At this point in the Big 12 season there are really just four or five teams with a realistic shot at making the Big 12 title game. At 1-2, Oklahoma State isn’t “out” of it but they’d have to go 6-0 or 5-1 against a slate that includes Baylor, at ISU, TCU, and Oklahoma. The next team that’s sorta still in it but isn’t particularly strong looking is TCU, who are only 1-1 right now and haven’t even really begun their conference slate.
I’m not seeing anything to suggest that Matthew Baldwin is ready to take over for the Frogs so it sounds like their hopes rest on Max Duggan making massive improvements as the year goes on. This article mentions some success they’ve had going up-tempo while noting that Gary Patterson seems pretty darn hesitant about that option.
Going up-tempo for TCU is probably not a great idea. You turn the game into an up and down contest where the Frogs’ two strengths, the run game and defense, are not the decisive units that get a chance to win the day. Instead you invite a shootout and hope Duggan is more efficient than the other team’s QB because the other team’s guy has to go against the Frog defense. They aren’t going 5-1 or better playing that way and probably aren’t regardless.
So, that leaves us with the four clear frontrunners for the Big 12 title: Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, and Iowa State.
The Sooners are playing sound defense behind a front that includes:
Shock-trooper: Kenneth Murray: 6 TFL, 2.5 sacks
Nose tackle: Neville Gallimore: 5 TFL, 3 sacks
DE: Ronnie Perkins: 5 TFL, 3 sacks
DE: Jalen Redmond: 6 TFL, 3 sacks
The other day I broke down their bear front, which has served them well on passing downs. Alex Grinch has really seized on the philosophy of being multiple and versatile up front to protect your secondary and allow them to be more pass-first oriented. If anyone can ever punch through it then there are some big gains to be had running through the secondary but Texas failed to do so and they had one of the best lines for trying to accomplish that goal.
This defense will work and travel against most anyone, so that’s a huge plus. The offense has a really effective and multiple run game headed by a truly special athlete in Jalen Hurts and then they can protect it by working superstar CeeDee Lamb free or burning LBs and safeties with endless varieties of run/pass conflicts. Lincoln Riley officially assumed the title of best offensive coach in the country this year, if that was in question previously. There’s still some weak spots someone will expose but I don’t know if that will happen until the postseason.
There are two. One is that the OU secondary has been living on their own aggressive approach, mixing in some handsy press coverage, and on how much Grinch is accomplishing with the front six ahead of them. If an opponent can survive Grinch’s pressure, the greater defense will be made to look more vulnerable.
The other weak spot is Jalen Hurts the passer. Texas’ sense of how to beat Hurts was actually quite good, even if the execution was piss poor. They played single-high match coverage that didn’t allow anyone to run free due to run/pass conflict and were done in by unsound run fronts, Lamb exceptionalism, and their own failure to contain Hurts in the pocket.
A team that can A) contain Hurts in the pocket, B) not get overpowered up front, and C) not allow Sooner wideouts to run free through the secondary will make this offense look much weaker than it has.
West Virginia, at K-State, bye week, Iowa State, at Baylor, TCU, at Ok State.
There’s four spots that should provide the Sooners with a nice test and they all come in succession. Iowa State plays great defense, Baylor is currently playing great defense and can score (can they block OU? I dunno…), and then TCU and Oklahoma State may be treating Oklahoma like their Super Bowl. Overall though, I doubt OU goes worse than 5-1 in that stretch and 8-1 probably makes them a lock for the Big 12 title game where they will probably be heavy favorites.
Well, the defensive front is still pretty solid even without Clay Johnston although it is diminished. The big strength of this Baylor team has been their ability to play sound and physical in the defensive backfield while leaning on James Lynch to play short-manned up front. Lynch is your clear DPOY through the early part of the season with eight TFL and five sacks in three Big 12 games.
Offensively they have too many good skill weapons to cover up and Charlie Brewer is adept at finding and hitting them, including doing so in a improvisational manner off the scramble.
The Bears are more vulnerable than some teams to injury, both because the roster isn’t as deep as some other teams and also because some of their key players seem potentially injury prone. The Bears are already down two of their better players in Clay Johnston and LT Connor Galvin (who will return in like five weeks or so) and Charlie Brewer has been pulled a few times as a precaution because he tends to take a lot of punishment.
It’s okay to have a gritty and potentially beat up QB, God knows Sam Ehlinger and Jalen Hurts will have a lot of accumulated injuries by the end of the year, but it’s harder to survive that given today’s concussion protocol and when your guy is super gritty but also like 200 pounds (Ehlinger and Hurts are each 220 or bigger).
Finally, the gameplan that the Bears would be vulnerable to would be a team that can overplay the pass while still getting pressure with four on Brewer. Obviously Oklahoma can execute that gameplan, they just did it against Texas, OSU and TCU might as well. The loss of Galvin simplifies things for teams that have some good pass-rushers they can use to try and isolate weak spots in the Bear OL. But if the Bears stay healthy, particularly James Lynch and Charlie Brewer, then they’re in great shape.
at Ok State, bye, West Virginia, at TCU, Oklahoma, Texas, at Kansas
In some sense, the Bears are a little unlucky to be playing the two toughest games at home and the two “this could get tough” opponents on the road. Better I suppose than getting OU and Texas both on the road though.
This battle with Oklahoma State will be very telling, the Cowboys are coming off a bye week and will throw the kitchen sink at the Bears and hope that their defensive gameplan throws them off long enough for Spencer Sanders and co. to build a lead that can last. Classic “adversity” game that champions have to win. If they survive that, then it’s just a matter of staying healthy and beating one of Texas or Oklahoma and they’ll be in the picture.
Texas has one of the best offenses in the league, their no-show in the Cotton Bowl notwithstanding, and thus have a “puncher’s chance” in every game from here on out. They also still technically have one of the most talented defenses in the league, perhaps the most talented, if they could get them all playing cohesively.
Sam Ehlinger throwing to Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson was negated somewhat by Oklahoma’s effective pressure fronts but that will be tricky for other teams to match and Texas will be aware of that in future games. It’s hard to cover up a good spread passing attack with more than one really good weapon. OU hit on the only formula and they did it with one of the best NT/blitzing LB combos in the league. Other teams will try and pick up on the tactic but it’s tricky.
It’ll be tough for Texas to mimic what, say Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray’s teams had to do a few times and overcome early Big 12 losses and bad defense to shoot their way to the title game but the league may prove more vulnerable this year.
The Texas secondary is beat to hell and the defense has no identity to allow them to play fast and give their offense a great chance from week to week, save for maybe some of the inverted Tampa 2 stuff that they always seem to shelve during big games.
The offense also has an inconsistent run game who’s featured piece, Keaontay Ingram, has been very hit and miss. This OL and converted QB Roschon Johnson should still be able to overpower some opponents off the threat of the Ehlinger passing game but it’s been shakier at times than expected before the year when Ingram seemed poise to have a big season. Texas needs that run game to get going so they don’t have to ask too much of an already dinged up Ehlinger.
Kansas, at TCU, bye, K-State, at Iowa State, at Baylor, Texas Tech
The schedule worked out kinda favorably for Texas. They can try to hammer down a simpler approach on defense and rebuild confidence on offense at home against the Jayhawks, then go take on the Frogs before a bye week. The final stretch is tough, taking on two other contenders on the road, it basically comes down to offensive health and whether the defense gets its act together.
A better than basement level D plus Ehlinger O is a better formula than Baylor or Iowa State have, but if the defense continues to struggle than Texas’ margin disappears and the likelihood of adding 1-2 more losses goes up. Texas probably needs to be 7-2 to get into the B12 title game with a tie-breaker (win) over whichever of Iowa State and Baylor proves to be the main competition.
The Cyclones play great defense and they have depth on that side of the ball that isn’t as dependent on any individual players like most every other team in the league. You can’t name a player on defense that Iowa State couldn’t afford to lose while still maintaining their caliber of play whereas if Texas lost Joe Ossai or Oklahoma lost Neville Gallimore then things could get ugly.
Then there’s PFPurdy, who’s been trucking along with 1807 passing yards at nine ypa with 11 TDs to three INT and then 188 rushing yards and six more touchdowns. Also, last week the Cyclones got freshman RB Breece Hall fully into the mix and he had 26 carries for 132 yards and three TDs. Their WRs are coming along, Arkansas transfer LaMichael Pettway has been getting going, this team always picks up momentum as the season goes along.
PFPurdy gets a lot of work in the run game at times so that’s always a concern, as it is with Brewer, Hurts, and Ehlinger. The difference is that while PFPurdy is smaller like Brewer, he also plays small and relies on quickness to evade tacklers and hits whereas Brewer sometimes plays as though he’s Ehlinger.
Another concern is the lack of knockout power that Iowa State has shown at times, often being more of a high level ball control offense than an explosive attack, but their expertise at ball control is getting better every week and with a more steady run game is less of a weakness. You wonder how they’d handle Oklahoma’s pressure packages but they have some answers, such as multiple TE sets and PFPurdy’s escapability.
This team is pretty sturdy without a lot of real weaknesses overall, their biggest weakness is probably more the lack of knockout power to put away teams on offense than a particular issue that can be game planned. They failed to come out ahead in a “grind it out” game on the road against Baylor and that won’t be the last time they have to play a tough team that will be hard to overpower.
at Texas Tech, Ok State, bye, at Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, at Kansas State
Nice to get a bye week before Oklahoma and Texas, unlike Baylor how has to travel to Ft. Worth for a rivalry game in the week preceding a similar stretch. A 6-0 run should do the trick but the more realistic hope for Iowa State is probably to go 5-1 in this stretch and then come out ahead because Baylor and Texas both picked up three losses. The trouble is that Iowa State can only ensure that one of those five losses occurs, when they play Texas at home in November.
I’d like Iowa State to finish strong down the stretch over either Baylor or Texas I think if the Cyclones hadn’t already taken an L to Baylor with Texas and Oklahoma still looming.
The big one for the Cyclones will be their road trip to Norman coming off a bye week in four Saturdays. If they can pull off a win there then they’ll be in great shape to pull this off.
Oklahoma is in great shape, obviously. They have weaknesses but the sort that you need some real talent to exploit, it’s very possible that they’ll win the league again and advance to the playoffs only to get smashed when someone like Chase Young undoes everything. Even if that happened, Oklahoma has to feel great about the shape of the program given how well Grinch has done and what could potentially be a major upgrade when Spencer Rattler takes over at QB.
Texas has the most firepower and talent for navigating the rest of their schedule, but they’re hurt by the mess they have on defense and the fact that their contest with Oklahoma came up negative while Baylor and Iowa State could still theoretically pull something out there.
Baylor has maybe the best schedule setup and a formula for winning, but they’ve looked vulnerable to injury and also just vulnerable overall. Can they survive the round robin format?
Iowa State I like to be more consistent than Baylor navigating the round robin schedule but they wasted some of their margin for error by coming up just short in Waco.
The next big game that will reveal a lot about where things are heading is this Baylor at Oklahoma State (-4!!!) game on Saturday. If the Bears win that, and/or Iowa State stumbles in Lubbock, then things start to look like they may hinge on Texas at Baylor in November.
The race for the Big 12 championship seems to cheapen the Red River Shootout but it does make for some intrigue with all of the teams that are in contention in November to make it to the title game. The Big 12 used to have some crazy, multiple-team races for the title back in the 2000s when they had two divisions. There’s a full chapter on the amazing 2008 season that ended in a three-way tie in my book, Flyover Football: