Big 12 Football: Taylor Cornelius and The New Class of QBs

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One reason that there was some doubt about how good the Big 12 could be this season centered on uncertainty at quarterback.

Three-time defending champion Oklahoma had to replace a Heisman Trophy winner in Baker Mayfield, and contender TCU would be relying on a sophomore who had one career start.

Texas has been searching for quality QB play for a decade, Kansas State had two quarterbacks with different skill sets. Oklahoma State had to replace a third-team All-American while Texas Tech’s quarterback room was empty in terms of experience.

The Red Raiders will travel to Stillwater to face the 15th-ranked Cowboys Saturday and each team has apparently solved their quarterback issues thanks to two players who travel divergent paths but have this in common: Few outside of their locker rooms know who the heck they are.

Through three games – an admittedly small sample size – Oklahoma State fifth-year senior Taylor Cornelius and Texas Tech freshman Alan Bowman are slinging it around like the long list of their predecessors.

Cornelius, whose nickname of “Corn Dog” is a perfect fit and one of the best of this season, has stayed the course. While many quarterbacks transfer when they fail to win the starting job (looking at you, Tristan Gebbia), Cornelius was content to spend four seasons practicing and improving. That was probably a good strategy for someone who arrived on campus weighing 180 pounds. Coming out of high school, Cornelius had a scholarship offer from West Texas A&M, in nearby Canyon, Texas. He chose to attend Oklahoma State as a walk on.

Bushland, Texas, Cornelius’ hometown, is two hours from Lubbock. His country-boy-from-a-small-West-Texas-town back story is right out of Friday Night Lights. Through three games as a starter, Cornelius has 971 yards passing – just five yards short of the three-game school record set by Brandon Weeden.

In Saturday’s 44-21 thrashing of Boise State, the 6-6, 230-pound Cornelius added a seldom-seen wrinkle to the Cowboys’ prolific offense. Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich threw a curve ball at the Broncos’ defense by calling a number of quarterback runs. Cornelius resembled former Kansas State QB Colin Klein, taking shotgun snaps, pausing for blocking and holes to develop and then gaining positive yards. He finished with 41 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.

“I think (Cornelius) is comfortable running the ball,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “He gets into the flow of the game, right? Like a 3-point shooter in basketball. He hits a couple of 3s and gets hot. He’s played three games now. He’s getting a little better each game.”

Bowman got better quick. A freshman three-star recruit from Grapevine, Texas, Bowman dissected Houston’s defense for 605 yards in the Red Raiders’ 63-49 shootout victory. His passing total was six yards shy of the NCAA freshman record and set a Big 12 freshman record. He broke the record set by Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, who in his second season in the NFL is lighting up defenses as Kansas City’s starting QB.

“I remember when Pat broke it and I said it’d never be broken,” Kingsbury told The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman me after the game. “We couldn’t run the ball (against Houston) — Ed Oliver is an absolute beast – so we had to throw it and he did a nice job protecting the football and going through his reads. Hopefully he builds some confidence moving forward.”

Bowman, making his second start, was 43-of-59 for five touchdowns. Considering Oklahoma State sacked Boise State senior seven times, the Cowboys figure to bring the heat to try and rattle a freshman making his first road start in his first Big 12 game.

But also consider Bowman is playing for The Quarterback Whisperer. Since 2010, QBs that Kingsbury have coached have averaged these numbers: 4,797 passing yards, 5,129 total yards, 46 total touchdowns, 14 interceptions.

Tragedy in Ames

When Iowa State played host to Akron Saturday, the school had planned to honor the school’s Female Athlete of the Year, golfer Celia Barquin Arozamena, the 2018 Big 12 women’s golf champion. The honor will now be posthumous.

Barquin Arozamena, who is from Spain, was killed Monday. The 22-year-old was golfing alone, and her body was found in a pond on the course. Collin Daniel Richards, a 22-year-old homeless man living in a camp near the course, is charged with first-degree murder.

This senseless tragedy left the campus broken and devastated. Barquin Arozamena, an outstanding golfer who was finishing her degree in engineering before turning pro, was popular because of her personality. She often attended Cyclones sports events and embraced being a part of the Iowa State community.

She cried tears of joy when she was informed that as female athlete of the year and asked, “Do I get to go onto the football field?” 

Barquin Arozamena won’t be there Saturday. Fans are asked to wear yellow – her favorite color. Both teams will have a “CBA” sticker on their helmets. The Iowa State marching band will form the letters “CBA” as it prepares to play the national anthem. A video tribute and moment of silence will occur before the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Both teams will be on the field for the video tribute and moment of silence.

“I feel terrible for her and her family. It’s hard on us as student-athletes,” Iowa State quarterback Zeb Noland told the Des Moines Register. “We’re all thinking about it. I wish there is something that we can do. I wish we could do more to try to pull the pain away.”

Surprise, surprise; Kansas 2-1

After losing in overtime at home to FCS Nicholls State, most assumed that Kansas was slogging its way to a winless season. But two weeks ago the Jayhawks won their first road game since 2009 and then followed that up by rolling Rutgers, 55-14.

A victory in the Big 12 opener Saturday at Baylor would make KU one of the early season surprises. To do that, the Jayhawks will have to end a 38-game Big 12 losing streak in true road games and win for the first time in Waco (they’re 0-8).

Kansas has outscored its foes 86-21 in its two victories. A big reason for that success has been a defense that is feasting on turnovers. Through three games, KU has 13 turnovers; it forced nine all of last season.

Buddy Wyatt, a member of the staff, was with the Denver Broncos on an NFL minority fellowship and picked up the concept of “Swarm Master.” Each week in practice, coaches chart players for fumbles, picks strips and scoops. The player with the most becomes the “Swarm Master.” (Thank goodness, not another sideline turnover trinket, right?)

“He eats first, he leads us off the bus for the Hawk Walk,” Kansas coach David Beaty told the Athletic. “It’s a big deal to be the Swarm Master.”

Short yardage

  • TCU will attempt to win its fifth consecutive game over Texas Saturday in Austin. The current four-game win streak matches the school record that was set with the Frogs’ victory over the Longhorns in 1938, the year TCU won the national championship. During the winning streak, TCU has outscored Texas 153-33.

  • The last Texas Tech coach to beat Oklahoma State was Mike Leach. The Red Raiders will try to end a nine-game losing streak in the series with Saturday’s Big 12 opener. Prior to the current losing streak, the Red Raiders won nine of the 13 meetings with the Cowboys.

  • In addition to forcing turnovers at a high rate, Kansas has received an offensive spark from freshman running back Pooka Williams. He’s a four-star recruit from Boutte, La., and is David Beaty’s most-heralded signee. Williams missed the opener because of academic issues but in KU’s two victories has 288 yards and is averaging 8.7 per carry. He’s the first freshman in school history to start his career with consecutive 100-yard games. He’s one of those guys that comes in and changes your program,” Beaty said.

  • West Virginia got an unexpected week off when last Saturday’s game at North Carolina State was canceled because of Hurricane Florence. The Mountaineers open Big 12 play Saturday against Kansas State. The Wildcats have won two of their three league visits to Morgantown but will have to limit WVU quarterback Will Grier. He’s third in the country in accuracy (77 percent completion rate), is third in passing efficiency and has nine touchdown passes in two games.

Final word

Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando on dealing with TCU’s speed and quickness:

“The majority of our spots, I think we can run with those guys. Whether or not with the twitch or the quickness? It remains to be seen. We’re going to have to do a great job of tackling in space and that’s where they beat people up.”