NCF Nation: Daniel Sams

Spring ball kicked off in the Big 12 over the weekend, as Baylor, TCU and West Virginia all had their first practices. This week, most of the other Big 12 schools will join them.

With spring practice off and rolling, plenty of questions surround the league’s programs. And while many of those won’t be fully answered until the season begins in the fall, here are some of the biggest ones Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma will face this spring:

How will Baylor replenish its secondary?

[+] EnlargeQuarterback Bryce Petty #14 of the Baylor Bears
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Bryce Petty is back so Baylor's offense should be in good shape. Its defense, however, has some question marks heading into the spring.
The Bears won their first Big 12 championship last season, thanks in part to a secondary that ranked second in the league in pass defense. Safety Terrell Burt, however, is the only returning starter from that defensive backfield, meaning rebuilding the secondary will be priority No. 1 for the Bears this spring. But as if that job wasn’t going to be challenging enough, both Burt and juco cornerback Chris Sanders, who is supposed to vie for a starting role, will miss the spring following shoulder surgeries. With QB Bryce Petty back, the Bears figure to be formidable again offensively in 2014. But to defend its Big 12 title, Baylor will need several inexperienced players to begin emerging in the secondary this spring.

Can Mangino turn Iowa State’s offense around?

As a big part of their disappointing 3-9 record last season, the Cyclones ranked ahead of only Kansas in Big 12 scoring offense. As a result, Paul Rhoads fired offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham and brought in Mark Mangino to revive the Iowa State attack. Mangino was offensive coordinator during Oklahoma’s national championship season, and he took Kansas to the Orange Bowl. His track record as an offensive mind is not in dispute. But can he turn around an offense that hasn’t ranked higher than ninth in the Big 12 in scoring since 2005? Mangino will have some pieces to work with. Wideout Quenton Bundrage, running back Aaron Wimberly and quarterback Grant Rohach all had moments in 2013. Whether Mangino can put them in position to produce a lot more of those moments will go a long way in determining if Iowa State can bounce back.

Can Harwell fill Kansas’ go-to WR need?

Kansas’ lack of production at receiver the past few seasons has been astounding. Justin McCay caught a touchdown pass in the 2013 opener to become the first Kansas receiver to catch a touchdown in almost two full seasons. But Kansas receivers would catch only two more touchdowns the rest of the season (for context, Baylor receivers totaled 35 such grabs). Senior transfer Nick Harwell, however, could be the answer to that woeful drought. Two years ago at Miami (Ohio), Harwell led the Mid-American Conference with 7.6 receptions and 96.7 receiving yards per game while earning All-MAC honors. Going into his final college season, Harwell already has 229 receptions for 3,166 yards in his career. Oh yeah, he has 23 touchdowns over those three years, too. The Jayhawks have desperately been in search of a go-to receiver. They’ll find out this spring whether they can stop that search.

What will K-State do with Sams?

Daniel Sams proved to be one of the league’s best playmakers last season, leading all Big 12 quarterbacks with 807 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns. Sams’ role, however, diminished late in the season, as Jake Waters emerged as the majority-of-the-time quarterback. Sams is too dynamic with the ball in his hands to watch games from the sidelines. But Waters isn’t going anywhere at quarterback, either. Before the bowl, Sams hinted that he’d like to try another position to get onto the field more. K-State whiffed on signing a quarterback last month, so Sams will still have to keep ties with his old position for depth purposes. But the spring will also give the Wildcats the opportunity to experiment using Sams elsewhere -- like receiver -- if they so choose.

How will Oklahoma build on the Sugar Bowl?

By beating Alabama, the Sooners notched arguably the program’s most significant win since defeating Florida State all the way back in the 2000 national championship game. After struggling at times during the 2013 season, the Sooners suddenly have the look of a preseason top-five team going into 2014. Yet, in many ways, this is still a very young team. QB Trevor Knight has only five career starts, two of which he left early due to injury. Projected starting running back Keith Ford has loads of potential, but only 23 carries in his college career. And of the returning receivers, only Sterling Shepard delivered more than 13 catches last season. In the Sugar Bowl, OU flashed its capability. And the Sooners have tons of momentum, underscored by their furious recruiting finish. But to be a legitimate national title contender this fall, the Sooners can’t rest on their laurels of besting the Tide. And OU’s young players have to continue building off that experience.

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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Spring football is rapidly approaching.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.
Jake WatersMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsJake Waters threw three touchdown passes, but his timely rushes kept the Wildcats' offense moving.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Jake Waters was reticent. It was all so easy, but it didn't feel right to admit that. Still, the numbers told a story.

Waters was exceptional, leading a dominant offensive effort for Kansas State in a 31-14 win over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. He threw three first-half touchdown passes Saturday night, all to Tyler Lockett. Michigan knew what was coming, yet the Wolverines were powerless to stop it.

Yes, Waters had to admit. It was easy.

"When you have a special player like Tyler, any time he's one-on-one, I'm looking for him," Waters said. "I have that confidence in him, because he's such a special player."

Michigan quarterback Shane Morris had a solid enough game, too. The freshman was making his first career start in place of injured Devin Gardner. He hadn't thrown a pass in a game since Nov. 2, but he was sharp. He completed 15 of 19 throws in the first half. He was cool, composed, confident. But unlike Waters, Morris got little help.

When the game was over and the Kansas State crowd cheered for head coach Bill Snyder as the Wildcats accepted the trophy for their first bowl victory in 11 years, Waters wasn't even on the stage. Lockett was the offensive MVP. The defense had dominated. Waters was a supporting player.

When Michigan slumped off the field, owner of a 7-6 record and loser of five of its final six, Morris was at the forefront. Amid a season gone awry, for a program adrift as it stares down a bleak offseason in which so many areas need to improve dramatically, he offered hope.

"Who knows who will be the quarterback next year?" Morris offered when asked about the future -- a 2014 season in which Gardner is slated to return but wholesale changes appear imminent.

All season, Waters split time with Daniel Sams in a two-quarterback system, but he improved, and so did the team. Kansas State rallied from a 2-4 start to finish as one of the nation's hottest teams.

[+] EnlargeShane Morris
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesShane Morris performed admirably in his first career start, giving Michigan hope for the future.
All season, Morris waited in the wings. A former ESPN150 recruit, he threw just nine passes behind Gardner, and Michigan devolved.

Saturday's meeting was a marker for where both programs now stand. Kansas State is poised for 2014, with Waters and Lockett speaking jubilantly about the future. Michigan is at a crossroads, with Morris a lone bright spot in a finale that included a disastrous defensive effort and another lackluster effort from the ground game.

And yet, in the aftermath, the praise for Waters was limited, offered largely as a side note to Lockett's impressive performance. But even Kansas State's players raved about Morris, who threw 38 passes and finished as Michigan's leading rusher.

"Shane held his own," Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon said.

"You would've thought he was doing it five years now," lineman Taylor Lewan said.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke credited his quarterback, too, but found little consolation in the performance. His job now is to decide whether Morris in an answer to one of many problems.

On the other side, Snyder shrugged off his willingness to stick with Waters for the bulk of the game as simply riding the momentum of a hot hand. But it's Waters and Lockett and Snyder who have all the momentum now. As the page turns on the final chapter of 2013 and they look ahead to what's to come, there isn't simply hope and promise in Manhattan, Kan. There is expectation.

"Ending the season 6-1," Lockett said, "it gives us a lot more to look forward to going into next year."

For Michigan, the future might be the baby-faced quarterback who led the offense to just six points before Saturday's final two minutes, but even that remains a question still unresolved.
It’s not a surprise to see Baylor sitting atop the Big 12 in yards per play. The Bears were one of college football’s most creative and versatile offenses while averaging 7.58 yards per play this season.

The same can be said about the team that sits second in the conference. It brings an explosive, balanced offense that is difficult to prepare for and always has a creative wrinkle. That team? Kansas State.

[+] EnlargeWaters-Sams
Scott Sewell/USA TODAY SportsKansas State's two-quarterback combo of Jake Waters, left, and Daniel Sams keeps opposing defenses off balance.
Creative and explosive aren’t the first words that come to mind when thinking of the Wildcats, but those words describe Bill Snyder’s offense this season as KSU averaged 6.3 yards per play and 33.4 points per game.

“He’s always has a different wrinkle,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said of Snyder’s offense.

The Wildcats’ first touchdown in their 31-10 Sunflower Showdown win over Kansas is a good glimpse at the creativity of the KSU offense. Quarterback Jake Waters found Zach Trujillo for a 35-yard touchdown. The play was blocked like a running play with Waters having the option to run or throw. The run-based design of the play brought Jayhawks safety Isaiah Johnson out of the defensive backfield to try to stop Waters, who appeared to be running on the quarterback draw before he stopped at the line of scrimmage and lofted a throw to Trujillo, who had just slipped behind Johnson. There was nobody within 10 yards of Trujillo as he cruised to the end zone.

Creative and effective.

This season the Wildcats offense has polished its ability to adapt on the fly. With Waters and fellow quarterback Daniel Sams, KSU has used two unique offensive looks to take advantage of their skills. Heading into Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings bowl battle against Michigan, the Wildcats have perfected their offensive approach.

“They present a challenge in that 15 (Waters) can throw it and he’s mobile,” Wolverines defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “No. 4 (Sams) can run it and he can throw it enough to keep you honest. You’ve got a combination of two pretty good things right there. They’ve got a very good offense.”

Several stats provide a better appreciation of the Wildcats’ explosiveness:

  • KSU averaged 6.95 yards per play on first down, second in the Big 12 behind Baylor.
  • The Wildcats clearly enter games with a solid game plan. In the first quarter, 27.9 percent of the Wildcats’ plays gained 10 yards or more, best in the Big 12.
  • The Wildcats scored points 55.8 percent of the time after gaining a first down to start a drive, second in the Big 12 behind Baylor.
  • KSU averaged 2.5 points per drive, second in the Big 12 behind Baylor.
  • The Wildcats converted 47.7 percent of their third-down attempts to lead the Big 12.

KSU has one of the Big 12’s top offenses because the Wildcats make it extremely difficult to prepare for everything they can do. One play, Waters might hit All-Big 12 receiver Tyler Lockett behind the defense. The next play, Sams could be using his running back-like skills to slash through the linebackers on his way to a long run. It’s nearly impossible to thoroughly prepare for all those options.

“It's hard for schools to go back and get a scouting report and scout two quarterbacks,” Lockett said. “You never know who is going to be a quarterback. You never know who you're going to get at quarterback. That kind of hurts them because they try to figure out, 'OK, when this quarterback is in, we need to work on this.' And we might be working on a totally different offensive scheme going against the next team. It keeps teams off balance whenever we play day in and day out.”

And week in and week out, the Kansas State offense dismantles defenses while others get the headlines.

Big 12 predictions: Week 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

To the Week 14 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 0-3 (.000)

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

Trotter overall: 52-18 (.743)

Guest picker overall: 40-13 (.754)

THURSDAY

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

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

SATURDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 11

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

RB John Hubert and QB Daniel Sams, Kansas State: Nobody wants to play Kansas State right now, and this duo has a lot to do with that. On the road at Texas Tech, Hubert rushed for a season-high 157 yards highlighted by a 63-yard touchdown while Sams contributed 81 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-26 victory. When these two get rolling on the same day, K-State is a tough out no matter the opponent.

RB Shock Linwood, Baylor: No Lache Seastrunk, no Glasco Martin, no problem for the versatile Baylor offense. When the Bears' top two backs went down with injuries, Linwood stepped in and rushed for 182 yards on 23 carries in the big 41-12 victory over Oklahoma. Despite being No. 3 on the depth chart, Linwood is sixth in the Big 12 in rushing at 625 yards.

ATH Trevone Boykin, TCU: What position are we supposed to list him at now? Boykin has started six game at quarterback, has a 100-yard receiving performance as a wideout and a 101-yard rushing performance. Against Iowa State, he returned to the backfield and rushed for three touchdowns on five carries while adding four catches for 24 yards. He's doing anything and everything asked of him now that Casey Pachall is back.

DT Desmond Jackson, Texas: This is a little bit of an under-the-radar choice, considering all the scoring that went down in Texas' 47-40 overtime win at West Virginia, but Jackson stepped up when top defensive tackle Chris Whaley was lost to a knee injury. The former starter put up eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery. Whaley is as important a senior leader as UT has on defense, but this line didn't miss a beat thanks to Jackson's immediate impact.

S Lyndell Johnson, Oklahoma State: Following in the trend of honoring key injury fill-ins, we're giving one to Johnson. The Cowboys needed a capable replacement for Shamiel Gary and found one in the junior safety, who earned the start and contributed eight tackles, including three tackles for loss, in a 42-6 win over Kansas.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
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Let's take a look at the top storylines in the Big 12 for Week 11:

1. Can Baylor remain dominant? The Bears have rolled to a 7-0 record, beating opponents by an average of 48 points, best in the nation. Yet Baylor hasn’t seen a team like Oklahoma this season. The Sooners bring talented athletes and a battle-tested coaching staff to Waco, so it will be interesting to see how the Bears respond in their biggest game of the season thus far.

2. Keep an eye on Texas outside of the state of Texas: The Longhorns haven’t exactly dominated when they’ve left their home state. They snuck out of Ames, Iowa, with a 31-30 win against Iowa State and were embarrassed by BYU in a 40-21 loss. If they want to add another brick to their “road to redemption” wall, the Longhorns will have to go to Morgantown and dominate a West Virginia squad that has struggled on offense through much of the season.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Darron CummingsSooners quarterback Blake Bell will have to keep up with Baylor's offense.
3. Don't question the Sooners: Few people are giving the Sooners a chance against Baylor. How will they respond? Oklahoma tends to circle the wagons and accept the challenge when people believe the Sooners are facing long odds. There are a lot of prideful competitors in the program, so don’t expect them to sit back and allow Baylor to embarrass them in front of a national audience.

4. Will Oklahoma State continue to roll? The Cowboys put themselves in the forefront of people’s minds last week with their 52-34 win over Texas Tech in Lubbock. If they really want to send a message, they will have to look dominant against Kansas on Saturday. Quarterback Clint Chelf was outstanding against Texas Tech, earning ESPN.com player of the week honors, but championships are won by consistency, so he needs to play just as well or better against the Jayhawks if Oklahoma State (7-1) wants to put the rest of the conference on notice.

5. Which unit in the crosshairs steps up in Thursday’s matchup? Oklahoma’s offense is in the spotlight, as everyone knows the Sooners want to control the game while scoring points if they expect to beat Baylor. The Bears' defense has been overlooked, but it has been just as impressive as their offense. They have the chance to prove themselves against OU.

6. Is Texas walking into a trap in Morgantown? The Mountaineers have been showing signs of improvement each week, topped off by their overtime win against TCU last week. Are they ready to take down Texas? Probably not. But if the Longhorns come in lacking focus in any way, the Mountaineers do have the talent and competitiveness to make them pay dearly.

7. Will Texas Tech get back to its winning ways? The Red Raiders are coming off back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and risk letting people brush off their outstanding 7-0 start if they lose to Kansas State. If they want to prove it wasn’t just a mirage, they have to beat the Wildcats in Lubbock.

8. Has Kansas State found its identity? On the flip side, K-State seems to have found a rhythm and confidence on offense, as its use of quarterbacks Daniel Sams and Jake Waters is becoming a strength of the offensive attack. The Wildcats have started taking better care of the football and likely won’t beat themselves against the Red Raiders. Look for K-State to play the type of sound football that could expose some of the inexperience on Texas Tech's roster.

9. Which team will finally get a win: TCU or Iowa State? The two have combined to go 1-9 in their past 10 games. Iowa State has been decimated by injuries and TCU isn’t far behind in that respect. The Cyclones have placed Grant Rohach atop the depth chart at quarterback as they try to find confidence on offense. TCU's offense looked much improved last week with Casey Pachall throwing to Trevone Boykin to spark the Horned Frogs, yet turnovers again kept them out of the winner’s circle. Both teams need a win badly, just for morale's sake.

10. Is Montell the future at quarterback for KU? Kansas took the redshirt off quarterback Montell Cozart for a reason and are working the true freshman into the game plan each week. He’s showing signs of improvement, and Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State could provide the freshman another chance to show he can make plays against a quality team.

Big 12 predictions: Week 11

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

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

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

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

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

To the Week 11 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 2-2 (.500)

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

Trotter overall: 43-14 (.754)

Guest picker overall: 29-11 (.725)

THURSDAY

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

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

SATURDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Here’s what to watch in the Big 12 for Week 10.

Will Texas Tech rebound after losing to the Sooners? Kliff Kingsbury’s squad pulled out all the stops in their 38-30 setback in Norman. Fake punt returns, halfback passes, onside kicks, nothing was left on the table. Yet, they still lost. It had to be deflating for the Red Raiders. But TTU comes back home to Lubbock with the realization that its Big 12 title hopes remain intact with Oklahoma State, Texas and Baylor remaining on their schedule. If they simply win out and get some help with another conference loss by the Sooners, their title hopes would be well within reach.

Will Oklahoma State remind people it remains in the Big 12 title hunt? The Cowboys still control their destiny with the rest of the top half of the league still on their schedule. OSU can send a message that it has been forgotten during discussions about the Big 12 with a road win in a tough night environment in Lubbock. Multiple starters remain from the 2011 Big 12 title squad so don’t expect the Cowboys to sit back and watch the title be decided without having their say.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports
Can Texas look dominant for the third game in a row? The Longhorns still have doubters thanks to their stumbling, bumbling start to the season. Yet they sit at the top of the Big 12 standings unbeaten in conference play alongside Baylor and have been as impressive as any team in the league during their past two games. If they come out and hammer Kansas, it will display the type of consistency that tends to be a trait of championship squads.

Will Roland keep rollin’? OSU running back Desmond Roland set a career high with 219 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his first collegiate start. What will he do as an encore against a Red Raider defense that has allowed 460 rushing yards in their past two games? TTU will likely try to take the running game away and force Clint Chelf to beat them with his arm.

Who will be the best running back on the turf at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium? Texas’ Johnathan Gray (93.71 rushing yards per game) and Kansas’ James Sims (84.14 ypg) sit at No. 2 and 3 among the Big 12 leaders for rushing yards per game behind Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk (124.14). Clearly, Gray has more help as he strives to make plays but Sims did rush for 176 yards against the Longhorns last season. It should be fun to see two of the Big 12’s top running backs in action on the same field.

How strong is OSU’s defense? The Cowboys are, statistically, one of the best defensive units seen in Stillwater in recent memory. Yet they haven’t seen anything like they will see against Texas Tech on Saturday. The Red Raiders feature a bag full of tricks and receiving corps full of treats unlike any other in the conference. Jace Amaro is an automatic mismatch, Eric Ward can make teams pay for leaving him in one-on-one situations, Jakeem Grant is slippery and fast and Bradley Marquez will hit you with a big play when you least expect it. Few envy the task of Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer this weekend.

Can Kansas State’s two-quarterback system continue to excel? Each week Bill Snyder is asked about his two-quarterback system and the Wildcats’ head coach commonly responds by saying both guys are good players who can help his team win. While far from colorful, his consistent message is dead-on accurate. Daniel Sams has caused havoc for Big 12 defenses all season and when West Virginia came out with a plan to stop Sams, Jake Waters promptly made the Mountaineers’ pay with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to spark KSU’s win. There's no reason to think the two-quarterback system won't continue to excel against Iowa State on Saturday.

Can WVU finally finish? Every week the Mountaineers show more and more signs that they are starting to find a rhythm. While many are quick to brush WVU off, the Mountaineers would have beaten Tech and K-State if they made key plays when it mattered in the fourth quarter. If they ever finally learn how to finish, they could finish the season with a strong final month, starting Saturday at TCU.

Will Casey Pachall look better in his second game back? Pachall didn’t look like the savior against Texas in his first game back from injury last Saturday but he still represents the biggest reason for hope as TCU tries to battle its way into a bowl game. If he looks like a healthy and confident Pachall against WVU and leads the Horned Frogs' offense to a high-scoring output, it would be hard to bet against Gary Patterson’s squad finding its way into a bowl game.

Someone help Quenton Bundrage: No, seriously, anyone? Bundrage keeps finding ways to make an impact on games despite not having another consistent threat alongside him in Iowa State’s offense. The Cyclones have been ravaged by injuries, but it would be interesting to see what the sophomore could do with someone alongside him forcing defenses to account for them. Regardless, Bundrage is a name to watch against KSU on Saturday.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
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Taking stock of Week 9 in the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiBlake Bell answered his critics with a big performance in Saturday's victory over previously unbeaten Texas Tech.
Team of the week: After three scuffling weeks, Oklahoma finally broke out with an inspiring 38-30 win over Texas Tech. Most encouraging, QB Blake Bell had his best game since Notre Dame. On a second-quarter touchdown drive that finally got the Sooners going offensively, Bell completed 3 of 4 passes on third downs for 45 yards. After the lone third-down incompletion, Bell rushed for 10 yards on fourth-and-2 to the Texas Tech 14. Two plays later, he found Jalen Saunders for a touchdown. That kind of drive inspires confidence as the Sooners get ready for Baylor -- both for Bell in himself, and for the Sooners in their quarterback.

Disappointment of the week: West Virginia had begun to show signs of life offensively, scoring 30, 42 and 27 points, respectively, in its previous three games. But the Mountaineers took a major step back at Kansas State on both sides of the ball. After taking a 12-7 lead early in the third quarter, West Virginia was thoroughly outplayed the rest of the way. K-State scored four unanswered touchdowns on the next four drives while the Mountaineers mustered nothing, as the Wildcats coasted to a 35-12 win. West Virginia can still get to a bowl game. But the margin for error is running out.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Oklahoma State running back Desmond Roland, K-State QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters and Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard.

Roland proved he’s the Cowboys’ most effective running back, racking up a career-high 219 yards and four touchdowns in his first game as a featured back. His 58-yard rumble in the third quarter essentially put Iowa State away.

Sams and Waters were stellar in K-State’s win over West Virginia. The dual-threat duo combined to complete 18 of 21 passes for 291 yards and four touchdowns through the air, and ran for 71 yards.

This will be the last time Millard will be eligible for any game recognition. He tore his ACL in the fourth quarter covering a kick. On the previous drive, he took a pass and hurdled a Tech defender for a 14-yard gain to set up a touchdown from the Tech 3. Millard was also tremendous all game as the lead blocker for Damien Williams, Roy Finch and Brennan Clay. Millard’s great career in Norman comes to a close.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Texas linebacker Steve Edmond, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and K-State safety Ty Zimmerman.

Edmond led a Texas defense that completely shut down TCU in the Longhorns’ 30-7 win. He had an interception, two pass breakups and helped thwart the TCU running attack.

Gilbert had a pick-six early that gave OSU an early 14-0 lead. He added three tackles and a pass breakup.

Zimmerman spearheaded the Wildcats defensively with 12 tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. The forced fumble of West Virginia QB Clint Trickett set up a K-State touchdown that put the Wildcats ahead 28-12 in the fourth quarter, effectively putting the game away.

Special-teams players of the week: Everyone involved with the Texas Tech punt return and kickoff coverage teams. Trey Haverty’s units masterfully executed a pair of maneuvers in the third quarter that almost allowed Tech to knock off the Sooners. Down 21-14, deep man Jordan Davis ran away from the ball to draw the OU punt coverage team toward him. Toward the other side of the field, where the ball actually was, Tanner Jacobson scooped up the ball on the bounce and returned it 17 yards. The play set up a field goal. Immediately after the field goal, Kramer Fyfe's onside kick was recovered by Summitt Hogue. Three plays later, the Red Raiders were in the end zone to take a 24-21 lead.

Play of the week: For the second straight week, Oklahoma wide receiver Lacoltan Bester takes this category. After the Sooners fell behind 24-21, Oklahoma dialed up a double reverse pass for Bester -- the same play that resulted in a touchdown pass last week. But with no one to throw to this time, Bester took off and weaved his way through the Tech defense 35 yards for a touchdown. The Sooners never trailed again.

Stat of the week: By defeating Kansas 59-14, Baylor extended its winning streak to 11 games dating back to last season, the longest winning streak in Baylor history.

Quote of the week: “They’ve all had a goal and a dream to play on Sunday, and now they’ve done it.” -- Longhorns coach Mack Brown, after the weather-delayed Texas-TCU game went past midnight

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
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The conference race is beginning to heat up:

1. Baylor (7-0, 4-0 Big 12, last week 1): Baylor dominated the first portion of the schedule. Now, comes the defining part. The Bears’ next three opponents (Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State) are all ranked. The season finale against Texas could be a load, too. Baylor remains the favorite to win the league. But are the Bears truly national title contenders? We’re about to find out.

2. Texas (5-2, 4-0 Big 12, last week 3): After Bryce Petty, who is the one QB in the Big 12 you’d want quarterbacking your team. Davis Webb? Daniel Sams? Maybe. But you could make a serious argument for Case McCoy. The career backup has been terrific since taking over for David Ash, leading the Longhorns to a 4-0 Big 12 record, including wins over Oklahoma and TCU. In those two games, McCoy totaled Adjusted QBRs was 83.9 and 95.4. The Longhorns are a contender again in the Big 12. And McCoy is a major reason why.

3. Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1 Big 12, last week 5): Few teams in college football have had to deal with more injury adversity than the Sooners. After losing its best defensive lineman (Jordan Phillips) and best linebacker (Corey Nelson), OU lost its most valuable offensive player Saturday night when fullback Trey Millard suffered a season-ending knee injury. That’s a huge blow to the Sooners’ power running game, which is really the biggest strength of this team. OU’s best chance of knocking off Baylor a week from Thursday is by running at them. That won’t be easy without Millard leading the way.

4. Texas Tech (7-1, 4-1 Big 12, last week 2): The Red Raiders might have suffered their first defeat in Norman. But what recruit watching that game wouldn’t want to go play for Kliff Kingsbury? The Red Raiders seemingly always play to win, and as a result, are one fun team to watch. The silver lining in this game is that Texas Tech never lost its poise, even after a questionable offensive pass interference call and three turnovers all in OU territory. That poise, which is a reflection of the head coach, will serve the Red Raiders well the rest of the season.

5. Oklahoma State (6-1, 3-1 Big 12, last week 4): At some point, you are who you are. And the Cowboys are not a very good team at quarterback. After completing 4-of-5 passes to begin the game at Iowa State, Clint Chelf went just 6-of-21 the rest of the way. At least OSU found its running back in Desmond Roland, who piled up 219 yards and four touchdowns on 26 carries after getting the start over Jeremy Smith and Rennie Childs. Even if Roland keeps running that way, it’s difficult seeing the Cowboys as Big 12 contenders without a competent passing attack.

6. Kansas State (3-4, 1-3 Big 12, last week 7): Finally at full strength, K-State blasted West Virginia 35-12 to secure its first Big 12 win of the season. The Wildcats are better than their record indicates. And with Daniel Sams’ confidence throwing the ball growing with each game, K-State will be a dangerous team down the stretch -- and a good bet to become bowl eligible.

7. West Virginia (3-5, 1-4 Big 12, last week 6): Nobody in the Big 12 has played a tougher schedule than the Mountaineers, who have already faced five of the top six teams in the league. But has the rugged start left West Virginia too demoralized to recover and still make a bowl?

8. TCU (3-5, 1-4 Big 12, last week 8): The Texas game revealed a lot about where the Horned Frogs are. And where are they? Pretty much in shambles. Casey Pachall’s return to QB did little to alleviate the overwhelming problems offensively. Now, the players’ preseason pick to win the Big 12 is unlikely to even become bowl eligible. The college football season can’t end fast enough in Fort Worth.

9. Iowa State (1-6, 0-4 Big 12, last week 9): We wondered whether Iowa State would fight back against Oklahoma State after a demoralizing loss to Baylor last week. Even after a horrible start Saturday, the Cyclones did. After falling behind 28-7, Iowa State clawed its way back into the game before halftime. That showed character. This season has not gone Iowa State’s way. But the Cyclones showed over the weekend they’re not going to give up, either.

10. Kansas (2-5, 0-4 Big 12, last week 10): The Jayhawks have actually been fast starters. They led Tech, 10-0. Led OU, 13-0. And were tied with TCU, 10-10. They gave Baylor problems early in their game over the weekend. I don’t know what this means. I’m just trying to find something positive to say.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
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Here's what we learned about the Big 12 from Week 9:

1. Texas Tech is no fraud: The Red Raiders might not have come out of Norman with a victory. But unlike the ’02 and ’08 teams, they came to play the Sooners. Tech never lost its poise, even when down two touchdowns, and executed a series of trick plays to retake the lead in the third quarter. Ultimately, the Red Raiders committed too many killer penalties and turned the ball over too many times to beat Oklahoma on its home field. But the Red Raiders also proved their 7-0 start was not a mirage. Kliff Kingsbury’s aggressive game plan showed why he’s a rising star in the coaching ranks. And even in defeat, Tech showed it’s still a team that could win 10 games this season -- and it's a program with a bright future.

[+] EnlargeDesmond Roland
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma State has found its running back after Desmond Roland rushed for a career-high 219 yards and four touchdowns against Iowa State.
2. Desmond Roland is Oklahoma State’s best running back: The Cowboys still can’t throw the ball. But at least in Ames, they found their running back, as Roland at last got the Oklahoma State running game going. On 26 carries, he racked up a career-high 219 yards and four touchdowns to lift the Cowboys to a 58-27 win at Iowa State. His 58-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, in which he rumbled over Cyclone after Cyclone, gave the Cowboys a 38-20 lead and the Pokes some breathing room after a sloppy second quarter. The passing game remains a mess. In his first start since the opener, Clint Chelf threw for just 78 yards and completed just 10 of 26 passes. But at least in Roland, the Cowboys now have someone they can run their offense through going into next weekend’s showdown at Texas Tech.

3. The OU win wasn’t a one-game anomaly for Texas: The Longhorns moved to 4-0 in the Big 12 with a dominating 30-7 victory at TCU. They also showed that the win over Oklahoma two weeks ago wasn’t a fluke. Texas carried over its winning recipe from the Red River win into Fort Worth. They fed the ball to running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, who churned out another 145 yards on the ground against a tough TCU defense. Quarterback Case McCoy made some big throws downfield to Mike Davis and Marcus Johnson. And the defense forced turnovers. This is not the same club that got pummeled by BYU and Ole Miss earlier in the season. The Longhorns are quickly gaining confidence, and for good reason, are beginning to believe they could bring the Big 12 title to Austin.

4. K-State is better than its record: After suffering four tough losses, including three in the league, Kansas State finally got its first Big 12 win with an impressive 35-12 pasting of West Virginia. Jake Waters and Daniel Sams were fabulous throwing the ball, combining to complete 18 of 21 passes. And receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson were terrific in their returns from injuries, totaling four touchdown receptions. This was a game the Wildcats had to have to make a bowl game. And at 3-4, K-State still has work to do. But the Wildcats sure looked like a bowl team against West Virginia. Given the remaining schedule, K-State is a good bet to get to six wins.

5. Baylor will be humming entering the defining part of its schedule: The Bears have yet to face a ranked opponent. But after their 45-point win at Kansas, they will head into a Nov. 7 tilt with Oklahoma still on a roll. Once again, QB Bryce Petty was on target with 430 passing yards and three touchdowns, while Lache Seastrunk spearheaded another impressive ground game for Baylor. The Bears have been the most impressive team in the Big 12 by far. They remain the league favorite. Yet their mettle is about to be tested. The Bears face ranked opponents (Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State) in their next three games, a defining stretch that will determine whether they are truly a national title contender. But after another dominating performance, Baylor will go into that stretch healthy, with all pistons firing.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
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A huge showdown in Norman, a statement game in Fort Worth and a must-win game (for both teams) in Manhattan are just a few of the many things we’ll be keeping an eye on Saturday. Here’s what to watch in the Big 12 for Week 9:

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
AP Photo/Chris JacksonOklahoma will be the biggest test to date for Davis Webb and undefeated Texas Tech.
1. Time to earn that top-10 ranking, Red Raiders. Texas Tech debuted at No. 10 in the initial BCS standings thanks to the not-so-fine work of five top-10 teams who lost last week. This week, the nation finds out just how good these Red Raiders really are. Oklahoma has been in an unmistakably odd funk the past two weeks but is still the No. 15 team in the country. A win by any margin in Norman would be huge.

2. So … who’s Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback? Hate to be intellectually lazy and go for the low-hanging fruit, but this battle is ultimately a pretty big deal in the context of the Big 12 title race. Clint Chelf finally got the second chance he’d been waiting for and helped Oklahoma State finish off TCU last week. Does Mike Gundy go with the fairly logical choice of starting Chelf against Iowa State and working in J.W. Walsh as a run-pass option? Does Walsh win his job back in practice this week? Or, more important, will OSU even have an answer to its QB question after Saturday?

3. Sooners looking to plug the leaks. Since losing Corey Nelson and Jordan Phillips for the season, Oklahoma has given up a combined 440 rushing yards the past two weeks. This is still, statistically, the No. 1 pass defense in the country, but you know Kliff Kingsbury will draw up a plan to try to exploit OU’s deficiencies up the middle early on. And he did operate the No. 1 rushing offense in the SEC last season, so it’s not as if he’s afraid to lean on his rushing attack if necessary. The Sooners have to find some answers this weekend.

4. Does TCU keep its up-down streak one more week? Through seven games, the Horned Frogs have followed every loss with a win … and every win with a loss. So, following the loss in Stillwater last Saturday, doesn’t this week call for a victory over Texas? The timing might be just right. The Longhorns, after all, are coming to Fort Worth bursting with confidence following their Oklahoma victory and would be in trouble if they underestimate TCU.

5. Rebuilding West Virginia’s confidence. West Virginia defensive coordinator Keith Patterson had one of the best, most honest quotes of the Big 12 season this week when he said this about WVU’s 73-42 loss to Baylor: "The deal at Baylor was unlike anything I've ever been associated with in my life. It was just catastrophic in a lot of ways to our psyche." Then Texas Tech escaped Morgantown with a 37-27 win. The big question is if the Mountaineers defense will respond this week against Kansas State.

6. Is the Texas defense becoming legit? Texas’ defense made such drastic improvements against Oklahoma, in so many areas, that you have to wonder how much was the Longhorns’ doing and how much was OU ineptitude. Greg Robinson got another two weeks to work with the defense since that win, and a repeat performance -- even against a struggling TCU outfit -- would send a message that Texas is in fact on the right track.

7. What does Sams do for an encore? Remember, anyone and everyone still has a shot at winning the silver medal at quarterback in the Big 12. In his most significant action of the season, quarterback Daniel Sams rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries and gave Baylor a serious test two weeks ago. That wasn’t enough to end K-State’s losing streak, but a similar performance against West Virginia might be more than enough for a 'W.'

8. Can Iowa State get its magic back? So it’s not exactly on par with Iowa State’s revered "Hilton Magic" home-court advantage in basketball, but the Cyclones have pulled off a few upsets at Jack Trice Stadium. You might remember the big one from 2011, when ISU stunned No. 2 Oklahoma State in two overtimes on Nov. 18. Think Paul Rhoads is going to use a little tape from that game as motivation this week? His teams are good for one big upset every year, and the Pokes already have suffered that road loss at West Virginia.

9. Can Kansas find a weakness in the Baylor D? Kansas running back James Sims is coming off probably his best game this season, a 129-yard, two-touchdown performance against a typically difficult Oklahoma defense. He played a big role in KU’s early 13-0 lead in that game. Can he make a dent against Baylor’s defense? We’ll also be keeping an eye on true freshman quarterback Montell Cozart, who could be called upon as a rushing weapon in this game and just might catch the Bears by surprise.

10. Will Baylor surpass 70 again? Maybe the better question is, will Baylor cover? The Bears are 34.5-point favorites entering their trip to Kansas. This game is basically the Big 12’s version of Broncos versus Jaguars, except for one thing: The Bears have played on the road only once this season and were held to 35 points by Kansas State. A win over KU probably won’t impress many, but road play is one of the only question marks facing Baylor at this point.

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