Columns/Opinion, Football, Sports, WVU Sports

Big 12 comes up small at winning national titles

FRISCO, Texas — Now 12 years removed from producing its last football national champion, the Big 12 remains on drought alert.
Commissioner Bob Bowlsby never believed his conference was psychologically disadvantaged, or under-membered, or downright soft. But July 17, you could sense him retracing that double-overtime in Pasadena where Oklahoma suffered the granddaddy of all cave-ins.
“I think Oklahoma last year was every bit good enough to win the national championship,” he said. “A break here or there and it could’ve gone different at the Rose Bowl. Then, watching the championship game, they were certainly good enough to play in the game and be successful. But at that level, it’s a fine line between winning and losing.”
Losing a 54-48 national semifinal to the team that subsequently lost the championship game in overtime itself can support fair extrapolation. It’s just that Bowlsby would rather tout trophies than near-misses.
“You’ve got to go win,” he said.
That 5-3 bowl record, while second-best among the Power 5 conferences, feels like a footnote in a sport remembered for confetti-covered podiums. What’s worse, the Big 12 hasn’t advanced a team to the national championship game since Texas lost to Alabama in 2009.
Left out of the college football playoffs twice in four seasons, the Big 12 at least feels vindicated by Oklahoma’s two inclusions. And imagine the different discussion we’d be having if TCU had gotten the playoff committee’s endorsement in 2014. Or if Oklahoma State’s league title in 2011 carried more weight than Alabama’s runner-up finish in the SEC West.
That’s where perception matters, and the humans who gatekeep the playoffs can’t unlearn what history has informed them.
Oklahoma possesses the pedigree to stake a claim to postseason spots — as in, any one-loss Sooners team is more likely than not to reach the CFP. Same goes for Texas should it ever escape its middling ways. Beyond those two, the number of current Big 12 members to finish a season in the AP top five — ever — is shallow.
Oklahoma State did it in 2011 and way back in 1945, as an MVC member. TCU cracked the end-of-season top five in 2014, as a Mountain West member in 2010, and won the AP crown in 1938, out of the Southwest Conference.
WVU did it once, in 2005.
That’s the list. In its entirety.
Money isn’t a worry, not when the league recently doled out $36.5 million to each school. No, this is about chest-pounding more than check-writing. Hard for a conference to talk smack about being near the top if it rarely produces a top dog.
The league remedied its 13th data point deficiency with last season’s league championship game — a money-making, exposure-grabbing addition that Bowlsby termed an “unqualified success.” TCU coach Gary Patterson agreed, even though losing in Arlington knocked his team out of a New Year’s Six bowl.
There’s also the possibility the Big 12 is becoming too top-heavy, with the Sooners going 26-2 the last three seasons in league play. They’re the overwhelming favorites to four-peat.
“They got 46 first-place votes (out of 52), and they deserve to be picked to win our league,” the commish says. “But it’s a long way to November.”
And even longer until January, when in a flash, something like a blocked field goal attempt in double-OT can make or break a league’s reputation.