STILLWATER — A little more than a week ago, Oklahoma State appeared to have fallen to pretender status in the Big 12 after following a shocking loss at West Virginia with what looked like a lackluster comeback win at home against Kansas State.
Then Saturday happened.
Texas, which had been left for dead, smacked previously unbeaten Oklahoma. That same K-State squad that came to Stillwater hung with Baylor and its powerful offense until the final minutes. TCU and Texas Tech struggled with Kansas and Iowa State, respectively. All while OSU players, coaches and fans just sat back and watched during a bye week.
Suddenly, without even playing a game, the Cowboys sure look to be back in the conference title conversation.
“If anybody watches the games, you can just tell the Big 12 is up for grabs for anyone who wants it,” Cowboy offensive lineman Parker Graham said. “So we're definitely going to try to be that team that goes out there and takes it.”
It's another commentary on the overall state of the league, as the Big 12 is not a serious player in the national title picture. Yet it's making for an intriguing conference title race, which was expected when six teams earned at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll.
“I think it's the same way if we had looked at it in August, you look at it and say it's a wide-open race,” Baylor coach Art Briles said on Monday's Big 12 coaches teleconference. “Nothing has changed as we're into October. I don't think it's a surprise to anybody.”
A backloaded November schedule — as well as some potential matchups — could play in OSU's favor.
*A quirk from when TCU took over Texas A&M's schedule forces the Horned Frogs to come to Stillwater for a second consecutive year.
*Texas' defense has been shredded by mobile quarterbacks, allowing an average of 104 rushing yards per game to the opposing quarterback before Saturday's win over the Sooners. OU surprisingly didn't attack this apparent weakness with Blake Bell, but OSU almost surely will with J.W. Walsh.
*Baylor's win at K-State was just its second conference road victory in its last 10 tries. And the Bears haven't won in Stillwater since 1939.
*OU's defense that looked much-improved has suddenly lost two key starters in tackle Jordan Phillips and linebacker Corey Nelson.
*Kansas is still on the schedule.
*Road games against Iowa State and Lubbock also remain. The trip to Texas Tech, so far the league's biggest surprise, is clearly the more daunting of the two.
The Big 12's trio of unbeatens — Texas, Baylor and Texas Tech — naturally have the upper hand in the championship race right now. And OSU clearly still has issues, most notably on offense.
But the two teams with one loss — OSU and OU — are still very much alive in what has so far been a predictably unpredictable Big 12 season.
And it's only just beginning.
“You're gonna continue to see it from this point on,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said. “I don't think you're gonna see very many years where there's a team or teams that just dominate this league.”