There seems to be little argument that the 14 schools that make up the Southeastern Conference represent the country's best football league among the major college conferences. But what about the second best football conference? Most college football experts rate the Big 12 as the second best, and there are some compelling stats on the Big 12 early on this season that might even challenge some of the traditional thinking about the SEC.
When the rankings came out ahead of Week 4 in the college football season, it looked like a reprint of the final national rankings at the end of last season, with Alabama at No. 1and LSU No. 2 in both major human polls (AP media poll and USA Today coaches' poll). Georgia and South Carolina are also ranked in the top 10, giving the SEC four teams in the top 10, the most of any conference.
The Big 12 boasts three teams of its own (Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas) in the USA Today top 10 this week, and the Pac-12 has two (Oregon and Stanford) in the AP poll. Expanding the list to the top-25 teams nationally, though, the SEC and Big 12 both have six teams in this week's rankings.
Big 12 teams have won 22 of 24 non-conference games in the opening three weeks, for a winning percentage of ; the SEC has gone 23-6 in its 29 games against non-conference opponents. Here are some other eye-opening figures - with the caveat that they only represent three weeks in a 12- to 14-week season - that bode well for the quality of football played in the Big 12:
- Five of the top eight teams in the country in scoring are Big 12 schools (1. Oklahoma State, 4. West Virginia, 6. Baylor, 7. Texas Tech and 8. Texas). The SEC is the only other conference with as many as two teams in the top 10 in scoring.
- In the category of team total offense, the Big 12 has four of the top eight schools (1. Oklahoma State, 3. West Virginia, 6. Texas Tech and 8. Baylor. And Oklahoma is at No. 11).
- It has been widely publicized that the Big 12 is an offense-dominated league that puts up high scores and significant passing totals. Through the first three weeks of the current season, however, three Big 12 teams (2. Texas Tech, 7. TCU and 10. Oklahoma) are listed in the top-10 nationally in total defense.
- Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas are one, two and three in the NCAA in third-down efficiency, and Kansas State is No, 7 and West Virginia No. 9.
Granted, we are talking about stats from games against mostly inferior competition in terms of comparative talent level and total resources. Nevertheless, Big 12 teams have put up some striking numbers at this early stage of the season. It will be interesting to see how these numbers hold up when the conference schedule swings into high gear.
On Saturday, Kansas hosted 16th-ranked TCU (USA Today poll), in the conference opener for both teams, and the outcome was much closer than most prognosticators predicted. TCU led by just four points, 10-6, at halftime and managed 10 more third-quarter points to close out a 20-6 road win. The Jayhawks netted over 300 passing yards against the Horned Frogs' usually stingier defense. Four fumbles, however, by the TCU offense, several of which might have prevented the Horned Frogs from putting more points on the board, contributed to a much tougher game than coach Gary Patterson said his players anticipated.
Game No. 2 in the head-to-head conference schedule will take place Saturday night in Norman, Okla., where 13th-ranked Kansas State will take on No. 5 Oklahoma in what should be a great game between two of the conference's best teams.
Here are some of the things we learned from last weekend's game involving Big 12 teams:
Five Things We Learned From Week 3
- Baylor hasn't missed much of a beat having senior Nick Florence at quarterback instead of Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Florence completed 24 of 41 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns in the Bears' 48-23 win over Sam Houston State. Florence did throw two interceptions, however.
- The Texas offense is firing on all cylinders right now. Led by sophomore quarterback David Ash, who is this week's Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week, the Longhorns scored on seven straight possessions at one stage of their 66-31 blowout win Saturday night over Ole Miss out of the SEC. Texas had 676 yards in total offense, including touchdown passes of 46 and 56 yards. The 66 points put up by Texas was the most scored against a Mississippi team in 95 years (1917).
- Kansas State (3-0) went undefeated in non-conference action for the third straight season and for the 14th time under head coach Bill Snyder. The Wildcats head to Oklahoma this weekend with a lot of momentum, especially when their offense, led by senior quarterback Collin Klein, gets the ball inside the opponent's 20-yard line. In its last 13 regular-season games, Kansas State has scored 60 of the last 67 times it has been in the red zone, with 50 touchdowns.
- In a conference loaded with outstanding quarterback play, Texas Tech's Seth Doege not only tops the Big 12 in touchdown passes through three games, but also is No. 1 in the country in that category. Doege threw six touchdown passes in the Red Raiders 49-14 home win over New Mexico over the weekend, doubling his total output for the season in one game. He has 12 touchdowns in his first three games. Last year's Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III of Baylor, had 13 after three games last season.
- West Virginia's Heisman hopeful quarterback Geno Smith had another terrific outing on Saturday, completing 34 of 39 of his passes for 411 yards and setting a new school record with 8,191 career passing yards. If you are a team playing West Virginia this season, you better bring some defense. The Mountaineers, who are in their inaugural season in the Big 12 and won the Big East football championship a year ago, are 77-3 in games in which they score 30 or more points.
Watch for the Big 12 Game of the Week preview - Kansas State at Oklahoma - this Friday.
Follow Big 12 football all season long, including specific news and commentary on the two Kansas teams, at SB Nation Kansas City.