By CLIFF BRUNT AP Sports Writer
Oklahoma vs. Cincinnati sounds like a dream bowl matchup — the blue-blood Sooners against one of the most consistent Group of Five powers.
Not anymore. After realignment, it’s a league game — but just for one year. Oklahoma, on its way to the Southeastern Conference next year, visits Big 12 newcomer Cincinnati on Saturday.
No. 16 Oklahoma is one of the Big 12’s two ranked teams, making this the kind of opportunity the Bearcats wanted when they left the American Athletic Conference. They won’t be intimidated; after all, Cincinnati won 53 games the five years before this season — three more than Oklahoma.
“You don’t look at the jersey and say, ‘Oh, a team like Oklahoma, with tons of history and all this and that,’” Cincinnati coach Scott Satterfield said. “We respect them, but we still want to go out and win. We still want to go out and play our best football.”
Oklahoma coach Brent Venables expects Nippert Stadium to be rocking.
“It’s going to be in a great atmosphere,” he said. “They’ve got a strong culture, great belief system. Those players expect success.”
Oklahoma and Texas want to go out in style in their final Big 12 seasons before heading to the SEC. Newcomers Cincinnati, BYU, UCF and Houston want to show they can compete in their first year in their new conference.
No. 3 Texas (3-0) shot up the rankings after winning at Alabama, then pulled away for a 31-10 victory over Wyoming. The Longhorns have had some big wins in recent years, only to fade to mediocrity shortly thereafter. Texas visits Baylor (1-2) on Saturday hoping to avoid a slip-up before a showdown against Oklahoma on Oct. 7.
“The Big 12 doesn’t care that we’re 3-0,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. “The Big 12 doesn’t care that we’re ranked No. 3 in the AP poll. We are 0-0 in Big 12 play. And this week, we’ve got to do everything we can to get to 1-0 (in conference play) in a hostile environment.”
BYU (3-0) visits Kansas (3-0) on Saturday in a game that could vault the winner into the Top 25. Both teams are receiving votes.
Kansas is building something under coach Lance Leipold and wants to make a push toward the top of the league. The Jayhawks have opened the season with wins over Missouri State, Illinois and Nevada. They are trying to reach their second straight bowl game.
BYU is coming off a 38-31 win at Arkansas. Cougars coach Kalani Sitake said his team is excited about opening Big 12 play.
“We’ve been hoping for this since we were an independent,” he said. “Now that we are here, it just happens to be Kansas in our opening moment. I admire the way they do things. It’s going to be a fun game. They do a lot of things there that I am trying to implement here as a head coach. We are expecting a great competition.”
Texas Tech (1-2) visits West Virginia (2-1) in a matchup of programs that are staying put. Texas Tech is going after its fifth straight win in the series. The Mountaineers need a solid start in league play to bolster the job security of coach Neal Brown, who is 24-26 in his fifth season. West Virginia also wants to make amends for a 48-10 loss to Tech last season.
“They’ve had our number,” Brown said. “It is what it is. Last year was as bad a performance as I’ve ever been a part of.”
Oklahoma State (2-1) visits Iowa State (1-2) with both teams eager for a win. Oklahoma State got rolled 33-7 at home by South Alabama while the Cyclones have lost two straight with an offense that is last in the Big 12 and on pace to be the school’s worst in 20 years.
What has gone unsaid by coaches and players is the impact of losing quarterback Hunter Dekkers, running back Jirehl Brock, offensive lineman Jake Remsburg and tight end DeShawn Hanika to suspensions for their involvement in the state’s illegal sports wagering investigation. All four were projected starters.
“I’m not saying this to be deflective; I’m saying this to be honest. There are a lot of guys playing for the first time in some of those critical spots,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “I wish that wasn’t the case. We are where we are. We believe in our young men. I’ve got faith in them.”
Kansas State (2-1) lost to Missouri on a 61-yard field goal in the closing seconds last Saturday. The defending Big 12 champion starts league play against newcomer Central Florida (3-0) on Saturday.