Big 12 football: Wildcats, Red Raiders exceeding expectations
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Kansas State is ranked No. 4 in the polls and No. 3 in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
The Wildcats were predicted to finish sixth in the Big 12 Conference standings in the coaches' preseason poll in July.
Texas Tech is No. 15 in the media poll and No. 17 in the coaches' poll and No. 13 in the BCS. The Red Raiders were picked ninth in July's preseason poll.
The two teams meet in Manhattan, Kan., on Saturday in an unexpected clash for a top spot in the conference. Both Kansas State (7-0, 4-0) and Texas Tech (6-1, 3-1) have had the league's offensive and defensive players of the week the past two weeks - both times coming after wins against West Virginia.
"I'm not one to put any limitations on them," Wildcats Coach Bill Snyder said. "I'm not very good at being able to predict what level of success we may or may not have, but I thought we'd be a pretty good football team. How good remains to be seen."
Both teams have a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback. Kansas State's Collin Klein had seven touchdowns against WVU. His three scores and 323 yards passing were career-high marks. He now has the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in two seasons (41) and helped the Wildcats to 55 points, most ever on the road against a ranked team.
Texas Tech's Seth Doege ranks No. 8 nationally in passing yards per game (315.6), No. 5 in pass efficiency and No. 13 in total offense per game (318.6). He, too, is coming off a seven-touchdown game with each coming through the air in a three-overtime win at TCU. Doege, who had six touchdown passes against WVU, leads the nation with 28.
"We have more depth on both sides of the ball and we have a senior quarterback who can really play," Coach Tommy Tuberville said. "He's pretty special. We didn't play very good defensively and TCU took it to us. We didn't stop the run, we didn't stop the pass, but he throws seven touchdowns. We knew going into the season that if we could keep him healthy we could be successful."
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OKLAHOMA (5-1, 3-1) is No. 7 in the coaches' poll and No. 8 in the media poll and the BCS. The Sooners have a chance to jump LSU (7-1), which is No. 6 in all three rankings, as the top one-loss team when they play host to Notre Dame Saturday.
The Fighting Irish (7-0) are No. 5 in all three rankings while Oklahoma is still haunted by the two turnovers in September's home loss to Kansas State. The first came on its own goal line and was recovered and returned for a touchdown. The second came near Kansas State's end zone, prevented a Sooners touchdown, led to a Wildcats field goal and shaped the 24-19 loss.
"What people failed to realize was we played a heck of a game against them the entire time, but we made two major mistakes we couldn't overcome," Coach Bob Stoops said. "But as far as being tough and physical, we were toe to toe with them the entire day.
"We dropped one ball on the snap on a second-and-half-a-yard on our way to a score. That's what gave me confidence moving forward.
"I knew we were a good team and we weren't going to fumble the football ever week. We haven't done that and you've seen what we've been able to do."
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OKLAHOMA STATE quarterback J.W. Wash set career-high marks in last week's win against Iowa State by going 32-for-47 for 415 yards. He set a school freshman record with his third 300-yard passing game in the 31-10 win and did it playing about 70 snaps with a knee injury that will keep him out the rest of the season.
Walsh had surged in recent weeks after starter Wes Lunt, a true freshman, was injured in the third game of the season. He hasn't played since while Walsh had thrown and run his way to No. 14 in pass efficiency and No. 23 in total offense.
Coach Mike Gundy said Lunt has practiced the past few weeks and that he and junior Clint Chelf, who he said is more like Walsh than is Lunt, will split snaps in practice before the Cowboys (4-2, 2-1) play TCU (5-2, 2-2) on Saturday.
"We have enough reps in practice for the two guys because we move so fast that Clint and Wes will both get reps and at the end of the week, we'll look at where we're at as a team and see how we feel about how those guys are performing and decide who plays Saturday," Gundy said.
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THE MOUNTAINEERS (5-2, 2-2) get to take a breath after playing four straight weeks in the Big 12. In their debut season, they survived a 70-63 win at home against Baylor and a 48-45 thriller at Texas before they were crushed in back-to-back games against Texas Tech and Kansas State by a combined 104-14.
"I'm pretty familiar with the Big 12 and I knew what we were getting ourselves into, but I think it's going to take a whole season for everyone around here to understand it," Coach Dana Holgorsen said.
Perhaps, but the Big 12 is even surprising those who have been inside it longer than Holgorsen, the second-year coach who spent nine years as an assistant at Texas Tech (2000-07) and Oklahoma State (2010).
"This is by far the deepest the league has been with quality teams since we've been here," said Texas Coach Mack Brown, who is in his 15th season with the Longhorns.
Five Big 12 teams are in the BCS standings, second to only the SEC, and nine of the 10 teams have been ranked at least once in the other two polls this season. A list of the 25 hardest schedules contains eight Big 12 teams and the conference has only three non-conference losses with Oklahoma-Notre Dame being the last non-conference game this season.
Five of the country's top 17 teams in total offense and seven of the top 13 in scoring offense are in the Big 12, but four of the top 23 are also members of the league renowned for its offense.
"It did not surprise me West Virginia left here and went to Lubbock and got beat," Brown said. "I've been to Lubbock and it's a very, very difficult place to play. It didn't surprise me to see Kansas State do so well against West Virginia. Bill has a great football team that's doing very well.
"It's a fun league to be in right now. Fans see great games. People who like to see scoring are going to see a lot of scoring in this league. The thing everyone wants to do is fire their defensive coordinator, but everyone's got a quarterback that can move the ball."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.