NCF Nation: Ralphie the Buffalo
If you were putting together an ideal program with the best parts of the Big 12, here's what it would look like:
Academics: Texas. The school has 12 different colleges and 650 study abroad programs. U.S. News ranks it 45th among the nation's best universities and despite having over 50,000 enrolled, still only accepts 45 percent of applicants. And yes, realignment enthusiasts, the Longhorns are members of the Association of American Universities, just one of 35 public universities to hold the distinction. "Hands off, Jim Delany," says everyone else in the Big 12.
Athletic director: Joe Castiglione, Oklahoma. He took the job in April 1998, made Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops his first big hire and two seasons later, he was celebrating the program's first national title since 1985. Since then, the program has enjoyed a decade of success rivaled by few. The Sports Business Journal also named Castiglione the Athletic Director of the Year in 2009.
City: Austin, Texas. Up north, you'll hear the city is overrated. Just not from anybody who lives there. Any kind of food. Any kind of bar. And it's warm. A close second: Boulder, Colorado. Pearl Street Mall is the most European thing in the Big 12. In this case, that's a good thing. And it's all in the shadow of a gorgeous mountain.
Coach: Tie, Texas' Mack Brown, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Kansas State's Bill Snyder. Maintaining success is harder than it sounds, and recruiting isn't as easy as Brown and Stoops make it look. They both revived struggling programs and helped pave the recruiting trails that keep both programs in the national top 10 almost annually. As for coaching on the field, the perhaps clichéd mark of an elite coach is getting the most out of what you have. No one personifies that more than Snyder.
Facilities: Texas. Its stadium is the Big 12's largest and the 20,000 square foot Al-Rashid Strength Complex is immaculate. Walking past tons of individual awards encased in glass to get to that weight room makes sure the players inside maximize their time there. Money may not buy happiness or wins, but it can buy a bunch of cool stuff.
Fans: Nebraska. The sellout streak is impressive, but Nebraska fans are courteous, knowledgeable and numerous. Can't ask for much more. There are no other teams of note (My apologies, Omaha Nighthawks) in the state, including basketball, so the support of the entire state and the school's alumni elsewhere goes behind the football Huskers.
Game day atmosphere: Nebraska. There are only a handful of Saturdays every year when a campus gets to host a game, and Nebraska makes the most of it. Fans come early and they're amped all day until after the game's over. No game day atmosphere has more of the intangible buzz that the few square miles around Memorial Stadium possesses on fall Saturdays. Or maybe that buzz is a side effect of various smoking meats.
Mascot: Ralphie the Buffalo. Find me another mascot who is capable of seriously injuring a person. Bevo just kind of sits there all game, but he could probably pop Lil' Red.
Stadium: Memorial Stadium, Nebraska. Above the main entrance reads "Through these gates pass the greatest fans in college football," and I won't be one to argue. Renovations have kept the stadium current with new suites, while staying true to the history that's made the program the nation's most beloved by its fans. The gates that open to let players out on to the field (also a nod to the program's history) at the end of the Tunnel Walk are guarded, and a statue of athletic director and former coach Tom Osborne with former quarterback Brook Berringer watches over an entrance.
Also, multiturf looks sweet.
Strength program: Texas isn't short on talent, but elite high school players wouldn't make it to the NFL without strength coach Jeff Madden. Texas hasn't always had more players in the NFL than any other college team, but it does this year. The strength program is a big reason why.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Big 12 season will unfold with many things I can't wait to watch. Here are 25 of the most special to me.
1. Missouri WR Jeremy Maclin streaking into the secondary moments after returning a punt.
2. Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray getting loose on a sweep.
3. Listening to one of Texas Tech coach Mike Leach's postgame news conferences.
4. Watching the young Texas secondary grow up before my eyes, starting Saturday night against Florida Atlantic.
5. Experiencing the crunch of Kansas' linebackers swarming style from the sidelines.
6. Watching Colorado TB Darrell Scott likely earn a starting position over the course of the first few weeks of the season.
7. Rooting for a good kid like Oklahoma State WR Artrell Woods to make a complete return from an injury last year that nearly ended his career.
8. Watching Nebraska and Bo Pelini make their first steps onto the field at Memorial Stadium during the Cornhuskers' "Tunnel Walk."
9. Judging how much better suited Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee is to run Mike Sherman's offense than Dennis Franchione's. I bet McGee is, too.
10. Maybe having a chance to see Kansas State QB Josh Freeman uncork a ball 70 or 80 yards -- on the fly.
11. Waiting to see Iowa State coach Gene Chizik's decision on who is better -- Austen Arnaud or Phillip Bates.
12. Waiting for a chance to see Baylor QB Robert Griffin and Texas QB John Chiles play a position other than quarterback.
13. Seeing the Sooner Schooner march up and down the field. Something tells me a good night would be Saturday against Chattanooga.
14. Waiting to see the records that Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree can set this season.
15. Chase Daniel chewing out an offensive lineman who might have missed a block -- or maybe a coach he doesn't agree with.
16. Catching a few replays of Texas' mammoth Godzillatron scoreboard and wishing I had one just like it in my living room.
17. Seeing the "Waving of the Wheat" after a Kansas victory. This never gets old.
18. Ralphie the Buffalo leading Colorado on the field. Simply the best mascot in all of college sports.
19. The Texas A&M Marching Band in one of their stirring, patented halftime shows.
20. Watching how much playing time Marlon Lucky will receive with Nebraska this year. Bet he still is among the conference's rushing leaders.
21. Seeing how Texas Tech's young defense reacts to excitable coach Ruffin McNeill.
22. Standing next to Kansas State TB Keithen Valentine and judging if I'm really taller than he is.
23. Watching the pads pop when Oklahoma running backs run behind the mammoth left side of their offensive line keyed by T Phil Loadholt and G Duke Robinson.
24. Standing close -- but not too close -- to the Baylor bear mascot and Bevo the Longhorn along the sidelines.
25. Waiting for another big return by Kansas State so I can see Ron Prince happily stomp down the field in jubilation.