Monday, September 24, 2012
Big 12 title favorite? No such thing anymore
By David Ubben
Forty members of the media voted in the Big 12 preseason poll. Of those 40, 32 cast a vote for Oklahoma as the Big 12's best team.
I was one of them, but if the other 31 were anything like me, they mostly cast it as a default vote. Oklahoma's the best team on paper. The Sooners had been there before. They're probably the best team, but anyone who saw the way the Sooners finished 2011 knew it would surprise no one if 2012 ended with a new name atop the Big 12 standings.
Well, here we are, exactly two games into Big 12 conference play and Oklahoma's slummin' it in the Big 12 basement along with Kansas.
Enough about the bottom, though.
The top of the league standings? For now, it's TCU and Kansas State, but what will the standings look like at the end of November? That's anyone's guess.
Oklahoma showed its flaws in rather spectacular fashion on Saturday night, losing the turnover battle 3-0 and tripping over the first hurdle of a brutal Big 12 schedule.
With the Sooners looking like anything but a Big 12 favorite, who assumes that role now? No one.
Bill Snyder's Wildcats are the new presumptive favorite in the Big 12 race, but they have questions like every other team in the conference.
These next few months? Prepare for some crazy fun in the most wide-open Big 12 race in recent history.
That Texas-Oklahoma duopoly? Oklahoma State ended it a year ago, and with the Sooners down and the Longhorns still trying to prove themselves, nobody's afraid of the boys in the Red River Rivalry anymore, at least not this year.
Seven Big 12 teams were ranked in at least one poll this week. Nine Big 12 teams received votes in every poll.
For now, anything could happen. The Big 12 title trophy is anyone's for the taking. Oklahoma's loss only made that truth more evident.
Kansas State assumes the role of favorite, but the Wildcats won the turnover battle 3-0 and still went down to the wire with OU. What happens if K-State finally does make a big mistake or two? Or what happens if the run-heavy offense falls behind 14-0 in the first half and that offensive patience is seriously tested? Kansas State proved they had the best résumé in the Big 12, but the Wildcats are anything but untouchable.
West Virginia? The Mountaineers have a big offense, but big questions on its defense. And with so many unfamiliar opponents in a tougher league than the Big East, WVU is equal parts flashy and vulnerable.
What about Texas? The Longhorns have been a non-factor in the race since running away with it in 2009, and the biggest reason is the quarterback spot. David Ash has been promising through three games, but competition will get much tougher in the Big 12 and he's still just a sophomore. Can his decision-making be good every week? Can Texas' offense continue to produce?
Oklahoma's not out of it yet. It's one loss, and the Sooners still have as much talent as anyone. Bob Stoops will have a bye week to figure out what's wrong before traveling to Lubbock, where the Sooners have had major struggles in recent years, including a blowout loss in 2009 the last time they trekked to West Texas. Still, this is an experienced team and a proud program. The Sooners will likely still have a say in who carries away the trophy at year's end.
TCU? Or at least what's left of the newcomers? TCU's defense has been solid, but the Frogs are still not familiar with the rigors of a major conference schedule and are a shell of the team they were at the end of the 2011 season. How many Big 12 title teams have won it while playing 15 true freshmen?
Oklahoma State is the defending champ, but the Cowboys have already logged a loss to an average team in Arizona. Now, their true freshman quarterback is hurt and nobody knows what to expect out of the Cowboys at the position in the weeks to come. Quarterback questions and youth? Not exactly the formula for Big 12 championships.
And Baylor? The team that trailed at halftime to an FCS team and has never really even seriously flirted with a Big 12 title, even with the nation's best player a year ago? Even with that history, the Bears might have the Big 12's best offense by season's end.
This thing is anyone's game, and wins won't be easy to come by for anyone.
Unless you're a fan, that is. Every week will be a win in this wild, wild race.