By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
For years, the strength of the Big 12 was tied largely to its star quarterbacks.
Not this year.
The conference has just one team in the top 10 in No. 4 Baylor. It's no coincidence that the Bears (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) are also the only team in the league to have essentially one quarterback, Bryce Petty, behind center all season.
Injuries and inconsistent quarterback play has dogged nearly every team in the league. Even Texas (7-2, 6-0), which has won six in a row and has a half-game lead on the Bears, has had to overcome struggles behind center.
If the Big 12 is down in 2013, spotty quarterback play has had a lot to do with it.
"Complete opposite of what it was last year in the league. There were so many good, seasoned, senior quarterbacks that had played a lot of football, that were established and really good players," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "It's just part of the game. You can't use it as an excuse not to be successful."
Petty is on track to finish with one of the greatest seasons ever by a Big 12 quarterback.
Petty has 21 touchdown passes against just one pick and a national-best 13.2 yards per attempt, helping Baylor join the Longhorns and Oklahoma State (8-1, 5-1) in a three-team chase for the Big 12 title.
The Bears are averaging an astounding 61 points behind Petty, who has thrown at least two TD passes in every game this season.
"It's been critical for us that Bryce has been able to stay healthy and perform as well as he has," Baylor coach Art Briles said.
Texas and the Cowboys have managed to stay in the Big 12 race despite somewhat shaky quarterback situations.
Texas senior Case McCoy has been far from perfect since taking over for an injured David Ash, throwing six interceptions in the past four games and failing to crack 300 yards all season. But like the rest of the Longhorns, McCoy has shown impressive mental toughness after a pair of early losses.
"This team has got a lot of resolve. They're resilient to injuries, to negativity," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "What they're doing is trying to win the day."
The Cowboys have rolled along despite a drop-off in quarterback play from a year ago.
Clint Chelf has completed just 47 percent of his passes since taking over for J.W. Walsh four games ago, though he did throw a season-high three TD passes in a 42-6 win over Kansas on Saturday.
McCoy and Chelf will each get an opportunity to lead their respective teams to a big win when the Longhorns host Oklahoma State on Saturday.
"He's been a great team player. He's bought into our system. He's had good demeanor, and fortunately we've had success," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said about Chelf.
It's strange to have a Big 12 title discussion in November that doesn't include Oklahoma.
One of the biggest reasons the Sooners (7-2, 4-2) have fallen back is that their passing game isn't as strong as usual.
Blake Bell has thrown for 150 yards or less in three of Oklahoma's last four games. He was just 15 of 35 passing in Thursday's 41-12 loss at Baylor, and Bell had just 133 yards in a 36-20 loss to Texas last month.
Despite Bell's struggles, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops reiterated Monday that he'll remain the starter.
"We've just got to be able to throw the football better. We'll continue to work on that," Stoops said.
Texas Tech, West Virginia, TCU, Iowa State and Kansas have all used multiple players at the game's most important position. Texas Tech (7-3, 4-3) is the only team in that group to gain bowl eligibility.
Perhaps the only team in the league that's purposely played more than one quarterback is Kansas State.
Jake Waters has thrown for nearly 1,500 yards and Daniel Sams has rushed for 676 yards and 10 TDs. They've also combined to help the Wildcats (5-4, 3-3) win three straight games by a margin of 80 points.
It's a bit of an unorthodox plan for K-State. But these days, it is working.
"Jake and Daniel really have embraced each other. They help each other. They're there for each other," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "Both of them are well received by their teammates. Their teammates are pulling for each one of them when they're in there."