No major conference has undergone more seismic shifts following conference realignment than the Big 12.
Once the dust settled, the league had downsized from 12 to 10 members. Aside from the image hit of losing some of its more notable programs, the conference also lost its ability to hold a conference championship game absent a 12-team, two-division alignment. The trade-off was instituting a round-robin conference schedule that added a ninth league for everyone.
Trading Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri for TCU and West Virginia may have hurt the league’s image, but has it become easier to win the conference crown? Let’s take a look at how the schedule profile of the conference champs has changed post-realignment. (For a review of my methodology, see my previous post on scheduling profiles in preparation for the playoff era.)
The first three columns contain the individual profiles of the last three conference champions: Oklahoma State in 2011, Kansas State in 2012 and Baylor in 2013. The fourth column summarizes the averages from those three seasons. The fifth column represents the averages from 2012 and 2013 - after Texas A&M and Mizzou left for the SEC and the Big 12 reached its current membership. The final column reflects the averages from the pre-realignment era.
Per usual, I’d caution against drawing any hard and fast conclusions based on these limited data.
With that in mind, even after losing its conference championship game and some quality programs to other leagues, the numbers do suggest that the path traveled to to the crown hasn’t changed that much. With one fewer game on the docket in the post-realignment era, the Big 12 champ is playing similar numbers of teams ranked in the F/+ top 10 (one), top 25 (roughly three) and top 50 (about seven).
Why has the scheduling profile held steady? A couple possibilities:
- Playing a ninth conference game has, in effect, bumped a body bag game off the schedule;
- The round robin eliminates the possibility of missing any quality Big 12 teams in the regular season;
- A couple of historically lower-tier teams, Baylor and Oklahoma State, are enjoying some of the best runs in school history, while Bill Snyder's return at Kansas State has turned the Wildcats back into a top 25-ish team.
Notably, the third bullet has offset Texas' Mack Brown-induced lull. Going forward, though, this point bears watching. History tells us that in college football, schools such as Baylor and KSU have had trouble sustaining the level of success that they're currently enjoying. (Look at what happened in Manhattan when Ron Prince was running the show, for instance.)
If the league can't continue to find worthy upstarts to challenge its traditional powers of Texas and Oklahoma, the Big 12 champ's profile could weaken dramatically.