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The Week That Will Be: Standing Outside The Fire

For Halloween, the Longhorns get to play the scrappy, good enough to beat you underdog against a Top 10 team. 2020, man.

NCAA Football: Baylor at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Last Week: 2-4 ATS 4-2 SU

For the Year: 20-21-1 (.488) (-$310) ATS 28-14 (.667) SU

Quick Thoughts From Last Week:

The Pony Express Has Been Grounded Luke Fickell’s Cincinnati defense held SMU to 13 points (they had been averaging 42.6 ppg) and his offense rushed for 313 yards as the Bearcats grabbed the inside lane on the New Year’s 6 bid from the Group of Five.

You know things are bad in Nebraska when... They are competitive for a half and it is marked as a sign of progress. The Cornhuskers looked impressive as they rushed out to the first score of the game, and only trailed by ten at halftime...but still didn’t cover the 26 points spread as Justin Fields had only one incompletion on the day and Ryan Day was apologizing for running up the score by the end.

2020 is Weird — Jim Harbaugh Beats a Ranked Opponent Those 2020 jokes just keep giving. Michigan ran the ball at an 8.8 yards per carry clip as the Golden Gophers still haven’t beaten the Wolverines in Minnesota since 1977. Michigan’s 49 points were their most in a road game against a ranked opponent since scoring 51 (in a loss) at Northwestern in 2000.

Oklahoma State outlasts Iowa State That suddenly good Oklahoma State defense held Brock Purdy to 19 of 34 passing for 162 yards with a touchdown and an interception, contained Breece Hall (except for two really long, impressive runs) and that so so Oklahoma State offense welcomed back Spencer Sanders, as he had 2 INT in his first game back but chipped in 71 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns.

Lincoln Riley Beats Gary Patterson...Again TCU has now lost 7 in a row to Oklahoma, with still only three of those being a one-score game. Spencer Rattler put up 332 passing yards and two touchdowns and TJ Pledger rushed for 122 yards. TCU put up only 75 rushing yards...not their blueprint for success.

The Longhorns Stay the Course Texas didn’t blow the doors off of Baylor, but did what they needed to do — win a physical Big 12 game and do so in a manner in which the game was never in doubt. The Horns used a strong running attack and a vertical passing attack to win a conference game as the defense held Baylor to 64 rushing yards and 5/14 on third down. It wasn’t always pretty, but I’ll take another few of those this season.

It was in this space two weeks ago that I expressed that Tom Herman isn’t the man for this job, mainly because of one reason — if not this year, when?

Despite their best efforts, the Longhorns are still in the thick of things in the Big 12 — and with this being the year of a global pandemic and its neighbor an economic downturn, big wigs at Texas are likely looking for reasons to keep Herman and not pay out the gigantic buyout to him and his staff and pay a new coach even more money.

And this game is one of those reasons. Win this one, and with fellow contenders Kansas State and Iowa State still on the schedule, the Longhorns would be sitting fairly well in the race for the right to play in the Big 12 championship game at the end of the season.

Lose it, and effectively fall out of the race before the calendar even turns to November...and well, those pockets of the big cigars suddenly get a lot looser.

No pressure, Tom. Again.

“We don’t talk about the race,” Herman said after the Baylor win on Saturday. “I do think that the leaders on this team understand who we have left to play and that there’s a long road ahead and a very positive one if we take care of what we need to take care of, but those things are very difficult to do, too. We don’t talk about it. We talk about taking it one game at a time, but I do think that the guys that understand football in that locker room know exactly what we still have left to play for.”

It will be difficult. That is what happens when you dig a 2-2 conference hole, with one of those losses being to 1-3 TCU. There is no margin for error now.

Go on a Mack Brown-like Post-OU six game win streak and win the Big 12 championship (unlike Mack Brown...I know, I know, cheap shot), and Tom Herman is likely celebrated.

Fall one game short….and well, you made this bed.

But in order to pull off the seemingly impossible, Herman is going to have to trust his senior quarterback. I understand wanting to establish the run was en vogue 20 years ago, but this is college football in the year 2020, where you win with your star players, no matter how old or how young or which position they play.

The second half of this season should fall upon the arm of Sam Ehlinger. The defense played well enough against Baylor and most of the time against Oklahoma that perhaps they have turned a corner and can become a serviceable unit in a wide open conference.

The penalties on Saturday were minimal. And yes, the running game worked for the most part.

But if it were me, I would much rather stake my job on the arm of Ehlinger rather than the 6-7 guys it takes to make a viable running game.

Of course he needs time to throw and the receivers need to catch the ball — but c’mon, this is why you recruit the guy. Not so he can hand it off on every first down.

But if there will be one lasting legacy of Tom Herman it will be his stubbornness. He made his reputation and got this Texas job by winning games like this.

Go with the one who brung ya.

Arkansas @ Texas A&M -12.5:

The Aggies have won eight in a row in this series (every game since they joined the SEC), but these games are generally close — five out of the last six have been one score games. The Razorbacks haven’t won in College Station since they were still in the Southwest Conference in 1989.

This year the Hogs are 2-2 in the conference, which is an accomplishment seeing as how they carried a 20-game SEC losing streak into this season. They’ve been doing it mainly with defense, as they shut down Georgia for a half before they pulled away and held Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss squad to 21 points last week.

The schedule only gets tougher for the Razorbacks after this one, as they still have games against Florida, LSU and Alabama left on the schedule, while the Aggies have a relatively lightweight schedule, with South Carolina, Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and Auburn left. The SEC is the SEC, but none of those teams look that formidable this season.

The Aggies have been riding the hot legs of Isaiah Spiller and an improved Kellen Mond. I think they get the win again here, but the Hogs have shown that they are not to be taken lightly anymore.

Texas A&M 31 Arkansas 24

ATS – Arkansas

SU – Texas A&M

LSU -3 @ Auburn:

Lost in LSU’s blowout win over South Carolina last week was the fact that their defense still allowed 7.9 ypp — Bo Pelini’s unit continues their troublesome slide in 2020, without the Joe Brady offense to bail them out.

LSU quarterback Myles Brennan is questionable again for this one. If he can’t go, it will likely be freshman T.J. Finley under center again for the Tigers. Finley, who grew up only 52 miles away from Baton Rouge, was impressive in his debut last week — throwing for 265 yards and two touchdowns (and rushing for another), but that was at home, can he replicate that on the road?

Tank Bigsby had his third consecutive 100-yard rushing day for Auburn last week in a win over Ole Miss, but the (Auburn) Tigers offense has been pretty milquetoast this season, rushing for only 7 touchdowns on the year. Quarterback Bo Nix has looked terrifyingly mediocre again this season — completing only 58% of his passes for only 6.5 yards per attempt and six touchdowns to four interceptions.

LSU has won three in a row in this series, and they were all very tight games (a 24-21 scoring average in that timespan). Auburn has only beaten LSU three times since 2006 (all at Auburn), and I don’t see that changing this year, as despite not being what they were last year, that LSU offense is the NFL compared to Auburn.

LSU 38 Auburn 24



Ohio State -12 @ Penn State:

Penn State is trying to get the bad taste out of their mouth from their defeat at the hands of Indiana against the wrong opponent this week — as Ohio State has won three in a row in this series.

Nittany Lions fans were in the mentions of every national sports writer last week howling about how bad of a gameday coach James Franklin is after Indiana let Penn State score to go up 8 with 1:42 remaining in the game. You know the rest. Penn State outgained the Hoosiers 488-211, becoming the first FBS team in 367 tries to lose when outgaining an opponent by at least 250 yards in the last three years.

If you want to find a flaw in the design of the Buckeyes, you might point to the defense, which allowed Nebraska to drive right down the field a few times in the first half last week, or you might look at a running game that only averaged 4.17 yards per carry, which forced Justin Fields to run the football 15 times last week, more than he did in all but one game last season.

But we’re stretching to call those flaws.

The Buckeyes have won 13 straight Big Ten games by double-digits, and they are favored to do it again here. The good news for Penn State is that they won’t face another ranked opponent until they play Michigan on Thanksgiving weekend (and that is their only ranked opponent left).

Ohio State 34 Penn State 27

ATS – Penn State

SU – Ohio State

TCU -2.5 @ Baylor:

Remember the middle of last decade when this was the premier match-up in the Big 12?

Baylor may or may not have the services of senior running backs Trestan Ebnar and John Lovett for this one — there was a report that they had opted out after losing to Texas (c’mon guys, Texas isn’t that bad of a loss), but then Baylor head coach Dave Aranda seemed to have no clue where that report was coming from.

Baylor’s win last year in Fort Worth was their first in the series since 2014, so TCU has been a bit of a thorn in their side, but they had better hope they win this game, as they still have meetings with Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State left on the schedule.

This one should be the Max Duggan versus Charlie Brewer show, but something just doesn’t look right with Brewer, who can’t seem (or rather isn’t even asked) to throw the ball downfield.

You have to advance past 1950 to win in the Big 12.

TCU 28 Baylor 17



Oklahoma -14.5 @ Texas Tech:

The Red Raiders are looking for their first win over Oklahoma since 2011, and their first win over the Sooners in Lubbock since 2009. Texas Tech has the tendency to flip a coin on whether they want to be competitive against the Sooners, but the last two in Lubbock have been by a touchdown or less (and featured 222 points scored).

Oklahoma has two straight victories since that loss in Ames, but if there is one quibble about their win over TCU last week it is that they had to settle for four field goals (three of those in the red zone) against the Horned Frogs. On the wrong night, that could spell an upset on the south plains.

Texas Tech snapped a three-game losing streak with their victory over West Virginia in Lubbock last Saturday. Junior Henry Colombi was very average in his first career start, throwing for 169 yards (on 28 attempts, but the Red Raiders racked up 179 rushing yards. The bad news? They allowed Jarret Doege of all quarterbacks to throw for 347 yards.

That isn’t a good sign with Okahoma coming to town.

The Sooners will be favored in every game remaining on their schedule (with the possible exception of a date with Oklahoma State on November 21). Get past this one, and they very well could be back in the Big 12 championship game.

Oklahoma 41 Texas Tech 27

ATS – Texas Tech

SU – Oklahoma

Texas @ Oklahoma State -3.5:

Let’s take a look at the Associated Press Top 25….number one is Clemson, sure, two is Alabama, uh huh, three is Ohio State, wait haven’t they only, oh whatever, four is Notre Dame, okay, not very impressive thus far but undefeated, so sure….Georgia, oh yeah, sure...six, Oklahoma State???

The Cowboys are sixth in the country, and sure, it might be a by-product of their schedule (Tulsa, West Virginia, Kansas and Iowa State), and it might be a product of the Big Ten and the Pac-12 not being active in full as of yet, but they are undefeated and have looked impressive (at least on defense) while doing so, so give them credit.

But c’mon.

Let’s start with quarterback Spencer Sanders. Sanders was hurt in the first series of the season against Tulsa, and I’m not sure that Oklahoma State would have fared any worse with the guy behind the counter at Wendy’s under center, his replacements drove the bus and got the job done, but Sanders doesn’t need to go out anymore or the Cowboys will be in a load of trouble.

But how good is Sanders? I didn’t ask how talented, I said how good? This past Saturday was Sanders’ 12th career start and he has yet to throw for 300 yards in a game as a collegiate starter. Not against Kansas, or Texas Tech, or Oregon State, or McNeese, or Texas last year.

But he has thrown for less than 210 yards six times in those 12 starts.

And oh yeah, he has an astounding 13 interceptions and 8 fumbles (losing 6 of them) in 12 career starts.

Yikes. That is all to say — I’m going to be really disappointed if the Cowboys come out this weekend and put up a ton of points on the Longhorns. They haven’t scored as much as 30 points in a game not against Kansas in nearly a calendar year — last November 2nd against TCU, when they scored 34.

Yes they have Chuba Hubbard. Yes they have Tylan Wallace. But that offense can be defeated.

But that defense is legit.

This year Iowa State has hit the high mark on them in points scored with 21. Going back to last year, if you take away the game against Jalen Hurts and Oklahoma, they haven’t allowed as much as 30 points in a game since October 5th of last season, when Texas Tech scored 45 points on them.

The Cowboys thrive on third down defense — statistically they have the best third down defense in the country, which was improved when they held Iowa State to 3 of 13 on Saturday.

They also do a good job of limiting explosives (the Texas offense’s savior this season), giving up only one completion of longer than 20 yards to Brock Purdy last week.

Overall, they rank 12th in the country in S&P+ defense, ahead of programs such as Alabama (21), Florida (26), Penn State (13) and the usual Big 12 defensive stalwart, Iowa State (24).

Texas snapped a four-game losing streak to Oklahoma State last year in Austin (three of those losses were by 3 points, does Vegas know this series or what), but in order to pull off the upset here, Texas is going to have to open up the offense a bit.

Again, rely on Ehlinger to win the game rather than 6-7 guys making the running game work. Set up the run by establishing the pass, and you can pound them in the second half when they are worn out from chasing the Texas receivers all over the field.

I’m not really sure why — everything logical says Oklahoma State wins this game comfortably — but this just feels like one of those Alamo/Sugar Bowl type appearances where we gesture to everything around and say where has this been.

And if it is close late, well perhaps Sanders will give you one.

Texas 27 Oklahoma State 24

ATS – Texas

SU – Texas

For entertainment purposes only. Save your money for your Trump/Biden costume.