Big 12 viewer’s guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
8:00
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In Week 4 of Big 12 action, most of the conference will have the day off to watch Oklahoma and West Virginia square off in a key early season clash; while Kansas will attempt to bounce back after getting steamrolled at Duke last week.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to follow today in the Big 12:

Central Michigan at Kansas, 3:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Regional): The pressure is already on Kansas coach Charlie Weis, whose Jayhawks were overwhelmed in a 41-3 loss to Duke last week. Kansas desperately needs a better performance from sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart, who against the Blue Devils struggled mightily, completing just 41 percent of his passes while throwing a pair of interceptions. A bounce-back performance won’t come easy. Central Michigan returns 19 starters, and hammered Purdue by three touchdowns on the road two weeks ago. The Jayhawks, though, will catch a break, with Chippewas star running back Thomas Rawls, who rushed for 155 yards against the Boilermakers, still facing suspension after being accused of stealing a woman’s purse.

No. 4 Oklahoma at West Virginia, 7:30 p.m. ET (Fox): The last time these two teams met in Morgantown, they staged a classic -- and this showdown has the makings of the same. The key matchup figures to be West Virginia’s big-play wide receivers against Oklahoma’s big-play defensive backs. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Mountaineers are averaging 247 yards after the catch a game, which is third most of any Power 5 conference offense. The Sooners, however, are giving up just 4.4 yards after the catch per reception, which is tops among Big 12 defenses. The Oklahoma secondary also forced three turnovers last weekend against Tennessee, including Julian Wilson's 100-yard touchdown interception return. Both teams will be missing key players. Oklahoma running Keith Ford is out with a leg injury, while West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley has been suspended indefinitely after being accused of assaulting a female last weekend. The Sooners still have Samaje Perine (177 yards) and Alex Ross (132 yards) to shoulder the rushing load, while the Mountaineers will get back 2013 starting cornerback Ishmael Banks from an academic suspension, which should help ease the loss of Worley.

Chat: CFB Saturday Live

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
7:00
PM ET
Chat live with our writers from 9 a.m. to noon ET and then again starting at 8 p.m. ET for the prime-time games. In between, keep this page open as we bring you the latest real-time reaction, analysis, pics and video from our ESPNers scattered throughout the country.

Mailbag: On K-State, OU-WVU, Tech woes

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
5:30
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In today’s Twitter mailbag, we discuss Kansas State's future after the hard-fought loss to Auburn, the big game between Oklahoma and West Virginia and Texas Tech's defensive problems.

On to the 'bag:

Trotter: The K-State game should make Oklahoma fans a little queasy. The week before meeting the Wildcats on Oct. 18, the Sooners play Texas. The same weekend, the Wildcats will be off. We saw Thursday night how good Bill Snyder is at drawing up a game plan with an extra week to prepare. And this time, his opponent won't have the extra week as well.

Trotter: The good news for Tech is that Oklahoma State's offensive line hasn't exactly dominated, either. But the Cowboys have good backs and they create creases by spreading the field. Though Daxx Garman can't run like J.W. Walsh, he can stretch the field to open up the running game with his arm. That said, if Tech gets steamrolled up front by an Oklahoma State offensive line that even Mike Gundy has termed as "very below average," the Red Raiders might very well get steamrolled by all comers the rest of the way.

Trotter: You're not going to like this answer, but I think it comes down to recruiting better players more than anything else, especially along the defensive line. There isn't a scheme out there that can account for a team's defensive front getting blown off the ball the way Tech's did against Arkansas. The Red Raiders can be better defensively than they were against the Hogs. But ultimately, you either have the horses or you don't.

Trotter: Brandon got the plum assignment of covering the stadium unveiling against SMU. At the moment, I'm not sure yet when exactly I'll be assigned to go down to Waco. But when I do, I'm going to see if I can find a spot in the Baylor Armada.

Trotter: It's a big loss, no doubt. Ford has been OU's best all-around back. But the Sooners are better equipped to deal with the loss of Ford than West Virginia is the loss of standout cornerback Daryl Worley.

Trotter: The fact that Kansas State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia hung tough against Auburn, Florida State and Alabama will do nothing but strengthen the perception of the Big 12 in the eyes of the playoff selection committee. I don't think the committee will get overly focused on scoring differentials. But Oklahoma (or Baylor) beating the Wildcats, Cowboys and Mountaineers would be viewed as quality wins, based on how those three opponents performed in their nonconference schedules.

Trotter: Did you not see the Duke score? I guess anything is possible. But there's reason why Kansas is 1-29 in its last 30 Big 12 games.

Trotter: Why would I trade away the league's best basketball program? And why would you want to trade away an automatic win for whatever team you pull for?


Matt H. writes: Is there a chance for Clint Trickett or Kevin White to be mentioned in the Heisman race if they keep performing at the high level they are playing at right now?

Trotter: White has no shot, if only because receivers don't win Heisman Trophies. But if Trickett lights up a really good Oklahoma defense Saturday, he might begin to generate a little buzz as a possible darkhorse contender.

 

Big 12 true freshman power rankings

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
3:30
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Going into the fourth weekend of the season, we’ve updated our Big 12 true freshman power rankings again, which we’ll be revising occasionally throughout the year. Again, this list combines both opportunity and impact.

The rankings:

1. K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor (previous rank: 2): Cannon has been nothing short of spectacular while temporarily taking over the role as Baylor’s No. 1 receiver with Levi Norwood, Clay Fuller, Corey Coleman and Antwan Goodley all out with injuries. In three games, Cannon leads the nation with 471 receiving yards, while averaging 33.6 yards per catch. No other Big 12 receiver is averaging more than 25 yards per catch. This is a future star in the making.

2. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma (3): Perine has been stout as Oklahoma’s power back, but will only see his role expand after the leg injury to Keith Ford. While splitting carries with Ford and Alex Ross, Perine has still rushed for 177 yards while averaging 5.5 yards a carry. Ross is expected to get the start at West Virginia, but don’t be surprised if Perine gets the most work.

3. Dravon Henry, FS, West Virginia (1): Henry has kept his starting job, though has been rather quiet since shining in West Virginia’s opener against Alabama. He’ll face another huge challenge this weekend against the balanced Sooners.

4. Dimitri Flowers, FB, Oklahoma (5): Flowers continues to be an instrumental part of Oklahoma’s powerful rushing attack. He hasn’t seen the ball much. But he has paved the way with his lead blocks for Ford, Perine and Ross and an Oklahoma ground game that averaging 5.6 yards per rushing attempt.

5. Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State (7): Lazard led the Cyclones in receiving in their 20-17 victory over the Hawkeyes. He also hauled in a key pass on Iowa State’s game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. With Quenton Bundrage out for the season, Lazard has taken over as Iowa State’s go-to receiver on the outside.

6. Davion Hall, WR, Baylor (4): Like Cannon, Hall has made the most of his opportunities as the rest of the Baylor receiving corps recovers from injuries. He’s currently 10th in the league with 192 receiving yards.

7. Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State (9): Lee didn't have much of an impact Thursday night against Auburn, but he still ranks fifth in the league with 2.5 sacks. Bill Snyder leans against playing true freshmen, but Lee has earned his trust.

8. Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech (10): Along with the rest of the Red Raiders, Stockton struggled against Arkansas with only seven yards rushing on six carries. But the week before against UTEP, he was outstanding with 135 yards rushing, including a 75-yard touchdown dash.

9. Corey Avery, RB, Kansas (8): While the rest of the Kansas offense did little, Avery was the lone bright spot in the loss at Duke. He led the Jayhawks with 87 yards rushing, after rushing for 91 the week before in his debut.

10. Jason Hall, S, Texas (NR): Hall had a sack and a couple of big hits against UCLA after entering the game in the second quarter. His aggression figures to warrant him more playing time after Texas returns from the open weekend.

On the radar: Tevin Madison, CB, Texas Tech; Colin Downing, P, Iowa State; Cameron Batson, PR/WR, Texas Tech; Matthew Boateng, CB, Kansas; Steven Parker II, Oklahoma
Oklahoma's defense will face a stern test when the Sooners take on West Virginia on Saturday.

Oklahoma's coaching staff likes its 3-4 defense because of the versatility it provides and our colleague at Grantland, Matt Hinton, took a closer look at the Sooners' reasons for a shift from 4-3 to 3-4 and how it helped create problems for Tennessee last weekend. Here's are a short glimpse at the piece, which you can read in its entirety here.

Bob Stoops on the change after the 2012 season:
“None of the reasons [for the transition] had to do with what we did the year before. The reasons were personnel-driven.”

Hinton on Eric Striker's influence:
In their only test to date in 2014, the Sooners registered five sacks last Saturday in a 34-10 win over Tennessee, only one of which was credited to Striker, as a half-sack. While his influence went well beyond that, that sack is an ideal example of how the Sooners use the threat of multiple stand-up rushers — “multiple” is Stoops’s favorite word to describe the current scheme — to get their best player free.

Hinton on the difference between Oklahoma's defense from 2013 to 2014:
The 3-4 experiment in 2013 was arguably a more radical shift for the coaches than for the players, most of whom had barely seen the field in any alignment: Of Oklahoma’s top 20 tacklers at the end of the season, only four had significant starting experience at the beginning of the year, and one of those four (linebacker Corey Nelson) was sidelined by a season-ending pectoral injury in the fifth game. The 2014 defense, by contrast, features 10 players who started at least four games in 2013, for whom the revamped scheme is the status quo.

Check it out. It's an interesting read if you want a better understanding of what makes Oklahoma's defense a nightmare for quarterbacks and offensive coordinators.

New Texas Tech DC must fix run defense

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
2:30
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Fourth-and-1 at Texas Tech's 39. Time for the Red Raiders, down seven points in the third quarter, to get a stop.

Arkansas lined up exactly how you would expect: A three-tight-end power set with a fullback. Nine blockers, one running back. No pass, no fakes, no funny stuff. Just a power run off right tackle. And Texas Tech played it right.

Safety J.J. Gaines met Arkansas back Jonathan Williams near the line of scrimmage. Williams juked left. Gaines whiffed. Then the Arkansas junior threw two stiff-arms at linebacker Sam Eguaoven and picked up 21 yards. Six plays later, the Hogs were back in the end zone.

[+] EnlargeAlex Collins
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsOver the past nine games, this has been a familiar view of running backs for Texas Tech defenders.
This wasn't the turning-point play in Texas Tech's 49-28 loss. Just another landed punch in an eventual beatdown.

Williams ran for 80 yards in the second half, teammate Alex Collins added 167 yards, Arkansas averaged a ridiculous 7.15 yards per carry and attempted just two passes. No need to throw. Everything was working against a Red Raiders defense whose biggest flaw of 2013 re-emerged.

"You've got to give them credit," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said after the loss. "They lined up and pounded us, and we just didn't have an answer today."

Fixing a Texas Tech run defense that has been a sieve in its past nine games is Challenge No. 1 for newly elevated defensive coordinator Mike Smith. Though Matt Wallerstedt exited Thursday because of off-field issues, he leaves behind one real on-field problem that Big 12 foes will try to exploit.

Since Oct. 26, 2013, Tech's first loss of last season at Oklahoma, the Red Raiders have the second-worst run defense in the FBS at 293.4 rushing yards allowed per game.

During that nine-game stretch, of which Tech has lost six, no defense in the country has given up more first downs on rushes (142). Only Southern Miss has allowed more touchdowns and more rushes of 10-plus yards.

In fact, Tech gave up 36 rushing touchdowns during that period, eight more than any other FBS team.

Though Arkansas has one of the best run games in the country, a power-heavy attack the likes of which Tech probably will not face again in Big 12 play, the fact is no FBS defense has faced more rushing plays in those nine games than Tech. Opponents know they must hit this weak spot hard. The Red Raiders know it's coming. They can't stop it.

In the third quarter against Arkansas, Williams' fourth-down dash was deadly because it was another play that kept Texas Tech’s defense on the field. The Hogs ran 23 plays in the quarter and kept the ball for a total of 12:45. That is an easy way to get your opponent gassed.

Linebacker V.J. Fehoko said he saw too many communication issues, too many times when defenders tried to do too much and didn't stick to their assignment.

"In this conference," Fehoko said Saturday, "the smallest mistakes go the longest ways."

Though this is a generally young defense, the starters in the front seven are all juniors and seniors. How are they going to react to another letdown against the run?

"You know, it's tough. It's tough when the ball's not going your way and the momentum's not going your way," Fehoko said. "But I think we've got to just persevere and fight through it. As a team we've got a lot of young guys, but that's no excuse. I think energy and fire comes from within."

So does Texas Tech's new leadership on defense. Smith was already the co-coordinator, so it's not a drastic change. He is expected to bring more of an NFL mindset to assignment and alignment than Wallerstedt. And no doubt he's already hard at work to address his defense's most obvious defect.

It's not that complicated. Next up is Oklahoma State. They and every other opponent are going to pound the rock. They will keep doing it, and the reputation will continue, until Texas Tech starts finding answers to stop it.
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Coming into the season, the Big 12 had three shots to produce a marquee victory against a top-5 opponent.

West Virginia against Alabama.
Oklahoma State against Florida State.
And Kansas State against Auburn.

In all three cases, the Big 12 showed it could hang with the best in the country. But ultimately, the league failed to deliver that signature nonconference victory to place at the feet of the playoff selection committee.

The Mountaineers and the Cowboys had their opportunities to pull off massive upsets.

But the Big 12’s best chance for such a hang-your-hat win came Thursday night in Manhattan, where K-State went toe-to-toe with Auburn in a showdown that wasn’t decided until the final two minutes.

The Wildcats had every opportunity to win the game. Instead, they blew their opportunities.

The opening salvos served as a bad omen of what was to come. After being forced into a quick punt on their first possession, Auburn punter Matthew Shiel dropped the long snap. K-State’s Colborn Couchman came bearing down off the edge with a chance to either tackle Shiel or at least block the punt. Instead Shiel, a native Australian with a rugby background, collected the fumble, dashed around Couchman and booted the ball on the fly all the way to the Kansas State 12-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Jake Waters fumbled the ball back to the Tigers, who capitalized with a field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.

“It’s so frustrating because you work so hard to get in those situations and to play a great team like that,” Waters said. “We had them on the ropes and had the chance to win, but we just didn’t make the plays we needed to make. It’s just really frustrating.”

More frustrated than anyone, K-State coach Bill Snyder was asked afterward whether Auburn won the game, or his Wildcats lost it.

“The latter,” Snyder replied.

Not politically correct coach-speak. Yet, not untrue, either.

The Wildcats had the perfect defensive game plan to slow -- and in many instances, stuff -- Auburn’s high-powered, zone-read ground attack. With good positioning and sure tackling, K-State snapped the Tigers’ 13-game, 200-yard rushing streak.

“As a defense, we came together and played well,” said Wildcats linebacker Jonathan Truman.

But such a sterling defensive performance was otherwise overshadowed by a very un-Snyder-like comedy of blunders from the K-State offense and special teams.

No gaffe more underscored the night than when Tyler Lockett bobbled up a well-thrown Waters strike in the end zone to turn a certain touchdown into a touchback interception.

Later at the end of the first half, Waters had Lockett breaking wide open toward the corner of the end zone. But instead of uncorking a throw, he pulled the ball back, allowing the Auburn pass rush to bat it loose.

Then, worst of all, there were Jack Cantele’s three missed goals in the swirling wind, which proved to be the difference in a six-point loss -- and a three-point win.

“We never gave up, we kept fighting,” Lockett said. “But mistakes were made.”

Once they get off the mat, the Wildcats will realize that, when they play clean, they’re a team capable of challenging Big 12 co-favorites Oklahoma and Baylor down the road. The defense has the potential to be stout all year. And the offense has a special playmaker in Lockett, who already has a history of shredding the Big 12.

But the Wildcats will long be kicking themselves for the field goals they didn’t make, the balls they didn’t catch and the chances that were before them Thursday. This was a game they could have won. Probably should have won. A game that could have catapulted them into the early playoff discussion. Instead, they’re left wondering about what could have been.

The Big 12, too.

West Virginia gave Alabama everything it wanted. Oklahoma State took Florida State to the brink.

And Kansas State outplayed the Tigers.

But mistakes were made. Opportunities were squandered. The Big 12 will exit the nonconference without that landmark win, when three could have been had.

Oh, what could have been.

Big 12's top recruiting visits 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
10:00
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It's a super-slow week of football for the Big 12.

How slow? Only three games were on tap this week, and one of those -- Kansas State hosting Auburn -- was played on Thursday.

Weeks like these are rare, but it gives both West Virginia and Kansas the opportunity to put on a show -- for the recruits in attendance and for those who will be watching on TV. West Virginia gets a huge test in a home game and conference opener against Oklahoma. Additionally, Kansas will look to improve to 2-1 as it hosts Central Michigan.

An imposing figure at 6-foot-4, 252 pounds, Geneo Grissom lined up in a blitzing position before the snap. Seconds later, the Oklahoma linebacker stepped back, re-aligning over Tulsa’s slot receiver. After the snap, Grissom dropped into his zone, passed off the inside route to a teammate before leaping into the passing lane to intercept a pass from Golden Hurricane quarterback Dane Evans and gallop 38 yards into the end zone.

It was just like Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops envisioned.

[+] EnlargeGeneo Grissom
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesGeneo Grissom's versatility was on full display with his 38-yard interception-return touchdown against Tulsa.
After making several position changes during his first four seasons at OU, Grissom has finally found a home as a linebacker in the Sooners’ 3-4 system. In doing so the senior joins Eric Striker to give the Sooners arguably the nation’s top pass-rushing linebacker duo while also providing the versatility to handle the various offensive attacks of the Big 12.

“He’s a great athlete,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “Geneo’s a big guy, he has great range, he can run, he’s got great hands. If our 120 players on our team had a pickup basketball game, he’d be one of the first couple picked. That’s the kind of athlete he is, even with that size.”

Cornerback Zack Sanchez probably puts it best.

“He’s a freak of nature, the way he can get to the ball and make plays,” Sanchez said. “Geneo is a freak athlete, he’s a ball player.”

In many ways, Grissom is too good an athlete for his own good as the Sooners kept tinkering to find the best way to put his skills to use. His athletic prowess resulted in stops at defensive end as a freshman, tight end as a sophomore and defensive end again as a junior before finally finding a home at linebacker this fall.

In Saturday’s Big 12 opener against West Virginia, Grissom’s versatility and talent will be in the spotlight. WVU coach Dana Holgorsen excels at finding ways to create mismatches and exploit defenses with the run or pass, but that task gets harder with Grissom on the field.

Last time these two teams met in 2012, the versatility of Tavon Austin gave the Sooners fits. This time around it could be the versatility of Grissom that creates chaos for WVU’s offense. He has the size and strength to handle the run and the athleticism to be comfortable in coverage against the pass. No matter what approach the Mountaineers’ offense takes, run or pass, Grissom can remain on the field and impact the game.

“For me personally, this is going to be a good game for me to test where I’m at and where I need to get better,” Grissom said. “I’ll measure myself and the things I need to work on.”

Don’t be surprised if Grissom and Striker excel against the Mountaineers, as their ability to rush the passer or drop in coverage is one of the reasons the Sooners made the change to a 3-4 defense after the 2012 season.

“Every game is like that with those two guys, they give us a lot of versatility,” Mike Stoops said. “That’s what we like about this defense, and it will be put to the test again.”

Grissom has started all three games for the Sooners, contributing 12 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, along with his interception.

“If he hasn’t shown it already, this [game] will add on to what he’s capable of doing,” Sanchez said. “Playing tight end a couple years ago helps him go up and get the ball and make crazy plays like that. He’s so athletic, he’s smart, he knows where to be, he just flies around the field.”

While Striker creates havoc all over the field from his position as “field” linebacker, Grissom has more than held his own as the “boundary” linebacker. He finally got comfortable at his new position near the end of two-a-days in August and has performed like a veteran during nonconference action.

“He’s one of those guys who’s always watching film,” Sanchez said. “He’s always watching film and if he makes a mistake, he’s fixing it. He’s not one of those guys that makes the same mistake twice. He’s real tenacious in everything he does.”

Latest Dish: Five things I learned

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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Here are five things I learned in college football this week:

1. Sure, No. 5 Auburn greatly benefited from No. 20 Kansas State’s red zone miscues and three missed field goals in Thursday night's 20-14 victory at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. But give the Tigers some credit for making plays when it mattered most, especially on defense.

Auburn limited the Wildcats to only 40 rushing yards on 30 carries (1.3 yards per carry) and surrendered only one run longer than 10 yards to KSU tailback Charles Jones, who came into the game averaging 6 yards per attempt. Also, Auburn only allowed two passes of more than 15 yards, and held quarterback Jake Waters to minus-7 rushing yards on 11 attempts.

Auburn might not yet have a championship-caliber defense, but it is certainly making strides under second-year coordinator Ellis Johnson.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsThe Seminoles are used to getting off to a fast start in games when Jameis Winston is under center.
2. No. 1 FSU is used to starting fast with quarterback Jameis Winston on the field. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Seminoles had a halftime lead of at least seven points in 15 of the previous 16 games Winston started at FSU. The only team that stayed within six points of the Seminoles in the first half was Auburn, which had an 11-point halftime lead in last season’s BCS National Championship. FSU rallied for a 34-31 victory in the second half to claim the school’s third national title.

We’ll see if No. 22 Clemson can keep it close in Saturday night’s ACC showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. Winston is suspended from playing in the first half after making vulgar comments in the FSU student union Tuesday, and redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire is expected to make his first career start. Maguire hasn't started a game since November 2011, when he was a senior at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey.

3. Although hindsight is 20/20, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo accepted blame for not having tailback Todd Gurley more involved in the offense when the Bulldogs faced first-and-goal at South Carolina’s 4-yard line in the closing minutes of last week’s 38-35 loss. UGA attempted a play-action pass on first-and-goal, and quarterback Hutson Mason was penalized for intentional grounding. After two more plays, the Bulldogs missed a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the score, and the Gamecocks were able to run out the clock.

Bobo's first-down call was an aggressive one, and it can certainly be argued that he should have put the ball in the hands of Gurley, who might be the country's best running back. But if the play-action pass had worked, we'd be talking about how brilliant Bobo's call was. And, of course, if Bobo had called for Mason to hand the ball to Gurley on four straight plays and the Bulldogs didn't score, we'd be talking about how vanilla and uncreative his play calling was.

4. West Virginia's defense surrendered 447 yards of offense in last week’s 40-37 win at Maryland, but Mountaineers defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said 188 yards came on three plays. Quarterback C.J. Brown threw a 77-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs and had a 75-yard scoring run of his own. The Mountaineers didn't give up a touchdown after Brown’s long run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half (the Terps kicked a field goal and scored on a long punt return in the fourth quarter).

West Virginia will need a similar defensive effort if it’s going to upset No. 4 Oklahoma in Morgantown on Saturday night. Last season, the Sooners defeated the Mountaineers 16-7, their fewest points total during the previous two seasons.

5. Oregon’s recent dominance over Washington State is making it one of the most lopsided conference series in the country. The No. 2 Ducks have won seven straight games over the Cougars heading into Saturday night’s game in Pullman, averaging 52.4 points per game with an average margin of victory of 32.1 points. Ouch.

Big 12 morning links

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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Well, if it's any consolation, Kansas State probably would've beaten the Bucs on Thursday night. On to the links:
  • Kansas State players walked away from their 20-14 loss to No. 5 Auburn with an understandable message: "We should have won that game." The Wildcats were given every opportunity to win that game, even after their three missed field goals, but made way too many mistakes. Regardless of the result, I have to agree with the Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff when he writes that we need more games like that one in college football.
  • The departure of defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt at Texas Tech is just the latest in a long, frustrating run of coaching changes for the Red Raiders. Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal looked back on those changes and Kliff Kingsbury's need for continuity. I'm not ready to write off Mike Smith, because I think he can get the buy-in from players, but no doubt this was another bizarre twist for the Tech coaching carousel.
  • Two good West Virginia reads for your Friday: Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman went to Morgantown to examine Dana Holgorsen's increasingly comfortable fit with West Virginia. Now that WVU has weathered the conference change and its depth is back in order, Holgorsen and Luck seem genuinely happy with where the program is heading. Also enjoyed this examination of Clint Trickett's perfectionist mentality by Allan Taylor of MetroNews. Trickett didn't think he played "worth a damn" against Maryland and saw only the plays he didn't make, despite surpassing 500 yards. Not shocking, coming from a coach's kid, but it's clear his recent success won't go to his head.
  • The fact this meeting with Central Michigan is a big-time, high-stakes game for Kansas is not lost on its players. Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal wrote on KU's issue with emotional letdowns and inconsistent effort through two games. The veterans seem mad in the right way. But are they going to get 100 percent from everyone else? They're about to find out what kind of leadership they have.
  • Lastly, the report from E.J. Holland of Dave Campbell's Texas Football that Oklahoma co-OC Josh Heupel is a candidate for the SMU job is intriguing. Doesn't mean there's been contact or mutual interest, just that Heupel is evidently on the radar. I'm of the opinion that the Mustangs need to go with a young, exciting coordinator who can recruit the Metroplex and the rest of Texas like crazy. From that standpoint, there are better candidates than Heupel out there, but would many have interest? If Clemson's Chad Morris is ready to make the jump, SMU probably needs to pursue him as Plan A before everybody else does.

Plays that changed the game: Auburn

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
11:24
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It might not have been pretty. It might not have been what everybody expected. But all that matters to Auburn is the final score, and the Tigers left Bill Snyder Family Stadium with a 20-14 win over No. 20 Kansas State. It was the program's first road win against a ranked nonconference opponent since 1984.

A little luck

video

Kansas State had a chance early in the game to take a lead and grab the momentum, but that chance bounced right off the chest of Tyler Lockett as the star wide receiver tried to make a catch at the goal line, but the ball deflected off his hands into the air. To make matters worse, Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones was there to haul it in for the interception. It turned out to be a theme for the Wildcats, who missed three field-goal attempts, lost a fumble and threw another critical interception later in the game. Meanwhile, Auburn turned the ball over only once and was a perfect 3-for-3 in the red zone.

A little skill

video

Auburn wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams had to be kicking himself after dropping a potential touchdown in the first half, but the junior college transfer, playing in his first road game, more than made up for it with a spectacular touchdown grab at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The score capped off a 15-play, 80-yard drive and gave Auburn a 17-7 lead. Williams, who later had a clutch 39-yard catch to seal the win, finished with eight catches for 110 yards and the lone touchdown.

Auburn 20, Kansas State 14

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
11:15
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video
Auburn fended off Kansas State 20-14 to improve to 3-0 on the season.

Big 12 players in the Week 4 spotlight

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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Our weekly effort to identify one player poised for a breakout on each Big 12 team got a few right last week -- Cory Morrissey was huge for Iowa State, Brandon Sheperd scored again -- but we can do better, even on a bye-heavy week. Here are five players worth keeping an eye on in Week 4.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Reese Strickland/USA TODAY SportsA big night could be in store for Tyler Lockett against an Auburn secondary that's down a starter.
Kansas State WR Tyler Lockett: If some people still don't know, they're about to find out. Lockett was better than ever in big ballgames last season against Oklahoma, Texas and Michigan. He's going to show up tonight against Auburn, line up all over and attack an Auburn secondary that's missing a starting safety. Lockett has All-America talent and this is another big chance to prove that.

Oklahoma RB Samaje Perine: Now is the freshman's time to shine. Perine, a freakish 243-pound power back, will share the load with Alex Ross now that Keith Ford is sidelined and could have a big night in Morgantown. He's a hard dude to bring down and his speed is probably underrated. He should find the end zone a few times against West Virginia.

West Virginia CB Ishmael Banks: After missing West Virginia's first three games due to an academic suspension, "Icky" will be back on the field at a critical time, right as Daryl Worley is suspended indefinitely. A senior who started every game last season, Banks will have to be one of the DBs responsible for stopping Sterling Shepard and trying to make this explosive Oklahoma offense more one-dimensional.

Kansas QB Montell Cozart: It's a gut-check week for Cozart, who completed just 11 of 27 passes against Duke, couldn't get the ball to Nick Harwell and looked far too nervous under pressure. Charlie Weis' staff is committed to making this work with Cozart, but you can't get the yips in a big game like that. He needs this Central Michigan game to be his bounce-back performance.

Kansas State DE Ryan Mueller: Not just because Mueller is one of K-State's best, but because of this particular matchup. Playing against a team that has mastered the zone read, the pop pass and all sorts of option wrinkles creates a real challenge for any defensive end. K-State's front seven must maintain gap integrity, and Mueller in particular has to make responsible decisions and get tackles for losses at the mesh point when he's in position to make a play.

Kansas State is 'Walk-On U'

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
2:45
PM ET
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- As an all-state quarterback at a small-town Kansas high school, Jordy Nelson had exactly two offers to play college football.

One was from Emporia State. The other, Washburn University.

[+] EnlargeBill Snyder
Bo Rader/Icon SportswireBill Snyder estimates he's awarded 200 scholarships to walk-ons in 23 seasons at K-State.
 But before he made up his mind, Nelson called up another player who also went to Riley County High to see about a third option. Jon McGraw had no Division I scholarship offers, either. But he walked-on a few miles down the road at Kansas State. Proved himself. And, eventually, became an impact player.

Soon, Nelson would follow McGraw’s footsteps. Many others, too.

Tonight, when fifth-ranked Auburn takes the field in Manhattan with its gaggle of former 5-star recruits, “Walk-On U." will counter with a team loaded with players who never had anything given to them.

And had to earn everything they got.

“There’s a lot of pride in being a walk-on,” said Nelson, who after an All-American as a wide receiver at Kansas State has gone on to star for the Green Bay Packers. “A certain spirit inside.”

That spirit overflows with this K-State club, which has 16 current and former walk-ons on its two-deep alone, not including special teams. That’s almost half the depth chart.

Many of the Wildcats’ best players are former walk-ons, too, with the back stories that embody the “Manhattan Miracle” program coach Bill Snyder built out of little tradition, rusty facilities and thin air.

“Coach Snyder knows how to get the best out of everyone,” said Ian Campbell, who arrived at K-State as a walk-on in 2004 and left as an All-Big 12 defensive end in 2008. “That helps create diamonds in the rough.”

The Wildcats have plenty of diamonds in the rough on this team.

B.J. Finney had only one scholarship offer coming out of Andale High near Wichita, except that offer from Ohio University evaporated before he had a chance to even visit the school. Finney, a state champion wrestler, could go wrestle in college, or take a scholarship at Pittsburg (Kansas) State. Despite the potential financial stress on his mom, he walked on at K-State, where he quickly earned a scholarship and has become a three-time All-Big 12 center.

Ryan Mueller ended up at a Kansas State camp by accident. He thought the camp being held near his hometown of Leawood, Kansas was for little kids. He was just looking to volunteer as a counselor. Instead, he discovered it was a recruiting camp for budding college talent. He seemed out of his league. But his motor caught the eye of the coaching staff, which encouraged him to walk-on. He did, and last fall, he tied the K-State season sack record with 11 1/2.

Jonathan Truman, from Kechi, Kansas was praying he’d get an offer from the Jayhawks. But when assistant Joe Bob Clements, who had been recruiting him, left to join the staff at K-State, the calls from Lawrence stopped coming. Clements didn’t have a scholarship to give Truman. But he encouraged the undersized inside linebacker to walk-on in Manhattan instead of attending junior college. Thirty pounds and four years later, Truman is one of the strongest players on the K-State football team. And this season, he leads the Wildcats in tackles.

“That just shows the type of program we have here,” Truman said. “Everybody here is treated as if they were on scholarship, even if they’re not.

“There’s a blue-collar, hard-working mentality.”

It’s a mentality that has defined K-State football for more than two decades.

 “We have good, responsible people, who work hard, are unselfish and are great teammates,” said Snyder, who estimates he’s awarded 200 scholarships to walk-ons in 23 seasons at K-State. “They have a never-give-up mentality, and a real investment in trying to improve on and off the field. And they know that when they get here, if they perform well and meet the criteria, they have an excellent chance to at some point go on scholarship.”

McGraw was one of the first players to meet that criteria. He grew up near Manhattan going to K-State games in the pre-Snyder era when the Wildcats rarely won games or had the stadium half-full. Once he arrived as a walk-on in 1997, he saw the mentality that Snyder was instilling with every player, on scholarship or not.

“I remember watching a scrimmage my first year there during two-a-days and thinking, ‘There’s no way I can play with these guys. They’re too fast, too strong,” McGraw recalled. “But Coach Snyder has a process that develops football players. And when you combine that with guys that really have a heart and passion with game, it turns into something really special.”

Gradually, McGraw turned into something. By 2000, he was a starting safety on a team that won 11 games and beat Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl. Two years later, McGraw was in the NFL, blazing a path for future K-State walk-ons like Nelson.

"When you see someone you know like that make it, you know it's possible," Nelson said. "That's a big part of it."

The snowball has continued to roll to this generation of Wildcats with Finney, Mueller and Truman, who together have won eight of their past nine games heading into tonight.

"When you’ve got guys [who] have faced some adversity, overcome some obstacles, made believers out of doubters, it creates a powerful team that can play at a level higher than its talent," McGraw said. "And it can equalize the playing the field against a team with maybe more talent.”

Tonight, the Wildcats will face a team with more talent.

Year after year, Auburn reels in recruiting classes that are the envy of college football. K-State, meanwhile, hasn’t produced a ballyhooed recruiting class since Snyder arrived as coach.

According to ESPN RecruitingNation, Auburn has 49 former 4- and 5-star recruits on its roster. Kansas State has one: junior-college defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, who has yet to play a down for the Wildcats this season.

But even though Auburn won the mighty SEC in 2013 and played in the national championship game, “Walk-On U.” won’t be an easy out. It never is.

"When you’ve had to prove yourself like that," McGraw said, "it makes for an extremely physically and mentally tough football player."

One tough team, too.

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