What happened to the Big 12? They were once a dominant force in the college football world. They were feared by opponents, loved by fans, hated by others, and everything a college football powerhouse conference should be. Now, with Texas and Oklahoma having left the conference for greener pastures, the Big 12 is a shadow of what it was.
The Big 12 announced today the four teams currently at the forefront of the conference’s expansion plans: BYU, Cincinnati, UCF, and Houston.
Those don’t sound too terrible right? BYU had a great season last year. Sure, they lost Zach Wilson, but they can build off their success in 2020 and perhaps shock some people this season. Cincinnati was incredible, and even gave Georgia a run for their money in the Peach Bowl. UCF has been a winning program for years now, and Houston hasn’t been as great, but has the history and location to make a decent addition to the Big 12.
Here’s the thing. Cincinnati might already be the best school in the conference. Baylor was atrocious in 2020. Oklahoma State was fine, but not special. Iowa State was great, but they haven’t been great as long as Cincinnati has. Cincinnati was the best team of this bunch in 2020, and based on this NCAA ranking from August 17, only the Cyclones are better in 2021, and it’s close.
It’s just another reason point of emphasis showing how far the Big 12 has fallen. Between 1985 and 2005, the Big 12 won (or shared) seven national titles — nearly twice as many as any other Power 5 conference. Since 2006 though, the conference has had zero, putting them on par with the Pac-12, and we all know how pathetic they’ve been at college football in recent memory.
Sure, they’ve had a few Heisman winners and some playoff appearances, but those were carried by Oklahoma. RG3's Baylor is long gone now, and that program is not what it once was in the first half of the 2010's. With Oklahoma’s departure, no school left in the Big 12 has had serious success recently worth celebrating.
Should the Big 12 introduce BYU, Cincinnati, UCF, and Houston soon, perhaps they can regain some of the dignity it once had. However, the conference would still be a long way from being the serious threat that it was a few decades ago in the college football world. I know Iowa State looked really good at the tail end of last season, especially after winning the Fiesta Bowl, but even with the returns of head coach Matt Campbell, quarterback Brock Purdy, tight end Charlie Kolar, and many other starters from 2020, I still find it hard to believe that this team could become a legitimate threat to Georgia, Clemson, Alabama, or Oklahoma.
In terms of Power 5 rankings, I would still place the Big 12 above the Pac-12, but it seems like every day the line gets thinner. I miss the days when the Big 8/12 was a conference to be feared, not just cowering in the shadow of the SEC. I hope I see some improvement in 2021, but I’m not holding my breath.