NCF Nation: Texas Longhorns
TCU took a giant step toward playoff inclusion Tuesday night as the College Football Playoff committee bumped the Horned Frogs all the way up to No. 3 in the fifth update to the rankings.
Committee chairman Jeff Long has said that Baylor's head-to-head edge over TCU would only come into effect as a tiebreaker if the teams were close in the rankings. With Baylor being three spots behind TCU at No. 6, the Bears would seemingly have a long way to go before pushing that tiebreaker into effect. The good news for Baylor is that its next opponent, Kansas State, moved up three spots to No. 9. That gives the Bears at least a shot at a statement, top-10 victory to give the committee.
Either way, it should be a fun weekend in Fort Worth and Waco.
K-State remains in line for the Valero Alamo Bowl, though the Wildcats could play their way into one of the New Year's Six bowls with a win over Baylor. There's even a scenario in which K-State could emerge onto the precipice of the playoff with a series of upsets. On the other hand, if the Wildcats get blown out in Waco, Oklahoma could still get scooped up by the Alamo Bowl, where the Sooners have never played before.
Oklahoma State remains the only non-bowl team in the Big 12 at the moment that can still play its way to bowl eligibility. But the Cowboys are almost three-touchdown underdogs at Oklahoma this weekend.
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual): TCU
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Texas
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: West Virginia
Cactus Bowl: None eligible
Why Texas will win: Oklahoma State and Texas are trending in opposite directions. After a rough start, the Longhorns have quietly improved, especially along an offensive line that is beginning to pave running lanes for Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown. The OSU Cowboys, meanwhile, have seemingly regressed offensively the past month, due largely to their inability to protect quarterback Daxx Garman, who himself has struggled to check down against the blitz. Bowl qualification will be on the line in this one. And the Longhorns will grab it. Texas 29, Oklahoma State 13 – Trotter
Why TCU will win: Gary Patterson has worked hard this season to make sure his players don't slack off, don't get too high, and don't look ahead. That won't change this week – if anything, being ranked No. 4 will only make him hammer that harder. The Frogs will be focused and motivated to score a lot of points this week for the old résumé. I have them beating KU by the same margin Baylor did. TCU 56, Kansas 10 – Olson
Why Kansas will keep it close: The Jayhawks have confidence, momentum and an underrated defense. KU will put up a bigger fight than most expect, especially with TCU playing its eight straight game without a bye. There are plenty of reasons to think Clint Bowen’s crew can hang around. TCU 44, Kansas 24 – Chatmon
Why Oklahoma will win: With Alex Ross, Keith Ford and Samaje Perine in the backfield, the Sooners will run, run and run some more against the Red Raiders. Tech will struggle to do anything about it. And Oklahoma should be ready to respond after being embarrassed on its home field by Baylor. Oklahoma 42, Texas Tech 24 – Chatmon
Why Texas Tech will keep it close: The Red Raiders are coming off a bye week, which has given them extra time to prepare for Oklahoma while giving QB Davis Webb the chance to heal from an ankle injury. Oklahoma historically has struggled at Tech, and who knows what mental state the Sooners will bring to Lubbock this time after getting waxed by Baylor last weekend. If the Red Raiders don’t self-destruct with turnovers and penalties -- and I realize that’s a big if -- they’ll have the chance to hang around an Oklahoma team that might be suffering a hangover. Oklahoma 35, Texas Tech 27 – Trotter
- Trotter: 55-6
- Chatmon: 53-8
- Olson: 52-9
Charlie Strong's first season as the Texas Longhorns' head coach has been a roller-coaster ride full of suspensions, dismissals and shut-out wins and losses.
Finally, after Saturday's 33-16 win over West Virginia, Strong and the Longhorns have their first winning streak — hey, two games counts as a streak — and they have something to build on and feel good about.
Here was the scene in the locker room following the win over the Mountaineers, courtesy Longhorns G.A. Ephraim Banda.
After the celebration, Strong seemed surprised to learn the video was already online and said he never saw it coming.
“I just walked in there and they grabbed me,” Strong said.
This wasn’t the first time Strong had been lifted up by one of his teams. His Louisville players passed him around in 2011 after 38-35 victory over the same foe – a West Virginia team that was ranked No. 24.
“That was great. I don’t even know how we got him up,” Texas running back Malcolm Brown said. “A couple people picked him up and then, all the sudden, he’s up in the air flying.”
Defensive end Cedric Reed guessed it might’ve taken 30 players and coaches to get Strong in the air.
“Coach Strong is heavy, man,” Reed said. “He’s a well-built guy.”
Added cornerback Quandre Diggs, who did not partake in lifting up Strong: “He’s a heavy lil’ fella. It was just a big party in there.”
ESPN.com Big 12 reporter Max Olson contributed to this report.
On Saturday, he'll be back in his old house, the place where the Hager name was built. His second-oldest son, Bryce Hager, is playing his second and last at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium as Baylor's senior middle linebacker.
Standing at his side in the stands will be Breckyn Hager, the baby of the family. He's in the middle of his senior season at Austin Westlake High and set to play at Texas next year.
"You know, it's a sad year for me. We're coming to some ends of things we've been doing for a long time," Britt Hager said. "This year, from my perspective, is more retrospect. Every game is one of their last as a senior."
Both could have special senior campaigns, but no way can they touch what their dad did in 1988, his final season as a Longhorns legend. He left Texas with 195 tackles as a senior and 499 in his career, both school records that stand to this day. His sons have been chasing his feats and his legacy ever since.
"My mom is always saying, 'I don't think you guys understand how good he actually was,' " Bryce Hager said.
He played nine years in the NFL and brought his sons along for the ride. First came Bron, then Bryce, Brayven and Breckyn. Britt got to coach them as children once his playing days were over. They inherited their dad's mean streak, as evidenced by the time Brayven gashed his head open and needed stitches after Bron tackled him into a brick wall.
"We would get a little too rowdy," Bryce said.
They'd thrown on their father's replica NFL jerseys and go to battle in the backyard. Nobody came away unscathed. Especially not little Breckyn.
"Oh, I was always getting the crap knocked out of me," Breckyn said. "I was the youngest and smallest. They didn't show me any mercy. They taught me how to grow up real quick."
And Britt's four sons all went on to play his game. Bron, a linebacker on the Nick Foles-led 2006 Westlake team that went to the state title game, signed with North Texas. Brayven thrived at Westlake, too, and went on to play at Blinn College.
Bryce's options were limited by the end of his senior season: Offers from Colorado, Texas State and Air Force. Texas offered a walk-on spot but didn't deem him scholarship-worthy. In hindsight, he can see why.
"I wasn't very big. I think I had good tape, but people didn't want to take a risk on a 205-pound middle linebacker," he said. "I knew I was undersized and those big schools wanted the four-star, five-star athletes. I knew I wasn't what they wanted."
Though Britt had already been through this once with Bron, he wasn't pleased with his alma mater. Bryce received all-state honors in 2009 after 158 tackles, eight sacks and 13 rushing touchdowns for the state title runner-ups. What more could he have proven? Alas, Texas inked five-star Jordan Hicks and three more ESPN 150 linebackers.
"Mack [Brown] left it up to [Will] Muschamp. Muschamp has the pick back then," Britt said. "Muschamp only saw one game. Don't know how much film he saw. Yeah, I was surprised. I was upset. I thought he had the ability to play Division I and play at a high level there. But it all ended up working out."
Art Briles and his staff secured a commitment on Jan. 17, 2010, and from that day forward, his father made a necessary shift in allegiance.
They sure did pick the right ship. Bryce broke into the lineup two years ago as a redshirt sophomore and has started 23 games. He's the quarterback of the Bears' rising defense, one of the trusted leaders of a team that's 23-7 since his first start in 2012.
He figured quickly, too, that he had no shot of matching Britt's stats. Not in the Big 12. The fullback dives and triple options his father once feasted upon are long gone.
"It's a lot harder than you'd think," Bryce said. "My sophomore year, I had 124 tackles. I feel like that was pretty good. And his best was 195 in a season? That's crazy."
Dad has been there every step of the way, always offering postgame pointers and counsel. He has worn Baylor green throughout Bryce's time as a Bear, even when BU played in Austin in 2012. He's couldn't be more proud to do so.
"Being part of what Baylor's done over the last four years, I tell you what, it's been an unbelievable ride," Britt said.
While Bryce thrives in Waco, Breckyn has quietly grown into perhaps the best athlete in the Hager family -- to the amazement of the brothers who once picked on him.
The blond-haired baby of the family is now 6 feet 3, 220 pounds and wearing size-15 shoes. Like the brothers who paved his way, Breckyn calls himself a late bloomer. He knows he's as tough as them, too.
"That's one reason why I think he's such a good football player -- he has all that aggression that he takes out on other kids," Bryce joked.
Breckyn committed to Baylor after his spring game in May. But then, in September, Texas finally righted its past wrong. Charlie Strong called and, to the linebacker's surprise, extended a scholarship offer.
"He told me he likes what he's seen and he wants a Hager to be back out on his field," Breckyn said.
On the morning of Sept. 24, he ran to the top bleachers of Westlake's stadium and dialed up Strong. He wanted to look over the city and eye The Tower in the distance when he made his commitment official. Then he made a difficult call to his brother and Baylor's coaches.
"Wherever he's going to be happy is what I want him to do," Bryce said. "He's following in my dad's footsteps."
There's a giant photo from Britt's playing days hanging in Breckyn's bedroom. He can't yet grow his dad's 'stache from the '80s -- "the mullet, I could do," he says -- but Breckyn does want his Texas records. He wants 500 tackles.
"He's been saying that since he was a little boy," Britt said.
Next year will bring another big step for the Hager legacy. Britt knows he'll have to change course. He'll start going to Longhorns games again, and Bryce will give him an NFL team to pull for, too.
But this week, there's nothing complicated about his loyalty.
"There's only one game I want the Horns to lose," Britt said, "and that's Baylor."
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Without quarterback Brett Hundley, UCLA could not win. It didn't matter that Texas was beaten up and beaten down. It didn't matter that Hundley was just one guy. He was The Guy, the face of the Bruins, the biggest reason some touted them in the preseason as national title contenders. Moreover, to put it gently, the depth chart behind him was unpromising.
Backup Jerry Neuheisel? Son of Rick Neuheisel, the guy who was fired before Jim Mora built the Bruins into contenders? The guy who some suspected got a scholarship only because his dad was the head coach? No way.
So when Hundley was surrounded by trainers after going down with an apparent elbow injury in the first quarter against the Longhorns, you could sense impending doom. You could sense the Bruins, who had struggled to beat Virginia and Memphis with Hundley, joining teams such as Ohio State, Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia and Michigan State on the slag heap of exposed contenders.
"[Neuheisel and Hundley] are two different quarterbacks," Texas cornerback Quandre Diggs said. "One guy is up for the Heisman and the other guy is someone we've never heard of."
Yet there was Neuheisel eyeballing Diggs' cornerbacking counterpart, Duke Thomas, in man coverage against receiver Jordan Payton with three minutes left in the game, sensing his moment had arrived.
"As soon as I saw [Thomas'] eyes, I thought, 'Oh, my God, this might just work,'" Neuheisel said.
The Bruins were down four on Texas' 33-yard line and pretty much hadn't allowed Neuhiesel to throw downfield since he came off the bench, but offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone expected man coverage and decided Payton might get free with a double move.
In fact, Thomas appeared to bite on Neuheisel's pump fake, and the ball arrived soft and sweet into Payton's hands. Touchdown. After the defense forced a four-and-done, the Bruins hoisted Neuheisel onto their shoulders. They'd won 20-17 without Hundley to improve to 3-0.
"I felt like it was going to be a little bit of a defining moment for us," UCLA coach Jim Mora said of when Hundley went down.
While it might seem to some like an ugly 3-0 for the nation's No. 12 team, it was a dream come true for Neuheisel. Literally. He told his teammates that at halftime. He grew up dreaming of following in his dad's footsteps as the UCLA quarterback, imagining throwing winning touchdowns in his backyard. The general expectation from fans and media, however, was the redshirt sophomore would remain on the bench behind Hundley, holding for field goals and then backing up whoever won the job next year when Hundley was off to the NFL.
Yet a point of emphasis from Mora and the Bruins after their victory was never doubting Neuheisel.
"We all expected it," Payton said.
Said Mora, "His team fricken' loves him. There was never any doubt."
Well, there was and is some doubt. What's next, for one, is a big issue. Hundley's status is questionable, to say the least. Mora would only say Hundley would be evaluated by UCLA team doctors back in Los Angeles. While beating a struggling Texas team with a backup QB is one thing, the Bruins visit Arizona State on Sept. 25 after a bye week. That's an entirely different deal, a critical South Division showdown. Of course, in an unfortunate twist of fate, both teams could be without their starting quarterbacks, as Taylor Kelly suffered a foot injury against Colorado on Saturday.
Neuheisel, who completed 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, could square off with Sun Devils backup Mike Bercovici in a game with major Pac-12, and even national, implications. The Bruins, however, were still operating inside the 24-hour rule Saturday, which means their primary concern is enjoying the present, not refocusing on the next foe.
Neuheisel is his father's son. He looks and sounds like Rick Neuheisel, and he's quick with a quip like his dad. When he walked into the postgame interview room, he noted, "Holders don't get this kind of publicity." After the elder Neuheisel led the Bruins to an upset of Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl, he cracked wise during a postgame interview about the Fighting Illini band blasting music behind him.
"I just talked to my dad," Jerry Neuheisel said. "He said, 'You did it. It's kind of a Neuheisel thing.'"
On a day when UCLA's crosstown rival, USC, wilted at Boston College, the Bruins found a way to dig deep, overcome adversity and win. UCLA might not be a beautiful 3-0, but it is 3-0 and that's what matters.
"They never flinched," Mora said. "They never blinked. That's kind of what we are trying to become. And we're getting closer and closer every day."
He was asked about his Bruins appearing on the Pac-12 Network series, "The Drive."
“I’ve never said the words, ‘The Drive,’ to our team," he said. "I’ve never heard our players talk about it. They’ve never asked me a question about it. It’s a complete nonentity to us.”
He was asked about his team not playing up to expectations.
"How do you know we haven't played up to our own expectations?" Mora said, adding that he's not going to "talk about what he talks to the team about."
He was asked about Texas' pursuit of him last year before he re-upped with UCLA and the Longhorns hired Charlie Strong.
That's all he would say, even though a day later a story would appear on ESPN.com in which he provides great detail about the interview with Texas representatives.
A grumpy football coach isn't unusual, just as a coach who doesn't want to talk about his team's struggles or his flirtation with an other job isn't either. Yet after these tense initial three minutes, Mora transformed. He loosened up and became pleasant and expansive. His 10 minutes of allotted time stretched to 15. When he fielded a last question about changing a program's culture, you got the distinct feeling he was smiling while answering.
Call the analogy facile, but Mora showed that a quick turnaround is possible, and that's what he's hoping he gets from his team as it prepares to play Texas on Saturday in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. That transformation with reporters included significantly more insight about his and his team's thinking after some folks turned up their noses following unimpressive UCLA wins over Virginia and Memphis.
“We enjoy the role of underdog," he said. "We feel like we’re kind of back to where we want to be, which is people are doubting us. There’s a reason for that and we’re OK with that. It’s up to us to prove that we are a competitive, good football team to be reckoned with. In the first two weeks, we haven’t necessarily done that.”
Then Insightful Jim apologized for his insightful answer, "I hope you can get something out of that.”
We can. Mora is even more aware than critical reporters that the Bruins first two games haven't yet matched reasonable expectations for his depth chart. The good news is his team is 2-0. It's entirely valid to question, however, whether his team will prove to be the national title contender it was projected to be in the preseason. The early returns suggest not.
Mora went even further with his beat reporters Tuesday, admitting his players were "tight" the first two weeks. "I think we let the outside expectations become a little bit of a burden to us," he said.
In Game 1, the offensive line looked over-burdened by Virginia, yielding five sacks and producing little running room. In Game 2, that line surrendered four sacks, but the running game was better and the Bruins scored 42 points and gained 540 yards. Yet the defense yielded 35 points and 469 yards.
While it would be easy to say that if you combine the defense from Game 1 and the offense from Game 2, UCLA would be fine, the real issue is improvement on the offensive line, the team's most questionable area. This is not a new thing.
UCLA has surrendered 97 sacks since the beginning of the 2012 season, tied for second-most in the FBS, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It's particularly concerning that this isn't about blitzes. QB Brett Hundley has been sacked 51 times in his career on plays in which opponents have sent four or fewer pass-rushers, the most for any Power 5 quarterback in the last three seasons. Bruins QBs have been pressured (hurried or knocked down) on a Pac-12-high 24 percent of their dropbacks the last two seasons, including 24 percent this season.
And it's not just about pass blocking. UCLA is averaging 71.0 yards before contact per game this season, second-worst in the Pac-12 behind Washington State. The Bruins produced 130 plays the last two seasons that lost yards, third-most in the FBS.
Despite these worrisome numbers, Hundley and the Bruins have managed to score a lot of points, as they've averaged 36.7 points per game the past two seasons. But unreliability up front is where UCLA's 2014 great expectations might get the Miss Havisham treatment.
As for Mora and the Bruins, who have tumbled from No. 7 to No. 12 in the AP poll, the reality is being grumpy at 2-0 isn't such a bad thing. He noted that the worst thing that can happen to a team is its locker room becoming permeated with self-satisfaction.
So while a few gritty harrumphs for Texas on Saturday and Arizona State on Sept. 25 might quell the doubters, that grumpiness shouldn't ever completely go away.
No. 3 Oregon made the biggest national statement so far this season with a 46-27 victory against No. 7 Michigan State. The Ducks answered questions about their ability to match up with an elite physical defense and established their legitimacy. That quarterback Marcus Mariota turned in a tour de force for the Ducks further validates the preseason feeling that he was the Heisman Trophy front-runner. Also getting a hole punched in their validation cards were Ducks coach Mark Helfrich and new defensive coordinator Don Pellum.
As for football, the Trojans won a second consecutive nail-biter over the Cardinal, propelling themselves into the top 10, They won in large part because Stanford couldn't get out of its own way. The Cardinal had nine drives inside the Trojans’ 35-yard line but scored just 10 points, which almost seems mathematically impossible. That red zone ineptitude would be notable for any team, but it's even more stunning when you consider Stanford's well-established reputation for disciplined, bruising, efficient play.
Nonetheless, the victory made the Trojans the second-highest rated team in the Pac-12 in both major polls. Two weeks into the season, one might call them the South Division favorite and most likely team to challenge the Ducks.
But what of USC's friends from Westwood, UCLA, the previous holder of both those designations? The Bruins improved to 2-0, but only after an unimpressive performance in an anxious 42-35 victory against lightly regarded Memphis. They continued a tumble in national estimation, falling from a preseason ranking of No. 7 to No. 12 in the latest AP poll. In Week 1 at Virginia, the Bruins' offense, particularly the line, appeared hapless. In Week 2, the defense took the day off.
UCLA is a cipher. The Bruins look good on paper -- the depth chart suggests no obvious deficiencies -- but have not looked good on turf, at least thus far. They remain unbeaten but are presently the most deserving owner of the dreaded "overrated" label. They could turn out to be the Chapter 1 good guys who end up as heels. Or the opposite. They could be lying in wait, bland and unimpressive, before leaping out of the shadows to make their heroic flourish. Feel free, by the way, to put your own spin on coach Jim Mora's brief postgame interview in which he said he liked his defense "a lot," before frumping off, leaving reporter and audience hanging.
In the preseason, there was some hope that UCLA's game with Texas on Saturday in Cowboys Stadium would be revealing. While expectations weren't terribly high for the Longhorns under first-year coach Charlie Strong, there were reasonable projections this game at least would be a matchup of ranked teams. But Texas is battling growing pains, as well as injuries and suspensions, under Strong. It just got whipped for a second consecutive season by BYU, so the Longhorns look like more of a banana peel than a national stepping-stone for the Bruins.
If UCLA loses, it probably will fall out of the Top 25, going from vogue pick for CFP semifinalist to unranked within three weeks. If it wins, most will shrug and point to the Sept. 25 date at Arizona State, a Thursday night showdown between South Division contenders, as a true measuring stick for whether the Bruins merit our preseason gushing.
This skepticism, however, carries little more authority than everyone's present approbation of Oregon. It's just fickle words, really. Fodder for the daily grind of sports fandom, this week's topic. In December, Oregon's 2-0 might not end up being any more meaningful than UCLA's 2-0. Further, UCLA at 4-0, no matter how it got there, would probably rework its popular descriptive term from "overrated" to "opportunistic."
In other words, our present takes are no more than hunches. These are educated hunches based on tangible evidence, but we all know tangible evidence often has a brief shelf life in college football. Oregon, USC and UCLA have made statements about themselves through Week 2, and it's inevitable that we react to what has been said.
That doesn't mean we won't be breaking down a rematch between Arizona State and Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game when the regular season ends.
Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch this week in the Big 12:
Kansas State at Iowa State, Noon ET (FS1): Farmageddon lost much of its luster when Iowa State fell at home to North Dakota State last weekend. The Wildcats know what it's like to get popped by the Bison, who toppled K-State in last year’s opener. The Wildcats, however, have rapidly improved since that defeat, thanks to the development of quarterback Jake Waters. The Cyclones have to hope quarterback Sam B. Richardson can likewise bounce back after a rocky 2014 debut.
Oklahoma at Tulsa, Noon ET (ABC/ESPN2): Last year when the Sooners took on Tulsa, Blake Bell was making his first career start at quarterback. Bell was spectacular, too, throwing for 413 yards and four touchdowns while delivering a QBR of 96.7. The quarterback job is now Trevor Knight’s, but Bell remains a big part of the Oklahoma offense as a starting tight end.
Southeast Missouri State at Kansas, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN3): Charlie Weis scouted Southeast Missouri State by streaming its game with Missouri Baptist over the Internet. There wasn’t much else to do, as the Jayhawks were the only Big 12 team with the opening weekend off.
BYU at Texas, 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1): The Longhorns have been talking BYU revenge all offseason. But they’ll have to try and get it without quarterback David Ash, who is suffering concussion-related symptoms again. While BYU will be starting veteran Taysom Hill, who gashed Texas with 259 rushing yards last year, the Longhorns will be rolling the dice at quarterback with sophomore Tyrone Swoopes, who enters the weekend with just five completions in his career.
Northwestern State at Baylor, 7:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Regional): Apparently, not even a pair of cracked transverse processes in his back can sideline Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, who said he plans to play against Northwestern State. The Bears won’t need him or wideout Antwan Goodley, who is nursing a strained quadriceps muscle, in this game. But they’ll need both to be healthy again before the schedule picks up next month.
Towson at West Virginia, 7:30 p.m. ET (ROOT): The Mountaineers should carry plenty of swagger into this home opener after going toe-to-toe with Alabama in Atlanta. No Mountaineer should be more confident than quarterback Clint Trickett, who is coming off passing for 365 yards –- the second-highest total an Alabama defense has allowed under Nick Saban. West Virginia, however, can't overlook Towson, a team coming off an appearance in the FCS national title game last season.
Texas Tech at UTEP, 11 p.m. ET (FS1): The late kickoff time is not a misprint. Kliff Kingsbury will have to hope his team won’t sleepwalk again the way the Red Raiders did Saturday in the narrow victory over Central Arkansas. Tech, which finished 124th out of 125 teams in penalty yardage last year, committed 15 penalties in its opener. That was not the start Kingsbury was looking for in his second season.