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Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 1

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
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In Week 1, Oklahoma State and West Virginia will try to pull off monumental upsets against the nation’s top two teams; Iowa State and Kansas State will look to avoid back-to-back disastrous openers; TCU and Texas Tech will also attempt to take care of business against the FCS; Texas will kick off the Charlie Strong era; Oklahoma will try to keep its Sugar Bowl level; and Baylor will introduce a new stadium.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch this week in the Big 12:

Saturday

North Dakota State at Iowa State, 11 a.m. CT (FS1): The Cyclones will attempt to avoid opening with a loss to an FCS opponent for the second straight year. That won’t be easy. The Bison have captured three straight FCS national championships. This will also be the Iowa State debut of offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, who last week tabbed Sam B. Richardson to be the Cyclones’ starting quarterback.

West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. CT (ABC or ESPN2): The Mountaineers are the biggest underdog of any Power 5 conference team this weekend. The Crimson Tide lost their final two games of last season, but won back-to-back national championships before that. This, however, appears to be the deepest and most experienced team Dana Holgorsen has had at West Virginia since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12.

Samford at TCU, 6 p.m. CT (FSN regional): TCU coach Gary Patterson hasn’t indicated whether Trevone Boykin or Matt Joeckel will get the start at quarterback in the Horned Frogs’ new offense. Samford coach Pat Sullivan, who won the Heisman Trophy at Auburn in 1971 and coached at TCU form 1992-97, won’t be making the trip to Fort Worth with his team because of complications after offseason neck surgery.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtJ.W. Walsh is back as the Oklahoma State starting quarterback, and he has a huge challenge waiting for him in the opener.
Central Arkansas at Texas Tech, 6 p.m. CT (FSN regional): This could be an interesting test for Tech’s defense, which will be relying on a host of junior-college transfers along the defensive line and a sophomore-and-under defensive backfield. The Bears return 10 starters from an offense that averaged more than 450 yards per game last year.

Louisiana Tech at No. 4 Oklahoma, 6 p.m. CT (PPV): The Bulldogs will be bringing former Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz with them to Norman. Diaz’s track record against the Sooners wasn’t good. With Diaz manning the defense, Texas allowed 63 points to Oklahoma two years ago and 55 the year before that. Elsewhere, all eyes will be on Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight, who will be making just his sixth career start, most recently shredding Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Stephen F. Austin at No. 20 Kansas State, 6 p.m. CT: The Wildcats dropped last year’s season opener to FCS opponent North Dakota State. But Stephen F. Austin, which won only three games last year, is a far cry from North Dakota State. The Wildcats are also settled at quarterback this time around with Jake Waters, who struggled as the part-time quarterback in last year’s opener, but surged during the second half of the season.

North Texas at Texas, 7 p.m. CT (Longhorn Network): Charlie Strong will finally make his debut as coach of the Longhorns. This game will also mark the return of quarterback David Ash after he missed most of last year with a concussion, and then the spring with a fractured foot. North Texas is coming off a nine-win season but is 9-67 lifetime against Big 12 programs, including 0-9 against Texas.

Oklahoma State vs. No. 1 Florida State, 7 p.m. CT (ABC): No Power 5 conference team returns fewer starters than the Cowboys, who also graduated 28 players. The Seminoles, meanwhile, bring back the reigning Heisman winner in quarterback Jameis Winston. Oklahoma State will start out with J.W. Walsh at quarterback. Walsh led the Big 12 in QBR two years ago. But last year in Big 12 play, Oklahoma State averaged 6.2 yards per play with Clint Chelf at quarterback and only 4.8 with Walsh, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Sunday

SMU at No. 10 Baylor, 6:30 p.m. CT (FS1): The Bears will christen the $260 million McLane Stadium, as Baylor will go from having the worst stadium in the Big 12 to one of the best. The celebration in Waco could begin early, too. Last year, Baylor had an average halftime lead of three touchdowns and enters this game as almost five-touchdown favorites over the Mustangs.
The exchange started with a silly (or stupid) joke about football, but not the kind that will be played in college stadiums around the country this weekend.

After Germany blasted FIFA World Cup host Brazil 7-1 on July 8, I joked on Twitter that the Brazilians must have hired former Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz as a defensive consultant.

Within an hour, Diaz sent me a direct message on Twitter, asking me to call him the next day.

Our conversation the following day was cordial, and I thanked Diaz for reaching out. I apologized for the inconsiderate joke and told him it wasn't anything personal. I could have used a handful of coaches as the butt of the not-so-funny joke, but, for whatever reason, Diaz popped into my head.

The last time college football fans saw a Diaz-coached defense on the field, the Longhorns allowed a school-record 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 loss at BYU on Sept. 7, 2013.

Then-Texas coach Mack Brown fired Diaz the next day.

After largely spending the rest of the 2013 season in isolation, Diaz will return to the sideline as Louisiana Tech's defensive coordinator in Saturday’s game at No. 4 Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeManny Diaz
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesOn Saturday, Manny Diaz will coach his first game since being fired after Texas' loss to BYU last September.
For Diaz, it's his first shot at redemption, albeit against what is expected to be one of the country’s most prolific offenses.

"Everybody in this profession is at heart a competitor," Diaz said. "I'm super, super excited about the opportunity to get back out there and go at it again."

Diaz's fall from grace was nearly as stunning as his meteoric rise through the college coaching ranks. A former ESPN production assistant, Diaz started as a graduate assistant at Florida State in 1998 and was a defensive coordinator at an FBS school within eight years.

After spending four seasons at Middle Tennessee State from 2006-09, Diaz transformed Mississippi State’s defense into one of the country’s best in 2010. In 2011, Brown hired him to turn around Texas' defense.

The early results at Texas were good: The Longhorns led the Big 12 in total defense, rushing defense and pass defense in his first season. In 2012, the Longhorns allowed only 212 passing yards per game in the pass-happy Big 12 despite losing star defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Jordan Hicks to injuries.

Then, the wheels fell off at the start of the 2013 season. Nearly a year later, Diaz is reluctant to talk about what transpired at Texas. He has never criticized Brown or the decision to replace him with Greg Robinson only two games into the season.

"There's nothing to me that matters about what happened," Diaz said. "The issues there were multifaceted, and I think everybody involved, if they had a chance to go back, would change some things."

In the end, firing Diaz didn’t accomplish much. The Longhorns lost to Ole Miss 44-23 the next week before winning six games in a row, including a 36-20 upset of then-No. 12 Oklahoma. But the Longhorns lost three of their last four games, allowing 38 points against Oklahoma State, 30 against Baylor and 30 against Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

Brown was forced to resign and coached the Longhorns for the final time in the bowl game. Brown, who had a 158-48 record in 16 seasons with the Longhorns and guided them to the 2005 national championship, now works as an analyst for ESPN.

Diaz, 40, spent much of last season coaching his sons' football teams. He consulted with a few teams but declined to name them because "Twitter would blow up."

Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz called him in January and offered him a job. Holtz wouldn't have had to go far to find out what really happened to Diaz at Texas last season. His son, Trey, is a sophomore walk-on quarterback with the Longhorns.

"I think Skip had an intimate knowledge of what was really happening behind the doors," Diaz said.

Diaz isn't the only coordinator looking for redemption this season. Former Kansas coach Mark Mangino, who resigned amid allegations that he abused his players, is Iowa State's new offensive coordinator. New Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder's past two college coaching stops, as Georgia Southern's head coach and then Auburn's defensive coordinator, were far from spectacular. New Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's defense at Georgia allowed a school-record 377 points last season.

But perhaps no coach has fallen as hard or fast as Diaz, who went from a wonder boy to, well, the butt of jokes in a matter of a couple of games.

"I think it's the nature of this profession," Diaz said. "I think you see it now more than ever. I think the game is more volatile than ever."

Diaz's career rehab will start near the bottom of FBS football. Last season, the Bulldogs went 4-8 in Holtz's first season. Louisiana Tech's victories came against FCS foe Lamar and FBS opponents UTEP, Florida International and Southern Miss, which combined to win four games in 2013. The Bulldogs lost consecutive games against Tulane, Kansas (which ended a 22-game losing streak to FBS foes) and Army in September.

Holtz hired Diaz to do what he did at every one of his previous stops -- make the defense better.

"I think Coach Diaz has done a phenomenal job with this defense and the things he has put in," Holtz said. "I think he makes it very complicated, but yet, at the same time, it is very simple for them to learn. It appears complicated, but I think he has really simplified it in terms of being user-friendly for the players to take it and embrace it."

The Bulldogs' first challenge is a daunting one, trying to slow down OU's high-powered attack. The Sooners had their way against Diaz's defenses in two previous meetings, outscoring the Longhorns 118-38 in victories in 2011 and '12.

"It's a program I have a lot of respect for," Diaz said. "They challenge the bond of your team. When I got here and found out we were playing Oklahoma, that's the first thing I told our players. It's what they do with their style of play and tempo. If you drop your gloves, they'll pound you."

The Bulldogs' defensive coordinator knows all too well about being knocked down. Will Diaz get back up?
The College Football Playoff isn’t the only thing new for the Big 12 this year. The league will welcome new bowl tie-ins, as well as old bowl tie-ins with new names. The playoff is obviously new. The Russell Athletic Bowl and AutoZone Liberty Bowl are new to the league, as well. The Cactus Bowl is the old Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (which before that was the Insight Bowl). Next year, the Champions Bowl, which will pit top teams from the Big 12 and SEC, will jump into the rotation as well.

But, without further ado, here are our preseason bowl projections for the Big 12, which, like the bowl tie-ins themselves, are sure to change before long:

Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Orleans (Jan. 1): Oklahoma vs. College Football Playoff semifinal
Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Texas (Jan. 1): Baylor vs. at-large
Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio (Jan. 2): Kansas State vs. Pac-12 No. 2
Russell Athletic Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (Dec. 29): Texas vs. ACC No. 2
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Houston (Dec. 29): Texas Tech vs. SEC
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn. (Dec. 29): TCU vs. SEC
Cactus Bowl, Tempe, Ariz. (Jan. 2): Oklahoma State vs. Pac-12 No. 7

Big 12 Week 1 predictions

August, 28, 2014
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Why Alabama will win: The Crimson Tide don't have a quarterback with a career start, but that seems to be the only question with this team. The losses to Auburn and Oklahoma are fresh on everyone's mind, but before those two games, Alabama had allowed an FBS-low 9.3 points per game last season. Coach Nick Saban's defense will be formidable again. Though the Mountaineers feature several intriguing skill players, it's unlikely they will be able to move the ball the way the Tigers and Sooners did. -- Jake Trotter

Why Florida State will win: Last week, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy called Florida State the best team he had ever faced as a player or a coach. The Seminoles are loaded, headlined by the return of Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The Cowboys, meanwhile, will be fielding almost a completely new squad after losing 28 seniors and returning the fewest starters among any program in a Power 5 conference. Those factors do not equal a recipe for an upset. -- Jake Trotter

More consensus picks: Iowa State over North Dakota State; TCU over Samford; Texas Tech over Central Arkansas; Oklahoma over Louisiana Tech; Kansas State over Stephen F. Austin; Texas over North Texas; Baylor over SMU.

Bob StoopsKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsBob Stoops hasn't been shy about publicly questioning the perceived dominance of the SEC.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Bob Stoops' former players swear he hasn't changed.

Instead, the rest of us are just getting to know Oklahoma's head football coach a little better.

The last year and a half, college football's third longest-tenured coach -- Stoops moved up a spot after rival Mack Brown resigned -- has become a walking, talking national newsmaker.

But his ex-players say he's always spoken his mind to them. Now, he's just speaking his mind to everyone else, too.

"Coach is the same person," said Dusty Dvoracek, who was an All-Big 12 defensive tackle for the Sooners in 2003 and 2005. "But like anything else, once you've established yourself, and had as much success as he'd had, naturally your guard comes down a little bit. I don't think it was always the case for him, but now he feels comfortable and confident to speak his mind. He's garnered enough credibility that when he gets asked questions he can answer them honestly."

Stoops isn't quite as loquacious as his mentor and godfather of his twin boys, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who just this week cracked that he hopes fans don't egg a banner of his likeness if this season goes badly for the Gamecocks.

But Stoops also has some Spurrier in him. And of late, that side has surfaced in the public domain more and more.

"You're seeing that side of Coach more than ever before," Dvoracek said. "When you've been in the profession that long, you get to a point where you can tell it how it is, and not worry about the fallout. Depending of what side of the fence you're on, you might like it and you might not. But he's not afraid to be honest."

The southern side of that fence most definitely has not liked it.

More than any other figure in college football, Stoops has taken on the SEC hype machine head on. No holds barred. Like Rooster Cogburn charging into a posse, Stoops rides alone in daring to proclaim what his colleagues might think, yet don't say.

"Oh yeah, he can bristle," said former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who has never himself been accused of holding back. "Bob says what he feels. I admire that about him. That's a good quality. I always reacted the same way. I never cared what people thought about my opinion. Bob is that way, too .... and when you're the coach at Oklahoma, you carry a megaphone. You reach everybody."

Like Switzer, Stoops has utilized that megaphone in recent months.

In May 2013, he used the word "propaganda" while taking aim at the bottom half of the SEC, which Stoops correctly pointed out had gone winless the season before against the top half of the league.

A few months later, he questioned the reputation of SEC defenses, which were having difficulty slowing down Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron and Johnny Manziel.

"Funny how people can't play defense," Stoops said then, "when they have pro-style quarterbacks over there ... which we've had."

When the Sooners were paired with the Crimson Tide in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, virtually everyone from College Station, Texas, to Gainesville, Florida, was eager to see Stoops' comeuppance. Instead, he delivered another blow to SEC pride, toppling -- in his words -- "the big, bad wolf" 45-31.

"Coach always let our football do the talking for us," said former Oklahoma safety Roy Williams, the 2001 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. "But sometimes, enough is enough. The media pumps up the big, bad SEC as some unstoppable force; that they were going to kick our butt. But that didn't happen. Look, we're not whipping boys in Oklahoma. We're a force to be reckoned with, too, and that was proven."

With his credibility cemented, Stoops hasn't backed off.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops and Nick Saban
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertBob Stoops wasn't sympathetic to Nick Saban's suggestion that he couldn't get the Crimson Tide motivated in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.
This summer, he tagged Texas A&M for all the "toughies" -- Lamar, Rice, SMU and Louisiana-Monroe -- on its nonconference schedule. And when Alabama coach Nick Saban suggested he couldn't get his team up to play in the "consolation" Sugar Bowl, Stoops fired right back.

"We've played in a bunch of national championship games, right?" he said. "So that means I've got a built-in excuse the next time we don't play for a national championship?"

Switzer especially enjoyed that retort.

"I laughed when I heard that," he said. "I understood what [Stoops] meant. It doesn't matter what game it is, you have to be ready to go play. They outcoached Alabama and they outplayed Alabama."

For the coup de grace, after being introduced as "the man who single-handedly shut up the SEC" during a preseason booster event, Stoops noted he's only been "stating facts."

"Every now and then," he said, "a few things need to be pointed out."

Days later, he was given the option to back down from his comments questioning SEC depth, SEC defenses, SEC scheduling and SEC motivation in games that don't decide national titles. He didn't budge.

"Oh, get over it," Stoops said. "Again, where am I lying?"

There's an obvious means to an end to Stoops' newfound role of Big 12 advocate. In college football, perception is reality, especially once 13 people will arbitrarily be determining who gets included in the four-team playoff.

But Stoops' loosened public persona isn't all business. And it hasn't been limited to needling the SEC.

The same Dallas hotel that hosted Big 12 media days was also home to a convention for Mary Kay, of which Stoops' wife, Carol, is a national director. While she gave a TV interview, Stoops purposely photo-bombed the shot. Twice.

Then, at the end of two-a-days, Stoops came rolling into practice on the Sooner Schooner and passed out frozen treats to the players while wearing a cowboy hat and wielding a "RUF/NEK" shotgun.

"Coach is the same," Williams said. "But when you're a young coach, you have to keep your head down and prove yourself. When you've won a lot of games, and you have the job security ... of course, you become more comfortable. Maybe that all comes with age, too. When you get to a certain point, you can say, ‘I'm going to let my hair down' in front of people a little bit more."

J.D. Runnels, who once was the lead blocker for Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma, agreed that age, success and tenure have contributed to Stoops' less guarded public approach. But Runnels believes the return of Stoops' brother, Mike, to the coaching staff has eased Stoops' mind, too.

"Mike is Bob's enforcer," Runnels said. "He takes some of that pressure off Bob. That's less micromanaging Bob has to do."

Whatever the reason, the rest of the world seems to be getting to know the real Stoops. The one who enjoys having fun. The one who says what he thinks. The one his former players say has always been there.

"He's always had the willingness to tell it how it is," Dvoracek said. "That was one of the things that stuck out to me when he recruited me.

"The players, we've always seen that. Now you're starting to see that shine through on the other side, too."

Big 12 fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
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Today, Ivan Maisel offered up his bold predictions for the college football season. We figured we'd get in on the fun, too. Here's what we're comfortable forecasting in what should be a crazy Big 12 season.

Jake Trotter's bold predictions

Davis Webb will throw for more yards than Bryce Petty. This is no slight against Petty, who himself should be in for another monster season. But Petty will also be handing off plenty to Shock Linwood, Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson. Webb, meanwhile, will be airing it out virtually every down to his big-play trio of Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis. As long as Webb stays healthy, 4,500-plus passing yards isn't out of reach.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb passed for 2,718 yards as a freshman and could compete with Baylor's Bryce Petty for most passing yards in the Big 12 this season.
Kansas State will beat either Baylor or Oklahoma on the road. Two years ago when the Wildcats traveled to Norman, they toppled Oklahoma, 24-19. Last year, nobody played Baylor tougher -- at least when the Bears were still at full strength -- than K-State (which at the time was missing Tyler Lockett). Bill Snyder teams usually come to play in big games. This season, that will come at the expense of one of the league's two co-favorites.

Tyreek Hill will lead the league in rushing. The Longhorns have the Big 12's best one-two punch at running back in Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown. And West Virginia has the league's deepest backfield. But Hill has the tools to be the best big-play back in the conference. He also figures to be the focal point of the Oklahoma State attack. Up until last season, the Cowboys had enjoyed a 1,000-yard rusher in six consecutive seasons. Hill will start another 1,000-yard rushing streak for the Pokes in a big way in 2014.

Brandon Chatmon's bold predictions

Iowa State's offense will be much improved. After finishing in the bottom two in most offensive categories a year ago, Iowa State will finish no lower than sixth in most of those categories, with a clear jump forward in points, yards per play, total yards and third-down conversion rate during its first season with Mark Mangino as offensive coordinator. The Cyclones have plenty of skill-position talent, led by receiver Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs, and may have a healthy offensive line after a 2013 season full of injuries up front.

Oklahoma safety Ahmad Thomas will emerge as an All-Big 12 candidate. The sophomore safety has continued to develop and improve for the Sooners and looks like a future star in the defensive backfield. He's versatile and gives the Sooners plenty of options with his ability to line up all over the field. Coaches and teammates have raved about his ability, so he could emerge as an All-Big 12 performer, particularly if the Sooners defense becomes a dominating force this fall. Thomas is not a household name right now but he could be by the time December rolls around.

Texas will lead the conference in rushing and finish top 10 nationally. Charlie Strong plans to run the football and the Longhorns have the horses to get it done in the backfield. Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown are a terrific foundation to build UT's offense around, and the offensive line should be solid. Add Strong's insistence that the Longhorns' “soft” label is a thing of the past, and it's a recipe for UT to grab a spot among the nation's top ground games this fall.

Max Olson's bold predictions

Texas Tech will start 7-0 again. The only major hurdles in a pretty favorable early-season schedule are back-to-back road games at Oklahoma State and Kansas State. I like Tech's chances of surviving both games so long as Webb is healthy. If the defense has come together by then and shows up in the big games, look out. From there, Kliff Kingsbury's squad will have a tough slate but a huge opportunity.

Kansas State beats Auburn. Go ahead, call me crazy. This just feels like it's going to be a weird ballgame, almost akin to KSU's 24-19 win over No. 6 Oklahoma in 2012. Kansas State's coaches have the brainpower to come up with answers to Auburn's dangerous option attack. They recruited Nick Marshall hard out of junior college and know his weaknesses. And Tyler Lockett can score on anybody. In a crazy Thursday night home game atmosphere, I think KSU can get it done.

David Ash earns All-Big 12 honors. I didn't say first team! I'm not necessarily saying second-team honors, either. But Texas' fourth-year quarterback remains one of the league's most underrated players and someone who's going to make a breakthrough if he can play all 12 games. Ash was a top-25 passer in 2012, and with quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson's tutelage and the aid of Texas' impressive run game, he can do it again.

Our boldest prediction

A Big 12 team will make the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma and Baylor will meet on Nov. 8 in Norman, Oklahoma. The winner will go on to represent the conference in the inaugural playoff. You'll see.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma was hoping to have the talented quartet of wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, running back Joe Mixon, linebacker Frank Shannon and quarterback Baker Mayfield on the field this season.

Green-Beckham and Mixon have already been ruled out. Mayfield is still waiting to hear whether the NCAA will grant him an eligibility waiver. And Monday, Shannon wasn’t listed in Oklahoma’s Week 1 depth chart.

[+] EnlargeStoops
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBob Stoops said his focus is on the Sooners playing in 2014, not the talented ones who are ineligible.
“I’ve got to proceed with players that I know are going to be available to me through the rest of the year,” coach Bob Stoops said during his first weekly news conference. “So at this point the depth chart is as it is.”

As the Sooners prepare for Saturday’s opener against Louisiana Tech, Stoops wanted to talk about the players that will be on the field this year.

But the dominant story line this preseason has been about the players that won’t be on the field. And it popped up again Monday.

Late last week, the NCAA ruled that Green-Beckham would not qualify for immediate eligibility under the run-off exception after transferring from Missouri.

Stoops said it “hasn’t been decided” whether Green-Beckham will be back with the Sooners in 2015, though Stoops added that “it seems like that he wants to do that and is heading that way.”

But this season, Green-Beckham would have supplied quarterback Trevor Knight with a dangerous receiving weapon on the outside. Instead, the Sooners will be relying on several inexperienced pass-catchers to fill the void at receiver alongside three-year starter Sterling Shepard.

“We’ve got 10 other guys or eight other [receivers] or whatever it is that we’re working with on a daily basis,” Stoops said. “So you work with what’s available to you.”

It doesn’t look like Shannon will be available to the Sooners, either. He’s appealed the university’s decision to suspend him for a year for allegedly violating the school’s code of conduct to a district court. But as long as Shannon remains tied up in legal issues, Oklahoma’s leading tackler last year won’t be part of the plans.

“That situation is still unresolved,” Stoops said.

As of Monday, Mayfield’s situation remains unresolved, as well, forcing the Sooners to move forward with making Cody Thomas their backup quarterback. Thomas redshirted last year, and has been dealing with a muscle strain. That has led former quarterback and current starting tight end Blake Bell to take snaps in practice, as a break-the-glass option, in case of an injury to Knight.

“You obviously want the best for those guys and it hurts to see it go on the opposite side of that line,” Knight said. “You want the best for them and whether or not it works out for them this year, you stay positive with them and hope things will work out in the future.”

As for the present, the Sooners will have to roll with the players currently eligible. That’s still enough to keep them the preseason favorite in the Big 12 and a legitimate contender for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

And while this preseason could have gone better, Stoops is still excited about the players that will be in the game.

“Our guys go to practice every day and the guys on the field have competed in a great way,” Stoops said. “I feel we’re in a great position, ready to start the season.”
video Trevor Knight's job just got harder.

Oklahoma announced Missouri transfer Dorial Green-Beckham will not be eligible to play for the Sooners in 2014 after his waiver request to make the receiver immediately eligible was denied by the NCAA on Friday.

Now Knight, the Sooners starting quarterback, is left with junior Sterling Shepard as his lone proven receiver to target heading into this season. Shepard had 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. The rest of the receivers on the Sooners' roster combined for 17 receptions for 228 yards in 2013.

The Sooners were hoping Green-Beckham would become eligible to provide a proven playmaker on the outside after the 6-foot-6, 225 pound receiver had 59 receptions for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns for Missouri in 2013 before his dismissal last spring.

[+] EnlargeDorial Green-Beckham
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiThe Sooners will have to be without receiver Dorial Green-Beckham for the season.
Instead, Shepard will enter the season as Knight's No. 1 target and the clear focus of opposing secondaries. It's an unproven but talented group of receivers that will have to step up if the Sooners hope to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff this fall.

Much of the burden is likely to fall upon Durron Neal, the second-leading returning receiver on the roster. Neal was an Army All-American when he arrived on campus but has yet to fulfill those high expectations with 18 career receptions for 251 yards in his first two seasons.

"I think we have some real stability with Shepard and Neal on the perimeter," receivers coach Jay Norvell said earlier this week. "Then we've got some young guys, K.J. Young and Michiah Quick, that are kind of coming on in the slot."

Sophomore Derrick Woods is another receiver the Sooners are counting on to become an impact player on offense for the first time in his career after a redshirt freshman season that featured just two receptions for 29 yards including a clutch third-down reception in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

"We could play with Derrick Woods as a starter," Norvell said. "There's no question and feel confident doing that. He's been in the fire. He made a huge play in the Sugar Bowl and the one thing about that kid, you get him in a competitive situation, he really responds."

A portion of the onus could also fall upon covered tight end Blake Bell, who made the switch from quarterback in January with an eye on becoming an big target for Knight.

Keep an eye on a pair of redshirt freshmen who will get more opportunities with Green-Beckham out of the equation. Jordan Smallwood, who has impressed since he arrived on campus in the summer of 2013 but was forced into a redshirt season by a broken foot in the preseason a year ago, and K.J. Young, who has emerged as an potential impact player in the slot for the Sooners, have both used a redshirt year in 2013 to put themselves in position to make an impact this fall.

"K.J.'s just playing a lot faster," Norvell said. "He really has an understanding of what we want him to do inside. He's playing really fast, roaring off the football. That's a big thing here at Oklahoma. We really stress coming off the ball and playing with speed, and when you watch guys like Kenny Stills and Jalen Saunders, when those guys played, they roared off the football, and K.J.'s starting to get that."

Incoming freshman Michiah Quick is another player who could see his role expand with Shepard's ability to play in the slot or on the outside allowing the Sooners to move Shepard around with a goal of getting their top three or four receivers on the field.

It's clear the Sooners like their talent at receiver but it is largely unproven. OU's season opener against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30 and second-non conference game against Tulsa on Sept. 6 will be critical for the Sooners offense to figure out which receivers can be counted on heading into their home matchup with Tennessee on Sept. 13.

Joshua McMillon announcement

August, 22, 2014
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Four-star linebacker Joshua McMillon, ranked No. 163 in the ESPN 300, is set to make his college decision. The 6-foot-3, 249-pound linebacker has big names Alabama, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in the mix. Tune in at 11 a.m. ET for the announcement.

 
Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione has plans to place food trucks on campus to feed the Sooners' student-athletes. But it's doubtful any of those trucks will be as cool the one the football team ate from Friday.

At the end of practice, coach Bob Stoops rode in on the Sooner Schooner wearing a cowboy hat and wielding a Ruf/Nek shotgun. He also brought with him some frozen treats for the players.
Trevor Knight, OklahomaStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThere's reason for optimism in the Big 12 following Oklahoma's win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

The last time a Big 12 team won a national championship, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was still in junior high. And the last national title game that merely included a Big 12 program, Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight had just passed his driver's test.

Yet with the BCS era dead and gone -- and conference realignment in the rearview mirror -- the Big 12 is out to re-establish its legitimacy in the debut season of the College Football Playoff.

And, most importantly, get back to contending for national championships again.

"We have excellent programs in the Big 12," said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. "Is there any reason why this conference couldn't play somebody in the national championship?

"I don't see why not."

At the turn of the millennium, the Big 12 forged an identity on playing for BCS national championships an almost annually. Between 2000 and 2009, in fact, the Big 12 pushed a team into the national title game seven times.

But since Vince Young led Texas to that thrilling Rose Bowl win over USC nine years ago, the league has gone without a national title. And since Colt McCoy quarterbacked the Longhorns to the BCS national championship game five years ago, the Big 12 has not played in one.

[+] EnlargeStrong
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsCharlie strong is hoping to return Texas, the last Big 12 school to play for and win the national title, to its former national standing.
The title drought can be attributed, in part, to bad luck. But it can also be attributed to Oklahoma slipping a bit and Texas slipping a bunch over the past few years.

After hitting grand slams with Young and McCoy, Texas whiffed in its quarterback recruiting, and has failed to reach double-digit victories since 2009 as a result.

After winning six Big 12 titles early in the Bob Stoops era with dominating defense, the Sooners softened on that side of the ball and consequently have won only one outright conference title since 2008.

But there are signs the league could finally be breaking out of its recent malaise. None bigger than Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl smashing of Alabama behind a resurgent defense under coordinator Mike Stoops and the emergence of quarterback Trevor Knight, who torched the Crimson Tide in just his fifth career start.

Texas also took steps to revive its program by bringing in Charlie Strong, who already has installed a no-nonsense approach his first year in Austin.

But unlike the early 2000s, the conference flagships won't have to carry the Big 12 banner alone in the playoff era.

Oklahoma State has won 59 games over the past six years. Kansas State was ranked No. 1 in the polls at one point late in 2012. And Baylor ascended under coach Art Briles, who last season delivered the program its first Big 12 title.

"Name me two leagues that are better," said Briles. "You might could name one. But on a week in, week out basis, name me two. I ain't got them."

The Big 12's mettle, however, will be put to the test in the playoff era. With five major conferences and only four playoff spots, at least one league will be left out every year.

But the Big 12 believes its unique, nine-game, round-robin league schedule -- the same format that doomed the conference during the BCS -- will be a strength in the eyes of the playoff selection committee.

"I think we're in great position," said Bob Stoops. "When you play nine conference games, it's challenging. The more you play, the more you knock each other out. That's what happens generally. That's why it's difficult playing nine conference games. No matter what, it's easier to play eight conference games."

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports"If those other (conferences) round-robined it, there'd be a bunch more bruises on some bodies," Art Briles said. "I can tell you that right now."
The Cowboys were ranked second in the BCS standings in 2011 before losing on the road in double overtime at Iowa State in its fifth conference road game.

Kansas State was also undefeated two years ago heading into its fifth Big 12 road game, but ran out of steam at Baylor. Those same Bears went on to win 13 straight, but fell at Oklahoma State last November.

"If those other [conferences] round-robined it, there'd be a bunch more bruises on some bodies," Briles said. "I can tell you that right now."

Even though Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor each won 11 regular-season games in those seasons, none wound up playing for the national championship. All three Big 12 champs, however, might have been strong contenders for a playoff spot.

"I think people across the country have a lot of respect for our league," said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. "I think they're aware that teams that come out of this league at the top ... not only can compete, but they can win."

The Big 12 sent such a message during the last bowl season.

Baylor lost to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. But on top of the Sooners defeating Alabama, Kansas State destroyed Michigan while Texas Tech manhandled Arizona State.

Fresh off its banner bowl season, the Big 12 will have several more opportunities to send a message this nonconference season.

Oklahoma State will take on defending national champ Florida State in the opener. That same day, West Virginia will play Alabama.

Later in September, Kansas State will get reigning SEC champion Auburn in Manhattan. Texas will meet seventh-ranked UCLA. Oklahoma will face Tennessee. And Texas Tech will host Arkansas.

"Those games are big," said Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters. "To be able to play those teams and beat them would really solidify the Big 12.

"We're a great conference. We just need to get over the hump."
Sterling Shepard could have something big in store for 2014.

The Oklahoma receiver’s collegiate career was in its infancy when he put the Big 12 on notice by leaping over Kansas State’s Nigel Malone during a post-catch run in his third game wearing crimson and cream in 2012. One year later, as a sophomore, Shepard was streaking through Notre Dame’s secondary for a 54-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown to seal the Sooners' win over the Irish.

 With his junior season just weeks away, Shepard is hoping to have an even bigger impact on the Sooners this fall.

“Each year I want to make a step up,” Shepard said. “I know I have to step up this year and be a leader. I look to get better every year, I’ve been watching a lot of film, trying to perfect the little things.”

Shepard's ability to change games is unquestioned. His emergence as a true freshman in 2012 essentially transformed OU’s offense into a four-receiver attack as the Sooners looked to find room for the talented youngster. As a sophomore, he became a staple of OU’s offense, pairing with future NFL draft pick Jalen Saunders to give the Sooners a solid receiving duo.

“I had some good games, but I’m always looking for the thing to do better,” Shepard said. “I'm always trying to perfect something, there’s always something going wrong in a game. I look back, and I want things to be perfect.”

Shepard enters his junior season with 96 career receptions for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns. But his next step is to handle the responsibility of being No. 1 receiver in the Sooners’ passing attack. It’s a role the junior looks toward receivers’ coach Jay Norvell to help him navigate.

“Coach Jay has been with the best, coached the best, he knows what it takes to be the No. 1 guy,” Shepard said. “He’s talked to every guy who has been through here and been the No. 1 guy. He knows what it looks like. He’s been stressing to be on top of everything you do, be it on the field or off the field, everybody is looking at you.”

Kenny Stills handled that role during Shepard’s freshman season in 2012. In 2013, Saunders took over the No. 1 receiver spot. Shepard got the rare opportunity to watch and learn a pair of future NFL draftees during his first two years on campus.

“The thing about Sterling, he’s just so competitive, he’s going to take advantage of every opportunity he has,” Norvell said. “His leadership is showing through and his versatility is starting to show through now.”

Like Stills before him, Shepard has progressed from true freshman standout to versatile junior as a guy who can line up in the slot or on the outside for OU.

“He’s shown he can play in the slot, now he’s showing he can run routes,” Norvell said. “Being able to play in the slot and on the outside and be a quality route runner is where he is completing his game.”

And the burden of leadership has comfortably landed on Shepard’s shoulders.

“I’ve seen it since early last spring then over the summer I really saw it,” Norvell said of Shepard’s growth as a leader. “He’s been way more vocal with all of the other players and spreading his wings that way.”

What you need to know about CFB's Top 16

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
8:30
AM ET
videoHave you watched the video headlining this post? If not, check it out. Because if you weren't ready for college football already, you will be then.

But who are we kidding? Of course you're ready for college football. After seven grueling offseason months, actual games are almost here.

So with just 16 days left until Texas A&M and South Carolina kick things off on the SEC Network, @ESPNStatsInfo has compiled a few things you should know about each of the top 16 teams in ESPN's preseason Power Rankings.

Florida StateESPN Illustration
1. Florida State Seminoles

  • Florida State will almost assuredly be No. 1 when the AP preseason poll is released Sunday. FSU has been ranked preseason No. 1 five times in school history. The last time? The Seminoles won the national championship in 1999.
  • Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston threw 40 touchdown passes last season, most by any freshman in FBS history.
  • The Noles outscored their opponents by 39.5 points per game last season, the best differential for any FBS team since Houston bested opponents by 39.9 in 1989.
AlabamaESPN Illustration
2. Alabama Crimson Tide

  • Since the bowl era began in 1936, Alabama has won 10 national titles, most of any FBS team.
  • The Crimson Tide have been in the preseason top 5 each of the last five years, tying the longest streak in school history (1978-1982). Expect that record to be broken when the AP poll is released this weekend.
  • The Crimson Tide continues to dominate in recruiting, Alabama signed five of the ESPN Recruiting Nation's 15 five-star recruits in the 2014 class, most by any FBS school.
OklahomaESPN Illustration
3. Oklahoma Sooners

  • Oklahoma has gone 14 seasons without losing consecutive regular-season games.
  • Since Bob Stoops took over as head coach in 1999, OU has never gone longer than two years without winning a Big 12 championship. Baylor is the league's defending champ.
  • The Sooners have been ranked in the AP preseason top 10 in 13 of the last 14 seasons -- and are expected to be once again this season.
OregonESPN Illustration
4. Oregon Ducks

  • Oregon joins Alabama, Nebraska and LSU as the only teams to win at least nine games in each of the past five seasons.
  • Ducks' quarterback Marcus Mariota led FBS with an 89.5 Total QBR in 2013. His 88.7 career-QBR is the best of any QB since 2005
  • Mariota has thrown a touchdown in 26 consecutive games. Only Marshall’s Rakeem Cato has a longer active streak (32).
AuburnESPN Illustration
5. Auburn Tigers

  • Auburn, which finished 12-2 in 2013, has won 10-plus games in back-to-back seasons just once in school history (1988-1989).
  • If the Tigers begin the season in the AP top 5, it'll mark the first time that's happened since 2006.
  • No quarterback finished the season hotter than Nick Marshall, whose 88.3 total QBR in the final eight games was the best in FBS during that span.
Ohio StateESPN Illustration
6. Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Quarterback Braxton Miller is 11 wins away from passing Art Schlichter as the winningest quarterback in Buckeyes’ history.
  • The last eight times Ohio State has been ranked in the preseason top 6, the Buckeyes have finished the season somewhere inside the top 12.
  • OSU gained at least five yards on 55 percent of its carries last season, the highest percentage in the nation.
Michigan StateESPN Illustration
7. Michigan State Spartans

  • Last season, Michigan State’s defense allowed opponents to complete a mere 23.4 percent of their passes of 15-plus yards, best in the nation.
  • Running back Jeremy Langford has rushed for more than 100 yards in eight of his last nine games, and averaged 61 rushing yards after contact last season.
  • In the last 14 times the Spartans have been ranked in the preseason, they’ve finished the year unranked 12 times.
UCLAESPN Illustration
8. UCLA Bruins

  • In 2013, Myles Jack became the first player in Pac-12 history to win Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year.
  • Quarterback Brett Hundley completed 67.2 percent of his passes in 2013, the highest percentage of any returning quarterback in the Big 5 conferences.
  • On the flip side, Hundley has been sacked 87 times the last two seasons, 17 more than any other FBS player.
South CarolinaESPN Illustration
9. South Carolina Gamecocks

  • The Gamecocks have started and finished in the AP top 12 in each of the last three years.
  • South Carolina lost Jadeveon Clowney to the NFL, but the Gamecocks had a better defensive rating in the three years prior to Clowney than they had in three years with him.
  • South Carolina finished last season ranked fourth in the AP poll, its best ranking in school history.
StanfordESPN Illustration
10. Stanford Cardinal

  • Stanford will appear in the preseason rankings for the fourth straight year, tying the best streak in school history (1969-1972).
  • Quarterback Kevin Hogan has posted an .842 win percentage as Stanford’s starting quarterback, including a 10-1 mark against AP top-25 opponents.
  • The Cardinal has finished in the Top 11 in each of the last four seasons.
BaylorESPN Illustration
11. Baylor Bears

  • Baylor averaged 52.4 points per game last season, third-most in modern college football history.
  • In 2013, the Bears' offense scored 60 touchdowns in drives lasting less than two minutes -- nine more than any team has over the last 10 seasons.
  • Baylor hasn’t been ranked in the AP preseason poll since 1986. That will change come Sunday.
GeorgiaESPN Illustration
12. Georgia Bulldogs

  • This will be the 12th straight year Georgia is ranked in the AP preseason poll (2002 was the last time the Bulldogs were unranked heading into the season).
  • Todd Gurley set a UGA freshman running back record with 17 rushing touchdowns in 2012 and followed it up with 10 more touchdowns in 2013.
  • Georgia was one of six teams last season to pass for at least 4,000 yards and rush for at least 2,000. Those six teams averaged 10.5 wins. UGA won eight.
LSUESPN Illustration
13. LSU Tigers

  • LSU has had 18 players drafted by the NFL in the last two seasons, including a nation-high nine in 2014.
  • The Tigers have been ranked in the AP preseason poll in each of the last 12 years and are a virtual lock for No. 13.
  • LSU signed running back Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2014 ESPN 300.
USCESPN Illustration
14. USC Trojans

  • USC won four BCS bowls with Steve Sarkisian as an assistant coach. He returns this year as head coach.
  • In 2013, USC’s quarterbacks threw six interceptions in the first five games but finished the year strong, only throwing three picks in the last nine games.
  • The Trojans return Nelson Agholor, who is the nation’s second-leading punt returner and contributed 56 catches and 1,444 all-purpose yards last season.
Notre DameESPN Illustration
15. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

  • Notre Dame welcomes back quarterback Everett Golson, who has been gone for 19 months, but owns a perfect 11-0 regular season record with the Fighting Irish.
  • The Irish have 21 wins in the past two seasons, the most in back-to-back seasons since 1992-93 under Lou Holtz
  • Six of the last nine times Notre Dame has been ranked in the preseason, it has finished the season unranked.
ClemsonESPN Illustration
16. Clemson Tigers

  • Quarterback Cole Stoudt replaces Tajh Boyd, who won 32 games for the Tigers, tying him as the winningest quarterback in school history.
  • Clemson returns all four of its starting defensive linemen, who combined to record 28 sacks in 2013, fifth-most among Power Five conference teams.
  • In each of the last two years, Clemson has begun and finished the season ranked. Prior to 2012, the Tigers hadn’t been ranked to start the year since 2000.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Preseason

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
10:00
AM ET

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