By CLIFF BRUNT AP Sports Writer
It took one week for the Big 12 to bring just a little more strangeness to the year 2020.
Five-time defending conference champion Oklahoma opened league play with a shocking home loss to Kansas State, perhaps opening the door for another program to finally to step in and claim the title.
Iowa State, a rising program, can put Oklahoma’s season on the ropes Saturday when the Cyclones host the Sooners. Iowa State has been a thorn in Oklahoma’s side in recent years, beating the Sooners in 2017 and losing to them by a point in 2019.
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell recognizes the great opportunity his Cyclones have, but knows the Sooners and dynamic freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler are dangerous.
“I think the early part of the college football season is going to be a little bit chaotic,” Campbell said. “But at the end of the day, it still comes down to really talented players and really good players. And I think that’s one of the things you know about OU. Not only are they going to have super talented players, but they’re really well-coached — offensively, defensively, special teams. And it’s why they’ve had the success that they’ve had.”
Iowa State put itself in a good position by opening its league slate with a 37-34 win at TCU.
Texas, with quarterback Sam Ehlinger, appears to have a chance to dethrone the Sooners. But the Longhorns barely escaped against Texas Tech last Saturday, overcoming a 15-point deficit in the last three minutes of regulation before winning 63-56 in overtime.
Baylor opened Big 12 play last Saturday with a 47-14 win over Kansas after having non-conference games against Louisiana Tech and Houston called off. The uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and the competitiveness of the conference should add extra excitement this fall.
“I think all of those things will lend itself to a very wild and possibly uncharted season,” first-year Baylor coach Dave Aranda said. “Looking at it for us, controlling what we can control, taking care of little things off the field now more than ever has as much to do with any success on the field.”
Oklahoma is in familiar territory. The Sooners lost to Texas in 2015, Iowa State in 2017, Texas in 2018 and Kansas State in 2019 and still won the league each year.
But this loss felt different. Kansas State was a 28-point underdog, had lost its opener to Arkansas State and had its roster depleted by COVID-19. After the loss, the Sooners fell from No 3 to No. 18 in the AP poll.
The Sooners haven’t given up on the season yet.
“We’re very disappointed, but the resolve is very strong,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said after the game. “We know how to respond to a loss around here, and we’ll do it, and it’s going to take every single one of us.”
The Wildcats tried not to make too big a deal of their second straight win over the Sooners, but they will take extra confidence into Saturday’s home game against Texas Tech.
“It’s one game,” Kansas State coach Chris Klieman said. “That’s all it is. It’s a great win and all those things and stuff, but it’s just one win.”
Oklahoma State started conference play with a 27-13 win over West Virginia. But with all the uncertainty, it’s hard for anyone to look too far ahead.
“It’s just an unusual year that is different than it ever has been so the guys have to find a way to win the football game and make enough plays,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “We have to keep coaching simplicity with high reps and put the players in a position to win football games.”