It's often said that basketball is a game of runs.
In the Big 12 these days, so is football.
The nation's most explosive offensive league has seen a number of games turn on a big scoring spurt, a trend highlighted by No. 2 Oklahoma State's wild 52-45 win over No. 17 Kansas State on Saturday night.
The Cowboys (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) opened a 14-0 lead, which in a league like the Big Ten might seem insurmountable. The Wildcats (7-2, 4-2) then reeled off 24 points, only to watch Oklahoma State score the next 20. Oh, and all that came before a fourth quarter that saw the two combine for 32 points.
This is not unusual in the Big 12 this season.
"When you put in the personnel, the scheme and the tempo, it's a challenge as a defensive coordinator in the Big 12 to be able to handle all the different things that people didn't handle for a long time," said Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, whose Aggies gave up 28 points in the third quarter of a 41-25 loss to Oklahoma on Saturday.
In a league as wide open as the Big 12, scoring in bunches isn't just a fun way to light up scoreboards and keep fans entertained.
On many days, it's a necessity.
Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden threw for a school-record 502 yards against the Wildcats, but Kansas State was still just five yards away from forcing overtime in the closing minute. Baylor (5-3, 2-3) broke its school record with 697 yards of offense against Missouri (4-5, 2-4) and yet only won by three, 42-39.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who has been on both sides of big runs this season, believes they have as much to do with strong defense as a powerful offense.
"In that run in the third quarter of the last couple of games, the defense has come up with three-and-outs and given the ball back in good field position or come with one play and a turnover, and you've got the ball right back and the offense strikes right back," Stoops said. "I think, in my eyes, it's more the team really complementing one another offensively and defensively."
Texas Tech (5-4, 2-4) has been on the wrong end of runs in each of its last two games, a big reason why its season has taken a turn for the worse.
The Red Raiders stunned Oklahoma 41-38 on Oct. 22 by reeling off 24 points in less than 15 minutes. It lost its next two: Texas Tech let Iowa State score the first 21 points, and Texas raced out to a 31-6 halftime lead in a 52-20 win. Up next for the Red Raiders is Oklahoma State, which is averaging 50 points a game.
Cowboys coach Mike Gundy credited his staff for keeping his players focused during the Kansas State shootout.
"I thought our assistant coaches did a tremendous job of keeping their composure," Gundy said. "When they handle things well like that game Saturday night — it was roller coaster, big play after big play, four or five or six of them back to back to back — they did a nice job of making adjustments and handling the pressure."
Texas A&M (5-4, 3-3), once considered a contender for the Big 12 title, sits in the middle of the pack partly because its defense let the Cowboys run up 27 straight points, Missouri score 17 points in half a quarter and the Sooners score four straight touchdowns last week. The Aggies play at Kansas State on Saturday.
"You've got to handle the tempo. You've got to get your calls in fast enough. You've got to be able to make adjustments to multiple formations that we get," Sherman said. "In a lot of these offenses, there's a lot of movement and things going on, so you have to match up on that. It's tough."
Of course, high-powered offenses are nothing new in the Big 12, whose identity has long been defined by shootouts.
Five Big 12 teams are in the top 20 nationally in scoring offense, led by Oklahoma State in second. TCU, which will join the Big 12 next season, ranks eighth and West Virginia, which hopes to do the same, is 13th with 38.2 points a game.
Only two teams, Iowa State (5-4, 2-4) and Kansas (2-7, 0-6), are averaging less than 30 points in Big 12 games.
"You can't start slow in this league. If you start slow, it's almost impossible to come from behind," Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. "It's not a necessity to start fast, but if you do start slow, you better be good on offense because it's just so hard to catch up."