Big 12: Iowa State Cyclones

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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The opening week of college football is in the books, and recruits definitely were paying attention to how teams in the Big 12 played. While Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State all dominated, Oklahoma State nearly pulled off an upset against reigning national champion Florida State, and West Virginia gave Alabama all it could handle before taking a loss.

The week wasn't one featuring multiple athletes taking official visits, but from a recruiting spin, it did have its moments. Here is a quick recap of what happened.

Big 12 morning links

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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Happy Tuesday and a belated congratulations to Kevin Durant for becoming one of the richest dudes in Big 12 history.
  • This was a good weekend for the Big 12 if you ask its head coaches. Underdogs Oklahoma State and West Virginia both put up a valiant four-quarter fight against potential College Football Playoff teams Florida State and Alabama, respectively. Big 12 coaches polled Monday during the league's weekly teleconference sensed that sent a message about the depth of the conference. They weren't expecting blowouts in those high-profile showdowns. I don't think anybody is going to underestimate OSU or WVU going forward.
  • Cedric Golden of the Austin American-Statesman has a bold take following the news David Ash is out: Jerrod Heard should start. The true freshman didn't join the program until June, so he still has a lot to learn. But he came to Austin with one heck of a pedigree and he does bring a dual-threat ability to an offense that's going to neeed some new wrinkles. It doesn't seem like Charlie Strong strongly considered Heard to start vs. BYU, but he might need to in the next few weeks if Tyrone Swoopes struggles.
  • Who's ready for the first Big 12 conference game of 2014? Kansas State and Iowa State meet on Saturday. Bill Snyder wishes his players had a little more experience going into their Big 12 opener. Paul Rhoads, on the other hand, sees this game as a great chance to motivate his players after their blowout loss to North Dakota State. Personally, I'm a fan of these anomaly games. Oklahoma-West Virginia was a weirdly close game a year ago when they met in Week 2. With so few good non-conference rivalry games early in the season, why not get Big 12 ball rolling early?
  • Gary Patterson makes an interesting point, in light of the injuries at Texas and Baylor: Does having two quarterbacks help TCU's Big 12 title hopes? He settled on Trevone Boykin for the Horned Frogs' season opener but is reserving the right to also use Matt Joeckel next Saturday when TCU takes on Minnesota. He seems comfortable with that QB situation. He's less enthusiastic about how TCU's defense fared outside of its base package. But, hey, that's what bye weeks are for.
  • Came across this over the weekend and it's a shame this has fallen under the radar: Kansas has created a comic book-themed website in devotion to linebacker Ben Heeney. Benton Smith of KUsports.com got players to chime in on "The Diabolical Defender" and what makes him so special. Kudos to the KU sports information staff for showing one of the Big 12's most underappreciated players the love he deserves.

Big 12 Weekend Rewind: Week 1

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
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Taking stock of Week 1 in the Big 12:

Teams of the week: Yes, West Virginia and Oklahoma State might have ultimately lost. But as heavy underdogs, they also took the top two ranked teams in the country to the wire on neutral sites. Both squads should gain a ton of confidence from their performances. And assuming they both play the way they did in their openers, their 2014 outlooks will look much different than they did in the preseason.

Disappointment of the week: Iowa State lost its season opener to an FCS opponent for the second straight year. The Cyclones jumped to a 14-0 lead, then got dominated by North Dakota State the rest of the way. Iowa State could be without leading receiver Quenton Bundrage for awhile. And the schedule doesn’t get any easier, with the next four opponents all coming off bowl appearances.

Big (offensive) man on campus: West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett was terrific in the loss, throwing for 365 yards -- the second-most a Nick Saban Alabama team had ever allowed behind Johnny Manziel in 2013. Trickett also completed 29 of 45 passes, and would have had more completions had it not been for several drops.

Big (defensive) man on campus: Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman was unblockable against SMU Sunday night. He had two of Baylor’s eight sacks, as the Bears held SMU to just 64 yards of a total offense in a 45-0 shutout -- the first time the Mustangs had been shutout since 2004.

Special teams player of the week: Tyreek Hill set an Oklahoma State record for all-purpose yards in a debut with 278. And he did it against the No. 1 ranked team in the country. Florida State has one of the nation’s fastest teams around, and yet they couldn’t catch Hill, whether it was on offense, on punt returns or kickoff returns. The Cowboys have one dynamic playmaker in their backfield, and on special teams.

Play of the week: Oklahoma State had the ball at midfield with five minutes left and a chance to take the lead over the Seminoles. But as quarterback J.W. Walsh dove for a first down, he was upended and lost control of the ball. The Seminoles recovered and scored two plays later to extend its lead to 37-24. Oklahoma State came right back and scored a touchdown, but couldn’t come up with the onside kick. The fumble was the difference maker.

Stat of the week: Baylor finished with more sacks (eight) than SMU did first downs (seven).

Quote of the week: “We can function. It’s not like it’s the end of the world.” – Texas coach Charlie Strong, after revealing Monday morning that quarterback David Ash would miss Saturday’s game with BYU due to concussion-like symptoms suffered in the opener.
After losing its opener to North Dakota State, Iowa State's season has gotten even worse.

Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads announced Monday that wide receiver Quenton Bundrage would miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL in the first quarter against the Bison.

To continue reading this story, click here.

Big 12 FPI rankings

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
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ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) is a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team's performance going forward for the rest of the season. Every week, ESPN will be updating its FPI to compile a ranking based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date and the remaining schedule.

Here is how the Big 12 stacks up after Week 1 of the season:

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Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 1:

1. Oklahoma State and West Virginia showed the Big 12 can go toe-to-toe with anyone: The Mountaineers went 4-8 last season and were picked in the preseason to finish eighth in the Big 12. After graduating 28 seniors, the Cowboys had the fewest returning starters of any program from a Power 5 conference. And yet, Oklahoma State and West Virginia gave college football’s two highest-ranked teams all they wanted. Ultimately, the Cowboys committed too many turnovers to topple No. 1 Florida State, and West Virginia dropped too many passes to knock off No. 2 Alabama. But both Big 12 teams acquitted themselves well with valiant efforts against formidable competition to set up the rest of their seasons. The Cowboys and Mountaineers also sent a message at the outset of this playoff era that the Big 12 is a conference to be reckoned with.

Tyreek Hill, Jalen Ramsey
Tony Gutierrez/Associated PressTyreek Hill and Oklahoma State gave No. 1 Florida State all it could handle.
2. Tyreek Hill is the real deal: This summer, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy confessed that running back Tyreek Hill was the fastest football player he’d ever witnessed in person. Hill confirmed Gundy’s proclamation against Florida State, and showed he was faster than anyone playing for perhaps the fastest defense in college football. "We know he's fast," Gundy said. "Because those guys who were chasing him are fast." Hill produced 278 all-purpose yards and quickly drew the full attention of the Seminoles, both defensively and on special teams. Hill is going to be fun to watch over the next two seasons and will be a difficult matchup for Big 12 opponents.

3. Trevone Boykin is the man in Fort Worth: All preseason, TCU coach Gary Patterson refused to showed his cards at quarterback. He even reportedly had the Amon G. Carter Stadium public address announcer introduce both Boykin and Matt Joeckel as starting quarterbacks. But once the game began, there was no doubt left that Boykin is Patterson’s quarterback. After relieving Casey Pachall the last two seasons, Boykin came out sharp in his first opening-game start against Samford. He completed 29 of 41 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns before passing off to Joeckel for mop-up duty. The Horned Frogs, who limited Samford to 143 yards of offense, figure to be tough defensively again. But Boykin will be the key to them getting over the hump in the program’s third year in the Big 12.

4. Oklahoma remains stout at running back: Coming into the season, the Sooners had to replace starting running back Brennan Clay. They then lost blue-chip freshman Joe Mixon to a season-long suspension. But Oklahoma showed Saturday it is still loaded in the backfield. The three-headed monster of sophomore Alex Ross, sophomore Keith Ford and freshman Samaje Perine stole the show in the Sooners’ convincing 48-16 win over Louisiana Tech. The trio combined for 164 yards and five touchdowns while averaging almost five yards per carry. Ford also added 65 yards receiving. “They’re powerful, physical guys,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “But they have speed and can run, too.” Mixon had the talent to boost Oklahoma’s offense, and the Sooners will miss Clay’s reliability. But Oklahoma is going to be just fine at running back this season.

5. The Big 12 should avoid North Dakota State like the plague: If you can’t beat them, ban them. After falling behind 14-0, North Dakota State roared back to throttle Iowa State 34-14 in Ames. The Bison have now won three in a row against Big 12 teams, including last year’s victory over Kansas State. It’s apparent the back-to-back-to-back FCS national champs have reloaded again. And it would be wise for the Big 12 to avoid scheduling them ever again. As for the Cyclones, it was a disheartening start to the 2014 season. Iowa State lost center Tom Farniok and wideout Quenton Bundrage -- both critical cogs -- to first-half injuries. And from the second quarter on, the Cyclones got dominated in the trenches. It doesn’t get any easier for Iowa State, which had high hopes before the season of getting back to bowl. The Cyclones’ next four opponents went a combined 37-14 last season.

Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 1

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
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In Week 1, Oklahoma State and West Virginia will try to pull off monumental upsets against the nation’s top two teams; Iowa State and Kansas State will look to avoid back-to-back disastrous openers; TCU and Texas Tech will also attempt to take care of business against the FCS; Texas will kick off the Charlie Strong era; Oklahoma will try to keep its Sugar Bowl level; and Baylor will introduce a new stadium.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch this week in the Big 12:

Saturday

North Dakota State at Iowa State, 11 a.m. CT (FS1): The Cyclones will attempt to avoid opening with a loss to an FCS opponent for the second straight year. That won’t be easy. The Bison have captured three straight FCS national championships. This will also be the Iowa State debut of offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, who last week tabbed Sam B. Richardson to be the Cyclones’ starting quarterback.

West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. CT (ABC or ESPN2): The Mountaineers are the biggest underdog of any Power 5 conference team this weekend. The Crimson Tide lost their final two games of last season, but won back-to-back national championships before that. This, however, appears to be the deepest and most experienced team Dana Holgorsen has had at West Virginia since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12.

Samford at TCU, 6 p.m. CT (FSN regional): TCU coach Gary Patterson hasn’t indicated whether Trevone Boykin or Matt Joeckel will get the start at quarterback in the Horned Frogs’ new offense. Samford coach Pat Sullivan, who won the Heisman Trophy at Auburn in 1971 and coached at TCU form 1992-97, won’t be making the trip to Fort Worth with his team because of complications after offseason neck surgery.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtJ.W. Walsh is back as the Oklahoma State starting quarterback, and he has a huge challenge waiting for him in the opener.
Central Arkansas at Texas Tech, 6 p.m. CT (FSN regional): This could be an interesting test for Tech’s defense, which will be relying on a host of junior-college transfers along the defensive line and a sophomore-and-under defensive backfield. The Bears return 10 starters from an offense that averaged more than 450 yards per game last year.

Louisiana Tech at No. 4 Oklahoma, 6 p.m. CT (PPV): The Bulldogs will be bringing former Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz with them to Norman. Diaz’s track record against the Sooners wasn’t good. With Diaz manning the defense, Texas allowed 63 points to Oklahoma two years ago and 55 the year before that. Elsewhere, all eyes will be on Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight, who will be making just his sixth career start, most recently shredding Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Stephen F. Austin at No. 20 Kansas State, 6 p.m. CT: The Wildcats dropped last year’s season opener to FCS opponent North Dakota State. But Stephen F. Austin, which won only three games last year, is a far cry from North Dakota State. The Wildcats are also settled at quarterback this time around with Jake Waters, who struggled as the part-time quarterback in last year’s opener, but surged during the second half of the season.

North Texas at Texas, 7 p.m. CT (Longhorn Network): Charlie Strong will finally make his debut as coach of the Longhorns. This game will also mark the return of quarterback David Ash after he missed most of last year with a concussion, and then the spring with a fractured foot. North Texas is coming off a nine-win season but is 9-67 lifetime against Big 12 programs, including 0-9 against Texas.

Oklahoma State vs. No. 1 Florida State, 7 p.m. CT (ABC): No Power 5 conference team returns fewer starters than the Cowboys, who also graduated 28 players. The Seminoles, meanwhile, bring back the reigning Heisman winner in quarterback Jameis Winston. Oklahoma State will start out with J.W. Walsh at quarterback. Walsh led the Big 12 in QBR two years ago. But last year in Big 12 play, Oklahoma State averaged 6.2 yards per play with Clint Chelf at quarterback and only 4.8 with Walsh, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Sunday

SMU at No. 10 Baylor, 6:30 p.m. CT (FS1): The Bears will christen the $260 million McLane Stadium, as Baylor will go from having the worst stadium in the Big 12 to one of the best. The celebration in Waco could begin early, too. Last year, Baylor had an average halftime lead of three touchdowns and enters this game as almost five-touchdown favorites over the Mustangs.
In Friday's Twitter mailbag, we discuss under-the-radar players, storylines this weekend, Texas Tech's chances of starting 8-0 and the best city for food in the Big 12.

To the 'bag:


Trotter: I think people will know the name Tyreek Hill after this weekend. The Oklahoma State running back is going to have a big year. Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman doesn't seem to be talked about much nationally, but he could be a star. Some other names flying under the radar nationally: Texas Tech wide receivers Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley, Iowa State running back Aaron Wimberly, TCU cornerback Kevin White, Baylor receiver Corey Coleman and Kansas State's entire roster.
Trotter: Who knows? But Kansas State is being way undervalued nationally, including by some of my colleagues at ESPN. This was a top 15-caliber team at the end of last year. The offensive and defensive lines are going to be very good again, Jake Waters has his footing at quarterback and Tyler Lockett, well, I'm out of superlatives for him. The Wildcats will have to beat Auburn in September to gain some respect. But they are more than capable of doing just that.
Trotter: Probably linebacker Eric Striker. He can already do one thing at an NFL level, and that's rush the passer.
Trotter: That would require them beating Oklahoma State, Kansas State and TCU all on the road. Even if you considered all three of those to be coin-flip games, that, mathematically, would still give Tech only a 12.5 percent chance of winning all three. Possible? Sure. But the odds are very much against it.
Trotter: Even if the Cowboys get blasted this weekend -- and I think they will -- they'll have five winnable games immediately afterward. If they won all five, including that pivotal Thursday night matchup with Texas Tech in Stillwater, I could see them popping up in the Top 25 in mid-October.
Trotter: I see what you did there. I have Oklahoma winning the Big 12. The Sooners get Baylor in Norman, where the Bears have never won, and where Bob Stoops is 87-5.
Trotter: Storylines I will be following: Can Oklahoma State and West Virginia hang tough in tough openers? How will David Ash look in his fourth start since 2012? How will Trevor Knight look coming off that Sugar Bowl performance? Who will get the majority of snaps at QB for TCU? Can Iowa State avoid disaster facing a tricky opponent? And, the return of Mark Mangino and debut of Baylor's new stadium.
Trotter: The odds are we'll see an undefeated Big 12 team over the next five years. Who knows, we could see it this year. Oklahoma will be favored in every game. And if Baylor can topple the Sooners in Norman, the rest of its schedule is fairly manageable.
Trotter: How many Big 12 titles has Texas Tech won? I think Tech is going to have a good and exciting team this year. But until the Red Raiders actually win a championship, I don't see how you can complain about them getting overlooked in the title conversation. Especially when the top five teams in the league last year beat Tech by an average margin of three touchdowns.
Trotter: Richardson is not going to share snaps. They want -- and need -- him to be the guy. It feels like the Cyclones are still trying to replace Seneca Wallace. They're going to give Richardson plenty of opportunities to show he's the long-term answer at quarterback.
Trotter: That's impossible for me to say. All of them are cool in their own way. There's no place in the Big 12 I don't look forward to going to. @mulloy_k: You are a 4-5* recruit, but your only criteria for choosing a school is based on the unlimited snack rule ... and what LOCAL fare would be available (for free) in that city. What Big 12 school do you choose? Appreciate your work! Trotter: Thanks, Kyle. I've been to every campus in the Big 12 multiple times, and I can vouch that in all 10 venues, there are great places to eat. But nowhere in the Big 12 has more great eating options than Austin. That's no slight on the other Big 12 locales. New York City is the only place I've been to that has better food than Austin.

Big 12 players in Week 1 spotlight

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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Are you guys ready? We're less than 48 hours away from the first kickoff of the Big 12 season. (There are some good games tonight, too, if you can't wait that long.) Once we finally get rolling, the guys worth watching closely won't just be the All-Americans like Bryce Petty and Tyler Lockett. We know what they can do, and they'll probably be even better.

But this is our first real chance, after months of speculation and projection, to see how newcomers and players in new roles fare. Here are 11 players we'll be keeping an eye on Saturday and Sunday.

Matt Joeckel and Trevone Boykin
Getty ImagesGary Patterson won't reveal who his starting quarterback is -- Matt Joeckel or Trevone Boykin -- until the Horned Frogs take the field Saturday.
Matt Joeckel, QB, TCU: Will he be the starter? Did Trevone Boykin do enough to regain the job? Gary Patterson won't reveal a thing until his Horned Frog offense takes the field Saturday against Samford. The guy who sets foot on the field won't matter as much as which one thrives, because it seems likely both will get a fair shot. TCU just needs a capable distributor.

Devin Chafin, RB, and Johnny Jefferson, RB, Baylor: Both backs dealt with injuries in fall camp but should be good to go. And if you ask Baylor players, they'll tell you Chafin and Jefferson are about to be stars on the rise. This should be a true stable of backs led by Shock Linwood, but you're going to see Chafin and Jefferson a lot -- especially if Baylor's second team gets a lot of playing time in a blowout.

DeAndre Washington, RB, Texas Tech: We could still see Kenny Williams in short-yardage opportunities, but otherwise, Tech is ready to roll with the 5-foot-8, 201-pound junior leading its run game. Freshmen Justin Stockton and Demarcus Felton are intriguing, but Washington has a chance to establish himself as the feature back and a sneaky good one.

Deandre Burton, WR, Kansas State: The local kid from Manhattan was named a starter this week and is about to get his first meaningful action on offense. The redshirt sophomore has good size and will be one of a few wideouts getting reps with Lockett and Curry Sexton. The competition for his spot will be ongoing, so a big play or two against Stephen F. Austin could go a long way.

Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State: Cyclones fans can't wait to see what Lazard, listed as the backup to Quenton Bundrage at X receiver, can do in his first career day. After all the boasting Paul Rhoads did on signing day (and rightfully so), expectations are awfully high. Let's see Sam B. Richardson lob a few up to him and see if the 6-foot-5 stud can make a splash.

Tyreek Hill, WR/RB, Oklahoma State: What more can we say? We've hyped him up as much as anybody in the Big 12 this offseason. OSU will get the ball in his hands as much as possible. Florida State will do whatever it can to stop him. Can Hill be the game-changer the Pokes need to keep up with the defending champs?

Julian Wilson, CB, Oklahoma: Wilson's transition from nickel to cornerback, where he'll replace a big-time player in Aaron Colvin, has received good reviews. Louisiana Tech will no doubt test him and new starting safety Ahmad Thomas early on to see if they can handle the pressure.

Dravon Henry, FS, West Virginia: Mountaineer coaches have been excited about Henry all year long, and the true freshman seemingly had no trouble earning a starting job. He'll get lots of help from veteran safety Karl Joseph, but you just know Lane Kiffin will take some shots deep to see if the young dude has instincts. He would be wise to keep an eye on Amari Cooper, one of the nation's best wideouts.

Jason Hall, SS, and Dylan Haines, SS, Texas: Hall, a true freshman and former three-star recruit, was named the starter on Texas' depth chart released Thursday. But Haines, a walk-on, will play and so should Adrian Colbert. With safety Mykkele Thompson likely being used as Texas' top nickel, the Longhorns will have a lot of inexperience on the back end on passing downs. They need to play up to the considerable praise they received in camp.

Who are you excited to scout this weekend? Let us know any players we missed in the comments below.

Poll: Team most on upset alert?

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
1:40
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Last year, North Dakota State marched into Manhattan, Kansas and then marched down Bill Snyder Family Stadium in the fourth quarter with a game-winning touchdown drive to stun Kansas State.

The good news for the Wildcats is they open with a far less frightening opponent this weekend in Stephen F. Austin. While North Dakota State was capturing a third consecutive FCS national title, Stephen F. Austin was going 3-9 in the Southland Standings.

SportsNation

Which Big 12 team should be on upset alert Saturday?

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    65%
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    8%
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    4%
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    18%
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    5%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,947)

 Who in the Big 12 should most be on upset watch Saturday?

Iowa State is certainly a candidate. The Cyclones play the same Bison team that toppled K-State last fall. Sure, North Dakota State lost its head coach to Wyoming and the quarterback who engineered the game-winning drive to beat the Wildcats. The Bison, however, have reloaded before. And just last season, Iowa State fell in the opener to FCS opponent Northern Iowa.

North Dakota State, however, isn’t the only capable FCS team coming to Big 12 country this weekend. Central Arkansas, which travels to Texas Tech, received votes in the FCS Top 25 after winning seven games in 2013. So did TCU’s opponent, Samford, which finished in a tie for first with Chattanooga and Furman in the Southern standings. The Horned Frogs, meanwhile, will be debuting a new offense without a clear-cut starting quarterback. Texas Tech has the clear-cut starter at quarterback in Davis Webb, but it will be starting four underclassmen in its secondary.

The two traditional powers in the Big 12 both have curious games, as well. North Texas, which will head to Austin, went 9-4 last season. The Longhorns are still big favorites, but this will be just the fourth start quarterback David Ash has made since the 2012 season.

Oklahoma too is a heavy favorite to dispose of Louisiana Tech. The Sooners are riding high after taking down Alabama their last time out. But Oklahoma has a tradition under Bob Stoops of sputtering at times in openers. And while the Bulldogs struggled last season, they are only two years removed from going 9-3 and taking Texas A&M to the wire in a 59-57 shootout.

Now, we put it to you in our weekly Big 12 poll: Of these five teams, pick one to put on upset alert for this weekend.

Big 12 Week 1 predictions

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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Why Alabama will win: The Crimson Tide don't have a quarterback with a career start, but that seems to be the only question with this team. The losses to Auburn and Oklahoma are fresh on everyone's mind, but before those two games, Alabama had allowed an FBS-low 9.3 points per game last season. Coach Nick Saban's defense will be formidable again. Though the Mountaineers feature several intriguing skill players, it's unlikely they will be able to move the ball the way the Tigers and Sooners did. -- Jake Trotter

Why Florida State will win: Last week, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy called Florida State the best team he had ever faced as a player or a coach. The Seminoles are loaded, headlined by the return of Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The Cowboys, meanwhile, will be fielding almost a completely new squad after losing 28 seniors and returning the fewest starters among any program in a Power 5 conference. Those factors do not equal a recipe for an upset. -- Jake Trotter

More consensus picks: Iowa State over North Dakota State; TCU over Samford; Texas Tech over Central Arkansas; Oklahoma over Louisiana Tech; Kansas State over Stephen F. Austin; Texas over North Texas; Baylor over SMU.

Iowa State gave little notice to the biggest upset in college football in Week 1 of last season.

Because as North Dakota State was driving to knock off Kansas State in Manhattan, the Cyclones were licking the wounds after falling to another FCS power, Northern Iowa.

So its little surprise that Iowa State is giving its full respect to this weekend’s opener with North Dakota State, which not only knocked off the Wildcats, but went on to capture a third consecutive FCS national title.

[+] EnlargeBrock Jensen
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesBrock Jensen and North Dakota State shocked Kansas State last season.
“They have our kids’ full attention, as they should,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “They can beat anybody in America on any given day, based on how they have executed and based on how extremely hard they’ve played.

“They are a well-coached, hard-playing football program.”

Iowa State, meanwhile, will try to stave off a second straight disappointing start to its season. After winning their opener in Rhoads’ first four seasons – three of which ended in bowl appearances – the Cyclones couldn’t stop Northern Iowa’s balanced offensive attack, which included 228 yards on the ground and 229 threw through the air. Iowa State fell behind 21-7, and its rally in the second half fell short in a 28-20 defeat.

The Cyclones never recovered, and started the season 1-9.

“I would argue that the start of our season, beyond the opener, was affected by that opening game loss,” Rhoads said.

That is why starting strong is a major goal for the Cyclones, who face a daunting September schedule that includes Kansas State, Iowa and Baylor. Including North Dakota State, Iowa State’s four September opponents went a combined 42-12 last year.

“We want to be 1-0, and that is pretty much the only thing right now,” said Sam Richardson, who was named Iowa State’s starting quarterback this year after losing the job in part due to injuries last season. “We want to start fast.”

That might be easier said than done. The Bison lost head coach Craig Bohl to Wyoming, as well as several key offensive players, including quarterback Brock Jensen, who engineered the 18-play, game-winning touchdown drive against Kansas State. But North Dakota State also is riding a 24-game winning streak, has the bulk of its defense back and has defeated an FBS opponent – Minnesota, Kansas, Colorado State and Kansas State – in each of the last four seasons.

“There isn’t anyone in that program that doesn’t know how to win and expect to win when they take the field,” Rhoads said. “They will get on the buses and come into Ames, Iowa, expecting to win their first game of the season.”

The Cyclones know it can happen, and how critical it is to the rest of their season that it doesn’t happen again.

“Our guys' eyes are wide open,” Rhoads said.
At some point this weekend, Dravon Henry will trot onto the field against SEC power Alabama. It will be baptism under fire for West Virginia's true freshman safety.

He's not alone.

More and more, true freshman skill position players are stepping on campus ready to take jobs and play immediately at schools across the Big 12.

Seven of the nine Big 12 schools that play this weekend had released their depth charts by Tuesday afternoon. Twenty-two true freshman find themselves on those depth charts at skill positions around the conference with every school featuring at least one true freshman on its depth chart.

TCU and Oklahoma lead the league with five apiece while ISU receiver Allen Lazard is the lone true freshman skill position player on the Cyclones depth chart. Coaches at Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas — the other three schools — have already said they have true freshmen are in set to play for them at the skill positions in 2014.

The growth of pass-heavy spread offenses, increased summer and offseason football -- specifically 7-on-7 competitions -- and elite camps like The Opening are at the heart of the increased readiness of true freshman. Henry and Texas Tech cornerback Tevin Madison are the lone true freshman to earn a starting spot heading into the season but that duo is could be joined by other impressive freshmen -- like Lazard, Kansas running back Corey Avery or Kansas State safety Kaleb Prewitt -- in their squad's starting lineup at some point this season.

The additional offseason work's ability to help groom quarterbacks is well-documented but those extra reps are helping receivers, running backs and defensive backs as well.

"All the skill players, receivers, quarterbacks, tight ends, they all grow up throwing the football," Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "So they're much more developed at an early age. We're seeing that we can do things with freshman that we could never do before because a lot of them have been doing it in high school."

Recruits step on campus having been seasoned in competitive situations like never before. Their understanding of offensive concepts gained in high school makes transitions to similar systems in college easier than before.

"As much as anything it's the offenses they're growing up in," OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "They're playing in those [offenses] 365 days of the year. You go to certain parts of the country and they're practicing every day. They're growing up in those systems."

The state of Texas is at the forefront of trend with everything from weather and strong high school coaching helping to prepare signees to play from Day 1 at Big 12 schools.

"With the 7-on-7 aspect and the level of high school coaching in the state of Texas helps us," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "They're throwing the year round, they're catching the ball year round, quarterbacks go through reads year round, so by the time they get to us, they're college ready.

"As far as throwing, catching and seeing defenses, they're more prepared than ever."

The rise of elite national and regional football camps could also be helping to increase the readiness of true freshmen. Players like OU's Michiah Quick, a 2013 participant in The Opening who is listed as a backup slot receiver and punt returner for the Sooners, are stepping on campuses across the country having been tested in ways they had not been a decade ago.

"I think anytime you get to go against competition, you're going to come out more confident if you have a good showing," Kingsbury said. "The kids we have that have attended such camps come out of it knowing they belong and they fit in."

Big 12 mailbag

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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Thanks for submitting questions for this week's mailbag. In today's mailbag we talk about Kansas State's running back situation, the big games of the week -- Oklahoma State-Florida State and Alabama-West Virginia -- as well as a potential new look for Texas. By the way, you can submit questions for next week's mailbag here.

On to the 'bag:

Doug T. from Philly writes: Am I the only one who think the perfect storm for an upset may be brewing in Atlanta this Saturday?

Chatmon: I would be surprised, not shocked, if the Mountaineers find a way against the Crimson Tide. I have reservations about WVU’s ability to win in the trenches and I need to see Clint Trickett take his game to another level and play consistently for Dana Holgorsen’s offense. But I like what WVU has at the skill positions and don't see any scenario where Holgorsen's crew will back down against the Crimson Tide.




Brenna from Stillwater writes: Maybe I'm just looking at it from a true "black and white" perspective, but isn't Baylor returning nine starters, as is Oklahoma State? According to Phil Steele, that's the case. Does Bryce Petty's return compensate for Baylor's loss on defense? Does the quality of Baylor's limited returning starters truly peg them as the team (alongside Oklahoma) to beat in the Big 12 and to make a legitimate run at the four team playoff?

Chatmon: Petty goes a long way in changing the expectations for the Bears. He’s a Heisman Trophy candidate and returning Big 12 offensive player of the year. Oklahoma State’s issue is youthful players all over its defense and uncertainty at quarterback and offensive line. Baylor’s question marks aren’t as widespread as the Cowboys. To cap it all off, the Bears young players will get a chance to ease into the season while OSU faces the defending national champion. That’s what separates the two teams before Week 1 in my eyes.




Sean from Stillwater writes: Give us [OSU] hope for an upset this weekend.

Chatmon: There are plenty of reasons for hope. OSU’s receivers and defensive line should be among the Big 12’s best and Tyreek Hill looks like a playmaker. And, talent-wise, the Cowboys have upgraded from a year ago, but hearing Mike Gundy say his team could play 20 newcomers against FSU is a scary thought.




Theylo from Snyderville writes: Who is going to be the K-State running back?

Chatmon: It looks like Charles Jones has won the job as he sits atop the Kansas State depth chart heading into the season opener. But this will be decided between the lines on several Saturdays this fall. Jones may get the initial nod but if DeMarcus Robinson outperforms him on game day then he could end up being the guy. I think we may not know who John Hubert’s replacement is today, despite the Wildcats’ releasing their depth chart, but we will know by the time October rolls around.




Jon in Tulsa writes: If OSU beats FSU, OSU doesn't become favorite for national championship, then why does OU become contender just because last year's team beat Bama? How do you know that UCF wasn't better than Bama and that mostly returning Baylor shouldn't be favorite in Big 12?

Chatmon: Why are you assuming OSU does not become a national championship favorite if they beat Florida State? I find that odd because the Cowboys will be in the College Football Playoff if they go undefeated. Regardless, Oklahoma is a national title contender because they have a good young defense that carried them to 11 wins a year ago. And the Sooners are the Big 12 favorite, for me at least, because they host Baylor in Norman. It’s not all about the Sooners' Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.




Jacob Jones from Lubbock writes: Iowa State and Texas Tech will both do better then what experts picked. Watch out for Texas Tech going 9-3 and Iowa State 6-6. West Virginia could be a sleeper as well. I still think Oklahoma holds off the competition and reclaims the Big 12 championship. Bold prediction: Texas Tech upsets OU in Lubbock.

Chatmon: I could see it happen with Tech, but I’m worried about ISU’s defensive line. I need to see them first before I can get on that train. I agree with West Virginia as well but where are those wins coming from? TCU, OSU? I think the Big 12 has a chance to be as competitive as ever this fall, particularly after OU and Baylor at the top. Also, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Sooners fall at Tech; Lubbock has been unkind to the Sooners in the past.




Shaun Rucker from Shawnee, Kansas writes: Why does the media insist on bringing up the fact that the Big 12 doesn't have a championship game every chance they get? Our teams have only ever been hurt by the title game, with the exception of Nebraska not playing in it and getting a title shot in 2001. What's your take?

Brandon Chatmon: I don’t think the Big 12 needs a championship game. I don’t see a scenario where a Big 12 team goes undefeated and finds itself on the outside looking in at the College Football Playoff bracket. Thus, the destiny of every Big 12 team is within its control. That’s good enough for me.




Andy from Austin writes: This past mailbag someone asked, "Why doesn't Texas have alternate unis?'' I love that Texas usually just has subtle tweaks instead of major overhauls. But how awesome would it be to have a solid burnt orange uni for home, like the road ones, but reversed, including the helmets? Any chance of getting that look planted in the minds of those who could make it happen?

Chatmon: I love the idea, Andy. But I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Texas has a good look, and the Longhorns have tried to meet recruits/players halfway with their practice uniforms. I wish I was wrong though.

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