Dallas Colleges: Glenn Spencer

When thinking of Baylor and Oklahoma State, defense is rarely the first thing that comes to mind.

Yet those two teams featured the Big 12’s top defenses in 2013, a main reason they combined for 21 victories and found themselves atop the conference standings heading into the final day of the regular season a year ago.

But neither the Cowboys nor Bears found themselves among the nation’s top 15 defenses in points allowed or yards allowed, and only Oklahoma State's 21.6 points allowed per game, which ranked No. 19 nationally, was among the nation’s top 25 in either category.

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezShawn Oakman and Baylor's defense give up yards, but measure up well in the most important statistics.
“I think people are getting educated a little bit about what is good defense and what is good defense against spread offenses when having to defend 18, 19 series a game,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “It’s not yardage, it’s the winning game. Saying you’re the best defense in the nation because you gave up 375 yards per game? That’s ridiculous. That has no bearing on what the best defense in the nation is; that’s the most ridiculous stat ever.”

Recognizing good defense in the Big 12 is a little different.

“How are you going to win the game? How many points per possession?” Spencer asks. “We have a lot more possessions to defend than a lot of teams in the nation.”

So with the new season on the horizon, here are other ways to define good defense in the Big 12.

Yards per play: More important than total yards allowed, yards per play is a better representation for a defense’s success. For example, Oklahoma led the Big 12 in total yards allowed at 305.2, yet the Sooners were sixth in yards per play at 5.38. Why? The Sooners offense played a major role in OU’s strong overall yardage numbers by controlling the clock with its running game. Oklahoma's defense faced 65.1 plays per game, five plays fewer than any other Big 12 team. By comparison, Baylor allowed 4.77 yards per play, which led the conference, while facing 75.8 plays per game. The Bears allowed more yards than the Sooners, but BU’s defense clearly had more success stopping opponents than OU on a play-by-play basis.

Points per possession: Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Kansas State finished 1-2-3 in points allowed in 2013, but only the Cowboys finished in the top three in points per possession. Oklahoma State led the conference with 1.22 points per possession, followed by Baylor (1.38), TCU (1.5) and Oklahoma (1.6). Those four teams combined to win 36 games, including the Horned Frogs' disappointing four-win season. It’s also a meaningful stat nationally, with Florida State leading the nation in the category (0.9) followed by Michigan State (0.99), Louisville (1.05) and Alabama (1.09). Those four teams combined to go 50-4 in 2013.

Third down conversion defense: Getting off the field on third down is critical in any conference. The conference’s three teams that had double-digit wins finished 1-2-3 in third-down conversion defense. Oklahoma State led the Big 12 at 31.4 percent, followed by Oklahoma (33.7) and Baylor (33.9). Excellence on third down is one reason the Sooners still had one of the Big 12’s top defenses a year ago, even though they faced fewer plays. Oklahoma's offense controlling games wasn’t the only reason the Sooners faced fewer plays, as their defense consistently got off the field on key third downs.

“[In the Big 12] you have to defend the whole full of playmakers and you are going to give up some yardage,” Spencer said. “But you have to get off the field.”

Turnovers: Much like third-down excellence, turnovers are critical in any conference. Oklahoma State (33) and Baylor (28) finished 1-2 in turnovers forced, and it’s not a coincidence. Both defensive coaching staffs make creating turnovers a top priority, even more than stopping the opponent. For the Cowboys and Bears, taking the ball away from the opposing offense is the primary goal.

Percentage of possible yards allowed per drive: This is another terrific stat to monitor the overall success of a Big 12 defense against opponents. BU led the conference at 32.4 percent followed by Oklahoma State (34.7), TCU (35.1) and Oklahoma (37.1). Those four teams could easily be considered the Big 12’s top four defenses in 2013.

Three-and-out percentage: The Bears led the Big 12 by forcing a three-and-out on 28.2 percent of opponent’s drives. Oklahoma State (26.8), TCU (26.7) and Texas (25.8) rounded out the top four. One of the reasons Bryce Petty and the Bears’ offense set scoring records was the ability of Baylor's defense to immediately put the ball back in the hands of the offense.
Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has a simple explanation to describe the change in his job in the past year.

“180 degrees,” he says.

At this time a year ago, Spencer was a new defensive coordinator with a defense full of veterans. From cornerback Justin Gilbert, a likely NFL draft first-round pick, to linebacker Shaun Lewis, an All-Big 12 performer, the Cowboys defense featured several players with plenty of experience. His task required fine-tuning and allowed him to be creative, with the understanding his experienced defense could handle the extra burden of additional schemes.

This spring has been much different as he prepares for his second season running the Pokes' defense. The unit, while talented, is young and inexperienced as they try to replace a group of seniors who started 239 combined games in a Cowboys uniform.

[+] EnlargeGlenn Spencer
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer admits that his young defense "keeps him up at night."
“Right now it keeps me up at night,” Spencer said midway through the spring. “I just want them to find within themselves what they’re all about, check their heartbeat out before they come out here [to practice] and find the right motivation for what they’re doing. That’s part of the fun part, watching a kid find that, so we just have to get more people to find that.”

Instilling mental toughness was a spring focus.

“It’s been a process the whole spring; it’s not a real surprise,” Spencer said. “We have some guys running with the first unit that haven’t earned a thing yet and there’s probably a sense of entitlement right now.”

Oklahoma State does have several returning defenders with experience, including defensive tackle James Castleman and cornerback Kevin Peterson, who both say they prefer to lead by example. So there is a potential vocal leadership void, but Spencer has been pleased with the spring progress of his youthful unit, even if it hasn’t reached the heights required for success this fall.

“We got a lot done,” Spencer said. “I’m still not happy, but we got a lot done. There was some improvement made -- a lot of it -- mostly in the tough situations we put them in, some adversity that happened and watching and studying and seeing yourself on tape and realizing what you think you’re doing and what you’re actually doing doesn’t match up sometimes.”

If removing what Spencer had referred to as "a sense of entitlement" earlier in the spring has been achieved, then Oklahoma State can call this spring a success.

“Our perception of what we are and then what we are accomplishing is a lot different,” Spencer said. "Those things were huge, and we took a big step toward that.”

Even with their spring progress, the inexperience of the Cowboys defense will remain a storyline until the fall.

“There were a number of years where we had Joe [Mitchell] and Shaun and those guys you know about,” head coach Mike Gundy said. “When you’re experienced on defense, they can overcome speed, and they can overcome different tempos of offense and formations and movement. When you get in a game on that side of the ball, if you’re not real experienced, things that move around a little bit and you start paying attention to that, and then they snap the ball and you get out of your gap. We have to really pay attention as a coaching staff to that and put our players in positions to give them the best chance to have success early in the season.”
Every coach wants to be in a similar position. Yet, at the same time, it creates a problem that can be difficult to overcome.

Mike Gundy’s success at Oklahoma State has made his job harder.

Since 2009, the Cowboys have won 50 games, recording a 76.9 winning percentage and winning one Big 12 championship. During the same span, nine assistant coaches have left the program including West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen and Southern Mississippi head coach Todd Monken. Only Gundy and defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer remain from the 2009 staff, which coached a squad which finished 9-4 and earned a Cotton Bowl berth.

Time and time again Gundy has watched as guys who helped build the program into a Big 12 championship contender have walked out of the football offices at Boone Pickens Stadium, never to return. Former coaches like West Virginia’s Joe DeForest and Texas’ Joe Wickline were core contributors as OSU created the foundation in Stillwater, Okla.

“[You build a program] then you win and you lose them all, people come in and take them,” Gundy said. “It’s kind of double-edged sword, if you don’t win, you’re not going to be here anyway, if you do win, then people are going to take your coaches. So, hopefully you can find quality people to come in here and take over. That’s what we’ve had to do.”

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesMike Gundy has become used to rebuilding his coaching staff.
The offensive coaching staff has taken the biggest hits with Holgorsen and Monken leaving for head coaching jobs after record-setting seasons in Stillwater. Wickline had been the lone constant throughout Gundy’s tenure before leaving to join Charlie Strong’s Texas staff after nine seasons at OSU.

Fans have watched as historic rivalries have disappeared during conference realignment as schools searched to expand their budgets. Gundy believes the infusion of money into college football has played a major role in the instability of his staff, or any staff that has enjoyed similar success.

“Money has changed the way that staffs are [maintained] in our game,” he said. “Money has changed everything. Guys can stay at one place for a year or two then double their money, just like that, so they move. What I’ve learned to do over a number of years is to learn to not take it personal.”

For the most part, Gundy and the Cowboys have weathered the storm. OSU has had at least one coach leave the program after every season for the past five years. They’ve won double-digit games the following season three times during that period as Gundy has brought in new blood like running backs coach Jemal Singleton and cornerbacks coach Van Malone.

Yet it can’t help but feel like the lack of continuity will catch up with the program at some point.

“We always worry about the continuity of the staff,” Gundy said. “A guy has an opportunity to better his career, his family and move on. We’ve had guys leave, Doug Meacham left, now he’s a coordinator in the Big 12.”

Which brings up yet another problem facing the Pokes. Gundy has watched several of the branches from his coaching tree land in his own backyard.

In the fall of 2010, Holgorsen, Wickline and Meacham sat in the same meeting room as offensive coaches for the Cowboys. This fall, all three coaches will be at other Big 12 schools, with Meacham as the offensive coordinator at TCU, Wickline as offensive coordinator at Texas and Holgorsen running the offense at WVU. And all three will be looking to expose the Cowboys’ young defense in 2014 with a measure of familiarity with OSU’s offense that will be uncommon for a conference rival.

“That’s a bit of an issue in itself,” Gundy said.

Nonetheless, the Cowboys just keep trucking forward.

With Wickline as the latest departure, Gundy has been happy with his decision to hire Bob Connelly to replace him as OSU’s offensive line coach. Connelly is an 18-year veteran with coaching stops at Alabama, UCLA and Arizona State.

“I like his demeanor,” Gundy said. “I like his ability to teach and coach, he’s very experienced. Believe it or not, when you hire a coach you never know what you’re getting until you get him. We do the best we can to try to get people who fit into our style and mix with the personality of our coaching staff. I’m interested in bringing in coaches who want to teach and coach the game, not want to scream and yell. I think he’s done a nice job mixing in with our staff.”

With OSU’s sustained success, replacing assistant coaches has become an annual post-signing day tradition in Stillwater. Gundy fully expects that tradition to continue.

“I don’t think it’s ever going to change with the direction our profession is going,” Gundy said. “The dollar changed everything and people can move in a heartbeat.”

Big 12's lunch links

March, 24, 2014
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Well, I need to recover. That was a crazy first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Congrats to Baylor and Iowa State on their Sweet 16 runs.

Ranking Big 12's top assistant coaches

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
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The Big 12 is full of talented assistant coaches. In a conference loaded with quality assistants, we've tried to narrow it down to the top 10 based on the on-field production of their offense, defense or position group and their ability to evaluate, recruit and develop players at their position.

[+] EnlargeMike Stoops
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMike Stoops' defenses at Oklahoma have been among the best in the Big 12 the last two seasons.
Here's a closer look at the top 10 assistant coaches in the Big 12:

  1. Mike Stoops, Oklahoma defensive coordinator/safeties coach: The Sooners defense has been solid since Stoops returned after his stint as head coach at Arizona. Oklahoma has been among the Big 12’s top defenses during the past two seasons, particularly against the pass. Stoops secured the top spot on the list with his willingness to completely change the defense in 2013, going to a three-man front and making the defense faster and more versatile. And he’s one of the best evaluators and developers of defensive backs in the country.
  2. Phillip Montgomery, Baylor offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach: Montgomery coordinated the nation’s top offense in 2013. The Bears led all BCS teams, averaging 52.4 points and 618.8 yards per game, as the offense spearheaded Baylor's run to its first Big 12 title. Montgomery also has mentored some of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks in recent years, including Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence, capped by Big 12 offensive player of the year Bryce Petty in 2013.
  3. Glenn Spencer, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator/linebackers coach: Spencer took over Oklahoma State’s defense in 2013 and the Cowboys transformed into a more aggressive and adaptive unit. Oklahoma State's defense led the Big 12 in fewest points allowed (21.6) and lowest third-down conversion rate (31.4 percent) to finish among the top 20 teams in the BCS in each category. Spencer also is a superb recruiter and developer of linebackers for the Cowboys, who featured two of the Big 12’s best in Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis last season.
  4. Dick Bumpas, TCU defensive coordinator/defensive line coach: Bumpas has coached with TCU head coach Gary Patterson since 2004, and the Horned Frogs have fielded some of the best defenses in the nation during Patterson’s tenure. TCU’s defense finished among the Big 12’s best in several categories in 2013, including its 4.83 yards allowed per play, which was No. 13 among BCS teams. Bumpas’ defensive line group also has been among the Big 12’s best, as he consistently turns players other teams overlooked into solid performers.
  5. Dana Dimel, Kansas State offensive coordinator/running backs and tight ends coach: The Wildcats' creativity on offense often goes unnoticed, but K-State finished among the top 30 BCS teams in yards per play. Dimel, who coaches the running backs and tight ends, has been a key member of Bill Snyder’s staff and has coached 34 players who have played in the NFL. That includes Daniel Thomas, who arrived on campus as a junior college quarterback before developing into an All-Big 12 running back.
  6. Joe Wickline, Texas offensive coordinator/offensive line coach: Wickline has been one of the Big 12’s top position coaches for the past few years as Oklahoma State’s offensive line coach. He coached several players to all-conference honors, including NFL first-round pick Russell Okung. Wickline moves to Austin, Texas, in 2014 after being named Texas’ offensive coordinator by head coach Charlie Strong. He has a proven ability to evaluate talent and develop relative unknowns into productive offensive linemen.
  7. Wally Burnham, Iowa State defensive coordinator/linebackers coach: Burnham consistently has developed All-Big 12 linebackers during his time on the Cyclones' coaching staff. During his five seasons coaching linebackers, Jesse Smith, Jake Knott, A.J. Klein and Jeremiah George each earned All-Big 12 honors. The Cyclones defense took a step backward in 2013, but much of their success under Paul Rhoads is built upon an underrated defense led by quality linebackers.
  8. Sonny Cumbie, TCU co-offensive coordinator: The Red Raiders receivers have been among the Big 12’s best under Cumbie for the past few seasons. His work with the receivers was one reason Texas Tech led the Big 12 and finished second nationally with 392.85 yards per game in 2013 despite playing multiple quarterbacks. Cumbie will play a key role in kick-starting TCU’s offense in 2014.
  9. Kendal Briles, Baylor passing game coordinator/receivers coach: Briles secured his spot on this list thanks to his ability to evaluate, recruit and develop receivers. He’s one reason Baylor has become “Wide Receiver U” in the Big 12 while putting several players into the NFL, including Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams and Josh Gordon. Not only does he evaluate well -- such as with overlooked speedster Tevin Reese -- Briles has shown he can develop those signees into all-Big 12 performers.
  10. Jay Norvell, Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach: Much like Briles, Norvell consistently recruits and develops players for the Sooners. He coached NFL draftees Ryan Broyles, Kenny Stills and Justin Brown during the past three seasons, when six receivers have caught at least 50 passes. His ability to continue to bring in elite prospects amps up the competition at the position.

Big 12's best coaching hires of 2013

February, 10, 2014
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Several new assistant coaches in 2013 made major impacts on established coaching staffs in the Big 12 during their first seasons on campus. Oklahoma State had two new coordinators making an impression; a pair of Oklahoma assistants revamped its line play; and a Kansas State alumnus helped a current Wildcat become a multipurpose star.

Here are the top 10 coaching hires of 2013 in the conference (Note: Since Texas Tech's entire staff was in its first season, the Red Raiders were excluded):

1. Glenn Spencer, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator: The OSU defense rose to another level during Spencer’s first season as defensive coordinator. The veteran coach, who had spent time as a defensive line coach and linebackers coach during his six seasons at OSU, took over the defense in 2013 and made it more aggressive and productive. OSU finished among the top 3 in the Big 12 in points allowed per game (21.6 points, 1st), yards per play (4.77, 2nd) , yards per rush (3.64, 3rd), third down conversion rate (31.4 percent, 1st) and yards per pass attempt (5.8, 1st). The Cowboys also forced a Big 12-best 33 turnovers, 11 more than they did in 2012.

[+] EnlargeJerry Montgomery
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiDefensive line coach Jerry Montgomery helped shape the Sooners into a force up front.
2. Jerry Montgomery, Oklahoma defensive line coach: The Sooners' defensive line improved tremendously during Montgomery’s first season. OU saw its tackles for loss jump from 53 in 2012 to 73 in 2013, and sophomore defensive end Charles Tapper went from raw talent with terrific upside to an All-Big 12 performer. In addition, Montgomery’s defensive line was able to handle the mid-season loss of defensive tackle Jordan Phillips as redshirt freshman Jordan Wade stepped into Phillips' spot without a major drop off in production.

3. Greg Robinson, Texas defensive coordinator: Robinson stepped in, replacing Manny Diaz, after the Longhorns' defense was embarrassed during the first two games of the 2013 season. The Longhorns defense didn’t transform into a dominant unit but Robinson stopped the bleeding after UT allowed 1,025 yards in its first two games. BYU and New Mexico State combined to averaged 2.48 points per drive. In UT’s final 11 games, opponents averaged 1.68 points per drive.

4. Bill Bedenbaugh, Oklahoma offensive line coach: The Sooners' first-year offensive line coach did a terrific job with a unit that was forced to shuffle around at various times this season. OU’s Sugar Bowl win was a great example of his impact as three of the five offensive linemen who started the game were making their first start in their career or first start at a new position. Guard Dionte Savage made his lone start of the season, right tackle Daryl Williams moved to left tackle and guard Bronson Irwin shifted to right tackle and held their own as the Sooners knocked off Alabama.

5. Larry Porter, Texas running backs coach: Porter did a good job with UT’s running backs during his lone season as the running backs coach. Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray combined for 373 carries, 1,684 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Just as important, the duo lost zero fumbles despite carrying the rushing load. Porter helped a talented group of running backs to be productive and protect the ball during his short stint at UT.

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
AP Photo/Eric GayUnder Greg Robinson's tutelage, the Longhorns improved immensely.
6. Andre Coleman, Kansas State receivers coach: As Tyler Lockett made catch after catch while overwhelming Big 12 secondaries, Coleman’s spot on this list became more and more secure. Lockett was a terrific playmaker and returner during his first two seasons in Manhattan, Kan. But in 2013 he became a terrific receiver as well. His route running and ability to consistently get open was a sign of the improvement he made under Coleman’s tutelage. Lockett had 81 receptions for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior. In 2012, he finished with 44 receptions for 687 yards and four scores, although to be fair, the Wildcats threw the ball less during his sophomore season.

7. Mike Yurcich, Oklahoma State offensive coordinator: Oklahoma State’s offense was still among the Big 12’s best under Yurcich, finishing among the top three in the conference in points scored (39.1 points, 2nd), yards (448.8, 3rd), yards per play (5.91, 3rd) and passing yards (278.85, 3rd). Yet the Cowboys took a clear step backward in a few categories. OSU dropped from third nationally (7.01) to No. 45 in yards per play (5.91) and dropped from tied for 24th nationally (46.2 percent) to No. 80 in third down conversion rate (38.8 percent). Yurcich’s first season as a Division I coordinator wasn’t bad by any stretch, but it was far from perfect.

8. Tony Gibson, WVU safeties: Gibson left Arizona to join the Mountaineers’ staff as the safeties coach before the 2013 season. Darwin Cook continued to be one of the most productive defensive backs in the Big 12 under Gibson, earning All-Big 12 honors with 74 tackles and four interceptions as a senior. With WVU's defensive coordinator position open, Gibson could be a good fit to take over that side of the football.

9. DeMontie Cross, TCU linebackers: The veteran coach with NFL experience helped the Horned Frogs' linebackers rank among the team's top tacklers. Junior Paul Dawson went from 14 tackles as a sophomore to a team-high 91 tackles in 2013. Marcus Mallet (70) and Jonathan Anderson (66) joined Dawson among the top four tacklers on the Horned Frogs defense during Cross' first season.

10. Lonnie Galloway, WVU receivers: The Mountaineers' quarterbacks had a rough year yet the receivers as a whole were fairly productive, with WVU finishing fourth in the Big 12 in receiving yards from its receivers (2,604). Five different Mountaineers receivers caught at least 20 passes, including Ronald Carswell and Mario Alford, who each averaged at least 20 yards per reception.

Gilbert vs. DGB is must-see TV

January, 2, 2014
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Their collegiate careers have taken similar paths.

They stepped on campus as raw athletes with unique talent, they flashed that ability as true freshmen and they began to turn their potential into production as sophomores.

[+] EnlargeJustin Gilbert
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIAfter a down season in 2012, Justin Gilbert was a Thorpe finalist this season.
Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham are two of college football’s toughest individual matchups. And they’ll battle each other on Friday in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

Gilbert, a senior, is projected to be a first round NFL draft pick after a stellar final season for the Cowboys. Green-Beckham, a sophomore, will play on Sundays someday and ranks No. 6 on ESPN.com’s list of top 25 non-eligible NFL prospects ($) in college football.

The Cotton Bowl provides Gilbert one last opportunity against an NFL-level talent in Green-Beckham after a disappointing junior year. He was a star as a sophomore and looked like a guy who would be NFL-bound when he initially arrived at OSU but the struggles in 2012 led to his return for his final season.

“I felt I owed this team a lot more than I gave them last year,” Gilbert said. “During the season last year Coach [Mike] Gundy brought me in and had a little talk about the production I wasn’t having and how they expected more out of me and they knew what I could do.”

Gilbert took those words to heart, becoming one of the nation’s best cornerbacks and a finalist for the Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation’s top defensive back. Gilbert’s stellar play has made OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer’s job easier during his first year running the Cowboys’ defense. For opposing receivers, Gilbert has been like the fly you can’t get rid, keeps showing up at the most inopportune times and making life much more unpleasant than it should be.

“I’ve asked him to do some more difficult things this year than I have in the past, played more aggressive out there on the corner, some stuff schematically we’ve never done here at Oklahoma State before,” Spencer said. “I would not have been able to do those things if it wasn’t for [Gilbert].”

Now Gilbert faces one of his most difficult tests in his final college game. Green-Beckham, also known as DGB, was the No. 3 player in the ESPN 300 for the Class of 2012. At 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, DGB combines the size of a tight end with the speed and athleticism of a man half his size. In the SEC title game against Auburn, Green-Beckham had six receptions for 144 yards and two touchdowns. He gave SEC defensive coordinators nightmares with 55 receptions for 830 yards and 12 touchdowns this year, taking a clear step forward during his second collegiate season.

“It’s just being comfortable really,” he said of his improvement. “Looking at last year’s season [I had] that freshman mind, but this year I felt like I came out here and used last year as more of an experience to come out here and play a lot harder.”

Fortunately for the Cowboys, Gilbert seems to rise to the occasion against the best. He battled NFL top-10 pick Justin Blackmon in practice during his first two years in Stillwater and won his share of those one-on-one battles. As a sophomore, he had picks against future NFL starting quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck.

If the Cowboys hope to knock off the Tigers, Gilbert will have to play a major role in slowing DGB and the Missouri passing game.

“Justin has gotten the national accolades and well-deserved,” Spencer said. “He’s in a [high] profile position, is going to get tested many times during the bowl game.”

Oklahoma St. rolls Baylor to control Big 12

November, 24, 2013
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STILLWATER, Okla. -- With nine minutes still to be played, America’s top offense finally had enough.

So instead of going for another seemingly hopeless fourth-and-long, Baylor called its record-setting offense to the sideline and sent out the punt team. On the other side of the field, sensing the capitulation, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer began hopping up and down, slapping the helmet of any defender passing by his general vicinity.

The 10th-ranked Cowboys always believed they could knock off fourth-ranked Baylor. But nobody, from "College GameDay" guest picker Marcus Smart to the Cowboys themselves, thought they would put the mighty Bears away before the fourth quarter.

Yet, Saturday night before a sold-out Boone Pickens Stadium, Oklahoma State did exactly that, pummeling Baylor into submission 49-17 to ensure the Big 12 title will go through Stillwater.

Again.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty, Daytawion Lowe, Tyler Johnson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiThe Oklahoma State defense bottled up Bryce Petty and the high-flying Baylor offense all night.
“We weren’t intimidated,” said Cowboys linebacker Caleb Lavey. “And we were able to shut them down.”

No defense had slowed the Bears down all year, much less shut them down.

Baylor came into the night leading the nation with 61 points per game. After three quarters in Stillwater, the Bears had managed a single field goal.

“The Baylor offense deserved to get the pub it was getting,” Lavey said. “So being able to keep them off the board in touchdowns until the fourth quarter says a lot about this defense. Our defense did a great job.”

Great doesn’t do it justice. The Big 12’s best defense was dominant.

Head coach Mike Gundy said he felt Oklahoma State would need to score 35 points just to have a chance against Baylor. Thanks to his defense, the Cowboys needed only half that.

Even with All-American candidate Justin Gilbert limited to spot duty because of a shoulder injury, fellow cornerbacks Tyler Patmon and Kevin Peterson locked up Baylor’s speed-demon receivers in man-to-man coverage. The Bears, who led the country in completions of 30 yards or more, finished with just two such completions Saturday.

Up front, Oklahoma State tackles James Castleman and Calvin Barnett owned the line of scrimmage. Baylor, which had been averaging more than 300 yards per game on the ground, was held to just 96 yards rushing with a paltry average of 2.6 yards per carry.

And in between, linebackers Lavey and Shaun Lewis came up with huge plays all night.

All told, the Cowboys forced three fumbles, including two from inside their own 5-yard line. In the first quarter two plays after Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty stumbled to the turf at the 1 after a 27-yard dash, Castleman batted the ball out of Shock Linwood’s hands, and recovered it himself. The Cowboys countered with a 99-yard touchdown drive to grab control and a 7-0 lead.

Early in the fourth quarter, Baylor finally drove the ball back to the Oklahoma State 2 with a chance to cut the deficit to 35-17. Instead, Petty fumbled a wild snap, and Patmon scooped it up and returned it 78 yards for a touchdown to put the Cowboys up 42-10.

After a three-and-nothing on its the next possession, Baylor punted, starting up the party on the Oklahoma State sideline.

“They’re a great team,” said Spencer, who mixed up eight-man coverages with exotic blitzes all game. “But our kids tonight executed and played great defense.”

Yet as good as it was, the Oklahoma State defense was hardly the whole story.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesOklahoma State QB Clint Chelf had a career day, throwing for 370 yards and accounting for four TDs.
Cowboy quarterback Clint Chelf remained on fire while outgunning Petty, Chelf's Heisman hopeful counterpart.

Chelf completed his first 12 passes, threw for a career-high 370 yards and accounted for four touchdowns as he continued his late-season charge since taking back over the starting job last month.

“He was accurate, and he made good decisions,” Gundy said. “I couldn’t be more proud of what he’s accomplished. He’s been a good leader, and he’s done it quietly. He's been humbled, and for that he's had success.”

Chelf lost the starting job two lackluster series into the season opener against Mississippi State. With J.W. Walsh in at quarterback, the offense languished, including in a 30-21 loss at West Virginia in a conference opener that looks more stunning by the week.

But since reclaiming the job on Oct. 26 at Iowa State, Chelf has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Last week, he delivered the second-highest QBR in the country in a 38-13 win at Texas.

Saturday, he was even better, throwing darts all over the field while picking apart Baylor’s secondary. Then in the third quarter, Chelf delivered the exclamation point, hauling in a throwback pass from Josh Stewart before racing 48 yards to the Baylor 5-yard line to set up a touchdown that put the Cowboys up 28-3.

“Chelf toughed everything out,” Stewart said. “He stayed with it. And tonight he was very impressive.”

So were the Cowboys, who before 2011 had only one conference title -- a three-way split in 1976 – in 58 years. After its stomping of the Bears, Oklahoma State is now one Bedlam win in Stillwater away from winning its second Big 12 title in three years.

“We have made great strides,” Gundy said. “The best way I can explain that is: I don’t know the last time we took the field and our players didn’t think we could win.”

Once again, the Cowboys took the field thinking they could win. They left it in control of the conference title. Again.

Big 12's best offense vs. top D in Stillwater

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
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Eight years ago to the day, Oklahoma State traveled to Waco for a clash of the Big 12’s worst defense against its worst offense.

That season, Baylor couldn’t move the chains. The Cowboys couldn’t keep the chains from moving against them.

The Bears ultimately prevailed that day, but only because first-year coach Mike Gundy’s offense coughed up the ball eight times.

My, how times have changed.

Saturday, instead of playing for last place, Baylor and Oklahoma State will be vying for the Big 12 title. And this time, the matchup will feature the Big 12’s best offense (Baylor) against the league’s best defense (Oklahoma State).

“Everyone talks about their quarterback, but they average 300 yards rushing a game -- I don't think people really realize that,” Cowboys safety Zack Craig said. “Their passing is great, but their running backs are some of the best in this league.

"They are, by far, the ultimate offense.”

Not only is Baylor’s offense the ultimate, it has a chance to go down as the most prolific in college football history. The Bears lead the country with an average of 61 points and 684 yards per game, which, if they held up, would both shatter NCAA records.

Baylor has already totaled 53 touchdown drives of two minutes or less (Oregon led the country with 45 last season), 50 plays from scrimmage that have gone for 30 yards or more (Indiana is second with 38) and six games with at least 60 points (Ohio State is next with only three such games).

"They are the way they are because they have great talent,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “A quarterback with a fast and accurate release, running backs who can make you miss and an offensive line that will maul you.”

Bryce Petty ranks third nationally in QBR, four different running backs have 100-yard rushing games and guard Cyril Richardson is on the short list to win the Outland Trophy. The receiving corps is as explosive as any around, too, headlined by All-American candidate Antwan Goodley.

“No doubt, this is going to be a huge test for us,” Oklahoma State nickel back Lyndell Johnson said.

But this will be a huge test for the Bears as well.

Behind a veteran core, the Cowboys have featured one of the stoutest defenses in college football all season. Oklahoma State’s defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in several “Next Level” stats from ESPN Stats & Info, including points per drive (seventh), percentage of drives that end in touchdowns (sixth) and red-zone efficiency (seventh).

Oklahoma State is also now tied for the national lead in interceptions after picking off Case McCoy three times in a dominating 38-13 win at Texas last weekend.

“They have great personnel and they do a great job,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “They’ve done a great job recruiting the last four to five years, and it’s paying off for them.”

Thanks to those talent upgrades, this Oklahoma State defense, which features seven senior starters, has been the best of the Gundy era. By far.

Tackle Calvin Barnett is a run-stuffer up front. Linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey don’t miss tackles. And Justin Gilbert is a lockdown cornerback who tops the Big 12 with six interceptions.

Over seven Big 12 games, the defense has surrendered just 14 offensive touchdowns, the fewest in the league.

“We’re more athletic and more aggressive on defense than what we’ve been the last three or four years,” Gundy said. “Our players have bought into it, and they’re consistent in their play each week."

But on Saturday, Oklahoma State’s defense will find out just how stingy it is, while the Baylor offense will learn if it truly is unstoppable.

“We have a great defense and they’re a great offense,” Craig said. “When you go against somebody like this, you find out just how good you are.”

Under Spencer, OSU D on the attack

November, 14, 2013
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STILLWATER, Okla. -- The play indicative of the Oklahoma State defense’s past came in the waning moments against the Longhorns last year.

On a fourth-and-6, Texas quarterback David Ash completed a 29-yard pass with ease across the middle of the field. During the play, the Cowboys rushed only three. And boosted by the big pass, Texas ultimately came back to win.

But that was then.

[+] EnlargeGlenn Spencer
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma State's defense has improved since Glenn Spencer has allowed a more attacking style.
Under first-year coordinator Glenn Spencer, Oklahoma State has finally shed the stigma of a bend-and-hope-not-to-break style this season. And now, heading into another Big 12 showdown with Texas this weekend, the Cowboys are playing defense at heights Stillwater hasn’t seen since the turn of the millennium.

“A lot of people can draw things up, but we’ve got good players that have allowed us to do some things we haven’t done in the past around here,” Spencer said. “Bottom line, we couldn’t do the things we’re doing if we didn’t have good players.”

The Cowboys certainly have good players. And with Spencer’s new aggressive approach, the Pokes are shutting the opposition down for the first time in a long while.

Nationally, Oklahoma State ranks just 20th in scoring defense and 37th in total defense. But those numbers don’t give the Cowboys their due.

Because they play alongside a fast-paced offense, the Cowboys have to defend more plays than most defenses. That’s why “next-level” analytics such as “points per drive” and “yards per play” better underscore the Pokes’ defensive resurgence behind Spencer.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Cowboys rank sixth in the country in fewest points per drive allowed. They also rank ninth in yards per play allowed. Dating back to 2010, Oklahoma State hasn’t finished in the top 40 in either category.

Yet even some of the more traditional numbers suggest a steep upward trend.

The Pokes rank in the top 10 nationally in takeaways (ninth), third down defense (sixth) and red zone defense (ninth).

Put all that together, and it’s not difficult to see why the Cowboys have surged back into the Big 12 title race after an early-season loss at West Virginia. Only, for the first time in the Mike Gundy era, it isn’t the offense leading the charge.

“We’re not sitting back and letting offenses attack us,” senior safety Daytawion Lowe said. “We’re attacking them.”

The last time an Oklahoma State defense was on the attack, Rob Ryan was its defensive coordinator. Since Ryan bolted for the NFL in 2000, the Cowboys have shuffled through several coordinators to little avail.

Oklahoma State’s top defensive effort came behind Bill Young in 2011, when the Cowboys captured their first Big 12 title. The Pokes’ bending defense surrendered points and yards in droves. But they countered by leading the country in takeaways, setting up Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon with short fields.

Yet last season, the defense broke more than it bent. And the Cowboys closed out the regular season getting gashed by Oklahoma and Baylor, prompting Young to step down and Gundy to make another change.

Gundy had always looked outside the program for offensive coordinators, bringing in Dana Holgorsen, Todd Monken, and, most recently, Mike Yurcich all the way from Division II Shippensburg.

But to resurrect his defense, Gundy looked within, and promoted Spencer from linebackers coach to coordinator.

“I liked his demeanor, his style of coaching, how he dealt with his players,” Gundy said. “He’s a very smart coach.”

Gundy also liked Spencer’s plan for a defensive turnaround. No longer would the Cowboys rush three on critical downs. Nor would they play their corners 10 yards off the ball due to the fear of getting beat deep.

“We talked about that the first meeting we had,” Spencer said. “To do that, you can get exposed really fast. They’re getting challenged every day, because of things we as a defensive staff are asking them to do. But play in, play out, we also wanted them to feed on that.”

Despite living on an island, Oklahoma State cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Kevin Peterson have held up well. In fact among Big 12 teams, only Oklahoma has allowed fewer plays of 40 yards or more.

“We’re challenging the receivers,” Peterson said. “And that aggressiveness has really allowed everything to come together.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the defense has fed on Spencer’s assertive approach.

“The effort and excitement is everywhere -- guys want to make plays,” senior middle linebacker Caleb Lavey said. “No one wants to sit back and let someone else make a play. We have 11 guys on defense that are hungry and want to make big plays.”

No one has played with more hunger than Lavey, who has gone from Bedlam goat, to the short list for Big 12 defensive player of the year.

Last year, Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell ran through Lavey for a goal-line touchdown to send the game to overtime, where the Sooners prevailed.

This year, Lavey has become the cornerstone of Spencer’s defense, leading the Cowboys in tackles and tackles-for-loss.

“A lot of them like him have been through those storms, those valleys,” said Spencer, who has had the Cowboys meet as a defense more than in the past to help build unity and accountability.

“I’ve been around and seen them, heard them and felt them get beat up, unwarranted in my opinion in a lot of cases. I just wanted to work so hard for them to achieve some success and some realization of their hard work.”

That hard work is finally coming to a realization. And Saturday, the Cowboys have a chance to show just how far they’ve come since Ash’s fourth-down pass.

“Coach Spencer has given us that identity,” Lowe said. “This last stretch, that’s going to be the real test.

“But we’re on our way.”

Stats that matter: Oklahoma State-Texas

November, 13, 2013
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Each week, we team up with the ESPN Stats & Info crew to dig into the numbers that matter most and find three statistics which could make a big difference on Saturday. Here are the numbers to remember going into Texas’ big home game against Oklahoma State:

No. 1: 10

Last week we took a closer look at how Texas had become a top-15 defense nationally is several key statistics during its undefeated start to Big 12 play. This Oklahoma State defense, on the other hand, has been good throughout.

The Cowboys are currently a top-10 defense in FBS in the following categories: Yards per play (9th), passing yards per attempt (6th), third-down defense (6th), opponent QBR (8th), takeaways (tied for 9th) and interceptions (tied for 7th). And some of those stats tell you a lot more than total yardage ones can.

And in conference play, the Cowboys have a top-four scoring defense and run defense. Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has this unit playing at a high level, and a five-game win streak has surely helped bolster his players’ confidence.

No. 2: 359

Watch out for Desmond Roland, who’s led the Big 12 in rushing over the course of the past three weeks since becoming a starter.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior from Dallas has rushed for 359 yards and eight touchdowns on a league-high 73 rushing attempts in his last three games. Another Big 12-best stat for Roland: He’s gained 5 or more yards on 25 of those 73 carries.

Texas has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in its past four games and only three Big 12 running backs have surpassed 50 yards on this defense.

In fact, how’s this for a stat: In Big 12 play, starting running backs have averaged 59.8 rushing yards against Texas’ defense.

Will the suddenly hot Roland be the one to break through and make the Longhorns pay?

No. 3: 74.9

Believe it or not, Case McCoy is the best second-half quarterback in the Big 12 right now.

So says our QBR measures. In Big 12 games, McCoy has a QBR of 74.9 in the second half and overtime. He’s No. 1 ahead of Texas Tech’s Davis Webb (65.6) and Oklahoma State’s Clint Chelf (55.6). Bryce Petty, for the record, is currently seventh at 35.2.

How’s this for some clutch play from McCoy? He went 6-for-9 passing on third and fourth downs in the fourth quarter and overtime at West Virginia. He earned a total QBR of a perfect 100.0 on those situations.

McCoy says he’s not proud of needing to make so many fourth-quarter comebacks in his career and that he doesn’t like putting his team in that position. But he’s faring fairly well in those late-game situations lately.

Three more to remember

0-29: OSU’s defense held its last three opponents to 0-for-29 on converting third and 7 or longer. The Cowboys have the No. 6 third-down conversion defense in FBS this season.

20.6: Oklahoma State is outscoring opponents by an average of 20.6 points per game during its five-game win streak.

Six: Justin Gilbert has six career kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career at Oklahoma State, including one at Texas in 2011. The FBS career record is seven.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 10

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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What we learned about the Big 12 from Week 10:

[+] EnlargeDesmond Roland
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsDesmond Roland scored three touchdowns Saturday, and the OSU defense shut Tech down.
1. The Cowboys are legit contenders: Since losing at West Virginia a month ago, Oklahoma State had not looked like a team truly capable of challenging for the Big 12 title. Saturday, that completely changed. Before a record crowd in Lubbock, the Cowboys thoroughly dominated 7-1 Texas Tech, 52-34. After falling behind 28-10, the Red Raiders jumped briefly back into the game with a pick-six in the second quarter. But OSU scored two quick touchdowns early in the second half, and led by at least two scores the rest of the way. Quietly, the defense under first-year coordinator Glenn Spencer has been terrific. Over 17 drives, Tech managed to score just three touchdowns against Spencer's group. That's Big 12 championship-caliber. With the offense beginning to come alive, this is a team that could emerge with the conference crown. Especially if it continues to play like it did Saturday.

2. Tech is not quite ready to be one: This still has been a terrific season for first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury. But the Red Raiders don't quite yet have the horses to win the Big 12 title. The Bedlam schools have beaten up Tech's defensive front the last two weeks, racking up a combined 558 yards on the ground. Penalties and turnovers, characteristics of a young team, really plagued the Red Raiders in their back-to-back losses, as well. Tech is pretty much out of the conference title race, but next weekend is huge. The Red Raiders need to defeat K-State to avoid another all-out November collapse with games against Baylor and Texas also still looming, and keep the positive vibe surrounding the Kingsbury era going.

3. TCU isn't going bowling: After finally showing signs offensively, the Horned Frogs jumped to a 17-3 lead over West Virginia in the second quarter. That should have been enough for what had been a strong TCU defense facing a West Virginia offense that had been shaky away from Morgantown. Instead, after turning the ball over three times in five plays, the Horned Frogs had to scramble just to send the game to overtime, where they completely self-destructed. TCU had a minus-6-yard run, a 15-yard personal foul and an incomplete pass, which forced a desperation 62-yard field goal that went wide left. TCU is still mathematically alive for a bowl after losing three consecutive games for the first time since Gary Patterson took over as coach. But it would need to run the table and knock off Baylor to do it. This team just isn't doing that.

4. West Virginia probably is: After falling apart with second-half leads the last two weeks, West Virginia didn't let another game slip away. Charles Sims had another monster performance with 154 yards on the ground against TCU, and the defense played opportunistic ball all game long. With the overtime win in Fort Worth, West Virginia's bowl outlook is looking hopeful. The Mountaineers just need to beat Kansas on the road and take care of Iowa State at home. Of course, West Virginia could really seal up a bowl berth with a home win over Texas this weekend.

5. K-State is rolling into November: The Wildcats can't win the Big 12. But they are proving to be a very solid squad. The healthy return of receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson have done wonders for this offense. The duo delivered another big performance in Farmageddon with 143 yards receiving in K-State's 41-7 rout of Iowa State. QBs Jake Waters and Daniel Sams continue to improve every week, too. K-State started the year 2-4, but had a chance in every loss. The way they are playing, the Wildcats will have a chance in their remaining four games, too.

OSU not overlooking Holgorsen offense

September, 27, 2013
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Coach Mike Gundy brought in offensive guru Dana Holgorsen to be his play-caller after the Oklahoma State offense fell off a table at the end of the 2009 season.

The immediate results were immaculate.

With Holgorsen calling plays between chugging sideline Red Bulls, the 2010 Cowboys featured college football’s third-best offense with an average of 520 yards and 44 points per game.

Oklahoma State finished with a record of 11-2, too, and after just one season, Holgorsen got a new job as the head-coach-in-waiting at West Virginia.

Holgorsen’s system continues to serve as the bedrock of the Oklahoma State attack, which remains one of the most prolific in the country.

[+] EnlargeDana Holgorsen
Doug Kapustin/Getty ImagesWest Virginia's offense has been a perplexing mess for Dana Holgorsen this season.
But as the Cowboys and Mountaineers prepare to meet Saturday in Morgantown, it’s Holgorsen’s West Virginia offense that has now fallen flat.

“Everybody sees the obvious, which is they’ve struggled in a couple games,” said Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, who was on the staff with Holgorsen in Stillwater. “Knowing him, I’m sure he would say the same thing if you asked him, but it all comes down to execution.”

The Mountaineers haven’t been executing well all season. After scoring seven touchdowns against Oklahoma last year, West Virginia managed just one in a loss in Norman earlier this season.

The Mountaineers also struggled offensively in sluggish wins over William & Mary and Georgia State.

Then last weekend, West Virginia was shut out for the first time in a dozen years in a 37-0 loss to Maryland, which also became the first school to shut out Holgorsen since he began calling plays at the FBS level.

Afterward, Holgorsen claimed his offense was as inept as one could possibly be.

“We're not clicking,” he said earlier this week, “and that falls 100 percent on me."

The Cowboys, however, aren’t taking the West Virginia offense lightly. If, for no other reason, than they’ve seen firsthand how quickly Holgorsen can turn an offense around.

For the Cowboys, the 2009 season began as well as possible, then ended about as badly as possible, too.

After beating Georgia by two touchdowns in its opener, Oklahoma State ascended all the way to No. 5 in the polls.

The following week, however, the Cowboys lost star receiver Dez Bryant to an NCAA suspension, then lost 45-35 to Houston in Stillwater.

By the end of the season, the offense had become a shell of its former self, as the Cowboys got shut out 27-0 at Oklahoma, then managed to score just once in a Cotton Bowl defeat to Ole Miss.

Gundy elected to rescind his play-calling duties, and hired Holgorsen away from Houston after his offense had given OSU such fits earlier in the season.

With Holgorsen’s offense, Oklahoma State bounced back with its first 11-win in school history. The scheme was such a hit in Stillwater that when Holgorsen left for West Virginia, Gundy had quarterback Brandon Weeden teach new coordinator Todd Monken the scheme so the Cowboys could keep running it.

“The offense that we still run is the offense that he brought here,” Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh said of Holgorsen, who recruited Walsh to Stillwater.

Now, Holgorsen finds himself trying to turn around his own offense. Given how ugly the Maryland performance was, that won't be easy, either. The Mountaineers finished with just as many turnovers as first downs. They almost had more penalty yards than total yards in the first half. And quarterback Ford Childress completed just one pass to a wide receiver the entire game.

“If we want to win, the defense has to set up scores or make plays, that’s just the situation we are in until the offense comes along, which eventually, it will,” Holgorsen said. “My challenge is to make it happen sooner, and make it happen this week."

However it’s going to happen, it won’t be with Childress at the controls. Holgorsen announced Thursday that Childress had suffered a torn pectoral muscle and that Florida State transfer Clint Trickett would get the start against the Cowboys.

But even though West Virginia will be starting its third different quarterback already this season, and even though the Mountaineers have the Big 12’s lowest scoring attack so far, the Cowboys know well enough to not underestimate Holgorsen.

“He has a great mind, and if we take something away, he will try to find another way to attack us,” Spencer said. “I have a lot of respect for him and what they do offensively.

“It will be a challenge for us.”

Big 12 lunchtime links

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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You can't accuse Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard of mincing words:
When Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert lines up against Big 12 offenses this season, he'll carry with him some rare experiences. During his college career, the senior has intercepted two Pro Bowl quarterbacks, held his own in one-on-one battles with a receiver who was a top-10 NFL draft pick and won 31 games in three seasons.

In the Big 12, experience is a important trait -- in a player and an entire defense.

“Experience is invaluable,” OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “You can't coach that, you can't recruit that, it just comes from guys being in the battles.”

Gilbert -- who intercepted Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck as a sophomore and battled Justin Blackmon in practice during his first two seasons in Stillwater -- is one of seven returning starters on the Cowboys' defense, a trend that is seen across the league.

Seven of the Big 12’s defenses return at least half their starters in 2013. That, along with six different squads naming new quarterbacks, sets up an ideal scenario for the conference’s defensive coordinators. At Texas Tech, the Red Raiders return seven defensive starters, giving new defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt peace of mind as he approaches his first year trying to stop the explosive offenses in the conference.

“All those guys have played a lot of ball here and been in a lot of these different environments,” Wallerstedt said. “These guys have played some ball together, and I think that’s the big thing.”

Quite simply, it’s impossible for a Big 12 defender to know what he is up against until he’s experienced it firsthand.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Tom Pennington/Getty Images"The biggest difference between a younger defense and an older defense is an older defense can be more multiple because they can get lined up and do more things," TCU's Gary Patterson said.
“I didn’t really understand how fast it was until I got out there,” Oklahoma senior safety Gabe Lynn said. “Once you get out there, get your first plays, you understand. I’m used to it. It’s my third year playing, I’m familiar with a lot of the different teams, different offenses.”

Several new faces at quarterback and a general lack of returning star power across the league promise to give the Big 12’s defenses the clear experience advantage this fall.

Still, “That doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed success,” Spencer said.

For one thing, the league average was 29.4 points allowed per game, 418.5 yards allowed per game and 5.74 yards per play allowed by Big 12 defenses. Thus, it’s not like Big 12 defenders are returning after having dominated their offensive counterparts in 2012.

Secondly, experience only goes so far. Talent overcomes experience on a regular basis. For example, TCU defensive end Devonte Fields had 10 sacks and led the league with 18.5 tackles for loss as a freshman. He enters this season as the Big 12’s preseason defensive player of the year as a sophomore.

Yet experience still has value. The conference has become known for its up-tempo attacks, which can put Big 12 defenses on their heels.

“It’s stressful,” Wallerstedt said. “Everybody is spreading the field now with a lot of different looks. Things are changing every year and creating a game of space, where you have to have guys making plays in open-field tackle situations and when the ball is in the air. You’re trying to disguise as much as you can to keep the quarterback guessing.”

Being able to turn to veteran defenders can make adjustments much easier while a team is in the middle of an onslaught of offensive attacks.

“Those guys are more adept to adjust quicker, understand what the issues are during a game,” Spencer said. “On our side of the ball it’s all about doing what you do and trying to force the issue but also reacting to the things you get. A more experienced team is able to work through issues on the sideline between drives, maybe some things they haven’t shown before. Those are some things that just come with experience.”

TCU brings back nine starters on a defense that led the conference in allowing 323.9 yards per game and 4.92 yards per play and ranked second with 22.6 points per game. Head coach Gary Patterson sees the clear value in having an experienced defense at his disposal against up-tempo offenses.

“Older players are used to tempo,” Patterson said. “The biggest difference between a younger defense and an older defense is an older defense can be more multiple because they can get lined up and do more things. Younger defenses, you're trying to get lined up and play defense. That's harder to do. You've got to be able to fight back. If you can't fight back, it's a long day.”

As Patterson notes, being ready is half the battle. Lynn is one of four returning starters on OU’s defense, and he’s already trying to prepare his younger teammates for the up-tempo attacks they will see this fall.

“We have a lot of freshmen,” Lynn said. “And I try to relay to them how important it is to get the calls and get lined up. You have to be prepared and be ready to play.”

It’s hard to believe that inexperience would keep Baylor, OSU, West Virginia, OU and Texas Tech, up-tempo offenses that finished in the top half of the conference in offensive yards a year ago, from having success in 2013.

Yet experience will matter in the Big 12 this season.

“I said from the start I am fortunate to be taking over with that [experience returning],” said Spencer, who is entering his first season as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator. “Does that guarantee success? No. But it’s better than the alternative.”

Staff writer Jake Trotter contributed to this report.

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