2021 has come and gone and we are now off to 2022. For the Big 12 Conference, it was the most dramatic year the conference has had, arguably, ever, after Texas and Oklahoma announced they were leaving the league, which put the entire conference in peril. Thankfully, the Big 12 will survive, and it looks like it’s ready to thrive, with UCF, Cincinnati, Houston and BYU all set to join the league in the coming years.
But let’s spend some time looking back on 2021 from a Big 12 football perspective as we dive into our Top 5 biggest Big 12 football losers from the last 12 months.
1. Lincoln Riley
There was never a doubt who was going to be No. 1 on this list. Lincoln Riley and the Sooners had National Title expectations as he brought back his most complete team since he became the head coach in Norman. But all season long, the Sooners struggled, played down to competition and didn’t even make the Big 12 Championship Game. Then hours after a loss in Bedlam, Riley announces he’s bouncing for Southern California to take over the USC Trojans. Riley has every right to take the job, but let’s not kid ourselves, the way this went down, preceded by how the season went, easily crowns Lincoln Riley as the biggest loser in the Big 12 in 2021.
2. Matt Wells
Matt Wells got fired in Year 3 as the Texas Tech head coach. That’s bad. But what led up to it was even worse, and I’m not talking about on the field where his team gave up a combined 120 points to Texas and TCU. I’m talking about when Wells was asked a softball question in a radio interview: “What’s your favorite thing about living in Lubbock?” Wells was unable to answer the question, until finally coming up with, “his family”. It was beyond uncomfortable and embarrassing. I’ve interviewed Matt Wells on multiple occasions and found him to be a very pleasant and good man, but that was brutal and if there was ever a final nail in the coffin, that had to be it.
3. Iowa State Cyclones
Here’s the reality: this Iowa State team was picked to play for a Big 12 Title and even had decent odds to play in a College Football Playoff. Instead, the Cyclones went 7-6 this season after falling in the Cheez-It Bowl this week. Now with all this being said, I also wrote this week that this season being a letdown should not define this group of seniors who have forever changed what Iowa State football is. But still, when you stack this season up against the talent on the team and what it could have been, the Cyclones deserve to be on this list, and there’s no one person to point the finger at.
4. Steve Sarkisian and Jeff Banks
Well, Steve Sarkisian was brought in as the (latest) man expected to return Texas football to greatness. Instead, he finished the season 5-7, suffering a six-game losing streak in the process, the worst for the Longhorns since the 1950’s. Granted, he had a really good recruiting class and he’s not going anywhere, but it was a very underwhelming inaugural season. But at least he’s not his Special Teams Coordinator Jeff Banks, whose girlfriend’s (who is a former adult dancer) pet monkey allegedly attacked a trick-or-treater at their home on Halloween night, and now he’s dealing with a lawsuit. Yes, you read that sentence right and, no, we can’t make up something like that, even if we tried.
5. Big 12 Refs
I mean, it’s another year of the Big 12 existing, so you know the officials had to end up on the list. There was controversy in the Big 12 Championship Game, you had radio broadcasters calling out the Big 12 refs over terrible calls, and even one crew got suspended for doing just that. There were issues in the near-upset of Oklahoma by Kansas. All in all, there were big moments that arguably did cost teams games or could have cost teams games. The zebra had a rough season in this league in 2021.
Honorable Mention: Gary Patterson
Gary Patterson parted ways with TCU this season, but it’s hard to put him in the category as a “loser”, given that TCU is only in the Big 12 because of his success with the program. For whatever reason, the Horned Frogs had four-straight mediocre seasons under Patterson and he couldn’t quite figure out how to turn things around. Maybe some time away will do him some good, and we fully expect to see him back on the sidelines in some capacity n the future.