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September 11, 2011

Wrap: Big 12 flexing its muscle

Texas Tech was idle this weekend, giving the Red Raiders a week off before beginning a stretch of 11 consecutive weeks with a game. Including the Red Raiders, half of the Big 12 was inactive in Week 2, but the league's other five teams represented themselves well and pushed the conference's non-conference record to 14-1.

THREE THINGS WE LEARNED

1. The Big 12 is stronger on the field than it is off of it. Texas A&M desperately wants to join the SEC and has received a conditional invitation. Baylor, knowing it potentially faces a future in a non-AQ conference, is standing in the Aggies' way all Tiananmen Square like. Oklahoma president David Boren dropped a nuclear bomb on the league two Fridays ago and indicated that OU -- and by extension Oklahoma State -- were looking west.

Suffice it to say, the last six weeks in the Big 12 have been turbulent.

Yet, on the field, the Big 12 is thriving. The league is 14-1 after two weeks -- 10-5 against the number for you degenerate types -- and has notched notable wins against Arizona, BYU, Iowa and TCU. Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas have all won as underdogs, while Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech have all covered 20-plus point spreads.

Compare this early resume to that of the Big Ten. Jim Delaney's league is 17-7 after two weeks (9-14-1 ATS) and has already racked up embarrassing losses to Ball State, New Mexico State and Rice. The Pac-12 has basically matched that, going 16-8 overall (10-14 ATS), but has fewer head-scratching losses.

In short, the Big 12's latest off-field crisis looks even sillier now that the season is underway. The league may not survive, but it won't be because its teams didn't perform on the gridiron.

2. New Mexico probably isn't as bad as it was last year. No, the Lobos aren't close to being good, and they won't make a bowl game this year, but they aren't as Yakety Sax terrible as they were a year ago.

Exhibit A: UNM was competitive with Colorado State in Week 1 and only lost by four points. Big deal, right? Well, the Lobos have lost 24 games in Mike Locksley's two-plus seasons -- heading into the season, all but four of those losses had been by double-digits. UNM also outgained the Rams in yards (329 to 270), logged 10 more first downs and held a three-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Exhibit B: The Lobos got absolutely pantsed by Arkansas this week, 52-3. Dive a little deeper in the box score, though, and you'll see two very surprising stats. First, UNM won the turnover battle 2-0 after coughing up three fumbles a week earlier. Second, the Lobos didn't give up a single sack and only had four negative plays against an SEC team.

When you've been as bad as New Mexico has been over the last two years, you'll take progress in any form.

3. Tech's next three opponents are not very good. The Red Raiders will face New Mexico, Nevada and Kansas over the next three Saturdays. This weekend those three teams went 1-2 and gave up a combined total of 163 points and 1,700 yards of offense. Yikes.

Granted, New Mexico and Nevada were playing on the road against pretty salty teams in Arkansas and Oregon, and Kansas was actually an underdog against Northern Illinois, but that's a lot of points and a lot of yards.

The Red Raiders should be favored by double digits heading into their next three games.

OBSCENELY OBLIGATORY OVERREACTION

BIG 12 POWER RANKINGS
1. Oklahoma -Sooners idle this week. Big non-conference game Saturday against Florida State.
2. Okla. State - Mike Gundy's squad absolutely undressed Arizona on a national stage Thursday.
3. Texas A&M - We won't know too much about these Aggies until Week 4 when they take on OSU.
4. Baylor - Bears also idle, should be 5-0 heading into their Oct. 15 game against A&M.
5. Texas Tech - Red Raiders visit Albuquerque for the second-straight season this weekend.
6. Texas - Goodbye Garrett Gilbert, hello quarterback carousel? UT continues to struggle with slow starts.
7. Missouri - James Franklin continues to develop as a quarterback, but MU's defense is a concern.
8. Iowa State - Steele Jantz is the most exciting Cyclone quarterback since Seneca Wallace.
9. Kansas - The Jayhawks were a home dog against a MAC school. Let that sink in for a second.
10. Kansas State - Wildcats hoping that Collin Klein learned how to throw during the bye.
It's probably still too early in the season to make sweeping judgments about Texas Tech or the teams on its schedule, but so far Kansas State and Missouri have disappointed while Baylor and Iowa State have surpassed expectations.

KSU needed a 10-point fourth quarter rally, including a touchdown pass with less than two minutes to go, to get past Division I FCS foe Eastern Kentucky. MU led the whole way in Week 1 against Miami (Ohio) but it was a one possession game entering the fourth quarter; this past week, against Arizona State, the Tigers' defense absolutely melted in the Tempe heat.

Baylor upset TCU on the first day of the season, but the Bears still have serious questions on defense. Iowa State squeaked by Northern Iowa in Week 1, but topped archrival Iowa on Saturday behind a very strong effort by quarterback Steele Jantz.

WEEKEND SUPERLATIVES

Worst Name-Based Headlines - Okay, Iowa media, we get it, Iowa State's quarterback is named Steele Jantz. Yes, Steele. You don't need to ram it down our throats with headlines like 'Cyclones Have Nerves Of Steele' or 'Iowa State Steeles Victory From Iowa.'

Most Important Measurables Ever - I'm not sure if you knew this or not, but Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler is 6-foot-8. Yes, 6-foot-8. Friday, during the Devils' game against Missouri, Osweiler's height -- he's 6-foot-8, by the way -- was mentioned practically on every ASU offensive drive.

Most Obvious Reference To The Past - You could see it coming from the moment that Texas quarterback Case McCoy entered Saturday's game against BYU. It became an absolute lock once McCoy completed a 14-yard pass to Jaxon Shipley in the fourth quarter. "Hey, by the way, the fathers of Case McCoy and Jaxon Shipley roomed together in college. Same with their brothers Colt and Jordan."

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz had an ugly debut as a Cyclone, throwing three interceptions against Northern Iowa. He bounced back in a big way against rival Iowa; Jantz completed 25-of-37 passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 42 yards on 16 carries. What those stats don't show, though, is how much time Jantz bought in the pocket, how he escaped from pressure and completed big passes, how he lead his team back in the final minutes and forced overtime.

Have we seen the last of Garrett Gilbert at Texas? The Longhorns' beleaguered junior signal caller was pulled in the second quarter against BYU after completing as many passes to his own team as he did to the Cougars (2). Case McCoy and David Ash didn't exactly light the world on fire in his place -- the duo combined to complete 9-of-11 passes for 92 yards -- but they weren't liabilities.

Texas A&M has an interesting four-game stretch coming up after it thumps Idaho on Saturday. The Aggies will face Oklahoma State at home, Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium, Texas Tech in Lubbock and finally a home date with the litigious Baylor Bears. Those first three games will be interesting for various reasons -- heavyweight bout with the Cowboys, future conference game with the Razorbacks and last go-round with the Red Raiders -- but I don't think those three games will get A&M fans juiced like the tilt against BU. Regardless of how this conference realignment situation plays out in the coming days, Aggie fans are going to want blood on Oct. 15.

All 10 Big 12 teams will be in action this week, with six playing on the road. We'll know next week whether the league's 14-1 mark through two weeks was legit or not, as Big 12 teams will travel to face four BCS AQ opponents.



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