- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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And then there were four in the conference race:
1. Baylor (7-0, 4-0 Big 12, last week: 1): The Bears have been complaining about a lack of national respect. Thursday night against Oklahoma, they have their chance to gain that respect. It should be noted, though, that Baylor has never played in a game with major conference and national title implications on the line -- and the whole country watching. The Sooners have played in dozens of these games. Are the Bears ready to shine in the spotlight? We’re about to find out.
2. Oklahoma State (7-1, 4-1 Big 12, last week: 5): Look who’s back in the thick of the Big 12 title conversation. On Saturday, the Cowboys delivered the most impressive Big 12 win of any team this season, dominating Texas Tech before a record crowd in Lubbock. Behind linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, the OSU defense continues to perform at a high level, as they limited Tech to just three touchdowns in 17 possessions. The OSU offense is now beginning to click, too, with QB Clint Chelf making the big plays he did down the stretch like last season and backs Desmond Roland and Rennie Childs reviving the running game. The Cowboys are the only contender that get Baylor at home, and they have dominated the Bears in Stillwater. OSU still has to go to Austin on Nov. 16. But the Cowboys just proved they can win big games on the road.
3. Texas (6-2, 5-0 Big 12, last week: 2): It wasn’t a work of art, but Texas took care of business against Kansas. Next up is a sneaky-tough road game in Morgantown. West Virginia has been a much tougher team at home. The Mountaineers knocked off Oklahoma State and led Texas Tech by double digits in the second half before succumbing in the fourth quarter. West Virginia will also be playing with plenty of momentum after its overtime win at TCU. A showdown with Oklahoma State in Austin looms the following weekend. But Texas needs to escape Morgantown first.
4. Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1 Big 12, last week: 3): After struggling in conference play, Blake Bell seemed to turn a corner with a determined performance in last week’s win over the Red Raiders. To have any chance of scoring with Baylor, the Sooners are going to need a similar effort from their quarterback. The running game should be able to pile up yards. And the OU secondary will give Baylor’s speedy receivers their biggest challenge yet. But to pull off the upset as double-digit underdogs in Waco, Bell will have to make the same kind of throws downfield he delivered against Tech.
5. Texas Tech (7-2, 4-2 Big 12, last week: 4): Considering the Red Raiders were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 in the preseason, this has already been a banner first season for coach Kliff Kingsbury. But the past two weeks, Tech’s flaws have been exposed. The defense hasn’t been able to stop the run without overloading the box. True freshman QB Davis Webb is making true freshman mistakes. And the depth doesn’t seem to be there for Tech to be sound covering punts and kicks. This is still a good team. But as it turned out, just not yet good enough to contend for the conference title.
6. Kansas State (4-4, 2-3 Big 12, last week: 6): Since the return of receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, the Wildcats have featured an efficiently balanced offensive attack. K-State threw for 221 yards and ran for 227 while picking apart Iowa State’s defense. The K-State run defense has been excellent the past month, too. This is not a team anyone will want to face this last month of the season.
7. West Virginia (4-5, 2-4 Big 12, last week: 7): What a win for Dana Holgorsen’s bunch. The Mountaineers seemed to be dead in the water after falling behind 17-3 in Fort Worth. But behind running back Charles Sims and an eight-minute stretch where the Mountaineers forced TCU into three turnovers in five plays, West Virginia emerged with a crucial overtime victory. Had the Mountaineers lost, more questions would have surfaced about Holgorsen’s status in Morgantown. Instead, West Virginia is in great shape to make a bowl game, which would be a solid season for a team that had to replace Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
8. TCU (3-6, 1-5 Big 12, last week: 8): When does basketball season start? Wait, nevermind.
9. Iowa State (1-7, 0-5 Big 12, last week: 9): The Cyclones have not posed much of a threat offensively when running back Aaron Wimberly has not been in the lineup. If they can get him back from a hamstring injury, they could still pick up a couple of Big 12 wins down the stretch, which would give this program some momentum heading into next season.
10. Kansas (2-6, 0-5 Big 12, last week: 10): The Jayhawks have not rolled over in Big 12 play, which has to be an encouraging sign for coach Charlie Weis. It would be huge for the program for that effort to manifest tangibly in the form of an actual win. If Kansas keeps playing hard, it just might get it.
4dJake Trotter, Brandon Chatmon and Max Olson