Rhule, Hurts, Brooks top Big 12 honors at season’s midpoint
No. 5 Oklahoma keeps rolling behind yet another star transfer quarterback, although the Sooners are not the only team to claim a stake for Big 12 supremacy so far in 2019.
No. 18 Baylor, behind a stout defense, has made huge strides under third-year coach Matt Rhule and has matched high-scoring Oklahoma on top of the league standings. They are the only remaining undefeated teams in the Big 12.
Other league schools trying to keep pace have produced memorable performances, among them Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard, Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy and Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
There’s also a battle at the bottom of the standings, where four new head coaches are fighting to keep their teams out of the cellar.
Here are some of the standouts in midseason voting by Associated Press writers who cover the 10 Big 12 schools in five states:
COACH OF THE FIRST HALF
Matt Rhule, Baylor
Baylor (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) has come a long way since 2016, the season following the offseason firing of coach Art Briles. The school let Briles go amid a scandal related to the handling of sexual assault claims on campus. An investigation led to the president of the university and athletic director also departing. The Bears went 1-11 with a depleted roster in Rhule’s first season in 2017, improved to 7-6 last year and are 6-0 in 2019. They played their first game as a ranked team last week under him.
Also receiving votes: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE FIRST HALF
Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
The Alabama transfer is on pace to join an elite list of nine FBS players to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a season, including 2018 Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray of Oklahoma. Murray hit the 4,000-1,000 mark. Hurts leads the Big 12 in total offense, is tied with Sam Ehlinger of Texas with 17 touchdown passes, is second in passing yards with 293 per game and is the third-leading rusher with an average of 105.
Also receiving votes: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE FIRST HALF
Jordyn Brooks, LB, Texas Tech
The senior leads the Big 12 in tackles at 11.3 per game and is tied with Baylor’s James Brooks for the lead with 11.5 tackles for loss. He had a monster game against Oklahoma State that included a career-high 19 tackles with three sacks and a forced fumble.
FRESHMAN OF THE FIRST HALF
Spencer Sanders, QB, Oklahoma State
The dual-threat Sanders took over for the departed Taylor Cornelius. In the first month of the season, Sanders threw three touchdown passes in a game twice and surpassed 100 rushing yards twice. Sanders has cooled off significantly with seven interceptions over his last three games. He threw three interceptions, lost two fumbles and was sacked seven times in an Oct. 5 loss to Texas Tech.
MOST SURPRISING TEAM OF THE FIRST HALF
Behind quarterback Charlie Brewer, the Bears have the longest winning streak in the Big 12 at eight games. They also have the stingiest defense, allowing 17.8 points per game. They still have tough tests left against Oklahoma (6-0, 3-0), No. 15 Texas (4-2, 2-1) and Oklahoma State (4-2, 1-2), the top three scoring offenses in the league. Beat them and the Bears could get some attention from the College Football Playoff committee.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER OF THE FIRST HALF
Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
The sophomore leads the FBS with 1,094 yards and has scored 13 TDs. The workhorse from Sherwood Park, Alberta, is averaging 27 carries per game. He’s surpassed 200 yards and scored three touchdowns three times, including a 296-yard performance against Kansas State. As a freshman, Hubbard took over the rushing load in the final four games after Justice Hill was lost to injury. Hubbard finished the 2018 season with 740 yards.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM OF THE FIRST HALF
(tie) Kansas State and TCU
Both teams fell out of the Associated Press poll after making brief appearances last month — Kansas State at No. 24 and TCU at No. 25. The Wildcats (3-2, 0-2) have cooled off after starting the season 3-0 that included a road win over Mississippi State. They’ve lost two straight to Oklahoma State and Baylor, both by double digits. The Horned Frogs (3-2, 1-1) lost at home to No. 19 SMU and at Iowa State.
Also receiving votes: Kansas.
None of the 10 coaches appear to require a solid second half of the season in order keep their jobs.
Four new coaches — Les Miles of Kansas, Kansas State’s Chris Klieman, Texas Tech’s Matt Wells and West Virginia’s Neal Brown — have had their struggles but will be given some time to work things out. Rhule, Riley, Tom Herman of Texas and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell are having solid seasons. That leaves TCU’s Gary Patterson and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, the two longest-tenured coaches whose teams have winning records and are the middle of the pack in the league this year.
Clay Johnston, LB, Baylor
Johnston suffered a season-ending knee injury after he made an interception last Saturday in a 33-30 win over Texas Tech in double overtime. The senior is third in the Big 12 with 9.7 tackles per game. His 58 tackles are 28 more than any other Baylor player. The Bears could suffer without him.
Also receiving votes: Tre Norwood, DB, Oklahoma; Alex Bowman, QB, Texas Tech.