Our editors take Texas A&M over Texas, even with Houston at 8-0
There were major questions facing most Lone Star teams — besides conference realignment — coming into the 2011 season. Could Texas rebound from a losing campaign? Could Texas A&M continue its late 2010 momentum while being distracted with an SEC move?
With trip to title game in reach, Cowboys must remain focussed
By Mitch Light
There were plenty of teams that posted more significant wins, but you can make a strong case that no team was as impressive as Oklahoma State last weekend. Six days after climbing to No. 3 in the BCS standings, the Cowboys dismantled a solid Baylor team with stunning ease. The Pokes led 21–0 after one quarter, 35–0 at the half and 49–3 through three quarters en route to a 59–24 victory.
Mike Gundy’s team proved — for at least one week — that it will be able to handle the pressures that come along with a lofty ranking in the BCS standings. When you are ranked No. 3 in the nation — and the top two teams are about to play each other — it becomes pretty clear to everyone in the program that your team has a direct path to the national title game. That’s obviously a good position to be in, but it can be very dangerous, as well — especially for a program that is not used to playing with a bull’s-eye on its back.
Just ask South Florida, which was No. 2 in the initial BCS rankings released in 2007 and proceeded to lose its next three games. Or Boston College, who replaced South Florida as the No. 2 team that season but went on to lose consecutive games to Florida State and Maryland to begin the month of November. There are many other programs that have made guest appearances in the top 5 of the BCS standings only to fade away and end the season playing in a mid-level bowl game.
Gundy’s task is to keep his team focused each week. His players know the deal: Oklahoma visits Stillwater on Dec. 3 in what has the potential to be the biggest game in school history. Gundy, however, is well aware that Dec. 3 is only important if his team takes care of business in the weeks that precede Bedlam.
That is what makes Saturday’s performance against Baylor so impressive. The Pokes were able to deal with the distractions that come with the No. 3 ranking and play perhaps their best game of the season against a team that has spent much of the season ranked in the top 25.
“We’re not going to play under pressure,” Gundy said before the Baylor game. “We’re not going to coach under pressure. We want the players to enjoy the experience they’re going through.”
Around the Big 12
• Texas Tech was held to single digits at home (seven points) last week for the first time since October 2000 in a 56–3 loss to Nebraska.
• Missouri tailback Henry Josey is the first player in the league to 1,000 yards. He has 1,017 yards on only 119 attempts for a league-best 8.6-yard average. In the fourth quarter, Josey’s average is 11.8 yards per carry.
• Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles has 18 receptions of 20 yards or more, the most in the Big 12 by five. Baylor’s Kendall Wright is next with 13.
• Kansas is 1–18 in its last 19 Big 12 games. The Jayhawks were 15–6 in the 21 previous league games.
• Baylor is the only team in the nation averaging over 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing.
• When his team is losing by 1-7 points, Robert Griffin III has completed 30-of-42 passes for 487 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
• Kansas State dropped 31 spots (from 29 to 60) in total defense in the national rankings after the Oklahoma game.
• Texas A&M has only converted one fourth down this season, tied with five other teams for fewest in the nation.
The Tigers are 2-3 on the season and have four Top 25 foes remaining.
Gary Pinkel has had a successful run in his decade-plus at Missouri. After experiencing losing seasons in three of his first four years in Columbia, the veteran coach has taken Mizzou to the postseason six consecutive times. That six-year run includes three bowl victories and two Big 12 North Division titles, which shows that Pinkel has built a solid college football program and has had more than just a two- or three-year run with a great quarterback.
Toben Opurum spent his first season at Kansas on the offensive side of the ball, leading the Jayhawks in rushing as a true freshman in 2009. He scored a touchdown in each of his first six games. He knows what it’s like to score points.
The past two seasons, Opurum has learned what it’s like to give up points — a lot of points. In 2010, his first season on the defense, Kansas ranked 98th in the nation in scoring defense, giving up an average of 34.4 points per game. This fall, the Jayhawks have taken several large steps back.
After five games, Kansas ranks 120th in the nation in total defense and scoring defense. The Jayhawks have given up at least 42 points in all four games against FBS opponents, including 66 vs. Georgia Tech and 70 vs. Oklahoma State. Last week, KU trailed O-State 56–7 at halftime.
“It is embarrassing, and is something I do not want to be a part of,” said Opurum, when asked what it’s like to see an opponent score 70 points. “We cannot do anything about it right now. We need to put it behind us and continue to work hard.”
Turner Gill is now 5–12 in his one-plus season as the boss in Lawrence, but only two of those wins (Georgia Tech and Colorado in 2010) have come against BCS conference opponents. Last season, Kansas was outgained by a staggering 219.4 yards in its eight Big 12 games. This year, the Jayhawks have allowed an average of 632.7 yards per game to three the BCS conference foes they have faced. To be fair, KU has played Georgia Tech, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State — three of the top offensive teams in the country — but its defensive numbers are still alarmingly bad.
Here are a few more stats to chew on: The Kansas defense is allowing 7.8 yards per play, the worst in the nation by almost a full yard. The Jayhawks have given up 34 touchdowns, 15 more than any other team in the Big 12. They have yielded 21 plays of 30 yards or more, nine more than any other team in the Big 12.
“We just have to keep improving,” Gill said after the O-State game. “We have some work to do on that side of the ball, or all sides of the ball for that matter. We just have to keep working. We have to improve.”
The Jayhawks don’t have much time to figure things out. The mighty Oklahoma Sooners — featuring an offense that has scored 113 points the past two weeks — visit Lawrence this week, and KU still has dates with Kansas State (which beat the Jayhawks 59–7 last year), Texas, Baylor, Texas A&M and Missouri.
“We have people getting mad and we have people that are sad,” cornerback Greg Brown said. “We need to keep our heads up because it is still early in the season and we can still turn it around.”
AROUND THE BIG 12
• Texas A&M lost seven straight games in Lubbock from 1995-2007, but has now won two in a row on the road vs. the hated Red Raiders. With the Aggies off to the SEC, it’s highly unlikely that these two teams will meet in the near (or distant) future.
• A big key to Kansas State’s 6–0 start has been on the defensive side of the ball. The Wildcats lead the Big 12 in total defense (298.8 ypg) and rank second in scoring defense (16.6 ppg). Last year, K-State ranked 11th in total defense (445.7 ypg) and eighth in scoring defense (29.1 ppg).
• The Big 12 is home to three of the top 10 scoring teams in the country — Oklahoma State (first, 51.4 ppg), Texas Tech (eighth, 45.8 ppg) and Oklahoma (tied for ninth, 45.0 ppg).
• Texas has given up 50 points or more three times in the Mack Brown era, all to Oklahoma — 63 points in 2000, 65 in ’03 and 55 in ’11.
• Iowa State’s three wins have come by an average of 2.7 points per game. Its two losses have come by an average of 23 points.
• The losing team has averaged 35.7 points in Texas A&M’s last three games.
• Missouri’s Henry Josey ranks 11th in the nation in rushing (117.6 ypg) despite not having more than 14 carries in any single game this season.
• Baylor has scored 35 points or more in five straight games (in the same season) for the first time in school history.