Big 12 title race will own November
Why the Big 12, not the SEC or Jameis Winston, will own college football’s final regular-season month. Plus Week 10 links and notes from around the country.
There will be better singular moments. Next Saturday, for instance.
LSU will visit Alabama, and the grandness of the event – or, perhaps, grandness of the production of the event – might make us feel like football hardly exists, for those few hours or few days, in other places. We’ll have limitless all-access television, numerous sit-downs with Nick Saban and Les Miles, a painful number of segments discussing legacies and narratives and whatever else. It’ll be crazy, and we’ll be overwhelmed.
Or maybe there’ll be another time, such as on the final day of November when Jameis Winston plays at Florida, finishing Florida State’s regular season undefeated and leaving Heisman voters with one more ridiculous line to consider, something like 24-of-30, 440 yards passing and five TDs. Yeah, that would be a moment, something to savor.
Or, if it’s still unsettled, we will certainly spend the dwindling days of the month yelling at each other about which team deserves to play Alabama for the BCS national title.
Based on its full schedule and how it has crushed teams all season, it has to be Oregon, guys.
Have you seen Florida State play? Don’t get me wrong, I love Oregon. BUT HAVE YOU SEEN FLORIDA STATE PLAY? Winston + Winston’s weapons + Winston’s defense = Winston’s title berth.
You guys aren’t respecting Ohio State. The Buckeyes deserve to play Alabama. They’ve won 24 consecutive games. Urban Meyer hasn’t lost yet since taking the OSU job. Just sayin’. Juuuuuuuuust. Sayin’.
Riveting. Can’t wait.
Despite all of those possibilities, as I watched the Seminoles overcome Miami Saturday night and thought about the weeks ahead, a clear thought emerged that was unforeseen:
I’d give up all of those singular moments just to watch the Big 12 over the next four weeks.
Yes, I’d miss LSU-Bama and the Iron Bowl and Ohio State-Michigan and all of the other kernels of autumn pageantry that make college football what it is, but the Big 12 has college football’s most compelling race. It’s not that close, really. The league has two things in its favor.
The lack of divisions is a great benefit. That allows five teams – Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech – to all play a role in one defining race.
If Arizona State and UCLA could join Oregon and Stanford to compete for the same title – not divisional berths into a conference championship game – maybe the Pac-12 would have an argument.
The SEC East race is fun, but only in the way a regretful, cheap beer-induced Friday night in the best of your college years can be; eventually, you wake up woozy and rather embarrassed at the carnage. If Missouri and South Carolina could join Alabama, Auburn and LSU in one race, we’d have something. Instead, the West comes down to two games (LSU at Bama, Bama at Auburn). The ACC and Big Ten fall a couple contenders short regardless.
Secondly, the mischievous masterminds behind the Big 12 scheduling backloaded, for the most part, the contenders’ slates. The top five teams all have significant dates ahead of them.
Oklahoma State, currently fourth, doesn’t need any help to win the league; with Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma all left on its schedule, it can earn a Big 12 championship by winning out. Even Texas Tech, which suffered its second league loss Saturday to OK State, isn’t out of it, not with Texas and Baylor still ahead and the way the conference will inevitably eat its own these next few weeks.
It’s probably not a healthy way of life for these teams, playing a home-stretch gauntlet of this bloody degree, but what drama it creates. Can you imagine if Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn and the SEC East’s top one or two teams were in the same division and all played each other over the final five weeks or so? Luckily for the Big 12, they’re not.
This structure offers the Big 12 an opportunity to own November and, around the couple days of SEC hysteria, drive large sectors of college football’s conversation through Thanksgiving and into bowl season.
While others leagues have focused on expansion in recent times, there’s an inherent advantage in remaining at 10 teams, like the Big 12 currently has, and thus falling two short of a conference championship game: The on-field product is lifted, and we’re rewarded with the sport’s best race.
Not even the NCAA can screw this up!
Let’s take a quick run through the five Big 12 contenders and see what’s ahead.
BAYLOR BEARS (7-0, 4-0)
Schedule: vs. Oklahoma, vs. Texas Tech, at Oklahoma State, at TCU, vs. Texas
Baylor’s done beating its Big 12 pulpit. This season finally gets real beginning next Thursday night when Oklahoma visits Waco.
Baylor has obliterated any semblance of a defensive presence this season, save for at Kansas State when it scored “only” 35 points. Otherwise, it ranks first in the nation in scoring (63.9 points/game), first in passing yards per attempt (13.3) and eighth in rushing yards per attempt (6.25). That production begins, of course, with quarterback and Heisman candidate Bryce Petty.
“He’s done a good job of staying in control,” Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery told me recently. “He has a big, strong arm that gives us the ability to make certain throws. He throws from one hash to the other very well.”
Petty leads all quarterbacks in adjusted QBR at 95.3, is first in passing YPA (13.9), ninth in efficiency (69.3 percent) and has thrown 18 touchdowns with only one interception. Petty has a barrel of the talent around him – receivers Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese make up two-thirds of the nation’s top three in yards per catch (23.53 and 24.97, respectively) and running back Lache Seastrunk is fourth among RBs in yards per carry (9.05) – and the growth he’s made in four seasons (one redshirt) at Baylor is substantial.
“He’s been around a while and gotten better,” Montgomery says. “It all starts with the feet. Especially on our quick stuff, it’s important to be mechanically sound. But the most important thing is to make great decisions with the ball in his hands, execute quickly and be a good communicator.”
It will likely take a quality pass defense to slow down Baylor, and the Bears will face two of those in the next three weeks with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
TEXAS LONGHORNS (6-2, 5-0)
Schedule: at West Virginia, vs. Oklahoma State, vs. Texas Tech, at Baylor
I covered the Longhorns at length earlier in the week, but the short version: Case McCoy has been really good filling in for David Ash at QB, and Greg Robinson has helped foster significant improvements in the defense.
Mack Brown’s job status will override every Texas discussion in November – it’s just a matter of whether the media proclaims him dead or alive for the 59th time this season – but the football is more compelling.
West Virginia is 1-3 since beating Oklahoma State – including a loss to Kansas State – but Morgantown should still serve up a good test for Texas next week. Win that, and the game against the Pokes on Nov. 16 in Austin will be great fun.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS (7-1, 4-1)
Schedule: vs. Kansas, at Texas, vs. Baylor, vs. Oklahoma
You can make a case that Oklahoma State will be the most interesting team to follow in November.
No, I’m serious! Just look at its schedule again. The Cowboys will move to 8-1 (5-1) next week against Kansas. Then they’ll go to Texas, where 95 Desmond Roland carries, a few timely Clint Chelf QB draws and a rush defense that ranks 18th in the country in yards per attempt (3.35) will attempt to contain Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, forcing McCoy to win it. In those circumstances, I like Oklahoma State.
The Pokes then finish with their two toughest games at home. Pass-happy Baylor brutalizes teams, but OSU can handle a quality passing game – ranking ninth in the country in yards per attempt (5.9) – and shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the Bears’ tempo.
“If your offense isn’t up-tempo, you can’t practice that in a week,” Van Malone, who coaches the corners at OK State, told me. “Your scout team can’t simulate that in one week. But we go against a fast offense in practice every day. When we played Mississippi State [in Week 1], we had to slow our scout team down.”
Since the Pokes practice that way and find comfort in playing up-tempo, their defense has advanced beyond the stage of simply surviving. They can go on the offensive. “We can now take it to the next level and attack the offense,” Malone says. “We can get up and press and get hands on a guy.”
Malone told a story of his time coaching at Texas A&M with Mike Sherman. Early in the first series of every game, Sherman would run a play to the perimeter – some quick pass – simply to make heavy defensive linemen run. “Guys have to get their hand out of the dirt and run to the sideline,” Malone says. “Do that enough, and pretty soon the D-line will be tired.”
That won’t work as effectively against OK State, because it practices that way and has built its defensive line – like most teams in the league – around slimmer, more athletic lineman who can run and handle those tactics. Does this mean it will beat Baylor at Oklahoma? Not necessarily, but because of the Cowboys’ pass D – Malone also noted the resurgence he’s seen in corner Justin Gilbert, who has four picks this season – they have as good a shot as anyone.
If that happens? OK State will have gone from No. 19 in the BCS to top 10 – maybe even top five, depending on other losses – in a month’s time and be in position for a BCS bowl. While the SEC and Pac-12 heavyweights likely finish their seasons in predictable fashion, no other BCS team can come from seemingly nowhere and rise as high, and as quickly, as OK State can in the next month.
Come on, get on board with the Pokes. Plenty of room.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS (7-1, 4-1)
Schedule: at Baylor, vs. Iowa State, at Kansas State, at Oklahoma State
The Sooners get two softies sandwiched between two significant challenges.
They’re similar to Oklahoma State in that they have a pass defense capable of hanging with Baylor, ranking fourth in the nation in yards per attempt (5.7). Well, that sounds good in theory, anyway. Maybe Baylor is too explosive, but we’ll see.
Can QB Blake Bell generate enough in the pass game to at least stay in the vicinity of Petty? Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard are both deep threats, and RBs Brennan Clay and Damien Williams give the Sooners some balance. But Baylor is a quick-strike team. Would a few quick scores mitigate the run game for Oklahoma? Not entirely, but a lot would fall on Bell.
“Baylor’s offense helps their defense,” Malone said. “When the offense is triggering, it puts pressure on the opposing offense. As a defensive coach, I’m happy as hell when the other offense walks out down 14 really quick. It becomes a very volatile situation.”
That’s the fear for Oklahoma, but I’d be surprised if that game in Waco wasn’t competitive in the fourth quarter. One disadvantage for OU: It needs to win out and have Texas lose twice.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (7-2, 4-2)
Schedule: vs. Kansas State, vs. Baylor, at Texas
With two losses, Texas Tech is playing spoiler more than it is playing for a league title.
But it’s not totally done, not with games against the two undefeated teams in the league left, Baylor and Texas. If the Red Raiders win out and everyone else crushes each other, there’s still a chance Kliff Kingsbury gets a Big 12 title in his first season in Lubbock.
Likely? No, not at all, but possible.
And if you’re going to offer up Texas Tech and Kingsbury’s offense as the fifth-most compelling team in this league, then I’m going to take the Big 12 over everybody else in November and live quite happily.
Five mostly irrelevant things that happened this week.
Nebraska beat Northwestern on a last-second Hail Mary thrown by a walk-on senior. Here’s the play:
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Anthony Swain wasn’t faking an injury when he suddenly dropped Saturday against Arkansas. To the video evidence we go:
In the good name of Cris Carter, c’mon man.
‘Little Kliff’ got a chance to meet the real Kliff Kingsbury at the Texas Tech game.
Southern Miss and Marshall could use your help falling on the football.
Sacred Heart WR Moses Webb fumbles, forces a fumble, recovers a fumble and scores a TD on the same play. Check this out:
Notes from the nation
An assortment of links from around Week 10 in college football.
Todd Gurley returned from an ankle injury and Georgia beat Florida for the third consecutive time. You wouldn’t necessarily call this performance from Georgia “impressive,” considering it almost blew a substantial halftime lead to a team that struggles to move the football.
Florida, totally beat up, couldn’t complete the comeback against Georgia. Think about this: Whether or not Florida makes a bowl game this season could come down to whether it beats Vanderbilt at home next week. It’s 4-4 with four games left and needs six wins to become bowl eligible. At South Carolina and home against Florida State look like losses. Georgia Southern should be a win. That would make the Gators 5-6 and need the Vandy win to get to the bowl-required six. This team is much more talented than that, but just too many injuries.
South Carolina took care of business at home against Mississippi State and is still on the heels of Missouri in the SEC East.
Missouri bounced back from its loss to South Carolina by beating Tennessee at home. Maty Mauk has played well in place of James Franklin (shoulder), but it should last for only another week. Gary Pinkel said that Franklin could have played some against the Vols if needed, and Missouri has a bye after next week’s game against Kentucky. So I’d expect Mauk to handle next week, and then we’ll see Franklin three weeks from now against at Ole Miss. The big one, of course, is Texas A&M at home to end the regular season. Mizzou heads to the SEC title game if it wins out.
Tre Mason had a huge day for Auburn, as the Tigers beat Arkansas. The Iron Bowl will is shaping up to be a good one (you know, for everyone who won’t be in Big 12 heaven!).
After two straight losses, UCLA had something to feel good about after beating Colorado.
On Friday night, Marqise Lee returned and Javorius Allen had a breakout game on the ground as USC won in Corvallis.
Clint Chelf was really good in Oklahoma State’s win in Lubbock. If he plays like that the rest of the year, OSU becomes a tough out in the Big 12.
In other Texas news, West Virginia AD Oliver Luck has begun the interview process to become the Longhorns’ athletic director after DeLoss Dodds steps down next August.
It’s been a disappointing season, I’m sure, for Kansas State fans after they were spoiled some last season by the brilliance of Colin Klein. But the Wildcats are hanging in there, now 4-4 after beating Iowa State.
Michigan State put a defensive smackdown on Michigan to beat the Wolverines for the fifth time in six years. The Spartans are 8-1 (5-0 Big Ten) on a path to meet Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, in which they could prevent BCS voters from ever having to consider an undefeated Ohio State for the BCS national title game. Michigan State’s defense – ranking first in the country in yards per play at 3.47 — is certainly good enough to contain Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and whatever Urban Meyer can throw at them.
A catch for the ages lifted Nebraska over Northwestern and revived the Huskers’ season.
Wisconsin was quite depleted but found a second-half surge and beat Iowa.
Ohio State beat Purdue by a lot of points. Give the Buckeyes this: They are dominating the schedule they’ve been given.
It took overtime, but Penn State got it done against Illinois.
Minnesota beat Indiana on the road, and the Golden Gophers are quietly 7-2, matching the most wins they’ve had since the 2003 team went 10-3. The Gophers have Penn State and Wisconsin at home before finishing at Michigan State. Win one of those to lock in 8-4 and a solid bowl game, and it’s a terrific season for Jerry Kill’s team.
The Seminoles put a hurting on Miami. Hurricanes RB Duke Johnson suffered a broken ankle in the game and is out for the year.
A Miami columnist says the Canes’ resurgence isn’t legit until they beat FSU.
North Carolina beat its red in-state rival and then danced on its logo. Been a tough year for the Heels.
Georgia Tech got its sixth win of the season by beating Pitt. It was also homecoming in Atlanta.
In a game controlled by the offenses, Notre Dame got the one stop it needed to beat Navy.
Another week, another win for undefeated Northern Illinois.