LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Baker Mayfield was relaxing in his hotel room in Norman last week, waiting for the bus to head to the stadium for Oklahoma's game against Tulane, when he flipped on the television.
Naturally, he wanted to see how Big 12 rival Oklahoma State was faring.
Turns out pretty well.
The Sooners' star quarterback watched enthralled as his Cowboys counterpart, Mason Rudolph, torched Pittsburgh for 497 yards and five touchdowns through the air in a 59-21 rout. It was a third straight impressive performance for Rudolph, who has quickly climbed among the leaders in just about every passing category nationwide: yards passing, touchdown passes, quarterback efficiency.
"Their offense is very talented and guys are making competitive catches for him," Mayfield said. "He's doing a great job of getting the ball in their hands."
Later that day, Mayfield threw for a mere 331 yards and four TDs in a 56-14 rout of Tulane.
The performances by the two gunslingers were perhaps the best example yet of just how strong the Big 12 is when it comes to quarterbacks. Throw in Nic Shimonek at pass-happy Texas Tech, Will Grier at equally explosive West Virginia and Peyton Bender at Kansas, and you have five of the nation's top 11 players in yards passing per game.
Now, the Big 12 has been known as an air-it-out league for years. Texas Tech began slinging it all over the schoolyard under Mike Leach and never stopped, while Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and others have installed their own version of the spread offense.
But there seemed to be a trend last year in the other direction. The league boasted some of the nations' top running backs, such as the Sooners' Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, and a relatively simple question was floated: Have defenses finally figured out the spread?
The answer to that, at least so far this season, is an unequivocal "No."
The Red Raiders once again lead the nation in total offense, thanks mostly to the 496 yards per game they average through the air. Oklahoma State is third and Oklahoma is fourth, and both sit squarely alongside West Virginia among the nation's top 10 passing attacks.
"That's the Big 12," said TCU coach Gary Patterson, whose No. 16 Horned Frogs face Rudolph and sixth-ranked Oklahoma State in the league's marquee game this weekend.
"We've got to prepare on all levels," Patterson said. "They're a very good offense right now. We've got several coming down the pipe. They're the first."
Yep, the Mountaineers are next. Oklahoma and Texas Tech come back-to-back for the Horned Frogs later in the season. And that's one more reason for Big 12 coaches to have heartburn: The league's round-robin schedule means that everybody faces everyone else at least once.
There's no lucking out and missing Rudolph. Or Mayfield. Or anybody else.
There are other quarterbacks tearing things up, too. The Horned Frogs' Kenny Hill ranks among the nation's top 15 in passing efficiency, while Iowa State's Jacob Park averages 311.7 yards through the air per game, putting him among six Big 12 players in the top 20 nationally.
Shimonek leads the way at 463.5 yards per game.
"Yeah, things have gone smooth so far," the Texas Tech quarterback said, "but I also understand that at some point there's going to be a few hiccups, a few bumps in the road. It's not going to be like this for 12 straight games. I mean, I hope it is, but I don't think it will be."
Indeed, some of those numbers are inflated thanks to weak out-of-conference competition. The Cowboys have faced Tulsa, South Alabama and Pitt, Texas Tech blew out lower-level Eastern Washington, and while the Sooners won a big-time showdown with Ohio State, they also beat up on UTEP and the Green Wave before heading into the conference schedule.
Things are bound to get tougher for the Big 12's best quarterbacks.
Then again, they're about to make life a whole lot tougher on the Big 12's best defenses, too.
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