Oklahoma Sooners: Quenton Bundrage

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.
In today's mailbag, we discuss Iowa State's offensive potential, Texas Tech's defensive potential and OU's potential to run the table. There's also major disagreement about which schools I'm actually a homer for.

To the 'bag:

Rusty in Denver writes: Thanks for totaling the position rankings at the end last week. I thought that was a good summary. I do think you missed out on two key aspects for the coming season: schedule and coaching. As a K-State fan, I would push us up for the coaching staff, but take us back down for our schedule. Thoughts?

Trotter: Glad you enjoyed the series, Rusty. But I wasn’t trying to predict records, which obviously coaching and schedule play a big part into. I only wanted to focus on the position groups, and where every team stood relative to the rest of the league. When we try to predict how each team will finish in the league down the line, coaching and schedule obviously will be factored in.


Bryan in Norman, Okla., writes: What do you think of OU’s chances of running the table this year?

Trotter: OU could be favored in every game on its schedule, which obviously would give them a decent chance of running the regular-season table. But the Sooners also have a recent history of dropping games as double-digit favorites, as well (TCU ’05, Colorado ’07, BYU ’09, Texas Tech ’11, Texas ’13). This has a chance to be OU’s best team since 2008. And they are a legitimate threat to make the College Football Playoff. But they won’t get there unless they can avoid the double-digit land mine.


Justin in West Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Am I the only Cyclones fan here that is not sold on Grant Rohach and this "dangerous" wide receiving group with Quenton Bundrage, Allen Lazard and E.J. Bibbs that everyone is hyped about? Not to discredit those three, but isn't this just a replay of what we saw near the end of the 2012 season when Sam Richardson replaced good ol' Steele Jantz and torched Kansas and nearly beat West Virginia? I agree, those three are going to be great targets for Rohach, but they're going to be making him look much better than what I've seen so far. I still feel like to get to the next level (more than 6-7 wins), ISU still needs more than what Rohach can provide.

Trotter: I disagree with your put down of the Iowa State WR corps. Bundrage has proven he can make big plays, Lazard was one of the top-rated WR recruits in the country and Bibbs is the Big 12’s best returning receiving tight end. But the point about the QBs is very valid. Iowa State always seems to find its answer at QB at the end of a season, only to restart its search the next. I don’t know if Rohach is the answer. Maybe he is. Or maybe it’s a healthy Richardson. Or perhaps it’s Joel Lanning. Whoever it is, that quarterback will have some weapons to work with next season. The key will be finding -- and sticking with -- that right quarterback.


Crews in Tyler, Texas, writes: Is there any way possible that Texas Tech's defense is underrated going into next season? Even with a ton of new starters, how much does playing in the same system/coaching staff from the previous season help?

Trotter: Well, there’s no doubt that getting through that first year in coordinator Matt Wallerstedt’s 3-4 scheme is going to help. But I don’t know that I’d term the Tech defense underrated at this point. The Red Raiders gave up 41 points or more in their final four regular-season games, and while the Holiday Bowl showing was impressive, losing the likes of Kerry Hyder, Dartwan Bush, Will Smith, Terrance Bullitt, Tre' Porter and Bruce Jones is going to hurt. I do like the potential athleticism of this defense, though. And they do have the chance to surprise, particularly if some of the juco transfers up front pan out.


Joshua Parsons in Lubbock, Texas, writes: Which freshman will have the biggest impact for this upcoming season for the Red Raiders?

Trotter: It’s possible receivers Ian Sadler or Byron Daniels work their way into the rotation, but I think cornerback Nigel Bethel II will make the biggest impact. The Red Raiders just don’t have a corner on their roster with the speed or playmaking potential of Bethel. He might not start right way, but he will play. And ultimately he will end up starting, perhaps sooner rather than later.


Cliff W. in Madison, W. Va., writes: I heard rumors that Shelton Gibson was an academic non-qualifier this spring -- is there any truth to it? It may be old news but I'm an underground coal miner and I don't get much time to keep myself updated about the drama up in Morgantown.

Trotter: Basically, Gibson was a partial qualifier last season, which means he can’t join the team in an official capacity until this summer. Ultimately, since Gibson redshirted, it won’t matter much. Provided he keeps his grades up, he will still have four years of eligibility left once he joins the team.
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.
Big 12 offenses took a clear step backward in 2013.

Poor quarterback play was the main culprit, but the conference’s lack of elite signal-callers wasn’t the lone reason for the general absence of explosive playmaking in Big 12 stadiums last fall.

Conference pass catchers earned their share of the blame as well.

[+] EnlargeAntwan Goodley
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAntwan Goodley was dangerous after the catch for Baylor, but in general, explosive plays from wide receivers were down in the Big 12 in 2013.
The 2013 season was the first time the Big 12 had less than four receivers eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark since 2006. Baylor’s Antwan Goodley (1,339) and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett (1,262) were the only receivers to reach that mark.

Yards after catch is one way Big 12 running backs, tight ends and receivers can take ownership over their offense’s success. While the accuracy of the quarterback impacts the opportunities for yards after catch, there has been a correlation between yards after catch and team success in the Big 12 in recent seasons. With the help of ESPN Stats and Information, a closer look at the yards after catch for each Big 12 team during the past three seasons reveals some interesting trends.

  • Ten Big 12 teams have finished the season with at least 2,000 yards after catch during the past three seasons. Those teams averaged 8.9 wins per season, with half of them winning at least 10 games.
  • Baylor’s record-setting offense was spurred by its highest yards-after-catch percentage in the past three years. The 2013 Bears gained 2,281 yards after catch, 48.9 percent of their 4,668 receiving yards during their Big 12 title season. In 2012, 41.6 percent of their receiving yards came after the catch. In 2011, 44.8 percent of their yards came after the catch.
  • Goodley led the league with 598 yards after catch. His yards after catch total would have been no higher than third in the conference in 2012 and 2011. Five different receivers had at least 698 yards after catch in the past three seasons, with Tavon Austin’s 992 for West Virginia in 2012 ranking as the highest individual total during that span.
  • Oklahoma State’s 2,851 yards after catch in 2011 is the highest total during the past three seasons and 56.6 percent of its 5,034 total. The Cowboys went 12-1 and won their first-ever Big 12 championship during that season. Justin Blackmon’s 794 yards after catch led the Big 12 in 2011.
  • Oklahoma struggled with quarterback play throughout the 2013 season, but the Sooners led the league with 58 percent of their receiving yards coming after the catch, the highest percentage in conference during the past three seasons. OU had 2,588 receiving yards, with 1,500 of those coming after the catch. Sterling Shepard paced the way for OU with 384 yards after the catch.
  • Kansas, which has struggled to find playmaking receivers in recent years, hasn’t had more than 1,000 yards after catch in the past three seasons.
  • Not surprisingly, Kansas State is the lone Big 12 team that is barely impacted by yards after catch numbers. The Wildcats recorded a 39.4 yards after catch percentage during the past three seasons for a total of 2,991 yards after catch during that span.
  • Dana Holgorsen’s offense at West Virginia is built around getting athletes in one on one situations and letting them make plays in the open field. The Mountaineers gained 55.3 percent of their receiving yards after the catch during the past three seasons. Although they only spent two of those seasons in the Big 12, the Mountaineers are the only current Big 12 squad who gained at least 50 percent of their yards after catch in each of the past three seasons.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the numbers via ESPN Stats and Information:







Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: WRs

February, 20, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’ll be examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Thursday with receivers (and tight ends). Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see them at the moment:

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Lockett had seven games with more than 100 yards receiving and two games with more than 200.
1. Baylor: Antwan Goodley hauled in 1,339 receiving yards last year and is back for his senior campaign. Levi Norwood filled in well as a second option after Tevin Reese’s injury, and, like Goodley, can also fly. The Bears are also about to enjoy the fruits of back-to-back monster recruiting classes in the position, including five ESPN 300 players in the last two years. The best of those, incoming freshman K.D. Cannon, has the talent to be Baylor’s next great receiver.

2. Kansas State: The Wildcats have the Big 12’s finest receiver in Tyler Lockett, which warrants them a high ranking even if the supporting cast isn’t tantalizing. Lockett was basically uncoverable downfield last season, and exploded once QB Jake Waters got more comfortable. Curry Sexton has turned into a reliable possession target. The Wildcats also welcome one of the best juco receivers in the country in Andre Davis. If Davis pans out, this has a chance to be among the best receiving corps Bill Snyder has ever had.

3. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose an ultra-productive player in Eric Ward and a superstar in tight end Jace Amaro, but this position remains stocked with talent. Jitterbug slot man Jakeem Grant was sixth in the league last year in receiving, and showed in the Holiday Bowl how dangerous he can be when 100 percent focused. Bradley Marquez and Jordan Davis are reliable pass-catchers, but the player to watch here is Reginald Davis. A former high school quarterback, Davis has gradually picked up the nuances of playing receiver. But as he flashed in a kickoff return touchdown against Arizona State, Davis is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and could be a major factor.

4. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose their top three receivers, but outside Baylor, no team in the Big 12 has more WRs ready to contribute in 2014 than Oklahoma State. Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman combined for 61 receptions as freshmen, and will give the Cowboys a physical presence on the perimeter. Brandon Sheperd and David Glidden were also part of the regular rotation, and Austin Hays, who started nine games in 2012, would have been had he not missed virtually the entire season with injury. The two to watch here, though, have yet to play a down, but will bring major speed. Former ESPN 300 recruit Ra’Shaad Samples redshirted last year, but reportedly ran a 4.3-second 40 last summer. That might seem slow compared to Tyreek Hill, the nation’s No. 4 juco recruit, who doubles as a track phenom.

5. Texas: Jaxon Shipley isn’t his brother Jordan, but he’s still a quality college receiver. Even with all of Texas’ QB issues, Shipley already has 159 career receptions. The Longhorns have speed and playmaking elsewhere in downfield burner Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and the versatile Daje Johnson. The Longhorns also signed one of three best incoming WRs in the Big 12 in Armanti Foreman. This group could really thrive with an uptick in QB play.

[+] EnlargeJordan Thompson
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiJordan Thompson showed near the end of the season the type of weapon he can be in West Virginia's offense.
6. Oklahoma: The Sooners graduate Jalen Saunders, who was “Mr. Everything” for the OU offense. But Sterling Shepard seems primed to take over the No. 1 role after hauling in 51 passes and seven touchdowns. Who will surround him? Durron Neal is the only other player on the roster with much experience. But the good news for the Sooners is they’ve recruited superbly at the position. Among many options, the player to keep an eye on is freshman Jordan Smallwood, who was turning heads last summer, until a foot fracture forced him to redshirt.

7. Iowa State: Quenton Bundrage is one of the more underrated receivers in the league despite ranking third in the Big 12 in touchdowns. With Amaro gone, E.J. Bibbs becomes the best receiving tight end in the league after hauling in 39 passes last year. Iowa State’s standing here, though, is contingent on incoming freshman Allen Lazard, one the most highly touted WRs Iowa State has ever signed. If Lazard can make an immediate impact, like the Iowa State coaching staff is banking on, this could become one of the better units in the league.

8. West Virginia: There’s no corps in the Big 12 that could move up more spots than West Virginia’s. The Mountaineers didn’t have a receiver rank in the top 15 in the Big 12 in receiving last year, but Kevin White, Mario Alford and Daikiel Shorts all ranked in the top 20. All three are back, too, as is the diminutive Jordan Thompson, who finally came alive the second half of the season. Former ESPN 300 recruit Shelton Gibson, who redshirted, will also join the rotation. The Mountaineers rank eighth for now, but they are closer to Kansas State than to Kansas.

9. TCU: This week, TCU kicked receiver LaDarius Brown off the team. Considering Brown tied for the team lead in receptions last year, it’s a tough loss. This unit is obviously better with Trevone Boykin, but he might have to play QB, at least until someone else emerges there. The Horned Frogs desperately need Brandon Carter to become a No. 1 receiver. After a promising sophomore year, Carter was basically a non-factor, before showing signs of bouncing back the last month of the season. TCU needs him in a big way in 2014.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have a receiver with more than 11 catches last year. Some of that was the quarterbacks. Some of it was, well, the receivers. The group had little overall impact, which put tremendous pressure on James Sims and the running game. With Sims gone, the receivers have to elevate their game significantly for Kansas to have a chance of taking a step forward. The Jayhawks do have a solid tight end in Jimmay Mundine, who had five TD catches. And Tony Pierson could play more receiver this year. But somebody else needs to emerge.

Big 12's impact freshmen

February, 13, 2014
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The Big 12 added several talented recruits on signing day with at least one member of the ESPN 300 inking with every Big 12 school except Kansas State. Several of those talented freshmen will get the opportunity to make an immediate impact this fall. Here are the top five impact freshman in the Big 12 in 2014:

[+] EnlargeK.D. Cannon
Max Olson/ESPNK.D. Cannon has the skills to force his way into Baylor's receiver rotation as a freshman.
1. Allen Lazard, Iowa State receiver: The Cyclones are looking for playmakers on offense, and the No. 148 player in the ESPN 300 appears ready to fill that need. Lazard brings terrific size (6-foot-5, 208 pounds), strength and good hands to ISU’s offense. Quenton Bundrage needs help in the passing game and Lazard has the skills to join E.J. Bibbs in providing help in 2014.

“Allen is a guy who could come and make an impact,” Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads said. “We’re going to give him every opportunity to come in and play his way onto the field as a true freshman. This is a guy who is going to continue to challenge himself, day in and day out, for the rest of his career.”

2. Nigel Bethel, Texas Tech cornerback: The Red Raiders are losing several senior defensive backs including cornerbacks Bruce Jones, Derrick Mays and Olaoluwa Falemi. Yet Bethel could combine with 2013 signee Justis Nelson to give the Red Raiders one of the best cornerback duos in the Big 12 over the next few seasons. As one of the best cover cornerbacks in the Class of 2014, Bethel should see the field early. Bethel, the No. 226 player in the ESPN 300, has the speed, ball skills and natural instincts to make a smooth transition to college football.

3. K.D. Cannon, Baylor receiver: The Bears don’t have a major need at receiver but Cannon is an exceptional talent. Cannon, ranked No. 30 overall in the ESPN 300, needs to put on additional weight but he should be able to overcome his slight build thanks to his excellent feet and quickness.

“K.D.'s the smoothest and purest receiver at the high school level I've ever seen,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “When the ball's in his hands, he is as instinctive as anybody I've ever been around.”

4. Steven Parker II, Oklahoma safety: The Sooners were the first team to offer the Jenks (Okla.) standout and remained in hot pursuit until he signed. Their pursuit could pay off as early as this fall. The No. 139 player in the ESPN300, Parker will bring athleticism and versatility to the Sooners secondary.

“He’s a guy we desperately needed at safety,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Because he’s a guy that brings a different element to the safety position that a lot of players just can’t just by his mobility, his skill level, his cover ability. We ask our safeties to do a lot of that and he fits perfectly in to our system.”

5. Dalvin Warmack, Kansas State running back: Warmack should get plenty of opportunities to make an impact for the Wildcats. KSU is looking to replace John Hubert, who carried the load in the backfield for the past three seasons, rushing for 2,965 yards and 28 touchdowns.

With Jake Waters under center and Tyler Lockett making plays on the outside, KSU will need someone to help ensure offensive balance. Warmack can help keep defenses honest with his vision, versatility and open-field running. He might not be ready to step in and replace Hubert on an every-down basis but Warmack has the talent to make an immediate impact.

First five out: Jacob Bragg, Kansas center; Dravon Henry, West Virginia defensive back; Joe Mixon, Oklahoma running back; Kyron Watson, Kansas linebacker; Derick Roberson, Texas defensive end
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.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Here’s what to watch in the Big 12 for Week 10.

Will Texas Tech rebound after losing to the Sooners? Kliff Kingsbury’s squad pulled out all the stops in their 38-30 setback in Norman. Fake punt returns, halfback passes, onside kicks, nothing was left on the table. Yet, they still lost. It had to be deflating for the Red Raiders. But TTU comes back home to Lubbock with the realization that its Big 12 title hopes remain intact with Oklahoma State, Texas and Baylor remaining on their schedule. If they simply win out and get some help with another conference loss by the Sooners, their title hopes would be well within reach.

Will Oklahoma State remind people it remains in the Big 12 title hunt? The Cowboys still control their destiny with the rest of the top half of the league still on their schedule. OSU can send a message that it has been forgotten during discussions about the Big 12 with a road win in a tough night environment in Lubbock. Multiple starters remain from the 2011 Big 12 title squad so don’t expect the Cowboys to sit back and watch the title be decided without having their say.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports
Can Texas look dominant for the third game in a row? The Longhorns still have doubters thanks to their stumbling, bumbling start to the season. Yet they sit at the top of the Big 12 standings unbeaten in conference play alongside Baylor and have been as impressive as any team in the league during their past two games. If they come out and hammer Kansas, it will display the type of consistency that tends to be a trait of championship squads.

Will Roland keep rollin’? OSU running back Desmond Roland set a career high with 219 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his first collegiate start. What will he do as an encore against a Red Raider defense that has allowed 460 rushing yards in their past two games? TTU will likely try to take the running game away and force Clint Chelf to beat them with his arm.

Who will be the best running back on the turf at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium? Texas’ Johnathan Gray (93.71 rushing yards per game) and Kansas’ James Sims (84.14 ypg) sit at No. 2 and 3 among the Big 12 leaders for rushing yards per game behind Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk (124.14). Clearly, Gray has more help as he strives to make plays but Sims did rush for 176 yards against the Longhorns last season. It should be fun to see two of the Big 12’s top running backs in action on the same field.

How strong is OSU’s defense? The Cowboys are, statistically, one of the best defensive units seen in Stillwater in recent memory. Yet they haven’t seen anything like they will see against Texas Tech on Saturday. The Red Raiders feature a bag full of tricks and receiving corps full of treats unlike any other in the conference. Jace Amaro is an automatic mismatch, Eric Ward can make teams pay for leaving him in one-on-one situations, Jakeem Grant is slippery and fast and Bradley Marquez will hit you with a big play when you least expect it. Few envy the task of Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer this weekend.

Can Kansas State’s two-quarterback system continue to excel? Each week Bill Snyder is asked about his two-quarterback system and the Wildcats’ head coach commonly responds by saying both guys are good players who can help his team win. While far from colorful, his consistent message is dead-on accurate. Daniel Sams has caused havoc for Big 12 defenses all season and when West Virginia came out with a plan to stop Sams, Jake Waters promptly made the Mountaineers’ pay with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to spark KSU’s win. There's no reason to think the two-quarterback system won't continue to excel against Iowa State on Saturday.

Can WVU finally finish? Every week the Mountaineers show more and more signs that they are starting to find a rhythm. While many are quick to brush WVU off, the Mountaineers would have beaten Tech and K-State if they made key plays when it mattered in the fourth quarter. If they ever finally learn how to finish, they could finish the season with a strong final month, starting Saturday at TCU.

Will Casey Pachall look better in his second game back? Pachall didn’t look like the savior against Texas in his first game back from injury last Saturday but he still represents the biggest reason for hope as TCU tries to battle its way into a bowl game. If he looks like a healthy and confident Pachall against WVU and leads the Horned Frogs' offense to a high-scoring output, it would be hard to bet against Gary Patterson’s squad finding its way into a bowl game.

Someone help Quenton Bundrage: No, seriously, anyone? Bundrage keeps finding ways to make an impact on games despite not having another consistent threat alongside him in Iowa State’s offense. The Cyclones have been ravaged by injuries, but it would be interesting to see what the sophomore could do with someone alongside him forcing defenses to account for them. Regardless, Bundrage is a name to watch against KSU on Saturday.

Big 12 Week 6: Did you know?

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
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Thanks to the fine work of the folks of ESPN Stats & Info and a sports information department near you, we’re excited to continue the tradition of ending the week with a large heaping of knowledge in the form of numbers.

Chew on these nuggets of fun info and random trivia, and you’re sure to be the smartest guy or gal at your tailgate.

Did you know …
  • No team in FBS has given up more quarterback rushing yards (525) than Texas. That's 100 more yards than any other school.
  • Case McCoy attempted a career-high 45 passes against Iowa State. He's only the second FBS QB this season to attempt at least 45 passes, throw for fewer than 250 yards and still win.
  • McCoy has led three game-winning drives on his career, and each came on the road: at Texas A&M in 2011, Kansas in 2012 and Iowa State in 2013.
  • In a battle of two of the Big 12's best punters, Texas' Anthony Fera averaged 43.9 yards on eight punts and Iowa State's Kirby Van Der Kamp averaged 39.7 on six. They combined for eight kicks downed inside the 20.
  • Quenton Bundrage's 97-yard catch and score against Texas set an Iowa State record and tied for the second-longest reception in FBS this season. Georgia's Aaron Murray completed a 98-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Davis against North Texas last month.
  • Aaron Wimberly could be on his way to 1,000 yards. Iowa State's new starting back has rushed for 254 in his past two games.
  • ISU QB Sam B. Richardson has rushed for 427 yards in his eight career games, at an average of 53.3 per contest.
  • Three of the top four single-game yardage totals in Baylor school history have occurred this season.
  • The Bears' starting offense has scored touchdowns on 21 of its 26 offensive drives this season.
  • Baylor's defense has forced three-and-outs on 54.3 percent of opposing teams' drives this season.
  • Last time they met (which was the first time ever), West Virginia and Baylor combined for a Big 12-record 133 points and 1,507 yards of offense.
  • West Virginia has won 16 games against ranked opponents since 2001.
  • The Mountaineers offense is No. 2 in the Big 12 in first downs produced with 100, five fewer than Texas Tech.
  • West Virginia opponents are converting 31 percent of their third-down attempts in the second half this season. WVU has made 26 stops and given up 12 conversions.
  • Texas Tech is 13-1 all-time against Kansas and has won six in a row in this series. Since joining the Big 12, though, Tech is only 7-6 in games following a bye week.
  • Of the 35 Big 12 players with more than 100 receiving yards, only two play tight end: Tech's Jace Amaro and Iowa State's E.J. Bibbs. Amaro is the No. 3 receiver in the conference.
  • Texas Tech's defense has pitched shutouts in each of its past two games. The last time this unit did that in back-to-back games was 2005.
  • Kansas defensive back Dexter McDonald leads the Big 12 and the nation in passes defended per game at 2.7. He has seven pass breakups on the season.
  • Matthew Wyman's 52-yard game-winning field goal for Kansas against Louisiana Tech is tied for the seventh-longest made kick in the nation this year.
  • A total of 13 junior college transfers are listed on Kansas' current depth chart. Speaking of newcomers, only one true freshman is on KU's depth chart: Backup snapper John Wirtel.
  • Under Bob Stoops, Oklahoma is 12-2 in games immediately preceding the Red River Rivalry. That includes a 9-1 record against Big 12 schools, with the lone loss coming in 2007 to Colorado.
  • Blake Bell is No. 2 in the Big 12 in total QBR at 88.4. The best QBR season his predecessor, Landry Jones, ever produced in his career was 75.0 in 2012.
  • Only three teams ranked in the top 25 got to 4-0 by beating four FBS teams: Oklahoma, Stanford and Michigan.
  • TCU has forced a conference-leading 12 turnovers on defense this season but has scored just 37 points off those takeaways.
  • This weekend, the Horned Frogs begin a stretch of seven consecutive weeks with Big 12 games. Oklahoma will be TCU's third top 25 opponent of the season.
  • Since beating a No. 5 Oklahoma team in 2005, the Frogs are 0-2 against OU.
  • TCU has allowed a total of 59 rushing yards in its past two games. Oklahoma is averaging 256 rushing yards per game this season.
  • Oklahoma State has won three consecutive games against Kansas State when they play in Stillwater, but all three were decided by 7 points or fewer.
  • The Cowboys have won 13 of their past 14 games at Boone Pickens Stadium. They've played at home only once in their past seven games.
  • Oklahoma State's offense has accounted for 400 or more total yards in 29 of its past 30 games, including 12 in a row.
  • How's this for spreading the love: Nine different wide receivers have caught touchdown passes for Oklahoma State this season.
  • Kansas State started the season 2-2 for the first time since 2009 and hasn't gone 2-3 to begin a season since 2004, a season in which KSU went 4-7.
  • K-State quarterback Jake Waters has completed 16 passes of more than 20 yards this season. That ties him for best in the Big 12 with Baylor's Bryce Petty.
  • In its past 26 games, KSU is 21-5 when its defense intercepts at least two passes.

Big 12 Week 5: Did you know?

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
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Oklahoma and Notre Dame have tradition that is readily apparent in the college football record books, while Oklahoma State makes its first trip to Morgantown, W.Va., since the 1920s. Those tidbits and more are featured in another great package of Big 12 stats thanks to ESPN Stats and Information.

Did you know ...
  • Coaching staffs at Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and TCU will be wearing Coach to Cure MD patches this week to help raise awareness and funding for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research.
  • Baylor leads the nation in points per game (69.7), point margin per game (62), total yards per game (751.3), total yards margin (454), yards per play (9.84) and passing yards (444.33).
  • Baylor's defense has been superb in its own right. BU ranks No. 5 nationally in yards per play allowed (3.82), yards per carry allowed (2.3) and No. 2 in points allowed (7.7).
  • BU's Lache Seastrunk is averaging 10.97 yards per carry, ranking No. 2 nationally behind Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon.
  • Seastrunk's seven straight games with at least 100 yards rushing is the nation's longest current streak.
  • BU quarterback Bryce Petty is averaging 25.89 yards per attempt on third down.
  • Baylor's defense has scored more touchdowns (4) than it has allowed this season (3).
  • The Iowa State Cyclones were one of three teams that have played only two games heading into this week's action. Colorado, which postponed its Sept. 14 meeting with Fresno State due to flooding, and Navy are the others.
  • Iowa State receiver Quenton Bundrage's three-touchdown receptions against Iowa was the third time in 11 games that a Cyclone receiver has recording three touchdown catches. Yet, it only happened three times from 1951 to 2005, a span of 590 games.
  • Nigel Tribune, ISU's true freshman cornerback, is the only true freshman who has played for the Cyclones during the past two seasons.
  • Kansas running back/receiver Tony Pierson is averaging 11 yards per touch. He has 26 touches for 286 yards and one touchdown.
  • Kansas ranks No. 9 nationally in yards per pass attempt allowed, with a 4.9 yards per pass attempt allowed average.
  • KU punter Trevor Pardula's 78-yard punt against Louisiana Tech is the second-longest punt in the FBS this season.
  • Pardula's 49.7 yards per punt average leads the Big 12.
  • Kansas State leads the nation averaging 33.75 per punt return.
  • Wildcats receiver Tramaine Thompson is the main reason for KSU's outstanding return game. He's averaging 33.75 yards per punt return (4 for 135 yards) and 56 yards per kickoff return (2 for 112 yards, 1 touchdown).
  • KSU receiver Tyler Lockett leads the conference with 7.2 receptions per game for 117.2 yards. Lockett also leads the Big 12 in all-purpose yards with 157.2 per game.
  • Oklahoma is looking to become the first current member of the Big 12 to defeat Notre Dame since Texas knocked off the Fighting Irish, 21-17, in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1970.
  • OU has won 36 straight games when leading at halftime.
  • OU and Notre Dame have combined to win 1,702 games. ND is third nationally with 868 all-time wins; OU is sixth nationally with 834 all-time wins.
  • OU and Notre Dame combined have spent 1,476 weeks in the AP Poll.
  • OU is 11-7 against ranked teams on the road under Bob Stoops.
  • Notre Dame is 28-4-1 all-time against current Big 12 opponents.
  • Oklahoma State has outscored its first three opponents 108-13 in the first three quarters of its games this season.
  • Four different Cowboys have scored a special teams touchdown during their career at OSU.
  • Oklahoma State and West Virginia will meet for just the fifth time ever on Saturday. It's the Cowboys' first visit to Morgantown, W.Va. since 1928.
  • WVU has three members of its staff with strong OSU ties. Head coach Dana Holgorsen was OSU's offensive coordinator under Mike Gundy in 2010. Special teams coordinator Joe DeForest coached at OSU from 2001-11 and graduate assistant Andrew McGee played at OSU in 2009 and 2010.
  • Holgorsen recruited OSU quarterback J.W. Walsh to play in Stillwater. Walsh kept his commitment to the Cowboys after Holgorsen left for WVU in Dec. 2010.
  • OSU has gained at least 400 yards in 28 of its last 29 games.
  • Cowboys linebacker Shaun Lewis has started 35 straight games.
  • OSU has scored 15 touchdowns in 15 trips to the red zone this season.
  • Ten different players have scored touchdowns for OSU this season.
  • Texas is averaging 6.98 yards per play on second down, helping them gain 41 first downs on second-down plays. They've gained 48 first downs on first- and third-down plays combined.
  • Texas Tech's Jace Amaro leads the Big 12 with 12 receptions on third down for 205 yards and one touchdown. KSU's Lockett is second with seven third-down catches.
  • TCU is 3-1 in 11 a.m. games during the past two seasons.
  • TCU coach Gary Patterson is 9-2 as a head coach against SMU.
  • TCU has a seven-game win streak in games following a bye week.
  • Under Patterson, TCU is 25-8 in games following a loss.
  • TCU has won five of the last six games against SMU.
  • TCU has faced SMU 92 times, tying the Mustangs with Texas A&M for the second-most meetings with the Horned Frogs.
  • Trevone Boykin's 101 rushing yards against Texas Tech made him the first TCU quarterback since David Roscoe (vs. BYU in 1987) to reach 100 rushing yards in a game.
  • Texas Tech ranks No. 4 nationally with 408.5 passing yards.
  • The Red Raiders rank No. 4 nationally in red zone efficiency allowed at 22.2 percent.
  • Texas Tech ranks No. 5 nationally in goal-to-go efficiency allowed at 16.7 percent.
  • The Red Raiders rank No. 7 nationally in kickoff return yardage allowed at 16.63 yards per return.
  • Fourteen players have made their first start for West Virginia this season, including quarterback Ford Childress and running back Charles Sims.
  • West Virginia is eighth nationally with 30 underclassmen on its depth chart, making the Mountaineers the Big 12's youngest team.
  • West Virginia is 97-93-1 all-time in nationally televised games. Saturday's game against OSU is WVU's 192nd network television appearance.
  • WVU's shutout loss to Maryland was the first time in 151 games that the Mountaineers were held scoreless since Oct. 6, 2001, against Virginia Tech.

Big 12 lunch links

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
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Is it just me or does Michael sound like a member of the Gruden family?

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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Here are the Big 12's unsung heroes in Week 3.

Receiver Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State: Overshadowed by the Cyclones’ struggles against Iowa, Bundrage could be emerging as a go-to target for quarterback Sam Richardson. He finished with seven receptions for 146 yards and three touchdowns. Four of his catches resulted in first downs for the Cyclones. He could be a reassuring option for Iowa State's offense if he can be consistent for the rest of the season.

Safety Isaiah Johnson, Kansas: The junior college transfer had a strong showing against Rice. He had nine tackles, including seven solo stops, and one interception against the Owls. It was a disappointing 23-14 loss for the Jayhawks, but coach Charlie Weis praised the performance of his defense and hopes that unit will continue to play well when Big 12 play opens. Secondary play is critical in this league, and Johnson could help the Jayhawks in that regard.

Running back John Hubert, Kansas State: It’s odd to call Hubert an unsung hero, but the Wildcats’ use of their star running back should be noted. He’s gotten more opportunities to get the ball in space and has seen the ball more in the passing game since KSU's season-opening loss to North Dakota State. Hubert had 168 all-purpose yards (118 rushing, 50 receiving) and one touchdown in KSU’s 37-7 win over UMass. With KSU facing Texas this weekend, Hubert could be a key guy to watch for the Wildcats.

Cornerback Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma: Sanchez is quietly off to an outstanding start in the first three games of his college career. He had six tackles, including 0.5 tackles for loss, and one pass breakup against Tulsa. The redshirt freshman has been competitive, trustworthy and confident as the starter opposite All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin. Sanchez gone from potential weak link for the Sooners to a potential strength in the secondary.

Running back Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State: The senior had the quietest three-touchdown performance in recent memory with 10 carries for 40 yards and three scores. Smith makes the list because he will be critical for the Cowboys offense moving forward. If he can continue to be a physical, slashing runner who takes the attention off quarterback J.W. Walsh, the entire field opens up for OSU’s offense on the ground and through the air.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesTexas RB Johnathan Gray rushed for 91 yards and a TD in the Longhorns' loss to Ole Miss.
Running back Johnathan Gray, Texas: Gray had a productive day against Ole Miss despite the Longhorns’ 44-23 loss. He finished with 19 carries for 91 yards and one touchdown while adding four receptions for 12 yards. The Longhorns leaned more on Gray with Daje' Johnson out, and the sophomore responded with a solid showing. Nonetheless, UT will need even more from Gray if it hopes to get the ship turned back in the right direction.

Defensive back Derrick Kindred, TCU: The sophomore, a backup safety, was all over the field in the Horned Frogs’ 20-10 loss to Texas Tech on Thursday. He finished with five tackles, including one tackle for loss, while adding an interception and a pass breakup. Playing in a defensive backfield that features big names like cornerback Jason Verrett and safety Elisha Olabode, Kindred is looking like he can provide quality depth in TCU’s secondary.

Safety Tre' Porter, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders senior was a key reason Texas Tech was able to limit TCU to 10 points. He had a team-high nine tackles, all solo. His ability to tackle in space and limit game-changing plays by opponents could be critical for the Red Raider defense when it starts facing Big 12 offenses. He was moved to safety to provide a consistent playmaker at that position for the Red Raiders, and that's exactly what he's done.

Defensive end Kyle Rose, West Virginia: Rose had six tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, and one sack for WVU in the Mountaineers' 41-7 win over Georgia State. The sophomore provided quality depth last season and could become a key contributor along the defensive line if he continues to play well. He could also help lessen the burden and double-team opportunities on defensive tackle Shaq Rowell in the middle.

Note: Baylor did not play in Week 3.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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Oklahoma and Oklahoma State rolled, Texas capitulated, Texas Tech prevailed, TCU scuffled, West Virginia and Kansas State cruised, Iowa State and Kansas faltered and Baylor watched. The third weekend that was in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Texas Tech. So far, the Red Raiders have been the big surprise of the Big 12. The first two games Tech won with quarterback Baker Mayfield and its air assault. Thursday, the Red Raiders beat TCU 20-10 with hard-nosed defense. Tech is off to a phenomenal start and could keep it going with four winnable games coming up next. Those games will be even more winnable if this defense proves to be the real deal.

Disappointment of the week: Iowa State. After a disappointing opener, the Cyclones had high hopes they could turn their season around against their instate rival. Instead, Iowa jumped to a 27-7 lead, then withstood Iowa State’s mild fourth-quarter rally. The Cyclones have not looked good offensively through two games, and outside Sam Richardson throwing the ball up to Quenton Bundrage, have really shown no pop. The Cyclones desperately need a running back and a running game to emerge. So far, neither has.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsBlake Bell took charge as quarterback for Oklahoma.
Big (offensive) man on campus: Blake Bell. After losing the preseason quarterback battle to Trevor Knight, Bell roared back to recapture the job for good. Bell completed 27 of 37 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns in Oklahoma’s 51-20 win over Tulsa. Accounting for both rushing and passing, Bell finished the game with a QBR of 96.7. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that’s the highest single-game QBR (before opponent adjustment) by a qualifying Oklahoma quarterback since Sam Bradford recorded a 99.0 at Baylor in 2008.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Terrance Bullitt and Will Smith. Several different Red Raiders qualified for the honor, but the senior linebackers were instrumental in the win over TCU. Bullitt collected six tackles and batted down four passes, which helped prevent Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin from generating any rhythm on his shorter passes. Smith, who led Tech with nine tackles, helped stuff TCU’s run up the middle. With Tre’ Porter anchoring the secondary and Kerry Hyder wreaking havoc up front, the Red Raiders have the makings of a very solid defense, if this level of linebacker play from Bullitt and Smith continues.

Special teams player of the week: Anthony Fera. Don’t blame the Texas kicker for the Longhorns’ 44-23 loss to Ole Miss. Fera nailed all three of his field goal attempts in the defeat, including a 47-yarder that put Texas up two scores just before halftime (of course, the Longhorns failed to score the rest of the game). Fera was effective punting, too, pinning Ole Miss inside its own 20 twice. The Longhorns don’t have much going for them at the moment, but at least they have a reliable kicker and punter.

Play of the week: Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington appeared to have scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 49-yard pass in the fourth quarter against TCU. Washington, however, let go of the football just before crossing the goal line. The ball rolled into the end zone and came to a stop, but no one touched it after the field judge signaled touchdown. The play was reviewed and the touchdown was overturned, but Tech was given the ball at the half-yard line (though a celebration penalty pushed the ball back to the 15). The Frogs have a beef about the field judge signaling touchdown prematurely, but, according to the rulebook, officials made the right call on the replay. Had a Frog picked up the ball or had the ball rolled out of the end zone, TCU would have taken over possession, but none of that happened. Instead, Tech was given back the ball, and Davis Webb found Bradley Marquez for the game-winning touchdown -- a play that could have long-lasting effects for both the Red Raiders and TCU.

Stat of the week: After giving up 272 rushing yards to Ole Miss, Texas now has the third-worst rush defense in college football. The Longhorns are allowing 308.7 rushing yards per game. No one else in the Big 12 is giving up more than 223.

Quote of the week: “Forget the coaches, come for the kids. Come for the young guys who are really trying, and come watch them try to beat Kansas State, which we haven't done very often.” -- coach Mack Brown, in a plea to Texas fans to keep filling the stadium despite the Longhorns’ 1-2 start.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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Only because Iowa State and Kansas also lost is Texas not last in this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings:

1. Oklahoma State (3-0, 0-0 Big 12, last week 1): While they’ve been in the news plenty lately for other reasons, the Cowboys on the field have quietly lived up to the role of favorite rather well. And with the Nov. 16 trip to Austin no longer looking all that daunting, Oklahoma State should be favored in every game the rest of the way.

2. Baylor (2-0, 0-0 Big 12, last week 2): The Bears are one of only three Big 12 teams that haven’t been forced to play a backup quarterback due to injury, ineffectiveness or the need for a spark. That kind of stability with Bryce Petty is one major reason why Baylor has the look of a viable conference title contender.

3. Oklahoma (3-0, 1-0 Big 12, last week 3): Before the weekend, the Sooners had been brilliant in every facet of the game, except for quarterback. Against Tulsa, they were brilliant there, too. Blake Bell gave the passing attack a huge lift, delivering college football’s sixth-highest raw QBR of the week. So far, the OU running game has been dynamic, and the defense has been solid. If the Sooners can also get that level of production from their quarterback, they'll be dangerous.

4. Texas Tech (3-0, 1-0 Big 12, last week 5): Sometimes winning ugly is what’s required. Aesthetics aside, Texas Tech’s victory TCU was huge for the Kliff Kingsbury era. Some of it was TCU’s anemic offense, but Kingsbury had to feel buoyed by the way his defense completely shut down the Horned Frogs. If the Red Raiders keep playing defense, they could emerge into a surprise title contender. Their next four games are very winnable.

5. TCU (1-2, 0-1 Big 12, last week 4): Coach Gary Patterson probably could not have envisioned a worse start to TCU’s season. The Horned Frogs already have two losses, and star defensive end Devonte Fields made little impact in Lubbock after sitting out most of the first two games with a suspension. Now, Fields has an injured foot. Given how lost the Frogs look offensively, they’re probably going to have to win games with defense, at least for now. That won’t be easy with Fields either hobbled, ineffective or both.

6. West Virginia (2-1, 0-1 Big 12, last week 6): After auditioning Paul Millard and bypassing on Clint Trickett, the Mountaineers might finally have uncovered their quarterback in Ford Childress, who had a strong debut showing against Georgia State. These next two weeks will be huge for Childress and the Mountaineers. How they perform against Maryland in Baltimore and conference favorite Oklahoma State in Morgantown will set the tone for the rest of the season, one way or the other.

7. Kansas State (2-1, 0-0 Big 12, last week 8): After the stunning loss to North Dakota State, the Wildcats have bounced back nicely, and there’s reason to believe they can keep it going in Austin. The zone-read has been devastating to Texas, and K-State change-of-pace QB Daniel Sams might be the best running QB in the league.

8. Texas (1-2, 0-0 Big 12, last week 7): After beating the Longhorns by three touchdowns, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Texas’ defensive scheme was basically the same as last week. The Longhorns played about the same, too, giving up another 272 yards on the ground. That’s 822 rushing yards the Horns have allowed over the past two games. It's not even October, and Texas is already a total disaster. Coach Mack Brown is running out of scapegoats to fire, too.

9. Kansas (1-1, 0-0 Big 12, last week 9): The Jayhawks actually played well defensively in a nine-point loss at Rice. The offense, however, did not; notably, quarterback Jake Heaps, who had a raw QBR of 10.2, the fourth-lowest rating of any FBS quarterback for the week. The Kansas offense has to be -- and should be -- better than this for the Jayhawks to win more than two games.

10. Iowa State (0-2, 0-0 Big 12, last week 10): After two losses to open the year, it’s difficult to see how Iowa State gets to a bowl game. Other than receiver Quenton Bundrage, quarterback Sam Richardson has had virtually no help offensively, and the defense is a notch below what it's been. If Iowa State can’t uncover a running game to take pressure off Richardson, this could end up becoming a long, long year in Ames.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 3

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
10:00
AM ET
Here's what we learned from Week 3 in the Big 12, in which only four undefeated teams are left standing:

1. Texas still can’t play much defense: After his Rebels dispatched Texas 44-23, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said the Longhorns ran virtually the same defensive scheme under coordinator Greg Robinson as they did last week under Manny Diaz. It sure looked that way on the field. Ole Miss racked up 272 yards on the ground and averaged 6.0 yards per carry to coast past Texas in Austin. The Longhorns appear to be no better off defensively now than they were a week ago in an embarrassing 40-21 loss at BYU. If Texas can’t correct its defense, this could end up being a long season in Austin. And Mack Brown’s final one, too.

2. QB Blake Bell isn’t just a Belldozer: So much for the premise Bell can only run. The artist formerly known as the Belldozer passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns in his first career start as Oklahoma whipped Tulsa 51-20. Bell, who replaced Trevor Knight, completed 27 of 37 passes and posted the highest passing yardage total by any Oklahoma quarterback making his first start. He also delivered a QBR of 96.7 (on a scale of 0-100). Most importantly, Bell’s performance gives the Sooners confidence in their passing attack going into a showdown at Notre Dame in two weeks.

3. The Mountaineers are all in on QB Ford Childress: Dana Holgorsen hinted early last week he would be making a quarterback change. Most everyone assumed it would be Florida State transfer Clint Trickett getting the start over Paul Millard. Instead, it was the redshirt freshman Childress, who played the entire game and played well in West Virginia’s 41-7 win over Georgia State. Despite several drops from his receivers, Childress completed 25 of 41 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. To get to a bowl game, the Mountaineers could really use a win next weekend over Maryland in Baltimore. There’s no doubt now that Childress will be the one they’ll be relying on.

4. TCU’s offense is a mess: Texas Tech’s defense has promise. But the Horned Frogs looked completely discombobulated offensively during Thursday night’s 20-10 loss in Lubbock. Quarterback Trevone Boykin, who finished with a raw QBR of 28.6, could not string any drives together for the Horned Frogs. TCU went 4-of-16 on third down and 0-of-2 on fourth down. After a 1-2 start -- and with difficult road games at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State looming -- TCU’s season could turn disastrous if the Frogs don’t find some offensive flow, and quick.

5. Iowa State has no running game: With quarterback Sam Richardson dealing with a sore ankle, the Cyclones needed to get something going on the ground. For the second game, they couldn’t. Iowa State’s running back quartet managed just 42 yards on 16 carries as Iowa jumped to a big lead before holding on for the 27-21 win. Wideout Quenton Bundrage had a big game with three touchdown catches, but the Cyclones don’t have the kind of receiving weapons to be effective offensively without a solid running game. This could end up being a long season for Iowa State, as the Cyclones might not be favored until Kansas comes to Ames on Nov. 23.

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