The Big 12 spent some time this summer gunning for the mighty SEC. Perhaps the conference should have been more concerned with the artists formerly known as Division I-AA.
While most eyes were on the Big 12 vs. SEC showdowns — they split two games on Texas turf — the Big 12 won just two of four against the lower-level Football Championship Subdivision and was 0-2 vs. the Missouri Valley Conference. We’re not talking Valley hoops, either.
Defending Big 12 champ Kansas State lost to North Dakota State, Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa, and West Virginia needed a late rally to nip William & Mary. The Mountaineers’ narrow escape against a smallish team that was 2-9 last fall and picked 10th in the Colonial League this year was the most confounding.
“It obviously grabs your attention,” Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Some FCS teams pull this off every single year. Luckily, we got tested and were able to survive.
“But if anyone was surprised by North Dakota State, they haven’t been paying attention to college football.”
North Dakota State returned 16 starters from a two-time defending FCS national champion. The Bison are 49th in the Sagarin computer ratings — ahead of 77 FBS teams.
“They’d beat a lot of teams in our classification,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said.
They also travel well. The Bison took about 7,000 fans to Manhattan and have hauled 10,000 to the national title games in Frisco.
North Dakota State was one of eight FCS teams to knock off the big boys in Week 1, led by perennial I-AA power Eastern Washington zapping 25th-ranked Oregon State.
“With all due respect, there are plenty of FBS teams that you can’t lump with the Alabamas and the Oregons of the world,” Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin told the media. “The same way you can’t lump all FCS schools together.”
The FCS allows 63 scholarship players in football, compared with the FBS limit of 85. FBS schools spend four times as much money on their programs as the FCS, according to a 2011 NCAA study.
There was nothing fluky about the Big 12’s losses to FCS teams. North Dakota State outrushed K-State 215 yards to 41. Northern Iowa led Iowa State throughout and outgained the Cyclones 457 yards to 410.
This week the Big 12 has a chance to make amends with three more games against FCS opponents:
Texas Tech (vs. Stephen F. Austin): The Red Raiders look safe, but this could be a shootout. The Lumberjacks lost 50-40 at Weber State, and they have third-year starting quarterback Brady Attaway, who threw for 450 yards last week. SFA was picked in the middle of the pack in the Southland. Upset alert: 20 percent.
TCU (vs. Southeastern Louisiana): The Lions, tabbed fifth in the Southland coaches poll, opened some eyes with a 45-7 blowout of Southeast Missouri. QB Bryan Bennett, an Oregon transfer, rushed for 106 yards and three TDs. The Horned Frogs should be fine unless they have an LSU hangover. Upset alert: 10 percent.
Kansas (vs. South Dakota): Uh-oh, another Missouri Valley foe. but the Coyotes, who nudged Cal Davis 10-7 in their opener, are supposed to finish near the bottom of the Valley. Of course, same for the Jayhawks in the Big 12. Upset alert: 30 percent.
Baylor’s 69-3 beatdown of Wofford, an FCS playoff team in 2012, was picture-perfect — 281 yards rushing, 411 yards passing and nine touchdowns — and coach Art Briles was most pleased with his defense.
“We saw carryover from the way we finished last year,” Briles said. “We played with a whole lot of confidence, passion and purpose. It’s a much-improved area of the team.”
Baylor faces Buffalo, which lost 40-20 to Ohio State, but the Bulls will have the best defender on the field, linebacker Khalil Mack. The 6-foot-3-inch, 248-pound senior “manhandled some guys,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said, and had nine tackles, 2½ sacks, a 45-yard interception return for a TD and a forced fumble.
“He’s very dynamic,” Briles said. “I see where he’s now the No. 2-rated linebacker in the country, so he can be a game-changer.”
Oklahoma’s defense had much to prove after a disastrous finish to 2012. So far, so good in 2013. The 34-0 shutout of Louisiana-Monroe was surprising because the Warhawks returned eight offensive starters from an 8-5 bowl team that averaged 37 points per game. Quarterback Kolton Browning, the Sun Belt preseason player of the year, threw for just 128 yards.
“I liked the way we covered; we got excellent pressure, and we stuffed the run,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.
The much-maligned linebackers stood out, especially Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon. Aaron Colvin led the secondary, and nose tackle Jordan Phillips was a force inside.
In Week 1, the Big 12 had 19 rushing touchdowns and 19 passing TDs. Big 12 teams had 324 running plays and 322 passing.
BIG 12 POWER POLL
Rank (last week) Team;Rec.;Next opponent;The skinny
1. (1) Oklahoma State;1-0;at Texas-San Antonio (1-0), Sat.;Cowboys spend 2nd straight week in Texas, playing and recruiting. This one looks like vacation.
2. (4) Oklahoma;1-0;vs. West Virginia (1-0), Sat.;New QB Knight wasn’t bad, but Sooner showstopper was rebuilt defense that pitched shutout.
3. (5) Baylor;1-0;vs. Buffalo (0-1), Sat.;Bulls aren’t gonna stop Bears’ explosive offense. Heck, Buffalo Bills might not smother Bears’ potent attack.
4. (3) Texas;1-0;at Brigham Young (0-1), Sat.;If Horns burn stingy Cougars repeatedly with big plays, then we’ll know they’ve got something special.
5. (2) TCU;0-1;vs. SE Louisiana (1-0), Sat.;Hardly seems fair to drop Frogs, who were brave enough to schedule LSU and lived to tell about it.
6. (7) Texas Tech; 1-0;vs. Stephen F. Austin (0-1), Sat.;Brilliant debut for walk-on QB Mayfield. Too bad he’s not allowed to chow down like scholarship guys.
7. (6) Kansas State;0-1;vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (0-1), Sat.;Don’t feel too awful, Wildcats. FCS juggernaut North Dakota State could beat lots of FBS programs.
8. (8) West Virginia;1-0;at Oklahoma (1-0), Sat.;Mountaineers rolled up 778 yards, 49 points on Sooners last year. Ain’t gonna happen this time.
9. (9) Iowa State;0-1;vs. Iowa (0-1), Sept. 14;Cyclones lost to little Northern Iowa, but don’t write them off vs. equally disappointing Iowa.
10. (10) Kansas;0-0;vs. South Dakota (1-0), Sat.;We demand proof Jayhawks can beat I-AA team before jumping them over ISU, which lost to one.