Let’s take a look at the players, trends and themes that will tell the story of Week 12 in the Big 12.
No Gray area here: Texas is without its best offensive player, Johnathan Gray, for the rest of the season. Gray underwent surgery on Wednesday morning for a torn Achilles tendon, and now turns the backfield over to Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, who are both power backs that don’t really provide the big-play threat that Gray did. Daje Johnson may get some time in the backfield, too, but he doesn’t have the power of Brown or Bergeron. Gray had the best balance of maybe any back in the conference. Texas needs its running game to produce against a great Oklahoma State defense. Can the Longhorns show some offensive consistency?
Stars gone down: Gray’s injury was by far the most serious, but three of the Big 12’s best players are in doubt for Saturday’s games. Baylor running backs Lache Seastrunk (groin), Glasco Martin (sprained knee) and Oklahoma State receiver Josh Stewart (ankle) all had scares in games last week, but tests revealed minor injuries. Neither Seastrunk nor Martin has practiced yet, but coach Art Briles described both as probable. Will we see all three back this week? And if so, how effective will they be? It’s something to keep an eye on.
Just how good are these guys: Kansas State has been dominant in its last three games, all blowouts against West Virginia, Iowa State and, most impressively, Texas Tech in Lubbock last week. There’s no reason K-State shouldn’t roll over TCU this week, even though the Frogs are playing for their postseason lives. Defensive end Ryan Mueller has been making a late run at the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Will he feast on TCU’s struggling offense?
Life is easier at home: As if the extra two days didn’t make the last week long enough, the gnashing of teeth in Norman over the Sooners’ offense has further lengthened OU’s layoff from last Thursday’s 41-12 loss to Baylor to this week’s home game against Iowa State. No. 3 QB Kendal Thompson’s dad called local radio to make a case for his son to play and Stoops fielded plenty of questions this week about the future of the quarterback position. Here’s guessing playing at home and against Iowa State quiets those questions a bit next week.
Just how good are these guys, Part II: On the opposite side of Kansas State, we have Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have lost three consecutive games and fallen out of the top 25 and the top half of the Big 12 in my power rankings. Tech rallied from double-digit deficits against Kansas and West Virginia, but couldn’t do it against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or Kansas State. Is this a slide? Or were the Red Raiders an average team who floated into the top 10 on the back of a weak schedule? Hanging close against Baylor, even in a loss, would give the Red Raiders a little more legitimacy heading into what could be a title chase in 2014.
Big 12 bowl bids dwindling: The Big 12 sent nine teams to bowl games last year, but two Big 12 teams are already mathematically eliminated. West Virginia needs to win out against Iowa State and Kansas to stay alive, and TCU’s road is uphill with six losses already and Kansas State and Baylor left on the schedule. The Big 12 has seven bowl tie-ins, but can West Virginia keep winning to fill it? Could TCU be a late-season Cinderella after faltering early? It’s something to keep an eye on.
Shock, the sequel: Baylor running back Shock Linwood came off the bench as Baylor’s No. 3 back to log 182 yards against Oklahoma. You can read more about him and that night here. That was the most for a Baylor back in 12 games dating back to Lache Seastrunk’s 185 yards vs. Kansas State in the first game of the Bears’ current winning streak. Martin and Seastrunk may return this week, but they’re sure to be limited. What’s Linwood got in store this week?
Late-season shakeup in Lawrence: Kansas listed Montell Cozart as a co-starter alongside Jake Heaps on this week’s depth chart. We heard all offseason about how Heaps was different than Dayne Crist, but here we are in November, and the hyped transfer is being shoved aside for a freshman. Cozart has played a bit in recent weeks, but could this mean his role is about to increase? His legs have given KU a nice added weapon in recent weeks for an offense that ranks last in the Big 12 in passer rating.
Not where they want to be: Texas Tech hasn’t had as much trouble moving the ball through the air, despite playing two true freshmen: Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield. Mayfield’s knee injury against Kansas earlier this year handed the reins over to Webb, but Webb was benched in last week’s loss to Kansas State for Mayfield, who completed 34-of-44 passes for 276 yards in his first real action since that Kansas game. He threw two interceptions but rushed for a touchdown and Kliff Kingsbury said he hadn’t decided who would start at AT&T Stadium this week against Baylor. This looks like a 50/50 deal, but I’d bet on Mayfield.