Let's start by talking about the elephant in the room after week 5 in the Big 12, Texas got lambasted by Oklahoma State thanks to shoddy play on defense and shoddier work coaching and gameplanning for the Cowboys.
I'm stunned that Texas' defensive staff, which was supposed to be the strength of the Charlie Strong era, determined that the best plan of action for handling a spread passing team that mixes in tight ends in a half-decent, single-back zone run game would be to journey back in time to the 80's and go with a true 3-4 defense.
You can't play the 3-4 in the Big 12 unless one of your "outside linebackers" is someone like Eric Striker or Travon Blanchard, and unless you can cover up for them on the back end with multiple DBs that can play great man coverage. Even 3-4 teams like Stanford and Wisconsin regularly roll with the 2-4-5 when they have multiple OLBs they want to keep on the field against spread formations.
Texas went with the 3-4 instead, despite not being loaded with OLBs so good you can't take them off the field and despite the fact that the defense has played a different base package every week and blown multiple coverages every week.
Now DC Vance Bedford has been demoted and Charlie is basically rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. This is the fourth consecutive season that Texas has gone into the Red River Shootout with the program on the verge of falling apart. In the case of the last three years, the external threat of the Oklahoma Sooners galvanized the Longhorns into their best efforts of those respective seasons. God only knows what'll happen this time.
Speaking of challenges that galvanize a program, Oklahoma finally came through and took down TCU on the road in a huge win for the Sooners. I'll be breaking this one down later but from what I witnessed, this win was largely about the Oklahoma offense playing up to it's potential and the defense taking JUST enough away from the TCU attack to pull out a win.
The Sooners hardly look like world beaters, but if they can play decent defense from week to week and keep pouring it on opponents with Joe Mixon leading the way then they're as good a pick as anyone else to win the Big 12. Obo Okoronkwo is proving to be worthy of the featured pass-rushing role, which was one of my big questions about this team.
The Sooners don't really have any lack for athletes on defense, it's really just a matter of skills development in the secondary, overall deployment, and perhaps weekly preparation. If TCU could have traded defensive rosters with Oklahoma before last spring the Frogs would be locks to win the Big 12.
Baylor is still a potential Big 12 title winner and survived a scare in Ames, IA in which Matt Campbell figured out how to get after their defense. I'll have to take a look to see how he did it, but obviously it didn't matter thanks to porous Iowa State defense that Baylor ran over for almost 500 rushing yards.
There was a ton of consensus in the world of Longhorn football analysis that last year's Bear run game was the product of a phenomenal, veteran OL. Now the Bears certainly had some good players in that group, but I was always more than a little skeptical of the notion that the Baylor run game would seriously falter after plugging in four new starters. This scheme makes run blocking rather simple and Baylor has been plugging and playing in the run game for about a decade now.
Between that and the run game, they seem plausible contenders for the Big 12, especially if they get some help from other teams on OU's schedule so it doesn't come down to winning in Norman. The biggest problem is that Seth Russell looks really shaky in terms of accuracy, what happens if someone can load the box and play man coverage on the Bear receivers? Can anyone even do that?
West Virginia might be capable and they are easily the most shocking story in the Big 12 right now. Hat tip to Dana Holgorsen for getting Skyler Howard up to speed in his version of the Air Raid, hat tip to Joe Wickline for keeping a strong OL going, full bow to DC Tony Gibson who had to replace almost his entire defense from 2016 and has his new unit playing good, aggressive football.
Kansas State's young offense wasn't quite up to the challenge of taking on the Mountaineers defense in Morgantown and a special teams tackle by one WV kid was the difference between Holgorsen barely losing another game to Snyder thanks to a kick return. Holgorsen should find a way to make sure that kid is rewarded.
We'll dive deeper into West Virginia later this week, they get Oklahoma, TCU, and Baylor in Morgantown and face road trips to Lubbock (probably without Mahomes), Stillwater (CBs can't run with Shelton Gibson), and Austin (openly discussing firing the coach already).
Right now I'd say Oklahoma, Baylor, and West Virginia are your conference favorites in that order. The Frogs aren't going away but their deficits at cornerback are proving decisive, the Longhorns have folded like a cheap tent, the Wildcats are a year away, and OSU is a very solid team that lacks enough high-powered talent to pull this off.