— By Dave Weekley
Each week during the Big 12 football season, this column will to provide a quick overview of where things stand around the conference. And unlike traditional standings or simple power ratings, we will use a tier format.
If you play fantasy football, you should be familiar with this style of rankings. If not, it simply provides a guide to who is really elite and who isn’t — even if they have the same record.
For example, Oklahoma and the Mountaineers are both 1-0 on the season after beating FCS foes in their opening games. So, are they equal in terms of the probability of winning the Big 12 title?
Of course not.
Over the course of the regular season, teams will shift positions inside the tiers and obviously change tiers, once the unpredictable nature of the game sets in.
So, after the first weekend of Big 12 football, here is where we stand.
TIER ONE — (This tier is reserved for teams that are legitimate Big 12 Conference champion contenders and a berth in the College Football Playoff.)
From the man who took transfers like Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts and helped them become elite, comes Lincoln Riley’s latest project, Spencer Rattler. Rattler, who unlike OU’s previous three QB’s, came to the Sooners as a freshman, sizzled in his debut against overmatched Missouri State, hitting on 14-of-17 for 290 yards and four scores in one half of play. Sooner fans are buzzing about his potential and no longer moaning about the $60 they had to shell for the PPV of the game. The Sooners’ running game was nothing to write home about, but there’s plenty of time to get that straightened out against K-State and a suddenly vulnerable looking Iowa State before Red River. BOOMER BYTE: OU held Missouri State to 0-for-11 on third down.
While OU is buzzing about Rattler, all Sam Ehlinger did to start his senior year at Texas was throw for 429 yards and 5 touchdowns in the first half (both records for a Texas QB in a first half) against UTEP in the 59-3 rout. The Longhorns’ rushing game also showed signs of life against the Miners, which should keep Texas fans from grumbling about new OC Mike Yurcich for at least a couple of days. HOOK THIS: Texas’ 689 total yards were the most by the Longhorns since beating New Mexico State in 2013.
We will have to wait until next week to see Oklahoma State in action against Tulsa. It was a rocky off-season in Stillwater, but there are just too many weapons not to keep the scoreboard humming. Chuba Hubbard will run with it, Tylan Wallace can catch it with the best of ‘em and Spencer Sanders can hurt you with his arm and his legs. But what about the Pokes’ retooled offensive line? Can linebackers Amen Ogbongbemiga and Malcolm Rodriguez lead a defense that struggled against the run at key times last year? POKES’ POINTS; Next Saturday’s OSU opener with Tulsa is now a noon start (11 a.m. CT), the last noon kickoff for Oklahoma State was their 20-13 win at WVU last November.
TIER TWO —- (Teams in this tier are probable bowl teams that can potentially reach Tier One status, but are still considered underdogs for conference title contention.)
The Bears get into action this Saturday against Houston and former WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. Dave Aranda is the new boss in Waco and he knows his way around good defenses, after stints as DC at Utah State, Wisconsin and mostly recently LSU. It’s probably a good idea to try and take advantage of BU early before the new staff puts things in place. The Bears’ new look defense gets a boost from Arkansas State transfer William Bradley-King, a difference maker at defensive end. On offense, Charlie Brewer is obviously talented, but his concussion issues remain a big concern. The arrival of Larry Fedora as Baylor’s new offensive coordinator should energize the short passing game. BEAR FACTS: Baylor allowed a Big 12-high 38 sacks in 2019.
Iowa State’s shocking season opening loss to Louisiana was the first indication of what would be a long day of struggles by the Big 12 against the Sun Belt. The Cyclones had numerous things go wrong in this one. Brock Purdy was without tight end Charlie Kolar and the ISU receivers that did play were generally ineffective and dropped numerous passes. Breece Hall rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown, but if the ISU offensive line couldn’t move Louisiana off the line of scrimmage, how will they look against Oklahoma,Texas or the Stills brothers? Iowa State’s special teams were anything but special; allowing a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown in the second quarter and an 83-yard punt return score in the fourth quarter. If you are looking for positives, the ISU defense played well, with the exception of giving up a 78-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter. ISU is a Tier Two team at the moment, but that could still change quickly. CYCLONE CLIPS; ISU has only scored 30 combined points in its last three season openers.
The Horned Frogs scheduled opener with SMU, the 100th edition of the Battle for the Iron Skillet, had to be scrapped due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team that left them unable to meet the new Big 12 minimum requirements for a game. For Gary Patterson and the Frogs, they must now wait until Sept. 26 and a date with Iowa State to open the season. The status of quarterback Max Duggan also remains in doubt because of an undisclosed health condition discovered in the midst of increased coronavirus testing protocols. But the news hasn’t been all bad at TCU; LSU transfer linebacker Marcel Brooks, a former five-star prospect, has been granted a waiver by the NCAA and will play this season. NOT YOUR TYPICAL FROGS; TCU recovered only four fumbles last season.
There’s plenty of WVU football content here at the website, so no need to go into great detail about the Mountaineers in this column. But a couple of items here; if Leddie Brown and Alec Sinkfield can spark a resurgence of the West Virginia ground game into Big 12 conference play, we may have to recalibrate our pre-season predictions. Jarret Doege’s performance in the opener was not a surprise, he looked sharp. However, the special teams need to show improvement and EKU didn’t provide a test for the young WVU secondary that will be under a microscope when they get to Stillwater in the next game.
A funny thing happened to Kansas State in their opener. Well, if you are a K-State fan, maybe it’s not that funny. In their upset home loss to Arkansas State, the KSU Wildcats threw the football effectively, but couldn’t run the football. The exact opposite of what you would expect. Skyler Thompson had a solid day passing, throwing for 259 yards and a pair of scores. But K-State managed only 91 rushing yards against the Red Wolves from the Sun Belt, gaining just 2.3 yards per carry. Arkansas State put up 489 total yards on K-State, 330 through the air. ‘CAT SCRATCHES; A bright spot in the K-State loss, redshirt freshman Will Jones blocked a punt and intercepted a pass.
TIER THREE —- (If you find yourself in this tier, you are likely not a candidate for bowl consideration and will be an underdog in virtually every matchup.)
Odd to have an undefeated team in the lowest tier, but with Texas Tech after their 35-33 close shave with Houston Baptist, it is what it is. First the good news. Alan Bowman is back, looks healthy and threw for 430 yards. SaRodorick Thompson was solid rushing the football, gaining 118 yards and scoring twice. But the Red Raiders’ defense? Well, there wasn’t much of that. HBU quarterback Bailey Zappe passed for 572 yards and four touchdowns. If TTU can’t stop Houston Baptist’s passing game, how are they going to deal with the likes of some of the Big 12’s elite quarterbacks like Ehlinger, Sanders, Rattler and, dare I say it, Doege? SEEING RED; Texas Tech has now won 18 straight games VS. FCS teams.
When Les Miles signed on to try to breathe life back into the world of Kansas football last season, everyone knew there would be growing pains on the journey. In their season opening home loss to Coastal Carolina, it was really hard to see much progress in this measuring stick of a game. Last year, you could point to KU’s five turnovers as the main reason for the upset win by the Chants. Not this time. The Jayhawks lost the physical battle up front and CCU came out fired up and ready to play. KU was not. More than pride was hurt in this Kansas meltdown; quarterback Thomas MacVittie left in third quarter with a shoulder injury and Pooka Williams also left the game in the third quarter, due to an injury Les Miles declined to speak about after the game. TALKIN’ KU; In the loss to CCU, Kansas created no turnovers and had no sacks.