Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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In Tuesday's mailbag we talk Charlie Strong, the futures of TCU, Oklahoma State and West Virginia and the College Football Playoff committee. Thanks for your questions this week, to submit a question for next Tuesday's mailbag, click here.

On to the mailbag:

[+] EnlargeBill Snyder
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesBill Snyder's Wildcats have a difficult remaining schedule, but it's one that would garner national attention should they negotiate it successfully.
Cain in Auckland writes: Hey guys, love the blog! Firstly, do you think Kansas State has found their answer at running back with Charles Jones? And also, with K-State's schedule (Auburn, at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, at TCU, at West Virginia, at Baylor) do you believe KSU as an 11-1 Big 12 champ makes the playoff over a 11-1 SEC West runner up or 11-1 Big 10 Champ?

Brandon Chatmon: I really like what Charles Jones is bringing to the table for the Wildcats. He’s not John Hubert, but he has the chance to be a very productive back and has proven his ability to find the end zone with eight touchdowns in four games. To answer your second question, I think an 11-1 K-State should get in over most one-loss Big Ten champions or most one-loss SEC West runners-up. Obviously a lot of that has to do with who those losses came against, but the Wildcats would have a strong case with road wins at Baylor and Oklahoma. Now, will they get in? That’s another question entirely and we don’t have a history to look back upon to know how the College Football Playoff committee will handle these situations.

Christian in Missoula, Montana, writes: Do you have week 8 circled on your calendars for a little more clarity in the Big 12 title race? The top six teams are on the field against one another. Also, even as an Oklahoma State grad I'm left wondering why so much love for WVU and so little for TCU? I personally would put TCU's wins over WVU losses, but who cares, right? We'll know what TCU has by next Saturday.

Chatmon: I think every week is a big week. We sometimes overlook the week ahead of us in anticipation of later matchups then something unexpected happens. Week 8 will be a big week but we could have some clarity before then. TCU hasn’t really been tested but can take care of business against the Sooners and plenty of love will be headed their way.

Matt in Fort Worth writes: The Playoff Committee had already publicly stated that they will not be looking at margin of victory. Now Barry Alvarez says he has been looking at just that (normalized for schedule strength). And, he made the statement just in time for some teams viewed as having little shot to make the playoffs to whip up on their final weak out-of-conference foe. This doesn't seem right. What do you think?

Chatmon: That’s why they have a playoff committee. Everyone has their own bias, expectations, etc., but I’m confident the committee will do a solid job. And I doubt any team would be running up the score based on what one committee member says. I can’t imagine winning by 44 instead of 24 over a weak opponent is going to be a deciding factor.

Louie in Pace, Florida, writes: What do you think WVU's chances are of going 9-3 this year? They played two of the top four teams in the country and pretty much competed with both of them. The toughest game left on their schedule are at home with the exception of Tech and Texas being on the road. If not 9-3 where do you think they will finish?

Chatmon: I’m not ready to lock them in at 9-3 but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mountaineers finish with 9 or 10 wins with a bowl game. I’d add Oklahoma State to your list of tough road games making WVU’s tough stretch of Baylor, at OSU, TCU, at Texas the main reason I’m looking at 7 or 8 wins for WVU as of right now.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
AP Photo/Michael ThomasTexas coach Charlie Strong is still trying to gain a foothold in his first season.
John McKay in Louisville writes: Why in the world is Charlie Strong getting any criticism at all? He has coached four games, not four seasons! He did not turn around Louisville in four games, it took his third season to have a really good one, and beat a perceived powerhouse program. Everyone needs to calm down and give him at least 3-4 complete seasons to see what his effect is on the program. A third of a season does not a career make.

Chatmon: I agree John, but we live in a "win now" world. Strong should get a pass this season as he tries to lay a quality foundation but if we don’t see clear signs of progress early next year, that’s when I would understand the heat starting to turn up under his seat.

Nicholas in Houston writes: OSU has a brutal stretch in the back half of the season. Apart from OU and Baylor, which of our remaining opponents should scare us the most? As of this moment, my vote is WVU.

Chatmon: I’d also keep on eye on the Pokes visit to TCU on Oct. 18. The Horned Frogs will play good defense and will be the best defense Daxx Garman has faced since he took over as OSU starting signal-caller. How will he respond?

Taylor Cook in Houston writes: After watching OK State vs. Texas Tech play with alternate uniforms on Thursday I wonder what happens first with a Bill Snyder-coached team: A CFB Playoff appearance or a game with alternate KSU uniforms? Even some "iconic" teams have gone with slight tweaks to the uniform or helmet, but K-State has been the same for a long time.

Chatmon: That’s easy Taylor, a College Football Playoff berth.

Mike in Goldsby, Oklahoma, writes: You said, "If the polls affect the College Football Playoff committee then we have bigger problems". Do you think there's any chance of the opposite happening? The CFP committee rankings affecting the polls?

Chatmon: I would hope so. I expect the College Football Playoff committee to invest more time in their rankings than the average voter.
Oklahoma State and Iowa State will meet in Stillwater this weekend in a battle of coaches unhappy with their running games.

The Cyclones are last in the league with an average of just 104 rushing yards per game. The Cowboys are faring better on the ground, but their 4.1 yards per carry average is the worst Oklahoma State has had since Mike Gundy’s first season in 2005.

“It’s not good enough,” Gundy said. “You’ve got to be over five in most cases.”

Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads has become exasperated with his rushing attack, as well. Running backs Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy gained just 17 yards on 12 carries in a 49-28 loss to Baylor last weekend.

"There is no running attack," said Rhoads, whose club is averaging just 3.4 yards a carry, which ranks 108th nationally. "You've got to run the football and you've got to defend the run if you want to be successful. We're not even scratching the surface at doing that."

That starts for both teams with the offensive line. After graduating several key players, Oklahoma State had one of the most inexperienced offensive lines coming into the season. That wasn’t the case for Iowa State. Only Oklahoma had more career returning starts along its offensive line than the Cyclones. But so far, Iowa State has been unable to pave consistent lanes for Wimberly and Nealy.

"We need to do a better job of blocking. That's not just the interior five, that's everybody," Rhoads said. "Receivers are part of the blocking group and the tight ends. And our running backs need to do a better job of running the football. We've got to make some folks miss.

“In watching Oklahoma State, other people are taking care of every gap, too, and sometimes backs make folks miss. We need that added to the quotient."

The Cowboys have a back in Tyreek Hill who can make opponents miss, and another in Desmond Roland who can through tackles. Roland broke out in Ames last year with 219 yards rushing.

But Gundy would disagree about his offensive line taking care of every gap. Gundy called it a “stretch” to say that the line was any better in a 45-35 win over Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders, who had been awful in run defense, stacked the box to compensate for their own deficiencies, which made running the ball tough sledding.

“Last week we didn't really have an opportunity to run the ball with the way they played defense,” Gundy said. “Tech's perspective was to stop the run with safeties, which didn't really give us numbers throughout the evening."

But after watching Oklahoma State quarterback Daxx Garman throw for 370 yards and four touchdowns, it’s unlikely Iowa State will utilize a similar scheme and put its young secondary in vulnerable situations.

The Cowboys hope this will be the game that finally gets their ground attack going. Iowa State, too.

Roundtable: Keys for TCU, Texas

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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In our weekly Big 12 roundtable, we examine the keys to Texas and TCU knocking off Big 12 co-favorites Baylor and Oklahoma this weekend, and whether Kansas will notch another win under interim coach Clint Bowen:

What is the key to Texas pulling off the upset over Baylor?

Brandon Chatmon: If Texas actually decides to walk the walk. The Longhorns players haven’t been bashful in sharing their thoughts on Baylor’s rise. UT hung with Baylor for a while a year ago before the Bears finally pulled away, but that Longhorns squad had rebounded after a horrible start to the season and entered the 2013 meeting with some confidence. That’s not the scenario this time around. Are the Longhorns are trying to talk themselves into believing they can win?

Max Olson: Charlie Strong is the kind of coach who'll tell you Texas just needs to score one more point than Baylor. Well, how many points is that going to take? His track record suggests Strong and his staff will draw up a game plan that gives Texas' defense a chance to slow down Bryce Petty and his infinite weapons. But Tyrone Swoopes and this slow-moving Longhorn offense must find easier ways to run the ball and score and, more important, they must answer whenever Baylor does strike. It's going to take resilience, but Texas can't win unless its offense rises to the challenge in a way we've yet to witness in 2014.

Jake Trotter: The only way Texas will have a chance is if it runs the ball. Swoopes isn’t Blake Bortles or even Clint Chelf, so the Longhorns aren’t going to be able to simply outscore the Bears. That means Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown will have to move the chains to keep Petty and Co. off the field. The Longhorns actually are talented enough defensively to create issues for the Baylor offense. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown has been a beast in the middle, and the back seven is creating turnovers. But they can hold the finger in the dam for only so long. Eventually, the Bears will hit Texas up for big plays. Which is why it’s imperative the Horns grind out some drives and limit Petty’s opportunities to gouge them.

What is the key to TCU pulling off the upset over Oklahoma?

Chatmon: Trevone Boykin. Nobody knows how Boykin will react against the chaos the Sooners defense will create nor do we know just how much Boykin has improved since last season. It could get ugly for the TCU signal-caller. Or he could be the biggest nightmare this Sooners defense will see all season. If he executes TCU’s new offense like a veteran quarterback, Boykin has the ability to stress a defense unlike any other quarterback in the Big 12 with his ability to run like a running back in the open field. A great game from Boykin could be the worst-case scenario for OU.

Olson: Brandon is right, it's Boykin and the way he responds to the pressure of this Oklahoma defense. But I'm curious about the other side of the ball, too: How will the Horned Frogs attack Trevor Knight, make him uncomfortable and force him to make difficult throws? Against Tennessee and West Virginia, Knight was efficient when passing against blitzes. TCU needs to get after him and throw off the timing of this offense. OU will take this game over if Knight gets off to a sharp start.

Trotter: The TCU offensive line has to hold up against Oklahoma’s swarming front seven. The Horned Frogs’ defense traditionally has fared well against the Sooners, but TCU has been unable to win in its two Big 12 meetings with the Sooners because of its inability to move the ball. The Horned Frogs opened last year’s game against Oklahoma with seven three-and-outs. TCU got dominated at the line of scrimmage and finished with only 44 yards rushing in that game. That didn’t cut it last year, and it won’t Saturday, either. Gary Patterson switched up his coordinators in the offseason to jump-start the offense. But it won’t amount to much if TCU gets obliterated up front again.

Under Bowen, will Kansas win another game?

Chatmon: Sure, why not? It only takes one team to slip up against the Jayhawks, and KU’s defense has actually been pretty good this season. But it has been overshadowed by the lackluster performance of its offense and sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart. The Jayhawks could find themselves hanging in a game thanks to their defense then getting one or two big plays to somehow pull out a win. I can’t say who should be on upset alert, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they pull off an win.

Olson: You would think that Texas Tech will have its house in order by the time KU plays in Lubbock on Oct. 18, though clearly at this point that's a team with some vulnerabilities. Realistically, though, Kansas' best chance comes at home against Iowa State on Nov. 8. And I think Bowen will treat the season finale at Kansas State like the Jayhawks' bowl game. That's going to be a throw-the-kitchen-sink game and a prime chance for Bowen to prove he deserves a shot at the job.

Trotter: I want to say yes, but look at the schedule and tell me who Kansas is going to beat? The Jayhawks have only three more home games. I don’t see Kansas being able to score against TCU on No. 15. I don’t see them being able to score with Oklahoma State on Oct. 11. That leaves Iowa State on Nov. 8. And if I had to pick that game today, I’d pick the Cyclones, who, by the way, slaughtered Kansas last year, 34-0. I think the Jayhawks will compete harder under Bown than they did under Charlie Weis. I’m just not sure this Kansas offense is competent enough for it to matter.
Oklahoma State figured replacing Justin Gilbert would not be easy.

The former Cowboy was the eighth overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft after an All-America season at OSU a year ago. While Gilbert provided game-changing plays and three years of starting experience to the Cowboys secondary in his final season, Kevin Peterson was the overlooked lieutenant in the cornerback duo, quietly holding his own opposite his standout teammate.

This year it’s Peterson’s time to be the captain in the Cowboys’ backfield. And he’s slid into the role with unusual ease.

[+] EnlargeKevin Peterson
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsKevin Peterson had big shoes to fill in Oklahoma State's secondary, replacing Justin Gilbert as the top corner.
“He wanted that role,” defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “He knew Gilbert’s gone, I’m the guy, I’m going to be put on a island a lot. I think he wanted that.”

Lots of guys want a role like that, as the key cover man who can be counted on to battle with the Big 12’s best receivers throughout a 60-minute frenzy of passes from all angles. Fewer guys seize the opportunity and hold up under the barrage.

“To want it and then to be effective every snap is different,” Spencer said. “He’s doing what he’s supposed to do now preparations-wise and practice-wise to fulfill that role. It’s a week-by-week process though.”

Now he finds himself on a similar path as Gilbert. He’s been a starter since his sophomore season after making an impact as a freshman and teams that test him, more often than not, end up regretting it. Most importantly, he sets the competitive tone and provides a daily model for OSU’s freshman cornerbacks Ramon Richards and Juwan Offray as the most experienced cover man on the roster.

“They see how he approaches practice and when we’re doing scout reps he’s not backing up, he’s not going through the motions,” Spencer said. “The harder they practice it translates to Saturday and Kevin does that, so it’s good for the young guys to see … 'He's practicing like this? Against the scout team on a Wednesday?' Then they say, that’s probably the way it’s supposed to be done.”

It’s part of the reason the Cowboys have been better than expected thus far this season. Gilbert wasn’t just a superstar. Along with fellow three-year starter and departed Cowboy Daytawion Lowe, Gilbert passed along his good habits and provided a baseline during Peterson's first two seasons for how to strive to mimic their success when he was the man.

“Having those guys show how to work hard instilled it in me,” Peterson said. “It takes more than athletic ability to be a great player.”

Said defensive tackle James Castleman: "I feel like what sets him apart from everyone else is not only is he a vocal leader, but he sets an example. So, you know, ‘You've got to do this, you've got to do that,' and it's good when you tell someone 'You've got to do this,' and you do it as well.”

Four games into his junior season Peterson has 15 tackles, six pass breakups and one interception. He ranks second in the Big 12 with seven disrupted dropbacks -- an ESPN metric that combines sacks, interceptions, passes broken up and batted balls -- behind Baylor’s Xavien Howard (7.5). He's not quite on Gilbert's level yet but he's quickly becoming one of the Big 12's top cornerbacks and a critical playmaker for OSU's defense.

“Up to now, game-by-game, he hasn't disappointed,” Spencer said. “He’s made some big-time breakups in critical situations and his discipline is good. He’s done what he’s supposed to do. His preparation needs to be the same. If he takes that approach he will do that every week.”

OU, Baylor offenses to be tested

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
10:30
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Through four games, fourth-ranked Oklahoma and seventh-ranked Baylor have been two of the most dominant teams in the country while emerging onto the short list of playoff contenders.

Both offenses have been dominant, too, with the Sooners running through opponents, and Baylor running past them.

But the next three games will be telling for both programs.

Beginning this weekend with challenging road tilts against a pair of tough defenses.

Oklahoma heads to Fort Worth for a showdown with TCU, which debuted in the Top 25 this week after a strong start to the season. Baylor travels south to Austin, where the Bears have won just once since 1991.

[+] EnlargeGarrett Krstich
AP Photo/LM OteroOklahoma's offense will face a stiff test against Josh Carraway and a TCU defense that had seven sacks last week against SMU.
The schedule doesn’t ease up for Oklahoma or Baylor afterward, either. The Bears play host to TCU, then travel to Morgantown to face the most improved team in the Big 12 in West Virginia.

Next weekend, the Sooners have the Red River Showdown, which they lost as heavy favorites last season. Then, Oklahoma will have to bounce back quickly for Bill Snyder and a tenacious Kansas State defense, which will be coming off a bye with an extra week to prepare for the Sooners.

But Oklahoma and Baylor, especially their offenses, can set the tone for these key three-game stretches on Saturday.

The Sooners have struggled to move the ball on the Horned Frogs in the past, with TCU losing both games by a total of 10 points. Even without preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields, the Horned Frogs have been stifling on the defensive side yet again, allowing just a single touchdown in their last two games. TCU was especially impressive in a 30-7 win over Minnesota, which moved to 4-1 after stomping Michigan in Ann Arbor last weekend.

“TCU looks really, really good and has played really well to this point,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said Monday.

Oklahoma’s seasoned offensive line has overpowered opponents this season, but the Horned Frogs appear to be one of the few teams in the league capable of matching up with the Sooners in the trenches. Davion Pierson and Chucky Hunter form one of the best one-two punches at defensive tackle in the league, and defensive end James McFarland is coming off a three-sack performance in TCU’s 56-0 victory over SMU.

“They always have played great defense,” Stoops said.

This, however, could be the best overall team Gary Patterson has fielded since joining the Big 12. Patterson’s revamped hurry-up, no-huddle offense hasn’t been tested much yet, but has shown signs of improvement under new coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. Quarterback Trevone Boykin’s Adjusted QBR is up 30 points from last year, and behind a more sturdy offensive line, the Horned Frogs are third in the league at the moment in rushing. That has taken some of the pressure that has been on Patterson’s defense in the past.

“They’re doing a great job of route running and (Boykin) is throwing the football really well, accurately,” Stoops said. “You can tell he’s comfortable in the offense and is playing really well.”

With a new quarterback and a diminished line, Texas, meanwhile, has struggled offensively again this season. But the Longhorns have also been formidable defensively in their past two games.

Texas picked off Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart four times on the way to a 23-0 shutout. Two weeks before, the Longhorns hung tough behind their defense in a 20-17 loss to now eighth-ranked UCLA, which dropped off 62 points on Arizona State last week.

Baylor is rightfully a two-touchdown favorite to win in Austin. But the Longhorns still have the talent on the defensive side to surprise anyone, as Oklahoma found out last year as a two-touchdown favorite.

Defensive tackle Malcom Brown has been a menace on the inside. And the Texas defensive backs -- led by preseason All-Big 12 selection Quandre Diggs and Duke Thomas, who had two picks last weekend -- are better equipped than most Big 12 teams to deal with Baylor’s prolific array of wide receivers.

“They always play good defense, and this year is no exception,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “That’s always what you’ve seen from their staff and it’s something you expect.”

The Baylor and Oklahoma offenses have been exceptional so far. But their playoff mettle is about to be tested.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
10:00
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video 
Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU and Kansas State all scored victories over the weekend, but Kansas seemed to be the big story, as the Jayhawks lost head coach Charlie Weis, who was fired after compiling a 6-22 record and earning only one win against a Power 5 school in three seasons.

What will this mean for recruiting? Currently, the Jayhawks have 13 commits in the 2015 class, and while the consensus is still committed, the idea of exploring other options is a definite. Find out more about Kansas and the rest of Big 12 recruiting with these highlights.

Week 6 playoff implications

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
9:30
AM ET
Claim your spot on the couch now. Reserve your table at your favorite sports bar. Buy another TV. Do whatever you gotta do to make sure you don't miss a snap Saturday because this is going to be a good one.

College football has been a well-kept secret so far, as it has been hiding the true identities of teams. Not this week. It's time to play or go home. There are six games between ranked teams. Of the 17 undefeated teams remaining, eight play against each other this week. It's the most relevant weekend the sport has had in regard to the new College Football Playoff.

Here are the games you can't miss, ranked from least to most likely to affect the playoff:

No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame -- Stanford already has one loss, and this is the second straight road trip for the Cardinal. If Stanford loses again, its playoff hopes will be in serious jeopardy but not over, given that it could still win the conference. This game should reveal more about Notre Dame's place in the playoff, as it will be the first ranked opponent for the Irish.

No. 4 Oklahoma at No. 25 TCU -- ESPN's Football Power Index gives Oklahoma a 64 percent chance to win and predicts this to be Oklahoma's hardest remaining game -- slightly more difficult than Nov. 8 against Baylor. If the Sooners can't handle TCU, they'll be on the outside looking in.

No. 15 LSU at No. 5 Auburn -- LSU gave Auburn its only regular-season loss the past year, but LSU has already lost to Mississippi State, which put the Tigers behind in the SEC West race. Considering the rest of LSU's schedule -- and the hole it's already in -- this is a must-win. For Auburn, this is a chance to erase some doubts and make a push from the bubble into the top four.

No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 12 Mississippi State -- Two terrific quarterbacks will be on display in the Aggies' Kenny Hill and the Bulldogs' Dak Prescott, who both rank in the top 10 in total QBR. A&M's stock dropped a bit this past week after it needed overtime to beat Arkansas, but it could be a top-four team if it can survive the state of Mississippi the next two weeks.

No. 3 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss -- This is the most interesting matchup of the day. Alabama ranks third in offensive efficiency, and Ole Miss ranks second in defensive efficiency. Neither team has played a ranked opponent, so there is still some margin for error, but the Tide have a chance to separate from the crowded West.

No. 19 Nebraska at No. 10 Michigan State -- Surprise. The game with the biggest playoff implications is not in the SEC West. This Big Ten matchup could knock Sparty out of the playoff entirely. It's one thing to lose to Oregon; it's another to try to make the four-team playoff with two losses and your best win coming over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Conversely, a win in East Lansing could vault the Huskers into the playoff conversation. They're the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten, and the toughest game left on their schedule is against No. 17 Wisconsin. If Nebraska pulls off the upset, it's time to take it seriously as a playoff team.

Planning for success: Texas Tech

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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In its 20-14 loss to Auburn two weeks ago, Kansas State missed three field goals, squandered a red zone opportunity with an interception and fumbled deep in its own territory.

But even in that mistake-filled game, the Wildcats didn’t commit a single penalty, a trademark of Bill Snyder-coached teams.

This weekend, Texas Tech will travel to Manhattan as the most-penalized team in the country so far this season. The Red Raiders have averaged 105.5 penalty yards a game, which is a major reason why they’re off to a sluggish 2-2 start in Kliff Kingsbury's second season.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsKliff Kingsbury's Red Raiders will be at a major disadvantage if they don't clean up their penalty issues against the disciplined Wildcats.
K-State, meanwhile, once again is the least penalized team in the Big 12. So for Tech to have any chance of knocking off the Wildcats and putting its season back on track, it has to shed the penalty bug before arriving in Manhattan.

“We'll just keep addressing them and keep trying to get better,” Kingsbury said Monday. “A lot of it is technique, fundamentals. I think they're playing hard but not always smart. So we've got to keep coaching and that's on us as a staff to get that straightened out.”

Kingsbury has been saying the same for weeks, to no avail.

In a 45-35 loss at Oklahoma State last Thursday, the Red Raiders were flagged 16 times for 158 yards. Twice, that directly took points off the board. Jakeem Grant had a kickoff return for a touchdown nullified by a holding call. The Red Raiders also lost an opportunity for a field goal try after a delay of game penalty bumped them from field goal range. Those 10 points wound up being the margin in the loss.

“We've got to be tougher coaching-wise, then when they're out there, they've got to execute it or we've got to find guys that can,” Kingsbury said. “But to do that against anybody, you're not going to win the game, to have 16 penalties.

“That's something we'll have to improve on dramatically this week against a team that's known for not making mistakes.”

K-State traditionally has feasted on opponents that beat themselves. That included the Red Raiders in Lubbock last season.

Tech had 11 more first downs than the Wildcats. The Red Raiders produced 92 more yards of offense. And they converted more than 50 percent of their third-down attempts.

But Tech was never really in the game and got demolished 49-26, thanks to 10 penalties and three turnovers.

“Penalties are going to happen in the game of football, but the way we've been having them around here in bunches and 15yarders is unacceptable,” said receiver Bradley Marquez. “We've put emphasis on this from the offseason. We've tried everything. We've done a lot of different things for it.”

The Red Raiders would get a major boost if quarterback Davis Webb is able to play this weekend after suffering an injury to his non-throwing shoulder against Oklahoma State. Webb, who is coming off his best game of the season, threw for 374 yards and four touchdowns. Yet even with Webb's sparkling performance, penalties doomed the Red Raiders in Stillwater. And even if Webb is able to play, penalties will doom Tech in Manhattan, too, if not corrected.

“Kansas State is a team that's not going to hurt themselves and they've done that over the years,” Marquez said. “They've had great discipline. They execute, and they have great technique, and they don't have those penalties.

“So we'll definitely have to go out there and play as mistake-free as possible to give ourselves a chance. I don't know what can be done about it. It just comes down to the individual and being able to go out there and not commit these mistakes. We're still trying to figure it out, but it definitely needs to change.”

Big 12 morning links

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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In case you went to bed early: Tom Brady got benched, the Raiders need a coach and Michigan needs some better PR.
  • We've reached the end of Baker Mayfield's fight to become eligible for Oklahoma this season, and as you can imagine, the Mayfield family is not too thrilled. In an interview with The Oklahoman, Mayfield's father called Kliff Kingsbury a "scoundrel" who is "hellbent on punishing Baker." Strong words, eh? James Mayfield did more finger-pointing in this interview with the Tulsa World, too. To his credit, Kingsbury has publicly taken the high road throughout this ordeal. The Mayfields are entitled to their disappointment, but it's the NCAA that rejected their waiver and it's the NCAA that empowers coaches to dictate transfer stipulations.
  • Is TCU ready to win the big one? That's the argument that Mac Engel of the Fort Worth-Star Telegram makes in this column, which offers reasons why the Horned Frogs have a chance to at least go 1-1 in their back-to-back games with Oklahoma and Baylor. TCU has never led against OU the past two years but has lost by a combined 10 points. Gary Patterson knew it'd take three to five years to build up TCU's roster into Big 12-caliber. This is year three, and he's got the big fellas up front now to compete.
  • What's Texas Tech going to do at quarterback this week? Davis Webb remains a game-time decision with his left shoulder injury, and don't expect Kingsbury to tip his hand until the end of the week or game day against Kansas State. Bill Snyder says he'll prepare for the possibility of facing Webb and freshman Patrick Mahomes. If the rookie has to make his first start, Tech will be able to add more QB run wrinkles to its offense. Just getting Mahomes some confidence and a lot of reps this week should be beneficial no matter who starts.
  • What should Dana Holgorsen and West Virginia expect from a Kansas team with a new coach this weekend? Good question. Hogorsen says he'll prepare assuming that KU is trying to maintain status quo, which is probably wise. The coordinators are still intact, and trying to overhaul much this week would probably be fruitless after what these coaches and players have already been through. Still, for what it's worth, I think you'll see a different energy from KU on Saturday and a team with renewed motivation.
  • Paul Rhoads' biggest concern about his Iowa State team through four games: The Cyclones haven't been able to run the ball as they'd expected. ISU ranks 110th nationally in rushing at 102.2 yards per game and its backs combined for 28 yards against Baylor. The blame is being placed on the blocking, but that's on everyone. Sam B. Richardson has been effective as a run threat, but Iowa State can't hang with most teams in this league if it can't pound the rock.
The last time any excitement surrounded Kansas football, Mark Mangino was hoisting the Orange Bowl trophy.

Clint Bowen was around for that moment, as Mangino's defensive coordinator.

[+] EnlargeClint Bowen
Orlin Wagner/AP PhotoInterim head coach Clint Bowen said on Monday of the Jayhawks' program: "People that know football, they know that this is an unbelievable job."
And now, as the Jayhawks' interim head coach, he hopes to rekindle some of that passion in the program.

"I feel like we have a way of operating that is proven successful at the University of Kansas," said Bowen, during his introductory news conference Monday. "I've seen the blueprint before here."

It's been awhile since that blueprint was in effect.

The Jayhawks fired Charlie Weis on Sunday morning, just a little more than two years after letting go of Turner Gill.

During the Weis and Gill eras, the losses have piled up. Forty-one of them, in fact, in just over four seasons.

The quarterback play has been dreadful, Saturday's 23-0 loss to Texas notwithstanding in which Montell Cozart threw four interceptions.

As a result, the crowds have dwindled away, too, with Kansas' average attendance falling a Big 12-worst 8 percent last year, and on track to drop even farther this season.

With all hope seemingly vanished, Kansas finally bit a $7.5 million bullet and elected to part with Weis.

But Monday, Bowen painted a different picture of Kansas football.

"Anyone that would consider this a stepping stone job is an idiot," Bowen said. "This is a destination job. I've heard people say that before and I always defend it. Anyone that knows anything about Kansas, talking to coaches in this business, people understand that this is a sleeping giant of a program. You have an unbelievable community, you have an unbelievable university, you've got all the resources available to have a successful football program and all the support from the administration. People that know football, they know that this is an unbelievable job."

Kansas might not be a destination job at the moment. But if anyone can breathe optimism into Kansas football on an interim basis this season, it might be Bowen. He grew up in Lawrence. He played at Kansas. Has coached at Kansas off and on for 16 years since the late 1990s.

"The University of Kansas has given me so much in my life personally," Bowen said. "I've never known a day in my life that I wasn't a KU football fan. I grew up a Lawrence guy, grew up going to KU football games, so to be standing here today is truly one of the greatest honors I've ever had in my life."

Bowen shared a personal anecdote that underscored his passion for the program.

While a graduate assistant at Kansas, Bowen was on a date with his future wife at an ice cream parlor.

"I was trying to impress her a little bit and she said, 'What are you going to be in life?'" he recalled. "'Well, I'm going to be the head football coach at Kansas.'"

Bowen has his work cut out for him. The Kansas defense has played admirably the past two weeks. But the Jayhawks have been abysmal offensively, scoring a combined three points in losses in Duke and Texas. Through the Weis and Gill eras, the Jayhawks have ranked dead last in the Big 12 in scoring, including this season.

But Bowen has seen firsthand Kansas football succeed before.

He was a defensive back for Glen Mason in the early 1990s, and graduated the year before Mason led Kansas to a 10-2 record and a trip to the Aloha Bowl.

After several years as a Kansas assistant, Mangino tabbed Bowen to be his defensive coordinator in 2007. That season, the Jayhawks went 12-1, won the Orange Bowl and featured the nation's No. 12-ranked defense. The offense was prolific, as well, behind under-recruited quarterback Todd Reesing.

"My mind, right now, is 100 percent on giving the players in this program -- the seniors, the guys that have been here, the guys that have worked so hard -- the best possible opportunity they can have for success," Bowen said. "To show appreciation for the people that came before them, from the way to go out and work, the way to go out and represent yourself in the community, the way to practice, the way to be physical and tough -- the core elements.

"We have nine weeks to not only help these seniors get out of here with a successful season, but also start to instill in those younger players what this program is going to be about in the future."
AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong knew his Texas team would be an underdog against No. 7 Baylor. He hadn't heard how badly Vegas is doubting his team this week.

"They're really good," Strong said of Baylor on Monday. "I don't know, what's the spread? How big is it?"

A couple touchdowns, he was told. In fact, the line has already moved from 13.5 to 16.

Strong looked down and raised his eyebrows. Then he had to grin and laugh.

"Wow, there's something," he said. "They deserve every bit of it!"

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
AP Photo/Bill WippertBryce Petty and the unbeaten Baylor Bears will play at Texas in a marquee Week 6 matchup.
If Baylor was looking for more good bulletin-board material, Strong did indeed disappoint on Monday. The Longhorns' first-year coach had nothing but praise for Baylor's No. 1-ranked offense during his weekly news conference. If anything, he offered admiration as a veteran defensive guru for what this prolific offense has put on tape.

"It's almost like watching a video game," Strong said.

Strong isn't one to cling to the underdog mentality -- he was a double-digit dog just four times as head coach at Louisville -- but he'll take anything he can get this week as he prepares his defense for the Bears' onslaught.

"We're going to have to play really well," he said. "We will have to play really well to be in the ballgame."

He's seen the numbers -- Baylor's nation-leading 56.8 points and 641 yards per game -- and he's seen the film. Texas has a top-20 defense thus far, both in scoring and yardage, but Strong admitted coming up with ways to slow down this particular offense is "going to keep us up at night." Especially when it comes to disrupting Bryce Petty.

"He's the leader of that team, he releases the ball and hasn't taken any sacks," Strong said. "He's just so heady and he knows exactly where to put it."

Strong said he's reminded of former Heisman Trophy winner Danny Weurffel when he watches Petty run the show, citing "just how smart he is and where he places the ball. He doesn't make mistakes with the football."

As for the loaded group of Baylor receivers, what impresses Strong isn't just their explosiveness and big-play capability. He's noticed strategies on tape that he'd never seen before.

"It's amazing to watch them," Strong said. "You can watch one side (of the field) and the receivers do nothing, they don't run off the ball and they stop. They'll work you to the front side. It's almost like, ‘Stop us. The ball is coming over here and we're just seeing if you're good enough to go cover us and stop us.'"

Though Strong has never faced Art Briles in his career, he's quick to recognize the system's intent: Exploit mismatches, cause confusion, blend inside power and outside speed and do it all as fast as possible.

And few defenses handled that attack in 2013 as well as Texas did, at least in the first half.

Baylor finished with 3 points through two quarters despite 232 total yards. The Longhorns forced three punts. The Bears had two missed field goals. They had a tied ballgame at the half. But Texas couldn't finish, and didn't have the firepower on offense to keep up despite holding Baylor to 30 points that night.

Strong doesn't know how many points it'll take to beat Baylor this time. He just knows his offense, averaging 21.3 points per game, isn't ready for a high-scoring affair.

"We can't get into a track meet, and we know that as a staff," Strong said. "There's no way. We can't generate the points to get into a track meet."

It's a 'new day' at Oklahoma

September, 29, 2014
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The headlines have gone to the guys with the ball in their hands as running backs Keith Ford, Samaje Perine and Alex Ross have each displayed their big-play ability at various times for Oklahoma.

But the Sooners' offensive line has been a foundation of Oklahoma's success on offense, paving the way for a balanced offensive attack that averages 6.92 yards per play, ranking second in the Big 12 behind Baylor. Oklahoma is averaging 222.8 rushing yards and 272.3 passing yards in four games this season.

At the heart of the Sooners’ success is second-year offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, who has helped transform the offensive line into one of the top units in the Big 12. Bedenbaugh left West Virginia after the 2012 season to take over Oklahoma's offensive line and instilled his mindset immediately.

"You can feel the intensity when he walks in the room and he demanded that out of us," guard Adam Shead said. "It [his hiring] was a pretty big deal, you knew he was serious about being physical. When he walked in he said, 'You may not play with the best technique, you might mess up some plays, but you’re going to play hard, you’re going to play physical.' And that’s something he’s always demanded of us."

Playing physical was nothing new in Norman, Oklahoma -- the Sooners have always aimed to be physical under Bob Stoops.

"There’s a difference, but Oklahoma football is Oklahoma football," Shead said.

Nonetheless, Bedenbaugh brought a different focus to the table. He wanted his group to be physical technicians, to combine their physical dominance with technical efficiency.

"It started with the technique," tackle Daryl Williams said. "We were already physical, we just didn’t know, technique-wise, how to block them. He really helped us with that.”

The results have been clear. The Sooners 5.9 yards per carry average leads the Big 12 and ranks No. 16 in the nation. In its first four contests, 522 of Oklahoma's 891 rushing yards have come before contact, ranking second in the Big 12.

Since Bedenbaugh arrived in 2013, Oklahoma sits atop the Big 12 in yards per carry (5.35), rushing yards before contact (2,517) and rushing yards per carry before contact (3.5). The yards before contact per carry is particularly impressive, as the conference average is nearly a full yard less (2.57) during the past two seasons.

"It’s a new day and age," Shead said. "We want to play smash mouth football."

Big 12 recruiting scoreboard

September, 29, 2014
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Below is our weekly update on the Big 12 recruiting trail:

BAYLOR

Total commits: 12
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Bears didn't land a recruit this past week, but plenty of Lone Star State prospects will be paying attention to Baylor’s trip to Austin. The Bears have been winning recruiting battles for the state top’s talent, and they have a chance to make another statement on the field.

IOWA STATE

Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones landed a commitment for the first time in more than a month in Kissimmee, Florida, cornerback Stephon Brown, who had offers from NC State, Hawaii, Marshall, South Florida and Southern Miss.

KANSAS

Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The first order of business for interim coach Clint Bowen was calling all of Kansas’ commitments Sunday and telling them they are still wanted in Lawrence. Despite his troubles on the field, Charlie Weis had put together another decent recruiting class that Bowen needs to hold together.

KANSAS STATE

Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats have been quiet on the trail lately, after landing seven commitments from June to August. More will be on the way once Bill Snyder figures out which junior-college players he wants to target in this class.

OKLAHOMA

Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 6
The latest: The Sooners landed their third commitment in the month of September in McAlester, Oklahoma, tight end Dalton Wood, who jones Midwest City safety Will Sunderland and Jenks defensive tackle Marquise Overton as Oklahoma's three in-state commitments.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 4
The latest: The Pokes pulled off one of the better recruiting steals of the year last week in convincing ESPN 300 safety Kevin Henry to flip from LSU to OSU. Henry had been committed to the Tigers, where he projected as a safety/linebacker since January but started reconsidering his other options in July. Henry joins WR Jalen McCleskey as the second Louisiana recruit in OSU's class.

TCU

Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: No new pledges for the Horned Frogs this week, but they get a chance to impress visitors this Saturday when Oklahoma comes to Fort Worth. One TCU commit worth keeping an eye on is WR J.F. Thomas, the Frogs' highest-rated pledge. He received an offer from Texas recently, and two of his Dallas South Oak Cliff teammates -- Jamile Johnson and Jordan Stevenson -- are already committed to UT.

TEXAS

Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 8
The latest: Texas picked up a pledge from Austin Westlake LB Breckyn Hager, a three-star recruit who was committed to Baylor. The previous staff passed on Baylor's Bryce Hager in 2010, even though he's the son of Texas all-time leading tackler Britt Hager. Stevenson, who committed nearly a year ago, took an official visit to Wisconsin this weekend but remains solid with Texas.

TEXAS TECH

Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Red Raiders' staff made an intriguing find in East Texas last week. Longview's Broderick Washington committed soon after he received his Texas Tech offer. He's playing offensive tackle right now for Longview, but Tech loves his toughness and mean style of play and plans to develop him as a nose guard at the next level.

WEST VIRGINIA

Total commits: 19
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: West Virginia locked up a huge commitment last Monday when ESPN 300 CB Tyrek Cole flipped from Florida State. You don't see that too often. WVU defensive line coach Damon Cogdell coached Cole at Miramar High School in Florida last year. The Mountaineers also received a commitment from three-star ILB David Long on Sunday. This 2015 class is in terrific shape so far.

Big 12 FPI rankings: Week 5

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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ESPN's Football Power Index is a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team's performance going forward for the rest of the season. Every week, ESPN will be updating its FPI to compile a ranking based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date and the remaining schedule.

Oklahoma didn't play this weekend but still climbed into the top four of the FPI rankings this week. The Sooners took over the No. 4 spot that Georgia held last week after the Bulldogs dropped to eighth. The top three ranked ahead of OU -- Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn -- did not change.

Following their wins in Week 5, TCU and Texas both made noticeable jumps in the national ranks. The Horned Frogs moved ahead of Oklahoma State and up seven spots to No. 22 with their 56-0 win at SMU. Their chances of winning the Big 12 nearly tripled from 3.3 percent to 9.8 percent. The computers have enough respect for TCU's start that the Frogs' wins projection went up nearly one full win to 8.9.

Texas, meanwhile, moved ahead of West Virginia and Kansas State and into the No. 30 spot nationally after its 23-0 shutout of Kansas. The Longhorns are still projected to finish 6-6. Oklahoma State's win over Texas Tech did not result in any movement in the FPI ranks, while the Red Raiders moved up two spots.

Here's how they and the rest of the Big 12 stack up entering Week 6.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 5

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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Taking stock of Week 5 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Baylor. Any time you go to Iowa State and come up with a win, it’s a big deal -- even if three teams have already done it now this season. Ames traditionally has not been an easy place to play, and Baylor made it look easy with a four-touchdown halftime lead on the way to a 49-28 win. The Bears dominated with 32 first downs and 601 yards of offense.

Disappointment of the week: Kansas. The Jayhawks played Texas tough its last trip to Lawrence, and had every opportunity to give the offensively challenged Longhorns another tough fight. Instead, Montell Cozart threw four interceptions, and Kansas squandered away every scoring opportunity in a 23-0 defeat. The lackluster performance was the final straw in the Charlie Weis era.

Big (offensive) man on campus: Corey Coleman. Baylor insiders had been touting the sophomore as the next great Baylor wide receiver during the offseason. But when Coleman suffered a preseason hamstring injury, true freshman K.D. Cannon stole that hype. Coleman got it back in Ames with a monster debut to the season. He had 12 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown, leading the Baylor scoring barrage.

Big (defensive) man on campus: James McFarland. Sure, SMU might be inept offensively. Really inept, in fact. Still, the TCU defensive end had a huge afternoon in the Horned Frogs’ 56-0 stomping of the Mustangs. McFarland finished with three of TCU’s nine sacks. It was a career-high for McFarland, and the most sacks for the Horned Frogs in a game since 2002. McFarland also forced two fumbles, and produced a pass-breakup on a fourth down at the TCU 1-yard line to preserve the shutout.

Special-teams player of the week: Tyler Lockett. Another game, another big day for K-State’s do-it-all playmaker. In a 58-28 win against UTEP, Lockett finished with 143 yards on punt returns, the second-most in school history and 29 short of tying the school record of 172 set by David Allen in 1998. Lockett also caught four passes for 84 yards. He now leads the country in punt return yards per game.

Play of the week: It’s not easy to fumble and throw an interception on the same play. But that is what happened to backup Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes in relief of injured starter Davis Webb. Early in the fourth quarter, Mahomes had the ball stripped away. He then scooped it up and tossed it to his right wildly as he was falling down. The ball deflected off running back Quinton White and into the arms of Seth Jacobs for an interception. The Cowboys scored four plays later to go up 45-28 and put the game away.

Stat of the week: Texas Tech was flagged 16 times for 158 yards in the 45-35 loss to Oklahoma State. As a result, the Red Raiders now lead the nation with 105.5 penalty yards per game.

Quote of the week: "We have not made the on-the-field progress we believe we should." -- Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger, on why he fired coach Charlie Weis.

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