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Big 12 early look: Key games offer chance to rebound for contenders

The arrival of Week 5 allows teams in the Big 12 to hit the reset button -- unless you’re Oklahoma State or Iowa State and already down a game in the conference race.

For the others, including Baylor and TCU atop the league standings, this week brings the promise of renewed excitement after a rugged four weeks that left the Big 12 bruised and barely clinging to life in the College Football Playoff chase.

Every game from now through Dec. 3 matches league teams, starting Thursday in Lubbock, Texas, as Kansas visits Texas Tech.

Here’s an early look at the top storylines in the league for Week 5:

Home woes: The road team has won seven straight games in the series as No. 22 Texas visits Oklahoma State Saturday (noon ET, ABC). Many of the recent games were determined in the final seconds, including last season, when OSU kicker Ben Grogan nailed a pair of late field goals to stun the Longhorns 30-27. Both teams enter this critical matchup on a downturn. For the Cowboys, the momentum might have been swinging the other direction if not for a pair of empty second-half possessions that ended inside the Baylor 4-yard line. Texas lost a shootout on Sept. 17 at Cal before getting a week to rest. The Longhorns have allowed three foes to complete passes at a 63.7 percent rate, tied for 106th nationally and last in the Big 12 with Texas Tech. And Texas sits among seven FBS teams yet to record an interception. Those numbers ought to appeal to Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, who has upped his play significantly since the Cowboys' Week 2 loss to Central Michigan. This matchup looks critical to the hopes this season for Texas and OSU.

Get defensive: Never mind that Kansas State and West Virginia scored 35 points in Week 4 -- and that the Wildcats did it in the first half before their 35-0 victory against Missouri State was called at halftime because of weather. Never mind the offensive numbers, because K-State and West Virginia likely must earn their stripes in the Big 12 with defense. Yes, both teams can score, especially the Mountaineers, riding high after a 35-32 win against BYU and stocked with offensive skill talent. But if you haven’t noticed, all of the Big 12 contenders pile up points. K-State and WVU, though, rank first and third, respectively in the league in scoring defense. Kansas State also leads the nation in total defense, aided by its shortened game last week, and is third nationally in yards allowed per play at 3.76. The point here is this: When the undefeated Mountaineers host one-loss KSU on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU), defense might determine the outcome.

Luster lost? In August, this looked perhaps like the game of the year in the Big 12. And still, it might be when Oklahoma, unranked after a bye week that followed its home loss to Ohio State, visits No. 21 TCU on Saturday night. The Horned Frogs won big at SMU on Friday night. Quarterback Kenny Hill teamed with receiver Josh Diarse for 139 yards and a score the absence of game-breaking weapon KaVontae Turpin, out indefinitely with an injury. Hill has enjoyed an explosive start to his first season at TCU, ranking second in the league in total offense and fourth nationally in passing yardage. One-loss TCU has improved defensively each week since a dismal opener against South Dakota State. It ranks second in the league in rushing defense, a good indicator for the Frogs as the Sooners come to Fort Worth with Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield ranks sixth in the Big 12 in passing yardage; he’s yet to get his Oklahoma teammates on the same page offensively. So is that how it’s going to be this season, or are the Sooners’ inefficiencies simply the result of facing a pair of playoff contenders in Ohio State and Houston? Now is the right time for Oklahoma to respond if it's going to rebound.