All of the preliminaries are over, and it’s time for Big 12 coaches to focus on trying to win a conference title.
“That’s the fun part about conference. It doesn’t matter what you do those first three games,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said Monday. “It’s all about what you do moving forward.”
With all the non-conference games completed, there will be only head-to-head matchups in the Big 12 over the last 10 weekends of the regular season.
Six teams — No. 22 Texas, West Virginia, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Kansas and Oklahoma — will play their conference openers this week. While the league is already in a precarious position in trying to get back into four-team College Football Playoff for the second year in a row, there could still be a wide-open race to the Big 12 title.
Oklahoma (1-2), which made it into the CFP last season, already has losses to top-10 teams Houston and Ohio State, and is one of four league teams coming off an open date. But the Sooners are 0-0 in the quest to repeat as Big 12 champions and win the league for the 10th time under coach Bob Stoops.
“That’s a big deal to us, and we’ve done it a fair amount,” Stoops said during the weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference. “That’s been the frustration for me is I don’t feel we’ve played up to what we’re capable of. And we may not still have won, I get that, but you want to be able to at least play the way you’re capable of. We’re only three games into it and we’ve got to be able to do that here this week, and start doing that going through the Big 12.”
The first full week of Big 12 play gets an early start with Kansas (1-2) playing at Texas Tech (2-1) on Thursday night.
Then on Saturday, No. 13 Baylor (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) goes to Iowa State (1-3, 0-1); No. 21 TCU (3-1, 1-0) hosts Oklahoma; No. 22 Texas (2-1) is at Oklahoma State (2-2, 0-1); and Kansas State (2-1) plays at West Virginia (3-0).
With Baylor the league’s highest-ranked team and the only one with four wins so far, acting head coach Jim Grobe was asked if he felt like the Bears were the early conference favorite.
“Oh no, not at all,” Grobe said. “I don’t think anybody really feels comfortable or knows how their team’s going to be in the next two or three games. I think once you get about a little over halfway through the season, things start to sort out a little bit. But it’s way too early to have any sense of where you stand in the league.”
Some other notes from the weekly Big 12 call:
— Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill ran for 122 yards and a touchdown in his first career start; it was the most yards for an Oklahoma State true freshman against a Big 12 opponent since the league was formed in 1996. But the league’s newcomer of the week also had two fumbles Saturday that led to Baylor touchdowns. The last one came at the end of a 12-yard run in the fourth quarter when the Cowboys were down only 28-24. The Bears recovered at their 1, drove the length of the field and won 35-24 .
“He’s a young talent,” Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. “You’ve got to let him play because he has the ability to turn a short gain into a big gain.”
— Texas coach Charlie Strong said adjustments made on defense during the open date, after giving up 50 points at California, were not with personnel. “It’s about tweaking it and making sure we put guys in position where they can be successful,” he said.
— Coach Matt Campbell said Iowa State got into a rhythm using quarterbacks Joel Lanning and Jacob Park in a 44-10 home win over San Jose State, after both also played in the Big 12 opener at TCU. Campbell said he felt “it might be in our best interest to give both of those guys the opportunity” to play after both progressed late in fall camp and early in the season.