Before the season began, I wrote a trilogy of articles making the case Baylor, Kansas State, and Texas Tech to get to a bowl game this season after missing out last season. The premise was simple: all three should be improved, and that improvement would get each to six wins and possibly more.
Of the three, I was most confident in K-State due to the return of Skylar Thompson at quarterback, Deuce Vaughn at running back, and considerable depth along the defensive and offensive lines.
I was also confident about Baylor, primarily because I thought the defense could be elite but also because I expected the entire team to improve in head coach Dave Aranda’s second season and his first without (knock on wood) serious Coivd-19 issues.
I was less confident in Texas Tech because I wasn’t sure what the offense would look like with Tyler Shough at quarterback and if the defense could continue to improve.
Two weeks into the season, I’m still feeling good about all three teams, but there have been some surprises. Here’s my thoughts on all three teams as we enter game 3 for each team, the one-quarter mark of the season.
THE BAYLOR BEARS
The Bears’ offensive line has been excellent through two games, clearing the way for a devastating running attack that leads the Big 12 and is fifth in the nation with 657 yards and seven touchdowns. Baylor is gaining 7.47 yards per rush, and while the competition has not been great, that is an impressive stat no matter who’s lining up on the other side of the ball.
Coming into the season, the offensive line was my biggest concern about the Bears because the unit had considerable struggles last season. The O-line isn’t my biggest concern anymore.
It’s not a major concern yet, but the defense has not been as dominate as I would have expected. The Bears only have one sack on the season and rank 8th in the Big 12 and 54th nationally in rushing defense. This while facing Texas State and Texas Southern.
Nose tackle Siaki Ika, a mountainous transfer from LSU, has yet to be the force up front I thought he would be, and the defense just hasn’t been the killer I expected. However, as I said, I’m not terribly concerned yet – the defense has all the pieces to be a factor in the Big 12, especially when the Baylor ground game is doing such a good job of controlling the ball.
I still think Baylor is a bowl team that may play spoiler to some Big 12 teams with higher aspirations. Moreover, with Iowa State and Oklahoma State looking vulnerable, two teams I chalked up as losses for Baylor in the preseason, the Bears may well do better than six wins.
The Bears have yet to be tested by a team with a pulse, however, so it’s impossible to say if what we’ve seen so far is indeed gold or fool’s gold. Nonetheless, it’s hard to look at the pieces Baylor has in place on offense and defense and not assume that the Bears will be factor in the Big 12 this season.
THE KANSAS STATE WILDCATS
K-State moved to a stacked defense – a three-man defensive line – and leads the Big 12 in sacks. The defense pitched a near shutout (giving up a score in garbage time) against the same Stanford team that hung 42 on #14 USC and got Clay Helton fired. The Cats’ D is playing fast, aggressive football, getting pressure, and tackling better.
K-State is the reverse of Baylor in that I thought K-State’s offense would be extremely good, but the defense had the potential to be the problem. Through two games, however, the defense has been the better unit overall.
With QB Skylar Thompson out for at least one game and probably more, K-State’s season outlook isn’t as bright. Even with Thompson in, the passing game was a concern due to inconsistency. The Cats do a good job of putting a variety of running packages on the field, but the offense must be more balanced.
Now, with Will Howard taking over at quarterback just in time for K-State to face a dangerous Nevada team with future NFL first-round draft pick at quarterback in Carson Strong, the passing game is going to become even less of a factor. Howard’s struggles as a passer make two winnable games, versus Nevada and at Oklahoma State, less winnable.
Thompson is expected to return by or before K-State plays Iowa State in Week 7. By that time K-State may well be 2-3 with losses to Nevada, OK-State, and Oklahoma. Winning one of those three games without (or possibly with) Thompson would be a huge boost.
However, I still expect K-State to get the wins it needs to reach a bowl after Thompson’s return. The improvement on defense gives K-State hope, and the running game remains a powerful weapon. The way K-State handled what might be a pretty good Stanford team tells me that the Cats can win four conference games when Thompson returns.
THE TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS
Tyler Shough is a second half quarterback, and Texas Tech is a second half team – at least so far. The first halves of Tech’s games against Houston and Stephen F. Austin did not go according to plan, but Tech found its groove in the second half of both games and came away with wins.
The comeback against Houston was the most impressive, as Tech exploded 31 points while the defense pitched a second half shutout. Things got a bit hairy against Stephen F. Austin as the Lumberjacks rallied in the fourth quarter, cut Tech’s lead to six, and had a chance to win the game near the goal line as time expired. Tech’s defense held, however, and a win is a win.
This may be cheating, but my biggest surprise for Tech is also my biggest concern: the Red Raiders have not looked good in the first half of games. If this continues, it will be a major issue once the competition improves.
Wide receiver Erik Ezukanma has been on absolute fire, and running back Tahj Brooks has announced himself over two games as being among the best rushers in the Big 12. Now, Tech needs to start playing both halves of games. Granted it’s better to be a bad first half team than a bad second half team, and Shough looks like a quarterback that can give a team hope no matter how bad the chips are down, but no team in the Big 12 is good enough to get away with taking the first half off in league play, not even Oklahoma.
I feel a lot better about Tech now than I did before the season. The close call against SFA is a bit of a concern, but what we saw against Houston is enough to make me think the SFA game was an off night against a team Tech didn’t take seriously.
I expect Tech to get win number three this Saturday, and I think three conference wins in the cards. Tech’s defense has stepped-up when it has had to, and the Red Raiders have the offensive weapons to erupt against any team in the league.