After a rough slate of road games on Saturday, once promising seasons for Texas, TCU and Baylor are rapidly circling the drain. The Wildcats, meanwhile, could be in the driver's seat for a berth in the BCS title game.
It was a road test weekend in the Big 12 for the three local teams -- Texas, TCU and Baylor -- and all three failed that test in one way or the other. The Longhorns were the only one to pull out a win, but given who they were playing, it was probably the most disappointing performance of the three. Kansas had a freshman QB making his second career start who completed only 3/9 passes for 39 passes, yet Texas STILL couldn't stop the run, giving up 234 yards and 2 TD's on a healthy 4.2 YPC. David Ash, meanwhile, had maybe the worst performance of his career, as Case McCoy had to come off the bench and generate some late-game magic for the Longhorns to escape Lawrence with a win.
And for all the progress TCU and Baylor have made as programs under Gary Patterson and Art Briles, all of a sudden, each has an uphill fight just to reach bowl eligibility in 2012. The Frogs, at 5-3, have to find at least one win in their next four games -- at West VA, vs. Kansas State, at Texas, vs. OU. The Bears, at 3-4, will probably defeat Kansas at home next week, but they still have to find two wins out of their last four games -- at OU, vs. Kansas, vs. Tech (at Cowboys Stadium), and vs. Oklahoma State.
Texas Tech, which rose as high to No. 14 in the country after wins over West Virginia and TCU, showed how far they still have to go after a 55-24 drubbing in Manhattan against Kansas State. Now they have an intriguing home date against Texas this weekend in a game that may tell us a lot about the direction of these two programs. The Red Raiders run a more traditional passing-heavy Air Raid offense, which is good news for the Longhorns porous run defense, but Texas is going to need the Ash from earlier in the year if they're going to have any chance in Lubbock.
The big question surrounding the Longhorns going forward is, of course, Mack Brown's job security. He'd better hope Ash can recover, because with the way Manny Diaz defense has been playing, they could easily lose their next four games -- at Tech, vs. Iowa State, vs. TCU, at Kansas State. DeLoss Dodds, whose been too busy orchestrating conference realignment to supervise the football program, would obviously like to keep Brown, which a 10-2 regular season record would allow him to do. A 6-6 record would be just as easy a decision, but my guess is the Longhorns split their last four and go 8-4, which should make for a very interesting December in Bellmont.
It doesn't help that UT's last game of the regular season will be in Manhattan, against a Kansas State team almost perfectly designed to roll the Longhorns. Let's say the Wildcats need some style points to impress the voters -- an Optimus Klein run-based ground attack (unstoppable force) will be going against a UT run defense (movable object). At this point in the season, we can start looking at the various undefeated teams and the Wildcats have very little in their way: vs. Oklahoma State, at TCU, at Baylor, vs. Texas. The real question will be how they'll hold up against a possibly unbeaten Oregon or unbeaten Notre Dame team in the race for No. 2.
Both those two teams were dealt real blows to their schedule due to USC losing this weekend to Arizona. If either went undefeated, a victory over USC would be one of their signature wins, now, all of a sudden, the Trojans look like they could have 4 losses at the end of the season. Oregon State, one of the other unbeatens, lost late on Saturday to Washington, which doesn't leave the Ducks with many chances to impress voters (or the computers). Hard to feel bad for a team that schedules Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech in non-conference though.
The whole discussion could be for naught if Alabama loses to LSU in Baton Rouge this week, but it's hard to feel confident in that given how well AJ McCarron has played this year and how poorly Zach Mettenberger has. The Bayou Bengals have had two weeks to prepare for the game and playing in LSU at night is not easy, so who knows. The big key for Les Miles bunch is going to be to win the turnover battle and get some short fields for their offense, maybe even pull a return. McCarron hasn't thrown an INT all season; he's good, but no one is THAT good. Maybe this is the week the Crimson Tide's luck turns? It has to happen eventually.
The SEC East title race, meanwhile, may have been decided with Georgia's ugly, turnover filled victory over Florida in Jacksonville. If the Dawgs couldn't win a game where they got 6 turnovers from the Gators, you had to wonder whether Mark Richt's program would ever reach the next level. Aaron Murray's utter implosion is worrisome, but with the way Jarvis Jones is playing, Georgia's D should be enough to get them to Atlanta in a one-game scenario against the SEC West champ. Remember, last year, the Dawgs were hanging tough with LSU before Honey Badger had two big punt returns to swing that game.
Next week, besides the two huge late-night showdowns -- Alabama/LSU and USC/Oregon -- the most intriguing game might be Texas A&M at Mississippi State. Both programs have taken advantage of Arkansas and Auburn's struggles to have surprisingly good seasons, and they're the two SEC teams who play a more Big 12 style of spread football. The winner may end up in Dallas playing in the Cotton Bowl.