This off-season, Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops made national headlines when he said the following:
"So they've had the best team in college football," Stoops said. "They haven't had the whole conference. Because, again, half of 'em haven't done much at all. I'm just asking you. You tell me."
"I do think our league has not gotten the credit nationally it deserves," Texas coach Mack Brown said.
The theory that the Big 12 was the deepest leagues in the nation last year has facts to support it. Last year, the Big 12 set a record with 90% of its 10 teams qualifying for bowl games. Looking past wins and losses, the Big 12 had 50% of its teams finish in the Top 25 of Football Outsider’s F/+ ranking and 80% finish in the Top 50. This followed a 2012 regular season that saw the Big 12 finish with the best non-conference record at 26-4 overall and 5-1 against BCS conference teams.
And yet, this notable depth did not translate into respect for those who finished at the top of the conference. No Big 12 team finished in the Top 10 of the AP or Coaches Polls. Despite coaches and Big 12 Media rallying to the cause, the 2013 Preseason Polls featured no Big 12 teams in the Top 10 for the first time since the conference’s inception. While other factors are also at play here – lack of starting QB experience, generally poor performances in elite bowl games, etc – this appears to me to also be a continuation of the trends from last year. The Associated Press and the Coaches are giving the Big 12 some credit for depth, but not giving the teams that finish atop the Big 12 credit for beating said depth. In the end, the final rankings end up being highly correlative to final win totals.
(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
One week into the season, I think that there is evidence that the Big 12 will have quite a different win distribution in 2013 compared to 2012. I am generally one of the first to preach against overreacting to one week, so let me be clear: I am not saying that the poor performances of what projects to be the bottom half of the Big 12 are guaranteed to continue. It is possible, though unlikely, that all of these teams right the ship after a poor debut. It is likely that at least one of them does.
However, the damage to the perception of the Big 12’s Great Depth has already been done. The non-conference loss total from 2012 (4) has almost been equaled (3) and 2 of those came to FCS teams. WVU struggled to beat William and Mary and who knows what to expect when Iowa State takes on Iowa. Regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, there is very little chance that the Big 12 is able to live up to the Big 12 Coaches claims of depth until Bowl Season at the earliest.
It would be a shame if the story ended there. Fortunately, it does not. I mentioned earlier that the Associated Press and Coaches Polls tend to place the most emphasis on wins, especially conference wins. Indeed, the complaints of the Big 12 Coaches were driven by their belief that these rankings did not adequately reflect the strange (top-skewed) talent distribution in the SEC last year. As of this moment, it looks like the good to elite Big 12 teams will be facing a similar distribution. If the polls are at all consistent*, then the good teams in the Big 12 should see a boost in their rankings by the end of the year, assuming they do the proper thing against lesser opponents. For these good teams on the cusp – whether that’s the cusp of a 2nd BCS bid, cusp of a Top 25 ranking or cusp of bowl eligibility – having a weaker bottom of the Big 12 will be a boon.
*Admittedly, this is where the whole argument could fall apart.
After an off-season filled with frustrating attempts to make the case for the strength of the bottom of the Big 12, it looks like Stoops, Brown and others could end up benefiting more from its suddenly surprising weakness. You can’t always get what you want…