ISU vs LA-Monroe Sept 21 20

One of many touchdown celebrations as Iowa State would score over 70 points against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.

With four new coaches and a lot of uncertainty entering conference play (which began last weekend), Iowa State goes to Baylor with expectations of a championship challenge over the next nine games.

But who are the Cyclones' competitors and what are their threat levels to the Cyclones?

Without anyone asking me, I decided to rank the Big 12's 10 teams into three tiers: championship contenders, perfectly fine teams and squads in full rebuild mode.

Championship contenders

1. Oklahoma 

2. Texas

3. Iowa State

These are the only three teams, in my opinion, that have a chance at winning the Big 12. Oklahoma looks head and shoulders above the rest right now and, barring something unforeseen, they already have a stay in Dallas booked. I have almost zero worries about the Sooners — other than being in wait-and-see mode on their new defense under Alex Grinch. 

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Deshaunte Jones, now a senior, has been a contributor on the Iowa State offense since his freshman year and has over 1,000 career receiving yards.

Texas is pretty strong. Tom Herman has a quality offense this season, but I think scoring enough points against Oklahoma will be the downfall of the Longhorns in conference play. Will they beat Iowa State though? Probably.

Iowa State is 2-1 despite having two underwhelming offensive performances under its belt, but after the offensive awakening the Cyclones had against Louisiana-Monroe I expect the scoring to go up slightly. I think they're firmly third-best in the conference for now, but watch this space.

Perfectly fine teams

4. Kansas State

5. Baylor

6. Oklahoma State

7. TCU

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A member of the Iowa State football team holds on to the ball after being tackled during the second half of the Iowa State vs. Baylor game Nov. 10. Iowa State defeated Baylor 28 to 14.

Kansas State looks far more competent than I expected under Chris Klieman, with the pro-style ball control offense working wonders in a 31-24 win over Mississippi State. It remains to be seen, though, if the Wildcats are actually good or just a decent team worth 5-7 wins. 

Baylor is better than in recent years, but the Bears don't strike fear in a lot of people. However, they are good and likely will be the fourth-best team in the conference by the end of the season. Charlie Brewer is a good quarterback. 

Oklahoma State has a great young quarterback with lots of talent in Spencer Sanders and a solid running back in Chuba Hubbard. The rest of the team is decent yet unspectacular. Next year will be a better one for the Cowboys.

TCU was feeling pretty good through three games, but then they lost to SMU. At home. Yikes. 

Try again next year

8. Texas Tech

9. West Virginia

10. Kansas

These teams all have new coaches with different styles from their predecessors. It's not usually great when your team starts its season with a near-loss to Indiana State — a mediocre FCS team — and a subsequent loss to Coastal Carolina by the brutal score of 12-7. Well, Kansas isn't just any team, and its decade-long downturn wouldn't be complete without a loss to a team called the Chanticleers. Good stuff. (Les Miles was not a hire I would've made).

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Running back Kene Nwangwu protects the ball against West Virginia safety Kenny Robinson Jr. on Oct. 13 at Jack Trice Stadium.

West Virginia is dire this year in terms of returning production, but the Mountaineers are still 3-1 one game into conference play. I doubt they'll make a bowl, but the early signs are promising for Neal Brown — one of the best hires of the 2018-2019 coaching cycle. 

Texas Tech also made a good hire in Matt Wells, who did a solid job of making Utah State relevant in the Mountain West. It'll take a few years before he can make the Red Raiders relevant on a national level, especially with injury issues to quarterback Alan Bowman. 

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