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Team Alert

JOHN HARRIS' THOUGHTS ON THE CHASE FOR THE REMATCH IN THE BIG 12

Heading into the first Saturday in November, the Chase for The Rematch in the Big 12 is still hot and heavy. Chase for The Rematch? Well, of course. The Big 12 plays nine conference games, a true round robin, so no matter which two teams tangle in Arlington for the Big 12 Championship game, it’s going to be a rematch.

 But, I digress.

 The Big 12 squads have seemingly separated themselves amongst the ten team group. There’s Tier one - the top three teams, consisting of West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas. There’s tier two - the bowl eligibles with a few upsets to their name - Iowa State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Baylor. Finally, there’s tier three - there’s still a chance for a bowl - TCU, Kansas and Kansas State, all 3-5 on the season.

 The top three team round robin continues with a matchup between West Virginia and Texas in Austin on Saturday. Round one of the round robin took place in Dallas earlier in October as the Texas Longhorns held on for a classic win over the Oklahoma Sooners. A West Virginia win over Texas could set up a weird situation for the Big 12. If the Sooners and Mountaineers win out heading into their Thanksgiving Friday November 23rd meeting, there’s a chance they could meet in back-to-back weeks - once in Oklahoma and the following week in the Big 12 Championship game in Arlington.

 Now, West Virginia visits Texas this Saturday, then faces TCU (home) and Oklahoma State (away) before Oklahoma comes calling. The Sooners face Texas Tech (away), Oklahoma State (home) and Kansas (home) before heading to Morgantown. Two teams stand in the way of a rematch at the end of the Big 12 campaign IF West Virginia wins this weekend - Iowa State and Texas. If West Virginia wins out, loses to Oklahoma in the regular season finale, Iowa State will rematch with Oklahoma if ISU wins out (which would include a win over Texas in Austin). If Oklahoma wins out, loses to a 7-1 West Virginia squad, the Texas Longhorns will rematch with West Virginia if the Longhorns win out.

 Now, Texas Tech plays both Oklahoma and Texas in back-to-back weeks IN LUBBOCK, so the Red Raiders can throw a serious monkey wrench into The Rematch. Tech lost to Iowa State and West Virginia already, but wins over Texas and Oklahoma could start us down a path of tiebreakers that I don’t even want to consider at this point.

 At least we have the month of November to figure it all out.

Team Alert

JOHN HARRIS ASKS WHICH TEAM WILL FINISH THIRD IN THE SEC

Who’s number three?

 It’s not an often asked question, but it’s evident that Alabama and Georgia, last year’s College Football National Championship combatants, are the two best teams in the SEC.

 By a LONG shot.

 So, which team is third? Why does that matter, really?

 Well, New Year’s Day Six bowl games seem to love SEC teams.

 In 2014, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama earned invitations to the NYD Six games. In 2017, three teams also were invited - Alabama, Georgia and Auburn. So, the third place team in the conference will earn consideration for a New Year’s Day Six invitation.

 And, that team would be?

 Well, there are three teams at 5-1 right now. Kentucky lost last week at Texas A&M after an undefeated 5-0 start. Running back Benny Snell was bottled up and the weaknesses on offense were exposed by a stout A&M defense. Kentucky also must tangle with Georgia in a few weeks, but that game is in Lexington and the remainder of the schedule is more than manageable in the SEC East. So, the Cats will be in the mix.

 Florida is also 5-1 and trounced LSU in Gainesville. The defense is fantastically lights out, but offensively there are still some serious rough spots. The only real challenge on Florida’s schedule the rest of the way is a visit to Jacksonville on October 27th for the World’s Largest Cocktail Party, the annual get together with the University of Georgia. Similarly to Kentucky, the Gators don’t have a ranked team on the schedule not named Georgia the rest of the season. So, Florida should stay in the mix, regardless of its loss to Kentucky earlier this season.

 LSU is 5-1, but the schedule is a wee bit more difficult and by saying a wee bit, I really mean A LOT in the SEC West. The Tigers struggled on offense in Gainesville last week and lost to the Gators...and now face #2 Georgia this weekend. Then, they face #24 Mississippi State next week and #1 Alabama three weeks from Saturday. They’ll close the season at College Station where the Aggies have played well this season.

 Speaking of the Aggies, could it be Texas A&M? The 4-2 Aggies still have road trips to Mississippi State and Auburn, but the way its defense is playing right now, it’s going to be a tough squad to beat anywhere. It may come down to a visit from LSU in the finale for that overall third spot in the conference. The Aggies have faltered in the second halves of seasons for the past five years so not many will take them seriously until Jimbo Fisher’s team proves them wrong.

 Mississippi State and Auburn are 4-2, but they both have Alabama remaining on the schedule, plus Mississippi State has LSU and Auburn has Georgia as well.

 Nothing is clear cut in the SEC. Except at the top. Alabama and Georgia rule the roost while 12 other teams fight for the next rung down, one that might be ultra-important come bowl season.

Team Alert

RED RIVER SHOWDOWN: JOHN HARRIS' KEYS TO THE GAME

It doesn’t matter which one comes first for most people. However, if you bleed crimson and cream, you’ll think OU v. Texas takes place in Dallas this weekend, but if you’re burnt orange all the way, it’s Texas v. OU in the Cotton Bowl. Regardless of your allegiance, this Red River Rivalry is back. As such, the world seems to be back on its axis as these days as the two Big 12 powers will meet on Saturday, both undefeated in Big 12 play.

 

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, although he sat out the first series of the Baylor game last weekend, turned in a magnificent performance against the Bears. He accounted for seven touchdowns, throwing six, and totaling 494 yards of total offense. He’s stepped into the void left by 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and kept the Oklahoma offensive engine running at an insanely high level.

 

The story for the Longhorns has been a feisty defense that has given up less than 17 points per game in its four wins. Safety Caden Sterns is a true freshman play maker who will be a key for the Longhorns defense against the powerful Oklahoma offense. Last week, it was talented defensive end Charles Omenihu who starred, posting two sacks and three tackles for a loss in a win over the Kansas State Wildcats.

 

So, what are my Keys to the Game?

 

For Oklahoma…

 

  1. Find different ways to get the ball to Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown - that’s probably the one guy that Texas doesn’t match up with really well. Cornerback Kris Boyd is a better matchup on Sooners receiver Cee Dee Lamb, so Brown is a bit of a wild card. Sterns may see Brown a few times, but the more unique ways that Brown can get the rock, the better for OU.

 

  1. Never quit on Ehlinger - Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger isn’t the best thrower, nor is he wildly accurate or productive through the air, but he will make a play and is tougher than a $2 steak. He will hold the ball longer than he should but that also makes him ultra-dangerous when he extends plays. The Sooners defense can’t get lazy once plays are extended thinking Ehlinger is tackled or bottled up.

 

For Texas…

  1. Surprise everyone with a downfield passing attack - Look, the Longhorns have one of the most talented pair of receivers in the Big 12 in Lil’ Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson, but they need more down the field targets. Last week, Ehlinger threw 36 times (completing 29) for only 207 yards. The two stars combined for nine catches but for only 91 yards. The Sooners secondary isn’t blessed with superstars so Ehlinger must push the ball downfield to his two NFL-bound stars.

 

  1. Pocket Murray better than Mobile Murray - Murray is far from the biggest player on the field but he’s magical with the way he can get out of the pocket and create. If Texas plans on taking home a W to Austin, it MUST force Murray to stay in the confines of the pocket. Spy on him. Rush only three. Play basketball on him, mirroring him, instead of truly rushing the pocket. Whatever the Longhorns must do to keep Murray from taking one step out of the pocket, they must execute every single pass play. Then, when he eventually leaves the pocket, make him pay. Be the most physical unit at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
Team Alert

John Harris on the Texas v. Missouri Matchup

The Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl is set and it renews two former acquaintances – the Texas Longhorns and the Missouri Tigers. These two have met 23 times, with the majority of those coming from years 1996 to 2011 when they were both members of the Big 12. In 2012, though, Missouri moved to the SEC and these two haven’t faced each other since.

Much was expected of the Longhorns in 2017 as head coach Tom Herman took over the University of Texas program. Yet, the year was filled with ups and downs as Herman tried to put his stamp on the program. The Longhorns were a first down away from finishing 7-5, on track for a potential eighth win in the bowl game. However, an interception opened the door for Texas Tech to sneak in and escape out of Austin with the Longhorns’ possible seventh win. As such, the Longhorns come into this one looking to avoid seven losses in a season for the fourth consecutive season. It’s also a return for Herman back to Houston and to NRG Stadium where he led the Houston Cougars to an upset of the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2016 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff.

For Missouri, a bowl game was a distant blip on the radar screen as late as middle of October. Then, the Tigers got hot. After a 53-28 loss to the playoff bound Georgia Bulldogs, Barry Odom’s Tigers were 1-5. To get to six wins, the Tigers had to beat Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas. They did, in addition to Idaho and U Conn. They ran the table, averaging nearly 50 points a game in the process. Quarterback Drew Lock lit up the airways, completing 58.2% of his passes for 3,695 yards and 43 touchdowns. Yes, FORTY THREE touchdowns…in a season.

The Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl will be one of the most intriguing bowl games, given the winding paths that these two teams followed to get to Houston on December 27, 2017.

By: John Harris

Team Alert

John Harris: Championship Weekend is Upon Us

Championship weekend is upon us and it’s going to be one heck of a weekend. The CFP Final Four came a bit more into focus the past weekend, which then sets the dominoes in motion for bowl appointments, most importantly for all of us in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl (the Bowl).

The Playoff seems clear to me at this point.
The winner of Auburn-Georgia in the SEC Championship game is in the Playoff.
The winner of Miami-Clemson in the ACC Championship game is in the Playoff.
If Wisconsin wins, it’s in the Playoff.
If Oklahoma wins, it’s in the Playoff.

Now…
If Wisconsin loses, the Committee has to compare Alabama’s and Ohio State’s resumes, which isn’t going to be easy.
If Oklahoma and Wisconsin both lose, then Alabama and Ohio State may both be in.
If Oklahoma loses but Wisconsin wins, then Alabama seems to be the next best option to go in with Wisconsin, ACC winner and SEC winner.

In summation on the playoff, here are the possibilities as I see them ACC winner, SEC winner, Wisconsin & Oklahoma ACC winner, SEC winner, Wisconsin & Alabama ACC winner, SEC winner, Ohio State & Oklahoma ACC winner, SEC winner, Ohio State & Alabama

The entire situation is fluid, honestly. What if Wisconsin loses to Ohio State 38-37 in the wildest game of the day? Could the Committee take both Ohio State and Wisconsin? Probably not, but then again, who knows?

Now, how does this all impact the Academy Sports + Outdoor Texas Bowl. Well, on the Big 12 side, if TCU beats Oklahoma, then the Big 12 will more than likely get two teams in New Year’s Day Six Bowls. With two teams in New Year’s Day Six games, it moves every Big 12 team up in the pecking order, so to speak, which takes away an option from the Bowl. But, if Oklahoma wins, TCU may not be able to hold a spot in the top 12-14, which could keep it from getting a New Year’s Day Six bid. For the Bowl, that’s a great thing. For TCU and the Big 12, not so much, I suppose.

On the SEC side, with Alabama at 11-1, the conference is 99.9% guaranteed to get at least two teams in New Year’s Day Six games. A third team getting invited, like in 2014 (Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss), will create a domino effect for the Bowl, moving every team up in the pecking order.

So, even though the picture is clearer at the top, in some respects, the results on Championship weekend have far ranging effects for all bowls, including the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bowl on December 27th.

By: John Harris

Team Alert

Texas Longhorns and Their Long Road to Bowl Eligibility

After Maryland put a 50-burger on the University of Texas to start the season, there were major concerns in Austin that it would be a loooooong season for first year head coach Tom Herman. No one, and by no one, I mean NO ONE, saw that coming. Maryland had (most of its firepower was lost to injury this season) a ton of weaponry that it sprung on the Texas defense and it was a horrid look for the Longhorns to start the 2017 campaign, especially so after allowing opponents 31.5 points per game in 2016.

Fast forward about 12 weeks or so and take a look at the Texas Longhorns defensive unit now. After Maryland’s 50 point output, the Longhorns defense has yielded just over 20 points a game, which is a near impossibility in the offensively potent Big 12. It held nearly every offense on its schedule under that unit’s scoring average, with one unusual exception (Kansas). Against West Virginia, the Longhorns held West Virginia to a measly 56 yards on the ground (WVU averaged over 160 yards per game heading into the game) and 295 yards of total offense. The win over West Virginia also made the Longhorns bowl eligible after being shut out of a bowl in 2016.

The play of the Longhorns defense saved the season, so to speak. The offense had moments of brilliance this year, but it’s been inconsistent to say the least. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has turned around defenses at nearly every single stop on his coaching journey and now he’s done it in Austin as well. Because of the play of the Texas defense, Orlando, Herman and the Longhorns will be playing a 13th game this season and that’s certainly a step in the right direction.

By: John Harris

Team Alert

TCU-OKLAHOMA PART OF HISTORIC COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEKEND

For the first time in 15 years, a day of college football will include three top-10 matchups. And the Big 12 is at the center of it.

The meeting between No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 6 TCU in Norman, Okla., joins No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 10 Auburn and No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Miami as Saturday’s trio of top-10 showdowns. It’s the first day with three such games since Oct. 12, 2002.

Interestingly, that day also involved games featuring Oklahoma, Georgia and Miami, with each of those teams winning their respective games. The No. 2 Sooners defeated No. 3 Texas, 35-24. Georgia, ranked sixth, won 18-13 over 10th-ranked Tennessee. No. 1 Miami inched past No. 9 Florida State, 28-27.

All three of this year’s carry heavy College Football Playoff implications, as any losing team would suffer a severe drop in its playoff chances as a result. The Big 12 matchup specifically is a playoff elimination game, with either team at risk of suffering its second loss. The winner is best positioned for a run to the playoff and conference championship game, while the loser is likely out of the playoff but still capable of earning a spot in the Big 12 title game.

Georgia can help minimize chaos by defeating Auburn, while a Tigers victory would make the Iron Bowl with No. 2 Alabama a must-watch matchup for all those with playoff interests.

Norte Dame is hoping to knock a conference or two, including the Big 12, out of the playoff, while Miami is trying to keep its perfect season alive.

For the Big 12 to make the playoff, the winner of Oklahoma-TCU likely needs to also win the conference title. A 12-1 conference champ would be tough to leave out, so this weekend’s results in any of the three games will have a large impact down the line.

By: Nathan Ruiz, diehards.com [view article]

Team Alert

Bedlam Will Be Bedlam

Oklahomans refer to it as Bedlam. Oklahoma v. Oklahoma State or Oklahoma State v. Oklahoma, depending on the shade of orange or crimson on your person. Over the past decade and a half, these two have met for not just bragging rights, but a potential spot in the Big 12 Championship game, a potential Big 12 Championship crown and/or a possible spot in the College Football Playoffs. This year is no different.

The Sooners will travel to Stillwater as the number five team in the country, with an outstanding win over Ohio State on the road but a heartbreaking loss to Iowa State at home. Since losing at home to TCU, the eleventh ranked Cowboys have won four in a row, prior to the Sooners visit on Saturday.

Iowa State awaits Oklahoma State next week, but there’s no Cowboy looking beyond the Sooners this week. Why? Well, it’s pretty obvious, but for there to be anything special left on the table for the Cowboys, a win over the Sooners is a necessity. Same for the Sooners. A second conference loss more than likely eliminates either team from the Big 12 Championship game race.

However, like a 1990s informercial…there’s so much more. Quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph won’t step on the field at the same time, but they’ll engage in a back and forth showdown that could be one of the best quarterback shootouts in college football this season. Both are still in the running for nearly every single postseason award, including the Heisman Trophy. Mayfield is thought to be a frontrunner for the prestigious Heisman alongside Saquon Barkley (Penn State), but Rudolph can inject himself into the conversation with a Rudolph-like performance on this massive stage.

There’s a mullet. There are two transcendent quarterbacks. There’s hate. There’s a first year, rookie head coach. There’s hate, sports hate, though (I think). There’s Bedlam and this year, there will be plenty of it in Stillwater on Saturday afternoon.

By: John Harris

Team Alert

How the Unranked Iowa State Cyclones Defeated No. 3 Oklahoma

Matt Campbell’s Iowa State squad was undeterred, undaunted and ready to knock off the undefeated, the home standing, third ranked Oklahoma Sooners in Norman, mind you. Unfortunately, they were 31 point underdogs and the quarterback situation was seemingly a mess. Yet, when the clock hit all zeroes last Saturday, the Cyclones had upset Oklahoma 38-31 on the backs of two of the most unlikely quarterbacks to take snaps in 2017: one that had never started an FBS game and a starting linebacker that was a starting quarterback in 2016. Huh? Well, let me explain.

When starting quarterback Jacob Park was ruled out for the matchup with the Sooners, the Cyclones were left with starting Kyle Kempt. After waiting four long years, with stops at one FBS school, one JUCO stint and a walk on situation at Iowa State, Kempt finally got his chance under center. All he did was throw for 343 yards and three touchdown passes, including the stunning game winner to All-Big 12 star receiver Allen Lazard. Kempt had thrown just two passes in his two years at Iowa State and none in 2017. Of course, that was until Saturday in Norman. He was a star out of high school at Massillon Washington High School in Ohio and originally signed with Oregon State. After two years in Corvallis not getting on the field, he transferred to Hutchinson Community College where he didn’t even play football. He then decided to walk on at Iowa State and made history on Saturday two years after he arrived on campus.

When the Cyclones needed to give a different look or Kempt needed a rest, Campbell turned to starting linebacker Joel Lanning…to play quarterback. The senior was asked in the off-season to move to linebacker and he accepted the job after spending all of 2016 under center at quarterback. Throughout the first four games, Lanning wasn’t used at quarterback with the emergence of Park as the starter, but with Park out, Campbell had no choice but to use Lanning on both offense and defense. All Lanning did was post eight tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery on defense and complete two of three passing for 23 yards and register 35 yards rushing on nine carries. The days of two way players died long ago, but Lanning brought them back for at least one day, anyway.

The Cyclones now have to deal with that success and prepare for Kansas. However, with these two leading the way, Iowa State is in good hands, unusual though the path was for them to get there.

By: John Harris

Team Alert

Is Saquon Barkley the Best Running Back Since Barry Sanders?

Earlier this week, I was a guest on the Triple Threat, the top ranked sports radio show in the city of Houston. Ted Johnson, a three time Super Bowl winner with the Patriots and an All-American linebacker with the Colorado Buffaloes, asked me a question that really stumped me.

“John, is Penn State’s Saquon Barkley the best running back since Barry Sanders?”

My mind started racing. Barry Sanders won the Heisman Trophy in 1988 after the greatest rushing season in college football history, but that was nearly 30 years ago. There have been some great college running backs in that time, but were any of them at the level of Sanders? More importantly, were any of them in the class of Barkley?

Barkley strung together one highlight reel play after another on Saturday night in Iowa City against the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Nittany Lions came from behind to win the game on the final play of the game, but they would’ve been upset had it not been for Barkley’s performance. He finished with 211 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown and recorded 12 receptions for 94 yards in addition. Tack on 53 yards on kick returns and he finished with a Sanders-like 358 all-purpose yards. On national television. On the road. In a must win conference game situation.

40 touches. FORTY is just phenomenal, but every single time he touched the rock, he produced a “did you see that kind of moment?”. Penn State blew out its first three opponents, so he had plenty of time to stock up for the matchup with Iowa.

He faces Indiana on Saturday in Happy Valley with another opportunity to show the nation that he’s not only the best back in the nation, but the best player in the nation. Perhaps the best since Barry Sanders too.

By: John Harris