It’s not surprising that Baylor and West Virginia are undefeated. What is eye-opening is they are the only two teams from the Big 12 without a loss.
Three weeks into the season, the Big 12 stands 15-11 against outside competition and 3-6 against Power Five opponents, including Notre Dame. Ugh.
You may have heard this is the first time in league history that there is no Big 12 team ranked in the Associated Press top 15. Kurtis Seaboldt, producer for The Program with Soren Petro on WHB (810 AM), dug a little deeper and discovered that since the AP poll doubled to 20 teams in 1968 (it’s 25 now), no poll existed without a Big Eight team in the top 15 through the formation of the Big 12 in 1996.
But there have been other lean years for the Big 12. The league’s first few seasons included strong programs at Nebraska and Kansas State but little else on a national scale.
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Two hires — Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and Mack Brown at Texas — changed the power structure, and their rivalry elevated the Big 12’s stature.
In 2006, the Big 12 went without a team in the final top 10 for the first time. But over the next few years, high octane offenses created another run of greatness. In 2008, four of the top five Heisman Trophy vote-getters, including winner Sam Bradford, hailed from the Big 12.
In 2010, the top four and five of the top six players selected in the NFL Draft came from the Big 12.
The next few years brought great change. Realignment, the loss of the football championship game, influential coaches moving on — or out — have impacted the conference.
The areas where the Big 12 recruited almost exclusively have opened to more schools with Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference. The rise of Baylor and TCU at the expense of Texas has helped the league’s competitiveness but not the national perception.
What will it take for the Big 12 to shake the doldrums? Expansion may be on the horizon, and it’s been suggested that Houston could become a power with a Big 12 revenue infusion. The championship game is returning for 2017, and although that in itself doesn’t guarantee a boost, the best years of the Big 12 occurred when a title game was contested.
The answer is the same as it’s always been: talent. There’s nothing precise about recruiting class rankings, but they provide a snapshot of the nation’s talent distribution at the moment.
Since 2013, one Big 12 program landed a top 10 class, according to Rivals.com: Texas at No. 7 in 2016. In the other years, the best Big 12 finishes were Oklahoma at No. 15 in 2013 and 2014 and Texas at No. 12 in 2015.
Mid-teens and lower for the Big 12 — that’s about where conference teams stack up nationally in the current polls.
Game of the week
Wisconsin at Michigan State
Redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook gets the start at quarterback for the Badgers after outperforming Bart Houston against Georgia State last week. The Big Ten is the land of Ohio State and Michigan, but in the expanded era, no two programs have played in more Big Ten championship games than the Spartans and Badgers with three each. And both have two victories.
Florida over Tennessee
The Vols deserve to be favored but the pressure is squarely on Tennessee, which has lost 11 straight in the series and the previous two by a point. It appears Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio is probably unavailable, and that means Austin Appleby, the Purdue transfer, will face the Vols defense. Tennessee is 3-0 but hasn’t exactly dominated, while the Gators have cruised past three opponents. Can Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs overcome the nation’s No. 1 defense? Florida surrenders 129.7 yards per game.
Others to watch
Stanford at UCLA
Can the Bruins stop Christian McCaffrey this time? In this game a year ago, McCaffrey rushed for a school-record 243 yards and accounted for 369 all-purpose yards as the Cardinal won its eighth straight in the series 56-39.
Texas A&M-Arkansas (Arlington, Texas)
Winner gets Alabama. Both have the Crimson Tide before them, but this winner will improve to 4-0 and look to join LSU as the top challenger to Alabama in the SEC West. Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight is off to a great start, with 830 passing yards and 151 rushing yards in three games. A&M is 4-0 against the Razorbacks as SEC opponents.