- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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The conference race is beginning to heat up:
1. Baylor (7-0, 4-0 Big 12, last week 1): Baylor dominated the first portion of the schedule. Now, comes the defining part. The Bears’ next three opponents (Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State) are all ranked. The season finale against Texas could be a load, too. Baylor remains the favorite to win the league. But are the Bears truly national title contenders? We’re about to find out.
2. Texas (5-2, 4-0 Big 12, last week 3): After Bryce Petty, who is the one QB in the Big 12 you’d want quarterbacking your team. Davis Webb? Daniel Sams? Maybe. But you could make a serious argument for Case McCoy. The career backup has been terrific since taking over for David Ash, leading the Longhorns to a 4-0 Big 12 record, including wins over Oklahoma and TCU. In those two games, McCoy totaled Adjusted QBRs was 83.9 and 95.4. The Longhorns are a contender again in the Big 12. And McCoy is a major reason why.
3. Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1 Big 12, last week 5): Few teams in college football have had to deal with more injury adversity than the Sooners. After losing its best defensive lineman (Jordan Phillips) and best linebacker (Corey Nelson), OU lost its most valuable offensive player Saturday night when fullback Trey Millard suffered a season-ending knee injury. That’s a huge blow to the Sooners’ power running game, which is really the biggest strength of this team. OU’s best chance of knocking off Baylor a week from Thursday is by running at them. That won’t be easy without Millard leading the way.
4. Texas Tech (7-1, 4-1 Big 12, last week 2): The Red Raiders might have suffered their first defeat in Norman. But what recruit watching that game wouldn’t want to go play for Kliff Kingsbury? The Red Raiders seemingly always play to win, and as a result, are one fun team to watch. The silver lining in this game is that Texas Tech never lost its poise, even after a questionable offensive pass interference call and three turnovers all in OU territory. That poise, which is a reflection of the head coach, will serve the Red Raiders well the rest of the season.
5. Oklahoma State (6-1, 3-1 Big 12, last week 4): At some point, you are who you are. And the Cowboys are not a very good team at quarterback. After completing 4-of-5 passes to begin the game at Iowa State, Clint Chelf went just 6-of-21 the rest of the way. At least OSU found its running back in Desmond Roland, who piled up 219 yards and four touchdowns on 26 carries after getting the start over Jeremy Smith and Rennie Childs. Even if Roland keeps running that way, it’s difficult seeing the Cowboys as Big 12 contenders without a competent passing attack.
6. Kansas State (3-4, 1-3 Big 12, last week 7): Finally at full strength, K-State blasted West Virginia 35-12 to secure its first Big 12 win of the season. The Wildcats are better than their record indicates. And with Daniel Sams’ confidence throwing the ball growing with each game, K-State will be a dangerous team down the stretch -- and a good bet to become bowl eligible.
7. West Virginia (3-5, 1-4 Big 12, last week 6): Nobody in the Big 12 has played a tougher schedule than the Mountaineers, who have already faced five of the top six teams in the league. But has the rugged start left West Virginia too demoralized to recover and still make a bowl?
8. TCU (3-5, 1-4 Big 12, last week 8): The Texas game revealed a lot about where the Horned Frogs are. And where are they? Pretty much in shambles. Casey Pachall’s return to QB did little to alleviate the overwhelming problems offensively. Now, the players’ preseason pick to win the Big 12 is unlikely to even become bowl eligible. The college football season can’t end fast enough in Fort Worth.
9. Iowa State (1-6, 0-4 Big 12, last week 9): We wondered whether Iowa State would fight back against Oklahoma State after a demoralizing loss to Baylor last week. Even after a horrible start Saturday, the Cyclones did. After falling behind 28-7, Iowa State clawed its way back into the game before halftime. That showed character. This season has not gone Iowa State’s way. But the Cyclones showed over the weekend they’re not going to give up, either.
10. Kansas (2-5, 0-4 Big 12, last week 10): The Jayhawks have actually been fast starters. They led Tech, 10-0. Led OU, 13-0. And were tied with TCU, 10-10. They gave Baylor problems early in their game over the weekend. I don’t know what this means. I’m just trying to find something positive to say.