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Big 12 Roundup: Are we there yet?

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Week 5 of the Big 12 season was an up-and-down affair.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

There is no easy way to say this, but the Big 12 is a mess right now. The conference is almost certainly out of playoff contention, although Baylor and West Virginia are both currently undefeated. It doesn’t help that this conference’s marquee programs have not lived up to the hype in 2016, at least according to Stewart Mandel (FOXSports).

To make things worse, there are weird noises coming out of Norman these days. Oklahoma president David Boren got the ball rolling on expansion earlier this year . Then he may have stopped it cold in its tracks with his remarks a few weeks ago, leaving us to wonder what the real game is. Was Big 12 expansion really on the cards, or was it just a way to bring ESPN and FOX to the table to negotiate more lucrative television deals? Is Oklahoma shopping around for a new conference home? Does Nebraska really want to come back to the Big 12? (Short answer: hell no).

These stories would be excellent news fodder...in the offseason. Instead, all the buzz around the Big 12 is happening off the field, and that should give all Big 12 fans some pause.

The stuff on the field last week didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but games were played and lost. Yes, even by the teams that won.

Baylor/Iowa State

For three quarters, Iowa State could do no wrong. For three quarters, the Cyclones dominated Baylor’s defensive line. For three quarters, Iowa State scored on every offensive series, and didn’t have to punt once on its way to a 42-28 lead.

Then, order was restored. The Bears reeled off 17 unanswered points, running all over Iowa State’s defense as they’d done all game. Shock Linwood is great. The Iowa State rush defense? Yeah, not so much.

(The above GIF is from WRNL, because they’re much better at this than I am).

Unfortunately, this Hulk smashing happened just as the Iowa State offense sputtered. The Cyclones managed only 18 yards off nine plays in their final three possessions, essentially guaranteeing Baylor’s victory. A game-winning field goal was just the official icing on the cake.

Afterwards, Baylor fans were clearly relieved. The Bears are still undefeated and the fans are riding that train until they can’t anymore. Also, at least some commenters are utterly convinced ESPN has it out for Baylor.

We’ll find out soon enough, Baylor. Soon enough.

Kansas/Texas Tech

Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you lose even when you win. Texas Tech discovered the meaning of Pyrrhic victory when the Red Raiders beat Kansas 55-19, but lost all-everything quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the process. He left the game in the third quarter with an apparent shoulder injury. Backup Nic Shimonek then stepped in and threw for four touchdowns and 271 yards. No thing at all.

With Mahomes and Shimonek, Texas Tech has an absolute embarrassment of riches at quarterback. If that gives you a rush of envy though, consider the defense, which has been just a plain ol’ embarrassment for much of this young season (114th in S&P+, dead last in the Big 12).

To be fair, the Red Raiders defense was decent in this game, holding Kansas to just 73 yards on the ground. But anyone would take that with a pound of salt. First, Kansas made no use of the various opportunities Tech provided through its own miscues. The Jayhawks’ first six possessions all ended in punts, and it wasn’t until almost the end of the first half that Kansas even got on the board.

For Kansas, there has been significant improvement on the defensive side of the ball. The unit held Texas Tech’s score-a-minute offense in check for most of the game. But what about the offense? It’s en fuego!

Yeah, the KU offense is not good. The most obvious reason is that quarterback Montell Cozart is kind of terrible, and Ryan Willis—likely to get the start this week—is not necessarily better.

But who cares? ONLY 35 DAYS TO KANSAS BASKETBALL!

Oklahoma/TCU

Oklahoma beat TCU 52-16 last weekend, but it was a wild game from end to end. TCU built a big first quarter lead only to have the Sooners come roaring back to a 35-24 halftime score. OU built on that lead in the third quarter only to have TCU mount a furious rally in the fourth, scoring on three straight drives to narrow the lead to just 49-46. A Sooners field goal with just 3:41 to go and the stalled TCU drive that followed cemented the victory for OU.

Afterwards, neither fan base really seemed to know what happened. OU fans wondered how their team could be both terribly perfect and perfectly terrible in the same game. TCU fans wondered how their team only managed to play two quarters of decent football in a conference game.

Both teams are terrible on defense. TCU is poised to give up almost 400 points this year. And Oklahoma? Urban Meyer said Indiana had a better defense than Oklahoma, and well, he’s not wrong.

For his part, after the game, TCU coach Gary Patterson took shots at the officials, the press, and even Baker Mayfield.

We talk about sportsmanship in this game, and I've got a quarterback that writes a whole article on me, how I treated him wrong. But I can't talk about officials. Bottom line to it is, I wasn't happy with the officiating.

Patterson later walked back those remarks and expressed appreciation for Bob Stoops and the officiating crew.

I smell a new rivalry brewing.

Oklahoma State/Texas

There are games—and even moments within games—that shape a coach’s legacy. They are seared into fan memories and live forever in lore. If Charlie Strong was hoping for that sort of moment in the game against Oklahoma State, he must have been devastated by the outcome.

Make no bones about it. The 49-31 loss to the Pokes—a game punctuated by terrible play from the Texas defense and several miscues on special teams—was the worst thing that could have happened to Strong this season, and unless he can pull a miracle in the Red River Showdown this week, he may find himself unemployed at the end of the season.

Strong has tried to fight the situation as best as he can by making key changes to his staff on a regular basis. But none of these changes are helping, and in fact, they may actually do more harm to Strong’s image and his tenure in Austin. Gary Barnett, the former Colorado coach, who may know a thing or two about being embattled, had this to say:

Well, it’s like a big soap opera down there. And no, I don’t think he survives this. . .It’s just one bandaid after another and he doesn’t cure anything, doesn’t solve anything, just creates another crisis.

The one bright spot here? As terrible as Texas’ defense has been so far this season (97th out of 128 FBS teams), the unit has typically done well against Oklahoma. The Horns have held OU to an average of just 291 yards per game. That kind of defensive production could mean a win this week. It could also save Charlie Strong’s job.

Oklahoma State won the game fair and square, a detail that has been lost in all the hand-wringing about Texas. Mike Gundy and quarterback Mason Rudolph both seem to have their swagger back. Be afraid, Big 12. Be very afraid.