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Big 12 Primer: Week 1

Conference play has arrived in the Big 12!  In 2024, the league gathers with Oklahoma and Texas for the final time as BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF make their debuts.  As things stand entering the weekend, the TCU Horned Frogs, a year off of a return to Omaha, stand strong with a 13-0 record whereas each team in the league outside of Baylor don a winning record on the young campaign.  Historically, conference play marks the beginning of cannibalism in a conference full of strong teams from top to bottom and 2024 does not appear to be an exception to the rule.  

Looking at this weekend’s slate:

BYU at West Virginia (Thu 3/7-Sat 3/9)

Big 12 fans should grow accustomed to BYU playing on Thursday, commonly known as “the BYU rule”, the NCAA honors the Cougars religious standards that do not allow competition on Sunday’s.  Consequently, the Cougars and Mountaineers begin conference play tonight, March 7th, as West Virginia looks to see star JJ Wetherholt return from injury. The Mountaineers are fresh off of a series split with Western Kentucky while BYU enters the weekend with a 4 game win streak after stumbling out of the gate.  The Cougars swept Gonzaga and added a Tuesday victory over UNLV. 

Kuhio Aloy enters the weekend pacing the Cougars in hits with 15, while Ben Hansen has led the BYU pitching staff with a 2.25 ERA across his three starts.  Benjamin Lumsden remains the hit leader for the Mountaineers in the absence of Golden Spikes Candidate JJ Wetherholt.  Grant Hussey has displayed power throughout the season, slugging three homers for West Virginia.   

Current RPI Rankings Per Warren Nolan: West Virginia (36) BYU (150)

Mercer at Oklahoma State (3/8-3/10)

Another thing Big 12 fans are already accustomed to, one Big 12 team playing a non-conference series each weekend.  As an Iowa State fan, I am not going to name who is responsible for this buzzkill.  The Oklahoma State Cowboys enter the weekend with an 8-5 record after a sweep of Central Michigan last weekend and a split with Utah Tech on Monday and Tuesday.  Mercer enters the weekend on a three game skid after beginning the 2024 season with a 9-1 record.  

The Cowboys have been led offensively by MLB Draft Prospect Carson Benge and have production up and down the lineup with players like Mississippi State transplant Lane Forsythe, while star slugger Nolan Schubart has been a bit of a sleeping giant thus far.  Brian Holiday has been strong on the mound in his first three starts in a Cowboy uniform, leading the team in strikeouts with a 0.90 ERA.  Mercer bats Brandon Prince and Parker Lester will pose an interesting challenge for this OSU staff. 

Current RPI Rankings Per Warren Nolan: Oklahoma State (93) Mercer (144)

Cincinnati at Kansas State (3/8-3/10)

The Bearcats make their Big 12 debut with a weekend tilt against a Kansas State team that would like to take care of business at their home ballpark.  The Wildcats scheduled aggressively after missing the NCAA Tournament in 2023, playing at Tennessee and at Clemson earlier this week.  While the Wildcats went 0-2, they remain a potent threat in the Big 12.  Cincinnati, in their first year under Head Coach Jordan Bischel has produced a 9-4 record after starting the season 0-2.  

The Bearcats have an eye-popping seven guys with double-digit hits on the year, led by Tommy O’Connor with 19, though Kerrington Cross and Josh Kross have been key returners for this Cincy ballclub.  Kansas State is led by star Kaelen Culpepper, though Brady Day, Jayden Lobliner and Chuck Ingram have had strong starts to the season as they lead the Wildcats in average. 

Current RPI Rankings Per Warren Nolan: Kansas State (101) Cincinnati (169)

TCU at Kansas (3/8-3/10)

The Horned Frogs have gotten comfortable being uncomfortable, etching out comeback victories against FGCU, USC and Arizona State to start the 2024 season.  TCU has a case to be the most experienced and talent roster in the conference and they begin their pursuit of a league championship in Lawrence on Saturday.  The Jayhawks, under Head Coach Dan Fitzgerald are 4-0 in the month of March after producing a 3-4 record in February.  This Kansas ballclub has looked the part of one that can compete in this conference, while also showing flashes of one that remains a season or two away.

Lenny Ashby and Kodey Shojinaga have led the way for the Jayhawks offensively, while Jake English has led Kansas in HRs with six.  Dominic Voegele has been a force on the mound to start his freshman season in Lawrence.  Freshman Chase Brunson has lead a potent TCU offense in hits up to this point, though the Horned Frogs don’t have an easy out in the lineup.  Of the Horned Frogs whom have started at least eight games, seven of them sport an above .300 average.  Two-way player Peyton Tolle presents a constant mismatch both on the mound and at the plate for the Frogs.

Current RPI Rankings Per Warren Nolan: TCU (7) Kansas (118)

Texas at Texas Tech (3/8-3/10)

Texas enters the opening weekend of conference play in Lubbock following an 0-3 showing in Houston and a loss to rival Texas A&M on Tuesday.  The Longhorns have shown flashes of greatness, particularly on the mound, while also highlighting several positional needs if they wish to reach their potential.  Texas Tech began the season with a strong 2-1 performance in Arlington and now enter conference play with a 10-2 record thanks to an active seven game win streak.  

The Red Raiders have produced one of the most explosive offenses in the country this season, thanks to contributions from NCAA hit leader Damian Bravo, TJ Pompey, Austin Green and Gavin Kash.  Each of them have scratched 15 or more hits across thus far.  Kyle Robinson and Jack Washburn have presented as tough starters for the Red Raiders this season.  For the Longhorns, the progression of Jalin Flores has been crucial as the sophomore leads the team in HR’s.  Peyton Powell and Jared Thomas have produced strong seasons, leading the team in average, while the early season struggles of Porter Brown prove to be the X-Factor for this Texas offense.  Lebarron Johnson continues to be one of the best arms in the Big 12 as potential sidekick Tanner Witt continues to progress through his return from injury.  

Current RPI Rankings Per Warren Nolan: Texas Tech (46) Texas (58)

UCF at Oklahoma (3/8-3/10)

UCF makes their Big 12 conference play debut following a mid-week victory over Florida. The Knights are 9-1 with their lone loss coming to rival USF, while donning a win over Miami earlier. The Sooners have shown the ability to compete with anyone in the country with victories over Tennessee and Nebraska in Arlington.  Though, Oklahoma struggled in Las Vegas, falling to Pittsburgh and Ohio State.  The Sooners are 6-5 but have the potential to be a strong NCAA tournament team.   

Andrew Estrella has been an RBI machine for UCF, driving in 18 on the season.  Matt Prevesk has led the Knights in both hits and average as part of a group of seven players who have started each game while producing a .300 average or better.  Ben Vespi has dazzled on the mound across his three starts.  John Spikerman continues to impact the game in electric fashion for Oklahoma, stealing eight bases with a .476 average on the year.  Easton Carmichael and Michael Snyder have paced the team in RBI’s.  

Current RPI Rankings Per Warren Nolan: UCF (3) Oklahoma (56)

Baylor at Houston (3/8-3/10)

Houston welcomes Baylor to mark their Big 12 debut after a 1-2 weekend at Minute Maid Park, though the Cougars (Coogs, I’m told) picked up a win over Sam Houston on Tuesday.  Houston sports an 8-4 record on the season and have the opportunity to be a stingy team in the Big 12 this season.  Baylor enters the weekend with a 4-8 record, though three of their victories came against 2023 College World Series participant Oral Roberts.  Baylor has a chance to settle in to conference play, still against tough competition, though the Bears do not leave the state of Texas until they head to BYU on April 11th.  

Justin Murray and Tre Jones have led the way for Houston at the plate, each driving in 14 runs on the year.  South Carolina transfer Jonathan French has been a late but welcome addition to the Cougar clubhouse, bringing experience from the SEC to a Houston ballclub that looks to adjust from the American to the Big 12.  Enzo Apodaca has risen to the occasion for a retooling Baylor Bears squad, driving in 12 runs and sporting a .378 average.  Mason Marriott has shown signs of being a strong piece on the mound, earning Big 12 pitcher of the week honors to open the season.

Current RPI Rankings Per Warren Nolan: Houston (67) Baylor (41)

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