Here's what I learned on the penultimate week of football in the Big 12. Three more games this year, folks.
Texas is still Texas A&M's big brother. I doubt many would disagree that Texas A&M was the better team on the field on Thursday night. But as it has done 76 times in 118 games, Texas proved why it's the best program in the state. The Longhorns played gutsy and while the offense struggled, the Big 12's best defense kept Texas in the game, scoring a defensive touchdown and forcing four turnovers. The defense faltered and gave up a go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes left, but Texas earned bragging right for a long while with an amazing drive to deliver one final gut punch before Texas A&M left for the SEC. I struggle to come up with a more painful loss for a Big 12 team in a long while.
The Big 12's middle tier has shifted. So, Texas Tech went 18 years without a losing season and played in 11 consecutive bowls. Baylor went 16 years without playing in a bowl game. Now, Texas Tech will be sitting at home for the holidays and Baylor is going to it second consecutive bowl game and has a chance to win 10 games. The roles have been reversed between Texas' other two teams, and Art Briles has built something special at Baylor while the transition from Mike Leach to Tommy Tuberville, though marred by injuries, has been a struggle in Lubbock.
Oklahoma State won't get bailed out. The Cowboys did this themselves after suffering an inexplicable loss to Iowa State on Nov. 18. They watched Saturday's games with hope that Alabama could slip up against Auburn and give the Cowboys control of their fate, but it didn't happen. Alabama dominated on the road in a rivalry game, stating its final case for BCS title game inclusion before Saturday's SEC title game. ESPN's "College GameDay" is headed to Atlanta instead of Stillwater, and even if LSU loses, I'd argue that LSU-Alabama should still be the national title game, even if Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma by 40.
Baylor can thrive without Robert Griffin III. What a scary moment for the Bears. Texas Tech is always dangerous, and trailed 31-28 at halftime. Baylor knew it wouldn't have Heisman contender RG3. Nick Florence made big throws for a pair of long touchdowns and Terrance Ganaway carried the Bears' offense late in the game to keep the ball out of Tech's hands. The defense forced four second-half turnovers and returned an interception 90 yards for a score. That had to be great to see. In 2009, Baylor was 2-7 without Griffin. Clearly, progress has been made, even if we only saw a small sample size. Baylor owned that second half and a lot of different people helped.
Oklahoma's offense will not thrive without Ryan Broyles. Iowa State's defense has made big strides in recent weeks, but 26 points at home against the Cyclones, which included just three second-half points? Receivers dropped passes, including one that turned from an easy catch into an interception, and Landry Jones went a second consecutive week without a touchdown pass for the first time in his career. Without Blake Bell's ability to punch in touchdowns in short-yardage situations, where would this offense be over the past two weeks? Bell has six touchdowns in two weeks and nine in his last four.