Oklahoma State won the 2011 Big 12 football title. Can the Cowboys repeat? History says it will be difficult, for this reason: quarterback experience. Only three Big 12 champions, out of 16, have done so with a first-year starter at quarterback.
OSU’s Brandon Weeden in ’11, OU’s Landry Jones in ’10, Texas’ Colt McCoy in ’09 and OU’s Sam Bradford in ’08 were veterans.
But Bradford in ’07 and OU’s Paul Thompson in ’06 were first-year starters (Thompson started one game in 2005; that’s not enough to count).
Let’s keep going back. Texas’ Vince Young in ’05, OU’s Jason White in ’04, Kansas State’s Ell Roberson in ’03 and OU’s Nate Hybl in ’02 were veterans (Hybl started 10 games
But I guess we would call Colorado’s Bobby Pesavento a first-year starter. He only started six games in 2001, but five of them were down the stretch, including the division title game against Nebraska and the conference title game against Texas. Pesavento started just two games in 2000; he spent most of the season backing up Craig Ochs.
OK. Let’s continue. OU’s Josh Heupel in 2000, Nebraska’s Eric Crouch in 1999 (Crouch started six games in ’98), Texas A&M’s Branndon Stewart in ’98, Nebraska’s Scott Frost in ’97 and Texas’ James Brown in ’96 were veterans.
So that’s three in 16 years: Bradford, Thompson and Pesavento.
Here’s what’s relevant. In at least two of those three years, Big 12 football was not blessed with a super team.
In 2007, the Big 12 was deep. As deep as it’s ever been. That’s the year Kansas finished 12-1 and went to the Orange Bowl. Missouri entered the Big 12 title game ranked No. 1. Texas went 10-3. Texas Tech, 9-4, was its usual solid self. OSU and A&M were decent. But the Sooners were the class of the conference, and Bradford was a special talent. OU wasn’t great – it lost at mediocre Colorado, then was drummed by Tech when Bradford suffered an early-game concussion. The Sooners went on to get rolled by West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
In 2006, OU was not great. But the Sooners played tough. The North Division was down – way down. A mediocre Nebraska team won the North. Texas wilted at the end. A&M was pretty good, but Tech and OSU were just so-so by their recent standards.
Now, 2001 was a loaded year. The Big 12 had four excellent teams. Nebraska, OU, Texas and Colorado all were national title contenders in the final week or two of the season. So for Colorado to win the league that year with a relatively-inexperienced quarterback was a monumental accomplishment.
But when OU won with newcomer QBs, it did so when the league was retooling. The question for OSU 2012 is this: Is the Big 12 retooling? The 2011 Cowboys clearly would be the favorite in the 2012 season, but the 2011 Cowboys are gone. No Weeden, no Justin Blackmon.
The league race appears to be wide open. If no super team emerges (OU and West Virginia, I guess we’re talking about you), then the Cowboys have a shot with J.W. Walsh or Clint Chelf at quarterback. But the upside for the Sooners and Mountaineers is much higher, because of veteran, accomplished quarterbacks.