The regular season has unfortunately come to a close. The 2023 season was surely one to remember. The Oklahoma State Cowboys, who just clinched a Conference Championship appearance, began the season 2-2 with a loss to the South Alabama Jaguars. The other potential Conference Champion, the Texas Longhorns, came out strong and defeated Alabama in week two. Four weeks later, the Longhorns succumbed to their northern rival, the Oklahoma Sooners. As for the rest of the conference, every victory was well-earned and the moniker “any given [Saturday]” proved to be true. In this last Big 12 Recap article, we’ll discuss each Big 12 result and briefly sum up each squad’s season.
Texas Tech 7, #7 Texas 57
Now here’s a result not many of us saw coming. The Longhorns, on the brink of the Big 12 Championship game, bludgeoned the Red Raiders by 50 points. Despite scoring 57 points, the defense stole the show. The Texas pass rush completely overwhelmed Texas Tech quarterback Behren Morton. Morton was only sacked twice but was pestered all night long by the Longhorn defensive front. The Tech quarterback only managed 88 yards through the air on 36 attempts. Longhorn defenders picked off Morton three times, returning one for a touchdown. The Red Raiders’ best offensive player, running back Tahj Brooks, accumulated 95 yards on the ground. His worst performance in conference play. The star back did catch four passes but gained a paltry two yards on those four receptions.
This game was all about the Texas defense, even so much so that quarterback Quinn Ewers didn’t surpass the 200-yard mark. He finished with a pedestrian 196 yards, with a touchdown and an interception on the day. Five-star recruit Arch Manning received his first in-game action of the season. Manning entered the game in the third quarter and even led a touchdown drive before the game ended. While the passing game was nothing to gawk at, the ground game put on a show. Four Longhorns totaled more than 45 yards on the ground, in turn to a 300-yard rushing performance.
Although the Red Raiders started the season awfully slow, they managed to win six games and become bowl-eligible with a 6-6 record. Conversely, Texas started off hot, especially after defeating Alabama in week two. However, a loss to Oklahoma put Texas’ College Football Playoff hopes in jeopardy. Nonetheless, Texas takes on the Oklahoma State Cowboys at 11:00 a.m. CT on December 2.
Iowa State 42, #19 Kansas State 35
The surprise of the Big 12, Iowa State, capped off an impressive season with a win in Manhattan. During the snow-filled affair, the Cyclones leaned on chunk plays to come away victorious. Iowa State only possessed the ball for 18 minutes and ran just 35 plays. The Cyclones certainly made the most of their possessions. Quarterback Rocco Becht only completed eight passes, yet he totaled 230 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Jaylin Noel caught three of Becht’s passes for 160 yards and two scores. Perhaps the wildest night of all, running back Abu Sama III gashed the Wildcat defense for 276 yards and three scores. Sama III only ran the ball 16 times. He averaged an absurd 17.3 yards per rush.
Kansas State played an entirely different ball game. The Wildcats longest pass went for 44 yards and their longest rush happened to be 15. Longtime quarterback Will Howard amassed 288 passing yards in the ball game. The veteran QB is likely to have played his last down in Manhattan, as he entered his name in the transfer portal this past Monday. Alongside Howard, running back Treshaun Ward also entered the portal. He ran for 48 yards and a score in his final game for the Wildcats. It’s likely the Wildcats will lean on freshman phenom Avery Johnson at quarterback and sophomore star DJ Giddens at running back going forward. Giddens led the Wildcats with 114 rushing yards in the final game of the regular season.
The Cyclones dealt with much adversity to reach the 7-win mark. A gambling scandal marred the Cyclones offseason, yet the team persevered to finish fifth in the Big 12. As for the Wildcats, a top finish was expected for Kansas State. And while the Wildcats won eight games, more was expected from this ballclub.
BYU 34, #20 Oklahoma State 40
C’mon Cowboys, it took double overtime to knock off the BYU Cougars in Stillwater. Really? With a Big 12 Championship appearance on the line, the Cowboys withstood all they could manage from the Cougars. And it took Ollie Gordon II putting the team on his back to win the final game of the regular season. The superstar back ran 34 times for 166 yards and five scores. This contest put Gordon II’s rushing total to 1,580 yards on the season. As of now, Gordon II holds the record for the ninth most yards in a season for the Cowboys. Catching Barry Sanders' record of 2,850 is highly unlikely, but Gordon II does have a realistic shot at Chubba Hubbard’s second-place 2,094 mark set in 2019.
If not for Gordon II’s heroics, this ballgame would’ve ended differently. At halftime, BYU led 24-6. And no, Oklahoma State hadn’t scored a first-half touchdown. The only Oklahoma State scoring in the first half occurred on a pair of field goals. Oklahoma State quarterback Alan Bowman threw for 321 yards but tossed two interceptions in the contest. Both interceptions were made by BYU’s Eddie Heckard, who returned one for a score. BYU almost came away victorious thanks to an opportunistic defense and gritting offense. Nevertheless, the offense completely stalled in the second half, allowing the Cowboys to come back.
The Cowboys have a huge opportunity to knock off the Longhorns this upcoming weekend. A tenth win on Saturday would mark the eighth time in Gundy’s tenure reaching double-digit wins. Oklahoma State began the season on a sour note, but looked the part as the season progressed, riding on Gordon II down the stretch. Opposite the Cowboys, BYU faltered down the stretch. After a 5-2 start, the Cougars finished the season losing five straight.
Houston 13, UCF 27
Bowl eligibility, check. The Golden Knights knocked off the Houston Cougars by two scores to become bowl-eligible in their first season in the Big 12. UCF will now go bowling for the eighth season in a row. UCF’s potent offense powered them through this affair and the grueling conference schedule. The Knights totaled 476 yards against Houston. Accumulating 253 through the air and 223 on the ground. Running back RJ Harvey capped off a tremendous season with a 136-yard, two-touchdown performance against Houston. Behind Harvey and quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, UCF appeared to be a well-oiled machine. Plumlee added 58 yards on the ground, also dicing up the Cougar defense through the air. The dual-threat quarterback completed 23-of-27 passes for 253 yards and a score.
An up-and-down season finally came to an end for the Cougars. Against UCF, Houston actually led at one point, 10-6 after the first quarter. However, the lead was short-lived, as UCF scored after two minutes in the second, then again and again in the third quarter. Houston only managed 259 yards of total offense. Head coach Dana Holgorsen was fired just a few days after the season’s end. Despite being known for his incredible offenses, Houston ranked third-to-last in total offense and points in the Big 12 this season. The Cougars missed out on bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2020 season.
West Virginia 34, Baylor 31
Earlier, Iowa State was deemed the surprise of the Big 12. But West Virginia truly takes the cake. The Mountaineers were projected to finish last in the conference in the preseason. But West Virginia found a way. The Mountaineers lost their opener to Penn State. Next, West Virginia went on to knock off Pitt, Texas Tech, and TCU in a matter of weeks. A last-second loss to Houston stopped the Mountaineers from a potential double-digit win season. Against Baylor, West Virginia almost stumbled. Down four with a little over a minute left, quarterback Garrett Greene led the Mountaineers on a six-play, 50-second drive to take the lead late in the fourth. Greene completed four passes and totaled 17 rushing yards on the drive. On the day, Greene racked up 372 total yards and four touchdowns.
As for the Bears, a bottom-of-the-barrel finish was unexpected. Baylor was picked as a middling Big 12 squad, yet completely underperformed. The Bears lacked an identity this season. The same identity present in the 2021 12-2 squad under head coach Dave Aranda vanished just two seasons later. In this contest, special teams stood out. Richard Reese returned two kickoffs for touchdowns to keep the Bears close in the first half. The offense and defense both played poorly before turning it on in the second half. Two third-quarter touchdowns and a fourth-quarter field goal put Baylor ahead of West Virginia before Greene’s late-game heroics sealed the deal.
Kansas 49, Cincinnati 16
Oh, what could have been. The Jayhawks went on to win eight games, but one has to wonder how the season would have turned out if Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year, Jalon Daniels, played down the stretch of the season. The Jayhawks started the year 4-0 before a dismantling occurred at the hands of the Texas Longhorns. After the loss to Texas, and without Daniels, the Jayhawks finished the season with an 8-4 record. Luckily for the Jayhawks, backup quarterback Jason Bean filled in admirably. Against the Bearcats, he amassed 340 total yards and four scores. Sans Daniels, running back Devin Neal was the MVP of the Jayhawks offense. The star runner gained 1,209 yards and 15 scores on the ground this season. Against the Bearcats, it took him only 10 rushes to gain 106 yards and reach pay dirt twice.
Cincinnati entered the season with low expectations and didn't do much to prove otherwise. The Bearcats finished the season 3-9, with a 1-8 record in Big 12 play. Cincinnati hasn’t had such a poor showing since the 1990s. Even though the offense and defense both played good football throughout the season, a lack of consistency hurt the Bearcats. Starting with the quarterback spot, Emory Jones had his moments but was benched on multiple occasions throughout the year. As for the defense, Cincinnati allowed the best offense in the Big 12 to 20 points but also allowed the Cowboys, Mountaineers, and Jayhawks to score 40 or more on separate occasions. Just a few years removed from the College Football Playoff, the Bearcats have a lot of ground to make up before next season.