NCF Nation: Sam Richardson

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.

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

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

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

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

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

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

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

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

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

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

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

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

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

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

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

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

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

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

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

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

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

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
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There was little change in this week’s power rankings, as the favorites held serve:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
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This week's Power Rankings feature a new No. 1, as last week's No. 1 takes a tumble:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 predictions: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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Our guest picker this week is Omar Ahmad, out of Huntington, W.Va. Here was Omar’s clever submission:

I should be your Big 12 guest picker for Week 5. Why? Because when it comes to challenging the experts at ESPN, nobody Bears down like I do. I'm like an unstoppable Cyclone of correct predictions. I'm not a Wildcat with my selections (you'll never catch me picking a Longhorn to do anything other than be a horn that's long). I strive for the highest summits of analysis the likes of which no Mountaineer has ever seen. While you may be a college football maverick, I'm the Red Raider with guns-up accuracy. No Jayhawk can hang with my stuff (or anyone's stuff, for that matter). So stop being a Cowboy with your reckless game-picker selections. You know you're gonna tab me Sooner or later. Horned Frogs.

Last week, I correctly picked Texas to bounce back and beat Kansas State, but Omar’s Mountaineers burned me with a no-show performance in Baltimore. I was also called out in front of my ACC colleagues via this tweet from a @beedubss: “I hope Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich get to give @ESPN_Big12 a really hard time about his #WVUvsMD prediction. #GirlsRuleBoysDrool #GoTerps”.

Come on, guys. We’re better than this.

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

To the Week 5 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 4-1 (.800)

Guest picker last week: 4-1 (.800)

Trotter overall: 25-5 (.833)

Guest picker overall: 10-3 (.769)

Tulsa 30, Iowa State 27: Dating back to last year, Iowa State has now lost six of seven, which includes a two-touchdown loss to Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl. Tulsa, meanwhile, has played better since an embarrassing 27-point loss at Bowling Green in its opener. This game is in Tulsa, where the Hurricane has not lost since falling to eighth-ranked Houston in November 2011. The Cyclones just don’t have the offensive firepower right now around quarterback Sam Richardson, who also faces the possibility of playing the rest of the season on a bum ankle.

Omar’s pick: The Golden Hurricane is a young team, but can still run the ball. The Cyclones cannot, and the return of Tom Farniok won’t change the fact that Sam Richardson is currently the team’s biggest threat on the ground. Tulsa, 31-27

TCU 31, SMU 16: Coach Gary Patterson rode his team hard during the off week, even calling them out in the media for “feeling sorry for themselves.” Despite the disappointing 1-2 start, the Horned Frogs have too many veteran players to feel sorry for themselves for very long. This is still a good team, with good players on both sides of the ball. If TCU can uncover an offensive identity post QB Casey Pachall -- perhaps running the ball more with B.J. Catalon and Waymon James to take pressure off QB Trevone Boykin -- the Frogs will be fine. This SMU game is a golden opportunity for TCU to figure out some things before going to Norman next weekend.

Omar’s pick: Despite the 1-2 start, TCU’s defense is still arguably the best in the Big 12. Garrett Gilbert will get his yards, but Boykin and Catalon run wild on a Mustang front seven that’s one of the smallest and most inexperienced in the nation. TCU, 36-20

Oklahoma State 42, West Virginia 14: Both teams are running Dana Holgorsen’s offense. Only one is running it well. After the 37-0 loss to Maryland, Holgorsen rightfully called West Virginia’s offense as inept as it could be. Omar's Mountaineers don’t have any playmakers at receiver, the offensive line is not getting any push in the run game and QB Ford Childress is too young to overcome either deficiency. Poor Charles Sims, by the way, picked the wrong year to transfer. Imagine Sims on the same team with Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Now that would be an offense that could outscore Oklahoma State. This West Virginia offense cannot.

Omar’s pick: The Cowboys are getting it done by land and air so far, while the Mountaineers are trying to rebuild the offense through Ford Childress. The WVU defense keeps it closer than most expect. OSU, 34-21

Notre Dame 24, Oklahoma 21: The Sooners feel good about themselves after Blake Bell’s performance against Tulsa. But this isn’t Tulsa. And this game won’t be played in Norman. The Irish have looked lackluster so far this season, but they’ve played a difficult schedule featuring Michigan and Michigan State. The Sooners, meanwhile, have yet to play anybody. Notre Dame will win the battle in the trenches, force Bell into a couple of critical mistakes in his first start on the road and make the plays in the fourth quarter like it did last year in Norman. They will move to 10-1 all-time in the series while preventing the Big 12 from picking up its first Top 25 non-conference victory.

Omar’s pick: Blake Bell has a cool nickname; Tommy Rees does not. OU, 28-23

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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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.
The opening weekend brought some clarity to the Big 12. Baylor’s offense was unstoppable, Texas did an outstanding job finishing drives and Oklahoma State’s defense proved to be aggressive. Here’s a closer look at some interesting stats from the opening slate of games and what those stats could mean for the future heading into Week 2.

Baylor: The Bears scored on 71.4 percent of their drives against Wofford. That means BU was operating its offense with ridiculous efficiency in quarterback Bryce Petty’s first game as a starter. The Bears averaged 4.4 points per drive against the FCS foe.

What it means for the future: It means good things for the Bears’ program because they took a business-like approach against Wofford and the offense performed at a extremely high level in their first game. It’s also a sign the overall depth within the program is increasing. BU led 38-0 at halftime, yet its second half scoring percentage was 71.4 percent as well with backup quarterback Seth Russell accounting for two touchdowns.

Iowa State: The Cyclones’ offensive line struggled against Northern Iowa. ISU quarterback Sam Richardson was sacked 13.5 percent of the time on attempted passing plays. The Big 12 average was 5.3 percent. And things have gotten worse for the Cyclones offensive front, which will have to play without injured center Tom Farniok against Iowa on Sept. 14.

What it means for the future: It will be a long season if the Cyclones don’t correct their pass protection struggles. More and more, Big 12 defenses are designed to attack the quarterback so Richardson, who is a quality signal-caller, won’t be able to display his talents if he’s on his back or running for his life all season.

Kansas State: Curious why the Wildcats got upset by North Dakota State? It’s simple -- 36.5 percent of their offensive plays went for zero or negative yards. That’s an eye-popping lack of success against an FCS opponent.

What it means for the future: K-State has to go back to the drawing board and figure out ways to move the ball on the ground. Running back John Hubert struggled mightily in his first game as the main man in the backfield without Collin Klein. The Wildcats might want to consider using Daniel Sams more alongside Hubert to spark their running game.

Oklahoma: Louisiana-Monroe averaged just four plays per drive against the Sooners. OU did a terrific job of getting off the field against ULM, which contributed to its first defensive shutout since 2010. Only four of ULM’s 15 drives included five or more plays.

What it means for the future: It could be a huge development for the Sooners as they strive to develop depth along their defensive line. If they continue to keep opponents from making lengthy drives, they won’t have to turn to their second team defensive linemen unless they want to get them added experience and they won’t be forced to substitute because their starters are wearing down during a drive.

Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy wanted the Cowboys' defense to be more aggressive. Early indications point to OSU fulfilling that wish as 42.9 percent of Mississippi State’s offensive plays ended in zero or negative yards. The Cowboys were able to play the majority of the game in the Bulldogs’ backfield and held their SEC opponent to just three points.

What it means for the future: If the Cowboys' defense is more aggressive and opportunistic, they could win their second Big 12 title in three seasons. New defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has OSU attacking and the overall speed and athleticism of the unit is better than it was during the Pokes’ BCS run in 2011.

Texas: The Longhorns did a great job of finishing drives against New Mexico State. UT scored touchdowns on 80 percent of its drives inside the Aggies' 40-yard line. The Longhorns scored touchdowns on four of those five drives.

What it means for the future: Life will be much easier for the Longhorns defense if the offense is scoring touchdowns and finishing drives instead of settling for field goals or turning the ball over. It also a sign that David Ash’s experience could be paying off and he understands the critical nature of each play as his team approaches the goal line.

TCU: Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin each finished with subpar Total QBR ratings against LSU. Pachall’s 45.2 and Boykin’s 20.4 were lower than the Big 12 average of 65.1. Granted there’s a very good chance the Tigers defense is among the best, if not the best, TCU will face all season but the Horned Frogs need better and more efficient play from both signal-callers.

What it means for the future: It means TCU’s two-quarterback system should remain intact. If either of Pachall or Boykin had been extremely efficient and effective against the Tigers, it would have been hard to justify taking the hot hand off the field. Now, TCU’s quarterback situation remains in flux, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since both guys do bring different qualities that could be valuable this season.

Texas Tech: Quarterback Baker Mayfield was simply outstanding on third down. He played with a maturity and awareness uncommon from a true freshman with 61.5 percent of his third-down passes resulting in first downs. His ability to keep the chains moving was a big reason why Mayfield earned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors.

What it means for the future: It means it will be hard to unseat Mayfield from his starting spot when Michael Brewer returns to full health. Additionally, if Mayfield remains consistently superb on third down, the Red Raiders could insert themselves into the Big 12 title race.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers threw the ball 31.4 percent of the time on first down. That is not Dana Holgorsen’s reputation. The WVU coach does run the ball more than some of his “Air Raid” colleagues but it’s clear his offense left some tricks in its bag during Week 1. Last season, the Mountaineers threw 53 percent of the time on first down.

What it means for the future: Oklahoma beware. The WVU offense we saw against William and Mary was a scaled-back version of Holgorsen’s attack. When the Mountaineers travel to Norman this weekend we’ll get a much better feel for how explosive their offense could become.
Going into the season, Kansas State and Iowa State each held lofty goals.

The Wildcats wanted to challenge again for the Big 12 title, despite losing conference players of the year Collin Klein and Arthur Brown.

After two straight bowl appearances, the Cyclones hoped to finish in the top half of the conference for the first time under Paul Rhoads.

[+] EnlargeBrock Jensen
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesLosing to reigning FCS champ North Dakota State won't derail all of Kansas State's 2013 goals.
While those goals remain intact for both, Week 1 was something of a nightmare for both teams.

Kansas State, the defending champion in the Big 12, fell Friday to two-time defending FCS champ North Dakota State. The following night, fellow FCS powerhouse Northern Iowa toppled the Cyclones in Ames. Before either Kansas State or Iowa State can attempt to get back on track, they must first pick up the pieces from a disastrous opening weekend.

“We know we can win games,” Cyclones quarterback Sam Richardson said. “But we have to get our confidence back.”

It’s understandable why the confidence of either team would be shaken.

To win in Manhattan, North Dakota State went on an 18-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that ate up almost nine minutes and left just a few seconds remaining. Iowa State, meanwhile never led against Northern Iowa, which racked up 228 yards on the ground and averaged almost 7 yards a carry.

“Everybody is hurt to begin with, whether it is disappointment or embarrassment or just emotional pain from it,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said Tuesday. “I think at some point in time that turns into anger, and they get angry about the situation and what took place. And then maybe the next emotion is probably determination to rectify whatever the mistakes happened to be and to rectify the situation. Everybody that cares goes through that, and I think most of our guys care.”

Pinpointing what exactly went tangibly went wrong for either team isn’t easy. Kansas State center B.J. Finney said the Wildcats tried too hard to make plays, and ended up making mistakes instead. Richardson said the Cyclones didn’t work hard enough to make plays.

Whatever the case, both players agree that their teams strangely failed to play with much emotion in their openers.

“We kind of lacked spirit and enthusiasm out there,” Finney said. “Guys weren’t getting excited when we made big plays. When you don’t play with enthusiasm -- football is an emotional game -- that tends to wear you down. Gets you tired.”

The Wildcats looked like a tired team late in their game. So did Iowa State, which failed to scrape a drive together of more than 22 yards in the fourth quarter.

“It didn’t feel like a Cyclone atmosphere that day in our locker room,” Richardson said. “That’s definitely something we have to get going.”

The good news is that both teams are already showing signs this week of snapping out of their funks. Richardson said his teammates have already begun to get excited about their rivalry game with Iowa next weekend. Snyder said his squad had its best practice of the season Monday.

“Some of us were pretty angry with the outcome on Friday and we wanted to change that,” Finney said of the workout. “It definitely showed that people wanted to change and truly want to have something special here.”

No matter how mad they get, neither team will be going undefeated. The way they looked in their openers, they both have a way to go before doing anything special.

But the Cyclones and Wildcats still have many of their preseason goals in front of them. Which means the season is not a disaster yet. Even if the first week was.

“We’ll remember that one for a while,” Richardson said. “It’s frustrating, for sure.

“But we can definitely rebound.”

Big 12 predictions: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
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An intriguing opening week in the Big 12, including a pair of neutral-site showdowns with the SEC.

My picks for Week 1 -- and I wouldn’t go to Vegas with them:

FRIDAY

Texas Tech 35, SMU 27: All eyes will be on Texas Tech’s quarterback, whether that’s Davis Webb or fellow true freshman Baker Mayfield. Whoever it is, Eric Ward and Jace Amaro will provide enough support to give Kliff Kingsbury the win in his Tech debut.

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters' debut at Kansas State comes against a North Dakota State team capable of pulling a surprise.
Kansas State 31, North Dakota State 22: The last time the Bison visited the Sunflower State, they came away with a victory. Even though this game won’t be in Lawrence, the two-time defending FCS champs won’t go out easy. K-State and its veteran offensive line, however, eventually wear down the Bison in the second half as the Wildcats pull away in QB Jake Waters' first start.

SATURDAY

West Virginia 48, William & Mary 14: Running back Charles Sims begins his West Virginia career with a monster debut, prompting the MountaineerS faithful to forget about Tavon Austin. Well, for a night anyway.

No. 13 Oklahoma State 38, Mississippi State 24: Mike Gundy makes good on his word of playing both Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. And both quarterbacks shine in a two-quarterback system as the Cowboys defeat an SEC opponent in their opener for the second time in five years.

No. 16 Oklahoma 31, Louisiana-Monroe 14: The Sooners have been dreadful in openers under Bob Stoops, and playing a freshman quarterback doesn’t help things early, either. But Trevor Knight finally finds his groove in the second half and shows everyone why he ultimately beat out Blake Bell for the job.

Baylor 49, Wofford 21: Lache Seastrunk launches his Heisman campaign with a big season debut, but freshman receiver Robbie Rhodes steals the spotlight with a pair of touchdown receptions, showing why he’s been generating so much buzz this preseason.

No. 15 Texas 56, New Mexico State 6: The Longhorns waste no time attacking with their new up-tempo offense and bury the Aggies in the first quarter. The three-headed monster of Jonathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron looks crisp, too, racking up 250 yards rushing against a hapless New Mexico State defense.

Iowa State 24, Northern Iowa 21: Sam Richardson carries Iowa State to victory over the always-pesky Panthers with some clutch fourth-quarter passing. In the second half, junior college transfer Aaron Wimberly delivers a run and later a catch both for more than 40 yards, showing signs he might be the game-breaker the Cyclones have been coveting offensively.

No. 12 LSU 26, No. 20 TCU 21: TCU has the front-line talent that LSU does on both sides of the ball. But the Tigers have two advantages: superior depth and the experience of playing in these kinds of games. That proves to be the difference, as LSU strips the Big 12 of a potential weekend sweep.

Big 12 preseason power rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 quarterback roundtable

August, 20, 2013
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Petty & Ash & Pachall USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty, David Ash and Casey Pachall will all vie to be the Big 12's top quarterback this fall.
Earlier Tuesday, I wrote about how the Big 12’s lack of marquee returning quarterbacks will affect the league race.

In this roundtable, the Big 12 blog team addresses four key questions about the conference’s quarterbacks:

Which quarterback battle will drag on longest?

Jake Trotter: I could see Oklahoma’s lasting a while. Freshman Trevor Knight outplayed Blake Bell in both preseason scrimmages, even though Bell entered the preseason as the favorite to win the job. Whoever comes out of camp with the nod will have to go against the tough defenses of Notre Dame and TCU. If the starter struggled, there’s a decent chance the Sooners would give the other a shot to spark the offense. A scenario like that might also spark a quarterback controversy in Norman.

David Ubben: Probably Texas Tech, but only by necessity. Michael Brewer's back injury doesn't sound like a minor situation, and true freshmen Davis Webb and All-Name Teamer Baker Mayfield may have to take over until he's back to 100 percent. And what if he takes another shot to his back during the season?

Brandon Chatmon: I have a feeling Oklahoma State's quarterback battle will last deep into the season. The Cowboys have proved they can win with both guys, so there should be no hesitation to look toward J.W. Walsh if Clint Chelf starts against Mississippi State or vice versa.

Max Olson: Texas Tech. Having to roll with true freshmen Webb and Mayfield to open the season is far from ideal. Whenever Brewer heals up, you have to think he’ll be right back in the mix to regain the starting job. I wouldn’t be shocked if all three earn starts this season.

Who is most likely to use a two-quarterback system all season?

Trotter: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have two quarterbacks they have won with, and because Chelf and Walsh have different styles, there would be an advantage to using both. Because neither really has previous claim over the other and because the Cowboys run so many plays, this would be a unique circumstance where playing two quarterbacks would seemingly leave offensive chemistry undisturbed.

Ubben: Can we really call Oklahoma State a two-quarterback system? If so, I'm going with the Pokes. Chelf's going to start, but Walsh's short-yardage package is really valuable, and he proved last season that he's definitely skilled enough to make defenses respect his arm. He'll have opportunities to throw the ball more than people expect this season.

Chatmon: TCU' Casey Pachall brings passing skills and overall production that cannot be matched by Trevone Boykin, while Boykin brings running skills that make him too valuable to leave on the sideline indefinitely.

Olson: Nobody is better suited to handle that conundrum than Oklahoma State, right? Cowboys players know they can win ballgames with either Walsh or Chelf running the show. They trust both guys, and I think Mike Gundy does, too. Of all the league’s quarterback battles, OSU might be the only school that can’t go wrong.

Who ultimately will be the All-Big 12 quarterback?

Trotter: I’m going with Baylor’s Bryce Petty. Unlike most quarterbacks in the league, there’s no looming threat to take snaps away from him. And with the firepower around him, he could really have a monster season.

Ubben: Petty. He has great running backs for balance and one of the Big 12's best offensive lines, as long as it stays healthy. There are zero questions about his NFL-caliber arm strength, and if he can prove himself a competent decision-maker, he has 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns in his future, as well as a good shot to clear 500 rushing yards.

Chatmon: So many possibilities, so little time. Let’s give the nod to Petty because he’s secured the starting spot at Baylor and promises to be surrounded by some of the Big 12’s most explosive skill players. It’s hard to imagine him not being productive in 2013.

Olson: Tough call. I’ll reluctantly go with Petty simply because he’s most likely to be the statistically superior candidate in December. He’s surrounded by too many offensive weapons; it’s just hard to picture him struggling. In the end, though, I won’t be surprised if the All-Big 12 quarterback honor goes to whoever wins the league title.

Who will be the biggest surprise quarterback?

Trotter: First, he has to win the job. But if Jake Waters can emerge out of the quarterback battle with Daniel Sams, he could become K-State’s great transfer quarterback. Waters set a junior college record for completion percentage on his way to winning a national title. That kind of precision would fit in well with an offense that returns seven starters.

Ubben: Dana Holgorsen's track record with quarterbacks is too good for Clint Trickett not to make a big splash in a new offense that's pretty easy for players to learn on the fly. He's my pick to win the WVU job, and even though the receivers are inexperienced, guys like Kevin White, Ivan McCartney, Mario Alford and KJ Myers should give him plenty of targets who will allow him put up big numbers.

Chatmon: Nobody is talking about Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson, but the sophomore should be much more comfortable in Year 2 and could be poised for a breakout season for the Cyclones.

Olson: David Ash. The Texas junior is poised to really open some eyes this fall. Ash was better in 2012 than most people realize, but he’s always been judged more by his bad games than his good ones. I think that changes this season. Honorable mention goes to whoever starts at K-State. You know he’ll exceed expectations.

Early Big 12 power rankings for 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Kansas: Gotta prove something before the Jayhawks move out of the basement. Charlie Weis is bringing in tons of juco talent, but after the Dayne Crist experiment didn't work, BYU transfer Jake Heaps simply must be better for KU to begin its climb back to the postseason.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl keys: Iowa State

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
11:30
AM ET
Here are three keys for an Iowa State victory in today's AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

1. Make Cody Green beat you. Iowa State's been pretty good at taking away opponents' strengths throughout the season and held Kansas State to just 65 total rushing yards in a near upset in Ames. The Cyclones' best shot for victory is to solidify the front seven and make Green beat them with his arm. Tulsa won games by running the ball this year, and in their last meeting, Green threw two interceptions and completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes. He's thrown interceptions in each of his past four games, and if Iowa State can slow the run game and make Green throw the ball 30-40 times, the odds are in the Cyclones' favor.

2. Make life easy for Sam Richardson. Richardson is a young guy with a lot of potential, but you can't ask the ISU quarterback to drop back 50 times and win you a game. This starts on the offensive line and with play calling. It's important for the young Richardson to get off to a good start to establish some rhythm. That means a few screens, slants or short plays to get him rolling and some solid balance with the running game. Last year in the Pinstripe Bowl, Jared Barnett got off to a poor start and it snowballed before he was benched. If Richardson gets benched for similar reasons, Iowa State's not winning this game, barring a herculean defensive effort.

3. Slow it down and keep the game low scoring. Iowa State doesn't have a ton of offensive firepower, and surely you've seen the statistic about Paul Rhoads' career with the Cyclones. Under Rhoads, Iowa State is 20-1 when opponents score fewer than 24 points in regulation. When opponents score more than 24 points, he's a staggering 1-22. (He's 2-3 when opponents score exactly 24 points.) That's just the way it is, and you don't need me to explain the odds if this turns into a shootout.

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