NCF Nation: Jake Heaps

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- We can all agree just about every team in the cluttered Coastal Division has a chance to win it.

Yet, it was still a surprise to see Miami selected as the media’s preseason choice to play in its first ACC championship game. Sure, the Canes have a shot just like the other five teams that earned first-place votes, but it is hard to see how they have the best shot to make it to Charlotte.

Duke is my choice to finish first. Here is why I believe the Blue Devils have more of an edge than Miami headed into the season.

1. Quarterback. Duke is one of three teams in the league to return its starting quarterback. Senior Anthony Boone showed tremendous growth through 2013, and has used his fourth-quarter performance in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl as an opportunity to grow and learn, too. Coach David Cutcliffe says Boone has taken on much more leadership, responsibility and accountability. He should, especially with Brandon Connette out of the mix.

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Miami, meanwhile, has no answers at quarterback -- not until Ryan Williams returns from a torn ACL. Kevin Olsen or Jake Heaps will have to pilot the Canes until then and there are major question marks around both. You don't need to read much into these comments from Johnson to wonder: Has Olsen matured? Can Heaps live up to the hype that trailed him out of high school? And even when Williams does return, he is no sure thing. He’s only taken a handful of snaps in mop-up duty at Miami and just two against Top 25 competition (garbage time in a blowout to Kansas State). Duke Johnson is one of the best players in the country, but Miami needs an effective quarterback to help him out. We don’t know yet whether he does.

2. Schedule. Miami plays one of the toughest schedules in the ACC. The Hurricanes get both Florida State and Louisville out of the Atlantic, and then have to play at Virginia Tech on a Thursday night. No other bona fide Coastal contender has to face that trifecta. Miami will definitively be without Williams for the opener at Louisville, a team that destroyed the Canes in the Russell Athletic Bowl in December. Louisville has a radically different look, but the Cards already are favored to win. Duke, meanwhile, avoids Florida State, Clemson Tigers and Louisville, playing Syracuse Orange and Wake Forest from the Atlantic. In addition, the Blue Devils get Virginia Tech and North Carolina at home. It seems pretty clear Duke has the schedule advantage.

3. Defense. The truth is, neither defense was stellar last season. Miami and Duke ranked toward the bottom in the ACC in just about every major defensive category. But no coordinator is under fire more than Mark D'Onofrio at Miami. There is a level of play people have come to expect from the Miami defense, and nobody has seen it in years. Al Golden has talked up his group headed into this season, but acknowledges the defensive line needs to transform itself into a dominating group. For Miami to make the jump to a championship, it needs a vastly improved group. I’m just not sure the Canes will field a dominating defense this year.

Certainly, Miami has the talent to make it to the title game. The Canes had early momentum last year before they fell back, mostly because Johnson was hurt. A healthy Johnson gives Miami an opportunity to win all its games. But remember, even when Johnson was healthy last season Miami was living on the edge, needing fourth-quarter comebacks against Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, North Carolina and Wake Forest.

The bottom line is this: There are far too many questions to overlook to believe in Miami as the preseason Coastal favorites.

Agree? Disagree? Vote in our poll and drop me a line in the mailbag with your thoughts. Best comments go up Friday.
videoGREENSBORO, N.C. -- The 2014 ACC Kickoff is in the books, and while the preseason hype rarely translates well to the games on the field, there were still a few notable take-aways from the festivities at the Grandover Resort. Here are five things we learned from this year's media days.

1. The College Football Playoff is on everyone's mind.

Florida State Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher led the charge for the ACC in Greensboro, touting the accomplishments of the conference last year, including the Heisman winner, a national title and an Orange Bowl winner, a slew of NFL draft picks and 11 bowl invitations. Fisher and others continued to refer to the ACC as "the No. 1 football conference" in the country.

That, of course, may not sit so well with the SEC, but it was actually a Big 12 coach that landed the first blows after Fisher referred to the conference's lack of a championship game as "ridiculous."

Baylor's Art Briles fired back, saying "Jimbo Fisher needs to worry about the ACC" rather than tell the Big 12 how to conduct business.

Of course, it was clear that the ACC was exactly what Fisher and others were worried about as the politicking to ensure the conference has at least one representative in the first College Football Playoff is already underway. There are five power conferences and just four playoff spots, so someone's going to be left out, and Fisher has no interest in watching the games from home.

2. Jameis Winston isn't shying from the spotlight.

Jameis Winston was the star of the ACC Kickoff, arriving to a horde of media members eagerly awaiting something controversial. Instead, Winston (mostly) said all the right things, talking up his team and the league, offering jokes when possible and, most notably, admitting he had plenty of maturing to do in light of the off-field incidents that have dogged his career thus far.

Winston said he understood the spotlight he would be living in this year, adding that he had to "live up to the hype," and if he didn't, "it would be chaos."

Of course, Winston has made a habit out of sounding good -- and confident -- in front of the cameras, but the spotlight will stick with him well beyond his time in Greensboro.

Oh, and speaking of Winston's future: He notably declined to comment on his father's promises that the Heisman winner would be playing two more seasons at FSU. Instead, Winston said he "couldn't predict the future." In other words, don't cross him off your 2015 mock drafts just yet.

3. No one knows what will happen in the Coastal Division.

It's not that the media has a particularly successful track record of picking winners at ACC Kickoff, but this year's preseason poll was particularly telling about the depth of quality -- or, perhaps, litany of weaknesses -- in the Coastal Division.

The Miami Hurricanes came away as the overall favorite among the voting media, but the team finished with the third-most first-place votes in the division. Duke, last year's winner, had the most first-place votes and was second overall. North Carolina ranked fourth, but had the second-most first-place votes. In all, six of the seven teams in the conference had at least one first-place vote. Only Virginia missed out, which given the utter ridiculousness of it all, probably means the Hoos will be playing the Atlantic winner in Charlotte this December.

4. Miami has quarterback concerns.

There's still optimism Ryan Williams will be back at some point, but there's no certainties on when that might happen -- if it happens at all. That leaves the Hurricanes with a vacancy at the most important position on the field, and it also likely means a void in leadership, too.

"Ryan Williams is still the leader," tailback Duke Johnson said, "Kevin Olsen is just a quarterback."

Coach Al Golden mirrored those comments, saying Olsen -- the freshman -- still had to mature as a player and earn the respect of his teammates. Transfer Jake Heaps is now in the mix, too, but he's going to be learning on the fly.

In the end, the quarterback concerns weren't enough to keep the media from tabbing Miami as the Coastal favorite, and Johnson can at least agree with that.

"They might not have the strongest arm or be the fastest or the most accurate," Johnson said, "but when you have the receivers we do and the offensive line we do, it becomes pretty simple."

5. No one's handing the Atlantic to FSU.

Syracuse Orange coach Scott Shafer said he first understood how good Florida State was during pregame warm-ups last year. He pointed out a few players who were far bigger than anyone on his team, only to learn the FSU behemoths were redshirting.

But even with the knowledge that his Orange are facing an uphill battle, Shafer wasn't admitting defeat before the games are played in 2014.

"The great thing about football is that the ball is oblong and does funny things and on any given Saturday you have an opportunity to steal a game," Shafer said.

Syracuse would need a big upset, but Clemson and Louisville think they've got good chances to win the Atlantic. Tigers defensive end Vic Beasley was particularly vocal about this year's matchup against the Seminoles with Clemson's formidable defensive front leading the way. Dabo Swinney has never backed off his comments that his team wasn't far behind FSU last year, and he's encouraged that a new-look offense, led by quarterback Cole Stoudt, can upset the Seminoles in 2014.

Of course, we're still a long way from that finish line, so for now, it's all just talk.

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
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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 helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 3, 2013
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Recognizing the best and brightest from around the Big 12 in Week 10:

Oklahoma State QB Clint Chelf: Mike Gundy was rewarded richly for rolling with Chelf in the Cowboys' 52-34 road upset of No. 15 Texas Tech. He threw for 211 yards and two touchdowns, and he stunned the Tech defense with a 67-yard touchdown run on a draw play. Chelf finished with 88 yards and two scores on the ground and got plenty of help from another workhorse performance from Desmond Roland. It was an impressive must-win for OSU that should quiet some of the quarterback battle chatter in Stillwater.

West Virginia RB Charles Sims: The Houston transfer came up big for West Virginia in a 30-27 overtime victory over TCU. Against a defense with a reputation for defending the run, Sims ran for 154 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries and added a 13-yard touchdown catch to help WVU rally and eventually finish off the disappointing Horned Frogs. Sims now has 865 total yards and five touchdowns on the season.

Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro: Amaro had a career day in the loss to Oklahoma State, putting up 174 receiving yards and a touchdown on 15 receptions. No receiver in the country had more yards on Saturday, and Amaro's season stats at this point are stunning: 79 catches for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns. With Baylor on a bye, Amaro is now the leading receiver in the Big 12 and its first to surpass 1,000. Time to pack the Mackey Award in bubble wrap and ship it off to Lubbock.

Kansas State defense: Yes, Iowa State's offense is abysmal and the Cyclones are now 1-7 on the year. But Kansas State recorded three interceptions, let ISU enter the red zone only once and came close to pulling the shutout in a 41-7 beatdown. The Wildcats needed this win to keep their hopes of six wins and a bowl trip alive, and their defense took care of business on Saturday.

Texas DT Chris Whaley: We've got to show some love to the big fella for another game-changing touchdown. With Texas only leading Kansas 14-6 midway through the third quarter, the senior lineman scooped up a Jake Heaps fumble and ran it back 40 yards for a score that coach Charlie Weis admitted swung the game's momentum for good. It was Whaley's second touchdown in three weeks after recording a pick-six against Oklahoma.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
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There was little change in this week’s power rankings, as the favorites held serve:

1. Baylor (6-0, 3-0 Big 12, last week 1): The No. 8-ranked Bears got some major help in the national title picture over the weekend, as LSU, Louisville, Texas A&M, Clemson and South Carolina all got knocked out of the mix. That really leaves only Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Missouri, Ohio State and Miami (Fla.) ahead of Baylor in the pecking order at the moment. Missouri will have to beat Alabama to get the title game, and Baylor has a decent chance of passing the Buckeyes, due to the weakness of the Big Ten. The Bears, however, have virtually no shot of passing Oregon or Florida State. Those are the two teams Baylor fans need to begin rooting against.

2. Texas Tech (7-0, 4-0, LW 2): The faith Kliff Kingsbury showed in true freshman QB Davis Webb on Saturday was extraordinary. Webb’s second-quarter fumble at the West Virginia 1-yard line completely changed the complexion of the game, but that didn’t shake Kingsbury’s confidence in his quarterback. And, even though Texas Tech’s defense had shut down West Virginia on four straight drives and led by a field goal, Kingsbury put the game on Webb’s arm by calling two third-down pass plays in the final two minutes. Webb completed both passes, which should also give him plenty of self-confidence heading into this weekend’s road tilt at Oklahoma.

3. Texas (4-2, 3-0, LW 3): Was the dominant performance against Oklahoma a one-game anomaly? The Longhorns have the talent to make a run at the Big 12 title. Maybe they have the identity now, too. If Texas keeps pounding the ball between the tackles with Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, that will continue to set up one-on-one opportunities for Mike Davis downfield. As the Sooners found out, such a formula could make the Longhorns formidable the final month and a half of the season.

4. Oklahoma State (5-1, 2-1, LW 5): The Cowboys finally turned the offense back over to Clint Chelf and not a moment too soon, as J.W. Walsh threw another two interceptions in the first quarter. But, in reality, Oklahoma State’s offense would be best off utilizing both quarterbacks going forward. The Cowboys hit their stride offensively last season only when they used Chelf as the base quarterback, then brought in the Walsh package in certain situations. Chelf’s arm strength can get the ball to Oklahoma State’s talented receivers downfield, which, in turn, opens up the running game. But Walsh brings savvy, toughness and leadership -- and he can make plays with his legs. Perhaps that quarterback blend will finally ignite this offense, which looks pretty rough at the halfway point of the season.

5. Oklahoma (6-1, 3-1, LW 4): The Sooners’ downfield passing game continues to be incompetent, as Oklahoma completed just two passes longer than 16 yards at Kansas. One of those was a reverse pass from Lacoltan Bester to Sterling Shepard. That’s two straight games in which QB Blake Bell has completed only one pass downfield. The Sooners were able to grind out 235 yards on the ground, but that was against a Kansas defense missing its best player (linebacker Ben Heeney). If the Sooners can’t complete passes downfield against man coverage, they have little chance of getting to double-digit wins.

6. West Virginia (3-4, 1-3, LW 7): West Virginia has begun to show some life offensively. The Mountaineers gained 473 yards of offense against a Texas Tech defense that has been pretty solid. At one point, the Mountaineers scored on five straight possessions. Clint Trickett is all over the place with his throws, but at least he makes things happen. Running back Charles Sims is a star, and backfield mate Dreamius Smith is legit, too. The schedule also eases up considerably for the Mountaineers, as West Virginia has already faced four of the top five teams in the league. If the offense keeps developing, this could still be a bowl team. That wouldn’t be a bad season, either, considering the offensive firepower the Mountaineers had to replace from last season.

7. Kansas State (2-4, 0-3, LW 8): The Wildcats have not played poorly despite their 0-3 start in the league, but with Oklahoma and Texas Tech still on the schedule, K-State almost has to beat West Virginia at home this weekend if it’s going to advance to a bowl. The good news is that starting receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson are expected back, which should be a big boost to QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters.

8. TCU (3-4, 1-3, LW 6): The Horned Frogs are beginning to stake their claim as one of the worst offenses in Big 12 history. Switching coordinators or switching quarterbacks -- Gary Patterson tried both Saturday -- isn’t going to make any difference, either. Even with the best defense in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs will be in danger of missing out on a bowl game if they don’t beat Texas this weekend. QB Casey Pachall is close to returning, but not even he can salvage this dumpster fire of an offense.

9. Iowa State (1-5, 0-3, LW 9): After three straight promising performances, the Cyclones took a step back in Waco, Texas. Nobody expected Iowa State to win, but to get completely annihilated was disappointing, as coach Paul Rhoads called the game a “fiasco.” Now, yet again, the quarterback position has become a moving part. Sam B. Richardson is so banged up the Cyclones considered shutting him down for the season. Rhoads replaced Richardson with Grant Rohach in the second quarter to no avail. The No. 1 obstacle that’s kept Iowa State from becoming more than a .500 program has been the inability to find a long-term answer at quarterback. Dating back to last November, the Cyclones have put their chips on Richardson being that answer. Now, who knows what direction they'll go.

10. Kansas (2-4, 0-3, LW 10): Now that the Jayhawks have burned the redshirt of freshman QB Montell Cozart, they might as well turn the offense over to him. Jake Heaps just isn’t getting it done, as he completed five of 13 passes for 16 yards against Oklahoma. Sixteen yards. It’s not all on Heaps: The Kansas receiving corps is terrible. But that’s all the more reason to go with Cozart, who can at least make plays with his feet.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
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Texas moves back up in this week's Power Rankings, West Virginia moves back down and the top four remain steady:

1. Oklahoma State (3-0, 0-0 Big 12; last week: 1): When he was the coordinator in Stillwater, Dana Holgorsen recruited quarterback J.W. Walsh to Oklahoma State. This Saturday, Holgorsen's Mountaineers must deal with stopping Walsh, who’s been terrific since taking over the starting quarterback job in the opener. Walsh ranks sixth in the country in QBR and is a major reason why the Cowboys are three-touchdown favorites for their game in Morgantown.

2. Baylor (3-0, 0-0 Big 12; last week: 2): The Baylor-hasn’t-beaten-anybody argument only holds so much water. Who in the Big 12 has really beaten anybody? Oklahoma State over Mississippi State? Texas Tech over TCU? Oklahoma over West Virginia? The fact is, even against three doldrums, Baylor has been as impressive as any team in the league. This offense has a chance to be as prolific as the 2011 Oklahoma State Cowboys or the 2008 Oklahoma Sooners.

3. Oklahoma (3-0, 1-0 Big 12; last week: 3): After opening with three home victories, the Sooners will finally find out about their team during a road trip to South Bend, Ind., this weekend. They should find out a lot about quarterback Blake Bell, too -- he was marvelous after replacing Trevor Knight two weeks ago against Tulsa. But that was against Tulsa in Norman. This is Notre Dame in South Bend. If OU wins this game, people will begin to mention the under-the-radar Sooners as a possible dark horse national title contender.

4. Texas Tech (4-0, 1-0 Big 12; last week: 4): The Texas Tech defense continues to play well, but the offense was sluggish again in a 33-7 victory over Texas State. Kliff Kingsbury has to decide whether he’s going to stick with Baker Mayfield as his starting quarterback or go with Davis Webb, who has made plays the last two weeks in relief of Mayfield. Kingsbury might secretly and anxiously be waiting on the return of Michael Brewer, who’s been injured since the summer with a bad back but is close to rejoining the team on the practice field.

5. Texas (2-2, 1-0 Big 12; last week: 8): After winning their Big 12 opener 31-21 over Kansas State, the Longhorns still have plenty to play for. But they are also beaten up. Linebacker Jordan Hicks is out for the season again with a ruptured Achilles tendon, quarterback David Ash continues to deal with concussion issues and offensive playmaker Daje Johnson remains out with an ankle injury. The game with Oklahoma (Oct. 12) looms, too. A victory in Dallas is about the only thing that can save Mack Brown’s job and completely reverse momentum in Austin.

6. TCU (1-2, 0-1 Big 12; last week: 5): Gary Patterson was not pleased with his team during the off week. Patterson told reporters last week the Horned Frogs were “feeling sorry for themselves” after the 20-10 loss at Tech. “If we don’t grow up,” Patterson said, “we’re not going to win any more ballgames.” The Frogs had better grow up quickly if they want to avoid letting this season turn into a catastrophe. TCU faces road trips at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in October.

7. Kansas State (2-2, 0-1 Big 12; last week: 7): Even though Texas had been a sieve stopping opposing quarterbacks on the ground, Bill Snyder elected to use Daniel Sams sparingly in Austin. Sams averaged 6 yards a carry but got only eight carries as Jake Waters again took the bulk of the snaps at quarterback. Even though wideout Tyler Lockett is having a monster season, the Wildcats with Waters behind center have been just average offensively, which is flirting with disaster in the Big 12. Especially when the defense is just average, too.

8. West Virginia (2-2, 0-1 Big 12; last week: 6): So much for the idea that the Mountaineers could just replace Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. West Virginia looked completely inept offensively in a 37-0 loss to Maryland, which is a good team, but not that good. The Mountaineers, who had one of the best passing attacks in the country last year, suddenly can’t pass. Quarterback Ford Childress threw for just 62 yards with two interceptions Saturday, not that Paul Millard fared any better in West Virginia’s first two games. Holgorsen said he’s sticking with Childress at quarterback, which is a sign the Mountaineers are building for the future. The present is not a pretty sight.

9. Kansas (2-1, 0-0 Big 12; last week: 9): With the bottom half of the Big 12 struggling so much, the Jayhawks have the opportunity to win a couple of games in the league. But Kansas has its own problems. An offense that was supposed to be improved actually has been worse so far this season. After scoring just a field goal over three quarters against Louisiana Tech, the Jayhawks had to scramble late to escape with a 13-10 win. Jake Heaps owns the worst Total QBR (32.2) in the league and the Kansas wide receivers so far have been a disappointment. There is some talent on Charlie Weis’ offense, especially in the backfield. But it has yet to manifest on the field.

10. Iowa State (0-2, 0-0 Big 12; last week: 10): The Cyclones have back-to-back Thursday night games on deck: at Tulsa and at home against Texas. If Iowa State can’t prevail in either, this will end up being the worst season of the Paul Rhoads era. The only way the Cyclones can avoid that fate is by conjuring something in the run game, which has been abysmal so far this season.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 4

September, 22, 2013
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Iowa State, TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were all off. But we still learned plenty about the Big 12 in Week 4:

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBaylor QB Bryce Petty leads the nation in QBR and the Bears have been nearly unstoppable in its nonconference games.
1. Baylor can’t be stopped: What the Bears have accomplished in three nonconference games has been incredible. Sure, the nonconference slate was bad. But the numbers Baylor is putting up are absurd. Capped with the 70-7 win over Monroe, the Bears outscored their three nonconference opponents by a combined score of 209-23 -- the largest scoring differential in an opening three games, according to ESPN Stats & Information, by any FBS team of the past 10 seasons. The Bears lead the nation in scoring, Bryce Petty leads in the nation in QBR and running back Lache Seastrunk is averaging 11 yards per carry. This offense, obviously, faces tougher tests ahead. But Baylor has the look of an offense that will be scoring on everyone it faces.

2. West Virginia can’t score: How far the West Virginia offense has fallen since that 70-point outburst in the 2011 Orange Bowl. In the first half against Maryland, the West Virginia offensive effort was futile. West Virginia compiled 65 yards compared to 61 yards in penalties; the Mountaineers also had as many first downs (two) as interceptions in the first half, as Maryland jumped to a 30-0 halftime lead before coasting to the 37-0 victory in Baltimore. Coach Dana Holgorsen said afterward he’s sticking with Ford Childress at quarterback, but the quarterback can only do so much with the West Virginia offensive line and receivers. Had running backs Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith not transferred in, this offense would be completely hopeless -- assuming it isn’t already.

3. Texas proved it doesn’t always lie down: During Big 12 media days, Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker was quoted saying that “Texas laid down a little bit” in their game last season because “that’s what they do.” Despite tumbling in with a two-game losing streak, the Longhorns didn’t lie down Saturday, instead grinding out a 31-21 win over the Wildcats. Who knows what -- if anything -- the win will do for Mack Brown or the Longhorns’ season? At the least, the win offered a little respite for a team that’s had to endure nothing but negativity since the first week of the season.

4. The Kansas schools have issues offensively: Both Kansas and Kansas State should be better offensively than what they’ve showed. Despite having former blue-chipper Jake Heaps at quarterback and one of the league’s better running back tandems in Tony Pierson and James Sims, the Jayhawks needed 10 points in the fourth quarter to edge out Louisiana Tech, 13-10. Meanwhile, against a Texas defense that had been porous stopping the run, the Wildcats managed just 115 yards rushing on 38 carries. If not for wideout Tyler Lockett, K-State might not have scored the whole night. Both the Kansas and K-State offenses have good players. Just not good offenses at the moment.

5. Texas Tech is back to square one at QB: For the second straight game, Davis Webb replaced fellow true freshman Baker Mayfield at quarterback. Last week, it was due to injury. In Saturday’s sloppy 33-7 win over Texas State, it was due mostly to the offense remaining stagnant, though Mayfield did get shaken up after taking a shot to his back. Mayfield completed 13 of 18 passes for 122 yards and an interception before getting replaced. But Webb didn’t fare all that much better, going 19-of-43 passing for 310 yards and an interception. Webb also badly missed Jakeem Grant and Jace Amaro wide open in the end zone near the end of the game. Coach Kliff Kingsbury said both quarterbacks would play going forward, but he also noted the position “just has to get better.” It’s unclear how Kingsbury will use his quarterbacks, but Michael Brewer is getting closer to practicing again after sitting out the past several weeks with a back injury. Brewer, the projected starter going into the preseason, could ultimately become Kingsbury’s answer at quarterback once he returns.

Big 12 predictions: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
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Instead of going to a game this weekend, I stopped by Waco, Texas, earlier in the week to check out Art Briles’ bunch in person.

Our guest picker this week is Roger Berman, a Red Raider who hails from Orange, Texas. Here is Roger’s guest picker submission:
I have been around a few years. Just turned 60 in August. I attended Texas Tech, and got my B.S. in chemical engineering in 1976. Older brother went to Oklahoma State. Little brother was smart -- he graduated from Texas Tech. I have been following the Southwest, Big 8 and Big 12 conferences for more than 45 years. I know I can pick 'em better than a young pup like you. What you say to that?

Well, Roger, compared to you, I suppose I am a young pup. Challenge accepted.

By the way, thanks to Roger’s Red Raiders, I dispatched of last week’s guest picker, James. Get ready to join him, Roger.

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

Now, to the picks for Week 4:

SEASON RECORD

Last week: 7-1 (.875)

Guest picker last week: 6-2 (.750)

Overall: 21-4 (.840)

Guest picker overall: 6-2 (.750)

Saturday
Kansas 33, Louisiana Tech 21: Jake Heaps struggled in the loss at Rice, but Charlie Weis said this week the one player he's not worried about is Heaps. I’m not worried about the Kansas quarterback, either. As for the rest of the team, well, that's another story. The Jayhawks will be fine in this one, before they embark on another long season in the Big 12.

Roger’s pick: Heaps takes it up a notch with more than 200 yards passing. Kansas, 28-17

West Virginia 30, Maryland 27: The Terrapins are 3-0, but their best win came last week over Connecticut, which fell to Towson in its opener. In other words, Maryland has yet to play anybody. The Mountaineers lost at Oklahoma, but they hung tough. That moral victory should give them the confidence they can win this game. Especially with Ford Childress now at quarterback.

Roger’s pick: I think Childress has a great day; once again, a freshman steps up in the Big 12. West Virginia, 35-27

Baylor 63, Louisiana-Monroe 10: By picking the Bears to score nine touchdowns, I’m actually picking them to have a down day. Baylor, which is averaging 70 points a game, has scored four touchdowns in the first quarter of both games this season. Mercifully for Monroe, the Bears don’t touch that first-quarter mark this game, due to a little rust coming off an open week. Not that it really matters. Baylor drops off four touchdowns in the second quarter to put another game away before halftime.

Roger’s pick: Bryce Petty has another good day; not sure who can stop this offense. Baylor, 49-7

Texas Tech 45, Texas State 13: The Red Raiders won ugly last week. This week, they get back to winning pretty. Boosted by Kliff Kingsbury’s vote of confidence, quarterback Baker Mayfield gets back on track with a 400-yard passing game. The Tech defense gives up a couple of scores early, but settles in to keep the momentum going from last week’s gutty performance against TCU.

Roger’s pick: Jace Amaro has a coming-out party; 150-plus yards and three touchdowns. Texas Tech, 56-14

Texas 31, Kansas State 28: The reasons to pick against Texas are many. The Longhorns have been an embarrassment stopping the run, and K-State’s Daniel Sams runs as well as any QB in the league. The Wildcats also own Texas with a five-game winning streak in the series. But QB David Ash should be back in the lineup for Longhorns, and K-State has had its own problems defensively this season. Plus, after K-State linebacker Tre Walker accused Texas this summer of always rolling over, the Longhorns -- if they have any heart at all -- have to show up for this game, right?

Roger’s pick: Texas finally gets it together; plus, very rarely has Texas lost three games in a row. Texas, 24-21

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 2

September, 9, 2013
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One thing the Big 12 is not is dull. Here’s a recap of the wild weekend it was in the conference:

Team of the week: Baylor. The Bears completely dismantled a Buffalo team that hung tough with Ohio State last weekend. There was no hanging tough in Waco for the Bulls, who were chased out of town with a 70-13 shellacking. During one unreal 11-minute stretch, Baylor racked up 576 yards of offense while averaging 12.5 yards a play. The Bears also scored touchdowns on their first eight drives, and probably would have scored a ninth had they not run out of time in the first half. Baylor has won six straight dating back to last season.

Disappointment of the week: Texas. First, the Longhorns lost 40-21 to BYU. Then, they lost defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who was fired Sunday and replaced with Greg Robinson. Mack Brown said at the beginning of August he was confident this would be his best team since 2009. If the Longhorns aren’t careful, it could be his worst. Texas has at least a half-dozen losable games left on the schedule, including this weekend’s meeting with emerging Ole Miss.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Eric GayJ.W. Walsh had a record day for Oklahoma State.
Big (offensive) man on campus: J.W. Walsh. The Oklahoma State sophomore answered many questions about his passing prowess in a 56-35 win over UTSA that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. Walsh set an Oklahoma State single-game completion percentage record by connecting on 24 of 27 passes. He found four different receivers for touchdowns and rushed one in on his own. Even though he’s known for his wheels, Walsh now has the 17th-best passing EPA (expected points added) in college football.

Big (defensive) man on campus: Gabe Lynn. The Oklahoma safety has been maligned in the past for giving up huge plays in the pass, notably in the 2011 home loss to Texas Tech. But Saturday against West Virginia, the former cornerback was delivering the huge plays from his new position. In the third quarter, Lynn intercepted Mountaineers QB Paul Millard, then later scooped up a fumble and returned it 27 yards. The two turnovers killed West Virginia drives and helped keep the Mountaineers at bay even while the Oklahoma offense struggled.

Special-teams player of the week: Tramaine Thompson. The veteran playmaker showed why the Wildcats have one of the most dangerous return units in the country. Thompson’s 94-yard kickoff return to begin the second half put an underrated Louisiana Lafayette away. The return duo of Thompson and Tyler Lockett remains one of the best in the country.

Play of the week: The last time a Kansas wide receiver caught a touchdown pass, Justin McCay was still playing for Oklahoma. McCay, now a Jayhawk, vowed to end that ignominious streak, which dated back to Oct. 22, 2011. In the second quarter against South Dakota, McCoy hauled in a 5-yard pass from quarterback Jake Heaps at the back of the end zone that put Kansas ahead for good while ending the streak for good, too.

Stat of the week: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Baylor already has 16 touchdown drives of two minutes or less, which leads the nation. Oregon has 15. No other program is in double digits. The Ducks led the FBS last year with 45 such drives. Baylor is on pace this season for 104.

Quote of the week: “I haven’t even gotten out of the game. … I’d like to watch the video.” -- Texas coach Mack Brown, when asked after the BYU game whether Manny Diaz would remain his defensive coordinator. Brown fired Diaz the next day.

Big 12 predictions: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
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By request, we’ll be revealing here what games the Big 12 blog team will be covering week-to-week. Last weekend I was in the Metroplex for Texas Tech-SMU and TCU-LSU. This Saturday, I’ll be covering Oklahoma-West Virginia along with Brandon Chatmon. Max Olson will be in Provo, Utah, for Texas-BYU.

We’re also going to try something new. Beginning next Thursday, we’re going to have a different guest picker each week who will go head-to-head with me in picking games.

How does one become a guest picker? Contact me here and tell me why you should be our guest picker. Creativity counts.

As for last week’s picks, the FCS destroyed an otherwise flawless docket. Thanks, guys.

SEASON RECORD

Last week: 7-2 (.778)

Overall: 7-2 (.778)

My picks for Week 2:

TCU 48, Southeastern Louisiana 7: The Frogs bounce back in a big way to even up their record against the state of Louisiana. Both Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin play well while spitting time, leaving TCU’s quarterback situation unresolved heading into next week’s conference opener in Lubbock.

Oklahoma State 44, UTSA 9: The Cowboys settle into the J.W. Walsh option offense and look much crisper offensively. The defense, meanwhile, puts together another stellar performance. But is it for real or is it just smoke and mirrors?

Baylor 51, Buffalo 17: Buffalo puts up more of a fight than Wofford, but this one ends in a rout, too, suggesting Baylor just might have the best and most complete offense in the Big 12.

Oklahoma 35, West Virginia 13: Former Sooners coach Barry Switzer made the prediction this week that the Mountaineers would not be gaining 787 yards on Oklahoma this time. He must have watched West Virginia’s William & Mary game. Along with Tavon Austin, the Mountaineers could wind up missing offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, who left West Virginia for the same job at Oklahoma during the offseason. The Sooners’ line looked strong last week, while West Virginia’s looked shaky. Charles Sims is a big-time playmaker. But he doesn’t have many creases to slide through this week either in Norman, and the Sooners will cruise.

Kansas State 31, Louisiana-Lafayette 20: Coach Bill Snyder has his bunch back on track with a solid victory over the underrated Ragin’ Cajuns. Daniel Sams steals enough snaps away from Jake Waters to rush for more than 100 yards while igniting a full-blown quarterback controversy in Manhattan. At least Snyder has another week to work that out before his ‘Cats visit Austin on Sept. 21.

Texas 28, BYU 10: If Texas has indeed turned the corner, then this is a game it needs to win easily, right? Well, that’s what happens, as the Longhorns roll in Provo behind two big-play touchdowns from Daje Johnson. Uh, keep feeding this guy the ball.

Kansas 28, South Dakota 17: Finally, somebody represents the Big 12 against that pesky FCS. Jake Heaps throws three touchdowns, including one apiece to backfield mates Tony Pierson and James Sims.

Texas Tech 66, Stephen F. Austin 7: The Baker Bandwagon is filling up fast. Baker Mayfield throws for another four touchdowns and 400 yards, setting up next week’s showdown against TCU -- the school he originally wanted to attend but which never gave him a scholarship.

Big 12 power rankings: Week 1

September, 3, 2013
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The season's first weekend is behind us and we know more about these teams than we did a week ago. There's been some moment in the power rankings, which will likely become a weekly occurrence with the Big 12 race so wide open this season.

1. Oklahoma State (1-0, last week 1): The Cowboys' defense was impressive in the season-opening 21-3 win against Mississippi State, recording three sacks and grabbing two interceptions. Defense has always been the question mark in Stillwater. If OSU’s defense continues to rise under new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, the Cowboys will be tough to beat.

2. Oklahoma (1-0, last week 3): As impressive as OSU’s defense was, the Sooners’ D might have been even more eye-opening. The Sooners looked fast, physical and aggressive as they shut out a quality Louisiana-Monroe team. Add a solid debut from redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, and OU continues to make a case to sit atop this list. West Virginia comes to town this week to start the Sooners’ Big 12 schedule.

3. Texas (1-0, last week 4): The Longhorns scored 42 points and gained 459 yards in the second half, averaging 10.67 yards per play, after a relatively slow start against New Mexico State. It was a pretty dominating performance in the game’s final 30 minutes. All the skill-position talent on the roster was on full display against the Aggies. This week’s trip to Provo, Utah will be a stern test for the Longhorns.

4. Baylor (1-0, last week 5): Easily the Big 12’s most impressive team in Week 1 -- against Wofford. Nonetheless, the Bears looked to be in midseason form offensively and had a strong defensive showing against their FCS opponent. Quarterback Bryce Petty looks as good as advertised, and Lache Seastrunk continued to make game-altering plays. They looked every bit like a Big 12 title contender.

5. TCU (0-1, last week 2): Is it fair to drop TCU three spots after a hard-fought loss to SEC power LSU? No, not really, but a loss is a loss. Nonetheless, there’s no major difference between OSU, OU, UT, BU and TCU. All five squads could win this league without it being considered a big surprise. The Horned Frogs lost, but there were some reasons to be encouraged, particularly the explosive performance from running back B.J. Catalon.

6. Texas Tech (1-0, last week 8): The Red Raiders ride the arm of Baker Mayfield to sixth on this list after the walk-on true freshman passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns (and added a rushing TD) to earn Big 12 offensive player of the week honors. It's clear Kliff Kingsbury has brought enthusiasm and excitement to his alma mater.

7. West Virginia (1-0, last week 7): The Mountaineers escaped with a 24-17 win against William & Mary but were far from impressive. But a win is a win, and WVU has the chance to impress when they visit Norman, Okla. this Saturday to face the Sooners. Win against OU and all is forgotten.

8. Kansas State (0-1, last week 6): Everyone knows what happened to the Wildcats on Friday. Nobody seems to know why. KSU’s loss to North Dakota State was the story of the weekend, and it’s become clear the Wildcats aren’t on the level of last year’s squad. Anyone believing KSU should be higher on this list need only to watch NDSU’s final drive to secure the upset.

9. Iowa State (0-1, last week 9): The other Big 12 team to start with a loss to an FCS team, the Cyclones will have to regroup quickly. ISU’s defense was nonexistent in allowing 457 yards in a 28-20 loss to Northern Iowa. A bye week comes at a good time for the Cyclones, who need to shore up a defense that was solid in 2012.

10. Kansas (0-0, last week 10): The Jayhawks will finally kick off their 2013 season against South Dakota on Saturday as the Jake Heaps era begins in Lawrence, Kan.

Big 12 preseason power rankings

August, 26, 2013
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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?
Charlie Weis was met with a dilemma.

No, not how to get people past him calling the Jayhawks "a pile of crap" during Big 12 media days. The Kansas coach has bigger concerns, like getting the elite talent he has on the roster onto the field as much as possible.

Running back James Sims has secured his spot among the Big 12’s best running backs. Yet, the Jayhawks also boast Tony Pierson, Sims’ backup in 2012 who is one of the most explosive playmakers on the roster. It’s a quandary for a team looking for as many playmakers as possible with the hope of turning around a program which has gone 1-25 in Big 12 play during the past three seasons.

[+] EnlargeTony Pierson
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsKansas has created the "F" receiver in an effort to get Tony Pierson more touches.
Having Pierson on the sidelines didn’t make sense to Weis. So he devised a plan to get the junior on the field and the football in his hands. Heading into the 2013 season, Pierson moved to the brand new “F” receiver position in KU’s offense, a running back/receiver hybrid position designed to get the ball in the junior’s hands.

“Tony is a guy that, you want to get him the ball,” quarterback Jake Heaps said. “He’s so explosive and he has the ability to make that home run play happen at any moment. The more times he gets the all the more likely we’ll have a big play and score points.”

Pierson was quietly one of the Big 12’s top offensive threats in 2012. He rushed for 760 yards while adding 21 receptions for 291 yards. Texas Tech’s defense must still have nightmares about his 16-carry, 202-yard performance in KU’s loss in Lubbock last year.

The goal is to have Pierson aim to approach those numbers on a weekly basis. Just when the conference was starting to forget West Virginia all-purpose threat Tavon Austin, the Jayhawks are hoping Pierson can attack Big 12 defenses in a similar fashion.

“Tavon Austin was a good player and I’m trying to do the same thing in the Big 12,” Pierson said.

When Pierson learned he would be moving to the “F” receiver this season, he immediately began watching Austin and getting a feel for how the first-round NFL draft pick handled the role for the Mountaineers while rushing for 643 yards and amassing 1,289 receiving yards in 2012.

“To this day I watch Tavon Austin,” Pierson said. “All the time I watch his highlight film to see what he’s doing against linebackers and defensive backs.”

And yet none of this would be possible without Pierson’s football intelligence. A huge football fan growing up, Pierson spent many Saturdays and Sundays learning how to play the game and attack defenses by watching college and NFL players.

“Growing up I studied the game of football a lot to see what the defense was doing,” he said. “I tried to know every position on offense to get my football I.Q. going because you never know where a coach might need you.”

Endless hours in front of the television are paying off for Pierson now.

“We can put Tony anywhere on the field, he’s so intelligent,” Heaps said. “We’re able to put him everywhere in all sorts of different positions. It’s unusual to be able to put a guy in so many spots with the complicated offense we have.”

A complicated offense with the goal of putting Pierson in space and allowing him to create. Last season he’d often get the ball in the backfield, with at least four or five defenders to beat to make a game-changing play. This season the Jayhawks hope that number drops to one or two defenders.

“I think it’s exactly the right way to use him,” Heaps said. “He’s a guy you have to pay attention to all times. He opens things up for our passing game and opens things up for James and the rest of the running backs.”

Pierson has made a fairly seamless adjustment to the running back/receiver hybrid position, with Heaps calling him “a natural receiver” and expressing excitement about their developing chemistry.

It all adds up to what could be a big year for Pierson, one that could watch him go from second billing to headliner in KU’s offense, at a position expressly created to get him on the field more and ensure his number of touches will increase in 2013.

“It gets me more in space, something I like,” Pierson said. “I make a catch, I only have to make one or two people miss. More space, more opportunity for me.”

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