Who won Week 14 in the Big 12?

Ian Boyd

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The Big 12 season is going to effectively end on Saturday with the crowning of a champion based on who wins Iowa State’s battle with Oklahoma. Unless, of course, one of those schools is unable to meet the COVID threshold standards. In that event, the game will be played by…

(drumroll)

...the Texas Longhorns!

It’s hard for me to believe either Oklahoma or Iowa State will fail to bring a healthy enough roster into Dallas to play this game. I also wonder if Texas is going to practice and prepare this week as though they were going to be playing Oklahoma or Iowa State. I don’t get the sense they were practicing and preparing much for Kansas last week.

We’ll talk much more about the title game later in the week and preview the matchup. For this column, let’s talk a little more about what happened this weekend and what these programs have going on heading into the “silly season.”

The big picture in Lubbock

There isn’t a lot of coverage on it, although we wrote here on how a contingent of boosters was working to get Art Briles hired and there was recently a report released aiming to exonerate him in the Baylor scandal, but the Texas Tech athletics community is a drama central right now.

The push for Art Briles is just a symptom of the bigger picture at Texas Tech.

The bigger picture is this, Baylor and TCU have had more money, recruited better, and won more than Texas Tech since the Bears hired Briles and the Frogs were admitted into the conference. The inclusion/ascendance of these private schools has truly been a catastrophe for Texas Tech. Both are closer to the main talent hubs within the state, both have monied alumni shelling out cash to boost the programs, and both are consequently more desirable destinations for recruits.

If you’re a recruit or parent, would you rather be in Waco or Fort Worth, just an hour or two away from Austin and Dallas and parked on I-35, or way out in West Texas?

The main edge the Red Raiders had in the 2000’s, beyond Baylor being a laughing stock and TCU relegated to G5 conferences, was an innovative offensive system and some top notch coaching staffs assembled by “the Pirate” Mike Leach. Well they pushed him out and while virtually all of his successors to call plays have come from his coaching tree (Neal Brown, Kliff Kingsbury, David Yost) there is no longer a sizable edge to be had in the Big 12 from running a spread offense with Air Raid roots.

Offense hasn’t even been the issue for the Red Raiders this last decade. They haven’t been particularly high-powered under Matt Wells and David Yost, scoring 30.5 ppg last year and 29.1 this season, but they aren’t impotent either. And this has come amidst difficult circumstances with offensive personnel including regular injuries to quarterback Alan Bowman.

It’s a step back from Kliff Kingsbury, who scored 37.3 ppg in 2018 while rotating through even younger versions of Alan Bowman and Jett Duffey, but the bigger failure has been on defense. Texas Tech’s defense under Matt Wells, who made his career at Utah State with physical, zone-blitzing defense, has been the main issue.

In 2018 under Kingsbury the Red Raiders gave up 31.1 ppg on defense, which is wretched. Wells’ teams have surrendered 30.3 ppg in 2019 and 36.7 ppg in 2020, which is somehow worse.

They basically hired a formerly offensive coach who’s become something of a defensive coach who’s defense doesn’t work in this league, or at least not with the rosters he’s been able to build in years one and two. The strategy of bringing in multiple transfers every year, also a big part of the formula at Utah State, has not helped. Not at all. Well maybe a little, I suppose it could be even worse.

Word on the street has been there’s a lot of big oil money attached to Texas Tech who want to reverse course by firing Wells as soon as it’s appropriate and bringing in a big time coach to give the Red Raiders a chance to compete with the private schools again.

Obviously Art Briles was the main option but it seems there’s a desperation just to do SOMETHING. Briles today announced his resignation at Mount Vernon after completing the season, reports suggest he could be the next head coach at Liberty if nothing else once Hugh Freeze moves on. Then Texas Tech announces this:


Let’s pause to note a few things. Matt Wells was TANKING at Utah State and went 3-9 in 2016 before hiring David Yost and then going 6-7 and finally 10-2 before taking the Tech job. Yost has been responsible for most of the positive attributes of Matt Wells coached teams for the last four years and certainly the last two. Unless they’re going to convince Art Briles to come be the offensive coordinator and rehab his image there before pushing Wells out, it’s not likely Tech improves much on offense next season sans Yost. Then what? They fire Matt Wells and potentially fall further behind TCU and Baylor?

What happens after 2025 when the realignment tree gets shaken again? Will Texas Tech be included or will they be edged out by upstart Baylor and TCU?

Upstart Baylor’s next steps

So the Baylor season is over with a thud. Oklahoma State whipped them 42-3 and forced in Jacob Zeno. To be honest, the Zeno snaps were not inspiring. He has a strong arm and some running shake but didn’t seem to have a fantastic grasp of the offense, he looked like a talented youngster whose understanding of the offense isn’t at a point to where a coaching staff could move on from a savvy but limited senior.

This next offseason is going to be of tremendous importance to the Bears. They need to lock in what their identity will be and whether it will more closely resemble Jorge Munoz and his pro-style passing or Larry Fedora’s collegiate-honed, smashmouth spread system. Then they need to recruit to the intended system, potentially via the portal, and get in a terrific offseason because the last one obviously wasn’t worth much for their offense.

Big 12 offenses were a major casualty of COVID-19. I’ve seen a number of “Big 12 defenses have figured them out!” takes out there and I would urge everyone to exercise some caution in assuming as much. Offense is much more skill intensive and depends on timing, chemistry, and scouting work for quarterbacks, receivers, offensive linemen, etc. Conditioning likely suffered as well, leading to injuries, exacerbating issues of unit cohesion, skill development (playing younger players), and timing.

But for all that, the Bears really need to have a productive offseason and put something together for next season. The defense should be in solid shape with the return of so many key players, but you can’t assume Aranda’s blitz-heavy approach will yield the same returns in 2021 against better prepared offenses and the Bears weren’t near good enough on offense for it to matter anyways.

Outside of the top spot, which will be held by the Sooners, the league could be pretty open next season with a lot in the air at some of the stronger programs. Everyone needs to be ready to put their best foot forward in order to capitalize.

The circus in Austin

Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte gave Tom Herman a tepid “vote of confidence” over the weekend stating amidst all the speculation about the coach’s future, “Tom Herman is our coach.”

This was about as inspiring as Dwight Schrute’s “It is your birthday.” poster and has had a comparable impact thus far on Texas’ recruiting.

In reality, Texas will be sniffing around for another coach over the historical coaching search season of December and January and then afterwards likely pushing out Herman for a new hire. Here are the main reasons.

Tom Herman failed in a make or break season with a favorable set up.

In year four with his higher ranked recruits entering their third and second seasons, an NFL left tackle, senior Sam Ehlinger, and possible first round edge-rusher Joseph Ossai, Tom Herman failed to even make the Big 12 title game. All of the COVID issues of the pandemic applied to everyone else as well and despite having senior stalwarts at key positions, Herman couldn’t make the Big 12 title game.

Blame it on the coordinator changes if you like and the inability of the program to get in a full offseason, but those changes were necessitated by Herman’s failures in previous seasons. Who’s fault is it the previous coordinators weren’t getting the job done? He made this bed, it’s only fair he should have to lay in it.

Tom Herman’s recruiting is plummeting

Texas currently has two offensive linemen committed to send in LOIs on NSD1 and neither of them have the last name “Brockermeyer.” Herman and his offensive line coach Herb Hand’s failures to sign the Brockermeyer twins, James and Tommy, was a remarkable failure. The dad went to Texas, another relative went to Texas, and the older brother goes to Texas. They were the top targets and plan A and apparently plan B and plan C for building the 2021 offensive line class.

The Longhorns simply needed to give them a compelling reason to believe their potential NFL futures would be well shepherded in Austin and failed to do so. The Brockermeyers notably committed to Alabama before Texas’ season fell apart and websites like Inside Texas began to speculate Herman would be replaced, so the notion the “toxic atmosphere” in the Longhorn media and boostersphere is the reason for the failing recruiting is a weak excuse.

Texas also lost the commitment of 2022, 5-star quarterback Quinn Ewers, who was promising to help bring a top five or higher class to Texas in a big year for in-state talent. This catastrophe occurred after the Oklahoma defeat and the famous photo of Sam Ehlinger standing alone without teammates for “the eyes of Texas.”

The current class currently contains 16 commitments and is ranked as low as Tom Herman’s 2017 class in a transition year when he only had a month or so to recruit and fill out Charlie Strong’s existing work. It’s going to be very hard for him to improve it for 2021 and 2022 is going to be a tremendous chore if Texas retained him and asked him to win in 2021 with a new quarterback and retooled offensive line while his job hangs in the balance. It’d be an untenable recruiting situation and would likely end with Herman getting fired anyways and a second consecutive class tanked. Good luck to Texas trying to bring in donations or sell tickets to fill out their new stadium upgrades amidst such a scene and good luck to the new coach trying to meet Longhorn expectations while inheriting back to back substandard classes.

The eyes of Texas

Herman really stepped in it here, siding with the social activists against the traditions of the University and aligning with the side claiming “the eyes of Texas” was an inherently racist song. We’re talking about a fun and historically inclusive ditty set to “I’ve been working on the railroad” and sung happily by Longhorn alumni of varying ethnicities and creeds over decades at athletics events, funerals, weddings, etc.

Recently those who also sided with the activists have suggested it’s ridiculous anyone would take a song ripped from “I’ve been working on the railroad” so seriously, which is easily one of the worst faith arguments made in the year 2020. If the song wasn’t a powerful and meaningful symbol to the University and its traditions, then no one would have wanted to fight so hard for its removal. Most relevant to this topic, many alumni did not accept the song as being indicative of years of racism inherent to the school and community and many of those are in positions of great influence in the realm of athletics.

Tom Herman put the school in an awful situation by refusing to even meet the bar set by Chris Del Conte of asking the team to stand and acknowledge the fans and tradition for the singing of the school song. Now there is a sizable contingent of donors who want him out regardless of results.

You can agree or disagree with the politics of it all, the point is the same, Tom Herman has sunk Texas football with his lack of performance on the field and divisive decisions off the field. Retaining him would be a complete disaster and it’s unlikely Chris Del Conte fails to realize such is the case. The most likely scenario here is Del Conte is trying to help recruiting and buy time for a thorough coaching search now plan A (Urban Meyer) has fallen through.

Who won Week 14 in the Big 12?

This last week was truly a mess for Big 12 football, whose dependence on the offseason and coaching development at most programs (and lack of such at the biggest program) were all seen clearly in the 2020 pandemic year.

The biggest winner of this last week was probably TCU, simply because they didn’t trip over themselves and successfully beat a weak Louisiana Tech team while doing so the right way...throwing the ball to Quentin Johnston. Everyone is excited about what Zach Evans did to a disinterested and overmatched defense but Max Duggan connecting on five shots to Johnston that yielded 133 yards and a score was more promising still.

TCU’s ceiling in 2021 will depend on well T.J. Storment protects Max Duggan while he targets Johnston on vertical shots. That’s how you score points, which is what TCU needs to start doing with much greater efficiency if they want to get back to competing for Big 12 Championships.

Later this week we’ll keep talking about Big 12 silly season topics and break down Oklahoma vs Iowa State.
 

system poster

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If you’re a recruit or parent, would you rather be in Waco or Fort Worth, just an hour or two away from Austin and Dallas and parked on I-35, or way out in West Texas?
If I'm a recruit, I would rather be in the college town with the big college rather than the small town with a small college or a big city with a small college and a lot spoiled, rich, frat kids who won't invite me to their parties. Of course, at least with regard to TCU, its a lot to ask for a high school kid to see past the bright lights of West 7th to see that being a college kid in Fort Worth actually kind of sucks compared to being in a college town. And I don't buy the notion that being two hours from a better place is really that big of a selling point. The parents? Yeah, I'm sure they would prefer to have a shorter drive to see the games.
 

Ian Boyd

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Jan 14, 2014
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If I'm a recruit, I would rather be in the college town with the big college rather than the small town with a small college or a big city with a small college and a lot spoiled, rich, frat kids who won't invite me to their parties. Of course, at least with regard to TCU, its a lot to ask for a high school kid to see past the bright lights of West 7th to see that being a college kid in Fort Worth actually kind of sucks compared to being in a college town. And I don't buy the notion that being two hours from a better place is really that big of a selling point. The parents? Yeah, I'm sure they would prefer to have a shorter drive to see the games.
Two hours? What is this in reference to?
 

travisroeder

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I'm curious why you refer to Aranda's style as "blitz heavy." He almost never sends more than 4 guys.