With conference play starting to kick off, it’s an extremely important time for college football teams, both across the country and in the Big 12, to prove themselves on a national stage, with everyone watching. This past Saturday, despite three conference teams being on off weeks (Texas, KSU and ISU), there was still plenty to digest from the day’s action, including TCU’s return to the mainstream, Oklahoma and West Virginia’s struggles, Texas Tech’s dominant defense (!!!), and much more.
It wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but the third ranked Sooners took care of business this weekend in Waco, 49-41. Oklahoma, which came into this game as nearly a 30 point favorite, jumped out to an early lead, but struggled for much of the game against Baylor’s speed and aggressive play. Baylor played with complete reckless abandon, and it was that lack of any real structure to the game that cause Oklahoma issue (for reference, I referred to this game as a Waffle House parking lot fight on twitter, which is still the most apt comparison for what Baylor does). Good teams will have to deal with chaos against less talented and deep teams throughout a season, and the great ones are the ones that can handle that. Oklahoma passed test number one in the Big 12.
A common trend in college football and in sports in general is for people, mainly media, to overreact to early performances from a team, often causing them to set expectations of that team that can’t be met. This season, up until this past weekend, the opposite could be said of TCU. Despite dominant wins in all three of their games, including a 28-7 bludgeoning in Fayetteville, most people, myself included were still leery of the Horned Frogs, due in large part to their disappointing past two seasons.
However, everything changed on Saturday, as TCU went into Stillwater, and dominated what was and still may be thought of as the best offensive team in the country in Oklahoma State, 44-31. The Horned Frogs did about as well as you could ask for in defending Mason Rudolph, James Washington, Justice Hill and the rest of OSU’s many playmakers, and scored in droves on their way to the most impressive non-Oklahoma-at-Ohio-State road win of the young season. Kenny Hill and the Horned Frogs have earned the respect of the nation, and can impress even more next week as they host West Virginia.
OKLAHOMA STATE (3-1)
I don’t think it’s fair to declare Oklahoma State overrated yet. Despite their tough loss at home to TCU, the Cowboys still have talent all over the field, and an immensely high ceiling, if they can just figure out how to get out of their own way. In the loss to TCU, Oklahoma State committed silly mistake after silly mistake, including a number of mind-boggling special teams plays, penalties, and just all around sloppiness. It was fitting that an ill-advised wide receiver pass ultimately sealed the Cowboys’ fate, because they had been doing stupid things just like that all day long. There really isn’t a ton to take away here for the Pokes. They need to play smarter football to win more games, and until they can do that, they won’t return to the nation’s elite, where they started the season.
TEXAS TECH (3-0)
I still have no idea what to think of Texas Tech. Despite three wins, two of which came on the backs of dominant defensive performances, I’m still completely non-committal on any expectations for the Red Raiders on the season. They beat a really solid Houston team, on the road, in a heat-wave, and did so with their defense, and I still have absolutely no clue what to think about it. The passing game is solid as always, Justin Stockton has a knack for big plays, and for the most part, Tech’s offense has been solid, as has their defense, surprisingly. However, after nearly blowing early leads in back to back games, it’s just hard to this team lasting 60 minutes against a team like TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, or even K-State or WVU. We’ll learn way more about Tech on Saturday, as they take on Oklahoma State in prime-time.
WEST VIRGINIA (3-1)
West Virginia, just like Oklahoma, had to deal with some chaos on Saturday, although West Virginia handled their chaos better than Oklahoma did. Kansas has been notoriously better at home than on the road in the past few years under David Beaty, and that rang true again on Saturday with West Virginia coming to town. Despite a fast start that saw WVU jump out to a 28-3 and eventually 35-13 halftime lead, Kansas kept this game close through much of the game, thanks to halfback Khalil Herbert. Herbert set the record for rushing yards against West Virginia with 291, but a good performance from Will Grier, Kennedy McKoy and Justin Crawford was enough for West Virginia to survive with a 56-34 win, though the game was closer than that score indicates.
I’ve touched on this game quite a bit already, but on the side of the Jayhawks, despite a tough loss, they learned a very important lesson: good things happen when you give Khalil Herbert the football. Herbert and receiver Steven Sims Jr are easily the most talented offensive playmakers on the team, and for Kansas to win more games is by getting the ball to one of them. The defense also needs serious help, but it’s possible to win with really good offense, and the potential is there for Kansas.
I’ll admit it: Baylor impressed me on Saturday. They didn’t win, and they spent much of the game against Oklahoma playing from behind, but for the first time all season the Bears had an actual identity on both sides of the ball, and they flashed the talent and athleticism that we know they have. Matt Rhule opened up the offense with great success, as receivers Denzel Mims and Chris Platt both finally got to show how talented they are with the best quarterback on the roster, Zach Smith, throwing to them. Baylor still can’t run or play defense, but with running back Terrence Williams slowly working back in, Baylor could pull an upset sooner rather than later if they play like they did against the Sooners.
TEXAS (1-2), KANSAS STATE (2-1), IOWA STATE (2-1)
All had byes last week. Will take on Iowa State, Baylor, and Texas respectively this week, with ISU vs Texas being played under the lights on Thursday night.