Last week: 3-2
#12 Baylor @ #15 Oklahoma
What was billed, in the preseason, as the de-facto Big 12 Championship game, isn’t even the most important game in the Conference on Saturday (TCU/K-State gets the nod). The Bears highest scoring offense in the country (50 PPG/590 YPG) has slowed down lately, with only 318 yards against West Virginia, and 389 yards against Texas. Also, Baylor struggled with penalties, a combined 28 in the two games. But, the Bears no longer are afraid of playing Oklahoma. The Bears rolled to a 41-12 win over OU last season, and playing in Norman is no longer as daunting as it used to be. It began with a Texas Tech win in 2011, and has included back to back wins by Kansas State. Experienced QB Bryce Petty will be tossing to a plethora of receivers, including Antwan Goodley, K.D. Cannon and Corey Coleman, while OU has only one shutdown corner in Zack Sanchez. Baylor’s run game, led by Shock Linwood, has been best in the Big 12, will have a big day, as Oklahoma focuses on defending the pass.
Trevor Knight played his best game since the Sugar Bowl last week against Iowa State. But, the Iowa State defense has been one of the worst in the Conference all season long. Knight’s favorite target Sterling Shepard is probable with a groin injury, but he may not be 100%. It’ll be up to OU’s remaining inconsistent receivers to try and burn the Baylor secondary that has allowed the second most passes of 30+ yards in the Conference. If OU has to revert to the ground game, it will have to do so without Keith Ford (doubtful), and get past the best rushing defense in the Conference. Baylor is allowing under 100 rushing yards per game this season. I’m not convinced the Bears will get their first ever win in Norman, but I certainly like ‘em to cover.
The Pick: Baylor +5.5
#23 West Virginia @ Texas
The Mountaineers are coming off a heartbreaking, 5-turnover, last-second home loss to the TCU Horned Frogs. But, the Mountaineers still have a chance at a Conference Championship. Their three losses are all to teams that, at the time, were ranked in the top 10. QB Clint Trickett looks to bounce back, but it’ll be a tough match up against Texas, who is top-10 nationally in pass defense. But, the Mountaineers have a two-headed attack at running back with Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood, who have combined for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns through nine games. Depending on how the Longhorns choose to defend, the Mountaineer offense has the versatility to attack the Texas offense in different ways.
Tyrone Swoopes and the Longhorn offense has been consistently inconsistent; two impressive showings against Oklahoma and Iowa State, followed by a disastrous performance against Kansas State, and then a strong game last week versus Texas Tech. While the offensive line and the running game are coming together, they aren’t nearly as good as they performed last week against Texas Tech, one of the worst run defenses in the country. The line on this game is an overreaction to another tough top-10 WVU loss, and a big Texas win.
The Pick: West Virginia -3
Kansas vs. Iowa State
Yep, it’s the worst Big 12 game on paper this weekend. But, this matchup is also fascinating because of the storylines, including, ISU offensive coordinator Mark Mangino returning to Lawrence for the first time since being fired following the 2009 season, and it is both teams’ best chance to win a Conference game. If you take away Kansas’ FCS game, the offense is averaging an abysmal 13.9 points per game. QB Michael Cummings and the offense will likely try to run the ball against an Iowa State defense that is allowing 5.6 yards per carry. The problem is KU only averages 3.5 yards per carry. Still, I expect the Jayhawks to try and get the run game going. ISU should load the box to help their porous run defense, and let KU’s wideouts stay in man coverage on the outside. They aren’t that threatening of a group anyway.
Before getting crushed by Oklahoma, Iowa State’s offense had been on a roll. Up until last week, the Cyclones were averaging 4.8 yards per play, ranking 10th in the nation. But, the question is now based around ISU QB Sam Richardson. Rumors are swirling that his banged up shoulder, suffered against the Sooners last week, could keep him out against Kansas. It adds to a slew of injuries the Cyclones have dealt with in recent weeks. Either way, unless you buy into the “win one for the gipper”, i.e. Clint Bowen, there’s no way I can justify taking the Jayhawks to cover a small spread.
The Pick: Iowa State -3.5
#7 Kansas State @ #6 TCU
It’s an elimination game for the College Football Playoff Saturday night in Fort Worth. TCU is coming off a thrilling win on the road against West Virginia. But, the Horned Frogs defense was able to bail out QB Trevone Boykin, who struggled, going 12/30, 166 yards, with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Now, Boykin goes up against a top-15 defense, granted, this time in his own backyard. Word has come down that TCU running back B.J. Catalon is out Saturday with an upper body injury. Back up Aaron Green has gotten plenty of reps and should serviceably fill the void. But, there’s no doubt the loss of Catalon is a blow, as the running game will rely more on Boykin and Green. Also, one of Boykin’s favorite targets, Josh Doctson was clearly not 100% last week against WVU, and it remains to be seen how healthy he will be for this match up.
Kansas State is led by Jake Waters, one of the most underrated QB’s in the country. Something is going to have to give as K-State has a Big 12 low seven possessions lost this season, while TCU has forced the most turnovers in the nation. I trust the Waters led ‘Cats to control the ball. Kansas State is a bigger underdog than I expected, and there’s no doubt Bill Snyder and his staff are preparing this team of under recruited players to keep that massive chip on their shoulder. It’s a team that doesn’t commit turnovers and is the least penalized in the country, so I don’t expect them to be bothered by playing in the road atmosphere at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
The Pick: Kansas State +5.5