The Big 12 expansion drama has turned into a reality show resembling “The Bachelorette.” Every week, a couple of schools are told they’re no longer being considered, sending them back to the deep, dark corner of the “Group of 5” to weep.
There are still 11 schools alive for two expansion slots, according to various sources. The Big 12 has not clarified a timetable on when formal invitations will be extended, but most likely it’ll happen by November, if not sooner.
It’s certain that the Big 12 intends to use at least some part of this season to evaluate its potential suitors, so every week’s games serve as auditions for those 11 remaining schools. It might be a short-sighted way of going about this, but it certainly heightens the importance of games involving the 11 teams.
In that case, it should be abundantly clear which two teams should be added by the Big 12 after the first weekend of the 2016 season. In fact, it’s not even close.
Big 12 expansion candidates went 7-4 in their openers, but only two teams defeated Power 5 opponents – Houston over Oklahoma at NRG Stadium and BYU over Arizona in Glendale. The rest of them either faced FCS teams or minnows of FBS football.
Let’s break this down, separating the 11 candidates into three categories:
- Houston: defeated Oklahoma, 33-23
- BYU: defeated Arizona, 18-16
- Cincinnati: defeated Tennessee-Martin (FCS), 28-7
- UConn: defeated Maine (FCS), 24-21 (on last-second FG)
- UCF: defeated South Carolina State (FCS), 38-0
- USF: defeated Towson (FCS), 56-20
- Air Force: defeated Abilene Christian (FCS), 37-21
- SMU: defeated North Texas, 34-21
- Rice: lost to Western Kentucky, 46-14
- Tulane: lost to Wake Forest, 7-3
- Colorado State: lost to Colorado, 44-7
In all likelihood, only the “contenders” are under serious consideration by the Big 12. Houston is backed by Texas and Texas Tech, Cincinnati by Oklahoma and West Virginia, BYU is backed by the league’s TV network partners. The politics will eventually settle this expansion saga, but the reality on the football field is becoming crystal clear.
SEC’s Difficult Weekend
The self-professed “toughest conference” in college football laid a giant egg on the opening weekend. SEC teams went 6-6 in nonconference games – and it was lucky that it didn’t finish 3-9.
Other than Alabama, which announced itself ready to defend its title with an annihilation of USC, the rest of the SEC mostly wallowed in mediocrity, or worse. Mississippi State lost to South Alabama and Kentucky was beaten by Southern Miss. Tennessee, which is touted as a playoff contender, needed late blunders by Appalachian State to survive in overtime at home.
Then there was LSU, which many picked to supplant Alabama as the SEC heavyweight, lost to Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in a game that featured desultory quarterback play. The same could be said for Auburn in its loss to Clemson despite the fact that the Tigers (of the War Eagle variety) employed two QBs and found the end zone just once. Ole Miss had decent QB play, but had no answer defensively as Florida State stormed back with a 39-6 barrage.
What the SEC is finding out is that when it goes on the road and faces opponents of its own size, it suddenly isn’t as easy to amass undefeated records before the conference season starts. And now even the perceived cupcakes are biting back.
It might be that what’s happening in the SEC is a rerun of what happened to USC in the 2000s and Florida State in the 1990s – a powerhouse team presiding over a mediocre conference. While Alabama is every bit as dominant as it’s been in the Nick Saban era, the rest of the SEC is now merely riding on the Tide’s coattails.
Game of the Week
Texas 50, Notre Dame 47 (2 OT) – The Longhorns and the Irish had the spotlight all to themselves Sunday night and they treated the nation to an epic performance, combining to amass nearly 1,000 yards of offense and almost 100 points.
The victory should cool the hot seat of Charlie Strong considerably, as the embattled Texas coach may have finally found a quarterback in freshman Shane Buechele, who calmly led the Horns to stand toe-to-toe against the high-powered Notre Dame offense.
For the Irish, the loss isn’t fatal to their playoff chances but it leaves them no margin for error the rest of the season with Michigan State and Stanford still left on the schedule.
Player of the Week
Sam Foltz, Nebraska – The late Cornhuskers punter was killed in a car wreck that also claimed the life of former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler on July 23. Foltz was not only an outstanding player but also a beloved teammate and friend of the Nebraska team.
In their Saturday game against Fresno State, the Huskers lined up in a Missing-Man Formation on their first punt, with 10 players on the field without a punter, as a tribute to Foltz. Nebraska was given a delay of game penalty that was promptly declined by Fresno State in an equally classy display.
While we celebrate all that’s fun and good in college football, sometimes guys also do dishonorable things and they deserve to be shamed for their indiscretion.
Unfortunately we have not one, but two recipients for this week’s booby prize. LSU’s Josh Boutte delivered a blindside cheap shot on Wisconsin’s D’Cota Dixon after the latter sealed the victory for the Badgers with a late interception. USC’s Jabari Ruffin, not to be outdone, stomped on the privates of Minkah Fitzpatrick during a punt return while his Trojans were being mauled by Alabama.
Both Boutte and Ruffin were promptly ejected by the officials. LSU followed with a one-game ban for Boutte against Jacksonville State (FCS) and USC merely suspended Ruffin for one half of its next game against Utah State. You can call those disciplinary measures weak, too.
1. Alabama, 2. Florida State, 3. Ohio State, 4. Michigan, 5. Clemson, 6. Houston, 7. Stanford, 8. Wisconsin, 9. Washington, 10. Iowa, 11. Oklahoma, 12. LSU, 13. Michigan State, 14. Texas, 15. Notre Dame.