My Big 12 Rankings: Oklahoma Stays at No. 1
by Trevor Whenham - 10/14/2008
I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it until it's proven to be untrue - the Big 12 is the best conference in the country this year. Many people would say that that honor belongs to the SEC, but the Big 12 is deeper and more competitive. Just look at the numbers - they have four teams in the Top 8, including No. 1, and six in the Top 16. By comparison, the Top 16 has four SEC teams, two from the Big Ten, one Pac-10 squad, and three potential BCS-busters. Those six Big 12 teams are a combined 33-3. The Big 12 has a clear advantage.
With so much depth and talent, what happened this past weekend is inevitable. Good teams will have to play good teams, and only one team can win. The lower ranked team came out ahead in both high profile Big 12 showdowns this weekend. That's going to happen - in a conference like this there is so little to choose between teams, and that makes rankings relatively meaningless. Now that things have been turned on their ear in the conference, let's make an attempt to rank the six top teams in the conference based on where they are at now and not poll politics.
Oklahoma - It's a tough argument to make since they just lost to another team in the conference, but I am holding my ground and maintaining my stance that the Sooners are the best team in the conference. Oklahoma was in command well into the second half, but then a key defensive injury rattled them and they faded. It wasn't pretty, but I still have to go back to the standard test for two teams - if they were to meet tomorrow in neutral territory with no crowd, who would win? Oklahoma has the potential to be much, much better than they were in the second half. For proof, just look at he first half. Texas wasn't good enough to keep up with them in that first half, and I don't suspect that they would be if given another shot at that game, either. Sam Bradford is the better QB, and Oklahoma has a better defense if they are healthy.
Missouri - If I didn't make Texas fans happy with my first pick then they really aren't going to like my second one. The Tigers struggled against Oklahoma State, but that was their first off game, and the biggest problem they had was that they faced a team in the Cowboys that was too similar to them. Texas took a long time to adjust to Oklahoma's offense, and they will have to deal with all the same and more against Missouri. Playing in Longhorn Stadium will be a huge test, but on neutral ground I am confident that Missouri would win, and Texas' reign on top would be brief.
Texas - I can't rightly drop the No. 1 team in the polls much further, can I? It's hard not to like a team that is 6-0 straight up and ATS, but I'm not yet convinced. They have only played one real team. Though they won it, as I said before I am not convinced that they would do it again. My biggest concern with this team in the long term is their pass defense - legitimate teams cannot survive over the long term when there are 109 teams in the country better at stopping the pass than they are. They got lucky against Oklahoma. If they do it again against Missouri then I would be a begrudging believer, but until then this is as high as they get to climb in my books.
Oklahoma State - I feel guilty about dropping a plucky team like this coming off a huge win this low down, but the Big 12 is so tough that disappointment is just part of the game. Though I like a lot about the offense, and a few things about the defense, my reason for leaving them behind the team they beat is simple - they were 14-point underdogs. They won, and they deserved to, but the odds say, and I agree, that that win was more the exception than the rule if the same game were to be played several times. Underdogs win all the time, but that doesn't necessarily mean over he long term that they are the better team.
Texas Tech - This team shares the same story as the rest of their league - outstanding offense, and questions on defense. I love what Graham Harrell does, but I have them down here for two reasons - it scares me that they needed overtime to get past Nebraska, their first real defensive test, and I hate their pass defense. They can pile up the points, but the game against Nebraska shows what can happen if they falter even slightly.
Kansas - Kansas winding up at the bottom of his list reinforces one truth for me - this conference is really deep. They have a great passing game, like pretty much everyone else in the league. Unlike much of the conference, though, this team is pretty darned good at stopping the run, and quite decent overall on defense. The biggest strike against this team in my mind, though, is one I can't totally put my finger on - I just have a sense that this team isn't of the class of the ones above it. They have been the least tested of the teams in the conference besides Texas Tech, and they have a loss already. I don't think it will happen, but the reality of their schedule is that 7-5 is a distinct possibility.