NCF Nation: Paul Rhoads

Iowa State on Monday named Sam Richardson its starting quarterback for the season opener.

“He’s a guy that’s in command and throwing accurate passes for us,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said.

[+] EnlargeSam B. Richardson
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsSam Richardson threw for 1,397 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
Richardson beat out sophomore Grant Rohach, who started the final four games in 2013, and redshirt freshman Joel Lanning to earn the start against FCS power North Dakota State on Aug. 30. The junior signal-caller has started 10 of 14 games during his Cyclones career and enters his third season with a 57.3 Adjusted QBR, 1,938 career passing yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino’s arrival came at a terrific time for Richardson as the slate was wiped clean and all three quarterbacks began anew. Richardson’s accuracy won him the job and his ability to run could be a key piece of the puzzle in Mangino's offense. As the most experienced quarterback on the roster, Richardson probably gives the Cyclones their best chance to win.

During his 14 games in a Cyclones uniform, Richardson has completed more than 60 percent of his passes on four different occasions. The Cyclones went 2-2 in those games with wins over Kansas in 2012 and Tulsa in 2013. Rhoads told reporters that Richardson completed 70 percent of his passes during ISU’s last two scrimmages, a sign that Mangino’s arrival has had a positive impact.

Even with his apparent improvement, Richardson may not have a stranglehold on the starting spot. He enters the season averaging 138.4 passing yards per game and converting just 30.5 percent of his third-down passes into first downs. He will need to improve in both categories to keep his starting spot. To top it off, Richardson has won just one of his 10 starts while Rohach won two of his four starts a year ago.

Rhoads told reporters ISU will be patient with Richardson and he’s “not on a short leash” but, nonetheless, the Cyclones are unlikely to go down with the ship on the shoulders of any quarterback this fall with other quality options on the roster.
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Iowa State Cyclones:

Key returners: TE E.J. Bibbs, C Tom Farniok, WR Quenton Bundrage, CB Nigel Tribune

Key losses: LB Jeremiah George, S Jacques Washington, S Deon Broomfield

Most important 2014 games: Sept. 6 vs. Kansas State; Sept. 27 vs. Baylor; Nov. 1 vs. Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeE.J. Bibbs
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsE.J. Bibbs and Iowa State are looking to build off of a strong finish to the 2013 season.
Projected win percentage: 39.3 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 3 1/2 wins.

Instant impact newcomers: WR Allen Lazard, WR D’Vario Montgomery. Lazard has impact freshman written all over him. Ranked No. 148 in the ESPN300, Lazard brings terrific receiving skills in a big package at 6-foot-5, 208 pounds. While the true freshman Lazard has garnered plenty of attention, South Florida transfer Montgomery could be poised to make a major impact as well.

High point from 2013: The Cyclones’ final win was their best, topping West Virginia in a 52-44 triple-overtime thriller in Morgantown, West Virginia, to end the season. Quite frankly, Paul Rhoads' team had nothing to play for against the Mountaineers yet rattled off 17 unanswered points to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Coupled with its 34-0 win over Kansas the previous game, ISU headed into the offseason with back-to-back victories.

Low point from 2013: ISU’s trip to Waco, Texas, was a nightmare, as Baylor thumped the Cyclones 71-7 in mid-October. ISU’s narrow 31-30 loss to Texas ranks a close second, but a 62-point loss to a conference foe counts as one of the biggest lows in Rhoads' tenure.

Best-case scenario for 2014: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino sparks a complete turnaround of the Cyclones’ offense, helping ISU return to a bowl game this fall. Defensively, the Cyclones see a few unknowns step up along the defensive line, helping ISU secure a home upset against either Kansas State, Baylor or Oklahoma, and stabilizing a young defense with plenty of question marks.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: ISU’s defensive front simply does not have answers and becomes a weak link in the Cyclones’ squad. Teams take advantage of this weakness and, despite an improved offensive attack, the Cyclones cannot outscore teams resulting in a second straight bowl-less campaign.

They said it: “All credit to our kids, they continue to persevere. They continue to train Sunday through Saturday and finished with two victories and currently ride a two-game winning streak going into the 2014 season, and that certainly is what we're expanding and moving forward with.” — Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads

TCU’s future starting quarterback might have spent his spring in College Station, Texas.

It’s possible Texas' next starter hasn’t even moved to Austin yet.

And half the teams in the Big 12 still haven't officially named a starter for the 2014 season.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtJ.W. Walsh showed comfort and patience this spring, emerging as the clear favorite to become Oklahoma State's starting quarterback.
But while quarterback continues to be the Big 12’s biggest moving part, the spring brought at least some clarity to the position across the league.

After losing the job last season, J.W. Walsh retook a commanding lead in Oklahoma State’s third quarterback derby in as many years.

Grant Rohach built off his strong finish last season to head into the summer as the clear frontrunner at Iowa State.

And even though Clint Trickett sat out the spring recovering from a shoulder injury, none of West Virginia’s other spring contenders could unseat him from the top of the depth chart.

Elsewhere, Kansas surprisingly named sophomore Montell Cozart as its starter days after he outshined incumbent Jake Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard in the Jayhawks’ spring game.

And Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight and Texas Tech’s Davis Webb rode the momentum of their breakout bowl performances to spring improvement.

Even the two schools with the biggest quarterback questions received some possible panaceas this spring.

Matt Joeckel, Johnny Manziel’s backup at Texas A&M the last two seasons, revealed two weeks ago that he would be transferring to TCU, where he’ll be eligible immediately. The Horned Frogs, who are installing an up-tempo offense similar to one Joeckel played in with the Aggies, ended spring with Trevone Boykin as their No. 1 quarterback, even though Boykin finished last year as a receiver.

To the south, another high-profile transfer could soon be following Joeckel to the Big 12. Since announcing he was transferring from USC, Max Wittek has visited Texas three times, including the Longhorns’ spring game. Wittek would be eligible right away as well, and with David Ash out for now with a fractured foot, Wittek could viably challenge to become Texas’ opening game starter.

Such positive developments at the most critical of positions are welcome developments for a league that struggled and juggled at quarterback through much of the 2013 season. In fact, Baylor’s Bryce Petty was the only Big 12 quarterback to start every game for his team last season.

Petty, who was on the short list of Heisman contenders until November, will again be the class of the league at quarterback.

But he should have plenty more company this season, beginning with Kansas State's Jake Waters, who improved as much as any quarterback in the country did over the course of last season. In leading the Wildcats to victories in six of their final seven games, Waters actually produced a higher Adjusted QBR rating than Petty during the same stretch.

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder came away impressed with the confidence Waters carried throughout the spring, which included a crisp effort in the spring game minus his favorite receiver, Tyler Lockett, who sat out the scrimmage with a minor injury.

“He just understands things a lot better,” Snyder said. “He has gained more confidence, probably just because of going through the process of going through some growing pains.”

Both Walsh and Rohach also went through growing pains last season.

But after a jittery sophomore campaign in which he eventually lost the starting job back to Clint Chelf in October, Walsh re-established himself this spring and performed with the poise he did two years ago as a freshman to emerge as the favorite to become the Cowboys' starter again.

“J.W. has become more of a leader,” offensive tackle Daniel Koenig said after Oklahoma State’s “Orange Blitz” scrimmage. “He’s staying in the pocket more, which is good. Maybe a year or two years ago, he’d get nervous back there and start scrambling. But now he’s sitting in there and throwing.”

Rohach, who finished off the 2013 season by leading Iowa State to a come-from-behind, triple-overtime victory at West Virginia, also showed more confidence this spring, leading Iowa State on three of its six scoring drives in the spring game. Coach Paul Rhoads said he’d wait until mid-August before declaring a starter, but Rohach seems to have the clear edge over Sam B. Richardson and Joel Lanning heading into the summer.

"To begin [the spring], coming off that huge game against West Virginia, putting pressure on myself, my first few practices weren't very good," Rohach said. "But as spring ball went on I shrugged off those mistakes, and I think I got a lot better."

Webb and Knight also used their final performances of last season to springboard into their second springs on campus.

Webb has been especially impressive since earning MVP honors in the Red Raiders' National University Holiday Bowl victory over Arizona State. In Texas Tech’s three spring open scrimmages, he tossed 13 touchdowns with no interceptions.

“He is night and day from what he was at this time last year,” Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I am really impressed with him.”

With a limited playbook and a no-contact jersey, Knight had a lackluster showing in Oklahoma’s spring game, and was actually outplayed by Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield. But behind closed practices, the Sooners liked the development they saw from their sophomore quarterback, who last torched two-time defending national champ Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

“He’s continued to make strides,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “It’s not even like he played perfect in the Sugar Bowl -- there are things he missed in that game. He’s by no means a finished product.”

The quarterback position in the Big 12 is by no means a finished product, either, coming out of the spring. But the position looks better -- and clearer -- now than it did just two months ago.
Spring ball kicked off in the Big 12 over the weekend, as Baylor, TCU and West Virginia all had their first practices. This week, most of the other Big 12 schools will join them.

With spring practice off and rolling, plenty of questions surround the league’s programs. And while many of those won’t be fully answered until the season begins in the fall, here are some of the biggest ones Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma will face this spring:

How will Baylor replenish its secondary?

[+] EnlargeQuarterback Bryce Petty #14 of the Baylor Bears
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Bryce Petty is back so Baylor's offense should be in good shape. Its defense, however, has some question marks heading into the spring.
The Bears won their first Big 12 championship last season, thanks in part to a secondary that ranked second in the league in pass defense. Safety Terrell Burt, however, is the only returning starter from that defensive backfield, meaning rebuilding the secondary will be priority No. 1 for the Bears this spring. But as if that job wasn’t going to be challenging enough, both Burt and juco cornerback Chris Sanders, who is supposed to vie for a starting role, will miss the spring following shoulder surgeries. With QB Bryce Petty back, the Bears figure to be formidable again offensively in 2014. But to defend its Big 12 title, Baylor will need several inexperienced players to begin emerging in the secondary this spring.

Can Mangino turn Iowa State’s offense around?

As a big part of their disappointing 3-9 record last season, the Cyclones ranked ahead of only Kansas in Big 12 scoring offense. As a result, Paul Rhoads fired offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham and brought in Mark Mangino to revive the Iowa State attack. Mangino was offensive coordinator during Oklahoma’s national championship season, and he took Kansas to the Orange Bowl. His track record as an offensive mind is not in dispute. But can he turn around an offense that hasn’t ranked higher than ninth in the Big 12 in scoring since 2005? Mangino will have some pieces to work with. Wideout Quenton Bundrage, running back Aaron Wimberly and quarterback Grant Rohach all had moments in 2013. Whether Mangino can put them in position to produce a lot more of those moments will go a long way in determining if Iowa State can bounce back.

Can Harwell fill Kansas’ go-to WR need?

Kansas’ lack of production at receiver the past few seasons has been astounding. Justin McCay caught a touchdown pass in the 2013 opener to become the first Kansas receiver to catch a touchdown in almost two full seasons. But Kansas receivers would catch only two more touchdowns the rest of the season (for context, Baylor receivers totaled 35 such grabs). Senior transfer Nick Harwell, however, could be the answer to that woeful drought. Two years ago at Miami (Ohio), Harwell led the Mid-American Conference with 7.6 receptions and 96.7 receiving yards per game while earning All-MAC honors. Going into his final college season, Harwell already has 229 receptions for 3,166 yards in his career. Oh yeah, he has 23 touchdowns over those three years, too. The Jayhawks have desperately been in search of a go-to receiver. They’ll find out this spring whether they can stop that search.

What will K-State do with Sams?

Daniel Sams proved to be one of the league’s best playmakers last season, leading all Big 12 quarterbacks with 807 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns. Sams’ role, however, diminished late in the season, as Jake Waters emerged as the majority-of-the-time quarterback. Sams is too dynamic with the ball in his hands to watch games from the sidelines. But Waters isn’t going anywhere at quarterback, either. Before the bowl, Sams hinted that he’d like to try another position to get onto the field more. K-State whiffed on signing a quarterback last month, so Sams will still have to keep ties with his old position for depth purposes. But the spring will also give the Wildcats the opportunity to experiment using Sams elsewhere -- like receiver -- if they so choose.

How will Oklahoma build on the Sugar Bowl?

By beating Alabama, the Sooners notched arguably the program’s most significant win since defeating Florida State all the way back in the 2000 national championship game. After struggling at times during the 2013 season, the Sooners suddenly have the look of a preseason top-five team going into 2014. Yet, in many ways, this is still a very young team. QB Trevor Knight has only five career starts, two of which he left early due to injury. Projected starting running back Keith Ford has loads of potential, but only 23 carries in his college career. And of the returning receivers, only Sterling Shepard delivered more than 13 catches last season. In the Sugar Bowl, OU flashed its capability. And the Sooners have tons of momentum, underscored by their furious recruiting finish. But to be a legitimate national title contender this fall, the Sooners can’t rest on their laurels of besting the Tide. And OU’s young players have to continue building off that experience.
Mark Mangino is back in the Big 12.

And he’ll have some offensive firepower to operate with immediately, too.

Monday, Iowa State announced it was bringing Mangino back to the Big 12 to be its offensive coordinator.

“He has an imaginative offensive mind, an ability to play to his players’ strengths, a track record of winning and a tremendous familiarity with the Big 12,” head coach Paul Rhoads said. “In terms of calling plays and executing a game plan, he is top shelf.”

[+] EnlargeMark Mangino
Courtesy of Youngstown StateMark Mangino has proven he knows how to run an offense in the Big 12.
Mangino replaces Courtney Messingham, who was fired after Iowa State 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 (143.83) and passing yards (219.17).

While he spent last season as an assistant head coach and tight ends coach at his alma mater, Youngstown State, Mangino is known for previous stints in the Big 12.

Mangino coordinated Oklahoma’s national championship offense in 2000. Then as head coach, he led Kansas to a 12-1 record in 2007, which included a victory in Orange Bowl, before resigning two years later amid allegations of player mistreatment.

After four years away from coaching in the FBS, Mangino paid the price for those allegations. Now, one of the most successful coaches in Big 12 history has another shot in the league.

And even though the Cyclones struggled offensively under Messingham last season, Mangino just might have enough pieces to quickly rebuild the Iowa State offense.

Especially if rising sophomore Grant Rohach continues to develop at quarterback.

The Cyclones entered the season with Sam B. Richardson as their starter, but finished it with Rohach after Richardson was shut down due to injuries. After struggling initially, Rohach blossomed late in the year, suggesting the job might be his to lose. He quarterbacked the Cyclones to victories over Kansas and West Virginia, and combined to throw for 631 yards and seven touchdowns in those games, giving him a QBR of better than 85.0 in both.

Mangino will have returning talent elsewhere, too.

When healthy, tailback Aaron Wimberly was a force, rushing for 117 yards and a touchdown against Texas. Quenton Bundrage showed flashes as a sophomore that he could become a viable No. 1 receiver while finishing third in the league in touchdown receptions.

In addition, with Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro gone, E.J. Bibbs might be the top returning tight end in the league. And center Tom Farniok will be a four-year starter next season.

What Rhoads has lacked is the offensive mind able to flip those pieces into a consistent and effective offense.

In Mangino, Rhoads now has that mind -- and an offensive coach who has proven he can win big in the Big 12.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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There was a shakeup at the bottom of the Power Rankings after the miracle in Morgantown:

1. Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1 Big 12, last week 1): The Cowboys have a chance to state their case as the Big 12’s top program of the last five seasons. Beating Oklahoma to win a second Big 12 title in three years would convey a very compelling argument.

2. Baylor (10-1, 7-1 Big 12, LW 2): Baylor’s two worst offensive outputs have come in the last two weeks. Is America’s top offense running on fumes? The friendly confines of Floyd Casey Stadium -- for one final game -- should give QB Bryce Petty & Co. the refueling they need.

3. Texas (8-3, 7-1 Big 12, LW 3): For all their issues and injuries, the Longhorns remain in the mix for an outright Big 12 title and automatic BCS bowl berth heading into this final week of the season. Ironically, if Texas somehow upset Baylor, this would actually be one of Mack Brown’s better coaching performances.

4. Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2 Big 12, LW 4): Nobody before the season predicted these Sooners, with a young defense and a new quarterback, would contend for a national championship. A victory at Oklahoma State and another 10-win season would make this a solid season in Norman.

5. Kansas State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12, LW 5): Even after a 2-4 start, Kansas State still managed to finish ahead of where it was picked in the preseason for a third straight season. Going forward, the media should automatically bump K-State up two spots when filling out Big 12 preseason ballots, to account for the “Bill Snyder effect.”

6. Texas Tech (7-5, 4-5 Big 12, LW 6): After another November slide, the Red Raiders are likely headed back to the Texas Bowl for the second straight season. Tech has had several memorable moments in Kliff Kingsbury’s first season. The 41-16 loss at Texas was not one of them.

7. TCU (4-8, 2-7 Big 12, LW 8): In their final game, the Horned Frogs finally showed what could have been this season. While the TCU defensive backs locked up Baylor’s receivers, senior QB Casey Pachall looked the sharpest he had in two years, even with the two pick-six interceptions. Take away those two plays and the fumble at the TCU 1-yard line, and the Frogs might have won this game going away. Yes, TCU finished with its worst season since going 1-10 in 1997. But if defensive end Devonte Fields can return to his freshman form, and TCU can figure out the answer at QB, the Frogs could be a force next year.

8. Iowa State (3-9, 2-7 Big 12, LW 9): Coach Paul Rhoads proved those who have wanted him out to be ridiculous. Despite all the tough losses, the Cyclones never quit on their coach, even when down 17 points in the fourth quarter on the road in Morgantown. With a little bit of luck, especially around the goal line, the Cyclones have the pieces to return to a bowl next year.

9. Kansas (3-9, 1-8 Big 12, LW 10): Hey, at least they beat West Virginia.

10. West Virginia (4-8, 2-7 Big 12, LW 7): The Mountaineers capped off another depressing season with an epic fourth-quarter collapse. Good thing no one was there to see it. Well, almost no one. Saturday featured the third-smallest crowd in Milan Puskar Stadium’s 33-year history, and the smallest since 1992.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October, 14, 2013
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Texas was on its deathbed; now it’s a contender. The Oklahoma schools, once bastions of quarterbacking, suddenly have issues there. West Virginia’s defense is better than its offense. TCU can’t score. Kansas State can’t buy a win. And the teams picked to finish fifth and seventh in the conference are the only ones without a loss.

If the second half of the Big 12 season is anything like the first, who knows what might happen? Good luck guessing which game will ultimately decide the conference race, too.

Before the season, Bedlam looked most likely to be that game. Now, another showdown the very same day could end up overshadowing it.

Bedlam decided the Big 12 in 2011. It decided the Big 12 South in 2010. But will anything more than bragging rights be on the line this time? That will depend on whether either team can solve quarterback problems that plagued both in their losses.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
AP Photo/LM OteroKliff Kingsbury's calm, cool demeanor has resonated with his players, as Texas Tech is one of two undefeated teams in the Big 12.
After Trevor Knight was ineffective in two lackluster wins to begin the season, the Sooners turned to Blake Bell. The Belldozer took care of the ball and made plays in the fourth quarter in wins over Notre Dame and TCU. But he did neither in a 36-20 loss to Texas that shook up the league race. According to QBR, Bell’s Texas performance was the worst by a Big 12 quarterback this year, raising questions about whether he’s the answer for the Sooners after all.

Oklahoma State is in a similar raft. J.W. Walsh took the starting job from Clint Chelf two series into the opener against Mississippi State. But the past two games, including a loss at West Virginia, have seen the Cowboys flatline offensively. Oklahoma State, in fact, failed to get a single first down the second half against Kansas State until a late game-winning drive. Like the Sooners, the Cowboys can’t run the ball lately, because they can’t get anyone to take their downfield passing game seriously.

That hasn’t been a problem in Waco, which is one of the reasons why Baylor has ascended to conference favorite status. Every one of Tevin Reese’s six touchdown receptions has gone for more than 40 yards. Five of Antwan Goodley’s six touchdown catches have gone for at least 60. As a result, 32 of Baylor’s 40 touchdown drives have taken less than two minutes.

While Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could still turn things around, Texas and Texas Tech could wind up being the biggest roadblocks to Baylor’s first Big 12 title.

Despite playing two true freshmen quarterbacks, the Red Raiders have spread the ball around as well as anyone in the league, claiming four of the Big 12’s top eight receivers. Tech also leads the conference in third-down defense. Back-to-back road trips to West Virginia and Oklahoma the next two weeks will shed more light on whether the Red Raiders are ready to contend.

A week ago, virtually everyone had written the Longhorns off as possible Big 12 contenders. Then they pulled off the biggest Red River upset in 17 years to move to 3-0 in the league standings. Texas’ rushing attack looked formidable, and quarterback Case McCoy looked poised. If that continues, who knows? Maybe Texas will be playing for the conference title at Baylor in the season finale.

The season’s first half is done. Much is yet to be decided.

But as we gear up for the second half, below is a breakdown of the Big 12 at midseason:

Offensive MVP: Baylor junior quarterback Bryce Petty has picked up where Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence left off, posting an Adjusted QBR of 95.1. That’s second only to Heisman frontrunner Marcus Mariota of Oregon. Thanks in large part to Petty’s precision passing, the Bears led the nation with a scoring average of 63.4 points per game.

Defensive MVP: The Horned Frogs haven’t had the kind of the season they’d hoped for so far. But that’s to no fault of cornerback Jason Verrett, who has been lights out. Even with opposing quarterbacks leery about throwing his direction, Verrett leads the Big 12 in passes defended. And even with a tender shoulder, he has continued to be one of the surest tackling cornerbacks in the league.

Biggest Surprise: The Red Raiders were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12. But seven weeks into the season, they join Baylor as the league’s only teams still without a loss. Amazingly, Texas Tech has gotten to 6-0 rotating true freshman quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb, who, despite some rocky moments, have been solid.

Biggest Disappointment: In ESPN.com’s preseason player poll, the league’s players tabbed TCU as the team to beat. The Horned Frogs, however, have already been defeated three times. TCU has faced a difficult schedule, and the injuries to quarterback Casey Pachall and defensive end Devonte Fields have really hurt. But at the season’s midway point, the Frogs are already just one loss away from falling completely out of the conference title hunt.

Newcomers Of The Year: West Virginia running back Charles Sims was the Big 12’s preseason pick for newcomer of the year, and for good reason. But the impact of Texas Tech true freshmen quarterbacks Mayfield and Webb has been greater. Mayfield is 5-0 as a starter. Webb, who quarterbacked Tech to a win over Iowa State over the weekend, also threw the game-winning touchdown pass to beat TCU.

Coach Of The Year: In his first year as its coach, former Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury has resurrected his alma mater. The Red Raiders have already taken on the personality of their cool, confident coach, who has Tech at 6-0 for the first time since 2008.

Best Game: Most of the intriguing matchups in the Big 12 will come later in the season. But so far, the most entertaining game in the league has been Texas’ 31-30 victory at Iowa State. Yes, the game had some questionable officiating. And some questionable low blocking. But it was also wonderfully compelling, from Texas coach Mack Brown staving off disaster to Paul Rhoads rallying his team during a fiery postgame news conference.

Big 12 predictions: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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It was mass panic this week on the Big 12 blog.

I had a guest picker lined up: Tyler, a K-State fan in California who is getting married. He pulled at my heartstrings with this submission:

Jake, I'm getting married on the 19th. How about an early wedding present for a Big 12 fan raised in Manhattan, Kan., now living in Pac-12 country?

Well, Tyler flaked out. Either the fiancée was getting on him about focusing more on the wedding and less about Big 12 football, or he got too depressed to send his picks in after his ‘Cats fell to 0-2 in Big 12 play.

I was, however, able to secure another guest picker at the final hour in Curtis, an OU fan in Washington, D.C., who submitted the following:

I'm in Washington, D.C., in the middle of a year-long military deployment, and while I can't say exactly what it is I do, suffice it to say the schedule is not conducive to going to a lot of live games. In fact, every other weekend I'm stuck in a room that we can't even take a phone into. That said, through lurking on various Big 12 message boards when I’m not on duty, I am eminently qualified to pick games.

Last week, Big 12 officials helped derail my upset special, as Texas escaped Ames with a controversial victory. West Ham not only scored its first road goal, but stunned Tottenham 3-to-nil to hand me yet another defeat. Bollocks!!

I’m feeling a bounce-back week, though.

To the Week 7 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 4-2 (.667)

Guest picker (David in England) last week: 5-1 (.833)

Trotter overall: 30-10 (.750)

Guest picker overall: 17-6 (.739)

SATURDAY

TCU 44, Kansas 3: Led by All-American cornerback Jason Verrett, TCU is playing championship-level defense, even without a healthy Devonte Fields, who will undergo season-ending surgery. If only the Horned Frogs could find a way to muster just a little more offense, this could be a dangerous team the second half of the season. Kansas could barely move the ball with playmaking running back Tony Pierson. Without him, it becomes a long day for the Jayhawks in Fort Worth against this TCU defense.

Curtis’ pick: While Kansas has shown some signs of life, they will face a TCU defense far better than any they've seen. TCU, 45-13

Texas Tech 31, Iowa State 23: Iowa State has somewhat had Tech’s number recently, winning two of the last three, including the 41-7 stunner in Lubbock the week after the Red Raiders had upset Oklahoma in 2011. Coach Kliff Kingsbury, however, seems to have the Red Raiders on more solid ground than Tommy Tuberville did. The quarterback position continues to be a moving part due to injuries, but thanks to the defense, that hasn’t cost the Red Raiders yet. The Cyclones, meanwhile, should arrive in Lubbock angry after the way they lost to Texas last week. They also bring an offense that is rapidly improving, thanks to the healthy return of center Tom Farniok and emergence of speed-demon running back Aaron Wimberly. As a result, Iowa State hangs around. But the Cyclones come up short in the fourth quarter again against a Tech defense that continues to buck up in the red zone. By the way, this pick should please Iowa State fans, and concern Red Raiders. I’m 0-4 picking Iowa State games this year.

Curtis’ pick: A little tough to pick this game as there's still no word on who Texas Tech will have under center. Iowa State suffered a controversial loss last week after getting jobbed by the refs, so Paul Rhodes will have his team fired up for this one. The Cyclones are usually good for one upset a year, and this will be their week. Iowa State, 31-28

Oklahoma 34, Texas 16: There’s not much to like about the Longhorns in this game. Texas enters without starting quarterback David Ash or much momentum after a lackluster victory at Iowa State last Thursday. The Longhorns are lacking identity, and have shown little heart recently against the Sooners, as Oklahoma has completely run Texas out of the Cotton Bowl before halftime the last two years. Usually, the pressure is on the favorite in this game. But because of the way Texas has lost to OU the last two games, and because of Mack Brown’s tenuous standing in Austin, all the pressure is on the Horns. The Sooners have their vulnerabilities. The offense has sputtered at times. The defense will be without linebacker Corey Nelson, who is out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. But the Cotton Bowl seems to bring out the best in the Sooners and the worst in the Longhorns. This game is no different.

Curtis’ pick: They should just rename this game the "Texas Turkey Shoot." While most OU fans would love to see Mack Brown finish out the final seven years of his contract, this game will be his last in the series. (Oh, and in front of a home "sellout" crowd, Oklahoma State drops a heartbreaker to "Bye", 10-3). Boomer Sooner! OU, 50-13

Baylor 55, Kansas State 19: The Bears have looked virtually unbeatable through four games. The offense has been unstoppable and the defense quietly has been sound since November of last year. But this will be Baylor’s first game away from Floyd Casey Stadium. And it’s worth nothing that the Bears have won just one Big 12 road game in their last nine tries -- the lone victory being at Kansas. This Baylor team, however, is at another level. This is the best defense Art Briles has had, and the offense has no weaknesses. And even though Bill Snyder has a solid defensive game plan in place, the Bears still drop off 50-plus to secure their first Big 12 road win in two years.

Curtis’ pick: It's tough to find a superlative to apply to Baylor’s offensive output this year, but their defense has also played pretty darn well. KSU isn't playing the mistake-free football characteristic of a Bill Snyder coached team, and their offense isn't built to get into a shootout. The only upset here is if Baylor doesn't drop another 60-point performance. Baylor, 63-27
 

To say “a win is a win” and just move on doesn’t feel applicable. Not on this night.

The final score -- Texas 31, Iowa State 30 -- seemed like one of the few things the Longhorns got right on Thursday.

There are positive ways to spin what Texas did against the Cyclones, what with the fourth-quarter comeback and the final stop and getting to 2-0 in the Big 12. But it’s hard to heap too much praise on that victory without sounding disingenuous.

In his postgame comments, though, Mack Brown said he considers this a great win for Texas. He loves a good comeback. He’ll take the victory and he won’t complain.

“One of the trademarks of our football teams have been comeback wins, especially in close games like this,” Brown said. “I’m so proud of our guys.”

[+] EnlargeTexas
Reese Strickland/USA TODAY Sports

Texas celebrated the win over Iowa State, but that doesn't mean it was a great victory for Mack Brown and his Longhorns.

He also offered this: “It’s about winning. It’s not about who called plays good or who scored points. Stats do not matter. Points do. So I’m proud of this team, proud of the coaches for hanging in there.”

If we want to strip away the details and just get real simple, yes, the Longhorns needed to escape Ames, Iowa, with a win. They did just that.

This was ultimately the result they wanted. How they did that, however, wasn’t very pretty when you go down the list.

A 45-yard touchdown run and a 44-yard Hail Mary accounted for more than half of Texas’ total offense in the first half.

After his 45-yard score, Johnathan Gray received five carries for 14 yards the rest of the half. Texas was wise to ride him in the second half against Kansas State -- when Case McCoy came in for David Ash and had to run the show -- and he put up career-best numbers. This time, he was too often a nonfactor. He’d finish with six carries on Texas’ final drive and just 10 during the rest of the game.

Coaches said ISU took away Texas’ ability to run, and that the pass game would have to set up a successful rushing attack. So McCoy attempted a career-high 45 passes, completing 26 for 244 yards.

Oh, and there was the personal foul penalty in which it appears Texas receiver Mike Davis took a cheap shot at an Iowa State defender's knees after a play was over. That's not a good look and could merit a reprimand from the Big 12 this week.

But surely none of this comes anywhere close to mattering as much as Texas’ last drive of the night. The Cyclones can’t complain about the position they put themselves in. Texas’ 75-yard drive to clinch was aided by 23 yards of obvious ISU penalties.

But the goal-line ending was something else entirely. ISU coach Paul Rhoads probably had every right to be outraged when it was all over, after referees ruled that Gray did not fumble from 2-yards and 1-yard out on consecutive attempts.

They were close and difficult calls, the second one more so than the first. Iowa State fans will maintain Texas got two gigantic favors from the officiating crew.

But for Texas to get a 1-yard rushing touchdown from McCoy -- after its own fans howled throughout that it was finally time to use the dual-threat freshman Tyrone Swoopes -- was almost a fitting ending to a game that Texas just barely did enough to win.

“We were able to put enough together to get out of here on a Thursday night, and we’ll take a win any day,” McCoy said.

What Texas did Thursday was enough to beat Iowa State. It won’t come anywhere close to being enough against Oklahoma next week.

But, again, Brown sees lots of positives. Nothing he saw on Thursday night dented his optimism going forward.

“This gives us some confidence. They’re happy in there,” Brown said. “They’ll feel better going into next week’s game. You can coach them hard when you win and you mess a lot of things up.

“This is good. This will be a real positive for us moving forward. I’m really excited. I think I love comeback wins on the road more than anything in football.”

Brown might not find many who agree with him. But the scoreboard says his team won, and Texas isn't playing well enough to ask for much more than that.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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Oklahoma's visit to Notre Dame highlights a very light week in the Big 12. Half of the league’s teams are on byes but there are still some interesting things to learn from the four games involving Big 12 teams this weekend.


Here's what to watch in the Big 12 for Week 5.

  1. Can Oklahoma strike for the Big 12 Conference? The Sooners have the chance to earn the biggest nonconference win of any Big 12 team this season if they can knock off Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday. OU has its eye on inserting itself into the BCS title conversation and that could begin with a win against the Fighting Irish.
  2. What does Dana Holgorsen have in store for his former colleagues at Oklahoma State? Holgorsen spent one season as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State before he was named coach in waiting at West Virginia. He played a major part in transforming OSU’s offense into what it is today so both teams will be very familiar with the other’s offensive attack. Add in the Mountaineers’ struggles on offense this season and you have to expect Holgorsen will have some new, creative wrinkles to confuse OSU’s defense and spark WVU’s offense.
  3. How will TCU respond to a 1-2 start? TCU coach Gary Patterson didn’t like how his team was handling its start to the season, saying his group was "feeling sorry for themselves." Yet the Horned Frogs have had two weeks to get things going back in a positive direction and, even though they’ve stumbled at the start, they still have one of the top defenses in the conference. And that’s a terrific foundation to build upon.
  4. [+] EnlargePaul Rhoads
    David Purdy/Getty ImagesPaul Rhoads and Iowa State are off to a slow start.
  5. Can Iowa State get its first win of the season? The Cyclones opened the season with losses to Northern Iowa and Iowa. Worst yet, Paul Rhoads’ crew has played just two games heading into tonight’s game at Tulsa, making it tough to find any kind of rhythm and confidence on either side of the football. ISU’s defense has been particularly bad allowing 27.5 points and 417.5 yards per game thus far. It’s a young roster, full of inexperience, so if the Cyclones don’t win tonight, things could snowball in a hurry for the Cyclones.
  6. Will OSU stumble in Morgantown? The Cowboys will be a big favorite when they step on the field in Morgantown, W. Va., after WVU’s embarrassing 37-0 loss to Maryland last weekend. It would be easy for the Pokes to overlook the Mountaineers and stumble on the road in a conference play, particularly since WVU does have some talented, albeit young, players on the roster. WVU will be looking to prove it is better than it showed against the Terps while OSU will simply be looking to get off to a good start in conference play. Motive advantage: WVU.
  7. Can TCU find some type of offensive identity? What is TCU’s identity on offense? Does anybody know? The Horned Frogs have looked uncertain during their first three games, particularly with Trevone Boykin under center. Don’t be surprised if TCU re-commits its offense to the running game with talented runners B.J. Catalon and Waymon James in the backfield while putting Boykin on the back burner.
  8. How will OU quarterback Blake Bell do in his first road start? The Sooners signal caller has the opportunity to send a message with a stellar performance in his first road start. The Fighting Irish will be looking to stop the run and play physical, forcing Bell to beat them with his arm. If he can do it on a national stage, the junior will remove all doubt who should be leading the Sooners’ offense for the next two seasons.
  9. Is OU’s defense the real deal? The Sooners' defense has been terrific in OU’s first three games. Yet it hasn't been tested like it will be against the Fighting Irish. OU’s defense is built for speed and handling the spread offenses in the Big 12 so if ND comes out and tries to ram the football down OU’s throat, the Sooners will have to have an answer or risk being compared to last season’s disappointing unit.
  10. Will Ford Childress reward Holgorsen for sticking with him? The WVU quarterback has kept his starting job after throwing more touchdown passes to Maryland defenders than his teammates last weekend. He threw more interceptions than he completed passes to WVU receivers in the loss. Yet Holgorsen didn’t hesitate when asked if he was sticking with the redshirt freshman. Childress will be looking to reward that loyalty against OSU.
  11. Will Iowa State find an answer to its offensive woes? This was supposed to be a breakout season for quarterback Sam Richardson. It’s not looking good for the sophomore thus far. His numbers aren’t horrible (502 passing yards, 62 completion percentage) but he’s been unable to spark the Cyclones offense and take the entire team to another level like ISU fans would have hoped. If Richardson hopes to turn things around, he can start against a Tulsa defense that gave up 51 points to Oklahoma on Sept. 14.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3-point stance: Battle for Iowa

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
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1. In four-plus seasons at Iowa State, Paul Rhoads may be 4-15 against ranked teams. He is 9-15 against the other nine teams in the Big 12. The Cyclones may have opened the season by losing to FCS cross-state opponent Northern Iowa, 28-20. But Iowa State has defeated Iowa the last two seasons, by a field goal each time. That’s called job security. The Hawkeyes come to Ames Saturday having won only five of their last 16 games. It may be mid-September, but there’s a lot at stake.

2. Despite the hysteria generated by Texas’s defensive meltdown and the subsequent firing of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, athletic director DeLoss Dodds’ pulse remains slow and steady. Dodds said again this week to the Austin American-Statesman that head coach Mack Brown has his full support. He has said it for the last three frustrating seasons. That hasn’t stopped the job speculation. That never stops the speculation. One day, of course, Brown won’t be the head coach at Texas. You should live so long.


3. There’s plenty of feel-good stories at Colorado, which is 2-0 after going 1-11 last season. My favorite among the Buffs is junior wide receiver Paul Richardson, who has traveled a long road to lead the FBS with 208.5 receiving yards per game (21 catches, 4 scores). Richardson missed a good chunk of 2011 with one knee injury, and all of 2012 with another. He’s back, he’s healthy and the Buffs, under first-year coach Mike MacIntyre, have a pulse.

Big 12 preseason power rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Kansas: Coach Charlie Weis said last month Kansas doesn’t deserve to be put anywhere but in last place. The Jayhawks should be better than last season, especially with former blue-chip prospect Jake Heaps now quarterbacking them. Running backs James Sims and Tony Pierson are dynamic, too. But will that be enough to pull Kansas out of the basement?

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