By SCHUYLER DIXON
Two more Big 12 games were decided late by teams that scored more than 50 points apiece. National title talk faded for good in West Virginia, replaced by similar chatter at Kansas State.
Intrigue is building as the Big 12 essentially hits the halfway point of the season, and the 10-team league looks like it's going nine deep. Nobody wants to dismiss the one outcast — Kansas — because coach Charlie Weis is a former NFL offensive whiz who has the experience of being the head coach at Notre Dame.
"I'm almost tentative to say 'I told you so' or give you that story," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "For three or four years, I've been saying that with the skill players that are coming out now, the spread offenses, the fast pace, the blitzing style of defenses, the parity is greater than it's ever been in college football. There's not any question the parity in this league is more than ever."
Three weeks ago, West Virginia was entering the national title picture and had the Heisman Trophy front-runner in quarterback Geno Smith. That has vanished in blowout losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State.
Kansas State was getting patted on the head as a good little team before going to Oklahoma and knocking off the Sooners in a tense game that declared the race was on. Now coaches are quick to call the Wildcats the big dogs.
"What you're having to do now unlike the early years is you're having to play every week," said Texas coach Mack Brown, whose Longhorns suffered consecutive losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma. "It did not surprise me when West Virginia left here and went out to Lubbock and got beat."
No. 4 Kansas State doesn't have to go to Lubbock, but the Wildcats are catching Texas Tech at possibly its highest point in three years under coach Tommy Tuberville. The Red Raiders bounced back from a lopsided loss to Oklahoma with the win over West Virginia, then survived three overtimes at TCU for a 56-53 victory after letting a late 10-point lead slip away.
The No. 15 Red Raiders can scramble the top of the standings with a win Saturday in Manhattan, Kan., but it won't be the last time an underdog has a chance to reshape the Big 12 race.
"We play in a good league. I think everybody understands that," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We got off to a hot start, but a pretty good Texas Tech team and a real good Kansas State team exposed us a little bit."
Baylor is back near the bottom of the league without Robert Griffin III because the Bears have one of the worst defenses in the country. But these aren't the same Bears who were doormats for most of the first decade of the Big 12 because they still have a quarterback.
Griffin's replacement, Nick Florence, threw for 933 yards and seven touchdowns combined in losses of 70-63 to West Virginia and 56-50 to Texas, both on the road. Florence leads the nation in total offense.
The puzzling game for Baylor was the one in between — a 49-21 home loss to TCU a week after the Horned Frogs lost 37-23 to Iowa State in their first Big 12 home game.
That's the only league win for the Cyclones, who will try to keep the Bears winless in the Big 12 on Saturday.
"I think it's been deep the last two or three years," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "I think you could just go back through and look at the so-called upsets over the last couple of years late in the season. It's a tough battle, and that's why it's such a great league."
Along with Kansas State-Texas Tech, most of the Big 12 attention this week will focus on No. 8 Oklahoma's effort to re-enter the national title picture in a home game against fifth-ranked Notre Dame. But the other game in Oklahoma — TCU's visit to Oklahoma State — is big for the Cowboys, who are trying to avoid a second league losses.
Texas is taking one of the nation's worst defenses to Kansas, where Weis has quarterback issues as he tries to use his Super Bowl-winning pedigree to get up to speed in a pass-happy, high-scoring league.
"I'm new to the Big 12, and I'm just into the grind of going through this schedule," Weis said. "It doesn't make any difference who you're playing. It's a new set of problems each week."