Big 12: Baylor Bears

Baylor QB Russell ready when needed

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
6:30
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The current No. 1 passer in the country, according to QBR, is neither a superstar nor a starter.

Baylor's Seth Russell, the unknown understudy to Bryce Petty, is not out to start a quarterback controversy. Three games into his sophomore season, he's served as both a mop-up reliever and spot starter during Petty's trials with a back injury. He knows this will pay off later.

"All it can do is help with improvement and learning and building my trust," Russell said. "Hopefully I'll build their trust in me that, whenever I get my opportunity, I'll make the most of it."

[+] EnlargeSeth Russell
Tony Gutierrez/Associated PressNeither star nor starter, Baylor's Seth Russell is one of the country's most efficient quarterbacks.
Russell's adjusted QBR of 96.2 puts him right ahead of his teammate Petty (93.6) and Texas A&M's Kenny Hill (92.9), and he's No. 3 nationally in passer efficiency.

"Aw, shoot, that's just numbers," Russell said. "That doesn't mean a whole lot. It's all about going out there, working with the team, getting the 'W.'"

When he's been on the field – nearly 45 percent of Baylor's offensive snaps this season -- there's been zero drop-off in production. In fact, the Bears average a whopping 8.5 yards per snap when Russell is in the game and 7.25 when it's Petty or third-stringer Chris Johnson.

After Petty exited at halftime in the opener against SMU, Russell was put in charge. He was nervous in the days that followed, knowing it was possible he might have to make his first career start.

"What really calmed me down was Coach [Art] Briles talking to us and saying,'This is a time to inspire people,'" Russell said. "He said just because you're a backup doesn't mean you can't play. It was definitely a burden taken off me and a sense of relief."

Petty was officially ruled out hours before kickoff against Northwestern State and Russell got his shot. He earned Big 12 co-Offensive Player of the Week honors after throwing for 438 yards and accounting for six touchdowns in one half of play in a 70-6 win.

"He was exceptional in how he handled himself and the decisions that he made," Briles said last week. "That's the thing that I told him I was proud of."

Briles said there were two plays in which Russell made the wrong decision against Northwestern State. That's two too many by his standard, but not bad for a first start. Last Friday, as Petty's backup once again, Russell played two series and led two touchdown drives.

"Whenever I got out there, I have to have the mindset that it's a win-or-lose game," Russell said. "It's the mindset that, even if we're up 50 points, you always have something to prove."

Like Petty, Russell's road to Baylor was paved by a coaching change. He'd committed to Kansas and then-coach Turner Gill in the summer before his senior season at Garland (Texas) High School.

When Gill was fired at the end of the year, Charlie Weis came in and brought former Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist with him. Russell says his scholarship offer was not pulled, but he had to reconsider his decision.

"It definitely tested my faith," he said. "I talked to the coaches there and gave them the best opportunity possible, but when I went up there I didn't feel like it was the right fit. Baylor opened up their arms and I felt like it was the right place for me."

Coincidently, Baylor had a scholarship open up when Robert Griffin III went pro early. Kevin Murray, the Dallas-area quarterback coaching guru and former Texas A&M quarterback, worked with Russell in high school and said he couldn't get any other Big 12 programs to bite on taking him. He played in a system at Garland that didn't showcase his passing ability.

Baylor was the best fit, Murray said, because Briles and offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery recognized Russell had a high ceiling to match unusual athleticism.

"I don't think anyone outside of Waco understands how good this kid is," Murray said.

They'll start to find out soon enough. As Baylor enters Big 12 play, its backup knows he's ready for whatever comes next. He must be rooting for a few more blowouts and fourth-quarter snaps, right?

"Aw, shoot, I'm just happy if we get the win," Russell said. "Obviously I want to play, but if we get the win, that's all the matters."

Big 12 bye-week blueprint

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
2:45
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With six Big 12 teams having this weekend off, now is a good time to take stock of what's working and what isn't after Week 3. What are these six teams happy with and what still needs to get fixed? Here's a closer look:

Baylor
Next game:
Sept. 27 at Iowa State
What's working: Pretty much everything. Baylor's offense kept rolling even when Bryce Petty was sidelined, the run game broke in new toys in Johnny Jefferson and Silas Nacita, KD Cannon became a national phenom in three weeks and the defense ranks top five nationally in scoring, total defense, yards per play and run defense to go along with an FBS-high 15 sacks.
What needs work: This is welcomed recovery time for a team that got the injury bug in fall camp. Petty is 100 percent now and excited to get go-to target Antwan Goodley (quad) and receivers Corey Coleman (hamstring) and Clay Fuller (collar bone) back on the field. The Bears will likely get running back Devin Chafin (high ankle sprain) back in time to travel to Ames, too. With the exception of Levi Norwood, they'll have the full arsenal back in time for Big 12 play.

Iowa State
Next game:
Sept. 27 vs. Baylor
What's working: The Cyclones go into the week off riding an emotional high they aim to turn into momentum. Their 20-17 upset of Iowa provided so many encouraging signs. Quarterback Sam B. Richardson had arguably the best game of his career, the defense came up with its first takeaway in a big moment and we saw another impressive performance from Cory Morrissey. Paul Rhoads is a happy camper after the rivalry win, and ISU avoided an 0-3 start in dramatic fashion.
What needs work: A game plan for slowing down Baylor will be the main focus this week. ISU has a few injury issues of its own, but the good news is Jarvis West should be OK. Rhoads is focusing in on a four-week, four-game stretch in which the Clones take on Baylor, Oklahoma State, Toledo and Texas. After a win this good, there's always another upset to chase.

Oklahoma State
Next game:
Sept. 25 vs. Texas Tech
What's working: The youth and inexperience Oklahoma State has on paper is not showing on the field. The Pokes haven't slipped since losing J.W. Walsh, they gave Florida State a tough four-quarter ballgame, they won with relative ease after that and they have entered the Top 25. Thsi is not a perfect team yet but is a rising one that's going to scare a lot of teams in conference play.
What needs work: Facing Tech will give OSU a much better sense of how good its defense can be in 2014 after a nice showing in nonconference play. Gundy wants to see more depth develop in the back seven, and on offense he's expressed concerns about blocking the run game.

TCU
Next game:
Sept. 27 at SMU
What's working: The offensive transition has been smooth and effective. TCU has averaged 39 points and 491 yards per game with its new Air Raid, and Trevone Boykin has been everything the coaches hoped for -- and maybe a little more. The defense hasn't taken a step back without Devonte Fields and has seen several players step up their games up front. Smooth sailing so far for a team that definitely looks bowl-bound again.
What needs work: TCU's pass defense ranks No. 6 in FBS, but Gary Patterson has said he still wants to make some fixes in pass coverage. They'll devote the required amount of time on SMU, a struggling team led by an interim coach and a third-string quarterback, but the Frogs know they need to work ahead a little on Oklahoma and Baylor, including preparing for the 3-4 fronts of the Sooners' defense.

Texas
Next game:
Sept. 27 at Kansas
What's working: Despite taking two losses, this defense is playing at a high level with a top-20 yards-per-play rate, a top-15 pass defense and 13 sacks. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown looks like a potential All-American so far. Tyrone Swoopes is taking steps in the right direction and shined at times against UCLA, while John Harris has finally emerged as a go-to receiver.
What needs work: Where to begin? Texas' patchwork offensive line hasn't gelled and desperately needs these two weeks. The Longhorns need suspended WR/RB Daje Johnson back and need a healthy Desmond Jackson (ankle). Cedric Reed was better against UCLA but hasn't broken out yet. And Charlie Strong needs to start coming up with plans for stopping Baylor and Oklahoma or else this team could start 2-4.

Texas Tech
Next game:
Sept. 25 at Oklahoma State
What's working: Tech is getting nice production in the run game from DeAndre Washington and Justin Stockton and in the pass game from Bradley Marquez and Jakeem Grant. Offensive line play has improved and Tech hasn't given up a sack. Its pass defense ranks 11th nationally, which is probably misleading.
What needs work: Run defense, penalties, tackling, Davis Webb's consistency -- lots of fundamental issues here that are starting to cause concern. Webb seemed to be forcing throws against Arkansas and will need to put in some time this week to clean up concerns about his footwork and decision-making. And that porous run defense has to get cleaned up quick because opponents will keep attacking it hard over the next month.

Big 12 stat check: Week 4

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 4:

Baylor: The combined adjusted QBR rating for Baylor's quarterbacks this season is 94.6, best in the nation ahead of Texas A&M and Oregon. The trio of Bryce Petty, Seth Russell and (in one appearance) Chris Johnson is averaging 11.14 yards per attempt, most among all Power 5 conference teams. Even with Petty missing a game and a half, this offense didn't suffer much.

Iowa State: In 14 of 28 games Iowa State has won under coach Paul Rhoads, including the 20-17 defeat of rival Iowa last weekend, ISU was the underdog. The Hawkeyes were a 13-point favorite. Past point spreads say this was the fifth time ISU has pulled off an upset under Rhoads as a double-digit underdog, joining the 2011 wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, the 2010 defeat of Texas and the 2009 upset of Nebraska.

Kansas: KU is averaging 144.6 passing yards per game since coach Charlie Weis took over in 2012, which ranks sixth-worst in FBS over that period and second-worst among Power 5 programs ahead of Georgia Tech. In a 41-3 loss to Duke, the Jayhawks finished with fewer than 100 passing yards for the seventh time in Weis' tenure.

Kansas State: Under Bill Snyder, K-State is 4-0 in non-conference home games against Power 5 conference opponents, with wins over USC, UCLA, Miami and Minnesota. But No. 5 Auburn will be Kansas State's highest-ranked non-conference opponent visiting Manhattan since 1969, when No. 2 Penn State beat KSU, 17-14. Snyder was a 29-year-old high school coach at the time.

Oklahoma: Since 2009, the Sooners are just 6-7 in road games that kick off at 6 p.m. CT or later, according to ESPN's Dane Beavers. In all, OU is 17-8 in road night games under Bob Stoops and started off 9-0 in those games under Stoops until at 2007 loss at Texas Tech. OU's road game at West Virginia kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CT.

Oklahoma State: Since rushing for four TDs against Iowa State on Oct. 26, 2013, Desmond Ronald leads all active FBS running backs with 14 rushing touchdowns. Only Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds (24) has found the end zone more times among active players.

TCU: TCU has the No. 1 efficiency defense in the country according to ESPN analytics. Through two games, the Horned Frogs also rank No. 1 nationally in yards per play allowed (3.04) and No. 2 in total defense (205.5 ypg). Those numbers should hold fairly steady after TCU takes on a SMU team missing its head coach and starting quarterback next weekend.

Texas: The Longhorns' run defense currently ranks 91st nationally, allowing 181.3 rushing yards per game. One reason for that? Their first three opponents have leaned heavily on the run. Texas is facing, on average, 50 rushes per game this season, second-most among Power 5 defenses behind Texas Tech.

Texas Tech: Having the second-worst run defense in the country isn't the only problem for Tech. The Red Raiders have this problem because they've given up 468 rushing yards after contact, third-most in FBS. The 416 rushing yards allowed before contact also ranks sixth-most in FBS. Only FAU's defense is averaging fewer tackles for loss per game.

West Virginia: Clint Trickett's career-high 511 passing yards against Maryland isn't that uncommon in the history of Dana Holgorsen-coached QBs. Since becoming an offensive coordinator in 2005, Holgorsen has now had five QBs surpass 500 in one game: Trickett, Case Keenum (four times), Graham Harrell (twice), Geno Smith and Cody Hodges.

Big 12 morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
8:00
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No matter how many times I watch this, it's still funny. Why? What did it accomplish?
  • The quarterback curse is alive and well at Kansas, writes Tom Keegan of KUsports.com. Six different quarterbacks have started KU's last six season openers and Keegan believes that number could rise to seven next fall. I disagree. True enough, Montell Cozart was bad in KU's 41-3 loss to Duke with a 14.7 Adjusted QBR that is the worst single game QBR from a starting quarterback in the Big 12 this season. But I'm not ready to say Cozart is not the man to lead the Jayhawk offense in the future. He's still young and talented so I'd like to see him respond like he was disgusted with his performance by having a superb game against Central Michigan, then take that momentum into KU's Big 12 opener against Texas. If he can excel against the Longhorns, he can take a giant step toward shrinking his list of doubters. But if he continues this downward trend, then Keegan will be right.
  • It's no surprise but Kansas State is trying to downplay the "big game" mentality surrounding Thursday's clash with Auburn, reports Kellis Robinett of the Wichita Eagle. Bill Snyder preaches focus and emphasizes the importance of each day, but it will be interesting to see if KSU can ignore the distractions of hosting the BCS runner-up on national television. I wouldn't be surprised to see some nervy moments but I don't expect nervous miscues to decide the game one way or the other.
  • Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman has his list of Oklahoma's 10 best players. Kersey ranks linebacker Eric Striker atop the list, which includes eight defensive players and does not include quarterback Trevor Knight. It's a surprise to see the sophomore on the honorable mention list but I can't disagree. I thought OU's defense would be good but its even better than I expected and every guy on the list is deserving. Quite frankly, the list could easily include 10 defenders, although receiver Sterling Shepard and tackle Daryl Williams, the lone offensive players on the list, are legit All-Big 12 candidates.
  • Texas Tech is taking a different approach to special teams this season, writes Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Several Red Raiders starters have found themselves on special teams with new special teams coach Darrin Chiaverini looking to find his best 11 for every unit. Some might question this approach but I think it's a good one. Special teams tend to get overlooked but games can turn in an instant on one special teams play. With its defense struggling, strong and consistent special teams units could be just what Tech needs.
  • Baylor freshman receiver KD Cannon was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list on Tuesday. It's no surprise and well-deserved for Cannon, who has been an explosive playmaker during his first three college games. He has 14 receptions for 471 yards and five touchdowns with an average of 33.6 yards per reception. Many people point to the Bears' lackluster nonconference schedule for Cannon's great numbers but it's pretty simple: If it was that easy everyone would be doing it. I don't expect Cannon to continue to be this dominant. There's no doubt he will continue to make plays when the competitive level increases in Big 12 play.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
4:00
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In Tuesday's mailbag we'll talk Bryce Petty's Heisman hopes, West Virginia's future and Texas' offense. As always, thank you for all of your questions. You can submit questions for next Tuesday here.

On to the mailbag:

Greg writes: OK, I know this is a crazy question but it crossed my mind. Say at the end of the regular season you have a one-loss West Virginia team (I know, I know, just humor me). Do you believe they would have a shot at the playoff?

Brandon Chatmon: Why not? That would mean wins over Oklahoma and Baylor, a pair of Top 10 teams currently, along with a sole loss to Alabama. The key would be a strong season from the Crimson Tide to reaffirm the Mountaineers’ effort in the season opener. If the Crimson Tide somehow tumble down the SEC standings, that would hurt a one-loss WVU’s chances, no doubt about it. A solid season from Maryland would help the cause as well. After all, it’s not like all of the other Power 5 conferences have been dominating the competition, so any one-loss Big 12 champion could have a strong case.

Singletary in Austin writes: I recognize it's faced subpar competition, but how would you rate Baylor's defense and defensive depth against the last couple years? To my eyes they look bigger, faster and deeper.

Chatmon: I’d agree. Even though the Bears haven’t been tested, the talent upgrade is obvious. I really like what I’ve seen from Shawn Oakman, Jamal Palmer and Xavien Howard thus far, but those three are just a few of the athletes on Baylor’s defense that I would consider an upgrade over previous years. It’s becoming really clear how well Art Briles and company have done on the recruiting trail lately.

NoZe in Austin writes: What chance do you give Bryce Petty of winning the Heisman? Do they have to run the table (which would include a first-ever win in Norman)?

Chatmon: Petty just needs to play extremely well in big games. It wasn’t numbers that kept him away from New York a year ago (4,200 passing yards and 46 total touchdowns is enough). He looked like a superhero at times but looked human against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas last season. It really doesn’t matter what he does right now, he just needs to excel against the Big 12’s best and have his Heisman moment with everyone watching. If that happens, even if BU is not undefeated he could cement his spot in the Heisman race.

Ben in Waco, Texas, writes: Why isn't Oklahoma State's defense, and particularly our D-line, getting any love? Going into the Florida State game, everyone knew our D-line was the strength of our team, yet when FSU had trouble with them, national media made no mention of OSU having anything to do with FSU's struggles. They've chalked it up to a bad game, despite OSU's defense continuing to look the part of a solid D. We heard about how good Oklahoma's defense was against Tulsa, and how good Baylor's D looked against SMU, but OSU's performance against FSU no big deal???

Chatmon: I was candid about my concerns about OSU’s defense, although not necessarily the defensive line, before the season opener and they accepted the challenge against FSU. I apologized on Twitter to the Pokes defense for questioning it, so I can’t really speak to what others are doing. If OSU’s defensive line wants more love, it can earn it with dominant performances in Big 12 play because it looks like, for the second straight season, OSU’s destiny will be decided by its defense, not its more ballyhooed offense in 2014.

Josh in Morgantown, Kentucky, writes: How do you think WVU's offense will fare against the Oklahoma defense? Do you see the WVU defense getting enough stops for a win?

Chatmon: I think it will be a great back-and-forth battle to watch between WVU’s offense and OU’s defense. The Sooners will force other playmakers to emerge, and I think WVU has some guys, like Wendell Smallwood and Daikiel Shorts, who are ready to do that. I expect both sides to win their share of battles. Ultimately I think WVU’s defensive line, which impressed me against Maryland, will decide the game. If that group plays well, WVU can upset the Sooners. If not, OU’s running game and deep passing will prove too much for the Mountaineers.

Kurt in Lubbock writes: Hey guys, love the blog. I'm going to support and back my team no matter what, but do you think Texas Tech has any chance of making a bowl game this year? And do you think our defense can ever get better? Or are we doomed to a three- to four-win season this year?

Chatmon: I’m not ready to say Tech has no chance at a bowl game, but a lot has to change if the Red Raiders even hope to go bowling. I think we will learn everything we need to know about Texas Tech when it visits Oklahoma State Sept. 25. How much pride do the Red Raiders have? Do they have the depth to make the needed changes on defense? We will find out at Boone Pickens Stadium. If those answers are negative, that’s when I’d start thinking just three or four wins is a distinct possibility.

Don in Muscatine writes: Can Iowa State win four Big 12 games (as well as Toledo) and push for a bowl game?

Chatmon: I love the fight the Cyclones have shown early, but I just don’t see where those wins would come from. The Big 12 is even deeper than I expected with West Virginia and Oklahoma State looking like they will be better than I thought. Toledo should be a win, but it’s hard for me to see them reaching four conference wins unless Sam Richardson really takes his game to another level during the rest of the season.

Aaron in Temple, Texas, writes: How scary would the Longhorns be if they had a better offense?

Chatmon: I wouldn’t call them scary, but I’d consider them Big 12 title contenders. But that’s not the scenario for Charlie Strong’s bunch. They rank eighth or lower in several major offensive categories, including points (20.7), third-down conversions (27.3 percent) and yards per play (4.6). There have been some positive signs from Tyrone Swoopes, and he’s starting to make me rethink my belief that Jerrod Heard is the future under center. Nonetheless, UT’s offense is not explosive, dynamic, powerful or efficient. Until that changes, nobody can consider the Longhorns a real threat in the Big 12.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
10:00
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video
The upcoming week for the Big 12 will be quiet, as only three games featuring conference teams will take place -- one of those occurring on Thursday. Fortunately, the conference is coming off a dynamic week of football that featured big-time commitments for Oklahoma.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
1:00
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Not many new commitments to break down this time around in our weekly check-in on Big 12 recruiting, but that doesn't mean these coaching staffs haven't been busy. Here's the latest on who's taking visits and who's impressing so far in their senior seasons:

BAYLOR
Total commits:
12
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Blake Lynch is making the Bears look awfully smart for accepting his early commitment in 2013. The Gilmer, Texas, four-star athlete wowed this weekend against Tatum with 93 rushing yards, 115 receiving yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score. He played quarterback as a junior but has transitioned into a true offensive weapon since transferring to Gilmer.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: No commitments came in this weekend, but it'll be interesting to see how Iowa State's last-second win over Iowa impacts their in-state recruiting battles going forward. For example, could that win and some positive momentum help ISU's chances with 2016 linemen John Raridon and Jake Heinrich? No doubt Paul Rhoads and his coaches will be talking about that game for the next year while recruiting.

KANSAS
Total commits:
13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: KU has not landed a new commitment in almost a month and a half, and a blowout loss to Duke isn't going to help its efforts on the trail much either. One commit whose season is off to a nice start: three-star RB Taylor Martin has racked up 323 rushing yards and seven TDs this year at Fort Worth (Texas) Dunbar.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: A Thursday night game, no matter how gigantic the opponent, isn't necessarily ideal for bringing in a bunch of official visitors. K-State is reportedly expecting to have three-star RB Alex Barnes and junior college DT Deonte Reynolds in the house when Auburn comes to the The Little Apple. Both are taking midweek official visits, and they're critical targets for the Wildcats on what should be a pressure-packed week.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits:
13
ESPN 300 commits: 6
The latest: The Sooners hosted their biggest official visit weekend of the season and secured two pledges Saturday, from ESPN 300 safety Will Sunderland Jr. and junior college lineman Jamal Danley. The long-awaited pregame commitment from Sunderland was huge, but so was getting ESPN 300 studs Keisean Lucier-South, Kendall Sheffield, Ricky DeBerry and Neville Gallimore and four-stars Kahlil Haughton and Anthony McKee on campus.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 12
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Pokes added to a promising offensive line class last week with 6-foot-7 offensive tackle Deya Mhiesen, a junior college lineman who can enroll in January. Mhiesen took an official visit to Baylor's season opener, then attended OSU's 40-23 win over Missouri State and decided to pull the trigger. He'll have three years of eligibility at OSU.

TCU
Total commits:
16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Horned Frogs had several commits in the stands Saturday for their 30-7 beatdown of Minnesota, including WR Jarrison Stewart and DT Joseph Broadnax, along with Baylor commit CB Ke'Shawn Somerville, DE Andrew Fitzgerald and several more intriguing recruits in the 2016 class.

TEXAS
Total commits: 15
ESPN 300 commits: 7
The latest: Texas hosted some big-time recruits at AT&T Stadium for its 20-17 loss to UCLA, including top ESPN 300 targets Malik Jefferson and Ryan Newsome, ESPN Junior 300 WR Reggie Hemphill and commits DeShon Elliott, Charles Omenihu and Connor Williams. Two attendees who could end up in this class: three-star center Tyler Moore and Purdue three-star cornerback commit Isaac Warren.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Red Raiders were not able to get Tyron Johnson, the nation's No. 2 receiver prospect, in town this weekend for his official visit due to a scheduling conflict, but he's expected to make it out to Lubbock on Oct. 11 when Tech hosts West Virginia. Tech did have ESPN 300 QB signee Jarrett Stidham, four-star commit OG Conner Dyer and three-star DE Jalen Bates in attendance.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: With Oklahoma coming to town this weekend, expect a lot of talent on the West Virginia sideline before Saturday's big game. Among those reportedly expected to attend on official visits are ESPN 300 CB Jordan Whitehead and four-star ATH Tim Irvin.

Big 12 nonconference rewind

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
11:00
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The majority of the Big 12 enters a bye week with conference play right around the corner.

We're only three weeks into the season but plenty of things have changed. Preseason expectations are out the window and some dreams of breakout seasons have been shattered while other preconceived notions have been re-affirmed.

Here's a review of nonconference play in the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
J.P. Wilson/Icon SportswireQuarterback Trevor Knight and a stubborn defense have teamed to make Oklahoma the Big 12's best.
Best team: Oklahoma. The Sooners have done nothing to lose their status as the Big 12 preseason favorite. Bob Stoops' squad has been dominant while reeling off three wins over Louisiana Tech (2-1), Tulsa (1-2) and Tennessee (2-1). Quarterback Trevor Knight has taken a clear step forward from his freshman production and the defense could end up among the best of the Stoops era. Baylor has been just as impressive but against lesser competition with its three opponents holding one FBS win (1-5) combined this season.

Biggest disappointment: Texas Tech. Wait, where are the Longhorns? Did you really expect more from Texas? More players have been kicked off the team (eight) than offensive touchdowns scored by Charlie Strong's team (seven). The Red Raiders are another story, however. Tech has never really looked outstanding at any point this season as penalties, turnovers and defensive struggles turning the Red Raiders' Big 12 title dreams into an early nightmare. Saturday's loss to Arkansas -- which included 438 rushing yards by the Razorbacks -- has Kliff Kingsbury looking for answers. Before the season Tech looked like a team that could catapult itself into the top 3 in the Big 12. Now it looks like a squad facing a fight to go bowling.

Big (offensive) man on campus: West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett. Raise your hand if you had Trickett as the first Big 12 quarterback to eclipse 1,000 yards in 2014. He's been outstanding for the Mountaineers while leading the Big 12 in passing yards (1,224) and completion percentage (75.4). He's in the top 3 among FBS quarterbacks in both categories. He's the main reason WVU is emerging as the Big 12's surprise team after three games.

[+] EnlargeMalcom Brown
John Albright/Icon SMIYou can't pin Texas' struggles on defensive tackle Malcom Brown, the Big 12's co-leader in sacks.
Big (defensive) man on campus: Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown. The junior defensive tackle is one of the few blameless Longhorns on the roster. He's been dominant as the Big 12's leader in sacks (3.5, tied with Iowa State's Cory Morrissey) and tackles for loss (seven). He has added 16 tackles and has forced a fumble for Strong's defense. In a league overflowing with defensive talent -- like OU's Eric Striker and Baylor's Shawn Oakman -- Brown is second to none.

Fab freshman: Baylor receiver KD Cannon. The ESPN 300 receiver has no idea what it feels like to go into the halftime locker room without a touchdown catch. Cannon has made an amazing impact with an FBS-high 471 receiving yards in his first three games as a college receiver. The true freshman has 14 receptions, an average of 33.6 yards per catch, and five touchdowns. All-Big 12 receiver Antwan Goodley's biggest competition for the conference's most explosive receiver could be sitting alongside him in the receivers' room.

Newcomer to know: Oklahoma State athlete Tyreek Hill. The junior college transfer burst upon the scene with 278 all-purpose yards against Florida State as he buzzed around the turf in Arlington, Texas, while giving Seminoles defenders fits throughout the loss. His production has dropped significantly in OSU's last two games (24 touches for 154 yards) but it's clear the Cowboys are trying to save their top playmaker for their toughest games.

Best performance: It was the only Big 12 Conference game in the first three weeks but Kansas State doesn't escape Iowa State's upset bid without quarterback Jake Waters. Trailing 28-26 with 3:01 left, the senior led the Wildcats on a seven-play, 80-yard march to win the game. Waters accounted for 74 of KSU's 80 yards on the drive including an 8-yard touchdown run. KSU won 32-28.

Worst performance: Kansas laid an egg in its 41-3 loss to Duke last weekend. The Jayhawks opened the season with plenty of hope for a new and improved offense but, after gaining 457 yards in their season opener, KU took a clear step backward with 297 yards including 97 through the air against Duke. To make matters worse, the Jayhawks allowed Blue Devil freshman running back Shaun Wilson to rush for 245 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries. Back to the drawing board.

Dream dashed: It was disappointing to see Iowa State receiver Quenton Bundrage lost for the season with an ACL injury just minutes into the Cyclones' first game. The junior spent the offseason working on becoming more consistent and had the talent to be one of the Big 12's top receivers in 2014. Now he has to wait until next season with an eye on becoming the Big 12 comeback player of the year when he returns to the field in 2015.

Best stat: TCU has held opponents without a first down or touchdown on 60 percent of its drives. In two games, the Horned Frogs have defended 30 total drives and 18 of those drives have ended without a first down including seven of Minnesota's 15 drives last weekend. Gary Patterson's defense is one reason the Horned Frogs cannot be overlooked when Big 12 play reaches high gear next month.

Best quote: "I haven't talked to [kicker] Josh Lambert since he got on campus, and we are going to keep it that way. I know his name and who he is but other than that I'm doing the hands-off approach." -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen after Lambert's game-winning kick to beat Maryland 40-37 last weekend.

Big 12 bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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Overall, it was a good weekend for the Big 12.

Texas showed some fight, Oklahoma and Baylor cruised, and West Virginia continued to impress. Thursday night's matchup with Auburn looms large for Kansas State while a bye week comes at the perfect time for Texas Tech.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: TCU
Cactus Bowl: Texas

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:00
PM ET

Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
8:00
AM ET
In Week 3 of Big 12 action, Oklahoma and Texas Tech will take on the SEC; West Virginia, TCU and Iowa State will challenge the Big Ten; Kansas will go on the road in the ACC; and Texas will attempt to bounce back against the Pac-12.

How the league fares in those seven games against Power 5 conference opponents will be the major storyline today in the Big 12:

West Virginia at Maryland, noon ET (Big Ten Network): The Terrapins slaughtered West Virginia 37-0 last season. The Mountaineers, however, didn’t have quarterback Clint Trickett in that game. Trickett ranks fourth nationally with a 75.3 completion percentage, and his favorite target, Kevin White, is tied for fourth in the country with 19 receptions.

Arkansas at Texas Tech, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC): After starting fast last year, the Red Raiders are off to a sluggish beginning in Kliff Kingsbury’s second season. Only Oregon State has committed more penalties than the Red Raiders, who have 25 through two games. These two old Southwest Conference foes have met 35 times, but haven’t played since 1991.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Collins (55), Brandon Scheriff (68) and Dominic Alvis
Reese Strickland/USA Today SportsIowa State has a chance to get its season on track and win back the Cy-Hawk Trophy on Saturday.
Iowa State at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN): Iowa All-American left tackle Brandon Scherff is out for the Cy-Hawk series with an undisclosed knee injury. The Hawkeyes had struggled to move the ball with Scherff in narrow wins over Northern Iowa and Ball State.

Kansas at Duke, 3:30 p.m. ET (ACC Regional Sports Network): Kansas hasn’t won a road game since beating UTEP in El Paso the second week of the 2009 season. The Jayhawks’ 34 points last week, however, tied the highest scoring total of the Charlie Weis era, and their 6.3 yards per play against Southeast Missouri State was the program’s best game average in three years.

Minnesota at TCU, 4 p.m. ET (FS1): The Gophers are one of the only Big Ten teams off to a positive start, but injuries have piled up. Minnesota is hopeful quarterback Mitch Leidner will be able to go after injuring his knee against Middle Tennessee last weekend.

UTSA at Oklahoma State, 7 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Regional): Quarterback Daxx Garman is expected to make his first career start after taking his first competitive snap in five years during last week’s win over Missouri State. The Roadrunners are still looking for the program’s first win over a Power 5 conference opponent.

Texas vs. No. 12 UCLA (Arlington, Texas), 8 p.m. ET (FOX): The Longhorns were woeful on both sides of the ball in a 41-7 loss to BYU last weekend, and this doesn’t have the look of a favorable matchup. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Texas has allowed the fourth-most rushing yards (777) in the FBS to opposing QBs since the start of last season. Excluding sacks, UCLA’s Brett Hundley has run for the sixth-most yards by a quarterback (1,057) during the same span.

Tennessee at No. 4 Oklahoma, 8 p.m. ET (ABC): This is the first regular-season matchup between these teams, which are in the top 10 in the FBS in all-time wins. Recent history, however, favors the Sooners. Bob Stoops is 88-5 at home with Oklahoma, while Tennessee hasn’t won three games to begin a season since 2004.
Although we're just two weeks into the 2014 season, go-to targets are starting to emerge across the Big 12. West Virginia's Kevin White looks like he could fill a playmaking void and Texas Tech's Bradley Marquez has stepped his play up in his final season.

Here's a closer look at the Big 12's leading receivers in several key stats, with the help of ESPN Stats and Information.

[+] EnlargeKevin White, Bradley Sylve
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsWest Virginia's Kevin White has been targeted more than any other Big 12 receiver.
Total targets

  1. Kevin White, West Virginia, 26
  2. Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech, 21
  3. John Harris, Texas, 20
  4. Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma, 19
  5. (Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech, 18

It’s clear White has developed a high level of trust with quarterback Clint Trickett and the Mountaineers are trying to get the ball in the hands of the 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior. … Texas’ John Harris is the surprise name on the list as he has emerged as a go-to target in a struggling Longhorns attack. … As Iowa State searches for someone to replace Quenton Bundrage, no Cyclone has double-digit targets through two games.

Yards per target

  1. Kolby Listenbee, TCU, 32.6
  2. Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State, 20.8
  3. Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma, 16.7
  4. KD Cannon, Baylor, 15.4
  5. Nick Harwell, Kansas, 14.9

TCU has only played one game, but it would be a surprise if Listenbee is not a major part of the offense. He proved to be a legitimate deep threat in the Horned Frogs' season opener two weeks ago, and that skill will make quarterback Trevone Boykin and his dynamic running ability even more lethal. … Shepard’s appearance on this list shows the Sooners plan to use him to keep defenses honest while they attempt to establish a physical running game.

Yards after catch

  1. Kevin White, West Virginia, 147
  2. Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech, 103
  3. Brandon Sheperd, Oklahoma State, 98
  4. Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma, 92
  5. Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech, 87

White is starting to fulfill the hype that accompanied him when he arrived as a junior college transfer before the 2013 season. He combines terrific size with run-after-catch ability. He’ll be in the mix for All-Big 12 honors if he remains consistent. … Seeing Marquez, not Grant, lead the Red Raiders in yards after the catch is a surprise, but it shows his versatility and overall importance to Tech’s passing game.

Third-down receptions

  1. Davion Hall, Baylor, 6
  2. Kevin White, West Virginia, 4
  3. John Harris, Texas, 4
  4. Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech, 4
  5. Five receivers tied with 3

Hall has a high third-down reception rate but only three of his six receptions have resulted in first down conversions. The Bears have made a point to get him the ball in space, with 7 of his 11 receptions coming within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. … It’s early, but Harris, White and Marquez appear to have separated themselves as go-to receivers in their offenses.

Percentage of receptions for a first down or touchdown

  1. Nick Harwell, Kansas, 100 percent
  2. Kolby Listenbee, TCU, 100 percent
  3. Ja'Juan Story, TCU, 100 percent
  4. KD Cannon, Baylor, 87.5 percent
  5. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State, 85.7 percent

Harwell was solid in his first game as a Jayhawk with four receptions for 46 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll be a major part of KU’s offense. … Listenbee and Story have five receptions combined so it remains to be seen if their ability to make key plays continues throughout the season. … Lockett should be a staple on this list with his ability to change games each time he touches the ball.
KD Cannon was caught off guard.

“KD!” said Baylor coach Art Briles.

“What?” came the response from the freshman receiver.

“Go in!”

[+] EnlargeK.D. Cannon
Tony Gutierrez/Associated PressFreshman wide receiver KD Cannon has been off to the races for Baylor, averaging 35.3 yards per catch.
Seconds later, Cannon was on the field in the first game of his collegiate career.

What happened next wasn’t even a dream come true, as Cannon streaked past the SMU defense for a 46-yard touchdown on his first catch in a Baylor uniform.

“I wasn’t expecting to get the ball,” Cannon said. “I thought I’d work my way in, but he was like, ‘High-low go.’ I was like, ‘That’s me!’

“It’s something I couldn’t even have dreamed of. It felt great scoring on your first play.”

Welcome to Baylor, where Briles runs a program that consistently takes the approach, “Why do something later when we can do it now?” It applies to the Bears' use of freshmen and their approach to every season, and it can be found at the foundation of the mindset that has helped the program rise to prominence in the Big 12.

The sequence that led to Cannon’s first college touchdown catch is a perfect example. Injuries during the Bears' first two games have thrust Cannon and fellow freshman Davion Hall among the team's leading receivers.

With All-Big 12 receiver Antwan Goodley, Clay Fuller and Levi Norwood on the shelf with various injuries, Briles and Baylor didn't hesitate to turn to their true freshmen to help fill the void. The future became the present and they’ve performed like savvy veterans, not newcomers suiting up for the first time. Cannon has eight receptions for a Big 12-best 282 yards and four touchdowns, while Hall has a team-high 11 receptions for 164 yards and a score of his own.

“It just affirmed what we felt like we knew coming in -- both those guys are really good football players that are ready for prime time,” Briles said of his freshman receiving duo. “A lot of time it transfers from high school to college, college to the NFL. A great player in high school is going to be a great player in college, and eventually the NFL.”

Since last year's deep threat, four-year standout Tevin Reese, no longer calls Waco, Texas, home, Cannon has been an exceptional deep threat while averaging 35.3 yards per reception. He gives defenders fits with his acceleration and top-end speed.

“We're always going to have a guy that can stretch the field, or try to,” Briles said. “And when you get more than one, which is what we're on the verge of developing right now, that's when you really have a chance. Because if you've got one guy, they'll put a guy over the top of him. If you've got more than one, then they can't do that.”

Hall hasn’t proven to be the consistent deep threat that Cannon is but has shown signs he could become a dependable third-down target, with six of his 11 receptions coming on third down. He’s also shown he can be a deep threat when called upon, with his lone touchdown coming on a 57-yard bomb from Seth Russell against Northwestern State last weekend.

The thought of Briles adding more speed, versatility and youth to his receiving corps should make Big 12 defensive coordinators shudder. Yet it isn't these traits that Briles likes most about his freshman receiving duo.

“They’re serious about being good football players,” Briles said. “That’s what I like about them; they want to be good.

“All they’ve done is come out and made plays. First in practice, now in games.”

Big 12 morning links

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
8:00
AM ET
Where can I get one of these?
  • The game between Texas Tech and Arkansas is a great contrast in styles, writes Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News. The Red Raiders love up n tempo offense and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema does not. With all the talk about how the offenses match up with the defenses, I have a feeling this game is going to be decided by a big special teams play or turnover.
  • West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen insists he has a different team with more experience and a higher confidence level heading into its rematch with Maryland, reports Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail. WVU is averaging 38.5 points, 499.5 yards, and 6.1 yards per play after two games in 2014. In 2013, WVU averaged 15.5 points, 398 yards, and 5.9 yards per play after two games.
  • Iowa State is turning up the pressure on defense, writes Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune. Cyclones defensive coordinator Wally Burnham recognized the need for change after ISU's season-opening loss and it paid off with a much better performance against Kansas State last weekend. It will be interesting to see if ISU is able to continue making the blitz a staple in its defensive game plan. With some of the explosive offenses in the Big 12, it might be easy to return to a safe approach if the Cyclones get burned later on this season.
  • Here's a interesting story from Rustin Dodd of the Wichita Eagle. If you ever meet JaCorey Shepherd ask him how Tank is doing It's always good to see positive stories about college football players going out of their way to make a positive impact on the world. All of us, young or old, can learn from guys like Shepherd.
  • I'd be lying if I said I don't expect Baylor to cruise to a comfortable win over Buffalo tonight. But the Bulls have taken an interesting approach to preparing for the Bears' offense including having receivers begin plays with a running start, according to this story from Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News.

Big 12 Week 3 predictions

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
9:00
AM ET
 

Why Oklahoma will win: The Sooners have a decisive advantage in the trenches, highlighted by a powerful running game and a swarming defensive front seven. Bob Stoops is also 88-5 at home and will be looking to send another message to his friends in the SEC. Oklahoma 44, Tennessee 16 – Jake Trotter

Why Tennessee will keep it close: The Vols appear to be on the upswing under Butch Jones' better recruiting. UT has several receivers with size (four receivers 6-foot-3 or taller) and could try to test the coverage ability of OU's secondary. If the Vols are able to force mental mistakes from Trevor Knight, all bets are off. Oklahoma 35, Tennessee 21
Brandon Chatmon

 

Why UCLA will win: Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes actually played alright in his first career start last week -- and Texas still couldn't score. With the offensive line and receiving corps completely decimated, the Longhorns have what amounts to a popgun offense. UCLA counters with quarterback Brett Hundley, who entered the season on the short list of Heisman contenders. UCLA 28, Texas 9 – Trotter

Why Texas will keep it close: Defense. Until Swoopes and a patchwork offensive line get some momentum, Texas' defense will have to win the day. They'll get pressure on Hundley, but they'll need turnovers. The Longhorns played three quarters of solid defense against BYU. If they can wreak havoc for four, this game could be close late. UCLA 27, Texas 17
-Max Olson

 

Upset special: The Cyclones showed it is too early to write them off during a close loss to Kansas State. Meanwhile, Iowa hasn't looked like an elite team during its first two games. There were times the Cyclones were dominating K-State, and ISU could carry that momentum into a win over its rival. Iowa State 31, Iowa 27 Chatmon

MORE UNANIMOUS PICKS

Baylor over Buffalo 56-20: Buffalo is going to black out its stadium, but the Bears will light it up in Bryce Petty's return. — Chatmon

West Virginia over Maryland 28-26: The Terrapins hammered the Mountaineers 37-0 last season, but this is a completely different West Virginia team manned by a completely different quarterback in Clint Trickett, who is completing 75 percent of his passes. – Trotter

Texas Tech over Arkansas 38-24: Tech cleans up its penalty problems, and Davis Webb picks apart a D that gave up nearly 600 yards against Auburn. – Olson

Duke over Kansas 38-24: Kansas looked good in the first 45 minutes of its win over Southeast Missouri, but Duke quarterback Anthony Boone will prove simply too much for the Jayhawks. — Chatmon

TCU over Minnesota 17-13: A close game finally goes the Horned Frogs' way. Minnesota's uncertain QB situation is the difference-maker, and TCU's underappreciated defense steps up. – Olson

Oklahoma State over UTSA 42-24: Having a full week to tailor the offense around the arm of quarterback Daxx Garman should do wonders for the Oklahoma State offense. – Trotter

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