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Forde-Yard Dash: The Big 12 Will Go On Without Oklahoma and Texas

After abysmal performances from conference bluebloods turned evacuees, Week 11 showed the Big 12 has kick in it—and its future is bright.
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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Hail Coyote T-shirts sold separately in South Dakota):

MORE DASH: Quick Triggers | Status Quo Upheaval | Best Coaches

FIRST QUARTER: KARMA ON I-35

Somewhere in the Metroplex Saturday night, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby (1) surely reached for a bottle of the good stuff. Perhaps something from Schadenfreude Vineyards—not served chilled, but flat-out cold. Surely he gave himself a heavy pour and lifted it in the general direction of Waco, and then Austin, and drank deeply.

The comeuppances of eventual conference evacuees Oklahoma (2) and Texas (3) on the same day, at the hands of two underdog schools left behind in Baylor and Kansas, may have caused some mixed emotions, but only a glimmer. It was bad for Big 12 business in the short term, with the Sooners no longer undefeated and the league further behind in the College Football Playoff race, but a countervailing gut-level satisfaction is only natural. The Longhorns and Sooners have chosen to walk away, badly hurting the league’s marketability; sending them out the door with a limp shows that the Big 12 still has some kick left in it.

From the league perspective, a Baylor-Oklahoma State conference championship game is both desirable and possible. The Cowboys are 9–1 overall, 6–1 in the conference, with remaining games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma. The Bears are 8–2 overall, 5–2 in the conference, with remaining games against Kansas State and Texas Tech. If they both win out, they’ll meet in Jerry World for the league title with both probably ranked in the Top 10 and Oklahoma State in the playoff conversation.

Not only would Bowlsby get to avoid handing the trophy to Oklahoma, he could sell a viable vision for where the league is and where it is going. And if future Big 12 member Cincinnati is also in the playoff mix at that time, all the better. That wouldn’t solve the long-term media-rights issues, but it would be nice to sell some national relevance outside the departing bluebloods to current or future broadcast partners.

Meanwhile, Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey (4) has to wonder anew about the new couple moving into his neighborhood. They blew up the entire college athletics map for these guys?

Oklahoma will probably be O.K. upon arrival—but O.K. doesn’t win league titles. Previous editions of the Sooners have gone winless in CFP games against SEC competition, and the 2021 version is worse than those teams. This Oklahoma team would have multiple losses in SEC play by this point. This has been a hugely overrated team all season that was fully exposed by Baylor—not physical enough, not sound enough, and not good enough at the most important position. Coach Lincoln Riley (5), renowned quarterback whisperer, may need to raise his voice to get through to Caleb Williams and Spencer Rattler. One week after being strafed by a freshman backup from TCU, Baylor’s defense throttled the five-star QBs.

Texas is another matter entirely, the entitled underachievers who keep wrecking the family Ferrari and keep getting a new one. Unless things improve appreciably in the next couple of years, the Longhorns are like Rutgers going into the Big Ten. Sure, better recruiting and infrastructure and tradition and commitment—but the current product? Terrible. If 2021 Texas were an SEC team, it would only be better than Vanderbilt. That’s it.

Athletic director Chris Del Conte made a huge, high-stakes bet on Steve Sarkisian (6) that looks like a massive bust 10 games in. When a Kansas team that had lost 56 straight conference road games and had never won in Austin gets it done in Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium, that’s alarming. When it extends the Texas losing streak to five for the first time since 1956, that’s appalling.

Of course, things theoretically can change quickly at Texas. There is always potential, no matter how often it goes unrealized. Sark is recruiting well for 2022 and may be able to “change the culture” — as coaches love to say — to something remotely resembling competitiveness. But at this moment, he’s bearing a strong resemblance to Willie Taggart at Florida State.

Part of the risky gamble of hiring Sark was betting that he was going to be a much better head coach than he was at Washington and USC, quality jobs where he never won 10 games and never won the Pac-12. But working for Nick Saban and calling plays for arguably the most talented offense ever doesn’t necessarily translate to greatness — or even goodness — when removed from the Tuscaloosa title bubble.

At the very least, Texas will have to throw more money at fixing Sark’s staff for next season. But if the situation doesn’t improve in ’22, the Longhorns will be starting over yet again while preparing for the most bracing conference challenge they’ve ever faced.

One more note about the Texas two-step the Big 12 leftovers danced upon the prone bodies of the Horns and Sooners: let’s talk about two of the players who had key roles in beating the bluebloods.

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Let’s talk about Baylor running back Abram Smith, who pounded Oklahoma for 148 rushing yards. He was a three-star prospect out of Abilene who visited Tulsa and Texas Tech before signing with the Bears in 2017. In his first four seasons at Baylor, relegated mostly to special teams and occasionally to defense, he carried the ball 12 times. Smith got another shot at running back in the spring, and now as a fifth-year senior he’s the No. 5 rusher in America. Perseverance is a beautiful thing.

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And let’s talk about Kansas tight end/fullback/bench warmer Jared Casey. He’s listed at 6’0”, 254 pounds, but honestly he’s at least a couple of inches short of that and rather husky, if you will. He’s a redshirt freshman walk-on from Plainville, Kan., population less than 2,000, which is the middle of nowhere in a state with a lot of nowhere. His role this season was strictly special teams. He hadn’t played a single snap on offense until the last snap Saturday night—a tight end injury put him on the field for the decisive two-point conversion.

Suddenly, there was Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels rolling right, under pressure, throwing the ball toward the end zone. And suddenly, there was Casey, in the end zone, to catch it, absorb a hit, maintain possession and get dogpiled by his euphoric teammates. And then Casey bounced up and ran with the ball into a leaping celebration with another teammate—who promptly knocked him back down onto the turf.

And away on the other side of the stadium, there came the most beautiful video. That’s where Casey’s mom and dad, Jerry and Karen, watched the Jayhawks stunningly win—then stunningly realized who caught that winning pass.

Yeah, it was a pretty good day for the Big 12 remainder bin, which reminded the rest of the nation that the conference can and will go on without Oklahoma and Texas—including this season, before they’ve even left yet.

FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF

Each week, The Dash fills out the playoff bracket as if today were Selection Sunday. The current lineup:

Orange Bowl: top seed Georgia (7) vs. fourth seed Cincinnati (8).

The Bulldogs (10–0) caught a first-quarter flurry of offensive fury from Tennessee on the road Saturday, laughed it off, then punched the Volunteers back into the corner in a 41–17 rout. The 17 points was the most they’ve given up this season, but the last touchdown was an add-on after the game was essentially over. After another crisp performance by alleged weak link quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, Georgia remains largely unchallenged and assuredly the best team in the nation to date.

Next for Georgia: a walkover against FCS Charleston Southern.

The Bearcats (10–0) weren’t great in beating South Florida on the road, but held serve and kept winning. If they keep winning, the potential playoff tension points become these: 13–0 Cincinnati vs. the No. 2 team from the SEC (which could have two losses); the No. 2 team from the Big Ten (same); or a one-loss Big 12 champion. The Bearcats need to root for Georgia to win out and hand Alabama a second loss (the bigger the better); Ohio State to win out and hand both Michigan State and Michigan a second loss; and a Big 12 muddle. All of which could happen.

Next for Cincinnati: home against SMU.

Cotton Bowl: second seed Oregon (9) vs. third seed Ohio State (10).

The Ducks (9–1) were tied at halftime with Washington State, then pulled away on the legs of quarterback Anthony Brown in the second half. They also were not great, but didn’t have to be in this situation. The Dash has been saying ever since Oregon lost to Stanford that the playoff remained possible, and here they are. If the Ducks win out they almost assuredly will be in the field.

Next for Oregon: at Utah in a big one (and tough one).

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The Buckeyes (9–1) shifted back into overdrive in routing Purdue, running with authority and throwing with aplomb. They have satisfactorily completed all requirements heading into a major two-week closing stretch and control their own destiny. Ohio State could wind up the No. 2 seed by the real Selection Sunday if they keep winning.

Next for Ohio State: Michigan State Saturday, followed by Michigan Nov. 27.

Dropped out: none.

Also considered: Alabama, Michigan State, Michigan.

MORE DASH: Quick Triggers | Status Quo Upheaval | Best Coaches

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