A few questions in the Big 12 were answered last week as Baylor answered the call in its first road test and Texas reentered the conversation for top team in the conference.
This week, Texas Tech is up in the spotlight.
The Red Raiders are 6-0 and 3-0 in the league, but they haven’t garnered the same attention as Baylor, Oklahoma or Texas. There's good reason. The schedule has been light, for certain, and Texas Tech hasn’t left the state other than to face Kansas.
This week, Kliff Kingsbury’s team will take the longest road trip in the Big 12 when Tech visits West Virginia, where the Mountaineers defeated preseason favorite Oklahoma State 30-21 in September. The last time we saw West Virginia, the Mountaineers were drilled by Baylor, but after an off week and at home, West Virginia promises to be a different team.
In other action around the league, Oklahoma State will seek any sign it can remain a league contender against TCU. Meanwhile, the Pokes’ Bedlam rival will try to correct their issues from the Texas game by facing Kansas.
Big 12 Week 8 Game Power Rankings
All times Saturday. All times Eastern.
1. Texas Tech at West Virginia (noon, Fox Sports 1)
Among the 3-0 teams in Big 12 play, Texas Tech is the X-factor. The Red Raiders have played the two worst teams in the league (Kansas and Iowa State) and had questionable officiating in its win over a mid-level team (TCU). The Mountaineers aren’t contending for the Big 12 title, but Texas Tech making the long road trip to Morgantown, where West Virginia defeated Oklahoma State, could be telling. West Virginia is averaging 467 yards per game at home compared to 318.7 yards away from Morgantown. Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield returned to practice this week, but it’s not clear if he will be able to start against West Virginia. In his place, freshman Davis Webb passed for 415 yards with three touchdowns and an interception against Iowa State.
2. TCU at Oklahoma State (noon, Fox)
Oklahoma State was off last week as Texas turned around the Big 12 race by defeating Oklahoma. This will be a chance for the Cowboys, the preseason favorite, to show they’re still a contender. The loss to West Virginia on Sept. 28 ago, though, means there’s little margin for error in Stillwater. At fewer than six yards per play, Oklahoma State’s offense hasn’t been as productive as Mike Gundy is used to seeing as the Pokes prepare for a team that leads the Big 12 in interceptions (10) and tackles for a loss (52). TCU needs any sign its luck is turning. TCU is averaging 5.4 points in the first half against FBS teams, a number that needs to turn if the Frogs are going to win a major conference road game.
3. Iowa State at Baylor (7 p.m., ESPNU)
Even in a loss, Kansas State had a typical Kansas State performance against Baylor, controlling the ball and capitalizing on two Baylor mistakes with a turnover and blocked punt. Iowa State must follow that script to have any chance in Waco. The Cyclones offense, however, went dormant last week at Texas Tech, rushing for 143 yards and completing 15 of 39 passes. If there’s any consolation for the Iowa State defense, the Cyclones have allowed five passing plays of 30 yards or more, the fewest in the Big 12.
4. Oklahoma at Kansas (3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Oklahoma played its worst all-around game of the season last week, but the Sooners get the most welcome sight in the Big 12 in these situations — a game against Kansas. Bob Stoops says there aren’t any plans to make a chance at quarterback after Blake Bell’s struggles against the Longhorns, but if another QB makes an appearance against Kansas, it wouldn’t be the first time Stoops this season has been coy about his offense. Any improvement from Bell will be key in Lawrence as Bell struggled with decision-making against the Longhorns and holding onto the ball too long, contributing to four sacks.
Off: Kansas State, Texas
Big 12 Week 8 Pivotal Players
Listen to Athlon Sports writers Braden Gall and David Fox break down the big questions for each conference for the second half of the season in this week's Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast.
Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State
Stewart has one game under his belt after sustaining a concussion against West Virginia, but he had only two receptions against Kansas State. The Cowboys’ top receiver will need to be at his best in his matchup against Thorpe Award contender Jason Verrett, one of the top cover corners in the country. Stewart caught six passes for 120 yards against TCU a year ago.
Brandon Carter, TCU
After Carter caught six touchdown passes and averaged 16.4 yards per catch in 2012, he appeared to be heading for a breakout season as a junior. Instead, he’s regressed. Carter has muffed punts, picked up personal foul penalties and landed in Gary Patterson’s doghouse. If the Horned Frogs are going to compete in the Big 12, Carter must return to form to help a lackluster offense.
Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
The Mountaineers could get one of their top linebackers back in time to face Texas Tech. Kwiatkoski had 29 tackles in the first four games, including 2.5 tackles for a loss. The Mountaineers’ defense looked like one of the most improved units in the conference before facing Baylor two weeks ago. Texas Tech’s foundation on offense in the passing game, but the Red Raiders have proven they can run the ball, especially around the goal line. A healthy inside linebacker Kwiatkoski could put more pressure on a freshman quarterback to make plays on the road.
Jeremiah George, Iowa State
The Cyclones’ top defensive player will be tasked with stopping Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk, who has his eye on starting a new streak of 100-yard rushing games. Seastrunk rushed for 54 yards on 12 carries against Kansas State, and Glasco Martin was marginally more effective (14 carries, 70 yards). Even if Bryce Petty still got his long touchdown passes, the Baylor offense stalled more than it has all season with the run game having its worst day of the year at less than three yards per carry.
Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
Alexander had 19 tackles against Texas, 10 more than he had in the previous five games combined. The Sooners are looking for a spark among the line and linebackers after defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and linebacker Corey Nelson were lost for the season. The freshman has had the lapses coaches would expect from a rookie, but with the injury situation, he’ll have to grow up quickly.
Big 12 Week 8 Predictions
TCU (+7) at Oklahoma St
Texas Tech (-6) at West Va.
Oklahoma (-23) at Kansas
Iowa State (+34) at Baylor