DES MOINES, Iowa – Big 12 teams have typically gone as far as their quarterbacks have taken them.
TCU and West Virginia have learned that a strong passing game is key to competing for the Big 12 title, while more than a few perennial contenders are struggling along with their signal callers.
Trevone Boykin has thrown for 2,306 yards and 21 TD passes for No. 10 TCU (6-1, 3-1 Big 12), which ascended to the top spot nationally in scoring offense (50.4 ppg.) after an 82-point outburst against Texas Tech over the weekend. Clint Trickett leads the Big 12 with 345.4 passing yards per game for No. 20 West Virginia (6-2, 4-1), which has won four in a row.
The Mountaineers will host Boykin and the Horned Frogs on Saturday in a matchup of two of the nation's most improved quarterbacks.
"He plays with more confidence right now. He's not making nearly as many mistakes as he was," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said of Trickett, who threw for 238 yards in a 34-10 win over the Cowboys on Saturday. "You see that happen to players. The quarterback for TCU is playing with confidence right now. Last year I didn't think he played with any confidence."
Boykin's transformation from a part-time wide receiver to a Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback has been one of the more remarkable stories in the country so far.
Many thought Boykin would relinquish the starting quarterback job and move over to wide receiver for good once Matt Joeckel transferred from Texas A&M. But Boykin has thrived under new co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham, and he's getting better each week.
"I think he's the best player in the country," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "It's night and day from where he was last year."
Boykin has thrown for 843 yards and 10 touchdown passes in his last two games, including seven in Saturday's rout of Texas Tech, to help TCU surpass its Big 12 win total from 2013 by the end of October. Boykin's touchdown-to-interception ratio of 21 and 3 is the best in the league; Baylor's Bryce Petty is second at 17 and 3.
"It all starts with Boykin. He's a tremendous athlete that keeps the play alive. He's hard to tackle. He's got a quick release and he's extremely accurate," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.
West Virginia finished 2013 by blowing a 24-point lead at home and losing to Iowa State, but the Mountaineers have bounced back behind Trickett, who has finally lived up to his potential as a senior.
Trickett was rushed into starting duty in 2013 and it showed. He completed just 52.8 percent of his passes and, like Boykin, threw for seven TDs with seven picks a year ago. This season, he is completing 68.3 percent of his passes and his yards per attempt have gone from 6.8 to 8.7. He has thrown 17 TDs against just five picks.
"I think it's a little bit like Trevone Boykin, our quarterback. I think (Trickett) is doing a good job, Trevone is doing a good job and I think also he has skill players around him and their offensive lines have both gotten better than they were a year ago," TCU coach Gary Patterson said about Trickett's improvement.
But as TCU and West Virginia thrive behind their star quarterbacks, many Big 12 teams have seen their fortunes dip in part because of inconsistent play behind center
Texas Tech's Davis Webb has thrown 11 picks during his last six games, and the Red Raiders are 1-5 following a 2-0 start.
Oklahoma sophomore Trevor Knight has taken a step back after leading the Sooners past Alabama in last season's Sugar Bowl, throwing for just nine TD passes in seven games. First-year starter Daxx Garman has thrown multiple picks in back-to-back games for Oklahoma State (5-3, 3-2), which dropped games against TCU and West Virginia by 57 combined points.
"The difference this year is really that, we've had to use some new quarterbacks (before), but they've had veteran offensive lines," Gundy said. "Right now, we're trying to get experience for at least three linemen ... and then our quarterback is not an experienced player. So we're just trying to feel our way through."
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