For most Big 12 teams, we have reached the mathematical midpoint of the football season. Six games in the books. Six left to play.
That can mean only one thing: midseason grades.
The topic elicited a long pause, a wince and a forced laugh from Texas coach Charlie Strong, whose squad has reached the midpoint of his first season with a 2-4 mark: slowest start by any Longhorns team in 58 years. That 1956 bunch finished 1-9.
“I don’t know if I can put a letter grade on it, but we’d like to play better,” Strong said, summing up the state of the Longhorns (2-4, 1-2 Big 12) heading into Saturday’s game against Iowa State (2-4, 0-3). “We can play a lot better than what we’re playing, and I tell our guys that.”
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Strong is far from alone in wanting more than he is getting from his team. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, whose 15th-ranked Cowboys (5-1, 3-0) own a share of the Big 12 lead, described his team’s offense as “just very average” heading into Saturday’s matchup against No. 12 TCU (4-1, 1-1) at Amon G. Carter Stadium (3 p.m., FS1).
And so it goes throughout a league where five of the 10 members are ranked among the top 15 teams in this week’s Associated Press poll.
“It’s a strong conference,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. “Anybody can get anyone else on any given week.”
Based on what we’ve seen in relation to preseason expectations, here are the midterm grades and comments for Big 12 teams:
• Baylor (6-0, 3-0) A+ — There is no nitpicking perfection. The Bears are one of six remaining undefeated teams in the AP poll, one of four from Power 5 conferences.
• TCU (4-1, 1-1) A — A nine- or 10-win season looks possible, even likely, for a team picked closer to the bottom than the top of Big 12 projections.
• West Virginia (4-2, 2-1) A — The biggest overachiever, thanks to quarterback Clint Trickett (league-high 2,203 passing yards) and some stellar special teams moments.
• Kansas State (4-1, 2-0) B+ — Quietly moving into position to challenge for a title with a stingy defense (315.8 yards per game) and a disciplined approach (league-low 20 penalties).
• Oklahoma State (5-1, 3-0) B — The record is good but Gundy has reason for reservations. OSU already has won the five easiest games on its schedule. A six-week stress test begins Saturday.
• Oklahoma (5-1, 2-1) B- — The last two weeks have taken significant luster off a 4-0 start. The Sooners’ quarterback play has left a lot to be desired in October.
• Iowa State (2-4, 0-3) C- — The Cyclones entered with minimal expectations and have balanced a breakthrough win (Iowa) with a crushing loss to an FCS opponent (North Dakota State).
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• Texas (2-4, 1-2) D — If not for a stingy defense, the grade would be even lower. Texas has its moments but rarely strings together enough of them because of limited offensive firepower.
• Texas Tech (2-4, 0-3) D- — The Red Raiders rank last among Big 12 teams in penalties (104.3 yards per game), scoring defense (39.5 average) and turnover margin (minus-8). That’s a brutal hat trick.
• Kansas (2-4, 0-3) F — School officials already have fired the coach, which clinches a failing grade for the season. The Jayhawks rank last among league teams in scoring (15.8) and total offense (331.8 yards per game).
Spotlight: Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma St. WR/KR
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has concerns about an offense he considers “just very average” because of multiple injuries in the offensive line and a potential season-ending foot injury to starting quarterback J.W. Walsh. Walsh left the lineup in September, leaving the offense in the hands of quarterback Daxx Garman.
In an ideal world, Gundy would have Garman get the ball into the hands of Tyreek Hill, the Cowboys’ most explosive offensive weapon, as often as possible when No. 15 OSU (5-1, 3-0 in Big 12) meets No. 12 TCU (4-1, 1-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Fort Worth.
Hill, the league’s fastest player, fills out a stat sheet like no one else because he returns kicks and takes snaps at both receiver and running back. Hill ranks second among Big 12 players in all-purpose yardage (162.8 yards per game). He is the only league player with triple-digit totals for rushing yards (196), receiving yards (183), punt return yards (148) and kickoff return yards (450) this season.
Hill’s 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown proved to be the game-winner in last week’s 27-20 victory over Kansas. It also gave Hill, the Big 12’s reigning indoor track champion in the 200-meter dash, kickoff returns for touchdowns in consecutive games.
“There’s no question he’s been the guy who has keyed us to some wins in the last two or three games,” Gundy said. “He doesn’t get as many touches as I would like. But the times that he does, he’s made big plays and lifted our offense. As fast as he is, any time we can involve him in the game, we want him to be involved.”
Playing it perfect: No. 4 Baylor (6-0) is one of four remaining undefeated teams from Power 5 conferences heading into Saturday’s games. No. 5 Notre Dame (6-0), an independent, also is in the elite mix. At this same juncture last season, there were 14 remaining undefeated teams. At this point in 2012, the total was 12.
Emerging weapons: Texas Tech (2-4, 0-3 Big 12) heads into Saturday’s matchup against Kansas (2-4, 0-3) with two of its key offensive weapons on an uptick. Running back DeAndre Washington posted career highs for carries (29) and yards (138) in last week’s 37-34 loss to West Virginia, while receiver Devin Lauderdale scored the first two TDs of his career on receptions covering 34 and 76 yards.
Up-tempo offense: West Virginia has taken its hurry-up offense to uncharted levels this season. Heading into Saturday’s game against No. 4 Baylor (11 a.m., FS1), the Mountaineers have posted their three highest play totals in history in the last five weeks: 94 last week (Texas Tech), 96 on Sept. 6 (Towson) and 108 on Sept. 13 (Maryland).
No. 12 TCU 38, No. 15 Oklahoma State 34 (3 p.m. Saturday, FS1): Horned Frogs hand the Cowboys their first loss in Big 12 play but have to battle for four quarters to make it happen.
Texas 31, Iowa State 20 (7 p.m. Saturday, LHN): Longhorns lean on their defense to break a two-game losing streak.
Texas Tech 42, Kansas 24 (2:30 p.m. Saturday, FSSW): Red Raiders find a speed bump (KU), apply the brakes to a four-game losing streak.
No. 14 Kansas State 24, No. 11 Oklahoma 20 (11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN): Perfect recipe for an upset: K-State coming off a bye week to face an OU quarterback who has been erratic in his last two games.
West Virginia 45, No. 4 Baylor 41 (11 a.m. Saturday, FS1): More upset conditions: Bears face another explosive offense in front of a hostile crowd, not a supportive one.
Last week: 5-0