All four Big 12 winners on Saturday made statements of some kind or another. Here’s what I took away from a wild day across the league.
TCU and Baylor are on a crash-course for playoff anarchy. If chaos reigns ahead of Baylor and TCU in the CFP rankings, both might end up making the College Football Playoff. The difference between these two teams is minimal, yet TCU was six spots ahead of Baylor in last week’s CFP poll. Baylor’s dominant win over Oklahoma trims that margin a bit, but if both teams win out, you’ll have two teams with very similar resumes and only one real difference in their schedule (TCU beat Minnesota, who moved to 7-2 after outing Iowa on Saturday vs. Baylor, who beat a 3-7 Buffalo team on the road in September.)
Oklahoma is stuck in no-man’s land. Saturday was the worst home loss of Bob Stoops’ career at Oklahoma and the first time he’s ever lost consecutive home games as the head Sooner. With three losses, there’s no way this season, which began in the top five as the Big 12 favorite, will be categorized as anything but a disappointment. The flip side: With a good bowl matchup, Oklahoma has a strong chance of still finishing the season with 10 wins.
It’s a brutal position for Oklahoma to find itself in, but this is where the program lies. It’s been six years since Oklahoma was in the national title picture late in the season and that won’t change this season. However, if OU does beat Texas Tech, Kansas and Oklahoma State to go 9-3 and win a 10th game in its bowl, it’ll be the eighth 10-win season in nine years for Stoops. The lone exception was in 2009 when OU played without Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham and most of the offensive line for the entire season.
The fan base is frustrated, but Stoops’ success, viewed with perspective, makes any talk of making a change nothing short of insane. Oklahoma’s recruiting has dipped in recent years as Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M have risen. The fan base’s frustration isn’t change, and Stoops’ success ironically feeds into some of that frustration. The only path to fix the program right now is for Stoops to find a way for Oklahoma to return to its mid-00s dominance, but in a much-improved Big 12, doing so is a very difficult.
The questions plaguing Oklahoma after yet another disappointing loss sealing a disappointing season have no easy answers.
Baylor is doing what it has to do, but it still needs help. Baylor’s soft early season schedule (combined with a loss to West Virginia) had it behind a two-loss Ole Miss team in last week’s College Football Playoff poll. This morning, Baylor’s remaining schedule offered just two opportunities to truly impress. After its 48-14 devastation in Norman, voters might see the Bears a little differently. That has to continue in its final three games against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas State, particularly in the finale against the Wildcats.
For the first time this season, Baylor made people say, "Wow." The Bears still need teams ahead of them to lose, but if they’re going to climb the polls, they’ll still need blowout wins and style points. They earned a whole bunch of them against Oklahoma, and imposed an existential crisis on the entire town of Norman, Okla.
Ugly performances in three consecutive weeks against Texas, TCU and West Virginia made it easy to knock the Bears off the playoff map and the committee obliged them.
If Baylor strings together games like it played against Oklahoma for the rest of the season, the tone of that conversations is going to encounter a radical change.
Time will tell what Saturday means for Texas. The Longhorns soundly beat West Virginia for 60 minutes. Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown combined for 191 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries and Texas has been threatening to do this since outplaying OU in a Red River loss last month. The Longhorns were bound to knock off a team in the top half of the Big 12 and did exactly that. So is this a turning point for Texas? Or another lackluster performance for West Virginia’s run defense, which has given up 4.5 yards a carry and 14 rushing touchdowns this season? Both of those marks are well into the bottom half of the Big 12.
Tyrone Swoopes struggled (11/29, 124 yards, TD, INT) against West Virginia and Texas still left little doubt about the best team on the field on Saturday. That’s a very good sign for Texas’ future, but its final two games at Oklahoma State and at home against Texas will continue to test how much this team has grown in the last month.
Clint Bowen has KU moving in the right direction, but will it be enough to earn him the job? Kansas has been competitive more often than not since firing Charlie Weis the day after a 23-0 loss to Texas. Clint Bowen’s changed quarterbacks and playcallers and Saturday, the Jayhawks dominated the line of scrimmage and put up 514 yards of offense (286 passing, 228 rushing). That was its largest offensive output since putting up 547 yards in a loss to Missouri in Mark Mangino’s final game as KU coach.
It’s too early to tell if Bowen will get a legitimate shot at the job, but it’s worth noting that Saturday, he equaled Turner Gill and Charlie Weis’ Big 12 win total. The safe bet is Bowen’s chances are directly tied to the interest of candidates around the country. The possibility of career derailment and difficulty of the rebuild will probably scare off big-name assistants like Chad Morris and Tom Herman, but the two guys at the top of my list would be Willie Fritz at Georgia Southern and Bob Stitt at the Colorado School of Mines.
If both of those guys say no, you could do a lot worse than handing the job to a lifetime Jayhawk who’s already got the program progressing while he’s in an interim role.
And you don’t like KU storming the field after beating a 2-7 team? Do you also yell at toddlers who celebrate a successful trip to the latrine? Let a program who has struggled in recent years have its moment, people. Come on.
Back off Paul Rhoads, Cyclones. I get the frustration and Saturday might have been Iowa State’s worst outing in Rhoads’ six seasons in Ames. Still, have a little perspective. It’s been a tough two years for Rhoads (who is under contract through 2020), but two down years shouldn’t be enough to erase the three bowl trips in four years that preceded them. Iowa State fans sometimes forget how difficult that is accomplish. Rhoads has to improve, and days like Saturday are unacceptable, but it’s too soon to have any real conversations about making a change.
The odds that you fire Rhoads and hire somebody who is more successful at one of the most difficult jobs in the Big 12 are not in the Cyclones’ favor. Stick it out with Rhoads another season or two and do what you didn’t do with Dan McCarney. It just may pay off. Rhoads has done enough to not be burned by college football’s "What have you done for me lately?" culture and sent packing after two disappointing seasons.