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The Week That Will Be: Level Land

The Longhorns head to the South Plains, trying to find their equilibrium.

West Virginia v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Last Week: 3-2-1 ATS 5-1 SU

For the Year: 24-34-2 (.414) (-$1,260) ATS 43-16 (.729) SU

We learned last week…

  • At a school where traditions are the very fabric of the university’s culture, the Aggies continued their annual tradition of falling out of the polls in November as they allowed 125 yards passing on the final two drives to blow a 10-point fourth quarter.

  • The Michigan Wolverines have won eight in a row as the ridiculous Michigan defensive stat of the week is that they managed to hold Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders to 100 total yards. Michigan has Rutgers and Indiana left on the schedule before their showdown with Ohio State.

  • Georgia overpowered Kentucky with 331 yards rushing on a very respectable Kentucky defense. The win wrapped up a trip to the SEC Championship last week where they’ll face a familiar foe – Alabama.

  • Speaking of Alabama, the LSU Tigers still haven’t scored on the Crimson Tide in Baton Rouge since 2014. The Tigers didn’t end the game particularly well, but they didn’t start well, either, as their first nine drives netted only 93 yards and all ended in a punt.

  • Two Kyler Murray interceptions allowed Texas Tech to jump out to a 14-0 lead on the Sooners, but Alan Bowman leaving the game at halftime undoubtfully hurt the Red Raiders chance of winning the ballgame. Texas Tech averaged 7.6 yards per play in the first half. In the second half, that number dropped to 5.2.

  • That Texas game was great for the first 59 minutes and 44 seconds…

Oh boy.

On the surface, the Longhorns should feel no shame in taking the seventh-ranked team in the country to the very last seconds of the game and losing the game on a perfect pass from the third ranked quarterback in the country – but what a turning point for the season this could be.

A season marked by a remarkable ability to adapt to the situation at hand — to find the offense when needed, to come up with the big stop when needed, suddenly lost its place in the last couple of weeks. But it was right there.

Texas could have put themselves in prime position in the Big 12 race with a victory over the Mountaineers. In the balance was a chance to be one of two teams with one conference loss and would the tiebreaker advantage over both Oklahoma and West Virginia.

But that came crashing down when Will Grier waltzed through the end zone.

Now, winning out becomes a must for the Longhorns – and even that might not be enough – because they now require help to get to Arlington.

In the most frustrating turn of events in quite an era of frustrating turn of events, it is the defense that may cost the Longhorns a shot at a conference championship.

Much the same defense that finished 21st in S&P+ team defense last season. The same that held Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma to 29 points, their lowest offensive output of the season. Much the same defense that held Mason Rudolph and Oklahoma State (#3 in S&P+ offense) to 13 points. That held TCU to 24 points and Texas Tech to 27.

All of those games were losses due to putrid offense.

Even this season, the defense held them in the game against TCU and USC before the offense got things going in the second half, suffered some lapses but ultimately held tight against Kansas State on the road, and very much contained Kyler Murray and Oklahoma for 45 minutes of game action – but apparently was broken in the fourth quarter of that game.

Consider this – as bad this two-game losing streak has been to stomach, what if Charlie Brewer completes the 97-yard drive at the end of regulation to lift Baylor over the Horns three weeks ago? That was a very distinct possibility – but fortunately didn’t happen.

And of course the frustrating part comes because the offense has shown signs of life the last several weeks.

Through nine games (eight games he actually played), Sam Ehlinger now has completed 64% of his passes for 2,171 yards while throwing for 16 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions (his current streak of 246 consecutive passes without an interception is a new Big 12 record). He’s also rushed for 329 additional yards and 9 touchdowns.

Through the same time period last year, Ehlinger had 12 total touchdowns and 7 interceptions and faced all sorts of questions about whether he was the answer at quarterback long term.

Those questions are long gone, much like the defensive reputation.

There are a lot of excuses for why the defense suddenly has fallen off a cliff. Injuries. Lack of depth to cover for those injuries on defense, mostly due to attrition after the last coaching change. Faulty schemes. Lack of development. Lack of focus by senior leaders.

But no matter those issues, basic fundamentals like tackling shouldn’t be a problem. I thought we left those issues with previous coaching eras.

All I know is that some Mr. Miyagi remedy had better be in the cards for the Longhorns this week, because we all know that Texas Tech can light up the scoreboard. And Iowa State is no slouch on offense, either.

Balance. The Longhorns had better find it, because their season hangs in it.

Florida State @ Notre Dame -17.5

This is a game that looked a lot more attractive when scheduled, as Florida State is in the midst of a disastrous season that likely will see them miss their first bowl game in 36 years.

How disastrous? The Seminoles have committed 32 penalties in their last two games.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, has the Seminoles and Syracuse at home and USC on the road standing between them and the College Football playoff and the chance to lose by 30 to Alabama, so the stakes are high.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book has been the catalyst to that undefeated season, as the junior signal caller has thrown for 1,824 yards and 15 touchdowns. Book had three touchdowns last week in the second half of a close one against Northwestern to quiet a challenge.

The temperature will be below freezing in South Bend for this game. Quite the difference from Florida.

Notre Dame 42 Florida State 17

ATS – Notre Dame

SU – Notre Dame

Mississippi State @ Alabama -23.5

The one question I have about this game is how motivated Alabama will be the week after conspiring with the SEC to keep one defensive player out of a half so they could sneak away with a 29-point win.

The Crimson Tide lead this series 80-18-3, including wins in the last ten. The Bulldogs last won in 2007, Nick Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa but came close last year in Starkville, ultimately falling 24-17…pre-Tua, of course.

Mississippi State allows the second fewest points in the country (12.3 points per game), but I’m not sure how they score ANY points, much less enough to win the game.

Alabama 38 Mississippi State 17

ATS – Mississippi State

SU – Alabama

Clemson -20 @ Boston College:

Back on September 29th, Clemson played Syracuse and perhaps should have lost that game. Since then, they are outscoring their opponents 240-36 in the four games since.

Freshman quarterback Trevor “Don’t Call Me Sunshine” Lawrence has thrown for nine touchdowns to only one interception in those four games, while running back Travis Etienne has seven touchdowns and is averaging 9.4 yards per carry in that stretch.

Boston College running back AJ Dillon is the catalyst for their offense (which is ACC hot ) as he has rushed for nearly 900 yards and eight touchdowns, but might miss this one with an injury.

The Eagles don’t have a victory over a Top-5 team since 2002, and they’re not going to start here.

Clemson 45 Boston College 24

ATS – Clemson

SU – Clemson

Baylor @ Iowa State -15.5

Baylor can become bowl eligible with a win here, a year after finishing with an overall record of 1-11. It won’t be easy, as the Cyclones have won four in a row after a 1-3 start.

The Bears have won only two of their past 13 road games, they’ll have to wait another week to try to get to a bowl game.

Iowa State 38 Baylor 28

ATS – Baylor

SU – Iowa State

Oklahoma State @ Oklahoma -20.5

Oklahoma State was riding high after their win over Texas last week, ready to reclaim their place near the top of the conference…and then they lose to Baylor.

Because of course they did.

This series is dominated by Oklahoma to the tune of 87 Oklahoma victories to 18 Oklahoma State victories, with 7 ties mixed in for good measure. It hasn’t been much better recently for the Cowboys despite their recent success – they have won just two of the past 15 in this series.

Oklahoma State needs another win to become bowl eligible, and with the two conference runner-ups on the schedule along with TCU, that isn’t as much of a small dunk that you might think it is.

Expect plenty of offense and an Oklahoma win.

Oklahoma 42 Oklahoma State 28

ATS – Oklahoma State

SU – Oklahoma

Texas -1.5 @ Texas Tech:

They say it every time, pumping up this narrative about a night game in Lubbock, but the truth of the matter is that the Longhorns have only lost twice to the Red Raiders in Lubbock since 1998 – in 2002 and 2008, both were admittedly gutting losses so it might seem like more than that.

The Red Raiders have won two of three in this series, including a 27-23 win last in year in Austin, a game which the Longhorns led by 10 points in the fourth quarter.

That game likely saved the job of Kliff Kingsbury, who has his hands full with a quarterback situation this year that has seen three quarterbacks start a ballgame. McLane Carter, Alan Bowman and Jett Duffey have all started games for the Red Raiders with mixed results.

Duffey likely gets the start for this one, and the short of it is that his rushing game is more advanced than his passing game. He’s rushed for at least 80 yards in three games this year and has four rushing touchdowns as well.

Junior Antoine Wesley is the chief receiving threat, as he ranks second nationally with 1,176 yards (70 catches, seven touchdowns).

Their defense is improved (they have allowed less than 20 points in four games this year), but have given up more than 40 points two straight weeks.

This should be a good one as both teams should be desperate for a win. Give me the team with the better quarterback.

Texas 41 Texas Tech 34

ATS – Texas

SU – Texas

For entertainment purposes only. Save your money for Wurstfest.