By Steve Lansdale
Nice view from the top, isn’t it?
The Texas Longhorns now stand alone atop the Big 12, with a glistening 4-0 record in games against Big 12 opponents. West Virginia fell to 3-1 when it was thumped last week at Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech are lurking a 2-1, and Baylor and Iowa State are 2-2 in Big 12 games. The TCU Horned Frogs, which entered the season with dreams of dark horse candidacy for a conference title, are hanging on, barely, at 1-2.
So what happens next?
The Longhorns have a well-timed bye this week, as do their next opponent, the Oklahoma State Cowboys, who are wallowing among the bottom of the Big 12, with just one win in four conference games.
Just four Big 12 teams are in action this weekend, with the marquee game being played in Fort Worth, where TCU fields a good-but-not-great team, which had all hopes of a Cinderella run toward the postseason shredded with losses to Ohio State, Texas and Texas Tech.
If the Horned Frogs’ season is on life support — in a way, that’s an accurate assessment, considering the team’s expectations entering the season — the Sooners are equally desperate. While the Horned Frogs began the year hoping to challenge for the conference title, the Sooners expected to win it, and now find themselves a game behind their rivals in Austin. OU needs someone to knock off Texas, but also has to win out for that to even matter. The Sooners should be able to stand up to — and with superior team speed, eventually run away from — the Horned Frogs, and need to do just that to stay within shouting distance of the Longhorns and maintain their status among fans and voters across the country.
Meanwhile, the Texas Tech Red Raiders want a little of what Oklahoma has — namely, legitimate hopes of a conference title. To achieve that, Tech, which came up just short Sept. 29 against West Virginia, also likely needs to win out. If the Longhorns were to stumble, Tech’s Nov. 3 showdown with the Sooners could be huge in determining the conference’s final pecking order. The Red Raiders already have played three quarterbacks this season — four, counting the single snap for Colt Garrett — but continue to do what they always have done under head coach Kliff Kingsbury: score points, to the tune of 42.3 points per game … and while the Tech defense never will make anyone forget the 1986 Chicago Bears, it is better than in many recent years. It’s not a powerful, brawling defense, but rather a fast, finesse defense that is making plays when opportunities present themselves — see the interception in the end zone in Tech’s win over TCU.