The Big 12 no longer had to worry about being a national punch line. Rumors of its demise and stories about clumsy expansion efforts are fading. (Your Veteran Scribe credits the retirement of Oklahoma president David “Big Mouth” Boren with changing the narrative.)
There is still a reason for concern. The smallest Power Five conference must prevent becoming a punching bag. Through four seasons of the College Football Playoff, the Big 12 has yet to have a team play for the national championship and has missed out on the football final four twice. The calendars keep changing and the Big 12’s last title came in 2005. If the league isn’t careful, it could wind up as Flyover Country’s version of the Pac-12.
The narrative will likely change Saturday. The national perception of the Big 12 will either be better or worse after a Week Three schedule that provides plenty of opportunity.
Two of the three games on Saturday’s college football schedule that match ranked teams involve the Big 12. No. 14 TCU will face No. 4 Ohio State at AT&T Stadium in Arlington while No. 17 Boise State travels to Stillwater to take on No. 24 Oklahoma State. The former could have a significant CFP impact, but the latter matches two prolific offenses and might be the most watchable game of the day.
Through two weeks, the Big 12 has split six games with Power Five foes and none of the three victories moved the needle. Three non-conference victories have come versus Group of Five schools and there are three of those on Saturday’s schedule.
Winning five of the seven nonconference games would be the minimum to make it a success. On-field performance is just one concern heading into the weekend. There’s some background to Saturday’s slate that’s concerning.
Because of Hurricane Florence, West Virginia’s game at North Carolina State was canceled. The Mountaineers, who opened the season with a neutral site victory over Tennessee, had two Power Five schools on their non-league schedule but now that’s cut in half. If West Virginia winds up having a special season and is in contention for a CFP berth, not playing the Wolfpack could be a detriment.
TCU, which came agonizingly close to a CFP bid in 2014, hopes that a victory over Ohio State would provide a huge bargaining chip. But the fact that the game is being played at Jerry World instead of Amon Carter Stadium has rankled some of the Horned Frogs faithful.
The “little school that could” is finding out that Big Boy Football comes with a figurative cost and a literal profit.
Former TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte, now at Texas, cajoled Ohio State into scheduling a home-and-home series after the Horned Frogs (as members of the Mountain West Conference) went 13-0 in 2010, won the Rose Bowl and finished No. 2 in the final rankings. At the time, TCU was planning to join the Big East Conference. That changed when the Big East imploded and the Big 12 called with an invitation.
Following TCU’s 12-1 season in 2014 – the first season of the new CFP – Del Conte and coach Gary Patterson agreed to trade in the home-and-home with the Buckeyes for a one-shot, neutral site game. Each school receives $5 million for the game.
Patterson, hearing the complaints of one neutral site payday game vs. a home-and-home, views it as practical and competitive.
“You have to have a good business plan,” Patterson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I understand the financial model. … And we already play Oklahoma and Texas and everybody else in the Big 12.”
ESPN’s College GameDay will be in Fort Worth Saturday morning – the suits at the World Wide Leader know the value of campus/student energy. However, instead of the spectacle of hosting the Big, Bad Buckeyes, TCU fans and boosters who have helped the program move into the Power Five high-rent district will watch the game in an NFL stadium. They’ll also miss out on a chance to visit Columbus.
Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of the Big 12 Saturday schedule. Rating system: 1 football the worst, 5 footballs the best.
Rutgers at Kansas: The Jayhawks surprisingly snapped a record-setting 46-game road losing streak Saturday with a dominant victory at Central Michigan. Kansas has won four games during coach David Beaty’s tenure so starting 2-1 this season would renew the hope destroyed by the season-opening loss to Nichols State. Rating – 2 footballs.
Oklahoma at Iowa State: The Big 12 opener for both teams. The Cyclones stunned the Sooners in Norman last season and are 0-1 following their season opener being canceled and their offense stalling in last Saturday’s loss at Iowa. Oklahoma faces the rest of the season without top running back Rodney Anderson, who suffered a season-ending injury against UCLA. Rating – 4 footballs.
Duke at Baylor: Both teams are 2-0 and for the Bears, this is an opportunity to prove that progress is being made under second-year coach Matt Rhule. The Blue Devils will be without their starting quarterback. That plus playing in Waco could provide Baylor a needed edge. Rating – 3 footballs.
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) September 12, 2018
Boise State at Oklahoma State: After two “games” against pushovers, the Cowboys lead the nation in total offense. New quarterback Cornelius Taylor has 728 passing yards, a school record for a quarterback’s first two games as a starter. Boise State rolled up 818 yards – the most in an FBS game since 2016 – in Saturday’s victory over Connecticut. The Broncos are fourth in total and fifth in scoring offense. It’s unlikely the under will be in play. Rating – 5 footballs.
UTSA at Kansas State: The Wildcats were folded, spindled and mutilated by Mississippi State. That’s unlikely to happen when the Roadrunners visit.
However, the loss to the Bulldogs was so complete that doubts about this season’s K-State team, especially in terms of offense and quarterback play, need to be addressed quickly. Rating – 2 footballs.
Houston at Texas Tech: This is the third of three games matching the Big 12 against a Group of Five opponent. The Red Raiders won in Houston last season, but the Cougars are more than capable of returning the favor in Lubbock. For Texas Tech and coach Kliff Kingsbury, this falls into the “must-win” category. Rating – 3 footballs.
USC at Texas: That this game isn’t the marquee matchup in the conference and nationally speaks volumes to the fact that these iconic programs are a bit tattered and worn.
Both are 1-1 and only the Trojans are ranked. The Longhorns have been maddeningly inconsistent; if that’s how they play Saturday, they could be 1-2 going into a rugged three-game stretch opening Big 12 play. Rating – 4 footballs.
TCU vs. Ohio State: The Buckeyes will be playing their third and final game without suspended coach Urban Meyer. The Frogs have the chance to make a huge jump in the rankings if they can pull off the upset in a game being played about 30 minutes from their campus. Rating – 5 footballs.