NCF Nation: Eddie Lackey

WACO, Texas – As the story goes, and Phil Bennett likes telling this one, Baylor’s coaching staff held a meeting in the fall of 2011 to discuss bringing in a junior college linebacker.

They pulled up the film from Riverside City College in California. This juco squad had three studs at linebacker.

[+] EnlargePhil Bennett
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBaylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett and the Bears staff take pride in finding under-the-radar gems.
The heavily recruited member of the unit, Zaire Anderson, would sign with Nebraska. Will Smith landed at Texas Tech, where he’d start 24 games and win Holiday Bowl defensive MVP.

But Bennett, Baylor's defensive coordinator, had his eyes on the other guy. When he asked the staff to raise their hands for which one they’d take, the vote was unanimous. They wanted No. 10.

That was Eddie Lackey, a former Division II player whose only offers were Hawaii and New Mexico State. So, naturally, he’d verbally committed to Hawaii. Bennett made him a Bear that December.

“I told him, ‘You better be 6-foot or we’re gonna send your ass home,’” Bennett joked last week. “And how good a player was Eddie Lackey?”

A first-team All-Big 12 player, in fact. Nine other Baylor players earned that honor in 2013, including a former Hurricane Katrina refugee whose only offer was BU (Cyril Richardson), a receiver who weighed 138 pounds in high school (Tevin Reese) and a quarterback who’d been dumped by Tennessee (Bryce Petty).

If that’s not enough proof of Baylor’s impressive knack for evaluating talent, Bennett can tell plenty more stories. Like the time his brother tipped him off to go after running back Shock Linwood, the No. 176-rated athlete from a Class 2A school in Linden, Texas, who eventually flipped from TCU and will likely start for Baylor this fall.

Coach Art Briles says he isn’t one for telling these recruiting tales, but he’s proud of plenty of these finds. When he arrived in Waco in 2008, there was no doubt the job of building the doormat Bears back up would require taking chances on kids in recruiting.

“Those guys are out there,” Briles said last week. “This is a big state with a lot of great football players.”

In those early years of rebuilding, Briles leaned on the relationships built from 20-plus years of coaching Texas high school ball. He has now been a college coach in this state for 15 years. Those bonds can pay off big when he and his coaches go hunting for undiscovered talent.

“We know the state of Texas and the state of Texas knows us,” he said. “They know we’re not going anywhere. I’m not trying to cross the border and not come back. I’m home.”

And while Texas, Texas A&M and the state’s recruiting powers cherry-picked from the best of the best, scooping up the big-name kids on the top-100 lists before the summer had even begun, Baylor was forced to take a different approach. You’ve got to be willing to turn over a lot of rocks, in locales near and far, if the blue-chippers aren’t returning your calls.

In seeking kids who fit their high-speed scheme, Briles and his assistants did lots of projecting. They found the quarterbacks (example: Kendall Wright) who could move to receiver or defensive back, the linebackers who could grow into defensive end, the linemen with developing bodies. They had to take gambles.

“The farther you get away from the center and nose tackle, the harder the prediction gets,” Briles said. “Once you get to the skill people on both sides, it’s tough. We just try to find the guys that fit what we’re looking for. If they have an interest in us and vice versa, we’re all in.”

[+] EnlargeEddie Lackey
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Eddie Lackey, who committed to Hawaii before signing with Baylor, was a key member of the Bears' defense in 2013.
But that’s not enough. Briles says he focuses closely on a kid’s commitment and passion, on the kind of stuff that makes good teammates. And he loves the chip on the shoulder.

“I like a guy that, when you look in his eyes, you can see the steely determination to him,” Briles said. “A guy who really wants to do something.”

They’ve found those kinds of kids from Amarillo to Refugio, from Midland to Texarkana. This spring, nearly 30 percent of Baylor’s players came from the always-fertile Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. A fifth of the spring roster hailed from the Central Texas territory that includes Waco and Austin. Greater Houston-area kids made up a little more than 10 percent.

As for the other 40 percent of the squad? There are more than a dozen transfers, five players from out-of-state schools and, of course, a melting pot of guys from all over Texas. A couple were four-star recruits, but more of them are the sleepers and projects that have fueled Baylor’s rise.

The game changed in 2011 thanks to Robert Griffin III. McLane Stadium and a Big 12 title have made Briles’ pitch even easier today. Petty signed in 2009 and can’t help but marvel at how the roster has transformed since then.

“I’m pretty sure I was the last class that had that problem of saying, ‘Baylor was my only offer. I had to go here,’” he joked. “It’s not that way anymore.”

Now that the big-name recruits are visiting Waco, the staff’s approach will have to change.

“It’s a whole different deal,” Briles said. “Our calls are getting answered, and we’ve got to be careful who we ask now -- 'cause there’s a good chance they might say yes. Got to make sure we’re asking the right ones.”

Still, three of Baylor’s six verbal commitments for 2015 are true athletes who could play a variety of positions next season. It’ll be a smaller-than-usual class, but one that will still feature a few three-star recruits few schools wanted. Those kind of kids made Baylor what it is today.

“Has the door opened for us, and are we getting more of the quote-unquote four- and five-stars? Absolutely,” Bennett said. “We’ll look at them. But the thing I’m proud of is, you’ve got to be a player here.

“If you come here, you’ve got to be a player.”

Big 12's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
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The college football season is over, and what a season it was. Picked fifth in the preseason, Baylor won its first Big 12 championship. Oklahoma, left for dead in early November, rose out of the ashes to win 11 games. Oklahoma State had some of the most puzzling losses and most dominant wins, as well. And Texas, well, the soap opera is finally over.

Here’s a look back at the 2013 season with our Best of the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsBob Stoops and Trevor Knight delivered the Big 12 a signature BCS win in 2013.
Best coach: Art Briles, Baylor. Bob Stoops deserves a bunch of credit for how his Sooners surged late in the season, but Briles' leading Baylor to its first Big 12 championship was no small feat. The Bears led the nation in scoring, and beat Oklahoma and Texas convincingly. The bowl game was disappointing. The season overall was not.

Best player, offense: Even though he cooled off later in the year, Baylor’s Bryce Petty still finished fifth nationally in QBR in his first season as a starting quarterback. He threw 32 touchdown passes and did a masterful job taking care of the ball, tossing only three interceptions.

Best player, defense: There wasn’t really anyone who clearly stood out here. TCU cornerback Jason Verrett, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State linebacker Caleb Lavey, Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller and Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey all had their moments. Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, however, was the only defensive player from the league to win a national award. He was given the Ted Hendricks Award, which goes to the defensive end of the year in college football. Jeffcoat tied for third nationally with 13 sacks.

Best moment: The league has been waiting for a signature victory to hang its hat on. Oklahoma finally gave the Big 12 that victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl with a stunning 45-31 win over Alabama. Behind freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, the Sooners controlled the game from the second quarter on. Defensively, linebacker Eric Striker and end Geneo Grissom were unblockable, combining for five sacks of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. Offensively, Knight carved up the Crimson Tide for 348 passing yards and four touchdowns. It wasn’t even that Alabama played poorly. It was that Oklahoma played terrifically.

Best rivalry game: Maybe new Texas coach Charlie Strong will bring some more juice to the Red River Rivalry. Lately, it’s been second fiddle to Bedlam. In quality. In drama. In impact. Once again, Bedlam carried major Big 12 title implications, and once again, the game delivered a thrilling ending. Backup quarterback Blake Bell found Jalen Saunders in the corner of the end zone with 19 seconds remaining for the Sooners’ first offensive touchdown of the game, lifting Oklahoma to a win and spoiling Oklahoma State’s shot at a Big 12 title.

Best play: Late in the third quarter of Kansas State’s game against Baylor, Mueller stripped Petty while simultaneously recovering the fumble near the sideline. The acrobatic play gave K-State good field position in Baylor territory, and the Wildcats would go on to take a 25-21 lead. Baylor ultimately outlasted the Wildcats, but Mueller, who also had two sacks in the game, was a big reason why the Bears' high-powered offense was held in check most of the afternoon.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Jasen VinloveUSA TODAY SportsKansas State's Tyler Lockett had seven 100-yard receiving games this season, including two games with more than 200 yards receiving.
Best performance in a loss: The Wildcats eventually lost, but K-State receiver Tyler Lockett could not be covered by the Sooners in their game in late November. Lockett kept the Wildcats in the game, reeling in 12 catches for 278 yards and three touchdowns, prompting Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to go ballistic on the sideline multiple times. Lockett was also a monster against Texas and Michigan. All told, he totaled 35 catches, 631 yards and six touchdowns against those three programs alone.

Best individual defensive performance: Mueller against Baylor, Verrett shutting down Baylor wideout Antwan Goodley, and Gilbert picking off Texas twice all deserve honorable mention. But Striker gets the nod for wreaking havoc on the two-time defending national champ in New Orleans. Striker had three sacks and forced a fumble after barreling around the edge to slam into McCarron’s blind side. The ball popped loose and Grissom returned the fumble for the game-winning touchdown.

Best true freshman: Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb had to split time with fellow true freshman Baker Mayfield for most of the season. When Mayfield left unexpectedly in December, the job was finally Webb’s to run with. And run he did. Actually, he threw. Against No. 14 Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl, Webb completed 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in one of this year’s best bowl performances from a quarterback. Webb had a solid freshman season, leading the Red Raiders to fourth-quarter wins over TCU and West Virginia. But if the bowl was any indication, the best is yet to come.

Best quote: “So much for the big bad wolf, huh?” -- Bob Stoops, after the Sooners defeated Alabama.
Going back to the advent of the BCS, 18 teams have been to just one BCS bowl without returning for a second.

This week, Baylor and Tostitos Fiesta Bowl opponent UCF will make their BCS debuts.

[+] EnlargeBaylor Bears
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWith a financial commitment, recruiting success and head coach Art Briles leading the way, Big 12 title celebrations could become a frequent occurrence at Baylor.
And the biggest question for the upstart Bears is whether this will be a one-time BCS trip or one of many BCS-level bowls to come.

“We want to build a dynasty,” said Baylor junior quarterback Bryce Petty. “We didn’t come into this for just one season.”

Before head coach Art Briles arrived in 2007, Baylor making a BCS bowl seemed about as likely as zombies taking over the Earth.

But after 14 consecutive losing seasons, the Bears finally broke through in 2010 with Robert Griffin III as quarterback. And in the three seasons since, Baylor has gone a combined 29-9, culminating with this year’s Big 12 championship and BCS bowl berth.

Can the Bears keep it going or will this one year, like it has been for so many other programs, be a flash in the pan?

There are reasons to believe it might be the former.

“I think there are two things that will keep us out of the category of being just a one-time BCS team,” said defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who has remarkably transformed Baylor’s defense into one of the best in the Big 12. “A lot of people use the word commitment, but you’re not committed if you’re not spending money and building the program.

“There’s a commitment here.”

Indeed, Baylor is putting its money where its mouth is.

Next season, the Bears will play in a new $260 million on-campus stadium, erected on the banks of the Brazos River.

Two weeks ago, Baylor announced plans to build a 14,000-square-foot nutrition center for its athletes that will be adjacent to the athletic academic building and indoor practice facility, which have both been constructed in the last several years. Once the nutrition center is completed later next year, Baylor’s football players will be able to meet with tutors, grab lunch and go to practice in one central vicinity.

“That’s millions and millions of dollars,” Bennett said. “And when you make that kind of commitment, it turns into recruiting assets.”

Which leads to the second reason why Bennett believes Baylor is built to last.

The last five years, the Bears have done a phenomenal job of unearthing hidden gems in recruiting and developing them into quality players. Unanimous All-America guard Cyril Richardson garnered little recruiting interest after relocating to Texas from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey's only other offers out of junior college were from Hawaii and New Mexico State. And standout wide receiver Tevin Reese was just a two-star recruit in high school because he weighed less than 140 pounds.

“Coach Briles does a great job knowing what he wants in recruiting,” said Baylor All-Big 12 wideout Antwan Goodley, who was also lightly recruited. “And getting his guys.”

The Bears are still targeting those guys.

But thanks to its success on the field and commitment off it, Baylor is also now gaining access to the blue-chip prospects. As a result, the Bears currently have RecruitingNation's No. 16-ranked recruiting class in the country, nine spots ahead of Oklahoma and only three behind Texas.

“We all know it’s a players’ game,” Bennett said. “And our days of not competing for the upper echelon guys are over.”

But as critical as the facility investments are to Baylor’s future success, no investment has been more critical than the one Baylor has made in Briles, who has guided the Bears to the first 11-win season in school history.

Last month, Briles agreed to a 10-year contract extension that will pay him more than $4 million annually. The Bears hope the deal will keep him at Baylor through at least the 2023 season.

Of course, that could be put to the test in the coming weeks.

Both the Austin American-Statesman and Dallas Morning News reported over the weekend that Texas has vetted Briles for its head coaching vacancy and has him on a short list of candidates.

But when asked about Texas before, Briles has said that “the grass is green” at Baylor. And thanks to the massive facility overhaul and uptick in recruiting, it definitely is more so now than ever.

With Petty, the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback, and other key players like Goodley and possibly running back Lache Seastrunk back, Baylor could be loaded for bear again in 2014.

If Briles returns as well, this BCS appearance just might be the first of many big-time bowls for Baylor. Where the grass continues to get greener.

“This is a team that wants more,” Petty said. "We're still hungry."

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 14 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: After trailing by three scores for most of the game, Iowa State came roaring back with 17 straight points in the fourth quarter and ultimately prevailed 52-44 in a stunning, triple-overtime comeback. Freshman QB Grant Rohach was terrific in his second career road start, accounting for five touchdowns, including the winning toss on the first play of the third overtime. The defense forced four turnovers to help spearhead the rally. And punter Kirby Van Der Kamp converted a fake punt into a huge first down, igniting the comeback early in the fourth quarter. As a result, Iowa State finished off an otherwise disappointing season with a thrilling road victory and a two-game winning streak to build on for 2014.

[+] EnlargeRyan Erxleben, David Brenner, Keenon Ward
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsTexas Tech punter Ryan Erxleben (26) celebrated perhaps the Red Raiders' only highlight Thursday.
Disappointment of the week: After a fake punt touchdown gave them a 7-0 lead, the Red Raiders basically no-showed the rest of the way in a discouraging 41-16 loss at Texas. The Longhorns obliterated Tech up front, as both Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron topped 100 yards on the ground. On the other side of the ball, Tech couldn't protect its quarterback, as Baker Mayfield was sacked seven times. As a result, a team that once was ranked 10th in the country ended its regular season with a thud -- and a five-game losing streak.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Kansas State running back John Hubert and Iowa State wide receivers Quenton Bundrage and Justin Coleman.

Hubert unleashed a monster performance in his final Sunflower Showdown. The senior rushed for a career-high 220 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries, as K-State defeated Kansas 31-10 for a fifth consecutive victory in the series.

Together with Rohach, Bundrage and Coleman fueled Iowa State's comeback with huge catches down the stretch. After Van Der Kamp's fake punt conversion, Bundrage hauled in a 62-yard touchdown grab to cut West Virginia's lead to 10. Later, Coleman's 19-yard scoring reception tied the game with a minute left in regulation. And on the first play of the third overtime, Coleman reeled in another touchdown, which proved to be the game winner.

All told, Bundrage and Coleman combined for 12 receptions, 184 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey, TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

Lackey played a hand in two turnovers that ultimately led to defensive touchdowns. With the Horned Frogs driving at the end of the second quarter with a chance to take the lead before halftime, Lackey charged up the middle and tagged TCU QB Casey Pachall's legs. The hit forced Pachall's pass to be behind his intended receiver, and Orion Stewart intercepted it and raced 82 yards for a touchdown. Then on TCU's first possession of the third quarter, Lackey picked off Pachall and dashed 54 yards for another score, putting the Bears up 34-17. Lackey added six tackles and a sack in Baylor's 41-38 win.

As good as Lackey was, no player was more dominant than Verrett. Matched up one-on-one with Baylor's Antwan Goodley the entire game, Verrett checked the Big 12's leading receiver to just one reception for 12 yards. As a result, Baylor finished with a season-low 206 passing yards.

Jeffcoat also flourished in his final home game, recording a game-high three sacks as Texas shut down Texas Tech's passing game. Jeffcoat also had seven tackles and a quarterback hurry, solidifying his candidacy as an All-Big 12 defensive end.

Special-teams player of the week: Tech punter Ryan Erxleben produced one of the special-teams plays of the year in the Big 12 in Austin. On Tech's second possession, Erxleben took off on a fake punt and raced 51 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, giving the Red Raiders an early 7-0 lead. After the game, coach Kliff Kingsbury confirmed Erxleben called the fake on his own. It proved to be Tech's longest rush of the season, but pretty much its only highlight in the lackluster loss to the Longhorns.

Play of the week: After falling behind 34-17 on two Baylor defensive touchdowns, TCU made a furious rally and drove into field goal range with a chance to either win or send the game to overtime. Instead, with 18 seconds to go, quarterback Pachall's pass to Brandon Carter was tipped away by Baylor nickelback Sam Holl and into the arms of Terrell Burt for the game-clinching interception to seal Baylor's victory.

Stat of the week: By holding Baylor to 370 yards of offense, TCU snapped the Bears' 37-game streak of at least 400 yards of offense. Ball State now holds the longest FBS streak at 12 games.

Quote of the week: "Gary Patterson lives in Fort Worth. If he's got a problem with me, that's where I live."

-- TCU coach Gary Patterson, after a pair of heated exchanges with Baylor coach Art Briles

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 14

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
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Recognizing the best of the best from the Big 12 in Week 14:

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

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

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

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

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

Baylor beats Horned Frogs for Briles

November, 30, 2013
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FORT WORTH, Texas -- Before Baylor's game at TCU, Bears running back Lache Seastrunk pulled his head coach to the side.

“Coach Briles, I know you lost somebody,” Seastrunk told him. “But you’ve gained 99 of us.”

On Wednesday, Art Briles lost his brother, Eddie, who died unexpectedly from a head injury after falling in the bathroom of his home.

On Saturday, Briles’ football family gave him a win to ease the pain of that loss, if only for a little bit.

Keeping their Big 12 title and BCS bowl aspirations alive, the ninth-ranked Bears (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) held on to defeat TCU 41-38 at Amon G. Carter Stadium in a thriller that came down to the final seconds.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
MCT via Getty ImagesCoach Art Briles' Baylor team didn't play its best game against TCU but still came out on top.
After falling behind 34-17 on a pair of Baylor defensive touchdowns, the Horned Frogs made a furious comeback and drove into field goal range with a chance to tie. But with 18 seconds to go, TCU went for the win, and quarterback Casey Pachall’s pass toward the end zone was tipped, then intercepted by Terrell Burt, sealing the victory.

“That just showed we're a tough football team,” said Briles, who declined to speak directly about his brother, but spent time outside the locker room emotionally hugging players, boosters and administrators. “You want to be in a room full of fighters and believers, and that’s what we have.”

This week required some fight from the Bears.

They suffered their first loss of the season last weekend, as Oklahoma State emphatically bounced them from the national title picture with a 49-17 victory in Stillwater.

Four days later, Eddie -- a nurse in Haskell, Texas, and Briles’ only sibling -- passed away, leaving behind a wife and two children.

Eddie actually appeared in a "College GameDay" feature last weekend, and spoke to ESPN.com for a feature story on his younger brother earlier this month. Their parents, Dennis and Wanda Briles, and their aunt, Elsie "Tottie" Kittley, died in a car accident while traveling to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas to watch Art play for the University of Houston on Oct. 16, 1976.

“(Winning for Coach Briles) was the emphasis of the week for sure,” Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said. “Every guy in that locker room loves him like their own dad. It hurts you to see him hurt. I think this win was huge for him and that’s what we wanted to do.”

The win didn’t come easily.

TCU (4-8, 2-7), without enough wins to have a chance of qualifying for a bowl, turned Baylor into its de facto bowl game.

Due to an array of injuries and suspensions, the Horned Frogs had struggled offensively all season. But with an extra week to prepare, they saved their best performance for last. The Horned Frogs outgained the nation’s top statistical offense by 40 yards. Yet, after a flurry of turnovers, they found themselves still trailing Baylor 34-17 early in the third quarter.

Over the course of four possessions, TCU fumbled at its own 1-yard line, then Pachall threw two interceptions that Orion Stewart and Eddie Lackey returned for touchdowns.

"I made quite a few mistakes that cost us the ball game,” Pachall said. “I gave them 14 points, just handed it over on a platter."

But TCU didn't go down without a fight, either.

And the turning point came on its following possession. Baylor senior captain and safety Ahmad Dixon was ejected for a targeting penalty on Horned Frogs wide receiver Trevone Boykin, seemingly igniting a heated exchange between Briles and TCU coach Gary Patterson on the field.

Briles avoided addressing the exchange after the game. But Patterson didn't.

“To come across the field to me. ... He's picking on the wrong guy,” said Patterson, who didn't refer to Briles by name. “You're not going to come across to me. You can go correct your player, not me.

"If that's what class is, then I don't want to be it."

The penalty ultimately ignited the Horned Frogs, too. TCU scored touchdowns on its next two possessions, thanks to a Pachall 4-yard touchdown scamper, then a 16-yard scoring toss to Josh Doctson at the back of the end zone.

After Petty found Levi Norwood for a touchdown, TCU came right back again with Pachall’s touchdown strike to David Porter, trimming the deficit to 41-38.

The Horned Frogs got the ball back again with 1 minute, 23 seconds remaining and moved the ball all the way to the Bears’ 23. But two plays later, Pachall’s attempt to Brandon Carter was tipped away by Baylor nickelback Sam Holl, and into the arms of Burt in the end zone.

“This win really showed the character of this team,” Holl said. “We were all playing for Coach Briles. He’s family. He’s going through a rough time right now.

“So we really wanted to get this one for him.”

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 11

November, 11, 2013
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And then there were three:

1. Baylor (8-0, 5-0 Big 12, last week 1): We’re 11 weeks into the season, and Baylor still leads the Big 12 in total defense, scoring defense and red zone defense. Those numbers aren’t a fluke, as Oklahoma found out the hard way. Ahmad Dixon is one of the best safeties in the conference; Eddie Lackey and Bryce Hager are a stout one-two punch at linebacker; and the defensive line has size and speed. The Sooners might not be very good offensively this year. But Baylor made them look downright ridiculous. This is a complete team.

2. Oklahoma State (8-1, 5-1, LW 2): This will be just the fifth time Oklahoma State has played Texas when both teams have been ranked in the BCS. The Longhorns have won all four such previous meetings. As a program still aspiring to greater heights, this is the kind of game the Cowboys need to win. Texas is banged up. Oklahoma State has the better defense. And as a result of both, the Cowboys are favored in Austin. Some of the more haunting moments in Oklahoma State history have occurred at the hands of the Longhorns. This is a prime opportunity for the Pokes to produce a memorable one.

3. Texas (7-2, 6-0, LW 3): The Longhorns have depth at running back and defensive tackle. But they no longer have all-conference players at those positions. That’s what tailback Johnathan Gray and defensive tackle Chris Whaley are. Can Texas overcome these additional hits against one of the hotter teams in the Big 12 in Oklahoma State this weekend? If the Horns do, Mack Brown should get votes for Big 12 Coach of the Year.

4. Kansas State (5-4, 3-3, LW 6): More and more, K-State is beginning to resemble the Baylor of last year. Maybe not in style, but most certainly in efficiency. The Wildcats scored touchdowns on their first five possessions to basically put then-No. 25 Texas Tech away on its home field by the second quarter. Think about this: From the third quarter of the West Virginia game three weeks ago to halftime at Texas Tech, K-State has scored touchdowns on 14 of 22 possessions (not counting kneel downs). That level of touchdown efficiency would even impress Baylor coach Art Briles. Like the Bears last year, K-State could finish this season with a flourish to set up a run back at the Big 12 title in 2014.

5. Oklahoma (7-2, 4-2, LW 4): The Sooners’ quarterback situations have been the envy of the Big 12 dating back to the advent of the Bob Stoops era. No more. OU has major problems at the position, not only for the rest of this season, but beyond. It’s difficult to see the Sooners winning a Big 12 championship with Blake Bell at quarterback next season. But the fact the Sooners won’t let Trevor Knight attempt a pass or Kendal Thompson step on the field raises red flags, too. OU had no shot of coming back on Baylor with Bell behind center, yet the Sooners still refused to give either one of the other quarterbacks a chance. Stoops is not one to make drastic changes. But if the Sooners don’t shake things up offensively, they could easily finish this regular season a disappointing 8-4.

6. Texas Tech (7-3, 4-3, LW 5): After three straight losses, the unranked Red Raiders find themselves four-touchdown underdogs to Baylor at a neutral site. A month ago, this game looked like it might be for the Big 12 crown. Instead, Tech will be playing to avoid going 1-11 in the month of November over the past three years.

7. West Virginia (4-6, 2-5, LW 7): The Mountaineers just missed out on landing another marquee home win, falling 47-40 to Texas in overtime. They have to put that behind them. By snagging these next two winnable games against Kansas and Iowa State, West Virginia will go to a bowl. Considering all the pieces the Mountaineers had to replace from last year, that would constitute a solid season for a team in rebuilding mode.

8. TCU (4-6, 2-5, LW 8): Credit TCU for not throwing in the towel after dropping three straight for the first time in the Gary Patterson era. The Horned Frogs continued to struggle offensively. But despite missing several key players, they gutted out a game-winning, fourth-quarter touchdown drive at Iowa State to keep their slim bowl hopes alive.

9. Iowa State (1-8, 0-6, LW 9): The Cyclones had yet to win a Big 12 game and were facing an opponent riding a three-game losing streak in a late-morning kickoff. And yet, Jack Trice Stadium was just about full. Cyclone Nation brought it this weekend, even if their team came up another goal-line stand short. Tweeted Iowa State defensive back Deon Broomfield: “Best fans in nation. Even through a season like this we have a packed stadium. Sorry for the letdown.” It’s been a rough year to be an Iowa State fan. You can bet the players will fight to reward that loyalty in the form of a Big 12 win before the end of the season.

10. Kansas (2-7, 0-6, LW 10): The Jayhawks are 118th in scoring offense, 119th in total offense and 120th in 10-plus-yard plays. Kansas' offense is going nowhere as it’s currently constructed. It’s time for coach Charlie Weis to give freshman quarterback Montell Cozart the keys to the offense. Even though the Jayhawks failed to reach the end zone at Oklahoma State, Cozart flashed promise, leading Kansas to 202 yards on the ground and 13 of its 15 first downs.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
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Taking stock of Week 8 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Texas Tech was on the brink of dropping its first game of the season, trailing West Virginia 27-16 in the third quarter. But then tight end Jace Amaro took over, QB Davis Webb made some clutch throws and the Tech defense allowed just one first down over five West Virginia possessions to end the game. Now Tech is ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings, with a chance to surge even higher this weekend at Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeJace Amaro
AP Photo/Chris JacksonTight end Jace Amaro caught nine passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the Red Raiders' win over West Virginia.
Disappointment of the week: TCU had to win in Stillwater to have any chance of factoring in the Big 12 race. But after another inept performance offensively, the Horned Frogs could be on the brink of missing out on a bowl game instead. Through three quarters, TCU did virtually nothing offensively in a 24-10 loss at Oklahoma State, as Trevone Boykin threw three more interceptions and had the lowest Big 12 Total QBR (5.9) and Adjusted QBR (27.4) of the week. TCU still needs three wins to get bowl-eligible, and as poor as the offense has looked, that might not be so easy.

Big (offensive) man on campus: For the second straight week, Webb broke the Texas Tech freshman single-game passing record with 462 yards through the air. More importantly, he quarterbacked the Red Raiders to their most impressive victory of the season yet, with two huge completions in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. The first converted a third-and-6 on a 27-yard loft to Jordan Davis. The second converted a third-and-goal from the West Virginia 10-yard line into a touchdown, putting the Red Raiders up by two scores to clinch the victory. All told, Webb completed 36 of his 50 passing attempts, and avoided taking a sack or throwing an interception. If he had scored instead of fumbling at West Virginia 1-yard line on a quarterback draw, it would have been a flawless performance.

Big (defensive) man on campus: Linebacker Eddie Lackey spearheaded Baylor’s most impressive defensive performance of the season. Lackey led the Bears with a team-high eight tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery, as Baylor held Iowa State to just 41 yards rushing. Even though the game got out of hand early, Lackey & Co. nearly pitched a shutout. But the Cyclones finally got on the board with 47 seconds remaining on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Grant Rohach to DeVondrick Nealy. The Baylor offense gets all the headlines. But after eight weeks, the Bears also lead the Big 12 in scoring defense (No. 7 in the country).

Special-teams players of the week: Josh Stewart could not be corralled in Oklahoma State’s win over TCU. Basically a one-man show offensively with 10 catches for 141 yards, Stewart also delivered the highlight of the game, taking a punt return 95 yards for a touchdown that put the Cowboys on the scoreboard in the first quarter. Stewart later somehow hauled in a pass from fellow receiver Charlie Moore over three defenders, which set up the Cowboys’ game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. "We doubled him, we played over the top of him,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson, “and he still found ways to get there.”

Play of the week: Late in the second quarter with the Sooners still trailing Kansas, QB Blake Bell handed off to wide receiver Lacoltan Bester on an end around. Instead of continuing to run, Bester pulled up and floated a pass in stride to Sterling Shepard, who coasted into the end zone to give Oklahoma a 15-13 lead. The play energized the Sooners, who never trailed again. Had Bester not converted the trick pass, Oklahoma probably would have been in a fourth-quarter dogfight with the last-place Jayhawks.

Stat of the week: Over four Big 12 games, TCU is averaging 2.5 points per first half. The Horned Frogs have been shut out in first half already three times this season.

Quote of the week: “That’s great. I hope they keep saying it. I saw 'GameDay,' [Kirk] Herbstreit picked against us. That’s good. I hope they keep giving us that locker room material.” -- Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, on those who say the Red Raiders’ 7-0 start is a bit of fool’s gold.
In 2011, Baylor took a major step forward. But halfway through 2012, the Bears were on the verge of taking two steps back.

After falling to Iowa State in late October, Baylor opened the Big 12 with four consecutive losses. Building on the magical RGIII season seemed out the window; a bowl game, a pipe dream.

Then something happened. Seemingly overnight, Baylor transformed into the hottest team in college football north of College Station, Texas. And the Bears closed out the season winning five of six, which included a 23-point dismantling of UCLA in the Holiday Bowl.

Now, with the bulk of the defense back and an offense heavy on playmakers, Baylor is hoping it can carry over that smoking finish into 2013.

[+] EnlargeLache Seastrunk
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/USA TODAY SportsLache Seastrunk rushed for 831 yards and six touchdowns over his final six games last season.
“It was big for us to finish how we did,” said junior Bryce Petty, who is taking over for Nick Florence at quarterback. “It’s been good to go into the spring and fall with confidence.”

The Bears should have plenty of that.

The last two months of the 2012 season, Baylor took Oklahoma to the wire in Norman, routed top-ranked Kansas State and dominated Oklahoma State. Then in their bowl game, the Bears jumped to a 35-7 lead over UCLA before cruising to the easy victory.

“We never lost faith,” said coach Art Briles, “and we finished playing very strongly.”

The Bears finished strong for two reasons that could also propel them this season.

First, former blue-chip running back recruit Lache Seastrunk found his stride. In Baylor’s final six games, Seastrunk rushed for 831 yards, averaged 8.1 yards a carry and scored seven touchdowns. That run is why Seastrunk opened up on ESPN’s Heisman watch list, too.

On the other side of the ball, the defense finally uncovered an identity. The Bears still surrendered big yardage. But they also forced sacks and turnovers that put the offense in great positions to capitalize. With seven defensive starters returning, the Bears believe they can keep that going in 2013.

“That’s a set point for our capabilities,” said linebacker Eddie Lackey. “And the bar has been raised real high.”

The bar for the Baylor defense was pretty low. In their first four Big 12 games, the Bears allowed 70, 49, 56 and 35 points. They then gave up four touchdowns in the first half at Oklahoma.

Lackey pointed to the halftime discussion in Norman as the unit's turning point.

“In that locker room, we said, ‘It’s time to go. Time to turn this baby around,’” Lackey said. “That was a big changing point.”

Baylor played its best defense of the season that second half. The Bears forced two turnovers to start the third quarter to get back in the game, which remained in doubt until the Sooners recovered Baylor’s late onside kick attempt.

“We definitely got a spark from that game,” Lackey said. “We saw flashes of what we could do. Once we saw that, it turned our season around.”

By turning last season around, Baylor takes plenty of momentum into 2013, which could continue to mushroom; the Bears should be heavy favorites in six of their first seven games. In return, the November schedule is brutal. But if the Bears can harness what they unearthed last November? They could be a force no one wants to see late in the year yet again.

“If we start like we finished last year defensively, which I expect to, then we're going to be a very formidable opponent,” Briles said. “I can guarantee you that.”
Recruiting is a fickle beast. Even if your school lands an elite prospect there's no guarantee that player will develop into an difference maker at the college level. It's a realization that makes evaluation just as important as recruiting and landing top prospects. Each year relative unknowns on signing day emerge as playmakers for their college programs in the fall. Here's a look at a signee from each Big 12 school during the past two recruiting cycles (2011 and 2012 signing classes) who has already exceeded expectations.

Baylor

Linebacker Eddie Lackey wasn’t a highlight signee in February 2012. Yet the junior college transfer stepped right in and finished second on the squad with 104 tackles. He had five games with nine tackles or more and intercepted four passes, returning two for touchdowns.

In 2013: Lackey could be even better with a year under his belt. His ability to be comfortable playing in space, while bringing the physical mindset of a linebacker is one of the reasons he could be poised to earn All-Big 12 honors as a senior.

Iowa State

Receiver Quenton Bundrage wasn’t considered a “can’t miss” prospect when he signed with the Cyclones out of Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee High School in February 2011. After a redshirt season, he emerged as a threat for the Cyclones offense as a redshirt freshman with 20 receptions for 232 yards and two touchdowns in 2012.

In 2013: Fellow redshirt freshman Sam Richardson started ISU’s final three games at quarterback, overshadowing Bundrage’s contributions as a newcomer. But the duo could become a important foundation for ISU’s offensive attack over the next three seasons. At 6-foot-2, 187 pounds, Bundrage brings a size/speed combination that can be difficult for Big 12 defenses to handle.

Kansas

Jake Love played small school football at Tonkawa (Okla.) High School, making it unclear how he would transition to the rigors of playing linebacker in the Big 12. Yet, he made an immediate impact after a redshirt season, starting four games in 2012. He finished with 36 tackles, including eight tackles for loss as a redshirt freshman.

In 2013: Love’s playmaking ability became clear in 2012 so he should emerge as a mainstay in KU’s defense. His eight tackles for loss, which ranked second on the squad, are a sign of his active and aggressive approach when he’s on the field.

Kansas State

ESPN.com had him as a two-star prospect along the offensive line, so it’s hard to imagine Cody Whitehair being more overlooked when he signed with the Wildcats in 2011. A versatile lineman who started at guard and tackle at different points during KSU’s Big 12 title season, Whitehair earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors as a redshirt freshman in 2012.

In 2013: He should join center B.J. Finney as one of the anchors of the Wildcats’ offensive line. His versatility should allow KSU to get creative as they look to find ways to get their five best offensive linemen on the field in 2013.

Oklahoma

Folks in Norman, Okla., barely noticed when Arizona Western running back Damien Williams signed with the Sooners in February 2012. Senior Dominique Whaley was set to return alongside talented juniors Roy Finch and Brennan Clay, making it appear unlikely the junior college transfer would make an immediate impact. But Williams didn’t get the memo, earning the starting job at the beginning of October and finishing with 176 carries for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns.

In 2013: Williams will have to hold off a bevy of talented backs angling for carries in the Sooners backfield, but the senior has proven game-breaking ability that will be difficult to ignore.

Oklahoma State

Receiver Austin Hays was an afterthought on Signing Day 2012. The overlooked prospect outperformed several Cowboys receiver signees who were much more highly regarded in February. He started six games and finished with 29 receptions for 394 yards and two touchdowns.

In 2013: His dependability, ball skills and competitiveness should make him a mainstay in the Cowboys lineup, even though he’s not a game-breaking receiver in the mold of Dez Bryant or Justin Blackmon.

Texas

ESPN.com had Joe Bergeron as a three-star recruit who appeared to be destined to a career buried on the bottom of the depth chart behind the elite running backs the Longhorns were inking. Yet Bergeron made an immediate impact as a freshman and continues to be a productive force in UT's offensive backfield. He's scored 21 touchdowns in two seasons including 16 touchdown runs as a sophomore in 2012.

In 2013: He enters his junior season as UT's best short-yardage runner and should continue to earn carries at running back thanks to his toughness and physical running style.

TCU

Offensive tackle Aviante Collins was a three-star prospect on ESPN.com, far from a recruit with expectations to start immediately. Yet that’s exactly what Collins did, starting all 13 games of his true freshman season. And he showed some versatility by starting games at right and left tackle in 2012.

In 2013: Collins will be a foundational member of TCU’s offensive attack this season. There’s no reason he cannot be a four-year starter for the Horned Frogs and leave a legacy as one of the most productive signees in the Gary Patterson era.

Texas Tech

Jakeem Grant was never going to be considered the prototypical receiver prospect. At 5-foot-6, 163 pounds, it’s a given to have people notice Grant’s size (or lack thereof) before his ability. Size didn’t stop him from becoming one of the most explosive players on the Red Raiders offense as a redshirt freshman, averaging 11.7 yards per touch thanks to his quickness and speed.

In 2013: With Kliff Kingsbury taking over, the new Red Raiders coach will undoubtedly find ways to take advantage of Grant’s speed and open-field ability. His physical gifts are difficult for most opponents to match up with.

West Virginia

Safety Karl Joseph wasn’t a complete unknown when he stepped on campus. Yet nobody could have envisioned Joseph becoming one of the best players on WVU’s defense. He led the Mountaineers with 102 tackles and brought a physical mindset to the secondary.

In 2013: Joseph provides an excellent base upon which a foundation can be built as WVU looks to rebuild its defense. He will bring a physical presence to the Mountaineers secondary for years to come.
Every year, we see players take the leap. It's a natural progression in college. Contributors become impact players. Solid starters become superstars and there are plenty of moves in between. Only players who have played two full seasons in college football count. That means no freshmen or transfers. My regrets to guys such as Calvin Barnett, Lache Seastrunk and Devonte Fields.

Here are my picks for the Big 12's most improved players:

[+] EnlargeJosh Stewart
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports Oklahoma State's Josh Stewart stepped in at receiver and delivered a 101-catch, 1,210-yard season.
Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State: Stewart takes the honor of being the Big 12's most improved player by a landslide. A year ago, he was a bit player on a high-powered offense, grabbing 19 catches for 291 yards. The Cowboys lost their three best receivers from last season's team (Justin Blackmon, Josh Cooper, Mike Harrison) and needed somebody to step up. This season, Stewart answered the bell for an offense that needed him, catching 101 balls for 1,210 yards and seven scores.

Kerry Hyder, DL, Texas Tech: Hyder was arguably the biggest reason for Texas Tech's defensive resurgence this season, racking up 14 tackles for loss to rank fifth in the Big 12. A year ago, he had just five among his 42 tackles. This year, he made 56 stops, but had 5.5 sacks alone and broke up four passes.

Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor: Williams was a really good receiver a year ago, putting together maybe the quietest 900-yard receiving season ever. This year, though, he was better than anyone could have predicted. I voted for him for the Biletnikoff Award after leading the nation with 1,832 yards and 12 scores on 97 catches, up from 59 a year ago. He made the jump from great player to true superstar. He'll be an NFL first-rounder.

Jason Verrett, CB, TCU: Verrett had a nightmare start to 2011, getting burned by Robert Griffin III in a painful loss in Waco to begin the season. This year, he was unquestionably the Big 12's best shutdown corner and arguably one of the best in the country. Ask any Big 12 receiver. He's fast, physical and his great hands helped him grab six interceptions (fifth-most nationally) and break up a ridiculous 16 passes. That's 22 pass defenses. No other Big 12 player had more than 15.

Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas: Pierson was a great complement to power back James Sims, and ranked 10th in the league with 760 yards on just 117 carries. While Sims was suspended to begin the season, he had a pair of 120-yard games and topped 200 yards against Texas Tech, but his yards per carry (6.5) gets him on this list. Among the 25 Big 12 backs with at least 75 carries this year, only Seastrunk had a higher yards-per-carry average.

Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: Johnson was a good tackle last season, but he made a decent argument for being the best in the Big 12 this year. He was solid all season long, but seeing him shut down Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields in the regular season finale made a big impact on me. He also played well against possible top-five pick Damontre Moore, who was largely quiet in the Cotton Bowl loss to Texas A&M.

Bryce Hager, LB, Baylor: Hager's tackle numbers are a little inflated because of Baylor's early defensive struggles, but he led the Big 12 with 124 stops after making just 13 in limited duty a year ago as a freshman. If you watched him late in the year against K-State or UCLA, you saw how good Hager and his partner in crime at linebacker, Eddie Lackey, could be. It seemed like he was in Collin Klein's face all day, and the game may have been different without him.

The All-Big 12 Bowl Team

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
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The Big 12 had nine teams in bowl games this season, and here is the best of the best in the Big 12's postseason. Let's get to it.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsDavid Ash's big plays fueled Texas' comeback against Oregon State.
QB: David Ash, Texas: He edges out Clint Chelf because of his game-changing plays in the Longhorns' win against Oregon State. Ash had the best play of the entire bowl season with a crazy escape and acrobatic touchdown pass to Johnathan Gray, and he hit Marquise Goodwin on a 36-yard bomb to put the Longhorns ahead in the final minutes. He finished 21-of-33 with 241 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 22 yards and a score.

RB: Lache Seastrunk, Baylor: Seastrunk helped Baylor rout UCLA with 138 yards and a score on 16 carries in the Bears' Holiday Bowl win.

RB: Glasco Martin IV, Baylor: How many rushers did the Big 12 have this bowl season who had at least 95 yards? Two, and both played for Baylor. Martin scored three touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl and carried the ball 21 times for 98 yards. Heck of a night for the Bears backs.

WR: Darrin Moore, Texas Tech: Moore was the most consistent receiver in the bowl season with 11 catches for 84 yards, keeping the chains moving for the Red Raiders in their Meineke Car Care Bowl win against Minnesota.

WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia: Despite playing in a snowstorm, Bailey had the best performance of any Big 12 receiver. He caught eight balls for 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It wasn't enough to get the Pinstripe Bowl win, but no other Mountaineer scored a touchdown.

WR: Marquise Goodwin, Texas: The track star's touches were limited, but he had a huge impact. His 36-yard grab with 2:24 to play proved to be the game winner, and he finished with four catches for 68 yards. He also had one carry -- which he turned into a 64-yard touchdown, looking as fast as any player in college football while streaking to the end zone.

TE: Ernst Brun Jr., Iowa State: Brun caught four passes for 102 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown, to get the first-quarter party started for the Cyclones, which scored 17 points in the quarter. The rest of the game was forgettable, but Brun had one of the longest plays of Iowa State's season.

OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor: The Bears' left guard was a big reason why Baylor had so much success running the ball. Baylor racked up 306 yards on the ground against UCLA.

OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State: Purdue's Kawann Short is a stud and arguably the team's best player, but Taylor helped Oklahoma State rack up 58 points and helped hold the Boilermakers defensive tackle to just one tackle and one sack. Short had minimal impact throughout the game.

OL: LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders ran the ball well -- on the few occasions they did -- and Seth Doege had plenty of time. Waddle was a big reason why for both.

OL: Lane Johnson, Oklahoma: Texas A&M wrecking ball Damontre Moore declared for the NFL draft before the Cotton Bowl, but credit Johnson at tackle, who helped hold him to five tackles, one tackle for loss and zero sacks, despite Landry Jones throwing 48 passes.

OL: Ivory Wade, Baylor: Those 306 yards rushing for the Bears didn't come easy. Most of them came on the interior, and Wade was a solid presence in the middle of the line.

DEFENSE

DL: Chris McAllister, Baylor: He was one of a handful of guys to hold UCLA's Johnathan Franklin to 34 yards on 14 carries, had five tackles, including two sacks, and batted down a pass to help keep UCLA's passing game grounded.

DL: Alex Okafor, Texas: Okafor is my defensive MVP of the Big 12 bowl season. He gave Oregon State's offensive line nightmares and helped the Longhorns stage a late comeback with 4.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and eight stops. He also forced a fumble.

DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State: The Wildcats had a rough night against Oregon, but Williams played pretty well with nine tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.

DL: Terrance Lloyd, Baylor: Lloyd was part of the Baylor gang who helped UCLA have its worst running game of the season. He had four tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack. No zone read for you.

LB: Terence Garvin, West Virginia: Garvin was everywhere for the West Virginia defense, which largely struggled in a blowout loss to Syracuse. He forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, broke up a pass, had two sacks, made three tackles for loss and had 15 tackles.

LB: Tyler Johnson, Oklahoma State: Johnson blew up what Purdue likes to refer to as its "passing game." He made six tackles, had two sacks and forced two fumbles, including a huge hit on Purdue quarterback Robert Marve.

LB: Eddie Lackey, Baylor: Lackey was another part of Baylor's defense that put together one of its best games of the season. He made 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and five tackles.

DB: Jason Verrett, TCU: Most of Michigan State's night was frustrating in the passing game before some late success, and Verrett was a big reason for those struggles. He broke up two passes, made a tackle for loss and had 12 tackles.

DB: D.J. Johnson, Texas Tech: Johnson made 14 tackles and is on this team for one of the biggest plays of Texas Tech's season. The defense hadn't forced a turnover since Oct. 20, but Johnson picked off a Gophers pass in the final minute with Minnesota driving and the game tied. He returned it 39 yards, helping to set up the winning field goal as time expired.

DB: Jeremy Reeves, Iowa State: Reeves returned a Cody Green interception 31 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter of the Liberty Bowl loss. He had six tackles with a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

DB: Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma State: No second-half comebacks for Purdue. Lowe opened the half with a 37-yard fumble return for a score and made seven tackles with half a tackle for loss.

SPECIALISTS

KR: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech: This one is pretty simple. Grant returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score, giving Texas Tech a 7-3 lead early in the first quarter of its Meineke Car Care Bowl win.

PR: Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State: Purdue faked a punt to keep its opening drive alive but punted on its next set of downs. The always-shifty Stewart delivered a 64-yard punt return, giving Oklahoma State the ball on the Purdue 19-yard line. The Cowboys scored for a 7-0 lead to kick off the Heart of Dallas Bowl rout.

K: Jaden Oberkrom, TCU: He edges out Texas Tech's Ryan Bustin, who kicked a 28-yard winner, for making all three of his attempts, including a crazy 53-yarder for a 16-14 lead with 2:42 to play. He also made kicks of 47 and 31 yards.

P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State: He narrowly edges out Oklahoma's Tress Way (five punts, three inside 20, long of 58 yards, average 49.4 yards) for this award after pinning Purdue inside its 20-yard line on two of his three punts. He boomed a 65-yarder and averaged nearly 53 yards on his three punts. He was more valuable for Oklahoma State because field position mattered to Purdue. It didn't to Texas A&M.
Thanks for all the emails this week, everybody. Here's where you can reach me if you've got more to say.

Let's get to your mail.

Sam Brooks in Overland Park, Kan., writes: David, I saw in your Big 12 stock report that you have Kansas State's stock as going down, and your logic for this is very skewed. Sure, the Cats are losing two very important players with major leadership roles on both sides of the ball in Collin and Arthur, but don't think for a second that the quality of leadership will drop off. Tre Walker is more than ready to become the vocal leader of the 'Lynch Mob' (probably already was), and John Hubert and Daniel Sams have spent countless hours learning the intangibles from CK7. As for talent, they are taking a big hit on the defensive side pretty much only returning Zimmerman and Walker. However, as for the offense, look for them to be more explosive than this year. 5 returning on the O-Line, John Hubert, Tremaine Thompson, and Tyler Lockett all return, making it very plausible for D-Sams to ease into Snyder's system and put up huge numbers. The intense QB battle with Waters will only make both players better too. Combine that with a very favorable schedule (8 home games) and I believe K-State takes care of business in Austin early (as they did in Norman), and the Big 12 title will once again run through Manhattan, KS. (Cue November 16 hype [TCU])

David Ubben: It's possible, Sam, but I simply don't buy that K-State has pieces ready to just replace a guy as integral to the offense as Collin Klein and Arthur Brown. Both of those guys won their respective Big 12 Player of the Year awards on their side of the ball, and you don't simply replace Klein's experience and toughness or Brown's athleticism and instinct. Walker's a great player, but Brown held the defense together and missed so few tackles. The Sams/Waters quarterback derby in the spring will be interesting, but we'll see if Hubert continues his production without Klein and if Sams or Waters can prove to be a quarterback in the top half of the Big 12. That's a must if you're going to win the league.

Ask Oklahoma State how easy it is to replace pieces that are that important. OSU was a good team this year, but winning 11-12 games in this league is really difficult. The simple truth is next year's Kansas State team will not be as good as this year's team. Considering this year's team has a pretty solid case as the best in school history, I hardly think that's an insult.

K-State's a bowl team next year, but a Big 12 title contender? I don't buy that one bit, unless Sams or Waters just absolutely blows up next season. I expect one of them to be solid, but not one of the league's best.




Jamie Hoggatt in San Antonio writes: David,I really like Baylor's chances to get to 7 or 8 wins again next year. Tevin Reese will be the go to guy and will step up like TW did this year for the departed Kendall Wright. You have the Best Big 12 Lineman ( Cyril Richardson ) the best Big 12 back ( Lache Seastruck ) and Bryce Petty will do great. On defense you get all 3 LB's back ( Lackey, Hagar and Dixon ) plus 4 other starters return. The kicking game needs improvement. Art Briles is the glue and the last year in Floyd Casey should be promising.. 4 bowl games in a row for the Bears.

DU: I definitely buy it. I think Baylor's got a lot of upside next season. The receivers won't be as good as they were the past two years, but they'll still be solid, and I think Petty will be better than Florence but not as good as RG3. I do think Seastrunk is better than any back Baylor's had under Briles, and he'll get a whole lot of touches next season. I would be absolutely shocked if Baylor didn't make a bowl next season, but in a wide-open Big 12 with tons of turnover on the offensive side of the ball, a 10-win season or a Big 12 title run would be far from shocking.

I don't think it's likely, and I do think Baylor looks more like a 7 to 8-win team, but the upside is big, and guys like Petty and Seastrunk may easily surpass expectations next year. The defense has to get better, obviously, but I think the offense can maintain yet again, despite losing Florence and Terrance Williams.




Tommy in Dallas writes: When will someone please come and take Paul Rhoads out of the conference? As an opposing team fan, I don't ever want to play his teams. I can't imagine why more teams haven't come and tried to take him away yet? Or am I overlooking how much him being an ISU alumn effects the situation?

DU: You're not alone, Tommy. It's all about finding the right fit, really. There was plenty of rumblings earlier this month that Wisconsin was interested after Bret Bielema checked out to my old stomping grounds at Arkansas, but that never really materialized into anything significant. I don't know if that's the right fit for him. Pittsburgh showed lots of interest last year but Iowa State kept Rhoads around with a contract extension and a raise.

When a truly big-time program comes after Rhoads, I do expect him to leave, but right now, that opportunity hasn't come around. Until then, he's loved at Iowa State. He loves it there, too. He's a native of the state. I don't get the feeling that he believes he can turn the program into a power like Art Briles believes at Baylor, but he's building for the future, and he's not going to leave unless he does so for a major, major step up.




Nick in Fort Smith, Ark., writes: TOP HEAVY SEC!? wow! you know, i expect BIG 12 fans to be delusional, but a sports writer? pathetic. Bama, Georgia, LSU, A&M, South Carolina, Florida. ALL ten wins or more!!! thats nearly have the league! Vandy is no push over and they AND Miss St. will possibly finish with NINE wins! Arkansas with Bobby as their coach would have challenged for the pathetic BIG-12 title this year! ALL they would have had to beat was K-State and OU!!! They already throttled K-State once this year. Get your head out of Bob Stoops rear.

DU: Hey, I respect those top six teams. They're all good. All top 15 teams, though? I think there's plenty of reason to doubt that, considering as a group, they don't have a ton of great wins out of conference play. They've inflated their ranking by beating up on the bottom eight teams in the SEC, who went 0-30 against the top six this season. That's a top-heavy league if there ever was one. K-State's probably not as good as Alabama or Georgia or maybe even Florida, but teams in the bottom half of the Big 12 like Baylor or West Virginia are far superior than the bottom half of the SEC. The Big 12 is a more balanced league, but the top half of the SEC ascended in the polls largely on the back of the league's success the past 5-6 years, not what they actually did this year.




Daniel La Frankie in Temple, Texas, writes: Dave, enjoy your columns very much.Quick question. Always hear about the "Grant of rights" like it's cement.If people can sue to get out of exit fees of 10, 20, 25, now maybe 50 million dollars, and lawyer it down to a lesser fee...............why couldn't a school sue to get out of "Grant of rights"???Thanks, Dan

DU: I'm not a lawyer, but it seems highly, highly unlikely. I'll explain. The "exit fees" are, in theory, based on recouping a conference the money that it would lose if a team left the conference. That's why the supposed $50 million exit fee in the ACC may not stand up in court. Granted, we don't know that yet. We'll see. That's only a small part of it, but that's my understanding on why some schools have gotten out of paying the full fees.

The grant of rights, however, isn't based on any losses. It's an agreement to hand over your media rights to the conference for "X" period of time. In the Big 12's case, it's three years. I suppose, in theory, you could sue to get out of that, but there's no doubt that those "handcuffs" are going to be a lot more strict than the Big 12's weak exit fees that Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Texas A&M left in the dust.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 3, 2012
12/03/12
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It's time to once again hand out a few superlatives to wrap up the final weekend of the Big 12 season.

Best offensive performance: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. Smith looked more like his early-season Heisman form in his last game at Milan Puskar Stadium, a 59-10 win over Big 12 bottom-feeder Kansas. He completed 23 of 24 passes for 407 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Mountaineers to a seventh win. Honorable mention: Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor.

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia's Geno Smith
Charles LeClaire/US PRESSWIREGeno Smith's final performance at Milan Puskar Field was a reason to celebrate.
Best defensive performance: Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia. Joseph was all over the field for West Virginia against Kansas. He made seven tackles, notched half a tackle for loss and intercepted a pass, returning it 22 yards. He also forced a fumble and broke up another pass. Honorable mention: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas; Eddie Lackey, LB, Baylor.

Best team performance: Baylor. The Bears looked dominant against an Oklahoma State team that has been beating the heck out of some good teams in the Big 12 to close the season. OSU made it interesting late, but Baylor was in control from start to finish during the 41-34 win, led by Lache Seastrunk's 178 yards on 16 carries.

Best game: Oklahoma 24, TCU 17. This was fun from start to finish. Oklahoma let TCU in the game with an 80-yard touchdown on a busted play and an interception by Landry Jones to give the Frogs a touchdown on a drive that began inside the 10-yard line, but the Sooners won a third consecutive game that came down to the final play or final seconds. Amazing stuff, and the Sooners find a way yet again.

Best play: Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor. Seastrunk has had cramping issues this season, and looked to suffer another one at the worst possible time -- right after clearing the Oklahoma State offense. No worries. He limped, stumbled and bumbled the last 30 yards of his 76-yard touchdown run to ice the game in the final minutes. Honorable mention: Oklahoma's offensive line on Damien Williams' untouched, 66-yard touchdown run.

Biggest bailout: Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State. Malone was nearly a nominee for worst play, but an odd ruling earns him a special nod. Malone intercepted a wobbly ball to the sideline from Case McCoy and looked to return it for a touchdown, but pulled what's commonly known as a "DeSean Jackson," dropping the ball before he crossed the goal line. Instead of a touchback, K-State was given the ball on the half-yard line, and Collin Klein punched it in. Still. Mack Brown wasn't happy about the call, and I still don't think I understand why it wasn't a touchback.

Best quote: Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma, on the Sooners' shared title with Kansas State. "Hey, sharing is caring."

Worst play: Blaize Foltz, G, TCU. Trevone Boykin would have escaped the defender, but Foltz still got flagged for a game-changing holding penalty on what might have been a game-tying touchdown in the final minute of TCU's 24-17 loss to Oklahoma. Boykin had escaped the pocket and reached the end zone to set off a celebration, but it was all for naught, and the penalty backed up TCU into a near impossible situation with the game on the line.

Best quarter: Baylor's first quarter. The Bears scored a defensive touchdown and added another seven points on a 16-play, 98-yard drive to set the tone for the game. This would be Baylor's day against a team that Art Briles had never beaten, and had beaten Baylor six consecutive times. The Bears took control after falling behind 3-0 early and never looked back.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 13

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
10:00
AM ET
Time to pass out a few superlatives from the week that was in the Big 12.

Best offensive performance: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma. Jones broke his own school records for pass attempts (71) and completions (46) and threw for 500 yards, the third most in school history, in his final home start. He finished with three touchdowns and surpassed Texas Tech's Graham Harrell as the Big 12's all-time leading passer, moving to No. 3 on the NCAA all-time list.

[+] EnlargeEddie Lackey
AP Photo/LM OteroEddie Lackey's interception return gave Baylor its first lead of the game against Texas Tech.
Best defensive performance: Eddie Lackey, LB, Baylor. The Bears linebacker swung the game with an interception he returned 55 yards for a score early in the fourth quarter that gave Baylor its first lead of the game at 35-31. He also picked off Texas Tech QB Seth Doege again on a potential game-winning drive to set up a field goal at the end of regulation, which was missed. He also jumped on a Doege fumble at Baylor's 7-yard line to keep the game 21-7 late in the second quarter. The Bears took advantage with a touchdown drive to get within 21-14 at the half. He also finished with five tackles. Honorable mention: Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma.

Best game: Oklahoma 51, Oklahoma State 48. Bedlam yet again lived up to its billing with tons of points and a pair of Oklahoma scores late to help force overtime. Jalen Saunders ignited Owen Field with an 82-yard punt return, followed by a game-tying two-point conversion from Jones to Justin Brown. Oklahoma State answered later with a strong seven-play, 77-yard touchdown drive to take the lead. Oklahoma didn't tie it until Blake Bell escaped a tackle in the backfield and pushed his way into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown run on fourth down with 4 seconds to play. The Sooners held for a field goal in the first overtime before Brennan Clay bowled over a couple of defenders on the way to a game-winning 18-yard touchdown run that set off one of the biggest celebrations at Owen Field in a long time.

Second-best game: Baylor 52, Texas Tech 45. The Bears trailed by 14 late in the second quarter, but forced a turnover near the goal line that helped spark a comeback. The fourth quarter featured four lead changes and a missed field goal at the gun, but the Baylor defense won the game with a defensive stop against a Texas Tech offense that had sliced them up all game.

Best play: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia. The Mountaineers' offense had sputtered a bit late, but Austin provided the final blow to send WVU to a bowl game. Austin took a short touch pass in the open field and raced to the left sideline, outrunning the Iowa State defense for a 75-yard score and backed it up with a two-point conversion on the next play that provided the final score in Friday's 31-24 win in Ames.

Second-best play(s): Brennan Clay and Blake Bell, Oklahoma. Bell's game-tying, 4-yard touchdown run might have been a loss for some quarterbacks. Bell lowered his shoulder and powered his way for the score to force overtime, where Clay trucked safety Daytawion Lowe and shrugged off a few other defenders on the way to a game-winning, 18-yard score to clinch the 51-48 win over Oklahoma State.

Worst play: Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech. The senior QB had the ball and the game in his hands. A harmless screen was a bit too low and hit his offensive lineman in the head, drifting into Lackey's hands and nearly costing Texas Tech the game. Baylor missed a game-winning field goal after the miscue, but it cost Tech a chance to win the game.

Best team performance: TCU. The Frogs replaced Texas A&M as Texas' Thanksgiving opponent and walked all over the Longhorns on national television in prime time. Welcome to the Big 12, Frogs. It was the weekend's most dominant performance, featuring 217 rushing yards against a Longhorns defense that looked to have rediscovered its mojo in recent weeks.

Worst team performance: Texas. The Longhorns flopped with a BCS bid and Big 12 title still on the table and a trip to K-State awaiting next week. Texas got worked on its home field, and though a late rally nearly made it interesting, the Longhorns suffered one of the program's most painful losses in a while.

Best stat: Oklahoma hasn't had a lead in the last 120 minutes of Bedlam. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. The Sooners were dominated in a 44-10 loss a year ago and never led until Clay's 18-yard score ended the 51-48 win on Saturday.

Best quote: Oklahoma CB Aaron Colvin, on the post-Bedlam celebration on the field: "I don't know how the '08 [Texas] Tech game felt but I've never experienced anything like this tonight. I wish I had a video camera after the game to record what it was like."

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