At about 6:15 yesterday, things were looking pretty solid for the Big 12 on the day. Baylor led late at Washington State. Oklahoma was up 13 on Oregon. Texas Tech was still in the game against TCU. The Horns were rolling Rice.
And then the wheels came off. The Pac 10 officials gifted the Ducks with a comeback victory. Now, I'm never going to lose any sleep when the Sooners lose, but even I can't deny how badly they were screwed. The onside "review" (did they even watch the tape??) was the most egregious, as the Ducks never should have gotten the ball back. The second blunder was equally unbelievable, but at that point, the Sooners were finished. The officials made sure of that.
Soon after, Baylor let Washington State kick a game winning field goal with 9 seconds remaining. And Nebraska, despite playing decently, got licked by USC. Colorado probably shouldn't be Division 1A at this point.
At the end of the day, the Big 12 missed out on four games they could have easily won with better play down the stretch (Tech, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Baylor) and we're writing about a pretty dark day for the Big 12.
As a whole, the Big 12 hasn't been playing like one of the three or four best conferences in the country, which it almost always is. What's going on? The explanation's pretty simple - new quarterbacks are starting at schools across the conference, a big reason why many of the Big 12 teams aren't playing great football yet.
At Texas Tech, Graham Harrell was exposed as a freshman yesterday. Colt McCoy was handled by the Buckeyes last week. Stephen McGee and the Aggies limped past Army late last night. The quarterback situation at Oklahoma is well documented. All told, the four best teams in the Big 12 southern division are starting new guys. We noted this before the season, and wondered how it would affect the teams early on. Despite are general optimism, the results have been mixed. Harrell, McCoy, and McGee have been better than most their age, but they're a ways from being excellent. It bodes well for the future, but for now, it shouldn't be terribly surprising that there have been struggles.
There are two important conclusions we need to talk about. First, things will get better for the conference as the year progresses. The youngsters will grow and develop, and by 2007, the quarterback situations across the conferences ought to make each team significantly better.
But what about in 2006?
The polls make up 2/3 of the BCS formula once again this season, with computers making up the final third. The lack of ranked opponents on Texas' remaining schedule could certainly hurt Texas the rest of the way as it tries to battle back into the BCS title game picture. Will Texas be considered the best one-loss team if the rest of the Big 12 struggles? It's a tough question.
Even the quest for an at-large BCS berth will be impacted by how the rest of the Big 12 plays this season. With each non-conference loss for the Big 12, the amount of help Texas needs increases. That's why yesterday's late collapses hurt the 'Horns so badly. While many were celebrating Oklahoma's misfortune, I was groaning at what it might mean for our chances to wind up where we want.
We'll start breaking down all the scenarios Texas needs to get back to a BCS game, but after this Saturday, the situation looks bleaker than it did before. A one-loss Texas team may not leapfrog other one-loss teams if the rest of the conference continues to lay eggs. It's too early to bury the Horns chances, but the situation is getting complicated. Texas not only needs outside help, we should note. Texas needs to avoid competitive games. They'll need to bury everyone they play from here on out.
And we're just like the rest of the conference... new at quarterback. This may not be the Big 12's year.
--PB and AW--