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Big 12 Conference teams play top opponents unexpectedly close
Big 12 Conference
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There were the expected season-opening blowout victories for Big 12 teams.
Then there were those games against the nation’s top two teams — and most recent national champions — that weren’t as lopsided as predicted.
“I don’t think anyone really that’s involved in the Big 12 finds that as a big surprise,” said Kansas coach Charlie Weis, who got to watch a lot of games since his was the only Big 12 team that didn’t play. “Maybe people in others parts of the country think it’s a big surprise, but we all know that this is a loaded league.”
West Virginia, picked by Big 12 coaches to finish eighth in the league, was a four-touchdown underdog against No. 2 Alabama. But the Mountaineers had chances into the fourth quarter before losing 33-23 to the Crimson Tide, which won three of four national championships before Florida State’s title last season.
The Seminoles opened their title defense as 19-point favorites over Oklahoma State and jumped out to a 17-0 lead. But Jameis Winston and Co. had to hold on for a 37-31 victory against a Cowboys offense desperately short on experienced players.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said Monday on the weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference that his players “should be able to establish a certain level of confidence from the way they played.”
Meanwhile, the league’s Top 25 teams — No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 10 Baylor and No. 20 Kansas State — won their openers by an average margin of 39 points.
In the new College Football Playoff, games against other power-five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC) could have a big impact on the perception of the Big 12 and whether the league gets one of those four playoff spots.
Oklahoma is at Tulsa next week before hosting SEC team Tennessee. Kansas State has its Big 12 opener Saturday at Iowa State before a home game against defending SEC champion Auburn.
The loss to Florida State was Oklahoma State’s only game against a team from another power-five league. West Virginia has its home opener against Towson before going to Big Ten newcomer Maryland.
“It was a good learning experience for us,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said of the Alabama game. “I was proud of our effort, and I was proud of our mentality.”
Following the game “we didn’t have a bunch of guys that were hanging their heads, didn’t have a bunch of guys that were looking to be patted on the back,” he said.
Big 12 champion Baylor opened with a 45-0 win over former Southwest Conference rival SMU on Sunday night. The Bears, whose remaining non-conference games are against Northwestern State and Buffalo, debuted their new riverfront campus stadium with a smothering defense — eight sacks while holding the Mustangs to only 67 total yards on 64 plays.
For the Big 12, it was another 6-3 start, though better overall than last year when there were two losses to Missouri Valley Conference teams.
Defending FCS champion North Dakota State beat a Big 12 team on the opening weekend for the second year in a row — first Kansas State and now Iowa State. But the other two losses this time were the hard-fought games against national championship teams.
“We were disappointed that we weren’t able to pull the game out,” Holgorsen said of his team’s loss to Alabama.
“As far as the state of the Big 12,” added the former Texas Tech assistant, “that hasn’t changed my opinion on it one way or another. I’ve been part of this conference for about 15 years, and see the health of the conference as good as it has ever been.”