The Big 12 Championship is just two weeks away, but the participants remain unknown after a standard week of conference football.
Texas now stands alone at the top with a 7-1 conference record, but they could miss the championship if they lose to Texas Tech next week, as they would fall to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the event that a tiebreaker is needed.
As the season closes, though, games have gotten less exciting in the Big 12, but there were still exciting games Saturday night with important results.
Kansas State vs. Kansas: Wildcats eliminate Jayhawks from championship contention
The Wildcats proved their higher AP ranking than Kansas on Saturday with a winning touchdown in the final quarter. The Jayhawks slowed down Kansas State significantly, outdoing their typically explosive offense 396 yards to 331. Because Kansas failed to protect the ball, with freshman Cole Bollard fumbling the ball and throwing two interceptions in his second college game, the Wildcats took advantage for the only touchdown by either team in the fourth quarter for the 31-27 triumph.
Kansas State benefited from an 8/15 third down efficiency that allowed the team to completely avoid making fourth down drives in the game. The win allows Kansas State to stay in the running for a Big 12 Championship appearance while also eliminating the Jayhawks from the same achievement, but the win did not come without concerns.
Senior Will Howard struggled again at quarterback, barely outperforming the freshman Jayhawk with 165 passing yards, two touchdowns, and an interception on 13/24 passing. Ballard threw 11/16 for 162 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. Howard did score one of the team’s two rushing touchdowns, with DJ Giddens going for the other, but it is hard to see him as a threat from there based on his four carries for 18 yards. Nevertheless, Kansas State will take on Iowa State at home next Saturday in their final chance of earning a spot in the championship. The Jayhawks stand at 4-4 in the conference and will travel to Cincinnati to close their season.
Texas Tech vs. UCF: Red Raiders win tight battle for bowl eligibility
In a game determining who earns bowl eligibility, the Red Raiders came out on top, 24-23. Texas Tech is now 6-5 and 5-3 in-conference as their winning streak grows to three games. UCF dropped their sixth conference matchup of the season but remain in the hunt for bowl eligibility with a 5-6 record overall. They will look to reach that goal at home against Houston on Saturday while Texas Tech takes on the Longhorns on Friday in Austin.
Texas Tech scored no points in the first quarter and were on the losing side of a 9-3 margin in the final quarter, but they were able to squeeze the victory both thanks to a strong 21-0 advantage in the second and third quarters and because of a blocked extra point in the game’s final touchdown. Sophomore defensive lineman E’Maurion “Dooda” Banks made the stop, essentially nullifying the 74-yard touchdown reception from Javon Baker just before it. Banks said he even blocked the kick with his forearm while beaming with joy after the game.
Also making the game exciting was the quarterback duel between Tech sophomore Behren Morton and UCF senior John Rhys Plumlee. Plumlee threw 16/32 for 248 yards, an interception, and the 74-yard touchdown, while Morton outshined him slightly with 21/34 passing for 256 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Plumlee earned the higher QBR of 73.8 compared to Morton’s 51.1, due in part to his 13 carries for 84 rushing yards, making him the team’s highest performer in the run game. Nevertheless, both quarterback exhibited great value to their teams, especially as they return from previous injuries in the season.
Texas vs. Iowa State: Gap widens at the top after matchup between two contenders
Iowa State’s Big 12 Championship run is all but over after falling to 5-3 in-conference from a 26-16 loss to Texas. The Cyclones’ biggest question mark all season, their run game, led to their demise, as Texas held the Cyclones to a net nine rushing yards compared to their own 123. Quarterback Rocco Becht played well once again, throwing 24/32 for 323 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, but his inadequacies in the run game made him lose 14 yards in his five carries.
Overall, with the continued lack of options from the Cyclones, it is no surprise that the team’s field goal and two touchdowns, one of which including a blocked PAT which Texas returned for two points, was not enough to take down the No. 7 team in college football. Texas, now 10-1 with their only loss coming to Oklahoma, is near-guaranteed a spot in the Big 12 Championship and could earn a place in the College Football Playoff. They finish their season at home against Texas Tech on Friday while Iowa State will take on another championship contender in the Kansas State Wildcats.
WVU vs. Cincinnati: Mountaineers strengthen campaign for top bowl game appearance
West Virginia secured a winning season record Saturday night in a convincing home win over Cincinnati. The 42-21 victory saw the Mountaineers score all of their points in the first three quarters of play, as five touchdowns came in the run game.
Quarterback Garrett Greene rushed for three touchdowns in his 11 carries for 154 yards, while Jahiem White and CJ Donaldson Jr. each ran for one of their own. White ran for 204 yards in 21 carries and caught one reception- a 75-yard touchdown pass from Greene.
The Bearcats simply had no method of matching this rushing performance, as they totaled 141 rushing yards compared to West Virginia’s 424. Senior quarterback Emory Jones was responsible for all of the team’s points in the loss, as he threw two touchdowns to Chamon Metayer and rushed for one of his own. The Bearcats fell to 1-7 in the conference and 3-8 on the season and will play their final game at home against Kansas on Saturday. The Mountaineers finish the season in Baylor where they look to end the season strong after an impressive 2023 campaign.
Oklahoma vs. BYU: Cougars fall for fourth straight game
No. 14 Oklahoma continued their resurgence to greatness on Saturday with a 31-24 win over BYU. BYU stays in the hunt for bowl eligibility with a 5-6 record, but it looks dim for the Cougars ahead of their matchup against No. 24 Oklahoma State next week.
The teams matched each other’s points in every quarter until the fourth, where Gavin Sawchuk rushed for the only touchdown with eight minutes remaining. Brigham Young held the Sooners to a disappointing rushing performance otherwise, as BYU outran Oklahoma 217 yards to 144 in just four more carries. In fact, BYU was so effective at limiting Oklahoma’s production that they nearly won despite having three turnovers compared to the Sooners’ zero and receiving an extra penalty as well. The Sooners split the quarterback duties between starter Dillon Gabriel and freshman Jackson Arnold due to an injury keeping Gabriel out the entire second half. He threw 13/21 for 191 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, and Arnold filled in decently with a 5/9 completion rate for 33 yards.
For BYU, backup quarterback Jake Retzlaff played alright with 15/26 throwing for 173 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception while also rushing for a touchdown, but the team will need to rely on their defense against Oklahoma State. Offensively, they need similar production as what they had this weekend from running back Aidan Robbins, who had 22 carries for 182 yards. Oklahoma simply needs to hope Gabriel is healthy as they play TCU on Friday to earn their coveted spot in the championship.
Oklahoma State vs. Houston: Cowboys remain top contender for Big 12 Championship appearance
The Cowboys won 43-30 over Houston on Saturday, as Alan Bowman threw for his most yards all season of 348. Bowman was 29/43 and had two touchdowns and an interception. This compared to Houston’s Donovan Smith, who had a respectable 235 yards in 17/29 completions with a touchdown and two interceptions, explains Oklahoma State’s victory.
Ollie Gordon II continued to show that he is a huge threat for this championship contender, as he ran for three touchdowns and 164 yards in 25 carries. The sophomore’s yardage gains were more than the team’s total gains for the game due to a loss of 15 yards. Also proving an essential pillar for the Cowboys was wide receiver Brennan Presley, who caught 15 receptions for 189 yards. Presley reached the top 10 on Oklahoma State’s all-time receiving yards list with this performance. With these powerful offensive weapons in their favor, Oklahoma State remains a favorite for appearing in the Big 12 Championship, alongside Texas. One source of worry, though, was Houston’s ability to poke the ball from OSU, leading to three fumbles. All three were recovered, but this remains a concern and something the team will look out for nevertheless as they head into the final week of the regular season.
With the loss, Houston also lost their chance for bowl eligibility. They play their final game at UCF on Saturday, where they will try to force the same fate on the Knights. The Cougars are 2-6 in-conference and 4-7 on the season. Oklahoma State will BYU at home on Saturday afternoon.
TCU vs. Baylor: Horned Frogs move one game away from bowl eligibility
TCU broke their three-game losing streak to keep their bowl dreams alive on Saturday, as they took down Baylor 42-17. The Horned Frogs are now 3-5 in-conference and 5-6 overall as they prepare to take on Oklahoma in Norman on Friday. The win served as another installment in TCU’s incredibly inconsistent offensive season, as Josh Hoover threw for 400 yards for the second time this season. His 24/29 throwing for 412 yards and two touchdowns earned Hoover a remarkable 98.6 QBR. The freshman’s favorite target of the day was senior Jared Wiley, who caught seven receptions for both receiving touchdowns and 178 yards. Otherwise, Hoover split his targets well and had strong options, as four receivers earned 40 or more yards in the game.
With this shining performance by Hoover and his receivers, TCU’s run game took a back seat, as the team rushed just 30 times and earned 100 yards. Keeping up with their trend of the season, though, Baylor’s run game lacked production themselves. In 40 carries, the team earned 148 yards and one rushing touchdown from quarterback Blake Shapen. Shapen also threw a touchdown in the game in his 197 yards on 20 completions out of 30 throws.
Overall, TCU’s defense allowed one of the Bears’ better performances in a loss this season, which does not bode well for their upcoming matchup against the highly ranked Sooners. TCU failed to force any turnovers from the Bears while they had one of their own despite their strong day on the other end. With injuries keeping Oklahoma down, though, Texas Christian may be able to earn another bowl appearance this season. Baylor will finish their regular season at home on Saturday against the West Virginia Mountaineers.