Does The Big 12 Really Need Oklahoma and Texas On Top?

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A popular narrative emanating from the Big 12 Conference’s exclusion from the inaugural College Football Playoff was that had the roles of Baylor and TCU been instead played by Oklahoma and Texas, things would have shaken out much differently.

With Big 12 media days afoot Monday in Dallas, the conference is looking at yet another season in which Baylor — long the Big 12 punching bag — and TCU — in just its fourth year as a member — are the pace-setters.

Commissioner Bob Bowlsby downplayed the buzz for the likely preseason Top 5 selections in Monday’s opening address:

Those six obviously include the two Big 12 brand names, Oklahoma and Texas. However, neither the Sooners nor the Longhorns have won the conference championship outright since 2010. Oklahoma shared the title with Kansas State in 2012, though for BCS purposes (which would now function as Playoff purposes), the Wildcats’ head-to-head win negates the “shared” distinction.

Moreover, it was K-State’s loss to Baylor, the new standard bearer, that allowed Oklahoma to claim a split Big 12 title.

Texas can’t even claim a shared title since 2009, the season in which a half-decade slide that forced Mack Brown’s ouster began. The Longhorns aren’t expected to compete in the coming season, either, Charlie Strong’s second at the helm. Media tabbed Texas fifth in the 10-team race.

Any insinuation that Oklahoma and Texas failing to dominate is holding back the conference is arguable. A meaningful Red River Shootout with Big 12 championship implications — and, thus, national championship implications — is a great thing for both the conference and all of college football.

However, it’s somewhat disingenuous to suggest the Big 12 is held back nationally as a result.

Baylor boasts a Heisman Trophy winner over this last half-decade in Robert Griffin III. TCU has a Heisman favorite, Trevone Boykin, heading into 2015. Kansas State sent Collin Klein to the award’s 2012 presentation.

Had the Wildcats not slipped up at Baylor in November 2012 — due largely to Klein being injured — K-State would have played for the BCS Championship.

Will a one-loss Big 12 champion get into the College Football Playoff this year, if that champion isn’t Oklahoma or Texas? There are extenuating circumstances outside of the conference’s control that factor in, as we learned last season. But last season ended with some extraordinary conditions that no one in the Big 12 could have changed, including Oklahoma or Texas.

Say one of the two finished 11-1: Considering three of Oklahoma’s four losses were to TCU by four, K-State by one and Oklahoma State by three, it’s not a far-fetched scenario. Should one play go differently in each of those games, and it’s Oklahoma jockeying for a College Football Playoff berth and not TCU, the Sooner brand name doesn’t trump Florida State remaining undefeated, Alabama and Oregon emphatically winning the championship games of what were deemed the two toughest conferences or Ohio State blowing out Wisconsin by 59 points.

Certainly, there’s precedent that suggests otherwise. Oklahoma still played for the BCS Championship at the end of the 2003 season despite a lopsided loss to K-State.

The next year, Texas was granted a Rose Bowl berth ahead of Cal. Oklahoma was also placed ahead of the pack in a jumble at the end of the 2008 season to represent the Big 12 in the BCS Championship Game.

Oklahoma and Texas have earned some level of clout their Big 12 brethren lack, but the national landscape is different enough now that name recognition alone wouldn’t necessarily guarantee the conference an advantage in the Playoff picture. The Pac-12 is dramatically improved overall now compared to the 2000s, for example. It’s also the beneficiary of that 13th game the Big 12 now lacks — a blessing or curse, depending on season.

Bear in mind, the Big 12 would have sent Missouri, decidedly not a brand name program, to the 2008 BCS Championship Game, had the conference not had a 13th game in the 2007 season.

The Big 12 would certainly benefit from Oklahoma and Texas performing at top level, but the conference would benefit from any of its members stepping up to provide more marquee games for the current favorites, Baylor and TCU. There’s an added level of intrigue and exposure inherent when it’s a historically significant program, but we’re not so far removed from No. 2 Missouri vs. No. 4 Kansas to forget that good teams are good teams, regardless.