What Big 12 football needs to counter a horrid start

What Big 12 football needs to counter a horrid start

Big 12 Pregame: Also, Why Mike Gundy is this week’s coach on the hot seat.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Sep 8, 2023, 3:30am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Sep 8, 2023, 3:30am CDT

The Big 12 had quite the run over a 12-month period.

A financially advantageous exit agreement with OU and Texas. A television contract with ESPN and Fox that solidified the conference’s future.

A season with two more upstarts, Texas Christian and Kansas State, making the conference championship game, and TCU made not only the College Football Playoff, but knocked off Michigan in the semifinals.

Finally, the demise of the Pac-12 brought the four-corner schools — Arizona State, Colorado, Utah and Arizona — into the Big 12, starting next season.

Then the 2023 season arrived, and the Big 12 went splat.

Our weekly Big 12 Pregame includes a close-by coach on the hot seat and a Lonesome Dove upset special, but we start with the Big 12’s dismal performance.

The Big 12 went 10-4 in season openers last weekend, but considering five of those wins came against Division I-AA teams, and four more came against overmatched mid-majors Arkansas State, Sam Houston, Rice and Kent State, it was a dubious debut.

In head-to-head interconference play among the five power leagues, the Big 12 was the only one without a victory. The Pac-12 went 2-0 (Utah beat Florida; Colorado beat TCU), and the Atlantic Coast Conference went 2-1 (North Carolina beat South Carolina  and Florida State beat Louisiana State, though Virginia lost to Tennessee).

The Big Ten went 1-0 (Penn State beat West Virginia) and the Southeastern Conference went 1-3.

So the Big 12 trails the field. It will have to hurry to catch up.

The good news? Lots of games left, starting with this weekend, when the Big 12 plays seven games against fellow power-conference schools. Some of those games will be difficult to win — Texas at Alabama, Utah at Baylor— but that’s the mission.

Next season, when college football will be down to four major conferences, the Big 12 will be back in the business of trying to avoid last place. The Big 12 surpassed the Pac-12 in a variety of ways in recent years, and that’s one the Big 12 still stands and the Pac-12 has collapsed.

But the same mission applies next year. Get ahead of the ACC. That work starts now.

Ranking the Big 12 games

  1. Texas at Alabama, 6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN: The Longhorns are 7-1-1 all-time vs. the Crimson Tide, but Bama’s lone victory came in the 2009 national championship game.
  2. Oregon at Texas Tech, 6 p.m. Saturday, Fox: The Ducks have won both games in the series, 1991 in Lubbock and 1992 in Eugene.
  3. Central Florida at Boise State, 6 p.m. Saturday, FS1: Remember when the Broncos had good quarterback after good quarterback? Now it’s UCF that produces quality QBs, with John Rhys Plumlee the latest example, following Dillon Gabriel and McKenzie Milton.
  4. Utah at Baylor, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN: Utah won the Pac-12 in 2021, when Baylor won the Big 12. Then Utah won another Pac-12 title in 2022, when Baylor went splat.
  5. Illinois at Kansas, 6:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN2: Good news for the Jayhawks — quarterback Jalen Daniels is expected to play after missing the season opener.
  6. Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, 5:30 p.m. Saturday, CW Network: The Bearcats and Panthers were in the Big East together from 2005-12. Even had a trophy, named the Paddlewheel, even though the series is just 21 games old. 
  7. Iowa at Iowa State, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Fox: Cyclone coach Matt Campbell was 0-5 vs. the Hawkeyes until a 10-7 victory last season.
  8. Troy at Kansas State, 11 a.m. Saturday, FS1: The Trojans had one of the nation’s best defenses in 2022. They’ll need it against the Wildcats.
  9. Southern Methodist at Oklahoma, 5 p.m. Saturday, ESPN Plus: For schools only three hours apart, the Sooners and Mustangs sure have played sparingly. SMU won 28-27 in the 1968 Bluebonnet Bowl. The teams tied 7-7 at Norman in 1939. The Sooners won at home in 1995, 1985 and 1971, and OU won at SMU in 1970 and 1925.
  10. Oklahoma State at Arizona State, 9:30 p.m. Saturday, FS1: A sneak preview of the Big 12 After Dark that is sure to come next season. It’s an awfully late finish, but look at it this way — Cowboy fans get a free Saturday and most of a Saturday night, before settling in to watch their squad.
  11. Houston at Rice, 6 p.m., NFL Network: Hey, I didn’t realize the NFL Network has a college deal. Yep, NFL Network has a contract to broadcast 10 games this season from either the Mid-American, Sun Belt or American conferences. 
  12. Duquesne at West Virginia, 5 p.m. Saturday, ESPN Plus: First of two straight games Mountaineer games against teams from Pittsburgh (Pitt comes to Morgantown next week) and the second of three straight Mountaineer games against teams from Pennsylvania (Penn State hosted WVU last week). 
  13. Southern Utah at Brigham Young, 2 p.m. Saturday, ESPN Plus: The Thunderbirds played tough at Arizona State last week, losing 24-21. Can they upset offensively-challenged BYU?
  14. Nicholls at Texas Christian, 7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN Plus: The Horned Frog defense was abysmal vs. Colorado but shouldn’t be tested this week.


Coach on the hot seat: Mike Gundy

After beating Texas last Oct. 22, Gundy’s Cowboys had won 20 of their last 23 games and seemed as good a candidate as any to emerge as the best of the newlook Big 12.

But OSU lost five of its final six games of last season, plus a bunch of talent to the transfer portal. Then the Cowboys struggled to beat Division I-AA Central Arkansas 27-13 last week, all while rotating three quarterbacks.

OSU plays at Arizona State on Saturday night, and the Sun Devils are in rebuilding mode. And ASU hasn’t been particularly potent at all in the last two decades.

A victory would set up the Cowboys to be unbeaten when Kansas State comes to Stillwater for an Oct. 5 game. But a loss would continue OSU’s reeling trend.

Gundy needs more than just a win. He needs to find a quarterback solution, get the OSU offense going and service notice that the Cowboys’ recent slump is quite temporary.

Upset Special: Texas Tech over Oregon

Texas Tech was much-heralded coming into the 2023 season. Picked fourth in the Big 12, but not much behind third-place OU in the preseason poll.

Second-year head coach Joey McGuire had the Red Raiders excited and expectant after an 8-5 season.

Then Tech went to Wyoming and lost 35-33 in double overtime.

But cut the Red Raiders some slack. Nobody wants to be the visiting team in Laramie, Wyoming, where the landscape is rare and the air is thin.

And Saturday, the script flips. The 13th-ranked Oregon Ducks play at Tech. And nobody wants to be the visiting team in Lubbock, Texas.

Big 12 teams are accustomed to West Texas, where most any kind of weather can await. During four days of an NCAA baseball regional in Lubbock in 1996, I experienced record-setting heat wave, flood and a dust storm.

Plus, Tech’s fans can get rowdy and downright inhospitable on a Saturday night.

Coming from the often laissez-faire Pac-12, Oregon isn’t accustomed to places like Lubbock, is the southern version of Laramie. Sort of a Lonesome Dove cattle drive connection.

The Red Raiders will be sore about losing, and the Ducks might be lured into lethargy. Oregon is a 6½-point favorite, but let’s go with Texas Tech in the upset.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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