As the Big XII heads into its seventh season, its early days are beginning to fade into memory a little bit. Only two of the Big XII coaches from the 2013 season remain at their jobs. The Big XII Network wasn't around back then--nor were its predecessors: Press Coverage Magazine and the All-American News Network. One of the aspects of the Big XII that I've enjoyed the most here is that there's a lot of history behind this conference; there's a lot of great players who have passed through, a lot of great games that have been played, and a lot of great teams and coaches who have taken the field. With that in mind and a double bye week in progress, this is a good time to walk back through that history and get a sense of where the nation's most exciting conference has been--as well as where it's going.
We'll start at the beginning: the 2013 season.
ChicagoTed1, DollaBill, DangerZoneh, winmachine, Brian Brown, Trace Buchanan, Robert Price, J.J. Hammond, Otis Turner, Jacoby Seaverns, Sean Burton, Booker T. Washington, Earl Jackson, R.C. Rone, Alex Engram, Ray Lee Coia, John Jones, Sterling Brown, Shaun Evans, Gary Baldacci, Rob Evans, Todd Sykes, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Boise State, Houston, Rice, UCF, and the Big XII Conference as a whole.
For the uninitiated, you'll notice that the Big XII was not always composed of the same ten members it contains today. Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State had not established football programs yet, so Boise State, Rice, Houston, and UCF would fill in the gap until their move to the American Athletic Conference following the 2013 season. Houston and Rice would combine for 2 wins, but Brian Brown-led Boise State and Trace Buchanan-led UCF saw significant success. There were no divisions, and to make the schedule work there were cases where teams played each other twice during the season or played differing numbers of conference games.
The preseason power poll (which did not include late-arriving Boise State) with week 1 coaches' poll rankings:
#6 Oklahoma (276 points) #13 Texas (269.7 points) (RV) West Virginia (242.8 points) Texas Tech (239.8 points) Oklahoma State (235.9 points) UCF (185.2 points) TCU (180.5 points) Rice (153.0 points) Houston (148.0 points)
THE OKLAHOMA ASCENDANCY
Oklahoma began as the Big XII favorite, and they consolidated that status early on--partially through their own work, and partially through the falls of others (but we'll talk about Texas later). Led by Robert Price, JJ Hammond, and Otis Turner on offense, the Sooners rolled up a conference-best 35.4 points per game on their opponents. Led by Jacoby Seaverns, Sean Burton, and Joe Johnson on defense, they limited foes to 17.2 points per game. They managed that kind of scoring defense despite a giving up 49 points in their opener against UCLA (a game they won 52-49, as a matter of fact). They'd hold six opponents to 7 points or fewer for the remainder of the season (plus two more to 17 points). They rushed out to a 4-0 start with the UCLA shootout and triple blowouts over Louisville, California, and Oregon. Those wins would carry them to #1 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll--but they wouldn't stay there long.
Week 6 came, and with it was a marquee matchup in Tallahassee. Preseason #1 and current #6 Florida State would play host to preseason #6 and current #1 Oklahoma. Robert Price's 302 yards and 3 touchdown passes kept Oklahoma in the game, but it wasn't enough to overcome the combined efforts of Christian Skaggs (22-35 for 263 yards, 1 TD) and Tony Peaks (17 for 167 yards, 1 TD)--nor was it enough to overcome Price's two interceptions. (This, by the way, would be the beginning of "Big Game Bob" Price.) Florida State came out with the 23-21 win, but Oklahoma would bounce back. They'd slide past West Virginia on a late JJ Hammond touchdown run, then crush Houston before heading to Texas. With the #5 ranking in hand, this was the Sooners' chance to re-establish themselves in the national title race.
So how exactly did Texas manage to ruin Oklahoma's run?
DOLLA DOLLA BILL Y'ALL
Texas began the season with a brutal road trip. Under head coach robbie033, the Longhorns sputtered out to an 0-3 start at Tennessee, at Florida, and at Nebraska. After the 42-38 husking, the Longhorns decided it was time to look for a new coach. They settled on a quiet, unassuming man named DollaBill--who despite his nature would become one of the most famous and infamous coaches in the nation. Why infamous? You'll have to wait a couple days to find out. Why famous? Because he won. A lot. His debut was a 42-0 stomping of TCU. Follow that up with a 28-23 win in Boise on a 57-yard airstrike from John Jones to Dan Nomellini, and Texas had some momentum. Add on a win over West Virginia, and all of a sudden Texas was looking like its preseason self. They'd clambered back into the polls at #19 by week 7, and after executing TCU (again) and Oklahoma State, it was time for the annual Red River Shootout.
Sterling Brown was in the midst of what would become a Doak Walker season. But Oklahoma came prepared for him. He toted the rock 30 times and came out with just 105 yards--3.5 yards per carry, for those of you keeping score at home. John Jones made up for part of the difference with 164 yards and a touchdown pass. But the real MVP was the Texas defense as a whole. When a Jacoby Seaverns strip gave Oklahoma the ball in strong field position, the Longhorns held the Sooners to a field goal. When the Sooners were threatening to score in the second quarter, they were held to a field goal. As Big Game Bob Price was slinging the ball all over the field, Texas was able to force enough errant throws to kill drive after drive. And one of those errant throws found its way into Gordon Moreland's hands, setting up Sterling Brown's go-ahead touchdown run that gave Texas the lead for good. The Longhorns would yield only another field goal and take the first Red River Shootout by a 20-16 margin.
Texas would not lose another game that season, knocking off Texas Tech (more on that later) and Houston before turning on the jets and crushing Arkansas, blasting UCF in the conference championship game, and edging Washington in the Cotton Bowl. After taking over an 0-3 team, DollaBill had won 11 straight to close the year--it was no wonder that he'd be named Coach of the Year. Of course, this is more like the third act in a five-act play for his arc, but we'll save that for later in this series.
WINMACHINE AND THE RANT TO END ALL RANTS
It was unclear what set off the feud between Texas Tech coach winmachine and Texas coach DollaBill in the week between Texas's week 9 Red River triumph and their home matchup with the Red Raiders in week 10. It's been suggested that winmachine took exception to a leaked comment comparing Texas Tech's talent to pop singer Rebecca Black, and it's been noted that winmachine can be...a bit hot under the collar, to put it diplomatically. What ensued was the rant to end all rants, in which the Red Raider coach denigrated the quality of Texas's wins, derided the Red River Shootout's neutral-site status, referred to DollaBill as an "overprivileged trust fund sack of dog s---," took random potshots at West Virginia fans, and promised a win over Texas with DJ Khaled's "All I Do Is Win" playing in the background.
And they darn near got that win.
Once again, Sterling Brown was off--this time, amassing 69 yards on 25 carries. Texas Tech's defense was punishing Texas up front, and the offense was finding ways to score. Texas Tech would lead 10-0 at halftime thanks to a Joe Lang touchdown pass and an Erik Senser field goal. In the second half, however, John Jones would put the team on his back. With a touchdown pass to Dan Nomellini, he got the Longhorns on the board. Down 13-7 with under 5 minutes to play, he would find Kevin Knight for a 32-yard strike to give Texas the lead. The defense took care of it from there, preventing Texas Tech from even finding field goal range for the remainder of the game to preserve the 14-13 win. Perhaps the failure to deliver after such a provocative rant had evaporated any goodwill he'd earned in the athletic department. Winmachine was fired from Texas Tech a month later.
BB AND THE ACE
MVP and Super Bowl champion Brian Brown's legendary career began as a member of the Big XII. At the helm of the Boise State Broncos, Brown actually got off to kind of a rocky start. He had an 11-43, 86-yard game in a loss to TCU, surrounded by a pair of games in which he was under 200 yards and under 6 yards per attempt. He started to put things together against Texas (but was outdueled by John Jones, of all people), and really came into his own against fellow future AAC members Houston, Rice, and UCF. Brown completed 90% of his passes in the 31-3 win over Houston and threw for 5 touchdown passes against UCF. In between those two games was his gem of gems: 38-42 for 605 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions in a 70-0 win against hapless Rice. The yardage, touchdowns, and 90.48% completion percentage would stand as Big XII records until Brad Davis broke them in 2018. No Big XII team has topped Boise's 70-point margin of victory. Brown's heroics weren't done yet. He'd throw for 3 touchdown passes to lead Boise State over Oklahoma in overtime in his final in-conference game (defeating Big Game Bob Price's 4 touchdowns to 3 interceptions), and he'd finish his Big XII career with 415 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions to turn a 17-0 deficit into a 36-17 victory in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl over Reggie Watkins, Bobby Givan, and the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Trace "The Ace" Buchanan's post-Big XII career was...somewhat less heralded than Brian Brown's. But his 2013 season was legendary on its own merits. Buchanan set the Big XII single-season records for carries (475) and rushing yards (2339) that still stand today. UCF had a rough start to the year, falling to 1-5 after taking wallopings at the hands of Michigan, USC, and Georgia Tech along with closer losses to Boise State and Ohio State. But they closed the regular season on a tear. They blanked Rice 27-0, and Buchanan single-handedly delivered the Knights a win over TCU thanks to one of the greatest single-game rushing performances we've seen: 38 carries for 296 yards, and 6 touchdowns--the last of which also stands as a Big XII record to this day. Remember Brian Brown's 600-yard game against Rice? Because of Buchanan's effort against TCU, Brown didn't even win player of the week for that week. Brown would settle it on the field with a second win over UCF a week later, but outside of that the Knights would not drop another conference game. They finished 6-6 overall, but with a 6-2 record in conference play they would qualify for the Big XII title game. The magical run would come to an end with losses to Texas and a second-half collapse against UCLA in the Fiesta Bowl. But given that they were picked to finish 6th in the preseason power poll? I'd say UCF aced that season.
Brian Brown, Trace Buchanan, Boise State, Rice, Houston, UCF, J.J. Hammond, R.C. Rone, Dan Nomellini, and winmachine.