With one month and all non-conference games in the books, an award for every team in the Big 12:
Best Team: Baylor
Through their first three games, the Bears still look ready to take home the Big 12 crown for a third straight year. The September swing of SMU, Lamar and Rice gave Art Briles a chance to work out the kinks in the transition from Bryce Petty to Seth Russell at quarterback. Meanwhile, the D appears good enough to keep from screwing things up for all those offensive playmakers.
There have been a few hiccups on the field in Waco this season, but for now, the Bears remain the Big 12’s big dog.
Best Win: Texas Tech 35, Arkansas 24
Coming off last season’s blowout loss to Arkansas, the Red Raiders went north to the Natural State and put a sock in Bret Bielema’s blowhole. Not only did Kliff Kingsbury get a win to crow about, his team finally showed it had found its identity behind pesky dual-threat quarterback Pat Mahomes. Tech’s D also didn’t fold against a power running game for the first time in forever.
In the end, wins like this one and Oklahoma’s takedown of Tennessee will reflect well on the Big 12 as a whole. (And if Baylor finds itself in the College Football Playoff at the end of the year, the Bears should send Tech a thank-you note for giving them a good out-of-league win to mooch off of.)
Biggest Blech: Kansas
Yeah, the Jayhawks are as bad as everyone expected. In fact, they’re probably worse.
Funny enough, the coup de grace for KU wasn’t even the Jayhawks’ see-it-coming-from-a-million-miles-away defeat at the hands of South Dakota State from the FCS. No, their lowest moment to date has to be getting beaten up last week by Rutgers, the Jayhawks’ Big Ten doppleganger.
Best Player: Trevone Boykin, TCU
TCU’s QB and emotional bedrock hasn’t missed a beat after his stunning emergence last year. Good thing for Gary Patterson, whose injury-ravaged D is looking awfully leaky.
For the Horned Frogs to come close to living up to the high expectations that came with this season, they will probably need Boykin to do that thing where he carries the team on his back. He might just pull it off with more performances like the one he gave last week in TCU’s 55-52 win at Texas Tech (34-54 passes, 485 passing yards, 4 TDs; 11 rushes, 42 yards; reception for a two-point conversion).
Biggest Disappointment: Texas Defense
In hindsight, the belief that the Longhorns could pick up where they left off on D last year ago weren’t very fair. UT saw key contributors, primarily Jordan Hicks and Malcom Brown, graduate, leaving a number of unproven youngsters to fill in.
Even conceding that, though, no one could have predicted that Charlie Strong’s unit would fall so far. The ‘Horns have dropped from No. 7 nationally in Defensive S&P+ in 2014 to No. 62 through the first month of this season.
Best Newcomer: Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
After transferring to OU from Texas Tech, Mayfield sat out last season and lit up OU’s defense on a daily basis as the scout team quarterback. Although his success so far probably hasn’t surprised the team, his steady play this season as the full-fledged starter has been even better than Sooner fans expected.
Mayfield’s attitude and confidence have provided as much of a boost to OU’s offense as his scrambling and throwing. Having him behind center has turned the Sooners from outside challengers to bonafide contenders in the Big 12 this year.
Biggest Curveball: West Virginia
OK, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Mountaineers are off to a 3-0 start on the strength of their defense and ground game.
Wait, you haven’t heard that one before?
It’s true, though. WVU has the No. 9 D in the country per S&P+, surrendering a meager 7.7 points per game in its first three contests. The ‘Eers are led by one of the best secondaries in the country and play a funky 3-3-5 style that can give opposing offenses fits. Offensively, Dana Holgorsen has incorporated the zone read into the offense to give QB Skyler Howard a chance to chew up yardage on the ground alongside RBs Rushel Shell and Wendel Smallwood.
WVU’s lack of quality competition ends this week with a trip to OU. If the Holgo’s blue-collar squad plays well there, the questions about WVU’s gaudy statistics can stop.
Biggest Landmine: Kansas State
What else is new, huh?
The Wildcats still have home games with TCU, OU, Baylor and WVU left this year. As you’re reading this, Bill Snyder is sitting in his office eating a Quesarito while dissecting holes in the Sooners’ punt coverage and charting Skyler Howard’s accuracy on throws under 15 yards from outside the hashes.
This team isn’t one of Snyder’s best, but that won’t stop him from spoiling a season or two for someone else.
Biggest Enigma: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys have been kinda, well, meh so far this year. They looked sluggish in their season opener at Central Michigan and the following week against Central Arkansas. Despite throttling Texas-San Antonio in week three, OSU didn’t come off like a team that had turned a corner last week against Texas.
The biggest cause for concern in Cowboy country has to be QB Mason Rudolph’s erratic play versus the ‘Horns, which hinted at health issues. He needs to get back on the upward ascent for the Pokes to live up to their potential.
Best Soon-to-be-Available Coach: Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
Everybody outside of Big 12 officiating crews loves Rhoads. Unfortunately, being a good dude only goes so far when you’re a combined 6-21 since the start of the 2013 season.
More wins don’t appear to be on the horizon as the Cyclones start Big 12 play. Barring a miraculous turnaround in the next two months, Rhoads is likely staring at a pink slip at the end of the year.