Baylor (7-2, 4-1) at Oklahoma State (7-1, 3-1), Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
Welcome to the Big 12 Game of the Week. Seriously. Baylor and Oklahoma State, in November, for self-control of the South Division. Welcome to the Big 12’s brave new world, where Texas and Texas Tech occupy the cellar and Baylor talks titles, despite never even as much as qualifying for a bowl bid as a conference member.
The Cowboys are surprise contenders, too, after losing one of the strongest senior classes in school history and being pegged in the preseason for also-ran status in the South.
Yet here sit Baylor and Oklahoma State, poised for a breakthrough, squaring off in what figures to be an entertaining shootout in Stillwater. The Cowboys and Bears rank, respectively, No. 3 and 10 nationally in passing offense; No. 2 and 8 in total offense; and No. 3 and 23 in scoring offense.
Robert Griffin III’s dual-threat skills are a major concern for OSU, which struggled mightily containing Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez. As always, Griffin will be the key to Baylor’s chances in Stillwater, where the Bears haven’t won since 1939. Of course, this is shaping up as an historic year for Baylor.
After a one-game suspension over a DUI complaint, Justin Blackmon returns for the Cowboys. The nation’s leader in yards per game, he mixes with quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Kendall Hunter to form an explosive trio.
Last one to 40 loses?
Colorado (3-5, 0-4) at Kansas (2-6, 0-4), Saturday, 1 p.m.
The Big 12 South features showdowns. This Big 12 North matchup gets to the lowdown — who’s the worst team in the conference? These are the last of the league’s winless.
The Jayhawks have been spiraling downward since midseason a year ago. And a coaching change to Turner Gill has provided no magic, yet. KU is losing league games by an average of 36.8 points and enters the weekend unsure of who will start at quarterback: Quinn Mecham, Jordan Webb or Kale Pick. All have started and struggled.
Colorado carries similar quarterback concerns into Lawrence, trying to rally — again — behind Cody Hawkins, who is filling in for the injured Tyler Hansen. Meanwhile, Dan Hawkins remains on one of the hottest coaching seats in the country.
At least the Buffs have been in games, losing tight fits to Baylor and Texas Tech. And there remains flickering hope of a bowl bid, with winnable games remaining, beginning with KU.
Nebraska (7-1, 3-1) at Iowa State (5-4, 3-2), Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
After posting back-to-back statement wins over Oklahoma State and Missouri, the Huskers find themselves in a dangerous spot on the road at suddenly surging Iowa State.
Trap game? Not likely. Not after the Cyclones pulled a major upset in Lincoln a year ago, claiming one of the greatest conquests in school history. Surely that game and this game will be in clear focus for the Huskers, who got good news mid-week when quarterback Taylor Martinez returned to practice and was deemed good to go Saturday.
Martinez missed the second half of the Missouri win with a sprained ankle, leaving running back Roy Helu Jr. to handle the starring role, which he did, going for a school-record 307 rushing yards.
The Huskers face an Iowa State team trying to sneak into the North Division race. The Cyclones shook off lopsided losses to Utah and Oklahoma to beat Texas and Kansas. And with games against the Huskers and Mizzou to play, ISU controls its own destiny in the division. The Cyclones plan to commit two defenders to Martinez, who presents a run-pass challenge they haven’t faced. Offensively, the Cyclones will try to exploit a Nebraska defense that ranks just 75th nationally against the run.
Oklahoma (7-1, 3-1) at Texas A&M (5-3, 2-2), Saturday, 6 p.m.
Ryan Tannehill has breathed new life into the Aggies — and this matchup. With the former wideout taking over for inconsistent Jerrod Johnson at quarterback, A&M has won back-to-back games for the first time since mid-September.
Tannehill’s passing and running sparked 45-point outbursts in wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. And in just a game and a half, he’s completed 48-of-66 passes for 604 yards and seven touchdowns.
While the Aggies still lag in the Big 12 South, there’s a definite buzz about the program with the Sooners heading for Kyle Field.
And the road hasn’t been easily navigated for the Sooners, who are just 19–14 away from home since 2006. This season, they’ve struggled at Cincinnati and in the Cotton Bowl against Texas and lost at Missouri, ending their unbeaten season and, in all likelihood, their BCS title hopes.
OU quarterback Landry Jones carries his own rocky road resume. A touchdown-throwing machine at home, Jones often scuffles on enemy ground. In the loss to Mizzou, he was 0-for-7 passing in the fourth quarter.
Texas (4-4, 2-3) at Kansas State (5-3, 2-3), Saturday, 7 p.m.
Texas heads out onto the road, which may just bring a big “phew” from the Longhorns. The Horns have stumbled, from playing for the BCS championship in January, to losing three straight home games in a season that has gone sideways. And the heat is on back home.
Consider this unthinkable scenario for a program that has been winning 10 games a season with regularity: A bowl bid is not at all certain. Beating K-State may be mandatory.
And the Wildcats are scrapping for bowl eligibility themselves.
Both squads enter on two-game losing streaks and struggling on offense. The Longhorns alarmingly lack playmakers for a team that annually rules the recruiting rankings. So there’s a lack of direction, too.
K-State, at least, knows to hitch up to standout running back Daniel Thomas, who ranks second in the Big 12 and eighth nationally in rushing, averaging 124.5 yards a game.
Missouri (7-1, 3-1) at Texas Tech (4-4, 2-4), Saturday, 7 p.m.
Mizzou’s loss at Nebraska delivered major disappointment for a program on the verge of a national breakthrough. How will the Tigers respond? Mizzou must maintain focus, with the North far from settled and promising bowl possibilities still in play. Sure, the Tigers need help to overtake the Huskers in the North. But it’s already been a crazy year in the Big 12, so there’s no need to ditch goals and dreams now.
And for quarterback Blaine Gabbert and a defense that still ranks among the nation’s elite, this game may be key.
Lubbock traditionally has been a difficult place to play, but the Red Raiders have already lost twice at home. They’ve been awful on defense and far from Mike Leach-like offensively.