Eight weeks into the season, the conference picture is starting to clear up quite a bit, although there is still kind of a logjam in the top half of the Big 12 standings.
Oklahoma is in the one spot all by itself, and it would require a shocking late season collapse to keep them out of the Big 12 Championship Game at this point. There are also several teams holding steady with just one conference loss, including Kansas State, of course.
Of these teams, Texas probably has the inside track. If the Horns run the table from here on out, they get a rematch against their hated rival Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. This is also true for Oklahoma State. Except if Iowa State also wins the rest of its games, because the Cyclones own the head-to-head tiebreaker. But what if Kansas State runs the table instead, putting the Pokes back in the driver’s seat? Well, you get the picture. None of these scenarios seemed especially likely just a few weeks ago, so basically, this is a good time to figure out how the Big 12’s tiebreakers work.
Things may be murky at the top, but a couple of the Big 12’s new teams are doing a great job of redefining the Big 12 cellar. BYU is the only new team to have a winning record overall and be at least .500 in the conference. Cincinnati and UCF are yet to win a Big 12 game, and their schedules are not getting any easier. That the transition to playing in a Power 5 conference would be difficult is something these programs all knew, but I don’t know if any of them previously appreciated the vast upgrade their rosters might need just to keep up.
Anyway, let’s start right at the top...
Oklahoma vs UCF
Oklahoma is undefeated and on a seven-game winning streak right now, but for a brief time in the game against UCF, the Sooners’ perfect record was in serious jeopardy. Playing from behind in the second half, it took some late-game heroics from quarterback Dillon Gabriel—a former UCF player—to put OU ahead for good and seal a 31-29 win.
The Knights, with quarterback John Rhys Plumlee finally back in the lineup, went toe-to-toe with the Sooners for much of the game, even taking the lead briefly in the second half. They did not seem phased by their opponent’s lofty ranking or even their packed stadium, and especially on plays like this one where Plumlee found a wide-open Javon Baker for the score (Baker’s gesture to the crowd did not provoke the Big 12’s usual unsportsmanlike conduct flag, much to my surprise):
Not sure you can be more wide open than Javon Baker was on this EIGHTY-SIX yard breakaway touchdown.— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) October 21, 2023
Everything is still on the table for the Sooners who will take on Kansas in Lawrence this weekend. Meanwhile, still winless in the Big 12, UCF will try again while hosting West Virginia.
Texas vs Houston
For a brief moment last Saturday, it looked like Houston might actually pull off the season’s biggest upset. Trailing in the fourth quarter, the Cougars kicked a 40-yard field goal to tie up the score, but less than two minutes later, Texas pulled ahead on a 16-yard run from CJ Baxter. Houston somehow drove all the way to the Horns’ 10, but couldn’t put the ball in the endzone, falling 31-24 to Texas.
Texas’ victory was a relief, but also a Pyrrhic one. Late in the game, the Longhorns lost quarterback Quinn Ewers to a shoulder injury. There’s no set timetable for his return, and it looks like Texas will go with backup quarterback Maalik Murphy for now, so the Arch Manning era in Austin will have to wait.
Houston gets a well-earned bye this week, while Steve Sarkisian will get to coach against his alma mater, BYU. Longtime Kansas State fans will remember Sarkisian as the BYU quarterback who led his team to a 19-15 victory over our Wildcats in the 1996 Cotton Bowl.
Baylor vs Cincinnati
In what became a theme last week for the OG Big 12 teams, Baylor narrowly escaped Cincinnati with a 32-29 victory. The Bears took an early lead and only briefly gave it up in the first quarter, before taking the lead good by halftime, behind some decent play from quarterback Blake Shapen, who went 25/42 for 316 yards. Baylor also had a touchdown on special teams, a scoop-and-score off a muffed kickoff return. The team will look to finally win two games in a row as the Bears host Iowa State on Saturday.
But the Bearcats came roaring back in the fourth quarter, scoring twice in quick succession to put the game well within reach. Baylor had few answers for Cincinnati’s ground game, with Corey Kiner and Myles Montgomery both having 100+ yard rushing games and quarterback Emory Jones adding 56 of his own. Sadly, Cincinnati just could not put together a sustained drive at the end. So Scott Satterfield’s team remains winless in the Big 12, and that might not change this weekend with a tough matchup against Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
Finally, there’s this obligatory thing:
Oklahoma State v West Virginia
Just a couple of weeks ago, West Virginia fans were quietly celebrating their team being undefeated in the Big 12 and having just one loss overall. A last-second loss to Houston shook things up a little, and then, the ‘Eers gave up 28 points in the 4th quarter to lose to Oklahoma State 48-34. Now fans just want Neal Brown replaced so the program can move on from a coach who allegedly doesn’t get “big school” football.
For their part, the Cowboys were never really out of the game. Trailing at the half, Oklahoma State stuck to the strategy of just handing Ollie Gordon the ball, and predictably, he ran all over West Virginia, to the tune of 282 yards (at a clip of almost 10 yards a carry) for 4 touchdowns. Indeed, Gordon has been so successful in Stillwater that even Mike Gundy thinks the running back might hit the transfer portal for greener pastures next season. I mean, he’s not wrong. Gordon can do stuff like this all game long, after all.
Ollie Gordon II stepped on the gas— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) October 21, 2023
46 yards to the pic.twitter.com/ZXf6x517my
West Virginia will take its two-game losing streak to Orlando, while Oklahoma State hosts Cincinnati.
Texas Tech vs BYU
It’s official. Kansas State broke the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Joey McGuire’s team can’t seem to get out of its own way, and a season that began in the Top 25 has since turned into a disaster. This time, in a 27-14 road loss to BYU, Tech had enough total offense to win the game (236 passing, 153 rushing), and the defense only gave up 277 yards to the Cougars. But quarterback Jake Strong, making his first-ever start, threw three interceptions, and Tech also lost two fumbles to essentially give the game away. Maybe the Red Raiders can get things cleaned up before taking on TCU at home, but it seems unlikely.
BYU did not particularly impressive on offense. Still reeling from a blowout loss to TCU, Cougar quarterback Kedon Slovis 127 passing yards, though he did have two touchdowns in the first half. The running game never really got untracked either, although LJ Martin did tally nearly 100 yards on the ground. It was the Cougars defense that really came through when needed, forcing five turnovers and generally bullying Tech into making more mistakes as the game wore on. With the win, BYU is a game away from bowl eligibility and somehow the Big 12’s best of the rest. As a reward for all that, BYU will travel to Texas to face off against former Cougar Steve Sarkisian.
But wait, let’s not forget the biggest story from this game!
A Texas Tech player was ejected for spitting in the face of a BYU player. pic.twitter.com/UWN6A0ysWD— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 22, 2023
Days later, the two programs were still talking about the incident, with McGuire insisting his player did nothing, and two BYU players insisting the opposite. We may never know what actually happened, but did we just witness the birth of a new Big 12 rivalry? Fingers crossed.