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Keeping Up with the Conference: Week 4 power rankings

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Texas may be off this week, but here’s what you need to know in a huge weekend of football in the Big 12.

Austin-American Statesman

At last, we’ve made it to the beginning of the Big 12 season for all teams.

Last week served as a bit of a teaser, with only four teams playing conference games. The other six teams were busy wrapping up their non-conference schedules or taking a bye week. But now, after this weekend, every member of the Big 12 will have played at least one conference game, and the race to the conference championship game in Arlington will finally be underway.

Because only two conference games were played last week, there’s a lot left to shake out as league play kicks off. It’s pretty clear who the top dogs are in the conference — Oklahoma and Texas — but there’s enough buzz and intrigue from plenty of other schools vying to be in the mix for the conference title game that any number of teams could wind up in the top or bottom half of the conference.

In short, there’s a lot of unknown heading into this week. And it should be exciting to watch some of those questions unravel this weekend, as Texas fans can sit back and relax on their bye week (and not worry about any more defensive players getting hurt).

A reminder that the power rankings are not meant to reflect the current standings. They’ll be based on a combination of season performance, heavily weighing more recent games, and will take into consideration opponent quality compared to the rest of the conference.

BIG 12 POWER RANKINGS

Previous week ranking is in [BRACKETS]

1. (6) Oklahoma [1]

Last week: off Week 4

Trending: NEUTRAL. Oklahoma hasn’t had many challenges yet, if any. Their non-conference opponents (Houston, South Dakota, and UCLA) are just 1-7 in FBS play, and 3-9 overall. Oklahoma’s offense will always be the calling card of this team, with quarterback Jalen Hurts building an impressive Heisman-worthy resume through three games. A home game against the reeling Red Raiders, in which the Sooners are favored to win by four touchdowns, should provide Hurts another chance to pad his statistics. Their defensive secondary still has some question marks, but OU is still the cream of the Big 12 crop — for now.

Next Up: vs Texas Tech, Saturday 11:00 a.m. Central (on FOX)

2. (11) Texas [2]

Last week: W vs Oklahoma State, 36-30

Highlight: Despite quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s monster day (20/28, 281 yards passing, 4 TDs, 1 INT, 70 yards rushing) and the incredibly punishing rushing game the Horns displayed (217 yards on 43 carries), Texas actually found themselves trailing at one point in the second half. That was until this double flea flicker trick play late in the third quarter pushed the Longhorns back on top, and for good.

Trending: UP. A hard-fought battle with Oklahoma State results in Texas notching the best conference win of the weekend. You could argue the Longhorns played better than the score indicates, with 14 of OSU’s 30 points coming after muffed punts (seriously, someone just learn to catch a punt). But mistakes like that need to be cleaned up before Texas faces Oklahoma in just two weeks. Ehlinger continued his Heisman campaign, and Keaontay Ingram had his best game of the year, rushing for 114 yards. The defense also stepped up and restrained RB Chuba Hubbard to just 3.3 yards per carry, and held WR Tylan Wallace to under 100 receiving yards. Texas will look to get healthy on their bye week before squaring off against WVU.

Next Up: off Week 5, 10/5 at West Virginia, 2:30 p.m. Central

3. Oklahoma State [5]

Last week: L at Texas, 30-36

Highlight: In a game featuring the nation’s leading rusher, RB Chuba Hubbard, the Longhorns contained him to just 121 yards on 37 carries. Instead, Oklahoma State’s most effective rusher was QB Spencer Sanders, who ran for 109 yards on 18 carries. His lone TD came on a scramble in the first half, in which he slipped down the sideline and sneaked in for a score.

Trending: UP. As big of a thorn as they’ve been in Texas’ side this past decade, you have to give credit to the Cowboys for fighting to the last whistle in a gritty loss in Austin. Texas has looked the part of the Big 12’s (at least) second best team, and OSU was a Sam Ehlinger third down conversion stop away from getting the ball back and potentially winning the game. Sanders was impressive on the ground, but the passing game will need a bit of tweaking — despite the 268 passing yards, Sanders made a few mistakes and missed receivers. The bigger red flag for the Cowboys, though, is their defense that allowed Texas to put up 500 yards of offense, running for 222 yards and throwing for 281.

Next Up: vs (24) Kansas State, Saturday 6:00 p.m. Central (on ESPN+)

4. Iowa State [6]

Last week: W vs UL Monroe, 72-20

Highlight: QB Brock Purdy was fantastic in this game, stuffing the stat sheet in a huge ISU win. Purdy passed for 435 yards on 21/27 passing, threw three touchdowns, and also ran for 75 yards and added three more touchdowns. In all his 510 yards of offense and six touchdowns on the day set Iowa State school records for total yards in a game and touchdowns scored in a game. His entire highlight reel is truly something straight out of a backyard football game.

Trending: UP. QB Brock Purdy finally had his first huge game in the box score this past weekend. Purdy hasn’t been bad to start the year. In fact, he’s been Purdy good. But after last season’s impressive campaign (2,250 yards passing, 308 yards rushing, 21 total TDs and 7 INT in 10 games played) many were expecting a breakout year with an entire offseason of building the offense around him. ISU has a defense that will keep them in most games — pair that with performances like this, and they more closely resemble the preseason ranked team analysts envisioned them as.

Next Up: at Baylor, 2:30 p.m. Central (on ESPN)

5. Baylor [4]

Last week: W at Rice, 21-13

Highlight: QB Charlie Brewer paced the Baylor offense in this game, leading the team in passing and rushing. Brewer was 20/27 with 303 yards and one score throwing, and added 58 yards and a score on the ground. The Bears’ longest play of the game came courtesy of Brewer on this 50 yard strike to WR Chris Platt for a touchdown.

Trending: DOWN. On paper, a 21-13 win over Rice is in no way impressive or important. Head coach Matt Rhule argues otherwise, saying post game that “we needed that game... we needed that experience.” This was, by far, Baylor’s closest game of the season, and it provided the untested team a chance to play under some stressful and critical conditions. The bad news for Baylor is that after getting out to a 21-3 lead at the half, their offense spun their tires and failed to score again against a paltry Owls defense. The good news is that Rice had a chance to tie late in the game, but was stifled by the impressive Bears defense, with two sacks on the Owls’ final drive. Baylor has a huge game this weekend vs Iowa State, when both teams will look to cement their status as a Big 12 contender.

Next Up: vs Iowa State, Saturday 2:30 p.m. Central (on ESPN)

6. (24) Kansas State [7]

Last week: off Week 4

Trending: NEUTRAL. The last time K-State took the field, they pulled out a win at Mississippi State. That road victory stands as one of the Big 12’s best wins so far this season. Now, coming off a bye week, the Wildcats will look to keep the road wins rolling in a tough match-up at Oklahoma State. K-State may have some of the best trenches in the Big 12, with their strength coming on the offensive and defensive lines. If they’re able to pressure Sanders and create lanes for their RBs against a suspect OSU defense, look for K-State to take this one in Stillwater.

Next Up: at Oklahoma State 6:00 p.m. Central (on ESPN+)

7. TCU [3]

Last week: L vs SMU, 38-41

Highlight: TCU had no trouble running all over SMU, with the team amassing 236 yards on the ground and two touchdowns on just 42 carries. RB Darius Anderson was particularly effective, taking 19 of those carries for 161 yards and getting both touchdowns. Most of those yards came on one drive — a two-play series featuring a 77-yard run and a goal line scamper for a score.

Trending: DOWN. TCU has an achilles’ heel this season, and it’s a complete lack of a passing game. Their aerial attack isn’t without weapons, as WR Jalen Reagor remains one of the Big 12’s premier play-makers. The Horned Frogs have found zero consistency from their quarterbacks this season. Max Duggan is the better option of he and K-State transfer Alex Delton, but he’s struggled so far this year. Unless he can improve on his 50% completion rate (just 43% if you only include Purdue and SMU), TCU will have to rely on their defense and rushing to win games — which, as we saw this past weekend, is tough to do against excellent offensive teams or when playing from behind.

Next Up: vs Kansas, Saturday 11:00 a.m. Central (on FS1)

8. Texas Tech [8]

Last week: off Week 4

Trending: NEUTRAL. Talk about bad timing — after losing QB Alan Bowman during a 28-14 loss to Arizona, the Red Raiders take a bye and turn around to hit the road and play Oklahoma in Norman. Tech will rely upon two QB’s in Bowman’s absence — Jett Duffey and Rice transfer Jackson Tyner. Given his experience last year and his rushing ability, Duffey will most likely be the more-used of the two this weekend and going forward. It will be interesting to see what kind of offense new head coach Matt Wells will install, but with Bowman out for the foreseeable future, and games against OU, OSU, Baylor, and ISU next on the schedule, Tech could wind up in a bad spot sooner rather than later.

Next Up: at (6) Oklahoma, Saturday 11:00 a.m. Central (on FOX)

9. West Virginia [10]

Last week: W vs Kansas, 29-24

Highlight: The Mountaineer rushing attack served as their driving force for the game. On the ground, WVU racked up 192 yards on the ground, and all three of their touchdowns came through the running game. RB Martell Pettaway had two of those touchdowns, including this score from 30 yards out to put WVU out of reach.

Trending: UP. In the first conference game of the year, West Virginia defeated Kansas in a close-fought battle. Many felt that this game would determine which school wound up in the Big 12’s standings basement, and that may end up being the case. But this is now two wins in a row for Neal Brown and the Mountaineers, who are undeniably trending upward after a horrific start to the season. There’s still room for improvement on this young Mountaineer team, but starting off 1-0 in the conference is a step in the right direction.

Next Up: off Week 5, 10/5 vs (11) Texas 2:30 p.m. Central

10. Kansas [9]

Last week: L vs West Virginia, 24-29

Highlight: QB Carter Stanley and WR Andrew Parchment had a lethal connection on Saturday, with Parchment logging 132 yards and two touchdowns in the game. More than half of those came on this 75-yard bomb from Stanley to Parchment in the third quarter.

Trending: DOWN. Coming home following their huge win at Boston College, Kansas fans let their team hear their appreciation of the new-found competitiveness residing in Lawrence, Kansas. Even in a loss, fans gave a standing ovation after the Jayhawk comeback fell just short. Though the fans may be satisfied, Kansas still reports in as the bottom dweller of the Big 12. Kansas has played teams tough, but they still lack the talent and depth to compete with the better teams in the Big 12. A home game against WVU was probably their best chance at a conference win this season — although, this week brings them a match-up against TCU, the one team they beat last season.

Next Up: at TCU, Saturday 11:00 a.m. Central (on FS1)

BIG 12 STANDINGS (THROUGH WEEK 4)

Conference record listed first, followed by Overall record

  1. (11) Texas [1-0, 3-1]
  2. West Virginia [1-0, 3-1]
  3. (24) Kansas State [0-0, 3-0]
  4. Baylor [0-0, 3-0]
  5. (6) Oklahoma [0-0, 3-0]
  6. Iowa State [0-0, 2-1]
  7. TCU [0-0, 2-1]
  8. Texas Tech [0-0, 2-1]
  9. Oklahoma State [0-1, 3-1]
  10. Kansas [0-1, 2-2]

STAT OF THE WEEK

Duvernay continues to lead the Longhorns in receiving, as well as this “Stat of the Week” column.

And another milestone for Sam Ehlinger.

PARTING SHOT