At the midpoint of the Big 12 football season, we can safely say the pundits and prognosticators seem to have accurately forecast the fate of a Kansas team working its way to the bottom of the league standings.
But beyond making the easy call on the Jayhawks (2-3, 0-2 in Big 12), who will drag a 23-game losing steak in league play into Saturday’s game against No. 18 Oklahoma (5-1, 2-1), there has been little about the Big 12 race that has followed the preseason form chart.
Among the midseason reality checks that few saw coming in August:
• No. 12 Baylor (5-0, 2-0) is the top-ranked Big 12 team in the weekly college polls for the first time in the conference’s 18-year history.
• No. 16 Texas Tech (6-0, 3-0), roundly targeted for a seventh- or eighth-place finish, is the only school already bowl-eligible.
• Texas (4-2, 3-0) is a factor in the Big 12 race because Mack Brown and his coordinators outcoached Bob Stoops and his Oklahoma counterparts in the Red River Rivalry.
• West Virginia (3-3, 1-2) is leaning more on defense than offense in efforts to secure a bowl berth.
• Oklahoma and No. 21 Oklahoma State (4-1, 1-1) are facing quarterback quandaries, after several years of stability at that position.
• The savvy sideline strategists who wear purple at TCU (3-3, 1-2) and Kansas State (2-4, 0-3) oversee teams on the verge of early elimination from the conference race.
And so it goes in the Big 12, where league teams are at least backing up one popular preseason projection: Expect the unexpected, because there is no clear-cut favorite in this race.
At the halfway point, the favorite’s role probably falls to Baylor by default. But coach Art Briles is not rushing to declare his Bears the team to beat down the stretch.
“It’s a wide-open race, the same way it was when you looked at it in August,” Briles said earlier this week. “Nothing has changed that, now that that we’re in October. Anybody can beat anybody.”
Briles’ point about parity has been driven home by several August unknowns who have turned the race in unexpected directions. Here are 10 significant surprises in the first half of the Big 12 season:
Spotlight: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech TE
Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro leads the Big 12 in receptions (47), ranks third in receiving yards per game (101 average) and is capable of serving as a burly blocker (6-foot-5, 257 pounds) when the Red Raiders run the football.
Yet Amaro was not listed among the 29 candidates on Tuesday’s midseason watch list for the John Mackey Award, given annually to the top tight end in college football. The omission, while puzzling, is not a deal-breaker in regard to final placement on ballots.
Rest assured, Amaro is not overlooked in Big 12 circles. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen considers Amaro a matchup nightmare for his defense in Saturday’s game against Tech . “I don’t know how you stop him,” Holgorsen said. “He poses a lot of problems.”
Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury likened Amaro to a security blanket for his quarterbacks, who seek him out in clutch situations. “He’s definitely a big comfort level for our quarterbacks,” Kingsburgy said. “They know if they get it close to his big body, he’ll make a play on the ball.”
Amaro, a junior, missed Tech’s final six regular-season games last season because of a spleen injury suffered against West Virginia. But he understands big hits come with the territory at tight end.
“Every time I catch the ball, I know that I’m going to get hit a lot,” Amaro said. “There are always a lot of defenders around me. I’m just going to go out there and play like I’ve been playing and see how it goes.”