NCF Nation: Ben Heeney

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
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Below is a look at the best performances from the Big 12 in Week 5:

DE James McFarland, TCU: McFarland led the nine-sack TCU barrage against SMU with three himself, as the Horned Frogs rolled 56-0. It was a career-high for McFarland, and the most sacks for TCU in a game since 2002. McFarland also had two forced fumbles, and his pass breakup on a fourth-and-1 at the TCU 1-yard line in the second quarter helped preserve the 11th shutout of the Gary Patterson era.

WR Corey Coleman, Baylor: Coleman had a monster outing in his first appearance of the season, hauling in 12 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown in the Bears 49-28 win at Iowa State. Coleman had missed the first three games of the season with a hamstring injury. He showed no signs of being slowed down in Ames.

CB Duke Thomas, Texas: After getting burned for the game-deciding touchdown against UCLA, Thomas bounced back with a monster performance in a 23-0 win over Kansas. Thomas grabbed two of Texas’ four interception, and could have had a third had it not been for penalty. Thomas also broke up a fade attempt on fourth-and-goal in the third quarter. The Jayhawks never came close to scoring a touchdown again.

LB Ben Heeney, Kansas: Don't blame Heeney or the Kansas defense for the Jayhawks' loss to Texas. Heeney had 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery at the Kansas 2-yard line that thwarted a Texas scoring opportunity. It was actually the All-Big 12 performer's first career fumble recovery. Behind Heeney, the Jayhawks also limited Texas to just 111 yards rushing.

RB Charles Jones, Kansas State: Jones scored three of the Wildcats’ first five touchdowns, as K-State demolished UTEP, 58-28. Jones finished with 76 yards on just 12 carries, as K-State held a 45-point lead over the Miners heading into the fourth quarter.

WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State: In another tantalizing performance, Lockett put up 143 punt return yards, the second-most in school history and 29 yards short of tying the school record of 172 set by David Allen in 1998. Lockett also hauled in four passes for 84 yards.

WR James Washington, Oklahoma State: The Cowboys’ true freshman wideout torched Texas Tech in Oklahoma State’s 45-35 win Thursday. Washington reeled in a 33-yard touchdown in the first quarter, then a 39-yard score in the second. Three of Washington’s five catches this season have resulted in touchdowns.

Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 5

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
8:00
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In Week 5 of Big 12 action, TCU will try to hand SMU another heavy defeat; Kansas State will attempt to bounce back from a disappointing loss; Texas and Kansas will meet in their conference opener; and Baylor will look to avoid getting upset by Iowa State in Ames.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to follow Saturday in the Big 12:

TCU at SMU, noon ET (CBS Sports Network): TCU coach Gary Patterson said he expects to get SMU’s best shot. That still might not amount to much. The Mustangs are a complete mess, having been outscored 146-12 in their first three games. SMU is expected to start its third different quarterback already this season, walk-on Garrett Krstich, who opened the year fourth on the depth chart. The Horned Frogs ought to be able to keep the Iron Skillet trophy in Fort Worth while keeping the game plan relatively vanilla as they gear up for next weekend’s crucial home showdown against fourth-ranked Oklahoma.

UTEP at No. 25 Kansas State, noon ET (Fox Sports Regional): It will be interesting to see how the Wildcats bounce back after their gut-wrenching loss to Auburn last week. This, however, figures to be a good matchup for K-State. UTEP running back Aaron Jones ranks second in the country with 182 rushing yards per game, but the Wildcats appear to have a formidable run defense, which snapped Auburn’s 13-game streak of producing at least 200 rushing yards. Meanwhile, K-State coach Bill Snyder has indicated that Jack Cantele will remain the Wildcats' place-kicker despite missing all three field goals against the Tigers. Getting Cantele back on track will be paramount for the Wildcats on Saturday before they resume conference play next week.

[+] EnlargeBen Heeney
John Albright/Icon SMIBen Heeney and the Kansas defense get another crack at Texas this weekend.
Texas at Kansas, 4 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1): Texas hasn’t loss to Kansas since 1938, but there have been some close calls over the years. In their last trip to Lawrence, the Longhorns need a game-winning touchdown drive from backup quarterback Case McCoy to escape in the final seconds with a 21-17 win. There’s reason to believe this game could be tight, too. The Longhorns have completed only five passes of at least 20 yards this season, while the running game has been among the least effective in the conference. On the other side of the ball, the Jayhawks feature a veteran defense, led by linebackers Ben Heeney and Jake Love, that is coming off a solid performance in a 24-10 win over Central Michigan.

No. 7 Baylor at Iowa State, 8 p.m. ET (Fox): Baylor handed the Cyclones a 71-7 whupping last season, the worst margin of defeat in Iowa State history. The Cyclones, however, have been a much tougher team at home under Paul Rhoads. Iowa State, in fact, defeated the Bears 35-21 in their last visit to Ames two years ago. Since falling to North Dakota State in the opener, the Cyclones have played much better, but Baylor will be getting a couple of key offensive weapons back in its lineup. Starting receivers Antwan Goodley and Corey Coleman are expected to return from injuries on an offense that has led the country in every major statistical category without them.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
12:46
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Here’s what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 4:

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
AP Photo/Tyler EvertThere was no stopping Samaje Perine on Saturday, as the Sooners freshman ran for 242 yards and four touchdowns against West Virginia.
1. Samaje Perine is a man-child: Oklahoma true freshman running back Samaje Perine just turned 19 years old this week. But he was a grown man among boys Saturday, as he bowled over West Virginia in Oklahoma’s 45-33 win in Morgantown. Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 7.1 yards per carry. It was the 13th best rushing total in Sooners history, which is saying something at a school that has produced Greg Pruitt, Steve Owens and Billy Sims, among countless other standout rushers. It was also the second best rushing output ever in a game by a true freshman at Oklahoma, trailing only Adrian Peterson's 249-yard performance against Oklahoma State in 2004. After the opener, Perine naively declared this could be the best running back group ever to pass through Oklahoma. That’s way too bold, but Perine and sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross -- who returned a critical kick for a touchdown at the end of the first half to give the Sooners momentum for good -- figure to give Oklahoma one of the nation’s most formidable one-two-three punches at running back for the foreseeable future. Perine, a tank of a rusher, is heading that charge.

2. Dana Holgorsen has West Virginia heading in the right direction: This was a disappointing loss for coach Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers, who moved the ball at will on Oklahoma in the first half. But after Ross’ 100-yard kickoff return at the end of the first half, West Virginia could never regain momentum nor get its offense back on track. Still, despite being 2-2, the Mountaineers have proven they have a quality squad, after hanging tough with two teams that might well end up in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Clint Trickett is the most improved quarterback in the Big 12, if not the country, and receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford are devastating weapons downfield. If the Mountaineers play the rest of the year the way they have this first month of the season, they will win a bunch of games. Meanwhile, Holgorsen, whose job status once seemed to be in jeopardy, should be firmly entrenched as the head coach of the future in Morgantown.

3. Kansas’ defense ought to keep it in games: At the beginning and the end of their 24-10 victory over Central Michigan, the Jayhawks produced some big plays offensively. But the defense was the reason Kansas ultimately prevailed, as its offense endured some shaky stretches over the second and third quarters. Led by linebackers Ben Heeney and Jake Love, the Kansas defense forced three turnovers, sacked Central Michigan QB Cooper Rush three times and limited the Chippewas to just 279 yards of offense. Wins haven’t been easy to come by at Kansas, but the defense should give the Jayhawks a chance to win again this season while the offense attempts to harness semblances of consistency.

4. Kansas State figures to be a load in the Big 12: Even in a 20-14 loss to Auburn, the Wildcats showed Thursday night that they will be a tough out for anyone they face the rest of the season. The K-State run defense was phenomenal and snapped Auburn’s 13-game streak of at least 200 yards rushing. Wideout Tyler Lockett, whom Auburn coach Gus Malzahn called “electric,” is a game-changer on offense and special teams, never mind the crucial dropped touchdown pass that turned into an interception. Bill Snyder has to figure out what to do going forward at placekicker, but the Wildcats were good enough to beat the fifth-ranked team in the country. And they’re good enough to be a force in the Big 12 the rest of the way.

5. Oklahoma and Baylor remain the co-favorites: Coming into the season, the Sooners and Bears appeared to be the clear frontrunners to win the league title. Through four weeks of the season, nothing has changed. Oklahoma has been incredibly impressive with its physical offensive line, powerful rushing attack and swarming defense. The Bears have wiped out lesser competition, though they’ve done it while missing many of their key players due to injuries. Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU have impressed, but there’s been nothing so far that suggests the Nov. 8 showdown between Oklahoma and Baylor in Norman won’t decide the Big 12 championship.

Preseason All-Big 12 team

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
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Today, ESPN.com released its preseason All-American team. Before Big 12 media days, we released our individual preseason All-Big 12 ballots. But to pair with the All-American team, we debated, argued and eventually settled on one Big 12 blog, consensus preseason All-Big 12 team.

Here we go:

Offense

QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
Easy choice. Petty is the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after he threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns with just three picks. He should be even better in Year 2 as a starter.

RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas
Malcolm Brown finished strong in place of Gray the past season, but there’s a reason Gray was Texas’ No. 1 back before he suffered an Achilles injury. Gray is healthy again, which gives Texas the best one-two punch at running back in the league.

RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor
Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back the past season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing. He’s the featured back now and could wind up the league’s top rusher.

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Lockett was literally uncoverable at times last year. Just ask Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan, which surrendered a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns to Lockett. With Jake Waters settled in at quarterback, Lockett could put up even bigger numbers in 2014.

WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
Goodley might have been the most improved player in the league the past season. He was also one of the most dominant, with 1,339 receiving yards and a national-best five catches of 60 yards or more.

TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
With Jace Amaro gone, Bibbs takes over as the top receiving tight end threat in the league. Only Amaro had more catches and yards than Bibbs among Big 12 tight ends the past season.

OT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
With Drango in the lineup, Petty was sacked only eight times through the Bears’ first nine games last year. After Drango was sidelined with a back injury, Petty was sacked nine times in Baylor’s last four games. Suffice it to say, Petty is glad to have Drango back protecting his blindside.

OG: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders previously had plans to move Clark inside to guard, but they still have him manning left tackle this season. Whether he stays at the bookend or slides to guard, Clark is one of the most dominating offensive linemen in the league.

C: BJ Finney, Kansas State
Finney owns a Big 12-best 39 starts over the past three years. The former walk-on is also a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection and will be the favorite to garner such recognition again as the linchpin of the K-State offensive line.

OG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
Whitehair is capable of manning either guard or tackle, but the Wildcats will be showing their trust in him by asking him to protect Waters’ blindside this season.

OT: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
Williams is the best piece on the league’s best offensive line, which returns four starters and plenty of capable backups.

AP: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
Grant finished sixth in the league in receiving yards per game, despite being the third option in Tech’s passing attack the past season. Grant is now the first option in the passing game, as well as an electric playmaker on special teams.

K: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
The Sooners have never had an All-American kicker before, but they have a strong candidate in Hunnicutt, who converted 24 of 27 field goals the past season.

Defense

DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
In 2013, Mueller finished with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, which were second in the league only to Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat. Mueller, who also forced four fumbles, has one of the conference’s best noses for finding the ball.

DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU
The Horned Frogs still had a formidable front the past season, even without Devonte Fields, due in large part to Hunter. TCU won’t have Fields again. But Hunter is back to anchor a defensive line loaded with quality players.

DT: Malcom Brown, Texas
This former blue-chipper broke out the past season with 68 tackles, including 12 for loss. He and Cedric Reed team up to form the best inside-outside defensive line combination in the league.

DE: Cedric Reed, Texas
Reed was third in the Big 12 in 2013 with 10 sacks, fourth with 19 tackles for loss and tied for first with five forced fumbles. He gives the Longhorns a chance to feature the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
When it comes to rushing the passer, there’s no one better in the league. Striker has spent this offseason refining other parts of his game to become a more complete player. But his pass rushing alone makes him one of the top players in the league.

LB: Ben Heeney, Kansas
Heeney was a tackling machine last year for a defense that performed valiantly despite getting little help from its offense. Heeney will get plenty of help from his defense, though, which returns eight other starters.

LB: Bryce Hager, Baylor
Hager has notched 195 tackles over the past two seasons, while twice earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. With Ahmad Dixon and Eddie Lackey gone, he takes over as the leader of a defense angling to prove it can be as good as the past year’s.

CB: Quandre Diggs, Texas
Diggs, who has never been afraid to speak his mind, is the heart and soul of the Longhorns. If the rest of the team takes on his mentality, Texas could have one feisty team in Charlie Strong’s first season.

CB: Daryl Worley, West Virginia
Despite being just a second-year player, Worley has already taken over as one of the vocal leaders of the West Virginia defense. He’s also already one of the best cover corners in the league.

SS: Sam Carter, TCU
Carter has nine interceptions the past two years, the most of any returning Big 12 player. He leads arguably the best secondary in the league, too.

FS: Karl Joseph, West Virginia
Joseph has started all 25 games for the Mountaineers since he stepped foot in Morgantown. No other returning Big 12 defensive back has more career tackles than Joseph’s 170.

P: Nick O'Toole, West Virginia
The “Boomstache” ranked 15th nationally last year, with an average of 44.1 yards per punt. He also has the best mustache in the league, which has to count for something.
Nick Harwell brings something to Kansas' offense that no other receiver on the roster can match: proven, consistent production.

[+] EnlargeNick Harwell
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerMiami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell is expected to open up Charlie Weis' offense at Kansas.
The Miami (Ohio) transfer has the ability to kick-start KU's offense this fall, as a proven go-to guy for an offense in dire need of additional playmakers.

"He will bring leadership, a guy that is consistent and someone we can count on," tight end Jimmay Mundine said. "He was their go-to guy [at Miami] and they could count on him to be that. Every time."

The numbers speak for themselves.

During the past three seasons, KU receivers have combined for 229 receptions for 2,759 yards and nine touchdowns. While suiting up for Miami from 2010-12, Harwell had 229 career receptions for 3,166 yards and 23 touchdowns in three seasons. That included 97 receptions for 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore.

Harwell should bring a level of consistency to the Jayhawks' passing game that Charlie Weis has been searching for since he arrived in Lawrence, Kansas, before the 2012 season.

"He's going to open it up for everybody," Mundine said. "If you put him 1-on-1, he can beat anybody. We need that consistency, leadership and the thought that he will be there for us."

Harwell's playmaking ability could create more space for Mundine, receiver/running back Tony Pierson and quarterback Montell Cozart in KU's new offense. If the Jayhawks' spring game is any indication, offensive coordinator John Reagan will make it a point to put the ball in the hands of the explosive Harwell.

"Anytime you can plug in a No. 1 wide receiver that's already been playing, played three years already as a starter with big production, it puts a whole different composition to your wide receiver position," Weis said. "Adding a valuable senior leader like Nick, with his athleticism, just makes everyone around him play better."

After off-the-field troubles forced Harwell to transfer to KU before the 2013 season, linebacker Ben Heeney got to see first-hand just how talented he was during Harwell's time on the scout team. The Jayhawks' first-team defense had to deal with Harwell every day during his 2013 season on the sideline, so those defenders could have the best understanding of the type of impact Harwell could have on KU's offense.

"Every time he touches the ball, something special happens," Heeney said. "He's got the speed and playmaking ability. He's going to be special for us this year."

Top Big 12 players: Nos. 20-16

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
9:00
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With the season just a month away, we’re taking this week to rank the Top 25 players in the Big 12.

This is a ranking of who we think the best 25 players will be over the course of the 2014 season.

Monday, we kicked this series off with the first five names. Today, we continue with Nos. 20-16.

20. Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas: Health is the only concern with Gray. Because when he’s healthy, Gray is a devastating combination of speed and power. There’s a reason the Longhorns have never lost when Gray has gotten 20 carries, which included victories over Oklahoma and Kansas State last year. A torn Achilles ended his 2013 season prematurely. But Gray has been cleared for fall camp, which is a good sign for the Longhorns and a bad one for the rest of the Big 12.

19. Bryce Hager, LB, Baylor: Hager is the Bryce Petty of the Baylor defense, with a pair of second-team All-Big 12 seasons behind him. Hager has recorded 195 tackles over the past two seasons and is one of the most seasoned players in the league. He missed the spring rehabbing from a season-ending groin injury, but should be 100 percent when the Bears begin fall camp. If Baylor avoids a drop off from last year’s breakout defensive campaign, Hager’s steady play will be a major reason why.

18. Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas: Diggs is the most outspoken player in the league, even foreshadowing during Big 12 media days that coach Charlie Strong might have to weed out certain players. Diggs will be a four-year starter and the unequivocal leader of the Texas defense. He should be more comfortable back at cornerback after a stint last season at the nickel. With cornerbacks Jason Verrett, Justin Gilbert and Aaron Colvin all gone, Diggs figures to be the new class of the position in the league.

17. Chucky Hunter, DT, TCU: The Horned Frogs might not have star end Devonte Fields this season. But they should still be stout up front, thanks to the return of Hunter, who is coming off an All-Big 12 season. Fellow tackle Davion Pierson is one of the most underrated players in the league. And the two form arguably the best one-two punch at defensive tackle in the league.

16. Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas: Don’t blame Heeney for the Jayhawks’ 3-9 record last year. The Big 12’s top returning tackler spearheaded a defense that gave opposing offenses fits at times in 2013, despite getting virtually no assistance from the Kansas offense. With nine starters back, the Jayhawks could create even more problems for the offenses of the Big 12. Especially with Heeney manning the middle.

Coming Wednesday: Nos. 15-11 …
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
Immediately after the national championship game, colleague Mark Schlabach released his Way-Too-Early Top 25. In concert, below is our Way-Too-Early Big 12 power poll. This could change between now and the end of the spring. In fact, it probably will. But this is a first look at how the Big 12 teams stack up against one another for 2014:

1. Oklahoma Sooners

In the Allstate Sugar Bowl, freshman Trevor Knight finally played like the quarterback that had been drawing comparisons to Johnny Manziel behind Oklahoma’s closed practices. The Sooners lose some cornerstone players to graduation, notably running back Brennan Clay, center Gabe Ikard, receiver Jalen Saunders and cornerback Aaron Colvin. But with Knight and budding running back Keith Ford returning to man the backfield, and nine starters coming back defensively, including menacing outside linebacker Eric Striker, Oklahoma could be a favorite in every game next season -- and a force once again on the national stage.

2. Baylor Bears

Even with running back Lache Seastrunk going pro, the Bears return plenty of firepower offensively. Bryce Petty will be the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback, and Antwan Goodley will be coming off a monster junior season. Rising sophomore Shock Linwood showed he could shoulder the rushing load, too, when Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were banged up late in the season. The Bears, however, could take a step back defensively. Baylor, which got torched for 52 points in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, loses six starters there, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon and All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Former blue-chip defensive tackle recruit Andrew Billings will need to step up and become more of a force. Even if the defense stumbles, Baylor should be capable of scoring enough points to win every game on its schedule, thanks to coach Art Briles being back on its sidelines.

3. Kansas State Wildcats

Along with Missouri, the Wildcats were the first two teams left out of Schlabach’s Top 25. But they make a compelling case for inclusion. Quarterback Jake Waters improved dramatically during the second half of the season, eventually squeezing Daniel Sams out of the QB rotation. Wideout Tyler Lockett could be a preseason All-American, after torching Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan for a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The defense should be better, too, with sack artist Ryan Mueller back at end, and rising junior safety Dante Barnett set to take over for the outgoing Ty Zimmerman as leader of the secondary. The Wildcats will be tested early with national runner-up Auburn visiting Manhattan on Sept. 20. If K-State can win that game, the rest of the Big 12 will be on notice.

4. Texas Longhorns

During his introductory news conference on Monday, new Texas coach Charlie Strong said Mack Brown left him with a team that could win right away. Strong might be right. The Longhorns return eight starters off a defense that found its stride under interim coordinator Greg Robinson. Texas also brings back six starters offensively and its entire running back corps, including Malcolm Brown, who rushed for more than 100 yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A big part of Mack Brown’s downfall, however, was quarterback play, and that once again will be a huge question mark in Strong’s first season. David Ash sat out most of this season with concussion issues, making his football future tenuous. Tyrone Swoopes is athletic with a big arm but needs polish. The other option will be incoming freshman Jerrod Heard, who just led his high school team to a Texas state championship. If one of those three emerges, Strong could have Texas on the way back ahead of schedule.

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Cowboys were 19 seconds away from playing in a BCS bowl game. But two losses to end the year soured what could have been a stellar season. Now, Oklahoma State must replace the bulk of its team, including quarterback Clint Chelf and seven starters defensively. Star slot receiver Josh Stewart is also reportedly mulling over leaving early, too. Either way, 2014 will be a retooling season for coach Mike Gundy, whose first order of business will be settling on a quarterback. J.W. Walsh, who started the first half of the season before losing the job back to Chelf, would have to be considered the favorite. But Gundy has shown before he’s not afraid of turning the keys of the offense to a true freshman, and the Cowboys have an intriguing freshman QB enrolling for the spring in Mason Rudolph, who threw 64 touchdown passes this fall as a high school senior in South Carolina. That could result in some growing pains for Oklahoma State, which opens the season against defending national champion Florida State. But if Rudolph proves to be the long-term answer at QB, it shouldn’t be more than a year before the Cowboys are contending in the Big 12 again.

6. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Texas Tech completely changed the tenor of its offseason with a dominating 37-23 win over Pac-12 South Division champ Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Finally healthy again, the Red Raiders showed they were better than a five-game losing streak to end the regular season indicated. Now, Tech returns eight starters offensively, including quarterback Davis Webb, who torched the Sun Devils and had several other encouraging moments as a true freshman. Tech has to replace most of its defense. But if Webb settles in at quarterback, the Red Raiders should be improved in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s second season in Lubbock.

7. TCU Horned Frogs

TCU was the 2013 preseason pick of many people to win the Big 12. Instead, injuries ravaged the roster, and the Horned Frogs failed to go to a bowl game for just second time with Gary Patterson as coach. Patterson shook up his offensive staff after the season, bringing in Houston’s Doug Meacham and Texas Tech’s Sonny Cumbie as co-coordinators to revamp TCU’s offensive attack. TCU should be stout again defensively, especially if 2012 Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Devonte Fields returns to form from a broken foot. But the key to a better season will be whether Meacham and Cumbie can squeeze more offense out of the Horned Frogs and find the answer at quarterback. The answer, however, might not be on campus yet. Trevone Boykin has 15 career QB starts, but is probably a better fit as a receiver. Meanwhile, TCU’s top incoming recruits, Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, are both quarterbacks, and could factor into the wide-open competition.

8. Iowa State Cyclones

Even though Iowa State just finished in the bottom three of the Big 12 in points per game (24.8), yards per game (363), yards per play (4.82), rushing yards (143.8) and passing yards (219.2), the Cyclones return some offensive firepower. Tailback Aaron Wimberly was effective when healthy, and Quenton Bundrage flashed signs of a legit No. 1 receiver. The key will be QB, and whether Grant Rohach builds on his late-season surge. But with a proven offensive coordinator in Mark Mangino now on board, the Cyclones have the pieces to form one of the better offenses in the league next season.

9. West Virginia Mountaineers

The Mountaineers careened off the road late this season with back-to-back losses to Kansas and Iowa State. Now, the pressure is on coach Dana Holgorsen, who will have to win games to keep his job even though the 2014 schedule is brutal. Like so many other teams in the Big 12, West Virginia must find a solution at quarterback. Holgorsen has options. Clint Trickett, Paul Millard and Ford Childress are all back after getting at least two starts apiece last year. Junior-college transfer Skyler Howard will be enrolling early and joining the fray. Four-star recruit William Crest will be in the mix, too. Even if Holgorsen finds his answer at quarterback, a winning season won’t come easy. The Mountaineers have one of the toughest schedules in the country, beginning with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Alabama in Atlanta.

10. Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas showed only modest improvement in Charlie Weis’ second season as head coach. This will be a key season for Weis as he attempts to rebuild the program. He desperately needs Montell Cozart to develop into the answer at quarterback. Cozart still has a ways to go with his passing, but he showed he could hurt defenses with his legs. Defensively, the Jayhawks bring back some solid players, notably linebackers Ben Goodman and Ben Heeney and safety Isaiah Johnson. But Kansas will take the next step only if Cozart -- or somebody else -- emerges at quarterback.

Big 12 predictions: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
9:00
AM ET
How close I was last weekend. Close to perfection.

After starting out 4-for-4 in the picks, I had the Mountaineers in the nightcap edging out Texas in an upset special.

But at the end, neither I nor West Virginia could stop Case Magic.

Instead, it was Claire Hashtag who went undefeated with the picks, handing me a second consecutive loss to the guest picker. Suddenly, I have losing streak rivaling that of the Kansas Jayhawks.

But this week, I vow to get back on track against Charlie “Bear” Boyd, a Big 12 fan who’s been fighting the good fight in the Florida panhandle:
I have been battling hard in the trenches for the Big 12 deep in SEC/ACC territory. On my daily drive to and from work I face a barrage of Alabama bumper stickers with quips of the impending “Roll Tide Dynasty” apocalypse. I dastardly maneuver my way through neighborhoods riddled with land mines in the form of Florida State and Florida flags (along with a vast and clever assortment of other lawn décor paraphernalia). Daily, I undergo intense psychological torment from my “friends,” all trying to convince me of the superiority of their conferences to the Big 12, and the error of my ways. Somehow, in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds, I stand strong. A lone beacon of Big 12 pride. My Baylor flag waving proudly in the smoke of warfare. A steadfast reminder to all who gaze upon it that though we may be shaken, the Big 12 will never fall.

Good luck with the picks, Charlie. Just don’t give me another loss. I’m not sure I can handle it.

To be next week’s guest picker, contact me here and sell me on why you deserve a shot. And, as always, creativity counts.

To the Week 12 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 4-1 (.800)

Guest picker (Claire Hashtag) last week: 5-0 (1.000)

Trotter overall: 47-15 (.758)

Guest picker overall: 34-11 (.756)

Saturday

Oklahoma 29, Iowa State 7: The Sooners go into this game with major uncertainty at quarterback. Coach Bob Stoops said this week Blake Bell would remain his starter, but the clamor for OU to try out Trevor Knight or Kendal Thompson has reached piercing levels in Norman. The truth is, it won’t matter who the quarterback is this week. Iowa State continues to play hard but, once again, fails to generate enough offense.

Charlie’s pick: While I would love to make a crack at OU here, I just can’t bring myself to do it. I have too much respect for their program and their players. Iowa State has seen signs of life as of lately -- mostly of special teams -- and they come out looking hungry to prove they have not slipped into Big 12 irrelevance. But finding a road win proves too big a task. OU, 34-17.

Kansas 20, West Virginia 17: It will be interesting to see how the Mountaineers respond after the deflating overtime loss to Texas. They still have plenty to play for, needing to win these last two games to qualify for a bowl. And they have plenty to build from off last week’s offensive outbreak. Then again, this is a prime spot for a West Virginia letdown. Led by linebacker Ben Heeney, the Jayhawks continue to play solid defense, and they have seemingly uncovered something at quarterback in true freshman Montell Cozart. Kansas played OU tough at home last month and trailed Texas only 14-6 deep into the third quarter two weeks ago. The 27-game conference losing streak has to end at some point. The combination of a West Virginia hangover and Cozart at quarterback finally ends it.

Charlie’s pick: West Virginia comes out flat, but quickly finds pace and clinches a key road win in their quest for bowl eligibility. West Virginia, 33-17.

Kansas State 55, TCU 21: If the season started over today, where would you pick the Wildcats to finish in the conference? Second? Third? No worse than fourth. Outside Baylor, K-State is playing as well as anyone in the league and has the look of a team poised to close out the regular season with a six-game winning streak. TCU had a nice reprieve from a miserable year with a gutty fourth-quarter victory at Iowa State last week. But the hobbled Horned Frogs are headed straight into a Bill Snyder buzz saw.

Charlie’s pick: Snyder is a miracle worker. A turnaround specialist extraordinaire. A wizard. He continues to inspire his players, and they put another solid win in the books. K-State, 48-20.

Oklahoma State 31, Texas 27: The Cowboys and Longhorns have faced each other four times as BCS-ranked teams. And the Longhorns have all won all four. But never in those games have the Cowboys held the advantage defensively. Texas will be without its best offensive player, injured tailback Johnathan Gray, too. QB Case McCoy has been clutch for the Longhorns. But without Gray, against what might be the Big 12's best defense, that isn't quite enough this time.

Charlie’s pick: This pick had me spinning circles. Both great teams. Both playing their best ball at this point in the season. I think this game ends up being more of a defensive battle than people expect. This one to go into overtime, but this time Texas loses by a field goal. I will be glued to this one. OSU, 34-31.

Baylor 49, Texas Tech 31: A month ago, this game looked like it might be for the Big 12 title. Now, Baylor is a four-touchdown favorite. The Red Raiders have fallen apart defensively due in part to injuries, while their true freshman quarterbacks have been turning the ball over in droves. Baylor, however, has bigger games looming, and could get caught looking ahead. The Bears will also be adjusting to the absence of star wideout Tevin Reese, as well as a banged up backfield. The Red Raiders come out fired up to halt their late-season slide, and with receivers Eric Ward and Jakeem Grant delivering big plays in the passing game, Tech hangs tough for three quarters. Baylor’s talent, however, is too much in the fourth.

Charlie’s pick: Tech’s air-raid offense finds limited success against Baylor’s hyped-up defense, but ultimately their struggling run game limits their offensive output. Baylor puts this game away early in the fourth quarter. Baylor, 55-30.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
9:00
AM ET
There was little change in this week’s power rankings, as the favorites held serve:

1. Baylor (6-0, 3-0 Big 12, last week 1): The No. 8-ranked Bears got some major help in the national title picture over the weekend, as LSU, Louisville, Texas A&M, Clemson and South Carolina all got knocked out of the mix. That really leaves only Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Missouri, Ohio State and Miami (Fla.) ahead of Baylor in the pecking order at the moment. Missouri will have to beat Alabama to get the title game, and Baylor has a decent chance of passing the Buckeyes, due to the weakness of the Big Ten. The Bears, however, have virtually no shot of passing Oregon or Florida State. Those are the two teams Baylor fans need to begin rooting against.

2. Texas Tech (7-0, 4-0, LW 2): The faith Kliff Kingsbury showed in true freshman QB Davis Webb on Saturday was extraordinary. Webb’s second-quarter fumble at the West Virginia 1-yard line completely changed the complexion of the game, but that didn’t shake Kingsbury’s confidence in his quarterback. And, even though Texas Tech’s defense had shut down West Virginia on four straight drives and led by a field goal, Kingsbury put the game on Webb’s arm by calling two third-down pass plays in the final two minutes. Webb completed both passes, which should also give him plenty of self-confidence heading into this weekend’s road tilt at Oklahoma.

3. Texas (4-2, 3-0, LW 3): Was the dominant performance against Oklahoma a one-game anomaly? The Longhorns have the talent to make a run at the Big 12 title. Maybe they have the identity now, too. If Texas keeps pounding the ball between the tackles with Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, that will continue to set up one-on-one opportunities for Mike Davis downfield. As the Sooners found out, such a formula could make the Longhorns formidable the final month and a half of the season.

4. Oklahoma State (5-1, 2-1, LW 5): The Cowboys finally turned the offense back over to Clint Chelf and not a moment too soon, as J.W. Walsh threw another two interceptions in the first quarter. But, in reality, Oklahoma State’s offense would be best off utilizing both quarterbacks going forward. The Cowboys hit their stride offensively last season only when they used Chelf as the base quarterback, then brought in the Walsh package in certain situations. Chelf’s arm strength can get the ball to Oklahoma State’s talented receivers downfield, which, in turn, opens up the running game. But Walsh brings savvy, toughness and leadership -- and he can make plays with his legs. Perhaps that quarterback blend will finally ignite this offense, which looks pretty rough at the halfway point of the season.

5. Oklahoma (6-1, 3-1, LW 4): The Sooners’ downfield passing game continues to be incompetent, as Oklahoma completed just two passes longer than 16 yards at Kansas. One of those was a reverse pass from Lacoltan Bester to Sterling Shepard. That’s two straight games in which QB Blake Bell has completed only one pass downfield. The Sooners were able to grind out 235 yards on the ground, but that was against a Kansas defense missing its best player (linebacker Ben Heeney). If the Sooners can’t complete passes downfield against man coverage, they have little chance of getting to double-digit wins.

6. West Virginia (3-4, 1-3, LW 7): West Virginia has begun to show some life offensively. The Mountaineers gained 473 yards of offense against a Texas Tech defense that has been pretty solid. At one point, the Mountaineers scored on five straight possessions. Clint Trickett is all over the place with his throws, but at least he makes things happen. Running back Charles Sims is a star, and backfield mate Dreamius Smith is legit, too. The schedule also eases up considerably for the Mountaineers, as West Virginia has already faced four of the top five teams in the league. If the offense keeps developing, this could still be a bowl team. That wouldn’t be a bad season, either, considering the offensive firepower the Mountaineers had to replace from last season.

7. Kansas State (2-4, 0-3, LW 8): The Wildcats have not played poorly despite their 0-3 start in the league, but with Oklahoma and Texas Tech still on the schedule, K-State almost has to beat West Virginia at home this weekend if it’s going to advance to a bowl. The good news is that starting receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson are expected back, which should be a big boost to QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters.

8. TCU (3-4, 1-3, LW 6): The Horned Frogs are beginning to stake their claim as one of the worst offenses in Big 12 history. Switching coordinators or switching quarterbacks -- Gary Patterson tried both Saturday -- isn’t going to make any difference, either. Even with the best defense in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs will be in danger of missing out on a bowl game if they don’t beat Texas this weekend. QB Casey Pachall is close to returning, but not even he can salvage this dumpster fire of an offense.

9. Iowa State (1-5, 0-3, LW 9): After three straight promising performances, the Cyclones took a step back in Waco, Texas. Nobody expected Iowa State to win, but to get completely annihilated was disappointing, as coach Paul Rhoads called the game a “fiasco.” Now, yet again, the quarterback position has become a moving part. Sam B. Richardson is so banged up the Cyclones considered shutting him down for the season. Rhoads replaced Richardson with Grant Rohach in the second quarter to no avail. The No. 1 obstacle that’s kept Iowa State from becoming more than a .500 program has been the inability to find a long-term answer at quarterback. Dating back to last November, the Cyclones have put their chips on Richardson being that answer. Now, who knows what direction they'll go.

10. Kansas (2-4, 0-3, LW 10): Now that the Jayhawks have burned the redshirt of freshman QB Montell Cozart, they might as well turn the offense over to him. Jake Heaps just isn’t getting it done, as he completed five of 13 passes for 16 yards against Oklahoma. Sixteen yards. It’s not all on Heaps: The Kansas receiving corps is terrible. But that’s all the more reason to go with Cozart, who can at least make plays with his feet.

Big 12 spring game review: Kansas

April, 15, 2013
4/15/13
10:00
AM ET
The Jayhawks hosted their spring game on Saturday, the third team in the Big 12 to cap their 15 spring practices. Here's a closer look at the goings-on in Lawrence.

What happened:
  • Quarterback Jake Heaps completed 20 of 28 passes for 257 yards and four touchdowns to lead the White team to a 34-7 win over the Blue team.
  • Running back James Sims led all rushers with 74 yards on 16 carries.
  • Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay caught eight passes for 99 yards and a touchdown, sharing offensive MVP honors with Heaps.
  • Linebacker Ben Heeney made five tackles and one tackle for a loss, earning defensive MVP honors.
What we learned:
  • It's a spring game and Kansas' defense isn't exactly Alabama, but how could you not be encouraged by the numbers Heaps put up, and what he looked like doing it? Quarterback has been the biggest gaping hole on a Kansas team full of them, but the hope that Heaps could fill it seems a whole lot more legitimate after Saturday. I don't think it's fair to expect Heaps to put up those kinds of numbers every week, but look back on what Dayne Crist did in last year's game: He was 11-of-19 for 156 yards and no scores. Those numbers were typical of what we saw in the fall. Heaps has had a year to work in the system, and his receivers should be a little bit better than what Crist had. McCay is proof of that point. "We are still working. We made a lot of good plays out there today, but it is a constant work in progress," Heaps said of his and McCay's day. "Justin will admit that there are things he could work on after today and there are things that I can work on and things that we missed today. It is a constant work in progress and we are going to get there. It’s definitely where I want to get with all my receivers."
  • To continue on with Heaps, I saw him start at Texas in person in 2011. Maybe I'm crazy, but he looks like he's bulked up a lot. BYU listed him at 200 pounds and Kansas says he's only up to 210, but he definitely looked like he's got a five-star kind of arm. Playing quarterback is a lot more to me, but he looked like a completely different player than the decent quarterback I saw with the Cougars two years ago.
  • It's a little presumptuous to start wondering if McCay will be hitting 1,000 yards next year. But in a new program that badly, badly needed help at his position, he looks a bit like he's in a class of his own among the KU receivers. Considering the next touchdown a Jayhawk receiver catches will be the first since 2011, up is the only way to go. Restarts for talented players can be so healthy, though. Maybe we'll see that for McCay. Ask Arthur Brown what a change of scenery and a move back home can do for a player's career.
  • Heeney came out of nowhere last season to lead the team in tackles, but KU's defense really can build around him. He's exactly the kind of defender that's most valuable in the Big 12: Built like a safety with speed to match but the toughness to play close to the line of scrimmage and offer run support. Not that the spring game does much to make me think this, but he could have a huge 2013 ahead. "Both the linebackers, Heeney and [Jake] Love, were all over the place. I think both defensive fronts showed up today," Weis told reporters. "We got a little banged up in the secondary because when Cassius [Sendish] went down early with a precautionary (injury) it caused us to do some tweaking on both teams in the secondary. I thought Michael [Cummings] playing with the second tier wide receivers and I thought he was respectable as well."
  • Another guy to keep an eye out on Kansas' defense: Tackle Jordan Tavai. He made six stops and half a tackle for loss.

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