For only the third time in the last five seasons and the first time in two years, every school in the Big 12 Conference won a football game in the same week. Granted, the conference size is two fewer than it was in the past 15 seasons, but it still is extremely rare for the conference to experience a perfect week of play without a single team losing.
A year ago, for example, the opening week of play produced an 11-1 record, with Kansas being the lone team to go down to defeat in a stunning 6-3 upset loss at home to Division II-A North Dakota State. Conference teams were a perfect 12-0 the second week of the 2008 season, but that is the only other time in the last five seasons that has happened.
Big 12 teams got off to a great start in the 2011 season this past weekend, led off by Baylor's thrilling come-from-behind 50-48 upset win over 14th-ranked TCU in front something you rarely see at Baylor's Floyd Casey Stadium: a capacity crowd. After junior quarterback Robert Griffin III's fifth touchdown pass of the game midway through the third quarter, Baylor had built a 47-23 lead over the Horned Frogs, who went undefeated in 2010 and finished No. 2 in the country in the final college polls.
TCU came storming back in the fourth quarter, however, scoring 25 points, and actually took a one-point lead late in the game. Baylor was able to rally late in the final period, putting together a drive that put the Bears in a position to kick a game-winning field goal. TCU had won 25 consecutive games and 11 consecutive road games before Friday's season-opening loss to its former Southwest Conference foe.
Texas, which suffered its worst season under coach Mack Brown a year ago, going 5-7 overall and just 2-6 in the Big 12, shook off a sluggish start before pulling away from Rice for a 34-9 win. Surprisingly, it was only the Longhorns' third win at home in the last eight games. Texas got a serviceable performance from junior QB Garrett Gilbert, who passed for 239 yards, including a touchdown pass to Jaxon Shipley, younger brother of the Longhorns' all-time leader in pass receptions, Jordan Shipley.
Even with the win, Texas does not look like the perennial football power of old. With new offensive and defensive coordinators, the Horns are going through the natural learning curve that occurs under new coaches. We'll learn more when Texas goes up against Brigham Young this weekend.
Texas A&M appears to be as good as advertised, having little trouble with SMU in another opening-week contest between former Southwest Conference opponents. A&M converted two SMU first-quarter interceptions into touchdowns for an early 14-0 lead. The Mustangs fought back to narrow the margin to 20-14 early in the second quarter, before Texas A&M rolled off 26 unanswered points to seal the 46-14 victory.
The No. 1-ranked team in the nation, the Oklahoma Sooners, made it 37 straight wins at home with a dominating 47-14 win over Tulsa. The Sooners were stopped on a three-and-out on their opening drive, but got their offense going after that, led by the outstanding performance of junior walk-on running back Dominique Whaley, who recorded four touchdowns on the night and ran for 131 yards on 18 carries. Ryan Broyles added 14 receptions for 158 yards, one shy of his single-game school record, and Heisman Trophy hopeful Landry Jones completed 35 of 47 passes for 375 yards and a touchdown.
The Sooners now have a week off to prepare for what might be their biggest game of the season, on the road against sixth-ranked Florida State, in their quest for an eighth national championship and their fifth appearance in the national title game, the most of any school in the BCS era.
Oklahoma State, ranked eighth in the USA Today coaches' poll to open the season, shook off some early-game jitters and got its high-powered offensive machine rolling, behind the dynamic pass-and-catch duo of QB Brandon Weeden and wide-receiver Justin Blackmon, to the tune of 666 total yards and a convincing 61-34 home victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. Weeden got off to a slow start but got it going again quickly, throwing for 388 yards on 24 out of 39 passing.
"Offensively, I thought we could have played better, Cowboys' head coach Mike Gundy said. "But I like it when we don't play as good and score 61."
Sophomore QB James Franklin made his debut at starting quarterback for Missouri and came out on the winning end of a hard-fought 17-6 win over Miami of Ohio, a ten-game winner a year ago out of the Mid-American Conference. Franklin, who completed 17 of 26 passing for 129 yards, gave himself a C-minus in grading his performance in his first game as the Mizzou starter. His head coach, Gary Pinkel, wasn't as down on his young QB as Franklin was on himself. "You grow from adversity," Pinkel said. "You don't like going through it, but you grow from it."
Kansas State and Kansas both posted opening-game wins. Kansas showed off some of the speed that coach Turner Gill has been promising. The Jayhawks jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead and put the game away with two fourth-quarter scores for a 42-24 win over Division II-A McNeese State, this avoiding the opening-game disappointment of a year ago against North Dakota State. KU QB Jordan Webb threw three touchdown passes and sophomore running back James Sims ran for 104 yards to lead all rushers in the game.
Kansas State QB Colin Klein threw a 37-yard scoring strike to Chris Harper with 1:39 left in the game to preserve a narrow 10-7 victory for the Wildcats over Eastern Kentucky on opening weekend. There was no scoring in the game until Eastern Kentucky broke through with a touchdown eight minutes into the third quarter. The Wildcats, who recorded the 150th win for coach Bill Snyder, got on the scoreboard with a field goal early in the final quarter before producing the decisive score late in the period.
In other Big 12 season-opening action, Texas Tech trailed Texas State 10-9 after one quarter, but the Red Raiders tallied the next 40 points to win easily, 50-10. Meanwhile, Iowa State punched in a touchdown with just 40 seconds to go in the game for a 20-19 win over in-state foe Northern Iowa.
In Week 2, Missouri is at Arizona State in a battle of top 25 teams, and Oklahoma State will host Arizona, coached by OU coach Bob Stoops' brother, Mike.
Five Things We Learned From Opening Weekend
Beware of Baylor. Everyone new Baylor had some offensive punch, but the Bears may pack an even better punch than everyone thought. The TCU defense has been one of the nation's best the past several years, and they are still good, despite the points put up by Bears QB Robert Griffin III and company. It just goes to prove how potent the Baylor offense is behind Griffin. Baylor is going to be a tough out for the best in the Big 12.
Kansas State has some work to do. The weather was not the best, but the Kansas State offense displayed some definite problems in the Cats' opening win over Eastern Kentucky. Wichita, Kan., native Bryce Brown, who transferred to Manhattan from the University of Tennessee and is considered by some to be the second coming of the graduated Daniel Thomas, carried the ball three times for a net 16 yards, including a critical fumble late in K-State territory that led to Eastern Kentucky's only score.
The jury is still out on Texas. The Longhorns' 34-9 win over Rice was not as impressive as the final score indicated. Statistically, the Longhorns dominated the game, but then this is Rice, a team that Texas regularly pounds seemingly every year. After three quarters, Texas still had not put away the pesky Rice squad, leading only 20-9. Texas should get better as the season goes on, once the Horns' get better acclimated to their new offensive and defensive coordinators. You can't have that much talent and not get better. But then, that's what we all thought last year, as well.
Oklahoma State's Weeden struggled a bit on Saturday. Brandon Weeden was four out of ten passing in the first quarter of Saturday night's game with Louisiana-Laffayette. The Senior QB, one of the best signal callers in the country last season, said he had some difficulty getting a feel for what the Ragin' Cajuns' defense was trying to do. He also threw three interceptions in the game, only the second time he had done that in his OSU career. To make matters worse, two of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns. Weeden has to be better if the Cowboys hope to match their 11 wins of last season.
Who is Dominique Whaley? Even a good number of the 85,000-plus fans who were on hand at Owen Field in Norman on Saturday were asking this question. No longer. The walk-on junior college transfer made his presence known early and often, recording four rushing touchdowns and 131 yards on the ground on 18 carries. The Sooners are loaded this season with talented running backs, and on Saturday night, Whaley was, by far, the best of them.