College football season has reached its midway point, and the only two undefeated teams left in the Big 12 are Baylor and Texas Tech.
If you saw that coming, take a bow.
The season has been filled with surprises. Texas looked like a lost cause in its first three games, only to rebound with three straight victories at the start of conference play. Kansas State, last year’s league champion, might not make a bowl game. And Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have been wildly up and down. But the biggest surprise might be the two teams that still (theoretically) have a shot at a BCS championship.
Baylor was considered a sleeper team coming into the season. Everyone knew the No. 12 Bears had an explosive offense, but few could have guessed they would score at the rate they have. Even so, legitimate questions existed on defense. Yet, they have won four home games with ease and are coming off their first road win at K-State. A difficult schedule remains, but Baylor gets Oklahoma and Texas at home. It’s not inconceivable to think it could run the table.
Texas Tech was expected to finish near the bottom of the conference standings. Kliff Kingsbury was a popular hire, but he didn’t have any experience as a head coach. After a disappointing end to the 2012 season, a bowl game seemed like a nice goal. Don’t look now, but the No. 16 Red Raiders are already bowl eligible.
The Big 12 hasn’t played a championship game since it dropped to 10 teams, but Baylor vs. Texas Tech on Nov. 16 in Arlington, Texas, could have conference-title implications. Who could have guessed that neutral-site game might be a must-see?
Of course, the Big 12 is filled with parity. So it’s hard to predict how things will play out. But teams are already grouping into contenders and pretenders.
Baylor, Texas Tech and Texas have to be considered the favorites. All three are undefeated in conference play and have won on the road. The Longhorns’ own the best win — routing Oklahoma on Saturday — but the Bears have the most favorable remaining schedule.
Next you will find Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Both teams have suffered an unexpected loss, but could easily climb up the standings with a few improvements.
After that are teams hoping to become bowl eligible: TCU, West Virginia and K-State. Iowa State and Kansas are realistically nothing more than spoilers at this point.
They are all chasing Baylor and Texas Tech.
Make way for the Kingsbury
The first question Kingsbury was asked on the Big 12 coaches’ teleconference on Monday illustrated how successful he has been as Texas Tech’s coach.
Is he more surprised about a 3-0 start in conference play or being eligible for a bowl after six games?
Perhaps a better question would have been, how does he feel about becoming the first Big 12 coach to start his career with six straight victories?
Some questioned Texas Tech’s logic in hiring a young coordinator from Texas A&M with no prior head coaching experience, but the decision has worked out beautifully.
“There is a tremendous amount of excitement surrounding the program,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who is close with Kingsbury and used to be an assistant at Texas Tech. “It’s not surprising that he was able to get things going so quickly. He knows everything about the history of that program and what it takes to be successful there.”
Some of Texas Tech’s success can attributed to a favorable schedule, but the Red Raiders have also dealt with injuries and opened the season using a walk-on freshman at quarterback. They have simply overcome those difficulties. During their latest win over Texas Tech, it turned to the running game and rushed for 251 yards. In other games, it used its defense to set up its offense with strong field position.
This isn’t just a pass-happy team anymore. Texas Tech can win in different ways. The improvement stems from Kingsbury, who isn’t celebrating the success.
“We just attack each week as a separate bowl game,” Kingsbury said. “We haven’t paid much attention outside of that. We have West Virginia next. We try to get better every day and every week.”
Following an unexpected victory over Oklahoma on Saturday, Texas coach Mack Brown said the Longhorns’ were now Case McCoy’s team.
The quarterback, best known as Colt’s younger brother, started the season backing up David Ash, but he has come on to lead Texas to two straight wins while Ash has been out with a head injury.
If Ash is cleared to return, Brown said he would need to evaluate the quarterback situation, but McCoy might retain the job as long as Texas keeps winning. He threw for 190 yards and completed two nice touchdown passes against Oklahoma. He is improving.
“He’s cemented his own legacy now,” Brown said. “He’s not just Colt’s little brother. He is a guy who won some big games for us.”
After the rivalry
It might not mean much to Oklahoma fans today, but there is a silver lining to Saturday’s loss to Texas. Bob Stoops is 14-0 coming off a loss to the Longhorns, with an average margin of victory of 27 points.
The Sooners should bounce back in their next game against Kansas.
Ranking this week’s games
Big 12 power rankings