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Big 12 Links and Reflections

With a Mizzou bye week in the bag, I thought I could use the Sunday "links and reflections" time and point it at the conference as a whole.  Especially since I have internet again (for now).

If you are a fan who tends to overreact to one week's results, then what you saw within the Big 12 this weekend might have pointed out just how insane this Big 12 slate could be.  Suddenly, the Texas A&M and Texas Tech games look easier.  Meanwhile, the Iowa State and Colorado games look harder.  Instead of looking at this schedule as we have been -- four likely wins (CU, KSU, ISU, KU) and four potential losses (ATM, OU, NU, Tech) -- we should realize that this schedule actually sets up more like eight potential wins and about six potential losses.  I have no idea where this conference currently stands in comparison to others (definitely better than the ACC and Big East, obviously, but compared to the Big Ten/Pac-10/SEC? Clueless.), but I know that the distance between each team's (including Missouri's) ceiling and floor is wide enough that very few things will have the capacity of surprising me over the next two months.

(And whether it means anything for the rest of the season or not, bully to the Big 12 North for representing well.  Sure, Kansas got drubbed, but Iowa State and Colorado both came up with strong wins, and that's not a bad thing for perceptions.)

No. 8 Oklahoma 28, No. 21 Texas 20

Lost amid the sheer insanity of the LSU-Tennessee finish (I completely lost faith in two coaches this weekend, but I'll get to that later) was the fact that OU-Texas was almost as nuts.  Oklahoma built a mostly unassailable 28-10 lead, and to be honest, I stopped watching.  DeMarco Murray's wonderful tightrope touchdown that put the Sooners up 18 appeared to be the nail in the coffin of a Texas team either unwilling or incapable of throwing downfield and scoring quickly.  But the Longhorns bounced back with ten points.  They kicked a field goal with 1:39 left -- a ballsy move since they were still down 11 when they kicked -- and, with three timeouts left, faked an onside kick and went deep.  First of all, the Longhorns damn near recovered the ball around the OU 2, but the ball finally trickled into the end zone and the Sooners just managed to get there first.

Then, on second-and-10 from the OU 20, Landry Jones rolled to his right (I assume the Sooners thought Texas would bite on a play fake and open something up for the game-clinching first down -- they did not), pump faked ... and then just lost the ball.  It slipped right out of his hands and lingered for a moment about a foot from the sideline, but as Texas players leaped to recover it, it just trickled out of bounds.  (On the replay, you can see my boy Trent Ratterree clearly and capably giving the "We still have the ball" sign.  Well done, Trent.)  On the resulting 3rd-and-24 draw play, DeMarco Murray burst up the middle and almost broke free for the first down anyway ... and then Texas muffed the ensuing punt.  OU recovered, and that was ballgame.

The most interesting suggestion from the links above is that the Texas defense had something to do with the Longhorns' loss.  Aside from the opening drive and a failure to get Murray all the way out of bounds on OU's final touchdown, I thought the Texas defense was just fine.  OU managed 6.1 yards per pass, and while Murray and Mossis Madu combined for 158 yards rushing, it took them 40 carries to do it (just under 4.0 per carry).  Texas allowed OU's offense to be competent, but it was far from dominant.  The Sooners were also a bit lucky -- they fumbled three times and lost none of them.  Make no mistake: OU was the better team on the field yesterday.  But it was just close enough that had Texas gotten a little more in the luck department (then again, they fumbled three times themselves and only lost one), it could have made the difference.

In the end, this game was settled when Texas had the ball.  The Longhorns clearly don't have a good sense of what their identity should be right now.  They announced in the offseason that they would be committing to more of a pro-style, under-center, heavy rushing attack, but in the season's opening weeks, it didn't really take.  It's hard to make too many subtle shifts in style, and Texas found that out.  Yesterday, the running game actually did work to a certain degree -- D.J. Monroe, Foswhitt Whittaker and Cody Johnson combined for 123 yards on just 15 carries (aided, obviously, by Monroe's 60-yard touchdown) -- but now it appears that Texas has shifted their identity more toward horizontal passing.  When Oklahoma went up 28-10, here was Garrett Gilbert's passing line: 21-for-31, 159 yards, 1 INT.  They only threw downfield a couple of times, and with Oklahoma's sideline-to-sideline speed, clearly the horizontal passing game isn't going to be a huge success (as I'm pretty sure Mizzou will learn in three weeks), but Texas tried it anyway, and Texas averaged a paltry 5.1 yards per pass in falling behind by 18.  Then, when they had no choice but to go downfield, it worked somewhat.  Gilbert went 6-for-10 for 107 yards over UT's last three drives (10.7 per attempt ... 8.7 per attempt if you count a sack, and you should).

The question now becomes, what should Texas do moving forward?  How does their offensive identity develop through the rest of the year?

And yes, I'm super annoyed that, once again, Mizzou gets the wrong team on the schedule.  Mizzou missed Texas in 2006-07 and Oklahoma in 2005 and 2009, and now with Texas going through an inexperience/identity crisis, Mizzou gets OU in three weeks.  I don't know if Mizzou would beat Texas this year or not, but as I've mentioned before, the "Pinkel can't beat OU/Texas" meme that has developed has actually been aided severely by the fact that Mizzou doesn't play both of them every year ... and has played the wrong one more often than not.

Colorado 29, Georgia 27

On Football Outsiders' Twitter feed this week, I suggested (in a much smaller number of characters) that I thought Mark Richt was doing okay this year, but if Georgia lost to Colorado, I would look at things much differently.  Even a struggling Georgia squad should have too much athleticism for a Colorado team that, while improving in terms of competence, is still lacking in pure speed.  They got run off the field by California, and the same should have happened with Georgia.

Instead, the Bulldogs showed their immaturity.  It is not surprising that a young team will start slow on a long road trip, and Georgia did just that.  Tyler Hansen uncorked a 39-yard run on 3rd-and-5 on Colorado's opening drive (he's Tyler Hansen, and this is what he does ... and Georgia seemed to have no idea, which was pretty damning), and early in the second quarter the Buffs were up 14-3.  Georgia's athleticism then seemed to take over.  A.J. Green reminded everybody how freaking good he is (he's got size, speed, hands, and Michael Irvin-esque push-off ability, ahem).  When they went up 24-14 early in the third quarter, I would have been willing to bet that the final score would be something in the 38-14 neighborhood.  Instead, via a combination of Colorado grit and Georgia youth and/or lack of mental toughness, the Buffs stormed back.  They scored twice in the third quarter to take a 29-24 lead.  Still, though, it just seemed like a matter of time.  Georgia struggled in the red zone, but they got a field goal to come within 29-27, and they were driving as the clock began to run out.  They were clearly setting up for the game-winning field goal ... only they fumbled in the process (a stupid, minimal-contact fumble), Colorado recovered, and that was ballgame.

I watched most of this game, and it was funny -- there was Colorado, hanging with an athletic, historically strong Georgia team ... and yet, all I saw was typical Colorado.  They succeeded the way I expected them too, and they made the mistakes I expected them too.  But the proportion of success-to-failure was not what I expected.  We'll see next week how much of that was Colorado's doing, and how much of it was Georgia failing like teams sometimes do in long road trips.  Colorado isn't a darkhorse North contender or anything, but it does appear that they are at least back to 2007-level, "they might make a bowl game if things break right" status.  For whatever that's worth.

One more thing, actually: you rushed the field after beating a 1-4 team, Colorado fans? Really?

Baylor 55, Kansas 7

Thanks to the St. Louis Cardinals (and the fact that I didn't know it was on Mediacom Channel 22 until it was too late), I saw not a second of this game.  With no Internet, I ended up watching most of Clemson-Miami, which was ... painful.  If I was going to watch semi-bad football, I'd have preferred it to be Big 12 football at least.

That said, I'm obviously not going to complain about a game in which a) Robert Griffin III goes off, and b) Kansas gets obliterated.  Now's the time, I guess, to create a Big 12 Power Poll, just so I can enjoy putting Kansas last.

From what I can tell, this game proved two things: 1) Baylor's got speed (we learned that the hard way last year, though they might have even more this year), and 2) while Kansas can show bouts of competence, this is almost certainly a lost season for them.  We'll see if Turner Gill can build anything more than a semi-competent program, but he's obviously going to be building from scratch.

Iowa State 52, Texas Tech 38

I saw some of this game, but honestly, I chose CU-UGa over it for the most part. These are the games that make power polls impossible.  Is Iowa State a team capable of whipping an at least decent Texas Tech team, or are they the team I saw at Arrowhead, blowing chances left and right against a Kansas State team begging to be beaten (at least until the fourth quarter)?  In this year's Big 12, the answer is 'yes.'

The only smart thing Lou Holtz has ever said with his analyst cap on is that you coach a different team every week.  That is something that has been proven time and again in the Big 12 in 2010.  Oklahoma beats Texas and destroys Florida State ... and almost loses to Utah State, Air Force and Cincinnati.  Texas wins at Lubbock, then gets mauled by UCLA.  Kansas State beats UCLA, and almost loses to Central Florida.  Colorado gets humiliated by California, then beats Georgia.  As teams begin to learn how to handle the spread offense, points get a little harder to come by, and we see small bursts of competence/greatness instead of full quarters' or games' worth.  Meanwhile, just about everybody in the conference is dealing with inexperience at key positions.  Honestly, Nebraska might get the top spot in the power poll I'm not actually creating if not for the fact that Taylor Martinez is a redshirt freshman.  He proved last week against South Dakota State that, despite how great he can look at times, he's still going to play like a freshman at other times.  Maybe they're the best team in the conference anyway ... but he's a freshman, and he likely still has at least one more implosion in him this year.

This is clearly a season where no opinions should be written with a permanent marker.  We have a pretty good idea of which teams are better than the others, but in a given game almost anything is possible.  At this point, nothing between about 3-5 and 7-1 is truly going to surprise me as a Missouri fan, and honestly, I'm not sure I'm going to have that much higher an opinion of a 7-1 Mizzou team than a 3-5 team.  That's over-stating a tad, obviously -- I'll obviously think more highly of an 11-1 Mizzou team than a 7-5 one -- but what I mean is, Missouri's strengths are their strengths, and their weaknesses are their weaknesses.  There are possibly a very small handful of nice breaks, timely plays, and good decisions separating the Tigers from winning seven or 11 games.

More from OSU 38, ATM 35

  • Tulsa World: Mike Gundy discusses OSU's 38-35 victory over A&M
    Tulsa World: Justin Blackmon's 10-catch performance shows he's for real
  • Daily Oklahoman: Odd stats tell the tale of OSU's unusual win over Texas A&M

Just thought I'd throw these links in as well, if for no other reason than I can once again reflect for a moment on how amazingly volatile Jerrod Johnson was last Thursday night.  Holy moly, that was something to watch.  Explosion, implosion, explosion, implosion.  Blaine Gabbert's got his own set of strengths and weaknesses, but at least his failures aren't (yet, anyway) this spectacular, I guess.  It helps the blood pressure at least a little bit.