Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray left his fingerprints all over the Big 12's most recent campaign
Following a 70-63 West Virginia win over Baylor in 2012, Alabama head coach Nick Saban famously quipped, "Is this what we want football to be?"
While the exhausting game of grassketball West Virginia and Baylor played six years game took it to an extreme, the prevalence of high-powered offense in the Big 12 has made the conference arguably the most entertaining in college football. A 2018 season largely devoid of upsets and exciting finishes had an abundance of them in the Big 12.
What we want football to be is fun and exciting. The best Big 12 games of the 2018 season provided that, and more.
10 Best Big 12 Games of 2018
10. Oklahoma State 38, Texas 35 – Oct. 27
Vince Lombardi once said, "We didn't lose. We just ran out of time." The sentiment works for Texas' loss at Oklahoma State in 2018.
Oklahoma State — off to a 1-3 start in Big 12 play and drawing plenty of media criticism — stormed to a 31-14 lead over Texas by halftime. Cowboys quarterback Taylor Cornelius hit every right note, throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for a fourth.
Cornelius scored a fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter, and it proved critical. By that point, Texas had gradually cut the deficit down to three points. The Longhorns again sliced the deficit to a field goal on Tre Watson's touchdown run with 1:46 left, but Oklahoma State escaped with its game-long lead still intact.
9. Iowa State 42, Kansas State 38 – Nov. 24
Basketball's usually the sport hit with the "game of runs" cliche, but the description applies nicely to Iowa State's comeback win over Kansas State.
The two exchanged scores over the first two quarters and change, before a 17-point outpouring put the visiting Wildcats ahead in the fourth quarter, 38-21. The prospects of K-State gaining bowl eligibility and giving outgoing coaching legend Bill Snyder one more date on the sidelines picked up dramatically.
Over the next eight minutes, however, they vanished. A Brock Purdy touchdown pass and David Montgomery ground score bookended Mike Rose's 21-yard scoop-and-score in a dizzying 5:44. Kansas State's 38-21 lead quickly became a 42-38 deficit from which the Wildcats could not recover.
8. Baylor 45, Vanderbilt 38 – Dec. 27
Bowl season wasn't exactly rife with memorable contests. Baylor's back-and-forth Texas Bowl affair with Vanderbilt stood out as an oasis of excitement in a desert of lopsided matchups.
There were seven lead changes and a tie that came with just 3:30 remaining. Ryley Guay's field goal to cap a 13-play drive knotted it at 38, and provided three of the combined 24 points Baylor and Vanderbilt produced in the fourth quarter.
Bears quarterback Charlie Brewer quickly broke that tie when he found Marques Jones for a 52-yard touchdown for the game's seventh and final lead change. One year after winning just one game, Matt Rhule coached Baylor to the right side of .500 and a bowl victory.
7. Oklahoma 59, West Virginia 56 – Nov. 23
With a head-to-head win over Texas already to its credit, West Virginia welcomed Oklahoma to Morgantown on Thanksgiving weekend needing a victory to reach the Big 12 Championship Game. Considering the Sooners only lost once coming into the regular-season finale, however, that was a tall order. Equally daunting was the task of defending Kyler Murray, who had steadily built his Heisman case over the previous three months.
Although his argument was already strong, Murray added an exclamation mark to the resume with 364 passing yards and three touchdowns, and another 114 rushing yards with a score. It was one of the most impressive, individual performances of the 2018 season — and not the only such showing that day in Morgantown.
Marquise Brown posted a staggering 243 receiving yards in the Oklahoma win, including a 45-yard touchdown reception late in the third quarter during a wild exchange of three scores in less than two minutes. Had West Virginia won, Will Grier's 539 passing yards and four touchdowns would have become the stuff of legend.
6. Oklahoma State 45, West Virginia 41 – Nov. 17
A marquee matchup with Oklahoma (and potential Big 12 Championship Game prequel) loomed for West Virginia ahead of its visit to Stillwater. Maybe you can blame the look-ahead factor for the Mountaineers' loss in a thrilling shootout, but it's simply not the case.
West Virginia came out ready to play, building a 17-point lead at halftime. The Mountaineers were cruising behind a pair of Kennedy McCoy touchdown runs. The initial lead was enough to keep the Cowboys at arm's length, even as they attempted to mount a rally.
In fact, Oklahoma State only led for 42 seconds. The Cowboys' sole advantage came when Taylor Cornelius hit Tylan Wallace for the quarterback's fifth TD pass of the evening, and Oklahoma State's third touchdown of the fourth quarter. West Virginia went nearly the length of the field on the ensuing possession, but Will Grier's throw to the end zone with zeroes on the clock was deflected.
5. Oklahoma 48, Oklahoma State 47 – Nov. 10
Mike Gundy's decision for Oklahoma State to go for two and the lead late at Oklahoma was correct. The Cowboys' failure to convert illuminates the high-risk proposition it is pursuing victory rather than playing for overtime.
Another Big 12 team won on a two-point conversion, on the road, just a week prior. When such calls work, it's a stroke of genius. When they fail, it can awaken the armchair coordinators. But Taylor Cornelius was lighting up the Sooners' defense, eclipsing 500 yards on the day when he found Tylan Wallace for his third TD pass. With Oklahoma similarly tearing through the Oklahoma State defense, giving Cornelius one more play to take the lead with a minute left made sense.
The play itself had a chance, but Cornelius threw a rare bad ball, which came in low to his target off a bootleg, and was batted away to preserve a Sooners win.
4. Texas 28, Georgia 21 – Jan. 1, 2019
Almost one year after playing for a national championship, and exactly a month removed from letting an SEC Championship Game it controlled slip away, Georgia arrived at the Sugar Bowl looking the part of a top-tier national power. So convinced were some national pundits that by simply leading Alabama, the Bulldogs proved their mettle, they campaigned for Georgia to earn the College Football Playoff berth that went to the Big 12's Oklahoma Sooners.
If Georgia has indeed ascended to the pinnacle of college football, then the Sugar Bowl was a resounding statement that Texas has finally returned to that level. It's been almost a decade since the Longhorns played for a national championship, but they closed the 2018 season looking very much capable of doing so in '19. Texas dominated Georgia for all but the final few minutes, when the Bulldogs scored two touchdowns late to make for a more cosmetically appealing game.
The contest itself wasn't one of the Big 12's best games in the customary sense. However, it may be the most important. Since TCU and Baylor flirted with the playoff in 2014, it's been a half-decade of Oklahoma and The Other Guys. Texas making a step back toward the top promises a return to prominence of the conference's marquee rivalry — and with it, the potential of a successful stretch like the 2000s. One of either Oklahoma or Texas played in six national title games last decade.
3. Oklahoma 28, Army 21 (OT) – Sept. 22
The best Army football team in almost 70 years nearly claimed a monumental upset when it visited Oklahoma in Week 4. The Black Knights' vexing, triple-option flexbone attack gave Oklahoma fits, dominating time-of-possession, 44:41 to 15:19. The strategy was perhaps the quintessential example of why option offenses can combat talent disparities.
However, the supreme talent of eventual Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray made the difference. He accounted for all four Sooners touchdowns, capped with a 10-yard pass to CeeDee Lamb in overtime to escape what was one of the most shocking results of the 2018 season — at least, at the time. Army's march to an 11-win season thereafter proved the prowess of Jeff Monken's Black Knights. Rather than a staggering upset, this proved to be an epic encounter of two excellent football teams.
2. West Virginia 42, Texas 41 – Nov. 3
The Dana Holgorsen era of West Virginia football experienced its ups and downs. Few highs peaked quite like the Mountaineers' road win over Texas this past season.
West Virginia's typically high-scoring offense found success against the talented Texas defense, but the Mountaineers had zero answer for Sam Ehlinger, Tre Watson, Devin Duvernay and Lil'Jordan Humphrey on the other end. And Holgorsen knew as much.
When Will Grier uncorked his third touchdown pass of the day — a 33-yarder to Gary Jennings Jr. — Holgorsen made the call to not leave the final outcome up to a defensive effort in overtime. West Virginia went for the two-point conversion and the win, and Grier came through to close out the victory.
1. Texas 48, Oklahoma 45 – Oct. 6
The Red River Rivalry is one of the most perfect embodiments of the pageantry of college football. Played in a classic venue, the Cotton Bowl, with the festive backdrop of the Texas State Fair, this annual, neutral-site showdown of longtime rivals has a knack for creating memorable moments. In 2018, the Longhorns and Sooners combined for one of the best installments in the series' history.
The Oklahoma defense had no answer for Texas through three quarters, giving up touchdowns to Sam Ehlinger, Tre Watson, Collin Johnson and Lil'Jordan Humphrey (by reception AND pass). The Longhorns built a 45-24 lead through three quarters, before Kyler Murray keyed one of the most incredible comebacks of the season.
Oklahoma scored three unanswered touchdowns, over less than six minutes of game time, the highlight of which was Murray's first-play-from-scrimmage, 67-yard dash. Murray scored five touchdowns on the day, but it wasn't enough to down the Horns. Texas recovered from the dizzying fourth-quarter rally to win on a 40-yard, Cameron Dicker field goal as time expired.