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    [2022] Big XII Network Week 1 Preview: Neutral and Unfriendly Ground

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    The rolling opening of Big XII play continues this weekend, and it's a history-maker. Saturday will feature three neutral-site games, which is the most in a single regular-season week of Big XII play since the opening week of the 2016 season (4). It's also the first regular-season week ever in which zero Big XII teams play a home game. Playing on neutral and unfriendly ground adds to the challenge that the four teams active this week will face, but all of them have a path to victory. How will they get there? What stands in their way? We'll find out. Let's talk about the games.


    Thursday Night


    :isu: Iowa State (0-0) (+4) at :ncsu: NC State (0-0)


    It's about to get young, scrappy, and hungry in Raleigh. Both of these teams last made a bowl game in 2019, followed it up with a major backslide and double-digit losses in 2020, and rebounded a bit to 3 wins last season. The winner of this game will be in a pretty good position for a bowl game (this is especially true for the Wolfpack), and both teams' youth movements have them believing that they should be able to seize the upper hand. When Iowa State has the ball, the goal will be to get outside and turn the corner; for NC State, the counter-strategy will be to get pressure and stay in hot pursuit. Iowa State's strongest point on offense is stud tailback Kofi McCullough, who rushed for 1548 yards and 15 touchdowns on just under 5.2 yards per carry as a redshirt freshman last year. He's got breakaway speed, and giving him a path up the sideline is the surest way to give up a long touchdown run. His performance was often at the mercy of his offensive line, though, which is why the Cyclones now feature redshirt freshman tight end Demetrius Clay. (They intend to play him at both tight end and defensive end.) For the Wolfpack, their defensive strength is straight up the middle. Emmanuel McDermott is a man-eater at defensive tackle, having come up with 4 sacks and 3 rushing tackles for loss last season while finishing second on the team with 27 tackles. The only other surer tackler was redshirt sophomore linebacker Solomon Mahan, who had 40 tackles and 4 passes defended. Combine them with safety duo Jabari Scott and Jake Leyva, and you can see what the Wolfpack are building. If Iowa State can get anything from Vaughn Sheppard and a set of receivers who are a year older if nothing else, that would go a long way toward keeping NC State off-balance. The Wolfpack offense, for its part, returns all but two starters. Senior quarterback Jacob Eubanks completed over 60% of his passes for 2,602 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions; fast-twitch beanpole Felix Browning and tight end Dwayne Lawton were his top two targets, and big Jasiah Raji and normal-sized Cameron Shipp were complementary. That likely won't change this year. The Iowa State defense is going to be...interesting. As mentioned before, tight end Demetrius Clay is a starting defensive end. The linebacker corps is solid thanks to Paul "Baby Bear" Bryant and fellow outside 'backer Omar Vernon, but any pressure the defensive line can generate to make their job easier would be appreciated. Their safety duo is on paper the strength of the defense with Mark Barbour joining Laurent Daniel, but even that's soured by a cornerback set desperately missing David Tolliver. The Wolfpack are talented enough to take advantage and certainly well-coached, and I think they're going to take care of business at home.


    :ncsu: NC State 33, :isu: Iowa State 20


    Saturday Morning


    :mizzou: #9 Missouri (0-0) vs. :wvu: West Virginia (0-0) (+29) (Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC)


    If any team knows how quickly things can turn on a dime when a bevy of offensive playmakers all leave at once, it's West Virginia. To open their season, though, the Mountaineers square off on neutral ground in Charlotte with a team going through the exact same thing a year later. Good-bye Tucker Dowden, good-bye Nathan Coleman, good-bye Tevin Lattimore and Daniel Hobbs, and good-bye top lineman Josh Jones. Unlike West Virginia, Missouri's recruiting was strong enough to withstand these losses, even if they do go through some growing pains on the way. For example, new starting quarterback Travis Ricketts is expected to be the real deal and commands a lot of hype coming into his redshirt freshman season, and he's one of 10 freshmen or sophomores listed on the offensive two-deep alone. There are no true stars on this Tiger offense, but there aren't truly any holes either. For West Virginia, that's probably a good thing. They don't want to go up against a team that's going to test their safeties over and over, and they don't want to go up against a team that they can't pressure. With Aaron Pagan coming back along with two other starting defensive linemen, the Mountaineers should be able to make the not-so-mobile Ricketts use his feet in the pocket. Whether Lamont Carson and company can cover long enough to force a sack, a throwaway, or a cleanup operation by linebacker Nathan Wilks is the essential question. West Virginia actually comes into this game more confident in its quarterback situation thanks to Martin Lake's arrival. The junior college transfer from Florida is going to be asked to do a lot; he has talent around him, but his offensive teammates are even younger than the guys surrounding Travis Ricketts. Runningback Bryce Madison, top receiver trio Corey Easley, Christian Nash, and Etena Catingub, left guard Derrick Sanders, and right tackle Julien Vincent? Every single one of them is a freshman, and both of the linemen are true freshmen. It's tough to predict just how this team will perform since so much of it just plain has not been seen on a field at the FBS level before. And against a Missouri defense that projects to improve significantly over its 25.7 points allowed per game? With freshman studs like DeMarcus Cannon, Amral Waters, and Erick Babcock? With no holes anywhere? This is going to be one heck of a welcome to the league, but once West Virginia's seen this then they're not going to have anything left to fear.


    :mizzou: #9 Missouri 24, :wvu: West Virginia 14


    Saturday Evening


    :okst: #6 Oklahoma State (0-0) (-10.5) vs. :ucla: UCLA (0-0) (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX)


    Last week was TCU's turn to take its measure as a contender. This week, 6th-ranked Oklahoma State gets to introduce its 2022 squad to the world against an offensively retooled and defensively balanced UCLA. Stand-and-deliver quarterback Steven Gore is gone, and run-and-gun redshirt freshman Aaron Harden replaces him. (In other words, the exact opposite of what happened at Missouri.) Runningback Frederick Girard returns, but considering that he only ran for 404 yards last year it probably isn't reasonable to expect him to suddenly shoulder a huge load. With Jay Arreola gone but fellow receivers Noah Tumaalii (890 yards, 11 TD) and Ronan Humphreys (1066 yards, 11 TD) coming back, finding an offense that uses Harden's arm while still taking advantage of his mobility looks like it will be priority #1 for UCLA. Likewise, defending against both threats simultaneously is Oklahoma State's big task. They did that extremely well last year, allowing just 6.3 yards per pass attempt and 4.1 yards per carry and finishing 4th in the nation with 15.1 points allowed per game. Even without Trevor Orlando, Oklahoma State should be able to disrupt up front thanks to Brian Suarez and defensive tackle Amir Pryor. If I were Harden, I would also be wary about throwing anywhere near reigning Big XII Defensive Player of the Year Sebastian Byrd. If the Cowboy corners win that matchup, there's not going to be much room for UCLA to breathe. If not? Well, then Oklahoma State can still run up the score with their offense. They return Ian Baldwin, who threw for 30 touchdowns and nearly 3500 yards on 65.2% passing. It would be greedy to ask for a receiving duo better than Jeremy Bridges and Samuel Barfield, who stand out against UCLA's secondary. The Bruins appear to have benched Cameron Crosby, whose 6 interceptions and 3 passes broken up led the team last year. What will matter is the protection the offensive line can provide against a blitz-happy and blitz-successful UCLA front. Keeping Blake Tipton (10.5 sacks, 6 TFL) out of the backfield is paramount. And lastly, establishing the run with Amral Brown will be important--not just for this game, but to put future opponents on notice that this bowling ball sees every defense as a set of pins to knock down. I expect Oklahoma State to overwhelm UCLA, win the game, and cover the spread.


    :okst: #6 Oklahoma State 31, :ucla: UCLA 10


    Saturday Night


    :byu: BYU (0-0) vs. :kstate: Kansas State (0-0) (+18.5) (Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO)


    Kansas State has had its struggles, but in recent times it's been able to do one thing consistently well: win the first game of the season. The Wildcats have won each of their last three openers, and the after-dark hours on Saturday give them a real chance to make it four. If they do it, it'll be because their defense was able to frustrate an uninspiring BYU offense that has to replace star runningback Joseph Saunders. It's not easy to replace 140 rushing yards per game and 28 regular-season rushing touchdowns, after all, and in his time at Boise State and now BYU we haven't seen much evidence that Jabari Sneed can shoulder the primary load of a productive offense. He did complete 67.5% of his passes last year with 13 touchdowns to 2 interceptions, but he also only threw 17.4 times per game. If redshirt freshman runningback Adarius Galloway needs time to adapt to the college level, Kansas State will need to take advantage. That starts by securing the middle with defensive tackle Jonah Caruso. The bulk of the plan really involves star linebacker Brendan Scherer being a bull in a china shop and laying waste to whichever BYU ballcarrier occupies the same ZIP code as he does. And on the back end, it involves Sammy Schuler and the secondary being in position to break up a pass or snag an interception to try and turn Sneed from a nonfactor into a negative factor. On offense, Kansas State is working more uphill. Julius Minnow returns to the starting lineup after throwing 8 touchdowns to 12 interceptions in 2019, and the fifth-year senior is going to look for Jhonny Palacios and tight end P.K. Lovelace over all. Expect Jaiden Givens to play a complementary role at best--he didn't display much last year and will need to show improvement before he earns a larger role. The biggest vulnerability on this Kansas State offense is its protection. Can this offensive line, particularly the right side of the line, hold up against big nose tackle Jeremy Minor and a pretty solid defensive line? And if that defensive line can get pressure, can Minnow avoid throwing it to M.K. Sharpe and the rest of the sharks in this secondary? I'm skeptical. I think this has the potential to be a grind-it-out type of game between two defensively oriented teams. The Wildcats are going to put up a fight, but I think the Cougars will get out of Denver with a win.


    :byu: BYU 17, :kstate: Kansas State 13


    Byes: Kansas (0-1), #5 Oklahoma (0-0), Baylor (0-0), #4 TCU (0-1), #24 Texas (1-0), Texas Tech (0-0)

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    4 hours ago, stormstopper said:

    the Cyclones now feature redshirt freshman tight end Demetrius Clay. (They intend to play him at both tight end and defensive end.)


    Wow that’s really interesting to me. What led to that decision? Why do they believe he can play both?


    As always great stuff @stormstopper! I love reading your media, it really brings the conference to life.  Here is to a great week 1!


    Side note: week 1 byes suck!

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    Hooooooo boy am I reaching critical levels of hype now that these are back. I think it'll be a closer game than expected at least because of changes I'm making on both sides of the ball. If this was last year I'd be downright terrified of UCLA but losing most of their offense means there's a lot of untested guys going up against my defense. Should be a good one either way. 

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    Thanks storm!  Missouri and their defense isn't the ideal opener for a team with so many new faces.  If you count the slot WR - WVU is starting 9 new players on offense.


    Honestly I think we improve this year, but we're still another year away from being legitimately scary.  

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