Big 12 stat check: Week 5

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
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A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 5:

Baylor: Don't forget about Antwan Goodley. The potential All-America receiver went down with an injury in the season opener and enters Big 12 play with zero receptions. While KD Cannon and the rest of Baylor's wideouts feasted in his absence, Goodley is back this week, and he and Bryce Petty have some catching up to do. No Big 12 player matched his 598 yards after the catch last season.

Iowa State: Well, the Cyclones are 2-0 in home games against Baylor under coach Paul Rhoads. During the Art Briles era, Baylor has averaged 33.2 points per game on the road against the rest of the Big 12. In their losses in Ames in 2009 and 2012, Baylor's offense put up a combined 31 points. But ever since that 35-21 loss at ISU in 2012, the Bears are 19-3.

Kansas: Tony Pierson has recorded 280 touches on offense in his career at Kansas. He's gained 10 or more yards on 25 percent of his touches and picked up 20-plus yards on 26 of those 70 plays. The majority of his big plays have come on rushes, but Pierson is also averaging 12.7 yards per reception in his four seasons. He's instant offense, plain and simple.

Kansas State: ESPN Stats & Info analyzed the Auburn-Kansas State game tape and determined Jake Waters was pressured on nine plays. He completed three passes, threw two incompletions and an interception and took three sacks. K-State's net yardage when the Tigers got pressure on Waters? Just 15 yards. Waters and his linemen will have to handle the heat a bit better in Big 12 play.

Oklahoma: How will freshman Samaje Perine follow up his 242-yard night at West Virginia? In the past decade, 19 FBS running backs have surpassed 240 rushing yards multiple times in a season. If Perine does it again this year, he'll join some elite company that includes Reggie Bush, Matt Forte, Le'Veon Bell, Ray Rice, Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, Andre Williams and, yes, Adrian Peterson.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys rank No. 2 nationally in a statistic that's pretty darn important: red zone efficiency defense. OSU's defense has entered the red zone 10 times this season and permitted just two touchdowns. Opposing offenses have had to settle for field goals seven times (one was blocked) and Jameis Winston threw a red zone interception. Getting stingy under pressure like that will pay off big in Big 12 play.

TCU: The Horned Frogs are one of only two teams in FBS that have played just two games entering Week 5. (Cincinnati started the season bizarrely with back-to-back byes.) This isn't just some silly observation. The fact is, starting this week against SMU, Gary Patterson's team must play eight games in eight consecutive weeks before getting a pre-Thanksgiving reprieve. They face a brutal run in October (OU, at Baylor, OSU, Texas Tech) and need some gas in the tank if they hope to make a run in November.

Texas: It's hard to believe that, with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray both healthy and splitting time, Texas ranks No. 9 in the Big 12 in rushing right now at 123.7 yards per game. That's 99 fewer yards per game than Oklahoma is averaging and almost 115 fewer than Baylor. The culprit here is a shoddy offensive line, but the downhill run game was supposed to be the strength of the Longhorns' offense and they've struggled without one.

Texas Tech: One not-unreasonable excuse for Texas Tech's problems on defense: According to its sports information office, 17 of 27 Red Raiders who've recorded tackles this season are freshmen, sophomores or newcomers. That number does include Kenny Williams, who moved from running back to linebacker this spring. The rest are young guys who better catch up quickly.

West Virginia: Clint Trickett ranks No. 3 nationally now with 1600 passing yards, a feat through four games that most WVU fans probably wouldn't have predicted back in the spring. He leads all Big 12 passers with 20 completions of 20-plus yards (nine to Kevin White), but then again, Trickett also has 43 more completions than any other quarterback in the conference. Let's wait a few more weeks before assessing where he fits in the Big 12 QB hierarchy, but this is a heck of a start.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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In Tuesday's mailbag we chat about West Virginia, Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight and the College Football Playoff hopes of Baylor and Kansas State. To submit questions for next Tuesday's mailbag, go here.

On to the mailbag:

Craig Dias in Dallas writes: You mentioned that Trevor Knight wasn't hurried more than once in the West Virginia game. Do you think hurrying Knight is the key to stopping OU's offense?

Brandon Chatmon: I think it’s the key to stopping any offense, not just OU’s. Creating confusion and chaos in the backfield could be the key to beating the Sooners, but it’s easier said than done. As far as Knight specifically, I think he has the potential to handle added pressure better than most quarterbacks thanks to his athleticism and mobility, but there’s no doubt in my mind he would be more prone to mistakes if he was being constantly harassed in the pocket.

Marty in West Virginia writes: Is Kevin White the best receiver in Big 12?

Chatmon: He sure is playing like it. He has been consistent and dominant with 42 receptions for 633 yards (both Big 12 highs) and three touchdowns. Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett and Baylor’s Antwan Goodley, among others, will still have their say, but White sits atop the list after the Mountaineers’ first four games. He has been exceptional.

Zane Dennis in Waco writes: Hey, Brandon! Love the blog and read every post daily. Even as a Baylor fan/student, I think we can all agree that Oklahoma is the team to beat for now in the Big 12 (and I think they should be No. 1 in the country, as well). As it's looking right now, our whole season will likely end up coming down to that epic Nov. 8 showdown, but as far as the rest of our schedule, which game should we be more worried about: West Virginia or Kansas State? Also, are there any more possible upsets on the Sooners' schedule?

Chatmon: I’ll have a piece that touches on this in detail later this week, but both programs have some potential pitfalls before that massive showdown in Norman. For Baylor, the trip to West Virginia would be the biggest worry between those two games. I think the Mountaineers have proven they are a tall task for any team. And if Baylor is undefeated after 11 games, I have a hard time believing they would let the Wildcats come into McLane Stadium and take their College Football Playoff dreams away. The Sooners still have several tough tests, but the road game at TCU stands out.

Mike Quick writes: I'm looking for a positive note with this question. Baylor’s nonconference schedule is weak, there's no question there. But with Northwestern State beating Louisiana Tech over the weekend does that at least make Baylor’s win over Northwestern State a bit better in the eyes of the selection committee?

Chatmon: It doesn’t hurt. But the Bears' destiny will be decided in Big 12 conference play either way. An undefeated Baylor doesn’t get left on the outside looking in, even with a subpar nonconference slate.

Harry in Kansas City writes: If KSU and Auburn both win out, do the 'Cats make it into the playoffs?

Chatmon: Good question, Harry. I’m going to say yes because I don’t expect four undefeated conference champions. If fact, I only expect one, maybe two, undefeated teams. It’s simply too hard to go a season without a loss in college football these days. So if Auburn is 12-0 and Kansas State is 11-1, I think the Wildcats find their way into the College Football Playoff, particularly with road wins at Oklahoma and Baylor. Quite frankly, if they don’t there’s a problem.

Abimael Downing in Colorado writes: I know that this year will not be the best for Texas and I understand that Charlie Strong needs some time to get his team together, but how long do you think it will take for Texas to become a contender in the Big 12 again?

Chatmon: Next year. I doubt they win it in 2015, but I definitely think they can contend for a Big 12 title in Strong's second season.

David Hess in Glen Dale, West Virginia writes: Is WVU the best two-loss team in college football?

Chatmon: Yes. The Mountaineers will make their mark in Big 12 play. They’re better than I expected, and I’d be surprised if they don’t return to a bowl game with relative ease.

Kelly in Oregon writes: What are Iowa State's chances Saturday night?

Chatmon: It’s going to be a tough task for Paul Rhoads team, but I don’t expect a repeat of what we saw in Waco, Texas a year ago in Baylor’s 71-7 win. The Bears will win but I don’t think they embarrass the Cyclones again. I expect a competitive game with BU pulling away in the second half. I'll give them a 20-percent chance of pulling the upset.

rtXC in Denison, Texas, writes: Gotta love these polls! OU beats Bama in the Sugar Bowl, returns most of that team, then beats WVU on the road in better fashion than Bama did at a neutral site. BUT Bama stays ahead in the rankings. Thoughts?

Jason in Elkview, West Virginia writes: The emphasis on strength of schedule appears to be selective. I watched WVU give two top 5 teams all they wanted, but still lost. After watching WVU play and after watching at least one game from most of the rest of the top 25 ranked teams, I don't think 15 of them could beat WVU. Yet we continue to lose votes in the polls, and others that have played a smorgasbord of nobodies continue to get more votes each week. I realize you have to win, but this being rewarded for playing a tough schedule business is a farce.

Chatmon: Sounds like a pair of really good reasons to ignore the polls. Particularly since they don’t mean anything anyway. If the polls affect the College Football Playoff committee then we, as college football fans, have bigger problems.
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While Billy Sims took in an Oklahoma practice this preseason, another Red River legend came to his mind whenever he watched freshman Samaje Perine.

“The strength, the power, the way he ran over people, it kept reminding me of Earl Campbell back in the day,” said Sims, who the Heisman Trophy for the Sooners in 1978, a year after Campbell won it at Texas in 1977.

Perine is no Earl Campbell yet.

But he’s off to an Earl Campbell-like start to his career.

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Tyler Evert/Associated PressOklahoma freshman Samaje Perine is leading the Big 12 in rushing with 419 yards and five touchdowns this season.
The 5-foot-11, 243-pound “Tank” -- though “Optimus Perine” is his preferred nickname -- came a yard away from rushing for his weight, finishing with 242 yards and four touchdowns in Oklahoma’s 45-33 victory at West Virginia over the weekend.

Perhaps just as impressive, Perine carried the ball 34 times and afterward looked like as if he had done nothing more than taken a light morning jog.

“He works so hard with his conditioning and training,” coach Bob Stoops said. “He’s a guy that can handle all those carries. At the end of the game he wasn’t all that taxed. I saw him get on the bus and he looked great. He’s exceptional in his conditioning and his strength. He’s physically gifted that way.”

Like Campbell used to do to opposing defenses in the 1970s, Perine wore the West Virginia defenders down as they bounced off him like pingpong balls. While the Mountaineers' resolve to tackle him began to wane in the second half, Perine seemed to get stronger, as he finished with 84 of his rushing yards in the fourth quarter.

“He was able to sustain it for four quarters,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “That tells you what kind of shape he’s in.”

The emergence of Perine, who now leads the Big 12 with 419 rushing yards and five touchdowns, has left the Oklahoma offense in great shape, too, heading into the heart of the schedule. After the open week this weekend, the Sooners face three of the toughest front sevens in the league in TCU, Texas and Kansas State. But this Oklahoma rushing offense is beginning to smack of the Barry Switzer days when the Sooners could run right through opponents when they wanted to.

“I was glad to see the ground-and-pound game,” Sims said. “Let the big guys up front eat and the backs do their thing.”

The big guys up front ate well again after the game, too, courtesy of Perine. Showing he doesn’t just have physical maturity, Perine ordered pizzas for the entire offensive line Sunday.

“We were watching film, and he just walked right in and set the boxes of pizza down and walked out,” center Ty Darlington said. “That’s who he is.”

Though Perine was one of the major storylines in college football over the weekend, he wasn’t even the most highly touted running back in Oklahoma’s signing class. Joe Mixon, suspended for the year for an altercation before the season, was viewed as the gem of the recruiting class, with offers from every major program in the country. Perine, who hailed from the Austin, Texas, suburb of Pflugerville, didn’t even receive an offer from Campbell's Longhorns as he recovered from a knee injury his junior year and barely averaged double-digit carries his senior season for Hendrickson High School.

The Sooners, however, always felt Perine was a unique talent.

“He’s a very special player,” Stoops said. “We felt that all along in the recruiting process. We loved him. Physically, he’s so powerful and strong. He’s also got great vision, great speed. He’s got hands."

While Sims invoked Campbell to describe Perine, Stoops didn’t hesitate to compare Perine's immediate impact to other great runners to pass through Norman in recent years like Quentin Griffin and Adrian Peterson.

“Samaje, his performance the other night, was as good as any of those in one game,” Stoops said. “I believe he’ll continue to add on to it. He’s a similar player like that. He’s unusual in that his size and power are different than maybe anyone else we’ve had.

“We’ll see if he can continue to build on it.”

Sims, however, is a believer that will happen.

“After watching him in practice, what he’s doing now, it doesn’t surprise me,” Sims said. “Oklahoma is known for great running backs. He has the potential to be the next."

Kanell's Top Four Teams

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
11:51
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Danny Kanell ranks the top four teams in college football.
In our weekly Big 12 roundtable, we examine what should be a fascinating race for Big 12 offensive freshman of the year, the Sooners’ remaining schedule and which third team could emerge as a threat to Oklahoma and Baylor for the Big 12 championship:

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
AP Photo/Tyler EvertFreshman Samaje Perine has faced some tough competition in racking up his early-season numbers.
 Who has been the more impressive true freshman, Baylor wide receiver KD Cannon or Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine?

Brandon Chatmon: Even with Perine’s explosion against West Virginia over the weekend, KD Cannon remains the Big 12’s most impressive freshman. The Baylor receiver is a playmaker who makes the game look easy with his smooth strides and silky hands. Both players will be a handful for Big 12 defenses, but I have a feeling Cannon is the man to be for Big 12 freshman-of-the-year honors.

Jake Trotter: Cannon has been unbelievable while ranking third nationally with 157 receiving yards per game. But Cannon has piled up those numbers against two of the worst FBS teams in the country in SMU and Buffalo and an FCS opponent in Northwestern State. Meanwhile, in 34 carries before a hostile crowd in Morgantown, Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns against a quality opponent in West Virginia. Cannon will have his chance to impress against tough competition. But Perine has already done it.

Max Olson: I do agree that Cannon is the Big 12's best freshman so far, but I'm a little more impressed by Perine because he's faced a much better level of competition. True, he's got it fairly easy behind that mauling OU O-line, but Perine is blasting Tennessee and West Virginia for 7.2 yards per carry makes his future look pretty scary. His 242 rushing yards vs. WVU is fifth-best in FBS this year and perhaps just the beginning.

With West Virginia out of the way, what is Oklahoma's toughest remaining game, other than the Nov. 8 clash with Baylor?

Chatmon: The Sooners trip to TCU still looms large to me. The Horned Frogs can play defense and will have confidence on the offensive side of the ball heading into the matchup between the two teams on Oct. 4. TCU will put OU quarterback Trevor Knight in uncomfortable situations and could have the defensive line depth to handle OU’s physical running game. Add better ball protection from the offense and OU’s road trip to Fort Worth, Texas could be the toughest remaining test outside of Baylor.

Trotter: We witnessed last week how brilliant a game plan Kansas State coach Bill Snyder can design with an extra week to prepare. With the week off leading into the Oklahoma game Oct. 18, Snyder will have an extra week to prepare for the Sooners, too. Only this time, Oklahoma won’t have the extra week, as well. Instead, the Sooners will be coming off the emotional Red River showdown with Texas. This is a potentially dangerous game for Oklahoma. K-State won in Norman its last trip there. And with another brilliant Snyder game plan, the Wildcats are good enough to win there again.

Olson: The TCU game is a classic trap, but I don't think the Sooners should overlook their home meeting against Kansas State on Oct. 18. That game falls one week after the Red River showdown, a high-emotion, highly physical game, and I think we're going to figure out quickly K-State is not a team to be trifled with. A lot can change between now and then, but I'd be surprised if that isn't a four-quarter brawl that should really test OU's resolve.

Based on what you've seen, who is the biggest threat to Baylor and Oklahoma for the Big 12 crown?

Chatmon: K-State immediately came to mind, but the Wildcats face the Sooners, Bears, West Virginia and TCU all on the road. TCU is another team that could be considered, but Gary Patterson’s squad is looking at a three-game stretch that features OU, BU and Oklahoma State after SMU on Saturday. So I’m going to step out on the limb and say West Virginia, despite already having a conference loss to OU, is the biggest threat. If WVU knocks off Baylor and BU beats OU, WVU is right back in the mix. And with Clint Trickett and Kevin White playing like All-Big 12 performers, every game is winnable for Dana Holgorsen’s squad.

Trotter: This is a great question, with four possible answers. West Virginia has looked really sharp so far, but the Mountaineers already have a conference loss. Oklahoma State’s schedule is brutal, with road trips to Fort Worth, Manhattan, Waco and Norman. And I want to see more from this TCU offense before I elevate it into contender status. That leaves Kansas State, which has a veteran team and a Hall of Fame coach. The Wildcats have already proven that they can play with the nation's best. I don’t know if K-State has the firepower to win the league. But I do know that with Snyder at the helm, they’ll be a tough out for everyone, including Oklahoma and Baylor.

Olson: The gap between No. 2 and No. 3 in this league remains significant, but I'm buying stock in Kansas State after that Auburn game. I have a ton of respect for that Nick Marshall-led attack, and the Tigers would probably put up 35-plus on most Big 12 contenders. We'd be talking about KSU very differently today had they not made a few fatal mistakes. Plus, I generally have more faith in Jake Waters than in most of the other conference quarterbacks (excluding Petty and Knight) at this point.

Big 12 morning links

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
8:00
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I knew the Coke-for-tickets deal at Michigan was too good (or too bad?) to be true. Darn. On to the links...
  • Oklahoma's battle to get Baker Mayfield eligible remains ongoing, reports Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman. Bob Stoops alluded to having some new info, but OU is not ready to announce anything, and a TV report that Mayfield has been ruled immediately eligible appears to be premature or incorrect. You get the sense that, in this complicated appeals process, there's probably more that still needs to play out before Stoops can say anything definitive. If Mayfield is cleared -- and that's still a real if -- I'm curious if OU's perceived reluctance to let Trevor Knight run the ball (at least against West Virginia) will be impacted.
  • The Iron Skillet game is going to have a different vibe this year. This time, TCU is facing a winless SMU team that recently changed coaches. Gary Patterson isn't too interested in talking about what's going on with his crosstown rival, writes Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, saying the Mustangs' shakeup is "no concern to TCU." He's just trying to get to win No. 3. TCU's less-than-stellar 2013 offense put up 48 on SMU. You'd think this year's group should have an even easier time.
  • A Kansas team with a winning record is about to face a Texas team with a losing record for the first time in literally forever. Charlie Weis isn't taking the 1-2 Longhorns lightly, writes Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World. The Jayhawks head coach makes what is probably an important observation for both teams: KU isn't going to win a shootout and has to adopt a mindset of surviving slugfests. The same is definitely true of Texas and its offense right now. Texas is a 14-point favorite right now, but could we be in for a game that plays out much closer than expected?
  • Kliff Kingsbury discussed two QBs on Monday: one from his past, one from his future. Now that Jarrett Stidham has signed, Kingsbury can publicly laud the Stephenville (Texas) High senior. He and OC Eric Morris got a chance to watch the incoming Texas Tech early enrollee play this weekend and were wowed by his leadership and demeanor. Kingsbury also talked up OSU's Daxx Garman, whom he pursued while at Houston, and isn't surprised by his early success.
  • Art Briles and Baylor's sports information staff have another ally in the push to get Bryce Petty in the Heisman race: Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads. On Monday, Rhoads told reporters Petty is the Heisman frontrunner in his book, according to Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune. Rhoads and his players are rightfully in awe of what Petty and the Bears' offense appears capable of this season. I don't think the Cyclones' love is an act, either -- it's respect, especially after Baylor handed ISU a 71-7 loss in Waco last year.
video

Everything will be better with a playoff, right? With no clear-cut top teams and just four spots in the playoff, Gene Wojciechowski explains the playoff selection committee has their work cut out for them.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 4

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
11:00
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Taking stock of Week 4 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Oklahoma. The Sooners took West Virginia’s best shot in the first half, then asserted their dominance in the second half on the way to an impressive 45-33 victory. After West Virginia took a 24-17 lead with 1:20 left in the second quarter, the Mountaineers were held to a single field goal until an empty touchdown late when the outcome had already been decided. The Oklahoma running game was unstoppable. The defense and special teams made big plays. And the fourth-ranked Sooners passed their first road test with flying crimson colors.

Disappointment of the week: Kansas State. The Wildcats had fifth-ranked Auburn on the ropes. But they missed out on a potential 16 points with three missed field goals and an interception at the Auburn 2-yard line. The Wildcats played well enough to win, especially a K-State defense that completely hampered Auburn’s high-powered running attack all night. But the Tigers made the plays needed to win. The Wildcats did not.

Big (offensive) man on campus: Samaje Perine. Oklahoma’s true freshman tank of a running back rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries while wearing down the West Virginia defense in the second half. His 242-yard output was the 13th-highest in school history and the highest by an Oklahoma freshman since Adrian Peterson in 2004.

Big (defensive) man on campus: Jake Love. Ben Heeney gets most of the love on the Kansas defense. But Heeney’s wingman at linebacker was the difference-maker in the Jayhawks’ 24-10 win over Central Michigan. Love had four tackles for loss and a sack and snuffed out two Central Michigan screen plays late in the game when the Chippewas still had a chance to tie.

Special-teams player of the week: Alex Ross. West Virginia had taken a 24-17 after a botched Oklahoma onside kick. But after the West Virginia score, Ross gave the Sooners the momentum for good, taking the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown with 1:08 to go in the first half. Ross, who added 56 yards rushing, currently leads the country in kickoff returns.

Stat of the week: Oklahoma kicker Michael Hunnicutt totaled nine points (one field goal, six extra points) in the West Virginia win, passing DeMarco Murray to become the Sooners’ all-time leading scorer with 392 career points.

Quote of the week: “The latter.” -- Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, when asked if Auburn had won the game or Kansas State had lost it.

Stats that defined Sooners' win

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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Oklahoma is a legitimate national championship contender. The Sooners proved it with an impressive 45-33 win against West Virginia last Saturday in Morgantown, West Virginia. True freshman running back Samaje Perine was the story of the night with 242 rushing yards and four touchdowns. But there were several key stats that helped decide the Sooners' first Big 12 conference victory.

100 percent in the redzone: Oklahoma scored touchdowns on all five red-zone drives, largely because of the excellence of Perine. The bruising running back had 12 carries for 60 yards and four touchdowns inside WVU’s 20-yard line, an average of five yards per carry. The Sooners' ability to convert drives into touchdowns was critical. Oklahoma entered the game ranked 16th in the FBS in red-zone efficiency at 78.9 percent.

Oklahoma converted 50 percent of its third-down attempts: The Sooners' offense had struggled on third down heading into the game and started slow on third down against WVU with 2 of 6 conversions in the first quarter. But the Sooners' offense found a rhythm in the second half, converting four of seven attempts in the final 30 minutes. Oklahoma entered the game No. 64 among FBS teams and No. 6 in the Big 12 at 41.8 percent.

WVU’s single quarterback hurry: If Oklahoma's 301 rushing yards and 6.5 yards per carry average isn’t enough to convince you the offensive line dominated the game, consider this: Quarterback Trevor Knight attempted 30 passes, wasn’t sacked and was only hurried once. The offensive line paved the way on the ground and protected Knight throughout the game. The unit is the foundation of Oklahoma's College Football Playoff hopes.

Oklahoma's 9.5 yards per carry on first down: Perine and Alex Ross combined for 235 rushing yards on first down alone. Nothing underscores Oklahoma's dominance and Perine’s rise to stardom like the freshman’s 19 carries for 181 yards (9.5 yards per carry) on first-down plays. The strong running production also helped Knight complete 7 of 11 first-down throws for 111 of his 205 total passing yards. Once the Sooners decided to lean on the running game, it was all over.

WVU’s 3.4 yards per carry: The Mountaineers weren’t any less committed to the run than the Sooners, with 40 rushes for 137 yards and two touchdowns. But they didn’t have the success on the ground like Oklahoma. Sophomore linebacker Jordan Evans, who has seamlessly slid into the starting lineup for Frank Shannon, had a team-high 11 tackles including nine solo stops to help the Sooners slow WVU's rushing attack.
Trevor KnightKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight and the Sooners have been the class of the Big 12 in the first month of the season.
Coming into the season, people in and out of the footprint wondered if the Big 12 would be able to land a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

But after the nonconference season, Baylor and Oklahoma have emerged as bona fide playoff contenders – thanks to how they’ve performed.

But also, how their conference foes have performed, as well.

Sure, the Big 12 didn’t deliver a signature nonconference victory. Oklahoma State failed to topple Florida State. West Virginia couldn’t upset Alabama. And Kansas State squandered too many opportunities to knock off Auburn.

But in all three spotlight games, the Big 12 acquitted itself well, setting up Oklahoma or Baylor – or whoever wins the conference – as a strong playoff contender when the committee sits down to select its four teams in December. More importantly, in an era when there are five major conferences and only four playoff spots, the Big 12 positioned itself ahead of the Big Ten and the ACC heading into league play.

The Big Ten endured a disastrous start to the playoff era, with the Big 12 contributing to the debacle. West Virginia edged out Maryland. TCU hammered Minnesota. Iowa State handed Iowa its only loss so far. With Ohio State also falling at home to Virginia Tech and Michigan getting wiped out by Utah and Notre Dame, league wins in the Big Ten won’t look nearly as impressive as they will in the Big 12.

The effects of that have already begun to come to fruition.

Oklahoma received eight more first-place votes in the coaches' poll and two more in the AP poll over the weekend after winning at West Virginia, even though the three teams ranked ahead of the Sooners – Florida State, Alabama and Oregon – all won Saturday, too.

The reason?

The Sooners’ victory in Morgantown was viewed nationally as a quality win, because of how tough West Virginia played Alabama and how it played in the road win over Maryland.

Should the Bears prevail in Ames this weekend, the win would be viewed in a more favorable light because the Cyclones bounced back at Iowa City.

Such a domino effect will roll through the entire Big 12 schedule. If Baylor and Oklahoma escape Kansas State, the playoff committee will be compelled to think back to how the Wildcats outplayed Auburn for much of the game in their narrow loss. If the Bears and Sooners defeat Oklahoma State, the committee will have the Cowboys’ performance against defending national champion Florida State in the back of their minds.

It wasn’t the perfect nonconference showing for the Big 12. Besides West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Kansas State coming up in short in marquee matchups they could have very easily won, Texas has let the league down again, dropping two nonconference games for the second consecutive year. Iowa State’s opening loss to North Dakota State didn’t help. And Texas Tech getting steamrolled on its home field by Arkansas only enhanced the reputation of the SEC West Division at the expense of the Big 12.

But when compared to the Big Ten or even the ACC outside Florida State, the Big 12’s nonconference performance overall was a success. The ACC delivered some stunning wins, notably Boston College’s victory over then-No. 9-ranked USC and Virginia Tech’s win over then-fourth-ranked Ohio State. But as everyone heads into conference play, the No. 1 Seminoles are the only ACC team currently ranked in the AP Top 25. The Big 12 has four ranked teams in the AP poll, with TCU and West Virginia sitting right on the fringe, as well.

Meanwhile, as other top teams around the country have endured shaky moments, Oklahoma and Baylor have been dominant. The Sooners, who have been as impressive as any team in the country through the first month of the season, are 4-0 with an average margin of victory of four touchdowns. The Bears – albeit to much lesser competition – have an average winning margin of more than 50 points.

Their showdown on Nov. 8 in Norman will give either the opportunity to make a huge statement to the playoff committee.

But there will be other opportunities to impress along the way, as well. Thanks to the rest of the Big 12, which as a league exits the nonconference looking even stronger than when the season began.

Big 12 morning links

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
8:00
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I was watching this game live. Unbelievable.
  • West Virginia's players and coaches are thankful their open week has finally arrived, writes Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Mountaineers have definitely earned it. No one in the country has played a more brutal schedule so far than West Virginia, which has faced the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in the ESPN power rankings; a team that retuned 17 starters; and a team that played in the FCS national championship last season. "It's been four tough weeks to start the season," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Been some tight games, close games, and guys are starting to wear down." Still, by hanging tough with the Sooners and Crimson Tide, the Mountaineers have proven they have a tough team, too. After this well-deserved week of rest, they could be a team that does some major damage the rest of the season.
  • Kansas State is picking up the pieces after its heartbreaking loss to Auburn, according to Joshua Kinder of the Manhattan Mercury. The Wildcats essentially left 16 points on the field in the 20-14 loss to the Tigers. It will be tempting to obsess about what could have been in that loss. But the Wildcats have to look forward. K-State will have another opportunity to deliver a landmark win before long. The Wildcats play host to UTEP and Texas Tech, then get an open week before traveling to Oklahoma. Coach Bill Snyder showed against Auburn what he can do with an extra week to prepare.
  • Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty is eager to get his full complement of wideouts back for the conference opener at Iowa State, he tells the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner. Even though the Bears have played one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country, they are leading the nation in almost every major statistical category despite missing several key offensive players because of injuries. Antwan Goodley (quad) and Corey Coleman (hamstring) are expected to be good to go this weekend. Levi Norwood (wrist) and Clay Fuller (collarbone) are on the verge of returning, too. The return of those four, coupled with the emergence of freshmen K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall, could make for a receiving corps as formidable as any in the country.
  • The Tulsa World's Bill Haisten looks back at "the rant" seven years ago that has come to define in part Mike Gundy's tenure at Oklahoma State. Haisten points out that before the rant, Gundy’s record at Oklahoma State was three games below .500. Since the rant, Gundy is 43 games above .500. Personally, I think the rant has had very little to do with Gundy's success in Stillwater. Oklahoma State has won because it has recruited better, installed good schemes and constructed immaculate facilities. The Cowboys would be where they are now, with or without Gundy's rant.
  • The child abuse charges levied against former Oklahoma All-American running back Adrian Peterson have left the Sooners in a quandary. Peterson gave $1 million to his alma mater two years ago, the biggest gift ever by a former player. In return, the school put Peterson’s name on the football team’s meeting room. The Oklahoman's Jenni Carlson wonders if Oklahoma should remove Peterson's name from the room. It's an interesting thought. When I was at the Oklahoma-Tennessee game two weeks ago, I cringed when they kept announcing interviews were in the "Adrian Peterson" room. If the NFL elects to dissociate itself with Peterson, that will put Oklahoma in a tough spot.

Big 12 bowl projections: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
8:00
PM ET
With six Big 12 teams on bye this weekend, there was no need to shake up our weekly conference bowl projection.

Kansas State and West Virginia were impressive enough, despite losing, to hold on to their bowl spots from last week. Oklahoma continues to look like a strong contender for the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma State could move up in the Big 12 bowl hierarchy Thursday with a win over Texas Tech.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: TCU
Cactus Bowl: Texas

Playoff Forecast: OU No. 1 over FSU

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
3:01
PM ET

Each week throughout the season, the Playoff Forecast will use ESPN's Football Power Index and human logic (i.e., the eye test) to determine which teams are best positioned in the chase for the inaugural College Football Playoff. These rankings take into account perceived team strength (including injuries) and remaining schedule difficulty (including prospective conference championship games).

The Playoff Forecast is not intended to be a prediction of the selection committee's weekly Top 25, which will be released every Tuesday starting Oct. 28. It is a projection of which teams have the best chance to be in the top four come December.


1. Oklahoma Sooners

FPI's chance of winning out: 22.1 percent
FPI's chance of winning the conference: 58.5 percent

After clearing one of their most difficult road hurdles with an impressive second-half performance at West Virginia, the Sooners seem as good a bet to go undefeated as any team in a Power 5 conference. Their most highly regarded remaining opponents, Baylor and Oklahoma State, must both visit Norman, and the toughest test away from home seems to be at TCU, which comes on Oct. 4 after OU has a bye week to prepare. Also, the fact that the Big 12 has no conference championship game is another factor that enhances Oklahoma's chances of finishing the regular season unblemished.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
2:00
PM ET

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