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Big 12 problem children: TCU, West Virginia

8/22/2014

Today, Big Ten colleague Adam Rittenberg wrote about Michigan, and how the Wolverines have become the "problem child" of the Big Ten. Despite their tradition and resources, the Wolverines have been unable to win big, and instead have been a drag on the league.

But the Big Ten isn't the only conference with problem children. Texas is the obvious one in the Big 12. But that horse has been beaten with enough ink. And the Longhorns are hardly the Big 12's only one.

When the Big 12 lost Texas A&M and Missouri three years ago, the league didn’t appear to be losing all that much.

Despite their money, cavernous stadium and passionate fan base, the Aggies were themselves mostly a drag on the Big 12. During its entire tenure in the Big 12, Texas A&M reached double-digit wins as many times as Kansas did -- once. With the rise of Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, the Aggies were usually an afterthought in the Big 12 South Division title race, which was dominated by Oklahoma and Texas.

In place of Texas A&M, the Big 12 was adding TCU, which not only had emerged into one of top mid-major programs in the country under Gary Patterson, but was fresh off a 13-0 season and Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin.

The Horned Frogs seemed to be a suitable replacement to their old Southwest Conference rival.

Unlike Texas A&M, Missouri had actually surfaced into a conference title contender behind Gary Pinkel and a wide-open offense. The Tigers actually won 40 games their last four years in the Big 12. But while a contender, Missouri never actually won the conference. Nor had the Tigers ever gone to a BCS bowl.

The program the Big 12 replaced Missouri with not only had been to three BCS bowls, but had won all three. Like TCU, West Virginia joined the Big 12 on a roll, after rolling Clemson by 37 points in the Orange Bowl to cap a 10-win season.

But since entering the Big 12, both the Mountaineers and Horned Frogs have failed to carry the weight everyone expected them to. And while Texas A&M and Missouri have gone on to succeed in the SEC, TCU and West Virginia have faltered in the Big 12, further damaging -- instead of salvaging -- the reputation of the conference in the post-conference realignment era.

The Mountaineers have gone 6-12 in the Big 12, and failed to qualify for a bowl game last season for the first time in a dozen years. TCU has struggled in its new league as well. Like West Virginia, TCU also went 4-8 last year in its worst season under Patterson.

As college football transitions into the playoff era, now would be an opportune time for West Virginia and TCU to shed their problem child status.

Both have veteran teams loaded with players experienced in competing week-in, week-out in a power conference. TCU has 15 starters back; West Virginia, 14. Both made aggressive staff additions during the offseason. Patterson hired Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham to install an up-tempo offensive attack; Dana Holgorsen brought in longtime Penn State assistant Tom Bradley to flank first-year defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.

Both also have chances to make nonconference impressions. The Mountaineers play Alabama and Maryland away from home; TCU plays host to Minnesota.

Sure, West Virginia and TCU haven't been what the Big 12 thought they would be. Especially compared to what Texas A&M and Missouri have done since bolting. But the Mountaineers and Horned Frogs can change that this year. And they won't have to wait long for their chance to do it.