Finally, real football. Feels good, doesn't it? While the conference doesn't truly kick into high gear until next week, with the full five conference games on tap for the first time, this was a great week of football. A national power humbled at home, a BCS-conference favorite falls victim to a completely unforeseen upset on the road, and two teams in differing states of decline may have righted their respective ships (until next week, of course). And that was just in the Big XII! One of the best times of year is upon us, folks, and it is good.
Iowa State Cyclones at Tulsa Golden Hurricane (W, 38-21)
Note: 2013 Tulsa, so take all conclusions with the requisite grains of salt.
Iowa State was finally able to get something going in the run game against Tulsa, with Aaron Wimberly going for 137 yards on 19 carries. That's notable, because the previous season high for a Cyclones running back was 35 yards, which is, you know, not good. Sam Richardson continues to look like a competent quarterback, but whether or not ISU's offensive linemen (not to mention his wide receivers) are good enough to make him look like one in conference is another matter. I don't think they are, but they are welcome to prove me wrong.
Stats of note: 3 rushing TDs for ISU, all by Jeff Woody. That's three more rushing touchdowns than ISU had all season.
Also of note: 4 turnovers for Tulsa, which should give some pause to those thinking that ISU has turned any kind of corner. Tulsa is just not that good this year.
Oklahoma State Cowboys at West Virginia Mountaineers (L, 21-30)
WVU seems to have finally gotten their passing offense on track against a real opponent with Clint Trickett at QB, which is welcome news to viewers everywhere. Although the efficiency wasn't there in the second half, part of that was due to a shoulder injury to Trickett, who made some gritty plays with his arm hanging off of his torso in the 4th quarter. If he's not injured enough to miss time, he's not going to be benched. Not after a performance like that, which was especially impressive given that he hadn't played since being given two ineffective series in the season opener.
Playing into the improved performance by WVU on offense was a relatively disappointing performance by OSU on defense. I was not at all impressed with Okie Lite's secondary outside of Justin Gilbert, who is enough of a gambler that you can take advantage of him if you're smart about it (Or, you can just wait for him to throw a punch and get suspended). For their part, WVU's secondary looks to be schematically improved from last season, but they still have tackling issues on the back end that will continue to make them vulnerable to Big XII offenses. J.W. Walsh killed them with completions over the middle that were then compounded by bad angles and poor tackling. Their defensive line, however, is another story. Okie Lite made their fair share of mistakes in this game, but the real reason they were unable to get their offense on track was the near-constant presence of WVU players in the OSU backfield. Defensive line looks to possibly be a position of strength for WVU this year, which is a far cry from what their fans experienced a season ago.
Stats of note: 2.8 yards rushing per attempt for Okie Lite, which isn't anything near what they are used to. It's also not anything we're used to seeing the Mountaineer defense accomplish, so kudos to them. This stat-line is highly influenced by the improved defensive line play that I referenced above, and has to be incredibly welcome to WVU fans.
Also of note: 320 passing yards for WVU, and while the efficiency wasn't there, especially in the second half, WVU made enough big plays passing the ball to stretch out some scoring drives and keep the field position in their favor. That was huge against a struggling Okie Lite offense (not to mention after losing 37-0 to Maryland in a completely inept offensive performance).
TCU looked to be suffering an extended hangover from their relatively brutal loss two weeks ago in Lubbock (or had to shake off some rust acquired during their bye), and ended up going into half down 10-7. But in the second half Trevone Boykin got the passing game going enough to lead 5 straight scoring drives - aided by Garrett Gilbert being himself, to the tune of 4 interceptions on the day. There isn't really that much to draw from this game, given the opponent and the manner of the victory. TCU struggled to dominate on defense without Devonte Fields (held out due to injury), and only really blew the game open with the help of 5 turnovers from SMU. Thankfully, the non-conference is over for another Big XII team, and we can finally getting around to figuring out where exactly TCU stands in the pecking order next week.
Stats of note: 15-26, 228 yards, 2 TDs, 8.8 yards per attempt. Trevone Boykin had the kind of efficient day that TCU has been missing at quarterback all season, especially in the second half, when he went 8-10 as TCU blew the game open and Garrett Gilbert kept tossing to guys in purple.
Also of note: 5 turnovers for SMU. I'd like to say that TCU is figuring out things on offense, but its hard to lose when the other team turns it over 5 times. The final score on this one was also a bit misleading, as TCU recovered SMU's onside kick attempt for a touchdown to go up 41-17, and then returned another Gilbert interception for a touchdown to make it 48-17.
Oklahoma Sooners at ND Fighting Irish (W, 35-21)
OU jumped on Notre Dame early in this one, intercepting Tommy Rees' second pass and returning it for a touchdown. Not fazed, Rees immediately threw another interception on his next attempt, to drive home the point that ND is a lot different without Everett Golson at quarterback. OU eventually scored on an 11-yard rush by Damien Williams on the ensuing possession, and spotting Bob Stoops a 14-point lead is never a good way to go. Especially not this year, when any good team can probably beat the Sooners if they refrain from errors like that.
Even though Notre Dame was able to bust enough big plays to make this game competitive, I don't really feel as though they ever truly threatened Oklahoma. Their offense was completely one-dimensional outside of one busted coverage by OU, and while they got their fair share of yards on the ground their stats don't look nearly as impressive when you take out the 80-yard TD run by Atkinson. OU was able to control the game with a consistent rushing attack, for a change, and Bell had a very efficient day passing the ball. If he hadn't had to leave with cramps on drive in the 3rd quarter, OU would have likely gone into the 4th up 31-14, which is indicative of how much they controlled the game.
Stats of note: 22-30, 232 yards, 2 TDs, 7.7 yards per attempt. Blake Bell looks to be the right answer at quarterback. While he still doesn't threaten teams vertically, he more than makes up for that with the added element he gives OU running the ball, and his accuracy and quick decision-making on shorter throws has been impressive. Some credit has to go to Josh Heupel for building some very user-friendly gameplans, but Bell is doing very well.
Also of note: 9-24, 104 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs, 4.3 yards per attempt. Everett Golson isn't walking through that door, much as Notre Dame fans (and probably Tommy Rees himself, at this point) want him to.
And now, time for the flavor of the week! Last week's resounding winners were the three-time defending poll champs, the Baylor Bears, with 61% of the vote. It's getting a bit crowded on that bandwagon, but Bears fans are nice enough to make room for the rest of you, I'm sure. TCU still doesn't have any believers, and OU was sinking fast in the public consciousness, but I imagine things will probably change this week. Also, please welcome the West Virginia Mountaineers, making their inaugural visit to the poll by virtue of trashing whatever expectations we had of a chalky conference season. Thanks, guys!
Note - I decided to hold off on pruning the list until next week (or not at all, who knows, this conference probably won't cooperate), when we could have some more clarity in the conference, so it might be your last week to back a really dark horse: