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Big 12 roundtable: opening week disaster rating, expansion, Mayfield

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Welcome to our new feature, a Big 12 roundtable. Each week, our three featured conference writers – Sean Cordy, Garrett Kroeger and Wendell Barnhouse – will offer their takes on topics and questions around the Big 12.

  1.     If we wake up Monday morning and Texas and Oklahoma are both 0-1, what’s the “disaster rating” for the Big 12 on a scale of 1 (peachy) to 10 (apocalypse)?

Sean: If Texas loses, it will be a shoulder shrug – everyone go back to work, the Longhorn revival was DOA. Notre Dame is a top-10 team. Expecting the supposed potential of UT to overcome that off the bat is optimistically misguided. However, if OU loses, the “disaster rating” doesn’t really change, either. Sure, the hopes for a CFP appearance diminish, but #HTownTakeover could soon enter the Big 12.

Garrett: If it was just Texas losing week one, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal to the Big 12. Yes, the Longhorns are probably the flagship program of the conference and have been down for a few years, but if Texas and Oklahoma both lose in week one, it will probably be a 9 “disaster rating.” The reason: Both teams are the banner carriers for the Big 12 and the Sooners are probably the biggest playoff contender for the conference. If Oklahoma starts 0-1, that deals a big blow to the Big 12’s playoff chances in 2016.

Wendell: If Oklahoma leaves Houston with a loss, the Sooners can still salvage their season. However, to reach the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive season, starting 0-1 means there is no margin for error in the remaining 11 games. With Ohio State and TCU (in Fort Worth) coming up in the next month, OU will find itself pushing a big boulder up a steep hill.

A Houston victory coupled with a Texas loss to Notre Dame would fuel the thought that Charlie Strong won’t see Season Four, and that Burnt Orange Big Bucks Boosters will be filling the war chest to hire Cougars coach Tom Herman.

As Garrett points out, Oklahoma and Texas are the Ohio State and Michigan of the Big 12. The conference needs OU and UT to be nationally relevant. It has been since 2008 or 2009 that either were serious national title contenders. Having both lose in the opener would raise the volume for those who believe the Big 12 is a dead league walking.

10 October 2015: Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong celebrates a turnover during an NCAA football game between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX. Texas won 24-17. (Photo by Raymond Carlin/Icon Sportswire).

10 October 2015: Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong celebrates a turnover during an NCAA football game between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX. Texas won 24-17. (Photo by Raymond Carlin/Icon Sportswire).

  1.     Considering that any solid action on expansion won’t happen until mid-October, will the expansion discussion be a distraction?

Wendell: For the coaches and the players, the distractions will be minimal. They’re not being asked for an opinion or decision. If Question No. 1 becomes reality, then the Big 12’s leadership might welcome some distracting expansion talk. (Houston as the “No. 1 draft pick” will be trending if the Cougars beat Oklahoma.)

In the grand scheme of the 2016 football season, the expansion issue is just blah, blah, blah until and if a decision is made. It is an off-the-field topic that is a distraction because the Big 12 has been stumblin’ and fumblin’ its way toward maybe (or, maybe not) adding members.

Sean: As you can tell from my response to the first question, it’s already a distraction. The Big 12 is wrapped around controversy. In an effort to see the big picture instead of the present, expansion will be discussed fervently.

Garrett: The Big 12 expansion discussion is obviously a big topic at hand, but it’s extremely doubtful that the discussion will be a distraction for the current teams in the conference.

I doubt that Oklahoma, Iowa State or even West Virginia players would care that the Big 12 would announce that it added – hypothetically – Cincinnati or BYU starting the 2017 season midway through this year. They will probably think it is cool that they have the opportunity to play new teams later in the future, but football players and coaches only focus on what’s in front of them and not what’s down the road. I believe the expansion discussion won’t be a big distraction for Big 12 teams this season.

December 6th 2014: Houston Cougars wide receiver Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs with the ball during the NCAA football game between the Houston Cougars and the Cincinnati Bearcats at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. Cincinnati defeated the Houston 38-31.

December 6th 2014: Houston Cougars wide receiver Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs with the ball during the NCAA football game between the Houston Cougars and the Cincinnati Bearcats at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. Cincinnati defeated the Houston 38-31. Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire

  1.     ESPN’s Jonathan Vilma said he thinks Houston quarterback Greg Ward is better than Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. Agree or disagree?

Garrett: Ward and Mayfield are probably two of the top 10 quarterbacks in college football this season, but when you dissect and analyze both signal callers, Mayfield is the better of the two football generals.

Mayfield is the better passer while Ward is the more talented runner.

Mayfield statistics Ward’s statistics
Passing yards: 3,700 Passing yards: 2,827
Passing TDs: 36 Passing TDs: 17
Interceptions: 7 Interceptions: 6
Completion %: 68.1 Completion %: 67.0
Rushing yards: 405 Rushing yards: 1,114
Rushing TDs: 7 Rushing TDs: 21

However, the thing that makes Mayfield the better quarterback of the two is his willingness to win. I am not saying Ward doesn’t, but when I watched the Oklahoma-Tennessee game last year, Mayfield willed his team to a victory and showed that intangible throughout the 2015 season. It’s an untaught virtue.

Wendell: Because I’m the Grumpy Old Man in this threesome, let me say that I think Vilma’s comment was made for shock value. (And Garrett: no fair bringing in stats to back your argument.)

On Saturday we can see both Mayfield and Ward on the same field, but they won’t be playing against each other. I’m certain Mayfield is aware of Vilma’s comments and knowing Mayfield’s background, I assume he’ll have a little extra juice ready for Saturday’s game.

My bottom line: Only in Bristol’s studios does the debate over who is the better quarterback matter.

Sean: Comparing players in such different conferences is a bit unfair, since Mayfield faced a Top-25 schedule and Houston ranked 90th in SOS. Mayfield’s 43 total touchdowns are more attractive, but the two did have common ground facing Tulsa. Mayfield sounded off for 487 yards passing and added another 85 on the ground with six total touchdowns. Ward was good for an insane 182 rushing yards and three scores, but his passing stats were substantially less impressive. Advantage Mayfield.

  1.     TCU is getting some love from the national experts as a team that can win the Big 12 and get into the College Football Playoff. Agree or disagree?

Sean: Wholly agree. Last year it was the defense that lost its stars, but the crew Gary Patterson pulled together performed tremendously. This year, the same thing is happening to the offense without Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson, but Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meachem are two brilliant minds working with some great potential, especially if Kenny Hill shows up as hoped.

Garrett: On paper, the TCU Horned Frogs certainly have the roster to compete for a Big 12 championship and one of the four playoff seeds. TCU possesses one of the nation’s best defenses. However, the Horned Frogs are replacing too much talent at almost every skill position on offense. On the flip side of that argument, they are replacing those positions with the same amount of — or more — talent than there was before. I agree with some of the national experts and believe that TCU has a shot to win the Big 12 and make it into the College Football Playoff.

Wendell: For TCU, I think it all comes down to quarterback play. Are we going to see the Kenny Hill who set a Texas A&M passing record in his first game? Or the Kenny Hill who crashed to earth and lost the starting job in College Station? Gary Patterson is starting to be recognized as an outstanding coach. His program has been close to the mountaintop before. With the four-team College Football Playoff format, maybe this is the breakthrough year.

  1.    The Big 12 is playing six FCS teams on the opening weekend – Northwestern State-Baylor, Northern Iowa-Iowa State, Rhode Island-Kansas, Southeastern Louisiana-Oklahoma State, South Dakota State-TCU, Stephen F. Austin-Texas Tech. Which game will be the biggest blowout, and which the closest with upset potential?

Sean: Typically, Baylor would be considered the home run pick here. In 2014, the Bears routed the Demons 70-6. That could certainly happen again, but I enter with slight trepidation if things will truly the same sans Art Briles. That said, Texas Tech could really blow the lid off SFA, which lost by 48 in 2013. Tech’s offense has become immensely better since then. For an upset watch, UNI looks like a possibility against ISU. The Cyclones are a strong sleeper pick this year, but the Panthers are ranked No. 25 in the FCS right now and have historically held tight.

New Iowa State head football coach Matt Campbell, center, greets players, from left, Allen Lazard, Joel Lanning and Mike Warren, right, following a news conference, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, in Ames, Iowa. Campbell, who replaces the recently fired Paul Rhoads, was the coach at Toledo this past season. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

New Iowa State head football coach Matt Campbell, center, greets players, from left, Allen Lazard, Joel Lanning and Mike Warren (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Wendell: I agree with Sean. I think Baylor, which won’t be fresher and healthier all season, will take out its offseason frustrations on Northwestern State. What will keep the score down is the fact that the Bears don’t have a talented backup quarterback (see: Jarrett Stidham) to keep the pedal to the metal. I think we’re unanimous in our thinking that the Matt Campbell Era could get off to a rocky start in Ames. Whether it’s Iowa or Iowa State, this annual game against Big Brother is a crusade for Northern Iowa.

Garrett: The Big 12-FCS game that will be the biggest blowout in Week 1 will be the Oklahoma State-Southeastern Louisiana matchup. That Cowboy offense should have a field day against the Lions with quarterback Mason Rudolph slinging the ball to receivers like James Washington all game.

The Big 12-FCS game that will be the closest and maybe an upset will be Iowa State against Northern Iowa.

In years past, the Panthers have stood toe-to-toe with the Cyclones. In 2013, UNI defeated Iowa State at Jack Trice – home of the Cyclones – by the score of 28-20. This season, the Panthers are led by dual-threat quarterback Aaron Bailey – who passed for 1,600-plus yards and rushed for 1,300-plus yards – on offense. Defensive end Karter Schult, who had 16 sacks last year, will be a challenge for Iowa State’s green offensive line. With a new coaching staff taking over for Iowa State, there could possibly be a storm a brewing in Ames on Sept. 3, and not the good kind of storm that brings rain to parched fields.

Big 12 roundtable: opening week disaster rating, expansion, Mayfield

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