NCF Nation: Texas Tech Red Raiders

Early Offer: Sumlin's message for Lodge 

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin sent a not-so-subtle message to former commit DaMarkus Lodge at his Tuesday news conference. Plus, Mississippi State captured a monumental victory over LSU this past weekend, but the Bulldogs are also winning on the recruiting trail.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
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UMass at Vanderbilt, FSN
When these teams met last season in Foxborough, Massachusetts, it was a competitive game before a Vandy team that would win nine games locked down a 24-7 victory. UMass gave Colorado a scare before falling 41-38 last weekend, so reeling Vandy had better come to play or it might be on upset alert.

Central Florida at No. 20 Missouri, SEC Network
When last we saw UCF, the Knights were suffering a heartbreaking 26-24 loss to Penn State in their season-opening matchup in Ireland. Mizzou is a 10-point favorite over the Knights, who won the Fiesta Bowl last season before stars Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson jumped to the NFL, but the opener made it clear that UCF can still compete with Power 5 opposition.

3:30 p.m. ET

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Georgia
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley and No. 6 Georgia are looking for a second consecutive win over No. 24 South Carolina.
No. 6 Georgia at No. 24 South Carolina, CBS
Georgia's visits to South Carolina are almost always must-see TV, although these trips are rarely much fun for Mark Richt's Bulldogs. Even when Georgia has won in Columbia -- and it has lost its past two trips to Williams-Brice Stadium -- the outcome has frequently been in doubt even in the final seconds. Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley should get plenty of work for Georgia in this one.

Arkansas at Texas Tech, ABC
Here's a fun clash of cultures for a national TV audience, which will see Bret Bielema's ground-and-pound face Kliff Kingsbury's passing attack. Texas Tech has a couple of nail-biter nonconference wins on its resume, while Arkansas is coming off a 73-7 drubbing of Nicholls State. The home team is a narrow favorite here, but this could be a good one.

4 p.m. ET

Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 14 Ole Miss, SEC Network
This looked like a sneaky good game before the season, with ULL coming off three consecutive bowl appearances. But the Ragin' Cajuns absorbed a 48-20 beating from Louisiana Tech last week and Ole Miss dominated Vanderbilt in Nashville, so it doesn't look like an upset is in the cards for this one.

Mississippi State at South Alabama, ESPNEWS
This will be the first time an SEC opponent has played at South Alabama and excitement is high in Mobile -- particularly after the Jaguars opened the season with a win and Mississippi State struggled to put away UAB for a while last Saturday. Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott and company need to turn in a complete performance with a trip to LSU ahead next week.

6 p.m. ET

Southern Mississippi at No. 3 Alabama, ESPN2
Alabama gets another opportunity to kick around an overmatched nonconference opponent, just as it did last week against Florida Atlantic. The good news for the Crimson Tide, a 48-point favorite, is that most of the starters should be watching from the sideline in the second half, resting up for a visit from Florida next Saturday.

7 p.m. ET

Louisiana-Monroe at No. 10 LSU, ESPNU
Les Miles is a perfect 11-0 against in-state opponents and most of those games have been blowouts, so there is little reason to believe this will be a close contest. That said, the Tigers' secondary should face a reasonable challenge from the Warhawks' no-huddle spread attack.

7:30 p.m. ET

Kentucky at Florida, ESPN
Wildcats running back Jojo Kemp (a native Floridian) poked the bear this week when he made comments about how good it would feel to beat a couple of his former high school teammates -- and current Gators -- and rub it in their faces. Kentucky looks to be a greatly improved team, but it will be a major upset if this game is still close in the fourth quarter, and Kemp's comments probably didn't help the Wildcats' cause.

8 p.m. ET

Tennessee at No. 4 Oklahoma, ABC
As with Kentucky, this is a major measuring-stick game for an improving Tennessee team -- going on the road to face an opponent that virtually nobody expects the Volunteers to challenge. Butch Jones' Vols have been impressive so far, but their inexperience along the line of scrimmage will be their undoing in this one.

9 p.m. ET

Rice at No. 7 Texas A&M, ESPN2
For the second straight Saturday, the Aggies can help SEC viewers get to sleep by drubbing an in-state opponent in a late-night matchup. Rice, a 31-point underdog, might put up more of a fight than Lamar did in losing 73-3 to Texas A&M a week ago, but it won't be much more of one. Kenny Hill and the Aggies win big again.
Troy AikmanUSA TODAY SportsTroy Aikman played under Barry Switzer in Oklahoma before enrolling at UCLA.
Have you logged on Twitter today? Turned on the TV? Went to the grocery store or picked up your child from the babysitter? Then chances are you know the King has returned.

LeBron James is going back to Cleveland.



That has us at CFB Nation thinking: Which college football players originally left home only to transfer back to put together a successful career? So we racked our brains and came up with a handful of the most successful transfers from the last 25 years of college football. The condition, obviously, is the transfer had to be made back to a school in their native state or at least within 100 miles, give or take a few.

If LeBron ever asks, they can all attest that there truly is no place like (playing at) home.

QB Troy Aikman, UCLA (by way of Oklahoma)

The California native left the Golden State and played his high school football in Oklahoma before enrolling with nearby perennial power Oklahoma, led by legendary coach Barry Switzer. Aikman was promised the Sooners' offense would be more passer-friendly, but when Aikman broke an ankle Switzer went back to the wishbone offense. The Sooners went on to win the national championship under the direction of a freshman quarterback, essentially closing the door on Aikman's Oklahoma career. The Covina, California, product returned to the state and enrolled at UCLA. In his first season with the Bruins, Aikman was awarded with the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year. He led UCLA to consecutive 10-win seasons and finished third in the Heisman balloting in 1988. He was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1989 draft and is a three-time Super Bowl champion.

 Joe FlaccoMarvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsJoe Flacco transferred to Delaware to play near his hometown in southern New Jersey.
QB Joe Flacco, Delaware (by way of Pittsburgh)

Technically Flacco did not return to his home state of New Jersey. However, Delaware's campus is less than an hour from Flacco's South Jersey home, making it a closer option than in-state Rutgers, the only FBS program in the state. Flacco played sparingly his first two seasons at Pitt before transferring to FCS powerhouse Delaware. He took the Blue Hens to the FCS national championship and his name is littered throughout the school's record book. He was taken in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft and has a Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP award in his trophy room.

QB Scott Frost, Nebraska (by way of Stanford)

Rarely does an elite prep player from Nebraska leave the state, especially during the Cornhuskers' glory years under Tom Osborne. That's what Frost did, though, spending two seasons at Stanford before returning to the nation's heartland. In his first season, he was named the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year. As a senior, he led Nebraska to an undefeated record and a share of the national championship. He was the first quarterback in school history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in the same season.

QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (by way of Michigan)

The second-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2007, Mallett signed with then-Michigan coach Lloyd Carr as the heir apparent to senior Chad Henne. However, spread-option coach Rich Rodriguez replaced Carr at season's end, prompting the traditional pocket passer Mallett to transfer. The Batesville, Arkansas, native moved home to play for the Razorbacks and Bobby Petrino, and he had two exceptional seasons. A two-time All-SEC second-team selection, Mallett threw for more than 3,600 yards in both of his seasons in Fayetteville and led the Razorbacks to the Sugar Bowl in 2010. He finished seventh in Heisman voting that season.

WR Randy Moss, Marshall (by way of Notre Dame and Florida State)

Transferring was not entirely up to Moss, whose own transgressions cost him the opportunity to play at his dream school, Notre Dame, and under coach Bobby Bowden, who told Sports Illustrated in 1997 Moss was just as gifted as Deion Sanders. Notre Dame denied his enrollment for his role in a fight, and Florida State removed him from the football team after he tested positive for marijuana, violating his probation. Moss transferred to Marshall, which at the time was a Division I-AA school, allowing him to play immediately. In two seasons, he accumulated 174 receptions, 3,529 yards and 55 total touchdowns. He was taken in the first round of the 1998 NFL draft and is considered one of the greatest receivers in league history.

Cameron NewtonChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesGeorgia native Cam Newton won a Heisman Trophy after transferring to Auburn.
QB Cam Newton, Auburn (by way of Florida and Blinn College)

Much like Moss, Newton's transfer issues were self-inflicted. Urban Meyer removed Newton from the Gators' roster following charges of felony burglary, larceny and obstructing justice stemming from an incident in which he stole another student's laptop. He enrolled at Blinn College (Texas) and led the program to the junior college national championship. The following season, Newton was the starting quarterback at Auburn and won a second consecutive personal national title, leading the Tigers to an undefeated season and BCS trophy. He won the Heisman Trophy in the weeks leading up to the BCS national championship. He declared for the NFL draft in the days following the national title and went No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers. He was the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year and is a two-time Pro Bowler.

Honorable mention: Urban Meyer, Ohio State (by way of Bowling Green, Utah and Florida)

So he isn't a player and technically never transferred, but it certainly has a transfer feel to it. He left Florida after the 2010 season, sat out 2011 and then was named Ohio State's coach before the 2012 campaign. An Ohio native, Meyer's first college coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Ohio State. Even as the coach at other programs, he always spoke fondly of former coaches Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce, who hired Meyer away from a Cincinnati high school.

 

This week ESPN.com spent time looking at the future of college football, so here are a few players returning home -- not all are eligible in 2014 -- who could be the next impact transfers.

QB Jacob Coker, Alabama (by way of Florida State)

Coker is immediately eligible and is the favorite to be the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback for the opener. He left Florida State after the 2013 season after losing out on the job to Jameis Winston.

QB Brandon Connette, Fresno State (by way of Duke)

The change-of-pace and red zone quarterback for the Blue Devils' run to the ACC championship, Connette left for Fresno State to be closer to his ailing mother.

QB Tyler Murphy, Boston College (by way of Florida)

Murphy is from Connecticut, but there aren't many FBS programs up in New England, and Boston is only 100 miles from Murphy's hometown. The BC coaches believe Murphy is a better player than he showed at Florida and can help Steve Addazio take the program to the next level.

LB Mike Mitchell, Texas Tech (by way of Ohio State)

A blue-chip prospect in the 2013 class, Ohio State was considered the long-time favorite for the athletic product. He signed with the Buckeyes but only lasted one season before transferring to Texas Tech, which was not a finalist during Mitchell's recruitment.

DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA (by way of Notre Dame)

This situation got a little ugly last summer. Vanderdoes was the center of a signing day controversy as Notre Dame listed him on their list of signees before Vanderdoes publicly committed at his announcement later in the day. Before ever playing a down for Notre Dame, Vanderdoes decided he wanted to enroll at UCLA, but Notre Dame would not grant him a release. He petitioned the NCAA and was able to play at UCLA this past fall.

Position U: Wide receivers

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
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Who really deserves to claim the title of "Wide Receiver U" for the 2000s?


1. USC (134 points)


USC has been amazingly successful at producing pro wide receivers, as a whopping 11 former Trojans have been selected in the NFL draft since 2001. Mike Williams, a 2003 All-American, is the only first-round pick in the bunch, but look over the list: Dwayne Jarrett, Robert Woods, 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner and All-American Marqise Lee. Some supreme pass-catching talent has come through L.A. since the turn of the century.

Award winners: Marqise Lee, Biletnikoff (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Mike Williams (2003), Dwayne Jarrett (2005, 2006), Robert Woods (2011), Marqise Lee (2012).
First-team all-conference: Mike Williams (2003), Dwayne Jarrett (2005, 2006), Steve Smith (2006), Damian Williams (2009), Robert Woods (2011), Marqise Lee (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Mike Williams (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Keary Colbert (Round 2, 2004), Steve Smith (Round 2, 2007), Dwayne Jarrett (Round 2, 2007), Patrick Turner (Round 3, 2009), Damian Williams (Round 3, 2010), Robert Woods (Round 2, 2013), Marqise Lee (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Kareem Kelly (Round 6, 2003), Ronald Johnson (Round 6, 2011), David Ausberry (Round 7, 2011),


2. LSU (124 points)


LSU hasn't accumulated as many All-America receivers as USC, but you won’t find a school that has done a better job of turning out pro wideouts. The Tigers have sent 14 receivers to the NFL through the draft since 2000, including four first-round picks (Michael Clayton, Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and new New York Giants WR Odell Beckham). LSU’s national reputation is largely that of a defense-first program -- for good reason -- but the Tigers quietly have turned out a lot of NFL-caliber wideouts.

Award winners: Josh Reed, Biletnikoff (2001); Odell Beckham, Hornung (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Josh Reed (2001).
First-team all-conference: Josh Reed (2000, 2001), Michael Clayton (2003), Dwayne Bowe (2006), Rueben Randle (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Michael Clayton (2004), Dwayne Bowe (2007), Craig Davis (2007), Odell Beckham (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Josh Reed (Round 2, 2002), Devery Henderson (Round 2, 2004), Skyler Green (Round 4, 2006), Early Doucet (Round 3, 2008), Brandon LaFell (Round 3, 2010), Rueben Randle (Round 2, 2012), Jarvis Landry (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Bennie Brazell (Round 7, 2006), Demetrius Byrd (Round 7, 2009), James Wright (Round 7, 2014).


3. Pittsburgh (120 points)


The level of competition for Pittsburgh increased when it joined the ACC, so it will be interesting to see whether the Panthers keep churning out all-conference receivers the way they did in the Big East. That will be a tall order. But guys such as early-2000s stars Larry Fitzgerald and Antonio Bryant would have been All-Americans no matter where they played.

Award winners: Antonio Bryant, Biletnikoff (2000); Larry Fitzgerald, Walter Camp (2003), Biletnikoff (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Antonio Bryant (2000), Larry Fitzgerald (2003).
First-team all-conference: Antonio Bryant (2000, 2001), Larry Fitzgerald (2002, 2003), Greg Lee (2005), Derek Kinder (2006), Jonathan Baldwin (2009, 2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Larry Fitzgerald (2004), Jonathan Baldwin (2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Antonio Bryant (Round 2, 2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Derek Kinder (Round 7, 2009), Dorin Dickerson (Round 7, 2010), Devin Street, Round 5, 2014).


4. Oklahoma State (112 points)


Off-the-field issues have marred the NFL careers -- and in some cases, the college careers –- of some of Oklahoma State’s most renowned wideouts. But one thing that absolutely isn’t in question is their ability. The Cowboys have featured some of the most ridiculously talented receivers in college football in the last 14 seasons, most notably Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon.

Award winners: Justin Blackmon, Biletnikoff (2010, 2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Rashaun Woods (2002), Dez Bryant (2008), Justin Blackmon (2010, 2011).
First-team all-conference: Rashaun Woods (2002, 2003), Adarius Bowman (2006), Dez Bryant (2008), Justin Blackmon (2011, 2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Rashaun Woods (2004), Dez Bryant (2010), Justin Blackmon (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


5. Michigan (96 points)


There was a time when Michigan would have ranked higher on this list -– maybe even at No. 1 -– but the Wolverines haven’t produced great wideouts in recent seasons the way they did in the early 2000s. David Terrell and Braylon Edwards dominated Big Ten games back in the day, but Michigan hasn’t had a first-team all-conference wideout since Mario Manningham went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.

Award winners: Braylon Edwards, Biletnikoff (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Braylon Edwards (2004).
First-team all-conference: David Terrell (2000), Marquise Walker (2001), Braylon Edwards (2003, 2004), Jason Avant (2005), Mario Manningham (2006, 2007).
NFL first-round draft picks: David Terrell (2001), Braylon Edwards (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Marquise Walker (Round 3, 2002), Jason Avant (Round 4, 2006), Mario Manningham (Round 3, 2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Steve Breaston (Round 5, 2007), Adrian Arrington (Round 7, 2008), Junior Hemingway (Round 7, 2012), Jeremy Gallon (Round 7, 2014).


6. Oregon State (92 points)


This one might surprise folks outside of Pac-12 country, but look down the list. A couple of Biletnikoff Award winners -– including 2014 NFL first-round pick Brandin Cooks, who posted video game numbers (128 catches, 1,730 yards, 16 TDs) last season. And don’t forget their team at the turn of the century that featured future NFL teammates Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh at wideout. That duo had to create a matchup problem or two for college defensive coordinators.

Award winners: Mike Hass, Biletnikoff (2005); Brandin Cooks, Biletnikoff (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Brandin Cooks (2013).
First-team all-conference: James Newson (2003), Mike Hass (2004, 2005), Sammie Stroughter (2008), James Rodgers (2009), Markus Wheaton (2012), Brandin Cooks (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Brandin Cooks (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Chad Johnson (Round 2, 2001), Markus Wheaton (Round 3, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Round 7, 2001), Mike Hass (Round 6, 2006), Sammie Stroughter (Round 7, 2009).


T-7. Clemson (82 points)


It’s not unusual for Clemson to have dynamic offensive talent, but a recent surge at wideout helped the Tigers jump to this spot. Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins ensured that Clemson had a receiver represented on the All-ACC first team in each of the past three seasons, and both players went on to become first-round draft picks.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Airese Currie (2004), Chansi Stuckey (2005, 2006), Aaron Kelly (2007), Sammy Watkins (2011, 2013), DeAndre Hopkins (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Rod Gardner (2001), DeAndre Hopkins (2013), Sammy Watkins (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Derrick Hamilton (Round 3, 2004), Jacoby Ford (Round 4, 2010), Martavis Bryant (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Airese Curry (Round 5, 2005), Chansi Stuckey (Round 7, 2007).


T-7. Oklahoma (82 points)


Rarely spectacular but always highly productive, Oklahoma has built a solid tradition at receiver under Bob Stoops. Check out the list of 11 wideouts who have been drafted since 2001 -– just one first-round pick (Mark Clayton in 2005), but a big group went in the early rounds because the Sooners keep signing players like Ryan Broyles and Mark Bradley, who develop into dangerous pass-catchers in the Oklahoma offense.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Ryan Broyles (2010, 2011).
First-team all-conference: Mark Clayton (2003, 2004), Ryan Broyles (2010, 2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Mark Clayton (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Brandon Jones (Round 3, 2005), Mark Bradley (Round 2, 2005), Travis Wilson (Round 3, 2006), Malcolm Kelly (Round 2, 2008), Juaquin Iglesias (Round 3, 2009), Ryan Broyles (Round 2, 2012), Jalen Saunders (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Manuel Johnson (Round 7, 2009), Kenny Stills (Round 5, 2013), Justin Brown (Round 6, 2013).


9. Texas Tech (80 points)


There was a time when the Mike Leach-led Texas Tech passing game ranked among the most exciting in the game. Michael Crabtree was the centerpiece of that attack, winning a pair of Biletnikoff Awards before becoming a first-round pick. Perhaps Kliff Kingsbury will revive some of the excitement from the old days under his mentor, but the Red Raiders haven’t had an all-conference receiver since Crabtree in 2008.

Award winners: Michael Crabtree, Biletnikoff (2007, 2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Michael Crabtree (2007, 2008).
First-team all-conference: Jarrett Hicks (2005), Joel Filani (2005, 2006), Michael Crabtree (2007, 2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Michael Crabtree (2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Carlos Francis (Round 4, 2004).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Joel Filani (Round 6, 2007).


10. Ohio State (76 points)


Four first-round draft picks -– Michael Jenkins, Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez –- and a total of 11 drafted receivers helped Ohio State crack the top 10 despite not having any national award winners or All-Americans. As one of the most successful college programs of the 2000s, the Buckeyes are a fixture in these positional rankings, so it’s no surprise they made the top 10 here.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Santonio Holmes (2005), Ted Ginn Jr. (2006), Anthony Gonzalez (2006), Dane Sanzenbacher (2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Michael Jenkins (2004), Santonio Holmes (2006), Ted Ginn Jr. (2007), Anthony Gonzalez (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Brian Robiskie (Round 2, 2009), Brian Hartline (Round 4, 2009), DeVier Posey (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ken-Yon Rambo (Round 7, 2001), Reggie Germany (Round 7, 2001), Drew Carter (Round 5, 2004), Roy Hall (Round 5, 2007)

Rest of "Wide Receiver U" rankings
72 – Louisville; 70 – Georgia Tech; 66 – Florida, Florida State; 64 – Miami; 60 – Texas A&M; 56 – Georgia; 54 – Texas; 52 – West Virginia; 50 – Michigan State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin; 48 – Baylor; 46 – Kansas State; 44 – Penn State, South Carolina, Tennessee; 40 – Purdue; 38 – Missouri, Rutgers; 36 – California; 34 – Arizona, Indiana, N.C. State, UCLA; 32 – Vanderbilt, Washington; 30 – Illinois, Oregon; 28 – Arizona State, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia Tech; 26 – Minnesota, Utah, Wake Forest; 24 – BYU, TCU; 22 – Alabama, Washington State; 20 – Maryland, Ole Miss; 18 – Colorado, Duke, Iowa, Virginia; 14 – Kentucky, Syracuse; 12 – Auburn, Kansas; 10 – Northwestern; 8 – Stanford; 6 – Iowa State, Nebraska; 0 – Boston College, Mississippi State
Florida has Florida State. Georgia has Georgia Tech. Kentucky has Louisville. And, of course, South Carolina has Clemson.

When it comes to the new SEC scheduling format starting in 2016, those four schools are already on board. Their annual rivalry games fulfill the league’s forthcoming requirement for a yearly nonconference game against an ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 school.

But for the rest of the teams around the league, there’s a void.

Sure, they can go year to year and rotate in nonconference opponents. But where’s the fun in that? Let’s create some new rivalries, and in the case of some programs, reignite old ones.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops and Nick Saban
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertThe spectacular salaries of college football coaches such as Bob Stoops, left, and Nick Saban are generated mostly by the labor of unpaid workers.
Alabama-Oklahoma: If FSU wasn’t already taken, the Noles would have been a perfect fit. The physical and philosophical proximity between programs is obvious. But looking elsewhere, Oklahoma might be a fun matchup. The Sugar Bowl has already created tons of tension on both sides with Sooners coaches delighting in calling out Nick Saban and the SEC.

Arkansas-Baylor: Call it a throwback to the old Southwest Conference. Arkansas, which didn’t join the SEC until 1992, has played more games against Baylor (69) than any school in its current conference. On top of that, the differences between Bret Bielema’s physical style and Art Briles’ free-flowing offensive scheme would be a joy to watch.

Auburn-Oregon: Recent history and playing styles dictates this matchup. Not only do we get a rematch of the 2010 BCS National Championship Game, but it pits offenses that live to go fast. Maybe it could be a two-hand touch game in which whoever reaches 100 points first wins.

LSU-Notre Dame: We couldn’t make a list of nonconference matchups and leave Notre Dame off, could we? Pitting the Golden Domers against an SEC program would be appointment viewing. Make that program LSU and the opposing coach Les Miles, and television networks will scratch each other's eyes out to get the game.

Mississippi State-Texas Tech: The Bulldogs have shied away from high profile nonconference games in the past, loading up on the likes of Memphis, UAB and South Alabama. Well, it’s time to infuse a little spice into the schedule. Kliff Kingsbury is too cool to keep out of the SEC. His Red Raiders would be a good matchup with Mississippi State, which faced Texas Tech seven times from 1953-70.

Missouri-Kansas: Does this one really need to be explained? The Border War should have never gone away in the first place. Now is the perfect opportunity to save face and bring back a rivalry that goes all the way back to 1891.

Ole Miss-Miami: We’ve got to get ‘The U’ involved. Miami and Ole Miss have already played a few times in their history, with the Rebs holding a 2-1 series lead. But bigger than that, it would get the SEC back into South Florida on a permanent basis because Miami and Florida don’t have the common sense to do that already.

Tennessee-North Carolina: Even if most people don’t remember it, there’s history there. Tennessee and UNC have played 29 times, with the Vols holding a 20-8-1 advantage. Plus, even if your memory is short, you should recall the double overtime Music City Bowl from 2010 between the schools. If they can re-create that just once, it would make the rivalry worth it.

Texas A&M-Texas: See Missouri-Kansas. Don’t let conference affiliations ruin great rivalries. Texas A&M-Texas should have never been shelved in the first place. And while the UT administration might not see a reason to bring it back -- nor Texas A&M's leadership, for that matter -- surely both fan bases do.

Vanderbilt-Duke:Call it a private school showdown. The proximity is reasonable, the fan bases similar, and the rivalry could easily extend to the hard court. Plus, have you seen Derek Mason’s nonconference schedule this year? It needs help.

If the NCAA Football Rules Committee gets its way, college football teams no longer will be penalized 15 yards if one of its players really didn’t target an opposing player.

But teams could actually be penalized for delay of game for – get this – playing too fast.

A few coaches of teams that utilize no-huddle, hurry-up offenses – which are becoming more and more common at the FBS level – immediately blasted the proposed substitution rules change, saying its only intention is to slow them down.

“It’s a joke. It’s ridiculous,” said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez. “And what’s most ridiculous is did you see what the penalty is going to be called? Delay of game! How is that a delay of game? That’s the ultimate rules committee decision. Make the game slower and call it delay of game.”

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
AP Photo/John MillerArizona coach Rich Rodriguez calls a proposal to penalize quick snaps with a delay-of-game penalty "ridiculous."
The NCAA committee recommended a rules change that will allow defensive units to substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock, excluding the final two minutes of each half. So in effect, offenses won’t be allowed to snap the ball until the play clock reaches 29 seconds or less. If the offense snaps the ball before then, it would be penalized five yards for delay of game. Under current rules, defenses aren’t guaranteed an opportunity to substitute unless the offense subs first.

“First off, [I] doubt it will pass,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “Second, it’s ridiculous. All this tinkering is ridiculous. I think it deteriorates the game. It’s always been a game of creativity and strategy. So anytime someone doesn’t want to go back to the drawing board or re-work their solutions to problems, then what they do is to beg for a rule. I think it’s disgusting.”

The rules changes proposed by the NCAA Football Rules Committee will be submitted to the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel for discussion on March 6.

In an NCAA statement, the NCAA Football Rules Committee said “research indicated that teams with fast-paced, no-huddle offenses rarely snap the ball with 30 seconds or more on the play clock.” The NCAA statement also said the proposed rules change also “aligns with a request from the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports that sport rules committees review substitution rules in regards to player safety.” In the NCAA’s non-rules change years, proposals can only be made for safety reasons or for modifications that enhance the intent of a previous rule change, according to the NCAA statement.

Leach and Rodriguez aren’t buying that slowing down hurry-up offenses would make players safer.

“Where’s all the data that proves this is a player safety issue? I don’t buy it,” Rodriguez said. “What about making it so you can’t blitz seven guys? That’s a dangerous thing for a quarterback.”

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, whose team also runs an uptempo offense, wants to know if there is actual proof that uptempo offenses cause more injuries to players.

"Is there documented medical evidence that supports this rule change that tempo offenses are putting players at a higher degree of risk than others? If there is then show it to us," Freeze told ESPN.com Wednesday night. "Where is it? They're going to have to show us some evidence. If there's not any evidence, then they should table it.

"You can do it the last two minutes of the game. Isn't that when you should be most fatigued?"

Added Leach: “That’s really insulting that they are hiding behind player safety just because somebody wants an advantage. That’s crazy.”

This past season, fast-paced, no-huddle offenses continued to operate faster and faster in college football. Baylor, which led FBS teams in scoring (52.4 points) and total offense (618.8 yards), averaged 82.6 offensive plays in 13 games. Texas Tech averaged a whopping 87.3 offensive plays under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, and Fresno State averaged 83.6 offensive plays.

But some coaches, including Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, have criticized hurry-up offenses, arguing that they give offenses an unfair advantage and don’t allow them to adequately substitute defensive players.

It's always been a game of creativity and strategy. So anytime someone doesn't want to go back to the drawing board or re-work their solutions to problems, then what they do is to beg for a rule. I think it's disgusting.

-- Washington State coach Mike Leach
“All you’re trying to do is get lined up [on defense],” Saban told ESPN.com in September. “You can’t play specialty third-down stuff. You can’t hardly scheme anything. The most important thing is to get the call so the guys can get lined up, and it’s got to be a simple call. The offense kind of knows what you’re doing."

But Leach contends it’s unfair to handcuff offenses because defenses can’t keep up with the pace.

“My suggestion is rather than spending a bunch of time coming up with a bunch of really stupid rules, spend that time coaching harder,” Leach said. “Worry about your own team and try to make your product better rather than trying to change the game so you don’t have to do anything.”

Freeze also believes that allowing defenses to rotate players in and out more frequently under this rule will put offensive linemen who are a part of uptempo offenses at more risk for injury because they will potentially face fresher defensive linemen every few snaps.

"If anything, you may be making it more dangerous for the offensive line because they're going to face 12 five-star defensive linemen from Alabama rotating every three plays," he said.

To Freeze, taking away the opportunity to snap the ball as fast as possible is taking away a major fundamental advantage that any offense can use against opposing defenses, which are allowed as much movement as possible before a play is even run.

"Since the start of football, defenses can line up wherever they want to," Freeze said. "They can move around as much as they want to before the snap. … They can do whatever they want to do, that's fine. I coach defense, too, that's great. The one thing that has always been offenses' deal is snapping the ball. That's the only thing we have."

The proposed change to the sport’s new targeting rules seems like a no-brainer after a slew of controversial decisions during the 2013 season. Under current NCAA rules, which went into effect this past season, players penalized for targeting opposing players were ejected from the contest and their teams were penalized 15 yards. But officials were allowed to review the play and determine whether a targeting foul actually occurred. If officials determined the play wasn’t targeting, the player’s ejection was overturned but the 15-yard penalty was still enforced.

If the proposed rule change is approved, the ejection and the penalty won’t be enforced. However, if a defender is penalized for a personal foul in conjunction with the overturned targeting foul, such as roughing the passer, a 15-yard penalty will still be enforced.

In games in which instant replay is not in use, the committee recommended an option to permit on-field officials to review targeting calls during halftime that were made during the first half. Officials then could reverse the targeting call and allow the player to compete in the second half.

ESPN.com’s Ted Miller and Edward Aschoff contributed to this report.

ASU can't match Texas Tech's energy

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
4:26
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SAN DIEGO -- Cursed! Cursed, I tell ya!

Make it three years in a row that the loser of the Pac-12 championship game has gone on to have an uninspiring performance in the bowl season. In 2011 it was the waiver-approved UCLA Bruins who fell to Oregon in the title game and then dropped a 20-14 contest to Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Last year, it was the Bruins again who lost to Stanford in the title game and then got stomped by Baylor 49-26 in the Holiday Bowl.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsTodd Graham talks with defensive back Damarious Randall during Monday's loss to Texas Tech.
The latest Pac-12 team to catch a vicious strand of shootium self em footseeitus is the Arizona State Sun Devils who, as head coach Todd Graham said, picked the last game to play their worst game of the season. The Sun Devils watched Texas Tech jump out to a 27-13 halftime lead and were never able to gain traction in a 37-23 loss in the National University Holiday Bowl.

Whether a title game hangover actually does exist is probably more fodder than fact. But Graham wasn’t interested in excuses. Rather, he and his coaching staff shouldered the brunt of the blame.

“It’s not the players’ fault, that’s why they hire coaches, to get your guys ready to play,” Graham said. “We didn’t get our guys ready to play and on the other hand the other team did … I was embarrassed for our fans that showed up today that we did such a poor job of having our guys prepared to play. I love these players, tremendous group of seniors. Guys gave us everything they had. Really proud of them. Absolutely zero excuses. We just didn’t show up as a coaching staff and didn’t have our guys prepared to play.”

Of course, there is something to be said for Texas Tech hearing all week how great a team Arizona State was and how out of hand this game might get.

“Everybody was picking them,” said Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. “They were one of the top 15 teams in the country, we knew that sentiment going in and the kids responded well. They felt it all week. It was a celebration of Arizona State … but we wanted them to know that we were here, too.”

Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb certainly made his presence felt. He threw four first-half touchdowns -- matching a Holiday Bowl record for passing touchdowns in a game -- while completing 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards. All-American tight end Jace Amaro was the recipient of eight of those passes for 112 yards. Jakeem Grant caught two of Webb's four touchdowns.

“Going out, beating a top-15 team as your last game when everyone had you losing by 20 points initially is something to be proud of,” Amaro said. “We knew we were a great team this whole year. We knew how great we could be and I think we proved it tonight on national television.”

On the flip side, ASU’s defense didn’t look good in HD, SD or in person. The Sun Devils were gutted by Webb & Co. as Texas Tech scored touchdowns on four of its first five possessions and had six plays of 20 yards or more in the first half.

Playing without injured running back Marion Grice, the Sun Devils offense got off to a sluggish start -- though it did finish with 287 yards on the ground. That was mostly because quarterback Taylor Kelly was pressured all night and had little time to throw. He was just 5-of-7 for 14 yards in the first half and the Sun Devils gained just 181 yards to Texas Tech’s 352. They settled for a pair of Zane Gonzalez field goals in the first quarter and finally got a touchdown from D.J. Foster midway through the second quarter.

“He’s one of the top scorers in the country and he’s a guy we miss,” Graham said of Grice. “D.J. was a little banged up too. … But we didn’t protect our quarterback. We took too many negative-yardage plays. We just didn’t play well and I think that had a lot to do with Texas Tech and the energy they were playing with. This game is meant to be played with great passion and you gotta bring it every single game. They brought it. They were the more passionate team today and, again, it’s a disappointment for our fans.”

Just when it seemed like ASU could grab some momentum, something catastrophic would happen. Case in point: a mismanaged final drive of the first half -- that had the Sun Devils with first-and-goal at the 1-yard line -- yielded no points. Then the Sun Devils marched the opening kickoff of the second half down for a touchdown, only to watch Reginald Davis return the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.

The first-half deficit was too much to overcome.

“The worst half of football we have played defensively all year,” Graham said. “We just didn’t have them prepared. Seven critical errors in the first half … we didn’t see anything, really, we didn’t see in practice. We didn’t come prepared to play, and that’s our job as coaches.”


SAN DIEGO -- A blitz-happy Texas Tech defense kept the Arizona State off balance all night en route to a 37-23 win in the National University Holiday Bowl. Here's how it all went down at Qualcomm Stadium:

It was over when: Holding on to a 37-23 lead with 3:35 left in the game, Justis Nelson picked off Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly in the end zone. From there, the Red Raiders were able to eat up enough clock to thwart any chance of a comeback.

Game ball goes to: For all the hub-bub about Baker Mayfield transferring out, Davis Webb was more than up to the task, matching a Holiday Bowl record with four touchdown passes. He was controlled and efficient, completing 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards.

Unsung hero: Be it a third-down conversion, a big play or simply a 5-yard gain to get a little breathing room, All-American tight end Jace Amaro came through with a huge performance. He caught eight balls for 112 yards.

Key stat: Not that it made a huge difference in the outcome, but ASU has now forced a turnover in 29 straight games, which is the second longest active streak in college football behind Missouri.

What it means for Texas Tech: It snaps a five-game losing streak and gives it a little more credibility for knocking off the Pac-12 South champs. After spending five days in San Diego, hearing about how good ASU is and while they are two-touchdown underdogs, the Red Raiders certainly looked like the more poised team. This win should provide a nice momentum boost heading into the offseason.

What it means for Arizona State: It sours what had been a pretty good season for the Sun Devils, who actually had the best overall record in the Pac-12 during the regular season. With 26 seniors departing, the Sun Devils should be solid again on offense next season, but they lose a lot of production and leadership on the defensive side of the ball.

To watch the trophy presentation of the National University Holiday Bowl, click here.

National University Holiday Bowl preview

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
12:00
PM ET
Arizona State (10-3) and Texas Tech (7-5) square off Monday night in San Diego in the National University Holiday Bowl at 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Here’s a quick preview:

What to watch: There is a good chance, a very good chance actually, that this game could turn into a track meet. The Sun Devils average 41 points per game -- 10th in the country -- and Texas Tech isn’t too shabby offensively either, averaging almost 36 points per game. Which defense is going to step up and make a play? Arizona State seems the more likely option of the two. Texas Tech gives up 31.2 points per game while the Sun Devils only give up 25.8. The Sun Devils also have a plus-14 turnover margin with 21 interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 54.7 percent of their passes against ASU.

Who to watch: The big question is who will start at quarterback for Texas Tech -- Davis Webb or Michael Brewer. This all came about after Baker Mayfield, in a strange turn of events, announced after the season that he was transferring. There's also a chance we could see both QBs. For the Sun Devils, it looks doubtful that Marion Grice will play, meaning the bulk of the running work falls on D.J. Foster. Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton is an All-American and the Pac-12’s two-time defensive player of the year. Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro is also an All-American with more than 1,200 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

Why to watch: The Holiday Bowl is traditionally one of the more exciting games of the postseason. Since its inception in 1978, 17 of the 35 games have been decided by a touchdown or less, and 20 of the games were decided in the final four minutes. This is also the last year that it will keep ties with the Big 12. Next year one of the top tier teams from the Big Ten will be paired against the Pac-12.

Prediction: Arizona State 42, Texas Tech 24.
AUSTIN, Texas -- From the first snap of Thursday's game, Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield had to know trouble was coming. The last thing a freshman quarterback wants to see is a defense he wasn't prepared for, and that’s exactly what Texas unveiled.

Mayfield had seen enough film to know who Jackson Jeffcoat was. He didn’t see any film of Jeffcoat darting around the field as a linebacker. There was no film of Jeffcoat attacking up the middle as a stand-up pass rusher.

“They just didn’t know what to do,” Jeffcoat said.

Before their 41-16 victory over Texas Tech, the Longhorns had never run what defensive coordinator Greg Robinson calls his “Spinner" package. The key chess piece in that scheme was Jeffcoat, who played a hybrid end/linebacker role and did a little bit of everything.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
AP Photo/Eric GayJackson Jeffcoat had a big night in Greg Robinson's "Spinner" package with three sacks.
“It just gives you some different options, you know,” Robinson said. “It creates a different style of defense to the offense, how they block and those kinds of things. We were fortunate most times that it helped us.”

It’s the kind of role that the son of a defensive line coach can get behind. Teammates say Jeffcoat called his new hybrid job the “Viper” position, and by all accounts, Robinson installed the scheme during Texas’ recent bye week.

In his first game at “Spinner,” Jeffcoat made a career-high three sacks and seven tackles. Not bad for a guy who was battling flu-like symptoms last week and even missed practice Tuesday.

Needless to say, Kliff Kingsbury and his staff didn’t see Jeffcoat’s new role coming. Neither did the Red Raiders’ offensive linemen.

“No, that's something they had for tonight, which is smart,” Kingsbury said. “It's just smart.”

Jeffcoat's new role is not new in a Robinson defense. He used “Spinner” as the defensive coordinator of the New York Jets, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. He used “Spinner” at Michigan and Syracuse. Robinson even broke out the scheme in 2004, while co-running Texas’ defense, including against Texas Tech.

Said Robinson in 2005, his first year as head coach at Syracuse: “At Texas last year, I really didn’t have a guy who [could be effective in it] … we used it a little bit because it was good against certain teams."

This time around at Texas, Robinson has a guy in Jeffcoat who, at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, looks the part. He played more than 60 snaps against Tech, and on no more than 16 plays did he line up as a defensive end. He rushed from his “Spinner” role on 23 plays, imitated a linebacker nearly a dozen times and dropped back into coverage a dozen more times.

“I think that’s something he thrived off of,” Texas tackle Donald Hawkins said. “Use your best player the best way you can.”

His new role was just what Texas needed. With Jeffcoat at “Spinner,” Robinson could highlight the Longhorns’ surplus of six defensive ends and compensate for having just two experienced defensive tackles. The three-man front that Jeffcoat lined up behind typically comprised of ends Cedric Reed and Reggie Wilson, with Malcom Brown at nose guard.

Texas’ defensive line produced eight sacks, 10 tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries.

“I think they came out and really confused us,” Texas Tech lineman Jared Kaster said.

Reed, who recorded two sacks, added this: “Our defensive slogan is ‘QB breakers.’ We knew that if we put pressure on the freshman quarterback, he would lose his flow sometimes.”

Mayfield was benched after throwing for 237 yards and no scores on 44 attempts. He was sacked seven times and had to tuck and run nine times, usually because of pressure.

Texas’ linebackers needed the help, too. Steve Edmond was lost for the season with a lacerated liver in the second quarter. Kendall Thompson exited with a head injury. That left Robinson with Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens, who also tried playing “Spinner” in the fourth quarter.

Will those depth issues necessitate more “Spinner” packages for Texas going forward?

“That’s just a thing we put in for this game. Who knows if we run it next week?” cornerback Carrington Byndom said. “But it is really useful.”

Byndom believes the scheme works best when going against passing offenses, and Texas expected the Red Raiders to pass 90 percent of the time. That won’t be the case against Baylor on Saturday.

Texas Tech’s running backs combined for eight carries Thursday. Baylor averages 48 rushes per game, and injured backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin have returned.

Jeffcoat was the centerpiece of Robinson’s grand plan for stopping Texas Tech. Next up is the Longhorns defense’s biggest test yet. There's no better time than now for everything Robinson has in his playbook.

“Any kind of advantage we can get, we’re trying to take it,” Byndom said.

Longhorns bounce back to set up big game

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
2:30
AM ET

AUSTIN, Texas -- There's no better cure for a 25-point loss than responding with a 25-point victory.

That's not some old Darrell Royal saying or an axiom that coaches have been known to share. It's just a fact. And just when we thought we had Texas and its troubles figured out, this team fought to live another week.

The Longhorns who won six conference games in a row showed up again, keeping their Big 12 championship hopes alive with a 41-16 victory over Texas Tech on Thanksgiving night.

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron, Tanner Jacobson
AP Photo/Eric GayJoe Bergeron, wearing No. 32 in honor of injured Johnathan Gray, had 102 yards and a touchdown.
"Proud of our team. Proud of the way they fought," Longhorns coach Mack Brown said. "A lot of guys are banged up. End of the year. At least they've given themselves an opportunity to go to Waco and play for a championship."

There was plenty of talk in the past two weeks that Oklahoma State finally exposed Texas and its various flaws, that the six Big 12 wins that came before it were somehow less meaningful or some kind of mirage.

If the meltdown against the Cowboys revealed Texas' thin margin for error, Thursday's victory reminded how good Texas can be when it achieves everything it sets out to do.

Brown wanted a slowed-paced game, not a shootout. Texas had to control the tempo. Check.

He wanted to pound Texas Tech's recently awful run defense. Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown both surpassed 100 yards. Check.

He hoped Texas' defense could force erratic play by the Red Raiders' young quarterbacks. The Longhorns netted nine sacks, including three each from Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed. Check.

"It's not a pretty brand of ball. It's not very stylish," Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said. "But it's what we had to do."

Thursday's performance was about as close to a defensive masterpiece as Texas could have hoped for. The Red Raiders' No. 1 ranked pass offense finished with 5.8 yards per attempt. They went 5-for-18 on third downs. Tech's leading rusher on the night? Punter Ryan Erxleben, who dashed 51 yards for the first score of the night. Texas' special teams gave up that score. Its defense allowed one touchdown the rest of the night.

"It was a good game. I don't know if it was better or not. I guess you guys make those decisions," defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said. "We played real well here against a good offense."

But since so many will discount the result, pointing out that Texas Tech lost five in a row after starting 7-0, let's cut to the chase: If this is Texas, if these are the real Longhorns going forward, can they do enough to beat No. 9 Baylor?

Ask Brown whether his team played up to its formula for victory against Tech and he'll rattle off the things his team didn't do. Texas turned the ball over twice. Other than placekicker Anthony Fera, a Groza Award finalist who's now 19-for-20 this season, the Longhorns are still a mess in several areas of special teams.

His players were no different. They see a need for improvement. They won't celebrate this win much this weekend. They know what they're up against next.

Preparing for Baylor will require that kind of perfectionist attention to detail. Like Texas, the Bears showed their vulnerabilities against Oklahoma State. They're not at all unbeatable. But they have the respect of their next opponent.

"We fully assume Baylor will win [against TCU] and be right there," quarterback Case McCoy said. "It'll be a game that, as a senior class, we want to go out with a chance to put numbers on these walls and have a Big 12 championship."

The Longhorns made their senior night count. They made the next game matter. They're not done yet.

"We're still in the race," Jeffcoat said. "We had to win this one. This was a must-win. And we have to win the next one."

Video: Kansas State 49, Texas Tech 26

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
3:50
PM ET

Kansas State had five rushing touchdowns en route to defeating No. 25 Texas Tech 49-26.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro was simply trying to help his team.

He ended up doing more damage than good.

Amaro’s fumble late in the second quarter was one of two Texas Tech turnovers that directly lead to Oklahoma touchdowns in the Sooners’ 38-30 win over the Red Raiders at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeJalen Saunders
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJalen Saunders scored one of his touchdowns following a takeaway by OU's defense.
“I fumbled for the first time ever in the biggest game I’ve ever played,” Amaro said. “It was a 14-point swing because they score on that 76-yard (Blake Bell to Jalen Saunders) pass on the next play and I put a lot of that on myself.”

Sooners defensive end Charles Tapper forced the fumble as Amaro was battling for extra yardage. OU also got an interception from safety Gabe Lynn at the start of the fourth quarter with OU clinging to a four-point lead. The Sooners capitalized following both plays with touchdowns by Saunders and Damien Williams respectively.

“That’s huge,” TTU coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “You cannot come into this stadium, against this team, with these coaches and those athletes, and do that. We knew coming in that we couldn’t have the turnovers but we didn’t take care of business.”

The Tech turnovers helped the Sooners overcome a creative and aggressive game plan from Kingsbury. A fake punt, a halfback pass, an onside kick, the Ninja formation, it was all on display -- and successful -- for the Red Raiders who were trying to remain unbeaten.

Yet, the Sooners consistently came up with key defensive plays when they needed them.

“We hadn’t seen that in a couple of weeks but we’ve always had faith in them,” Lynn said of the offense turning the miscues into touchdowns. “I’m proud of them, running game, passing game, we made some huge plays on offense.”

Lynn’s interception was the only time the Sooners’ defense stopped the Red Raiders from scoring in the second half before Tech’s final drive of the game. Tech opened the second half with 17 points on three drives before Lynn picked off a tipped pass and the Sooners’ offense took the field with a seven-play, 58-yard drive to take a 35-24 lead on a three-yard touchdown run by Williams.

“It was very important because they have a great offense and we know they like to hurry up and get after it,” Williams said. “Whenever they [the defense] gave us a chance to get back on the field, we knew we had to capitalize and that’s exactly what we did.”

The Sooners’ defense was far from perfect, allowing 460 yards on 79 plays (5.8 yards per play) including 388 passing yards. However, OU held Tech to 5 of 14 third down conversion attempts and forced all three of the Red Raiders’ turnovers in its own territory.

“They got stops when they had to get stops,” center Gabe Ikard said of OU’s defense. “I thought besides a fumble early we [the offense] took care of [the ball]. The ball is everything in this game, for them to get key turnovers in key spots really helped us out, gave us momentum and we capitalized on them.”

And that, ultimately, was the difference.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Texas Tech will bring the nation’s No. 10 team, an explosive offense, charismatic coach and sizable chip on its shoulder when the Red Raiders visit Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

Yet, it’s hard to imagine a better time for Oklahoma to face Texas Tech.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
AP Photo/LM OteroSomething has to give when Kliff Kingsbury leads No. 10 Texas Tech and its high-flying offense against No. 15 Oklahoma and its stout pass defense.
The Sooners’ run defense is in shambles with Texas and Kansas having exposed OU’s biggest defensive weakness in back-to-back weeks. OU allowed 255 rushing yards to UT and 185 rushing yards to KU as its defense tries to replace senior linebacker Corey Nelson. Those two teams averaged 5.13 yards per carry on first down as the Sooners had no answers for their running games.

OU’s pass defense is another story. As bad as it’s been when opponents turn to the ground during the past few weeks, the Sooners defense has been relentless and productive when teams try to throw. OU leads the nation allowing 149.71 passing yards per game and ranks second nationally in yards per pass attempt at 5.27.

“It plays right into our hands,” safety Quentin Hayes said of the Red Raiders coming to Norman. “Because we have one of the best pass defenses in the country and they’re a passing offense.”

In other words, the Sooners are lucky it’s not Kansas State, or even Baylor, set to step on the Oklahoma Memorial Stadium turf on Saturday. And yet there’s nothing easy about facing the Red Raiders offense, which leads the Big 12 and ranks No. 2 nationally with 416.43 passing yards per game but ninth in rushing offense at 131.71 rushing yards per game.

So Saturday’s matchup will be strength against strength, may the best unit win.

“Anytime you play an offense like this, that is explosive, it’s always exciting as a defensive player to try to go out and stop them,” cornerback Aaron Colvin said.

OU’s secondary has become a strength after entering the season as a potential weakness. Redshirt freshman cornerback Zack Sanchez has helped supplement Colvin at the other cornerback, while nickelback Julian Wilson and safeties Gabe Lynn and Quentin Hayes have played well. Colvin was the only returning starter who began the season at the same position he started in 2012.

Yet, as confident as the Sooners feel about their secondary, they know the Red Raiders will bring passing excellence they haven’t seen in their first six games.

“We’ve never been tested like we’re going to be on Saturday,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “We would be fools to think that.”

The past two games have exposed the weakness of OU’s new 3-3-5 defensive scheme with the Longhorns and Jayhawks using power running games to have success on the ground against the Sooners' undersized personnel. This weekend the strength of the Sooners’ three-man front comes into play as the additional speed and athleticism the scheme brings to the table will be critical as OU tries to slow the Red Raiders offense.

“There’s nothing that’s perfect for everything but this is part of the reason we wanted to be more multi-dimensional,” Stoops said. “Regardless of what you do, you have to be able to match up with their skill, their quarterbacks, their offensive line.”

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury will undoubtedly have a twist aimed at taking advantage of OU’s subpar run defense and Stoops will have a plan to make things difficult for Red Raiders quarterbacks Davis Webb or Baker Mayfield.

“Their defense schematically has changed a bunch from last year,” Kingsbury said. “He does a good job bringing people from everywhere, very athletic, fly around, fundamentally sound. It will be a very, very good challenge for a young quarterback.”

The winner could be determined by which coaching staff and team makes the best in-game adjustments.

“Coach [Stoops] has made a lot of changes, given us a lot of options,” Colvin said. “Texas Tech is a different team, they like to throw it a lot. They’ll probably throw the ball more than they run but you never know. Whatever they do we’ve got to be ready for it.”
Mack Brown was widely mocked last month for saying tackling had become a problem in America, not just at Texas. He wouldn’t be laughed off if he made this claim: Quarterback instability is a national epidemic.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Sams
AP Photo/Eric GayKansas State is one of several Big 12 teams that have played musical quarterbacks, alternating Daniel Sams (pictured) with Jake Waters.
More than 50 FBS programs have already been afflicted, including nearly a third of the AP top 25. A total of 184 quarterbacks have started at least one game for the 126 programs, and we’re only a month and a half into the 2013 season.

No major conference has dealt with more insecurity behind center than the Big 12. Good luck naming the second-best quarterback in the Big 12 behind Baylor’s Bryce Petty, or even naming off all 18 who have made starts.

“This year, it seems like everyone is kind of juggling one to try to find answers and two to try to keep them healthy,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I know Texas Tech is dealing with it, we’re dealing with it, TCU has dealt with it, Texas has dealt with it, Kansas State has dealt with it.

“So just until guys get established and remain healthy, that’s just the reality of college football. The next guy has got to get ready to go in there and play at the highest level possible to try to get a win.”

Kansas State became the seventh Big 12 team to give a second quarterback a start Saturday when Daniel Sams got the nod over Jake Waters against Baylor.

Thus far, injuries have been more at issue than ineffective play. TCU’s Casey Pachall, Texas’ David Ash and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight lost their jobs when they went down with injuries, and that could be the case for Texas Tech’s Baker Mayfield as well.

Oklahoma State pulled Clint Chelf for J.W. Walsh in the opener, and Cowboys coach Mike Gundy is sticking with him. Same with Blake Bell, who’s holding onto his job despite the return of Knight.

And then there’s the situation at West Virginia, where Holgorsen has been dealing with a quarterback calamity all season long. Paul Millard, Ford Childress and Clint Trickett have each started two games, and the job is still very much up for grabs.

“Unfortunately by the time we settle on somebody, then he gets hurt and you’ve got to put somebody else in there,” Holgorsen said. “That’s not an excuse. Whoever is going to be our quarterback this week, we’ve got to get him prepared to play and we’ve got to get him to where we’re playing at a higher level than what we’ve got out of him.”

This isn’t exactly unprecedented for the Big 12. During its 12-team era, two seasons were especially chaotic: 2005 and 2009. In both years, eight Big 12 teams started at least two quarterbacks. In both years, Texas rolled through the conference thanks to Heisman finalist-caliber quarterbacks Vince Young and Colt McCoy.

But take note of this: A team with multiple starting quarterbacks has not won the Big 12 Championship since Kansas State in 2003.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Brad Davis/Icon SMIClint Trickett is the third player to start at QB for West Virginia this season.
Bill Snyder’s quarterback situation is no doubt an outlier from the rest. He likes both Sams and Waters. He likes playing both, and Sams has paired his 522 rushing yards with just 32 pass attempts. The Wildcats are just trying to find the right combination, the right rhythm.

“We just have two young guys that are competing in a very positive way to be the No. 1 quarterback, and both of them have demonstrated the capabilities beyond the field and deserve to play,” Synder said.

There was a three-season stretch in this conference, from 2006 to 2008, when no more than four backups earned a start in a single season. In 2011, only Texas and Iowa State tried multiple starters.

ISU coach Paul Rhoads is now one of the three Big 12 coaches who hasn’t needed his No. 2 guy this fall thanks to the solid play of Sam B. Richardson. He doesn’t consider the problem facing his colleagues to be an unexpected one.

“With the number of new quarterbacks in the league, first of all, and then the game is physical, the game is violent and teams’ quarterbacks are more active in their offenses in these leagues,” Rhoads said. “There’s going to be some vulnerability. So no, not surprised.”

This is a problem everywhere. Forty percent of FBS schools have started two quarterbacks. Seven SEC, seven Big Ten and five ACC schools have rolled out more than one starter. The national number of 184 total starters is ahead of the 2012 midseason total (170), which finished at 210 starters by season’s end.

What all that uncertainty creates, at least in the Big 12 landscape, too many unpredictable conference title contenders ... and one great advantage for Baylor.

Petty is No. 1 in the Big 12 in every passing statistic. But it’s a good thing his backup, Seth Russell, already has 30 attempts, 381 yards and three scores on his 2013 resume.

Considering how this season is already playing out, the Bears just might end up needing him.

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