Big 12 defenses rising up, changing poor reputation

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Defenses are making a stand early during this Big 12 season.

The conference best known in recent years for high-scoring showdowns and crazy passing numbers now boasts some of the nation’s stingiest defenses. West Virginia leads the nation in total defense, allowing just 240.3 yards per game. Among the 77 Bowl Subdivision teams that have played so far this season, Oklahoma State ranks second nationally in scoring defense and sixth in total defense. West Virginia and Oklahoma State are tied for the national lead for fewest yards allowed per play and Baylor ranks fifth.

Though the Pac-12 and Big Ten have yet to play, those lofty positions in the national rankings are much different than what Big 12 observers are used to.

The biggest leap has come against the pass. Seven Big 12 teams have allowed fewer passing yards per game than they did at the same point in league play last season. This season, the conference has four of the top 16 teams nationally in fewest passing yards allowed per game and three of the top 11 in pass efficiency defense.

“To sit here and say there’s no defense and it’s just a passing league — I sort of block that stuff out,” Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy said. “It doesn’t mean much to me because I think the defensive play is really hard in this league and I give respect to the d-coordinators across the league. They do a good job scheming up all the offenses. It goes both ways.”

The Big 12 went through a run of excellent quarterback play in recent years. Patrick Mahomes lit it up at Texas Tech before becoming an NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion for the Kansas City Chiefs. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, both Heisman Trophy winners and No. 1 overall draft picks, led the Sooners to College Football Playoff appearances.

Those are just a few of the prolific signal callers the league has featured. There still are plenty of good quarterbacks in the Big 12 — they’re just not quite at the same level as in recent years.

“You look at the No. 1 draft picks and the high rankings in passing offense and things like that, and it was really difficult to play defense in this league due to offensive skill, and most importantly, at the quarterback position,” West Virginia coach Neal Brown said. “And I think it’s been more pro offense than it’s been negative defense.”

Big 12 defenses have been adjusting, too. Programs are recruiting more versatile personnel and many have switched coordinators in recent years.

What has resulted is games like Oklahoma State’s 27-13 win over West Virginia in which neither team gained more than 360 yards. And Kansas State’s 21-14 victory over TCU where 289 yards of offense were enough for the Wildcats to pull off the win.

“Defenses have seen what’s happened in this league for the last eight years and they’ve rallied and done some things differently, particularly playing coverage guys deeper than they did four or five years ago,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said.

Playing deeper and having more players in coverage has put more responsibility on defensive linemen to pressure the quarterback. TCU coach Gary Patterson said his team isn’t getting as much pressure as he’d like, but it’s a byproduct of the way the game has changed.

“I’m not happy with it,” he said. “It’s something we want to be a lot better at, but I’m not unsatisfied. But if you want to be one of the best defenses in the nation, you’ve got to make people fear that you can come and get the quarterback with a three- or four-man rush.”

The league still goes back to its old ways sometimes. Texas has been in two high-scoring thrillers — a 63-56 overtime win against Texas Tech and a 53-45 loss to Oklahoma. But other conferences, such as the SEC, are starting to see the kinds of offensive explosions once reserved for the Big 12. Alabama defeated Ole Miss 63-48 earlier this month as the teams combined for an SEC-record 1,370 yards.

“People have migrated in those conferences in running what the country would call Big 12-style offenses now in other conferences, and those numbers are getting run up,” Gundy said.

Vick, Fitzgerald and Suggs among stars on College Football Hall of Fame ballot for 1st time

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Michael Vick, Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs are among the college football stars who will be considered for induction to the Hall of Fame for the first time this year.

The National Football Foundation released Monday a list of 78 players and nine coaches from major college football who are on the Hall of Fame ballot. There also are 101 players and 32 coaches from lower divisions of college football up for consideration.

Vick, who led Virginia Tech to the BCS championship game against Florida State as a redshirt freshman in 1999, is among the most notable players appearing on the ballot in his first year of eligibility.

Vick finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1999. He played one season of college football before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. Vick’s professional career was interrupted when he served 21 months in prison for his involvement in dog fighting.

Fitzgerald was the Heisman runner-up in 2003 to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. He scored 34 touchdowns in just two seasons at Pitt.

Suggs led the nation in sacks with 24 in 2002 for Arizona State.

The 2024 Hall of Fame class will be chosen by the National Football Foundation’s Honors Court and announced in January. Induction into the Atlanta-based hall is the following December.

Alabama freshman DB Mitchell says he wasn’t sure he’d get to play again after arrest

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama defensive back Tony Mitchell said he feared his football career was over after his arrest on a drug charge.

The Crimson Tide freshman said in a video posted Sunday on social media that he knew “something much bigger could have happened.”

A judge in Holmes County, Florida, sentenced Mitchell to three years of probation with a fine and community service on May 24 after Mitchell pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to play football again, but I continued to work out and stay close with the Lord and those who love me unconditionally,” Mitchell said. “During those times, it helped me to keep my mind off it. But when I was by myself looking at social media, what everybody had to say about it, it just felt like it happened again.

“I didn’t sleep at night.”

He was suspended from the Alabama team following the arrest, but Mitchell’s father, Tony Sr., posted on Facebook last week that the defensive back had been reinstated. An Alabama spokesman declined to comment on Mitchell’s status.

Tony Mitchell Sr. shared his son’s video on Facebook, saying it was filmed during a talk to youth.

“I was doing things I knew I shouldn’t to try to fit in,” the younger Mitchell said, “but not everybody’s your friend.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a four-star prospect and the 15th-rated safety in the 247Composite rankings.

He had been charged in March with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell after a traffic stop when authorities said he drove over 141 mph (227 kph) while trying to evade deputies in the Florida Panhandle. A deputy had spotted Mitchell’s black Dodge Challenger traveling 78 mph (125 kph) in a 55 mph (88 kph) zone on a rural highway north of Bonifay.

He also received 100 hours of community service and paid a fine of $1,560.

Mitchell and a passenger were both charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrest report. The other man also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.