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Week 4 of the Big 12: Power Rankings and Title Race Becomes Clearer

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It’s early yet, but the picture is emerging.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Where We Were In the Pre-Season

Before the beginning of this season, there were several widely agreed upon orthodoxies among media. They are represented rather well in the results of the Big 12 preseason poll:

Here were the major thought-lines:

  • Oklahoma was the clear title favorite.
  • Texas the clear #2.
  • Iowa State was frequently mentioned as a dark-horse title contender and was a clear #3.
  • TCU, Oklahoma State, and Baylor were essentially interchangeable at 4-7.
  • Nobody really knew what to do with new coaches at Tech, West Virginia, and Kansas State.
  • Everyone knew that even with a new coach, Kansas goes last.

It was a tough league to discern. Oklahoma with a new defensive coordinator; Texas with it’s ever-elite talent but replacing a ton on defense; Iowa State in year four of a program that has steadily built year by year; TCU with a ton back on a great defense but nobody at QB; Oklahoma State replacing an elite QB and WR and still trying to figure things out on D; Baylor in year 3 of Rhule still trying to find consistency; and 4 new coaches beyond that.

Travis’ Current Power Rankings.

While the season is young—6 conference games remain for each team—a clearer picture is emerging in the league. Here is where I was after non-conference play.

  1. Oklahoma (SP+ ranking — rating: 3 — 27.3). Not much to say here. Their defense looked more than good enough against Texas. I still question whether Hurts is a good enough passer against the elite defenses, but he will only face a few of those this year. I think they’ll drop one of either at Baylor or home against ISU, but one loss will get you in the title game.
  2. Baylor (16 — 17.2). The loss of Clay Johnston is huge and will be something to watch against Oklahoma State. Clay had elite lateral quickness and turned a lot of would-be 7 yard gains into 2 or 3 yard gains. They have a good replacement in Terrel Bernard, but he is not as good as Johnston—otherwise he would have been starting! Expect a dip in Baylor’s defense with the loss of Johnston, but Baylor’s offense continues to ascend and get better every week (1st half against Tech aside—Baylor’s overall numbers in that game were pretty good). Thankfully Baylor’s DL remains incredible and the secondary is competent. If Baylor makes the Big 12 title game, it will be because Baylor’s offense continues to build on their duo of Mims and Thornton and can punish soft defenses with the run game.
  3. Iowa State (15 — 17.6). Iowa State and Baylor remain essentially the same team. Both are remarkably able across the board. Purdy really seems to be hitting his stride and they found some running game life against West Virginia last week. They’ll be in the thick of it until the end, and their loss in Waco could come back to sting if both Baylor and Iowa State have 2 losses at the end of the year, which is somewhat likely.
  4. Texas (22 — 15.1). Enigmatic as ever, they retain an elite offense but the defense continues to founder. They were replacing a lot of guys coming into the year, and then have been hit hard by injuries. Of course, their replacements are still 4 and 5 star guys, so the performance is below expectation. Oklahoma is in a league of its own at the top, but after them Baylor, Iowa State, and Texas are all very close to one another. My guess is Texas finishes 6-3 in conference.
  5. Oklahoma State (26 — 14.3). Yes, I have them above Texas Tech despite OSU having lost there two weeks ago. But these are power rankings so I get to do things like that, otherwise the power rankings would just look like the conference standings. OSU, like Baylor was this past week, was thwarted by a great Texas Tech defensive gameplan in the first half but then OSU was able to turn it on in the second half. Furthermore, Tech had 18 points of turnover luck in that game. I think this was the yearly Gundy clunker and they’ll get things grooving again for the rest of the year, eventually losing by one score in Bedlam.
  6. Texas Tech (34 — 10.5). They’ve really turned around. They looked very lackluster early in the year; Bowman was not in rhythm and their skill talent looked subpar. Their skill talent is still subpar, but Matt Wells has shown he knows what to do with the enigmatic Jett Duffey. Their defense looked good against Baylor last week, especially because they had so many guys out for that game. They look like a weekly tough out.
  7. Kansas State (37 — 7.9). After getting thumped by Baylor and home and then having to simmer on that during an off week, Kansas State has fallen out of favor. As I pointed out before the Texas Tech game, K-State and Tech are actually rather similar statistically, albeit getting there in different ways. K-State has an average offense matched with an above average defense, and are already playing tough and smart football. Like Tech, they’ll be a tough out for every team.
  8. TCU (28 — 13.4). Yes, I remain a TCU hater. It’s the same story for them—the stats are artificially high on them because the teams that they can push around they will destroy, and they’ve played many of those thus far. But, for the rest of the schedule, they will probably only be able to run all over Kansas while every other team is going to force TCU to throw the ball and they just can’t do it. I have K-State favored against TCU this weekend so that’s why I have them ranked this way.
  9. West Virginia (64 — 1.9). West Virginia has a great coach and they have come out with some great gameplans this year. The numbers actually showed that their game with Texas was a tossup that WVU suffered a lot of bad turnover luck in. They’re somewhat competent on both sides of the ball but currently lack talent to keep up with most teams for four quarters.
  10. Kansas (78 — -2.0). Much more competent than the recent past, but still not good enough to be much challenge for Big 12 teams. They lost their major chance for a Big 12 win against WVU several weeks ago.

Big 12 Title Race

The race is becoming much clearer.

Ian Boyd wrote a great article over at his site going over the strengths and weaknesses of each Big 12 title contender. It’s not worth my trying to out-do, so I recommend you just read it. But I’ll briefly look at some data, despite it still being early to do so.

Currently, it looks like the second team to make the Big 12 title game will have two losses, though potentially three. So let’s look at the probabilities of the contenders to do so using SP+ win probabilities:

  • Oklahoma has by far the best chance to finish with 2 or fewer losses at 90.5%.
https://imgur.com/a/PsCoDDU
  • Baylor has the second best odds at 56.6%. If you’re struggling with these somewhat inscrutable graphs, break it down piece by piece. If Baylor finishes with two conference losses they will be 10-2. So go to the 10 win column, go down all the way to the bottom, and add up all the probabilities to the right of it (34 + 18.8 + 3.8). This is adding up the probabilities that Baylor finishes 10-2, 11-1, and 12-0 together. The charts for Iowa State and Texas are slightly more difficult since they both lost one non-conference game and one conference game already, so their final record would be 9-3 with only 2 conference losses.
  • Iowa State is 3rd at 22.5%.
https://imgur.com/a/PsCoDDU
  • Texas is 4th at 18.9%
https://imgur.com/a/PsCoDDU
  • Finally, because Oklahoma State has already lost 2 games, they would need to win out which they currently have a 1.7% chance of doing so, so they’re effectively out.

As we can see, with Baylor having a 56.6% chance, Iowa State at 22.5%, and Texas at 18.9%, the likelihood that one of those happens is relatively high. It is effectively a 4 team race. Even if we get some more chaos and a 3 conference loss team makes the title game, it still is much more likely to come from one of these four teams.