Sooners secure Big 12-favorite status

With his hair askew, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen addressed reporters with a relieved look on his face early Saturday evening. Meanwhile, in South Bend, Ind., Oklahoma had just taken a 14-0 lead over Notre Dame.

The Big 12 landscape was in motion.

Holgorsen’s Mountaineers upset Big 12 favorite Oklahoma State 31-20 on Saturday, knocking the Cowboys behind Texas in the Big 12 standings. OU answered a lot of questions in its 35-21 win over Notre Dame while Baylor and Texas Tech watched from afar, forced to wait until they could have their say in stadiums across the Big 12 in the Saturdays to come.

With OSU’s loss, the Sooners elevated themselves to conference-favorite status on Saturday, securing the most impressive win by a Big 12 team to date. OU quarterback Blake Bell continued to answer all questions about his ability with a veteran performance in the first road start of his career. Bell passed for 232 yards, rushed for 59 yards and didn’t make any big mistakes as the Sooners improved to 4-0 with TCU visiting Oklahoma Memorial Stadium next Saturday. The OU defense also made its case to be called the class of the Big 12, holding Notre Dame to 324 yards and forcing three interceptions, which the Sooners turned into 21 points.

Yet it was the Mountaineers who delivered the biggest surprise of the day in Morgantown. After arguably the worst performance of the Holgorsen era a week ago against Maryland, very few people gave WVU a chance against Oklahoma State despite its home-field advantage. A bevy of depth-chart changes and a new starting quarterback sparked the Mountaineers to the upset win. Former Florida State quarterback Clint Trickett delivered one of the gutsiest performances of the day in his first start at WVU, playing through an injured shoulder to lead his squad to a victory. He finished 24-of-50 passing for 209 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

Subpar numbers, superb result.

“You can look at stats, but bottom line, our team bought in to getting out there and playing ball,” Holgorsen said. “Clint did a great job of keeping the play alive and we had a sense that he could do that from watching him at Florida State. He’s what we thought he was, he’s tough, he’s smart, he doesn’t get rattled. He just gets out there and plays ball.”

Now, as the sun set on Week 5, OU’s Nov. 7 visit to Waco, Texas, looms larger than ever with OSU’s loss to the Mountaineers. Baylor hosts the Sooners in a Thursday night tilt that could decide the Big 12 champion. The Bears, who host WVU next weekend, join OU as the league’s most impressive teams as October approaches and face the easier path --WVU, at Kansas State, Iowa State, at Kansas-- to remaining undefeated after Halloween.

The Sooners, meanwhile, host TCU, battle Texas in the Red River Rivalry, visit Kansas and host Texas Tech before traveling to Waco. It’s not an easy stretch, but it’s not nearly as difficult as it appeared to be prior to the first kickoff of 2013.

What about Texas Tech, you ask? The Red Raiders face three of four games on the road in October, finishing at OU on Oct. 26. Not the ideal scenario with true freshmen at the quarterback position. That uncertainty under center is what separates Baylor from Texas Tech. Kilff Kingbury’s squad could be in the Big 12 title race, but their legitimacy will determined in the next four weeks, and they’ll have to prove they’re being overlooked.

All is not lost for the Big 12 preseason favorite, however, as the Cowboys could still find themselves back in the race by going undefeated for the rest of their Big 12 schedule. Only West Virginia, with one Big 12 loss to OU, could hold the tiebreaker over OSU in that scenario, so this could just be a dent in the Cowboys’ résumé -- their story is written in pencil.

OSU, OU, BU and TTU entered the day as the favorites in the conference. But, make no mistake, a lot happened during a light schedule in the Big 12 on Saturday. A clear Big 12 title favorite emerged in OU, and OSU’s weaknesses were exposed at WVU, while BU and TTU remain hungry to prove themselves as legitimate contenders after their bye weeks.

October should be fun; get your candy corn ready.