Big 12: West Virginia Mountaineers

Here’s what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 9:

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezTrevone Boykin's record-setting day possibly helped propel the TCU quarterback into the Heisman race.
1. Boykin is a Heisman contender: It’s time for people to start taking Trevone Boykin’s Heisman candidacy seriously. The TCU quarterback threw for 433 yards and tossed a school-record seven touchdowns in the Horned Frogs’ 82-27 demolition of Texas Tech. TCU’s 82 points were a school record, and a Big 12 record for points in a conference game. The 82 points were also the most scored on an FBS team since 2010. Boykin, who ended last season as a wide receiver, has made a remarkable turnaround as a quarterback this year under first-year Horned Frogs coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie. Boykin now has 21 touchdown passes, leading a TCU offense that has been as lethal as any in the country this season. The Horned Frogs remain in the thick of the playoff conversation and the Big 12 title race. Boykin is the biggest reason why. And for that reason, he should begin to receive Heisman consideration.

2. The Oklahoma State offense is a train wreck: While the TCU offense has been a revelation, the Oklahoma State offense has been a total disaster. After a 34-10 home loss to West Virginia, the Cowboys have now gone 10 quarters with just one offensive touchdown. Oklahoma State did absolutely nothing in the second half offensively against West Virginia, capped by a pick-six interception in the fourth quarter that iced the victory for the Mountaineers. Once again, the Cowboys' offensive line couldn’t protect quarterback Daxx Garman or open holes for Desmond Roland or Tyreek Hill. And Garman was miserably inaccurate in the second half, overthrowing receivers pass after pass. This is shaping up to be Mike Gundy’s worst offense since his first season as coach in 2005. Oklahoma State’s past 40 drives have resulted in 20 punts, nine turnovers, six field goals, three touchdowns and two missed field goals. With No. 11 Kansas State, No. 12 Baylor and No. 17 Oklahoma -- all on the road -- still left on the schedule, there’s little end in sight, too. If the Cowboys don’t knock off Texas at home on Nov. 15, they could miss out on a bowl for the first time since that 2005 season.

3. The Texas offense still has a long way to go, too: After a rough start to the season, the Longhorns seemed to be turning a corner offensively. Texas moved the ball well on Oklahoma, then scored 48 points in a win over Iowa State. But in the 23-0 loss to Kansas State on Saturday, the Wildcats handed the Longhorns their first shutout in 10 years while exposing multiple deficiencies. The Wildcats took away the deep ball and stuffed Texas’ run game, forcing QB Tyrone Swoopes to try to move the chains with an intermediate passing game. In response, neither Swoopes nor the Longhorns could sustain a drive. Texas finished with just 196 yards of offense, and in 17 snaps on K-State’s side of the field, gained only 18 yards. Swoopes has shown promise in recent weeks, but he still has a long way to go. So does the rest of the Texas offense.

4. K-State can win in multiple ways: Last week in a 31-30 victory over Oklahoma, the Wildcats won with an efficient effort from quarterback Jake Waters. Saturday, with Waters nursing a sore shoulder, the Wildcats won with a dominating performance from their defense. Ryan Mueller and Jonathan Truman controlled the line of scrimmage, while Dante Barnett and Randall Evans batted away Swoopes’ passing attempts down the middle of the field. The Wildcats have proven they can win semi-shootouts slinging the ball with Waters and receivers Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton. Against Texas, they showed they can win by flattening the opposing offense. That balance is why K-State has surged into a the Big 12 title mix. And why the Wildcats remain in playoff contention.

5. West Virginia is going bowling: Before the season West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck wouldn’t commit to stipulating that the Mountaineers had to make a bowl for this season to be considered a success. The schedule was brutal. And the Mountaineers had shown very little in two seasons in the Big 12. Luck just wanted to see improvement. Well, Luck has gotten that improvement. And Saturday, the Mountaineers became bowl eligible, too, with a convincing victory at Oklahoma State. But after four straight victories, including two straight on the road for the first time since joining the Big 12, West Virginia can set its sights higher. With TCU visiting Morgantown next weekend, the Mountaineers have a chance to take a major leap forward in the Big 12 title race. This has already been an amazing year for West Virginia, which came into the season with little outside expectations. Now, it has a chance to get even better.
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West Virginia has its first Big 12 title within its sights.

The Mountaineers took a step toward winning the Big 12 during their third season in the conference with a 34-10 win over Oklahoma State at Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday. With a favorable schedule on its side, Dana Holgorsen's squad has become legit contenders for a Big 12 ring.

Here's how it happened:

How the game was won: Defense. No, seriously, WVU won a tough Big 12 road contest largely on the shoulders of a defense that was outstanding on third down as OSU didn’t convert for a first down until the fourth quarter (0-for-8 in the first 50 minutes). The offense gave the defense a two-touchdown cushion early in the game and the defense took care of the rest by harassing Daxx Garman and the Cowboys' offense in key moments and consistently winning the third-down battle. It was all capped off by a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown by WVU freshman safety Dravon Henry late in the fourth quarter.

Game ball goes to: WVU running back Wendell Smallwood. The sophomore stepped up with 23 carries for 132 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry while helping the Mountaineers to be balanced, win the field position battle and run down the clock in the second half. The entire WVU offensive line deserves at least half a game ball as the Mountaineers finished with 44 carries for 210 yards (4.8 ypc).

What it means: The road to a Big 12 title could go through Morgantown, West Virginia. Already boasting a win over Baylor, the Mountaineers host TCU and Kansas State in their final four games, meaning WVU should be able to decide its own Big 12 title destiny instead of hoping for help from others.

Playoff implication: Things would have to come together perfectly for a two-loss West Virginia squad to get a College Football Playoff look. But the Mountaineers continue to win, earning their fourth straight victory on Saturday.

Best play: This is what people think of when they think of a Dana Holgorsen offense. Explosive plays, plenty of speed and quarterback-receiver duos that make it look easy. Clint Trickett’s 79-yard touchdown pass to Mario Alford had all those components. Watch and enjoy.

video What's next: The Mountaineers' win sets up a big-time game next week as they host TCU in a game that could decide the Big 12 champion. … Meanwhile, Oklahoma State travels to Kansas State with a little bit of hope, thanks to an improved running game, but major questions about how to get things turned around heading into November.
In Friday's Twitter mailbag, we talk playoff chances, Heisman odds and the Big 12 title race.

Speaking of the Big 12 title race, we’ll be at all three Big 12 games this weekend.

I’m on my way to Manhattan, Kansas, for K-State’s clash with Texas. Brandon will be at West Virginia-Oklahoma State. And Max will be manning Texas Tech-TCU.

Even with only three games, it should be a compelling weekend in the league.

Now, on to the ‘bag:

Trotter: I'm starting to wonder if the Big 12 is going to cannibalize itself out of the playoff. In terms of depth, this is the best this league has been in awhile. But in turn, I'm not sure anyone is going to be able to get through it without two losses. In part because of schedule, TCU is probably the league's best chance. Even then the Horned Frogs would still have to go win in West Virginia next weekend. That won't be easy. Trotter: He probably already would be appearing on straw polls had TCU held on to beat Baylor. All the Big 12 Heisman love went to Bryce Petty after that game. Now, it's going to West Virginia wideout Kevin White. But if the Horned Frogs beat Tech on Saturday, West Virginia next weekend then K-State on Nov. 8, I think you'll see Boykin surge into the Heisman conversation. He has had an amazing season. Trotter: I rank it second, behind the SEC (really, behind the SEC West, because the SEC East stinks outside Georgia). I've caught flak from West Coasters for writing earlier in the week that the Big 12 was second. But other than Oregon, does anyone in the Pac-12 finish in the top four of the Big 12? Trotter: While it would take a minor miracle, Oklahoma is not completely eliminated from the playoff mix yet. If you went back in time with the playoff, there would be teams that would have been selected with two losses. But the Sooners would need an awful lot of help. And quite frankly, Oklahoma will have to play better than it has the last three weeks to run the table anyway. Trotter: This is an impossible question to answer, because it fluctuates based on how each team is doing. And the word "fanbase" could mean many different things. I will say the best game I've been to this year in terms of crowd was the K-State-Auburn game last month. The K-State crowd was awesome for that game, especially the student section. Trotter: FPI gives West Virginia about a 10-percent chance of winning the league. I'd actually peg it a little higher. If the Mountaineers can escape Stillwater this weekend, they have a favorable schedule the rest of the way, with both TCU and K-State having to travel to Morgantown. The Mountaineers would also have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Baylor. So no doubt, at the moment West Virginia has to be considered a contender. Trotter: I'm a huge Curry Sexton fan. Honestly, if he and I walked into a room together, you might have a hard time determining which of us was a college football player -- and that's no compliment to me. But Sexton is a ballplayer. He has incredible hands, deceiving speed and a knack for coming up with big plays in key moments. Sexton is also one of the sharpest guys I've interviewed in the Big 12. And he has filled a major need on the Wildcats as the primary wingman for Tyler Lockett. Sexton is having a tremendous season. Trotter: It's a troubling stat. Eventually it's going to cost the Mountaineers, if they don't clean it up offensively. It was stunning how it didn't doom them early in that game against Baylor. But West Virginia also needs to be more opportunistic on defense. Only Michigan has forced fewer turnovers than the Mountaineers, who have only four takeaways. Turnovers are a big part in determining the outcome of a game. It's hard to see West Virginia overcoming that trend the rest of the season. Trotter: Both have been second-team All-Big 12-caliber players. As I wrote earlier today, Washington is quietly having a terrific year, but Shock Linwood and Samaje Perine will be tough to topple for first-team all-conference honors. Robertson is having the best season on Tech's defense, but Tech's defense is arguably the worst in the league. Plus, linebacker is a loaded position this year. Still, both players have been bright spots in what has been a tough season so far for the Red Raiders. Trotter: The reason is the schedule is so brutal. K-State still has to go win at TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. As well as the Wildcats have played, the chances of them sweeping those three games aren't good. Then again, if the Wildcats did run the table, they would obviously be the Big 12's best - and only -- chance of putting a team in the playoff. Though the Auburn loss would be tricky -- what if the final playoff spot came down to K-State and Auburn? -- the Wildcats at 11-1, with four monster road wins, would be a formidable playoff contender.

TCU, WVU coordinator hires have clicked

October, 24, 2014
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This week in his Inside Access column, ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg took a closer look at the instant success that TCU and West Virginia have enjoyed this season thanks to their new coordinator hires.

Here's a portion of what Adam had to say about the rise of TCU's offense under co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie:

In mid-July, TCU coach Gary Patterson sat in an ESPN conference room discussing the College Football Playoff and how hard it will be for selection committee members to hide their biases. He listed several comparable examples.

"I haven't been around an assistant coach yet whose wife didn't think he was the reason why we won," Patterson said with a chuckle.

Three months later, no one would argue with Kendall Meacham and Tamra Cumbie. Their husbands, TCU co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, have transformed one of the Big 12's weakest offenses into one of the nation's strongest in their first seasons on Patterson's staff.

TCU is averaging 192.9 more yards and 20.1 more points than it did in 2013, the biggest one-year jumps for any FBS team this season. The Frogs are fifth nationally in scoring (45.2 ppg) and seventh in yards (537.7 ypg), and quarterback Trevone Boykin leads the Big 12 and ranks fourth nationally in total offense (369.8 ypg).

The philosophical change from a traditional offense to the fast-paced spread has TCU in the top 10 and in contention for a coveted playoff spot. There hasn't been a more significant coaching change in the Big 12.

Adam also chatted with West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson about what has made his version of the 3-3-5 with a single-high safety so effective thus far. For the rest of this story, be sure to click here.

Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
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In Week 9 of Big 12 action, Kansas State and TCU will attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive, while Texas and Texas Tech will try to take a step on the road toward bowl eligibility. West Virginia, meanwhile, will look to keep rolling at Oklahoma State, which hopes to bounce back after getting blown out last week.

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

Texas at No. 11 Kansas State, noon ET (ESPN): If the numbers are any indication, Texas won’t get anything easy in this game. Kansas State has allowed only 19 plays of 20 yards or more, which is the fewest given up by any Big 12 defense. The Longhorns have been better offensively the last two weeks. Still, only Kansas and Iowa State have produced fewer 20-yard-plus plays in the Big 12 than the Longhorns. Running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown have also had problems breaking loose from the line of scrimmage. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Texas is averaging 1.4 yards after contact on designed runs, the worst average among Power 5 offenses. The Longhorns will have to be better on the ground to have a chance of pulling the upset in Manhattan, Kansas.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
AP Photo/Chris JacksonClint Trickett has thrown 15 touchdown passes and only five interceptions this season.
No. 22 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN): How much better has West Virginia QB Clint Trickett been this year? He has improved his Total QBR by 29 points from last season, the third-largest increase among Power 5 QBs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. One reason for the dramatic improvement has been the long ball. Trickett has already thrown eight touchdowns on passes of 20 yards or more, tied for third among Power 5 QBs. He had just one such touchdown pass all of last season. Kevin White, the nation’s leading receiver, has been on the other end of the majority of Trickett’s long throws. White tops the country with 16 receptions of 20 yards or more. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, has been even more reliant on throwing deep. Daxx Garman has 35 completions on passes thrown 15 yards or longer, tied for the most by a Power 5 QB. One thing is certain in this game: The ball will be flying downfield often.

Texas Tech at No. 10 TCU, 3:30 p.m. ET (FOX): Trickett isn’t the only Big 12 QB who has been a completely different player this year. Trevone Boykin’s Total QBR is up 28.7 points from last season, the fifth-largest increase in college football, per ESPN Stats & Information. Thanks in big part to Boykin’s turnaround, the Horned Frogs have featured one of the best big-play offenses in the country. TCU has 13 touchdown drives of three plays or fewer, tied for the most such drives in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Boykin & Co. could add to that total this weekend. Texas Tech's defensive efficiency is the worst among Power 5 teams. Opponents have scored a touchdown on 36 percent of their drives against Tech, the worst percentage of any Power 5 defense. The Red Raiders will probably need their best defensive effort of the year to have any shot at toppling the surging Horned Frogs.

Big 12 players in Week 9 spotlight

October, 23, 2014
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Our weekly effort to predict which Big 12 players are primed for a breakout performance had a few good calls last week: Ben Heeney was a monster and Jake Waters led Kansas State to an upset of Oklahoma. But we can always do better, can't we? Here's a closer look at six players who have a chance to shine in Week 10.

TCU CB Kevin White: Next week, we get the long-awaited rematch of Kevin White vs. Kevin White. This week, the TCU one gets another chance to prove he's one of the league's best corners. He snagged an interceptions last week against Oklahoma State and will have to bring his best against a Texas Tech receiving corps that's probably underrated at this point.

Kansas State FB Glenn Gronkowski: Just when you forget about him, that's when he burns you. The youngest Gronk brother is averaging 31.8 yards per reception and is so deadly in the Wildcats' delayed pop passes. Texas will be on alert after Gronkowski's 67-yard touchdown last week, but he's still going to get chances if Texas' inexperienced safeties make mistakes.

[+] EnlargeJaxon Shipley
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJaxon Shipley has a chance to break his touchdown drought this week.
Texas WR Jaxon Shipley: The secret is out on John Harris. Texas' senior go-to receiver is going to start drawing extra attention from opposing defenses. Shipley caught the huge 39-yarder against Iowa State last week to set up the win, but he's yet to catch a touchdown this season. He'll get a chance to snap that shutout this week.

West Virginia DE Shaquille Riddick: After putting up the most sacks by a WVU defender in three years, what does Riddick have to offer for a follow-up? He was terrific as a pass-rusher against Baylor, and now he gets to take on an Oklahoma State offensive line that's playing like one of the conference's worst.

Texas Tech QB Davis Webb: He doesn't have to outduel Trevone Boykin to pull off an upset against TCU. But Webb does have to avoid turnovers and he needs to capitalize every time the Red Raiders manage to cross midfield. It's probably going to take a lot of points to take down the top-10 ranked Frogs. Can Webb make this a back-and-forth, four-quarter fight?

Oklahoma State DT James Castleman: If you missed his interception against TCU last week, it was a beauty. Right place, right time, impossible catch. The Cowboys need a lot more of that luck this weekend. Castleman and this OSU defensive line need to get after Clint Trickett and throw off the pace and timing of West Virginia's dangerous offense.
With Halloween on the horizon it's been a scary early conference schedule for the Big 12's pair of preseason favorites.

Baylor and Oklahoma find themselves looking up at several teams in the conference standings as multiple squads have exceeded expectations. Several Big 12 coaches have done a terrific job this season, making the battle for Big 12 Coach of the Year honors one of the most interesting conversations of the midseason.

SportsNation

Who is the Big 12 Coach of the Year thus far?

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    28%
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    46%
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    2%
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    20%
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    4%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,421)

It's no surprise for Bill Snyder to elevate his Kansas State team to the top of the Big 12 standings in late October. The Wildcats are the only Big 12 team without a conference loss after KSU's road win over preseason favorite Oklahoma last Saturday. Snyder's team is well-coached yet extremely creative, a combination that has been making other coaching staffs pull out their hair for years.

West Virginia could be the surprise of the conference. The Mountaineers entered the season with the Big 12's toughest schedule but that hasn't deterred Dana Holgorsen's squad. After a loss to OU in its first Big 12 game, WVU has won three straight games including its upset win over Baylor. Holgorsen has done an exceptional job getting quarterback Clint Trickett to excel in his offense while receiver Kevin White is playing like the Biletnikoff Award favorite. Holgorsen was our Big 12 Midseason Coach of the Year and prompting one of the best tweets of the week.

TCU could be an even bigger surprise than WVU, going toe-to-toe with OU and BU and more than holding its own against the preseason favorites. Gary Patterson's decision to change the Horned Frogs offense looks like the best offseason move by any coach as TCU's offense has carried its defense at times this season as opposed to a year ago when the offense's turnovers and miscues put Patterson's defense behind the eight ball time and time again.

Mike Gundy has done an admirable job with Oklahoma State, even though the Cowboys came back to earth after last weekend's 41-9 thrashing at the hands of the Horned Frogs. After losing a roster full of senior standouts from last year's squad, Gundy has his inexperienced team at 5-2 with one conference loss. The Cowboys have yet to play a game that didn't feature glimpses of their youth yet find themselves one game from bowl eligibility before Halloween. The Pokes, picked fifth in the Big 12 preseason poll, probably won't win the Big 12 but they've exceeded preseason projections thus far.

Snyder, Holgorsen, Patterson and Gundy have done admirable jobs but other coaches could stake their claim on Big 12 Coach of the Year honors as well. OU's Bob Stoops and BU's Art Briles have had their teams looking like College Football Playoff contenders at times this season while Texas' Charlie Strong has the Longhorns looking like their best is yet to come heading into the second half of the season and Paul Rhoads' Iowa State squad just keeps getting up no matter how many times it gets knocked to the canvas.

Who do you think has been the Big 12's Coach of the Year thus far? Vote and leave your comment below. Let the debate begin!

Big 12 Week 9 predictions

October, 23, 2014
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Why Kansas State will win: In case you haven't noticed, the Wildcats have been playing good football all season. It took three missed field goals and a pair of untimely turnovers for Auburn to escape Manhattan last month. Behind QB Tyrone Swoopes, the Longhorns have been getting better. And they should be able to hang tough, as they did against Baylor and Oklahoma. But they ultimately won't be able to run the ball well enough or contain dual-threat QB Jake Waters enough to also escape with a win. Kansas State 29, Texas 21 -- Jake Trotter

Why West Virginia will win: The Mountaineers are playing great, physical defense that complements the fireworks of QB Clint Trickett, receiver Kevin White and all of their skill-position talent. Oklahoma State will get its chances -- WVU has a minus-six turnover margin during its three-game win streak -- but its offensive line is in brutal shape and the Pokes showed no resilience in the second half last week at TCU. This just isn't a good time to play the Mountaineers. West Virginia 38, Oklahoma State 17 -- Max Olson

Why TCU will win: The Horned Frogs will simply overwhelm the Red Raiders with an active defense and relentless offense. Tech will have its share of big plays but TCU and quarterback Trevone Boykin should have plenty of big plays of their own against a Red Raiders defense that ranks No. 114 among FBS teams with 36.9 points per game allowed. TCU 49, Texas Tech 31 — Brandon Chatmon

Season records:
  • Trotter: 45-4
  • Chatmon: 43-6
  • Olson: 43-6

Big 12 morning links

October, 23, 2014
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In case you missed it, the Royals took Game 2.
  • Oklahoma State has sued Texas co-offensive coordinator Joe Wickline for breach of contract, alleging he misled his former employer about his new position at Texas, and the school is seeking more than $593,000 in damages. According to the suit filed in an Oklahoma district court on Oct. 17, Oklahoma State’s board of regents asserts that Wickline violated his contractual agreement to pay a buyout fee of $593,487 if he left OSU for an FBS offensive coordinator job that did not include play-calling duties. Wickline filed a countersuit this week and claims that he is indeed calling plays for Texas’ offense, according to an Austin American-Statesman report. This is a bizarre and unfortunate situation. Wickline was such a big part of the success Oklahoma State had in the Mike Gundy era. Now, the two sides are involved in litigation. Texas, by the way, travels to Stillwater on Nov. 15.
  • Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth and Texas running back Ricky Williams are just a few of the Big 12 names that were nominated for the College Football Hall of Fame. I don't know how anyone couldn't vote for those three, and anyone that leaves Snyder off his or her ballot should have it stripped away for life.
  • West Virginia's revamped 3-3-5 scheme is earning praise, writes Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And deservedly so. The Mountaineers held Baylor’s offense, which was averaging 57.2 points and 623 total yards per game, to just 318 yards in West Virginia’s 41-27 upset victory. Much has rightfully been made of what TCU co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have done at TCU. But West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson and assistant Tom Bradley have done a phenomenal job turning the Mountaineers into arguably the most improved defense in the Big 12. If West Virginia contends for the Big 12 title, it won't just be because of Clint Trickett and Kevin White. It will be because of that defensive unit, too.
  • Speaking of TCU, the Dallas Morning News' Ryan Gerbosi wonders whether TCU QB Trevone Boykin is a legitimate candidate for the Heisman Trophy. It's a little strange that Boykin hasn't generated more Heisman buzz so far. He's been the pivotal piece in TCU going from having the nation's 106th best offense last year to the seventh-best one this season. With West Virginia and Kansas State coming up back-to-back to start the month of November, Boykin might begin to appear on Heisman straw polls if he can lead the Horned Frogs to a sweep of those two games.
  • While TCU is flying high, Texas Tech is going the opposite way, writes Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Exactly one year ago, Tech was 7-0 and ranked No. 10 in the polls. That feels like a long time ago. The Red Raiders have exactly one Big 12 win since then -- over Kansas last weekend. It hasn't been a fluke, either. Of the 33 team categories tracked by Big 12 statisticians, Tech is last in the league in nine of them, according to Burch. That is a bad sign. Of course, the Red Raiders can always turn it around. Just look at what TCU has done.

Big 12 stat check: Week 9

October, 22, 2014
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A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 9:

Baylor: The problem with penalties is no one-week fluke. Yes, Baylor's 215 penalty yards against West Virginia were the most by any FBS team in the past decade. But the reality is, since 2010, Baylor leads the nation in penalties (8.05 per game), penalty yards (74.6) and offensive penalties (4.12).

Iowa State: E.J. Bibbs is establishing himself as one of the nation's top tight ends this season. After catching two more touchdowns against Texas on Saturday, he now ranks first nationally in TDs (six) and second in receptions (32) among tight ends. He's not putting up Jace Amaro-level numbers, but this year there simply aren't many like Bibbs in the Big 12 or elsewhere.

Kansas: The Jayhawks are showing signs they're going to win a Big 12 game this year. One factor that's helping their cause: stingy goal-line defense. Opponents are scoring touchdowns on just 54.5 percent of their goal-to-go situations. That rate ranks second-best in the Big 12 behind TCU. Kansas has allowed six TDs, forced teams to settle for 12 field goals and recorded one takeaway. For comparison's sake, that's a dozen fewer TDs than Iowa State has given up in those situations.

Kansas State: This one paid off big last week and has continued during Bill Snyder's return to K-State: Since 2009, the Wildcats are No. 1 in the Big 12 at blocking field goals (seven) and extra points (eight). Travis Britz got No. 8 last week on the point-after attempt that would've tied the game against Oklahoma.

Oklahoma: Michael Hunnicutt had a rough day Saturday, but he's still one of the most consistent kickers in Big 12 history. Hunnicutt's 84.5 percent career success rate on field goals ranks No. 3 among kickers in the past decade with more than 70 attempts.

Oklahoma State: Against TCU, the Cowboys had undeniably one of their worst offensive performances of the Mike Gundy era. For only the third time in his tenure, OSU produced zero touchdowns in any phase of the game. The minus-33 scoring margin was OSU's worst since a 56-20 loss to Texas Tech in 2008 and fourth-worst in Gundy's 10 seasons, and the Pokes' 4.03 yards per play ranked fifth-worst.

TCU: The Horned Frogs are now 91-3 under Gary Patterson when they hold a team to 17 points or fewer. After last Saturday's 42-9 win over Oklahoma State, the Frogs have now won their last 10 games against Big 12 teams when achieving that 17-or-under feat defensively.

Texas: Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's efforts to script the first 15 to 25 plays of a game are paying dividends for quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. He's completing 77 percent of his passes in the first quarter this season, connecting on 40 of 52 attempts for 426 yards and 10.6 yards per completion. That's certainly helping him get into an early rhythm.

Texas Tech: DeAndre Washington is quietly putting together one of the best seasons by a Tech running back in years. He's averaging 5.55 yards per carry (No. 2 in Big 12), 88.8 yards per game (No. 3) and is on pace to become Tech's first 1,000-yard rusher since 1998. Texas Tech is still passing on nearly 63 percent of its snaps, but Washington is making this run game go when he gets his touches.

West Virginia: There are a ton of numbers we can throw around for Kevin White, the nation's leading receiver, but here's an impressive one: If he surpasses 100 receiving yards against Oklahoma State, he'll become just the second FBS receiver in the last decade to start a season with eight straight 100-yard games. The other guy? Another Dana Holgorsen prodigy, Justin Blackmon. He put up 100-plus in every game of his 2010 season.
Kevin White has made himself impossible to ignore.

The West Virginia receiver has started garnering votes on our Heisman Watch and, make no mistake, the NFL has noticed the improvement of the Big 12's best receiver during his second season in Morgantown, West Virginia.

White debuts on Mel Kiper's Big Board this week as a member of the weekly 25-player list of the top NFL draft prospects in college football. The ESPN NFL draft expert had high praise for White's development from his junior to senior year.

Here's a snippet of Kiper's thoughts on White.
"White lacks elite quick-twitch explosiveness, but he's able to create space, and has good length at 6-3, the ability to make the contested catch, and he's been far more consistent with his hands this year."

Through seven games this season, White has 69 receptions for 1,020 yards and seven touchdowns. He has at least 100 receiving yards in every game and four games with at least 10 receptions. As a junior, White had 35 receptions for 507 yards and five scores in 11 games.
Before the season, we wondered if West Virginia would ever be able to cut it in the Big 12. We also pondered whether TCU was just simply out of its league.

And who could blame us?

The two programs had each gone 6-12 in the conference their first two years. They failed to go to bowl games last year. And after getting picked to finish outside the top five in the league in the preseason, there didn’t seem to be much hope for 2014, either.

Consider us wrong.

TCU and West Virginia have arrived in Year 3 in the Big 12.

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesBehind QB Trevone Boykin, the Horned Frogs rank seventh nationally in offense.
Proving they belong.

Showing they’re contenders.

“I’m really excited for West Virginia,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson. “Because both of us had kind of been told up to this point that maybe there were questions whether we could play in this league.”

Those doubters have been silenced.

The Horned Frogs have emerged as perhaps the league’s best chance of advancing into the inaugural College Football Playoff. TCU (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) toppled Big 12 preseason favorite Oklahoma earlier this month. After a fourth-quarter collapse at Baylor, the Horned Frogs bounced back and flashed their staying power last weekend by hammering Oklahoma State, 42-9.

Meanwhile, West Virginia (5-2, 3-1) has surged into the conference title conversation, fresh off a convincing 41-27 win over the Big 12 defending champion Bears.

“I think we’re seeing the results of them being more comfortable being in the Big 12,” said Baylor coach Art Briles.

“And they’re here to stay, no question.”

Three years ago, the Mountaineers and Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 on the heels of the second round of conference realignment after Texas A&M and Missouri had bolted for the SEC.

At the time, it seemed like an acceptable tradeoff.

TCU had been among the most dominant “mid-major” programs in the country, compiling a 47-5 record in four years, which included a win over Wisconsin in the 2011 Rose Bowl.

West Virginia too entered the Big 12 on a roll. The Mountaineers won the conference title their final season in the Big East, then demolished Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

But while Texas A&M and Missouri initially shined in the SEC, TCU and West Virginia faltered in the Big 12.

West Virginia collapsed down the stretch in 2012, then went 4-8 last season, missing out on a bowl for the first time since 2001.

TCU had problems, too.

With an ineffective offense that ranked 106th nationally, the Horned Frogs sputtered to a 4-8 record last season, the worst under Patterson.

“I always said it was going to take 3-5 years to be able to do it,” Patterson said. “It just takes time to recruit, it takes time to change your philosophy. You’ve got to tweak some things. We had to change.”

Patterson gambled with a big change, bringing in Doug Meacham from Houston and Sonny Cumbie from Texas Tech to transform the TCU offense into an up-tempo, spread attack, to match the rest of the Big 12.

“In the spring, things didn’t look as good,” Patterson said.

But in the fall, the Horned Frogs have adapted better than anyone, including Patterson, could have predicted.

In a dramatic turnaround, TCU currently ranks seventh nationally in offense behind Trevone Boykin, who has emerged into one of the most lethal quarterbacks in college football.

“How far they’ve come offensively is incredible,” said Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. “Coach Meacham, Coach Cumbie have done a great job. (Boykin) is as dominant as any player in the country. They’re running the system like they’ve been there for years.

“They have it rolling.”

[+] EnlargeTony Gibson
Mark Goldman/Icon SportswireTony Gibson has turned around a unit that ranked 108th in total defense in 2013.
West Virginia is rolling, too, thanks also to a coaching change. After defensive coordinator Keith Patterson left for Arizona State, Dana Holgorsen promoted safeties coach Tony Gibson to coordinator. He also brought in longtime Penn State assistant Tom Bradley. Together, Gibson and Bradley have whipped the Mountaineers into the league's most improved defense. Spurred by a more aggressive style, West Virginia sacked Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty four times while holding the Bears 26 points below their season average.

“Both of them are just adjusting to the Big 12, that’s what you’re seeing,” Briles said. “It’s a fast league, an explosive league. TCU certainly has matched the offense in the league, and West Virginia has done the same defensively."

Like TCU, West Virginia has also gotten superb quarterbacking. Clint Trickett tops the Big 12 in QBR and in completion percentage.

“They have mature quarterbacks that are somewhat experienced and playing with confidence, that’s the key,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. “The quarterback play is as instrumental as anything that’s happened.”

TCU and West Virginia also have the playmakers. And now, they have the depth, too.

In Josh Doctson, Kolby Listenbee and Deante' Gray, the Horned Frogs have three of the top 18 receivers in the conference, after not having one last year.

The Mountaineers lost starting cornerbacks Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut to injuries in the first half against Baylor, but had the backups to still handcuff the Bears.

“There have been a lot of times in previous games where we weren't equipped to be able to deal with that,” Holgorsen said. “But our recruiting has been better because of the Big 12 brand, so you're able to add younger guys to the mix that have talent.”

As a result, West Virginia and TCU have proved they belong in Year 3.

And that they’re here to stay.

Big 12 morning links

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
8:00
AM ET
Oh, really?
  • Outside of leading his team to a upset win over Baylor, last Saturday was a tough day for West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett, reports Bob Cohn of the Pittsburgh Tribune. Trickett's father, Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett, missed FSU's game against Notre Dame due to health issues and Clint was dealing with flu-like symptoms. Trickett played his best game in October with 322 passing yards and three touchdowns so it seems the senior quarterback could be well-equipped to handle anything that comes up during the second half of the season.
  • TCU's explosive offense is having a impact on how Gary Patterson calls the Horned Frogs' defense, reports Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Patterson said knowing the offense can put up 30 or 40 points results in less urgency to make things happen on the defensive side of the ball. All the positives of the offensive change makes you wonder, why didn't TCU make this change earlier?
  • Jake Waters is proving to be a tough character at Kansas State, writes Ken Corbitt of the Topeka Capital Journal. Waters remained in the game after hurting his shoulder during KSU's 31-30 win over Oklahoma last Saturday. It's been interesting to see Waters evolve in the Wildcat offense since last year when he split time with Daniel Sams. He seems like a type of player who excels when the pressure is on and people are counting on him so it shouldn't be a surprise to see him handle being "the man" for KSU's offense.
  • The NCAA and Oklahoma State jointly announced allegations of wrongdoing by the football program were "fundamentally unfounded" on Tuesday. The NCAA's ruling means the SI saga is in the past and didn't hurt Oklahoma State football, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. The Cowboys must feel relieved and validated after Tuesday's announcement as the program can now move forward without a cloud over its head.
  • While linebacker Pete Robertson gets the numbers (eight sacks), defensive lineman Branden Jackson has been an impact player for Texas Tech's defense reports Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche Journal. Interim defensive coordinator Mike Smith praises Jackson's work in the defensive interior. Robertson has always been a active player for Tech but he's been even more productive this season. Sounds like Jackson could be one reason why.
In today's mailbag we discuss Baylor's future, the College Football Playoff and Charlie Strong for coach of the year? As always, thanks for your questions. To submit questions for next Tuesday's mailbag, click here.

Mike Singletary in Austin, Texas: Brandon, is it time to engage a therapist to help me realize my Baylor Bears just aren't as good as I thought or hoped going into the season? Any chance they right the ship and win out? And lastly, could they secure a playoff spot in that scenario?

Brandon Chatmon: A good therapist can’t hurt but I wouldn’t be ready to throw in all your cards quite yet. The Bears aren’t playing at a national championship level right now but they still have some very good pieces led by Bryce Petty. BU just needs to find a rhythm and get some confidence back. I definitely think they can win out and if things fall right, they could find themselves in the College Football playoff conversation, especially if they win out impressively.

Zach in Morgantown, West Virginia: The West Virginia defense looked really good against Baylor last Saturday despite both Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut going out in the first half. How does this squad compare to the rest of the Big 12 defenses?

Chatmon: I think they are right with the rest of the Big 12. There is no defense that is going to dominate this conference and shut people down, thus the Mountaineers are right alongside the rest of the pack defensively. It’s been a big step forward compared to last season, particularly the fact WVU now has the depth to lose two quality cornerbacks against Baylor and still win.

Brian Weidermab in Manhattan: Baylor has the most in the FBS when it comes to penalty yards per game, Kansas State has the third fewest ... assuming that trend continues should Kansas State even be worried to play Baylor? Should Baylor be worried about this?

Chatmon: Not really. Penalties don’t rate high on my list of ways to consistently lose games. In fact, of the 10 teams that join Baylor in the bottom 10 among FBS teams in penalty yardage, seven have winning records. Penalties make things more difficult, but they rarely decide games. And if you plan on making a living by winning games based on penalties, well, that sounds like a hard life to live. So, yes, K-State should be worried about Baylor.

Doug T. in Philly: Playoff scenario: TCU and Baylor both win out. I suspect TCU would be ranked higher. Does the committee pick TCU, even though they lost head-to-head with Baylor?

Chatmon: I’d think so but we don’t know what the committee will do, this is a new era. I’d hope it will all come down to who is playing best at the time because we all know Baylor and TCU will be different teams in December than they are now. Not to mention we’ve already seen enough surprises to make unbeaten runs from both teams seem unlikely. One thing I know for certain: Both teams lost the right to complain as soon as they lost a game. An undefeated Baylor or TCU is in there, no questions asked.

Matt in Hutchinson, Kansas,: I believe that Clint Bowen should be named the official head coach at Kansas. You tell me who believes in KU football more than Bowen? I know they haven't won under him yet, but the passion and enthusiasm he has brought to the program is awesome. If KU is going to make strides in its program then I feel Bowen is the man to do it. Thoughts?

Chatmon: I’d agree, Matt. Who has it better than him? Nobody! … If Jim Harbaugh has real interest that would be about the only way I’d change my mind. I think Clint should get a chance and he knows the program so well, I think he is a great fit and, most importantly, he has a strong passion for the program.

GD Will in Texas writes: I wish winning the conference meant more than grappling for subjective ratings. What if the playoffs consisted of the winners of the Power 5 conferences, plus a "wildcard" - could be a Notre Dame, or winner of Mountain Conference, or even the runner-up of a power 5 (second SEC team)? Then seed those six teams based on rankings and give the top 2 seeds a bye for the first round.

Chatmon: I’m right there with you. I’m all for champions being decided between the white lines. Let the players decide it. If you can’t get out of your conference as the conference champion, well, that sounds like a you problem to me.

Hugh in Moss Landing, California writes: I think a "Strong" case can be made for Charlie as Coach of the Year. When success at all costs represents our highest value, it diminishes the worth of other values. I have admired how willing Charlie Strong has been to ensure that the young men he coaches uphold a set of values, no player's value entitles him to dishonor those values. Even if it costs the coach games. In the lifelong scheme of things, he is building character, not trophies. Who do you see at this point of the season on their way to this award?

Chatmon: Dana Holgorsen gets the nod for me, but I love what Charlie Strong has done. You only get one chance to lay the foundation, and I like that Charlie is doing it his way, regardless of what others think. Ultimately, we’ll see if it pays off but if he goes down, he goes down his way, which is the way to go. I cannot, however, support any campaign to hand him Coach of the Year honors, four losses is still four losses, there's no asterisk in the standings explaining the rebuilding process.
It's amazing how things can change in a matter of 18 days. Earlier this month we took a look at the Big 12's most efficient offenses based on the points per possession of the top five teams in the conference.

Almost three weeks later, the list has transformed, much like the Big 12 standings. Here's a look at the overall efficiency of all 10 Big 12 offenses, with the help of ESPN Stats & Information, including each team's points per drive during the past three weeks.

T-1. Kansas State -- 3.11 points per possession overall

Key stat: The Wildcats' success on third down has been a key to their efficiency. They convert 50 percent of their third-down conversion attempts.

Last three games: KSU has been even better in recent weeks, averaging 3.53 points per possession in games against UTEP, Texas Tech and Oklahoma as Jake Waters has gotten comfortable in his dual-threat role.

Future outlook: The Wildcats' running game has been solid but not spectacular, but KSU’s efficient offensive numbers should continue with Waters' ability to provide a run-pass threat and Curry Sexton's emergence alongside Tyler Lockett.

T-1. Baylor -- 3.11

Key stat: Baylor has gained 58 percent of the possible yards on its drives this season, best in the Big 12. The conference average is 46.7 percent.

Last three games: As the competition has stepped up, Baylor’s offense has slowed down. The Bears averaged 2.22 points per drive in games against Texas, TCU and West Virginia.

Future outlook: In recent weeks, the Bears and Bryce Petty haven’t displayed the consistency that made them the conference’s most explosive offense. All the ingredients still remain for Baylor’s elite production to return in the second half of the season.

3. TCU -- 2.79

Key stat: The Horned Frogs are averaging 83.2 plays per game, ranking behind only Baylor and West Virginia in the Big 12. It’s a clear sign TCU has made a smooth transition into its new up-tempo attack.

Last three games: The Horned Frogs' offense has continued to be productive against Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State, averaging 2.54 points per drive in its last three games. Trevone Boykin has been at his best against increased competition.

Future outlook: There’s no reason to think TCU’s offense will slow down any time soon with Boykin and a roster full of big-play running backs and receivers.

4. Oklahoma -- 2.51

Key stat: The Sooners score touchdowns 73.3 percent of the time in the red zone, second in the Big 12.

Last three games: OU averaged 1.95 points per drive against TCU, Texas and Kansas State as a lack of big plays has resulted in Sooners stumbles.

Future outlook: More playmakers must emerge to join Sterling Shepard or the Sooners could tumble down this list.

5. West Virginia -- 2.43

Key stat: Only 22 percent of WVU’s drives have ended without a first down or touchdown. Only Baylor has a better percentage (21.3), and the conference average is 29.3.

Last three games: The Mountaineers averaged 2.26 points per possession in games against Kansas, Texas Tech and Baylor.

Future outlook: As long as Clint Trickett and Kevin White continue playing like the Big 12’s best quarterback-receiver duo, the sky is the limit for WVU’s offense.

6. Texas Tech -- 2.3

Key stat: The Red Raiders have committed a turnover on 17 percent of their drives, worst in the Big 12.

Last three games: Tech averaged 1.98 points per drive in games against Kansas, Kansas State and West Virginia.

Future outlook: Kliff Kingsbury’s offense would be just fine if it could cut down the turnovers and limit the penalties. Quarterback Davis Webb and a reborn running game make this offense one to keep an eye on.

7. Oklahoma State -- 2.12

Key stat: The Cowboys have settled for field goals on 17 percent of their drives, worst in the Big 12.

Last three games: OSU averaged 1.4 points per drive in games against Kansas, Iowa State and TCU.

Future outlook: As the Cowboys look toward the second half of their season, the offensive line needs to steadily improve if the Pokes hope to rise up this list.

8. Iowa State -- 2.07

Key stat: The Cyclones are averaging 4.96 yards per play, with only Kansas (4.6) averaging less yards per play.

Last three games: ISU is getting better as the season progresses, averaging 2.5 points per drive in its last three games against Texas, Toledo and Oklahoma State.

Future outlook: The Cyclones are starting to find a rhythm under new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino and could rise up this list in the second half of the season.

9. Texas -- 1.58

Key stat: The Longhorns' average drive distance is 25.8 yards per drive, ranking ninth in the Big 12. The Big 12 average is 32.6, with West Virginia leading the conference at 39.5.

Last three games: UT averaged 1.72 points per drive in games against Baylor, Oklahoma and Iowa State.

Future outlook: Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes is coming along behind center after a poor start. If he continues to play like he did against Iowa State last Saturday, UT’s offense could make some noise in the second half of the season.

10. Kansas -- 1.08

Key stat: The Jayhawks have managed a touchdown on just 12.9 percent of their drives, worst in the Big 12. The conference average is 28.7 percent.

Last three games: KU has averaged 1.09 points per drive in games against West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

Future outlook: The offense is on a upswing with Michael Cummings at quarterback under Clint Bowen. After struggles in Bowen’s first game at WVU, KU averaged 1.33 points per drive against OSU and 1.5 points per drive against Tech in the past two weeks.

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