Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Big 12's bowl performance: Underwhelming
By David Ubben
The Big 12 sent nine teams to bowl games, which for a 10-team league is no small accomplishment. As has been well-documented on this blog, it was the highest percentage for any league in the history of college football.
The Big 12 was the best league in college football from top to bottom (or, perhaps more accurately, bottom to top), but qualifying for those bowl games also means you've got to play them. The lesson the Big 12 learned was clear: Its strength was in the middle of the league, with mostly just OK teams at the top and good-but-questionable teams at the bottom.
Performances like those of Lache Seastrunk and Baylor allowed the Big 12's middle to pull away from the rest of the country.
Oklahoma and Kansas State made it clear: The Big 12 lacked a team that deserved to be in the national title hunt this season. Both finished outside the top 10 in both polls after suffering embarrassing losses in marquee bowl games to teams that looked the part of top five teams. They were outscored by a combined 40-7 in the second half of their games against Texas A&M and Oregon.
Like in 2010, the Big 12 was weak at the top. The same was true at the bottom, where overachieving Iowa State played its worst game of the year against a 10-win Tulsa team that cracked the Top 25 and dominated the line of scrimmage while the Cyclones offense sputtered. West Virginia's fall from grace (and the top five ... and Big 12 respectability) finished in predictably ugly fashion. When you began writing the story of WVU's season, you couldn't have written a more gruesome finish than a 24-point loss to a Big East team (the same Big East, though, that went 4-1 against the SEC this year) in a snowstorm.
Where the Big 12 shined, though, was predictable. The middle of the league was perhaps its biggest strength relative to the rest of college football, and we saw that play out on the field. Oklahoma State drew one of the easiest matchups of the bowl season and made a mediocre Big Ten team in Purdue look like an FCS team, delivering the worst beating of anyone the Boilermakers faced all season.
The Big 12's biggest wins, though, came in two of its toughest matchups against the league that was its toughest competition for the nation's No. 2 league: the Pac-12.
Texas and Baylor both faced top 20 opponents from the Pac-12 and did so as underdogs. Baylor won in spectacular fashion in the Big 12's bowl opener, earning respect for the league and a clear edge in the Big 12 vs. Pac-12 debate. Oregon's beatdown of Kansas State leveled the playing field between the two leagues, but ultimately, those two games likely gave the Big 12 an edge in the debate between the two conferences. Despite the losses everywhere else, that's saying a little something.
The Big 12's lackluster performances on its biggest stages means it will fall short when it comes to national respect. It leaves the league without a single top 10 finisher and critics deservedly questioning the credentials of the league's co-champions. However, the strong performance against the Pac-12 gives it the edge as college football's No. 2 league.
For the Big 12 , there was no big movement or exodus into the Top 25, no grand statement. Just a 4-5 record and a feeling of being underwhelmed with college football's postseason complete.