This past weekend of college football finally gave the Big 12 some much-needed separation. Between wheat and chaff, old and new, winners and also-rans. It also featured some astonishing comebacks, the cooling of a couple of very hot seats, and the rise of at least one unexpected team.
It pains me to say it, but there are now only two unbeaten teams in the conference, and they happen to be the two teams halfway out the door, Oklahoma and Texas. Fortunately, they play each other in the Red River Rivalry game this weekend, and after that, we can just forget they exist for the most part, like conference commissioner Brett Yormark is already doing.
To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, let’s begin at the beginning then, shall we?
BYU vs Cincinnati
Friday Night Lights. It’s now a thing in the Big 12, so we might as well get used to it. Incidentally, Cincinnati was the first program in the Midwest to play a game under lights exactly a century ago in 1923. (Whether this is true depends on how we define both “Midwest” and “under lights,” but we’ll just let them have this one).
This game was in Provo though, and with both teams looking for their first conference win, it turned into a hard-fought game between two teams that were basically even, the difference being a pick six and a muffed punt that BYU turned into points, enough for a 35-27 win. Most of the Cougars’ big plays on offense came in the second half, while the Bearcats struggled mightily to finish drives in Scott Satterfield’s first year in the Power 5.
Both teams are off next week, but meanwhile, this Cincy fan is back at it:
Kansas vs Texas
In the Big 12’s first battle of undefeated (and ranked!) teams, #3 Texas was predictably much better than #24 Kansas. The Longhorns won 40-14 and racked up over 600 yards of total offense (325 passing, 335 rushing). Running back Jonathon Brooks looked especially unstoppable in this game.
As Texas Longhorns RB Jonathon Brooks looks to continue his tear this season let's take a look at his game vs. Kansas: pic.twitter.com/VWN0WiRra3— Desert Dweller Sports Network (@DesertDwellerSN) October 5, 2023
The Jayhawks kept pace with their opponents early on, but with Jalon Daniels missing from the line up (again), a game Jason Bean was never going to be quite enough (again).
Oh, by the way, it’s not just delusional Texas fans these days. Everyone thinks Texas is back. Sigh. The aforementioned Red River Rivalry game should reveal more about Texas, if only any of us could make ourselves care.
A still Daniels-less Kansas will host a UCF team that is just a few mistakes away from winning a Big 12 game. The Flaw on the Kaw is favored in this game, but hey, you never know, right?
Iowa State vs Oklahoma
Oklahoma took out a season worth of frustration on Iowa State, routing the Cyclones 50-20. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel had himself a day, accounting for 5 touchdowns, three passing and two rushing on his way to 403 total yards.
Much like Kansas against the Horns, Iowa State kept it close for a while, but Rocco Becht’s early command of the game turned out to be a false dawn, and before one could say Boomer Sooner, the Cyclones were done. The halftime score was 40-20, and Iowa State never scored again.
We’ll see how OU does against Texas this weekend. Regardless of the actual outcome, it will be a baseline-setting game for Brent Venables’ team. But as I said before, I don’t care and more importantly, I won’t miss all the tired rhetoric about how important this rivalry is for the Big 12.
As for Iowa State, Matt Campbell may not be on the hot seat (he’s literally the best coach to walk the sidelines in Ames in at least a generation), but things aren’t coming together in Ames like they used to, and that should give the Clones faithful some serious pause.
I’m never letting this go though.
Houston vs Texas Tech
For much of the first half of this game, it looked like Texas Tech was in trouble. On social media, I riffed that something was clearly wrong in Lubbock, and Joey McGuire and his squad must have heard me, because Texas Tech finally found enough offense to pull away from Houston, particularly on the ground, and ultimately won with the lopsided score of 49-28.
Tech scored on a 100-yard kickoff return and a blocked punt, critical on a day when the passing offense never really got going and the defense gave up almost 500 yards.
Houston, meanwhile, just can’t seem to figure out how to play for four whole quarters, and Dana Holgorsen even admitted as much. Nevertheless, there’s probably a silver lining. The Cougars drove down the field to score in the opening series, only the first time Houston has scored on the first drive all season. Plus, the team never had to punt once in the first half. Unfortunately, miscues on defense and special teams means Houston is 0-2 in the Big 12 so far, and just 2-3 overall.
Houston is off this week, and Texas Tech will take on Baylor, another team that needed a big comeback against one of the Big 12’s new teams.
Baylor vs UCF
Something is wrong in Waco, this much is certain. Notwithstanding the greatest comeback in program history and the narrowest of wins, a 36-35 decision over UCF, Baylor fans aren’t exactly celebrating right now. Then again, the return of quarterback Blake Shapen makes Baylor a different team. Not only is he the more competent signal caller, he’s also the on-field leader the Bears clearly needed.
Credit to UCF too, because the Knights uncanny ability to grab defeat from the jaws of victory also contributed to Baylor’s mighty comeback. UCF scored early and often in the first half, but the defense—already somewhat undersized by Big 12 standards—struggled to get off the field. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the unit had nothing in the tank. Interestingly, the Bears almost didn’t win thanks to UCF’s quarterback doing absolutely THE MOST to convert on a fourth down late in the game.
UNREAL clutch play by UCF QB Timmy McClain pic.twitter.com/g5yY3PFcrt— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) September 30, 2023
UCF gets another shot at beating a team from Kansas this Saturday, and honestly, playing a Jason Bean-led KU squad might be just the thing for our Florida cousins?
West Virginia vs TCU
Neal Brown is on the hot seat and this West Virginia program is struggling to make a mark in the Big 12. That’s what we’ve been told anyway, but the ‘Eers are steadily—ever so quietly—just winning, this time in an improbable 24-21 win over TCU. After a season-opening road loss to a potentially great Penn State squad, West Virginia has not lost another game. The ‘Eers are riding a surprisingly good defense to those wins, with the team in the top half of the Big 12 in nearly every defensive category. That’s good too, because otherwise, West Virginia has been mostly lucky. While good teams make their own luck, that stuff runs out too, though we won’t find out until next week because West Virginia won’t lose to BYE.
Also, this is West Virginia football now!
Trying to imagine someone telling me as WVU transitioned from Dana to Neal, both products of the “Air Raid” coaching tree — that in 2023, a TV color guy would say, “Now that’s West Virginia football — 2 tight ends, 3 running backs out on the field, pound it right up the middle.”— Patrick Southern (@patricksouthern) October 1, 2023
What gives at TCU though? Notwithstanding the loss to Coach Prime and the Colorado hye train, the Horned Frogs have been dominating their opponents, but finally faced with a defense with a pulse, the team seemed to fall apart, especially in the second half when the ‘Eers throttled TCU’s offense. The Frogs did rally, but the comeback fell short when West Virginia blocked a field goal.
So where do the Frogs go from here? The concern seems to be that these losses are bad for unity in the locker room. No sign of that just yet, but it remains to be seen how TCU responds, especially against Iowa State this weekend.