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SPOTLIGHT
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Big 12 up for grabs ahead of conference play

Published on -9/30/2013, 3:53 PM

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By LUKE MEREDITH

AP Sports Writer

The fact that six teams got first-place votes in the preseason Big 12 poll was a sure sign that league would be unpredictable in 2013.

Good luck trying to figure out the conference race now.

Preseason favorite Oklahoma State lost on Saturday at West Virginia. Presumptive contenders TCU and Texas each have two losses, and defending league champion Kansas State lost at home to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State.

Only Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas Tech survived September unbeaten. It'd be easy to peg the Sooners as the favorites after they won at Notre Dame over the weekend, but like the Big 12 race could stretch past Thanksgiving.

The league's first full week starts Thursday when Iowa State (1-2, 0-0 Big 12) hosts the Longhorns (2-2, 1-0).

It's no surprise to see the Sooners in a first place of a league they've won eight times since 2000, including a share of the title last season. But it might come as a surprise to see them as the only Big 12 team in the national title discussion.

Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) moved up to No. 11 in this week's poll after beating the Irish 35-21 in South Bend. The Sooners defense is sixth nationally with just 12 points allowed per game, and Blake Bell has seized the starting quarterback job with a pair of strong efforts.

The Sooners host TCU (2-2, 0-1) on Saturday. Coach Bob Stoops dismissed any worries about a possible letdown because it falls in between Notre Dame and Texas on Oct. 12.

"I always laugh at that, because this happens every year," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "It's always the same story, the letdown before and after, and that hasn't happened to us. We've got to win every game, and TCU is a good football team and we're going to do our business like we always do."

Baylor (3-0, 0-0) is first in the nation with 69.7 points a game after routing Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe, and it is second defensively in allowing just 7.7 points per outing. The next step for the Bears is to prove themselves against top-flight competition. The Bears finally dive into league play Saturday against West Virginia (3-2, 1-1), which resurrected its once-wayward season with a 30-21 upset of the Cowboys.

The Bears start Big 12 play with the Mountaineers, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas. If Baylor can somehow maintain its dominant form, it could find itself 7-0 heading into a showdown at home against the Sooners on Nov. 7.

"They've made tremendous strides defensively," West Virginia Dana Holgorsen said of Baylor. "It's the same stuff that they're doing offensively with a defense that's playing a whole heck of a lot better and a lot of experience on both sides of the ball."

Texas Tech also has a shot to be 7-0 before their game against the Sooners. Much like the Bears, the Red Raiders have made significant strides on defense.

Texas Tech (4-0, 1-0) has allowed just 10 points a game over its last three and will head into Saturday's game at Kansas well rested after last week's bye.

"What jumps out on tape is the effort they're playing with each and every snap and taking pride in keeping people out of the end zone," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said of his defense. "It's really been fun to watch."

Given how volatile the Big 12 should be this season, even the teams off to shaky starts have a chance to redeem themselves over the next two months.

Oklahoma State (3-1, 0-1) returns home Saturday to face Kansas State (2-2, 0-1). Though the Cowboys got off to a rough start in league play, they know there's still plenty of time to move up the Big 12 standings.

"They've had a lot of success here over the last four or five years. So when they lose, they're disappointed. But you really don't have a choice in college football. You've got to get ready to play the next game," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said.

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

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