Dallas Colleges: Tom Bradley

Dana Holgorsen goes way back with Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham.

The West Virginia coach worked with Meacham when they were offensive assistants at Oklahoma State. Holgorsen was an assistant at Texas Tech when Cumbie was a quarterback for the Red Raiders.

So Holgorsen is not surprised the way Cumbie and Meacham have transformed the TCU offense from pedestrian to powerhouse.

“I'm really proud of Doug and Sonny for getting that thing turned around,” Holgorsen said. “Those guys are doing a great job.”

On Saturday in a Big 12 showdown that will carry major Big 12 title implications, Holgorsen will be reunited with his two understudies, who have employed their interpretation of the “Air Raid” offense to smashing success at TCU.

[+] EnlargeTony Gibson
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWest Virginia's defense is dramatically improved in 2014 under new coordinator Tony Gibson.
Behind Meacham and Cumbie, the Horned Frogs have the No. 1 scoring offense in the country, after finishing 88th nationally in points last year. Last weekend, TCU set a Big 12 conference game record with 82 points in its pasting of Texas Tech.

“I'm pretty familiar with the style of their ball is, and what plays they're calling and what their personnel is,” Holgorsen said. “It's working out pretty well for them and it's our job to slow them down.”

Fortunately for Holgorsen, he, like TCU head coach Gary Patterson, made a pair of home run hires during the offseason on the other side of the ball.

In its first year in the Big 12, West Virginia had the league’s worst scoring defense, and last season the Mountaineers finished ninth. As a result, West Virginia went just 6-12 in conference games, capped by embarrassing defeats to Kansas and Iowa State to end last season, when the Mountaineers surrendered a combined 82 points to the conference’s two lowest-scoring offenses.

Those struggles also brought turmoil on the coaching staff. Holgorsen demoted Joe DeForest after 2012 and replaced him with Keith Patterson. After Patterson bolted for Arizona State in the offseason, Holgorsen was looking for the program’s fourth defensive coordinator in as many years.

But the vacancy gave Holgorsen the opportunity to get it right. And did he ever.

He promoted the energetic and popular Tony Gibson from safeties coach to coordinator. Then, to add experience to the defensive staff, Holgorsen brought in longtime Penn State assistant Tom Bradley.

Together, Gibson and Bradley have infused the West Virginia defense with an aggressive attitude and cool confidence.

“Those guys brought the mindset we needed,” said linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who leads the Mountaineers in tackles. “They stress being relentless, no matter what happens. The mentality has been the biggest difference.”

In addition to transforming the mentality, Gibson has tweaked West Virginia’s 3-3-5 scheme to be more proactive in putting speed on the field and getting to the passer. Two weeks ago, the Mountaineers sacked Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty four times, shutting down the nation’s highest-scoring offense in a 41-27 landmark victory for the program.

“They’ve done a great job,” Patterson said of Gibson and Bradley. “Just watching them, just watching how they defended Baylor, it’s made a difference. You have to have a defense that can slow people down, and they have that now, and it started in that first game with Alabama.”

West Virginia lost to No. 6 Alabama in the opener despite a valiant defensive effort. Since then, the defense has improved every week. Last Saturday, the Mountaineers gave up just one offensive touchdown in a suffocating 34-10 victory at Oklahoma State.

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezTCU's new offensive coordinators have helped convert Trevone Boykin into one of the country's top quarterbacks.
“We’re a pretty confident bunch defensively right now,” Holgorsen said. “I can’t express what coach Gibson has been able to do with the guys. It’s been fun to watch. It’s been awesome.”

But as awesome as the West Virginia defense has been, the TCU offense has been even better. The Horned Frogs are averaging 55 points a game in Big 12 play; Baylor is the only other team averaging more than 35.

Under Cumbie’s tutelage, Trevone Boykin, who finished last year as a wide receiver, has emerged as a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback. And the Horned Frogs, who languished for a go-to receiver last year, have three this season in Josh Doctson, Kolby Listenbee and Deante’ Gray, who rank sixth, 10th and 12th in the league in receiving.

“We trust them and they trust us,” Gray said of the TCU co-coordinators. “They're the smart ones that know what plays to call. We just go out, trust the play and play hard.”

The TCU offense, however, will have one tough test in Morgantown, West Virginia, because of Gibson and Bradley, who have earned the trust of their players, too.

“It’s been fun for both [programs],” Patterson said. “We both have shown that we have the ability to compete.”

Thanks to Cumbie and Meacham. And Gibson and Bradley. In one year, they have helped turn two struggling programs into conference title contenders.

Take Two: TCU offense vs. WVU defense

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
It's Take Two Tuesday time, when we give diverging opinions on a topic related to the Big 12.

Today's Take Two topic: which previously beleaguered unit will be more improved due to offseason coaching changes -- the TCU offense or the West Virginia defense?

Take 1: Max Olson -- TCU offense

When Gary Patterson set out to completely reshape how his Horned Frogs move the football, he found two guys who checked all the boxes in Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie.

They’re the protégés of two of the Big 12’s most successful Air Raid coaches (Mike Leach and Mike Gundy), they aren’t first-time OCs, they know the conference well, and they know how to recruit the state of Texas.

Meacham, the play caller, should probably be Oklahoma State’s OC today but instead put in a year at Houston where he coached up freshman QB John O'Korn to conference rookie of the year honors. Cumbie gets a chance to coach quarterbacks and brings plenty of knowledge about this scheme -- both coaching it and playing in it -- after working under Leach and Kliff Kingsbury.

Will TCU instantly become a 40-points-per-game offense because of the two new guys in the room? No. This is a complete offensive transition and that’s never easy, especially when you’re trying to mesh those philosophies with Patterson’s preferences in the TCU run game. Plus, you know, the fact the likely starting QB (Matt Joeckel) didn’t get on campus until June.

But this is a long-term commitment, and it’s going to put the Frogs in position to develop into a true annual contender in the conference.

Scrapping the statistically unpleasant offense of 2013 for this new look not only improves TCU’s chances of inking big-time skill players from the DFW area. This change can also help make TCU’s defense quicker and better adjusted in practice. It’s a win-win all the way around.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- West Virginia defense

I love the moves Patterson made to boost the TCU offense. Cumbie and Meacham both have impressive offensive coaching resumes in the league and should instantly impact the Horned Frogs’ previous dilemma of scoring points.

But I believe the West Virginia defense will show more improvement this season given the moves the Mountaineers delivered in the offseason. But, even more crucial, given the players West Virginia has coming back.

TCU has a couple of nice pieces offensively, and possibly a big one that has enrolled this summer. Trevone Boykin is a valuable weapon, whether a situational quarterback or receiver. B.J. Catalon is one of the better backs in the league. Jordan Moore was one of the Horned Frogs’ best playmakers in the spring after swinging over to receiver from running back. TCU could also be primed for a major boost from Joeckel, who has more experience operating the Meacham/Cumbie offense than anyone else on the Horned Frogs roster. But the offense also has many holes to fill. The line was dreadful in 2013, and the offense is devoid of any all-conference-caliber receivers, at least on paper.

Meanwhile, the Mountaineers have fewer holes on their defense. They also made a hire in Tom Bradley that was as impressive as any made elsewhere in the league. Bradley coached alongside Joe Paterno at Penn State for more than three decades. As defensive coordinator from 2004-09, Bradley coached the Nittany Lions to six straight top 15 national finishes in total and scoring defense. He was also part of two national title teams and has coached in 26 bowl games.

Bradley brings a ton of experience to the Mountaineers defense. He has a great professional and personal relationship with new coordinator Tony Gibson. Athletic director Oliver Luck also noted that Bradley instantly brought a calming confidence to the team over the spring.

Gibson and Bradley will have some pieces to work with, too. All four linebackers come back to anchor the Mountaineers’ 3-4 attack, which is expected to put more emphasis on rushing the quarterback than previous West Virginia defenses under Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest.

The Mountaineers also return plenty of experience in the secondary, notably safety Karl Joseph and cornerback Daryl Worley, who both have All-Big 12 potential. The defensive line is the biggest question mark. But West Virginia partly addressed that by adding Gardner-Webb transfer Shaquille Riddick, who was an FCS All-American defensive end in 2013.

West Virginia has not finished better than eighth in the Big 12 in total defense since joining the league -- though injuries played a part in the disappointing finish in 2013. But under the new Gibson/Bradley regime, with more depth and an experienced core of players, the Mountaineers should be much improved defensively in 2013.
Days after last season ended, we released a Way-Too-Early 2014 Big 12 power poll. Following the many developments of signing day and spring practice, we’ve updated the poll:

1. Oklahoma Sooners (previous rank – 1): With the bulk of its defense coming back and the league’s most experienced offensive line, Oklahoma gets the top spot. Yet despite the preseason hype coming off the trouncing of Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, this is not a team without questions. No returning running back had more than 23 carries last year. No returning receiver (outside Sterling Shepard) had more than 13 catches. And though he torched the Crimson Tide, quarterback Trevor Knight has only five career starts and has been prone to getting nicked. That said, there’s plenty of young talent at the skill positions. If a few of those players emerge, and Knight builds off his Sugar Bowl performance, this could be a team that contends for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

2. Baylor Bears (2): Baylor won the 2013 Big 12 title without a player selected in the first four rounds of the NFL draft over the weekend. That speaks to the talent the Bears have back in quarterback Bryce Petty, wideout Antwan Goodley and left tackle Spencer Drango. It’s also not unthinkable that Baylor could lead the nation in scoring again. Petty should be even sharper in his second season as the starter. And running back Johnny Jefferson and receiver Corey Coleman seem primed to make an impact as the next wave of prolific Baylor playmakers. The defense will ultimately determine whether the Bears can defend their crown. The back seven is a work in progress. But Art Briles believes he will have a dominating defensive line. If so, Baylor could become the league’s first repeat champ since 2008.

3. Kansas State Wildcats (3): After rebounding to win six of its final seven games to end last season -- including destroying Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, K-State carried plenty of momentum into the offseason. With only 10 returning starters, there are some holes that need to be filled. But the Wildcats feature some of the best returning standouts in the league in quarterback Jake Waters, wideout Tyler Lockett and defensive end Ryan Mueller. If highly touted juco transfers Terrell Clinkscales, D'Vonta Derricott and Danzel McDaniel successfully step into some of those voids defensively, and an adequate successor to outgoing running back John Hubert surfaces, the Wildcats will have a say in the conference race.

4. Texas Longhorns (4): Discerning what team to rank fourth was the most difficult part of putting this list together. A case could be made here for Texas Tech, Oklahoma State or even TCU with its returning defense. But I couldn’t shake the memory of Texas obliterating both the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs last year while starting Case McCoy at quarterback. Given all the turnover Oklahoma State has, the Longhorns ultimately got the slight nod at fourth. With veterans littering the roster, Texas is solid pretty much everywhere -- well, everywhere except quarterback. But if the Longhorns can get anything out of the position -- David Ash? Max Wittek? Jerrod Heard? -- they could be a load in Charlie Strong’s debut season.

5. Texas Tech Red Raiders (6): The Red Raiders climbed a spot thanks to the rapid development of sophomore quarterback Davis Webb. Including the National University Holiday Bowl and Tech’s three open spring scrimmages, Webb tossed 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. With added weight and swelling confidence, Webb has been performing like an all-conference-caliber quarterback since the bowl game. Webb will have plenty of big-play weapons to operate with and his protection should be better, as well, with 75 career starts returning along the offensive line. Whether Tech truly emerges as a dark-horse contender, though, hinges on whether its four juco defensive linemen can remedy an ailing run defense that ranked ninth in the league last year.

6. Oklahoma State Cowboys (5): After getting picked in 2010 by some to finish last in the Big 12 South, Oklahoma State reeled off 11 wins. Two years ago, the Cowboys got no love in the preseason again, and won eight games with three different quarterbacks. The recent track record in Stillwater suggests this is not a team to overlook in 2014. But if the Cowboys are going to surprise again, they’ll have to do so with a host of new faces. One reason for optimism is junior quarterback J.W. Walsh, who this spring rekindled his freshman form, when he led the entire Big 12 in Adjusted QBR. The Cowboys love Walsh’s toughness and leadership. If he can recapture the throwing accuracy that escaped him last season, Oklahoma State could be a factor.

7. TCU Horned Frogs (7): The biggest development for the Horned Frogs this offseason occurred after the spring when they added Matt Joeckel. The Texas A&M quarterback transfer, who will be eligible this season, is familiar with the offense new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie installed this spring, and could give TCU just the jolt it needs at quarterback. The other big development this spring was the reemergence of 2012 AP Big 12 Defensive Player of Year Devonte Fields, who had a nightmare 2013 season. If Fields returns to wreaking havoc off the edge defensively, and Joeckel gives the offense above average quarterback play, TCU could finally be a force in its third year in the Big 12.

8. West Virginia Mountaineers (9): Dana Holgorsen is not lacking offensive firepower, with the league’s deepest running back stable and the entire receiving corps returning. With seven starters back on the other side, the defense has a chance to be much improved in the new Tony Gibson/Tom Bradley regime, too. West Virginia, however, gained little clarity about the quarterback position this spring, with Clint Trickett recovering from shoulder surgery and the other contenders failing to make a move up the depth chart. To challenge to finish in the top half of the Big 12, the Mountaineers will have to get more out of their quarterback than they did last year -- regardless of the other pieces.

9. Iowa State Cyclones (8): Buoyed by a new play-caller and 10 returning starters, Iowa State could boast its best offense since Seneca Wallace was behind center over a decade ago. Mark Mangino has a proven track record as a coordinator, and plenty of weapons to utilize in running back Aaron Wimberly, wideout Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs. The offensive line is seasoned, and sophomore Grant Rohach might finally be Iowa State’s long-term answer at quarterback following a strong spring. The defense, however, is an even bigger question mark coming out of the spring. Projected starting linemen Rodney Coe and David Irving were dismissed and safety Devron Moore left after getting homesick. The Cyclones had been stout defensively under Paul Rhoads and coordinator Wally Burnham up until last season, when they ranked last in the league.

10. Kansas Jayhawks (10): Coming out of the spring, the Jayhawks have some definite strengths they can point to, notably linebacker Ben Heeney and cornerback Dexter McDonald. Elsewhere, Kansas still has catching up to do before breaking out of the cellar. At least now the Jayhawks have a long-term quarterback to build around in sophomore Montell Cozart, who was named the starter after shining in the spring game.

Big 12's lunch links

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
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.

Big 12's lunch links

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
This was hilarious!

TicketCity Bowl: Penn State vs. Houston

January, 1, 2012
Neither Penn State nor Houston expected to be in this bowl, but one team was passed over by several games and the other lost a BCS berth and a league title on the same afternoon. As a result, the Nittany Lions and Cougars meet in one of the more intriguing matchups on this year's bowl slate.

Let's take a look at the TicketCity Bowl, played Monday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

WHO TO WATCH: Penn State running back Silas Redd. The sophomore led the nation with 703 rush yards in October, but paid a price physically in November. He's now healthy again after more than a month off and should be the focal point of Penn State's attack against Houston. The Lions' quarterback situation is shaky at best, and Penn State must take advantage of a healthy Redd and a size advantage along the offensive line. Houston has struggled against the run this season, ranking 78th nationally, and repeatedly got gashed in the Conference USA championship against Southern Miss. Penn State wants to control possession time and keep Cougars star quarterback Case Keenum off of the field. Expect Redd's number to be called a lot.

WHAT TO WATCH: Penn State's defensive back seven. The Lions face a Houston team that leads the nation in scoring (50.8 ppg), passing (443.8 ypg) and total yards (599 ypg). Houston passes the ball more than 60 percent of the time, a departure what Penn State typically sees in the Big Ten. While Devon Still and the Lions' defensive line needs a strong performance, the back seven will be tested by Keenum and his weapons. Penn State will lean on a veteran secondary and a dynamic linebacker corps featuring Gerald Hodges. "To duplicate what they do is very, very difficult for us," Lions interim coach Tom Bradley told reporters this week, referring to Houston. "Any time you play a team like that you have to tackle well. You can't give them the big play." Houston leads the nation in touchdown passes of 20 yards or longer with 29, while Penn State is tied for the national lead in allowing just two such touchdown strikes this season.

WHY TO WATCH: The curiosity factor with Penn State. How will the Nittany Lions respond after two months of intense scrutiny, after the locker-room fight involving quarterback Matthew McGloin, after being passed over by several bowls, and after weeks of speculation about their next head coach (still unnamed)? If Penn State shows up motivated to play, it should have an excellent chance to take down a Houston team that hasn't seen a defense nearly as talented as the Lions this season. But motivation is a question mark for a group that was justifiably upset with its bowl placement and has faced more than a few distractions.

PREDICTION: Penn State 28, Houston 24. I might be in the minority, but I think Penn State finds a way to show up and play well against Keenum and the Cougars. Redd will have a very big performance behind the offensive line, and the Lions defense will fluster Keenum, much like Southern Miss did in the C-USA title game. Keenum will make some plays, but Still will be in his face much of the afternoon. Bradley and the seniors keep the team focused enough to come away with a win.