As the calendar page flips from September to October, it is time to enter the fray full force.
I’m looking at you, Big 12 Conference.
Sure, to this point you’ve done well for yourself as an entity. Outstanding quarterback play has led to a 38-10 non-conference record so far.
But now it’s time to stop feasting on cupcakes and to partake of the annual feast that the SEC takes part in.
That’s right. It's time for the annual cannibalism that winnows out the contenders from the pretenders.
With six programs currently ranked in the top 25 (and four in the top ten), the only natural outcome is for there to be carnage.
Texas and Oklahoma face off in the Red River Shootout next week. Texas and Missouri lock horns the week after that.
And that’s only the tip of things. Texas Tech heads to Manhattan, Kan., this weekend to face Kansas State’s porous run defense.
Oklahoma faces Baylor and their electric quarterback, Robert Griffin.
Colorado and their mascot, Ralphie, face Texas in Boulder this weekend.
Missouri travels to Lincoln to try to dispatch a long losing streak against the Cornhuskers. Missouri hasn’t won in Lincoln since I was two months old.
Of course, if they clear that hurdle and beat a strong Oklahoma State team at home, they then get to head to Austin, where they haven’t won since the 19th century. Literally.
Strap on the pads, guys. It’s time to play "big boy" football. I cannot wait.
We start this week’s picks (or guesses, as Bruce Feldman calls them) with one of the games I referenced above. The Red Raiders of Texas Tech head to the Little Apple to face Ron Prince and the Wildcats of Kansas State.
Last week against Louisiana-Lafayette, K-State gave up 335 rushing yards on 51 carries (for a 6.6 ypc average.) This wasn’t against Oregon or Nebraska or West Virginia. This was Louisiana-Lafayette! Yes, the Wildcats won, but 335 rushing yards against is never good, especially when you are the home team.
That came on the heels of the Louisville Cardinals rushing for 303 yards on 55 carries the week before. K-State lost that game, 38-29.
Now, this doesn’t mean that Mike Leach called Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech and asked for advice on how to run the triple option. But Texas Tech has found a running game this season, rushing for over 150 yards in the last three games (including 224 in an ugly win over Nevada).
K-State’s Josh Freeman has matured as a quarterback. His claim as being best in the Big 12, while boastful, is still inaccurate. He’s not bad, and has made some strides since being thrown into the fire as a true freshman a couple of seasons ago.
But there are at least six other Big 12 quarterbacks who I would say are better today. He is a talent, though, and can be a threat that Texas Tech’s still improving defense has to watch out for.
If Texas Tech can run the ball effectively, that makes the pitch-and-catch combo of Harrell and Crabtree more dangerous. K-State is improved. But I don’t think that the defense is ready to handle Texas Tech’s offense. The Red Raiders roll, 45-21.
Now, as most readers should hopefully know by now, I am a guy who loves offense. That's why I am upset that I won’t get to see this next game, a clash between two teams in Conference USA’s Western Division.
Rice will travel to face Tulsa Saturday night. Currently, Rice holds a half-game lead over Tulsa, which is in an early, three-way tie for second with UTEP and Houston.
Tulsa’s coach Todd Graham was coach at Rice two seasons ago and led the Owls to a 7-6 record. But when the Tulsa job opened, he left after one season and returned to the Golden Hurricane.
Last year’s game was a true shootout, with 1,292 yards of total offense combined in the 48-43 Tulsa win. This year, both teams are at it again, among the leaders in total offense nationally.
Tulsa is led by senior quarterback David Johnson, who has filled in quite nicely as a replacement for graduated Paul Smith. Rice’s featured offensive players are the most prolific quarterback/wide receiver combo in college football history, Chase Clement and Jarrett Dillard.
Tulsa might have the slightly better defense, but I don’t think that will matter in this game. What will matter, I think, is the home field advantage. Todd Graham goes 2-0 as head coach against Rice in a 55-49 shootout that will take overtime to decide.
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