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Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Big 12 South's struggles temper conference's bowl showing


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 received unprecedented publicity earlier this season as the nation's best conference.

 
  AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
  The Sooners came up short again in a BCS bowl.

It was particularly present in the South Division, where a slew of offensive weapons and cutting-edge strategies elevated the conference above all others nationally.

That notoriety, and some supposedly favorable bowl matchups, were expected to allow the conference to carry that momentum into the bowl season.

But something happened before the crystal ball was lifted at the end of the season. The Big 12 couldn't back up those boasts with a disappointing 4-3 bowl finish that was capped by another debacle from its championship team in the BCS title game.

Oklahoma has dominated the Big 12 during its recent run, claiming an unprecedented three straight titles and six league championships in the last nine seasons. But some of those accomplishments have been diminished nationally by the Sooners' struggles in BCS championship games. It continued again this season with a loss to Florida in the BCS title game -- the Sooners' fifth-straight BCS bowl loss.

The Sooners weren't alone. Big 12 South tri-champion Texas Tech looked ill-prepared in a loss to SEC middle-feeder Mississippi in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma State was physically whipped by Oregon in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. And Texas was lucky to escape the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl with a triumph over Ohio State only by the grace of a dramatic comeback orchestrated by Colt McCoy and Quan Cosby.

The most surprising trend was the lift that the Big 12 received from the North Division, which went 3-0 in the bowls after struggling to a 3-15 record against the South in the regular season.

Kansas jumped all over Minnesota in the conference's most impressive bowl triumph in the Insight Bowl. Missouri stormed back from some early struggles for an overtime triumph over Northwestern in the Valero Alamo Bowl. And Nebraska capped coach Bo Pelini's first season with an impressive conquest of Clemson in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl.

But those victories couldn't change the Big 12's national perception. Too much was lost by the bowl disappointments of its power teams.