On his day off last Saturday, Charlie Strong turned on a game pitting Texas’ last opponent against its next opponent, and then promptly shut it off.
There was little to be extracted from Oklahoma rolling to an improbable 55-0 road win at Kansas State.
“I know they’re not coming here Saturday,” Strong said of the K-State team whose first shutout since 1996 inspired coach Bill Snyder to pen an apology to fans. “It will be a whole different ball team.”
College football is beginning to resemble the NFL in that a performance one week may foretell little about how a team plays the following game. Though the sample size is small over seven weeks, Kevin Bradley of the online gambling site Bovada says lopsided games appear to be on the rise, and five teams have covered the point spread by 40 points or more. Oklahoma, which entered the K-State game as a slim four-point favorite, represents the biggest cover this season at 51 points, topping Boise State’s 43-point cover over Virginia in week four.
“I look at that score and I know that’s not who that football team is,” Strong said of Kansas State.
Texas, though, is similarly difficult to pin down. No one knows which squad will show up, least of all Strong, who on Monday said, “I wish I had that answer.” Should Texas be evaluated on the 50-7 loss to TCU? Or on the following week, when it took a knee inside Oklahoma’s 5-yard line to cap a decisive 24-17 decision over the No. 10-ranked Sooners? Or maybe somewhere in between.
“We’re working on consistency,” running back Johnathan Gray said.
For what it’s worth, Texas is a four-point favorite against K-State and is likely to be favored the next two weeks at Iowa State and versus Kansas. Wager on — or against — Texas at your own risk.
“Texas is definitely a tough team to set a spread to every week, especially the last two weeks,” Bradley said. “Three times this season, our point spread was off by 10 points or more on the Longhorns. It’s hard to know what Texas team will show up each week, the one that got blown out by TCU, losing by (29 points) on the spread or the one that beat Oklahoma and covered the spread by (22 points).”
The Longhorns may be unpredictable, but at least they’re not alone. Kansas State started 3-0 before pushing unbeatens Oklahoma State and TCU to the brink in losses by two and seven points, respectively. Then came the OU trouncing. The Wildcats fell behind 14-0 after one quarter and 35-0 at halftime, and at some point Strong said, “I’m done with this game.” Quarterbacks Joe Hubener and Kody Cook completed just five passes for 45 yards, and K-State dipped to No. 112 nationally in passing offense. Texas is No. 118.
“For K-State, they’re gonna hear about this all week, just like we had to hear about it (after TCU),” UT receiver Marcus Johnson said. “It’s an emotional game. Every week you never know what you’re gonna get from a team. A team may come out and be prepared and play better than they’ve played all year. It’s crazy with so much back and forth that goes on throughout the season. It shows how hard it is to go a whole season with no losses.”
Other conferences have been afflicted by this rash of unpredictability. In the Pac-12, UCLA looked like a title contender after improving to 4-0 in a 56-30 win over Arizona. Ugly losses to Arizona State and Stanford followed, and the Bruins fell out of the top 25 this week.
There was a nice story brewing in the Big 10 when Northwestern moved to 5-0 with a 27-0 pasting of Minnesota. Yet the past two games the Wildcats have been outscored 78-10 by Michigan and Iowa. They too crashed out of the poll.
Strong attributes some of this unevenness to high-powered offenses bum-rushing defenses.
“Defensively, you have to be able to gather yourself, but it’s so hard because players see what’s happening around them,” Strong said. “Guys, let’s slow down and get something established.”