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The Path to a Big 12 Title Is Easier Said Than Done for Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia

It's win-and-in for Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia after a dramatic Saturday atop the Big 12.

The Big 12 likes to tout its highly competitive, defensively challenged conference race as the only one in college football where “every game counts” because of its 10-team roster and round-robin schedule.

That premise has been slightly tainted by the league pinning its College Football Playoff hopes on one team in each of the past three seasons. Fortunately for the Big 12, Oklahoma has gone to the final four twice in the playoff’s four-year history, and after Saturday’s action, the Sooners are once again the league’s only hope of returning there in 2018.

Heading into the final week of the conference slate, the Big 12 officials got exactly what they bargained for: total chaos, with a cheat sheet needed to explain how three different teams could be eligible to play in the conference championship on Dec. 1.

Let’s start with Texas.

For the Longhorns, it’s simple: After a dominant 24–10 win over Iowa State, only a victory next week over lowly Kansas is needed to reach Arlington. They have lived dangerously over the last month, losing to Oklahoma State and West Virginia by a total of four points, and they were saved by Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s Michael Crabtree impersonation in a last-minute victory at Texas Tech, but they have the easiest road to the title game.

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Quarterback Sam Ehlinger went 12 for 15 for 121 yards and a touchdown in the first half for Texas before leaving the game with shoulder injury. Ehlinger was caught on camera begging for head coach Tom Herman to put him back in the game, but Herman was hearing none of it, especially with Kansas on tap next Friday afternoon.

Backup Shane Buechele filled in admirably for Ehlinger, hitting Humphrey for a 27-yard score to put the Longhorns up by 21 late in the third quarter. Buechele completed all 10 of his passes on the night for 89 yards.

Iowa State was shorthanded, playing the first half without top running back David Montgomery, who was forced to sit out after being ejected for throwing a punch in last week’s win against Baylor. He was not much of a factor once he returned to action, running 10 times for 33 yards. Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy and his backfield mates were bottled up all night, harassed by a swarming Texas defense that allowed 2.6 yards a carry and had six sacks.

Heisman Trophy candidate Kyler Murray and the Sooners continued their offensive dominance of Kansas, winning their 14th straight in the series with a 55–40 victory in Norman. Murray threw for 272 yards, ran for 99 and accounted for five total touchdowns (two passing, three rushing), including an electrifying 75-yard run on which he left several Jayhawks defenders in the dust. Freshman Kennedy Brooks added 171 rushing yards for the Sooners, who have had their running back depth tested this year.

However, it's been over a month since Mike Stoops was fired as defensive coordinator, and Oklahoma continues to have glaring issues on the defensive end. Instead of the defensive backfield getting torched, the front seven had a hand in this meltdown, allowing 348 yards and four touchdowns on the ground—Kansas had nine touchdown runs all year before Saturday. The Sooners only need a victory over West Virginia in Morgantown to secure a chance to play for a fourth consecutive conference title.

Despite a disappointing collapse in Stillwater, the scenario is the same for West Virginia. A week after winning a thriller against Texas, West Virginia met a salty Oklahoma State team with a chance to also stay relevant in the playoff chase. Instead, they blew a 17-point first half lead and left Stillwater with a 45–41 loss. Despite forcing four turnovers, the Mountaineer defense was lit up for a season-high 604 yards. Their Big 12 title hopes now rest with beating Oklahoma at home on Friday night, a team they have lost six straight to and hope that somehow Kansas can beat Texas if they fail to get it done against the Sooners.