For the first time all season, every Big 12 team will be in action as the league begins conference play in earnest.
In some ways, the league has more questions than it was three weeks ago. A TCU-Oklahoma game is now a chance for the Horned Frogs to prove they’re still a league contender or risk falling to 0-2 in the conference.
In a rematch of a wild 70-63 Baylor win over West Virginia, the Mountaineers suddenly appear to have a defense, but there’s a major difference between handling this season’s Oklahoma State team and facing Baylor in Waco.
And then there’s Texas. There are plenty of questions for the Longhorns on a weekly basis (Who will start at quarterback? Will the defense show up?), but the more interesting questions about the long-term (What’s next for Mack Brown?).
That’s the backdrop for the first week of conference play as the calendar turns to October.
Big 12 Week 6 Game Power Rankings
All times Eastern, all games Saturday unless noted
1. TCU at Oklahoma (7 p.m., FOX)
TCU was projected to be one of a handful of teams competing for the Big 12 title, but the Horned Frogs may need to win in Norman to prove they’re still in the mix. TCU’s offense has been inconsistent, but the Horned Frogs continue to have a big-play defense. Even with limited contributions from star defensive end Devonte Fields this season, TCU leads the Big 12 in sacks (15 in four games) and interceptions (nine). And for all the talk of Oklahoma’s quarterbacks, perhaps the Sooners’ run game has been overlooked. OU is second in the Big 12 in rushing at 256.8 yards per game.
2. West Virginia at Baylor (8 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Baylor’s offensive firepower is well-established, but the Bears also led the Big 12 in total defense (297 yards per game), yards per play (3.8) and fewest touchdowns (three). And thanks to Baylor’s quick-strike offense, only nine defenses nationally have spent more time on the field. West Virginia’s defense is going to have enough trouble against Baylor, but the offense has lingering concerns even after it received passing marks last week. Quarterback Clint Trickett may be the best option for the ailing Mountaineers’ offense, but he’s ailing with a shoulder injury. Ford Childress has a torn pectoral muscle, meaning Paul Millard may get the call Saturday. Millard has completed 41 of 67 passes for 466 yards in two starts, but he was benched for Childress in the second game of the season.
3. Texas at Iowa State (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN)
For a time, things quieted down around Texas. The Longhorns defeated Kansas State to end their two-game losing streak, the defense looked much improved, and then the Longhorns had an off week. Then, athletic director DeLoss Dodds announced his plans to retire, putting Mack Brown’s fate back into the spotlight. For this week, though, quarterback David Ash will be unavailable again after a second head injury this season, meaning Brown has a key decision on whether to play the underwhelming Case McCoy or remove the redshirt from heralded freshman Tyrone Swoopes. No. 2 wide receiver Mike Davis is also on the injury list as a game-time decision with an ankle injury. Despite the 1-2 record, Iowa State is plus-four in turnover margin and 9-for-9 in the red zone.
4. Kansas State at Oklahoma State (3:30 p.m., ABC regional)
Oklahoma State has been first or second in the Big 12 in total offense in each of the last three seasons, but the Cowboys now have legitimate concerns on offense after scoring a combined 42 points against Mississippi State and West Virginia. The problems start with the run game. Oklahoma State is fifth in the league in rushing (one spot behind Kansas). Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland have combined for 83 carries for 312 yards in four games. Kansas State’s run game has been even worse. Aside from a 329-yard outburst against UMass, the Wildcats have rushed for 101.7 yards and 3.1 yards per carry in the other three games.
5. Texas Tech at Kansas (noon, Fox Sports 1)
Kansas quietly has the No. 2 pass efficiency defense in the Big 12, holding opponents to a 53.2 completion rate with four interceptions and two touchdowns. Texas Tech will keep Baker Mayfield at quarterback despite recent struggles, but he’ll need to find a way to get the ball to star receiver Eric Ward, who has seven receptions in the last three games.
Big 12 Week 6 Pivotal Players
J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State
Walsh had his worst game of the season at West Virginia, completing 20 of 47 passes for 322 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Mike Gundy told reporters he never considered going to Clint Chelf, whom Walsh replaced after two possessions in the opener. Oklahoma State needs Walsh to return to form if the Cowboys are going to remain in Big 12 contention.
Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Kansas State’s offense needs work, but Tyler Lockett is a dynamic presence. Lockett has caught 29 passes for 469 yards with a touchdown this season despite K-State’s struggles at quarterback. Oklahoma State could be without starting cornerback Justin Gilbert, who was ejected against West Virginia for a throwing punches. A suspension of some kind could be possible, opening up the Wildcats’ passing game.
Trevone Boykin, TCU
The Horned Frogs’ stagnant offense finally showed some life in the second half against SMU last week. A few breaks on special teams helped, including an SMU onside kick returned for a touchdown, but Boykin must bring his momentum from the second half of last week into the Oklahoma game. Boykin was 8 of 10 for 155 yards with two touchdowns in the second half and led TCU to 7.5 yards per play. TCU ranks ninth in the Big 12 in third-down efficiency (33.3 percent) and must find a way to crack the top third down defense in the league (28.6).
Shaq Rowell, West Virginia
The Mountaineers had their best defensive game in more than a year against Oklahoma State, holding the Cowboys to 111 rushing yards. The nose tackle anchored the line in West Virginia’s three-man front and will have another major task this week against Baylor and standout guard Cyril Richardson.
Aaron Wimberly, Iowa State
Iowa Western Community College transfer became the first Iowa State running back to rush for 100 yards since the 2012 season opener when he ran for 137 yards on 19 carries against Tulsa last week. With the Cyclones offensive getting healthier and Wimberly picking yards, Texas has another competent run game to worry about.
Big 12 Week 6 Predictions
Texas (-8.5) at Iowa State
Texas Tech (-17.5) at Kansas
K-State (+14) at Okla. St.
TCU (+10.5) at Oklahoma
West Va. (+28) at Baylor