What's wrong with the Big 12?
You never want to overreact to early season results, but it's kind of hard to not do that when it comes to the Big 12. The stereotype that Big 12 teams don't play defense continues, but at a seemingly alarming rate this season. A trip back to the College Football Playoff remains on the table, but it's not promising. Struggles against weaker competition and underdog teams upending the favorites are making it difficult for the conference to return, so it begs the question: what is going on in the Big 12?
Oklahoma's dominance under Lincoln Riley appeared to continue in their first game win over Missouri State. The next game against Kansas State figured to be one they'd be ready for, given the Sooners lost to the Wildcats just last year. That proved to not be the case, and Kansas State went into Norman and came out with a 38-35 thanks to four total touchdowns by quarterback Skylar Thompson. Four Sooners turnovers and a porous defense led to the upset, but there were long term concerns following the loss.
Kansas State isn't bad by any means. Were talking about a program that tends to overachieve and pull off an upset here or there (just look at last year's win over Oklahoma), but this year's team was different. They needed to replace at on of starters on both sides of the ball, and it showed in their first game. Arkansas State came to Manhattan and stunned the Wildcats, who then upset Oklahoma. It was a wild series of events that exposed the Big 12's strength near the top, a trend that's concerning given that we're only a month into the season.
The Big 12's start to the 2020 season hasn't been good. Bad or near losses have been followed by scares that make better (or perceived better) teams look bad.
Iowa State lost 31-14 to Louisiana in their first game, but then beat TCU this weekend. The Horned Frogs were a dark horse team in the conference, but now their future appears uncertain after the 37-34 loss.
Texas got off to a hot start in Week 1 behind 429 first half passing yards by Sam Ehlinger, but needed an onside kick and overtime to beat Texas Tech. That's bad because this is a Red Raiders team that needed a failed two-point conversion to beat Houston Baptist last week.
Oklahoma State struggled to put away Tulsa in their first game, and didn't look dominant in their 27-14 win over West Virginia. The Cowboys are still without starting quarterback Spencer Sanders, and it showed.
Baylor pulled away from Kansas, but not right away. The same Kansas that still can't beat an FCS team (they lost 38-23 against Coastal Carolina in Week 1).
It's a tough start. Technically, Oklahoma isn't out of the playoff picture, but they're going to need help. Help that lies only in the conference, which currently isn't helping itself. Texas, Baylor, and Oklahoma State remain the only undefeated teams in the conference, but all three of them have looked vulnerable for different reasons.
Quality wins figure to be tough to come by this year, mostly because we won't get much of a gauge on the strength of conferences unless they play each other. Right now, The Big 12 has three losses to the Sun Belt and near losses to an AAC and FCS team. That's not exactly a strong resume when you're competing with other Power 5 conferences. It's been a weird year, so anything's possible, but the conference needs some help at this point if they want to return to the playoff.
Oklahoma's loss was a big one this weekend for multiple reasons. Not only did the loss hurt their resume, but it was one of the games that exposed the issues in the Big 12. It's just not as strong as it once was in the past. The defenses also haven't improved over the years, and the lack of improvement is what will keep this conference from competing with the Alabama's and Clemson's of college football.
Kansas State has no business beating Oklahoma any year, let alone two years in a row. The talent level between the two teams displays a drastic difference, but that's why we love college football. Oklahoma's now lost just seven times in Lincoln Riley's tenure, but two of them have come against Kansas State. Will it be their Achille's Heel every year? It's a trend that's already going, one that derailed their playoff hopes for now and could keep them out of the conference championship.
Make no mistake, the Big 12 still has good teams, but it's not off to a good start. Losses to weaker competition raise questions about how elite this conference is, and those teams followed their struggles by either beating or competing with teams that are contenders. Without many more chances to prove they're better, the Big 12 might have played its way out of a playoff berth. One thing's for sure, the road is much tougher to travel, and finding a defense that can provide stops consistently remains an unsolvable issue.