Darren Hellwege, sports commentator
It’s been a long week. With the holiday and this business of driving back from Kansas City at one in the morning (from the CBE Classic,) my mind’s not exactly at peak load (and my peak load’s not that impressive to start with.)
So, we get started a little late. I may well have taken either A&M or Texas when pressed, but I get a mulligan on that one, and we’ll pick up the Saturday games.
Last week: 4-2. The OSU loss is hard to talk about, you have to be happy for the ‘Clones, their biggest win in program history. But since it did such damage to OSU’s national championship hopes, it seems almost like excuse making to mention this, but, here goes: That game should have been postponed. There’s a different attitude among the athletics programs at Oklahoma State, the teams are closer than at most schools and these guys all knew Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna, and watching their athletic director fly back to Stillwater to deal with another tragic plane crash had to be at least a significant distraction. Don’t believe it was a factor? Consider this simple number—five. The team with the No. 1 turnover ratio in the nation turned the ball over five times. I’ll always wonder what would have happened if the Cowboys had a day to deal with the emotions of the deaths.
I missed another Sooner upset, but after the way this season has gone I think I should get double-credit for finally figuring out that K-State’s going to beat some good teams. Picking them over Texas is something I’d have never done earlier in the year.
For the year: 52-15. That’s a lot of games, isn’t it?
So, the MU season draws near a close…and here are this week’s games:
Iowa State at Oklahoma
Oklahoma is coming off a big loss to Baylor and is a week from the biggest Bedlam game in a lot of years. I’ve been saying all year that ISU was capable of pulling off some crazy upsets, but who knew they’d knock out the best team in the nation? ISU deserves some major credit, just for being very well prepared for the game. When OSU came out flat, the ‘Clones were able to take advantage perfectly. I’ve said it many a time—Paul Rhodes is the most underrated coach in the Big 12.
My pick: The only other time this year the Sooners lost they bounced back with a big win over Kansas State, and K-State’s a whole lot better than Iowa State. Folks in Oklahoma always look for a scapegoat when the Sooners lose, especially an upset, and Landry Jones is getting some flack. That’s badly misplaced. He’s an excellent QB and will lead the Big Red to the win here.
Missouri vs. Kansas (at Kansas City)
I tend to think a game is involved with preparation and skill and a lot less with “momentum” or being “fired up” or whatever. Every year some knucklehead thing comes up (think of the whole “Sheldon Richardson hates Texas!!” fiasco for a perfect example) that the press and fans think will be so significant. “Texas will hear that one of the Missouri players hates their state and they’ll be all fired up and kick Mizzou’s butt!” makes for great barroom discussion. Just one problem—it’s a load of malarkey. That stuff almost never has the SLIGHTEST bearing on the game. Skill. Preparation. THAT is what will win you the game.
Now, that said, this game has more side issues and soap operas than “The Bronx Zoo” and there will be some feelings involved. This could be the last time these two teams play for quite some time, which is a damn shame. MU blaming Kansas, KU blaming Mizzou. Even the KU chancellor got into the game with a press release that read like a Twitter message from a sophomore from Salina.
AND Mizzou gets its beloved coach back after a one-week suspension. I’m not sure which team all this slop will favor, but you can bet both teams will be extra focused in practice this week.
My pick: The guys in that focused practice should relax. I’ve looked and looked at the rosters, the matchups, all the possible strangeness that could go wrong, “OK, what if this guy and this guy get hurt?” etc., etc., etc. There is not a single feasible scenario under which Kansas wins this football game. It’s kind of a pity that a series with so many great, close games will end with a slapdown, but it will. Missouri crushes out Kansas like a smoldering cigarette.
Texas Tech vs. Baylor (at Arlington)
This one could be most interesting. Both teams will have fans (I expect Baylor will have more, Waco’s a little closer and there are plenty of Baptists in the Metroplex) and both teams have reasons to want to win. Tech’s been bowl-eligible every year since 1993, a remarkable accomplishment they want badly to continue. Baylor’s 4-3 in the conference and could finish anywhere from tied for second (unlikely but still possible) to down around sixth or seventh. There’s a very large range of bowls Baylor could end up in and with two winnable games left (Tech and the ‘Horns) Baylor could finish at 9-3 overall. How big a deal is that?
The Bears went 7-6 last year and it set off massive celebration—it was their best season in 15 years. They’ve won nine games exactly four times in history (1916, 1956, 1985 and 1986) and more than that just once (the 1980 team was 10-2 and won the Southwest Conference at 8-0) so this is rare air for the Baylor Bears.
My pick: You could say an awful lot of things are equal in this matchup until you get to one thing: Tech’s defense isn’t that great and Baylor has this guy they call RG3. Griffin is the difference. Bears get their win.
Even though this will wrap up the season for Mizzou, there’s still some dynamite games in conference play next weekend, including the Bedlam game with the Big 12 championship on the line. That plus the Baylor-Texas matchup and it’s not time to stop following the Big 12 just yet.