NCF Nation: West Virginia Mountaineers

Big 12 media days takeaways

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
5:00
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DALLAS -- Big 12 media days have come and gone. Some of the storylines (Dairy Queen, fake watches) were silly. Others were far more serious. Here are some of the takeaways from this year’s edition of media days:

Baylor has a chip on its shoulder: Despite winning the Big 12 last season and returning the Big 12 offensive player of the year in quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor was voted second in the conference’s preseason poll behind Oklahoma. The Bears clearly felt a bit disrespected while in Dallas this week. "That comes with being Baylor," defensive end Shawn Oakman said. "We're gonna be great one day and y'all are gonna notice." The Bears were pretty great last season, stomping the Sooners 41-12 on the way to their first Big 12 title. "That game from OU last year, that should have showed you that that product was nowhere near as good as the product that Baylor was putting on the field," Oakman said. "The execution, the players from each and every position ... You could tell we were on a different level from OU." Still getting picked to finish behind Oklahoma has given the Bears extra fuel for this season. "In our minds, we’re still underdogs," Oakman said. "We play with a chip on our shoulder. You only get the respect if you earn it."

Stoops is loose as a goose: The loosest coach at Big 12 media days might have been Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. He was cracking jokes, photo-bombing his wife’s TV interview (she was there for a Mary Kay convention) and taking a break between interview sessions to grab a strawberry smoothie. He even chided Alabama coach Nick Saban for suggesting the Crimson Tide didn’t care about being in the Sugar Bowl. "So if I’m not in a national championship game, that means I’ve got a built-in excuse?" Stoops said. Such bravado could be a sign that Stoops thinks he has a pretty good team. With Trevor Knight at quarterback and nine starters back defensively, it’s not hard to see why.

TCU has a big problem: Though they had already left, the Horned Frogs were the story the second day of Big 12 media days. Defensive end Devonte Fields, who last week was voted the league's preseason defensive player of the year, was accused of pulling a gun on his ex-girlfriend. TCU acted quickly after the news surfaced, claiming it had "separated" from Fields. If any part of the allegations levied against Fields are true, it’s difficult to see him ever playing another game in the Big 12. That is a big loss for the league. And an even bigger one for TCU, which is attempting to bounce back from one of its worst seasons in the Gary Patterson era.

Strong believes in Ash: The biggest question mark in Charlie Strong’s first season as coach at Texas is quarterback. More specifically, quarterback David Ash. But even though Ash missed virtually all of last season with concussion issues, then the spring with a fractured foot, Strong said he was impressed with Ash when watching old game film. "When Ash is healthy, he played very well," Strong said. All signs point to Ash being the starter when the Longhorns open the season. Whether he can be consistent and be healthy could go a long way in dictating how Strong’s first season goes, too.

Bowlsby does not believe in the NCAA: According to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, cheating pays. And the enforcement wing of the NCAA is broken. Bowlsby painted a bleak future for the NCAA, also predicting that Olympic sports could be in trouble down the line. "If you like intercollegiate athletics the way it is, you're going to hate it going forward," he said. "There's a lot of change coming." Because of its popularity, football will always be fine. But with lawsuits and athletic department expenses about to rise dramatically, Bowlsby thinks something will have to give.

Everyone’s mind is on the playoff, even if all minds don’t quite get it: The inaugural College Football Playoff was one of the big topics of conversation this week. The Big 12 coaches all believe the league is positioned strongly for inclusion, thanks to a robust nonconference slate of games and a nine-game conference schedule. Many players, however, weren’t well-informed about how the playoff will work. One didn’t know how many teams would be in it. Another thought every conference champ automatically advanced to it. And still another had no idea just how the playoff would be picked. The playoff is going to be an adjustment for college football fans. There is going to be an adjustment for the players, too.

Trickett was always the guy: According to West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, Clint Trickett was always going to be this season’s starting quarterback. It was just a matter of him getting cleared medically. "We wanted him to be the guy," Holgorsen said. "We had to wait and see how he did coming off the shoulder surgery." Holgorsen said there was little the other West Virginia quarterbacks could have done this spring to unseat Trickett, who sat out while recovering from the shoulder injury. "He was the best option we had this year, he was the best option we had last year," Holgorsen said. "Once I was pleased with what I saw, it was a no-brainer to me."

Hill will get the ball a lot: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has had some talented offensive players over the years. But Gundy said it has been a long time since the Cowboys had a playmaker like juco running back Tyreek Hill. "He's very fast," said Gundy, comparing him to former West Virginia standout Tavon Austin. "He gets [past] that first level [of the defense] and no one is caching him." Gundy wants Hill to touch the ball at least 20 times a game. Whether he’s at running back or lined up in the slot, Hill is going to be the focal point of the Oklahoma State attack.

Snyder is still the man: Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is 74 years old, just two years younger than former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who popped by media days Monday night. But Snyder is still coaching strong, with a team that was voted third in the preseason poll behind co-favorites Oklahoma and Baylor. Apparently everyone should eat only one meal a day.

Big 12 media days live: Day 2

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
9:40
AM ET
The Big 12 media days continue on Tuesday in Dallas, as Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and new Texas coach Charlie Strong each take the stage. Keep this page open throughout the day's proceedings as we bring you the latest from our reporters, who will cover all 10 teams at the event.

DALLAS -- The first day of Big 12 media days delivered several compelling storylines. Here's what to expect from Day 2 in Dallas:

Iowa State Cyclones

Attending: Coach Paul Rhoads, tight end E.J. Bibbs, center Tom Farniok, defensive end Cory Morrissey, linebacker Jevohn Miller.

Storyline: The Cyclones missed out on a bowl game last season after back-to-back appearances. But Rhoads appears to have the offensive pieces to get back to bowl eligibility. Bibbs was a preseason All-Big 12 selection, and Farniok leads an offensive line that trails only Oklahoma in the league in career starts. Rhoads appears to have the offensive coordinator, too. Mark Mangino has returned to the Big 12 after four years away from coaching in the FBS. Mangino's résumé includes a national championship as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, and an Orange Bowl victory as the head coach at Kansas.

Kansas State Wildcats

Attending: Coach Bill Snyder, quarterback Jake Waters, receiver Tyler Lockett, center BJ Finney, defensive end Ryan Mueller, linebacker Jonathan Truman.

Storyline: From start to end, the Wildcats were the most improved team in the Big 12 last season. The biggest reason was the emergence of Waters at quarterback during the second half of the year. Waters actually outperformed Baylor quarterback and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Bryce Petty during the final seven games in QBR. Waters has one of college football's top playmakers to throw to again in Lockett, and the team is solid again on both sides of the trenches. Snyder's squads usually improve over the course of a season. But if K-State starts out this season the way it finished the previous, look out.

Oklahoma Sooners

Attending: Coach Bob Stoops, quarterback Trevor Knight, offensive tackle Daryl Williams, defensive end Geneo Grissom, safety Julian Wilson.

Storyline: After a brief malaise, the bloom is back on Oklahoma. That's what a 45-31 bowl win over the preeminent program in college football will do. But can the Sooners carry over the momentum generated from the Alabama win into this season? The answer to that question will depend largely on Knight, the sophomore quarterback. In the Sugar Bowl, Knight was sensational, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns. But he has started and finished only three games in his young career. If he can rekindle the Sugar Bowl magic, the Sooners will push for inclusion in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Texas Longhorns

Attending: Coach Charlie Strong, running back Malcolm Brown, center Dominic Espinosa, defensive end Cedric Reed, cornerback Quandre Diggs.

Storyline: The Strong era is afoot in Austin.

Regardless of what he has or hasn't said this offseason to boosters or high school coaches, Strong ultimately will be measured by how many games he wins on the field. At almost every position, the Longhorns are equipped for success. But that won't amount to much if they don't get better quarterbacking than they have the previous four seasons. That makes David Ash the most important player on the roster. He missed almost all of last season with concussion issues and then the spring with a fractured foot. If Ash can stay healthy, the Longhorns can make a serious run in the Big 12. If he can't, the Strong era could be off to a tumultuous start.

West Virginia Mountaineers

Attending: Coach Dana Holgorsen, receiver Kevin White, cornerback Daryl Worley, punter Nick O'Toole.

Storyline: It's make-or-break time for Holgorsen, who has produced a pair of mediocre seasons in West Virginia's first two years in the Big 12. The schedule is brutal, but that won't discharge Holgorsen from showing improvement from last year's 4-8 season. The Mountaineers have good running backs and receivers. But do they have the answer at quarterback? Holgorsen unexpectedly gave the early nod this summer to Clint Trickett, even though he missed all of spring ball recovering from shoulder surgery. Holgorsen's fate figures to be intertwined with that of his senior quarterback.
video 

Jake Trotter and Max Olson discuss Big 12 media days Day 1.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
1:30
PM ET
The latest on what's happening on the recruiting trail in the Big 12 as we wind down summer camp and 7-on-7 season and inch closer and closer to putting the pads back on.

BAYLOR
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Longtime Baylor commit ATH Blake Lynch transferred to Gilmer (Texas) High School, a big-time East Texas program, this summer and is trying his hand at a new role. The former Troup (Texas) quarterback played wide receiver at the Texas state 7-on-7 tournament this past weekend, and that's the position our ESPN scouts see him playing in college. Lynch's commitment to BU remains solid.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 6
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: RB Devine Ozigbo of Sachse, Texas, is set to announce his commitment next Tuesday and is down to eight schools on his list: Iowa State, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Boise State, Boston College and Mississippi State. The Cyclones are selling him on the chance to be the only rusher they take in their 2015 class, but ISU's top competition for Ozigbo might be its in-state rival.

KANSAS
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: ESPN 300 running back Tyreik Gray told our Damon Sayles this past weekend he wants to take official visits to Kansas, Oklahoma and Louisville before deciding on signing day. Gray is also expected to take an unofficial visit to Texas on Friday. Gray transferred to powerhouse Houston Lamar this spring and is being recruited as a RB/DB by most schools.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 7
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats' newest commitment came from ILB Chase Johnston. The Carl Junction, Missouri, native impressed enough at a K-State camp this summer to earn an offer, running an impressive 4.6-second 40 at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. Johnston also went to Arkansas and Missouri camps this summer and made a strong impression, but KSU was his first and only scholarship offer.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 7
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: The Sooners appear to be in the lead now for ESPN 300 offensive tackle Madison Akamnonu of Arlington (Texas) Bowie, and he could be closing in on a decision soon. The 6-foot-5 lineman's father attended OU, and this is likely going to come down to a Texas-Oklahoma decision for the rising four-star. For what it's worth, two of Akamnonu's high school teammates have already committed to TCU.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Pokes are out in front for a sleeper wide receiver out of Louisiana. Don't be surprised if OSU locks up a pledge from Jalen McCleskey of Covington (Louisiana) St. Paul's in the near future. The 5-foot-10, 165-pound wideout has visited Stillwater several times and could end up being OSU's first WR pledge for 2015.

TCU
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: TCU is one of two early offers for Plano (Texas) Prestonwood linebacker Deonte Williams. Baylor has also joined the mix with an offer for the teammate of ESPN Junior 300 receiver Michael Irvin Jr., and Williams is planning to camp at Florida State soon. The Horned Frogs already got Williams on campus this summer and are in good shape so far.

TEXAS
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: Texas hosts its first-ever "Under The Lights" camp on Friday night inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, and a star-studded turnout is expected. Among those planning to attend are all 11 commits in this class and reportedly as many as 25-plus members of the ESPN 300 for 2015 and 2016, highlighted by WR Ryan Newsome, CB Holton Hill, CB Kris Boyd and possibly OLB Malik Jefferson. Top QB targets Kai Locksley (2015) and Shea Patterson (2016) will also be on campus.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 7
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: Texas Tech had just two of its commits qualify for Nike's The Opening in Oregon, but both were stellar. QB Jarrett Stidham finished in seventh place in the final Elite 11 standings and DT Breiden Fehoko proved he's one of the nation's strongest linemen with an event-best 42 reps of 185 pounds on the bench press. Both will play in the Under Armour All-America Game after their senior season.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: LB Riley Nicholson is expected to make his decision this week, and the Mountaineers are finalists along with UCF and NC State. The Kissimmee (Florida) Osceola standout visited all three schools multiple times during his recruitment, but UCF's rise to prominence in 2013 might be the difference-maker in this battle.
Several Big 12 players popped up on the watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded to college football's best defensive player, and the Outland Trophy, given to the best interior lineman.

Here are the Big 12 players that made each list:

Nagurski
Outland

Already this week, the Maxwell (player of the year), Bednarik (defensive player of the year), Hornung (most versatile player), Mackey (best tight end), Rimington (best center), Groza (best kicker) and Guy (best punter) watch lists have come.

Below is the rest of the preseason watch list schedule:

Friday, July 11
- Jim Thorpe Award, best defensive back

Monday, July 14
- Butkus Award, best linebacker
- Lombardi Award, best lineman

Tuesday, July 15
- Biletnikoff Award, best receiver

Wednesday, July 16
- Davey O’Brien Award, best quarterback.

Thursday, July 17
- Doak Walker Award, best running back

Friday, July 18
- Walter Camp Award, best player
Oklahoma isn't the only Big 12 program digging deeper into its deep pockets for dramatic and impressive facility upgrades.

The Sooners' stadium innovation plans are now full steam ahead after receiving regent approval on Tuesday, but nearly every other program in the conference is busy raising money and working up blueprints for facility changes, big or small, this offseason. A rundown of every upgrade currently in the works, starting with the league's newest palace:

[+] EnlargeMcLane Stadium
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsMcLane Stadium, the future home of the Bears, opens this fall.
Baylor: McLane Stadium
Constructed:
2014 Recent renovation: N/A
Capacity: 45,000
Coming soon: The $250 million stadium on the Brazos opens in 64 days. The seats are all sold out and the place should be plenty tricked out. McLane Stadium is capable of eventually being expanded to a capacity of 55,000 in the future. There's a construction cam if you're interested in checking in on the progress.

Iowa State: Jack Trice Stadium
Constructed:
1975 Recent renovation: 2007
Capacity: 56,800
Coming soon: Iowa State will have the Big 12's third-largest stadium in August 2015 when a recently announced $60 million expansion project is completed. Jack Trice Stadium is getting a new south end zone side, with upper and lower bowls, premium club seating and a new HD video board. The project will boost capacity to 61,000.

Kansas: Memorial Stadium
Constructed: 1921 Recent renovation: 2006
Capacity: 56,800
Coming soon: Thanks to an anonymous donor, a minor six-week renovation project is underway this summer to remove the track from inside Memorial Stadium. Not only was it a bit of a eyesore, but the track's elimination means more practice space and full-turf sidelines. It's a small fix, but an important one.

Kansas State: Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium
Constructed:
1968 Recent renovation: 2013
Capacity: 50,000
Coming soon: In April, K-State unveiled plans for Phase 3 of its stadium improvement project: A $65 million renovation to the stadium's north end. The construction will double the size of its football complex, add 1,000 seats and new video boards. More than 70 percent of the funding had already been raised at the time of the announcement. Construction begins at the end of this season, and most should be wrapped up for the 2015 opener.

Oklahoma: Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium
Constructed:
1923 Recent renovation: 2003
Capacity: 82,112
Coming soon: Regents approved a $370 million project that will bring comprehensive renovations and modernize the Sooners' home, but the intent is not to increase capacity. The south end zone will be enclosed to create a continuous bowl, the west side will be remodeled with a new press box and suites and there will be a new south video board. But just as important, much of OU's plans are dedicated to improving student-athlete facilities and fan amenities. Most of the work should be done for the start of the 2016 season.

Oklahoma State: Boone Pickens Stadium
Constructed: 1920 Recent renovation: 2009
Capacity: 60,218
Coming soon: After all the money T. Boone has poured into renovating the place in the past decade, this offseason wasn't too expensive: Oklahoma State is installing 76,000 square feet of new AstroTurf inside Boone Pickens Stadium and should be done by mid-July. The new turf design is pretty slick, if you haven't seen it.

TCU: Amon G. Carter Stadium
Constructed: 1930 Recent renovation: 2012
Capacity: 45,000
Coming soon: Nada. What more could Gary Patterson and the Frogs ask for? The $164 million reconstruction of their stadium was completed in 2012 and, from a facilities standpoint, TCU now has everything it ever wanted. There is potential for Amon G. Carter to expand to 50,000 seats in the future, but nothing is imminent.

Texas: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium
Constructed:
1924 Recent renovation: 2013
Capacity:
100,119 Coming soon: Texas had only minor cosmetic fixes last offseason, including new FieldTurf, but big changes are on the horizon. This spring, new AD Steve Patterson began exploring the feasibility of expansion to complete the south end zone of DKR. Currently, that end zone houses simple bleachers and the "Godzillatron" video board. Such an expansion would target adding more premium seating and suites, not general seats, and (no surprise here) would likely aim to surpass Texas A&M's new Kyle Field capacity of 102,500.

Texas Tech: Jones AT&T Stadium
Constructed: 1947 Recent renovation: 2013
Capacity: 60,862
Coming soon: Texas Tech kicked off a new campaign in February to raise more than $100 million for more than two dozen athletic facility projects. "The Campaign For Fearless Champions" will involve all 17 Red Raider athletic teams and facilities all over campus. Development of Jones AT&T Stadium's south end zone is said to be one of the cornerstones of the funding venture, as well as an indoor football practice facility.

West Virginia: Milan Puskar Stadium
Constructed:
1980 Recent renovation: 2007 Capacity: 60,000
Coming soon: West Virginia unveiled plans for $106 million in facility upgrades in April. Milan Puskar Stadium will receive concourse renovations, a new scoreboard, upgraded box seats and plenty more. One of Dana Holgorsen's top priorities will also be addressed: $5 million is going toward building a new team meeting room. No timetable on when all that gets done, but construction should begin after the 2014 season.
Texas and Texas A&M might not be playing one another anytime soon.

But other schools around the league are interested in the prospects of rekindling rivalries that were destroyed by two rounds of conference realignment.

While the Longhorns and Aggies remain at odds, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told ESPN.com this week he’s optimistic that he’ll be able to get Texas A&M on the Red Raiders’ schedule down the line again. Hocutt said there has been interest from Texas A&M’s side, as well.

“Hopefully that’s a series that at some point in time that could start again,” Hocutt said. “Is that a game that won’t happen again? No. We’ve had discussions about it. Hopefully we can reengage that in the coming years.”

Oklahoma and Nebraska already have an agreement in place to play a home-and-home in 2021-22. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has reportedly said he thinks his school will play Kansas again someday.

And West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who has already added Penn State and Virginia Tech to future schedules, told ESPN.com he's hopeful he'll be able to revive the “Backyard Brawl” with Pitt at some point, as well.

“At some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule,” Luck said. “What I’m trying to do with our nonconference games is stay as regional as possible and rekindle some of our historical rivalries. Penn State is back on the schedule. Virginia Tech is back on the schedule. That game meant a lot to southern West Virginians. The Pitt game meant a lot to northern West Virginians. We’ve continued to play Pitt in many of the sports.

“We’ve both gone through transitions, so it’s tough schedule-wise for both of us. But I think at some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule. I see [Pitt athletic director] Steve Pederson every now and then at various conventions. And we’ve had some discussions about that. We just haven’t been able to really eyeball the proper time to get it going again.”
IRVING, Texas -- The last time the Big 12 appeared in a national championship game, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was in the locker room and Garrett Gilbert was on the field. And before that January night in 2010 was over, Nick Saban was hoisting the first of his three Alabama BCS trophies.

But as college football transitions into the playoff era, the Big 12 discussed a return to the postseason limelight at its annual spring meetings, buoyed by a wave of momentum from the most recent bowl season, an aggressive nonconference scheduling strategy and the only round-robin format among the Power Five conferences.

[+] EnlargeJohn Currie
Bo Rader/MCT/ZUMA Press/Icon SMIK-State AD John Currie is among many in the Big 12 who believe a full round-robin schedule will help the conference in the new playoff format.
“I think we’re positioned extraordinarily well,” Kansas State athletic director John Currie said. “The full round-robin competition leaves no question about strength of schedule. ... When [the playoff committee is] comparing one of the schools in our league and our schedule versus a school from one of the other conferences, there’s not going to be anybody we didn’t play. Everyone will have played K-State. Everyone will have played Oklahoma. Everyone will have played Texas. There won’t be anyone in our league that didn’t play Alabama or didn’t play USC or didn’t play Clemson, like will be the case in the other leagues.

“I think that will be an extraordinary strength.”

It remains to be seen just how the committee will pool teams together for the four-team playoff this season.

But while the other Power Five leagues spent their spring meetings discussing the merits of scheduling FCS opponents while also instituting nonconference scheduling requirements, the Big 12 was touting its scheduling, in and out of conference.

“We really believe the way teams will be evaluated for participation in the playoff will include the strength-of-schedule component,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “Certain people may define that differently. But everything we’ve heard. ... those that schedule competitively, that’ll position us the right way.”

On top of the nine-game conference schedule -- the ACC, Big Ten and SEC will play just eight conference games this season -- the Big 12 has teams playing several marquee nonconference opponents in 2014.

Oklahoma State opens with defending national champion Florida State. The same day, West Virginia will meet Saban’s Crimson Tide. Texas will face UCLA in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 13. Kansas State will take on reigning SEC champ Auburn on Sept. 18. Oklahoma-Tennessee, Iowa State-Iowa, Texas Tech-Arkansas, TCU-Minnesota and Kansas-Duke are also all on the slate in 2014.

“We’re going to play all comers,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.

That includes the conference schedule, too.

While Baylor will have to travel to both Oklahoma and Texas this season, Alabama will avoid Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina on its schedule this fall. USC doesn’t have to play Oregon during the regular season. Wisconsin’s path to a Big Ten championship game doesn’t include Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State.

“When I was in the Pac-12, there were times you’d look up and go, ‘Geez, I’m glad don’t have Team X on my schedule this year,' " said first-year Texas athletic director Steve Patterson, who was at Arizona State last year.

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema made waves earlier this week when he suggested the SEC would get a minimum of two teams in the playoff every year.

Bowlsby fired back at that assertion.

“I think it will probably come as a surprise to the selection committee that [the SEC] will automatically have two teams in,” he said. “You look at any other of the high-visibility conferences, the selection committee will have to look very carefully at who they played. Whether it’s eight or nine games, they may not have played three teams who were in the upper half of the [opposite] division. So one 7-1 record doesn’t look the same as another 7-1 record.

There aren't any weeks off. We think our path to the playoff is a really good path to the playoff.

-- Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby
“The selection committee will be more than sophisticated to look at who they play and how they did against the people they actually played.”

The round-robin format previously had doomed the Big 12 from getting a team in the BCS National Championship Game.

In 2011, Oklahoma State was unbeaten and ranked second in the BCS standings before losing on the road in double overtime at Iowa State in its fifth conference road game. Even though the Cowboys had already defeated Texas A&M, Texas, Missouri and Texas Tech on the road -- and would hammer then-No. 14 Oklahoma by 34 points after losing to the Cyclones -- they were narrowly edged out by Alabama for the national title game spot.

In 2012, Kansas State was also undefeated going into its fifth conference road game in late November, but lost at Baylor, which would go on to reel off 13 wins in a row before falling at Oklahoma State in 2013.

Conversely, five of the six teams that have played for the past three national titles got late-season reprieves in the forms of Georgia Southern ('11 Alabama), Western Kentucky ('11 LSU), Western Carolina ('12 Alabama), Idaho ('13 Florida State) and Florida Atlantic ('13 Auburn).

“They seem to need a break to rest and relax,” Patterson said.

Currie added the contrast would work in the Big 12’s favor in the playoff format.

“The playoff is [going to be] particularly advantageous to the Big 12,” he said. “Losing your fourth or fifth road game in the conference late in November versus winning your fourth nonconference game against a far lower-tiered opponent, as has been the practice in some leagues -- how do those things balance out? Which is a truer test of your program?

“We’ve had three years in a row where a Big 12 team was undefeated going into the last couple weeks of the season and lost on the road in either their fourth or fifth road game of the year. Those are all teams that would have been deserving of being in that mix. To me, this is a great opportunity for the Big 12 to be better represented in that top four, and have a much stronger chance of being in that group because of the qualitative factors of assessing scheduled stacked up against each other.”

It’s been a while since the Big 12 was a postseason factor. In 2008, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech were all ranked in the top five in late November, with the Sooners emerging to advance to the national championship game. The Longhorns played for the title the following year.

With its scheduling format, Big 12 leaders believe they’ll soon be playing for the championship again.

“There aren’t any weeks off,” Bowlsby said of his league. “We think our path to the playoff is a really good path to the playoff.”

TCU’s future starting quarterback might have spent his spring in College Station, Texas.

It’s possible Texas' next starter hasn’t even moved to Austin yet.

And half the teams in the Big 12 still haven't officially named a starter for the 2014 season.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtJ.W. Walsh showed comfort and patience this spring, emerging as the clear favorite to become Oklahoma State's starting quarterback.
But while quarterback continues to be the Big 12’s biggest moving part, the spring brought at least some clarity to the position across the league.

After losing the job last season, J.W. Walsh retook a commanding lead in Oklahoma State’s third quarterback derby in as many years.

Grant Rohach built off his strong finish last season to head into the summer as the clear frontrunner at Iowa State.

And even though Clint Trickett sat out the spring recovering from a shoulder injury, none of West Virginia’s other spring contenders could unseat him from the top of the depth chart.

Elsewhere, Kansas surprisingly named sophomore Montell Cozart as its starter days after he outshined incumbent Jake Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard in the Jayhawks’ spring game.

And Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight and Texas Tech’s Davis Webb rode the momentum of their breakout bowl performances to spring improvement.

Even the two schools with the biggest quarterback questions received some possible panaceas this spring.

Matt Joeckel, Johnny Manziel’s backup at Texas A&M the last two seasons, revealed two weeks ago that he would be transferring to TCU, where he’ll be eligible immediately. The Horned Frogs, who are installing an up-tempo offense similar to one Joeckel played in with the Aggies, ended spring with Trevone Boykin as their No. 1 quarterback, even though Boykin finished last year as a receiver.

To the south, another high-profile transfer could soon be following Joeckel to the Big 12. Since announcing he was transferring from USC, Max Wittek has visited Texas three times, including the Longhorns’ spring game. Wittek would be eligible right away as well, and with David Ash out for now with a fractured foot, Wittek could viably challenge to become Texas’ opening game starter.

Such positive developments at the most critical of positions are welcome developments for a league that struggled and juggled at quarterback through much of the 2013 season. In fact, Baylor’s Bryce Petty was the only Big 12 quarterback to start every game for his team last season.

Petty, who was on the short list of Heisman contenders until November, will again be the class of the league at quarterback.

But he should have plenty more company this season, beginning with Kansas State's Jake Waters, who improved as much as any quarterback in the country did over the course of last season. In leading the Wildcats to victories in six of their final seven games, Waters actually produced a higher Adjusted QBR rating than Petty during the same stretch.

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder came away impressed with the confidence Waters carried throughout the spring, which included a crisp effort in the spring game minus his favorite receiver, Tyler Lockett, who sat out the scrimmage with a minor injury.

“He just understands things a lot better,” Snyder said. “He has gained more confidence, probably just because of going through the process of going through some growing pains.”

Both Walsh and Rohach also went through growing pains last season.

But after a jittery sophomore campaign in which he eventually lost the starting job back to Clint Chelf in October, Walsh re-established himself this spring and performed with the poise he did two years ago as a freshman to emerge as the favorite to become the Cowboys' starter again.

“J.W. has become more of a leader,” offensive tackle Daniel Koenig said after Oklahoma State’s “Orange Blitz” scrimmage. “He’s staying in the pocket more, which is good. Maybe a year or two years ago, he’d get nervous back there and start scrambling. But now he’s sitting in there and throwing.”

Rohach, who finished off the 2013 season by leading Iowa State to a come-from-behind, triple-overtime victory at West Virginia, also showed more confidence this spring, leading Iowa State on three of its six scoring drives in the spring game. Coach Paul Rhoads said he’d wait until mid-August before declaring a starter, but Rohach seems to have the clear edge over Sam B. Richardson and Joel Lanning heading into the summer.

"To begin [the spring], coming off that huge game against West Virginia, putting pressure on myself, my first few practices weren't very good," Rohach said. "But as spring ball went on I shrugged off those mistakes, and I think I got a lot better."

Webb and Knight also used their final performances of last season to springboard into their second springs on campus.

Webb has been especially impressive since earning MVP honors in the Red Raiders' National University Holiday Bowl victory over Arizona State. In Texas Tech’s three spring open scrimmages, he tossed 13 touchdowns with no interceptions.

“He is night and day from what he was at this time last year,” Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I am really impressed with him.”

With a limited playbook and a no-contact jersey, Knight had a lackluster showing in Oklahoma’s spring game, and was actually outplayed by Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield. But behind closed practices, the Sooners liked the development they saw from their sophomore quarterback, who last torched two-time defending national champ Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

“He’s continued to make strides,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “It’s not even like he played perfect in the Sugar Bowl -- there are things he missed in that game. He’s by no means a finished product.”

The quarterback position in the Big 12 is by no means a finished product, either, coming out of the spring. But the position looks better -- and clearer -- now than it did just two months ago.

3-point stance: FSU still loaded

March, 25, 2014
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1. As well as national champion Florida State played last season, the biggest surprise is how many of the Seminoles came back. The Seminoles are returning five first-team All-ACC players. That’s as many as the other 13 ACC teams have on the first and second All-ACC teams combined. Not to mention that Florida State has 113 returning starts on the offensive line. None of that includes tight end Nick O'Leary (second team All-ACC) or defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (third team). The Seminoles are loaded -- still.

2. West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson leaned on his old friend Tom Bradley to coach the Mountaineers’ defensive line, even though that’s the only position on that side of the ball Bradley didn’t coach in his 33 seasons at Penn State. West Virginia needs the help; its three-man line lost two starters, and the returnees have a total of 13 starts among them. When you’re coming off a 4-8 record, you don’t have a full cupboard. Bradley makes the Mountaineers a more interesting story than they would be otherwise.

3. It would be easy to unleash the snark about Jim Tressel applying for the presidency of the University of Akron. I will leave that to Twitter. Tressel pointed out that he has 35 years of administration in higher education. He works at Akron now, so he and the school know each other. All Akron must do is come to terms with Tressel lying to the NCAA and covering up his players’ transgressions. Is three years in coaching purgatory a sufficient sentence? Auburn decided so in the case of Bruce Pearl. But Akron is hiring a president, not a basketball coach.

3-point stance: Texas two-step

March, 11, 2014
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1. Duane Akina became the seventh assistant from Mack Brown’s staff at Texas to get another job when Stanford hired him as secondary coach. Co-offensive coordinators Major Applewhite and Darrell Wyatt, the two highest-paid assistants, remain on the market. One interesting note: Most coaching contracts see to it that a fired coach gets the agreed-upon amount. If he is hired elsewhere for less than that amount, the first school makes up the difference. Not Texas. If you take another job, Texas is done.

2. Dr. Joab Thomas, the former president of the University of Alabama and Penn State University, died last week at age 81. While at Alabama, Thomas endured the controversy of hiring Ray Perkins and Bill Curry to replace the legendary Paul Bryant. In 1990, Thomas went to State College, Pa., where the equally legendary Joe Paterno turned 65 the following year. When someone asked him about Paterno retiring, Thomas said, “You can't ask one man to replace both Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno.”

3. Jake Trotter’s post Monday described the desire of West Virginia players to turn the program around after a 4-8 record last season. Injuries contributed a great deal to the Mountaineers’ troubles. But the physical and mental burden of traveling to the Big 12 footprint will be an annual drag on West Virginia football. The good news is that in this season’s nine-game conference schedule, the 5/4 split tips to Milan Puskar Stadium. The bad news is that the season opens with a neutral-site game against Alabama in Atlanta.
In its first month in the Big 12, West Virginia charged into the league with the vigor its musket-toting mascot would toward a black bear.

After striking down Texas on the road, the Mountaineers stormed into October two seasons ago ranked in the top five of the polls.

But since that moment, West Virginia has been fighting a steady, but furious, backpedal. The Mountaineers have lost eight of their past 12 games in the league, culminating with a triple-overtime collapse to Iowa State in Morgantown to cap a bowl-less 2013 season.

Yet, minus several outgoing key performers, playing for a coach whose seat is getting warmer and a brutal slate awaiting them, the Mountaineers have gone into spring ball dead-set on finally proving their mettle in their new league this fall.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Brad Davis/Icon SMIIf Clint Trickett or one of West Virginia's quarterbacks can effectively lead the offense, the Mountaineers have the personnel around them to do damage.
“Absolutely,” said rising senior guard Quinton Spain, who has started in every Big 12 game the Mountaineers have played in.

“We have stuff to prove.”

It’s not difficult to pinpoint where exactly it all went wrong for West Virginia.

In their final season in the Big East in 2011, the Mountaineers punched out nine wins, then punched out Clemson in the Orange Bowl with a convincing 70-33 victory.

West Virginia entered its inaugural Big 12 season with three of the best skill-position talents in the country in quarterback Geno Smith, wideout Stedman Bailey and versatile playmaker Tavon Austin, who all made starts in the NFL as rookies last season.

The Mountaineers, however, trotted out one of the worst defenses in the country by every statistical measure. And when the West Virginia offense finally cooled off after the Texas win, the bottom fell out.

Last season, the defense showed early improvement after coach Dana Holgorsen switched coordinators from Joe DeForest to Keith Patterson. But with its trio of offensive stars gone, the Mountaineers struggled to consistently score points. By the time the offense came around, injuries piled up on the other side of the ball, which crippled the West Virginia defense the final month of the season.

“The record [the past two years] has been unacceptable -- every player on this team knows it,” said cornerback Daryl Worley, who emerged as a starter as a true freshman last season. “We have yet to click as a whole, together. The Big 12 has so many complete teams -- teams known for winning, who are productive on both sides of the ball. We definitely understand that to compete in this league, we can’t just depend on the offense or the defense. Both sides have to be better.”

However, there's reason to believe that the Mountaineers could be better on both sides of the ball and field their most complete team since joining the league.

All-Big 12 running back Charles Sims is out of eligibility. All-conference defensive end Will Clarke and safety Darwin Cook are, too.

The record (the last two years) has been unacceptable -- every player on this team knows it.

-- cornerback Daryl Worley
The bulk of the team, however, is back. And while injuries devastated West Virginia in the short run last season, they also allowed numerous young players to gain valuable experience for the future. The Mountaineers bring back seven starters on each side of the ball and a host of key rotation players. Despite the on-field struggles, West Virginia also inked a banner recruiting class last month, loaded with potential for instant impact.

“We lost some guys, but we were pretty young last year,” Spain said. “I feel like we’ve got more people coming back than ever. So I feel like we could be pretty good.”

That will hinge heavily on the quarterback position, which might not get resolved until the fall. Clint Trickett ended last season as the starter but is out this spring recovering from shoulder surgery that repaired a torn labrum. Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and freshman William Crest, who will arrive on campus in the summer, could make this an intriguing derby.

But if Holgorsen can find his man at quarterback, the rest of the pieces seem to be in place to give the Mountaineers at least a chance of making its third season in the Big 12 the charm.

Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell, who was the nation’s third highest-ranked running back recruit in 2012, headlines a backfield that's as deep as any in the Big 12.

Elsewhere, the entire receiving and linebacking corps are basically back. Spain and veteran Mark Glowinski give the Mountaineers arguably the best one-two punch at guard in the league. Cook is the only departing starter in the secondary, which will welcome a potential future cornerstone at cornerback opposite Worley in incoming freshman Dravon Henry, who signed with West Virginia over Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, among many others.

Off the field, the Mountaineers also made one of the best assistant coaching hires in the Big 12 this cycle, snagging former Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who was one of Joe Paterno’s top lieutenants for more than three decades.

Of course, the schedule is completely unforgiving, beginning with a neutral site clash with Alabama in Atlanta. The Mountaineers also have to face Oklahoma and Baylor and have to go to Maryland, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech -- all games they figure to be underdogs in.

But Spain said his teammates are welcoming the challenging slate. What better way for the Mountaineers to finally prove their Big 12 chops?

“Everybody on this team is hungry for real,” Spain said. “We’re ready to prove ourselves.”
1. Former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston’s grounds for suing the NCAA and the five equity conferences should dredge up bad memories for college athletics’ old guard. Alston’s antitrust claim, that scholarships covering less than the full cost of attendance amount to restraint of trade, is similar to the restricted-earnings debacle of the early 1990s. The NCAA passed a rule that some assistant coaches in various sports could earn only $16,000. After losing the case, the NCAA eventually settled for $54.5 million.

2. It’s ironic that Alston is suing the five big conferences, which have the funds and the will to pay scholarships that would cover the full cost of attendance. They have been held back by Division I members who don’t have that kind of money and fear the competitive imbalance that would result. But considering that Ohio Stadium seats more than 100,000 and Ohio U.’s Peden Stadium seats 24,000, the competitive-imbalance ship sailed a long time ago.

3. The inclusion of 1994 Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam of Colorado on the new College Football Hall of Fame ballot reminds us of one aspect of what the Hall represents. The Buffaloes’ run of dominance lasted from the late 1980s through the 1990s. The Hall has elected linebacker Alfred Williams (2010) and head coach Bill McCartney (2013). Salaam and running back Eric Bieniemy are eligible. Lined up behind them are cornerback Deon Figures, center Jay Leeuwenburg, linebacker Matt Russell, wide receiver Michael Westbrook, and others. A once-dominant program gets to re-live its success. That’s nice.
With spring practice off and rolling, plenty of questions surround the league’s programs. And while many of those won’t be fully answered until the season begins in the fall, here are some of the biggest ones Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia will face this spring:

Can freshman impact OSU's QB race?

Junior quarterback J.W. Walsh has made eight starts for the Cowboys over the last two seasons. But even with Clint Chelf now gone, Walsh still will have to fight for a job with freshman Mason Rudolph already on campus. Rudolph, who enrolled early to participate in spring ball, threw for more than 4,300 yards and 64 touchdowns his final year of high school and is one of the most highly-touted quarterback recruits ever to sign with the Cowboys. In high school, Rudolph played in an offensive scheme similar to Oklahoma State’s, which is what first interested him in the Cowboys. That should ease his transition to the college level. Of course for now, the job is Walsh’s to lose. But Rudolph has the talent and the skill set to begin applying pressure on Walsh as soon as this spring.

How will TCU adapt to the offensive overhaul?

TCU conducted its first spring practice over the weekend, and the exit polls suggested the Horned Frogs went through offensive drills fast. Like really fast. Tired of ranking near the bottom of the Big 12 in offense, Gary Patterson shook up his coaching staff and brought in Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham to install an up-tempo offensive system that resembled those of Texas Tech (Cumbie) and Oklahoma State (Meacham). As Patterson admitted after the first practice, there will be a learning curve for his players to picking up this new offensive style. But the quicker quarterback Trevone Boykin can adapt, the better off TCU will be going into 2014.

How will Texas look different under Strong?

The last time Texas had a coach other than Mack Brown running a spring practice, Bill Clinton was still president. The Charlie Strong era will begin in earnest with the start of spring practice in Austin. How will the players adjust to the new schemes of assistants Shawn Watson, Joe Wickline and Vance Bedford? How will the veterans react to their new position coaches? Who will thrive with the new staff? Who will falter? Those pivotal questions will begin to be answered this spring.

Can Texas Tech get by with only one scholarship QB?

With starting right tackle Rashad Fortenberry getting an extra year of eligibility over the weekend, the Red Raiders seem to be in good shape across the board offensively. Of course, that could change real quick should QB Davis Webb incur any kind of injury this spring. With Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma and Michael Brewer headed to Virginia Tech, the Red Raiders will be down to just one scholarship quarterback until Patrick Mahomes arrives in the summer. Though coach Kliff Kingsbury has said that Tech has a couple of capable walk-ons, an injury to Webb would hamper the spring development of an offense that will have big goals in the fall. Coming off a breakout performance in the bowl game, Webb also needs to continue developing this spring. But he also needs to remain healthy for the betterment of himself and the team.

Who will get carries for West Virginia?

Even with Charles Sims gone, the Mountaineers still enjoy a stable of capable of running backs. But where will Sims’ carries go? After rushing for 494 yards last season, Dreamius Smith is starting out the spring atop the depth chart. But he’ll have to fend off several comers to remain there. Wendell Smallwood came on strong late during his freshman season and finished the year averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Rushel Shell also joins the fray this spring after transferring over from Pittsburgh. Shell, who set a Pennsylvania high school rushing record, was formerly the No. 26 overall recruit in the 2012 recruiting class. There are still others. Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie are still around after leading the Mountaineers’ in rushing in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Oh yeah, West Virginia will also add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. Good luck to the running back who dares to take a play off in this crammed competition.

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