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Beyond the Fort: Party like it’s 2008

It’s late September, and Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech are all ranked? Whoa nelly!

Texas Tech v Oklahoma State Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

As the final weekend of September approaches, it’s already shaping up to be an free-for-all in the Big 12 Conference for the remainder of the 2018 college football season.

Will Grier and the West Virginia offense are still on a roll. Oklahoma is right there with them, though the loss of running back Rodney Anderson and a very interesting contest with Army have raised some concerns about the Sooners’ sustainability for the remainder of the year.

And then there’s — wait, ranked Texas and Texas Tech right there with them tied atop the conference standings?

Oh, and Baylor too.

Yep — there are four ranked Big 12 teams through four weeks of the season. In a twist of fate, however, TCU has already been booted out of the party — for now — after losing two in a row to Ohio State and Texas. And here we are, with the Longhorns and Red Raiders both 3-1 overall, both 1-0 in conference play, and both among the 25 best squads in the land.

Well, we sure didn’t see that one coming. Of course, the unexpected shakeup isn’t the only headline in the Big 12 as everyone sets their sights on Week 5. Here’s a rundown of the latest happenings across the most fun Power 5 conference in America.

Redshirt rule bites the Cowboys

Coaches across the nation praised the passing of the NCAA’s new redshirt rule earlier in the year, which allows players to appear in four contests before burning their redshirt for the season. After all, who would be opposed to the idea of letting more faces earn valuable playing time — from an experience standpoint — without their eligibility being affected?

What coaches didn’t consider, however, was their players — rather, star-players — taking advantage of the rule to boost their chances of winning the most college football games possible.

That hit home for Oklahoma State on Monday when senior wide receiver Jalen McCleskey announced that he would redshirt the remainder of the season and then seek a transfer.

While the Convington, La. native wasn’t touching the football nearly as much as he wanted to this season through four games, McCleskey caught for more than 600 yards at Oklahoma State each of the last two seasons. Needless to say, it’s a game-changer for the Pokes fresh off their first defeat of 2018, and not a good one either.

And the problem extends beyond Stillwater. A week prior to the McCleskey news, three Auburn players announced the same decision following the Tigers’ 22-21 loss to LSU at Jordan Hare Stadium. And perhaps the biggest shocker of them all — Clemson’s Kelly Bryant, who quarterbacked the Tigers to a College Football Playoff appearance in 2017, announced on Wednesday that he’d be joining the redshirt-transfer party after losing the starting job to freshman Trevor Lawrence.

Starting to sound like a no-good form of NFL free agency? You betcha. And before the week comes to an end, you can count on several others joining the likes of McCleksey and Bryant upon things not going the way they hoped.

Welcome back to the old Big 12

Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech all among the teams tied for first place in the Big 12 ? The Sooners, Longhorns and Red Raiders all in the AP Top 25 at once?

Heck, somebody go fetch Bob Stoops, Mack Brown and Mike Leach ASAP.

Okay, so this probably won’t last forever. But it’s undeniable that we haven’t seen these three charter members of the Big 12 all look simultaneously as good as they do right now in quite some time. And let’s take some extra time to dissect the latter two, who haven’t exactly been relevant in the league in recent seasons.

Texas, at 3-1, is ranked No. 18 in the AP Top 25 poll and is coming off back-to-back wins over ranked opponents. The last time the Longhorns strung together wins over top-25 teams? 2008, when Bevo knocked off No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 11 Missouri and No. 7 Oklahoma State in succession. And it’s the best start for Texas through four games since starting off 4-0 in 2012.

Venture west to the plains of Lubbock. Sure, the Red Raiders got off to a 3-1 start last year and attained at No. 24 ranking at 4-1. Except there was no freshman quarterback consistently leading Texas Tech to offensive outbursts of at least 44 points through three starts, as Alan Bowman has done thus far.

More telling, perhaps, was that Saturday’s blowout win over Oklahoma State marked the Red Raiders’ first win over a ranked opponent since 2013 — a year which Texas Tech rocketed off to a 7-0 start before losing 5 straight games. And a Top 25 win on the road? That hadn’t happened since Nebraska was still part of the Big 12, as the Red Raiders defeated the No. 21 Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Neb. in October 2009.

Dare we say that Texas and Texas Tech are back? You be the judge. Needless to say, we haven’t seen a simultaneous start like this in quite some time for the two teams that call the Lone Star State home.

A pro QB playing college football?

That might just be the perfect description for Will Grier, as the Washington Post put it on Tuesday.

The West Virginia quarterback and Heisman Trophy hopeful has been all that he was advertised to be through three games on the year — back from a finger injury that cut his 2017 season several games short. He’s already reached 1,117 passing yards and 14 touchdown passes on the season opposed to three interceptions, highlighted by 429 yards vs. Tennessee in Week 1.

But make no mistake about it. Grier isn’t your normal college kid. He’s a 23-year-old, married and with a daughter who will turn two-years-old by the end of the season. Truth is, the redshirt senior is a young adult who is putting on a Mountaineers uniform on Saturdays. Even head coach Dana Holgorsen isn’t afraid to admit that.

“He’s mature, he’s grounded, he’s comfortable with where he’s at. … He’s a professional that’s in college.”

And at the end of the day, that might just be enough to make West Virginia a true contender for the Big 12 title and more this season after six years of falling short in the league. The Mountaineers get arguably their biggest hurdle left — Oklahoma — on home turf too, so watch out. It could finally be their time to shine.