Big 12 football is here once again. After months of one of the most stressful and nerve-wrecking off-seasons this sport has experienced in decades, we’ve got actual games to dig into. The Big 12 kicked off in Week 2 against a host of Group of Five and FCS teams, and gave us some first impressions to marinate on for the next several days before conference play begins in Week 4. Now that we’ve got actual games to talk about, let’s look at what we can takeaway from the first week that the Big 12 took the field in 2020.
1. Football In A Pandemic Is..Different, And Not Different
If you were watching all the action against the Big 12 on Saturday, it’s hard not to notice the lack of fans, something that’s as true for football as it’s been for other sports. Socially distanced cheerleaders and cardboard cutouts of fans can’t replace the real thing, and you could certainly make the argument that the differences have virtually eliminated the home field advantage for a lot of Big 12 squads. But the on-the-field play is no less entertaining, and, at times, when you get caught up in the action on the gridiron, it’s almost possible to forget that anything’s changed at all.
2. The Big 12 Needs To Be Better This Week
With only three Power 5 conferences playing, everything gets magnified. The Big 12 fell flat in its biggest matchups last week, with teams from the old Big 12 North – Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State – all getting upset by non-Power 5 foes. While most of the conference has a bye week, Oklahoma State takes on Tulsa and Baylor will face off against Baylor on Saturday. Both opponents are from the American Athletic Conference, and another week of under-performing football won’t do anything to improve the perception of the Big 12.
3. Campbell’s Cyclones Continue To Struggle Out Of The Gate
I have to admit that I was in the group of Big 12 observers who thought that Iowa State would come out, as a Top 25 team with a feasible path to the conference championship, and be energized against the Ragin Cajuns. Would Louisiana cover? Sure, but a lot of us thought they would pull it out. Not quite – Iowa State found some success early, but the offense for the Cylcones struggled to get in sync throughout the game, posting a mere 145 yards passing on the day.
Defensively, things were slightly better, as Iowa State held one of the best rushing attacks in the country to 118 yards on the ground, but the Cyclones were unable to really get key stops when they needed them. Down 24-14, Louisiana got the ball with 7:11 left in the game, and were able to methodically march down the field, score, and punch in the PAT with 10 seconds to go in the game. Is this a sign of the things to come for Iowa State? We’ve seen the Cyclones work themselves into the Big 12 title mix before, and they very well could again, but they’ve got plenty to work on before their tilt against TCU in Week 4.
4. West Virginia Looks Improved From Last Season
We probably learned the least from the Mountaineers this week, who blew the doors of Eastern Kentucky last Saturday 56-10. The Mountaineers put up 329 yards rushing, hopefully indicating that the running game will be improved this season, but it’s tough to know against a team that got rolled by Marshall the week before 59-0. The non-conference games are really supposed to be warm-ups anyway, and this game was definitely that for West Virginia. Right now, this feels like a team that has more of an identity than last year’s Moutaineers, but we’ll know a lot more about Jarret Doege and the crew after their trip to Stillwater on September 26th.
5. Kansas State Has Some Serious Work To Do
Going into their contest against Arkansas State, it was expected that the Wildcats – as two possession favorites – would have somewhat of a back-and-forth game against the Red Wolves early on. After taking a 21-7 lead, though, Kansas State went stale on defense and Arkansas State really got going offensively. The game became a shootout in the second half, and the Wildcats were unfortunately unable to get a needed stop on Arkansas State’s game-winning drive.
The game was a disappointment on both sides of the ball, as the Wildcats managed only 2.3 yards per rush against an inexperienced defense, and Kansas State gave up five touchdowns to the quarterback duo of Layne Hatcher and Logan Bonner. It’s too early to panic for Kansas State, but it does look early like this team will be a work in progress for Chris Klieman and his staff.
6. Texas Can Actually Cover The Spread
And by “spread,” I mean what the people in Vegas think, of course. The Longhorns didn’t do anything to dispel the perception that they’re a contender for the Big 12 title after dispatching UTEP 59-3. Sam Ehlinger had a banner day as a passer, posting over 400 yards through the air in a half. The Texas defense held UTEP to 233 yards total on the day, which should be expected against a Miners squad that won only two games in the previous three seasons. One concern may be a running game that wasn’t especially dominant, but the Longhorns have a week to focus on that before traveling to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech in ten days.
7. The Red Raiders Are Not In A Great Place Right Now
Welp, the Red Raiders can at the very least say they won. They needed to stop a two point conversion with just over three minutes left to be able to salt this one away, but Texas Tech avoided the upset against an FCS squad. There should be plenty of concern about Matt Wells’ team, though.
Despite puttting up over 600 yards, the offense seemed to go to sleep after going up 21-3 midway through the second quarter. Bowman was solid in his return, but there wasn’t a consistently dominant performance that one would expect here. Defense should of course be the real concern for the Red Raiders, though, who looked at times like they had no answers in the secondary for Bailey Zappe and the Houston Baptist aerial attack. No matter which way you spin it, that’s not a good start to Year Two for this coaching staff, and the question now becomes about how much is fixable before Texas comes to town to start conference play.
8. We Need To See More From Spencer Rattler
Don’t get me wrong, four touchdowns and 290 yards on just 17 pass attempts is impressive, no matter who you’re playing. And Rattler for sure looked the part of another great Oklahoma quarterback, but it’s always difficult to take too much away from a 48-0 smashing of an FCS team that won all of one game last season. The Sooners are the reigning Big 12 champs, and it’s safe to assume that they have one of the best quarterbacks in the country until proven otherwise. Still, it’s hard for last Saturday’s game to not leave you wanting to see how the redshirt freshman stacks up against Big 12 competition. Thankfully, we’ll get to see that soon, as Oklahoma hosts Kansas State on September 26th to begin conference play.
9. Les Miles Has To Get The Jayhawks Moving Forward Again
To be fair, this Coastal Carolina team is one that beat the Jayhawks last season, and the Chanticleers brought back a decent amount of experience from that 2019 team. Kansas being favored by a touchdown was, in hindsight, maybe a bit too bullish on the Jayhawks. Still, Kansas looked like a team that was unprepared to compete in this one, committing three turnovers in the first half that Coastal Carolina seemed to easily turn into touchdowns.
That contributed to putting the Jayhawks into a 28-3 hole going into halftime that they couldn’t find enough offense to recover from. Miles Kendrick and Thomas MacVittie rotated in and out at quarterback, and Kendrick seemed to move the offense better, so hopefully Les Miles has settled on a signal caller coming out of this game. That’s one positive to come out of this one, in addition to the fact that Kansas actually out-gained Coastal Carolina by about 50 yards. And just in terms of stats, the defense was passable in allowing a run-heavy Chanticleers team to only get 185 yards on the ground. This is a team that could conceivably improve from last season, but right now it looks like the Jayhawks have a lot of focus on in the coming weeks just to regain all the progress they made in Year One under Miles.
10. It’s Good To Have Football Back
After months of not knowing whether or not they would actually play, Big 12 football finally returned. This will be anything but a normal season, but the week-to-week slate of games and all the debate and scrutiny of various performances on Saturday has returned as well. For myself, I’m certainly glad to be engrossed once again in the sport we all hold so dear. The off-season taught us to take nothing for granted, and hopefully we’ll be able to keep that in mind no matter what the coming weeks bring.