— By Dave Weekley
We have reached Thanksgiving week in the Big 12 and after Thursday’s feast, leave room for plenty of leftovers to snack on Friday and Saturday.
The race for Arlington and the Big 12 title game will be clearer after this weekend. Not to get too far into the weeds on championship game birth scenarios,
a win by Iowa State at Texas on Friday puts the Cyclones in. A WVU loss eliminates the Mountaineers and puts Oklahoma on track for yet another Big 12 title game berth. Oklahoma State no longer controls its own destiny and needs losses by Oklahoma and Texas, but does hold a tie-breaker on Iowa State.
Here’s a look at our Big 12 Snapshot heading into the final weekend of November. A quick reminder, our unique weekly Big 12 Snapshot uses a fantasy football-style tier format, not conference standings or traditional power ratings.
TIER ONE — (Serious Big 12 title contenders.)
We are pushing the Sooners to the top of our Tier One rankings this week, on the heels of their Bedlam domination of Oklahoma State. It’s true that Iowa State defeated Oklahoma in their head-to-head meeting, but that was then, and of course, this is now. The OU offense is scary right now and their defense continues to improve. Iowa State’s Breece Hall is an elite running back, but would the Cyclones have any better luck against the OU rushing defense than Oklahoma State did? The Sooners held Chuba Hubbard to just 44 rushing yards and the Pokes had only 78 total rushing yards (2.8 ypc) combined. As expected, we have reached the point where the road to the Big 12 title goes through Oklahoma. Need an indicator that OU wins when it counts? Heading into next Saturday’s showdown at WVU, the Sooners have won 23 straight November games.
Any thoughts that ISU would somehow be looking past slumping K-State on Saturday in Ames were quickly dashed when the Cyclones cashed in five of its six first half possession for touchdowns. Iowa State’s big guns got their stats in this one; Brock Purdy, 16-of-20, 236 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, while Breece Hall added to his compelling argument that he’s the best running back in the league, with 135 yards and three scores on 15 carries. Hall is now one of just four FBS players since 1996 to have games of more than 100 rushing yards and at least one touchdown in each of his team’s first eight games of the season. ISU took their collective foot off the gas in the second half of this name-the-score game, but despite that, the 45-0 victory was the Cyclones’ largest win over K-State since 1943. Now the question becomes, how will ISU handle the pressure of a showdown at Texas as a road favorite on Friday?
TIER TWO —- (Likely bowl teams, but conference title underdogs.)
Texas got an unexpected weekend off, due to Covid-19 concerns and injuries at Kansas. So the Longhorns find them themselves facing the prospect of a 20-day layoff between beating WVU in Austin and their day-after-Thanksgiving noon date with Iowa State. While UT might show some early rust when they meet ISU, a nearly three-week layoff has to be a godsend for Sam Ehlinger. The Texas quarterback has not be practicing much at all in the days leading up to Texas’ games, so a heathy (or at the very least, healthier) Ehlinger makes Texas a considerably more dangerous team for Iowa State to deal with.
Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the other team for being better than you are. So, OSU needs to do a tip of the ten-gallon Cowboy hat variety to Oklahoma after Bedlam. Yes, its true that after the Sooners built an early three-touchdown lead, the Pokes settled down offensively and the OSU defense held the Sooners out of the end zone for a stretch from the middle of the second quarter until the outcome was already decided deep into the second half. But there’s no amount of spin that can erase that final score; a 41-13 rout. OSU has three very winnable games left (TTU, at TCU and at BU), but now, they will need a lot of help to get to Arlington. Oklahoma State needs Texas to lose a game (which against Iowa State is very possible) and for the Sooners to take another loss (OU has at WVU and BU left), which seems much less probable.
After a bye week, WVU turns its attention to a home date with red-hot Oklahoma. Not exactly a pleasant prospect, but consider this — with a win in one of its last two games, West Virginia will finish in the top half of the Big 12. And if you are truly honest with yourself, that’s an overachieving season. So many questions will be answered under the lights on Saturday night. Can Leddie Brown find any room to run against OU’s energized defense? WVU’s defensive secondary has been much better than expected – WVU is fourth nationally in total defense again this week (274.0 ypg) — but how will they hold up against Spencer Rattler and company? In a season in which the eligibility clock has been turned off, how many WVU players will be making their final appearance in Morgantown on Saturday?
K-State’s fall from grace began at WVU and continues to pick up speed. The Wildcats have now lost three straight and after fighting the good fight at home against Oklahoma State before losing 20-18, had nothing left for Iowa State in Ames, losing Farmageddon (what a fantastic nickname for a game) 45-0 to the surging Cyclones. KSU is now 4-3 in the Big 12 (4-4 overall) and their dreams of getting to Arlington are long gone. After such a quick start, a combination of injuries and dealing with the pandemic has derailed the Wildcats’ season. K-State managed just 149 total yards in the loss at Iowa State and suddenly their game at Baylor is looking like anything but a sure thing.
A week off gave TCU time to take a good look at their collective selves in the minor and try and find an identity. The Frogs have taken a step backwards on offense, obviously. Compared to last year, TCU’s rushing and passing numbers are down and that adds up to fewer points per game than 2019. Is Max Duggan the answer at quarterback? If so, something is amiss here, because it’s been a month of Saturdays since he threw for more than 200 yards in a game (Oklahoma). Earl Barquet takes a streak of at least one sack in three straight games into next weekend’s game at Kansas, but no one is likely to confuse this TCU defense with some of Gary Patterson’s better units.
After their improbable comeback win against Baylor last time out, you get the feeling that TTU is playing with house money this weekend at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys will be in the midst of an unavoidable emotional letdown after Bedlam, while Texas Tech will be heavy underdogs — and honestly, it’s a role they should be used to by now. Alan Bowman has regained his starting job at quarterback after the rally at Baylor. But Bowman’s grasp on that role is anything but certain. Henry Columbi is still there and TTU fans are already buzzing about next year’s arrival of four-star recruit Behren Morton.
Losers of five straight, Baylor is looking at the very real possibility of ending the season with eight straight defeats. The Bears close with K-State and Oklahoma State at home, sandwiched around a trip to Norman to meet the Sooners — so their best shot to end their losing streak comes this weekend against the KSU Wildcats. Baylor is another Big 12 team that’s had plenty of covid-19 issues, but lets bottom-line it; there’s too much talent in this program to go through an entire season with only a win over Kansas to show for it.
TIER THREE —- (Where the worst Big 12 teams dwell.)
Covid-19 issues inside the Kansas program caused the Jayhawks game with Texas to be postponed, but KU was still making news. Kansas fired offensive line coach Luke Meadows last Friday and John Morookian, a senior offensive analyst, will be the O-line’s interim coach for the rest of the year. The winless Jayhawks have been awful on offense all year; averaging just 15.1 points per game and have allowed an FBS-worst 38 sacks (5.43 sacks per game!).