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Forde-Yard Dash: The Big 12 Is Off to a Rough Start

A month after being deemed the hero that saved college football, bad losses and big numbers of missing players are weighing down the Big 12.

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (sympathy cards for the Citadel punter sold separately):

MORE DASH: Best (and Worst) Statues | COVID Spin


The Big 12 (1) emerged from the chaos of mid-August as a heroic entity for those who had their hearts set on a fall season. After the Big Ten and Pac-12 opted out (for the moment), the entire season hung in the balance and hung on the decision of Bob Bowlsby’s league. If the Big 12 folded up shop that week, it would have taken the Atlantic Coast Conference with it—and perhaps the Southeastern Conference and everyone else. The conference was said to be split, but a presentation by medical experts won the day and the Big 12 voted to keep going.

A month later, the heroes of August are the shambles of September. Bad losses and big numbers of missing players are weighing down the league.


The weekend included abject busts by Iowa State (2), beaten by Louisiana; Kansas State (3), beaten by Arkansas State; and Kansas (4), beaten by Coastal Carolina. It was an unholy trinity of upsets at the hands of teams from the Sun Belt Conference, traditionally the lowest rung on the FBS ladder. There were special-teams snafus from the Cyclones, surrendering touchdowns on both kickoff and punt returns. There were defensive breakdowns from the Wildcats, who gave up five scoring drives of 65 yards or longer. There was customary all-purpose ineptitude from the Jayhawks, who fell behind 28–0 to a school that has never even been to a bowl game.

The Wildcats were without “nearly two dozen players and most of their scholarship wide receivers,” according to the Wichita Eagle. But Arkansas State was down nine starters itself.

The Kansas football team was declared a “COVID cluster” by the state department of health and environment last week, with 14 positive cases. The school told the Kansas City Star that much of that was dated information, and only three players were positive for the virus leading up to the game.

The losses also took some of the bloom off three coaching roses. Everyone loves Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, but his team was a pretty big disappointment last year at 7–6 after started the season with a lot of hype—and how he’s added this bust to the recent body of work. K-State coach Chris Klieman had a promising first season, going 8–5 and upsetting Oklahoma, but this was a big backslide. And Les Miles, the big-name hire by an athletic director who loves splashy hires, is 3–10 and appears fully capable of continuing the Kansas tradition of utter futility.

But that wasn’t all for the Big 12. TCU had its game against SMU postponed due to COVID issues within the Horned Frogs’ program. Oklahoma State also had its first game postponed for COVID reasons, although that one was on the opponent, Tulsa. Texas Tech beat Houston Baptist 35–33, surrendering 600 yards and surviving a missed two-point conversion attempt by the Huskies with 3:23 remaining. (The FCS school’s previous game was a 26-point loss to North Texas.)

The league’s power duo of Oklahoma (5) and Texas (6) won easily, but the competition was nonexistent. Beating FCS Missouri State 48–0 and chronically awful UTEP 59–3 is fine, and several key players performed well, but it doesn’t mean a lot in the grand scheme. (The bigger headline from Norman was the fact that the Sooners were down “at least 20 players” and the game was in jeopardy of being called off.) Bottom line: Oklahoma and Texas should be the most mortified of anyone by what happened to the rest of the league, because it can only hurt their strength of schedule.

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Remember that the Big 12 opted to do what the SEC did not, scheduling one non-conference game. Those expected tuneups for league play turned into a trio of hastily arranged embarrassments. For a conference that already had some credibility questions after its champion has been routed in its last two College Football Playoff appearances, these games did not help.

Perhaps keeping everything in-house in terms of scheduling would have kept the committee guessing how good the Big 12 was. Now, we have a pretty good idea. And the conclusion isn’t pretty.


Remember the ground rules: nobody gets ranked here without playing a game against an FBS opponent. Or against an FBS opponent not named UTEP. So Oklahoma, Texas and the entire SEC must cool their heels before entering the Dash playoff picture.

Sugar Bowl: Top seed Clemson (7) vs. fourth seed Army (8).

The Tigers got their annual ACC Beatdown Tour off to a brisk start Saturday night, mauling Wake Forest 37–13. It was 37–3 in the third quarter when Dabo Swinney called off the dogs, sending Trevor Lawrence & Co. to the bench and letting the reserves go the rest of the way. Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne got their parallel-track Heisman Trophy campaigns off to good starts: Lawrence threw for 351 yards and accounting for three touchdowns (one passing, two running); Etienne had 149 yards from scrimmage and scored a touchdown on 20 touches. Next for Clemson: Citadel on Saturday.

Two weeks, two blowouts for the Cadets. No, the competition hasn’t been much—Middle Tennessee and Louisiana-Monroe—but the combined winning margin of 72 points jumps off the screen. Last time Army was more dominant through its first two games: 1955, when the combined winning margin was 110 points. Jeff Monken’s ground-and-pound option attack gets most of the attention and deserves it, but some Dash applause is reserved for a defensive unit that is allowing just 192 yards and 3.5 points per game. New coordinator Nate Woody is doing nice work on that side of the ball. Next for Army: A Saturday game against BYU is off due to Cougar COVID issues, so reset the calendar for Sept. 26 at Cincinnati. That could be a good one.

Rose Bowl: Second seed Miami (9) vs. third seed Louisiana (10).

The Hurricanes methodically dispatched a pretty good UAB team Thursday night, 31–14. Most impressive aspect of the opener was Miami’s physical running game, which cranked out 337 yards. Grad transfer quarterback D’Eriq King showed his wheels in rushing for 83 yards, but running back Cam’ron Harris was the feature back and compiled 134 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Next for Miami: At Louisville Saturday in an early marquee ACC game.

The Ragin’ Cajuns have never been seen in these parts before, but that’s what beating a ranked opponent by 17 points as a road underdog can do for a team. Louisiana made all the explosive plays: touchdowns on both a kickoff return and punt return, and a 78-yard TD pass. Defensively, the Cajuns didn’t allow a single Iowa State play of 20 yards or longer from scrimmage. This was Louisiana’s 12th straight victory over teams other than Appalachian State, which beat the Cajuns twice last year. Next up for Louisiana: At Georgia State Saturday.

Also considered: BYU, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Memphis, Louisville, Appalachian State.

MORE DASH: Best (and Worst) Statues | COVID Spin