This week the brain trusts that are the authors of Crimson And Cream Machine get together to discuss the biggest surprises of the young season within the Big 12, whether Nebraska is the best team in the conference, the players of the week from last weekend's games and of course our power rankings.
Biggest Surprise in the Big 12 so far?
Definitely Nebraska. I am blown away with how well they've played so far. I did not expect them to be this good, especially with a freshman quarterback. I guess I should have expected more, as they led the country in scoring defense last year, were 7th nationally in total defense, and 22nd in turnover margin. Really their achilles heel last year was offense, and it was pretty mediocre. Their defense kept them in most games, though. A significant improvement in the offense has put them on the map, and I guess I didn't expect that improvement with a freshman signal caller. Watch out for penalties with this team though. Last year they averaged 63.9 penalty yards per game, but that has jumped to 82.3 yards per game over the first three games this year. That could come back to bite them against teams that aren't doormats.
Is Nebraska the best team in the Big 12 right now? Defend your answer.
I'm sure you're expecting me to answer yes after what I just said, but I'm going to say no. First, let me point out a couple of things that showed up on the latest Football Outsiders FEI Ratings (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/fei-ratings/2010/fei-three-and-out). Nebraska has the 7th highest Game Efficiency rating in the country so far, very comparable to their national ranking. Game Efficiency measures the ability of a team to convert its possessions to scoring and to prevent the other team from doing so. However, if you adjust this for the quality of opponent (this is what FEI is), then they only come in at #25. To me, this screams that they are bound to regress in performance as they enter conference play.
The other interesting thing on that blog post is that Nebraska ranks 2nd nationally in explosive drives. 37.9% of their drives average more than 10 yards per play (what an explosive drive is, by definition). However, you have to consider that they did that against the 38th, 96th, and 116th best defenses - not exactly stiff competition. The question is, will they be able to maintain that percentage going forward? I doubt it.
Finally, I think that Texas is the best team in the Big 12 right now, simply because they are the reigning champions and they have done nothing yet to deserve to lose that distinction. Texas' defense is dominating. If you discount the apathetic touchdown allowed in the closing seconds of the Rice game, and the touchdown pass that took funny and incredibly lucky bounces in the Rice game, Texas' defense has only been scored on in 3 possessions all year, and only 2 of those were touchdowns. Remember that half of Texas Tech's points game via an interception return for TD. Obviously Texas' offense is their biggest weakness, but it is still solid enough to get them by a lot of teams with that defense they have.
Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week from last week
Defense first, and I'll go with Curtis Brown of Texas. He only had 2 tackles, but had a 74 yard interception return that was sort of his redemption for getting scored on by Michael Crabtree in the miracle reception in 2008. He also had 35 punt return yards, including a long of 20.
On offense I'll go with Demarco Murray. He had 3 touchdowns and 187 all purpose yards from 26 carries, 5 receptions and 1 kick return. I don't think Murray is getting enough credit nationally - he's basically made the difference with this offense in two very close games. He's starting to get traction in some Heisman talk though.
Big 12 Power Rankings
Team (Previous week's ranking)
1. Texas (1) - No reason to drop them from the top spot. The defense is scary good.
2. Oklahoma (2) - A tough game against Air Force, who I think is vastly underrated and could challenge to get to #2 or #3 in a competitive Mountain West Conference. OU has not trailed this year.
3. Nebraska (3) - They look good, but who have they played? They are rolling up huge point totals, but the best defense they've played statistically is Idaho. Yuck.
4. Oklahoma State (8) - They jump way up because I wasn't very impressed with some of the other 3-0 teams and OSU put up an impressive performance. They get rewarded for playing well.
5. Kansas State (9) - They also jump way up for similar reasons to OSU. I'm surprised they're 3-0.
6. Missouri (6) - They hold steady at the 6th spot, a balance between being undefeated, and the realization they easily could have lost to San Diego State - at home.
7. Texas A&M (4) - They were losing by 2 possessions at the start of the 4th quarter to FIU! The only reason they're not lower is that they're still 3-0.
8. Texas Tech (7) - If they eliminate the turnovers, they might have had a shot at upsetting Texas.
9. Baylor (5) - You have to feel bad for them, they ran into an absolute buzzsaw in TCU.
10. Colorado (12) - They haven't impressed me at all, but at least they have a winning record.
11. Iowa State (11) - Their 1-2 record is deceiving, they lost at Iowa, and put up a good fight against a much better Kansas State team. I think Iowa State will have other chances to sneak up on people later in the season.
12. Kansas (12) - Back into the cellar with a 1-2 record and a 15 point loss to Southern Mississippi.
1) Biggest surprise in the Big 12 so far?
Well as much as I know CC wants me to go with the fact that there are only three teams offensive lines who have given up more sacks than Colorado, I'm not sure how I could go with anything other than Taylor "T-Magic" Martinez. I fear my answer won't be all that original once this goes up, but I just think most things to this point have gone as we expected with the major exception of this Martinez kid. My considerable issues with his ridiculously lame nickname aside, the kid has made a Denard Robinson esque type of impact through the first three games. Now he has yet to face a non Division III level of defense, so while Husker fans shouldn't necessarily expect him play down to a Jake Locker type level once conference play starts they'd be wise to keep their expectations in check (at least for now).
Honorable mention for UT's running game being an absolute joke, but not qualifying as it wasn't a "surprise" to anyone outside of Austin.
2) Is Nebraska the best team in the Big 12 right now? Defend your answer.
If I'm completely honest, I really wanted to find an argument for OU here as I still believe they have the highest ceiling of the three favorites. However, they've just been too inconsistent and despite Nebraska having played the equivalent of three scrimmages I do think they have to be considered the best team right now. The obvious qualifier being "right now" because if anyone can actually catch Martinez to lay a big hit on him, the Huskers will be in big time trouble with either guy coming in off the bench. That said, they have been the most impressive team in all three games played so far and last time I checked a win against a crappy team still counts as a win.
3) Offensive and defensive players of the week from last week.
Offense - You know I had something all typed up to go with somebody other than Brandon Weeden simply because I'm guessing that is everyone else's pick. Then I put down by bottle of Haterade and realized that even Okie State guys deserve a bone now and again. Besides if Landry had thrown 6 TDs and somebody tried to make an argument against him, I'd think that guy was a complete idiot.
Defense - Apparently the Big 12 conference considers a guy who intercepts a pass, has at least a 10 yard head start on the opposing player who is chasing him down, and gets caught from behind while failing to reach the end zone in incredibly embarrassing fashion qualifies as the Defensive Player of the Week. Sorry Dan Beebe lackies, I'm just not buying it. My pick did play in that game however and it was Tech DL Scott Smith. Smith had two sacks, an INT, a forced fumble, and a tipped pass that lead to a Tech pick six. He caused havoc all night for UT's underwhelming o-line and was robbed of the conference's honor simply because his team didn't win last Saturday.
4) Big 12 Power Rankings
1. Nebraska - 3-0 and while the competition has been a joke, their impressive margin of victory negates their opponents ineptness
2. Oklahoma - 3-0 and non-con schedule could easily have them in the top spot
3. Texas - 3-0 and any win at night in Lubbock is a good win
4. Kansas State - 3-0 and held on for their first conference win against CC's Cyclones
5. Oklahoma State - 3-0 and starting to take my last place pick for them personally
6. Missouri - 3-0 but barely
7. Texas A&M - 3-0, see Missouri
8. Colorado - 2-1 and whupped a Hawaii team that hung with U$C
9. Texas Tech - 2-1 had plenty of opportunities to upset UT
10. Baylor - 2-1 and man did they get their butts kicked by TCU. Ouch
11. Iowa State - 1-2 not the start to conference play CC was hoping for
12. Kansas - 1-2 and that GA Tech game is looking more and more like a fluke
Biggest surprise in the Big 12 so far?
I've got to go with Kansas State on this one. I fully expected to see the Wildcats struggle through this season and to this point they've done everything but that. Through the first three weeks of the season they're 3-0 and ranked 4th in the conference in scoring offense and have the Big 12's leading rusher. With Central Florida coming to town this weekend we're completely within reason to expect the Wildcats to be 4-0 going into their showdown against Nebraska next weekend.
Is Nebraska the best team in the Big 12 right now? Defend your answer.
Yes, and it isn't even close! Sure there's an argument out there that the Huskers haven't played anyone yet but really who has at this point? The Huskers have the Big 12's second highest scoring offense and fourth best scoring defense. They've played games at home and have taken a road trip to the west coast where they were every bit as dominant as they were in Lincoln. They're winning their games by an average score of almost 32 points better than their opponents.
Big 12 Power Rankings
4. Oklahoma State
5. Kansas State
7. Texas Tech
8. Texas A&M
10. Iowa State