Big 12: Kansas Jayhawks

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.

Important game for Cozart, Kansas

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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It was supposed to be a different Montell Cozart.

The Kansas quarterback was supposed to be much improved in many aspects of his game as a sophomore.

He didn’t look like it in KU’s 41-3 loss to Duke last weekend.

“He had a bad day at the office,” coach Charlie Weis said. “We all had a bad day that day. He was just one of the guys who had the ball in his hands on every play, so it obviously becomes magnified.”

Cozart’s 22.8 Adjusted QBR was the second-worst single-game performance by a Big 12 quarterback this season. He finished 11-of-27 for 89 yards with two interceptions against the Blue Devils.

[+] EnlargeMontell Cozart
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesMontell Cozart hopes to bounce back on Saturday against Central Michigan.
“I never thought that would have happened,” offensive coordinator John Reagan said. “He is still young in his development and has a long way to go and a big upside. I know this: He wasn’t pleased with his performance regardless of whether anybody else was.”

But that was last week. This week is all that matters now, making Saturday’s contest against Central Michigan a game that could define Cozart’s future. He can either prove Weis’ decision to hand the offense over to him in the spring was the right decision or he can prove his doubters right.

“He is looking forward to getting back out there and defining who he is as a quarterback,” Reagan said. “I think there are a lot of things he has shown us he can do and we have to make sure we put him in a scenario to do that. That will be the goal here as we keep going forward. We just have to make sure he keeps developing and keeps moving forward and everyone else on offense keeps moving forward.”

In nine games (five starts) as a Jayhawk, Cozart has passed for more than 100 yards just once and has never completed more than 50 percent of his passes (outside of a 1 of 1 effort against Texas). Even with those discouraging numbers, Weis remains behind Cozart and believes his struggles aren't rooted in permanent problems.

“If you believe that the answers can solve the issues, then you're okay,” Weis said. “It's when you don't have an answer. That's a bigger issue. But there were a lot of simple things that could be done.”

Backup quarterback Michael Cummings better stay ready, as he could be called upon if Cozart’s performance doesn’t improve. Cummings, a junior, has run-pass skills similar to Cozart.

“I expect Montell to play very well this week,” Weis said when asked if Cozart was on a "short leash" earlier this week. “If you're asking me will I have Cummings ready to go if things don't go well, I'll have Cummings ready to go if things don't go well.

“All I know is whoever is going to give us the best chance to win this game, that's who's going to be in there. And right now we think that Montell gives us the best chance to win this game.”

It’s early in the season but KU’s final nonconference game against Central Michigan could go down as a defining moment for Cozart, Weis and the 2014 Jayhawks.

“I think this kind of sets the table, sets the table either way,” Weis said. “Either sets the table well or it doesn't, [and] sets the table where you're really, really fighting, fighting an uphill battle.”

Big 12 Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
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Why Auburn will win: The Tigers' ground game will prove to be too much for Kansas State. Auburn is averaging 6.7 yards per carry and quarterback Nick Marshall is a proven game-changer. The Wildcats will be up for the challenge but Auburn’s overall athleticism will help it overcome a rowdy road environment. Auburn 30, Kansas State 24 --Chatmon

Why Kansas State will win: When Auburn agreed to a home-and-home with the Wildcats, Bill Snyder wasn’t the K-State coach. The Tigers also didn't know Snyder would have an extra week to prepare for this game. Manhattan, Kansas, will be rocking, Jake Waters is playing almost as well as any quarterback in the country and Tyler Lockett will be the best player on the field. The Wildcats have now won eight of their past nine games. Snyder's bunch will find a way to keep Marshall & Co. off the field, while finding a way to win this one, too. Kansas State 35, Auburn 31 --Trotter

Why Oklahoma will win: What are the Sooners' flaws? I'm hard-pressed to find many, even with Keith Ford sidelined. Their defense will be the difference, and Sterling Shepard is in for a big night with Daryl Worley suspended. WVU will score early, but Oklahoma can wear the Mountaineers out in the second half. Really wouldn't be surprised if OU plays them much tougher than Alabama did. Oklahoma 45, West Virginia 31 -- Olson

Why West Virginia will keep it close: I was tempted to pick the Mountaineers in this game. They are playing extremely well and Morgantown, West Virginia, is a tough place to play. But then the Mountaineers' best defensive player got suspended indefinitely for an altercation last week. Oklahoma will more easily replace Ford with its deep backfield than West Virginia will Worley. Even still, this won’t be an easy game for the Sooners, who barely survived a night game in Morgantown two years ago, and should consider themselves fortunate, should they survive again. Oklahoma 31, West Virginia 30 --Trotter

Why Kansas will win: The Jayhawks can’t play much worse than they played against Duke. Can they? KU knows a win over Central Michigan is a must or else things could start to get really bad in Lawrence, Kansas. Kansas 28, Central Michigan 20 --Chatmon

Why Central Michigan will keep it close: I thought I could talk myself into taking CMU in this game, but top running back Thomas Rawls, a Michigan transfer, is suspended indefinitely. Without him, the Chippewas have one brutal offense. Still think this will be close, though, because Duke exposed a bunch of issues and I'm just not sure how KU will respond. Kansas 17, Central Michigan 13 -- Olson

Big 12 stat check: Week 4

September, 17, 2014
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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
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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 recruiting scorecard

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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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
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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 Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
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Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
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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.

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.
This weekend figures to be one of the biggest in Big 12 history, as the league will face an unprecedented seven nonconference opponents from Power 5 conferences.

SportsNation

What will the Big 12's record be in its seven games against Power 5 conference opponents this weekend?

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    25%
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    39%
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    26%
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    8%
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    2%

Discuss (Total votes: 8,573)

 Coming off its Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, Oklahoma will try to strike another blow for the Big 12 against the SEC when it welcomes Tennessee to Norman. Texas Tech will play host to another Big 12-SEC matchup in a meeting with old Southwest Conference rival Arkansas.

The Big 12 will also be pitted against the Big Ten in three separate games. West Virginia travels to new Big Ten member Maryland, Iowa State goes to instate rival Iowa, and TCU will play Minnesota in just the second ever meeting between the two programs.

Kansas will test its revamped offense at defending ACC Coastal Division champion Duke. And Texas will take on one of the preseason favorites to win the Pac-12 in UCLA.

With so many losable games, Saturday could be a disaster for the Big 12, as it was for the Big Ten last weekend, when Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan all fell in marquee matchups.

On the other hand, Saturday is an opportunity for the Big 12 to deliver another statement about its legitimacy in the playoff era.

But how will the league fare? We put the question to you in our weekly Big 12 poll.

Big 12 Week 3 predictions

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
9:00
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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

Ground game boosts Baylor, OU

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
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The season remains in its infancy yet there are early signs that some Big 12 teams will feature running games that can carry them to a conference title.

With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, here’s a closer look at Big 12 rushing leaders in several categories and what it means for the future.

Rushing yards

1. Baylor 526
2. Kansas State 472
3. Oklahoma 444

For the second straight season, Baylor sits atop the league in rushing yards. The Bears haven’t been tested in easy wins over SMU and Northwestern (La.) State but their unyielding commitment to the running game doesn’t look like it is going to change anytime soon. Expect all three teams to remain among the Big 12 rushing leaders as the season progresses. Notable: Texas Tech is fourth at 410 rushing yards per game.

Yards per carry

1. Texas Tech 6.4
2. Oklahoma 6.3
3. Kansas 5.3

It’s a bit of a surprise to see the Red Raiders atop the conference in yards per carry which was boosted by Tech's 28 rushes for 226 yards against UTEP last weekend. True freshman Justin Stockton is at the core of his team’s success with 14 carries for 173 yards (12.4 ypc) and two touchdowns. OU has a trio of running backs (Keith Ford, Alex Ross and Samaje Perine) to thank for its strong yards per carry numbers. Notable: West Virginia is averaging 3.67 yards per carry despite having a bevy of talented running backs.

Rushing yards before contact

1. Baylor 348
2. Texas Tech 304
3. Kansas State 286

It seems like BU has done a solid job replacing All-Big 12 guard Cyril Richardson along its offensive front with the Bears running backs gaining over half their yardage before contact. Center Kyle Fuller and guard Blake Muir have slid into the starting offensive line with relative ease but it remains to be seen how well they can hold up as the level of competition increases. A combination of scheme and solid line play means plenty of open space for BU running backs. Notable: Despite playing two games, Iowa State (59) is the only Big 12 team that hasn’t gained at least 100 rushing yards before contact. TCU (101) and Kansas (155) each eclipsed that mark in their lone game thus far.

Rushing yards after contact

1. Oklahoma 231
2. Oklahoma State 190
3. Kansas State 186

Bob Stoops and OU’s coaching staff have praised the physical running style of Ford, Ross and Perine so it’s no surprise to see the Sooners atop the conference in yards after contact. OU entered the season with uncertainty at running back but all three backs appear to be quality options. Notable: Tech leads the Big 12 with 6.4 yards per carry but is recording just 1.8 yards after contact per carry (116 total yards after contact).

Percentage of runs for negative or zero yards

1. Baylor 11 percent
2. Oklahoma 11.3 percent
3. TCU 15.2 percent

The Bears were second in the Big 12 in this category at 19.3 percent in 2013. Limiting negative yards is an overlooked key to great offense. Seeing BU and OU atop the conference is no surprise but TCU at No. 3 is a surprise. The Horned Frogs have played one game with their new offense so it will be something to keep an eye on in the future. Notable: Texas has seen 29.3 percent of its rushes result in zero or negative yardage in its first two games. That speaks volumes about the slow start of the Charlie Strong era in Austin, Texas.

Ties run deep between Cutcliffe, Weis

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
9:00
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David Cutcliffe can't help but think sometimes at how he ended up where he is now. Duke's head coach -- the reigning winner of numerous national coach of the year awards -- had been hired by Charlie Weis at Notre Dame just nine short years ago, but never got to coach a down with the Fighting Irish.

He suffered chest pains. He underwent open-heart surgery. He had numerous other complications, and he eventually had to walk away from a potential dream opportunity.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Peter Casey/USA TODAY SportsDavid Cutcliffe agreed to join Charlie Weis' staff at Notre Dame before health problems prevented that.
"It was an emotional time for me and I knew that at that point, and I told Charlie Weis, 'I can’t earn my paycheck there,' " Cutcliffe said. "No way that I can get myself back and ready to benefit Notre Dame’s football program. I was very appreciative of the opportunity he had given me there."

Cutcliffe and Weis will meet again Saturday when Duke hosts Kansas, and it's hard not to look at how each's career has played out since initially agreeing to hook up in South Bend. Adding to the layer is the fact that Cutcliffe's current boss, Blue Devils athletic director Kevin White, was in charge of Weis back when both were with the Irish.

Weis couldn't overlook the connections this week, opening his Tuesday press conference by thanking White for the opportunity that the AD allowed the first-time head coach less than a decade ago.

"Probably one of the finest men that I've ever met in my entire life," Weis said of White. "He taught me a lot about college football. He taught me patience."

The parallels between Weis and Cutcliffe run a little bit deeper. Weis had initially hired the ex-Ole Miss head coach because of his reputation working with quarterbacks and calling plays. With eventual Heisman Trophy finalist Brady Quinn waiting in the wings, the pairing seemed perfect.

There are also the ties that linger in the NFL -- Cutcliffe from his well-publicized work with the Manning brothers, Weis with his three Super Bowl rings as Tom Brady's offensive coordinator. Weis said this week that he's never debated with Cutcliffe whose pro pupils are better, joking that he's too biased about Brady to even bother with an argument.

"I’m telling you, he’s the most knowledgeable, smartest football coach I’ve been around," Cutcliffe said of Weis. "He was like a machine, just the system. It was pretty amazing to watch him work and watch how his mind worked, and not only his football knowledge, but his motivational skills and his energy."

The little time Cutcliffe and Weis did spend together came on the heels of what Cutcliffe said was an unusual time in his life. He was unceremoniously fired from Ole Miss after his only losing season. Upon Weis hiring him, Cutcliffe lived with then-Irish and current Duke offensive line coach John Latina in South Bend before the health scare forced him out of coaching for a year.

Weis, meanwhile, made consecutive BCS bowls in his first two years at Notre Dame before getting fired after going 16-21 during his final three years. Assistant stops with the Kansas City Chiefs and Florida gave way to his hiring as the Jayhawks' head coach, where he's now 5-20 in his third season. During that time, Cutcliffe moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where his two sons attended college. He eventually became Tennessee's offensive coordinator from 2006-07 before landing the head job at Duke, where his work in getting the Blue Devils to the ACC title game in six years has further cemented his respect within the profession.

"What he's done there is what I would expect him to do anywhere," Weis said. "Just about anywhere he's gone in an ample amount of time he gets things going the right way, especially offensively. He's a very, very good coach."

How would things look today had the two quarterback gurus gotten the chance to collaborate with the Irish? That's for others to debate. Cutcliffe, for one, is content with how things turned out, as strange as the path that led him there might have been.

"I’d never been without a job in my life," Cutcliffe said. "We lived (in Knoxville) that spring, summer and fall. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know if I’d coach again, but I always think there’s purpose to things that happen if we do what we should do with them. I believe the couple years I spent back at Tennessee were rewarding, but I think I found my right place here.

"Not to be eerie and now to be, 'Oh this is all destiny.' I’m not saying that. I was able to find my right place, and that’s Duke University."

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