Oklahoma Sooners: Malcolm Brown

The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s captured three Super Bowls on the backs of their triplets. Running back Emmitt Smith churned out yardage between the tackles. Wide receiver Michael Irvin hauled in receptions downfield. And quarterback Troy Aikman captained the unstoppable attack.

Like with the Cowboys, big-time triplets usually translate to big-time offense. And the Big 12 over the years has showcased several notable ones. Oklahoma’s Jason White, Adrian Peterson and Mark Clayton in 2004. Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle and Justin Blackmon in 2011. West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in 2012. Even last season, Baylor boasted one of the best triplets in the country in Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and Antwan Goodley.

So which Big 12 teams will feature the most prolific offensive triplets in 2014? We rank them below:

1. Baylor

QB Bryce Petty, RB Shock Linwood, WR Antwan Goodley

The Bears remain atop this list, even with Seastrunk bolting early for the NFL draft. Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back last season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and shined as the featured back while Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were injured. After totaling 46 touchdowns throwing and rushing, Petty should be even better in his second season as a starter. Goodley is an All-American-caliber wideout.

2. Oklahoma

QB Trevor Knight, RB Keith Ford, WR Sterling Shepard

Knight finally live up to his preseason billing with a sparkling Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama. Knight has the talent and potential to be one of the best dual-threat QBs in the country. Ford was one of the top running back recruits in 2013, and would have played more as a freshman had the Sooners not also had four senior running backs on the roster. Shepard has been a dependable starter the last two seasons, and he already has 96 career receptions going into his junior season. He seems ready to take over for Jalen Saunders as the go-to receiver.

3. Texas Tech

QB Davis Webb, RB Kenny Williams, WR Jakeem Grant

Webb broke out with a tremendous performance in the National University Holiday Bowl, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in an upset of Arizona State. He had his moments during the regular season, too, and could be in for a monster sophomore campaign in Kliff Kingsbury’s air-it-out offense. Williams is a solid pass-catching running back out of the backfield, and he led the Red Raiders with 497 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season. Williams has been taking first-team snaps at outside linebacker this spring, so he could wind up deferring carries to DeAndre Washington, who has been a capable backup. Grant is electric with the ball, burning Arizona State with a pair of touchdown catches. Grant was sixth in the Big 12 last season in receiving, and with Jace Amaro and Eric Ward gone, should take on an expanded role offensively.

4. Texas

QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Jaxon Shipley

The possibilities of this threesome hinges heavily on the health of Ash, who missed virtually all of the 2013 season with concussion issues. Ash is back with the team this spring, and he has had moments before of performing at a high level. After Johnathan Gray’s Achilles injury, Brown took over as the starting running back and performed admirably, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of Texas’ final three games. Shipley has sure hands, is a precise route runner and is capable of catching 70-plus passes in the right quarterback situation.

5. Kansas State

QB Jake Waters, RB DeMarcus Robinson, WR Tyler Lockett

The Wildcats would be ranked second here if John Hubert had another season of eligibility. But running back is a major question, with no back on the roster holding much experience. Robinson might be the favorite to win the job, but he’ll have to fend off Jarvis Leverett and incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack. Lockett is the best receiver in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country. Waters improved dramatically in his first season as the starter in 2013. If a running back emerges, the Wildcats could surge up this list.

6. Iowa State

QB Grant Rohach, RB Aaron Wimberly, WR Quenton Bundrage

Rohach first must win the starting quarterback derby this spring over Sam B. Richardson. But he played well down the stretch while leading Iowa State to a pair of wins to finish last year. Wimberly was banged up for much of last season, but he can be dynamic when healthy. Bundrage was third in the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns in 2013, and with a little more consistency, could be an all-league receiver. This could be the best triplet combination coach Paul Rhoads has enjoyed in Ames.

7. Oklahoma State

QB J.W. Walsh, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales

Walsh was fifth in college football in Adjusted Total QBR as a redshirt freshman, but he took a step back as a sophomore and eventually lost the starting gig back to Clint Chelf. If he plays like he did as a freshman, Walsh could be one of the five-best QBs in the league. If he performs like his sophomore season, he could lose the job again. Roland is a touchdown machine and is as good as any back in the league in short-yardage situations. Seales could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way after starting as a freshman.

8. West Virginia

QB Clint Trickett, RB Dreamius Smith, WR Kevin White

The Mountaineers have plenty of weapons, but they will only score more points with more consistent QB play. Trickett tops the projected depth chart for now, but he’ll have to outperform Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and William Crest to stick there. Smith was very impressive at times last season backing up Charles Sims. He’ll get the first crack at starting, but Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell will be looming if Smith sputters. White gets the nod as the No. 1 wideout, but Daikiel Shorts and Mario Alford are not far behind as part of a deep and balanced wide receiving corps.

9. TCU

QB Trevone Boykin, RB B.J. Catalon, WR Josh Doctson

Boykin is back at quarterback again after splitting time at receiver the last two seasons. Boykin struggled as the starting QB last season but got little help from his offensive line or receivers. Reports are that he has been sharp this spring in the new Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie offense. Catalon is a solid cog at running back, and he averaged 5.3 yards per carry despite playing in an anemic attack last year. Brandon Carter was supposed to be the No. 1 receiver last season -- and still could be in 2014 -- but he wasn’t reliable on or off the field. In Carter’s stead, Doctson surfaced after transferring in from Wyoming, and led the Horned Frogs with 36 receptions and 440 receiving yards.

10. Kansas

QB Jake Heaps, RB Brandon Bourbon, WR Nick Harwell

Harwell should give Kansas what it hasn’t had in a long time -- a go-to receiver. Harwell was the nation’s second-leading receiver in 2011 at Miami (Ohio), and he should give the Kansas offense a much needed shot in the arm. Heaps lost time to freshman Montell Cozart last fall, but he has reasserted himself this spring amid a three-way competition with Cozart and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Bourbon is battling Taylor Cox and Darrian Miller to see who replaces All-Big 12 running back James Sims.
It’s Take Two Tuesday again, when we give our takes on a burning question in the league.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of jumping up and challenging Big 12 favorites Baylor and Oklahoma for the conference crown?

Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas

Oklahoma and Baylor should both be considered top-10 squads in 2014, there’s no dispute about that. They’re in terrific shape going forward. But the way this league is set up, it’s hard to see either emerging undefeated by December.

The team best built to challenge them is Texas, at least on paper. Remember, for all its flaws in 2013, the Longhorns were two quarters away from winning the Big 12 despite major injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. They lose key pieces, but could come back better than expected.

That’s because there’s a new sheriff in town. Charlie Strong is dedicated to changing the mentality of this program and bringing back the toughness and accountability that went missing in recent years. He put together an impressive staff and brought in a revered strength coach. This program is undergoing big changes.

And there’s enough talent on board to sustain another run at a conference title. Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson will build an offense around the run game trio of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron, and there’s good depth at receiver and on the line. What Texas needs most is a full year from David Ash, but Max Wittek seems likely to become the insurance option there.

If Texas is going to challenge the league favorites, it’ll be with a defense that brings back leaders at all three levels (Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, Quandre Diggs) and is full of experienced talent. This is a unit that will line up a bunch of different ways and cause a lot of problems.

Revamping this Texas program will take time, but the Longhorns could have enough to make another run in 2014.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters was one of the nation's most effective quarterbacks during the second half of last season.
The Longhorns certainly have the talent and supporting cast to seriously compete for a Big 12 title. But until they find the answer at quarterback -- and I’m dubious they will in Strong’s first season – it’s hard to see them doing so.

The Kansas State Wildcats have no such issues. And they too have the surrounding cast to make a run at the Bears and Sooners for the league championship.

After struggling early, Jake Waters settled in at quarterback the last half of the season and cut talented playmaker Daniel Sams out of the rotation. From Oct. 26 on, Waters produced the 13th-best Adjusted QBR in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Info, while leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games (he threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns in the lone loss, too).

Besides Waters, K-State also boasts one of the top wide receivers in the nation in the uncoverable Tyler Lockett, who had the third-most receiving yards in college football during the same Oct. 26-on stretch.

On the other side, Bill Snyder replenished his defense with a trio of ESPN JC 50 signees in defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott and cornerback Danzel McDaniel, who should fill the slots in the lineup where the Wildcats have holes.

K-State will have to earn its way into the conference title chase, with road trips to both Baylor and Oklahoma. But K-State gets the Longhorns in the Little Apple, where it hasn’t lost to Texas since 2002.

The Wildcats also get defending national runner-up Auburn in Manhattan, Kan., earlier in September. If they topple the Tigers in that Thursday night clash, the rest of the Big 12 will quickly realize that K-State is a legitimate contender.
In 2013, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was the overwhelming pick as Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after leading the conference in passing while guiding the Bears to their first Big 12 championship.

As a result, Petty will go into his senior season as the clear-cut favorite to repeat.

But is there anyone else in the league capable of threatening his reign?

SportsNation

Who is the biggest threat to stopping Baylor QB Bryce Petty from repeating as Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year?

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    12%
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    35%
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    18%
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    23%
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    12%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,320)

There might be, including a couple of budding young quarterbacks, a tough veteran runner and one of the best playmaking wide receivers in the country.

That receiver -- Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett -- could become Petty’s biggest challenger, especially if the Wildcats emerge as contenders for the Big 12 title. Despite missing two games because of injury, Lockett finished third in the conference in receiving yards (1,262) and receptions (81) last season. He led the league in receiving yards per game and became virtually uncoverable late in the season, when quarterback Jake Waters also found his passing stride. Lockett torched Oklahoma for 278 receiving yards and three touchdowns, then hauled in another three touchdowns two games later in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Michigan.

Lockett, however, isn’t the only player who could push for the award, especially if quarterbacks Trevor Knight and Davis Webb build on the way they played at the end of their freshman seasons.

In the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Knight shredded two-time defending national champ Alabama while leading Oklahoma to a stunning 45-31 victory. Knight threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns and finally performed the way the Sooners thought he would when he beat out favorite Blake Bell for the starting job before the season.

Webb was just as impressive in Texas Tech's victory over double-digit favorite Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Webb completed 28 of 41 passes and threw for four touchdowns, tying a Holiday Bowl record. He finished with the league’s third-best Adjusted QBR behind Petty and second-team All-Big 12 performer Clint Chelf.

The league’s top five rushers from last season are out of eligibility. But after taking over for injured starter Johnathan Gray, Texas' Malcolm Brown showed he could be a reliable workhorse running back able to move the chains. In his final three games last season, Brown rushed for 128, 131 and 130 yards. With Gray’s health in question as he attempts to return from a ruptured Achilles' tendon, Brown could open the 2014 season as the primary back again.

In addition to Petty, Baylor has two other big-time playmakers coming back in receiver Antwan Goodley, who led the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns last season with 13, and running back Shock Linwood, who was sixth in the Big 12 in rushing in 2013 with 881 yards despite being Baylor’s third-team running back.

There are several dark horses to watch as well, including Gray, Oklahoma running back Keith Ford and West Virginia running back Rushel Shell.

But we put the question to you via a poll: Who is the biggest threat to Petty repeating as Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year?

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: RBs

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we're examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Wednesday with running backs. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how they compare at the moment:

1. Texas: The three-headed monster of Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron gives Texas the best 1-2-3 punch in the league. Whether this group goes from good to great hinges on a healthy return for Gray, who is coming back from an Achilles injury and will sit out spring drills. Either way, this will be the backbone of Charlie Strong’s first offense.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsShock Linwood showed breakaway ability as a Baylor reserve in 2013.
2. Baylor: Shock Linwood takes over in the backfield after a dynamic freshman season in which he finished seventh in the league in rushing despite being a third-team running back. The competition for carries after Linwood will be interesting. Devin Chafin is the favorite to be Linwood’s wing man, but he could be pressed by Johnny Jefferson and/or incoming four-star freshman Terence Williams, who is already on campus.

3. Oklahoma: The potential of this running back crop has no bounds. But it will be young and inexperienced after seniors Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and Damien Williams (until he was kicked off the team) hoarded the carries last season. Keith Ford, who was the nation’s No. 3 running back recruit in the 2013 class, will take over the starting role. Joe Mixon, this year’s No. 6 RB recruit, won’t get to Norman until the summer, but he should supply the lightning to Ford’s thunder. Alex Ross, who was the nation’s No. 7 RB recruit in the 2012 class, rounds out a fearsome threesome with tremendous pedigree.

4. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose All-Big 12 performer Charles Sims, but still claim a glut of capable rushers. Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood thrived playing behind Sims last year. West Virginia also has Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie, its leading rushers from 2011 and 2012, respectively. (Buie is back after leaving school for a semester.) On top of all that, Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell figures to be in the mix. Shell was the No. 26 overall recruit in the country coming out of high school after becoming the all-time leading rusher in Pennsylvania high school history. If that weren’t enough, the gem of the incoming recruiting class, Donte Thomas-Williams, is also a running back. Suffice to say, the competition for carries will be fierce in the league’s deepest backfield.

5. Oklahoma State: Desmond Roland helped fuel Oklahoma State’s midseason turnaround after seizing a starting role. Roland was great in short yardage and led the Big 12 with 13 touchdowns, but he wasn’t a big-play runner, with an average of only 4.6 yards per carry (14th in the league). The Cowboys are banking that Rennie Childs can complement Roland as the breakaway back. Childs showed flashes as a true freshman. Roland and Childs can form a solid combo, but four-star freshman Devon Thomas, who is enrolled for the spring, should not be discounted, nor should Sione Palelei, who has the good hands that past Oklahoma State running backs also possessed.

6. Texas Tech: The returning duo of Kenny Williams and DeAndre Washington won’t do much damage between the tackles. Both, however, are excellent pass-catchers, making them supreme fits for Kliff Kingsbury’s spread attack. Together they combined for 64 receptions, and that number should go up in 2014 as quarterback Davis Webb settles in as a sophomore.

7. TCU: The Horned Frogs were a disaster offensively last year, but the potential at running back is a reason why TCU could be equipped for a bounce-back season. Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks and incoming freshman Shaun Nixon were all ESPN 300 recruits. That doesn’t include B.J. Catalon, either, who led the Frogs with 569 yards and six touchdowns last season. With a new regime making the play calls, there’s reason to believe this could become one of the better units in the league.

[+] EnlargeDalton Santos
David Purdy/Getty ImagesIf Aaron Wimberly can stay healthy, Iowa State has a potentially dynamic returning running back.
8. Iowa State: When healthy, Aaron Wimberly can be a game-breaker. He torched Texas for 137 yards as the Cyclones nearly pulled off a Thursday night upset. Wimberly, however, was never really healthy the rest of the season, and never had the same impact. After Wimberly, though, the Cyclones don’t have much returning firepower. Firepower, however, could be on the way. Oklahoma native Michael Warren went overlooked in recruiting, but he can fly; he rushed for more than 2,500 yards as a high school senior.

9. Kansas: The Jayhawks gradated their heart and soul in James Sims, who was an all-conference selection even though Kansas won only one Big 12 game. Tony Pierson returns as an electric playmaker, but he has never been a full-time running back, often flexing out as a receiver. It will be interesting to see who emerges in Sims’ shoes. Brandon Bourbon (191 yards) will have the first crack in the spring, but newcomers De'Andre Mann and Traevohn Wrench could vie for time once they arrive in the summer.

10. Kansas State: It’s difficult to believe K-State will be at the bottom here once the season starts, but running back is a major hole for the Wildcats going into the spring. That’s because longtime starter John Hubert is gone. Hubert, senior backup Robert Rose and QBs Jake Waters and Daniel Sams combined for 492 carries last season. Nobody else had more than five. Rising senior DeMarcus Robinson, who has only 11 career carries, will probably be atop the depth chart going into the spring. It’s also possible that Sams will get a look at running back with Waters having nailed down the full-time QB job. But the player to watch here is freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns his final two seasons in Blue Springs, Mo. Warmack isn’t big at 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds. But his size fits the mold of past K-State running backs Hubert and Darren Sproles.

Big 12 all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
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The Big 12 had some memorable bowl performances, and some not-so-memorable ones. Below, we honor the memorable ones with the Big 12's all-bowl team:

OFFENSE

QB: Trevor Knight, Oklahoma. Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Kansas State’s Jake Waters were marvelous, too, but Knight was simply incredible, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns against the two-time defending national champs.

RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas. Brown did everything he could to keep the Longhorns in the Valero Alamo Bowl, rushing for 130 yards on 26 carries. Unfortunately, he had little help from the rest of the offense.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Lockett proved just as much a handful for Michigan as he does Big 12 teams.
RB: John Hubert, Kansas State. In his final game at K-State, Hubert went out with a bang, rushing for 80 yards and a touchdown as the Wildcats rolled Michigan.

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State. The Wolverines became the next team unable to guard Lockett, who had another stellar outing with 10 catches, 116 yards and three touchdowns. Big 12 defensive backs cannot be looking forward to this guy coming back next season.

WR: Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma. Saunders hauled in two of Knight’s touchdown passes, the second a 43-yarder coming off a gorgeous double move that gave OU the lead for good.

TE: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech. Amaro became the NCAA's all-time single season tight end record holder for receptions and receiving yards, reeling in eight catches for 112 yards against the Sun Devils before revealing he would be turning pro.

OT: Bronson Irwin, Oklahoma. Irwin held up remarkably well against Alabama’s mighty front in his first career start at right tackle, as Knight was sacked only once. Irwin, a guard his entire career, had to move outside because of an injury to Tyrus Thompson.

OT: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech. Webb attempted 41 passes and wasn’t sacked once. Clark was a big reason.

OG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State. The Wildcats moved the ball at will against Michigan. Along with Clark, Whitehair is one of the best young returning offensive linemen in the league.

OG: Beau Carpenter, Texas Tech. After missing three straight games with a concussion, Carpenter returned to help shut down Arizona State All-American DT Will Sutton, who basically was a non-factor.

C: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma. Even with a makeshift offensive line, OU somehow won the battle in the trenches against Alabama. Ikard, an All-American and quarterback of the line, deserves a ton of credit for keeping the line together.

DEFENSE

DE: Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma. Grissom was a man possessed against the Crimson Tide. The former tight end had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, the latter of which he returned for a touchdown to clinch the Sooners’ victory.

DT: Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State. Despite the loss, Barnett tied a career high with five tackles and one sack and repeatedly found his way into the Missouri backfield.

DT: Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech. The Red Raiders desperately missed Bush late in the regular season. His performance against Arizona State underscored why, as Bush delivered three tackles and a sack and freed up Kerry Hyder to make plays, too.

[+] EnlargeEric Striker
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesSooners LB Eric Striker sacked AJ McCarron three times in the Sugar Bowl.
DE: Jimmy Bean, Oklahoma State. Bean had a breakout game in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, with a career-high seven tackles, including three for loss.

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma. Not even Alabama could block Striker off the edge. Striker had a monster performance against the Tide with seven tackles and three sacks, with his final sack forcing the game-clinching fumble in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

LB: Will Smith, Texas Tech. The senior had a National University Holiday Bowl-high 14 tackles, as the Red Raiders held Arizona State 17 points below its season average.

LB: Blake Slaughter, Kansas State. One of the better linebackers in the Big 12 all year, Slaughter had another fine game in the desert with seven tackles, including one for loss, as Michigan’s offense was held in check all night.

CB: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma. The Sooners gave up some big plays in the passing game, but Colvin was the exception. He also had a critical, touchdown-saving tackle in the first quarter that resulted in Alabama having to settle for a field goal.

CB: Demetri Goodson, Baylor. The Bears gave up 52 points, but they might have given up more had Goodson not collected an acrobatic interception inside the Baylor 5-yard line.

S: Dante Barnett, Kansas State. Barnett led the Wildcats with eight tackles, and he delivered the exclamation point against Michigan with a 51-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.

S: Tanner Jacobson, Texas Tech. In his last college game for a while, the walk-on freshman had a very solid performance with seven tackles. Jacobson is leaving the program for a two-year Mormon mission to Bolivia.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma. “Moneycutt” nailed a season-long 47-yard field goal in the second quarter that allowed OU to keep momentum. It was the third-longest field goal of his career.

P: Spencer Roth, Baylor. One of the few bright spots for Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was its punter, who was busier than he had been all season. Roth averaged almost 44 yards on seven punts, and pinned UCF inside the 20-yard line three times.

Returner: Reginald Davis, Texas Tech. After Arizona State had trimmed Tech’s lead to 27-20 early in the third quarter, Davis answered on the ensuing kickoff with a 90-yard touchdown return down the sideline. The Sun Devils failed to retake the momentum again the rest of the game.
Immediately after the national championship game, colleague Mark Schlabach released his Way-Too-Early Top 25. In concert, below is our Way-Too-Early Big 12 power poll. This could change between now and the end of the spring. In fact, it probably will. But this is a first look at how the Big 12 teams stack up against one another for 2014:

1. Oklahoma Sooners

In the Allstate Sugar Bowl, freshman Trevor Knight finally played like the quarterback that had been drawing comparisons to Johnny Manziel behind Oklahoma’s closed practices. The Sooners lose some cornerstone players to graduation, notably running back Brennan Clay, center Gabe Ikard, receiver Jalen Saunders and cornerback Aaron Colvin. But with Knight and budding running back Keith Ford returning to man the backfield, and nine starters coming back defensively, including menacing outside linebacker Eric Striker, Oklahoma could be a favorite in every game next season -- and a force once again on the national stage.

2. Baylor Bears

Even with running back Lache Seastrunk going pro, the Bears return plenty of firepower offensively. Bryce Petty will be the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback, and Antwan Goodley will be coming off a monster junior season. Rising sophomore Shock Linwood showed he could shoulder the rushing load, too, when Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were banged up late in the season. The Bears, however, could take a step back defensively. Baylor, which got torched for 52 points in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, loses six starters there, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon and All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Former blue-chip defensive tackle recruit Andrew Billings will need to step up and become more of a force. Even if the defense stumbles, Baylor should be capable of scoring enough points to win every game on its schedule, thanks to coach Art Briles being back on its sidelines.

3. Kansas State Wildcats

Along with Missouri, the Wildcats were the first two teams left out of Schlabach’s Top 25. But they make a compelling case for inclusion. Quarterback Jake Waters improved dramatically during the second half of the season, eventually squeezing Daniel Sams out of the QB rotation. Wideout Tyler Lockett could be a preseason All-American, after torching Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan for a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The defense should be better, too, with sack artist Ryan Mueller back at end, and rising junior safety Dante Barnett set to take over for the outgoing Ty Zimmerman as leader of the secondary. The Wildcats will be tested early with national runner-up Auburn visiting Manhattan on Sept. 20. If K-State can win that game, the rest of the Big 12 will be on notice.

4. Texas Longhorns

During his introductory news conference on Monday, new Texas coach Charlie Strong said Mack Brown left him with a team that could win right away. Strong might be right. The Longhorns return eight starters off a defense that found its stride under interim coordinator Greg Robinson. Texas also brings back six starters offensively and its entire running back corps, including Malcolm Brown, who rushed for more than 100 yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A big part of Mack Brown’s downfall, however, was quarterback play, and that once again will be a huge question mark in Strong’s first season. David Ash sat out most of this season with concussion issues, making his football future tenuous. Tyrone Swoopes is athletic with a big arm but needs polish. The other option will be incoming freshman Jerrod Heard, who just led his high school team to a Texas state championship. If one of those three emerges, Strong could have Texas on the way back ahead of schedule.

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Cowboys were 19 seconds away from playing in a BCS bowl game. But two losses to end the year soured what could have been a stellar season. Now, Oklahoma State must replace the bulk of its team, including quarterback Clint Chelf and seven starters defensively. Star slot receiver Josh Stewart is also reportedly mulling over leaving early, too. Either way, 2014 will be a retooling season for coach Mike Gundy, whose first order of business will be settling on a quarterback. J.W. Walsh, who started the first half of the season before losing the job back to Chelf, would have to be considered the favorite. But Gundy has shown before he’s not afraid of turning the keys of the offense to a true freshman, and the Cowboys have an intriguing freshman QB enrolling for the spring in Mason Rudolph, who threw 64 touchdown passes this fall as a high school senior in South Carolina. That could result in some growing pains for Oklahoma State, which opens the season against defending national champion Florida State. But if Rudolph proves to be the long-term answer at QB, it shouldn’t be more than a year before the Cowboys are contending in the Big 12 again.

6. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Texas Tech completely changed the tenor of its offseason with a dominating 37-23 win over Pac-12 South Division champ Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Finally healthy again, the Red Raiders showed they were better than a five-game losing streak to end the regular season indicated. Now, Tech returns eight starters offensively, including quarterback Davis Webb, who torched the Sun Devils and had several other encouraging moments as a true freshman. Tech has to replace most of its defense. But if Webb settles in at quarterback, the Red Raiders should be improved in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s second season in Lubbock.

7. TCU Horned Frogs

TCU was the 2013 preseason pick of many people to win the Big 12. Instead, injuries ravaged the roster, and the Horned Frogs failed to go to a bowl game for just second time with Gary Patterson as coach. Patterson shook up his offensive staff after the season, bringing in Houston’s Doug Meacham and Texas Tech’s Sonny Cumbie as co-coordinators to revamp TCU’s offensive attack. TCU should be stout again defensively, especially if 2012 Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Devonte Fields returns to form from a broken foot. But the key to a better season will be whether Meacham and Cumbie can squeeze more offense out of the Horned Frogs and find the answer at quarterback. The answer, however, might not be on campus yet. Trevone Boykin has 15 career QB starts, but is probably a better fit as a receiver. Meanwhile, TCU’s top incoming recruits, Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, are both quarterbacks, and could factor into the wide-open competition.

8. Iowa State Cyclones

Even though Iowa State just finished in the bottom three of the Big 12 in points per game (24.8), yards per game (363), yards per play (4.82), rushing yards (143.8) and passing yards (219.2), the Cyclones return some offensive firepower. Tailback Aaron Wimberly was effective when healthy, and Quenton Bundrage flashed signs of a legit No. 1 receiver. The key will be QB, and whether Grant Rohach builds on his late-season surge. But with a proven offensive coordinator in Mark Mangino now on board, the Cyclones have the pieces to form one of the better offenses in the league next season.

9. West Virginia Mountaineers

The Mountaineers careened off the road late this season with back-to-back losses to Kansas and Iowa State. Now, the pressure is on coach Dana Holgorsen, who will have to win games to keep his job even though the 2014 schedule is brutal. Like so many other teams in the Big 12, West Virginia must find a solution at quarterback. Holgorsen has options. Clint Trickett, Paul Millard and Ford Childress are all back after getting at least two starts apiece last year. Junior-college transfer Skyler Howard will be enrolling early and joining the fray. Four-star recruit William Crest will be in the mix, too. Even if Holgorsen finds his answer at quarterback, a winning season won’t come easy. The Mountaineers have one of the toughest schedules in the country, beginning with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Alabama in Atlanta.

10. Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas showed only modest improvement in Charlie Weis’ second season as head coach. This will be a key season for Weis as he attempts to rebuild the program. He desperately needs Montell Cozart to develop into the answer at quarterback. Cozart still has a ways to go with his passing, but he showed he could hurt defenses with his legs. Defensively, the Jayhawks bring back some solid players, notably linebackers Ben Goodman and Ben Heeney and safety Isaiah Johnson. But Kansas will take the next step only if Cozart -- or somebody else -- emerges at quarterback.
Bowl games provide opportunity. Veterans can showcase their skills for NFL scouts while younger players can make their mark. With a strong performance, a core contributor for a bowl team can transform himself into a household name in the Big 12 Conference. Here's a sophomore or freshman for each Big 12 bowl team who could have a big bowl game performance and set themselves up to have a breakout season in 2014.

Baylor receiver Corey Coleman: The redshirt freshman has shown flashes of game-changing ability this season. BU loses blazing-fast Tevin Reese after the Fiesta Bowl but Coleman has the speed to step right in for Reese in the future. He had 28 receptions for 439 yards and two touchdowns while adding a kickoff return for a score. He averaged 19.8 yards per touch this season and could set himself up as a main target for Bryce Petty in 2014 with a strong Fiesta Bowl performance.

Kansas State safety Dante Barnett: Another All-Big 12 safety at Kansas State? It could happen with Barnett. The sophomore has been an impact player since he stepped on campus and finished fourth on the team with 67 tackles after becoming a full-time starter this year. His athleticism and physicality at the safety position could be key against Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl because he has the ability to play the run and pass well without overcommitting to either. If he has a big game against the Wolverines, he could earn consideration for preseason All-Big 12 honors.

Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight: The Sooners don’t plan to announce a starter for the Sugar Bowl but it would be a surprise if Knight did not take a snap in New Orleans. The redshirt freshman has the ability to test the Crimson Tide’s defense in ways that Blake Bell cannot and could set himself up to be the Sooners’ quarterback of the future if he excels against Nick Saban’s defense.

Oklahoma State defensive end Jimmy Bean: The sophomore tied for the team lead with four sacks this season but he has the potential to be even better as a junior. At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, Bean has unique size and athleticism that could help him become a consistent visitor to Missouri’s backfield during the Cotton Bowl. If he has a strong bowl game, Bean could be a name to watch in the Big 12 in 2014.

Texas Tech linebacker Micah Awe: Coming off a 11-tackle performance against Texas, Awe is one of the key playmakers for the Red Raiders defense. He recorded at least five tackles in five of the 10 games he played in this season and has the versatility that could eventually make him an All-Big 12 linebacker. In the Holiday Bowl against an Arizona State balanced offense, Awe will need to show that versatility and be extremely active for the Red Raiders to have a chance. Another productive game could set him up as one of the top young defenders in the Big 12.

Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown: It’s somewhat surprising that Brown didn’t get more All-Big 12 notice this season but don’t expect him to remain unnoticed in 2014. He emerged as a factor in the Longhorns interior this season, finishing with 61 tackles including nine tackles for loss and two sacks. If he can consistently re-establish the line of scrimmage against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, that could be one way to slow down the Ducks’ uptempo attack.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
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OSUJohn Weast/Getty ImagesClint Chelf and Oklahoma State have to beat Texas in Austin if they hope to keep their conference title hopes alive, as the Cowboys are a game behind the Longhorns and Baylor in the loss column.
Let's take a look at the top storylines in the Big 12 for Week 12:

1. Can Oklahoma State make this a race? The stakes for Oklahoma State this weekend are obvious: Beat Texas and we're looking at a three-team Big 12 title race. Lose, and the Cowboys join Oklahoma on the outside looking in, making the Dec. 7 Bedlam game irrelevant to the conference-title picture. We haven't said that in a long time, have we? The Cowboys have won five straight and face a Texas team missing several key cogs. They've won their last two games in Austin. Do it again and they just might sneak into the top 10.

2. Texas Tech goes for the big upset: The Red Raiders have plenty of motivation this week as the 27-point David to the conference's undefeated green-and-gold Goliath. The team that was once as hyped as any in college football at 7-0 is now staring down the real possibility of ending the season 7-5. Maybe being backed into a corner and underestimated is just what coach Kliff Kingsbury's squad needs this week to end a three-game slide and stun Baylor.

3. Texas offense without Johnathan Gray: One of the best running backs in the Big 12 is done for the season. How will the Longhorns' offense regroup? Expect a heavy workload for the junior duo of Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, and perhaps a few more creative ways to put the ball in the hands of the speedy Daje Johnson. If OSU loads the box to stop the Gray-less run game, can Case McCoy make the throws to beat the Pokes' talented secondary?

4. Baylor's defense tries to do it again: Shutting down Oklahoma in a 41-12 victory last Thursday might've done wonders for the national perception of Baylor's much-improved defense. But there will always be detractors who say Oklahoma was flat-out inept in Waco and that the Bears' performance wasn't conclusive enough. Maybe shutting down Jace Amaro and the rest of the Tech attack in front of a national primetime audience at AT&T Stadium would quiet a few of those remaining doubters.

5. K-State goes for four in a row: Winners of three straight, all by convincing or impressive margins, the Wildcats are enjoying the fruits of their weekly improvement after a tough 2-4 start to the season. A win over TCU makes Kansas State bowl eligible, a feat that seemed unlikely one month ago. Don't sleep on this KSU team -- it might be the Big 12's fourth- or fifth-best squad by year's end.

6. Does West Virginia have gas left in the tank? The Mountaineers have gone to overtime in each of the past two weeks, one a win at TCU and the other a shootout home loss to Texas in which they came up just short. This West Virginia defense is as beat up from an injury standpoint as any in the league. Can the Mountaineers get up for a road game against a Kansas team that plays most foes close? Knowing they need to win out to reach a bowl should be sufficient motivation.

7. Oklahoma offense must answer criticism: As usual, Bob Stoops faced another week full of criticism and second-guessing following a Sooners loss. This time, the public's focus was on quarterback Blake Bell, play-caller Josh Heupel and the sputtering offense that duo is held responsible for, fair or not. This might be a good week to pound the rock and rediscover the run game that was less than impactful against Baylor.

8. TCU trying to keep its bowl hopes alive: If there are two teams nobody in this conference wants to play right now, it might be Kansas State and Baylor. That's all the Horned Frogs have left in 2013, and all they have to play for right now at 4-6 is a puncher's chance at bowl eligibility. The only time Gary Patterson hasn't taken his team bowling was 2004.

9. Is this the week Kansas finally wins? You might've noticed my colleague Jake Trotter boldly went out on a limb and predicted Kansas would pull off a victory over West Virginia on Saturday. The Jayhawks, you might have heard, have lost 27 consecutive Big 12 games and are 0-15 in conference games under Charlie Weis. Will KU reward the bravery of Trotter and its remaining fans and finally notch that elusive victory? If this isn't the week, don't worry, there’s still a game against Iowa State left.

10. Bring it on, Grant Rohach: We're trying to find reason to get excited about an Iowa State offense that just hasn't been able to figure things out this season. Quarterback Sam B. Richardson is still dealing with a thumb injury, so Rohach will get a chance to shake off the jitters from his first career start and give it a go on the road against Oklahoma. Not an ideal situation by any means, but perhaps he can give ISU a spark.

Big 12 predictions: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
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Welp, it finally happened. I finally lost to a guest picker. And to a 14-year-old, no less. Thanks, Caymen. I thought you weren’t going to embarrass me?

Anyway, this reporter’s pride is on the line again. This week’s guest picker submission:

My name is Claire Stallings and I would love to one day be a guest picker for you. It’s about time a lady shows these men how to pick a perfect week! I love the Big 12 and of course Baylor. I worked for the team all through college and I am that girl who knows more about Baylor football than most of the men on campus. I think it would be interesting to throw a girl into the “man’s world.” Don’t worry, I can hold my own. #GirlPower

The last time a girl challenged me to something, I was destroyed by my wife in a 5K. So this is my shot at redemption. #BringTheNoiseClaire.

Tonight, Max and national writer Mark Schlabach will be in Waco for Oklahoma-Baylor. Saturday, Brandon will drive to Stillwater to check out Kansas-Oklahoma State. Due to my horrific picking, I've been benched for the weekend.

To the Week 11 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 2-2 (.500)

Guest picker (14-year-old Caymen) last week: 3-1 (.750)

Trotter overall: 43-14 (.754)

Guest picker overall: 29-11 (.725)

THURSDAY

Baylor 52, Oklahoma 34: The Sooners’ best chance in this game is to pound the ball, wear out the clock and keep Baylor’s high-powered offense on the sidelines. But without star fullback Trey Millard, I’m skeptical OU can pull off such a game plan. The Sooners have no viable tight end, and none of their other fullbacks are capable receiving threats off play-action. OU’s remaining firepower keeps the game interesting into the second half. But a Sooners defense playing two freshman linebackers finally capitulates to the overwhelming speed of the Baylor offense, as the Bears make a statement they belong in the national title picture.

Claire’s pick: The media (including you, Jake) keeps saying K-State laid out the blueprint on how to beat Baylor, but then again, Mack Brown made it clear that OU is far from invincible. Between Baylor’s dynamic receiving duo, Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese, along with Lache Seastrunk and Bryce Petty’s Heisman-worthy performances, this pick was easy. #GoingTarpless. Baylor 56-35

SATURDAY

West Virginia 26, Texas 23: I find it strange the voters still haven’t put Texas back in the Top 25 polls. I actually had the Longhorns ranked 14th in the ESPN power ranking, the highest of the 19 voters in the ESPN poll. But this is a tough spot for Texas. West Virginia has been a far better team in Morgantown than away from it. The Mountaineers also have a ton of momentum from last week’s comeback overtime win over TCU, with a bowl appearance in their sights. Texas QB Case McCoy comes back to earth a bit and the Longhorns get caught peeking ahead to next week’s clash with Oklahoma State, as Charles Sims runs wild again to hand Texas its first Big 12 loss.

Claire’s pick: The Horns will win if they keep the ball with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. But they have to make sure Case doesn’t make too many mistakes on the road. If they are not careful, West Virginia will upset Texas, just like they did to OSU. #TexasStayawayfromBriles. Texas 31-28

Kansas State 37, Texas Tech 34: With receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson back in the fold, the Wildcats are finally firing on all cylinders offensively. QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters have been terrific lately, and, much to Bill Snyder’s satisfaction, have been taking care of the ball, too. Tech has had a great run. But turnover-prone teams usually don’t fare well against Snyder-coached teams, and only six offenses in college football have turned the ball over more times than the Red Raiders. As a result, K-State continues its late-season push and hands Tech a third straight defeat.

Claire’s pick: I grew up in a Tech-loving family from Midland, Texas. I have lost sleep over this pick, and I may lose friends and a chunk of my inheritance after this is published. Unfortunately, the clock has struck midnight for Cinderella, and they are beginning to look reminiscent of last year’s West Virginia squad. #SorryDad. K-State 38-35

TCU 19, Iowa State 13: Will either side have enough players left to actually stage the game? Iowa State figures to be without running back Aaron Wimberly, who’s been its best offensive player, and could be without QB Sam B. Richardson, too. TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and running back B.J. Catalon are questionable on a team that also will be missing running back Waymon James and receiver Brandon Carter. The difference in this game proves to be TCU QB Casey Pachall, who finally showed signs of returning to his old self last week.

Claire’s pick: This is the “Battle of Who Could Care Less” between two struggling teams. TCU’s players are dropping like flies. TCU barely wins, but for sure is not making a bowl. #NotYallsYear #ByeFelicia. TCU 14-10

Oklahoma State 55, Kansas 9: Kansas has been hanging tough in Big 12 play. That ends here. The Cowboys have finally found their identity offensively with Clint Chelf at QB and the tough-running Desmond Roland at tailback. Oklahoma State keeps rolling in its return to the thick of the Big 12 title race.

Claire’s pick: I have always liked Kansas -- they have great school colors for game-day outfits. But that is all they have. Chelf is a real threat and the Cowboys' backfield has exploded these past few games -- they might actually steal the Big 12 title right out of Baylor’s little paws. #ButPleaseDont. Oklahoma State 56-14

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
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Here's what we learned about the Big 12 from Week 9:

1. Texas Tech is no fraud: The Red Raiders might not have come out of Norman with a victory. But unlike the ’02 and ’08 teams, they came to play the Sooners. Tech never lost its poise, even when down two touchdowns, and executed a series of trick plays to retake the lead in the third quarter. Ultimately, the Red Raiders committed too many killer penalties and turned the ball over too many times to beat Oklahoma on its home field. But the Red Raiders also proved their 7-0 start was not a mirage. Kliff Kingsbury’s aggressive game plan showed why he’s a rising star in the coaching ranks. And even in defeat, Tech showed it’s still a team that could win 10 games this season -- and it's a program with a bright future.

[+] EnlargeDesmond Roland
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma State has found its running back after Desmond Roland rushed for a career-high 219 yards and four touchdowns against Iowa State.
2. Desmond Roland is Oklahoma State’s best running back: The Cowboys still can’t throw the ball. But at least in Ames, they found their running back, as Roland at last got the Oklahoma State running game going. On 26 carries, he racked up a career-high 219 yards and four touchdowns to lift the Cowboys to a 58-27 win at Iowa State. His 58-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, in which he rumbled over Cyclone after Cyclone, gave the Cowboys a 38-20 lead and the Pokes some breathing room after a sloppy second quarter. The passing game remains a mess. In his first start since the opener, Clint Chelf threw for just 78 yards and completed just 10 of 26 passes. But at least in Roland, the Cowboys now have someone they can run their offense through going into next weekend’s showdown at Texas Tech.

3. The OU win wasn’t a one-game anomaly for Texas: The Longhorns moved to 4-0 in the Big 12 with a dominating 30-7 victory at TCU. They also showed that the win over Oklahoma two weeks ago wasn’t a fluke. Texas carried over its winning recipe from the Red River win into Fort Worth. They fed the ball to running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, who churned out another 145 yards on the ground against a tough TCU defense. Quarterback Case McCoy made some big throws downfield to Mike Davis and Marcus Johnson. And the defense forced turnovers. This is not the same club that got pummeled by BYU and Ole Miss earlier in the season. The Longhorns are quickly gaining confidence, and for good reason, are beginning to believe they could bring the Big 12 title to Austin.

4. K-State is better than its record: After suffering four tough losses, including three in the league, Kansas State finally got its first Big 12 win with an impressive 35-12 pasting of West Virginia. Jake Waters and Daniel Sams were fabulous throwing the ball, combining to complete 18 of 21 passes. And receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson were terrific in their returns from injuries, totaling four touchdown receptions. This was a game the Wildcats had to have to make a bowl game. And at 3-4, K-State still has work to do. But the Wildcats sure looked like a bowl team against West Virginia. Given the remaining schedule, K-State is a good bet to get to six wins.

5. Baylor will be humming entering the defining part of its schedule: The Bears have yet to face a ranked opponent. But after their 45-point win at Kansas, they will head into a Nov. 7 tilt with Oklahoma still on a roll. Once again, QB Bryce Petty was on target with 430 passing yards and three touchdowns, while Lache Seastrunk spearheaded another impressive ground game for Baylor. The Bears have been the most impressive team in the Big 12 by far. They remain the league favorite. Yet their mettle is about to be tested. The Bears face ranked opponents (Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State) in their next three games, a defining stretch that will determine whether they are truly a national title contender. But after another dominating performance, Baylor will go into that stretch healthy, with all pistons firing.

Big 12 predictions: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
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We left dry land to secure this week’s Guest Picker:
My name is Colin, and I’m an '08 Baylor alum. I work offshore on an oil-rig. My job has a lot of downtime, which I find myself using to constantly visit the Big 12 blog for any new I story I can read. I thought I could use all this down time productively and pick Big 12 games, and I would really enjoy being the Guest Picker one week. Thanks and keep up the good work.

I’m coming off an undefeated week, and I’m planning on going undefeated the rest of the season. Colin will be coming along for the ride, since he picked the same sides I did this week (which include a pair of upsets).

On Saturday, Brandon and I will be in Norman, Okla., as “Suns Up, Guns Up” meets “Boomer Sooner” in a key Big 12 matchup. Max is headed up to Fort Worth, Texas, to monitor whether TCU will actually score a first-half touchdown, and whether the Longhorns can play at a high level for more than one game.

To the Week 9 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 4-0 (1.000)

Guest Picker (wedding Tyler) last week: 3-1 (.759)

Trotter overall: 37-11 (.770)

Guest Picker overall: 22-9 (.709)

Saturday

OKLAHOMA STATE at IOWA STATE

Oklahoma State 33, Iowa State 14: In their past eight trips to Ames, the Cowboys are 2-5-1, including a stunning loss late in 2011 that knocked the Pokes out of the national championship game. But Oklahoma State might have figured out some things offensively last week, with Clint Chelf at QB and Rennie Childs at running back. Plus, the Cyclones are still on the mat after getting smoked week in Waco.

Colin’s pick: OSU’s QBs and, team as a whole, have not impressed me, but the Iowa State confidence will be shot after that Baylor game. Mike Gundy reminds us all "he is a man" after reporters ask who his best QB is. OSU, 24-17

TEXAS TECH at OKLAHOMA

Texas Tech 29, Oklahoma 28: Nobody has played the Sooners tougher in recent years than Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have won four of the past eight in the series. And in their most recent trip to Norman, they stunned the third-ranked Sooners 41-38 to snap OU’s 39-game home winning streak. This season, OU has been heading the wrong direction since losing Corey Nelson and Jordan Phillips defensively. The young Red Raiders, meanwhile, seem to be improving every week. OU has the nation’s No. 1 pass defense, but that’s a bit of a mirage. The Sooners have faced only one offense ranked in the top 50 nationally in passing (Texas, which is 49th). Like they did in ’11, the Red Raiders make plays after the catch, and force Blake Bell into a couple of bad decisions to secure the program’s biggest win since knocking off top-ranked Texas in 2008.

Colin’s pick: Texas Tech pulls out a tough road win against a top-25 team. Bell throws an INT in the last minute after seeing Kliff Kingsbury on the sidelines with his girlfriend. Texas Tech, 35-34

WEST VIRGINIA at KANSAS STATE

Kansas State 27, West Virginia 21: The loser of this game could be in serious trouble for qualifying a bowl game. The Mountaineers have begun to show life offensively with QB Clint Trickett, scoring 27 last week against Texas Tech. But Bill Snyder with two weeks to prepare is almost unfair. The return of receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson gives the league’s best running QB, Daniel Sams, someone to throw to downfield, too.

Colin’s pick: Kansas State gets a much-needed home win; Dana Holgorsen tears his fragile hair out in frustration when his throw-deep-every-play offense doesn't work with Trickett. Kansas State, 31-24

BAYLOR at KANSAS

Baylor 79, Kansas 3: The only drama in this game is whether Baylor gets to 100. I say they don’t. But I’ve been wrong before.

Colin’s pick: Baylor continues its 60-plus-point dominance, as Lache Seastrunk runs for 150-plus and QB Bryce Petty adds another three TDs. Kansas fans start a "basketball season" chant in the second quarter. Baylor, 70-10

TEXAS at TCU

Texas 17, TCU 13: At 3-4, the Horned Frogs are off to their worst start in 14 years, and in many ways this is TCU’s last stand. If the Horned Frogs drop this game, they could be in for their worst season of the Gary Patterson era, and even miss out on a bowl game. The defense continues to play tough, but the offense is a catastrophe of epic proportion. Saturday, Texas generates enough offense by slugging it out in the trenches with Johnathan Gray and Malcolm, and the Longhorns stealthily move to 4-0 in the conference with Kansas coming to Austin next weekend.

Colin’s pick: Texas' running game gets going and once again the TCU offense looks inept. TCU's stadium has more orange than purple in it. Texas, 31-13

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
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There was little change in this week’s power rankings, as the favorites held serve:

1. Baylor (6-0, 3-0 Big 12, last week 1): The No. 8-ranked Bears got some major help in the national title picture over the weekend, as LSU, Louisville, Texas A&M, Clemson and South Carolina all got knocked out of the mix. That really leaves only Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Missouri, Ohio State and Miami (Fla.) ahead of Baylor in the pecking order at the moment. Missouri will have to beat Alabama to get the title game, and Baylor has a decent chance of passing the Buckeyes, due to the weakness of the Big Ten. The Bears, however, have virtually no shot of passing Oregon or Florida State. Those are the two teams Baylor fans need to begin rooting against.

2. Texas Tech (7-0, 4-0, LW 2): The faith Kliff Kingsbury showed in true freshman QB Davis Webb on Saturday was extraordinary. Webb’s second-quarter fumble at the West Virginia 1-yard line completely changed the complexion of the game, but that didn’t shake Kingsbury’s confidence in his quarterback. And, even though Texas Tech’s defense had shut down West Virginia on four straight drives and led by a field goal, Kingsbury put the game on Webb’s arm by calling two third-down pass plays in the final two minutes. Webb completed both passes, which should also give him plenty of self-confidence heading into this weekend’s road tilt at Oklahoma.

3. Texas (4-2, 3-0, LW 3): Was the dominant performance against Oklahoma a one-game anomaly? The Longhorns have the talent to make a run at the Big 12 title. Maybe they have the identity now, too. If Texas keeps pounding the ball between the tackles with Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, that will continue to set up one-on-one opportunities for Mike Davis downfield. As the Sooners found out, such a formula could make the Longhorns formidable the final month and a half of the season.

4. Oklahoma State (5-1, 2-1, LW 5): The Cowboys finally turned the offense back over to Clint Chelf and not a moment too soon, as J.W. Walsh threw another two interceptions in the first quarter. But, in reality, Oklahoma State’s offense would be best off utilizing both quarterbacks going forward. The Cowboys hit their stride offensively last season only when they used Chelf as the base quarterback, then brought in the Walsh package in certain situations. Chelf’s arm strength can get the ball to Oklahoma State’s talented receivers downfield, which, in turn, opens up the running game. But Walsh brings savvy, toughness and leadership -- and he can make plays with his legs. Perhaps that quarterback blend will finally ignite this offense, which looks pretty rough at the halfway point of the season.

5. Oklahoma (6-1, 3-1, LW 4): The Sooners’ downfield passing game continues to be incompetent, as Oklahoma completed just two passes longer than 16 yards at Kansas. One of those was a reverse pass from Lacoltan Bester to Sterling Shepard. That’s two straight games in which QB Blake Bell has completed only one pass downfield. The Sooners were able to grind out 235 yards on the ground, but that was against a Kansas defense missing its best player (linebacker Ben Heeney). If the Sooners can’t complete passes downfield against man coverage, they have little chance of getting to double-digit wins.

6. West Virginia (3-4, 1-3, LW 7): West Virginia has begun to show some life offensively. The Mountaineers gained 473 yards of offense against a Texas Tech defense that has been pretty solid. At one point, the Mountaineers scored on five straight possessions. Clint Trickett is all over the place with his throws, but at least he makes things happen. Running back Charles Sims is a star, and backfield mate Dreamius Smith is legit, too. The schedule also eases up considerably for the Mountaineers, as West Virginia has already faced four of the top five teams in the league. If the offense keeps developing, this could still be a bowl team. That wouldn’t be a bad season, either, considering the offensive firepower the Mountaineers had to replace from last season.

7. Kansas State (2-4, 0-3, LW 8): The Wildcats have not played poorly despite their 0-3 start in the league, but with Oklahoma and Texas Tech still on the schedule, K-State almost has to beat West Virginia at home this weekend if it’s going to advance to a bowl. The good news is that starting receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson are expected back, which should be a big boost to QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters.

8. TCU (3-4, 1-3, LW 6): The Horned Frogs are beginning to stake their claim as one of the worst offenses in Big 12 history. Switching coordinators or switching quarterbacks -- Gary Patterson tried both Saturday -- isn’t going to make any difference, either. Even with the best defense in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs will be in danger of missing out on a bowl game if they don’t beat Texas this weekend. QB Casey Pachall is close to returning, but not even he can salvage this dumpster fire of an offense.

9. Iowa State (1-5, 0-3, LW 9): After three straight promising performances, the Cyclones took a step back in Waco, Texas. Nobody expected Iowa State to win, but to get completely annihilated was disappointing, as coach Paul Rhoads called the game a “fiasco.” Now, yet again, the quarterback position has become a moving part. Sam B. Richardson is so banged up the Cyclones considered shutting him down for the season. Rhoads replaced Richardson with Grant Rohach in the second quarter to no avail. The No. 1 obstacle that’s kept Iowa State from becoming more than a .500 program has been the inability to find a long-term answer at quarterback. Dating back to last November, the Cyclones have put their chips on Richardson being that answer. Now, who knows what direction they'll go.

10. Kansas (2-4, 0-3, LW 10): Now that the Jayhawks have burned the redshirt of freshman QB Montell Cozart, they might as well turn the offense over to him. Jake Heaps just isn’t getting it done, as he completed five of 13 passes for 16 yards against Oklahoma. Sixteen yards. It’s not all on Heaps: The Kansas receiving corps is terrible. But that’s all the more reason to go with Cozart, who can at least make plays with his feet.
Quite frankly, the final score was closer than the game. Texas dominated in the trenches, on third down and made more big plays in the Longhorns' 36-20 win over Oklahoma on Saturday.

Here's a look at five stats that defined UT's win in the Red River Rivalry.

Quarterback QBR on third down. Oklahoma’s Blake Bell had a 0.1 raw QBR on third down against the Longhorns while UT quarterback Case McCoy had a 99 raw QBR on third down. It can’t get much clearer which team had the best quarterback on Saturday. McCoy finished 8 of 10 pass attempts for 131 yards, 13.1 yards per attempt, one touchdown and one interception. Bell was 1 of 8 pass attempts for 12 yards, 1.5 yards per attempt, three sacks and two interceptions.

Yard per play on third down. It wasn’t just the quarterbacks who deserve the praise or the blame for Texas’ overall dominance on third down. The Sooners averaged minus-0.31 yards per play on third down while the Longhorns averaged 9.45 yards per play on third down. OU lost four yards on 13 third-down plays, UT gained 189 yards on 20 third-down plays. UT continually made key plays on third down while OU could do little to stop it.

Geneo Grissom’s 54 all-purpose yards. Anytime a defensive end with an interception finishes the game with the fourth-most all-purpose yards on the team, your offense struggled to find playmakers. No Sooner finished with more than 34 rushing yards or 70 receiving yards. The Longhorns defense tackled well in one-on-one situations and made OU's offense uncomfortable. Meanwhile Johnathan Gray, Mike Davis, Marcus Johnson and Daje Johnson each had plays of 38 yards or more for the Longhorns.

Texas rush attempts. The Longhorns ran the ball 60 times on their way to victory. UT has had at least 60 rush attempts on seven occasions since 2004, winning all seven games. Led by 123 rushing yards from Gray and 120 rushing yards from Malcolm Brown, UT had 60 carries for 255 yards, 4.25 yards per carry, yet didn’t have a rushing touchdown. The Longhorns finally turned to their bevy of quality running backs to shoulder the offense and it paid off.

Bell’s rush attempts. The Sooners quarterback had seven carries for minus-27 yards against the Longhorns. UT entered the game allowing 105 rushing yards per game to the opposing quarterback yet the Sooners did not have a significant portion of their game plan based around Bell running the ball. When he did try to make plays outside the pocket, the Longhorns did a terrific job of corralling and tackling Bell.

Texas finds what Oklahoma loses

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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A critical exchange of possessions in the second quarter defined this year’s Red River Rivalry.

With the Sooners trailing 10-3, Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel dialed up three consecutive Blake Bell passes. All three fell incomplete.

Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite countered with three consecutive runs between the tackles for a first down. The drive ultimately ended with Case McCoy’s 59-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Johnson in man coverage that gave the Longhorns control of the game.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesBlake Bell and Oklahoma didn't take advantage of opportunities against Texas..
Saturday, on the same field where Texas finally uncovered an offensive identity, the Sooners completely lost theirs.

Oklahoma’s recipe for success before Dallas was simple and effective. Run the ball, take care of the ball and make the necessary plays in the fourth quarter. The game plan worked wonders in the Sooners’ convincing victory at Notre Dame. It was enough to beat TCU, too.

But against the Longhorns, once Oklahoma’s shaky passing attack was exposed, the entire offense fell apart.

Texas loaded the box and checked the Sooners’ ground game. The Longhorns dared Heupel and quarterback Blake Bell to beat them deep. And the Sooners blinked first.

Bell completed just 1 of 7 downfield attempts that were longer than 10 yards – a fullback pop to Trey Millard for 29 yards early in the game. Considering the defensive scheme Texas employed, the lack of completions downfield was staggering. The lack of attempts, even more so.

“There were opportunities there a little bit to unload the box that we're not taking advantage of,” Heupel said. “We haven't been good on the outside or in the middle of the field — anything past 15 yards. We’ve got to be better. There are explosive plays out there that have the opportunity to win. We’ve just got to make them.”

Heupel also shied away from calling many quarterback runs, which had been so effective for Oklahoma in the past and so lethal against the Longhorns this season. Against a loaded box, having the extra blocker would have been useful. But the Sooners didn’t attempt to capitalize off Bell’s power wheels, and Bell only ran three times for just eight yards.

“That’s just the way Coach Heupel and all of our offensive coaches wanted to go into the football game,” answered Bob Stoops, when asked why more Bell runs weren’t called. “Again, there were just some things we don't feel so comfortable with in some areas always with Blake.”

If the Sooners didn’t feel comfortable with Bell throwing the ball downfield or running him, maybe they should have made another quarterback change. But that wasn’t considered, either.

Now, the Sooners are left to pick up the pieces from their Red River disaster and rework an offensive identity that went to pot in Dallas.

“There’s no magical pill you’re going to take and correct it,” Heupel said. “You just go back to work.”

According to all reports, the Longhorns didn’t take any magic pills before the Oklahoma game. But they played a like a completely different team than the one that had shuffled through the first five games. And a week after calling 45 passes, Applewhite opted to run the offense through hard-nosed running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown behind the Longhorns’ veteran offensive line.

“They were determined to go play, determined to move the ball and they understood the game plan,” Applewhite said of his line. “I think we spelled it out for them in terms of where we wanted to be on third down so we could possess the ball and convert and keep the chains moving. I think the game plan was a lot more simplified; the schemes were very simple.”

The simple scheme couldn’t have worked better for burnt orange.

Texas gained five yards anytime it wanted up the middle, as Gray and Brown both rushed for more than 100 yards. That took the pressure off quarterback Case McCoy, who delivered the big plays when he was called on to.

The last three years, Texas coach Mack Brown has been trying to locate the right identity for the Longhorns offense. This past offseason, Brown indicated he wanted to speed up the tempo and spread the field.

But as Saturday showed, this offense is built to run between the tackles, then throw deep to a host of speedy receivers.

The formula worked wonders against the Sooners. And could work wonders going forward, too.

“I loved the game plan,” McCoy said. “I was confident in the plan and knew in any situation what was going on and what I was doing. We played hard and played to the plan.

“And that's exciting.”

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
11:00
AM ET
Taking stock of Week 7 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Texas. Not only did the Longhorns pull off the biggest Red River upset in 17 years, they completely reversed the outlook of their season. At 3-0 in the Big 12 standings, Texas is right in the middle of the conference race. The Longhorns also finally found an identity in Dallas, which could make them a tough out during the second half of the season. The Longhorns ran the ball with authority between the tackles behind their experienced offensive line, which took pressure off quarterback Case McCoy. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, meanwhile, disguised his defenses beautifully and utilized Texas’ speed in timely blitzes. Baylor remains the favorite to win the Big 12 crown. But Texas, which travels to Baylor in the regular-season finale, could be a factor. What a difference a week makes.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesBlake Bell had one of the worst performances statistically by an OU QB since 2005.
Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma. While Texas found its identity in the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners seemingly lost theirs. The defense’s Achilles' heel resurfaced from last season, as Oklahoma couldn’t stop the run. That made the Sooners vulnerable against deep passes, which McCoy capitalized on with a pair of long touchdowns. As much as the defense struggled, the offense looked completely lost. Blake Bell took four sacks, threw two interceptions and was utterly miserable on third down. Bell’s QBR on third down, in fact, was 0.1 percent (he had been 89.8 on third downs coming into the game). Bell wasn’t much better the rest of the game with an Adjusted QBR of 2.8, which was the fourth-worst single-game adjusted QBR of any FBS quarterback this season. Curiously, Bob Stoops said the offensive staff didn’t feel comfortable running Bell in this game. And the Sooners couldn’t figure out which running back to feature, with no back receiving more than seven carries. This is a team that doesn’t look like it knows who it is all of a sudden.

Big (offensive) men on campus: The Texas offensive line, Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams and Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro.

The most experienced offensive line in the Big 12 blocked like it at the most opportune of times. Kennedy Estelle, Mason Walters, Dominic Espinosa, Trey Hopkins and Donald Hawkins paved the way for Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown to become the first Texas duo to top 100 rushing yards apiece in the same Red River game. The Bevos up front also kept McCoy upright, as the Texas quarterback was not sacked all day and barely pressured, either.

In Manhattan, Sams played valiantly in K-State’s 35-25 loss to Baylor. He rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns and almost single-handedly kept the Wildcats scoring with the high-powered Bears. Sams' late interception that effectively ended the game was a huge mistake. But his 86.1 Adjusted QBR was 13th-best in college football for the week. Sams now is second in the Big 12 in Adjusted QBR (86.5) for the year, trailing only Baylor’s Bryce Petty (95.1).

Amaro continues to be a security blanket for Texas Tech’s true freshman quarterbacks. Against Iowa State, he had his best game yet with nine receptions for 143 yards. Amaro leads the Big 12 with 47 receptions. Teammate Eric Ward is second with 34.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller, Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon and Texas defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed.

Along with Sams, Mueller was a major reason the Wildcats were in the game in the fourth quarter. In what might be the defensive highlight of the season in the Big 12 so far, Mueller stripped Petty while simultaneously recovering the fumble to set K-State with field position in the third quarter that would turn into a go-ahead touchdown. Mueller finished with seven tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup.

Dixon, meanwhile, came up with the defensive play of the game, as he beelined to the sideline to intercept Sams with four minutes to play. Off the turnover, the Baylor offense sealed the victory with a touchdown that put the Bears up two scores.

Jeffcoat and Reed, meanwhile, were terrific against the Sooners. The swarming defensive end duo totaled three sacks and kept the Oklahoma running backs from bouncing much of anything outside.

[+] EnlargeDaje Johnson
AP Photo/Brandon WadeDaje Johnson delivered Texas' first punt return for a touchdown since 2009.
Special-teams players of the week: Texas returner Daje Johnson, Texas kicker Anthony Fera and Iowa State returner Jarvis West.

Johnson delivered the dagger to the Sooners with a weaving 85-yard punt return touchdown late in the third quarter, which put the Longhorns ahead 30-13. It was Texas’ first punt return touchdown since Jordan Shipley did it in 2009. Fera came up big on special teams, too. He nailed a 43-yard field goal right before halftime that stymied the Sooners’ momentum from a long Roy Finch kick return that led to a touchdown the previous drive. Fera also nailed 50- and 31-yard field goals to be perfect on the day.

West kept the Cyclones above water in the first half as the Iowa State offense struggled. His 95-yard kickoff return -- Iowa State’s first non-onside kick return for a touchdown since 1994 -- tied the game in the first quarter 7-7. West later added a 38-yard punt return, and he finished with three receptions for 36 yards.

Play of the week: With the Red River Rivalry tied 3-3 in the first quarter, Texas' Adrian Phillips came off the edge untouched on a third-down zone blitz and slammed into Bell. The hit caused Bell’s pass to flutter behind intended receiver Jaz Reynolds and into the arms of defensive tackle Chris Whaley, who rumbled 31 yards for the touchdown. The Longhorns never gave up the lead the rest of the way.

Stat of the week: Bell’s QBR against Texas was the lowest by an Oklahoma quarterback since Rhett Bomar posted a 1.6 against Tulsa in 2005.

Quote of the week: "We love the guy. We’re playing for the guy. You all keep writing those articles bad about him. We’ll keep playing for him." -- McCoy on coach Mack Brown

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