Big 12 Football power rankings – Power? What power?

All the sads, Big 12.

There have been seasons where the Big 12 unfairly took heat for not being a true contender on the national stage. 2016 is not one of those seasons.thumb-440352_960_720

After a second-consecutive weekend of getting put in its place, it is clear the Big 12 doesn’t belong in the College Football Playoff discussion. (Unless … we maybe pretend some other teams like Houston are part of the Big 12, kind of a “just the tip” deal, you know, with all that Big 12 expansion stuff happening.)

Yep, three weeks in and that’s where we are already. That’s nice.

*Houston* (3-0) — The Cougars have swag. They have support from J.J. Watt. They *appear* to have a good track on getting a Big 12 invite if and when that step is finally reached. That said, is it too late for the Big 12 to claim Houston as its own? 

1. Texas (2-1) — The Longhorns will need an immediate recovery to bounce back after losing to a Cal team it shouldn’t have. Tough performance, and with Notre Dame getting manhandled for most of its game with Michigan State, it looks like Texas may be just as Big 12 average as the rest.

2. Oklahoma (1-2) — Keeping Oklahoma at the No. 2 spot in these rankings – despite getting dominated at home by Ohio State – is a full indictment on the non-strength of the Big 12. More than a few times, Baker Mayfield looked like he was pressing, and after going 1-2 in the non-con, it’s too late for Bob Stoops to press the panic button. This season’s big potential is gone.

3. Baylor (3-0) — Remember that one time when programs would build excellent seasons by eating cupcakes? Baylor has found a way to screw that up like Baylor normally finds ways to Baylor things up. After slow-cooking Rice, the Bears have three wins, some questions after multiple slow starts against inferior opponents, and zero prestige — a championship-killing calling card of recent years.

4. TCU (2-1, 1-0) — The Frogs opened Big 12 play with a business-minded performance against Iowa State. It won’t wow anybody, but it’s a tough, efficient, unsung showing that never gets enough appreciation — kinda like Gary Patterson’s khakis on a hot day.

5. Kansas State (1-1) — Had the competition been a little better, the Wildcats would have jumped a spot or maybe even two in these rankings. Penalties aside, this was the most dominant effort from K-State in some time. If quarterback play continues to improve game-to-game, the skill positions are flush with talent, the defense is good to great, and special teams are again some of the best in the nation. It’s enough to legitimately put K-State up against anyone in the Big 12.

6. West Virginia (2-0) — The Mountaineers were off this past weekend, giving them some extra time to prepare for a BYU squad that has a stingy defense but isn’t nearly at the level it was overall two years ago when it smoked Texas.

*North Dakota State (3-0) – The Bison stampeded No. 13 Iowa to the tune of 239 rushing yards while only giving up 34 yards on the ground and 231 offensive yards overall. Yes, the game came down to a field goal in the final seconds, but that’s still some heavy domination that half of the Big 12 would love to be able to dish out but flat can’t.

7. Oklahoma State (2-1) — The Cowboys used a six-shooter’s worth of big plays, plus some, to out-gun Pitt. James Washington put up freak numbers with nine catches totaling 296 yards and 2 TD. He had a 91-yard grab, Jhajuan Seales had an 86-yarder, and the Pokes pulled out the win in the end.

8. Texas Tech (2-1) — If you poked your head into the defensive coaching staff’s office, would it be empty? Or, would it be filled with additional offensive coaches? Tech continues to be allergic to defense, and I continue to be amazed by it.

9. Iowa State (0-3, 0-1) — Wins will be few this year for the Cyclones, so it’s important to celebrate little steps of progress — like, for example, ISU won the fourth quarter, 10-3, against TCU’s backups. Little things, guys. Little things.

10. Kansas (1-2) — It was one play, but it was beautiful. A 3rd-and-1, 66-yd breakaway by freshman running back Khalil Herbert provided the lone bright spot in a six-turnover day. The game left head coach David Beaty trying to accept the blame, saying he had to do a better job in getting his guys ready to play. I watched the turnovers. NO coach can make up for quarterbacks handing the ball to the other team.

Big 12 Football power rankings – A WTF weekend

It feels too early in the year to have to have this talk, Big 12, but seriously, what in the ever-loving hell was that collective performance on Saturday?big_12_conference_logo-svg

Central Michigan (Mid-American), Ohio (Mid-American), Arkansas (SEC), Arizona State (Pac-12), and Iowa (Big 10) all proved better than their Big 12 opponents, and Youngstown State (Missouri Valley) was on the verge of doing the same. Overall the Big 12 went a putrid 4-5 in non-conference contests.

Aside from the top Big 12 teams, it was a deplorable showing, but it won’t stop us from ranking the conference this week and trying to say nice things — even if we feel as dirty as Elisabeth Schu in Leaving Las Vegas.

1. Texas (2-0) — Shane Buechele completed 71.7 percent of his passes through two games, and the Longhorns showed no letdown a week after knocking off Notre Dame. UTEP was shorthanded, but it wouldn’t have mattered even with a Miners full deck.

2. Oklahoma (1-1) — So begins the long, 11-step road to recovery. OU led Louisiana Monroe 42-0 at halftime and coasted the rest of the way. One win down, 10 more to go for a group that wants to believe it belongs in the College Football Playoff.

3. Baylor (2-0) — The final score didn’t look all that out of whack, but if you paid attention, the Bears struggled pretty hard with SMU’s defense. BU quarterback Seth Russell said SMU provided some looks that the Bears hadn’t seen before. Gotta believe Big 12 defensive coordinators are scrambling to secure that film, even more than normal.

4. TCU (1-1) — The Horned Frogs have given up 82 points in two games. They were getting shut out at halftime against Arkansas before mounting a big, but short, fourth-quarter comeback. Two weeks does not a season make, but things feel a little too unsettled for comfort right now in Fort Worth.

5. Kansas State (0-1) — Everybody else in the Big 12 played games this weekend. Bill Snyder Family Stadium played host to a concert. People showing up to Bill Snyder Family Stadium in September for something other than football? Some things aren’t wrong, but it doesn’t mean they feel right.

6. West Virginia (2-0) — Slow start, but the Mountaineers were much stronger in the second half against a game Youngstown St. In any other week, WVU probably doesn’t move up a spot in the rankings based on that performance, and that takes us to the next team on the list …

7. Oklahoma State (1-1) — Did OSU get screwed? Yes. Should they never have been in that position to begin with? Taking on an inferior opponent in Stillwater? Yes. Bad form, Mike Gundy’s guys. Real bad.

8. Texas Tech (1-1) — It’s flat amazing how predictable Texas Tech has become in terms of fun offense and zero regard for defense. And, like so many years before, that combination will mean another season of the “L” standing for Loss in Lubbock.

9. Iowa State (0-2) — Matt Campbell already has indecision at quarterback — just two games in. That’s not the hard part, Coach Campbell; it’s the constant heartburn and eventual apathy in Ames that become the real doozies.

10. Kansas (1-1) — On a positive note, the Jayhawks defense was better. The only thing about that is the improvement came after Ohio racked up the majority of its 329 rushing yards in the first half. On offense, dreadful was the word. KU had 26 rushing yards on 15 carries, to go along with 0-11 combined on third  (0-9) and fourth (0-2) downs.

Big 12 Football power rankings – Looking Strong

It’s time to do one of my favorite things and start making weekly sense (as much as possible, anyways) of the Big 12 Conference’s football programs. If you’ve never followed my rankings, I try my best to leverage week-to-week performance in tandem with overall expectation. Rankings that purely go week-to-week drive me nuts, and polls that attempt to shrug off a poor performance do the same.

So, away we go …

1. Texas (1-0) — The only reason the Longhorns top thiCharlie Strongs week’s ranks? Oklahoma lost. Past that, Texas beat a ranked, established Notre Dame in exciting, believable fashion. Charlie Strong has been building talent for the past couple of years after purging attitudes. It appears Burnt Orange Nation may finally have something legitimate to cheer for past October. Scary.

2. Oklahoma (0-1) — Well … at least OU fans didn’t have to wait until midseason for their Sooners to inexplicably faceplant. Nope, this year, those fans can now pray the worst is over and Bob Stoops can motivate his guys to win the next 11, which is doable provided OU can emerge from its usual mental quagmire.

3. TCU (1-0) — It was only South Dakota St., but Hill looked ready to lead the Horned Frogs to something great this season. Does it stick?

4. Baylor (1-0) — We really won’t get a good feel for the Bears until late September, but it’s hard to imagine the potentially program-wrecking off-season won’t have some immediate effects.

5. Kansas State (0-1) — The Wildcats played like a Top 20 team against Stanford — especially on defense. Keep up that kind of effort, and K-State could make some noise in the top half of the Big 12 before things are said and done.

6. Oklahoma State (1-0) — OSU is another program we won’t really know until conference play opens. Until then, enjoy the sweet, fattening diet of cupcakes.

7. West Virginia (1-0) — I know WVU received votes this week, but I can’t help it … beating a sinking Missouri program by 15 in Morgantown just ins’t very inspiring compared to other first-week performances. It leaves something to prove for me. Guess we’ll see.

8. Texas Tech (1-0) — Safe to say, if this was basketball, Tech wouldn’t have scored 69 against Stephen F. Austin. But, it was all guns up all the time last Saturday against an inferior opponent. Congrats, or something.

9. Iowa State (0-1) — 13 freshmen took the field for the Cyclones, including six true frosh. It’s going to be a long season (again) in Ames for the new staff, but maybe it leads to something good down the road.

10. Kansas (1-0)I watched this one in person. Rhode Island was so terrible that many KU fans got bored and left early — missing the team’s first win in almost two years. It was like watching a nerdy kid smack an armless mannequin in the faceless face with a pillow and celebrating it as a win. But hey, at least KU’s head coach cried.

KU football: When even a win didn’t matter

Students barely hit the field at KU before the public address announcer had firmly tucked in his shirt, hiked his pants, and scolded, “This is a new era in Kansas football, an era in which you should EXPECT to win.”

The Memorial Stadium game clock reported just under 11 minutes left in the first quarter as I began hopping two cement stairs at a time.

I was on my way to the west side of the stadium, headed to pick up a will call ticket and take my seat, where I would spend the next three hours witnessing the Kansas Jayhawks earn their first football win since Nov. 8, 2014.

FullSizeRender
A timestamp marking the first KU Football win since Nov. 8, 2014.

Favored by nearly four touchdowns over Rhode Island, KU didn’t disappoint as it racked up a 55-6 victory against a downtrodden Rams program allergic to size, speed, scheme, and inspiration. Such dominance later brought tears to KU’s second-year head coach David Beaty.

And, that’s not even the weirdest part.

Just after the game ended, before Beaty’s press conference, tens of hyped students, who had not yet left in search of ongoing neighborhood house parties,  stormed a small section of the field. Once there, they barely had time to congratulate everyone in the group by name before the public address announcer had firmly tucked in his shirt, hiked his pants, and scolded, “This is a new era in Kansas football, an era in which you should EXPECT to win.”

We heard the message while walking out of the stadium – still able to see the field, but just far enough away that you could hear the disbelief and collective eye-roll from fans who didn’t see a problem with kids who were capable of little more than bending a few blades of turf.

This all served as the cap to an evening I spent witnessing other fans around me drowsily check the field before diving back into their smartphone browsing. That’s not to mention the general lack of interest in the concert-level music of today blasting throughout the stadium during timeouts — as if to say “See? Look! We’re fun! It’s FUN to be here! Are you not ENTERTAINED!?”

The answer to that was apparently not, as fans filtered away from a game that served less purpose than a KU intra-squad scrimmage would have. Even for a team that went 0-12 in 2015, it was too easy, this win, and fans felt it.

Still, while KU is on point at any given moment when it comes to basketball, Saturday’s events combined left me with a sense of nobody really knew how to handle a win, or even handle football for that matter. The music was a hedge bet toward needing to create some artificial fan experience outside of enjoying the football in front of them. Those who wanted to celebrate the first home win in nearly two years were told to stop. A coach said the right things regarding expecting to win but in the same breaths showed stress cracks caused by the immense weight of changing such a culture.

It was something to behold, and will be something to watch if and when a win happens again … whether in this season’s life or the next.

K-State football: “Delay of Game – Offense”

No. 8 Stanford Cardinal 26, Kansas State Wildcats 13.

The first-blush takeaway was that K-State did itself proud in Palo Alto. While not good enough to win — there simply wasn’t enough consistency from the quarterback position to overcome an early deficit — the defense’s performance in the second half had me thinking this team could wind up with nine wins if some things went right.*Coach_Bill_Snyder

*Actually, before the game, I told Danny Parkins and Carrington Harrison over at 610 Sports KCSP I thought if everything went right, K-State might even win 10. Chalk one up to over-optimism. It happens.*

Speaking of what went right, despite 26 points on the board, let’s start with that defense.

Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey broke loose twice for big runs, and Duke Shelley got burned on a long touchdown pass, but all in all, Dante Barnett, Jordan Willis, and friends were better than good for much of that ballgame.

Barnett was a sight for sore eyes — repeatedly assassinating running plays from his safety position. It will  be interesting to see how fast Big 12 offensive coordinators try to exploit Barnett’s dominant run-support mindset, but if they can’t or don’t, we may be watching an All-America campaign.

Willis and the defensive line showed impressive assignment discipline and consistency for it being the first game of the season. It led to a pretty solid showing in slowing McCaffrey, even if Superman finally won in the end.

Now, as for what didn’t go right.

“Delay of Game – Offense”

For the love of God — and, I know I’m asking an old-dog program to learn a new trick — why can’t this coaching staff figure out play clock management?

A lot can happen in 40 seconds – full meals can be warmed up; a Jamaican (or South African) can run nearly a quarter-mile; pregnancy (okay, that one is actually 30 min., but a risky decision takes far less time). So, why can’t a team of coaches assigned to coordinating plays avoid test anxiety and not repeatedly fail to answer in time, especially in inexplicable situations, like, say, in the red zone or after new quarter just began?

FOX Sports color analyst Joel Klatt said it best during Friday’s broadcast: When more than one quarterback has an issue getting the ball snapped on time, that’s not a quarterback issue; it’s a program failure. And, if you listened hard enough right after, you could almost hear a collective “amen” from the K-State congregation.

Here’s hoping, against all historic evidence and logic, things improve on this front as the season goes forward.

Byron Pringle/passing game

Up front, it’s unfair to pin a multi-person process on one player. But, there was a lot of hype on K-State’s shiniest new weapon heading into Stanford, and the result was disappointing. Pringle was targeted 10 times (by my count) and finished with one catch for 14 yards.

Is Stanford’s experienced defense great? Yep. Did K-State’s young, overmatched offensive line give up eight sacks? Yessir. Did KSU’s QBs — Jesse Ertz and Joe Hubener — struggle because of average protection, plus the fact they just aren’t that great of passers in general? Indeed, if you believe, like I do, what you read out of 19-of-41, for 243 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT.

So yeah, it’s not all on Pringle. A few passes were realistically uncatchable and others forced when they shouldn’t have gone his direction. But, one catch isn’t awesome. Still, the emergence of Isaiah Zuber should help loosen things up against defenses not named Stanford.

Alright, time to put the whip away for a bit. In all, K-State was competitive, trailing 19-13 with 2:20 remaining, and judging by reactions afterward, had K-State been ranked No. 15 going into that game, nobody would have blinked at it based on how things played out.

It’s a start. Not a fantastic one, granted, but if K-State plays at that level all season, eight wins seems well within reach.

Crowdsourcing: What K-State fans hope to see against Stanford

The Kansas State Wildcats open the 2016 season on the road against AP No. 8 Stanford on Friday. With good experience (and talent) returning defensively but questions at quarterback and on a new-look offensive line, it’s hard to say, exactly, what the expectation is regarding performance.*Coach_Bill_Snyder

*Unless you are a disciple of K-State’s 16 Goals For Success, of course, and choose to live by No. 13: “Expect to win.” For the sake of the rest of this piece, though, let’s leave that perfectly reasonable thought to the side for now.

K-State head coach Bill Snyder shared his thoughts with the media on Tuesday.

“Stanford is a great challenge, and our players are excited about playing the game, that’s a positive thing,” Snyder said.

As for his made-over young o-line?

“They will probably see the brunt of Stanford’s defense and movements and all that goes along with it,” Snyder said. “They’re drilling diligently on that right now and they’ve went through spring practice well. They’ve earned the right to be there.

“They don’t have the experience that you’d like, but they’ve had a significant amount of practice experience. So we’re doing the kind of work that we need to be doing and the practice with the environment and how we organize it. I think there will be some carry over for them into the ballgame.”

Snyder also laid out his thoughts on Stanford’s Heisman hopeful, running back Christian McCaffrey.

“I have not met him personally, but I like the way he conducts himself. I would say the hidden ingredient is his leadership on that team in a very humble fashion,” Snyder said. “I just like that nature of his character.

“Aside from that, on the football field, it’s just being able to identify where he is and why he’s there becomes important. He can line up in a lot of different positions and not get baited out of position because of where his linemen are.

“[Our players] have to understand what he can, but also equally important, what he can’t do from certain positions. He can be a deceptive runner, he can be a powerful runner, and obviously he’s got a good deal of speed. We have to be great on our cover units – our punt units and kickoff units – because he offers those things on the return units as he does in their offense.”

Outside of the team, as anyone would in today’s day and age, I asked Twitter what it expects.

“Competitive, with McCaffrey being the X-factor. K-State matches up well otherwise.” – @bclaymoore

“Think KSU defense can keep it close just not sure about how efficient KSU’s offense will be, too many unknowns.” – @jswabash

“Expect a competitive game but not a W.” – @bmalcolm88

“I like our team but I think we’ll struggle to stay in the game. Close at half but we fall 31-13.” – @MultiTodd

“Snyder Goal #13” – @MichaelKBerges

“To be competent and keep things close, IMO.” – @roh_tweets

“Get pressure with DL, keep McCaffrey contained and make someone else beat us, >55% completion rate, and competent OL play.” – @Tye_KC

And, finally, my current favorite …

“K-State 98, Stanford 2” – @Schmidtburgh

Content Marketing: From Drip to Deluge

More than ever, content is king.

It drives a never hungrier Internet. It shape-shifts from e-books and blogs to videos, newspaper articles and Internet memes. All of it combines to stuff our faces with brands, messages, agendas and even, on occasion, knowledge. It gets heavy at times, and consumers have pushed back by becoming guarded, skeptical and better informed – often quick to dismiss anything that seems pushy.From Drip to Deluge, content marketing needs time to work.

That leads to a simple question: How does one best reach and engage a savvy consumer on their turf and on their terms? The answer is that even if consumers have become extremely niched, their appetites for information have never been bigger or more efficient. They consume more info and do it faster than before, and that’s a good thing. It leaves room for your message to be on the menu, and the Internet gives you more opportunity than ever to present why your meal is the best choice.

What a glorious table setting for content marketing.

“Content marketing has always been a part of the marketing mix in some fashion, just under different names such as branded content, brand storytelling and so on,” says Kevin Briody, Senior Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer, for Pace.*

*Based in Greensboro, North Carolina, Pace was named 2013 Content Agency of the Year at the second annual Content Marketing Awards.

“However it really took off over the last few years due to how consumers are finding and sharing all that content – in other words, due to the rise of organic search (Google, Bing, etc.) and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.) and their increasing convergence.

“In an incredibly noisy marketing landscape, particularly online, having a powerful, relevant and engaging story to tell has become absolutely critical for brands looking to connect with their customers and prospects. Great storytelling content, and how it fuels organic search and social media, is the root of content marketing as a viable marketing strategy.”

James Meyers is the CEO of Imagination Publishing, which was a finalist for 2013 Content Agency of the Year. He believes the online culture has been a catalyst for content marketing’s boom.

“Unquestionably, the Internet has catapulted the growth of content marketing,” Meyers says. “The combination of needing frequent, valuable content to: improve SEO results; to encourage repeat customer visits; to engage customers; and to feed social networking streams have all become a critical necessity for marketers of all organizations. As a result, agencies of all types – traditional ad agencies, public relations firms and content publishers – have all moved to fill this need. In doing so, they have further elevated the frenzy around content marketing.”

For a marketer who has never attempted a content marketing program, the entire philosophy and process can seem overwhelming and not worth the amount of time, energy and resources it takes to get a program moving. After all, how does one go about affecting the Internet?

But, think of a dry sponge placed under a faucet that has a single drip coming from it. The drip falls, and the sponge absorbs it in quick fashion. You know the water went in; it went somewhere, even if there’s not really any good evidence of such after a brief moment. So, you spend your time and effort keeping the sponge perfectly still while waiting on the faucet to produce another drip, which it does. That drip also hits the sponge in the same spot and seems to disappear. However, this time you can feel where the drip hit. Soon, another drip and then another.

Pretty soon the water’s effect is easily noticeable as it continues to hit the sponge in the same spot and then spread out as more of the sponge begins to absorb the moisture. After a while, the sponge is soaked – all from a steady stream of individual drips.

Now, what if that sponge is your desired consumer group? What if that single drip is your first attempt at content marketing via a new blog entry, a YouTube video tutorial or Pinterest post? Nobody really noticed those first few efforts, probably. However, after some patience, sticking to a targeted approach, and having the resolve to hold your program in place, your message, which smartly has centered on and drummed home the fact that you are the expert of your industry, has saturated your target.

The most critical aspect to any content marketing initiative is, not surprisingly, to make sure you have content.

“A successful content marketing program is a complex undertaking and, depending upon scale, may require full-time resources,” Myers says. “Many organizations have made the mistake of creating a new website or social site, launching it with content and then seen dismal results as they fail to feed constant additional content in a variety of formats to their customers.

“We believe that there are three essential pillars to any successful content marketing program: strategy, content creation and distribution marketing. Without addressing and continuously focusing on all three of these area, most content marketing programs will ultimately fail.”

Briody believes in sharpening your content to the point that it can’t help but hit and impact the desired target; and making sure you can tell just how good the shot was.

“First, define a distinctive brand voice and point of view – why should somebody listen to you instead of all the others out there making noise?” Briody says. “Why should they pay attention in the first place, and keep coming back for more?

“Second, have a goal in mind, one you can measure – so many content marketing programs fail because they set out to “share lots of content” without any clear understanding of how all that content and all that sharing should lead back to measurable business results.

“Third, having a distribution strategy is as important as crafting great content; “Build it and they will come” is something that should only live in movies – it has no place in your content marketing efforts. Just because you launch the World’s Most Amazing Content Hub (or Blog), doesn’t mean anyone is going to find it.

“Lay out your SEO (Organic Search) strategy, then evaluate all the other customer touch points where your amazing content might add value – can it fuel your email marketing, make your social media more effective, add some personality to your events, or some context to your advertising? Where and how can your content be used, so that it has the most chance of being seen, consumed and drive real results?”

As consumers continue to improve their search capabilities, it will become even more vital for marketers to find ways to stand out among competitors. Developing a content marketing plan now, even if you haven’t previously, will go a long ways toward helping accomplish that goal.

“We conducted very successful content programs that have been proven drivers of audience expansion, increased sales leads or conversions, shorter decision cycles, customer engagement and improved loyalty,” Meyers says. “Unlike traditional advertising campaigns where results drop off when the spending stops, content marketing is a long-term program that continues to build over time and has a long residual value tail.”

Briody also believes in content marketing’s staying power.

“I don’t think there really is a ceiling to great content marketing,” Briody says. “If you look at trends the major, iconic brands are following, everyone from Nike to Coke and beyond are making amazing content the centerpiece of their entire digital brand experience.

“It increasingly dominates their traditional advertising and is displacing offer-based promotions in everything from email to social to digital paid media. Great content is rapidly become a de facto requirement for great marketing – so the sky’s the limit.”

*ed note: I wrote this piece in 2014 for the National Auctioneers Association’s Auctioneer magazine. I have made it part of my marketing plan and practice as Director of Publications there to educate NAA members and encourage them to use content marketing. -ck