When Texas and Vince Young slayed Southern California in the Rose Bowl for the national championship of 2005, no conference owned a monopoly on college football titles.
At that point, the Big 12 had won two Bowl Championship Series titles, and nobody had won more. The Southeastern Conference also had two, and the wealth was spread across the landscape. Every major conference polished at least one crystal ball.
Since then, the trophy hasn’t left the Deep South. Seven straight BCS titles for the SEC are unprecedented in modern football times. Not since the game was dominated by Harvard, Yale and Princeton in the 19th century has one region cornered the market.
From a competitive spirit standpoint, no one smolders over this development like the Big 12.
An argument can be made that during the SEC run, no consistent second banana has been established. The Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 can all make cases.
But the Big 12 pride may be the most bruised. The leagues butt up against each other geographically, and the SEC shopped on the Big 12 aisle during realignment.
Before the SEC started its ascent, college football viewed the Oklahoma-Texas showdown as a national semifinal. That unofficial title is now held by the SEC championship game.
All of which brings us to the kickoff of the 2013 season and some regular-season matchups between the conferences.
Two happen Saturday on neutral fields in Texas, where TCU takes on LSU in Arlington and Oklahoma State faces Mississippi State in Houston. Two weeks later, Texas plays host to Mississippi.
Oklahoma State and Texas are/will be favorites, and a Big 12 sweep with a Frogs triumph would be encouraging for a conference at a recent low point when it comes to national prominence. Nobody in the Big 12 is starting in the top 10 of the major polls.
Earlier this week, coaches downplayed any rivalry between the leagues, and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops was downright huffy about it. His comments this summer questioning the SEC’s top-to-bottom dominance and the league’s reputation based on “a lot of propaganda that gets fed to you” drew plenty of attention and SEC backlash.
“I was asked one question about it in an interview, only part of (my answer) was used and lot of people talked about it,” Stoops said. “I’m not worried about others and who they’re playing this week. I’m worried about my game.”
SEC dominance isn’t a riddle. The league has attracted better athletes, especially on defense. Line play on both sides has been stellar for all the national championship teams. It’s the same formula for any powerhouse team, except the power has been concentrated in the SEC for years.
The Big 12’s offensive philosophies of spread, five wides, up-tempo, no-huddle has been wildly entertaining but not effective against SEC defenses in bowl games. The SEC has won nine of the last 10 Cotton Bowls and the last three meetings with Big 12 teams in national championship games.
The most recent meeting may have stung the most. Big 12 co-champion Oklahoma was hammered in the second half of the Cotton Bowl by Texas A&M, which tied for second in the SEC West.
The Big 12 also is working on its longest drought without a team in the championship game. From 2000 to 2009, the league was represented seven times. But late-season losses by Oklahoma State in 2011 and Kansas State kept the Big 12 from the final game.
But a team can’t reach the final day without winning all of them, or all but one along the way. And beating top-level teams along the way, like those in the SEC, puts winners in the express lanes in the polls.
“The only way we’ll ever catch the SEC, if it’s true we’re behind them, is you’ve got to play them,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said.