For the second weekend in a row, four teams are on a bye and just 10 teams are in action this week, giving us five games to keep up with. Strangely, something about that feels familiar…
Anyway, there are several important games happening this weekend as the Big 12 race will be 1/3 of the way done after this weekend. Right now, it appears that Oklahoma and Texas are way out front, but there are still several teams able to make up significant ground in the race.
This weekend will go a long way in determining who the contenders are, and who will fall to the back of the pack in 2023.
With that in mind, here are the top five storylines that you should be keeping up with heading into the seventh week of the season.
Dana Holgorsen vs. West Virginia
This is the obvious storyline to watch on Thursday night as Dana Holgorsen will face West Virginia for the first time since leaving Morgantown to take the head coaching gig at Houston.
During his time with the Mountaineers, Holgorsen held a 61-41 record and led them to bowl games in seven of his eight seasons. Now, five seasons into his tenure with the Cougars, Holgorsen has a 29-23 record and had the best single-season record of his career with a 12-2 finish in 2021 and also tied his team’s best-ever final ranking at No. 17.
Despite Houston being viewed by many as the worst team in the Big 12 this season, West Virginia is just a three-point favorite on the road, which means this game might be more competitive than many expect. However, the Mountaineers have been playing great defensively and will present a big challenge to Donovan Smith.
Will Holgorsen get the better of his former team, or will the Mountaineers move to 5-1 (3-0) on the year?
Which Oklahoma State Team Shows Up?
Last week, Mike Gundy and the Oklahoma State Cowboys played their best game of the season and took down Kansas State, who was favored by just under two touchdowns going into the contest. In the 29-21 upset, the Cowboys defense forced three interceptions, including a pick-six, while the offense seemed to find some rhythm with Ollie Gordon carrying the load at running back.
For the first time all season, the Pokes appeared to be a team that could give some of the other teams in this conference some problems, as they seemed the more physical team against K-State, which is no small feat. So was that the new norm in Stillwater, or was it more of an anomaly aided by winning the turnover battle 3-0?
We will find out this weekend because the Kansas team that is visiting on Saturday is coming off a 51-22 drubbing of UCF and is playing with a ton of confidence. KU’s offense is ranked second in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game (232.3 ypg) and first in rushing touchdowns with 16. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State ranks 11th in the conference allowing 154.0 rushing yards per game, and has allowed six rushing scores on the year.
Which Oklahoma State team will we see against Kansas? The one that lost to South Alabama, 33-7, or the one that just pulled off a major upset over Chris Klieman and the Wildcats?
Has Iowa State Figured It Out?
After starting the season going 1-2 in nonconference play, highlighted by a disappointing loss to Ohio in Week 3, Iowa State has found a way to pull back to .500 after a 2-1 start in Big 12 play. Outside of their 50-20 loss to Oklahoma, who looks like a College Football Playoff contender, the Cyclones have looked good on both sides of the ball.
Against Oklahoma State, Iowa State put up a season-high 34 points on the back of Rocco Becht’s career-best 348 yards and three touchdowns. Last week against a TCU offense that has been potent at times, the Cyclones limited the Horned Frogs to a season-low 14 points and grabbed their third win of the year.
This week, Matt Campbell will take Iowa State on the road to take on Cincinnati in Nippert Stadium, where they’ve lost only three times since 2019. The Cyclones should be able to limit Emory Jones and the Cincy offense to an extent, but the concern is whether they can find success against the Bearcats’ defense, which has had some very good stretches.
If Iowa State can go on the road and win this weekend, they’ve got to feel good about their chances to make a bowl game come December.
Can Josh Hoover Win Games for TCU?
Not only did TCU drop a game to Iowa State last weekend, but they also lost their starting quarterback Chandler Morris, who suffered an MCL sprain and is expected to miss some significant time. That means TCU will have to turn to redshirt freshman Josh Hoover as their start for the foreseeable future.
His first start will come against BYU, who has been one of the better passing defenses in the Big 12, allowing 208.4 yards passing per game, but it will be within the confines of Amon G. Carter Stadium, which should help him get settled in.
However, this is a must-win game if the Horned Frogs have any hopes of staying a contender in the Big 12 race. Already at 1-2 in the conference, TCU still has both Texas and Oklahoma on the schedule, as well as trips to Manhattan and Lubbock. That’s not exactly a cakewalk, especially with a quarterback who’s never started a game at the FBS level.
The direction with which Saturday’s game goes in Fort Worth will be telling, as a win could galvanize the team and give them some momentum going forward. A loss, and they might be entering a very tough stretch of games going forward.
Which Preseason Darling Avoids a Pitfall?
Coming into the 2023 season, both Kansas State and Texas State found themselves at or near the top of the majority of preseason ballots. Kansas State was behind only Texas in the preseason standings and was being touted as a legitimate threat to make the College Football Playoff. Likewise, Texas Tech was a dark horse CFP contender and someone to be feared in the Big 12 race.
This Week 7 matchup was looked at as one of the most anticipated regular season matchups in the early schedule, but now it will pit a 3-2 team and a 3-3 team against one another with neither of them looking anything like what we’d expected.
This game is still important though, because the winner will be one of the few teams with just one loss in conference play and still within reach of Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 race. However, the loser will take their second conference loss with the back half of the schedule still remaining.
Will Howard and the Wildcats have something to prove on the road this weekend, as they are 0-2 away from Bill Snyder Family Stadium this year, but a night game in Lubbock isn’t exactly the scenario you’d want to “get right” on the road. This game will impact both teams’ postseason chances in a major way, which means we’re likely to see both coaching staffs open up the playbooks in this one.