Oct. 21 – The wheels keep turning as Texas and Oklahoma bid farewell from the Big 12 to the lush, green fields of the Southeast Conference.
It’s easy to see that these universities have many good reasons to split from their Midwestern brethren, and most of them are green. But this football season proves that a weekend in the Big 12 can produce some of the funniest teams in the country. It is interwoven with rivalries that have grown in intensity and history since the Big 8 admitted four Southwest Conference schools to its membership and marginalized the others.
Some of the rivalries go back even further. Texas and TCU have been playing for well over a century. Likewise Kansas and Oklahoma. In fact, Kansas beat the Okies eight straight years between 1903 and 1910, but that was long before Bud Wilkinson came to Norman and created the beast that is Sooner Football.
But I’m not just lamenting the Horns and Sooners who, due to history and tradition, are packing their affiliations for a sunnier climate. My sadness is because the league is just so much fun. There is no lead dog in this pack this season. Any team can show up on a specific Saturday and scare you to death.
Consider September 24, the date Texas went to Texas Tech and fell to the Raiders in overtime. Tech consistently rolled in fourth place and emerged as the winner. Texas failed to hold a late lead and lost 37-34 in overtime.
That same Saturday, Kansas State traveled to Norman and upset Oklahoma 41-34 and started the Sooners on a three-week streak.
The following week, TCU smashed OU 55-24 to send a message that the most dangerous team of the big dozen might be residing in Fort Worth. Losing Kansas continued to find ways to win, beating the conference’s best defensive team, Iowa State, 14-11.
Oct. 8 was the day Texas erased the frustration of many State Fair Saturdays by beating Oklahoma 49-0. However, Texas should have been punished because Oklahoma was defenseless.
This weekend, TCU continued its unbeaten streak by escaping a troublesome Kansas crew 38-31 after falling behind early. Kansas State and Iowa State played a defensive slugfest reminiscent of the old Big 12, with the Wildcats defeating the Cyclones 10-9.
The following Thursday, defending champion Baylor headed into the West Virginia Mountains and turned into a bear carpet, losing 43-40.
Oklahoma found new life last Saturday, racing from Kansas 52 to 42 to show there is still some talent on the roster. Texas struggled against Iowa State in Austin but put up a ground fight in the fourth quarter to win 24-21. The Horns had to come up with a controversial recovery to salvage the win and send Cyclones coach Matt Campbell into hysteria.
But last Saturday’s best game was TCU’s come-from-behind win over Oklahoma State. The two undefeated clashes at TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium and staged a war that was decided with a touchdown by Frog in the second overtime. TCU was trailing 24-7 in that game as quarterback Max Duggan struggled to find receivers. But he warmed up when it came down to sending the game into overtime.
These are this season’s Big 12, thrillers, surprises and an open race to make it to the championship game. The league will continue after Texas and OU depart, but I fear their departure will divert national attention from some of the most entertaining teams who compete every Saturday.