NCF Nation: Devonte Fields

Devonte Fields is running out of second chances. He needs to recognize that as he leaves for Stephen F. Austin.

A story that began with incredible promise ended Wednesday with a Twitter post and a quiet exit. Fields, the Big 12's preseason Defensive Player of the Year, is leaving TCU and the trouble he created there behind to start over at the FCS level.

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTroubled former TCU defensive end Devonte Fields is looking for a new start at FCS Stephen F. Austin.
He'll be able to play right away for the Lumberjacks. He'll move to Nacogdoches, Texas, a small East Texas town 200 miles from home, and perhaps that'll help him stay out of trouble. But Fields is bringing with him a reputation badly in need of repair.

Gary Patterson deserves credit for trying to make this work. Fields put the first strike on his record just two weeks after signing with TCU in 2012 after being arrested for marijuana possession. When he violated team rules after his freshman season, Patterson handed down a two-game suspension.

The Horned Frogs stood by Fields in January, too, when he was attacked, robbed and threatened at gunpoint at his home. When he got back on the field this spring for the first time since a foot injury ended his sophomore season early, TCU coaches didn't take it easy on him. They downplayed the hype and even listed him as a backup on the post-spring depth chart in the hopes of further motivating him.

And until a few weeks ago, it seemed like this story was positioned to end happily. The local kid makes good, learns from his mistakes and becomes a star again. Big 12 reporters weren't dumb to gives Fields the league's top preseason defensive honor. As his 10-sack rookie year proved, he's a special talent.

But Fields allegedly did something no amount of talent can overcome. He can escape to SFA, but he can't run away from the misdemeanor assault charges he was arrested for on July 24.

Fields denies he assaulted ex-girlfriend Haley Brown, and she has recanted her claim that a handgun was involved. The legal process over whether Fields punched her in the face still isn't over. Still, TCU was right to sever ties by calling Fields "separated" from the program.

He'd been given more than enough chances and warnings. He broke the trust he'd attempted to rebuild this spring.

What Patterson is left with now is a defense that still could be one of the Big 12's best. There are quality players at every level of the unit, led by defensive tackle Chucky Hunter, safety Sam Carter and cornerback Kevin White. Terrell Lathan, TCU's returning sacks leader with five in 2013, can take over Fields' spot.

The Frogs fielded the No. 2 total defense and No. 1 run defense in the league last season without Fields. But he did bring star power and playmaking ability to this group that's impossible to match.

Now Fields will seek a new beginning with the Lumberjacks. He'll have to convince first-year coach Clint Conque he's committed and focused on keeping his slate clean. If Fields does gets his act together, he'll face a familiar foe in his first career game at SFA: Kansas State.

That's the first of 12 opportunities for the 6-foot-6, 250-pound lineman to prove he's still one of the nation's most dominant pass rushers. He is eligible to enter the NFL draft after the season, but whether the league will want him depends on how Fields utilizes these next 10 months.

The abrupt end of his TCU career is a sad ordeal for all involved. But now is the time for Fields to take responsibility. He's getting a do-over, and you hope he's learned some lessons.

Fields has at least learned one thing over and over again: He's one slip-up away from squandering it all. If his stint in Nacogdoches ends the way his TCU career did Wednesday, he'll have no one to blame but himself. His next chance just might be his last.

Big 12 media days takeaways

July, 23, 2014
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DALLAS -- Big 12 media days have come and gone. Some of the storylines (Dairy Queen, fake watches) were silly. Others were far more serious. Here are some of the takeaways from this year’s edition of media days:

Baylor has a chip on its shoulder: Despite winning the Big 12 last season and returning the Big 12 offensive player of the year in quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor was voted second in the conference’s preseason poll behind Oklahoma. The Bears clearly felt a bit disrespected while in Dallas this week. "That comes with being Baylor," defensive end Shawn Oakman said. "We're gonna be great one day and y'all are gonna notice." The Bears were pretty great last season, stomping the Sooners 41-12 on the way to their first Big 12 title. "That game from OU last year, that should have showed you that that product was nowhere near as good as the product that Baylor was putting on the field," Oakman said. "The execution, the players from each and every position ... You could tell we were on a different level from OU." Still getting picked to finish behind Oklahoma has given the Bears extra fuel for this season. "In our minds, we’re still underdogs," Oakman said. "We play with a chip on our shoulder. You only get the respect if you earn it."

Stoops is loose as a goose: The loosest coach at Big 12 media days might have been Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. He was cracking jokes, photo-bombing his wife’s TV interview (she was there for a Mary Kay convention) and taking a break between interview sessions to grab a strawberry smoothie. He even chided Alabama coach Nick Saban for suggesting the Crimson Tide didn’t care about being in the Sugar Bowl. "So if I’m not in a national championship game, that means I’ve got a built-in excuse?" Stoops said. Such bravado could be a sign that Stoops thinks he has a pretty good team. With Trevor Knight at quarterback and nine starters back defensively, it’s not hard to see why.

TCU has a big problem: Though they had already left, the Horned Frogs were the story the second day of Big 12 media days. Defensive end Devonte Fields, who last week was voted the league's preseason defensive player of the year, was accused of pulling a gun on his ex-girlfriend. TCU acted quickly after the news surfaced, claiming it had "separated" from Fields. If any part of the allegations levied against Fields are true, it’s difficult to see him ever playing another game in the Big 12. That is a big loss for the league. And an even bigger one for TCU, which is attempting to bounce back from one of its worst seasons in the Gary Patterson era.

Strong believes in Ash: The biggest question mark in Charlie Strong’s first season as coach at Texas is quarterback. More specifically, quarterback David Ash. But even though Ash missed virtually all of last season with concussion issues, then the spring with a fractured foot, Strong said he was impressed with Ash when watching old game film. "When Ash is healthy, he played very well," Strong said. All signs point to Ash being the starter when the Longhorns open the season. Whether he can be consistent and be healthy could go a long way in dictating how Strong’s first season goes, too.

Bowlsby does not believe in the NCAA: According to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, cheating pays. And the enforcement wing of the NCAA is broken. Bowlsby painted a bleak future for the NCAA, also predicting that Olympic sports could be in trouble down the line. "If you like intercollegiate athletics the way it is, you're going to hate it going forward," he said. "There's a lot of change coming." Because of its popularity, football will always be fine. But with lawsuits and athletic department expenses about to rise dramatically, Bowlsby thinks something will have to give.

Everyone’s mind is on the playoff, even if all minds don’t quite get it: The inaugural College Football Playoff was one of the big topics of conversation this week. The Big 12 coaches all believe the league is positioned strongly for inclusion, thanks to a robust nonconference slate of games and a nine-game conference schedule. Many players, however, weren’t well-informed about how the playoff will work. One didn’t know how many teams would be in it. Another thought every conference champ automatically advanced to it. And still another had no idea just how the playoff would be picked. The playoff is going to be an adjustment for college football fans. There is going to be an adjustment for the players, too.

Trickett was always the guy: According to West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, Clint Trickett was always going to be this season’s starting quarterback. It was just a matter of him getting cleared medically. "We wanted him to be the guy," Holgorsen said. "We had to wait and see how he did coming off the shoulder surgery." Holgorsen said there was little the other West Virginia quarterbacks could have done this spring to unseat Trickett, who sat out while recovering from the shoulder injury. "He was the best option we had this year, he was the best option we had last year," Holgorsen said. "Once I was pleased with what I saw, it was a no-brainer to me."

Hill will get the ball a lot: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has had some talented offensive players over the years. But Gundy said it has been a long time since the Cowboys had a playmaker like juco running back Tyreek Hill. "He's very fast," said Gundy, comparing him to former West Virginia standout Tavon Austin. "He gets [past] that first level [of the defense] and no one is caching him." Gundy wants Hill to touch the ball at least 20 times a game. Whether he’s at running back or lined up in the slot, Hill is going to be the focal point of the Oklahoma State attack.

Snyder is still the man: Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is 74 years old, just two years younger than former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who popped by media days Monday night. But Snyder is still coaching strong, with a team that was voted third in the preseason poll behind co-favorites Oklahoma and Baylor. Apparently everyone should eat only one meal a day.
Several Big 12 players popped up on the watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded to college football's best defensive player, and the Outland Trophy, given to the best interior lineman.

Here are the Big 12 players that made each list:

Nagurski
Outland

Already this week, the Maxwell (player of the year), Bednarik (defensive player of the year), Hornung (most versatile player), Mackey (best tight end), Rimington (best center), Groza (best kicker) and Guy (best punter) watch lists have come.

Below is the rest of the preseason watch list schedule:

Friday, July 11
- Jim Thorpe Award, best defensive back

Monday, July 14
- Butkus Award, best linebacker
- Lombardi Award, best lineman

Tuesday, July 15
- Biletnikoff Award, best receiver

Wednesday, July 16
- Davey O’Brien Award, best quarterback.

Thursday, July 17
- Doak Walker Award, best running back

Friday, July 18
- Walter Camp Award, best player
Devonte Fields, Shawn OakmanIcon SMI, USA TODAY SportsTCU DE Devonte Fields returns motivated after missing most of last season with an injury and Baylor DE Shawn Oakman has been unblockable this spring, but will this excitement carry into the fall?

This week's "Take Two" topic: Which Big 12 defensive player impressed you the most this spring?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon -- TCU DE Devonte Fields

Fields is back.

Watch out Big 12. The TCU defensive end is one of the league’s top defenders when healthy and his absence in 2013 played as big a role as any in the Horned Frogs' disappointing season. Explosive and athletic, Fields can dominate games when he’s healthy and has the right mental approach. His 10 sacks in 13 games as a freshman was a glimpse at the production he could provide this fall.

TCU loses a potential first round pick in cornerback Jason Verrett but could be gaining one in Fields, who TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpus said was “not only back to where he was, he’s past where he was.” If that’s the case, it’s a troubling thought for Big 12 offensive tackles.

Fields showed he has the ability to change games during his true freshman season in 2012 so if he can return to that type of form in 2014, he could spark the Horned Frogs into the Big 12 title race and put himself in the running to earn Big 12 Defensive player of the year honors.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Baylor DE Shawn Oakman

What Fields showed this spring was impressive, but it wasn’t really surprising. When healthy and motivated, Fields is one of the best defensive linemen in the Big 12, if not the country. This spring, Fields was healthy again after recovering from last year’s season-ending foot surgery. And, apparently, he was motivated.

That’s why I’m going with Oakman here.

Baylor coach Art Briles isn’t often prone to hyperbole. But he can't help himself when discussing Oakman or the potential of his defensive line.

“Same thing I’ve thought all spring, we can’t block him,” said Briles, when asked for his thoughts on Oakman's dominating performance in Baylor’s spring game. “And I don’t think anyone else will, either. I think our D-line is as good as anybody in America, and he’s just one out of about six or seven in there that are going to be dominant, dynamic players for us in the fall, no doubt.”

At 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, Oakman has the combination of size and speed to be as dominant as any defensive lineman in the league, which, with the likes of Fields, is saying quite a bit. If the Baylor offense had problems with Oakman this spring, what offense won’t next season?

We already knew Fields had star potential. The same goes for Oklahoma outside linebacker Eric Striker, Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller and Texas defensive end Cedric Reed.

After a dominating spring, it appears that Oakman does, too.

And that’s why, to me, he was most impressive.

TCU DE Fields healthy, hungry again

April, 24, 2014
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FORT WORTH, Texas -- The highs of 2012 were as good as it gets. The lows of 2013 were a frustrating test. And now, finally, Devonte Fields is back.

TCU coaches aren't ready to say the former Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year is playing his best football just yet, but there's little rust on a pass rusher who conquered the conference as a freshman in 2012.

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsNow healthy, Devonte Fields is working to returning to his All-Big 12 form of 2012.
"We’re cautiously optimistic about him,” TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas said Tuesday on the Big 12 teleconference.

After racking up 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss in his debut season, Fields' follow-up was no doubt frustrating. He was suspended for the opener against LSU and was held out for most of the following game. He suffered a foot injury in the third game against Texas Tech, tried to give it a go against Oklahoma State, and then he was done.

He'll receive a medical redshirt for the time missed in 2013 after electing to have foot surgery, but what can Fields make of his second chance as a sophomore season?

"We’ll have to see. He had a good spring, really came on at the end of spring," TCU coach Gary Patterson said to ESPN.com this month. "School-wise and everything, he’s just understanding when much is given, much is asked. Now he needs to finish the semester and needs to have a great summer."

What Bumpas finds encouraging is the fact that TCU's strength and conditioning coach says Fields is indeed stronger today than before the injury.

"He's not only back to where he was, he's past where he was," Bumpas said. "He's getting his strength back, his foot feels good and he's starting to show up and make plays again."

Patterson is excited about pairing Fields with junior Terrell Lathan and redshirt sophomore Josh Carraway, giving the Frogs an experienced trio at end to go along with one of the league's best defensive tackle combos of Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson.

Following up what he did as a freshman put serious pressure on Fields, and Patterson could see that in his play.

"Last year I think he was trying to do too much," Patterson said. "For him, staying below the water with nothing going on, going to school and also becoming a pass rusher, all that stuff will come together. But he needs to do the things that are important."

Right now, that's staying healthy, taking care of his business off the field and, in time, getting even better than the lineman who tore up the Big 12 two years ago.
Immediately after the national championship game, colleague Mark Schlabach released his Way-Too-Early Top 25. In concert, below is our Way-Too-Early Big 12 power poll. This could change between now and the end of the spring. In fact, it probably will. But this is a first look at how the Big 12 teams stack up against one another for 2014:

1. Oklahoma Sooners

In the Allstate Sugar Bowl, freshman Trevor Knight finally played like the quarterback that had been drawing comparisons to Johnny Manziel behind Oklahoma’s closed practices. The Sooners lose some cornerstone players to graduation, notably running back Brennan Clay, center Gabe Ikard, receiver Jalen Saunders and cornerback Aaron Colvin. But with Knight and budding running back Keith Ford returning to man the backfield, and nine starters coming back defensively, including menacing outside linebacker Eric Striker, Oklahoma could be a favorite in every game next season -- and a force once again on the national stage.

2. Baylor Bears

Even with running back Lache Seastrunk going pro, the Bears return plenty of firepower offensively. Bryce Petty will be the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback, and Antwan Goodley will be coming off a monster junior season. Rising sophomore Shock Linwood showed he could shoulder the rushing load, too, when Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were banged up late in the season. The Bears, however, could take a step back defensively. Baylor, which got torched for 52 points in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, loses six starters there, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon and All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Former blue-chip defensive tackle recruit Andrew Billings will need to step up and become more of a force. Even if the defense stumbles, Baylor should be capable of scoring enough points to win every game on its schedule, thanks to coach Art Briles being back on its sidelines.

3. Kansas State Wildcats

Along with Missouri, the Wildcats were the first two teams left out of Schlabach’s Top 25. But they make a compelling case for inclusion. Quarterback Jake Waters improved dramatically during the second half of the season, eventually squeezing Daniel Sams out of the QB rotation. Wideout Tyler Lockett could be a preseason All-American, after torching Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan for a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The defense should be better, too, with sack artist Ryan Mueller back at end, and rising junior safety Dante Barnett set to take over for the outgoing Ty Zimmerman as leader of the secondary. The Wildcats will be tested early with national runner-up Auburn visiting Manhattan on Sept. 20. If K-State can win that game, the rest of the Big 12 will be on notice.

4. Texas Longhorns

During his introductory news conference on Monday, new Texas coach Charlie Strong said Mack Brown left him with a team that could win right away. Strong might be right. The Longhorns return eight starters off a defense that found its stride under interim coordinator Greg Robinson. Texas also brings back six starters offensively and its entire running back corps, including Malcolm Brown, who rushed for more than 100 yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A big part of Mack Brown’s downfall, however, was quarterback play, and that once again will be a huge question mark in Strong’s first season. David Ash sat out most of this season with concussion issues, making his football future tenuous. Tyrone Swoopes is athletic with a big arm but needs polish. The other option will be incoming freshman Jerrod Heard, who just led his high school team to a Texas state championship. If one of those three emerges, Strong could have Texas on the way back ahead of schedule.

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Cowboys were 19 seconds away from playing in a BCS bowl game. But two losses to end the year soured what could have been a stellar season. Now, Oklahoma State must replace the bulk of its team, including quarterback Clint Chelf and seven starters defensively. Star slot receiver Josh Stewart is also reportedly mulling over leaving early, too. Either way, 2014 will be a retooling season for coach Mike Gundy, whose first order of business will be settling on a quarterback. J.W. Walsh, who started the first half of the season before losing the job back to Chelf, would have to be considered the favorite. But Gundy has shown before he’s not afraid of turning the keys of the offense to a true freshman, and the Cowboys have an intriguing freshman QB enrolling for the spring in Mason Rudolph, who threw 64 touchdown passes this fall as a high school senior in South Carolina. That could result in some growing pains for Oklahoma State, which opens the season against defending national champion Florida State. But if Rudolph proves to be the long-term answer at QB, it shouldn’t be more than a year before the Cowboys are contending in the Big 12 again.

6. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Texas Tech completely changed the tenor of its offseason with a dominating 37-23 win over Pac-12 South Division champ Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Finally healthy again, the Red Raiders showed they were better than a five-game losing streak to end the regular season indicated. Now, Tech returns eight starters offensively, including quarterback Davis Webb, who torched the Sun Devils and had several other encouraging moments as a true freshman. Tech has to replace most of its defense. But if Webb settles in at quarterback, the Red Raiders should be improved in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s second season in Lubbock.

7. TCU Horned Frogs

TCU was the 2013 preseason pick of many people to win the Big 12. Instead, injuries ravaged the roster, and the Horned Frogs failed to go to a bowl game for just second time with Gary Patterson as coach. Patterson shook up his offensive staff after the season, bringing in Houston’s Doug Meacham and Texas Tech’s Sonny Cumbie as co-coordinators to revamp TCU’s offensive attack. TCU should be stout again defensively, especially if 2012 Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Devonte Fields returns to form from a broken foot. But the key to a better season will be whether Meacham and Cumbie can squeeze more offense out of the Horned Frogs and find the answer at quarterback. The answer, however, might not be on campus yet. Trevone Boykin has 15 career QB starts, but is probably a better fit as a receiver. Meanwhile, TCU’s top incoming recruits, Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, are both quarterbacks, and could factor into the wide-open competition.

8. Iowa State Cyclones

Even though Iowa State just finished in the bottom three of the Big 12 in points per game (24.8), yards per game (363), yards per play (4.82), rushing yards (143.8) and passing yards (219.2), the Cyclones return some offensive firepower. Tailback Aaron Wimberly was effective when healthy, and Quenton Bundrage flashed signs of a legit No. 1 receiver. The key will be QB, and whether Grant Rohach builds on his late-season surge. But with a proven offensive coordinator in Mark Mangino now on board, the Cyclones have the pieces to form one of the better offenses in the league next season.

9. West Virginia Mountaineers

The Mountaineers careened off the road late this season with back-to-back losses to Kansas and Iowa State. Now, the pressure is on coach Dana Holgorsen, who will have to win games to keep his job even though the 2014 schedule is brutal. Like so many other teams in the Big 12, West Virginia must find a solution at quarterback. Holgorsen has options. Clint Trickett, Paul Millard and Ford Childress are all back after getting at least two starts apiece last year. Junior-college transfer Skyler Howard will be enrolling early and joining the fray. Four-star recruit William Crest will be in the mix, too. Even if Holgorsen finds his answer at quarterback, a winning season won’t come easy. The Mountaineers have one of the toughest schedules in the country, beginning with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Alabama in Atlanta.

10. Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas showed only modest improvement in Charlie Weis’ second season as head coach. This will be a key season for Weis as he attempts to rebuild the program. He desperately needs Montell Cozart to develop into the answer at quarterback. Cozart still has a ways to go with his passing, but he showed he could hurt defenses with his legs. Defensively, the Jayhawks bring back some solid players, notably linebackers Ben Goodman and Ben Heeney and safety Isaiah Johnson. But Kansas will take the next step only if Cozart -- or somebody else -- emerges at quarterback.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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There was a shakeup at the bottom of the Power Rankings after the miracle in Morgantown:

1. Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1 Big 12, last week 1): The Cowboys have a chance to state their case as the Big 12’s top program of the last five seasons. Beating Oklahoma to win a second Big 12 title in three years would convey a very compelling argument.

2. Baylor (10-1, 7-1 Big 12, LW 2): Baylor’s two worst offensive outputs have come in the last two weeks. Is America’s top offense running on fumes? The friendly confines of Floyd Casey Stadium -- for one final game -- should give QB Bryce Petty & Co. the refueling they need.

3. Texas (8-3, 7-1 Big 12, LW 3): For all their issues and injuries, the Longhorns remain in the mix for an outright Big 12 title and automatic BCS bowl berth heading into this final week of the season. Ironically, if Texas somehow upset Baylor, this would actually be one of Mack Brown’s better coaching performances.

4. Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2 Big 12, LW 4): Nobody before the season predicted these Sooners, with a young defense and a new quarterback, would contend for a national championship. A victory at Oklahoma State and another 10-win season would make this a solid season in Norman.

5. Kansas State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12, LW 5): Even after a 2-4 start, Kansas State still managed to finish ahead of where it was picked in the preseason for a third straight season. Going forward, the media should automatically bump K-State up two spots when filling out Big 12 preseason ballots, to account for the “Bill Snyder effect.”

6. Texas Tech (7-5, 4-5 Big 12, LW 6): After another November slide, the Red Raiders are likely headed back to the Texas Bowl for the second straight season. Tech has had several memorable moments in Kliff Kingsbury’s first season. The 41-16 loss at Texas was not one of them.

7. TCU (4-8, 2-7 Big 12, LW 8): In their final game, the Horned Frogs finally showed what could have been this season. While the TCU defensive backs locked up Baylor’s receivers, senior QB Casey Pachall looked the sharpest he had in two years, even with the two pick-six interceptions. Take away those two plays and the fumble at the TCU 1-yard line, and the Frogs might have won this game going away. Yes, TCU finished with its worst season since going 1-10 in 1997. But if defensive end Devonte Fields can return to his freshman form, and TCU can figure out the answer at QB, the Frogs could be a force next year.

8. Iowa State (3-9, 2-7 Big 12, LW 9): Coach Paul Rhoads proved those who have wanted him out to be ridiculous. Despite all the tough losses, the Cyclones never quit on their coach, even when down 17 points in the fourth quarter on the road in Morgantown. With a little bit of luck, especially around the goal line, the Cyclones have the pieces to return to a bowl next year.

9. Kansas (3-9, 1-8 Big 12, LW 10): Hey, at least they beat West Virginia.

10. West Virginia (4-8, 2-7 Big 12, LW 7): The Mountaineers capped off another depressing season with an epic fourth-quarter collapse. Good thing no one was there to see it. Well, almost no one. Saturday featured the third-smallest crowd in Milan Puskar Stadium’s 33-year history, and the smallest since 1992.

Injury impact: Big 12

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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.

Big 12 midseason report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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The Red River Rivalry is always must-watch television, and Baylor will play its first game outside of Waco, Texas, when it visits Manhattan, Kan., on Saturday. It's another intriguing week in the Big 12.

Here’s what to watch in the Big 12 for Week 7.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Jim Cowsert/USA TODAY SportsDo Johnathan Gray and the Longhorns have the ability to hang with and upset the Sooners?
Does Texas stand a chance in the Red River Rivalry? Yes. The Longhorns have the chance to win anytime they step on the field thanks to a talent-laden roster. But their odds of beating Oklahoma on Saturday aren’t high. UT simply cannot seem to find an identity on either side of the ball, injuries are crippling the roster and distractions surround the 40 Acres. In a rivalry game like the RRR, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see a hard-fought, close battle, but UT will have to completely turn things around to make that happen in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.

How will Bryce Petty fair in its first road test? Petty has never stepped on the field as Baylor's starting quarterback on any turf outside of Floyd Casey Stadium. The BU quarterback has been exceptional, but nobody knows how he will respond in an uncomfortable conference road environment at Kansas State. Odds are it won’t matter since Petty has been the best and most efficient quarterback in the league thus far, but there’s no way to know how the junior will handle his first road start.

Can Texas Tech continue its undefeated start? Even with quarterback Baker Mayfield hobbled, there’s no reason to think it won’t. The Red Raiders’ defense is holding teams to 4.5 yards per play, second in the Big 12 and 16th nationally, helping to offset the unrest at the quarterback position. No matter who is under center for Tech against Iowa State, it might not matter because its defense has played at an extremely high level through the first five games.

Iowa State looks to rebound after the disappointing loss to UT. The Cyclones have been insistent that they are moving forward after feeling robbed during their 31-30 loss to Texas. Nonetheless, it is hard to believe a loss like that will not have ill effects in Lubbock, Texas, on Saturday. How will they respond if a call goes the opposite way? Could an early deficit take away the Cyclones’ resolve?

Will Oklahoma’s offense get back on track with Blake Bell under center? The Sooners' passing game struggled against TCU, passing for 152 yards against the Horned Frogs. Bell couldn’t seem to get on track after two stellar performances against Tulsa and Notre Dame. OU needs the junior quarterback to respond to his worst performance of the season with a strong outing against the Longhorns.

Will the Longhorns start to lean in their playmakers more? For some reason the Longhorns aren’t leaning on running back Johnathan Gray and receiver Daje Johnson to make game-changing plays for their offense. Gray’s exceptional feet and vision along with Johnson’s acceleration and speed could change games for UT. If the Longhorns make it a point to put the ball in those guys' hands against OU, it will make the Red River Rivalry much more interesting.

Daniel Sams in the Wildcats’ backfield. The Kansas State quarterback showed he has the potential to be one of the Big 12’s top playmakers in his squad’s 33-29 loss to Oklahoma State last Saturday. Sams could be the Big 12’s most dynamic running quarterback, and the Wildcats are starting to lean on him to spark their offense. If they continue to do so against Baylor, their chances of keeping up with the Bears increase.

The impact of Devonte Fields' season-ending surgery. It’s probably the best move for Fields, who was struggling through his sophomore season. Yet it’s bad news for the Horned Frogs, as the hope of him returning at some point this season to be a healthy, productive terror on the edge is now gone. And that makes TCU’s goal of getting its season back on track just that much harder.

How will Kansas handle the loss of Tony Pierson? Just as he was starting to take his game to another level the Jayhawks’ multipurpose threat suffered a head injury against Texas Tech and is listed as day-to-day. KU will turn to Brandon Bourbon to shoulder a portion of the load with Pierson out, but the Jayhawks need someone to step up on offense if they hope to have any success against a stout TCU defense.

Who will step up and become a legend on the Cotton Bowl field? OU fullback Trey Millard had the play of the day with his highlight-reel catch and run against Texas in 2012. Memories are made on the Cotton Bowl turf, and great plays become legendary in rivalries such as these. Expect someone to step up and announce themselves to the world. Can't wait to see who it will be.

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.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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Only because Iowa State and Kansas also lost is Texas not last in this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings:

1. Oklahoma State (3-0, 0-0 Big 12, last week 1): While they’ve been in the news plenty lately for other reasons, the Cowboys on the field have quietly lived up to the role of favorite rather well. And with the Nov. 16 trip to Austin no longer looking all that daunting, Oklahoma State should be favored in every game the rest of the way.

2. Baylor (2-0, 0-0 Big 12, last week 2): The Bears are one of only three Big 12 teams that haven’t been forced to play a backup quarterback due to injury, ineffectiveness or the need for a spark. That kind of stability with Bryce Petty is one major reason why Baylor has the look of a viable conference title contender.

3. Oklahoma (3-0, 1-0 Big 12, last week 3): Before the weekend, the Sooners had been brilliant in every facet of the game, except for quarterback. Against Tulsa, they were brilliant there, too. Blake Bell gave the passing attack a huge lift, delivering college football’s sixth-highest raw QBR of the week. So far, the OU running game has been dynamic, and the defense has been solid. If the Sooners can also get that level of production from their quarterback, they'll be dangerous.

4. Texas Tech (3-0, 1-0 Big 12, last week 5): Sometimes winning ugly is what’s required. Aesthetics aside, Texas Tech’s victory TCU was huge for the Kliff Kingsbury era. Some of it was TCU’s anemic offense, but Kingsbury had to feel buoyed by the way his defense completely shut down the Horned Frogs. If the Red Raiders keep playing defense, they could emerge into a surprise title contender. Their next four games are very winnable.

5. TCU (1-2, 0-1 Big 12, last week 4): Coach Gary Patterson probably could not have envisioned a worse start to TCU’s season. The Horned Frogs already have two losses, and star defensive end Devonte Fields made little impact in Lubbock after sitting out most of the first two games with a suspension. Now, Fields has an injured foot. Given how lost the Frogs look offensively, they’re probably going to have to win games with defense, at least for now. That won’t be easy with Fields either hobbled, ineffective or both.

6. West Virginia (2-1, 0-1 Big 12, last week 6): After auditioning Paul Millard and bypassing on Clint Trickett, the Mountaineers might finally have uncovered their quarterback in Ford Childress, who had a strong debut showing against Georgia State. These next two weeks will be huge for Childress and the Mountaineers. How they perform against Maryland in Baltimore and conference favorite Oklahoma State in Morgantown will set the tone for the rest of the season, one way or the other.

7. Kansas State (2-1, 0-0 Big 12, last week 8): After the stunning loss to North Dakota State, the Wildcats have bounced back nicely, and there’s reason to believe they can keep it going in Austin. The zone-read has been devastating to Texas, and K-State change-of-pace QB Daniel Sams might be the best running QB in the league.

8. Texas (1-2, 0-0 Big 12, last week 7): After beating the Longhorns by three touchdowns, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Texas’ defensive scheme was basically the same as last week. The Longhorns played about the same, too, giving up another 272 yards on the ground. That’s 822 rushing yards the Horns have allowed over the past two games. It's not even October, and Texas is already a total disaster. Coach Mack Brown is running out of scapegoats to fire, too.

9. Kansas (1-1, 0-0 Big 12, last week 9): The Jayhawks actually played well defensively in a nine-point loss at Rice. The offense, however, did not; notably, quarterback Jake Heaps, who had a raw QBR of 10.2, the fourth-lowest rating of any FBS quarterback for the week. The Kansas offense has to be -- and should be -- better than this for the Jayhawks to win more than two games.

10. Iowa State (0-2, 0-0 Big 12, last week 10): After two losses to open the year, it’s difficult to see how Iowa State gets to a bowl game. Other than receiver Quenton Bundrage, quarterback Sam Richardson has had virtually no help offensively, and the defense is a notch below what it's been. If Iowa State can’t uncover a running game to take pressure off Richardson, this could end up becoming a long, long year in Ames.
Texas Tech won Thursday over TCU.

But Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma came out of the night looking like winners, too.

On a wild night in Lubbock, in which a fox dashing along the sideline hardly seemed abnormal, the Red Raiders held on to a 20-10 victory to move to 3-0 on the season.

TCU fell to 1-2, and, despite missing out on several controversial calls throughout the game, hardly looked the part of a conference title contender it carried into the season.

Davis Webb
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsBackup QB David Webb made some big plays in Texas Tech's win over TCU, and helped put the Red Raiders in the conference crown conversation.
So far, the same goes for Texas, too. And considering the Horns are struggling just to dodge total calamity, the Bears, Cowboys and Sooners look like the three most solid teams in the league to this point.

It's true that Baylor has yet to play anyone of substance. And yes, Oklahoma State has all sorts of ongoing distractions to overcome. And who knows about Oklahoma's quarterback situation, which seems no less settled now than it did six months ago.

Yet even still, all three teams have looked more impressive than anyone else, and that includes the Horned Frogs, who have major offensive concerns moving forward without quarterback Casey Pachall. Trevone Boykin had just a 28.6 QBR (scale 0-to-100) in Lubbock as the Frogs struggled to string together drives all night. TCU could wind up with defensive concerns as well, as defensive end Devonte Fields was spotted hobbling around after the game with an injured foot.

On top of all that, TCU is just halfway through its early season gauntlet, with road trips looming at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Lose both of those, and TCU would effectively be stripped from the conference race.

But while the Frogs seem to look less and less like a title possibility, Texas Tech has done the reverse. Sure, the Red Raiders had their share of issues Thursday. But they also have momentum building, and the opportunity to build even more.

After a hot first quarter, walk-on freshman quarterback Baker Mayfield struggled to complete passes against a stingy and aggressive TCU secondary. But the Red Raiders also played one of their best defensive games in years, prompting coach Kliff Kingsbury to call it the best defensive effort he’d ever been a part of as a coach.

Chances are, Mayfield will bounce back from a freshman-like effort, and if he doesn’t, the Red Raiders have other options at quarterback in Michael Brewer and Davis Webb, who made some nice throws after Mayfield left the game with a minor leg injury.

Even though Tech failed to put up the points Thursday, the skill talent is there. Tight end Jace Amaro is a nightmare matchup out of the slot, and Eric Ward, despite a quiet performance against TCU, is one of the better receivers in the league.

Combine all that with a defense that looks to be decent at the least, and the Red Raiders seemed primed to make a run into the top half of the Big 12 standings.

It’s not yet time to put Tech in the same tier with Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. But with an intriguing immediate schedule coming up, the Red Raiders could gradually work their way there. Up next, Tech faces Texas State, followed by Kansas on the road, Iowa State and West Virginia in Morgantown.

Could the Red Raiders jump to 7-0 against that slate? Absolutely. Which would then make them the viable conference title threat TCU was thought to be before the season.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
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Several intriguing games in the Big 12 this week. Will Texas put out the fire? How will Iowa State respond? Is Texas Tech for real? Should Blake Bell take over the reins at Oklahoma? Can’t wait to get those answers.

Here’s what to watch in the Big 12 for Week 3:

1. Can Texas rebound? Texas has brought in Greg Robinson to turn things around for the Longhorns’ defense. The veteran coach has experience but he’s been thrown into the fire and asked to make a miracle happen against Ole Miss in less than a week. The odds aren’t on his side, but if Robinson completely turns around the UT defense, the entire Big 12 landscape will have changed in a matter of days.

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesFreshman QB Baker Mayfield has been nearly flawless his first two games, but he hasn't seen defensive playmakers like TCU will have on Saturday.
2. First real test for Texas Tech. The Red Raiders haven’t seen anything like TCU’s defense thus far this season. Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield has been outstanding, having thrown for 780 yards and seven touchdowns (he's also rushed for a TD) while leading the Red Raiders to a 2-0 start. But he hasn’t seen playmakers like TCU’s Devonte Fields, Jason Verrett and Kevin White. How Mayfield handles his first Big 12 game could define if the Red Raiders’ hope of becoming the Big 12’s surprise team can come true.

3. Character test for the Cyclones. Iowa State can redeem itself with a win over Iowa on Saturday. The Cyclones’ disappointing 28-20 loss to Northern Iowa was one of the most surprising results of the season’s first weekend, particularly since their defense couldn’t stop UNI on the ground or through the air. Nothing can get things back on track like a rivalry game and ISU is looking to make sure its horrible Week 1 performance doesn’t snowball into a horrible multi-game stretch to start the season.

4. Blake Bell’s opportunity. The Sooners quarterback gets the chance to prove he should have been OU’s starter when his squad hosts Tulsa on Saturday. Bell, the preseason favorite to replace Landry Jones, lost the quarterback battle to Trevor Knight. But Knight’s knee injury has opened the door; will Bell walk through it?

5. How will Oklahoma State handle a week of distractions? The Cowboys have been in the news throughout the week due to allegations of misconduct throughout the program in a series of stories by Sports Illustrated. OSU’s home opener against Lamar will be the first time to see the football program in action since the series was published and Boone Pickens Stadium promises to be a lively atmosphere. Nonetheless, it should be pretty easy to tell if the Cowboys are distracted. And if they are, it might be a sign that the distractions could affect them for the remainder of the season as the ripple effect continues.

6. Will West Virginia’s quarterback situation ever become clear? Dana Holgorsen plans to continue his search for a solid No. 1 quarterback until Paul Millard, Clint Trickett or Ford Childress separates himself from the pack. Holgorsen is extremely disappointed in the play of his offense and has shouldered the blame, saying, “It’s embarrassing, we have to put our guys in better position to make plays.” But one of those guys needs to seize the opportunity to trigger Holgorsen’s offense starting against Georgia State on Saturday.

7. Can Trevone Boykin take TCU’s offense to a different level? Boykin will be asked to shoulder the load for the Horned Frogs with Casey Pachall out. He’s much better prepared to be the main man in the offensive backfield this season and his dynamic running will test any defense. Much like Bell, Boykin has the chance to prove he should have been the guy in the first place.

8. Kansas looks to keep momentum. The Jayhawks opened the season with a win over South Dakota and will get the chance to start off 2-0 when they visit Rice. KU coach Charlie Weis is trying to build a quality program and a win over the Owls would be step in the right direction after several close calls in 2012.

9. Will Kansas State’s defense return to its 2012 form? The Wildcats replaced several starters, including linebacker Arthur Brown, but the cupboard is not bare. Yet the Wildcats have allowed 24 points to North Dakota State and 27 points to Louisiana-Lafayette in back-to-back weeks. Last year’s defense allowed 19.5 points per game in nonconference play. KSU needs a strong defensive performance against Massachusetts on Saturday to get its confidence going on that side of the ball with a road trip to Texas looming next weekend.

10. Are any Big 12 teams ripe for an upset? OSU has had a week full of distractions, Kansas State is still a work in progress, WVU’s offense has been substandard and OU can’t seem to create any offensive balance. All four teams host opponents they should beat with relative ease but it wouldn’t be a shock to see any of those squads struggle because, quite simply, no Big 12 team has looked like dominant squad during the first two weeks of the season.

Big 12 predictions: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
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This weekend, I'll be in Austin, Texas, as the Longhorns attempt to stave off utter calamity against Ole Miss.

Big 12Can they do it?

The Big 12 blog's inaugural guest picker -- James in Houston -- thinks no.

By the way, here was James' guest picker submission:
Jake Trotter, I should be a guest picker against you for Big 12 predictions. Why? I'll tell you why. My college football knowledge rivals the intelligence of Albert Einstein. I have been referred to as the Norm Chow of my generation. And most importantly, I was a shutdown defensive specialist on my fraternity's B-team intramural squad. I have the pedigree. I have the knowledge. Now all I need is you to man up and challenge me.

Challenged accepted, James.

If you want to be next week's guest picker, contact me, and tell me why. As always, creativity counts.

Now, to the picks for Week 3:

SEASON RECORD

Last week: 7-1 (.778)

Overall: 14-3 (.778)

Texas Tech 30, TCU 28: Through two games, TCU has been a bit underwhelming and will now be without starting QB Casey Pachall (arm) indefinitely. Baker Mayfield and the Red Raiders, meanwhile, have been the surprise of the league. This will be the Kliff Kingsbury era's first real test, especially with Devonte Fields and the TCU defensive front holding a sizeable advantage over the Tech offensive line. But I'm a Mayfield believer, and I believe by the end of the night he has the Frogs wishing they had offered him that scholarship.

James: Tech rolls with the punches and puts up a fight, but TCU defense shuts down a Tech comeback late in the game. TCU 31-28.

West Virginia 38, Georgia State 6: The Mountaineers have shown encouraging improvement defensively, but where has the passing attack gone? With the quarterback change, it finally makes an appearance on the arm of Clint Trickett, who takes over the starting job, at least for now.

James: A strong game for the defense gives the West Virginia offense some wiggle room to build confidence. West Virginia 41-14.

Oklahoma 40, Tulsa 13: If Blake Bell doesn't play well, the Sooners will have a real dilemma at quarterback going into the Notre Dame game. Their choices would be a quarterback coming off a poor performance (Bell), a gimpy one coming off a poor performance (Trevor Knight) or one who has never played and coming off a broken foot (Kendal Thompson). Tulsa, however, stinks this season, and Bell gains confidence in himself and from his teammates heading to South Bend, Ind.

James: There has been a lot of talk surrounding the QB controversy in Norman, Okla., but I'm not worried. OU 45-3.

Iowa State 23, Iowa 21: With a clutch fourth quarter, Sam Richardson offers more proof he's not just the next flash-in-the-pan Iowa State quarterback, while Luke Knott has a big day in his first career start at linebacker as the Cyclones edge out Iowa with a late field goal to capture their third straight win in the series.

James: Home field helps in rivalry games, and the Cyclones come out on top. Iowa State 14-10.

Kansas State 44, Massachusetts 9: Maybe that opener against North Dakota State was, in fact, a fluke. The Wildcats looked much better last weekend and keep it going with Daniel Sams getting more run as the change-of-pace quarterback.

James: Snyder and Kansas State come better prepared for this "gimme" game and take care of business. K-State 38-6.

Rice 35, Kansas 31: There's no doubt the Jayhawks will be better this season, especially on the offensive side of the ball, with Jake Heaps, Tony Pierson, James Sims and Justin McCay. But the program still has a ways to go elsewhere, which Rice and its dynamic offense corroborates in a shootout.

James: The Rice players are too smart, and KU is still rebuilding. Rice 21-17.

Oklahoma State 70, Lamar 3: It's been a long week in Stillwater, Okla., with the rolling out of Sports Illustrated's five-part series on alleged improprieties within the program. But the series has also had a unifying effect within the OSU community, with dozens upon dozens of former players coming out in support of the school. That side effect manifests on the field as the Cowboys annihilate Lamar.

James: Oklahoma State comes into this game angry (for obvious reasons). OSU 55-10.

Ole Miss 33, Texas 27: The Longhorns have played well traditionally when their backs have been against the wall like this. It's just hard to see it happening here. Nobody knows what's going on with the defense, Daje Johnson (ankle) is out and now Texas might be without injured quarterback David Ash, too, due to a head injury. The Rebels are young, talented, hungry and smell blood in the water. Afterward, Mack Brown looks for someone else to fire -- but who else is left?

James: The City of Austin is in disbelief after the Rebels and their super-freshmen dominate both sides of the ball. Ole Miss 38-14.

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