College football’s award season beckons. And the best hope for Big 12 recognition at the national level rests with the guys who wear the headsets, not the shoulder pads, on the sideline each Saturday.
We’re looking at you, TCU coach Gary Patterson and Baylor coach Art Briles.
If either the Horned Frogs (8-1, 5-1 in Big 12) or Bears (8-1, 5-1) wind up as one of the four participants in the inaugural College Football Playoff, how do you deny national coach-of-the-year honors to either man if top-ranked Mississippi State (9-0) falls out of the playoff picture in crunch time and trumps the candidacy of coach Dan Mullen?
And, if both teams make the playoff field, how do you choose between the two?
One solution could be a public debate between coaches at the Hillsboro outlet center, with NFL players Ahmad Dixon and Andy Dalton as the moderators. Attendees could vote for their favorite in a secret-ballot session similar to what CFP members will use Dec. 7 to set the playoff field.
Another option, of course, would be for Dixon (Baylor) and Dalton (TCU) to join their college coach in the octagon for a battle royale. Or have the four men play rock-paper-scissors until one survivor remains.
More reasonable tiebreakers would give deference to head-to-head result (Baylor’s choice) or higher playoff seed (TCU’s choice). But in all seriousness, this soon may be a valid question at the national level.
At this point, top national coaching honors would go to Mullen if the Bulldogs are playoff-bound. But with remaining road games against No. 5 Alabama (Saturday) and No. 10 Ole Miss (Nov. 29), do you really trust MSU to finish the job?
Rest assured, there is a reason why No. 1 Mississippi State fell behind No. 4 TCU and barely trumped No. 7 Baylor in this week’s updated odds to win the national championship. Per Bovada Sports Book, Mississippi State received 15-2 odds.
TCU received 6-1 odds, trailing only Alabama (4-1) and Oregon (4-1) among the favorites. Baylor rejoined the discussion in a big way, with 16-1 odds, thanks to last week’s 48-14 pasting of Oklahoma. A week ago, the Bears were 40-1 longshots.
The bottom line is both Patterson and Briles have done masterful jobs positioning their teams for college football’s stretch run in the playoff chase. The difference between the two is as thin as the margin in Baylor’s 61-58 triumph, decided by a field goal as time expired in Waco.
TCU can post an 11-1 record and claim a share of the Big 12 title without beating another team with a winning record. The Frogs’ final three games are against Kansas (3-6), Texas (5-5) and Iowa State (2-7).
Baylor can match that 11-1 mark, and guarantee itself a share of the Big 12 title, by running the table against Oklahoma State (5-4), Texas Tech (3-6) and No. 13 Kansas State (7-2). The schedule is favorable. Baylor has two of its last three games in Waco, with the lone exception a neutral-site game in Arlington against Tech. So, the Bears will not be playing in a hostile environment the rest of the way.
If Mullen and Mississippi State continue their magical run from unranked to undefeated, all postseason coaching honors will wind up in Starkville, Miss. And that would be the right choice. But if MSU cracks the door for other candidates, Patterson and Briles will be first in line.
In many ways, this qualifies as a counter-flow season on the awards circuit for players and coaches from Big 12 schools. The only clear front-runners, at this point, would be TCU co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, who should be lapping the field in the race for the Frank Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach.
In TCU’s first year in a new offensive system, the Frogs rank among the national leaders in scoring (47.2 average) and total offense (550.3 yards per game) while leaning on inherited players from last year’s 4-8 team. Credit for that turnaround falls to the new coordinators, although quarterback Trevone Boykin, the Big 12 leader in total offense (359.7 yards per game), has blossomed as the Frogs’ signal-caller.
But Boykin faces stiff competition from more established QBs, notably Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, in battles to win the Heisman Trophy, Davey O’Brien Award and other honors. Mariota also blocks Baylor QB Bryce Petty, one of five finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given only to seniors or fourth-year juniors on pace to graduate.
Elsewhere, the Big 12’s top candidate for national recognition is West Virginia receiver Kevin White, a likely finalist for the 2014 Biletnikoff Award. Beyond that, it projects to be a quiet December for honorees from a league that has seen seven players earn national awards the past three seasons. Mix in Texas A&M honorees recruited as part of Big 12 signing classes and the number jumps to 11 honorees over the past three seasons.
But this year, coaches probably will trump players at the postseason ballot box. Which brings us back to December’s defining question that could divide voters from coast-to-coast:
Who have you got, Patterson or Briles?
Texas Tech’s bowl hopes
Although 25 bowl spots remain available in college football’s bloated postseason, Texas Tech has run out of wiggle room in efforts to grab one. The Red Raiders (3-6, 1-5 in Big 12) must defeat Oklahoma (6-3, 3-3) in Saturday’s game in Lubbock or join Iowa State (2-7, 0-6) on the list of league teams eliminated from bowl consideration.
Tech has been a bowl team in 13 of the last 14 seasons, including a 37-23 triumph over Arizona State in last year’s Holiday Bowl.
“We know what’s at stake,” running back DeAndre Washington said. “We either win out or we lose one game and get ready for a long off-season. At this point, you really have no choice.”
There is a chance Oklahoma may rely on Cody Thomas, its backup quarterback from Colleyville Heritage, because starter Trevor Knight sustained a severe stinger in his neck during last week’s loss to Baylor. But linebacker Pete Robertson said Tech defenders are not concerned about which quarterback lines up for the Sooners or how that may impact the Red Raiders’ defensive game plan.
“We just try to play our game. We try not to worry about these last three games and whether we’re getting to a bowl game or not,” Robertson said. “We just try to win every single game we can.”
Heading into Saturday, 51 of the nation’s FBS schools have achieved the six wins needed to qualify for one of 76 available bowl berths.
No signal stealing: Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said he is not worried about Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who played last season for the Red Raiders, recognizing hand signals and sharing them with Sooners’ coaches during Saturday’s game in Lubbock. “We changed them for spring practice, so that shouldn’t be too much of an issue,” Kingsbury said.
Timely defensive stops: Texas’ defense has been inconsistent on third down this season, allowing opponents a 35.3 percent conversion rate. But the Longhorns allowed West Virginia to convert only 3-of-17 third downs (17.6 percent) in last week’s 33-17 victory. Coming into the game, the Mountaineers ranked among the national leaders in third-down conversions (47.2 percent). Texas’ defensive strides bode well for Saturday’s matchup against Oklahoma State, which ranks next-to-last among Big 12 offenses in third-down conversion rate (35.3 percent, 49-of-139). The only team worse: Texas, at 32.7 percent (50-of-153).
Offensive resurgence: Kansas ranks last among Big 12 teams in scoring (18.2 average) and total offense (352.4 yards per game) heading into Saturday’s game with No. 4 TCU. But the Jayhawks topped both figures in last week’s 34-14 victory over Iowa State. Kansas rolled for 514 yards, its highest single-game total since the 2011 season. QB Michael Cummings posted a career-high 24 completions and freshman RB Corey Avery had a career-high 103 rushing yards.
No. 4 TCU 52, Kansas 14 (2 p.m. Saturday, FS1): Horned Frogs send another loud, clear message to CFP selection committee members that they are playoff-worthy.
Texas 34, Oklahoma State 28 (6:30 p.m. Saturday, KDFW/Ch. 4): Longhorns survive a battle of average teams and become bowl-eligible in their first season under new coach Charlie Strong.
Oklahoma 31, Texas Tech 29 (2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN): Sooners struggle again in Lubbock. But this time, they score the most points.
Last week: 2-2