Baylor, Texas Tech lead topsy-turvy Big 12
It has been tougher than ever to figure out the Big 12 this year.
Texas Tech (7-0, 4-0 Big 12), which was picked to finish seventh in the league's preseason poll, is now ranked 10th in the country and alone in first place.
The bottom half of the Big 12 might be just as surprising.
Just one year after landing nine bowl bids, half of the league is below .500 overall. That includes defending league champion Kansas State and TCU, which was picked to finish third behind Oklahoma State and Oklahoma before play began.
First-year Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury is happy to be on the right end of a topsy-turvy season in the Big 12.
''We were basically picked 10th in our conference to start the year, so if we would have believed that, we wouldn't be where we're at right now,'' Kingsbury said.
Texas Tech has surged to the top of the league with strong, balanced play on both sides of the ball.
It's not surprising that the Red Raiders are scoring points in bunches, given their history. But Texas Tech's defense, which is allowing just 18.7 points per game, is perhaps the biggest reason for that undefeated record.
''Texas Tech is a good defensive football team. A lot of guys coming back. Well coached, they were in position. They played hard,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen after the Red Raiders held his team scoreless in the fourth quarter and hung on for a 37-27 win Saturday.
Still, the Red Raiders have only beaten one team that's currently over .500 and that's Texas State of the Sun Belt.
The Red Raiders will get a chance to silence their doubters on Saturday at No. 17 Oklahoma (6-1, 3-1), which Kingsbury acknowledged will be his team's toughest test to date.
''Going on the road in that type of environment against that type of opponent, it's going to be a huge challenge for our guys,'' Kingsbury said.
Baylor has made quite a splash nationally with an offense that's threatening to become the most prolific in the history of the Big 12 - or any league, for that matter. But like the Red Raiders, the Bears have been surprisingly strong on defense.
Baylor is seventh in the country with just 16.2 points allowed per game following Saturday's 71-7 thrashing of Iowa State (1-5, 0-3). Baylor is also fourth nationally with 3.5 sacks per game, and Kansas coach Charlie Weis believes that has been set up by the team's explosive offense.
''The fact that their offense has scored so many points, it lets those pass rushing defensive ends turn it loose. They have speed and athleticism and depth at the defensive end position,'' said Weis, whose Jayhawks (2-4, 0-3) host Baylor this weekend. ''It all comes from the fact that the offense is getting on top of people so much that those rushers can turn it loose and I think that's what makes them tick.''
Baylor, which finished just 4-5 in the Big 12 last season, is a 35 1/2-point favorite against Kansas. Bears coach Art Briles doesn't expect his team to overlook the struggling Jayhawks.
''We did take some body shots over the last couple of years, and even some face shots. You know, it's not like we're a clean, well-dressed football team. We've been weathered a little bit, so that part of it establishes humility and hunger,'' Briles said.
Though the Jayhawks kept it close against the Sooners last weekend, their 34-19 defeat was their third straight by double digits.
Kansas, Kansas State, TCU, West Virginia and Iowa State each have at least four losses and are in danger of missing out on bowl eligibility. TCU (3-4, 1-3) hosts Texas on Saturday with a chance to climb back to .500 ahead of a three-game stretch against fellow second-division opponents.
Kansas State (2-4, 0-3) had an extra week off after giving Baylor a scare in a 35-25 loss. The Wildcats have a two-game homestand coming up against West Virginia and Iowa State, which would seem like the perfect opportunity for them to get back to .500 and start pushing for a bowl bid.
''I would like to think that we've given a significant amount of time trying to correct the mistakes that we've made,'' Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said.
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