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Instant Analysis: Oregon 30, Texas 7

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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SAN ANTONIO -- No. 10 Oregon beats Texas 30-7 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A few thoughts on the game:

It was over when: Oregon safety Derrick Malone picked off a Case McCoy pass over the middle midway through the fourth quarter, then went 39 yards for the score. The Ducks went up 30-7 on McCoy’s second pick-six of the night.

Game ball goes to: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was masterful both on the ground and through the air, throwing for 253 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 133. A month off to heal a nagging knee injury did him plenty of good.

Stat of the game: McCoy finished with 48 passing yards and no touchdowns. The two passes he completed to Oregon defenders were returned for a total of 75 yards and two touchdowns.

Unsung hero: Oregon safety Avery Patterson, who gave the Ducks a 7-0 lead just 68 seconds into the game when he picked off a McCoy pass and scored on a 37-yard return. The senior added nine tackles in his final game.

Best call: The Ducks’ first score on offense came when Mariota, with Jackson Jeffcoat fast approaching, flipped to Josh Huff on a shovel pass and he found the end zone from 16 yards out. Huff finished with 104 receiving yards and a school-record 1,140 in 2013.

What Oregon learned: If Mariota makes good on his promise to return in 2014, Oregon should once again have a preseason top-10 team and plenty of firepower to make a run at a college football playoff bid.

What Texas learned: Nothing it didn’t already know, really. Its Case McCoy-led offense can pound the rock but couldn’t keep up with elite teams and capitalize on opportunities. The Longhorns couldn’t give Mack Brown a satisfying sendoff. Now it’s time to find his successor.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Valero Alamo Bowl, click here.

Texas coach Brown has a decision to make

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
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WACO, Texas -- For the second year in a row, Texas players watched and walked away. Another team celebrated a Big 12 championship after beating the Longhorns. Another team got to party at home.

Last year, Kansas State. This time, Baylor. Both headed off to the Fiesta Bowl while Texas is left to wonder where this is all going.

This time, coach Mack Brown had to address and assess the future. He didn't convey much worry about where he fit into the Longhorns' future.

"Just got to keep playing, keep winning," Brown said. "We had our chance to get in the Big 12 championship this year. Guys will go out recruiting tomorrow. Go back to work, try to win the bowl game, get your ninth win and go back to spring practice. We've got spring practice in February, so it happens fast."

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsTexas couldn't capitalize on first-half opportunities Saturday, such as this blocked field goal attempt.
Back to business as usual. He'll try not to dwell too much on what slipped out of Texas' grasp in this game, but it's hard to ignore. Oklahoma gave Texas a chance to win the Big 12 on Saturday. Baylor gave Texas a first half to win the Big 12. The Longhorns didn't take it.

The game, the day, the season -- all opportunities missed. And Brown acknowledged that, to some extent. He opened his postgame press conference by running through the laundry list of costly mistakes.

What he didn't want to speak to, though, was whether he has decided if he wants to come back and give it another go in 2014.

"I'm not talking about any of that tonight," Brown said. "I'm in the same position I was when I've been asked the other 15 times. We'll talk about the team tonight."

The hard, complicated question isn't whether Mack Brown should come back. It's this: Why would he want to?

That Texas got this far was admirable, considering all the injuries and hurdles. It was truly a crazy, unpredictable season, all the way down to the final quarter of this game.

But does Brown want to do this all over again? Why would he sign up for another season of this?

If Texas president Bill Powers and athletic director Steve Patterson give Brown another season, it's hard to envision a 2014 campaign that won't be just as rough and challenging as this one, if not more so.

The schedule next season is awfully similar, with the marquee non-conference game a showdown with UCLA at AT&T Stadium next September. Lose that game -- to a Bruins program that went 9-3 this season, has serious momentum and began Mack's misery in 2010 -- or stumble against BYU, and we'll go right back down this road again.

Week after week of scrutiny and distractions and fires to put out. A fan base growing more discontent and apathetic each Saturday. Who wants to coach in that culture?

Brown already will be tagged and tarred as the coach on the hottest hot seat this offseason if he returns. The national chatter that he's running out of time will undermine his efforts in recruiting. The doubters can cause the same kind of prove-yourself mentality that doomed former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

That's not to say he can't win next year. That's not to say that, if Texas struggles early, Brown can't unleash another masterful performance of crisis management and coax his players to go on another run.

But he has coached 50 games since the BCS championship game against Alabama. Texas is now 30-20 in the last four years and one game above .500 (18-17) in Big 12 games. Brown restructured after 2010 around two coordinators who now are gone. If things go downhill from here, is he really interested in rebuilding his rebuild?

Texas lineman Trey Hopkins said Brown still has the full support of the locker room. His players aren't bailing on him. But 10 senior starters will graduate. David Ash will have to lead the offense after missing 10½ games this season with a concussion.

And if you want to go deeper, recognize the hole Texas could be in if Ash has issues. Case McCoy is gone. Tyrone Swoopes wasn't entrusted to contribute much as a freshman. ESPN 300 commit Jerrod Heard can't enroll early for spring ball. Jalen Overstreet moved to running back. Bringing in an experienced transfer quarterback seems like a must now.

Brown will do this kind of math, calculating whether Texas can win with what returns. He wants to win and win big.

He thought the Longhorns could do that this year, and in all fairness, it has been a hell of a season. If Brown had been on this job only a few years, he'd get the injury mulligan that Will Muschamp received at Florida. Heck, he still might. Brown's team fought and overcame and came up short.

Just as important, though, the guy wants some respect. Brown put up with an awful lot this season. He put his pride on the line and tried to shoot down all the speculation as best he could. But at a certain point, when is it no longer worthwhile?

Forget legacy and statues and ego for a moment. Signing up for another year of this carnival would make any coach miserable over time.

Brown will travel to New York this week with Powers and Patterson for the College Football Hall of Fame inductions. At some point, there will be a discussion about the future.

But Brown has a decision of his own to make. He has to search his feelings. Even if he's given the choice, does he really want to do this again?

Five things Texas, Baylor must do to win

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
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Breaking down five things Texas and Baylor must do to emerge victorious in Waco, Texas, on Saturday. Here are the keys to the game:

Five things: No. 25 Texas Longhorns

1. Be the more physical team: This was the most important reason why Texas upset Oklahoma. It wasn’t scheme, it was attitude. That’s applicable to both sides of the ball, but it’s especially important up front with an offensive line that must get rolling to power Texas’ essential run game. As Major Applewhite put it after OU, the key was “playing you’re a** off.” The Longhorns did that against Texas Tech and need more of the same on Saturday.

2. Limit big plays: In the blowout loss at Oklahoma State, Baylor put up 453 yards on 83 plays. Half of those yards came on seven plays. The Bears gained 30-plus on just two. That’s about as good as you could’ve asked for, defensively, if you’re the Pokes. A strong defensive showing can fall apart with just a few busts, like permitting an easy 50-yarder for Antwan Goodley or joining the many who have let Lache Seastrunk dash 80 yards. Weather permitting, Texas must get a few big plays of its own from speedsters Mike Davis, Marcus Johnson and/or Daje Johnson.

3. Turnover battle: Texas is 96-6 in the Mack Brown era when it wins the turnover battle, including 5-1 this season. TCU could’ve pulled off a huge upset in Fort Worth last week if not for the fact that Baylor’s defense created three touchdowns, two on pick-sixes. The Bears were minus-3 against Oklahoma State. Considering the weather expected for this game, there’s a good chance turnovers decide this game.

4. Challenge Petty: Baylor QB Bryce Petty has been sacked 10 times in his last four games. Texas notched nine sacks in its last game. But it’s not just about takedowns. When a defense gets physical with Baylor’s receivers, Petty’s timing in the pocket can get thrown off and he starts overthrowing. If Jackson Jeffcoat plays his “spinner” role again, can he and the Texas defensive line cause problems for the All-Big 12 quarterback?

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJackson Jeffcoat and Texas' defensive front must hold up and get pressure on Baylor's Bryce Petty.
5. Hang in there: Could Texas have taken Oklahoma State four quarters if not for a pick-six in the final minute of the first half? We’ll never know. Unsatisfied with taking a 21-10 deficit into halftime, the Longhorns got greedy and it cost them. A game this big requires taking shots, but they have to be smart. Baylor can fire off a few scores quickly; it’s what this team does. How will Texas make adjustments and answer?

Five things: No. 9 Baylor Bears

1. Establish run game: Baylor leaned heavily on a now-healthy Seastrunk early last week, giving him 19 first-half carries and a career-high 24. Seastrunk, Glasco Martin and Shock Linwood need to pound the middle of a Texas front that, from an experience standpoint, is basically down to two linebackers and two defensive tackles. Keep an eye on the QB run game, too. It remains Texas’ greatest weakness as a defense, and Petty has rushed for 161 yards (excluding sacks) in his last four games.

2. Scoring explosion: In six games this season, the Bears scored at least 21 points in the first quarter. This Texas offense needs to control the tempo and would have a hard time keeping up if Baylor comes out firing and lights up the scoreboard early. But remember: Against Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU, Baylor scored a combined 20 first-quarter points. The good defenses haven’t made it easy.

3. Make McCoy beat you: It’s a phrase that has probably been uttered by every Big 12 defensive coordinator Texas has faced. And yet, the Longhorns are 7-1 in the league. McCoy has a 10-9 TD-INT ratio, which hasn’t burned him much, with the exception of a three-interception day against OSU. McCoy has had some big moments in 2013 and vows he’s a different quarterback than the gunslinger that threw four picks in Waco two years ago. Still, if Baylor can stop the run consistently and force McCoy to win the game with his arm, the Bears will like their chances.

4. Second-and-long, 3-and-out: No Big 12 team has forced more 3-and-outs than Baylor this season. Texas’ offense has the second-fewest in Big 12 play. Something’s got to give. With how heavily Texas relies on the run, getting into second-and-long and third-and-long will mean lots of advantageous situations for a banged-up Bear defense.

5. Depth needed: We talked the depth up plenty when Baylor was rolling. The injuries that have piled up and finally took a toll against Oklahoma State. The Bears gritted out a close one with TCU despite missing several starters, but once again, the second-stringers will need to step up big when called upon.

Longhorns bounce back to set up big game

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
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AUSTIN, Texas -- There's no better cure for a 25-point loss than responding with a 25-point victory.

That's not some old Darrell Royal saying or an axiom that coaches have been known to share. It's just a fact. And just when we thought we had Texas and its troubles figured out, this team fought to live another week.

The Longhorns who won six conference games in a row showed up again, keeping their Big 12 championship hopes alive with a 41-16 victory over Texas Tech on Thanksgiving night.

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron, Tanner Jacobson
AP Photo/Eric GayJoe Bergeron, wearing No. 32 in honor of injured Johnathan Gray, had 102 yards and a touchdown.
"Proud of our team. Proud of the way they fought," Longhorns coach Mack Brown said. "A lot of guys are banged up. End of the year. At least they've given themselves an opportunity to go to Waco and play for a championship."

There was plenty of talk in the past two weeks that Oklahoma State finally exposed Texas and its various flaws, that the six Big 12 wins that came before it were somehow less meaningful or some kind of mirage.

If the meltdown against the Cowboys revealed Texas' thin margin for error, Thursday's victory reminded how good Texas can be when it achieves everything it sets out to do.

Brown wanted a slowed-paced game, not a shootout. Texas had to control the tempo. Check.

He wanted to pound Texas Tech's recently awful run defense. Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown both surpassed 100 yards. Check.

He hoped Texas' defense could force erratic play by the Red Raiders' young quarterbacks. The Longhorns netted nine sacks, including three each from Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed. Check.

"It's not a pretty brand of ball. It's not very stylish," Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said. "But it's what we had to do."

Thursday's performance was about as close to a defensive masterpiece as Texas could have hoped for. The Red Raiders' No. 1 ranked pass offense finished with 5.8 yards per attempt. They went 5-for-18 on third downs. Tech's leading rusher on the night? Punter Ryan Erxleben, who dashed 51 yards for the first score of the night. Texas' special teams gave up that score. Its defense allowed one touchdown the rest of the night.

"It was a good game. I don't know if it was better or not. I guess you guys make those decisions," defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said. "We played real well here against a good offense."

But since so many will discount the result, pointing out that Texas Tech lost five in a row after starting 7-0, let's cut to the chase: If this is Texas, if these are the real Longhorns going forward, can they do enough to beat No. 9 Baylor?

Ask Brown whether his team played up to its formula for victory against Tech and he'll rattle off the things his team didn't do. Texas turned the ball over twice. Other than placekicker Anthony Fera, a Groza Award finalist who's now 19-for-20 this season, the Longhorns are still a mess in several areas of special teams.

His players were no different. They see a need for improvement. They won't celebrate this win much this weekend. They know what they're up against next.

Preparing for Baylor will require that kind of perfectionist attention to detail. Like Texas, the Bears showed their vulnerabilities against Oklahoma State. They're not at all unbeatable. But they have the respect of their next opponent.

"We fully assume Baylor will win [against TCU] and be right there," quarterback Case McCoy said. "It'll be a game that, as a senior class, we want to go out with a chance to put numbers on these walls and have a Big 12 championship."

The Longhorns made their senior night count. They made the next game matter. They're not done yet.

"We're still in the race," Jeffcoat said. "We had to win this one. This was a must-win. And we have to win the next one."

Texas seniors endured tough run, rebuild

November, 28, 2013
11/28/13
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AUSTIN, Texas -- When Mack Brown introduced his latest recruiting class on signing day of 2010, he did so with great pride.

“I've been asked over the last couple of days, ‘Is this the best class that we've ever had?’” Brown said that day. “We feel like it definitely has the potential to be, because from top to bottom it covers every position and that's a very difficult thing to do.”

On Thursday, seven of those signees will take the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium one final time. Senior Night has a tendency to elicit mixed emotions, a bittersweet cocktail of pride, sadness and sentimentality.

It’s hard to assess this Texas class with anything else but mixed emotions. You wonder if they feel the same. After all, this four-year run was not what these seniors signed up for or expected back in February 2010.

Of the 13 scholarship seniors being honored during Texas’ Thanksgiving home finale against Texas Tech, more than half came from the 2010 class that ranked No. 2 nationally. They signed after Texas won 13 games and played for a national title. The senior class that departed after 2009 went 45-8 in their four seasons.

Today’s seniors made their debuts for a 2010 team that was No. 5 in the preseason AP poll. Expectations were as high as ever. Brown seemed poised to chase another championship.

Instead, this class ended up inheriting the task of helping lead a rebuilding project, one that still isn’t complete. They hope this is their legacy, that their efforts will get this Longhorn program back on track.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJackson Jeffcoat calls his Texas career a roller coaster ride.
“To their credit, they would tell you they haven’t accomplished what teams at Texas would want to have accomplished as seniors,” Brown said.

The fourth-year seniors enter Thursday night’s home finale against Texas Tech with a career record of 29-19. If the Red Raiders pull the upset, this group will drop to 17-17 in Big 12 games.

They haven’t been particularly successful at DKR, either, with a record of 13-11 at home in the past four years. They’ve won six conference home games and lost nine.

Most of these seniors been playing from the very beginning. Guard Mason Walters, a 2009 signee who redshirted, and receiver Mike Davis were starters on the 5-7 team of 2010. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, cornerback Carrington Byndom and guard Trey Hopkins are three-year starters. All together, this senior class has combined for 266 starts.

It's a group that, to this point, has endured an awful lot. The first losing season of Brown’s tenure. A coaching staff shakeup. The end of the Texas A&M rivalry. One win and three losses to Oklahoma. No Big 12 championships. No BCS bowl games.

“It's been a roller-coaster ride, ups and downs,” Jeffcoat said. “I think I'm better for that.”

Jeffcoat signed to play for then-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Case McCoy has been tutored by three different quarterback coaches and playcallers. These Texas seniors received an education in embracing change.

“A lot of things have gone good, a lot of things have gone bad,” McCoy said. “That's part of the game, that's part of life. One thing I know in this game and in life, you’ve got to battle. You can't give up. That's why I love this team. I love the way they're playing. I love their hearts because we haven't given up.”

They know they had Texas-sized standards to live up to in their careers. When a program bottoms out the way the Longhorns did in 2010, everything achieved since has been in the commitment to getting back on top.

There have been high points along the way, but it all seemed to be building toward 2013. Brown believed Texas had a chance to win every game this season. That didn’t work out.

To the seniors’ credit, he said, they didn’t fold after starting off 1-2 this year. They didn’t give in and they rallied to win six in a row.

“They were very, very strong-willed in stepping up with their leadership and telling the other guys, ‘This is our last time now, we’re going to make this work,’” Brown said. “I’m really proud of them. I’m proud of the way they’ve handled adversity, proud of the way they fought through it.”

And Jeffcoat believes the legacy of these seniors is unfinished. They’ll earn a share of the Big 12 title, and perhaps more, if they win out. Three games left means three more chances to get the Longhorns back in the right direction.

“I think we definitely have that opportunity,” McCoy said. “We have the opportunity right now to put our final stamp on it and put it where we need to go.”

Texas’ seniors have had a rough journey. As the end nears, though, they still believe their story can have a happy ending. And they seem to have few regrets.

“If I had to choose all over again,” Jeffcoat said, “I’d come to Texas.”

Big 12 predictions: Week 14

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
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What an epic disaster last week was.

First, the Sooners blitzed K-State, destroying my first pick. Then Oklahoma State annihilated Baylor, annihilating my second pick. And before the end of the night, the Iowa State Cyclones made me look ridiculous for taking the Jayhawks.

As a result, I went 0-3 for the week. To add insult to injury, Wingnut Drew went 2-1. Now, I trail you guest pickers for the season. Maybe one of you should just take over the blog.

Alas, I fear you all would miss me too much. So I’m going to give it another go.

This week’s guest picker submission, Shelley from Lubbock, Texas:

I grew up watching the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Oilers (yep, I’m old) and West Texas high school football under the Friday night lights. But I love college football the most. Now, I work in the billing office at Texas Tech. After eight years of watching Tech athletes grow and succeed on and off the field, I have become a Red Raider, despite my Aggie roots. Guns Up!

To the Week 14 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 0-3 (.000)

Guest picker (Wingnut Drew) last week: 2-1 (.667)

Trotter overall: 52-18 (.743)

Guest picker overall: 40-13 (.754)

THURSDAY

Texas 37, Texas Tech 31: There are only four teams in college football whose turnover differentials are negative-11 or worse: Southern Miss, California, Eastern Michigan and Texas Tech. Southern Miss, Cal and EMU have combined to win three games. So, it’s actually pretty remarkable the Red Raiders have seven wins, given how poor their ball security has been. Turnovers, however, will doom the Red Raiders in Austin, as Texas takes better care of the ball and exploits Tech’s depleted defensive front with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. Sorry, Shelley.

Shelley’s pick: The Red Raiders jump to a big lead, forcing Texas to play catch-up, which means playing fast, which means throwing the ball … and we all know Case McCoy’s arm can handle only so many passes in one game. Seeing the Longhorns lose on Thanksgiving is better than pecan pie. Tech, 35-17

SATURDAY

Kansas State 44, Kansas 13: One step forward, two steps back. The Jayhawks finally looked like they were breaking out after a landmark victory over West Virginia that ended a 27-game conference losing streak. Instead, Kansas looked like the old Kansas while getting obliterated in Ames. Tyler Lockett has another huge afternoon hauling in passes downfield, Daniel Sams and John Hubert pound the Jayhawks defensive line and the Wildcats run their Sunflower State winning streak to five on their way to the National University Holiday Bowl.

Shelley’s pick: “The Sunflower Showdown” is the worst rivalry name ever. It sounds like a gardening reality show on HGTV. Sadly, the game will probably be as entertaining as a gardening show. K-State, 45-17

Baylor 41, TCU 23: The Horned Frogs aren’t going to a bowl. So they’ve turned QB Casey Pachall’s final college start into a de facto bowl game. That, combined with a slight Baylor hangover, actually keeps this game interesting in the fourth quarter.

Shelley’s pick: Baylor is going to take out its frustration on those poor Horned Frogs. It's going to be ugly in Fort Worth. Baylor, 63-17

West Virginia 27, Iowa State 21: West Virginia QB Clint Trickett called Iowa State "the greatest 2-9 football team in the history of football." After falling at Kansas, it's probably wise for West Virginia to respect any and every opponent. But the Mountaineers have been a different team in Morgantown than on the road. Just ask Mike Gundy.

Shelley’s pick: Both of these teams would really love a reset button. Iowa State gets my vote in this one purely because the Cyclones have momentum in their favor after crushing KU last week. Iowa State, 24-14

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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Taking stock of Week 12 in the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsKansas and coach Charlie Weis were finally able to celebrate a Big 12 win on Saturday, ending a 27-game conference losing skid.
Team of the week: Oklahoma State was dominant in its 38-13 victory at Texas. But team of the week honors go to Kansas, which finally snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a 31-19 victory over West Virginia. The Jayhawks snapped the streak with authority, too, leading the Mountaineers 31-7 at one point in the fourth quarter. Kansas had been showing mild improvement throughout the season but couldn’t string together a performance over the course of an entire game. Saturday, Charlie Weis’ bunch finally did just that, giving the Jayhawks something tangible to build off moving forward.

Disappointment of the week: The Longhorns had a chance to set up a de facto Big 12 title game with Baylor in the regular-season finale. Instead, Oklahoma State handed Texas its biggest home loss of the Mack Brown era. The Cowboys completely shut down the Texas offense, including quarterback Case McCoy, who threw three interceptions. Texas is still technically alive in the Big 12 title race. But Brown has a better chance of being the coach in Austin next year than Texas does of winning the Big 12 championship.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf, Kansas running back James Sims and Baylor receiver Levi Norwood.

Chelf delivered the second-highest adjusted QBR (97.3) of the weekend in college football while leading Oklahoma State to its biggest win of the season. He threw for 197 yards and ran for another 95 while accounting for four touchdowns.

Sims was phenomenal against West Virginia, with 211 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries. His 68-yard scoring run 28 seconds before halftime proved to be the pivotal play in the game. Sims (914 yards) trails only West Virginia’s Charles Sims (946 yards) for the Big 12 rushing title.

Norwood picked up where Tevin Reese left off. With Reese out with a dislocated wrist, Norwood exploded against Texas Tech with 156 yards receiving. Norwood also had touchdown receptions of 40 and 58 yards and a 58-yard punt-return touchdown.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and Kansas linebacker Ben Goodman.

Gilbert had maybe the finest game of his career, picking off McCoy twice. Gilbert leads the Big 12 with six interceptions.

Goodman halted a potential West Virginia scoring drive in the third quarter. He picked off quarterback Paul Millard at the line of scrimmage, then rumbled 54 yards to the Mountaineers' 14-yard line. Sims capitalized on the turnover with a 2-yard touchdown that put the Jayhawks up 24-7.

Special-teams players of the week: Kansas State kicker Jack Cantele and Oklahoma returner Jalen Saunders.

Cantele had never attempted a game-winning field goal before. But when the time came, he delivered, nailing a 41-yard kick with three seconds remaining to lift the Wildcats to a 33-31 win over TCU. Cantele converted his other three field-goal attempts, too, and the Wildcats needed every one of them.

With Iowa State leading OU 10-3 in the second quarter, Saunders broke off a 91-yard punt return TD to tie the game. The Sooners scored 45 unanswered points the rest of the way to rout the Cyclones.

Play of the week: Late in the second quarter of Oklahoma State's victory at Texas, Gilbert intercepted a McCoy pass intended for Kendall Sanders (who decommitted from Oklahoma State to sign with the Longhorns) and then raced 43 yards for his second pick-six of the season. The play put the Cowboys up 28-10 just 18 seconds before halftime, and Oklahoma State was firmly in control the rest of the way.

Stat of the week: Baylor now has six 60-point games this season. The only other FBS team with more than two is Ohio State, which has three.

Quote of the week: “I've warned them, this is different than the Big East. The days of just showing up and playing [are over].” -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, after his team became bowl-ineligible after a loss to Kansas

Cowboys prove they're ready for Baylor

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Mike Gundy didn’t own up to it, but his Oklahoma State players couldn’t hide the truth.

Gundy did some dancing on Saturday night. He busted out his famous moves in the locker room after the Cowboys’ 38-13 victory at No. 24 Texas.

It didn't take long for the video find its way to the Internet and not surprisingly, it looks similar to the one from after his 2011 win at Texas A&M.

“He only has one dance,” linebacker Shaun Lewis said. “So, I mean, it’s good to see him do it.”

Gundy had plenty to celebrate. Oklahoma State went on the road and whipped a Longhorns team that was 6-0 in the Big 12 by 25 points, on a day when OSU’s conference titles hopes would be dead with a loss.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsClint Chelf (10), Desmond Roland and Oklahoma State had plenty to celebrate in their win over Texas.
And that win sets up a whale of a game in Stillwater, Okla., next weekend between the Cowboys, winners of six in a row, and a 9-0 Baylor team that routed Texas Tech 63-34 and should move to No. 4 in the BCS standings following Stanford’s loss.

And even though the Bears were dominant as usual, the question must now be raised after what we witnessed Saturday: Can Oklahoma State win the Big 12?

“I certainly think we’ve got as good chance as anybody,” Gundy said. “We’re in playoff football right now. You’ve got to win the next one to get to the next one.

“If you’d have asked me that six weeks ago and I would’ve said we had as good a chance as anybody, you guys probably would’ve got up and walked out. And justifiably so.”

Why even Gundy marvels at about his team’s turnaround is the fact that, as he puts it, a college football team only gets two real, full practices each week. In the days following the Pokes’ 30-21 loss at West Virginia, his staff recognized that hurdle. You can’t change a season in one week.

All you can do with eight practices in one month is commit to gradual, daily improvement. OSU scraped out close wins over Kansas State and TCU. A solution to its offensive woes emerged in the duo of Clint Chelf and Desmond Roland.

And that Cowboys defense just keeps getting better. This unit, led by defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, knew the formula for attacking Texas. Put extra help in the box. Slow down a Johnathan Gray-less run game. Dare Case McCoy to beat you through the air. Get the edge early and raise the pressure.

“That’s what we wanted to do when we were coming out of the locker room,” cornerback Justin Gilbert said. “We said ‘Let’s shut them up early and let’s play together.’”

The result: The Longhorns scored a season-low 13 points. McCoy threw three interceptions, two to Gilbert. Texas ran for 21 yards on seven carries in the third quarter while trying to rally.

“Coach Spencer came up with a great plan,” said linebacker Caleb Lavey, who snagged McCoy’s second interception.

But we knew Texas was offensively flawed. Is Oklahoma State ready for the Baylor juggernaut?

The Bears spotted Texas Tech a 20-7 lead in the first quarter Saturday night. Then Levi Norwood ran back a punt for a score, Baylor took a 21-20 lead to end the first and never trailed the rest of the night. They scored in five plays or less on five of their first six touchdowns.

Texas Tech briefly put up a valiant fight. But Baylor just keeps rolling

“They’re on the verge of what you would call a great college football team,” Gundy said.

And it seems this Oklahoma State team is on the verge of something special. They’ve played at Boone Pickens Stadium only four times this season. They close out the year on their home turf against Baylor and Oklahoma.

Texas, by the way, isn’t out of the picture but got a startling reality check. A six-game streak to begin Big 12 play had the Longhorns dreaming of running the table and of Mack Brown silencing all his critics.

OSU humbled them with relative ease. Now they need to knock of Texas Tech and Baylor and get a little help from the Pokes -- like, say, a loss to the Bears -- to win the league.

The Longhorns no longer control their own destiny. Oklahoma State does. Baylor does. They put all on the line next Saturday.

“These are the ones that you live for,” Lavey said.

The preparation begins Sunday. The Cowboys know about the hype surrounding Baylor. And they know they can give the Bears a ballgame.

“We definitely want to knock those guys off, especially at home,” Gilbert said. “It’ll be a delightful moment. Aren’t they undefeated? That’ll be tremendous.”

Texas has no answers in loss to OSU

November, 16, 2013
11/16/13
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Texas graphicESPN Stats & Information It's been five years and counting since Texas last beat a top-25 team at home.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas got handed a beatdown on Saturday. There’s no other fair way to put it.

In a game billed as one of the Big 12’s biggest of the season, between two teams streaking and in control of their conference title hopes, No. 12 Oklahoma State took control early and never let go in a 38-13 victory over the No. 24 Longhorns.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Clint Chelf accounted for four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) in the Cowboys' win over Texas.
The Cowboys handed coach Mack Brown the most lopsided home loss of his 16 years in Austin, and there was nothing fluky about it.

OSU won a big-time conference test with a stingy defense, a superior run game, far better special-teams play and three forced turnovers. All against a Texas team that had won six straight and truly believed it could play with the Big 12 title contenders.

“I’m disappointed,” Brown said. “I don’t get stunned about anything anymore.”

The Longhorns, who hadn’t lost in two months, never led in this game. They started slowly, rallied back to 14-10 and then gave the game away in a matter of only seven plays.

The first six came on a 67-yard touchdown drive sparked by a 29-yard pass from Clint Chelf to a wide-open Jhajuan Seales on third-and-10. Two plays later, Chelf sent a pass right into the hands of Texas safety Adrian Phillips that bounced off and into the grasp of receiver Tracy Moore for a 12-yard score.

“It’s just a play I have to make,” Phillips said. “I make that play every day. It just went through my hands. Sometimes when you roll the dice, it doesn’t go your way.”

Down 21-10 with 75 seconds left in the first half, Texas’ offensive coaches opted to roll the dice and go for a score. They got one. OSU corner Justin Gilbert baited Case McCoy into throwing an out that Gilbert picked off and returned 43 yards to the end zone.

“Yeah, I was forcing things. There’s no doubt about it,” McCoy said.

McCoy threw two more interceptions on the day, including one swiped by linebacker Caleb Lavey that the Cowboys turned into a 21-yard touchdown one play later. That was the final score of the day, and with 1:54 left in the third quarter, the game was over.

“The quarterback goes out and throws three picks, you’re not going to win the ballgame,” McCoy said. “It’s very rare that happens. So it’s on me, my team knows it’s on me and we’re going to get it fixed and go win.”

That's not to single out McCoy and Phillips. There were mistakes all over the field in this game, and OSU repeatedly capitalized. Texas had no answer in the second half. One field goal and no spark. No big plays, no momentum, no change. It hadn't faced that feeling in a long time.

And there’s not much to second-guess. Oklahoma State was the far superior team. Brown was asked afterward about his usage of freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, which remains one of the great red herrings of Texas’ issues this season. Brown offered as honest an answer as he could have.

“You never make decisions when you’re tired and when you’re frustrated,” he said. “I’d say we’re both tonight.”

The clichés his players will lean on after this one -- about 24-hour rules and not letting one loss become two -- are actually apt. Texas still has plenty to play for. This team needs help to get to the Fiesta Bowl, yes. But Texas (7-3, 6-1 Big 12) gets more than 10 days to prepare for a Thanksgiving meeting with Texas Tech. Win that one and it'll still be in the thick of things with a trip to Waco on the horizon.

For now, though, all the Longhorns can worry about is fixing themselves. They made things far too easy for a talented Oklahoma State team that had very little trouble doing what it wanted to do in.

Brown wasn’t ready to assign much blame after the game. A thorough film session is needed before he can reach some conclusions, and he knows this season isn’t over yet.

“There’s a lot of football to be played,” Brown said. “You just can’t get your head down and lay down and quit when you have a bad night. You have to go back to work.”

There’s plenty of work to be done, even after the two-month run this team was on. Texas got its big moment on Saturday and got flat-out beat. Its Big 12 title hopes took a blow. We’ll know in two weeks whether it was a fatal one.

Brown, Texas saved year one game at a time

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Mason Walters was reminded Monday of this bit of trivia: Texas' last six opponents have won a total of 23 games. Its final three foes are 23-4.

Daunting stuff for a team that finally entered the BCS standings this week, right? The offensive lineman crunched the numbers for a moment, then produced a firm answer.

"We only have to beat one of those teams this week," Walters said. "I think that's the way we do it."

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesMack Brown had turned Texas' season around by convincing the Longhorns to just take it one week at a time.
That's the company line for the Longhorns this season, repeated and reinforced week after week until players started realizing just how effective that myopia can be.

How did coach Mack Brown pull this all off? How did he take a team on the brink at 1-2, one that lost its quarterback and had too many injured starters, and swing this season with a six wins in a row?

The easy answer is that Texas had talented players all along, that somehow this group came together and starting playing up to its experience and potential. These assistant coaches probably aren't receiving their due credit.

But Walters' answer speaks to the mentality Brown has stubbornly preached since Texas' second loss. His Longhorns avoided disaster by living one day and one game at a time.

Brown couldn't control the chatter about his job status. He couldn't control the perception that Texas' season was in a shambles. He and his coaches stuck to what was in front of them: Beat Kansas State. Start 1-0 and start over.

Two months later, it's clear that mentality has trickled down to his players and taken hold in the locker room. Nobody is questioning their focus. Cornerback Quandre Diggs, as confident and hardheaded a leader as Texas has, isn't letting anyone look ahead.

"I don't want to hear about the games we have following Oklahoma State. I really don't care," Diggs said. "I just want to win this week and that's all I care about. I don't care about a Big 12 championship in the future, because that kind of thinking gets you beat. I'm worried about this week."

Brown is teaching a master class in crisis management right now. Those focused on finding a way to replace him in 2014 are missing out.

It's not that Texas players lacked focus in losses to BYU and Ole Miss. It's about how they've responded since. They held a players-only meeting after the Ole Miss defeat. The goal, lineman Donald Hawkins said, was to throw out the hard feelings and put aside differences. This was a mature enough team -- 17 upperclassmen were starting at the time -- to recognize the fork in the road and the way to find the right path.

"We really did, after taking those two losses, figure out that, wow, this is kind of a cutthroat environment we're in after a loss," Walters said. "If we win each one every week, things can only get better."

Added Diggs: "Win the week. Win the day. That should've been our goal from the jump."

Meanwhile, their head coach had to find a way to ignore everything being said about him and his program. Brown would joke that, at Texas, everyone wants the head coach fired after every loss. Publicly, he'd argue the national chatter didn't matter.

The only way to shut people up is by winning. And he's doing just that.

"What's the saying? A wolf doesn't concern himself with the opinions of sheep," Hawkins said.

And now that the noise is dwindling, we can step back and recognize what Brown is accomplishing.

He believed Texas would be good in 2013 if quarterback David Ash had a strong junior year. Ash hasn't played in nearly two months. Starting tackle Josh Cochran is out. Top linebacker Jordan Hicks is done for the year, and now leading rusher Johnathan Gray and defensive tackle Chris Whaley are too.

Yet his team keeps rolling. The Longhorns climbed out of their two-loss hole one test at a time. That's all Brown has asked of them.

The week of the Oklahoma game, national writers were asking Case McCoy and others to defend Brown and to explain why he was still the right man to lead Texas. The responses were understandably defiant. So were the results.

"I play every week as if it's my last," McCoy said. "He's coaching every week like it's his last. It can only trickle down when people see that."

And McCoy says he believes his coach is having as much fun as ever right now. Brown says the postgame locker room after beating West Virginia in overtime last weekend was one of the best he has ever witnessed. He sees an inspired team.

What the players see is a coach who keeps fighting. Walters hopes Brown looks back on 2013 as one of the best coaching jobs he has ever done. But the Longhorns have to take care of business in the next four weeks for any of that to matter.

"If we reflect too much on it, and don't focus on the next week," Walters said, "it's going to get pretty real pretty quickly."

Big 12 predictions: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
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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 weekend rewind: Week 11

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
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Taking stock of Week 11 in the Big 12:

Teams of the week: For the first time this season, we're recognizing two teams here, as both Baylor and Kansas State snagged the biggest wins of their seasons in impressive fashion.

The Wildcats jumped to a 35-10 lead at then-No. 25 Texas Tech, then coasted to a 49-26 rout. QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters produced the two-highest Big 12 Adjusted QBRs of the week (98.4 and 94.9), while John Hubert, who had a 63-yard touchdown run on the opening drive, finished with a season-high 157 rushing yards.

Baylor was equally dominant in a 41-12 win Thursday night over Oklahoma. QB Bryce Petty kept his Heisman campaign alive with three touchdowns passes and two touchdown runs. Baylor's defense put the clamps on the Sooners, holding them to just 237 yards, the lowest output from an OU offense since 2007.

Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma traveled to Waco with a chance to gain an upper hand over the Big 12's favorite. Instead, the Sooners were exposed as a second-tier team in the conference. OU was especially dreadful offensively. Blake Bell completed just 15 of 35 passes with two interceptions for a raw QBR score of 5.9 (scale 0-to-100). The Sooners averaged only 2.6 yards per carry on the ground, as well, with just one run going for more than 10 yards. With games at Kansas State and Oklahoma State still looming, the Sooners could be on the verge of their worst season since 2009.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThird-team running back Shock Linwood had his third 100-yard game for Baylor on Thursday.
Big (offensive) men on campus: Baylor running back Shock Linwood, TCU receiver/quarterback Trevone Boykin and the Kansas State offensive line.

With Lache Seastrunk banged up and Glasco Martin injured, Linwood kept the Baylor ground game rolling without a hitch, piling up 182 yards while averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Despite being Baylor's third-team tailback, Linwood astonishingly is second in the Big 12 with an average of 89.3 rushing yards per game.

Back in the role he was always meant for, Boykin was excellent at Iowa State as a receiver and change-of-pace quarterback. He scored three touchdowns on five carries, including a one-yard keeper in the final minute to lift TCU to a 21-17 win. Boykin also had four receptions.

Finally, K-State's offensive line obliterated Texas Tech up front, setting the tone for the Wildcats in Lubbock. Behind Cornelius Lucas, Cody Whitehair, BJ Finney, Keenan Taylor and Tavon Rooks, the Wildcats rolled up 291 yards on the ground with an average of almost seven yards per carry.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Texas defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed, Oklahoma State defensive tackle Calvin Barnett and Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon.

The Longhorns gave up 40 points in Morgantown, but Jeffcoat and Reed were swarming West Virginia's backfield all night. The two combined for three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, as the defense gave the Texas offense excellent field position for most of the game.

Barnett spearheaded another strong defensive effort from the Cowboys in a 42-6 win over Kansas. Barnett had five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.

Dixon led Baylor's shutdown effort of the Sooners. He had a team-high 8½ tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup, as Oklahoma failed to score a touchdown until late in the third quarter.

Special-teams players of the week: Oklahoma State returner Justin Gilbert, Iowa State returner DeVondrick Nealy and Texas kicker Anthony Fera.

With former Oklahoma State great Barry Sanders in attendance, Gilbert pulled off his best Sanders impression, taking the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

Nealy opened the third quarter against TCU with a 98-yard TD return that tied the game.

As he has been all year, Fera was clutch in Texas' overtime win at West Virginia. He converted all five of his extra points and all four of his field goals, including the 24-yarder in the final seconds to send the game to overtime. Fera has missed only one field goal attempt all season, and the four makes at West Virginia were a career-best.

Play of the week: With 59 seconds to play, Texas faced fourth-and-7 trailing West Virginia 40-37. Out of a timeout, QB Case McCoy stepped into the blitz and delivered a first-down strike to Jaxon Shipley a yard ahead of the marker. Fera ended the drive with a game-tying field goal, then the Longhorns prevailed in overtime to win their sixth straight game.

Stat of the week: After surrendering an average of 7.0 yards per carry in losses to BYU and Ole Miss, the Texas defense has held its past six opponents to a combined average of 3.2, with nobody topping more than 4.0 in a game.

Quote of the week: "We're not a tradition. But we're going to be here awhile, the way this thing is going." -- Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, after the Bears' 41-12 win over Oklahoma

Big 12 predictions: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
9:00
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Welp, it finally happened. I finally lost to a guest picker. And to a 14-year-old, no less. Thanks, Caymen. I thought you weren’t going to embarrass me?

Anyway, this reporter’s pride is on the line again. This week’s guest picker submission:

My name is Claire Stallings and I would love to one day be a guest picker for you. It’s about time a lady shows these men how to pick a perfect week! I love the Big 12 and of course Baylor. I worked for the team all through college and I am that girl who knows more about Baylor football than most of the men on campus. I think it would be interesting to throw a girl into the “man’s world.” Don’t worry, I can hold my own. #GirlPower

The last time a girl challenged me to something, I was destroyed by my wife in a 5K. So this is my shot at redemption. #BringTheNoiseClaire.

Tonight, Max and national writer Mark Schlabach will be in Waco for Oklahoma-Baylor. Saturday, Brandon will drive to Stillwater to check out Kansas-Oklahoma State. Due to my horrific picking, I've been benched for the weekend.

To the Week 11 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 2-2 (.500)

Guest picker (14-year-old Caymen) last week: 3-1 (.750)

Trotter overall: 43-14 (.754)

Guest picker overall: 29-11 (.725)

THURSDAY

Baylor 52, Oklahoma 34: The Sooners’ best chance in this game is to pound the ball, wear out the clock and keep Baylor’s high-powered offense on the sidelines. But without star fullback Trey Millard, I’m skeptical OU can pull off such a game plan. The Sooners have no viable tight end, and none of their other fullbacks are capable receiving threats off play-action. OU’s remaining firepower keeps the game interesting into the second half. But a Sooners defense playing two freshman linebackers finally capitulates to the overwhelming speed of the Baylor offense, as the Bears make a statement they belong in the national title picture.

Claire’s pick: The media (including you, Jake) keeps saying K-State laid out the blueprint on how to beat Baylor, but then again, Mack Brown made it clear that OU is far from invincible. Between Baylor’s dynamic receiving duo, Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese, along with Lache Seastrunk and Bryce Petty’s Heisman-worthy performances, this pick was easy. #GoingTarpless. Baylor 56-35

SATURDAY

West Virginia 26, Texas 23: I find it strange the voters still haven’t put Texas back in the Top 25 polls. I actually had the Longhorns ranked 14th in the ESPN power ranking, the highest of the 19 voters in the ESPN poll. But this is a tough spot for Texas. West Virginia has been a far better team in Morgantown than away from it. The Mountaineers also have a ton of momentum from last week’s comeback overtime win over TCU, with a bowl appearance in their sights. Texas QB Case McCoy comes back to earth a bit and the Longhorns get caught peeking ahead to next week’s clash with Oklahoma State, as Charles Sims runs wild again to hand Texas its first Big 12 loss.

Claire’s pick: The Horns will win if they keep the ball with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. But they have to make sure Case doesn’t make too many mistakes on the road. If they are not careful, West Virginia will upset Texas, just like they did to OSU. #TexasStayawayfromBriles. Texas 31-28

Kansas State 37, Texas Tech 34: With receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson back in the fold, the Wildcats are finally firing on all cylinders offensively. QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters have been terrific lately, and, much to Bill Snyder’s satisfaction, have been taking care of the ball, too. Tech has had a great run. But turnover-prone teams usually don’t fare well against Snyder-coached teams, and only six offenses in college football have turned the ball over more times than the Red Raiders. As a result, K-State continues its late-season push and hands Tech a third straight defeat.

Claire’s pick: I grew up in a Tech-loving family from Midland, Texas. I have lost sleep over this pick, and I may lose friends and a chunk of my inheritance after this is published. Unfortunately, the clock has struck midnight for Cinderella, and they are beginning to look reminiscent of last year’s West Virginia squad. #SorryDad. K-State 38-35

TCU 19, Iowa State 13: Will either side have enough players left to actually stage the game? Iowa State figures to be without running back Aaron Wimberly, who’s been its best offensive player, and could be without QB Sam B. Richardson, too. TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and running back B.J. Catalon are questionable on a team that also will be missing running back Waymon James and receiver Brandon Carter. The difference in this game proves to be TCU QB Casey Pachall, who finally showed signs of returning to his old self last week.

Claire’s pick: This is the “Battle of Who Could Care Less” between two struggling teams. TCU’s players are dropping like flies. TCU barely wins, but for sure is not making a bowl. #NotYallsYear #ByeFelicia. TCU 14-10

Oklahoma State 55, Kansas 9: Kansas has been hanging tough in Big 12 play. That ends here. The Cowboys have finally found their identity offensively with Clint Chelf at QB and the tough-running Desmond Roland at tailback. Oklahoma State keeps rolling in its return to the thick of the Big 12 title race.

Claire’s pick: I have always liked Kansas -- they have great school colors for game-day outfits. But that is all they have. Chelf is a real threat and the Cowboys' backfield has exploded these past few games -- they might actually steal the Big 12 title right out of Baylor’s little paws. #ButPleaseDont. Oklahoma State 56-14

Whaley's rumble sparks another Texas rout

November, 2, 2013
11/02/13
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Few things wake up a bored crowd and a sputtering team better than a 300-pound lineman rumbling for a touchdown.

Chris Whaley just has that knack for stealing scenes and swinging the emotions of nervous Texas fans in an instant. His 31-yard interception for a score was the game-changer in Dallas last month, the kind of confidence-booster the Longhorns needed to finally knock off Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Phillips, Chris Whaley
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesTexas defense punctuated another strong outing with a fumble recovery score from Chris Whaley.
The senior defensive tackle struck again Saturday, giving Texas precisely the jolt it needed in a 35-13 win over Kansas to improve to 6-2 and 5-0 on the Big 12.

Midway through the third quarter, with Texas up just 14-6 on the conference’s worst team, fate called Whaley’s number once more. Cedric Reed blindsided a panicked KU quarterback Jake Heaps from behind. The ball squirted out.

“I thought, ‘Aw, it’s happening again,’” Whaley said.

The football took two quick bounces off the turf, then off a nearby referee’s knee and right into Whaley’s arms. He rumbled 40 yards untouched, the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium crowd exploded and the suddenly excited Longhorns rolled from there.

"The strip-sack fumble was honestly the key play of the game where all of the momentum changed in one play, and that was it," Kansas coach Charlie Weis said.

How did Whaley, a former running back, fare in his impromptu 40-yard dash? Maybe 4.4 seconds? He giggled.

“Maybe,” he said.

Maybe not, though Whaley couldn’t help but embrace perhaps the only opportunity he’ll get to high-step to a score.

“He’s definitely not Prime Time,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said. “If he keeps scoring touchdowns, people are going to start trying to imitate him.”

Like Whaley’s moves in the open field, the rest of this game wasn’t exactly pretty. But Texas’ offense churned out two more touchdown drives and held KU to 24 yards and two punts on its next three drives to finish off an otherwise inconsistent showing against the now 2-6 Jayhawks, losers of 26 consecutive Big 12 games.

The ever-optimistic Mack Brown finds the joy in every win.

“It was a great game,” Brown said. “It’s a ‘W.’ We’ve won five straight. We’re 5-0 in the league. We’re leading the league. The objective was to get a ‘W.’ When you can win and have a lot of things to fix, I think it’s wonderful. Better than last year’s Kansas game, too.”

There’s plenty that can be nitpicked in this ballgame. The Longhorn offense got off to a slow start and didn’t seem to overwhelm KU’s well-prepared defense physically, at least not until late. Case McCoy threw two interceptions and admitted he needs to play better.

But Texas’ defense once again took care of business, not allowing a touchdown until less than four minutes remained. This unit has let opponents enter the end zone just once in each of their past three games and is holding teams to 13.3 points and 271.6 yards per game during that span.

“We have to keep doing it. That’s the challenge,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “You have to keep doing it day in and day out.”

The last time Texas played in this stadium, 42 days ago, it was trying to convince themselves they still had a chance at playing for a Big 12 title. They’d just beaten Kansas State 31-21 to begin this streak.

Wins were hard to come by back then for a frustrated 2-2 squad. Now they’re back to a more familiar situation: Winning games by decent margins and having plenty to improve upon.

“When you stop celebrating a win, when you start taking them for granted, that’s when the game doesn’t come as fun,” McCoy said. “We’ve learned wins are hard to come by in this conference. People can sneak up on you any time. We’ll take a win any day in this conference.”

Running back Johnathan Gray, typically the workhorse of this team, had his least-effective game since the season opener with 68 yards on 18 attempts. So Malcolm Brown more than picked up the slack with 119 yards and four touchdowns.

And Gray is going home happy, he said, because he’ll take a win. The sting of those early-season losses makes days like these sweeter, no matter the margin of victory.

“This is definitely why I came to Texas,” Gray said. “Guys loving to play football and having a passion for the game -- that’s what we have right now in the room.”

Whaley doesn’t know if he has more rumbling, stumbling scores left up his sleeve. He can't explain why these footballs keep finding his hands. But he does know his Longhorns are ready to keep this run going.

“We’re not done yet,” he said.

Texas keeping us-against-world mentality

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The music inside the Texas locker room briefly echoed into the hallways as players packed up after their 30-7 win over TCU. Maybe it was booming from a player’s headphones, or maybe everyone was listening.

The track playing was off Drake’s new “Nothing Was the Same" album. It’s safe to say, now that their team is rolling again, the Longhorns in that locker room are latching on to the rapper’s motto of late: "No new friends."

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
John Albright/Icon SMIQuarterback Case McCoy and his Texas teammates closed ranks during a rough start to the season. Now their perseverance is paying off.
“If you weren’t there when we were struggling, we don’t need you there now,” safety Adrian Phillips said last week. “Of course, that’s how it always happens. When you lose, they hate you. When you win, they love you.”

Those fans he’s calling out are loving the Longhorns more than ever these days. A month ago, there were whispers -- and, on message boards, shouts -- that this team would have a hard time getting to six wins.

And then the Longhorns ran off four straight wins to start Big 12 play and trounced Oklahoma to the complete surprise of most. Now they’re a win away from six and playing like the talented, veteran-loaded team folks dreamed of in the preseason.

Now that times are good again, though, the players say they haven’t forgotten how quickly that same fan base turned on them when the record was 1-2.

“I really don’t care about the bandwagon and all that,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said. “If you with us, stay with us. If you’re not, get out the way.”

Diggs and his teammates plan to hold on to their us-against-the-world mentality, even in the face of win after win. Now that the fans are back on board, they’ll need a few new motivators.

Here’s one: Texas is tied for first place in the Big 12 standings but remains unranked. Wins over 2-5 Kansas and 3-5 West Virginia in the next two weeks might not change that, either, even if the Longhorns are rolling with a six-game winning streak.

Quarterback Case McCoy isn’t that surprised. He recognizes his team is still being punished for its early-season losses to BYU and Ole Miss.

“I think the way we started off the season was not acceptable for this program,” he said. “We’ll keep fighting against that. Our job isn’t to rank ourselves, thank goodness. Our job is to keep winning. If we keep winning, the polls will take care of themselves.”

So there’s the disrespect card. That one usually proves valuable in locker rooms. How about a little revenge, too?

Kansas embarrassed Texas last season in Lawrence and came oh-so-close to pulling the upset. West Virginia handed Texas its first loss of 2012, in a game the Longhorns could have won if not for a few untimely mistakes late.

“Trust me, we will hear about that,” McCoy said. “We understand how we played against them last year, the immaturity that we had. There are still guys and teams we definitely have a target for, we’re going after. That’s part of it.

“Our goal is a Big 12 championship. You slip up and lose one, that quickly starts fading out the window.”

The Longhorns were a two-score underdog against OU and a two-point dog at TCU. They’ll be favored in the next two weeks; there’s little doubt about that. But that doesn’t mean they won’t still feel underestimated.

Diggs is happy to embrace the feeling. He says the days following those first two losses were brutal. But they provided a catalyst for this team, a need to close ranks and stop paying attention to what anybody outside that locker room was saying.

Just because the Longhorns have won four games doesn’t mean that changes. Just because fans are showing him love on Twitter again and hopping back on the bandwagon doesn’t change a thing. Nor does it matter if Texas is a 28-point favorite this week. Diggs doesn’t want to hear it.

“Nah, keep us underdogs,” he said. “We want to be underdogs. Leave us the underdogs. What do they say: The hungry dog gets the bone. That’s been our mentality. That’s just what we do.”

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