Monday, October 15, 2012
2012 Big 12 midseason report
By David Ubben
When it comes to Big 12 football, don't stare at your screen too long during games, and don't stare at the standings too long when they're over.
The former might give you whiplash; the latter will dish out a frightening case of vertigo. Which end is up? Can anyone play defense?
We don't know the answers to those questions just yet, but just about everyone in the Big 12 plays offense, and exactly no one knows how the season's second half will play out or what those standings will look like come December.
Bill Snyder and the 6-0 Wildcats are the surprise team of the Big 12 midway through this season.
So far, the Big 12 has lived up to its billing as a deep league that has lots of offense and is long on drama and points but short on defense.
It's a sad realization, really. Half of the season that we all waited eight months to arrive has already passed us by. Still, as with any game, the second half will be a whole lot more fun with the Savannah States on the Big 12 schedule behind us.
It's time to look ahead, but it's already been a wild ride for a handful of teams in the Big 12. Kansas State was picked to finish sixth in the league, and national voters cast the Wildcats out of the top 20 to start the season. Yet just six games in, they're the Big 12's last remaining undefeated team, with wins on the road against Oklahoma and Iowa State to brag about, as well as a beatdown of Miami.
Oklahoma was the Big 12's favorite, then cast aside as a disappointment after those terrible, awful, no good Wildcats beat Oklahoma by a whopping five points in a game that included a bad snap inside K-State's 5-yard line for the Sooners and a sack/fumble for a touchdown inside the Sooners' 5. Two games later, Oklahoma looks like the Big 12 title favorite everyone believed it would be, fresh off blowout wins over Texas Tech and Texas.
Texas? The Horns seem "back" one week and lose by 42 the next. Their defense was supposed to be by far the Big 12's best. So far this season, you could make a case that the Horns' D has been the worst.
Meanwhile, Texas Tech's defense looks like a different beast from the unit that finished 114th a year ago, becoming the first team to truly shut down West Virginia. Baylor has no RG3, but its 0-2 start in Big 12 play makes it hard to believe the offensive numbers are still just as good as they were a year ago. Outside of turnovers, though, they are.
TCU? The Frogs' days of scandal weren't over, and their quarterback left the university to seek treatment for alcohol and drug abuse following a DWI arrest earlier this month. With one day to practice, Trevone Boykin looked lost in a 14-point loss to upstart Iowa State, and suddenly it was the Frogs who were looking like a team that would struggle to keep its head above water.
A week later, Boykin didn't look so freshman-y anymore with four passing touchdowns, and TCU's win over Baylor demands the rest of the conference pay attention to the Big 12 newcomers again.
The other newcomer, West Virginia, looked easy to figure out. The defense was questionable, but the offense had the firepower to try to outgun everybody to a Big 12 title. Really? After WVU scored just seven points until a meaningless garbage-time touchdown against Texas Tech on Saturday, it's time to revise that line of thought.
Oklahoma State hasn't proved much but hung with Texas in its best game of the year. This week it will face Iowa State, which put a major scare into Kansas State, and will do the same to every team it sees the rest of the year.
The Big 12 has a whole lot of good teams. Oklahoma and Kansas State will tell us over the next seven weeks whether it has any great ones. Trying to guess, though? The first half made it clear that doing so is highly likely to be wasted breath.
My advice: Grab a seat, hold on and enjoy the show.
Time for some midseason superlatives across the Big 12:
Offensive MVP: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. Smith's got this one easy, even with a lackluster day against Texas Tech. He's thrown the most touchdowns (25) in the Big 12 and is the only quarterback without an interception. West Virginia dropped out of the top five last week, but Smith is still the Heisman front-runner. He'll face the man I've got at No. 2 on Saturday: K-State's Collin Klein.
Defensive MVP: Devonte Fields, DE, TCU. It's a little hard to believe, but it's the truth. Fields has been the league's most productive pass-rusher so far this season and has come out of nowhere as a true freshman. He leads the league with 6.5 sacks and has 11.5 tackles for loss, two more than any other defender in the league. He's also third in the league with two forced fumbles. Ross Forrest's injury paved the way for Fields' starting spot, but he's been a huge impact player for one of the league's better defenses.
Biggest surprise: Kansas State. The Wildcats had the recipe for success this year -- experience last year, lots of talent -- but plenty of folks were doubting the ingredients. Yet here they are, sitting pretty as the Big 12's only undefeated team through six games, and also earning a status as the only ranked team to ever beat Bob Stoops' Oklahoma team in Norman.
Biggest disappointment: Oklahoma State. With apologies to Kansas, the reigning Big 12 champs get this spot for proving absolutely nothing through six weeks. They were the only Big 12 team besides Kansas to lose a nonconference game, and did so by three touchdowns to a very average Arizona team. Their only wins this year are against Savannah State, Louisiana and Kansas (by six points!). The Wes Lunt injury probably hurt the Pokes' chances against Texas, but these guys have a lot to prove in the second half of the season. A bowl berth isn't a guarantee.
Best game: Texas 41, Oklahoma State 36. We had four fourth-quarter lead changes and a pair of freshman quarterbacks who had huge nights. Texas quieted the crowd with a fourth-down conversion to keep the winning drive alive, and Oklahoma State nearly pulled off a miracle on the final play. What a fun night in Stillwater.
Newcomer of the year: Devonte Fields, DE, TCU. I mean ... obviously, right? The guy is a true freshman. Nobody has come close to doing what Fields has done so far this year among newcomers. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Arlington, Texas, native didn't have to go far from home to earn this honor. The perks of Big 12 membership.
Best coach: Bill Snyder, Kansas State. Not. Even. Close. Snyder has his team overachieving in one sense but also looking every bit the part of the Big 12's best team. Klein has clearly developed his arm from last season. The defense is better. Special teams looks good. K-State is a complete team built for a run, and the speed at which Snyder has transformed this team from a very average Big 12 squad back into a juggernaut is nothing short of incredible. This year might finish as his greatest work.