Here’s what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 4:
1. Samaje Perine is a man-child: Oklahoma true freshman running back Samaje Perine just turned 19 years old this week. But he was a grown man among boys Saturday, as he bowled over West Virginia in Oklahoma’s 45-33 win in Morgantown. Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 7.1 yards per carry. It was the 13th best rushing total in Sooners history, which is saying something at a school that has produced Greg Pruitt, Steve Owens and Billy Sims, among countless other standout rushers. It was also the second best rushing output ever in a game by a true freshman at Oklahoma, trailing only Adrian Peterson's 249-yard performance against Oklahoma State in 2004. After the opener, Perine naively declared this could be the best running back group ever to pass through Oklahoma. That’s way too bold, but Perine and sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross -- who returned a critical kick for a touchdown at the end of the first half to give the Sooners momentum for good -- figure to give Oklahoma one of the nation’s most formidable one-two-three punches at running back for the foreseeable future. Perine, a tank of a rusher, is heading that charge.
2. Dana Holgorsen has West Virginia heading in the right direction: This was a disappointing loss for coach Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers, who moved the ball at will on Oklahoma in the first half. But after Ross’ 100-yard kickoff return at the end of the first half, West Virginia could never regain momentum nor get its offense back on track. Still, despite being 2-2, the Mountaineers have proven they have a quality squad, after hanging tough with two teams that might well end up in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Clint Trickett is the most improved quarterback in the Big 12, if not the country, and receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford are devastating weapons downfield. If the Mountaineers play the rest of the year the way they have this first month of the season, they will win a bunch of games. Meanwhile, Holgorsen, whose job status once seemed to be in jeopardy, should be firmly entrenched as the head coach of the future in Morgantown.
3. Kansas’ defense ought to keep it in games: At the beginning and the end of their 24-10 victory over Central Michigan, the Jayhawks produced some big plays offensively. But the defense was the reason Kansas ultimately prevailed, as its offense endured some shaky stretches over the second and third quarters. Led by linebackers Ben Heeney and Jake Love, the Kansas defense forced three turnovers, sacked Central Michigan QB Cooper Rush three times and limited the Chippewas to just 279 yards of offense. Wins haven’t been easy to come by at Kansas, but the defense should give the Jayhawks a chance to win again this season while the offense attempts to harness semblances of consistency.
4. Kansas State figures to be a load in the Big 12: Even in a 20-14 loss to Auburn, the Wildcats showed Thursday night that they will be a tough out for anyone they face the rest of the season. The K-State run defense was phenomenal and snapped Auburn’s 13-game streak of at least 200 yards rushing. Wideout Tyler Lockett, whom Auburn coach Gus Malzahn called “electric,” is a game-changer on offense and special teams, never mind the crucial dropped touchdown pass that turned into an interception. Bill Snyder has to figure out what to do going forward at placekicker, but the Wildcats were good enough to beat the fifth-ranked team in the country. And they’re good enough to be a force in the Big 12 the rest of the way.
5. Oklahoma and Baylor remain the co-favorites: Coming into the season, the Sooners and Bears appeared to be the clear frontrunners to win the league title. Through four weeks of the season, nothing has changed. Oklahoma has been incredibly impressive with its physical offensive line, powerful rushing attack and swarming defense. The Bears have wiped out lesser competition, though they’ve done it while missing many of their key players due to injuries. Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU have impressed, but there’s been nothing so far that suggests the Nov. 8 showdown between Oklahoma and Baylor in Norman won’t decide the Big 12 championship.