Week 4 thoughts from around the Big 12
Time for five things I think I think from Week 4 in the Big 12.
The Big 12's national reputation is taking a big hit. After West Virginia's loss to Maryland on Saturday, the Big 12 dropped to 2-5 this season against AQ-conference opponents and BYU. You earn your reputation in nonconference play, and the Big 12 has struck out with opportunities this year against LSU, BYU and Ole Miss. Iowa State and Kansas State suffered a pair of losses to FCS teams, and West Virginia's indignity was only the latest blow for the Big 12 this season. The league's eight losses in nonconference play this year are already more than it suffered in 2011 and 2012 combined, and any talk of challenging as college football's best conference is laughable at this point. The league's 19-8 mark in nonconference play is the worst of the five major conferences, including the Big Ten's 35-10 mark.
Texas can breathe easier, but it shouldn't get too comfortable. The pressure was enormous for the Longhorns on Saturday, but they relieved some of it (a bit for themselves and even more for coach Mack Brown) with a solid 31-21 win over a competent K-State team. It's huge for Texas mentally, and you saw some of that reaction during and after the win. The emotion—absent from lopsided losses the last two weeks—showed up in Austin. Now, Texas moves to 2-2 and 1-0 in Big 12 play before it goes on the road to face a struggling Iowa State team on Oct. 3. The Longhorns' looked improved in the running game and Case McCoy filled in admirably for David Ash. Still, Ash's second head injury in three weeks and an injury to Jordan Hicks' ankle could be big concerns. Texas is likely to reach 3-2, but all they proved on Saturday was an ability to beat an average team. It's going to get much, much harder and Texas has yet to prove it can beat anyone close to the top 25. If the Longhorns are going to win the Big 12 or be the serious title threat as Brown and Co. insists they are, they'll have to go through a few top 25 squads to make that happen. Texas took a step forward on Saturday, but consider me skeptical still that this team can be a real factor in the league title race. Let's talk again the afternoon of Oct. 12, after the Longhorns meet Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl.
West Virginia has a serious problem. A bunch of them, really. It's very close to panic button time in Morgantown. Saturday's 37-0 loss to Maryland will go down as one of the worst in program history. Coach Dana Holgorsen got this job because of his offensive expertise, but Saturday was the first shutout ever for an FBS team with Holgorsen on the coaching staff. His offense completed exactly one pass on 22 attempts to a true wide receiver, but managed to complete two passes to Maryland defenders. WVU had beaten the Terrapins seven consecutive times (five of those were double-digit wins), but the biggest concern for me was the seeming lack of effort and execution in the entire second half for West Virginia. It seemed they were content to pack up and go home after falling behind 30-0 in the first half. Most importantly, WVU fell to a disappointing 2-2. Assessing his offense, Holgorsen said "We're as inept as we can possibly be." He's not kidding. He stuck with Ford Childress and reiterated that Childress would be the QB moving forward, but the redshirt freshman completed half of his 22 passes and averaged 2.6 yards per attempt. Does that sound like a Holgorsen offense to you? The Mountaineers' defense turned in a respectable game, but if the offense doesn't pick it up, WVU can forget any talk about a bowl game.
Baylor's offense ought to be illegal. A few numbers to chew on after another absurd outing from the Bears, who could have scored a lot more than 70 in Saturday's win over Louisiana-Monroe: Baylor's now averaging 69.67 points in its first three games and at the end of the first quarter, were averaging well over two points per play. Just 17 of Baylor's 209 points this year have come in the fourth quarter, including zero this week. The Bears are averaging 9.8 yards per play so far this season.
After a school record 35 points in the first quarter, the Bears had scored at least 28 points in 5-of-9 quarters. Two defensive touchdowns aided Baylor on Saturday, but that is an eye-popping number. I want to see what Baylor's offense (and defense really) does when it faces athletes of comparable quality, but the Bears are beating cupcakes at a rate we're not seeing anywhere else in the Big 12 and with a consistency no other team in the country has equaled.
Kansas took a big step on Saturday. I really don't care that it was Louisiana Tech and the 1-3 Bulldogs are barely reminiscent of last year's nine-win team that took Texas A&M down to the wire. This is all mental for Kansas. The Jayhawks had lost seven consecutive games decided by one possession dating back to the 2011 season and last year, let close games against Texas Tech and Texas somehow slip through their fingers. The Jayhawks blew fourth-quarter leads against Rice in consecutive years. It was hard for the Jayhawks to play with any kind of confidence in those situations because the outcome had been unfavorable so many times with so many of the same players. A whole lot went wrong on Saturday, too, but Kansas fought back, caught a couple breaks deep in their own territory and made plays to win a game. It's been a long time since they've done that and won a close game. Those seven losses by single digits were dotted in the middle of what was a 22-game losing streak to FBS opponents. Kansas finally snapped it.