A long-anticipated showdown between Big 12 frontrunners looms Saturday in Fort Worth between No. 21 TCU (3-1, 1-0 in Big 12) and Oklahoma (1-2, 0-0), the defending league champion.
The two teams were projected to finish first and second in the final league standings in a July poll of media members who regularly cover the Big 12. Of the 26 ballots cast, 24 identified Oklahoma as the eventual league champion. The other two first-place votes went to TCU.
The teams meet at 4 p.m. Saturday in Amon G. Carter Stadium (KDFW/Ch. 4). While each team has experienced some September struggles in nonconference action, neither has tasted defeat in conference play. So Big 12 title implications remain in full-force heading into the contest.
Here are five storylines to track that could be pivotal to the outcome:
Where is Oklahoma’s psyche? The Sooners, ranked No. 3 in The Associated Press’ preseason poll, have fallen out of the rankings following nonconference losses to No. 6 Houston (5-0) and No. 2 Ohio State (3-0). During last week’s open date, coach Bob Stoops worked on improving the team’s fundamentals and restoring lost confidence. The Sooners have not experienced a 1-3 start in the Stoops era, which began in 1999. The last OU team to start 1-3 or worse was the 1996 team, which lost its first four games and finished 3-8 under coach John Blake.
Can TCU make a clutch field-goal? Although TCU kickers Ryan Graf and Brandon Hatfield have combined to make 8-of-9 field goals, the lone miss was a killer. Graf’s 28-yard attempt, the lone high-pressure attempt of the season by a Horned Frogs’ kicker, was blocked on the next-to-last play of regulation during a double-overtime loss to Arkansas. In addition, each kicker has caromed home a successful attempt off an upright and Graf was replaced after two successful field goals in last week’s 33-3 victory over SMU because coach Gary Patterson thought both kicks had low trajectories. A third option could be kicker Jonathan Song, who won the starting job in spring drills but has missed the first four games because of an injury sustained in fall camp.
Who wins the turnover battle? Both defenses have struggled to collect turnovers this season. TCU is minus-2 in turnover margin, ranking 84th among the nation’s 128 FBS schools. Oklahoma, at minus-3, is No. 109. Reversing that trend will be critical for both teams’ chances to remain in the Big 12 title race. As a group, the past eight Big 12 champions have been a combined plus-119 in turnover margin since the 2008 season.
Can TCU limit penalties? Among Big 12 teams, only Baylor has committed more penalties this season than TCU. The Horned Frogs rank next-to-last in penalties (34) and penalty yards (335) among the 10 league teams. TCU has averaged 83.3 penalty yards per game and will be facing the Big 12’s least-penalized team in Oklahoma (41.3 yards per game).
Can OU handle TCU’s pass rush? TCU leads the Big 12 in sacks (14), including nine in the past two games. Oklahoma quarterbacks have been sacked 11 times in three games, the most per contest (3.67) among Big 12 teams. Conversely, the Sooners have collected only five sacks this season, ranking ahead of only West Virginia (three) among league teams. TCU quarterbacks have been sacked only five times in four games (1.25 per contest).