The Pac-12 has been a great follow with the number of quarterbacks in and out of the Heisman race. However, the Big 12 is one of the more exciting conferences to watch in Week 10.
There are only two 7-1 teams: the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns. But within conference play, there are five 4-1 teams, with the Sooners and Longhorns joined by the Iowa State Cyclones, Oklahoma State Cowboys and Kansas State Wildcats. The race to the Big 12 championship is wide open, and based on the recent College Football Playoff rankings, there’s at least an implication that Texas (No. 7) and Oklahoma (No. 9) are still in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs.
Here’s what to expect from the Big 12 this week.
The Wildcats' offense has been on fire as of late, generating 6.5 yards per play in the last three weeks. Some of that is from the run game, led by DJ Giddens. Nearly one in every five rushing plays is gaining 10-plus yards. Giddens accounts for a bulk of that as he's 11th in explosive runs. It’s because of that explosiveness that K-State is 12th in FBS in points per game and tied for the third-most rushing touchdowns.
As strong of a defense as Texas is believed to have (eighth in defensive success rate), we did see the Longhorns struggle against the Sooners, allowing 201 rushing yards and three rushing scores in a 34-30 loss.
Now in his second start, Longhorns quarterback Maalik Murphy (playing in place of injured starter Quinn Ewers) will get his shot against a Wildcats secondary that’s 78th in passing yards allowed. With another full week of practice, Murphy could excel. He had a 30-yard touchdown pass to Adonai Mitchell last week and has thrown 12 attempts in that medium-to-deep range. Combine Murphy with RB Jonathon Brooks (tied for 10th in explosive runs) and this is still a Texas offense that can produce. I expect points and for this total to shoot over 49.5.
Cowboys running back Ollie Gordon II is the most explosive back in the country right now with back-to-back games rushing for more than 270 yards. In his last three weeks, Gordon averaged 28 carries for 240 rushing yards and 9 yards per carry. Oh, and he’s a receiving threat as well, with 116 yards against Kansas. The key factor for Oklahoma lies in the hands of LB Danny Stutsman and how well he can tackle. The problem is that Stutsman sprained his ankle against Kansas. Oklahoma State will gain yardage and put up some scores as they enter this game with the eighth-highest touchdown rate in the last three games.
It’s a matter of whether QB Dillon Gabriel and the Sooners' offense can keep pace. The Cowboys rank 93rd in touchdowns allowed. Oklahoma is fourth in touchdowns scored. Oklahoma is quite balanced with scoring production, with 21 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing scores. It’s that balance that keeps defenses guessing. Expect another offensive explosion in Bedlam with the total going over 60.5. It's the final showdown before Oklahoma moves to the SEC.
The Jayhawks are coming off their biggest win of the season after defeating Oklahoma, 38-33. That was despite backup quarterback Jason Bean throwing two interceptions, and the offense losing a fumble. How does Kansas follow that up on the road?
The Cyclones have been one of the more under-the-radar teams in the Big 12, winning three straight after starting the season 2-3 while scoring 27-plus points in all three wins. Iowa State doesn’t pop off the page in any defensive metric, yet it's held its last three opponents to 18 points or less. What gives? The Cyclones' offense is wearing defenses down, 12th in time of possession. Quarterback Rocco Becht’s average depth of target is 8.2 yards, with 75% of his passes behind the line of scrimmage or in that short 0-9-yard range. Those dink and dunks are effective because the Cyclones are top 30 in converting third downs.
In their last three games, Iowa State has had eight five-minute drives. Play keep away offensively, rock a top-30 red-zone scoring defense and you find a good spot for an under on 53.5.
Root for chaos in the Big 12. There are a range of outcomes and it all starts this week. Oklahoma went from looking like a playoff contender to possibly missing the championship game. Texas is fighting to keep its playoff hopes alive with a backup quarterback while Kansas State is looking to make a back-to-back run as conference champs.