The Pregame Huddle: Week 3

Will Texas Tech play spoiler this season?

John Rieger/John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Texas’ night against BYU was mostly a disaster, but one of the most important pieces of the Longhorns’ puzzle looked as good as anyone could expect. 

Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes completed his first eight passes, which were largely simple reads and reasonable throws to expect from a first-time starter. Specifically, you saw lots of quick slants that worked well. It was all in hopes of getting Swoopes comfortable and it worked. He looked like a natural. 

"He did run the ball a lot in high school, but when we recruited him, we saw him as a guy who would be a passer first at the college level," one Big 12 offensive assistant told Fox Sports Southwest. "He’s got all the arm strength you could want." 

Swoopes is a 250-pound athlete with 4.6 or 4.7 speed. He’s more of a lumberer who can earn hard yards and be hard to bring down than a guy who’s going to elude a lot of tackles and break big plays with his leg. The defensive athletes he’s going to encounter at the college level will be very different than the ones he ran past, around and through at the 2A level in Texas. 

I have zero doubt that Swoopes’ reputation as a runner first is also aided by an obvious, physical trait he shares with many quarterbacks who have earned the dual-threat tag. 

Swoopes’ accuracy was always his issue in high school–he finished his high school career at Whitewright with a sub-.500 completion percentage. 

Texas appears to have fixed some of those issues, and if Ash is out for an extended period of time, watching him grow should be one source of excitement and optimism for Longhorns fans. He can run, but Swoopes is a passer, and as the season progresses, that will become more and more clear. 

TEXAS TECH’S CEILING

When it comes to Texas Tech sabotaging its own upside, what else is there to say? 

Through two games, Texas Tech has been penalized 25 times, including 10 in Saturday’s comeback win against UTEP. Only one team in college football has drawn more flags, and only one Big 12 team (Baylor, with 21) has more than 13 penalties this season. 

You couldn’t help but laugh when, in the course of just a few minutes, Tech drew flags for a sideline infraction and something called "illegal numbering." 

"One of those was sideline, one was on the number, one was on our quarterback, one was on a kicker when he’s making game saving tackles. A couple of those you can live with and things that are easily fixable, so we’re getting better," Kingsbury said this week. It was a big emphasis last week. If we can cut that number in half again, you’re right where you want to be." 

Fair point. 

Since Kingsbury arrived, he’s focused on fixing both areas. It hasn’t happened. Putting that much of an investment in doing so and failing in both areas has to be something of a concern, but the bigger deal is those are two gigantic stats that will keep Tech from doing what Kingsbury was hired to do: Take the program to the next level and make the jump we’ve seen Baylor and Oklahoma State take in the last half decade. 

Despite two ugly wins to begin the season, I still expect Tech to improve enough to make a bowl, but winning a Big 12 title will be a laughable aspiration until both penalties and turnover margin see significant improvement.

MORE AMBITIOUS SCHEDULING ON THE WAY?

I hope you caught my column on Tuesday taking a closer look at the Big 12’s ambitious, historic day of nonconference play set for Saturday. 

You can’t point to any backdoor league mandate, but it’s hard not to point to the playoff for the Big 12’s recent uptick in scheduling. It’s great to see, too. 

Nobody I’ve ever talked to in the league has sensed any momentum toward a ban on scheduling FCS games (sadly) like the Big Ten’s ADs agreed to in 2013, and I doubt any official scheduling alliances form like the long-rumored partnering between the Big 12 and ACC. Still, considering the ACC and SEC’s recent mandate on scheduling a Power 5 conference team, we’ll see many more years of scheduling like this one than weak seasons like 2012 and 2013, when the conference played a combined 11 games against Power 5 competition. Ten of the Big 12’s 30 nonconference games in 2014 are against Power 5 opponents and Baylor is the only team in the league without one on its schedule. 

Considering the death of major out-of-conference rivalries, that’s a pretty decent number, and a necessary one considering the Big 12’s lack of a title game. It has to challenge itself in nonconference play for the committee to respect its round-robin schedule. 

DON’T GET CAUGHT BALL-WATCHING

Most college football fans (myself sadly included, much of the time) are a legion of ball watchers. It’s natural, and only when I go back and watch a game or play can you see more develop outside of who’s got the ball and who’s chasing him. 

Still, if you want to see a measuring stick on Texas’ ability to hang with UCLA, it won’t be around the ball. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if BYU ends up being a better team than UCLA come December, and if Texas is going to spring the upset, it’s going to do it on the defensive line of scrimmage. 

The Longhorns may be completely dominant there. Through two games, they have 15 tackles for loss, good for 15th-most nationally. That’s pretty good considering Texas has played better competition than most teams in college football through two weeks. 

UCLA, meanwhile, has allowed 21 tackles for loss through two games against Virginia and Memphis. 

If Texas is consistently putting UCLA behind the chains with negative plays, it’ll be a close game late that Texas can win. That’s going to happen with Texas’ talent up front, so keep an eye on Cedric Reed, Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson going up against UCLA’s inexperienced offensive line that’s allowed Brett Hundley to take a beating thus far in 2014. 

BIG 12 TRANSFER QBs MAKING IMPACT

Michael Brewer, Wes Lunt and Daniel Sams left their homes in the Big 12 as nomads in search of college football’s most valuable resource: playing time. They’ve found it and made big impacts last week. 

Virginia Tech’s Brewer walked into The Horseshoe on Saturday night and completed 23-of-36 passes for 199 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions to help the Hokies beat No. 8 Ohio State, 35-21.

Lunt won the job at Illinois this offseason and dropped 456 yards and three scores (with a pick) in a 42-34 win over Western Kentucky.  

Nebraska narrowly escaped an embarrassing upset at home to McNeese State, and Kansas State transfer Sams was a big reason why. He had a quiet first half, but helped spur a fourth-quarter rally with a couple big runs on the way to a team-high 74 yards on just 10 carries. 

Like at K-State, Sams lost the starting quarterback job (this time to Tyler Bolfing), but it’s clear he’ll be a big part of what they do this year. Monday, K-State coach Bill Snyder said he still keeps up with Sams via text and caught wind of his big day on Saturday. 

Like most Big 12 fans, I’m not surprised that any of these three are having success. Lunt will probably end up being the best of the three, but all three programs were sad to see each of these guys go. Saturday, they showed why. 

CRUNCHING NUMBERS

• Don’t look now, but Baylor receiver KD Cannon has one more play longer than 30 yards (5) and one more play longer than 40 yards (4) than any player in college football. His 223 yards on Saturday were more than all but two Big 12 receivers have all season.

• On that note, guess who’s leading the Big 12 in passer rating (195.85) and is at sixth nationally? None other than Baylor’s Seth Russell. The Bears’ competition hasn’t been strong, but in the wake of Bryce Petty’s back injury, Art Briles is further cementing his status as the Big 12’s best QB coach.

• I’ve heard all week how sloppy Texas Tech’s offense was last week and how much 2-0 feels like 0-2, but thus far, the Red Raiders lead the Big 12 in offensive yards per play, at 7.7. Considering how poorly Davis Webb played on Saturday night, that’s an encouraging number.

• As for bad trends, well, Iowa State’s front seven still isn’t getting it done. The Cyclones have played a tough couple of games, but they’re giving up 6.29 yards per carry and eight touchdowns, two more than any Big 12 team. 

• It doesn’t show up in the margin, but Texas games are going to be entertaining this year. The Longhorns are 116th nationally with six turnovers, but are ninth nationally in takeaways, with six. With youth on offense and a big-hitting, talented defense, I don’t expect either number to level out this year.

WEEKLY POWER RANKINGS

In honor of Shake Shack’s arrival on South Lamar in Austin, it’s time to handicap the fast food/casual burger race. The only rules for inclusion are 1) You have to have more than four locations and 2) I have to have eaten one.