Oklahoma Sooners: Daje Johnson

As we await the start of spring ball, we’ve been examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12. Thursday, we close this series out with special teams.

1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.

2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAlong with being a top-flight wide receiver, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett can also provide big plays in the return game.
3. Kansas State: The Wildcats feature one of the best kickoff return men in the game in Tyler Lockett, who doubles as an All-American WR candidate. Jack Cantele, the younger brother of All-Big 12 K-State kicker Anthony Cantele, only missed two field goal attempts as a sophomore and nailed a 41-yarder as time expired to beat TCU. Defensive tackle Travis Britz also returns after leading the nation with four blocked kicks.

4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.

6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,

7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.

8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.

9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.

10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

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

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

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

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

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

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

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

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

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

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

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

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

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

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

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

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

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

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

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

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

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

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

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: WRs

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
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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.
Thanks for your questions during my chat, you can read the full transcript here.

Jake (Dallas) OK I have a problem with the fact that Baylor can get beat (demolished) the same as A&M and Oregon and Bryce Petty becomes a ghost on the Heisman Watch list. With Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota still on there!! Yeah he had a tough (terrible) day but still put up 300+ yards 2 TDs and no interceptions. He posted an 80 QBR. He now has a better TD to INT ratio than both of those QBs, a better RECORD than both of those QBs and has not lost to an unranked opponent (Oregon). Please enlighten me with a logical answer that makes sense to a Baylor fan.

Brandon Chatmon I don't think he should be out of it because outside of Jameis Winston there is no clear favorites right now. However, he has to have great games against TCU and Texas. If he returns back to his normal, record-breaking self in the last two games, he deserves consideration in my opinion. And you're right his numbers weren't horrible against OSU.

James Johnson (Hong Kong) Brandon, you called the OSU-Stillwater game as Baylor's toughest game this year over a month ago (even before OSU was getting hot) in answering one of my questions. OSU played lights out, and Baylor played poorly. Both were related. How much of that was OSU vs. Baylor performance that night (e.g., 70/30)? Who was better: 2011 OSU team or the OSU team last Saturday night?

Brandon Chatmon I think a lot of it was OSU. They played an amazing game. But, I'd still take 2011 OSU over this year's squad.

Mike P (Greater KC) Which is more likely to happen … Oklahoma beats Okie State or Texas Beats Baylor?

Brandon Chatmon Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State.

Pete (Kansas City) How impressed have you been with K-State's season? Do you think the Wildcats will end up in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Holiday Bowl or Texas Bowl?

Brandon Chatmon I've been pretty impressed although I don't understand why they abandoned the run against OU. That said it's been a solid season overall for the Wildcats. I have them Holiday Bowl bound.

Daje Johnson (Austin, Texas) How badly did I mess up this game for us tomorrow by getting suspended?

Brandon Chatmon Bad move, Daje. And now you're missing the stadiums you're supposed to be running for punishment too?!?! I understand my chats are entertaining but do you ever want to play again?

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
10:15
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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.
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.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
11:00
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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

Big 12 mailbag

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
4:00
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In today’s mailbag, Red Raiders and Bears delight in their undefeated starts while other fan bases search for answers.

To the ‘bag:

Andrew in NYC writes: As exciting as the Baylor offense has been, why haven't there been any comparisons to the WVU team last year? We all saw where they went once they started playing real teams. Any chance we see a similar meltdown this year with the Bears?

Jake Trotter: The difference is that last year’s West Virginia team was really a three-man show with Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. From the offensive line to the depth of the receiving corps, this Baylor offense is way more complete. Baylor’s defense is also far superior to West Virginia’s 2012 unit. I get the comparison. But this Baylor team has more staying power.

rtXC1 in Denison, Texas, writes: Hey, love the work you are putting in! Am I the only person left that believes playing Tyrone Swoopes against OU is unnecessary? If Major Applewhite can create a good gameplan -- getting the five RBs 50-plus total touches, including Daje Johnson and Jalen Overstreet -- AND STICK TO IT, then Case McCoy CAN win this game and many more. Playing Swoopes, with his current state of poor mechanics (thanks a lot Whitewright coaches), could be as counterproductive as playing Ash was in 2011, and potentially hurt his confidence. The only thing he'd really add is the zone-read element, which Gray and Overstreet could run just as well. What's best for Texas is to follow the gameplan. Thoughts?

Jake Trotter: I enjoy insightful mailbag submissions like this. Texas fans who believe Swoopes is the answer are just not being realistic. There’s a reason he hasn’t stepped on the field yet. He’s just not ready. For all their issues, the Longhorns still have enough offensive playmakers to stay in the game Saturday. It’s about putting them in good positions to make plays -- something Applewhite has struggled to do.

Andy in Austin, Texas, writes: Jake, I was wondering if you could investigate as to why Overstreet hasn't seen more on-the-field time in the "Wild Horn" formation. Since McCoy seems to lack serious mobility, why hasn't this package been seen more? Will OU be seeing it Saturday?

Jake Trotter: The Longhorns should be pulling out all the stops in this game. Fake field goals, double reverse passes -- whatever is still in the holster. I would give the Overstreet package (if the Horns still have it in the playbook) a shot early, as well, just to test how OU defends it and see if there’s something that can be exploited.

Larry in Austin, Texas, writes: Hi, Jake. When Mack Brown leaves at the end of the season, do Applewhite and (Greg) Robinson get shown the door as well?

Jake Trotter: Yes. As Hawk Harrelson would put it, they gone.

Blake Bell in Norman, Okla., writes: I think I need a new nickname. I've heard "Bellthrowzer" and “Bellicopter.” But what about the “Bellista?” On the other hand, the "Wrecking Bell" sign at the last game was pretty good. So what do you recommend?

Jake Trotter: You have a great nickname. Why do you need another?

Darrell in Huntsville, Ala., writes: This week you said Art Briles would be an excellent hire for Texas. Wouldn't Briles be an excellent hire for any program?

Jake Trotter: Probably, but I feel like he would be an especially good fit for Texas. Briles knows the state. Because of his background, he has relationships with virtually every high school coach in the state. And I think Briles would do a better job of getting the right players to Austin than the Mack Brown regime has done in recent years.

Sic ‘em in Birmingham, Ala., writes: I had a Twitter conversation with a USC fan the other day. He wanted USC to pursue Briles with everything they had, and was convinced Briles would leave if they offered him enough. Thoughts?

Jake Trotter: If Briles were going to leave, I think he’d leave for Texas ahead of USC.

Big Ferm in San Diego writes: Jake, welcome aboard the Baylor Bandwagon. Like Lache Seastrunk, it’s moving at breakneck speeds and pancaking haters like Cyril Richardson does defenders. Most talking heads in the media believe OU is the conference favorite because of its victory over the Irish. Too bad the Bears didn't schedule Notre Dame. They would've hung 70 on them.

Jake Trotter: I’ve been talking up the Bears since the preseason, but so far they have exceeded even my expectations. If I had to pick the Baylor-OU game today, I would pick the Bears.

Jack in Waco, Texas, writes: I am a little confused how OU can be ahead of Baylor in your power rankings. That being said, I'm still a big fan of the blog since you guys took over, great job!

Jake Trotter: Thanks, Jack. The answer is simple. OU has two wins that are better than any Baylor victory. The Sooners have also won away from home. That gives them the edge at the moment, even though Baylor has looked unstoppable through four games. But if the Bears are just as impressive in Manhattan as they have been in Waco, I’ll have to rethink my rankings.

Prescott in The Woodlands, Texas, writes: I know Baylor is planning to take off the tarp for the final game at Floyd Casey Stadium. Would they consider removing it for Oklahoma in November?

Jake Trotter: Sure, if they sell enough tickets.

Mo in Dallas writes: There has been a lot of hate on Baylor’s schedule. Why doesn't Alabama receive the same hate?

Jake Trotter: Come again? Alabama has beaten Virginia Tech, Texas A&M and Ole Miss. Alabama has also won three national titles in four years. I’m assuming those might be reasons why.

Alex in Austin, Texas, writes: Which do you think is more explosive, the ‘05 Texas offense or this Baylor offense?

Jake Trotter: I’m placing a moratorium on questions like this until after Baylor plays Oklahoma.

Travis the Tech fan in Houston writes: Mr. Trotter, I don't know why there has been so much bickering among Tech and Baylor fans on the Bears’ legitimacy. Tech and Baylor have a lot more in common than what you would think. If anything we should be finding a way to work together to vanquish all who challenge us. Go Bears (not on Nov. 16, though).

Jake Trotter: Get your guns up, Baylor fans.

Casey Parkhurst in Fort Worth, Texas, writes: Do you think Texas Tech is a contender in the Big 12?

Jake Trotter: Sure, the Red Raiders are a contender. The defining game will be at Oklahoma in two weeks. If Tech wins that game, then the Red Raiders could be playing for a Big 12 title in Arlington. Remember, Tech has had OU’s number lately, too. Dating back to 2005, the Red Raiders are 4-4 against the Sooners.

Clint in Houston writes: Tech is currently ranked 32nd in recruiting per ESPN, which is interesting. On one side, we have a new coach. On the other, we have an extremely energetic and passionate staff, and the team is rolling. Do you see us climbing the recruiting rankings before the end of the season?

Jake Trotter: The Red Raiders already have 21 commitments, so there’s not much room to rise. That said, this has been an excellent recruiting effort by Kliff Kingsbury and his staff. Tech fans should be very excited.

Mike writes: Let me say, I really like this season’s version of the Big 12 coverage! It's a major upgrade to what was already an excellent read. Do you think that, given the right upsets, an undefeated Big 12 champion could leap over ALL the one-loss teams to make the title game?

Jake Trotter: Given the absolute right upsets, maybe. But a one-loss Oregon or Alabama would be tough to unseat.

Greg in Richardson, Texas, writes: Jake, now that we are six weeks in, can you compare the Big 12 to the Big Ten? Will an undefeated Big 12 team be more deserving of a title shot than an undefeated Big Ten team?

Jake Trotter: I give the Big 12 a slight edge over the Big Ten. But deserving or not, an undefeated Ohio State would get in over an undefeated Big 12 team. An undefeated Michigan, however, would not.

Alex in Ames, Iowa, writes: Hey, Jake. You've been doing a great job on the blog so far (except those ISU picks... yikes). Anyway, after the gut-wrenching, anger-inducing controversial loss to Texas, we saw anger, confusion, and a TON of passion not only from Paul Rhoads, but fans and players, as well. Does this loss energize the team the rest of the year? Or did it drain them?

Jake Trotter: Thanks, Alex, and sorry about the weekly Iowa State jinx. This really could go either way. But knowing what kind of coach Rhoads is and knowing how his players respond to him, my guess is they’ll play with some energy Saturday.

Bullet in Stillwater, Okla., writes: Since our offense hasn't scored much this year, I've been getting out of shape. Do you think we'll have a new coordinator next year? Mike Gundy needs to get me back in game shape.

Jake Trotter: I would give Clint Chelf a shot and see if that changes anything first.

Matt in Wamego, Kan., writes: As a diehard KU fan I am a believer in always supporting and backing your team. However, I am starting to get very frustrated. Especially seeing teams like Baylor, Louisville and Northwestern, who were once the laughing stock of college football, now building winning programs. Please help me. I am tired of being ready for basketball season in mid-September. What will take to at least make my Jayhawks relevant again?

Jake Trotter: The right coach. Not saying Charlie Weis isn’t the right coach. He’s been there less than two years. But what do the three undefeated teams in the league all have common? The right coach. Mark Mangino proved you can have success at Kansas. But it starts with the head man.

John in San Jose, Calif., writes: TCU's three losses are to three top 20 teams that are a combined 15-1. TCU has been in all three games, too. Is an 8-4 finish in reach, considering four remaining games are at home and TCU has shown it can play well on the road?

Jake Trotter: It’s not out of reach, but it’s going to be pretty tough. The Frogs still have to go to Oklahoma State and face Baylor. They obviously would have to win one of those two games and then run the table. Not impossible. But not likely, either, given how inconsistent the offense has been.

Joe in Gauley Bridge, W.V., writes: Is it totally unreasonable for me as a fan to expect West Virginia to win at least nine or 10 games a year and compete for the Big 12 title yearly? I don't want to be mediocre, I want to be the best.

Jake Trotter: That was probably reasonable in the Big East. It’s not reasonable in the Big 12. What you’re suggesting is what Oklahoma has basically accomplished in the Bob Stoops era. West Virginia’s program is just not on that level.

Game preview: Oklahoma vs. Texas

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
10:00
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Oklahoma is expected to roll when the Sooners face Texas in the Red River Rivalry on Saturday. Yet, stranger things have happened, so it’s unwise to put this game in the win column for OU before the football is kicked off in the Cotton Bowl.

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

Storylines

Will OU continue its dominance? The Sooners are coming off back-to-back blowout victories over the Longhorns, winning 63-21 in 2012 and 55-17 in 2011. OU’s offense has averaged 7.02 yards per play during the two games while holding UT to 3.89 yards per play. Expect OU to lean on its defense again as the Sooners hope to continue its win streak.

Can Texas get it together? The Longhorns have the talent to cause problems for OU. A big play here from Johnathan Gray, a big play there from Daje Johnson and things could get real interesting at the Cotton Bowl. Add in a turnover or two and the Longhorns could pull a shocker on Saturday. Lack of talent is not the issue in Austin.

Which quarterback will spark a win? OU quarterback Blake Bell and UT quarterback Case McCoy each have experience in the Red River Rivalry, so they shouldn’t be completely bug-eyed on Saturday. Bell is looking to rebound after throwing just 152 yards against TCU; McCoy wants to prove the Longhorns still have a chance with him under center.

Players to watch

OU quarterback Blake Bell: The Sooners quarterback has played well while leading his squad to a 3-0 record during his time as a starter. Bell’s third-down efficiency has been outstanding as a starter; he’s 17 of 28 for 324 yards and three touchdowns on third down. If the Sooners expect to win their fourth Red River Rivalry in a row, Bell will need to play well.

Texas running back Johnathan Gray: The Longhorns running back can be a game-changing playmaker if he gets the ball. Gray has carried the ball at least 20 times twice during his career and the Longhorns won both games (at Texas Tech in 2012, vs Kansas State in 2013). Feeding Gray the ball should be the game plan, as he makes things happen for a UT offense void of playmakers.

OU linebacker Frank Shannon: A lot of eyes will be on Dominique Alexander as the Sooners look to replace Corey Nelson. Yet Shannon will shoulder a good portion of the burden. The sophomore will need to take on a more vocal role with Nelson out while continuing to make plays all over the field.

Prediction: Oklahoma 34, Texas 24. The Sooners take a early lead and play with a double-digit advantage for the majority of the game. UT starts to find a rhythm on offense late in the second half to score some late points, but this one is never really in doubt after three quarters.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
10:15
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The Red River Rivalry is always must-watch television, and Baylor will play its first game outside of Waco, Texas, when it visits Manhattan, Kan., on Saturday. It's another intriguing week in the Big 12.

Here’s what to watch in the Big 12 for Week 7.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Jim Cowsert/USA TODAY SportsDo Johnathan Gray and the Longhorns have the ability to hang with and upset the Sooners?
Does Texas stand a chance in the Red River Rivalry? Yes. The Longhorns have the chance to win anytime they step on the field thanks to a talent-laden roster. But their odds of beating Oklahoma on Saturday aren’t high. UT simply cannot seem to find an identity on either side of the ball, injuries are crippling the roster and distractions surround the 40 Acres. In a rivalry game like the RRR, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see a hard-fought, close battle, but UT will have to completely turn things around to make that happen in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.

How will Bryce Petty fair in its first road test? Petty has never stepped on the field as Baylor's starting quarterback on any turf outside of Floyd Casey Stadium. The BU quarterback has been exceptional, but nobody knows how he will respond in an uncomfortable conference road environment at Kansas State. Odds are it won’t matter since Petty has been the best and most efficient quarterback in the league thus far, but there’s no way to know how the junior will handle his first road start.

Can Texas Tech continue its undefeated start? Even with quarterback Baker Mayfield hobbled, there’s no reason to think it won’t. The Red Raiders’ defense is holding teams to 4.5 yards per play, second in the Big 12 and 16th nationally, helping to offset the unrest at the quarterback position. No matter who is under center for Tech against Iowa State, it might not matter because its defense has played at an extremely high level through the first five games.

Iowa State looks to rebound after the disappointing loss to UT. The Cyclones have been insistent that they are moving forward after feeling robbed during their 31-30 loss to Texas. Nonetheless, it is hard to believe a loss like that will not have ill effects in Lubbock, Texas, on Saturday. How will they respond if a call goes the opposite way? Could an early deficit take away the Cyclones’ resolve?

Will Oklahoma’s offense get back on track with Blake Bell under center? The Sooners' passing game struggled against TCU, passing for 152 yards against the Horned Frogs. Bell couldn’t seem to get on track after two stellar performances against Tulsa and Notre Dame. OU needs the junior quarterback to respond to his worst performance of the season with a strong outing against the Longhorns.

Will the Longhorns start to lean in their playmakers more? For some reason the Longhorns aren’t leaning on running back Johnathan Gray and receiver Daje Johnson to make game-changing plays for their offense. Gray’s exceptional feet and vision along with Johnson’s acceleration and speed could change games for UT. If the Longhorns make it a point to put the ball in those guys' hands against OU, it will make the Red River Rivalry much more interesting.

Daniel Sams in the Wildcats’ backfield. The Kansas State quarterback showed he has the potential to be one of the Big 12’s top playmakers in his squad’s 33-29 loss to Oklahoma State last Saturday. Sams could be the Big 12’s most dynamic running quarterback, and the Wildcats are starting to lean on him to spark their offense. If they continue to do so against Baylor, their chances of keeping up with the Bears increase.

The impact of Devonte Fields' season-ending surgery. It’s probably the best move for Fields, who was struggling through his sophomore season. Yet it’s bad news for the Horned Frogs, as the hope of him returning at some point this season to be a healthy, productive terror on the edge is now gone. And that makes TCU’s goal of getting its season back on track just that much harder.

How will Kansas handle the loss of Tony Pierson? Just as he was starting to take his game to another level the Jayhawks’ multipurpose threat suffered a head injury against Texas Tech and is listed as day-to-day. KU will turn to Brandon Bourbon to shoulder a portion of the load with Pierson out, but the Jayhawks need someone to step up on offense if they hope to have any success against a stout TCU defense.

Who will step up and become a legend on the Cotton Bowl field? OU fullback Trey Millard had the play of the day with his highlight-reel catch and run against Texas in 2012. Memories are made on the Cotton Bowl turf, and great plays become legendary in rivalries such as these. Expect someone to step up and announce themselves to the world. Can't wait to see who it will be.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
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Texas moves back up in this week's Power Rankings, West Virginia moves back down and the top four remain steady:

1. Oklahoma State (3-0, 0-0 Big 12; last week: 1): When he was the coordinator in Stillwater, Dana Holgorsen recruited quarterback J.W. Walsh to Oklahoma State. This Saturday, Holgorsen's Mountaineers must deal with stopping Walsh, who’s been terrific since taking over the starting quarterback job in the opener. Walsh ranks sixth in the country in QBR and is a major reason why the Cowboys are three-touchdown favorites for their game in Morgantown.

2. Baylor (3-0, 0-0 Big 12; last week: 2): The Baylor-hasn’t-beaten-anybody argument only holds so much water. Who in the Big 12 has really beaten anybody? Oklahoma State over Mississippi State? Texas Tech over TCU? Oklahoma over West Virginia? The fact is, even against three doldrums, Baylor has been as impressive as any team in the league. This offense has a chance to be as prolific as the 2011 Oklahoma State Cowboys or the 2008 Oklahoma Sooners.

3. Oklahoma (3-0, 1-0 Big 12; last week: 3): After opening with three home victories, the Sooners will finally find out about their team during a road trip to South Bend, Ind., this weekend. They should find out a lot about quarterback Blake Bell, too -- he was marvelous after replacing Trevor Knight two weeks ago against Tulsa. But that was against Tulsa in Norman. This is Notre Dame in South Bend. If OU wins this game, people will begin to mention the under-the-radar Sooners as a possible dark horse national title contender.

4. Texas Tech (4-0, 1-0 Big 12; last week: 4): The Texas Tech defense continues to play well, but the offense was sluggish again in a 33-7 victory over Texas State. Kliff Kingsbury has to decide whether he’s going to stick with Baker Mayfield as his starting quarterback or go with Davis Webb, who has made plays the last two weeks in relief of Mayfield. Kingsbury might secretly and anxiously be waiting on the return of Michael Brewer, who’s been injured since the summer with a bad back but is close to rejoining the team on the practice field.

5. Texas (2-2, 1-0 Big 12; last week: 8): After winning their Big 12 opener 31-21 over Kansas State, the Longhorns still have plenty to play for. But they are also beaten up. Linebacker Jordan Hicks is out for the season again with a ruptured Achilles tendon, quarterback David Ash continues to deal with concussion issues and offensive playmaker Daje Johnson remains out with an ankle injury. The game with Oklahoma (Oct. 12) looms, too. A victory in Dallas is about the only thing that can save Mack Brown’s job and completely reverse momentum in Austin.

6. TCU (1-2, 0-1 Big 12; last week: 5): Gary Patterson was not pleased with his team during the off week. Patterson told reporters last week the Horned Frogs were “feeling sorry for themselves” after the 20-10 loss at Tech. “If we don’t grow up,” Patterson said, “we’re not going to win any more ballgames.” The Frogs had better grow up quickly if they want to avoid letting this season turn into a catastrophe. TCU faces road trips at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in October.

7. Kansas State (2-2, 0-1 Big 12; last week: 7): Even though Texas had been a sieve stopping opposing quarterbacks on the ground, Bill Snyder elected to use Daniel Sams sparingly in Austin. Sams averaged 6 yards a carry but got only eight carries as Jake Waters again took the bulk of the snaps at quarterback. Even though wideout Tyler Lockett is having a monster season, the Wildcats with Waters behind center have been just average offensively, which is flirting with disaster in the Big 12. Especially when the defense is just average, too.

8. West Virginia (2-2, 0-1 Big 12; last week: 6): So much for the idea that the Mountaineers could just replace Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. West Virginia looked completely inept offensively in a 37-0 loss to Maryland, which is a good team, but not that good. The Mountaineers, who had one of the best passing attacks in the country last year, suddenly can’t pass. Quarterback Ford Childress threw for just 62 yards with two interceptions Saturday, not that Paul Millard fared any better in West Virginia’s first two games. Holgorsen said he’s sticking with Childress at quarterback, which is a sign the Mountaineers are building for the future. The present is not a pretty sight.

9. Kansas (2-1, 0-0 Big 12; last week: 9): With the bottom half of the Big 12 struggling so much, the Jayhawks have the opportunity to win a couple of games in the league. But Kansas has its own problems. An offense that was supposed to be improved actually has been worse so far this season. After scoring just a field goal over three quarters against Louisiana Tech, the Jayhawks had to scramble late to escape with a 13-10 win. Jake Heaps owns the worst Total QBR (32.2) in the league and the Kansas wide receivers so far have been a disappointment. There is some talent on Charlie Weis’ offense, especially in the backfield. But it has yet to manifest on the field.

10. Iowa State (0-2, 0-0 Big 12; last week: 10): The Cyclones have back-to-back Thursday night games on deck: at Tulsa and at home against Texas. If Iowa State can’t prevail in either, this will end up being the worst season of the Paul Rhoads era. The only way the Cyclones can avoid that fate is by conjuring something in the run game, which has been abysmal so far this season.
NORMAN, Okla. -- About the time Oklahoma benched quarterback Trevor Knight, 1,800 miles away BYU running back Paul Lasike stiff-armed his way through the Texas defense for yet another rushing touchdown.

What a strange Saturday it was in this brave new Big 12 where one traditional power can’t complete a pass and the other can’t stop the run.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesOklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight was pulled against West Virginia as the Sooners sputtered on offense. OU coach Bob Stoops indicated that Blake Bell might start next week vs. Tulsa.
And as Oklahoma and Texas showed why they’re still miles away from contending on the national stage again, the conference race looks even more wide open than it did in the preseason.

In Norman, the Sooners struggled to a 16-7 win over West Virginia, which struggled to escape William & Mary just last week.

The Mountaineers had the third-worst pass defense in college football last season. But they managed to completely shut down the Sooners’ once vaunted air attack.

After a lackluster first half, Knight’s confidence seemed to fade with every pass. In the second half, the freshman completed just one throw for six yards. And after he tossed back-to-back interceptions deep in West Virginia territory, the coaches’ confidence seemed to fade, too. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel called only one more pass play on the next two series before replacing Knight with Blake Bell.

“It wasn’t as good as we needed to be in the throwing game,” coach Bob Stoops said. “So we gave (Bell) a chance.”

But Oklahoma simply resorted to running a glorified “Belldozer” offense the rest of the way, as Bell attempted just one pass. By that point, the Sooners just wanted the game to be done.

“You don’t mess with the football gods,” Stoops said. “You do what you’re supposed to do and burn the clock.”

Last season in a 50-49 win at West Virginia, Landry Jones set an Oklahoma passing game record. Saturday, the Sooners scored their fewest points against a conference opponent since 2009 in a 10-3 loss at Nebraska – only Ndamukong Suh wasn’t on the other side of the line this game.

The Sooners did play terrific defense for the second straight week, and rushed the ball with tremendous efficiency.

“Tonight showed we can win a grind-it-out type of game,” said center Gabe Ikard.

But Stoops confessed that for the Sooners to meet their preseason goals of contending in the league and beyond, they’ll have to pass better than they have.

“Sure, we do -- we got to be able to,” said Stoops, who indicated he might make a quarterback change next week against Tulsa.

"We want to throw the ball and throw it well. We have to keep working on that."

Yet if Oklahoma’s passing game was a dumpster fire, Texas’ run defense was a full-blown forest inferno.

All preseason, Texas coach Mack Brown indicated this would be his best team since the 2009 Big 12 title team. In a humbling 40-21 defeat in Provo, the Longhorns looked like the same uninspiring program of the last three years.

The Cougars rushed for 550 yards -- the most ever against any Texas defense -- and averaged 7.6 yards per attempt.

“We missed assignments,” Brown said. “We missed tackles. They kept the ball and ran the ball up and down the field.”

Brown said afterward he would wait to “watch the video” before deciding what to do with embattled defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

But Texas’ troubles go way deeper than one assistant coach. And after losing offensive playmaker Daje Johnson (ankle) and quarterback David Ash (head) to injuries, the Longhorns appear to be on the verge of shambles with little time for recovery before surging Ole Miss arrives in Austin next weekend.

“We've got 11 more games,” said Texas receiver Mike Davis, “and we're trying to win them all.”

The weekend showed that won’t easily be done. As the Red River powers scuffled, the league’s other contenders shined.

Amid questions about his throwing acumen, Oklahoma State dual-threat quarterback J.W. Walsh completed 24 of 27 passes and finished with more touchdown passes than incompletions in a rout of UTSA.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield was surgical again in Texas Tech’s blowout of Stephen F. Austin. Through two games, Mayfield has completed 71 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

No offense, meanwhile, has looked more prolific than Baylor’s. The Bears piled up 70 points and a school-record 781 yards against Buffalo, prompting Bulls coach Jeff Quinn to suggests the Bears were more difficult to deal with than Buffalo’s last opponent, Ohio State.

“They've got a great team,” he said. “They're really good."

Saturday, the Sooners and Longhorns weren’t. And with those two struggling to regain their national perch, the rest of the Big 12 is looking better than ever.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
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Let's take a look the top storylines in the Big 12 for Week 2:

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight showed off his mobility in Week 1, but Oklahoma will need his arm to find long-term success.
1. Will Trevor Knight make a major jump from Week 1 to Week 2? Oklahoma’s redshirt freshman quarterback had lackluster passing yards (86) in his first collegiate start, but the Sooners put up 34 points thanks in part to his legs (103 rushing yards) and red-zone efficiency (three touchdown passes). But if OU expects to make it through September without a loss, Knight will have to make defenses pay with his arm.

2. Dana Holgorsen’s plan. West Virginia’s simplified offense in the opener left the Sooners very little to go off of as they prepare for the Mountaineers. Expect Holgorsen to break out the creative offense that has earned him his reputation as a superb offensive mind this weekend. Yet, Holgorsen has no idea how quarterback Paul Millard will react in a hostile environment in front of 80,000 fans so it might not matter how creative the offense is if the team or quarterback can’t execute.

3. Will the Longhorns send a message? Texas travels to Provo, Utah to face a BYU squad coming off a 19-16 season-opening loss to Virginia. Much like Knight, there are mixed reviews after UT’s win to open the season. The Longhorns’ offense looked unstoppable at times and very average at other times, but all will be forgotten if UT looks dominant in its first road test of the season.

4. Kansas State needs to get back on track. KSU coach Bill Snyder isn’t happy with the leadership on his team, that much is clear after his postgame comments following the Wildcats’ shocking 24-21 loss to North Dakota State. "I would like to see a whole bunch of mad guys in all honesty,” Snyder said about the postgame locker room. “I did not see any. That is concerning, that is for sure.” The Wildcats will look to regain some confidence when Louisiana-Lafayette visits Manhattan on Saturday. Rediscovering their running game and playing more physical on defense should be high priorities if KSU plans to get back to its winning ways of 2012.

5. How will TCU’s quarterback situation continue to develop? Casey Pachall started against LSU but was replaced by Trevone Boykin, as the Horned Frogs tried to put a spark into the offense. It will be interesting to see how Gary Patterson’s squad plans to use the duo when Southeastern Louisiana comes to Amon G. Carter Stadium.

6. Saturday will provide the first look at the Kansas Jayhawks. The lone Big 12 team that didn’t participate in a bowl game, KU hopes to change that this season. The Jayhawks feature some explosive threats on offense with running backs James Sims and Tony Pierson returning to go alongside transfer quarterback Jake Heaps and receiver Justin McCay. Coach Charlie Weis has some talent at his disposal so it will be interesting to see how he plans to use that talent in 2013.

7. Will OSU, Baylor or Texas Tech suffer a letdown? Week 1 should serve as a wake-up call to all three teams, as the conference watched K-State and Iowa State lose to FCS opponents. The Bears (versus Buffalo), Cowboys (at Texas San-Antonio) and Red Raiders (versus Stephen F. Austin) could continue to impress by challenging themselves to play at a high level regardless of their opponent on Saturday. Or they could take a step backward by allowing lesser opponents to hang around until deep into the second half.

8. Were Week 1 performances a fluke? Texas Tech’s Baker Mayfield, OSU’s J.W. Walsh, Texas’ David Ash and Baylor’s Bryce Petty were among the Big 12’s stars in Week 1. Will they come back down to earth in Week 2? Consistency is what turns a good player into a great player. If those players match their performances in the season’s opening week, the Big 12 could be on its way to regaining its reputation as a conference filled with quality quarterbacks.

9. Dee-fense. OU, OSU and Baylor allowed three points or less, and Texas joined those three Big 12 squads in holding an opponent to single digits. With the majority of the conference facing teams that don’t feature Big 12-level offensive attacks, we should see similar results in Week 2. What if we don’t?

10. Will more new names emerge? Charles Sims burst onto the Big 12 landscape with a 120-yard rushing performance in his first game at WVU. TCU's B.J. Catalon showed he’s a name to know with his 233 all-purpose yards, and UT's Daje Johnson put fear into the hearts of defenses around the conference with his two-touchdown outing in Week 1. Expect other offensive skill players to make their mark on their teams this weekend.
With the Red River Rivalry game between No. 15 Texas and No. 13 Oklahoma coming up on Saturday, HornsNation's Carter Strickland and SoonerNation's Jake Trotter answer a few questions.

1. Does OU still have an edge at QB?

Carter Strickland: No. Over the past six games David Ash has actually had the better stats and a better winning percentage, 5-1 to 4-2 for Landry Jones. But the reason OU’s advantage is not as great as is not just because of Ash. Texas has more weapons on offense and is more comfortable getting the ball to the players and letting them create in space.

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The play of Oklahoma’s secondary could be critical this week. The Sooners face Texas and a power-running Longhorns offense which will be looking to dominate when the two teams meet at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Stopping the run will be a high priority for the Sooners against a UT offense averaging 209 rushing yards per game. Through five games, Joe Bergeron [300], Malcolm Brown [245] and Johnathan Gray [244] have formed a balanced trip. Brown is nursing a ankle injury and could miss the Red River Rivalry after sitting out last week against West Virginia.

[+] EnlargeDemontre Hurst
William Purnell/Icon SMISenior cornerback Demontre Hurst will be tasked with slowing down an improved Texas passing offense.
Nonetheless, stopping the Longhorns rushing attack is a difficult task. The Sooners are likely to put more defenders in the box and force UT to throw to beat them.

Fortunately for the Sooners, their secondary appears built to perform.

Cornerbacks Demontre Hurst and Aaron Colvin have been outstanding, safeties Javon Harris and Tony Jefferson are ranked 1-2 in tackles and nickelbacks Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson have held their own thrown into action in passing situations. Against Texas Tech, OU allowed 271 yards passing to a squad that entered the game ranked No. 7 nationally with 358.8 passing yards per contest.

“I thought the guys were excellent the last several games,” OU head coach Bob Stoops said. “They’ve really covered well (against) a team (Texas Tech) you don’t hold down much.”

For the Sooners, those six defenders could be a key to winning on Saturday. If the Sooners can consistently win their one-on-one battles against UT’s receivers, OU can feel confident loading the box and stopping the run, knowing they’ll be covered on the backend and won’t give up several game-changing catches.

“We all expect each other to be accountable,” Harris said. “We’re accountable to each other, we’ve play together all the time. We just want to get better every game, knowing those guys are out there it just helps you play at little more loose because you know the plays that sometimes happen, aren’t going to happen.”

They can’t happen on Saturday if the Sooners expect to prevail. The Longhorns have 20 pass plays of 20-plus yards this season with Jaxon Shipley, Mike Davis, Marquis Goodwin and Daje Johnson each multiple making catches of over 20 yards this season.

While the battle in the trenches is always critical, the battle on the outside could be just as important on Saturday. OU has passed the test through four games, we’ll see if they continue to earn a passing grade against the Longhorns.

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