American-Statesman columnists Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden weigh in on 10 hot-button Texas, Big 12 and national topics:
1. What has to happen for Texas to win the Big 12?
Bohls: It can’t afford one more major injury. In addition, other teams would have to have serious health setbacks, David Ash cannot miss another half of football, and the Longhorns would have to get explosive receivers Daje Johnson and Mike Davis back by next week to continue the Longhorns’ very slight momentum.
Golden: (1) A massive case of food poisoning hits Waco, shutting the city down through December; (2) the sport of football is outlawed in the state of Oklahoma; and (3) Texas learns how to tackle. I’m not sure all three of those scenarios will play out in time for Mack Brown to win his third conference title.
2. Should Baylor be ranked in the Top 10?
Bohls: The Bears’ offense has been supercharged and looks to be on par with Oregon’s. But their schedule has been so soft, and they shouldn’t be awarded for that even though victims Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe are 5-3 in their other non-Baylor games. Baylor must learn its lesson and beef up its schedule if it has any allusions of making the four-team college playoff that starts next year.
Golden: Not yet. The strength of schedule ranks somewhere between a thousand cotton balls and a warehouse full of Kleenex tissue. I say the Bears are 15th — a few spots ahead of their AP rank of 19. If Baylor averages half of the 70 poitns it’s been scoring, then you’re looking at an eventual top-10 team and a realistic threat to win the Big 12.
3. Will Oklahoma avenge last year’s loss to Notre Dame?
Bohls: Yes. The Irish were not as dominant as the score appeared last season — the Sooners were denied a touchdown because of a costly, questionable penalty and because Manti Te’o made a shoestring interception that almost seemed more fake than, well, we won’t go there. Bob Stoops will call upon Blake Bell to avenge that loss, coming on the heels of the Belldozer’s breakout game.
Golden: It won’t be easy, but the Sooners will find a way to get a big road win. Bell’s not the most stylish of quarterbacks, but he’ll get the job done against the Irish, who sure could use a playmaker like suspended quarterback Everett Golson.
4. Which two Longhorns have impressed you the most?
Bohls: I expected Jackson Jeffcoat to play well, so I’d go with his counterpart, Cedric Reed, who has turned on his game and raised it a level. I’m not sure any team has a better combo at defensive end. And Johnathan Gray ran as hard against Kansas State as I’ve ever seen him.
Golden: Cedric Reed and Anthony Fera. Reed’s been great at defensive end, providing a steady pass rush opposite Jeffcoat while also doing a good job of tackling, something we haven’t seen consistently. And Fera, after battling through a groin injury last year, has been Texas’ most consistent player, averaging 43.6 yards per punt and making four of his five field goal attempts.
5. Which two Longhorns have not lived up to expectations?
Bohls: Overhyped offensive tackle Desmond Harrison, the most heralded junior college recruit in school history, has had zero impact and can’t even get on the field except for extra points and field goals. His conditioning and prep work took a hit with his missed time, but he’s been invisible on a line that needs all the help it can get. And I could throw about six defensive players in a hat as the second-most disappointing, but I’ll go with Quandre Diggs, who’s yet to make a spectacular play and has even lost his job as punt returner.
Golden: I expected more from Diggs at this point. He hasn’t made any real game-changing plays. The other is Mack Brown. For the last two years, he has pointed to this 2013 team as the one with the talent and experience to make another national title run. As it turns out, this team will be lucky to win more than seven games. The blame has to fall at the office of the head coach.
6. Could the Aggies stumble in their first road game?
Bohls: Nope. This is not the same Arkansas that A&M had so much trouble with at Cowboys Stadium. The Razorbacks lost to Rutgers.
Golden: They won’t. A&M is much too explosive offensively to lose to the Razorbacks. Johnny Manziel might turn it over a couple of times, but the Aggies have enough firepower to win in a tough environment.
7. Give us one Heisman Trophy longshot candidate.
Bohls: Why not Kenny Guiton? Ohio State’s fifth-year quarterback has been spectacular filling in for injured Braxton Miller the last three games, with 12 touchdown passes. Isn’t the award supposed to be won on the field, a la Barry Sanders? Guiton probably won’t keep the job, but should be celebrated for filling in in dramatic fashion.
Golden: Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk is the most talented player on the most explosive offense in college football. He predicted he’d win this year’s Heisman last December, but predictions don’t always add up to success. Give Seastrunk credit for putting up good numbers so far; he’s run for 417 yards and six touchdowns.
8. How would you change the targeting rule?
Bohls: I’d dump it. Immediately. But since we can’t, I’d allow appeals by coaches after the game or at halftime before the player serves the second half of his sentence. It’s way too harsh.
Golden: The rule’s fine in its intent to limit the number of helmet-to-helmet hits, but they must change the rule that allows the penalty yards to stand even if the replay show it wasn’t targeting.
9. What’s your reaction to Penn State having scholarships restored?
Bohls: I like it. The NCAA hasn’t publicly admitted a mistake with its harsh penalty, but let’s face it: It is admitting a mistake.
Golden: Totally against it. The NCAA should’ve stood strong and sent a message that a football program shouldn’t be placed above the lives of innocent children.
10. Pick an upset special for this weekend.
Bohls: Central Florida shocks South Carolina.
Golden: A mild upset. No. 9 Georgia will beat No. 6 LSU in Athens, Ga.