As if dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 aren’t enough, the Big 12 now finds itself battling another problem.
Conference play for each of the league’s 10 schools begins this weekend, and thus far the headlines have been more embarrassing than encouraging. A sampling:
- Three Big 12 teams — including preseason No. 23 Iowa State — lost to schools from the Sun Belt.
- No. 15 Oklahoma State, a squad some had picked to win the league title, defeated Tulsa 16-7 but trailed 7-3 entering the fourth quarter.
- Texas Tech’s defense surrendered 600 yards in a 35-33 win over Houston Baptist. Yikes!
It’s probably too early to panic, especially considering the limited offseason preparation caused by COVID-19. And some schools, such as K-State, were without key players because of positive tests and/or contact tracing.
Still, the fact that five schools turned in such dreadful performances is certainly a troubling sign. The Big 12’s reputation was already shaky — at least outside of the league — after conference champion Oklahoma got shellacked in each of its past two College Football Playoff appearances. What’s occurred in the league thus far this season hasn’t helped.
One TV analyst, ESPN’s Greg McElroy, even suggested that the American Conference —which features schools such as SMU, Houston and Central Florida — is deeper than the Big 12. The statement may not be far-fetched. Hopefully we’ll know more after this weekend.
Here is the first installment of my Big 12 rankings, which will appear on Outkick each week moving forward.
1. Oklahoma (1-0) — New Sooners wonder boy Spencer Rattler — remember him from “QB1” on Netflix? — threw for 290 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-0 win over Missouri State. But Kansas State will provide a much tougher test this weekend. The Wildcats handed Oklahoma its only regular-season loss in 2019.
2. Texas (1-0) — The Longhorns play at Texas Tech Saturday and need to win in dominant fashion to prove that there is indeed separation between them and the bottom two-thirds of the league. Houston Baptist racked up 600 yards on the Red Raiders. Texas should eclipse that number in a game that should be over by halftime.
3. Oklahoma State (1-0) —‚Underwhelming as their 17-6 victory over Tulsa may have been, it should be noted that the Cowboys played most of the game without star quarterback Spencer Sanders, who was in for just one full drive before leaving with an ankle injury. Oklahoma State is hoping to have him back for Saturday’s game at West Virginia.
4. Baylor (0-0) — Dave Aranda still hasn’t made his head coaching debut for the Bears, who have had games against Louisiana Tech and Houston canceled because of COVID-19. The Bears are crossing their paws that changes this weekend against Kansas. Baylor returns quarterback Charlie Brewer and a host of speedy skill players from last year’s 11-3 Sugar Bowl team.
5. TCU (0-0) — Quarterback Max Duggan, who announced over the summer that he was stepping away from football because of a heart condition, returned to the team two weeks ago and is expected to see action in Saturday’s game against Iowa State. That’s a huge boost for the Horned Frogs. Duggan, who will back up Matthew Downing for now, started the final 10 games for TCU in 2019 and threw for 2,077 yards and 15 touchdowns.
6. Iowa State (0-1) -— I’m not ready to write off the Cyclones. Not yet. I still have faith in Brock Purdy and Co. to get things turned around, and it all starts this weekend at TCU. It’s a crucial game, because Oklahoma visits Ames the following week. Could Iowa State and coaching darling Matt Campbell be staring at an 0-3 start?
7. Kansas State (0-1) — Much like Iowa State, I’m not convinced Kansas State is a bad team. The Wildcats were missing multiple players in their loss against a solid Arkansas State squad. I’m not excusing it. But I’ve got confidence Chris Kleiman’s team will bounce back. I just don’t expect it to happen this weekend against Oklahoma.
8. West Virginia (1-0) -— Jarrett Doege threw three touchdown passes and Leddie Brown and Alec Sinkfield each rushed for 123 yards in a 56-10 win over a porous Eastern Kentucky team that lost to Marshall 59-0 the previous week. The Mountaineers will have their hands full Saturday against an Oklahoma State team eager to redeem itself after an underwhelming effort against Tulsa.
9. Texas Tech (1-0) — Even though the Red Raiders won 35-33 against Houston Baptist, their performance in that victory is extremely troubling. Surrendering 600 yards at home to a team that was coming off a 26-point setback against North Texas is inexcusable. I was expecting Texas Tech to be one of the Big 12’s most-improved teams in 2020 but this is not a good start.
10. Kansas (0-1) -— The Jayhawks fell behind 28-0 to a Coastal Carolina team that has never even been to a bowl game and ended up losing 28-3. What an embarrassment. Don’t be surprised if true freshman quarterback Jalon Daniels gets the start — or at least some quality reps — against Baylor this weekend. Not that it will matter.