Before the season, Oklahoma and Baylor were considered to be the clear Big 12 co-favorites.
TCU joined them two weeks ago when it upset the Sooners.
But this key weekend, in which the league’s top six teams all face one another, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia could hop into the Big 12 title conversation, as well. Who knows, with a win, the Wildcats and Cowboys could even sneak into the playoff discussion, too.
Coming off an open week, K-State goes to Oklahoma with a chance to knock off the Sooners for the second straight time in Norman.
West Virginia gets Baylor at home with a third chance to topple a top-five team.
And after coasting under the radar with five straight wins, Oklahoma State will return to the national spotlight when it travels to TCU for the first time since 1992.
This will be the weekend that narrows the contenders and weeds out the pretenders in the Big 12 race.
Call it separation Saturday in the Big 12.
And the teams that best handle their emotions after a wild weekend in the league could be the ones that survive it.
It was an emotion-filled game day in the Big 12, as all four conference games went down to the final minutes. Oklahoma State needed a late Tyreek "The Freak" Hill kickoff return touchdown to overcome Kansas, 27-20. The Sooners held off a furious late Texas rally to escape the Red River Showdown.
West Virginia scored 17 points in the final 6 minutes in Lubbock to stun Texas Tech with another Josh Lambert game-winning field goal. And Baylor, well, there are no words to describe its 61-58 comeback victory over TCU.
The most compelling storyline of the week figures to be whether the Horned Frogs can get off the mat after such a deflating loss. TCU had a chance to take total command of the Big 12 race, and control its own destiny for playoff inclusion. Instead, the Horned Frogs collapsed in the fourth quarter in every way possible, from the offense to the defense to the coaches on the sideline. Still, even in defeat, TCU proved it has a formidable squad. Though they’ll now need help the Horned Frogs still can win the Big 12. And they’re not out of the playoff picture just yet. But can they bounce back emotionally in time for the Cowboys?
Oklahoma State has the playmakers to be a load for any opponent in the Big 12, including TCU. But the Cowboys have issues going into the heart of their schedule. The offensive line, which has always been a strength in Stillwater, has been a train wreck this year. The Cowboys have given up a Big 12-worst 16 sacks. The running game has been a disaster, too. Oklahoma State is averaging just 3.77 yards per carry, the school’s worst average since Mike Gundy took over in 2005. Still, Gundy’s young defense has been far better than anyone expected, and Hill leads a horde of prolific offensive weapons. In the opener against Florida State, Oklahoma State proved it could toe-to-toe with the best in the country. If quarterback Daxx Garman can display more consistency, the Cowboys have the potential to beat the staggered Horned Frogs.
On the flip side, Baylor and West Virginia will be riding a wave of momentum after their improbable comebacks. The Mountaineers played Oklahoma tough and Alabama even tougher. Yet even as improved as West Virginia is, this will be its final chance to factor into the Big 12 race. Morgantown, however, will be rocking, even for the noon ET kickoff. And the Mountaineers have the firepower to score with Baylor, which, as TCU showed, can be scored upon.
After two lackluster weeks offensively, the Sooners, meanwhile, will try to get quarterback Trevor Knight and Co. back on track in a difficult matchup. Earlier this year, K-State’s disciplined and sure-tackling defense shut down Auburn, which has a similar scheme to Oklahoma’s. Bill Snyder has also had an extra week to prepare for the Sooners, who will be coming down from the thrill of playing their biggest rival. Despite the loss to TCU, the Sooners are still hovering on the cusp of the playoff discussion. But K-State could supplant them with a win.
Oklahoma State could do the same to TCU. And West Virginia could help itself -- and the rest of the league -- by upsetting Baylor, the Big 12’s only undefeated team.
Halfway into the season, six teams still hold Big 12 title hopes. Some of those hopes will be dashed on a separation Saturday, when the league's true contenders will be revealed.