The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

College

September 2, 2013

Big 12 schools sluggish in openers

The Big 12 is 0-2 against the Missouri Valley Conference, and it took a late touchdown by West Virginia to avoid another opening-weekend loss to an FCS team.

“That’s the story of the opening week of the season, is who gets beat by somebody they shouldn’t,” Texas coach Mack Brown said Monday. “There’s always a couple, and this year there were a lot more than that.”

Nationwide, there were eight FCS teams that beat FBS opponents. That was twice as many such upsets as the opening week of 2012.

But that’s not supposed to happen to a league like the Big 12, which going into this season was 103-3 against non-FBS teams. The conference in its 18th season almost matched that loss total in one weekend.

“It will grab your attention. Luckily, we were able to get tested and be able to overcome that,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, whose team escaped with a 24-17 win over William & Mary. “At the end of the year, it really doesn’t matter what the score was. It’s about getting the wins.”

Defending co-Big 12 champion Kansas State failed to do against two-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State, then Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa. (Baylor beat Wofford 69-3 in its FCS matchup).

The only other FBS leagues with two losses to lower-tier teams were the American Athletic Conference (former Big East) and Sun Belt. The Sun Belt losers were South Alabama, in its first season as a full-fledged FBS team, and Georgia State, a team still making that transition.

Not exactly the company the Big 12 wants to be in when the goal is break the SEC’s string of seven consecutive national championships.

“It’s all about the final product and how we finish the year, not how we start the year,” Holgorsen said. “ There’s going to be a lot of positive things happen in the Big 12, there’s going to be a lot of great games to be played, and at the end of the year, we’ll see how we stack up.”

Big 12 teams have three more games against FCS teams this week, including Kansas playing South Dakota in its season opener. Texas Tech plays coach Kliff Kingsbury’s home debut against Stephen F. Austin, and TCU hosts Southeastern Louisiana.

West Virginia goes to Oklahoma for the first game this season that counts in the Big 12 standings.

The Sooners and Texas don’t play any FCS opponents this year.

“There’s always talk in the first week or the second week about who’s the best conference,” Brown said. “‘I think you need to look at the end of the season at the body of work.”

Kansas had an early practice Saturday before coach Charlie Weis spent the rest of the day watching games, even paying $10 to watch the online broadcast of South Dakota’s win over UC Davis. The Jayhawks also had a team meeting Sunday. The first words from Weis to his players were the same both days after all the FCS upsets.

“It was a great teaching tool,” Weis said during the Big 12 coaches’ weekly conference call. “The first words being uttered, did you pay attention, did you see what just happened. This isn’t any big surprise here fellas. This is what can happen. I think that game (Kansas State) glaringly got our players’ attention.”

Every loss by Big 12 teams last season was against an opponent that went to a bowl game. The league was 8-0 against FCS teams, winning those games by an average margin of 44 points. (That was still 38 if not counting Oklahoma State’s 84-0 win over Savannah State).

Kansas State, after losing its first opener since coach Bill Snyder’s debut with the Wildcats in 1989, plays Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday.

Asked how he was doing, Snyder responded, “Well, I’ve had better days.”

Still, Snyder said the message to his team is unchanged in that the goal is to get better every day.

“We’ve got a lot of improvement to make,” he said. “I think that’s pretty obvious.”

Iowa State has to wait an extra week before another game, with an open date before playing in-state rival Iowa on Sept. 14.

“We were distraught, I’ll put it that way,” Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads said, describing his team’s mode after the loss.

Oh, and guess which FCS team is on Iowa State’s schedule next season. North Dakota State.

 

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