The Big 12 is an Embarrassment
There will be big changes to the Big 12 next year, but they're certainly going out on a low note.
The Big 12 is in a weird transitional period. It currently comprises 14 teams with four newcomers beginning their assimilation this season. But two of those 14 are outgoing in the summer, and there are four others incoming at the same interval.
The future looks bright for the Big 12 in that its lights will remain on beyond 2023, which is more than can be said for a certain other once-power conference. But as the Big 12 wishes to pretend its many additions are enough to make up for the Oklahoma and Texas subtractions, the Sooners and Longhorns are making the league look silly on the field.
Four weeks into the season, Texas and Oklahoma look destined to meet in the Big 12 Championship in a couple of months. The Sooners defense is allowing the second-fewest points per game of any team in the country, including the six points it held Cincinnati to at Nippert Stadium on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Longhorns already have an Alabama feather in their cap, earned in Tuscaloosa no less. That’s not to mention the 38-6 beatdown it just laid on Baylor as an unflattering farewell.
It’s a strange place to be. The Big 12 as it looks now, even without Texas and Oklahoma, is not what it will look like shortly; its four corner pieces are missing. Will Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State be enough to make up for the Texas and Oklahoma-sized holes? Probably not, at least not consistently, but it’s something.
And the whole rest of the league is not in shambles. Kansas State, TCU, and dare I say, Kansas, could be thorns in the defectors’ sides. Oklahoma heads to Lawrence on Oct. 28 and Texas goes to Fort Worth on Nov. 11 in what will likely be the most difficult road games left on each of their schedules. There have been some notable non-conference conquests from the other 12, too, like BYU’s victory at Arkansas and West Virginia and Cincinnati both putting Pitt in its place.
It was just one season ago that TCU – not Texas or Oklahoma – reached the national championship game. Kansas State has shown signs of resurgence in recent years, Kyle Wittingham’s Utah could remain a menace after making the jump over, and who knows what the future of Colorado football looks like. No conference has a bigger footprint in the state of Texas, a highly-valuable fact for recruiting and viewership. The ship is not sunk.
But in the face of those positives, Oklahoma State is simultaneously faceplanting to South Alabama, Texas Tech can’t handle Wyoming, Iowa State is succumbing to Ohio, Cincinnati’s 16-game win streak over Miami of Ohio is dead, and Houston isn’t the best team in the city it’s named after. That’s not much to inspire confidence for the future.
The decay of the Cowboys is an especially alarming development for the league. For years now, Oklahoma State has reliably been in the midst of the rankings, sometimes entering into the national championship and major bowl races. Baylor and Kansas State were the Big 12 winners in 2021 and 2022, respectively, snapping the six-year Sooner reign, but neither have been as regularly in the national conversation as Oklahoma State. If the Cowboys are truly spent – and Mike Gundy’s unwillingness to adapt to the modern landscape imply that they are – then someone else must take that torch, and fast.
Last week, Texas and Oklahoma were the only Big 12 teams in the AP Poll, forcing the league to publish this graphic to Twitter. Not the best look. At least this week they can add No. 24 Kansas to that list! If the conference is relying on the Jayhawks for clout, then it’s even worse than we thought.
The hodge-podge nature of the new Big 12 is evident, with in-conference contests from this last week including UCF at Kansas State and BYU at Kansas. The core of the conference has known each other for some time, but with the arrival of eight strangers in a two-year span that are stretched as far wide as Florida, Ohio, and Arizona, what sort of identity will there be? The new guys need to carry a lot of this weight. For this Big 12 experiment to last long-term, marquee matchups must form. There are very few of those naturally available at the moment.
The Big 12 now will not be the Big 12 soon. How the Hateful 8 and their mates perform against Texas and Oklahoma as they make their exits is more a matter of pride than significance for the conference’s future – as we’ve established, 25 percent of the new-look Big 12 is still slinging in the Pac-12. Even if the Longhorns and Sooners smash the league on their way to a rematch in the title game, it doesn’t mean the Big 12 can’t be in a strong position in five years, which is much more important than how it is now given the end date of its $2.3 billion contract extension with ESPN and Fox Sports signed in 2022.
That pride matters, though. At its core, what is college football but an exercise of petty pride disputes among neighbors? If the deserters demolish the Big 12, it won’t hurt the bottom lines of the deserted programs, but it will hurt their perception across the country. In a sport where subjectivity holds an outsized role, perception often invades reality, and that reality is appearing more and more embarrassing for the Big 12 by the week.
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