Subtraction by addition
West Virginia and TCU joined the Big 12 Conference as trendy picks to contend for conference championships.
Less than two years later, both teams own losing records and have no hope of reaching the postseason.
It’s a harsh reality for both programs. The Horned Frogs, who used to dominate in smaller conferences, will miss a bowl game for the first time in eight seasons. The Mountaineers, who used to be kings of the Big East, haven’t missed a bowl game since 2001.
Neither program expected this kind of dropoff in a new league. That much is certain based on the way West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen handled a loss to Kansas on Saturday.
“This program is not equipped to handle the wear and tear of the Big 12,” Holgorsen said.
It’s a fair statement – the Big 12 is a significant step up from the Big East – but the timing is bizarre. Kansas had lost 27 straight conference games before thumping West Virginia over the weekend. The result of that game had more to due with James Sims running wild and KU coach Charlie Weis developing a good strategy that included starting Montell Cozart at quarterback than wear and tear.
West Virginia was good enough to beat Oklahoma State and it was good enough to take Texas to overtime. But it slipped up in games against Maryland – a shutout loss – and Texas Tech. Then it fell flat against the Jayhawks.
Combined with a feeble ending to 2012, and the Mountaineers haven’t had much to cheer about in the Big 12.
TCU has suffered similar struggles, but it can blame injuries and a difficult nonconference schedule for its faults. Had quarterback Casey Pachall been healthy all season and had their defense stayed a bit healthier, the Horned Frogs would have more than four victories. Opening against LSU didn’t help, either.
Even so, they fell one play shy of winning at Kansas State on Saturday.
TCU coach Gary Patterson expects his program to bounce back, and it likely will. It’s hard to envision West Virginia staying down for long, too.
But their struggles are a bad look for the Big 12. The teams they replaced – Texas A&M and Missouri – are excelling in the SEC.
“We knew it was going to be challenging,” Holgorsen said. “The Big 12 obviously has some of the best football that’s going to be played across the country. There are top teams with facilities, with recruiting and players – all of that stuff needs to improve on our end.”
A year after sending a record nine teams to bowl games, the Big 12 will be unable to fulfill its seven bowl tie-ins this season.
Six teams are eligible. Four teams have no shot at the postseason.
That means the Pinstripe Bowl, which is seventh in the Big 12’s bowl pecking order, will have to look elsewhere.
Unlikely must-see game
Ten years ago, Baylor was a hapless football program and Oklahoma State rarely made back-to-back bowl games.
On Saturday, the Bears and the Cowboys will meet in the Big 12’s potential game of the year. ESPN is sending “College GameDay” to Stillwater, Okla., to preview the matchup.
Baylor is undefeated. Oklahoma State’s only loss came at West Virginia. Both teams control their destiny in the conference championship race. Whoever wins will have the upper hand down the stretch. Both teams run a spread offense. Their rises up the hierarchy of college football shows just how much parity there is today.
Both teams seem to be embracing the moment.
“We have ‘Gameday’ coming in here,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “I don’t think anyone can put a dollar amount on the value of marketing and commercial exposure we get from that.”
Things were supposed to be different under Kliff Kingsbury. Maybe they still will be. But, so far, Texas Tech is resembling the same path it often took under Tommy Tuberville.
Start fast. Qualify for a bowl game. Lose in November.
The Red Raiders started 7-0 and have lost four in a row. They need to win at Texas on Thanksgiving to avoid a five-game losing streak. To his credit, Kingsbury expects his team to bounce back.
“It’s not like we are 2-10,” Kingsbury said. “They understand the opportunity they have in front of us. They have a lot to play for. It’s a spirited group.”
Ranking this week’s games
Big 12 football rankings