Iowa State coach Matt Campbell experienced the final minutes of four Big 12 games in very different ways.
None of them good.
There was the conference opener against Baylor when a failed onside kick prevented the Cyclones from having a shot at a 31-24 loss. The game in Kansas when Jace Gilbert missed a 37-yard field goal attempt with 27 seconds left in a 14-11 loss. Against Kansas State, the Cyclones failed in fourth-place near midfield in a 10-9 loss with two minutes remaining. And last week against Texas, when they fumbled the ball away with 2:06 left in a 24:21 loss.
That’s four losses, all from possession. Fourteen points in total.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our team,” Campbell said afterwards. “The courage, the courage. Man, newbies are playing out there. Seniors are playing out there. And to be honest, I don’t know if there’s ever been a point in our program where I’ve been more proud of our football team.”
The Cyclones shouldn’t feel particularly snake-like, either. Kansas State and TCU, playing in Saturday’s only undefeated league matchup, are also the only Big 12 teams to have lost a conference game to date by a single possession.
Three of them did just last week.
Thursday night in Morgantown, West Virginia answered a 44-yard field goal from Baylor’s John Mayers when Casey Legg struck from 22 yards with 33 seconds left to give the Mountaineers a stunning 43-40 win.
“Any time you win a few tight games it helps,” said Mountaineers coach Neal Brown, who was in the hot seat after a 2-0 start but whose team won three out of four. “For us, I hope it sets us up for a stretch run.”
In Austin, Texas, a touchdown by the Cyclones’ Hunter Dekkers with Bijan answered Robinson’s score with 4:43 left. And when they forced Dekker’s turnover at the Longhorns 32, they had their 24-21 win.
“We needed this game right here,” said Robinson, “and not every game has to be beautiful.”
At Stillwater, TCU rallied with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to force overtime with Oklahoma State and then scored the 43-40 win when Kendre Miller reached the end zone in the second overtime.
“I think it shows the culture of this team, the mindset that we have – never doubting ourselves, never panicking, always staying put, always believing in each other, believing in our coaches,” said Horned Frogs -Quarterback Max Duggan. “We could have given up. We could have said, ‘All right, game over. You are up there. They’re starting to pull away.” Our guys kept fighting and making plays. We know it wasn’t pretty, but we found a way. That’s all that matters now, finding a way to win.”
Especially in the final minutes of games.
There have been 17 games in the Big 12 this season and 12 have been decided by 10 points or fewer, including Saturday’s other game when Oklahoma beat Kansas 52-42 at Norman. One of the other five was decided by 11 points, and another was the Jayhawks’ overtime win over West Virginia when a pick-six made it a final score of 55-42.
Nine games were decided by possession. Three have gone into overtime; Only Big 12 games went to OT all of last season. The average win margin is 11.1 points, the tightest among the Power Five conferences.
And when you consider: The Big 12 won’t even push past halftime for another two weeks.
What might be even more amazing is that mighty Oklahoma, who have won six of the last seven Big 12 championships, are responsible for the two most one-sided games this season — and both have been losses. The Sooners were beaten 55-24 by TCU after losing quarterback Dillon Gabriel to injury and then being eliminated 49-0 by Texas without him.
Meanwhile, No. 8 Horned Frogs and No. 17 Wildcats were able to survive and advance.
TCU’s last two conference wins have been one-possession affairs, a 38-31 win over the Jayhawks and the two-overtime thriller against Oklahoma State. And all three of the Wildcats’ conference games were decided by 10 points or fewer, including a 41-31 back-and-forth win over Oklahoma, a 37-28 win over Texas Tech, and a 10-9 win over the Cyclones.
“All of our targets are still within sight,” said Kansas State quarterback Adrian Martinez. “The Big 12, that’s what it’s all about. It’s a week-long season every week and we found a way to make it happen.”