Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mid-Year College Football Update

Well, it appears my earlier predictions were pretty bad.  In terms of the Big 12, I had thought initially that OU or OSU would be in pole position, with KSU and TCU having an outside chance at rising to the top (oops).  At this point in the season, Oklahoma is looking like the leading candidate and has only one loss; they've got the fewest number of tough games remaining on the schedule, too, so they're likely to remain at or near the top.  Texas -- after an awful, awful start to the season in non-conference games -- has seemingly found its mojo, bagged a marquee win over OU, and has yet to drop a league game.  Oklahoma State and Texas Tech both have only one loss but haven't exactly looked the part of one-loss teams very comfortably.  Of those four teams, only OU has faced two of the others already, meaning the worst part of the schedule remains for all of the rest.  These teams will beat each other up over the next 2-3 weeks, and the picture will become clear pretty quickly.

In my opinion, the biggest surprise of the league this year is that Baylor appears to be the team to beat.  Yes, Baylor.  The only undefeated team left in the Big 12, they are averaging something like 70 points per game and have a defense that's actually pretty good.  Put it all together and they're mowing down opponents right and left.  In fact, it is not at all a stretch to say they look very similar to Oregon (side note: how much fun would a BCS Championship game between Oregon and Baylor be???  A whole lot, that's how much!).  Of the two games where they haven't scored around 70 points, one was against KSU (just 35 points) and the other was Kansas (their subs were in for most of the game, but they still posted 59).  Baylor has all four of the above-mentioned teams remaining on the schedule, though, so we'll find out very quickly if they are the real deal or another pretender.

If I had to make a revised guess right now, I'd say it'll come down to a 3-way mess between Baylor, OU, and Texas.  Texas has already beaten OU, but I think Baylor will be too much for them at home at the end of a nasty 3-week run to finish the season; I think OU will edge out Baylor this week.  I'm not sure how the tie-breakers will work out, but I don't really care, either.  I think it would be refreshing to get Baylor's high octane offense into a BCS game, but they're the little guy on the block and as any K-State fan knows the BCS only takes little guys when they have absolutely no other choice.  If Baylor knocks off OU this week, then it will come down to them and Texas running the league table for all the marbles at the final game of the year.

Now, on to K-State.  This is by far the sloppiest and most-prone-to-dumb-decisions Wildcat team I've seen in a long time.  Of the four losses, they had a lead in the fourth quarter in three of them, and just couldn't close the deal.  In all of those losses, they've made plenty of good plays but also just enough boneheaded plays at key times to be self-destructive.  For example, in the NDSU game, the Wildcats were only 2/10 on 3rd down conversions, lost the time of possession battle, and lost two turnovers.  If I recall correctly, they also left a lot to be desired in terms of tackling that night.  Against Texas, the Cats lost three turnovers and had eight penalties; against OSU they were only 5/12 on 3rd down, gave up five turnovers and committed 12 penalties.  I suppose the silver lining is that despite all of these things they were right there in every game...but still.  It's awfully hard to win with careless mistakes like this, especially in close games.

So, they're currently sitting at 3-4 overall (1-3 in the Big 12), with no chance whatsoever of being a factor in the league title.  In fact, with just five games left -- including OU and Texas Tech -- they're going to have to ramp things up pretty hard to come in over .500 for the season and be in a good position for a late December bowl game.  It seems likely they'll beat Kansas and Iowa State, and probably TCU, as well.  It's also likely they'll lose to OU.  That would put them at 6-5, with the game at Texas Tech leaving the only remaining question mark.  It probably won't net a much better bowl game, but a 7-5 record just seems a whole lot better than 6-6, so I'd really like to see that happen.  And who knows?  Maybe they'll get lucky against OU.  It certainly wouldn't be the first time they would have knocked off the Sooners as a distinct underdog.

There are plenty of good things about this season.  Despite losing those four games, they were close in all of them despite numerous self-inflicted wounds.  They lit up the fourth quarter against West Virginia, looking like a highly polished and productive offense for the first time all year.  Maybe the two QB system is starting to work itself out!  It also makes you wonder what might have happened if Thompson and Lockett, the team's top two receivers, had been available during the Baylor game (they were both out with injuries).  Clearly, the offense and special teams both benefit mightily when they are at full strength.  The defense has been pretty solid over the last couple games -- with the best showing by far against Baylor's ballistic offensive assault -- but I think they still lack a couple of major playmakers who can change the game.  But, as I said before, a defense isn't as dependent upon a couple of superstars as an offense is, so it's not necessarily a critical flaw.

We expected a rebuilding year, but I think it's fair to say that the 6-7 wins they're on pace for is still a bit of a disappointment.  I feel like most of the problems thus far (i.e. turnovers and stupid penalties) have been things that can/should be coached and practiced out of them, which probably explains why I feel like they are simultaneously a disappointment and a better team than their record might indicate.  If they can clean up the idiotic and untimely mistakes, they might be able to pull off some surprises here and there and raise the hopes for another potential league championship run next season.  If...

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