NCF Nation: Corey Nelson

Stats reveal Stoops' excellence at OU

November, 27, 2013
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Bob Stoops became the all-time winningest coach in Oklahoma history on Saturday. The Sooners’ veteran coach won his 158th game at OU with a 41-31 victory over Kansas State to pass Barry Switzer on the school’s win list.

His list of accomplishments reveal the standard of success Stoops has set in Norman, Okla. since he took over in 1999. He has reached all four BCS games and the BCS national title game with 14 bowl appearances, eight Big 12 titles, eight BCS bowls, four BCS title game appearances, one BCS national title.

With the help of the OU SID department and ESPN Stats & Information, a closer look at five key stats during the Stoops era points to the priorities of a program run by the 15-year coach and the foundation of his 158-39 record.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezBob Stoops has been a defensive-minded coach with explosive offenses.
Third-down defense: OU’s defense has been the among the nation’s best under Stoops. The Sooners have held opponents to a 31.5 percent conversion rate on third down. OU ranks No. 2 among FBS teams in that category since Stoops took over. Making plays and winning individual battles on clutch plays have become trademarks of Stoops’ squads. The Sooners understand the importance of getting off the field on third down and have been able to consistently be among the nation’s best in those situations.

Third-down conversions: OU has 1,283 total third down conversions under Stoops, which is tied for first among FBS teams. OU consistently has a solid plan on third down attempts and secures the players -- like Heisman winners Sam Bradford and Jason White — to execute that plan consistently. Since 2004, the Sooners have converted 44.9 percent of their third down conversion attempts. The national average during that span is 39.8 percent.

Forced turnovers: Stoops knows the value of turnovers and he instills that belief into his teams. Since 1999, OU has forced 428 turnovers which is tied for third among FBS teams. That’s an average of 28.5 per season. OU has forced at least one turnover in 170 of 197 games (86.3 percent) in the last 15 years. Games between two evenly matched teams are often decided by turnovers but Stoops’ crew also uses them to dominate lesser opponents. A combination of talented defenders and aggressive schemes have put opponents into positions to make mistakes and OU tends to take advantage.

Defensive touchdowns: OU has scored 46 defensive touchdowns and has scored at least one defensive TD in each of Stoops’ 15 seasons. Thus, not only do the Sooners make a concerted effort to take the ball away, they have the ability to turn it into points. Cornerback Zack Sanchez did it last weekend with his 74-yard interception return against Kansas State. He joined defensive end Geneo Grissom and linebacker Corey Nelson as Sooners with a defensive touchdown this season. The Sooners’ 28 defensive touchdowns since 2004 are tied for eighth among FBS teams.

Points per drive: While Stoops is a defensive-minded coach, the offenses have placed among the nation’s scoring leaders throughout his tenure. Since 2004, the Sooners have averaged 2.56 points per drive, ranking No. 8 among FBS teams. It’s a sign OU’s offenses under Stoops not only move the ball with success but also finish drives with points. The Sooners have brought in stars like Bradford, running back Adrian Peterson and receiver Ryan Broyles to help them become one of the most explosive offenses in college football during the past 15 years. Their 2.56-point per drive average is a full 0.5 point more than the national average of 2.02 during that span.

In the 15 seasons with Stoops in charge, his teams rank among the nation’s best in key moments on third down, finish offensive drives with points and force game-changing turnovers.

Sounds like a winning combination.
How can No. 6 Baylor survive its first big test and improve to 8-0? What must No. 10 Oklahoma achieve in order to be the first to defeat these Bears? Here’s our take on what it’s going to take for either team to emerge victorious on Thursday night.

Three keys to beating Oklahoma

1. Run the ball right at the Sooners. Texas used this blueprint to hand OU its lone loss this season as two Longhorn running backs (Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown) rushed for more than 100 yards. While the Sooners rank third in the Big 12 in rushing yards allowed (134.75), they’ve allowed 200 rushing yards or more to Kansas, Notre Dame and Texas. Baylor has the talent with Lache Seastrunk and depth with Glasco Martin and Shock Linwood to test the Sooners, particularly with Jordan Phillips and Corey Nelson no longer manning the middle of OU’s defense.

2. Make Blake Bell uncomfortable in the pocket. The Longhorns defense harassed Bell into mental mistakes in the Sooners’ lone loss. Bell’s 4.3 adjusted QBR was the 13th worst QBR by a quarterback and the worst in the Big 12 this season. The junior never looked comfortable or confident in the pocket as he completed just 46.2 percent of his passes with two interceptions. If Baylor can get similar pressure on Bell, it could force similar mistakes.

3. Make the Sooners play from behind. Oklahoma’s offense is considerably better when playing with a lead. The Sooners can remain committed to their running game while using their success on the ground to make teams pay with play action passes. Running backs Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch give the Sooners one of the deepest groups of runners in the Big 12. And Bell can make defenses pay with his legs as well. OU’s passing attack has been the most inconsistent part of the squad in 2013, so if the Bears make the Sooners have to throw to get back in the game, they have to like their odds on coming out on top.

-- Brandon Chatmon

Three keys to beating Baylor

1. Put the defense to the test. Baylor takes immense pride in the progress its defense has made in 2013. But that defense has faced just one top-50 scoring offense (Kansas State, 49th) and four that rank 92nd or worse. Maybe this Oklahoma offense (ranked 55th) isn’t the great unit that finally tests just how sturdy this Bear defense really is, but it has enough firepower at running back and receiver to challenge Baylor’s back seven. Baylor’s defense has pitched a first-quarter shutout in five of its seven wins. If Oklahoma finds a way to get on the scoreboard early, how will its opponent respond?

2. Slow Seastrunk and the rushing attack. Three of the five teams that beat Baylor last held the offense to less than 120 rushing yards. Kansas State, the only team to play the Bears close this year, held them to 114 rushing yards and Seastrunk to 59 on 12 carries. Baylor has the luxury of throwing the more than capable duo of Martin and Linwood in if Seastunk can’t get going, but that would be a victory for OU’s defense and greatly help its chances. That unit must find ways to make Bryce Petty’s job more difficult and get Art Briles and playcaller Phil Montgomery out of their run-pass rhythm.

3. Take it to the fourth quarter. Petty has attempted four passes in fourth quarters this season. Seastrunk has two rushing attempts. The average score of a Baylor game after three quarters is 55-10. These guys have not been tested. The Sooners have to prey on that and try to wear out the Bears if they get the opportunity. Maybe those run lanes start opening up more late. Maybe Petty, after 30 throws, starts losing some accuracy. OU needs an advantage in this department. But, really, the simple truth about beating Baylor is this: The Bears won’t lose unless they show up flat, make mistakes and start beating themselves. Oklahoma is going to need an excellent game plan and, probably, a lot of help.

-- Max Olson

OU runs over Tech with eyes to Baylor

October, 27, 2013
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NORMAN, Okla. – Oklahoma’s game plan coming out of halftime Saturday night didn’t include tailback passes, onside kicks or punt-return decoys.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiBlake Bell and the Sooners found an offensive identity -- less than two weeks from a showdown at Baylor.
The Sooners’ scheme was sublimely simple. Get behind all-everything fullback Trey Millard and pound the ball between the tackles.

That wham-bam offensive style topped Kliff Kingsbury’s wily bag of tricks in a 38-30 victory over Texas Tech, and it reestablished the Sooners as the biggest threat to unbeaten Baylor for the Big 12 title.

“I love our team and their attitude,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “Are we in great shape? No. Am I excited about our team and our opportunity and our willingness to fight and all of that? Yeah, I am.”

The Sooners suffered yet another devastating injury, as Millard tore his ACL covering a kickoff in the fourth quarter. The Sooners had already lost their best linebacker (Corey Nelson) and best defensive lineman (Jordan Phillips) for the year. Now, they’ll go to Baylor without their most valuable offensive player, too.

But even with more injury adversity, the Sooners also, for the first time in a month, looked like a team that could challenge for the Big 12 crown.

When he had to, quarterback Blake Bell delivered confident completions to convert third downs. The defense continued to batten down the hatches, even while having to resort to playing true freshmen Jordan Evans and Dominique Alexander at linebacker.

And the Sooners ran the ball at will.

Oklahoma racked up 277 yards on the ground, featuring the trio of Damien Williams (101 yards), Roy Finch (55 yards) and Brennan Clay (42 yards).

“When you’re blocking it that way and running it that way,” Stoops said, “you have got to keep calling it until they can stop it.”

Tech couldn’t stop it.

In fact, on the first possession out of halftime, Oklahoma called 10 runs and one pass and marched right down the field to take a 21-7 lead.

“That was the game plan,” Finch said. “We wanted to play Oklahoma football, get our run game going, and open up shots down field.”

The run did exactly that.

Early in the second quarter, after three inept weeks of offense, the Sooners rediscovered their stride offensively. In its longest drive of the season in plays, yards and time, Oklahoma ground out an effective -- if aesthetically displeasing -- 16-play, 97-yard touchdown drive covering almost eight minutes.

“I thought that drive was really good,” Stoops said. “When you can run a bunch of plays, and stick it in the end zone, it makes a big difference.”

On the first play of the following possession, with Tech’s safeties creeping up to the line of scrimmage, Bell faked a handoff, then uncorked his best pass since the Notre Dame game over the top to Jalen Saunders, who coasted in for a 76-yard touchdown to give Oklahoma its first lead, 14-7.

The Red Raiders were on their heels defensively the rest of the way.

“We controlled the line of scrimmage,” center Gabe Ikard said. “We ran power a lot. I don’t know how many times we ran it, but we ran it over and over and over again. We had a lot of success with it.”

Even without Millard, who has been an integral piece of the running attack, the Sooners are sure to heave the same game plan at Baylor in two weeks.

These Sooners can’t outscore the Bears through the air. Who can? But as they did with Tech, they can run the ball at Baylor, control the clock and keep the Bears off the field. After all, a team far less imposing than Oklahoma almost beat the eighth-ranked Bears with that formula two weeks ago.

With little semblance of a passing game, Kansas State still racked up 327 yards on the ground, while keeping Bryce Petty and Lache Seastrunk on the sidelines. As a result, the Wildcats took a lead into the fourth quarter but couldn’t make enough plays to hold on.

The Sooners made enough plays to topple one of the Big 12’s last two unbeatens on Saturday. A week from Thursday, they’ll see if they can do the same to the other.

“I feel good about what we’re doing,” Stoops said. “I’m excited.

“And we’re excited.”

Big 12 predictions: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
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We left dry land to secure this week’s Guest Picker:

My name is Colin, and I’m an '08 Baylor alum. I work offshore on an oil-rig. My job has a lot of downtime, which I find myself using to constantly visit the Big 12 blog for any new I story I can read. I thought I could use all this down time productively and pick Big 12 games, and I would really enjoy being the Guest Picker one week. Thanks and keep up the good work.


I’m coming off an undefeated week, and I’m planning on going undefeated the rest of the season. Colin will be coming along for the ride, since he picked the same sides I did this week (which include a pair of upsets).

On Saturday, Brandon and I will be in Norman, Okla., as “Guns Up, Suns Up” meets “Boomer Sooner” in a key Big 12 matchup. Max is headed up to Fort Worth, Texas, to monitor whether TCU will actually score a first-half touchdown, and whether the Longhorns can play at a high level for more than one game.

To the Week 9 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 4-0 (1.000)

Guest Picker (wedding Tyler) last week: 3-1 (.759)

Trotter overall: 37-11 (.770)

Guest Picker overall: 22-9 (.709)

Saturday

OKLAHOMA STATE at IOWA STATE

Oklahoma State 33, Iowa State 14: In their past eight trips to Ames, the Cowboys are 2-5-1, including a stunning loss late in 2011 that knocked the Pokes out of the national championship game. But Oklahoma State might have figured out some things offensively last week, with Clint Chelf at QB and Rennie Childs at running back. Plus, the Cyclones are still on the mat after getting smoked week in Waco.

Colin’s pick: OSU’s QBs and, team as a whole, have not impressed me, but the Iowa State confidence will be shot after that Baylor game. Mike Gundy reminds us all "he is a man" after reporters ask who his best QB is. OSU, 24-17

TEXAS TECH at OKLAHOMA

Texas Tech 29, Oklahoma 28: Nobody has played the Sooners tougher in recent years than Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have won four of the past eight in the series. And in their most recent trip to Norman, they stunned the third-ranked Sooners 41-38 to snap OU’s 39-game home winning streak. This season, OU has been heading the wrong direction since losing Corey Nelson and Jordan Phillips defensively. The young Red Raiders, meanwhile, seem to be improving every week. OU has the nation’s No. 1 pass defense, but that’s a bit of a mirage. The Sooners have faced only one offense ranked in the top 50 nationally in passing (Texas, which is 49th). Like they did in ’11, the Red Raiders make plays after the catch, and force Blake Bell into a couple of bad decisions to secure the program’s biggest win since knocking off top-ranked Texas in 2008.

Colin’s pick: Texas Tech pulls out a tough road win against a top-25 team. Bell throws an INT in the last minute after seeing Kliff Kingsbury on the sidelines with his girlfriend. Texas Tech, 35-34

WEST VIRGINIA at KANSAS STATE

Kansas State 27, West Virginia 21: The loser of this game could be in serious trouble for qualifying a bowl game. The Mountaineers have begun to show life offensively with QB Clint Trickett, scoring 27 last week against Texas Tech. But Bill Snyder with two weeks to prepare is almost unfair. The return of receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson gives the league’s best running QB, Daniel Sams, someone to throw to downfield, too.

Colin’s pick: Kansas State gets a much-needed home win; Dana Holgorsen tears his fragile hair out in frustration when his throw-deep-every-play offense doesn't work with Trickett. Kansas State, 31-24

BAYLOR at KANSAS

Baylor 79, Kansas 3: The only drama in this game is whether Baylor gets to 100. I say they don’t. But I’ve been wrong before.

Colin’s pick: Baylor continues its 60-plus-point dominance, as Lache Seastrunk runs for 150-plus and QB Bryce Petty adds another three TDs. Kansas fans start a "basketball season" chant in the second quarter. Baylor, 70-10

TEXAS at TCU

Texas 17, TCU 13: At 3-4, the Horned Frogs are off to their worst start in 14 years, and in many ways this is TCU’s last stand. If the Horned Frogs drop this game, they could be in for their worst season of the Gary Patterson era, and even miss out on a bowl game. The defense continues to play tough, but the offense is a catastrophe of epic proportion. Saturday, Texas generates enough offense by slugging it out in the trenches with Johnathan Gray and Malcolm, and the Longhorns stealthily move to 4-0 in the conference with Kansas coming to Austin next weekend.

Colin’s pick: Texas' running game gets going and once again the TCU offense looks inept. TCU's stadium has more orange than purple in it. Texas, 31-13

Injury impact: Big 12

October, 24, 2013
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Injuries have played a major role in the Big 12 through the first half of the season and they’ll continue to impact the conference title race down the stretch. Baylor is the lone squad in the top half of the Big 12 that has escaped the injury bug relatively unscathed.

1. TCU: The Horned Frogs have watched quarterback Casey Pachall and defensive end Devonte Fields, arguably their top players on each side of the ball, go down. Pachall (forearm) could return soon but Fields (foot) is lost for the season. It’s easy to imagine the Horned Frogs offense, which has looked lost and has averaged just 97.4 yards in the first half in the past five games, as much improved with Pachall under center.

2. Texas: Another team that has lost a major contributor on both sides of the ball, the Longhorns hope to get quarterback David Ash (head) back at some point this season and have lost defensive leader Jordan Hicks (Achilles) for the season. Add in nicks and bruises to playmakers Daje Johnson and Mike Davis and success has been much harder to come by for Texas.

3. Oklahoma: The Sooners lost linebacker Corey Nelson (pectoral) and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (back), two of their top defenders, in back-to-back weeks. Nelson's leadership is sorely missed and Phillips' strength in the middle is hard to replace. OU is still scrambling to replace the duo, which is a scary thought with Texas Tech and Baylor set to test the defense.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 8

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
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What we learned about the Big 12 from Week 8:

1. TCU's offense is hopeless: Once again, the TCU defense kept the Horned Frogs in the game. Once again, it didn't matter. TCU's inept offensive attack reached a new level in Stillwater. QB Trevone Boykin delivered a Total QBR of 5.9 (scale of 0-100) and was benched in the second quarter. Except his backup, freshman Tyler Matthews, fumbled the ball away on his first snap. This was the third Big 12 game the Horned Frogs were held scoreless in a first half. Coach Gary Patterson became so frustrated he made co-offensive coordinator Rusty Burns the primary playcaller for the second half and brought the other offensive coordinator, Jarrett Anderson, to the sideline from the booth. The Horned Frogs moved the ball better, but not better enough. As a result, TCU is now 1-3 in the league and has become the Big 12's biggest disappointment. That's even with its defense playing big-time football. No defense, however, can overcome this drive chart: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, interception, fumble, turnover on downs, punt, field goal, interception, rushing touchdown, turnover on downs. The Horned Frogs could get QB Casey Pachall back from a broken forearm soon. That's really their only chance to prevent this season from turning into an all-out dumpster fire.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports Clint Chelf's numbers weren't great Saturday, but he provided a deep threat that opened up the offense.
2. Oklahoma State is better off with its backup backfield: The Cowboys started the game with J.W. Walsh and Jeremy Smith in their backfield. They ended it with Clint Chelf and Rennie Childs. And there's no doubt which duo was more effective in the Pokes' 24-10 win over TCU. Walsh opened the game with two interceptions and finally was benched in favor of Chelf after three consecutive subpar outings. Chelf didn't exactly light TCU's secondary on fire. In fact, his Total QBR was poorer than Walsh's (28.0 versus 56.4). But the threat to throw the ball downfield opened up the offense a bit and allowed the Cowboys to finally get something going, thanks in part to Childs. Smith delivered another clunker of a game, rushing for just 14 yards on 12 carries before fumbling away possession to TCU in the third quarter. The Cowboys rode Childs at running back the rest of the way, and the true freshman ran hard. He finished with 45 rushing yards on nine carries, a 34-yard reception and a tough, 7-yard touchdown run that sealed the win in the fourth quarter. Even with Chelf and Childs, Oklahoma State has a long way to go offensively. But playing those two over Walsh and Smith seemed to be a step in the right direction.

3. Oklahoma's issues weren't a one-game thing: The Sooners still can't pass. And they still can't stop the run. The two areas that doomed the Sooners in last week's loss to Texas resurfaced at Kansas. With the Sooners missing LB Corey Nelson and DT Jordan Phillips, the Jayhawks took a cue from the Longhorns and ran the ball right down Oklahoma's throat to take a 13-0 lead in the first half. Coach Bob Stoops took blame off the defensive line and said afterward that the linebackers and defensive backs were out of position. But cameras briefly caught defensive coordinator Mike Stoops laying into defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. On the other side of the ball, the Sooners continued to struggle passing. In fact, the prettiest throw of the afternoon came from wide receiver Lacoltan Bester, who hit Sterling Shepard on a reverse pass that finally gave the Sooners a lead in the second quarter. Blake Bell played much better than last week but still threw for only 131 yards with a Total QBR of 67.3, which surely will drop once the strength of the Kansas defense is factored into the equation. Think about this: The Sooners scored a touchdown off a trick play, blocked an extra point and returned it for a two-pointer, blocked a punt for a safety and held the Jayhawks to 16 yards passing -- and Kansas still was down only one score well into the fourth quarter. The same Kansas team fell to Texas Tech on the same field two weeks ago, 54-16. That same Texas Tech team travels to Norman next weekend.

4. Baylor's defense has a chance to be special, too: In 2011, Oklahoma State captured its first Big 12 title with one of the best offenses in conference history. That '11 Cowboys defense, however, was sneaky good, as well, and led college football with 44 forced turnovers. This Baylor defense has a chance to be sneaky good, too. The Bears' offense got back on track with a 71-point deluge against Iowa State. But Baylor's defense was almost as impressive. The Bears held Iowa State to just 174 yards of offense and only 41 yards on the ground. Baylor had a shutout going, too, until the Cyclones scored on a 27-yard touchdown pass with 47 seconds remaining. Iowa State isn't exactly Oregon (or Baylor), but the Cyclones had scored 30 or more points in three straight games. Baylor's offense alone makes the Bears the Big 12 favorite, but a sneaky good defense could elevate them into a dark-horse national title contender.

5. Kingsbury believes in his quarterbacks: As coordinators around the Big 12 call plays reflecting a lack of confidence in their quarterbacks, Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has done the complete opposite. And when the game was on the line in Morgantown, he put the game -- and Texas Tech's season -- on the arm of true freshman Davis Webb, who came up with two huge throws on the final drive of the game. With Tech coddling a 30-27 lead in the final two minutes, Kingsbury called a pass on third-and-6. Three plays later, with Tech facing third-and-goal, Kingsbury called another pass. Both times, Webb delivered completions -- the latter a game-clinching touchdown strike to tight end Jace Amaro. Many coaches would have sat on the ball that drive. Even more would have done so with a true freshman quarterback making his first career road start. But by calling those passes, Kingsbury proved he believes in his quarterback. Quite a bit.

Big 12 predictions: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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Last week, Tyler, the K-State fan from California who is getting married this weekend, flaked out on being the guest picker.

Or so I thought.

I assumed Tyler’s bride-to-be was getting on his case about focusing on his picks instead of his wedding. Sure, getting married is a big deal. But being the guest picker? Way bigger deal.

Turned out, my correspondence kept getting dumped into his spam folder. And once this was cleared up, Tyler pleaded for another early wedding present. What can I say? I’m a romantic.

From Tyler:

So I missed out on my chance to be the guest picker last week, and Trotter let me have it in the Week 7 predictions. You'll have to excuse me for making my wedding a bigger priority than being the guest picker. As they say, a happy wife is a happy life, and as a K-State fan, I need all the happiness I can get. Fortunately, Jake gave me a second chance to get my priorities straight before I tie the knot.

When I thought Tyler was blowing off the blog, Curtis from Washington D.C., stepped in as the guest picker. It was a rough week for Curtis, whose Sooners took it on the chin in a Red River wipeout. I just hope he was stuck in that military office with no TVs so he didn’t have to witness it.

This weekend, the Big 12 team will be canvassing the conference landscape. Brandon will be in Stillwater for TCU-Oklahoma State; Max will head to Waco for Iowa State-Baylor; and I will be reunited with my favorite league mascot -- “The Mountaineer” -- in Morgantown for Texas Tech-West Virginia. Have the deer jerky ready, Jon.

Congratulations, too, to Tyler and his bride, who will be honeymooning in France.

To the Week 8 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 3-1 (.750)

Guest picker (Curtis in Washington D.C.) last week: 2-2 (.500)

Trotter overall: 33-11 (.750)

Guest picker overall: 19-8 (.704)

SATURDAY

Texas Tech 21, West Virginia 20: Last season, the Mountaineers were in a spot similar to where Tech is now. And the Red Raiders thrashed West Virginia in Lubbock, sending the Mountaineers into a tailspin that lasted the rest of the season. As a result, the Red Raiders are very aware just how precarious this 1,500-mile road trip back is. Tech, however, appears to have more staying power than last season's Mountaineers, who were really just a three-man show. These Red Raiders have more defense and more depth, and sneak out of Morgantown with their biggest win of the season yet.

Tyler’s pick: Eventually, Kliff Kingsbury is going to turn Tech into a team that can consistently compete for a Big 12 championship. His youth and coaching style will be a magnet for blue-chip recruits. Unfortunately, inexperience trumps hype here. West Virginia, 34-31

Oklahoma State 16, TCU 13: If the Cowboys couldn’t move the ball against West Virginia or Kansas State, why would anyone have confidence they’ll be able to against the best defense in the Big 12? Cornerback Jason Verrett and Co. will have Oklahoma State’s receivers on lockdown, not that QB J.W. Walsh has been able to get them the ball anyway lately. The problem is, TCU can’t score, either.

Tyler’s pick: TCU fans can't wait to have QB Casey Pachall back, as the offense continues to struggle without him. TCU's defense keeps the first half close, but Oklahoma State pulls ahead with Jeremy Smith rushing for 100 yards and a score. OSU, 24-17

Oklahoma 30, Kansas 17: Bob Stoops is 14-0 the week after Texas with an average margin of victory of 27 points. Stoops, however, doesn’t have Josh Heupel, Jason White, Sam Bradford or Landry Jones at quarterback this time. And Texas showed this Oklahoma defense isn’t anything special without linebacker Corey Nelson or tackle Jordan Phillips, who are both out for the season. The Sooners win. But their problems on either side of the ball remain very evident as Kansas keeps this one relatively close.

Tyler’s pick: After Oklahoma takes out its frustrations, Charlie Weis calls the Jacksonville Jaguars to see if they'll be needing a new offensive coordinator. OU, 54-3

Baylor 66, Iowa State 28: The scariest part for the rest of the Big 12 about Baylor’s win over K-State last week? The Bears were sluggish offensively -- and they still scored 35 points. Who knows if this is the best offense in Big 12 history? But it certainly is the fastest scoring. Iowa State is one of 11 teams in college football that has yet to allow a touchdown in three plays or fewer. That changes Saturday.

Tyler’s pick: As a K-State fan, I am required to comment about how amazing Bill Snyder is. Since K-State is off this week, we will add the Snyder love here. Last week, he showed the country how to beat Baylor. Unfortunately for Iowa State, Snyder doesn't coach the Cyclones. If Snyder coached the talent Texas and OU had, he’d have five national championships. Baylor, 58-35

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 7

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
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What we learned about the Big 12 from Week 7:

1. Texas is alive: The Longhorns were dead on arrival at the Cotton Bowl. Well, that’s what the Sooners thought. Instead, Texas outplayed, outmaneuvered and, that’s right, outcoached Oklahoma to pull off the biggest Red River upset in 17 years.
[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesCase McCoy and Texas moved to 3-0 in the Big 12 after a surprising win over Oklahoma on Saturday.
Case McCoy threw a pair of touchdowns that his brother Colt couldn’t have placed any better. The offensive line kicked OU’s tail in the trenches. And the defense forced Blake Bell to deliver one of the worst QB performances in Red River history. After his biggest win in at least four seasons, Mack Brown said the Horns were out of the grave. Texas is more than just out of the grave. The Longhorns are suddenly 3-0 in the Big 12 standings, and right in the thick of the conference race.

2. OU has problems: The blueprint on how to shut down the Sooners is on tape. Load the box. Dare Bell to beat you deep in man coverage. If only that was OU’s lone issue. Mike Stoops’ 3-3-5 scheme predicated on speed worked wonders through September. But Saturday in Dallas, it was exposed in the trenches. The Longhorns got 5 yards between the tackles any time they wanted, as Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown became the first Texas duo ever to rush for 100 yards apiece in the same Red River game. Not having linebacker and senior captain Corey Nelson (torn pectoral) was a killer. But he’s not coming back, either. The defense, however, is the least of OU’s worries. After playing well against Tulsa and Notre Dame, Bell has looked completely discombobulated the past two weeks. He’s been unable to consistently locate receivers down the field, which has emboldened defenses to crowd the line of scrimmage and cover up OU’s running game. After the game, coordinator Josh Heupel said he never considered making a QB switch. But if Bell keeps playing like he did in Dallas, the Sooners will be forced to.

3. Baylor can in fact be slowed: After Baylor became the first team in 83 years to score 70 points in three straight games, the question began to be asked: Can these Bears be slowed down? Kansas State showed in Manhattan the answer is yes. In its first road test of the season, Baylor did not display the same crispness offensively it had at home. The Bears were still impressive, as QB Bryce Petty connected on touchdown passes of 93, 72 and 54 yards. But outside those three quick-strike scores, Baylor was largely handcuffed. After punting seven times through their first four games, the Bears had to punt six times at K-State. The running game, too, was held in check as Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were limited to less than 100 yards rushing combined until Baylor’s final game-clinching touchdown drive. The fact the Bears still scored 35 points on a day in which they struggled offensively says all you need to know about how prolific this offense is. But K-State proved, with the right game plan, it’s an offense that can be slowed, too.

4. Daniel Sams has star potential: This season, the Big 12 is loaded with QBs who can cause damage with their wheels -- notably Bell, Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and TCU’s Trevone Boykin. But nobody in the league comes close to what Sams is able to do on the ground. The K-State QB shredded Baylor’s defense for 199 rushing yards and three touchdowns, nearly leading the Wildcats to the upset as 17-point underdogs. When Sams was in the game, the Bears knew what was coming. And they still couldn’t stop it. Sams’ big limitation right now is with his decision-making in the passing game. For the second straight week, he was picked off on a potential game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. But Sams quietly has the second-best adjusted QBR (86.5) in the Big 12, behind only Petty (95.1). With an 0-3 start in the league, this has clearly become a rebuilding season for the Wildcats. But they have something to rebuild around in their sophomore quarterback.

5. Tech can win with at least two QBs: Texas Tech became bowl eligible for the 20th time in the past 21 seasons with a 42-35 win over Iowa State. And the Red Raiders did it using their second true freshman starting quarterback of the season. With Baker Mayfield out with an injured knee, Davis Webb got the nod and was solid. Webb completed almost 63 percent of his passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns with only one interception. Webb’s adjusted QBR was only 53.5 (scale of 0-100) in the game. And as coach Kliff Kingsbury pointed out afterward, there were some throws Webb would like to do over again. But his performance was more than good enough for Tech to move to 6-0. "We've got three guys [who] can win ball games," Kingsbury said. Mayfield and Webb have proved that the Red Raiders have at least two. And in preseason projected starter Michael Brewer, who has returned from a disc injury, Kingsbury believes they have a third. In 2012, Oklahoma State’s offense kept humming despite rotating quarterbacks in and out due to injuries. Thanks to comparable skill talent surrounding its quarterbacks, Tech is having success doing the same thus far.

Ten things Texas must do to beat OU

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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AUSTIN, Texas – Texas is a two-touchdown underdog against a No. 12 Oklahoma outfit with a hard-earned undefeated record and a three-game winning streak in the Red River Rivalry. What must the Longhorns do to change all that?

This is hardly a comprehensive blueprint of what they must achieve on Saturday. It’s sorted more by chronology than priority. There’s plenty that has been left out -- like the coaching matchup, special teams, the possibility of some McCoy magic – and this checklist might mean almost nothing after the clock strikes 11 a.m. at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.

But if you’re throwing the rivalry’s recent history out the window and are feeling truly optimistic about Texas’ chances, here are 10 things that probably have to happen for this team to emerge victorious.

1. Wake up and start fast

Texas went three-and-out on all three of its first-quarter drives in 2012 and did not have a possession of more than four plays in the first half. It’s easy to fall behind 34 points before halftime when your offense is that inept. The Longhorns have taken 10-0 leads to start each of their games in the last two weeks. Can Texas overcome the fact it hasn’t played a single morning or afternoon game this season and actually begin this one with momentum on its side?

2. Be the physical team

Oklahoma has been the more physical team in its three consecutive Red River victories. Mack Brown admits that. This should start with the Longhorns offensive line, an inconsistent group that needs its finest performance yet on Saturday. This is also about the Texas defensive line, which has NFL-caliber talent and must force the OU offense to go off schedule. It’s going to be a long day if Blake Bell feels no pressure.

3. Run Gray all day

[+] EnlargeDalton Santos
David Purdy/Getty ImagesWith Texas bulking up at linebacker, Dalton Santos will need to be a sure tackler against Oklahoma.
Texas is 4-1 when Gray gets more than 15 carries in a game. He needs to be involved early and often. He’s the most reliable cog Texas has on offense, and the Sooners just lost their best linebacker in Corey Nelson. Texas is averaging a stunning 1.6 yards per carry in its last two Red River losses (68 carries, 110 yards).

4. Second down and short

The problem isn’t just three-and-outs. It’s putting Case McCoy in third-and-long situations that handcuff Major Applewhite’s play-calling ability. This season, the Longhorns are getting 6 or more yards on 40 percent of their first-down plays. Against OU last year that number was a little more than 20 percent.

5. Minimize mistakes in space

Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond better be ready. Starting two bulkier middle linebacker-types is risky against this stable Oklahoma backs, and gap responsibility is a must. This goes for the entire defense, though. Greg Robinson says the key is minimizing missed tackles. Texas learned the hard way last year -- Damien Williams’ 95-yard run, Trey Millard’s 164 total yards -- that bad things happen when the first tackle gets missed.

6. Win (or survive) the second quarter

Texas’ offense hasn’t produced a second-quarter touchdown against Oklahoma since … 2008. The Sooners won the second quarter 23-0 last year and 28-7 in 2011, all but ensuring victory by halftime. In those quarters, Texas had a combined five first downs and -17 rushing yards (seriously). Dig a hole that deep once again and the results won’t be any different in 2013.

7. Contain Bell, respect his WRs

Texas’ defensive line needs to be smart when playing Bell or he’ll turn well-covered pass plays into first-down scrambles, just as Sam Richardson did for Iowa State a week ago. The more time Bell can buy with his feet, the more dangerous his collection of fast receivers gets. Texas’ safeties must step up.

8. Swing the momentum

There’s not a better indicator of success for the Longhorns in recent years than when they win the turnover battle. They’ve lost that battle against OU by a combined margin of -6 the past two years. To keep this game close, Texas must to create momentum-changing opportunities and capitalize.

9. The wild cards

Expect Applewhite to play every card in his hand this week. That means a lot more Daje Johnson, who can score any time he touches the ball and is healthy again. Don’t overlook Kendall Sanders, either, considering the attention Johnson, Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley will draw. A defender due for a big game -- perhaps Quandre Diggs or Cedric Reed -- will need to rise to the occasion as well.

10. Play pissed

This is self-explanatory. Embrace the underdog role, take chances and don’t fold when this game gets tough. There’s no question the Sooners have the mental edge in this rivalry right now. The Longhorns will need to do whatever they can to get their groove back.

Do all these things and it will at least be a four-quarter ballgame, which hasn’t been the case the past two years. It’s possible Mack Brown would only have a few of these bullet points on his own version of a top-10 list. But it’s a start.

It’s safe to say the most glaring omission, the No. 11, would be obvious considering how this team has been ravaged by injuries and misfortune through five games. Texas also needs some old fashioned good luck on Saturday.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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This week's Power Rankings after a weekend in which there were no upsets:

1. Oklahoma (5-0, 2-0 Big 12, last week 1): The Sooners currently have the top-ranked defense in the Big 12. However, on Sunday they learned they’d likely be without linebacker Corey Nelson for the rest of the season. Nelson, who suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle, had been one of the defense’s three most valuable players. Can the Sooners overcome his loss? The answer to that question will go a long way in determining whether OU emerges with the Big 12 title.

2. Baylor (4-0, 1-0, LW 2): West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said he’d never seen an offensive line establish the line of scrimmage the way Baylor did Saturday night. Quarterback Bryce Petty and Lache Seastrunk are getting the headlines, and for good reason, but Baylor's offensive line is another reason it has been putting up points in record fashion. Led by All-American guard Cyril Richardson, Baylor’s line is one of the best units in the country. Just ask Holgorsen.

3. Texas Tech (5-0, 2-0, LW 3): Texas Tech is beginning to look like last season's Oklahoma State, which had to shuffle through three different quarterbacks because of injuries. Michael Brewer finally returned to the field from a back injury, but not before starter Baker Mayfield left with an undisclosed knee injury. The Oklahoma State offense survived its QB injury shuffle. Can the Red Raiders follow suit?

4. Oklahoma State (4-1, 1-1, LW 7): The Cowboys won, but it has been four seasons since an Oklahoma State offense has looked anywhere near this discombobulated. J.W. Walsh engineered the game-winning touchdown drive, but the offense was largely ineffective otherwise, as the Cowboys went the entire second half without a first down until that drive. Oklahoma State’s intermediate and downfield passing game has fallen off a cliff, as Walsh had only two completions go for more than 15 yards (though he should have had a third that Josh Stewart dropped). This has allowed opponents to zero in on Oklahoma State’s rushing game, which has been poor since the opener against Mississippi State. If the Cowboys don’t make a QB change and give Clint Chelf a chance, or find some way for Walsh to be more effective through the air, they stand little chance of contending in the Big 12.

5. Texas (3-2, 2-0, LW 5): The Longhorns' season and Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas comes down to one game. If the Longhorns somehow knock off Oklahoma, the conversation in Austin changes. If the Longhorns get blasted like they have the past two seasons, the conversation is effectively done. And, for all intents and purposes, the season is, too.

6. TCU (2-3, 0-2, LW 6): It’s a shame this TCU defense can’t be paired with a more effective offense. Even though the Horned Frogs opened at Oklahoma with seven straight three-and-outs, the defense somehow kept the Frogs in the game. I was told over the weekend that QB Casey Pachall is ahead of schedule on his recovery from a broken forearm -- but he is still weeks away from actually returning. Until then, TCU will have to find a way to generate a little offense. And with the way its defense is playing, that would still be enough to win most games.

7. West Virginia (3-3, 1-2, LW 4): It’s about time to end the honeymoon with the West Virginia defense. The Mountaineers were completely and utterly torched in Waco, 73-42. The last time West Virginia gave up that many points was in 1904, when Michigan beat the Mountaineers 130-0. This Baylor game was almost as bad. West Virginia is definitely improved defensively, but good defenses don’t give up 73 points, regardless of who they are facing.

8. Kansas State (2-3, 0-2, LW 8): KSU coach Bill Snyder finally gave QB Daniel Sams a chance Saturday in Stillwater to run the offense. You have to wonder when he might give Sams a chance again. Sams moved the chains but turned the ball over four times, which ultimately proved to be K-State’s downfall. Sams showed he’s capable of being an effective Big 12 quarterback, but Snyder is not a coach who will tolerate turnovers from his quarterback.

9. Iowa State (1-3, 0-1, LW 9): What a bummer it’s been to be an Iowa State fan this year. I don’t know which was worse, losing twice in overtime in hoops to Kansas, getting bounced from the NCAA tournament by Aaron Craft’s leaning jumper or falling to Texas the way the Cyclones did Thursday. Iowa State has shown rapid improvement offensively the past two games, but it’s a challenge finding five more wins on the schedule that will get the Cyclones to a bowl game.

10. Kansas (2-2, 0-1, LW 10): Even if Charlie Weis didn’t call for the fake punt, it’s on him for even giving punter Trevor Pardula an option to take off that deep in his own territory. The Jayhawks probably wouldn’t have beaten Tech anyway, but the botched fake punt ensured that they wouldn’t. With running back Tony Pierson now out indefinitely, the Jayhawks will be without their best offensive weapon now, too.

Sooners restoring LB tradition

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Penn State might call itself “Linebacker U.” But Oklahoma has a linebacking tradition that takes a backseat to no one.

[+] EnlargeCorey Nelson
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsCorey Nelson's interception gave Oklahoma an advantage it wouldn't look back from against OU.
The Sooners claim almost as many former first-team All-American linebackers as Penn State. And from Brian Bosworth to Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma boasts more Butkus Award winners than anyone, including the Nittany Lions.

Last Saturday in South Bend, that tradition came back to life. Spearheaded by their linebackers, the Sooners jumped out to a two-touchdown lead, then held off Notre Dame, 35-21.

“That’s how it’s supposed to be here,” senior linebacker Corey Nelson said. “Linebackers taking charge, leading the defense and making plays.

“That’s how it’s always been at Oklahoma.”

Well, not always exactly.

In 2012, linebacker became almost a foreign word.

In his first year back as defensive coordinator, Mike Stoops became so disenchanted with how his linebackers matched up with the fast pace offenses of the Big 12, he yanked them off the field altogether the last month of the season.

The ploy hardly worked.

To West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, Oklahoma surrendered 344 yards on the ground in a narrow November shootout victory in Morgantown.

In the following weeks, Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel ran wild over the Sooners, too, prompting Stoops to shelve the no-linebacker defense and go back to the drawing board during the offseason.

“Last year was a whole lot different,” Nelson said.

Especially for the linebackers.

During the summer, Stoops installed a 3-3-5 defensive scheme that so far has worked wonders, largely because he’s unleashed a corps of speedy linebackers who have proven to have a nose for the football. And opposing quarterbacks.

On the third play from scrimmage in South Bend, Oklahoma outside linebacker Eric Striker came peeling around the edge and slammed into the blindside of quarterback Tommy Rees. The ball popped in the air into the arms of Nelson, who dashed 24 yards for the defensive touchdown.

“They let me free and I had to kill ‘em,” said Striker, with a quote so brash the “Boz” would be proud.

On Notre Dame’s next offensive play, Frank Shannon backpedaled into coverage, intercepted a tipped pass despite wearing a cast on his right wrist and bounded along the sidelines to set up another touchdown.

Less than three minutes into the game, Oklahoma’s linebackers frenetically had propelled the Sooners to a 14-0 lead.

“The coaches are doing a good job of putting us in the right spots,” Shannon said. “Giving us good opportunities and chance to show what we got.”

And they've been doing it all season. Through four games, OU is giving up just 299.5 yards and 12 points per game.

And, so far, these linebackers are quickly showing they can hang with some of the best OU has produced. That’s no small feat.

Dating back to the days of Bud Wilkinson, every Sooners dynasty has included top-flight linebacking corps.

In 1956, Jerry Tubbs nearly won the Heisman Trophy as a linebacker and center. That tradition continued under Barry Switzer, who coached two-time, first-team All-American linebackers Rod Shoate (1972-74), Daryl Hunt (1975-78), George Cumby (1975-79) and Bosworth (1984-86), who also remains the only two-time winner of the Butkus Award, given annually to college football’s top linebacker.

Bob Stoops has coached two Butkus Award winners (Rocky Calmus and Lehman) and a host of slobber-knocking linebacking units. Calmus and Torrance Marshall formed the backbone of Oklahoma’s 2000 national championship defense. Lehman (2003), Rufus Alexander (2006) and Curtis Lofton (2007) earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.

“You see linebackers all over the wall in this place,” Striker said. “These guys were for real. Real serious back when.”

But as Oklahoma defenses slipped in recent years, so did the position. The Sooners scavenged the country for linebacker help in their most recent recruiting class, but came up empty. Suddenly, a school with one of college football’s proudest traditions couldn’t sign a linebacker. But the way Nelson, Shannon and Striker are playing, that should no longer be a problem.

Oklahoma is playing some defense again. And one of college football’s Linebacker U’s appears to be on its way back in Norman.

“We’re trying to keep that going,” Striker said. “You want to keep that going.

“We want to keep it great here.”

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
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Taking stock of Week 5 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Oklahoma. With their victory over Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers deserved strong consideration here. But by winning in South Bend, the Sooners delivered the Big 12 its best win of the year while vanquishing past demons. OU, which fell to 1-9 all-time against Notre Dame last season, controlled this game wire-to-wire in a 35-21 win. QB Blake Bell operated the Sooners' offense like a veteran in just his second career start. And the OU defense took it to QB Tommy Rees to force three first-half interceptions that allowed the Sooners to pad their lead. OU might have been one of the most overlooked teams during the preseason. After Saturday, the Sooners won’t be overlooked anymore.

Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys fell in Morgantown 31-21, despite being 18-point favorites. OSU sputtered all day offensively across the board. J.W. Walsh had a QBR of just 38.1 (scale of 0 to 100) and the Cowboys averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. The defense didn’t fare much better, allowing a West Virginia offense that had been completely inept to rack up 21 first downs. Dating to last year, the Cowboys have now lost three consecutive Big 12 games.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Sterling Shepard and Aaron Wimberly. Both the Oklahoma receiver and Iowa State running back sparked their offenses to big wins on the road. Shepard had five catches for 83 yards, and delivered the nail in the coffin to Notre Dame with a 54-yard touchdown reception to put OU back up by two scores in the fourth quarter.

In a 38-21 win at Tulsa, Wimberly produced Iowa State’s first 100-yard rushing game in more than a year with 137 yards on 19 carries. He added a 31-yard reception as the Cyclones came alive in their first win of the season.

Big (defensive) men on campus: The Oklahoma linebackers, and Sam Carter. Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and Eric Striker came up with huge plays in the first quarter to set the tone for the OU defense the rest of the way against the Irish. On Notre Dame’s first series, Striker blindsided Rees from behind, popping the ball loose into the arms of Nelson, who returned it 24 yards for a TD. On Notre Dame's next play from scrimmage, Shannon caught a tipped pass and returned the interception 17 yards to the Notre Dame 32. The Sooners scored again four plays later on an 11-yard run by Damien Williams. OU rode the defensive flurry all the way to the win.

Carter, TCU’s junior safety, had a huge day against SMU. Carter had two interceptions, forced a fumble and recorded a sack in the Horned Frogs’ 48-17 victory over the Mustangs. For his efforts, Carter was named the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week. With cornerback Jason Verrett ailing with a shoulder injury, Carter might have to take an even bigger leadership role in the TCU secondary moving forward.

Special-teams player of the week: Jaden Oberkrom. In a complete downpour, TCU’s place-kicker nailed two field goals to help the Horned Frogs pull away from SMU in the second half. As the rain began to fall in droves early in the third quarter, TCU had the ball on the SMU 5-yard line trailing 10-7. Because of the rain, a botched shotgun snap resulted in a loss of 20. But Oberkrom made sure the Frogs came away with points with the 35-yard field goal conversion. Had Oberkrom missed, who knows how the game would have gone for TCU? Instead, buoyed in part by getting points off the drive, the Frogs dominated the rest of the way.

[+] EnlargeIshmael Banks
AP Photo/Tyler EvertWVU's Ishmael Banks' interception return for a TD was one of many big plays that cost OSU in a game that changed everything for the Cowboys.
Play of the week: After Josh Stewart took a screen pass 73 yards for the touchdown and Justin Gilbert intercepted Clint Trickett three plays later at midfield, the Cowboys seemed to be on the verge of blowing the game away in the first quarter. Instead, West Virginia cornerback Ishmael Banks read Walsh’s eyes off a rollout, stepped in front of the pass for the pick, then returned it 58 yards for a touchdown. The Cowboys never found their footing again offensively, as West Virginia held them to just two scores the rest of the game.

Stat of the week: Oklahoma State running back Jeremy Smith rushed for just 1 yard on 15 carries at West Virginia. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Smith’s rushing total was the second worst by an FBS running back with that many carries in any game in the past 10 years.

Quote of the week: "No doubt in my mind that we're a national championship-type of team." – OU running back Brennan Clay, after the Notre Dame win

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
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This week's Power Rankings feature a new No. 1, as last week's No. 1 takes a tumble:

1. Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12, last week 3): The Sooners take over the top spot after delivering the most impressive Big 12 win of the season. Notre Dame is not the same team as last season, but the Irish hadn't lost in South Bend since October of 2011. OU has been a different team since Blake Bell took over at quarterback, and Bell was fabulous Saturday, throwing for two touchdowns without a turnover while churning out first downs with his arm and his legs. The OU defense is clearly better, too, picking off QB Tommy Rees on Notre Dame's first two possessions, with linebacker Corey Nelson returning one for a touchdown. The Sooners were clearly a team overlooked in the preseason, and, after five weeks, are looking like a clear Big 12 favorite along with Baylor.

2. Baylor (3-0, 0-0 Big 12, last week 2): After the off week, the Bears' offense will get its first real challenge this weekend from West Virginia's defense that appears to be the most improved unit in the league. Baylor has been unstoppable so far, but the level of competition is about to undergo an uptick. Can the Bears keep it up? They've shown no signs they can't.

3. Texas Tech (4-0, 1-0 Big 12, last week 4): Despite having the week off, the Red Raiders move up a spot with Oklahoma State's loss. The big question in Lubbock is who will be starting at quarterback for Tech come Saturday against Kansas. Baker Mayfield? Davis Webb? Michael Brewer, who has been progressing well from the back injury? The Red Raiders have been solid defensively, and the skill talent is legit. If Tech can get better play from its quarterback, this team could be a handful -- even for OU and Baylor.

4. West Virginia (3-2, 1-1 Big 12, last week 8): What a difference a week makes. The Mountaineers produced the most impressive in-conference win of the season with a 30-21 victory over preseason favorite Oklahoma State. West Virginia's defense continues to play at a high level (Maryland's 37 points were somewhat of an anomaly because of West Virginia turnovers) and Clint Trickett sparked the offense with his energy and leadership. West Virginia's offense is still pretty limited, but at least it no longer looks completely inept with Trickett at quarterback. The Mountaineers can't score with Baylor this weekend, but maybe they can slow the Bears down? Nobody thought West Virginia could slow Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, either, though Baylor's offense is at another level. We'll see.

5. Texas (2-2, 1-0 Big 12, last week 5): The Longhorns have a couple of interesting games looming. Thursday, Texas travels to Iowa State, which looked much better offensively in a 38-21 win at Tulsa this past Thursday. Then, Texas gets surging Oklahoma in Dallas. This figures to be the defining two-game stretch of the season for the Longhorns. Win the next two, and the season -- as well as Mack Brown's status in Austin -- looks totally different than it did two weeks ago. The off week could not have come at a better time for the Longhorns, giving acting defensive coordinator Greg Robinson another week to acclimate to his defense and quarterback David Ash another week to recover from the head injury that knocked him out of the Ole Miss and Kansas State games.

6. TCU (2-2, 0-1 Big 12, last week 6): Did TCU's offense finally uncover an identity during a rainy fourth quarter against SMU? The Horned Frogs poured on 31 points in the final quarter and did it with some new faces, as Ty Slanina, Ja'Juan Story and Cameron Echols-Luper all factored into the scoring onslaught in the first real action of their TCU careers. The Horned Frogs can really turn their season around with a win in Norman this weekend. That won't be easy, though, if All-American cornerback Jason Verrett (shoulder) and defensive end Devonte Fields (foot) can't play.

7. Oklahoma State (3-1, 0-1 Big 12, last week 1): The Cowboys plummet six spots after an uninspiring performance in Morgantown. It was just one loss, but it was a loss that exposed weaknesses across the board. For the first time in seemingly forever, Oklahoma State's kicking game is awful. The Cowboys' secondary gave up 320 yards to a West Virginia passing attack that previously had been completely futile. And on the other side of the ball, when the Mountaineers dared QB J.W. Walsh to beat them deep, he couldn't do it. That allowed West Virginia to stuff the Cowboys' running game, which also doesn't appear to have that bell-cow running back Oklahoma State has been accustomed to featuring. The Cowboys are better than they looked at West Virginia -- but how much better?

8. Kansas State (2-2, 0-1 Big 12, last week 7): Bill Snyder maintains the Wildcats will stick with the two-quarterback system, which has yielded mixed results. K-State has moved the ball better when Daniel Sams has been in at quarterback. But when he's in, the Wildcats are virtually no threat to pass. Sams has 29 rushes and only four passing attempts. Is Sams really that poor of a passer? Maybe it's time for K-State to find out.

9. Iowa State (1-2, 0-0 Big 12, last week 10): It's hard to believe a center could make that much of a difference. But the return of Tom Farniok sure seemed to do wonders for Iowa State's offense, which finally got going in a 38-21 win at Tulsa. The Cyclones also finally involved running back Aaron Wimberly, who ignited the running game with Iowa State's first 100-yard performance in more than a year. With former blue-chip junior-college transfer E.J. Bibbs emerging now at tight end, QB Sam Richardson no longer appears to be on his own. Jack Trice will be rocking Thursday night for the Longhorns, as Iowa State has a chance to land a signature win to build off of for the rest of the season.

10. Kansas (2-1, 0-0 Big 12, last week 9): The Jayhawks have a winning record but have been mostly unimpressive. Can they turn around the offense against Texas Tech? That will hinge almost entirely on quarterback Jake Heaps, who has talent but has been unable to find any rhythm so far with a collection of unproven wideouts. If the Jayhawks can be competitive this weekend, it will be a good sign they are moving in the right direction. If they get blasted, it could be a long season, especially with Iowa State and West Virginia seemingly having found their stride.

Instant Analysis: OU 35, Notre Dame 21

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Oklahoma escaped Notre Dame Stadium with its second-ever victory over the Irish, winning 35-21. Here are a few quick takeaways from this contest:

It was over when: Facing a third-and-3 from his own 46 early in the fourth quarter, Blake Bell hit Sterling Shepard for a 54-yard touchdown pass in which Shepard simply outran Irish linebacker Jarrett Grace. Shepard then caught the two-point conversion pass to give the Sooners a 35-21 lead.

Game ball goes to: Oklahoma's defense gets to share this honor today. The Sooners picked off Tommy Rees three times and brought pressure early and often. Oklahoma was able to convert all three turnovers into touchdowns, including a 24-yard pick-six by Corey Nelson on the game's first drive. Frank Shannon's interception on the next Notre Dame offensive play helped set the Sooners up with a 14-0 lead not even three minutes into the game.

Stat of the game: During a contest in which Notre Dame finally established its ground game and got creative on offense by sprinkling in backup quarterback Andrew Hendrix here and there, the easy answer is turnovers. Notre Dame gave the ball away three times; Oklahoma gave it away zero times. It is sometimes that simple, as we saw last week in an ugly offensive game that the Irish were able to pull out against Michigan State thanks in large part to forcing the game's only turnover, which they turned into a touchdown.

What it means: At 4-0, Oklahoma has to feel good about its chances in the Big 12, especially after seeing Oklahoma State lose to West Virginia earlier Saturday. Notre Dame, meanwhile, will likely have to win out to make a BCS bowl game after falling to 3-2 on the season. The Irish's next test comes next week against Arizona State in Arlington, Texas.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma believes its defensive front and linebackers have improved after a season full of disappointing production from both groups a year ago.

The Sooners get the chance to prove it on Saturday when they travel to South Bend, Ind., for a rematch with Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish won the battle in the trenches during their 30-13 win over OU in 2012.

"If you go to the University of Oklahoma, you have a sense of pride," defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue said. "Last year, what happened in the fourth quarter, they flat out beat us. It's in the back of our minds, because we're prideful players."

[+] EnlargeChuka Ndulue
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsChuka Ndulue said last year's loss to Notre Dame has stayed with him for a couple of reasons.
After a horrible end to the 2012 season, OU's defense is off to a terrific start this season. The Sooners rank among the top 20 nationally in yards allowed (291.3), rushing yards allowed (100.67), yards per pass attempt (5.06) and third-down conversion percentage (27.3 percent). The defensive line and linebackers have looked faster, more athletic and more aggressive this season, helping OU's defense get off to a quick start.

Yet they haven't been tested like the Irish's offense can test them.

This year's Sooners defense was built with stopping Big 12 spread offenses in mind while remaining versatile enough to adapt to power running attacks if needed. Mike Stoops' vision for his defense will be put to the test by Notre Dame, which can spread defenses with multiple receivers and line up with bigger personnel to employ a power running attack.

So don't be surprised if OU debuts a four-man front for the first time in 2013. The Sooners have relied on a three-man front for the first three games, getting more speed and versatility on the field with linebacker/pass rush specialist Eric Striker. It makes sense for Stoops to bring Ndulue or another Sooners' defensive lineman to get bigger in those situations when Notre Dame decides to try to lean on its power running attack.

"We can get in and out of a three- or four-man front, that's not a problem for us," said Stoops, who spent the offseason talking about his desire for the Sooners' defense to become more versatile in 2013.

No matter what personnel or scheme changes the Sooners utilize, they will need better play from their defensive line and linebackers in the rematch. Better play could start with a different mindset. Asked what he learned from playing the Irish in 2012, Ndulue's answer was revealing.

"Dominate the man in front of you," Ndulue said. "You have to have the mindset that you're going to embarrass them, just be a dawg, be a D-lineman."

OU hopes to have a pack full of dawgs along its defensive front on Saturday, and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips could be in the spotlight. The redshirt sophomore is emerging as a quality defensive lineman and finally fulfilling the promise he showed during his first two years on campus, when teammate Gabe Ikard called him "the next Gerald McCoy". He has been a force in the middle of OU's defense to start the season.

"He's maturing, he knows he can be a very productive and good player," Stoops said. "Taking that next step has become more important to him. He's become a more prideful player who works harder and is becoming more consistent. You can see the light starting to go on, so we certainly hope he continues to work like he has, because he's perfect for what you're trying to do in there."

OU's linebackers entered the season with redemption on their minds after having a minimal impact on the Sooners' defense in 2012. This season, linebackers Corey Nelson (20) and Frank Shannon (19) rank 1-2 in tackles. They'll need to show their versatility and toughness against the Irish, as they'll find themselves in coverage situations on one play, then facing an offensive lineman in the running game on the next.

"I feel like they've showed that [versatility] the first three games," cornerback Aaron Colvin said. "Of course, this will be on a bigger stage, but I feel like they've done a great job all year, and I don't expect anything different this week."

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