Two summers ago the Big 12 received potentially damning news as the conference’s flagship programs, Oklahoma and Texas, announced that they were leaving for the SEC.
With that news the Big 12 quickly pivoted, adding four new programs to its ranks with BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF set to join in July of this year. At that point in time, the Big 12 will become a 14-team conference, temporarily, as the Sooners and Longhorns hang out until 2024 (I’ll believe the 2025 reports when I see it).
That immediately raised the question: Who’s going to run the conference going forward?
With the “big brands” headed east, there will be a void for the program seen as the “face of the Big 12” for football. At first, it was speculated that Oklahoma State would immediately fill that role, having been the most successful team in the conference over the past 10 years outside of Oklahoma, that made sense. Now, Stillwater appears to be in flames and is coming off a 7-6 season.
Baylor, the 2021 Big 12 champion and preseason favorite to win the conference in 2022, went just 6-7 after returing several key pieces this season.
Kansas State emerged and won the rugged Big 12, certainly staking its claim but seems more a steward than the king of the conference for years to come after it was shellacked by Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Then, out of left field, Sonny Dykes and the Horned Frogs emerged. TCU rode its way to a 12-0 record before dropping the Big 12 Championship game by a field goal in overtime. Dykes rallied the his team though, and in what is viewed as one of the biggest upsets in College Football Playoff history, the Horned Frogs took down the second-ranked and undefeated Michigan Wolverines in the VRBO Fiesta Bowl, 51-45.
It was a monumental victory for the Horned Frogs, and its conference, as the win solidified the Big 12’s stance as one of the top conference’s in college football. It also landed them in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game agaisnt Georgia.
It also solidified TCU’s standing as the team with the most to gain from Oklahoma and Texas exiting the Big 12. As it plays in its first-ever National Championship game, TCU appears to be emerging as the Big 12’s next power.
TCU’s “Fortuitous” Climb to the Driver’s Seat
On Saturday, TCU head coach Sonny Dykes was asked how “fortuitous” is the timing of TCU’s run, given that the Big 12, and the College Football Playoff for that matter, stand to change so dramatically in the near future.
“Like I said, “fortuitous” is a good word,” Dykes says. “It’s important for the Big 12 and our credibility to have teams that perform well and can win. And you lose two of the more high-profile members of the conference, obviously, with Texas and Oklahoma moving on. But I think that was what was so good about the Big 12 this year, was you got to see, from top to bottom, just how good the league was.
“And it’s probably as good a league — it’s probably the best that the Big 12 has been in a long time. And the two brand name institutions really weren’t as good as they typically are.
“So I think it speaks to the strength of the league, the overall strength. I think it speaks to the momentum that the Big 12 has that two remaining teams were in the championship game with us and Kansas State. I think the future for the Big 12 is very bright. I think the four added institutions coming in all have tremendous potential and have had success obviously through the years.
“And so I think the league is going to be better, continue to be better than most people give it credit for being. The timing was really good. The timing was good. And like you said, you try not to worry about too much right now with the big picture stuff, but I do believe that it was an important year for the league. And I think it was important to get somebody into the College Football Playoff. Because it’s been a while since that happened, in particular a member institution that’s staying.”
Resilience Over Talent Got TCU Here
TCU has paved the way for the rest of the conference and its future members to make their way to the sport’s biggest game. They’ve created a blueprint for success, and its not all about having a roster full of five-star players. Sure, TCU has its share of blue-chip recruits. In fact, in 247Sports’ talent rankings, TCU ranks third in the Big 12 behind Texas (6th) and Oklahoma (9th) and is considered the 32nd-most talented team in the country.
However, when Dykes was asked to describe his team with one word during media availability, “talented” was the word he opted for.
“Resilient, I think resilience is probably the best way,” Dykes said. “Either resilient or confident. These guys don’t quit.
“It’s been weird; they really believe in each other. There’s a quiet confidence associated with this group, and there has been. They don’t get too high. They don’t get too low.
“And really, when you find people or a team that does that, confidence is at the root of that. And the reason they don’t get too low is because they know they’re going to have an opportunity to fight back or they believe that things are going to equalize, or they believe that they’re going to figure out a way to get it done.
“And so this group just has that mentality and that belief in each other. It’s not only a belief in yourself, it’s probably, more importantly, a belief in the guy next to you and your teammates and really the system and the approach and everything, and believing that everything makes a difference. Everything matters.
“We talk to our guys all the time about when we get done with this, they’re going to go eat a meal. What they eat at that meal is going to matter. It’s going to have an impact on how well they play on Monday.
“So those guys, how much rest do they get? How much do they hydrate? All those things are inches and those inches add up. And all that matters.”
TCU is Locked In, Not Just Happy to Be Here
The Horned Frogs are happy about being in Los Angeles with a chance to win a national title on Monday night, don’t be mistaken. However, TCU is here to win the game and hoist a trophy, not just hope that Georgia doesn’t beat up on them too bad.
Sure, this trip will be fun for Sonny Dykes’ squad but they’ve worked too hard and come too far just to call it quits after the biggest win of their season.
“Look, you don’t go through all the stuff we’ve gone through this season and work as hard as these
guys have worked and make all the sacrifices these guys have made to say we’re just happy to be here,” Dykes said. “I think if anything, it gives you extra motivation to finish the job because we haven’t been here before. And if you haven’t been there before, then it’s hard to say, well, we’ll be back next year, you know what I mean?
“So it all just gives you extra motivation to go out and get it done. And it all begins with a belief and an attitude and a desire to make the most of your opportunity. And that’s what this team has done all year — and to focus on doing their job and closing it out, whether it’s ball games, whether it’s closing out winning the Big 12, the regular season Big 12, playing in a Big Ten Championship, closing out a semifinal game. Whatever it is, this team has been able to close things out this year.
“So we want to close out the season. And none of us will feel good about this year if we don’t win this game. I think we’ll feel like we’ve squandered an opportunity. And nobody wants to do that.”