Big 12 firms up, but suspicion is in the air
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Monday, October 04, 2010
10/04/10 at 8:47 AM
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YOU KNOW things are different when the only Big 12 Conference winner from Texas last week was Baylor.
You know things have changed when Texas Tech is giving up 52 points instead of scoring 52 against Iowa State.
And, you know anything is possible when there are folks out there whispering that the two best teams in the Big 12 might actually be from the state of Oklahoma.
Oklahoma took firm control of the Big 12 South by winning the Red River Rivalry just two days after Oklahoma State established itself as a top challenger by knocking out Texas A&M.
Nebraska has done enough to be considered first or second in the Big 12 rankings in the first week of October.
But, in what is shaping up as a strange year in the final 12 months of the Big 12, there remains a wide range of possibilities from the top to the bottom of the league's football race.
The Sooners have done enough to establish themselves as the favorite and have given us just enough doubt to not feel comfortable about it. Yes, OU is 5-0 and just beat Texas. At the same time, we can't ignore that four of those five victories have been in doubt in the final moments.
Oklahoma State is 4-0, but many dismiss three of those victories, which came against lightweights. Also, the Cowboys did not look crisp in a victory over Texas A&M. But, as coaches love to say, it was a victory.
This much we know: OU is doing enough to live up to its preseason billing as the league favorite. OSU is much better than expected, but isn't good enough to feel confident.
OU's DeMarco Murray and OSU's Kendall Hunter are among the top four players in the league.
Other than that, there's still much to be determined in a league that appears to be not quite as good at the top, but much better at the bottom.
There could be some argument between OU or Nebraska at the top of the Big 12.
Oklahoma State appears to be a good choice for third overall. But Missouri, Kansas State and rejuvenated programs at Colorado, Iowa State and Baylor have let it be known they may want to challenge to be upper-division teams.
Texas and Texas A&M may still have the most talent of any teams in the league, but the Longhorns and Aggies seem to be competing to see who can do less with more.
The only thing that appears certain is that Kansas is the worst team in the league, although the Jayhawks' win over Georgia Tech would seem to indicate otherwise.
Before the season began, many experts believed the Big 12 would be better overall, because the teams at the bottom of the league appeared to be much improved. That seems to be true, especially at Baylor, Iowa State and Colorado.
All three of those teams won on Saturday. Baylor's win over Kansas wasn't unexpected, but the way the Bears completely tore apart KU was impressive.
Iowa State has been on the verge of a breakthrough victory and ripping Texas Tech was a good first step.
Colorado's victory over Georgia, no matter how bad Georgia might be, could be a game-changer for embattled coach Dan Hawkins.
Now, where we go from here, after such a eye-opening five weeks, is anyone's guess. However, it shouldn't take long to find out.
In the next three weeks there are enough showdowns to clear up the order in the Big 12.
Nebraska will be the most interesting team to watch in the next month. The Cornhuskers, so impressive in a rout at Washington, were awful in a home victory over South Dakota State.
Nebraska has four games to define its place in the Big 12 hierarchy.
The Huskers are at Kansas State on Thursday, home for Texas, at OSU and back home for Missouri.
If the Huskers are still unbeaten at the end of Oct. 30, they become the team to beat in the league.
But there are a number of teams that face a huge month. OU has road games at Missouri and Texas A&M in the next four games.
Oklahoma State follows the trip to Louisiana-Lafayette with a three-game gauntlet that includes games at Texas Tech, home for Nebraska and at Kansas State.
It isn't getting any easier for Texas A&M with a game against Arkansas on Saturday, followed by Missouri, Kansas and Texas Tech in the next month.
Texas Tech plays Baylor in Dallas on Saturday and follows with OSU and road games at Colorado and Texas A&M.
And what about Texas?
The Longhorns, loaded with talent but falling far short of expectations, have an extra week before that trip to Nebraska. Then, the 'Horns might have a chance to get well this month. After the Huskers, Texas gets Iowa State and Baylor in Austin.
Regardless of how it has happened, OU coach Bob Stoops knows winning is all that matters.
But proving he has been in Norman for 11 years, Stoops knows he can and will be "criticized for winning" as he said on Saturday.
There are a lot of teams that would love to be criticized for winning in the next month.