Jarrett Stidham/USA Today

The Big 12 has an image problem. Whether it’s the lack of success in the new College Football Playoff format or the limited number of NFL Draft picks, the conference has become many pundits’ and fans’ whipping boy.

It’s somewhat understandable, but it’s also not necessarily living in realty. The Big 12 is still pulling in nearly $30 million per program, and that’s before third-tier rights. This trails only the SEC and the Big Ten. And as we turn the page to 2017, there are several teams that could challenge for a College Football Playoff appearance.

Also, there is an interesting storyline playing out that could give the Big 12 a nice boost and reminder that it’s not a subservient conference amongst the Power 5. If Jarrett Stidham can be the first quarterback since Cam Newton to get the Auburn offense humming again, then the Big 12 stands to get some credit.

Stidham was a 4-star prospect coming out of Stephenville, Texas (Art Briles’ former program) and chose Baylor over Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Oklahoma and many of the other top programs across the country.

He ended up playing in 10 games his freshman season in 2015 and impressed. Stidham completed 69% of his passes, while tossing 12 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions. At the time, the Baylor future seemed very bright under center. But then, all hell broke lose. Sexual assault accusations and convictions filtered out of the football program and Art Briles, along with several other administrators, was fired. Considering how close a relationship Jarrett Stidham had with Briles, it was not shocking when he announced his plans to transfer from the program.

The quarterback ended up choosing Auburn. As a result, the folks in East Alabama really believe this is their best chance in years to top Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC West.

Stidham went off in Auburn’s spring game, giving even more optimism to the Tiger faithful. He led his team to five first-half scoring drives, including three touchdowns. He had four passes of 30-plus yards in the opening two quarters, as well as a rushing touchdown. Stidham finished the day 16 of 20 passing for 267 yards.

Tigers coach Gus Malzahn has not technically named Stidham the starter for this fall, but for those who follow the program closely, it’s only considered a formality at this point.

Auburn has a primetime match up in Week 2 against Clemson. If Stidham has a big game and the Tigers beat the defending champs, you better believe that hype will build, not just in “The Loveliest City on the Plains”, but across the country. Auburn’s road schedule isn’t all that bad, with the trickiest games coming at Arkansas and LSU. They also play at Texas A&M, but that game is in November. Typically by then Kevin Sumlin’s starts to drastically underachieve.

Auburn’s schedule is backloaded with really tough contests versus Georgia and Alabama, but they essentially have a bye week to split up those opponents with FCS program Louisiana-Monroe.

So if Auburn is able to have a magical season, much of that is likely to be thanks to quarterback Jarrett Stidham. And while that will likely pain Baylor fans and make them wonder, “what could have been?”, it will also be a slight source of pride for Baylor.

And of course, there’s always a smile to be had when an SEC team needs a Big 12 quarterback to get itself over the hump.

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