Once again, here are the 2020 Big 12 standings.
And here are the APR standings with conference rank in offensive touchdowns, touchdowns allowed, and APR in parentheses. This includes conference games only with the championship game excluded. Since teams played a varied number of games (everyone played at least eight games and six teams played a full nine game schedule), the rankings are on a per game basis, not raw totals.
Finally, Big 12 teams are sorted by the difference between their actual number of wins and their expected number of wins according to APR.
I use a game and a half as a line of demarcation to determine whether or not a team significantly over or under-performed relative to their APR. Using that standard, no team saw their actual record differ significantly from their APR.
Power Five Teams to Never Make a Conference Title Game
With Iowa State's historic season in 2020 (and Notre Dame's to an extent), the list of Power Five programs to never make a conference title game has shrunk by two. However, instead of celebrating Iowa State's success, lets have some fun at the expense of those teams that have never played in a conference title game. We'll go alphabetically by conference, starting with the ACC.
Of the fourteen teams in this iteration of the ACC, just three have not played in the league's title game. All three teams play in the Atlantic Division, home of current power Clemson and former power Florida State. Meanwhile, the Coastal Division saw all seven teams alternate division titles over seven consecutive seasons beginning with Duke in 2013 and ending with Virginia in 2019. The three teams to not play in the title game have all come fairly close over the years. Louisville, with Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, finished the 2016 season tied with Clemson atop the Atlantic Division, but dropped a classic in Death Valley giving the Tigers the tiebreaker. NC State, with a generational talent of their own at quarterback, just needed to beat Maryland in the final game of the 2010 regular season, but lost to the Terps, giving the division title to Florida State. Finally, Syracuse finished 6-2 in ACC play in 2018, and nearly beat Clemson in Death Valley before Chase Brice and Travis Etienne staged a late rally. Had the Orange won, they would have played their old Big East rival Pitt in the ACC Championship Game.
Up next, the Big 10.
Only half the current Big 10 teams have ever played in the conference title game. Illinois has never really come close, with their best conference finish since the league added a title game being 4-5 in 2019. Indiana almost won their division this past season, but the league changed the rules so Ohio State could qualify despite playing five conference games. Maryland has never come close to playing in the Big 10 Championship Game, but they had a few near misses in the ACC. Most notably in 2006, when they hosted Wake Forest in the regular season finale with the winner taking the Atlantic Division. Michigan has come close to winning first the Legends and later the East side of the Big 10, but fell to eventual winners Michigan State, Nebraska, and Ohio State in different seasons. Minnesota had a chance to win the Big 10 West in 2019, but fell to Wisconsin in the regular season finale giving the Badgers the division title and Paul Bunyan's Axe. Purdue and Rutgers have never really come close to winning their respective divisions since the Big 10 added a conference title game.
Now, the Big 12.
Six of the current Big 12 teams have played in the conference title game. Kansas nearly finished unbeaten in 2007, but dropped their regular season finale to arch-rival Missouri in the Border War. They have not finished with a winning conference record since. Oklahoma State had the misfortune of having their best team immediately after the conference discontinued the title game. Had a title game existed in 2011, perhaps the extra quality win could have pushed the Cowboys ahead of Alabama and prevented an all-SEC BCS Championship Game. Texas Tech's best shot at a division title game in Mike Leach's penultimate season when the Red Raiders won their first six conference games before a trip to Norman. The Sooners blew them out and set up a three-way tie in the Big 12 South that was broken by the BCS standings. Dana Holgorsen's final West Virginia team won six of their first seven conference games, but lost their final two games to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma by a combined seven points. A victory in either would have put the Mountaineers in the Big 12 Championship Game.
And now, the Pac-12.
Every team in the Pac-12 South has made the conference title games, so this list is entirely populated with teams from the North. Amazingly, Cal has not posted a winning conference record since 2009, so they have never really been in position to contend for the division crown (Pac-12 added divisions in 2011). Oregon State finished 6-3 in 2012, their lone winning conference record since 2009, but that was two games behind Oregon and Stanford. Washington State narrowly missed out on a division title in three consecutive seasons. The Cougars finished either a game behind or tied with the division winner in 2016, 2017, and 2018. The most agonizing finish was probably 2018, when they entered the Apple Cup with a one game lead on the Huskies, but lost at home to give their arch-rivals another division crown.
And finally, where it all began, the SEC.
The SEC Championship Game has been around the longest, so it makes sense most of their teams have played in it. The closest Kentucky came was 2018 when they finished two games behind Georgia. Had they beaten the Dogs at home (instead of losing by 17), they would have been the East's representative. Ole Miss finished 7-1 in Eli Manning's senior season, but that lone loss came to eventual conference and national champion, LSU. The closest Vanderbilt came was 2012, when they finished with a 5-3 SEC record, but were a distant fourth in the East. Note that while Texas A&M has not appeared in the SEC Championship Game, they did win the Big 12 in a shocking upset over Kansas State in 1998.
That's the list. Which of these teams do you think is the next to break through and play in their conference title game? Were I drafting a team to make it next, I'd probably take Michigan or Oklahoma State, with Minnesota an intriguing wild card.