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

10/02/2013 12:16 PM

11/12/2014 3:03 PM

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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