For the first time since Week 5 of the season, all ten teams in the Big-12 are in action, and all against each other, though we still wait for the three sides undefeated in conference play to face each other. When that time comes, will they all still have that record in tact? First they must negotiate past their Week 9 opposition.
#10 West Virginia @ Oklahoma State, Saturday 12.00 PM ET
For all the derision that the conference has received over the course of the season, there are only seven Power Five schools that remain undefeated, and two of those reside in the Big-12. Some thought that TCU would provide a tough test last week despite their struggles this year, but West Virginia navigated their way through that one with relative ease to reach 6-0. What really stood out from that one, and from the week before against Texas Tech, is how they have played on the defensive side of the ball. To hold that pair of explosive offenses to just a combined 27 points is an achievement that arguably deserves a bit more widespread praise.
That stoutness to limit their opposition will be put to the test once again in a difficult road matchup with Oklahoma State. The nation’s 11th best passing offense (336.4 yards per game) and 14th top scorers (40.9 points per game) have won three of four home games so far this season, the only loss being the Central Michigan asterisk game. That said, it would be a stretch to call the Cowboys overly convincing against two of the lesser performers in the conference this season in Iowa State and Kansas. Junior QB Mason Rudolph has continued to be inconsistent despite the big numbers he’s put up, and he didn’t even have those against the Jayhawks (at least relatively) with just 220 pass yards, a season low, and a single touchdown. They’ll need their leader to be at his best if they want to end the Mountaineers’ winning run.
Player to watch: Rasul Douglas, CB, West Virginia (#13). For such a successful defense this season, there aren’t many, if any, well known names on this Mountaineers unit – that needs to change. Douglas is having an excellent senior season, after the JUCO transfer played a backup role last year. In one of the key plays of the game against TCU, Douglas grabbed his third interception of the year and the big 6’1″, 208 lb corner is third on the team in tackles as well.
#8 Baylor @ Texas, Saturday 3.30 PM ET
Flash back to December 2015, and a 4-7 Texas side faced a 9-3 Baylor team and shocked them in a 23-17 win that cost the Bears a chance at a spot in the Sugar Bowl. Ten months later and the Longhorns are again in position to upset Baylor’s ambitions, this time with hopes of a surprise place in the CFB Playoffs on the line. It would arguably be an even bigger shock victory should the result again favour Texas. The Bears were decimated at quarterback in that game for starters, and even though it was a fairly poor season for Charlie Strong’s team in 2015, they enter this one in worse form than they did then, having lost four of the last five games and struggling to stop anyone on defense, ranking 98th in the country in points allowed per game.
Meanwhile, Baylor are impressing on both sides of the ball, ranking fourth nationally in total offense per game and tenth in points per game. On defense, they are eleventh in the nation in allowing just 17.2 points per game. Their success in slowing opposing offenses is significantly helped by a strong linebacker group in particular, with senior Aiavion Edwards and juniors Travon Blanchard and Taylor Young having produced big performances at times over the course of their 6-0 start. All that said, quarterback Seth Russell hasn’t been at his sharpest the last couple games. While he hasn’t thrown any picks in the previous two, he completed just 54.5% of his passes against Iowa State, then went just 9 of 22 for 40.9% against Kansas.
Player to watch: Taylor Young, LB, Baylor (#1). The Bears leading tackler averaging 7.67 stops a game, Young will need to be at his best. Texas are likely to continue to feed the ball to D’Onta Foreman, with the junior running back totalling at least 124 rushing yards in all six games he’s played this season. Young will be one of the key defenders looked at to slow the big back down. At 6’1″ and 250 lbs, Foreman is a physical force, while Young stands at 5’10”, 225 lbs. Can the undersized linebacker hold up?
Kansas @ #16 Oklahoma, Saturday 7.00 PM ET
The Sooners are 4-0 in conference play – just. A new term is required to describe Oklahoma’s 66-59 win over Texas Tech, as “shootout” doesn’t really do that one appropriate justice in a wild game that saw a new NCAAF record for total offense in a single game. You won’t find me calling it a good game of football though, as both defenses ought to be embarrassed. The 854 yards given up has unsurprisingly dropped Oklahoma to 127th out of 128 FBS sides in yards allowed on the season, hardly fitting of a team with a conference title and a potentially high final ranking among the aims at season’s end. Injuries have been a significant part of those struggles, but thankfully for Bob Stoops, his offense has been making up for those issues with form reminiscent of the performances that took them to the playoffs last season. As good as their leader Baker Mayfield has been in recent weeks, it’s been RB Joe Mixon and WR Dede Westbrook who have been the standout playmakers complementing their quarterback.
The Jayhawks will be the visitors, on the back of a six-games-and-counting losing run. Given that it’s also been 16 games in a row lost in Big-12 play, it’s safe to say that the Sooners are heavy favorites to move to 5-0 in the Big-12 on Saturday evening. Kansas have had their moments, though. They pushed TCU close a few weeks ago, losing only by a single point, and kept themselves within a few points of Oklahoma State at half time last weekend, with erratic quarterback Montell Cozart having a slightly better day, even if the critical errors were still present in the form of a pair of INTs – no surprise from the team that leads the nation in turnovers given away.
Player to watch: Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma. As talented as Samaje Perine is, Mixon is the most exciting and dynamic player in the Sooners’ backfield this season, in addition to his exploits on special teams. His combination of speed and explosion at his size of 6’1″, 226 lbs is rare and scary. Mixon enters this game off the back of a huge statistical day against Texas Tech, having rushed for 263 yards (8.48 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, along with 114 receiving yards and three more scores. Even taking into account the terrible Red Raiders defense, that’s pretty good.
In the remaining two games this week, we firstly have 4-3 Kansas State aiming to continue to work towards bowl eligibility against 1-6 Iowa State, who would have to win out over their final five games in order to do the same. The Cyclones are 0-4 in conference play, but have pushed several opponents close, are fresh off a bye week and playing at home.
And finally, Texas Tech go on the road to TCU in what could again see some big numbers reached on the stat sheet. 3-4 Texas Tech bounced back offensively from being held to 17 points by West Virginia, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the 4-3 Horned Frogs (held to 10 points) do the same given the defense they’ll be facing.
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