BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
#11 TCU Horned Frogs (10-2) vs #3 Oklahoma Sooners (11-1)
AT&T Stadium – Arlington, TX
12:30 PM Eastern Standard Time
While only one team, the Oklahoma Sooners, can lock up a playoff spot with a win in this Big 12 championship game, the stakes are still high, especially for the notable 2018 NFL draft-eligible prospects. Oklahoma comes in as the favorite in this matchup with Heisman favorite Baker Mayfield and a slew of top draft prospects including offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. However, the TCU Horned Frogs have proven to be one the stingiest defenses in the nation, let alone the Big 12, highlighted by inside linebacker Travin Howard and defensive backs Nick Orr and Ranthony Texada.
The last time these two teams met was on November 11, ending in an Oklahoma 38-20 victory where Baker Mayfield may have put his finishing stamp on the Heisman race. This game on Saturday has a chance to be much closer, but the stars need to come out for each team to come out on top. As a result, I highlight the notable draft prospects for both Oklahoma and TCU in this game.
1. Baker Mayfield needs to put up another stellar performance against this TCU defense to lock OU’s spot in the College Football Playoff
– What else is there to say? Baker Mayfield is a superstar and the clear Heisman favorite. While his trash talk and attitude garners the media’s attention, he commands the locker room with his leadership and gets his team ready to play each and every week. He has improved leaps and bounds as a pocket passer, and that is mostly why he has jumped up draft boards from a mid-round selection to a potential first-round pick. With his improved feel in and out of the pocket, arm strength, and accuracy at all three levels of the field, Mayfield could be rightfully labeled as the top quarterback prospect in the upcoming draft.
While the Heisman race is all but over in his favor, his team’s playoff hopes rest on his ability to produce another Heisman-esque performance against this rigid TCU defense. He put up five touchdown passes against this team on November 11, and he may need to do it again to hold off the Horned Frogs and propel the Sooners to the College Football Playoff.
2. Oklahoma TE Mark Andrews vs TCU LB Travin Howard
– As one of the top tight ends eligible for the 2018 NFL draft class, junior Mark Andrews really elevated his level of play in 2017. In fact, he has nearly doubled his 2016 marks in both receptions and yards with 51 catches for 848 yards. His in-line blocking ability has been his calling card as a prospect, but he is an incredibly underrated receiver. He is actually a primary option in the offense, let alone the passing game with his ability to stretch the field and serve as a safety blanket underneath.
With that being said, there is an equally good player on the other side of the ball, and his name is Travin Howard. As an undersized, but rangy linebacker, Howard can come out to the slot and match up with tight ends in man coverage, but he can also run sideline to sideline to track down ball carriers from the MIKE spot. Some will say he is an inside linebacker in a safety’s body, and while I do not disagree, let’s not undervalue his three-down potential and translatable traits at the next level. He had an up and down game in the last outing against Andrews and Oklahoma, and this will once again be a key matchup to watch.
3. Pass protection and pass rush have been key to Oklahoma’s success, but TCU has the talent to halt both
– Protecting Baker Mayfield has not been a problem this season for the Sooners for a couple of reasons. For starters, this is a very talented offensive line. Orlando Brown Jr. is arguably one of the three best offensive linemen in college football, and the interior group is as stout as they come, led by redshirt senior center Erick Wren. However, TCU is quite creative with how they get to the quarterback. They are far and away the team sack leaders in the Big 12 with 40 (the next best is 30), and it is not because they have some elite edge rusher, but it is because of all the exotic blitz packages and rushes this defense throws at opposing teams. This is a confusing defense to plan against, but luckily for Oklahoma, they already have a taste of what will be thrown their way, but make no mistake, this will be a vital matchup to watch.
Flipping sides, Oklahoma outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is one of the best pure pass rushers in the nation, let alone the Big 12. In fact, I think his skill set translates incredibly well to the NFL, as I believe he is the most refined rusher eligible for the 2018 NFL draft. He will get a good challenge this Saturday though against TCU left tackle Joseph Noteboom. Noteboom has been a reliable option for the Horned Frogs since his sophomore season, but he has really broke out onto the NFL radar his senior year. At 6’5, 305, Noteboom uses his length and physical tools to his advantage, bullying rushers who try to match power with him. At the same time, he is a surprisingly good athlete with the feet to mirror speed and quickness off of the edge. However, he struggled mightily against Okoronkwo in the last outing, especially with his speed and unpredictability as a rusher. For Noteboom, he is just so raw with his technique and mental processing right now that it makes it tough to completely shut down a refined pass rusher like Okoronkwo at this stage. He has a chance to flip the script on Saturday, and for scouts, it will be a big factor in his evaluation as a prospect. If Okoronkwo is able to have success again, it’s going to be a long night for the TCU offense.