Eleven weeks of the 2023 college football season are in the books, and yet somehow, the Big 12’s title game scenario remains murky. Texas is very much in the driver’s seat right now, but that could all change next week. Oklahoma State, maybe still hungover from their success against OU, fell right on its face against UCF. Meanwhile, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Iowa State, all big winners on Saturday, are still in the mix even if none is in control of their own destiny.
How messy is this picture? If every home team wins this Saturday, eight Big 12 teams will have identical 6-3 conference records. That’s about as clear as pea soup fog.
The Big 12 further muddied the already confused situation by publicly announcing its tiebreaker rules this week. A previous interpretation of the rules had led to a scenario where Kansas State would make the game ahead of Oklahoma State even if both teams win out. The absurdity of this result caused much consternation among fans, prompting the Big 12 to put out a clarifying statement.
But for now, let’s not talk about that and just recap last week’s games, ok? We’ll start at the bottom for a change.
Houston vs Cincinnati
In this battle of the Big 12’s new teams, we—wait, what? Cincinnati won a Big 12 game?! Wow. Just when we thought the Bearcats would be the first team in the new Big 12 to go 0-fer in the conference, Cincinnati instead held the ball for nearly 37 minutes and got RB Corey Kiner his fifth 100-yard game, easily defeating Houston 24-14 in the process. It was a bit of a consolation prize for Scott Satterfield in a season that will finish under .500.
And there’s this, of course:
For their part, the Cougars are so inconsistent from one week to the next that it’s hard to predict what Houston will do next. Bowl eligibility is still at least mathematically possible, though defeating Oklahoma State to get there might be too tall an order.
Meanwhile, the program is also dealing with the tragic loss of three former players, D.J. Hayden, Zach McMillian, and Ralph Oragwu, who were in a fatal car collision last Saturday. The team will wear helmet decals in their honor this weekend.
Baylor vs Kansas State
As we all know, Baylor got absolutely mauled by the Wildcats last week. Normally, I don’t feature Kansas State’s most recent game in these recaps, because that game has already been covered extensively elsewhere at BotC. But I thought I would take a moment to address the game from the Bears’ POV, which can be pretty much summed up in one word: Yikes.
Just two years removed from winning a Big 12 title, Baylor is out of bowl contention. What gives? Nobody knows, but also, nobody is surprised. Head coach Dave Aranda’s seat is starting to feel like a metal park bench on a July day in Waco. Not sure he’s handling the uncertainly all that well, to be honest.
For #Baylor HC Dave Aranda, the words 'Lexus December to Remember Sales Event' can be viewed as one of the scariest times for coaches, as it typically means the coaching carousel is right around the corner.— Parker Rehm (@parker_rehm) November 14, 2023
Here's coach's full thoughts from today's presser: pic.twitter.com/ZgVEHu8Mvx
UCF vs Oklahoma State
Well, what the heck happened here? It was UCF’s annual Space Game, and the Knights officially had lift off.
Ok, now that we’re done with the bad puns (maybe), there was a sense that UCF was just one game away from a major breakthrough. That it would happen against the Pokes, a league-leading and ranked team, seemed impossible. But hey, it was the Space Game and the Knights were ready to rocket (sorry). Bottling up Oklahoma State’s Ollie Gordon is no small task, but that is exactly what UCF did, holding the FBS’ leading rusher to just 25 yards on 12 carries. That was a huge contribution to UCF’s blowout 45-3 win, which was aided by bad weather, and Oklahoma State’s inability to hold on to the ball: two fumbles and three interceptions that all turned into UCF points. It also helped that the Knights rolled up almost 600 yards of offense in what coaches describes as the team’s best game this season.
Meanwhile, the Pokes were just terrible in every aspect of the game. After a huge emotional victory over Oklahoma, the team just came out flat, and got blasted in the Space Game (ok, mo more, I promise). The offense turned the ball over too much, the defense forgot how to tackle and was repeatedly burned for big plays. It was about as ugly a loss as Oklahoma State has had all season, and we’re talking about a year when the Pokes lost to South Alabama! The offense is going to need a rehaul and quickly, before Oklahoma State takes on Houston this weekend.
Iowa State vs BYU
A week after losing to Kansas, Iowa State traveled to Provo for a night game against BYU. Prognosticators thought the Cougars might pull the upset, but nobody told the team from Ames, so Iowa State just did a lot of Iowa State things and took an easy 45-13 decision over BYU. The Clones didn’t need to stretch very much for this one. Quarterback Rocco Becht was just barely over 200 yards and running back Abu Sama III had just over 100 yards on the ground, but that was more than enough. It was also a good tuneup as Iowa State gets ready to host Texas on Senior Night in Ames. I think this clip is perhaps ill-considered trash talk right before the game, but certainly very relatable for the entire Hateful 8:
I asked Iowa State OL Jarrod Hufford about Texas coming to Ames one final time before leaving for the SEC. Hufford gave a spicy answer, and then added some more heat when answering @TravisHines21 follow-up question. pic.twitter.com/W0gXaGVzPj— Mark Freund (@MarkFreundTV) November 14, 2023
BYU, meanwhile, is having a miserable time in its new conference. At 5-5, the Cougars aren’t bowl eligible yet, and with games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State left on the schedule, they might not get there. Head coach Kalani Sitake had to bench injured QB Kedon Slovis after the Cougars’ loss to Texas, but backup Jake Retzlaff has not exactly set the world on fire. Never mind the offense though, it’s the defense that is really struggling. Whatever else the program expected from its first season in the Big 12, it was not prepared for the conference’s running backs, and the Cougars have had to face the league’s best rusher in a string of consecutive games that have worn down an already overmatched defense.
Texas Tech vs Kansas
The Jayhawks were briefly tied for second in the Big 12, although an upset 16-13 loss to Texas Tech took care of that. Kansas is still technically in contention though, and that’s a thing that has barely ever happened in Lawrence this late in the season. But things are getting toug, especially now that the team is down to its third-string quarterback. Jason Bean had to leave the game in the first half with an apparent head injury, and backup Cole Ballard fought gamely and rallied the team, but the offense struggled for the rest of the game. Lance Leipold has not made clear who the starter will be for the Sunflower Showdown, but it’s likely that some combination of Bean, Ballard, and backups Mikey Pauly and Ben Easters will take the field.
For Texas Tech, the win was critical to making the post-season this year, although bowl eligibility remains a questionable prospect. The Red Raiders have games against an improving UCF squad and league-leading Texas left on the schedule, and wins are not guaranteed. Beating a ranked Kansas team on the road also helped boost the team’s confidence, since it was Tech’s first win over an FBS team over .500 this season. Running back Tahj Brooks seems to be the reason for that, and Tech will need him to be on his game for the rest of the season.
West Virginia vs Oklahoma
The Sooners were disappointed after their second consecutive loss, but if West Virginia was hoping to deal Oklahoma a third one, they were sorely disappointed. Instead, OU rolled up over 600 yards of offense in a 59-20 romp over the ‘Eers. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel had an absolutely ridiculous record-setting day, scoring eight times (5 passing TDs, 3 rushing TDs) and he had plenty of help from running back Gavin Sawchuk, who added 135 yards on the ground.
For a West Virginia team that has mostly outperformed preseason expectations, this loss was a massive setback. Not only did it remove any cushion that the embattled Neal Brown might have had, but fans are clearly over the general direction of the program. Here’s a quote from a fan on Discord that puts things in perspective for the faithful in Morgantown:
Since 2019 West Virginia has: 8 wins over bowl-eligible teams, 5 wins over teams that finished with a winning record, 3 wins over teams who finished more than 1 game over. 500 and 0 wins over teams that finished the year ranked.
Texas vs TCU
The Longhorns are still ranked in the Top 10, are still leading the Big 12, and with only one loss, still have an outside shot at making the College Football Playoff. When was the last time a Texas team could say all that in November? Things were already looking good, but the team’s prospects got even better with the return of quarterback Quinn Ewers. He was solid, if not exactly spectacular, in a narrow 29-26 win over TCU. Their next game, a senior night adventure at Jack Trice in Ames, could well determine if Texas is back. A win cements a spot in the Big 12 title game, a loss means a must-win situation for the Longhorns against Texas Tech.
For TCU, this game was a microcosm of the entire 2023 season, or maybe just a simulation of their purple-clad Kansas State cousins in this game. The Frogs started slow, spotting Texas a 20-point lead in the first half. In the fourth quarter, it was all TCU, as the team mounted a furious rally that sadly fell short right at the end. The game was, overall, a weird series of mistakes and corrections for both teams, and the fact that the Frogs almost pulled off the upset might help them in their big Bluebonnet (LOLWUT) rivalry game against Baylor this week.
Busy play here for Texas and TCU.— The Comeback (@thecomeback) November 12, 2023
TCU's Millard Bradford intercepts a pass from Quinn Ewers. Bradford then fumbles on the return.
Longhorns recover 3 yards behind the original line of scrimmage and get a new set of downs. pic.twitter.com/r6NMPPpfj9
Kansas State takes on Kansas in the 121st edition of the Sunflower Showdown in Lawrence tonight. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 PM CST, and the game will air on FS1. As always, game-specific details are available in the How To Watch post.
This year, in addition to the Governor’s Cup and in-state bragging rights, a possible spot in the Big 12 title game is also on the line. That almost never happens, so let’s enjoy the spotlight and predict a purple victory. We’ve been right about this 14 times in a row so far, so why not in 2023?
As you might have guessed, this post is doubling as the Slate today and as your early game open thread. Enjoy!
Go Cats! To borrow a phrase from history and our brethren in Fort Worth, KU delenda est.