Big 12 living up to its predicted unpredictability

The only thing anyone consistently predicted about the Big 12 before the season began was it would be unpredictable. Six teams earned first-place votes in the preseason poll. It lacked a top 10 team in the AP poll for the first time ever, but the league had four teams ranked in the top 20. The Big 12 has lived up to the “hype” so far.

West Virginia was shut out for the first time since 2001. The following week, it beat Big 12 favorite Oklahoma State as a three-touchdown underdog.

Texas has enjoyed its own up-and-down season, getting blown out by BYU and Ole Miss before bouncing back for a controversial win at Iowa State and a blowout win over Oklahoma as a two-touchdown underdog. That ended Oklahoma’s three-game winning streak in the rivalry.

The only undefeated teams left in the conference (Baylor, Texas Tech) were picked to finish fifth and seventh, and the Big 12 still hasn’t had a team crack the top 10 in the Associated Press poll.

West Virginia’s started all three of its quarterbacks who battled for the job before the season, and Kansas State is only figuring out just now that Daniel Sams should be the guy ahead of Jake Waters, who won the job for Week 1.

Oklahoma made its own QB switch after an injury to Trevor Knight, but has been held to 20 points or lower in its first three conference games for the first time since 1961, according to the Tulsa World.

Add a pair of FCS losses in Week 1 (neither by Kansas), and you get seven weeks of football filled with things we never saw coming and haven’t seen in quite some time.

Once again, the only thing we know about the final half of 2013 is we have no idea how it’ll shake out.  

Let’s look back on the best of the first half of the season.

Best offensive player: Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor. Petty was my pick to be the Big 12’s top quarterback this season, despite entering the year without a start. He’s lived up to the hype. He’s been aided by one of the Big 12’s best offensive lines in front of him and one of the best 1-2 punches at running back in Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin. Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese have been running free beyond safeties all season long, but Petty’s been tossing perfect balls their way all year for 1,690 yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception. He’s the nation’s leader in passer rating by almost 20 points, well ahead of Florida State’s Jameis Winston. Honorable mention: Seastrunk; Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

Best defensive player: Jason Verrett CB, TCU.
NFL types were well aware of Verrett before the season, and he was my pick as the preseason defensive player of the year. He earned the definition of a shutdown corner last year, and his crown jewel so far this season came against Texas Tech. Red Raiders receiver Eric Ward has 34 receptions to rank second in the Big 12. He had zero against TCU. Honorable mention: Kerry Hyder, DL, Texas Tech; Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas

Best freshman: Baker Mayfield, QB, Texas Tech. He’s the best story in the league, too. Mayfield burst onto the scene with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in his first two starts. Oh yeah, and he’s a walk-on true freshman who didn’t even get to campus until July. He’s been benched, injured and slowed down a bit since then, but he’s still thrown for 1,488 yards (only Petty has more) and completed almost 66 percent of his passes.

Best newcomer: Charles Sims, RB, WVU. Sims has been as good as advertised since transferring from Houston after spring practice. His 480 yards have him fourth in the Big 12, and he’s added four scores while averaging 4.95 yards a carry. He’s also caught 19 passes for 179 yards.

Best coach: Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech. Kingsbury is the first Texas Tech coach to ever win his first six games, and has the Red Raiders right in the thick of the Big 12 title race, despite his team being picked seventh in the league. The King is back and winning with style. He’s rewarded the excitement that followed his arrival in December.

Best game: Iowa State vs. Texas. Only four Big 12 games out of 13 so far have been decided by one possession, so it’s a bit of slim picking so far. The Thursday-nighter in Ames featured five lead changes and a halftime hail mary. Texas’ game-winning drive in the final minute was marred by a controversial ruling of a non-fumble, and Case McCoy took advantage, plunging in the end zone with 51 seconds left to give the Longhorns a much-needed win.

Craziest game: Texas Tech vs. TCU. There was a rally fox. There were controversial calls that turned the game. There was one of the most boneheaded plays you’ll ever see, backed by a professional response on the sidelines and then on the field. That Thursday night class, which Texas Tech won 20-10 in a crazy home atmosphere at Jones AT&T Stadium, won’t be forgotten any time soon.

Best win: Texas vs. Oklahoma. The Longhorns were left for dead after a 1-2 start, and didn’t impress anybody with close wins over Kansas State and Iowa State, two teams who are a combined 3-8. Knocking off the undefeated Sooners in Dallas is a whole different ballgame. Texas looks like a whole different team when it commits to the run, too. Nobody in the Big 12 has beaten a better team than Texas has after Saturday.

Best play: Dreamius Smith, RB, West Virginia. I’ll just let Mr. Smith do the talking for me.

Worst loss: West Virginia vs. Maryland.
Like we mentioned before, West Virginia hadn’t been shutout since 2001, and Dana Holgorsen had never been shutout since joining an FBS coaching staff. It all fell apart in the 37-0 loss in the rain in Baltimore. Holgorsen said the offense was as “inept as we could possibly be” when it was all over.

Best quote: Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads. Rhoads disagreed with the replay booth on the controversial fumble call at the end of the Cyclones’ loss to Texas, and let the world know it in his opening statement. “To make a play on the 1-yard line, with their backs against the wall — clear to everybody — and have it taken away from them … that’s hard to express. You don’t just put an arm around a guy and tell him it’s OK when that happens to him.” He earned a reprimand from the Big 12 for his comments, but he also earned a lot of respect from the Iowa State fan base and players, as well as internet stardom.

Costliest injury: Tony Pierson, WR/RB, Kansas. 
Even after playing a game without Pierson, he’s got 100 more yards than any other Kansas player, and had mostly been used in the passing game. He’s Kansas’ biggest home run threat and showed that on the 39-yard shifty catch-and-run before he suffered a head injury. There’s no word on when he’ll be back, but it’s hard to see KU snapping its Big 12 losing streak until he does. Honorable mention: Corey Nelson, LB, Oklahoma.