Texas Longhorns: Baker Mayfield

Big 12 lunchtime links

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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I feel for Wes Welker having to wear this helmet. He still scored a TD Sunday.

Big 12 mailbag

December, 27, 2013
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In the final mailbag of 2013, we discuss West Virginia quarterbacks, Texas coaches, Baker Mayfield and bowl payouts.

To the ‘bag:

Connor in Austin, Texas, writes: Do you think that the last few seasons (let's go back to the 5-7 season) have been enough to legitimately tarnish the self-recruiting power of the Texas football program? I can't imagine 5-star prospects choosing to go to a school they know has underperformed over the years.

Jake Trotter: Texas’ recruiting has slipped a bit the past couple years. But tarnished? No way. Texas is Texas. And with the right coach, the Longhorns will surely be back to landing top-five classes annually.



[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsChip Kelly leaving the Eagles to coach the Longhorns? Tough to see that one happening.
James in El Paso, Texas, writes: Jake, Do you think Chip Kelly is on the list for Texas, and do you think the talks for the head coaching job heat up once the Eagles' season is over?

Trotter: I actually don’t. Why would Kelly leave Philly after one year? The Eagles are a win away from making the playoffs, and with so much young offensive talent on that team, they ought to be playoff fixture for years to come. I doubt Kelly bolted for Philly with the idea of going back to the college game after just one year.



Scott in Edgewater, Md., writes: I heard West Virginia changed its fight song to "I'll Be Home For Christmas". Who is WVU going to select as QB next season? If you had to guess now, what is WVU's record next year at the end of the season? I would hope that you would pick them as having the toughest non-conference schedule in the league.

Trotter: West Virginia’s schedule next year is brutal. Before conference play, the Mountaineers play Alabama in Atlanta and Maryland on the road. Then in conference, West Virginia has to go to Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech. If the Mountaineers win more than seven games, it would constitute an outstanding season. As for the quarterback, I feel like Dana Holgorsen wants Ford Childress to be the long-term answer. But is he? Childress did not play well in his two starts before the pectoral injury. And there will be plenty of competition in the spring with junior-college transfer Skyler Howard set to join the fray.



Alan in Austin, Texas, writes: Really enjoy the Big 12 coverage. Quick question about Baker Mayfield and walk-ons in general. Reports I have read indicate Tech is restricting where Mayfield transfer. This would seem to make sense with a scholarship player since the institution has made a financial investment in the player. However, for a non-scholarship player this comes across as being vindictive. Mayfield does have a pretty good insight into the program but given the type of offense that Tech runs with its limited number of plays and the emphasis on reads, this doesn't make sense to me. Any thoughts?

Trotter: There are all types of double standards in college football, and this hardly the only one. A coach can take another job within a conference, but if a player does, he suffers severe repercussions to his eligibility. The rules are the rules. But there are a lot of more rules for players than for coaches.



Mike in Goldsby, Okla., writes: Assuming the rumors about Baker Mayfield walking on at Oklahoma turn out to be true, do you think he could be a starter next year?

Trotter: Assuming Mayfield would be eligible to play, I would be stunned. Mayfield is skilled. But he doesn’t fit the pistol option offense the Sooners have installed for the future with Trevor Knight. But in all likelihood would not be eligible next season under transfer rules anyway. And if that turned out to be the case, he would be too far behind the other Oklahoma quarterbacks by the time 2015 rolled around to have much of a chance.



rtXC1 in Denison, Texas, writes: Hey Jake! Do you think Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott regrets not taking the entire Big 12 South while he could. That would've clearly been the No. 1overall conference in all sports.

Trotter: Don’t blame Scott. He tried twice. And both times, Texas thwarted the deal.



Scott in Plano, Texas, writes: Huge fan of the blog! With the Big 12 only filling in six bowls this year, what kind of financial impact does that have on the conference?

Trotter: The combined payouts of the Texas, New Era Pinstripe and Heart of Dallas bowls comes to around $4.6 million. Since the Big 12 didn’t have enough teams to fill out those bowls, that money is going to other conferences. However, with Oklahoma going to the Allstate Sugar Bowl, netted an extra $17 million (after expenses) for the conference. So even with three fewer bowl teams than last year, the Big 12 will actually reap more bowl money this year with the extra BCS game.

Big 12 stats that defined the season

December, 18, 2013
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Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State leaned on defensive improvement in several statistics to finish in the top half of the Big 12 while several stats reveal why Kansas, Iowa State, TCU and West Virginia didn't reach bowl eligibility.

Here is one stat from each Big 12 team that helped define the season:

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield, Ahmad Dixon
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBaylor's offense got most of the pub, but the Bears' defense -- led by senior safety Ahmad Dixon -- was one of the stingiest when it comes to yards allowed per play.
Baylor’s yards per play allowed: The Bears offense has been explosive and high scoring for the past several seasons, so seeing it again in 2013 was nothing new. But, this season, their defense more than held up their end of the bargain allowing 4.53 opponent yards per play, leading the Big 12 and ranking sixth among FBS teams. A defense laced with veterans, including safety Ahmad Dixon, helped BU’s unit rank among the nation’s best, and the athletes that have become commonplace on the Bears offense are starting to surface on the defensive side of the football with talented young guys such as defensive end Shawn Oakman and safety Terrell Burt.

Iowa State’s sacks allowed: The Cyclones allowed 37 sacks in 12 games, an average of 3.08 per game. ISU finished last in the nation and tied for No. 113 among FBS teams in the category. The trouble protecting the passer speaks volumes about the injury struggles Paul Rhoads’ team had along the offensive line. Ten different ISU offensive linemen started games this season, with nine different starting lineups starting the first 11 games. All of ISU’s offensive problems began up front.

Kansas’ yards per play: It’s amazing to think how bad Charlie Weis’ offense was this season. The Jayhawks ranked among the worst in the nation in several categories, but their 4.28 yards per play was No. 120 among FBS teams. KU entered the season with much higher expectations for this offensive unit, particularly with BYU transfer Jake Heaps as the triggerman. Yet the Jayhawks never really found any consistency, as Weis and company tried several different things to jump start the unit. KU scored more than 20 points twice this season, letting down a defense that was much improved over last year’s group.

Kansas State’s yards per play: When you think of the top offenses in the Big 12, it takes a while to get to Kansas State. Yet the Wildcats featured a surprisingly explosive offense despite losing uber-productive quarterback Collin Klein off last year’s squad. This year’s K-State offense averaged 6.3 yards per play, second to only Baylor in the Big 12 and No. 28 among FBS teams. Bill Snyder’s ability to find harmony while using Jake Waters and Daniel Sams in a two-quarterback system led to 33.4 points per game by an offense that didn’t enter the season expected to be among the Big 12’s best.

Oklahoma’s yards allowed per game: The Sooners allowed just 336.3 yards per game to lead the Big 12 and finish No. 13 in the FBS. OU entered the season with a lot of questions and concerns about a defense that was embarrassed by Johnny Manziel in last year's Cotton Bowl and was losing a bunch of starters, yet the Sooners defense improved thanks to several young players, including defensive end Charles Tapper and Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year Dominique Alexander. OU's defense was the foundation of the Sooners' 10-2 season and Sugar Bowl berth.

Oklahoma State’s opponent third down conversion rate: The Cowboys defense was among the Big 12’s best in its first season under Glenn Spencer. Their third down production was superb, allowing opponents to convert just 31.3 percent of their third down attempts to lead the Big 12 and finish seventh among FBS teams. OSU’s veteran defense and willingness to be more aggressive on third downs under Spencer played a key role in its success in those situations and eventual 10-2 finish.

Texas sack percentage: The Longhorns' ability to get after the quarterback played a key role in their success. UT featured two of the Big 12’s top pass rushing threats in Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed. That duo helped UT sack opposing quarterbacks on 8.6 percent of passing plays, ranking No. 1 in the Big 12 and No. 9 among FBS teams while finishing with 37 total sacks, including 35 during Big 12 play, helping UT to a 7-2 conference record.

TCU third down conversion rate: The Horned Frogs converted just 32 percent of their third down attempts this season, ranking eighth in the Big 12 and No. 113 among FBS teams. It’s easy to see why the Horned Frogs have brought in former Houston offensive coordinator Doug Meacham to take over their offense. TCU’s defense was good enough to be in the Big 12 title race, its offense was not.

Texas Tech passing yards per game: It was a terrific debut season for head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense despite some musical chairs at the quarterback position. The Red Raiders averaged 392 passing yards per game to lead the Big 12 and rank second among FBS teams despite having true freshmen Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb running the offense. Without one of the nation’s elite passing offenses, it’s unlikely the Red Raiders earn a bowl bid with a 7-5 record.

West Virginia’s opponent third down conversion rate: The Mountaineers allowed opponents to convert 42.7 percent of their third down attempts, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 91 among FBS teams. WVU’s inability to get off the field in those important moments was one reason the Mountaineers’ defense allowed 455 yards per game, leading to the team's 4-8 finish.

Big 12's lunch links

December, 12, 2013
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In case you missed it on Wednesday, the Big 12 has released its all-conference honors.

Big 12 releases all-conference honors

December, 11, 2013
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Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was named the Big 12’s Offensive Player of the Year, and Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett shared defensive honors.

Big 12 champ Baylor led the league with a school-record 10 first team players and earned three individual awards, including Coach of the Year (Art Briles) and Offensive Lineman of the Year (guard Cyril Richardson).

Oklahoma State had a league-high 11 players named to the first or second teams. The awards were voted on by the league’s coaches.

Chuck Neinas Coach of the Year
Art Briles, Baylor

Defensive Lineman of the Year
Ryan Mueller, Kansas State

Offensive Newcomer of the Year
Charles Sims, West Virginia

Co-Defensive Players of the Year
Jason Verrett, TCU; Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

Offensive Freshman of the Year
Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech

Defensive Newcomer of the Year
Isaiah Johnson, Kansas

Offensive Player of the Year
Bryce Petty, Baylor

Defensive Freshman of the Year
Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma

Offensive lineman of the Year
Cyril Richardson, Baylor

Special teams Player of the Year
Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

First-team offense

QB – Bryce Petty, Baylor
RB – Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
RB – Charles Sims, West Virginia
FB – Trey Millard, Oklahoma
WR – Antwan Goodley, Baylor
WR - Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
WR – Tevin Reese, Baylor
TE - Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
OL – Spencer Drango, Baylor
OL – B.J. Finney, Kansas State
OL - Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
OL - Cyril Richardson, Baylor
OL - Parker Graham, Oklahoma State
PK –Anthony Fera, Texas
KR/PR – Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

First-team defense

DL - Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
DL - Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State
DL – Chris McAllister, Baylor
DL - Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
LB - Jeremiah George, Iowa State
LB – Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State
LB – Eddie Lackey, Baylor
DB – Jason Verrett, TCU
DB – Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
DB – Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
DB – Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
DB – Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
P – Spencer Roth, Baylor

Second-team offense

QB – Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State
RB – James Sims, Kansas
RB – Malcolm Brown, Texas
FB – Kye Staley, Oklahoma State
WR – Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma
WR – Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State
WR – Jaxon Shipley, Texas
TE – E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
OL – Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
OL – Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
OL – Donald Hawkins, Texas
OL – Trey Hopkins, Texas
OL - Le’Raven Clark, Texas Tech
PK –Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
KR/PR – Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State

Second-team defense

DL – Tyler Johnson, Oklahoma State
DL – Chucky Hunter, TCU
DL – Cedric Reed, Texas
DL – Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech
DL – Will Clarke, West Virginia
LB – Ben Heeney, Kansas
LB – Eric Striker, Oklahoma
LB – Caleb Lavey, Oklahoma State
DB – Jacques Washington, Iowa State
DB – Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma State
DB – Sam Carter, TCU
DB – Carrington Byndom, Texas
DB – Darwin Cook, West Virginia
P – Nick O’Toole, West Virginia

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 14 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: After trailing by three scores for most of the game, Iowa State came roaring back with 17 straight points in the fourth quarter and ultimately prevailed 52-44 in a stunning, triple-overtime comeback. Freshman QB Grant Rohach was terrific in his second career road start, accounting for five touchdowns, including the winning toss on the first play of the third overtime. The defense forced four turnovers to help spearhead the rally. And punter Kirby Van Der Kamp converted a fake punt into a huge first down, igniting the comeback early in the fourth quarter. As a result, Iowa State finished off an otherwise disappointing season with a thrilling road victory and a two-game winning streak to build on for 2014.

[+] EnlargeRyan Erxleben, David Brenner, Keenon Ward
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsTexas Tech punter Ryan Erxleben (26) celebrated perhaps the Red Raiders' only highlight Thursday.
Disappointment of the week: After a fake punt touchdown gave them a 7-0 lead, the Red Raiders basically no-showed the rest of the way in a discouraging 41-16 loss at Texas. The Longhorns obliterated Tech up front, as both Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron topped 100 yards on the ground. On the other side of the ball, Tech couldn't protect its quarterback, as Baker Mayfield was sacked seven times. As a result, a team that once was ranked 10th in the country ended its regular season with a thud -- and a five-game losing streak.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Kansas State running back John Hubert and Iowa State wide receivers Quenton Bundrage and Justin Coleman.

Hubert unleashed a monster performance in his final Sunflower Showdown. The senior rushed for a career-high 220 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries, as K-State defeated Kansas 31-10 for a fifth consecutive victory in the series.

Together with Rohach, Bundrage and Coleman fueled Iowa State's comeback with huge catches down the stretch. After Van Der Kamp's fake punt conversion, Bundrage hauled in a 62-yard touchdown grab to cut West Virginia's lead to 10. Later, Coleman's 19-yard scoring reception tied the game with a minute left in regulation. And on the first play of the third overtime, Coleman reeled in another touchdown, which proved to be the game winner.

All told, Bundrage and Coleman combined for 12 receptions, 184 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey, TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

Lackey played a hand in two turnovers that ultimately led to defensive touchdowns. With the Horned Frogs driving at the end of the second quarter with a chance to take the lead before halftime, Lackey charged up the middle and tagged TCU QB Casey Pachall's legs. The hit forced Pachall's pass to be behind his intended receiver, and Orion Stewart intercepted it and raced 82 yards for a touchdown. Then on TCU's first possession of the third quarter, Lackey picked off Pachall and dashed 54 yards for another score, putting the Bears up 34-17. Lackey added six tackles and a sack in Baylor's 41-38 win.

As good as Lackey was, no player was more dominant than Verrett. Matched up one-on-one with Baylor's Antwan Goodley the entire game, Verrett checked the Big 12's leading receiver to just one reception for 12 yards. As a result, Baylor finished with a season-low 206 passing yards.

Jeffcoat also flourished in his final home game, recording a game-high three sacks as Texas shut down Texas Tech's passing game. Jeffcoat also had seven tackles and a quarterback hurry, solidifying his candidacy as an All-Big 12 defensive end.

Special-teams player of the week: Tech punter Ryan Erxleben produced one of the special-teams plays of the year in the Big 12 in Austin. On Tech's second possession, Erxleben took off on a fake punt and raced 51 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, giving the Red Raiders an early 7-0 lead. After the game, coach Kliff Kingsbury confirmed Erxleben called the fake on his own. It proved to be Tech's longest rush of the season, but pretty much its only highlight in the lackluster loss to the Longhorns.

Play of the week: After falling behind 34-17 on two Baylor defensive touchdowns, TCU made a furious rally and drove into field goal range with a chance to either win or send the game to overtime. Instead, with 18 seconds to go, quarterback Pachall's pass to Brandon Carter was tipped away by Baylor nickelback Sam Holl and into the arms of Terrell Burt for the game-clinching interception to seal Baylor's victory.

Stat of the week: By holding Baylor to 370 yards of offense, TCU snapped the Bears' 37-game streak of at least 400 yards of offense. Ball State now holds the longest FBS streak at 12 games.

Quote of the week: "Gary Patterson lives in Fort Worth. If he's got a problem with me, that's where I live."

-- TCU coach Gary Patterson, after a pair of heated exchanges with Baylor coach Art Briles
AUSTIN, Texas -- From the first snap of Thursday's game, Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield had to know trouble was coming. The last thing a freshman quarterback wants to see is a defense he wasn't prepared for, and that’s exactly what Texas unveiled.

Mayfield had seen enough film to know who Jackson Jeffcoat was. He didn’t see any film of Jeffcoat darting around the field as a linebacker. There was no film of Jeffcoat attacking up the middle as a stand-up pass rusher.

“They just didn’t know what to do,” Jeffcoat said.

Before their 41-16 victory over Texas Tech, the Longhorns had never run what defensive coordinator Greg Robinson calls his “Spinner" package. The key chess piece in that scheme was Jeffcoat, who played a hybrid end/linebacker role and did a little bit of everything.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
AP Photo/Eric GayJackson Jeffcoat had a big night in Greg Robinson's "Spinner" package with three sacks.
“It just gives you some different options, you know,” Robinson said. “It creates a different style of defense to the offense, how they block and those kinds of things. We were fortunate most times that it helped us.”

It’s the kind of role that the son of a defensive line coach can get behind. Teammates say Jeffcoat called his new hybrid job the “Viper” position, and by all accounts, Robinson installed the scheme during Texas’ recent bye week.

In his first game at “Spinner,” Jeffcoat made a career-high three sacks and seven tackles. Not bad for a guy who was battling flu-like symptoms last week and even missed practice Tuesday.

Needless to say, Kliff Kingsbury and his staff didn’t see Jeffcoat’s new role coming. Neither did the Red Raiders’ offensive linemen.

“No, that's something they had for tonight, which is smart,” Kingsbury said. “It's just smart.”

Jeffcoat's new role is not new in a Robinson defense. He used “Spinner” as the defensive coordinator of the New York Jets, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. He used “Spinner” at Michigan and Syracuse. Robinson even broke out the scheme in 2004, while co-running Texas’ defense, including against Texas Tech.

Said Robinson in 2005, his first year as head coach at Syracuse: “At Texas last year, I really didn’t have a guy who [could be effective in it] … we used it a little bit because it was good against certain teams."

This time around at Texas, Robinson has a guy in Jeffcoat who, at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, looks the part. He played more than 60 snaps against Tech, and on no more than 16 plays did he line up as a defensive end. He rushed from his “Spinner” role on 23 plays, imitated a linebacker nearly a dozen times and dropped back into coverage a dozen more times.

“I think that’s something he thrived off of,” Texas tackle Donald Hawkins said. “Use your best player the best way you can.”

His new role was just what Texas needed. With Jeffcoat at “Spinner,” Robinson could highlight the Longhorns’ surplus of six defensive ends and compensate for having just two experienced defensive tackles. The three-man front that Jeffcoat lined up behind typically comprised of ends Cedric Reed and Reggie Wilson, with Malcom Brown at nose guard.

Texas’ defensive line produced eight sacks, 10 tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries.

“I think they came out and really confused us,” Texas Tech lineman Jared Kaster said.

Reed, who recorded two sacks, added this: “Our defensive slogan is ‘QB breakers.’ We knew that if we put pressure on the freshman quarterback, he would lose his flow sometimes.”

Mayfield was benched after throwing for 237 yards and no scores on 44 attempts. He was sacked seven times and had to tuck and run nine times, usually because of pressure.

Texas’ linebackers needed the help, too. Steve Edmond was lost for the season with a lacerated liver in the second quarter. Kendall Thompson exited with a head injury. That left Robinson with Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens, who also tried playing “Spinner” in the fourth quarter.

Will those depth issues necessitate more “Spinner” packages for Texas going forward?

“That’s just a thing we put in for this game. Who knows if we run it next week?” cornerback Carrington Byndom said. “But it is really useful.”

Byndom believes the scheme works best when going against passing offenses, and Texas expected the Red Raiders to pass 90 percent of the time. That won’t be the case against Baylor on Saturday.

Texas Tech’s running backs combined for eight carries Thursday. Baylor averages 48 rushes per game, and injured backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin have returned.

Jeffcoat was the centerpiece of Robinson’s grand plan for stopping Texas Tech. Next up is the Longhorns defense’s biggest test yet. There's no better time than now for everything Robinson has in his playbook.

“Any kind of advantage we can get, we’re trying to take it,” Byndom said.

Stats that matter: Texas Tech-Texas

November, 27, 2013
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Each week, we team up with the ESPN Stats and Info crew to dig into the numbers that matter most and find three statistics that could make a big difference this Thursday. Here are the numbers to remember going into Texas’ home finale on Thanksgiving against Texas Tech.

No. 1: Minus-12

That’s Texas Tech’s turnover margin this season. The Red Raiders have 28 turnovers, 16 takeaways and are minus-10 in Big 12 play. They’ve lost nine of their 11 fumbles. They’ve played only one game (Kansas, plus 3) with a positive turnover margin, and that number has been negative in each of Tech’s last six games.

You just can’t beat good teams with those kinds of numbers, and that has played a role in Texas Tech dropping four games in a row. There’s no doubt freshman quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb have contributed to this bug; they’re responsible for 23 of the 28 turnovers.

But they’re not solely to blame, because turnovers have become a long-term issue for this program. Texas Tech has a minus-35 turnover margin in the last five years, which ranks fourth-worst nationally and dead last among BCS conference schools. What’s remarkable is they’ve still won 37 games during that span.

No. 2: 297.25

Another glaring weakness that has developed during Texas Tech’s four-game slide: Run defense. Tech is giving up 297.25 rushing yards per game in its last four, with no team gaining less than 277.

Those four opponents -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor -- have combined for 18 rushing touchdowns and 32 rushes of 10-plus yards. Good luck beating the best teams in the Big 12 when you give up 5.74 yards per carry and first downs on nearly 29 percent of your opponents’ rushes.

Texas will try to exploit that porous run D without its two most explosive rushers, Johnathan Gray and Daje Johnson. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron ran relatively well against Oklahoma State, but they quickly became non-factors once Texas fell behind big. The key this week? Time of possession and turnovers. The run should be there for the taking if the Longhorns can hold onto the ball.

No. 3: Zero

The zero signifies two Texas stats worth noting going into this game. First, the Longhorns have recorded zero sacks in their three losses this season. That’s a problem. Texas has 26 sacks in its seven wins this season, and its defense line has played at a consistently high level in those games. Their pass rush can’t disappear again against a Tech team with young quarterbacks who turn the ball over.

Another zero: Since 2010, Texas is 11-1 in games when its offense doesn’t turn the ball over. Texas players insist the blowout loss to Oklahoma State could’ve been a much more even affair if not for three costly turnovers.

Three more to remember

7-0: Texas’ record against Texas Tech in games played in Austin under Mack Brown

18.7: Points per game Texas Tech has allowed in its seven wins.

50.5: Points per game Texas Tech has allowed in its four losses.

First glance: Texas Tech Red Raiders

November, 26, 2013
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A look ahead at Texas Tech in anticipation of its Thanksgiving night matchup with Texas. The Longhorns and Red Raiders face off Thursday at 6:30 p.m. CT.

Record: 7-4 (4-4 Big 12)

All-time record vs. Texas: 15-47

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBaker Mayfield and Texas Tech led early against Baylor on Nov. 16 but could sustain it.
Last game: Texas Tech went ahead 14-0 and 20-7 early in the first quarter but couldn't keep up in a 63-44 loss to then-No. 5 Baylor at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Baker Mayfield threw for 314 yards and four touchdowns in his first start in more than a month, but the Red Raiders failed to score on nine of their next 10 drives after the score reached 20-7, and their defense gave up eight touchdowns, including five on the ground. Tech has now lost four in a row.

Last meeting with Texas: Last season, Texas went on the road and won 31-22 against the then-No. 18 Red Raiders, a win sealed when Carrington Byndom blocked a Ryan Bustin field-goal attempt late. Mike Davis enjoyed a career day with 165 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and the Longhorns defense held Tech to field-goal attempts on four of its red zone trips.

Key player: Everyone knows the key to the Texas Tech offense is unstoppable tight end Jace Amaro, and the fact he isn't a John Mackey Award finalist is absolutely laughable. Amaro leads the Big 12 with 92 receptions for 1,157 yards and six touchdowns. Mack Brown called Amaro "a bigger, thicker Jermichael Finley" on Monday and acknowledged he's a matchup nightmare for any defense.

Why Texas Tech might win: This is a team with plenty to play for, even after its perfect season fell apart. Despite its recent struggles, Texas Tech still has the No. 1 passing offense in the country (400.1 ypg). Texas wants to play a ball-control game and pound the rock and probably can't afford to engage in a shootout.

Why Texas Tech might lose: The Red Raiders have given up 277, 281, 291 and 340 rushing yards in their four losses. They've had a bye week to try to shore up that vulnerable run defense, but you know Texas will test it early and often. Another glaring flaw for this Tech team: Turnovers. The Red Raiders are minus-12 in turnover margin after giving the ball away 28 times this fall. Hard to beat good teams when you do that.

Ranking the Big 12's top 25 quarterbacks

October, 29, 2013
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Naming the best quarterback in the Big 12 is easy. Deciding who's second-best right now is near-impossible. So we went a step further: Why not rank them all?

This continues to be been a strange, unpredictable year for Big 12 quarterbacks. We’ve already seen 18 start at least two games. Only three schools -- Baylor, Kansas and Iowa State -- have started the same guy for every game, and even they've used multiple quarterbacks.

The following rankings judged how these QBs are playing right now as well as their full 2013 resumes. Deciding where to slot injured passers was tricky. You might not agree with all or any of these rankings, but this is how we'd size up the competition after nine weeks:

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesConsidering how well he's run Baylor's high-scoring offense and the fact he leads the Big 12 in nearly every passing statistic, there is no debate that Bryce Petty is the Big 12's top QB.
1. Bryce Petty, Baylor: Best passer in the Big 12 by nearly every statistical measure, first in FBS in yards per attempt, TD-INT ratio of 18-1 and it's only his first season of starting. The gap between No. 1 and everyone else on this list right now is tremendous. -- Max Olson

2. Case McCoy, Texas: The career backup has been a huge part of Texas' resurgence. In wins over Oklahoma and TCU, McCoy has Adjusted QBRs of 83.9 and 95.4. -- Jake Trotter

3. Davis Webb, Texas Tech: Webb hasn’t been perfect but he’s averaging 420.67 passing yards and 5.67 completions of 20 yards or more in TTU’s past three games. He’s been very solid for a true freshman. -- Brandon Chatmon

4. Daniel Sams, Kansas State: He might be too high at No. 4, but Sams is the best athlete of the bunch and already has 538 rushing yards on just 100 carries. Still has plenty to prove as a passer. -- MO

5. Blake Bell, Oklahoma: Great against Texas Tech and Notre Dame, bad against Texas. Has promising moments as a passer, firm grasp on the job and a chance to prove he's league's second-best QB. -- MO

6. Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech: The walk-on made waves while leading the Red Raiders to a 5-0 start before a knee injury sidelined him, but he threw more interceptions than touchdowns in his final three starts before the injury. -- BC

7. Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State: Chelf finally has the job again, but he'll have to complete more passes to keep it. His completion percentage this year is less than 50 percent. -- JT

8. David Ash, Texas: Ash is throwing again, and could be cleared to return soon. But will he resume his starting role? The way McCoy is performing, probably not. -- JT

9. J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State: His combination of moxie and leadership is hard to deny but his struggles connecting on deep passes led to Chelf replacing him in the starting lineup. He remains a valuable piece as the disposal of Mike Gundy’s squad, however. -- BC

10. Jake Waters, Kansas State: Juco transfer is starting to get the hang of Big 12 ball and his own offense, and coming off an impressive showing against West Virginia. -- MO

11. Casey Pachall, TCU: Pachall has only played in seven games over the last two seasons. It would be difficult for anyone to overcome that level of rust. -- JT

12. Clint Trickett, West Virginia: Trickett’s season has mimicked the roller coaster nature of WVU’s offense, but he did lead the Mountaineers to a win over Oklahoma State, the highlight of their season. -- BC

13. Seth Russell, Baylor: Getting mop-up time and experience in every game this season and has 427 yards on 60 percent passing. Would he start for a couple Big 12 teams? -- MO

14. Sam B. Richardson, Iowa State: Richardson has been banged up all year, and it's shown. At some point, the Cyclones may be forced to go with the healthier option in Grant Rohach. -- JT

15. Jake Heaps, Kansas: The BYU transfer just can’t seem to find any confidence or rhythm for the Jayhawks passing attack, forcing Charlie Weis to start drastically experimenting with KU’s offense. -- BC

16. Trevone Boykin, TCU: Dual-threat sophomore has his moments, but five touchdowns and nine turnovers in 2013. Back to backing up Pachall and could play some receiver. -- MO

17. Trevor Knight, Oklahoma: Knight won the job out of camp, but lost it to Bell two games in after moving the chains ineffectively. Bell's performance against Texas Tech means Knight will remain on the sidelines. -- JT

18. Michael Brewer, Texas Tech: Generally expected to be the Red Raiders starter heading into fall camp, Brewer has been surpassed by the true freshman quarterbacks. -- BC

19. Paul Millard, West Virginia: Started first two games for the Mountaineers before losing his job, got another chance late against K-State. -- MO

20. Ford Childress, West Virginia: The freshman quarterbacked West Virginia's worst performance of the year, a 37-0 loss to Maryland, before suffering a pectoral injury that could keep him out the rest of the year. -- JT

21. Grant Rohach, Iowa State: He’s come off the bench to replace Sam Richardson in ISU’s last two games but has yet to surpass 100 passing yards in the game. -- BC

22. Montell Cozart, Kansas: True freshman is now splitting snaps with Heaps and got half the reps against Baylor. Can make plays in the run game and be a spark. -- MO

23. Michael Cummings, Kansas: Cummings started five games in 2012 but has lost the No. 2 spot to Cozart, and is unlikely to play much going forward with Heaps also part of the offense. -- JT

24. Tyrone Swoopes, Texas: The 6-foot-4, 245-pound true freshman made his debut on Saturday and is a talented rusher, but he didn't attempt a pass. If McCoy goes down, he'll have to take over. -- MO

25. Tyler Matthews, TCU: The Horned Frogs got so desperate for production they turned to the redshirt freshman on multiple occasions, yet he’s seen very limited game reps and hasn't completed a pass this season. -- BC
Mack Brown was widely mocked last month for saying tackling had become a problem in America, not just at Texas. He wouldn’t be laughed off if he made this claim: Quarterback instability is a national epidemic.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Sams
AP Photo/Eric GayKansas State is one of several Big 12 teams that have played musical quarterbacks, alternating Daniel Sams (pictured) with Jake Waters.
More than 50 FBS programs have already been afflicted, including nearly a third of the AP top 25. A total of 184 quarterbacks have started at least one game for the 126 programs, and we’re only a month and a half into the 2013 season.

No major conference has dealt with more insecurity behind center than the Big 12. Good luck naming the second-best quarterback in the Big 12 behind Baylor’s Bryce Petty, or even naming off all 18 who have made starts.

“This year, it seems like everyone is kind of juggling one to try to find answers and two to try to keep them healthy,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I know Texas Tech is dealing with it, we’re dealing with it, TCU has dealt with it, Texas has dealt with it, Kansas State has dealt with it.

“So just until guys get established and remain healthy, that’s just the reality of college football. The next guy has got to get ready to go in there and play at the highest level possible to try to get a win.”

Kansas State became the seventh Big 12 team to give a second quarterback a start Saturday when Daniel Sams got the nod over Jake Waters against Baylor.

Thus far, injuries have been more at issue than ineffective play. TCU’s Casey Pachall, Texas’ David Ash and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight lost their jobs when they went down with injuries, and that could be the case for Texas Tech’s Baker Mayfield as well.

Oklahoma State pulled Clint Chelf for J.W. Walsh in the opener, and Cowboys coach Mike Gundy is sticking with him. Same with Blake Bell, who’s holding onto his job despite the return of Knight.

And then there’s the situation at West Virginia, where Holgorsen has been dealing with a quarterback calamity all season long. Paul Millard, Ford Childress and Clint Trickett have each started two games, and the job is still very much up for grabs.

“Unfortunately by the time we settle on somebody, then he gets hurt and you’ve got to put somebody else in there,” Holgorsen said. “That’s not an excuse. Whoever is going to be our quarterback this week, we’ve got to get him prepared to play and we’ve got to get him to where we’re playing at a higher level than what we’ve got out of him.”

This isn’t exactly unprecedented for the Big 12. During its 12-team era, two seasons were especially chaotic: 2005 and 2009. In both years, eight Big 12 teams started at least two quarterbacks. In both years, Texas rolled through the conference thanks to Heisman finalist-caliber quarterbacks Vince Young and Colt McCoy.

But take note of this: A team with multiple starting quarterbacks has not won the Big 12 Championship since Kansas State in 2003.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Brad Davis/Icon SMIClint Trickett is the third player to start at QB for West Virginia this season.
Bill Snyder’s quarterback situation is no doubt an outlier from the rest. He likes both Sams and Waters. He likes playing both, and Sams has paired his 522 rushing yards with just 32 pass attempts. The Wildcats are just trying to find the right combination, the right rhythm.

“We just have two young guys that are competing in a very positive way to be the No. 1 quarterback, and both of them have demonstrated the capabilities beyond the field and deserve to play,” Synder said.

There was a three-season stretch in this conference, from 2006 to 2008, when no more than four backups earned a start in a single season. In 2011, only Texas and Iowa State tried multiple starters.

ISU coach Paul Rhoads is now one of the three Big 12 coaches who hasn’t needed his No. 2 guy this fall thanks to the solid play of Sam B. Richardson. He doesn’t consider the problem facing his colleagues to be an unexpected one.

“With the number of new quarterbacks in the league, first of all, and then the game is physical, the game is violent and teams’ quarterbacks are more active in their offenses in these leagues,” Rhoads said. “There’s going to be some vulnerability. So no, not surprised.”

This is a problem everywhere. Forty percent of FBS schools have started two quarterbacks. Seven SEC, seven Big Ten and five ACC schools have rolled out more than one starter. The national number of 184 total starters is ahead of the 2012 midseason total (170), which finished at 210 starters by season’s end.

What all that uncertainty creates, at least in the Big 12 landscape, too many unpredictable conference title contenders ... and one great advantage for Baylor.

Petty is No. 1 in the Big 12 in every passing statistic. But it’s a good thing his backup, Seth Russell, already has 30 attempts, 381 yards and three scores on his 2013 resume.

Considering how this season is already playing out, the Bears just might end up needing him.

Big 12 midseason report

October, 14, 2013
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Texas was on its deathbed; now it’s a contender. The Oklahoma schools, once bastions of quarterbacking, suddenly have issues there. West Virginia’s defense is better than its offense. TCU can’t score. Kansas State can’t buy a win. And the teams picked to finish fifth and seventh in the conference are the only ones without a loss.

If the second half of the Big 12 season is anything like the first, who knows what might happen? Good luck guessing which game will ultimately decide the conference race, too.

Before the season, Bedlam looked most likely to be that game. Now, another showdown the very same day could end up overshadowing it.

Bedlam decided the Big 12 in 2011. It decided the Big 12 South in 2010. But will anything more than bragging rights be on the line this time? That will depend on whether either team can solve quarterback problems that plagued both in their losses.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
AP Photo/LM OteroKliff Kingsbury's calm, cool demeanor has resonated with his players, as Texas Tech is one of two undefeated teams in the Big 12.
After Trevor Knight was ineffective in two lackluster wins to begin the season, the Sooners turned to Blake Bell. The Belldozer took care of the ball and made plays in the fourth quarter in wins over Notre Dame and TCU. But he did neither in a 36-20 loss to Texas that shook up the league race. According to QBR, Bell’s Texas performance was the worst by a Big 12 quarterback this year, raising questions about whether he’s the answer for the Sooners after all.

Oklahoma State is in a similar raft. J.W. Walsh took the starting job from Clint Chelf two series into the opener against Mississippi State. But the past two games, including a loss at West Virginia, have seen the Cowboys flatline offensively. Oklahoma State, in fact, failed to get a single first down the second half against Kansas State until a late game-winning drive. Like the Sooners, the Cowboys can’t run the ball lately, because they can’t get anyone to take their downfield passing game seriously.

That hasn’t been a problem in Waco, which is one of the reasons why Baylor has ascended to conference favorite status. Every one of Tevin Reese’s six touchdown receptions has gone for more than 40 yards. Five of Antwan Goodley’s six touchdown catches have gone for at least 60. As a result, 32 of Baylor’s 40 touchdown drives have taken less than two minutes.

While Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could still turn things around, Texas and Texas Tech could wind up being the biggest roadblocks to Baylor’s first Big 12 title.

Despite playing two true freshmen quarterbacks, the Red Raiders have spread the ball around as well as anyone in the league, claiming four of the Big 12’s top eight receivers. Tech also leads the conference in third-down defense. Back-to-back road trips to West Virginia and Oklahoma the next two weeks will shed more light on whether the Red Raiders are ready to contend.

A week ago, virtually everyone had written the Longhorns off as possible Big 12 contenders. Then they pulled off the biggest Red River upset in 17 years to move to 3-0 in the league standings. Texas’ rushing attack looked formidable, and quarterback Case McCoy looked poised. If that continues, who knows? Maybe Texas will be playing for the conference title at Baylor in the season finale.

The season’s first half is done. Much is yet to be decided.

But as we gear up for the second half, below is a breakdown of the Big 12 at midseason:

Offensive MVP: Baylor junior quarterback Bryce Petty has picked up where Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence left off, posting an Adjusted QBR of 95.1. That’s second only to Heisman frontrunner Marcus Mariota of Oregon. Thanks in large part to Petty’s precision passing, the Bears led the nation with a scoring average of 63.4 points per game.

Defensive MVP: The Horned Frogs haven’t had the kind of the season they’d hoped for so far. But that’s to no fault of cornerback Jason Verrett, who has been lights out. Even with opposing quarterbacks leery about throwing his direction, Verrett leads the Big 12 in passes defended. And even with a tender shoulder, he has continued to be one of the surest tackling cornerbacks in the league.

Biggest Surprise: The Red Raiders were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12. But seven weeks into the season, they join Baylor as the league’s only teams still without a loss. Amazingly, Texas Tech has gotten to 6-0 rotating true freshman quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb, who, despite some rocky moments, have been solid.

Biggest Disappointment: In ESPN.com’s preseason player poll, the league’s players tabbed TCU as the team to beat. The Horned Frogs, however, have already been defeated three times. TCU has faced a difficult schedule, and the injuries to quarterback Casey Pachall and defensive end Devonte Fields have really hurt. But at the season’s midway point, the Frogs are already just one loss away from falling completely out of the conference title hunt.

Newcomers Of The Year: West Virginia running back Charles Sims was the Big 12’s preseason pick for newcomer of the year, and for good reason. But the impact of Texas Tech true freshmen quarterbacks Mayfield and Webb has been greater. Mayfield is 5-0 as a starter. Webb, who quarterbacked Tech to a win over Iowa State over the weekend, also threw the game-winning touchdown pass to beat TCU.

Coach Of The Year: In his first year as its coach, former Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury has resurrected his alma mater. The Red Raiders have already taken on the personality of their cool, confident coach, who has Tech at 6-0 for the first time since 2008.

Best Game: Most of the intriguing matchups in the Big 12 will come later in the season. But so far, the most entertaining game in the league has been Texas’ 31-30 victory at Iowa State. Yes, the game had some questionable officiating. And some questionable low blocking. But it was also wonderfully compelling, from Texas coach Mack Brown staving off disaster to Paul Rhoads rallying his team during a fiery postgame news conference.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 7

October, 13, 2013
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What we learned about the Big 12 from Week 7:

1. Texas is alive: The Longhorns were dead on arrival at the Cotton Bowl. Well, that’s what the Sooners thought. Instead, Texas outplayed, outmaneuvered and, that’s right, outcoached Oklahoma to pull off the biggest Red River upset in 17 years.
[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesCase McCoy and Texas moved to 3-0 in the Big 12 after a surprising win over Oklahoma on Saturday.
Case McCoy threw a pair of touchdowns that his brother Colt couldn’t have placed any better. The offensive line kicked OU’s tail in the trenches. And the defense forced Blake Bell to deliver one of the worst QB performances in Red River history. After his biggest win in at least four seasons, Mack Brown said the Horns were out of the grave. Texas is more than just out of the grave. The Longhorns are suddenly 3-0 in the Big 12 standings, and right in the thick of the conference race.

2. OU has problems: The blueprint on how to shut down the Sooners is on tape. Load the box. Dare Bell to beat you deep in man coverage. If only that was OU’s lone issue. Mike Stoops’ 3-3-5 scheme predicated on speed worked wonders through September. But Saturday in Dallas, it was exposed in the trenches. The Longhorns got 5 yards between the tackles any time they wanted, as Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown became the first Texas duo ever to rush for 100 yards apiece in the same Red River game. Not having linebacker and senior captain Corey Nelson (torn pectoral) was a killer. But he’s not coming back, either. The defense, however, is the least of OU’s worries. After playing well against Tulsa and Notre Dame, Bell has looked completely discombobulated the past two weeks. He’s been unable to consistently locate receivers down the field, which has emboldened defenses to crowd the line of scrimmage and cover up OU’s running game. After the game, coordinator Josh Heupel said he never considered making a QB switch. But if Bell keeps playing like he did in Dallas, the Sooners will be forced to.

3. Baylor can in fact be slowed: After Baylor became the first team in 83 years to score 70 points in three straight games, the question began to be asked: Can these Bears be slowed down? Kansas State showed in Manhattan the answer is yes. In its first road test of the season, Baylor did not display the same crispness offensively it had at home. The Bears were still impressive, as QB Bryce Petty connected on touchdown passes of 93, 72 and 54 yards. But outside those three quick-strike scores, Baylor was largely handcuffed. After punting seven times through their first four games, the Bears had to punt six times at K-State. The running game, too, was held in check as Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were limited to less than 100 yards rushing combined until Baylor’s final game-clinching touchdown drive. The fact the Bears still scored 35 points on a day in which they struggled offensively says all you need to know about how prolific this offense is. But K-State proved, with the right game plan, it’s an offense that can be slowed, too.

4. Daniel Sams has star potential: This season, the Big 12 is loaded with QBs who can cause damage with their wheels -- notably Bell, Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and TCU’s Trevone Boykin. But nobody in the league comes close to what Sams is able to do on the ground. The K-State QB shredded Baylor’s defense for 199 rushing yards and three touchdowns, nearly leading the Wildcats to the upset as 17-point underdogs. When Sams was in the game, the Bears knew what was coming. And they still couldn’t stop it. Sams’ big limitation right now is with his decision-making in the passing game. For the second straight week, he was picked off on a potential game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. But Sams quietly has the second-best adjusted QBR (86.5) in the Big 12, behind only Petty (95.1). With an 0-3 start in the league, this has clearly become a rebuilding season for the Wildcats. But they have something to rebuild around in their sophomore quarterback.

5. Tech can win with at least two QBs: Texas Tech became bowl eligible for the 20th time in the past 21 seasons with a 42-35 win over Iowa State. And the Red Raiders did it using their second true freshman starting quarterback of the season. With Baker Mayfield out with an injured knee, Davis Webb got the nod and was solid. Webb completed almost 63 percent of his passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns with only one interception. Webb’s adjusted QBR was only 53.5 (scale of 0-100) in the game. And as coach Kliff Kingsbury pointed out afterward, there were some throws Webb would like to do over again. But his performance was more than good enough for Tech to move to 6-0. "We've got three guys [who] can win ball games," Kingsbury said. Mayfield and Webb have proved that the Red Raiders have at least two. And in preseason projected starter Michael Brewer, who has returned from a disc injury, Kingsbury believes they have a third. In 2012, Oklahoma State’s offense kept humming despite rotating quarterbacks in and out due to injuries. Thanks to comparable skill talent surrounding its quarterbacks, Tech is having success doing the same thus far.

Big 12 Week 7 primer

October, 12, 2013
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Texas will attempt to salvage its season against Oklahoma, Baylor's offense will try to keep it rolling in Manhattan, TCU will look to bounce back from a rough early season start, and Texas Tech will shoot to stay undefeated against what figures to be an angry opponent.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch in Week 7 of the Big 12:

Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas), 11 a.m. CT (ABC): There’s little reason to believe Texas will end its three-game losing streak in the Red River Rivalry. But one thing to keep in mind -- the two biggest underdogs in the last 25 years of this game (’89 Texas, ’96 Oklahoma) pulled off upsets. To have any chance, the Longhorns must try to establish Johnathan Gray and the ground game against an Oklahoma front that will be without linebacker Corey Nelson and possibly defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. If Texas can’t run and has to rely on the arm of QB Case McCoy, this could end up being a third-straight Red River rout favoring the Sooners.

Iowa State at Texas Tech, 11 a.m. CT (FS1): Coach Kliff Kingsbury said during his radio show Thursday night that quarterback Baker Mayfield would be a game-time decision after injuring his knee last week. Regardless of who the Tech quarterback is, the real key in this one will be whether a Red Raiders defense that’s been stellar so far can stifle an Iowa State offense that’s shown rapid improvement over its last two games. While Baylor and Oklahoma have captured the majority of the league's headlines, Tech has quietly emerged into a darkhorse Big 12 title contender. A convincing win against the Cyclones would send a message to the Bears and Sooners that this won’t just be a two-team race for the conference crown.

Kansas at TCU, 11 a.m. CT (FSN): No team in the Big 12 has had as much misfortune as the Horned Frogs. First, TCU lost quarterback Casey Pachall to a broken forearm, Then this week, coach Gary Patterson revealed that star defensive end Devonte Fields would have season-ending surgery on his foot. This is still a good team with a great defense. And this could be the game that gets the Frogs back on track going into the second half of the season.

Baylor at Kansas State, 2:30 p.m. CT (FOX): The Bears take their offensive show on the road for the first time against K-State, which is in desperate need of a victory after starting the Big 12 season 0-2. To have any prayer, the Wildcats will have to find a way to get Baylor QB Bryce Petty uncomfortable in his first career start away from Waco. That will be a tall task. The Bears have allowed just five sacks in 122 pass attempts. K-State is not equipped to win shootouts. So if Baylor keeps Petty upright, this could wind up being a long afternoon for the home team -- and a busy one for the home team’s scoreboard operator.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
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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.

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