- David Ubben, College Football
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Here's what I'm watching for in the Big 12 this week:
1. Welcome back -- your dreams were your ticket out. West Virginia's offense stumbled in big losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State and had a bye week to sit in the corner of the classroom and think about what it just did. Or something like that. WVU is back and plays an underrated but beat-up TCU defense. Can Geno Smith & Co. finally get back on track? It'll be the difference between 7-5 or 6-6 and 10-2 or 9-3.
2. You wouldn't like them when they're angry. Oklahoma has never lost consecutive conference games under Bob Stoops. Notre Dame's not a conference game, of course, but it might as well be. Point is, late in the season the Sooners don't take too well to losing consecutive games. Iowa State hosts an angry bunch of Sooners. The last time OU was coming off a loss, it destroyed a pretty good Texas Tech team on the road back in September.
3. Get a push, or end up on your tush. If the Cowboys can't slow down Kansas State's rushing attack on some level, it's going to be an ugly, ugly game. OSU might have to do it without its best tackle, too. Calvin Barnett was arrested for driving with a suspended license -- the third time that has happened.
4. Are the kinfolk OK? Gary Patterson sounds like he thinks he'll have quarterback Trevone Boykin this week against West Virginia. Boykin's a speedy guy who uses his legs a lot. With a knee injury, will that affect TCU's game plan? If Boykin's sitting in the pocket all day, that certainly will have an impact on his effectiveness.
5. Back to the start. Texas Tech's defense gave up scores on seven consecutive drives last week, and K-State scored 55 points. TCU scored 53 in triple overtime the week before. The Tech defense has taken some lumps over the past couple of weeks. It gets a struggling Texas offense this week. Can Texas Tech return to its early-season ways on defense?
6. Losing is the hardest part. Kansas State leads the Big 12 in scoring offense and defense, but the defense lost a big piece in linebacker Tre Walker last week. He may be out awhile. Arthur Brown gets all the publicity, but Walker was a fantastic player, too. How badly will he be missed this week against Oklahoma State?
7. If you don't rush, they won't hurry. Texas didn't have Jackson Jeffcoat last week after he suffered a season-ending pectoral injury, but Kansas isn't exactly a test for your pass rush. The Jayhawks threw nine passes last week against Texas. Just a hunch: Texas Tech will throw more than that this week -- in the first quarter. How will Longhorns defensive end Reggie Wilson handle a heavier load, and will Tech's line be able to slow Alex Okafor this week?
8. Time for a Sims 5 release party. James Sims has rushed for 100 yards in four consecutive games, and I'll go ahead and predict he rolls over Baylor for a fifth this week. However, can Baylor's defense show some fight? The Bears are ninth in the Big 12 in rush defense.
9. West Virginia learned this the hard way, Baylor. When WVU lost Stedman Bailey, defenses were able to slow down Tavon Austin. With Tevin Reese banged up a little bit, will the same happen to Terrance Williams? I'm betting no, and that Kansas doesn't have the athletes in the secondary to make that happen, but it'll be interesting to see how KU tries to cover Reese, and if Reese is still effective after suffering a knee injury last week. He's expected to play.
10. Two in a row is the hard part. Steele Jantz blew up one of the Big 12's worst defenses last week, throwing for almost 400 yards and five touchdowns against Baylor. This week, he faces one of the best, and probably the league's best secondary in Oklahoma, which has surrendered only three passing touchdowns all season. Can Jantz keep it rolling for a second consecutive week?
1dMax Olson and Jake Trotter