The perception of the Big 12 conference has changed dramatically over the last two seasons. The Big 12 many times this century has been considered the best, or at least the most complete conference on multiple occassions. Obviously the SEC overall has dominated this century, but the Big 12 has been right there, especially in years like 2004, 2008, 2013 and many others. There are a few reasons why the Big 12 conference’s reputation has taken a major hit, but some of those reasons are perplexing.
The biggest misconception is that the Big 12 is the weakest because the conference does not have a championship game. This is an emphasis given the new playoff format. The committee values championships, and has been quoted saying they value championship games. The next one is that Texas is down. There is no question an elite Texas team would bring ratings, revenue, and further attention to the Big 12, to deny such a fact would be ignorant. The SEC wouldn’t be the same if Alabama was hurting. The last thing, is that in the Big 12 has been run in recent years by Baylor, TCU, and Kansas State. Before the Sooners championship win this season Baylor, TCU, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State have won the previous years from 2011-14. The Sooners did manage to share one in ’12, but lost on their home turf to both Kansas State and Notre Dame before getting shelved by Johnny and the boys from College Station in their bowl game. So a weak Texas, no championship game, and new faces on the block are what is giving the Big 12 conference a bad reputation.
While the knocks against the Big 12 mentioned above are technically true, they aren’t fair. The Big 12 conference is actually the hardest conference to win! There is no other conference in the country that plays a round robin like the Big 12. You can’t hide from foes… cough cough North Carolina, cough Iowa cough cough.
As we get ready for the bowl season, I feel the need to remind you that the Big 12 was the second conference to include a championship game. While the Pac 10, and Big 10 thrived off not having one in the BCS era, the Big 12 has been hurt by it on multiple occasions. There was Ohio State continuing to get into the Championship game despite clearly not being one of the better teams in the country, or avoiding playing a 10-1 Wisconsin in 2006 because of it. While the Big 12 has been slighted many occasions, notably Missouri in 2007, who had to face an Oklahoma team again which caused them to lose their #1 ranking.
Why were these conference championship games formed in the first place? Well revenue is one, sure. But the other was because not every conference could continue to play round robins because of expansion, especially the Big 12 and SEC, after the Southwest conference disbanded. So, the Big 12 no longer has 12 teams, they no longer need a championship game for the original reason they formed a conference championship game to begin with.
Texas being down, and to a lesser extent Oklahoma’s struggles have really hurt the Big 12’s perception. How would you feel if Colorado won the Pac 12, and Vanderbilt took out Arkansas to win the SEC? Sounds nauseating. With traditional bottom feeders and former Mountain West spoiler TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State winning the Big 12 in the last few years it has really hurt the conference’s reputation. Four straight years neither Texas, nor Oklahoma could crack the whip on their former meals, and Bevo and Boomer were served as entrees in recent years. That hurts far more than the foolish idea that the Big 12 doesn’t play defense. The idea that Baylor and TCU should never be favorites to win the Big 12 simply isn’t fair. The truth of the matter is that both TCU and Baylor are well-coached and entered the season with 2 of the best QB’s in the country, the best wide receivers, neither lacks a running game, and both have NFL talent on the defense. Injuries devastated both teams, yet still ended 10-2, and 9-3 this regular season. If Oklahoma and Texas had a score of 61-58, they would get the benefit of the doubt, something TCU, Baylor, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State will never receive.
But a strong performance in this year’s Bowl seasons could change everything.
The Big 12 conference has the toughest bowl schedule of all the Power 5 conferences. In several match ups, Big 12 teams end up playing an opponent that ended up higher than them in the standings. Also, Big 12 teams have no match ups outside of the Power 5. In premier showdowns, Oklahoma has the chance to win the National Championship taking down Clemson, and likely Alabama, which would go a long way in touting the strength of the league. After all the SEC winning 8 straight definitely helped their perception because they certainly weren’t the best conference year in, year out during that stretch. In another New Year’s Six game Oklahoma State represents the Big 12 in what should be a fireworks show between the Cowboys and the Ole Miss Rebels. If Oklahoma State can fire their pistols a few more times than Chad Kelly flexes his guns a win over the mighty SEC on New Year’s Day will go a long, long way.
Two non- New Year’s Bowls have TCU taking on Oregon and Baylor taking on North Carolina. The Big 12 preseason favorites will get their cracks at top three opponents in both the Pac 12, and ACC. I feel strongly TCU will bury Oregon, never letting them ‘forget the Alamo’, but I am concerned that the Russell Athletic Bowl could feature a Baylor team playing uninspired in a bowl game, something Art Briles tends to struggle with every year. Maybe the bigger concern is no Seth Russell, Jarrett Stidham, Corey Coleman and Shock Linwood. But, Baylor will still be the biggest challenge offensively North Carolina will have faced.
This is a golden opportunity for the Big 12 to prove the doubters, and national pundits wrong, with quality opponents comes chances for quality wins. So to the Cowboys, Sooners, Bears, and Horned Frogs: it’s you against the world.
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