As the season heads into Week Four, the Big 12 Conference roundtable has three not-so-rosy topics to discuss. Here’s what Sean Cordy, Garrett Kroeger and Wendell Barnhouse think about this week’s topics.
- Charlie Strong vows to fix the Texas defense; can he or his assistants do that?
Wendell: Strong earned his opportunity to become a head coach because of his work as a defensive coordinator. When he came to Austin, he brought his offensive coordinator (Shawn Watson) and his D-coordinator (Vance Bedford). Watson was canned early last season. Bedford might not last season the season unless the Texas defense improves. Ironically, after getting two years of offensive dysfunction fixed, now the defense needs repairs. There is plenty of young talent that Bedford might have been reluctant to play. If Strong has more influence, those youngsters will likely get on the field. On this year’s team, talent trumps experience.
Sean: Three games in and we’ve seen the defense dismantled twice. First Notre Dame put up 47 (in two overtimes) and then Cal’s Big 12-esque offense lit up the scoreboard. Realistically, this defense won’t start limiting teams to under 30 points a game. Even acting as damage control and forcing turnovers has been difficult — the Horns have forced only one turnover. Sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson is a stud, but no one else has proved worthy of the same praise.
Garrett: Texas certainly has the talent to possess one of the nation’s best defenses, with linebacker Malik Jefferson, cornerback Davante Davis, and defensive lineman Paul Boyette Jr. It’s weird to see a Charlie Strong defense that allows 47 points to Notre Dame and 50 points to Cal; when he was at Louisville, his defenses were among the top 50 or top 25 in the country. I believe Strong and the rest of the Texas defensive staff can fix the defense as the season progresses. If it can’t, this could be Strong’s last year at Texas – which gives him all the motivation to fix this defense.
2. Assuming Kansas and Iowa State are out of the mix, can the case be made that any of the other eight teams have a shot at winning the Big 12?
Garrett: Right now, on records alone, Baylor is the only viable candidate to make the College Football Playoff from the Big 12 conference. However, as the season progresses one can probably make a case for Oklahoma State – if the Cowboys finish the year 11-1. OSU has a good non-conference win. If it wins the Big 12 and finishes 11-1, the lone loss was a fluke. This past week, Oklahoma State defeated Pittsburgh, who (in the eyes of many) will win the ACC Coastal Division. If the Panthers do, that would be a very good win for the Cowboys. Going undefeated in Big 12 play would help their chances of making the CFP. I believe Oklahoma State is the Big 12’s lone chance to make the playoffs.
Sean: Sure, they all have “a shot,” but I don’t see West Virginia or K-State tripping up more than a couple of the bigger names and running the table. Something should be said of the Mountaineers’ undefeated start, but Baylor’s identical record has the Bears looking like the stronger of the two. Even then, Baylor has tough tasks on the road. If it can convincingly win against the Pokes this week, it might be time to consider Baylor taking the title, but to make a case for TCU and OU, still, the latter has only suffered losses outside of the conference and TCU is 1-0 in-conference (for what that win over ISU is worth).
Wendell: So, I’ve got a one-in-eight shot at coming close to a correct answer? Maybe it’s best to go with a three-way or four-way tie for first. Honestly, none of those eight teams engender any faith. Oklahoma? Hasn’t shown it can beat anyone. TCU? This defense was supposed to be good. Texas? Now the defense is leaky. Baylor? Not enough depth. West Virginia? Maybe the most complete team. Oklahoma State? Questionable running game. Texas Tech? Only if it scores 60 a game. Kansas State? If the Wildcats win their Big 12 opener at West Virginia, I’ll again believe that The Wizard can pull off another magic trick.
3. A two-parter: How shocked are you that the Big 12 is basically out of the College Football Playoff race, and what do you think the national perception is of the conference?
Sean: I’ll answer in one motion: It’s not surprising that the Big 12 is already “out,” because the perception is that the conference is allergic to defense and defense supposedly wins championships. Ohio State dismantling Oklahoma only furthers that narrative, and to have a team the nation has typically regarded as a Big 12 outlier lose on a national stage like that really hurts. The only hope is that the committee isn’t run by armchair coaches and athletic directors.
Garrett: I am a little shocked that the Big 12’s chances to make the College Football Playoff are basically over. I didn’t think Oklahoma would lose to both Houston and Ohio State, TCU losing to an Arkansas team I thought would be near the bottom of the SEC or Oklahoma State losing to Central Michigan in the manner that it did. With the Big 12 basically being out already, I believe it hurts the conference’s national reputation only a little bit, but not a lot. The reason: Big 12 teams scheduled well in the non-conference portion of their slates. I don’t see Pac-12 schools or ACC schools scheduling teams from the Big Ten or SEC or even Group of Five teams like Houston. Even though the Big 12 is basically out of luck in the CFP, I don’t think its national reputation is all that damaged.
Wendell: As I pointed out in my Big 12 notes column earlier this week, the Big 12 doesn’t have a team in the top 15 of the Associated Press for the first time ever. The television partners on Oct. 1 didn’t slot any of the four Big 12 games for a prime-time window. There’s your national reputation: zero.
The “brand” schools are Oklahoma and Texas. The Longhorns beat Notre Dame in the opener … and the Irish are now 1-2, getting rolled at home by Michigan State. Anyone who watched the Sooners’ losses to Houston and Ohio State came away thinking the winners were the far superior team. At halftime of both games, you had to be bleeding crimson and cream to believe OU would win.