It’s easy to take college football for granted during the season. There’s so many games spread out over the span of 14 regular season weeks, and sometimes, I feel that it’s important to stop, look around, and smell the proverbial college football flowers. Every team in the Big 12 has played five games, and after this weekend, all ten teams will be halfway through their schedule. Thus far, the Big 12, statistically speaking, has been quite possibly the best conference in the country, and while “What We Learned” usually only looks individually, the biggest thing we’ve learned thus far is on a conference level, and that lesson is that the Big 12 is finally competing with the nation’s best again.
This week, “What We Learned” celebrates upsets, respects (and fears?) Texas Tech’s defense, and considers a world in which Kenny Hill plays in the playoff.
Coming into the season, I, like many others, didn’t have much in the way of expectations for TCU. After a rough 2016 campaign, I felt that TCU would be hampered by their offense and quarterback Kenny Hill, and while I knew the defense would likely improve, I pictured a 7-5 or 8-4 season. Folks, I’m done doubting Kenneth Wade Hill Jr. Professor Trill has been an excellent game manager and consistent contributor to the Horned Frogs in each of their five games thus far, and on Saturday against West Virginia, it was really no different.
Hill scored three touchdowns: one in the air, one on the ground, and one as a receiver, off a beautiful trick play. Those scores (Kyle Hicks scored as well in his first game back from injury), combined with no turnovers, solid defense, and some great punting, was just enough for TCU to eek out a win over West Virginia. Do I think TCU will finish the season undefeated? No, absolutely not. Does that mean they can’t still be Big 12 championship, and possibly playoff bound? Only time will tell.
We’ve got conspiracy theories in Norman! Mike Stoops is a Deep (Iowa) State informant! Bob Stoops retired because he discovered his brother’s horrible secret! I’ve seen anger from Sooner fans directed at almost everything but the team itself, including all crimson uniforms, Mike Stoops, Lincoln Riley, the striping of the stadium, and a very inventive “Little Game Lincoln” moniker for the new head coach. While anger at the coaching staff, especially defensively, is certainly merited, Oklahoma did what they’ve been doing for years on Saturday.
After opening up an early lead, Oklahoma stepped off the gas, and got beat by a team that tried harder in the final 30 minutes. That’s the most important takeaway from this game. Oklahoma fell asleep, and it got them beat. All is not lost, Oklahoma is still a good team, and a team that will likely compete for a NY6 bowl bid, but they still have some serious holes, and we saw that against Baylor too. With Texas on deck, Oklahoma has some serious work to do.
TEXAS TECH (4-1)
Possibly the biggest surprise team of the season resides in Lubbock. After years of mediocrity under Kliff Kingsbury following the Tommy Tuberville years, Texas Tech’s system is finally yielding results, as the Red Raiders have found their way into the top 25 for the first time since 2013. Saturday’s win against Kansas was their most dominant performance of the season, without a doubt. Nic Shimonek was efficiency, the defense was stifling, and Tech looked like one of the best teams in the conference once again.
IOWA STATE (3-2)
Iowa State won a game against Oklahoma for the first time since 1990. The Cyclones have only beaten the Sooners six times in 82 tries, and they did in on Saturday. That’s the only thing we learned from this game. That’s the only thing we need to know. Without starting quarterback Jacob Park, Iowa State beat Oklahoma, thanks in large part to great performances by Kyle Kempt and Joel Lanning, as well as some excellent coaching by the entire staff. This is one of the biggest wins in program history, and the Cyclones deserve to celebrate, flag plants and all.
The final play of this game was extremely representative of the game as a whole. Chris Warren’s game winning touchdown in double overtime took forever to develop, felt like a battle of equal forces, and made little to no sense. The biggest thing we learned from this matchup of teams destined to finish 8-4 was that Sam Ehlinger should be the quarterback in Austin. He threw for nearly 400 yards and two touchdowns, ran for an additional 107, and led the Longhorns to a massive win. He fits the offense better, and should (and likely will) be the guy from here on out.
WEST VIRGINIA (3-2)
When you agree to have a quarterback like Will Grier, you’ve agreed to everything that comes with that. Does that mean you’ll get some wonderful huge plays,l thanks to his incredible arm talent? Yes. Does that mean you’ll lose by seven to good teams because Will Grier throws at least 20 incompletions against competent defenses? Also yes. West Virginia is very similar to how they were last season, albeit slightly less talented, and we’ve seen that twice now, with loses to Virginia Tech and now TCU.
You reap what you sow, and Dana Holgorsen is a good, consistent, nine or ten win coach. West Virginia being consistently the third or fourth best team in the conference is no conspiracy, it’s the norm. We still haven’t learned anything new about the Mountaineers, and I doubt we will until beat someone better than Kansas.
KANSAS STATE (3-2)
This Kansas State team bums me out. Coming into the season, the general consensus was that this would be Bill Snyder’s final season in coaching, and I, like lots of people, was hoping the wizard could go out with a bang. The 2017 iteration of the Kansas State Wildcats isn’t a “bang” team though, and that’s disappointing. Jesse Ertz is solid, there’s not much of a rushing attack, and the defense is slightly above average. Just like West Virginia, we won’t learn anything about Kansas State until they beat a good team, and they have a chance this weekend against TCU.
Kansas has the worst offense, and the worst defense in the conference. They can’t avoid turnovers, and have roughly three skill players they can consistently depend on. Shockingly, that combination leads to losses like this one to Texas Tech. The Jayhawks could barely move the ball, and their defense was completely humiliated by an obviously better team. No one ever said rebuilding Kansas would be a speedy process, and right now, the Jayhawks are right in the middle of it. They have an encouraging 2018 recruiting class, and I still think David Beaty is the man for the job. Right now, Kansas needs a program defining win, and they still have four chances at that.