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The Week That Will Be: Twilight’s Last Gleaming

The Horns begin Big 12 conference play...for the last time?

Rice v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Last Week: 3-3 ATS 6-0 SU

For the Year: 8-10 (.444) (-$280) ATS 13-5 (.722) SU

Chalk (Oklahoma State +4.5 @ Boise State): Boise State rushed out to a 20-7 lead but a Spencer Sanders 1-yard touchdown run with :06 left in the first half gave the Cowboys a 21-20 lead that they never relinquished the rest of the way. The Cowboys are 3-0 but it tells you how much they trust Sanders when he only attempted 13 passes in this game.

Bad Beat (Oklahoma -23 vs. Nebraska): I could mention Alabama giving up more than 200 yards rushing for only the 8th time in his career as the Crimson Tide let off the gas and nearly blew it against Florida, but if Nebraska makes all of their kicks on Saturday they would have pulled off the massive upset. Oklahoma’s 23 points were their lowest in a win since 2013.

Although lately it certainly feels like it will be 2023 at the earliest that Texas and Oklahoma are allowed to escape the Big 12 conference, there is a chance that this is the final conference opener for the Longhorns in this conference. It almost makes perfect sense that the game time is 11:00 AM, the time for second sleeps, early brunches, hair of the dog beers and prime-time Big 12 conference coverage, right there along with the Sun Belt and the American Athletic Conference.

I suppose we should be thankful that this dreadful conference hasn’t been relegated to Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Perhaps the next television contract.

With that in mind, let’s take (hopefully) one last look at the conference Texas should have left 10 years ago.

Once again pulling up the rear will be the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas fans rushed the field after a big win over South Dakota. Texas and Oklahoma should have left the conference that night.

In all seriousness, I don’t know if parity is always such a good thing in sports but the Big 12 is deep enough (or not good enough) that Texas Tech and Kansas State are projected to finish in the bottom third of the conference, but Texas is dreading a game against Tech this weekend and a visit to Manhattan next weekend for the Sooners is seen as a trap game. Would it really shock anyone if the Red Raiders or Wildcats were to beat say, Michigan or USC or hell anyone in the ACC?

Next up would be the Baylor Bears and West Virginia. Baylor returns 10 starters on a defense that looked fairly salty by the end of last season but has questions at quarterback, while the Mountaineers won 6 games last season and have a veteran quarterback but have depth concerns after several transfers, including three defensive starters.

The supposed good part of parity is that anyone can win on any weekend, but oftentimes that means that the teams near the top of the conference aren’t very good compared to top teams in other conferences. TCU and Oklahoma State both feature quarterbacks that nobody trusts and will rely on defense to win what is traditionally an offensive conference.

The next tier would include Texas and Iowa State. Both teams had high aspirations coming into this season, only to see that come crashing down in the second week of the season. Texas hopes that they have a coach that can finally consistently beat the top half teams of the conference, while the Cyclones have to be wondering to themselves if they cannot win this year then they cannot wait until Oklahoma leaves the conference.

Which of course leaves us with the Oklahoma Sooners, who collect Big 12 titles like wax cups at the Texas State Fair (they won their 6th in a row last December). We can drone on and on about how mediocre the Sooners looked in wins over Tulane and Nebraska, but I remember saying the same things last year when they lost to Iowa State and Kansas State in the first month of the season….and then proceeded to win their sixth straight conference title.

When you come at the king, you best not miss.

Tennessee @ Florida -19:

The Gators are coming off a big win loss to Alabama last week, when everyone patted them on the back for only losing by two points (extra moral victory points for not converting a two-point conversion with three minutes remaining) to mighty Alabama.

In all seriousness, they did outrush Alabama by 167 yards, which certainly doesn’t happen every game, finishing the contest with 9 runs of 10+ yards.

Meanwhile Tennessee won six straight to finish out the 2019 season and their first two of the 2020 season before the wheels fell off as they promptly lost 6 of 7 (with no loss by less than 11 points) with their lone victory coming over Vanderbilt. Jeremy Pruitt was shown the door in Knoxville and in entered Josh Heupel, the former Central Florida head coach and Oklahoma quarterback, who has already lost to Pittsburgh. That game featured 13 penalties and three turnovers by the Volunteers, so time will tell if Heupel will be thrown out of the mansion by Uncle Phil as well.

Michigan transfer Joe Milton is expected to be back at quarterback for the Volunteers after missing a game to injury, but I’m not sure that inspires confidence in many. Add that to the fact that Tennessee has lost 15 of 16 in this series, with the cumulative score being 112-43 in the three years since Dan Mullen was hired, and all confidence in a Tennessee win disappears.

The Volunteers haven’t won in Gainesville since 2003 when Casey Clausen led them to victory, it isn’t happening here, either.

Florida 36 Tennessee 21

Texas A&M -5.5 vs. Arkansas (Arlington, TX):

Texas A&M is still undefeated against Arkansas since joining the SEC in 2012 after last season’s 42-31 victory in...College Station. But they will have a hard time replicating that when they travel to...Arlington. Hmm.

That game last year wasn’t as close as the score indicated as Arkansas had to score the last 14 points of the game in the fourth quarter to make it respectable (and to win some folks money), but close games have been the trend in this series, with the last three Aggie wins by a combined 22 points.

Zach Calzada is the starter in Aggieland after Haynes King suffered an injury in the Colorado game two weeks ago. He was atrocious in relief that day but was better against New Mexico last week, throwing for 275 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. With Barry Odom able to slow down most signal callers, however, you have to wonder how effective the Aggies will be moving the ball through the air on Saturday.

That’s not usually a concern since the Aggies are built to run the football, but they had issues in the first half last week against New Mexico, only rushing for 34 yards in the first half and didn’t eclipse 100 yards against the Buffaloes in Denver two weeks ago. The Aggies will want to get in front of the chains as the Arkansas defense is allowing opposing offenses to convert 28% of third downs this season, but really who have they played?

The Aggie defense is good enough to do what Texas could not — make Arkansas one dimensional and make R.J. Jefferson beat them. They have had their troubles against the run, allowing 226 rushing yards (5.0 ypc) against Kent State and 171 yards (4.5 ypc) against Colorado, but that is because those teams had to do it on the ground because they couldn’t complete a pass.

We will see here if Arkansas is for real or if they are a one-trick pony who can get up for one game, but nevertheless I expect a low-scoring game and thus a close one.

Texas A&M 23 Arkansas 20

Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin -6 (Chicago, IL):

It seems like these two programs would play more as their campuses are only separated by 241 miles, but this is just the 17th meeting in history, and the first since 1964 when a young man by the name of Ara Parseghian earned his first victory as head coach.

Of course these teams are going to ruin the fun by meeting at Soldier Field in Chicago, but this is actually the second meeting between these two schools in the Windy City, with the first coming in 1929 (Notre Dame Stadium was under construction and would open the following year), five days before Black Thursday, the largest sell-off of stocks in American history. So have your high speed fiber line ready for any stock movement next week.

Back to this century, this game centers on the quarterbacks as Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan will make his fourth start for the Irish and the man that everyone wanted to replace him, Graham Mertz, will start for the Badgers. Coan threw for more than 3,200 yards and 23 touchdowns at Wisconsin but suffered a foot injury in fall camp before the 2019 season and never played again in Madison.

Mertz had that outstanding debut last year before quickly falling back to Earth. He has failed to throw a single touchdown pass this season through two games and has two touchdowns and seven interceptions in his last seven starts.

Coan has eight touchdowns in three starts.

Unfortunately for Coan he has been about all the Irish have had this year, as Notre Dame backs are only averaging 3.7 yards per carry this season. Combine that with the fact that Wisconsin is only allowing 1.8 yards per carry and you can see why they will be dependent on the quarterback this week on the Irish sidelines.

If you saw the score of Notre Dame 27 and Purdue 13 on the bottom crawl last week you probably thought that the Irish were finally better after two lackluster wins, but total yards were nearly the same, they committed 8 penalties and only converted 4 of 17 third downs on the day.

I just don’t see the Irish having a good day offensively, and Wisconsin isn’t very good offensively, so expect another low scoring game.

Wisconsin 21 Notre Dame 17

SMU @ TCU -9.5:

The 100th meeting of SMU/TCU is heating up as SMU players have not been fearful in talking smack to the media this week — either they are really confident or they just like talking smack to the media, results are unclear at the moment.

The Mustangs defeated TCU two years ago in Fort Worth 41-38, improving their record to 3-17 against the Horned Frogs in their last twenty meetings.

Shane Buechele is gone and in steps Oklahoma transfer Tanner Mordecai, who has hardly missed a beat from the success that Buechele had. Mordecai has thrown for 1,023 yards in three games and 16 touchdowns, including a hail mary at the end of regulation last week to defeat Louisiana Tech.

TCU defeated some school named Duquesne in the first week of the season and then got by the skin of their teeth against Cal, 34-32. The breakout star of that one was former 5-star recruit Zach Evans who rushed for 190 yards on only 22 carries. Max Duggan contributed 71 yards rushing along with 234 yards passing and 3 touchdowns to a single interception, however there is some concern in Fort Worth that Duggan has plateaued.

Defensively the Horned Frogs were a bit of a mess, allowing Cal quarterback Chase Garbers to throw for 235 yards in the first half alone and allowing four completions of 40+ yards in the game. Those two safeties we remember terrorizing Texas last year? Yeah they are gone.

We’ll see how improved TCU’s defense is after a bye week against a SMU offense that can certainly roll up the points. Unfortunately they also give them up.

TCU 37 SMU 24

West Virginia @ Oklahoma -17:

A trip from the Mountaineers might be just what Oklahoma needed.

West Virginia has yet to defeat the Sooners since joining the Big 12 in 2012, and their results in Norman have been downright ugly, with an average margin of victory in the last three games at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium of 28.7 points.

Oklahoma’s offense this year isn’t nearly as good as those teams (yet) and West Virginia has shown something on defense despite their off-season attrition, stopping Virginia Tech three times inside the 10-yard line last week, including in the final seconds of the game. The Mountaineer defense brought it, racking up 6 sacks and 13 tackles for loss and only allowing the Hokies to get 308 yards.

Spencer Rattler’s yards per pass attempt is down to 7.7 this season compared to 9.6 last season. If you take out the ridiculous Western Carolina game last week, that YPA falls to 7.1, which is achingly mediocre. Nebraska was patient enough to stay in two-deep and dare the Oklahoma’s thin stable of running backs to beat them, will West Virginia be patient enough to do that? And if they are, will Rattler be patient enough to methodically go down the field or will he throw it into coverage?

This game should tell us a lot about Oklahoma and their ability to respond. With a trip to Manhattan and a stingy Wildcat defense awaiting next week, they had better start to improve ASAP.

Oklahoma 37 West Virginia 17

Texas Tech @ Texas -7.5:

We like to think of Texas Tech still as the gunslinging dangerous offense/no defense team that they were for a number of years, but inconsistent offense is one of the reasons that the Red Raiders have not had a winning season since 2015 and haven’t been in the Top 20 since 2013. It is also a reason why Matt Wells is 8-14 in his two years on the Plains coming into this season, and why former quarterback Sonny Cumbie was brought home to fix an offense that only produced one 300-yard game in the last 8 games last season.

Joining Cumbie in Lubbock was former Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough, Jr., who completed 64% of his passes for 1,703 yards 16 touchdowns and 6 interceptions last season. Shough’s early results at Tech are much the same, completing 68% of his passes for 804 yards, 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. A lot of those numbers were against absolutely dreadful Florida International last week so take those figures with a giant grain of salt.

Shough’s major weapons are well known to Texas fans as SaRodorick Thompson has 190 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns in two seasons against the Longhorns while wide receiver Erik Ezukanma has 226 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the same amount of time. Identify those two quickly.

Defensively the Red Raiders aren’t the matadors they were in the Leach years but they’re not going to remind anyone of the Ray Lewis Baltimore Ravens either. They do return 11 of their top 13 tacklers from last season, and while again you have to take it with a grain of salt, you look in the box scores and see that they held Houston to 77 yards rushing on 35 attempts in week one, held Stephen F. Austin to 32 yards on 29 carries and held Florida International to 55 yards on 29 carries last week.

Now I know judging a defense with those opponents is like judging a beauty contest in Oklahoma but I take you back to last fall when Texas tried running against Texas Tech for about 45 agonizing minutes before turning the ball over to Sam Ehlinger and hero ball.

Texas has won three in a row against the Red Raiders but Tech has won twice here recently, in 2017 and 2015 (and held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter in 2019), and Texas has a pair of 7-point wins in Lubbock their last two trips there. It is a strange series, it would be a shame to keep it up.

Play smart, mix it up offensively and don’t let them hit you up top on defense and the Longhorns should come out of this with a “comfortable” win. The coaching staff received a F for their output in Fayetteville, here is a chance for a redo against a team that the previous two coaching staffs that were ushered out nonsensically struggled against.

Texas 37 Texas Tech 24

The Ryder Cup: Europe +210 @ The United States of America -185:

The Europeans have won 7 of 9 since the turn of the century, including a 17 ½ to 10 ½ drubbing at Le Golf National in France in the fall of 2018. That loss was particularly embarrassing as the Americans led 3-1 after the Friday morning fourball session but then proceeded to lose the afternoon foursomes 4-0 and the Saturday morning fourballs 3-1.

It was over.

But that was France, and this is America, where we cut the grass short to benefit our long drivers and where we host the tournament on a driver’s paradise, Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Data Golf says that this course is a better fit for most of the American team before they even get to the third European player. They also say only Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy hold a candle to the American team this year.

So why am I so nervous?

Probably because the Americans have lost 7 of 9 to these guys. We had Vince Young in 2005 and I was still a nervous wreck the week of the Red River Shootout.

The United States’s best opponent this week might be Rahm, but the next best opponent are their own heads, because for some reason the United States does not take this tournament as seriously as the Europeans do, and those that do find it really nerve wracking to have a nation’s hopes and past failures on their shoulders and in their putting grips.

The United States has outscored Europe 47-37 the past three cups on American soil. If Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson take care of business, and if Scottie Scheffler or Collin Morikawa can have a Anthony Kim like Ryder Cup debut and if Tony Finau can keep up his momentum from Paris, this team can put this away early Sunday afternoon.

If not, then those six foot putts turn in 16 foot putts and Ian Poulter starts putting into a basketball hoop.

I choose to imagine the former.

United States 16.5 Europe 11.5

For entertainment purposes only. Save your money for coffee and spiked coffee with all these 11 AM starts. Yay Big 12! It is fantastic!