6:00: Morning News

Big 12 Snapshot: Nearing the finish line

— By Dave Weekley

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Big 12 regular season ended with more of a whimper rather than a bang over the weekend.  Two of the four conference matchups were scratched and just three of the ten conference teams were in action.

  The Big 12 Championship game matchup between Iowa State and Oklahoma was settled last week — so there was no drama in that regard.  The biggest stories of the week surrounded the Texas decision to retain Tom Herman as head coach and how the LSU upset of Florida potentially impacted Iowa State’s hopes of getting to the College Football Playoffs despite two losses.
  Here’s a look at our Big 12 Snapshot heading into the conference championship game in Arlington.  Our weekly Big 12 Snapshot uses a fantasy football-style tier format, not conference standings or power ratings.  
TIER ONE — (The Big 12 title game finalists.)
  Iowa State meets Oklahoma for the Big 12 title this week in Arlington and while the Cyclones have finished their regular season, a regular season game in the SEC has given ISU a boost in their dream of reaching the four-team field in the upcoming College Football Playoffs.  LSU upset Florida and the biggest beneficiary of the Gators’ defeat is two-loss Iowa State.  The new Selection Committee rankings come out on Tuesday night and Iowa State has moved up in each of the last two weeks and currently sit seventh.  Admittedly, the path to the playoffs for ISU remains extremely narrow.  The smart money remains on Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State.  But what if Notre Dame beats Clemson in the ACC Championship and Iowa State impressively beats OU again?  Then, the door cracks open for one more team to make it among the likes of Texas A&M, Cincinnati, Iowa State and perhaps even USC.     


  It would have certainly been interesting to see what a Sooners/Mountaineers game would been like, but covid-19 took care of that and now the next time we see OU on the field will be in the Big 12 title game against Iowa State as Oklahoma goes for its sixth (!) straight conference championship. When the Cyclones upset  the Sooners 37-30 in early October, Oklahoma was struggling, especially on defense.  That’s not the case any longer.  Also, don’t forget that both running back Rhamondre Stevenson and defensive end Ronnie Perkins were suspended for the first meeting in Ames; both are back and playing key roles for Oklahoma now.
TIER TWO —- (Likely bowl teams, but eliminated from the conference title game race.)
  With the Longhorns’ game with Kansas canceled due to covid-19 issues, the biggest story about Texas football came off the field on Saturday, as athletics director Chris Del Conte broke the news that Tom Herman will be back as head coach next season.  The decision to retain Herman came after UT’s very public pursuit of former Ohio State and Florida head coach and current FOX college football analyst Urban Meyer ended.  Meyer says he’s staying out of coaching, at least for now, due to health concerns.  Herman is 31-18 in four seasons at Texas without any Big 12 titles and the natives are restless.  But its worth noting that between the cost of Herman’s buyout ($15m), the buyouts of his assistants (estimated at $10m) and the first year salary of the next coach, estimated to be at least $5 million, even Texas had its limits, once the dream of luring Meyer was over.       
  Oklahoma State capped its regular season with an easy 42-3 victory over Baylor, a game in which the Bears were missing a combination of 47 players, coaches and staff due to covid-19.  OSU made it official before the kickoff; Chuba Hubbard’s college career is over and he’s off to the NFL.  Spencer Sanders found Dillon Stoner for a 75-yard score on his first attempt and that set the tone for the rest of the day.  Stoner more than filled in for the injured Tylan Wallace, pulling in eight passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns; third-best in single-game receiving yards in OSU history.  Oklahoma State can still finish 8-3 and nationally ranked with a bowl win, but that still would feel a bit hollow after all of the pre-season hype surrounding the Cowboys.     
  TCU ended the regular season with a 52-10 win over Louisiana Tech in a game that was added to the Frogs’ schedule late in the year.  The lopsided victory was the fifth in six games for TCU, which ends the regular season at 6-4 with a shot at potentially another win in an upcoming bowl game.  While Gary Patterson’s stock in trade remains defense, he’s got a few young players on offense breaking out at the end of their true freshman seasons in Fort Worth; WR Quentin Johnston ends the regular season as the Frogs’ leading receiver, he went off against Louisiana Tech for five catches for 133 yards and a pair of scores.  Zach Evans is also now showing everyone why he was a 5-star recruit.  Evans has come on strong in the second half of his freshman year, he rushed for 130 yards and 2 TD’s on just seven carries in the regular season finale.  
  Covid-19 issues inside the WVU program forced the cancelation of Senior Day for the regular season finale against surging Oklahoma.  As WVU waits for a potential bowl invitation, two of the key members of the defense have made significant decisions about their immediate future.  Arizona transfer Tony Fields has announced he’s done with his college career and will start prepping for the draft.  Defensive tackle Darius Stills says he is also going pro, but will play in an upcoming WVU bowl game, if the opportunity presents itself.  The cancelation of the Oklahoma game guarantees that WVU won’t have a losing season, but a bowl game would certainly be a welcomed chance to erase at least part of the memory of the meltdown at Iowa State.  

  You can certainly count Kansas State among the Big 12 teams looking back at their regular season and wondering what might have been, if the Wildcats hadn’t lost their quarterback Skylar Thompson in their win over Texas Tech. The loss at WVU for K-State following the season ending injury to Thompson began a regular season-ending five-game losing skid after a 4-1 start to the year.  Before his injury, Thompson had found a reliable target in Northern Iowa grad transfer tight end Briley Moore.  After a season in which he dealt with lower body injuries of his own, Moore announced on Saturday he’s leaving K-State to prepare for the draft.  In an era in which offenses are using tight ends more effectively (see Iowa State), the loss of Moore at K-State, while not totally unexpected, is significant. 
  Any hopes of a Baylor win to finish the campaign were dashed early in Waco by Oklahoma State, who routed the Bears, 42-3 — ending the season for BU at 2-7.  It was such an odd season at Baylor; the Bears were among the first teams to deal with multiple cancelations/postponements due to covid-19.  On paper before the season, Baylor looked like a team that had the majority of its firepower returning on offense and it would be on the defensive side of the football where the major retooling would be necessary for new coach Dave Aranda.  Instead, Baylor’s offense was awful and on defense, Aranda replaced nine starters and pieced together a relatively solid unit that held Oklahoma to just 269 total yards two weeks ago.  BU had a pair of interceptions off Spencer Sanders in the loss to OSU, giving Baylor a conference-best 12 picks for the season.  Matt Rhule went 1-11 in his first season at Baylor before getting things turned around and whether Bears’ fans like it or not, they are going to need similar patience with Dave Aranda.      

  It was another rough season at Texas Tech, but the Red Raiders did get a bit of good news late last week, but senior linebacker Colin Schooler announced he would be returning to TTU next year.  Schooler transferred to TTU from Arizona where he was a teammate of WVU’s Tony Fields.  But unlike Fields, who has decided to end his college career to focus on the draft,  Schooler’s decision to return to Texas Tech is big news for the Red Raiders’ defense.  Texas Tech’s upset of WVU was easily the highpoint of their 4-6 season and in that game, Schooler led the way for the TTU defense with nine tackles, including six solos. 
TIER THREE —- (Where the worst Big 12 teams dwell.)

  If any team was happy to see the season end, it was Kansas.  KU’s season came to a merciful close when its final game was canceled, due to covid-19 issues at Texas.  The Jayhawks were winless for just the third time in school history and with they exception of their loss to Texas Tech, were not competitive in the remainder of their games this season.  Pooka Williams bolted after four games and is jumping into the draft.  The transfer portal is currently full of KU players; WR Andrew Parchment, OL’s Antione Frazier, and Api Mane are all likely leaving, as are a trio of defensive backs; Davon Ferguson, Kyle Mayberry and Julian Chandler.  Remember Kyle Thompson’s 62-yard punt against WVU?  Well, he’s in the portal, too. 

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