With time running out on Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl tonight, the Big XII's 2011 football season came to a close. It's been a relatively tumultuous year for the conference as it faced the very real prospect of realignment dooming it to the scrap heap of college football history, and that backdrop could have provided cover for poor on-the-field performances conference wide. Hurt feelings and infighting have already changed the landscape of the Big XII for good and we are certainly not out of the woods yet as long as the reasons for those feelings largely remain, but on the field of play itself, the Big XII actually had a fairly great year, albeit one with a premature ending. One game remains to be played in college football, the BCS National Championship Game on Monday night, and because pollsters and coaches decided the country needed to see a game they've already seen this year, the Big XII and its fans will be watching from home, wishing and wondering about what might have been. With no real reason to root for either side, I'm curious how many Big XII fans and coaches will actually watch. Personally, I'm ready to throw my support behind LSU and Les Miles simply because I've enjoyed watching him troll the entire CFB universe for nearly a year now.
Because of the Big XII's nonparticipation in Monday night's shenanigans, people might say this was a relatively down year for the Big XII as a whole. If they do they'll probably also point to the fact that neither UT nor OU won the conference (the first time since 2003 that has happened) or finished the year ranked in the top ten in the country. Those two schools have been the bellcows for the Big XII for years (I can feel your fans bristling, Nebraska, but it's true) and as they have gone, so has the Big XII.
This year the story was different. Despite the relative struggles of UT and OU, who finished the season a combined 18-5, this football season has to be considered a success for the Big XII as a conference. A new team, Oklahoma State, won its first conference championship ever and, depending on the outcome of Monday night's game, might (read: should) finish ranked #2 in the country. The Cowboys will certainly finish no lower than #3, their highest ranking ever (and no, Gus Johnson, Arkansas does not have a good argument for #3 over Oklahoma State). Four teams in the Big XII finished with 10 wins, including Baylor for only the second time in its history and the first time since joining the Big XII. The conference has an outside chance at having two teams in the top ten (if Baylor can squeeze in as Kansas State, Wisconsin, and Virginia Tech fall) and will almost certainly have three in the top twelve (as Oklahoma moves up). Wherever Baylor finishes will be its highest ranking in the BCS era. In the all-important bowl season, the Big XII finished 6-2 with wins over three Pac12 schools (#4 Stanford, Washington, and Cal), 2 B1G schools (Northwestern, Iowa), and one from the ACC (North Carolina). The Big XII bowls were consistently among the most-watched, best attended, and most exciting bowls. There really is nothing for the Big XII to be ashamed of about this season (and as I hear the Commodore 64s from SEC land spin to life, we will argue about the conference's defenses another time).
No, this was a fine season for the Big XII and one to be proud of. Depending on where your biases lie, the conference will finish this year as either the strongest top-to-bottom in the country or a close second. Without going too deeply into statistics in what is supposed to be a short post, our conference featured offenses unmatched across the country. We were privileged to have the country's most exciting player and Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III among several outstanding quarterbacks. Big XII teams are recruiting nationwide like never before and doing so very well. Though we are losing two mainstays of our conference, we are gaining two more teams this year that both won their bowl games and will finish in the top-25. A conference whose very survival was questioned is arguably thriving. As long as there is a Big XII, 2011 will be remembered as a year of tremendous change in the conference, but I hope it is also remembered as one of tremendous success.*
*I know it will be for Baylor, but that's not the point here. The results of individual fanbases may obviously vary, but as a whole, 2011 treated the Big XII pretty well in football, don't you think?