Big 12 football roundtable: Who plays in the title game? Wins player of the year? Is the biggest surprise?
Back when the Big 12 remade its football schedule, this November bye week was built in for more than half of the league's teams in case someone needed to play a game postponed by the pandemic.
Lo and behold, coronavirus cancellations have been few in the Big 12, so a bunch of folks are getting a chance to catch their breath this week.
We decided to use the time to look ahead. A month of the season is left, but so much remains undecided in the Big 12. What will happen during this final month of conference play? Who has the most to play for? The most to prove?
We asked several sports writers and columnists from the USA Today Sports Network who cover the league.
Here's what they had to say:
Who plays in the Big 12 title game?
Cedric Golden, Austin American-Statesman: Oklahoma will win out and meet Oklahoma State in the title game. I think Iowa State will slip up and lose to Texas, and that will kill the Cyclones in the tiebreaker.
Berry Tramel, The Oklahoman: I’ll go with OU and Iowa State. The main reason is, I think those have become the two best teams. OSU’s offense just can’t get on track. I suppose I mean Iowa State vs. the Bedlam winner, but I think that will be the Sooners.
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Randy Peterson, Des Moines Register: Rematch of Cy’s three-point loss at Oklahoma State. For this to work, Iowa State probably must win at Texas for the first time since 2010, then the Cowboys beat the Sooners in Norman, too. ISU winning the rest of the games is the tough part; however, I continue to be impressed with the job Matt Campbell and his staff have done.
Don Williams, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: I’m forecasting a three-way tie for first among Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, all two-loss teams in Big 12 play when the season ends. Then I’ll let the conference sort out the tiebreakers. How do they get to two losses? Oklahoma wins out, Bedlam being Oklahoma State’s second loss. And Iowa State, with Kansas State, Texas and West Virginia left, can beat all three, but that won’t be easy to pull off. The Cyclones will probably take a second loss somewhere.
Biggest surprise in the Big 12?
Golden: Kansas State is sitting at 4-2 and firmly in the mix with that huge win over Oklahoma giving them a nice chance to sneak in there and get to the title game. (Chris) Klieman’s crew can really turn things on its ear with a win over Iowa State.
Tramel: Kansas State. The Wildcats opened conference play by upsetting OU, and KSU hasn’t collapsed even with the injury to quarterback Skylar Thompson. KSU still has to play Iowa State and Texas, but if the ‘Cats win one of those two, they could finish 6-3. That’s a heck of a season.
Peterson: I’m staying on the Iowa State bandwagon, considering conference coaches picked the Cyclones to finish behind UT, OU and Okie State. Kansas State was the early leader in this department, but it’s lost some of its oomph after losing starting quarterback Skylar Thompson.
Williams: To me, teams-wise, there are no major surprises to the upside. So here’s one to the downside: I’m surprised TCU might be looking at its second straight sub-.500 season. Maybe I shouldn’t be, considering the Horned Frogs lost Jalen Reagor, Jeff Gladney, Ross Blacklock and Lucas Niang in the first three rounds of the draft. But I always expect Gary Patterson to make the best of whatever hand he’s dealt, and this looks like the first year since 2004 that TCU will go the entire season without being ranked in the AP Top 25.
Biggest disappointment in the Big 12?
Golden: Texas. The Horns choked away a win over TCU at the goal line, then really blew a chance to put OU in an 0-3 hole to start conference. If the Horns don’t make it to Dallas, it’s easily the biggest disappointment in the league, given they were returning college football’s most experienced QB in Sam Ehlinger and a wide array of weapons on both sides of the ball.
Tramel: Kansas. I suppose some will say Texas, but the Longhorns are still in title contention. And I suppose some will ask how KU can disappoint. Here’s how. By being totally non-competitive. The Jayhawks haven’t come closer than 21 points in any of their six conference losses. Even in the seasons when KU has gone 0-9 in the Big 12, it has been in a game or two until the then. Not this year.
Peterson: Texas. I picked Tom Herman’s guys to win the Big 12, and I wasn’t alone. Longhorns have the league’s best talent. They’re playing all right, but not as all right as I expected them to be playing.
Williams: Um, not an original thought here, but Oklahoma and Texas going from top-10 teams in late September to facing an uphill climb just to make the Big 12 title game by mid-October. And Oklahoma with one of the most talented young quarterbacks around and Texas with Sam Ehlinger, to boot.
Player of the year?
Golden: Iowa State’s Breece Hall has quietly put together a great season. He’s leading the nation in rushing and averaging a ridiculous 6.3 yards per carry.
Tramel: Let’s go with Iowa State tailback Breece Hall. No quarterback merits the award this year. With the defensive revival of the league, I’d be fine with OSU safety Kolby Harvell-Peel or Cyclone pass rusher Jaquan Bailey or Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai. But through seven games, Hall has 1,034 rushing yards on 165 carries and 14 touchdowns.
Peterson: This could come down to Sam Ehlinger vs. Breece Hall. Neither team wins without those guys playing well. Ehlinger is playing like I expected him to play, and actually, Hall is, too. And here’s the thing about Hall — he’s rushed for 1,034 yards behind a line that’s rarely a unit anyone would say is awesome. One expected starter was injured before the season and hasn’t even played. Another, left guard Trevor Downing, was hurt in the Louisiana game and he hasn’t played since then. That brings be back to Breece Hall as the POY, but the Cyclones must finish strong for that to happen.
Williams: Breece Hall has answered the bell every week for Iowa State with seven straight 100-yard games and 12 touchdowns in six Big 12 games. In a conference that’s been so passing-driven for two decades, Hall looks like a good bet to follow Chuba Hubbard as running backs being player of the year two seasons in a row.
Newcomer of the year?
Golden: I know he played a couple of snaps last season, but OU QB Spencer Rattler is the most exciting player to come through the Big 12 since Robert Griffin III. Rattler has a live arm, great wheels and the fearlessness that makes watching this offense so fun.
Tramel: Does OU’s Spencer Rattler count as a newcomer? He played mopup in a couple of games last season. This year, he overcame a slow start and appears to be the Big 12’s best quarterback. He’s headed for stardom.
Peterson: Spencer Rattler came to OU with a lot of headlines, and the freshman isn’t disappointing. He’s a 68 percent passer, with 18 TDs against just six picks. That’s pretty good for anyone, but for a first-year guy? That’s newcomer-of-the-year stuff.
Williams: Spencer Rattler if he’s eligible based on being a redshirt freshman. Easy to see why the Oklahoma quarterback was the nation’s top recruit at his position last year. If Rattler’s ineligible based on the bit of playing time he saw last season, then the choice is West Virginia linebacker Tony Fields. The grad transfer from Arizona's been a tackling machine for one of the Big 12’s best all-around defenses.
Biggest Big 12 game left?
Golden: It’s Bedlam. It’s likely a must win for Oklahoma if the Sooners harbor any hopes of making it to Jerry World. I’m expecting offensive fireworks in that one.
Tramel: I’ll go Texas-Iowa State. Bedlam is equal in importance, but OSU’s dubious history against its arch-rival makes that outcome a little less compelling. We have no idea how the Cyclone-Longhorn game could go.
Peterson: Oklahoma State-Oklahoma — because a Cowboys win likely eliminates Sooners from Big 12 title game conversation. Oklahoma has won or shared all Big 12 regular-season titles, it seems. Big Game 1-A, is ISU at Texas. Cyclones win, and they’re still alive for Big 12 title game. And ISU hasn’t won a football title since going 6-2 overall and 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference in 1912. And no, I didn’t cover it.
Williams: Oklahoma-Oklahoma State next Saturday night in Norman. Mike Gundy’s guys will have the easiest path to the Big 12 championship game if they can pull it off. Big if. And what would OU people think of being 5-3 on Thanksgiving week after three straight seasons in the CFP? Iowa State-Texas Nov. 27 in Austin is a close second, that being the Cyclones’ biggest obstacle to possibly finishing alone atop the Big 12 heap.