Upsets were at a premium during the opening week of college football season. No unranked team was able to step up and knock off one of the preseason Top 25.
But a couple of the favorites to play in the first College Football Playoff sure got a scare.
With 9 minutes to go in the inaugural Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, a West Virginia team that was 4-8 a year ago and picked to finish eighth in the 10-team Big 12 Conference was within a touchdown of tying national No. 2 Alabama, one of the favorites in the Southeastern Conference, which was a 26-point favorite in the contest.
Just a few hours later, Oklahoma State had fans of defending national champion and top-ranked Florida State biting their nails in the Cowboys Classic. The Cowboys were supposed to have a rebuilding year after losing more players than anybody in the Big 12, but they lost by only a touchdown and had chances to win the game.
While the country raised its eyebrows and asked what was wrong with the “Big Boys,” the coaches around the Big 12 watched with sheepish grins, not surprised at all with the results.
“I don’t think that anybody who is involved with the Big 12 finds that a big surprise,” said Kansas coach Charlie Weis, who has coached in the SEC, at Notre Dame and in the NFL. “People in other parts of the country think it is a big surprise, but we all know this is a loaded league. You can’t underestimate any competitors in this league.”
WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen completely agreed with his colleague. During Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference, the fourth-year coach said his team never imagined not being able to compete with the Crimson Tide.
“We felt like we could play with those guys and went into the game in a good frame of mind, as far as expecting that was going to happen, and it did,” said Holgorsen. “There was a good opportunity for both (WVU and his former team, Oklahoma State). Both had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter but came up a little bit short.
“As far as the state of the Big 12, it hasn’t changed my opinion on it one way or another. I’ve been a part of this conference for about 15 years and see the health of the conference as good as it ever has been. I think we’ve got a bunch of teams that will be able to compete on a national level, regardless of who we play.”
Holgorsen agreed that there’s a national perception that the athletes in the SEC are on a different level than anybody else, but he said his experience tells him something different.
“I think the skill in the Big 12 is as good as any skill that exists in college football,” he said. “A lot has been said in the past from the quarterback position, the receiver position and the running back position — the defensive back position. I think we have a couple of the better defensive backs in the country at this point. So the skill is as good as anywhere, and the conference is as good as anywhere. We’ve all said that as coaches, and I think the more we play on a national level, the more people will realize that.”
The next step, said the head Mountaineer, is making sure his team stays at that level and takes advantage of the other opportunities ahead this season.
“It can turn into confidence and it can turn into a positive if we can improve and we can build on the good things that we did, and fix the bad things that we did,” he said of the near upset of the Tide. “We played pretty well. We just didn’t play very good in critical situations. That was a problem for us last year on both sides of the ball.
“Critical situations are hard. Good teams are good in critical situations. That’s why Alabama has won a whole bunch of games. We’ve got to be able to get better at that and be able to build on it. If we do, then I think our confidence will continue to build and our team will continue to improve.”
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