.
Charlie Weis: A quarterback. Kansas made some big upgrades to its team via the juco ranks, but this is the Big 12. None of it will matter much if BYU transfer Jake Heaps doesn't pan out and become the player Weis hoped he would be when he brought him to Lawrence. Maybe Michael Cummings makes life interesting, but Heaps has heaps of starting experience, and if KU is going to get any better, it has to be much, much better at the quarterback spot after the Dayne Crist Experiment turned out to be a bust.
Oklahoma State fans: Forgiveness and selective memory. Yes, Oklahoma State fans, Mike Gundy disagreed with AD Mike Holder on scheduling philosophy and flirted with Tennessee and Arkansas to the point that some erroneous reports had him accepting the job as the new head Hog. Yes, he almost ruined a hugely beneficial relationship on both sides, but in the process, he damaged it some. Don't hold it against him. He says he gets along with Holder on "95 percent" of what they talk about as it relates to Oklahoma State. OSU gave him opportunities he wouldn't have gotten elsewhere, like becoming a position coach at 23 years old, and becoming a head coach at 36. He provided the program something no other coach could in a long, long time: An outright conference title. Focus on that, not on the aggravations of the offseason.
Kansas State's defense: Rocket-powered roller skates. This Oregon offense is no joke, and they've got backs faster and more talented than anything Kansas State has seen all season in the Big 12. De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner are going to be a handful, and quarterback Marcus Mariota has wheels of his own. Kansas State's defense might need a little help keeping up.
Oklahoma's defense: A dash of extra self-discipline. Speaking of keeping up, Oklahoma better subscribe to the LSU and Florida School of Johnny Football Defense. That is to say, keep contain and make him throw to beat you. If he gets loose in the secondary, it's going to be a long, long day for the Sooners. Keep him under wraps and in the pocket, and the Sooners will have a great shot to force a few turnovers (something they've struggled to do all season) and get a big win for the Big 12.
Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott: A hug. Shoulder surgery ended his career early, but everybody in the Big 12 respects what Knott did over his fantastic career. His leadership and toughness are rivaled by few to ever play in this league. He'll have to be in Memphis watching his fellow seniors close out their careers on the field. That's not easy to watch. Give him a hug and a pat on the back on the way to the NFL Combine. Best of luck, Jake.
Texas Tech fans: A chill pill. Excitement is through the roof in Lubbock, and Tech fans are dreaming of titles as season tickets fly out the door and fans celebrate Kliff Kingsbury's hire in the streets. Give the man time, though, and don't expect him to start racking up Big 12 titles right away. Maybe he will. I'm not saying he won't. I'm just saying the relationship between Kingsbury and Tech has a chance to be really, really special. He's still young, and still going to be learning how to run an entire program where he's making all the decisions. Give him time if it starts out rough, and don't force upon him crazy expectations.
West Virginia: Some new enemies. The poor Mountaineers didn't really find anybody to hate in their first season in the Big 12. TCU rekindled their old Southwest Conference ready-made rivalries with Texas and Texas Tech and Baylor, but the Mountaineers might get a little something going eventually with Tech (John Denver Bowl), Oklahoma State (Dana Holgorsen Bowl) or others. It doesn't help when you're getting stomped by both, and beaten by a bunch of others. For now, they'll have to settle with facing old friend from the Big East, Syracuse, in the Pinstripe Bowl.
TCU's young talents: Earplugs. The Frogs are very young and very, very promising. Over the next eight months, prepare to hear a whole lot about how good the Frogs will be, especially if Casey Pachall shows up in spring camp with his same old arm and a new way of seeing life. The freshmen and sophomore-heavy crew can't listen to it, though. That's the surest way to make it nothing more than hype.
Texas: No more Heisman mistakes in Texas. I really do feel bad for Texas. They recruit by selecting more than recruiting, and a whole lot of guys are going to be left wanting to go to Texas but not going to Texas. Offering guys like RG3 and Manziel to play defensive back while Case McCoy and David Ash hold down the quarterback spot at Texas? It's not a good look for the Longhorns. Some better quarterback evaluations are necessary, but there are a lot of good quarterbacks in the state and not all of them can go to Texas. The Longhorns would love it if guys who don't end up at Texas would stop winning Heismans.
Coincidentally, the two meet on Saturday, but thus far, Kansas State earned that control with a trio of wins against top 15 teams, two coming on the road. That's given the Wildcats a spotless record through eight games.
Oklahoma State? Well, its control comes with a steep price: The time to prove itself comes over the next month.
The No. 24 Cowboys kick off four consecutive games against top 25 teams with a trip to Manhattan on Saturday.
"We really started three weeks ago. Had a ranked Iowa State team and TCU’s been ranked most of the year. This stretch forward, we’re going to play teams ranked or have been ranked, some of them fairly high. We can only take it one day and one play at a time and one game at a time. These are all good teams," coach Mike Gundy said. "We have to be careful with the football and make good decisions and be aggressive."
Oklahoma State impressively dispatched of TCU and Iowa State by three touchdowns each, but both of those games were in Stillwater.
Both of the Cowboys road games this season were uninspired efforts. The first was a 21-point loss to Arizona and the second a sloppy, six-point win over Big 12 cellar dweller Kansas in the rain, a team OSU led 56-7 at halftime last season.
The carrot is in front of the Cowboys, even if the mountain to reach it looks daunting.
"That’s where we want to be. Obviously, you want to control your own destiny," senior lineman Lane Taylor told ESPN.com this week. "It’s a great thing and we need to take advantage of it."
Doing so won't be easy. Kansas State put a scare into the Cowboys in Stillwater a year ago, and have rolled to an 8-0 start while the Cowboys have tried to navigate an early-conference schedule without a team currently in the top 20.
"They’re just a sound football team," Taylor said of the Wildcats. "They’re going to be in their gap when they need to be in their gap They’re not going to blow coverages, they’re not going to bust and you just have to be prepared for them to come out with almost perfection."
Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh traded off knee injuries, but Lunt is back in the saddle after more than a month off the field, thanks to a Walsh injury against Iowa State two weeks ago.
"It’s kind of been a little bit of a rollercoaster for us," Taylor said. "We had high expectations for the season, and we had a couple losses we weren’t planning on having, but this team’s able to bounce back really well and put the past behind us."
Since a painful loss to Texas courtesy of a questionable call on the game-winning touchdown, the Cowboys have racked up three league wins. All three wins came over teams with quarterback issues. Iowa State has had a carousel of quarterbacks, Kansas benched Dayne Crist in the middle of their loss to the Cowboys and TCU started Trevone Boykin against the Cowboys, who started the season as a backup and moved to running back before sliding back to starting QB when Casey Pachall disenrolled from the university to seek treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.
Kansas State's quarterback? He's Collin Klein, currently leading the Big 12 in rushing touchdowns and passer rating, sitting comfortably in the driver's seat of the Heisman Trophy race.
"Our guys are excited about competing. I like the attitude of our football team. For the most part, I think we’re a much better team than we were a month ago," Gundy said.
How much better? Gundy will get his chance to find out on Saturday, and if it's good enough to knock off K-State, the Big 12 title race will get a whole lot more interesting with a month left in the season.
Like last week, there weren't a lot of great picks, but I narrowed it down to one.
My pick: Kansas at Baylor
Baylor hosts KU this week as an impressive 17-point favorite, but the recipe for an upset is everywhere in this game. First off, look simply at last year's game.
Baylor was better. Kansas was worse.
The Bears needed a big-time fourth-quarter comeback led by the best player in college football to escape the Jayhawks, who didn't win a Big 12 game last year, in overtime.
This year, I can confidently state that the best player in college football will not be available to rescue the Bears from an embarrassing loss if it gets behind late.
Kansas is clearly improving, and only one game all season has been out of hand at halftime. Coach Charlie Weis brings this up with rather troubling regularity in his meetings with the media, but the fact is, it does signify significant progress from a year ago.
Last year, Texas was the team needed late-game heroics to keep the Jayhawks 17-game Big 12 losing streak from ending. This week, it may very well end.
The biggest reason: James Sims. The Jayhawks running back returned from a three-game suspension and has been playing as good as any running back in the Big 12, including Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle. Among Big 12 teams, only Texas has been worse than Baylor at defending the run this year.
Sims racked up his fourth consecutive 100-yard game against the Longhorns, and a career-high 176 yards on 28 carries. Part of that success has been inputting dual-threat quarterback Michael Cummings to the offense. He's not going to offer much more than Dayne Crist did with his arm, but the threat of him running forces defenses to account for the rush and can clear things up a bit for Sims to do damage.
Kansas' improving defense will face a tough test against Baylor's defense, but No. 2 receiver Tevin Reese is banged up, too, and he's questionable for this week's game. Even if he plays, he might not be 100 percent, allowing the Jayhawks to focus a little more energy on the nation's leading receiver, Terrance Williams.
Kansas has inched closer and closer to ending that infamous streak. This could be the weekend it finally happens. If it does, Sims will be the reason why.
Saturday night, the surging Sooners smashed their third consecutive opponent, 52-7, setting the stage for next weekend's showdown with the fifth-ranked and still unbeaten Fighting Irish.
"I feel great about the way our guys are playing," coach Bob Stoops said. "Another complete, solid game.
"Now it's on to Notre Dame."
Click here to read the full story from SoonerNation.
Here's what I'm watching in the Big 12 and SEC this week:
1. What baseball-sized bruise? David Ash says he's playing, and he's practiced this week with a wrap on his left, non-throwing wrist. He can take snaps, too. Will we see Case McCoy start or play? And will Ash make it through the game without having to sit?
2. You want to be the Lunter, not the Lunted. Wes Lunt has been sidelined for more than a month now, and J.W. Walsh has played pretty well in his absence. Lunt is still "day-to-day" after suffering a knee injury against Louisiana-Lafayette, but is this the week he returns? Offensive coordinator Todd Monken and head coach Mike Gundy seemed to disagree on his availability last week. My guess is Lunt is back.
3. Shuffling the deck. Baylor struggled to run the ball against TCU last week, but now faces the league's worst rushing defense in Texas. Will we see a shuffle in the carry distribution, or will Jarred Salubi hang on to his status as the featured back? Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin will be nipping at his heels, too.
5. Check your pants, sir. Meanwhile, at Kansas, Charlie Weis says he plans to play two quarterbacks against the Sooners. Michael Cummings provided a spark in a near comeback against Oklahoma State last week. Everyone saw it, including Weis. Can he do something similar in Norman, Okla., on Saturday, or was last week an aberration?
6. Running away from trouble. Iowa State's linebacker duo of Jake Knott and A.J. Klein can shut down Oklahoma State's running game, and did so last year. Kansas did the same and OSU couldn't beat the Jayhawks convincingly through the air. Iowa State's secondary is strong, led by Jacques Washington. If ISU shuts down the running game, this could be another upset in the making.
7. Accounts receiving ... losses. Texas Tech has one of the deepest receiving units in the league, but suffered major losses this week. Bradley Marquez and Javon Bell are out for the season and tight end Jace Amaro might not play after injuring his ribs against West Virginia. Can Seth Doege and the passing game still survive those hits and move on with business as usual? They'll get a tough test this week against TCU, which leads the nation with 14 interceptions.
8. Achilles' heel ... or ankle. Last week was pretty ugly for the Mountaineers, but was it just an aberration? I'm betting yes, but they'll have to prove it against a very good, very sound Kansas State defense that was shown a way to slow this offense last week when Texas Tech stuffed WVU. Star receiver Stedman Bailey missed the second half last week with an ankle injury and is "day-to-day" this week. Will he even play? And if he does, will he be healthy? When he was out, Tech was able to shut down Tavon Austin. Can K-State do the same?
9. Make sure you've got your contacts in. Oklahoma suited up for the most meaningful game of its season last week against Texas. On Oct. 27, one of college football's most storied programs comes to Norman, likely without a loss on its record. This week ... it's 1-5 Kansas, which hasn't beaten an FBS team this season. Do the Sooners keep their focus and still look sharp, avoiding a letdown ahead of Notre Dame's visit?
10. Those last plays are important, guys. Geno Smith won't throw picks to anybody these days. WVU's not fumbling all that much, either. You want to stop WVU from scoring? Getting fourth-down stops is one of your best bets. How will K-State do? Dana Holgorsen doesn't trust his kicker and loves to roll the dice on fourth down. That stat may just decide the K-State game. WVU was 5-of-5 against Texas and won. It was 2-of-7 last week against Texas Tech and got blasted by five touchdowns. A fourth-down stop isn't listed as a turnover on the stat sheet, but it's just as good.
11. Manziel's march: If Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel is going to make a serious charge for the Heisman Trophy, here's his shot. An LSU defense comes to town Saturday ranked second nationally in total defense and high on making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. The Tigers kept South Carolina's Shaw on the run all night last week. Manziel already has put up more than 500 yards in total offense in two games this season and is on pace to break Cam Newton's SEC record for total offense in a season. His numbers are staggering, and his name is starting to float out there in the Heisman Trophy conversation. What he needs now are marquee wins against marquee defenses. Florida shut him down in the second half in the Aggies' opener. We'll find out Saturday how much he's grown from that game. -- Chris Low
Here's a look at this week's schedule:
No. 24 Iowa State at Oklahoma State (noon, FX): Last season, Iowa State ended the Cowboys' undefeated season and destroyed their hopes of a national title. The Cyclones are headed to Stillwater this time, but both teams already have two losses. The Cyclones are in great position to qualify for a third bowl in four years. OSU quarterback Wes Lunt's knee continues to heal, and he dressed out last week. Is this the week he takes his spot back from J.W. Walsh?
No. 17 Texas Tech at No. 23 TCU (3:30 p.m., ABC): TCU has moved on without Casey Pachall, and Trevone Boykin filled in admirably a week ago with four touchdown passes in a win against Baylor. Texas Tech's defense, though, is a much tougher test, and the Frogs were dominated by Iowa State in their last home outing. The Red Raiders knocked off their second top five team in two years last week, but didn't win a single game after beating No. 1 Oklahoma last year. Can the Red Raiders keep the good vibes rolling against the Frogs? This could be a budding Big 12 rivalry.
No. 4 Kansas State at No. 13 West Virginia (7 p.m., FOX): The Big 12's Game of the Week is a contrast of styles. The league's youngest coach, 41-year-old Dana Holgorsen, goes up against its oldest, 73-year-old Bill Snyder. Both teams have Heisman-caliber quarterbacks that couldn't be more different -- or better fits for their respective schemes. Geno Smith will command the Mountaineers' Air Raid while Kansas State dual-threat Collin Klein handles almost half of his business on the ground. If Kansas State wins, the Wildcats have a stranglehold on the Big 12 title race. If WVU wins, the race becomes a scramble.
Kansas at No. 9 Oklahoma (7 p.m., Fox Sports Net): The Jayhawks are five-touchdown underdogs to the Sooners, who have played better than any team in the Big 12 in the past two weeks. That's a welcome development after a rough start. Meanwhile, Kansas is dealing with a quarterback controversy. Will Charlie Weis bench his transfer, Dayne Crist, for Michael Cummings, who nearly engineered a huge comeback against Oklahoma State last week?
Baylor at No. 25 Texas (8 p.m., ABC): How serious is the heat in Austin on Mack Brown after two losses in two weeks and a disappointing defense? Not very serious if you ask me, but losing to Baylor in three consecutive seasons is a bad look for any coach of the Longhorns. Texas' David Ash suffered an injury to his non-throwing wrist last week, but says he'll play. Baylor's Nick Florence will be hungry to get back on the field after throwing four interceptions against TCU, and without Texas' best defensive end, Jackson Jeffcoat (left pectoral, out for season), Florence should have some more time in the pocket this week.
Best offensive performance: Andrew Buie, RB, West Virginia. Geno Smith said it best about Buie's performance on Saturday: "He carried us." Buie logged 31 carries and turned them into 207 yards and two touchdowns in the Mountaineers' 48-45 win at Texas. On West Virginia's final drive, he carried the ball on seven of eight plays for 63 yards and a touchdown. That won the game for the Eers, and the sophomore showed up big with Shawne Alston sidelined by a thigh bruise. Buie also caught three passes for 66 yards and would have scored, but the Turf Monster reached up and tripped him on the way into the end zone. Here's what I wrote about Buie's day.
Best team performance: Oklahoma. Yes, West Virginia had the best win, but I knew the Mountaineers could do it. I picked 'em to do it, in fact. I was surprised to find myself in such a small minority of folks picking WVU to take care of business on the road. The Sooners, though? Did anybody think they could waltz into Lubbock and paste Tech by four touchdowns? I certainly didn't. They scored 41 points in three quarters and held Texas Tech to just 28 yards on its first six drives of the second half. That's crazy.
Best quote: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia, on Texas fans' chants of "Geno sucks!" "Where does that come from? Obviously, I don't suck."
Second-best quote: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia. "For the fourth game in a row, we didn't turn it over." Holgorsen paused. "... We probably did turn it over, now that I think about it," he said. "There's a lot of stuff going through my head. Boy, we did turn it over two times, didn't we?" Hey, people ask quarterbacks to have short memories. The same must go for coaches, I suppose.
Best game: West Virginia 48, Texas 45. Five total lead changes, including three in the second half? A whole bunch of big plays on both offense and defense? West Virginia goes 5-5 on fourth down? That's a heck of a ballgame on its own.
Worst quarter: Kansas' third quarter. The Jayhawks turned the ball over three times in the period, but did manage a safety after one of the turnovers. The problem? The safety came on the second of two Dayne Crist interceptions on consecutive throws, and the Jayhawks fumbled the kickoff on the safety. Kansas State broke a 32-yard touchdown run on the next play, and the Jayhawks were outscored 28-2 in the period.
Best quarter: Oklahoma's third quarter. The Sooners outscored Texas Tech 17-0 and turned a 24-13 lead into a 41-13 lead. Oklahoma scored on both of its offensive possessions and returned a Seth Doege interception 46 yards for a touchdown. Not bad, boys.
Worst play: Mack Brown, Texas. Facing a fourth-and-4 late in the first quarter, Texas' defensive line crashed the backfield and sacked Smith to get a huge defensive stop and ignite the crowd. The only problem? Texas had called a timeout before the ball was snapped. A harbinger of things to come ...
Best play: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia. On WVU's second chance, Austin caught a short pass over the middle to convert the fourth down (West Virginia would finish 5-of-5), and looked faster than anybody else in the Big 12, turning the corner on the Texas defense and racing for a 40-yard touchdown that put WVU up 14-7. Absolutely the sickest thing I saw all weekend.
Best of September
1. Geno Smith. The West Virginia passer has been arguably the biggest story of the season, and easily the game's best player. Smith capped his month with an absurd 656-yard, eight-touchdown performance in a 70-63 win over Baylor. Through four games, he's been nearly perfect. He has thrown 20 touchdowns, four more than any QB in the country. He's completing 83.4 percent of his passes, 5.3 percent more than any QB in the country. Only one QB has thrown more than Smith's 1,728 yards, and that guy (Rakeem Cato, Marshall) has almost 100 more attempts. Smith's 10.2 yards per attempt is third nationally. He's got a 24-point lead in the QB rating stat, 17 points higher than Russell Wilson, the nation's leader, finished last year.
2. Kansas State and Bill Snyder. The Wildcats are the most impressive team in the Big 12 through the first month. There's still a lot of football left to be played, but K-State has a blowout win over Miami on its résumé and went to Oklahoma and became the first ranked team to ever beat Bob Stoops in Norman. The old silver fox in Manhattan with his name on the stadium has still got it.
3. The Big 12 vs. everybody else. Kansas' hatred for holding leads in the fourth quarter aside, the Big 12 has racked up an impressive 26-3 record in nonconference play. Only one nonconference game remains, when Notre Dame travels to Oklahoma later this month, but the Big 12 has the nation's best record outside its own conference. The only disappointment? Oklahoma State's 59-38 loss to Arizona on the road that featured a school-record 167 penalty yards, and the Cowboys lost the turnover battle 4-0. Not much hope when you do that. You'll have a hard time finding a benchmark win among the 26 (Iowa State over Iowa? K-State over Miami? West Virginia over Maryland? Texas over Ole Miss? TCU over Virginia? Baylor over Louisiana-Monroe?), but there's something to be said for lining up and taking care of business. No Big 12 team has really had a serious scare in a game it should absolutely win.
Worst of September
1. Kansas. The rebuilding project in Lawrence hasn't quite gotten off the ground yet. While everybody else in the league is playing top-25 ball or close to it, the Jayhawks have been muddled in embarrassing losses. The weirdest thing about all this? KU is actually better than it was a year ago, but found a way to have a worse start. It's 1-3 instead of 2-2, with losses to Rice and Northern Illinois. KU had fourth-quarter leads in both of those games, but lost both, giving the Big 12 two nonconference losses that never should have happened and preventing the league from going 29-1. In a league with depth everywhere, Dayne Crist hasn't been as good as the Jayhawks had hoped, and KU is clearly the league's only weak link.
2. Landry Jones and/or Oklahoma. I don't mean to pile on here, but the Sooners are the only Big 12 team to take a major tumble down the polls, and they have yet to do anything of note. OU lost at home to Kansas State, and looked awful in a win over UTEP that required a late charge to make it convincing. Jones, meanwhile, has a passer rating better than exactly two Big 12 QBs: Dayne Crist and Steele Jantz. His completion percentage (63.6) is better than only Crist's.
3. TCU in the red zone. I'll be honest; there's not much to harp on in a league that's been pretty solid to this point. Still, TCU is dragging along in the first month with some really bad red zone performances. The Frogs have reached the final 20 yards before the end zone 20 times this year. That's good! They've come away with points just 12 times. That's bad! Only six teams in the country have been worse. The schedule toughens up now for TCU. Its nonconference slate is done. It's already played Kansas. Everybody else is fully capable of beating the Frogs, even if TCU plays pretty well. This stuff in the red zone has to change. We've seen a little bit of everything, from turnovers to missed field goals. Only nine of those 20 possessions have resulted in touchdowns.
What to watch in October
1. Where do the Sooners go from here? Oklahoma entered the season as the preseason Big 12 favorite. Through three games and two bye weeks, OU hasn't looked better than very many teams in the Big 12. In the meantime, the Sooners have hung around the Top 25, despite a loss to Kansas State and an unimpressive win over UTEP. Oklahoma has the talent to make it through December without a loss and win the league. It also has enough problems to fall and finish 6-6. The league is deep enough to make OU pay that way. How will the Sooners respond from a rough first month? A trip to Texas Tech awaits, followed by the Red River Classic. OU hosts Kansas before a showdown with No. 9 Notre Dame.
2. Can David Ash keep it up, and the Texas defense bounce back? We'll know exactly how good Texas is over the next month. It has looked good, and has one truly impressive win on its résumé: a road win over Oklahoma State, a team that was unranked when the Longhorns played them but likely is one of the nation's top 25 teams, all things considered. Texas' liability, though? Not David Ash, who's daring to peek his head into a Heisman race with eye-popping numbers. It's the defense, which hasn't had the pass rush most believed it would and has had major tackling issues that were on display in the dramatic win over Oklahoma State. This month? Texas hosts West Virginia, then meets Oklahoma at Red River. Then Baylor comes to Austin. All difficult tests for the defense, much more so than Ash.
3. Just keep on watching ... the cream will rise. There's no way around it right now: This league is impossibly muddled. From 1-8 (and maybe nine, we'll see), anybody is good enough to get through the next month without a loss. But in the same breath, unless you're playing Kansas, you're not good enough to be guaranteed any wins. How will this Big 12 race look a month from now? No joke, you could make an argument for literally any order. West Virginia and Kansas State are the favorites now, but Texas is right in the mix, and might be better than both of them. Are you ready to bury Oklahoma yet? You shouldn't be. And why can't Oklahoma State bounce back and make some noise? The Cowboys are good enough. Nothing is impossible in this wide-open race.
No big surprises in my Saturday location: I'm heading to Norman to see the Sooners and Wildcats tangle in a Saturday night prime-time showdown.
Here's who I've got in this weekend's games:
Last week: 8-0
Season record: 22-3 (.880)
Texas, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are off this week.
Baylor 41, Louisiana-Monroe 28: I don't buy the upset potential here. Tyler Wilson looked fine against the Warhawks before he got hurt. Nick Florence should do the same. Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese give Louisiana-Monroe fits. The Bears will take care of business and have too much offense, though Kolton Browning will make plenty of plays to make Baylor's defense sweat.
No. 8 West Virginia 55, Maryland 17: Maryland is better this year under Randy Edsall, but not good enough to make this a game. West Virginia is playing like a top-10 team and will keep it going to close out nonconference play. Stedman Bailey will grab two more touchdowns and Tavon Austin will hit double digits in receptions once again. Business as usual for the 'Eers.
No. 17 TCU 44, Virginia 20: Gary Patterson is not sweating the turnovers from last week because the fumbles were so out of character for his team. The Horned Frogs will prove it this week, dominating the line of scrimmage against the Cavaliers. Matthew Tucker will clear 100 yards easily, and Skye Dawson will finally get in the mix after a Week 1 suspension and quiet game at KU last week.
Kansas 28, Northern Illinois 27: This was by far the toughest pick of the week. Ultimately, I think NIU is a bit overrated based on its reputation this season and won't be able to stop Kansas' running game. Tony Pierson and James Sims are quite the duo in the backfield, and Sims will be fired up after returning from suspension. He's ready, and KU will get a big win on the road against the Huskies. Dayne Crist should learn from his mistakes and make a couple of big throws late, instead of interceptions.
No. 6 Oklahoma 37, No. 15 Kansas State 31: This is (obviously) my game of the week. Come back later today for a video explaining why I picked the game to play out like this.
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