As we move past the midway point of the 2012 college football season, the conference races are starting to take shape.
The Big 12, sans conference championship game these days, has become one of the more entertaining—and unpredictable—conference regular seasons around.
Without that championship game, every week can make or break a team's chances for that coveted title and resulting BCS berth.
So what have we learned about the Big 12 from the Week 8 performances?
Quite a bit, it turns out.
The Big 12 isn't exactly known for defense.
But when it comes to 2012, it's hard to ignore the fact that the teams at the top of the conference standings after Week 8 all share one thing: a pretty good defense.
Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech—the three teams at the top—all have defenses in the top 25 (total defense).
With six of the conference's 10 teams amongst the nation's top 10 scoring offenses, it will be the defenses that determine who wins the Big 12 this season—for a nice change of pace.
West Virginia has always had a penchant for losing to inferior teams. Last season, it was Syracuse. In 2010, it was, well, Syracuse. In 2008, it was East Carolina. And so on.
Mountaineers fans were hoping that habit would be broken now that WVU has moved to the Big 12.
But stepping up in class means that the conference's “bad” teams are better than they were in the Big East.
And while we're not quite ready to lump Texas Tech into the same category as Syracuse or East Carolina, it doesn't change the fact that West Virginia was heavily favored in that Week 7 game against the Red Raiders.
Now, after another Week 8 beatdown, we can safely say that the Mountaineers aren't ready to win a Big 12 championship. In order to do that, they'll have to completely recover from their days in—and difficult divorce from—the Big East.
Remember when Oklahoma was ranked as one of the top teams in the preseason polls?
It's happened a few seasons in a row now, and clearly the pollsters haven't learned their lesson quite yet.
The Sooners faltered against this season, losing in Week 3 to Kansas State.
Three straight wins have vaulted the Sooners back into the top 10, but Oklahoma has lost much of its luster from the start of 2012.
The conference title race belongs to Kansas State, and the Sooners will need a bit of help to have a shot at that automatic BCS berth this season.
When Oklahoma has struggled this season, it's mainly been on offense, particularly against teams with a serviceable defense.
And Notre Dame—the opponent for Week 9—certainly has a serviceable defense (which is putting it mildly).
Week 8 didn't tell us much more than what we already knew: Oklahoma is way better than Kansas. Who isn't?
But the cumulative six games leading up to this point tells us that Oklahoma's entire 2012 season will come down to just one more game: this week against the Fighting Irish.
There's long been a nasty rumor making its way around the nation: The teams that aren't in a BCS Automatic Qualifying conference don't play a “murderers' row” schedule, and thus aren't very good, so there shouldn't be any talk of BCS games or national title shots.
But like the Wizard of Oz, you have to ignore the man behind the curtain to believe that's true these days.
The non-AQ programs have done surprisingly well in the BCS. Utah first broke the BCS barrier after the 2004 season—back when there were only four BCS games—and destroyed Big East champion Pitt, 35-7. Utah also knocked off Alabama, 31-17, in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Then, of course, there's Boise State.
All together, the non-AQ participants in the BCS are 5-2 (with one of those losses coming against another non-AQ program).
So is it any wonder that TCU showed up well prepared to play its first Big 12 schedule?
TCU is 5-2, and just outside of the Top 25.
Somehow, even a triple-overtime, 56-53 loss to Texas Tech is impressive—especially with all Texas Tech has done this far. And with upcoming games against Oklahoma State, West Virgnia, Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma, there's still plenty of time for TCU to make its mark on the Horned Frogs' first season as a member of the BCS elite.
Kansas State's Collin Klein may be the most important player to his team's success in the entire country—and isn't that what an MVP award is all about?
Klein has only attempted 139 passes this season, but he's completed 98 of them, or 70.5 percent for 1,402 yards and 10 touchdowns.
But what makes him so invaluable is his ability to add yards on the ground, where he averages over five yards per carry. Amazingly, he now has 14 rushing touchdowns to go with his 10 via his arm.
As long as Kansas State stays unbeaten, you can bet that Klein will be the most popular vote for Heisman.
When the Big 12 season got underway in earnest, Texas Tech was sitting on top of the FBS when it came to defense.
But with opponents like FCS Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico, the mention of the Red Raiders at the top of the defensive rankings was usually accompanied by a few snickers.
Not any more.
While the Raiders have slipped a little, it's really only a little. Texas Tech is tied for seventh in the FBS in total defense, giving up just 282.0 yards per game.
The team with which the Red Raiders are tied? Florida.
Texas Tech is now rightfully ranked in the most recent B/R Top 25, and next week's showdown with Kansas State could decide if the Red Raiders have a shot at a BCS bowl this season.
Everyone was rightfully impressed with Geno Smith through the first six weeks of the season.
The Mountaineers were 5-0 and were ranked in nearly every poll's top five.
No one appeared even close to capable of stopping—or slowing down—the Mountaineers, led by this season's collegiate reincarnation of Andrew Luck.
The Heisman Trophy was Smith's to lose, right?
Well, he very well may have lost it. Smith's destiny has unraveled, and the anointed one may not take much home from New York other than a few souvenirs and photographs.
Over the past two weeks, West Virginia is 0-2, and has sunk to No. 22 in the most recent B/R College Football Top 25 Poll.
What's more shocking is the way WVU has been losing games: not scoring points.
With the way the Mountaineers have been giving up points, we could understand if they lost games because the defense gives up one play too many. But WVU has scored just 14 points in each of its last two games. In the Big 12, 14 points won't win you many games.
Smith also threw his first interception of the season this weekend against Kansas State, and followed it up with his second.
Smith's numbers are still impressive (216-of-291 for 2,414 yards, 26 TDs, 2 INTs, 172.0 passer rating), and he's still in the running for some postseason awards.
But the Heisman Trophy probably isn't one of them. At least not now that we know he's not perfect.
Remember the good old days when Texas was good?
Seriously, what happened?
It seems like the Longhorns' soul was ripped out when Colt McCoy went down to injury in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game.
Texas never recovered, and Alabama rolled right over top of the Longhorns. Then, Texas put together an embarrassing effort in 2010, missing a bowl game for the first time since 1997.
Last season, Texas was 8-5, certainly a lackluster performance by Texas standards.
And just when we thought Mack Brown might be turning things around this year with a 4-0 start, the Longhorns were edged out by a West Virginia team that clearly isn't as good as we all thought.
Okay, we can accept a narrow loss every now and then. But to follow that with an embarrassment against Oklahoma?
Something just doesn't smell right in Austin these days.
It might be hard for some folks to wrap their heads around Mack Brown on the hot seat given his 142-39 record at Texas. But beyond the overall numbers, you'll see something that should concern every Longhorns fan.
Texas is in its 15th season under Brown's leadership. In that span, the Longhorns have won just two Big 12 titles. Two. For comparison's sake, let's look at Oklahoma's Bob Stoops.
Stoops is now 144-35, which is amazingly similar to Brown's mark. So what's the major difference between the two? Stoops and the Sooners have seven Big 12 titles over the last 13 seasons.
And if things keep going the way they have been for the first eight weeks of 2012, Kansas State could have the exact same number of conference titles as Texas does over the last decade-and-a-half.
That's right, Texas fans: The Longhorns are an inch away from being placed on the same historical level as the Kansas State Wildcats.
A 142-39 mark sure is nice, but 50 years down the road, people remember seasons for championships, not for beating up all the wussier teams on a schedule.
And right now, the Longhorns aren't even coming close to winning championships—which is decidedly un-Texas-like of them.
When looking through the national offensive rankings, something immediately catches the eye: The Big 12 has five of the top 10 scoring offenses in the nation, and three of the top five.
That's what happens when you have finals like 56-50 and 70-63.
But it doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that huge offensive numbers directly lead to pitifully weak defensive numbers.
The Big 12 doesn't have a single team in the top 10 when it comes to scoring defense, and only two in the top 25.
Which brings us to our final point...
If defense truly wins championships, then the Big 12 is still a ways off from winning the coveted crystal football at season's end.
The conference certainly has a number of teams capable of hanging some points on the stifling defenses of the SEC, but with abysmal defensive performances so far, it's highly doubtful that there's a Big 12 team out there capable of stopping many of the other BCS title contenders.
And while teams like Kansas State and Texas Tech are making a push toward the top of the conference today, the best challenge to the SEC for a national championship will probably have to come from one of the usual suspects in the Big 12. It takes more than a great group of starters to win a national championship these days.
And while Kansas State and Texas Tech arguably have a starting 22 as talented as any team in the nation, the depth of talent pales in comparison to some other top 10 programs in the country.
That's why we think the Big 12 is still a little ways off from winning a BCS National Championship Game.