NCF Nation: Quenton Bundrage

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.
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.
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 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 14 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: After trailing by three scores for most of the game, Iowa State came roaring back with 17 straight points in the fourth quarter and ultimately prevailed 52-44 in a stunning, triple-overtime comeback. Freshman QB Grant Rohach was terrific in his second career road start, accounting for five touchdowns, including the winning toss on the first play of the third overtime. The defense forced four turnovers to help spearhead the rally. And punter Kirby Van Der Kamp converted a fake punt into a huge first down, igniting the comeback early in the fourth quarter. As a result, Iowa State finished off an otherwise disappointing season with a thrilling road victory and a two-game winning streak to build on for 2014.

[+] EnlargeRyan Erxleben, David Brenner, Keenon Ward
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsTexas Tech punter Ryan Erxleben (26) celebrated perhaps the Red Raiders' only highlight Thursday.
Disappointment of the week: After a fake punt touchdown gave them a 7-0 lead, the Red Raiders basically no-showed the rest of the way in a discouraging 41-16 loss at Texas. The Longhorns obliterated Tech up front, as both Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron topped 100 yards on the ground. On the other side of the ball, Tech couldn't protect its quarterback, as Baker Mayfield was sacked seven times. As a result, a team that once was ranked 10th in the country ended its regular season with a thud -- and a five-game losing streak.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Kansas State running back John Hubert and Iowa State wide receivers Quenton Bundrage and Justin Coleman.

Hubert unleashed a monster performance in his final Sunflower Showdown. The senior rushed for a career-high 220 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries, as K-State defeated Kansas 31-10 for a fifth consecutive victory in the series.

Together with Rohach, Bundrage and Coleman fueled Iowa State's comeback with huge catches down the stretch. After Van Der Kamp's fake punt conversion, Bundrage hauled in a 62-yard touchdown grab to cut West Virginia's lead to 10. Later, Coleman's 19-yard scoring reception tied the game with a minute left in regulation. And on the first play of the third overtime, Coleman reeled in another touchdown, which proved to be the game winner.

All told, Bundrage and Coleman combined for 12 receptions, 184 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey, TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

Lackey played a hand in two turnovers that ultimately led to defensive touchdowns. With the Horned Frogs driving at the end of the second quarter with a chance to take the lead before halftime, Lackey charged up the middle and tagged TCU QB Casey Pachall's legs. The hit forced Pachall's pass to be behind his intended receiver, and Orion Stewart intercepted it and raced 82 yards for a touchdown. Then on TCU's first possession of the third quarter, Lackey picked off Pachall and dashed 54 yards for another score, putting the Bears up 34-17. Lackey added six tackles and a sack in Baylor's 41-38 win.

As good as Lackey was, no player was more dominant than Verrett. Matched up one-on-one with Baylor's Antwan Goodley the entire game, Verrett checked the Big 12's leading receiver to just one reception for 12 yards. As a result, Baylor finished with a season-low 206 passing yards.

Jeffcoat also flourished in his final home game, recording a game-high three sacks as Texas shut down Texas Tech's passing game. Jeffcoat also had seven tackles and a quarterback hurry, solidifying his candidacy as an All-Big 12 defensive end.

Special-teams player of the week: Tech punter Ryan Erxleben produced one of the special-teams plays of the year in the Big 12 in Austin. On Tech's second possession, Erxleben took off on a fake punt and raced 51 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, giving the Red Raiders an early 7-0 lead. After the game, coach Kliff Kingsbury confirmed Erxleben called the fake on his own. It proved to be Tech's longest rush of the season, but pretty much its only highlight in the lackluster loss to the Longhorns.

Play of the week: After falling behind 34-17 on two Baylor defensive touchdowns, TCU made a furious rally and drove into field goal range with a chance to either win or send the game to overtime. Instead, with 18 seconds to go, quarterback Pachall's pass to Brandon Carter was tipped away by Baylor nickelback Sam Holl and into the arms of Terrell Burt for the game-clinching interception to seal Baylor's victory.

Stat of the week: By holding Baylor to 370 yards of offense, TCU snapped the Bears' 37-game streak of at least 400 yards of offense. Ball State now holds the longest FBS streak at 12 games.

Quote of the week: "Gary Patterson lives in Fort Worth. If he's got a problem with me, that's where I live."

-- TCU coach Gary Patterson, after a pair of heated exchanges with Baylor coach Art Briles

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
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Oklahoma and Oklahoma State rolled, Texas capitulated, Texas Tech prevailed, TCU scuffled, West Virginia and Kansas State cruised, Iowa State and Kansas faltered and Baylor watched. The third weekend that was in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Texas Tech. So far, the Red Raiders have been the big surprise of the Big 12. The first two games Tech won with quarterback Baker Mayfield and its air assault. Thursday, the Red Raiders beat TCU 20-10 with hard-nosed defense. Tech is off to a phenomenal start and could keep it going with four winnable games coming up next. Those games will be even more winnable if this defense proves to be the real deal.

Disappointment of the week: Iowa State. After a disappointing opening performance, the Cyclones had high hopes they could turn their season around against their instate rival. Instead, Iowa jumped to a 27-7 lead, then withstood Iowa State’s mild fourth-quarter rally. The Cyclones have not looked good offensively through two games, and outside Sam Richardson throwing the ball up to Quenton Bundrage, have really shown no pop. The Cyclones desperately need a running back and a running game to emerge. So far, neither has.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsBlake Bell took charge as quarterback for Oklahoma.
Big (offensive) man on campus: Blake Bell. After losing the preseason quarterback battle to Trevor Knight, Bell roared back to recapture the job for good. Bell completed 27 of 37 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns in Oklahoma’s 51-20 win over Tulsa. Accounting for both rushing and passing, Bell finished the game with a QBR of 96.7. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that’s the highest single-game QBR (before opponent adjustment) by a qualifying Oklahoma quarterback since Sam Bradford recorded a 99.0 at Baylor in 2008.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Terrance Bullitt and Will Smith. Several different Red Raiders qualified for the honor, but the senior linebackers were instrumental in the win over TCU. Bullitt collected six tackles and batted down four passes, which helped prevent Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin from generating any rhythm on his shorter passes. Smith, who led Tech with nine tackles, helped stuff TCU’s run up the middle. With Tre’ Porter anchoring the secondary and Kerry Hyder wreaking havoc up front, the Red Raiders have the makings of a very solid defense, if this level of linebacker play from Bullitt and Smith continues.

Special teams player of the week: Anthony Fera. Don’t blame the Texas kicker for the Longhorns’ 44-23 loss to Ole Miss. Fera nailed all three of his field goal attempts in the defeat, including a 47-yarder that put Texas up two scores just before halftime. Of course, the Longhorns failed to score the rest of the game. Fera was effective punting, too, pinning Ole Miss inside its own 20 twice. The Longhorns don’t have much going for them at the moment, but at least they have a reliable kicker and punter.

Play of the week: Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington appeared to have scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 49-yard pass in the fourth quarter against TCU. Washington, however, let go of the football just before crossing the goal line. The ball rolled into the end zone and came to a stop, but no one touched it after the field judge signaled touchdown. The play was reviewed and the touchdown was overturned, but Tech was given the ball at the half-yard line (though a celebration penalty pushed the ball back to the 15). The Frogs have a beef about the field judge signaling touchdown prematurely, but, according to the rulebook, officials made the right call on the replay. Had a Frog picked up the ball or had the ball rolled out of the end zone, TCU would have taken over possession, but none of that happened. Instead, Tech was given back the ball, and Davis Webb found Bradley Marquez for the game-winning touchdown -- a play that could have long-lasting effects for both the Red Raiders and TCU.

Stat of the week: After giving up 272 rushing yards to Ole Miss, Texas now has the third-worst rush defense in college football. The Longhorns are allowing 308.7 rushing yards per game. No one else in the Big 12 is giving up more than 223.

Quote of the week: “Forget the coaches, come for the kids. Come for the young guys who are really trying, and come watch them try to beat Kansas State, which we haven't done very often.”

-- coach Mack Brown, in a plea to Texas fans to keep filling the stadium despite the Longhorns’ 1-2 start.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 3

September, 15, 2013
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Here's what we learned from Week 3 in the Big 12, in which only four undefeated teams are left standing:

1. Texas still can’t play much defense: After his Rebels dispatched Texas 44-23, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said the Longhorns ran virtually the same defensive scheme under coordinator Greg Robinson as they did last week under Manny Diaz. It sure looked that way on the field. Ole Miss racked up 272 yards on the ground and averaged 6.0 yards per carry to coast past Texas in Austin. The Longhorns appear to be no better off defensively now than they were a week ago in an embarrassing 40-21 loss at BYU. If Texas can’t correct its defense, this could end up being a long season in Austin. And Mack Brown’s final one, too.

2. QB Blake Bell isn’t just a Belldozer: So much for the premise Bell can only run. The artist formerly known as the Belldozer passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns in his first career start as Oklahoma whipped Tulsa 51-20. Bell, who replaced Trevor Knight, completed 27 of 37 passes and posted the highest passing yardage total by any Oklahoma quarterback making his first start. He also delivered a QBR of 96.7 (on a scale of 0-100). Most importantly, Bell’s performance gives the Sooners confidence in their passing attack going into a showdown at Notre Dame in two weeks.

3. The Mountaineers are all in on QB Ford Childress: Dana Holgorsen hinted early last week he would be making a quarterback change. Most everyone assumed it would be Florida State transfer Clint Trickett getting the start over Paul Millard. Instead, it was the redshirt freshman Childress, who played the entire game and played well in West Virginia’s 41-7 win over Georgia State. Despite several drops from his receivers, Childress completed 25 of 41 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. To get to a bowl game, the Mountaineers could really use a win next weekend over Maryland in Baltimore. There’s no doubt now that Childress will be the one they’ll be relying on.

4. TCU’s offense is a mess: Texas Tech’s defense has promise. But the Horned Frogs looked completely discombobulated offensively during Thursday night’s 20-10 loss in Lubbock. Quarterback Trevone Boykin, who finished with a raw QBR of 28.6, could not string any drives together for the Horned Frogs. TCU went 4-of-16 on third down and 0-of-2 on fourth down. After a 1-2 start -- and with difficult road games at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State looming -- TCU’s season could turn disastrous if the Frogs don’t find some offensive flow, and quick.

5. Iowa State has no running game: With quarterback Sam Richardson dealing with a sore ankle, the Cyclones needed to get something going on the ground. For the second game, they couldn’t. Iowa State’s running back quartet managed just 42 yards on 16 carries as Iowa jumped to a big lead before holding on for the 27-21 win. Wideout Quenton Bundrage had a big game with three touchdown catches, but the Cyclones don’t have the kind of receiving weapons to be effective offensively without a solid running game. This could end up being a long season for Iowa State, as the Cyclones might not be favored until Kansas comes to Ames on Nov. 23.
Recruiting is a fickle beast. Even if your school lands an elite prospect there's no guarantee that player will develop into an difference maker at the college level. It's a realization that makes evaluation just as important as recruiting and landing top prospects. Each year relative unknowns on signing day emerge as playmakers for their college programs in the fall. Here's a look at a signee from each Big 12 school during the past two recruiting cycles (2011 and 2012 signing classes) who has already exceeded expectations.

Baylor

Linebacker Eddie Lackey wasn’t a highlight signee in February 2012. Yet the junior college transfer stepped right in and finished second on the squad with 104 tackles. He had five games with nine tackles or more and intercepted four passes, returning two for touchdowns.

In 2013: Lackey could be even better with a year under his belt. His ability to be comfortable playing in space, while bringing the physical mindset of a linebacker is one of the reasons he could be poised to earn All-Big 12 honors as a senior.

Iowa State

Receiver Quenton Bundrage wasn’t considered a “can’t miss” prospect when he signed with the Cyclones out of Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee High School in February 2011. After a redshirt season, he emerged as a threat for the Cyclones offense as a redshirt freshman with 20 receptions for 232 yards and two touchdowns in 2012.

In 2013: Fellow redshirt freshman Sam Richardson started ISU’s final three games at quarterback, overshadowing Bundrage’s contributions as a newcomer. But the duo could become a important foundation for ISU’s offensive attack over the next three seasons. At 6-foot-2, 187 pounds, Bundrage brings a size/speed combination that can be difficult for Big 12 defenses to handle.

Kansas

Jake Love played small school football at Tonkawa (Okla.) High School, making it unclear how he would transition to the rigors of playing linebacker in the Big 12. Yet, he made an immediate impact after a redshirt season, starting four games in 2012. He finished with 36 tackles, including eight tackles for loss as a redshirt freshman.

In 2013: Love’s playmaking ability became clear in 2012 so he should emerge as a mainstay in KU’s defense. His eight tackles for loss, which ranked second on the squad, are a sign of his active and aggressive approach when he’s on the field.

Kansas State

ESPN.com had him as a two-star prospect along the offensive line, so it’s hard to imagine Cody Whitehair being more overlooked when he signed with the Wildcats in 2011. A versatile lineman who started at guard and tackle at different points during KSU’s Big 12 title season, Whitehair earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors as a redshirt freshman in 2012.

In 2013: He should join center B.J. Finney as one of the anchors of the Wildcats’ offensive line. His versatility should allow KSU to get creative as they look to find ways to get their five best offensive linemen on the field in 2013.

Oklahoma

Folks in Norman, Okla., barely noticed when Arizona Western running back Damien Williams signed with the Sooners in February 2012. Senior Dominique Whaley was set to return alongside talented juniors Roy Finch and Brennan Clay, making it appear unlikely the junior college transfer would make an immediate impact. But Williams didn’t get the memo, earning the starting job at the beginning of October and finishing with 176 carries for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns.

In 2013: Williams will have to hold off a bevy of talented backs angling for carries in the Sooners backfield, but the senior has proven game-breaking ability that will be difficult to ignore.

Oklahoma State

Receiver Austin Hays was an afterthought on Signing Day 2012. The overlooked prospect outperformed several Cowboys receiver signees who were much more highly regarded in February. He started six games and finished with 29 receptions for 394 yards and two touchdowns.

In 2013: His dependability, ball skills and competitiveness should make him a mainstay in the Cowboys lineup, even though he’s not a game-breaking receiver in the mold of Dez Bryant or Justin Blackmon.

Texas

ESPN.com had Joe Bergeron as a three-star recruit who appeared to be destined to a career buried on the bottom of the depth chart behind the elite running backs the Longhorns were inking. Yet Bergeron made an immediate impact as a freshman and continues to be a productive force in UT's offensive backfield. He's scored 21 touchdowns in two seasons including 16 touchdown runs as a sophomore in 2012.

In 2013: He enters his junior season as UT's best short-yardage runner and should continue to earn carries at running back thanks to his toughness and physical running style.

TCU

Offensive tackle Aviante Collins was a three-star prospect on ESPN.com, far from a recruit with expectations to start immediately. Yet that’s exactly what Collins did, starting all 13 games of his true freshman season. And he showed some versatility by starting games at right and left tackle in 2012.

In 2013: Collins will be a foundational member of TCU’s offensive attack this season. There’s no reason he cannot be a four-year starter for the Horned Frogs and leave a legacy as one of the most productive signees in the Gary Patterson era.

Texas Tech

Jakeem Grant was never going to be considered the prototypical receiver prospect. At 5-foot-6, 163 pounds, it’s a given to have people notice Grant’s size (or lack thereof) before his ability. Size didn’t stop him from becoming one of the most explosive players on the Red Raiders offense as a redshirt freshman, averaging 11.7 yards per touch thanks to his quickness and speed.

In 2013: With Kliff Kingsbury taking over, the new Red Raiders coach will undoubtedly find ways to take advantage of Grant’s speed and open-field ability. His physical gifts are difficult for most opponents to match up with.

West Virginia

Safety Karl Joseph wasn’t a complete unknown when he stepped on campus. Yet nobody could have envisioned Joseph becoming one of the best players on WVU’s defense. He led the Mountaineers with 102 tackles and brought a physical mindset to the secondary.

In 2013: Joseph provides an excellent base upon which a foundation can be built as WVU looks to rebuild its defense. He will bring a physical presence to the Mountaineers secondary for years to come.

Iowa State recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011
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IOWA STATE CYCLONES

The class

Signees: 22 (four junior college, four enrolled early)

Top prospects: The Cyclones' top signee is running back DeVondrick Nealy, and they added another back in Rob Standard. Both are among the nation's top 75 running backs. Tad Ecby is the nation's No. 83 receiver, and Quenton Bundrage and Ted Lampkin will also catch passes for Paul Rhoads. Sam Richardson is the nation's No. 53 quarterback and Jamison Lalk is the nation's No. 104 offensive tackle.

Needs met: Rhoads did this well, adding three receivers among his highest-rated recruits to boost a position that in 2010, was probably one of the Big 12's worst. And Sedrick Johnson, tight end Collin Franklin and Jake Williams are all leaving Ames. Jared Brackens and Sam Richardson should also help a secondary that loses both starting safeties and the top reserve at safety.

Analysis: Iowa State is not a team that's going to go toe-to-toe with Texas and get ready-made talents that can be impact players in the Big 12 immediately. Winning in Ames is about getting guys in the right positions to succeed and developing the talent you can get. Iowa isn't a deep state in terms of talent, and the Cyclones already have to deal with big brother in Iowa City scooping up the state's top talent. As a result, you see five players from Texas, five from California, and four from Florida to compliment the five from Iowa. Iowa State got some talent where they need bodies, and developing that talent will be crucial to continuing what Rhoads has built so far in two seasons with the Cyclones. Their class ranks last in the Big 12, but the Cyclones deal with disadvantages not many others in the Big 12 have to contend with.

ESPN recruiting grade: C-minus

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