If the Big 12 ever wants to expand to 12 members again, the league’s powerbrokers might want to take a look at poaching a couple of schools from the Missouri Valley Conference.
Of course, Kansas and Kansas State might quickly object.
Both of them had to work against schools from the Football Championship Subdivision in their season openers Saturday. They weren’t alone, either: Wisconsin had to make a late defensive stand to beat Northern Iowa, Indiana State took Indiana to the brink, and Pittsburgh was embarrassed by Youngstown State in Paul Chryst’s debut as Panthers coach.
Yes, it was a banner day for the Missouri Valley, a league better known for its hoops but one that now has 11 football wins against members of BCS conferences since 2000.
“They might not be big-name schools, but you can’t sleep on them,” Kansas State defensive back Nigel Malone said shortly after the No. 22 Wildcats rattled off 35 fourth-quarter points to beat Missouri State 51-9 on Saturday.
The final score may have been lopsided, but the game certainly wasn’t.
The Bears, winners of two games a year ago and picked to finish last in the 10-team Missouri Valley, had a healthy advantage in total offense late in the third quarter, when Austin Witmer’s third field goal pulled Missouri State into a 9-all tie.
Kansas State eventually blitzed the Bears down the stretch – a 95-yard touchdown run by John Hubert, an 89-yard punt return by Tramaine Thompson, a couple of TD passes by Collin Klein and Braden Wilson’s TD run put the game out of reach.
“I thought our guys played their tail ends off for three quarters,” said Missouri State coach Terry Allen, who led Northern Iowa for several years before a failed try coaching Kansas.
“They competed hard, and I was really proud of them,” Allen said, “and I’m disappointed by the final score and how it all unraveled at the end.”
Things started to snowball for South Dakota State down the stretch, too.
The Jackrabbits scored on a 99-yard TD run to take an early lead against the Jayhawks, and Justin Syrovatka’s field goal midway through the fourth quarter made it a one-TD game.
Kansas managed to tack on a late score for a 31-17 victory in coach Charlie Weis’ debut.
While the Big 12 schools managed to get off to winning starts, albeit in somewhat sluggish fashion, Pittsburgh wasn’t nearly as fortunate against Youngstown State.
In their first game under Chryst, the Panthers yielded more than 200 yards rushing and were outgained on offense, while the Penguins converted 11 of 16 third downs and had a more-than-10-minute edge in time of possession.
Little wonder that Youngstown State, which went just 6-5 last season, had already put the game away by the time David Brown kicked a late field goal for the Penguins’ final points in a 34-17 victory at Heinz Field.
Louisville dumps Kentucky
Jeremy Wright rushed for 105 yards and three touchdowns and Teddy Bridgewater passed for 232, helping No. 25 Louisville start the season strong with a 32-14 victory against rival Kentucky in Louisville, Kent.
The Cardinals drove 99, 85 and 93 yards on their first three scoring drives and scored on five of their first seven overall. After a promising start including a TD drive that brought them within 8-7, the Wildcats could not match Louisville’s offensive intensity.
Georgia may go with Gurley
Todd Gurley played like a starter when he ran for three touchdowns in his debut.
The freshman tailback could make his first start in No. 6 Georgia’s Southeastern Conference opener at Missouri on Saturday.
Gurley ran for 100 yards on only eight carries in Georgia’s 45-23 opening win over Buffalo. He ran through arm tackles for a 10-yard touchdown run, showed his speed while scoring on a 100-yard kickoff return, and then threw a stiff-arm to clear a path for a 55-yard touchdown run.
Starter Ken Malcome left the game with a left hand injury, possibly clearing the way for Gurley to move up.