NCF Nation: Paul Millard

In its first month in the Big 12, West Virginia charged into the league with the vigor its musket-toting mascot would toward a black bear.

After striking down Texas on the road, the Mountaineers stormed into October two seasons ago ranked in the top five of the polls.

But since that moment, West Virginia has been fighting a steady, but furious, backpedal. The Mountaineers have lost eight of their past 12 games in the league, culminating with a triple-overtime collapse to Iowa State in Morgantown to cap a bowl-less 2013 season.

Yet, minus several outgoing key performers, playing for a coach whose seat is getting warmer and a brutal slate awaiting them, the Mountaineers have gone into spring ball dead-set on finally proving their mettle in their new league this fall.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Brad Davis/Icon SMIIf Clint Trickett or one of West Virginia's quarterbacks can effectively lead the offense, the Mountaineers have the personnel around them to do damage.
“Absolutely,” said rising senior guard Quinton Spain, who has started in every Big 12 game the Mountaineers have played in.

“We have stuff to prove.”

It’s not difficult to pinpoint where exactly it all went wrong for West Virginia.

In their final season in the Big East in 2011, the Mountaineers punched out nine wins, then punched out Clemson in the Orange Bowl with a convincing 70-33 victory.

West Virginia entered its inaugural Big 12 season with three of the best skill-position talents in the country in quarterback Geno Smith, wideout Stedman Bailey and versatile playmaker Tavon Austin, who all made starts in the NFL as rookies last season.

The Mountaineers, however, trotted out one of the worst defenses in the country by every statistical measure. And when the West Virginia offense finally cooled off after the Texas win, the bottom fell out.

Last season, the defense showed early improvement after coach Dana Holgorsen switched coordinators from Joe DeForest to Keith Patterson. But with its trio of offensive stars gone, the Mountaineers struggled to consistently score points. By the time the offense came around, injuries piled up on the other side of the ball, which crippled the West Virginia defense the final month of the season.

“The record [the past two years] has been unacceptable -- every player on this team knows it,” said cornerback Daryl Worley, who emerged as a starter as a true freshman last season. “We have yet to click as a whole, together. The Big 12 has so many complete teams -- teams known for winning, who are productive on both sides of the ball. We definitely understand that to compete in this league, we can’t just depend on the offense or the defense. Both sides have to be better.”

However, there's reason to believe that the Mountaineers could be better on both sides of the ball and field their most complete team since joining the league.

All-Big 12 running back Charles Sims is out of eligibility. All-conference defensive end Will Clarke and safety Darwin Cook are, too.

The record (the last two years) has been unacceptable -- every player on this team knows it.

-- cornerback Daryl Worley
The bulk of the team, however, is back. And while injuries devastated West Virginia in the short run last season, they also allowed numerous young players to gain valuable experience for the future. The Mountaineers bring back seven starters on each side of the ball and a host of key rotation players. Despite the on-field struggles, West Virginia also inked a banner recruiting class last month, loaded with potential for instant impact.

“We lost some guys, but we were pretty young last year,” Spain said. “I feel like we’ve got more people coming back than ever. So I feel like we could be pretty good.”

That will hinge heavily on the quarterback position, which might not get resolved until the fall. Clint Trickett ended last season as the starter but is out this spring recovering from shoulder surgery that repaired a torn labrum. Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and freshman William Crest, who will arrive on campus in the summer, could make this an intriguing derby.

But if Holgorsen can find his man at quarterback, the rest of the pieces seem to be in place to give the Mountaineers at least a chance of making its third season in the Big 12 the charm.

Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell, who was the nation’s third highest-ranked running back recruit in 2012, headlines a backfield that's as deep as any in the Big 12.

Elsewhere, the entire receiving and linebacking corps are basically back. Spain and veteran Mark Glowinski give the Mountaineers arguably the best one-two punch at guard in the league. Cook is the only departing starter in the secondary, which will welcome a potential future cornerstone at cornerback opposite Worley in incoming freshman Dravon Henry, who signed with West Virginia over Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, among many others.

Off the field, the Mountaineers also made one of the best assistant coaching hires in the Big 12 this cycle, snagging former Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who was one of Joe Paterno’s top lieutenants for more than three decades.

Of course, the schedule is completely unforgiving, beginning with a neutral site clash with Alabama in Atlanta. The Mountaineers also have to face Oklahoma and Baylor and have to go to Maryland, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech -- all games they figure to be underdogs in.

But Spain said his teammates are welcoming the challenging slate. What better way for the Mountaineers to finally prove their Big 12 chops?

“Everybody on this team is hungry for real,” Spain said. “We’re ready to prove ourselves.”

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

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

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

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

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

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

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

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

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

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

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

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

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

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

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

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

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

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

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

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

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

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.
Immediately after the national championship game, colleague Mark Schlabach released his Way-Too-Early Top 25. In concert, below is our Way-Too-Early Big 12 power poll. This could change between now and the end of the spring. In fact, it probably will. But this is a first look at how the Big 12 teams stack up against one another for 2014:

1. Oklahoma Sooners

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

2. Baylor Bears

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

3. Kansas State Wildcats

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

4. Texas Longhorns

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

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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

6. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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

7. TCU Horned Frogs

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

8. Iowa State Cyclones

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

9. West Virginia Mountaineers

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

10. Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas showed only modest improvement in Charlie Weis’ second season as head coach. This will be a key season for Weis as he attempts to rebuild the program. He desperately needs Montell Cozart to develop into the answer at quarterback. Cozart still has a ways to go with his passing, but he showed he could hurt defenses with his legs. Defensively, the Jayhawks bring back some solid players, notably linebackers Ben Goodman and Ben Heeney and safety Isaiah Johnson. But Kansas will take the next step only if Cozart -- or somebody else -- emerges at quarterback.
Mack Brown was widely mocked last month for saying tackling had become a problem in America, not just at Texas. He wouldn’t be laughed off if he made this claim: Quarterback instability is a national epidemic.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Sams
AP Photo/Eric GayKansas State is one of several Big 12 teams that have played musical quarterbacks, alternating Daniel Sams (pictured) with Jake Waters.
More than 50 FBS programs have already been afflicted, including nearly a third of the AP top 25. A total of 184 quarterbacks have started at least one game for the 126 programs, and we’re only a month and a half into the 2013 season.

No major conference has dealt with more insecurity behind center than the Big 12. Good luck naming the second-best quarterback in the Big 12 behind Baylor’s Bryce Petty, or even naming off all 18 who have made starts.

“This year, it seems like everyone is kind of juggling one to try to find answers and two to try to keep them healthy,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I know Texas Tech is dealing with it, we’re dealing with it, TCU has dealt with it, Texas has dealt with it, Kansas State has dealt with it.

“So just until guys get established and remain healthy, that’s just the reality of college football. The next guy has got to get ready to go in there and play at the highest level possible to try to get a win.”

Kansas State became the seventh Big 12 team to give a second quarterback a start Saturday when Daniel Sams got the nod over Jake Waters against Baylor.

Thus far, injuries have been more at issue than ineffective play. TCU’s Casey Pachall, Texas’ David Ash and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight lost their jobs when they went down with injuries, and that could be the case for Texas Tech’s Baker Mayfield as well.

Oklahoma State pulled Clint Chelf for J.W. Walsh in the opener, and Cowboys coach Mike Gundy is sticking with him. Same with Blake Bell, who’s holding onto his job despite the return of Knight.

And then there’s the situation at West Virginia, where Holgorsen has been dealing with a quarterback calamity all season long. Paul Millard, Ford Childress and Clint Trickett have each started two games, and the job is still very much up for grabs.

“Unfortunately by the time we settle on somebody, then he gets hurt and you’ve got to put somebody else in there,” Holgorsen said. “That’s not an excuse. Whoever is going to be our quarterback this week, we’ve got to get him prepared to play and we’ve got to get him to where we’re playing at a higher level than what we’ve got out of him.”

This isn’t exactly unprecedented for the Big 12. During its 12-team era, two seasons were especially chaotic: 2005 and 2009. In both years, eight Big 12 teams started at least two quarterbacks. In both years, Texas rolled through the conference thanks to Heisman finalist-caliber quarterbacks Vince Young and Colt McCoy.

But take note of this: A team with multiple starting quarterbacks has not won the Big 12 Championship since Kansas State in 2003.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Brad Davis/Icon SMIClint Trickett is the third player to start at QB for West Virginia this season.
Bill Snyder’s quarterback situation is no doubt an outlier from the rest. He likes both Sams and Waters. He likes playing both, and Sams has paired his 522 rushing yards with just 32 pass attempts. The Wildcats are just trying to find the right combination, the right rhythm.

“We just have two young guys that are competing in a very positive way to be the No. 1 quarterback, and both of them have demonstrated the capabilities beyond the field and deserve to play,” Synder said.

There was a three-season stretch in this conference, from 2006 to 2008, when no more than four backups earned a start in a single season. In 2011, only Texas and Iowa State tried multiple starters.

ISU coach Paul Rhoads is now one of the three Big 12 coaches who hasn’t needed his No. 2 guy this fall thanks to the solid play of Sam B. Richardson. He doesn’t consider the problem facing his colleagues to be an unexpected one.

“With the number of new quarterbacks in the league, first of all, and then the game is physical, the game is violent and teams’ quarterbacks are more active in their offenses in these leagues,” Rhoads said. “There’s going to be some vulnerability. So no, not surprised.”

This is a problem everywhere. Forty percent of FBS schools have started two quarterbacks. Seven SEC, seven Big Ten and five ACC schools have rolled out more than one starter. The national number of 184 total starters is ahead of the 2012 midseason total (170), which finished at 210 starters by season’s end.

What all that uncertainty creates, at least in the Big 12 landscape, too many unpredictable conference title contenders ... and one great advantage for Baylor.

Petty is No. 1 in the Big 12 in every passing statistic. But it’s a good thing his backup, Seth Russell, already has 30 attempts, 381 yards and three scores on his 2013 resume.

Considering how this season is already playing out, the Bears just might end up needing him.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 23, 2013
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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.

Mountaineers are transferring power

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
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Perhaps no team in the country faces the daunting task West Virginia does. The Mountaineers have to replace the school’s all-time leading passer and its two all-time leading receivers.

Together, quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey had a hand in nearly four-fifths of West Virginia’s all-purpose yards last season.

“I’ve been talking to our guys about this all the time,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “How are we going to score without three of the best players that ever played the game here?”

Holgorsen is banking that his Mountaineers can somehow do it with a collection of talented FBS and junior-college transfers. All told, West Virginia brought in four junior-college offensive skill players and two high-profile FBS transfers. All six could wind up with critical roles in the offense.

“We did a good job of getting guys who can make big plays,” said running back Andrew Buie, essentially West Virginia’s only returning skill player from last season. “I definitely think we can be explosive again.”

Whether the Mountaineers can hinges heavily on their transfers -- especially quarterback Clint Trickett, running back Charles Sims and wide receiver Kevin White.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsClint Trickett did not play all that much at Florida State, but when he did he played well.
Trickett left Florida State after the spring to join West Virginia’s quarterback competition. He’s up against junior Paul Millard and redshirt freshman Ford Childress for the starting job in a battle that’s yet to yield a frontrunner.

“Clint Trickett has a presence to him; every rep he takes he gets better and does some good things,” Holgorsen said. “They all make good decisions at times but because of inexperience, they make poor decisions that get them in trouble. The guy that reduces the poor decisions will be the guy that wins the job. I think they are all capable of being pretty good.”

While backing up EJ Manuel at Florida State, Trickett showed flashes of being pretty good. After Manuel got hurt during the 2011 season, Trickett came in and delivered a pair of sterling performances against top-notch competition. He nearly rallied the Seminoles to a win over Oklahoma. Then the following week, he threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns in a shootout defeat at Clemson.

Trickett, whose father, Rick, is the Seminoles’ offensive line coach, elected to transfer to West Virginia after losing the battle for the starting job to freshman Jameis Winston this spring.

“All Dana said was he’s not promising me anything and that I’m going to get my chances,” said Trickett, who grew up in Morgantown while his dad was a West Virginia assistant. “That’s all I can ask for.”

The Mountaineers do have other options at quarterback. But outside their transfers, they don’t have many options at running back or receiver.

Buie, who rushed for 851 yards and seven touchdowns last season, figures to be the featured back. But he could have plenty of help from a pair of transfers.

Sims arrived in the summer after totaling 4,077 yards rushing and receiving for Houston in three seasons. His freshman season playing for Holgorsen, Sims was the Conference USA freshman of the year. Sims is eligible to play this season because he got his degree in Houston.

“We're extremely fortunate to have his services for one year,” Holgorsen said. “He's a great kid, a tremendous football player.

[+] EnlargeCharles Sims
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesCharles Sims has been reunited with coach Dana Holgorsen, under whom as a frehsman at Houston he amassed 1,457 yards of offense.
“I didn't promise him anything. He knows what I'm all about. He knows how I coach. He knows what our offense is about. And we need some playmakers on offense.”

Sims has been just that. After missing the 2010 season with an injury, Sims bounced back the following year to earn first-team All-Conference USA honors. Like Austin, Sims has the skill set to operate out of the backfield or line up in the slot.

“This is basically the same offense I’ve been running since my freshman year,” Sims said. “The terminology is all that’s different.”

The Mountaineers are also hoping for a boost from Dreamius Smith, who was the nation’s No. 1 junior-college running back. Smith averaged 8.2 yards a carry for Butler (Kan.) Community College before joining West Virginia in January.

“He's got great ball skills,” Smith's position coach, Jajuan Seider, said. “He can catch the ball. The way he looks – you don't even think he's running. He's one of the fastest guys on the team – next thing you know, he's going for 70 or 80 yards and our safety can't catch him. He's a really good player. I'm glad we've got him.”

The Mountaineers are glad they got White, too, who since the spring has been vying to be the team’s go-to receiver.

White might not be able to replicate the production of Austin or Bailey, but teamed with fellow junior-college receivers Mario Alford and Ronald Carswell, White might lead a deeper receiving corps with more viable options than last year’s group.

“This offense is definitely going to be more than just three guys,” White said. “We have all the pieces to the puzzle.

“We just have to put it together.”
Here's a bit of what you missed over the weekend across the Big 12:

West Virginia finally began preseason practices on Friday, with the Big 12's most wide-open starting quarterback spot waiting to be filled. The potential to rack up lots of yards in coach Dana Holgorsen's offense only adds to the intrigue, but Florida State transfer Clint Trickett finally got a chance to take the field with his teammates after becoming a Mountaineer following spring practice.

"He has a lot of experience and knows what he is doing. He has played in big games and has been through three years of college football, so he is a good guy to be around," redshirt freshman quarterback Ford Childress told reporters about Trickett. "I will see what tricks he can teach."

Holgorsen has given little indication about the quarterback pecking order heading into camp, but the race to sort it out is on.

"It was pretty even yesterday. We are all just trying to get better and are pushing each other," Childress said. "Once we get our pads on, we will really get to see the difference."

Childress is the only Mountaineers' quarterback with no game experience. Trickett earned two career starts behind E.J. Manuel at Florida State and threw seven touchdown passes as a freshman in 2011.

Millard has served as Geno Smith's backup in each of the past two seasons and has three touchdown passes of his own as a Mountaineer. Childress has a lot to prove with no on-field game experience to allow coaches to review.

"I feel a ton better with the offense," Childress said. "I actually know what is going on, what the defense is doing and what I need to call and check out of everything."

Scrimmages are always the best indicator of where a quarterback race stands, so I'd keep a close eye on those when they arrive for the Mountaineers, including both performance and the amount of reps and attempts each player earns.

"Once we get the pads on in a few days and we can actually do some situational stuff, I think that things will clear up a little faster," Millard told reporters. "Right now we just have to go day-by-day."

Tech debuts new uniforms/helmets

Texas Tech revealed their new uniforms and alternate helmets in this well-done YouTube video. Coach Kliff Kingsbury hinted these were coming all offseason, but it's a great look. You can see Tech players' thoughts here.

Here are the Red Raiders' new basic set of uniforms in one spot:



The biggest change is the lack of the shiny "glitter" look on the helmets, which are instead a regular shiny black look. I would have loved to have seen Tech have a matte black look with the Double T logo on it, but I love the stripe across the shoulder and featuring the "Guns Up" slogan ("Guns up" on their actual "guns." Get it?) on the pants and jerseys. Strong look versus the previous awkward location of the phrase. The new stripe on the helmet is a great look, too.

You can see the collection of helmets Texas Tech will have at its disposal here from a display at the Red Raiders' media day over the weekend.

Most eye-catching is the new Masked Raider logo at a variety of angles. I like the look, but is it recognizable enough? We're seeing a trend of universities focusing branding efforts on a single logo even with a variety of uniforms, but Oklahoma State did something similar in emphasizing a variety of Pistol Pete logos in addition to the block "OSU" that appears most often in the university's athletic teams.

Time will tell how ingrained that image becomes, but the average college football fan (and even Big 12 fan) is going to see that helmet and not immediately know which school is wearing it. That was never the case with the classic Double T logo.
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.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen could only chuckle when asked about his quarterback competition just days after the end of spring football.

Not only was that gig "wide open, man" according to Holgorsen, but he added that 20 or so other positions are still up for grabs for the rebuilding Mountaineers.

None of those spots will get more attention than an already spicy quarterback race that got spiced up even further with the addition of Florida State transfer Clint Trickett. The arrival of Jameis Winston, the nation's No. 1 quarterback in the 2012 class, led to Trickett seeking playing time elsewhere, and he believes he can find it in Morgantown. He'll have two years of eligibility remaining.

"WVU football welcomes Clint Trickett home. He basically grew up in Morgantown, and I know he feels very comfortable here," coach Dana Holgorsen said in a release. "He’s an excellent student and grew up around the game of football, which shows in his composure on the field. I am excited that he has decided to finish his career as a Mountaineer."

I don't buy the idea that Trickett's been guaranteed anything in the realm of playing time by Holgorsen, but the allure of what Holgorsen has done with basically every quarterback he's touched was attractive enough for Trickett to come back to compete to become the next passer at the state's flagship program.

Trickett lived in West Virginia for seven years, and returning to play for a passing game guru outweighed facing lesser competition in lesser offenses at Auburn and South Florida, two schools Trickett also considered.

He has the skills and experience to compete, even though he won't have the knowledge of the system Paul Millard possesses or Ford Childress' biggest asset: his arm strength.

It'll be a fascinating competition, and both current WVU quarterbacks will try and erase the memories of underwhelming performances in the spring game, but both are capable of winning games consistently in the Big 12. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen just has to decide if Trickett is the Mountaineers' guy who can do it best.

There's no way of knowing this soon how this chapter of West Virginia football will end, but it'll certainly be fun to watch it play out.
Former Florida State quarterback Clint Trickett is trading in the Seminoles' war chant for "Country Roads."

He's announced plans to transfer to West Virginia, where he'll be eligible to compete for the Mountaineers' starting quarterback job immediately.

From our news story:
Trickett, 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, left Florida State after it became apparent redshirt freshman Jameis Winston had an edge in the competition at the end of spring practices.

Trickett completed 66 of 106 passes (62.3 percent) for 947 yards and seven touchdowns with four interceptions in two seasons of backup action.

Trickett lived in West Virginia for seven years while his father Rick was an offensive line coach there.

Earlier this morning, Trickett took to Twitter to announce his plans, too.

"This is a dream come true to be playin for the state I love," he wrote.

It definitely makes the West Virginia quarterback competition a whole lot more interesting, and Texas natives Ford Childress and Paul Millard have a lot to prove once fall camp arrives. Trickett will be on campus this summer and plans to enroll in classes on May 20.

Something tells me those 7-on-7 voluntary workouts with the team over the summer got a big competitive jolt.
Turnover at the quarterback position is the story of the Big 12 this spring, but some schools have made decisions, some are close, and some haven't gotten far in replacing their passers. Here's an update on where each race sits.

Note: Because they have clear, incumbent starters, Iowa State and Texas have been omitted from this update.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAs expected, Bryce Petty has locked down Baylor's starting QB job.
Baylor: Bryce Petty entered the spring as the likely successor to Nick Florence and cemented his status as the starter with a strong 15 practices. Petty was officially designated as the starting quarterback on Baylor's post-spring depth chart, besting Seth Russell.

Kansas: Jake Heaps transferred from BYU and looks to have easily surpassed Michael Cummings, as expected, with a strong spring, working mostly with the first team. Kansas held its spring game on Saturday and Heaps far outperformed Cummings, tossing four touchdown passes and completing 20 of 28 passes for 257 yards. Not much competition here.

Kansas State: K-State is about halfway through spring, but there's been almost no development (publicly, at least) in the quarterback race. Last year's backup, the speedy Daniel Sams, is helping juco transfer Jake Waters get acquainted, but they're still splitting reps with the first team and I'd be surprised if we see an announcement until fall.

Oklahoma: Bob Stoops doesn't care about establishing a starter heading into summer 7-on-7 drills, but Blake Bell might have taken that out of his hands with a strong performance in the spring game. An endorsement from Landry Jones can't hurt. Bell showed this spring he's more than a BellDozer and made plays with his arm on Saturday, completing 14 of 23 passes for 214 yards and two scores. Stoops hasn't made an official designation, but Bell looks like he's distanced himself from his competition in Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson.

Oklahoma State: You can find folks anywhere making a case for Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh or Wes Lunt, but Mike Gundy's opinion is the only one that matters. He says Oklahoma State's starter is Chelf, and Chelf is receiving most of the first-team reps this spring. It's not hard to see that changing, but for now, the job is Chelf's. The rising senior may have to do something to lose it.

TCU: Most assumed Casey Pachall's return to the team meant he'd step back in and reclaim his job. This spring, it hasn't been that easy. He may do exactly that this fall, but Gary Patterson says he's looked rusty after not throwing or lifting from October to January while receiving in-patient treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. Meanwhile, sophomore Trevone Boykin has looked much improved. Patterson says it's still an open competition, the duo is splitting first-team reps and there may not be a decision until fall.

Texas Tech: It doesn't seem like Michael Brewer has a ton of competition on the roster, but Kliff Kingsbury turned some heads when he trotted out Davis Webb to start a recent scrimmage. Brewer still has to earn the job and it's hard to see that not being the case, but for now, this job is still up for grabs.

West Virginia: This one's still wide open. Texas natives Paul Millard and Ford Childress are still splitting first-team reps and there doesn't appear to be much separation just yet. Expect this competition to heat up in the fall. The coaching staff has already said they don't expect to name a starter by the end of spring or even by the beginning of fall camp.
As we continue our season wrap, we'll be looking to 2013 today. Let's take a look with some bold predictions in 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Big 12 power rankings for 2013

January, 8, 2013
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The season is done, but ask any coach and he'll tell you the 2013 season already has begun. That's true on this blog, too. So, how would I slot the Big 12 heading into the fall? With a month before national signing day and a couple of months before spring football kicks into high gear, here's my first crack at slotting the conference.

To me, it looks as if we have four legitimate contenders for the conference title and three possible dark horses. We'll see how the latter three develop, but I'm sold on the top four as teams that could realistically win the league next season.

1. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys will be loaded, and that's especially true if running back Joseph Randle comes back. Cornerback Justin Gilbert is returning, but we saw this season that they can win with any one of their three quarterbacks. That's a recipe for success in this league. The defense was a bit streaky; this season was the first under defensive coordinator Bill Young that the Cowboys didn't finish in the top 15 in turnovers forced. If they can get back to forcing turnovers in bunches next season, another Big 12 title could be headed to Stillwater.

2. TCU: The Frogs are growing up fast, but their spot here is assuming that quarterback Casey Pachall will be back on the field this spring to reclaim his job. The defense looks likely to be the best in the Big 12, and as much offense as this league has, you can't win it without a solid defense. TCU's offense will win it some games; its defense might win it a Big 12 title. Look out for Devonte Fields' encore.

3. Oklahoma: The Sooners look like they may lack a true star on next season's team, but they are still solid across the two-deep and will be good enough to be in the mix for a title even without quarterback Landry Jones. A wealth of losses on the defensive end is a bigger concern, but receivers Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard also will have to navigate a transition to a new QB after three-plus years with Jones. The Sooners ought to feature fullback Trey Millard a bit more in the offense next year.

4. Texas: Believe it or not, but David Ash is the Big 12's most experienced passer. Can he look the part on the field? We'll see, but the biggest problem for Texas is continuing its defensive improvements. Jackson Jeffcoat could be back, and Jordan Hicks will be one of the league's biggest talents if he is able to recover from a hip injury. The time is now if the Longhorns' trio of backs are going to mature into true impact players.

5. Baylor: I'm a believer in the late-season run for these guys translating to 2013. The defense made big strides, and we'll see if those continue, but the offense will be fine. I buy Bryce Petty as a big talent and the next in the long line of Art Briles' quarterback disciples. Lache Seastrunk will help him out early, too. Don't be surprised if he surpasses Randle next year as the Big 12's best back.

6. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are a huge wild card and might have the biggest upside of any team in the bottom half of these rankings. Michael Brewer is a promising QB, and he now has Kliff Kingsbury -- the former Texas A&M offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach who helped the Aggies far surpass expectations -- as his new head coach. Could Tech do the same? The Red Raiders have tons of talent on both sides of the ball, thanks to a couple of great recruiting classes from Tommy Tuberville (who left to become the coach at Cincinnati).

7. Kansas State: No Collin Klein and Arthur Brown? You know about that, but there's no Chris Harper, Travis Tannahill, Braden Wilson, and the entire defensive line is gone, including star DE Meshak Williams. Both starting cornerbacks are gone, too. Point is, K-State's probably a bowl team next season, but to come back from that mountain of losses and be in the top half of the Big 12 is going to be a tall, tall task.

8. West Virginia: The Mountaineers' trio of wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin and quarterback Geno Smith was outstanding this year. Not much else in Morgantown was. All three are gone, and that team only went 7-5. Coordinator Keith Patterson has got to fix this defense in the spring and apply some lessons learned in a disappointing Year 1 in the Big 12. The QB derby between Paul Millard and Ford Childress should be interesting.

9. Iowa State: Sam Richardson was severely ill while playing in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, but he still didn't inspire a lot of confidence in the future of the QB spot in Ames, despite a strong finish to the season. With linebacking pillars A.J. Klein and Jake Knott both headed to the NFL, the odds once again will be against Iowa State winning six games and getting to a bowl. Without consistency at the quarterback spot, it's going to be tough, especially with the defense likely to take a step back.

10. Kansas: Gotta prove something before the Jayhawks move out of the basement. Charlie Weis is bringing in tons of juco talent, but after the Dayne Crist experiment didn't work, BYU transfer Jake Heaps simply must be better for KU to begin its climb back to the postseason.
Since announcing its intentions to join the Big 12 last October, West Virginians have been dreaming of this day. The Mountaineers' Week 1 dreams came true.

Dana Holgorsen's team, giving fans around the Big 12 their first real taste of West Virginia football, was impressive. The Mountaineers knocked off in-state rival Marshall, 69-34, in a game that was never in doubt past the first quarter. For those keeping count, that's 139 points in West Virginia's past two games. New Mexico, the nation's worst scoring offense a year ago, scored 144 in all of 2011.

Plenty of folks across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa hadn't had a chance to really see Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey play. That changed on Saturday, and the Mountaineers' Big Three was as good as advertised.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Christopher JacksonWest Virginia QB Geno Smith had a stellar season opener with four TDs and completing 89 percent of his passes.
Smith played only sparingly in the fourth quarter, but finished with 340 yards and four touchdowns on 33-of-37 passing, completing a career high 89 percent. All that talk about him beefing up and wising up this offseason? Looks like it paid off. Marshall's no Big 12 team, but it's a long way from FCS competition, too. The Thundering Herd were a seven-win team a year ago, including a bowl game. Smith even added 65 yards rushing on eight carries, highlighted by a 28-yard touchdown scamper that began with a busted running play and ended with Smith in the end zone, untouched.

Heisman watch, indeed.

Austin and Bailey finished with a game-high nine catches each, and Bailey kicked off the game's scoring with an acrobatic 32-yard catch over a defender. Austin showcased his speed on a 70-yard run in the third quarter. Austin had 119 yards of total offense and a score. Bailey had 104, with two scores.

By halftime, the Mountaineers had 200 yards of both passing and rushing to go with 21 first downs and a 34-10 lead.

Just like the Mountaineers drew it up. Starting running back Dustin Garrison didn't suit up as he tries to come back from a torn ACL suffered in pre-Orange Bowl practice, but Holgorsen has to feel pretty comfortable if the sophomore needs to redshirt. Running backs Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie looked more than capable on Saturday, running with power and making one cut before making defenders pay.

Alston finished with 123 yards and two scores on just 16 touches, an average of nearly eight yards a carry.

Now, the task is clear: Do this every week. That's what haunted WVU a year ago. Everyone knew this offense was capable of putting up these kinds of numbers.

Nobody knows if they're capable of doing it every week. The defense was less than impressive for most of the game, despite a defensive touchdown and another fumble return to set up a Paul Millard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Marshall consistently strung together extended drives, including a 98-yard march in the first quarter to cut WVU's early lead to just 13-7.

West Virginia has the potential to score 40 every time it takes the field in Big 12 play. The defense can't ask the offense to do that, though. You're asking for trouble if that happens.

Still, those are questions with answers that lie in the far future as the leaves change colors.

Today is opening day, and for West Virginia, it was one to remember.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Maybe it's silly, but I feel a bit like a trailblazer of sorts here in Mountaineers country. Those of us who hail from the Midwest or the South haven't had much reason to head to West Virginia, and I'd never been until yesterday. For most Big 12 fans and media, I'd say that's the case. Alas, I'll start there before moving to matters on the field.

  • The rumors you've heard are true. This campus and area is beautiful, just as advertised by West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen and just about anybody else who's been here. The drive from the Denver airport to Boulder used to be my favorite in the Big 12, but it's now been replaced by the drive from Pittsburgh to Morgantown. I had heard it was two hours. It's not. It's in the ballpark of an hour to 90 minutes. Easily doable. Unlike Boulder, there isn't one big looming mountain, though. The campus and surrounding area is set among rolling hills unlike anything you'll see in the Big 12, save some parts of Austin, Texas. The drive over gives you a sense of the landscape, and there are plenty of gorgeous views. You'll love the first time you make it. I grew up in Northwest Arkansas in the thick of the Ozark Mountains, and it reminded me of that area a lot. No huge peaks, but lots of gorgeous scenery. I can only imagine how it will look in the fall.
  • As for travel, I have some advice for airlines: Add more flights on fall weekends between Pittsburgh and Kansas City, Dallas and Houston, the three biggest hubs for Big 12 fans. If you get a direct flight into Pittsburgh, the travel won't be much different than trying to get to Texas A&M, Mizzou or Kansas State. I had to connect through Philadelphia, though, and it was a legitimate half-day of travel. It might take a little out of you heading into a game weekend.
  • [+] EnlargeWest Virginia's Geno Smith
    Andrew Weber/US PresswireWest Virginia's Geno Smith is as physically imposing as any of his new Big 12 QB counterparts.

  • Unfortunately, I was on hand for the coldest day of the spring in West Virginia. It had been in the 70s and 80s for much of the workouts, but it was overcast and 50 degrees with blustery winds throughout Tuesday's two-plus-hour session, which included plenty of team drills. Holgorsen's teams typically don't tackle much, but players were going full contact on Tuesday, tackling to the ground during team drills, a rarity in the spring for some programs. Running back Ryan Clarke went down with an ankle injury, but his status is pending more examination from doctors.
  • I was struck by Geno Smith's physical prowess. I'm not sure I realized just how big he is. He's every bit of 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, and maybe more. To me, he was more physically imposing than Landry Jones, who checks in at 6-4, 229. Other than Collin Klein, you won't see any Big 12 passers with the kind of physique Jones and Smith have.
  • Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin? Good grief, those two are as advertised. Nobody in the Big 12 is going to be able to cover Austin with any consistency. Bailey and Smith have been friends since growing up in South Florida, and Bailey will be productive, too. Smith's throwing reps were limited on Tuesday to give his shoulder a little rest, but he hit Bailey and Austin for rainbow 40- to 50-yard passes on consecutive plays during 11-on-11 drills Tuesday. Bailey isn't quite as physically impressive as Austin (namely his quickness), but he's really smart and coordinated, and he'll be able to get open and make plays like he did last year.
  • The quarterbacks behind Smith, by the way? Both Texas natives who I'm sure are itching to go up against some familiar faces. Sophomore Paul Millard is from Flower Mound, a Dallas suburb, and Ford Childress (6-5, 224) is from Houston. Both looked strong, and Millard hooked up with Ivan McCartney on a deep ball while working some with the first team early in practice. Honestly, WVU might have the best full set of QBs in the league right now, beyond starters.
  • The scariest thing about WVU right now? You probably know the skill-position players -- specifically at QB and receiver -- are as good as if not better than any in the Big 12. But look out for the youngsters, too. WVU is deep and have a lot of guys who keep on coming. One name already turning heads this spring: True freshman early enrollee Jordan Thompson, a Katy, Texas, native who made plenty of plays during Tuesday's practice, and took a huge hit from a pair of defenders. "They've been waiting to do that for a long time," yelled a teammate as another picked Thompson up and Holgorsen smiled at his "Welcome to Division I football" moment.
  • You know about Bailey and Austin, but look out for J.D. Woods, too. He looked the part of playmaker in Tuesday's practice, and the senior could finally be turning a corner after a quiet junior season.
  • I'll have plenty more through the week -- I'm here until Thursday -- so keep checking back for more from my trip to West Virginia.

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