Watch: Kansas State powered by walk-ons

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
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The unexpected leader of Big 12 football, Kansas State, has four out of five team captains who joined the team as walk-ons. ESPN's Holly Rowe explores the sacrifices these players made to get to where they are.

Watch: Kids reenact classic coaching rants

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
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It's Halloween, so that means we had three kids dress up as Mike Gundy, Les Miles and John L. Smith to reenact their famous press conferences. I'm a kid! I'm 4!

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Stats, sacrifices testing Texas DE Reed

October, 31, 2014
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AUSTIN, Texas -- After a couple games, it’s just a slow start. At midseason, a bit concerning. Three-fourths of the way through, it’s getting frustrating.

 Cedric Reed came back for his senior season at Texas to get his degree. He came back for the new coaches. He wanted a chance to leave the program in better shape. He wanted to improve on his 10 sacks as a junior. He wanted trophies and wanted to be an All-American.

The defensive end didn’t expect 1.5 sacks and five losses through eight games. He didn’t come back for that. And there’s nothing you can say about it that Reed hasn’t already thought himself.

“I beat myself up over it every night,” Reed said.

Have those senior-year numbers -- 37 tackles, four tackles for loss, two pass breakups, the sack and a half -- cost the preseason All-Big 12 end some pro money? “Yeah, definitely,” he says. Of course it’s crossed his mind. He knows who’s keeping score.

“It’s football, you know?” Reed said. “Stats got a lot to do with it. My stats aren’t there.”

There are a bunch of good reasons why, and Reed knows most people won’t understand them. Texas’ new defensive scheme has asked Reed to play a new role. He’s had to make sacrifices.

Nobody gives Reed credit, for example, for handling two gaps to clear room for linebackers Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond to rack up a dozen or more tackles, which they’ve done nine times this season. The stat sheet has no love for keeping a blocker off a ‘backer.

“We tell him go fall on a grenade for us,” defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said.

Reed is playing more on the field side and playing more 4-technique in an odd front this year. That’s a far cry from what was asked of him in 2013, when Reed teamed with end Jackson Jeffcoat, the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year. He’s taking on a guard and a tackle. He’s stopping the run more.

“There’s a lot of stuff that, on the outside looking in, it’s a little different,” Reed said. “I’m a team player. Always been a team player. I’ll do exactly what the coaches ask me to do.”

That’s not to say he hasn’t had chances. Texas’ manchild at defensive tackle, Malcom Brown, is the one playing like an All-American. Brown is getting double-teamed now. Texas still has a Big 12-leading 26 sacks as a unit. Reed is in backfield like everyone else. He’s just not getting his usual takedowns.

But look across the Big 12, Bedford says. The ball is coming out fast. Three-step drop, read and fire. The window for sacks closes quickly.

“So people are saying ‘Ced's not doing this, Ced's not doing that.’ When we sit and watch the video, the ball is out quick and he's not going to get the sack,” Bedford said. “Sometimes we need to cover better in the back end. That's all part of it.”

The nuances behind Reed’s quiet senior campaign, while helpful, don’t bring him much peace. They can quell some of the disappointment, but not his impatience. Not with four games left in his career at Texas and no guarantee of a fifth.

“I’m used to having high numbers and high stats, and sometimes football can really humble you,” Reed said. “You’re not always going to perform the way you want to. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t performed the way I used to.”

Last December, Reed explored the possibility of going pro. He would’ve needed a guarantee of going in the first three rounds. That’s not what draft evaluations projected. Considering Jeffcoat and every other Longhorn went undrafted, perhaps Reed dodged a bullet. Doesn't feel like it now.

There’s still a market for 6-foot-5, 272-pound defensive linemen at the next level. Reed would be lying if he said he doesn’t wonder how NFL scouts perceive him now. His coaches continue to have his back.

“I would hope that he wouldn't beat himself up,” Bedford said. “Over the last couple of games, he's done a good job for us. Kansas State was probably his best game of the season.”

The next one offers another chance to start changing the story of his season. And fortunately for Reed, Texas Tech’s quarterback will either be an injured and immobile Davis Webb or a dual-threat true freshman, Patrick Mahomes.

The rookie who’s never started sounds just fine to the pass rusher who’s never been hungrier.

“I’d love to see him in there,” Reed said. “A freshman, Halloween [weekend], against Texas -- that’d be great.”

Happy Halloween in the Big 12

October, 31, 2014
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Happy Halloween, everybody. We've got a fun-sized treat for you. Last year, we compared Big 12 coaches and players to horror movie villains. This time around, we've come up with the Halloween candy that we think best represents each Big 12 team.

[+] EnlargeEverlasting Gobstoppers, Gobstoppers
Casey Rodgers/AP ImagesEverlasting Gobstoppers are an unconventional candy, and Art Briles has built an unconventional power at Baylor.
Baylor: Gobstoppers. Just hear me out. Art Briles, with his affinity for inventive offense and giving players silly nicknames, is the Willy Wonka of the Big 12. He's turning Baylor into a factory. One of Wonka's better inventions has been the Gobstopper: Brightly colored, tart, and sweet with a tough core. It's a candy that lasts far longer than you expected.

Iowa State: Candy corn. Who doesn't love candy corn? Who doesn't love Paul Rhoads? Not totally sure what they're made of besides sugar, but still tasty. Might pull an upset or two but won't win a lot of head-to-head matchups in a kid's basket. It's still perfectly acceptable from year to year, though.

Kansas: 3 Musketeers. One of those candies that's always in your bucket, but not one that many people covet. Same shape and chocolate shell as its competitors, but with a fluffy, whipped interior. Like Kansas football, I'm sure that the 3 Musketeers has a small but fiercely loyal fanbase that believes this bar gets wrongly overlooked.

Kansas State: Apple. A treat so good they nicknamed their city after it. Healthy, affordable alternative that always gets more out of its natural sugars than most candies do from artificial sweeteners. Even better when paired with the warmth of caramel like Bill Snyder, the Werther's Original of coaches.

Oklahoma: Snickers. As they say, there's only one. This is high praise. Like OU, Snickers are a winner year after year, a traditional powerhouse. People keep assuming Bob Stoops will eventually get tired of Snickers and covet a candy bar with shinier wrapping. But you just don't walk away from something so reliable, well-built and tough to beat.

Oklahoma State: Black Forest Gummy Bears. Starting to become more recognized and readily available, and they're definitely solid. Still a way to go before they become a household name, but a certain segment of the population recognizes them as something special and different from any other gummy bear.

TCU: Take 5. The most complete candy bar, yet few people are properly aware or appreciative of it. A creation of adaptation, really. Lots of other candy bars have some of its ingredients, but adding an innovative pretzel crunch (the Frogs' new Air Raid offense) to its traditional combination of salty nuts with a smooth caramel/peanut buttery defense makes for one great flavor profile.

Texas: Protein bar. Sorry, Charlie Strong took away all the Longhorns' candy when he took over, as candy can make you soft. "No candy" is secretly the sixth core value. Texas is trying to get back to the days of being Reese's or some other nationally respected candy, but for now, eat those protein bars and get stronger. They might not taste that good (like this 2014 season), but they're good for you.

Texas Tech: Payday. Kliff Kingsbury got a nice one before the season, and now everyone thinks they're nuts. Get it? We're just teasing you, Red Raiders. A more fitting choice might've been Butterfingers. A lot of people love them, but they're a bit messier than you think -- kinda like Texas Tech's turnover and penalty problems.

West Virginia: Hershey's Special Dark. Just the right combination of sweet and bitter, an underrated candy that's fueled by caffeine. A lot of caffeine: 31 milligrams, about as much as a can of Coca-Cola. Just so you know, Dana: Consuming five of these bars would be nearly the equivalent of two Red Bulls. Let's be honest, though: Pixy Stix are the real Red Bull of kids' candy.

Latest Dish: Five things I learned

October, 31, 2014
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Here are five things I learned in college football this week:

1. Florida State doesn’t look like the team that won a BCS national championship last season. It looks more like the Auburn team that lost to the Seminoles in the last BCS National Championship game.

To win a national title in the past, or now reach the four-team College Football Playoff, a team is going to need more than a few good breaks along the way. FSU seems to be getting them every week, just like Auburn did last season.

The Seminoles beat Clemson 23-17 in overtime on Sept. 20 because the Tigers fumbled the ball -- and a golden opportunity for an upset -- at FSU’s 14-yard line in the final two minutes of regulation.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJameis Winston and Florida State are getting the breaks needed to reach the College Football Playoff.
On Oct. 18, FSU defeated Notre Dame 31-27 because the Irish were penalized for offensive pass interference on a pick play, wiping out a go-ahead touchdown pass from Everett Golson to Corey Robinson in the final moments.

Then on Thursday night, the No. 2 Seminoles trailed No. 25 Louisville 21-0 in the final minutes of the first half on the road. FSU tailback Karlos Williams fumbled near the goal line, but tight end Nick O'Leary recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, giving the Seminoles a manageable 21-7 deficit heading into the locker room.

On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Louisville safety Gerod Holliman intercepted Jameis Winston's pass. But Winston chased down Holliman, knocked the ball loose and FSU’s Travis Rudolph recovered the fumble.

The Seminoles scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 42-31 win, their 24th victory in a row.

"We’ve been there before," Winston said. "Being down is nothing when you’ve got heart and you persevere. Personally, we play better when we’re down, honestly."

2. Georgia fans have every right to be upset that the NCAA didn’t reduce star tailback Todd Gurley's four-game suspension, which will keep him sidelined for Saturday’s game against Florida in Jacksonville, Florida, and next week’s road trip to Kentucky.

But Georgia fans shouldn’t be upset at the NCAA or the UGA administration. Gurley knew he was breaking NCAA rules when he accepted $3,000 to autograph helmets, footballs and other memorabilia. And it wasn’t a momentary lapse of judgment. According to the NCAA, Gurley was paid to autograph memorabilia for multiple dealers over the past two years.

Sure, the NCAA rules that prohibit players from receiving money for their autographs and likeness are out of date and need to be repealed. But Gurley knew the rules, and Georgia officials constantly educate their players about what they can and can’t do.

I have sympathy for Gurley, who grew up in a mobile home park in Tarboro, North Carolina. His mother struggled to make ends meet while raising Gurley and his siblings, and his family still doesn’t have much when it comes to material possessions. It doesn’t make much sense that Georgia and the NCAA can profit from his name, image and likeness, while he will have to sit four games for profiting from his own name.

At the end of the day, Gurley’s biggest flaw might have been his honesty about breaking the NCAA rules.

3. Don’t think the timing of Oklahoma freshman tailback Joe Mixon's guilty plea to avoid going to trial on charges that he punched a woman in the face in a bar on July 25 was coincidental.

By entering an Alford plea, which allows Mixon to continue asserting his innocence, his attorneys avoided making the videotape that showed Mixon punching a woman available to the media and public through state open records laws.

On Saturday, a new Oklahoma law, Senate Bill 2676, takes effect that would have required police to release the surveillance video from the bar where the incident took place. But since Mixon reached a deal with prosecutors before the law goes into effect, police in Norman, Oklahoma, are refusing to release the video to media.

Police allowed members of the media to view the tape but wouldn’t let them make copies. The original tape was returned to the bar owners on Thursday night and was destroyed, according to media reports.

Attorneys for the city of Norman say they still have a copy, after they were threatened with a lawsuit, but contend that that copy is not subject to release under transparency laws.

Oklahoma senator David Holt, who wrote the new law, told KOKH-TV in Oklahoma City that his intent was to increase transparency.

"I don’t even know that we need to say that, I thought that the intention of that was clear. That if you can look at it, you can copy it, especially in the day and age where we all have iPhones, we’re just one click away from copying a document," Holt said.

4. Winston threw a career-high three interceptions in Florida State’s win at Louisville, and his chances of repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner seem all but dead.

According to a Heismanology poll conducted by ESPN’s Joe Tessitore, Winston received only 4.5 percent of the available points in this week’s balloting -- and that was before he tossed three interceptions against the Cardinals.

After nine weeks of the season, it seems to be a two-man race between Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. According to Tessitore, they received 95 percent of the first- and second-place votes.

But there is still a lot of football to be played, and Tessitore notes that the last time two players received such a high percentage of the first- and second-place votes was 2012, when Kansas State quarterback Colin Klein and Oregon tailback Kenjon Barner were leading the voting. Of course, Texas A&M freshman Johnny Manziel ended up becoming the first freshman to win.

5. And, finally, the stat of the week from ESPN Stats & Info: Mississippi State is averaging a Power 5-high 188.6 rush yards per game inside the tackles. Prescott and Josh Robinson are two of four Power 5 players who have run for at least 500 yards and seven touchdowns inside the tackles.

Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 10

October, 31, 2014
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All eyes will be on Milan Puskar Stadium in Week 10 as TCU and West Virginia battle to put themselves in prime position to win the conference in their third season as members. Kansas State hopes to strengthen its résumé against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma could face a tough task against Iowa State in Ames, Baylor hopes to shake off injury troubles against Kansas and Texas Tech against Texas could be a classic offense-defense battle.

Here are the storylines to watch in the Big 12 during Week 10:

No. 18 Oklahoma at Iowa State, noon ET (Fox Sports 1): This has the potential to be a scary game for an OU squad looking to rebound after two losses in three games. Iowa State's offense is finding its footing under offensive coordinator Mark Mangino after a season-high 45 points against Texas on Oct. 18. Tight end E.J. Bibbs, who leads all Big 12 tight ends with 32 receptions and six touchdowns, could cause problems for the Sooners' secondary. For Oklahoma, Trevor Knight will be looking to build on his performance against Kansas State, which included 318 passing yards, a 81.3 completion percentage and season-best 92.1 Adjusted QBR. Meanwhile the Sooners' defense will be looking to prove it's better than the 6.2 yards per play and the 2.11 points per drive it has allowed during conference games.

No. 7 TCU at No. 20 West Virginia, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN2): The Horned Frogs earned the distinction of the Big 12's top-ranked team in the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings and visits West Virginia on the heels of an 82-point outburst that was the talk of the Big 12. The Mountaineers feature a much-improved defense and one of the best quarterback-receiver duos in the nation with Clint Trickett and Kevin White. If TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin plans to cement his name in the Heisman race, this is the opportunity to do so with a Heisman moment or two and leading his team to victory over an explosive and confident Mountaineers' squad. It should be an exciting game to watch as Trickett and Boykin are the Big 12's most improved signal-callers, with their increase in Total QBR -- Boykin (plus-29.8, second) and Trickett (plus-27.3, fourth) -- ranking in the top four among Power 5 quarterbacks this season.

Kansas at No. 13 Baylor, 4 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1): Does Baylor have a problem looking up at TCU in the College Football Playoff rankings after it beat them head-to-head? If so, the matchup with the Jayhawks is BU's first chance to show the committee its No. 13 ranking is too low for the defending Big 12 champion. Quarterback Bryce Petty has watched TCU's Boykin and WVU's White sprint past him in the race to be the Big 12's most legitimate Heisman contender and is looking to regain the production that placed him among the preseason favorites. Petty has been uncharacteristically inconsistent in Big 12 play with Adjusted QBRs of 74.9, 19.5, 74.7 and 41.2 in four conference outings. Meanwhile, KU could make a strong statement in Clint Bowen's candidacy for the permanent head coaching gig with a shocking upset at McLane Stadium.

Texas at Texas Tech, 7:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1): Which team is more deflated? Texas is coming off a shutout loss to Kansas State, which included an average of 3.77 yards per play, the second-worst single game average in a conference game this season. Yet, there sits Texas Tech on the opposite end of the spectrum, having given up 9.13 yards per play in its 82-27 loss to TCU, the largest yards-per-play average allowed in conference play in 2014. Charlie Strong's team will lean on its defense to spark a tough road win, and the Red Raiders will count on Kliff Kingsbury's offense to outscore an subpar Texas attack. Should be fun to see who wins this battle of offensive and defensive minds.

Oklahoma State at No. 9 Kansas State, 8 p.m. ET (ABC): Oklahoma State is still chasing bowl eligibility and faces a difficult final stretch. To get a win in Manhattan, coach Mike Gundy must get more from an offense that has three combined touchdowns in its last three games. K-State knows this could be another win over a team with a winning record to add to the résumé after the Wildcats knocked off OU and UT in back-to-back weeks. With quarterback Jake Waters operating KSU's offense with efficient precision, KSU should feel good about extending its win streak to five before trips to TCU, West Virginia and Baylor in its final four games.

Big 12's top recruiting visits 

October, 31, 2014
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With five big games on tap Saturday, it could mean a memorable weekend for recruiting in the Big 12. Iowa State will host Oklahoma and Kansas will host Baylor, but there are three other games to watch where a player or two may decide their college destinations.

TCU at West Virginia

[+] EnlargeTim Settle
Tom Hauck/Student SportsTim Settle will be on his official visit to West Virginia as the Mountaineers play TCU.
The game could be considered a clash between the conference’s hottest two teams, but West Virginia could come out a double winner if everything works as planned. With "College GameDay" set to air in Morgantown this weekend, the Mountaineers will host several big-name players, including ESPN 300 defensive tackle Tim Settle, ESPN 300 athlete Jordan Cronkrite and four-star athlete Tim Irvin. Guard Jah'Shaun Seider and cornerback Antonio Howard, two three-star West Virginia commits, also will be in attendance -- most likely playing the role of player-recruiters during what is shaping out to be an important weekend.

Big 12 morning links

October, 31, 2014
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Happy Halloween, everyone be safe tonight!
  • All the ingredients are in place for TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin to be a Heisman Trophy contender, writes Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Gary Patterson, the Horned Frogs head coach, claims he's downplaying it to draw more attention to it but, quite frankly, Boykin will be the decider. His seven-touchdown game catapulted his name into the discussion, so if he continues to produce at a high level and TCU continues winning, he could emerge as a front runner for the award.
  • The lack of a championship game won't hurt the Big 12 when it comes to the College Football Playoff, writes Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star. It's been late losses by the Big 12's top team that has held the conference out of the national title conversation the past few seasons. I couldn't agree more with Kerkhoff. I just don't see a scenario where an undefeated Big 12 team gets left out of the top four, no matter what happens in other conferences.
  • Baylor's third down struggles have handicapped the Bears offense, writes John Werner of the Waco Tribune. As shocking as this seems, BU quarterback Bryce Petty is last in the Big 12 in third-down QBR at 26.4. Last season his 73.2 raw QBR on third down was fourth in the Big 12. It's another sign it's been a subpar senior season for Petty but the good news for Art Briles & Co. is Petty can rewrite the story of his senior season with a strong final stretch of the season.
  • Tom Keegan of KUsports.com has an under-the-radar candidate for Kansas' coaching vacancy in Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz. A long-time coach at Central Missouri, Fritz has some Kansas ties and is in the midst of a solid season at Georgia Southern. While I still think Clint Bowen is the right choice to take over full time, add another name to the list of candidates to watch in Lawrence.
  • West Virginia's defensive turnaround has been built on good communication and trust, writes Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail. The Mountaineers' defense is much improved but we'll see how much it has improved against TCU, the nation's top scoring offense. I'm expecting a lot of points from both offenses on Saturday, so the key will be good defense in clutch moments (i.e. third down and red zone) and WVU defenders winning their share of the one-on-one battles on Saturday. If they win those battles, I like WVU's chances to win the game.
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- The people sitting in Section 14 never needed a game program.

Because little Curry Sexton always knew all the Kansas State players. Knew their jersey numbers. Knew their stats.

"He knew everything about the game," said his father, Ted Sexton, who began taking his son to K-State games as a child. "Always soaked it all in."

[+] EnlargeCurry Sexton
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerCurry Sexton wears No. 14 to commemorate the section from which he cheered on K-State as a kid.
Once the smartest kid in Section 14, Curry Sexton is now the smartest player on the Bill Snyder Family Stadium field. At 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, the senior isn't the biggest. And with a time of 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash, he certainly isn't the fastest. But driven by his intelligence and knack for getting open at opportune moments, Sexton has filled a major role at slot receiver for the Wildcats, who remain in the thick of the Big 12 title and College Football Playoff races.

"His best asset is his knowledge," said Tyler Lockett, Sexton's cohort at receiver. "He knows how to get open, and every time we call on him to make a big play, he makes it."

With 40 receptions and 450 receiving yards, Sexton has surfaced as a much-needed secondary receiving target alongside Lockett for quarterback Jake Waters, who is Sexton's roommate. Thanks in part to Sexton's emergence, K-State ranks 23rd nationally in scoring, despite playing at a slower pace than most Big 12 offenses.

"I'm not flashy. I'm not big. Nothing about me really sticks out," Sexton said. "But I pride myself on being reliable and being in the right place."

Sexton has been in the right place all season. But before that, he had to decide if K-State was the right place for him.

Sexton grew up on a wheat, soybean and alfalfa farm in Abilene, Kansas, a 45-minute drive from Manhattan. His capacity for football knowledge at an early age wowed everyone, including John Dorsey, his uncle who is the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs. When Sexton was 10, Dorsey was at the Sexton farm helping with the annual harvest and casually mentioned a Florida State player he was considering drafting.

"Curry immediately rattled off all his statistics, and John was like, 'My gosh, Curry knows more about this kid than I do, and this is my job,'" Ted Sexton recalled.

That acumen didn't stop with football. Curry excelled in the classroom as well. His grades, combined with his savvy on the field, drew the interest of the Ivy League.

The boy from Abilene was accepted into Harvard, Columbia and Princeton, which all offered the chance to play football, too.

"We were kind of sold on Harvard," Ted said. "They were telling him, 'Curry, come here, get your degree from here and you can go anywhere in the world -- and you won't have to ask how much they're paying, you'll tell them what you're going to make.'"

But a Harvard education wasn't really what Sexton coveted. He wanted to be a coach, or possibly even follow in his uncle's footsteps with scouting or football personnel.

On New Year's Eve of his senior year, his dream school finally called. Bill Snyder offered Sexton a scholarship, with the caveat he'd have to grayshirt, meaning he'd have to wait a year before he could enroll and join the K-State football team.

"I felt like coming to K-State would be a better learning experience if I wanted to go into coaching," Sexton said. "I didn't feel like Harvard would have benefited me as much as learning from this staff."

Harvard's education might be world-renowned, but the Crimson couldn't offer a professor like Snyder.

"He wanted to coach," Ted said. "Who better to learn from than Bill Snyder?"

The decision to spurn the Ivy League and grayshirt didn't come without angst. While away that first year, Sexton passed the time taking community college classes and helping his father at the farm. He worked out at a local rec center and at his former high school with younger brother Collin (who went on to play for K-State, too) and cousin Cody Whitehair, now the Wildcats' starting left tackle.

"It was tough," Sexton said. "When you're not part of the team, you wonder, do they really want you there?"

But Snyder had a track record of turning grayshirts into starters, giving Sexton the fortitude he needed. And that perseverance has paid off five years later in Sexton's senior season.

Wearing No. 14 in honor of the section he sat in all those years, he has become K-State's secret weapon.

He recorded 11 receptions against Auburn, and he snagged an acrobatic one-handed touchdown in the Wildcats' rout of Texas Tech.

Two weeks ago, he delivered a critical third-down catch to help K-State run out the clock and beat Oklahoma. Then, last weekend, his 24-yard grab on third-and-long propelled K-State to its first touchdown in a win over Texas.

"Curry is a very astute player," Snyder said. "He is very knowledgeable. He runs excellent routes; he's really good about deciphering defenses.

"Kind of like a quarterback out there."

When this season ends, Sexton wants to begin his football career off the field. He double-majored in business and marketing and has a minor in leadership studies, the degree Snyder championed into existence at K-State.

Until then, Sexton wants to help the team he cheered from Section 14 win another championship.

"Never once have I said I wish I was at Harvard, and I don't think I ever will," Sexton said. "This is where I always wanted to be."

Oklahoma State at Kansas State primer

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Kansas State debuted at No. 9 in the College Football Playoff Rankings. They have a chance to boost their résumé at home on Saturday against Oklahoma State, a team that's dropped from No. 15 to unranked in the polls after back-to-back losses.

Brandon Chatmon and Max Olson break down the key Big 12 matchup in Manhattan:

How Oklahoma State can earn the upset: Get back to its defensive roots. The Cowboys' defense has been better than anticipated, especially considering the youth on that side of the football. Yet forced turnovers, OSU’s bread-and-butter, have been missing. After averaging 2.5 forced turnovers per game during the past four seasons, OSU is averaging one per game in 2014. If the Cowboys force two or three turnovers, which won’t be easy, against Kansas State, then the Pokes will have a chance of leaving Manhattan with a W. -- Chatmon

How Kansas State can control the game: The Wildcats have won 44 straight games when leading at halftime, and they're scoring more far points in the second quarter than in any other quarter this season. They've become adept at setting the tone in all three phases and making teams play games their way. With a healthier Jake Waters, that should be even easier this week. The way K-State manhandled Texas up front last week made a huge difference, too. -- Olson

Oklahoma State’s X factor: Receiver James Washington has the talent to be a game-changer if the Cowboys can find a way to get him the ball. His competitiveness and ball skills could make him the next great receiver but inexperience at quarterback and along the offensive line have combined to limit his impact. But it only takes a few plays to change the game and Washington has the talent to make it happen. -- Chatmon

Kansas State's X factor: Turnovers! The great equalizer and game-changer in any close ballgame. Kansas State has been superb on this front in Big 12 play: Four games, one turnover, eight takeaways. One of the best turnover margins in conference play in FBS. Keep that trend going and KSU is going to be awfully tough to beat. -- Olson

What a win would mean for Oklahoma State: The Cowboys would become bowl eligible with games against Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma remaining. It would be a clear sign Mike Gundy’s inexperienced squad is maturing and, most importantly, learning from the setbacks that have shaped the past two weeks. -- Chatmon

What a win would mean for Kansas State: TCU and Baylor get all the attention, but don't forget that K-State sits alone atop the Big 12 standings. The Wildcats would improve to 5-0 in Big 12 play with three ranked teams still left on their slate. And all three of those games are on the road. The Wildcats must get good home wins and momentum however they can. -- Olson

Big 12 players in Week 10 spotlight

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A closer look at eight players who have a chance to shine this week:

TCU WR Emanuel Porter: If Josh Doctson isn't able to play, Porter is in line to start. Even if Doctson, Boykin's go-to receiver, plays but is limited, you'll see a lot more from the true freshman, whose route-running and blocking earned praise this week. He scored his first career TD last week. He'll get another this week at West Virginia.

Kansas CB JaCorey Shepherd: His biggest supporters say Shepherd is quietly having an All-Big 12 caliber season. Time to prove it against Baylor and the best group of receivers in the conference. They will test his speed and smarts. Here's a great chance for Shepherd to make a statement.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Brown
AP Photo/Michael ThomasMalcolm Brown is due for his first 100-yard game of the season.
Baylor QB Bryce Petty: In his three October games, Petty had an average QBR of 51.5. He had some real ups and downs, and then a bye week to correct and move forward. We'll see the sharp, poised, all-conference caliber quarterback return to form this week against the Jayhawks.

Texas RB Malcolm Brown: Texas was supposed to have one of the best running games in the Big 12, but still hasn't had a 100-yard rusher this season. Texas Tech has the second-worst run defense among Power 5 conference teams. So now would be a pretty good week for Brown and Johnathan Gray to change that trend.

West Virginia WR Kevin White: We have no reason to ever list him here, really, as he's constantly breaking out. But how will White respond after the first quiet game of his stellar season? You know Gary Patterson will have a good plan for slowing down the league's top receiver.

Oklahoma State RB Desmond Roland: After a nice five-game stretch in which he put up 447 rushing yards and six TDs, Roland was limited to 37 yards on 12 carries in the loss to West Virginia. Daxx Garman is going to need major help from Roland and Tyreek Hill to keep the Kansas State defense honest.

Iowa State WR D'Vario Montgomery: He's hauled in nine catches in each of his last two games after a slow start to the season. You can't really send bracket coverage his way, either, with how Allen Lazard and E.J. Bibbs are playing. But can Montgomery burn the Sooners secondary?

Kansas State DB Randall Evans: Dante Barnett earned player-of-the-week honors, but Evans was just as good against Texas. The Wildcats' secondary doesn't get a lot of hype, but they have some playmakers who will give Oklahoma State's Garman fits.

VIDEO: Future For Trevor Knight

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
1:00
PM ET
video

Given the highs and lows of Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight already, what does the future hold for the Sooners’ signal-caller?
Things aren’t pretty at Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys' hopes for bowl eligibility rest on the shoulders of a inexperienced quarterback, a young and inexperienced offensive line and a secondary full of youngsters.

After a 5-1 start, the Cowboys have lost back-to-back games, falling to TCU and West Virginia by a combined 76-19 in consecutive weeks, scoring just one offensive touchdown. Quarterback Daxx Garman has struggled to find a rhythm as the offensive front has let him down time and time again.

It’s a stark contrast from the Cowboys of 12 months ago, who entered November 2013 on the heels of a blowout road win over Iowa State, then went on to put themselves one win away from a Big 12 title.

As disappointment reigns in Stillwater, the question naturally arises: How did the Cowboys end up here?

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsThe success Oklahoma State has had under Mike Gundy had an undesired effect: Other programs promoted and hired his assistant coaches.
The answer can be found not only between the white lines of the Boone Pickens Stadium turf, but also in the halls of the West End Zone and on the recruiting trail.

From 2010 to 2013, Oklahoma State went 41-11 with three seasons of double-digit wins. During the same span, a combination of coaching departures, injuries and player attrition has quietly debilitated the depth on the roster, resulting in a 2014 team counting on players who lack the experience to carry the team.

“Two classes ago, we missed on some players from a character standpoint,” coach Mike Gundy said. “We had some players not make it, we had a couple injuries and it kind of snowballed on us at a couple positions.”

Oklahoma State has five current starters from its 2011 class (six if injured quarterback J.W. Walsh is included). That class should be carrying the load as upperclassmen, but injuries took players such as running back Herschel Sims and offensive tackle Devin Davis out of the equation. By contrast, nine current starters were part of the next recruiting class, in 2012.

“When you talk about young players competing for us more than they need to, that’s more the definition of rebuilding,” Gundy said.

The Cowboys' success indirectly played a role, as Gundy's staff was raided by programs looking to promote them. Only defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer remains from the 2010 coaching staff, which included West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen, Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, TCU co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, Texas co-offensive coordinator Joe Wickline, North Carolina co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Gunter Brewer, Ole Miss co-defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach Jason Jones, West Virginia special-teams coordinator Joe DeForest, Tennessee running backs coach Robert Gillespie and former defensive coordinator Bill Young.

Since 2010, Gundy has been forced to replace a coach on his staff every offseason. The impact of the fluidity among his staff has disrupted continuity.

“Trying to replace them, their personality and the schemes we want and the players wanting to trust them,” Gundy said. “You don’t just all of a sudden trust somebody. You have to pay the price.

“That’s been one of the most difficult aspects for me at Oklahoma State.”

Gundy has averaged more than 10 wins per season in the last four years. But trying to ensure his coaching staff has chemistry while finding guys who fit his philosophy has made the last few years more difficult than he imagined.

“It’s a huge process,” he said. “That’s the one area people don’t understand. It’s like, ‘you lost a coach, just go find a better one.’ Well, you have to find one that understands, teaches and believes like I do, my philosophy and development of kids.

“I want to teach, coach and learn; we’re not screamers and cussers. I’m not saying that’s wrong, just saying that’s not what I believe in. If there are 10 guys that fit that job, five of them might not because that’s how they coach. That doesn’t make them bad, make them wrong, it just means they’re not qualified for this position because he and I won’t get along.”

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsJ.W. Walsh was one of the top recruits in Oklahoma State's 2011 recrutiing class. He's out after foot surgery.
Not only has the uncertainty resulted in some stumbles on the field this season, it hurt recruiting and evaluation at the time. Every second Oklahoma State didn’t have a coach in position, the Cowboys were falling behind on the recruiting trail and in the evaluation process.

“It caught me off guard from the standpoint of you have a lot of success, then you’re going to lose a lot of people,” Gundy said. “The second thing that caught me off guard was the effect it can have on your recruiting and evaluation.”

After the 2010 season, Gundy was forced to replace a significant portion of his staff, including Holgorsen, Gillespie and Brewer.

“All during recruiting?” Gundy said. “Those are things that I think really causes us some issues.”

Twelve months later, the Cowboys signed the underperforming 2011 class.

“Over the last three or four years, with all the position and coaching changes we’ve had, I was really surprised we were able to compete at such a high level,” Gundy said. “We missed on some kids that should be juniors right now and that’s when we went through a lot of coaching changes. I remember at one time I was losing three guys a year. I think that affected us in recruiting, evaluation -- there just wasn’t consistency there.”

But, even with Oklahoma State's recent struggles, Gundy feels good about the direction of his team heading into one of the toughest stretches during his tenure, with games against Kansas State, Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma to finish the season.

“I’m OK with where we’re at right now. I understand the issues,” Gundy said. “We could played better and won the West Virginia game had we made a couple of plays, maybe a couple different coaching decisions. Those things happen and you’re exposed, they snowball more when we’re in the situation we are.”
Each week, Adam Rittenberg takes you inside coaches' conversations in Inside Access Insider -- but we can't fit everything everyone said in one place. So here are some nuggets that didn't fit in the column, but are too good to be ignored. In today's notebook: What's the secret to Georgia's improved defense? How does Bill Snyder get Kansas State to play penalty-free football? Why are Michigan State's QBs so successful? And what are ECU's odds of making a New Year's Six bowl game?

[+] EnlargeJeremy Pruitt
AP Photo/Jason GetzJeremy Pruitt has had an immediate impact on Georgia's defense.
I didn’t include first-year Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt in last week’s list of top coaching hires, but he certainly belongs. After a season in which defensive deficiencies, particularly in the secondary, cost the Bulldogs games, Pruitt has the Dawgs' D back on track.

Pruitt’s experience working with defensive backs has propelled the upgrade. Georgia is allowing fewer completions of 10 yards or more (41.6 percent) than it did last fall (49.8 percent). It has 10 interceptions and 17 total takeaways, and leads the nation in turnover margin (plus-13).

“We have worked very hard,” Bulldogs coach Mark Richt told Inside Access, “on creating turnovers.”

The Bulldogs are the only FBS team not to have allowed a pass play of more than 40 yards this season. They also rank 14th nationally in third-down conversions (30.6 percent).

Pruitt not only has improved the technique of the defensive backs, but he calls plays with them in mind.

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Kickoff Show: Week 10 (1 ET)

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
10:24
AM ET
ESPN.com reporters Edward Aschoff, Heather Dinich and Jared Shanker join host Chantel Jennings to discuss the Week 10 slate that includes top 25 games in the ACC, SEC and Pac-12. They'll also answer your questions live.

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