Oct 19, 2022
WVU coach Neal Brown says the Big 12 race is wide open this year.
No answers to Big 12 riddle
by Bob Hertzel
MORGANTOWN — It has been a whirlwind, to be sure, as the West Virginia and the Big 12 Conference has raced to the midway point in its 2022 season.
So much has happened through this first half, yet nothing has happened, at least in sorting out just what this conference is all about this year … and certainly not in the future.
West Virginia football coach Neal Brown, who saw his Mountaineers take a giant leap forward with a spine-tingling 43-40 surprise victory over Baylor last Thursday night, briefly addressed the Big 12’s situation following that game.
“This league is going to be wide open,” he said. “There’s a bunch of really good teams. This team (Baylor) won a Big 12 Championship last year, and they’ve got a bunch of returning guys returning. They handled us pretty good last year, and our guys came back.”
Indeed, the Mountaineers did. It was hardly an artful performance, but then I don’t know too many guys named Picasso, Dali or Grandma Moses who ever played football.
It isn’t a game meant for soft pastels. At its best, it is a test of physical strength and stamina and played with fury yet purpose.
It seems that’s how it is throughout the league.
As we address this, it’s a week too early to proclaim anyone “the best of the Big 12” yet, for this upcoming Saturday may be the most crucial day of the season.
In one of those “who woulda thunk it?” games, the conference lead will be decided as the two unbeaten (in conference play) teams clash … and no, it’s not Oklahoma and Texas as you might have predicted as play began this season.
It’s TCU, who last year did not qualify for a bowl game and lost its long-time patriarch of a coach, Gary Patterson, going against Kansas State, a team that finished last season with a 4-5 record.
That’s a 7 p.m. game.
Earlier in the day, at 2:30 p.m., the two teams right behind them and the only two teams with one loss — Texas and Oklahoma State — clash in Stillwater.
By Sunday morning the Big 12 may be looking at an uncontested leader in the winner of the TCU-K-State game and a pair of one-loss challengers nipping at their tails in the loser of that game and the winner of Texas and Oklahoma State.
All of this may be the forerunner of what the college football world — at least in the Big 12, but probably far more widespread than that — will look like in the future as power shifts according to who handles the transfer portal best and who can do the best NIL sales job.
Losers become winners; winners become losers.
Look no further than the SEC for that, if you must, as Tennessee has yet to stop celebrating its victory over Alabama.
And, in case you haven’t sensed what was happening already, Oklahoma is no longer the power that has dominated the conference. The Sooners, who lost their coach and quarterback to USC, have but one conference victory with three losses and were all out to beat Kansas this year.
Parity can sometimes produce boredom, a league full of .500 teams isn’t really the goal, but the parity in the Big 12 has produced edge-of-your-seat football throughout.
There were four games played in the Big 12:
WVU 43, Baylor 40
TCU 43, Oklahoma State 40
Texas 24, Iowa State 21
Oklahoma 52, Kansas 42
That’s three 3-point games and a 10-point decision.
Thrilling plays, thrilling performances, winning field goals, come-from-behind victories. In WVU’s game alone there was a fumble return for a touchdown, a blocked extra point returned for a 2-point conversion, a Casey Legg field goal to win the game.
TCU had to go double overtime for its victory over Oklahoma State with “Mad Max” Duggan leading the way at quarterback.
Texas won as quarterback Quinn Ewers, who missed the victory over WVU the previous week, three TD passes, including the game winner to Xavier Worthy, who WVU fans wished had also missed their game.
In the midst of all this, the conference is in the midst of reshaping its future with Oklahoma and Texas leaving … maybe not until after next season, but heading to the SEC as the Big 12 adds Cincinnati, Houston, Central Florida and BYU join the conference.
That will make it a 14-team conference with Oklahoma and Texas still in it and then 12 teams, if there is no more expansion, and the conference is heading down a path toward staying with only one division and a championship game between its two top teams.
“With divisions you know who you are going to play each year, but outside divisions it changes who you play,” athletic director Shane Lyons, just back from Big 12 meetings on it, said on Thursday’s pregame broadcast. “For the championship game, everyone is going away from divisions.
“We were the only conference without divisions and played the best two teams in the league,” Lyons continued. “That has really worked well for us with 10 members. If you go to divisions you could have a top-ranked team in one division and in the other division have a team that isn’t even ranked.
“You could go to the championship game and have an upset and knock both your teams out of the playoffs.”
Expect a decision on this quickly.
As for West Virginia, it’s as hard to figure out when Neal Brown has as it is to figure out the conference as a whole.
He holds fast that he has a good team, points to winning three of its last four games after losing the first two in games that came down, really, to one play, both against rivalry opponents in Pitt and Virginia Tech at their home fields.
While the win over Baylor was hardly conclusive of that, who’s to really say at this point with a road game at Texas Tech ahead and still looking at games against Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in the season’s second half.
So buckle up, the season may not really be half over.
It might just be beginning.
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