Jimmy Burch

Big 12 Insider: League’s top teams should be fretting about Notre Dame in playoff push

Pressure is on Texas and coach Charlie Strong

The performance of the Texas Longhorns in their 38-3 loss to Notre Dame overshadowed many highlights from other schools this past weekend. (Video by Tom Johanningmeier).
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The performance of the Texas Longhorns in their 38-3 loss to Notre Dame overshadowed many highlights from other schools this past weekend. (Video by Tom Johanningmeier).

Two schools of thought about college football, each with ample supporting historical evidence, collide this week for Big 12 teams.

On the one hand, it’s true that first impressions tend to be lasting impressions with fans and poll voters. On the other, coaches cling to the time-honored bromide that football teams make their biggest improvement between Week 1 and Week 2 of the regular-season schedule.

Because every Big 12 football team opened last week and plays its second game Saturday, this is an ideal time to buy and sell knee-jerk conclusions espoused by fans and analysts based on performances in season openers.

Here are 5 ideas we’re buying

Notre Dame could hinder Big 12 in CFP race: A Notre Dame team that finishes 12-0 or 11-1 could be a serious obstacle for the Big 12 champion in deliberations by members of the College Football Playoff selection committee. The group favored teams that played a 13th game last season. Because Notre Dame is an independent and the Big 12 has no conference championship game, the Irish and the Big 12 winner must depend on 12-game rèsumès to earn playoff berths. Committee members may not take more than one team with those credentials in December.

Swoopes still the same: Despite proclamations from coaches and teammates about a much-improved Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes in fall camp, the junior struggled with passing accuracy (7-of-22, 93 yards) and decision-making in a 38-3 loss to Notre Dame. It’s hard to see Texas turning around its stagnant offense behind Swoopes, now 5-8 as a starter. Coach Charlie Strong changed offensive play callers Tuesday and opened the starting quarterback job in practices heading into Saturday’s game against Rice. Strong said: “The best person is going to play quarterback. We cannot go through another season with a bad offense.”

Baylor must clean up its penalty problems: The Bears, the most-penalized team in the Big 12 last season (90.8 yards per game), cracked triple digits in penalty yards against SMU (13 penalties, 105 yards). Quarterback Seth Russell had a long touchdown run erased by a holding call and the Bears’ defense extended two SMU drives with penalties in a 56-21 victory. Against better opponents, such mistakes could kill the team’s push to land a berth in the College Football Playoff. Baylor coach Art Briles said: “You always worry about penalties. We had some penalties that hurt us.”

Texas Tech has found its QB: Patrick Mahomes, who shined in four starts as a freshman last season, threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns in a 59-45 victory over Sam Houston State. The sophomore has put together four consecutive starts with 300-plus passing yards and at least four TD passes. He’s way more than just another “system” quarterback.

Kansas headed toward golden goose egg: The Jayhawks whiffed on their best opportunity to record a victory with last week’s 41-38 loss to South Dakota State, an FCS school. New coach David Beaty’s roster is light on returning starters (5) and proven playmakers. An 0-12 record looms.

Here are 5 ideas we’re selling

Boykin ‘behind’ in Heisman race: No. 3 TCU did not enhance its national profile during a 23-17 escape from unranked Minnesota. But fans racing to devalue quarterback Trevone Boykin’s status as a Heisman Trophy hopeful because he managed “only” 338 total yards against the Gophers are way out of bounds. It was not his best game, but Heismans are won in November, not September. And a 338-yard output against that Minnesota defense, when judged over the full season, will not be considered shabby.

Iowa State has found a viable pass rush: The Cyclones collected 5.5 sacks in a 31-7 rout of Northern Iowa (three by DL Dale Pierson), their most in any game since 2005. But plundering an FCS opponent and slowing the spread offenses of Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma are different. Let’s tap the brakes and see how ISU, winless in league play last season, fares Saturday against Iowa before declaring its pass rush ready to stymie Big 12 foes.

West Virginia’s defense will revert to form: Consider the Mountaineers’ defense, a weak spot during most of the school’s Big 12 tenure, a foundation to build upon after last week’s 44-0 blanking of Georgia Southern. Safety Karl Joseph intercepted three passes and the Mountaineers, with nine returning defensive starters, should surprise lots of naysayers this season.

Oklahoma’s QB derby is over: Yes, transfer Baker Mayfield threw for 388 yards in last week’s 41-3 rout of Akron, most in a season opener by any Sooner. But the competition between the Texas Tech transfer and backup Trevor Knight could go back and forth all season. The first meaningful feedback comes Saturday against No. 23 Tennessee.

Kansas State offense will continue to shine: The Wildcats routed South Dakota, 34-0, but lost quarterback Jesse Ertz (knee) for the season. Joe Hubener takes over the starting role, but it’s hard to see K-State unleashing 30-point scoring sprees with regularity this season.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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