Big 12 Report week 9

The top Big 12 teams begin their final push at the college football playoffs

The top Big 12 teams begin their final push at the college football playoffs
The eyes of Texas will be on Sam Ehlinger's injury. Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Must watch game week 9:

(6) Texas vs. Oklahoma State

The Longhorns return to action in Week 9 vs. Oklahoma State after a much-deserved bye week. Texas fans probably appreciated the bye week just as much as the actual team, because it meant a chance for star quarterback Sam Ehlinger to rest his hurt throwing shoulder for UT’s playoff push. Texas now sits just one spot outside of the Top 5 thanks to an upset lost suffered by Ohio State, but have no time to relax with dangerous teams such as No. 13 West Virginia and Texas Tech remaining on their schedule. As for their matchup this weekend, Oklahoma State has lost their last two games after an embarrassing performance against Kansas State in week 8 when they fell 31-12. This weekend will provide the Longhorns with a good opportunity to settle back into the swing of things and make any necessary last-minute adjustments.

Texas Tech vs. Iowa State

Another noteworthy matchup in Week 9 is Texas Tech vs. Iowa State. While Iowa State has not necessarily impressed thus far this season with a 3-3 record, the Cyclones did what they have become known for and provide the Big 12 with a major, tide shifting upset. Iowa State dominated what was an undefeated West Virginia team 30-14 in Week 7, much like they took down No. 3 Oklahoma in 2017. Another point to be made is the fact that the Cyclones have won three of their last four games and seem to be finding a rhythm midway through this season. With all of that said, the Red Raiders have proven themselves difficult for any team to take down this season with a 4-2 record despite battling an abundance of injuries at the quarterback position. This Week 9 showdown will definitely be an interesting one due to the uncertainty surrounding both teams as well as the untapped potential each of them have shown.

Baylor vs. (13) West Virginia

The final game I have pointed out this coming weekend is West Virginia vs. Baylor. There are a few reasons why this game is so intriguing, the first and most prevalent being the fact that the Mountaineers suffered the first loss of the season in Week 7 before going into their bye week. It will be interesting to see how West Virginia responds and if they return any more motivated or driven. The second reason being that the Bears were able to take the 6-1 Longhorns down to the wire in their last game and fell just six points short of pulling off the upset. Both teams will be looking to have bounce back performances and should be bringing a renewed energy to the field.

Players to watch week 9

Texas QB Sam Ehlinger: After being forced out of their Week 7 game vs. Baylor with what was later confirmed as a sprain to his throwing shoulder, Longhorn fans will be paying close attention to Ehlinger's return. This makes him one of the must watch players in Week 9 because Ehlinger's physical and dynamic playing style is instrumental to UT’s offensive success. The young star's powerful running style not only keeps defenses on their toes, but also opens up a dangerous play action passing attack that allows big time playmaking wide receivers Collin Johnson and Lil’ Jordan Humphrey to take advantage of one-on-one matchups. We will see if Ehlinger will be able to continue his strong first half play, or if his normal playing style will be limited.

West Virginia QB Will Grier: Mountaineers quarterback and Heisman hopeful Will Grier was forced to sit through his bye week with the agony of defeat and without a doubt is ready to return to the field for a chance at redemption. Grier cannot help but feel painfully responsible for his team's devastating loss to Iowa State in Week 7, as he put up his worst performance of the year with only 100 yards passing and one touchdown. Keep an eye on one of the nation’s most dangerous quarterbacks who will not only be looking to redeem his team but also himself.

Oklahoma RB’s Kennedy Brooks & Trey Sermon: Since the Sooners lost workhorse running back Rodney Anderson to a season ending knee injury in Week 2, a dangerous backfield tandem has now come to fruition. Freshman Kennedy Brooks and Sophomore Trey Sermon have combined for 492 yards rushing and six touchdowns in the last three games and look to only be heating up. Oklahoma has a favorable matchup vs. Kansas State in week 9 and should look to let this talented duo run free, especially after both backs surpassed 100 yards in their last game vs. TCU.   







 

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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