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Big 12 has familiar look with four traditional members still in running for conference title game

By AP | Nov 22, 2023

Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers warms up before an NCAA college football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

Cut the chatter about the new look and future of the Big 12 for a couple of weeks. There is an awfully familiar look to the top of the conference as it approaches the most important time of the college football season.

Soon-to-be-gone league stalwarts Texas and Oklahoma, as well as longtime members Oklahoma State and Kansas State, are all ranked in the Top 25 and remain in the running for spots in the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 2.

No. 7 Texas and No. 21 Oklahoma State can clinch berths by winning regular-season finales this week.

No. 13 Oklahoma and No. 19 Kansas State need to beat TCU and Iowa State, respectively, as well as get some outside help to wind up in the title game.

Texas is the Big 12’s only one-loss team. A win Friday at home against Texas Tech would also keep the Longhorns (10-1, 7-1) in contention for the College Football Playoff.

Oklahoma State (8-3, 6-2) rebounded from losing two games in September to work its way into the Top 25 with a five-game winning streak capped by a three-point Bedlam rivalry win over Oklahoma. The Cowboys close the regular season at home against BYU.

The Big 12 has eight bowl-eligible teams, with a chance for more. TCU and league newcomers BYU and UCF all enter the final weekend with a chance to get to six wins.

The conference is guaranteed eight bowl spots, with its champion going to a New Year’s Six game.

The 12 champ goes to the Sugar Bowl if it isn’t part of the four-team CFP. If Texas were to win the Big 12 title and make the playoff field, the runner-up would go to the Sugar Bowl.

Although the league could end up with more bowl-eligible teams than guaranteed spots, it’s possible all would wind up playing a postseason game because of a shortage of bowl-eligible teams across the country.

STAR POWER

While none of the Big 12’s top performers have generated Heisman Trophy buzz, there is not a shortage of outstanding players who have had stellar seasons. Oklahoma’s Dillion Gabriel leads the conference in passing and has accounted for 38 touchdowns (27 passing, 11 rushing). The league also boasts six 1,000-yard rushers, led by Oklahoma State’s Ollie Gordon with 1,414 yards and 16 total TDs. Defensive standouts include Oklahoma’s Danny Stutsman, Oklahoma State’s Nickolas Martin, UCF’s Jason Johnson and Houston’s Nelson Ceasar, who has a conference-leading 9½ sacks.

GOING BOWLING

Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, West Virginia, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Kansas are all bowl eligible, with six of the eight having at least seven victories heading into the final weekend of the regular season. Three five-win teams — TCU, BYU and UCF — can clinch eligibility by winning this week. Baylor and league newcomers Cincinnati and Houston will not be playing a bowl game this year.

HOT SEATS: Baylor coach Dave Aranda. The Bears are 23-24 in his four seasons and have lost 12 of their last 15 games overall. Aranda got a long contract extension after Baylor won the Big 12 championship game in 2021, then the Sugar Bowl for a school-record 12th win. There would be a pricey buyout if the private school decided to make a change.

Dana Holgorsen seems safe at Houston, but the Cougars will have to show improvement in their second Big 12 season next year. This will be Holgorsen’s third losing record in his five seasons at Houston, the latest coming in the school’s long-awaited Power Five debut. He was previously in the Big 12 with West Virginia.

YOUTH MOVEMENT: Texas and Oklahoma, which are headed to the Southeastern Conference next season, both needed help defensively heading into 2023. The Longhorns found some in LB Anthony Hill Jr., who has three sacks and 5½ tackles for loss. S Peyton Bowen and DL Adepoju Adebawore have had an impact as true freshmen for the Sooners.

RECRUITING WATCH: With their impending moves to the SEC, Texas and Oklahoma are set to exit the Big 12 with the league’s top recruiting classes, according to the 247 Sports Composite. They are the only current Big 12 teams with any five-star recruits committed, and also the only ones with more than 10 four-star recruits. TCU, which has gone from being the national runner-up last season to seeking bowl eligibility in its final game, and Texas Tech are tops among the continuing Big 12 members. Utah, one of the four Pac-12 teams moving to the Big 12 next season, is third in its current league.

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AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed.

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