After dispensing with the Big 10, we shift our attention to the other big conference, the Big 12. Here are the Big 12 standings.
bona fides of an elite team. On the other hand, Kansas State is a different story. Statistically, the Wildcats were the second worst team in the Big 12 by a significant margin. Their offense was only better than that of their in-state brethren and they made up for it by also having one of the worst defenses in the Big 12. So how did a team that was consistently outplayed on a down to down basis by a significant margin manage to qualify for a bowl games? The Wildcats actually sported a slightly below average 2-3 record in one-score Big 12 games, so we can’t attribute the difference to their record in close games. We’ll have to look elsewhere. One area where Kansas State gained an edge was special teams. The Wildcats returned a punt and three kickoffs for touchdowns in their Big 12 games. Those scores provided the margin of victory in a three point win over Iowa State and a one point win over West Virginia. Another way that Kansas State was able to remain competitive despite their poor overall play was their slow pace.
One of the major storylines in college football since 2010 has been realignment. Every FBS conference has seen some kind of membership change since the end of the 2010 season. In fact, some conferences have ceased to exist entirely. The Big 12 has been one of the more interesting cases, as three other power conferences raided it. The Big 12 in turn plundered the Big East and Mountain West to steady its membership. When the dust had cleared, the Big 12 lost four teams and added two bringing the total membership to ten teams. The marquee programs in the conference post-realignment are of course, Oklahoma and Texas. While the Sooners have pulled their weight in the conference, and on the national level, Texas has struggled. The Longhorns have endured a pair of losing seasons and have not won the conference since 2009. In the midst of the struggles by the Longhorns, a quartet of non-traditional powers has emerged to ensure the Big 12 remains a player on the national stage.
Between 1980 and 2011, Texas and Oklahoma combined for three national titles, 19 conference titles (in the Big 8, Southwest, and Big 12 conferences), 21 top-ten finishes in the AP Poll, and 41 top-25 AP Poll finishes. Those are pretty good numbers. In that same time span, Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and TCU combined for zero national titles, 12 conference titles (with most coming courtesy of TCU in mid-major leagues), nine top-ten finishes in the AP Poll, and 31 top-25 AP Poll finishes. The table below summarizes what I just typed.
What does all this mean for the Big 12? The good news is that teams have risen while Texas has fallen. While Oklahoma remains the bell cow for the conference, other teams have popped up intermittently to keep the Big 12 on the national radar. The bad news is that these teams may not have staying power. Baylor was an abject dumpster fire until Art Briles got there. They had some moderate success in the 80s and early 90s, but since the Big 12 started, they were the weakest link. The infrastructure has improved, but how far will they fall once Briles leaves? Similarly, Kansas State may have been the worst FBS program when Bill Snyder arrived in the late 80s. During his brief retirement, the Wildcats were middling at best. Snyder will be vacating Manhattan much sooner rather than later. What will the Wildats do when he is gone (for good this time)? Oklahoma State had some good teams under Pat Jones in the 80s (and briefly Les Miles), but Mike Gundy has raised the program to new heights. With that T. Boone Pickens money, the Cowboys may be well positioned for success when Gundy leaves, but it is far from guaranteed. Finally, TCU has exceeded their historical levels under coach Gary Patterson. He has been in Fort Worth for a decade and a half and seen the Horned Frogs go from mid-major power to Big 12 contender. How will this program fare when he leaves? Success of upstarts has played a key role in keeping the Big 12 relevant in the national picture during uncertain times. However, relying on these upstarts to remain prosperous after their regimes change may not be prudent. Perhaps the best case scenario for the Big 12 is a return to glory for another old money program, Texas.