One of the hallmarks of Big 12 football 2012 was that the conference wasn’t top-heavy. Oh sure, only Baylor beat Kansas State, and nobody but K-State beat OU, and Kansas beat nobody. But the rest of the Big 12 was remarkably even.
Six of the other seven teams were either 5-4 or 4-5 in conference play, and Iowa State was 3-6. OSU and Texas each were 5-4; TCU, West Virginia, Baylor and Texas Tech all were 4-5. The middle of the conference was a jumbled mess. Four memorable games went down to fourth-down conversions — OU-OSU, OU-West Virginia, OSU-Texas and Texas-Kansas. Make those four plays defensive stops instead of defensive failures, and the Big 12 standings would have looked like this: KSU 8-1, OSU 7-2, OU 6-3, West Virginia 5-4, TCU 4-5, Baylor 4-5, Tech 4-5, Texas 3-6, Iowa State 3-6 and Kansas 1-8. That’s a conference with lots of parity.
And Big 12 coaches took a lot of pride in it. Throughout the summer, their defense of their league centered on nine teams making bowls. That’s nonsense, of course. Nine teams in bowl games was the result of two things: 1) Weak non-conference schedules; and 2) a lack of dominant teams beyond Kansas State and OU. The Big 12′s bulk settled in the middle, so there were a ton of 7-5 and 6-6 teams.
Compare that to the SEC, where the vaunted top six of the conference — Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina — went 30-0 against the rest of the league. Think about that. None of the SEC’s bottom eight won a game against the top six. That’s crazy.
But could the Big 12 be headed in that direction for 2013? If Week 1 is any indication, the answer is yes. The top five teams seemed to make a clear break from the rest of the league. OU, OSU, TCU, Texas and Baylor all were impressive — yes, TCU was impressive in defeat against LSU — and four of the other five teams in the Big 12 were anything but impressive. Kansas State lost to North Dakota State and Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa. West Virginia struggled with William & Mary. That’s three Division I-AA opponents. Kansas was idle. Only Texas Tech was impressive, winning at SMU with a walkon true freshman quarterback.
If there is a mighty gulf between the top and bottom divisions of the Big 12, that’s actually a good thing for the conference’s national perception. Parity, with a bunch of 5-4 and 4-5 teams, makes for interesting games but does not bolster the Big 12′s rankings. Parity gets the Big 12 a team in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, but it doesn’t get the Big 12 a second team in the BCS.
If the Big 12′s upper half becomes a heavyweight division, feasting on the lightweight division, that will be a good thing for the conference. The SEC has proven that.