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Cormac McCarthy Previews The Big XII: Part I

From time to time, WRNL asks certain writers to weigh in on subjects concerning Iowa State. In this edition of the WRNL Book Club, novelist Cormac McCarthy (author of such works as "Suttree" and "Blood Meridian" returns to our August forum to provide part I of his preview of the upcoming Big 12 football season.

Hello. My name is Cormac McCarthy. I'm a writer of some renown. I'm also a football fan.

My chosen sport is college football, and my chosen conference is the Big 12. The Big 12 remains a unique specimen in the college football landscape. Almost cleaved apart by the imperious forces that ran roughshod throughout the nation's athletic department several years ago. Forces that sought to remake the world in their own vainglorious image. But the Big 12 survived. Reduced in numbers. But however many teams in the league it is always known by the appellation of Big 12, and I will continue to follow its machinations.

Last year I typed a few words for this humble website with my estimations of how each team in the Big 12 would fare. It made some minor impact. As a result, WRNL has asked me to preview the Big 12 again this year. Last season's preview was no easy task, and this year is more difficult still. No team rises above any other, the conference outlook is as flat as the plains of Kansas and western Texas. I shall do my best.

1) Texas: On the last day of August, the men rode out in the scorched afternoon carrying with them a contract signed by the mayor of Austin for the furnishing of another trophy for the universidad. The streets were thronged with masses of people clad in burnt orange, though the crowds were less now than they had been in previous years. A celebration. Order to be restored to the territory.

Captain Brown rode at the front of the company, hatless and smiling against the burning orb that ellipsed high above his head. He winked at a blackeyed girl across the way and she raised her tiny hands to her face and she shrieked with delight. Behind, his troops lean and autocratic and indolent as they followed the wizened veteran. The best men from the nation.

Lieutenant Ash caught Brown up as they came abreast of Calle San Jacinto and they rode side by side out to the road. Brown turned the reins in his hand and shifted in his saddle.

How long this campaign supposed to last, Captain?

Shouldn't be more than three months, son.

Shit, we got to do all this running around three more months? Everyone knows we're the best there is. Congreso needs to just award us our damn medals already.

You know that's not how it works. And don't take the lord's name in vain.

But what's the point of hauling all the way up north just to kick around some lousy...

David. This is what we do. We are the best at what we do. The people need us to be the best at what we do. It's for the good of the country. We need to show this on the battlefield. No matter how insignificant or meaningless our opponent.


Enough lieutenant. Know your place. Brown turned to view the polished multitude riding in assuming congregation in his train. Swoopes, why don't you join me up here at the front? he called back.

Ash dropped his head and turned his horse back to rejoin the rest of the charges, consolidated to the ranks again. Brown turned his mendacious smile towards the crowd and spurred his horse forward.

2) TCU: Patterson tugged at his belt and squinted through his spectacles at the vista spread wide before him in purple and canted light like a dream of the recent past. He was the oldest of his brothers and one of the only to live past the age of 13. Rice, Brigham, others... They were killed by disease, by drowning, by mistakes of fate too mysterious to divine. Patterson survived by a continuous movement, a wandering that drove him and his company through the country like some acuminous toad jumping from stone to boulder in the sunblacked desert searching for any patch of shade.

He was lucky, he considered. Lucky to have lived this long with the same soldiery, lucky to have perhaps found a home at last. The previous year had been troublesome, with the move to the new quarters and a herculean effort to replace his captain with a blow-in from Mesquite. But Patterson survived the campaign. He always survived.

He walked the fenceline down with the wind from the north reddening his face. A figure was standing at the gate. Patterson squinted. The kid's pocked and rutted cheeks marked him from across the field.

Pachall took off his hat. I'd like to come back, he said.

That might be a problem. How's your health?

Good sir. Real good. No more shakes.

You see Boykin took your job? Hell of a spot to put the kid in last year. Did better than most with what he had.

Yes sir. But I'd like to come back all the same.

Patterson cocked his eye across the fence and drummed his fingers on a post. When you come around askin for your spot back, I suppose you know it's yours for the takin, dont you?

Pachall ducked his head and grinned. Yes sir.

Patterson lifted the gatelatch and swung the turnstile wide. Come on up to the house, Casey. Work starts tomorrow morning.

The boy walked up the road, taking care to cache the needle he'd palmed in his back pocket opposite from Patterson.

3) Oklahoma State: The mannish boy stalked from one side of the room to the other with a peculiar bandylegged trot like a creature driven by an estranged form of locomotion. His hair stood on end, plastered up with some kind of mud in a bizarre and primitive coiffure.

Dammit, aint it my time? Aint it my time right now?

The besuited man stared him down impassively

Naw Gundy, it aint your time. You done had your time already.

Gundy started wildly and flung his hand back at the group he'd assembled.

I paid my dues. Eight years I been working out in Stillwater. Look at these boys. Fastest bunch alive and you sit there and tell me this aint my time?

You done lost too many men. Lunt, Lane, Monken, Young... He glanced at his watch and turned to leave. You aint there yet. Wait a spell then we'll see.

The man's face clouded. You son of a bitch, he said. He heeled back to the men loitering behind him. Let's give this bastard a little sport, he smiled through clenched teeth.

And then legion of horribles was immediately upon the figure at the front of the room. Rushing with a speed thought alien to this planet they seemed everywhere at once, cowled in their raffish livery of orange and black and grey and white, grotesque and mad like a company of fleeting clowns they scrambled about with insane purpose and the man in the suit was consumed before he had a chance to throw up his hands.

Gundy joined them as they finished, dropping back crablike to his hands and feet. Thrusting his venter towards the sky, he howled his deathsong at the same gods he had supplanted.

4) Baylor: The kid stood with his legs bent chucking a ball he'd borrowed from the priest and the frocked one looked on as he worked. A fluid motion commanded his form and guided the projectile home to its target.

You've done this afore, said Briles.

The kid looked up at him and turned the ball in his hand. I s'pose, he said.

Well, you've got the knack. Maybe not so much as the last few come through here, but enough. But then there's little equity in the Lord's gifts.

I'm better. I expect I'll be a legend fore I'm through.

Briles guffawed and pushed his hat back on his high forehead.

Easy there, son. There's a lot of good quarterbacks. I've worked with some. Robert was a legend and I trained him. Let's get you situated before you start talking legend.


The priest stared at the kid and shook his head. For let it go how it will, he said. The Almighty speaks in the least of creatures.

The kid spat on the ground and resumed his work with the ball.

I ain't heard no voice, he said.

Briles studied him.

Wait till you start up with them cowboys and longhorns. When you're down and that voice stops, you'll know you heard it all your life. Then we'll see about legends.

5) Oklahoma: The gnarled and smokeblacked branch creaked in sun, dipping back to earth under the weight of its unfamiliar load. The cadaverous feet of the body in the tree scraped a fallen visor that lay on the panicgrass that grew in the hardpan below. The noose around the lifeless neck had turned a once adolescent face to a bruised mass of burst blood vessels and dead nerves. Blood dried around the fleshy and puckered mouth where a black tongue lolled hideously.

Tramel and Steely surveyed the handiwork of the now vanished mob.

You reckon we oughta hung him this quick?

Why not? 8-5 aint what we hired him for.

He beat the Irish.

He lost to Texas.

He won more'n he lost.

He lost too much for his own good. It aint what we hired him for.

How in the hell do you expect a man to win without a quarterback?

It's his job to get a quarterback. His own damn fault.

Tramel swiped a rag across his forehead. The distant pandemonium of the sun beat down relentlessly, laying out the crowd's recent doings bare for all of heaven to witness.

Should've waited till he had his defenses up, he said. It aint right.

Steely sucked his teeth and spat in the direction of the corpse. His own damn fault, he repeated. His brother couldn't even help him him defend himself.

Now let's go see what Mr. Saban is up to.

***Check back tomorrow for Part II of Cormac McCarthy's preview of the 2013 Big XII football season***