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Projecting the Big 12's 2014 conference race using advanced stats

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TCU playing at a top-10 level has given the Big 12 race three virtual co-favorites. Week 8 will tell us whether things will stay that way, or whether a darkhorse still has a shot. (Last week on Win Projection Wednesday: the Pac-12.)

It's easy to get distracted by the SEC West. It features the top three teams in the country, according to the latest F/+ rankings. And that's actually down from last week, when it featured the top four. Still, it's got four top-10 teams and three more ranked 43rd or better. There's still plenty of time for this to change, but all of the talk about it being potentially the best division of all time (which is to say, the best division of the last 20 years or so) is based in reality.

See? This column even got distracted by the SEC West. It's easy to do. But when you look at those F/+ rankings, something else should stand out, too. The Big 12 has three of the top seven teams in the country. That Oklahoma lost to TCU was seen as an upset; it wasn't. That Baylor struggled to put TCU away was seen as a flaw; it wasn't. TCU has played like a top-five team to date, and Oklahoma (No. 4) and Baylor (No. 7) have more or less matched that level of play.

Through seven weeks, what was supposed to either be a one- or two-team Big 12 race (depending on what you thought of Baylor's personnel losses heading into the season) has become a clear, exciting three-team race. So let's start handicapping that race for this week's Win Projection Wednesday installment.

Win projections

Once again, we'll use win projection data that I post weekly at Football Study Hall. The probabilities are culled from the F/+ ratings.

Big 12 F/+ ranking Proj. conf. wins
Baylor (3-0, 6-0) 7 7.51
Oklahoma (2-1, 5-1) 4 7.23
TCU (1-1, 4-1) 5 7.00
Kansas State (2-0, 4-1) 29 5.34
Oklahoma State (3-0, 5-1) 30 5.19
West Virginia (2-1, 4-2) 50 5.00
Texas (1-2, 2-4) 66 3.21
Iowa State (0-3, 2-4) 64 2.11
Texas Tech (0-3, 2-4) 74 1.74
Kansas (0-3, 2-4) 99 0.66

I've taken to calling teams within 0.75 or so projected wins of the lead "major contenders" and those within about 1.5 wins "minor contenders." In the Big 12, there are three major contenders, and that's it. Sure, if Kansas State upsets Oklahoma in Norman this week (as the Wildcats did two years ago), we'll reassess. But using current evidence and current odds, the 2-0 Wildcats and 3-0 Oklahoma State Cowboys will eventually become bystanders. The top three have separated themselves from the pack.

Sure bets

As I've mentioned before, the easy wins end up mattering as much as the tight wins when it comes to odds and conference races. Who has the most potentially easy games remaining on the schedule?

Team / Range 0-19%
Chance
20-29%
Chance
30-39%
Chance
40-49%
Chance
50-59%
Chance
60-69%
Chance
70-79%
Chance
80-99%
Chance
Baylor (3-0)

1

1 0 4
Iowa State (0-3) 2 1 1

2

Kansas (0-3) 4 1 1




Kansas State (2-0) 3
1

1 1 1
Oklahoma (2-1)





1 5
Oklahoma State (3-0) 3
1

1 1
TCU (1-1)




1
6
Texas (1-2) 1 2 1
1 1

Texas Tech (0-3) 3
1 1

1
West Virginia (2-1)

3

2 1

70+% games: Oklahoma 6, TCU 6, Baylor 4, Kansas State 2, Oklahoma State 1, Texas Tech 1, West Virginia 1, Iowa State 0, Kansas 0

The home-road splits in the Big 12 are ridiculous and should be redrawn post haste. Oklahoma gets Kansas State, Baylor, and Oklahoma State at home one year and on the road the next. Oklahoma State gets Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and TCU on the road one year and at home the next. Kansas State gets Oklahoma, TCU, and Baylor on the road one year and at home the next.

The schedules are so skewed that, honestly, Bob Stoops should be crafting his team with redshirts and JUCOs to peak in even-numbered years (when the good teams all come to Norman). Bill Snyder (KSU) and Mike Gundy (OSU) should be timing their peaks for odd-numbered years.

Regardless of evenness, we've known all along that the schedule bent Oklahoma-friendly this year, and we see it in the odds above. Oklahoma's only remaining road games are against Iowa State (win probability: 91 percent) and Texas Tech (93 percent*), and the Sooners have at least a 70 percent chance of winning every remaining game.

Meanwhile, with Oklahoma and Baylor in the rearview mirror and Oklahoma State struggling a bit, TCU is well-positioned to maintain its current run. The Horned Frogs do still have to go to West Virginia (26th in Off. F/+) and Texas (29th and rising in Def. F/+), but the home slate (OSU, Texas Tech, KSU, ISU) is quite doable.

So if Oklahoma's remaining odds are so good, why is Baylor the favorite? Because of the banked wins. Baylor has three of them, and Oklahoma does not.

Slog Level Delta

Record Big 12 Winner
5-4 0.0%
6-3 0.0%
7-2 12.5%
8-1 74.9%
9-0 12.6%

We can laugh about the SEC East, the ACC Coastal, the Big Ten West, or perhaps the Pac-12 South, and talk about the odds of a .500 division champion or huge, mediocre division tie. That doesn't really apply in this conference. The winner is going to be at least 7-2 and probably better.

Odds of Big 12 conference records

The Big 12's non-conference slate is finished, which means you can use the above odds to also project potential bowl eligibility. Baylor's already there, and we'll go ahead and skip Oklahoma, TCU, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State. They're not there yet, but they will be.

WVU needs to get to 4-5 in conference to get to six wins and has a 91 percent chance of getting there; you've done a hell of a job this year, Dana Holgorsen. Granted, WVU only ranks 50th in the F/+ ratings, but the Mountaineers shouldn't struggle to find two more wins.

After that, it might get dicey. It appears Texas is improving, thanks mostly to an increasingly impressive defense. But at 1-2 in conference and just 2-4 overall, the 'Horns will need to get to 5-4 to get to a bowl. There's only about an 11 percent chance of that happening. And odds are even more dire for Iowa State (eight percent), Texas Tech (three percent), and Kansas (zero percent). So yeah, unless Texas makes a late run, the Big 12 is looking like a six-bowl league. With only six teams ranked better than 64th, that makes sense.

This week

  • No. 4 Baylor at West Virginia (12:00 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1). Win probability: Baylor 69 percent.
  • No. 14 Kansas State at No. 11 Oklahoma (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN). Win probability: Oklahoma 85 percent.
  • Kansas at Texas Tech (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports affiliates). Win probability: Texas Tech 77 percent.
  • No. 15 Oklahoma State at No. 12 TCU (4:00 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1). Win probability: TCU 83 percent.
  • Iowa State at Texas (8:00 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network). Win probability: Texas 69 percent.

The Big 12 takes center stage this week with two huge games and a third pretty big one. Granted, KSU-OU and OSU-TCU would be bigger if the home fields were swapped, but throwing in Baylor's potentially crazy trip to Morgantown, there's still about a 51 percent chance that somebody gets upset this week.

Who stands to gain or lose the most this week? Let's take a look at the odds of teams going 7-2 or better (i.e. the odds of a team at least playing a role in the conference title race) in the present tense and with a win or loss this coming weekend.

Odds of going 7-2 or better

Team Now Win on Saturday Lose on Saturday
Baylor (3-0) 86.9% 94.8% 69.0%
Oklahoma State (3-0) 9.7% 29.2% 5.7%
Kansas State (2-0) 13.0% 36.7% 8.6%
Oklahoma (2-1) 83.6% 89.9% 49.8%
West Virginia (2-1) 9.1% 22.4% 3.5%
TCU (1-1) 74.5% 81.7% 39.4%
Texas (1-2) 0.0% 0.1% 0.0%

If TCU slips up against Oklahoma State (and while OSU has plenty of athletes, the matchup of Daxx Garman vs. TCU's pass defense seems unfair, heavily in favor of the Frogs), its odds of finishing with seven or more wins drops below 40 percent. Meanwhile, with a win in Norman, KSU's odds would surge to nearly 40.

The job of Week 8 in the Big 12 seems to be determining whether we really do have a three-team race on our hands, whether it's going to end up Baylor vs. Oklahoma as we surmised a couple of months ago, or whether KSU or OSU still has a chance at a darkhorse run. That makes it an elimination week of sorts.

Appendix

Here are the F/+ win probabilities for the rest of the Big 12 slate.

Week Date Away Home Away Team % chance
8 18-Oct-14 Baylor West Virginia 69.4%
8 18-Oct-14 Iowa State Texas 30.7%
8 18-Oct-14 Kansas Texas Tech 22.6%
8 18-Oct-14 Kansas State Oklahoma 15.1%
8 18-Oct-14 Oklahoma State TCU 17.4%
Week Date Away Home Away Team % chance
9 25-Oct-14 Texas Kansas State 20.3%
9 25-Oct-14 Texas Tech TCU 4.6%
9 25-Oct-14 West Virginia Oklahoma State 38.9%
Week Date Away Home Away Team % chance
10 01-Nov-14 Kansas Baylor 1.6%
10 01-Nov-14 Oklahoma Iowa State 90.9%
10 01-Nov-14 Oklahoma State Kansas State 33.4%
10 01-Nov-14 TCU West Virginia 69.5%
10 01-Nov-14 Texas Texas Tech 59.3%
Week Date Away Home Away Team % chance
11 08-Nov-14 Baylor Oklahoma 30.0%
11 08-Nov-14 Iowa State Kansas 68.8%
11 08-Nov-14 Kansas State TCU 19.8%
11 08-Nov-14 West Virginia Texas 66.4%
Week Date Away Home Away Team % chance
12 15-Nov-14 Oklahoma Texas Tech 92.7%
12 15-Nov-14 TCU Kansas 95.8%
12 15-Nov-14 Texas Oklahoma State 22.9%
Week Date Away Home Away Team % chance
13 20-Nov-14 Kansas State West Virginia 38.1%
13 22-Nov-14 Kansas Oklahoma 1.4%
13 22-Nov-14 Oklahoma State Baylor 17.5%
13 22-Nov-14 Texas Tech Iowa State 32.6%
Week Date Away Home Away Team % chance
14 27-Nov-14 TCU Texas 83.3%
14 29-Nov-14 Baylor Texas Tech 89.5%
14 29-Nov-14 Kansas Kansas State 5.9%
14 29-Nov-14 West Virginia Iowa State 72.2%
Week Date Away Home Away Team % chance
15 06-Dec-14 Iowa State TCU 6.1%
15 06-Dec-14 Kansas State Baylor 19.9%
15 06-Dec-14 Oklahoma State Oklahoma 13.0%