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Big 12 conference has opportunity to showcase depth this weekend

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at Iowa State

It’s a light weekend for the Big 12 conference with just three games on the schedule, but at the same time, it can be a very important weekend for the conference.

The three games on the schedule are Iowa State vs. Texas, Kansas State vs. Baylor and Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma State. None of these games jump off the screen at you as “can’t miss”, but they all do have an interesting importance for the Big 12 conference.

As you look at this weekend’s games as a whole, the slate isn’t great. If it was, Oklahoma State at Texas Tech wouldn’t be the primetime 8:00 E.T. game on FOX. Yes, as Big 12 fans we’re happy about it. But let’s be honest, it’s far from a “must watch” for the average college football fan. The second-best game of the weekend (first is Virginia Tech-Clemson) is USC at Washington State and that’s being played on Friday night.

So this weekend is a chance for the Big 12 to showcase its depth. Most fans and pundits who follow the sport closely know Oklahoma has a chance to have a special season and the same goes for TCU after the Horned Frogs rolled over Arkansas and Oklahoma State in recent weeks.

But what about the middle of the conference? Is Texas Tech going to be the biggest surprise in the Big 12 conference this fall? Will Iowa State begin getting itself back to bowl eligibility? Is the Baylor youth that is learning on the job going to improve itself at a faster-than-expected pace?

For the past couple of years, the general knock on the Big 12 has been that it is just the Sooners… and then there’s everyone else.

But with the Red Raiders going 3-0 against a respectable non-conference slate of Eastern Washington, Arizona State and Houston, while Iowa State should have beaten an Iowa team that should have beaten Penn State last week, it’s been a respectable run for these programs so far. It’s the Texas Tech’s and Iowa State’s of the world that can do their part to help raise the national profile of the Big 12 conference.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s always going to be driven by Oklahoma and Texas, but a conference with no depth loses credibility and respect. Just look at the SEC right now. Alabama is All-World, but it’s aggravated by the fact that the rest of the SEC is incredibly mediocre.

Think back to the mid-2000’s, arguably the peak of the Big 12 conference. In 2007, the Big 12 North was headlined by a couple of top ten teams in Kansas and Missouri. But, the Big 12 South also had a pair of top ten teams in Oklahoma and Texas. Even a team like Texas Tech, which finished 4-4 in Big 12 play, was in the Top 25 thanks to the depth of the conference.

One season later, in 2008, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech were all 7-1 in conference play. Oklahoma State was in fourth place in the Big 12 South, but was still ranked as the #16 team in the nation. Meantime, Missouri and Nebraska led the way in the Big 12 North. Those were fun times for the Big 12 conference.

The Big 12 played in back-to-back National Championships following the 2008 and 2009 season. Granted, the Sooners and Longhorns both lost their respective games, but the conference had an enormous amount of respect and credibility. Yes, the top had the premier programs there, but the middle of the pack was pretty darn good as well.

I’m not going to fool myself with the belief that one day we’ll see the Big 12 return to that form. With ten teams and a round-robin schedule, I don’t think it’s possible.

But I do believe that this weekend can be a small piece of a larger puzzle where the Big 12 continues to build back its reputation. Thursday night in Ames has a chance to be fun. Texas is coming off a close loss to a top 5 team in USC taking on the Cyclones, who, unfortunately, should be 3-0 at this point. Weird things always seem to happen on weeknight games in Ames.

Just think back to six years ago. Sorry Oklahoma State fans.

Then think of all the legendary night games in Lubbock, which also has produced some incredibly special moments.

I’m not saying we get these kind of legendary finishes this weekend. And certainly, there isn’t nearly as much on the line in any of these match ups, but if you don’t get chills watching those two videos (or just puke if you’re a Cowboys fan), something’s wrong.

So while you might think this is a good weekend to make plans with the wife, girlfriend, boyfriend or kids, I’m not going to tell you not to do it, but I will say you just might miss something special. If nothing else, it should still be a helluva lot of fun.

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