Colleague Mark Schlabach recently took a look at every major program, handing out a 1-5 health rating on the state of the program.
Here's his scale:
5: Consistent winner with potential to be BCS bowl contender every season
4: Potential to join the sport's elite in the near future
3: Recent mediocre results but seems to be building momentum
2: Recent success but seems to be headed in wrong direction
1: Below-average program with little success in past or future
And here's what he had to say about each team in the Big 12:
The Bears have a star quarterback (Robert Griffin III) and underrated coach (Art Briles), who guided them to their first bowl game in 16 years in 2010. Building a consistent winner will be Briles' biggest challenge.
My take: Agreed. The Bears are moving in the right direction, but still far from becoming an annual elite team.
The Cyclones can't seem to get over the hump, going 7-6 in 2009 and 5-7 in '10 in coach Paul Rhoads' first two seasons. At least Rhoads won seven more games than Gene Chizik did in his two seasons at Iowa State from 2007-08.
My take: I'd probably give the Cyclones a 3. Iowa State's fall from the postseason had more to do with its schedule, and Paul Rhoads' teams have gotten better every year. This year's team, he feels, is still his best yet, despite losing most of his offense in Austen Arnaud and Alexander Robinson.
Turner Gill's first season as the Jayhawks' coach was an unmitigated disaster, as they limped to their second straight losing record at 3-9. Gill had a lot of success at Buffalo, but competing in the Big 12 might be a different animal.
My take: Agree. There's no telling what's in store for Turner Gill at Kansas, but last year's team was one of the worst in Big 12 history. The Jayhawks should be better in 2011, but KU hasn't proved its two-year free fall in 2009 and 2010 is officially over.
Even legendary Wildcats coach Bill Snyder is having a hard time cleaning up the mess former KSU coach Ron Prince left behind. In Snyder's second go-around in Manhattan, the Wildcats are 13-12 in two seasons combined.
My take: The 'Cats are straddling 2-3, but 2011 will be a telling year. The Brown Brothers will have a big influence on if Snyder succeeds in "calming the waters" for his second successor.
Gary Pinkel has guided the Tigers to unprecedented success, winning 40 games over the last four seasons and going to six straight bowl games. The only things missing: A Big 12 championship and BCS bowl game.
My take: Agreed. Missouri and Oklahoma State are the closest two teams in the Big 12 to joining college football's elite, and the Tigers took a huge step last year by beating Oklahoma for the first time under Pinkel.
Even the sport's best teams suffer a mediocre season every once in a while (OU went 8-4 in 2005 and 8-5 in '09), but Bob Stoops has built one of the most consistent winners in the country. Under his watch, OU has won seven Big 12 titles and played in four BCS National Championship games since 2000.
My take: Eight BCS appearances and one title make anything but a 5 impossible to argue here.
The Pokes won 29 games during the last three seasons combined, including a school-best 11-2 record in 2010. Of course, in-state rival Oklahoma might be OSU's biggest obstacle in joining college football's upper crust.
My take: Oklahoma State missed a golden opportunity to get over the hump last year against Oklahoma, but there's no doubt the Cowboys are getting closer and closer under Mike Gundy, beginning with last year's historic season.
The Longhorns have more talent, money and resources at their disposal than just about every other program in the country. That's what makes last season's 5-7 finish so perplexing. With a new coaching staff in place, it shouldn't take Mack Brown long to get UT back on track.
My take: Handing out a three would be a little harsh for the Longhorns, who made it easy to forget this season that they were in the national title game 17 months ago. But is 2011 the next step towards the end, or a rebound year from a shocking 2010?
Mike Sherman led the Aggies to a 9-4 record in 2010, nearly equaling his victory total (10-15) from his first two seasons in College Station. Sherman has upgraded the Aggies' talent and has them in position to become a Big 12 challenger every season.
My take: The Aggies finally had their first winning season under Sherman in 2011, and this year's team should be even better. This game is tough to predict, but it's hard to see A&M not ending up in a BCS bowl in the very near future.
The Mike Leach fiasco seemed to suck life out of the Texas Tech program, but then former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville produced an 8-5 record in his first season in Lubbock. At least Tuberville is teaching the Red Raiders how to play defense.
My take: He's teaching them to play defense, but last year, the Red Raiders weren't fast or healthy enough to do it. Changing that is step one to getting Tech back to contender status.