Patrick Mahomes and the Red Raiders were involved in several entertaining, high-scoring contests this season
The Big 12 was left out of the College Football Playoff for the second time this season but it was still a year filled with some incredible games around the conference and some even wilder finishes across the board. The league’s high-flying reputation lived up to the early billing with numerous defensive lapses giving way to some big plays down the field and even more incredible numbers week in and week out.
Among all those upsets, blowouts and hugely important shakeups, which ones were the best games? It’s hard to narrow things down of course, but here are the best 10 Big 12 games of the 2016 regular season and the five best non-conference contests involving a Big 12 school.
10 Best Big 12 Games of 2016 Regular Season
10. Texas 35, Baylor 34 — Oct. 29
This was the beginning of the end for Baylor as the Bears lost their first game of the season thanks to a Trent Domingue field goal with 46 seconds left as the Charlie Strong era remained on life support. D’Onta Foreman rushed for a career-high 250 yards and two scores while his twin brother Armanti did the same to the tune of 142 receiving yards and a touchdown through the air. Baylor thought it had held on for the win after stuffing a two-point conversion midway through the fourth quarter but the Bears couldn’t do anything on their next two series as the Longhorns rallied.
9. TCU 24, Kansas 23 — Oct. 8
The past few years since TCU joined the Big 12, the Horned Frogs have gotten into some unexpected struggles whenever they have played lowly Kansas. That was the case once again in 2016 as the Jayhawks led 23-14 at home in the fourth quarter and appeared to be on the doorstep of their first conference win in ages. TCU came storming back though with two late scoring drives, including one where QB Kenny Hill picked up his own fumble and ran 34 yards to set up a touchdown pass two plays later. KU unfortunately missed two field goal attempts in the final frame that could have won the game, but instead it was TCU’s Brandon Hatfield doing honors on a 34-yarder with less than 90 seconds remaining.
8. Baylor 45, Iowa State 42 — Oct. 1
This was our first sign that Baylor was probably in for a second-half slump as the Bears struggled all day to contain a surprisingly explosive Iowa State offense. The Cyclones took a 42-28 lead into the fourth quarter and needed just a handful of decent drives or defensive stops to hold on for a home win. The Bears would have none of that though, and ran off 17 points straight in the final quarter thanks to three 80-plus-yard drives. The last one set up a chip-shot field goal from 19 yards out as time expired to allow Baylor to hang on, stay perfect and survive with a closer-than-expected win.
7. Oklahoma 52, TCU 46 — Oct. 1
This was billed as a potential deciding game in the Big 12 standings coming into the season and if nothing else it was a case of the final score not being quite indicative of what kind of game it was. Namely, that was a game of runs. TCU kicked things off with 21 points in the first quarter alone, to which Oklahoma responded by running off 28 in the second quarter. We saw flashes of the Heisman finalist combination of Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook hooking up for some long touchdown passes as the Sooners thought they were going to get a comfortable win in Fort Worth. But TCU had other ideas, using some long touchdown passes to score 22 points in the fourth quarter (including a two-point conversion) to make things very interesting late.
6. Kansas State 44, Texas Tech 38 — Oct. 8
This game featured a really fun first half that was quite the back-and-forth affair thanks to scores on all but one drive for both teams. After giving up 28 points however, KSU’s defense stepped up in a big way in allowing just 10 in the second half to Patrick Mahomes (who still finished with 504 passing yards and five total touchdowns) and company. The Wildcats ended up scoring in all three phases of the game too thanks to a pick-six, 99-yard kick return and several offensive scores.
5. Oklahoma State 45, Texas Tech 44 — Nov. 12
The Cowboys’ slim Big 12 hopes stayed alive in mid-November thanks to the luckiest of breaks: a Texas Tech missed extra point with 1:44 left that would have likely sent the game to overtime but instead gave Oklahoma State a miraculous home win. Kliff Kingsbury may have thought about going for two after rallying from a 10-point deficit late in the fourth quarter but probably thought overtime gave his red-hot offense a better shot to win. That wasn’t meant to be however, as the two teams not surprisingly combined for more than 1,000 yards of offense and nearly 90 points.
4. Oklahoma 45, Texas 40 — Oct. 8
The Red River Rivalry has produced several classics over the years and you can add this one to the list thanks to a ping pong-esque back-and-forth that featured eight lead changes. As if that wasn’t enough on a picture-perfect day at the Cotton Bowl, there were a whopping five 40-plus-yard touchdowns and a late rally by Texas that gave a slight scare to those in crimson. Dede Westbrook went off in particular for OU with 232 yards and three scores while D’Onta Foreman rushed for 159 yards in his final game against the Sooners.
3. Oklahoma State 43, Kansas State 37 — Nov. 5
This was a fun one full of lead changes and scoring runs that came down to the end. After Kansas State used a pick-six and a Jesse Ertz touchdown drive to take the lead late in the third quarter, Mason Rudolph started to warm up with some big plays through the air, including an 82-yarder to speedy wideout James Washington. While that was good enough to go up six with just 1:46 left, the Cowboys’ defense needed to come through big against a KSU offense that had moved the ball well all day. After converting a key fourth down to reach the doorstep of the end zone, the Wildcats drew an offensive pass interference penalty and then threw an interception on the final play to give OSU a lucky victory in the Little Apple.
2. Oklahoma 66, Texas Tech 59 — Oct. 24
There was no game that perfectly encapsulated the Big 12 season quite like this one, which was a combination of football against air and a 7-on-7 contest. The game set a new NCAA record for combined offensive yards with 1,708 yards, while Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes tied the NCAA record for passing yards with a whopping 734. Baker Mayfield set an Oklahoma record with seven touchdowns (all from more than 15 yards out), tailback Joe Mixon finished with 263 rushing yards and another 114 through the air, and the two teams combined for 125 points. Amazingly each team finished with exactly 854 yards each. Crazy.
1. Kansas 24, Texas 21 (OT) — Nov. 19
Okay, maybe not the most well-played game in the Big 12 this season but it was one of the most interesting upsets in a variety of ways. Matthew Wyman kicked a late field goal to tie it and another to win it in overtime to snap a 19-game losing streak in conference play by the Jayhawks and all but assuredly end the Charlie Strong era at Texas at the same time. It was KU’s first victory over UT since 1938 (!) and came as the result of a ton of missed chances down the stretch for both teams, including a late fumble, fourth-down try and interception in overtime by the Longhorns. And to think it made D’Onta Foreman’s 250 yards on 51 (!) carries just an entry in the box score.
Best of the Rest:
Oklahoma State 49, Texas 31
Texas Tech 27, TCU 24 (2OT)
Baylor 35, Oklahoma State 24
West Virginia 48, Texas Tech 17
Kansas State 24, Texas 21
5 Best Pac-12 Non-Conference Games of 2016
1. Texas 50, Notre Dame 47 (2OT) — Sept. 4
Nobody knew then that this would be a matchup of two of the most disappointing teams in the country who didn’t even make a bowl game in 2016 but at the time it was certainly one of the best games of an epic opening weekend that was the best in college football history. True freshman Shane Buechele made the most of his first start with 280 passing yards in a new-look offense and backup Tyrone Swoopes ended up punching it in for the winner in the second overtime. The Longhorns did jump out to a big lead but Notre Dame rallied after finally deciding on a quarterback in a strange shuffle that caused plenty of second guessing of head coach Brian Kelly. It’s crazy to look at this one in retrospect but man was it fun on Labor Day weekend.
2. Arkansas 41, TCU 38 (2OT) — Sept. 10
This game went pretty much as expected for three quarters but jumped the shark starting in the fourth. Down 20-7, TCU rallied for three touchdown drives behind the play of quarterback Kenny Hill. While it looked like the Horned Frogs would escape with a win as the clock sat at two minutes to go, the Razorbacks marched right down the field in just four plays to tie things up after a two-point conversion. TCU came right back and needed just a chip-shot 28-yard field goal with 10 seconds left to win it but instead had it blocked by Arkansas left tackle Dan Skipper. That sent the game into overtime where the teams traded scores before an Austin Allen run from five yards out won the game in incredible fashion for Arkansas.
3. Central Michigan 30, Oklahoma State 27 — Sept. 10
Don’t ask Mike Gundy about this game. Just don’t ask him, since in his mind it is still a win and not a loss. The Cowboys were poised to win this one in closer-than-expected fashion and tried to kill the final four seconds of the game by running around and throwing the ball away. But officials mistakenly penalized the team for intentional grounding, setting up CMU with one final chance to win the game. That’s when the Chippewas launched a long Hail Mary pass downfield that landed into the arms of a receiver, who promptly pitched the ball to a trailer as he was getting tackled for an improbable touchdown and the “win.” Still one of the craziest endings of the season.
4. Houston 33, Oklahoma 23 — Sept. 3
After all that College Football Playoff talk, Houston lived up to its preseason billing by knocking around a top-three Oklahoma squad in an opening statement win that had a bit of everything down at NRG Stadium. Set against the backdrop of Big 12 expansion, Houston delivered behind a stellar QB Greg Ward Jr. while Brandon Wilson delivered one of the best plays all year when he plucked a short field goal attempt out of the air and returned it 109.9 yards for a game-changing touchdown.
5. Cal 50, Texas 43 — Sept. 17
The two teams combined for big plays left and right as Texas saw its hot start derailed in Berkeley by a well-traveled Cal team. Davis Webb averaged nearly a first down per attempt and threw for four touchdowns as he faced a familiar foe in Texas. Both Longhorns tailbacks topped the century mark on the ground and scored twice but it wasn’t enough as the teams combined for 25 points in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the strangest thing happened when Cal’s Vic Enwere appeared to ice the game with a 55-yard touchdown run but he dropped the ball just before crossing the goal line. UT didn’t “immediately recover” the ball and instead wound up losing instead of getting a chance to win it.
Best of the Rest:
Arizona State 68, Texas Tech 55
TCU 59, South Dakota State 41
West Virginia 35, BYU 32
Oklahoma State 45, Pitt 38
Stanford 26, Kansas State 13
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.