John Klein: Big 12 parity justifies 10-team size
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Friday, November 30, 2012
11/30/12 at 7:54 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Big 12 parity upholds 10-team size
There is no better illustration of the Big 12's remarkable parity than Baylor's upset of No. 1 Kansas State a few weeks ago.
A year ago, No. 2 Oklahoma State was knocked off by ninth-place Iowa State in the 12th week of the season.
The Big 12 will not have a team in the BCS National Championship Game for the fourth straight year but the league in is better overall health than perhaps any time in the conference's history.
Nine of the 10 teams will go to bowls.
Nine of the 10 teams would appear capable of beating just about any team in the country, except for a few of the elite at the top of the polls.
The Southeastern Conference would argue that it has the best teams in the country and we won't disagree. There might be as many as four SEC teams that would win the Big 12.
However, no league, including the SEC, has the top-to-bottom balance of the Big 12.
There a few gimmes in the SEC. There is only one (Kansas) in the Big 12 and the Jayhawks have proven pesky a few times this year.
There are no easy weeks in the Big 12.
"I'm not all that surprised because having to play everybody I'm realizing the talent that is spread across the board with everybody and the excellent coaching throughout the league," said OU coach Bob Stoops. "It's difficult every week, which is obvious, for everybody."
Baylor, with just two victories in the league at the time, toppled K-State, who was on track to play in the BCS title game.
West Virginia, after five straight losses, was within a few seconds of knocking off Oklahoma. The Sooners are tied with Kansas State on top of the Big 12 standings.
OU needed a TD with four seconds left to survive a wild Bedlam with Oklahoma State, a team that has struggled to seven victories after enduring a series of crippling injuries.
In other words, everywhere you look in the Big 12 there is danger.
"There is a lot of talk about the strength of leagues," said OSU coach Mike Gundy. "I think what the SEC has done with all of those teams in the top 10 (six) is very impressive.
"However, once you get past that, there is some fall-off down to some other teams. That is not true in our league."
He's right. After Kansas State and Oklahoma, OSU and Texas are locked in a battle for third. Yet, Kansas nearly beat the Horns and Cowboys.
Early in the year, West Virginia was considered a national title contender and had the leading Heisman Trophy candidate. Five straight losses later, the Mountaineers had to struggle past Iowa State for bowl eligibility
Nothing comes easy in this league.
OU has won seven straight games, the longest streak in the league. Now, it is off to a game at TCU.
"As is the case in this league, another very good football team," said Stoops. "A lot of excellent football players running around."
The Sooners are the hottest team in the league but in recent weeks had competitive games with Iowa State and Baylor then needed last-second TDs to outlast West Virginia and OSU.
Don't take the weekend off in the Big 12. If you do, it appears any team in the league is capable of beating you.
That's the sign of a very healthy conference.
If football is the golden goose of college athletics, and it is, then the Big 12 might be the healthiest overall conference in the country.
No league has so many football programs in such good shape.
Some would say parity has pulled down the league. Not true. Actually, the Big 12 has collectively risen. The top teams are still good enough to be in the national title discussion, and almost assuredly would have been in the title game the past two years if they had survived unbeaten.
What has happened is that teams at the bottom have risen.
Currently, the bottom five teams in the Big 12 standings are Texas Tech, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas.
Anyone out there want to jump into a road game at Baylor? How about West Virginia? Think a trip to Lubbock would be easy?
The Big 12 will have a chance to flex its muscles. Nine bowl teams will have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves.
"People always talk about our offenses in this league," said Gundy. "I think that's what will be interesting in the bowls. I think people will be interested to see how our offenses do in some of these bowl games.
"I believe all of these teams have great offenses. It has made for some great discussions."
It has also made for some tough seasons.
"There's no doubt it has contributed to more seven or eight-win teams instead of 10 or 11-win teams," said Gundy.
It certainly gives the Big 12 some options in realignment. It has 10 strong members, good television contracts and healthy budgets.
There has to be some serious debate about any additions as long as 10 teams are healthy, wealthy and wise.
"When you look across the board at our football teams and break it down, there just aren't many weaknesses and holes," said Gundy. "There just aren't many deficiencies."
As a result, talk about Big 12 expansion remains on the back burner.
Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk (25) breaks away on a touchdown run against Kansas State defensive end Meshak Williams (42) and linebacker Arthur Brown (4) during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, in Waco Texas. LM OTERO/AP Photo