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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, September 19, 2017 at 7:00 AM

Before the season began, few had circled this coming Saturday’s TCU/Oklahoma State showdown as must-see TV. Maybe Oklahoma State would have a chance to play spoiler in the Big 12. Maybe TCU would end its recent downward slide to mediocrity. We’ll watch something else and check on the score when the game’s over!

Not now…with Oklahoma State a very real threat to crash the Final Four party at the end of the season…and with TCU catapulting from a blowout at Arkansas into Big 12 contendership…this is suddenly the best game of Week Four. Other than this one, only #17 Mississippi State at #11 Georgia matches two ranked teams. And, there’s a decent chance both are a bit overrated at those poll spots.

Of course, TCU and Okie State could be overrated as well. But, Oklahoma State is playing like the real deal to this point in the season…running away and hiding from opponents despite playing two of three games on the road. They have a Heisman Trophy candidate in Mason Rudolph. And, they entered the 2017 campaign as a legitimate darkhorse because of so much returning talent. Many market sharps hit them hard at summer futures prices and Regular Season Win totals. They also hit early lines hard…cashing in three straight covers.

TCU is the question mark. Their stats weren’t as good as the final score in the one-sided win at Arkansas. And, the defense sure had some breakdowns in a high scoring shootout vs. SMU last week. This is the litmus test for the Horned Frogs. They can either make a statement…or drop back into the pack of teams who probably won’t matter down the road.

We’ll say this…THE BIG 12 is likely to matter this season. Oklahoma has already taken down Ohio State on the road, which is a HUGE quality win that isn’t going to go away. Oklahoma can be a one-loss team reaching the Final Four with that win (as long as the loss was to somebody decent). If Oklahoma State is able to win this league at the expense of Oklahoma…beating OU in the league title tilt…how would they be denied a spot in the Final Four? They’re already #6 now.

Every year, one of the Power 5 conferences misses out on the Final Four. It’s too early to say right now that one league is in trouble. But…the Big 12 is making a good early case for “not” being in trouble.

SEC: As long as Alabama keeps winning, they’re going to be there based on Power Ratings and strength of schedule (the win over FSU won’t be forgotten). One-loss Alabama could still make it, putting the SEC comfortably in at the moment.

ACC: Clemson has dodged two tough early bullets with wins over Auburn and Louisville, and has risen to #2 in the polls. Only Florida State is ahead in terms of a truly dangerous foe. And, FSU lost its quarterback for the season in the Alabama game. Things are looking good for the ACC right now unless Clemson suffers some injuries.

BIG 10: Ohio State’s loss hurt…but the Buckeyes would still get in if they run the gauntlet of Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin (in conference championship game). Penn State would get in if they beat Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. It’s conceivable that Wisconsin gets in if they can stay undefeated and take out a Big 10 East power in the conference championship game. For now, this conference will probably have an entry. Possibly two if OSU and Penn State play to their computer ratings.

BIG 12: Not safe yet…but Oklahoma has that huge win over Ohio State…and both OU and Okie State have manageable schedules moving forward. Texas and West Virginia be able to rise to the occasion? For now, a nice resume and outlook.

PAC 12: USC’s near loss to Texas hurt the league a lot. The Trojans were supposed to be a top four lock based on how they closed last season. But, a shaky first half vs. Western Michigan and then the floundering vs. Texas raises some very serious questions. Sure, Washington is still around. Washington didn’t impress in a TV game at Rutgers, was outplayed on its home field by USC last year, and then got squashed by Alabama in the Final Four. Right now, it’s the Pac 12 that might be the odd team out.

So…even though it’s still September, a game like TCU at Oklahoma State can have lasting implications for the national title picture and the Heisman Trophy race. What’s going to happen on the field?

JIM HURLEY still has a few days to pin down his final thoughts. The key right now is TCU’s pass defense. If you allow 463 total yards and 8.9 yards-per-pass to SMU, what’s going to happen against the scoring machine of Okie State? The Cowboys have been hitting on all cylinders since Day One. As long as they don’t come in flat or overconfident…they should keep right on lighting up the scoreboard.

Though, it should be mentioned that Oklahoma State hasn’t had to play four real quarters yet. They’ve been running away and hiding from everyone so quickly that the fourth quarter was garbage time. If TCU can hang around, there’s a chance the final minutes can get interesting. As USC found out against a Texas team that just wouldn’t go away. No Gary Patterson coached team is going to just go away!

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