Big 12: West Virginia Mountaineers

Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 10

October, 31, 2014
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All eyes will be on Milan Puskar Stadium in Week 10 as TCU and West Virginia battle to put themselves in prime position to win the conference in their third season as members. Kansas State hopes to strengthen its résumé against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma could face a tough task against Iowa State in Ames, Baylor hopes to shake off injury troubles against Kansas and Texas Tech against Texas could be a classic offense-defense battle.

Here are the storylines to watch in the Big 12 during Week 10:

No. 18 Oklahoma at Iowa State, noon ET (Fox Sports 1): This has the potential to be a scary game for an OU squad looking to rebound after two losses in three games. Iowa State's offense is finding its footing under offensive coordinator Mark Mangino after a season-high 45 points against Texas on Oct. 18. Tight end E.J. Bibbs, who leads all Big 12 tight ends with 32 receptions and six touchdowns, could cause problems for the Sooners' secondary. For Oklahoma, Trevor Knight will be looking to build on his performance against Kansas State, which included 318 passing yards, a 81.3 completion percentage and season-best 92.1 Adjusted QBR. Meanwhile the Sooners' defense will be looking to prove it's better than the 6.2 yards per play and the 2.11 points per drive it has allowed during conference games.

No. 7 TCU at No. 20 West Virginia, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN2): The Horned Frogs earned the distinction of the Big 12's top-ranked team in the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings and visits West Virginia on the heels of an 82-point outburst that was the talk of the Big 12. The Mountaineers feature a much-improved defense and one of the best quarterback-receiver duos in the nation with Clint Trickett and Kevin White. If TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin plans to cement his name in the Heisman race, this is the opportunity to do so with a Heisman moment or two and leading his team to victory over an explosive and confident Mountaineers' squad. It should be an exciting game to watch as Trickett and Boykin are the Big 12's most improved signal-callers, with their increase in Total QBR -- Boykin (plus-29.8, second) and Trickett (plus-27.3, fourth) -- ranking in the top four among Power 5 quarterbacks this season.

Kansas at No. 13 Baylor, 4 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1): Does Baylor have a problem looking up at TCU in the College Football Playoff rankings after it beat them head-to-head? If so, the matchup with the Jayhawks is BU's first chance to show the committee its No. 13 ranking is too low for the defending Big 12 champion. Quarterback Bryce Petty has watched TCU's Boykin and WVU's White sprint past him in the race to be the Big 12's most legitimate Heisman contender and is looking to regain the production that placed him among the preseason favorites. Petty has been uncharacteristically inconsistent in Big 12 play with Adjusted QBRs of 74.9, 19.5, 74.7 and 41.2 in four conference outings. Meanwhile, KU could make a strong statement in Clint Bowen's candidacy for the permanent head coaching gig with a shocking upset at McLane Stadium.

Texas at Texas Tech, 7:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1): Which team is more deflated? Texas is coming off a shutout loss to Kansas State, which included an average of 3.77 yards per play, the second-worst single game average in a conference game this season. Yet, there sits Texas Tech on the opposite end of the spectrum, having given up 9.13 yards per play in its 82-27 loss to TCU, the largest yards-per-play average allowed in conference play in 2014. Charlie Strong's team will lean on its defense to spark a tough road win, and the Red Raiders will count on Kliff Kingsbury's offense to outscore an subpar Texas attack. Should be fun to see who wins this battle of offensive and defensive minds.

Oklahoma State at No. 9 Kansas State, 8 p.m. ET (ABC): Oklahoma State is still chasing bowl eligibility and faces a difficult final stretch. To get a win in Manhattan, coach Mike Gundy must get more from an offense that has three combined touchdowns in its last three games. K-State knows this could be another win over a team with a winning record to add to the résumé after the Wildcats knocked off OU and UT in back-to-back weeks. With quarterback Jake Waters operating KSU's offense with efficient precision, KSU should feel good about extending its win streak to five before trips to TCU, West Virginia and Baylor in its final four games.

Big 12's top recruiting visits 

October, 31, 2014
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With five big games on tap Saturday, it could mean a memorable weekend for recruiting in the Big 12. Iowa State will host Oklahoma and Kansas will host Baylor, but there are three other games to watch where a player or two may decide their college destinations.

TCU at West Virginia

[+] EnlargeTim Settle
Tom Hauck/Student SportsTim Settle will be on his official visit to West Virginia as the Mountaineers play TCU.
The game could be considered a clash between the conference’s hottest two teams, but West Virginia could come out a double winner if everything works as planned. With "College GameDay" set to air in Morgantown this weekend, the Mountaineers will host several big-name players, including ESPN 300 defensive tackle Tim Settle, ESPN 300 athlete Jordan Cronkrite and four-star athlete Tim Irvin. Guard Jah'Shaun Seider and cornerback Antonio Howard, two three-star West Virginia commits, also will be in attendance -- most likely playing the role of player-recruiters during what is shaping out to be an important weekend.

Big 12 morning links

October, 31, 2014
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Happy Halloween, everyone be safe tonight!
  • All the ingredients are in place for TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin to be a Heisman Trophy contender, writes Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Gary Patterson, the Horned Frogs head coach, claims he's downplaying it to draw more attention to it but, quite frankly, Boykin will be the decider. His seven-touchdown game catapulted his name into the discussion, so if he continues to produce at a high level and TCU continues winning, he could emerge as a front runner for the award.
  • The lack of a championship game won't hurt the Big 12 when it comes to the College Football Playoff, writes Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star. It's been late losses by the Big 12's top team that has held the conference out of the national title conversation the past few seasons. I couldn't agree more with Kerkhoff. I just don't see a scenario where an undefeated Big 12 team gets left out of the top four, no matter what happens in other conferences.
  • Baylor's third down struggles have handicapped the Bears offense, writes John Werner of the Waco Tribune. As shocking as this seems, BU quarterback Bryce Petty is last in the Big 12 in third-down QBR at 26.4. Last season his 73.2 raw QBR on third down was fourth in the Big 12. It's another sign it's been a subpar senior season for Petty but the good news for Art Briles & Co. is Petty can rewrite the story of his senior season with a strong final stretch of the season.
  • Tom Keegan of KUsports.com has an under-the-radar candidate for Kansas' coaching vacancy in Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz. A long-time coach at Central Missouri, Fritz has some Kansas ties and is in the midst of a solid season at Georgia Southern. While I still think Clint Bowen is the right choice to take over full time, add another name to the list of candidates to watch in Lawrence.
  • West Virginia's defensive turnaround has been built on good communication and trust, writes Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail. The Mountaineers' defense is much improved but we'll see how much it has improved against TCU, the nation's top scoring offense. I'm expecting a lot of points from both offenses on Saturday, so the key will be good defense in clutch moments (i.e. third down and red zone) and WVU defenders winning their share of the one-on-one battles on Saturday. If they win those battles, I like WVU's chances to win the game.

Poll: Big 12's best return man?

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
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It's the moment Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia fans hold their breath for.

When Tyler Lockett, Alex Ross, Tyreek Hill or Mario Alford set up for a kick or punt return, the game might change in a manner of seconds. All four players have returns for touchdowns this season.

But which one is the Big 12's top return man? Well, that's up to you.

SportsNation

Who is the Big 12's top return man?

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    45%
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    33%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,627)

Oklahoma's Alex Ross leads the conference in kick return average at 38 yards per return with a pair of kick returns for touchdowns. The sophomore running back has returned 41.7 percent of his kickoff returns for 30 yards or more, best in the Big 12 and his average of one kickoff return for a touchdown every six opportunities also sits atop the conference. His terrific speed has made him a deadly threat allowing the Sooners to count on good field position, either from a Ross return or teams trying to kick away from him.

West Virginia's Mario Alford is second in the conference at 31.08 yards per kickoff return. The Mountaineers receiver is silky smooth with an uncanny ability to accelerate and leave defenders in his wake. He has two kickoff returns for touchdowns and has returned 30.8 percent of his kickoff returns for at least 30 yards, third in the Big 12.

Ranking among the league leaders in kickoff and punt returns, Oklahoma State's Tyreek Hill is the best dual return threat in the league. His 26.58 yards per kick return average is third in the conference and his 7.43 yards per punt return ranks fourth. His four punt returns for 20 yards or more is tied for the league lead and he's returned two kickoffs for score to join Ross and Alford atop that list. His blazing speed makes him a nightmare for special teams coordinators.

Tyler Lockett doesn't leave a trail of smoke behind him like the other returners on the list but he does tend to leave a trail of frustrated defenders. The Kansas State receiver first made his name in the Big 12 as a returner during his freshman season and has continued to be a threat on returns even as he's elevated himself to one of the Big 12's top receivers. The senior is averaging an eye-popping 23.6 yards per punt return, easily the best in the Big 12 and he's returned a punt for a score. His impact on kickoff returns (5 returns for 91 yards) has been minimal but ask any Big 12 coach if they think it is a good idea to kick to him.

Texas Tech's Jakeem Grant, TCU's Cameron Echols-Luper and Texas' Jaxon Shipley are other returners who have made opponents think twice before kicking to them this season.

Who do you think is the Big 12's top return man? Vote now and leave your comment below.

Big 12 Week 10 predictions

October, 30, 2014
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Why TCU will win: The Horned Frogs, playing like one of the nation's best teams, can get better. Trevone Boykin has been lethal, this offense has too much explosive diversity and TCU's defense will get the crucial second-half stops. This will be a fun chess match, a really physical game and another statement win for the Frogs. TCU 48, West Virginia 38. -- Max Olson

Why West Virginia will take it down to the wire: Clint Trickett and Kevin White are a great place to start. Add the Big 12's most improved defense, and WVU is in business. WVU has the playmakers to keep up with Boykin and the Horned Frogs' offense, while an electric atmosphere in Morgantown will make things even more difficult on TCU. Expect a close, high-scoring affair. TCU 49, West Virginia 46 -- Brandon Chatmon

Why Kansas State will win: Oklahoma State's offense is a dumpster fire right now, while K-State is coming off a shutout victory over Texas. The Cowboys again won't be able to move the ball against K-State's defense, which is stout at every level. And Jake Waters & Co. will be able to generate enough offensively to put this game away in the second half. Kansas State 31, Oklahoma State 13 -- Jake Trotter

Why Oklahoma will win: Don't sleep on these Cyclones. They proved against K-State and Texas that they're no easy out. But the Sooners are coming off a bye week, get top back Keith Ford back and know this Big 12 race isn't over for them just yet. OU steps up and gets a much-needed, bounce-back win. Oklahoma 45, Iowa State 20. -- Olson

Why Iowa State will keep it close: The Cyclones have historically played Oklahoma tough in Ames. The Iowa State offense is beginning to find its stride under coordinator Mark Mangino, while the Sooners have been suspect defensively the past month. The Cyclones probably won't be able to make enough stops to win. But they have the offense to make this one interesting. Oklahoma 35, Iowa State 31 -- Trotter

Why Baylor will win: Big plays, big plays and big plays. Injuries have dealt the Bears a blow along the offensive line, but Bryce Petty & Co. should come up with enough big plays to win comfortably against the Jayhawks. Baylor 45, Kansas 14 -- Chatmon

Why Texas will win: Anytime a game seems like a toss-up, I lean toward the team with the best defense. The Longhorns' defense ranks in the top third of the Big 12 in several categories including yards per play and sacks, which should help UT slow the Red Raiders' offense. Texas 24, Texas Tech 13 -- Chatmon

Season records:
  • Trotter: 48-4
  • Chatmon: 46-6
  • Olson: 46-6

Big 12 stat check: Week 10

October, 29, 2014
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A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 10:

Baylor: The Bears had a bye week to address their penalty problems. One stat to put that issue in perspective: The Bears have more 10-plus penalty games this season (five) than the entire Big Ten conference combined (three). Then again, Big 12 teams have combined for 16 such games. That suggests style of play and the league's refs are probably important factors in the Bears' penalty woes.

Iowa State: The breakthrough is coming for Allen Lazard and D'Vario Montgomery. Both were impressive against Texas and have been targeted a combined 51 times by Sam B. Richardson in the Cyclones' past three games. In fact, Lazard was targeted a season-high 15 times against the Longhorns, one more than team receptions leader E.J. Bibbs.

Kansas: When interim head coach Clint Bowen says running back Corey Avery isn't being properly appreciated, he might be right. Avery's 417 rushing yards rank No. 11 in FBS among true freshmen on Power 5 conference teams and second most in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma's Samaje Perine, and he's already surpassed 500 total yards in his debut season.

Kansas State: ESPN Football Power Index data ranks the strength of Kansas State's record so far as No. 10 in the country and best in the Big 12. That's a good snapshot of both KSU's tough schedule and its impressive showings against ranked foes. But FPI still projects K-State will lose to TCU and Baylor, and that its road test at West Virginia is almost a 50-50 game (KSU's odds of winning are currently pegged at 46.8 percent).

Oklahoma: Getting running back Keith Ford back is good news for this Oklahoma offense, but tip your cap to his young understudies. In the four games Ford missed, Perine and Alex Ross combined to average 4.99 yards per carry and 156 rushing yards a game. All three offer different skill sets, giving the Sooners one dangerous trio if they can stay healthy the rest of the way.

Oklahoma State: After impressing in his first two starts, quarterback Daxx Garman has shown regression in his past four. His adjusted QBR of 40.2 in the month of October ranks No. 99 nationally and ninth in the Big 12. His QBR for those first starts against UTSA and Texas Tech was a combined 74.1, but he finished this month with a TD-to-INT ratio of 3-7.

TCU: The aerial attack stole most of the attention, but here's a big reason why TCU was capable of scoring 82 against Texas Tech: The Horned Frogs rushed for 224 yards on first downs against Tech. When you're getting 8.3 yards per carry on first down, you have the opportunity to do pretty much anything on offense.

Texas: Here's something you couldn't have expected entering the season: Texas is eight games in and hasn't had a running back surpass 100 rushing yards in any games. In fact, since losing David Ash in the opener, Texas has not had a back surpass 80 rushing yards in a single game. Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes' 95 rushing yards against Iowa State remains the team high.

Texas Tech: Following last week's record-setting debacle, Texas Tech's defense ranks No. 123 nationally and last among Power 5 conference teams in defensive efficiency, according to ESPN Stats & Info. But really, after a game like that, there's nowhere to go but up from here.

West Virginia: Clint Trickett continues to rank No. 1 in the Big 12 in passing, completion percentage, yards per attempt, completions of 20-plus yards, passer efficiency and QBR. He has more passing yards (2,763) and a better completion percentage (68.3 percent) than Bryce Petty had through the first eight games of his prolific Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year season last year.
Dana Holgorsen goes way back with Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham.

The West Virginia coach worked with Meacham when they were offensive assistants at Oklahoma State. Holgorsen was an assistant at Texas Tech when Cumbie was a quarterback for the Red Raiders.

So Holgorsen is not surprised the way Cumbie and Meacham have transformed the TCU offense from pedestrian to powerhouse.

“I'm really proud of Doug and Sonny for getting that thing turned around,” Holgorsen said. “Those guys are doing a great job.”

On Saturday in a Big 12 showdown that will carry major Big 12 title implications, Holgorsen will be reunited with his two understudies, who have employed their interpretation of the “Air Raid” offense to smashing success at TCU.

[+] EnlargeTony Gibson
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWest Virginia's defense is dramatically improved in 2014 under new coordinator Tony Gibson.
Behind Meacham and Cumbie, the Horned Frogs have the No. 1 scoring offense in the country, after finishing 88th nationally in points last year. Last weekend, TCU set a Big 12 conference game record with 82 points in its pasting of Texas Tech.

“I'm pretty familiar with the style of their ball is, and what plays they're calling and what their personnel is,” Holgorsen said. “It's working out pretty well for them and it's our job to slow them down.”

Fortunately for Holgorsen, he, like TCU head coach Gary Patterson, made a pair of home run hires during the offseason on the other side of the ball.

In its first year in the Big 12, West Virginia had the league’s worst scoring defense, and last season the Mountaineers finished ninth. As a result, West Virginia went just 6-12 in conference games, capped by embarrassing defeats to Kansas and Iowa State to end last season, when the Mountaineers surrendered a combined 82 points to the conference’s two lowest-scoring offenses.

Those struggles also brought turmoil on the coaching staff. Holgorsen demoted Joe DeForest after 2012 and replaced him with Keith Patterson. After Patterson bolted for Arizona State in the offseason, Holgorsen was looking for the program’s fourth defensive coordinator in as many years.

But the vacancy gave Holgorsen the opportunity to get it right. And did he ever.

He promoted the energetic and popular Tony Gibson from safeties coach to coordinator. Then, to add experience to the defensive staff, Holgorsen brought in longtime Penn State assistant Tom Bradley.

Together, Gibson and Bradley have infused the West Virginia defense with an aggressive attitude and cool confidence.

“Those guys brought the mindset we needed,” said linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who leads the Mountaineers in tackles. “They stress being relentless, no matter what happens. The mentality has been the biggest difference.”

In addition to transforming the mentality, Gibson has tweaked West Virginia’s 3-3-5 scheme to be more proactive in putting speed on the field and getting to the passer. Two weeks ago, the Mountaineers sacked Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty four times, shutting down the nation’s highest-scoring offense in a 41-27 landmark victory for the program.

“They’ve done a great job,” Patterson said of Gibson and Bradley. “Just watching them, just watching how they defended Baylor, it’s made a difference. You have to have a defense that can slow people down, and they have that now, and it started in that first game with Alabama.”

West Virginia lost to No. 6 Alabama in the opener despite a valiant defensive effort. Since then, the defense has improved every week. Last Saturday, the Mountaineers gave up just one offensive touchdown in a suffocating 34-10 victory at Oklahoma State.

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezTCU's new offensive coordinators have helped convert Trevone Boykin into one of the country's top quarterbacks.
“We’re a pretty confident bunch defensively right now,” Holgorsen said. “I can’t express what coach Gibson has been able to do with the guys. It’s been fun to watch. It’s been awesome.”

But as awesome as the West Virginia defense has been, the TCU offense has been even better. The Horned Frogs are averaging 55 points a game in Big 12 play; Baylor is the only other team averaging more than 35.

Under Cumbie’s tutelage, Trevone Boykin, who finished last year as a wide receiver, has emerged as a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback. And the Horned Frogs, who languished for a go-to receiver last year, have three this season in Josh Doctson, Kolby Listenbee and Deante’ Gray, who rank sixth, 10th and 12th in the league in receiving.

“We trust them and they trust us,” Gray said of the TCU co-coordinators. “They're the smart ones that know what plays to call. We just go out, trust the play and play hard.”

The TCU offense, however, will have one tough test in Morgantown, West Virginia, because of Gibson and Bradley, who have earned the trust of their players, too.

“It’s been fun for both [programs],” Patterson said. “We both have shown that we have the ability to compete.”

Thanks to Cumbie and Meacham. And Gibson and Bradley. In one year, they have helped turn two struggling programs into conference title contenders.

Big 12 playoff tracker: Oct. 29

October, 29, 2014
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The first College Football Playoff Rankings were unveiled Tuesday night, and five Big 12 teams made the Top 25 cut. Here's a deeper look at what those rankings mean for the Big 12 and its hope of placing a team in the inaugural College Football Playoff:

TCU
Record: 6-1 (3-1 Big 12)
Playoff committee rank: No. 7
Next big obstacle: Nov. 1 at West Virginia
Reason for optimism: Assuming the SEC West starts to knock itself out, TCU is in pretty good shape after the first unveiling of the playoff rankings. Playoff committee chairman Jeff Long said the gap between No. 6 Alabama and No. 7 TCU was a “small” one. The Horned Frogs also have the chance to notch a pair of marquee wins these two next weeks against No. 20 West Virginia and No. 9 Kansas State.
Cause for concern: The Horned Frogs are ranked ahead of every Big Ten team, but not No. 5 Oregon. Assuming the playoff committee ends up with Florida State and two SEC West teams, that final playoff spot could come down to the Ducks and the Horned Frogs, and the Ducks appear to have the slight advantage at the moment. TCU could win out and still get snubbed if Oregon won out, too.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: Stanford to knock off Oregon for a third straight year.

Kansas State
Record: 6-1 (4-0)
Playoff committee rank: No. 9
Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 at TCU
Reason for optimism: The Wildcats are ranked higher in the playoff rankings than they are in the polls, which means K-State is getting more respect where it counts. The committee also seems to be valuing quality losses, which is one reason K-State is ranked seven spots ahead of Ohio State, whose lone loss to Virginia Tech looks worse and worse. With road games at No. 7 TCU, No. 20 West Virginia and No. 13 Baylor still ahead, the Wildcats have as much upside as any team outside the top four.
Cause for concern: At No. 3, Auburn is currently in the playoff. The committee is putting an emphasis on head-to-head, which is the primary reason Ole Miss got the edge for the fourth spot ahead of Alabama. If the final spot came down to Auburn and K-State, the committee would probably be compelled to favor Auburn, which won in Manhattan, Kansas, last month.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: Ole Miss to give Auburn its second loss.

Baylor
Record: 6-1 (3-1)
Playoff committee rank: No. 13
Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 at Oklahoma
Reason for optimism: The Bears are ahead of four one-loss teams, including three spots ahead of No. 16 Ohio State. Baylor also has two remaining games against ranked teams, including Oklahoma and No. 9 Kansas State in the regular-season finale. The timing of the K-State game could be significant for Baylor to make a late surge.
Cause for concern: Even if they go 11-1, the Bears are going to need a lot of help. The nonconference schedule is going to weigh them down like an albatross. That’s one significant reason there are 10 other one-loss teams ranked ahead of them.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: TCU to take down West Virginia. The Bears have the head-to-head advantage over TCU. They don’t have it over the Mountaineers. The better TCU does, the better it looks for Baylor.

Oklahoma
Record: 5-2 (2-2)
Playoff committee rank: No. 18
Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 vs. Baylor
Reason for optimism: The Sooners are the highest-ranked two-loss team. There’s still a lot of football to be played, and if a two-loss team can make a run, it might be Oklahoma.
Cause for concern: The Sooners would need a minor miracle to surge that far. Even though Oklahoma’s two losses came against top-10 teams, the playoff committee is not giving the Sooners the edge over one-loss teams. Oklahoma will need a bunch of losing from those teams ranked ahead in the coming weeks.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: West Virginia to beat TCU. The Sooners would need to win the Big 12 to have a chance, and they have the head-to-head advantage over West Virginia.

West Virginia
Record: 6-2 (4-1)
Playoff committee rank: No. 20
Next big obstacle: Nov. 1 vs. TCU
Reason for optimism: The Mountaineers are the third-highest-ranked two-loss team, just behind Oklahoma and LSU. They have a chance to climb higher in the month of November with home bouts against No. 7 TCU and No. 9 Kansas State.
Cause for concern: West Virginia still has a giant mountain to climb to get in the playoff mix. A lot can happen here over the next few weeks. But the Mountaineers are going to need a bevy of upsets elsewhere in college football.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: Kansas State to throttle Oklahoma State. The Mountaineers need K-State to be ranked as high as possible when it visits Morgantown on Nov. 20 for a Thursday night clash.

Big 12 bowl projections: Week 9

October, 28, 2014
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The initial College Football Playoff rankings have brought changes in the Big 12 bowl projections.

With the Allstate Sugar Bowl serving as a semifinal site and TCU on the outside of the top 4 at No. 7, the Horned Frogs slide over to another New Year's Day bowl (Fiesta, Cotton or Peach). Ninth-ranked Kansas State, as one of the top 12 teams in the initial rankings, joins TCU in a New Year's Day bowl.

Additional movement this week features Charlie Strong's Texas squad dropping out completely. UT would have to win three of four games in the final weeks of the season to reach six wins and bowl eligibility. With TCU, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech remaining on the schedule, the odds aren't on the side of the Longhorns.

Cotton Bowl: TCU
Fiesta Bowl: Kansas State
Valero Alamo Bowl: West Virginia
Russell Athletic Bowl: Baylor
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Oklahoma
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Oklahoma State
Cactus Bowl: None eligible
In Tuesday's mailbag we discuss Baylor and West Virginia's playoff hopes, Big 12 parity and Kliff Kingsbury. As always, thanks for your questions. To submit questions for next Tuesday's mailbag, click here.

Lennon Coley in Temple, Texas, writes: I’m still not sure why when it comes to playoff discussions, TCU is the only one ever mentioned. Kansas State occasionally gets a little love. But why is Baylor all of a sudden out of it? People act like they have nothing left on the schedule. Oklahoma was a catapulting win for both TCU and Kansas State. Does Baylor not get that luxury? Also a win over K-State has been cited as a quality win for Auburn, but doesn't provide Baylor with an opportunity should they win that game? If Baylor wins out, which won't be easy, what gives TCU the edge? A win over Minnesota? That definitely shouldn't do it, especially when Baylor has the head-to-head win. Both nonconference schedules were extremely weak.

Brandon Chatmon: A loss to two-loss West Virginia doesn’t help and is one reason why Baylor sits behind TCU and Kansas State on the Big 12 queue of College Football Playoff contenders. BU’s best potential remaining wins are at two-loss Oklahoma and home against one-loss Kansas State. Is that enough to get them in the College Football Playoff? Not without some help. Baylor is not out of it by any stretch, particularly if the Bears take care of business, but TCU and K-State should be ahead of the Bears right now.

William Mills in Dunkirk, Ohio, writes: What are the odds of a two-loss West Virginia (if it can win out) making it to the playoff?

Chatmon: Slim. Dubious. Tenuous. All those words apply. Dana Holgorsen’s squad would need some serious help to find its way into the College Football Playoff conversation. Basically, nationwide chaos needs to occur. But, the resume would look pretty solid with wins over TCU, Baylor and Kansas State. But I think two losses is just too much for WVU to overcome without chaos reigning to help out the Mountaineers.

Corey in Allen, Texas, writes: I know it takes a while for a young coach to relinquish the reins as a play-caller, but do you think it's time for Kliff Kingsbury to let go of the offensive play-calling? Seems he needs to focus more on whole team strategy and mentoring his coordinators than just the offense and quarterbacks.

Chatmon: No. I don’t think the problems in Lubbock are related to Kingsbury’s play-calling. In fact, that’s way down the list. The No. 1 problem is lack of depth and overall playmakers in the program. As Kingsbury increases the overall depth and talent on the roster, Tech will improve. We’re starting to see just how much rebuilding was needed when he arrived. The 7-0 start to his head coaching career was a mirage in many ways. So, no, I don’t see any reason for Kingsbury to make that change in his gameday approach.

Chelsea in Pineville, West Virginia, writes: ESPN and the College Gameday crew have clearly recognized what a momentous day it will be in Morgantown on Saturday when the 10th-ranked Horned Frogs roll into town. What is the absolute No. 1 thing the Mountaineers need to do this weekend to send the TCU back to Fort Worth with a loss?

Chatmon: Win the turnover battle. Overshadowed by TCU’s explosive offense has been the Horned Frogs ability to win the turnover battle. TCU is plus-12 in turnover margin, best in the Big 12 and double the plus-six of second-place Oklahoma. West Virginia, meanwhile, is ninth in the conference at minus-9. If the Mountaineers’ can flip the script and win the turnover battle, it takes the ball out of Trevone Boykin’s hands while giving more opportunities to Clint Trickett, Kevin White and the WVU offense. That would be a great recipe for an upset.

rtXC in Denison, Texas, writes: Last week you asked, "All the positives of the offensive change makes you wonder, why didn't TCU make this change earlier?" Well, remember in 2010 when TCU had the most balanced offensive attack possible? That offense worked in the MW, and it might've in the Big 12 too had Pachall played for those two full seasons. Especially with Pachall returning last year, would it really have made as much sense to make the change that quickly?

Chatmon: Yes. Remember why Gary Patterson says he made the move. Not to score more points, not to be more entertaining, he made the move for recruiting. He felt he could attract and keep more talented skill players in the Dallas metro area with this offense. Had he made the move years ago those players would already be in the system. Not to mention the personnel at TCU hasn’t changed much but the results have changed dramatically. Why wouldn’t that have been the right move? But hindsight doesn’t really matter, I’m sure Patterson and the Horned Frog faithful are pretty happy about the change.

Mike in Goldsby writes: I'd like to hear your thoughts on two things. First, I love the drama around the Big 12 round robin title hunt. It seems to produce a down-to-the wire competition regularly, and I think it's much more exciting than the old championship game. How do you feel about it? Second, we've had five different champions in the last five years, and two new teams with a legitimate chance at winning the title this year. What does this say about the depth and parity of the Big 12?

Chatmon: I agree, Mike. I like the Big 12’s scheduling approach, and it has made the homestretch pretty exciting in recent years. I don't think the Big 12 needs a championship game just to say it has one. As far as your other question, the depth of the conference as a whole is pretty awesome. I’m sure it’s not ideal for die-hard fans, because it makes conference and national titles more difficult to achieve, but for a someone who doesn’t care who wins, it’s great to watch. It’s way better than having one or two dominant teams and one or two “title-deciding” games each season. Where’s the fun in that?
In our weekly Big 12 roundtable, we examine the league's most surprising and disappointing offensive and defensive units so far this season:

Which offense has been the most surprisingly effective so far this season?

Brandon Chatmon: TCU is the most surprising offense in the nation, not just the Big 12. The Horned Frogs’ new attack leads the Big 12 at 6.86 yards per play and undoubtedly has made Gary Patterson wonder why he didn’t turn to this high-tempo, pass-happy attack sooner.

Max Olson: We knew West Virginia probably had the firepower to score points. We didn't really know if TCU did. It's not just the play calling, which has been superb. It's the instant adaption by Trevone Boykin and all of his backs and receivers that has made this unit killer.

Jake Trotter: To me, it’s TCU, and it’s not close. The Horned Frogs have gone from having the nation’s 88th-best scoring offense to its No. 1. Even in Gary Patterson’s wildest dreams, I don’t think he envisioned such a turnaround when he hired coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie.

Which offense has been the most disappointing?

Chatmon: I expected more from Texas’ offense with its bevy of talented running backs. True enough the offensive line has been playing musical chairs, sparked by departures, but 137.6 rushing yards per game is a surprising number from Charlie Strong’s team.

Olson: Has to be Texas. Neither Malcolm Brown nor Johnathan Gray has had a 100-yard game and Texas' offensive line is playing like one of the nation's worst. Tyrone Swoopes is doing the best he can with what he's got.

Trotter: You knew Oklahoma State would endure growing pains with so many new starters. But I never thought the offense would fall off a table the way it has. The Cowboys still have explosive playmakers. But the offensive line has been dreadful and the quarterbacking has been inconsistent. As a result, this is the worst Oklahoma State offense since Mike Gundy’s first season in 2005.

Which defense has been the most surprisingly effective?

Chatmon: Baylor had to replace several starters on its 2013 title-winning defense, yet there the Bears are, atop the Big 12 rankings in yards per play for a second straight season (4.4). And their 5.03 yards per play in conference games ranks second in the Big 12. BU’s offense gets the headlines but its defense continues to be the main reason for its title hopes.

Olson: Baylor deserves a ton of credit for not taking a noticeable step back despite losing so many veteran studs. They've had a tough loss and one awfully close call, but you do get the sense they're poised to elevate their play for this stretch run.

Trotter: I thought the Mountaineers had a chance to be better defensively. But I never thought they would be this much better. Tony Gibson and Tom Bradley have done a tremendous job turning around a unit that had been among the Big 12’s worst the previous two years.

Which defense has been the most disappointing?

Chatmon: Oklahoma’s defense looked like it could be one of the nation’s best early this season but has struggled in conference play, allowing 6.2 yards per play, ninth in the Big 12. The Sooners have talent all over the field but haven’t been as dominant as expected in Big 12 stadiums.

Olson: I'll agree with BC that it's the Sooners, but you do have to mention Texas Tech. This was already the Big 12's worst scoring D before giving up 82. Coaching, scheme, execution, talent -- Tech is not in good shape in any area.

Trotter: Oklahoma has a good defense, but it’s not the dominant one we all expected with nine starters back. The Sooners have been exposed these last three weeks. Honorable mention honors here go to Tech, whose defense has gone from bad last year to worse this season.
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This time last year, Clint Trickett was an injury-prone, turnover-waiting-to-happen quarterback.

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezTrevone Boykin has gained confidence, and it's showing on the field for TCU.
 But at least he was a quarterback.

Trevone Boykin was a wide receiver. A good wide receiver. But a wide receiver, nonetheless.

Saturday in Morgantown, Trickett and Boykin will meet again, only this time as college football's arguably two most improved quarterbacks from last season.

Trickett’s unrivaled precision has fueled West Virginia’s unforeseen rise into the Big 12 title picture. Boykin’s sudden penchant for big passing plays has TCU unexpectedly thinking playoff.

“That’s what happens with quarterbacks when they get a little game experience and have success,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who has faced Boykin and Trickett in back-to-back weeks. “Those guys are playing with confidence.”

Maybe with as much as any quarterback in college football. That is crazy to consider, when neither was even assured a starting job before the summer.

In the spring, TCU welcomed in Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel with the idea of sliding Boykin back to receiver. Boykin had only manned quarterback the previous two seasons when starter Casey Pachall was out of the lineup. Boykin started out his TCU career as a running back, then eventually settled in at receiver. After Pachall suffered a broken forearm early last season, Boykin took over again at quarterback and struggled along with the rest of the offense. In five Big 12 games with Boykin as its starting quarterback, TCU averaged just 14 points and lost four times.

When West Virginia traveled to Fort Worth, Pachall had returned, pushing Boykin back to receiver. Boykin had a banner game with 11 receptions. But after the Horned Frog offense fell flat in the second half, West Virginia rallied to win in overtime.

“I thought he was an awesome receiver. I thought he was the best guy on the field last year at receiver,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “Boykin started two years ago in Morgantown at quarterback as a true freshman and beat us here. I thought he was a pretty good player then. So he's just a tremendously talented kid.”

This season in TCU's new uptempo, wide-open scheme, that talent has manifested at quarterback, placing Boykin into the conversation of legitimate Heisman contenders. He has thrown for 21 touchdowns and just three interceptions. And he’s eighth in the nation averaging 329 passing yards per game.

“You see how our offense was last year and this year,” said TCU running back Aaron Green. “And it all starts with Boykin. He's playing amazing right now. He has all the confidence in himself and in us. When your quarterback is playing like that, there's not much we need to do.”

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, who watched Boykin toss a TCU record seven touchdowns in the Horned Frogs’ 82-27 wipeout of the Red Raiders last weekend, admitted he’s never seen a quarterback make such a dramatic turnaround from one season to the next.

“I think he’s the best player in the country,” Kingsbury said. “Just watching him and the way he carries himself this year compared to last year, the way he’s leading, extending plays, putting it on the money, he’s night and day from where he was.

“He’s a phenomenal talent.”

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
AP Photo/Chris JacksonClint Trickett has thrown 17 touchdown passes this season, surpassing his total of seven from 2013.
 Trickett’s transformation has been almost as phenomenally stark.

After backing up E.J. Manuel at Florida State, Trickett lost the starting job in Tallahassee to Jameis Winston two springs ago. He transferred in to West Virginia but was slow to transition into Holgorsen’s cutting edge offense. Paul Millard won the starting job in the preseason, and when Millard was ineffective, Holgorsen turned to freshman Ford Childress next over Trickett. Only once Childress suffered a pectoral injury did Holgorsen finally give Trickett a shot.

“Last year I had no clue what I was doing,” Trickett said, “and I think it was evident.”

He upset Oklahoma State in his first start but struggled after that. He finished with as many interceptions and touchdowns (seven), and missed several snaps due to an assortment of injures.

The Mountaineers brought in junior-college quarterback Skyler Howard for the spring, which Trickett missed recovering from shoulder surgery. But with neither Howard nor any other West Virginia quarterback standing out, Holgorsen named Trickett the starter in the summer.

Since, Trickett has been a completely different quarterback. He leads the Big 12 with a completion rate of better than 68 percent. He has 17 touchdowns to just five interceptions. And he has Holgorsen’s attack humming again.

“He’s the leader,” said West Virginia running back Dreamius Smith. “He will check a play off that he sees different -- it doesn’t even have to be a call Coach Holgorsen sees -- and it turns out to be the right call.”

Last weekend at Oklahoma State, Trickett capped the Mountaineers’ first string of back-to-back road wins since joining the Big 12 by completing 70 percent of his throws with two touchdowns in a 34-10 win over the Cowboys.

“He’s not making near as many mistakes as he was,” Gundy said. “I visited with Trickett for a few seconds before the game, and I could just tell in talking to him he had confidence. The quarterback at TCU is playing with confidence right now, too. Last year, I didn’t think he played with any.”

The confidence is brimming over now for Boykin and Trickett who have come miles since their meeting last fall. Two quarterbacks who have taken unthinkable leaps upward -- while taking their teams there with them.
Three years ago, TCU and West Virginia weren't even in the Big 12.

But this weekend, they will headline the game of the year in the Big 12, at least so far. ESPN "College GameDay" will be in Morgantown for a clash of conference newbies, who have turned the Big 12 title race upside down this season.

TCU, which set new lows for offensive futility last year, is now breaking scoring records.

West Virginia, which ranked next-to-last in defense in 2013, is suddenly shutting down offenses left and right.

And after two dismal seasons, this dramatic reversal has catapulted the Mountaineers and Horned Frogs to the top of the title conversation.

Sure, Kansas State is still undefeated in the league. And Baylor and Oklahoma remain in the mix.

But for both West Virginia and TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma are out of the way. K-State has beaten Oklahoma, but still has to travel to Baylor as well as to both Morgantown and Fort Worth. Which is why the winner of Saturday's clash will be in command of the conference race heading into the final month of the season. And though the TCU defense and West Virginia offense have been dominant at times, the other side of the ball will be the one to watch in this game.

[+] EnlargeAaron Green
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsAfter scoring 82 against Texas Tech, TCU's offense has 353 points this season. It had 301 points all of last season.
The Horned Frogs' offensive unit has been the biggest revelation in the Big 12, if not all of college football.

TCU ranked 88th in scoring last year. After their 82-27 undressing of Texas Tech on Saturday, the Horned Frogs top the nation this season, with an average of more than 50 points per game.

Coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have completely transformed the TCU offense from a plodding dinosaur to an unstoppable monster. The Horned Frogs have scored 353 points already this season. They scored 301 all of last year. Saturday, TCU burned through its allotment for touchdown fireworks, forcing the school to put in another order to cover the rest of the season. The Horned Frogs are also the only school in college football to score at least 24 points in the first half of every game this season.

Quarterback Trevone Boykin has led the barrage. He has thrown for 21 touchdowns and just three interceptions, while spreading the ball around to big-play receivers Josh Doctson, Deante' Gray and Kolby Listenbee. That trio combined for 46 receptions all of last year. This season, they've already totaled 84.

After TCU's offense, the most improved unit in the Big 12 has been the West Virginia defense. The Mountaineer defense finished off last year giving up 47 to Texas (in overtime), 31 to Kansas and 52 to Iowa State (in overtime) capping the worst season at West Virginia since 2001.

Shortly after the season coordinator Keith Patterson bolted for Arizona State, leaving coach Dana Holgorsen with a major hire to make in a make-or-break season.

Holgorsen didn't hit just one home run. He hit two of them.

He promoted Tony Gibson from safeties coach to first-time coordinator, then flanked Gibson with longtime Penn State assistant Tom Bradley. The two have been a perfect complement to a West Virginia defense that was in desperate need of both energy and confidence.

With a sneakily experienced collection of defenders, Gibson and Bradley have turned a once leaky West Virginia into one of the soundest in the league. Despite losing starting corners Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut to injuries in the first half, the Mountaineers held Baylor, which poured in 73 against West Virginia last season, to 26 points below its season average in a 41-27 win over the Bears. Then last week, West Virginia completely shut down Oklahoma State, coasting past the Pokes with a 34-10 victory. The Mountaineers were especially dominant in the latter downs, holding Oklahoma State to just 2-of-15 on third downs and 1-of-5 on fourth down.

The Mountaineers now rank third in the league in both scoring and total defense in conference games.

West Virginia had forever been known for its high-powered offense. Likewise, coach Gary Patterson had forged TCU's reputation on debilitating defense.

But TCU's offense has taken the Horned Frogs into the national spotlight. While the West Virginia defense has given it a chance at its first Big 12 crown.

This Big 12 race has been a surprise. Thanks to the TCU offense and West Virginia defense, which have been the biggest surprises of all.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 27, 2014
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Taking stock of Week 9 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: TCU scored a school-record 82 points in its thumping of Texas Tech. The 82 points were the most scored in a Big 12 conference game, breaking the previous mark of 77 set by Oklahoma in 2003 against Texas A&M. In 16 possessions, the Horned Frogs scored 10 touchdowns, kicked four field goals and punted twice. It was a masterful performance.

Disappointment of the week: Anytime a team gives up 82 points, it has to be considered a disappointment, and then some. Texas Tech coughed up the ball four times, and the defense surrendered 11 plays of at least 20 yards. The Red Raiders actually trailed just 31-20 in the second quarter before completely collapsing in the second half. With quarterback Davis Webb also injured, the 2014 season just keeps getting worse for Tech.

Big (offensive) man on campus: Pretty much anyone from the TCU offense deserves this honor, but no one more than quarterback Trevone Boykin, who broke a school-record with seven touchdown passes. Boykin also threw for a school-record 433 yards. With the TCU offense steamrolling, Boykin has begun to generate Heisman buzz.

Big (defensive) man on campus: It seemed every time Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes tried to throw downfield, Kansas State safety Dante Barnett was there to knock the pass down in the Wildcats’ 23-0 win. Barnett finished with four pass-breakups and seven tackles, and K-State handed the Longhorns their first shutout in 10 years.

Special-teams player of the week: Place-kicker could have been a huge problem for K-State this season after Jack Cantele missed three field goals in the loss to Auburn. But freshman Matthew McCrane has solidified that spot for the Wildcats. He made all three attempts, giving K-State some breathing room against Texas. McCrane is now 6-of-6 on field goals this season.

Play of the week: West Virginia true freshman free safety Dravon Henry, who had two interceptions in the 34-10 win against Oklahoma State, also delivered the exclamation point. He stepped in front of an errant Daxx Garman throw and returned it 51 yards to put the game away late in the fourth quarter.

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Stat of the week: Texas Tech has gone 16 straight games without winning the turnover battle. The Red Raiders lost the turnover battle to TCU, 4-0.

Quote of the week: "Fortunately for us, we didn’t play very well and won a ballgame." -- TCU coach Gary Patterson, after his team beat Texas Tech 82-27.

Big 12 morning links

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
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In case you missed it, ESPN "College GameDay" will be in Morgantown this weekend for West Virginia-TCU.
  • Safety Chris Hackett was cleared by the Big 12 after a review of a fight late in TCU's 82-27 win against Texas Tech, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez. Video showed he didn’t actually throw a punch. Hackett was ejected in the third quarter, which would have kept him out of the first half of the West Virginia game. Hackett is having a terrific year, and the Horned Frogs will need all hands on deck against Clint Trickett and Co.
  • The running game has been a quiet key to West Virginia's resurgence this season, in the opinion of the Charleston Gazette's Dave Hickman. Trickett and Kevin White have been getting all the headlines, and rightfully so. Both are having monster seasons. But with Oklahoma State focused on taking away White in West Virginia's 34-10 win in Stillwater, the Mountaineers leaned heavy on the ground game and finished with 210 yards. West Virginia didn't have starter Rushel Shell, either. But Wendell Smallwood picked up the slack with 132 yards against a pretty good Oklahoma State front. This is a complete West Virginia offense. That is a major reason the Mountaineers have surged into the thick of the Big 12 title race.
  • Oklahoma State is looking for answers after getting pummeled by West Virginia. Sure, the game was closer than the final score indicated. But the Cowboys' offense was never a threat to score in the second half. "Everything offensively, to me, is alarming," Mike Gundy told The Oklahoman's Kyle Fredrickson. "Look at where we’re at." I'm not sure the Cowboys can do much this late in the season. The offensive line is what it is. The scheme is what it is. Daxx Garman is the quarterback he is. The best the Cowboys can do is ride it out, hope to get bowl eligible and regroup for next season.
  • Freshman kicker Matthew McCrane has been a success since replacing Jack Cantele as Kansas State's placekicker, writes Ken Corbitt of the Topeka Capital-Journal. McCrane connected on three field goals in the 23-0 victory against Texas, and has now made all six of his attempts this season. After the Auburn game, it appeared placekicking was going to be a major issue for the Wildcats. But so far, McCrane has solidified it.
  • Texas Tech has completely unraveled, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams. The offense can't stop turning the ball over. The defense can't stop anyone. Even special teams helped fuel the TCU rout. The Horned Frogs got the ball 16 times, scored 10 touchdowns, kicked four field goals and punted twice. With five losses in their past six games, the Red Raiders stand little chance of going to a bowl. And as the TCU undressing underscored, this hasn't been a team deserving of a bowl, either.

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