It's the November to remember. Going into its third weekend, the Big 12 has become like the Wild West in its grueling month; while it's entertained and broken the hearts of its fans, it has yet to impress the playoff committee. I'm sure Jeff Long and Co. won't be head over heels for Gundy's squad after the Cowboys, fresh off of a TCU beat down, scraped by Iowa State in Ames.
The Cyclones have had one of the most interesting season's both off and on the field. Until this past Saturday, they gave Baylor their best game--on the road nevertheless. They shut out Texas, and as an unranked opponent, they were the first to do so since before my parents were born. Then they introduced TCU and the world to Abby Faber. The Cyclones nearly punched another hole, like a frequent flyer coffee card of chaos, against Oklahoma State Saturday, holding them to 24-10.
While it looked bleak for the Cowboys for a while, Rudolph and Walsh shined. In similar fashion as fellow Big 12 greats Trevone Boykin and Baker Mayfield, OSU buckled down and got the win, albeit a messy one. That game was a microcosm to the notion that like the fantastic movie Sicario, the Big 12 is a land of wolves eating each other. The Cowboys are the last hope for an undefeated squad, and sadly, only Oklahoma carries the branding weight--barring just complete chaos--to limp, or I guess in their case--strut--into the College Football Playoff with one loss.
In some ways, Saturday's win felt worse than last Saturday's loss. A win's a wins sure, but Kansas hasn't sniffed a win since Texas Tech. Before that, it was their opener against South Dakota State, which they, you know, lost. Yet, with a little help, TCU can still fulfill its own destiny. If the Committee and their not-so-infinite wisdom in a pool of awkward subjectivity and ambiguity have taught us anything, it's not who beats you, it's who you beat.
The Horned Frogs did just fine on defense, and the second half has become an exciting bread-and-butter for the unit. The offense proved that right now, in 2015, it's pretty lost without Trevone Boykin. However, to say that this is "a glimpse in the future," as Sports Day DFW (a source that occupies my mind like a greensheet or someone's band flyer) said, is completely false.
Whether it's Kenny Hill or Foster Sawyer--for the record my money's still on Hill and it's not even close--the Horned Frogs will be just fine. Remember when no one liked Trevone Boykin? Yes, it's hard to believe, but that actually happened. Boykin, in 2012 and 2013, rarely looked much better than Sawyer did on Saturday against a Jayhawks team trying to pull off their biggest win since the Todd Reesing-era. Though he sadly turned to Lake Travis rubbish, as a fellow Northwest Austinite, it makes me happy to say that.
The problems weren't only with Sawyer; by and large he did fine. His spirals were tight, he just had horrible tells and even the Kansas secondary could pick up on them like he was playing Texas Hold ‘Em for the first time with his older brothers. Maybe there's something I don't know, maybe I'm not smart enough, but maybe they should ban the fade with a third(?) string quarterback and only a semi-healthy Emmanuel Porter, you know? Maybe they should line up under center more and let Trevorris Johnson just pound the (redacted) ball.
Maybe they should play Kyle Hicks more. Hicks is clearly being groomed to be TCU's next running back, so why isn't he playing more? Or Shaun Nixon, who is equally as exciting to watch as a hybrid running back/ receiver and probably the truest slotback position player on the team. Between these two, the future is bright.
Like the stupid ropes course team-building exercise I'm sure you've had to do at some point in your life, this team is all about trust. Trust comes with experience and experience comes with time. Kenny Hill, or yes--Foster Sawyer--will have plenty of time in the offseason to nurture that trust. Will either of them be like Boykin immediately? No. But you can't judge Sawyer or the future trajectory of this team when your star player goes out with a high-ankle sprain two weeks into the season. Albert Einstein was a genius, but if you gave him a pop quiz on the second season of Gilmore Girls, he'd probably fail.
Oklahoma Preview| Eat, Prey, and Shove.
Everything I've said about Baker Mayfield has been wrong. Well, almost everything. I did give him the benefit of the doubt in saying that alongside Perine, and with Lincoln Riley, he could excel. And now, after nearly three months after talking about Corey Coleman, Seth Russell, Trevone Boykin, and Josh Doctson, Mayfield is your Heisman frontrunner from the Big 12. Derrick Henry still has a pretty good lead, but given the recent Heisman history, say Tre Newton, the Heisman race, much like college football in general, is a 'what have you done for me lately' system.
If Mayfield can finish the 2015 season by beating TCU at home and Oklahoma State on the road, the Lake Travis wonder could possibly become the ninth quarterback in the last ten years to win the Heisman and the third Oklahoma quarterback this millennium, alongside Jason White and Sam Bradford, to win the award as well. The latter is a crazy statistic; while Texas fans still cry that Vince Young never won the Heisman, or like I cry that TCU hasn't won one since before the second World War, the idea that Bob Stoops could have his third since I was in 7th grade is both insane and admirable.
Oklahoma, for about 90% of their game against Baylor, looked like the best team in the country. They looked like a team that would drill Clemson, punch Alabama in the mouth, and make a Big 10 team question their existence in the universe like a freshman in a bad entry level philosophy seminar.
Stopping this train begins and ends with Gary; he hit them in the mouth in 2005, and since then, he's always played Bob Stoops and the Sooners quite well, no matter the state of his own team. From the upset in 2005, the pseudo-blowout to the team that went on the play in the National Title in 2008, and the seasons of 2012 and 2013, 2015's game feels like the biggest underdog TCU's ever been to the Sooners. Wounded as they are, this is potentially the most it could be felt all year. If Boykin's gone, just go in knowing that the Horned Frogs will be facing Baylor with two losses.
How are they going contain Mayfield? How is this secondary going to get to Sterling Shepard? The answer is simply, and like we implied above, they're going to have to play a perfect game. They're going to have to commit turnovers and more than anything, the offense will have to have Boykin. There's no shot with Sawyer, or the plethora of talented running backs and receivers, that's just the way it is.
Mayfield has been incredible; hitting over 70% of his passes, along with three scores through the air and one on the ground. Yet, the stats are a drop in the bucket in comparison to what Mayfield has been able to do in 4th quarters. It started out with a comeback in Knoxville. Then it took a dip in Dallas. Yet now, it's so polished that even if (a) Trevone Boykin were to play despite his high-ankle sprain and (b) TCU's defense were to play a complete game sans Patterson's brilliant halftime adjustments and force turnovers to get a lead late in the game, the reality is that Mayfield is not Trevor Knight and it's more than reasonable to assume that he can easily do at home what he's shown he can do on the road.
Baker Mayfield is thriving, but it gets worse. Oklahoma's defense has improved since its early season questions and it's living up to the unit it was meant to be. The Sooners are the only team in the Big 12 that allow less than 20 points per game (19.6). The next closest teams are Oklahoma State (24.5) and TCU (26.2). There's no glaring weak-spots either; the Sooners are first in both pass defense and rushing defense in the Big 12.
TCU needs Boykin--even with the Sooners allowing 186.4 yards through the air in a conference that's defined by their air attack. Even with Boykin, and TCU's balance--a running game that is averaging 231.1 yards per game--the Sooners are brilliant at that too, allowing just under 150 yards per game. Admirably so, Patterson has lifted his limping defense to the fourth best rushing attack in the conference, but the teams sandwiched between them are Oklahoma State (3) and Kansas State (2). One of those teams savaged TCU's running game and forced Boykin to have his worst game since 2012 and the other dominated the Frogs' defensive line and linebackers for an entire half before being thwarted by a late comeback.
Score Prediction| TCU 20, Oklahoma 17
We're only a week or so removed from a beatdown in Stillwater, but remember that Oklahoma State is still more in control of their destiny than anyone in the conference. They're still undefeated and more importantly, they get to play Baylor and Oklahoma at home. Playing those teams, plus the TCU win at home making it the third time in four years they've played the Horned Frogs in Stillwater, is the last cruel joke the Aggies have gotten to play on its former conference. Still Rudolph and the Cowboys wait patiently in the bushes controlling their own destiny.
I want to see the bright side of things. Just don't go betting your house on this game. The Frogs will have to play perfectly. With or without Boykin, they need to utilize short passes and the depth at running back to control the clock. If they can do this, and if the defense can force a turnover or two, they'll be able to knock the Sooners down when Stoops' team tends to be most vulnerable-- when they're riding high. Keep in mind TCU did just in fine in 2012 when Boykin was nowhere near the caliber he is now. They'll have to pitch a perfect game, but there's something embedded deep within this team, as if it was coded in their DNA, when they're the underdog. I like Gary's team pitching a perfect game as the underdog. Despite the flashier new offense, at their core, the Horned Frogs are still a Manchesterian blue-collar team.
November is certainly going to be one to remember, for better or for worse.