— By Dave Weekley
With just two games in the Big 12 to examine; West Virginia’s romp over TCU and Texas Tech edging Baylor, there is virtually no change in our Snapshot this week.
Texas Tech and Baylor flip flop at the bottom of the bottom of Tier Two, but outside of that, things are status quo.
This is the calm before the storm however, because next weekend the top five teams in the Big 12 standings will all be in action, while WVU kicks back with a well deserved off week following five straight Saturdays of play.
Here’s a look in the Big 12 heading into the homestretch of the conference season. Remember, our weekly Big 12 Snapshot utilizes a fantasy football-style tier format, not conference standings or traditional power ratings.
TIER ONE — (Serious Big 12 title contenders.)
Once again this week, we have Oklahoma State at the top of our Tier One rankings. Obviously, with Bedlam set for next weekend in Norman, a change at the top of the Snapshot could be on the horizon — oddsmakers have the Cowboys as an underdog to the Sooners by more than a touchdown. ESPN’s College Gameday crew will be waiting on the Pokes when they get to Oklahoma, and so will the Sooners. Both teams are coming off byes for this matchup that’s essentially a Big 12 Championship elimination game. Mike Gundy has a chance to exorcize a lot of demons next weekend — he’s lost 13 of 15 games with Oklahoma as the head coach of the Cowboys.
While there will be understandably plenty of attention on Bedlam next weekend, Iowa State has some business of their own to take care of, if the Cyclones want to stay in position to play in the Big 12 title game. ISU is 5-1 in conference play for the first time in program history heading into their final home game of the season against pesky Kansas State. In our Snapshot each week, we have written plenty about quarterback Brock Purdy, who owns or shares 23 ISU records, and the Big 12’s leading rusher Breece Hall. But Iowa State has been getting it done on the defensive side, too. Both of ISU’s defensive ends were named to the Ted Hendricks Award Watch List last week. JaQuan Bailey has five sacks through the first seven games; including a memorable first half at TCU in which he collected 3.5 sacks and forced a fumble. On the other side of the D-line, Will McDonald has been wrecking havoc as well; leading the Cyclones with 5.5 sacks.
Most of Oklahoma’s preseason goals are still out there, if the Sooners can win Bedlam at home against Oklahoma State. OU has dominated OSU recently, but nothing is certain in this crazy year of 2020. Oklahoma has won four straight conference games and are arguably playing their best football of the year after an 0-2 start. Spencer Rattler has been on a roll ince since briefly being benched in the overtime win against Texas; he leads the Big 12 in passing yardage and has thrown 18 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Oklahoma’s defense, which was heavily criticized early in the season is also coming around at just the right time. Nik Bonitto has been a terror in recent games; he had three of his 5.5 sacks on the season last time out against Kansas.
TIER TWO —- (Likely bowl teams, but still conference title underdogs.)
Much like Oklahoma, Texas finds itself in great position to control its own destiny late in the season. A likely Longhorns’ win at Kansas this week leaves Texas with games against ISU in Austin and a date at Kansas State in their final regular season game. Even if Texas comes up short of its goals, Sam Ehlinger will leave the Forty Acres with lot of records. Despite playing one fewer game than many teams at the moment, Ehlinger is tied for third in the nation with 22 passing touchdowns this season. He’s been responsible for at least four touchdowns in four of Texas’ seven games so far this year. He’s also cracked the top five in Big 12 history with 122 career touchdowns (90 pass/32 rush) and is just one of three FBS players with at least 90 passing and 30 rushing touchdowns.
On a relatively quiet weekend in the Big 12, West Virginia dominated TCU in a key game for both teams. Defense led the way; Max Duggan ran for just 19 yards on 10 carries and a big chunk of his 161 passing yards came long after the game was decided. TCU’s three trips into the WVU red zone yielded no touchdowns; in fact, this was the first Big 12 game for the Mountaineers without an opponent TD since K-State in 2018. Leddie Brown rushed for 156 yards (6.5 ypc) after questions about his health lingered all week prior to the game. Jarret Doege’s streak of four straight 300-yard passing game was snapped (19-of-26, 212, 2TD’s) but he had no interceptions in a game in which long, sustained drives were the order of the day. West Virginia takes a lot of momentum into the bye week.
Will K-State have a finishing kick to what started out as an unexpectedly strong season? We will start to find out next Saturday when the Wildcats travel to Iowa State. Kansas State’s two-game conference losing streak began at West Virginia and continued with Oklahoma State prior to an off week. The bye came at just the right time for Kansas State, as Chris Klieman’s ‘Cats have been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak that’s sidelined as many as twenty players, according to the coach. The outbreak was so severe that Kansas State didn’t have enough bodies to put together a scout team last week.
TCU has an off week to find its identity after a subpar effort at West Virginia. Stuffed by the WVU defense all afternoon, on the key play of the day for the Frogs, they were their own worst enemy. On third and goal from the WVU 14 in the third quarter, a blown assignment in the West Virginia secondary left Taye Barber wide open in the right corner of end zone. Not only did Max Duggan miss him, his pass in that general direction was closer to the stands that it was to his intended receiver. For TCU, that was the game in a nutshell. The Frogs had only 295 yards and their signature defense must have missed the flight out of Fort Worth — although they did play slightly tougher defense in the second half. It looks like it’s going to be a race to the final game to see if TCU can avoid a second straight losing season under Gary Patterson.
It wasn’t so much that Texas Tech beat Baylor — but how they did it. The Red Raiders had every chance to throw in the towel on this game. They trailed Baylor virtually all day; TTU was down 20-6 in the third quarter and later the Bears had the ball and a two-point lead in Texas Tech territory with two minutes left. Despite all that, Texas Tech found a way to pull this game out. Matt Wells benched Henry Colombi soon after the game began and went to backup Alan Bowman, who saw his first pass returned for a pick-six. Despite that, Bowman hung in there. And so did, backup kicker Jonathan Garibay, who not only punted, but went 4-for-4 field goals, including a 25-yarder as time expired to give the Red Raiders the 24-23 victory. At 3-5, TTU plays at Oklahoma State after a bye week and ends the season by hosting Kansas. Is Texas Tech….. improving? Hard to say, but they should have beaten Texas, did beat West Virginia and found a way to win against Baylor. That should count for something.
The natives are restless in Waco after another loss by Baylor. The Bears have been overmatched in most of matchups in their current five-game losing streak, but that wasn’t the case in the 24-23 loss at Texas Tech. Baylor led TTU for most of the game, including a a 20-6 lead in the third quarter. Fair or not, the quarterback gets most of the praise when a team wins and the lion’s share of the blame when they don’t. Charlie Brewer went 17-of-26 for 153 yards and one interception at Texas Tech. And after the game, reportedly things got even worse, as Brewer’s sister, Katie, alleged the Baylor quarterback had received death threats after the loss.
TIER THREE —- (Where the worst Big 12 teams dwell.)
After a week off, Kansas will host Texas next Saturday. While every game at this point is huge for the Longhorns, for Kansas, it will an opportunity to show some kind of improvement in a very difficult season. Over their last three games, the Jayhawks’ defense has allowed 56.3 points per game in lopsided losses to Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma. Those numbers are scary, when you consider on offense, KU is dead last in the Big 12 in scoring, turnovers, passing and yards per game. If you are looking for some positives, last year in Austin, Cameron Dicker had to knock home a last-second field goal for Texas to avoid an upset at the hands of the Jayhawks, 50-48. All signs point to this game not being nearly that close.