• A win over Oklahoma on Saturday would announce Texas as a Big 12 factor, but Longhorns fans should probably put those playoff hypotheticals on hold. Plus, forecasting Scott Frost's end-of-year record and the rest of the #DearAndy mailbag.
By Andy Staples
October 03, 2018

Ahead of what looks like the most meaningful Oklahoma-Texas game in years, you have questions…

From Eli: If Texas wins this week, can we actually consider them a College Football Playoff contender? Say they beat Oklahoma, lose to West Virginia and then win the Big 12. Could a two-loss Texas get in?

The scenario you spin doesn’t seem likely to produce a berth in the College Football Playoff, but whether it’s Texas or someone else, a one-loss Big 12 champ should stand a very good chance at getting into the playoff.

But we’re putting the cart before the Bevo here. Texas needs to show it can be competitive in the Big 12 again before anyone starts worrying about the playoff. The Longhorns can take a huge step on that front on Saturday in Dallas. We’ve seen Texas string together four consecutive wins for the first time since 2013 (Mack Brown’s last season). This includes a convincing win against TCU, the program that best exposed the flaws that plagued Texas the previous four seasons. Now the Longhorns have a chance to beat the program that has won three Big 12 titles in a row. This, Eli, is a Ric Flair game.

What’s weird about this matchup is that even though Oklahoma has been the vastly superior program recently, the Sooners haven’t put much distance between themselves and Texas on the field. Perhaps that’s due to the fact that rivalry games tend to be closer, or perhaps it’s just a styles-make-fights thing, but Texas has won two of the last five meetings and lost by five points in each of the other three.

But the Red River Showdown result hasn’t mattered in the grand scheme because Texas has been so mediocre against everyone else. This Texas team has shown that it might be different than those teams of recent vintage. When the Longhorns play against anyone but Maryland, they have a defense that can slow even the best offenses. Baker Mayfield, in the midst of one of the best seasons a quarterback has ever had, led his team to 29 points against coordinator Todd Orlando’s defense. Though Oklahoma still averaged 7.7 yards a play, it wound up 16 points below its season scoring average thanks to the Sooners’ lowest scoring output all season. Oklahoma’s offense is putting up video game numbers this season with Kyler Murray at quarterback, but it has yet to face a defense as good as this one.

Still, Texas must find a way to move the ball consistently to have a chance. That was what won the Longhorns the TCU game, but they couldn’t do it again last week in an ugly 19–14 win at Kansas State. They’ll have to be better than that in the Cotton Bowl, but given the recent results in the series, that certainly seems possible. A win for the Longhorns on Saturday would send shockwaves through the Big 12.

It would mean that Texas is…

Nah. I’m still not ready to say it yet.

From @uscnownforever: USC with all the talent they have is struggling and has zero appearance of improvement. Is this the beginning of the end for Clay Helton?

I’m getting this sort of question a lot from USC fans, which further reinforces my theory that Helton’s tenure shares some striking (on-field) similarities to Jim McElwain’s tenure at Florida. From the outside, USC is fine. Not great, but just fine. But USC fans got a taste of dominance during the Pete Carroll era, and they want the Trojans living at that level every year.

In the past three weeks, the Trojans have gotten shelled by Texas, struggled to beat Washington State at home and hung on for dear life to beat Arizona on the road. The team that should have far and away the most talent in the Pac-12 looks capable of beating anyone in the Pac-12 South but looks inferior to the best teams in the North.

That isn’t going to be good enough for a lot of USC fans. But is it the beginning of the end for Helton? Not yet. He’ll have a chance to put the Trojans back in the elite club of teams that live in the national title discussion. He bought that with a Rose Bowl win, a Pac-12 title and by being generally a pleasure to work with. But those will only last for so long. Things need to start trending up as this season progresses, and the Trojans need to be close to where they want to be by next season.

From @Palmerism: When will the Huskers win their first game under Scott Frost and what will they end the year at?

Nebraska’s first win under Frost probably won’t come this week against Wisconsin, but it should come this month. Northwestern, which visits Lincoln on Oct. 13, has been up and down all season. The Akron team that was supposed to play Nebraska in the season opener—the game was canceled due to lightning delays—beat the Wildcats. But Northwestern also beat the Purdue team that just won in Lincoln and pushed Michigan to its limit last week.

So maybe it will come Oct. 20 at Minnesota. That’s probably a winnable game for Nebraska, though Frost probably shouldn’t say that publicly.

Instead of rescheduling against Akron, Nebraska will bring in Bethune-Cookman of the FCS on Oct. 27. If it hasn’t happened yet, that’s where Frost should get his first win. As for how many games Nebraska can win after that, well, the Cornhuskers do play Illinois.

Unless something clicks into place and Nebraska suddenly improves down the stretch, a 3–9 record seems very realistic—though 2–10 certainly seems possible. When I visited Lincoln a few weeks ago, Frost said it would get worse before it gets better. He wasn’t kidding.

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