Texas Longhorns: Collin Klein

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

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

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

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

Not long ago, Big 12 media days was an event worthy of a red carpet, with star-studded quarterbacks annually filling the halls.

Many -- like “Vince” and “Sam” -- were on a first-name basis with their fans. Others -- like “RG3” -- donned catchy nicknames.

This year, though, there were no rock stars at media days in Dallas. Because, well, there are no marquee quarterbacks returning.

As the SEC with defense, the Big 12 has become synonymous with quarterbacking. Of the past 13 quarterbacks taken in the first round of the NFL draft, six are Big 12 alums.

But these are foreign times in the conference. For a change, quarterbacking is the Big 12’s big unknown.

“We're in the same situation as seven or eight others,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who is replacing his school’s all-time leading passer, Geno Smith.

“Pretty much everyone is in the same boat.”

A boat that seats virtually everyone in the league.

Texas' David Ash is the Big 12's only expected starter who started more than five games last season. Six other teams are still officially involved in quarterback derbies, including Texas Tech, which could wind up starting true freshman walk-on Baker Mayfield in its opener with projected starter Michael Brewer dealing with a back injury.

Such quarterback uncertainty has rendered the Big 12 as wide open as ever, with six teams receiving first-place votes in the league’s preseason poll.

“I think it would be unfair to even predict what could happen in the league this year,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who has hinted he won’t announce Clint Chelf or J.W. Walsh as the starter until the opener against Mississippi State. “You have a certain number of teams, five or six, who if they stay healthy and get quality quarterback play, have a chance to win the league.

“For the fans and for the media, this year is as exciting as it gets -- because I don’t think anyone really knows.”

But the lack of marquee returning quarterbacks is also predominantly why for the first time in its history the Big 12 doesn't have a team ranked in the top 10 of the preseason polls. Oklahoma State was the league’s highest-ranked squad at No. 13.

Ash started every game but one for the Longhorns last season. But he also was benched against Kansas and TCU.

TCU’s Casey Pachall had a banner 2011 campaign. But he left four games into last season to seek treatment for substance abuse.

And while Chelf and Walsh both won games for the Cowboys as starters last year, it’s unclear at the moment which of the two will get the majority of snaps.

“The preseason polls for the majority in my opinion are based on returning quarterback play, because we all know how important quality quarterback play is to winning games,” Gundy said. “They look on paper and see there’s not a lot of returning quarterbacks in this league and so you’re not going to get recognized as much as other schools.”

Coaches and players around the conference, however, caution not to dismiss this batch of quarterbacks just because they’re new.

“There’ll be a bunch of names you’ll be talking about next year -- that they’re all back,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

While there’s no Vince Young, Sam Bradford or Robert Griffin III yet, there is talent.

Blake Bell and Trevor Knight, who are vying to replace four-year starter Landry Jones in Norman, were both four-star recruits. So was Kansas’ Jake Heaps, who sat out last season after transferring from BYU.

Baylor’s Bryce Petty had offers to play at Nebraska and Virginia Tech coming out of high school.

And Kansas State’s Jake Waters, who is fighting Daniel Sams to succeed Heisman finalist Collin Klein, was the No. 1-rated quarterback to come out of junior college this year.

“The quarterback play in the Big 12 last year was phenomenal,” Holgorsen said. “And it's always going to be phenomenal.

“It's just going to be with newer people.”
HornsNation is breaking down Texas' 2013 football schedule every Monday this summer. This week: The Longhorns' fourth game of the season vs. the Kansas State Wildcats on Sept. 21.

Question of the Week: Scariest UT games 

May, 16, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- There was a time when Texas would strike fear in future foes rather than have its fans be stricken with it when studying the schedule.

But times, personnel, records, well, let’s just wrap it up by saying a lot, has changed at Texas. These days, instead of having all those gimme games, worry and dread often accompany games way beyond the Red River Rivalry.

Of course, Texas coach Mack Brown has done his best to assuage those fears by continually pointing to 2013 as the year when Texas gets back to being Texas. Then again, an increasingly skeptical fan base probably needs more words to help cease its cuticle chomping. But there won’t be anything but words until Aug. 31. Words and, well, fear.

It is that fear HornsNation is ready to pounce upon with this week’s question of the week: Which team on Texas’ 2013 schedule should fans worry about most and why?

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Weak and Strong: Texas Longhorns

March, 18, 2013
Turnover is an annual tradition in college football, but with that, teams' strengths and weaknesses constantly shift, too. Today, we'll continue our look at the biggest strengths and weaknesses for each Big 12 team.

Next up: Texas.

Strongest position: Running backs

You simply could not ask for anything more from one position, and I might make the case that this is the strongest unit in the Big 12 in terms of pure skill. The Longhorns lost D.J. Monroe from this unit last year, but they run four deep and each brings something special to the table. Johnathan Gray has the best balance of the quartet, and the rising sophomore looks like a favorite to win the starting job on the back of his strong first step. The starting position is a bit pointless ultimately, considering all four will get touches, especially Malcolm Brown, a balanced back with a great feel for space between the tackles who leans a bit more toward being a power runner.

The other two backs are pure specialty, but every backfield can use those. Joe Bergeron is a 240-pound bowling ball who rolled his way to 16 touchdowns a year ago, more than anyone else in the Big 12 except Collin Klein, who finished third in the Heisman voting. On the other end of the spectrum is Daje Johnson, a sophomore speedster who averaged 11.5 yards a touch last season. He had touchdown runs of 45 yards (New Mexico) and 84 yards (Baylor) that showcased his speed. This is a solid group with elite talent and tons of depth and versatility. Texas has recruited running backs so well lately, and it's showing up on the field. What more could you ask for?

Weakest position: Specialists

Texas has solid talent in the return game with Quandre Diggs and Jaxon Shipley, but the kicking game was a disaster last season and the Longhorns are trying to find an answer at punter to fill in for Alex King, who graduated after averaging better than 45 yards a kick on his 43 punts last year. The big problem that carried over from last season is at place-kicker. Texas finished last season just 11-of-19 on field goals, tied for the worst mark in the Big 12 and 107th nationally.

Penn State transfer Anthony Fera was the biggest hope at the position, but he was nagged with a persistent groin injury and has been working mostly at punter this spring after making 2-of-4 field goals last year. Freshman Nick Jordan made 9-of-15 kicks last season and has to be better to hold onto his spot.

Texas has recruited well all over the field and doesn't lose much from last year's team, but when I survey the depth chart, kicker and punter are clearly the biggest weaknesses for the Longhorns. The players currently on the roster are long on potential but short on real accomplishments.

More Weak and Strong.
AUSTIN, Texas -- There was a time when Collin Klein was average.

Actually, he was slightly below average, a reserve even. One deftly deployed to beat an awful Texas team in 2010, but a reserve just the same.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Tim Heitman/US PresswireLonghorns signal-caller David Ash improved in Year 2 as starter. What he does in his third year will determine Texas' fate.
That year Klein was a sophomore. Two years later his team is in the Fiesta Bowl, largely because of that one-time reserve.

In his second year in the program, Alabama’s AJ McCarron held on extra points. Florida State’s EJ Manuel had two starts his sophomore season, a win and a loss. Jordan Lynch, the Northern Illinois quarterback who was No. 3 nationally in total yards per game in 2012, was a backup as a sophomore.

Half of the quarterbacks in this year’s BCS games either didn’t play or were reserves in their second year in their current program. The other half is all in their second year. But of the latter group only Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota have better pass efficiency ratings that Texas’ David Ash in 2012. It’s a compelling argument that Ash, Texas’ second-year quarterback, is far from being off the rails.

Still, obviously, the sophomore wasn’t on track against Oklahoma, Kansas or TCU. Excuses can be found and fingers pointed, but ultimately Ash failed -- something he will readily admit -- to perform to his potential in those games. But that he flourished in so many others, particularly the last, in addition to the unavoidable conclusion that experience matters, should allow for those in the foam finger crowd to have a modicum of hope.

The point is, Ash is learning and the pace is not all that unnatural. In fact, it’s been at breakneck speed. True there are others, Mariota, Bridgewater and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, who have been better quarterbacks given the same amount of time within their respective programs. They have also had better offensive minds and systems around them.

Ash had a play-caller clearly trying to find his way and his identity in a BCS conference after swimming for oh so long in the guppy waters of the far west.

Already the impact of having Major Applewhite as the quarterbacks coach appears to have taken hold of Ash. After starting poorly and ending worse in the three aforementioned games, Ash was able to turn things around against Oregon State in the fourth instead of watching from the bench. That maturity was not present at any other point this season.

That finish, while maybe not finishing off all the quarterback controversy talk this offseason, at least closed the valve a bit. There may be a leak here and there, but by and large, the belief is that Ash has now shown the ability to get the job done.

He also might have the experience necessary. To start the 2013 season, Ash will be the highest rated returning starter in the Big 12 unless J.W. Walsh is selected as the starter at Oklahoma State. He will also be the winningest and most experienced quarterback in the Big 12. All of which is a long way from average.

Trending up or down: Big 12 in 2013

December, 18, 2012
Colleague Phil Steele checked in with our ESPN Insider folks for a look at all 70 bowl teams Insider... in 2013.

What can they all expect next season? You'll need Insider to see his full comments, but he weighed in on the nine Big 12 bowl teams.

Baylor's stock: Down

My take: I'd lean more toward even for the Bears. They're losing Nick Florence and Terrance Williams, but Tevin Reese is a strong candidate to continue the receiver tradition at Baylor under Art Briles, and Lache Seastrunk might end up being the Big 12's best back next year. Don't be surprised if new QB Bryce Petty is even better than Florence. It's very easy for me to see Baylor winning seven (or more) games next year, and once again, it's hard to see the defense getting worse.

WVU's stock: Even

My take: The record might be the same (7-5) next year, but I would lean toward trending down for WVU, just because it won't have the upside or potential of this year's team. WVU was good enough to win 9-11 games this year, but with a new QB, no Tavon Austin and no Stedman Bailey, it's tough to see next year's team being able to make that claim.

Texas' stock: Up

My take: How up depends on David Ash's development, once again. When he played well early in the season, Texas looked like it could beat a whole lot of teams. When he struggled against KU and Oklahoma, Texas didn't look like it could beat anyone. The defense can't be any worse.

TCU's stock: Up

My take: Way, way, up. Maybe more up than any team in the country. TCU was 70 percent freshmen and sophomore this year and still managed to go 7-5. It has tons of talent on both sides of the ball, and running back Aaron Green, a blue-chip transfer from Nebraska, will be on the field. Quarterback Casey Pachall may return, too. Big 12 title contenders.

Iowa State's stock: Even

My take: I'd agree. Sam Richardson showed some promise, but I don't know if I see a true impact player there. ISU still has to improve its skill position talent in a big way to truly make the jump from fringe bowl team.

Oklahoma State's stock: Up

My take: Other than TCU or Texas, no Big 12 team's stock should be more up next year. OSU can absorb the loss of Joseph Randle if he leaves, and if he stays, OSU will likely have the Big 12's best offense with a good O-line, maturing QBs and experienced backs. They'll go from seven wins to a Big 12 title contender.

KSU's stock: Down

My take: Agreed here. It's pretty simple. This is a very, very experienced team with two huge talents in Collin Klein and Arthur Brown that will be difficult to replace. K-State has a lot of potential at QB in Daniel Sams and juco commit Jake Waters, but Chris Harper will be gone, too. John Hubert and Tramaine Thompson will have to play big, and the offensive line will have to lead the way.

Five thoughts: KSU 42, Texas 24 

December, 2, 2012
Here are five thoughts following Texas’ 42-24 loss to No. 6 Kansas State.

What does 8-4 mean?
Texas went 5-7 in 2010, Then 8-5 in 2011 with a win over Cal in the Holiday Bowl. Texas finishes the 2012 regular season at 8-4 with a bowl game upcoming.

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Texas came to Kansas State with dreams, however fleeting and unrealistic, of still somehow squeezing into a BCS bowl. And then the Longhorns lost by 18 points. So Texas will have to settle for the AT&T Cotton Bowl depending on how the computers shake out. Until the Longhorns find out their fate Sunday night, here are a few other things they can stew on.

Case McCoy: Wedged between interceptions, the quarterback did manage to do some good things. McCoy completed 17 straight passes at one point. Even when Kansas State came in the second half and took an immediate lead, McCoy led Texas right back down the field on a scoring drive. He finished 26-of-34 for 314 yards. His long pass of 70 yards was more of a flip pass to Daje Johnson. But he did show some touch and accuracy that had previously not been a part of his game.

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MANHATTAN, Kan. -- What was being billed as the biggest home game in Kansas State history turned into the biggest Wildcat home win in history. Faced with the opportunity to win a conference title for only the third time in school history, make it to a BCS bowl game and quite possible push their senior leader, Collin Klein, to the front of the Heisman line, Kansas State at least delivered on the first two with its 42-24 win over Texas. As for the Heisman, that will have to wait. Despite the win, the the odds of grabbing the school's first remain quite long.

It was over when: Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett grabbed a 55-yard touchdown pass to start the fourth quarter and put the Wildcats up 28-17. The play-action pass was set up by the Wildcats' previous drive in which Klein kept the ball on the ground for the majority of the 67-yard drive.

Stat of the game: After being held to just 114 yards in the first half and Klein being largely pedestrian, KSU scored the first three times it touched the ball in the second half. Kansas State put scoring drives of 75, 67 and 55 yards together to pull away from Texas.

Stat of the game, part 2: Texas quarterback Case McCoy completed 17 straight passes after starting the game with an incompletion and an interception. Texas has not had a quarterback complete 17 straight since Case's brother, Colt, did it. Colt McCoy holds the record for completions with 18 straight.

Game ball goes to: Although Klein did not put up the stats necessary to wow Heisman voters, his senior leadership steadied KSU in the second half and his command of the offense allowed the Wildcats to pull away. Klein was 4-of-10 passing for 72 yards with an interception in the first half, adding 19 yards rushing and a touchdown. Klein came out and rushed for 54 yards in the third quarter alone and was 3-of-3 passing for 57 yards in that quarter.

What it means for Texas: The Longhorns appear to be entrenched in the Cotton Bowl. Texas will finish third in the Bg 12 behind Kansas State and Oklahoma. Both those teams should go to BCS bowls, leaving Texas as the clear choice for the Cotton Bowl. Texas' likely opponent is LSU, but there is a scenario that would allow Georgia to come to the Cotton Bowl.

What it means for KSU: For only the third time in school history the Wildcats have won a conference title, with the most recent coming in 2003. The other occasion was 1934. While Klein did not do himself any favors in Heisman voting, the team did wrap up a bid to the Fiesta Bowl.

Staff picks: Texas vs. Kansas State 

November, 30, 2012
Kansas State 27, Texas 17
Kansas State is mad and had a week off to make sure it was prepared for the Longhorns. There is no better way to get a bad taste out of your mouth than by sending your seniors off with a bang. Texas' only chance to win this game is to win the line of scrimmage and make everything easier for Case McCoy on the offense and the linebackers on defense. Kansas State will have success on defense and limit the success of the Horns offense. Ultimately the Texas defense will play well but not well enough to win the game. Texas will end the regular season on a two-game losing streak in a hard-fought game.
- Sean Adams

Kansas State 35, Texas 17

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Five storylines: Texas vs. Kansas State 

November, 29, 2012
Five storylines for No. 18 Texas' game at No. 6 Kansas State on Saturday:

1. Cotton Bowl bound?
Texas wins and it is almost assuredly in the Cotton Bowl. Texas loses and it is almost assuredly in the Cotton Bowl.

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Each week, with the help of ESPN Stats and Info, HornsNation takes a look inside some of the stats that might shape the outcome of Texas’ next game. This week the focus is on No. 6 Kansas State, a team that has won four straight against Texas.

1. 12
That’s the number of turnovers Texas has had in four games at Kansas State during Mack Brown’s 14 previous seasons. Texas is 1-3 in those games with the one win coming in 2002 when the Longhorns had just one turnover. They had five in their last trip in 2010.

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No overlooking threat of KSU skill players

November, 28, 2012
Collin Klein might get all the hype, but the Kansas State skill players who surround him will get plenty of attention from Texas’ defense this week.

One of the most dangerous members of that group is a Texas native who didn’t get much attention coming out of high school: John Hubert.

[+] EnlargeJohn Hubert
WD/Icon SMIK-State tailback John Hubert, who has 12 touchdowns this season, is a big threat out of the backfield.
The Wildcats got a steal in Hubert, a junior running back who was ranked No. 182 among running back prospects in 2009 by ESPN. The recruiting rankings weren’t alone in overlooking him.

He rushed for more than 2,800 yards and 41 touchdowns as a senior at Waco (Texas) Midway. You’d think that would be enough to put him on several in-state schools’ radar. Instead, the closest offer close to home came from North Texas.

Hubert ended up picking KSU over Idaho State, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and Montana State. Other Big 12 schools, including hometown school Baylor, gave him a look but didn’t bite.

At 5-foot-7 and 191 pounds, Hubert was an easy one to pass up. Last season, he should’ve been relegated to a minor role behind five-star transfer Bryce Brown. But the former No. 8 overall recruit and Philadelphia Eagles back left KSU after three carries in two games.

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AUSTIN, Texas -- Alex Okafor remains unconvinced.

Well, sort of unconvinced. A few weeks ago, when the rushing yards were piling up faster than people could pile on the Texas defense, the senior defensive end came out and said he had "zero confidence" in the run defense.

[+] EnlargeAlex Okafor
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDefensive end Alex Okafor and the Longhorns have played better in recent weeks, but TCU and Kansas State present a challenge.
Then Texas went out and gave up 176 yards to James Sims of Kansas. It was the fifth straight week Texas had allowed an opposing player to have a career-high rushing day. Welcome to the land of less than zero. That is not some sort of nod to Bret Easton Ellis. It’s a shake of the head at the Texas defense -- by its own players nonetheless.

But there was more football to be played and more opponents to be stopped. And lo and behold, Texas has been able to do just that. In the past two weeks, against teams that are not exactly juggernauts when it comes to running the ball, mind you, Texas has only allowed a total of 256 yards.

Given that there were single games where Texas allowed a higher total and that a backup running back once eclipsed the 200-yard mark on his own, this can be seen as progress. Even in Okafor’s eyes.

"I'm slowly gaining confidence," he said. "We are getting better game by game. We still have a long way to go. But slowly but surely, we are getting better at the run defense."

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Texas Longhorns Show Out On Pro Day
The Texas Longhorns produced several eligible NFL Draft athletes who participated in Pro Day Tuesday afternoon in Austin, Texas.