COLUMBIA — It’s almost impossible to know what’s coming next in the Big 12 Conference. And, for once, that statement isn’t referring to conference realignment.
Rampant unpredictability has made it almost impossible to know what lies ahead when Missouri visits Baylor this weekend. These teams are the epitomes of the unpredictability in a conference that sees its members rapidly swing from ranked to unranked and from BCS contenders to multiloss pretenders.
Baylor started this season as one the nation’s Cinderellas. The Bears swept their nonconference schedule — scoring 48 points or more in each game — and their quarterback, Robert Griffin III, commanded the national spotlight with a series of sterling games. For a while, he had thrown more touchdowns than incompleted passes. He was September’s runaway Heisman favorite.
But, the undefeated Bears were upset by a then-unranked Kansas State team that was en route to its own undefeated run. Griffin and wide receiver Kendall Wright had terrific games against the Wildcats, with Wright catching three touchdown passes and racking up more than 200 receiving yards. But the game was lost, and two more Big 12 losses have followed. Now Baylor has a 1-3 Big 12 record after starting the year on such a hot streak.
Missouri has had a similarly bumpy ride, watching its conference record sink until a huge overtime upset against Texas A&M this past weekend. The Tigers still have not won back-to-back games this season. Yet, they boast a running back in Henry Josey who’s among the nation’s best and leads the Big 12 in rushing.
It’s all part of the wild and wacky Big 12 in 2011.
Teams are taking unforeseen beatings, such as Oklahoma’s 58-17 defeat of Kansas State or Texas Tech’s stunning 41-7 loss to Iowa State. The games are two of the more startling results of the season, and they both happened this past weekend.
Some of it could be because of the conference’s new round-robin schedule. After the departures of Colorado and Nebraska, Big 12 teams have to play every team in the conference, rather than playing just eight of 11 conference foes.
Perhaps, in the old Big 12, Kansas State would have remained undefeated if they hadn't been scheduled to face the Sooners this year. Perhaps Texas Tech would have remained in the polls if they hadn't had to play Iowa State.
“I feel like it’s going to be like that all season, with the Big 12 being how it is,” Missouri safety Kenji Jackson said. “It’s just very unpredictable. You never know who’s going to win.”
Up-and-down seasons have been the norm for most teams. The Tigers and the Bears are two examples, but you can add the Red Raiders, Longhorns, Aggies and Sooners to the list. Oklahoma was knocked from the BCS standings’ top three after being upset by Texas Tech. Texas A&M has recorded big victories over some conference opponents, but they’ve made a habit of blowing second-half leads to others.
The fickleness of the conference scoreboard each week has gotten the attention of some Missouri players, and they see it as a positive sign of strong competition.
“Right now there’s not a game in this conference you can go into and think that it’s easy,” Missouri defensive lineman Jacquies Smith said. “It’s great having that kind of competition and parity around the league.”
There have been just two constants in the Big 12 this season. Oklahoma State has gone without a loss so far this year, and they find themselves as the No. 3 team in the BCS standings. With No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama facing off this week, the Cowboys figure to jump into the top two with a win.
The other constant has been Kansas, who has lost every conference game it has played — by dozens of points, too. The Jayhawks are surrendering nearly 50 points per game.
So, it should come as no surprise that this weekend’s game in Waco can’t be easily forecasted.
Baylor has been in a rut of late, however Griffin's passing numbers are rising. He has thrown for 855 yards in the past two games as the Bears have lost by huge deficits. Missouri's offense sputtered until it dropped 52 points on Iowa State.
If this season's Big 12 results have shown anything, it's that pointing out trends is a dangerous practice. Seemingly anything can happen in this conference.
“It’s to the point where really not anything surprises you when it happens around the league," Baylor coach Art Briles said during Monday's teleconference, "because everybody certainly is capable of coming up with a big win or vice versa.”