Big 12: Oklahoma Sooners
What is the key to Texas pulling off the upset over Baylor?
Brandon Chatmon: If Texas actually decides to walk the walk. The Longhorns players haven’t been bashful in sharing their thoughts on Baylor’s rise. UT hung with Baylor for a while a year ago before the Bears finally pulled away, but that Longhorns squad had rebounded after a horrible start to the season and entered the 2013 meeting with some confidence. That’s not the scenario this time around. Are the Longhorns are trying to talk themselves into believing they can win?
Max Olson: Charlie Strong is the kind of coach who'll tell you Texas just needs to score one more point than Baylor. Well, how many points is that going to take? His track record suggests Strong and his staff will draw up a game plan that gives Texas' defense a chance to slow down Bryce Petty and his infinite weapons. But Tyrone Swoopes and this slow-moving Longhorn offense must find easier ways to run the ball and score and, more important, they must answer whenever Baylor does strike. It's going to take resilience, but Texas can't win unless its offense rises to the challenge in a way we've yet to witness in 2014.
Jake Trotter: The only way Texas will have a chance is if it runs the ball. Swoopes isn’t Blake Bortles or even Clint Chelf, so the Longhorns aren’t going to be able to simply outscore the Bears. That means Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown will have to move the chains to keep Petty and Co. off the field. The Longhorns actually are talented enough defensively to create issues for the Baylor offense. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown has been a beast in the middle, and the back seven is creating turnovers. But they can hold the finger in the dam for only so long. Eventually, the Bears will hit Texas up for big plays. Which is why it’s imperative the Horns grind out some drives and limit Petty’s opportunities to gouge them.
What is the key to TCU pulling off the upset over Oklahoma?
Chatmon: Trevone Boykin. Nobody knows how Boykin will react against the chaos the Sooners defense will create nor do we know just how much Boykin has improved since last season. It could get ugly for the TCU signal-caller. Or he could be the biggest nightmare this Sooners defense will see all season. If he executes TCU’s new offense like a veteran quarterback, Boykin has the ability to stress a defense unlike any other quarterback in the Big 12 with his ability to run like a running back in the open field. A great game from Boykin could be the worst-case scenario for OU.
Olson: Brandon is right, it's Boykin and the way he responds to the pressure of this Oklahoma defense. But I'm curious about the other side of the ball, too: How will the Horned Frogs attack Trevor Knight, make him uncomfortable and force him to make difficult throws? Against Tennessee and West Virginia, Knight was efficient when passing against blitzes. TCU needs to get after him and throw off the timing of this offense. OU will take this game over if Knight gets off to a sharp start.
Trotter: The TCU offensive line has to hold up against Oklahoma’s swarming front seven. The Horned Frogs’ defense traditionally has fared well against the Sooners, but TCU has been unable to win in its two Big 12 meetings with the Sooners because of its inability to move the ball. The Horned Frogs opened last year’s game against Oklahoma with seven three-and-outs. TCU got dominated at the line of scrimmage and finished with only 44 yards rushing in that game. That didn’t cut it last year, and it won’t Saturday, either. Gary Patterson switched up his coordinators in the offseason to jump-start the offense. But it won’t amount to much if TCU gets obliterated up front again.
Under Bowen, will Kansas win another game?
Chatmon: Sure, why not? It only takes one team to slip up against the Jayhawks, and KU’s defense has actually been pretty good this season. But it has been overshadowed by the lackluster performance of its offense and sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart. The Jayhawks could find themselves hanging in a game thanks to their defense then getting one or two big plays to somehow pull out a win. I can’t say who should be on upset alert, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they pull off an win.
Olson: You would think that Texas Tech will have its house in order by the time KU plays in Lubbock on Oct. 18, though clearly at this point that's a team with some vulnerabilities. Realistically, though, Kansas' best chance comes at home against Iowa State on Nov. 8. And I think Bowen will treat the season finale at Kansas State like the Jayhawks' bowl game. That's going to be a throw-the-kitchen-sink game and a prime chance for Bowen to prove he deserves a shot at the job.
Trotter: I want to say yes, but look at the schedule and tell me who Kansas is going to beat? The Jayhawks have only three more home games. I don’t see Kansas being able to score against TCU on No. 15. I don’t see them being able to score with Oklahoma State on Oct. 11. That leaves Iowa State on Nov. 8. And if I had to pick that game today, I’d pick the Cyclones, who, by the way, slaughtered Kansas last year, 34-0. I think the Jayhawks will compete harder under Bown than they did under Charlie Weis. I’m just not sure this Kansas offense is competent enough for it to matter.
Both offenses have been dominant, too, with the Sooners running through opponents, and Baylor running past them.
But the next three games will be telling for both programs.
Beginning this weekend with challenging road tilts against a pair of tough defenses.
Oklahoma heads to Fort Worth for a showdown with TCU, which debuted in the Top 25 this week after a strong start to the season. Baylor travels south to Austin, where the Bears have won just once since 1991.
Next weekend, the Sooners have the Red River Showdown, which they lost as heavy favorites last season. Then, Oklahoma will have to bounce back quickly for Bill Snyder and a tenacious Kansas State defense, which will be coming off a bye with an extra week to prepare for the Sooners.
But Oklahoma and Baylor, especially their offenses, can set the tone for these key three-game stretches on Saturday.
The Sooners have struggled to move the ball on the Horned Frogs in the past, with TCU losing both games by a total of 10 points. Even without preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields, the Horned Frogs have been stifling on the defensive side yet again, allowing just a single touchdown in their last two games. TCU was especially impressive in a 30-7 win over Minnesota, which moved to 4-1 after stomping Michigan in Ann Arbor last weekend.
“TCU looks really, really good and has played really well to this point,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said Monday.
Oklahoma’s seasoned offensive line has overpowered opponents this season, but the Horned Frogs appear to be one of the few teams in the league capable of matching up with the Sooners in the trenches. Davion Pierson and Chucky Hunter form one of the best one-two punches at defensive tackle in the league, and defensive end James McFarland is coming off a three-sack performance in TCU’s 56-0 victory over SMU.
“They always have played great defense,” Stoops said.
This, however, could be the best overall team Gary Patterson has fielded since joining the Big 12. Patterson’s revamped hurry-up, no-huddle offense hasn’t been tested much yet, but has shown signs of improvement under new coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. Quarterback Trevone Boykin’s Adjusted QBR is up 30 points from last year, and behind a more sturdy offensive line, the Horned Frogs are third in the league at the moment in rushing. That has taken some of the pressure that has been on Patterson’s defense in the past.
“They’re doing a great job of route running and (Boykin) is throwing the football really well, accurately,” Stoops said. “You can tell he’s comfortable in the offense and is playing really well.”
With a new quarterback and a diminished line, Texas, meanwhile, has struggled offensively again this season. But the Longhorns have also been formidable defensively in their past two games.
Texas picked off Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart four times on the way to a 23-0 shutout. Two weeks before, the Longhorns hung tough behind their defense in a 20-17 loss to now eighth-ranked UCLA, which dropped off 62 points on Arizona State last week.
Baylor is rightfully a two-touchdown favorite to win in Austin. But the Longhorns still have the talent on the defensive side to surprise anyone, as Oklahoma found out last year as a two-touchdown favorite.
Defensive tackle Malcom Brown has been a menace on the inside. And the Texas defensive backs -- led by preseason All-Big 12 selection Quandre Diggs and Duke Thomas, who had two picks last weekend -- are better equipped than most Big 12 teams to deal with Baylor’s prolific array of wide receivers.
“They always play good defense, and this year is no exception,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “That’s always what you’ve seen from their staff and it’s something you expect.”
The Baylor and Oklahoma offenses have been exceptional so far. But their playoff mettle is about to be tested.
Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU and Kansas State all scored victories over the weekend, but Kansas seemed to be the big story, as the Jayhawks lost head coach Charlie Weis, who was fired after compiling a 6-22 record and earning only one win against a Power 5 school in three seasons.
What will this mean for recruiting? Currently, the Jayhawks have 13 commits in the 2015 class, and while the consensus is still committed, the idea of exploring other options is a definite. Find out more about Kansas and the rest of Big 12 recruiting with these highlights.
College football has been a well-kept secret so far, as it has been hiding the true identities of teams. Not this week. It's time to play or go home. There are six games between ranked teams. Of the 17 undefeated teams remaining, eight play against each other this week. It's the most relevant weekend the sport has had in regard to the new College Football Playoff.
Here are the games you can't miss, ranked from least to most likely to affect the playoff:
No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame -- Stanford already has one loss, and this is the second straight road trip for the Cardinal. If Stanford loses again, its playoff hopes will be in serious jeopardy but not over, given that it could still win the conference. This game should reveal more about Notre Dame's place in the playoff, as it will be the first ranked opponent for the Irish.
No. 4 Oklahoma at No. 25 TCU -- ESPN's Football Power Index gives Oklahoma a 64 percent chance to win and predicts this to be Oklahoma's hardest remaining game -- slightly more difficult than Nov. 8 against Baylor. If the Sooners can't handle TCU, they'll be on the outside looking in.
No. 15 LSU at No. 5 Auburn -- LSU gave Auburn its only regular-season loss the past year, but LSU has already lost to Mississippi State, which put the Tigers behind in the SEC West race. Considering the rest of LSU's schedule -- and the hole it's already in -- this is a must-win. For Auburn, this is a chance to erase some doubts and make a push from the bubble into the top four.
No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 12 Mississippi State -- Two terrific quarterbacks will be on display in the Aggies' Kenny Hill and the Bulldogs' Dak Prescott, who both rank in the top 10 in total QBR. A&M's stock dropped a bit this past week after it needed overtime to beat Arkansas, but it could be a top-four team if it can survive the state of Mississippi the next two weeks.
No. 3 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss -- This is the most interesting matchup of the day. Alabama ranks third in offensive efficiency, and Ole Miss ranks second in defensive efficiency. Neither team has played a ranked opponent, so there is still some margin for error, but the Tide have a chance to separate from the crowded West.
No. 19 Nebraska at No. 10 Michigan State -- Surprise. The game with the biggest playoff implications is not in the SEC West. This Big Ten matchup could knock Sparty out of the playoff entirely. It's one thing to lose to Oregon; it's another to try to make the four-team playoff with two losses and your best win coming over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Conversely, a win in East Lansing could vault the Huskers into the playoff conversation. They're the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten, and the toughest game left on their schedule is against No. 17 Wisconsin. If Nebraska pulls off the upset, it's time to take it seriously as a playoff team.
- We've reached the end of Baker Mayfield's fight to become eligible for Oklahoma this season, and as you can imagine, the Mayfield family is not too thrilled. In an interview with The Oklahoman, Mayfield's father called Kliff Kingsbury a "scoundrel" who is "hellbent on punishing Baker." Strong words, eh? James Mayfield did more finger-pointing in this interview with the Tulsa World, too. To his credit, Kingsbury has publicly taken the high road throughout this ordeal. The Mayfields are entitled to their disappointment, but it's the NCAA that rejected their waiver and it's the NCAA that empowers coaches to dictate transfer stipulations.
- Is TCU ready to win the big one? That's the argument that Mac Engel of the Fort Worth-Star Telegram makes in this column, which offers reasons why the Horned Frogs have a chance to at least go 1-1 in their back-to-back games with Oklahoma and Baylor. TCU has never led against OU the past two years but has lost by a combined 10 points. Gary Patterson knew it'd take three to five years to build up TCU's roster into Big 12-caliber. This is year three, and he's got the big fellas up front now to compete.
- What's Texas Tech going to do at quarterback this week? Davis Webb remains a game-time decision with his left shoulder injury, and don't expect Kingsbury to tip his hand until the end of the week or game day against Kansas State. Bill Snyder says he'll prepare for the possibility of facing Webb and freshman Patrick Mahomes. If the rookie has to make his first start, Tech will be able to add more QB run wrinkles to its offense. Just getting Mahomes some confidence and a lot of reps this week should be beneficial no matter who starts.
- What should Dana Holgorsen and West Virginia expect from a Kansas team with a new coach this weekend? Good question. Hogorsen says he'll prepare assuming that KU is trying to maintain status quo, which is probably wise. The coordinators are still intact, and trying to overhaul much this week would probably be fruitless after what these coaches and players have already been through. Still, for what it's worth, I think you'll see a different energy from KU on Saturday and a team with renewed motivation.
- Paul Rhoads' biggest concern about his Iowa State team through four games: The Cyclones haven't been able to run the ball as they'd expected. ISU ranks 110th nationally in rushing at 102.2 yards per game and its backs combined for 28 yards against Baylor. The blame is being placed on the blocking, but that's on everyone. Sam B. Richardson has been effective as a run threat, but Iowa State can't hang with most teams in this league if it can't pound the rock.
But the Sooners' offensive line has been a foundation of Oklahoma's success on offense, paving the way for a balanced offensive attack that averages 6.92 yards per play, ranking second in the Big 12 behind Baylor. Oklahoma is averaging 222.8 rushing yards and 272.3 passing yards in four games this season.
At the heart of the Sooners’ success is second-year offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, who has helped transform the offensive line into one of the top units in the Big 12. Bedenbaugh left West Virginia after the 2012 season to take over Oklahoma's offensive line and instilled his mindset immediately.
"You can feel the intensity when he walks in the room and he demanded that out of us," guard Adam Shead said. "It [his hiring] was a pretty big deal, you knew he was serious about being physical. When he walked in he said, 'You may not play with the best technique, you might mess up some plays, but you’re going to play hard, you’re going to play physical.' And that’s something he’s always demanded of us."
Playing physical was nothing new in Norman, Oklahoma -- the Sooners have always aimed to be physical under Bob Stoops.
"There’s a difference, but Oklahoma football is Oklahoma football," Shead said.
Nonetheless, Bedenbaugh brought a different focus to the table. He wanted his group to be physical technicians, to combine their physical dominance with technical efficiency.
"It started with the technique," tackle Daryl Williams said. "We were already physical, we just didn’t know, technique-wise, how to block them. He really helped us with that.”
The results have been clear. The Sooners 5.9 yards per carry average leads the Big 12 and ranks No. 16 in the nation. In its first four contests, 522 of Oklahoma's 891 rushing yards have come before contact, ranking second in the Big 12.
Since Bedenbaugh arrived in 2013, Oklahoma sits atop the Big 12 in yards per carry (5.35), rushing yards before contact (2,517) and rushing yards per carry before contact (3.5). The yards before contact per carry is particularly impressive, as the conference average is nearly a full yard less (2.57) during the past two seasons.
"It’s a new day and age," Shead said. "We want to play smash mouth football."
Total commits: 12
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Bears didn't land a recruit this past week, but plenty of Lone Star State prospects will be paying attention to Baylor’s trip to Austin. The Bears have been winning recruiting battles for the state top’s talent, and they have a chance to make another statement on the field.
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones landed a commitment for the first time in more than a month in Kissimmee, Florida, cornerback Stephon Brown, who had offers from NC State, Hawaii, Marshall, South Florida and Southern Miss.
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The first order of business for interim coach Clint Bowen was calling all of Kansas’ commitments Sunday and telling them they are still wanted in Lawrence. Despite his troubles on the field, Charlie Weis had put together another decent recruiting class that Bowen needs to hold together.
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats have been quiet on the trail lately, after landing seven commitments from June to August. More will be on the way once Bill Snyder figures out which junior-college players he wants to target in this class.
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 6
The latest: The Sooners landed their third commitment in the month of September in McAlester, Oklahoma, tight end Dalton Wood, who jones Midwest City safety Will Sunderland and Jenks defensive tackle Marquise Overton as Oklahoma's three in-state commitments.
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 4
The latest: The Pokes pulled off one of the better recruiting steals of the year last week in convincing ESPN 300 safety Kevin Henry to flip from LSU to OSU. Henry had been committed to the Tigers, where he projected as a safety/linebacker since January but started reconsidering his other options in July. Henry joins WR Jalen McCleskey as the second Louisiana recruit in OSU's class.
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: No new pledges for the Horned Frogs this week, but they get a chance to impress visitors this Saturday when Oklahoma comes to Fort Worth. One TCU commit worth keeping an eye on is WR J.F. Thomas, the Frogs' highest-rated pledge. He received an offer from Texas recently, and two of his Dallas South Oak Cliff teammates -- Jamile Johnson and Jordan Stevenson -- are already committed to UT.
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 8
The latest: Texas picked up a pledge from Austin Westlake LB Breckyn Hager, a three-star recruit who was committed to Baylor. The previous staff passed on Baylor's Bryce Hager in 2010, even though he's the son of Texas all-time leading tackler Britt Hager. Stevenson, who committed nearly a year ago, took an official visit to Wisconsin this weekend but remains solid with Texas.
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Red Raiders' staff made an intriguing find in East Texas last week. Longview's Broderick Washington committed soon after he received his Texas Tech offer. He's playing offensive tackle right now for Longview, but Tech loves his toughness and mean style of play and plans to develop him as a nose guard at the next level.
Total commits: 19
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: West Virginia locked up a huge commitment last Monday when ESPN 300 CB Tyrek Cole flipped from Florida State. You don't see that too often. WVU defensive line coach Damon Cogdell coached Cole at Miramar High School in Florida last year. The Mountaineers also received a commitment from three-star ILB David Long on Sunday. This 2015 class is in terrific shape so far.
This week provides TCU and Texas the opportunity to stake their claim in the conference race with games against Big 12 favorites OU and Baylor. If the Horned Frogs knock off the Sooners or the Longhorns shock the Bears, either team would skyrocket up our projections.
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: TCU
Cactus Bowl: Texas
On to the 'bag:
@Jake_Trotter if Texas Tech can get rid of all the flags and turnovers do you think they can win enough games to make a bowl game?— Brad Sullivan (@B_Sullivan944) September 26, 2014
@jake_trotter: Definitely. Look at last night alone. Forget the three turnovers, the Red Raiders left 10 points off the board directly because of penalties. Jakeem Grant's kickoff return touchdown. And the delay of game that pushed Tech out of field-goal range. Add those 10 points, and the game would have been tied. Tech is explosive enough offensively for this to be a bowl team. But when you shoot all the toes off your feet, it's hard to beat anyone. And Tech is going to have a hard time beating anyone as long as they lead the nation in penalties and lose the turnover battle.
@jake_trotter: I hear Garman Airlines will be taking plenty of flights this fall.
@jake_trotter: I would be deflated too if my team led the country in penalties. That said, everyone needs to show a little patience with Kingsbury, just like they need to show a little with Charlie Strong. Kingsbury has recruited well. He needs time for more of those prospects to make an impact. It hasn't been pretty so far this season, but it's way to early to judge Kingsbury.
@jake_trotter: Iowa State still has a chance to be a good, solid team in my opinion. But we're also talking about a squad that got run out of its own stadium by North Dakota State in the opener. So no, a win in Ames won't exactly quiet the doubters. But if the Bears win the following three games at Texas, TCU and at West Virginia, you won't hear a peep from the Baylor doubters.
@jake_trotter: If anyone deserves a break, it's West Virginia. In facing Alabama, Maryland and Oklahoma, the Mountaineers have played the toughest schedule in the country so far. So the open week comes at the perfect time. West Virginia can reset, heal and gear up for the final two-thirds of the season. If the Mountaineers play like they did the first third, they will win a bunch of games the rest of this season.
@Jake_Trotter with it being such a deep position, who all would you say have been some of the best defensive linemen in the league so far?— Zach Evans (@ZEvans_7) September 26, 2014
@jake_trotter: The player who has really impressed me so far this is Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown. He has been the most impressive defensive linemen in my opinion, despite the Longhorns' troubles elsewhere. Other guys who have caught my eye so far: Kansas State's Ryan Mueller and Travis Britz, Baylor's Shawn Oakman, Oklahoma State's Emmanuel Ogbah, Iowa State's Cory Morrissey, Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips and Charles Tapper, Kansas' Keon Stowers and TCU's Davion Pierson.
@jake_trotter: Well, yeah. If the Horned Frogs defeat Oklahoma, they have to be considered a legitimate Big 12 contender. That is going to be a huge game for the Frogs. Perhaps, in fact, the biggest of the TCU Big 12 era.
@jake_trotter: Anything is possible, but I have a hard time seeing K-State winning in Norman and Waco. That said, before the season, one of my bold predictions was that K-State would win one of those road games. I see no reason to back off that prediction just yet, either.
Will you shave Cy into your head if ISU wins tomorrow? RT @Jake_Trotter: Still taking Twitter questions for today's Big 12 mailbag.— Austin Narber (@austinnarber) September 26, 2014
@jake_trotter: I asked my wife about this and she vetoed it. However, she said if Iowa State knocks off Baylor and Oklahoma in Ames, then I can do it. So we're on, provided you find me a barber familiar with the Cy logo..
Clint Trickett and wideout Kevin White have been phenomenal, and West Virginia could be geared for a run with the scheduling easing up a bit. If the Mountaineers can knock off Baylor at home on Oct. 18, then they could definitely emerge as a contender, despite the loss to Oklahoma.
While Max and I like what we’ve seen from West Virginia, we both went with Kansas State. The Wildcats won the Big 12 title just two years ago and appear to have a team with similar strengths. The front seven appears to be formidable, after snapping Auburn’s 13-game streak of at least 200 rushing yards last week. Bill Snyder remains one of the best coaches in the country. And Tyler Lockett is as big of a playmaker as anyone player in the league. The Wildcats to do have to travel to Norman and Waco. But K-State won its last trip to Oklahoma, and will have an extra week to prepare for the Sooners. And the Wildcats played Baylor tough last year, even without Lockett.
Of course, West Virginia and Kansas State aren’t the only possible teams that could emerge as Big 12 contenders.
TCU is 2-0, and appears to have another top-flight defense. The Horned Frogs have a huge game with Oklahoma in two weeks, which could dictate whether they can finally challenge for the conference title in their third year in the Big 12.
Oklahoma State, meanwhile, looks better than its preseason prognostication. The Cowboys played No. 1 Florida State tough in the opener and have cruised in their last two games. Coordinator Glenn Spencer’s defense has been stout so far despite inexperience at several positions. The key will be whether backup quarterback Daxx Garman can get the Oklahoma State offensive attack humming to the level of previous seasons.
We’ve given you our thoughts. Now we put the question to you in our weekly Big 12 poll. Who is the biggest threat to Oklahoma and Baylor in the Big 12 race?
Is it West Virginia or Kansas State? TCU or Oklahoma State?
Or maybe even somebody else.
Let us know what you think by voting in our poll.
- How do you stop Baylor? Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune takes a closer look at how Iowa State will try to stop the Bears. Among the priorities is stopping the running game. Baylor is thought of as a high-flying attack but the Bears lead the Big 12 in rushing yards per game (207.5) since 2009. Art Briles has always built his offense around the running game so the Cyclones focus on stopping that ground attack is a great place to start.
- Oklahoma's offensive line is big and physical, writes Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman. OU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has been one of the best hires in the Big 12 in recent years. The Sooners have averaged a Big 12-best 5.35 yards per carry since Bedenbaugh was hired before the 2013 season. OU averaged 4.15 yards per carry in the three seasons before Bedenbaugh's arrival.
- An excellent piece by SI.com's Lindsay Schnell on Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury gives you a glimpse at his extremely competitive nature among other things. It should be no surprise that Kingsbury's competitive drive is strong. It's hard to rise so quickly from quality control assistant to head coach at your alma mater without unique traits like Kingsbury's competitiveness.
- TCU running backs are sharing the ball-carrying load reports Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The Horned Frogs running backs might be splitting carries but I was expecting TCU's new offense to bring a little more commitment to the running game than we've seen in the first two games. TCU is averaging 36.3 rushes per game after averaging 33.58 rushes per game a year ago. It will be interesting to see if that number increases in Big 12 play or remains between 35-40 rushes per game for the duration of the year.
- His Kansas State teammates weren't surprised to see linebacker Dakorey Johnson make a big impact against Auburn last Thursday, writes Joshua Tinder of the Manhattan Mercury. Johnson earned Big 12 defensive player of the week honors with six tackles including two tackles for loss and one interception in the loss to the Tigers. Johnson brings increased athleticism to K-State's defense so it will be interesting to see if he can consistently play at a high level for Bill Snyder's squad. If he can, the Wildcats defense could end up among the Big 12's best units.
Yet both teams are staring at a stretch of games that could define their seasons.
Baylor will start Big 12 play with three of four games on the road including Saturday's visit to Iowa State. After the Cyclones, BU plays at Texas, hosts TCU then travels to West Virginia. Oklahoma will regroup with a bye on Saturday before playing at TCU, taking on Texas in the AT&T Red River Showdown and hosting Kansas State to end the three-game stretch.
It's an opportunity for the Bears and Sooners to cement their places among the nation's best teams or stumble off the radar before their head-to-head matchup in November.
The Sooners can learn from a similar stretch in 2013 when OU was flying high heading into Big 12 play, fresh off a road win at Notre Dame. A narrow home win against TCU was followed by a shocking loss to down-and-out Texas, which knocked the Sooners out of national title conversations in the third game of their toughest three-game stretch of the season. OU has been dominant this fall but the bye week comes at an ideal time, allowing Bob Stoops' squad to make proper preparations for this year's season-defining, three-game obstacle course.
"This off week comes at a great time," Stoops said. "We can really focus on some areas we can improve. You get a little breather here as we go into this stretch. Sometimes those stretches are positive. You know 'Here they come' and you're ready for them. In 2000, it was that way we had Texas, K-State and Nebraska in that stretch so sometimes when they're bunched in that way it's a positive."
The four-game stretch for BU is just as important. The Bears are 32-10 since the beginning of the 2011 season including a 21-1 record in Waco, Texas. Learning to carry their dominant play into opposing stadiums is the next step for Art Briles' program, which is 6-8 on the road since 2011. BU's lone regular-season loss came at Oklahoma State during their Big 12-title winning season a year ago. Even though they went 3-1 in true road games last season, the Bears are anxious to re-affirm their road-game struggles are a thing of the past.
"I think it is going to show us a lot of what this team is capable of," quarterback Bryce Petty said. "This next month, three of the four games are away, and they're not easy. The venues that we are playing at aren't easy to win at. Each game is going to be a fight and struggle."
BU knows wins at ISU, UT and WVU are hard to come by after making road trips to all three schools in 2012 and heading home with losses. The tough early conference schedule is an opportunity for Petty and his teammates to show how far the program has come since 2012.
"It's going to show us who we are, and I like that," Petty said. "I like that it's front-loaded at the beginning of the season. It's important for us to make sure that our focus is small and that we grow as a team pretty fast. We're going to have some hostile environments early, which will prepare us for down the road."
Baylor: Don't forget about Antwan Goodley. The potential All-America receiver went down with an injury in the season opener and enters Big 12 play with zero receptions. While KD Cannon and the rest of Baylor's wideouts feasted in his absence, Goodley is back this week, and he and Bryce Petty have some catching up to do. No Big 12 player matched his 598 yards after the catch last season.
Iowa State: Well, the Cyclones are 2-0 in home games against Baylor under coach Paul Rhoads. During the Art Briles era, Baylor has averaged 33.2 points per game on the road against the rest of the Big 12. In their losses in Ames in 2009 and 2012, Baylor's offense put up a combined 31 points. But ever since that 35-21 loss at ISU in 2012, the Bears are 19-3.
Kansas: Tony Pierson has recorded 280 touches on offense in his career at Kansas. He's gained 10 or more yards on 25 percent of his touches and picked up 20-plus yards on 26 of those 70 plays. The majority of his big plays have come on rushes, but Pierson is also averaging 12.7 yards per reception in his four seasons. He's instant offense, plain and simple.
Kansas State: ESPN Stats & Info analyzed the Auburn-Kansas State game tape and determined Jake Waters was pressured on nine plays. He completed three passes, threw two incompletions and an interception and took three sacks. K-State's net yardage when the Tigers got pressure on Waters? Just 15 yards. Waters and his linemen will have to handle the heat a bit better in Big 12 play.
Oklahoma: How will freshman Samaje Perine follow up his 242-yard night at West Virginia? In the past decade, 19 FBS running backs have surpassed 240 rushing yards multiple times in a season. If Perine does it again this year, he'll join some elite company that includes Reggie Bush, Matt Forte, Le'Veon Bell, Ray Rice, Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, Andre Williams and, yes, Adrian Peterson.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys rank No. 2 nationally in a statistic that's pretty darn important: red zone efficiency defense. OSU's defense has entered the red zone 10 times this season and permitted just two touchdowns. Opposing offenses have had to settle for field goals seven times (one was blocked) and Jameis Winston threw a red zone interception. Getting stingy under pressure like that will pay off big in Big 12 play.
TCU: The Horned Frogs are one of only two teams in FBS that have played just two games entering Week 5. (Cincinnati started the season bizarrely with back-to-back byes.) This isn't just some silly observation. The fact is, starting this week against SMU, Gary Patterson's team must play eight games in eight consecutive weeks before getting a pre-Thanksgiving reprieve. They face a brutal run in October (OU, at Baylor, OSU, Texas Tech) and need some gas in the tank if they hope to make a run in November.
Texas: It's hard to believe that, with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray both healthy and splitting time, Texas ranks No. 9 in the Big 12 in rushing right now at 123.7 yards per game. That's 99 fewer yards per game than Oklahoma is averaging and almost 115 fewer than Baylor. The culprit here is a shoddy offensive line, but the downhill run game was supposed to be the strength of the Longhorns' offense and they've struggled without one.
Texas Tech: One not-unreasonable excuse for Texas Tech's problems on defense: According to its sports information office, 17 of 27 Red Raiders who've recorded tackles this season are freshmen, sophomores or newcomers. That number does include Kenny Williams, who moved from running back to linebacker this spring. The rest are young guys who better catch up quickly.
West Virginia: Clint Trickett ranks No. 3 nationally now with 1600 passing yards, a feat through four games that most WVU fans probably wouldn't have predicted back in the spring. He leads all Big 12 passers with 20 completions of 20-plus yards (nine to Kevin White), but then again, Trickett also has 43 more completions than any other quarterback in the conference. Let's wait a few more weeks before assessing where he fits in the Big 12 QB hierarchy, but this is a heck of a start.
On to the mailbag:
Craig Dias in Dallas writes: You mentioned that Trevor Knight wasn't hurried more than once in the West Virginia game. Do you think hurrying Knight is the key to stopping OU's offense?
Brandon Chatmon: I think it’s the key to stopping any offense, not just OU’s. Creating confusion and chaos in the backfield could be the key to beating the Sooners, but it’s easier said than done. As far as Knight specifically, I think he has the potential to handle added pressure better than most quarterbacks thanks to his athleticism and mobility, but there’s no doubt in my mind he would be more prone to mistakes if he was being constantly harassed in the pocket.
Marty in West Virginia writes: Is Kevin White the best receiver in Big 12?
Chatmon: He sure is playing like it. He has been consistent and dominant with 42 receptions for 633 yards (both Big 12 highs) and three touchdowns. Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett and Baylor’s Antwan Goodley, among others, will still have their say, but White sits atop the list after the Mountaineers’ first four games. He has been exceptional.
Zane Dennis in Waco writes: Hey, Brandon! Love the blog and read every post daily. Even as a Baylor fan/student, I think we can all agree that Oklahoma is the team to beat for now in the Big 12 (and I think they should be No. 1 in the country, as well). As it's looking right now, our whole season will likely end up coming down to that epic Nov. 8 showdown, but as far as the rest of our schedule, which game should we be more worried about: West Virginia or Kansas State? Also, are there any more possible upsets on the Sooners' schedule?
Chatmon: I’ll have a piece that touches on this in detail later this week, but both programs have some potential pitfalls before that massive showdown in Norman. For Baylor, the trip to West Virginia would be the biggest worry between those two games. I think the Mountaineers have proven they are a tall task for any team. And if Baylor is undefeated after 11 games, I have a hard time believing they would let the Wildcats come into McLane Stadium and take their College Football Playoff dreams away. The Sooners still have several tough tests, but the road game at TCU stands out.
Mike Quick writes: I'm looking for a positive note with this question. Baylor’s nonconference schedule is weak, there's no question there. But with Northwestern State beating Louisiana Tech over the weekend does that at least make Baylor’s win over Northwestern State a bit better in the eyes of the selection committee?
Chatmon: It doesn’t hurt. But the Bears' destiny will be decided in Big 12 conference play either way. An undefeated Baylor doesn’t get left on the outside looking in, even with a subpar nonconference slate.
Harry in Kansas City writes: If KSU and Auburn both win out, do the 'Cats make it into the playoffs?
Chatmon: Good question, Harry. I’m going to say yes because I don’t expect four undefeated conference champions. If fact, I only expect one, maybe two, undefeated teams. It’s simply too hard to go a season without a loss in college football these days. So if Auburn is 12-0 and Kansas State is 11-1, I think the Wildcats find their way into the College Football Playoff, particularly with road wins at Oklahoma and Baylor. Quite frankly, if they don’t there’s a problem.
Abimael Downing in Colorado writes: I know that this year will not be the best for Texas and I understand that Charlie Strong needs some time to get his team together, but how long do you think it will take for Texas to become a contender in the Big 12 again?
Chatmon: Next year. I doubt they win it in 2015, but I definitely think they can contend for a Big 12 title in Strong's second season.
David Hess in Glen Dale, West Virginia writes: Is WVU the best two-loss team in college football?
Chatmon: Yes. The Mountaineers will make their mark in Big 12 play. They’re better than I expected, and I’d be surprised if they don’t return to a bowl game with relative ease.
Kelly in Oregon writes: What are Iowa State's chances Saturday night?
Chatmon: It’s going to be a tough task for Paul Rhoads team, but I don’t expect a repeat of what we saw in Waco, Texas a year ago in Baylor’s 71-7 win. The Bears will win but I don’t think they embarrass the Cyclones again. I expect a competitive game with BU pulling away in the second half. I'll give them a 20-percent chance of pulling the upset.
rtXC in Denison, Texas, writes: Gotta love these polls! OU beats Bama in the Sugar Bowl, returns most of that team, then beats WVU on the road in better fashion than Bama did at a neutral site. BUT Bama stays ahead in the rankings. Thoughts?
Jason in Elkview, West Virginia writes: The emphasis on strength of schedule appears to be selective. I watched WVU give two top 5 teams all they wanted, but still lost. After watching WVU play and after watching at least one game from most of the rest of the top 25 ranked teams, I don't think 15 of them could beat WVU. Yet we continue to lose votes in the polls, and others that have played a smorgasbord of nobodies continue to get more votes each week. I realize you have to win, but this being rewarded for playing a tough schedule business is a farce.
Chatmon: Sounds like a pair of really good reasons to ignore the polls. Particularly since they don’t mean anything anyway. If the polls affect the College Football Playoff committee then we, as college football fans, have bigger problems.