Big 12 storylines: Week 5

Let’s take a closer look at the stories that will shape Week 5 in the Big 12.

The top spot might be up for grabs: Baylor’s off this weekend, but considering what we’ve seen so far from West Virginia, a loss or narrow win on the road in Morgantown might open up the debate for the Big 12’s best team. That’s especially true if Oklahoma wins big at Notre Dame. That would be the best win for the Big 12 of 2013, and might just shoot the Sooners up to the No. 1 spot in the Big 12.

Encore! Encore!: Blake Bell had about the best debut you could ask for in his first start against Tulsa. He broke Sam Bradford’s school record for passing yards in a debut with 413 yards and added four touchdowns. It’s been two weeks since he’s taken the field, but he’ll do it in one of college football’s most storied venues at Notre Dame, against a much tougher defense. The BellDozer proved he could throw against a poor defense, but will he back it up against the Irish?  

It’s merely a flesh wound: Sam Richardson suffered an ankle injury against Northern Iowa and looked uncomfortable two weeks ago against Iowa. It sounds like it’s an injury that may hamper him for awhile, but how will ISU account for it? Will we see less QB run game? And will his accuracy suffer because he’s uncomfortable? The good news is it’s his right ankle, which isn’t his plant foot when he throws.

It can’t be that bad, can it?: West Virginia is better than we saw in Saturday’s 37-0 loss to Maryland. I think. Maybe. The talent level is there, especially on offense, but getting shut out was inexplicable, even in a rainstorm. Ford Childress will get another tough test in a solid Oklahoma State defense. He’s not as good as he looked against Georgia State, but he’s not as bad as he looked against Maryland. We’ll see exactly where in the middle he lands against the Cowboys in OSU’s Big 12 opener.

Prove yourself or lose yourself: TCU’s defense has been underwhelming through three games, but showed some progress in a loss to Texas Tech. The biggest question is Devonte Fields’ status. Gary Patterson has played coy with the seriousness of Fields’ foot injury, but indications aren’t good. TCU may be without two of its top three players for an extended period of time with Casey Pachall’s broken arm. CB Jason Verrett leads a talented, fast secondary that will be tested against SMU’s run and shoot offense. Can they get off blocks and tackle in space? That’s they key to slowing SMU’s offense on the edge.

Closing strong: The Big 12 wraps up its nonconference slate with three games this weekend. We’ve written about the league’s struggles a lot this week, but all three wins would be solid for the Big 12. Iowa State is a road underdog, and Oklahoma would have a chance to earn the league’s best win out of conference play. Both are lose-able games, but TCU has a chance to win a rivalry game that’s packed plenty of emotion in recent years, including a high-profile spat between Gary Patterson and June Jones. That’s behind both men now, but the Big 12’s nonconference record (19-8) can’t afford many more losses. Those eight losses are already more than the Big 12 had in 2011 and 2012 combined.