1. Oklahoma State and West Virginia showed the Big 12 can go toe-to-toe with anyone: The Mountaineers went 4-8 last season and were picked in the preseason to finish eighth in the Big 12. After graduating 28 seniors, the Cowboys had the fewest returning starters of any program from a Power 5 conference. And yet, Oklahoma State and West Virginia gave college football’s two highest-ranked teams all they wanted. Ultimately, the Cowboys committed too many turnovers to topple No. 1 Florida State, and West Virginia dropped too many passes to knock off No. 2 Alabama. But both Big 12 teams acquitted themselves well with valiant efforts against formidable competition to set up the rest of their seasons. The Cowboys and Mountaineers also sent a message at the outset of this playoff era that the Big 12 is a conference to be reckoned with.
3. Trevone Boykin is the man in Fort Worth: All preseason, TCU coach Gary Patterson refused to showed his cards at quarterback. He even reportedly had the Amon G. Carter Stadium public address announcer introduce both Boykin and Matt Joeckel as starting quarterbacks. But once the game began, there was no doubt left that Boykin is Patterson’s quarterback. After relieving Casey Pachall the last two seasons, Boykin came out sharp in his first opening-game start against Samford. He completed 29 of 41 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns before passing off to Joeckel for mop-up duty. The Horned Frogs, who limited Samford to 143 yards of offense, figure to be tough defensively again. But Boykin will be the key to them getting over the hump in the program’s third year in the Big 12.
4. Oklahoma remains stout at running back: Coming into the season, the Sooners had to replace starting running back Brennan Clay. They then lost blue-chip freshman Joe Mixon to a season-long suspension. But Oklahoma showed Saturday it is still loaded in the backfield. The three-headed monster of sophomore Alex Ross, sophomore Keith Ford and freshman Samaje Perine stole the show in the Sooners’ convincing 48-16 win over Louisiana Tech. The trio combined for 164 yards and five touchdowns while averaging almost five yards per carry. Ford also added 65 yards receiving. “They’re powerful, physical guys,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “But they have speed and can run, too.” Mixon had the talent to boost Oklahoma’s offense, and the Sooners will miss Clay’s reliability. But Oklahoma is going to be just fine at running back this season.
5. The Big 12 should avoid North Dakota State like the plague: If you can’t beat them, ban them. After falling behind 14-0, North Dakota State roared back to throttle Iowa State 34-14 in Ames. The Bison have now won three in a row against Big 12 teams, including last year’s victory over Kansas State. It’s apparent the back-to-back-to-back FCS national champs have reloaded again. And it would be wise for the Big 12 to avoid scheduling them ever again. As for the Cyclones, it was a disheartening start to the 2014 season. Iowa State lost center Tom Farniok and wideout Quenton Bundrage -- both critical cogs -- to first-half injuries. And from the second quarter on, the Cyclones got dominated in the trenches. It doesn’t get any easier for Iowa State, which had high hopes before the season of getting back to bowl. The Cyclones’ next four opponents went a combined 37-14 last season.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Trevor Knight passed for 252 yards and a touchdown and Keith Ford had 117 yards from scrimmage and scored two touchdowns to help No. 4 Oklahoma defeat Louisiana Tech 48-16 on Saturday night.
Ford ran for 51 yards and caught four passes for 66 yards for the Sooners, who rolled to a 31-0 lead in the second quarter of the season opener for both teams. Samaje Perine ran for 78 yards and a touchdown and Alex Ross ran for two scores for the Sooners.
Zack Sanchez led Oklahoma's defense with an interception and a blocked field goal. Oklahoma linebacker Jordan Evans was ejected in the second quarter for targeting when he tried to make a play against Louisiana Tech quarterback Cody Sokol, but the Sooners remained dominant.
Sokol, an Iowa transfer in his first career start, passed for 191 yards and two touchdowns for Louisiana Tech.
Evans went to make a play on Louisiana Tech quarterback Cody Sokol with 5:04 left in the first quarter. Evans went over Sokol's head as Sokol ducked to avoid contact. The play was reviewed and the call stood.
Frank Shannon, the usual starter at Evans' spot, is not on the depth chart because the school is trying to suspend him for a year for what it calls a violation of its rules against sexual assault. A district court judge did not allow Oklahoma to suspend Shannon, and the school is challenging that in the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Shannon is in uniform but has not played.
Caleb Gastelum replaced Evans for the Sooners.
Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch this week in the Big 12:
North Dakota State at Iowa State, 11 a.m. CT (FS1): The Cyclones will attempt to avoid opening with a loss to an FCS opponent for the second straight year. That won’t be easy. The Bison have captured three straight FCS national championships. This will also be the Iowa State debut of offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, who last week tabbed Sam B. Richardson to be the Cyclones’ starting quarterback.
West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. CT (ABC or ESPN2): The Mountaineers are the biggest underdog of any Power 5 conference team this weekend. The Crimson Tide lost their final two games of last season, but won back-to-back national championships before that. This, however, appears to be the deepest and most experienced team Dana Holgorsen has had at West Virginia since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12.
Samford at TCU, 6 p.m. CT (FSN regional): TCU coach Gary Patterson hasn’t indicated whether Trevone Boykin or Matt Joeckel will get the start at quarterback in the Horned Frogs’ new offense. Samford coach Pat Sullivan, who won the Heisman Trophy at Auburn in 1971 and coached at TCU form 1992-97, won’t be making the trip to Fort Worth with his team because of complications after offseason neck surgery.
Louisiana Tech at No. 4 Oklahoma, 6 p.m. CT (PPV): The Bulldogs will be bringing former Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz with them to Norman. Diaz’s track record against the Sooners wasn’t good. With Diaz manning the defense, Texas allowed 63 points to Oklahoma two years ago and 55 the year before that. Elsewhere, all eyes will be on Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight, who will be making just his sixth career start, most recently shredding Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Stephen F. Austin at No. 20 Kansas State, 6 p.m. CT: The Wildcats dropped last year’s season opener to FCS opponent North Dakota State. But Stephen F. Austin, which won only three games last year, is a far cry from North Dakota State. The Wildcats are also settled at quarterback this time around with Jake Waters, who struggled as the part-time quarterback in last year’s opener, but surged during the second half of the season.
North Texas at Texas, 7 p.m. CT (Longhorn Network): Charlie Strong will finally make his debut as coach of the Longhorns. This game will also mark the return of quarterback David Ash after he missed most of last year with a concussion, and then the spring with a fractured foot. North Texas is coming off a nine-win season but is 9-67 lifetime against Big 12 programs, including 0-9 against Texas.
Oklahoma State vs. No. 1 Florida State, 7 p.m. CT (ABC): No Power 5 conference team returns fewer starters than the Cowboys, who also graduated 28 players. The Seminoles, meanwhile, bring back the reigning Heisman winner in quarterback Jameis Winston. Oklahoma State will start out with J.W. Walsh at quarterback. Walsh led the Big 12 in QBR two years ago. But last year in Big 12 play, Oklahoma State averaged 6.2 yards per play with Clint Chelf at quarterback and only 4.8 with Walsh, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
SMU at No. 10 Baylor, 6:30 p.m. CT (FS1): The Bears will christen the $260 million McLane Stadium, as Baylor will go from having the worst stadium in the Big 12 to one of the best. The celebration in Waco could begin early, too. Last year, Baylor had an average halftime lead of three touchdowns and enters this game as almost five-touchdown favorites over the Mustangs.
ATHENS, Georgia -- For the first 30 minutes of Saturday's opener against No. 16 Clemson at Sanford Stadium, No. 12 Georgia looked like a lot of other teams on the opening weekend of the college football season.
Georgia's much-maligned defense couldn't keep the Tigers off the field, and its offense couldn't seem to stay on on it.
At least the Bulldogs had junior tailback Todd Gurley.
Gurley, who was plagued by ankle injuries the past season, carried the ball only four times in the first half, but his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown helped the Bulldogs tie the score at 21 before the half.
In the second half, Gurley showed why he's among the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy, as he ran wild to finish with a career-high 198 rushing yards on 15 carries with four total touchdowns.
"He had four [carries], huh?" Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said, when asked about Gurley's first-half workload.
With Gurley finally healthy, Georgia might be the team to beat in the SEC East and a contender for one of the four spots in the first College Football Playoff. Gurley gives the Bulldogs a commodity that a lot of other teams don't have -- a player who can change a game in an instant and do it time and time again.
"I think he's the best player in America, or at least one of them," Richt said.
Shannon's attorney, Aletia Timmons, had stern words about the school's handling of the situation and came to the player's defense during a news conference Friday in Oklahoma City.
"(Shannon) has been painted in a way that is in no way how he is," Timmons said.
"It's my belief that my client, even though there's ample evidence that he should be left alone and this should never have proceeded to the level it did, is being scapegoated so that OU won't have to face any questions about how they run the Title IX program. That has been done without any regard to the truth or falsity, I believe, of the alleged victim's statements."
An Oklahoma spokesman said Friday that the university had no comment on Timmons' statements. Timmons said she felt it was time to speak up because Oklahoma made a public statement on the matter earlier this month.
To the 'bag:
@Jake_Trotter which player in the big 12 hasn't garnered national media attention but will after the first few weeks of the season? - KJH (@KJHolley25) August 28, 2014
Trotter: I think people will know the name Tyreek Hill after this weekend. The Oklahoma State running back is going to have a big year. Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman doesn't seem to be talked about much nationally, but he could be a star. Some other names flying under the radar nationally: Texas Tech wide receivers Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley, Iowa State running back Aaron Wimberly, TCU cornerback Kevin White, Baylor receiver Corey Coleman and Kansas State's entire roster.
@Jake_Trotter has there ever been a top 25 team with as much undervalued talent as KState? (walkons, players not recruited in state) - Paul White (@DCEPaulW) August 28, 2014
Trotter: Who knows? But Kansas State is being way undervalued nationally, including by some of my colleagues at ESPN. This was a top 15-caliber team at the end of last year. The offensive and defensive lines are going to be very good again, Jake Waters has his footing at quarterback and Tyler Lockett, well, I'm out of superlatives for him. The Wildcats will have to beat Auburn in September to gain some respect. But they are more than capable of doing just that.
@Jake_Trotter which sooner is the most NFL ready right now, and why - T-WAD3 (@WadeWonder1) August 28, 2014
Trotter: Probably linebacker Eric Striker. He can already do one thing at an NFL level, and that's rush the passer.
@Jake_Trotter Jake, can Tech go 8-0 before welcoming in the Longhorns on Nov. 1 (though you have already picked several teams over Tech)? - Johnny Fowler (@OfficialJFowler) August 28, 2014
Trotter: That would require them beating Oklahoma State, Kansas State and TCU all on the road. Even if you considered all three of those to be coin-flip games, that, mathematically, would still give Tech only a 12.5 percent chance of winning all three. Possible? Sure. But the odds are very much against it.
@Jake_Trotter OSU is currently unranked, but depending on the outcome of the FSU game, do you think OSU will be ranked soon afterwards? - Clinton Scott (@CScottOSUPokes) August 28, 2014
Trotter: Even if the Cowboys get blasted this weekend -- and I think they will -- they'll have five winnable games immediately afterward. If they won all five, including that pivotal Thursday night matchup with Texas Tech in Stillwater, I could see them popping up in the Top 25 in mid-October.
@Jake_Trotter who wins the Big 12, and why is it Baylor? - Dr. SHBUCKETS (@craballin) August 28, 2014
Trotter: I see what you did there. I have Oklahoma winning the Big 12. The Sooners get Baylor in Norman, where the Bears have never won, and where Bob Stoops is 87-5.
@jake_trotter What are you looking forward to the most in week 1? - Lesslie Stanford (@lessliestanford) August 28, 2014
Trotter: Storylines I will be following: Can Oklahoma State and West Virginia hang tough in tough openers? How will David Ash look in his fourth start since 2012? How will Trevor Knight look coming off that Sugar Bowl performance? Who will get the majority of snaps at QB for TCU? Can Iowa State avoid disaster facing a tricky opponent? And, the return of Mark Mangino and debut of Baylor's new stadium.
@Jake_Trotter since start of Big12 round robin, no undefeated championship team. Is this the year? Will we see it In next 3-5 years? - Blake West (@blakewesttx) August 28, 2014
Trotter: The odds are we'll see an undefeated Big 12 team over the next five years. Who knows, we could see it this year. Oklahoma will be favored in every game. And if Baylor can topple the Sooners in Norman, the rest of its schedule is fairly manageable.
@Jake_Trotter why is nobody talking about Texas Tech being a Big 12 contender? - Briar Briar Briar (@Statechampxc96) August 28, 2014
Trotter: How many Big 12 titles has Texas Tech won? I think Tech is going to have a good and exciting team this year. But until the Red Raiders actually win a championship, I don't see how you can complain about them getting overlooked in the title conversation. Especially when the top five teams in the league last year beat Tech by an average margin of three touchdowns.
@Jake_Trotter Will Sam Richardson remain Iowa State's QB the whole season or will he share snaps with Grant Rohach? - brian moore (@mcso694) August 28, 2014
Trotter: Richardson is not going to share snaps. They want -- and need -- him to be the guy. It feels like the Cyclones are still trying to replace Seneca Wallace. They're going to give Richardson plenty of opportunities to show he's the long-term answer at quarterback.
@Jake_Trotter Jake - rank the #Big12's best game day experience. How, in your opinion, do the teams stack up? - Red Raider Ranting (@RaiderRantings) August 28, 2014
Trotter: That's impossible for me to say. All of them are cool in their own way. There's no place in the Big 12 I don't look forward to going to. @mulloy_k: You are a 4-5* recruit, but your only criteria for choosing a school is based on the unlimited snack rule ... and what LOCAL fare would be available (for free) in that city. What Big 12 school do you choose? Appreciate your work! Trotter: Thanks, Kyle. I've been to every campus in the Big 12 multiple times, and I can vouch that in all 10 venues, there are great places to eat. But nowhere in the Big 12 has more great eating options than Austin. That's no slight on the other Big 12 locales. New York City is the only place I've been to that has better food than Austin.
The Sooners open the season against Louisiana Tech on Saturday with an eye on cementing a spot in the College Football Playoff derby in 2014. Here are five key stats to keep an eye on.
Sooners yards per carry average: It is important for the Sooners to replace last year’s trio of seniors — Brennan Clay, Roy Finch, Damien Williams — with another solid running game. Oklahoma averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2013 and leaned on its running game to carry a Sooners’ offense that averaged 199.1 passing yards per contest. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will get the first chance to prove they can handle the bulk of the carries, but they could be looking over their shoulders at true freshman Samaje Perine. Between the three of them, Oklahoma should hope to, at the very least, match last year’s yards-per-carry average against Louisiana Tech.
Trevor Knight’s completion percentage: Knight’s 59-percent completion rate from 2013 isn’t going to get it done if the Sooners expect to earn a College Football Playoff berth. The good news for Sooners fans is Knight had a 67.1 completion percentage in the final five games of the 2013 season. So if he can mimic his strong play at the end of the season, Oklahoma could be in business. It starts against Louisiana Tech, so the Sooners should hope Knight can complete 65 percent of his throws on Saturday.
Sooners’ second leading receiver: Nobody’s worried about Knight finding a No. 1 target. Sterling Shepard should fill that role with ease. But Oklahoma needs at least one more consistent target to emerge in the offense alongside Shepard. It feels like now or never for junior Durron Neal, who stepped on campus with as much acclaim as Shepard. Redshirt freshman K.J. Young joins Shepard and Neal in the starting lineup and could become a key playmaker if he fulfills the promise he’s shown during his 12 months on campus. Tight end Blake Bell could also emerge as a legitimate No. 2 option. It doesn’t really matter who it is, but someone needs to show signs they will be a trustworthy target for Knight against Louisiana Tech by hauling in at least five receptions.
Tackles for loss: The Sooners defense was good in 2013, but it could be dominant in 2014 if it can make more tackles for loss. Oklahoma finished seventh in the Big 12 with 73 tackles for loss, an average of 5.6 per game. If the Sooners can record at least seven tackles for loss against Louisiana Tech, it would be a sign that the defense can create more chaos in opponents' backfields this season, which could be the perfect recipe for a College Football Playoff berth.
Third-down conversion rate: Oklahoma must get better on third down if they plan to compete for a national championship. The Sooners converted just 39.5 percent of their third-down attempts a year ago, ranking 69th among FBS teams. It’s no coincidence the Sooners were 7-0 last season when their conversion rate was 40 percent or higher, including victories over Alabama, Kansas State and Texas Tech. Thus, converting 45 percent of their third-down attempts should be the goal on Saturday.
College football teams will pay their opponents at least $12.9 million this weekend.
Big Ten teams will pony up the most money in the so-called "guarantee" games, which compensate smaller budget opponents for playing at the bigger opponent's stadium without returning to play at their stadium.
Florida, which paid Georgia Southern $550,000 last season and lost to it, will pay Idaho $975,000 for Saturday's game at "The Swamp."
Big 12 heavyweights Texas and Oklahoma will also be paying their opponents a pretty penny. Texas is writing North Texas a $875,000 check, while the Sooners will give Louisiana Tech $975,000 just for showing up in Norman.
FBS teams that pay for FCS opponents often wind up on top, although some teams have presented more trouble than others. One of those teams is North Dakota State, who has been paid and then subsequently knocked off Colorado State, Minnesota, Kansas and Kansas State in recent years. Iowa State is paying the Bison $350,000 this week to play it in Ames.
- The Topeka Capital-Journal went long on Bill Snyder's legacy in a package -- entitled "Manhattan Project" -- that you're gonna want to check out. Here's the main piece by Ken Corbitt, and Kevin Haskin came up with a fun list of what-ifs when you think back on Snyder's tenure. One observation from Corbitt's piece that stands out: Had Snyder not come along and rescued the Wildcats, might they have been kicked out of the Big Eight? That's how dire the situation Snyder inherited was becoming. Everything he's achieved in the 25 years since has been flat-out stunning.
- Texas finally released its depth chart on Thursday. The big news? True freshman Jason Hall is slated to start at strong safety, making him the Longhorns' first opening-day true freshman starter since Blake Gideon in 2008. Hall is one of 10 freshmen who made the depth chart. Another key decision came on the offensive line. With Desmond Harrison suspended for the opener, Texas moved Kennedy Estelle back to right tackle and promoted Marcus Hutchins to left tackle. The former scout-team defensive tackle has never started a game. That makeshift line is going to have to keep David Ash clean against North Texas.
- Who is Texas Tech's fastest player? Might seem like a silly question, but Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal wisely points out that the number of speedsters the Red Raiders have had has been on the uptick in recent years. I'd put my money on receiver Jakeem Grant, who told the paper he sees speed becoming a real advantage for Tech's offense this year. Its receiving corps is full of guys you'd want in on the fastest-man race. Newcomers Justin Stockton and Mike Mitchell are also getting talked up for their legit speed. If the perception is true, and Tech does have that much speed at each receiver spot, Davis Webb is going to have some fun throwing deep.
- One team we have admittedly not written about much this week is Kansas. For the second year in a row, the Jayhawks open their season with a bye. The weekend off does provide a strategic advantage for Charlie Weis: He got to watch Week 2 opponent Southeast Missouri State play its season opener last night, a 77-0 win over Missouri Baptist. The week gave KU more time to address its running back situation, and Weis says freshman Corey Avery and juco transfer De'Andre Mann are "1 and 1A."
- Lastly, I enjoyed this story by Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman on what goes into the groundskeeping crew's efforts to prepare Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for a ballgame. Bob Stoops, he of so many hot offseason takes, argues grass fields are the best. I don't have a strong feeling either way on that one, but I must say I did not know a field requires up to 300 gallons of paint in one weekend.
But, without further ado, here are our preseason bowl projections for the Big 12, which, like the bowl tie-ins themselves, are sure to change before long:
Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Orleans (Jan. 1): Oklahoma vs. College Football Playoff semifinal
Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Texas (Jan. 1): Baylor vs. at-large
Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio (Jan. 2): Kansas State vs. Pac-12 No. 2
Russell Athletic Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (Dec. 29): Texas vs. ACC No. 2
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Houston (Dec. 29): Texas Tech vs. SEC
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn. (Dec. 29): TCU vs. SEC
Cactus Bowl, Tempe, Ariz. (Jan. 2): Oklahoma State vs. Pac-12 No. 7
But this is our first real chance, after months of speculation and projection, to see how newcomers and players in new roles fare. Here are 11 players we'll be keeping an eye on Saturday and Sunday.
Devin Chafin, RB, and Johnny Jefferson, RB, Baylor: Both backs dealt with injuries in fall camp but should be good to go. And if you ask Baylor players, they'll tell you Chafin and Jefferson are about to be stars on the rise. This should be a true stable of backs led by Shock Linwood, but you're going to see Chafin and Jefferson a lot -- especially if Baylor's second team gets a lot of playing time in a blowout.
DeAndre Washington, RB, Texas Tech: We could still see Kenny Williams in short-yardage opportunities, but otherwise, Tech is ready to roll with the 5-foot-8, 201-pound junior leading its run game. Freshmen Justin Stockton and Demarcus Felton are intriguing, but Washington has a chance to establish himself as the feature back and a sneaky good one.
Deandre Burton, WR, Kansas State: The local kid from Manhattan was named a starter this week and is about to get his first meaningful action on offense. The redshirt sophomore has good size and will be one of a few wideouts getting reps with Lockett and Curry Sexton. The competition for his spot will be ongoing, so a big play or two against Stephen F. Austin could go a long way.
Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State: Cyclones fans can't wait to see what Lazard, listed as the backup to Quenton Bundrage at X receiver, can do in his first career day. After all the boasting Paul Rhoads did on signing day (and rightfully so), expectations are awfully high. Let's see Sam B. Richardson lob a few up to him and see if the 6-foot-5 stud can make a splash.
Tyreek Hill, WR/RB, Oklahoma State: What more can we say? We've hyped him up as much as anybody in the Big 12 this offseason. OSU will get the ball in his hands as much as possible. Florida State will do whatever it can to stop him. Can Hill be the game-changer the Pokes need to keep up with the defending champs?
Julian Wilson, CB, Oklahoma: Wilson's transition from nickel to cornerback, where he'll replace a big-time player in Aaron Colvin, has received good reviews. Louisiana Tech will no doubt test him and new starting safety Ahmad Thomas early on to see if they can handle the pressure.
Dravon Henry, FS, West Virginia: Mountaineer coaches have been excited about Henry all year long, and the true freshman seemingly had no trouble earning a starting job. He'll get lots of help from veteran safety Karl Joseph, but you just know Lane Kiffin will take some shots deep to see if the young dude has instincts. He would be wise to keep an eye on Amari Cooper, one of the nation's best wideouts.
Jason Hall, SS, and Dylan Haines, SS, Texas: Hall, a true freshman and former three-star recruit, was named the starter on Texas' depth chart released Thursday. But Haines, a walk-on, will play and so should Adrian Colbert. With safety Mykkele Thompson likely being used as Texas' top nickel, the Longhorns will have a lot of inexperience on the back end on passing downs. They need to play up to the considerable praise they received in camp.
Who are you excited to scout this weekend? Let us know any players we missed in the comments below.
Room For Improvement For FSU
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final North Dakota State 34 Iowa State 14 Final West Virginia 23 2 Alabama 33 Final Louisiana Tech 16 4 Oklahoma 48 Final Samford 14 TCU 48 Final Central Arkansas 35 Texas Tech 42 Final Stephen F. Austin 16 20 Kansas State 55 Final 1 Florida State 37 Oklahoma State 31 Final North Texas 7 Texas 38