September surprises make college football fascinating and unpredictable. They surface every season in all parts of the country.
In the Lone Star State, these fresh developments since the start of fall drills should alter preseason mindsets on a variety of topics:
▪ Swagger in Lubbock. Texas Tech (3-0) played big and coach Kliff Kingsbury talked even bigger following a 35-24 victory over Arkansas. The Red Raiders’ defense, last among Big 12 teams in most statistical areas last season, held the Razorbacks to three points in the second half and continued its ball-hawking ways under first-year coordinator David Gibbs. Tech has collected eight turnovers in three games and ranks 10th nationally in turnovers gained (2.67 per contest) and turnover margin (plus-5), two areas of vast improvement from 2014 standards.
But the biggest indicator of elevated confidence occurred in Kingsbury’s news conference, where he called out Arkansas coach Bret Bielema for remarks Bielema made about the importance of ground-and-pound football in an era marked by spread offenses at the majority of Texas’ high schools and colleges.
“At the Texas high school coaches convention this summer, he said, ‘If you don’t play with a fullback, we’ll kick your [butt]. If you throw it 70 times a game, we’ll kick your [butt],’ ” said Kingsbury, who did not shake hands with Bielema after the contest. “He just got his [butt] kicked twice in a row, and probably next week by [Texas] A&M, as well. So, that did feel good.”
Kingsbury, the son of a high school coach, said Bielema’s comments “definitely rubbed me the wrong way.” He also made it clear that the team’s defensive improvements under Gibbs are not based on smoke and mirrors as Tech seeks to rebound from last year’s 4-8 record.
“We got it done when we had to. They’re getting better each week,” Kingsbury said of his defenders. “We’ve got a long way to go. But, obviously, our confidence is up.”
That improvement should concern coaches at No. 3 TCU (3-0), which opens Big 12 play Saturday in Lubbock (3:45 p.m., KDFW/Ch. 4). Tech’s offense averages 54.3 points per game and the defense seeks to make amends for last year’s 82-27 thrashing in Fort Worth.
▪ Defensive injuries in Fort Worth. The Tech matchup, from a TCU perspective, becomes dicier because seven of the Horned Frogs’ would-be defensive starters were absent or injured during the second half of a 56-37 victory over SMU. That figure is on top of personnel losses to graduation or the NFL Draft that eliminated six starters from the team that led the Big 12 in total defense last season (341.8 yards per game).
▪ Pass rush in Aggieland. No. 14 Texas A&M leads the nation in sacks (15) and tackles for losses (36) after a swarming performance during a 44-27 victory over Nevada. The Aggies finished with 16 TFLs, most in any game under coach Kevin Sumlin. A&M (3-0) heads into Saturday’s SEC opener against Arkansas (1-2) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (6 p.m., ESPN) with defensive end Myles Garrett, an Arlington Martin product, leading the nation in sacks (5.5) and defensive end Daeshon Hall ranked seventh (4.0).
Garrett, a sophomore, collected a career-high 3.5 sacks against Nevada less than a week after having his wisdom teeth removed. A&M has adapted quickly to the high-pressure scheme of new defensive coordinator John Chavis, who inherited a unit that ranked last among SEC teams in total defense the past two seasons. A three-peat of that dubious distinction seems unlikely for a unit that was fortified against Nevada by three first-time contributors coming off injury (DT Julien Obioha) or suspension (DT Zaycoven Henderson, LB A.J. Hilliard).
Hilliard, a transfer from TCU playing for the first time since breaking his ankle in last year’s opener against South Carolina, finished with a team-high 8 tackles, 2 TFLs and a sack. After two years of struggles, the defensive arrow finally is pointing up in Aggieland.
▪ Offensive pulse in Austin. Texas changed its starting quarterback and its offensive play-caller after posting an FBS-low 163 total yards on opening weekend in a 38-3 loss to No. 6 Notre Dame. The Longhorns hit the 650 mark, including a school-record 527 from new QB Jerrod Heard, in a 45-44 loss to California that improved the outlook of coach Charlie Strong as the Longhorns (1-2) prepare to open league play Saturday against No. 24 Oklahoma State (3-0) in Austin (2:30 p.m., network TBD).
Although he expressed concerns about his defense, Strong praised the team’s effort in rallying from a 21-point, fourth-quarter deficit and said: “I hope this is the one that turned the corner for us. It’s a lot of mistakes but they can be corrected.”
▪ Off-field drama in Waco. No. 5 Baylor (2-0) remains in the CFP mix but has made unflattering headlines on a weekly basis that have nothing to do with the Aug. 21 rape conviction of former player Sam Ukwuachu and an ongoing probe into the school’s actions related to that case.
Baylor suspended two defensive starters for the SMU game (DE Shawn Oakman, S Orion Stewart), suspended two assistant coaches for the Lamar game (offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, receivers coach Tate Wallis) and announced the dismissal of tight end Tre’Von Armstead from the program Friday. All three players were disciplined for unspecified violations of team rules.
The two coaches were suspended for NCAA recruiting violations last spring related to the evaluations of prospective players. Baylor has started slowly against outmanned opponents in both of its games. If off-field distractions were an issue, the Bears cannot afford similar stumbles out of the gate once they begin facing Big 12 play opponents in October.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760
91,568Announced attendance for Texas-California game in DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium (capacity 100,119). The Longhorns have had 22,212 unsold seats through two games in Austin, following a crowd of 86,458 for last week’s home opener against Rice.
David Gibbs’ stock: Texas Tech’s new defensive coordinator has pushed the right buttons for the Red Raiders (3-0), particularly with his halftime adjustments. Tech has outscored opponents 41-3 in the third quarter this season and held Arkansas to only a second-half field goal in a 35-24 victory.
Ohio State’s aura of invincibility: The top-ranked Buckeyes (3-0) struggled on offense and needed a defensive TD to escape with a 20-13 victory over unranked Northern Illinois. The defending national champs, like most FBS schools, suddenly look vulnerable to the right opponent.
Key games this week
No. 3 TCU at Texas Tech: Horned Frogs’ injury-riddled defense may be tested beyond the breaking point Saturday in Lubbock by the high-scoring Red Raiders (3-0).
No. 24 Oklahoma State at Texas: The Cowboys (3-0) harbor Big 12 title hopes and will be challenged Saturday by a Texas offense that has found its stride under QB Jerrod Heard.
No. 14 Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (Arlington): The Aggies (3-0) can further their march toward a top 10 ranking by taking down Arkansas (1-2) in Saturday’s SEC opener for both teams.
If the college football season ended today, here’s a projected playoff bracket based on games played thus far (including playoff seeds):
Semifinal: Ohio State (No. 1) vs. Ole Miss (No. 4)
Semifinal: TCU (No. 2) vs. Michigan State (No. 3)