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Big 12 Roundup: Endgame

The final regular season of the newish old Big 12 has come to an end.

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2021 Big 12 Championship - Oklahoma State v Baylor

And then there were two.

After weeks of uncertainty and ups and downs for the Big 12’s first year as a 14-team league, we finally know that Texas and Oklahoma State will play for the conference title. This is a less-than-ideal result for a conference hoping to send the two defecting programs off with as little fanfare as possible. But it is what it is.

While we might be rooting for Oklahoma State to win this game, this sort of cruelty (an actual felony) is unconscionable. It’s just a game, people, keep some perspective!

So much has happened in the Big 12 since the last weekend of the regular season, between players entering the transfer portal, and at least one head coach getting fired. It’s hard to put the entire season into context, but needs must.

The Big 12 standings at the end of the regular season tell quite the story:

Let’s just take this from the top.

Texas

It is with deep reluctance that we concede that Texas is indeed back. An 11-win season featuring a win over Alabama and only a single loss to a Top 10-ranked (at the time) Oklahoma team is more than enough to define backness. There’s still an outside chance that Texas could make the College Football Playoff. While that’s not an outcome that the Big 12 really wants, the shared revenue windfall is not something the conference can really hate on.

Anyway, in a month, the Texas Longhorns will be a team we no longer have to even pretend to care about.

Oklahoma State

This has to be the most confusing team in the entire conference, a thing already alluded to before the season even began. At times, the Pokes have looked like world beaters and at other times, they have barely showed up.

The Pokes have been most successful when handing the ball off to Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Ollie Gordon. He had a terrific run in October, averaging over 8 yards per carry as Oklahoma State went on an absolute tear through the conference. He was not as effective in the team’s losses, particularly against both South Alabama and UCF. But against Texas, Gordon may have some additional motivation.

Which team will play Texas? I doubt even Oklahoma State really knows, but this much is for sure: nobody is giving the Pokes much of a shot here, which is exactly when Mike Gundy and his team burn you.

Oklahoma

The Sooners are 9-2 and...actually, you know what? NOBODY CARES. Let’s just send Oklahoma off to SEC mediocrity in style.

West Virginia

To say West Virginia has outperformed expectations this season would be a massive understatement. Predicted to finish last in the Big 12, the ‘Eers rode the DISRESPEKT meme to an 8-4 season that included a 4-1 start and a big non-conference win over archrival Pitt. The final regular season win over Baylor was a closely contested affair that West Virginia finally won in the waning seconds of the game, for its first 8-win season since 2018.

Head coach Neal Brown, on the hottest of seats at the start of the season, won a vote of confidence from West Virginia’s new athletic director, and is probably safe for another year.

Iowa State

The Cyclones’ final game of the regular season was played in a winter storm, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the score, or the way it all went down. I’m convinced that Iowa State’s win is one of those football anomalies, a sequence of events that will not be reproduced ever again. Much like the last few minutes of Farmageddon in 2015. But forget about all that. The 2023 Farmageddon game was one of the highest rated games of the season in its time slot. For the entire season.

Look at this perfect image of college football. How can you not want this game to be played every single year, Big 12? SAVE FARMAGEDDON!

Texas Tech

For a program that began with high preseason expectations, with some even calling the team a sleeper contender for a conference title, Texas Tech fell well short in 2023, in a slide that recalled the Red Raiders limping to a 4-8 finish in 2014 despite a lot of buzz in the preseason. Redemption was not on the cards in a final blowout loss to Texas, but the season was lost to injuries at key positions long before that. At least Tahj Brooks is amazing?

Brooks aside, the program is forced to face certain bitter realities, including that it is one of a handful of programs that have never been ranked in the College Football Playoff polls.

Kansas

Usually, this is where we just laugh and move on, but the 2023 edition of Kansas football was actually good and is deserving of praise, particularly in view of the team’s terrible injury luck and tough schedule. The program had a huge upset win over Oklahoma and also appeared in the CFP poll for the first-time ever this season. Oh, and Jalon Daniels is coming back for the 2024 season.

This wouldn’t be a Kansas State site if we didn’t laugh at KU just a little, so here’s this: KU assistant Andy Kotelnicki will be the new offensive coordinator at Penn State. It’s better than losing Lance Leipold to Michigan State, I guess?

UCF

Congratulations to the UCF Knights. By virtue of finishing 6-6 in the regular season, UCF will be the first (and so far, only) of the new Big 12 teams to make a bowl game. While that seems like a low bar, considering the upgrade in strength of schedule and that the Knights were missing quarterback John Rhys Plumlee for much of the season, the results are much better than expected. There was also that blowout win over Oklahoma State that will not be soon forgotten.

But the most memorable UCF moment of the season may well be this crazy play where Knights QB Timmy McClain ran for approximately 50 yards to make a 16-yard pass on 4th and 5, in a game UCF ultimately lost.

TCU

It has been said but bears repeating: TCU was in the national championship game just a season ago. The fall from those lofty heights to a pedestrian 5-7 season has been difficult to watch, and has earned the Horned Frogs’ the dreaded one-hit wonder label. An absolutely crushing defeat to Oklahoma did nothing to improve the mood around the program.

Was this all bad karma from the Kendal Briles hire? Who knows, but at least Sonny Dykes and crew can at least take some solace in knowing this is a young team that got some much-needed experience this year.

BYU

The Cougars had the most promising start of any of the Big 12 newcomers, going 3-0 and even winning a tough road game against Arkansas. But when the Big 12 season began, the upgrade in opponents was too tall a hill for BYU to climb. The program is going to need some serious upgrades in talent on both offense and defense to be competitive in the even newer Big 12 next season. This play against Kansas was emblematic of the troubles BYU had this season:

BYU played hard in its final game of the season, forcing two overtimes against Oklahoma State, so at least there’s still fight in the team. Head coach Kalani Sitake also seems to be willing to make roster changes for 2024, so we’ll see.

Baylor

Where to start? If TCU’s decline seems precipitous, Baylor’s has been a slow slide into irrelevance instead. Two seasons removed from a Big 12 title, the Bears are just 3-9 in 2023, and that horrible record includes an inexplicable loss to Texas State and blowout losses to Texas Tech, Kansas State, and despised rival TCU. Many of the Bears’ losses were in close games though, and the near-miss against West Virginia was a microcosm of 2023, although maybe that just points to how tragically bad Baylor’s defense is?

It was widely expected that Baylor would fire Dave Aranda, who has gone 3-16 in his last 19 games. But in a surprise move, the school retained the coach, and he cleaned house, replacing offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes with spread passing expert Jake Spavital. This seems a bit desperate, but hard times call for hard decisions.

Houston

The Cougars finished 2-7 in the Big 12 and just 4-8 overall, tying the program’s worst finish since 2005. Unsurprisingly, the big news out of Houston is that Dana Holgorsen has been fired. Over five seasons, Holgorsen went 31-28, which included a 12-2 finish in 2021 and a final ranking of 17th in the AP poll. Interestingly, Holgorsen did not think he was actually on the hot seat, as he confirmed in speaking to The Athletic:

We won 20 games in two years. We won bowl games in back-to-back years. I have five years on my contract with a f—ing impossible buyout. So there ain’t no f—ing hot seat in my mind. There just ain’t.

The school could be an attractive destination for a number of coaches, considering it’s now a Power 5 program in fertile recruiting territory. Right now, the rumor mill thinks Gary Patterson will get the nod. If that’s true, next season will be interesting indeed.

Cincinnati

And we come to it at last, and that is not intentionally a pun about the Bearcats’ finishing 14th in their first Big 12 season. Cincinnati, like the Big 12’s other new teams, has had a bit of a shock to the system in transitioning to Power 5 football, and a blowout loss to Kansas to end the season did not help.

But things are looking up for 2024 already. Running back Corey Kiner, who had six 100+ yard rushing games this season, will be back for his senior year, and the Bearcats also return all five offensive linemen next season.

Finally, full credit to this fan for never losing sight of what matters in college football: having a bit of good-natured fun at your opponent’s expense:

And that’s it for the Big 12 (football) roundup in 2023. It’s been fun, thanks for humoring me in the comments. Let’s do it again next season.