— By Dave Weekley
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Well, it didn’t take long to get a little chaos in the Big 12. After the smoke cleared following the first Saturday of conference play, we have a host of changes in our third Big 12 Snapshot of the young season.
Just in case you forgot, or are reading this space for the first time, this column provides our view of where things stand around the Big 12 each week and unlike conventional standings or power ratings, we use a tier format.
TIER ONE — (This tier is reserved for teams that are legit Big 12 title contenders.)
Texas is 2-0 and Sam Ehlinger has thrown TEN touchdown passes in the first two games. Two games in which the Longhorns have piled up 122 combined points. So why don’t we feel more confident in Texas’ ability to win consistently? Well, needing to rally from 15 points down in the final minutes at Texas Tech before winning in overtime against the team that barely edged Houston Baptist is a pretty good reason. Truth is, as long as Texas can keep Ehlinger upright, they have a fighting chance in every game they play. RUMBLINGS FROM THE FORTY ACRES: A rarity from the Texas/TTU game, both teams recovered an onside kick; Texas Tech had one in the first half and the ‘Horns countered with a recovery late in the fourth quarter, to set up their game-tying touchdown drive.
We are bouncing Oklahoma State up a tier this week, not because of what they are right now, but because of what they have the tools to become. On a weekend when Big 12 defenses struggled in most of the conference openers, the Pokes’ defense was more than solid in its win over West Virginia. OSU allowed WVU just 13 points, held the Mountaineers to just 68 rushing yards and had a scoop and score to give their offense a helping hand. In his first career start, freshman quarterback Shane Illingworth successfully managed the game. Mike Gundy said after the game that Spencer Sanders could have played with his sore right ankle, but opted for Illingworth. Of concern for the Cowboys; after a 20-point second quarter, OSU didn’t score again until late in the fourth quarter — not exactly a “pistols firing” type of performance on that side of the ball. RUSHING COWBOYS; Chuba Hubbard and LD Brown both had rushing TD’s and ran for more than 100 yards each, but Chuba fumbled twice and looked very un-Chuba-like for most of the hot afternoon.
Despite their 38-35 collapse against Kansas State, we are not going to drop Oklahoma out of Tier One for now. It was a tough call to leave OU in the top tier, but wouldn’t Oklahoma still be favored against any other team in the Big 12, home or away right now? But obviously, if the Sooners lose at Iowa State next week, that’s going to change. As for Oklahoma’s CFP chances, we have seen this movie before. OU has reached the College Football Playoff four times in the last five years after a loss, including last season. OKLAHOMA, O.K.?; the Sooners’ defense created no turnovers and had just one sack in the home loss to K-State.
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.)
Be honest, did anyone believe when Bill Snyder finally retired at K-State that his replacement would beat Oklahoma in his first two tries? Chris Klieman has done just that. OU dominated most of the categories on the stat sheet, but not the scoreboard. Consider, the KSU Wildcats knocked off a top-five team on the road while rushing for just 66 rushing yards. And 38 of those ground yards came on a touchdown dash by 5-foot-5 freshman tailback Deuce Vaughn, who also broke way for a 77-yard catch and run. Skylar Thompson led the way again for K-State, going 18-for-25 for 334 yards and a combined four touchdowns. How did these guys lose to Arkansas State? FUN WITH NUMBERS; Since 2004, teams were 1-545 when trailing a top-five opponent by at least 21 points, per ESPN Stats & Info, until Kansas State’s win at Oklahoma.
Iowa State bounced back with a nice road win at TCU in Fort Worth. The Frogs controlled the football early, but the Cyclones’ defense stepped up and did a solid job, not allowing any touchdowns until their own offense got on track. Once ISU’s Breece Hall got rolling, he never stopped. Hall rushed for 155 yards and three touchdowns on a Gary Patterson defense — no easy feat. The ISU defense got home for six sacks and JaQuan Bailey, who became ISU’s all-time sack leader in this game, has joined the conversation for early candidates for the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. AMES ATTITUDE: Preseason All-American tight end Charlie Kolar and starting offensive lineman Rob Hudson both played in the win at TCU, after missing the season opening loss to Louisiana.
We finally got a look at Baylor, as the Bears opened the season with a mostly impressive effort against Kansas. New BU head coach Dave Aranda’s defense played better as the game progressed, but it’s tough to measure success when the opponent is Kansas. One this is for sure, WVU will have to be aware of Trestan Ebner when he’s on the field next Saturday. In the lopsided win over Kansas, Ebner became the first player in Big 12 conference history to have a rushing touchdown, a receiving TD and TWO kick returns for scores in the same game. BEAR-LY BREAKING A SWEAT: BU’s offensive line took care of business against Kansas with three starters out. Center Xavier Newman was serving a one game suspension, while UCLA grad transfer Jake Burton and Blake Bedier also missed the game.
Neal Brown accurately identified WVU’s problems in the loss at Oklahoma State when he noted that West Virginia will start winning games, when they stop losing them. Penalties, critical turnovers, special teams errors added up to a loss in Stillwater. Jarret Doege’s 70-yard scoring pass to Winston Wright was WVU’s lone touchdown and beyond that, the offense mostly struggled. WVU averaged just 1.6 ground yards per carry on 42 attempts. Doege was sacked five times and hit numerous while throwing the football. SPECIAL TEAMS WATCH; Here’s a trend to be aware of, three Big 12 teams blocked punts in their conference openers — Kansas State, Texas and Texas Tech.
A slow start on offense eventually doomed TCU in their season opening loss to visiting Iowa State. The quarterback position was a question mark coming into the season for the Frogs and remains so. Matthew Downing got the start against the Cyclones, but was ineffective. Last year’s starter Max Duggan, who was slowed by a heart condition that kept him sidelined until just a few days before the Frogs’ opener, came off the bench in the third quarter and went 16-for-19 for 241 yards and three touchdowns. While Duggan’s return was a welcome sight for TCU, the Frogs’ rushing game was missing in action. Allowing 37 points to ISU is not typical for a Gary Patterson defense. Patterson will have to get the defense tightened up for a trip to Texas, but he normally shines in that matchup. Patterson is 6-2 at TCU against the Longhorns. DOES FORT WORTH EVER; TCU rushed for just 99 yards on 44 attempts in the loss to ISU.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Texas Tech can put up point with the best of them, but can’t stop anyone. In the 63-56 overtime home loss to Texas, TTU had three wideouts; T.J. Vasher, Erik Ezukanma and KeSean Carter, who all had big days against Texas and Alan Bowman threw for 325 yards and five touchdowns after a slow start. It will be very interesting to see what direction TTU takes now in this week’s road test at K-State, after blowing a 15-point fourth quarter lead with less than four minutes to play in regulation. They proved they can play with one of the best teams in the Big 12, but have nothing to show for it. RAIDERS SEEING RED; The early 60.5 posted points total for the TTU/KSU game is the second-highest among P5 teams for next week, trailing only Miss. State/Arkansas (62).
TIER THREE —- (If you’re here, you are not a serious candidate for bowl consideration and will be an underdog virtually every week.)
Kansas is alone in Tier Three this week — and they deserve it after a lopsided loss at Baylor. The Jayhawks turned to true freshman quarterback Jalon Daniel in Waco and while he showed he’s an athlete, he also struggled. KU showed a spark by scoring on their opening drive, but very little after that. Daniel went 19-of-33 for 159 yards and no scores in his starting debut. Pooka Williams got his share of touches and rushed for 76 yards and two touchdowns. The Jayhawks allowed a pair of kick return touchdowns in the second half. The Hatter has his hands full with this bunch. A winless season is not only possible, it’s probable.