Here are the most unexpected things that happened in the Big 12 during the first half of the season.
Uncertainty at quarterback has turned into star power
Only TCU entered the season with proven star power at the quarterback position with Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin at the helm. But Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech hit midseason with quarterbacks who have rebirthed the Big 12’s reputation as a quarterback conference. Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback nobody talks about, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield is a highlight reel waiting to happen, Seth Russell has been exceptional for Baylor and Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph has won eight straight starts dating back to last season including wins at Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia. All five quarterbacks rank among the top 20 in FBS passing yardage and top 25 in yards per pass attempt.
Baylor's Corey Coleman or TCU’s Josh Doctson. Which big-play receiver is the best? It seems like the unanswerable question as the Big 12 is the home to arguably the top two receivers in college football. Coleman’s 16 touchdowns lead FBS and his 877 receiving yards (on 41 receptions) puts him ninth nationally. Doctson has been just as dominant with an FBS-best 60 receptions for 1,067 yards. And his 12 touchdown receptions are second only to Coleman. It’s not a good time to be a defensive back in the Big 12.
Texas Tech’s rise
Iowa State and Kansas were the only teams Kliff Kingsbury’s squad was looking down upon when the Big 12 preseason poll was released. The Red Raiders have played much better than the preseason No. 8 team in the conference, pushing TCU to the brink and knocking off Arkansas on the road. At 5-2, Tech has already surpassed last year’s four-win total and looks like a scary proposition for everyone remaining on their schedule. Mahomes has been the key, transforming the offense (and entire team) with his ability to make big plays and maturity beyond his years. Another key has been Tech’s turnaround in turnovers with a plus-6 margin through seven games after a minus-13 in 2013 and minus-14 in 2014 during Kingsbury’s first two seasons. It looks like Kingsbury has gotten things back on the right track.
Texas’ roller coaster ride
Chaos became the Longhorns' calling card during the first half of the season. Coaching duties shifting, quarterback changes, listless performances followed by the best outing of the season. Charlie Strong’s team went through it all. A win over Oklahoma and a strong outing against California brought hope, but blowout losses to Notre Dame and TCU by a combined score of 88-10 felt like a nightmare. It will be very interesting to see where Strong’s team goes from here and if it can make a bowl game. The good news is the Longhorns appear to have found their quarterback of the future in Jerrod Heard. He’s brought the “juice” to Texas’ offense after years of the position being a weak link on the entire roster. The redshirt freshman still has plenty to prove, but there are strong signs the quarterback position is in good hands with Heard.
The injury bug hitting hard
Karl Joseph. Dante Barnett. James McFarland. The star-studded names on the injury list are pretty staggering. Kansas State has been devastated by injuries including Barnett and starting quarterback Jesse Ertz. Undefeated TCU has overcome a laundry list of missing starters on defense with Ranthony Texada, Kenny Iloka and McFarland topping the list. West Virginia lost the heart and soul of its defense in Joseph. Injuries are a part of football but they have impacted the Big 12 (and national) landscape in a significant way during the first half of the year.