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Big 12 Snapshot: The calm before the storm

— By Dave Weekley

With only one Big 12 team in action over the weekend, there aren’t many changes in our second Big 12 Snapshot of the season, but we could be on the verge of a shuffle, with all ten teams set to open conference play next Saturday.

  This column provides a quick overview of where things stand around the Big 12 each week and unlike standings or power ratings, we use a tier format. 

 So, let’s take a crack at separating the contenders from the pretenders as conference play kicks off next weekend in the Big 12 football. 

TIER ONE — (This tier is reserved for teams that are legitimate Big 12 Conference champion contenders.)


  Oklahoma remains the odds on favorite to win the Big 12 again and continues to set the standard for the rest of the league.  The majority of the Sooners’ starters played little more than a half of football in Oklahoma’s opener against Missouri State, but that’s likely to change this week against Kansas State.  You can expect Lincoln Riley to have the Sooners ready for K-State next Saturday after last year’s shocking 48-41 upset loss.  Spencer Rattler was outstanding in his debut against Missouri State, hitting on 14-of-17 for 290 yards and four touchdowns in two quarters with two drops.  True freshman Marvin Mims looks like yet another game breaker for OU at receiver and punt returner.  SOONER THAN LATER; Expect more depth for Oklahoma this week.  While the Sooners didn’t reveal the exact total, as many as 40 players didn’t suit up for the Missouri State game due to COVID-19, suspension or injury.  


  Despite having the weekend off, Texas actually moved up a spot to No. 8 in the new AP Top 25 Poll and they remain a Tier One team in our Big 12 Snapshot. Coming off their early bye week, Tom Herman’s Longhorns are off to Lubbock to take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders next Saturday.  Sam Ehlinger was nearly perfect in Texas’ opener against UTEP and now gets a chance to face a TTU pass defense that allowed 572 air yards to FCS Houston Baptist.  Linebacker Joseph Ossai and the cornerbacks, D’Shawn Jamison and new starter Josh Thompson, keyed a solid defensive effort by Texas against the Miners, who could be looking at another name the score game this week in their conference opener.  TEXAS TWO-STEP; The Longhorns had seven different wide receivers catch a touchdown in the win over UTEP.   

TIER TWO —- (Teams in this tier are probable bowl teams that can reach Tier One status, but are still considered underdogs for conference title contention.)


  Oklahoma State becomes the first team in our new Tier Ratings to change tiers, dropping from Tier One to Tier Two this week.  If you watched the Cowboys struggle against Tulsa, you understand why.  When quarterback Spencer Sanders limped off the field with a right ankle injury in the first half, Oklahoma State suddenly looked very vulnerable.  Sanders’ status for the West Virginia game is now key for both teams.  With Sanders out, true freshman Shane Illingworth came off the bench late in the third quarter for an ineffective Ethan Bullock and gave the Cowboys a lift, operating behind a shaky OSU offensive line that allowed six sacks to Tulsa. Chuba Hubbard also had a hard time getting on track, Tulsa held him to 93 yards on 27 carries. OKIE DOKIE; Tulsa was 0-for-11 on third down and 1-for-4 on fourth down against the Oklahoma State defense.


  Perhaps we will finally get a look at Baylor this week, as the Bears open conference play at home against Kansas.  COVID-19 was the reason behind the Bears’ scheduled non-conference game with Houston being postponed.  Baylor didn’t meet the Big 12 Conference COVID-19 game cancellation thresholds, so its third (!) planned opener had to come off the board.  There are so many questions about Baylor at the moment.  Can a new defensive-minded head coach like Dave Aranda find success in a pass-happy league like the Big 12?  What will the Bears’ defense look like with so many new starters and an a new staff in Waco?  Can Baylor keep Charlie Brewer healthy for an entire season?  We may get a few answers on Saturday.  BAYLOR BYTES; BU is 9-0 at home in the all-time series with Kansas.        


  Perhaps the best thing to happen to Iowa State was the lack of a game last week.  The shocking home loss to Louisiana knocked ISU out of the national polls, but we still have them as a solid Tier Two team in our Big 12 Snapshot.  Iowa State finds itself as a small underdog this week at TCU.  Brock Purdy will be looking to bounce back from arguably the worst game of his career in the loss to Louisiana, going a rather pedestrian 16-of-35 for just 145 yards and an interception.   Purdy was without tight end Charlie Kolar because of a lower body injury.  Matt Campbell said last week that Kolar was limited in the practices leading up the ISU opener and remains day to day. Kolar’s availability is a huge factor in a potential Cyclones turnaround this week at TCU.  STATE YOUR CASE: Louisiana outscored ISU 21-0 after halftime in the Cyclones’ upset loss.   


   TCU had another weekend of watching other teams play, after the Frogs’ opener with SMU was scrapped due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team.  Without a game, TCU got an unexpected extra week to prepare for their delayed season opener with Iowa State this week.  In addition to dealing with the pandemic, Gary Patterson has been dealing with other injury concerns.  The TCU quarterback situation has been fraught with drama over the last month.  Sophomore Max Duggan, TCU’s starter for most of last season, remains sidelined indefinitely with a heart condition and has not been cleared to return.  Meanwhile, projected starter Matthew Downing missed ten days of practice due to an undisclosed injury recently, but the former Georgia walk-on returned to drills last week and is expected to start the opener against Iowa State. GET TO THE PASSER; The TCU defense collected only 22 sacks last year, the lowest single season total in the Gary Patterson era in Fort Worth.


  There’s lots of WVU football content here at the website, so no need to go into great detail about the Mountaineers in this column.  Oddsmakers have West Virginia has nearly a touchdown underdog to Oklahoma State this week. Is it possible that a resurgent WVU running game can keep the football away from the Cowboys’ trio of elite playmakers in Hubbard, Wallace and Sanders (if he plays)?  Will the Stills’ brothers wreck havoc with the Oklahoma State offensive line that struggled mightily for three quarters against Tulsa?  We will start getting answers to those questions and more on Saturday in Stillwater.           


  After losing its season opener 35-31 to Arkansas State two weeks ago, things certainly don’t get any easier this week, with a trip to Oklahoma.  K-State has been installed as a four-touchdown underdog to the Sooners.  Arkansas State outgained K-State 489-374 in total offense and the first entirely new offensive line for the Wildcats in 31 years failed to open many holes for their previously patented strong running game in the loss.  You can count Kansas State among the Big 12 teams that have been struggling to keep COVID-19 under control.  K-State head coach Chris Klieman noted last week that the Wildcats were missing between 35 and 40 players due to Covid protocols and close to a dozen of his players who played in the game had missed two weeks or more of practice due to pandemic related issues. INSIDE ISSUES; In the loss to Arkansas State, K-State had 17 carries between the tackles for only 15 yards (0.9 yards per rush). 


TIER THREE —- (If you find yourself here, you are likely not a candidate for bowl consideration and will be an underdog virtually every week.)


  When Texas and Texas Tech meet in Lubbock on Saturday, both teams will come into the game undefeated, but the expectations are completely different.  TTU survived a failed two-point conversion try that likely would have put them into overtime with Houston Baptist.  Meanwhile, Texas rolled up 689 yards of total offense in its week one domination of UTEP — second-most of any team in the nation.  Early lines on this game have the Red Raiders as 19-point underdogs and the over/under total of 67 points is the highest of any game next weekend involving Power 5 teams.  RAIDER RUMBLINGS; TTU was 0-for-3 on fourth down conversion attempts, including a 4th-and-goal, against Houston Baptist.            


  Kansas is among the majority of Big 12 teams that are coming off a bye week before getting into conference action this week at Baylor.  In light of what happened against Coastal Carolina, that’s probably a good thing.  Falling behind 21-0 early in their eventual loss to CCU wasn’t exactly a glorious debut for Les Miles’ second team at Kansas. Coastal Carolina held KU to just 367 total yards and turned three Jayhawks’ turnovers into 21 points in building a 28-3 halftime lead.  It’s hard to find any KU bright spots in the loss, but here’s two; Kansas didn’t have any turnovers in their second half comeback attempt, that felt short.  Additionally, Pooka Williams sustained an undisclosed injury in the game and the timing of the early off-week may work in Kansas’ favor, in regards to getting him back this week.  AIR GAME TURBULENCE; KU quarterbacks Thomas MacVittie and  co-starter Miles Kendrick combined for only 176 passing yards against Coastal Carolina.      

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