Last week officially marked the end – for the most part – of non-conference play in the Big 12. As we exit the wondrous joys that are non-Big 12 play – like a team that wears bright orange getting to play on blue turf or blowouts against schools you didn’t know actually played football – there are a few things we can take away from the third week of major college football action.
The Mountaineers Are Just Getting Started
West Virginia likely has some good performances left ahead in 2021. The Mountaineers’ opening loss to Maryland had many wondering if Neal Brown’s team might not get to six wins this season, but this victory gives a jolt to the program. West Virginia will definitely make some noise in conference play, and they showed why on Saturday.
The Mountaineers held Virginia Tech to 2.5 yards per rush, and posted 173 yards rushing themselves. For the most part, West Virginia really controlled this game from the start, and only until late in the third quarter, with the Mountaineers up 27-7, did the Hokies start gaining momentum.
Oklahoma Looks Vulnerable
I don’t know how many people expected that to be the game we’d get in the renewal of this rivalry. The Tulane squeaker felt like it could be a fluke for the Sooners. But, to then also be in close game late against the Huskers? That raises some eyebrows. Nebraska will likely miss a bowl game for the fifth consecutive year, and that’s the squad that held Oklahoma to a single score for a whole half.
To say that the Sooners have underperformed almost doesn’t capture it. In two games they were favored to win by a combined 53.5 points, the Sooners ending up winning by a total of twelve. If you didn’t know it was Oklahoma, their non-conference resume certainly wouldn’t tell you that the Sooners are the odds-on Big 12 favorite. Based on what we’ve seen from Oklahoma, it’s difficult to imagine them going 9-0 in conference play.
The Pokes Have A Starting Running Back
The Pokes enter conference play with a 3-0 record, and the season certainly looks brighter for them than it did to start. Oklahoma State upset Boise State on the blue turf after taking a 21-20 lead before half and shutting out the Broncos the rest of the game. This was a breakout game for senior Jaylen Warren, whose 218 yards on the ground ignited an Oklahoma State offense that had struggled to find answers in recent weeks.
There’s no doubt that this was an ugly win for Oklahoma State, but the Broncos are a legitimately good team, and the Cowboys had yet to really have any of their skill talent really emerge. As we enter late September, it looks like Mr. Warren could be getting ready to have himself a sense.
Casey Thompson Is The Man, For The Time Being
Texas took all of their Arkansas frustrations out on Rice, who ended up having to go to their third string quarterback after halftime. Both starter and backup were out before half, but it was 44-0 by then anyway. This win didn’t – and shouldn’t have – vaulted Texas back into the Top 25, but it was an impressive response on the part of the Longhorns.
Casey Thompson made his starting debut as QB1, averaging 9.1 yards per pass and getting two passes in the endzone. He didn’t have to do much with a brutal Texas rushing attack that saw four different running backs get scores, but Thompson earned the right to start as conference play opens.
Texas Tech Looks Like A Bowl Team
This game looked like it’d be rough early – FIU and Texas Tech traded scores until the second quarter, when Tyler Shough and the offense came alive. That gave the Red Raiders a 35-14 lead after two quarters, and they never looked back. The passing game ramped up, posting 407 yards passing, and the defense held the Pantheres to just 1.9 yards per rush.
Through three games, the Red Raiders look like a team that’ll be bowl eligible come December. If they just match last year’s Big 12 record, they’ll play in the postseason. While they may not be a conference contender, when Tyler Shough and the passing game are on, this squad looks like they can hang with most of the teams in the Big 12.
Baylor Has An Offensive Identity
Do you think the Bears want to run the ball? Baylor rushed 45 times for 307 yards against the Jayhawks on Saturday, as running backs Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner combined for 194 of those yards. Those efforts wore down a Kansas team that held on for about a half.
It also established an identity that could really make sense for Aranda’s squad, however, as it will definitely compliment a stingy defense that is this teams strength. The win (technically) makes Baylor the only team undefeated in conference play, and yes, it was against the ever-struggling Jayhawks. The Bears seem to be hitting a stride, though, just as the non-conference wraps up.
Welcome To Lawrence, Mr. Leipold
Welcome to the conference, Coach Leipold. Days like Saturday are reminders that, despite moments where they look improved, the Kansas program has a long way to go. Quarterback Jason Bean continues to be the most explosive part of the Jayhawks offense, leading the team in rushing with 65 yards on the ground last Saturday.
Kansas stayed in this contest for a half, down 14-7 after two quarters. The Jayhawks just couldn’t make enough plays after that to contain the Bears, whose offense exploded after halftime.
No Skylar Thompson, No Problem
A week ago, this season looked to be on thin ice for Kansas State, with no Skylar Thompson behind center. Any thought that’d keep them from taking it to Nevada was mistaken, though. Now, the Wildcats enter conference play with an unblemished record after running over the Wolfpack 38-17. Kansas State rushed for over five yards per carry, and they were consistently able to move the ball when they needed to against Nevada.
Quarterback Will Howard only had to throw 13 passes, as the Wildcats stepped up on defense and the offensive line pushed the Wolfpack around. Even without Skylar Thompson, Kansas State showed that they’re formidable. The Wildcats look once again be the team no one is excited to play.
Now That’s The Cyclones Team We Expected
Iowa State took care of UNLV last Saturday, not letting the bright lights of Vegas distract them from routing the Rebels 48-3. That game was a reminder of the type of team many people – myself included – thought that the Cyclones could be coming into 2021. Yes, UNLV is not a good football team.
The fact remains, though, that Iowa State had the type of crisp, dominating performance that you’d expect from a preseason Top 10 squad. Brock Purdy had an 87.5 pass completion percentage, and Breece Hall ran for 4.8 yards per carry. The UNLV defense is likely to have nightmares about Charlie Kolar and Xavier Hutchinson running free throughout their backfield. Iowa State’s defense, meanwhile, held UNLV to 130 total yards. Yes, you read that right.
As we enter conference play, the game serves as a reminder of just how good Iowa State can be against teams outside of Iowa. This conference looks wide open right now, but don’t be surprised if the Cyclones go on a roll over the new few weeks.