Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Suspend its geographic location for a moment because for the purposes of college football, the Big 12 Conference is the Wild West.
A number of fast-moving squads led by gun-slinging quarterbacks and throwback coaches are capable of seizing the gold in any given season.
A different team has settled at the top of the Big 12 standings in each of the past four years. For three straight seasons, it’s been a team other than the one local oddsmakers coined as the pre-season favorite to win the conference.
By one interpretation, that trend is a lock to continue in 2013. There is no true favorite in the Big 12.
Based on conference future odds, sports books give four teams between an 18 and 24 percent chance to capture the title. Oklahoma State, Texas, Oklahoma and TCU are sequestered closer together at the top of betting boards than the contenders in any other conference
For once, the betting numbers in Las Vegas are as indecisive as the preseason magazines and polls for the numerically challenged — 10 teams vie for the Big 12 crown as opposed to 12 for the Big Ten — Midwestern league.
Although a line as thin as a state border separates them from the other two aforementioned teams, Oklahoma State and Texas are technically the 2013 Big 12 co-favorites. Both are 5-to-2 to win the conference, as opposed to Oklahoma’s 3-to-1 and TCU’s 4-to-1.
By virtue of a more advantageous schedule, odds say Texas has the best chance to come out unscathed. The Golden Nugget favors the Longhorns in all 12 games this season, though half of them are by single-digit spreads.
Oklahoma State gives points in all but one of its contests. The lone exception is the Cowboys' Nov. 16 trip to play the Longhorns, where they’re getting 5.5 points.
Accordingly, Texas is drawing more action to win the national championship. The Longhorns moved from 30-to-1 to 20-to-1, the lowest in the Big 12, in the LVH Superbook’s futures. Oklahoma State rose with the inverse, opening at 20-to-1 but now sitting at 30-to-1.
The money exalting Texas and shunning Oklahoma State could seem counter-intuitive based on the past couple seasons. The Cowboys have established themselves as the conference’s best bet in recent years while the Longhorns have been among the worst.
Oklahoma State hasn’t posted a losing record against the spread since coach Mike Gundy’s first year in 2005. The Cowboys are 33-18 versus the Las Vegas number in the past four years, including a mind-boggling 29-12 as a favorite.
Texas is 21-30 against the spread overall and 17-20 laying points in the same span.
The Las Vegas numbers seem to have caught up to Texas as much as they did to their archrival Oklahoma Sooners. Even though Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has posted double-digit win seasons in 11 of his 14 years — an incredible mark that’s taken for granted — his teams have barely been profitable enough for a bologna sandwich.
Stoops has covered the spread 53 percent of the time with a 93-82-5 record, but the Sooners are 25-27 against the number since the last time they reached a national championship game.
That year, 2008, was also the last time they started someone other than Landry Jones at quarterback. Junior Blake Bell, who can run as well as he throws, takes over this year and inherits surprisingly low expectations by Las Vegas standards.
Oklahoma is an underdog in three games — plus-2.5 at Notre Dame, plus-2.5 against Texas and plus-3 at Oklahoma State. In the past six years, the Sooners have only gone off as underdogs twice. They split covering in those instances.
Uncharacteristically taking points for the first time in years, however, doesn’t necessarily scream that a team is a bet-on. TCU proved as much last season.
In the Horned Frogs' first Big 12 campaign, they found themselves as home underdogs for the first time in six years — on three separate occasions. They failed to cover in all of them, falling to Oklahoma, Kansas State and Texas Tech.
TCU arguably has the most promising set of returners in the conference this year. Nine starters from a defense that ranked first in the Big 12 across the board come back, as does quarterback Casey Pachall, who led the team to a 4-0 start before getting dismissed and entering rehab last year.
But another rough schedule keeps them just behind Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State. In addition to road games at both Oklahoma schools, TCU starts the season with a nonconference meeting against LSU.
No matter, sharp money has shown a strong liking for the Horned Frogs. Gamblers clearly thought the Golden Nugget sports book undervalued TCU, as lines in seven of its games have moved drastically.
The Superbook applied extra juice to TCU’s over 8 wins after drawing action in that direction.
Two Big 12 teams bridge the gap between the contenders and the afterthoughts — Baylor and Kansas State.
Wildcat fans are demanding more respect coming off of two seasons where their team went a combined 21-5 straight-up and 18-7-1 against the spread. Kansas State also has positive history against the conference’s perceived two best teams on its side.
The Wildcats have beaten the Longhorns five straight times, coming in as the underdog in four of the meetings, and covered four of five against the Cowboys, though only winning two outright.
There’s no denying 73-year-old coach Bill Snyder in Las Vegas, as he’s a sterling 139-95-4 against the spread for his career.
One of the only bets safer than Snyder’s Wildcats is taking the over in the Bears’ games recently. Despite inflated totals that have reached as high as the mid-80s, Baylor has gone over in 26 of 36 games the past three years, with one push.
Behind exquisitely named running back Lache Seastrunk, who declared he would win this year’s Heisman after rushing for nearly eight yards per carry in somewhat limited action last season, Baylor could assault bookmakers and the scoreboard again in 2013.
While the bottom four teams all have reasons for optimism — Texas Tech bringing back its high-powered spread, Iowa State continuing its penchant for big-time upsets, Kansas unleashing an army of junior college transfers and West Virginia improving defensively — it’s hard to imagine them playing a major role in how the conference plays out.
Then again, it’s the Big 12. Expect the wild.
Golden Nugget full-season game lines
Aug. 31: Oklahoma State -11.5 vs. Mississippi State in Houston
Aug. 31: TCU +4.5 vs. LSU in Dallas
Sept. 7: West Virginia +15 at Oklahoma
Sept. 7: Texas -6.5 at BYU
Sept. 12: TCU -4.5 at Texas Tech
Sept. 14: Tulsa +18 at Oklahoma
Sept. 14: Ole Miss +8 at Texas
Sept. 14: Iowa +2 at Iowa State
Sept. 21: Kansas State +9.5 at Texas
Sept. 21: West Virginia -2 vs. Maryland in Baltimore
Sept. 28: Oklahoma +2.5 at Notre Dame
Sept. 28: Oklahoma State -10 at West Virginia
Oct. 3: Texas -12 at Iowa State
Oct. 5: Kansas State +9.5 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 5: TCU +6.5 at Oklahoma
Oct. 5: West Virginia +8 at Baylor
Oct. 12: Oklahoma +2.5 vs. Texas in Dallas
Oct. 12: Baylor +5 at Kansas State
Oct. 19: TCU +7.5 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 26: Oklahoma State -14 at Iowa State
Oct. 26: Texas Tech +14 at Oklahoma
Oct. 26: Texas -2 at TCU
Oct. 26: West Virginia +9 at Kansas State
Nov. 2: Kansas +31.5 at Texas
Nov. 2: West Virginia +10.5 at TCU
Nov. 2: Iowa State +13.5 at Kansas State
Nov. 7: Oklahoma -6 at Baylor
Nov. 9: Kansas +29 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 9: Texas -10 at West Virginia
Nov. 9: TCU -10.5 at Iowa State
Nov. 16: Iowa State +20 at Oklahoma
Nov. 16: Oklahoma State +5.5 at Texas
Nov. 16: TCU +2 at Kansas State
Nov. 23: Baylor +11 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 23: Oklahoma -4.5 at Kansas State
Nov. 28: Texas Tech +16 at Texas
Nov. 29: Iowa State +7.5 at West Virginia
Nov. 30: Baylor +8 at TCU
Nov. 30: Kansas State -19 at Kansas
Dec. 7: Oklahoma +3 at Oklahoma State
Dec. 7: Texas -7 at Baylor
Three early leans: Oklahoma -6.5 vs. TCU, Iowa State +12 vs. Texas, Oklahoma +2.5 vs. Texas