NCF Nation: Charles Sims

Conference wrap: Big 12

December, 16, 2013
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Dealing with the likes of Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Landry Jones had become commonplace for Big 12 defenses in previous seasons. In 2013, defensive coordinators around the conference got their revenge, kind of, as the Big 12 scoring average dropped to 31.7 points per game, the lowest since 2010.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty proved he was a worthy successor to past Baylor quarterbacks.
Uncertainty at the quarterback position was the overriding theme throughout the Big 12 except at one school: Baylor. The Bears featured the best quarterback in the league in Bryce Petty, the junior who took control of Art Briles’ offense and looked like a veteran in his first season as a starter while leading the Bears to their first Big 12 championship. While quarterback troubles handcuffed several offenses, playmakers such as Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, West Virginia’s Charles Sims and others around the conference still found ways to impact games.

The defenses became the foundation of Big 12 title runs as Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas used improved defenses to put themselves in title contention on the season’s final day. Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat were among the Big 12’s best defenders.

The season began with Oklahoma State as the favorite in a wide-open race but few foresaw the Bears’ 11-1 season and outright conference title. BU played the role as the Big 12’s most impressive team week after week until a disappointing loss in Stillwater but didn’t let it derail their hopes for a title, defeating TCU and Texas to capture the title when OSU lost to Oklahoma to end the season.

Things weren’t quite as rosy at TCU, where a combination of injuries and turnovers took the Horned Frogs out of the conference title race early in the year. Cornerback Jason Verrett & Co. did their job on defense but got very little help from the offense on the way to a disappointing season for a team that Big 12 players picked as the league favorite.

Offensive MVP: Petty. The quarterback position was the lone question about the Bears' offense heading into the season. Could their new triggerman excel like Griffin and Nick Florence? Petty passed the test with flying colors, passing for 3,844 yards and 30 touchdowns with just two interceptions.


Defensive MVP: Jeffcoat. The Longhorns’ senior didn’t run away from the competition for this award the way Petty did for the offensive version. But a strong end to the year and sitting atop top the Big 12 in sacks (12) and was second in tackles for loss (18) made him the Big 12's top defender in 2013.


Newcomer of the year: Sims. The Houston transfer didn’t envision the struggles he experienced during his lone season in Morgantown, W.Va. Yet, he was one of the league’s best and most consistent playmakers despite the musical chairs alongside him. His 129.1 all-purpose yards per game average was second in the Big 12.

Biggest surprise: Baylor. The Bears finished fifth in the Big 12 preseason poll as question marks about Petty and their defense dragged them down in the minds of many. Yet Petty and the defense rose to the occasion, becoming the driving forces behind the program’s breakthrough season that sees them playing in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.


Biggest disappointment: TCU. Bigger things were expected from Gary Patterson's squad. Injuries to Casey Pachall and Devonte Fields hurt TCU’s chances but sloppy, uncreative offense did more damage. While the defense played well enough to be in the title hunt, the offense dragged the squad into the bottom half of the Big 12 standings.

Best game: Bedlam. Few people gave Oklahoma a chance to knock off OSU, which entered the game with the chance to make its second Fiesta Bowl berth in three years. But OU answered a late touchdown from the Cowboys with a touchdown of its own in the game’s final moments to destroy OSU’s Fiesta Bowl dreams and catapult OU into the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 15

December, 11, 2013
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The final power rankings before bowl season:

1. Baylor (11-1, 8-1 Big 12, last week 2): The Bears have a chance to put the finishing touches on a tremendous season with a favorable matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Central Florida. Baylor better win for conference pride/bragging rights, as the Big 12 is an underdog in four of its other five bowl matchups.

2. Oklahoma (10-2, 7-2 Big 12, LW 4): If Bob Stoops somehow pulled off the upset of Alabama, it would constitute his best coaching job since the national championship season in 2000. That Stoops even got OU in the Allstate Sugar Bowl is remarkable. This might be the least talented 10-win team Stoops has ever had. But this is also a team that found a way to get to 10 wins when it didn’t look possible.

3. Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2 Big 12, LW 1): Oklahoma State’s football history is filled with Bedlam disappointments. But 2013 will rank at the very top. The Cowboys were in control for most of the game against Oklahoma. But they were a disaster on special teams and third downs, and when the game was on the line, a defense that had been terrific all year capitulated against a third-string quarterback. A win over Missouri in the AT&T Cotton Bowl will ease the sting, but this one will sting for awhile.

4. Texas (8-4, 7-2 Big 12, LW 3): With a chance to win the Big 12 outright, Texas’ up-and-down season ended with a thud in Waco. As a result, Mack Brown’s seemingly impending resignation will dominate the conversation in Austin while the Longhorns attempt to prepare for a very difficult matchup in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Oregon.

5. Kansas State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12, LW 5): The Wildcats won’t have the matchup with old conference rival Nebraska in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. But they will have the chance to beat a name program (Michigan), which would cap a very nice end to a season that began very badly.

6. Texas Tech (7-5, 4-5 Big 12, LW 6): Losing five in a row after a top-10 ranking is not how Kliff Kingsbury wanted to close out his first season. Losing six would be even worse. But the Red Raiders have an opportunity against Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Win that game, and nobody will be talking about the five-game losing streak. Instead, they’ll be talking about one of the biggest upsets of the bowl season, which would give Tech some momentum going into the winter.

7. TCU (4-8, 2-7 Big 12, LW 7): The Horned Frogs will have a new offensive coordinator (reportedly Doug Meachem) and a new quarterback (who knows?), but will that translate into more points? It better if TCU is to bounce back from two mediocre-to-bad years in the Big 12.

8. Iowa State (3-9, 2-7 Big 12, LW 8): With wins over Kansas and West Virginia to finish out the season, along with their impending stadium expansion, the Cyclones have some momentum again. Head coach Paul Rhoads getting the right offensive coordinator to jump-start a unit that has talent is the next step.

9. Kansas (3-9, 1-8 Big 12, LW 9): Did the Jayhawks show improvement in Year 2 of the Charlie Weis era? Not really. Which is why Year 3 will be a defining one. Kansas needs to win more than one Big 12 game. The key will be rising sophomore QB Montell Cozart. If he can make a jump to the next level, so too will the Jayhawks.

10. West Virginia (4-8, 2-7 Big 12, LW 10): Last week, athletic director Oliver Luck issued a statement backing coach Dana Holgorsen. But Luck’s statement sure seemed to emphasize the 2014 season. Problem is, West Virginia opens with Alabama, goes to Maryland, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas, and plays Oklahoma and Baylor at home. The Mountaineers would have to win one of those games just to become bowl eligible. On top of that, they’ll be replacing easily their best offensive (running back Charles Sims) and defensive (safety Darwin Cook) players from this past season. Good luck, Dana.

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 14

December, 1, 2013
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Recognizing the best of the best from the Big 12 in Week 14:

Baylor Bears defense: Yes, Baylor gave up 38 points against a TCU team that finished 4-8. But the Bears wouldn’t have won this game without four critical takeaways from its opportunistic defense. Two were interceptions for touchdowns by Orion Stewart and Eddie Lackey. Another was a goal-line fumble recovery to set up a 1-yard touchdown. So that’s 21 points. Terrell Burt clinched the win when he picked off a deflected pass in the final minute.

QB Grant Rohach, Iowa State: What a memorable way for Rohach to end his redshirt freshman campaign. In a three-overtime, 52-44 victory at West Virginia, he threw for a career-high 331 yards and four touchdowns, added a 54-yard touchdown run and led a gigantic comeback from down 31-7. Not bad at all for Rohach’s third career start.

DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas: The Longhorns got creative in their use of Jeffcoat in a 41-16 win against Texas Tech, lining him up as a linebacker/end hybrid. That move paid off big on his senior night. Jeffcoat racked up three sacks and seven tackles and was flat-out unblockable at times, making a tough night for Tech QB Baker Mayfield even tougher. Jeffcoat now has 10 sacks on the year, all of them coming in Big 12 play.

RB John Hubert and S Dante Barnett, Kansas State: Barnett grabbed two interceptions and recovered a fumble in Kansas State’s 31-10 win over Kansas, while Hubert paced the Wildcats offense by rushing for a for career-high 220 yards in his final Big 12 game. K-State looks destined to end up at the Holiday Bowl, which is certainly an impressive feat after starting the season 2-4.

RB Charles Sims, West Virginia: Lots of others who merit helmet stickers this week, but we’ll honor Sims after another big game to end his college career. Sims rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns against ISU and finished with 1,095 yards and 11 TDs in his only season in Morgantown. He’ll receive some All-Big 12 honors this month.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 10

November, 4, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 10 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: The Cowboys on Saturday showed why they were the preseason pick to win the Big 12. Oklahoma State jumped to a 21-0 lead over Texas Tech, and, for the most part, controlled the game the rest of the way. Despite throwing two interceptions, QB Clint Chelf played his best game since last season, accounting for four touchdowns. Desmond Roland and Rennie Childs also spearheaded another tremendous effort on the ground, as OSU converted all six of its red zone possessions into touchdowns. Defensively, the Cowboys were terrific, too, limiting Tech to just three touchdowns over 17 possessions. This is a team beginning to find its stride -- just in time to make a run at the Big 12 championship.

[+] EnlargeJace Amaro
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsJace Amaro, who caught 15 passes for 174 yards in Texas Tech's loss to Oklahoma State, had a crucial fumble caused by Cowboys safety Daytawion Lowe.
Disappointment of the week: The Horned Frogs had an opportunity to take a step toward securing a bowl berth and partially salvaging the season. Instead, TCU blew a 17-3 lead, then self-destructed in overtime in a 30-27 loss to West Virginia. The Frogs turned the ball over three times in five plays, then committed a personal foul in overtime that resulted in having to attempt a 62-yard field goal. To even qualify for a bowl now, TCU will have to run the table, which is less likely than a 62-yard field goal.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Chelf, West Virginia running back Charles Sims and Kansas State running back John Hubert.

Chelf had two terrible interceptions, including a pick-six, in Lubbock. But he was terrific otherwise. Chelf threw for 211 yards and rushed for another 88 while accounting for four touchdowns.

Sims had his best performance yet as a Mountaineer, piling up 154 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries to power the West Virginia comeback in Fort Worth.

Hubert produced his best game of the season, too, rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.

Big (defensive) men on campus: OSU safety Daytawion Lowe, Texas defensive tackle Chris Whaley and K-State defensive end Ryan Mueller.

In the first quarter, Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro hauled in a 21-yard pass across the middle on third-and-long. But at the end of the play, Lowe upended him, popping the ball loose, which the Cowboys recovered. The next play, the Cowboys converted a flea-flicker. The play after that, they were in the end zone to storm to a 14-0 lead. Lowe also led the Cowboys with a game-high 11 tackles.

With Texas clinging to a 14-6 lead midway through the third quarter, Whaley delivered his second game-changing defensive touchdown of the season. Teammate Cedric Reed hit Kansas QB Jake Heaps from behind, the ball popping to the turf. Whaley scooped it up and thundered 40 yards for the touchdown. “All of the momentum changed in one play," said Kansas coach Charlie Weis, as the Longhorns charged to a 35-13 win.

[+] EnlargeCharles Sims
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsWest Virginia tailback Charles Sims had his best game of the season vs. TCU, rushing for 154 yards and adding two touchdowns.
Mueller had another huge performance with seven tackles and two sacks. His tackle also knocked Iowa State QB Sam B. Richardson out of the game just before halftime.

Special-teams players of the week: Oklahoma State specialist Derek Branson and West Virginia kicker Josh Lambert.

With the Cowboys leading 14-0 in the first quarter, Branson busted through the West Virginia punt protection, blocked the punt and recovered it, setting up the Cowboys with great field position at the Tech 15. Four plays later, Roland was in the end zone.

Lambert was money in the Mountaineers’ rally over TCU. He nailed all three of his field goal attempts, including the game-winning 34-yarder in overtime.

Honorable mention recognition goes to TCU kicker Jaden Oberkrom, who converted a 45-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. Oberkrom also nearly saved TCU on his 62-yard try in overtime. The kick had the distance, but was wide to the left.

Play of the week: After Tech closed the deficit to 28-24 at halftime, OSU reestablished control in the third quarter. With the Red Raiders selling out on run blitzes off the edge, OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich dialed up the perfect counter, a QB draw. Chelf took off up the middle of the field and raced 67 yards for the touchdown, giving the Cowboys a 42-24 lead. The scamper was the longest TD run by an OSU QB since Brent Blackman’s 72-yarder in 1972.

Stat of the week: With the overtime loss to West Virginia, TCU has lost three games in a row for the first time since Gary Patterson took over as head coach in 2000.

Quote of the week: "I'm pretty sore. I'm pretty beat up. But ... it’s worth it.” -- Oklahoma State's Roland, after carrying the ball 57 times the past two weeks.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 10

November, 4, 2013
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And then there were four in the conference race:

1. Baylor (7-0, 4-0 Big 12, last week: 1): The Bears have been complaining about a lack of national respect. Thursday night against Oklahoma, they have their chance to gain that respect. It should be noted, though, that Baylor has never played in a game with major conference and national title implications on the line -- and the whole country watching. The Sooners have played in dozens of these games. Are the Bears ready to shine in the spotlight? We’re about to find out.

2. Oklahoma State (7-1, 4-1 Big 12, last week: 5): Look who’s back in the thick of the Big 12 title conversation. On Saturday, the Cowboys delivered the most impressive Big 12 win of any team this season, dominating Texas Tech before a record crowd in Lubbock. Behind linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, the OSU defense continues to perform at a high level, as they limited Tech to just three touchdowns in 17 possessions. The OSU offense is now beginning to click, too, with QB Clint Chelf making the big plays he did down the stretch like last season and backs Desmond Roland and Rennie Childs reviving the running game. The Cowboys are the only contender that get Baylor at home, and they have dominated the Bears in Stillwater. OSU still has to go to Austin on Nov. 16. But the Cowboys just proved they can win big games on the road.

3. Texas (6-2, 5-0 Big 12, last week: 2): It wasn’t a work of art, but Texas took care of business against Kansas. Next up is a sneaky-tough road game in Morgantown. West Virginia has been a much tougher team at home. The Mountaineers knocked off Oklahoma State and led Texas Tech by double digits in the second half before succumbing in the fourth quarter. West Virginia will also be playing with plenty of momentum after its overtime win at TCU. A showdown with Oklahoma State in Austin looms the following weekend. But Texas needs to escape Morgantown first.

4. Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1 Big 12, last week: 3): After struggling in conference play, Blake Bell seemed to turn a corner with a determined performance in last week’s win over the Red Raiders. To have any chance of scoring with Baylor, the Sooners are going to need a similar effort from their quarterback. The running game should be able to pile up yards. And the OU secondary will give Baylor’s speedy receivers their biggest challenge yet. But to pull off the upset as double-digit underdogs in Waco, Bell will have to make the same kind of throws downfield he delivered against Tech.

5. Texas Tech (7-2, 4-2 Big 12, last week: 4): Considering the Red Raiders were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 in the preseason, this has already been a banner first season for coach Kliff Kingsbury. But the past two weeks, Tech’s flaws have been exposed. The defense hasn’t been able to stop the run without overloading the box. True freshman QB Davis Webb is making true freshman mistakes. And the depth doesn’t seem to be there for Tech to be sound covering punts and kicks. This is still a good team. But as it turned out, just not yet good enough to contend for the conference title.

6. Kansas State (4-4, 2-3 Big 12, last week: 6): Since the return of receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, the Wildcats have featured an efficiently balanced offensive attack. K-State threw for 221 yards and ran for 227 while picking apart Iowa State’s defense. The K-State run defense has been excellent the past month, too. This is not a team anyone will want to face this last month of the season.

7. West Virginia (4-5, 2-4 Big 12, last week: 7): What a win for Dana Holgorsen’s bunch. The Mountaineers seemed to be dead in the water after falling behind 17-3 in Fort Worth. But behind running back Charles Sims and an eight-minute stretch where the Mountaineers forced TCU into three turnovers in five plays, West Virginia emerged with a crucial overtime victory. Had the Mountaineers lost, more questions would have surfaced about Holgorsen’s status in Morgantown. Instead, West Virginia is in great shape to make a bowl game, which would be a solid season for a team that had to replace Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.

8. TCU (3-6, 1-5 Big 12, last week: 8): When does basketball season start? Wait, nevermind.

9. Iowa State (1-7, 0-5 Big 12, last week: 9): The Cyclones have not posed much of a threat offensively when running back Aaron Wimberly has not been in the lineup. If they can get him back from a hamstring injury, they could still pick up a couple of Big 12 wins down the stretch, which would give this program some momentum heading into next season.

10. Kansas (2-6, 0-5 Big 12, last week: 10): The Jayhawks have not rolled over in Big 12 play, which has to be an encouraging sign for coach Charlie Weis. It would be huge for the program for that effort to manifest tangibly in the form of an actual win. If Kansas keeps playing hard, it just might get it.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 10

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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What we learned about the Big 12 from Week 10:

[+] EnlargeDesmond Roland
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsDesmond Roland scored three touchdowns Saturday, and the OSU defense shut Tech down.
1. The Cowboys are legit contenders: Since losing at West Virginia a month ago, Oklahoma State had not looked like a team truly capable of challenging for the Big 12 title. Saturday, that completely changed. Before a record crowd in Lubbock, the Cowboys thoroughly dominated 7-1 Texas Tech, 52-34. After falling behind 28-10, the Red Raiders jumped briefly back into the game with a pick-six in the second quarter. But OSU scored two quick touchdowns early in the second half, and led by at least two scores the rest of the way. Quietly, the defense under first-year coordinator Glenn Spencer has been terrific. Over 17 drives, Tech managed to score just three touchdowns against Spencer's group. That's Big 12 championship-caliber. With the offense beginning to come alive, this is a team that could emerge with the conference crown. Especially if it continues to play like it did Saturday.

2. Tech is not quite ready to be one: This still has been a terrific season for first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury. But the Red Raiders don't quite yet have the horses to win the Big 12 title. The Bedlam schools have beaten up Tech's defensive front the last two weeks, racking up a combined 558 yards on the ground. Penalties and turnovers, characteristics of a young team, really plagued the Red Raiders in their back-to-back losses, as well. Tech is pretty much out of the conference title race, but next weekend is huge. The Red Raiders need to defeat K-State to avoid another all-out November collapse with games against Baylor and Texas also still looming, and keep the positive vibe surrounding the Kingsbury era going.

3. TCU isn't going bowling: After finally showing signs offensively, the Horned Frogs jumped to a 17-3 lead over West Virginia in the second quarter. That should have been enough for what had been a strong TCU defense facing a West Virginia offense that had been shaky away from Morgantown. Instead, after turning the ball over three times in five plays, the Horned Frogs had to scramble just to send the game to overtime, where they completely self-destructed. TCU had a minus-6-yard run, a 15-yard personal foul and an incomplete pass, which forced a desperation 62-yard field goal that went wide left. TCU is still mathematically alive for a bowl after losing three consecutive games for the first time since Gary Patterson took over as coach. But it would need to run the table and knock off Baylor to do it. This team just isn't doing that.

4. West Virginia probably is: After falling apart with second-half leads the last two weeks, West Virginia didn't let another game slip away. Charles Sims had another monster performance with 154 yards on the ground against TCU, and the defense played opportunistic ball all game long. With the overtime win in Fort Worth, West Virginia's bowl outlook is looking hopeful. The Mountaineers just need to beat Kansas on the road and take care of Iowa State at home. Of course, West Virginia could really seal up a bowl berth with a home win over Texas this weekend.

5. K-State is rolling into November: The Wildcats can't win the Big 12. But they are proving to be a very solid squad. The healthy return of receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson have done wonders for this offense. The duo delivered another big performance in Farmageddon with 143 yards receiving in K-State's 41-7 rout of Iowa State. QBs Jake Waters and Daniel Sams continue to improve every week, too. K-State started the year 2-4, but had a chance in every loss. The way they are playing, the Wildcats will have a chance in their remaining four games, too.

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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Recognizing the best and brightest from around the Big 12 in Week 10:

Oklahoma State QB Clint Chelf: Mike Gundy was rewarded richly for rolling with Chelf in the Cowboys' 52-34 road upset of No. 15 Texas Tech. He threw for 211 yards and two touchdowns, and he stunned the Tech defense with a 67-yard touchdown run on a draw play. Chelf finished with 88 yards and two scores on the ground and got plenty of help from another workhorse performance from Desmond Roland. It was an impressive must-win for OSU that should quiet some of the quarterback battle chatter in Stillwater.

West Virginia RB Charles Sims: The Houston transfer came up big for West Virginia in a 30-27 overtime victory over TCU. Against a defense with a reputation for defending the run, Sims ran for 154 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries and added a 13-yard touchdown catch to help WVU rally and eventually finish off the disappointing Horned Frogs. Sims now has 865 total yards and five touchdowns on the season.

Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro: Amaro had a career day in the loss to Oklahoma State, putting up 174 receiving yards and a touchdown on 15 receptions. No receiver in the country had more yards on Saturday, and Amaro's season stats at this point are stunning: 79 catches for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns. With Baylor on a bye, Amaro is now the leading receiver in the Big 12 and its first to surpass 1,000. Time to pack the Mackey Award in bubble wrap and ship it off to Lubbock.

Kansas State defense: Yes, Iowa State's offense is abysmal and the Cyclones are now 1-7 on the year. But Kansas State recorded three interceptions, let ISU enter the red zone only once and came close to pulling the shutout in a 41-7 beatdown. The Wildcats needed this win to keep their hopes of six wins and a bowl trip alive, and their defense took care of business on Saturday.

Texas DT Chris Whaley: We've got to show some love to the big fella for another game-changing touchdown. With Texas only leading Kansas 14-6 midway through the third quarter, the senior lineman scooped up a Jake Heaps fumble and ran it back 40 yards for a score that coach Charlie Weis admitted swung the game's momentum for good. It was Whaley's second touchdown in three weeks after recording a pick-six against Oklahoma.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
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There was little change in this week’s power rankings, as the favorites held serve:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 midseason report

October, 14, 2013
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Texas was on its deathbed; now it’s a contender. The Oklahoma schools, once bastions of quarterbacking, suddenly have issues there. West Virginia’s defense is better than its offense. TCU can’t score. Kansas State can’t buy a win. And the teams picked to finish fifth and seventh in the conference are the only ones without a loss.

If the second half of the Big 12 season is anything like the first, who knows what might happen? Good luck guessing which game will ultimately decide the conference race, too.

Before the season, Bedlam looked most likely to be that game. Now, another showdown the very same day could end up overshadowing it.

Bedlam decided the Big 12 in 2011. It decided the Big 12 South in 2010. But will anything more than bragging rights be on the line this time? That will depend on whether either team can solve quarterback problems that plagued both in their losses.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
AP Photo/LM OteroKliff Kingsbury's calm, cool demeanor has resonated with his players, as Texas Tech is one of two undefeated teams in the Big 12.
After Trevor Knight was ineffective in two lackluster wins to begin the season, the Sooners turned to Blake Bell. The Belldozer took care of the ball and made plays in the fourth quarter in wins over Notre Dame and TCU. But he did neither in a 36-20 loss to Texas that shook up the league race. According to QBR, Bell’s Texas performance was the worst by a Big 12 quarterback this year, raising questions about whether he’s the answer for the Sooners after all.

Oklahoma State is in a similar raft. J.W. Walsh took the starting job from Clint Chelf two series into the opener against Mississippi State. But the past two games, including a loss at West Virginia, have seen the Cowboys flatline offensively. Oklahoma State, in fact, failed to get a single first down the second half against Kansas State until a late game-winning drive. Like the Sooners, the Cowboys can’t run the ball lately, because they can’t get anyone to take their downfield passing game seriously.

That hasn’t been a problem in Waco, which is one of the reasons why Baylor has ascended to conference favorite status. Every one of Tevin Reese’s six touchdown receptions has gone for more than 40 yards. Five of Antwan Goodley’s six touchdown catches have gone for at least 60. As a result, 32 of Baylor’s 40 touchdown drives have taken less than two minutes.

While Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could still turn things around, Texas and Texas Tech could wind up being the biggest roadblocks to Baylor’s first Big 12 title.

Despite playing two true freshmen quarterbacks, the Red Raiders have spread the ball around as well as anyone in the league, claiming four of the Big 12’s top eight receivers. Tech also leads the conference in third-down defense. Back-to-back road trips to West Virginia and Oklahoma the next two weeks will shed more light on whether the Red Raiders are ready to contend.

A week ago, virtually everyone had written the Longhorns off as possible Big 12 contenders. Then they pulled off the biggest Red River upset in 17 years to move to 3-0 in the league standings. Texas’ rushing attack looked formidable, and quarterback Case McCoy looked poised. If that continues, who knows? Maybe Texas will be playing for the conference title at Baylor in the season finale.

The season’s first half is done. Much is yet to be decided.

But as we gear up for the second half, below is a breakdown of the Big 12 at midseason:

Offensive MVP: Baylor junior quarterback Bryce Petty has picked up where Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence left off, posting an Adjusted QBR of 95.1. That’s second only to Heisman frontrunner Marcus Mariota of Oregon. Thanks in large part to Petty’s precision passing, the Bears led the nation with a scoring average of 63.4 points per game.

Defensive MVP: The Horned Frogs haven’t had the kind of the season they’d hoped for so far. But that’s to no fault of cornerback Jason Verrett, who has been lights out. Even with opposing quarterbacks leery about throwing his direction, Verrett leads the Big 12 in passes defended. And even with a tender shoulder, he has continued to be one of the surest tackling cornerbacks in the league.

Biggest Surprise: The Red Raiders were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12. But seven weeks into the season, they join Baylor as the league’s only teams still without a loss. Amazingly, Texas Tech has gotten to 6-0 rotating true freshman quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb, who, despite some rocky moments, have been solid.

Biggest Disappointment: In ESPN.com’s preseason player poll, the league’s players tabbed TCU as the team to beat. The Horned Frogs, however, have already been defeated three times. TCU has faced a difficult schedule, and the injuries to quarterback Casey Pachall and defensive end Devonte Fields have really hurt. But at the season’s midway point, the Frogs are already just one loss away from falling completely out of the conference title hunt.

Newcomers Of The Year: West Virginia running back Charles Sims was the Big 12’s preseason pick for newcomer of the year, and for good reason. But the impact of Texas Tech true freshmen quarterbacks Mayfield and Webb has been greater. Mayfield is 5-0 as a starter. Webb, who quarterbacked Tech to a win over Iowa State over the weekend, also threw the game-winning touchdown pass to beat TCU.

Coach Of The Year: In his first year as its coach, former Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury has resurrected his alma mater. The Red Raiders have already taken on the personality of their cool, confident coach, who has Tech at 6-0 for the first time since 2008.

Best Game: Most of the intriguing matchups in the Big 12 will come later in the season. But so far, the most entertaining game in the league has been Texas’ 31-30 victory at Iowa State. Yes, the game had some questionable officiating. And some questionable low blocking. But it was also wonderfully compelling, from Texas coach Mack Brown staving off disaster to Paul Rhoads rallying his team during a fiery postgame news conference.

Big 12 predictions: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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Our guest picker this week is Omar Ahmad, out of Huntington, W.Va. Here was Omar’s clever submission:

I should be your Big 12 guest picker for Week 5. Why? Because when it comes to challenging the experts at ESPN, nobody Bears down like I do. I'm like an unstoppable Cyclone of correct predictions. I'm not a Wildcat with my selections (you'll never catch me picking a Longhorn to do anything other than be a horn that's long). I strive for the highest summits of analysis the likes of which no Mountaineer has ever seen. While you may be a college football maverick, I'm the Red Raider with guns-up accuracy. No Jayhawk can hang with my stuff (or anyone's stuff, for that matter). So stop being a Cowboy with your reckless game-picker selections. You know you're gonna tab me Sooner or later. Horned Frogs.

Last week, I correctly picked Texas to bounce back and beat Kansas State, but Omar’s Mountaineers burned me with a no-show performance in Baltimore. I was also called out in front of my ACC colleagues via this tweet from a @beedubss: “I hope Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich get to give @ESPN_Big12 a really hard time about his #WVUvsMD prediction. #GirlsRuleBoysDrool #GoTerps”.

Come on, guys. We’re better than this.

If you want to be next week’s guest picker, contact me here, and tell me why. And, as always, creativity counts.

To the Week 5 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 4-1 (.800)

Guest picker last week: 4-1 (.800)

Trotter overall: 25-5 (.833)

Guest picker overall: 10-3 (.769)

Tulsa 30, Iowa State 27: Dating back to last year, Iowa State has now lost six of seven, which includes a two-touchdown loss to Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl. Tulsa, meanwhile, has played better since an embarrassing 27-point loss at Bowling Green in its opener. This game is in Tulsa, where the Hurricane has not lost since falling to eighth-ranked Houston in November 2011. The Cyclones just don’t have the offensive firepower right now around quarterback Sam Richardson, who also faces the possibility of playing the rest of the season on a bum ankle.

Omar’s pick: The Golden Hurricane is a young team, but can still run the ball. The Cyclones cannot, and the return of Tom Farniok won’t change the fact that Sam Richardson is currently the team’s biggest threat on the ground. Tulsa, 31-27

TCU 31, SMU 16: Coach Gary Patterson rode his team hard during the off week, even calling them out in the media for “feeling sorry for themselves.” Despite the disappointing 1-2 start, the Horned Frogs have too many veteran players to feel sorry for themselves for very long. This is still a good team, with good players on both sides of the ball. If TCU can uncover an offensive identity post QB Casey Pachall -- perhaps running the ball more with B.J. Catalon and Waymon James to take pressure off QB Trevone Boykin -- the Frogs will be fine. This SMU game is a golden opportunity for TCU to figure out some things before going to Norman next weekend.

Omar’s pick: Despite the 1-2 start, TCU’s defense is still arguably the best in the Big 12. Garrett Gilbert will get his yards, but Boykin and Catalon run wild on a Mustang front seven that’s one of the smallest and most inexperienced in the nation. TCU, 36-20

Oklahoma State 42, West Virginia 14: Both teams are running Dana Holgorsen’s offense. Only one is running it well. After the 37-0 loss to Maryland, Holgorsen rightfully called West Virginia’s offense as inept as it could be. Omar's Mountaineers don’t have any playmakers at receiver, the offensive line is not getting any push in the run game and QB Ford Childress is too young to overcome either deficiency. Poor Charles Sims, by the way, picked the wrong year to transfer. Imagine Sims on the same team with Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Now that would be an offense that could outscore Oklahoma State. This West Virginia offense cannot.

Omar’s pick: The Cowboys are getting it done by land and air so far, while the Mountaineers are trying to rebuild the offense through Ford Childress. The WVU defense keeps it closer than most expect. OSU, 34-21

Notre Dame 24, Oklahoma 21: The Sooners feel good about themselves after Blake Bell’s performance against Tulsa. But this isn’t Tulsa. And this game won’t be played in Norman. The Irish have looked lackluster so far this season, but they’ve played a difficult schedule featuring Michigan and Michigan State. The Sooners, meanwhile, have yet to play anybody. Notre Dame will win the battle in the trenches, force Bell into a couple of critical mistakes in his first start on the road and make the plays in the fourth quarter like it did last year in Norman. They will move to 10-1 all-time in the series while preventing the Big 12 from picking up its first Top 25 non-conference victory.

Omar’s pick: Blake Bell has a cool nickname; Tommy Rees does not. OU, 28-23

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 4

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
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Iowa State, TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were all off. But we still learned plenty about the Big 12 in Week 4:

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBaylor QB Bryce Petty leads the nation in QBR and the Bears have been nearly unstoppable in its nonconference games.
1. Baylor can’t be stopped: What the Bears have accomplished in three nonconference games has been incredible. Sure, the nonconference slate was bad. But the numbers Baylor is putting up are absurd. Capped with the 70-7 win over Monroe, the Bears outscored their three nonconference opponents by a combined score of 209-23 -- the largest scoring differential in an opening three games, according to ESPN Stats & Information, by any FBS team of the past 10 seasons. The Bears lead the nation in scoring, Bryce Petty leads in the nation in QBR and running back Lache Seastrunk is averaging 11 yards per carry. This offense, obviously, faces tougher tests ahead. But Baylor has the look of an offense that will be scoring on everyone it faces.

2. West Virginia can’t score: How far the West Virginia offense has fallen since that 70-point outburst in the 2011 Orange Bowl. In the first half against Maryland, the West Virginia offensive effort was futile. West Virginia compiled 65 yards compared to 61 yards in penalties; the Mountaineers also had as many first downs (two) as interceptions in the first half, as Maryland jumped to a 30-0 halftime lead before coasting to the 37-0 victory in Baltimore. Coach Dana Holgorsen said afterward he’s sticking with Ford Childress at quarterback, but the quarterback can only do so much with the West Virginia offensive line and receivers. Had running backs Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith not transferred in, this offense would be completely hopeless -- assuming it isn’t already.

3. Texas proved it doesn’t always lie down: During Big 12 media days, Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker was quoted saying that “Texas laid down a little bit” in their game last season because “that’s what they do.” Despite tumbling in with a two-game losing streak, the Longhorns didn’t lie down Saturday, instead grinding out a 31-21 win over the Wildcats. Who knows what -- if anything -- the win will do for Mack Brown or the Longhorns’ season? At the least, the win offered a little respite for a team that’s had to endure nothing but negativity since the first week of the season.

4. The Kansas schools have issues offensively: Both Kansas and Kansas State should be better offensively than what they’ve showed. Despite having former blue-chipper Jake Heaps at quarterback and one of the league’s better running back tandems in Tony Pierson and James Sims, the Jayhawks needed 10 points in the fourth quarter to edge out Louisiana Tech, 13-10. Meanwhile, against a Texas defense that had been porous stopping the run, the Wildcats managed just 115 yards rushing on 38 carries. If not for wideout Tyler Lockett, K-State might not have scored the whole night. Both the Kansas and K-State offenses have good players. Just not good offenses at the moment.

5. Texas Tech is back to square one at QB: For the second straight game, Davis Webb replaced fellow true freshman Baker Mayfield at quarterback. Last week, it was due to injury. In Saturday’s sloppy 33-7 win over Texas State, it was due mostly to the offense remaining stagnant, though Mayfield did get shaken up after taking a shot to his back. Mayfield completed 13 of 18 passes for 122 yards and an interception before getting replaced. But Webb didn’t fare all that much better, going 19-of-43 passing for 310 yards and an interception. Webb also badly missed Jakeem Grant and Jace Amaro wide open in the end zone near the end of the game. Coach Kliff Kingsbury said both quarterbacks would play going forward, but he also noted the position “just has to get better.” It’s unclear how Kingsbury will use his quarterbacks, but Michael Brewer is getting closer to practicing again after sitting out the past several weeks with a back injury. Brewer, the projected starter going into the preseason, could ultimately become Kingsbury’s answer at quarterback once he returns.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
9:03
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Let's take a look the top storylines in the Big 12 for Week 2:

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight showed off his mobility in Week 1, but Oklahoma will need his arm to find long-term success.
1. Will Trevor Knight make a major jump from Week 1 to Week 2? Oklahoma’s redshirt freshman quarterback had lackluster passing yards (86) in his first collegiate start, but the Sooners put up 34 points thanks in part to his legs (103 rushing yards) and red-zone efficiency (three touchdown passes). But if OU expects to make it through September without a loss, Knight will have to make defenses pay with his arm.

2. Dana Holgorsen’s plan. West Virginia’s simplified offense in the opener left the Sooners very little to go off of as they prepare for the Mountaineers. Expect Holgorsen to break out the creative offense that has earned him his reputation as a superb offensive mind this weekend. Yet, Holgorsen has no idea how quarterback Paul Millard will react in a hostile environment in front of 80,000 fans so it might not matter how creative the offense is if the team or quarterback can’t execute.

3. Will the Longhorns send a message? Texas travels to Provo, Utah to face a BYU squad coming off a 19-16 season-opening loss to Virginia. Much like Knight, there are mixed reviews after UT’s win to open the season. The Longhorns’ offense looked unstoppable at times and very average at other times, but all will be forgotten if UT looks dominant in its first road test of the season.

4. Kansas State needs to get back on track. KSU coach Bill Snyder isn’t happy with the leadership on his team, that much is clear after his postgame comments following the Wildcats’ shocking 24-21 loss to North Dakota State. "I would like to see a whole bunch of mad guys in all honesty,” Snyder said about the postgame locker room. “I did not see any. That is concerning, that is for sure.” The Wildcats will look to regain some confidence when Louisiana-Lafayette visits Manhattan on Saturday. Rediscovering their running game and playing more physical on defense should be high priorities if KSU plans to get back to its winning ways of 2012.

5. How will TCU’s quarterback situation continue to develop? Casey Pachall started against LSU but was replaced by Trevone Boykin, as the Horned Frogs tried to put a spark into the offense. It will be interesting to see how Gary Patterson’s squad plans to use the duo when Southeastern Louisiana comes to Amon G. Carter Stadium.

6. Saturday will provide the first look at the Kansas Jayhawks. The lone Big 12 team that didn’t participate in a bowl game, KU hopes to change that this season. The Jayhawks feature some explosive threats on offense with running backs James Sims and Tony Pierson returning to go alongside transfer quarterback Jake Heaps and receiver Justin McCay. Coach Charlie Weis has some talent at his disposal so it will be interesting to see how he plans to use that talent in 2013.

7. Will OSU, Baylor or Texas Tech suffer a letdown? Week 1 should serve as a wake-up call to all three teams, as the conference watched K-State and Iowa State lose to FCS opponents. The Bears (versus Buffalo), Cowboys (at Texas San-Antonio) and Red Raiders (versus Stephen F. Austin) could continue to impress by challenging themselves to play at a high level regardless of their opponent on Saturday. Or they could take a step backward by allowing lesser opponents to hang around until deep into the second half.

8. Were Week 1 performances a fluke? Texas Tech’s Baker Mayfield, OSU’s J.W. Walsh, Texas’ David Ash and Baylor’s Bryce Petty were among the Big 12’s stars in Week 1. Will they come back down to earth in Week 2? Consistency is what turns a good player into a great player. If those players match their performances in the season’s opening week, the Big 12 could be on its way to regaining its reputation as a conference filled with quality quarterbacks.

9. Dee-fense. OU, OSU and Baylor allowed three points or less, and Texas joined those three Big 12 squads in holding an opponent to single digits. With the majority of the conference facing teams that don’t feature Big 12-level offensive attacks, we should see similar results in Week 2. What if we don’t?

10. Will more new names emerge? Charles Sims burst onto the Big 12 landscape with a 120-yard rushing performance in his first game at WVU. TCU's B.J. Catalon showed he’s a name to know with his 233 all-purpose yards, and UT's Daje Johnson put fear into the hearts of defenses around the conference with his two-touchdown outing in Week 1. Expect other offensive skill players to make their mark on their teams this weekend.

Big 12 predictions: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
8:03
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By request, we’ll be revealing here what games the Big 12 blog team will be covering week-to-week. Last weekend I was in the Metroplex for Texas Tech-SMU and TCU-LSU. This Saturday, I’ll be covering Oklahoma-West Virginia along with Brandon Chatmon. Max Olson will be in Provo, Utah, for Texas-BYU.

We’re also going to try something new. Beginning next Thursday, we’re going to have a different guest picker each week who will go head-to-head with me in picking games.

How does one become a guest picker? Contact me here and tell me why you should be our guest picker. Creativity counts.

As for last week’s picks, the FCS destroyed an otherwise flawless docket. Thanks, guys.

SEASON RECORD

Last week: 7-2 (.778)

Overall: 7-2 (.778)

My picks for Week 2:

TCU 48, Southeastern Louisiana 7: The Frogs bounce back in a big way to even up their record against the state of Louisiana. Both Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin play well while spitting time, leaving TCU’s quarterback situation unresolved heading into next week’s conference opener in Lubbock.

Oklahoma State 44, UTSA 9: The Cowboys settle into the J.W. Walsh option offense and look much crisper offensively. The defense, meanwhile, puts together another stellar performance. But is it for real or is it just smoke and mirrors?

Baylor 51, Buffalo 17: Buffalo puts up more of a fight than Wofford, but this one ends in a rout, too, suggesting Baylor just might have the best and most complete offense in the Big 12.

Oklahoma 35, West Virginia 13: Former Sooners coach Barry Switzer made the prediction this week that the Mountaineers would not be gaining 787 yards on Oklahoma this time. He must have watched West Virginia’s William & Mary game. Along with Tavon Austin, the Mountaineers could wind up missing offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, who left West Virginia for the same job at Oklahoma during the offseason. The Sooners’ line looked strong last week, while West Virginia’s looked shaky. Charles Sims is a big-time playmaker. But he doesn’t have many creases to slide through this week either in Norman, and the Sooners will cruise.

Kansas State 31, Louisiana-Lafayette 20: Coach Bill Snyder has his bunch back on track with a solid victory over the underrated Ragin’ Cajuns. Daniel Sams steals enough snaps away from Jake Waters to rush for more than 100 yards while igniting a full-blown quarterback controversy in Manhattan. At least Snyder has another week to work that out before his ‘Cats visit Austin on Sept. 21.

Texas 28, BYU 10: If Texas has indeed turned the corner, then this is a game it needs to win easily, right? Well, that’s what happens, as the Longhorns roll in Provo behind two big-play touchdowns from Daje Johnson. Uh, keep feeding this guy the ball.

Kansas 28, South Dakota 17: Finally, somebody represents the Big 12 against that pesky FCS. Jake Heaps throws three touchdowns, including one apiece to backfield mates Tony Pierson and James Sims.

Texas Tech 66, Stephen F. Austin 7: The Baker Bandwagon is filling up fast. Baker Mayfield throws for another four touchdowns and 400 yards, setting up next week’s showdown against TCU -- the school he originally wanted to attend but which never gave him a scholarship.

Big 12 predictions: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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An intriguing opening week in the Big 12, including a pair of neutral-site showdowns with the SEC.

My picks for Week 1 -- and I wouldn’t go to Vegas with them:

FRIDAY

Texas Tech 35, SMU 27: All eyes will be on Texas Tech’s quarterback, whether that’s Davis Webb or fellow true freshman Baker Mayfield. Whoever it is, Eric Ward and Jace Amaro will provide enough support to give Kliff Kingsbury the win in his Tech debut.

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters' debut at Kansas State comes against a North Dakota State team capable of pulling a surprise.
Kansas State 31, North Dakota State 22: The last time the Bison visited the Sunflower State, they came away with a victory. Even though this game won’t be in Lawrence, the two-time defending FCS champs won’t go out easy. K-State and its veteran offensive line, however, eventually wear down the Bison in the second half as the Wildcats pull away in QB Jake Waters' first start.

SATURDAY

West Virginia 48, William & Mary 14: Running back Charles Sims begins his West Virginia career with a monster debut, prompting the MountaineerS faithful to forget about Tavon Austin. Well, for a night anyway.

No. 13 Oklahoma State 38, Mississippi State 24: Mike Gundy makes good on his word of playing both Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. And both quarterbacks shine in a two-quarterback system as the Cowboys defeat an SEC opponent in their opener for the second time in five years.

No. 16 Oklahoma 31, Louisiana-Monroe 14: The Sooners have been dreadful in openers under Bob Stoops, and playing a freshman quarterback doesn’t help things early, either. But Trevor Knight finally finds his groove in the second half and shows everyone why he ultimately beat out Blake Bell for the job.

Baylor 49, Wofford 21: Lache Seastrunk launches his Heisman campaign with a big season debut, but freshman receiver Robbie Rhodes steals the spotlight with a pair of touchdown receptions, showing why he’s been generating so much buzz this preseason.

No. 15 Texas 56, New Mexico State 6: The Longhorns waste no time attacking with their new up-tempo offense and bury the Aggies in the first quarter. The three-headed monster of Jonathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron looks crisp, too, racking up 250 yards rushing against a hapless New Mexico State defense.

Iowa State 24, Northern Iowa 21: Sam Richardson carries Iowa State to victory over the always-pesky Panthers with some clutch fourth-quarter passing. In the second half, junior college transfer Aaron Wimberly delivers a run and later a catch both for more than 40 yards, showing signs he might be the game-breaker the Cyclones have been coveting offensively.

No. 12 LSU 26, No. 20 TCU 21: TCU has the front-line talent that LSU does on both sides of the ball. But the Tigers have two advantages: superior depth and the experience of playing in these kinds of games. That proves to be the difference, as LSU strips the Big 12 of a potential weekend sweep.

Most to prove in the Big 12

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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At long last, we can put an end to all the offseason chatter and preseason hype. All those expectations get thrown out the window on the first weekend of college football.

Who’s going to rise to the occasion and live up to those expectations? And who already has a lot on the line entering the season opener? Here are 10 Big 12 players, coaches and positions that have plenty to prove this weekend.

1. Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite: The first-year playcaller worked all offseason to implement an up-tempo offense at Texas, and Mack Brown has set high goals for pace and plays per game. Will the tempo make Longhorn players more mistake-prone or wear them out faster? We’ll find out how much progress has been made Saturday when they faces New Mexico State.

2. West Virginia RB Charles Sims: Coach Dana Holgorsen likes Sims and his revamped stable of backs so much, he’s redshirting 2012 leading rusher Andrew Buie. How’s that for some pressure to perform? Sims, a Houston transfer, may have to help carry the offense while WVU’s quarterback situation remains unresolved.

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters won the K-State starting job, and much is expected from the junior college transfer.
3. Kansas State QB Jake Waters: Waters was named the starter Monday but will still have to split snaps with Daniel Sams to some extent. Much is expected of the junior college transfer who has been on campus for only eight months. With Sams ready to play at any moment, he’ll need to be sharp against North Dakota State.

4. Oklahoma State RB Jeremy Smith: OSU has been spoiled at the running back position with Kendall Hunter and Joseph Randle, and Smith will try to keep that trend going as the new feature back. What kind of dent can he make against a Mississippi State unit that ranked No. 11 in the SEC in run defense last season?

5. Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops: Stoops’ first year back in Norman wasn’t exactly the smashing success most expected, and he’ll put a defense on the field against Louisiana-Monroe that features only four returning starters. With West Virginia coming to town the next week, Stoops’ rebuilt D needs to get off to a good start Saturday.

6. Oklahoma State offensive line: The Cowboys lost left tackle Devin Davis for the season to a torn ACL this week, and line coach Joe Wickline will have some interesting decisions to make as he reworks his lineup before Saturday’s game against Mississippi State. Parker Graham could slide over from guard to tackle, or a few others could fill the vacancy. Not a good problem to have when you’re prepping for an SEC foe instead of an FCS cupcake.

7. TCU linebackers: LSU’s potent power run game will give the Frogs' linebacker corps as good a test as it’ll get all season. The departure of leading tackler Joel Hasley earlier this month makes that task even tougher. Juniors Marcus Mallet, Paul Dawson and ex-safety Jonathan Anderson have to step up.

8. Baylor QB Bryce Petty: There might not be a more hyped player in the Big 12 entering the opener. Most assume the junior with only 14 career passing attempts will end up becoming the league’s best quarterback by December. He gets to prove a lot of people right -- or wrong -- Saturday versus Wofford.

9. Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury: The man who molded Johnny Manziel in 2012 now must find a way to work wonders with a true freshman quarterback on the road. How will Davis Webb or Baker Mayfield operate his offense, and how much confidence will they have? Few coaches have more to prove this season than Kingsbury, and if his team isn’t ready SMU will give Tech a battle on Friday night.

10. TCU QB Casey Pachall: Even if he does earn the start for TCU this weekend -- Gary Patterson is sticking to his strategy of not naming a starter until kickoff -- you have to imagine Trevone Boykin will enter the game if Pachall has some early struggles against an LSU defense that, despite losing so many starters to the NFL, should still have legitimate talent at all three levels. Remember, Pachall started only one Big 12 game last season before leaving the program, and it was a not-so-stellar 20-6 win over Kansas. So much is expected of him this season, and the presence of Boykin puts pressure on Pachall to be as good as advertised.

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