Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big 12 [Print without images]

Thursday, January 20, 2011
Gauging the Big 12's conference strength

By David Ubben

The Big 12 entered bowl season in second place in Stats & Info's conference rankings, but a weak showing in the bowls that I say was the worst of any conference in college football dropped it to third in the rankings.

The Big 12 remained No. 1 in the computer rankings, but losses by Missouri, Texas A&M and Nebraska dropped the league to fourth overall in the AP ranking.

So, that's what the numbers tell us.

Where does the Big 12 really rank?

I take a slight issue with the Pac-10 being No. 2. You can't argue with Stanford and Oregon. Those two teams are as good as any in the country. But racking up a combined two losses on the season -- one coming in the game between them -- is a lot easier when the bottom half of the league is as weak as the Pac-10's is.

As strong as it is at the top, it's just as weak at the bottom. That's not the case in the Big Ten or the Big 12, the two conferences that have a more legitimate case as the nation's No. 2 league behind the SEC.

Kansas was pretty poor in 2010, but the league's other 11 teams all at least had a chance to play for a sixth win and bowl eligibility. That's remarkable, and at one point earlier in the season, nine teams in the Big 12 received votes in the polls.

Washington State and UCLA were both pretty poor in 2010.

The Big 12 flopped pretty solidly in the bowl games, matching the Big Ten's 3-5 record, but for reasons previously discussed, the Big Ten's 3-5 mark was significantly more acceptable, even with its New Year's Day meltdown.

Both the Big Ten and the Big 12 were out of the national championship hunt pretty early in the season, but both have impressive depth in the top half of the league. Michigan State looked like a bit of a pretender in its bowl game, but the three one-loss teams in the Big Ten were three more than the Big 12 had at the end of the regular season.

Beyond that group, however, is why the Big 12 deserves the No. 2 spot. Only one of the Big Ten's other eight teams finished with more than seven wins. The Big 12 had four teams with double digit wins and another, Texas A&M, with nine wins. All five finished in both top 25 polls, versus three in the Big Ten.

Hand over that No. 2 spot, Big Ten.

So, what about next year?

Nebraska's move to the Big Ten probably gives its new league a leg up on the No. 2 spot, but if Texas A&M and Oklahoma State can stick around near the top 10, where both should start in the preseason, the Big 12 could grab the No. 2 spot again next year -- or better. Oklahoma would of course need to hope its national championship hopes made it out of October, where they crashed in 2010.

Any movement up these rankings would be aided by a team outside that elite 2011 group -- Missouri, Texas or Texas Tech, perhaps? Baylor? -- rising up in the polls to win 10 games or more and contend for a league title.

With three teams that look solid at the top, the Big 12 is in good shape in 2011, but if it's going to overtake the Big Ten or the SEC to jump into the top two, another contender from that second group will need to emerge.