A weekly report on the weekend of Big 12 football.
BIG XII SOUTH
Texas 52 Florida Atlantic 10 [Box / Recap / Blog Coverage]
Had two of their first three drives ended with points instead of turnovers in Longhorn territory, the Owls might have scared Texas fans for a while. FAU worked the 'Horns' youthful secondary over for much of the first two quarters, racking up 245 yards of total offense in six drives before half. Given the talent disparity, any upset bid probably required the Owls to hang close with or take a lead over Texas heading into the break; as it was, they found themselves down 28-10 and Texas slammed the door 24-0 in the second half for a lopsided win. Texas' opponents may want to take note: Will Muschamp is known for his halftime adjustments--ask Urban Meyer, for one--and the smart money says a team which beatsTexas this year does so taking a lead into halftime.
Oklahoma 57 Chattanooga 2 [Box / Recap / Blog Coverage]
If a team is going to commit the sin of scheduling a team like Chattanooga, it better drop the hammer with all due force come game time. Yeah, it's sort of like scoring a 100 on the junior high exit exams, but at least where the state of Oklahoma and tests are concerned, I suppose "passed with flying colors" should be appreciated in that context--even metaphorically. The Sooners disposed of UT-C immediately on Saturday evening by scoring touchdowns on each of their first seven drives en route to a 50-0 halftime lead. Quarterback Sam Bradford picked up where he left off last year, tailback Demarco Murray remains the boogey man in my RRS nightmares, and the Chattanooga offense finished with a meager 36 yards of total offense.
Wake Forest 41 Baylor 13 [Box / Recap / Blog Coverage]
How badly was Baylor beaten in Art Briles' first game at Baylor? Badly enough that the above box score link will route you over to Wake Forest's official site, since the Baylor athletic portal surreptitiously hides the box score behind a page which never loads. If there was a silver lining on Saturday, however, it had to be the impressive debut of true freshman quarterback Robert Griffin, a four star recruit from Copperas Cove with outrageous athletic talent who entertained offers from the likes of Nebraska and Tennessee before settling on the Bears. The dynamic athlete enrolled in Waco early this spring, allowing him to compete in the Big 12 Track and Field championships over the summer, where he won the 400m hurdles--no fluke for the high school state record holder in both the 110 and 200m hurdle events. If Griffin's athletic prowess wasn't enough, he enters Baylor having graduated from Copperas Cove with a 4.71 GPA, good for seventh in his class. All told, it's enough to make you forget Thursday night's debacle against the Demon Deacons and optimistic about the future.
Oklahoma State 39 Washington State 13 [Box / Recap / Blog Coverage]
The Cowboys took on one of the BCS' weaker teams in Seattle this Saturday, but as a good team should they disposed of the Cougars with relative ease, outgaining Washington State 367-196 on the afternoon. Oklahoma State nearly reached the 200 yard mark in rushing on 42 carries, the bulk by sophomore Kendall Hunter (23-119, 2 TDs), while junior quarterback Zac Robinson--who gets overlooked only because of his conference--had a quietly efficient day with his 193 yards passing on 20 completions in 27 attempts. Wazzu's young offense wasn't much of a test, but Cowboys fans have to be pleased to see their defense take care of business on the road, with their secondary (three returning starters) in particular living up to heightened expectations.
Texas Tech 49 Eastern Washington 24 [Box / Recap / Blog Coverage]
Heading into his ninth season as the Texas Tech head coach, Mike Leach for the first time has all his ducks in a row, with Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree the two brightest stars among 10 offensive returning starters, as well as eight returnees on defense--the Red Raiders' annual Achilles' heel. From this fan's perspective, the season sets up as an entertaining weekly battle between True Tech Believers and Skeptics, with no real proof on the schedule to settle the score until well into November:
True Tech believers will tell you Defensive Coordinator Ruffin McNeal, who took over the job after the Okie State disaster last season, is the man to get the defense to that seemingly within-reach level where the offense can take care of the rest. Already, though, skeptics are pointing to Tech's opener against 1-AA Eastern Washington as proof that things are as they've always been in West Texas. And back and forth they go:
Believer: "You may wanna put a hold on that eulogy, pardner: Though Eastern Washington managed 24 points and 364 yards of total offense before the game's conclusion, it took them 85 plays to get there. Put another way, the Eagles putted down the field at 4.3 yards per play, a rate which--if sustained over the course of a season--would put Tech in fine company."
Skeptic: "Silly Tortilla: this is how it's done."
Seriously, I'm looking forward to two straight months of this. Outside the annual SEC carnival, there's no more entertaining conference of which to be a fan than the Big XII right now.
Arkansas State 18 Texas A&M 14 [Box / Recap / Blog Coverage]
My favorite moment from the hysterical (to me) movie Celtic Pride comes after Dan Akroyd and Daniel Stern's beloved Celtics blow a huge lead and lose at the buzzer in what what would have been a title-clinching Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Sitting in the Boston Garden long after all the other fans have filed out, the two remain too stunned to leave their seats. Finally, Akroyd turns to Stern and says hopefully, "Well, it could be worse... We could be fleeing some third world country, stranded in the ocean on a raft with our families, no food, water, or land in sight."
There's a long pause, with Daniel Stern continuing to stare ahead in visible agony, before he finally processes Akroyd's attempt at consolation and erupts, "I WISH I WAS A BOAT PERSON! They're out in the sun! On a boat! With their family! THEIR TEAM DIDN'T LOSE GAME 6 OF THE FINALS!"
Substitute "at home to Arkansas State" for "Game 6 of the Finals" and you have some idea of what it's like to be a fan of Texas A&M football right now.
BIG XII NORTH
Iowa State 44 South Dakota State 17 [Box / Recap / Blog Coverage]
The Cyclones' football home page touts, "Defense Shines in ISU’s Season-Opening Win," a charitable characterization for a defense which allowed 180 yards rushing and 350 yards overall to a 1-AA opponent. Even taking away JaRon Harris' 76-yard touchdown run with six minutes left in the game, the Cyclones still allowed the Jackrabbits 4.3 yards per carry. On the bright side, the Cyclones did pick off SDSU's quarterback five times, one of which was returned for a score. Meanwhile, the Cyclones had little trouble moving the ball on offense (6.4 yards per play), but struggled mightily holding on to it (three lost fumbles). In any case, after last year's season-opening losses to Kent State and Northern Iowa, Cyclones fans have to be happy just to have picked up an expected win.
Nebraska 47 Western Michigan 24 [Box / Recap / Blog Coverage]
The Bo Pelini era in Lincoln began with a solid, if unspectacular, win over a reasonably solid Western Michigan squad from the MAC (17 returning starters). The Huskers' secondary struggled to slow down junior signal caller Tim Hiller (30-49-342, 2 TD, 1 INT), but the Blackshirts thoroughly smothered the Broncos' rushing game (8 yards on 25 attempts), a welcome performance following last year's 115th-ranked effort. Offensively it was a mixed bag for Nebraska: The 7.2 yards per play against what should be the MAC's best defense (10 returning starters) was encouraging, but quarterback Joe Ganz was intercepted twice and the Huskers sputtered a bit when they moved into Bronco territory (4 field goals on drives ending at the 27 yard line). After last year's mess of a season, Nebraska fans should feel relatively pleased with the opening effort and, looking at the upcoming schedule (vs San Jose St, vs New Mexico St, vs Virginia Tech), reasonably hope to be 4-0 when they open Big XII play in Lincoln against Missouri.
Kansas State 45 North Texas 6 [Box / Recap / Blog Coverage]
Most exciting for Wildcats fans, Josh Freeman was excellent (18-24-232, 3 TD, 0 INT) and the team appears to have a new micro-player on offense to rally behind--JuCo transfer Brandon Banks, who at 5-7, 142 darts around the field like AWiggo with wheels. Also of note, TB of Bring On The Cats points out that the Wildcats were penalized only 4 times for 30 yards on Saturday, a modest improvement over last year's opener at Auburn (16 yellow hankies, 171 yards). Like Nebraska, a 4-0 non-conference season appears eminent for KSU, their trip to Louisville not looking particularly worrisome after the Cards' Sunday debacle against UK.
Missouri 52 Illinois 42 [Box / Recap / Blog Coverage]
Texas fans who haven't mentally adjusted to Missouri as a likely favorite when they visit Austin this October need only watch the Tigers' explosion in the final nine minutes of the first half against Illinois to understand what the fuss is all about. Trailing 13-10 after Chase Daniels made a rare ill-advised pass which the Illini returned for a touchdown, Missouri closed out the half with 21 straight points via a 99-yard kickoff return by Jeremy Maclin, a 40-yard rush by Derrick Washington, and a 17-yard reception by Chase Coffman which capped a 10 play, 87 yard drive.
Of course, we already knew Missouri's offense was the cream of the crop, and the "Missouri as legit title contenders" talk has been fueled by speculation that the defense was well situated to take a big step forward in 2008. One game in, that argument looks dubious; the Tigers allowed 532 yards of total offense (6.9 per play), almost all of it through the air, where Juice Williams' (134.1 QB Rating in '07) scorched Missouri for 451 yards and 5 touchdowns. Troubling as the pass defense was, the good news for Tigers fans is that no such challenge awaits the team in the remaining non-conference schedule and the Big XII rotation breaks nicely for them this season (no OU or Texas Tech).
Kansas 40 Florida International 10 [Box / Recap / Blog Coverage]
My primary justification for ranking Kansas so highly last season despite their cringe-worthy schedule was the thoroughness with which they waxed inferior competition: The Jayhawks dismantled their four non-conference foes by a combined score of 214-23. For a program-breakthrough season, that worked nicely, but even after Kansas' Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech, there remain more skeptics than believers. This past Saturday's season-opening beatdown of FIU (76 total yards allowed) likely won't win over those skeptics, but the rest of the schedule could: The Jayhawks travel to Tampa for a September 12 showdown with South Florida before a conference slate featuring Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas in the South rotation. Navigating those treacherous waters will require more from a rushing game seeking to replace bowling ball Brandon McAnderson (190-1,148-5.9, 16 TDs in '07) than Kansas got on Saturday (36-153-3.6, 1 TD).
Colorado 38 Colorado State 17 [Box / Recap / Blog Coverage]
If Texas fans are looking for one game on the schedule to lock onto as a barometer of the team's ability to compete for this year's Big XII title, they needn't look further than the 'Horns' October 4th visit to Boulder, likely Texas' fifth most challenging game on the schedule behind (in order) the Red River Shootout, Missouri's visit to Austin, and road trips to Lubbock and Lawrence. Though the Buffaloes can't challenge Texas personnel-wise, Boulder remains one of the more dangerous road venues in the conference, son Cody should fare better in year two of father Dan's system, five-star tailback Darrell Scott provides immediate rushing ammo, and the defense returns eight starters (including six seniors). Of course, to be fair and lest we get carried away, it's debatable whether those six returning seniors should be considered much of a positive--not when those same six as juniors were an integral part of a defense which allowed 5.6 yards per play and 29.5 points per game. In any case, if Texas fancies itself more than a team preparing for a 2009 title run, winning in Boulder is essential.
WEEK 1 AWARDS
BEST WIN: MISSOURI OVER ILLINOIS I'm sure Missouri fans would have preferred the team's defense to have performed in the same neighborhood as the offense, but in this sport it's not worth losing too much sleep over. The Tigers start '08 ranked highly enough in the polls to set aside style points concerns--it's difficult to imagine a 12-0 regular season plus Big XII championship game win not landing Missouri in the BCS title game. With Saturday's nationally televised win over Illinois, the Tigers remain very much in the thick of September's premature title talk and should remain so for the immediate future with SE Missouri, Nevada, and Buffalo rounding out the non-conference schedule.
WORST LOSS: TEXAS A&M TO ARKANSAS STATE No one dings the Big XII when Baylor loses, but the Aggies' loss to Arkansas State stained what was otherwise an unblemished day for the conference. Most depressing for A&M, Saturday's loss marks the first game of what I said all summer on the radio looked to me like an uninspiring era under Mike Sherman. Whatever his merits, Sherman struck me as the wrong guy at the wrong time for the wrong team in the wrong conference. Beergut may be right: It could get a lot worse before things get better.
TOP PERFORMER, OFFENSE (TEAM): MISSOURI As a Texas fan, I find myself drooling a little bit when I watch Jeremy Maclin play football, and if you ask me the one thing standing between Texas and top-of-the-rankings greatness in 2009, I'd point to the absence of an offensive game changer of his type. Though it was Maclin's jaw-dropping kickoff return that launched Missouri on their second quarter run, he was only a minimal part of the Tigers' dominant offensive performance from the line of scrimmage. Game balls there go to Chase Daniel, of course, but also coverage nightmare TE Chase Coffman (9 catches, 120 yards, 1 TD) and the soon to be well-known sophomore tailback Derrick Washington (19 carries, 137 yards, 2 TDs).
BUM STEER, OFFENSE (TEAM): TEXAS A&M Baylor was worse statistically, but the Bears can at least point to Wake Forest's defense and credibly claim to have run into an immovable object. Not so with A&M, who have their own incompetence to blame for Saturday's second half goose egg. Fun as it is to snicker at A&M's failure, I'll conclude this week's Agro commentary with this: If Stephen McGee doesn't finish his mediocre career at Texas A&M 2-2 against the Longhorns, I'm permanently filing Mack Brown in the mediocre category alongside him, no matter what happens after that.
TOP PERFORMER, OFFENSE (INDIVIDUAL): COLT MCCOY, TEXAS I've been pretty harsh on McCoy when he's struggled, but he was near perfect on Saturday and deserving of every bit of praise he's received this weekend. Though Florida Atlantic's defense was unquestionably subpar, McCoy was nonetheless... well... literally near perfect. By my count, Texas' quarterback made two poor throws, suffered from three dropped passes, and completed all 24 of the rest for 222 yards and 3 touchdowns. For the cherry on top, McCoy not only avoided being sacked, but also racked up 103 yards rushing on 12 carries.
BUM STEER, OFFENSE (INDIVIDUAL): STEPHEN MCGEE, TEXAS A&M Whoops. I'm not quite done ragging on the Aggies just yet, as Stephen McGee blows the competition out of the water for this week's individual Bum Steer Award. To be fair, the real dog here is Bill Byrne, who hired a retread head coach who runs an offense in which Stephen McGee can't possibly succeed and through which A&M is about to fall impossibly behind its competitors in an increasingly competitive conference. Still, this ain't an award for AD's and McGee did his part playing the role of Hopeless Passer, completing 19 of 27 passes for 170 yards, 0 TDs and 2 INTs. Worst of all, he couldn't even point to the grass stains on his pants as proof that he'd contributed to the team, as his seven official rushes resulted in -29 yards--28 yards lost to four sacks and one more on three rushes.
PB'S POWER RANKINGS
1. Oklahoma - With the conference's best offensive and defensive line, the Sooners likely have a lock on this spot unless and until they lose.
2. Missouri - I suspect the gap between the Tigers and Longhorns will steadily shrink throughout this season; the only question is whether Texas can close it in time for Missouri's October 18 visit to Austin.
3. Texas - The defense will struggle at times while the youngsters grow up, but the most important hurdle this team still needs to clear is on offense, where the search for a game breaker continues.
4. Texas Tech - The conference's wild card, we probably won't learn what we need to until the Red Raiders open conference play at Kansas State and versus Nebraska. If they can't win those two and then handily dispatch A&M in College Station, the stretch run at Kansas, versus Texas, versus Oklahoma State, and at Oklahoma could get ugly.
5. Oklahoma State - Save A&M, Baylor, and Iowa State, it seemed like almost every Big XII team got more summer love than the Cowpokes. Though they don't have any sexy names for SportsCenter, I love OSU's offensive line and think Zac Robinson's a damn good football player. Whatever I think, the real test is in the schedule, as the Cowboys draw Missouri, Texas, Tech, and Colorado all on the road.
6. Kansas - They'll have to earn their spot above Nebraska when they travel to Lincoln in November, but I'll reserve any sort of Big Judgment about this team for after the huge game in Tampa against South Florida. If the Jayhawks find a running game, they'll be a tough out all season.
7. Nebraska - Without a better feel for whether Joe Ganz 'is' or 'isn't', it's hard to decide what to think of Nebraska's offensive fortunes this year. I'll punt and vote 'inconsistent' for now.
8. Colorado - The Buffs look at least a year (probably two) away from being Big XII North favorites, but Hawkins has revamped the recruiting (Jon Major, Darrell Scott, and Lynn Katoa highlight the solid '08 class) and should see progress on last year's up-and-down ride--certainly on offense. I have my doubts as to whether they can stop anyone this fall.
9. Kansas State - The running game looks suspect and I don't trust Josh Freeman to carry an offense on his own. As for the defense, this is a squad which let Nebraska drop 73 on them in Lincoln last November. I'm skeptical.
10. Texas A&M - Michael Goodson would be a household name if he had decided to attend any of about 40 other universities. As is, he's a dynamic talent who Frantana feloniously underused and Mike Sherman will keep out of the spotlight with a four win season.
11. Baylor - I'll be honest: when Baylor's not playing Texas, I'm going to be rooting for this Robert Griffin kid. I love everything about him.
12. Iowa State - Unless they win in Waco on October 11th, Iowa State (0-5 on the road in '07) appears headed to a winless Big XII season.