Big 12: Oklahoma State Cowboys
On to the mailbag:
Schloss in Falling Waters, West Virginia, writes: As a WVU alumnus, I am happy to see we have made good progress since last season. There is little doubt that we have definitely improved. But should 'Eer fans be worried about an Alabama hangover? Does WVU continue to build on its strong showing versus the Tide or does it take a step back in Week 2?
Brandon Chatmon: Mountaineer fans should be worried because we see teams that are overwhelming favorites struggle each week during nonconference play. But I think the Mountaineers are hungry and will look at the Alabama result as proof of their potential to be better than last season and strive to make a statement that they plan to rise up the Big 12 standings this season. As impressive as their showing was, it was still a loss. So I think WVU will come out hungry for the satisfaction of a victory.
John in Hillsboro, Ohio writes: So ... in this new playoff era, how can a Big 12 team, even undefeated, hope to get to the playoffs with no conference championship and traditionally weak nonconference scheduling?
Chatmon: I don’t see a scenario where an undefeated Big 12 champion is on the outside looking in when playoff berths are handed out.
Michael in Lubbock, Texas writes: It’s one thing to come out flat against an FCS team, but what's most troubling about Texas Tech's "embarrassing" performance was the same problems that you know they worked on all offseason keep biting them -- turnovers, penalties, bad special teams play and the defense getting blown off the line and unable to get off the field. How do they fix it?
Chatmon: The problems with penalties and turnovers is what bothered me the most as well, Michael. The Red Raiders didn’t play with urgency or take the field to dominate Central Arkansas. They clearly just wanted to show up and get their win. Kliff Kingsbury has been stressing penalties and turnovers, yet they’re still an issue which makes me think it won’t change until the players take more pride and ownership over being masters of the details. Everything is fixable, but Kingsbury's squad needs to understand the value of every game, every play and every opportunity.
Andy in Austin, Texas writes: Given his history of concussions, does Texas quarterback David Ash finally retire? And who does Strong give the reins to, Tyrone Swoopes or Jerrod Heard?
Chatmon: I hope so. We’ve reached the point where it’s not about David Ash the football player anymore. As far as where UT goes from here, here is what I would do if I was Charlie Strong. I would start preparing to hand the offense over to Heard. I'd tell Swoopes he gets the start this weekend but I think Heard is the future and that we’re going to get Heard ready to take over, starting with multiple series against BYU, then see how Swoopes responds. Best-case scenario is Swoopes steps his game up and either Heard earns the job and beats him out or Swoopes refuses to let this opportunity to start get away from him. That would be a win-win for the Longhorns.
John Wheeler writes: When comparing the defensive efforts of Texas and Baylor, which seems to point to more long-term success and which was more a result of opponent?
Chatmon: I think both defensive performances point to long-term success. Both defenses have terrific athletes and were dominant over the weekend so I expect both to be among the Big 12’s best. The thing I liked most about the performances was the relentless nature of the Longhorns and Bears defenses. That’s what you’re supposed to do against inferior opponents.
Matt Truelove writes: Even though J.W. Walsh almost led the Cowboys to victory vs. FSU, do you think he'll end the year as the starter for the Cowboys?
Chatmon: That’s an interesting question. I think ultimately the Cowboys quarterback will be decided by the defense they are facing as a season progresses. Walsh will be the guy until defenses load up to stop the run-heavy approach that highlights the junior’s strengths. When that happens Daxx Garman or Mason Rudolph will be counted on to make defenses respect the passing game. If all bets are off and it was only up to Mike Gundy and company, I think Walsh would get the bulk of the snaps because of his unquestioned leadership ability. But I fully expect the Pokes to adapt when defenses force their hand as the season goes on. So, to answer your question, I don’t think OSU will have an clear No. 1 signal-caller this fall, with Walsh sitting atop the queue and Garman/Rudolph ready to go when needed.
But the way they lost their openers has completely changed the outlook for the rest of their seasons.
For the better, too.
The Cowboys took defending national champion Florida State to the wire. The Mountaineers went toe-to-toe with second-ranked Alabama.
Not anymore in Stillwater.
And not anymore in Morgantown.
“They should be able to establish a certain level of confidence from the way we played,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said of his team. “The second half we were very competitive. Once they got up and going and realized they could play with the speed that Florida State brought to the table, they were much better. And so I think there’s a certain amount of confidence they should have developed from that game.”
The Mountaineers should take plenty of confidence out of their opener with Alabama, too.
West Virginia went into Atlanta almost a four-touchdown underdog. But on the first drive, the Mountaineers took it right to the Crimson Tide. Rushel Shell grinded out tough yards between the tackles, while quarterback Clint Trickett fired completions all over the field. The opening drive stalled inside the Alabama 5-yard line, leading to a field goal. But the Crimson Tide quickly learned they’d have a fight on their hands.
“We’re not interested in any moral victories,” Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. “But we felt like we could play with those guys. And went into the game with a good frame of mind that was going to happen. And it did.”
Coming off an injury-riddled year in which he was still learning Holgorsen’s offense, Trickett looked like a completely different quarterback. With perfect poise and even more perfect hair, he completed 29 of 45 passes for 365 yards -- the second-highest passing total a Nick Saban defense had ever allowed at Alabama.
“Clint is a completely different quarterback than he was last year,” West Virginia receiver Jordan Thompson told reporters after the game. “People are basing our team off of what we were last year. We were inexperienced last year. Everybody now has a year under their belts. We’re healthier, stronger, faster, a little bigger, but most of all we’re more experienced, and Clint’s the No. 1 difference.”
Mario Alford and Kevin White were difference-makers, too. Against one of the top-rated defensive backfields in the country, White showed he could flourish as West Virginia’s first go-to wideout since Stedman Bailey. White hauled in nine receptions for 143 yards and a 19-yard touchdown pass. Alford, meanwhile, kick-started a return unit that ranked last in the Big 12 last fall, returning a kick 100 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Defensively, the Mountaineers should get better, too. They struggled to contain Alabama’s powerful rushing attack up front. But at the back end Karl Joseph finished with 18 tackles and Daryl Worley pick off a pass, underscoring the playmaking West Virginia will have in its secondary this season.
Ultimately, the Mountaineers dropped too many passes and coughed up too many touchdown chances to pull off the upset. But along the way, they learned they can play with anyone in the country, which should do wonders for a program that has struggled the past season-and-a-half.
“Our guys are in a good place right now,” Holgorsen said. “That’s the standard that we need to play with. And if we can play with that kind of mentality the whole year, we’ll have a good team.”
With the fewest returning starters among any team from a Power 5 conference, Oklahoma State’s young squad seemed to be on the verge of getting blown out after falling behind 17-0 in the second quarter.
Instead, the Cowboys hung tough. Quarterback J.W. Walsh settled down after a rocky start. Tyreek Hill began running away from anyone wearing a white Seminoles jersey. And Oklahoma State’s defensive line began imposing its will against Heisman winner Jameis Winston and a Florida State offensive line starting five seniors.
"We saw our team grow a little bit and mature," Gundy said. "I wasn't really sure how a number of players would react, and I think we learned that they'll fight and compete. We were in a really tough situation at one point, being down 17 points to a really good football team, but they kept their focus. I was proud of them for that."
Every time Florida State made a play, the Cowboys answered. And only after the Seminoles -- who won every regular-season game last season by least two touchdowns -- recovered an onside kick in the final minutes could they rest easy.
The Cowboys figure to be favored in at least their next five games, with the key tilt coming Sept. 25 at home against Texas Tech. And as Saturday showed, Oklahoma State has the pieces to transform its season outlook from rebuilder to Big 12 contender.
"We've got a lot of things to work on, and we had our mistakes, but there's obviously a lot of talent,” said slot receiver David Glidden, who hauled in a 55-yard touchdown bomb against the Seminoles. “There are a lot of guys who can play the game of football pretty well.”
The Cowboys and Mountaineers didn’t win Saturday. But based on how they played, plenty of victories could be on the way.
On a scale of 1-10, how big of an impact is David Ash's injury to Texas' season?
Trotter: 9. Who knows when -- or even if -- Ash will be able to return to the lineup for the Longhorns this season? The timing of Ash's injury combined with the timing of a brutal upcoming schedule could send Texas' season south in a hurry. Tyrone Swoopes or Jerrod Heard might be fine quarterbacks in time. But Heard has been on campus just a few weeks. And in the spring, Swoopes looked nowhere near ready to quarterback Texas to wins over BYU, UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma, which, by the way, are four teams Texas plays in its next five games. Maybe Swoopes has improved dramatically since the spring. Maybe Ash will return shortly. But the biggest question to Texas having success in Strong's first season -- Ash staying healthy -- has already been answered. And not in the way Texas fans had hoped.
Olson: 11, possibly 12. Charlie Strong went into this season with the same belief Mack Brown held last summer: If Ash is good, we're going to be pretty good. Losing him on his first hit of the season is the absolute nightmare scenario, because there's no guarantee he'll ever come back and there's no guarantee the backup can get the job done. A senior like Case McCoy is not walking through that door. Texas once again must scramble to retool its offense and, once again, the previous staff's failures in recruiting quarterback depth are being exposed.
Other than Oklahoma State and West Virginia, what surprised you most last weekend?
Chatmon: Texas Tech’s struggles to pull away from Central Arkansas was a surprise. I expected Kliff Kingsbury’s squad to cruise to a double digit victory, but they couldn’t seem to take control of the game. The most disappointing aspect of the game was turnovers and penalties continuing to make life more difficult than it needed to be for Tech. The Red Raiders have the ability to become major players in the Big 12 race this season but that won’t happen if they’re constantly shooting themselves in the foot.
Trotter: Thee biggest surprise to me was Iowa State's dismal performance against North Dakota State. I really thought the Cyclones had the chance to form a competent offensive attack with a proven play-caller in Mark Mangino, an experienced offensive line and talent at the skill positions. Through the first quarter, that looked like the case. But after injuries to Quenton Bundrage and Tom Farniok the offense completely fell apart, while the Iowa State defensive front got dominated in the trenches. One game in, Iowa State's bowl hopes already look like a long shot.
Olson: I did think Iowa State could get upset by North Dakota State, but I didn't expect a blowout. Throughout the offseason we were led to believe the Cyclones had renovated their offense and were on track to become a bowl-quality team again. That might still be the case, but losing Farniok and Bundrage was crushing, and ISU's run defense was embarrassing in the 20-point loss. They could be in for a rough run to start this season.
Other than Swoopes, what storyline are you most interested in this weekend?
Chatmon: I’m interested to see if there’s any letdown from Oklahoma State and West Virginia as home favorites after strong showings in losses to open the season. The Cowboys face Missouri State and the Mountaineers face Towson in games they should dominate. If OSU and WVU are the type of teams they looked like to open the season, they will roll on Saturday. If they aren’t, they’ll let their overmatched opponents make the games closer than they should be.
Trotter: I'll be watching to see how the Texas defense performs in a revenge game against BYU. The Longhorns were embarrassed in Provo last year. Now, even more pressure will be on them with Texas' quarterback shuffle. The Longhorns have the talent defensively to dominate, and carry the team through this quarterback transition. But will they? We're about to find out.
Olson: The rematch of Taysom Hill vs. Texas' defense. Last season, he torched the Longhorns for 259 rushing yards and three TDs and nobody saw it coming. The nation's No. 3 rushing quarterback in 2013 looked sharper and improved as a passer in his debut vs. UConn last week. Texas' defense was spectacular against North Texas, and its players want revenge. Charlie Strong's staff should have a much better plan for containing Hill and the zone read, but this going to be a four-quarter chess match.
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.
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.
Here is how the Big 12 stacks up after Week 1 of the season:
Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State: Running back Tyreek Hill drew the “oohs” and “aahs” with his speed, but Ogbah had just as big an impact for the Cowboys defensively. Facing off against an offensive line starting five seniors, Ogbah was dominant in his first career start, finishing with six tackles, two sacks and two pass breakups. The Big 12 is loaded at defensive end with Cedric Reed, Ryan Mueller, Charles Tapper and Shawn Oakman. Ogbah, just a sophomore, showed Saturday night that he might be in that class, too.
Kolby Listenbee, WR, TCU: The Horned Frogs have desperately been in need of playmaking at the wide receiver spot. They might have uncovered the answer in Listenbee. The burner hauled in 38- and 36-yard bombs from Trevone Boykin, and added a touchdown grab on a fade late in the game from Matt Joeckel. Listenbee was beating his man all game. The Horned Frogs might finally have a weapon at receiver who can cause concern for the opponent.
Demarco Cobbs, LB, Texas: Cobbs missed the entire 2013 season and was such a non-factor before that anyway that some speculated his college career might be over. But Cobbs appears to have something left in the tank and displayed that with a pick-six in the opener. If the Longhorns suffer any injuries at linebacker, Cobbs could prove to be a key backup.
Kevin White, WR, West Virginia: Other than quarterback Clint Trickett, there wasn’t a more impressive performer against Alabama than White. The senior wideout had nine grabs for 143 yards and a touchdown. The Mountaineers had a solid wide receiving corps last year, but they never had a go-to target emerge. White clearly established himself as the target for Trickett and could be in for a monster season.
Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech: In an otherwise dismal performance, Texas Tech’s running back trio of DeAndre Washington, Quinton White and Stockton looked solid against Central Arkansas. And with Stockton, a true freshman, contributing, the Red Raiders should be fine at the position even with Kenny Williams at linebacker. Stockton had a couple of nice runs while finishing with 38 yards rushing and a nifty 6-yard touchdown.
Tyler Evans, OG, Oklahoma: Evans is in his sixth year with the Sooners, but he hadn’t played since the 2011 season Insight Bowl due to knee injuries. Saturday, Evans got the start at right guard in place of an injured Nila Kasitati, and the offensive line didn’t miss a beat as the Sooners racked up 436 yards of offense. Evans at one point quit football because of the injuries. Instead, he’ll be a valuable cog for the Sooners up front.
- A lot of great reads came out of Baylor's Sunday night christening of McLane Stadium. The Dallas Morning News' Kevin Sherrington wrote that the Bears left their inhibitions -- and their tarp -- on other side of I-35. Baylor fans marveled at the new stadium, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald's Regina Davis. And the paper's John Werner added that it's time for Baylor to believe again. Brandon was in Waco and and has more on the unveiling on the blog this morning. But from the view of my TV set, the stadium looked awesome. It should be a game-changer for the Bears, especially in recruiting. Who wouldn't want to play in that venue? Underscoring that theme, Robert Griffin III, took this spectacular selfie in front of the Baylor student section. A great night all around for Baylor.
- Back to Saturday's games, Oklahoma State did not fear the spear, The Oklahoman's John Helsley wrote. And according to the paper's Berry Tramel, the Cowboys should be dejected about the night, and euphoric about the future. As I wrote last week, Oklahoma State's sustainability was going to be tested this season. And despite the loss, the Cowboys passed that test with flying colors against the top-ranked team in the country. Despite having to lean on several young players, the Pokes gave Florida State everything it wanted, and might have been a J.W. Walsh fumble away from flat pulling off the upset. Oklahoma State's 2014 outlook looks completely different now than I had it pegged in the preseason. This is a team to be reckoned with. And no matter the circumstance, a program to be reckoned with, too.
- Speaking of giving an opponent everything it wanted, West Virginia took second-ranked Alabama to the wire in an inspired performance from Dana Holgorsen's bunch. The game showed how far the Mountaineers have come, wrote the Charleston Daily Mail's Chuck McGill. The biggest difference for West Virginia was the play of quarterback Clint Trickett, who was terrific against the Crimson Tide. With Rushel Shell also pounding out yards between the tackles and Kevin White hauling in passes downfield, this could be a dynamite offense. If the Mountaineers play the entire season the way they did Saturday, there is no doubt they will get back to bowl eligibility. The schedule might still be brutal. But do you think Oklahoma and Baylor and Kansas State are looking forward to their trips to Morgantown now?
- We addressed the good. Now, to the ugly. The Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson believes Iowa State's 34-14 defeat to North Dakota State was the worst loss of the Paul Rhoads era. I can't disagree. After jumping on the Bison 14-0, the Cyclones simply were dominated the rest of the way. Most disheartening was how Iowa State was obliterated in the trenches. If an FCS team can do that to the Cyclones this weekend, what are Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State going to do? Adding injury to insult, Iowa State suffered injuries to a pair of its key players in center Tom Farniok and wideout Quenton Bundrage. Farniok might be back this weekend, but it doesn't look promising for Bundrage, who was Iowa State's leading receiver last season. This now has the look of a very rough year for the Cyclones, whose next four opponents went a combined 37-14 last season.
- Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury was not happy with his team's performance over the weekend, either, as the Red Raiders narrowly escaped Central Arkansas 42-35. Kingsbury called the showing "embarrassing," according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams. The Red Raiders have high hopes for the season and for the future of the program, illustrated by the extension the school agreed to with Kingsbury the day before. But all hope is not lost. Plenty of teams have looked lackluster in their openers, then gone on to great seasons. But quarterback Davis Webb will have to be sharper, and the defense will have to be better for the Red Raiders to have the season they envision.
ATH Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State: The best compliment you can offer Tyreek Hill might be that, without a doubt, Florida State wishes that guy was on their team. The heavily-hyped junior college transfer might've actually exceeded his electric expectations with 106 yards of offense on 14 touches and, including returns, 278 all-purpose yards in the 37-31 loss to Florida State. We tried to warn you all about him. Hill is going to be special and he's going to give Big 12 defenses fits.
QB Clint Trickett and WR Kevin White, West Virginia: What a gutsy performance from the Mountaineers and especially this duo during the 33-23 loss to Alabama. Trickett came out firing and finished with 365 passing yards and no turnovers. White might've been even better. He took it to the Alabama secondary with 143 yards on nine receptions, including a 19-yard score, and evoked a lot of talk about his NFL future. Trickett and White were put on a big stage and they stepped up.
WR John Harris, Texas: Welcome back to the big show. Harris, a senior who was seldom used last season, had an eye-opening, career-best performance as David Ash's go-to guys during a 38-7 win over North Texas. He hauled in seven receptions for 110 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown in which he trucked through a defender near the goal line. Harris caught five passes in all of 2013 but could be poised to do big things if he and Ash keep up this rapport.
QB Jake Waters, Kansas State: Waters kicked off his senior-year campaign with another typically steady showing, leading K-State on a 55-16 rout of SF Austin while putting up some nice numbers: 223 yards on 19-of-28 passing, two passing TDs, 55 rushing yards, two rushing TDs. He's becoming an excellent distributor. KSU's offense won't ask him to put up crazy Air Raid stats, but this was a nice performance.
RB Keith Ford, Oklahoma: Freshman Samaje Perine finished with more yards and Alex Ross chipped in two scores, but Ford did some really nice things with his touches. He finished with 116 total yards (65 receiving, 51 rushing) and punched in two first-quarter touchdown runs to get the Sooners rolling to a 48-16 win over Louisiana Tech. OU's inexperience stable of backs got the job done.
DE Mike Tuaua, TCU: The Horned Frogs' defensive line fared just fine without Devonte Fields thanks to a breakout performance from Tuaua. The former juco transfer went wild on Samford with 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles during TCU's 48-14 win. A three-game starter last season, Tuaua almost matched his entire TFL output from last season in one night. He won't get to catch folks by surprise anymore, that's for sure.
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.
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.
Considering the way the final three quarters played out, there were a dozen or so plays that stemmed the tide and flipped momentum in AT&T Stadium. Ultimately, three plays ended up having the biggest impact on the game, and they were all born out of mistakes. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher agrees with the contemporary cliché that more games are lost rather than won, and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has to feel that way after the No. 1 Seminoles defeated the Cowboys 37-31.
The decisive play came with a little more than four minutes left in the game. The Florida State offense struggled much of the night, and reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston looked flustered throughout. Rashad Greene, now fourth all-time on the Seminoles' receiving list, ran a shallow cross, and as he broke to the middle of the field, the Cowboys cornerback bumped into a teammate, freeing Greene. The pass was a little behind Greene, so that little collision might have been the difference between an interception and what Greene did once he caught the ball -- go 50 yards for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. Two plays earlier, Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh had fumbled the football when he looked poised to rip off a big gain. The Cowboys trailed by three and had a chance to take their first lead of the game. But Walsh was tripped up and fumbled, and Winston iced the game shortly thereafter.
Winston looked like a Heisman winner on a 28-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore lumbered down the field, jumped over his offensive lineman, juked a Cowboys defender and then dove into the end zone. It was the kind of play we've come to expect from Winston but hadn't seen Saturday to that point. That touchdown was also set up by a series of Oklahoma State miscues. The Cowboys looked as if they would pin Florida State deep, but an errant snap on a punt gave the Seminoles the ball near midfield. The Cowboys defense held, but on third-and-11, Cowboys defensive back Ashton Lampkin, who was picked on constantly, was called for holding. It extended Florida State's drive, and Winston rumbled into the end zone the very next play.
Florida State capitalized on the Cowboys' two turnovers, scoring touchdowns off of each. Oklahoma State managed only three points off the Seminoles' two miscues. The first Cowboys turnover came early in the game as Nate Andrews intercepted Walsh near the Oklahoma State end zone, and then Andrews walked in for the score. It was an outstanding play from Andrews, but it once again was precipitated by a special teams breakdown. The Cowboys fouled up the kickoff return and started the drive at their own 3-yard line. Walsh's interception was on the drive's first play, and it gave FSU an early 10-0 lead.
Good teams feed off their opponents' mistakes, and that is exactly what Florida State did.
Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch this week in the Big 12:
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.
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.
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.
To the 'bag:
@Jake_Trotter which player in the big 12 hasn't garnered national media attention but will after the first few weeks of the season? - KJH (@KJHolley25) August 28, 2014
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.
@Jake_Trotter has there ever been a top 25 team with as much undervalued talent as KState? (walkons, players not recruited in state) - Paul White (@DCEPaulW) August 28, 2014
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.
@Jake_Trotter which sooner is the most NFL ready right now, and why - T-WAD3 (@WadeWonder1) August 28, 2014
Trotter: Probably linebacker Eric Striker. He can already do one thing at an NFL level, and that's rush the passer.
@Jake_Trotter Jake, can Tech go 8-0 before welcoming in the Longhorns on Nov. 1 (though you have already picked several teams over Tech)? - Johnny Fowler (@OfficialJFowler) August 28, 2014
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.
@Jake_Trotter OSU is currently unranked, but depending on the outcome of the FSU game, do you think OSU will be ranked soon afterwards? - Clinton Scott (@CScottOSUPokes) August 28, 2014
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.
@Jake_Trotter who wins the Big 12, and why is it Baylor? - Dr. SHBUCKETS (@craballin) August 28, 2014
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.
@jake_trotter What are you looking forward to the most in week 1? - Lesslie Stanford (@lessliestanford) August 28, 2014
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.
@Jake_Trotter since start of Big12 round robin, no undefeated championship team. Is this the year? Will we see it In next 3-5 years? - Blake West (@blakewesttx) August 28, 2014
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.
@Jake_Trotter why is nobody talking about Texas Tech being a Big 12 contender? - Briar Briar Briar (@Statechampxc96) August 28, 2014
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.
@Jake_Trotter Will Sam Richardson remain Iowa State's QB the whole season or will he share snaps with Grant Rohach? - brian moore (@mcso694) August 28, 2014
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.
@Jake_Trotter Jake - rank the #Big12's best game day experience. How, in your opinion, do the teams stack up? - Red Raider Ranting (@RaiderRantings) August 28, 2014
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.
Walsh is always the last to leave the practice field. And the first to arrive in the film room. And he climbs stadium steps faster than any player on the team.
“He’s our quarterback. ... We’re pulling for him and we’re going to depend on him.”
Walsh didn’t earn that trust overnight.
In his first career start two years ago, he showed he was a gamer, totaling 357 yards while nearly leading the Cowboys to a fourth-quarter victory over then 12th-ranked Texas.
Two games later, he validated his toughness, throwing for 415 yards against Iowa State while playing through a serious knee injury.
Then in the opener last year against Mississippi State, Walsh displayed his determination, essentially willing a sluggish Oklahoma State offense to a 21-3 victory.
“He’s the leader of this team,” guard Zac Veatch said of Walsh, who's been off limits to the media this preseason. “People follow him.”
But the biggest question for an Oklahoma State team long on youth and short on experience is not whether Walsh can finally lead the Cowboys as their full-time quarterback.
“He feels the urgency,” Veatch said.
Two years ago, Walsh lost a three-way battle for the starting job to true freshman Wes Lunt. Walsh stepped in after Lunt suffered a knee injury of his own. But Walsh was relegated to operating the Cowboys’ short-yardage package behind Clint Chelf after returning later in the season from his knee injury.
Last season, Walsh took over the offense three series into the Mississippi State game. But after finishing 15th nationally in QBR in 2012, Walsh struggled with his accuracy and decision-making in 2013. And after several games with the offense sputtering with him at quarterback, the Cowboys turned back to Chelf, who became just the second Oklahoma State quarterback ever to earn first- or second-team all-conference honors.
This offseason, Walsh found himself in another three-way battle with true freshman Mason Rudolph and former walk-on Daxx Garman. But even though neither Rudolph nor Garman had ever taken a college snap, coach Mike Gundy waited until this week before finally indicating that Walsh would start against the Seminoles. Gundy also previously suggested that Garman could get 10-15 snaps Saturday.
“Each one of those guys has come a long way since the spring,” Gundy said. “They’ve come along and they’re doing better. If they’re out there in a crucial situation, we’d like to be able to use those guys when we want to use them, not when someone else determines when we use them.”
Because of his experience and leadership, the Cowboys would probably prefer to use Walsh.
Garman has the bigger arm, which seems to be the better fit for an offense stocked with capable receivers. Rudolph, the gem of February’s signing class, has the higher ceiling.
But Walsh has the team.
“He’s the leader of the team,” said cornerback Kevin Peterson. “In workouts, he’s always going to be first. His work ethic is really great. I have all the confidence in J-Dub. If I want to pick anybody, it’s going to be J-Dub, because he shows all the leadership attributes.”
Walsh, however, will have to demonstrate more than merely leadership to keep the job. He’ll have to complete passes at a better rate than the 59 percent he did in 2013.
He’ll have to avoid the costly interceptions, the last of which in the red zone against TCU last fall finally cost him the job.
And he’ll have to flash more of the big-play ability -- both with his wheels and his arm -- he did two seasons ago as a freshman.
The Cowboys want Walsh on the field. But they also want the best quarterback, too.
“Him having the experience and being the veteran is great,” Veatch said. “And him being the veteran and having the experience is going to help him be the guy that plays.
“But whoever is the best guy is going to play.”
Walsh has already proven he’s Oklahoma State’s leader.
Saturday night against the No. 1 team in the country, he’ll have the chance to prove the Cowboys can depend on him to be their quarterback, too.
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET 4 Oklahoma Tulsa 12:00 PM ET 20 Kansas State Iowa State 3:30 PM ET Missouri State Oklahoma State 7:00 PM ET Southeast Missouri State Kansas 7:30 PM ET BYU Texas 7:30 PM ET Towson West Virginia 7:30 PM ET Northwestern State 10 Baylor 11:00 PM ET Texas Tech UTEP