No football title game for Big 12, no problem
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Even when the games were non-competitive or had no influence on the national championship picture, the Big 12 football championship game was a commercial success.
Nearly every game in Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and even St. Louis played to a packed or near-packed house. Atmosphere was festive at Arrowhead games, and Oklahoma loved coming here. The Sooners appeared in all five title games in Kansas City and won four.
The game became a prime-time staple, a great draw for ABC and a key component of the leagues previous television contracts.
And from the opening game in 1996 when four-loss Texas shocked Nebraska and denied the Cornhuskers a chance to win a third straight national championship, upsets were the norm. Texas A&M over Kansas State in 1998, Colorado over Texas in 2001 and Oklahoma over Missouri in 2008 all cost the Big 12 a national title shot.
So, the event had everything a conference would want, atmosphere, interest and drama.
And the Big 12 doesnt, and shouldnt, miss it one bit.
This marks the second year without the title game and the second year the Big 12 race remains undecided heading into the final weekend.
Relevancy was a concern for the conference when it dropped below the 12 teams required for a title game. Would the Big 12, now with a final weekend of regular-season matchups, get lost among the other conferences with championship spectacles, especially with the Big Ten and Pac-12 adding title games?
To the contrary, this marks the second straight year the Big 12 delivers some of the games most compelling season-ending storylines.
Last year on this weekend, Oklahoma State thumped Oklahoma in what amounted to a conference championship game, and the Cowboys remained in the BCS championship game hunt until the Sunday announcement matched LSU-Alabama.
No BCS title game possibility is on the line Saturday, but the drama could endure for nearly 12 hours. Oklahoma, 7-1 in the conference, visits TCU in an 11 a.m. kickoff, and Kansas State, 7-1, takes on Texas at 7 p.m. A Sooners victory keeps the pressure on K-State, which has the added viewing advantage of a player quarterback Collin Klein in the Heisman Trophy race.
Whatever happens, after the SEC blockbuster of Alabama-Georgia, the Big 12 carries the day.
Not much else around the nation commands attention.
Nebraska, looking for its first league championship since 1999, takes on a Wisconsin team that finished third behind NCAA-sanctioned Ohio State and Penn State in its division in the Big Tens final at Indianapolis.
Florida State and Georgia Tech, both coming off disappointing losses to SEC teams last weekend, tangle in Charlotte. The Yellow Jackets are 6-6 and finished in a three-way tie with Miami and North Carolina. The Hurricanes took themselves out of the postseason picture, and the Tar Heels, like the Big Ten teams, are taking an NCAA vacation from the postseason.
As of midweek, plenty of seats remained for both games.
The Pac-12 finale offers intrigue in an unusual way. Can teams that met six days earlier produce something different than Stanfords 18-point victory over UCLA? Rematches are always a hazard in conference title games, but theres never been one with this little separation.
The Big 12 has what it wants, a meaningful final weekend, and more reason to believe its current structure of 10 members, complete with round-robin scheduling and no title game, serves it well.
With another round of realignment spinning through college sports, the Big 12 believes it stands on solid ground. Rumors, like Kansas to the Big Ten, seem groundless, but realignment is a never-say-never proposition. Lets just say that the major issues that prompted others to leave the Big 12 have largely been resolved. The conference is secure financially, football is set up nicely with the Sugar Bowl, and besides, the Jayhawks, if they left, would lose their high ground in the argument about ending the Border War Missouri leaving the conference.
The Big Ten remains the most enviable conference because of the Big Ten Network. But one area where that league (and other leagues, excluding the SEC) doesnt measure up this weekend is its football championship game. The Big 12 holds the edge.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.