It seems like everyone is betting on the Big 12 Conference to catastrophically fail within the next 10 years, and, to be fair, a healthy percentage of that apocalyptic narrative is warranted.
After all, the conference is in a time of transition right now with two new, inexperienced coaches taking over at its flagship universities, Texas and Oklahoma. There’s also the unending conversations surrounding expansion, and whether or not the available candidates are worthy to join. Let’s not forget this year’s NFL draft, which did not reflect positively on the Big 12, with only 14 players from the entire conference drafted.
We also can reference the horrific unraveling of the Baylor football program, which certainly hasn’t helped the optics of the Big 12 Conference—but the folks out in Waco don’t represent the rest of the schools in the league. But Baylor’s downfall has been anything but beneficial to the Big 12.
And there’s the TV deal expiring in 2025, which leaves the conference’s long-term future in question. Rumors have swirled around Oklahoma possibly joining the SEC and Texas claiming its own independence, but fans are getting ahead of themselves in this hurricane of uncertainty.
In spite of all this, good things are happening in the Big 12 right now, and there’s a few additional changes the conference can make to really solidify its position as a power conference now and indefinitely into the future.
Let’s take a look at what the Big 12 has going in its favor right now:
1. Tom Herman and Lincoln Riley
- There are a few defining qualities in both of these coaches that some outsiders view as dubious, but will ultimately be the reason these programs achieve greatness. They’re young and relatively inexperienced for the huge jobs they took over, but both are brilliant football minds and exceptional recruiters. Texas is undoubtedly going to be better in 2017 than it was last year, and Bob Stoops left Oklahoma in stable condition for Riley with returning Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield and an array of talent all over the field. Recruiting will not dip for either team as Texas reestablishes itself as a national power and Oklahoma maintains its blue-blood status. Because both coaches are young, they’ll have the opportunity to sustain each program’s success for many, many years to come. And when Texas and Oklahoma are performing at an elite level, the Big 12 reaps all kinds of benefits.
2. Newcomers West Virginia and TCU
- When the Big 12 brought in West Virginia, fans all over the country scratched their heads in bewilderment. But the move turned out to be a great one. West Virginia has fielded respectably strong football teams, turning in winning records in all but one season since 2012. That’s no small feat coming from an embarrassingly bad football conference in the Big East. Dana Holgorsen is the perfect Big 12 coach and has done a fantastic job recruiting to his style of play.
- Speaking of great coaches, Gary Patterson is unequivocally the most underrated coach of all time. TCU was perennially bad for like, 40 years, before Patterson took over (save for a couple good seasons under Dennis Franchione). After thrashing the Mountain West Conference for six years, Patterson’s Frogs stepped up to some real competition and did not disappoint. TCU’s second season in the Big 12 was awful, with a 4-8 record, but Patterson immediately followed that season with a wonderful 12-1 performance and a 42-3 beatdown of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. While TCU struggled with a 6-7 record last year, you can’t count out a Patterson-coached team. He’s already signed the top quarterback in Texas, Shawn Robinson, and the future once again looks bright for TCU. This is absolutely good for the Big 12, because when TCU is good, it secures commitments from the ultra talent-rich Dallas-Fort Worth area, and keeps some of those prospects from leaving for the SEC. It’s crazy, as the longtime Big 12 members have struggled, the new schools have kept the conference standing upright.
3. Conference championship game
- The return of the Big 12 title game is good news for the welfare of the conference. It’s an extra week of televised Big 12 football, and for the first time since 1998, the game will feature the teams with the two best records (not based on north and south divisions). That means we could potentially have Texas-OU match up with each other twice, which would be huge. In any case, the decision to bring back a championship game allows Big 12 schools to force their way into the College Football Playoff—a luxury not afforded to Baylor or TCU back when both were worthy in 2014. Consequently, a strong Big 12 team now has a better chance at playing in the National Championship than before, and this is obviously good news.
So there’s plenty of good momentum in the conference right now, and there are only a few other things that can potentially bring the Big 12 back to its glory days:
1. Add Houston to the Big 12
- Both Texas Tech and Texas have lobbied publicly for this move, despite the potential recruiting disadvantages that may arise as a result. But imagine if all those four and five-star players from the Houston area stopped committing to Texas A&M and LSU, and instead chose to stay and play for their city’s flagship university. That’s how Texas schools in the Big 12 need to look at it. You’re not losing your players to Houston. Texas A&M, LSU and Arkansas are the ones who would be most negatively affected. UH has the stadium, the fan base and the alumni to make an amazing financial and competitive impact on the conference. And don’t be surprised if the Cougars duplicate their 1976 performance when they kicked the mess out of Texas in their inaugural Southwest Conference appearance in Austin.
2. Get a conference TV network
- I know this one is a stretch because cable companies are already feeling the squeeze on their wallets, but if the Big 12 and offer a reasonably low price and join the other Power 5 schools in having a conference network, that would be a huge step. The SEC and ACC networks have done well to promote their conference brands and help their schools’ recruiting efforts. Texas is all set with the Longhorn Network, but the rest of the conference needs something.
3. Steal a school from a different Power 5 conference
- Outside of Houston, the remaining candidates for Big 12 expansion are simply not worthy of an invitation to join. The Big 12 needs to figure out a way to pry a school out of the grasps of the more successful conferences. This is no easy task, but if you can bring back Nebraska, Arkansas or even Colorado and actually have 12 schools in the Big 12 Conference, you can lay a foundation for a return to glory. Again, I understand this would be the most challenging step of all, but there’s always a way to get things done. It’ll take a lot of money and convincing, and the Big 12 may need its own network before it can grab another Power 5 school, but it would certainly be worth it in the end.
Do you feel like the Big 12 can be saved?
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