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Big 12 Roundup

Catching up with our conference brethren after Week 6

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NCAA Football: West Virginia at Texas Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Six weeks into this college football season seems like a good time for a catch-up with our Big 12 compatriots, in what has been one of the wildest starts to the conference slate in years.

But first, some news: the Big 12 is finalizing a division-less schedule for the 14-team league that will take the field in the 2023 and 2024 seasons with Cincinnati, UCF, Houston and BYU joining the conference. It was widely suggested that Texas and Oklahoma would leave early for the SEC, allowing the new Big 12 to compete as a 12-team league. But demands from Big 12 broadcast partner FOX and the departing programs’ reluctance to pay an additional $100 million to leave early on top of the $80 million exit fee means we may have to put up with the traitors just a bit longer.

The new schedule will likely feature rotations that ensure every team gets to play every other team at least once over the next two seasons. Also, teams will get to protect certain games so that rivalries like the Sunflower Showdown are protected.

But for now, we’re still in a ten-team Big 12, and what does that spell? C-H-A-O-S.

This is the current conference standings table:

For Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and TCU to be leading the conference is not entirely surprising, and the logjam at the top should resolve itself in the upcoming weeks as these three teams all play each other.

Indeed, Oklahoma State and TCU face off today in a contest that could decide the Big 12. Both teams are 5-0 and 2-0 in conference, and both teams look solid at this point in the season.

The Pokes have been consistently—and quietly—good all season. Behind solid play from quarterback Spencer Sanders—now just three games behind Mason Rudolph on the all-time wins list at the school—Oklahoma State is playing well on offense (third in the Big 12 in yards and tied for first in points) and also on defense (leading the league in sacks and first in all of FBS for tackles for loss).

TCU is a slight favorite in this game, and that’s mainly due to a sudden improvement from quarterback Max Duggan. He’s currently leading the league in completion percentage, touchdowns, and passing yards. He’s not especially concerned about personal accolades and just wants to consistently win games.

If there’s a weak spot for TCU, it might be the defense. In their game against KU, the Horned Frogs gave up over 500 yards of offense and 7.5 yards per play. To stay on top of the Pokes, TCU will have to tighten up on defense. Or they could just knock Spencer Sanders out of the game, as TCU has done with opposing starters in their last two matchups.

But halfway through the season, the biggest story in the conference right now is Kansas. At 5-1, the Jayhawks are no worse than middle of the pack in the Big 12, and one game away from being bowl-eligible, a thing nobody thought possible even just a season ago. We are, of course, loath to admit that Kansas might be sort of good, but the numbers don’t lie. That said, that sixth win might be hard to come by. The Jayhawks have already played West Virginia and Iowa State, two of the weaker teams in the Big 12, and there are no gimmes on this schedule. Then again, Lance Leipold’s squad is good enough to be competitive against the rest of the schedule, and if he can somehow pull an 8- or 9-win season out of the hat, we may as well anoint Leipold as college football’s latest turnaround god.

The other big story for the season is Oklahoma’s precipitous decline, best visualized as follows:

The Sooners have gone from first to worst, from playoff contenders to Big 12 bottom feeders in just three short weeks. So what happened? Well, for anyone except the most casual observer, a brand new head coach and an almost unprecedented number of players in the transfer portal should have signaled a bit of a drop-off for Oklahoma. and it’s not the program’s fault that the media overhyped the team to start the season. But the Sooners aren’t just falling short of preseason expectations. They’re playing like victims of shell shock, like a team that just doesn’t want to be there. In the annual Red River Showndown, Oklahoma suffered its worst loss all-time in the series, and the Sooners looked bad in every facet of the game. For Brent Venables, the honeymoon is probably over.

And now Kansas and Oklahoma play each other, a pivot game that could alter both programs’ fortunes for the season and maybe even after.

It may not matter much in Lawrence though, because Kansas has already turned its attention back to basketball. Plus ça change...

Speaking of the Red River Showdown, it pains us to admit this, but Texas may indeed be back. The 2-2 record may suggest otherwise, but the Quinn Ewers-led Longhorns looked unstoppable against the Sooners, and put on a complete team effort for the first time in what seems like forever. Head coach Steve Sarkisian says Texas has the best defense in the concerence, and Ewers is now being called the next Vince Young. In other words, for Texas’ collective fan ego, it is business as usual.

Iowa State should offer a good test for Texas though. The Cyclones are suffering through what may be the worst offensive production in recent Big 12 memory. Iowa State has managed just one touchdown in eight quarters of football, and nobody seems to understand why. (It’s possible there’s just something in the water, as in-state rival Iowa has been even more hapless on offense this season).

Iowa State’s defense, on the other hand, is playing lights out. Scrappy and ball-hawking, the Cyclones have flown around the field and given opposing offenses nightmares. The unit is allowing just 18.3 points a game, the best in the Big 12. But against Texas in Austin, the Clones are going to have to found the end zone, or we’ll be using this GIF a lot:

And whatever this is?

On Thursday night, Baylor and West Virginia squared off in a contest designed to prove once-and-for-all that college football is vastly superior to the NFL as a form of casual entertainment. In a game that can only be compared with slamming fancy jello shots followed by a chaser of pure moonshine, the teams combined for over 1000 yards of offense and 83 points in a score fest that recalled the 2012 matchup between these two teams.

Special teams actually won the day for the ‘Eers. Highlights included a late-game safety that came from a blocked Bears extra point and a game-winning field goal from West Virginia. In a surprisingly poor defensive effort from Baylor, the Bears lost the game 43-40 to remain winless in Morgantown.

For its part, West Virginia finally won a Big 12 game and may have helped cool Neal Brown’s hot seat. Be that as it may, you can be certain no couches survived.

(Since Kansas State is off today, feel free to use this Slate as your all-day open game thread).