Big 12 baseball boasts three of the nation's Top 25 ranked ballclubs: No. 2 Texas A&M, No. 7 Baylor and No. 23 Texas.
Beyond that… not much.
Over the regular season's final six weeks, Big 12 pride and respect are on the spot and on the line, with a league typically considered a power conference needing to prove it still belongs among the big boys, or face the very real prospect of a reduced role in the NCAA Tournament.
The road to Omaha?
Right now, teams 4 through 9 in the Big 12 standings might want to simply show they're on a road to respectability — to .500.
Behind the league's Big 3, none of the other teams own a winning record in conference play. And to illustrate how fragile is the bottom two-thirds of the Big 12, consider Oklahoma State, which entered last weekend in the league cellar and climbed all the way to fourth with a sweep of Kansas.
Solidly in fourth, even at 4-5, standing 1 1/2 games in front of fifth-place and 4-8 Oklahoma.
As it stands right now – and things can change – the Big 12 deserves but three postseason bids.
According to the RPIs at boydsworld.com, Baylor is No. 6 and A&M No. 8. Texas is hardly stout at No. 41, but then, it is Texas, which always means something extra when the NCAA Tournament committee goes into session.
The Sooners are next at No. 65, while the Cowboys are well down the list at No. 151.
Likewise, the league has taken a hit, ranking just No. 6 in the conference ratings, behind the likes of the West Coast Conference and Conference-USA.
Only three schools (again, the Big 3) have managed winning road records, and the Big 12 overall owns few solid non-conference wins.
The rest of the league should thank the Sooners for their 4-0 win over Arkansas (No. 11 ranking; No. 21 RPI) Tuesday night. That's a victory that will help not only OU but every team it faces.
“We remember Arkansas as a team that came in here three years ago, we're a national seed, they upset us,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said after the game. “They went to Florida State and won and went to Omaha in '09. We went in '10, so we are talking about two teams that have had great success here recently.
“We knew it was going to be a good game and an important RPI game.”
But this isn't '09 or '10. And those seasons don't offer any carryover, unless you wear burnt orange.
In 2012, the Big 12's NCAA resumes are lacking beyond the Bears, Aggies and Longhorns.
It's been a good ride for the Big 12, with at least five league teams earning postseason invitations every year since 1997, a run of 14 straight seasons. Last year, the league secured six berths and the Big 12 has been rewarded with as many as eight, in 2009.
Yet if the conference continues to lack depth, could this be a year in which the NCAA pulls back? And how far?
As few as three?
Right now, it's hard to make a case for more.
That's why the next six weeks are critical.
It appears that four teams – OU, OSU, Missouri and Kansas State – could be battling for one or two NCAA berths, if they can distinguish themselves the rest of the way.
The Sooners appear to be in the best spot, with series against the Aggies and Longhorns behind them and Missouri and Baylor visiting Mitchell Park. OU also gets more opportunities to make a statement out of conference, with quality matchups with Oral Roberts, Dallas Baptist and TCU still to come.
The Cowboys have played Baylor, but they visit Texas this weekend and must also travel to Kansas State. They do get A&M and Tech at Reynolds Stadium in Stillwater.
And then there are the four Bedlam games – April 24 in Stillwater, then the series in Tulsa and Oklahoma City May 4-6 – offering potentially high stakes.
Does the Big 12 extend beyond the Big 3?
And can the Cowboys and Sooners up the ante?
Friday: at Texas, 6 p.m.
Saturday: at Texas, 3 p.m.
Sunday: at Texas, 2:30 p.m.
Tuesday: at Wichita State, 2:30 p.m.
Friday: Texas Tech, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday: Texas Tech, 2 p.m.
Sunday: Texas Tech, 1 p.m.
Friday: Missouri, doubleheader 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Saturday: Missouri, 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday: at ORU, 6:30 p.m.
Friday: Alabama State, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday: Alabama State, 2 p.m.
Sunday: Alabama State, 1 p.m.