Dallas Colleges: Shawne Alston

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
10:30
AM CT
Here's what I'm keeping an eye on in the Big 12 this week:

1. Remember all the little people. K-State has dealt with the distraction and hype really well this season. The Wildcats have been consistent and solid every week. This week, though, the pressure is at a whole new level. They're the nation's No. 1 team. Collin Klein's presence will test the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. Oklahoma State lost in its 11th game last season. K-State should roll Baylor on paper, but can it keep its focus in uncharted territory?

2. To care or not to care, that is the question. West Virginia was hyped all offseason for this game. Carrying a four-game losing streak into the Oklahoma game was not part of the plan, though. It's asking a lot for fans to come in droves and provide a big-time atmosphere. Will the Mountaineers fans do it and try to help their team reach bowl eligibility? Tough test for a fan base that has had a pretty terrible month or so and hasn't seen a win since Oct. 6 or a win in its home stadium since Sept. 29.

[+] EnlargeBaylor's Lache Seastrunk
Denny Medley/US PRESSWIRELache Seastrunk (25) rushed for 91 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries against Oklahoma.
3. Baylor breaks out its Jet Ski. Lache Seastrunk was officially set free last week, emerging as Baylor's No. 1 back with three touchdowns. Can he go to work against K-State's front seven this week, a solid unit headlined by Arthur Brown but still missing Tre Walker? Jarell Childs has played well, but Seastrunk's game-breaking speed could come into play.

4. Just do it. If Kansas is going to beat Iowa State, it will do so on the backs of its, uh, backs. Tony Pierson and James Sims are fantastic. Charlie Weis talked about needing to do creative things to run the ball when everybody knows the Jayhawks are going to run the ball. Well, everybody knows KU is going to run the ball. What does Weis have prepared this week for KU's best chance to crack its 19-game Big 12 losing streak?

5. Get a medical team on it, stat. Klein's injury saga is over, but K-State has more injury issues this week to keep an eye on. Starting safety Ty Zimmerman left the stadium in a boot last week, and Tyler Lockett suffered an ankle injury late against TCU. Both are key pieces to the nation's No. 1 team. Will they play, and will they do so effectively? All bets are off in this one.

6. At what point does someone start swiping chairs? Oklahoma State has played musical chairs at quarterback, and it shocked a lot of folks when Mike Gundy confirmed J.W. Walsh was available last week but didn't play. He is not on the depth chart this week, instead with an "or" between Clint Chelf and Wes Lunt. The good news: All three can play, and OSU can win with all of them. The bad news: This is turning into a bit of a circus. At least it's unpredictable for opponents, so that plays to OSU's advantage while the competition has to prepare for all three.

7. If you're so inKleined. A.J. Klein has had a quiet couple of games since Jake Knott's injury, making just 11 tackles total in the past two games after tallying at least 11 in three of the past five before Klein left the field. Klein has moved to weakside linebacker and wants more production out of the position. Iowa State needs that while Jeremiah George replaces Knott and the duo teams up to slow KU's running game.

8. Gotta fix the leaks. Oklahoma dominated Baylor's passing game, but the defense was hot after the game after giving up a season-high 252 yards on the ground to the Bears. Can WVU's Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie have a little success? Dana Holgorsen wasn't happy with the Mountaineers' run game, but this matchup will have an influence on the winner in Morgantown.

9. Time for the hook ... again? Steele Jantz has gone back to struggling after tearing up Baylor. He completed just more than 50 percent of his passes in consecutive weeks -- both losses -- and hasn't topped 200 yards through the air with one touchdown to three picks. If he struggles again, does Jared Barnett get a shot against KU? I seem to remember another Big 12 team switching QBs late and having it pay off.

What to watch for in the Big 12: Week 7

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
5:00
PM CT


Here's what I'm keeping an eye on this week across the Big 12.

1. Frogs stick together. It's been a trying couple of weeks for the Horned Frogs, but can this team rally without its best player, quarterback Casey Pachall? It didn't get the job done at home last week against Iowa State. Baylor is a better team, and TCU is going on the road. What do these guys have in their tank?

2. Tackling ain't for dummies. Texas' tackling issues have been obvious and continued last week against West Virginia. Longhorns coach Mack Brown admits it's an issue but says plenty of other people will be missing tackles against the Cowboys and Mountaineers. Probably, but there are plenty of good offenses across the Big 12. Oklahoma is one of them. Can the Longhorns get back to looking like what most people thought this defense would look like?

3. Keep the bad man at bay. We've seen Good Landry in this game -- he was on full display last year in the Sooners' blowout rivalry win. Texas is putting big-time pressure on quarterbacks this year, even if its linebackers and defensive backs are having tackling issues. That means plenty of opportunities for Bad Landry to make an appearance. Can Landry Jones be all good, fight off the pressure and avoid mistakes?

[+] EnlargeJared Barnett
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireCan Jared Barnett work his home upset magic on another top-10 foe with K-State visiting?
4. Perhaps his first name should be "David" instead of Jared. Iowa State quarterback Jared Barnett was the quarterback in the Cyclones' two most impressive performances last season, with apologies to Steele Jantz's comeback victory over Iowa. Barnett torched Texas Tech 41-7 and showed up later to knock off No. 2 Oklahoma State, the best win in school history. Can Barnett play giant-killer once again with Kansas State coming to town?

5. Time to bounce back. The last we saw Baylor's defense, it was having fun giving up 70 points on the road to West Virginia. TCU will be a much different task, with a much less capable arm at quarterback. The Bears will be without one of their best defenders, cornerback Demetri Goodson, who's out for the year with a broken arm. How does BU's defense look, and can it force TCU into some mistakes?

6. Get your binoculars out; we're QB-watching. Once again, Oklahoma State faces the question: Wes Lunt or J.W. Walsh? Lunt is back practicing after injuring his knee, and coach Mike Gundy says he's "day to day." Does OSU try to get him on the field now and ease him in against an opponent it should beat easily? Or does it stick with Walsh and give Lunt more time to heal?

7. Keep on running it up. West Virginia looked good running the ball against Texas, but that hasn't been the case as much since Shawne Alston went down. Alston's status is in doubt, but can Andrew Buie keep it going against Texas Tech and keep relieving that pressure on Geno Smith? Texas Tech's defensive line is underrated and can get a push up front.

8. They're not perfect, but they're pretty dang close. Kansas State's game against Iowa State might be the most physical game it's played all season, including against Oklahoma. So far, the Wildcats have just nine penalties, four fewer than any other team in the nation and 11 fewer than any other team in the Big 12. The Wildcats also have just three turnovers this season. If they keep doing that, Iowa State doesn't have much of a chance to win. Will K-State keep it up?

9. Total carnage, or improvement? Kansas looked decent against TCU, but Oklahoma State will be the first bona-fide, powerful Big 12 spread offense the Jayhawks have seen this season. If you want to win in the Big 12, these are the offenses you have to figure out how to slow down. KU's defense has looked improved, but this is the best offense the unit has seen. If OSU scores 50 points without much resistance like last year, KU is going to feel a lot like not much progress is being made.

10. Learning how to Doege. Texas Tech senior quarterback Seth Doege had one of his worst outings ever and just his second three-interception game last week in a loss to Oklahoma. If he doesn't play well, Texas Tech has absolutely zero shot to win this game. Will he bounce back and silence the ridiculous calls for him to be benched in favor of Michael Brewer?

The Big 12 Primer: Week 7

October, 10, 2012
10/10/12
5:00
PM CT


It's time for our weekly look at when and where you can find every game in the Big 12 this week. I'll have my predictions up in the morning, and I'll also be revealing which game I'll be attending.

Until then, let's hear your predictions in the comments:

No. 6 Kansas State at Iowa State (noon, FX): Farmageddon goes back to Ames after a hiatus in Kansas City and a game in Manhattan a year ago. Iowa State loves to play giant killer, and it'll get a good chance in this one. Bill Snyder and Collin Klein knocked off the Cyclones 30-23 a year ago and will try to set up a huge showdown in Morgantown next week. Jared Barnett helped ISU beat No. 2 Oklahoma State in Ames last year, and after taking over for Steele Jantz, how will he look in his second start?

No. 15 Texas vs. No. 13 Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas (noon, ABC): A century of tradition continues in the Cotton Bowl with Texas and Oklahoma going head to head. Both already have home losses and its the first matchup with neither team in the top 10 since 1999. The loser would have two losses just two weeks into October, but Landry Jones will get a tough test against a Texas defense hungry to prove itself. Meanwhile, how will David Ash look against the best defense he's faced all season?

Oklahoma State at Kansas (3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net): This game was 35-7 after the first quarter last year, but Charlie Weis turned heads this week by holding a practice on Sunday without his seniors, who were sent to lift weights and run. Is he already looking to the future? Oklahoma State, meanwhile, is waiting on Wes Lunt's knee to heal and until then, it's J.W. Walsh's offense.

No. 5 West Virginia at Texas Tech (3:30 p.m., ABC) West Virginia has looked like the Big 12's best team through six weeks, but haven't played an entire season without a loss to an unranked team since 2003. Texas Tech is trying to bounce back from a lopsided loss to Oklahoma at home, but the improving Texas Tech defense will get the toughest test of their young season when Heisman frontrunner Geno Smith rolls into town with two of the best receivers in the country, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Running back Andrew Buie proved WVU could be more balanced, but could Shawne Alston return this week?

TCU at Baylor (7 p.m., Fox Sports Net) TCU and Baylor played a classic last year, but TCU is officially moving on after Casey Pachall disenrolled from school and sought treatment at an inpatient facility. Baylor might be one of the most underrated teams in the league. After a seven-point loss on the road to West Virginia, BU dropped out of the top 25. Doesn't seem fair, does it? Look for Nick Florence and Co. to prove a little something on Saturday.

Balanced attack pushes WVU over Texas

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
12:40
AM CT
AUSTIN, Texas -- Geno Smith is used to having the game in his hands. It's been the story of West Virginia's season. Near the end of a chilly night in central Texas, that changed.

Smith's offensive line had a simple message for their Heisman candidate: "We got this. It's over. We're going to win this game," they said.

"Andrew Buie said, 'Put it on my back,' Smith said. "He put it on his back and led us to a victory."

Not just any victory. He led them to a 48-45 victory in West Virginia's first road trip in the Big 12, where they found a record crowd of 101,851 waiting at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium -- a crowd Texas coach Mack Brown called the loudest in 15 years.

Said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who was an assistant in the Big 12 for nine years: "I've never seen this place like that."

It even got after Smith at one point, serenading him with a "Geno Sucks" chant as he gestured to the crowd, egging them on.

"Where does that come from?" Smith said. "Obviously, I don't suck. I'll let them believe that."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Buie
Tim Heitman/US PresswireThe second of Andrew Buie's rushing TDs gave West Virginia a 48-38 lead.
Buie led them to a victory that helped West Virginia clear the highest hurdle of its Big 12 (or national?) title "marathon," as Smith called it.

The Big 12 title runs through Morgantown, with Kansas State and Oklahoma waiting later in the season.

Saturday in Austin, though, it was Buie's time.

"He carried us," said Smith, the man used to carrying the Mountaineers. "We knew we were going to need to run the ball, because those guys like to get after the quarterback."

Texas did exactly that, sacking Smith four times and twice forcing fumbles inside the West Virginia 20-yard line. Before tonight, Smith had been sacked three times in four games.

Buie's 207 yards? Holgorsen said he wasn't surprised by those. But the 31 carries? That was a head-turner.

"We did commit to the run," he said. "That was something we talked about early in the week, and there weren't any tricks, either. We lined up and we just ran it right at 'em. We felt like that was gonna be the difference. If we could do that, it was going to alleviate some of the pressure on Geno."

On West Virginia's final drive, needing points to ice the game, the Mountaineers handed the ball to Buie on seven of eight plays. He turned them into 63 yards, capping his big night with a five-yard touchdown run, his second score of the night. While his teammates ran wild and kicked off the party on the West Virginia sideline, he trotted back through a parade of backslaps before being bearhugged by his position coach, Robert Gillespie.

"If we would have just drop back pass after drop back pass, they would have had 12 sacks. Maybe 20," Holgorsen said. "We just felt like it would be in the best interest of our football team to commit to the run."

Texas stuck in its nickel package for most of the night with just two linebackers on the field, even when West Virginia used its jumbo packages with bigger bodies. Buie saw it as a sign of "disrespect," and proved he'd make the most of his opportunities.

"With coach Holgorsen, you never know what the game plan is going to be fully," Buie said. "You just always want to be prepared to run from whatever he's put inside the menu for that week. When he calls your number, obviously he has confidence in you to make plays."

Holgorsen (and Smith, who often checked to various running plays at the line of scrimmage) had confidence in Buie 31 times on Saturday night. Buie was likely West Virginia's No. 3 back entering the season behind Shawne Alston and a recuperating Dustin Garrison. He looked like a man well deserving of the No. 1 spot against one of the Big 12's top defense. Before last week's 25 carries, Buie had never had more 15 carries in a game, and hadn't topped even 100 yards in a game. He had 52 carries in his entire freshman season in 2011.

Since 2009, Texas was 18-0 when winning the turnover battle. The Horns won it 2-1 on Saturday, but Buie's effort helped the Mountaineers overcome both of Smith's fumbles and move into the driver's seat for the Big 12 title.

"We're not going to force the ball. We're not going to force the issue. We'll take what you give us. I'm a smart quarterback, I understand defenses. I understand how to exploit them." Smith said. "The offensive line did a great job of getting all those guys, finishing blocks, getting to the second level. Buie was reading it and cutting back. Yards after contact was big. He ran hard tonight."

Think West Virginia's offense is just Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey? West Virginia proved otherwise.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 6

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
8:00
PM CT
Here's what I'm keeping an eye on across the Big 12 this weekend.

1. Get 'em down and keep 'em down. Texas' tackling issues were on display in a big way in a narrow victory over Oklahoma State. The Longhorns got away with it in Stillwater. I don't think that'll be the case against West Virginia, even at home. Texas has emphasized the issue this week. How will it work?

PODCAST
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby talks about the new, nonprofit sponsor of the Cotton Bowl and denies reports that the Big 12 issued an apology to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.

Listen Listen
2. Time for a quarterback change? Steele Jantz turned the ball over four times in Iowa State's loss to Texas Tech, and coach Paul Rhoads said this week the quarterback who looks best in practice will play. Does Jared Barnett finally see some time? For Jantz, it will ultimately boil down to turnovers.

3. Take care of opportunities. TCU has reached the red zone 20 times this season, but has come away with a touchdown on just nine occasions. The Horned Frogs have scored just 12 times. The touchdown percentage (45 percent) ranks 106th nationally. The Frogs are good enough to get away with it against Kansas or SMU or Virginia. Iowa State? The Cyclones will take advantage if the Frogs leave the doors open.

4. A big piece is missing. West Virginia's running game has taken a big hit with Shawne Alston on the sidelines. Coach Dana Holgorsen was tight-lipped this week in regards to Alston's status, but he's going to be needed this week against Texas. He's a better pass-blocker than Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison, too. Will big back Ryan Clarke make a return, too?

5. It's real. We know that. But is it spectacular? Texas Tech took a step toward validating its defense, holding Iowa State to fewer than 200 yards of total offense, forcing four turnovers and maintaining its spot as the nation's No. 1 defense. How good is this unit, though? Oklahoma will be the toughest test yet, and its offense will be more like what Tech will see the rest of the season. Teams like OSU, Baylor and West Virginia have more high-powered offenses, but the Sooners will offer a huge checkpoint for Tech on its defensive road to redemption after an awful 2011.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
William Purnell/Icon SMIFreshman Johnathan Gray led Texas in rushing in relief at OSU; the spotlight will be brighter Saturday.
6. The young legs are back. Sophomore Malcolm Brown, Texas' leading rusher a year ago, is out against West Virginia, but he'll sit on Saturday with an ankle injury. Now's the time for hyped freshman Johnathan Gray to step up. He looked really good in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State and led the Longhorns in rushing. How will he handle West Virginia and how will he look with a week to know he'll be counted on?

7. Getting competitive yet? I stick to my belief that Kansas is better than it was last year, despite its frustrating losses and worse record than in 2011. Nothing would signify progress more than hanging with in-state rival Kansas State. When Charlie Weis got the job, he looked at K-State and Missouri to see what they had and what KU didn't have, and how the Jayhawks could start closing the gap. Here's his first chance to measure up on the field.

8. Call it a Heisman special. Geno Smith's not throwing for 656 yards against Texas. Let's just get that out of the way. The Longhorns have defensive personnel and depth unlike anything Baylor's got. It's one of a few major hurdles for Smith to go from Heisman front-runner, as he is now, to Heisman winner in December. Can he maintain his crazy numbers that are better than RG3's from a year ago?

9. Where is the elder statesman? The young'un Devonte Fields, a true freshman, has grabbed all the headlines so far this year at TCU, leading the Big 12 with five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Meanwhile, preseason All-Big 12 representative Stansly Maponga has been really, really quiet thus far. He's got just 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Can he have a coming-out party against the Cyclones?

10. A lesson in thievery is needed. Oklahoma's got just one turnover through three games this year. Buffalo is the only other team in the country who has forced just one turnover. Texas Tech has lost six turnovers this year (32nd nationally), but if Oklahoma doesn't force a turnover against the Red Raiders, the Sooners could very well be looking at an upset and a drop out of the top 25.

Big 12 game predictions: Week 5

September, 27, 2012
9/27/12
8:00
PM CT


We're only two days from another helping of Big 12 football, but I'm making my way to Stillwater this weekend to get my first in-person look at both Texas and Oklahoma State.

PODCAST
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy comments on the big game against the Longhorns, if there is a rivalry brewing, whether the team plans to make a change at QB and more.

Listen Listen
It should be a fun weekend, for sure, and good to get back in Stillwater, where it seems like I've sort of camped out the past couple seasons. The spoils of outstanding home schedules, I suppose. No worries in Morgantown, though, folks. Our Ivan Maisel is headed to West Virginia's game vs. Baylor, so we'll have plenty of Big 12 flavor across ESPN.com this weekend.

Let's get to this week's picks!

Last week: 3-2 (.600)

Overall: 25-5 (.833)

No. 7 Kansas State, Kansas and No. 16 Oklahoma are all off this week.

No. 9 West Virginia 45, No. 25 Baylor 34: Baylor's looked pretty questionable in the first half this season, and the same applies in a hyped Morgantown atmosphere. The problem: These Mountaineers are tough and won't let the Bears get back into it. Shawne Alston is back on the field and has WVU's offense back to its usual self. Could we see 200 snaps in this game? It's possible, but the lion's share go to the new guys, who kick off Big 12 play in spectacular style with an exhibition of two of the league's best offenses.

No. 15 TCU 27, SMU 10: The Iron Skillet is headed back to Fort Worth. TCU has to deal with a night crowd at SMU, but Casey Pachall is able to pace the Frogs, whose running game continues to look a little punchless. The red zone turnovers aren't a problem anymore, but Garrett Gilbert is getting better in SMU's offense and moves the chains enough to make this close early. TCU pulls away late.

Texas Tech 41, Iowa State 28: This is just a painful pick. I've already been burned once by doubting Paul Rhoads, but I underestimated the craptitude that is Iowa's offense. Steele Jantz is better and gives the Red Raiders a good test, but even with the weak early schedule, I'm starting to believe a little bit in this Red Raiders team. I'm not buying this defense yet, but the offense will be back to its usual self as long as it stays healthy. For now, that's the case. Too much depth. Too much speed. Tommy Tuberville's best offensive line yet gives ISU's front four all kinds of problems.

No. 12 Texas 37, Oklahoma State 27: This is my pick of the week. Come back later today for a more in-depth look at this game, but Texas' running game will do horrible, horrible things to Oklahoma State's defensive line.

Big 12 top 25 players: Unsung guys

September, 3, 2012
9/03/12
6:36
PM CT
We wrapped our top 25 players list last week, including a list of the guys who just missed.

Here's a few names you'll probably see on the list at season's end:

Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma: Metoyer didn't have the debut many hoped, but count me among those who still see the potential. He caught just four passes for 21 yards after getting shut out in the first half against UTEP, but in his first game action, he wasn't the only Sooners receiver who looked out of sorts. It'll get better, and Metoyer may be a force in this league by season's end.

Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, RBs, Texas: Brown and Bergeron, both sophomores, were much more effective in Texas' 37-17 win over Wyoming. The depth of running backs in this league is weak, and Bergeron and Brown have as much talent as any in the league. They need solid play from the offensive line and quarterback David Ash to offer some support, though. Both topped 100 yards in their first game of 2012, though. That was Bergeron's third 100-yard game, and Brown's fourth.

Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State: I predicted Lunt would throw for 4,000 yards this year, and through no fault of his own, he's off to a slow start. Still, 4,000 yards would be enough to put the true freshman on my top 25 players list. He won't be the first true freshman to be benched in his first start, but he might be the first in a long time to be benched despite not throwing an incompletion. Why was he benched? Oklahoma State was up 35-0 at the end of the first quarter. Lunt finished 11-of-11 for 129 yards.

Shawne Alston, RB, West Virginia: Alston's anything but a young player, but he may be underrated around the league to start the season. That and a speedy, powerful running style are what Alston has in common with Baylor's Terrance Ganaway. He was an unknown a year ago, but ran for 120 yards in the opener against TCU and won the Big 12 rushing title. Alston? The senior ran for 123 yards and two scores in the 69-34 blowout win versus Marshall.

Nick Florence, QB, Baylor: Florence finally got time to prepare for being Baylor's starter. He'd been the Bears' emergency man as a freshman in 2009 and again for a half last season. He looked like a grizzled vet in his first game of 2012, complete with a beard to match. He torched SMU's defense for four touchdowns and 341 yards on 21-of-30 passing in the 59-24 win on Sunday night. Even better, coach Art Briles said that was below his usual performance. Expect big things from him.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 1

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
2:30
PM CT
After eight games on the Big 12's opening Saturday, this is what we know:

Oklahoma has a lot of work to do in convincing anyone it's the Big 12 favorite. You win in the Big 12 by scoring points, though the truly elite teams mix in a good dose of defense, too. Oklahoma had a tough time scoring in its 24-7 win over UTEP that featured a pair of late touchdowns. The Sooners were in limbo for much of the night, and when Landry Jones wasn't hurried by the pass rush, his receivers and backs were dropping balls. The defense was solid and pitched a shutout (with the aid of three missed field goals), but the league's top-ranked team had the worst debut of any team in the league, considering expectations.

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia's Geno Smith
James Lang/US PRESSWIREGeno Smith looked like the Big 12's best player on opening weekend.
West Virginia's going to be scary. The Mountaineers turned in the most impressive performance of anyone in the Big 12 so far this year, routing a decent Marshall team and doing anything it wanted offensively. WVU scored 69 points, and if it hadn't missed a first-quarter extra point, would have scored 70 in two consecutive games dating back to last year's bowl game. Geno Smith looked like the league's best player and Big 12 defenses are going to have tons of trouble covering WVU's deep stable of weapons. The latest on Saturday? Running back Shawne Alston (123 yards, 2 TDs) and receiver J.D. Woods (seven catches, 75 yards, TD).

Texas' defense still has a lot to prove. The Longhorns looked like they'd be in a league of their own defensively this season, but looked very average against a decent Wyoming offense. Still, it's Wyoming. The Cowboys racked up 345 yards and 17 points, including an embarrassing 82-yard touchdown pass on what should have been nothing more than a 10-yard gain. Last year, the Longhorns gave up just more than 300 yards and 22 points a game. It'll get tougher in league play, of course, but I'm betting the Horns will, too. I'm still a believer in this defense, but Saturday was an underwhelming debut for one of the league's most hyped units.

The league's quarterback questions are being answered. What wasn't underwhelming? Iowa State and Texas went back to the drawing board at QB this offseason, and both had solid debuts. Steele Jantz produced some fireworks, completing 32 of 45 attempts for 281 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. That included a gorgeous 43-yard rainbow to Josh Lenz, and Jantz's only interception of the day was off a tipped ball. Texas' David Ash completed 20 of 27 passes to keep the chains moving and didn't have a turnover. If he does that all year, the Longhorns will be a major factor in the Big 12 race, if not the national title race. Oklahoma State's Wes Lunt? All he did was complete all 11 of his passes for 129 yards. Good days for the league's lesser-known QBs. The QBs as a whole in the Big 12 threw 16 touchdowns to just three interceptions, and all eight won their season openers. We'll see how Baylor's Nick Florence looks later today.

Iowa State must be taken seriously. Tulsa's a good team that will contend for the C-USA title. Iowa State struggled early on but completely dominated the second and third quarters to muscle up the Golden Hurricane on offense and lock down on defense. After two late first-quarter TDs, the Cyclones shut out a good Tulsa offense for the game's next 33 minutes. That led to a 31-16 lead and a big win. I do think the Big 12's depth will eventually swallow up the Cyclones and leave them a sub-.500 team, but they're not going to be an easy out. Play well, or they'll beat you. The way Oklahoma played on Saturday, Iowa State might have beat the Sooners on a neutral field by double digits.

Host of Big 12 backs ready for big returns

August, 28, 2012
8/28/12
1:20
PM CT
The 2011 season was unkind to Big 12 running backs from Ames to Austin, but nobody suffered a worse injury than Texas Tech's Eric Stephens.

"He tore pretty much everything," coach Tommy Tuberville said of his back, who also dislocated his knee. Doctors gave the swelling in Stephens' knee more than a month to calm down before operating.

[+] EnlargeEric Stephens
AP Photo/Sharon EllmanTexas Tech RB Eric Stephens tore both the ACL and MCL in his left knee late last season.
Saturday, he'll finally make his return to the field. Tuberville says he'll likely start, with a target of 10-15 touches.

"We discussed that. It could be less or could be more. It just depends on the situation, how he’s doing, how he reacts," he said.

Stephens performed well in fall camp after suffering the injury early last season, derailing a likely 1,000-yard season that would have been Tech's first since 1998. The only noticeable difference now is Stephens is a little overweight and looks about 90-95 percent of his usual self.

"That’s not the knee problem, he just hasn’t played football in a long time," Tuberville said. "I don’t think physically there’s a problem at all. I’m sure he’s more than 100 percent ready to go with the knee. ... I’ve never had a serious injury like that, but I can just imagine being a major college running back and getting hit all around high and low for the first time in 10-11 months, it’d be awful tough mentally."

The offseason was rough on Iowa State's Shontrelle Johnson mentally, too. Doctors doubted whether he'd return to the game after suffering a neck injury last year against Texas. He missed the spring, but doctors cleared him just before fall camp and his long-awaited return is set for Saturday afternoon against Tulsa.

"Shontrelle’s done an excellent job and had zero ill effects coming back from neck surgery this offseason," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "He’ll be on the field early. If camp is any indication, we think he’s ready to go."

Oklahoma senior running back Dominique Whaley suffered an ugly broken ankle when a player landed on the back of his legs in a win over Kansas State. He'll be on the field early for the Sooners after earning the starting job once again.

"In my mind he looks to be back to what Dom always was, that's explosive, strong, fast," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. Whether he's 100 percent or not, maybe only he and the good Lord really know. But he sure looks it to me. I'm hopeful that will be the case."

Oklahoma rival running backs Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown of Texas were banged up with various minor injuries last season, but a renewed focus on health, diet and fitness has hopes high that the duo will be able to stay on the field in 2012.

The running back whose status is most in doubt? West Virginia's Dustin Garrison. The sophomore led the Mountaineers in rushing as a freshman, but suffered an injury later than any other Big 12 back. He tore his ACL in preparation for the Mountaineers' 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

Soreness led coaches to give him a few days off last week, but if he doesn't respond well to practice this week, he could redshirt in 2012, ceding the starting spot to bigger back Shawne Alston, a senior.

"The plan all along has been get him to game week and then get him out there and see what happens," Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said.

Big 12 spring football preview

February, 21, 2012
2/21/12
11:36
AM CT


Spring football is already under way at Texas Tech, but in the coming weeks, the Big 12's other nine programs will join the Red Raiders in taking the field as a team for the first time since January, December, or November for some.

Here's a preview of what to expect:

BAYLOR BEARS

Spring practice start date: March 19
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Nick Florence: It's not official, but the Baylor quarterback job is Florence's to lose. That means he inherits the unenviable task of replacing the school's first Heisman winner. He replaced RG3 in 2009 with mixed results, but showed some major potential in a win over Texas Tech when RG3 took a shot to the head and sat out the second half. Can he keep the bowl streak alive at Baylor? We'll get an idea this spring.
  • The defense's progression: You didn't need to see much more than the 67-56 Alamo Bowl win over Washington to know the Bears needed some work on defense. In the month of November, Baylor became the first team in FBS history to win four consecutive games in a single season while also giving up at least 30 points in each of those games. The defense can't make Florence pick up the slack to that level. Year 2 under Phil Bennett must be better. Baylor has no excuses. They have the athletes on campus necessary to be at least a decent defense.
  • The team's attitude/motivation: Baylor played with a lot of purpose the past two seasons, and made history in both, cracking a 16-year bowl drought and winning 10 games this year. Is that fire still there? Baylor has to prove it is without RG3 (and Kendall Wright) carrying the team on the field, emotionally and mentally.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Spring practice start date: March 20
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle: Or is it? Jared Barnett looked like the man of the future in Ames late in the season, leading the Cyclones to a historic upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State. But in the ugly Pinstripe Bowl loss to a mediocre Rutgers team, Barnett's inaccuracy posed big questions. He was benched and Steele Jantz stepped in, though he didn't play much better than Barnett. Turnovers were an issue for Jantz early on, but Barnett has to bounce back in the spring to make sure the job doesn't come open.
  • The receivers: Darius Reynolds was the big-play man for the Cyclones, but he's gone. It's going to be tough to replace him. Slot receivers Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz were productive, but did little to stretch defenses like the Reynolds did. Can ISU find someone to fill the void?
  • The new man at left tackle: Iowa State had the luxury of having a future pro at left tackle, Kelechi Osemele, for the past three seasons. He earned All-Big 12 nods in each of those seasons, but he's gone now. Junior Carter Bykowski was behind Osemele on the depth chart, but will the converted tight end be the new man at tackle for the Cyclones?
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Spring practice start date: March 27
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Uh, everything?: I mean, what's not to watch at KU? Charlie Weis steps in for the fired Turner Gill and tries to build KU up from nothing. The Jayhawks were one of the worst teams in Big 12 history last season, losing six games by at least 30 points. Weis will speak his mind and watching him rebuilding the Jayhawks is going to be fun. It all starts next month -- on the field, at least.
  • KU's new pass-catch combo: Dayne Crist is on campus, and so is Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, a former blue-chip recruit who didn't quite catch on in Norman. Quarterback and receiver were arguably the two biggest positions of need for KU last year, and we'll get a preview of what could be a productive combo next season. McCay isn't officially eligible for the 2012 season yet -- he needs the NCAA to waive its mandated redshirt year after a transfer -- but the coaching staff is confident he'll have it granted.
  • The uncertainty on the depth chart: When a new staff comes in, you never know what to expect. Kansas' leading rusher in its final season under Mark Mangino, Toben Opurum, is now one of its best defensive linemen. Look for Weis to shake things up, too. Where? Who knows?
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Spring practice start date: April 4
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Collin Klein's maturation: Kansas State's quarterback could be fun to watch this spring and next fall. His throwing motion isn't pretty, but his accuracy improved in a big way throughout the season. If that continues at a pace anything close to what we saw last year, K-State's going to be a load for everyone. Look out.
  • Developing depth at running back: John Hubert is back, and so is seldom-used Angelo Pease. Bryce Brown is gone, though. Klein handles a lot of the heavy lifting in the running game, but it'd be some nice insurance if K-State could establish some more depth in the backfield. Making Klein carry the ball 300 times again is tempting fate.
  • Stars becoming superstars: Kansas State brings back more starters than all but seven teams in college football, so this team is going to look remarkably similar in 2012 to the way it did last year. However, it should get better. And its two transfers could look dominant this spring. Cornerback Nigel Malone and linebacker Arthur Brown emerged as stars last year, but we could see the duo emerge as true game-changers this spring. Look out, Big 12 offenses.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Spring practice start date: March 8
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • New faces on, off the field: Mike Stoops' arrival as the defensive coordinator was the biggest news this offseason in the Big 12, and Brent Venables, who had been at OU for all of Bob Stoops' tenure, left for Clemson rather than become co-defensive coordinator. Hopes are high that Stoops can revitalize Oklahoma's defense. He was in charge when the Sooners rode a dominant D to the 2000 national title, and the Sooners have the talent to win it all in 2012. Receiver Trey Metoyer joins the team this spring, and could be a major contributor immediately. Two of the team's four new tight ends are also enrolled early.
  • QB Blake Bell's role: The Belldozer is back ... but so is full-time quarterback Landry Jones. How will the balance between the duo look this spring? And what new wrinkles will we see in Oklahoma's simple, yet near-unstoppable short-yardage formation that saw 13 touchdowns in the second half of 2011?
  • The battle at defensive end: Oklahoma must fill two huge holes at defensive end. Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander is gone, as is possible first-round pick Ronnell Lewis. R.J. Washington contributed late and has potential, but David King filled in for Lewis in the final three games of the season. The duo could be great, but it could also be pretty pedestrian. We'll get an idea this spring, but Lewis and Alexander set a high, high bar.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Spring practice start date: March 12
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle: This will easily be the highest-profile, highest-quality quarterback battle in the Big 12. It won't be at the level of Texas Tech in 2010, but it won't be too far off. Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt will go head to head. All have plenty of potential, though Lunt may have the most. The big-armed true freshman also has the least experience. Anything could happen here.
  • Which receivers rise: Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper leave huge holes behind. It's not every day a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner walks on campus. Hubert Anyiam is gone, too. Michael Harrison is unlikely to play for the 2012 season, but the school has offered no confirmation on his status. He had the most potential, but OSU is deep at the position. Who emerges as the top target? Isaiah Anderson? Tracy Moore? Josh Stewart? Anything could happen there, too.
  • Defense needs a leader: Safety Markelle Martin has been the heart of the defense the past two seasons, but his big-hitting days are over. Who becomes the new voice of the defense? It needs to find leadership this spring heading into summer voluntary workouts.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 23
Spring game: April 1

What to watch:
  • The quarterback competition: I still think having a competition at the spot, which Texas says it will, isn't the best option, but David Ash and Case McCoy will go at it alongside early-enrolling freshman Connor Brewer. If Ash secures the job, expect an announcement heading into summer officially anointing the sophomore.
  • More sophistication on both sides of the ball: The progression is natural and likely. Offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had good first years in Austin, but this is Year 2. The spring won't be devoted to learning the playbook. It's time to master it. Both units could look markedly different, and much more refined next fall. Deny it all you like: Texas is back on its way to the top after a rough two years.
  • Maturing offensive weapons: Last season, the Longhorns relied on two true freshman running backs (Malcolm Brown/Joe Bergeron), a freshman/sophomore rotation at quarterback and its top receiver (Jaxon Shipley) was a true freshman. No. 2 (Mike Davis) was a sophomore. I hope I don't have to tell you what freshmen and sophomores do in college football. Look. Out.
TCU HORNED FROGS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 25
Spring end date: April 5

What to watch:
  • Can TCU shut out the scandal? Four team members were arrested in a recent drug sting and kicked off the team. How much of a distraction will that be for a program undergoing the most monumental change in its history? Quantifying the effects of the scandal will be pretty impossible, and we've got no idea how they'll handle the change, but will it be on players' minds?
  • The offense tightens up: The Horned Frogs' offense is absolutely loaded and ready to go for 2012. Quarterback Casey Pachall returns and brings his top three weapons (Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter) with him. Running backs Waymon James, Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker each topped 700 yards rushing in 2011 and all return. The spring will be all about fine-tuning an already stellar offense, and it'll be fun to watch.
  • Replacing departed starters: All-America linebacker Tanner Brock was among the four football players arrested and booted from the team, as was all-conference defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey and likely starting safety Devin Johnson. Those were unforeseen losses, but TCU can't feel sorry for itself. Gary Patterson has no choice but to find new faces to fill those holes.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 17
Spring game: March 24

What to watch:
  • Once again, a new defense: Texas Tech sounds like a broken record these days when it comes to defensive coordinators. This time, Art Kaufman will be stepping to the microphone as the fourth defensive coordinator in Lubbock in four years. He's bringing a 4-3, a shift back to what Ruffin McNeil ran in 2009. Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 and James Willis' 3-4 failed miserably in 2011 and 2010, respectively, the first two years under Tommy Tuberville.
  • The battle at running back: No one knows yet if Eric Stephens will be back next season. There's still a long way to go in his rehab from a dislocated knee he suffered last season in a loss to Texas A&M. DeAndre Washington is also out this spring after tearing his ACL against Missouri. Harrison Jeffers hung up his cleats. Who will prove to be reliable this spring? Look for the Red Raiders to try to use sophomore Bradley Marquez, freshman Javares McRoy and junior SaDale Foster in a manner similar to the way Oregon uses scatback De'Anthony Thomas, with lots of short passes and bubble screens to get them the ball in space, where they can use their speed and shiftiness to make plays.
  • Team health: Tuberville said earlier this month that the team is missing 15 players this spring. It can't afford any more injuries. It's already going to be tough to get enough done this spring, but Tech can't start getting banged up.
WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

Spring practice start date: March 11
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Dana Holgorsen's offense in Year 2: Holgorsen didn't get a chance to coach his talented offense at Oklahoma State in its second year. The results could have been crazy. They might be at West Virginia in 2012, and the beginning steps will be taken this spring as Geno Smith & Co. get more and more comfortable with the system and Holgorsen adds more wrinkles.
  • The battle at running back: Sophomore Dustin Garrison hurt his knee in practices leading up to the Mountaineers' 70-33 Orange Bowl win over Clemson, and won't be there for the spring. What does senior Shawne Alston have in store for the spring? Garrison was the featured back last season, but a big spring could help Alston earn a few carries next year.
  • Defense needs help: Najee Goode leaves a big hole at linebacker, and defensive back Eain Smith's exit means the Mountaineers enter the season without two of their top three tacklers from a year ago. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller's talents on the defensive line will be tough to replace, and in a league that requires a great pass rush, Irvin, Goode and Miller's 19 combined sacks must be replaced somehow.

SPONSORED HEADLINES