The Big 12 nonconference slate is mostly in the rearview mirror (looking at you TCU and Houston), and now teams are buckling down for Big 12 play
Through three weeks, the conference hierarchy looks a little different than most expected in the preseason, as is typically the case in the Big 12, which is nearly impossible to project.
Now, for the first time, we will get to see a 14-team Big 12 commence a conference race to decide which two teams get the chance to play for a trophy in Arlington this December.
With that in mind, here are the top five storylines that you should be keeping up with heading into the fourth week of the season.
Is Oklahoma for Real?
The one, and only knock against Oklahoma to this point in the season has been their opponents through the first three weeks. While SMU could end up being one of the best Group of Five teams in the country, Arkansas State and Tulsa have looked like two of the worst teams in the country. Still, the Sooners outscored them 139-17, so it’s not as if they left any doubt. Now, Oklahoma will head outside the Sooner State for the first time in 2023, and will open up Big 12 play at Cincinnati. Despite a loss to Miami (OH) last week, the Bearcats have been better than expected this season with a dominant defensive line and Emory Jones providing a true dual threat. This will be OU’s first true test of the season, and with FOX Big Noon Kickoff setting up outside of Nippert Stadium, there will be plenty of eyes on the Sooners and Bearcats.
Does Will Howard Play Against UCF?
After suffering an injury and playing through it against Missouri, Kansas State quarterback Will Howard is listed as questionable ahead of Saturday’s Big 12 opener against UCF. The Wildcats’ offense is built for someone of Howard’s skillset, and if he can’t go, the question then becomes, who does? Jake Rubley is listed as the backup, with freshman Avery Johnson right behind him. Will either of those guys be able to get the job done against a good UCF defense? It has yet to be seen, but one thing is certain: I would feel much better about the Wildcats’ chances if Howard were able to go.
Which Dark Horse Can Remain Unbeaten: Kansas or BYU?
There are eight games on Saturday between undefeated teams, and one of those games will be played in Lawrence, Kansas. The Jayhawks will welcome BYU for their first-ever Big 12 game and the chance to move to 4-0 will be on the line. Kedon Slovis will need to play his best game of the season if the Cougars hope to pick up a win on the road, as playing in The Booth doesn’t mean the same thing it did just a few years ago. For Jalon Daniels and the Kansas offense, they’ll hope to reestablish some success in the passing game, as Daniels was held without a passing touchdown as a starter for the first time since October 1, 2022. If they can’t the offense will run through Devin Neal once again, who has 434 total yards and six scores already this season.
Battle for the Iron Skillet
In what will be a Big 12 vs. ACC rivalry starting next season, the TCU Horned Frogs will host SMU for their annual Battle for the Iron Skillet. TCU leads the all-time series, 52-42-7, but SMU has won two of the last three meetings. This should be a high-scoring affair, as both the Horned Frogs (39.7 ppg) and Mustangs (39.3 ppg) rank right around the Top 25 nationally in scoring offense. While this game doesn’t count toward the Big 12 standings, it is still certainly something to follow this weekend in the Big 12. This will be just the second time that Sonny Dykes will face his former team, and he got the better of Rhett Lashlee last season with a 42-34 thriller. Also, the quarterback duel in this one will be fun too, as Chandler Morris and Preston Stone are two of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the country.
Does Dave Aranda’s Seat Start to Warm Up If Baylor Starts 1-3?
The 2023 season hasn’t started anything like Baylor fans had hoped, as they were stunned by Texas State in Week 1 and outlasted by Utah in Week 2. Follow that up with an uninspiring performance against LIU last week, and you’ve got a disgruntled fan base on the edge of their seats. Now, the Bears will play host to No. 3 Texas on Saturday, with the Longhorns coming into the game as 15.0-point favorites. If the Longhorns waltz into Waco and whip Aranda and the Bears, will his seat start to warm up ever so slightly? This game almost feels like a must-win situation for Baylor, in regard to their 2023 season, because they’ll follow this game up with a road game at UCF, hosting Texas Tech, and a trip to Cincinnati. If they fall to 1-3 here, with their lone win against an FCS opponent, the wheels just might come off.