- Max Olson, Big 12 reporter
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A huge showdown in Norman, a statement game in Fort Worth and a must-win game (for both teams) in Manhattan are just a few of the many things we’ll be keeping an eye on Saturday. Here’s what to watch in the Big 12 for Week 9:
1. Time to earn that top-10 ranking, Red Raiders. Texas Tech debuted at No. 10 in the initial BCS standings thanks to the not-so-fine work of five top-10 teams who lost last week. This week, the nation finds out just how good these Red Raiders really are. Oklahoma has been in an unmistakably odd funk the past two weeks but is still the No. 15 team in the country. A win by any margin in Norman would be huge.
2. So … who’s Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback? Hate to be intellectually lazy and go for the low-hanging fruit, but this battle is ultimately a pretty big deal in the context of the Big 12 title race. Clint Chelf finally got the second chance he’d been waiting for and helped Oklahoma State finish off TCU last week. Does Mike Gundy go with the fairly logical choice of starting Chelf against Iowa State and working in J.W. Walsh as a run-pass option? Does Walsh win his job back in practice this week? Or, more important, will OSU even have an answer to its QB question after Saturday?
3. Sooners looking to plug the leaks. Since losing Corey Nelson and Jordan Phillips for the season, Oklahoma has given up a combined 440 rushing yards the past two weeks. This is still, statistically, the No. 1 pass defense in the country, but you know Kliff Kingsbury will draw up a plan to try to exploit OU’s deficiencies up the middle early on. And he did operate the No. 1 rushing offense in the SEC last season, so it’s not as if he’s afraid to lean on his rushing attack if necessary. The Sooners have to find some answers this weekend.
4. Does TCU keep its up-down streak one more week? Through seven games, the Horned Frogs have followed every loss with a win … and every win with a loss. So, following the loss in Stillwater last Saturday, doesn’t this week call for a victory over Texas? The timing might be just right. The Longhorns, after all, are coming to Fort Worth bursting with confidence following their Oklahoma victory and would be in trouble if they underestimate TCU.
5. Rebuilding West Virginia’s confidence. West Virginia defensive coordinator Keith Patterson had one of the best, most honest quotes of the Big 12 season this week when he said this about WVU’s 73-42 loss to Baylor: "The deal at Baylor was unlike anything I've ever been associated with in my life. It was just catastrophic in a lot of ways to our psyche." Then Texas Tech escaped Morgantown with a 37-27 win. The big question is if the Mountaineers defense will respond this week against Kansas State.
6. Is the Texas defense becoming legit? Texas’ defense made such drastic improvements against Oklahoma, in so many areas, that you have to wonder how much was the Longhorns’ doing and how much was OU ineptitude. Greg Robinson got another two weeks to work with the defense since that win, and a repeat performance -- even against a struggling TCU outfit -- would send a message that Texas is in fact on the right track.
7. What does Sams do for an encore? Remember, anyone and everyone still has a shot at winning the silver medal at quarterback in the Big 12. In his most significant action of the season, quarterback Daniel Sams rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries and gave Baylor a serious test two weeks ago. That wasn’t enough to end K-State’s losing streak, but a similar performance against West Virginia might be more than enough for a 'W.'
8. Can Iowa State get its magic back? So it’s not exactly on par with Iowa State’s revered "Hilton Magic" home-court advantage in basketball, but the Cyclones have pulled off a few upsets at Jack Trice Stadium. You might remember the big one from 2011, when ISU stunned No. 2 Oklahoma State in two overtimes on Nov. 18. Think Paul Rhoads is going to use a little tape from that game as motivation this week? His teams are good for one big upset every year, and the Pokes already have suffered that road loss at West Virginia.
9. Can Kansas find a weakness in the Baylor D? Kansas running back James Sims is coming off probably his best game this season, a 129-yard, two-touchdown performance against a typically difficult Oklahoma defense. He played a big role in KU’s early 13-0 lead in that game. Can he make a dent against Baylor’s defense? We’ll also be keeping an eye on true freshman quarterback Montell Cozart, who could be called upon as a rushing weapon in this game and just might catch the Bears by surprise.
10. Will Baylor surpass 70 again? Maybe the better question is, will Baylor cover? The Bears are 34.5-point favorites entering their trip to Kansas. This game is basically the Big 12’s version of Broncos versus Jaguars, except for one thing: The Bears have played on the road only once this season and were held to 35 points by Kansas State. A win over KU probably won’t impress many, but road play is one of the only question marks facing Baylor at this point.
A huge showdown in Norman, a statement game in Fort Worth and a must-win game (for both teams) in Manhattan are just a few of the many things we’ll be keeping an eye on Saturday.