The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

September 3, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN- Is Big 12 football changing?

MORGANTOWN — As expected, the ink was not yet dry on the headlines that read “North Dakota State topples Kansas State” and “Northern Iowa beats Iowa State” before the world in unified horror began asking what is wrong in this world of college football where FCS schools are beating FBS schools with a certain degree of regularity.

Indeed, it happened across the land no fewer than eight times, just as Texas coach Mack Brown had predicted a week earlier, and now on Monday’s Big 12 coaches conference call Brown was saying, “When I see eight FCS teams beat FBS teams across the country I say you better be careful who you schedule No. 1. You can get beaten on any weekend.”

But the fact that two of the teams that fell were Big 12 teams, while a third, West Virginia, escaped with a narrow victory over William & Mary after trailing much of the game, meant the cry became more centralized on the Big 12 Conference.

No one, of course, wanted to admit that this had something to do with a weakening of the conference itself, preferring to lay credit to the FCS schools and noting that parity has come to the game of college football, just as it long has been in college basketball.

Certainly, Dana Holgorsen wasn’t going to bite on that, despite his scare and the other two losses in the Big 12.

“I worry about what we do first and foremost,” he said. “It’s no different than any other year. It’s all about the final product and how we finish the year, not how we start the year. There’s going to be a lot of positive things happen in the Big 12, a lot of great games and at the end of the year we’ll see how we stack up.”

While that is unquestionably true, there were some clues put forth this opening week of the season that told you this is not the Big 12 WVU entered a year ago. In fact, as feared, the quarterback play had little resemblance to last season and, as a result, the offensive play was, to be honest, rather ordinary.

Consider, if you will, that in their first games a year ago, Big 12 teams scored 462 points.

This year it was fewer, and for those who want to argue that the comparison is unfair because Kansas has yet to play, let me assure that Kansas will not score 150 points ... because this year’s teams accounted for only 313 points scored.

Teams were playing the game differently ... good teams like WVU and Oklahoma and Kansas State.

Berry Trammel, a columnist from NewsOK.com, saw it as if the Big 12 had become caught in a time warp, writing: What is this, 1948? Did they also play single-platoon, with leather helmets and turtleneck sweaters? Did the Cowboys travel by train to Houston, where they dispatched Mississippi State 21-3? Did the Sooners celebrate their 34-0 thumping of Louisiana-Monroe with a sock hop at the Student Union?

This kind of football — the OU-Monroe game totaled 17 punts; OSU-Miss State totaled just three possessions that got within 10 yards of pay dirt — is a mystery to us.

Plus, the quarterbacks were old school.

State’s J.W. Walsh threw for 135 yards and ran for 125. OU’s Trevor Knight completed 39 percent of his passes, which is straight out of 1948; he rushed for 103 yards and passed for just 86.

The Big 12’s opening week reminded us that the league’s quarterbacking has taken a dip. West Virginia and Kansas State, for example, played I-AA foes and each scored just three touchdowns.

The Sooners and Cowboys are going with quarterbacks better at running, rather than flinging the football, around the sandlot. Partly by design, partly out of necessity.

You cannot argue with it. In fact, we expect the next rage in Kansas City to be the return of hula hoops, ducktail haircuts on men and lettermen sweaters.

If my math is right, and Miss Connors from back at Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, N.J., will tell you there’s no better than a 50-50 chance of that, this year’s Big 12 teams gained 4,019 yards this year while last year — subtracting Kansas from the mix — the same teams gained 4,518 yards.

The game is changing in the Big 12, not because they want it to change, but because the quarterbacks are different and, perhaps, the defenses are improved.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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