Commentary

The Big 12 vs. Pac-12 debate

Updated: December 18, 2012, 11:08 AM ET
By David Ubben | ESPN.com

The Big 12 and Pac-12 are feeling a lot like kindred spirits these days. Complaints about the effects of a nine-game conference schedule fell on mostly deaf ears, but after two years through the wringer, the Big 12 can suddenly relate.

The true effects of the schedule are debatable. What's not is that it drops a bushelful of losses in both leagues' tanks that aren't there while the Big Ten beats up on (or, in this year's case, loses to) some MAC teams or the SEC runs up the score on the Sun Belt.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Christopher JacksonGeno Smith and WVU didn't finish strong, but they add to the Big 12's depth.

Half of the Big 12 (five teams) is exactly 7-5, including hyped preseason contender West Virginia, which loves to chuck it around with one-time Heisman front-runner Geno Smith.

The Pac-12 had four teams finish 7-5 in the regular season, including hyped preseason favorite USC, which loves to chuck it around with one-time Heisman front-runner Matt Barkley.

But which league is better? The Big 12 and Pac-12 have battled for the No. 2 spot behind the (*cough* … top-heavy) SEC all season.

Our ESPN Stats & Information team says the Pac-12 has the edge on the Big 12 for now, but the Big 12 was No. 1 early in the season and No. 2 until late November.

Me? I don't buy it. Part of the issue for the Big 12 is that surplus of 7-5 teams. You won't be in the polls if you're 7-5, but you'll be mighty, mighty close. None of the Big 12's five 7-5 teams were ranked, though four received a total of 75 votes, which combined still wouldn't have been enough to grab the No. 25 spot in the media poll.

But the computers? They factor in every team in the league, and there's no debate there. The Big 12 is the No. 1 league in college football according to the computers, and the Pac-12 is all the way back at No. 3.

There's not a league that can compete with the Big 12's depth, and at the top of the two conferences, there's plenty of debate.

Both Oregon and Stanford won 11 games, but Stanford won only 11 games because it got to beat UCLA in consecutive weekends, counting the Pac-12 championship. Kansas State won 11, but Oklahoma won 10 games with losses to K-State and national title participant Notre Dame.

The top of the two conferences might offer a slight edge to the Pac-12, but it's certainly close to a push at the top. There's no debate at the bottom, though.

The Pac-12 is partly to thank for that. You'll have to excuse the Big 12 if it's not missing Colorado very much these days. The Big 12 has clearly proved itself as the deepest league in college football, even if it can't match what the Pac-12 boasts in the top 15 of the polls.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Charles Baus/Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesWant to make a statement, Big 12? Shut down Marcus Mariota in the Fiesta Bowl.

Neither league has a BCS title participant thanks to a painful Nov. 17 night when Oregon dropped an overtime game against Stanford and Kansas State dropped the ball in a blowout road loss to Baylor, one of the five 7-5 teams in the Big 12.

Both leagues, though, have two very good teams, though the Pac-12 will send two teams to the BCS. K-State and Oregon will meet in the Fiesta Bowl, and Stanford will represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl against five-loss Wisconsin.

Oklahoma would be in the BCS if the Big Ten or Big East were any good (or eligible, but that's another discussion), but Northern Illinois pushed the Sooners out of the BCS, even though Oklahoma's Cotton Bowl opponent (Texas A&M) will offer twice the challenge of the Badgers in Pasadena.

The Big 12 has the edge on the Pac-12, but there's good news in a sport in which far too much is decided on hard drives and on voters' ballots. The two leagues will play each other in three bowl games. Baylor and UCLA will meet in the Holiday Bowl. Texas and Oregon State will be a matchup of two Top 25 teams in the Alamo Bowl, and as we mentioned before, K-State and Oregon will play the biggest bowl game of the year between two Top 25 teams outside of the title game.

Debate the merits of both leagues now, but those three games will help settle the debate on the field.

Until then, this is the truth: The Big 12 is No. 2.

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