The Red River Rivalry is a rite of passage of sorts in the college football season.
The weather is beginning to turn. The championship races are starting to take shape. And traditionally, this is when the Big 12 finds its frontrunner.
Although both teams are 2-0 in the league, this is the third time in the last 10 seasons either Texas or Oklahoma has entered the game unranked. The Longhorns have been the bigger offender, arriving to the State Fair of Texas unranked in two of the last three years.
After the last two seasons, a checkered start to 2013 and a leadership change at Texas, Longhorns coach Mack Brown will be under the microscope. If there’s an opportunity for Brown to remain the Texas coach, this would be the time to seize it.
Oklahoma fans, though, couldn’t be blamed for looking forward to the other major Big 12 contender in Baylor as the Bears make their first road trip of the season to Kansas State. The Bears have struggled on the road, so this week will be a key test for the nation's top offense.
Big 12 Week 7 Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday, All times Eastern
1. Baylor at Kansas State (3:30 p.m, Fox Sports 1)
The Baylor offense is the talk of college football, but there are a few questions for the Bears before they get into the toughest portion of the schedule in November. Baylor built its 70-point offense against Wofford, Buffalo, ULM and West Virginia. All fringe bowl candidates at best (or, in Wofford’s case, an FCS team). All were also in Waco. Baylor has lost seven of its last eight Big 12 road games. Kansas State, meanwhile, is looking for any kind of answers. Daniel Sams earned his first start at quarterback last week, but Jake Waters will remain in the rotation. Making matters worse, top receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson remain questionable after missing last week’s game with injuries.
2. Oklahoma vs. Texas (noon, ABC, in Dallas)
The Red River Rivalry will be another referendum on Mack Brown, though it’s tough to see anything but an easy win helping to turn the tide back in Brown’s favor. The Sooners have won the last two meetings by a combined score of 118-38. Both teams are 2-0 in the Big 12, but OU has looked much more like a conference contender than the Longhorns, who eked out a sloppy win over Iowa State last week. With quarterback David Ash out again, Texas will turn to Case McCoy, who has thrown 36 and 45 passes in his two starts this season (he’s averaging a Big 12-worst 5.6 yards per attempt). Led by corner Aaron Colvin, safety Gabe Lynn and surprising redshirt freshman Zach Sanchez, Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense (with nine interceptions) and has the best third-down defense in the league (19 of 70). Unless something has changed in the last week, Texas has shown a good deal of confidence in the passing game.
3. Iowa State at Texas Tech (noon, Fox Sports 1)
Both teams need to answer to some adversity this week. Iowa State must respond to the heartbreaking loss to Texas on Thursday while Texas Tech has questions at quarterback after an injury to knee starting quarterback Baker Mayfield. Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury did not rule out starting Mayfield against the Cyclones. In the last two weeks, Iowa State has found a clear bread and butter in its offense with Aaron Wimberly taking hold of the run game. Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in fewest rushing yards per game (107.6), but the Red Raiders have not faced a stout running team yet this season.
4. Kansas at TCU (noon, Fox Sports Network local)
TCU’s first-half offense has been dismal and never worse than it was against Oklahoma last week. The Horned Frogs have scored three points total in the first quarter against FBS teams this season. TCU’s has also been outscored 49-17 in the first half against FBS teams. If Kansas pounces on an early lead against TCU like it did against Texas Tech, the Jayhawks must respond better than they did last week when a 10-0 lead turned into a 54-16 defeat. Quarterback Jake Heaps had perhaps his best half of the season, completing 13 of 20 passes for 139 yards with a touchdown to start against Texas Tech.
Off: Oklahoma State, West Virginia
Big 12 Week 7 Pivotal Players
Johnathan Gray, Texas
Texas’ offense has been most effective this season when the Longhorns have been running the ball, particularly when Gray is the one getting carries. Gray rushed for 141 yards on 28 carries against Kansas State, but carried only 16 times in the following game against Iowa State. Oklahoma’s run defense is tough to crack, but both West Virginia and Notre Dame had success on the ground against the Sooners.
Dominique Alexander and Aaron Franklin, Oklahoma
Outside linebacker Corey Nelson was one of the few name players on the Oklahoma defense entering the season, and now he’s out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. The Sooners have found plenty of difference-makers on a defense that’s the best in the Big 12, but they’ll have to find a new starter to replace Nelson. Alexander is a freshman who has logged 10 tackles this season, including four against Notre Dame. Franklin has been a reserve linebacker for the last three years. Nelson was also in charge of calling defensive signals. That task will fall to leading tackler Frank Shannon and others.
Daniel Sams, Kansas State
Sams’ first task in his second start will be to cut turnovers after giving the ball away four times against Oklahoma State last week (three interceptions, one fumble). The Wildcats are minus-nine in turnovers this season. Kansas State hasn’t been in the red in turnover margin for a season since 2008, Ron Prince’s final year as head coach. Sams is a dangerous runner, who rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries last week, but he’ll encounter a Baylor defense that is allowing only 2.5 carry.
Jacques Washington, Iowa State
A number of players will probably draw the assignment to defend 6-5, 260-pound tight end Jace Amaro, a mismatch for linebackers and safeties. At 6-1, 220 pounds, Washington is the bigger of Iowa State’s two starting safeties, but Amaro still has him beat by four inches and 40 pounds. Amaro has caught at least eight passes in each of the last four games (he was suspended for the first half of the opener against SMU).
Ben Heeney, Kansas
The Jayhawks’ senior linebacker is one of the nation’s most underrated players, recording 41 tackles, six tackles for a loss and two interceptions this season. TCU would probably prefer to set the tone with the run game, but that’s been tough the last two weeks. Heeney will be one of the key players try to force Trevone Boykin to win the game with his arm.
Big 12 Week 7 Predictions
Oklahoma (-14) vs. Texas
Iowa St (+14) at Texas Tech
Kansas (+25) at TCU
Baylor (-17) at K-State