THE SHIFTING LANDSCAPE OF THE BIG 12 RACE
Perceptions of the race for the Big 12 conference title have shifted with the results from the opening weekend of college football. A race that was all but ceded to Oklahoma is now seen as being significantly wide-open according to the current odds for the league championship.
The Sooners are still the favorite at 7-4, but they had opened the season as a 2-3 choice to win the Big 12. Their 33-23 loss to Houston as a nearly two-touchdown favorite rattled the market and triggered the shifting sands.
What happened Sunday night in Austin was no less significant. There were rumblings that Texas was going to be improved in Charlie Strong's third year, but rumblings are not the same as conviction and in either case, no one had them in a class with Oklahoma. The Longhorns beat Notre Dame 50-47 in double overtime as a 3½ point underdog. Texas is now a 4-1 bet to win the Big 12.
Three more teams didn't have major tests to start the season, but are expected to compete. TCU and Oklahoma State are also 4-1 bets, and Baylor is virtually in the same place at 9-2. Where does the value in this conference ultimately lie?
Texas might well be the best team. In spite of the program's recent troubles, they've consistently recruited as well as anyone in the league - including Oklahoma - and if the win over Notre Dame is a sign that Strong has stabilized the program, then the Longhorns will indeed be a contender. But to bet UT at this point would be to essentially buy the stock when the value is at its highest. And there are still questions about how good the Irish are - Sunday night was a great game and big win for Strong, but it remains to be seen how significant a double-OT shootout win over the Irish is in the bigger picture. The Longhorns play UTEP and at Cal before beginning conference play. Watch these games closely, particularly how Texas performs against the spread to see if Las Vegas has a good read on them.
No one really paid attention to TCU's 59-41 win over South Dakota State, but if you're handicapping this conference race it might be a big deal. The Horned Frogs played poor defense and missed the cover on a (-35) line by a lot. TCU has not only gotten respect in the market, but they've been a darkhorse Playoff choice by some pundits. Their game on Saturday against Arkansas shapes up as an important early test as to whether that confidence was misplaced.
Oklahoma State exceeded expectations as a (-49) favorite over Southeast Louisiana, winning the game 61-7. Blowing out an opponent like this might not tell us too much about the coming conference race, but a game in two weeks against Pitt will be a decent indicator. Baylor remains the hardest team in this group to get a handle on. They beat Northwestern State 55-7 in a non-board game, only have SMU and Rice before jumping into Big 12 games and we still don't know how the whole Jim Grobe as head coach experiment is going to work out on such short notice.
That brings us back to Oklahoma. If betting Texas is like buying a high-priced stock, then buying on the Sooners would be investing when a price becomes a bargain. That means going opposite the media, the public and even what your own eyes told you on TV Saturday afternoon, but Oklahoma is now a worthwhile bet. The key decision for handicappers is whether to wait for a September 17 game with Ohio State.
If OU wins, they'll be back to top-heavy favorite status. If they lose big at home, it might be a good sign that they're not good enough to win this conference. What if they play reasonably well in a loss. That's the tough decision that has to be made and there's money out there for college football bettors who screen out the media talk and take a renewed look at Oklahoma in the Big 12 now that prices are changing.