The band Third Eye Blind once pleaded for a friend to “Step back from that ledge.”
After a week in which the Sun Belt ripped through the Sunflower State and a group Ragin’ Cajuns from Louisiana put the voodoo hex on the Iowa State offense, I dedicate it to fans of the Big 12 Conference.
The Cyclones lost to Louisiana Lafayette (31-14), Kansas State was outdone by Arkansas State (35-31) and Kansas fell for a second straight year to Coastal Carolina (38-23), and all of them were home games for the Big 12. It was part of a 5-3 week for the Sun Belt, which registered one less win than Saquon Barkley had rushing yards (six) on Monday night.
2020, am I right?
But maybe it’s not all flames on the plains in terms of the status of the conference as a whole.
I mean, what did we really expect out of Kansas? The Jayhawks lost to the Chanticleers last season as well, and this year Kansas coach Les Miles decided to take no junior college transfers, meaning only true freshmen came onboard in this recruiting class. It’s a clear sacrifice of immediate success for possible future gains. Saturday was the price to be paid.
Now, as for the other two games ...
Arkansas State had already played a road game against a tough opponent, hanging in at Memphis until a disastrous third quarter took the Red Wolves out of it. Secondly, Kansas State was without 20-plus players and was hit hard particularly at wideout, with COVID-19 and other injuries taking their toll. The Wildcats also lost their starting center in the first half and a pair of defensive backs.
Coach Chris Klieman wasn’t about to use any of that as an excuse during the Big 12 coaches conference call on Monday.
That’s OK, I’ll use it for him.
Because the uncertainty that comes week in and week out as the pandemic continues to hit college campuses around the country will absolutely have an effect on outcomes every Saturday.
“I don’t know how many guys are going to be at practice today, and that’s where we’re going to be throughout the season,” Klieman said. “I couldn’t tell you if we will have everybody expected to be back or if we’re going to lose more guys. It’s so hard to prepare as a head coach when you don’t know on a daily basis how many guys you’re going to have.
“We haven’t had anybody come back from it yet, so it’s still been pretty new. I don’t know how long it’s going to be. Will we get guys back this week? In two to three weeks?”
Iowa State’s 31-14 loss to Lafayette would seem to be the most disappointing, considering that the Cyclones were ranked No. 23 entering the game and were fourth in the preseason Big 12 poll.
Certain fluky things can be expected in opening games. A punt return touchdown and a kick return touchdown in the same game could certainly qualify as just that. The Cyclones turned the ball over twice compared to none for Lafayette, and Iowa State limited the Ragin’ Cajuns to just 272 total yards offensively.
But maybe perception is hammering too hard on the Big 12 while not giving the Sun Belt its just due. Sun Belt teams took four wins over Power Five conference teams a year ago, including a win by Appalachian State at South Carolina of the SEC.
WVU coach Neal Brown, having coached at Sun Belt member Troy for four seasons prior to last year, was certainly in that camp.
“Going back to 2016, the Sun Belt probably hasn’t gotten the attention or respect it probably deserves, because there’s some really good football teams — throw [Appalachian State] in there too,” Brown said. “Those teams that won are really well coached and that won’t be the only big games they win this year.”
And at the end of the day, who had Iowa State going to the College Football Playoff? Kansas State? Hell, not even the Wizard, Dorothy and her little dog, too, could’ve willed Kansas there.
So, while national pundits were taking their shots at the league, Oklahoma survived a 48-0 thriller against Missouri State, West Virginia skated by Eastern Kentucky 56-10 and, hold on, I think Texas just scored again on UTEP after claiming a 59-3 victory Saturday night. And though Texas Tech had to battle, it’s 1-0 after a 35-33 win over Houston Baptist.
Think a four-point Kansas State loss to Arkansas State is going to keep an undefeated Oklahoma, Texas or even Oklahoma State out of the national conversation? Does Coastal’s win hinder WVU’s or Texas Tech’s seasons at all?
In case anyone has forgotten, only three of the Power Five conferences are playing football at all right now, though rumors that the Big Ten will start soon keep swirling. Even if that happens, can that league possibly factor into the playoff? Unless the committee tries to put four SEC teams in — and that my friends, I believe is a legitimate possibility, especially if Clemson and Oklahoma lose a regular-season game — the Big 12 will be fine.
This is not the time to overly concern yourself with the fact that a couple teams in the middle of the Big 12 and one at the bottom lost games the first weekend of a season altered drastically by a pandemic in a year in which you can no longer order a Mexican pizza at Taco Bell and the colors gold and orange determine whether or not you can send your kid to school.
The point is, there’s plenty of other reasons to be on edge. But as for the ledge? Step on back, kick off your ruby slippers and take a deep, mask-covered breath.
It’s going to be OK. As OK as 2020 will allow.