NCF Nation: Kendall Hunter

No one knows what kind of player Rushel Shell ultimately will become, but we do know what colors he'll wear for the foreseeable future.

That would be the Old Gold and Blue:
Shell visited West Virginia on Monday and chose the Mountaineers over Kentucky. He must sit out the 2013 season at West Virginia and will have three years of eligibility remaining.

"Things went really well down at WVU," Shell said. "I enjoyed every moment of it. We toured the campus and facilities, and I got a chance to hang out with other recruits and players on the team.

"They made my visit terrific and made me feel like family."

First things first: That's cold-blooded. Shell first planned on transferring to UCLA, but changed his mind and hoped to return to Pitt. Coach Paul Chryst said that wouldn't be happening.

Now, Shell elects to transfer to a longtime Pitt rival. Staying close to his two daughters was a factor, and the two programs don't meet in the Backyard Brawl anymore. Still, imagine if Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham packed his bags and transferred to Kansas, or if Texas A&M running back Trey Williams reversed field and decided to become a Longhorn.

[+] EnlargeRushel Shell
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Rushel Shell has announced he will transfer from Pitt to West Virginia. History suggests the running back could thrive in coach Dana Holgorsen's offense.
Shell rushed for more than 9,000 yards and finished his high school career as Pennsylvania's all-time rushing leader. He was the No. 3 running back and No. 26 recruit overall in the 2012 class, and made an immediate impact as Pitt's second-leading rusher with 641 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman.

As I mentioned earlier, we don't know what kind of back Shell will become. But the 6-foot, 215-pounder has the potential to become one of the game's best and to continue his career in the NFL.

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen will get his hands on him in 2014 -- and when that happens, defenses could suffer. Since Holgorsen moved to Houston to become a playcaller in 2008, he's had only two seasons with truly great backs. In those two seasons the results were outstanding.

In 2009, Houston's Charles Sims racked up 1,457 yards of offense and 10 touchdowns on 202 touches, and the Cougars led the nation in total offense. Sims is back in a Holgorsen offense this season after transferring to West Virginia, never quite reaching the heights he did during his freshman season.

"That was probably his best year statistically," Holgorsen said at last week's media days.

After leaving Houston, Holgorsen had a chance to take the reins of an Oklahoma State offense with future San Francisco 49er Kendall Hunter on the roster. Hunter rushed for 1,548 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2010 while Oklahoma State rose from 70th in total offense to third with Holgorsen calling the plays.

West Virginia has already seen its offense spike under Holgorsen, and he has the talent in place for a solid run in the next few years. Holgorsen has a reputation as a coach who loves to air it out -- and he does -- but when he has big talents in the backfield, they don't go ignored and the offense's balance makes it tougher for defenses to lock down.

Sims will get a chance to see that in action now. But in the next three years, it's a safe bet that Shell will get an opportunity to make a lot of noise in what could be a promising career.
Dana Holgorsen has a reputation as a coach who loves to throw it on every down, but since leaving Case Keenum and Houston behind, that's been far from the case.

His Cougars offenses ran the ball on 36.8 percent of their downs in 2008 and even less (35.3 percent) in 2009 with Case Keenum at the helm. That's what happens when you've got a player like Keenum capable of throwing for more yards than any quarterback in college football history.

At West Virginia this season, though, we might see the most run-based offense ever with Holgorsen as a playcaller. This will be a very, very different season than anything Holgorsen's ever experienced.

For one, West Virginia's strength and experience on offense lies at running back, something he's never had. Adding Houston transfer Charles Sims, who ran for 800 yards in consecutive seasons, gives West Virginia four quality running backs, with juco transfer Dreamius Smith a fellow newcomer alongside Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison, who both have 700-yard rushing seasons as Mountaineers.

West Virginia ran the ball 46.9 percent of the time last season, the most ever for an offense with Holgorsen calling the plays. That's an amazing number with so much talent in the passing game with Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, but 73 of those carries went to Austin.

This season, West Virginia will be without its top three receivers and breaking in a new quarterback whose identity may not be known until a couple of weeks before the season. Regardless of whether Clint Trickett, Ford Childress or Paul Millard wins the job, they're guaranteed to have very little experience on the field. In Childress' case, he has exactly none.

Believe it or not, Holgorsen has never had to deal with a quarterback competition as a play-calling offensive coordinator or head coach. Keenum was the clear starter at Houston when Holgorsen came aboard, and Alex Cate's transfer cleared the way for Brandon Weeden to be the clear incumbent at Oklahoma State when Mike Gundy hired him in 2010. That team also had a bona fide star at running back in Kendall Hunter, who inspired Holgorsen to run the ball on 45.8 percent of snaps and Hunter to rack up 1,548 rushing yards.

This quarterback uncertainty is new territory, but he knows exactly what he's got at running back, and now's as good a time as ever for the Mountaineers to lean on that spot.
Mike Gundy had a front-row seat to see two of the best backs in Oklahoma State history, Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders, the latter of whom has a case as the best back in college football history. Few, if anyone, knows more or saw more of the so-called "glory days" of Running Back U in Stillwater. Both of those Oklahoma State backs went on to be NFL MVPs.

As Oklahoma State's head coach, Gundy oversees an offense that isn't shy about being a pass-first scheme. Despite that, he's still watching some of the best days running the ball in Oklahoma State history. The best, one could certainly argue, in the Big 12.

Joseph Randle led the Big 12 in rushing by more than 400 yards with 1,417 yards and 14 scores in 2012, electing to leave Stillwater a year early and enter the NFL draft. Quietly, it was Oklahoma State's sixth consecutive season with a 1,000-yard rusher, despite churning out great quarterback play over that same period with passers like Brandon Weeden and Zac Robinson, who was a strong runner as well.

That ties Pac-12 power Oregon for the nation's third-longest streak, behind only a pair of programs from the run-heavy Big Ten, Penn State and Wisconsin, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

But compared to the rest of the Big 12, it's even more impressive. The Pokes have had a 1,000-yard rusher every season since 2007, and four different backs (Dantrell Savage, Kendall Hunter, Keith Toston, Joseph Randle) have helped extend that streak.

Over that same period, here's how many 1,000-yard rushers the Big 12's other teams have had (with a hat tip to Oklahoma State running backs coach Jemal Singleton):
  • Kansas State (4)
  • Baylor, Oklahoma, West Virginia (3)
  • Kansas (2)
  • Iowa State, Texas, TCU (1)
  • Texas Tech (0)

For all its prowess throwing the ball, you've got to respect Oklahoma State's ability to run it, too. Baylor's streak of three consecutive seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher is the closest to the Pokes' streak of six, but with senior Jeremy Smith stepping up to collect the majority of the carries in 2013, I wouldn't bet against OSU making it seven consecutive years in 2013.
We're back, and the kindly introduction is over. It's time to get to know the real West Virginia.

How will the Mountaineers handle the transition? Big 12 blogger David Ubben and Big East blogger Andrea Adelson debated the issue.

David Ubben: TCU's jump would seem to be a lot bigger, but the Big East has had its well-chronicled struggles the past few years. The Mountaineers left the league with a convincing Orange Bowl win against Clemson, scoring 70 points in the process. Talk about endearing yourself to your new offensive-minded friends, huh? You've seen this team up close lately, though. What, if anything, do you think WVU will have to change to get back to the BCS as a Big-12 member?

[+] EnlargeBrodrick Jenkins
Kim Klement/US PresswireBrodrick Jenkins, an up-and-coming cornerback, will lead the Mountaineers into Big 12 play next season.
Andrea Adelson: Well, one thing that definitely is going to change is the way West Virginia plays defense. Long-time defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is out, and so is the odd 3-3-5 stack defense. The Mountaineers are going to go with a 3-4 base set under former Oklahoma State assistant Joe DeForest. This should help ease the transition from the stack, as West Virginia does not have the type of players on the roster to go with four down linemen.

In addition to the new scheme, West Virginia is losing its two best pass-rushers in Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller, perhaps its best defensive player in linebacker Najee Goode, and its best cover corner in Keith Tandy. There were times last season when the Mountaineers got beat deep in pass coverage, which will not bode well in Big 12 play.

However, cornerback Brodrick Jenkins has the potential to be truly terrific in 2012. He showed flashes late last season. As for the offense, coach Dana Holgorsen is looking for perfection. That means more consistent play out of an offensive line that was mediocre at times last season, and more explosion out of the run game. Starting running back Dustin Garrison is coming off ACL surgery, so it will be interesting to see whether he will be the same back come August.

Say what you will about the Holgorsen passing offense, but he definitely wants a running back to complement Geno Smith the way Kendall Hunter did with Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State in 2010. How do you think West Virginia will fit in to its new conference home?

DU: WVU is a good fit on the field. Geographically, not so much, but the Big 12 teams have to like that. There's a lot of uneasiness with TCU entering the league. That could shake up recruiting a lot and cut into the share of teams like Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

But West Virginia's clearly a strong brand. This is a team that could just as easily have been in the SEC. Instead, it's in the Big 12. The three BCS wins are a big deal, as was the Orange Bowl win. That's endeared the Mountaineers to their new opponents in the Big 12. To win like that on that kind of stage says a lot about where the program is and where it's headed. Having a coach like Holgorsen, who has lots of ties to Texas, will help them grab a few players in Texas, too. The difference between WVU and Mizzou isn't much when you think about recruiting in Texas. I could see WVU being the biggest threat to Missouri recruiting in Texas.

But like TCU, winning games gets people excited. Big 12 fans are psyched about the Mountaineers, who seem like a fun group.

How do you think WVU's transition will compare to TCU's?

AA: Watching a team put up 70 points is always fun! Hearing a guy like Holgorsen talk is always fun because you never know what he is going to say.

But on to your question: I think West Virginia will have a much smoother transition than TCU because it has played in an AQ conference already. Yeah, OK enter your Big Least jokes in here. But West Virginia has been a solid program throughout the course of its history. Note that the Mountaineers are one of just 14 schools to have 700 program victories -- joining Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12.

West Virginia is one of just three schools to have at least nine wins in seven straight seasons. That doesn't happen by accident. And it's also important to note West Virginia is not exactly in a recruiting hotbed. Talent does not come pouring out of the state the way it does in Texas. The Mountaineers have built pipelines into Florida -- Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey being two notable examples on the squad -- and try to mine talent in Baltimore, Virginia and Washington, D.C. So I do think there will be inroads made into Texas with the Big 12 affiliation.

Already on the roster from the state are starting running back Dustin Garrison and quarterback Ford Childress, an ESPNU 150 player in the class of 2012. I respect the job Gary Patterson has done in building TCU, but I simply think there is going to be much more of a growing curve for a team transitioning to an automatic qualifying conference. What do you think?

DU: I'd agree. The Big East has been weak, but there aren't any teams like New Mexico and UNLV in that league, who are little more than a week off for teams as talented as TCU has been the past few years. Show up and you win.

Last year, even Kansas beat the MAC champions, Northern Illinois, before losing its final 10 games of 2011. Big 12 champion Oklahoma State lost to 6-7 Iowa State, too. This league is so, so deep. You have to show up and play well every week, and even then, you might not win. In 2010, 11 of the league's 12 teams had five wins and at least played a game with a chance to win six and qualify for a bowl game.

This year, nine of the 10 teams did that. It's got elite teams, too. Texas and OU played for titles in 2008 and 2009 and OSU was barely shut out of the title game this year.

The depth of the Big 12 is what TCU will have to get used to. In that sense, WVU will have to adjust much less. Of course, you never know for sure. We'll find out next year. WVU had some head-scratching losses, too. Losing to Syracuse by 26 points? Really? Sheesh.

Both of these teams are built to win in 2012, and I think they'll do it. But winning a Big 12 title requires you to show up every week and play well. In the Big East, which sent an eight-win team to the BCS in 2010, that hasn't necessarily been true.

In the Big 12, Texas or OU has basically run through the year with 0-2 losses every single season. If WVU wants to win this league, they'll have to do that.

When do you think WVU will win its first title? Will it win one?

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Kim Klement/US PresswireGeno Smith will enter the Big 12 in his third season as West Virginia's starting quarterback.
AA: It is tough to put a time frame on when West Virginia will win a league title. As crazy as it might sound, I think this team is built to contend in 2012. The Mountaineers dropped FSU from the nonconference schedule, so you could consider Kansas as filling that void. I am sure West Virginia takes that.

Oklahoma is going to be a preseason national favorite, but after that, every single team returning has major question marks. Is Texas going to be Texas? What does Baylor do without RG3? What does Oklahoma State do without Weeden and Justin Blackmon?

You bring up a good point about the head-scratching losses. There have been a bunch of those over the last several seasons -- including TWO in a row to Syracuse. This is a team that has simply been inconsistent. It didn't put together a full game against Clemson. But I think Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are going to be a handful for teams to stop, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Mountaineers were a surprise contender in 2012. Are you buying or selling?

DU: I'd generally agree. Year 1 seems to be their best chance. It's a wide-open year in the Big 12, and I think Oklahoma's a bit overrated heading into next year, though the potential for a national title run is there. Texas looks like it's on its way back up, but next year won't be the year.

If it doesn't happen next year, though, I don't think WVU will win a Big 12 title in the next decade. It's a solid program that I think could get into the BCS, but win the Big 12?

With the stability, metroplex location and winning tradition, I like TCU's upside a whole lot more, and its ability to win a Big 12 title in the future. I'm buying a Horned Frogs Big 12 title in the next decade. Not so much on WVU.

Time to put you on the spot: What's WVU's record next year and Big 12 finish?

AA: I can see the hate mail trickling into the Big 12 mailbag over that one, Mr. Ubben!
I am going to say West Virginia goes 10-2 and finishes second in the Big 12. What say you?

DU: Maybe so. But hey, that's how we do things on the Big 12 Blog. I call it like I see it. And I see more potential for the Froggies, though I think the Mountaineers will be a solid, solid program. I wouldn't be that surprised if they won the league, but I'm not betting on it.

This is a league built around the state of Texas, and the location's going to make it tough for them to consistently field teams that can win 11-12 games consistently.

Next year, I'll take 9-3 for the Mountaineers, but a tie for third place.
A long time ago, in a small Oklahoma town far, far away from Phoenix, a bunch of people told Oklahoma State it would finish fifth in something once known as the Big 12 South.

That was back in August 2010, 16 months ago.

Since then, Oklahoma State won a share of the Big 12 South with a whole lot of guys nobody outside Stillwater had ever heard of.

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesIf you thought Mike Gundy and the Cowboys had high expectations for 2011, just wait 'til the 2012 season rolls around.
A three-star recruit with 20 career catches won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver. A former walk-on won the nod as the Big 12's best quarterback. An offensive line with four new starters emerged as the Big 12's best.

That means this year, OSU won the Big 12 with a whole bunch of stars, including receiver Justin Blackmon, quarterback Brandon Weeden and one of the nation's best position coaches, OSU offensive line coach Joe Wickline.

Before the season, OSU coach Mike Gundy reflected on that dream, 11-win season that served as a precursor to 2011, an even dreamier season capped by a win over Oklahoma, the first since 2002.

It happened, Gundy says, because of his system that had been in place for five years, with improvement each year serving as the proof that persuaded players to buy in.

"It allows us to perform better than we should when maybe we’re not as talented or we’re not as experienced," he said before beginning a year that ended with the school's first Big 12 title. "We didn’t have hardly any experience coming back last year, and we stuck with what we believed in, and I am somewhat convinced that that’s the reason we were able to start playing pretty good and have a productive year in somewhat of a rebuilding phase."

Well, guess what?

It's time to test that theory once again.

We know how 2011 will end: With 11 or 12 wins and a Fiesta Bowl win or loss. The Cowboys finish their season against Stanford on Monday night.

The bigger unknown?

... What will happen next year?

Weeden will be gone. Blackmon will be, too. The Cowboys' No. 2 target, Josh Cooper, will relinquish his title as one of the Big 12's most underrated players upon graduating. Three offensive linemen will end their college careers, too.

The defense will lose both defensive ends and its leader, safety Markelle Martin.

That system of Gundy's? It's time for another big test.

In his seventh season in Stillwater, Gundy has the rare distinction of equaling or improving on the previous year's win total in every single year.

Next season undoubtedly will be a rebuilding year, but so was 2010. What will it mean on the field?

The Cowboys will host a quarterback competition for the right to throw to a group of talented receivers nobody outside Stillwater, as in 2010, has ever heard of.

Recruiting has improved every year under Gundy, and we'll see how those new faces have fit into his burgeoning program.

This time next year, will Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh or newcomer Wes Lunt be a household name and an All-Big 12 quarterback?

Will Michael Harrison, Isaiah Anderson, Tracy Moore or Josh Stewart be on the short list for the Biletnikoff?

As in 2010, the Cowboys will have a solid running game to depend on. Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith have combined for more than 1,800 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns with a game still left to play. They'll both be back, as Kendall Hunter, a 2008 All-American, was in 2010.

This year, Oklahoma State proved it can get over the hump.

Next year, we'll find out whether the Cowboys are capable of staying on top.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy built his program, now in its seventh year, on four principles.

Character, accountability, structure and discipline. Every year since he took over for Les Miles in 2005, the Cowboys' record has improved on or equaled the previous year's win total.

"You’ve got to show up, you’ve got to do the right thing, you’ve got to go to class," Gundy said. "I bit my lip and we held our breath a lot of times when we suspended players."

The stat Gundy might have been most proud of after Saturday's 52-45 win over Kansas State? The team had just one missed class reported all week.

Maybe Gundy's four building blocks are only a fourth of Bill Snyder's 16 Goals for Success, but it's paying off in Stillwater.

And those blocks aside, there's no doubting the factor that's aided the Cowboys along the way, too.

"We got a little bit lucky," Gundy said, later adding, "Anybody that says you don’t have to have a little luck? They’re crazy."

Recruiting these days is "easy to do," Gundy says, and the program's growing credibility is a huge reason why.

"We hit on a Dez Bryant, we hit on a Kendall Hunter, we hit on a Brandon Weeden. We hit on a Blackmon," Gundy said. "Nobody recruited [Justin] Blackmon.

"Weeden walked on,” Gundy said with a laugh. “So, we had a little luck.”

Blackmon blossomed from a modest recruit into the nation's best receiver and an early first-round draft pick.

What if Weeden had come to Oklahoma State instead of playing baseball? What if baseball had worked out? What if Weeden had come to Oklahoma State a year earlier? What if he'd come a year later?

"My Dad was just telling me the other day, 'Man, what a perfect time for you to decide to come back.'" Weeden said. "And it is, because I mean, who would have thought this in 2007 when we won seven games and we were excited to go to a bowl game? I’m telling you, the players get better every year and it gets more and more fun to come to the field and especially when you win big ones like this."

Oklahoma State's team will lose Weeden and almost certainly will lose Blackmon after this season, as well as most of its offensive line. Sound familiar? The Cowboys lost first-round pick Dez Bryant and one of the program's best quarterbacks ever, Zac Robinson, after the 2009 season.

They won 11 games the next season.

Is Oklahoma State building into a perennial power?

"We’ve got a lot of great guys in this program that are really young. We haven’t ever had kids like this around here," Gundy said. "I see a lot of things changing. It’s just different than it ever has been."

They're here and they know what's required of them. Gundy pounds it into them from Day 1. Run astray, and you don't play.

So sure, luck's played a big role in Oklahoma State's rise to the elite. But if it stays there, point to Gundy's building blocks as the biggest reason.

"The core values of this system are in place and the players know them," Gundy said. "That’s just the way it is. It’s the only way, because when you go to bed at night, if you don’t have that, you can’t sleep."

After wins like Oklahoma State enjoyed Saturday night, here's guessing Gundy slept pretty well.
For so long, it was so cruel. This "rivalry," if you could even call it that.

Colt McCoy and Vince Young tormented Oklahoma State, rescuing Texas from 28, 19 and 21-point deficits in a span of just four years.

OSU had beaten Texas just once in Big 12 history, back in 1997 in a harmless game in Stillwater between two teams that would combine for 12 wins that year, the last time Texas (4-8) saw a losing season.

The Cowboys program rose, winning as many or more games than the previous year in each season under Gundy. But no wins over Texas as Zac Robinson, Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant tried to help OSU climb among the nation's elite.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon and Oklahoma State
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireTexas hopes the scene will be different after this year's game against Oklahoma State as the Longhorns look to avoid another loss to the Cowboys
Until last season, when OSU took its biggest leap into national relevance with 11 wins and Texas plummeted to its first losing season under Mack Brown.

Oklahoma State was the better team, by far. The Cowboys won easily, racing to an early 33-3 lead and beating Texas in Austin for the first time since 1944.

"When you have played at a high level like we had over the last few years, having so many close games and not being able to get over the hump. It made it a good win for our team and the university," Gundy told reporters this week. "For everyone involved it was very positive. I am sure it had some effects on our recruiting. It also changed the way we were perceived across the country. The win was another step in our goal, to hopefully win a championship."

A kink in switching 12-team Big 12 schedules to 10-team schedules means Oklahoma State travels to Texas again and hosts Oklahoma to close the season.

Once again, Oklahoma State is the better team.

This time, Oklahoma State stands in the way of Texas' attempts to re-join the nation's best. The Longhorns were embarrassed a week ago by No. 3 Oklahoma.

"Things are always better when you watch the video. It’s hard to make a 55-17 loss to a good team where you played poorly good, but what you do as a coaching staff is you go back and find the things that are good," Brown said. "They did try hard. They did a lot of things good, but we made so many mistakes, we never had a chance in the game. You can’t lose five turnovers to a great team."

That's the first goal. With an opponent like Oklahoma State -- the Cowboys are ranked No. 2 in total offense, even higher than Oklahoma -- the Longhorns will need more from their offense than a late touchdown if 45 points are separating the teams.

"You use caution when talking about Texas football and needing to get better. I think Oklahoma played very well. Once the game got rolling, the momentum changed," Gundy said. "I cannot speak for Texas, or their staff. I do know that there is some youth in key positions. That can factor in situations when things do not go well."

Texas' secondary will have to grow up fast.

So will quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash.

If not, another beating like last week is waiting, and a chance to country's top squads may prove to be another season away.

New coordinator, same results for OSU

September, 9, 2011
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Justin BlackmonBrett Deering/Getty ImagesJustin Blackmon continued his string of 100-yard games in Oklahoma State's blow out of Arizona.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- There was no bigger question surrounding Oklahoma State's program. Yeah, last season was fun, but did your offense pack up and move to Morgantown?

Former offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen revived an offense that a year ago looked like it was tentatively piecing together building blocks for a marginal run in years to come. But by season's end, the Cowboys were near the top of the college football world offensively -- looking up at only Oregon and Boise State. But as quickly as he came, he left for West Virginia, where he's now the head coach.

Back in what is, at least for now, Big 12 country? So far so good. Oklahoma State beat Arizona 37-14 just months after doing the same in the Alamo Bowl in Holgorsen's last hurrah while wearing orange.

"It's still the same guys blocking, catching, throwing, running," quarterback Brandon Weeden said. "I think [Dana] is one of the best playcallers in college football, but you've still got to execute. ... The transition's been really smooth."

Everyone knew that Oklahoma State returned much of last season's team, which won a school-record 11 games. But who deserved the credit for the rise with so little experience and even lower expectations?

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Brandon Weeden
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma State's Brandon Weeden completed 42 of 53 passes for 397 yards and two touchdowns -- both to Justin Blackmon.
Holgorsen's offense hung 34 points on Marshall in its Morgantown opener, but it's pretty clear by now that he didn't string together a record-setting offense in Stillwater with a bunch of scrubs.

For now, 2011 looks very much like a carbon copy of 2010.

Score 60 points in the season opener? Check.

Justin Blackmon racking up 100 yards receiving? Check.

Keep Weeden above 300 yards passing in both? Check, and he didn't even do that in 2010.

Beat Arizona by four touchdowns? Check, give or take a few points.

New coordinator Todd Monken's biggest tests are on the way, but the warmups? He's aced them all.

"Todd's doing fine," said coach Mike Gundy.

Out-of-character penalties stalled a few drives that could have put even more points on the board, but Oklahoma State has shown signs that it might be even better in 2011 armed with the experience from last year's overachieving season.

Weeden broke his own school record for completions on Thursday night with his 35th, and that was before the fourth quarter even began. He finished 42-of-53 for 397 yards and two touchdowns, both on goal-line fade routes to Blackmon.

Oklahoma State's top two backs, Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, combined for 186 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries.

Volume and balance, two very good words coaches like Monken want associated with their offenses.

"I was just focused from the minute I ran out of the tunnel," Weeden said. "The confidence when you get a couple short ones and you hit a long one and then a couple more short ones, you just get that confidence. You get in the flow of the game and that's kind of how it went."

Expectations were high. For now, Monken's taken a more experienced offense higher.

"I want to be somewhere where the expectations are high and there's good players. So, if you're afraid of that, you'll never go any place where they've got good players and you're afraid of following in someone's footsteps," Monken said. "I'm not really worried about that. I came here because I knew the place was different when I was here before and has got good football players that give us a chance to win every week."

Oklahoma State might do exactly that this season. Early on, at least, it looked capable. And for as much well-deserved attention as Weeden and Blackmon draw, they're far from alone.

"Last year, it was kind of like Kendall [Hunter], Blackmon and Brandon," Blackmon said. "Now, you've got Joseph and Jeremy back in the backfield. You got receivers Hubert [Anyiam] and Josh [Cooper] on one side with Tracy [Moore] on the other. And you've also got Mike Harrison out there making plays. Overall, you've just got more people out there making plays."

Weeden completed a pass to 11 receivers on Thursday. Even the punter, Quinn Sharp, had more rushing yards than any single Arizona running back. His 23-yard scamper on a third-quarter fake was more than the 22 and 19 yards Arizona's top backs finished with.

Penalties plagued Oklahoma State, in part because of confusion surrounding what a new rule stipulates receivers can and can't do on cut blocks. But Gundy's well aware of what he has.

"One concern I have with this team, is they're so experienced on offense, and they're so confident in themselves, that I don't want them to think they can just go out there and it's going to happen," Gundy said.

That didn't happen Thursday night, despite a mid-game lull with a comfortable 21-7 lead.

But as the season progresses, Weeden, Blackmon & Co. will go out there. And it probably will happen.

But trust that both will do what's necessary to make it happen. Regardless of who's up in the booth.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Last year, with Kendall Hunter doing most of the heavy lifting, Joseph Randle was primarily used in a handful of packages and got a lot of use in the passing game.

A year later, as a sophomore, he looks like he'll be in a great spot to handle his new duties. I wrote about it this morning, but he's showcasing his new skills early on.

He broke a 41-yard run (with help from an outstanding block from Justin Blackmon) and scored from a yard out to put Oklahoma State up 7-0 early in the first quarter.

He carried the ball four times for 51 yards, a huge start for what could be a big game. He's added 10-12 pounds onto his frame from last season, and he'll need it for the amount of carries he's sure to get.

Oklahoma State's offense looks like it's slowed down a big from last season's pace, but it looks just as effective through a game and a drive as it was in 2010.

Don't forget to give a little credit to the offensive line, too. I've pegged them as the Big 12's best, and they're getting a big push up front early and have given Brandon Weeden tons of time on the opening drive.

Good signs all around for the Cowboys.

The Big 12's annual tease teams

August, 12, 2011
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Today, we're taking a look at the tease teams across the Big 12, and the past three seasons, we've seen a good number of cases in the Big 12.

These three programs find themselves in the top 10 again this year, but here's what's happened lately. Is one of these squads simply a tease in 2011?

2010: Texas A&M

The Aggies, coming off a 6-7 season in 2009, weren't convincing enough to earn preseason top 25 honors, but the potential for a big year was there, and anyone paying attention knew it. The offense was loaded, led by the league's preseason offensive player of the year, Jerrod Johnson. Johnson, however, struggled early, throwing four interceptions in consecutive games against Florida International and Oklahoma State, turning the ball over five times in a loss to the Cowboys. The Aggies were embarrassed on their home field by Missouri to fall to 3-3, and despite a late-season rally, couldn't qualify for the Big 12 championship game.

2009: Oklahoma State

The offseason crescendo built to a pressure-packed season opener against SEC foe Georgia, but Dez Bryant and the Cowboys knocked off the Bulldogs to land in the top 5 and on the cover of Sports Illustrated. A week later, however, Case Keenum (and Dana Holgorsen, by the way) waltzed into Stillwater and gave the Cowboys a nasty buzzkill in the form of a 45-35 upset, officially derailing a championship season. OSU also suffered a pair of embarrassing 27-point losses to Big 12 South rivals Oklahoma and Texas, including a 27-0 shutout loss to Oklahoma. Kendall Hunter (ankle), Zac Robinson (shoulder) and Dez Bryant (NCAA suspension) were all forced off the field at times, but there's no doubt: That team was a tease.

2008: Missouri

The Tigers reached No. 1 heading into the Big 12 championship game in 2007, but a loss sent them to the Cotton Bowl and hoping for better luck next year. Chase Daniel and Co. opened the season at No. 6 and ran off a 5-0 start, including a 52-17 obliteration of Nebraska in Lincoln, the first win for the Tigers there since 1978. A week later, though? A program-defining win for Oklahoma State on Missouri's field, followed by an absolute undressing by Colt McCoy and Texas in Austin a week later, featuring a 35-3 halftime deficit. The Tigers were upset by Kansas before being rolled over 62-21 by Oklahoma and settling for an appearance in the Alamo Bowl. Quite the tease, Tigers.

So, which of the Big 12 teams ranked this year looks like a tease?
We wrapped up our position rankings by team a bit earlier, but we'll move on in ranking the 10 best players at each position.

Here's the top 10's you've missed so far:
Running back is one of the weakest position groups in the Big 12 heading into 2011, a change from last year's extremely strong class. Just one of the league's top 11 rushers returns, and part of the success from last season was because of so much experience at the position. There are a few guys on this list with upside, but only a few are truly established. Some guys might make good on their upside, but for now, running back joins cornerback and defensive line as the league's weakest positions.

Also, if you haven't played a snap in the Big 12, you're not included on this list. (Also, if your last name is Brown.)

[+] EnlargeCyrus Gray
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireTexas A&M's Cyrus Gray is among the Big 12's most experienced returning tailbacks.
1. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M -- Gray took over late last season and returns as the only Big 12 player to rush for more than 750 yards last season. He finished with 1,133 yards and 12 scores, but 938 of those yards and 10 of those touchdowns came in the season's final seven games, most of which came after the No. 2 guy on this list got hurt.

2. Christine Michael, Texas A&M -- Before Gray took off, Michael was far outperforming his teammate and looked headed for a 1,000-yard season after rushing for 844 yards and 10 scores in 2009. He was at 631 yards through eight games before breaking his leg, and no player in the Big 12 could top his 2009 effort. Despite playing just over half the season, he still ranked 14th in the Big 12 in rushing. Considering 10 of the top 11 rushers in the league are gone, it's easy to see why the powerful, 5-foot-11, 215-pounder is No. 2 on the list.

3. Roy Finch, Oklahoma -- Finch showed lots of flash last season in spot duty behind DeMarco Murray before aggravating a foot injury that kept him out of the first half of the season. He'll have to stay healthy to make good on his potential, and despite being on the All-Big 12 preseason team, he's not on his own team's depth chart just yet. He'll have to jump over Brennan Clay and Jonathan Miller to get his touches in a crowded backfield that will likely carry the load by committee this season.

4. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State -- Randle was extremely valuable last season out of the backfield, catching 37 passes for 427 yards and a key touchdown against Texas A&M. That was more receptions than any running back outside of DeMarco Murray, but this year, he'll join Jeremy Smith in trying to replace Kendall Hunter, who ran for more than 1,500 yards last season.

5. Eric Stephens, Texas Tech -- Stephens has been underrated and underexposed behind starter Baron Batch, but his time looks like it has finally come. The Red Raiders have a deep backfield, but Stephens is its top talent, averaging 5.26 yards on his 127 carries last season, leading the team with six touchdowns.

6. James Sims, Kansas -- Sims was one of the bright spots in a dark year for Kansas football last season, taking over the starting role after a season-opening loss to North Dakota State and rushing for 101 yards in an upset win against Georgia Tech. Sims also scored four of his nine touchdowns in a comeback win against Colorado. I'd expect Sims' touches to take a slight hit with Darrian Miller on campus now, but he was extremely productive considering the Jayhawks' lack of a passing game, which ranked 105th nationally last season.

7. Shontrelle Johnson, Iowa State -- Johnson's lateral movement reminds me a bit of Finch, but he's got a lot of speed and if Iowa State's offensive line gets him a crack, he can be a home-run hitter. He was stuck behind Alexander Robinson last season, but Johnson averaged 6.2 yards on the limited carries he got, turning them into a pair of touchdowns. That's the highest average of any returning Big 12 back.

8. De'Vion Moore, Missouri -- Missouri doesn't have a big time back, but it doesn't need one. Moore led a group of four backs that combined to rush for more than 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last seaosn. Look out for shifty Henry Josey to slide in and unseat Moore to lead the team in rushing, but Moore will get lots of touches in the red zone this season, and he's great at finding a crease. No Tigers running back got more than 100 carries last season, and that might still be the case, but Missouri truly proved that a running back platoon can be extremely successful, even if it lacks a game-changer at the top of the depth chart.

9. Terrance Ganaway, Baylor -- Ganaway is the bowling ball third of a good trio at Baylor. Jarred Salubi is the shiftier third and Glasco Martin is the young guy with lots of hype. All three should form a solid group. Art Briles said this week at media days that he'd love for one of them to separate themselves, but also understands it might not happen with this group.

10. Fozzy Whittaker, Texas -- Whittaker has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, but rushed for 351 yards last season and enters the season as the starter ahead of Cody Johnson. He'll have to hold off promising freshman Malcolm Brown as well as Johnson, but for now, the Longhorns' running backs have a lot to prove in a new offense built to help them succeed.
We'll move on to the cornerbacks today in our position rankings across the Big 12.

Here's what we've covered so far:
This group is subject to more change during the season than perhaps any other position. You never quite know how chemistry will develop, and in these rankings, you really have to rely heavily on experience, similar to quarterbacks. It's not the only factor, but you have to acknowledge that it's a major one.

So, here's how I rank them:

[+] EnlargeLevy Adcock
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtOklahoma State's Levy Adcock, 73, is among the Big 12's best returning offensive linemen.
1. Oklahoma State: This is a no-brainer. The Cowboys broke in four new starters last season, but became a big reason why OSU's offense was one of college football's best. Despite throwing 532 passes, third-most in the Big 12, the group surrendered just 10 sacks. All five starters return, too. Running back Kendall Hunter also rushed for more than 1,500 yards. Right tackle Levy Adcock headlines the unit as the league's best overall lineman.

2. Baylor: The Bears might be a bit of a surprise here, but Baylor's strong skill-position talents wouldn't look nearly as good without this group, which lost a first-round pick at left tackle in Danny Watkins. However, Philip Blake is one of the league's best centers and four starters return from a line that helped Baylor finish second in the Big 12 last season in yards per carry, just behind Nebraska but nearly a half-yard more than Oklahoma State, the third-place team.

3. Missouri: The Tigers suffered a big loss in center Tim Barnes, a three-year starter and the offensive line's leader, but they return four starters from last season line and have the most career starts on the line of any team in the Big 12, with 105, which ranks 11th nationally.

4. Texas A&M: A&M's rising sophomore tackles, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, had to learn on the go last season, but their development should be fun to watch this season on an offensive line blocking for the Big 12's best overall collection of skill-position talents. The line returns four starters, replacing only center Matt Allen.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners' goal-line problems last season cost them a game at Texas A&M, but this line was very solid the rest of the season and has plenty of upside. Likely starter Jarvis Jones won't be available until perhaps October, so the Sooners will turn to touted redshirt freshman Daryl Williams at right tackle in the interim. Center Ben Habern and tackle Tyler Evans add a lot of experience.

6. Texas Tech: Tech boasts one of the Big 12's best guards in Lonnie Edwards, but don't be surprised if Mickey Okafor grabs the Big 12's first-team spot at right tackle by season's end. The Red Raiders return all five starters, and will have to play well to support new faces at every skill position on offense.

7. Kansas: Four of the Jayhawks' starters are juniors and another is a senior, and for all of KU's struggles last season, it did have some success running the ball in spots, even though its 1,615 total rush yards were the fewest in the Big 12. James Sims (742 yards, 9 TDs) returns and KU adds a possible home-run threat in Darrian Miller, but the offensive line returns 97 total starts, 15th-most in college football and second-most in the Big 12. That has to pay off eventually, if not this season.

8. Iowa State: The Cyclones boast the league's best left tackle, Kelechi Osemele, but center Ben Lamaak is gone and ISU might turn to redshirt freshman Tom Farniok as his replacement. Brayden Burris is solid at right tackle, but sophomore Ethan Tuftee, who has very little experience (just five appearances total), enters fall camp as the starter at right guard.

9. Texas: No, I don't know how this happens. But it's hard to deny. Run blocking has been a struggle for Texas, and new position coach Stacy Searels will have to change that for the Longhorns, who have kept quiet about any real depth-chart developments throughout the spring and into fall camp. Tray Allen's health is a concern, but Mason Walters played well in 2010 and David Snow has a lot of experience at center with 19 starts and 39 appearances. If this group can't ascend in these rankings during the season, Texas' turnaround from last season 5-7 campaign will not happen. Texas, though, has the fewest career starts in the Big 12, with 36, which ranks 105th nationally.

10. Kansas State: Kansas State has had the Big 12's leading rusher the past two seasons, but he's gone and so are three offensive linemen, including the unit's best blocker, guard Zach Kendall. Center Wade Weibert and guard Kenneth Mayfield also are gone, leaving gaps in the interior. Senior Zach Hanson joins Manese Foketi and Clyde Aufner on a unit that returns just 42 career starts, second-fewest in the Big 12 and 97th-most in college football.
Yesterday, you saw our college football blog staff tab one player as the conference's next household name, but what do you think? I pegged Texas A&M running back Christine Michael as the next player folks will know well, but here's a few other suggestions.

Vote in the poll for who you're expecting to see a much bigger profile this time next year:

Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma

Stills caught 61 passes for 786 yards last year as a true freshman, the most of any freshman in Oklahoma history, even with the nation's leader (131) in receptions, Ryan Broyles, across from him on the field. He's got one of the best quarterbacks in the league tossing him the ball, and he'll be back in 2011 with a year of experience under his belt.

James Franklin, QB, Missouri

Franklin is the key to Missouri's rise in 2011. If he plays well, the Tigers should be a strong contender for the Big 12 title, something Blaine Gabbert, Chase Daniel and Brad Smith could never win. This Tigers team might be the best under Gary Pinkel, but there's a gaping hole at quarterback where Gabbert used to be. Will Franklin fill it and become a star as the next in a long line of Missouri quarterbacks.

Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State

Randle caught more passes last year than any running back in the league, other than Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray, and figured to be a big piece of the backfield set to replace Kendall Hunter, who rushed for over 1,500 yards for the second time in his career last season. Randle has the advantage of a passing game that will require tons of attention and the Big 12's best offensive line. Will he hold off Jeremy Smith and become a 1,000-yard rusher?

Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech

Doege, a junior, hasn't been a full-time starter since his sophomore year of high school, but Texas Tech stayed committed to him through a pair of serious knee injuries, and Doege has done the same. Now, he'll get a chance to do what he grew up wanting to do, carry on the Texas Tech quarterback legacy that guys like Graham Harrell and Kliff Kingsbury helped build. He'll do it under a different coach, but can he still produce the big numbers?

Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas

Brown hasn't even gone through a practice yet, but hopes are high for the incoming freshman who was the nation's No. 7 recruit in the 2011 class. The Cibolo, Texas, native runs with big power and if Texas' offensive line can give him a few holes, should be able to punish defenders with his downhill style. A year from now, will he be the first 1,000-yard rusher at Texas since Jamaal Charles?

Anyone else deserve some consideration?
Oklahoma State won a school-record 11 games last season, which only fuels fan desires for even more victories. They've tasted it, you might say, and were a few bounces away from the program's first Big 12 Championship appearance.

So what's in store for the encore?

KC Joyner says the Cowboys are one of his five teams Insider that may be headed for a significant drop-off next season. You'll need ESPN Insider access to read the whole thing, but here's what Joyner has to say about Boone's Boys.
Offensive hurdle: The Cowboys' offense will be going through more adjustments than a team that is replacing two starters normally would. Oklahoma State lost its offensive coordinator (Dana Holgorsen, now the head coach at West Virginia), an All-American running back (Kendall Hunter) and its No. 3 wideout (Bo Bowling).

Defensive hurdle: Oklahoma State's defense faced more plays from scrimmage than any other team in the Big 12 last year (1,069). Because the Cowboys' offensive game plan this season figures to be as fast-paced as the one Holgorsen called in 2010, it means that the six new starters on this side of the ball will have their endurance tested quite often.

X factor: Oklahoma State was the only Big 12 team to finish the 2010 season with a turnover margin of even or better in every conference contest. That feat will be hard to replicate.

Joyner makes plenty of interesting points that aren't quite so obvious, namely the increased impact of turnover on the defensive side of the ball for teams with high-paced offenses.

I don't see the Bowling loss as a big one; Josh Cooper can fill his role as long as he stays healthy, and I see Hubert Anyiam stepping in for a big season opposite Justin Blackmon.

The turnover advantages may make last season's accomplishments seem suspect, but Oklahoma State didn't play many close games where turnovers might have shifted the entire game, similar to what Texas experienced in 2010.

The season-defining Thursday night win over Texas A&M was the most obvious example (OSU won the turnover battle 5-3, and the game on a last-second field goal set up by, yes, a turnover), but the rest of the wins?

Oklahoma State won just one other game by single digits, an early season near disaster against Troy. The only other remotely close game was a 24-14 road win over Kansas State, but the Cowboys were forced to play without the Big 12's best player in 2010: Blackmon.

So, this isn't Michigan State in 2010 or Iowa in 2009 we're talking about, i.e. teams hanging on with late heroics to win tight games.

But what do you think? Is Oklahoma State headed for a drop-off? Vote in our poll.
The best players in football play with something to prove. But some have more to prove than others.

Tevin Elliot, DE, Baylor

Elliot is raw, but the versatile 6-foot-2, 245-pounder led the Bears in sacks as a freshman, with five. Baylor's defense held the team back from achieving much more than a bowl appearance last year, but Elliot could be a big piece of a defensive resurgence under Phil Bennett in 2011. A disruptive pass rush would be a huge help to a pass defense that struggled last season, and one player can make that happen. Can Elliot prove he's the guy to do it and help push the team further than the seven wins it reached in 2010?

Huldon Tharp, LB, Kansas

Tharp showed tons of promise as a freshman, making 59 tackles and landing on a freshman All-America team. He looked like he'd be one of the leaders on Turner Gill's first defense at Kansas, but his season cruelly ended in fall camp with a leg injury. Can he prove in 2011 that he's that leader, and that there's still reason to believe the potential he showed in 2009 is there?

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe Tigers need James Franklin to fill the void left at quarterback by Blaine Gabbert's departure.
James Franklin, QB, Missouri

The pressure is on for Franklin to continue Missouri's quarterback lineage after Tyler Gabbert transferred following the spring semester. Brad Smith started it, Chase Daniel took the Tigers to new heights and Blaine Gabbert looks like he'll make the biggest impact of the three in the NFL. Where is Franklin's place? This could be his team for the next three years, but he'll step into his new role with one of the Big 12's most complete teams surrounding him. He has sure-handed receivers, a solid running game, an experienced offensive line and one of the league's best defenses. Can he fill the void and help Missouri contend for a Big 12 title, proving that the bloodline will continue?

Hubert Anyiam, WR, Oklahoma State

Anyiam might be the guy who truly makes Oklahoma State's offense unstoppable. He led Oklahoma State in receptions during Dez Bryant's abbreviated 2009 season, catching 42 passes for 513 yards and three scores as a sophomore. Last year, though, he never got started and finished with 11 catches for 135 yards, thanks to an ankle injury similar to the one that ruined Kendall Hunter's 2009 season. The 6-foot, 198-pounder has the potential to be a second game-changing receiver in the Cowboys offense, but can he return to 2009 form and prove he's a dangerous complement to Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon?

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

Tannehill was a big reason for the Aggies' six-game winning streak to close the regular season, but so was Cyrus Gray's emergence, a rapidly maturing offensive line and a defense that played its best football in the second half of the season. All the pieces are there for Tannehill to lead the Aggies to the BCS, but last year it was obvious: without good quarterback play, the Aggies were not a great team. Tannehill has been on the field for three seasons, but he still has just six career starts at quarterback. And there's that nagging Texas A&M senior quarterback curse that he'll surely be asked about at least a few times next season. Can he prove that his play late last season will continue into 2011, all the way to a possible Big 12 title?

We'll tab a few more later today.

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