- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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After a Red River upset, the power rankings have a new top two:
1. Baylor (5-0, 2-0 Big 12, last week 2): Kansas State coach Bill Snyder had the right game plan to slow Baylor. Run the ball, chew up clock, bottle up Lache Seastrunk, take away the quick passing attack and hope you can somehow survive Baylor’s vertical speed downfield. But that’s what makes the Bears so prolific. Take away the short stuff, and Bryce Petty will beat you deep with Tevin Reese & Co. Back off, and Baylor will tear you apart with quick passes and a heavy dose of Seastrunk with a side of Glasco Martin. K-State proved the Bears could be slowed. But can they be stopped?
2. Texas Tech (6-0, 3-0 Big 12, last week 3): In 2012, West Virginia was 5-0 when it traveled the 1,500 miles to Lubbock, Texas, where its season began to go the wrong direction. Can the Red Raiders avoid a similar fate against a likewise backloaded schedule? There’s reason to believe Tech is better equipped to do so than last year's Mountaineers. At the moment, the Red Raiders’ balanced offense claims four of the top eight receivers in the Big 12, while the defense has been tremendous at getting off the field on third down. The next two games, on the road at West Virginia and Oklahoma, will determine whether Tech is a contender or pretender. If the Tech quarterbacks keep spreading the ball around and the defense continues to buck up in key situations, it very well might be the former.
3. Texas (4-2, 3-0 Big 12, last week 5): The 1989 Longhorns and 1996 Sooners also pulled off big upsets in the Red River Rivalry. Both teams, however, went just 2-4 the rest of the season. The biggest question for Texas coming off its most impressive victory in four years is whether it can keep it going. At 3-0 in the Big 12 standings, the Longhorns have plenty to play for. If Texas keeps running its offense through running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown and its veteran offensive line, and defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed keep wreaking havoc, it’s not unthinkable that Texas could be playing for the Big 12 title in Waco, Texas, on Dec. 7.
4. Oklahoma (5-1, 2-1 Big 12, last week 1): Quarterback Blake Bell was completely off in his first Red River start, but he didn’t get a lot of help from Josh Heupel, either. The offensive coordinator kept Oklahoma’s designed quarterback running plays that had been so effective on the shelf even though Texas had been vulnerable all year to stopping the quarterback run game. While Texas finally elected to ride Gray in the running game, the Sooners are the ones that now seem confused about who to ride. Is it Brennan Clay? Damien Williams? True freshman Keith Ford? The good news is that Bob Stoops is 14-0 the game after Texas, with an average winning margin of 27 points; OU visits Kansas on Saturday, too. But if the Sooners don’t figure out who they are offensively soon, they could be staring down yet another second-half swoon.
5. Oklahoma State (4-1, 1-1 Big 12, last week 4): An interesting question to think about: Had he not transferred to Illinois, would Wes Lunt be Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback this weekend against TCU? My hunch is he would. Spotty downfield passing is restricting the potential of this Cowboys offense, which still has the playmakers at receiver to form the the basis of a prolific attack. Problem is, J.W. Walsh can’t consistently get them the ball. And now the best pass defense in the conference comes to town. If the Cowboys sputter again, they’ll have to give serious thought to giving Clint Chelf another shot to open up an offense that has looked shockingly mediocre against Big 12 competition.
6. TCU (3-3, 1-2 Big 12, last week 6): Announced attendance of Saturday’s home game against Kansas was almost 42,000. But based on photos taken of the stands, it looked like there was less than half that. As one of the preseason favorites, the Horned Frogs carried plenty of hype into the season. But after three early-season losses, apparently the excitement surrounding the program for this season has completely evaporated. It might be too soon, however, to give up on TCU. Nobody has played a tougher schedule thus far. And few teams have been bit harder by the injury bug. If the Frogs can pull off the upset in Stillwater, Okla., they could fight their way back into the Big 12 race, especially if quarterback Casey Pachall can return to the field from a broken forearm before month’s end.
7. West Virginia (3-3, 1-2 Big 12, last week 7): The West Virginia defense has had a week to recover from the TKO it suffered in Waco. No matter who Dana Holgorsen goes with at quarterback this week, the Mountaineers’ best chance of getting bowl eligible is with solid defense. But is this a solid defense? It’s hard to tell. The Mountaineers have had two good defensive performances (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State) and two bad ones (Maryland, Baylor). What West Virginia does against Texas Tech this weekend will be revealing about where this defense really is.
8. Kansas State (2-4, 0-3 Big 12, last week 8): The Wildcats have been in every game, and yet don’t have much to show from it. This still could be a bowl team, however. Getting starting receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson back from injury after the open week would be a boost. But the real key will be limiting turnovers. The Wildcats are last in the Big 12 in turnover margin, a year after they led the conference in the category. If quarterback Daniel Sams can take better care of the ball, K-State is good enough and well coached enough to get to six wins despite the tough start.
9. Iowa State (1-4, 0-2 Big 12, last week 9): With a bounce here or there, the Cyclones could easily be 2-0 in the conference. This young team is making plays, but it still has to figure out how to win games in the fourth quarter. Now, the Cyclones find themselves in a tough spot this week. They face a Baylor offense looking to prove it’s better than it showed over the weekend. The Bears also haven’t forgotten about losing in Ames, Iowa, last year. If Iowa State is still in the game at halftime, that will be a victory in and of itself.
10. Kansas (2-3, 0-2 Big 12, last week 10): You have to give it up to the Jayhawks for showing some fight at TCU. The early start, the paltry crowd, the loss of running back Tony Pierson -- there were many reasons for Kansas to mail it in. Instead, the Jayhawks took TCU to the brink and had the ball three different times in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie the game. The Jayhawks might not win a Big 12 game this season, but if they keep scrapping and clawing like they did Saturday, they'll have more chances.
2hMax Olson and Matt Fortuna