The warmups are over. Starting Saturday, Sept. 12, Power Five football returns to your televisions with the Big 12 playing a series of nonconference games before jumping into conference play on Sept. 26. Just eight of the league’s 10 teams will be taking the field, with TCU and Oklahoma State postponing their games against SMU and Tulsa, respectively, due to COVID-19 issues.
These may be the first disruptions of the season for the Big 12, but they certainly won’t be the last. Now we know, though, what the threshold will be for teams giving football a go. The conference announced on Friday that at least 53 players, including walk-ons, would have to be available for a team to play. Additionally, the conference established player minimums for specific position groups. Teams will be required to have at least seven available offensive linemen, four available interior defensive linemen and one quarterback. As long as a team has at least 53 players, it has the option to play even if it cannot field the required number of players at a certain position. If the team opts not to play, the game will be declared a “no contest” and rescheduled, if possible.
The Big 12 is the first conference to announce such game-day minimums, which will be dictated by three tests per week, including a rapid result antigen test administered on the Friday before a game.
It’s clear the Big 12 is trying to make the best of a bad situation instead of waiting for better days. To wit, I truly believe, whether a conference decided to play football or not, everyone was just trying to do what they thought was right. Or, at the very least, trying not to do the wrong thing. Yes, universities across the country have nefariously allowed students back on campus while also weighing the safety and feasibility of playing fall sports, but that’s a bigger topic for another day.
For football, there may not be a true “right” answer and COVID-19 might still be a thing come fall 2021.
If adjusting to a new normal is the M.O., establishing clear protocols is one way to push forward — but so is releasing your medical findings. In an interview with ESPN last month, Bowlsby touted the information he and the conference’s presidents received from their medical advisory group.
“For the most part I have better information and my presidents have better information than most of our friends in the fourth estate,” Bowlsby said. “Reasonable people can disagree on it. The Pac-12 and the Big Ten are seeing much of the same information that we’re seeing. But our board believes in our scientists and has come to a conclusion that is different and so have the leadership of the SEC and the ACC.”
Fine, but if Bowlsby is going to tease that “better information,” the Big 12 needs to be transparent about it in the way the Pac-12 was with its decision to cancel fall football. Why hasn’t Bowlsby received more pushback on this? Probably because the Big 12 decided to play.
So back to the 53-man roster. Hopefully it never gets to that point for anyone. Hopefully we can play a full season that’s safe for everyone, not just players, though I have my reservations. If the Big 12 feels you only need about half your team to compete and that the other half will either recover without long-term health complications or not have had it at all, that’s its call. Presidents and chancellors are the ones dealing with liability. But beyond the normal depth chart concerns — rest assured, those are very real for coaches — there’s also this: if half of a team is missing because of an outbreak, maybe the two-deep isn’t the biggest problem.
Three things to watch for
Spencer Rattler’s first start for Oklahoma: It’s Missouri State, so it would be a bigger deal if Ratter wasn’t exceptional in his first start as the Sooners quarterback. Still, it’ll be exciting to see what the former five-star has in store. There’s no denying Rattler has all the gifts to be Oklahoma’s next great signal caller and coach Lincoln Riley has earned every accolade and moniker for his ability to reload year after year. This could be another special year if Rattler performs as advertised.
Tarik Black makes his Texas debut: There had been rumblings for a while that Michigan transfer Tarik Black was going to make a splash with the Longhorns. He’s done just that, being named the starter at the “X” spot over Brennan Eagles. Black just couldn’t stay healthy at Michigan but was impressive when he was on the field. With Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson gone, the Longhorns need a new WR1 for Sam Ehlinger. Black could finally put it all together and be that guy.
The Dave Aranda era* at Baylor begins: After major coaching turnover following the 2018 season, the Big 12 is breaking in just one new coach this year: Baylor’s Dave Aranda. He comes with an impressive resume and, though just 43 years old, is ready to take that next step. He inherits a decent situation at Baylor with a quality quarterback (Charlie Brewer) and weapons around him. How the Bears replace their nine starters on defense will be something to watch, especially along the D-line, though there are plenty of upperclassmen ready to step in.
*Baylor’s game against Louisiana Tech was postponed due to COVID-19 after this article was published
Ranking the most appealing games
- Louisiana at No. 23 Iowa State, noon ET, ESPN: I’m not ready to call an upset here, but there’s potential for “extremely taped-together football game in a pandemic that results in the favorite getting more than they bargained for.” Louisiana has quietly been really good under coach Billy Napier and held their own against Mississippi State last year. The Ragin’ Cajuns return a lot of starters and contributors off of a team that won 11 games a year ago. With quarterback Brock Purdy, Iowa State is probably fine, but this could get interesting if the Cyclones get off to a slow start.
- Arkansas State at Kansas State, 3:30 p.m. ET, FOX: Yeah, so the nonconference portion of the Big 12 slate isn’t great. That’s pandemic life for you. But Arkansas State is decent and gave Memphis a game for about a half in Week 1. Kansas State returns just three starters on offense, though quarterback Skylar Thompson is one of them. The line is hovering at -10 in favor of the Wildcats, per William Hill Sportsbook.
- Louisiana Tech at Baylor, noon ET, FOX (Postponed): The line is much bigger for this game — the Bears are an 18.5-point favorite — but it’s still Aranda’s debut, so it’s worth checking out. The Bulldogs could be a problem, but they have to replace quarterback J’Mar Smith, star cornerback Amik Robertson, and lots of bodies in the trenches.