NCF Nation: West Virginia Mountaineers

OU forged new defense from WVU debacle

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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Oklahoma SoonersJ.P. Wilson/Icon SportswireThe Oklahoma Sooners return to Morgantown with an improved defense.

NORMAN, Okla. -- The Sooners' maiden trip to Morgantown two years ago resulted in the lowest point in the history of the Oklahoma defense.

The Sooners somehow prevailed in a 50-49 shootout. But West Virginia running back Tavon Austin turned the defensive culture that Jerry Tubbs and Lee Roy Selmon and Brian Bosworth built over six decades into a punch line.

The Sooners looked slow chasing around Austin, who set a Big 12 record with 572 all-purpose yards, including 344 rushing.

The Sooners looked discombobulated, with each defensive bust leading to another play bigger than the one before it.

And, perhaps most troubling at the time, Oklahoma looked as if it had no defensive identity, an unforgivable transgression for a program with so much tradition on defense. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was so disgusted despite the win that he declined to glance at the box score sheet after it was handed to him during a postgame interview.

But as they prepare for a return to Morgantown this week, the Sooners are none of the things they were two years ago.

They are fast. They are focused. In Stoops' new 3-4 scheme -- whose impetus traces back to the West Virginia debacle -- Oklahoma has fashioned a new identity centered on its ability to harass opposing quarterbacks with defenders from many angles.

"Both Bob and Mike Stoops have done a great job revamping [the defense]," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. "They're everywhere right now."

Just ask Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley, who was sacked five times Saturday while facing the most recent Oklahoma onslaught.

"We're totally different, in every aspect," said a succinct Bob Stoops, when asked Monday for the contrast between this defense and the 2012 one. "Simplest way I can put it."

This West Virginia offense, however, isn't all that different from the one that torched the Sooners for 778 total yards -- the most an Oklahoma defense had ever surrendered since the school began recording statistics.

The Mountaineers no longer possess a versatile talent like Austin, who probably still haunts Mike Stoops' nightmares. But West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett is second in the nation in passing QBR and trails only Ole Miss' Bo Wallace by a tenth of a point for the nation's top completion percentage. Trickett also has two of the most lethal wideouts in the Big 12 at his disposal in Mario Alford and Kevin White, who is second in the country with 460 receiving yards.

"We're going to have to play a lot better than the last time we went there," Mike Stoops said. "That was a bad night for all of us. Bad game plan, bad execution, bad everything."

Plenty of good, however, came out of so much bad for the Sooners.

The defensive collapse in Morgantown spearheaded the biggest coaching shakeup of the Stoops era, which included the aggressive pursuit and hire of Michigan defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. Since, Montgomery has whipped Oklahoma's front into one of the most disruptive and deepest in the country. Under Montgomery, end Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips have developed into All-Big 12-caliber performers. And outside linebacker Eric Striker has emerged into arguably the most ferocious pass-rusher at his position in the country -- even drawing comparisons in "destructiveness" from Bob Stoops on Monday to former Oklahoma 2001 All-American Roy Williams.

But the front isn't where the reconstruction effort stopped.

The Sooners have also assembled a sure-tackling, ball-hawking defensive backfield, which has matched the swagger of the Oklahoma defensive line. Saturday in the first quarter, Quentin Hayes blindsided Worley off a safety blitz to force and recover a fumble. Cornerbacks Zack Sanchez, who how has an interception in five of his last six games, and Julian Wilson both picked off Worley in the end zone. Wilson returned his interception 100 yards for an exclamation point touchdown.

“The secondary is playing great right now,” said Wilson, who had to play middle linebacker at the West Virginia game two seasons ago because they had no better option. "But we still have room to improve."

That's a scary thought. Since last bowl season the Sooners have now produced the third-most sacks and third-most interceptions in college football. And that combination of an overwhelming front and an opportunistic secondary has given this Oklahoma defense the potential to become one of the school's all-time.

"They've got their guys, defensively, playing as good as they have," Holgorsen said, "since I've watched tape on them going back to the 2000 season."

Holgorsen has his guys playing well, too. And a game that appeared to be a cakewalk for the Sooners in the preseason now looks to be one of the toughest games on their schedule.

Just like its last visit to Morgantown, the Oklahoma defense will be severely tested. But this time -- thanks to the foundation forged out of that West Virginia trip two years ago -- the Sooners will be equipped for it.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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What we learned in the Big 12: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 3:

1. TCU and West Virginia might finally be finding their stride in the Big 12: Being in the Big 12 has been rough on the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers. In their first two years in the league, each went 11-14 overall. But with impressive performances Saturday, both are showing signs they are finally turning the corner. The Mountaineers racked up 33 first downs and almost 700 yards in a 40-37 win over Maryland, which was able to stay in the game only through the grace of West Virginia's three turnovers in the red zone. TCU completely manhandled Minnesota and picked off Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner three times on the way to an easy 30-7 victory. The Horned Frogs appear to be formidable on defense again, and TCU’s new offensive scheme has been generating more points. Meanwhile, West Virginia might have the two most improved players in the entire conference in quarterback Clint Trickett, who is completing 75 percent of his passes, and wideout Kevin White, who already has 460 yards receiving. The Mountaineers and Horned Frogs still have to prove themselves in league play. But their performances through the nonconference suggest they'll give Big 12 foes a run for their money.

[+] EnlargeJulian Wilson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJulian Wilson returned an interception 100 yards in Oklahoma's win over Tennessee.
 2. Oklahoma’s secondary is no joke: Everyone knew how deep and talented the Sooners’ front seven was coming into this season. The secondary, however, seemed to be a question mark. But in a 34-10 win over the Volunteers, Oklahoma’s defensive backs were dominant, delivering three game-changing plays among them. In the first quarter, Quentin Hayes came on a safety blitz and forced and recovered a fumble. In the third quarter, cornerback Zack Sanchez came up with an acrobatic interception in the end zone (his fifth pick in six games). And in the fourth quarter, cornerback Julian Wilson delivered the exclamation point, hauling in a tipped interception and returning it 100 yards for a game-clinching touchdown. After the game, coach Bob Stoops lauded this group. “They’re playing really well,” he said. “They’re not making mistakes. They’re challenging, competing for balls. They’re making big plays. Maybe as good a three-game stretch we may have had.” That’s high praise for this Oklahoma secondary. But the way it's playing, it's well deserved.

3. The league has some unshakable kickers: Two Big 12 kickers had the chance to produce winning field goals in the final seconds of their games. And both kickers delivered. First, Josh Lambert drilled a 47-yarder as time expired to give West Virginia a monumental victory over regional rival Maryland. Then, Iowa State’s Cole Netten connected on a 42-yard attempt with two seconds remaining to lift Iowa State to a 20-17 win over in-state rival Iowa. Netten actually misfired on his first try at the game-winner, but the Hawkeyes had called timeout first. Netten shook off that miss and came back and delivered in a moment he’ll remember awhile. Field goal kicking in the college game has become a lost art. But from Oklahoma’s Michael Hunnicutt to TCU’s Jaden Oberkrom, the Big 12 is loaded with talented place-kickers. In Lambert and Netten, the league has a couple of clutch ones, too.

4. Texas Tech’s run defense seems hopeless: Coach Kliff Kingsbury signed four junior college defensive linemen during the offseason to try to shore up what was the league’s worst run defense last fall. But in a disheartening 49-28 loss to Arkansas, the Red Raiders’ run defense looked worse than ever. The Razorbacks obliterated Tech in the trenches, rolling up 438 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. As a result, Arkansas dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for more than 40 of the game’s 60 minutes while keeping Tech QB Davis Webb on the sideline and out of rhythm. “They lined up and pounded us,” Kingsbury said. “We just didn’t have an answer.” The Red Raiders might not face a rushing attack like Arkansas’ until Oklahoma visits Lubbock in November. But it might not take a powerful rushing offense like Arkansas’ to exploit what has been a shaky Texas Tech defense that has yet to stop anybody through three games.

5. Texas still has some fight: There were few reasons to believe the Longhorns could hang around with UCLA after their dismal performance last week against BYU. But behind an inspired effort from sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, Texas had UCLA on the ropes until backup QB Jerry Neuheisel tossed a 33-yard go-ahead touchdown with three minutes remaining. The Longhorns lost the game 20-17 and still have various issues, such as getting the coin toss right. But this was a performance they can build off. Although he couldn’t lead them on a game-winning drive, Swoopes was solid in his second career start, completing 24 of 34 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. And unlike last week, the Longhorns didn’t lie down when things didn’t go their way. After a disastrous start in 2013, Texas bounced back to have a decent season. This team showed on Saturday it could do the same.

Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
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In Week 3 of Big 12 action, Oklahoma and Texas Tech will take on the SEC; West Virginia, TCU and Iowa State will challenge the Big Ten; Kansas will go on the road in the ACC; and Texas will attempt to bounce back against the Pac-12.

How the league fares in those seven games against Power 5 conference opponents will be the major storyline today in the Big 12:

West Virginia at Maryland, noon ET (Big Ten Network): The Terrapins slaughtered West Virginia 37-0 last season. The Mountaineers, however, didn’t have quarterback Clint Trickett in that game. Trickett ranks fourth nationally with a 75.3 completion percentage, and his favorite target, Kevin White, is tied for fourth in the country with 19 receptions.

Arkansas at Texas Tech, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC): After starting fast last year, the Red Raiders are off to a sluggish beginning in Kliff Kingsbury’s second season. Only Oregon State has committed more penalties than the Red Raiders, who have 25 through two games. These two old Southwest Conference foes have met 35 times, but haven’t played since 1991.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Collins (55), Brandon Scheriff (68) and Dominic Alvis
Reese Strickland/USA Today SportsIowa State has a chance to get its season on track and win back the Cy-Hawk Trophy on Saturday.
Iowa State at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN): Iowa All-American left tackle Brandon Scherff is out for the Cy-Hawk series with an undisclosed knee injury. The Hawkeyes had struggled to move the ball with Scherff in narrow wins over Northern Iowa and Ball State.

Kansas at Duke, 3:30 p.m. ET (ACC Regional Sports Network): Kansas hasn’t won a road game since beating UTEP in El Paso the second week of the 2009 season. The Jayhawks’ 34 points last week, however, tied the highest scoring total of the Charlie Weis era, and their 6.3 yards per play against Southeast Missouri State was the program’s best game average in three years.

Minnesota at TCU, 4 p.m. ET (FS1): The Gophers are one of the only Big Ten teams off to a positive start, but injuries have piled up. Minnesota is hopeful quarterback Mitch Leidner will be able to go after injuring his knee against Middle Tennessee last weekend.

UTSA at Oklahoma State, 7 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Regional): Quarterback Daxx Garman is expected to make his first career start after taking his first competitive snap in five years during last week’s win over Missouri State. The Roadrunners are still looking for the program’s first win over a Power 5 conference opponent.

Texas vs. No. 12 UCLA (Arlington, Texas), 8 p.m. ET (FOX): The Longhorns were woeful on both sides of the ball in a 41-7 loss to BYU last weekend, and this doesn’t have the look of a favorable matchup. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Texas has allowed the fourth-most rushing yards (777) in the FBS to opposing QBs since the start of last season. Excluding sacks, UCLA’s Brett Hundley has run for the sixth-most yards by a quarterback (1,057) during the same span.

Tennessee at No. 4 Oklahoma, 8 p.m. ET (ABC): This is the first regular-season matchup between these teams, which are in the top 10 in the FBS in all-time wins. Recent history, however, favors the Sooners. Bob Stoops is 88-5 at home with Oklahoma, while Tennessee hasn’t won three games to begin a season since 2004.
West Virginia’s 4-8 season last year had many low points. But none lower than a dismal 37-point loss to Maryland in dismal weather.

When it rains it pours, and the rain poured on West Virginia that day. The Terrapins poured it on, too.

The Mountaineers had as many turnovers as first downs. They had almost as many penalty yards as total yardage in the first half. And they were shut out for the first time in a dozen years.

[+] EnlargeDana Holgorsen
Doug Kapustin/Getty ImagesLast season's rain-soaked loss against Maryland was a low point for West Virginia, but coach Dana Holgorsen says his team has grown since that game.
Saturday in a rematch of these regional rivals, West Virginia will be out for payback. But also, after a sharp start to this season, the 2014 Mountaineers will be out to show they’re a completely different team.

"I think we're in a much better place," said coach Dana Holgorsen. "I think we're very different. I think our mentality is different. Although our players are the same, and our scheme is the same, I think our mentality is in a much different place. We're a more experienced team. We're a more confident team. We're playing with a lot more effort and energy, and that's going to hopefully make a big difference in the outcome of Saturday's game."

The outcome of Saturday’s game could prove to be a pivotal one for the Mountaineers. It was last year. After falling to Maryland, West Virginia bounced back to beat Oklahoma State the falling week in one of the biggest upsets of the 2013 Big 12 season. But the Mountaineers won only one more game the rest of the season and missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 2001.

"I remember we threw a pick-six and went down by maybe a touchdown at that point, and it kept getting worse and worse and worse, then the rain started coming down," tight end Cody Clay said of the Maryland loss. "That was kind of our whole season. It just kept snowballing and snowballing."

This time around, the Mountaineers have a chance to roll the snowball the other way.

West Virginia played second-ranked Alabama to the wire in the opener. Then last week, the Mountaineers crisply manhandled Towson, which played for the FCS national title in 2013. A win against Maryland could keep that momentum going when West Virginia opens Big 12 play next weekend at home against fourth-ranked Oklahoma.

"It comes down to obviously playing with great effort, being confident as coaches, being confident as players, playing with great effort, coaching with great effort, putting the product out there everybody is proud of," Holgorsen said. "I have a ton of confidence in our guys right now. When you have a ton of confidence in your guys, you're going to do things differently."

Holgorsen has reason to have a ton of confidence in his quarterback, which so far has been the biggest difference from last season.

When the Mountaineers played Maryland last year, redshirt freshman Ford Childress was making his second career start at quarterback. Childress suffered an injury, which cleared the way for Clint Trickett to take over after transferring in from Florida State. But no matter who was behind center, quarterback was never a strength. This season, it has been just that.

After completing just 53 percent of his passes last season, Trickett is connecting on 75 percent of his throws, which ranks fourth in the country. As a result, the offense has been humming like the high-octane offenses of Holgorsen’s past.

"The way I called plays last year, the way we game planned last year -- we're not doing the same things. We're a different team, and we're able to do different things," Holgorsen said. "You can just look at the tape over the last two weeks and see that it's different."

The Mountaineers will hope that translates into a different result against Maryland, which has been a game the players have had circled on the schedule for awhile after last season's debacle.

"It’s a big game for us," said safety Karl Joseph. "We owe them one."

So far, the Mountaineers have the look of a different team since that 37-0 loss. Paying back Maryland would show just how far they have come.

"It’s hard not to use it as motivation," Clay said. "We definitely have something to prove."

Big 12 Week 3 predictions

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
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Why Oklahoma will win: The Sooners have a decisive advantage in the trenches, highlighted by a powerful running game and a swarming defensive front seven. Bob Stoops is also 88-5 at home and will be looking to send another message to his friends in the SEC. Oklahoma 44, Tennessee 16 – Jake Trotter

Why Tennessee will keep it close: The Vols appear to be on the upswing under Butch Jones' better recruiting. UT has several receivers with size (four receivers 6-foot-3 or taller) and could try to test the coverage ability of OU's secondary. If the Vols are able to force mental mistakes from Trevor Knight, all bets are off. Oklahoma 35, Tennessee 21
Brandon Chatmon

 

Why UCLA will win: Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes actually played alright in his first career start last week -- and Texas still couldn't score. With the offensive line and receiving corps completely decimated, the Longhorns have what amounts to a popgun offense. UCLA counters with quarterback Brett Hundley, who entered the season on the short list of Heisman contenders. UCLA 28, Texas 9 – Trotter

Why Texas will keep it close: Defense. Until Swoopes and a patchwork offensive line get some momentum, Texas' defense will have to win the day. They'll get pressure on Hundley, but they'll need turnovers. The Longhorns played three quarters of solid defense against BYU. If they can wreak havoc for four, this game could be close late. UCLA 27, Texas 17
-Max Olson

 

Upset special: The Cyclones showed it is too early to write them off during a close loss to Kansas State. Meanwhile, Iowa hasn't looked like an elite team during its first two games. There were times the Cyclones were dominating K-State, and ISU could carry that momentum into a win over its rival. Iowa State 31, Iowa 27 Chatmon

MORE UNANIMOUS PICKS

Baylor over Buffalo 56-20: Buffalo is going to black out its stadium, but the Bears will light it up in Bryce Petty's return. — Chatmon

West Virginia over Maryland 28-26: The Terrapins hammered the Mountaineers 37-0 last season, but this is a completely different West Virginia team manned by a completely different quarterback in Clint Trickett, who is completing 75 percent of his passes. – Trotter

Texas Tech over Arkansas 38-24: Tech cleans up its penalty problems, and Davis Webb picks apart a D that gave up nearly 600 yards against Auburn. – Olson

Duke over Kansas 38-24: Kansas looked good in the first 45 minutes of its win over Southeast Missouri, but Duke quarterback Anthony Boone will prove simply too much for the Jayhawks. — Chatmon

TCU over Minnesota 17-13: A close game finally goes the Horned Frogs' way. Minnesota's uncertain QB situation is the difference-maker, and TCU's underappreciated defense steps up. – Olson

Oklahoma State over UTSA 42-24: Having a full week to tailor the offense around the arm of quarterback Daxx Garman should do wonders for the Oklahoma State offense. – Trotter

Big 12 has prime chance to impress

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
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The Big 12 has proven it can hang with the best.

Now, the league has a chance to show it can beat the rest.

With seven games against the four other power conferences, this weekend offers the Big 12 another opportunity to establish credibility in the College Football Playoff era.

Oklahoma jump started the Big 12 momentum by toppling Alabama last bowl season. Oklahoma State and West Virginia kept the wave going by taking Florida State and Alabama to the wire in their openers. This Saturday, the Big 12 can begin to carve out a place at the playoff table.

"Everyone is paying attention to your strength of schedule and things like that,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “So sure, it's always important that your league plays well.”

[+] EnlargeJordan Phillips
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma is off to a 2-0 start but will have a chance to make an impression against a Power 5 nonconference opponent when 2-0 Tennessee visits on Saturday.
The playoff committee will surely be paying attention to how Big 12 performs against teams from the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 who are a combined 13-1 two weeks into the season.

Stoops, who has been waving the Big 12 banner over the last year and a half, will attempt to move to 14-4 against Power 5 nonconference opponents in his Oklahoma career when undefeated Tennessee visits the fourth-ranked Sooners.

“We recognize it as another big challenge, an exciting challenge,” Stoops said. “I know they’ve recruited really strong in the last couple of years. When you watch them on tape, you see a lot of speed running around, you see a lot of big guys. They’ve really got a great-looking team.”

Oklahoma, however, isn’t the only Big 12 team with an SEC challenge. Texas Tech takes on old Southwest Conference rival Arkansas in a matchup that could be a potential springboard for the Red Raiders, who have gotten off to a sluggish start despite defeating Central Arkansas and UTEP.

“I think for us and our university, it's a great matchup between two teams that used to be in the same conference,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I think that's where all the excitement comes from. It's the most talented opponent we've played so far, and our kids will be fired up for it.”

While the Red Raiders and Sooners will be squaring off against the SEC, TCU and Iowa State will have the chance to deliver more blows to the Big Ten, which could be the one conference on the outside looking in for a playoff spot after suffering several disastrous losses last weekend.

The Horned Frogs play Minnesota, one of the few Big Ten teams that has been sharp so far this season. Iowa State has a prime opportunity to get its season back on track at instate rival Iowa, which barely survived Northern Iowa and Ball State in its first two games.

“The nation’s eyes will be on these games,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.

The Cyclones, who fell to the Hawkeyes at home last season, won’t be the only team out for revenge this weekend.

West Virginia will be looking for payback against Maryland after getting destroyed by the Terrapins 37-0 last season. The Mountaineers, however, have been a different team so far this year. They made Alabama sweat, then last weekend demolished Towson, which played for the FCS national championship in 2013. A win at Maryland, which returned 17 starters from last year’s team, would be a tone-setter for the Big 12 and for the rest of West Virginia’s season.

“The majority of the people on our team right now played in that game last year and wasn't too happy with the outcome and was embarrassed with the outcome,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We've got a pretty motivated bunch to be able to get over there and try to obviously put a little bit of a better effort out there on the field.”

After a promising performance in its first game against Southeast Missouri State, Kansas will see how its revamped offense measures up at reigning ACC Coastal Division champion Duke. And Texas will round out the marquee weekend by attempting to bounce back against No. 12 UCLA after a disastrous 41-7 loss to BYU.

"Can we get this team and bounce them back from a humiliating, disappointing loss and get them to prevail and go play?" Longhorns coach Charlie Strong said. "It's going to be a challenge.”

Saturday will be a challenge for the entire Big 12, which will have only one more chance to make a national impression -- when Kansas State faces defending SEC champ Auburn in Manhattan next Thursday -- before conference play begins.

And the playoff committee, among others, will be watching.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 2

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
2:00
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video

As a placekicker, Justin Tucker abides by the philosophy of focusing on the action and not the consequence. On Thanksgiving Night 2011 in College Station, Texas, as he lined up with a one-point deficit and just three seconds left in the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry as all knew it, Tucker couldn't help but betray that creed.

"I can tell you in that particular situation it was very difficult to put those emotions into the back of my mind and just focus on the task at hand," said Tucker, now with the Ravens. "But we were able to do it, and I'll tell you what: That place shut up real quick; 88,000 people -- you could probably hear a pin drop in there."

This is the lasting memory of one of several college football rivalries that has gone by the wayside in the era of realignment. This is, on a smaller scale, the opportunity that awaits Michigan and Notre Dame on Saturday night in their final scheduled meeting.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesEverett Golson can etch himself further into Notre Dame lore if he leads the Fighting Irish to a series-ending victory over Michigan on Saturday.
Brian Kelly said the first thing he thinks of regarding the Wolverines is that he's lost to them three times. That image can change in a hurry with a signature blow in one final matchup under the lights.

Just ask those from other dormant rivalries, Pittsburgh-West Virginia among them.

"When I think back of all the frustrating losses of my career, and we had a few, that's the worst by far," former Panthers defensive tackle Chas Alecxih said of the 2011 finale of the Backyard Brawl.

Pitt entered Morgantown looking to upset the eventual Orange Bowl champs. The Panthers were ACC-bound in two years; the Mountaineers Big 12-bound the next fall. Todd Graham, in his lone year coaching Pitt, relayed how he'd been told he could lose 11 games in a year so long as he beat WVU. Former players talked to the team about how important it would be to end the series on top.

A 13-point Pitt lead eventually gave way to a 21-20 defeat, punctuated by a Tino Sunseri fumble on the last play.

"I just remember as the clock ran out I just fell on my face, I just hit the ground for about 30 seconds, man," Alecxih said. "I just remember that agony, and just knowing that that was going to be the last game, and we were always going to say we lost the last Backyard Brawl."

All this from a player and program that, four years earlier, had been part of an upset that changed the college football landscape.

WVU was a four-touchdown favorite and a win away from a BCS title-game berth when the three-win Panthers visited to close 2007.

"It was just so gloomy, and all I really remember is just getting whacked with beer cans," then-freshman quarterback Pat Bostick said of the bus ride in. "I go, 'OK, this is everything people say it's going to be.' There weren't necessarily batteries being thrown or nickels or dimes being thrown, but there were certainly some obscenities."

Bostick threw a wrench into the Mountaineers' plans, orchestrating a 13-9 win that knocked WVU out of title contention. Coach Rich Rodriguez bolted for Michigan less than three weeks later.

For the entirety of the hour-plus ride home, Bostick and his teammates sang "Take Me Home, Country Roads," the official song of the state they were departing.

"To be honest with you, I don't know if I can count on one hand how many people I actually saw after the game," Bostick said. "It was like the place died. It was just a ghost town after. I don't know where they all went, how fast they (left), but they got out of their quick."

Bostick was at the 2011 finale in his current role as the team's radio analyst, and he joked he wasn't sure he'd make it down to the locker room alive in his Pitt polo.

The intensity was considerably less hostile the last time Missouri and Kansas faced off, a 24-10 Tigers win in 2011. Part of that can be attributed to the neutral-site atmosphere at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium, where the game was played from 2007-11. Part of that can also be attributed to the overall apathy of Kansas fans, former Missouri receiver TJ Moe said.

"They were so horrible in those days," Moe said. "We were trying to get a win and move along there. We certainly didn't like those guys, but they came in so defeated after losing nine games before they even got to us that it really wasn't that bad."

An O'Fallon, Mo., native who grew up on the Border War, Moe said it still remains a point of pride that he went 3-0 against the Jayhawks during his career. He finds it hard to believe the game is no longer played after the Tigers moved to the SEC. From his perch, the ball is in Kansas' court.

"We just want to play you guys because the rivalry is fun, so if you don't want to play, fine, we'll get somebody else," Moe said. "It's a rivalry that's a big deal to fans on both sides. Everybody at Kansas is saying, 'You guys left us. You screwed us. We're not playing you anymore.' Which is fine."

Michigan-Notre Dame lacks the longevity of the others, as it has been played just 41 times, thanks to several interruptions. The Backyard Brawl was played 104 times, the Border War was played 120 times and Texas-Texas A&M was played 118 times before the Aggies' SEC move.

Realignment might have other ideas, but everyone interviewed for this story expressed hope his rivalry would return.

"What is truly lost at its core is a great football matchup between two -- I won't say two 'great' teams -- I'll say one great team and their little brother," Tucker said, laughing.

For now, he has his forever moment in rivalry lore, and that could be at-stake again this weekend should the Michigan-Notre Dame matchup resemble those of recent past.

"The fact that we got to end it with a bang, the Texas Longhorns got to put the dagger in that 118-year rivalry," Tucker said, "that's a great feeling."
Batman had The Joker.

Larry Bird had Magic Johnson.

And the Big 12 itself once featured several tradition-rich rivalries.

Yet after Rounds 1 and 2 of conference realignment completely transformed the league, the Big 12 no longer is flush with those rivalries.

Texas lost its Thanksgiving showdown with Texas A&M.

Irresistible Oklahoma lost immovable Nebraska.

And Kansas lost the Border War with Missouri.

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
AP Photo/LM OteroOklahoma-Texas is one of the last Big 12 rivalry games that awards a trophy.
Other once budding rivalries – like Kansas State-Nebraska and Texas Tech-Texas A&M – fostered during the Big 12 era were also destroyed. Even Big 12 newcomer West Virginia had to join the conference at the expense of eliminating its Backyard Brawl with Pittsburgh.

Sure, the Big 12 retained the Red River Showdown, one of the most iconic competitions in all of sport. And Bedlam has become one of the most thrilling games in college football since the turn of the millennium with the rise of Oklahoma State.

But in the wake of realignment, only four rivalries left standing within the league actually award trophies: Oklahoma-Texas (Golden Hat), Bedlam (Bedlam Bell) Kansas State-Kansas (Governor’s Cup) and Texas-Texas Tech (Chancellor's Spurs). That pales in comparison to the Big Ten, which puts 13 trophies on the line every year.

Meanwhile, Big 12 fans have been robbed of watching their schools play for bragging rights. And the league has been stripped of opportunities to stage high-profile games, that otherwise could have left impressions on college football’s new playoff selection committee.

“I think rivalries, they’re traditional, and also significant to people that pay to get into the stands,” said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. “I don’t think you go out and say we’re going to create a rivalry.”

But that’s the challenge the Big 12 faces as it banks full steam into the One True Champion era. And as Snyder pointed out, rivalries are more easily annihilated than cultivated.

“I think new rivalries just need to be developed, new traditions need to be developed,” said Texas Tech Kliff Kingsbury. “That’s part of change, when conferences change. I think we’ll get there.”

But who, how and when?

A good rivalry starts with a good name and that’s exactly what Kansas State and Iowa State have in Farmageddon, whose 98th meeting will be staged Saturday in the Big 12’s first conference meeting of 2014.

Yet even Snyder this week shot down the notion that the Wildcats have a rivalry with the Cyclones.

“It hasn’t developed that way in my eyes; I don’t think so,” said Snyder, who has lost to Iowa State just three times since taking over at Kansas State in 1989.

Snyder gave more credence to the Sunflower Showdown with the Jayhawks because of the instate connection. And Kansas coach Charlie Weis stated the Jayhawks are fine without Missouri because they still have Kansas State.

“We're not hurting for a rivalry game,” Weis said. “We've got one about 90 miles down the road.”

But Kansas State has beaten Kansas by an average margin of 32 points a game the last five years as the Jayhawks – and the Sunflower Showdown with it – have floated off into obscurity, leaving remnants of the Big 12 North without a noteworthy game.

“What can you do about it, what should you do about it? I don’t have the answer for that,” Snyder said. “Maybe you create new rivalries with the current environment and arrangement as it is, but that too will change over a period of time.”

Change has reunited old Southwestern Conference foes again, which could be where the future of marquee Big 12 rivalries lies. Between them , Texas, Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor have played 486 games all-time.

The Longhorns have replaced Texas A&M by rotating TCU and Texas Tech in their Thanksgiving game. Baylor and Texas Tech have been holding their annual shootout in Arlington, Texas. And the Horned Frogs and Bears have generated heat lately with coaches Gary Patterson and Art Briles feuding after last season’s dramatic 41-38 affair.

“I think people are always going to want to see Texas-Texas A&M, Texas Tech-Texas A&M, because intrastate games are so fun for the fans,” Kingsbury said. “But things will be developed in time within this conference.”

Maybe so. But a supporting solution would be rekindling those longtime rivalries that now fall outside the conference. That would be especially beneficial to West Virginia, which has virtually no long-term history or regional connection within the conference. Athletic director Oliver Luck, who has already added Penn State and Virginia Tech to future schedules, has expressed hope he’ll be able to revive the Backyard Brawl.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma and Nebraska already have an agreement in place to bring back the Battle of the Big Reds in 2021-22. Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt has noted there’s mutual interest in scheduling a future date with Texas A&M. And someday, political pressure will force the Longhorns and Aggies to stop pouting in their corners.

But until time cures such ills, the Big 12 will have to make do with what it has. And wait for those rivalries to redevelop. And, to return.

Big 12 bowl projections: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
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Week 1 brought some surprises and some disappointments in the Big 12.

Oklahoma State and West Virginia were impressive in losses while Texas Tech was disappointing in a victory. Keep in mind, our Big 12 bowl projections will remain fluid throughout the season as teams start to distinguish themselves as bowl contenders or pretenders.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma State
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: West Virginia
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Texas
Cactus Bowl: TCU

OSU, WVU look to build off openers

September, 2, 2014
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Oklahoma State and West Virginia might both be 0-1.

But the way they lost their openers has completely changed the outlook for the rest of their seasons.

For the better, too.

The Cowboys took defending national champion Florida State to the wire. The Mountaineers went toe-to-toe with second-ranked Alabama.

[+] EnlargeKevin White, Bradley Sylve
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsWest Virginia's Kevin White had nine receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown against Alabama.
 Before last weekend, Oklahoma State was thought to be in rebuilding mode. Facing a brutal schedule, West Virginia seemed headed for another year without a bowl.

Not anymore in Stillwater.

And not anymore in Morgantown.

“They should be able to establish a certain level of confidence from the way we played,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said of his team. “The second half we were very competitive. Once they got up and going and realized they could play with the speed that Florida State brought to the table, they were much better. And so I think there’s a certain amount of confidence they should have developed from that game.”

The Mountaineers should take plenty of confidence out of their opener with Alabama, too.

West Virginia went into Atlanta almost a four-touchdown underdog. But on the first drive, the Mountaineers took it right to the Crimson Tide. Rushel Shell grinded out tough yards between the tackles, while quarterback Clint Trickett fired completions all over the field. The opening drive stalled inside the Alabama 5-yard line, leading to a field goal. But the Crimson Tide quickly learned they’d have a fight on their hands.

“We’re not interested in any moral victories,” Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. “But we felt like we could play with those guys. And went into the game with a good frame of mind that was going to happen. And it did.”

Coming off an injury-riddled year in which he was still learning Holgorsen’s offense, Trickett looked like a completely different quarterback. With perfect poise and even more perfect hair, he completed 29 of 45 passes for 365 yards -- the second-highest passing total a Nick Saban defense had ever allowed at Alabama.

“Clint is a completely different quarterback than he was last year,” West Virginia receiver Jordan Thompson told reporters after the game. “People are basing our team off of what we were last year. We were inexperienced last year. Everybody now has a year under their belts. We’re healthier, stronger, faster, a little bigger, but most of all we’re more experienced, and Clint’s the No. 1 difference.”

Mario Alford and Kevin White were difference-makers, too. Against one of the top-rated defensive backfields in the country, White showed he could flourish as West Virginia’s first go-to wideout since Stedman Bailey. White hauled in nine receptions for 143 yards and a 19-yard touchdown pass. Alford, meanwhile, kick-started a return unit that ranked last in the Big 12 last fall, returning a kick 100 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Defensively, the Mountaineers should get better, too. They struggled to contain Alabama’s powerful rushing attack up front. But at the back end Karl Joseph finished with 18 tackles and Daryl Worley pick off a pass, underscoring the playmaking West Virginia will have in its secondary this season.

Ultimately, the Mountaineers dropped too many passes and coughed up too many touchdown chances to pull off the upset. But along the way, they learned they can play with anyone in the country, which should do wonders for a program that has struggled the past season-and-a-half.

“Our guys are in a good place right now,” Holgorsen said. “That’s the standard that we need to play with. And if we can play with that kind of mentality the whole year, we’ll have a good team.”

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsAfter a slow start, J.W. Walsh and the Cowboys regrouped against defending champion Florida State.
 If the Cowboys continue playing the way they did in Arlington, Texas, they might have a great team.

With the fewest returning starters among any team from a Power 5 conference, Oklahoma State’s young squad seemed to be on the verge of getting blown out after falling behind 17-0 in the second quarter.

Instead, the Cowboys hung tough. Quarterback J.W. Walsh settled down after a rocky start. Tyreek Hill began running away from anyone wearing a white Seminoles jersey. And Oklahoma State’s defensive line began imposing its will against Heisman winner Jameis Winston and a Florida State offensive line starting five seniors.

"We saw our team grow a little bit and mature," Gundy said. "I wasn't really sure how a number of players would react, and I think we learned that they'll fight and compete. We were in a really tough situation at one point, being down 17 points to a really good football team, but they kept their focus. I was proud of them for that."

Every time Florida State made a play, the Cowboys answered. And only after the Seminoles -- who won every regular-season game last season by least two touchdowns -- recovered an onside kick in the final minutes could they rest easy.

The Cowboys figure to be favored in at least their next five games, with the key tilt coming Sept. 25 at home against Texas Tech. And as Saturday showed, Oklahoma State has the pieces to transform its season outlook from rebuilder to Big 12 contender.

"We've got a lot of things to work on, and we had our mistakes, but there's obviously a lot of talent,” said slot receiver David Glidden, who hauled in a 55-yard touchdown bomb against the Seminoles. “There are a lot of guys who can play the game of football pretty well.”

The Cowboys and Mountaineers didn’t win Saturday. But based on how they played, plenty of victories could be on the way.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
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Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 1

August, 31, 2014
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Well, that was a pretty great day of football in the Big 12, all in all (sorry, Cyclones). We were on the lookout for guys who surprised in this first week of college football, and we had no trouble finding enough guys worthy of the coveted helmet sticker. Yes, Baylor still has to play, but here's who we're handing stickers out to for big games on Saturday:

ATH Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State: The best compliment you can offer Tyreek Hill might be that, without a doubt, Florida State wishes that guy was on their team. The heavily-hyped junior college transfer might've actually exceeded his electric expectations with 106 yards of offense on 14 touches and, including returns, 278 all-purpose yards in the 37-31 loss to Florida State. We tried to warn you all about him. Hill is going to be special and he's going to give Big 12 defenses fits.

QB Clint Trickett and WR Kevin White, West Virginia: What a gutsy performance from the Mountaineers and especially this duo during the 33-23 loss to Alabama. Trickett came out firing and finished with 365 passing yards and no turnovers. White might've been even better. He took it to the Alabama secondary with 143 yards on nine receptions, including a 19-yard score, and evoked a lot of talk about his NFL future. Trickett and White were put on a big stage and they stepped up.

WR John Harris, Texas: Welcome back to the big show. Harris, a senior who was seldom used last season, had an eye-opening, career-best performance as David Ash's go-to guys during a 38-7 win over North Texas. He hauled in seven receptions for 110 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown in which he trucked through a defender near the goal line. Harris caught five passes in all of 2013 but could be poised to do big things if he and Ash keep up this rapport.

QB Jake Waters, Kansas State: Waters kicked off his senior-year campaign with another typically steady showing, leading K-State on a 55-16 rout of SF Austin while putting up some nice numbers: 223 yards on 19-of-28 passing, two passing TDs, 55 rushing yards, two rushing TDs. He's becoming an excellent distributor. KSU's offense won't ask him to put up crazy Air Raid stats, but this was a nice performance.

RB Keith Ford, Oklahoma: Freshman Samaje Perine finished with more yards and Alex Ross chipped in two scores, but Ford did some really nice things with his touches. He finished with 116 total yards (65 receiving, 51 rushing) and punched in two first-quarter touchdown runs to get the Sooners rolling to a 48-16 win over Louisiana Tech. OU's inexperience stable of backs got the job done.

DE Mike Tuaua, TCU: The Horned Frogs' defensive line fared just fine without Devonte Fields thanks to a breakout performance from Tuaua. The former juco transfer went wild on Samford with 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles during TCU's 48-14 win. A three-game starter last season, Tuaua almost matched his entire TFL output from last season in one night. He won't get to catch folks by surprise anymore, that's for sure.
Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 1:

1. Oklahoma State and West Virginia showed the Big 12 can go toe-to-toe with anyone: The Mountaineers went 4-8 last season and were picked in the preseason to finish eighth in the Big 12. After graduating 28 seniors, the Cowboys had the fewest returning starters of any program from a Power 5 conference. And yet, Oklahoma State and West Virginia gave college football’s two highest-ranked teams all they wanted. Ultimately, the Cowboys committed too many turnovers to topple No. 1 Florida State, and West Virginia dropped too many passes to knock off No. 2 Alabama. But both Big 12 teams acquitted themselves well with valiant efforts against formidable competition to set up the rest of their seasons. The Cowboys and Mountaineers also sent a message at the outset of this playoff era that the Big 12 is a conference to be reckoned with.

Tyreek Hill, Jalen Ramsey
Tony Gutierrez/Associated PressTyreek Hill and Oklahoma State gave No. 1 Florida State all it could handle.
2. Tyreek Hill is the real deal: This summer, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy confessed that running back Tyreek Hill was the fastest football player he’d ever witnessed in person. Hill confirmed Gundy’s proclamation against Florida State, and showed he was faster than anyone playing for perhaps the fastest defense in college football. "We know he's fast," Gundy said. "Because those guys who were chasing him are fast." Hill produced 278 all-purpose yards and quickly drew the full attention of the Seminoles, both defensively and on special teams. Hill is going to be fun to watch over the next two seasons and will be a difficult matchup for Big 12 opponents.

3. Trevone Boykin is the man in Fort Worth: All preseason, TCU coach Gary Patterson refused to showed his cards at quarterback. He even reportedly had the Amon G. Carter Stadium public address announcer introduce both Boykin and Matt Joeckel as starting quarterbacks. But once the game began, there was no doubt left that Boykin is Patterson’s quarterback. After relieving Casey Pachall the last two seasons, Boykin came out sharp in his first opening-game start against Samford. He completed 29 of 41 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns before passing off to Joeckel for mop-up duty. The Horned Frogs, who limited Samford to 143 yards of offense, figure to be tough defensively again. But Boykin will be the key to them getting over the hump in the program’s third year in the Big 12.

4. Oklahoma remains stout at running back: Coming into the season, the Sooners had to replace starting running back Brennan Clay. They then lost blue-chip freshman Joe Mixon to a season-long suspension. But Oklahoma showed Saturday it is still loaded in the backfield. The three-headed monster of sophomore Alex Ross, sophomore Keith Ford and freshman Samaje Perine stole the show in the Sooners’ convincing 48-16 win over Louisiana Tech. The trio combined for 164 yards and five touchdowns while averaging almost five yards per carry. Ford also added 65 yards receiving. “They’re powerful, physical guys,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “But they have speed and can run, too.” Mixon had the talent to boost Oklahoma’s offense, and the Sooners will miss Clay’s reliability. But Oklahoma is going to be just fine at running back this season.

5. The Big 12 should avoid North Dakota State like the plague: If you can’t beat them, ban them. After falling behind 14-0, North Dakota State roared back to throttle Iowa State 34-14 in Ames. The Bison have now won three in a row against Big 12 teams, including last year’s victory over Kansas State. It’s apparent the back-to-back-to-back FCS national champs have reloaded again. And it would be wise for the Big 12 to avoid scheduling them ever again. As for the Cyclones, it was a disheartening start to the 2014 season. Iowa State lost center Tom Farniok and wideout Quenton Bundrage -- both critical cogs -- to first-half injuries. And from the second quarter on, the Cyclones got dominated in the trenches. It doesn’t get any easier for Iowa State, which had high hopes before the season of getting back to bowl. The Cyclones’ next four opponents went a combined 37-14 last season.

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