— by Dave Weekley
Looking at what’s going on in the Big 12 this week, a couple of curious trends are developing.
There are only three teams with losing league records right now among the ten Big 12 schools, yet there isn’t a true bell cow for this conference, either.
The top half of the conference features five teams that have all suffered league losses and have survived other close shaves.
Iowa State lost at Oklahoma State and nearly lost to TCU and Baylor. Oklahoma State was defeated by Texas and had to rally to beat K-State. The Sooners and Longhorns don’t look like Top 10 material this year and the elevator appears to be heading down for Kansas State, despite their 4-2 conference record.
You get the idea. The top of the Big 12 is not elite; but it is most certainly wide open.
So, here’s a peek at how things look in the Big 12 heading into November’s second Saturday. A quick reminder, our weekly Big 12 Snapshot utilizes a fantasy football-style tier format, not conference standings or power ratings.
TIER ONE — (Serious Big 12 title contenders.)
We are keeping Oklahoma State at the top of our Tier One rankings this week. Did they look great on the road at Kansas State? No, they did not. But the Cowboys managed to do what good teams do — shake off bad losses and find ways to win, even when you don’t have all of your “pistols firing.” Held scoreless in the first half with Tylan Wallace out and Chuba Hubbard limping around for most of the afternoon, Mike Gundy turned to his defense to get the Cowboys back in the game — and they did. LD Brown subbed for Hubbard and rushed for 110 yards on 15 carries, including a 50-yard run to set up an OSU score. Jason Taylor’s 85-yard late fumble return for a touchdown took the attention away from a day in which Spencer Sanders threw for a pedestrian 14-of-23 for just 108 yards and no touchdowns. At 4-1 in conference play, OSU now has a bye week before Bedlam.
It’s funny how our perception of the Iowa State program has changed under Matt Campbell. ISU had been a coaches’ graveyard for decades and now we expect the Cyclones to compete with the best of the Big 12 every week. That’s a real testament to job Campbell is doing in Ames. In their 38-31 win over Baylor, it was really a tale of two Brock Purdy’s. In the first half, Purdy threw three interceptions, including a pick-six. But in the second half, Purdy threw for three touchdowns and directed yet another fourth-quarter ISU comeback. Breece Hall added more merit to the argument that he’s best running back in the Big 12, by rushing for 133 yards and two scores on 31 carries. Hall is the first FBS running back to reach 1,000 yards (1,034 yards after 7 games) this season. Iowa State is now 5-1 in conference play for the first time ever. While ISU has never reached the Big 12 championship game, they will likely be favored in each of their remaining conference games. Looking ahead, ISU’s biggest win this season could be keeping Campbell in Ames, rather than watching him leave for someplace like Ann Arbor.
Time to bump up Oklahoma into Tier One status again. Let’s face it, once OU outlasted Texas in the Red River game, it was just a matter of time. The Sooners coasted to an easy win over hapless Kansas in Norman and now has a bye week to get healthy before hosting Oklahoma State. It hard to really analyze improvement in a matchup with Kansas, but defensively, OU intercepted KU QB Jalon Daniels in the Jayhawks’ first possession and were off to the races. Oklahoma held Kansas to just 246 total yards and the Jayhawks converted just 3-of-19 first downs. The Sooners scored six rushing touchdowns for the second consecutive game for the first time since 1987. Spencer Ratter directed just two drives after halftime and sat out most of the second half with the rest of the OU starters.
TIER TWO —- (Likely bowl teams, but still conference title underdogs.)
Texas tops Tier Two this week in our Snapshot. The Longhorns survived a home test against West Virginia and at 4-2 are very much still alive in the race for one of the two slots in the Big 12 Title game. The Texas defense held a banged up Leddie Brown to just 47 yards on 15 carries (WVU gained only 43 yards as a team), while Longhorns’ freshman Bijan Robinson went off for a season-high 113 yards on just 12 carries on a hot afternoon in Austin. Robinson’s 54-yard burst on UT’s first possession set up the game’s first score, as Texas never trailed in this game. The Texas defense held WVU to just one touchdown on their five red zone trips and in a close game, that was the difference. While they don’t control their own destiny quite yet, if Texas wins out, they are likely in the conference championship game.
Nobody said being a West Virginia fan was going to be easy. There were some positives in the loss at Texas; Jarret Doege threw for more than 300 yards (317) for the fourth straight game, some second-line receivers stepped up and looked like starters and defensively, West Virginia held the high-scoring Longhorns offense to just 17 points. Heading into next week’s game with TCU, West Virginia is sixth nationally in total defense, holding opponents to just 271 yards a game But a loss is a loss and this likely finishes any hopes WVU had for reaching the Big 12 Title game. A shame really, when you consider that both Oklahoma and Texas both dropped a pair of conference games so early in the season. Here’s another shock to the system, while WVU certainly passes the eye test in regards to improvement over last season, if they don’t beat TCU this week, the Mountaineers could be looking at a second straight losing season.
You have to hand it to Kansas State. After having their worst conference overall performance at West Virginia, KSU played some very solid football at times against Oklahoma State, before losing 20-18. In what turned out to be a weird week for some coaching decisions (see TTU’s Matt Wells and yes, WVU’s Neal Brown), after K-State scored a touchdown to take a 12-0 second quarter lead, Chris Klieman opted to go for two. The two-point conversion attempt failed and the Wildcats took a 12-0 lead to the half at home. OSU, as expected, rallied in the second half. Kansas State’s freshman quarterback Will Howard didn’t throw the ball effectively again, but ran for 125 yards and a touchdown. However, with K-State trailing 13-12 and driving with just over six minutes to play, Howard fumbled and Jason Taylor took it to the house, 85 yards the other way for the eventual game-winning score.
TCU heads to Morgantown as slight underdogs, but riding a modest two-game winning streak, after beating Texas Tech 34-18. Slowly, the Frogs are starting to put some things together for Gary Patterson, who’s teams normally get better as the season progresses. Max Duggan continues to be more effective when running the football, rather than throwing it. In the win over TTU, Duggan was just 11-of-23 for 73 yards with an interception, but rushed for 154 yards and three scores. Defensively, TCU sacked Henry Columbi five times — Ochaun Mathis had three of those sacks, two of them on TTU’s first two possessions. The Frogs also had a nine-minute edge on Texas Tech in time of possession, as their 270 rushing yards eventually wore down TTU, controlling the clock in the process.
Baylor has now dropped four straight games, the longest losing streak in the the Big 12 amongst teams not named Kansas. The Bears had their moments at Iowa State, as BU built a quick 14-0 advantage and actually held a two-score lead in the fourth quarter in Ames. But honestly, was there anyone who really believed the Bears would hold on for a huge upset win? Charlie Brewer found Trestan Ebner for a 58-yard score to make it a one-score game at 38-31 game, but any hopes of victory went out the window when Brewer threw in a crowd in the end zone with under two minutes and Iowa State linebacker Mike Rose came up the interception. Baylor showed improvement in the loss, but not enough to escape one of our lower rungs of Tier Two in our Snapshot.
I promise this will be the last time I mention this in our Snapshot; but how in the world did WVU manage to lose to Texas Tech? TTU were 34-18 losers at TCU this week. Henry Colombi is still going through the painful process of learning to be a starter; going 23-for-41, for 234 yards, two scores and an interception. The Red Raiders were just 3-of-16 on third down against the Frogs, but it was a play on second down late in the fourth quarter that has TTU fans grumbling. With just under three minutes to go, trailing TCU 27-18 and all three timeouts left, Matt Wells opted to try a 37-yard field goal on second down, with four yards to go. Trey Wolff missed it, three plays later TCU scored a touchdown and that was that. TTU hosts BU next, in a game that will determine who finishes ninth in the Big 12. If Texas Tech loses that game, Wells’ seat will start getting toasty.
TIER THREE —- (Where the worst Big 12 teams dwell.)
Not really a lot to say about Kansas at this point. As expected, KU was hammered at Oklahoma 62-9. Kansas quarterbacks were sacked nine times. After OU built a 31-0 lead, the Jayhawks only touchdown came midway in the fourth quarter after as the hardest of the hardcore Sooner faithful were heading to the exits. The Sooners scored six rushing touchdowns in this game and the only drama occurred when Spencer Rattler took a hard hit on a quarterback keeper in the second quarter. Ratter is fine, but Kansas isn’t — they’ve dropped seven straight.