1. Kansas State: The Wildcats hold the top spot for one more week, but could see their position taken due to no fault of their own. The matchup between West Virginia and Texas will likely provide a new number one, but that is no knock on Kansas State. It is still sitting atop the Big 12 and boasts one of the most disciplined teams in the entire country while averaging only two penalties a game. Any game against the Wildcats will be a dog fight for four quarters, and they certainly won’t beat themselves. But in a league with so much explosion on offense, can Kansas State’s old school approach keep it in the title hunt? We’ll find out in late October.
2. West Virginia: Welcome to the Big 12, you should fit in just fine here. The Mountaineers showed themselves to be a good inclusion to the conference with a mind-boggling 70-63 win over Baylor in which the defenses were ordered to stay on the bus. West Virginia leads the nation in passing offense and has the current leader in the clubhouse for the Heisman Trophy, quarterback Geno Smith. But will its lack of defense cost it in the long run? One trick ponies have never won the national championship, and unless the Mountaineers can find a way to make some stops, they will run into some one they can’t out-score at some point.
3. Texas: Welcome back to relevance, Longhorn fans. For now, Texas is deserving of attention for the first time since 2009. This could change on Saturday if the Mountaineers steamroll their way to a win in Austin. But if Texas remembers that it is actually allowed to use its arms to tackle, then it could find itself back in the national title hunt sooner than expected. A close loss to West Virginia isn’t the end of the world, or the season, but a win gives Texas the kind of respect and benefit of the doubt it earned after the 2005 Rose Bowl win over Michigan. No pressure.
4. TCU: The jury is still out on TCU. The Horned Frogs used a six-turnover game from SMU to get out of the red in turnover margin. After a massive 56-point outburst to start the season, TCU has not been able to score four touchdowns in a game against what should be considered inferior competition. But, it does still have a goose egg in the loss column and that number is all that matters when the season ends. TCU needs to find its rhythm while it still has time in the easy part of its schedule; come November, there are no more walkthroughs.
5. Texas Tech: Another week down and the Red Raiders still lead the nation in total offense. It’s not the vaunted Crimson Tide defense led by the man who can do no wrong, it is the goofy bunch of outcasts in Raider Land that are shutting people down. It shouldn’t be surprising considering the background of head coach Tommy Tuberville and after a quick look at their schedule. But numbers don’t lie, and Texas Tech is putting the clamps on opposing offenses this season, holding teams to 167.5 yards a game, tops in the country.
6. Oklahoma: Are the Sooners really the sixth-best team in the Big 12? Probably not, but a loss is a loss. Oklahoma may have had its national title hopes dashed after the nightmare in Norman against Kansas State, but it is still very much alive in the Big 12. Bob Stoops has won the Big 12 seven times and he cannot be counted out prematurely. Oklahoma has its share of problems, though. It was only able to rush for 88 yards against Kansas State while turning the ball over three times. The Sooners get on the field again in Lubbock, where conventional wisdom gives way to manic craziness and the outcome is never a given.
7. Baylor: The Bears had a phenomenal game last week — on offense. The defense, meanwhile, had a game to forget. Baylor amassed 700 yards in total offense, 34 first downs, and 63 points. The only problem was that it gave up 807 yards and 70 points. If Baylor can figure out how to cover, block, tackle, and just play defense in general, then it could be a real force in the conference. But with things the way they are, Baylor has not shown that it can stop anyone, and will have to win in shootouts every time. The games will certainly be exciting, but with only one side of the ball able to perform, things could go downhill fast in Waco.
8. Oklahoma State: How much higher would the Cowboys be ranked if they were in another conference? Oklahoma State is a solid team, with big-play potential and an experienced defense. But it does have a pair of freshman quarterbacks trying to take over for a 27-year-old two year starter. With two first-round draft picks absent from the offense, there were going to be some growing pains, but the Cowboys are still a very dangerous team.
9. Iowa State: The Cyclones ran into the brick wall that the Texas Tech defense has become, but not all is lost. They were able to run for 116 yards with a third quarter lead, but four turnovers doomed them against the Texas Tech offense. Iowa State is a solid team, and is definitely heading in the right direction with coach Paul Rhoads at the helm, but it cannot afford to lose games at home. And with Kansas State, West Virginia, and Oklahoma on the home slate this season, it can ill afford to let a game get away like it did last Saturday. Iowa State will have to find a way to score some points, otherwise it will fall short of its 6-7 record from last season.
10. Kansas: The Jayhawks had the week off to prepare for their trip to Manhattan, Kan. against maybe the best team in the conference. The Jayhawks are near the bottom of the Big 12 in almost every statistical category except for punting. Charlie Weis was a big-name hire and has the capability to turn this program around, but the cupboard was simply too bare and Kansas doesn’t have the talent to compete in the Big 12 yet. On the positive side, the Jayhawks are efficient with the ball, are tied for the lead in turnover margin and aren’t beating themselves up with penalties. Unfortunately, other teams are doing that for them.