Oklahoma Sooners: Daniel Sams

Coaches and players alike can make a name for themselves on third down. Receivers earn reputations for their ability to move the chains, signal-callers separate themselves as clutch performers and coaches’ creative play calling rises to the forefront during those key moments.

A closer look at the production of Big 12 offenses and defenses on third down can provide a glimpse at how champions are made and reveal areas of improvement heading into the 2014 season.

The stats, courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information, are from conference games only during the past two seasons in an effort to provide a fair baseline for every team. The teams are listed alphabetically with third-down conversion rate, opponent third-down conversion rate, yards per play on 3rd-and-6 or more and yards per play allowed on 3rd-and-6 or more serving as the four key categories to show production on third down, or lack thereof.

Some thoughts and notes:

  • Kansas State leads the Big 12 in third-down conversion percentage in the past two seasons, and it’s no major surprise to see the Wildcats sitting atop the conference, as Bill Snyder’s Wildcats are efficient and productive. Playing three different quarterbacks -- Collin Klein, Jake Waters and Daniel Sams -- during this stretch, K-State has the Big 12’s top raw QBR on third down (85) in this span. However, Waters’ 57 raw QBR on third down was the lowest of the trio. He’s expected to be KSU’s starter this fall and will need to play better on third down if the Wildcats hope to make a Big 12 title run.
  • Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech, the only other teams joining KSU with better than 40 percent conversions on third down, combined with the Wildcats to win 92 games during the past two seasons. Third-down success on offense and overall success seem to go hand in hand.
  • [+] EnlargeBill Snyder
    AP Photo/Matt YorkBill Snyder's Kansas State teams have excelled on third down, a big reason for the Wildcats' recent success.
    Iowa State, TCU and Kansas, the bottom three teams in third-down conversion percentage, will enter 2014 with new offensive coordinators, underscoring the importance of third-down success.
  • TCU’s defense was exceptional on third down, leading the conference with a 31.9 percent opponent third-down conversion percentage. If the Horned Frogs continue that production, and the offense improves its 31.3 third-down conversion rate, TCU could return to a bowl in 2014. New coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham are tasked with jump-starting the Horned Frogs offense.
  • Oklahoma State allowed just 34.7 percent opponent third-down conversion rate, joining TCU as the lone Big 12 schools under 35 percent in that category. An underrated defense is one reason Mike Gundy's squad won 18 games while playing musical chairs at the quarterback position during the past two seasons.
  • Baylor and Kansas State are in the bottom half of the Big 12 in opponent third-down conversion rate over the past two seasons, a sign that stellar defense on third down is not a requirement to win the Big 12 title. KSU was sixth at 40.5 percent, Baylor was ninth at 44.2 percent. The Wildcats won the conference title in 2012, Baylor won in 2013.
  • West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas are the teams in the bottom half of the conference in third-down conversion rate and opponent third-down conversion rate. Those three teams combined to win 12 conference games in the past two seasons.
  • Baylor led the Big 12 in yards per play on 3rd-and-6 or more with a 6.97 ypp average. The Bears' explosive offense was joined by Oklahoma (6.96), Texas (6.89) and West Virginia (6.43) as the lone teams to average at least six yards per play in that scenario.
  • Texas Tech, at 4.68 yards per play, is surprisingly low in this scenario, rating ninth in the conference . The Red Raiders’ offense is consistently among the Big 12’s best but this is a clear area of improvement for Kliff Kingsbury’s squad.
  • OSU sits atop the conference at 3.98 yards per play allowed on 3rd-and-6 or more, another sign of how underrated its defense has been over the past two seasons.
  • KSU is the only other team that allowed less than five yards (4.23) in that scenario and is the only team in the top half of the Big 12 in yards per play and yards per play allowed in that scenario. Third-down success, on both sides of the ball, was a big part of KSU’s ability to consistently win (and surprise) during the past two seasons.
With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Wednesday with receivers (and tight ends). These outlooks could look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Baylor (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Bears maintained their commanding advantage over any other receiving corps in the league. Antwan Goodley remains an All-American candidate, and Corey Coleman looks primed to become Baylor’s next great wideout following a spectacular spring. Levi Norwood, Jay Lee and Clay Fuller are proven performers. And more talent is about to arrive, including blue-chip freshman K.D. Cannon. The Baylor receivers are as formidable as any position grouping in the league.

2. Texas Tech (3): The Red Raiders lost their two best pass-catchers from last year in tight end Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, but this group is overflowing with dynamic young talent. After reeling in two touchdowns in the bowl and dominating Texas Tech’s spring game, Jakeem Grant looks like he’s on the verge of becoming a star in the league. Bradley Marquez should be even sharper after giving up baseball to focus on football this offseason. And the speedy Reginald Davis is a potential big-play threat on the perimeter. All three players can fly, and they have a quarterback in Davis Webb who can deliver the ball to them down field. The unit goes deep in the rotation, too, with D.J. Polite-Bray, Devin Lauderdale, Jordan Davis and Derreck Edwards all poised to be factors.

3. Oklahoma State (4): The Cowboys don’t have a Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant. But they have a deep rotation and a budding All-Big 12 candidate in Jhajuan Seales, who is ready to take over as the offense’s go-to receiver. Marcell Ateman, David Glidden and Brandon Sheperd were all significant parts of the corps last year, as well, and Blake Webb and Austin Hays, who both made starts two years ago as true freshmen, bounced back from injury-plagued 2013 seasons to impress in the spring. Track star/running back Tyreek Hill also will line up in the slot at times and will be a home-run threat any time he touches the ball. Considering none of the projected eight in the two-deep will be a senior, this group should only continue to get better, too.

4. Texas (5): Don’t fault the Texas receivers for not making a bigger impact in the spring game. For three quarters, reserve quarterback Tyrone Swoopes struggled to get them the ball. While the Longhorns probably lack an All-Big 12-caliber performer, they boast an experienced, reliable trio in three-year starter Jaxon Shipley and juniors Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson. Daje Johnson, who caught a Hail Mary from Swoopes in the spring game, brings even more playmaking to the group as a full-time receiver. Texas obviously has QB issues. But if the Horns can find the right player there, that QB will have reliable weapons to operate within the passing game.

5. Kansas State (2): K-State still has one of the best receivers in the country in Tyler Lockett, who is deserving of preseason All-American consideration. But the rest of the unit didn’t round out during the spring as well as the Wildcats would have hoped. Curry Sexton (eight catches for 88 yards) and Deante Burton (six catches for 48 yards) were both solid in the spring game. So was freshman Judah Jones, who hauled in a 51-yard scoring grab. But converted QB Daniel Sams still has a ways to go before making a huge impact, and highly touted juco transfer Andre Davis failed to make a big spring splash. Any receiving corps featuring Lockett is going to be a handful. But the supporting cast still needs work.

6. Iowa State (7): The Cyclones have the top returning pass-catching tight end in the league in E.J. Bibbs, who coach Paul Rhoads believes could vie for All-American honors. Quenton Bundrage has all-league potential, though he disappeared too many times last season, and did so again in the spring game. Jarvis West has proven he can make plays out of the slot, and the Cyclones have depth on the perimeter in P.J. Harris, Brett Medders and D'Vario Montgomery, who all developed rapidly during the spring. With highly touted signee Allen Lazard set to join the rotation, the Cyclones could boast their best receiving corps in several years.

7. Oklahoma (6): The Sooners feature a bona-fide No. 1 receiver in Sterling Shepard, who has 96 career catches his first two seasons. But the position is the Sooners' biggest question mark. With 12 catches last year, Durron Neal is the team's second-leading returning receiver. Austin Bennett, Jordan Smallwood and Derrick Woods all had moments in the spring game, but the competition for snaps will carry over into the fall. Talented four-star incoming freshman Michiah Quick could be a factor in the slot once he gets to Norman.

8. West Virginia (8): Starters Mario Alford, Kevin White and Daikiel Shorts are all back, but, collectively, must produce more consistently than they did last season. Alford seems to be the key. He had 215 receiving yards in West Virginia’s final game of 2013, and he has the talent and speed to give the Mountaineers a dangerous No. 1 wideout. Cody Clay is a valuable tight end, though does most of his damage with his blocking. Shelton Gibson, who was ineligible last year and this spring as a partial qualifier, is a former four-star recruit and could give West Virginia a boost.

9. TCU (9): The Horned Frogs actually had two positive developments at this position during the spring. Jordan Moore made a seamless transition from running back to receiver and is in line to give TCU a physical and fast presence on the outside. Then, former Texas A&M QB Matt Joeckel transferred in, potentially clearing the way for Trevone Boykin to swing back to receiver. This group has depth, with Ty Slanina, Josh Doctson, David Porter and Cameron Echols-Luper returning. But the future of the most talented receiver on the roster -- Brandon Carter -- remains in doubt after he was recently arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession, after sitting out spring ball to focus on academics.

10: Kansas (10): The Jayhawks might be at the bottom here, but they seem primed to field their best one-two punch at receiver since Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe roamed Lawrence five years ago. Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell has taken on a much-needed vocal leadership role among this group and brings a track record of production, having finished second nationally in receiving in 2011. Flanking Harwell will be former running back Tony Pierson, who made the full-time move to receiver this offseason. While he’s raw as a receiver, Pierson is capable of the big play. Rodriguez Coleman also emerged this spring as potential viable third option. The dark days of the Jayhawk receivers posing no threat in the passing game appear to be over.
Baylor’s Bryce Petty is the Big 12’s top quarterback.

Yet, he’s likely to have a few returning quarterbacks nipping at his heels for that title this fall. Texas Tech’s Davis Webb, Kansas State’s Jake Waters and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight are some conference quarterbacks who, with strong seasons, could battle Petty for the honor.

A closer look at the production of the Big 12’s returning quarterbacks reveals some areas of improvement for the record-setting Petty, Webb’s overlooked success and a pair of returning quarterbacks who changed positions after ranking among the conference’s best in a few passing categories. Here are some interesting tidbits, courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information, about the 2013 production of some of the Big 12’s top returning quarterbacks.

    [+] EnlargeBryce Petty
    Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty is the Big 12's best returning QB, but there are a few players who could challenge him for that title this fall.
  • Petty had 10.67 touchdowns for every interception he threw last season, which ranked second among FBS quarterbacks who started at least four games and first among Big 12 signal-callers. Petty’s production, efficiency and ability to take care of the ball while averaging 31 pass attempts per game is one reason he’s the favorite to be named the Big 12 offensive player of the year for the second straight season.
  • As good as Petty was throughout the season, he ranked fourth in the Big 12 in third-down conversion percentage, converting 40.8 percent of his third-down throws into first downs. Petty’s third-down conversion percentage is one of the few categories he can improve on this fall.
  • Kansas State's Daniel Sams, who has moved to receiver, converted 68.4 percent of his third-down throws into first downs, which led all Big 12 quarterbacks who started a game in 2013. Sams' percentage is impressive, but he only averaged 4.08 passes per game last season, making the number a bit misleading. Nonetheless, Sams was a more productive quarterback than it may seem, as he finished among the top-5 quarterbacks in the Big 12 in multiple categories, including adjusted QBR (68.3 on a scale of 0-100 with 50 being average) and yards per pass attempt (8.53).
  • One potential reason for Sams’ move? He was intercepted on 7.5 percent of his pass attempts, easily the worst in the Big 12. For comparison’s sake, Petty was intercepted on just 0.7 percent of his attempts.
  • Webb was the Big 12’s toughest quarterback to sack last season. The sophomore was sacked just 1.9 percent of the time in 2013. It’s a revealing and encouraging number for Texas Tech fans because it shows Webb, who averaged 36.1 pass attempts per game, makes quick decisions and gets rid of the ball fast in the Red Raiders' offense.
  • Waters was extremely efficient for Kansas State with 65.4 percent of his completions going for first downs or touchdowns. Only Petty and Sams had better percentages in 2013.
  • A pair of returning Bedlam quarterbacks, OU’s Knight and Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh, were right behind Webb in sack percentage. Walsh was sacked just 2.6 percent of the time, while Knight was sacked just 2.9 percent of the time. Both quarterbacks used their mobility and athleticism to make it difficult on defenses to sack them.
  • Knight was particularly hard to sack on third downs, as his 2.1 sack percentage led the Big 12.
  • Webb is the Big 12’s top returning quarterback in raw QBR on third down, recording a 85.3 raw QBR on third-down plays. Texas’ David Ash (83), Walsh (82.4) and Knight (78.4) each finished with a higher raw QBR on third down than Petty’s 76.
  • After finishing 2012 as one of the nation’s leaders in adjusted QBR, Walsh continues to be underappreciated for his actual production for the Cowboys. His 75 adjusted QBR was fifth in the Big 12, placing him ahead of Knight, Ash, Waters, OU’s Blake Bell, and Baker Mayfield, the former Texas Tech quarterback who transferred to OU in January after earning Big 12 offensive newcomer-of-the-year honors.
  • Bell ranked seventh in the Big 12 in clutch-weighted expected points added, a ESPN metric which measures a quarterback’s impact on clutch plays. The senior, who moved to tight end this spring, added 19.85 points on clutch plays which ranked him ahead of Mayfield, Knight, Ash and Texas’ Case McCoy. For comparison’s sake, Petty’s 69.82 CWEPA led the Big 12 and the league average was 14.7.
Summary: There are several interesting takeaways from these tidbits ... Petty’s exceptional season was not one without flaws, but he remains the Big 12’s best quarterback, particularly with his hunger to improve on his weaknesses. ... Webb could have arguably been considered the Big 12’s second-best quarterback as a true freshman, despite watching his teammate Mayfield earn the newcomer of the year honor. ... Bell and Sams might be more valuable to their teams at their new positions, but both players were productive under center in 2013. ... People are quick to point out Walsh’s weaknesses, but he has a clear track record of being a productive playmaker for OSU.
We've been doing something different with Friday's Big 12 mailbag. From now on, we'll be including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To submit a mailbag entry via Twitter, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You also still can send in questions the traditional way here, too.

To the 'bag...
Trotter: So far, Oklahoma State running back/receiver Tyreek Hill, TCU safety Kenny Iloka and Kansas receiver Nick Harwell. With his speed, Hill could lead the league in all-purpose yards. Iloka is going to be a key piece in the best secondary in the Big 12. And Harwell should finally give the Jayhawks that go-to receiver they haven’t had since Dezmon Briscoe.

Trotter: The Cyclones get K-State in Ames the second week of the season, which could be a dangerous game for the Wildcats, who might get caught looking ahead to that Thursday night clash with Auburn. Another team that must pay heed is Oklahoma. The Sooners go to Iowa State the week before hosting Baylor in a game that could determine the Big 12 crown. OU can't afford to be looking ahead, either.

Trotter: I'm going to set it at 1 1/2, and I think I would actually bet the over. The Jayhawks are going to be better this season, and quite possibly good enough to steal two conference wins.

Trotter: Right now, the Red Raiders have one on campus, and that's well below the national average. I don't see an issue. The way Davis Webb has improved in the last five months, he's going to be the guy the next three seasons barring something unforeseen. That would still give Jarrett Stidham three seasons of eligibility to be the starter, if he redshirted next year. Patrick Mahomes will get this chances, too. Seems like what TTU is going to do is be really good at quarterback the next six years.

Trotter: I have no inside info here, but if the game is at 11 a.m. again, hit me up in the fall and I'll share with you my shortcut to the Texas State Fair.

Trotter: It was a move that had to be made. Sams is too talented to be standing on the sidelines. He's not going to instantly become an All-Big 12 receiver. But if they can devise ways to get Sams the ball in space, the move could work out well. I see Sams getting a lot of his touches through flares, screens, reverses and maybe a handoff or Wildcat formation here or there. If they can get Sams the ball 10 times a game, that will only help the K-State offense. Think Trevone Boykin in TCU's offense late last year. That's how I see Sams best fitting in.

Trotter: Playing? Yes. Starting? No. I think Williams ultimately favors one side of the ball. The most likely scenario is he still keeps a major role at running back, then gives coordinator Matt Wallerstedt 15-20 plays at outside linebacker, which is more than I would have predicted at the beginning of the spring. Williams can really help the defense, but not at the expense of playing 130 snaps.

Trotter: Bob Stoops, Art Briles, Mike Gundy, Bill Snyder and Gary Patterson have ironclad job security. Paul Rhoads and Kliff Kingsbury have nothing to worry about, either, and Charlie Strong is too new to have to worry (though in Austin, that could change fast). That leaves Charlie Weis and Dana Holgorsen, whose seats are warmest among Big 12 coaches. I think Weis just has to show improvement this season. He can't go 0-12. Holgorsen is the most interesting to watch. Considering the brutal schedule, it's very possible West Virginia is better than last year and still goes 5-7, which might not be enough for Holgorsen to keep his job. But if the Mountaineers go, say, 7-5 against that slate, then I would think Holgorsen would be deserving of another year. West Virginia has been recruiting at an impressive clip, and the schedule will line up more favorably in 2015.


jrodxc07 in Dallas writes: Jake, love the blog, nice work sir. I think you could make a case for incoming Baylor receiver K.D. Cannon as Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Can you explain why you left him off your list?

Trotter: Appreciate it, sir. Cannon was actually on the poll for Offensive Freshman of the Year two weeks ago. The newcomer poll was for transfers, which is why you didn't see him there.


I only care about the Big 12 writes: Please go ahead and give us your way-too early power rankings? That is, if you haven't already...

Trotter: I actually released a power poll in January that went this way: OU, Baylor, K-State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Tech, TCU, Iowa State, West Virginia, Kansas. I'll be updating it, though, after spring ball concludes.

Big 12 lunchtime links

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
12:00
PM ET
As a college basketball fan, I'm really looking forward to this 30 for 30.
Spring ball kicked off in the Big 12 over the weekend, as Baylor, TCU and West Virginia all had their first practices. This week, most of the other Big 12 schools will join them.

With spring practice off and rolling, plenty of questions surround the league’s programs. And while many of those won’t be fully answered until the season begins in the fall, here are some of the biggest ones Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma will face this spring:

How will Baylor replenish its secondary?

[+] EnlargeQuarterback Bryce Petty #14 of the Baylor Bears
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Bryce Petty is back so Baylor's offense should be in good shape. Its defense, however, has some question marks heading into the spring.
The Bears won their first Big 12 championship last season, thanks in part to a secondary that ranked second in the league in pass defense. Safety Terrell Burt, however, is the only returning starter from that defensive backfield, meaning rebuilding the secondary will be priority No. 1 for the Bears this spring. But as if that job wasn’t going to be challenging enough, both Burt and juco cornerback Chris Sanders, who is supposed to vie for a starting role, will miss the spring following shoulder surgeries. With QB Bryce Petty back, the Bears figure to be formidable again offensively in 2014. But to defend its Big 12 title, Baylor will need several inexperienced players to begin emerging in the secondary this spring.

Can Mangino turn Iowa State’s offense around?

As a big part of their disappointing 3-9 record last season, the Cyclones ranked ahead of only Kansas in Big 12 scoring offense. As a result, Paul Rhoads fired offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham and brought in Mark Mangino to revive the Iowa State attack. Mangino was offensive coordinator during Oklahoma’s national championship season, and he took Kansas to the Orange Bowl. His track record as an offensive mind is not in dispute. But can he turn around an offense that hasn’t ranked higher than ninth in the Big 12 in scoring since 2005? Mangino will have some pieces to work with. Wideout Quenton Bundrage, running back Aaron Wimberly and quarterback Grant Rohach all had moments in 2013. Whether Mangino can put them in position to produce a lot more of those moments will go a long way in determining if Iowa State can bounce back.

Can Harwell fill Kansas’ go-to WR need?

Kansas’ lack of production at receiver the past few seasons has been astounding. Justin McCay caught a touchdown pass in the 2013 opener to become the first Kansas receiver to catch a touchdown in almost two full seasons. But Kansas receivers would catch only two more touchdowns the rest of the season (for context, Baylor receivers totaled 35 such grabs). Senior transfer Nick Harwell, however, could be the answer to that woeful drought. Two years ago at Miami (Ohio), Harwell led the Mid-American Conference with 7.6 receptions and 96.7 receiving yards per game while earning All-MAC honors. Going into his final college season, Harwell already has 229 receptions for 3,166 yards in his career. Oh yeah, he has 23 touchdowns over those three years, too. The Jayhawks have desperately been in search of a go-to receiver. They’ll find out this spring whether they can stop that search.

What will K-State do with Sams?

Daniel Sams proved to be one of the league’s best playmakers last season, leading all Big 12 quarterbacks with 807 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns. Sams’ role, however, diminished late in the season, as Jake Waters emerged as the majority-of-the-time quarterback. Sams is too dynamic with the ball in his hands to watch games from the sidelines. But Waters isn’t going anywhere at quarterback, either. Before the bowl, Sams hinted that he’d like to try another position to get onto the field more. K-State whiffed on signing a quarterback last month, so Sams will still have to keep ties with his old position for depth purposes. But the spring will also give the Wildcats the opportunity to experiment using Sams elsewhere -- like receiver -- if they so choose.

How will Oklahoma build on the Sugar Bowl?

By beating Alabama, the Sooners notched arguably the program’s most significant win since defeating Florida State all the way back in the 2000 national championship game. After struggling at times during the 2013 season, the Sooners suddenly have the look of a preseason top-five team going into 2014. Yet, in many ways, this is still a very young team. QB Trevor Knight has only five career starts, two of which he left early due to injury. Projected starting running back Keith Ford has loads of potential, but only 23 carries in his college career. And of the returning receivers, only Sterling Shepard delivered more than 13 catches last season. In the Sugar Bowl, OU flashed its capability. And the Sooners have tons of momentum, underscored by their furious recruiting finish. But to be a legitimate national title contender this fall, the Sooners can’t rest on their laurels of besting the Tide. And OU’s young players have to continue building off that experience.

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
10:00
AM ET
Spring football is rapidly approaching.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: QBs

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
3:00
PM ET
As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’ll be examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, beginning Tuesday with quarterback. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how they compare at the moment:

[+] EnlargePetty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBryce Petty's return leaves Baylor sitting pretty at the most important position on the field.
1. Baylor: The Bears have the reigning first-team All-Big 12 quarterback in Bryce Petty, who should be even better in his second season as a starter. In 2013, Petty led the Big 12 in QBR, and was on the short list of Heisman candidates until mid-November. His play dipped a bit late in the season, but Petty still finished with 44 total touchdowns to just three interceptions. He will start out on the Heisman short list again in 2014. The Bears also have a viable backup in Seth Russell.

2. Kansas State: Junior college transfer Jake Waters was one of the most improved players in the league over the course of the season. Waters split time with Daniel Sams through the first half of the year, but eventually took command of the starting position and spearheaded the Wildcats to wins in six of their last seven games to ride a wave of momentum into the offseason. Like Petty, Waters should only get better in his second season as a starter. Sams figures to be moved around this spring, but he has proven he can step in at QB, too.

3. Oklahoma: The Sooners were one of the most inconsistently quarterbacked teams in the league, notably during double-digit losses to Texas and Baylor. But with one game, OU’s situation looks completely different. In just his fifth career start, freshman Trevor Knight torched Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, leading the Sooners to one of the biggest upsets in BCS bowl history. Insiders in Norman always thought Knight had the talent. The switch just finally flipped in New Orleans. Even with Blake Bell moving to tight end, the Sooners have depth with former four-star QBs Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen.

4. Texas Tech: Davis Webb also delivered one of the best bowl performances of any quarterback. After Baker Mayfield transferred, the plan was for Webb to split snaps with Michael Brewer against Arizona State. But Webb played so well, that plan was scrapped. Webb had the fourth-best QBR of any bowl to lead Tech to the upset. Webb actually played pretty well before the bowl, too, and has a promising future in Lubbock. The Red Raiders, however, are thin here. With Mayfield and Brewer transferring, Patrick Mahomes is Tech’s only other scholarship QB, and he doesn’t arrive until the summer.

5. Oklahoma State: To enjoy success here, the Cowboys will need J.W. Walsh to return to his efficient 2012 form. Or, they will need Mason Rudolph to emerge as a true freshman the way Wes Lunt did two springs ago. Walsh took a step back as a sophomore. He completed 67 percent of his passes in 2012, but just 59 percent last season, and eventually lost his job back to Clint Chelf. Rudolph, the gem of the 2014 recruiting class, had no such issues completing passes in high school, connecting on 72 percent for 64 touchdowns while leading his team to a state championship. If Walsh’s arm strength continues to be a problem, Rudolph could quickly go from QB of the future to QB of the now.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesA healthy David Ash would be a welcome sight for Charlie Strong.
6. Texas: The Longhorns might have the most fluid quarterback predicament in the Big 12. Quarterback play haunted Mack Brown the last four years, but will it haunt Charlie Strong in his first season? That could hinge heavily on the health of David Ash, who missed almost all of last season because of concussion issues. The school says Ash will be ready to go for the spring. But if he suffers another head injury, the Longhorns could be in a fix. Tyrone Swoopes has wheels and a big arm, but still needs a lot of polish, and four-star signee Jerrod Heard won’t be in Austin until the summer.

7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers have no fewer than four quarterbacks with a reasonable chance of becoming the starter. Paul Millard and Clint Trickett shared duties last season, though neither seized the position. Millard is playing baseball, and Trickett is still banged up. That could open the door for junior-college transfer Skyler Howard to make a move on the job. Keep an eye on true freshman William Crest, though. Crest, the No. 11 dual-threat QB in the country, won’t arrive until after the spring. But the Mountaineers have had success with mobile freshman quarterbacks before.

8. TCU: The Horned Frogs first must decide what they’re going to do with Trevone Boykin. But they can’t afford to leave him at receiver until another viable option surfaces at QB. Tyler Matthews didn’t look ready in limited action, but the Horned Frogs have a pair of intriguing possibilities in Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein. Neither, however, will arrive until the summer, meaning TCU’s QB situation will remain unresolved past the spring.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones have the requisite skill talent to bounce back from a disappointing season. But that won’t happen until they stop playing musical quarterbacks. The answer could be Grant Rohach, who played well late in his redshirt freshman season. Sam B. Richardson will also be in the mix. Richardson was never healthy last year, and had the same kind of promising finish in 2012 that Rohach delivered last season. The darkhorse will be Joel Lanning, who redshirted last year. Lanning, who signed with Iowa State over Nebraska, has the arm to make this a three-way battle.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks add another player to the Jake Heaps/Montell Cozart timeshare in UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Neither Heaps nor Cozart did enough to warrant full-time snaps, so Millweard, a former four-star recruit, will have his chance this spring.
Now is the time when the foundation of future success is built.

The offseason is when players start to emerge as potential stars of the future or contributors who will change the fortunes of their teams. Here are some names to keep an eye on during the offseason in the Big 12:

Receiver Robbie Rhodes, Baylor: At this time last season, people were talking about the Bears landing Rhodes, the No. 35 player in the 2013 ESPN 300. He finished with 10 receptions for 157 yards as a freshman. The sophomore has terrific speed, athleticism and big-play ability and could emerge as the replacement for Tevin Reese in Baylor’s explosive attack.

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
AP Photo/Eric GayIt's important for Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes to have a productive spring in 2014.
Linebacker Luke Knott, Iowa State: It’s an important offseason for Knott, who is recovering from hip surgery. Knott, the younger brother of former Cyclone star Jake Knott, started five games as a redshirt freshman and recorded 45 tackles before the season-ending hip injury. If he returns to full health for his sophomore season he should be a major part of ISU’s defense in 2014.

Quarterback Montell Cozart, Kansas: After an up-and-down freshman season, Cozart will have to compete hard to remain atop KU’s depth chart this offseason. UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard will enter the competition alongside Cozart and Jake Heaps, so it will be critical for Cozart to make a jump to another level during the offseason.

Quarterback Daniel Sams, Kansas State: This offseason provides an opportunity for coach Bill Snyder to decide the best way to use the dynamic Sams. Sams could be a playmaker at several different positions in the Wildcats’ attack so seeing where the junior ends up is intriguing.

Tight end Blake Bell, Oklahoma: It’s been an amazing first four years in Norman, Okla., for Bell, who went from making a name for himself as the Belldozer to leading the Sooners on a game-deciding drive against Oklahoma State, which changed the destination of the Big 12 title rings. Now he will make the transition to tight end for his final season.

Receiver Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State: The quarterback battle will garner its share of attention but Seales' continued development is just as important. Top receiver Josh Stewart is NFL-bound so whoever wins the quarterback derby will need a top target. Seales could be the perfect candidate with his size, athleticism and ball skills, but he needs to continue to develop if he hopes to become a consistent threat in 2014.

Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, Texas: Swoopes saw spot duty as a freshman, never really making an impact during Mack Brown’s final season as coach. The offseason will be a critical time for the sophomore to start making an impression on new coach Charlie Strong and cement himself into the plans at quarterback.

Receiver LaDarius Brown, TCU: The junior combines terrific size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and exceptional athleticism. Brown tied for the team lead with 36 receptions as a sophomore but it’s time for Brown to take his game to another level and emerge as a consistent playmaker for the Horned Frogs' offense. His goal next season should be to make his 2013 game against Texas (7 receptions, 87 yards, TD) just another Saturday.

Receiver Jordan Davis, Texas Tech: With Eric Ward and Jace Amaro heading to the next level, the Red Raiders are searching for playmakers at the receiver spot. Davis can help fill the void. He stepped up at various times in 2013, finishing with 28 receptions for 243 yards and one touchdown, so he could be ready for a bigger role.

Running back Dreamius Smith, West Virginia: The Mountaineers’ second-leading rusher behind Charles Sims, Smith faces stiff competition to win the starting running back spot in 2014. Wendell Smallwood, Andrew Buie and Rushel Shell could emerge as the main in the WVU backfield so it’s important for Smith to have a strong offseason with quality competition nipping at his heels.

Big 12 mailbag

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
4:00
PM ET
In today's mailbag, we discuss Daniel Sams, West Virginia's 2014 prospects and whether the Big 12 is "back."

To the 'bag:

GoWVU in Los Angeles writes: I have no hope for 2014. We open with Alabama, play this year's FCS runner-up in Towson, then follow that with 10 teams who have all beaten us in the last two years. Recruiting isn't substantially better than before we joined the Big 12. Nobody in their right mind regrets switching conferences, but it's a terrible coincidence that the Dana Holgorsen hire has gone wrong at the same time. Can we fast forward to 2015, so I can at least find out who the next Mountaineer coach will be? It would be nice to have some hope again.

Jake Trotter: I wish I had some encouraging words for you. But it could be a very tough season for West Virginia next year. As you mentioned, the schedule is brutal. Dreamius Smith and Mario Alford are skilled, but the offense doesn’t have anyone that scares a defense anymore with Charles Sims gone. The West Virginia defense was better, but what is that really saying? It’s possible somebody like Skyler Howard becomes a revelation at quarterback, which changes the equation. But anything short of that, and it’s going to be an uphill climb in Morgantown.

[+] EnlargeSams
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesFinding a role in the offense for Daniel Sams will be an issue at Kansas State.
David Francis in Fort Drum, N.Y., writes: Will Bill Snyder keep the two-quarterback system next year? If not, who's starting and will Sams move to a different position? Thanks.

Trotter: Jake Waters is going to be the one and only quarterback next year. The question is, what happens with Sams? He’s too talented to keep on the sidelines. I would like to see K-State use Sams the way TCU used Trevone Boykin late this season, as a receiver and a situational quarterback. I think he could be a very effective weapon if used that way.

Zach in Norman, Okla., writes: Have you heard any new news on conference expansion? I still want the Big 12 to have 12 teams.

Trotter: I haven’t even heard a whisper. All is quiet on the conference realignment front.

Andy in Austin, Texas, writes: How crazy is Red McCombs? I like the move that Steve Patterson made as it seems he is following through with changing things for the better and not for the boosters. Please let Coach Strong know that those who really matter -- players and fans -- have his back.

Trotter: Strong passed his first test in Austin with flying colors with how he handled the McCombs saga. By taking the high road, Strong not only showed his character, but he brought McCombs back under the tent. The Longhorns need someone who can unite the boosters and the fans, and Strong has proven so far he’s the man for the job.

Trey Willis in Krum, Texas, writes: When does Baylor get over its funk in the state of Oklahoma? I've been to the last three games Baylor has played in Oklahoma and none of them have gone well. Whether it's Norman or Stillwater, it's like we're cursed when we cross the Red River. Is this the year we get over the funk?

Trotter: This has been more of an Oklahoma State issue than anything. The Bears have gotten clocked every time they’ve gone to Stillwater since winning there in 1939. Baylor has lost the last 11 trips there, including all by double digits. The good news is they get Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The bad news is they go to Oklahoma, which could be a top-five team next season looking for a revenge win.

James in El Paso, Texas, writes: Jake, now that there is a new athletic director and a new coach at Texas, do you think new uniforms are possible in a few years?

Trotter: There’s a better chance of Austin freezing over in July.

Kevin in Cincinnati writes: Jake, I'm curious why you think Josh Stewart's departure to the NFL means OSU will now be rebuilding? No doubt he was an impact player, but his stats were down this year and didn't really seem like he carried the team at all. OSU has a lot of really talented young receivers, so as long as a strong QB emerges, it seems like they would just reload. Wishful thinking?

Trotter: Regardless of Stewart’s decision, 2014 was going to be a rebuilding season for Oklahoma State. I think it will be an exciting team. The receiving corps is young and talented and the Cowboys have recruited well defensively the last couple of years. I’m also intrigued by incoming QB Mason Rudolph and whether he can win the job as a true freshman. But the schedule is unforgiving, and with so much inexperience, I have a hard time seeing Oklahoma State contending next year. That said, 2015 could be a really special year for the Cowboys. The schedule will be more manageable, and there should be a boatload of returning starters coming back then.

Kelly in Bend, Ore., writes: Is the Big 12 back?

Trotter: Back? No. On the way? Maybe. Oklahoma’s win over Alabama certainly helped. The next step will be putting a team in the College Football Playoff in 2014.

Big 12 mailbag

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
4:00
PM ET
In today's mailbag, Big 12 fans are giddy after the Sooners took it to the SEC in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Lots of optimism in Lubbock, Texas, and Manhattan, Kan., as well.

To the 'bag:

Will R. in Fort Bragg, N.C., writes: Does OU's win in the Sugar Bowl do anything to change the national perception of the SEC or Big 12?

Jake Trotter: I believe it accomplished a lot. The top tier of the SEC had basically been viewed as unbeatable here in recent years. The Sooners quashed that, while also showing they -- and teams in the Big 12 -- could play with anything in the country. The perception gap wasn’t narrowed entirely with that one game. But it was a strong first step.

Matt in Wamego, Kan., writes: As a big KU fan who is suppose to hate everything Oklahoma. All I can say today is BOOMER SOONER. I have to thank OU because I believe they just saved the Big 12's reputation nationally. It’s a great day in Big 12 country.

Jake Trotter: Tonight’s another huge game for the conference. An Oklahoma State win over Missouri would give the league a 4-2 bowl mark -- and a sweep over two of the top three teams from the vaunted SEC.

Michael in Lubbock, Texas, writes: With the return of key defensive players from injury for the Holiday Bowl, does the Tech performance indicate that the 7-0 was not so much of a fluke, and the five-game skid was a product of a lack of depth?

Jake Trotter: I think there’s a compelling case to be made there. Was Tech ever really one of the ten best teams in the country? No. But the Red Raiders were better than their late-season skid indicated. When healthy, they was a pretty good team. Tech fans have a lot to be excited about, especially as Kilff Kingsbury builds up the depth on this team.

Kyle in Enid, Okla., writes: I know K-State recruiting is a boring topic for most because we don’t pull high-star players, but out of the guys that have committed or are seriously considering becoming Wildcats, who should make immediate impact on the team next season?

Jake Trotter: On top of highly touted junior-college transfers like wideout Andre Davis and cornerback Danzel McDaniel, I think Blue Springs, Mo., running back Dalvin Warmack could make a splash. The Wildcats need somebody to replace John Hubert. Warmack ran for 2,223 yards and 29 touchdowns this season, and had an impressive offer list that included Wisconsin, Oklahoma State and Iowa. He could step in and contribute right away.

Kaled Zakzok in Lubbock, Texas, writes: Who do you think will be Tech’s starting QB coming in 2014? Patrick Mahomes impressed me with his high school highlight video. Also I still think Michael Brewer could put up a challenge.

Jake Trotter: Barring something unforeseen, the job is Davis Webb’s. He earned it with that performance in San Diego.

Kasey in Manhappiness, Kan., writes: Looking ahead to next year, what do you think the quarterback situation will be like for K-State? Do you think Jakes Waters takes the reins and Daniel Sams transfers? They both could stay and Bill Snyder use them similar to how he did later in this season. What are your thoughts?

Jake Trotter: The job is Waters’ but I don’t get the sense Sams will be looking to transfer. One key for Snyder this offseason will be finding an expanded role for Sams in the offense. Does that include a move to wide receiver? Maybe. Sams is too explosive with the ball in his hands to be watching games on the sideline.

Chat wrap: Weis' future, Sams' move

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
3:15
PM ET
Thanks for the questions during my chat. You can read the full transcript here.

Jordan (South Florida): How many more years does Charlie Weis have as the Jayhawks head coach?

Brandon Chatmon: I'd say at least a year or two. I don't think just changing coaches over and over and over is the answer. And I think the Jayhawks showed some positive signs this season. I don't expect anyone to just be able to turn KU around on a dime.

Drew (NY): What are your thoughts on the Michigan vs K-State game after the recent QB news?

Brandon Chatmon: I felt like Kansas State would win all along, so with Michigan naming Shane Morris, a true freshman, to start at QB, I feel pretty good about my pick. I don't expect the Wildcats to cruise to a win or anything, but I do expect them to snap that long bowl losing streak.

Matt (St. Paul): Watching some of the bowl games this year, what I've noticed is small crowds, lackluster play, and a general apathy to the non-BCS bowls. My question is... is the bowl system that we currently have broken and unfixable? It just seems like the idea of going to a bowl doesn't hold the excitement and draw that it used to. Time to scrap the whole thing?

Brandon Chatmon: No, I don't think so. Everyone likes bowl games and enjoys watching them during the holiday season, thus I don't see them going anywhere despite the trends you mention. They're great, live television entertainment during these two weeks.

tater (manhattan): With Daniel Sams recent comments about switching to WR next year, do you think Bill [Snyder] will go for this? Who would be [Jake] Waters backup next year if this happened?

Brandon Chatmon: I think Sams could do both, play receiver and remain the backup. I think the bottom line is Daniel Sams is too talented to keep on the sideline and Waters brings a lot to the table also. So, in other words, both guys are part of KSU's best 11, so I'd think Snyder will find creative ways to take advantage of that. And for Sams, he's got to see the writing on the wall and understand if he wants to play in the NFL, a move to WR would be in the cards. So why not start now?

DClayton (Gulfport): Although TTU's season could be considered a disappointment to some, being the true Red Raider that I am, what do you thing of the recruits so far and our hopes for next year.

Brandon Chatmon: There's still a ways to go before this recruiting class is done but I like what the Red Raiders are doing thus far, particularly [Byron] Daniels and [Justin] Stockton. I think they can be future playmakers in Kingsbury's offense.

Derrin (Plano, TX): Do you think both Aaron Colvin and Justin Gilbert are gone by the end of the second round?

Brandon Chatmon: Gilbert will be gone on day 1. Colvin could go second round, particularly if he runs well. As a Broncos fan, I'd love to see either guy in Denver. I think those are two quality pro cornerbacks for the next few years.


Oklahoma hopes to improve to 5-0 in Manhattan, Kan., under Bob Stoops on Saturday. The Sooners take on the red-hot Kansas State Wildcats in an overlooked but intriguing Big 12 Conference tilt. The Sooners quarterback situation remains unsettled, meaning they don’t know who “the guy” is, but Trevor Knight will get another shot against KSU.

Here are some storylines, players to watch and a prediction:

Storylines

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesOU QB Trevor Knight looked comfortable running the offense against Iowa State, but can he keep it going against a red-hot K-State team?
Can Knight start to cement himself as the No. 1 guy? Quite frankly, this could be the most important question of the rest of the season in Norman, Okla. OU went with Knight to start the season and was willing to deal with some ups-and-downs due to his exceptional upside. Against Iowa State last Saturday, the redshirt freshman looked much more comfortable running OU’s offense. Could he start to show why he took the first snap of the season?

Will K-State continue to roll? The Wildcats have won four-straight games as they finally have limited the turnovers, penalties and silly mistakes that cost them games early in Big 12 play. They have a plus-six turnover margin during their four-game win streak so if they continue to be optimistic on defense, they could change the game with a turnover or two if Knight makes some mistakes.

Could the chilly weather impact the outcome? Saturday’s forecast is calling for cloudy conditions with highs in the mid-30s. The weather could make it harder for either team to throw, but neither team must pass to move the ball so it may not matter. Regardless, both teams play in the same elements. No excuses.

Players to watch

KSU receiver Tyler Lockett: The Wildcats’ pass catching and return threat has been one of the Big 12’s top playmakers since he arrived at KSU. He has 56 receptions for 825 yards and five touchdowns in nine games this season. He will test OU’s secondary with his quickness, competitiveness and play making ability.

OU linebacker Dominique Alexander: The true freshman has been very solid while replacing senior Corey Nelson at linebacker. But K-State features an assignment-sound, fundamental offense that could take advantage of any small mistake the youngster makes on Saturday. Alexander will need to play with great focus, technique and maturity against a Wildcats offense designed to take advantage of any mental mistake.

KSU quarterback Daniel Sams: His running ability could be the wild card in this game. Sams is a dynamic running threat from the quarterback position, but can throw well enough to make teams pay for focusing on stopping his running skills. Yet, at the same time, he’s made some turnovers that have really hurt the Wildcats this season. He could be the difference, one way or the other.

Prediction

Kansas State 28, OU 24. The Wildcats are playing too well to watch the Sooners come in and knock them off at home. KSU has found its offensive rhythm, something the Sooners cannot say heading into this game. Ultimately K-State’s sound approach will win out.


NORMAN, Okla. -- Mike Stoops’ decision to make Oklahoma’s defense more versatile, athletic and faster has paid off this season.

The Sooners’ defensive coordinator has OU among the nation’s top 20 in points allowed (No. 19 at 20.1), yards per game (No. 13 at 326.4), passing yards per game (No. 10 at 182.8) and passing yards per attempt (No.10 at 5.8).

But this defense wasn’t built for Kansas State.

OU’s offseason changes were made with the spread offensive attacks run by the Baylors, Texas Techs and Oklahoma States of the Big 12 in mind.

[+] EnlargeMike Stoops
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsOU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops knows his defense will have its hands full against K-State.
The Wildcats will take the field with a physical running attack that will test OU’s defense in ways it hasn’t really been tested this season. KSU ranks third in the Big 12 in rushing (193.3), but it is the way it rushes and its use of big personnel that will make OU’s preparation more difficult. KSU uses its tight ends in ways the rest of the league does not, although with quarterbacks struggling around the league, offensive coordinators have turned to more big packages this season with the hope of leaning on their running games instead.

“We’re seeing more bigger sets this year than we have in a long time,” Stoops said. “Compared to last year, it’s almost like a [180] the reemerging of the tight end is becoming the focal point of all offenses, now you have to bring bigger people in. We’ll have to make some adjustments to their big people and physical sets. It’s something we need to look at.”

OU will have to alter its base three-man front, bringing in bigger bodies like defensive end P.L. Lindley to help make the Sooners’ defense bigger and more physical, essentially making it a four-man defensive set to try to offset the size disadvantage.

“P.L. is a guy that we have to continue to define, he’s a good player,” Stoops said. “He’s a guy that makes us more physical at the point of attack in bigger sets. That’s where we try to implement a more physical player and that’s what we need to do. He’s going to be a guy that’s able to do those things as we move forward with what we’re doing.”

More importantly the Sooners will need to play solid, assignment football and must have freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander to continue to exceed expectations and fellow linebacker Frank Shannon to play well. Alexander and Shannon will need to show their versatility. Two weeks ago, they were dealing with the space and athletes that make Baylor so potent. Saturday, they’ll have to deal with fundamentally sound KSU offensive linemen looking to drive them deep into the Sooners’ defensive backfield.

“It’s not a 180. Football is football,” Alexander said. “They’re either going to run or pass it, and they’re going to do both on Saturday. They’re a strong and powerful team, but we’re going to prepare well for them and execute.”

Adding to the quandary is K-State’s use of quarterbacks Daniel Sams and Jake Waters. Both quarterbacks can make you pay with their arms and legs, yet are quite different in their approaches. Sams is the better runner, Waters the better passer but both have the proven ability to take advantage of defensive game plans that focus on stopping one or the other.

“It gives you a lot more to work on,” Stoops said of the two-quarterback approach. “It’s like they have two different offenses. It will take a lot more practice time and attention to detail to get familiar with the two different ways that they are trying to move the ball.”

OU’s defense has been the foundation of the majority of the Sooners’ success this season. If they hope to continue that trend, they will have to prove they could be more versatile than ever.

“It’s going to be fun,” Alexander said. “I like physical play. I like smashmouth football. That’s how I was raised playing. So it’s going to be fun playing the run and the pass. Like I said, it’s just football.”

Big 12 primer: Week 12

November, 16, 2013
11/16/13
7:00
AM ET
Oklahoma State and Texas will duke it out with Big 12 title implications on the line; Oklahoma, Texas Tech and West Virginia will try to bounce back from disappointing losses; Kansas and Iowa State will attempt to get off the Big 12 snide; TCU will hope to remain bowl eligible, and Baylor and Kansas State will look to keep rolling.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch in Week 12 of the Big 12:

Iowa State at No. 18 Oklahoma, 11 a.m. CT (FS1): Coach Bob Stoops said he would be sticking with Blake Bell as his starting QB, but also indicated backup Trevor Knight could get more playing time. The Sooners are beat up after last week’s loss at Baylor, with receiver Sterling Shepard, linebacker Jordan Evans and defensive backs Julian Wilson and Aaron Colvin all dealing with an assortment of injuries. Iowa State is still looking for its first Big 12 victory and guaranteed to have its worst record since Paul Rhoads became coach in 2009.

West Virginia at Kansas, 11 a.m. CT (FSN): Despite a deflating overtime loss to Texas last weekend, the Mountaineers are still on track for a bowl berth. But they have to win here. Behind freshman QB Montell Cozart, who is expected to get more playing time if not the start over Jake Heaps, Kansas will attempt to snap its 27-game losing streak in Big 12 games. If the Mountaineers don’t take better care of the ball -- they turned it over five times against Texas -- the Jayhawks just might have a shot.

No. 12 Oklahoma State at No. 24 Texas, 2:30 p.m. CT (FOX): Both teams enter this showdown on a roll. Texas has won six straight while Oklahoma State has reeled off five in a row. The Longhorns, however, will be without running back Johnathan Gray and defensive tackle Chris Whaley, who both suffered season-ending injuries last weekend. This game carries major Big 12 title repercussions, though Texas could still win the league with a loss. This is the fifth time Oklahoma State and Texas have met as BCS-ranked teams. The Longhorns won the previous four meetings.

TCU at Kansas State, 2:30 p.m. CT (FSN): K-State is one of the hottest teams in the Big 12, coming off three straight wins and a 49-26 victory at Texas Tech. QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters have been incredibly efficient during the win streak, completing 73 percent of their passes without an interception. Senior running back John Hubert has had the hot hand, too, rushing for more than 100 yards the last two games. TCU has to win this game to keep its slim bowl hopes alive. The good news is that Brandon Carter is beginning to perform like the No. 1 wideout the Horned Frogs thought he would be at the beginning of the season. Carter had six receptions for 93 yards in last week’s win at Iowa State.

Texas Tech at No. 5 Baylor, 6 p.m. (FOX): Baylor is in the thick of the national championship conversation, but remains on the outside looking in on the title game and could use some more style points. The Bears, however, will be without star wideout Tevin Reese, who suffered a dislocated wrist last week. Running backs Lache Seastrunk (groin) and Glasco Martin (knee) are banged up, too, and questionable for this game. Texas Tech is 1-10 in the month of November, and desperately needs a victory to stave off another late-season collapse. That won’t be easily achieved here. The Bears are four-touchdown favorites.

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Saturday, 12/20
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