Bob Lutz

Big 12 football way back in the power-five pack

Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma team lost two nonconference games yet is the highest-ranked Big 12 team, a sign of the conference’s struggles this season.
Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma team lost two nonconference games yet is the highest-ranked Big 12 team, a sign of the conference’s struggles this season. Associated Press

There’s a lot of spin going on in the world these days and the Big 12 is not immune.

On the heels of losing Baylor and West Virginia from the ranks of the unbeaten and the roll call of the nation’s Top 10 last week, the Big 12 is likely out of the college football playoff picture and hanging on for relevancy.

Those in the conference will tell you the 2016 season is defined by parity. I’m not sure that applies nationally, but it’s for sure the case in the Big 12, where no teams have set themselves apart from the pack.

Oklahoma has won five straight and is 5-0 in the Big 12 with Oklahoma State (4-1), Baylor (3-1) and West Virginia (3-1) in pursuit. But the Sooners have allowed 33, 45, 46, 40 and 59 points in games this season and that lack of defense doesn’t scream championship material.

Still, OU is the Big 12’s highest-ranked team this week, at No. 12. Baylor and West Virginia follow at 13 and 14. This is the first time in history no Big 12 teams have been ranked inside the Top 10 going into November. And only twice since 1993 have no Big 12 or Big Eight teams been ranked in the final Associated Press poll.

It could happen again this season, especially since the conference is without a powerhouse.

The biggest news the Big 12 has created this fall was its decision to forgo expansion after announcing during the summer that it was likely going to add two schools to get to 12. You know, as in “Big 12.”

Texas is the supposed straw that stirs the drink in the Big 12, yet the Longhorns — despite their win over previously-unbeaten Baylor last weekend — can’t figure out how to return to national relevance.

Oklahoma lost games to Houston and Ohio State during its non-conference slate and neither of those defeats is as easy to explain as they were just a couple of weeks ago.

Oklahoma State was beaten at home by a good Central Michigan team (5-4). But since when is even a “good Central Michigan team” able to go on the road and beat an upper-tier Big 12 club?

We knew West Virginia was living on borrowed time and, sure enough, the Mountaineers laid a giant dinosaur egg in Stillwater.

This conference just doesn’t have much.

There are no Heisman Trophy candidates in the Big 12. I perused a 2017 mock NFL draft and found no Big 12 players expected to be taken in the first round.

Mel Kiper’s list of the 25 best draft-eligible players includes no one from the Big 12.

And Kiper’s list of top 10 draft-eligible players at each position, updated a month ago, is surprisingly void of Big 12 talent, though there are three on the quarterback list: Texas Tech’s Patric Mahomes (6), Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph (9) and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield (10).

And seven more at other positions. That’s it. Ten.

The SEC has 45 players on Kiper’s list. The Big Ten is next with 31, followed by the ACC (25) and Pac-12 (19).

If it’s an interesting conference race with several teams still in the running that you’re after, the Big 12 is the conference for you. But if there is parity at the top of the Big 12, what’s that lurking at the bottom?

TCU has lost three of four after beating Kansas 24-23. And nobody barely beats Kansas. The Horned Frogs (4-4) are the Big 12’s most disappointing team, having started the season ranked No. 13, but have struggled defensively and been inconsistent offensively.

At Texas, Charlie Strong is hanging on for dear life. The Longhorns probably aren’t quite bad enough to get him fired, especially after knocking off Baylor. But they’re definitely not good enough to build confidence in the fan base.

Texas Tech can score with the best of them. And let’s leave it at that because that’s where the Red Raiders have been leaving it for a few seasons now.

Iowa State has been in some games under first-year coach Matt Campbell, but not able to get over the hump. Three of the Cyclones’ five Big 12 losses were by three points to Baylor, five points to Kansas State and seven points to Oklahoma State. Keep working, ISU.

Then there’s Kansas, where second-year coach David Beaty has retained his unbridled enthusiasm and confidence despite watching the Jayhawks play every week. If you listen to Beaty’s weekly radio show, you’d swear the only problem facing Beaty is trying to decide which All-American to line up at offensive tackle this week.

The truth, though, is that Kansas has lost seven straight since an opening win over Rhode Island and that the Jayhawks have been outscored 149-30 the past three weeks by Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

The Big 12 is fighting for a positive identity. Because for now, at least, the conference is known for its blunders, on and off the football field.

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