And then there were two. Identical overall records, coming off of dominant road wins, both in control of their own destiny, one game to decide the conference championship. And we have to wait a week for it. Dang. Oh, and also the Big 12 went from looking likely to get 8 teams bowl eligible to looking like they may get just 6. Let’s get into it.
1.) Oklahoma Sooners (9-2, 8-0), Previous ranking: #1
The Sooners rolled into Morgantown with significant question marks on defense, having been relatively untested since their almost complete annihilation at the hands of Texas Tech’s offense. West Virginia figured to prove much more of a test, but instead the Sooners held the Mountaineers scoreless for the first 28 minutes of the game, allowing the still fearsome Sooner offense to spot them with a 34 point lead. Coming out of the half the Mountaineers drove down the field and looked like they might try to make a game of it... until the Sooners collected a pick 6 and the game was simply over. On the offensive side, OU mainly took advantage of the field position provided by their defense/West Virginia’s mistakes, but still rolled up over 300 rushing yards against what has been by far the conference’s best defense. Baker Mayfield didn’t have his best day, but still was effective enough at pushing things downfield to take pressure off of the running game and contributed 4 total touchdowns. This team looks like the (Crimson and) cream of the conference, and they’ll have the chance to clinch back to back conference championships for the first time since 2007/2008- which should put a lot of that annual “Is Stoops on the hot seat?” chatter to rest.
Next week: Bye
2.) Oklahoma State Cowboys (9-2, 7-1), Previous ranking: #2
Much like their in-state Big Brother, the Cowboys hit the road on Saturday and had a very easy time of things, rolling over a team that many thought would give them trouble (and Vegas had favored). What was most interesting was how they did it, though. They had a defensive game plan that featured heavily on penetration and getting on TCU’s star Kyle Hicks before he could gain momentum, which worked very well and they will likely attempt to repeat in the Bedlam game. The real surprise though was that the OSU running game, by far the weak link in OSU’s season, was simply spectacular against the Frogs, racking up over 300 rushing yards against a Gary Patterson defense, which is simply unreal. TCU’s gameplan was clearly to try to stay back in coverage and let OSU’s running backs beat them- but they didn’t expect the backs to beat them that badly. If the Cowboys can get some semblance of balance from their running game in addition to the deep shots, this Bedlam could be a game for the ages.
Next week: Bye
#3.) West Virginia Mountaineers (8-2, 5-2), Previous ranking: #3
It says something a bit depressing about the Big 12 this year that I really can’t justify dropping a team that got absolutely trampled at home even a single spot. Skyler Howard turned back into the Skyler Howard from last year/on the road this season and simply could do no right, not only failing to fit the ball through the small windows he had been hitting in previous weeks, but simply flat out missing. West Virginia racked up yards thanks to their second half comeback attempt, but by that point OU was more concerned about running clock with their 34 point lead and the Mountaineers simply couldn’t score fast enough or force OU to go three and out like they needed to to get back in the game. West Virginia simply looks like a good team in a conference with two very good teams and some very mediocre teams- enough to hang onto #3 and possibly get to ten wins, but not enough to win even a share of the conference championship.
Next week: @ Iowa State
#4.) Kansas State Wildcats (6-4, 4-3), Previous ranking: #5
The Wildcats will be joined by at least one more team in being bowl eligible, but only Kansas State still has a chance to reach 8 regular season wins, and the Cats could even theoretically finish in the top three in the conference standings. That’s certainly not something you’d expect from a team with such a miserable passing game, but if this season has shown anything, it’s that it’s better to be consistent than to play like world beaters one week and a punching bag the next. The Wildcats defense is very good, and the running game is solid- I’ve written that just about every week, yet it’s enough to be the fourth most powerful team in the Big 12 this year (2016 kind of sucks). Now the Cats get a rare chance to beat Kansas with the Jayhawks coming off of a win- and honestly it’s a game the TCU coaching staff will study a lot of film of, as KU actually defends the run quite well. Power on, power cats.
Next week: Vs. Kansas
#5.) Iowa State Cyclones (3-8, 2-6), Previous ranking: #9
Can you say “Winning Streak”? The Cyclones make a huge jump in the rankings after being the only Big 12 team outside of the state of Oklahoma to actually have won their last two football games- and also because I have a very hard time wanting to rank either Texas or TCU in the top 5 after both teams laid eggs last week. The Cyclones played against not only the top offense in the conference, but the nation’s leading offense coming into their game and they absolutely hammered them, taking no prisoners and holding Tech to their lowest point total since 2011 (Interestingly, also against Iowa State). Iowa State could simply do no wrong on Saturday, punishing the Raiders on the ground and through the air, as well as repeatedly forcing three and outs against an offense with the highest third down conversion rate in the nation. It looks like the Cyclones may be starting to click in Campbell’s system, which means that even #3 West Virginia may be in for a shock as the Cyclones go for win #4 in their season finale.
Next week: Vs. West Virginia
#6.) TCU Horned Frogs (5-5, 3-4), Previous ranking: #4
The Frogs came into this week with seemingly everything going for them. The offense had established a few new wrinkles and gotten on in a big way, scoring 62 points their last time out, the defense was progressing exceptionally well and getting back to the aggressive, turnover forcing unit that Frog fans have become accustomed to over the Gary Patterson era. They even had a bye to rest up before getting Oklahoma State at home, but once again many of the old problems started to rise up. Wide receivers dropping easy balls, Kenny Hill throwing behind his receivers to try to compensate for it (and getting picked off as a result) and the exceedingly stubborn playcalling in the spite of the “Let’s give Kyle Hicks the ball while flatfooted on a slightly delayed handoff” play not working any of the last 9 times they called it either. Defensively, I’m much happier with the performance than most Frogs are- yes, there were missed tackles, but by and large the coverage was quite good, they got pressure on the Cowboys and through the first half they performed the Bend-don’t-Break ideal almost flawlessly... they just had to stay on the field for almost the entire first half. As a result, when the second half rolled around the defense was tired, OSU’s backs were still hard to tackle, and the big plays in the running game started to pile up. The Frogs are going to have to try to get off to a fast start against a Texas team that will likely be a bubbling cauldron of both positive and negative emotion, but even then they’re not quite as scary as they may seem, considering who they lost to.
Next: @ Texas (Friday)
#7.) Kansas Jayhawks (2-9, 1-7), Previous ranking: #10
I wouldn’t normally do as big a ranking jump as this based on one game, but when you beat an opponent for the first time since 1938, why not get a little carried away? The Jayhawks did it with defense this week, forcing the Longhorns stud tailback through 50 carries to get his yards, and forcing turnovers on the ground and through the air. Kansas’ passing attack didn’t do much, but largely avoided screwing up too badly either- which is a big positive over the usual KU passing production, while the run game was just consistent enough to get some first downs and take advantage of their field position edge. That, along with KU’s edge in the kicking game, was enough for the Jayhawks to beat the Longhorns, which... still doesn’t sound right to me. Wow.
Next week: @ Kansas State Wildcats
#8.) Texas Longhorns (5-6, 3-5)
Some may argue that being blown out by a good team is worse than losing an overtime contest with a bad team, but that really depends on just how bad the team in question is. The Kansas Jayhawks, winless against FBS level competition since 2014, armed with fewer scholarship players than the NCAA sanctioned Penn State and USC programs, is not a forgivable loss- especially when it takes you to the brink of missing a bowl for the second year in a row. The Longhorns rode D’Onta Foreman for all he was worth, but for as dynamic and destructive as he is with the ball in his hands, he doesn’t keep the ball in his hands nearly as well as you’d like for a back of his skill level. That fact, along with another freshman-ish performance from Shane Buechele will almost certainly mean that Tom Herman will be coaching in Austin this year, with a roster stocked with talent and high character players as a result of coach Strong’s hard work. Texas’ defense has taken some great strides since Coach Strong relieved Bedford of his duties as DC, but Kansas was simply given too many short fields as a result of turnovers, and now the Longhorns will likely start over again, win or lose.
Next: Vs. TCU (Friday)
#10.) Texas Tech Red Raiders (4-7, 2-6)
There’s debate about whether it’s worse to get blown out by a good team or narrowly lose to a bad team, but there is simply no debate here- getting blown out by a bad team is very, very bad. As a result the Raiders sink down all the way to the bottom of this weeks rankings, but still have one opportunity left to beat a rival for the first time in five years and finish the season on a good note. If only I could remember who they’re actually playing this week...
Next: Vs. ???? (@ Cowboy Stadium)
Agree? Disagree? Thankful that this year is almost over? Let me know in the comments.