Only two teams from the Big 12, the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns, consistently appear in the various polls. The Baylor Bears, Oklahoma State Cowboys, and West Virginia Mountaineers pop up here and there but not with enough regularity to really be given solid top 25 statuses. So what, if anything, does this say about the conference that saw 90% of its teams go to bowl games following the 2012 season? To me it says that the Big 12 isn’t creating enough national buzz to be considered an ideal destination by the elite recruits of the nation.
The Big 12 has been underperforming for the last several years. Oklahoma is keeping up that Sooner tradition of coming up short of regular season expectations then getting spanked in their bowl game, Texas is still searching for its post-Colt McCoy identity, and the Pokes still can’t seem to get out of OU’s shadow despite winning the conference in 2011. Meanwhile Baylor keeps coming up short in their attempts to break out of the middle of the pack, the Texas Tech Red Raiders can’t finish seasons, and WVU and fellow newbie TCU Horned Frogs have been shown that they have some catching up to do. You’ve got the Kansas State Wildcats flirting with being good but never getting the job done before the door slams in their face, and the Iowa State Cyclones and Kansas Jayhawks still act as the cinder blocks that drag the conference’s battered carcass to the bottom of the sea. Not the most convincing argument for a solid conference.
Then there are the Athletic Directors. These cats seem to be totally fine with giving off the vibe that the Big 12 is kind-of-sort-of thinking about maybe expanding, while making no firm commitments to becoming more competitive through expansion and maintaining that they are “happy” with only ten teams and no conference championship game. Ten won’t be enough to be taken seriously come 2014 when the playoff system kicks in, and while the ADs haven’t seemed to grasp that it appears that high school athletes have.
The mind fairly boggles when trying to conceive what the shot-callers of the Big 12 are thinking. The SEC is a 14 team juggernaut and shows no signs of releasing its death grip on the National Championship trophy, and both the ACC and Big Ten have made plans to equal the SEC in numbers come 2014. Bigger conferences with championship games are more appealing to recruits, or so it would seem, so why sit around and watch the talent of the nation shuffle off to ever part of the country except yours?
Now I’m not going into full blown panic mode just yet because I know that high school kids are a fickle lot. The Texas A&M Aggies had one solid year and every recruit and their mother seemed to sprint to College Station, so all it would take for the Big 12 to have a big leap in recruiting is to grab a little bit of that spot light. That means national attention, and to get that you have to play like you want to be taken seriously.
Texas needs to get back to being a yearly contender, and as much as I enjoy watching it happen Oklahoma needs to quit getting their asses handed to them every time they play a bowl game against an opponent that deserves to be there. OU has three bowl wins in their past seven post-season appearances, and only one of them (their Sun Bowl win over the then #19 Stanford Cardinal) is respectable. Like it or not those two schools are the flagships of the Big 12, and as they go so goes the conference.
The long and short of it is that the Big 12 has the potential to be an elite conference but constantly falls short. If they want to get back into the recruiting game and start stealing players away from the SEC, then an immediate mental overhaul is needed. The time has come to make the Big 12 stronger, and the only way to do that is by snatching up a few more strong programs and taking it to the gridiron. Let’s get to work.
Follow Spenser Walters on Twitter @SpenserWalters