Finally, it’s time. College football’s two best conferences will meet on the gridiron, with bragging rights at stake.
The Big 12. The SEC. Head to head. Get excited.
... Wait, what?
It’s Texas and Ole Miss? As in, No. 12 Texas and Ole Miss, who was picked to finish last in the SEC West after winning two games a year ago and firing its coach.
The two leagues’ only 2012 meeting will take place in Oxford on Saturday, but could you draw up a worse representation of the two leagues?
The annual Big 12-SEC debate, at its core, is a simple one: Offense vs. Defense. The SEC swept both meetings in 2011, but both involved the SEC’s top spread attack, Arkansas, and one of those games involved Texas A&M, who’s now an SEC member.
On Saturday, the Big 12’s best defense (and No. 8 offense a year ago) will take on the Rebels, who, well, weren’t good at much of anything a year ago, and finished last in total defense and 11th in total offense.
In each of the past two seasons, the two leagues have scheduled just one regular-season matchup, and played once in the Cotton Bowl.
There’s hope in the future: West Virginia will meet Alabama in Atlanta to open the 2014 season. Oklahoma will play a home-and-home against Tennessee in 2014 and 2015, and the same against LSU in 2018 and 2019. Kansas State is scheduled to host Auburn in 2014. TCU is scheduled for a home-and-home against Arkansas in 2015 and 2016, right after it finishes a home-and-home with LSU in 2013 and 2014.
Next year, Texas hosts Ole Miss as the back half of the home-and-home, and there's a chance Oklahoma State and Mississippi State meet in Houston to kick off the season.
For both leagues, more meetings would be a win-win. The SEC can strengthen the debatable premise that it’s the nation’s best league. Yearly Big 12 beatdowns would assure that.
Head-to-head wins by the Big 12 (along with a national title or two) would boost the league into the SEC’s equal, an idea that’s not as far as it seems even now.
The best piece of news for fans clamoring for more? The Champions Bowl.
The Cotton Bowl provides the biggest stage for the two teams to meet, but the SEC has dominated that rivalry, winning eight of the last nine games. The Big 12’s lone winner — Missouri in 2007 — left for the SEC after 2011.
The Champions Bowl provides a better game, a bigger stage and more money. The details of the game (site, cash payouts, television deal) still have to be ironed out, but when it's done, there's no doubt it will stake a claim as one of the game's best postseason exhibitions.
There’s a natural rivalry between the two leagues fostered on and off the field now, after Texas A&M and Missouri spurned the league they helped found to become the SEC’s 13th and 14th members.
The Big 12 says it’s stronger with TCU and West Virginia as replacements, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that’s the case. The only way to know? Prove it on the field.
Of course, Texas and Kansas hold the key to two more Big 12-SEC matchups, but refuse to make them happen. Texas A&M and Missouri were the other half to two of college football’s oldest rivalries. For now, both are dead. If (and it’s a big if) Texas and Kansas change their minds, the two leagues can add two more annual meetings. Don’t count on that any time soon.
The Big 12’s new nine-game conference schedule helps up the Big 12’s TV money with a better inventory of games to sell TV networks, but further discourages any difficult nonconference games.
The Champions Bowl will help foster more on-field meetings between the leagues. It won’t every be the SEC champion vs. the Big 12 champion as advertised, but it’s guaranteed to be two really good teams from both leagues, followed up by another matchup with between the leagues in the Cotton Bowl.
This weekend’s no reason to get excited about the two leagues colliding.
The Champions Bowl is. It provides a much-needed, high-demand matchup between college football’s best leagues.
In short, it makes college football better. With rampant scandal and realignment threatening to do the opposite, that’s a welcome development.
That game will thrive, and because of it, so will the two leagues who helped make it happen.