Examining the Big 12 before conference play

(Graphic by Catherine Eldridge | Collegian Media Group)

Big 12 conference play finally begins after three weeks of college football. Outside of a matchup between TCU and Houston, no one has played each other yet. While Texas and Oklahoma will have their final shots at Big 12 rivals, the newcomers begin possible rivalries and famous battles as the 2023 season kicks into full throttle.

Thriving departing members

Much to the dismay of many Big 12 fans, and possibly even league commissioner Brett Yormark, Texas and Oklahoma are thriving. Their final season in the Big 12 leaves them as the only AP Top 25 teams as of the Week 4 AP poll. Both climbed the rankings since the preseason poll, with Oklahoma moving from No. 20 to 16 and Texas starting at No. 11 and now all the way up to No. 3.

Both teams earned their climbs with 3-0 records. Oklahoma dominated its competition, leading all of FBS with an average 46.3 margin of victory including opening the season on a 73-0 shutout. The offense and defense are both firing on all cylinders after last year’s highly disappointing season.

The Longhorns haven’t had the consistency of Oklahoma week-by-week, but won the big one. In Week 2, led by a dominant performance from quarterback Quinn Ewers and the offensive line late in the game, Texas took down Alabama 37-27. The win put Texas back on the map as a contender in a year where no one team stood out from the rest.

Mixed results from newcomers

The additions of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are all about to get their first taste of Big 12 football, outside of Houston. The Houston Cougars played TCU to begin its Big 12 play in Week 3, falling in a tough 36-13 loss, moving the team’s record to 1-2. Cincinnati joins Houston in a rough start, looking ready after defeating Pittsburgh in Week 2 but then losing to Miami (Ohio) in overtime as two-score favorites.

While the Bearcats and the Houston Cougars struggled, the BYU Cougars and the Golden Knights shined. UCF dealt with an injury to starting quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, a veteran of the team. In his absence, the team continued its running prowess in Week 3 as the Golden Knights rank second in all the FBS in rushing yards per game. UCF gets a true test against Kansas State in Manhattan to see if the running game holds true without Plumlee against a Power 5 team.

Facing the other Big 12 sunflower state school in Week 4 is BYU. The Cougars have taken all three opponents with the help of a passing-heavy offense and a defense collecting seven takeaways. This includes taking down Arkansas 38-31, which was considered the favorite over the new Power 5 program. Now, BYU travels to Lawrence to face the only undefeated Big 12 team not leaving after the year or in their first year of the Big 12.

Limited success for returning veteran teams 

The Kansas Jayhawks are the only team of eight that isn’t leaving or entering the conference that is undefeated. Teams with higher expectations such as TCU and K-State still may be superior even with a loss. Both teams lost by three in highly-contested Power 5 matchups (TCU vs. Colorado, K-State vs. Missouri) and could bounce back. The undefeated Jayhawks and its two one-loss counterparts still lurk behind the top 25, all three receiving at least 15 votes in the latest poll.

The remaining five teams may not look as optimistic. If two teams should be looked at favorably, it’d be West Virginia and Texas Tech. Both have fallen to teams ranked inside the top 15. The Mountaineers took down all non-ranked opponents while the Red Raiders had a little more trouble. The season opener led to an overtime upset against Wyoming, but a close call against No. 10 Oregon and a blowout Week 3 victory could have the team still looking up. 

Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor look like they have serious problems. Iowa State looks worst of all, especially with the gambling incidents removing some of its best players. Baylor has suffered from injury, going 1-2, but challenged ranked Utah who also played without its starting quarterback. Lastly, Oklahoma State does hold a 2-1 record but was dominated as heavy favorites against South Alabama, losing a staggering 33-7 near-shutout. All three teams seem to be trending downward as competition may get more difficult as Big 12 play begins.