At one point in August, even if only for a few hours, the Big 12 held the fate of fall football in its palms. On its first week of the season, the conference experienced a cruel twist of fate by going 0-3 against the Sun Belt.
To repeat: 0-for. Against the Sun Belt. To recap:
- Iowa State, previously ranked No. 23 and a dark horse for the Big 12 Championship Game, lost to now-ranked Louisiana 31-14.
- Arkansas State, down nine starters, bested Kansas State in a 35-31 thriller. Red Wolves receiver Jonathan Adams Jr. was the best player on the field with eight catches for 98 yards and three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score. All on a partially torn MCL.
- Coastal Carolina scored the first 28 points in a 38-23 win over Kansas. The late-night embarrassment was summed up best by a hot mic moment in which someone from the Coastal Carolina side yelled "These boys can't play with us!"
No, they most certainly could not.
The Big 12 went 4-3 overall on the weekend, but the wins were hardly of any consequence. No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 9 Texas handled Missouri State and UTEP, respectively, which is what you'd expect. West Virginia eased past Eastern Kentucky 56-10. Texas Tech survived Houston Baptist.
Last Saturday was a black eye for the conference, no doubt, but coaches from around the conference said on Monday during media calls that it's too early to make it a referendum on the league.
Riley on Big 12 losses: This is going to be a diff year. There's going to be unexpected losses across the country ... this deal with rosters is going to affect people ... It's a long way to go, it's one game and one sample size. Teams will continue to improve ...#Sooners— Eric Bailey (@EricBaileyTW) September 14, 2020
TCU Gary Patterson on the three B12 losses to Sun Belt teams, "I don’t think there should be any panic."— Kirk Bohls (@kbohls) September 14, 2020
To those points, this season is going to be a choose-your-own-adventure book. Lack of practice time, thin depth charts, quick turnarounds and disrupted schedules are going to produce a lot of unexpected results. Just getting to Saturday might count as a win for some teams. As it pertains to the Big 12's slow start, I can see Iowa State rebounding. I won't call the loss a fluke, but it is explainable. Louisiana is good; it had three touchdowns off of big plays and Iowa State needs better production out of its passing game.
I'm less confident in Kansas State, however. The Wildcats were beat up front and got hosed on pass defense. Neither of those things bode well going into conference play. Kansas is ... well ... Kansas.
Projecting how one game is going to shape a season is impossible, even in non-pandemic years, but if there's one main takeaway from Week 2 it's this: the gap between its best teams, presumably Oklahoma and Texas, and everyone else appears far bigger than expected. How much that affects the favorites remains to be seen, but with only three Power Five conferences playing this fall (for now), the Big 12 still has to like its odds of making the College Football Playoff.
Short of the league completely cannibalizing itself, I'm not sure much has changed for the likes of Oklahoma, Texas or even Oklahoma State. There might just be a lot of OK teams in the rest of the standings. Shoot, there might be just a lot of OK teams everywhere. Everyone's trying to navigate this uncertain time the best they can.
Speaking of standings, it's time for ...
Power Rankings: Week 3
1 Oklahoma (1-0): Here's one takeaway from the Missouri State shutout: quarterback Spencer Rattler has real arm talent. I don't care what defense he's playing against, some of those throws were rare for a college quarterback, let alone a freshman. He has an effortless release.
2. Texas (1-0): OK, so UTEP is a slight downgrade as an opponent from LSU. Not much else to say there. Still, I am now 100% confident that quarterback Sam Ehlinger will throw for 1,000 yards against Texas Tech.
3. Oklahoma State (0-0): The Cowboys are a trendy pick for the Big 12 title. Their Week 3 opponent, Tulsa, was deceptively competitive last year despite its 4-8 record. Oklahoma State is better, though, and needs to make quick work of this game if it's going to separate itself from the rest of the Big 12 herd.
4. Baylor (0-0): This has more to do with Iowa State, TCU and Kansas State giving reasons to drop them. We don't know anything yet about Dave Aranda's Bears, but this team feels like the ultimate wild card. Notable losses on defense, but the program is in good shape and Charlie Brewer is a fine quarterback. I can see results being wonky. They might lose at West Virginia but turn around and beat Oklahoma State. Who knows?
5. TCU (0-0): Losing quarterback Max Duggan indefinitely took some wind out of my underrated pick. And, oh look, the backup has been out for what will now be the better part of two weeks. Great pick there, Ben.
6. Iowa State (0-1): I'm not going to drop the Cyclones too far because the Louisiana loss was actually closer than it seemed on the scoreboard. Half of the Ragin' Cajuns' 154 passing yards, for example, came on one 78-yard touchdown. In fact, big plays were the difference. Louisiana had the long bomb, a punt return and a kick return for touchdowns. Still, a "closer game at second glance" isn't going to make anyone in Ames feel much better. You have Brock Purdy at quarterback and three legit tight ends. You have to find a way to win that one, even if Louisiana is good.
7. Kansas State (0-1): The questions about Kansas State's offensive line definitely carried over into the season. The Wildcats, after having gone through some attrition up front, rushed for just 91 yards on nearly 40 attempts against Arkansas State. Coach Chris Klieman said his team was down a couple of guys up front, but with this season there's no guarantee you'll ever be at full strength. There are going to be some ups and downs with this team.
8. West Virginia (1-0): Completely aware that Eastern Kentucky is a "bless their hearts" level of bad. Still, the Mountaineers had two 100-yard rushers in that game. Understand: the 'Eers had 879 yards -- total -- rushing last year. Quarterback Jarret Doege can sling it, too. I'll factor in some serious regression to the mean once West Virginia plays at Oklahoma State on Sept. 26, but the first impression of Year 0.5 for Neal Brown wasn't bad.
9. Texas Tech (1-0): Houston Baptist, which we cannot confirm is not actually a regional hospital, threw for 572 yards against Texas Tech in its 35-33 loss. Granted, Houston Baptist -- again, could be a team, could be big building with patients in it -- likes to throw the ball a lot -- as in 113 times in two games a lot. But allowing that much offense to an FCS opponent while being forced to run out the clock is, in a word, alarming.
10. Kansas (0-1): Man, if you're out here getting ransacked by Coastal Carolina, what hope is there?
Week 3 Picks
Tulsa at No. 11 Oklahoma State (-22.5): We finally get to see Chuba Hubbard, Tylan Wallace and Spencer Sanders in action, just a week later than anticipated. Again, first games can be a bag of tricks, but there's so much firepower with this Cowboys offense and Tulsa's defense has to break in some new starters on the back end. Plus, Tulsa's top pass rusher from 2019, Trevis Gipson, is gone. That's not a great combination.
The sample size has been small and some of the matchups aren't even worthy of a line, but ranked favorites have not been cover machines so far. This game could get into shootout mode, but if the Pokes want to show they're the other team in the Big 12 title race, they'll come out hot. Pick: Oklahoma State -22.5
Houston at Baylor (-5): This is the first game for both teams and it was scheduled on a week's notice, so who knows how this one'll go. Houston is coming off of a tank season and Baylor is breaking in a first-time head coach. My general rule for picks (not wagering) is that if you think a slight road dog has a chance to cover, you may as well pick 'em straight up. Can the Cougars' offense get on the board against Baylor's good but rebuilt defense? I'm going to say the tumultuous offseason hurts the Bears a little harder. Pick: Houston +5
Players to Watch
Baylor DE William Bradley-King: He's not listed as a starter for the Houston game, but the Arkansas State transfer had a team-best 13.5 tackles for loss last year. He figures to be more of an edge rushing outside linebacker in Aranda's defense, but he could provide a spark in getting to the backfield.
Oklahoma State OL Josh Sills: Another transfer, this time from West Virginia, plugs a hole in a pretty good looking offensive line. Hubbard was the nation's leading rusher a year ago, so paving the way for him again will be a priority.