Surprising Texas, Murray among Big 12’s midpoint best
There is a Big 12 surprise deep in the heart of Texas.
Since the Longhorns lost their season opener to Maryland for the second year in a row, coach Tom Herman’s team has a six-game winning streak and is ranked in the top 10 after September for the first time since 2009 — when they were the national runner-up after winning their last Big 12 title.
No. 7 Texas has already won three games against Top 25 teams , including 48-45 over No. 9 Oklahoma, the three-time defending Big 12 champion that was undefeated at the time.
Will Grier is the Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback for No. 13 West Virginia, coming off its first loss when he threw for only 100 yards and was sacked seven times. The Mountaineers fell to Iowa State, whose third quarterback this season has led the Cyclones to consecutive wins over Top 25 teams.
Here are some of the standouts at the halfway point of the Big 12 season, as determined by voting of Associated Press writers who cover the 10-team league:
COACH OF THE YEAR
Tom Herman, Texas
The Longhorns were coming off three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the 1930s when they hired Herman, Houston’s head coach for two seasons after being the offensive coordinator for Ohio State’s 2014 national championship team. Texas needed a Texas Bowl victory over Missouri to have a winning record in Herman’s debut last year. No other Big 12 coach got a vote for this survey.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
The backup to Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield last season, Murray is now putting up his own big numbers as the starter. Murray is the league’s most efficient passer with 21 touchdowns and only three interceptions, while completing 96 of 135 passes (71 percent) for 1,773 yards. The junior has at least three TD passes in each of the last five games. The first-round MLB draft pick and former Texas A&M transfer has also run for 377 yards and five more scores.
Also receiving votes: Grier.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
One of the nation’s top freshman defenders last season, Murray didn’t even have a tackle in this year’s opener. He has 74 tackles since — 14.8 per game in those five games — for a total that is second in the Big 12 only to fellow Sooners linebacker Curtis Bolton (75). Murray is only four tackles shy of his total for 14 games last season, and has three sacks. His 28 tackles against Army were the most by an FBS player since at least 2000.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State, and Caden Stearns, DB, Texas (tie)
Purdy hadn’t thrown a pass for the Cyclones before piling up seven TDs to lead them to wins over Top 25 teams Oklahoma State and West Virginia the past two games. Stearns has started all seven games as a true freshman for the Longhorns, and has four interceptions plus a blocked field goal.
MOST SURPRISING TEAM
The Longhorns have surged to the top of the Big 12 and back into the top 10 nationally after years of mediocrity, and control their own path to the conference championship game. They have their first six-game winning streak since 2013.
MOST SURPRISNG PLAYER
Alex Barnes, RB, Kansas State
A recent surge has made Barnes the Big 12’s leading rusher with 112.6 yards per game and nine touchdowns. The junior followed up a 250-yard performance with three touchdowns at Baylor with 181 yards and four more scores against Oklahoma State in his last game.
Also receiving votes: Brailford; Texas QB Sam Ehlinger; Purdy.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM
There was sure to be a transition with the departure of quarterback Mason Rudolph after three consecutive 10-win seasons. But the Cowboys are 1-3 in Big 12 play. Their only conference win is over Kansas, and they still haven’t played Texas, Oklahoma or West Virginia, the league’s trio of Top 25 teams.
Also receiving votes: Kansas State; TCU
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER
Justus Parker, DB, Texas Tech
The former Division III player became a ball hawk in his Texas Tech debut last year when he forced four fumbles and had four interceptions. Through five games of his junior season, he has only seven tackles and hasn’t forced a turnover.
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- West Virginia Mountaineers