The hierarchy of the Big 12 continues to become clearer. Oklahoma throttled West Virginia to cement its claim as the class of the league, while Oklahoma State methodically picked apart TCU to set up a de facto conference championship game between the two in-state rivals in two weekends. They have been the only two programs to really elevate their games during conference play, and Baker Mayfield has pulled back within shouting distance of the Heisman race while Mason Rudolph is gaining buzz as a 2017 draft prospect. The rest of the league appears to be in transition, as Baylor will be searching for a new head coach this off-season while Charlie Strong may no longer be in charge by the time this is published (losing to Kansas makes job security shaky, especially when your boosters are already calling for your head). The week which was is illustrated below.
Premier Conference Performers
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QB Joel Lanning, Iowa State Cyclones
3 of 4 for 51 yards; 17 carries for 171 yards and five touchdowns
There’s bad defense, and then there is Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are a welcome sight for any opposing offense, and Joel Lanning is the latest recipient of the gift which never seems to stop giving. Jacob Park smoothly dissected the Red Raiders passing defense to the tune of 285 yards and two touchdowns while Lanning piled up five touchdowns on over ten yards per carry. It is the type of immolation you seldom see from an Iowa State squad, yet it has become old hat for a Texas Tech defense which gets run over by the even the most backwards offenses. I certainly cannot recommend an investment into Lanning; there’s just not enough here to get remotely excited about. However, for one week at least he’s earned some ink after a dominating performance in Big 12 conference play.
RB Justin Crawford, West Virginia Mountaineers
24 carries for 331 yards and zero touchdowns
It seems almost impossible to score zero touchdowns when piling up 331 yards on the ground, yet Justin Crawford managed to do so against Oklahoma and has emerged as one of the Big 12’s better playmakers on the ground, averaging 7.6 yards on the ground despite some lackluster single game performances throughout the year. The speedster brings an explosive element to the Mountaineer backfield and he has a great story (he worked nights at Taco Bell to make money for his family during the season). While I don’t see a ton of next-level upside, he’s at least moved himself onto the watch list for 2018.
RB D’onta Foreman, Texas Longhorns
51 carries for 250 yards and two touchdowns
No, I did not fat finger over a few spaces when listing the number of carries D’onta Foreman received on Saturday. The junior running back toted the rock 51 times, an obscene number for any contest, yet even more glaring when it comes in a loss to the worst team in Power 5 football. While Foreman has been discussed at length, it is worth noting he’s now gone four straight games carrying the ball 32 or more times and is showing no signs of slowing down. His low mark for rushing yardage on the season is 124 and he looks like the current favorite to win the Doak Walker award and would be a Heisman favorite were Texas not a fringe bowl team. He does not have the same name recognition of many players in the 2017 running back class but he is poised to quickly surge into round one of rookie drafts, should he opt to declare early.
RB Mike Warren, Iowa State Cyclones
5 carries for 15 yards
Mike Warren has been banged up for a few weeks now, so it is not a huge mystery as to why his production has gone south. He has, however, failed to build on what was a very productive redshirt freshman season and has fallen into a timeshare with freshman David Montgomery, one which does not appear poised to end anytime soon. Instead of cementing himself as a notable prospect for 2018 (he is 2017-eligible but no point in declaring in this mix) he has fallen back into the pack and failed to do anything to distinguish himself. He’ll have a full season to recoup some of his lost draft stock but as of now he is looking like a fringe prospect for the next level.
QB Zach Smith, Baylor Bears
27 of 45 for 258 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions
The season-ending injury to Seth Russell has opened the door for Zach Smith to get an extended audition as Baylor’s starting quarterback. The opening tilt for Smith was a mixed bag, as he showed the ability to move the offense yet also made some critical mistakes which led to the Bears getting blown out at home by a middling Kansas State team. Smith had a reputation in high school for trusting his arm to beat defenders, which could lead to some turnovers early in his career. However, turnovers are to be expected from any inexperienced signal-caller, and experience is key at this juncture (straight from the obvious statement handbook). Smith has an intriguing toolkit and even post-scandal sanctions, they have enough offensive firepower to support their quarterback. I am not rushing out to add Smith, even in Superflex leagues at this point, but any young quarterback getting big-time exposure deserves a look. We have seen a plethora of freshman quarterbacks have success in 2016 and Smith has an opportunity to make his mark over the team’s final three games.