Kansas State is one win away from clinching a share of the Big 12 championship and a BCS bid, but the Wildcats have greater aspirations. The Wildcats are no longer the underdog in the Big 12 or nationally, rising to No. 1 in the BCS this week. They’ll try to remain in the title game picture with a dangerous (on offense) Baylor team in Waco this week.
That’s not the only game in the Big 12 this week, but all eyes will be on Kansas State even as Oklahoma tries to state its BCS case, West Virginia tries to reverse course and Oklahoma State tries to keep its offense going despite quarterback questions.
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Big 12’s Top Storylines to Watch in Week 12:
How does Kansas State handle being No. 1?
So much of Kansas State’s identity is tied to its role of underdog. The Wildcats started last season unranked and finished 10-3. That didn’t help them in 2012, starting 22nd in the Associated Press poll and 27th in the preseason Athlon rankings. Many of their recruits have been overlooked by teams like Texas and Oklahoma, and a handful of others have had to go the junior college route. So, here’s Kansas State as the BCS No. 1 for the final two games of the season, starting this week at Baylor. With a national title game in sight, Kansas State’s response to the pressure of being the hunted will be intriguing, especially this week against Baylor’s potent offense. Kansas State has played top offenses before, but that included a West Virginia team that was beginning to fade and an Oklahoma State team that lost its quarterback partway through the Wildcats’ 44-30 win. Despite its 4-5 record, Baylor’s offense hasn’t let up all season, topping 424 yards in every game this year.
Which offensive player will star for Oklahoma against West Virginia?
Players from each of the last four teams who faced West Virginia earned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors the week after they faced the Mountaineers. If that trend continues when the Sooners visit Morgantown, who will be the player to earn such honors. Of course, one candidate is Landry Jones, who has topped 250 passing yards in all but one game this season. Coach Bob Stoops expects center Gabe Ikard back, so that could open up the run game. The Sooners are two weeks removed from Brennan Clay rushing for 167 yards against Iowa State, and he’s not even the primary running back. Of Oklahoma players with at least 20 carries, all but Blake Bell average better than six yards per carry. Bell, a short-yardage specialist, still managed to run for a 55-yard touchdown last week against Baylor. But facing West Virginia also may bode well for receiver Kenny Stills -- two of the four Big 12 Offensive Players of the Week against West Virginia were wideouts.
How does Mike Gundy sort through his quarterback situation?
The Cowboys are 6-3 and fourth in the nation in total offense despite starting three quarterbacks this season. Not many teams could say the same, but now Mike Gundy has a dilemma. Clint Chelf, the third of those QBs, was 22 of 31 for 292 yards with four touchdowns and an interception in a 55-34 win over West Virginia last week. Freshman Wes Lunt, who opened the season as the starter, returns healthy. Gundy said this week Chelf has made fewer mistakes than Lunt or J.W. Walsh, who was believed to have a season-ending knee injury but practiced this week. Chelf may be the best quarterback right now, but Lunt’s long-term potential was the choice back in spring.
How worried should Texas Tech be about its run defense?
Texas Tech allowed 390 rushing yards last week to Kansas, dropping the Red Raiders’ rush defense from 125.9 yards per game to 152.3 in a single week. At first glance, that number may be skewed. After all, the 41-34 Texas Tech win went to double overtime. But Kansas still averaged 6.8 yards per carry in a game in which the Jayhawks attempted only 15 passes (completing six). In other words, Texas Tech knew Kansas would lean heavily on the run and still managed to get gashed in the run game. It’s a concern but also the only time Texas Tech allowed an opponent to top six yards per carry all year. Even with a quarterback quandary, Oklahoma State will strive for balance, but Joseph Randle is one of the Big 12’s best runners.
Will West Virginia find answers before the season is over?
The Mountaineers had nine dropped passes two weeks ago. Energy and effort has been inconsistent last week, players said. And then there have been turnovers (six in the last three weeks). Not only has West Virginia lost four in a row, the Mountaineers have been sloppy during the losing streak. In the last two weeks, the offense has bounced back to a degree, scoring 72 points in the last two games after scoring 28 total against Texas Tech and Kansas State. With Oklahoma this week and Iowa State and Kansas to finish up, West Virginia is running out of opportunities to make a statement before the postseason.
Can Iowa State turn its defense in time for a winning season?
Without linebacker Jake Knott, Iowa State allowed 593 yards to Oklahoma and 609 yards to Texas the last two weeks. At least the Cyclones have been balanced in their defensive ineffectiveness during that span. Iowa State’s last two opponents -- Kansas and West Virginia -- are struggling, too, but both teams can at least move the ball at times in one phase of the game. Kansas averages 213 rush yards per game, West Virginia averages 348 yards per game passing. Iowa State (5-5) will need to find answers fast if it’s going to finish the season with a winning record.
Week 12 Big 12 Predictions:
Week 12 Big 12 Games
Texas Tech at Oklahoma St.
Oklahoma St. 35-21
Oklahoma St. 31-21
Oklahoma St. 38-34
Oklahoma St. 34-30
Oklahoma at West Virginia
Iowa State at Kansas
Iowa State 27-24
Iowa State 27-24
Kansas State at Baylor
by David Fox
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