NCF Nation: Andrew Buie

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.

Mountaineers are transferring power

August, 14, 2013
Perhaps no team in the country faces the daunting task West Virginia does. The Mountaineers have to replace the school’s all-time leading passer and its two all-time leading receivers.

Together, quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey had a hand in nearly four-fifths of West Virginia’s all-purpose yards last season.

“I’ve been talking to our guys about this all the time,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “How are we going to score without three of the best players that ever played the game here?”

Holgorsen is banking that his Mountaineers can somehow do it with a collection of talented FBS and junior-college transfers. All told, West Virginia brought in four junior-college offensive skill players and two high-profile FBS transfers. All six could wind up with critical roles in the offense.

“We did a good job of getting guys who can make big plays,” said running back Andrew Buie, essentially West Virginia’s only returning skill player from last season. “I definitely think we can be explosive again.”

Whether the Mountaineers can hinges heavily on their transfers -- especially quarterback Clint Trickett, running back Charles Sims and wide receiver Kevin White.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsClint Trickett did not play all that much at Florida State, but when he did he played well.
Trickett left Florida State after the spring to join West Virginia’s quarterback competition. He’s up against junior Paul Millard and redshirt freshman Ford Childress for the starting job in a battle that’s yet to yield a frontrunner.

“Clint Trickett has a presence to him; every rep he takes he gets better and does some good things,” Holgorsen said. “They all make good decisions at times but because of inexperience, they make poor decisions that get them in trouble. The guy that reduces the poor decisions will be the guy that wins the job. I think they are all capable of being pretty good.”

While backing up EJ Manuel at Florida State, Trickett showed flashes of being pretty good. After Manuel got hurt during the 2011 season, Trickett came in and delivered a pair of sterling performances against top-notch competition. He nearly rallied the Seminoles to a win over Oklahoma. Then the following week, he threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns in a shootout defeat at Clemson.

Trickett, whose father, Rick, is the Seminoles’ offensive line coach, elected to transfer to West Virginia after losing the battle for the starting job to freshman Jameis Winston this spring.

“All Dana said was he’s not promising me anything and that I’m going to get my chances,” said Trickett, who grew up in Morgantown while his dad was a West Virginia assistant. “That’s all I can ask for.”

The Mountaineers do have other options at quarterback. But outside their transfers, they don’t have many options at running back or receiver.

Buie, who rushed for 851 yards and seven touchdowns last season, figures to be the featured back. But he could have plenty of help from a pair of transfers.

Sims arrived in the summer after totaling 4,077 yards rushing and receiving for Houston in three seasons. His freshman season playing for Holgorsen, Sims was the Conference USA freshman of the year. Sims is eligible to play this season because he got his degree in Houston.

“We're extremely fortunate to have his services for one year,” Holgorsen said. “He's a great kid, a tremendous football player.

[+] EnlargeCharles Sims
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesCharles Sims has been reunited with coach Dana Holgorsen, under whom as a frehsman at Houston he amassed 1,457 yards of offense.
“I didn't promise him anything. He knows what I'm all about. He knows how I coach. He knows what our offense is about. And we need some playmakers on offense.”

Sims has been just that. After missing the 2010 season with an injury, Sims bounced back the following year to earn first-team All-Conference USA honors. Like Austin, Sims has the skill set to operate out of the backfield or line up in the slot.

“This is basically the same offense I’ve been running since my freshman year,” Sims said. “The terminology is all that’s different.”

The Mountaineers are also hoping for a boost from Dreamius Smith, who was the nation’s No. 1 junior-college running back. Smith averaged 8.2 yards a carry for Butler (Kan.) Community College before joining West Virginia in January.

“He's got great ball skills,” Smith's position coach, Jajuan Seider, said. “He can catch the ball. The way he looks – you don't even think he's running. He's one of the fastest guys on the team – next thing you know, he's going for 70 or 80 yards and our safety can't catch him. He's a really good player. I'm glad we've got him.”

The Mountaineers are glad they got White, too, who since the spring has been vying to be the team’s go-to receiver.

White might not be able to replicate the production of Austin or Bailey, but teamed with fellow junior-college receivers Mario Alford and Ronald Carswell, White might lead a deeper receiving corps with more viable options than last year’s group.

“This offense is definitely going to be more than just three guys,” White said. “We have all the pieces to the puzzle.

“We just have to put it together.”
Dana Holgorsen has a reputation as a coach who loves to throw it on every down, but since leaving Case Keenum and Houston behind, that's been far from the case.

His Cougars offenses ran the ball on 36.8 percent of their downs in 2008 and even less (35.3 percent) in 2009 with Case Keenum at the helm. That's what happens when you've got a player like Keenum capable of throwing for more yards than any quarterback in college football history.

At West Virginia this season, though, we might see the most run-based offense ever with Holgorsen as a playcaller. This will be a very, very different season than anything Holgorsen's ever experienced.

For one, West Virginia's strength and experience on offense lies at running back, something he's never had. Adding Houston transfer Charles Sims, who ran for 800 yards in consecutive seasons, gives West Virginia four quality running backs, with juco transfer Dreamius Smith a fellow newcomer alongside Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison, who both have 700-yard rushing seasons as Mountaineers.

West Virginia ran the ball 46.9 percent of the time last season, the most ever for an offense with Holgorsen calling the plays. That's an amazing number with so much talent in the passing game with Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, but 73 of those carries went to Austin.

This season, West Virginia will be without its top three receivers and breaking in a new quarterback whose identity may not be known until a couple of weeks before the season. Regardless of whether Clint Trickett, Ford Childress or Paul Millard wins the job, they're guaranteed to have very little experience on the field. In Childress' case, he has exactly none.

Believe it or not, Holgorsen has never had to deal with a quarterback competition as a play-calling offensive coordinator or head coach. Keenum was the clear starter at Houston when Holgorsen came aboard, and Alex Cate's transfer cleared the way for Brandon Weeden to be the clear incumbent at Oklahoma State when Mike Gundy hired him in 2010. That team also had a bona fide star at running back in Kendall Hunter, who inspired Holgorsen to run the ball on 45.8 percent of snaps and Hunter to rack up 1,548 rushing yards.

This quarterback uncertainty is new territory, but he knows exactly what he's got at running back, and now's as good a time as ever for the Mountaineers to lean on that spot.

Pregame: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

December, 29, 2012
West Virginia (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) versus Syracuse (7-5, 5-2 Big East):

WHO TO WATCH: Stedman Bailey. Hard to pick just one of the West Virginia trio on offense that has shattered just about every school record. Geno Smith and Tavon Austin are just as worthy of selection. So are Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon for Syracuse. But I went with Bailey for a variety of reasons. First, he had an incredible season, leading the nation with 23 touchdown receptions. Second, this is his last game after declaring early for the NFL draft, a perfect opportunity to showcase his talents for everybody to see. And third, he was just about the only West Virginia player to have any success against Syracuse last season, with seven catches for 130 yards and a touchdown.

WHAT TO WATCH: Geno Smith versus Syracuse's front. This is the biggest matchup to watch in the game, and it is not even really that close. Syracuse beat West Virginia the past two years in large part because its defensive front found a way to harass Smith. In those two victories, Syracuse combined to sack Smith nine times and force him into five interceptions. Chandler Jones was particularly impressive in both of those games. He is gone, and you can bet Syracuse will be turning its focus to Brandon Sharpe as a rush end in this game. Now, by all measures, Smith was a more complete quarterback this season than the past two years, as he threw a whopping 40 touchdown passes. But five of his six interceptions came in losses, so the game plan for Syracuse should remain the same as the previous two years -- make Smith as uncomfortable as possible.

WHY WATCH: This game is being billed as potentially having plenty of offensive fireworks, as both teams average more than 470 yards per game. Plus, they are longtime Big East rivals. Before 2012, Syracuse and West Virginia had met annually since 1955 and played for the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy when it was established in 1993. Although the trophy is not going to be on the line in this game, West Virginia will try to beat the Orange for the first time since 2009. One more thing to keep an eye on -- the weather. Snow is expected in New York on Saturday, so that could radically alter game plans and force both teams to rely more on their ground games. Jerome Smith and Andrew Buie (or even Shawne Alston) could end up with big days.

PREDICTION: Syracuse 45, West Virginia 44.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
Here's what I'm keeping an eye on in the Big 12 this week:

1. Remember all the little people. K-State has dealt with the distraction and hype really well this season. The Wildcats have been consistent and solid every week. This week, though, the pressure is at a whole new level. They're the nation's No. 1 team. Collin Klein's presence will test the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. Oklahoma State lost in its 11th game last season. K-State should roll Baylor on paper, but can it keep its focus in uncharted territory?

2. To care or not to care, that is the question. West Virginia was hyped all offseason for this game. Carrying a four-game losing streak into the Oklahoma game was not part of the plan, though. It's asking a lot for fans to come in droves and provide a big-time atmosphere. Will the Mountaineers fans do it and try to help their team reach bowl eligibility? Tough test for a fan base that has had a pretty terrible month or so and hasn't seen a win since Oct. 6 or a win in its home stadium since Sept. 29.

[+] EnlargeBaylor's Lache Seastrunk
Denny Medley/US PRESSWIRELache Seastrunk (25) rushed for 91 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries against Oklahoma.
3. Baylor breaks out its Jet Ski. Lache Seastrunk was officially set free last week, emerging as Baylor's No. 1 back with three touchdowns. Can he go to work against K-State's front seven this week, a solid unit headlined by Arthur Brown but still missing Tre Walker? Jarell Childs has played well, but Seastrunk's game-breaking speed could come into play.

4. Just do it. If Kansas is going to beat Iowa State, it will do so on the backs of its, uh, backs. Tony Pierson and James Sims are fantastic. Charlie Weis talked about needing to do creative things to run the ball when everybody knows the Jayhawks are going to run the ball. Well, everybody knows KU is going to run the ball. What does Weis have prepared this week for KU's best chance to crack its 19-game Big 12 losing streak?

5. Get a medical team on it, stat. Klein's injury saga is over, but K-State has more injury issues this week to keep an eye on. Starting safety Ty Zimmerman left the stadium in a boot last week, and Tyler Lockett suffered an ankle injury late against TCU. Both are key pieces to the nation's No. 1 team. Will they play, and will they do so effectively? All bets are off in this one.

6. At what point does someone start swiping chairs? Oklahoma State has played musical chairs at quarterback, and it shocked a lot of folks when Mike Gundy confirmed J.W. Walsh was available last week but didn't play. He is not on the depth chart this week, instead with an "or" between Clint Chelf and Wes Lunt. The good news: All three can play, and OSU can win with all of them. The bad news: This is turning into a bit of a circus. At least it's unpredictable for opponents, so that plays to OSU's advantage while the competition has to prepare for all three.

7. If you're so inKleined. A.J. Klein has had a quiet couple of games since Jake Knott's injury, making just 11 tackles total in the past two games after tallying at least 11 in three of the past five before Klein left the field. Klein has moved to weakside linebacker and wants more production out of the position. Iowa State needs that while Jeremiah George replaces Knott and the duo teams up to slow KU's running game.

8. Gotta fix the leaks. Oklahoma dominated Baylor's passing game, but the defense was hot after the game after giving up a season-high 252 yards on the ground to the Bears. Can WVU's Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie have a little success? Dana Holgorsen wasn't happy with the Mountaineers' run game, but this matchup will have an influence on the winner in Morgantown.

9. Time for the hook ... again? Steele Jantz has gone back to struggling after tearing up Baylor. He completed just more than 50 percent of his passes in consecutive weeks -- both losses -- and hasn't topped 200 yards through the air with one touchdown to three picks. If he struggles again, does Jared Barnett get a shot against KU? I seem to remember another Big 12 team switching QBs late and having it pay off.

What to watch for in the Big 12: Week 7

October, 11, 2012
Here's what I'm keeping an eye on this week across the Big 12.

1. Frogs stick together. It's been a trying couple of weeks for the Horned Frogs, but can this team rally without its best player, quarterback Casey Pachall? It didn't get the job done at home last week against Iowa State. Baylor is a better team, and TCU is going on the road. What do these guys have in their tank?

2. Tackling ain't for dummies. Texas' tackling issues have been obvious and continued last week against West Virginia. Longhorns coach Mack Brown admits it's an issue but says plenty of other people will be missing tackles against the Cowboys and Mountaineers. Probably, but there are plenty of good offenses across the Big 12. Oklahoma is one of them. Can the Longhorns get back to looking like what most people thought this defense would look like?

3. Keep the bad man at bay. We've seen Good Landry in this game -- he was on full display last year in the Sooners' blowout rivalry win. Texas is putting big-time pressure on quarterbacks this year, even if its linebackers and defensive backs are having tackling issues. That means plenty of opportunities for Bad Landry to make an appearance. Can Landry Jones be all good, fight off the pressure and avoid mistakes?

[+] EnlargeJared Barnett
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireCan Jared Barnett work his home upset magic on another top-10 foe with K-State visiting?
4. Perhaps his first name should be "David" instead of Jared. Iowa State quarterback Jared Barnett was the quarterback in the Cyclones' two most impressive performances last season, with apologies to Steele Jantz's comeback victory over Iowa. Barnett torched Texas Tech 41-7 and showed up later to knock off No. 2 Oklahoma State, the best win in school history. Can Barnett play giant-killer once again with Kansas State coming to town?

5. Time to bounce back. The last we saw Baylor's defense, it was having fun giving up 70 points on the road to West Virginia. TCU will be a much different task, with a much less capable arm at quarterback. The Bears will be without one of their best defenders, cornerback Demetri Goodson, who's out for the year with a broken arm. How does BU's defense look, and can it force TCU into some mistakes?

6. Get your binoculars out; we're QB-watching. Once again, Oklahoma State faces the question: Wes Lunt or J.W. Walsh? Lunt is back practicing after injuring his knee, and coach Mike Gundy says he's "day to day." Does OSU try to get him on the field now and ease him in against an opponent it should beat easily? Or does it stick with Walsh and give Lunt more time to heal?

7. Keep on running it up. West Virginia looked good running the ball against Texas, but that hasn't been the case as much since Shawne Alston went down. Alston's status is in doubt, but can Andrew Buie keep it going against Texas Tech and keep relieving that pressure on Geno Smith? Texas Tech's defensive line is underrated and can get a push up front.

8. They're not perfect, but they're pretty dang close. Kansas State's game against Iowa State might be the most physical game it's played all season, including against Oklahoma. So far, the Wildcats have just nine penalties, four fewer than any other team in the nation and 11 fewer than any other team in the Big 12. The Wildcats also have just three turnovers this season. If they keep doing that, Iowa State doesn't have much of a chance to win. Will K-State keep it up?

9. Total carnage, or improvement? Kansas looked decent against TCU, but Oklahoma State will be the first bona-fide, powerful Big 12 spread offense the Jayhawks have seen this season. If you want to win in the Big 12, these are the offenses you have to figure out how to slow down. KU's defense has looked improved, but this is the best offense the unit has seen. If OSU scores 50 points without much resistance like last year, KU is going to feel a lot like not much progress is being made.

10. Learning how to Doege. Texas Tech senior quarterback Seth Doege had one of his worst outings ever and just his second three-interception game last week in a loss to Oklahoma. If he doesn't play well, Texas Tech has absolutely zero shot to win this game. Will he bounce back and silence the ridiculous calls for him to be benched in favor of Michael Brewer?

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 8, 2012
Here's what you need to know from the Big 12 in Week 6:

Best offensive performance: Andrew Buie, RB, West Virginia. Geno Smith said it best about Buie's performance on Saturday: "He carried us." Buie logged 31 carries and turned them into 207 yards and two touchdowns in the Mountaineers' 48-45 win at Texas. On West Virginia's final drive, he carried the ball on seven of eight plays for 63 yards and a touchdown. That won the game for the Eers, and the sophomore showed up big with Shawne Alston sidelined by a thigh bruise. Buie also caught three passes for 66 yards and would have scored, but the Turf Monster reached up and tripped him on the way into the end zone. Here's what I wrote about Buie's day.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Buie
Tim Heitman/US PresswireAndrew Buie's performance helped the Mountaineers top Texas.
Best defensive performance: Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State. For the second time this season, Knott sealed a huge road victory with an interception. He finished with 13 tackles (10 solo) and made a tackle for loss in the Cyclones' 37-23 win at TCU. Knott and his teammate, A.J. Klein, are just as good as advertised. Perhaps even better.

Best team performance: Oklahoma. Yes, West Virginia had the best win, but I knew the Mountaineers could do it. I picked 'em to do it, in fact. I was surprised to find myself in such a small minority of folks picking WVU to take care of business on the road. The Sooners, though? Did anybody think they could waltz into Lubbock and paste Tech by four touchdowns? I certainly didn't. They scored 41 points in three quarters and held Texas Tech to just 28 yards on its first six drives of the second half. That's crazy.

Best quote: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia, on Texas fans' chants of "Geno sucks!" "Where does that come from? Obviously, I don't suck."

Second-best quote: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia. "For the fourth game in a row, we didn't turn it over." Holgorsen paused. "... We probably did turn it over, now that I think about it," he said. "There's a lot of stuff going through my head. Boy, we did turn it over two times, didn't we?" Hey, people ask quarterbacks to have short memories. The same must go for coaches, I suppose.

Best game: West Virginia 48, Texas 45. Five total lead changes, including three in the second half? A whole bunch of big plays on both offense and defense? West Virginia goes 5-5 on fourth down? That's a heck of a ballgame on its own.

Worst quarter: Kansas' third quarter. The Jayhawks turned the ball over three times in the period, but did manage a safety after one of the turnovers. The problem? The safety came on the second of two Dayne Crist interceptions on consecutive throws, and the Jayhawks fumbled the kickoff on the safety. Kansas State broke a 32-yard touchdown run on the next play, and the Jayhawks were outscored 28-2 in the period.

Best quarter: Oklahoma's third quarter. The Sooners outscored Texas Tech 17-0 and turned a 24-13 lead into a 41-13 lead. Oklahoma scored on both of its offensive possessions and returned a Seth Doege interception 46 yards for a touchdown. Not bad, boys.

Worst play: Mack Brown, Texas. Facing a fourth-and-4 late in the first quarter, Texas' defensive line crashed the backfield and sacked Smith to get a huge defensive stop and ignite the crowd. The only problem? Texas had called a timeout before the ball was snapped. A harbinger of things to come ...

Best play: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia. On WVU's second chance, Austin caught a short pass over the middle to convert the fourth down (West Virginia would finish 5-of-5), and looked faster than anybody else in the Big 12, turning the corner on the Texas defense and racing for a 40-yard touchdown that put WVU up 14-7. Absolutely the sickest thing I saw all weekend.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 6

October, 7, 2012
Here's what I learned after another fun day across the Big 12:

Oklahoma is back in business. The Sooners were sort of left for dead after getting dropped by Kansas State at home two weeks ago and having only a modest road win over UTEP as the brightest spot on their résumé. Nobody made a stronger statement than the Sooners on Saturday. Oklahoma was a single-digit favorite, but dominated the second half against a pretty good Texas Tech team that was knocking on the door of the Top 25. With the depth of the Big 12, plenty of folks wondered if the Sooners were destined for a seven- or eight-win disappointment. After Saturday, Oklahoma clearly looks the part of a double-digit game winner and once again a Big 12 title contender. We'll know for sure next week. Oklahoma and Texas already have home losses to Big 12 title contenders in Kansas State and West Virginia. Next week's Red River loser may leave Dallas all but eliminated from the Big 12 title race.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma's Landry Jones
Michael C. Johnson/US PRESSWIRE Landry Jones and Oklahoma rebounded from a loss to Kansas State, setting up a must-win game for both the Sooners and Longhorns next week.
West Virginia's offense got even more dangerous. Everybody knew about Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but Andrew Buie? WVU looked pretty decent running the ball with Shawne Alston early this season, but he's been banged up. Did anybody think WVU could run the ball like it did with Buie, who ran for 207 yards on 31 carries? It was even more impressive late, when Texas knew what was coming, and it didn't matter. On the final offensive drive for WVU, Buie ran seven times for 63 yards. He ran hard, but the offensive line took care of business, too.

TCU is in deep, deep trouble without Casey Pachall. Trevone Boykin put in a good effort, and Iowa State's defense is solid, but he simply can't do what Pachall can do, and TCU's offense has to be completely different with him in the game. He's not ready, and how could you expect him to be? Pachall's decision-making and accuracy had him as efficient as just about any quarterback in the league. Boykin completed just 53 percent of his passes, threw three interceptions and most importantly, TCU lost by 14 at home to what's likely the ninth-best team in the Big 12. Or eighth, perhaps, after handing a hefty beating to the Frogs. Without Pachall, the Frogs are very, very average. The losses are piling up for TCU, a team that has lost 20-plus players for reasons unrelated to graduation since the end of last season. None were more impactful than Pachall, whose indefinite suspension is unlikely to be brief.

Bill Snyder still owns the state of Kansas. New KU coach Charlie Weis wanted to know why K-State and Missouri had success in the area and Kansas hadn't lately. It'll be interesting to see what he gleaned from another Sunflower Showdown beating for the Jayhawks. KU is the only team Snyder seems to be lacking in mercy for, and for the third consecutive season, K-State beat its in-state rival by at least 38 points.

Texas Tech's defense has come back to Earth. Texas Tech's defense is good, and much better than last year. Against Oklahoma's offensive line, though, the D-line got no push and rarely pressured Landry Jones, who wasn't sacked all day. The yardage (380) wasn't too bad, but Oklahoma racked up 41 points in just three quarters and made Texas Tech look pretty average. A good defense? Yes. No. 1 in the nation? Absolutely not. Best in the Big 12? Not likely.

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 7, 2012
Time to hand out a little hardware for a job well done. Your stickers are in the mail, gentlemen. I expect they'll be on your helmets next week.

Josh Lenz, WR, Iowa State: Lenz made Jared Barnett's first start of the season a memorable one, torching TCU's defense for touchdown catches of 51 and 74 yards during the 37-23 win. He wasn't done. He caught another TD for 1 yard and threw a 15-yard touchdown on a trick play.

John Hubert, RB, Kansas State: Hubert touched the ball only 10 times, but he turned those touches into 101 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the Wildcats' Sunflower Showdown 56-16 romp over Kansas. Well done by the Big 12's most underrated back.

Andrew Buie, RB, West Virginia: Buie was a workhorse for the Mountaineers, logging 207 yards on 31 carries, both career highs, in WVU's 48-45 win at Texas. On West Virginia's final offensive drive, Buie carried the ball seven times on the eight-play scoring drive, amassing 63 yards and icing the game with a 5-yard touchdown run. West Virginia wouldn't have won that game without him, and Geno Smith would have taken even more hits than he already took. Without the running game, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen suggested Texas' defense might have had 12 or 20 sacks instead of four.

Oklahoma's defense: Landry Jones played outstanding, but nobody could be all that surprised at Oklahoma hanging 41 on Texas Tech. The defense, though? A late garbage-time touchdown aside, Mike Stoops' unit was outstanding and turned Saturday's game into a laugher for the Sooners in a 41-20 rout. Seth Doege didn't throw a TD pass, and Texas Tech gained a whopping 28 yards on its first six drives of the second half. Yikes. Amazing stuff from the Sooners. Over that span, the Sooners' lead ballooned from a pedestrian 24-13 to an impressive 41-13.

Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein put in another very Collin Klein-like day in the Wildcats' 56-16 win over in-state rival Kansas. He accounted for four touchdowns -- two rushing, two passing -- and led K-State with 116 yards rushing on just 10 carries. He also completed 7 of 14 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns to lead K-State to a fourth consecutive win in the Sunflower Showdown, and the third consecutive by at least 38 points.

Balanced attack pushes WVU over Texas

October, 7, 2012
AUSTIN, Texas -- Geno Smith is used to having the game in his hands. It's been the story of West Virginia's season. Near the end of a chilly night in central Texas, that changed.

Smith's offensive line had a simple message for their Heisman candidate: "We got this. It's over. We're going to win this game," they said.

"Andrew Buie said, 'Put it on my back,' Smith said. "He put it on his back and led us to a victory."

Not just any victory. He led them to a 48-45 victory in West Virginia's first road trip in the Big 12, where they found a record crowd of 101,851 waiting at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium -- a crowd Texas coach Mack Brown called the loudest in 15 years.

Said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who was an assistant in the Big 12 for nine years: "I've never seen this place like that."

It even got after Smith at one point, serenading him with a "Geno Sucks" chant as he gestured to the crowd, egging them on.

"Where does that come from?" Smith said. "Obviously, I don't suck. I'll let them believe that."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Buie
Tim Heitman/US PresswireThe second of Andrew Buie's rushing TDs gave West Virginia a 48-38 lead.
Buie led them to a victory that helped West Virginia clear the highest hurdle of its Big 12 (or national?) title "marathon," as Smith called it.

The Big 12 title runs through Morgantown, with Kansas State and Oklahoma waiting later in the season.

Saturday in Austin, though, it was Buie's time.

"He carried us," said Smith, the man used to carrying the Mountaineers. "We knew we were going to need to run the ball, because those guys like to get after the quarterback."

Texas did exactly that, sacking Smith four times and twice forcing fumbles inside the West Virginia 20-yard line. Before tonight, Smith had been sacked three times in four games.

Buie's 207 yards? Holgorsen said he wasn't surprised by those. But the 31 carries? That was a head-turner.

"We did commit to the run," he said. "That was something we talked about early in the week, and there weren't any tricks, either. We lined up and we just ran it right at 'em. We felt like that was gonna be the difference. If we could do that, it was going to alleviate some of the pressure on Geno."

On West Virginia's final drive, needing points to ice the game, the Mountaineers handed the ball to Buie on seven of eight plays. He turned them into 63 yards, capping his big night with a five-yard touchdown run, his second score of the night. While his teammates ran wild and kicked off the party on the West Virginia sideline, he trotted back through a parade of backslaps before being bearhugged by his position coach, Robert Gillespie.

"If we would have just drop back pass after drop back pass, they would have had 12 sacks. Maybe 20," Holgorsen said. "We just felt like it would be in the best interest of our football team to commit to the run."

Texas stuck in its nickel package for most of the night with just two linebackers on the field, even when West Virginia used its jumbo packages with bigger bodies. Buie saw it as a sign of "disrespect," and proved he'd make the most of his opportunities.

"With coach Holgorsen, you never know what the game plan is going to be fully," Buie said. "You just always want to be prepared to run from whatever he's put inside the menu for that week. When he calls your number, obviously he has confidence in you to make plays."

Holgorsen (and Smith, who often checked to various running plays at the line of scrimmage) had confidence in Buie 31 times on Saturday night. Buie was likely West Virginia's No. 3 back entering the season behind Shawne Alston and a recuperating Dustin Garrison. He looked like a man well deserving of the No. 1 spot against one of the Big 12's top defense. Before last week's 25 carries, Buie had never had more 15 carries in a game, and hadn't topped even 100 yards in a game. He had 52 carries in his entire freshman season in 2011.

Since 2009, Texas was 18-0 when winning the turnover battle. The Horns won it 2-1 on Saturday, but Buie's effort helped the Mountaineers overcome both of Smith's fumbles and move into the driver's seat for the Big 12 title.

"We're not going to force the ball. We're not going to force the issue. We'll take what you give us. I'm a smart quarterback, I understand defenses. I understand how to exploit them." Smith said. "The offensive line did a great job of getting all those guys, finishing blocks, getting to the second level. Buie was reading it and cutting back. Yards after contact was big. He ran hard tonight."

Think West Virginia's offense is just Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey? West Virginia proved otherwise.

Instant analysis: WVU 48, Texas 45

October, 6, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas – If there was any doubt as to whether West Virginia is the best team in the Big 12, the Mountaineers gave their answer on Saturday night.

In front of a Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium-record crowd of 101,851, West Virginia didn’t flinch even despite two Geno Smith turnovers. Its much-maligned defense made stops on two crucial fourth-quarter Texas drives, and its offense -- thanks to a remarkably potent rushing attack - was as good as advertised in the 48-45 victory.

Here’s how it all played out:

It was over when: Anthony Fera missed a 41-yard field goal with 5:25 left in the fourth quarter. A Smith fumble put Texas at WVU’s 12-yard line, but the Longhorns took a 16-yard loss on a bad snap on third down. Fera, a Penn State transfer making his Texas debut after a groin injury had sidelined him all season, pulled the kick wide right.

Game ball: Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Their Heisman-favorite quarterback gets most of the press, but Bailey and Austin were what broke this Texas defense. Bailey caught three touchdown passes, and Austin added another score, 102 receiving yards and 111 yards on kick returns.

Game ball, part II: Andrew Buie. The West Virginia running back burned Texas time and time again on Saturday night, hitting the soft middle spot of the Longhorns defense for a season-high 207 yards and two scores on 31 carries. He entered the night averaging 56 rushing yards per game.

Stat of the game: 5-for-5. West Virginia was perfect on the night on fourth-down conversions despite going 3-for-12 on third downs. The biggest pickup came in the first quarter, when Smith hit Austin on fourth-and-4 and he broke upfield for a 40-yard touchdown.

What it means: West Virginia is firmly in the driver’s seat for the Big 12. Its much-hyped Air Raid attack had no problem scoring on an athletic Texas defense that was supposed to be among the conference’s best. Texas, meanwhile, must go back to the drawing board and figure out how to fix its still-porous D. The loser of Texas-Oklahoma next Saturday may need lots of help to get back into the conference title discussion.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 6

October, 4, 2012
Here's what I'm keeping an eye on across the Big 12 this weekend.

1. Get 'em down and keep 'em down. Texas' tackling issues were on display in a big way in a narrow victory over Oklahoma State. The Longhorns got away with it in Stillwater. I don't think that'll be the case against West Virginia, even at home. Texas has emphasized the issue this week. How will it work?

2. Time for a quarterback change? Steele Jantz turned the ball over four times in Iowa State's loss to Texas Tech, and coach Paul Rhoads said this week the quarterback who looks best in practice will play. Does Jared Barnett finally see some time? For Jantz, it will ultimately boil down to turnovers.

3. Take care of opportunities. TCU has reached the red zone 20 times this season, but has come away with a touchdown on just nine occasions. The Horned Frogs have scored just 12 times. The touchdown percentage (45 percent) ranks 106th nationally. The Frogs are good enough to get away with it against Kansas or SMU or Virginia. Iowa State? The Cyclones will take advantage if the Frogs leave the doors open.

4. A big piece is missing. West Virginia's running game has taken a big hit with Shawne Alston on the sidelines. Coach Dana Holgorsen was tight-lipped this week in regards to Alston's status, but he's going to be needed this week against Texas. He's a better pass-blocker than Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison, too. Will big back Ryan Clarke make a return, too?

5. It's real. We know that. But is it spectacular? Texas Tech took a step toward validating its defense, holding Iowa State to fewer than 200 yards of total offense, forcing four turnovers and maintaining its spot as the nation's No. 1 defense. How good is this unit, though? Oklahoma will be the toughest test yet, and its offense will be more like what Tech will see the rest of the season. Teams like OSU, Baylor and West Virginia have more high-powered offenses, but the Sooners will offer a huge checkpoint for Tech on its defensive road to redemption after an awful 2011.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
William Purnell/Icon SMIFreshman Johnathan Gray led Texas in rushing in relief at OSU; the spotlight will be brighter Saturday.
6. The young legs are back. Sophomore Malcolm Brown, Texas' leading rusher a year ago, is out against West Virginia, but he'll sit on Saturday with an ankle injury. Now's the time for hyped freshman Johnathan Gray to step up. He looked really good in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State and led the Longhorns in rushing. How will he handle West Virginia and how will he look with a week to know he'll be counted on?

7. Getting competitive yet? I stick to my belief that Kansas is better than it was last year, despite its frustrating losses and worse record than in 2011. Nothing would signify progress more than hanging with in-state rival Kansas State. When Charlie Weis got the job, he looked at K-State and Missouri to see what they had and what KU didn't have, and how the Jayhawks could start closing the gap. Here's his first chance to measure up on the field.

8. Call it a Heisman special. Geno Smith's not throwing for 656 yards against Texas. Let's just get that out of the way. The Longhorns have defensive personnel and depth unlike anything Baylor's got. It's one of a few major hurdles for Smith to go from Heisman front-runner, as he is now, to Heisman winner in December. Can he maintain his crazy numbers that are better than RG3's from a year ago?

9. Where is the elder statesman? The young'un Devonte Fields, a true freshman, has grabbed all the headlines so far this year at TCU, leading the Big 12 with five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Meanwhile, preseason All-Big 12 representative Stansly Maponga has been really, really quiet thus far. He's got just 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Can he have a coming-out party against the Cyclones?

10. A lesson in thievery is needed. Oklahoma's got just one turnover through three games this year. Buffalo is the only other team in the country who has forced just one turnover. Texas Tech has lost six turnovers this year (32nd nationally), but if Oklahoma doesn't force a turnover against the Red Raiders, the Sooners could very well be looking at an upset and a drop out of the top 25.
Are you like me? Do you like points? I hope you watched what I just watched. West Virginia and Baylor cleared the game's over/under of 84 midway through the third quarter of this one and nearly hit triple digits by the end of the third quarter.

West Virginia emerged as a 70-63 winner, coming just three points short of the NCAA record for combined points in a non-overtime game in FBS history.

You won't see this many points very often, but let's take a closer look at the Mountaineers' first Big 12 game as a league member:

It was over when: West Virginia converted a pair of third downs with a one-handed J.D. Woods catch and an Andrew Buie run to ice the game.

Game ball goes to: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. If Geno had any Heisman doubters before today, he shouldn't anymore. Sure, he'll face tougher defenses, but not many quarterbacks could do against air what Geno did today against Baylor. He finished with 656 yards on 45-of-51 passing with eight touchdowns, and didn't have a turnover. That's not a typo. This thing got silly.

Stat of the game: The teams combined for 1,511 yards of offense and two (!) players topped 300 yards receiving. Six players had at least 100 yards receiving.

Unsung hero of the game: Baylor WR Terrance Williams. Yes, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin were outstanding, but even in a losing effort, Williams might have been better than both of them. He broke the school record with 17 catches for 314 yards, and caught a pair of touchdowns for the Bears. Both were game highs. West Virginia will get all the headlines for this one, but Williams helped the Bears keep a dizzying pace. The future NFL first-round pick lived up to his billing today.

Second guessing: Baylor seemed all too content in rushing just three or four men and daring Geno Smith to find receivers. For one, it wasn't covering guys over the top, and Smith made the Bears pay. Second, Baylor's defnsive backs and linebackers couldn't cover West Virginia's speed underneath, either. Baylor had to change it up and make a clearer effort to get some pressure on Smith. So what if you get burned? The Bears were getting burned for quick touchdowns anyway. If you get pressure, you might force a turnover and turn the game around. Instead, Baylor continued to give up score after score, and if Geno can sit back there and watch plays develop, he's going to make good decisions and deliver accurate balls very, very often. Maryland didn't exactly "rattle" Geno Smith, but it forced his worst statistical game of the season because it pressured him often.

Third guessing: Down 70-63 with three minutes to play, Baylor kicked the ball off instead of trying to go for the onside and get possession. It didn't work. The Bears never got a chance to tie the game. Does anyone really think Baylor had a higher probability of stopping WVU's offense vs. recovering an onside kick? Why would you kick it back to the WVU offense, which had been a buzzsaw the entire game? A baffling decision by the Bears, no doubt.

What West Virginia learned: Its defense needs plenty of work, too, but Geno Smith is a bona fide Heisman contender who's ready to make a big impact in the Big 12. His stat line's absurdity says plenty, but too many people who just see that stat line won't see some of the throws he made against Baylor's defense. Yes, the Bears left holes in a lot of places, but Smith was stretching the field all day and making picturesque throws on drive after drive, even on the occasions in which his receivers were covered.

What Baylor learned: Its defense has major, major problems. Yes, West Virginia probably has the best offense in the Big 12. Yes, Baylor's isn't far behind and gives the defense a big margin for error. Still, some of those errors we saw today were inexcusable. Bailey and Austin are as good as any receivers in the country, and on several occasions, at least one of them was running free, completely uncovered in Baylor's secondary. The worst was Baylor, fresh off a TD that cut the deficit to 56-49, leaving Bailey wide open downfield for an 87-yard TD pass. This kind of stuff can't happen if Baylor expects to keep winning at an acceptable level in the Big 12. At some point, you can't just keep depending on your offense to go out and win every game for you.

WVU far from flawless in win over Terps

September, 22, 2012

West Virginia's offense looked unchallenged in its first two outings, racking up 69 points against Marshall in its season opener and making 42 look easy against James Madison a week ago.

Saturday? The Mountaineers didn't respond well to their first challenge of the season. The offense was held scoreless in the third quarter and was forced to punt seven times in its 31-21 win over Maryland.

The biggest reason for the struggles? It's easy to point at running back Shawne Alston's absence, but even if that's the case, West Virginia's depth at the position looks at least questionable. Alston reportedly sat with a thigh injury.

Dustin Garrison returned from an ACL injury, shedding a possible redshirt. Andrew Buie got the start in place of Alston. The duo combined for just 31 yards on 15 carries and looked underwhelming for all 60 minutes.

The explosiveness wasn't there, and the whole offense suffered because of it. The Mountaineers' lack of a running game didn't garner an ounce of respect from Maryland's defense and as a result, Geno Smith was hasseled all day. Alston's blocking prowess in the backfield was even more needed, and its absence even more apparent with Smith taking a bigger beating than he had all season. On more than one occasion, the Mountaineers' Heisman frontrunner got up and walked gingerly after taking a shot. An early injury to Ryan Clarke was another shot to WVU's backs' ability to block in the backfield.

Smith finished 30-of-43 for 338 yards and three touchdowns, going without an interception for yet another game. He joins Texas' David Ash as the Big 12's only QBs without a pick after four weeks.

Tavon Austin was the day's biggest highlight-maker, catching 12 passes for 173 yards and three scores, finishing as the school's all-time leader in receptions.

The passing game is what everyone thought it was, even with a quiet day from Stedman Bailey, who caught just seven passes for 61 yards.

Still, the running game has looked good so far this season. With Alston down, it didn't. That may get fixed.

A bigger concern? The defense gave up 302 passing yards and three touchdown passes to true freshman quarterback Perry Hills. He averaged more than 10 yards an attempt, and freshman phenom Stefon Diggs showed off his speed with 113 yards on just three catches. Two went for touchdowns, including a 56-yarder on which Diggs embarrassed the WVU defense with cutbacks.

Through three games, the defense has been unimpressive for the Mountaineers, who will face their first real tests in the next two weeks. Baylor comes to town for what should be a hyped Big 12 opener next week, followed by a trip to Texas to face the Big 12's best defense.

We know what the passing game can do when the running game is there for balance. WVU's efficiency was unmatched by anyone in the Big 12 for its first two games. But when the Mountaineers are a one-dimensional team, can its offense still be productive enough to make up for a questionable defense?

Alston's likely return gives West Virginia a chance to maintain its balance, but without that balance, the first loss of the season for West Virginia could be coming fast.
Since announcing its intentions to join the Big 12 last October, West Virginians have been dreaming of this day. The Mountaineers' Week 1 dreams came true.

Dana Holgorsen's team, giving fans around the Big 12 their first real taste of West Virginia football, was impressive. The Mountaineers knocked off in-state rival Marshall, 69-34, in a game that was never in doubt past the first quarter. For those keeping count, that's 139 points in West Virginia's past two games. New Mexico, the nation's worst scoring offense a year ago, scored 144 in all of 2011.

Plenty of folks across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa hadn't had a chance to really see Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey play. That changed on Saturday, and the Mountaineers' Big Three was as good as advertised.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Christopher JacksonWest Virginia QB Geno Smith had a stellar season opener with four TDs and completing 89 percent of his passes.
Smith played only sparingly in the fourth quarter, but finished with 340 yards and four touchdowns on 33-of-37 passing, completing a career high 89 percent. All that talk about him beefing up and wising up this offseason? Looks like it paid off. Marshall's no Big 12 team, but it's a long way from FCS competition, too. The Thundering Herd were a seven-win team a year ago, including a bowl game. Smith even added 65 yards rushing on eight carries, highlighted by a 28-yard touchdown scamper that began with a busted running play and ended with Smith in the end zone, untouched.

Heisman watch, indeed.

Austin and Bailey finished with a game-high nine catches each, and Bailey kicked off the game's scoring with an acrobatic 32-yard catch over a defender. Austin showcased his speed on a 70-yard run in the third quarter. Austin had 119 yards of total offense and a score. Bailey had 104, with two scores.

By halftime, the Mountaineers had 200 yards of both passing and rushing to go with 21 first downs and a 34-10 lead.

Just like the Mountaineers drew it up. Starting running back Dustin Garrison didn't suit up as he tries to come back from a torn ACL suffered in pre-Orange Bowl practice, but Holgorsen has to feel pretty comfortable if the sophomore needs to redshirt. Running backs Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie looked more than capable on Saturday, running with power and making one cut before making defenders pay.

Alston finished with 123 yards and two scores on just 16 touches, an average of nearly eight yards a carry.

Now, the task is clear: Do this every week. That's what haunted WVU a year ago. Everyone knew this offense was capable of putting up these kinds of numbers.

Nobody knows if they're capable of doing it every week. The defense was less than impressive for most of the game, despite a defensive touchdown and another fumble return to set up a Paul Millard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Marshall consistently strung together extended drives, including a 98-yard march in the first quarter to cut WVU's early lead to just 13-7.

West Virginia has the potential to score 40 every time it takes the field in Big 12 play. The defense can't ask the offense to do that, though. You're asking for trouble if that happens.

Still, those are questions with answers that lie in the far future as the leaves change colors.

Today is opening day, and for West Virginia, it was one to remember.