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November 17, 2011

Week 12 preview in the Big 12

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big East | Big Ten | MWC | Pac-12 | SEC | Others

Losing TV markets hurts, but aside from that, the Big 12 Conference is looking good. Real good.

Think of the Big 12 as the middle-aged divorcee whose husband left for someone younger. As it turns out, she's still attractive.

THE SCHEDULE
FRIDAY
Oklahoma State at Iowa State, 8 p.m.
SATURDAY
Kansas at Texas A&M, noon
Texas Tech at Missouri, 3:30 p.m.
Kansas State at Texas, 8 p.m.
Oklahoma at Baylor, 8 p.m.
Despite recent defections, the Big 12 is doing fine. Indeed, a strong case can be made that the Big 12 in the nation's second-strongest conference, behind the SEC.

The loss of Colorado to the Pac-12, Nebraska to the Big Ten and the impending losses of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC takes away the Denver, Omaha, Kansas City and St. Louis television markets.

But from a strictly competitive standpoint, the Big 12 hasn't lost much at all.

Yes, Nebraska is a solid contender in the Big Ten's Legends Division, but Colorado is a 2-9 disaster out west and neither Texas A&M nor Missouri has yet posted the six victories necessary to attain bowl eligibility.

And while A&M and Missouri are muddling through disappointing seasons, their eventual replacements - TCU and West Virginia - may win conference championships.

The current BCS standings include five Big 12 team. Only the SEC has more.

"We have four teams that need one [more] win to be bowl-eligible," Big 12 spokesman Bob Burda said. "We could have nine teams bowl-eligible. That's 90 percent of the league. I don't know if any league can match that claim.

"Half the league is in the BCS standings. Then you throw into the mix TCU. And West Virginia is on the edge. If they win out, they will probably be in the top 25 of the BCS standings when all is said and done."

And if unbeaten Oklahoma State posts two more victories, the Cowboys will be in the BCS national championship game - which would mark the sixth time since 2003 that the Big 12 has had a team play for the national title.

[Video: Kansas State on upset alert]

If the Cowboys should stumble, Oklahoma might have a shot at going to New Orleans. At the least, the Big 12 appears destined to have two teams in BCS games.

Not bad - and the future may be even better.

Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri combined for just three Big 12 championships and none since 2001. Oklahoma remains an established powerhouse. Oklahoma State has posted four consecutive seasons with at least nine victories, so its success can't be dismissed as a fluke. Kansas State has re-emerged as a top-20 program since coach Bill Snyder came out of retirement. Texas is rather mediocre now, but the Longhorns won't struggle forever. Even Baylor has become competitive under Art Briles.

TCU figures to post at least 10 wins for the eighth time in 10 seasons. West Virginia has won at least nine games for six consecutive seasons and has a strong chance to do it again this season.

That seems to indicate that the Big 12 won't lose its luster, just some TV viewers.

Best matchup: Kansas State's run offense vs. Texas' run defense. The Longhorns are No. 1 in the Big 12 in rushing defense, and they have allowed 152 or fewer rushing yards in eight games. The defense must be at its absolute best against the run when it faces Kansas State, which is 22nd in the nation in rushing offense. The Wildcats have rushed for at least 182 yards in each of their past four games behind QB Collin Klein, who has rushed for 1,009 yards and 24 TDs. Klein has rushed for at least two touchdowns in each of his past six games and has had at least three TDs in five of those games.

Player on the spot: Texas Tech QB Seth Doege. In the past three games (all losses), he has thrown just two touchdown passes and those were in garbage time against Texas after the Longhorns had taken a 38-6 lead. The Red Raiders' success is highly dependent on Doege. He's thrown at least three touchdown passes in each of Tech's five victories, and he's facing a Missouri defense that is 95th in the nation against the pass.

[Heisman Watch: Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden makes his move]

Keep an eye on: Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden. He's among the top Heisman contenders and even No. 1 on some lists. Weeden has thrown for 925 yards and nine touchdowns in the past two games and needs to stay hot to keep his Heisman campaign surging. He's facing an Iowa State defense that has been surprisingly stubborn against the pass. No opposing quarterback has thrown for 300 yards against the Cyclones, and only two - Missouri's James Franklin and Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill - have exceeded 250 passing yards. Iowa State has had issues stopping the run, which has limited how often opponents have needed to pass. But Weeden needs to keep producing passing numbers.

Numbers game: Kansas State's Klein is three rushing touchdowns away from tying the Big 12 single-season record of 27 set by Texas' Ricky Williams. Klein also is three shy of tying the NCAA single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, set by Navy's Ricky Dobbs in 2009.

Quotes of the week

"I think he should stay here for a long time. He's a good coach and we're on the brink. We're fighting. We're close, and as soon as we get that win, I'm pretty sure everything's going to turn around." - Kansas LB Steven Johnson, on embattled coach Turner Gill

[Bowl projections: How many Big 12 teams go bowling?]

"We've got us a mess right now. We've got to figure it out in a week." - Texas coach Mack Brown, on injuries to the Longhorns' top three running backs

"Do I believe this team understands that? No question. Do I let a day go by without telling them? No chance. We tell them every day." - Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, on the Cowboys' prospects of winning their first Big 12 championship and playing in the BCS national championship game

"It's a tragic fluke, a one-in-a-million type of injury and, unfortunately, to a guy who is so gifted with speed and mobility and agility. You don't see this. In 26 years, I've never seen this." Missouri team doctor Pat Smith, on the season-ending knee injury suffered by Missouri RB Henry Josey. Josey suffered a torn patellar tendon and torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee

Poll watch: Five Big 12 teams remain in the BCS standings, and two are in the top five. No. 2 Oklahoma State will advance to the BCS national championship game by winning its last two games. The Cowboys close on Dec. 3 against No. 5 Oklahoma in the Bedlam series. Kansas State is No. 13 in the BCS standings. Baylor in No. 22 and Texas is No. 23, though both have fallen out of the coaches' poll.

Etc.: Baylor WR Kendall Wright has had at least seven receptions in 10 consecutive games. He's caught 80 passes, which broke his school record of 78 set last season. Iowa State needs one more win for bowl eligibility, but its remaining three games are against No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 17 Kansas State. Kansas State WR/KR Tyler Lockett will miss the rest of the season because of a lacerated kidney. Oklahoma has recorded at least eight tackle for lost yardage in each of the past five games. Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden owns four of the top six passing games in Oklahoma State history. He also has passed Cowboys coach Mike Gundy for second place on the program's career passing yards list. Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon passed Hart Lee Dykes and moved into second place on Oklahoma State's career receiving yards list with 3,184. Baylor's 21-point fourth-quarter comeback against Kansas last week was the largest in school history. Texas A&M K Randy Bullock has set a school record with 326 career points. Texas Tech still needs another win to extend a streak of 18 years of bowl eligibility. The Red Raiders have games remaining against Missouri and Baylor. K-State CB Nigel Malone leads the Big 12 and is third in the nation with seven interceptions. Texas RB Fozzy Whittaker (knee) is out for the remainder of the season. RBs Malcolm Brown (turf toe) and Joe Bergeron (hamstring) are questionable, as is LB Keenan Robinson (thumb) is questionable. Kansas junior D.J. Beshears set a school single-season record with 956 kickoff-return yards. Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said Aggies receivers have dropped 18 passes in the past two games. Baylor has won 10 Big 12 games in four seasons under Art Briles. The Bears had won 11 Big 12 games in the 12 seasons before Briles' arrival. Last week's 17-5 loss to Missouri marked the first time Texas failed to score a touchdown since 2004 and the first time in offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin's six-year career his team failed to reach the end zone.

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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