Berry’s college football predictions: Why the Big 12 newcomers been so non-competitive

Berry’s college football predictions: Why the Big 12 newcomers been so non-competitive

Big 12 voters figured the 14-team league’s four newcomers would struggle. They tabbed Central Florida eighth, Brigham Young 11th, Houston 12th and Cincinnati 13th. And the newcomers have lived down to expectations.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Oct 18, 2023, 6:00am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Oct 18, 2023, 6:00am CDT

Big 12 preseason pollsters had a premonition. The voters weren’t 100% tuned in to the future; they voted West Virginia last in the conference, and the Mountaineers are a defend-the-Hail Mary away from being atop the standings with OU.

But otherwise, the voters figured the 14-team league’s four newcomers would struggle. They tabbed Central Florida eighth, Brigham Young 11th, Houston 12th and Cincinnati 13th.

And the newcomers have lived down to expectations.

All four newcomers are winless against the legacy Big 12 members, other than Houston beating West Virginia 41-39 last Thursday on Donovan Smith’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Stephon Johnson Jr.. on the final play of the game, a Hail Mary miracle.

In the other 10 matchups between new and legacy Big 12 members, only one game was decided by single digits, and it hurt most of all. UCF led Baylor 35-10 going into the fourth quarter, but the Knights lost 36-35.

Cincinnati and UCF are the Big 12’s only teams winless in conference play, each at 0-3. BYU and Houston are tied with Baylor, each at 1-2. Every other league member is at least .500.

UCF plays at OU on Saturday. Before the season, that matchup figured to be quite interesting. Now the Sooners are a 19-point favorite.

Why have the newcomers struggled?

First of all, there’s a quality of teams,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said. “Every week, you’re going to go against quality players, really, in all positions. You’re going against good depth and you’re going against good coaches.

“So I really think it’s all of the above. You gotta play really good football to win games in this league. We knew that when we came in. We gotta start playing good football.”

It hasn’t helped that the Knights have been playing without star quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, who was injured September 11. Malzahn announced that Plumlee will start Saturday in Norman.

But offense hasn’t been UCF’s problem. Backup QB Timmy McClain has played well. Defense has been the Knights’ bugaboo.

Brent Venables suggested that lack of conference knowledge works against the newcomers. I guess that’s possible.

“My first year (at Clemson, as defensive coordinator in 2012), it took me a transition to learn the opponents” in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Venables said. “Learn the coordinators, learn their go-tos, learn their rosters, their strengths. You try to rely on people, but you have to go through it and kind of figure that out. That was probably the last piece of not being real comfortable in that first year.

“Like, even for us here a year ago, we had this new roster. You don’t know what you don’t know, and again, you kind of, sometimes, think you might know. I mean you got to go through it. And you start figuring stuff out.”

Maybe. But the jump from mid-major to a power conference is a big adjustment. There’s a boost in size, strength and ability.

In 2012, Texas Christian and West Virginia joined the Big 12, TCU from the Mountain West Conference and WVU from the Big East. The pollsters were excited about the Mountaineers; WVU was picked second in the 2012 preseason poll, with TCU fifth. 

Those Mountaineers and Horned Frogs each finished 7-6 overall, 4-5 in the Big 12, good for a four-way tie for fifth. And both fell to 2-7 in Year 2.

It seems more difficult to jump into the power-conference rat race these days. 

In 1976, Houston joined the Southwest Conference — and won the league to earn the Cotton Bowl berth. In 1978, Arizona State and Arizona jumped from the Western Athletic Conference to the Pac-10. ASU went 9-3 overall, 4-3 in the Pac. Arizona went 5-6, 3-4. Both were close to the Arizona schools’ established status in the WAC.

Of course, the financial discrepancy between power-conference schools and mid-majors has mushroomed over the last few decades. It will take awhile for BYU, Cincinnati, UCF and Houston to get caught up financially. It appears it will take even longer for that quartet to get caught up athletically.

Let’s get to the predictions.

Last week: 30-14. Season: 320-83.

Central Florida at Oklahoma: Sooners 47-22. UCF will score some on OU, but the Knights’ defense isn’t likely to stiffen enough to keep it close.

Oklahoma State at West Virginia: Cowboys 24-23. The Mountaineers have averaged just 13 points a game against the Cowboys the last four seasons.

Texas at Houston: Longhorns 55-14. The Cougars are coming off that Hail Mary victory. The Longhorns are coming off an excruciating defeat to the Sooners. Texas is mad. Houston is lucky. Mad trumps lucky.

TCU at Kansas State: Horned Frogs 26-24. Big 12 upset special. KSU turned to freshman quarterback Avery Johnson to get a victory at Texas Tech last week, but TCU found its own QB in Josh Hoover, a redshirt freshman who filled in for the injured Chandler Morris and led the Frogs to a 44-11 rout of BYU.

Texas Tech at Brigham Young: Red Raiders 26-17. BYU was a total no-show at TCU. Can the Lavell Edwards Stadium crowd make the Cougars competitive?

Baylor at Cincinnati: Bears 21-18. If Baylor wins, it’s possible that Saturday could end with all four newcomers under .500 in the conference and every other Big 12 member at least .500.

Tennessee at Alabama: Crimson Tide 23-20. The Volunteers famously won 52-49 a year ago in Neyland Stadium. These old rivals’ offenses aren’t quite as potent this season.

Ole Miss at Auburn: Rebels 30-20. Mississippi is 5-1 and could be 8-1 going to Georgia – the Rebels have Vanderbilt and Texas A&M the next two weeks.

South Carolina at Missouri: Tigers 24-20. What a year for Mizzou. The Tigers are 6-1; beat the Gamecocks, and Missouri is 7-1 going to Georgia.

Mississippi State at Arkansas: Razorbacks 28-19. The Hogs came alive down the stretch to scare Alabama last week.

Army at Louisiana State: Tigers 48-7. Army’s transition away from the option offense isn’t going smoothly.

Penn State at Ohio State: Nittany Lions 19-17. National upset special. The Buckeyes have won 10 of the last 11 in the series to take a 23-14 lead in the rivalry. But something is slightly askew with Ohio State, and Penn State is hungry for a breakout win.

Minnesota at Iowa: Hawkeyes 11-6. After the Gophers, 6-1 Iowa has Northwestern, Rutgers, Illinois and Nebraska. Iowa is headed for an 11-1 regular season with the worst offense this side of the Pecos.

Michigan at Michigan State: Wolverines 56-6. This is not a friendly rivalry. The Wolverines have no problem adding more misery to Michigan State’s disastrous season.

Wisconsin at Illinois: Illini 20-17. Former Sooner quarterback Tanner Mordecai suffered a broken hand last week against Iowa, so Wisconsin turned to Mississippi State transfer Braedyn Locke, not OU transfer Nick Evers.

Northwestern at Nebraska: Cornhuskers 33-13. Matt Rhule seems to be having a lost first season in Lincoln, but beat the lowly Wildcats, and NU is 4-3.

Rutgers at Indiana: Scarlet Knights 23-17. Greg Schiano can get Rutgers bowl eligible with a victory over IU.

Utah at Southern Cal: Trojans 27-14. Without Cameron Rising, Utah just doesn’t have enough at quarterback. Meanwhile, sometimes it seems that’s all USC has.

Washington State at Oregon: Ducks 35-23. Good thing Oregon is playing at home. This a sitting-Ducks situation, coming off an emotionally debilitating loss to Washington and playing a quality opponent.

Arizona State at Washington: Huskies 49-10. Mismatch. Total mismatch. 

UCLA at Stanford: Bruins 31-14. Is the Cardinal the team that got down 29-0 to Colorado, or the team that came roaring back to win in double overtime? Seems likely the former.

Clemson at Miami: Hurricanes 24-20. One of these teams will fall to 4-3, and if it’s Miami, the ‘Canes fall to 0-3 in the ACC.

Duke at Florida State: Seminoles 33-20. The Blue Devils have remained tough even without star quarterback Riley Leonard; they routed North Carolina State last week with backup QB Henry Belin IV completing four passes.

Boston College at Georgia Tech: Yellow Jackets 33-14. Georgia Tech won’t need the opposing coach to hand over a victory this week.

Virginia at North Carolina: Tar Heels 42-15. The Power Five conferences have eight unbeatens total. Carolina is one of them, and against a solid schedule.

Pittsburgh at Wake Forest: Demon Deacons 21-20. Pitt produced a surprising upset of Louisville last week, but the Panthers have not been much of a force.

Rice at Tulsa: Owls 32-20. The rubber game in TU’s three-game series against Owls. Beat Temple, lost to Florida Atlantic.

Air Force at Navy: Falcons 28-9. The Academy beat Wyoming last week and remains in the hunt for a Fiesta Bowl berth. Not since the 1970 season has Air Force gone to a major bowl.

Texas-San Antonio at Florida Atlantic: Roadrunners 26-24. Both are 2-0 in American Conference play. 

North Texas at Tulane: Green Wave 45-11. Willie Fritz is putting together another excellent season with the 5-1 Green Wave; its only loss was a competitive showdown with Ole Miss, with Tulane missing star quarterback Michael Pratt.

Memphis at Alabama-Birmingham: Tigers 28-19. Excellent civil-rights museums in both cities.

Southern Methodist at Temple: Mustangs 39-10. Don’t count out SMU for American Conference title.

Charlotte at East Carolina: Two of the American Conference’s three teams winless in league play.

South Florida at Connecticut: Huskies 23-17. USF has given up 56 points in back-to-back games (UAB and Florida Atlantic).

Colorado State at Nevada-Las Vegas: Rebels 27-24. The Rams have been in two late-night thrillers — a double overtime loss at Colorado, plus a Hail Mary win over Boise State.

Utah State at San Jose State: Aggies 34-31. Two decent teams, but the loser will be 1-3 in the Mountain West.

Nevada at San Diego State: Aztecs 26-16. Hey, what happened to Nevada football? The Wolf Pack is 0-6 overall, 2-16 under second-year coach Ken Wilson.

Hawaii at New Mexico: Lobos 26-17. These are two of the three Mountain West teams that are winless in conference play.

James Madison at Marshall: Dukes 42-28. James Madison could make the Peach Bowl, in its second season in Division I-A.

Georgia State at Louisiana: Ragin’ Cajuns 31-30. Other than 0-3 Louisiana-Monroe and Southern Mississippi, each of the other five Sun Belt West teams have one conference loss each.

Coastal Carolina at Arkansas State: Chanticleers 37-13. Don’t be misled by Arkansas State’s 3-3 record. The Red Wolves are about what we thought when we saw them lose 73-0 at OU.

Appalachian State at Old Dominion: Monarchs 23-20. ODU is a legitimate threat to win the Sun Belt.

Louisiana-Monroe at Georgia Southern: Eagles 28-23. GSU is having a solid season – 4-2; losses at Wisconsin and to unbeaten James Madison – with Tulsa transfer Davis Brin at quarterback. Brin has thrown 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

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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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