Sooners, Kansas State get down to business

The Big 12's first big conference game takes place Saturday in Norman.

Let the sorting out of the Big 12 begin.

After three weeks of mostly mismatches, the Big 12 finally puts an enticing entrée on this week's plate with No. 15 Kansas State playing at No. 6 Oklahoma.

So far, the Big 12 has looked exactly like what it was predicted to be: A strong league, especially in terms of depth.

As a whole, the Big 12 has just three losses so far – two of them by Kansas.

Of course, there haven't been a lot of notable games. The eyebrow-raisers at this point have been when one of the Big 12's top contenders has struggled against lesser opponents.

Kansas State and Oklahoma have both fallen into that category. Oklahoma opened the season by struggling to put away UTEP. But any visitor to El Paso can tell you that's not an easy place to win, especially a night game when the locals are fired up for a "name" opponent.

Kansas State's struggle came last week. The Wildcats had an easier time disposing of Miami, 52-13, in week two than they did North Texas, 35-21.

Again, there are mitigating circumstances. North Texas doesn't have the overall talent and depth of a Big 12 program, but the Mean Green are no pushovers. A 41-14 loss at LSU was much closer than many expected.

And North Texas' coach, Dan McCarney, was the head coach at Iowa State for 12 seasons. He probably knows the tendencies of a Bill Snyder-coached team almost as well as The Master himself.

But all of that is in the rearview mirror now. Oklahoma and Kansas State are about to get down to the business of deciding just who is the best team in the Big 12.

Others will have a say in it, especially West Virginia, Texas and perhaps TCU and Baylor. But it's also possible the two best teams in the Big 12 will be meeting in Norman on Saturday night.

The Sooners entered the season as the favorites in the Big 12, but that's been tempered a bit by an assortment of things, including injuries and the impressive start by West Virginia.

Oklahoma has had two weeks to prepare for the game. Last season, when Kansas State made enough noise to earn an AT&T Cotton Bowl berth, the Sooners humbled the Wildcats, 58-17.

Kansas State's 2011 season was hailed a return to prominence for the program, but the Wildcats still don't have a lot of five-star recruits and Parade All-Americans strolling around Manhattan. Sometimes that depth differential shows up in blowouts like the one to Oklahoma, the 29-16 loss to Arkansas in the bowl game and shootout losses to Oklahoma State (52-45).

But Snyder knows how to get the most out of what he has. Kansas State was 8-1 last season in games decided by a touchdown or less. If the game is close, The Master knows which buttons to push.

The problem for Kansas State is that nobody good ever plays Oklahoma close in Norman. Under Bob Stoops, a former Snyder assistant, only one ranked team has ever come within single digits of the Sooners in their home.

The only Top 25 team to come close to beating OU and Stoops in Norman was, coincidentally, Kansas State in a 38-37 decision in 2001.

Of course, Oklahoma's home record against Top 25 teams is a bit skewed because the Sooners face Texas every year in Dallas. Still, it's impressive that just about every ranked team that's come to Norman in the Stoops era has left with its tailed tucked between its legs.

Will that happen to Kansas State? It's doubtful another 58-17 debacle will take place. Kansas State should be a more evolved program than the one that got whipped by the Sooners last year, exemplified by the improvement of gritty quarterback and Heisman dark horse Collin Klein.

The only thing for sure is that when final gun sounds Saturday night in Norman, we'll have a much better idea of how the powers in the Big 12 stack up. And it can't come soon enough.

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire

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