After a couple of weeks off, it’s time to reflect once again on what has happened leading up to now in the Big 12, and what we think we can take away from all of the action. Since there were so few games last week, and since “What We Learned” took a pretty long vacation, the below takeaways cover what was learned in Week 10 as well as what we’ve found out to this point in the season generally.
1. Unexpected Things Happen This Time Of Year
Who expected Oklahoma to lose to the Wildcats? Certainly not Vegas, who had Kansas State as a three touchdown underdog in Manhattan. Facing a Sooner defense that had been mostly solid leading up to that game, Kansas State was absolutely unstoppable offensively, getting whatever they wanted in their running game, and looking crisp through the air. Oklahoma was trailing 48-23 before they began climbing back into the game, and came up just short. They were one of four Big 12 favorites to fall that day, reminding us that conference play in this league is almost unpredictable. Whatever you assume this week, get ready for that to be shattered on Saturday.
2. There Are New Expectations For Baylor
Coming into the season, the Bears were thought by many to be a middle-of-the-road team in the Big 12, one that would be above average in the conference. Now, Baylor’s 8-0 and in the drivers seat in the league. They’ve been impressive in wins over Oklahoma State and Kansas State, winning those games each by multiple possessions. There’s a growing assumption now that the Bears, who look stronger along both lines of scrimmage than expected, are headed for a Big 12 championship appearance.
Last week’s Halloween scare against West Virginia ended up not giving Top 15 Baylor a nightmare, as they got 17-14 win. That game is a reminder of the fact that Rhule’s squad is now in the position of having a target on their back for the first time in his tenure. They get to continue to try and defend their first place standings this week when they play TCU on the road.
3. The Cyclones Are Moving The Ball
Iowa State’s offense has taken off these past few weeks, averaging 35.9 points per game. For context, the Cyclones averaged a mere 26.8 points per game all of last season. The three interceptions given up by the Cyclones were a bit much for them to overcome against Oklahoma State in their 34-27 loss to the Pokes, but Iowa State still controls their own destiny if they can find a way to win. That’s a tall order, and they’ll have the first opportunity to fill it when they take on Oklahoma this Saturday.
4. Kansas Is Undoubtedly Better
Following Kansas’ loss to Kansas State last weekend, there was plenty of discussion about how surprising was the Jayhawks’ 38-10 loss at home to their in-state rival. Kansas didn’t even manage a touchdown until garbage time, and in a lot of ways, this game was not even as close as the final score indicates. Still, it shouldn’t go without being said that there’s a new sense of hope about Jayhawk football -they’ve got one upset over a conference opponent, and have three losses that were within a possession.
5. Are The Pokes (Mostly) Over Their Turnover Bug?
Despite starting the season with 16 turnovers in their first seven games, Oklahoma State has managed to come out on the plus side of the turnover margin over their last two games. Last week’s four turnovers that the Pokes snagged against TCU helped them get out in front and eventually get the 34-27 win. If Oklahoma State can continue that success, they’ve got a good chance at ending on a high note.
6. Texas’ Defensive Losses Have Mattered
Coming into this season, it was personally surprising to me how many people discounted the degree to which losing so many defensive starters from 2018 was going to hurt the Longhorns this year. Despite the fact that they were set to field one of the youngest (maybe the youngest) defense ever at Texas, there was a sense that the Longhorns would be the exception to the rule and use their superior recruiting to make up for their lost experience.
Turns out, Texas is like every other FBS program in the country except Alabama and Clemson. The injuries on top of the inexperience have compounded to allow Texas to become a bit of a bipolar defense, one that is allowing the most passing yards per game in the Big 12, despite being tied for first in interceptions.
7. West Virginia Likely Won’t Make A Bowl
The Mountaineers had one of their best chances to get an upset last week when they went on the road to play Baylor in Waco. West Virginia managed to tie the game up late 14-14, but were ultimately unable to make enough plays to pull out the road upset. Neal Brown’s first year has been less than ideal, with an offense that’s probably the worst in the conference, averaging 21.6 points per contest.
Everyone thought this would be a rebuilding year for the Mountaineers, so this isn’t really a surprise, but the Halloween matchup was a reminder of just how much of an uphill battle West Virginia will still have once this season ends. And it is likely to end in November, as the Mountaineers would have to win three of their last four (against Texas Tech, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and TCU) in order to get bowl eligible.
8. Texas Tech Might Be In A Long Term Rebuild
Texas Tech enters the last stretch of the season at 3-5 with bowl eligibility technically still in play, but it certainly feels like Year One of Matt Wells has taken a down turn. At 1-4 in conference play, the Red Raiders will likely have another season in which they are below .500 in games in the Big 12. Their loss to Kansas, only the second in school history, ended a 12 game winning streak against the Jayhawks. That’s not something Wells and his staff want to be known for, but he’s actually not in bad company. The last Texas Tech coach to lose to Kansas? Mike Leach.
That should be a reminder that Leach’s rebuild in Lubbock was just that, and it wasn’t without its rough patches. Wells is attempting to take the program in an entirely new direction, and that might be a bigger job than we at first thought.
9. Klieman Has Already Improved The Wildcats
Kansas State is playing with house money to this point, having gone 6-2 with a decent shot at the Big 12 title in early November. Despite the low expectations for Chris Klieman in Year One, he’s definitely surprised and the Wildcats will go to a bowl in his first season. His team has done that by going on a three game winning streak just when it seemed like they’d end up in the bottom half of the Big 12 standings. If the Wildcats keep going like they are now, fans will have a lot to be excited about going forward.
10. TCU Is In A Fight To Make A Bowl, Again
This time last year, the Horned Frogs had a slightly worse record (3-5) than they do now, and it seems like we were having some of the same discussions. This year’s offense under Duggan has been slightly more improved than last season’s squad, but TCU in 2019 has had a penchant for giving up big plays despite their mostly sound defense. On the whole, though, this has the same kind of feel as 2018. The good news for TCU? Last year the managed to win three of their last four with multiple injuries at quarterback. The Horned Frogs may be down now, but I wouldn’t count them out.