Big 12: Texas Longhorns

AUSTIN, Texas -- Thirteen months ago, David Ash had a vision for how this would someday play out.

At Big 12 media days in July 2013, Ash was asked about his relationship with Tyrone Swoopes, the freshman who'd enrolled early and was battling to become his backup. He talked about Texas' proud history at the quarterback position -- Vince Young, Colt McCoy, even mentioned Major Applewhite. Then he reflected on what he wanted to leave behind when his playing days at Texas were over.

"Coming in, Texas kind of took a nosedive for a year, and we've been trying to get back up," he said. "With Tyrone, my goal is that whenever he steps in, I've got the program where he can just keep it rolling and Texas can be good for a long time."

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMIWhile Tyrone Swoopes' ability to run gives the Longhorns another dimension, their success will depend on his ability to make key throws and good decisions.
The passing of the torch wasn't supposed to go down like this. Ash has played in just four games since then. Concussion-related symptoms have once again benched him and put his football future in doubt.

The time for Swoopes to step in is right now and when he least expected it. The sophomore played two snaps against North Texas -- the final two kneel-downs of the ballgame -- but must start his first career game Saturday against BYU.

Swoopes' resume is fairly blank to this point. He's completed nearly four times more passes in spring games (19) than in real ones (five). But he showed enough in fall camp to make this a clear-cut decision for Charlie Strong and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson once Ash was ruled out.

"I'm very confident in Tyrone. I am," Strong said. "I'm confident with any player on this football team."

The 6-foot-4 sophomore isn't easy to bring down at 245 pounds, and Watson will surely implement more run options into the game plan this week to accentuate what Swoopes does best. Strong went so far as to compare Swoopes's ability on the perimeter to BYU's prolific quarterback Taysom Hill.

He is not the fleet-footed Young clone that fans expected during Swoopes' recruitment out of Whitewright (Texas) High School, but his legs do give the Texas offense an asset and a chance for some new wrinkles.

What Texas needs from Swoopes, above all else, is a competent passer capable of making key throws and sound decisions. He throws a nice deep ball, but how will he handle the intermediate throws? What about third downs and passing downs? Watson has seen improvements both in Swoopes' knowledge and fundamentals during their time together. A long offseason of training will soon be put to the test.

"Once Tyrone gets a couple completions in, he'll start getting a little rhythm and he'll be fine," running back Malcolm Brown said. "He's a guy that I've seen work since he's been here. I know as a backup, you always feel like you have to go above and beyond, but that's not the case at all. Just have to be consistent."

The presence of Brown and Johnathan Gray, two of the Big 12's best backs, certainly helps. Strong insists he does not demand greatness of Texas' quarterbacks. He just needs a game manager.

"What you have to look at, it's not all about one position," Strong said. "If you have the defense play well like we played the other night, you have two good running backs, your offense line protects well, you can function."

Strong said Swoopes executed the Texas offense effectively during practice Sunday, but he must also prepare a contingency plan. Swoopes' backup will be freshman Jerrod Heard, the former ESPN 150 recruit and two-time state champion from Denton (Texas) Guyer. Walk-on Trey Holtz figures to be the No. 3 option, and there are no other scholarship quarterbacks available.

Had Heard been able to enroll early at Texas this spring, he might've had a better chance to beat out Swoopes. After Watson told reporters this month that Heard was "in China" when it came to his understanding of the offense, a redshirt seemed likely. That might not be possible now.

"It's got to move very quickly for him," Strong said. "You're always a play away."

The opponent for Swoopes' first start, while familiar, is no less scary. BYU forced an Ash-led Texas offense to punt eight times in the 40-21 beatdown in Provo last season. He might struggle early, Strong admitted, but Swoopes needs to maintain his composure. He needs to find confidence.

And Texas will need everybody else to chip in if they're going to pull this off and, as Ash hoped, keep rolling.

"Other players have to step up, other players have to go play," Strong said. "You look across the country and it can happen to any team at any second. Now it's happened to us."

Texas QB David Ash won't play vs. BYU

September, 1, 2014
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Texas quarterback David Ash, who missed most of last season with concussion symptoms, was injured again and will miss this week's game against BYU.

Ash took several hard hits in a 38-7 win over North Texas. Longhorns coach Charlie Strong says Ash didn't show any symptoms during the game, but that the coaching staff got a call later that night.

To continue reading this story, click here.

Big 12 Weekend Rewind: Week 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the week: “We can function. It’s not like it’s the end of the world.” – Texas coach Charlie Strong, after revealing Monday morning that quarterback David Ash would miss Saturday’s game with BYU due to concussion-like symptoms suffered in the opener.

Big 12 FPI rankings

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

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

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Over the weekend, colleeague Max Olson released his helmet stickers for the top performers of the weekend. But I also wanted to highlight some other players who really impressed me in Week 1:

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.

[+] EnlargeKevin White, Bradley Sylve
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsKevin White's 100-yard game against Alabama could mean he's the go-to receiver West Virginia needs.
Jay Lee, WR, Baylor: With Baylor ailing at wide receiver, Lee displayed that he’s also capable of taking on a primary role. With Corey Coleman and Antwan Goodley dealing with nagging injuries and Clay Fuller out with a broken collarbone, Lee hauled in eight passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. The Bears are overflowing with talent at receiver, especially with the additions of freshmen K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall. But Lee is another reason why.

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.

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 1

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Well, that was a pretty great day of football in the Big 12, all in all (sorry, Cyclones). We were on the lookout for guys who surprised in this first week of college football, and we had no trouble finding enough guys worthy of the coveted helmet sticker. Yes, Baylor still has to play, but here's who we're handing stickers out to for big games on Saturday:

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.

Plays that changed the game: Texas

August, 31, 2014
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong promised fans would see a Texas defense that played tougher in 2014. The first impression he and his players presented Saturday, in a 38-7 beatdown of North Texas, did not disappoint. Texas held the Mean Green to 94 total yards of offense, 15 passing yards and picked off four passes to begin the Strong era.

Here's a closer look at four of the Longhorns' top defensive plays, one from each quarter, and how they shaped what proved to be an easy season-opening victory.

1st: Walk-on gets the pick party started

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Dylan Haines burst onto the scene this spring with an interception in the first quarter of the Orange-White spring game. He did it again Saturday night. The third-year sophomore ran to the right place at the right time when Josh Greer's third-down pass deflected off the outstretched hand of tight end Marcus Smith. He grabbed the ball and took off for a 22-yard return.

Teammates mobbed "White Chocolate" -- Haines' nickname handed down from Texas' veteran DBs -- as soon as the play ended. "It's a really special moment," he said. "To share it with the 10 other guys on the field and have everyone come up and celebrate me was a truly awesome feeling." Though Texas didn't capitalize with points, Greer seemed rattled after that misfire. After the game, Haines told reporters Strong did put him on scholarship earlier this month.

2nd: Ten players, no problem?

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Watch this one closely. Unless there's a player hiding somewhere off the screen, it seems Texas got stuck with 10 defenders on the field for a third-and-4. Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford have a reputation for being fearless when it comes to blitzing, and on this play, they send six. Defensive tackle Desmond Jackson takes on the center, clearing the way for linebacker Demarco Cobbs and safety Mykkele Thompson to run past them. Cobbs gets to backup QB Andrew McNulty first and Thompson finishes the job.

UNT punted and Texas answered with an eight-play TD drive. It's a nice breakthrough play for Thompson and Cobbs, who've both endured some struggles in recent years but appear revitalized this fall under the new staff.

3rd: A rare chance to get pressure

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North Texas did not want to throw the ball in this game, especially once Texas started grabbing interceptions. The Mean Green finished with 17 pass attempts and their quarterbacks had more sacks (four) than completed passes (three). Here's one of the few times Greer, a juco transfer making his first FBS start, attempted a pass on first down. Texas defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, one of the team's most enigmatic players, had no trouble here. He went right around UNT's right tackle and brought Greer down from behind. Teammates say the light bulb is coming on for Ridgeway, whose lazy habits limited his opportunities last season. He's the No. 3 defensive tackle in this lineup but could develop into a force.

UNT went three-and-out here and Greer attempted just two more passes the rest of the quarter. "Because they were young, they came in not to lose that game," Bedford said. "They played close to the vest, didn't give us a chance to really get after their quarterback enough. We finally got him in the third and fourth quarter."

4th: One more for the road

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Texas had three interceptions with four minutes left. Not bad at all. But they didn't stop there. More misfortune for Greer, a pass over the middle that bounced off his receiver's hands. Cobbs swooped in to grab the ball out of the air and dashed 28 yards for the pick-six. Cobbs sat out the 2013 season while recovering from a knee injury. The new coaching staff gave him a fresh start, and he rewarded their trust Saturday. If Texas' defense can be this prolific at forcing turnovers and turning them into points, they're going to be a tough out for any opponent.

"Hopefully you see a lot more of that," Bedford said.

Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 1

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

To the 'bag:


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

After Germany blasted FIFA World Cup host Brazil 7-1 on July 8, I joked on Twitter that the Brazilians must have hired former Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz as a defensive consultant.

Within an hour, Diaz sent me a direct message on Twitter, asking me to call him the next day.

Our conversation the following day was cordial, and I thanked Diaz for reaching out. I apologized for the inconsiderate joke and told him it wasn't anything personal. I could have used a handful of coaches as the butt of the not-so-funny joke, but, for whatever reason, Diaz popped into my head.

The last time college football fans saw a Diaz-coached defense on the field, the Longhorns allowed a school-record 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 loss at BYU on Sept. 7, 2013.

Then-Texas coach Mack Brown fired Diaz the next day.

After largely spending the rest of the 2013 season in isolation, Diaz will return to the sideline as Louisiana Tech's defensive coordinator in Saturday’s game at No. 4 Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeManny Diaz
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesOn Saturday, Manny Diaz will coach his first game since being fired after Texas' loss to BYU last September.
For Diaz, it's his first shot at redemption, albeit against what is expected to be one of the country’s most prolific offenses.

"Everybody in this profession is at heart a competitor," Diaz said. "I'm super, super excited about the opportunity to get back out there and go at it again."

Diaz's fall from grace was nearly as stunning as his meteoric rise through the college coaching ranks. A former ESPN production assistant, Diaz started as a graduate assistant at Florida State in 1998 and was a defensive coordinator at an FBS school within eight years.

After spending four seasons at Middle Tennessee State from 2006-09, Diaz transformed Mississippi State’s defense into one of the country’s best in 2010. In 2011, Brown hired him to turn around Texas' defense.

The early results at Texas were good: The Longhorns led the Big 12 in total defense, rushing defense and pass defense in his first season. In 2012, the Longhorns allowed only 212 passing yards per game in the pass-happy Big 12 despite losing star defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Jordan Hicks to injuries.

Then, the wheels fell off at the start of the 2013 season. Nearly a year later, Diaz is reluctant to talk about what transpired at Texas. He has never criticized Brown or the decision to replace him with Greg Robinson only two games into the season.

"There's nothing to me that matters about what happened," Diaz said. "The issues there were multifaceted, and I think everybody involved, if they had a chance to go back, would change some things."

In the end, firing Diaz didn’t accomplish much. The Longhorns lost to Ole Miss 44-23 the next week before winning six games in a row, including a 36-20 upset of then-No. 12 Oklahoma. But the Longhorns lost three of their last four games, allowing 38 points against Oklahoma State, 30 against Baylor and 30 against Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

Brown was forced to resign and coached the Longhorns for the final time in the bowl game. Brown, who had a 158-48 record in 16 seasons with the Longhorns and guided them to the 2005 national championship, now works as an analyst for ESPN.

Diaz, 40, spent much of last season coaching his sons' football teams. He consulted with a few teams but declined to name them because "Twitter would blow up."

Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz called him in January and offered him a job. Holtz wouldn't have had to go far to find out what really happened to Diaz at Texas last season. His son, Trey, is a sophomore walk-on quarterback with the Longhorns.

"I think Skip had an intimate knowledge of what was really happening behind the doors," Diaz said.

Diaz isn't the only coordinator looking for redemption this season. Former Kansas coach Mark Mangino, who resigned amid allegations that he abused his players, is Iowa State's new offensive coordinator. New Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder's past two college coaching stops, as Georgia Southern's head coach and then Auburn's defensive coordinator, were far from spectacular. New Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's defense at Georgia allowed a school-record 377 points last season.

But perhaps no coach has fallen as hard or fast as Diaz, who went from a wonder boy to, well, the butt of jokes in a matter of a couple of games.

"I think it's the nature of this profession," Diaz said. "I think you see it now more than ever. I think the game is more volatile than ever."

Diaz's career rehab will start near the bottom of FBS football. Last season, the Bulldogs went 4-8 in Holtz's first season. Louisiana Tech's victories came against FCS foe Lamar and FBS opponents UTEP, Florida International and Southern Miss, which combined to win four games in 2013. The Bulldogs lost consecutive games against Tulane, Kansas (which ended a 22-game losing streak to FBS foes) and Army in September.

Holtz hired Diaz to do what he did at every one of his previous stops -- make the defense better.

"I think Coach Diaz has done a phenomenal job with this defense and the things he has put in," Holtz said. "I think he makes it very complicated, but yet, at the same time, it is very simple for them to learn. It appears complicated, but I think he has really simplified it in terms of being user-friendly for the players to take it and embrace it."

The Bulldogs' first challenge is a daunting one, trying to slow down OU's high-powered attack. The Sooners had their way against Diaz's defenses in two previous meetings, outscoring the Longhorns 118-38 in victories in 2011 and '12.

"It's a program I have a lot of respect for," Diaz said. "They challenge the bond of your team. When I got here and found out we were playing Oklahoma, that's the first thing I told our players. It's what they do with their style of play and tempo. If you drop your gloves, they'll pound you."

The Bulldogs' defensive coordinator knows all too well about being knocked down. Will Diaz get back up?

Big 12 morning links

August, 29, 2014
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Happy Friday, everybody. Just one more day of work until the best three-day weekend of your year (until next weekend). Hang in there.
  • The Topeka Capital-Journal went long on Bill Snyder's legacy in a package -- entitled "Manhattan Project" -- that you're gonna want to check out. Here's the main piece by Ken Corbitt, and Kevin Haskin came up with a fun list of what-ifs when you think back on Snyder's tenure. One observation from Corbitt's piece that stands out: Had Snyder not come along and rescued the Wildcats, might they have been kicked out of the Big Eight? That's how dire the situation Snyder inherited was becoming. Everything he's achieved in the 25 years since has been flat-out stunning.
  • Texas finally released its depth chart on Thursday. The big news? True freshman Jason Hall is slated to start at strong safety, making him the Longhorns' first opening-day true freshman starter since Blake Gideon in 2008. Hall is one of 10 freshmen who made the depth chart. Another key decision came on the offensive line. With Desmond Harrison suspended for the opener, Texas moved Kennedy Estelle back to right tackle and promoted Marcus Hutchins to left tackle. The former scout-team defensive tackle has never started a game. That makeshift line is going to have to keep David Ash clean against North Texas.
  • Who is Texas Tech's fastest player? Might seem like a silly question, but Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal wisely points out that the number of speedsters the Red Raiders have had has been on the uptick in recent years. I'd put my money on receiver Jakeem Grant, who told the paper he sees speed becoming a real advantage for Tech's offense this year. Its receiving corps is full of guys you'd want in on the fastest-man race. Newcomers Justin Stockton and Mike Mitchell are also getting talked up for their legit speed. If the perception is true, and Tech does have that much speed at each receiver spot, Davis Webb is going to have some fun throwing deep.
  • One team we have admittedly not written about much this week is Kansas. For the second year in a row, the Jayhawks open their season with a bye. The weekend off does provide a strategic advantage for Charlie Weis: He got to watch Week 2 opponent Southeast Missouri State play its season opener last night, a 77-0 win over Missouri Baptist. The week gave KU more time to address its running back situation, and Weis says freshman Corey Avery and juco transfer De'Andre Mann are "1 and 1A."
  • Lastly, I enjoyed this story by Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman on what goes into the groundskeeping crew's efforts to prepare Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for a ballgame. Bob Stoops, he of so many hot offseason takes, argues grass fields are the best. I don't have a strong feeling either way on that one, but I must say I did not know a field requires up to 300 gallons of paint in one weekend.
The College Football Playoff isn’t the only thing new for the Big 12 this year. The league will welcome new bowl tie-ins, as well as old bowl tie-ins with new names. The playoff is obviously new. The Russell Athletic Bowl and AutoZone Liberty Bowl are new to the league, as well. The Cactus Bowl is the old Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (which before that was the Insight Bowl). Next year, the Champions Bowl, which will pit top teams from the Big 12 and SEC, will jump into the rotation as well.

But, without further ado, here are our preseason bowl projections for the Big 12, which, like the bowl tie-ins themselves, are sure to change before long:

Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Orleans (Jan. 1): Oklahoma vs. College Football Playoff semifinal
Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Texas (Jan. 1): Baylor vs. at-large
Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio (Jan. 2): Kansas State vs. Pac-12 No. 2
Russell Athletic Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (Dec. 29): Texas vs. ACC No. 2
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Houston (Dec. 29): Texas Tech vs. SEC
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn. (Dec. 29): TCU vs. SEC
Cactus Bowl, Tempe, Ariz. (Jan. 2): Oklahoma State vs. Pac-12 No. 7

Big 12 players in Week 1 spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poll: Team most on upset alert?

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

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

SportsNation

Which Big 12 team should be on upset alert Saturday?

  •  
    65%
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    8%
  •  
    4%
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    18%
  •  
    5%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,892)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 Week 1 predictions

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

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

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

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