Darren Hellwege, sports commentator
After this week, it’s a little hard to be completely focused on the games. Regardless of what you feel about the decision to fire coach Joe Paterno at Penn State, college athletics is worse off without him. His dedication to his players extended far beyond winning football games. He ran his program the right way, without recruiting shenanigans, without cheating on biology tests. There are still good men and women in the coaching profession, but Paterno was one of the best and it was terribly sad to see his more than 50 years at Penn State end this way. I’ll not use words like “tragedy” or “victim,” at least not in reference to JoePa or his players. There are young men whose lives were destroyed by a sexual predator, and that’s the tragedy, they’re the victims. But the well-being of the Penn State athletes seems to me to have taken a backseat to public relations and what looks good. I’m always going to be disappointed when that happens.
So, on to the games.
Texas at Missouri
When I said there are still good women and men in the coaching profession, I had Mack Brown in mind. I love doing what I do because I can meet people like this, and tell you about them. But there’s also a game to tell you about, and for Tiger fans it’s of major importance. Missouri needs this game, badly. And I like their chances.
My pick: MU has been very strong at home this season, their only loss coming to the team I’d rank No. 1 in the nation, Oklahoma State. It will be a whale of a match-up, the Tigers’ impressive running game against the Longhorns’ impressive rush defense. It may come down to two things: James Franklin’s ability to throw downfield and find open receivers, and Mizzou overcoming this baffling, weird trouble of the third quarter in games this season. It’ll be an exciting, close game and one that would show us a lot of character on the part of Franklin and the Tigers. I think we’ll see just that, and see a Missouri win.
Oklahoma State at Texas Tech
Of all the topics I come back to over and over again in talking with coaches, one is near the top of the list—what is it that causes a team to win the close one. While some would see the Cowboys near-loss to Kansas State in Stillwater as a sign that they’re vulnerable (of course they are, everyone is) I see something else. The last minute of the game serves as a reminder that Oklahoma State has the top red-zone defense in the Big 12. Contrary to the stories you hear of how awful OSU’s defense is, in fact, they have some real guts, especially when it counts. Texas Tech’s a good team and Seth Doege’s probably the most underrated quarterback in the league, one of the most underrated in the nation. Tech’s defense, a real liability in past seasons, is improved. But, in one of those odd things numbers can do, Tech isn’t especially strong at home. It’s just 2-3 at Lubbock and their signature win of the year over Oklahoma was on the road.
My pick: Oklahoma State knows it’s playing for a shot at a national championship. Not only would it be the first ever for the Cowboys, this is already among the two or three best seasons in school history. With the maturity of their quarterback Brandon “AARP” Weeden, they’re not about to let a game like this sneak up on them. The Pokes will be ready and will win this one big. I already can’t wait for Dec. 3, the day when the eyes of the nation will be on Stillwater for the biggest Bedlam game ever. The winner deserves a shot at the national championship, whether it’s the team in red or orange.
Baylor at Kansas
Upsets happen. We’ve seen a few doozies in the Big 12 this season. Texas Tech beats Oklahoma then loses to Iowa State. Sometimes, a game just has this vibe about it that tells you, “watch out, this could be deeper than you think.” But I just don’t see any way KU comes away with a victory here. For one thing, Kansas’ defense is just awful and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III is a one-man wrecking crew. Baylor leads the league in total offense and that’s almost entirely about RG3 (although they have a very good offensive line, too.) KU’s Steven Johnson leads the conference in tackles and there’s something to be said about that. But really, there’s almost nothing else going on at KU.
My pick: Senior Day, the final home game in Lawrence this season. You almost feel sorry for the Jayhawks. But this is just one more loss in a season that I expect to be nothing but losses for Kansas. Baylor runs away with it.
Texas A&M at Kansas State
How things change over the course of a season. At the beginning I picked A&M third in the conference and KSU ninth. Oops. A&M’s still a good team, standing at 5-4 with Missouri being the only team that’s beaten them that’s not still in the mix for the national championship. But as the Aggies may be less than we’d expected, KSU is far more. I’ve said repeatedly that this is mostly about Bill Snyder, the best coach the Big 12’s ever seen. But you know what? I also want to give some praise to the players, particularly quarterback Collin Klein. He’s No. 9 in pass efficiency in a 10-team league and has no receivers among the league’s best, yet he’s second only to Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle in scoring. Nigel Malone leads the league in interceptions. A bunch of guys I thought were nobodies at the start of the season have come together to be somebodies, very good somebodies. Kansas State’s not got the third best talent in the league. Not even close. But they have found a way to win over teams with better players. They’re smart and they’re gutsy.
My pick: Over and over this year, Kansas State’s beaten teams they shouldn’t. The roll continues. The Aggies have better football players, but K-State’s a better football team. The Wildcats win it.
Extra Credit–Yeah, it’s time to start getting ready for these guys…
• Alabama wipes out Mississippi State in Starkville.
• Arkansas keeps their championship hopes alive, beating Tennessee at home.
• Game of the week’s in Athens, where two strong teams meet. Georgia’s been on a hot streak of late and I like the Dawgs to beat Auburn.
• I really like South Carolina, especially in front of their awesome fans in that other Columbia, take the Gamecocks over Florida.
• Western Kentucky’s going to be slaughtered by LSU in Baton Rouge.
• Louisiana Tech’s 5-4 but has won four in a row and lost three of those games by razor thin margins to Southern Miss, Mississippi State and a very under-appreciated Houston club. I like the Bulldogs to upset Ole Miss in Oxford.
How’s that for a first week in the SEC, y’all?