The Big 12 is starting to get down to brass tacks. Coming into this weekend, 3 teams were in the thick of the conference championship race, 2 teams were hot on their heels and the rest of the pack was trying to either secure bowl eligibility or try to build some confidence for next season.
The epic showdown in Norman between Oklahoma and Baylor that everyone circled on their calendar at the beginning of the season was this week but it was relegated to the 11am TV slot. The game that stole the show and landed in prime-time was the top-10 matchup of TCU and Kansas State. If anyone says that they predicted that would have happened at the beginning of the season, they are a sage among sages (or a dirty liar).
West Virginia also made the trek south to Austin trying to recover from their heart-breaking last second loss to TCU and Kansas and Iowa State duked it out for bragging rights of another sort.
West Virginia (-4.5) 16 @ Texas 33
Texas has been steadily improving during the season and have tried to bring some consistency to their up and down performances in the past few games. The Horns built on their strong showing against Tech last week and were in form against West Virginia, soundly defeating the Mountaineers in Austin. Texas also fanned the flickering flame of bowl hope with the upset win. Now the Horns' game against Oklahoma State game in Stillwater next week will have a bowl berth on the line with both teams sitting at 5 wins.
The Horns were riding a slim 7-3 lead at the end of the 1st quarter but opened things up in the 2nd on two Johnathan Gray touchdowns and a Nick Rose field goal. The score stayed at 24-3 throughout the 3rd quarter, but West Virginia was able to whittle it down in the 4th with a Dreamius Smith touchdown. After a safety by Texas that put the Horns up 26-10, West Virginia scored again on a 3-yard run to the end zone by Wendell Smallwood, making things mildly interesting with over 6 minutes to play in the game. The ‘Eers tactically went for two down by 10 but didn't get it preserving a 26-16 Texas lead. Gray put the game out of reach 3 minutes later with his 15-yard TD scamper and the celebration was on in Austin.
Johnathan Gray was the man of the match running for 101 yards on 10 carries and notching 3 touchdowns along the way. Dreamius Smith also went for 100 on the ground for the Eers and Kevin White added 132 in through the air. Quandre Diggs was covering White most of the day and while giving up yardage, did a reasonable job of not letting him rack up big plays or score any points. Diggs also picked off a pass. Cedric Reed also put in an outstanding performance on the defensive side of the ball for the Longhorns recording 12 tackles, 3 sacks, and a forced fumble. One of the sacks also resulted in a safety. The man was unblockable and almost single-handedly stuffed the West Virginia running game.
It was Texas's first win at home against a ranked opponent in 5 seasons. With the upset victory the Longhorns now have a legitimate shot at a bowl game this season and are gathering momentum for their stretch run. For West Virginia it was a flat performance after their heartbreaking last-second loss to TCU last week in Morgantown. The Horns were more physical, took control of the game and simply outplayed the Eers.
Iowa State (-5.5) 14 @ Kansas 34
This was the battle to determine who climbed out of the Big 12 cellar and unfortunately for Iowa State, they didn't even get a foot on the ladder. Kansas vacated the subterranean lodging by taking control of the game early and not looking back. Midway through the 2nd quarter the Jayhawks had a 24-0 lead on the Cyclones and never let them get within 10 the rest of the game. Interim coach Clint Bowen achieved something in 5 games that Turner Gill and Charlie Weis accomplished over multiple seasons, which was to win one conference game. For a coach looking to change his interim status into permanent, this victory could be a big boost to his campaign. In fact, the athletic department might already be printing up business cards.
Kansas' primary woes this season have been on the offensive side of the ball and against a respectable Iowa State defense, those could have easily continued. Kansas bucked the trend though and put up 514 yards of offense. Corey Avery and Tony Pierson both went over 100 yards on the ground and Michael Cummings threw for 278 yards and touchdown for the Jayhawks. Grant Rohach got the start for Iowa State at QB and threw for 275 yards 2 TDs and an interception. Rohach filled in for Sam Richardson who injured a shoulder last week against Oklahoma. The normally decent Iowa State D never showed up, having one of their worst performances of the year against one of the statistically worst offenses in the conference.
Iowa State is clearly having a tough season and now is solidly at the bottom of the Big 12 pack. They will take up residence in the cellar that was recently vacated by Kansas and will be living there until next season. The loss to clearly warms up the seat of Paul Rhoads but Iowa State fans need to remember the recent run of 3 straight seasons of bowl play before they get too rash with their head coach. Rhoads will most likely get another season to get things turned around, but turn things around he must if he wants to stay a head coach.
Kansas State 20 @ TCU (-5) 41
Trevone Boykin is the Big 12's most improved player. By far. After having a lackluster outing against West Virginia in last week's last second win, Boykin lit up one of the top Big 12 defenses by scoring 4 total touchdowns. He threw for 219 yards and 1 TD but also ran for ran for 123 yards and 3 TDs. Boykin's wildest TD run came early in the 3rd when after a 19-yard scramble he somersaulted into the end zone over the hit of a K State defender. I am sure that the TCU fan's hearts skipped a beat seeing their quarter back spinning like a rag doll, but he hopped up uninjured and in a celebratory mood. Even at 123 yards, Boykin was not the leading rusher for the Frogs. That honor went to Aaron Green with 171. Green was filling in for an injured BJ Catalon and had a whale of a game including a weaving 65-yard touchdown in the 3rd quarter to put the game out of reach.
Although only down 17-7 at half time, the Snydercats weren't really in this game. Their lone score in the first half was after a beautiful touch pass from Jake Waters to Tyler Lockett that covered 70 yards. The offense was largely ineffectual in the first half and other than the 70-yard TD pass play, the Snydercats had 5 drives that ended in 3-and-outs and only an additional 55 total yards.
Even in the loss, Lockett caught passes for 196 yards and with the monster game became the all-time leading receiver at K Stat. He surpassed his father's record that had stood since 1993-1996. The senior Lockett's record was 3,032 yards and junior is now at 3,073 and counting.
With the big win TCU strengthened its claim on the Big 12's top ranking in the CFP poll with another resume-building, top-10 victory, but the head to head loss to Baylor is still looming in the background. The Snydercats are now halfway through their top tier road trips winning at Oklahoma and losing to TCU. They still have to visit Morgantown and Waco and win both to keep their Big 12 championship hopes alive.
Sunday Morning Quarterback
After a huge weekend in the Big 12, 3 teams sit atop the conference standings with Baylor, K State and TCU all at 5-1. The next 4 teams (Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) all have 3 losses and are effectively out of the championship race but still have bowl aspirations at stake.
Baylor helped itself out immensely with a dominant performance against OU, winning in Norman for the first time in program history. The Bears are now solidly back in the CFP discussion and if they take care of business for the rest of the season will put the CFP committee in the disadvantageous position. The Bears have been clearly disrespected by the committee for their weak out of conference record but do have a head to head advantage over CFP darling TCU. If TCU also takes care of business, the Committee will have to weigh the head to head advantage held by Baylor over the non-conference schedule advantage held by TCU. If that plays out TCU and Baylor will both be 11-1 and co-champions of the Big 12. Both will have a conference road loss on their record to a ranked team and Baylor will hold the bowl placement tiebreaker with the head to head win. I certainly would not want to be sitting in the conference room in Dallas with 11 other committee members trying make that decision.
There is still a lot of football left to be played and both teams need to take care of business for it to matter. Both teams are taking a huge amount of confidence into their stretch runs though with their biggest tests behind them. TCU still has to take on a surging Texas team in Austin and the Bears close the season with K State in Waco. Both will be favored in these matches, but they will be tough tests, particularly the conference closer in Waco. Kansas State will fight to the end and still can claim a share of the Big-12 title if they win out.
The Bears now have a week off to rest and recover before taking on Oklahoma State. TCU starts a two-week road trip to Lawrence and Austin to take on the Jayhawks and Horns. K State visits Morgantown next week and will take on a smarting Mountaineer squad coming off a loss at the hands of Texas. Buckle your seat belts.
Go Bears, 8-1...