Dust off the cleats, ladies and gentlemen. It’s August and we are within field goal range of the college football season. In many ways, this year has flown by, in others, it hasn’t. I think I speak for us all when I say that the offseason never passes fast enough.
We will start off our season with the Power 5 conference previews, which will be an earnest effort to predict the championship game matchup (for four conferences anyhow). We’ll start with the flyweights and work our way up to the heavyweights.
The Big XII is an enigma. It has 10 teams, but claims 12. It has “One True Champion,” but has no championship game–not to mention having co-champions in Baylor and TCU two years ago. The conference is exploring expansion, but Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has recoiled from actually bringing new schools into the fold.
The conference custodies some of the football Titans of a bygone era who have rich traditions of winning if, of course, you don’t count the last decade. Teams like Texas and West Virginia have trended to becoming marginal fixtures at best. Until recently, the Oklahoma Sooners have been the only real dynasty within the conference. Unfortunately for Big Game Bob, that conference success has not translated to national championships–losing to Florida in their most recent attempt.
The Big XII received a shot in the arm of sorts over the past few seasons with the emergence of TCU, Baylor, and–to a lesser extent–Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The Frogs and Bears stood poised to propel the conference into a new era of relevance. The success of these “new money” teams looked great for the conference. It promulgated the notion that the conference had parity because of excellence. The lack of conference defensive prowess coupled with the clinical offensive explosiveness of the Air Raid has created a flashy, high scoring environment that is marketable to recruits.
The Big XII was on the rise. Was. The Baylor Rape scandal was a contrived and deliberate cover up of sexual crimes committed by members of the school’s football team. As a result, the school has been righteously crushed by the NCAA. The bloodletting began this offseason when players were allowed to freely transfer without the mandatory sit-out year. Additionally, Coach Art Briles has been separated from the team. While I have no faith in the Baylor Board of Regents to actually sever his employment, I expect the devastation to the school’s football program to be total. Baylor will win some games this year, but they will not compete at the highest level for a long time.
This is a problem for the entire conference. The Big XII’s lack of a championship game means that teams have to make their case to the playoff committee through ordinary regular season games. When Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma were all good, the team at the top of the heap had a heck of an argument to make the playoff. The absence of Baylor leaves two high-level teams. And I’m not even sure about that.
TCU lost their magician to the Seattle Seahawks. Quarterback Trevone Boykin was their team. And sure, I’m going to incense some Toad fans by this remark, but I’m not convinced Gary Patterson is a very good coach. His entire offense was one-dimensional last season. Now, sure, when you have a talent like Boykin you exploit it fully. But, I have to wonder what’s left now that he’s gone. TCU is the biggest question mark in the conference this year. If they’re good, the conference stands to have a representative in the playoff–especially since Oklahoma went last year. If not, well then the conference’s only hope is an undefeated champion.
Oklahoma should honestly be in the top ten all year unless they inexplicably lose a second game. They have an early tilt against Ohio State that I’m prematurely awarding to the Buckeyes. Even with that loss, I don’t see them falling further than 9. And, as we all know, if they keep winning, that mark will only improve.
I think the flagship of the Big XII is once again Oklahoma going into the fall. As a result, all key matchups involve the Sooners in some way. Oklahoma has an early shot at a reloading OSU team, and how they look in that game–even in a losing effort–will be the single most important factor in shaping national perception of the Sooners. Moving into conference play, Bedlam against Oklahoma State and the annual tilt against TCU stand to be the biggest, toughest conference games. The Big XII will be down this year as a result of the positive and negative attrition mentioned above. So, Oklahoma has limited opportunities to make its case as one of the top teams in the country.
As the conference has no championship game, I am picking the Sooners to win the conference. However, I think they’re left out of the playoff. Circle the Texas Tech game; if the Sooners get snakebit, it’ll be in Lubbock.
Expect the Big XII to backslide into junior Power 5 status. NY6 bowl is the glass ceiling for this conference’s champion this year.