NCF Nation: Brandon Weeden

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen could only chuckle when asked about his quarterback competition just days after the end of spring football.

Not only was that gig "wide open, man" according to Holgorsen, but he added that 20 or so other positions are still up for grabs for the rebuilding Mountaineers.

None of those spots will get more attention than an already spicy quarterback race that got spiced up even further with the addition of Florida State transfer Clint Trickett. The arrival of Jameis Winston, the nation's No. 1 quarterback in the 2012 class, led to Trickett seeking playing time elsewhere, and he believes he can find it in Morgantown. He'll have two years of eligibility remaining.

"WVU football welcomes Clint Trickett home. He basically grew up in Morgantown, and I know he feels very comfortable here," coach Dana Holgorsen said in a release. "He’s an excellent student and grew up around the game of football, which shows in his composure on the field. I am excited that he has decided to finish his career as a Mountaineer."

I don't buy the idea that Trickett's been guaranteed anything in the realm of playing time by Holgorsen, but the allure of what Holgorsen has done with basically every quarterback he's touched was attractive enough for Trickett to come back to compete to become the next passer at the state's flagship program.

Trickett lived in West Virginia for seven years, and returning to play for a passing game guru outweighed facing lesser competition in lesser offenses at Auburn and South Florida, two schools Trickett also considered.

He has the skills and experience to compete, even though he won't have the knowledge of the system Paul Millard possesses or Ford Childress' biggest asset: his arm strength.

It'll be a fascinating competition, and both current WVU quarterbacks will try and erase the memories of underwhelming performances in the spring game, but both are capable of winning games consistently in the Big 12. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen just has to decide if Trickett is the Mountaineers' guy who can do it best.

There's no way of knowing this soon how this chapter of West Virginia football will end, but it'll certainly be fun to watch it play out.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy doesn't allow first-year players to talk with the media. Last season, he proved that rule applies even if a player is his starting quarterback. Perhaps the rule even particularly applies in that case.

Regardless, Wes Lunt turned heads this time last year when he won the spring quarterback competition to replace Brandon Weeden in Stillwater. He didn't turn a single ear, though, because Gundy kept media microphones away.

That ended Wednesday night when Lunt, now a second-year sophomore, met with the local media after one of Oklahoma State's first practices of the spring.

"The best way to describe it is a rollercoaster. I had so many ups and downs," Lunt told reporters. "That’s expected your freshman year, but I’ve got to thank my team and my coaches for backing me up all the way."

Lunt completed the first 11 passes of his career in an 84-0 victory against FCS doormat Savannah State, but his first road start ended in a loss to an upstart Arizona team a week later. Lunt (and anyone who saw the replay) feared his season was over when he dislocated his kneecap and suffered a high ankle sprain in an ugly-looking injury early in Oklahoma State's win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 15.

The injury wasn't as serious as feared, and Lunt returned to start in a win over TCU on Oct. 27 and again a week later against Kansas State before throwing three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and suffering a concussion.

He's back this spring competing again with Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh, though the job is Chelf's for now after he helped Oklahoma State close the season strong with blowout wins over Texas Tech, West Virginia and Purdue sandwiched around narrow losses to Oklahoma and Baylor.

"It’s a competition between all three. Clint is getting the most reps, which he should -- he did a great job ending the season," Lunt told reporters. "J.W. and I are going to push him every day and whatever happens, happens."

Lunt admitted he was "shocked" when he was named the starter last spring as a freshman who wasn't quite sure what to expect and what a collegiate starter really looked like. Apparently, it looked like him.

"They get along real well and I think that speaks volumes about their maturity level and who they are as people," offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich told reporters of the quarterbacks. Yurcich chose to refrain from commenting further on the competition until he'd seen more of the trio up close in practice.

"I know they care more about this program than they do their individual needs and that’s when you know you’ve got something special -- when you see unselfishness, you see leadership and you see those qualities and those young men have that."
Dana HolgorsenPatrick McDermott/Getty ImagesDana Holgorsen returns to Stillwater to face an offense he installed two years ago.
Oklahoma State and West Virginia will meet Saturday. One team has to win.

Even if the Cowboys win Oklahoma may have to, at least in part, thank Dana Holgorsen. He has helped take both programs to where they want to be, and on Saturday the former offensive coordinator will be back in Stillwater for the first time as a head coach.

At the end of 2009 Oklahoma State scored a total of seven points combined in a pair of embarrassing losses to close the season. Quarterback Zac Robinson was dealing with a bum shoulder, but seven points isn't enough to do much else but rack up frustrating losses that leave point-loving fans unfulfilled.

Coach Mike Gundy was designing his offense and decided to take a different approach to begin the following spring.

Robinson, a dual-threat quarterback built to run and take hits, was being succeeded by Brandon Weeden, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound junior with a big arm and we'll say ... hesitant legs.

With Gundy looking to take on a different role for his team, hiring Holgorsen made sense.

"I had a tremendous amount of respect for him for what he had done with the program," Holgorsen said. "His question to me was how [former Houston coach and current Texas A&M head coach] Kevin Sumlin did things from a CEO standpoint. I think Mike wanted to be more of a CEO type head coach, as opposed to being in the offensive room for 18 hours a day trying to get the offense better. I think he’s done a tremendous job of that.

"Since he’s gone back and made that switch, they’ve won a tremendous amount of ball games. Good for him."

Oklahoma State won a school-record 11 games the next season. Holgorsen left for West Virginia, a team that scored just seven points in a frustrating bowl loss of its own to close the 2010 season and wanted a new head coach.

Once he left, Gundy hired former OSU receivers coach Todd Monken to run the same offense Holgorsen installed in one spring.

"I knew a whole lot about it prior to going there, from a facilities standpoint, a coaching staff standpoint, culture and recruiting standpoint, knew a lot about it," Holgorsen said. "There wasn’t any surprises."

He spent nearly a decade at Texas Tech before coordinating Sumlin's offense at Houston, where the Cougars played Oklahoma State in each of Holgorsen's seasons. In 2009, the Cougars even upset a top five Oklahoma State team in Stillwater.

His first season as head coach at West Virginia -- which only came after scandal led to an early exit for the late Bill Stewart -- was his only season in the past 12 in which he didn't face the Cowboys.

"We were just a typical spread offense. Run/pass, no-huddle offense," Gundy said. "The impact it had was we changed our style of quarterback, so we brought in a scheme that could best fit what Brandon Weeden could have success with, which was pocket-style passing."

It worked. The Cowboys ranked No. 3 nationally in total offense in 2010, up from 70th in a nine-win campaign in 2009. A year later, using Holgorsen's system under Monken, the Cowboys won their first Big 12 title and once again ranked third nationally in total offense.

Meanwhile, Holgorsen was helping build West Virginia, who won the Big East in Year 1 and won a BCS bowl for the first time since 2007 -- Rich Rodriguez's final season in Morgantown.

West Virginia ranked 15th in total offense last season, a year after ranking 67th, despite possessing offensive talent like Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and speedster Tavon Austin.

"[Gundy] was with Pat Jones there for a long time, played for Pat Jones, which is old-school football, tough, hard-nosed physical football and incorporated it into our style of spread offense," Holgorsen said, "keeping it as physical as it can possibly be."

Holgorsen's fingerprints will be all over both sidelines, but without a stop at Oklahoma State and proof he could run his offense at a major conference away from mentor Mike Leach and away from a minor league like Conference USA, a high-profile head job like West Virginia might never have come along.

"It worked out good for everybody," Holgorsen said.

How OSU helped key K-State's title chase

November, 1, 2012
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Collin Klein dropped to his knees with bloodied, bandaged elbows and a crushed heart. His final pass on Nov. 5, 2011, fell incomplete, and Kansas State was 5 yards short of extending its game against undefeated, No. 3 Oklahoma State.

It was a painful night for Klein and his teammates, but a year later, Oklahoma State comes to Manhattan to face an undefeated K-State team. Without that night, this year's reprisal and role reversal might not have been possible.

"I think that showed us we can play with anyone on any given Saturday," receiver Curry Sexton told ESPN.com this week. "That just helped our confidence grow and showed us we can play with anyone. That was big for us through the end of that season and even going into this season. I think that’s probably the biggest thing we took out of that game."

[+] EnlargeKansas State's Collin Klein
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiCollin Klein and Kansas State came up just short against Oklahoma State last season.
A confidence boost -- even if it was a loss -- is exactly what Kansas State needed a week after getting run off its own home field by Oklahoma. The Sooners won by 41 in Manhattan, giving the Wildcats their first loss of the 2011 season and ending a magical run of comebacks and improbable upsets that got K-State to 7-0. That Oklahoma game provided plenty of evidence to those who did not believe the Cardiac Cats were for real. A week later, the Wildcats gave themselves reason to believe.

"This team put everything we had in that game, and just having the offense inside the 5-yard line with zeros on the clock was the most disappointing thing about that loss. We were so close. You could see it right in front of you, but we didn’t go out and get it," Sexton said. "Even though we did lose, it helped us with the confidence in ourselves."

The Wildcats rallied from a 14-0 deficit to take a 24-14 lead on an Allen Chapman interception return. Klein grabbed the lead and later tied the score with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown runs, but one final drive simply ran out of time.

A year later, Kansas State has lost just once in 11 games since -- in the Cotton Bowl to an Arkansas team that still had Bobby Petrino. The Wildcats are all but done playing close games these days. Only two of K-State's eight wins this season have been by fewer than two touchdowns, and the Wildcats beat a pair of top-15 teams by 41 (West Virginia) and 31 (Texas Tech) points in consecutive weeks.

No top-15 teams remain on the schedule, but the task ahead will be convincing voters the Wildcats belong in the national title game.

Style points, though?

"I don’t even know what a style point is," coach Bill Snyder said. "I don’t have an attitude toward it. I just think you prepare and you go out and play as well as you can."

The Wildcats have Oklahoma State this week, their sixth consecutive team with zero or one loss in Big 12 play. Week after week, the Wildcats have had to fend off suitors for the Big 12 title, a trophy that has eluded the SnyderCats since 2003, their only Big 12 title.

Nobody on Snyder's staff studies the BCS formula and passes along any information. The task is the same every week: Win. How "stylish" that win is? Snyder apparently has racked up a whole bunch of style points already this season with wins the past two weeks and an earlier blowout at home against Miami without even trying.

"That’s not significant in my thinking at all. I don’t think anybody likes to run scores up," Snyder said. "I don’t think about those things."

This week, Oklahoma State comes with the intention of winning another game against the revived Cats and getting the inside track on a second consecutive Big 12 title. Just don't tell K-State.

"We don’t look at the standings. We don’t look at anything else. We just focus on Kansas State and getting better every week. I think that’s been big for us, because we don’t really look at the bigger picture," Sexton said. "We don’t look at the conference standings and stuff like that. We realize that if you start looking at that stuff, you slip up and lose and then all of a sudden none of that stuff matters anymore."

A Baylor-WVU shootout? Not so fast

September, 26, 2012
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Prepare yourselves for as many lame high-scoring game jokes as possible before West Virginia and Baylor kick off Saturday at noon in Morgantown.

"Make sure all the bulbs on the scoreboard work!"

"Gentlemen, start your engines!"

"West Virginia state law forbids the possession of defense-like substances, so..."

Hardy har har har, or something. The over/under for Saturday's game is a healthy 79.5 points, and the prediction? A prescription for plenty of aspirin for defensive coordinators Phil Bennett (Baylor) and co-coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson (West Virginia).

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesWill we see shootout when Geno Smith and West Virginia host Baylor on Saturday?
That over/under? It's nothing new for DeForest, who's seen higher. It's been a whole 11 months to the day, in fact, since DeForest last saw it.

Last season, the Big 12's top two quarterbacks and top two offenses went head to head in Stillwater, where DeForest spent 11 years coaching special teams and safeties, also earning a title as associate head coach under Mike Gundy.

His safeties were tasked with reigning in eventual Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, and the prediction was for a pointsplosion of the highest order.

At halftime? Oklahoma State had given up exactly zero points while the offense raced to a 35-0 lead that grew to 49-3 after three quarters. RG3? Please, said the Pokes defense, who forced five turnovers on the day and walked away with a 59-24 win that did, in fact, clear that over/under after Baylor scored three garbage time touchdowns.

"Oklahoma State did such a good job of moving the ball on offense," Holgorsen said of that game and another in 2010. The over/under for that RG3/Weeden showdown was 72.5, but Oklahoma State again held Baylor scoreless in the first half, forced three turnovers and raced to a 41-7 lead over the Bears before winning 55-28.

"Baylor was always playing from behind," Holgorsen added.

Could DeForest work his magic against Briles again in Morgantown on Saturday and turn a shootout into a blowout?

"We’re going to look at those tapes to try and just like coach Briles and his staff’s going to look at those tapes to try and see those similarities," Holgorsen said. "There’s some things that we can do better. There’s some things that they can do better, and so forth. Every year’s different."

It is, but Oklahoma State's seemed to have the magic touch in shutting down Baylor's high-powered offense. Now, DeForest and Holgorsen are the biggest two pieces of Morgantown's program that's become a sort of "Stillwater East" since Holgorsen took over. DeForest replaced Jeff Casteel, who took his talents to Arizona to follow his former boss, Rich Rodriguez. Holgorsen added running backs coach Robert Gillespie and former OSU cornerback Andrew McGee as a graduate assistant.

Now, it's up to a new group of players but another big-armed quarterback and playmaking receivers to be the Kryptonite to the supermen of Baylor's offense who have the nation's No. 6 offense this year and were No. 2 in 2011.

"When Baylor lines up to play Oklahoma State this year, it’s going to be a completely different ball game, so you can try to take some things and learn from it, but ultimately, it’s preparing the team you have this year the best you ultimately can to be in position and make some plays," Holgorsen said.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 2

September, 9, 2012
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After an eventful, surprising day across the Big 12 on Saturday, here's what we learned:

The reigning Big 12 champs are quite mortal. Chalk this one up as the biggest surprise of the young season in the Big 12. Turns out, Oklahoma State can't just plug-and-play to replace a pair of first-round picks. Tracy Moore turned in a fantastic game (eight receptions, 106 yards, four TDs), but Wes Lunt is no Brandon Weeden, and Justin Blackmon's usually sure hands were missed. Lunt threw for 440 yards, but three interceptions and a school-record 167 penalty yards on 15 flags were too much to overcome. The front seven looked like it had never seen a zone read before, giving up 59 points to a still-learning Arizona team in a 59-38 loss. The defense was missing its coordinator, Bill Young, who is dealing with a health issue, but the Cowboys might end up looking pretty mediocre in a very deep Big 12 if the turnovers and penalties don't cease. Worse than committing four turnovers? Forcing zero. The Cowboys didn't get a single takeaway in the desert on Saturday night after forcing 44 last season.

[+] EnlargeKansas State's Collin Klein
Scott Sewell/US PRESSWIREKansas State's Collin Klein accounted for 281 yards and four touchdowns against Miami.
Kansas State is back, and better than ever in Snyder's second go-around. Nobody saw Kansas State's 39-point romp coming, not even the Cats themselves. But what did you expect? This team was going to get better in the offseason. That's just what most college football teams do, and especially ones that return the kind of talent Kansas State does under Bill Snyder. The U looked completely overmatched from start to finish, and Collin Klein looked much, much better. Miami's not a very good team, but it has some great athletes. Kansas State completely negated Miami's speed by dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The day's biggest eye-popping performance.

Never, ever doubt Paul Rhoads (again). How do we keep doing this? A tossup game? Against a rival? Most folks (myself included) picked the Hawkeyes, but Rhoads pulled off another huge program win, setting a milestone yet again with the Cyclones, who hadn't won at Iowa since 2002, when Seneca Wallace was still in town. It didn't look pretty, and Iowa State's loaded with flaws, but there's no such thing as a bad win when it comes against a rival or it comes on the road. Iowa State got both on Saturday, making big plays down the stretch to make it happen.

TCU knows how to make an entrance. Yes, it was an FCS opponent, but zero incompletions in 17 attempts for two quarterbacks, and a defensive shutout? Oklahoma State showed us on Saturday night exactly what beating up on an FCS opponent ultimately means (nothing), but what else could TCU do? Look out for true freshman Devonte Fields, too, who could become a force in this league. An injury to Ross Forrest has forced TCU to depend on him more than it would like, but the talented blue-chip recruit notched his first career sack as Gary Patterson became the school's all-time leader in wins.

It's going to be another long year in Lawrence. What's more troubling? Kansas losing this game? Or Kansas being just a six-point favorite against Rice, which had never beaten a team from the Big 12 since the league was formed? The Jayhawks looked the part of an inexperienced team that didn't know how to win on Saturday, squandering a 24-13 lead late in the third quarter and losing a game it had no business losing. Dayne Crist's second interception of the day was a back-breaker, giving Rice the ball near midfield to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired. Crist is better than KU's alternatives, but he hasn't played well to this point. He finished just 16-of-28 for 144 yards with a touchdown and two picks. I thought Kansas would be better this year. The Jayhawks may improve by season's end -- Saturday proved they've got more room to do it than any team in the Big 12 -- but good grief, losing to Rice at home? I don't care what the circumstances are. That's terrible for a Big 12 team. This is the worst KU loss since the 6-3 North Dakota State disaster that kicked off the Turner Gill Era in 2010.

ASU, Arizona aim to make early statements

September, 5, 2012
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Arizona and Arizona State are bitter rivals, but they also have a lot in common at present.

Both were severely disappointing in 2011. Both have new head coaches as a result. Those new coaches, Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Todd Graham at Arizona State, know each other well. They both are somewhat controversial for various reasons. Both run up-tempo offenses that looked pretty good in week one. And both won.

Further, both will be home against major-conference foes on Saturday. Both teams lost on the road to those foes last year.

Of course, the parallels are not exact. Arizona is a double-digit underdog to No. 18 Oklahoma State, while Arizona State is a slight favorite over Illinois.

The Wildcats are playing the Cowboys for a third time in 15 months. Both previous meetings were blowout defeats. But these aren't the same Cowboys who nipped Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. They lost quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon and welcome back just 12 starters. Their new signal-caller, freshman Wes Lunt, will be making his first road start after receiving no challenge at all last weekend against a dreadful Savannah State team.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriASU ran roughshod over Northern Arizona in Todd Graham's debut; Illinois presents a stiffer test.
"They could have scored 184 by halftime if they'd kept their starters in," Rodriguez said of the Cowboys' farcical 84-zip victory.

Illinois beat the Sun Devils 17-14 last year, but those programs' seasons were notably similar. Both Arizona State and Illinois started fast, earned national rankings, then cratered. And, therefore, fired their coaches.

Another tie that binds: New Illinois coach Tim Beckman coached Toledo, the team Arizona beat last weekend, for three years before arriving in Champaign, losing at home to the Wildcats in 2010.

Still, while everyone will know each other in points central and south in Arizona, there are plenty of unknowns. Last season's game films shouldn't be too revealing for anyone.

"We watched it a whole bunch looking at the personnel," Graham said. "I think it helps us evaluate their personnel but their defense is different, their offense is different. It's all new coordinators so from a schematic standpoint it didn't help us at all. From a personnel standpoint, studying their personnel, that is what we mostly used it for."

And even that is a bit confusing. Veteran Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is decidedly questionable after hurting his ankle during a 24-7 win over Western Michigan. The Sun Devils might be facing a dual-QB system with Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei.

That would be a big advantage for the Sun Devils, though Graham said he's preparing his team as if Scheelhaase will play. On defense, the Illini are stout. It should give Graham's up-tempo offense and new starting QB Taylor Kelly a far bigger challenge than Northern Arizona did in week one.

Still, the Sun Devils appear far more likely than the Wildcats to improve to 2-0 and generate further positive momentum for Graham.

The Wildcats have a puncher's chance for an upset, but their defense is going to have to catch a few breaks. The unit played fairly well against Toledo, at least based on low expectations entering the game. But Oklahoma State, the defending Big 12 champion, is not Toledo. Even with some new players in key positions, the expectations for a lot of points will continue in Stillwater. The Cowboys have been consistently good on offense under coach Mike Gundy.

“It’s an opportunity for us to play a ranked team," Rodriguez said. "I told our team there’s not a lot of people who talk about Arizona football in certain circles, and if you want to become more relevant, the best way to do it is to beat a ranked team. It’s a great challenge but also a great opportunity."

Arizona and Arizona State are constantly trying to one-up the other, and it will be popular to compare the records Rodriguez and Graham produce their first seasons. While both are ultimately trying to build programs that consistently compete in the top half of the conference, the competition and rivalry will be present each step of the way.

So fans of both programs are hoping, with considerable zeal, that they don't share anything in common at the stroke of midnight on Saturday.

The Big 12 Primer: Week 1

August, 29, 2012
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Here's your weekly look at where you can find this weekend's games. My predictions will be up bright and early tomorrow morning, but let's hear yours in the comments. I'll also be revealing which one of these nine games I'll be attending this week.

Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team to open its season on the road or even away from home, and it wins the award for weirdest opening game, too.

TCU is idle in Week 1. If you're wondering where Texas A&M and Missouri went, go check the SEC blog.

SATURDAY (all times ET)

No. 11 West Virginia vs. Marshall (noon, FX): West Virginia takes on its in-state rival to kick off its first season in the Big 12. There's been plenty of hype about what Dana Holgorsen's offense will look like in Year 2. Time to stop talking and start producing. Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin just might put on a show in this one.

Iowa State vs. Tulsa (3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network): Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads isn't hiding from the fact that his team is the underdog in this one. Despite hosting the Conference USA member Golden Hurricane, oddsmakers have Rhoads' squad as a 1.5-point underdog. Here's guessing Rhoads is a little insulted at that, but using it to motivate his team. Will it work?

No. 21 Kansas State vs. Missouri State (7 p.m., K-StateHD.TV): Kansas State's campaign to validate last season's narrow successes kicks off with what should be simple: an FCS opponent. Don't take it for granted, though. Even last year's 10-win team needed a touchdown in the final minutes to beat FCS member Eastern Kentucky 10-7. This one shouldn't be close, but you never know.

Texas Tech vs. Northwestern State (7 p.m., Fox Sports Southwest Plus): It's been nine years since Texas Tech played a nonconference game against a BCS conference opponent, and that won't change in 2012. This time around, though, it's needed. Tech is trying to win its way back after going 5-7 last year, but the main attraction on Saturday will be Eric Stephens, who will be making his return from a terrible knee injury suffered against Texas A&M last year.

No. 19 Oklahoma State vs. Savannah State (7 p.m., Fox College Sports): Savannah State's won just one game in the FCS in each of the past two seasons. Oklahoma State won 12 and the Big 12 last season. The post-Brandon Weeden/Justin Blackmon era might have its bumpy nights, but this shouldn't be one of them. The only thing that could go wrong here is if the Cowboys unleash their hideous gray jerseys again like they did in last year's opener. True freshman QB Wes Lunt's debut has been long-awaited since he won the starting job this spring.

Kansas vs. South Dakota State (7 p.m., Jayhawk All-Access/Jayhawk Television Network): The Jayhawks have undergone a transformation unlike any other team in the Big 12 this offseason. Former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is in charge and he brought with him an avalanche of transfers, headlined by QB Dayne Crist. Keep an eye on defensive end Josh Williams, who transferred from Nebraska. Wins have been scarce the past two years at KU, so don't expect the Jayhawks to take anyone lightly, even an FCS opponent. Coach Turner Gill's tenure got off to a rough start back in 2010 when he lost to FCS North Dakota State.

No. 15 Texas vs. Wyoming (8 p.m., Longhorn Network): This offseason, Texas has been hard at work crafting a powerful running game and a quarterback in David Ash who's better at making decisions. We'll get a preview of what's to come Saturday night. The Longhorns have looked sluggish in the past two openers against Rice, but a suffocating defense could feast on the Cowboys' spread attack.

No. 4 Oklahoma at Texas-El Paso (10:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network): Oklahoma is the Big 12's only team on the road in Week 1, but the Miners have been talking a big game all summer. Quarterback Nick Lamaison told reporters he hoped to be the best QB in the game, and the university president said she told UT-Austin the team would "do our best to ensure that Oklahoma would be not as competitive after they left El Paso, because we will have shown them a surprise." Here's guessing that talk is cheap when the ball is finally kicked off. The Sooners are 31-point favorites.

SUNDAY

Baylor vs. SMU (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network): The old Southwest Conference rivalry is renewed when SMU heads fewer than 100 miles south to face the Bears in the first game since Robert Griffin III left for the NFL and won the starting job with the Washington Redskins. New QB Nick Florence is capable of putting up big numbers, too, but keep an eye on Oregon transfer RB Lache Seastrunk, and don't be surprised if he breaks a big run or two.
DALLAS -- Joseph Randle remembers getting in some post-practice work last fall with a guy almost no one outside his Oklahoma State team had heard of.

The Cowboys running back sat and watched as receiver Charlie Moore was practicing one-handed catches from a machine tossing him balls.

Twenty balls whizzed toward Moore. All 20 stopped abruptly in just one of Moore's hands.

"I’m like, 'This dude’s got great hands and he ain’t even playing'," Randle, a 1,200-yard rusher in 2011, said of Moore.

So you'll have to excuse Randle's lack of surprise when that sticky-handed, 6-foot-2, 202-pound talent turned nine catches into 243 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game, capping a productive set of 15 spring practices.

"Even (former quarterback Brandon) Weeden last year was saying, ‘Charlie Moore’s gonna step up.’" Randle said. "But we have a lot of guys who are ready to step up."

Randle doesn't have to do any thinking when asked why the Cowboys are being written off as contenders to defend their 2011 Big 12 title, the first in school history.

"Because we lost Brandon and (two-time Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Justin) Blackmon," he said. "They don’t understand that in great programs, people step up and make plays and we have guys in our program who have been waiting for this opportunity and they’re going to step up and make a lot of plays."

For Oklahoma State, that means bigger roles for returning receivers like Isaiah Anderson and Tracy Moore. Coach Mike Gundy suspended Michael Harrison, arguably the team's receiver with the most potential, for all of 2012. Harrison then left the team.

Sophomore Josh Stewart emerged this spring in Blackmon's absence, and Randle classified Charlie Moore as one of the fastest players on the team.

All that without even mentioning another spring standout, Blake Jackson, the nation's top juco tight end who transferred to Oklahoma State this offseason.

"You see what I’m saying? We’re just naming guys who can make plays, have play-making abilities," Randle said. "I think we’ll be just fine. I’m comfortable with the guys we have out there and their play-making abilities."

Oklahoma State did lose Blackmon and Weeden. There's no escaping that. Randle's back, though, with plenty of rising stars at receiver to buoy the first season under Wes Lunt, the Cowboys' true freshman quarterback.

"I’m around it every day and it’s a winning environment. It’s not a losing environment," Randle said. "We’ve got guys who have bought into the program and are ready to win."
If we're going to be technical about this, Oklahoma State broke through last season, winning its first Big 12 title and a bushel of respect in the process.

Just a few months later, the questions are out. The doubts are fresh.

"Losing Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon was too much."

"Welcome back to Earth, Cowboys."

"Their new quarterback is how old?"

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Joseph Randle
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtStar RB Joseph Randle has helped Oklahoma State earn national respect in recent seasons.
We've heard all three of those before and will again in 2012. The age jokes are back, but replace jokes about Weeden's AARP status with ones about 18-year-old Wes Lunt's acne and prom date. Then replace "Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon" with "Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant."

The 2011 team was better. It won more and went further, twice setting the school record for wins, racking up 23 in two seasons and bringing some new hardware to Stillwater that had never found a home at Boone Pickens Stadium.

That's just one breakthrough season. Oklahoma State, though? It's about to prove it's a breakthrough program ready to take its place among college football's elite.

The Cowboys have sustained success, winning at least nine games in four consecutive seasons. They'll do it again in 2012, because that's what elite teams do after they win a title. They keep winning, and Oklahoma State has stockpiled plenty of talent outside of Weeden and Blackmon, talent that's ready to shoulder the load and carry the Pokes to a solid season.

They're not built for a title in 2012, but they're built for a solid season. Expect 8-9 wins. Don't be surprised if a bowl win gives the Pokes their third consecutive 10-win season.

That's not a breakout season in the traditional sense, but its further validation that the Cowboys' arrival on the big stage last season didn't precede a humbling rebuilding season in 2012.

Jeremy Smith and Joseph Randle will make life easier for Lunt. A solid, underrated receiving corps is ready to make a name for itself, highlighted by Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and newcomer Blake Jackson filling in for Blackmon, Josh Cooper and Michael Harrison.

The defense led the nation in turnovers last season -- a third consecutive season in the national top 11 -- and will be more experienced and talented in 2012. Linebackers Alex Elkins and Shaun Lewis hold down the middle, while cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown stake a claim as one of the Big 12's best duos on the outside.

Oklahoma State made a name for itself in the 2011 season, but the national audience is fickle. It may have forgotten.

The Cowboys will remind them this year.

And just wait until next year.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- The similarities? Well, they're almost too uncanny.

A record-setting quarterback? Gone.

The best receiver in school history? Gone.

And that was in the spring of 2010.

Dez Bryant took a trek south after being drafted in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys. Zac Robinson took his ball and left for the NFL, too.

In the fall, Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State squad was picked to finish fifth out of six teams in something called the Big 12 South.

Instead, the Cowboys won 11 games for the first time, coming a defensive stop or two away from knocking off Oklahoma and playing for the Big 12 title, which also would have been unprecedented for the program.

There are more new faces in the spring of 2012. Could Oklahoma State overachieve again?

"I feel like it’s kind of the same. Gundy said that spring we were so good because we were scared," said sixth-year offensive lineman Jonathan Rush. "I wouldn’t exactly agree that we were scared, but I feel that urgency."

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiMike Gundy's 2012 team has plenty of parallels to the 2010 unit that won a surprising 11 games.
How could he not? Two-time All-Big 12 first-team quarterback Brandon Weeden is headed to the NFL. Two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon is likely to hear his name called in the top 10 of tonight's first round of the NFL draft.

Oklahoma State's 23 victories in the past two years were the highest total of any two-year period in school history, and Weeden and Blackmon were the two biggest pieces of a team that captured the Cowboy's first Big 12 title.

"It’s real similar, except Weeden was an older guy. Weeden was 26 years old or however old he was back then," Gundy said.

Now, Oklahoma State is left to rely on three inexperienced quarterbacks without the minor league baseball experience that helped shape Weeden's even-tempered demeanor.

The similarities don't end at what's gone, either.

"We’ve got good running backs, good receivers and we’ll be as good on the offensive line as we’ve been," Gundy said.

All-American Kendall Hunter helped carry the 2010 team with a 1,500-yard season, the second of his career. In 2012, Joseph Randle is ready to carry the offense after rushing for 1,200 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2011. Jeremy Smith and Herschel Sims fill out the rest of the Pokes' deepest unit, which also features a fourth underrated, powerful runner in Desmond Roland.

"We’re further along on defense, because we recruited well the '09, '10, '11 and '12 seasons, so we’re further along athletically," Gundy said. "But offensively, it’s about the same."

Gundy is entering his eighth season in Stillwater this fall. In 2010, he credited a system that had been drilled into players for the surprising success. Knowing what was expected helped to soothe some of the growing pains new players would experience in a new system.

That's been drilled only deeper into this year's squad.

"They realize what they have to do personally. How to practice. They realize those things that are essential to be a good team. You have to work hard, show up on time. It’s not even so much a big thing," Rush said of the team's younger players. "They realize how essential little things are. Working hard, not quitting. Finishing."

Said receiver Isaiah Anderson: "I feel like we have a lot more leaders now than people know. It’s not just up to the seniors to lead. The young guys can step in and lead if they need to."

The biggest talents are gone. This year, OSU won't be picked near the bottom of the Big 12. Instead, it will be near the bottom of the top 25.

With the spotlight on teams above OSU, will 2012 be yet another Stillwater surprise for the Big 12?

"Be on the lookout, but they know we’re coming now," Anderson said. "We all know what it takes to get there and willing to do what it takes to get there again."
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Mike Gundy's spent just under half of his 44 years on the planet playing for or coaching Oklahoma State in some capacity.

In 2011, he finally scaled the mountain and provided an outright conference title, the school's first and only since the birth of the Big 8 in 1958.

Gundy is preparing for his eighth season at Oklahoma State, but still holds the rare distinction of improving or equalling his record in every season in Stillwater.

This year's team doesn't have a player on the roster who has been on a team that won fewer than nine games, Gundy notes.

[+] EnlargeChelf
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiClint Chelf will be competing with freshmen J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt for the starting QB position.
"These guys think they’re better than they really are, and I’ve kind of told them, 'You know, look guys, you've got a ways to go here,' but they don’t believe that. Just because they’ve been here," Gundy said. "And a good portion of them have won 11 or 12, so they don’t know any different, which is a good thing. Now, if it ever becomes an issue where they don’t think they have to practice hard, then I’ll have to deal with that, but they think they’re better than that."

The task ahead of Oklahoma State now is clear: The Cowboys proved they could do a great Texas or Oklahoma impression for one year, winning a Big 12 title.

The Cowboys are further along the road to becoming a national power than any other Big 12 team, but now must prove their worth in the most difficult of proving grounds: the "rebuilding" year.

Winning, or even being a factor in the Big 12 title race, in a season like this would be no greater proof that Oklahoma State has arrived.

This is not the purest of rebuilding years for Oklahoma State. Sixteen starters return from last year's team, 29th-most in college football. However, the loss of near-Heisman winner Brandon Weeden and two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon is enough to demote the Cowboys from postseason top three to preseason top 20.

Gundy knows what has to happen if OSU's going to fight its way back to the top of the Big 12 in a season when few outside of Stillwater see it as a possibility.

"There are a small percentage of teams that can have good and/or great success with just a guy at quarterback. But there’s a large percentage of them that have good or great teams with good quarterbacks," Gundy said. "So, I think developing a quarterback is key as anything to continued success."

Anyone who watches the Big 12 knows that. Dominant defenses in the SEC make it easier to replace quarterbacks. In the Big 12, though, it's score or lose. Most places are like that.

Freshmen J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt are competing with junior Clint Chelf to win the honor of replacing Weeden in the fall.

There have been plenty of conversations in the coaches' offices this spring about the quarterback race, and offensive coordinator Todd Monken told Gundy about celebrations in the NFL when teams see drafted quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning start to see success blossom in their first minicamp or fall camp.

"Everybody celebrates, because you know you’re good for eight or 10 years. Well, in college, you don’t have that luck. It takes them a year to get ready, and you only have three years out of them and then they’re out of here," Gundy said. "In the NFL , you hang onto those guys for so long, because you know you’re in good shape for a number of years. So, I think establishing a quarterback for us, and probably just about anybody other than your teams that dominate on defense."

OSU got its first taste of big-time success in 2011, capping the Big 12 title by beating likely No. 1 pick Andrew Luck and Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl, the program's first trip to the BCS.

Weeden, a former walk-on, and Blackmon, a moderate receiving recruit, emerged in the last rebuilding year. Oklahoma State was picked to finish fifth in something called the Big 12 South. It earned a share of the Big 12 South and won 10 games.

Oklahoma State will likely be near the middle of the pack in the Big 12 preseason poll this year. Gundy's already got his Big 12 title ring, but getting the Cowboys to finish at or near the top might be even more impressive.
We're back, and the kindly introduction is over. It's time to get to know the real West Virginia.

How will the Mountaineers handle the transition? Big 12 blogger David Ubben and Big East blogger Andrea Adelson debated the issue.

David Ubben: TCU's jump would seem to be a lot bigger, but the Big East has had its well-chronicled struggles the past few years. The Mountaineers left the league with a convincing Orange Bowl win against Clemson, scoring 70 points in the process. Talk about endearing yourself to your new offensive-minded friends, huh? You've seen this team up close lately, though. What, if anything, do you think WVU will have to change to get back to the BCS as a Big-12 member?

[+] EnlargeBrodrick Jenkins
Kim Klement/US PresswireBrodrick Jenkins, an up-and-coming cornerback, will lead the Mountaineers into Big 12 play next season.
Andrea Adelson: Well, one thing that definitely is going to change is the way West Virginia plays defense. Long-time defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is out, and so is the odd 3-3-5 stack defense. The Mountaineers are going to go with a 3-4 base set under former Oklahoma State assistant Joe DeForest. This should help ease the transition from the stack, as West Virginia does not have the type of players on the roster to go with four down linemen.

In addition to the new scheme, West Virginia is losing its two best pass-rushers in Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller, perhaps its best defensive player in linebacker Najee Goode, and its best cover corner in Keith Tandy. There were times last season when the Mountaineers got beat deep in pass coverage, which will not bode well in Big 12 play.

However, cornerback Brodrick Jenkins has the potential to be truly terrific in 2012. He showed flashes late last season. As for the offense, coach Dana Holgorsen is looking for perfection. That means more consistent play out of an offensive line that was mediocre at times last season, and more explosion out of the run game. Starting running back Dustin Garrison is coming off ACL surgery, so it will be interesting to see whether he will be the same back come August.

Say what you will about the Holgorsen passing offense, but he definitely wants a running back to complement Geno Smith the way Kendall Hunter did with Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State in 2010. How do you think West Virginia will fit in to its new conference home?

DU: WVU is a good fit on the field. Geographically, not so much, but the Big 12 teams have to like that. There's a lot of uneasiness with TCU entering the league. That could shake up recruiting a lot and cut into the share of teams like Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

But West Virginia's clearly a strong brand. This is a team that could just as easily have been in the SEC. Instead, it's in the Big 12. The three BCS wins are a big deal, as was the Orange Bowl win. That's endeared the Mountaineers to their new opponents in the Big 12. To win like that on that kind of stage says a lot about where the program is and where it's headed. Having a coach like Holgorsen, who has lots of ties to Texas, will help them grab a few players in Texas, too. The difference between WVU and Mizzou isn't much when you think about recruiting in Texas. I could see WVU being the biggest threat to Missouri recruiting in Texas.

But like TCU, winning games gets people excited. Big 12 fans are psyched about the Mountaineers, who seem like a fun group.

How do you think WVU's transition will compare to TCU's?

AA: Watching a team put up 70 points is always fun! Hearing a guy like Holgorsen talk is always fun because you never know what he is going to say.

But on to your question: I think West Virginia will have a much smoother transition than TCU because it has played in an AQ conference already. Yeah, OK enter your Big Least jokes in here. But West Virginia has been a solid program throughout the course of its history. Note that the Mountaineers are one of just 14 schools to have 700 program victories -- joining Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12.

West Virginia is one of just three schools to have at least nine wins in seven straight seasons. That doesn't happen by accident. And it's also important to note West Virginia is not exactly in a recruiting hotbed. Talent does not come pouring out of the state the way it does in Texas. The Mountaineers have built pipelines into Florida -- Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey being two notable examples on the squad -- and try to mine talent in Baltimore, Virginia and Washington, D.C. So I do think there will be inroads made into Texas with the Big 12 affiliation.

Already on the roster from the state are starting running back Dustin Garrison and quarterback Ford Childress, an ESPNU 150 player in the class of 2012. I respect the job Gary Patterson has done in building TCU, but I simply think there is going to be much more of a growing curve for a team transitioning to an automatic qualifying conference. What do you think?

DU: I'd agree. The Big East has been weak, but there aren't any teams like New Mexico and UNLV in that league, who are little more than a week off for teams as talented as TCU has been the past few years. Show up and you win.

Last year, even Kansas beat the MAC champions, Northern Illinois, before losing its final 10 games of 2011. Big 12 champion Oklahoma State lost to 6-7 Iowa State, too. This league is so, so deep. You have to show up and play well every week, and even then, you might not win. In 2010, 11 of the league's 12 teams had five wins and at least played a game with a chance to win six and qualify for a bowl game.

This year, nine of the 10 teams did that. It's got elite teams, too. Texas and OU played for titles in 2008 and 2009 and OSU was barely shut out of the title game this year.

The depth of the Big 12 is what TCU will have to get used to. In that sense, WVU will have to adjust much less. Of course, you never know for sure. We'll find out next year. WVU had some head-scratching losses, too. Losing to Syracuse by 26 points? Really? Sheesh.

Both of these teams are built to win in 2012, and I think they'll do it. But winning a Big 12 title requires you to show up every week and play well. In the Big East, which sent an eight-win team to the BCS in 2010, that hasn't necessarily been true.

In the Big 12, Texas or OU has basically run through the year with 0-2 losses every single season. If WVU wants to win this league, they'll have to do that.

When do you think WVU will win its first title? Will it win one?

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Kim Klement/US PresswireGeno Smith will enter the Big 12 in his third season as West Virginia's starting quarterback.
AA: It is tough to put a time frame on when West Virginia will win a league title. As crazy as it might sound, I think this team is built to contend in 2012. The Mountaineers dropped FSU from the nonconference schedule, so you could consider Kansas as filling that void. I am sure West Virginia takes that.

Oklahoma is going to be a preseason national favorite, but after that, every single team returning has major question marks. Is Texas going to be Texas? What does Baylor do without RG3? What does Oklahoma State do without Weeden and Justin Blackmon?

You bring up a good point about the head-scratching losses. There have been a bunch of those over the last several seasons -- including TWO in a row to Syracuse. This is a team that has simply been inconsistent. It didn't put together a full game against Clemson. But I think Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are going to be a handful for teams to stop, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Mountaineers were a surprise contender in 2012. Are you buying or selling?

DU: I'd generally agree. Year 1 seems to be their best chance. It's a wide-open year in the Big 12, and I think Oklahoma's a bit overrated heading into next year, though the potential for a national title run is there. Texas looks like it's on its way back up, but next year won't be the year.

If it doesn't happen next year, though, I don't think WVU will win a Big 12 title in the next decade. It's a solid program that I think could get into the BCS, but win the Big 12?

With the stability, metroplex location and winning tradition, I like TCU's upside a whole lot more, and its ability to win a Big 12 title in the future. I'm buying a Horned Frogs Big 12 title in the next decade. Not so much on WVU.

Time to put you on the spot: What's WVU's record next year and Big 12 finish?

AA: I can see the hate mail trickling into the Big 12 mailbag over that one, Mr. Ubben!
I am going to say West Virginia goes 10-2 and finishes second in the Big 12. What say you?

DU: Maybe so. But hey, that's how we do things on the Big 12 Blog. I call it like I see it. And I see more potential for the Froggies, though I think the Mountaineers will be a solid, solid program. I wouldn't be that surprised if they won the league, but I'm not betting on it.

This is a league built around the state of Texas, and the location's going to make it tough for them to consistently field teams that can win 11-12 games consistently.

Next year, I'll take 9-3 for the Mountaineers, but a tie for third place.
Each offense across the Big 12 starts 11 players on Saturday and plays 12-13 games. That's a whole lot of performances. Some are better than others.

These are the 11 best individual performances from the entire 2011 season. Here's our top 10 from 2010. Why are there 11 this year? Because.

If a player's team didn't win the game, he was ineligible, and this list omitted defensive performances. This is, after all, the Big 12. An opponent's defensive quality is factored in. That considered, my apologies to Henry Josey vs. Western Illinois.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJustin Blackmon was the difference between a win and a loss for the Cowboys in the Fiesta Bowl.
1. OSU receiver Justin Blackmon vs. Stanford. Simply put, Blackmon completely changed the game in the Cowboys' 41-38 win. OSU doesn't come anywhere close to winning without him. His first two catches went for scores, and he was uncoverable, hauling in his biggest catch of the night on a slant on fourth-and-6 with minutes to play and OSU trailing by seven. He finished with eight catches for 186 yards and three touchdowns.

2. Baylor QB Robert Griffin III vs. TCU. Interesting that Blackmon's performance came in the second-to-last game of the Big 12 season, and Griffin's came in the very first. Still, both were legendary. Griffin launched a Heisman campaign with four touchdown passes of 28 yards or longer, and extended the game-winning drive with a third-down catch up the middle that resulted with getting the wind knocked of out him. He still marched Baylor down the field for the game-winning field goal in the 50-48 win and finished 21-of-27 for 359 yards and five touchdown passes.

3. OSU QB Brandon Weeden vs. Texas Tech. This was sheer dominance from Weeden, who had an unbelievable game in the 66-6 win, despite throwing passes in what I can assure you was 40 mph-plus winds. He somehow finished 31-of-37 for 423 yards and five touchdowns in the laugher against the Red Raiders.

4. K-State QB Collin Klein vs. Texas A&M. This was by far Klein's best passing game of the season, rescuing the Wildcats from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter with a pair of deep completions and winning the game, 53-50, in the fourth overtime with a QB sneak. He carried the ball 35 times for 103 yards and five scores. He also completed 17-of-27 passes for 281 yards, a touchdown and an interception. That's a ton of touches.

5. Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles vs. Missouri. Oklahoma fell behind 10-0 early, but Broyles and quarterback Landry Jones helped bring the Sooners back in the 38-28 win. He was uncoverable for most of the game, catching 13 balls for 154 yards and three touchdowns.

6. Griffin III vs. Oklahoma. Griffin became the Heisman frontrunner after a second legendary performance in the same season. He threw the game-winning touchdown pass with seconds left to Terrance Williams, his fourth touchdown pass of the game. He finished 21-of-34 for 479 yards and carried the ball 18 times for 72 yards, including a late scramble on the game-winning drive.

7. Texas A&M WR Ryan Swope vs. Baylor: For once, the Aggies didn't struggle in the second half. Swope was solid for 60 minutes, breaking tackles and breaking loose from Baylor's offense all day. The Bears had no answer, and were blown out, 55-28. Swope finished with 11 catches for 206 yards and was the only receiver to catch four touchdowns in a game this season.

8. Baylor WR Kendall Wright vs. TCU. Now, you didn't think Griffin did it all by himself in the 50-48 win over the Horned Frogs, did you? Wright was blowing by an inexperienced TCU secondary, and RG3 found him all night. He finished with 12 catches for 189 yards and two scores, but he also threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams and hit Griffin on his only catch of the night.

9. Baylor RB Terrance Ganaway vs. Washington. Ganaway sealed the Big 12 rushing title with his sixth 100-yard game and second 200-yard rushing game of the season, rolling over the Huskies and overshadowing RG3 in the Heisman winner's final game. He carried the ball 21 times for 200 yards and five touchdowns.

10. Blackmon vs. Kansas State. Blackmon was at his best late, hauling in a 54-yard touchdown pass to take the lead in the final minutes, capped by a two-point conversion to make it a seven-point lead. K-State couldn't handle him, and he finished with 205 receiving yards, 13 catches and two scores.

11. Missouri QB James Franklin vs. Iowa State. Franklin had a handful of great dual-threat games. This was his best, despite going up against the Big 12's best group of linebackers. He helped blow out the Cyclones with 289 yards and three scores on 20-of-28 passing. He threw two interceptions, but he also carried the ball 11 times for 84 yards and two scores.

Honorable mention: Oklahoma QB Landry Jones vs. Texas; Landry Jones vs. Missouri; Texas RB Joe Bergeron vs. Texas Tech; Kendall Wright vs. Texas; Henry Josey vs. Western Illinois

Weeden: Senior Bowl's top stock riser

January, 27, 2012
1/27/12
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Rain washed out Thursday's practices at the Senior Bowl, but former Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden Insider topped our scouts' list of players whose stock went up during the week. Insider
Weeden came into the week with the opportunity to show he has the skills to become a starter in the NFL and that he is better than the other five quarterbacks in attendance, including Arizona's Nick Foles, who grades out in the same late-first- or early-second-round area. From the first practice, Weeden was confident and seemed to embrace the opportunity. ...

We didn't see many differences between Foles and Weeden on tape, but watching them go head-to-head this week, it's hard to imagine anyone walking away thinking Foles is the better quarterback. The age question still remains, though. Weeden will be a 29-year-old rookie and that could make a difference. Is he the next Chris Weinke, who struggled from a talent standpoint after spending several years playing minor league baseball? Or is Weeden going to be a late bloomer like Kurt Warner, who did not become a full-time starter until he was 29 and went on to play 10 more seasons after that?

He'll be a fascinating rookie to watch, but from my perspective, it's easy to imagine at least one NFL front office convincing themselves that Weeden is the latter option. That could mean Weeden hears his name in the second round ... or earlier.

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