Big 12 football can be saved by Big 12 teams

Daily Oklahoman |

--On 2013, Florida State was about to play Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl, and many thought Florida State would lose. After all, ACC teams had lost 12 of its previous 13 Bowl Championship Series games.

You know what happened next.

Florida State

not only beat Northern Illinois but Auburn the next season for the national title. Clemson stormed to the 2016 championship. Now the ACC is mentioned as the greatest challenger to SEC supremacy.

On

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, the Big Ten stood 8-29 against top-25 Power 5 conference foes the previous five years, and even Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was forced to admit his league had to do better. "We're not feeling very good, but the facts are the facts," Delany said.

You know what happened next. Ohio State stormed to the 2014 national title, returned to the College Football Playoff in 2016 without even winning the conference and in the meantime Michigan and Penn State got back in the business of big-time winning. Now the Big Ten is as proud as it was in 1947.

Which leads us to the Big 12. The only Power 5 league without a playoff victory in the three seasons of the format. The only Power 5 league twice left out of the four-team field. Plus the albatross that neither the ACC nor the Big Ten faced -- instability. The Big 12 is the only Power 5 conference that has lost multiple members in the realignment carnival and the only Power 5 conference linked to extinction.

Thus we have an annual summer rite. Big 12 personnel defending the league's honor.

Commissioner Bob Bowlsby: "It gets a little tiresome because I know we play at a very high level, and I know that top to bottom we're the best in the country in terms of balance."

TCU coach Gary Patterson: "I think we just need to keep doing what we're doing as a league. I'm excited about being part of the Big 12, and I think the Big 12 is a great league."

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder: "I read so much about the Big 12 Conference maybe not being as prolific or as strong ... I don't think the Big 12 Conference is in any jeopardy whatsoever and not nearly as weak as some might want to portray in some of the media outlets."

OK. We'll bite. The Big 12 is not as weak or as endangered as some believe. But the Big 12 can change that perception only one way. It has to win its way to a higher status.

In addition to the playoff problem, the Big 12 has performed poorly in bowl games, although that changed last season, going 4-2, with victories by OU (over Auburn in the Sugar), OSU (over Colorado in the Alamo), Kansas State (over Texas A&M in the Texas) and Baylor (over Boise State in the Cactus).

And the Big 12 hasn't played well in big non-conference games. Last season, OU probably would have made the playoff had it beaten either Houston or Ohio State; instead, the Sooners lost both. In 2014, Baylor probably would have made the playoff had it played a representative non-conference schedule; instead, the Bears played SMU, Northwestern State of Louisiana and Buffalo, and the playoff committee elevated Ohio State past Baylor.

This is a league that needs help, and that help must come from its own football programs. Only the players and the coaches can change the perception.

We've debated for years the Big 12's value. That debate needs to end. Ask not what your conference can do for you, ask what you can do for your conference. And the answer is, OU can beat Ohio State. West Virginia can beat Virginia Tech. OSU can beat Pittsburgh. TCU can beat Arkansas. Texas can beat Southern Cal (well, you know what I mean). And if a team makes the playoff, win once it gets there.

"I think we're all responsible for that," Mike Gundy said. "I think we're responsible for playing the very best we can in nonconference games to help the image of the Big 12."

Not every coach at Big 12 Media Days accepted such responsibility. New Texas coach Tom Herman hasn't lived through the league's descent and was particularly defiant that his focus isn't on the conference.

"Is it my job to take care of the Big 12? No," Herman said. "It's none of our jobs to take care of the Big 12. Our job is to win games, graduate players, represent the University of Texas really, really well, at a very, very high, elite level, and in turn that takes care of the Big 12."

But Herman hasn't spent long recruiting against anti-Big 12 bias. Hasn't experienced having a contending team left out of the playoff because of conference reputation or conference structure. Other coaches have.

Patterson has. "I think sometimes we all want to put blame on somebody else, and there's only one group that can answer that, and that's us," Patterson said. "The championship game is one of our steps to being able to make sure that we do -- we put ourselves in the right position."

Yes, the Big 12 has added a title game, set for December in Arlington, Texas. A TCU-Baylor championship game in 2014 might have landed the winner in the playoff. But typical Big 12; the conference was late in such decision-making. Now the conference must win its way back to respectability and it gets no break from any corner.

Patterson was riled about Ohio State's inclusion in the playoff a year ago, even though the Buckeyes didn't even qualify for the Big Ten championship game.

"To me, the Big 12 should have had teams two out of the three times in the playoffs," Patterson said. "I wasn't very happy ... because I was told, and Baylor was told, that you had to play a championship game, to play an extra game, and then Ohio State got into the (playoff) without playing in their Big Ten Championship game."

The good news is that while the what-you-can-do-for-your-conference theory is pressure, it's not added pressure. Patterson and Gundy, Snyder and Herman, would push their teams and set the highest goals regardless of conference status.

"I know, if we do our job well, just like has been done at Oklahoma over the past several years, that will be a positive for this conference," said Lincoln Riley, who has been on the job for seven weeks. "If we continue to do a good job on our part, it will be great for Oklahoma and great for the Big 12."

The Big 12's status can change. But not by osmosis. Not by the slide of other conferences. The Big 12's reputation can be changed only by Big 12 football teams.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.

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