Heartbeat of the Heartland: Big 12 Faces Non-Conference Tests in Week 3

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Texas Tech was conspicuous by its absence in Week Two. The Red Raiders opened the season on Sept. 2 with a solid 56-10 victory over Eastern Washington, a top team in the FCS ranks, but because of a quirk in the schedule they were idle on the second Saturday of the season.

Playing one week and then sitting the next isn’t the preferred way of setting up the schedule. Texas Tech, which will play host to Arizona State Saturday, tried several solutions to avoid having the open date so early.

There were options to start Big 12 play early but Kansas State declined the chance to play the Red Raiders last Saturday because it would have been the sixth consecutive season with a road league opener. There was also talk of trying to juggle the dates for non-conference games with Eastern Washington and Houston but nothing could be worked out.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury spent the weekend recruiting and is making the best of the odd schedule.

“We didn’t change anything in how we approached pre-season practices,” he said. “We knew with this bye week we’d be able to ramp things up, be a little more physical in practice. When you have an open week later in the season, a lot of the time you want to use it to rest the team, get their legs rested. We were able to stay in more of a football mode this last week.”

The Sun Devils arrive wearing targets. Arizona State defeated Texas Tech, 68-55 as running back Kalen Ballage barraged the Red Raiders’ defense with eight touchdowns – seven rushing, one receiving – to equal an NCAA record. It was one of several shootouts during the Kingsbury Era where the offense needed to sue the defense for non-support.

“Anytime you have an NCAA record set against your defense, it’s something that sticks with the guys on defense,” Kingsbury said. “If you’re a competitive person, you’d like to have another shot at that, I think they’ve grown a lot since that game and are anxious to show how they’ve improved.”

Sneaky-Good Saturday

In addition to Texas Tech hoping to regain some respect and exact revenge on Arizona State, there are six other Big 12 games in Week Three which are not to be ignored when considering the danger/upset factors.

No. 9 Oklahoma State at Pitt: These teams met in Stillwater last season with the Cowboys prevailing in overtime in a game delayed by weather. The Panthers are facing their second consecutive top 10 team. They lost to Penn State, 33-14, Saturday, despite outgaining the Nittany Lions and posting nearly a two-to-one edge in time of possession. Oklahoma State is No. 123 in opponent third-down conversion percentage. Beware of Pitt playing keep away.

Iowa State at Akron: For Cyclones coach Matt Campbell, it’s a return to the Mid-American Conference. And Iowa State is just the type of team the Zips would love to send home with a loss. After losing at home in overtime to rival Iowa, the Cyclones can’t afford to start 1-2.

Kansas at Ohio: Ditto for the Jayhawks. Kansas is playing its second consecutive MAC foe after Central Michigan posted an easy win in Lawrence Saturday. David Beaty’s rebuilding efforts will take a hit if KU loses this one.

SMU at No. 20 TCU: Coach Gary Patterson turned history professor this week. In 2005, the Frogs stunned No. 7 Oklahoma in Norman then lost their next game – and the Iron Skillet – to rival SMU.

The Mustangs under third-year coach Chad Morris are showing progress and they have one of the nation’s most dangerous receivers in 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior Courtland Sutton. He lit up North Texas for eight receptions for 164 yards and four TDs last Saturday.

No. 18 Kansas State at Vanderbilt: Like TCU last week, the Wildcats will travel to SEC country. The Frogs were underdogs but K-State will be expected to beat the Commodores. Quarterback Jesse Ertz needs to be on his game to make it happen.

Texas at No. 4 USC: This isn’t exactly David and Goliath but the Longhorns started this week as 17-point underdogs. Few expect Texas to win this game. While it would be a huge boost if they pull the upset, avoiding a blowout loss and being competitive are necessary goals.

The losses in Tom Herman’s career have been to underdogs; he’s 6-0 against Top 25 foes.

Oh, really?

This week in revisionist history: The game notes for the Texas game provided by the USC media relations department includes this nugget: “USC is 4-0 in the serious with Texas (not including 1 loss vacated by NCAA penalty).”

The Longhorns’ 41-38 victory over USC in the Rose Bowl to win the national championship is arguably the greatest college football game ever played. Had the Trojans won, they would have vacated it because of the NCAA sanctions. But conveniently erasing the loss because of NCAA rules is cheeky.

Quick take

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield went viral after Saturday’s victory at Ohio State thanks to his flag-planting celebration.

Monday he stood at a podium and apologized.

“It was an emotional game,” Mayfield said. “I did not mean for it to be disrespectful toward any Ohio State people at all. It was something I should have done in the locker room and not in the middle of the field, so I apologize for that.”

Mayfield was almost certainly instructed to offer his mea culpa. Whoever did that at Oklahoma was wrong in doing so. Not only did it add another day or two of shelf life to the story/controversy, it was unnecessary.

Personally, I don’t want the NFL because it’s the No Fun League. College football is about the emotions on the field and in the stands. The media hypes a game like Oklahoma at Ohio State and then expects the players to react like they’ve just finished a final exam in Western Civilization.

If Ohio State players are upset, here’s a suggestion: play better. If anyone deserved an apology from Mayfield, it’s any Buckeye who took the field on defense.

Cowboys are grounded

Much of the attention on Oklahoma State’s hyper-drive offense goes, rightfully so, to quarterback Mason Rudolph, receiver James Washington and his fellow talented receivers.

But don’t sleep on the Cowboys’ offensive balance and their ground game. Through two games, Oklahoma State is 22nd nationally in rushing offense, averaging 247.5 yards per game.

Sophomore Justice Hill, who took over as the starter last season as a freshman, has bulked up to 200 pounds and is running with more authority. Freshman backups J.D. King and LD Brown have each posted runs of 70 yard in backup roles. Hill and King are each averaging 79.5 yards per game while Brown is averaging 65 per game.

“In two years I think people are gonna talk about our running backs the way they’re talking about our wide receivers now,” Cowboys coach Mike Gundy told Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman.

There’s always a negative

Oklahoma winning at Ohio State along with TCU’s victory at Arkansas gave the Big 12 a needed shot of national respect. However, the negative is always lurking around the corner, waiting to jump out of the dark and take the league’s valuables.

The NCAA.com compiled a list of the colleges represented on NFL opening day rosters. And, like the Big 12’s poor showing in last April’s NFL Draft, the league found itself looking up at the other four Power Five conferences.

Former ESPN writer Brett McMurphy broke down the numbers supplied by the NCAA to figure the “average per school on NFL rosters.” The SEC averages 28.9 players, the Pac-12 averages 24, the Big Ten 22.1 and the Atlantic Coast 21.6. The Big 12 averaged 16.8 players per NFL roster.

USC with 50 has the most players on NFL rosters. Oklahoma led the Big 12 with 33. Here’s the rest of the Big 12 breakdown – Texas: 29; West Virginia: 24; TCU: 20; Baylor: 15; Oklahoma State: 13; Kansas State: 11; Texas Tech: 11; Iowa State: 6; Kansas: 6.

Birthday Boys

Oklahoma first-year coach Lincoln Riley celebrated his 34th birthday last Tuesday. The man he replaced, Bob Stoops, got quite the birthday present watching the Sooners’ victory at Ohio State. He turned 57 on Saturday.

Asked who had the best birthday last week, Riley laughed. “Good question,” he said. “I think we’re both pretty happy. Probably a tie, how about that?”

Stoops, dressed casually in an untucked open-collar shirt and jeans, was caught on video with a leap-to-his-feet celebration of the touchdown that put the Sooners ahead 24-13 early in the fourth quarter. After the game, Stoops and Riley shared an emotional hand shake and hug.

“That was a very special moment and part of it that I’ll remember the most,” Riley said. “He’s still a huge part of this, he’s very invested in the team. To see his genuine joy shows what kind of guy he is. Having him there was great for the staff, the players.”

Big 12 Quick Slants

College GameDay’s Lee Corso, aka Coach Head Gear, has picked against Oklahoma 16 times by donning the opponent’s mascot gear. That’s the most he’s picked a school to lose when doing that shtick. The Sooners are 12-4 in those games.

• Over the last decade, Oklahoma has eight road wins against Associated Press top 10 teams. That tops Alabama, which has seven such victories in that time frame.

• Oklahoma’s 490 total yards of offense was the most Ohio State has allowed in its last 34 games and the most the Buckeyes had allowed in a home game in five years. The Sooners’ 386 passing yards were the most against Ohio State since 1985.

• Following TCU’s 28-7 victory at Arkansas Saturday, the Frogs during the Gary Patterson era are 104-3 when holding the opponent to 17 or fewer points.

• This stat help explains why Baylor is 0-2 and a two-touchdown underdog at Duke – yes, Duke – Saturday. The Bears are No. 124 in FBS in opponent third-down conversion percentage (.625, allowing 15 of 24 conversions).

• Iowa State senior receiver Allen Lazard, a native of nearby Ankeny, has accomplished several statistical milestones. And while the Cyclones didn’t come away with the victory against Iowa Saturday, Lazard finally accomplished something in the Cy-Hawk Series that had eluded him. He had two touchdown receptions against the Hawkeyes.

Audible

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops on Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield:
“He’s a guy, we all feed off of him. Every one of us, coaches, players. Never seen a guy like him. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody in America.”