Julian Wilson wanted to play cornerback and Oklahoma needed a cornerback to fill the void left by two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin. Even though the scenario was ideal, there was no guarantee Wilson would make a smooth transition after starting at nickelback for the Sooners a year ago.
So far, so good.
Having the experienced Wilson has helped OU’s defense go to a different level this fall. Without the senior, the Sooners would be counting on inexperienced talent at the position with true freshman Jordan Thomas listed as Wilson’s backup.
“It helps, it takes some of the pressure off some of our younger players,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “We have to have solid plays at the corner and not give up plays.”
Stoops doesn’t constantly have to worry about protecting Wilson on the outside like he would a less experienced player, thus freeing up Eric Striker, Geneo Grissom and the rest of OU’s dynamic front seven to create havoc in opposing backfields.
“You have a guy that’s played,” Stoops said of the peace of mind Wilson brings to the table. “It’s a new position, it’s not as comfortable as he would like but every game he gains more valuable experience as the season goes on and we’ll see him play more productively like he did in the Tennessee game.”
Wilson’s playing experience did not come at the cornerback position but he was well-prepared to slide right into the spot. He’s learned from Jamell Fleming, Demontre Hurst and Aaron Colvin -- three former Sooners cornerbacks currently on NFL rosters -- during his time in Norman, Oklahoma.
“[I’m] taking what they taught me and trying to emphasize it in my game,” Wilson said.
Most importantly, he’s finally migrated to the spot he has wanted to call home since the first time he stepped on campus. He had to put his own desires on the sidelines during his first four years in the program, lining up at nickelback, cornerback and safety at various times during his career.
“I would always tell him, whatever it takes to get on the field, you do,” said Wilson’s father Darrell McCown, who played football at Oklahoma State in the early 90s. “Whatever it takes, be willing to do that.”
With Colvin NFL-bound, Wilson knew who should fill that spot.
“I wanted to play corner when I first got here but I had great guys in front of me,” he said.
Said McCowan: “His first love has always been corner, he’d say 'Yeah [I’ll play other positions]' but I could tell in his heart he always wanted that corner position.”
Now, not only has Wilson solidified the position for a defense that leads the Big 12 in opponent Adjusted QBR (18.4), he’s showing his unique physical gifts as a 6-foot-2, 201-pound defensive back with experience covering slot receivers, outside receivers and blitzing the quarterback combining with terrific speed.
“It’s given him the opportunity to show his versatility,” McCowan said.
Why TCU will keep it close: The Horned Frogs are well-rested and hardly tested, and they're going to make a statement. They're going to score enough points to remind us that this OU team isn't invincible, and TCU's defensive line is stout enough to make Sooners QB Trevor Knight sweat. But OU escapes in a survive-and-advance game and adds another credible win to its playoff résumé. Oklahoma 35, TCU 31 -- Max Olson
Why Baylor will win: Too many things have to go perfectly for Texas to win this game, and not enough will. Baylor's still-underappreciated defense will make the Longhorns one-dimensional by taking away the run and will trick QB Tyrone Swoopes into making the mistakes he's avoided so far. Like last year, Baylor's offensive firepower will break through to win the second half. Baylor 38, Texas 20 -- Max Olson
Why Kansas State will win: The Wildcats rarely beat themselves, and Texas Tech has a bad habit of being its own worst enemy. That’s not a good recipe for an upset, especially in Manhattan, Kansas. And K-State WR Tyler Lockett appears to be returning to his playmaking ways. It could be a tough afternoon for the Red Raiders. Kansas State 35, Texas Tech 21 -- Brandon Chatmon
OTHER UNANIMOUS PICKS
Oklahoma State over Iowa State, 49-20: Which Cowboys receiver will break out in this game? With Daxx Garman under center for OSU, its offense has regained the explosiveness we’ve become accustomed to. Winning the turnover battle could be Iowa State’s only hope. -- Chatmon
West Virginia over Kansas, 45-6: West Virginia will be out for revenge after last season’s debacle in Lawrence. The Mountaineers look like the most improved team in the league, while Kansas looks destined for another trip to the cellar. -- Trotter
- The confidence of Kansas QB Montell Cozart remains high, according to the Lawrence Journal-World Matt Tait, despite throwing four interceptions in a loss that proved to be the final straw in the firing of coach Charlie Weis. The reason for the confidence? A meeting with interim coach Clint Bowen. "He told me I was still the guy, they believe in me, everyone's still rallying around me,” Cozart said. “I've never heard anything like that from the head coach." That reflects well on Bowen, and not so well on Weis. We'll find out if that makes any difference in Cozart's performance on Saturday. In other news, Jayhawk officials are concerned about a drone that flew over Memorial Stadium before the Kansas-Texas game.
- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops called the Baker Mayfield situation unfair. Mayfield, who transferred in from Texas Tech during the offseason, had his NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility denied, even though he was a walk-on with the Red Raiders. "I understand when a guy's on scholarship, you've invested something in him and that changes your numbers and depth, so I get it," Stoops said. "But when a guy isn't, he oughta be able to do what he chooses to do." Hopefully the Mayfield saga prompts the NCAA to revise this misguided bylaw in its transfer rules.
- ESPN college football analyst Trevor Matich said TCU could be this year's Auburn. “TCU may well turn out to be the Auburn of this season,” Matich said. “Remember, Auburn came out of nowhere last year to go to the national championship game and TCU right now is a team with a defense that doesn't get enough credit nationally.” No doubt, the TCU defense appears to be formidable again. But is the offense good enough for the Horned Frogs to emerge into a conference title contender and beyond? We'll find out Saturday when TCU faces Oklahoma.
- Arguably the biggest question for Kansas State coming into the season was at running back, where the Wildcats were replacing three-year starter John Hubert. Well, the Topeka Capital-Journal's John Zetmeir writes that Charles Jones has answered the call. Jones leads the Big 12 with eight rushing touchdowns, and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. With Jones running with conviction, this K-State offense has no glaring weaknesses heading into the heart of Big 12 play.
- Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford joked to reporters that he plans to rush two and drop nine to try and stop Baylor QB Bryce Petty. Obviously, that won't be Texas' defensive game plan. And just as obvious, that wouldn't work against the Bears, whose ground game exploded with six rushing touchdowns last weekend at Iowa State. Baylor is now second in the country with 18 rushing touchdowns, second only to run-first Arkansas. The ability to run and throw is what makes the Baylor offense so difficult to stop.
Baylor: Since defeating BCS No. 1 Kansas State at home on Nov. 17, 2012, Baylor's record of 19-2 is second-best in FBS behind Florida State (21-1). The Bears lead the nation in scoring offense, total offense, plays per game, first downs and yards per passing attempt during that 21-game stretch.
Iowa State: Tight end E.J. Bibbs' numbers seem way down, but they're relatively on pace with what he did last season. Bibbs has 11 receptions for 88 yards. and a TD today, and had 11 receptions for 105 yards and a TD through four games last season. Meniscus surgery during fall camp is the reason why the preseason All-Big 12 selection hasn't been a bigger factor. We should start seeing much more from him soon.
Kansas: One small reason for hope for new Kansas interim coach Clint Bowen: Of KU's 18 conference losses under Charlie Weis, the Jayhawks did hold a lead at some point in nine of those Big 12 games (including a 13-0 start vs. Oklahoma last season). But KU held a fourth-quarter lead in just one of those games, a 21-17 loss to Texas in 2012.
Kansas State: One thing K-State's defense is doing really well: Attacking the run game. The Wildcats are allowing 2.69 yards per carry this season, a rate that ranks 10th-best in FBS, and its total run defense (90.2 ypg) ranks 13th. Considering they faced an Auburn offense that's averaged 304.7 rushing yards in its other three games of 2014, that's pretty solid. Baylor and TCU are also in the top 10 for yards/rush defense.
Oklahoma: When the Sooners get close, they're getting the job done. Oklahoma has scored touchdowns on 100 percent of its goal-to-go situations this season and 79 percent of its trips to the red zone. Inside the red zone, Trevor Knight has turned the ball over just once (an interception vs. Louisiana Tech) and has taken one sack.
Oklahoma State: Through three games, Daxx Garman ranks No. 3 nationally in passing yards per completion at a whopping 18.96 yards. He's also ranked No. 7 in FBS in passing yards per attempt at 10.68. That's about as good a start as OSU could've asked for after losing J.W. Walsh.
TCU: The Horned Frogs outscored their non-conference opponents 73-7 in the first half this season. This team averaged 8.8 points per game in the first half last season but has scored 24 or more before halftime in all three of its games in 2014. None of those three foes were on Oklahoma's level, but it does appear TCU's new Air Raid is making this team better-equipped to put up points early.
Texas: The Longhorn defense has been stingy once opponents cross midfield. Its 3.38 yards per play allowed in those situations ranks No. 9 in FBS. Texas has nearly as many turnovers forced (six) as touchdowns allowed (seven) when opposing offenses have entered their territory.
Texas Tech: A few notes on the Red Raiders' problem with penalties: Tech has been flagged 150 times for 1,400 yards since the start of the 2013 season. No team has more penalty yards and only Baylor (154) has more penalties during that span. Texas Tech's 86 offensive penalties since Kliff Kingsbury took over is tied with Baylor for most in the country.
West Virginia: If the season ended today, WVU receiver Kevin White would have a legit case in the All-America discussion. He's the nation's second-leading receiver in yards per game (158.2) and ranks No. 3 in receptions per game (10.5). He's been so successful because he's caught 73.7 percent percent of passes thrown his way, a rate bested by only Alabama's Amari Cooper among wideouts with 500-plus receiving yards.
Baylor’s Bryce Petty has carried last season’s excellence into this season while West Virginia’s Clint Trickett and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight are among the conference’s most improved players. With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, here’s a closer look at the Adjusted QBR (0-100, with 50 being average) rankings for each starting quarterback in the league as conference play starts to heat up heading into October.
2. Clint Trickett, West Virginia: 82.5. The surprise of the early season, Trickett has held up his end of the bargain against the best competition any Big 12 quarterback has faced through four games. He leads the Big 12 in passing yards (1,600, 4th in FBS) and completion percentage (72 percent, 5th in FBS).
3. Trevor Knight, Oklahoma: 76.4. The sophomore has built upon his Allstate Sugar Bowl performance with the most consistent stretch of his young career. His 86.7 raw QBR on play-action plays is a terrific fit with the Sooners’ ground-and-pound approach.
4. Daxx Garman, Oklahoma State: 75.7. He’s not playing like a guy who seeing his first consistent action since 2009. Garman leads the Big 12 in raw QBR on third down plays (93.8) and against the blitz (99.3). His 18.96 yards per completion shows his willingness to look deep and trust the Cowboys’ receivers in one-on-one situations downfield.
5. Davis Webb, Texas Tech: 71.7. One of Webb’s strengths is his movement in the pocket. His 0.5 sack percentage ranks second in the Big 12 behind Petty as he’s been sacked once in 182 pass attempts. If he's unable to play against Kansas State, it will be interesting to see if freshman Patrick Mahomes can mimic his low sack total.
6. Trevone Boykin, TCU: 71.3. The Horned Frogs quarterback is third in the Big 12 in total offense at 347 yards per game. Boykin’s 0.8 interceptions per attempt is easily the most encouraging stat for TCU. He has one interception in 123 attempts through three games.
7. Jake Waters, Kansas State: 63.2. The senior has been solid in all areas while excelling with the ball tucked under his arm. He leads Big 12 quarterbacks with 215 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
8. Sam B. Richardson, Iowa State: 53.2. The Cyclones have had their problems this season but Richardson has been solid through four games. His completion percentage (68 percent) ranks second in the conference behind Trickett but there are plenty of areas for improvement for the Cyclones' signal-caller.
9. Tyrone Swoopes, Texas: 46.3. The sophomore is growing as a quarterback but still has a long way to go. His 33.2 raw QBR on third down is the worst in the Big 12 as UT has converted just 25 percent of his third-down throws into first downs, ranking last in the conference.
10. Montell Cozart, Kansas: 27.4. It feels like now or never for the sophomore who is talented but simply hasn’t gotten the job done. He’s the only quarterback in the conference who has thrown more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (5) and his 50.4 completion percentage is the Big 12’s worst.
There are six games on the college football schedule this weekend between ranked opponents, three of which are battles among contenders in the SEC West. All six games may have an impact on the College Football Playoff picture, but the non-SEC matchups this weekend may prove to be the most important.
It is too early to definitively eliminate any one-loss teams from playoff contention, and depending on how upsets shake out over the course of the season, several two-loss teams may have strong arguments for consideration as well at the end of the year. That said, several games this weekend feel like must-win matchups in the sense that the loser might have too high a mountain to climb if they fall. Notre Dame, Nebraska, Oklahoma and TCU each have fewer ranked future opponents than the SEC West contenders; Michigan State and Stanford are already saddled with a loss apiece and probably can't afford another one.
Based on our opponent-adjusted drive efficiency ratings, we compared each of these matchups with every FBS-vs.-FBS game played from 2004 to 2013 to identify team similarities and the likelihood of victory. Not surprisingly, these games project to be closely contended, and the outcome of each may come down to a few key efficiency measures.
Overall FEI win likelihood: Stanford (58.3 percent)
- Texas players didn't hesitate to speak their minds about Baylor but the Bears' players refused to bite when asked about the comments of John Harris and Quandre Diggs on Monday, reports John Werner of the Waco Tribune. I'm sure the Bears had conversations about not feeding into the comments but somehow I think we will be looking at a different story on Saturday. I'd be shocked if the Bears are as quiet on Saturday as they were this week, there should be plenty of trash talk in Austin, Texas, this weekend. On the field and in the stands.
- Can Iowa State mimic Baylor? Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune thinks the Cyclones can follow BU's blueprint. It makes sense on a bunch of different levels since the Bears were once cemented on the bottom of the Big 12 standings. But BU has a much bigger talent base to tap into, even though they have to hold off nationwide suitors for the top players in their state. The Cyclones just don't have the pool of talent to recruit from like Baylor does, so evaluation and finding hidden gems becomes even more important in Ames, Iowa. That said, ISU does have plenty of assets to offer so a Baylor-like rise is not impossible, it would just have to be done differently.
- The poor quarterback play at Kansas is now Clint Bowen's problem, writes Tom Keegan of the Lawrence Journal-World. Montell Cozart has been bad early this season and the fact the Jayhawks haven't turned to Michael Cummings speaks volumes about the state of the quarterback position in Lawrence. Cozart looked like the quarterback of the future but if he doesn't turn things around immediately the future may never come.
- This was a classy move from Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs. He took the time to write a letter to the editor at Kansas State's student newspaper to thank K-State and its fans for the hospitality when the Tigers visited Manhattan, Kansas, on Sept. 18.
- Oklahoma confirmed the NCAA's denial of Baker Mayfield's eligibility on Tuesday, reports Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World. Mayfield will be allowed to be placed on scholarship. Of all the uncertainty surrounding the Sooners program in the offseason, Mayfield's ineligibility could be the biggest blow. Quarterback Trevor Knight has remained healthy through four games but if anything happens to Knight, OU could be forced to turn to Blake Bell under center or rely on a redshirt freshman Cody Thomas. Bell has moved to tight end and Thomas has only played one game in his career. If Mayfield had been cleared to play, it would have brought peace of mind to the program.
On to the mailbag:
Brandon Chatmon: I really like what Charles Jones is bringing to the table for the Wildcats. He’s not John Hubert, but he has the chance to be a very productive back and has proven his ability to find the end zone with eight touchdowns in four games. To answer your second question, I think an 11-1 K-State should get in over most one-loss Big Ten champions or most one-loss SEC West runners-up. Obviously a lot of that has to do with who those losses came against, but the Wildcats would have a strong case with road wins at Baylor and Oklahoma. Now, will they get in? That’s another question entirely and we don’t have a history to look back upon to know how the College Football Playoff committee will handle these situations.
Christian in Missoula, Montana, writes: Do you have week 8 circled on your calendars for a little more clarity in the Big 12 title race? The top six teams are on the field against one another. Also, even as an Oklahoma State grad I'm left wondering why so much love for WVU and so little for TCU? I personally would put TCU's wins over WVU losses, but who cares, right? We'll know what TCU has by next Saturday.
Chatmon: I think every week is a big week. We sometimes overlook the week ahead of us in anticipation of later matchups then something unexpected happens. Week 8 will be a big week but we could have some clarity before then. TCU hasn’t really been tested but can take care of business against the Sooners and plenty of love will be headed their way.
Matt in Fort Worth writes: The Playoff Committee had already publicly stated that they will not be looking at margin of victory. Now Barry Alvarez says he has been looking at just that (normalized for schedule strength). And, he made the statement just in time for some teams viewed as having little shot to make the playoffs to whip up on their final weak out-of-conference foe. This doesn't seem right. What do you think?
Chatmon: That’s why they have a playoff committee. Everyone has their own bias, expectations, etc., but I’m confident the committee will do a solid job. And I doubt any team would be running up the score based on what one committee member says. I can’t imagine winning by 44 instead of 24 over a weak opponent is going to be a deciding factor.
Louie in Pace, Florida, writes: What do you think WVU's chances are of going 9-3 this year? They played two of the top four teams in the country and pretty much competed with both of them. The toughest game left on their schedule are at home with the exception of Tech and Texas being on the road. If not 9-3 where do you think they will finish?
Chatmon: I’m not ready to lock them in at 9-3 but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mountaineers finish with 9 or 10 wins with a bowl game. I’d add Oklahoma State to your list of tough road games making WVU’s tough stretch of Baylor, at OSU, TCU, at Texas the main reason I’m looking at 7 or 8 wins for WVU as of right now.
Chatmon: I agree John, but we live in a "win now" world. Strong should get a pass this season as he tries to lay a quality foundation but if we don’t see clear signs of progress early next year, that’s when I would understand the heat starting to turn up under his seat.
Nicholas in Houston writes: OSU has a brutal stretch in the back half of the season. Apart from OU and Baylor, which of our remaining opponents should scare us the most? As of this moment, my vote is WVU.
Chatmon: I’d also keep on eye on the Pokes visit to TCU on Oct. 18. The Horned Frogs will play good defense and will be the best defense Daxx Garman has faced since he took over as OSU starting signal-caller. How will he respond?
Taylor Cook in Houston writes: After watching OK State vs. Texas Tech play with alternate uniforms on Thursday I wonder what happens first with a Bill Snyder-coached team: A CFB Playoff appearance or a game with alternate KSU uniforms? Even some "iconic" teams have gone with slight tweaks to the uniform or helmet, but K-State has been the same for a long time.
Chatmon: That’s easy Taylor, a College Football Playoff berth.
Mike in Goldsby, Oklahoma, writes: You said, "If the polls affect the College Football Playoff committee then we have bigger problems". Do you think there's any chance of the opposite happening? The CFP committee rankings affecting the polls?
Chatmon: I would hope so. I expect the College Football Playoff committee to invest more time in their rankings than the average voter.
What is the key to Texas pulling off the upset over Baylor?
Brandon Chatmon: If Texas actually decides to walk the walk. The Longhorns players haven’t been bashful in sharing their thoughts on Baylor’s rise. UT hung with Baylor for a while a year ago before the Bears finally pulled away, but that Longhorns squad had rebounded after a horrible start to the season and entered the 2013 meeting with some confidence. That’s not the scenario this time around. Are the Longhorns are trying to talk themselves into believing they can win?
Max Olson: Charlie Strong is the kind of coach who'll tell you Texas just needs to score one more point than Baylor. Well, how many points is that going to take? His track record suggests Strong and his staff will draw up a game plan that gives Texas' defense a chance to slow down Bryce Petty and his infinite weapons. But Tyrone Swoopes and this slow-moving Longhorn offense must find easier ways to run the ball and score and, more important, they must answer whenever Baylor does strike. It's going to take resilience, but Texas can't win unless its offense rises to the challenge in a way we've yet to witness in 2014.
Jake Trotter: The only way Texas will have a chance is if it runs the ball. Swoopes isn’t Blake Bortles or even Clint Chelf, so the Longhorns aren’t going to be able to simply outscore the Bears. That means Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown will have to move the chains to keep Petty and Co. off the field. The Longhorns actually are talented enough defensively to create issues for the Baylor offense. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown has been a beast in the middle, and the back seven is creating turnovers. But they can hold the finger in the dam for only so long. Eventually, the Bears will hit Texas up for big plays. Which is why it’s imperative the Horns grind out some drives and limit Petty’s opportunities to gouge them.
What is the key to TCU pulling off the upset over Oklahoma?
Chatmon: Trevone Boykin. Nobody knows how Boykin will react against the chaos the Sooners defense will create nor do we know just how much Boykin has improved since last season. It could get ugly for the TCU signal-caller. Or he could be the biggest nightmare this Sooners defense will see all season. If he executes TCU’s new offense like a veteran quarterback, Boykin has the ability to stress a defense unlike any other quarterback in the Big 12 with his ability to run like a running back in the open field. A great game from Boykin could be the worst-case scenario for OU.
Olson: Brandon is right, it's Boykin and the way he responds to the pressure of this Oklahoma defense. But I'm curious about the other side of the ball, too: How will the Horned Frogs attack Trevor Knight, make him uncomfortable and force him to make difficult throws? Against Tennessee and West Virginia, Knight was efficient when passing against blitzes. TCU needs to get after him and throw off the timing of this offense. OU will take this game over if Knight gets off to a sharp start.
Trotter: The TCU offensive line has to hold up against Oklahoma’s swarming front seven. The Horned Frogs’ defense traditionally has fared well against the Sooners, but TCU has been unable to win in its two Big 12 meetings with the Sooners because of its inability to move the ball. The Horned Frogs opened last year’s game against Oklahoma with seven three-and-outs. TCU got dominated at the line of scrimmage and finished with only 44 yards rushing in that game. That didn’t cut it last year, and it won’t Saturday, either. Gary Patterson switched up his coordinators in the offseason to jump-start the offense. But it won’t amount to much if TCU gets obliterated up front again.
Under Bowen, will Kansas win another game?
Chatmon: Sure, why not? It only takes one team to slip up against the Jayhawks, and KU’s defense has actually been pretty good this season. But it has been overshadowed by the lackluster performance of its offense and sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart. The Jayhawks could find themselves hanging in a game thanks to their defense then getting one or two big plays to somehow pull out a win. I can’t say who should be on upset alert, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they pull off an win.
Olson: You would think that Texas Tech will have its house in order by the time KU plays in Lubbock on Oct. 18, though clearly at this point that's a team with some vulnerabilities. Realistically, though, Kansas' best chance comes at home against Iowa State on Nov. 8. And I think Bowen will treat the season finale at Kansas State like the Jayhawks' bowl game. That's going to be a throw-the-kitchen-sink game and a prime chance for Bowen to prove he deserves a shot at the job.
Trotter: I want to say yes, but look at the schedule and tell me who Kansas is going to beat? The Jayhawks have only three more home games. I don’t see Kansas being able to score against TCU on No. 15. I don’t see them being able to score with Oklahoma State on Oct. 11. That leaves Iowa State on Nov. 8. And if I had to pick that game today, I’d pick the Cyclones, who, by the way, slaughtered Kansas last year, 34-0. I think the Jayhawks will compete harder under Bown than they did under Charlie Weis. I’m just not sure this Kansas offense is competent enough for it to matter.
Both offenses have been dominant, too, with the Sooners running through opponents, and Baylor running past them.
But the next three games will be telling for both programs.
Beginning this weekend with challenging road tilts against a pair of tough defenses.
Oklahoma heads to Fort Worth for a showdown with TCU, which debuted in the Top 25 this week after a strong start to the season. Baylor travels south to Austin, where the Bears have won just once since 1991.
Next weekend, the Sooners have the Red River Showdown, which they lost as heavy favorites last season. Then, Oklahoma will have to bounce back quickly for Bill Snyder and a tenacious Kansas State defense, which will be coming off a bye with an extra week to prepare for the Sooners.
But Oklahoma and Baylor, especially their offenses, can set the tone for these key three-game stretches on Saturday.
The Sooners have struggled to move the ball on the Horned Frogs in the past, with TCU losing both games by a total of 10 points. Even without preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields, the Horned Frogs have been stifling on the defensive side yet again, allowing just a single touchdown in their last two games. TCU was especially impressive in a 30-7 win over Minnesota, which moved to 4-1 after stomping Michigan in Ann Arbor last weekend.
“TCU looks really, really good and has played really well to this point,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said Monday.
Oklahoma’s seasoned offensive line has overpowered opponents this season, but the Horned Frogs appear to be one of the few teams in the league capable of matching up with the Sooners in the trenches. Davion Pierson and Chucky Hunter form one of the best one-two punches at defensive tackle in the league, and defensive end James McFarland is coming off a three-sack performance in TCU’s 56-0 victory over SMU.
“They always have played great defense,” Stoops said.
This, however, could be the best overall team Gary Patterson has fielded since joining the Big 12. Patterson’s revamped hurry-up, no-huddle offense hasn’t been tested much yet, but has shown signs of improvement under new coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. Quarterback Trevone Boykin’s Adjusted QBR is up 30 points from last year, and behind a more sturdy offensive line, the Horned Frogs are third in the league at the moment in rushing. That has taken some of the pressure that has been on Patterson’s defense in the past.
“They’re doing a great job of route running and (Boykin) is throwing the football really well, accurately,” Stoops said. “You can tell he’s comfortable in the offense and is playing really well.”
With a new quarterback and a diminished line, Texas, meanwhile, has struggled offensively again this season. But the Longhorns have also been formidable defensively in their past two games.
Texas picked off Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart four times on the way to a 23-0 shutout. Two weeks before, the Longhorns hung tough behind their defense in a 20-17 loss to now eighth-ranked UCLA, which dropped off 62 points on Arizona State last week.
Baylor is rightfully a two-touchdown favorite to win in Austin. But the Longhorns still have the talent on the defensive side to surprise anyone, as Oklahoma found out last year as a two-touchdown favorite.
Defensive tackle Malcom Brown has been a menace on the inside. And the Texas defensive backs -- led by preseason All-Big 12 selection Quandre Diggs and Duke Thomas, who had two picks last weekend -- are better equipped than most Big 12 teams to deal with Baylor’s prolific array of wide receivers.
“They always play good defense, and this year is no exception,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “That’s always what you’ve seen from their staff and it’s something you expect.”
The Baylor and Oklahoma offenses have been exceptional so far. But their playoff mettle is about to be tested.
Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU and Kansas State all scored victories over the weekend, but Kansas seemed to be the big story, as the Jayhawks lost head coach Charlie Weis, who was fired after compiling a 6-22 record and earning only one win against a Power 5 school in three seasons.
What will this mean for recruiting? Currently, the Jayhawks have 13 commits in the 2015 class, and while the consensus is still committed, the idea of exploring other options is a definite. Find out more about Kansas and the rest of Big 12 recruiting with these highlights.
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College football has been a well-kept secret so far, as it has been hiding the true identities of teams. Not this week. It's time to play or go home. There are six games between ranked teams. Of the 17 undefeated teams remaining, eight play against each other this week. It's the most relevant weekend the sport has had in regard to the new College Football Playoff.
Here are the games you can't miss, ranked from least to most likely to affect the playoff:
No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame -- Stanford already has one loss, and this is the second straight road trip for the Cardinal. If Stanford loses again, its playoff hopes will be in serious jeopardy but not over, given that it could still win the conference. This game should reveal more about Notre Dame's place in the playoff, as it will be the first ranked opponent for the Irish.
No. 4 Oklahoma at No. 25 TCU -- ESPN's Football Power Index gives Oklahoma a 64 percent chance to win and predicts this to be Oklahoma's hardest remaining game -- slightly more difficult than Nov. 8 against Baylor. If the Sooners can't handle TCU, they'll be on the outside looking in.
No. 15 LSU at No. 5 Auburn -- LSU gave Auburn its only regular-season loss the past year, but LSU has already lost to Mississippi State, which put the Tigers behind in the SEC West race. Considering the rest of LSU's schedule -- and the hole it's already in -- this is a must-win. For Auburn, this is a chance to erase some doubts and make a push from the bubble into the top four.
No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 12 Mississippi State -- Two terrific quarterbacks will be on display in the Aggies' Kenny Hill and the Bulldogs' Dak Prescott, who both rank in the top 10 in total QBR. A&M's stock dropped a bit this past week after it needed overtime to beat Arkansas, but it could be a top-four team if it can survive the state of Mississippi the next two weeks.
No. 3 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss -- This is the most interesting matchup of the day. Alabama ranks third in offensive efficiency, and Ole Miss ranks second in defensive efficiency. Neither team has played a ranked opponent, so there is still some margin for error, but the Tide have a chance to separate from the crowded West.
No. 19 Nebraska at No. 10 Michigan State -- Surprise. The game with the biggest playoff implications is not in the SEC West. This Big Ten matchup could knock Sparty out of the playoff entirely. It's one thing to lose to Oregon; it's another to try to make the four-team playoff with two losses and your best win coming over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Conversely, a win in East Lansing could vault the Huskers into the playoff conversation. They're the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten, and the toughest game left on their schedule is against No. 17 Wisconsin. If Nebraska pulls off the upset, it's time to take it seriously as a playoff team.
- We've reached the end of Baker Mayfield's fight to become eligible for Oklahoma this season, and as you can imagine, the Mayfield family is not too thrilled. In an interview with The Oklahoman, Mayfield's father called Kliff Kingsbury a "scoundrel" who is "hellbent on punishing Baker." Strong words, eh? James Mayfield did more finger-pointing in this interview with the Tulsa World, too. To his credit, Kingsbury has publicly taken the high road throughout this ordeal. The Mayfields are entitled to their disappointment, but it's the NCAA that rejected their waiver and it's the NCAA that empowers coaches to dictate transfer stipulations.
- Is TCU ready to win the big one? That's the argument that Mac Engel of the Fort Worth-Star Telegram makes in this column, which offers reasons why the Horned Frogs have a chance to at least go 1-1 in their back-to-back games with Oklahoma and Baylor. TCU has never led against OU the past two years but has lost by a combined 10 points. Gary Patterson knew it'd take three to five years to build up TCU's roster into Big 12-caliber. This is year three, and he's got the big fellas up front now to compete.
- What's Texas Tech going to do at quarterback this week? Davis Webb remains a game-time decision with his left shoulder injury, and don't expect Kingsbury to tip his hand until the end of the week or game day against Kansas State. Bill Snyder says he'll prepare for the possibility of facing Webb and freshman Patrick Mahomes. If the rookie has to make his first start, Tech will be able to add more QB run wrinkles to its offense. Just getting Mahomes some confidence and a lot of reps this week should be beneficial no matter who starts.
- What should Dana Holgorsen and West Virginia expect from a Kansas team with a new coach this weekend? Good question. Hogorsen says he'll prepare assuming that KU is trying to maintain status quo, which is probably wise. The coordinators are still intact, and trying to overhaul much this week would probably be fruitless after what these coaches and players have already been through. Still, for what it's worth, I think you'll see a different energy from KU on Saturday and a team with renewed motivation.
- Paul Rhoads' biggest concern about his Iowa State team through four games: The Cyclones haven't been able to run the ball as they'd expected. ISU ranks 110th nationally in rushing at 102.2 yards per game and its backs combined for 28 yards against Baylor. The blame is being placed on the blocking, but that's on everyone. Sam B. Richardson has been effective as a run threat, but Iowa State can't hang with most teams in this league if it can't pound the rock.