Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Big 12’s early-season disappointments could well spill over into the rest of the season.
Early nonconference struggles marked the perception of the conference on a national level. Those early defeats are a major reason why the conference has only three teams ranked in the first BCS standings that were released Sunday and only one team among the top 14 teams nationally.
Texas appears to be in good shape. If the Longhorns can win the rest of their games and claim their first Big 12 championship since 2005, it would likely catapult them into the BCS title game in Pasadena. No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Alabama both will likely meet in the SEC championship game, giving the Longhorns a clear path to the national title game if they can keep winning.
But other than that, the Big 12’s BCS hopes appear limited. With balance in other conferences, there’s a good chance the Big 12 will only have one representative in BCS bowl games for the first time since 2006 and only the second time since the field of BCS teams was expanded to 10 teams.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be some interest in how the divisional races play out. Texas and Oklahoma State appear headed to an Oct. 31 showdown in Stillwater that will determine the Big 12 South champion. Oklahoma State still is grappling with the loss of top playmakers Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter. But veteran coordinator Bill Young appears to have the Cowboys playing their best defense of the season and they will be the biggest conference challenge left for the Longhorns to navigate.
Oklahoma and Texas Tech both appear ready to continue their bowl streaks. The injuries that have dogged the Sooners this season have made their 3-3 start a big disappointment for a team that had national title hopes before the season. Tech has confounded skeptics with a strong turnaround after an early two-game losing streak and appears to be ready to continue its recent surge despite a continuing switch of quarterbacks caused by injuries to Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield.
The Big 12 North appears more wide open than ever without a dominant team. Surprising Kansas State is in first place despite a wild season that has featured a one-point victory over Iowa State, a 52-point loss at Texas Tech and a 48-point victory over Texas A&M.
Kansas appears to have the best team on paper, but will be challenged by the toughest remaining schedule and a struggling defense. Nebraska has the best defense and the best player in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but coach Bo Pelini is openly considering a quarterback change to inject some life into his sputtering offense.
Colorado has the division’s most favorable schedule with home games against Missouri and Nebraska remaining. Iowa State has shown the most grittiness so far, but likely will be challenged to match up with the other North contenders with an undersized defense. And defending two-time championship game participant Missouri is off to a 0-2 start that will make it difficult -- if not impossible -- for the Tigers to claim another title-game appearance.
It should make for a wild race over the second half of the season. There won’t be as much national or BCS appeal as in recent seasons. But in its own way, the remaining part of the Big 12 race should be just as entertaining.