Big 12 Football Preview - Week Seven - Potential Separation Saturday for Top Four League Teams

We look at several different ramifications stemming from the big offensive numbers recorded by the Big 12 conference so far this year, and take another shot at each of Saturday's league games.

THE NOTES

Offensive explosions in the Big 12 aren't always leading to blowouts. Of the 12 conference games played thus far, half have been decided by seven points or fewer. Five of the games were decided in the final 1:10 of the contest, including Oklahoma's State's overtime win over West Virginia. Four involved a late comeback by the winning team.

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Barring a big upset, this week's games won't have a big effect on the race for the Big 12 title, but they could set up a clear gap between the top four teams and the bottom six. Baylor and TCU could extend their leads over that half-dozen to two and 2.5 games, respectively, while Oklahoma could break out of its current fourth place tie with a win and an Iowa State loss. Conference standings don't mean a great deal other than first place, as schools get slotted into other bowls by a selection process TV networks, but cosmetically it does help to have your school name above the fold in the league ledgers.

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TCU appears to be getting a bit of reverse karma after suffering an agonizing late loss to Baylor last year – a game in which it was firmly in control in the fourth quarter. The Horned Frogs have rallied late for wins against Texas Tech and Kansas State this year – but is all of their good fortune in that regard used up by now? You have to give credit to TCU for not panicking and competing for the entire game, but play with this fire once too often and a burn will probably ensue.

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No Big 12 school is holding opponents under 100 yards per game on the ground. That's reflective of a trend nationally, where only 13 teams are holding their foes under triple digits in rushing yards per game. While spread offenses have certainly revolutionized the college game through the air, it has also had a significant effect on rushing totals as well. More big plays in the running game, helped by bigger gaps as teams widen their defenses to combat the spread, have contributed to the increase, but are there other reasons in play?

One thought is that the best players, more than ever, are going to offense. Running backs and receivers get just as much notoriety as QBs in high school and college, and the attraction of those positions over safety or cornerback is a strong one. There are quality defenders in the Big 12, and in college as a whole, but there just aren't enough that can run and cover the whole field while also jamming up the run game. The advantage offenses hold won't ever lessen until the defenses get more of the players who can compete in space, and defend both the run and the pass equally well.

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Will the Big 12's offensive reputation, and perceived lack of defense, hurt it when it comes time to select the four teams for the College Football Playoff? If one team runs the table in the league, it will probably get in based on the big zero in the loss column. But if the Big 12 champion has to compete with a number of other one-loss teams for a spot, the question will come up. Will the committee hold the idea that the league doesn't play D, and give the spot to a team that has more traditional scores in its game?

This isn't to suggest that there's a bias against the Big 12, or high scoring games, on the CFP committee. But it also would be naïve to think that the backgrounds of the selectors don't come into play either. And let's face it, there's a lot of age and traditionalists on the committee – people that grew up thinking 24-20 was a perfectly good college football score.

THE PICKS

West Virginia (3-2 / 0-2) travels to Baylor (5-0 / 2-0) to take on the Bears' point-a-minute offense. WVU's defense might be able to slow BU's attack somewhat, but the Mountaineers' offensive inconsistency doesn't bode well for hopes of matching up with Baylor's scoring pace. WVU rattled Bryce Petty a year ago, and Baylor hasn't played a defense anywhere nearly as good as WVU's yet, but the Mountaineers will likely still have to score in the upper 40s to get a win, and it's tough to see that right now. The Bears remain unbeaten in their new home.

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Texas Tech (4-2 / 1-2) visits Kansas (0-5 / 0-2). The only drama will be whether or not the Red Raiders can match the 66 points Baylor scored on the Jayhawks a week ago. The bet here is yes, as head coach Kliff Kingsbury tries to build momentum for a Tech run through the remaining Big 12 schedule.

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What to think of Oklahoma (4-1 / 1-1)? The Sooners will all set to cruise through what their fans viewed as a cushy mid-year schedule until they gagged up a hairball against Texas. Traveling to Manhattan to face Kansas State (3-2 / 0-2) is no easy task, and it's tempting to pick the Wildcats, especially with their solid run defense. But the thought here is that OU bounces back, albeit leaving more questions in its wake as to just how good it truly is.

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TCU (6-0 / 3-0) visits Iowa State (2-3 / 1-1) having scored at least 50 points in its last five games. Iowa State is a bit improved from a year ago, but as it showed last week in yielding 66 to Texas Tech, it isn't going to be able to win shootouts. The Horned Frogs move to 7-0 and regain sole possession of first place in the Big 12.

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Texas  (2-4 / 1-2) and Oklahoma State (6-0 / 3-0) are off this week.


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