NCF Nation: Eric Ward

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

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

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

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

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

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

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

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

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

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

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

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

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

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

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

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

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

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

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

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

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

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

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

Big 12 predictions: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
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How close I was last weekend. Close to perfection.

After starting out 4-for-4 in the picks, I had the Mountaineers in the nightcap edging out Texas in an upset special.

But at the end, neither I nor West Virginia could stop Case Magic.

Instead, it was Claire Hashtag who went undefeated with the picks, handing me a second consecutive loss to the guest picker. Suddenly, I have losing streak rivaling that of the Kansas Jayhawks.

But this week, I vow to get back on track against Charlie “Bear” Boyd, a Big 12 fan who’s been fighting the good fight in the Florida panhandle:
I have been battling hard in the trenches for the Big 12 deep in SEC/ACC territory. On my daily drive to and from work I face a barrage of Alabama bumper stickers with quips of the impending “Roll Tide Dynasty” apocalypse. I dastardly maneuver my way through neighborhoods riddled with land mines in the form of Florida State and Florida flags (along with a vast and clever assortment of other lawn décor paraphernalia). Daily, I undergo intense psychological torment from my “friends,” all trying to convince me of the superiority of their conferences to the Big 12, and the error of my ways. Somehow, in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds, I stand strong. A lone beacon of Big 12 pride. My Baylor flag waving proudly in the smoke of warfare. A steadfast reminder to all who gaze upon it that though we may be shaken, the Big 12 will never fall.

Good luck with the picks, Charlie. Just don’t give me another loss. I’m not sure I can handle it.

To be next week’s guest picker, contact me here and sell me on why you deserve a shot. And, as always, creativity counts.

To the Week 12 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 4-1 (.800)

Guest picker (Claire Hashtag) last week: 5-0 (1.000)

Trotter overall: 47-15 (.758)

Guest picker overall: 34-11 (.756)

Saturday

Oklahoma 29, Iowa State 7: The Sooners go into this game with major uncertainty at quarterback. Coach Bob Stoops said this week Blake Bell would remain his starter, but the clamor for OU to try out Trevor Knight or Kendal Thompson has reached piercing levels in Norman. The truth is, it won’t matter who the quarterback is this week. Iowa State continues to play hard but, once again, fails to generate enough offense.

Charlie’s pick: While I would love to make a crack at OU here, I just can’t bring myself to do it. I have too much respect for their program and their players. Iowa State has seen signs of life as of lately -- mostly of special teams -- and they come out looking hungry to prove they have not slipped into Big 12 irrelevance. But finding a road win proves too big a task. OU, 34-17.

Kansas 20, West Virginia 17: It will be interesting to see how the Mountaineers respond after the deflating overtime loss to Texas. They still have plenty to play for, needing to win these last two games to qualify for a bowl. And they have plenty to build from off last week’s offensive outbreak. Then again, this is a prime spot for a West Virginia letdown. Led by linebacker Ben Heeney, the Jayhawks continue to play solid defense, and they have seemingly uncovered something at quarterback in true freshman Montell Cozart. Kansas played OU tough at home last month and trailed Texas only 14-6 deep into the third quarter two weeks ago. The 27-game conference losing streak has to end at some point. The combination of a West Virginia hangover and Cozart at quarterback finally ends it.

Charlie’s pick: West Virginia comes out flat, but quickly finds pace and clinches a key road win in their quest for bowl eligibility. West Virginia, 33-17.

Kansas State 55, TCU 21: If the season started over today, where would you pick the Wildcats to finish in the conference? Second? Third? No worse than fourth. Outside Baylor, K-State is playing as well as anyone in the league and has the look of a team poised to close out the regular season with a six-game winning streak. TCU had a nice reprieve from a miserable year with a gutty fourth-quarter victory at Iowa State last week. But the hobbled Horned Frogs are headed straight into a Bill Snyder buzz saw.

Charlie’s pick: Snyder is a miracle worker. A turnaround specialist extraordinaire. A wizard. He continues to inspire his players, and they put another solid win in the books. K-State, 48-20.

Oklahoma State 31, Texas 27: The Cowboys and Longhorns have faced each other four times as BCS-ranked teams. And the Longhorns have all won all four. But never in those games have the Cowboys held the advantage defensively. Texas will be without its best offensive player, injured tailback Johnathan Gray, too. QB Case McCoy has been clutch for the Longhorns. But without Gray, against what might be the Big 12's best defense, that isn't quite enough this time.

Charlie’s pick: This pick had me spinning circles. Both great teams. Both playing their best ball at this point in the season. I think this game ends up being more of a defensive battle than people expect. This one to go into overtime, but this time Texas loses by a field goal. I will be glued to this one. OSU, 34-31.

Baylor 49, Texas Tech 31: A month ago, this game looked like it might be for the Big 12 title. Now, Baylor is a four-touchdown favorite. The Red Raiders have fallen apart defensively due in part to injuries, while their true freshman quarterbacks have been turning the ball over in droves. Baylor, however, has bigger games looming, and could get caught looking ahead. The Bears will also be adjusting to the absence of star wideout Tevin Reese, as well as a banged up backfield. The Red Raiders come out fired up to halt their late-season slide, and with receivers Eric Ward and Jakeem Grant delivering big plays in the passing game, Tech hangs tough for three quarters. Baylor’s talent, however, is too much in the fourth.

Charlie’s pick: Tech’s air-raid offense finds limited success against Baylor’s hyped-up defense, but ultimately their struggling run game limits their offensive output. Baylor puts this game away early in the fourth quarter. Baylor, 55-30.

Best WR tandems in Big 12 history

November, 4, 2013
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The Big 12 has featured some prolific wide receiver tandems over the years.

Baylor’s Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley, however, have a chance to top that list.

[+] EnlargeAntwan Goodley, Tevin Reese
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAntwan Goodley and Tevin Reese rank 1-2 in the Big 12 in receiving yards per game.
This season, Reese is second in the Big 12 with 118 yards receiving a game. He trails only Goodley, who leads the league with an average of 128 yards receiving. They are a big reason why the Bears are on pace to break the FBS records for points (56.0) and yards (624.9) per game that were set by Army in 1944 and Houston in 1989.

But Reese and Goodley aren’t the only big-time duos in the Big 12 this year.

Kansas State’s Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett have been lighting it up since returning from injury. The last two weeks the two have totaled five touchdown catches.

Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard lead the Sooners with five touchdowns apiece. Texas Tech’s Eric Ward and Jakeem Grant are fifth and sixth in the league in receiving. Oklahoma State’s Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore are beginning to warm up with Clint Chelf at QB. And Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis have been stalwarts in this league for years.

But who are the best tandems ever to play Big 12? We lay it out below.

Tight ends were not included (sorry Jermaine Gresham and Chase Coffman). The tandems were evaluated on what they accomplished together, not on whether their careers simply overlapped (eliminating Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander, for example); and, this is a list for duos, not singles, trios or quartets (apologies to Rashaun Woods, and the 2008 Oklahoma and 2010 Baylor receiving corps).

To the list:

1. Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2012): In their only year in the league, this tandem was one-two in the Big 12 in receiving, combining for 224 receptions and 2,914 receiving yards. Bailey himself had 25 receiving touchdowns; nobody else in the league had more than 13. Austin, meanwhile, also rushed for 344 yards in one game at running back. As Bailey tweeted out earlier Monday morning on this topic, “case closed.”

2. Michael Crabtree and Danny Amendola, Texas Tech (2007): Crabtree got all the headlines in 2007 on his way to winning his first of two Biletnikoff awards. But out of the slot, Amendola quietly put up 109 receptions for 1,245 yards, as Tech went 9-4.

3. Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby, Texas (2008): Shipley and Cosby starred on one of the three best Big 12 teams that didn’t win a conference title. The two each had 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit TDs from QB Colt McCoy, as the Longhorns finished the year 12-1, their only loss coming on Crabtree’s game-winning touchdown in the final seconds in Lubbock. The two were also prolific on special teams, with Shipley’s kick return touchdown sparking Texas’ 45-35 comeback win over Oklahoma.

4. Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper, Oklahoma State (2011): As with Crabtree-Amendola, Blackmon got all the attention on his way to a second Biletnikoff award. But Cooper was a pivotal piece in OSU’s first Big 12 title team, as he racked up 71 receptions out of the slot. Blackmon, of course, had a monster year with 121 catches and 18 touchdowns.

5. Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams, Baylor (2011): Reese was actually the third wheel to this duo, which shined with RGIII at quarterback. Wright was an All-American with 108 catches, 1,663 yard and 14 touchdowns. Williams was big time, too, finishing fifth in the Big 12 in receiving before taking over the No. 1 role in 2012.

6. Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills, Oklahoma (2010): Broyles led college football with 131 receptions on his way to becoming the all-time FBS leader in career catches. Stills broke OU’s freshman single-season receiving record, as the Sooners stormed back to capture the Big 12 crown after a pair of midseason losses.

7. Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas (2008): It might be difficult to remember now, but the Jayhawks used to play some ball. Meier tied Crabtree for second in the league with 97 receptions. Briscoe trailed only Dez Bryant with 1,402 receiving yards. This was an underrated duo.

8. Quincy Morgan and Aaron Lockett, Kansas State (1999): On one of the first passing teams in the Big 12, Morgan and Lockett shined. Morgan had 42 receptions for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns and was a first-team all-conference selection. Lockett, Tyler Lockett's uncle, was a second-team all-league pick for the Wildcats, who went 11-1 and finished the year ranked sixth in the polls.

9. Jarrett Hicks and Joel Filani, Texas Tech (2005): Neither might be a household name around the Big 12 anymore, but these two were both first-team All-Big 12 selections in ’05 along with Iowa State WR Todd Blythe.

10. Mark Clayton and Travis Wilson, Oklahoma (2004): Clayton carried the moniker of best receiver in OU history until Broyles came around. Because of Adrian Peterson, Clayton’s numbers dipped in ’04, but he was still an All-American with 66 catches. Wilson led the Sooners with 11 TD grabs, as OU advanced to a second consecutive national championship game.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The skill players have big-play capability.

And the Red Raiders are 5-0 for the first time in five years.

Buzz around the Big 12 so far has justifiably centered on Baylor’s offense and Oklahoma’s defense. But Texas Tech has been the surprise team of the conference.

Can the Red Raiders keep it going?

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerTrue freshman walk-on Baker Mayfield riddled Kansas before a knee injury sidelined him in the second half.
That hinges heavily on what happens at quarterback the rest of the way.

Saturday, walk-on true freshman Baker Mayfield played his best game since the opener against SMU as Tech routed Kansas 54-16 after falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter.

Mayfield completed 65 percent of his passes for 368 yards and had a nifty 19-yard touchdown dash that gave the Red Raiders the lead for good in the second quarter.

But in the third quarter, Mayfield suffered a knee injury that apparently wasn’t as bad as it looked. Coach Kliff Kingsbury said Monday morning that scans on the knee didn’t show the structural damage the Tech training staff originally feared. Kingsbury added that Mayfield wouldn’t be out for the season but didn’t add anything else, including who his starter would be this weekend against Iowa State.

“We gotta see where Baker is at and take it from there,” Kingsbury said.

If Mayfield is out, Kingsbury has two alternatives: true freshman Davis Webb, who has played quite a bit in relief of Mayfield this season, or Michael Brewer, the preseason projected starter who returned Saturday in garbage time from a back injury that sidelined him the first month of the season.

“Those quarterbacks did a good job handling themselves Saturday,” Kingsbury said.

How the quarterbacks handle themselves going forward -- and how Tech handles the quarterbacks -- will go a long way in determining whether Tech can emerge into a legit Big 12 contender along with the Bears and Sooners.

So far, the Tech defense has shown it's up to the challenge.

The Red Raiders have the eighth-best scoring defense in college football and second-best in the Big 12 behind the Sooners. Texas Tech has given up yards but has bucked up in the red zone, giving up just two touchdowns on 11 red zone attempts. The Red Raiders have also forced a Big 12-best eight fumbles.

“We’ve really harped on red zone defense all year,” Kingsbury said. “They’ve stepped up there.”

Even though the offense has been held in check at times, the Red Raiders have the skill players to match their defense.

Tight end Jace Amaro, who leads the Big 12 with 38 receptions, is a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses in the slot. Eric Ward and Bradley Marquez are big-play threats on the outside. And diminutive sophomore inside receiver Jakeem Grant is as explosive as anyone else in the league with the ball in his hands.

Running backs Kenny Williams and DeAndre Washington have struggled to get much going on the ground, but they have proved to be effective weapons catching the ball out of the backfield.

For those reasons, quarterback could be the one position that puts Tech over the top. Or, the one spot that pushes the Red Raiders down.

Although Mayfield seemed to find his stride at Kansas, Kingsbury could be back to square one at the position if Mayfield can’t practice this week.

Webb has come in and made plays, notably a late touchdown pass that helped beat TCU last month. But there’s a difference between relieving and starting. Is Webb ready for that? Brewer, meanwhile, has all the tools to be a successful quarterback in the league, when 100 percent. But is he 100 percent? And when will Mayfield be back?

The Red Raiders have three weeks to hash out those quarterback questions before they head to Oklahoma on Oct. 26. If they can, the Red Raiders could emerge into a viable conference title contender in Kingsbury’s first season.

After all, the other pieces appear to be in place.

“The defense has really carried us,” Kingsbury said. “Special teams has been a strong point.

“If the offense can get caught up, we’ll feel pretty good.”

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
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Recognizing the best and brightest from around the Big 12 in Week 6:

Baylor running backs: Bryce Petty was sharp as usual, but what a night for the Baylor rushing attack. In the 73-42 beatdown of West Virginia, it rushed for 468 yards and a whopping eight touchdowns on 7.5 yards per carry. Lache Seastrunk, the Big 12's leading rusher, put up an 80-yard score and 172 yards on 15 carries, backup Glasco Martin ran for 63 yards, No. 3 back Shock Linwood had 126 and Devin Chafin chipped in 56 yards. Big kudos to the Bear offense line for the mauling on Saturday.

RB Brennan Clay, Oklahoma: Clay locked up the Sooners' 20-17 win over TCU when he went 76 yards untouched to give OU a 10-point lead with less than five minutes left after the Frogs had cut the deficit to three points by the end of the third quarter. He finished with 111 yards on nine carries and is now the Big 12's third-leading rusher this season with 450 yards.

LB Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State: Turnovers were the key to the game in Oklahoma State's 33-29 win over Kansas State, and Lewis forced perhaps the most important one. On KSU's first play on offense after OSU had taken a 30-29 lead late, Lewis picked off an underthrown pass from Daniel Sams and picked up 21 yards. That set up Ben Grogan's field goal to go ahead by four. Lewis also led OSU in tackles with eight, had one tackle for loss and forced and recovered a fumble.

WR Eric Ward, Texas Tech: Fellow receivers Jace Amaro and Jakeem Grant are both worthy recipients this week, but we'll go with Ward because he broke out of a slump with seven catches for 122 yards and a touchdown in a win over Kansas. Six of his receptions went for first downs, and his touchdown was a 25-yarder in the fourth quarter. Amaro finished with 96 yards, and Grant added 92.

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor: Petty threw the first interception of his career, which he said will haunt him for the next week, but the junior made up for that rare moment of weakness with 347 passing yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for another score. His night was over after one third-quarter drive, and Petty has still yet to play a four-quarter game thanks to Baylor's blowout wins.
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.

DALLAS -- Baker Mayfield is not a normal freshman.

The Texas Tech walk-on quarterback led the Red Raiders to a 41-23 win over SMU at Ford Stadium on Friday night. Here’s how it happened.

How the game was won: The Red Raiders pulled away in the fourth quarter, scoring 21 consecutive points to put the game away after SMU had cut the margin to 20-16 after three quarters.

Player of the game: Mayfield accounted for five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) in his first collegiate game. The walk-on true freshman settled down more and more as the game went on, finishing 43-of-60 for 413 yards and four touchdowns. He scored on an 11-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run to help secure the win.

Turning point: Mayfield’s 33-yard pass to Jordan Davis with 1:01 left in the first half. The freshman zipped the ball through a tight window to Davis before the safety could arrive, and Davis did the rest. It seemed to give the Red Raiders’ quarterback renewed confidence that he could get it done against SMU.

Unsung hero of the game: SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert has to be disappointed with a loss, but he did as much as he could to prevent the season-opening setback. He accounted for 441 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown run.

Unsung hero of the game, Part II: When he wasn’t holding on running plays, Texas Tech receiver Eric Ward was close to unstoppable. The senior finished with 13 receptions for 150 yards in the win.

What Texas Tech learned: Coach Kliff Kingsbury learned that Mayfield can excel in his offense. Anytime you start a true freshman, particularly at quarterback, you never know how he will respond. Mayfield responded by making big plays without making the big mistake. Kingsbury will be smiling all the way back to Lubbock.

What SMU learned: The Mustangs learned they need to find some playmakers on offense. Dropped passes, limited yards after catch and a general lack of explosiveness was the underlying narrative for June Jones’ squad. Gilbert is going to need some help from his teammates if SMU hopes to have success in 2013.

Big 12 predictions: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
9:04
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An intriguing opening week in the Big 12, including a pair of neutral-site showdowns with the SEC.

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

FRIDAY

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

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

SATURDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 preseason power rankings

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
9:03
AM ET
Preseason camps have wrapped up around the Big 12, and it’s time teams focused on their openers this weekend.

It’s also time for the first Big 12 power rankings, which will appear on the blog at the beginning of each week throughout the season.

This list will change, obviously, but here is the starting point for how the Big 12 teams stack up going into Week 1:

1. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys were competitive last season, despite shuffling through three inexperienced quarterbacks. Even if Mike Gundy makes good on his promise to play both Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh, quarterback figures to be a strength this time. Weapons abound offensively, and seven starters return on defense. The schedule also favors the Pokes, with TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State all slated to visit Stillwater.

2. TCU: The Horned Frogs have the best defense in the league, maybe by far. Among the contenders, they also have -- by far -- the most difficult schedule, which begins this weekend with a neutral-site showdown with LSU. Can TCU survive the gauntlet? That hinges heavily on Casey Pachall, who has the talent to quarterback the Frogs to the Big 12 title -- even against a brutal schedule.

3. Oklahoma: Bob Stoops stunned the college football world last week by announcing Trevor Knight as his starter. There could be bumps in the road early for the redshirt freshman quarterback. But Knight’s potential appears to be vast, and he could become a lethal weapon out of the Sooners’ new read-option offense. If that happens, and Mike Stoops can get something out of an unproven defense, there’s no reason OU can’t win a ninth Big 12 championship.

4. Texas: On paper, the Longhorns would deserve to be at the top of this list. Unfortunately, for them, football is not played on paper. Texas returns 19 starters and appears formidable at every position on either side of the ball. Something, however, has been missing intangibly from this program the past three years, underscored by two consecutive no-shows in the Red River Rivalry. Can the Horns rediscover their mojo? If so, the rest of the league could be in trouble -- because the talent and experience is there in Austin.

5. Baylor: The Bears deserve to be in the same tier with Oklahoma State, TCU, OU and Texas. In other words, they are a viable Big 12 title contender. Seven starters return on a defense that uncovered an opportunistic identity last November, and the offense is, well, loaded. Then again, there’s something to be said for having done it before, which Baylor has not. The schedule is favorable early, but the Bears’ mettle will be put to the test in November-December when they face all four teams ahead of them in the power ranks.

6. Kansas State: Bill Snyder’s bunch has surprised the past two years with heady quarterback play and stingy defense. With a QB battle ongoing and only two defensive starters returning, it’s difficult to envision K-State winning double-digit games again with the same formula. That said, the Wildcats might have the best blocking line in the league, and three of the better playmakers in Tyler Lockett, Tramaine Thompson and John Hubert. You know Snyder will have his team well coached, too. In other words, the Wildcats should not be discounted.

7. West Virginia: West Virginia lost three of the best offensive players in the history of its program, and yet there’s still a lot to like about this offense. The Mountaineers added some talented junior-college transfers, and Houston transfer Charles Sims could be a star in the Big 12. Even though the defense will be improved, it probably won’t be good enough for West Virginia to contend; but it might be enough for the Mountaineers to top last year’s win total.

8. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are in a state of flux at the moment with their quarterback situation. Projected starter Michael Brewer continues to battle a bad back, which means first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury could wind up starting a true freshman Friday night at SMU. With running back Kenny Williams, wideout Eric Ward and tight end Jace Amaro, there’s more than enough around the quarterback for Tech to be prolific offensively. But unless Brewer gets healthy, it’s hard to see Tech maximizing its offensive potential.

9. Iowa State: Consistent quarterback play has been the one thing that’s kept Iowa State from becoming anything more than a .500 team in the Paul Rhoads era. Can sophomore Sam Richardson finally be the guy who turns that around? The Cyclones are banking he is. Richardson has some tools, and he played well in limited action last year with eight touchdowns compared to just one pick. He’ll need to stay efficient to offset a defense in rebuilding mode.

10. Kansas: Coach Charlie Weis said last month Kansas doesn’t deserve to be put anywhere but in last place. The Jayhawks should be better than last season, especially with former blue-chip prospect Jake Heaps now quarterbacking them. Running backs James Sims and Tony Pierson are dynamic, too. But will that be enough to pull Kansas out of the basement?
As we continue our season wrap, we'll be looking to 2013 today. Let's take a look with some bold predictions in 2013.

1. The Big 12 will not expand or institute a championship game. I get the questions every day, but I simply don't believe the Big 12 will seriously consider expansion before the new college football playoff is in place, and the Big 12 gets an idea for where it stands in the college football landscape. Bob Bowlsby turned heads when a report surfaced that he'd inquired to the NCAA about bringing back the championship game, but that's a long way from actually doing so. Bringing back a No. 1 versus No. 2 league title game unless the Big 12 is a 12-team league with divisions is the surest way for the Big 12 to find it difficult to crack the four-team playoff.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Michael C. Johnson/US PresswireTexas could face a difficult decision should coach Mack Brown and the Longhorns fall short of expectations in 2013.
2. Neither Texas nor Oklahoma will win the Big 12's automatic BCS bid. Simply put, TCU and Oklahoma State are likely better teams. One of those two will win the league and represent the Big 12 in the Fiesta Bowl as its BCS representative. Texas is good, but not quite good enough and will have a difficult decision to make about Mack Brown's future after falling short. Oklahoma is just losing too much on defense and trying to live without Landry Jones, which fans will find more difficult than they imagined.

3. The Big 12 will have a Davey O'Brien Trophy finalist. The Big 12 is reloading at quarterback, and will likely have only one starting quarterback in 2013 (barring what happens at TCU) who started at least half of his team's games in 2012: Texas' David Ash. It won't necessarily be him at the awards ceremony, but I believe in the Big 12's quarterback development, and we'll see a breakout star next year. Will it be Michael Brewer at Tech? Bryce Petty at Baylor? Ford Childress/Paul Millard in Morgantown or Blake Bell in Norman? What about Daniel Sams or Jake Waters at K-State?

4. Three Big 12 teams will finish in the national top 35 in total defense. This year, the Big 12 had only one team (TCU) crack the top 35. There will be great defenses coming back. Look for Texas, TCU and Oklahoma State to grab this accomplishment, and Texas Tech might not be far off, too. Offenses as a whole will be down from their crazy pace next year, and that's an opportunity for some experienced defenses.

5. The Big 12 will not play for a national title ... again. It's getting old for the league these days. Texas and Oklahoma both played a part in the SEC capturing seven consecutive national titles, but the Big 12's sat on the sidelines on that Monday night in January for each of the past three seasons. Make it four next year.

6. Texas Tech will be the Big 12's biggest overachiever. They'll do it on the back of Brewer, who I buy as the most likely breakout star for the Big 12 next year. He's got great running backs, a great system and great, experienced receivers. Having Eric Ward back will be huge, and Jace Amaro and Jakeem Grant will continue to grow. I'm a little cautious on picking them in the top half of the league in the preseason, but I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Red Raiders finish in the top three or four next year.

7. Baylor will win at least eight games again. The Bears' offense will be back, and the defense will be a little bit improved. It'll be enough to win eight games in three consecutive seasons with three different quarterbacks. That's crazy, and yet another testament to what Art Briles has done in Waco.

8. Kansas will win a Big 12 game. It has to happen eventually, doesn't it? The Big 12 losing streak now stands at 21 games. It won't reach 30 this time next year.


This Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas wasn't a pretty one. A fun first half gave way to a lackluster second half until the final minutes, when Texas Tech's offense shook awake and rallied for a 34-31 victory over Minnesota with a Ryan Bustin field goal in the final seconds.

Tempers boiled for much of the game, which is pretty rare in a contest between two teams with absolutely no history and few if any links among players on the rosters. Officials didn't do a great job of keeping the peace.

The Big 12 moved to 2-0 in bowl games, and the Big Ten fell to 0-1 with the loss in its postseason opener.

It was over when: Bustin busted a 28-yard field goal through the uprights to complete an unlikely comeback in the final minutes, much as Texas Tech did back in the 2006 Insight Bowl. This one was a whole lot less dramatic than the FBS bowl-record 31-point, second-half comeback of that postseason meeting with the Golden Gophers, but Seth Doege made it a ballgame when he hit Eric Ward on a short slant that turned into a 35-yard, game-tying score when the safety help went absent.

Game ball goes to: Red Raiders wide receiver Darrin Moore. There weren't a ton of truly standout performances, but Moore caught a game-high 11 balls for 84 yards.

Stat of the game: This game was chippy from start to finish. A few media members on hand reported that there was some simmering tension after a contentious rodeo contest earlier in the week (which is just as silly as it sounds) -- and it showed up on the field. Nine personal fouls (five for Texas Tech, four for Minnesota) were handed out, and at one point, Minnesota faced a third-and-49 because of personal fouls. Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro was also ejected for throwing a punch. More on that later.

Stat of the game II: Texas Tech's interception on third down in the final minute to set up the game-winning score was its first forced turnover since Oct. 20. Before that, Texas Tech had been minus-12 in turnover margin in its previous five-plus games.

Unsung hero of the game: Cornerback Michael Carter, Minnesota. He picked off Doege twice and made five tackles to help Minnesota's defense pitch a shutout in the first 28 minutes and 50 seconds of the second half.

Second-guessing: Amaro's decision-making. Texas Tech's Jakeem Grant fumbled what was nearly a go-ahead touchdown out of bounds, but Amaro made it worse by punching a defender he had pinned on the ground. Even worse? He did so right in front of an official, who flagged him for a 15-yard penalty and forced Tech into a third-and-goal from the 16. The eventual result was a blocked field goal; Minnesota took a 31-24 lead with a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Amaro didn't help his case by clearly complaining on the sideline and leaving the field while signaling "Guns Up" to the fans.

What Texas Tech learned: New coach Kliff Kingsbury has his work cut out for him. Texas Tech's offense struggled in the second half and the team looked undisciplined for all 60 minutes. The Red Raiders didn't score in the second half until the final 70 seconds. Kingsbury is right when he says the program is far from broken, but it obviously needs to be broken of some bad habits developed down the stretch in 2012. It struggled to turn red zone opportunities into touchdowns, and silly penalties hurt Texas Tech all night. The Red Raiders were clearly the better team and showed it with the victory, which came despite a very poor performance and mistakes throughout. A few minutes of solid offense in the second half were enough to win this one, but it won't be enough to win many games in the Big 12 once Kingsbury takes over.

What Minnesota learned: Bowl games mean even more pain and another rough finish for the Golden Gophers, who lost their final three games of the season. Quarterback Philip Nelson showed a lot of promise for the future, but his late interception set up the Red Raiders' winning field goal. Minnesota has now lost five consecutive bowl games, and hasn't won one since the 2004 Music City Bowl.

Pregame: Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
1:00
PM ET
Minnesota (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten) vs. Texas Tech (7-5, 4-5 Big 12)

WHO TO WATCH: Texas Tech receivers Eric Ward and Darrin Moore. They are big targets in the red zone and caught 24 of quarterback Seth Doege's 38 touchdowns this season. Only two other teams have two receivers with double-digit touchdown catches. Tech's offense runs as Doege, Ward and Moore run. Additionally, tight end Jace Amaro has been cleared to play after missing the final six games of the season with a rib injury. He adds another dangerous asset to Texas Tech's offense, which ranked 12th nationally this year. West Virginia's Geno Smith is the only quarterback with more touchdown passes than Doege.

WHAT TO WATCH: Can Minnesota compete? The two-touchdown line is one of the largest of the bowl season, but the Golden Gophers will have an opportunity to log their best win of the season since knocking off 7-5 Syracuse back on Sept. 22. The Golden Gophers lost three of their final four games of the season -- all by at least 16 points -- but all three losses came to bowl teams. Also, how will both teams handle the loss of big contributors -- wide receiver A.J. Barker (transfer) for Minnesota and cornerback Cornelius Douglas (suspension) for Texas Tech?

WHY TO WATCH: You might find a piece of the answer to the eternal question of how important quarterback play is. Tech's Doege has had his share of struggles, but he has been the guy all season for the Red Raiders and racked up 3,934 passing yards and is 12th nationally in passer rating. Minnesota, meanwhile, has played musical chairs with its quarterbacks all season long and sophomore Max Shortell was frustrated enough to transfer. Philip Nelson will get the start for Minnesota, but will he stay there? Texas Tech fans also can tune in to see how much screen time new coach Kliff Kingsbury gets during the game.

PREDICTION: Texas Tech 34, Minnesota 17. I don't think the Gophers can keep up with the speed and efficiency of Texas Tech's offense. The Red Raiders will have some defensive issues of their own, too, even though Minnesota ranks 111th nationally in total offense. Too much Red Raiders, though. Amaro returns in a big way, and Moore is a pest in the red zone for the Golden Gophers.

Bonus picks! Here's what Big Ten colleagues Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett have to say by way of a prediction:

Brian Bennett: The Red Raiders have an interim coach, and Minnesota has had a month to heal the many injuries that ravaged its offense late in the season, both of which are positives for the Gophers. I think Matt Limegrover will find some creative ways to use MarQueis Gray. Still, Minnesota lacks the weapons to go up and down the field against a high-scoring Big 12 team. Michael Carter and the Gophers' secondary will make some plays but not enough to stop Texas Tech, which pulls away after a close first two-and-half quarters. ...Texas Tech 31, Minnesota 17.

Adam Rittenberg: The Gophers' defense is much improved in Year 2 under Tracy Claeys, but you need a decent amount of offensive firepower to keep pace with Texas Tech. Like you, my concern is the lack of playmakers surrounding Nelson and Gray. Both men will see time at quarterback and help the Gophers take a first-half lead, but a Minnesota turnover changes the game and Texas Tech strikes for two fourth-quarter passing touchdowns to win. ... Texas Tech 34, Minnesota 21

B1G bowl primer: Meineke Car Care Bowl

December, 18, 2012
12/18/12
10:00
AM ET
Our snapshots of each bowl featuring a Big Ten team continue.

MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL OF TEXAS

Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

Where: Houston, Reliant Stadium

When: Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. CT)

TV: ESPN

About Minnesota: The Gophers return to a bowl game for the first time since the 2009 season after doubling their wins total from 2011 in coach Jerry Kill's second year. Thanks to an improved defense, Minnesota surged to a 4-0 start before struggling in Big Ten play. Injuries forced Minnesota to use three different starting quarterbacks: senior MarQueis Gray, sophomore Max Shortell and freshman Philip Nelson, who lost his redshirt midway through the season and started the final six contests. The Gophers finished 11th nationally in pass defense and bolstered their pass rush behind senior end D.L. Wilhite and junior tackle Ra'Shede Hageman. Nelson showed some flashes of potential in a home victory against Purdue, but injuries piled up for the Gophers' offense, which scored just 54 points in the final four games.

About Texas Tech: Like Minnesota, the Red Raiders saw most of their gains in the first half of the season. They won their first four games and six of their first seven before dropping four of their final five. The poor finish combined with mounting criticism led to the somewhat surprising departure of coach Tommy Tuberville to Cincinnati following the regular season. Texas Tech acted quickly in naming rising star Kliff Kingsbury as head coach, although offensive line Chris Thomsen will coach the Red Raiders in the bowl. The passing tradition at Tech is alive and well as Seth Doege triggers the nation's No. 2 pass offense (361.9 yards per game), and the Red Raiders also rank in the top 20 nationally in both scoring and total offense. The defense performed well through the first half, shutting down then-Heisman Trophy favorite Geno Smith and West Virginia, but the unit struggled late, surrendering more than 50 points in four of the final six contests.

Key players, Minnesota: Gray is set to play his final game in a Gophers uniform, and as has been the case for much of his career, his position is somewhat of a mystery. Gray started at quarterback last season and opened this fall as the team's top signal-caller, but knee and ankle injuries forced him to wide receiver. The extended break before the bowl has allowed Gray to get healthy, and both he and Nelson are practicing at quarterback. Although running back Donnell Kirkwood has been good at times, Minnesota lacks offensive playmakers. Senior cornerback Michael Carter headlines the secondary after recording two interceptions and 14 pass breakups this fall. Wilhite tied for second in the Big Ten with 8.5 sacks.

Key players, Texas Tech: Doege ranks 14th nationally in pass efficiency (156.6 rating) and ninth in total offense (331.1 ypg), having eclipsed 300 pass yards in nine of 12 games with a 499-yard effort against West Virginia and a 476-yard performance against Kansas. He has two excellent targets in wide receivers Darrin Moore and Eric Ward, both of whom rank in the top 20 nationally in receptions and in the top 30 nationally in receiving yards. Junior defensive end Kerry Hyder triggers Texas Tech's pass rush with five sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Senior safety Cody Davis leads the unit in tackles (91) and interceptions (3), and ranks second in pass breakups (7).

Did you know: The teams' only previous meeting was a memorable one, as Texas Tech made a huge comeback to force overtime and eventually beat Minnesota in the 2006 Insight Bowl. The blown lead led to Minnesota's firing of longtime coach Glen Mason the next day. ... Texas Tech is bowl-eligible for the 19th time in the past 20 seasons. ... Minnesota will be looking for its first bowl win since the 2004 Music City Bowl, when it defeated Alabama 20-16. ... Minnesota is 5-9 all-time in bowls and has dropped four straight. ... Texas Tech makes its third appearance in what's now known as the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. Texas Tech played in the inaugural game in 2000 (then named the galleryfurniture.com Bowl) at the Astrodome and again in 2003 (then named the EV1.net Houston Bowl) at Reliant Stadium. Texas Tech's last appearance resulted in a 38-14 win over Navy on Dec. 30, 2003.

Big 12 position rankings: Receivers/TEs

February, 14, 2012
2/14/12
9:00
AM ET
We're continuing our look at the postseason rankings for each position in the Big 12. Here's a look back at where the receivers ranked in the preseason.

In this position, unlike quarterback, depth is a major, major factor in these rankings.

More postseason position rankings:
[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJustin Blackmon highlighted Oklahoma State's deep group of receivers this season.
1. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys boasted two-time Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon, but he wasn't the only weapon. The Cowboys had nine (!) receivers with at least 19 catches and 200 yards receiving this season. Insane. Life is good with Brandon Weeden at quarterback.

2. Baylor: Kendall Wright actually outperformed Blackmon and Ryan Broyles on the stat sheet, catching 108 balls for 1,663 yards. The Bears didn't have the insane depth of OSU, but the trio of Wright, Terrance Williams (59 rec, 957 yards, 11 TDs) and Tevin Reese (51 rec, 877 yards, 7 TDs) were all in the Big 12's top seven receivers.

3. Texas A&M: Ryan Swope emerged to become one of just four Big 12 receivers to notch 1,000-yard seasons. Jeff Fuller's season was disappointing, but he still finished eighth in the league in receiving, and Uzoma Nwachukwu was in the league's top 15 in receiving.

4. Oklahoma: The Sooners weren't quite as solid as they thought to begin the season. Broyles was as advertised, though his Biletnikoff-contending season was cut short by a torn ACL. The unit was productive, but came down with the drops late in the season. Broyles and Kenny Stills were both in the league's top seven in receiving, and Jaz Reynolds caught 41 passes for 715 yards to crack the top 10.

5. Texas Tech: Tech's top target, Darrin Moore, battled injuries all year, but Eric Ward emerged as the team's most consistent target, catching 84 passes for 800 yards and 11 scores. Alex Torres missed two games, but added 616 more yards.

6. Missouri: The Tigers' receivers had their production dip with a dual-threat passer in James Franklin who ran the ball more than his predecessor, but they were still pretty good, despite lacking a true big-time threat. T.J. Moe caught 54 passes for 649 yards and four scores. Tight end Michael Egnew added 50 grabs for 523 yards and three scores. L'Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas and Wes Kemp had unremarkable individual seasons, but their production added up to a good year for Mizzou's receivers.

7. Kansas State: Kansas State was better than most thought to begin the season, but the ground-based offense limited their receivers' ability to finish with big production. Chris Harper (40 rec, 547 yards, 5 TDs) led the group. Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett showed some good promise, too.

8. Texas: The Longhorns could get really good, really fast at this spot. The uncertainty/struggles at quarterback limited this group, but Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis could both mature into absolute stars. For now, though, they didn't quite crack the top 15 in the Big 12 in receiving. Both topped 40 catches and 600 receiving yards.

9. Iowa State: Darius Reynolds' size downfield will be missed, but Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz are tough covers working the middle of the field. Reynolds caught seven touchdowns, and Horne and Lenz both topped 38 catches.

10. Kansas: Yikes. The Jayhawks didn't have a receiver in the league's top 20, but D.J. Beshears led the team with 40 grabs for 437 yards and three touchdowns. He was the only Jayhawk in the Big 12's top 32 in receiving.

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