Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Who's going to win the Big 12?

The popular narrative from week nine in the Big 12 is that the league's playoff hopes are dead with West Virginia and Baylor no longer undefeated. I find that narrative a bit off for a few reasons. One is that the Big 12 never really had any great playoff hopes in my estimation.

It was clear that Oklahoma was going to need to find several impact players to even match last year's success (which they've actually done reasonably well) and that last year's Oklahoma success was as much due to a remarkably fortuitous schedule as it was their own brilliance. Clemson dominated that team and did so without having to resort to their calling card on offense, the 4/5-wide sets with Watson firing off quick passes or buying time with the scramble. No, Clemson just lined up and ran the Sooners over.

The rest of the league was clearly a notch below (except TCU, whom I thought might match Oklahoma only to be proven completely wrong) and there just isn't enough talent on any of these teams to emerge from the league without some losses. Texas has that ability somewhere within their players' bones but it has yet to be drawn out by Charlie and his staff.

Once the Sooners went down against Houston that was pretty much all she wrote for the Big 12 and the 2017 playoffs. Indeed, even before week nine the most likely scenario in which the Big 12 entered a team into the playoff was one in which the Sooners went undefeated in league play. That's still technically in play, but the needed combination of defeats from powers outside of the Big 12 and the Sooners avoiding any slips against Baylor, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State is pretty unlikely.

Meanwhile, the Big 12 race is now basically between Oklahoma and West Virginia.

Why do I say that? Take a look at the schedules of the top competitors for the league crown.

Baylor


TCU, @Oklahoma, K-State, Tech, @West Virginia

Texas repeated Oklahoma State's strategy of using double TE sets to run the ball down Baylor's throat while taking advantage of having far superior cornerback play to the Cowboys. You can read my breakdown of the events for free at Inside Texas.

Baylor's D is better suited to play the smaller, less physical offenses at the other Big 12 schools but they are vulnerable to enduring some ground and pound. Meanwhile their own offense is very susceptible to anyone with solid DBs to cheat the run game and bring man blitzes or down safeties.

They're about to face some of the better defenses in the Big 12 and Seth Russell's accuracy problems are going to be exposed for all the world to see. That kid is a great athlete but he's a WR at the next level and probably the worst passing QB Baylor has seen since...2009 Nick Florence? Maybe even further back than that.

Oklahoma State


@K-State, Tech, @TCU, @Oklahoma

The Cowboys are combining a competent run game, brilliant Mason Rudolph-led passing attack, and hard-working, sound defense to milk the most out of their roster. Their victory over West Virginia was emblematic of the fact that Mike Gundy and his staff always have a good plan and have an edge in matchups with teams featuring comparable overall talent.

Their problem is that the Sooners have much superior talent and will be playing at home, probably with the league title on the line. What's more, that remaining schedule is a very tough slate for a team without a major talent advantage to navigate. The Kansas State Wildcats aren't going to compete for the league crown but they can play with anyone at home, Tech is always a nightmare because Pat Mahomes cannot be controlled, and the Frogs may not truly be in the free fall they seem to be experiencing.

To do better than .500 in that stretch would be hard and the Cowboys already have one loss on the schedule.

West Virginia


Kansas, @Texas, Oklahoma, @Iowa State, Baylor

The Mountaineers are still in nice shape to win the league, even after dropping the road game in Stillwater. It takes a truly great team to survive round robin play without dropping a road game against one of these explosive offenses in the Big 12 and there are no such teams in the league this season. In fact, there hasn't been such a team this decade.

The Mountaineers still have five games left, but two of them are against the league's dregs and that road date in Austin is a bit of an unknown at this point. Their big advantage is getting both Baylor and Oklahoma at home. One of those teams will do the other in earlier in the year and West Virginia may be playing Baylor for a chance at the crown at the end of the season.

Oklahoma


@Iowa State, Baylor, @West Virginia, Oklahoma State

Still several tripwires out there for the Sooners, but they can probably afford to drop one of these games and still win the conference since it's unlikely any of the other teams mentioned will get through the league without taking on a second loss.

Bob Stoops is using this two week stretch of facing Kansas and Iowa State to get his team healthy for the stretch run. Obo Okoronkwo is back against Iowa State, and I've already noted that between him, Steven Parker, and Jordan Thomas the Sooners have the pieces to put together a "good enough" performance against most every offense in the league.

They're also getting a chance to work in some of their young DL that have promise for the future, some young LBs, and they got NB Will Johnson back recently which only serves to upgrade their coverage options.

This is where the smart money is right now. The Sooners have some of the best players in the league, they can score on anyone, and they have the athletes on defense to get enough stops to make winning shootouts a near certainty. The question now is whether they can go undefeated and if they do, will the committee even care?

8 comments:

  1. Hey Ian.....OU fan here....really enjoy your work (even the stuff on Inside Texas). Ref the Clemson game (from a biased OU perspective)...we didn't have our best run stopper DL in game (Walker) and Jordan Evans left game early with injury. He was replaced by an injured Frank Shannon. We were up at half but lack of depth (Clemson's depth was superior to ours) caused our D to wear down. Dimon was exhausted in 2d half and getting abused. Throw in an injured Perine and Mixon and we were doomed that 2d half (plus Baker started to try to force things). We did have Clemson a bit on the ropes in the first half. They were concerned enough to attempt that successful fake punt. Clemson was the superior team but I do wonder how the game would have played out if they had failed to get that fake punt and we could have gone up a couple of scores. With the injuries I think we still lose.

    What is encouraging is our DL depth this year is superior. We are missing our 3 starting DL (Walker, Dimon, and Romar) for most of season but a lot of the other guys have developed (Roberts, Gallimore, Wade) and even Senor Lampkin is showing promise lately.

    I am worried about ISU this week. Mixon is gimpy. Hopefully running game will be solid enough keep ISU from being able to bracket Westbrook.

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    1. I think Clemson was probably going to win that game regardless but you're right that Oklahoma had some injuries kinda pile up on them fast there.

      I've liked most of the young DL that OU has been bringing in of late and I think the future there is brighter than what it had been when they were forcing 4-down types to fit into their 3-down concept. But guys like Bledsoe and Gallimore are still young.

      I would have been very confident in an OU victory before Mixon was suspended but now that he's gone? In Ames on a Thursday? Upset alert...

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  2. Losing Mixon is huge. OU uses him in so many different ways. Adams is a nice back but not the threat Mixon is and definitely not the receiver Mixon is. Plus OU runs a lot of 2 back sets with both RBs but those will likely be tossed. Can't do that with Adams and a walkon true frosh RB. As a result ISU may be able to take a guy out of run support (and shadowing Mixon out of the passing game) and double up Westbrook. Offense could really struggle. Also If OU suffers anymore injuries on Defense during the game it could be scary.

    Speaking of Bledsoe....he has been suspended indefinitely. Reports are that it was an OTC supplement he took and failed to run by compliance. Dumb mistake and may cost him a full calendar year suspension. That would really hurt OU next year.

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    1. Oops.

      I think Mixon is one of the 3 best offensive players in the league this year with D'Onta Foreman and Pat Mahomes. Westbrook and this OL should still give Mayfield enough weapons to get points on the board, this game probably comes down to whether the D bottles up Warren or not.

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    2. Agree. Fortunately our Run D has been solid. OU did a decent job of slowing down Foreman until the 4th quarter (and some horrible alignment issues). I think they will have success early on against Warren. Hopefully the game will be out of reach by the 4th quarter. Otherwise ISU may be able to wear down OU's thin DL and have running success in the 4th.

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  3. What's going on with Russel's accuracy? Is that a result of his neck injury? Quarterbacks usually improve their completion percentage year over year but his has gotten worse, which is strange. If he had the standard sort of year to year improvement, he would be in the Bryce Petty range of accuracy.

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    1. I think there's a lot of explanatory power in the "he broke his neck last year" hypothesis.

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