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Big 12 Roundup: Of ‘Eers and Texas tears

We round up the first week of action in the Big 12

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NCAA Football: East Carolina at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

We’re back, and maybe possibly with new GIFs! (LOL. Not really).

The first week of the Big 12 season is in the books, and it was—as is typical for the conference—a bit of a mixed bag. With all ten teams in action, the Big 12 was 6-3. Some of the wins were impressive and should inspire confidence for fans of those teams. Some others wins were terrible and eminently forgettable, and the three losses were downright embarrassing. More on that in a minute though, because first things first, there’s this!

(This is never going away. Ever).

Yep, this was pretty much all that really happened in Iowa State’s opener against South Dakota State. The Cyclones—weather-themed nickname notwithstanding—are not friends with the weather gods. An active storm system with plenty of lightning meant the two teams played about four minutes of football before the game was delayed and ultimately cancelled. Iowa State was leading 7-0 at the time, thanks to a 55-yard touchdown strike from Kyle Kempt to Deshaunte Jones.

Unlike their Nebraska cousins, Iowa State fans are not declaring victory (just yet), and the Cyclones will be officially 0-0 when they kickoff against Iowa on Saturday. If bowl eligibility hangs in the balance, the Cyclones may opt to play on December 1, and at least one person has suggested that the Huskers would make the perfect opponent (Blair Kerkhoff, Kansas City Star).

Iowa State got out of Week 1 unscathed, but the same could not be said for three other Big 12 teams, whose collective effort can best be summed up like so:

Texas (#18) lost to Maryland 34-29, prompting all manner of reaction from the Texas faithful and just buckets of schadenfreude from the rest of college football. Somehow, despite playing in front of 35,000 Longhorns fans on a neutral field, and despite taking on a team with huge off-field issues—Maryland’s offseason has been chaotic, brought on by the tragic death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair and the suspension of head coach DJ Durkin—Texas still looked out of sorts and unprepared for real competition for much of the game.

The Longhorns were down 24-7 before clawing back to within two at halftime. But the Horns’ three turnovers and 100 penalty yards showed a lack of discipline, and to quote Scipio Tex at Barking Carnival, “the delusional disconnect from reality that permeates this staff has been unmasked in consecutive openers.”

The question to ask is not whether Texas is back. That seems to be a definitional problem anyway, because Texas is always back. It’s the only degree of backness that is uncertain (Paul Myerberg, USA Today). The real question is how long Texas fans will continue to put up with the Longhorns’ long dance with mediocrity.

Is Tom Herman on the hot seat? Probably not, but his dismissal of fan concerns about this loss isn’t winning him any friends (Mike Finger, Houston Chronicle).

By the way, the Texas-Maryland game included this moment, a timely reminder that college football is still good in the ways that matter:

Texas Tech’s 47-27 loss to Ole Miss was less shocking if only because it was expected. Still, the way the Red Raiders lost was ugly and disappointing on several levels.

Let’s start with the obvious elephant in the room: the tire fire that is Texas Tech’s defense. With 10 starters back, this unit was supposed to be much improved over last season, but it only took two plays for Ole Miss’ elite offense to break Texas Tech’s defense. The Red Raiders gave up eight plays of at least 30 yards (including four touchdowns), 336 yards through the air, and another 210 on the ground. If that wasn’t bad enough, Texas Tech also had two players—defensive back Desmon Smith in the first quarter, and defensive back Vaughnte Dorsey late int he game—ejected for targeting.

If the defense was bad, the special teams play was atrocious. Texas Tech’s kick coverage—never a big strength in Lubbock—looked particularly vulnerable against Ole Miss. In just the first quarter, the Red Raiders’ broken coverage allowed the Rebels’ Jaylon Jones to return a kick 94-yards for a score. Punter Dominic Panazzolo’s struggles reach back into last season. and against Ole Miss, the Aussie only averaged 34.4 yards on five punts, losing the field position battle right away.

The offense might have been Tech’s saving grace, what with TJ Vasher’s insane one-handed grab early in the game. You have to see it to believe it:

But Vasher—and running back DeLeon Ward who had 90 yards on 17 carries—weren’t quite enough. Starter McLane Carter (4-7, 49 yards) went down with an ankle injury and Alan Bowman stepped in and played the rest of the game. He went 29-49 for 273 yards and a score, but that wasn’t enough to beat the Rebels, and it won’t be enough for the Big 12 schedule.

All of this augurs badly for the rest of the season, in what is almost certainly a make-or-break year for head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

From the merely mediocre to the just plain absurd we go. Kansas lost 26-23 to Nicholls State in overtime, and in the process, somehow managed to become an even bigger embarrassment than any of us thought possible. The details of the game are irrelevant, because Kansas is now the punchline to college football’s worst joke.

Over the last three seasons, Kansas has won exactly three games, against Rhode Island, Southeast Missouri State, and yes, Texas. In two of the past four seasons, the Jayhawks have lost to an FCS team, and going back to Charlie Weis’s tenure, Kansas has lost to a non-Power 5 opponent in six of the last seven seasons.

Kansas is just 3-28 over the last three seasons, a stretch so dire that some believe the Jayhawks just drop football altogether. This is, of course, crazy talk. Of all people, we Kansas State fans know this for what it is: a sort of fan Hail Mary, a desperate heave in the face of inevitable disaster and utter futility. We know because we are the original Futility U:

Why bother? Why send fine young men onto the field every Saturday in autumn to be humiliated? The answer is simple: “I don’t think the Big Eight would want us if we didn’t play football,” says AD Miller, and though KSU could appeal its banishment, it is generally agreed that if Kansas State were to drop football, the Big Eight would just as quickly drop K-State. That would be a shame for both the school and the league: The K-State men’s basketball team has won the conference championship...more than any other school.

The above words apply as much to Kansas now as they did to Kansas State back then. But Kansas State saw a tiny window of opportunity in 1989 and took it. Nearly three decades later, Kansas has a much bigger hill to climb. College football success is much, much harder to come by now, the stakes are much higher, and fan patience is much shorter.

Last season, ESPN’s Dan LeBatard described Kansas as a “nowhere tumbleweed program that has no chance. It is the most incompetent thing that I’ve seen in major sports.” It’s hard to find fault with that statement right now.

On the winning side of the conference tally, Oklahoma State got the ball rolling with a 58-17 beatdown of Missouri State, a contest that was even more lopsided than the score suggests. First-time starter Taylor Cornelius threw for five touchdowns and 295 yards, a performance that Mike Gundy greeted with shrugs and described as “average at best.”

All in all, the Pokes amassed 732 yards of total offense, including 122 yards and a score for Justice Hill, and 115 yards and a score for LD Brown. Nothing really stood out in this game, but that’s the problem with cupcakes: so pretty but so lacking in substance.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma announced itself this weekend with an emphatic 63-14 win over FAU. New quarterback Kyler Murray passed for 209 yards and two touchdowns, dispelling any notion of a sharp drop-off in the post-Baker Mayfield era. Murray’s numbers would have been more gaudy, but the Oakland A’s first round draft pick didn’t even play for the entire first half before giving way to his backup. If that wasn’t enough, running back Rodney Anderson racked up 100 yards and two touchdowns, again in just the first half. Oklahoma ended up with 650 yards of total offense, and it could have been much, much worse.

It’s easy to dismiss this as just a big win over an overmatched opponent. But the Fighting Kiffins won 10 games last year, and this offense was supposed to challenge Mike Stoops’ oft-criticized defense. The reality was carnage, as the Sooners toyed with FAU in a way that would normally require warnings for cruelty and violence.

In short?

Not to be outdone, TCU—widely expected to contend for the conference crown with Oklahoma—put a 55-7 hurt on the Southern Jaguars. The Horned Frogs scored on the first six possessions and generally looked invincible in all facets of the game.

Quarterback Shawn Robinson threw three touchdown strikes to three different receivers and also ran in two scores himself. Wide receiver Derius Davis—a true freshman, because of course he’s a true freshman—not only caught a touchdown pass but also returned a punt for a 73-yard touchdown, earning himself Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors. Afterwards, Gary Patterson, well on his way to being the second-most curmudgeonly coach in the conference, complained about the one score his defense had given up in the first half. That’s just how he rolls.

Speaking of rolling, Baylor had no trouble getting off to a 1-0 start, a far cry from last season. The Bears beat Abilene Christian 55-27 in a game that may have been closer than the scoreline suggests. The win ended an 8-game home losing streak and will no doubt give Baylor some confidence as the program attempts to recover from everything that has happened in Waco.

The Bears offense clicked along nicely in this game, with both Charlie Brewer and North Carolina State transfer Jalan McClendon playing remarkably well. Brewer hurt his back in the game, so there might not be two quarterbacks going forward, however. Running backs John Lovett and JaMycal Hasty both ran for over 100 yards and two scores each, and wide receiver Jalen Hurd is playing at an elite level.

The defense is another story, however. The Bears gave up 246 yards through the air, and 220 more on the ground. Abilene Christian actually held the ball slightly longer than Baylor and averaged nearly as many yards per rush (8.1) as Baylor (8.2), and well...

A lack of containment in the secondary, poor defensive line play, and various missed assignments didn’t prove that costly against these Wildcats, but probably will in Big 12 play.

Is Baylor back? Probably not quite yet, but Matt Rhule is doing really well on the recruiting trail, so it’s unlikely the Bears will occupy the lower rungs of the Big 12 ladder in the future.

Saving the best for last, we come to the Big 12’s most impressive showing of the weekend. West Virginia handled Tennessee 40-14 to begin the much-hyped 2018 season with a bang. In a game where the ‘Eers did a lot right, Will Grier’s performance (25/34, 429 yds, 5 TD) stood out and earned some legitimate Heisman hype, national recognition in the form of the Walter Camp Player of the Week award, and also Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week recognition. His numbers would have been even better but for two dropped touchdown passes and a Tennessee drive that took al,most 10 minutes off the clock. Receivers David Sills V and Gary Jennings also performed well, each with over 100 yards receiving, and the ‘Eers also ran the ball for a total of 118 yards.

West Virginia was also surprisingly solid on defense, holding the Vols to 300 yards of total offense and just 129 yards on the ground. The ‘Eers also stifled Tennessee on third down, allowing the Vols to convert only five times on 14 tries.

For what it’s worth, we’ve been here before. In 2012, West Virginia began the season with hype and momentum only for it to go downhill late in the season. The quick start in 2018 may turn out to be just smoke and mirrors, but for now, the ‘Eers appear to be legit. Let’s just let Holgo have this one, shall we?