The non-conference part of this year’s college football schedule is more or less over, and the Big 12—old teams and new—did not emerge unscathed. For a conference that began the season with much fanfare and with the added bonus of having survived (or even caused) Realignment Ragnarok, this week’s news about a less-than-satisfying settlement agreement with Oklahoma and Texas was a blow.
The bigger problem is that things did not go that well on the field either. So how exactly did the Big 12 do? Well, there are five teams with a perfect 3-0 record right now. None of those teams played in the conference title game last year, two of them leaving after the season, and one of the rest is Kansas.
With most teams set to take on conference opponents this weekend, it’s a good time to look back and ponder just how we got here.
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and that’s how I feel about Baylor starting this season 0-2. Allowances could perhaps be made for the close loss to Utah, a tough out for any team, but especially for a Baylor team without starting quarterback Blake Shapen, never mind that Utah was also without its starting QB. But a season-opening 42-31 loss to Texas State was just embarrassing, possibly the worst loss the program has endured in over a decade. The offensive line looked lost, and the defense was downright awful. (Sound familiar? Yeah, let’s not go there).
Still, the ship was righted a bit with a 30-7 win against a hapless LIU team that only moved up to FCS in 2019, but there’s plenty to be worried about, especially with #3 Texas coming to Waco on Saturday.
BYU is a college football program with a long and storied tradition of success. Nevertheless, the school has long toiled in the relative wilderness of college football, lingering on the fringes and only occasionally flirting with the big time. Well, no more. BYU is now in the big leagues, and the Cougars lost no time announcing themselves to the Big 12.
A relatively pedestrian 14-0 shutout of Sam Houston State was followed by a predictable 41-16 beatdown of Southern Utah. This 2-0 feasting on cupcakes notwithstanding, BYU was surely going to find itself on the other end of the scoreline after a game against Arkansas in Fayetteville, right?
The Cougars were slow out of the game, but down in the second half, BYU mounted two comebacks helped in no small part by its own defense and by key mistakes from Arkansas. Despite having only 281 yards of total offense to 424 for the Razorbacks, BYU came out of SEC country with a 38-31 win and plenty of national media buzz, thanks to electric plays like this.
As a reward for being 3-0, BYU gets to take its newfound swagger to undefeated Kansas. (I know, I know).
Kansas State’s next opponent is UCF, another of the Big 12’s newest (and undefeated) members. So far, the Knights’ season has featured two blowout wins against overmatched opponents (56-6 against Kent State and 48-14 over Villanova) sandwiched around a tightly fought 18-16 win over Boise State on the road on a walk-off 40-yard field goal.
While the as-yet-unblemished record may owe something to not having played a Power 5 team (the Knights got an official waiver specifically to address this), winning against a Boise State team that has won 22 straight home openers on that weird blue field is no joke. That UCF won a true road game despite scoring only 18 points (but somehow having more than 500 yards of offense) should give all their opponents some pause.
On the other hand, the win might have been a Pyrrhic victory for the Knights, as quarterback John Rhys Plumlee sustained a leg injury against the Broncos and is expected to be out for a few weeks. Timmy McClain, a transfer from South Florida, started against Villanova and looked fine, but didn’t have to do much against those FCS Wildcats anyway.
As for how the rest of the season will go for UCF, who knows? It’s a brand new world for them, as it is for the rest of the Big 12.
I just noticed all four of the Big 12’s newest teams cluster at the top of the alphabetical listing for the conference. Coincidence? Providence? Dumb luck? It’s probably best not to explore this in too much detail, but Cincinnati could have used a bit of all three in their most recent non-conference game.
Cincinnati’s arrival in their new conference began with a new head coach (Scott Satterfield, formerly of Louisville via Appalachian State) and a 66-13 beatdown of Eastern Kentucky. The Bearcats followed that up with Satterfield’s first road win, a 27-21 decision over old Big East rival Pittsburgh, in what turned out to be a banner day for running back Corey Kiner and for Cincinnati’s defense.
And then everything fell apart against Miami (the one in Ohio, not that other one). Miami’s Brett Gabbert (yes, brother of Blaine) threw a touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage, and sort of dominated the proceedings after that, despite several lead changes. A blocked field goal and the inability to score touchdowns in spite of multiple trips to the red zone doomed the Bearcats to a 31-24 overtime loss.
Things won’t get easier for Cincinnati as they begin Big 12 play against Oklahoma next.
Houston started this season well enough, with a 17-14 win over UTSA, where the Cougars debuted new Oilers-era throwback uniforms and a career performance from transfer cornerback Malik Fleming. For whatever reason though, the Cougars came out flat against crosstown rival Rice, letting the Owls run off a 28-0 lead before clawing their way back into the game. Unfortunately, Houston just didn’t have enough in the tank for double overtime, and lost to Rice 43-41, snapping a 7-game winning streak in the Bayou Bucket series.
If head coach Dana Holgorsen hoped that a return to the Big 12 sidelines would help, TCU quickly crushed those aspirations. The Horned Frogs dominated the game from the start, pouring on the points and keeping the Cougars out of the end zone in a 36-13 romp. Houston’s lone touchdown came on a 98-yard kickoff return. With that loss, the Cougars are now dead last in the conference standings, and Holgorsen’s words afterwards might be a good description for Houston’s season so far: “It’s unacceptable.”
It’s hard now to believe that it just three seasons ago, Iowa State was tops in the Big 12, winning 9 games and playing in the program’s first-ever conference championship game. It turns out that it’s easy to win a lot of games with players like Brock Purdy and Breece Hall on the team. But they’re playing on Sundays now, and the Cyclones have struggled to consistently put together four quarters of good football ever since.
Out of the game, the team looked fine. A 30-9 win over Northern Iowa went pretty much according to plan, with even the Cyclones’ previously anemic offense looking solid if not exactly spectacular. Sadly, that was not enough against an equally offensively-challenged but otherwise clearly superior Iowa team in the Clones’ annual Super Bowl-like hate fest, a 20-13 loss this time. Although Iowa State’s defense only gave up two big plays, that was more than enough on a day when Iowa State’s offense only managed 87 yards on the ground and quarterback Rocco Becht threw a pick-six.
Things did not get better the next week, when the Cyclones lost 10-7 to Ohio (the one in the MAC, not that other one). I’ll just let our friends over at WRNL describe the loss in their own inimitable way:
Afterwards, Matt Campbell blamed execution rather than scheme for the team’s offensive woes, and then had a testy exchange with a fan who heckled him with “hot seat.” Whatever, dude. Just go back to doing whatever this is.
The Kansas Jayhawks are undefeated. For the second season in a row. That is all we have to say about that.
The Sooners are exactly where they like to be at all given times. Oklahoma is undefeated with two blowout wins over relative tomato cans Arkansas State and Tulsa and a too-close-for-comfort 28-11 win over SMU that was not decided until late in the game and left fans confused about the Sooners’ offensive inconsistency.
The team also gave up nearly a football field in penalties that stalled their own drives and helped the Mustangs stay in the game for way too long. That points to the same on-field discipline problems Oklahoma and Brent Venables struggled with last season.
Recall that Oklahoma’s 2022 season also began with a perfect 3-0 record before things went like this:
Oh my goodness, where to start? The Pokes went 2-0 after two nearly identical wins over Central Arkansas and future Big 12 team Arizona State. Then, they just lay down in their next game and got trucked 33-7 by South Alabama.
I’m not even sure where South Alabama is exactly, but the team dominated the Cowboys on both lines of scrimmage, notching almost 400 yards of total offense and holding Oklahoma State to less than 200 yards, including just 94 yards on the ground.
It was the first home non-conference loss for the Pokes since 2016, and only the third in Mike Gundy’s entire tenure in Stillwater. But it’s part of a long downward slide for the program, including last season, which saw the team lose four of the last five Big 12 games after a promising 5-0 start and a win over Texas. It’s definitely time to panic for the orange-and-black fan faithful, and well, just take a look at this hot take:
The first (and so far, only) Big 12 team to make the national title game in the playoff era began the 2023 campaign in primetime, or rather against Primetime. Oh, sorry. Deion Sanders goes by Coach Prime now, and someone forgot to tell him that his Colorado program was just in the game to help TCU kick off its new season with appropriate grandeur. Instead, it was a wildly entertaining game with multiple lead changes and the insanity of Travis Hunter playing brilliantly on both sides of the ball.
Colorado two-way star Travis Hunter with a RIDICULOUS goal-line interception vs TCU! pic.twitter.com/SV0BatBFvM— The Comeback (@thecomeback) September 2, 2023
Ultimately, the two teams combined for over 1000 yards of offense as the Buffs stunned the Frogs 45-42.
TCU followed up the stunning and nationally televised loss—and all the attendant armchair analysis of the team, and especially the defense—with a 41-6 pasting of Nicholls State and then, in the inaugural game of the new Big 12, showed Houston who was definitively the boss of college football in Texas.
For the time being, TCU is leading the Big 12 standings, and that should last for at least another week, as the Frogs taken on hated crosstown rivals in the Iron Skillet game for one of the last times.
Texas is back!
Sam Ehlinger’s prediction may have been a little premature, but the current 3-0 record, which includes an expected-but-still-shocking 34-24 win over Alabama, certainly suggests as much.
As we noted in the past though, Texas is always back; it’s the degree of back-ness that is open to question. Luckily, the Horns did not eat the rat poison, and even after the team started slooooow, they managed to find a rhythm and put Wyoming away 31-10.
Is Texas really back though? Who knows. The Longhorns begin their Big 12 farewell tour this next week against Baylor, and as their past would suggest, anything can happen in a Big 12 game featuring Texas.
What is even happening in Lubbock these days? Texas Tech began the season ranked 24th in one of the polls, its first such honor since 2008. With 17 starters returning from a promising 2022 season, it looked like the team was all set up for success this year. Indeed, the season opener against Wyoming began with a 17-0 lead for the Red Raiders, but an interception and three missed field goals led to the Cowboys taking a lead late in the game before Texas Tech tied it up and forced overtime. Unfortunately, Texas Tech could not make the 2-point conversion in 2OT and lost the game 33-35.
That was followed by a 38-30 loss to Oregon that was much closer than the scoreline suggests. For quarterback Tyler Shough, an Oregon transfer, this was a chance to show off against his former team a bit, but things didn’t quite work out as anticipated. He threw three TD passes and had over 100 yards on the ground but also had three interceptions, the last of them a pick-six that iced the game for the Ducks. The loss dropped the Red Raiders to 0-2, the first such start to the season for the program going all the way back to 1990.
Tech appeared to have fixed things at least a bit in its easy 41-3 win over Tarleton State, but with the Big 12 slate just around the corner, the team can’t afford any more mistakes.
Head coach Neal Brown is on the hot seat, and it got even hotter after a predictable 38-15 Week 1 loss to Penn State, in the first meeting between the two schools since 1992. The ‘Eers were never completely out of the game, but beating a stacked Penn State team that expects to contend for the Big Ten was too tall an order for a team still struggling to find an identity. Pat McAfee, as frustrated with the program as any fan could be, said the perception of West Virginia is basically as a MAC team. Ouch.
A lightning-delayed 56-17 win over Duquesne was all the preparation West Virginia got before the most important game on the non-conference schedule, the Backyard Brawl, the first meeting of Pitt and West Virginia since the ‘Eers moved to the Big 12.
A night game at home against their most-hated rival is exactly what the football doctors ordered for whatever ailed West Virginia, and boy did the ‘Eers respond.
When starting quarterback Garrett Greene left the game hurt, it looked like West Virginia was in for a long night. But redshirt freshman Nicco Marchiol proved up to the challenge, helping his team score on two drives and securing a much-needed 17-6 win for the program.
Did that cool off Neal Brown’s hot seat? Probably not, but winning several Big 12 games will go a long way.
In closing, everyday should be Saturday. That is all.