Here’s what Week 8 in the Big 12 left me thinking:
Don’t write the Big 12 out of the playoff. Before you read this, please stop whatever you’re doing and find a calendar. Today is Oct. 18. There are seven more Saturdays where, as it often does in college football, chaos can reign. There is a ton of football left to be played and though right now, the Big 12 would be squeezed out of the playoff, that can change over the course of any one or two of those Saturdays. TCU is good enough to run the table and right now, is the Big 12’s best chance to earn one of the four playoff spots. Kansas State still has to face Baylor, but both the Wildcats and the Bears are capable of sweeping their schedule’s remainder. The biggest obstacle for Baylor now is restructuring its offensive line, which is now without starting right tackle Troy Baker (torn ACL) and right guard Desmine Hilliard (wrist surgery) for the rest of the season.
The Big 12 may need a little help to make the playoff, but if one of the league’s top four teams gets it done the rest of the way, odds are good that the help will be there. A one-loss Big 12 champion is going to be a very strong playoff candidate, especially when there are only three undefeated Power 5 teams remaining and two of them–Mississippi State and Ole Miss–play each other on Nov. 29. By that day, there might not be ANY undefeated teams left and one-loss teams might be dwindling, too.
Oklahoma is a very average team. The Sooners breezed through their nonconference slate and looked dominant against Tennessee before discovering breakout talent Samaje Perine in a road win at West Virginia. After that win, Bob Stoops’ team had a case as the nation’s No. 1 team. Since then? OU got outplayed by TCU, got way, way outplayed by Texas and somehow won and made a ton of mistakes to lose at home to Kansas State. The Sooners barely look like a top 25 team in the last month. The Sooners were sixth in the Big 12 in yards per play this month before today’s game, and eighth in defensive yards per play in that span. Saturday, they undid themselves with poor kicking, a pick six and an interception in the end zone on a trick play that cost them points. The usually reliable Michael Hunnicutt missed two kicks inside 40 yards on Saturday, including a go-ahead 19-yard (!!!) kick in the final minutes and had an extra point blocked that proved the difference in the game. OU’s offensive line let Travis Britz break through for that blocked extra point, and OU got a great performance from Trevor Knight (26-32, 318 yards, 3 TD, INT) and still lost. OU’s schedule gets a bit easier the rest of the way with Iowa State, Kansas and Texas Tech coming up, but the Sooners have already debunked any notion lingering from the preseason that they’re the Big 12’s best team.
The new Big 12 dark horse is West Virginia. The Mountaineers are now sitting in second place and have an offense capable of winning games across from a vastly improved defense. WVU shut down Baylor’s running game, which is the key to breaking down the Lamborghini that is the Bears’ offense. Baylor had just 95 yards on 42 carries, and much of that came late when WVU softened up its defense to prevent a big play with a 14-point lead. Up ahead: The Mountaineers travel to face an overrated Oklahoma State team and host TCU and Kansas State. WVU is capable of beating both new Big 12 favorites and faces each in Morgantown. Both games could conceivably be played in primetime, too. It’s never easy to win at Milan Puskar Stadium at night, especially the way this team is playing. New defensive coordinator Tony Gibson is proving himself this season and Clint Trickett to Kevin White has been the Big 12’s best pass-catch combo. All the talk will be about K-State and TCU this week, but you better keep an eye on Dana Holgorsen’s team.
Oklahoma State’s fall to Earth is only beginning. Thanks to West Virginia’s win over Baylor, Oklahoma State will probably face five ranked teams in its final six games. Saturday, the Cowboys were exposed on both sides of the field, but especially on offense. OSU floated into the top 15 thanks to a quality loss to Florida State and a soft schedule over its next five games. The Cowboys are basically a less-dramatic version of Texas Tech in 2013, which reached the top 10 thanks to a schedule-aided 7-0 start and lost its next five games.
TCU shook the Cowboys back into reality on Saturday. OSU is not a top 25 team and not one of the best five in the Big 12. Offensively, it doesn’t have enough consistent production. OSU has now been held without an offensive touchdown for six consecutive quarters and somehow didn’t complete a pass in the second half, despite trailing 28-9 at the break. Daxx Garman was 0-6 in the half with an interception. He completed a 57-yard pass to Brandon Sheperd in the first half, but without it, he was just 9-24 for 75 yards and two interceptions. He now has six touchdowns and seven interceptions in Big 12 play and has been sacked 11 times in four league games. He hasn’t progressed very much and hasn’t shown an ability to be consistently accurate and make good decisions on the intermediate passes that keep chains moving.
OSU’s defense is good enough to give its offense a chance, but anything better than 7-5 would be a huge surprise for the Pokes.
Ben Heeney deserves your attention. Heeney is making a run at the Troy Davis Annual Awesome Player on Awful Team Award. Kansas’ linebacker continues to produce and despite the losses piling up, is improving. He made 21 tackles and picked off a pass today. He’s been doing this for a couple years now, but he’s been one of the Big 12’s best defenders all season long and not enough people see it because he plays for a team that wins a Big 12 game about every other time Earth revolves around the Sun. He’s instinctive, fast and tough in run support. His unrelenting effort is impressive in the midst of so many losses.
That tribute was well done, Kansas State. Randall Evans played two seasons with cornerback David "Rat" Garrett, who was shot and killed last Friday in Cleveland, his hometown. Saturday, Evans suited up with Garrett’s old number, No. 27, and no name on the back. It was a sad story but good to see a program and friend that meant a lot to Garrett recognize him on the field.