With all due respect to Baylor and West Virginia, the Big 12 Conference can start making other plans.
Expansion, maybe? Figuring out how to organize your championship game in 2017?
Unless there are dozens of Bizarro World results, the league can cross “College Football Playoff” off its to-do list.
The “Pac-12 After Dark” phenomenon caught up to No. 11 Texas. About three hours after No. 14 Oklahoma got scorched by Ohio State, the Longhorns couldn’t contain Cal’s passing game and lost to the Bears, 50-43.
The Texas loss leaves only Baylor and West Virginia as undefeated teams in the Big 12. If anyone reading this seriously believes either can make it to the first weekend of December as CFP contenders, then you need to take a break and go feed your pet unicorn.
Certainly, TCU, Texas, maybe Oklahoma State or Kansas State could possibly win out to finish with one loss. But those four teams’ losses have all come in nonconference play, which means that surviving the Big 12’s round robin with a 9-0 record is a long shot at best. In fact, it’s never happened in the five previous seasons of that format.
The Big 12 has no swag. Three weeks into the season, the Big 12 is 3-10 in games against teams from the Power Five, the American Athletic and the Mid-American conferences. For the rest of the season, Big 12 schools will be playing each other on the national side stage.
The Cal loss proved that the Texas rebirth is still a work in progress. The bandwagon got crowded after the Longhorns knocked off Notre Dame (which is now 1-2 after Saturday’s home loss to Michigan State) and UTEP. But a team with only 12 seniors on the roster bungled its first road trip.
While having a brand name like Texas return to the national conversation is important, placing the responsibility for carrying the Big 12 this season on the Longhorns is unfair and desperate. Against Cal, UT committed seven penalties; two offensive holding flags were daggers on two drives, and a questionable defensive holding call on third down kept a first-quarter Cal TD drive alive.
Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele, who was victim of a roughing the passer penalty on UT’s first series and was then hit hard later in the first quarter, left the field for the locker room. While he was absent, Tyrone Swoopes parked the 18 Wheeler and threw a pass that was high and intercepted.
Buechele returned but was far from effective, going 19-of-33 for 193 yards and one touchdown. Both quarterbacks’ interceptions were momentum changers.
The Longhorns had a 24-14 lead and had forced a Cal three-and-out when Swoopes was picked off. Five plays later the Bears were in the end zone to make it 24-21.
Late in the half, Texas blocked a punt for a safety to go up 33-28. The Longhorns were at their own 39 after the kickoff, but Buechele’s pass down the right sideline had too much air. It was picked off and returned for 45 yards. Two plays later, Cal had a 35-33 lead.
UT’s youth was exposed on defense, particularly its secondary. Unlike coach Charlie Strong’s first two seasons, the offense continues to be productive. The Longhorns had 307 yards rushing and 568 total yards on 90 plays.
Cal quarterback Davis Webb, a graduate transfer who spent three seasons at Texas Tech but never played against the Longhorns, made up for lost time by turning UT’s defensive backs every which way but loose. He was 27-of-40 for 397 yards and four touchdowns as the Bears totaled 507 yards on 80 plays.
Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bradford, who is sure to start getting a lot of heat from Orangeblood Nation, told the Longhorn Network: “I need to do a better job getting these guys ready to play to go out there and win ballgames the remainder of the season.”
Webb’s favorite target was wide receiver Chad Hansen. The FBS receiving leader coming into the game, Hansen further padded his numbers with 12 catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
His second scoring catch was the game-winner, a 12-yard slant where he easily beat the Texas defender.
That came with 3:45 remaining, but the Longhorns’ final possession was an ineffective three-and-out. Instead of trying to convert, Texas punted.
“We had two timeouts and we were hoping we could get a stop,” Strong said.
They did, but in the most bizarre of fashions. On a third-and-one, Cal’s Vic Enwere busted up the middle untouched for an apparent cap-it-off 55-yard touchdown run. However, he was apparently infected by the epidemic sweeping college football; he casually dropped the ball before crossing the line. The ball bounced into the end zone where a UT player picked it up about four seconds after Enwere dropped it.
The Big 12 officiating crew ruled that there was not an immediate recovery and gave Cal the ball at the 1-yard line. Webb twice kneeled to run out the clock. So, Texas got a stop, but not the one it wanted or needed.
If a team relies on opponents to prematurely celebrate touchdowns — and for replay crews to make favorable rulings — as a way of getting a defensive stop, something’s not quite right.
It’s the reality facing Texas. It’s also life in the Big 12, three weeks into a nightmarish college football season.