Big 12: Kansas State Wildcats
RB Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: Even if you didn't watch the game you probably already know how dominant the Sooners true freshman running back was in OU's 45-33 win over West Virginia. He finished with 34 carries for 242 yards and four touchdowns. And he got better as the game went on. Keith Ford better hurry back.
Oklahoma's offensive line: While Perine basks in all the headlines, the Sooners offensive line was the foundation of OU's ground-and-pound victory in Morgantown, West Virginia. Perine and Alex Ross (eight rushes for 56 yards) each averaged at least 7 yards per carry. Tackles Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson, guards Nila Kasitati, Adam Shead and Dionte Savage along with center Ty Darlington deserve a ton of credit.
WR Justin McCay, Kansas: His numbers aren't staggering. His impact was. The Jayhawks receiver changed the game with his 60-yard catch and run for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. McCay finished with two receptions for 66 yards and the score but KU might not have defeated Central Michigan, 24-10, without McCay's big play.
LB Jake Love, Kansas: Fellow linebacker Ben Heeney was outstanding, as usual, but Love was very productive in his own right. He finished with five tackles including four tackles for loss and one sack. His back-to-back tackles for loss in the middle of the fourth quarter helped set up Corey Avery's touchdown on the Jayhawks next possession, which essentially sealed the win.
WR Curry Sexton, Kansas State: The Wildcats got the usual big plays from Tyler Lockett but Sexton provided a quality second option for K-State's offense. He had a career-high 11 receptions for 121 yards in the Wildcats' 20-14 loss to Auburn. Six of Sexton's 11 receptions came on third down and seven of his catches resulted in a first down. His previous career high was six receptions and 112 against West Virginia in 2013.
WR Kevin White, West Virginia: The Mountaineers' senior continues to prove Lockett and Baylor's Antwan Goodley have competition for the honor of Big 12's best receiver. White had 10 receptions for 173 yards and one touchdown. It was his fourth straight 100-yard game to start the season and third game with at least 140 receiving yards.
2. Dana Holgorsen has West Virginia heading in the right direction: This was a disappointing loss for coach Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers, who moved the ball at will on Oklahoma in the first half. But after Ross’ 100-yard kickoff return at the end of the first half, West Virginia could never regain momentum nor get its offense back on track. Still, despite being 2-2, the Mountaineers have proven they have a quality squad, after hanging tough with two teams that might well end up in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Clint Trickett is the most improved quarterback in the Big 12, if not the country, and receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford are devastating weapons downfield. If the Mountaineers play the rest of the year the way they have this first month of the season, they will win a bunch of games. Meanwhile, Holgorsen, whose job status once seemed to be in jeopardy, should be firmly entrenched as the head coach of the future in Morgantown.
3. Kansas’ defense ought to keep it in games: At the beginning and the end of their 24-10 victory over Central Michigan, the Jayhawks produced some big plays offensively. But the defense was the reason Kansas ultimately prevailed, as its offense endured some shaky stretches over the second and third quarters. Led by linebackers Ben Heeney and Jake Love, the Kansas defense forced three turnovers, sacked Central Michigan QB Cooper Rush three times and limited the Chippewas to just 279 yards of offense. Wins haven’t been easy to come by at Kansas, but the defense should give the Jayhawks a chance to win again this season while the offense attempts to harness semblances of consistency.
4. Kansas State figures to be a load in the Big 12: Even in a 20-14 loss to Auburn, the Wildcats showed Thursday night that they will be a tough out for anyone they face the rest of the season. The K-State run defense was phenomenal and snapped Auburn’s 13-game streak of at least 200 yards rushing. Wideout Tyler Lockett, whom Auburn coach Gus Malzahn called “electric,” is a game-changer on offense and special teams, never mind the crucial dropped touchdown pass that turned into an interception. Bill Snyder has to figure out what to do going forward at placekicker, but the Wildcats were good enough to beat the fifth-ranked team in the country. And they’re good enough to be a force in the Big 12 the rest of the way.
5. Oklahoma and Baylor remain the co-favorites: Coming into the season, the Sooners and Bears appeared to be the clear frontrunners to win the league title. Through four weeks of the season, nothing has changed. Oklahoma has been incredibly impressive with its physical offensive line, powerful rushing attack and swarming defense. The Bears have wiped out lesser competition, though they’ve done it while missing many of their key players due to injuries. Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU have impressed, but there’s been nothing so far that suggests the Nov. 8 showdown between Oklahoma and Baylor in Norman won’t decide the Big 12 championship.
On to the 'bag:
Trotter: The K-State game should make Oklahoma fans a little queasy. The week before meeting the Wildcats on Oct. 18, the Sooners play Texas. The same weekend, the Wildcats will be off. We saw Thursday night how good Bill Snyder is at drawing up a game plan with an extra week to prepare. And this time, his opponent won't have the extra week as well.
@Jake_Trotter what are the chances kansas state beats one of baylor or Oklahoma? Or somehow both of them?— Seth Meadows (@meadows1115) September 19, 2014
Trotter: The good news for Tech is that Oklahoma State's offensive line hasn't exactly dominated, either. But the Cowboys have good backs and they create creases by spreading the field. Though Daxx Garman can't run like J.W. Walsh, he can stretch the field to open up the running game with his arm. That said, if Tech gets steamrolled up front by an Oklahoma State offensive line that even Mike Gundy has termed as "very below average," the Red Raiders might very well get steamrolled by all comers the rest of the way.
@Jake_Trotter If Tech doesn't get it's run defense together, how do you think they'll do against Oklahoma State?— James Alexander (@KingJamesofMars) September 19, 2014
Trotter: You're not going to like this answer, but I think it comes down to recruiting better players more than anything else, especially along the defensive line. There isn't a scheme out there that can account for a team's defensive front getting blown off the ball the way Tech's did against Arkansas. The Red Raiders can be better defensively than they were against the Hogs. But ultimately, you either have the horses or you don't.
@Jake_Trotter exact same question as last week, any solution in sight for Tech's porous defense?— Andy Dobbins (@adobbins29) September 19, 2014
Trotter: Brandon got the plum assignment of covering the stadium unveiling against SMU. At the moment, I'm not sure yet when exactly I'll be assigned to go down to Waco. But when I do, I'm going to see if I can find a spot in the Baylor Armada.
@Jake_Trotter when are you coming down to McLane to join us for some sailgating?— Baylor Bearmada (@BaylorBearmada) September 19, 2014
Trotter: It's a big loss, no doubt. Ford has been OU's best all-around back. But the Sooners are better equipped to deal with the loss of Ford than West Virginia is the loss of standout cornerback Daryl Worley.
@Jake_Trotter what's your prediction for the OU WV game? I think fans are taking this game lightly. Keith Ford bigger loss than we thought?— Ben Luton (@Lutotime) September 19, 2014
Trotter: The fact that Kansas State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia hung tough against Auburn, Florida State and Alabama will do nothing but strengthen the perception of the Big 12 in the eyes of the playoff selection committee. I don't think the committee will get overly focused on scoring differentials. But Oklahoma (or Baylor) beating the Wildcats, Cowboys and Mountaineers would be viewed as quality wins, based on how those three opponents performed in their nonconference schedules.
@Jake_Trotter say Ou beats KSU and WVU by more than Bama and Auburn did. How much will the committee look into scoring differentials?— Travis Guidry (@TGuidry25) September 19, 2014
Trotter: Did you not see the Duke score? I guess anything is possible. But there's reason why Kansas is 1-29 in its last 30 Big 12 games.
@Jake_Trotter what do you think are texas' chances of losing to Kansas before the red river game?— Matt Peacock (@Mpeacock5) September 19, 2014
Trotter: Why would I trade away the league's best basketball program? And why would you want to trade away an automatic win for whatever team you pull for?
@Jake_Trotter if you could trade Kansas for a fellow bottom dweller in a P5 conference, who would it be and why?— Brad Gibson (@BradWGibson) September 19, 2014
Matt H. writes:Is there a chance for Clint Trickett or Kevin White to be mentioned in the Heisman race if they keep performing at the high level they are playing at right now?
Trotter: White has no shot, if only because receivers don't win Heisman Trophies. But if Trickett lights up a really good Oklahoma defense Saturday, he might begin to generate a little buzz as a possible darkhorse contender.
West Virginia against Alabama.
Oklahoma State against Florida State.
And Kansas State against Auburn.
In all three cases, the Big 12 showed it could hang with the best in the country. But ultimately, the league failed to deliver that signature nonconference victory to place at the feet of the playoff selection committee.
The Mountaineers and the Cowboys had their opportunities to pull off massive upsets.
But the Big 12’s best chance for such a hang-your-hat win came Thursday night in Manhattan, where K-State went toe-to-toe with Auburn in a showdown that wasn’t decided until the final two minutes.
The Wildcats had every opportunity to win the game. Instead, they blew their opportunities.
The opening salvos served as a bad omen of what was to come. After being forced into a quick punt on their first possession, Auburn punter Matthew Shiel dropped the long snap. K-State’s Colborn Couchman came bearing down off the edge with a chance to either tackle Shiel or at least block the punt. Instead Shiel, a native Australian with a rugby background, collected the fumble, dashed around Couchman and booted the ball on the fly all the way to the Kansas State 12-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Jake Waters fumbled the ball back to the Tigers, who capitalized with a field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.
“It’s so frustrating because you work so hard to get in those situations and to play a great team like that,” Waters said. “We had them on the ropes and had the chance to win, but we just didn’t make the plays we needed to make. It’s just really frustrating.”
More frustrated than anyone, K-State coach Bill Snyder was asked afterward whether Auburn won the game, or his Wildcats lost it.
“The latter,” Snyder replied.
Not politically correct coach-speak. Yet, not untrue, either.
The Wildcats had the perfect defensive game plan to slow -- and in many instances, stuff -- Auburn’s high-powered, zone-read ground attack. With good positioning and sure tackling, K-State snapped the Tigers’ 13-game, 200-yard rushing streak.
“As a defense, we came together and played well,” said Wildcats linebacker Jonathan Truman.
But such a sterling defensive performance was otherwise overshadowed by a very un-Snyder-like comedy of blunders from the K-State offense and special teams.
No gaffe more underscored the night than when Tyler Lockett bobbled up a well-thrown Waters strike in the end zone to turn a certain touchdown into a touchback interception.
Later at the end of the first half, Waters had Lockett breaking wide open toward the corner of the end zone. But instead of uncorking a throw, he pulled the ball back, allowing the Auburn pass rush to bat it loose.
Then, worst of all, there were Jack Cantele’s three missed goals in the swirling wind, which proved to be the difference in a six-point loss -- and a three-point win.
“We never gave up, we kept fighting,” Lockett said. “But mistakes were made.”
Once they get off the mat, the Wildcats will realize that, when they play clean, they’re a team capable of challenging Big 12 co-favorites Oklahoma and Baylor down the road. The defense has the potential to be stout all year. And the offense has a special playmaker in Lockett, who already has a history of shredding the Big 12.
But the Wildcats will long be kicking themselves for the field goals they didn’t make, the balls they didn’t catch and the chances that were before them Thursday. This was a game they could have won. Probably should have won. A game that could have catapulted them into the early playoff discussion. Instead, they’re left wondering about what could have been.
The Big 12, too.
West Virginia gave Alabama everything it wanted. Oklahoma State took Florida State to the brink.
And Kansas State outplayed the Tigers.
But mistakes were made. Opportunities were squandered. The Big 12 will exit the nonconference without that landmark win, when three could have been had.
Oh, what could have been.
- Kansas State players walked away from their 20-14 loss to No. 5 Auburn with an understandable message: "We should have won that game." The Wildcats were given every opportunity to win that game, even after their three missed field goals, but made way too many mistakes. Regardless of the result, I have to agree with the Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff when he writes that we need more games like that one in college football.
- The departure of defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt at Texas Tech is just the latest in a long, frustrating run of coaching changes for the Red Raiders. Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal looked back on those changes and Kliff Kingsbury's need for continuity. I'm not ready to write off Mike Smith, because I think he can get the buy-in from players, but no doubt this was another bizarre twist for the Tech coaching carousel.
- Two good West Virginia reads for your Friday: Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman went to Morgantown to examine Dana Holgorsen's increasingly comfortable fit with West Virginia. Now that WVU has weathered the conference change and its depth is back in order, Holgorsen and Luck seem genuinely happy with where the program is heading. Also enjoyed this examination of Clint Trickett's perfectionist mentality by Allan Taylor of MetroNews. Trickett didn't think he played "worth a damn" against Maryland and saw only the plays he didn't make, despite surpassing 500 yards. Not shocking, coming from a coach's kid, but it's clear his recent success won't go to his head.
- The fact this meeting with Central Michigan is a big-time, high-stakes game for Kansas is not lost on its players. Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal wrote on KU's issue with emotional letdowns and inconsistent effort through two games. The veterans seem mad in the right way. But are they going to get 100 percent from everyone else? They're about to find out what kind of leadership they have.
- Lastly, the report from E.J. Holland of Dave Campbell's Texas Football that Oklahoma co-OC Josh Heupel is a candidate for the SMU job is intriguing. Doesn't mean there's been contact or mutual interest, just that Heupel is evidently on the radar. I'm of the opinion that the Mustangs need to go with a young, exciting coordinator who can recruit the Metroplex and the rest of Texas like crazy. From that standpoint, there are better candidates than Heupel out there, but would many have interest? If Clemson's Chad Morris is ready to make the jump, SMU probably needs to pursue him as Plan A before everybody else does.
Oklahoma RB Samaje Perine: Now is the freshman's time to shine. Perine, a freakish 243-pound power back, will share the load with Alex Ross now that Keith Ford is sidelined and could have a big night in Morgantown. He's a hard dude to bring down and his speed is probably underrated. He should find the end zone a few times against West Virginia.
West Virginia CB Ishmael Banks: After missing West Virginia's first three games due to an academic suspension, "Icky" will be back on the field at a critical time, right as Daryl Worley is suspended indefinitely. A senior who started every game last season, Banks will have to be one of the DBs responsible for stopping Sterling Shepard and trying to make this explosive Oklahoma offense more one-dimensional.
Kansas QB Montell Cozart: It's a gut-check week for Cozart, who completed just 11 of 27 passes against Duke, couldn't get the ball to Nick Harwell and looked far too nervous under pressure. Charlie Weis' staff is committed to making this work with Cozart, but you can't get the yips in a big game like that. He needs this Central Michigan game to be his bounce-back performance.
Kansas State DE Ryan Mueller: Not just because Mueller is one of K-State's best, but because of this particular matchup. Playing against a team that has mastered the zone read, the pop pass and all sorts of option wrinkles creates a real challenge for any defensive end. K-State's front seven must maintain gap integrity, and Mueller in particular has to make responsible decisions and get tackles for losses at the mesh point when he's in position to make a play.
One was from Emporia State. The other, Washburn University.
Soon, Nelson would follow McGraw’s footsteps. Many others, too.
Tonight, when fifth-ranked Auburn takes the field in Manhattan with its gaggle of former 5-star recruits, “Walk-On U." will counter with a team loaded with players who never had anything given to them.
And had to earn everything they got.
“There’s a lot of pride in being a walk-on,” said Nelson, who after an All-American as a wide receiver at Kansas State has gone on to star for the Green Bay Packers. “A certain spirit inside.”
That spirit overflows with this K-State club, which has 16 current and former walk-ons on its two-deep alone, not including special teams. That’s almost half the depth chart.
Many of the Wildcats’ best players are former walk-ons, too, with the back stories that embody the “Manhattan Miracle” program coach Bill Snyder built out of little tradition, rusty facilities and thin air.
“Coach Snyder knows how to get the best out of everyone,” said Ian Campbell, who arrived at K-State as a walk-on in 2004 and left as an All-Big 12 defensive end in 2008. “That helps create diamonds in the rough.”
The Wildcats have plenty of diamonds in the rough on this team.
B.J. Finney had only one scholarship offer coming out of Andale High near Wichita, except that offer from Ohio University evaporated before he had a chance to even visit the school. Finney, a state champion wrestler, could go wrestle in college, or take a scholarship at Pittsburg (Kansas) State. Despite the potential financial stress on his mom, he walked on at K-State, where he quickly earned a scholarship and has become a three-time All-Big 12 center.
Ryan Mueller ended up at a Kansas State camp by accident. He thought the camp being held near his hometown of Leawood, Kansas was for little kids. He was just looking to volunteer as a counselor. Instead, he discovered it was a recruiting camp for budding college talent. He seemed out of his league. But his motor caught the eye of the coaching staff, which encouraged him to walk-on. He did, and last fall, he tied the K-State season sack record with 11 1/2.
Jonathan Truman, from Kechi, Kansas was praying he’d get an offer from the Jayhawks. But when assistant Joe Bob Clements, who had been recruiting him, left to join the staff at K-State, the calls from Lawrence stopped coming. Clements didn’t have a scholarship to give Truman. But he encouraged the undersized inside linebacker to walk-on in Manhattan instead of attending junior college. Thirty pounds and four years later, Truman is one of the strongest players on the K-State football team. And this season, he leads the Wildcats in tackles.
“That just shows the type of program we have here,” Truman said. “Everybody here is treated as if they were on scholarship, even if they’re not.
“There’s a blue-collar, hard-working mentality.”
It’s a mentality that has defined K-State football for more than two decades.
“We have good, responsible people, who work hard, are unselfish and are great teammates,” said Snyder, who estimates he’s awarded 200 scholarships to walk-ons in 23 seasons at K-State. “They have a never-give-up mentality, and a real investment in trying to improve on and off the field. And they know that when they get here, if they perform well and meet the criteria, they have an excellent chance to at some point go on scholarship.”
McGraw was one of the first players to meet that criteria. He grew up near Manhattan going to K-State games in the pre-Snyder era when the Wildcats rarely won games or had the stadium half-full. Once he arrived as a walk-on in 1997, he saw the mentality that Snyder was instilling with every player, on scholarship or not.
“I remember watching a scrimmage my first year there during two-a-days and thinking, ‘There’s no way I can play with these guys. They’re too fast, too strong,” McGraw recalled. “But Coach Snyder has a process that develops football players. And when you combine that with guys that really have a heart and passion with game, it turns into something really special.”
Gradually, McGraw turned into something. By 2000, he was a starting safety on a team that won 11 games and beat Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl. Two years later, McGraw was in the NFL, blazing a path for future K-State walk-ons like Nelson.
"When you see someone you know like that make it, you know it's possible," Nelson said. "That's a big part of it."
The snowball has continued to roll to this generation of Wildcats with Finney, Mueller and Truman, who together have won eight of their past nine games heading into tonight.
"When you’ve got guys [who] have faced some adversity, overcome some obstacles, made believers out of doubters, it creates a powerful team that can play at a level higher than its talent," McGraw said. "And it can equalize the playing the field against a team with maybe more talent.”
Tonight, the Wildcats will face a team with more talent.
Year after year, Auburn reels in recruiting classes that are the envy of college football. K-State, meanwhile, hasn’t produced a ballyhooed recruiting class since Snyder arrived as coach.
According to ESPN RecruitingNation, Auburn has 49 former 4- and 5-star recruits on its roster. Kansas State has one: junior-college defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, who has yet to play a down for the Wildcats this season.
But even though Auburn won the mighty SEC in 2013 and played in the national championship game, “Walk-On U.” won’t be an easy out. It never is.
"When you’ve had to prove yourself like that," McGraw said, "it makes for an extremely physically and mentally tough football player."
One tough team, too.
It’s been 45 years since Kansas State welcomed a nonconference opponent to Manhattan ranked as high as No. 5 Auburn. The Wildcats played second-ranked Penn State tough in 1969, but ultimately fell to the Nittany Lions, 17-14.
Brandon and Max picked the favored Tigers, who are coming off an SEC title and appearance in the national title game. I sided with K-State, which has won eight of its past nine games, with the lone loss coming last November against Oklahoma, which went on to topple Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
This will be the final opportunity for the Big 12 to land a splashy nonconference win after starting out 4-5 against Power 5 conference opponents.
Can quarterback Jake Waters and the Wildcats pull off the upset? Or will Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and the SEC impose their will on the road against one of the Big 12’s better teams?
Let us know what you think will happen in our weekly Big 12 poll.
On a rare Thursday night game for both schools, Auburn travels to Kansas State where the Wildcats are expecting the largest crowd in program history. Gus Malzahn's squad is looking to gain national respect after reaching the national title game last year, while Bill Snyder would love to make another run of his own at a national championship.
The fifth-ranked Tigers are the highest-ranked nonconference opponent to play in the "Little Apple" since No. 2 Penn State visited in 1969.
Jake Trotter and Greg Ostendorf break down the Big 12-SEC showdown below:
How Auburn can control this game: It starts up front. Auburn has rushed for at least 200 yards in each of its last 13 games, the longest active streak in the FBS, and has gained more than 300 rushing yards in eight of its past 11 contests. No Tre Mason? No problem. Cameron Artis-Payne has 289 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the first two games. The strength of this Tigers' rushing attack is the offensive line, but the orchestrator is quarterback Nick Marshall. When he's running the show, it's nearly impossible to stop. Look for Auburn to impose its will early and wear down the Kansas State defense by the time the fourth quarter rolls around. – Ostendorf
How Kansas State can pull of upset: So far, Kansas State has been one of the nation's best teams at limiting opponents' yardage before contact. According to ESPN Stats & Info, only Alabama (20.3 yards) has allowed fewer yards before contact this season than the Wildcats (22.5). Snyder will have K-State in position to make tackles against Auburn's ferocious zone-read offense. But the only way the Wildcats will win this game is if they also make those tackles at the point of attack. – Trotter
Auburn's X factor: There have been a lot people who have doubted Marshall and questioned his ability as a passer, and after a game and a half, the Auburn quarterback hasn't done anything to prove them wrong. But he gets his favorite wide receiver Sammie Coates back Thursday, and the importance of that cannot be understated. Coates led the team last year with 42 catches for 902 yards and seven touchdowns. He and Marshall seemed to be in sync from the beginning. All the talk was on junior college transfer D'haquille Williams after Week 1, but don't be surprised if Marshall hooks up with his old pal for at least one big play against Kansas State. – Ostendorf
Kansas State's X factor: The Wildcats quietly have one of the better kickers in college football in junior Jack Cantele, who only missed two field goals last season. If this game goes down to the wire, it could come down to a kick. West Virginia and Iowa State showed last weekend that having a reliable kicker can be the difference in winning and losing. The Wildcats should feel good about their chances if it comes down to Cantele, who has the experience of booting a 41-yard game-winner to beat TCU last year. – Trotter
What a win would mean for the SEC: Despite Oklahoma's win over Tennessee last week, there aren't many folks who believe the Big 12 is better than the SEC. Taking that one step further, there aren't a lot of people picking Kansas State to win Thursday. So while an Auburn loss could hurt the SEC and its perception nationally, I don't think a win does much for the conference. However, it could mean a lot more for Auburn. Nobody's really talking about the Tigers right now as a legitimate national title contender, in part because they haven't had that signature win yet, but a win at Kansas State could change that. – Ostendorf
What a win would mean for the Big 12: It's been a solid, but hardly spectacular nonconference season so far for the Big 12. West Virginia and Oklahoma State played Alabama and Florida State tough on opening weekend. But neither Big 12 team actually won. Iowa State (Iowa), TCU (Minnesota), Oklahoma (Tennessee) and West Virginia (Maryland) landed the league four solid victories last weekend. But none of those opponents were ranked. K-State is the Big 12's final chance of securing the league marquee nonconference win. A Big 12 victory over the defending SEC champs would turn the heads of the playoff selection committee. – Trotter
Why Kansas State will win: When Auburn agreed to a home-and-home with the Wildcats, Bill Snyder wasn’t the K-State coach. The Tigers also didn't know Snyder would have an extra week to prepare for this game. Manhattan, Kansas, will be rocking, Jake Waters is playing almost as well as any quarterback in the country and Tyler Lockett will be the best player on the field. The Wildcats have now won eight of their past nine games. Snyder's bunch will find a way to keep Marshall & Co. off the field, while finding a way to win this one, too. Kansas State 35, Auburn 31 --Trotter
Why Oklahoma will win: What are the Sooners' flaws? I'm hard-pressed to find many, even with Keith Ford sidelined. Their defense will be the difference, and Sterling Shepard is in for a big night with Daryl Worley suspended. WVU will score early, but Oklahoma can wear the Mountaineers out in the second half. Really wouldn't be surprised if OU plays them much tougher than Alabama did. Oklahoma 45, West Virginia 31 -- Olson
Why West Virginia will keep it close: I was tempted to pick the Mountaineers in this game. They are playing extremely well and Morgantown, West Virginia, is a tough place to play. But then the Mountaineers' best defensive player got suspended indefinitely for an altercation last week. Oklahoma will more easily replace Ford with its deep backfield than West Virginia will Worley. Even still, this won’t be an easy game for the Sooners, who barely survived a night game in Morgantown two years ago, and should consider themselves fortunate, should they survive again. Oklahoma 31, West Virginia 30 --Trotter
Why Kansas will win: The Jayhawks can’t play much worse than they played against Duke. Can they? KU knows a win over Central Michigan is a must or else things could start to get really bad in Lawrence, Kansas. Kansas 28, Central Michigan 20 --Chatmon
Why Central Michigan will keep it close: I thought I could talk myself into taking CMU in this game, but top running back Thomas Rawls, a Michigan transfer, is suspended indefinitely. Without him, the Chippewas have one brutal offense. Still think this will be close, though, because Duke exposed a bunch of issues and I'm just not sure how KU will respond. Kansas 17, Central Michigan 13 -- Olson
- Texas quarterback David Ash elected to give up football after struggling with concussion-related symptoms for the past year. Given the seriousness of head injuries, this was not a surprising decision. Max will have more on this later in the morning, but the move makes you wonder what could have been with Ash. He had moments of brilliance, notably in the 2012 Alamo Bowl win over Oregon State. That game seemed to be the turning point in Ash's career. As it turned out, Ash's career would basically be over not long into the following season.
- Ash's retirement wasn't the only major Big 12 story of the day. West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley turned himself into police after a warrant was issued for his arrest on a misdemeanor battery charge. Worley is accused of choking a woman and shoving her to the floor during a nightclub altercation hours after West Virginia's win over Maryland last weekend. This is a huge blow for the Mountaineers on and off the field. Worley was arguably West Virginia's best defensive player, and would have been matched up against Oklahoma WR Sterling Shepard this weekend. But Worley, who was one of the three players coach Dana Holgorsen took to Big 12 media days, was also viewed as one of the leaders of the team. Whenever a player of that stature is suspended indefinitely, the ripple effect in the locker room can be significant.
- In case you forgot, there's also a pretty big game being played tonight. Auburn will be the highest-ranked nonconference team to visit Manhattan since second-ranked Penn State came to town 45 years ago. There are a bunch of good reads setting up this showdown. Coach Bill Snyder has a message for his fans, according to the Kansas City Star's Kellis Robinett. AL.com's Brandon Marcello has the scoop on Auburn QB Nick Marshall reuniting with Snyder. And the Chicago Sun-Times' Steve Greenberg has more on the intriguing coaching matchup between Gus Malzahn and Snyder. I arrived in Manhattan last night for this one, and can't wait for kickoff.
- Oklahoma will debut its alternate uniforms this weekend at West Virginia, Bob Stoops revealed. As I detailed in this Take Two over the summer, I wasn't a fan of the Sooners going in this direction. It was my opinion that Oklahoma's iconic brand was above the uniform craze. But I have to admit, I'm curious to see what they'll look like in an actual game.
- TCU coach Gary Patterson is doing everything he can to get his team's attention in an open week before the Horned Frogs play winless SMU next weekend. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez, Patterson demoted both of his starting cornerbacks, senior Kevin White and redshirt freshman Ranthony Texada, for not playing up to Patterson's standard. It's understandable why Patterson is getting after his team. It's also understandable, with the open week and hapless SMU up next, why the Horned Frogs might be a bit sluggish in practice this week.
Baylor: The combined adjusted QBR rating for Baylor's quarterbacks this season is 94.6, best in the nation ahead of Texas A&M and Oregon. The trio of Bryce Petty, Seth Russell and (in one appearance) Chris Johnson is averaging 11.14 yards per attempt, most among all Power 5 conference teams. Even with Petty missing a game and a half, this offense didn't suffer much.
Iowa State: In 14 of 28 games Iowa State has won under coach Paul Rhoads, including the 20-17 defeat of rival Iowa last weekend, ISU was the underdog. The Hawkeyes were a 13-point favorite. Past point spreads say this was the fifth time ISU has pulled off an upset under Rhoads as a double-digit underdog, joining the 2011 wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, the 2010 defeat of Texas and the 2009 upset of Nebraska.
Kansas: KU is averaging 144.6 passing yards per game since coach Charlie Weis took over in 2012, which ranks sixth-worst in FBS over that period and second-worst among Power 5 programs ahead of Georgia Tech. In a 41-3 loss to Duke, the Jayhawks finished with fewer than 100 passing yards for the seventh time in Weis' tenure.
Kansas State: Under Bill Snyder, K-State is 4-0 in non-conference home games against Power 5 conference opponents, with wins over USC, UCLA, Miami and Minnesota. But No. 5 Auburn will be Kansas State's highest-ranked non-conference opponent visiting Manhattan since 1969, when No. 2 Penn State beat KSU, 17-14. Snyder was a 29-year-old high school coach at the time.
Oklahoma: Since 2009, the Sooners are just 6-7 in road games that kick off at 6 p.m. CT or later, according to ESPN's Dane Beavers. In all, OU is 17-8 in road night games under Bob Stoops and started off 9-0 in those games under Stoops until at 2007 loss at Texas Tech. OU's road game at West Virginia kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CT.
Oklahoma State: Since rushing for four TDs against Iowa State on Oct. 26, 2013, Desmond Ronald leads all active FBS running backs with 14 rushing touchdowns. Only Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds (24) has found the end zone more times among active players.
TCU: TCU has the No. 1 efficiency defense in the country according to ESPN analytics. Through two games, the Horned Frogs also rank No. 1 nationally in yards per play allowed (3.04) and No. 2 in total defense (205.5 ypg). Those numbers should hold fairly steady after TCU takes on a SMU team missing its head coach and starting quarterback next weekend.
Texas: The Longhorns' run defense currently ranks 91st nationally, allowing 181.3 rushing yards per game. One reason for that? Their first three opponents have leaned heavily on the run. Texas is facing, on average, 50 rushes per game this season, second-most among Power 5 defenses behind Texas Tech.
Texas Tech: Having the second-worst run defense in the country isn't the only problem for Tech. The Red Raiders have this problem because they've given up 468 rushing yards after contact, third-most in FBS. The 416 rushing yards allowed before contact also ranks sixth-most in FBS. Only FAU's defense is averaging fewer tackles for loss per game.
West Virginia: Clint Trickett's career-high 511 passing yards against Maryland isn't that uncommon in the history of Dana Holgorsen-coached QBs. Since becoming an offensive coordinator in 2005, Holgorsen has now had five QBs surpass 500 in one game: Trickett, Case Keenum (four times), Graham Harrell (twice), Geno Smith and Cody Hodges.
- The quarterback curse is alive and well at Kansas, writes Tom Keegan of KUsports.com. Six different quarterbacks have started KU's last six season openers and Keegan believes that number could rise to seven next fall. I disagree. True enough, Montell Cozart was bad in KU's 41-3 loss to Duke with a 14.7 Adjusted QBR that is the worst single game QBR from a starting quarterback in the Big 12 this season. But I'm not ready to say Cozart is not the man to lead the Jayhawk offense in the future. He's still young and talented so I'd like to see him respond like he was disgusted with his performance by having a superb game against Central Michigan, then take that momentum into KU's Big 12 opener against Texas. If he can excel against the Longhorns, he can take a giant step toward shrinking his list of doubters. But if he continues this downward trend, then Keegan will be right.
- It's no surprise but Kansas State is trying to downplay the "big game" mentality surrounding Thursday's clash with Auburn, reports Kellis Robinett of the Wichita Eagle. Bill Snyder preaches focus and emphasizes the importance of each day, but it will be interesting to see if KSU can ignore the distractions of hosting the BCS runner-up on national television. I wouldn't be surprised to see some nervy moments but I don't expect nervous miscues to decide the game one way or the other.
- Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman has his list of Oklahoma's 10 best players. Kersey ranks linebacker Eric Striker atop the list, which includes eight defensive players and does not include quarterback Trevor Knight. It's a surprise to see the sophomore on the honorable mention list but I can't disagree. I thought OU's defense would be good but its even better than I expected and every guy on the list is deserving. Quite frankly, the list could easily include 10 defenders, although receiver Sterling Shepard and tackle Daryl Williams, the lone offensive players on the list, are legit All-Big 12 candidates.
- Texas Tech is taking a different approach to special teams this season, writes Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Several Red Raiders starters have found themselves on special teams with new special teams coach Darrin Chiaverini looking to find his best 11 for every unit. Some might question this approach but I think it's a good one. Special teams tend to get overlooked but games can turn in an instant on one special teams play. With its defense struggling, strong and consistent special teams units could be just what Tech needs.
- Baylor freshman receiver KD Cannon was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list on Tuesday. It's no surprise and well-deserved for Cannon, who has been an explosive playmaker during his first three college games. He has 14 receptions for 471 yards and five touchdowns with an average of 33.6 yards per reception. Many people point to the Bears' lackluster nonconference schedule for Cannon's great numbers but it's pretty simple: If it was that easy everyone would be doing it. I don't expect Cannon to continue to be this dominant. There's no doubt he will continue to make plays when the competitive level increases in Big 12 play.
What is the biggest key for Kansas State against Auburn?
Max Olson: Gap integrity. Kansas State's defense sees high-caliber option football on a daily basis in practice, but it doesn't see many athletes like the ones Auburn brings to the table. The Tigers are so good at stretching and squeezing defenses and setting them up to fail. What's essential for KSU is smart decision-making and reads, fundamentally sound tackling and playing consistently solid assignment football. You won't stop these guys if all 11 defenders aren't operating on the same page.
Brandon Chatmon: The Wildcats will need big plays if they hope to knock off Auburn. All three phases -- offense, defense and special teams -- will need to provide a big play to overcome a Tigers offense that will be tough to hold down for the entire contest. Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett has the proven ability to provide several big plays, and quarterback Jake Waters is improving with each game. But outside of that duo, K-State will need a relatively unknown name to rise to the occasion Thursday.
Jake Trotter: Establishing the run. Even with a wideout the caliber of Lockett, Bill Snyder’s attack is predicated on getting the run game going, either with Waters (the leading rusher in the Big 12) or the committee of running backs. An effective run game would keep the Auburn defense on its heels while also keeping Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense on the sidelines.
What is the biggest key for Oklahoma against West Virginia?
Olson: Endurance. West Virginia is averaging 91 plays per game this season, more than any other Power 5 conference team. OU is holding opponents to 75 per game thus far, but if that number gets into the 80s or 90s on Saturday, the Sooners need to be able to hang in there, get stops and get off the field in a hostile environment. WVU only needed 82 plays to absolutely terrorize OU in 2012. I don't doubt this defense can answer the challenge, but Clint Trickett and his crew of skill players shouldn't be taken lightly.
Chatmon: Adapt. The last time OU went to Morgantown, the Sooners didn’t adapt well during the game as Tavon Austin ran through, around and by their defense. Mike Stoops' defense is much better equipped to adjust to anything WVU throws at Oklahoma this time around, with a defensive unit overflowing with versatile talents like Eric Striker, Geneo Grissom and Quentin Hayes to deal with the run and the pass from Dana Holgorsen’s offense.
Trotter: Another quick start. Oklahoma has been unbelievable in the first quarter of its three games this season, and another quick start would serve the Sooners well in Morgantown. It would deflate what will be a hostile crowd. It will take pressure off quarterback Trevor Knight. And it will allow Oklahoma's defense to do what it does best, and that’s tee off on the quarterback in obvious passing downs.
What is the biggest key for West Virginia against Oklahoma?
Olson: Knight. He was downright average against the Mountaineers last season, turning the ball over three times and getting benched for the final quarter of a close game. Granted, his two interceptions came after suffering a bruised knee. And it was his second career start. Knight has been sharp to start the 2014 season, but it'll be fascinating to see how WVU comes up with ways to challenge and frustrate him again.
Chatmon: A quick start. If Trickett and the Mountaineers can take a quick lead, the atmosphere at Milan Puskar Stadium could reach epic levels. A WVU lead, especially a double-digit one, could also force the Sooners to move away from their running game and lean more on the pass to try to regain the momentum. Tennessee tried to take away the run game and Knight made the Vols pay, but it could be another story in the first road start in a night game for the Sooners’ sophomore.
Trotter: The Mountaineers have to stop the run. Or at least slow the run. West Virginia allowed 5.9 yards per carry to Alabama and 6.0 to Maryland. Those numbers will get West Virginia beat against Oklahoma, which features one of the most powerful rushing attacks in the country -- even without sophomore running back Keith Ford. Samaje Perine and Alex Ross are more than capable of shouldering the load, and Knight can be lethal off QB draws, zone reads and play-action rollouts. The Mountaineers have to hold their own up front against the best offensive line in the league. Because once the Sooners get the ground game going, they are difficult to stop.