Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

5-Things: Time for Conference Play

Four weeks into the season, it is time for real football to start. No more creampuffs. No more FCS teams. It is time for Big 12 play.

1. No more FCS creampuffs. No more struggling to prepare for the annual bloodbath of non-conference pansies. It is time to enter Big 12 play.  Familiar faces, mostly hated ones, will be coming to Baylor fans attention now, starting with Texas Tech.  Baylor comes into Big 12 play at 3-0 on the year, while the Red Raiders already have one conference game under their belts. That game happened to be against TCU, which ended in a miracle fashion as the Red Raiders failed to secure a top-5 upset. Both teams have three wins on the year, with Texas Tech having the most noteworthy (a 35-24 victory on the road over Arkansas). 

2. The big news coming out of the Texas Tech loss to TCU is the status of starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who suffered a knee injury early in the game.  Mahomes is day-to-day right now, after gutting out the rest of the game, and almost leading his team to a massive upset. Mahomes refused to allow trainers and doctors to look at the injury during the game.  His status for the Baylor game is a big thing to watch, as it is doubtful Texas Tech will allow news to spread either way about his avaibility until much later in the week.  Mahomes torched the Baylor defense last year, as he threw for 598 yards and 6 touchdowns in a close 48-46 loss to Baylor.  If Mahomes were not able to play, Davis Webb would take over as starter.  Webb was the starting quarterback to being last year, but lost the job due to injury.  

The loss of Mahomes would be massive for the Red Raiders.  In his 7-career starts, Mahomes has averaged 391 yards passing per game to go along with 4.28 total touchdowns per game.  Mahomes is one of the best young quarterbacks in the nation, and poses a threat in the running game as well. With his mobility possibly limited, that would be a big break for the Bears defense, a unit that has struggled with dual-threat quarterbacks this season. 

3. The Red Raiders defense, an absolute train wreck last year, has improved quite a bit in 2015. They are not awful, now more trending towards just bad.  Improvement, but there is still a long way to go.  Tech is still struggling in their run defense, though they showed signs of hope against Arkansas.  They are allowing 5.6 yards per rush right now, but they have improved since their first game of the season where they allowed 6.89 yards against Sam Houston State. They allowed 5.26 and 5.30 yards per rush against TCU and Arkansas (which would improve their ranking from 121st in the nation to 111th). 

The Red Raiders struggled mightily this weekend against TCU, allowing over 700 offensive yards and 55 points. When the Red Raiders needed a stop late, they simply could not deliver.  Yes, it was a somewhat lucky bounce (and a very heads up play by running back Aaron Greene) that beat Tech, but they had chances to win this game with their defense.  This is still a defense with a lot of holes, facing a better offense in Baylor than the one that just shredded them on their home field. 

4. Offensively, the Red Raiders are one of the best offenses in the nation.  They are much more of a balanced attack than what fans became accustomed to under former coach MIke Leach in their heyday.  In fact, each of the three years under Coach Kliff Kingsbury have seen them run the ball more often, and more effectively. Their yards per rush has increased each year from 3.64, to 5.17 last year and up to a very strong 6.21 so far in 2015.  They have also seen their yards per game go up each season as well (116.17, 153, and 197.25).  They are led by a very good group of runing backs, featuring DeAndre Washington, one of the best running backs in the Big 12. Passing is still the biggest part of their game though, with emerging star Patrick Mahomes taking a big step in his growth this year. 

The Bears defense though is an interesting matchup for them.  This past week, Baylor fans finally saw the defense put together a complete effort, holding a solid Rice offense to under 300 total yards and just 17 points (with both touchdowns coming off of short drives).  It was a powerful statement for a defense that needed to make one.  Baylor welcomed back linebacker Taylor Young, who made a huge impact in this game. He is the Bears best linebacker, and does certain things that no one else on the roster can do.  His ability to blitz the quarterback (especially coming off of Shawn Oakman's shoulder) is a big part of the Bears pressure schemes.  He also is tremendous in space, and runs the defense from a positioning standpoint. 

While Baylor did allow 46 points to Texas Tech last year, some of that could be tied to situation, or at least taking the foot off of the gas late.  Baylor was up 42-17 at one point in this game, mid-way through the 3rd quarter. After Bryce Petty went out of the game with a head injury, the Bears changed their game-plan and played not to lose.  With that, and a red-hot Patrick Mahomes, Baylor simply could not stop Tech late.  Baylor's secondary was tested, beated, and tired at the end of this game, with little depth to lean on. This year however, Baylor has better depth in the secondary and hopefully will have the stamina to avoid another 4th quarter collapse.  

5. Here is how I would rank the Big 12 right now:

  1. Baylor (3-0)- The Bears finally showed up and dominated a game from start to finish.  
  2. TCU (4-0, 1-0) - TCU features one of the best offenses in the nation, and a defense that makes most other offenses look almost as good.  Honestly, they look like Baylor from 2012. 
  3. Oklahoma (3-0) - The Sooners are playing good football, as Baker Mayfield has turned into a star.  
  4. West Virginia - West Virginia might be the most impressive team so far in the Big 12, despite a lackluster schedule.  A better than expected offense is helping a very good defense. 
  5. Texas Tech (3-1, 0-1)- So close to a Top-5 upset at home over TCU.  They have another swing at it this week with Baylor, but their defense is going to have to step up, especially if quarterback Patrick Mahomes is not available  or limited. 
  6. Oklahoma State (4-0, 1-0) - The Cowboys got a gift this weekend from the Texas special teams (as well as the refs, according to Horns fans), but something is off about this team.  
  7. Texas (1-3, 0-1) - Three losses, with the last two coming due to horrible special teams gaffes.  This is a team that doesn't know how to win, and might be looking for a new coach this offseason because of it. 
  8. Kansas State (3-0) - A week to recover from an ugly overtime win over Louisiana Tech, they look to start playing spoiler to the Big 12 top teams. They host TCU, Baylor, OU and West Virginia in Manhattan. 
  9. Iowa State (1-2) - The Cyclones host Kansas this weekend, in what mightpossibly the last win for the season. 
  10. Kansas (0-3) - They might be the worst power-5 team in the nation....again.

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