Newcomers BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are floundering early in the Big 12

Tue, Oct 17, 2023

Newcomers BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are floundering early in the Big 12

The new kids in the Big 12 couldn't bring past success with them.

Cincinnati went to the College Football Playoff in 2021. BYU won 10 games twice in the past three years. Houston is two years removed from a 12-win season. UCF had at least nine victories in five of the last six seasons, including a 13-0 run in 2017.

They are all floundering midway through their debut Big 12 seasons. Cincinnati, Houston and UCF, which came over from the American Athletic Conference, and former independent BYU are a combined 2-10 in league games (and one of those matched two of the newcomers).

"The fun in what we do is in winning," UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee said. "There's no secret about that. If somebody tries to make you feel better with a participation trophy, I think they're a little bit silly."

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UCF and Cincinnati are tied for last place at 0-3, while BYU and Houston are 1-2. There are many reasons for their struggles. Teams are bad on one if not both sides of the ball. Some are turnover prone or wilting down the stretch of games.

The expectation of playing in the Big 12 is "pretty much what I thought it would be," said UCF coach Gus Malzahn, a former head coach at Auburn (SEC).

Gaining some footing in the standings might have to wait a week. UCF will face former Golden Knights QB Dillon Gabriel when it plays at No. 6 Oklahoma on Saturday. Houston hosts No. 8 Texas, while BYU welcomes Texas Tech and Cincinnati hosts Baylor.

UCF (3-3) has 10 turnovers on offense, and its defense is allowing a Big 12-worst 197 rushing yards per game. The Golden Knights couldn't hold a 35-7 lead in the third quarter in a loss to Baylor, then allowed the first 31 points of the game the following week at Kansas, which amassed 399 rushing yards.

"I believe we'll be able to compete with every team in our league," Malzahn said. "But we've got to - and really it starts with me as the head coach - get our guys prepared to finish games."

Dana Holgorsen is shepherding his second school into the Big 12. He was West Virginia's coach for its first seven seasons in the league before taking over at Houston in 2019. The Cougars (3-3) have the Big 12's worst defense and Holgorsen has talked repeatedly about his team wearing down late.

Houston didn't score in the second half of blowout losses to TCU and Texas Tech. The Cougars then earned the first win by one of the expansion schools over a league veteran, beating West Virginia on a last-second Hail Mary TD pass last week after the Mountaineers had scored a go-ahead touchdown with 12 seconds left.

"I talked about blocking and tackling and playing all four quarters," Holgorsen said. "Well, we played all four quarters. It's good to get that first Big 12 win. It's a step in the right direction."

Cincinnati (2-4) has lost four straight. The Bearcats have the league's third-best defense but are stalling out on the other side of the ball. Quarterback Emory Jones, who accounted for seven touchdowns in the season opener, has thrown for more interceptions than TDs since.

"I feel like when you're in slumps like this, sometimes some people get discouraged," Jones said. "The confidence level is starting to go down right now on the team. We've still got six games left. We've got to stay positive and just get better, just improve every single week."

BYU (4-2) started the season with three nonconference wins before falling flat. The Cougars' running game ranks 129th among Bowl Subdivision teams.

While BYU is going through a rough stretch, coach Kalani Sitake uses TCU as an example of turning a hardship into a positive. After a knee injury sidelined TCU starting quarterback Chandler Morris, his replacement, redshirt freshman Josh Hoover, threw for 439 yards and four touchdowns in his first career start in a blowout win Saturday over BYU.

"Even though that happened and we find ourselves in a difficult position right now, I know that adversity will get us to the right spot," Sitake said. "It created a spark for TCU and I imagine that they're going to keep this momentum rolling. And what we need to do is find the same spark and have the same type of urgency that they did this last week."

The newcomers all are coming off recent bye weeks, giving them extra time to make adjustments for the start of the final six weeks of the season.

"I'm excited about the second half. I still think we have a good team," Malzahn said. "We just need to play good football and I think we're ready to do that."


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