With so many Big 12 teams struggling in non-conference play, it was a big week for teams to try and right the ship and show that even if they're not that powerful in relation to other conferences, they're still among the best in the Big 12. Let's dive into the frothy mess to see just who is rising to the top this week.
1.) West Virginia Mountaineers (4-0, 1-0), Previous ranking: #1
I'm becoming less of a believer in West Virginia each week, but at the same time, there's really nobody to put ahead of them. The Mountaineers struggled mightily through three quarters with Kansas State, as the big plays weren't connecting and the KSU defense was standing firm. However, West Virginia's defense did it's damnedest to keep the Mountaineers in striking distance, kept the Wildcats from clicking with big gains and forced them to play mistake free football to move the chains- and with the WVU secondary playing lights out, the Wildcats were unsuccessful much more often than not. West Virginia is still showing a distinct vulnerability to running quarterbacks, however, which is something that must be addressed during the bye- if their next opponent's QB is healthy in time to play, that is. Still, with almost every other team that's considered a serious conference contender packing a dual threat quarterback, it will be interesting to see just how long West Virginia can keep hold of the top spot. Well, at least another week.
Next week: Bye
2.) Oklahoma Sooners (2-2, 1-0), Previous ranking: #7
Suppose, if you will, that the Big 12 is actually pretty bad in comparison to the other conferences right now- I know, it's hard to believe, but stay with me here for a minute. What if the team that many experts assumed would be the best team heading into the season actually still was the best team in the conference, even if they got handled rather easily in two of their first games, simply because they were playing opposition that was a whole lot better? Oklahoma didn't necessarily look a lot better than TCU overall, they outgained the Frogs just slightly, 536-514, a difference that balances out almost perfectly if you remove sack numbers, but there were a few big differences in play that led to OU's mega run and ability to hang on at the end. First, OU played disciplined and stayed level headed- after falling behind 21-7 on the road, it would have been quite simple for the Sooners to start to hang their heads and think "Here we go again" after their blowout loss to OSU in their previous outing. Instead, OU answered the bell with a touchdown of their own to open the second quarter and simply allowed the Horned Frogs to implode while maintaining a very balanced approach to offense- which would have certainly helped make a difference against Houston, if not against Ohio State. OU also didn't absolutely kill itself with stupid penalties, in sharp contrast to their purple clad... well, black clad and with a slightly purple outline foes, which was a dramatic change in temperament from the team that repeatedly gifted Houston yards with personal fouls. QB Baker Mayfield showed again that as long as he is not expected to throw the ball 40 times to keep the Sooners in the game, that he can be very effective leading the offense with both his arms and his feet, and as long as the Sooners maintain patience with their running game, they'll prove very difficult to beat again this season.
Next week: Vs. Texas (Dallas)
4.) Oklahoma State Cowboys (3-2, 1-1), Previous ranking: #8
It would be hard to point to a more unlucky football team through the first four weeks of the season than Oklahoma State. First they lost a game on an untimed down for a penalty that should not have allowed an untimed down. Then they fumbled twice going into the Baylor end zone and had an immaculate deflection gift the bears a touchdown- a lot to overcome when your coaching staff apparently has no idea how to run a two minute offense. The coaching problems and issues running the ball had severely hamstrung the Cowboys position in the rankings, but this week things went much better- they realized that Justice Hill is their only running back who can actually run the ball, and this time he actually hung onto it. Mason Rudolph continued his consistent play and tore up the Texas secondary for almost 400 yards, and their defense did just enough to stall the Horns until they were forced to throw the ball to try and make up ground, and that's not what the Longhorns are built for. Whether OSU has really solved its RB issues is still yet to be determined, but it should be enough to tack on a few more wins the next few weeks before taking on current conference leader West Virginia. Well, unless ISU happens to be really good.
Next week: Vs. Iowa State Cyclones.
5.) TCU Horned Frogs (3-2, 1-1), Previous ranking: #2
If you only considered the second half, TCU wouldn't just be the #1 team in the rankings, they'd likely be in the top 10 in the nation. Check the scoreboards if you only consider the last two quarters: TCU 35, SDSU 17. TCU 28, Arkansas 15. TCU 17, ISU 13 (a near miss, actually). TCU 27, SMU 0. TCU 22, OU 17. Not too bad, really- until you realize that the Frogs are actually 2-2 thanks to some absolutely abysmal starts and maintaining effort throughout the first half- to the point where if you considered just the first half, TCU might well be #9 in the Power Rankings. Kenny Hill has been pretty good throwing the ball, but the offense has often stalled out due to penalties, poor playcalling, missed reads and Hill's reluctance to use his (frankly excellent) athletic ability to pick up first downs or at least yards with his feet on designed pass plays. The defense runs hot and cold, which is more or less what you would expect from a young defense- they feed off of the offense's success, and struggle when they have to be on the field for extended periods of time. As such, the Frogs end up at #5, splitting the difference between #1 and #9 until things get a bit more settled.
Next week: @ Kansas Jayhawks
6.) Kansas State Wildcats (2-2, 0-1), Previous ranking: #4
The Cats suffered the double whammy on Saturday, not only did they choke away a very winnable game on the road, but their other loss suddenly looks a good deal worse after Stanford got absolutely demolished by Washington in the Pac 12's game of the week. Due to the lack of consistency from their passing game and without much in the way of big play threats, KSU has to play essentially mistake free football to compete with the best teams in the league, which they did against West Virginia... for almost three quarters. Then the Mountaineers finally connected with a 52 yard gain to set up their first touchdown, drove for another and then simply held on as Kansas State ground slowly down the field to the edge of kicker Matthew McCrane's field goal range, only for him to miss. Kansas State's defense did quite well against the Mountaineers, keeping Skyler Howard to less than a 60% completion rate, but the offense was simply too limited for the Cats to actually put up enough points to win the game, when any sort of points would have made the difference. KSU will probably find its way back into a bowl game somehow this season, but it will have a very hard time against offenses that will score more than 28 points in a game. And speaking of...
Next week: Vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders
7.) Texas Tech Red Raiders (3-1, 1-0), Previous ranking: #6
Tech might have moved up after a bit of defensive effort last week, but they also struggled fairly mightily with the Jayhawks through two and a half quarters and lost star QB Patrick Mahomes for an indeterminate amount of time with a shoulder injury. The Tech O-line put up a pretty miserable performance, and without Mahomes running the ball the ground game struggled a bit, but the good news is that Kliff Kingsbury seems to be following in Mike Leach's footsteps when it comes to plugging in the next guy and letting him throw a bunch for 250 yards in a half and 4 TDs. Tech's defense did well... against Kansas. So... further study is needed.
Next week: @ Kansas State Wildcats
8.) Texas Longhorns (2-2, 0-1), Previous ranking: #5
The Longhorns slip again, as for all of the gains that Texas seems to have made on offense, they seem to have regressed even more on defense- to the point where even Oklahoma State, who came into the game with one of the nation's most feeble running games, had a back run over the Longhorns for 135 yards all on his own. Throw in the fact that Texas' secondary is a raging tire fire (giving up an insane 14 yards per attempt) and there was simply no chance for Texas to outscore the Cowboys- their offense is improved, but it's not that good yet. Coach Strong has decided to take control of the defense himself for the rest of the season, which will likely be necessary if he's going to hold onto his job with Tom Herman lurking in Houston with the words "dream job" being lobbed around. A win next week would help.
Next week: Vs. Oklahoma Sooners (Dallas)
9.) Iowa State Cyclones (1-3, 0-2), Previous ranking: #9
So close to one of the biggest wins in program history, the Cyclones choked it away. That said, there are a ton of things for ISU fans to feel good about after this game- they should have beaten Baylor, 100%. They were doing it in every phase of the game, and it really started to look like the offense and defense were beginning to click (a far cry from ISU's opening week issue of two players running straight into each other on a handoff). The Cyclones lost, and maintain their spot near the cellar of the rankings for now, but I could definitely see a 5-7 record and a finish in #6/7 in the power rankings if the switch really has clicked for ISU. We'll just have to see from here.
Next week: @ Oklahoma State Cowboys
10.) Kansas Jayhawks (1-3, 0-1), Previous ranking: #10
Oof. Kansas' defense is getting to be decent, but that offense is absolutely woeful. Somehow they will almost beat TCU this week. This vexes me.
Next week: Vs. TCU Horned Frogs.
*Baylor has resigned its position in the power rankings this week, as they await the drop of the next shoe.
Agree? Disagree? Want to speculate on how bad the blowout would be if second half TCU played first half TCU? Let me know in the comments.