2. The Cowboys appear to have their QB of the future: Oklahoma State pulled the redshirt off true freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph with only two games left, after Daxx Garman was ruled out with a concussion. In his much anticipated collegiate debut, “The Reindeer” electrified a previously dormant Cowboys offense, and Oklahoma State hung tough with the seventh-ranked Bears before they pulled away 49-28. Rudolph wasn’t perfect; he did throw a couple freshman interceptions. But he gave the Cowboys the jolt they’ve desperately been craving, offensively, since J.W. Walsh was injured in Week 2. Displaying veteran poise and an accurate arm, Rudolph threw for 281 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Dating back to halftime Oct. 11 against Kansas, Oklahoma State had scored just three offensive touchdowns coming into the weekend. On Saturday, with Rudolph at quarterback, the Cowboys scored four TDs on the road against the Big 12’s best statistical defense. Overall, this has been a disappointing season for the Cowboys. But with Rudolph behind center, they have plenty to be excited about for the future.
3. Baylor misses a prime chance for style points: Earlier in the day, No. 6 Ohio State struggled at home against Indiana, which opened the door for Baylor to jump the Buckeyes in the playoff rankings with an impressive performance. The Bears appeared to be on their way to doing just that, after they bounded to a 14-0 lead over the Cowboys in the game’s first three minutes. But the rest of the way, Baylor sputtered offensively and had problems stopping Rudolph. This might come off like nitpicking. After all, Baylor did win the game by three touchdowns. But with “game control” being utilized by the playoff committee as a subjective component, Baylor missed out on an opportunity to deliver a statement on the same weekend Ohio State struggled and TCU was off.
4. Mahomes is making a move on the Tech QB job: Coming into the season, the Red Raiders had high hopes for sophomore quarterback Davis Webb. But Webb’s struggles with turnovers, followed by an ankle injury, have given true freshman Pat Mahomes the opportunity to show what he can do with the job. After he threw four touchdowns last week against Oklahoma, Mahomes was terrific again in a 34-31 win at Iowa State. He threw for 328 yards and four touchdowns and led the Red Raiders on a 75-yard, game-winning drive, which he capped with a 44-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Williams late in the fourth quarter. Perhaps most impressively, Mahomes has thrown only one interception the past two weeks. Tech coach Kilff Kingsbury said earlier in the week that the quarterback that doesn’t turn the ball over would have the best chance to be the program's long-term starter. Right now, that appears to be Mahomes.
5. Iowa State is now on the cusp of a winless Big 12 season: Texas Tech was Iowa State’s best chance to get a Big 12 win to give the program at least a dash of momentum going into 2015. The Cyclones needed one last stop and then one last scoring drive. Instead, they failed to get either, and Tech rallied to take the lead, then held Iowa State on a final fourth-down attempt. The Cyclones entered this season hoping to regain bowl eligibility after going 3-9 last year. But if they don’t knock off West Virginia at home next weekend or somehow pull the upset of the year Dec. 6 at No. 5 TCU, they will finish winless in the conference for the first time since Paul Rhoads took over as coach in 2009.
The game was already over. Two minutes left, Texas up 64-51. Cruise control.
Texas forward Jonathan Holmes was on the right baseline corner when he caught the bounce-pass product of Javan Felix's scuttled dribble penetration. Cal's defense stretched. Holmes slid past the close-out, gathered his dribble in his right hand, and jumped at the right side of the rim. For maybe a second, it looked like another easy gliding finish.
Cal center Roger Moute a Bidias had other ideas. He jumped too, and when he did he awkwardly and (probably) unintentionally caught his arm around Holmes' neck. The Longhorns forward went down hard.
The alternate ending to that collision -- an injury -- would have been next-level cruel. On Thursday night, Longhorns point guard Isaiah Taylor, in the midst of an aggressive 15-point start to his sophomore campaign, likewise soared to the rim, was likewise battered by an opposing center (in this case, Iowa's Melsahn Basabe) and suffered a left wrist injury that will keep him out of the Longhorns' lineup for weeks. Another key injury on an exact replica of Taylor's garbage-time play would have been unfortunate. Star-crossed, even, and we've barely cracked Week 2.
But an injury to Holmes would have been much worse than that, and not just because Texas has a quality backup point guard in Felix. If two nights at Madison Square Garden told us anything, it's that no player is more important to the Longhorns' success than its one and only senior.
In Texas's two 2K Classic wins, Holmes scored 40 points on 13-of-23 from the field, 4-of-6 on 3-pointers, and 10-of-13 from the free throw line. He grabbed 13 rebounds in Friday's end-to-end dismantling of the Bears. On Thursday, his perimeter shooting was the key ingredient to the Longhorns' second-half burst against Iowa, wherein Texas turned a six-point halftime deficit into a 71-57 blowout. (The Longhorns scored 24 points in that first half and 47 in the second. By the 10-minute mark, the Hawkeyes looked astonished. Understandably so.)
And yes, he was more impressive than his lines. Holmes defended multiple areas on the floor, his length allowing him to pinch in to the paint and spread to the wing in nearly equal measure. He disrupted shots, tracked back on fastbreaks. When Cal went to a zone, Holmes was devastating in the pivot -- his best play of Friday night may well have come with 15:11 left in the second half, when he fired a quick high-low bounce pass to Prince Ibeh that made Cal's 2-3 zone look like an art installation. In an event featuring four legitimate NCAA tournament hopefuls, celebrated veteran players like Aaron White and David Kravish and a fair number of talented newcomers -- to say nothing of Holmes' own teammates -- the Texas swingman had no obvious peer.
It wasn't always supposed to be this way. After two mostly nondescript seasons, Holmes was versatile and plenty efficient as a junior, but the fact that he took even 88 3s -- he made 33 percent of them -- was a sign less of his own strengths than of the Longhorns' weaknesses. He averaged nearly two turnovers per assist. In the spring, Texas landed center Myles Turner, the No. 2-ranked player in the class of 2014 (behind only Jahlil Okafor). With Turner en route and Cameron Ridley already on the block, it was fair to wonder whether Holmes' minutes as a quasi-power forward would be displaced.
Put another way: When people talked about Texas, they talked about Taylor and Turner, and how it would all work out.
Holmes has immediately made that conversation seem silly. He was braced for a change in his role, so, as he said at Big 12 Media Day in October, he worked on becoming a "true" small forward. Passing, ballhandling, shooting. Playing away from the rim on the offensive end. Playing anywhere Barnes needed him, really.
Turns out he didn't need to brace himself much. Turner has been introduced to the college game as a reserve. Barnes is starting forward Connor Lammert and giving Ibeh plenty of minutes, too. Turner's game has been tantalizing in spots; a 7-footer with soft baby hooks and quality footwork can't help but get the blood boiling. But he also has had his share of ill-advised shots and missed defensive rotations. He hasn't set the world alight, or forced Barnes to give him for 30 minutes a night.
No matter. With Taylor injured and Turner figuring it out on the fly, Texas has had the most impressive start to the season of any team in the country not named Kentucky or Gonzaga. Soon, people are going to start talking about Texas' odds of unseating Kansas from its 10-year reign atop the Big 12 -- if they haven't started already. As long as Holmes is on the floor, you'll know why.
Max will be in Waco this weekend covering Oklahoma State-Baylor. I will be in Norman to see if Kansas can give another ranked team a scare.
Now, on to the 'bag:
Trotter: I don't think so. Nobody in the top eight plays a noteworthy opponent.
@Jake_Trotter if the top 8 win on Saturday, is there any movement in the standings?— Mike G (@mikefrogit) November 21, 2014
Trotter: The one thing to keep in mind is the playoff committee has said that it's viewing teams individually and not through the prism of what conference they play in. In other words, the committee is examining Ohio State when it does these rankings. Not the Big Ten. So in the eyes of the committee this is about TCU and Baylor vs. Ohio State. Not the Big 12 vs. the Big Ten. What can TCU and Baylor do? Annihilate their upcoming opponents and hope for the best.
@Jake_Trotter the Big10 got beat up in non-con play this year, but still in a better position to make the playoff. What can the Big12 do?— Nathan Quinn (@NateQuinn11) November 21, 2014
@Jake_Trotter Bowl projection and possible opponent for OU?— Casey (@CaptainRiceCake) November 21, 2014
Trotter: Russell Athletic Bowl against Notre Dame?
@Jake_Trotter what are the chances Stoops moves on after this season. Florida? Michigan? NFL? Rumors have been around awhile now.— Nick Heimann (@nick_heimann) November 21, 2014
Trotter: I put it at less than 10 percent. But the only place Stoops would ever leave for would be Florida. And if he was ever going to do it, it would be now. He loves the weather there, he always talks fondly of his time as a defensive coordinator at Florida and he has a great relationship with Florida AD Jeremy Foley. That said, my money is on him staying at Oklahoma. He has the full support of the president and athletic director. He has 100 percent job security. He has his brother Mike coaching with him. He just built a multimillion dollar home. His kids are coming up on high school age. And I'm not sure he wants to coach all that much longer. Going to Florida would prolong that. I'm not sure that's something he wants at this point.
Trotter: Without a doubt. Texas has played excellent football the last three weeks. The defense has been dominant. The offensive line continues to get better. This will be a very tough test for TCU, whether the playoff selection committee realizes it or not.
@Jake_Trotter what year will Texas be the big 12 favorite in the preseason?— Bears and Brews (@BaylorObserver) November 21, 2014
Trotter: This is an interesting thought. It won't be next year. TCU, with QB Trevone Boykin back, will probably be next year's preseason favorite. But by 2016? Yeah, Texas would have a chance to be the preseason favorite, if it continues on the current trajectory we've seen from Charlie Strong's bunch this season.
@Jake_Trotter will the conference look at adding more teams? Will the big 12 still be a conference 5 years from now?— Chris Cruz (@realchriscruz17) November 21, 2014
Trotter: I've been told that the only way the league would look at expansion is if it got left out of the playoff year after year. That could happen this year. If it happened a couple more times, the league would be forced to rethink its current format.
@Jake_Trotter say Gundy does leave, can't you see some Bad-A like Derek Dooley coming in and taking OSU to the top?— Travis Guidry (@TGuidry25) November 21, 2014
Trotter: I sense you're being sarcastic. But if Mike Gundy did bolt after this season, Oklahoma State would be in a position to court several viable candidates. Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris would make a bunch of sense. Memphis coach Justin Fuente is an up-and-comer with ties to the state. Gundy's coaching tree includes Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken (who is very popular in Stillwater), North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora and TCU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham. The Cowboys would also have an in-house candidate in Glenn Spencer, who has flourished as Oklahoma State's defensive coordinator. The Cowboys would have intriguing options.
His Horned Frogs are perpetually on the move in the unpredictable College Football Playoff rankings, from seventh to sixth to that oh-so-coveted No. 4 spot. Now they’re No. 5. Everything this team has done and everything that comes next will be held up to extreme scrutiny. Every margin of victory now matters. So does the impending threat of Baylor moving ahead of TCU and that still-treacherous path to a Big 12 championship.
That’s plenty of fodder for an AD to worry about and overanalyze. How’s Del Conte handling it? He’s trying his best not to get too high or too low when the rankings are unveiled each Tuesday night. You can’t let a poll stress you out.
Del Conte recognizes these are great problems to have for a team that was 4-8 in 2013 and projected to finish seventh in the Big 12 this year. You’re not going to get him to complain about where TCU ranks this week. He’s enjoying this season too much to fret.
“We’re 9-1! It's awesome!” Del Conte said. “Yeah, KU was cold and we won by 4. We're 9-1! And yet I'm down at Walgreens buying Pepto-Bismol. That's ridiculous. In the old system, you're down at a local bar ordering a round of champagne for everybody if you're 9-1. These days, you've got to order a bottle of Pepto-Bismol.”
He might want to stock up. The Horned Frogs could be in for an extended stay in the no man's land right outside fourth place so long as they keep winning.
TCU coach Gary Patterson told the AP last week he knows Baylor earned the Big 12 tiebreaker, but "you still get a trophy for being co-champions, and that's the one thing that I can control." His boss is handing these uncertain times just fine, too, no matter which bowl game ends up taking the Frogs.
“The playoff committee has been good for college football,” Del Conte said. “It's been stressful a lot of times, because you're up and down, in and out, who's going where? It's an interesting dynamic. I do like the fact the playoff talks about your total body of work -- nonconference schedule, conference schedule, when you played it, how you played, where you played, rank of teams -- and I think they're doing as good a job as they can possibly do right now.”
Baylor AD Ian McCaw told ESPN.com earlier this month he’d prefer an eight-team playoff in the near future. Del Conte said he hasn’t thought much about it, but mentioned that a system with five conference champions and three at-large selections could eventually become a discussion point.
“But by that time, you'll be talking about not Nos. 5-6-7, but about Nos. 9-10-11. That's always going to be the case,” Del Conte said. “Right now, I think because you have five great conferences for four spots, it creates a different sense of urgency and a different set of circumstances. So I can see why that would be a possibility.”
All he can hope for right now is that his Frogs take care of business on Thanksgiving night at Texas and in their regular-season finale against Iowa State. He'll cross his fingers that, by Dec. 7, the playoff committee has a thorough appreciation for the season this TCU team put together. Del Conte will try to lay off the Pepto until then.
"We've got a chance. We've got to go out and play a great Texas team first," he said. "They're surging at the right time. Tough team. They've got a defense that's loaded and it's going to be a typical Charlie Strong team and we've just got to go down to Texas and see what we can do.
"Our main objective is just taking care of business next weekend against Texas. If we do that and do what we need to do against Iowa State, I feel great about our résumé."
Last weekend appeared like it would have minimal impact on the race for a College Football Playoff berth, with TCU visiting Kansas and Baylor sitting at home during a bye week. Instead, KU gave TCU everything it could handle and the Horned Frogs ended up dropping out of the CFP rankings top four despite a win.
This weekend, Baylor faces a similar scenario as the clear favorite over Oklahoma State, which is in the midst of a four-game losing streak.
Here are the storylines to watch in the Big 12 during Week 13:
Texas Tech at Iowa State, 3:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Networks): Both teams badly need a win with one conference victory combined between the Red Raiders and Cyclones. Texas Tech showed plenty of fight in the loss to OU and has the better offense of the two with either Patrick Mahomes or Davis Webb at quarterback. But the Red Raiders also have an ugly trend of shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers and penalties. The Cyclones are coming off a bye week with a renewed focus on righting the ship after a blowout loss to KU in their last game. In a lot of ways, the 2015 season starts now for the Red Raiders and Cyclones with players on both teams looking to solidify themselves as key playmakers of the future.
Oklahoma State at No. 7 Baylor, 7:30 p.m. ET, (Fox): There is no shortage of reasons for Baylor to want to win -- and win impressively. Not only did Oklahoma State hammer Baylor 49-17 in 2013, but the Pokes have been the biggest thorn in the Bears' side in the entire conference in recent years, having won four of the past five meetings. Combine Baylor’s pursuit of a College Football Playoff berth and desire to impress the committee with Oklahoma State’s recent struggles and it could be an explosive night at McLane Stadium.
Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney, Kansas State safety Dante Barnett, Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown, Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings and TCU linebacker Paul Dawson made the list.
Who was the biggest snub? Plenty of top-notch playmakers found themselves on the outside looking in.
Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is hard to overlook, even with the Cowboys falling apart around him. The redshirt sophomore leads the Big 12 in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (16.5). He’s even turned it up during OSU’s current four-game losing streak with five sacks in his past four games. His team’s horrible recent stretch has overshadowed Ogbah’s excellence.
Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker has been a terror at times and has been taken out of games at other times. The junior has 6.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss this season but just three tackles for loss and two sacks in OU’s past four games. When he’s at his best, Striker is second to none coming off the edge, constantly forcing offensive coordinators to build their game plans with him in mind.
Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman sets the tone for the Bears defense and backs it up with terrific production. He has 12.5 tackles for loss and ranks third in the Big 12 in tackles for loss per game (1.39), and he’s fourth in the Big 12 at 0.67 sacks per game (six total sacks).
TCU safety Chris Hackett seems to make a big play for the Horned Frogs every week. The junior leads the Big 12 with six interceptions including an interception in each of TCU’s past four games. Hackett has added 66 tackles, including 45 solo stops.
Other potential candidates include Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson, Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks and Kansas State linebacker Jonathan Truman.
Which Big 12 defender was the biggest snub? Vote now and leave your comment below.
- The Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton gave his thoughts on the 2015 Big 12 schedule being released. Carlton noted Baylor's November slate, which, while brutal, will also give the Bears an opportunity to impress. The Bears travel to Kansas State (on a Thursday), Oklahoma State and TCU (on a Black Friday) and then play host to Oklahoma before welcoming Texas the first week in December. Whatever happens, the Bears won't be flying under the radar against that stretch.
- The West Virginia and K-State defenses will be in the spotlight tonight, notes the Charleston Gazette's Dave Hickman. K-State is tough against the run. West Virginia is second in the Big 12 in pass defense. Hickman believes that whichever defense limits the big plays in Morgantown will give its team a win in a Big 12 matchup that will go a long way in determining the bowl fates of both sides.
- The Tulsa World's Bill Haisten reported that Oklahoma State QB Daxx Garman was able to practice Wednesday. According to Haisten, Garman had been rendered inactive by what is believed to have been concussion symptoms. What will be interesting is if Garman is ruled out this weekend at Baylor. The Cowboys could pull the redshirt off freshman Mason Rudolph with only two games left in the season. The Cowboys would obviously like to avoid that, and end the season with Garman behind center. But finally getting the chance to see what Rudolph can do will would be intriguing.
- TCU coach Gary Patterson said the College Football Playoff selection committee has a hard job, and he’s trying to make it harder. “I just want to make it tough on them,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez. “I want to win the next two, be 11-1, and let them decide. That’s all I can control. I just want to finish the journey.” All the Horned Frogs can do is beat Texas. But there's still a lot of ball to be played around the country. And Patterson seems to realize, if college football has taught us anything over the years, we could be in for a major upset or two.
- Kansas coach Clint Bowen told the Lawrence Journal-World's Matt Tait that he's been hearing the voices of support, including from Patterson and from Iowa State offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, who both suggested that Bowen deserves the permanent job. “Anytime someone says something positive about you, obviously you notice,” Bowen said. “And it means a lot." Bowen has done everything possible to show the Kansas administration he deserves the permanent job. A strong finish these final two games will only help, too.
- Great read today by Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News on Texas' beloved loudmouth, cornerback Quandre Diggs. The senior four-year starter gets called an old soul by his family and teammates, which is an apt label. He grew up fast and has always brought a mature presence to this Texas team. Referring to Diggs as his team's "conscience" is spot-on. He's the kind of hard-nosed competitor Charlie Strong would love to have a lot more of at UT.
- Two years ago, we got Collin Klein vs. Geno Smith in Morgantown. This time around, the QB showdown of Jake Waters vs. Clint Trickett promises to be a good one. The second-year starters have more in common than you might think -- both are transfers who've raised their game now that they're more at ease operating their respective offense. Keep this in mind, too: Among Big 12 teams, only WVU, KSU and TCU have managed to avoid starting multiple QBs this season. Excited to see how two of the league's most efficient passers respond in coming back from crushing losses.
- Texas Tech is wondering whether left tackle Le'Raven Clark will be back next season. The junior, a three-year starter, could pursue the NFL draft this spring if he gets good feedback from the league. Clark admits he wouldn't like to leave Tech behind after this season, but Kliff Kingsbury and his coaches went through this with Jace Amaro last year and will support Clark no what matter what he decides. The fact that Clark is versatile and experience at playing multiple spots on the line should help his cause.
Why Kansas State will win: West Virginia will bounce back and give K-State a heck of a fight in Morgantown. The Wildcats haven't gone on the road much this season (three times, in fact), but they'll be locked in and angry. KSU's defense gets after Clint Trickett just as Texas did. Kansas State 38, West Virginia 34 -- Max Olson
Why West Virginia will win: After battling four top 10 teams, the Mountaineers finally looked like a tired bunch in Austin. The week off should have done wonders for them physically and psychologically. I expect West Virginia to come out fired up for this game, knowing a win over the Wildcats would ensure this season will be deemed a success. West Virginia 34, Kansas State 31 -- Jake Trotter
Why Iowa State will win: Trotter has a two-game lead in our picks contest. I have to catch up. Fortune favors the bold. The Cyclones are fresh off a bye and will be able to move the ball on Tech. This is their best (only?) chance to avoid a winless conference season. If Davis Webb is back and dealing, I might be dead wrong. Iowa State 27, Texas Tech 24 -- Olson
Why Texas Tech will win: The Red Raiders simply have more firepower. Neither defense is great, so the team with the bigger arsenal should triumph, and that team is Tech. Texas Tech 38, Iowa State 24 -- Chatmon
Baylor over Oklahoma State: Have you been watching the Oklahoma State offense? The Cowboys lead the Big 12 in three-and-outs, and since the Bears are gunning for style points, this could get ugly fast in Waco. The only variable to this game will be whether Oklahoma State is forced to pull the redshirt off freshman Mason Rudolph if a banged up Daxx Garman can't go. Yet even though Rudolph is an intriguing quarterback prospect, he won't have enough help around him and up front for it to make much of a difference against the speedy Bears. Baylor 66, Oklahoma State 13 – Trotter
Oklahoma over Kansas: If the Sooners lean on their running game, KU could struggle to find answers. Even though Clint Bowen’s Jayhawks are much improved, a road win at OU still seems out of reach. Oklahoma 31, Kansas 17 – Chatmon
Why Kansas will keep it close: The Jayhawks will find a way to force OU to pass the ball. KU plays great pass defense. Without Trevor Knight, Oklahoma isn't playing great pass offense. Oklahoma 31, Kansas 21 -- Olson
- Trotter: 58-6
- Chatmon: 56-8
- Olson: 55-9
But which coaches in the conference provide the best value for the dollar? Here’s a look at the Big 12’s top five coaches in terms of value -- i.e. cost per win -- in 2014.
1. Art Briles, Baylor: Not only did Briles lead Baylor to its first Big 12 title a year ago, he’s still bringing terrific value to BU at $391,893.25 per win (eight wins). His salary of $3,135,146 makes him the nation’s 22nd-highest paid coach.
2. Bill Snyder, Kansas State: The veteran coach brings terrific value at $414,285.71 per win (seven wins) as his Wildcats still have hope to secure their second Big 12 title in three seasons if they can win out. His salary of $2,900,000 makes him the nation’s 29th-highest paid coach.
3. Gary Patterson, TCU: He’s really earned his money this season with his decision to revamp the offense, potentially at the expense of his defense, during the offseason. As a result, Patterson has brought great value at $445,350 per win (nine wins) this season. He’s the nation’s 11th-highest paid coach at $4,008,150 in 2014.
4. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia: After seeing WVU’s bowl streak snapped a year ago, Holgorsen’s squad has responded with six wins thus far this season, making him one of the Big 12’s top values at $513,333.33 per win. Holgorsen’s salary of $3,080,000 makes him the nation’s 23rd-highest paid coach.
5. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State: Even with his squad in the midst of a four-game losing streak, Gundy finds himself in the top half of the conference in terms of value. OSU is paying Gundy $700,000 dollars per win (five wins) in 2014. His salary of $3,500,000 ranks him 15th among college coaches this season.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is the Big 12’s highest-paid coach and the nation's third-highest paid coach at $5,058,333 in 2014. You can find the entire list and where each Big 12 coach lands here.
Baylor: The Bears' defense was supposed to take a step backward after losing several starters from its 2013 unit. Instead BU ranks among the conference leaders in several categories and leads the Big 12 by forcing a punt on 50.8 percent of opponents possessions and could see that number increase this weekend with a hapless Oklahoma State offense visiting McLane Stadium on Saturday.
Iowa State: The Cyclones will need to improve their sack percentage if they hope to slow down Texas Tech’s passing attack. ISU’s 3.5 sack percentage ranks last in the Big 12 as the Cyclones have struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks outside of defensive end Cory Morrissey’s five sacks.
Kansas: Beware of the Jayhawks coming out of the halftime locker room. KU has a plus-8 turnover margin in the third quarter, which leads the Big 12. Clint Bowen’s squad could need some turnovers to upset Oklahoma in Norman, so an opportunistic defense could be the Jayhawks' key against OU.
Kansas State: The Wildcats are tough to stop once they get rolling. K-State scores on 66.2 percent of its drives that begin with an initial first down. In other words, a three-and-out is the best bet to slow the Wildcats’ offense, so West Virginia should take heed.
Oklahoma: The Sooners' running game has been impressive but their ball protection has been even more impressive. OU is averaging 240.9 rushing yards per game yet has lost a fumble once in 408 rushes. That’s a 0.7 fumble percentage, best in the Big 12.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys' offense is trending downward and the offensive line is a big reason why. Negative plays have become the norm for Mike Gundy’s team with 36.2 percent of their plays resulting in negative yardage. Only Iowa State (37.9) has a worse percentage in the Big 12.
Texas: With a date with TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin on the horizon, the Longhorns might be the best equipped to handle the conference’s top dual-threat signal-caller. UT’s 9.3 sack percentage is the best in the Big 12 with Baylor (8.4) as the only other Big 12 team with a sack percentage higher than 8 percent.
TCU: The Horned Frogs do a good job of adjusting their approach at halftime. Their average of 8.39 yards per play in the third quarter is first in the Big 12 and nearly two yards better than second-ranked K-State (6.68 ypp).
Texas Tech: Even with Tech’s uncertainty at the quarterback position, the Red Raiders' defense is at the heart of the struggles for Kliff Kingsbury’s team. Tech is allowing 3.04 points per drive, last in the Big 12 and No. 123 among FBS teams. The Red Raiders' offense hasn’t helped the cause with 22 turnovers but the defense has been unable to overcome those mistakes.
WVU: The Mountaineers' defense has played a huge role in the improvement of Dana Holgorsen’s team. WVU’s pass defense has been much improved with the Mountaineers allowing 6.06 yards per pass attempt, ranking second in the Big 12. Last season, WVU ranked last in the conference at 7.88 yards allowed per pass attempt.
With the latest ESPN Junior 300 rankings now live, one thing is for sure: The state of Texas has its share of players in the 2016 class.
Of the top 300 players, 39 are from Texas. Seven players in the top 30 are from the Lone Star State, including the nation’s top-ranked player, Texas A&M OT recruit Greg Little.
From a Big 12 perspective, OT Patrick Hudson is the highest ranked recruit. The 6-foot-5, 330-pound lineman, a Baylor pledge, jumped from No. 20 to No. 11, and he’s the nation’s second ranked offensive tackle.
Here are five things to watch involving players in the revised rankings:
But the fourth edition of the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night confirmed a sobering possibility: instead of either/or for the Big 12, it could be neither/nor.
After a near-fatal trip to Kansas, the Horned Frogs fell one spot to No. 5 in the rankings; Baylor remained stuck in the mud at seventh, still weighed down by its pillowy nonconference schedule.
And so, the primary playoff storyline for the Big 12 is no longer which of the two longtime foes will represent the Big 12 in the playoff, but rather whether the league will have representation in college football's biggest bash at all.
Earlier Tuesday, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said during a radio interview with SiriusXM that he still prefers the Big 12's path to the playoff without a conference championship game. But that path also could leave the league in the cold when the four teams are finally determined.
Without a championship game, neither TCU nor Baylor could possibly catch Mississippi State, which currently owns the coveted No. 4 spot, and still has the all-time biggest Egg Bowl looming in two weeks against eighth-ranked Ole Miss.
Without a championship game, TCU might be unable to stave off the budding Buckeyes, either. And Baylor might not be able to pass Ohio State, which surged past the Bears to No. 6 this week. Ohio State also still has the Big Ten championship game, which could feature a top-10-ranked Wisconsin on the other side.
With a championship game of their own, TCU and Baylor could finally settle their bickering on a neutral site, while giving the winner a monster victory that not only would trump wins against Ole Miss, Wisconsin or anyone else for that matter, but catapult the victor into the playoff.
Without a championship game, the Horned Frogs are left hoping the committee will reward them for beating unranked Texas in Austin on Thanksgiving night. And without a championship game, Baylor is left praying Kansas State will keep winning to set up the possibility for a marquee triumph the final week of the season.
But if Tuesday’s rankings were any indication, neither potential victory figures to be enough.
Sure, while the committee is pummeling Baylor in the rankings for its nonconference schedule, Mississippi State seems to be getting a free pass for a creampuff out-of-conference slate that comprised the fearsome foursome of Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin.
And sure, while TCU is getting punished for its fourth quarter in Waco, Ohio State's embarrassing home loss to Virginia Tech seems to be getting swept under the rug because it happened in September in redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett's second career start.
But one of the 12 committee members I am not.
Meaning TCU and Baylor could require losses from those ranked above, below and in between. Either from Alabama or Oregon or Florida State. Or from the Bulldogs or Buckeyes. Yet if the final month of college football has taught us anything over the years, it's that no one is safe. Especially when pressure begins to mount.
Alabama still has the tricky Iron Bowl and the SEC title game either against Missouri or Georgia, the latter sure to provide a formidable roadblock.
The Ducks have the Civil War at plucky Oregon State, then the conference title game against whomever emerges out of a convoluted Pac-12 South.
And the serendipitous Seminoles have Florida, which will at least be galvanized to send Will Muschamp out with a memorable win.
If Kansas can almost beat TCU, then any of those underdogs can win, too. So it's no time for the Bears or Horned Frogs to panic. Not yet, at least.
It is time, however, for both to put aside the bickering. The rankings showed it's no longer about TCU or Baylor, but rather, without a conference championship game, whether either will be in the playoff at all.
Here's a deeper look at what those rankings mean for the Big 12's remaining two playoff contenders:
TCU Horned Frogs
Record: 9-1 (6-1 Big 12)
Playoff committee rank: No. 5
Next big obstacle: Nov. 27 at Texas
Reason for optimism: The Horned Frogs dropped only one spot after their lackluster performance at Kansas. TCU also kept a sizable lead over Baylor in the eyes of the committee, preventing Baylor's head-to-head advantage from coming into play. Oklahoma returned to the rankings at No. 21 and Minnesota remained at No. 25 despite losing, giving the Horned Frogs a trio of top-25 wins. TCU still has a chance to land another quality victory on the road at Texas on Thanksgiving night.
Cause for concern: The Horned Frogs might not control their destiny. Alabama, Oregon and Florida State appear to be the committee's clear top three, leaving only the fourth spot up for grabs. With Mississippi State also sticking in the top four even after falling at Alabama, the Bulldogs could stave off TCU by beating eighth-ranked Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl in two weeks.
Whom they'll be rooting for this week: Minnesota to beat No. 23 Nebraska. As long as the Gophers remain in the top 25, TCU's nonconference résumé will get a boost. It wouldn't hurt if Arkansas knocked off Ole Miss in Fayetteville, either. If Ole Miss went into the Egg Bowl with three losses, then beat Mississippi State, the SEC West would be left with the Crimson Tide as its only real playoff possibility.
Record: 8-1 (5-1)
Playoff committee rank: No. 7
Next big obstacle: Dec. 6 vs. Kansas State
Reason for optimism: At least the Bears didn't go down in the rankings this week, despite coming off an open weekend. Committee chairman Jeff Long also said the difference between No. 4 Mississippi State and No. 7 Baylor was "narrow." Baylor is also now only two spots behind the Horned Frogs. Conventional wisdom would suggest that if the Bears can climb within one spot of TCU, the head-to-head advantage would kick in, and catapult them past the Horned Frogs as well.
Cause for concern: Ohio State jumped Baylor, and considering the Buckeyes still have the Big Ten championship game against No. 16 Wisconsin looming, it might be tough for Baylor to jump Ohio State back. The committee can't get over the Bears' weak nonconference schedule, which is why Baylor ranks behind all the one-loss teams. A lot can happen in three weeks. And it remains to be seen how the committee will factor in conference championships at the end. But at this juncture, it's hard to see the Bears getting into the top four without help.
Whom they'll be rooting for this week: Kansas State to beat West Virginia on Thursday night. Though that would make Baylor's loss in Morgantown look worse, it would give the Bears the chance for a statement win against a potential top-10 team Dec. 6. Nebraska beating Minnesota also would kill two birds with one stone, damaging the playoff profiles of both TCU and Ohio State.
- Iowa State is hoping to use the final stretch of the season as a springboard for next year, writes Bobby LaGesse of the Ames Tribune. The Cyclones used their bye week to change their outlook heading into games with West Virginia, Texas Tech and TCU. It's been a rough year for the Cyclones but going winless in Big 12 play could be a disaster for Paul Rhoads' team.
- Kansas' improved performances on the weekend have begun during the week, writes Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World. The intensity of practices have increased and players are starting to understand they have to pay the price, says interim coach Clint Bowen. It's interesting that the intensity and fun have picked up at Bowen's practices. It speaks to the relationships that Bowen has created with his players. If they didn't have a strong relationship, it's unlikely KU's players would respond to Bowen like they have.
- Kansas State coach Bill Snyder would have liked to see one of the Wildcats' running backs seize the primary ball carrier spot and become the "man" in the backfield, writes Ken Corbitt of the Topeka Capital-Journal. The Wildcats' inability to replace John Hubert has seemed like a handicap to the K-State offense for the bulk of the year. Quite frankly, it shows how well KSU has played as a team for the Wildcats to be 7-2 through nine games without a running back with more than 500 rushing yards.
- Becoming a Mountaineer was a dream come true for Clint Trickett and now the West Virginia quarterback can make it a perfect home finale with an upset win over Kansas State. Trickett has had a terrific season but has fallen off in recent weeks with more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2). Make no mistake, he has been a key to WVU's improved record this season and he will be the key on Thursday night.
- Lastly, Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said the Red Raiders changed defensive signals "as soon as they found out" their signals may have been compromised after former defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt left the program, reports Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Earlier this week questions arose about the possibility of Tech's defensive signals "being passed around" during the past two to three weeks. It's such an odd situation but it seems odd the Red Raiders didn't immediately change signals upon Wallerstedt's departure but I can also see how, particularly in the midst of a tough season, it wouldn't even cross their mind that those signals could be compromised.
TCU dropped one spot to No. 5 after struggling to a 34-30 win at Kansas. Baylor remained at No. 7 after having the week off. Both teams remain very alive in the playoff hunt. But for now, we project them to miss the cut.
The outcome of Thursday night's game between Kansas State and West Virginia, meanwhile, could a long way in determining their bowl destination fates.
And with its 28-7 win at Oklahoma State, Texas produced its sixth win to lock up a bowl spot somewhere.
Oklahoma State is the only other team not bowl eligible at the moment that could still get there. But the Cowboys will be major underdogs at Baylor and Oklahoma. So we're still projecting the Cowboys to miss out on a bowl.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: TCU
VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Texas
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: West Virginia
Cactus Bowl: None eligible