AMES, Iowa – The final week of Big 12 play in 2017 might serve as a preview of what's to come in 2018.
As many as five of the conference's 10 teams could have a freshman behind center this weekend, including title game hopeful TCU. Baylor, Texas, Iowa State and Kansas State could also ask a rookie quarterback to step up as the regular season winds down.
For the Horned Frogs, Shawn Robinson became the first true freshman quarterback to start for coach Gary Patterson in his 17 seasons as the head coach in last week's 27-3 win over Texas Tech.
Robinson – a 6-foot-2, 225-pound native of Desoto, Texas, who won the Gatorade Texas Player of the Year award in 2016 – was an underwhelming 6 of 17 passing for 85 yards in relief of Kenny Hill, who didn't make the trip for undisclosed reasons. But Robinson did run for 84 yards and threw a key touchdown.
Hill is listed as the starter for this week's game against Baylor, where a win would put the Horned Frogs in the league title game against Oklahoma.
"I think he's got a chance to get back," Patterson said of Hill. "Probably questionable ... and I'd probably say closer to probable now."
The Bears' offense has improved ever since they turned to freshman Charlie Brewer in late October. Brewer threw a pair of TD passes against West Virginia and three in the Bears' only win, over Kansas. He threw three more touchdowns – along with 417 yards passing – in a loss to Tech on Nov. 11.
"I thought he did a nice job with his feet. I thought he did a nice job keeping the chains moving," Baylor coach Matt Rhule said after last week's loss to Iowa State. "For a young player, I think he's continuing to develop and play better."
Texas coach Tom Herman said Sam Ehlinger will start against Texas Tech after he led the Longhorns to a 28-14 win at West Virginia in relief of Shane Buechele. But that doesn't mean Ehlinger will finish the game. Herman said he plans to get Buechele, a sophomore, into the game early and then judge who's playing better.
"I know it's (a) cliche and most coaches that are in this situation probably tell you that it's all sunshine and rainbows anyways, but ... it is really a non-issue with those two guys," Herman said. "I think they both understand that we're going to do whatever it takes to, and play whoever we feel will give us the best chance, to win. We'll go duke this thing out again next spring and fall for who is the full-time starter."
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said on Monday that it was too early to tell whether senior Kyle Kempt (undisclosed injury) will be back for Saturday's regular-season finale against Kansas State.
Redshirt freshman Zeb Noland became the third different starter for the Cyclones in a 23-13 win at Baylor. He was just 14 of 28 passing for 180 yards, but Noland had two TD tosses without a turnover.
"All of it was on my shoulders, and I was pleased with how I played," Noland said.
Kansas State freshman Skylar Thompson struggled in his first extended action, throwing a pair of interceptions in a loss to West Virginia on Nov. 11. But Thompson, a Fort Osage graduate, redeemed himself last week, throwing for 204 yards and three touchdowns and running for 93 yards and a score in his second start.
Kansas State will lean heavily on Thompson this weekend and beyond. Jesse Ertz will need surgery on his ailing knee and miss the remainder of the season and backup Alex Delton remains sidelined after sustaining two concussions.
"He's a young man that can execute all the things that we do in our program, from a knowledge standpoint, from a leadership standpoint. Being able to run it, throw it, manage the ball game. He seems to do all of those things quite well," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said.