Big 12 Insider: It’s time to adjust August expectations in Big 12 race

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Spotlight Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech DL Texas Tech defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, a senior from Austin, ranks among the Big 12 leaders in tackles for losses (five). But it’s a game from last year that consumes his thoughts as No. 20 Tech (4-0, 1-0) prepares for Saturday’s contest at Kansas (2-1, 0-0). The Jayhawks, who have lost 23 consecutive games to Big 12 opponents, rushed for 390 yards in last year’s meeting in Lubbock. Tech won in overtime 41-34, but Red Raiders coaches have driven home the danger of a repeat performance in meetings this week. “The coaches don’t let us forget it,” Hyder said. “We’ve been thinking about it the past week, and it will not be a replay of last year.” Among Tech’s defensive leaders, first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury places Hyder at the top of the list. “He’s doing a fantastic job,” Kingsbury said. “I appreciate his effort on a daily basis. Every time you watch him on film, you see him going 100 miles an hour.” Storylines Weeknight warriors: Something about a weeknight telecast brings out the best in Iowa State (1-2, 0-0 in Big 12), which meets Texas (2-2, 1-0) in a Thursday night showdown in Ames, Iowa (6:30 p.m., ESPN). The Cyclones are 21-10 in Thursday games and 10-2 in their last 12 appearances, including last Thursday’s 38-21 victory over Tulsa. The Cyclones also had a memorable Friday night upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State, 37-31, during the 2011 season. Full slate: For the first time this season, all 10 league teams play games this week. It marks the first of only four times when at least one Big 12 school does not have a bye. Other weeks with a full complement of games: Oct. 26, Nov. 7-9 and Nov. 16. Three-deep at QB: Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury named freshman quarterback Baker Mayfield as his starter at Monday’s news conference but left open the possibility of using up to three players at the position Saturday at Kansas. Sophomore Michael Brewer, who has yet to play this season because of a back ailment, practiced Monday, and Kingsbury indicated Brewer or Davis Webb could play against KU. “I’m excited about having three guys we can win with,” Kingsbury said. Burch’s picks Texas 38, Iowa State 28 (6:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPN): The Longhorns win consecutive games heading into their season-defining Oct. 12 matchup against No. 11 Oklahoma. No. 11 Oklahoma 34, TCU 20 (6 p.m. Saturday, KDFW/Ch. 4): Sooners have been more consistent on both sides of the ball than the Horned Frogs. No. 20 Texas Tech 28, Kansas 24 (11 a.m. Saturday, Fox Sports 1): Red Raiders remain undefeated but Jayhawks make them sweat in Lawrence, Kan. No. 17 Baylor 49, West Virginia 24 (7 p.m. Saturday, FS1): Bears’ offense continues to hum but not at its better than point-per-minute pace against nonconference opponents. No. 21 Oklahoma State 34, Kansas State 29 (2:30 p.m. Saturday, WFAA/Ch. 8): Cowboys rebound from last week’s stunning loss at West Virginia to remain a title contender. Last week: 2-2 Season: 26-8

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Upon further review, I confess to being a knucklehead for picking Oklahoma State to win this year’s Big 12 football championship.

But know this: I reserve the right to remind everyone of my savvy August insight if No. 21 OSU (3-1, 0-1 in Big 12) rebounds from last week’s shocking 30-21 loss to West Virginia and claims the league title.

That is entirely possible, particularly with a user-friendly schedule that has the Big 12’s two highest-ranked teams — No. 11 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0) and No. 17 Baylor (3-0, 0-0) — headed to Stillwater, Okla., to play the Cowboys later this season.

If you don’t believe OSU can sweep those games, you haven’t been paying attention to the early returns this season. If you don’t believe OSU can lose both of those contests, you haven’t been paying attention to the early returns this season.

Such is the state of confusion in the Big 12, where parity is rampant and anyone can win on any given Saturday. The only thing predictable about this league is that the home team cannot be counted out, regardless of what Las Vegas oddsmakers envision.

Case in point: Home teams are a combined 4-0 in the early stages of the Big 12 conference race, with two certifiable upsets (West Virginia over OSU; Texas Tech over TCU). Also included is a quasi-upset in most observers’ minds: Texas’ 31-21 victory over Kansas State, breaking the Longhorns’ five-game losing streak in the series.

Against that backdrop, it is time to declare a fresh October pecking order for Big 12 teams heading into this week’s first full slate of league games. It may be worthless by Sunday. But here’s a look at how the league shapes up today in terms of title contenders:

Oklahoma: The unbeaten Sooners boast the league’s lone nonconference victory over a ranked opponent, last week’s 35-21 triumph over then-No. 22 Notre Dame. September feedback suggests OU also features the league’s stingiest defense.

Baylor: September evidence screams that the Bears have the most explosive offense in the nation, not just the Big 12. Do not expect Baylor to continue averaging an FBS-best 751.3 yards and 69.7 points per game. But don’t dismiss the Bears as legitimate title contenders. They qualify.

Oklahoma State: Call me stubborn. But I still believe OSU can win the league, especially with four fellow contenders headed to Stillwater between Saturday and Dec. 7 (Kansas State, TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma). Until another loss surfaces, I’ll view the Meltdown in Morgantown as a stunning aberration, not a sign of things to come.

Texas Tech: September’s most pleasant surprise has a back-loaded schedule with four of its last six games played away from Lubbock. That seems like a tall task for a team leaning on a trio of young quarterbacks. But if you’re not impressed with Kliff Kingsbury’s transition to life as a first-year head football coach, you’re not watching closely enough.

Texas: Lots of talent but lots of turmoil surrounding the program. The situation is compounded by a season-ending injury to the top defensive player, linebacker Jordan Hicks. That’s probably not a title-winning combination. But the Longhorns (2-2, 1-0) could become the first team to reach 2-0 in league play by winning Thursday at Iowa State (1-2, 0-0).

TCU: If the offense establishes more consistency, the Horned Frogs (2-2, 0-1) can climb back into the thick of the Big 12 race. But those strides must begin Saturday against No. 11 Oklahoma.

West Virginia: A certifiable mess until upsetting OSU, the Mountaineers (3-2, 1-1) have started three quarterbacks in five games. But the defense is much-improved and the Mountaineers, if nothing else, appear dangerous at home. They are 3-0 in home games, 0-2 elsewhere heading into Saturday’s game at Baylor.

Kansas State: The defending co-champs are adjusting to a new quarterback and a rebuilt defense. But the Wildcats (2-2, 0-1) rarely stay down for long under Bill Snyder, the best coach in college football.

Iowa State: The Cyclones (1-2, 0-0) once again, figure to be difficult to handle in Ames, Iowa, for Big 12 teams. But they’re a probable win when they hit the road. ISU has five road games on this year’s conference schedule, making a bowl berth unlikely.

Kansas: The Jayhawks (2-1, 0-0) will have their season in the sun when basketball games begin in November. For now, it’s difficult to see where coach Charlie Weis applies the brakes to a 21-game losing streak against Big 12 opponents that dates to the 2010 season.

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