Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 Oct 2012

VN: The Weird, Wacky Big 12

by Bill Connelly

The Big 12 is a mess right now. And I mean that in the best possible way. The offenses are unstoppable, the subplots are widespread -- Can anybody slow down West Virginia? What's wrong with Oklahoma? How exactly does Kansas State keep doing this? Is Texas Tech really this good? What happens with TCU now that Casey Pachall is suspended? -- and the rankings are just downright wacky. At the beginning of the season, I had no idea what to expect from the Big 12 title race. According to the current F/+ rankings after one full month, the numbers don't either.

4. Texas Tech (4-0)
6. Texas (4-0)
9. West Virginia (4-0)
13. Oklahoma (2-1)
14. Oklahoma State (2-2)
22. Kansas State (4-0)
33. Baylor (3-1)
39. Iowa State (3-1)
43. TCU (4-0)
88. Kansas (1-3)

Granted, the 10th-place team is no surprise, but virtually everything else is.

Texas Tech has completely laid waste to three bad teams and a decent Iowa State squad, and the Red Raiders have either completely fooled both of our FO measures (Tech is fifth in the occasionally reactionary S&P+, sixth in the seemingly more conservative FEI) or are much better than anybody anticipated. Are they actually the fourth-best team in the country? Probably not. But they honestly might be a really good football team.

West Virginia, the consensus conference favorite with the the consensus Heisman favorite (for now) in quarterback Geno Smith, still has some serious defensive questions to answer. The Mountaineers scored 70 points and gained over 800 yards against Baylor last weekend, but they damn near lost because they allowed 63 points and over 700 yards. It is difficult to imagine anybody holding WVU under 35 points in conference play, though Kansas State or TCU might beg to differ, but there are plenty of other teams that could score enough to take down Dana Holgorsen's squad.

Oklahoma is still getting propped up a bit by its preseason projections, but while the Sooners' defense has shown some solid early improvement, the offense is still an enormous question mark. Meanwhile, Texas' offense seems to have improved by a decent margin, but the Longhorns' defense got torched by an Oklahoma State offense playing with its backup quarterback last week.

Kansas State continues to win with no margin for error whatsoever, and S&P+ continues to hate the Wildcats because of it. Logic states that you shouldn't be able to continuously do what Bill Snyder's Wildcats do -- save your biggest plays for your biggest moments, as if pressing a button. In KSU's win at Oklahoma two weeks ago, the defense forced a fumble inside Oklahoma's 10 (it was returned for a touchdown), then forced another inside their own 10, preventing a score. It seems impossible that the Wildcats could continue to do this, but they did it multiple times last year, too.

And then there is TCU, which has looked perfectly solid on defense (19th in Def. S&P+, sixth in unadjusted S&P) but actively sat on the ball last week amid a monsoon against SMU and paid the price for it statistically. They are just as likely to be underrated as Texas Tech is to be overrated -- at least, they were before their starting quarterback was suspended for a DWI, which is not his first offense -- but their odd ranking fits with the rest of the conference. Through five weeks, we know almost nothing about the Big 12, other than the fact that West Virginia's offense is really, really devastating.

With this in mind, I wanted to get a general read for who we should be considering favorites or underdogs in the conference title race. Below is a week-to-week look at the remaining Big 12 conference schedule, with projections for each game as if the F/+ rankings will not change at all the rest of the way. (That is obviously a faulty premise this early, but consider this more of a thought experiment than an outright prediction.)

October 6

Texas Tech def. Oklahoma by 10.3
Texas def. West Virginia by 6.8

TCU def. Iowa State by 2.3
Kansas State def. Kansas by 21.9

The big games are obviously Tech-Oklahoma and Texas-WVU. Tech proved something in winning by 11 points at Iowa State last week, but the challenges are only going to get bigger. If the Red Raiders are truly a top-10 team, they beat Oklahoma on Saturday. But I don't think you'll find too many people willing to put a lot of money on that. Meanwhile, home field advantage basically gives Texas the edge over WVU. Given their current F/+ rankings, this game would be considered a virtual tossup in Morgantown. Texas is, after all, most likely better than Baylor, and Baylor came within a touchdown of the Mountaineers.

October 13

Texas def. Oklahoma by 5.5
Texas Tech def. West Virginia by 8.0
Baylor def. TCU by 7.1

Kansas State def. Iowa State by 2.1
Oklahoma State def. Kansas by 17.3

Kansas State's schedule is backloaded, so the Wildcats should most likely still be undefeated heading into late-October. Meanwhile, as one would expect, Texas is favored over Oklahoma at the moment. And whatever Texas Tech proves against Oklahoma, it will have to prove double when West Virginia comes to town.

October 20

West Virginia def. Kansas State by 8.5
Texas Tech def. TCU by 12.8

Texas def. Baylor by 15.0
Oklahoma State def. Iowa State by 11.4
Oklahoma def. Kansas by 24.7

I can't wait for KSU-WVU. Bill Snyder and Collin Klein are going to implement the "Beating Robert Griffin" blueprint in its entirety -- bleeding the play clock dry on every play, stripping at the ball like there is no tomorrow, and saving a couple of defensive tactics/blitzes for the fourth quarter just in case. It might get them beaten by 24, and it might just work.

And no projection on this list highlights the most potentially underrated and overrated teams like Texas Tech beating TCU by 13 points in Fort Worth. Call me crazy, but that probably isn't going to happen, no matter who is starting for the Horned Frogs behind center.

October 27

Texas Tech def. Kansas State by 6.0
Oklahoma State def. TCU by 12.7

Texas def. Kansas by 23.2
Iowa State def. Baylor by 1.1

Again, Texas Tech probably isn't going to win in Manhattan, but this does further shine a light on just how good Tech has looked to date. Despite low projections weighing them down, and despite harsh opponent adjustments, Tech is safely in the top 5. FO had the Red Raiders projected higher than most because of their extreme level of returning experience, but it is safe to say we didn't have them projected fourth in the country.

November 3

Kansas State def. Oklahoma State by 1.1
Texas Tech def. Texas by 4.7
West Virginia def. TCU by 15.3

Oklahoma def. Iowa State by 4.9
Baylor def. Kansas by 18.7

You can probably see where this is going with Texas Tech.

November 10

Oklahoma State def. West Virginia by 0.9
Kansas State def. TCU by 3.3
Oklahoma def. Baylor by 9.5

Texas def. Iowa State by 17.4
Texas Tech def. Kansas by 31.5

West Virginia can probably afford a loss at either Texas or Oklahoma State, but it would be hard to win the conference with losses in both games.

November 17

West Virginia def. Oklahoma by 5.7
Baylor def. Kansas State by 0.3
Texas Tech def. Oklahoma State by 3.7

Iowa State def. Kansas by 9.3

This is an enormous game for Kansas State. The Wildcats likely have designs of a conference title at the moment, but this trip to Waco, sandwiching a trip to TCU and a visit from Texas, has trap potential, especially considering Baylor is still a potentially strong team (despite that awful defense).

Thanksgiving

Texas def. TCU by 18.6
Oklahoma def. Oklahoma State by 3.9
Texas Tech def. Baylor by 9.2

West Virginia def. Iowa State by 7.1

Clearly there is no F/+ adjustment for "Paul Rhoads is probably going to claim another big team's scalp this year, and the WVU game on Black Friday night is probably the best candidate."

December 1

Texas def. Kansas State by 4.8
Oklahoma def. TCU by 6.1
Oklahoma State def. Baylor by 2.0

West Virginia def. Kansas by 26.9

Clearly there is no F/+ adjustment for "Kansas State always beats Texas."

So what standings do we end up with in these projections?

Texas Tech (9-0)
Texas (8-1)
West Virginia (6-3)
Kansas State (5-4)
Oklahoma (5-4)
Oklahoma State (5-4)
Baylor (3-6)
TCU (2-7)
Iowa State (2-7)
Kansas (0-9)

Texas Tech is not going to 9-0, but let's look at it this way: if the Red Raiders are only a touchdown worse than currently projected, they are still in position to go about 6-3, 9-3 overall. That would be an enormous turnaround for Tommy Tuberville and company. Meanwhile, if TCU is actually a touchdown better than projected, the Horned Frogs still might only go about 4-5.

Applying the same test, if we give Kansas State a "Bill Snyder is a wizard" bonus of seven points per game, the Wildcats go 8-1. Texas is about 4.7 points (against Texas Tech) from 9-0, West Virginia is 7.7 points from 8-1, and Oklahoma is 11.2 points from 7-2.

So what have we learned here? Honestly, the winner of Saturday's Texas-West Virginia game in Austin is probably a solid conference title favorite, but we probably already knew that. One lesson is that Kansas State really is close to a title run of its own, at least as long as the "no margin for error" thing works out in the Wildcats' favor. It bears repeating that KSU is now 14-3 since the start of 2011 with no margin for error and became the first ranked opponent to beat Oklahoma in Norman in the Bob Stoops era -- at some point, they get the benefit of the doubt no matter how difficult the approach may be.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State and Baylor should play a major spoiler role in this race. Both are young, error-prone and ridiculously explosive on offense.

F/+ Rankings

Full rankings here.

F/+ Rk Team Record F/+ Last Week Change S&P+ Rk FEI Rk
1 Alabama 5-0 +49.5% 1 0 335.9 1 0.322 1
2 Oregon 5-0 +35.2% 2 0 293.4 2 0.249 8
3 Florida State 5-0 +29.6% 3 0 259.8 4 0.303 4
4 Texas Tech 4-0 +27.6% 6 +2 256.6 5 0.279 6
5 Notre Dame 4-0 +26.7% 8 +3 246.1 8 0.313 3
6 Texas 4-0 +26.0% 5 -1 242.9 12 0.314 2
7 LSU 5-0 +25.4% 4 -3 261.0 3 0.212 14
8 Florida 4-0 +25.0% 12 +4 245.1 9 0.284 5
9 West Virginia 4-0 +21.6% 7 -2 240.9 14 0.236 10
10 Georgia 5-0 +20.0% 9 -1 244.6 10 0.186 20
11 Michigan 2-2 +19.8% 27 +16 247.8 7 0.166 23
12 South Carolina 5-0 +18.9% 17 +5 234.1 16 0.217 12
13 Oklahoma 2-1 +18.6% 10 -3 228.3 22 0.239 9
14 Oklahoma State 2-2 +18.0% 15 +1 243.0 11 0.155 27
15 Stanford 3-1 +17.5% 11 -4 241.9 13 0.149 30
F/+ Rk Team Record F/+ Last Week Change S&P+ Rk FEI Rk
16 USC 3-1 +16.9% 16 0 231.5 19 0.189 18
17 Nebraska 4-1 +16.4% 18 +1 224.4 27 0.214 13
18 Michigan State 3-2 +16.2% 14 -4 226.8 23 0.198 17
19 Arizona State 4-1 +15.6% 21 +2 232.0 17 0.160 26
20 Boise State 3-1 +15.3% 23 +3 228.7 21 0.170 21
21 Fresno State 3-2 +15.1% 49 +28 231.3 20 0.154 28
22 Kansas State 4-0 +14.9% 20 -2 210.6 45 0.253 7
23 Arizona 3-2 +14.3% 36 +13 231.8 18 0.135 31
24 Clemson 4-1 +14.1% 29 +5 220.6 30 0.187 19
25 Ohio State 5-0 +14.1% 25 0 224.9 25 0.165 24

This Week at SB Nation

I have wonked out a bit this week at SBN, diving pretty far into charting data, and I've enjoyed every minute of it.

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 04 Oct 2012

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